Saturday, October 16, 2010

October 16th

October 16th.  Do you know what is noteworthy about today?  Take a guess.  Go ahead.  Try.  

[Apparently it is the first, official day they start selling eggnog in the grocery stores.  (Or at least in Austin.)  I know this because I found  I realize that alone doesn't prove anything, however, having discovered in the past year or two that they start selling eggnog in October, I've been keeping an eye out for it and with 3 kids I swear I go to the grocery store nearly every day.  (And I definitely went yesterday as well as Thursday and there was nary an Eggnog in sight.  Trust me, I tried to will it into existence right there on the spot.  Twice.)  Still unconvinced?  How 'bout this:  I started this blog entry last October and then was overcome-by-events so that by the time I could get back to it, it was too late to be accurate.  So, yes, I saved it for an entire year, anticipating today.  Vivi and I were at HEB this afternoon when to my delight I spotted a modest row of eggnog jugs in the sea of milk, waiting hopefully for someone to take them home, despite the insanely early time frame, given that most people only seem to be interested in drinking nog at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Luckily for them, there are people like me.  Okay, well, maybe there's just me, I don't know.  Bringing one home, I safely stashed it in the fridge, awaiting the quiet, uninterrupted, ideal moment that I could fix myself my inaugural Chai Eggnog Latte.  (Cheggnog in Starbucks parlance.)  Six hours later, I sat down to my MacBook Pro in the semi-dark solitude of a quiet-but-for-my-mellow-music house and pulled up last year's in-progress entry.  The date listed on that post...October 16th.  Freaky, yes? ]

Oh my.  That first sweet, nutmeggy waft. 

Its creamy warmth caressing my lips as it slips between them.  Its heavenly richness, almost a buttery toffee flavor, tantalizing my tongue as I savor the liquid before swallowing.  (I realize I sound just a tad obsessive.  It's just enthusiasm.  Really.)  My very favorite chai all year long:  the first Chai Eggnog Latte of the season.  Which leads to another obsession enthusiastic passion of mine...Halloween.  (Let's see, are the requisite signs present?  Elaborate costume requiring items ordered from at least 3 different online companies. Check.  My house extravagantly decorated to the point that Rand has started saying it looks like a Halloween store.  But the world's classiest Halloween store, right, Honey!?  Check.  My kitchen counter attempting to hide stashes of spiderweb cupcake papers, black string licorice, tiny candy eyes, brain ice cube molds, and various other interesting food-related items of the season.  Check.)  My stress level is revved up way beyond my normal type-A-ness into holiday-overdrive-mode, which of course, starts on or before October 1st when your fall/winter holiday season kicks off by hosting a huge costume party.  But I digress.

I can't decide if Starbucks is my favorite treat or my worst vice.  I didn't drink any caffeinated beverages until an old friend of mine introduced me to an iced chai latte about 10 years ago... and then there was no going back.  Starbucks enables the "high maintenance" mentality of the Sally Albrights of the world, of which I am most assuredly one.  But it took me a little time to become an expert in HMBO (High Maintenance Beverage Ordering).  First, I just ordered a Chai Latte.  I soon realized I could request nonfat.  Then, I discovered that certain locations add water [the horror!] to their chai mix + milk recipe so I started adding the "No Water".  I finally got tired of tepid teas two minutes out the door so I learned to ask for "Extra Hot".   My regular order (not on a daily basis, but a couple times a week) became Grande Nonfat Chai Latte Extra Hot, No Water.  Hence my blog name.  Funny thing is, that is no longer quite accurate.  (I'm so high maintenance, I've moved into another tier; you might call it Extreme Maintenance or possibly Ultimate Maintenance?)  I became frustrated ordering my Extra Hot, No Water only to find that it wasn't particularly hot, let alone extra!  So, being the chatty woman that I am, I asked one of the chummier baristas that I know and who always makes my chai appropriately Extra Hot -- and by that I mean, if I'm not ever-vigilant taking my first sip, I scald either the tip of my tongue or the roof of my mouth  (which I manage to do about every other week, on average.) -- about the Extra Hot modifier.  He informed me that EH is supposed to be 180 degrees and that the normal beverage temperature is 160 but that often times if baristas are in a hurry and because they are starting with the colder chai mix + milk, they tend to underheat it.  Plus, frankly, "Extra" anything is subjective as it's based on the normal standard.  (161 degrees could, technically, be considered Extra Hot.) In short, he said I should be ordering my chai as 180 degrees specifically.  I'm actually tempted to order it slightly higher, say 185-190, as it's still not always quite hot enough but I realize I'm edging toward the Freak side with a capital F when I say that.  Not that I mind publicly flying my Freak Flag, I just don't need to scream and yell as I wave it. 

My new-and-improved standard is:  Grande Nonfat Chai Latte, No Water, 180 Degrees.  It doesn't roll off the tongue nearly as well, does it?  Initially, I fretted that my blog name was now outdated, but then I realized it's perfect.  It's very obsoleteness is a symbol of my constantly-evolving desire to make everything just so.  Besides, If I tried to redo everything I ever realized was not-quite-perfect, I'd never work on anything new.  (And then I'd have to rename my blog Revisionista.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Hiking the WCT: Day 6, 12 June 2009

[Welcome to Day 6 of Hiking the West Coast Trail.  Please see my previous posts (Day 0, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5) for the start of this little adventure. Remember, all photos can be clicked on to see a full-size version in all its glory, as well as see any fine details I may refer to.]

Day 6 dawned grey and chilly. After packing up our tents and gear and finishing breakfast, we completely burned down what little wood we used for our breakfast fire, shifted the couple of logs we'd moved the night before, and swept the sand smooth.  Looking back, you'd never have known the eleven of us had stayed the night.  Before truly disappearing from Stanley Beach, however, we took a brief detour climbing up the sandstone shelf, around the big surge channel and past the blow hole, to see some petroglyphs, very old cave-type engravings of ships, birds, a mother figure and other less recognizable images.  The clearest of these was of the famous paddle steamer, the Beaver, the first coastal steam ship of the Pacific Northwest.  This particular petroglyph dates back to the mid 19th century when the Beaver visited the First Nations People lands in 1843.

While admiring (and photographing) the petroglyphs we listened to Mark's eloquent historical tidbits about the engravings as well as the Beaver, being careful not to step on any of the irreplaceable carvings.  Before long we were soon underway as we had a solid hour and a half of hiking the forest trail before us in order to make it to our 10:30 appointment:  Second Breakfast.  (Yes, when I take one of those online "Which character of The Lord of the Rings are you most like?" tests, I always aspire to be the mysterious, selfless ranger or the ethereal elf, but no, I'm really just the food-focused, happy hobbit.)

On the way we encountered another obstacle on the trail.  No surprise, there, right?  This time, however, it was an entirely different matter...  and required a longer detour.  Beavers had dammed up one of the creeks, completely flooding a large section of the WCT, so there was now a semi-permanent bushwhacking route in order to circumnavigate this [relatively] newly formed lake.  Not to worry, though, as we soon found ourselves stepping back onto the warped and weathered boards of the Trail proper only a few feet from the edge of the industrious beavers' hot spot.

Look closely beyond John as he steps back onto the boardwalk. 

Once back on boardwalk, our speed picked up, and we soon found ourselves on the dock of Doug's Ferry beside Nitinat Narrows, the narrow passage that connects Nitinat Lake to the Pacific Ocean.  Doug is another fixture on the WCT.  Nitinat Narrows is impassable without his help and hikers have been known to wait quite a while to catch a ride if their arrival is ill-timed. (Quite by Sea-to-Sky design, ours was not.)  But while you waited, you could enjoy a fresh Dungeness Crab that Doug hauled directly out of the icy water, in one of his nets.  He was clearly a practiced chef, unceremoniously ripping off the top shell and removing other nameless parts as he talked. (I tried not to focus too much on the ripping part; I like to eat crab along with plenty of other animal meat but I honestly think I'd turn vegetarian if I had to do my own killing & preparing.  [I know, I know; that won't help me much when the zombie invasion happens!  But think I could rise to the occasion if and when things get that dire.])

 Doug: Crab Chef & Ferryman Extraordinaire

While our crabs stewed in Doug's big aluminum pot, Sue and Bill enjoyed what they jokingly called their "first beer of the day" while Mother and I opted for ice cold soda and juice courtesy of Doug's coolers (but our own pocketbooks).  As we all relaxed, enjoying the view and sitting in actual chairs for only the second time in 6 days, two young guys arrived, looking more like city joggers than hikers, each with the smallest of packs, wearing shorts and runners (that's plain ol' sneakers) to us Americans).  They were clearly in a hurry and piqued that Doug wouldn't be ferrying anyone until we'd all had a chance to enjoy our still simmering crabs.  While most of us talked with Doug or amongst ourselves, Lauren chatted up the newcomers, learning that they were hiking the West Coast Trail in only 2 days!  Since they were traveling so quickly, they needed no change of clothes, very little food, and had the lightest of gear for sleeping.  They didn't even pack a first aid kit.  (Scandalous!) At the time we were all friendly and noncommittal but later on, alone (that is, if you can ever really equate eleven to alone) again, we agreed that speed was not the point of hiking (in general, but particularly regarding) the WCT.  Clearly, those two stuck to the forest trail almost exclusively, missing much of the best parts of the Trail.  What beauty they did pass, they almost certainly were oblivious to, in their efforts to set some sort of record.  And if they saw nothing of the trail itself, how could they honestly say they hiked the WCT?  (Isn't that like saying you've seen Lawrence of Arabia when in actuality you  fell asleep 5 minutes into it and woke up in time for the credits?) Not that I'm judging.  Okay, fine.  I'm totally judging.

Bill, Sue, & Melly -- Cheers!

After devouring Doug's delicious Dungeness crabs, it was ferry time.  Not surprisingly, our two speed demon friends were the first in the boat.  The rest of us followed suit, and as soon as we pushed off from the dock, we were moving with the tide.  Nitinat Narrows is a tidal passage; the ocean water comes all the way in to the lake so you can tell if the tide is coming in or going out just by watching the water closely.  Seals are often found in the Narrows and Mark has even been fortunate enough to see a grey whale within the passage.  Sure enough we saw our own seal playing in the dark waters that morning!

The tide was headed out and moving fast as Doug took us out to the mouth of Nitinat to see where the ocean flows in against the rocks (which, of course, you can't actually see in my photo above).  As we drew near, we saw the large waves coming in, where in times past incoming boats often crashed against the concealed rocks.  It took all of Doug's 115 hp engine to overcome the swelling tide and get us back up the passage to drop us off on the opposite bank, but out of sight of his dock, where the WCT resumes.  Speed Hikers #1 and #2 were gone before we were all even on solid ground once again.

With the Narrows behind us, we found ourselves hiking along another section of crumbling boardwalk through the dense forest as the elevation increased.  Kelly tantalized us with another (photo-elusive) bear track in the mud right along the edge of the trail so once again, I obsessively watched the thick shadows, hoping for a glimpse of fur or claw.  Alas, my only reward was tripping and dropping the camera near (thankfully, rather than over) a minor precipice.

Once again, we were on top of the world, hiking the spectacular cliff rim in the brisk, breezy air to circumvent another section of impassable headlands. We then descended to the beach to break for lunch near KM 29.  It was a cooler day with a noticeable increase in wind, so our jackets came out along with our toques as we eagerly awaited our noontime meal.  Today was Tex-Mex with tortilla wraps filled with black beans, colby cheese, fresh red peppers and salsa.  Mmmm... a little taste of home.

Melly faking a siesta

We spent the afternoon hiking the beach, drawing ever nearer to the highly anticipated Hole in the Wall, a truncated peninsula of rock at Tsusiat Point under water much of the time, but with a shallow cave that you can pass through when the tides are below 9 ft.  It's another iconic spot on the West Coast Trail that I'd been reading about and admiring photographs of for over a year.  And we were about to experience it for ourselves!

 As we came around the point, and first caught a glimpse of the Hole in the Wall, my feet seemed to magically speed up.  From a distance, it looked easily passable but as we drew near, we found that the tide was starting to come in.  In the last 40 ft or so we had to time the waves to cross the beach between two separate sections of too-tall rocks.  (This elevated my excitement level another notch and it certainly makes for impressive-sounding storytelling, but the waves were still small at that point so the wave-dodging was more about keeping our boots dry rather than risking life or limb.  Bummer.)

Foreground: Timing the waves to cross

The basics to crossing any of these tide-dependent coastal elements are: a) having a tide chart, b) knowing how to read it, and c) leaving from your previous location early enough to arrive at the low-tide point at the correct time.  Sounds simple enough, right?  Not so.  Naturally, you don't want to be crossing any of these points after dark, and there's a certain distance you need to travel each day to complete the trek in the appropriate time (hence our multiple 5am wake-ups) but in addition, you have to coordinate these various sections over the course of the trip.  It turns out Sea to Sky sets the dates for their WCT expeditions specifically by low tide charts.  That means a year in advance they are looking at the tides to pick out the best dates so that they can hit the big surge channels, Owen's Point and Hole in the Wall at the right times to still hike the full distance required those days.  (Which also means it's totally random on what day of the week they start any given expedition.)  This was another huge benefit of hiking with a guide; I have no doubt Mother and I could have successfully interpreted the low tide charts.  In fact, I read up on them in advance to understand how they worked and we were given our own along with our trail maps, but that was more for fun than anything.  Besides, my retention was poor, having not actually put them into practice.  (Curse you Mark & Kelly for making it so easy for us!)

The alternative to these various coastal crossings it to just stay on the WCT proper, hiking through the rain forest, which can be done for nearly the entire 75 km only venturing out to the beach to camp each night.  Even planning for the coastal sections, however, if we hadn't figured it out til we were already on Vancouver Island, we would have missed out on something cool (a Capital Offense to the women in my family), having not arrived on precisely the right day of the year to hit each and every milestone!

Jen & Melly in the Hole

Having raced the tides and won, we jubilantly unloaded our packs on the far side to take photos, admire the view, and relax a little before spending most of the afternoon hiking the coastline.  We had a final 2 km to get to our campsite that night at Tsusiat Falls.  By this point in the trek, we were noticeably picking up the pace; our last 3 days of hiking covered nearly half of the total 75 km distance. 

Live Sea Sponge

In the final stretch of beach that afternoon, we spread out as we often did but Mike was clearly ready to get to camp as he was way out in front and just kept powering down the beach.  Mark pressed on just to stay with him and so it happened that all the men were far in the lead.  The women were taking it a little easier, with Kelly urging us to take a short break after crossing Orange Juice Creek.  (I can understand the inclination to name things after food & drink especially after a week in the bush, but you'd think they'd have picked something better.  How about Bacon Double Cheeseburger Creek or Chocolate Peanut Butter Shake Creek?)  I think we would have pressed on if it hadn't been for Kelly but she was right -- the 10 minute stop (plus a bite or two of one of those delectable chocolate-covered granola bars) perked us all right up and made the last 40 minutes much less onerous.

By the time we arrived at Tsusiat Falls at 3:30, Mark had already staked out our territory and the guys were nearly finished setting up their tents.  The camp area was a very long raised beach, our end accessed by crossing a giant felled tree that spanned a canal-like trough.  Beyond that tucked in the side of the cliff, was a snug cave which became our Best Kitchen Ever!

Mike & Melly headed to camp.  (How was Mike behind Melly if he was the first to camp? Hmm...)

Driftwood "fence" (far left, above yellow tent) against cliff was the entrance to the cave.

Once we got our gear situated, Mother and I headed to the far end of camp to bathe in the gorgeous Tsusiat Falls.  It was by far the best (and deepest) swimming hole on the Trail and the temperature was lovely (but don't be fooled, it was still cold!)  We even swam right up under the falls into a shallow cave beyond!  

To appreciate the size of Tsusiat Falls, look closely for Lauren in the right foreground.

Once dressed and dry again, Mother and I made our way over toward the kitchen.  Before entering the cave, we chatted with Mike a bit while he toiled away filtering water into all our bottles. (And yes, the red one is Mother's and the green one queued up on the ground is mine.  But he liked doing it; I swear!)

In the photo above, Mike and Melly are wearing the latest in Trail fashion.  Mike's working the toque/shorts combo, a practical yet sporty look while Melly has chosen a more versatile layered tops and pants ensemble, knowing the nights turn chilly here on the west coast of Vancouver Island.  Pay particular attention to Melly's feet.  She's sporting a hip, new trend: the Duct Tape-Refurbished Camp Shoe.  All the Cool Kids are wearing them.  To get yours, contact Kelly Kurtz of Sea to Sky Expeditions or check out her YouTube video: The Art of Duct Tape, Lesson 2: How to fashion a replacement shoe while hiking in the bush.  (All yuks aside, Mike had spied this old, broken flip-flop along the trail near Stanley Beach and thanks to Kelly's considerable skills, not to mention invaluable supply of duct tape, she presented Mother with a replacement camp shoe.  To make matters worse, it was actually another right shoe!  In practice, it wasn't terribly comfortable so Mother mostly soldiered on, wearing one boot and one Croc at camp from that point on, but it was the thought that counted!)

Cave entrance looking out

By quarter to seven, we were all nestled in the cave, sipping hot drinks and awaiting dinner:  Country Mushroom Rice with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Chicken and Golden Raisins.  Believe it or not, this was our first night not to finish all of dinner.  And as you know, you can't just throw food out while hiking.  So, Kelly went selling.  She took our big pot and headed down the beach to offer the leftovers to other nearby hikers.  She returned shortly with empty hands and a strange smile on her face.  She proceeded to tell us that three guys appreciatively accepted the food but told her that all they had to offer in trade was some marijuana.  To which she replied, "Oh, no thank you; just bring the pot back."  As she walked back down the beach toward the cave, she realized her response might not have been as clear as she'd meant it.

Bill, Mike, Wenke, Lauren and Carter

The brisk afternoon quickly grew colder and the blowing wind found its way into our cozy cave so we stretched yellow tarps behind the driftwood wall/bench that existed at the mouth of the cave to give us a bit more shelter, casting a golden tint on everything until the sun set.  After dinner, we enjoyed Vanilla Mousse with Strawberries.  There was always a simple pleasure in relaxing by the fire, in the company of one another, tired but content, chatting and laughing.  And, of course, eating.  Later, we passed around tasty treasures we'd all been saving, including the Caramilk bar that Mother and I had been hoarding since Day 0.

Eventually, someone noticed Mike's ever-present baseball cap was missing and he somewhat dejectedly told us the wind had seized it in the final stretch of hiking.  He had reversed course and walked back quite a ways, hoping to find it on the beach he but was unsuccessful.  Apparently, this was one of those items that has been around so long it's almost a part of you.  It had a small, red oak-leaf symbol of some kind; I think it was for a Canadian sports team.

Mother and I decided to take a stroll past the falls, to take a few more pictures at sunset as well as visit the outhouse before it was dark.  This turned out to be a lengthier outing than we expected as the facilities were at the extreme opposite end from where we were camped out.  In fact, I think all of the men decided to just visit the rocks on the opposite side of our cave, to save them the hike.  It was a worthwhile visit, however, if for no other reason than to show you the pictures below and say, "we had to climb up and over that to get to the toilet!" (I especially admired the driftwood stair-ladder that some industrious individual fabricated.  It actually worked too!)  A photo like The Return Trip (below) epitomizes the West Coast Trail; out of context it seems like just a random shot of the surrounding landscape.  Until, that is, you realize it was our one and only way to get back down to the beach.

Goin' Up

The Return Trip

Once back around the fire, we soon had a pair of visitors -- whether due to the lure of the cave's sheltered warmth or the draw of a large, loquacious group of hikers, I'm not sure.  Enter Simon and Mark: solitary hikers that just happened to be on the same rough time schedule so although they had hiked separately, keeping different paces, both wound up at the same campsites each night.

Simon, a Scot from Manchester (but originally from Glasgow), was an easygoing, friendly man that we all liked instantly.  He was maybe 35 and had been on an extended holiday from his job and would soon be heading back to real life.  (He made scientific instruments, which in my mind resembled something shadowy and sinister, from the likes of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari but was more likely to be precision instruments calibrated to the nearest nanometer in a positively-pressurized clean room somewhere.)  It turned out he had decided only 24 hours prior to fly to Vancouver to visit a friend and then realized he couldn't just sit around her flat all the time so he surfed online looking for things to do in Vancouver when he came across the West Coast Trail. Only 12 hours before departing, he decided to go for it and dug his hiking gear out of his attic!  This story impressed me in multiple ways, not the least of which was that he didn't need to do any physical training to successfully hike the WCT (not an insignificant feat), followed only somewhat distantly by the fact that he'd been traveling the world, free as a bird, for the past couple of months leading up to this spontaneous decision.  (In my ideal alternate universe, I'm a Robert Rodriguez/Sofia Coppola/Tim League composite with a little bit of Simon-from-Glasgow-via-Manchester thrown in for good measure.

The second hiker, a nearly-silent, seemingly antisocial (although Simon later claimed he was just exhausted) young man named Mark, was utterly forgettable except for one noteworthy detail:  He was wearing Mike's beloved baseball cap!  At first Mike said nothing; it was getting dark when they arrived so in the dim light of the fire, it wasn't obvious to anyone else.  We all listened to Simon's story, chatted about the Trail, etc.  And then during a lull, Mike said in a very casual manner that Mark was wearing his hat.  Mark just looked at him as if he thought he was joking.  Mike mentioned losing it that afternoon and Mark grudgingly admitted to having just found it on the beach shortly before arriving at camp, although he still didn't relinquish his prize.  Mike was quiet but steadily looked at Mark who, like a sullen boy returning a stolen treasure, reluctantly handed it over.  Mike didn't grin so much as press his lips together with a nearly imperceptible nod as he contentedly settled his cap back on his head.  And that was all.  I can't even recall at what point Mark exited the scene (I told you he was forgettable) but we never saw him again.  And good riddance, trying to keep Big Mike's hat!

Later on, our nightly ritual continued with Sue reading us one of her pub quizzes.  Simon upped the bar, answering not only correctly but quickly and often (apparently those scientific instrument makers are smart guys, despite their tendency toward early German Expressionistic film).  With his addition to the game, we had only 5 passes that night as opposed to our more typical 9 or 10 out of 20 from previous nights.  Still, even Simon didn't know which son of Genghis Khan succeeded him as Great Khan in 1227.

It was Night 6 and I was running out of opportunities to help out with a Bear Hang!  (And by help, I primarily mean witness and take pictures.  I really need my own personal Jen Cameraman-- you wouldn't believe how many times I want to be photographing/filming something while I'm participating and you can rarely do both successfully.  Okay, that came out sounding way too much like a Madonna: Truth or Dare moment.  You know what I mean.)  I had planned to document the procedure at Stanley Creek the previous night but the nearest suitable tree was up past the giant felled tree and a pain to get to so I wimped out.  But not tonight!  Lucky for me, there was an ideal Bear Hang tree not too far so at dusk Mark, Wenke, Carter, and I lugged the food bags down the beach to this tree growing out of the side of the cliff like a backwards letter L.  There were already a couple of bags dangling from it from other hikers so it was clearly an ideal spot.  Mark's practiced lob landed the rope smoothly over the necessary high branch and we hoisted all eleven bags to safety.  Most of the pictures I took were too dark or fuzzy, but the best one is above.

Look closely under the Bear Hang for what looks like a typical road sign (except for the part where it's in the middle of the freaking rainforest).  This is the ever-present Tsunami Evacuation Route sign found at every campsite which I believe Parks Canada instituted in 2004 or 2005 after some big, bad tsunami hit somewhere (but don't hold me to that).  At each location, these safety signs point the way to higher ground that is supposed to be high enough to be safe.  M & K told a couple of stories about having to pack up camp and spend half the night crammed in one of these areas without a fire during a Tsunami Warning.  If, however, you hear a  massive sucking sound you drop everything and run for the shelter immediately because that sound... it's the waves pulling back in a vacuum before the Monster wave hits.

I love the image on the signs too -- the giant wave looks more like a tentacled sea monster to me. (I know, I know, there I go again with monster this and zombie that but it's not my fault; I was born in October.)

At every point where the WCT accesses the beach, old buoys have been hung in the trees as a sign to find your way back to the Trail if you've been hiking the coast (or alternatively, if you get washed up on the beach after a tragic sinking ship incident).  At most points, there are only a couple of buoys as the signal but at the campsites, there are many more and it seemed the farther north we went the more we found.  Tsusiat Falls had the most yet.  Early Season hikers rescue the buoys and carve names, dates, pithy phrases and then hang them in the trees as a kind of I was here statement.

By Day 6 you might be wondering if we were all ready to go home.  Absolutely not.  We were home.  Actually, that was the amazing part about this trip: everything was filtered down to its essence, to simply being. To be hiking in this breathtaking place, to be writing in my journal, a giant driftwood log at my back, to be enjoying a beach picnic of salami, cheese, crackers & veggies there in the middle of nowhere. There was no sense of needing to be, or even wanting to be, anywhere else except right there. When asked why none of their trips are shorter than a week, M & K explained that you needed that length of time to emotionally invest in your trip; otherwise, just as you're starting to settle in, your brain is thinking about what you have to do in 2 days once you're back home. And they were so right. I didn't think about all the tasks waiting back home nor did I focus on how my family was managing without me. (We purposely left our cell phones behind although it turned out there was sporadic coverage on the Trail.) At least not for the first 5 days.  By Night 6 we only had 2 days of hiking left with one final night on the Trail.  And I regretted having my normal life encroach on this experience in those last couple of days. If I could have somehow arranged for a bout of temporary amnesia that would have faded away during that last day of hiking, I think it would have been perfect.  A more cynical person might say I was getting tired and was ready to go home. But that person would be wrong.

Sunset from Tsusiat Falls

[To keep reading, here's Day 7]

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Hiking the WCT: Day 5, 11 June 2009

[Welcome to Day 5 of Hiking the West Coast Trail.  Please see my previous posts (Day 0, Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4 ) for the start of this little adventure. Remember, all photos can be clicked on to see a full-size version in all its glory, as well as see any fine details I may refer to.]

Day 5 found us packing up camp and heading back to Chez Monique where we would pick up our newly replenished food sacks and have a little breakfast before heading up to Carmanah Lighthouse. Most of us chose to purchase breakfast as opposed to eating oatmeal again and let me just say I had the best damn $20 omelet I've ever had (along with pan-fried potatoes and buttered toast.  Mmmm... butter.  Speaking of butter, you can tell while hiking the WCT that you aren't in Texas -- okay, yes, there are numerous indicators but this is one of the biggies.  At least once, someone had a stick of butter he/she was carrying as one of his/her food bag items.  If you were hiking anywhere in Texas in June, and carried an unrefrigerated stick of butter,  you'd find yourself nose to nose with an extremely friendly bear who was coveting the butter oozing over everything inside your pack.  I know, I know, the WCT is in Canada.  This is kinda like one of those Star Trek alternate universe episodes.  Can't you just go with it?)

Unfortunately, I took no pictures that morning at breakfast because Mother and I had a wee panic attack regarding our photography.  We had a total of four of the special lithium batteries for the camera for the trip and the second battery ran out very quickly so we were concerned about having only 2 left for the remaining 5 days.  We decided we needed to be a bit choosier about what to photograph so we [read: Jen] decided we had enough of Chez Monique from the night before and did we really need a photograph of our eggs?  Hmmmm....  I managed to restrain my photographic tendencies on Day 5 (as well as Day 8, actually.  Bravo, Jen!) so you may notice this section is light on photos.  (I took roughly 30 instead of the usually 120 or so.  Feel free to cheer or moan as you see fit.)  Thankfully, battery two must have been a fluke because our final two both lasted much longer and we still had battery life to spare as we left the WCT.  (Damn, now I've ruined it and you know we made it back alive!)

Here's something to ponder.  We spent every night meticulously clearing out our packs and tents of anything with a scent and either locking everything in a metal box or hanging it 20 feet in the air to keep the bears away.  And yet... and yeeet Monique lives in the exact same place with an open air kitchen with plastic for walls and a garden full of delicious, edible plants growing tantalizingly nearby.  How is that possible?  (I think maybe the bears know not to mess with Monique.)

While relaxing at Chez Monique, awaiting our omelets, we took the time to repack our backpacks including our newly-filled food bags.  I took a quick glance at my new stash and discovered one very intriguing ziploc labeled Crust.  (It had been an unspoken rule that we didn't discuss what was in our food bags and you usually had only one ingredient for a given meal so it was always a surprise at mealtimes.)  It was also labeled D7 so I spent the next three days pondering off and on, what that crust might be part of... (some sort of meat pie? dessert?  pizza?  I realize "pizza" seems an unlikely possibility, but by now I'd realized almost anything was possible to make on the trail...except, of course, Mark's beloved ice cream.)

Suddenly our gradually lightened packs had morphed back into Big Ass Packs thanks to another full complement of four days of food.  At least, in the process, we first had the opportunity to remove all the undesirables. After four days of hiking, we were intimate with the subtle difference a few ounces made so the opportunity to clear out the disappointing cider packets I didn't care for or the more unappetizingly healthy of Mother's peanut-free bars was highly valued.  This ritual was duplicated by each person and suddenly we were 9-year olds again, tossing the unwanted in the box (to be left at Chez M's) and snatching up what someone else discarded.  (The box was then left behind at Chez Monique's with other Sea to Sky supplies.)   It was a treat, actually; an unexpected little surprise.  Mother and I both made out with a few more chocolate-dipped granola bars and courtesy of Bill & John, I think, Mother snagged more cream and sugar packets to stretch her coffee.  Score!

Once we carefully stowed everything (including another package of fragile crackers for me; I guess word got out I was the Cracker Whisperer), it was time to get a move on.  And time to pick up those backpacks.  This was the heaviest our packs would be for the entire trip-- and, man, did we feel every ounce of their 45+ lbs.  I'm probably just whinging here, but I swear, my food bag was substantially heavier than Mother's this time around!  I guesstimate that my pack hit 50 lbs that day but, of course, there's no way to prove that (or disprove that, now that I think about it so maybe it was more like 70 lbs.  Heh-heh.)

After making our farewells to Monique and Company, we headed around the last kilometer of the cove to the true Carmanah Point and climbed up a brief set of ladders leading to Carmanah Lighthouse directly above us.  There we met Jerry, the lighthouse keeper, and his wife, Janet.  They live at the lighthouse full time, in a modest white clapboard home adjacent to the lighthouse itself.  They keep a garden along with a greenhouse and even have a helipad for emergency access.  (I must admit I was slightly disappointed that the air-evac I'd imagined -but not for Mother or me!- never occurred.  Seeing the seaside cliff location of the helipad made for the most fabulous cinematic crane-shot in my mind!)

There was a carefully arranged whale skeleton laid out on display in one section of the lawn and even a whimsical little stone-edged hedge maze, a pattern in the grass awaiting a bit of magic to transform it into actual walls.  Their most coveted decorations (at least to my mind) were large glass weights from fishermen's nets that wash up on shore like gorgeous crystal gazing balls.  Mark and Kelly had mentioned that they often wash up on the beaches of the WCT during the winter months but that they have never found one as they are snatched up by the first people to pass along -- usually those that live on the Trail, namely the lighthouse keepers or First Nations stewards who are the first to hike the trail each Spring before the hiking season begins.  (I think this was code for:  If you find one on your very first visit when we hike this trail 4 times a year, year after year, you're dead.)

Sea Lions on Haul Out Rock

Jerry set up his telescope so we could have a closer look at the sea lions lounging on Haul Out Rock below and we admired the sweeping view of the coast and ocean, imagining what it must be like for Jerry and Janet (and their children when they still lived at home) riding out the turbulent storms through the isolated winter months.  Afterward Janet gave Mother, Sue, and me a tour of her garden and greenhouse.  We noticed a fine-gauge electric wire around the perimeter which it turned out was to discourage the bears.  As we got closer to the greenhouse, we saw evidence of their previous handiwork:  Large holes in the walls had been patched where a bear had torn through in search of Janet's succulent lettuce which she said the bears really seem to like.  You could still see the 5-pointed configuration of the holes where the claws had pierced through.  Remember those opaque, plastic kitchen walls of Monique's?  Well, we're talking the exact same material used for the walls of Janet's greenhouse.  Clearly, the bears must be less fearful of Janet's wrath.  (Or, maybe her lettuce is tastier?  ...impossible.)

Bears' Handiwork

Having donned our cozy toques and jackets while wandering about the breezy grounds of Carmanah Lighthouse, it was time to strip back down to our base layers in anticipation of warming up again once we started hiking.  Mother and I kept our toques on our heads to bridge those first few chilly steps until we were fully moving and heated up again.

Leaving Carmanah Point, we headed north back down along sandstone shelf where we saw more teeming tidal pools and encountered The Cribs,  a large expanse of jagged, volcanic rock that lines the coastline almost like an exposed reef, so that you walk inland of the The Cribs, and they form a barrier between you and the ocean.  It was another fascinating landscape change all the more special as we spotted a pod of grey whales breaching, three or four tails proudly displayed before disappearing beneath the dark surface.

Hiking past The Cribs.
Looking back, The Cribs close up.

We then spent the rest of the morning hiking along the beach except when we had to skirt an Impassably Large (that phrase says what I want it to say but I'm not quite sure it's legit:  So impossibly large as to make it impassable) surge channel.  In so doing, we found ourselves for the first time climbing the trail up the mountain's slope to the edge of the ridge, just skirting the forest, literally walking within a foot of the drop-off which was deceptively safe-looking due to the thick plant life growing along it so as to give the illusion of another couple of feet of solid ground.   My only consolation was that if I fell, I'd at least have a bit of a cushion (even if it appeared to rival a briar patch.  Surely, briar is preferable to rock as a landing site.) Besides the exciting, not-quite-death-defying-despite-my-effort-to-make-it-seem-so aspect to the cliff hiking, we had an absolutely spectacular view -- high cliffs, green verve, wind-beaten hemlocks and Sitka spruce against the craggy rocks below, beach, surging sea all in one sweep of our wide eyes.  Without question this was Mother's very favorite type of hiking and I loved it too.  It had been getting gradually cooler as our journey progressed but up at the edge of the world there, it was even colder although in a wonderfully brisk, refreshing way.  Almost made me forget how hot it must have been back in Austin.

Shortly before lunch, we hit another milestone:  KM 37.  The halfway point of the Trail!  Unfortunately, since we'd hiked back down to the beach again there was no physical mile marker to commemorate the moment with a photo. Oh darn.  We all collectively Woo-hooed our virtual landmark, pressing on just past Dare Beach where we stopped for a lunch of brie, garlic cream cheese, my crackers, something Kelly and Mark called antipasto but I would term olive salsa, pepperoni sticks and fresh yellow and red peppers.

Sea to Sky Smorgasbord

While enjoying another tasty meal, we relaxed against the ever present driftwood logs and I decided to embrace the "best seat on the trail", what Mark always called it when sitting on the lower, soft fat portion of his BAP.  Our packs were so bulky that it made for a very comfy seat although it took a bit of maneuvering if you had anything attached to the front of your pack since that side went face down. With all the straps sticking up it looked like some giant beetle stunned on it's back.  Mother was skeptical but decided to give it a try since I dug it but I'm not quite sure she really liked it. (Little did I know that later that afternoon/evening this would turn out to be a mistake of monumental proportions.)

Kelly enjoying "the best seat on the trial".

After lunch we found ourselves hiking on wet, dense sand which was easier than the shifting dry sands of previous stretches.  Kelly spotted a bit of sea glass amongst the pebbles and pointed out to us that this is the only legitimate souvenir of the West Coast Trail as all the flora, rocks and even driftwood is protected.  Naturally, Mother and I became obsessed and over the course of the next hour or two found a handful of roughly dime-sized pieces in various shades of emerald, aqua, and chartreuse.  Mother found the largest single piece (nearly quarter-sized) yet I found what we thought was the prettiest color, a vivid indigo.  Clearly, the mystery of the sea and its currents were at work because we only found the sea glass for the space of 2 hours or so, covering a small section of beach.  I vigilantly kept an eye out on the beach for the rest of the day and to a lesser extent, the rest of our hike, but we never found another treasure.

Jen communing with Treebeard -- one of the biggest Cedars on Vancouver Island.

Soon, we returned to the trail, climbing high into the dense forest, crossing another river, the Cheewhat this time, by way of its handy wooden bridge, thank you very much.  For the rest of the afternoon we hiked through the Dididaht Tribe Reserve lands.  At one point, the trail led us up a lengthy, steep section which Mark said Len had named Cardiac Hill but I don't think has an official name.  We were headed toward a Super Secret campsite on Stanley Beach, which is not even on the trail map because it is not a real campsite, nor is it open to your average hikers.  But somehow Sea to Sky (probably due to its inherent awesomeness) again had special privileges so we were allowed to camp there but with a few restrictions I'll cover in a moment.

First, though, we still had to get to Stanley Beach.  Once we reached the top of Cardiac Hill, we continued to hike through the forest, on a flat section of trail until late in the afternoon, when our fearless leader suddenly stopped, gesturing into the thick foliage to our left.  This was where we were leaving the trail?  Mark claimed there was a subtle trail there that the Dididaht used to access Stanley Beach but I wouldn't have found it if it hadn't been pointed out to me.  And as we followed this slender vein of thinned vegetation, if we hadn't been trailing Mark, I'm quite sure we'd have wound up lost in the forest [possibly like Hansel and Gretel but in my version, the witch would have more closely resembled a zombie and rather than wanting to cook us in a pot, she'd have happily munched our raw brains!]  Even then, our path ended at a large fallen tree.  Since we were hiking early in the season, it turned out no one had been this way since the winter and the felled tree was an unexpected obstacle.  Mark scouted the way first and then we all followed single file in a very undignified crawl under said tree, then tracing his path through the unyielding undergrowth, attempting to avoid more than one conveniently jutting eye-level hazard.  Once we cleared the tree and could stand again, we found ourselves in the shadow of this nearly devoured old house.  After that it was only a hop, skip, and a jump -- not that we felt like hopping or skipping, let alone jumping by that time.  Crawling on our knees while wearing a 50 pound pack was never a favorite activity, but doing so after hiking 10 kilometers lowered its Fun Value even more.  I'm not complaining.  Okay, well, I am, but it's for a good reason.  I want you to imagine how we were feeling at this point.  Wiped.

Do you see a trail there? No, I didn't think so.


Shortly, the forest cleared to reveal the beach, hemmed in by sandstone shelf to the left and forest to the right, complete with a wonderfully derelict-looking boat, haphazardly tossed in amongst the bleached logs.  We began our now comfortably familiar routine of staking out our tent sites and setting things up.  As usual, immediately following tenting, our boots joyously came off.  This is when things turned dark.

We're talking epic nightmare here.  If Shakespeare were still alive he'd have written a new tragedy.  And it would have gone something like this:  The pivotal scene shows a supporting character, Jen, beside a tent, unpacking after removing her boots.  She is wearing purple water shoes.  Suddenly, there is much muttering and sand flying from the far side of the tent.  Jen goes around to the back side to find the lead, Melly, frantically pawing through her bag, items flung helter skelter as she goes.  The camera cuts away to a close up of her feet.  Both are sock-covered but only one is in a brown water shoe.  We then see a two-shot where Jen speaks to Melly, clearly concerned, and then she too starts searching, albeit a little less frantically.  At this point, Melly starts to resemble a dragon-- you know, smoke coming out of her nostrils, tail lashing, teeth gnashing, cursing.  (Dragons curse, right?)   And one foot stomping.  Yes, one of Melly's Crocs was missing.  [Insert dramatic music here.]

(I was a most dutiful daughter at the time, trying to help her find the offending AWOL sandal, and hoping this wouldn't ruin the trip for her.  Only now do I have the temerity -- and the 1500 mile distance! -- to tease her about this, especially, especially when she might say it was my fault.  [Maybe I can blame Mark?  hmmm...]  Because after mentally retracing our steps that day, the last place we knew we saw the sandal was when we had lunch and she and I both sat on our packs.  Where our shoes were clipped on the outside. By pressure-click carabiners.  And sure enough, we later found photo documentation [see below] that the shoe was missing two hours before we reached camp and we had made no other packs-off breaks since lunch.  GuiltyI'm sorry, Mamma.  Okay, to be completely honest, Past Jen was very sorry; Present nearly-one-year-later-Jen, however, is kind of delighted as it makes a great story.  And the moral of the story?  No, it's not "don't sit on your pack"; it's "buy brightly colored water shoes that do not blend in with your pack [or the surrounding terrain]!"  Oh, and maybe "secure your shoes in a different position".)

Look closely for the single camouflaged shoe.

After tearing through all our gear at least three times, as well as retracing our steps through the forest back as far as the overgrown house to no avail, we tried to settle back into our usual routine.  Knowing exactly how Mother felt (as I'd have reacted in precisely the same way),  I tried to give her some space to silently fume, and headed to the kitchen area with my journal and our water bottles.

I was surprised to find the fire deserted, save M & K and their usual ritual of boiling water and preparing dinner.  And then I spotted a few toques peeking up from the edge of the high sandstone shelf. Circumventing a good-sized surge channel, I climbed up the rocks on the far side and sure enough, almost everyone was there, silently taking in the reverberating sounds of the waves crashing into the cliff, swelling and receding near the edge.  I heard someone say "blow hole" and waiting patiently, we were rewarded with a 15 foot plume of water as the surging continued.  I think most of us could have sat there until dark, enveloped in the almost tangible sound of the churning sea so close, but either hunger, chill, or in my case, the need to catch up on a bit of writing (as I still hadn't had a chance to record all the details of Chez Monique) compelled us to return in ones and twos to camp.

Soon, most of the group was gathered around the fire in a flat, nearly empty patch of beach.  All except Bill who was still off bathing -- he was the most committed to trail hygiene of all of us and bathed every night no matter the temperature, which that night was freezing, as the unsheltered ocean was the only option.  (The rest of us usually managed a quick dunk every other day... plus or minus a day.  Or two.  No naming names here.  What happens in Hike Club, stays in Hike Club.  I swear, though, no one ever smelled.  Honest.)

One of the conditions of staying at Stanley Beach was to leave no trace so although we could have a small fire, we had to put everything back where we found it, including any logs we moved to sit on so we kept our kitchen to a bare minimum.  I settled down to write, but dinner was ready shortly: delicious Thai Red Curry Chicken & Tabouli with crackers and herbed goat cheese.  And for dessert?  Fire-roasted marshmallows!  Kelly had picked up a bag at Monique's plus Wenke added her own personal stash which she generously shared around.  It turns out Kelly is the World's Greatest Marshmallow Roaster.  I capitalize that because I actually thought I already knew a pair of world-renowned marshmallow masters but Kelly surpasses even them.  (Sorry, guys!)  The odd thing is, she doesn't even really like the marshmallows; but she'll happily roast them to perfection for you again and again! (Win!)

Mother managed to rejoin the group in time for dinner and although not quite her happy self, was making an effort to get past her shoe incident.  (I think the marshmallows helped.)

When dish duty came, we had to hoof it out to the shore as we weren't allowed to wash in Stanley Creek.  (Of course, by Day 5 Sanitation Standards, if you licked your bowl clean, that was almost good enough.  The real coup was timing it when the last of the hot water for drinks was used and about to be poured out which was then available for the lazy person's washing.)  The other noteworthy "leave no trace" aspect of camping on the Dididaht beach regarded bodily functions:

[EEWWW Factor imminent!  TMI Warning Alert! Daddy, you might want to skip the next paragraph.  I'm just saying... you've been warned.  Okay, it's not that bad.  Besides, I know you all (except Daddy) really want to know.]

No fancy WCT Composting Outhouse here.  Your options were hold it for 24 hours or use the vaguely disastrous-sounding Tidal Flush.  Which basically meant, do your business near the water, below high tide so that when the tide comes in, the ocean takes care of the "flush".  Logically, this meant not going at high tide unless you wanted to be squatting in ankle deep surf.  (Which just seems wrong.)  Initially, I'd envisioned a long, bare coast devoid of anything to take cover behind but the rocky outcropping where we'd watched the blowhole turned out to serve a dual purpose.  I'm sure Mother could have managed without this particular experience, but I was actually glad.  In my own bizarre Adventure Travel Personal Code of Ethics, I'd been thinking how-can-I-say-I-roughed-it-on-an-8-day-backpacking-trip if I never had to Take Care of Business without a toilet seat?  Plus, Future Jen now has the Tidal Flush experience in her back pocket, ready for anything when The Apocalypse comes...okay, or maybe just in my indy B-movie where we pretend it's the end of the world.

And on that note...   I think we've reached the end of Day 5.  Time for bed.  Or rather sleeping bag. 

[To keep reading, here's Day 6]

Friday, March 5, 2010

Oscar Countdown

So, the 82nd Annual Academy Awards are this Sunday evening, or to those of us that [feel like we] are close, personal friends, it's simply the Oscars.  Every year my goal is to see as many of the nominated films as possible.  Actually, my goal most of the time, is to see as many movies as possible; given my time-constraints as a mother of three, I think I manage my time quite well.  I'm sure more than one person would say I put movies before other, more important things.  (For example, my best friend wanted to catch a movie one night this week but I declined as I'd already seen everything on her list except for Polanski's new film, The Ghost Writer, which I'm dying to see but holding out for until after Sunday so I can see these more pressing films first.  [Sorry, Sweetie.] She'd probably say she doesn't find the Oscars terribly important.)  Seriously, though, what's more important???

So, given that I go to the movies on a weekly, even occasionally (if I'm very, very, lucky) daily basis, and that I usually see the art house and independent films first, you'd think I would be all set for Sunday night, right?  Wrong.  But I'm close, dangerously close.

As of last Sunday, a week before the Big Night, I was down to squeezing in my last handful of movies:
  • Precious (have to see; up for 6 Oscars and looks like Mo'Nique is almost guaranteed to win Best Supporting Actress.)
  • A Serious Man (another must see as not only is it the Coen Bros. but it's a Best Picture nominee as well as Original Screenplay)
  • The Lovely Bones (Tucci's up for Best Actor)
  • The Messenger (up for both Harralson for Best Supporting Actor and Original Screenplay
  • In the Loop (edgy, unexpected nominee for Best Original Screenplay)
  • The White Ribbon (German, up for Best Cinematography as well as Foreign Film)
I caught Precious late last night after our Cub Scout Pack Meeting. (Emotionally exhausting but excellent and my money is definitely on Mo'Nique.) Check.  A Serious Man (along with In the Loop) is sitting on my desk in the telltale red-and-white paper sleeve to watch tonight and tomorrow night with Rand.  Check-check.  I saw The Lovely Bones with my movie buddy on Monday.  Check.  (Tucci's one of my favortie actors but I don't think he'll win given his competition.  I'm betting on Jeff Bridges who is certainly deserving, not to mention overdue, but my personal vote is for Colin Firth's understated, moving portrayal of A Single Man grieving.  A fantastic film.  And an incredible score by Abel Korzeniowski that was snubbed.  If only I were a voting Academy member.)  I'm hoping to squeeze in The White Ribbon sometime this weekend-- when I'm not attending soccer games or watching my waiting Netflix Oscar nominees, that is.  Probable check.  The Messenger is my real problem.  It came and went so fast, that I missed it on first run and it did not return [bad movie, bad theaters, bad, bad] for an Oscar reprise.  I just assumed it was available and stuck it at the top of my Netflix queue but Daddy pointed out although you can put it in your queue, there's no available date yet and I have since learned it won't be released on DVD til May.  Grrrrr....  I hate having my micro-managing thwarted.  On the Win side, in an unexpected coup courtesy of the ever-fabulous Tim & Karrie League and the Alamo Drafthouse, I got to see the nominated Animated short films and Live Action short films back-to-back on Tuesday, [while the kids were in school -- Bonus!] which are excellent.  It was just me, a handful of other cinephilic Austinites and 2 classes of UT film students.  Of the Live Action shorts, I'm voting for the heartbreaking gem The Door, but my favorite of the animated was one of the 10 considered but not actually nominated:  the Polish The Kinematograph by Tomek Baginski. (It is a beautiful love letter to films about this old man and his wife as he strives to invent the moving picture.  A poignant piece-- and more cinematic than the other animated shorts, in my opinion. Again, it's a shame I'm not part of the Academy.) Of those actually nominated for Animated short, I'm having a hard time deciding: Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty, a grimmer version than you're used to, is hilarious and Logorama, a trademarked world with a Pulp Fiction vibe is very clever.

In the spirit of Full Disclosure, the obvious, and frankly gross, gaps in my list are both the Documentary and Foreign Film categories.  I enjoy both of these and usually see quite a few but somehow the ones I saw and the ones nominated failed to overlap this all.  Eeek...when I started this topic, I felt I was doing pretty well, but after that confession admission, I'm feeling down-right embarrassed to call myself a cinephile.  [Excuse me while I go frontload my netflix queue.]  I'm tough.  I can handle painful truths.  I have not seen... [deep breath in, deep breath out]...22 of the Oscar nominated films.  BUT, that includes the documentary shorts as well as feature films and foreign films.  If you take those out, that appalling number drops by 15 to a mere 7.  And one of those is the plotless Transformers sequel [Hey, I enjoyed the first film as much as anyone; despite being a woman I have no problem agreeing Megan Fox is hot.  I was all ready to see the new one until Rand said just re-watch the first one and you'll enjoy it much more.  So, T -- Don't you dare think of it as T2.  There's only one T2. -- Transformers 2 doesn't count, right?  I mean, it can't possibly win for Best Sound Mixing against Cameron's Avatar, Bigelow's The Hurt Locker, Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, and J.J. Abram's Star Trek, all vastly superior films.] so that put's me down to 6.  And, surely, I beat out plenty of the nominees (maybe even many of the Academy members themselves, but there does not appear to be a published list of all 5700+ members so I can only guess beyond the more high profile members like Tom Hanks, Steven Speilberg and John Williams.).  I mean, I seriously doubt Penelope Cruz made sure to see all the Animated and Live Short Films. (Pe, I apologize profusely if I'm wrong!  I know you won for your fantastic performance in Vicky Cristina Barcelona but I thought you were even better in Elegy and I loved Los Abrazos Rotos! Love, love!)

Still scoffing?  If so, go to the Academy's very handy alphabetical listing off all 58 nominated films and do your own personal count.  It's ok, I'll wait...

22 (or 6, in Jen's New [Movie] Math count) isn't so bad, now, eh?