Sunday, October 16, 2016

Unexpected Traffic

If you want some quiet flat roads to ride in the pinelands then you can head towards Chatsworth NJ... unless it is the third weekend in October since the town hosts one of the largest cranberry festivals in NJ that weekend. This was a fact that I was not aware of when Laura asked me for a route from Mansfield for her Saturday ride. I gave her a route we did back in July when it was 90 +. After looking over the route I made a couple of tweaks one to check out Chatworths lake and two to shorten the ride a little.

After 3 weekends of riding in or with the threat of rain we had a sunny forecast. It was a cold 45 degrees but was going to warm up quick.  Laura had a good group of people show up including one new face. Since the last time we did a ride out of here we had a crash I did the holy kickstand thing. I don't know if it helps but it can't hurt. I decided to try out the new bike trail in the park to get to Island Rd. It was wide nicely paved and cuts out half of the bumpy Island Rd so I would use it again the next time I'm down this way.

I decided not to wear a jacket so for the first 10 miles it was a little cold. We maintained a good pace as we wound through Browns Mill and on to Lebanon State forest. After a quick break at the ranger station we headed towards Chatsworth. As we headed down towards town I thought it must be garage sale day for the town since there were a lot houses with stuff for sale in their driveways.

As we got closer to town there was more and more traffic. It became obvious that some kind of festival was going on. There were cars parked along the road a least a mile from town and the road had bumper to bumper traffic. There had to be a least 10,000 people walking around the different tents and food stand set up. It took us 10 minutes to get through the middle of town and back to riding again.

Nine miles later we were at Nixons General store. There was a dog rescue charity selling food so I bought a brownie from them which was really good.

From Nixons we made our way through Vincetown as we headed our way back to Mansfield. Along the way Jim's chain started skipping so we stopped and found that one of the follow wheels on his derailleur was stuck. A loosing of the screw of the wheel fixed the problem but as Jim found out later the bearings on the follow wheels were totally shot.  

Regardless of the traffic in Chatsworth or the slight derailleur problem it ended up being a good ride as we got in 62 miles at a 16.8 pace. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Rare Midweek Ride

I had planned to take a vacation day today to volunteer for some work down at our condo but that got reschedule so I decided to go for a ride since I got rained out this past weekend. I got Jack to join me and we did this route from Griggstown to Whitehouse Station and back.

I wanted to do this ride to get some hill work in since I have been doing flat rides for the past few weeks. It was a cool and foggy at the start and with the leaves turning there is no doubt that fall is here.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Customer Support

There is nothing more frustrating then having to deal with a customer support department when something you own breaks down and you needs to be repaired. The internet has made it easier to get answers to questions and fix simple problems but there are times when you need to make human contact to get a problem resolve.

Over 9 months ago the buttons on our 3 year old Samsung refrigerator stopped working. The problem didn't affect the operation of the refrigerator it just meant we could not switch between ice or water or change any other setting on the refrigerator. It took two repairmen 4 visits over 4 months to diagnose the problem which turned out to be a broken wire in the top of the door. The reason it took so long to find the problem was that is was hard to find a repairmen for a Samsung refrigerator. We have a repairman who we usually call but he could not find enough technical information to do the repair so after replacing a couple of boards he had to give up. We of course called Samsung. At first they said they would send us the name of a repairman to contact but after two weeks we hadn't heard from them we called them back and they told us there were no Samsung repairmen in our area.

A call to another Samsung number finally got us a number of a repairman who was pretty good but still took two more visit to find the broken wire. You would think that fixing a broken wire would be easy however the wire broke about 6 inches below the top of the door inside channel that was inaccessible. What was even worst was there was no way to get to the inside of the door and replace the wiring harness. The only way to fix the broken wire was to replace the entire door. At $300 + for a new door I was a little reluctant to replace it but that would be cheaper then a new refrigerator.

Three weeks after ordering the door I called the repair place to ask when the door would be in I was told that it was not just out of stock but was no longer available. This meant that there was no way to fix the broken wire. I did a bunch of online searches to try to track down a new door and found a few only to be told a few day later each time that what was shown in stock was actually not available.

Samsung customer support was also totally useless. Every time we contacted them they would send us to the same part site which clearly showed the part was no long available. When I responded to the email telling them that the part was no longer available I got response telling me they were sorry for the problem with not having to part then sent me the same form letter directing back to the same site that I told them didn't have the part.

In a desperate attempt to get some one to realize that not having parts for a 3 year old refrigerator did not inspire confidence in the Samsung brand I searched for the contact in the customer complaint department and sent out a messages to every address I could find.  Most of them came back with the same form letter I got customer support with a link to the useless parts site. However one of the messages I sent actually got a response from a real person in North Jersey that wanted more details about the problem. Once I explained the details of what the problem was and the fact that I could not get a part for a 3 year old Samsung product she was very apologetic and promised to look into it see if she could resolve the issue. I expected wait weeks to get a response but a few days later she confirmed that the part was no longer available said that she would look into getting me some kind of refund on the refrigerator even though it was out of warranty.

I sent her some paperwork on the price I paid for the refrigerator and where I got it and was told I would get some kind of refund. I expected to get some prorated amount based on what I paid and if lucky figured I would get half the original price back. I was then surprised to find that Samsung offered me a full refund of the price I paid for the refrigerator. So although the whole process was a perfect example of how horrible most customer support is, it proved that if you are persistent, I mean really persistent you might get some satisfaction out of the process. I am not happy at the design or repair-ability of Samsung appliances but have to appreciate the way they stood behind the product and provided a full refund when they really didn't have to.

We are using the refund to replace the refrigerator with a brand that won't be a Samsung. They make great TVs but I'm going to stay away from their appliances. Appliance today don't seem to be any more reliable than they were 20 years ago and they are more sophisticated  which means a lot more things can go wrong. I have an old Amana refrigerator in my garage we use during holidays that is 40 years old and still works. It even has a built in AM/FM cassette player.  They just don't make them like they use to.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Delicious Orchard

Some rides are scenic rides others are destination rides. My ride this week was a destination ride to Delicious Orchards. Delicious Orchards is one of the best farm market/baked goods place in NJ so if  you want to indulge in fried apple fritters or some large danishes this is the place to go. There is nothing particularly bad about the roads getting there or back its just that they are not especially scenic.  Riding out this way means you have to deal with some traffic in spots and some days are worst than others. I try to keep to quiet back roads but as this area has continued to be built up that is getting a little harder.

Jim and Laura joined me at my house and we road into Etra Park where we picked up John and Peter. I would of had more people except for the fact that is was misting out. The forecast had called for cloudy with zero chance of rain so I thought that it would clear up as we rode east. We did this route which has parts of our normal Belmar and Sandy Hook rides. The rain persisted and we went in and out of heavy misting rain. It wasn't cold but it wasn't really warm either so I'm glad I decided to put the arm warmers on.

By the time we got to Delicious Orchards the rain had stopped but still no sun. The problem with stopping here is that there are so many good things to eat here it is hard to choose. I grabbed an large apple cinnamon danish which I didn't think I 'd finish but as soon as I tasted it I could stop eating it. (Peter actually bought and ate 2 of them). Jim had the fried apple fritters. Luckily nobody had panniers so we could not bring more junk food home.

The ride back home was dry but still cool and cloudy. We made our way through Freehold then back to Etra Park where we finally saw some blue sky and the sun. I got this picture of Laura taking a picture of the clouds. If you check out Jim's blog you will see a picture of me taking a picture. This is just part of the stupid stuff we do on our rides.

By the time I got back to my house I had 62 miles. Even though we got a little wet it still was an enjoyable ride. Now that it is autumn and the weather is turning colder it is important to get long rides like this in when you can.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Inside Passage

The south east coast of Alaska is series of bays, islands, straits and channels all surrounded by high mountains. Its a beautiful area to cruise around no matter what the weather is. The last stop for our cruise was in the town of Ketchikan. This is one of the wettest places on earth and gets over 150 inches a rain a year on average. We had been really luck with the weather for our trip. Although we had some clouds in Skagway and Hoonah with a brief light shower we really had not seen any rain for the entire trip which is very unusual for this part of Alaska since it is a temperate rain forest. In Ketchikan we finally got some real rain for most of the day which seemed appropriate. They call it liquid sunshine here as a way to rationalize the fact that it rains 80% of the time.

The rain really didn't stop us from exploring the town as we had brought rain gear with us for just this occasion. We spend some time checking out the stores here as we had done in some of the other ports. Since it was the end of the season everything was half off or more so I picked up some nice T-shirts and sweatshirts.

Since we had been to Ketchikan before we had done most of the activities we wanted to do last time and didn't have any concrete plans for the day. We ended up checking out the lumber jack show in town as a fun way to waste a hour.

It was actually very entertaining as the people in the show were professional lumberjacks and showed us why this is an actual sport. It was really pouring rain during the show but it didn't seem to matter to lumberjacks. Luckily we were in the stands under a roof.

The last day of the cruise was spent coming down the inside passage. This is a channel along the Canadian coast that gets you into Vancouver. Its is very scenic and was a good way to finally relax and wind down after 2 weeks of active vacationing. It felt strange to have a day with almost nothing to do. I did actually walked around the ship and tryed out the rock wall. I always wanted to climb one and it ended up being easier than I thought.

Besides packing for the trip home we mostly sat on our balcony and watched the world go by. The scenery was as good as it had been for most of our trip. We even had some sun glinting off the water at strange angles that made it seem like there were thousands of flashbulbs going off under the waves. I took a video of it but really didn't capture what it really felt like.

It was a quiet day just watching the mountains and other ships go by. After 2 weeks with out any real internet or phone access it was easy to relax and not get distracted by anything. The day cruising gave me time to process all we had done and seen. I don't think I have even see and experience so many amazing things in such short a period of time. When we started planing this vacation 10 months ago we hoped it would be as good as our last vacation in Alaska. Now that the vacation is over I can say this vacation exceeded our expectations and confirmed our belief that Alaska is one of the most beautiful and unique places you can visit. I can't quite explain to people why it is so special. Yes it has some amazing scenery and wildlife and yes it has a certain appeal because it is a somewhat untamed and uncivilized place but there is something more to it than that. There is a certain energy and openness to this land that seems to pull you in makes you want to explore it all.

I don't know if or when we will be back to Alaska but there are 4 or 5 more things we want to see and do, so I expect another trip here is in our distance future. Alaska is not the easiest place to vacation and it lacks some of the basic luxuries of normal society but if you have an adventurous spirit and enjoy the great outdoors this is one place you have to visit at least once in your life.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Bruce the Moose Gave Lorrie a Smooch

If you are even near Skagway Alaska you need to go to the Kroschel Wildlife Center. Its more an interactive animal experience than a zoo and the owner Steve Kroschel is an entertaining and eccentric guide to this unique animal habitat. There are a couple of unique animals here that you probably can't see any where else. Alaska is more lax with laws protecting you from animals so you will be able to get closer to these animals than you could anywhere else.

Steve Kroschel is well regarded wildlife film maker and has created some award winning films for PBS. He is also one of the main sources of snow and avalanche scenes in movies. He has been on a number of talk shows with his animals and was a favorite of Johnny Carson. His wildlife rescue center in Haines Alaska is clearly his passion and the orphan animals he recuses he treats as his family.

After a ferry ride from Skagway to Haines followed by a bus ride we arrived at a remove driveway in the middle of nowhere. A women meet us at the bus and told us about the refuge as we walked up the hill. In the background we saw a man running through the woods making some crazing chirping sounds. When we arrived at pen in enclosure there was Steve standing next to a wolf who was nipping at him like a friendly dog.

He told us a lot of interesting information about the wolf and made it pose for some photos. He then had us howl at the wolf until it howled back then ran off to the woods again as his assistant took us to the main compound.

The main compound has a series of pens and what can be best described as outdoor stages that are used to show the animals. Each pen and stage is made in such a way that if you take photos from a certain points it looks like the animals are in the wild in their natural environment. This is one reason Steve gets a lot of visits from film makers looking to get shots of animals. Instead of spending days in the wild hoping to get the shot they need they can just come to the wildlife refuge.

In the main compound we got to see and pet a fox and arctic fox. He also when into a pen and picked up a sleeping Lynx. He must have a good relation with it to wake it up and give it a stretch.

Steve also brought out a wolverine on a lease. If you ever see a wolverine in the wild you are probably seconds from dying as these small animals are known for their ferocity and strength. Wolverines can easily kill a full size moose. They are very intelligent and are one of the few animals that can kill a porcupine without getting stung by its needles (it does this by quickly biting its face off).  

Speaking of porcupines he brought one out for us to see and pet. It was pretty dam cute until he explained that if you get a needle in you it can't just be pulled out but will burrow into your skin until it comes out some where else or kills you. There have been cases where people died from a needle that pierced their skin and then months later pierced one of their vital organs.

We keep walking uphill until be got to one of the larger areas that contained a couple of caribou. The assistant brought out one of the baby caribou that we could pet and feed. Caribou's have really soft fur.

Then we got to kiss the moose.

Steve brought out a bucket of large carrots and feed them to a moose in a pen through an open door. Then he asked people to put the carrot in their mouth and let the moose take it from them. It was a little scary to be that close to a moose because in the wild they are very mean and will charge and kick people to death with out any warning. They are actually more dangerous to encounter in the wild than grizzly bears.

This one however was well trained. After we saw how easy it was everybody wanted to do it. My wife was real excited about doing it and I got a great shot of it. I did it too because how many times are you going to be able to kiss a moose. In case you are curious I will say the moose was gentle and had really soft lips so I won't mind a second date.

After the moose encounter we headed back down hill. We hear the wolf howling call us, he new pack, so we all howled back at him. Steve asked us to say "he kitty, kitty, kitty" and we did expecting some type of cat but instead a grizzly bear ran out from the woods. It was behind a wire fence so we were not in any danger but it is still scary to see a grizzly bear running towards you. It was feeding time so they feed the bear, who's name is kitty, some blueberry pie and salmon. Bears it turns out are picky eaters. They love salmon of course but only like the good salmon like king and sockeye and won't eat the chum salmon which is the worst tasting of the salmon.

During the entire visit Steve was constantly making chirping, moaning or other weird sounds as he handled the animals. He even kissed the wolverine. He is a strange man with some eccentric new age ideas but he was also very charming and you can't visit this place and not want to help him preserve these animals and the wilderness they live in. It was a really fun experience.

After our visit ended we got back on the bus to the ferry and then back to the cruise ship. Although it was an hour and a half ride to get to the wildlife refuge and back the bus driver and ferry operator kept us entertained with stories about the area and a description of the land around us.This was true of all our transportation for all our tours. The rides never seemed long because of the scenery and the skill in all our tour guides in sharing their knowledge and experience of Alaska.

The day after Skagway we were in Hoonah Alaska which is a town owned by one of the native Tlingit tribes. Originally this town was a fishing village that was used by the tribe to gather the many salmon in the area. I was hoping for some interesting history of the native culture here but what we found was more a shopping village with some outdoor amusements like a zip line. It was about as authentic as the Indian casino in Connecticut. It was still a cool place to walk around.

We also ended up doing another whale watching trip and saw more orcas. This time I tried to get a video of them to try and capture more of what it feels like to be so close to them.

I also learned there are two types of orcas resident and transient. The resident ones live in the same are and don't migrate. They eat only fish, mostly salmon. The transient orcas migrate to find food and only eat other mammals like seals and humpback whales. This is where the term killer whale comes from. They also travel in large packs that hunt together.  The ones we saw today were transient ones as there were a lot of them and the guide says that they don't see them that often in this area. This is one of the reasons we did see any humpback whales since they were hiding.

Seeing whales no matter what type they are is a surreal experience and makes you appreciate these great animals a lot more than seeing them in an aquarium. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Glacier Explorations

If you go to Alaska you will see a lot of glaciers. You almost can't look at a mountain in any part of the state and not see two or three of them. They are all slightly different and unique in their own way so even though you may think you would get glacier fatigue after seeing 20 or 30 of them the truth is seeing the 30th one is almost as cool as seeing the first one.

After spending seven days exploring the interior of Alaska we flew from Fairbanks to Anchorage to get on a cruise ship and explore the southeast part of the state. Most of the cities in this part of the state are not accessible by road so the only way to get to them is by sea or air so cruising is the best way to get to tour these cities and see the natural wonders along the coast.

The first day on the cruise ship was a leisurely cruise into Disenchantment Bay which is home to the Hubbard glacier. It was good to have a quiet easy day like this after our first hectic 7 days. The Hubbard glacier is 6 miles wide and over 700 feet high. The mountains behind it are 8,000 to 10,000 feet high so it is really hard to appreciate the true size of this thing unless you are there. The ice that forms the glacier start as snow on the mountain tops 122 miles away and takes about 450 years to move down the slopes to the bay. This is one of the few glaciers that is growing and as the ship got closer you could hear it move. It sounded like small claps of thunder. The last time where were here is was pouring rain and cold. Today was yet another perfect sunny day so we stood up on deck as the ship hovered need the glacier.

Today there was a lot of calving and we saw a lot of big chunks of the glacier fall off and splash in the water. The sound of the tons of ice hitting the water sounded Thor's hammer as it had a loud thunderous sound.

We spend about an hour an a half at the glacier then cruised out of the bay towards Juneau. 

The next day Juneau we had scheduled two tours. The first one was a hovercraft ride to a glacier. This was a lot of fun. We took a high speed ferry from Juneau to Taku bay then got on to hovercrafts to go to the Taku glacier. The weather was sunny and calm so the water of the bay was glass smooth which was perfect for the 6 person hovercrafts.

The reason they use hovercrafts to get to this glacier is because this particular glacier is slowly growing and mowing down a forest and wet land. In the process it is pushing a lot of silt that is coming out of the glaciers into mud banks and sand piles. The hovercrafts can go over the water and mud banks and get you right to the base of the glacier.

Taku glacier is 5 miles wide and about 200 feet high. This glacier is also growing but unlike the Hubbard glacier this one is pushing dirt, sand and rock ahead of it and not just falling into the bay. This means that in front of the glacier there is a little island and sand pile to view the glacier from.

After parking the hovercrafts on the mud bank we climbed one of the large sand piles to get a closer look at the glacier.

This gave us an up close look at the glacier and we even got to walk on part of it. This glacier is very dirty since it is pushing down trees and rocks as it comes down the slopes from the Juneau ice fields. It also had some cool cracks in it that let you look deep into it so you could see some really deep blue ice.

As the snow gets compressed to ice as it travels down the mountain over 400 years, more and more of the air gets compressed out of the ice and it goes from white to clear to blue.

We spend an hour exploring the glacier. While we were doing this one of the drivers of the hovercraft was panning for gold in the run off from the glacier and actually found a few flakes.

It turns out one of the more popular hobbies in Alaska is panning for gold. The average pannier make about $3200 a year. It does take a lot of knowledge and patience to find gold but I guess it can be a hobby that actually makes money.

After the Taku glacier trip we decided to do a evening whale watching cruise. The last time we were in Juneau we saw a lot of different whales which was really awe inspiring. We also saw some whales this time mostly Orcas.

But it was hard to anticipate where the would surface it was not easy to get a good picture. It was still a cool experience. The scenery was also amazing especially towards sunset.

So although it was another long day we were glad we took advantage of the many things to do in Juneau.