Thursday, November 16, 2017

Announcing my Business to the Public & Celebrating our One Year Anniversary in Victoria, BC

Up to this point I'd been taking all the necessary steps towards starting my business: buying a truck, a chipper, some new tools and making sure all my paperwork was in order.  It's been a long process but honestly not all that difficult, it just took being organized.  The only big thing I hadn't done yet was actually let people know I'd started a business!  Up to this point I'd been working a few jobs, but only as referrals from my old boss passing jobs my way that he didn't have time for as he was moving out of the state.  It was about time to change that.


There are many ways to run a tree business and many pieces of equipment or abilities you can have or not have. When I first envisioned what I'd be doing, I figured I'd just have a pickup truck with a canopy on it, keep all my tools in the back, and have a chipper that would let me shoot piles of chips wherever.  Many people out here are fine with that, or more often you don't even do any chipping, you just leave brush in the woods.  Ideally, you have two trucks, the 'utility truck' that would haul around all your tools, and a 'chip truck' that is for filling with woodchips and then dumping.  But that is two different trucks, and I'm just one guy.  Plus, 4x4 dump trucks (4x4 is a must out here) are hard to find and very expensive.

Austen told me about a friend of his that had built a truck box for a pickup truck that did both, and unloaded with a manual conveyor belt... I was skeptical of this idea at first but after watching some youtube videos of the unloading system came up with a design in my head that I thought would offer me the best of both worlds: a way to haul around all my tools and still have a small box to chip into or haul wood with, all fitting within the bed of a standard pickup truck.  With that in my head, I made maybe one or two sketches and started building, beginning with the chip box, then the tool boxes would mount on the sides of that.


At this same time, I announced my business publicly.  In the islands there is a Facebook group used mostly for individuals selling items (craigslist doesn't really work here because it groups the islands with the mainland) but also used by local businesses.  I announced myself there, giving a bit of background about myself and I was off.


Marijke showing off her nice straight lines from mowing the lawn.


Also showing off crabs. The sun was shining, so a boat ride was an order.


I think it's tentacles got a little scrambled by the prop wash of my boat... but this is one of the big jellyfish we have.


On this particular boat outing we headed to Westsound, where this cool tug boat resides.


Back home and enjoying a little campfire.


A magnificent sunset from the lawn. It's so wonderful to see this kind of thing almost nightly... having a big open view to the west and seeing the setting sun every night is a wonderful treat, hopefully we can find nice west facing land when we buy our own place.


Back in daylight hours and back on the lawn, it was time to paint all the pieces of the chip box.  While I'd have loved a custom metal truck box, that would have cost thousands, so I had to do it myself with wood.  For this portion I used very sturdy plywood, 3/4", sanded all sides and edges, and put down a heavy duty primer and heavy duty final coat. The lawn and the racks I made for my firewood made for a good place to work and let the paint dry, and by doing it this way I could paint every surface before assembling the box, to ensure the wood was as sealed and as long lasting as possible.


Here it is together, in the back of the truck.  This was just step one, and from here on out I'd be driving around, using the truck box for work in various stages of completion.  It was a bit of a pain, but I had to start working, weather the box was 100% done or not.

By having this part done though, I had something I could catch chips shot from my chipper with, and unload them with the belt system instead of having to crawl in and shovel it out.  For the time being, tools would just have to be piled on the sides of the box.  Not great, but it got me working.


And here is some of that work.  This was the job I was getting the chip box done for.  The customer didn't want the chips (fairly rare out here) from this cedar removal, so in the truck box they went.  Despite the box being very small by tree work standards, it's sure better than nothing, and fit everything I made on that job.  Without that ability I wouldn't have gotten the job, so I was excited to actually have the ability to catch and haul chips away.


The things you find in rotten wood... some bugs are pretty alien looking eh? Gloved finger for scale.


Back home with Baxter.  This is a funny  picture because he's the friendliest cat ever and looks so  mean here.  He's actually yawning in this one, but looks like he's ready to attack.


Shortly after making my announcement online, I made some posters and put one at the kiosk on Shaw.  I am now officially the islands tree guy it seems.


Summer and deck beers are the best. As I am writing this all the way in November, on a rainy day, I'm missing sitting on the deck with Marijke every afternoon enjoying a cold beer in the sun.


We weren't the only ones thirsty on a hot day, the humming birds were busy at the feeder as well.


A large crab in Blind Bay.


Independence Day was here again, and once again I was driving a firetruck in the parade.  This time it was our 1973 International brush truck, and I'd be leading the parade.  Marijke was my passenger and waved to everyone as we drove.


The nuns were very excited to see us drive by.


Other than the parade, I kind of took the holiday weekend off this year, usually there are a bunch of events I'd go to but wasn't feeling it.  This was the first July in the house though, and it was exciting to realize from our deck we could see the top half of the fireworks display from Friday Harbor that night.


Back at work, on a job that was mostly just chipping up brush piles.  Boring, but pays the bills.  You may notice the box looks different, after that first job I realized I needed to make some changes, and swapped the plywood to the inside of the frame to make the box smooth on all sides so it actually unloads properly.  I'll have a video eventually, but to unload the whole chip box, about 4 cubic yards, you simply turn the hand crank and it all spills out.  Pretty nifty.


Back home and continuing to beautiful the property.  Below the cliff our house sits on is this pond.  Over the decades it had gotten totally overgrown to the point where it was essentially not visible and I decided to remedy that.  By removing brush, a few small trees, and limbing up the trees I kept, it was like a whole new place.  Eventually I'll be able to see this pond from my deck, but that will take a lot more work. Ah the things you do for fun when you cut trees for a living and own a chipper....


Relaxing together on the highest point on the island.


Early July is my great aunt's birthday and this year she was turning 100, so off to the mainland we went to celebrate.  As we neared Anacortes, this was the sun over Mt Erie.


Docking.


Also on the list for this visit was to collect  my Baja Bug.  It had been sitting in my great aunts garage (thanks for letting me keep it there!) for the past two years, after the big road trip I took it on actually, but it was time to get it out and the plan is actually to sell it.  So I borrowed a car hauler trailer and loaded it up.


It was time for my great aunt's 100th birthday party and the number of guests (and the food) were impressive.  She is a great lady who has had a long and interesting life.  Growing up she was basically our 'third grandma' and we loved staying at her house when we were little.


Her 100th birthday also happened to be on our 1st wedding anniversary, so we snagged the '1' from her balloons for this little celebration photo of our own.


Everyone getting lined up for the group photo. That is my great aunt there in the blue behind Marijke.


With that celebration over, it was time to return to the islands and have our own little event.  For this, we decided to take the ferry that goes from Friday Harbor to Vancouver Island, BC and have a little 'Canadian getaway.'


The weather was of course perfect, and it was fun to be on a ferry boat seeing different islands than usual.  In the distance there you can see Sydney BC, where the boat would be landing.  As we got off the boat, the brakes on the car seemed to be making strange noises and we were worried something was wrong.  Using google maps we headed for the closest brake shop we could find, which was called Peninsula Tireland Auto Center.  They were able to fit in taking a look at our car, found nothing and didn't charge us a cent.  Very friendly and helpful people.  Such is Canada...


Because there are of course no restaurants on Shaw, everything we eat we have to make ourselves.  On this trip we decided to treat ourselves and eat out all the time, in search of variety.  This was a Korean and Japanese place we enjoyed a lot.


Being Canada, everything was just a little different, and if I'm honest many of them different for the better.  I found this part amusing, where instead of a memorial to a certain war, it was specifically a memorial to Canadian peacekeepers, and flew the UN flag. 


The city of Victoria was our main goal for this extended weekend, but on the drive down we stopped at the Butterfly Gardens which was a short detour off the main road. 


Both Marijke and I thought it was a great place and well worth the stop.  They have a sort of 'indoor jungle' habitat you can walk through that contains a lot more than butterflies, and everywhere you look you find something new and interesting. 


Rather than stay in the downtown area we choose to stay a bit outside, in a neighborhood that was quite nice, reminding me a lot of the quiet tree filled streets of north Seattle where I grew up.


We found a place to stay through Air B&B which was quite nice.


The downtown waterfront in Victoria is very nice and very touristy.  But that's alright, we came here to be tourists.  Everything was clean, pedestrian friendly, and well maintained.  Including this topiary of orca whales. 


The weekend we visited was particularly busy and full of life because it was a multi-day street performer festival.  All over the place you would come across performers doing acrobatics, making jokes and in various forms of costumes.  It was certainly a big change from life on Shaw that's for sure!


Boats like this always capture my attention and imagination, and there were a number of cool boats in the harbor. 


Funny thing is while it seems the Empress Hotel seems to get much of the attention from visiting tourists, neither Marijke or I really cared about it.  I didn't even manage to get an unobstructed photo of the thing, haha. 


The Parliament building on the other hand is stunning and a form of architecture I enjoy a great deal. 


Most of our time was spent wandering around the streets and we wound up walking through the 'houseboat neighborhood' which was cute, but man it was a zoo. Hard to imagine anyone could actually enjoy living here with all the.... people like us.... wandering around looking.


Walking through Victoria's 'China town.'


The cute alleyways full of shops.


And more street preformers.  Before this act, we stopped by this same spot to catch a band playing a few songs.  It really wasn't our intention to come during this event, but I really enjoyed seeing it because it made for a great deal of vibrant entertainment everywhere you looked.

That night we were going to hit up a bar and see a rock concert, however Marijke hurt her foot and we had to cancel that plan.  Oh well.  (it wasn't anything serious, but did require calling it a night)


The next morning we had a huge brunch at one of those 'hip alternative brunch spots' and visited the Royal British Colombian Museum.  I enjoy museums a fair bit and this one is particularly good.  It had very good exhibits detailing both the natural world and the culture of the area, and I was surprised to see what were essentially period recreations of city streets, with numerous buildings to go into and explore. 


Shortly afterward, it was time to head back to the ferry and back home.  I think this was the first time  Marijke got to flash her green card, and we headed over the imaginary line that separates this island from our own.  It was a great little get away and I hope to do something similar next year.

That's it for this post.  The next installment is the real start of beginning to work for myself, Marijke's brother Stijn visits us for an extended period where among other things we climbed Mt Baker (‎10,781 ft), the wedding of a high school friend and more of the San Juan Islands scenery.  Always more to come.  

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Brief Jaunt to the Desert

This post is a bit different from most because although the scenery of the San Juan islands sure is lovely, I do still manage to get away once in a while and this one is about a serious change of scenery: the desert southwest.  My friend Sam, who I've known since sophomore year of high school was going to get married in the summer and for his bachelor party a bunch of us friends were going to hike in the desert and then hit Las Vegas.  It had been quite a while since I'd had any real time away from home in a while and I was excited to go to a part of the country I've explored numerous times, but always find myself wanting to return to.  In order to get there however there is a bit more of life at home, then a short plane ride to another world.


Wedging trees over on a steep hillside on Orcas.  This was a fun project because by taking out some of the 'boring' trees we were able to expose a few big old firs with some awesome twisted branches, as well as the water beyond.


A centipede mom and it's babies I came across while moving some rotten wood. 


Exciting news for the Shaw Fire Department, we got a new truck.  Well, new to us at least.  It is a retired truck from the DNR and while we need to put a bit of work into it before it enters service, it is a much smaller and more maneuverable truck than any of our full size engines and will be able to get in places they would be unable to reach.


My current saw collection. Got a few more on the wish list...


We don't go to Orcas for fun very often but on this Saturday we did and grabbed a bit at the farmers market in town.


Marijke feeding the chipper as we worked together removing a group of half rotten trees.  I need to put a fresh set of knives on the chipper, but overall I am extremely happy with my purchase. 


As part of that same project we took down a big fir that was leaning over one of the old airplane hangers by putting a rope in it up high and pulling it over with the truck as I cut.


It was finally time for the change of scenery I talked about, and I headed south to Seattle where I met my friends early in the morning and headed to the airport.


We totally misjudged how long everything was going to take us and almost missed our flight, but as we ran through the terminal, reaching the gate expecting the worst we found the plane was actually delayed. Hurry up and wait I guess. 


It's nice to sit with old friends on a plane instead of total strangers.  I don't get to do that very often.


We arrived in Vegas and picked up our rental van, a new Ford Transit 15 seater.  It fit the whole crew and our bags and worked out perfectly.  You may recall I drive a Ford van, an Econoline that is 20 years older than this, and let me tell you they have made some serious improvements...


As soon as we had everyone and loaded up the van we hit the road, stopping for supplies and lunch.   We were headed for Coyote Gulch which is almost 7 hours away in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. 


Stopping for some delicious pizza in the town of Escalante as we neared out camp for the night.


That first night we turned off the paved road onto a decent dirt road, and found a big open space to set our tents a few miles from the trail head.  Sunrise on the surrounding hills the next morning was beautiful, but only a taste of what was to come.


The whole group at the trail head. All of us have been friends since high school at least, meaning a good 15 years together.


After walking down a sandy trail with some low brush, we quickly found ourselves walking on solid waves of stone.


I'd intentionally done zero research on where we were actually going, I guess I wanted it to be a surprise.  It is hard to make out what it actually there, but those dark, roughly horizontal spots are the top edge of what we were headed.


The hike in was only a few miles, but in the Utah heat it was still a bit of effort.  Before we knew it, we were right above the gulch and would be down soon.  That said, there is still no real sense of what you are about to enter, especially when you look out in every direction and see nothing but bare rock.


Besides starting at the ends of the gulch, there is only one way in and here it is.  We scrambled down the rock one at a time and while it required quite a bit of care, we all did just fine.


As soon as you reach the bottom of the rock, in front of you is basically a stream oasis.  Inside this narrow cut in the solid stone landscape it is cool, green and truly another world.


Once we were all down and together, we headed up the gulch, walking in the shallow, cool stream running down the middle and finding ourselves at the base of these sweeping, overhanging bends in the river course, hundreds of feet high.  I was honestly blown away, the whole place was so dramatic, the scale was just huge and the shapes seemed Dali-esque.

My camera doesn't have a wide angle lense which would have helped capture some of the scenery, but I think it's one of those places that is just impossible to capture.  No photo can share the sense of being under one of these overhanging bends, standing in a cool stream, in this cut in the earth in the middle of the desert and with the red and yellow stone all around you.


For a campsite we got one of the prime spots in the gulch, right under the Jacob Hamblin Arch, one of the most impressive stone features I've ever seen. 

I don't usually do this, but because I couldn't capture it in a way that gave it the slightest bit of justice, I'm going to share a photo from someone else that does a better job: Photo by Jack Brauer


That sandy patch with the little trees, that was where we would spend the next two nights. Simply amazing...


After making camp, we wandered along the valley, walking barefoot through the stream and marveling at this incredible place.


My tent, our crew, and what is probably in the top 5 places I've ever camped.


Relaxing in the stream. 


Cooking dinner in the evening, still perfect t-shirt and shorts weather. 


Waking up with the sun coming through the arch. As I turned and looked the other way between the walls of the canyon, I could still see the moon, still in the sky.


Scrambling up the loose stone under the arch.  A little sketchy to be honest.


We were going to be spending a second night in the canyon, so today was all about exploring.  Everyone packed up some food, water and we headed down stream, wading in the water barefoot mostly. 


Sam (the one getting married) taking a little dunk.


Around every bend was more incredible features.


We were hoping to get all the way to the Escalante River, but it was fairly slow going and we ran out of time.  This was the spot where we turned around.


A celebratory beer back in camp. (yes, we carried a 30-pack across the desert and into the canyon. and yes, we packed everything back out!)


Night two.


The way back out was hot and somewhat slow going.


Just like on the way in, we stopped at Escalante Outfitters for some grub.


With food in our bellies, we drove back south and all the way to Las Vegas, where we stayed at the Hooters Hotel. It was close and cheap.  And yah, it felt cheap.... 


On the strip.  To be honest, Vegas is about my least favorite place to be.  It looks interesting for a night or two, and is a good place to catch a show, but other than that, nothing about it appeals to me.  Then again, I live in the woods on a tiny island, soooo.... I'm probably not the target audience.


I think this may be the only time I've ever 'gambled'.  I put a dollar into the penny slot. At first I bet a penny, but it was going to slow and I was bored, so I bet 10c at a time (when is the last time you did anything for just ten cents?) and got up 43 cents, wow!  Then I got bored again, and hit the 10 cent bet rapidly until I lost "all" my money.  Thus started and ended my gambling career.


We actually had two nights in Vegas, they kind of blend together.


With a group as large as ours, it would up being cheaper to take a limo than rent taxis. 


Vegas is quite a scene.


An acquaintance had a fancy hotel overlooking the strip and we stopped in for a drink.


The view from the balcony. Eventually, it was time to return to our room and call it a night.


The next morning most of us were just ready to get out of Vegas, and rather than try and find something to do around the hotel or the strip, we just headed to the airport early.  The flight home was very welcoming, because we had clear views of Mt Rainier and the other things that make our part of the world special, and what makes me feel at home.  The desert is nice, and I will certainly be back for more of that (I'll probably skip Vegas), but snow covered volcanoes, this is where I want to live.