Rambling travelogs from a world traveler

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Gilbert Whisler and Pearl Harbor Revisited

"Only the dead have seen the end of war." ~ Plato

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

It's Dec 7th - A Day That Will Live In Infamy - and it lead me to google Gilbert Whisler. I wrote about him earlier here and here.

Google linked me to the Find a Grave website.  This is a link to Gilbert Whisler's grave that I visited.  It also has a picture of the temporary grave site where he was interred until being moved to the punchbowl.

TogetherWeServed.com has a link here with the picture of Private Whisler I posted earlier.  It also says cause of death was drowning, suffocation which leads me to the sad conclusion he was one of the unlucky souls trapped below decks but close enough to an entry to be recovered.

So...on the 72nd anniversary of Pearl Harbor, another post.  Maybe the last.  It is my hope that all you Gentle Readers and Loved Ones will take a moment and remember those that have gone before.

Dad / Geoff

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Eagle

  "There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man by which so much happiness is produced as  a good tavern."  ~   Samuel Johnson

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones All,

I am back home now after circumnavigating the globe in 12 days.  

We spent one night in Cambridge, England.  FedEx freight going into the London area arrives at London Stanstead Airport.  Then we cab up to Cambridge to layover.  Enroute we passed by the Duxford Imperial War Museum - which I one day hope to visit.

Other than the university - home of the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics (Newton!  Hawking!) - one of Cambridge's most famous landmarks is the Eagle.  Established in 1500, it's a great place to eat and drink.

The Eagle is famous for two things.  In 1953, Watson and Crick announced the discovery of DNA there at lunch.  

More importantly, from my point of view, is the RAF Bar.  There are aviation pictures all over the wall and various RAF and USAF Squadron Stickers (zaps) applied on manifold surfaces.  There are a huge number of Eagle photos here.

Most important of all is the ceiling.  During WWII, RAF pilots used their lighters, candles and other incendiary devices to burn and smoke graffiti and their names in the ceiling where they remain today.  

On that happy note, I remain,


Monday, November 11, 2013

Dubai Desert Safari

“No, no! The adventures first, explanations take such a dreadful time.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

I am presently in Dubai.  Yesterday I experienced one of the top ten best layover experiences of my highly mediocre FedEx career.  Let me tell the story chronologically.  

I am flying this trip with an old friend - we have flown together more than a few times.  When we found out that we had a two day layover in Dubai, we decided to be tourists.  Since the flight here from Paris was over 8 hours, we picked up a Relief First Officer (RFO) so we could spend some down-time in the back of the airplane at cruise.  Federal Aviation Regulations do not permit us to exceed 8 hours in a day at the controls.  Emails flew back and forth and we decided to begin researching Dubai's infamous "Desert Safari".

A side story now.  The hotel in Dubai treats us to a free 18:30 Happy Hour in the 6th floor's Executive Lounge.  All the crews in the hotel - being frugal sorts - get together each evening to share free victuals, drink and comradely badinage.  The night we got here I met an old friend and his FO and our list of Desert Safari adventurers rose to 5 members. 

Google was consulted, emails flew betwixt electronic devices, notes were shoved under doors and it was decided that we would meet yesterday in the lobby to be picked up by North Tours Dubai Safari sometime between 1530 and 1600 local.  For the nominal fee of 185 Dirhams - roughly $50 'murkan - we would be picked up and returned to the hotel, driven through genuine desert sand dunes - "Dunes Bashing" - ending the evening at a desert campsite for a barbecue dinner and Belly Dancer show.  Included in the fee was camel rides.  For a small extra fee you could run ATVs through the sandy race area and snowboard a nearby sand dune.  

We loaded up in the 4th Generation Range Rover that would be our carriage for the next 5 hours and drove off into the UAE's desert stopping off to pick up a Nigerian Chemical Engineer who was in Dubai for the Formula 1 race.  
Four Guys in a Range Rover with Roll Cage
 The driver was employed by the North Tours and had been doing these Safaris for nine years. 

As I understand it, Dubai's economy is not primarily based on oil.  It is a commercial and entertainment hub.  They rely heavily on imported experience and labor.  Our driver was a Pakistani citizen, trained in the special Dunes Safari Drivers School.  We drove through town seeing many Dubai sights that I had not seen before.

Burj Khalifa Tower from freeway
On the freeway we passed a stretched hummer.  I thought this made nice artsy photo.  Please note the Arabic Script at the bottom of our Range Rover's mirror.  I cannot bring myself to think that it said:  "Infidels may be closer than they appear."

Rearview Mirror
 South of town, we stopped at an authentic traditional Arabic Oasis for possible potty breaks and because I am sure the Tour Owner had a contractual arrangement - if he did not out-right own the oasis itself.

Range Rover and Oasis

Oasis Signage
Inside the oasis, you could purchase critical desert survival supplies..... 

Desert Survival Store
and have your picture taken with a genuine Arabian Falcon.  (CJ Box's Nate Romanowski would probably not approve...but I digress.)

The Falcon
 After this necessary break, we loaded back up and drove to the site of the "Dunes Bashing".  Here is a google map to orient yourself.  The long line from the exit of the desert to the campground is an artifact of a bad GPS position capture.

View Desert Safari in a larger map

Here we are entering the marshalling area to begin the Dunes Bashing.  (You may view these videos full screen by clicking the square in the lower right corner.)

Several observations here.  First, our Range Rover was luxuriously appointed.  The interior was heavily padded to include the roll cage.  Second, the air conditioner was never turned off, despite the fact that we did some serious, sand flinging Dunes Bashing.  Finally, the radio blasted the entire time.  This was not some old, rusted, tired, hot jeep.

Next, I had pictured that we would have the desert to ourselves.  Not so.  Whoever runs these tours is making some serious bucks as there were hundreds of vehicles from multiple tours all marshaled up ready to run.  There must be some system of Sand Dune Traffic Control as our driver appeared to know where to enter the queue.  We did not just drive willy-nilly over any and all the dunes.  There was a track and all the vehicles followed it.  I am sure this was experience speaking; if we had all pursued random tracks the probability of collision at the top of a blind dune would rise astronomically. 

At the marshal point, our driver got out and let the air out of the tires, lowering the tire pressure to 15 psi so as to improve sand traction.  I was transported back to my youth running the sandy orange groves of Central Florida in our old dune buggy.  

At some signal, we were off Dune Bashing.

Our driver issued us a warning about car sickness. 

A note at this point.  There were five experienced international freight pilots in this car.  We ain't getting sick in front of each other - even if we gotta swallow it.  Secondly and more importantly since none of us even got queasy - we are pros after all - was that I guarantee you that each of us thought we could do a better job of driving the dunes than the driver.  (...and we were all wrong.)

Roughly 3/4s of the way across the desert we stopped on a sandy dune ledge that overlooked a really pretty crag.  As we approached that crag, I noticed a 'feral' SUV that was high-lining the sand.  As I put the camera up to get a picture a C-17 screamed overhead.

SUV on bluff with C-17 overfly
Once we stopped, I got this video of the same guy on the crag.


At this point, we had stopped to cool the vehicles - note all the hoods are up - and to enjoy the desert sunset.  

Rest Stop

Sunset on the Dunes

 At this point our intrepid driver pulled out a battery powered air pump and re-inflated our tires while other drivers did not.  I wondered at the wisdom of this as we were still in the desert. 

Air Pump
Once we reached the highway I learned why.  The other vehicles were pulled over to the side of the asphalt and driving slowly on their vastly under inflated tires.  We cruised right by them and were among the first to arrive at the desert campground. 

After our campground orientation, we went out and acquainted ourselves with the camels.

Geoff and the nice camel
Evidently, this camel did not spit and therefore did not require the nose cover that you see on the other camels.   Behind me you can see the tires that mark out the ATV driving area and there is an ATV just off my shoulder between me and the red shirted fellow.  Tourists were not allowed to enter the foreboding desert and were constrained to a small track.

Camels sit on the ground in a very compact posture.  They stand up in a lurching 3 step process.  Rear end first, rear end higher and then the front legs extend.  This process subjects the unwary and inexperienced camel jockey to a sudden forceful lurch against the front of the saddle bringing pressure to bear on the 'Swimsuit Region".  Those of us not on the camels found this hilarious.  

By then it was dark and good photography - not that any of this has been good - was impossible. We enjoyed the pre-dinner male dancer who whirled around the stage for about 7 minutes with an LED costume that formed complex patterns in the night.

After dinner, the authentic belly dancer appeared.  She was not a traditionally rubenesque sort of belly dancer with finger cymbals.  I would guess she weighed in at about 100 lbs, lithe and fit.  I am not qualified to critique belly dancing, but she seemed to these amateurish eyes both skilled and tireless.  You may judge for yourself why I have no photos of her.

Before dinner, we climbed the roughly 50' sand dune that overlooked the campground.  This is where the sand boarding occurred.    As an end to this saga, I give you this poor photo of the venue.

Dinner Compound

On that happy note, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Around the World in 12 Days - Introduction

"Never have children, only grandchildren." ~ Gore Vidal

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

I am at present on the third leg of flying around the world on a general easterly progression.  The itinerary is like this.  Road trip from Home to Ames, Iowa to Little Rock, Ark to Memphis TN, a jumpseat commute to Anchorage to begin the operational portion.  I operate Anchorage, Indianapolis, London/Stanstead, Great Britain, Paris, Athens, Dubai, Guanghzhou, China, Osaka, Japan, Beijing, Seoul Korea and finally back to Anchorage.

There will be some fun tales to tell on this trip, methinks, but I'm having a hard time figuring out how to start the tale.  The rest of this post will be a jumbled, incoherent mess.  I apologize in advance.

You probably noticed that this saga starts with a road trip.

Soon, within a month, I will become a grandfather. Gunther James Whisler is due around the beginning of December.  A quick note on the name.  There are a lot of James in all the families.  My grandfather was James Roy Vanhooser.  Ann's dad was a James - about the finest man and best father in law there ever was.  Jaybo is really a James and finally and most important, Brook's dad is a James.  I like all that.  But here is what I really like.  "Gunner Jim" will be the third generation of G. Whislers.  

Some months back, Brook and George announced the intention to have a Baby Shower in their home in Little Rock, Ark in early November.  Ann and I began plans to make it and one of the factors for having the soiree' on that date was that I had vacation then and knew I would be free.

So, last Thursday - Halloween , Ann and I loaded up the Urban Assault CX-9 and started south down IH-35.  We stopped in Ames, Iowa at Iowa State University to see Katie and to pick up her gift.  It's always good to see the Katester.

The next day we continued on down to Little Rock. That night we had a pleasant evening out on the town with George and Brook.  More on that below.  Saturday was spent in preparation for the following days' Shower.   George and I and a friend of George's went to a local firing range and had fun punching holes in targets.

The shower itself was great fun.  Introductions were made, hugs were exchanged, food was eaten, games were played and gifts where showered.  George and Brook's facebook pages are full of pictures of the festivities and I don't want to steal their thunder here.  

I had to cut the shower short and leave early to drive to Memphis to catch that evenings' FedEx Boeing 777 / Toolbox freighter up to Anchorage.  A good friend of George's lives in Memphis assigned to the Memphis Air National Guard and he volunteered to give me a ride back after the shower.  We had a very pleasant conversational 2.5 hour drive over to Memphis.

As I've said before, my goal with this blog is try to find different viewpoints as I travel around the world - striving for whimsy and humor.  I noticed something Friday night in downtown Little Rock that I think meets that goal. 

On Friday evening, Ann and I had George and Brook to ourselves.  We went to dinner in downtown Little Rock at Boscos, sat out on the balcony overlooking the Arkansas River and the Junction Lift Bridge.  On the way out, Brook got a craving for a fried pie at the Flying Fish

A small trip back into ancient history.  My brother and I grew up water skiing on Lake Eva behind our house.  Back in the day of 25 cent per gallon gas you could water ski all day.  Water skis back then had not reached the pinnacle of fiberglass perfection you find today and I remember being really happy when we got a nice set of Cypress Gardens Nash skis.  This was the ultimate expression of water ski performance in the 60s and we could cut on that slalom like the pros..... or so we thought anyway.

Back to the Flying Fish now.  The walls were cluttered with hundreds of Big Mouth Billy Bass placques personally modified with the names of customers.  I thought that was cool until I saw this:

Nash Ski

Yup.  There on the wall, looking like a museum piece from the Paleozoic with yellowed and cracked rubber foot bindings was the water ski that I thought was the epitome of skiing technology in my youth.

Which reminded me of another museum piece that made me feel old.  My first flying training was in the Soaring Program at USAFA and my first solo flight was in a Schweizer 2-33 glider - probably the safest, most forgiving training airplane ever built.  Hanging from the ceiling in the USAFA Barry Goldwater Visitor Center is this 2-33.  If it isn't the actual glider I soloed, it might as well be.
Schweitzer 2-33

So...Gentle Reader, I find it humbling and an indication of my rapidly advancing maturity that two of the pieces of technology of my youth that I treasure have been relegated to displays hanging on walls and ceilings.

On that humbling note, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Sunday, September 22, 2013

TSA Revisited

 "Our safety is not in blindness, but in facing our dangers."  ~ Schiller

On one of the rainy days on our trip to Alaska, Ann dragged me to some downtown art galleries.  

I saw a picture I really liked.  I've stolen a photo from the artist's website to post it here.

Sandy Jamieson

The picture pretty much says it all.  But the artists website has more to say here.

On that happy note, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Girdwood, Alyeska and The Hike

We woke up on Ann's last morning in Anchorage to a glorious sunrise - the first time we'd really seen the sun the whole rainy week.  This is the best picture we got of this.

We drove back down the Turnagain Arm again, saw another Tidal Bore and the mud flats.

Then we drove into Girdwood and up to the Alyeska Hotel.  We had planned to hike one of the several trails that have their trail head near the hotel.  But then we saw the tram and decided to go up to the mountain on it. 

On the way up the tram, someone said, "Look at the bear!"  Sure enough down below in a nice mountain meadow there was a black bear eating berries.  We didn't take a picture because it would have looked like a black dot.  Later up  on the mountain we watched a hiking couple with a golden retriever walking along that same meadow.  The dog was as happy as only a golden can be running in a happy circles.  Suddenly the dog sniffed the bear and froze nose pointed at the bear.  They watched it for a while and continued up the mountain.  The bear never lost interest in its' berries.

Here is Ann on a ridge roughly 50' up above the tram station, the Turnagain and Girdwood are down below. 

I thought this sign on the lodge was interesting.

Avalanches are evidently a big deal in Girdwood and the Alyeska ski area.

After we came back down on the tram, we walked the Winner Creek Trail.  It is a 5 mile trail round trip out through a rain forest and along the Winner Creek Gorge.  At the end of the trail there is a Hand Tram to cross the gorge.  Here is Ann on the Hand Tram.

You cross the gorge by pulling yourself along on the rope - that's why it's called a hand tram.  The gear ratio on the pulleys is low and it is a lot of work to pull the thing up the hill.

After the hike we went back to Anchorage had a nice dinner and then a raspberry yogurt ice cream cone at the World's Most Northern Tastee Freez. As we were going back to the Bed & Breakfast made a last minute decision to drive out to Kincaid Park to look around.  We wound up finding more moose.  This was the best picture.  Not many people kow this, but at sundown, moose turn demonic.

Ann flew home Friday morning and I am on a trip now - I'm writing this from the hotel in Taipei, Taiwan.

On that happy note, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Today's Quickie Update

 "Art is a lie that lets us recognize the truth.  ~ Pablo Picasso

A quickie update.

The rain fell in buckets-full today so we cancelled the plans to go out on a hike and went to the Alaska Aviation Museum and The Anchorage Museum

There is a new office building going on near the airport that is associated with the Aviation Museum.  (The museum will lend them the display airplanes you see in the picture.) I had misread the construction signs that the Aviation Museum was moving to this site but I was wrong.  It's an office building.  Here is the Architects rendering. As I've said before, good art let's the viewer impose their viewpoint.  I'll let you impose yours here.  The nice fellows we met who were restoring old airplanes at the museum certainly imposed theirs.   

We updated Ann's "Moose Count" for this trip to 7 moose.  Today we got some pictures.  Ann stuck the camera out the car window to get this set of Mom and the Yearling.

On that happy note, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Short Bear Story

 "The life of man [in a state of nature] is solitary, nasty, brutish, and short.  ~  Thomas Hobbes

This will be a short story.  It happened yesterday after we got off the boat.  We met a nice couple from Wisconsin who talked about seeing Salmon still spawning in the Portage River at the Williwaw Fish Viewing Platform.  

This platform is on the way out of Whittier and Ann wanted to see the Salmon so we watched for the sign and pulled into the nice parking lot. 

The platform is a very short distance from the parking lot and sure enough, we looked down and saw  Salmon holding position in the stream right under the water.  There were a lot of them. 


This totally unprofessional video shows what we saw.

Right across the bank from the viewing platform was a grassy area that was all flattened out and had salmony fishy parts strewn all over it.  I took a picture....but I ain't posting it.  If you want to see fish parts that had been left behind by a sated bear, let me know. I'll email them.  

We also walked up a path under the road bridge and saw many more salmon and some dead whole salmon carcasses laying on the shore.  

We got back in the car and as we drove over the bridge to leave Ann looked right up the stream and yelled, "There's a bear!"  I looked quickly and saw a brown bear rump disappearing into the dense underbrush that lines the stream.  It was probably 50' or so from where we had just been standing around looking at dead fish like dumb tourists.  

On that happy note, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Turnagain and the Glacier Cruise

Some more quick pictures and no real story.

We got up early this morning and drove up the Turnagain Arm of the Cook Inlet.  Then we drove down the Portage Valley and through the Anton Anderson Tunnel to Whittier, AK to take a 5 hour glacier cruise.

As we left town we paralleled the railroad truck and passed the train taking people to Whittier for the same cruise.  We got far enough out in front to take this picture.

This was just slightly before sunrise and I'm happy the picture is a good as it is.

Further up the Turnagain, we passed the Bore Tide and found a place to get these videos of it.  This one is just before the bore tide passed.


And this one is the Bore Tide passing.

It was a rainy day and we had to wait for the 10:30 tunnel car open time.  When the tunnel opened we entered it here.

In Whittier, we got on this ship.

The cruise is long and we saw lot's of stuff despite the heavy rain all day long.  Here Ann is looking at 30 or so Steller Seals on Perry Island.  The Seals are in the light brown area at the far left of the picture.

Here is Ann enjoying the Surprise Glacier.

The glacier was actively calving and we saw several BIG stacks of ice fall into the fjord.  One significantly rocked the boat.  We were even lucky enough to see a big block of ice break loose from under the water (as deep as 300 feet) and come shooting up to the surface.  Unfortunately, we didn't have the camera out.

Here are Ann and I in front of Cascade Glacier.

The ship docked at 17:30 and we took the 18:00 tunnel back over to Girdwood.  We had a really great dinner at the Double Musky

We finished just before sunset and saw this nice vista near Bird Point

We are back in the Ilona's Bed & Breakfast and it's late.  It's beddy bye time.

I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Monday, September 9, 2013

North to Alaska

It's been a while.  This is going to be quick.  I'm not going to tell a story just show some pictures.  Remember you can click the pictures to make them bigger.

We finally found a good time for Ann to come up here to Alaska with  me.  I had two weeks off and a trip that starts next Fri the 13th....

We just got here Saturday and spend most of Sunday messing around downtown Anchorage at all the tourist trap stores and art galleries.

Today we drove up north along the Knick Arm of Cook Inlet and went up to the Eagle River Nature Center and a short hike.  Here's Ann.  There is a really fun little observation deck down on the river designed to see the Salmon swimming up.  It's past season.  No Salmon.

That's Eagle Peak in the background.

 After that we drove up to Eklutna Lake and hiked up the Twin Peaks trail.  We climbed about 700' above the lake and about 3 miles.  

Here I am on the trail up.  Bond Peak in the background.

Ann was enthralled by all the mushrooms that grow on Mother Nature's Forest Floor.  This was the best one.

Tomorrow we drive down to Whittier, Ak and take a the 26 Glacier Cruise.

On that happy note, I remain, 

Dad / Geoff

Friday, June 14, 2013


 "I rang for ice, but this is ridiculous." ~ John Jacob Astor, RMS Titanic

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

The xkcd website is one of my favorites.  He is a polymath science and mathematics guy who has a new cartoon each Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  Here is the latest one.

Ice Sheets

The chart speaks for itself and I have nothing to add.  I have to assume that the thickness of the glaciers over my home was roughly the equivalent of the Chicago area. 

If you are interested, there is more here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glacial_history_of_Minnesota

On that note, I remain,