Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Strawberry Music Festival 2010

The festival runs from Thursday through Sunday; I figured I could take Thursday off from work for packing, and then we would pick Robert up from school and head straight out. Sure we might miss the opening acts on Thursday, but we'd certainly get there before dark and have time to begin the process of setting up camp, then go catch the final act or two. How quickly I forget what it's like to travel in the bay area!

We picked Robert up from school at 3:30 and hit the road:

Strawberry takes place at Camp Mather. Owned by San Francisco Parks & Recreation, Camp Mather is nestled deep in the Stanislaus National Forest, just beyond the Western edge of Yosemite National Park.

We figured it would take around 4 to 4.5 hours to get there from SF, although Google maps optimistically provided a travel time of 3.5 hours. It took us an hour to get to the bay bridge from Robert's school, and another hour to get through Oakland. By then it was time to feed Emi and eat some dinner. After dinner we got back on the road and attempted to high-tail it to camp, but when it was all said and done, we pulled up at the gate just before 10:00 pm.

The grounds are a mixed forest of pine, fir, sequoia, and oak, and there was no moon so it was quite dark. It seemed there were cars, RVs, and tents on every square inch of ground that wasn't marked as road. We got our wristbands from the gate attendant and asked about a "family camp" area. They kind of looked at us blankly and said "it's all family camp... just try and steer clear of areas with lights and folks pickin' if you want some quiet", which I did not find to be particularly helpful advice at the time.

The evening's entertainment had just ended, so we drove away slowly, along a dark dusty track dodging the folks who were leaving the main stage and heading back to their already-established camps. As it's a campground, the paths are winding and although we were given a map, we were soon a bit disoriented. My intention was to get toward the back of the campground because I figured it might be quieter, and I figured we might stand a better chance of finding a place to pitch our tent.

Most of the campground is taken up by people camping next to their vehicles, but eventually we found a spot at the back with walk-in camping where cars were parked in several rows, between 4 and 5 cars deep. There was just enough room for us to parallel park at the front, blocking two rows of cars. I was beyond caring whether this was OK, and decided that since we fit, we were going to take it. With the car parked, I took a short scouting trip and found an open, nearly-flat area between two other camps.

Robert and Emi snoozed in the car while Sarah and I set up camp. We were a bit envious of the REI Hobitat 6 tent that our friends Gerry and Cammy had at Hornings this year, so we purchased one for ourselves this summer; Strawberry was its inaugural run. I suppose that when you spend the money to buy a nice tent, what you're really paying for (aside from the ability to stand completely upright, even if you're 6'5"!) is the ability to pitch it quickly and without marital discord in the dark, even in the if you've never had it out of the bag before.

In the end, we got all of our gear stowed away and the beds made up, grabbed the kids, and we all settled right down for the night. It was pleasantly cool, but not so cold as to be uncomfortable.

Here is what we woke up to:


What you can't see in this picture is that there's a "No camping beyond this point" sign staked just to the left of Robert's play tent. We definitely found the back of camp... and yes, that is a plastic bag in the middle of the meadow. It got away from us just long enough to make a cameo appearance in this shot. *sigh*

Soon after taking this shot, we met some of our neighbors. Turns out we'd set up next to a group of 3 families that have been camping at Strawberry together for years. There were kids in the group ranging in age from 7 to 12, and Robert wasted no time in including himself in the mix.

We spent the morning at camp, taking in our surroundings and visiting with our neighbors about the festival: what to do, what to expect, social mores, etc. The Strawberry website suggests bringing musical instruments along to use at informal jam sessions throughout the camp, but I didn't realize that pretty much everyone would be participating. Through the camp I saw (and heard) folks with guitars, ukes, fiddles, banjos, mandolins, drums, lap guitars, stand-up basses (hauling a stand-up bass into the woods is extreme dedication!) and you could hear music being played throughout the campground all day and through most of the night, though at night, at least near our camp, it was quiet enough that it didn't interfere with our sleep. We'd brought earplugs just in case, but never needed to use them.

We did have a few close encounters with nature, including this little guy who we found on top of Robert's play-tent one morning:

Once we established our place, the whole Strawberry experience was just about perfect. We enjoyed lazy mornings at camp making breakfast, drinking coffee, and eventually meandering down to the main stage area

to claim a spot for the evening's entertainment. On Friday morning, there were free sign-ups for kid's fiddle lessons. Robert was quite enamored with this, so we signed him up. He was fairly broken up that he had to wait until the next day to get his lesson; all he could talk about for the next hour were violins! One lesson was enough for him though -- after 15 minutes or so he was past it and said that playing the violin was hard. We'll see if he comes around; I'd love to have a little fiddle player in the house.

Anyhow, after signing him up for the lesson we headed over to Birch Lake

to pass the heat of the day with some wading/swimming, and a whole lot of playing on the beach. There were a number of folk and kid-oriented acts playing at the Birch Lake Stage to keep us entertained throughout the day, and a variety of age-appropriate arts and craft projects for toddlers right up through teens. And there were a lot of kids! When the fellow at the gate told me the whole place was family camp, I guess I ought to have taken him at his word.

The entire campground and venue were consistently clean and organized. So organized in fact, that if you'd happened to have grabbed a bottle of beer for the walk to the venue, but hadn't quite managed to finish it by the time you'd arrived, the fellow at the gate checking wristbands would hand you a cup to pour your beer into since glass isn't allowed at the main stage. How's that for accommodating?

The porta-potties were regularly maintained, there was no unauthorized vending, and no hordes of scruffy tour kids. There were large bands of roving teenagers, but they all appeared to be attending the event with their parents, and as such were not getting up to too much mischief.

This festival was exactly what I had hoped it to be; I can't wait to head back next year! We spoke to a number of folks who said that the Spring festival (held over Memorial day weekend) is also great, but that the weather is less predictable. Camp Mather is at over 4500 feet elevation, so the Spring festival can be quite cold. Apparently last year's Spring festival featured four days of non-stop monsoon rain, and this year's Spring festival began with 6 inches of wet overnight snow that collapsed tents and canopies, and only partially melted over the rest of the festival, so we'll probably be giving the spring festival a miss, at least until our kiddos are a bit older:

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Last Mon, Tues, and Wed were public holidays in Japan. We took advantage of the long break to head down to Niijima, an island about 100 miles South of Tokyo to go camping. Our trip was delayed by several days because of a typhoon that was coming close to the island, so instead of arriving on Friday, we got there on Monday. Our original intention was also to take the hydrofoil ferry, and enjoy its 2.5 hour travel time. Due to high surf kicked up by the passing typhoon though, the hydrofoil service was canceled. In its place we took the normal passenger ferry, an adventure in itself.

We left Tokyo at 23:30 on Sunday evening and arrived at Niijima around 8:00 the next morning. There are very few seats on the ferry. Instead, you are issued a small tarp to lay down on the deck. Becase we were camping anyhow, we didn't bother w/ our small tarps and just lay down the ground cover for our tent. Here's a view from our boat-deck campsite:

You can see Robbie snoozing in his stroller; he spent about 1/2 the night there, then decided to come join us on our tarp. There were also blankets available to rent for about a dollar, so we got a couple of those and spread them out for extra padding.

All in all, we got a pretty good night's sleep and woke up rested and refreshed the next morning:

We eventually arrived, disembarked, and made our way across the island to the campground. The campground is a real gem. It's a few hundred yards from the ocean, has a field kitchen with running water and electricity, rudimentary shower facilities, proper bathrooms, and did I mention it's free? Yeah Niijima!

Some of the campsites had picnic tables, but they were taken. We ended up next to a patch of trees for some shade, and a bunch of guys on a surf holiday from Australia. It is a large campground as you can see from the pic, but it was mostly empty when we were there, relatively quiet and peaceful. After setting up camp we found a bicycle rental place down the road, procured bikes for $10 / day, and hit the beach.

Robbie and I went straight down and got in the surf. The water was beautifully clear, azure blue, and a bit chilly, but not painfully so. The surf was high, so our fun consisted mostly of standing ankle-deep in the water until a wave came in. Then, at the last instant I would lift Robert up so he wouldn't be submerged. I'd laugh, he'd squeal; rinse and repeat.

If I'd remembered to take the camera out of my pocket before hand, we might actually have some pictures from the rest of of our trip, but alas, I did not.

There are 5 major beaches on the island, and we hit 2 of them. I guess we'll have to go back. There is also a Greco-Roman themed onsen (public bath) with 6 or 7 pools of varying degrees of scalding. This place also has proper shower facilities; an ideal place to take an evening dip after spending your day slathering yourself with sunscreen and getting covered in sand and salt. Did I mention that it's free too? Go Niijima!

One personal highlight from this trip for me was Sarah finding a Japanese fisherman's glass float washed up on shore. I've quite literally been beachcombing for an authentic one of these my entire life (whenever I go to the beach, anyhow). So now I guess I really can't get rid of her -- she'd probably take her float with her! ;-)

On Wednesday morning we broke camp and trekked back to the ferry. We caught it just after 11 am and were back in Tokyo around 6:30. Robert spent most of his time on the top deck, hanging on the railing and looking out at the passing islands, other ships, gulls, sea foam, jellyfish, etc. When we docked in Tokyo, he was not ready to be done with his boat ride and asked if we could sleep on the boat again.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Climbing Mt Fuji

Last Friday I skipped out of work after lunch w/ several friends of mine from BGI. We hopped the Chuo line limited express train from Shinjuku to Otsuki, and got from there to Kawaguchiko on the Fujikyu line. We then transferred to a bus that took us to Mt Fuji's 5th station, and after a bit of time spent looking at the souvenir shops, we began our ascent:

Here's a view from fairly early in our hike (when we still had a bit of light):

Here's a spot along the trail where folks deposit the bear bells & ribbons from the hiking poles they'd purchased at 5th station, and a few people also added some traditional offerings to the mountain:


During the first evening we hiked for several hours, from about 4:45 until about 7:30. I booked us spots at a hut called "Tori Iso" between 7th and 8th station. Somehow my reservations got lost, but as luck would have it, we added a native Japanese speaker to our group about a week before heading up, and she re-reserved our spots for us. Our lodgings included an all you can eat curry dinner, and a warm, dry, 5.5 ft long plank to lay on and try to sleep, just under the eaves on the hut's 3rd (and highest) tier of bunks.

We ate and drank from about 8 until 9, then passed out until about 11pm at which point I was awakened by heavy rain lashing the roof mere inches from my head, and high winds howling through the eaves. The storm eventually passed, and I flirted with sleep until about 1am. Our group's alarms started going off then, and we got up prepared to resume our ascent. The hut's supervisor, however, told us that it was too windy and cold to make an ascent to the summit, but when we poked our heads out the door of our hut, we saw a constant stream of headlamps heading up the mountain. So after some debate, we disregarded his advice, pulled on our thermal underwear, and gave it a go. Just over 4 hours later, we'd reached the summit:

Here are Glen, Jim and I at the top:

After this picture was taken we found a warming hut, grabbed a round of coffees, downed steaming bowls of ramen, and wandered around for a little bit before meeting back up and beginning our descent.

Turns out we took a wrong turn around 8th station (or, to be more accurate, we failed to take the correct turn) and we ended up at the Gotemba 5th station about 1/3 of the way around the mountain from where we expected to be! Unfazed (at 10:30 am), we ordered a round of beers to celebrate our conquering of the mountain and let Glen sort out how to get us back to Tokyo.

Long story short, it took a different bus and train combo to get us back to Tokyo, but to Tokyo we returned, and a mighty good adventure we'd had too, all things considered.

I've got some video footage that I will be splicing together over the new few days; I'll post it later in the week once I've had some time to get it all worked out.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Dry Ice

During summer in Tokyo, if you buy frozen things at the supermarket, they put a bag of dry ice in amongst the frozen stuff to keep it cool on the way home. A nice touch, and as a bonus, there is dry ice to play with when you get home:


Sorry for not updating in so long. I've discovered Facebook, and it is good.

Perhaps disaster is a bit melodramatic -- tragedy, anyhow. Yesterday on my way to work I missed a shift on my bike... or rather my bike missed a shift, as I'm not entirely sure I should be taking the blame here... anyhow, my derailleur hanger (didn't even know what the heck a derailleur hanger was until yesterday) sheared off of my frame, sending the rear derailleur through the cassette. Of course the rear derailleur can not possibly fit through the cassette, but it deserves an A for its efforts in trying.

Final tally: one broken derailleur hanger, one mangled rear derailleur pulley, one bent chain, one flat tire, and one frustrated bicycle commuter who was late for work!

Here's a pic of the bicycle (yes, that is a plastic bag tied around the derailleur to keep it from bouncing on the pavement as I tried to coast along) and as I alluded to earlier, I got a flat tire too, so after a few blocks I couldn't even coast along the downhills. *sigh*

However, I did get a great picture of Robert this morning while I was taking stock of the situation. A future bicycle mechanic?

I stopped by a bike shop yesterday, shortly after the mishap. The gentleman behind the counter told me he could not fix the bike because it's a Bianchi-specific derailleur hanger, and he can not order them since he's not a Bianchi dealer. *sigh* so I went to the Bianchi shop in Naka-Meguro this morning to see about ordering the part. I got there at 10:51 am. Too bad they don't open till noon! I guess they spend their mornings riding their bikes or something? So my trusty companion and I went to the neighborhood park and discovered that summer is waning; the cicadas are starting to die off:

After playing at the park, we returned to the Bianchi store at noon, only to discover that they don't think they can order my part because my bike, a Bianchi Axis, is not a model that is sold in Japan *sigh*, so I've spent this afternoon searching for derailleur hangers on the Internet with some amount of luck. However, I am going to have to pay $20 shipping for a $20 part. *sigh*. And that's just the hanger... I guess I'll be commuting on my shopping bike for the next few weeks while gathering all of the necessary components to effect the repairs.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Rainy Season

If you talk to a Japanese person, they'll tell you that June is Tokyo's rainy season. During our first two Junes in Tokyo, it didn't seem to rain appreciably more in June than during other times of the year, so we'd begun thinking that "June rainy seaosn" was a bit of a myth. Not this year.

June came a bit early; it started raining during the last week of May, but since then, it's rained almost every day. It is pouring as I write this.

Undaunted by the threat of rain, we went out last weekend to see Star Trek (without Robbie) and thoroughly enjoyed the film. It's well cast, and the plot does an excellent job of resetting the franchise, paving the way for the coming stream of new Star Trek movies. I can hardly wait!

We went to the Shinagawa Outback for dinner (I wanted to go to a Singaporian restaurant but Sarah twisted my arm -- on my birthday, can you imagime?) and of course we took our umbrella because it was threatening rain. Unfortunately, because it wasn't actually raining when we left, we forgot about the umbrella. So on Sunday afternoon, I figured I'd take Robbie back with me to Shinagawa to pick up the umbrella.

We went by bicycle, and I took a wrong turn but did not realize it for quite some time... I just kept pedaling, thinking "Shinagawa station has got to be just a little bit further up this road". But I'd actually turned onto the road just past the station, so as I continued to pedal I was getting further away from my intended destination. What should have been an hour's ride ended up being more like an hour and a half and Robert gave up on me at some point during the ride and fell asleep around 5pm for the dreaded late-afternoon nap. Epic fail.

Anyhow, I wish I had some pictures to post, but for some reason we haven't been taking any. I'll remedy that over the coming week and post some soon.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Back in Tokyo

It appears that we returned from Thailand just in time to observe Tokyo's weather rise toward its steamy summer temperatures. Right now things are still relatively pleasant, but it's starting to get sticky, and I know it's just a matter of time until I'm wishing I were back in the US for the summer. We still have not settled on dates for a summer holiday though, nor even if we are going to head back at all. We may wait until the winter, and come back for a bit longer.

While in Thailand, one afternoon we decided to beat the heat by heading to a "Children's Discovery Museum" that was actually a lot of fun for adults too. There were interactive displays dealing with muscles & bones, experiments that explored the nature of sound and air pressure, drums to bang on, and even a section dealing with other cultures including a kid-sized model of a traditional Japanese house, and a Native American teepee. Robbie's favorite though was a device that allowed you to be inside a bloody great soap bubble:

He made us trap him in many bubbles. They would inevitably pop, and he would quickly ask us for another. We also took a river boat tour and visited Wat Arun:

One of the interesting things about this temple is that it was decorated mostly using broken porcelain that came to Thailand as ballast in Chinese ships. Here's a detail:

But like I said, we're back in Tokyo. Now we are getting excited for Star Trek. It comes out on the 29th here, so we've hired a sitter for the 30th and are going to have a date night. Yeah!