Monterey Shootout 2015

This was the third year running Brian and I have participated in the local amateur underwater photo and video contest, the Monterey Shootout. This year we competed in the advanced photo category and also the general video category.

First and foremost we were delighted about the conditions this year. The water in Monterey Bay was clear and warm with visibility about 20ft and a temperature around 60˚F! Ignoring the worrying implications of such warm water this far north, it made for some excellent diving. On the topside, Brian and I felt very much part of the dive community. We chatted with SCUBA buddies Brian knew from San Diego and we stayed with a Reef Check friend of mine for the weekend. My friend Dan also finally showed us how to properly navigate to Metridium Fields, a dive site we have struggled to find in the past. A fellow Reef Checker also found me at one of the popular dive sites and gave me a new wetsuit he had been carrying around for me for months! Now I will be diving in 90s fashion underwater. It’s going to be great.

On to the competition: As always there are Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced categories. Within each skill level there are macro and wide angle categories and within those there are two levels of editing allowed: global and unrestricted. Brian and I submitted photos in the advanced category (since we have won enough prizes to push us into this category), but we did not win anything with our photos this year. In addition to a photo competition the Monterey Shootout also judges video. There are no skill level divisions with video, but they have three types of video submissions with certain rules: a video montage that is up to 60sec with any edits you like and then wide angle and macro snapshots from 10-30sec with no edits allowed. Brian and I submitted entries in all three of the video categories and Brian won 2nd place in both the wide angle and macro snapshot categories and I won 3rd place in the video montage category. Brian took home  a new Sea and Sea underwater strobe and I received a $100 gift certificate to Ultralight, a supplier for underwater photography accessories.

Here are our video submissions:

My montage:

Brian’s Macro and Wide Angle Snapshots:

And just for fun, Brian’s montage:

Brian and I were lucky enough to have a friendly, juvenile harbor seal come play with us for almost a half hour underwater and at the surface. I was particularly excited about this encounter because it was an experience similar to this in La Jolla over three years ago that made me want to get into underwater photography in the first place. In short we had great weekend diving and enjoyed having our cameras along.

To see all the photos please see the link to Google+, otherwise we have a few down below. If you’re wondering why the change, well, we ran out of room on the blog! We forgot to downsize our photos on the recent posts, and that ate up all of our storage space pretty quick. There’s no way to resize the images in place, so if we’re going to do it it seems like it’ll be a lot of work. In the meantime, we have a workaround!

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Black Hills Bike Tour

Following the good vibes from our first extended bike tour last year to Glacier/Waterton Lakes National Parks my father and I decided to plan our own tour this year. After some poking around online we found that there is a 109 mile Rails to Trail route called the Mickelson Trail in northwestern South Dakota (the Black Hills) close to Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse and a number of other local attractions.

Brian and my housemates, Gabrielle and Geoff, decided to join in as well. In fact, Gabrielle, Geoff and Brian in their own ways heavily contributed to the course we followed. Geoff turns out to be a navigator extraordinaire, Gabrielle is quite a good organizer, and Brian optimized our route to increase the attraction to mileage ratio. At times it seemed like my father and I were just along for the ride!

My father and I Garmin-ed it up and here is most of the route we followed:

Black Hills Route - Matthew

The total mileage was only in the 200 mile range over the five days, but according to our devices we climbed a total of 14,553ft and I would guess we rode on dirt for about a third of the ride. Thus it was still a challenge.

The saga actually began back in the Bay Area when we decided to outfit our mountain bikes for the tour. None of our bikes were designed for rear racks, so getting the right gear for our self-contained camping tour was a creative process. It involved Geoff machining pieces for my bike and that itself shows what a pain it was. Packing up the bikes, especially Geoff’s dual suspension monster, was also another fun adventure that I will not detail here. All the bikes did arrive safely at our home base: Rapid City, South Dakota, where a friendly local bike shop, Acme Bicycles, received and assembled them.

We flew into Rapid City under the care of a loopy flight attendant, a self proclaimed “lassie from Tallahassee.” Even though she incorrectly informed us of the destination city and time, we in fact landed in Rapid City and made it to the bike shop before they closed. We rode out from Rapid City the following day to our northernmost point, Deadwood. It was warm and slow going our first day riding and we covered a fair amount of ground so by the time we made it to Whistler Gulch Campground in Deadwood we headed straight for dinner. (Though not before we made a pit-stop at the Chubby Chipmunk Chocolate shop where they have a truffle vending machine called the Chub-o-matic!)

Chubb-o-matic truffle vending machine!

Chubb-o-matic truffle vending machine!

We discovered that night that thunder and lightening are a nightly occurrence in these parts. We all arose around 1am and started frantically collecting up clothes and gear that would have been drenched by the eminent downpour. The following nights the downpours came, but we snuggled in our warm, dry tents with all our gear packed away. Fortunately, it never rained during the day. Unfortunately it was so hot and sunny we slathered on the sunscreen which made us especially ripe at the end of a long, dusty, ride. Thank goodness for campsite showers and the occasional laundromat.

Fresh and ready to start Day 1

Fresh and ready to start Day 1

We officially started on the Mickelson Trail our second day of riding. The northernmost 30-ish miles are probably the most scenic (we never made it to the southern end of the Mickelson Trail, but we hear it isn’t as good). We went through rolling hills, a lot of mining history, abandoned towns and four tunnels before we made it to Hill City. We took the entire day to get there. It could have had something to do with the great beaver debate just outside of Rocheford. The biking guide maintained there were beavers in these parts, but the rodents we saw were quite far away and it is possible my eyes saw what the heart desired, and that was a beaver. Later we had a funny, yet mildly frightening cow encounter. There was a herd of cows grazing where the trail cut through a partial valley. Instead of passing by unheeded we managed to encourage them to encircle us in a moo-ing chorus. They were literally trotting in front of us and behind us and to the side.

Potential Beaver

Potential Beaver

Battle of the Cows

Battle of the Cows

When we arrived in Hill City we decided to slow down the pace and bike a short day down to Custer which is the gateway to two natural attractions to which we paid a visit: Jewel Cave National Monument and Custer State Park. On our way down to Custer we stopped briefly for photos of Crazy Horse, a massive (and unfinished), privately funded carving of a historically prominent Native American chief that rivals the engineering feat of Mt. Rushmore. Because we wanted to make it to the Jewel Cave before closing we did not linger long here. We barely made it to the Jewel Cave before their last two tours sold out. Brian, my father and I took the “wheelchair friendly” tour and Gabrielle and Geoff took the Historic Lantern Tour. They biked a little further down the road to the entrance of where the Jewel Cave was discovered and took oil lamps down the steep steps where volunteers are still discovering new passages through the cave network. They also saw a dead, moldy bat.

Wheel-chair friendly tour of the Jewel Cave

Wheelchair friendly tour of the Jewel Cave

After gorging ourselves night and day, we left the Mickelson Trail in lieu of a route through Custer State Park. This was the highlight of the trip for me. Geoff took us through an exciting, muddy forest road where we saw a small herd of four legged creatures we think were elk (maybe Gabrielle’s eyes were tricking her too). For a portion of this adventure we followed the Centennial Trail. Since this day was so short we had time to make it down to the lake by the campsite for a dip. It was a nice way to cool off.

Forest road repairs. Thank goodness for zip ties Gabby and Geoff by Center Lake

Custer State Park proved to be more spectacular than I expected. We rode up Needles Highway through a tortuous road hugged by granite spires and multiple tunnels, one just over 8ft wide. Needless to say the traffic was light and almost as slow as we were. We ended up at the popular Slyvan Lake for the night thanks to Gabrielle’s organization. Here Gabrielle, Geoff and I tooled around on kayaks for a bit before we all hiked up to Little Devil’s Tower, just shy of Harney Peak, South Dakota’s highest point. This evening we rode over to a cloth-napkined restaurant for dinner where they served us their Californian house wine.

Granite Spires

Granite Spires

We kayaked while they took a short hike.

We kayaked while they took a short hike.

The next morning, being completely out of snacks and food from grocery store visits, we raided the provisions at the bare-bones general store and ended up with cookies, candy, mini sandwiches, Pop-Tarts etc.. We were not spared the judgmental looks from passer-bys as we loaded up with junk food, despite being clad in bike clothes with helmets by our sides. Somehow we felt justified.

Our last day riding we passed through Mt. Rushmore National Memorial. As you may expect, it was not as glorious as one makes it out to be. We showed up, shrugged our shoulders and bought ice cream made from Thomas Jefferson’s own recipe.

JT Ice cream. The highlight of Mt. Rushmore.

JT Ice cream. The highlight of Mt. Rushmore.

Us as the presidents.

Us as the presidents.

When we arrived back in Rapid City, Kelly from Acme Bicycles offered to take us to the Badlands National Park the next day. It was insanely hot. Those fur trappers from the 1800’s weren’t joking about these lands being “bad.” We managed to go for a short hike despite the heat. It was bleak, but beautiful. We drove through the rest of the park looking for bison to no avail. Though we did see hundreds of prairie dogs at Prairie Dog Town!

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park

Prairie Dog Sentinel Prairie dog

When we started to plan the trip we toyed with the idea of extending the ride out to the Badlands, but we decided we wouldn’t have the time. So it was a nice surprise in the end that we made it there. Like much of the trip everything just seemed to work out.

Mid-trip group shot up Needles Highway

Mid-trip group shot up Needles Highway


Good company = Good times.

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Reef Check: Big Sur Expedition on the Vision

Thank you to those of you who contributed to Reef Check so I and 20-some other volunteers could survey some rough and remote sites along the Big Sur coastline. Reef Check chartered the Vision, a live-aboard dive boat, from Morro Bay to as far north as  Point Sur to survey nine dive sites. In order to make this trip happen Reef Check launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise the necessary funds and the goal was reached with amazing success!

I was assigned core surveys with my buddy Keith where we assessed the bottom composition/topography and counted keystone species of fish, invertebrates, and algae. I managed to squeeze in a few photos.

Big Sur Expedition Dive SIt Map


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The Saddle, Rattle, Buck Loop of the Lost Coast

About six years ago I embarked on my first bonafide backpacking trip with my father and brother up in Northern California in the King Range, commonly known as the Lost Coast because the terrain is so rugged that Highway 1 was diverted inland. Ever since that trip I have always wanted to go back.

This spring Brian was willing to brave the cold and rugged landscape with me. We planned for a four day and three night trip, but due to the weather we ended up doing the entire 24 miles and 3000+ft of elevation gain in three days and two nights. It was a little quick for our liking, but we managed to enjoy what people on the internet call the Saddle-Rattle-Buck Loop. We started at the Saddle Mountain Trailhead which is a somewhat dicey 8 mile drive from paved roads. We walked across King’s Crest Ridge to Kings Peak the first day, but it was so windy we decided to stay at Maple Camp in the semi-protected canyon a half mile further down the trail. Here it dropped under 40˚F overnight with the windchill and my tent and sleeping bags aren’t rated for these sorts of temperatures so we slept in all the jackets, hats, gloves and pants we had brought along. Much to my chagrin, the stars weren’t as spectacular as my first experience in the King Range due to the full moon.

The next day we continued along the King’s Crest Trail to meet up with Rattlesnake Ridge that would take us down to the beach. Although 6 out of the 12 miles we did on the second day were downhill to the beach we were absolutely exhausted by the time we made it to Buck Creek camp. Due to the tides, portions of the trail along the beach are intermittently impassable. This meant we had to cover a certain amount of ground before night fall or else we would have to stay an extra night and potentially hike up 3000ft in the rain. Despite the time crunch we seemed to have really taken our time. Brian, being the macro photographer he is could not resist taking photos of every bug, spider, flower or lizard that we crossed along the trail. We did see quite a few snakes along Rattlesnake Ridge (although no rattlesnakes) along with a moth emerging from it’s pupa and one lizard eating another! The most spectacular portion of the trip was likely along the lower part of the canyon on Rattlesnake Ridge. This early in the year the creek is gushing and the surrounding area is lush and alive. It was so refreshing in the middle of  California’s 4 year drought to see some green!

Once at Buck Creek we were greeted by a slew of other backpackers. It was a bit of a disappointment to have hiked so far with packs into the seeming “wilderness” to camp only a few feet from another group. We weren’t sure why the trails were so popular this past week. Perhaps it was due to students and families taking time off for Spring Break. At least camping along the beach was warmer. The next morning, along with the several other groups at Buck Creek camp we saw some whales passing by quite close to shore along with some seabirds and seals. After enjoying the view for a time we packed up and headed up Buck Creek trail back to the car.

We were happy to finish since our feet were blistered and tired from covering so much ground in two days. Even though it wasn’t quite the same as my first experience at the Lost Coast I would go back for a longer trip.

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Edgewood County Park

Brian came up to the Bay Area for Spring Break and we had a lazy weekend the first few days he was here. We turned down using the dive gear in lieu of a short bike ride for sandwiches and ice cream and then the next day for a short hike through Edgewood County Park. At this time of year Edgewood Park is filled with wildflowers. It was packed on this beautiful Sunday morning!

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Diving, Zoo Favorites and Brewing

In the spirit of this blogging mini-marathon I found some long-lost photos from a trip to San Diego last December. It was quite a weekend.

We started off with some lobster diving off the Mission Bay jetty. We didn’t catch anything, but it was still a great dive.

The next day we strolled over to the zoo, one of our local haunts. We had the best viewing of the resident rock hyraxes and klipspringers we have ever had there. It was an exciting day thanks to their presence. One time I will have to have a hyrax memorial post where I gather photos of all the hyrax paraphernalia I have collected in the past couple of years. For those of you that don’t know they have little tusks and their closest living relative is an elephant!

The next day we took a low-key hike in Tecolate Canyon, a long and skinny park wedged between houses in a neighborhood north of Brian. There were some unexpected obstacles like insanely steep, rutted trails and some stream crossings, but it was a nice cool place to enjoy a packed lunch.

We finished off the weekend with Brian’s first attempt at brewing! He made a hefeweizen from an extract from a home brew shop in El Cajon. A few weeks later for Christmas he surprised me with a labelled bottle. It actually wasn’t too bad! He has since made a few more batches and he continues to learn more about the art of brewing.

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Skis, Slopes, and Brian

After probably years of prodding I was able to convince Brian to come up to the mountains with me for a ski/snowboard weekend. We stayed in a cabin close to the Southern Lake Tahoe resort, Kirkwood (courtesy of Mike, thanks!). This year, like the past few, has not been spectacular for winter sports, but the conditions were decent so we drove up one weekend in January. I was able to cobble together the right combination of gear for Brian thanks to my father and brother. To put it lightly Brian was not a fan of skiing, or more specifically how I nudged him to try more challenging runs. At least the crêpes and mulled wine were a success (even though Brian isn’t a fan of such delicacies). I may never get him back out so here is Brian on skis:

Look! Its Brian, on skiis!

Look! Its Brian, on skis!

We went up with Gabrielle and Geoff, Gabrielle’s sister, Lauren, and her boyfriend, Mike. All having experience in snowboarding and skiing we had a better time than Brian.

Maybe when the snow is better I’ll be able to lure Brian back to the mountains.


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Birthday Diving, Sailing and Other Adventures

Brian turned a quarter century old this year so we celebrated with the usual: diving. I have never seen Brian so eager to get up early on a Saturday then this past Jan. 31st. We were up and out of the house before 7am to beat the tourist traffic at La Jolla Cove.  Unfortunately it took two more dive spots and a faulty dive computer later to finally end up in the water at La Jolla Shores around 9am. I was glad we went out where we did because we found an accommodating, more seasoned dive couple that showed us a new site on the North Wall. La Jolla Shores is the place where they certify Open Water beginner SCUBA divers, but it is a tricky site because it is predominantly a sandy bottom except for where La Jolla Canyon drops off to many hundreds of feet. Some obstinate divers miss the wall and just keep dropping in search of it. Some don’t come back alive. Needless to say Brian and I were grateful for our escorts. In fact, it was a really great dive. There was tons of life along the North Wall and Brian and I were happy to try something new.

Because we had such an early start we were back at Brian’s place with washed gear and lunch by the time Alex, Brian’s brother, called to invite us out sailing. There was a decent amount of wind so we headed over to Mission Bay. Brian’s brother has been sailing on and off since he was young and now that Brian lives in San Diego he has been trying to get lessons from Alex. I believe this was the first successful lesson. Brian was a little uneasy at first, but he took hold of the tiller (your sailing vocabulary word of the day) for a good part of the ride. Alex guided the 18ft Catalina in and out of its landing.

For the last part of the weekend we went tide-pooling, to the zoo and out to a burger place in North Park where I presented Brian with his cake and amazing Birthday card ride where I spelled “Happy B-Day Brian” in the Sunset district in San Francisco on my bike and recorded it with my Garmin watch. See download below). It seems being 25 years old isn’t so bad.

Screenshot 2015-01-25 15.10.47


Happy Birthday Brian!

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Thanksgiving with the Halls, the Halbergs, and the Herolds

Last Thanksgiving Gabrielle, Geoff and I had this crazy idea to host at our place in Redwood City. We had neither enough seating nor silverware nor dinnerware, but we had the space and motivation. We collected chairs, plates, glasses, and utensils from various family members and we all took a part in preparing food. Brian’s mother brought her famous stuffing, I made lattice-top apple pie, my parents brought salad and wine and the Halbergs made up a delicious cauliflower soup, sides and of course, the turkey. We had an interesting restaurant-like table arrangement, but it seemed to work. We were able to fit 15 people in our living room! Even a greater feat than accommodating all those people was how we gathered our groceries. That morning we actually biked over to our local grocer and with a trailer and panniers to pick up our spatchcocked turkey and various other supplies. On our meandering ride back home through our neighborhood we received a few jolly responses when home owners guessed that it was our turkey in tow! All in all it was a good evening and I hope our guests enjoyed it as much as we did.


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Show Diving at the Cal Academy

Sometimes it doesn’t feel like an adventure because it is more like a job, but I find others are usually interested to know I am volunteer diver at the California Academy of Sciences (Cal Academy). About twice a month I drive up to San Francisco to dive in the Amazon flooded rainforest, the tropics of the Philippines or the local California coast. As a volunteer diver you mostly clean the algae off the tank windows and occasionally rearrange pieces in the exhibit or retrieve various debris. If this doesn’t sound glamorous, it isn’t, but the people on the other side of the acrylic treat you like a celebrity. Once you get in that tank even if all you are doing is scrubbing the algae off the windows people wave, children come running for high-fives and parents hold up their infants to you like at a presidential PR event. Even Brian came to watch me clean and he seemed excited! This feeling is only magnified when you get in the water for a dive show. Twice a day the Cal Academy hosts a coral reef educational talk in their Philippines Coral Reef tank complete with a diver guest. We don a surface supplied (the air is in tanks at the surface), full face mask rig and actually talk to the audience. This to me is one of the more exciting opportunities at the Cal Academy. This is specialty tech gear that I would normally not have the opportunity to use and we get to interact with the public with more than just sign language. I usually try to plug the beauty and value of the California Coast. Maybe I’ll inspire some kids to care more about the ocean, particularly the undervalued, dark, grey, depths of the California Coast. If not, at least I have the adoring fans.

image (2)



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