Sendero Group Travel Blog

Follow Sendero travelers on their adventures using accessible GPS.

Sunday, August 27, 2006


Hiking with new tools at Fallen Leaf Lake

the view of Fallen Leaf Lake
This relatively small 3 by 1.5 mile lake is near Lake Tahoe at an elevation of 6,400 feet. My wife Jennifer’s family has a house there and we gathered this weekend for her birthday.

We went on a 4 mile hike to the beginning of Desolation Wilderness yesterday and on a shorter but much more challenging 3.3 mile hike today.

Five of us, plus Miguel guiding me, set off for the Angora lookout, nearly 1000 vertical feet above the lake. The trail varied a lot from 3 feet to one foot wide. It was sometimes smooth, gravelly, then big boulders, holes, roots, drop offs and it always had a steep incline. This is not the sort of terrain I would choose to hike but it was Jennifer’s birthday and she really wanted me to come.

Jamie, Mike, Jennifer, Wyndham, and Miguel ready to hike

I tried a new tool for this hike. Erik Weihenmayer sent me a set of trekking poles, which I first saw at our No Barriers event in Cortina Italy. Essentially these are telescoping ski poles and you use them the way you would use a cane on the street to feel in front of you but also to provide some balance and to help recover from stumbles. They are extremely light and still have considerable strength.

Hear an audio file of Mike hiking using the trekking poles

With Miguel on my left, I had one trekking pole in my right hand. I of course was wearing my PK GPS. I was motivated not to slip and fall not only for the sake of my body but because of the PK. This took all my concentration.

The new system really worked great because the trail was often so narrow that I was walking almost sideways next to Miguel. He might find an opening between boulders big enough for him but not for all of me. With the trekking pole, I could feel the boulder in front of me, then the other side so I could step over it safely. When the drop off was on my right side, I would trail the edge with the pole.

Mike and Miguel navigating a steep set of boulders

Miguel was amazing, slowing down, weaving and speeding up depending on what was in front of me. He loves to lean into the harness and he never let up on this strong pull the entire hike. I loved it when there were multiple obstacles and we had to read each other’s signals very carefully to find a path that worked. This involved hopping down and/or over boulders and logs. This hike really wouldn’t have worked without the pole unless I was literally crawling along.

On our way back down from the Angora Lookout, I tried using both poles for a particularly narrow and treacherous section. Miguel’s pull was too strong and it was just too narrow for him to guide. The double pole technique worked fantastically although Miguel did not like being heeled behind me. I didn’t want to risk stepping on him or sticking him with a pole. My nephew tried hiking with the two poles with his eyes closed. He did pretty well while gaining an appreciation for how tricky complicated terrain is to negotiate when you cannot see it.

The GPS was useful for knowing our distance traveled, the line of sight distance back to our destination and our elevation climbed. In addition to streets in the map database like Angora Ridge Road and Fallen Leaf Lake Road, there were a number of user points I had entered on previous hikes. I added quite a few more points for future reference. I’ll be much more inclined to go on a hike like this with the addition of the new trekking poles.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Kenai Fjord glacier tour and train trip

This event started at a more civilized hour compared to our fishing excursion, 11 AM from the Small Boat Dock of Seward. Good thing since some prankster pulled the fire alarm at 3 AM and all of us stood outside the Edgewater Hotel for 15 minutes until the Seward Fire Department arrived with 3 engines to turn off the ear piercing alarm. Pretty hard to go back to sleep after a wake-up like that.

The Coastal Explorer accommodated up to 150 people, quite a difference from our fishing charter boat, especially when it came to riding the waves outside Resurrection Bay. The Captain gave very informative commentary about the sea life and region as well as about the history including the 1964 Good Friday 9.6 earthquake and resulting tsunami. The port town of Seward was relocated by the tsunami one quarter mile inland. The new Seward has not been rebuilt in the same location. There is just a parking lot for motor homes where that part of Seward used to be.
Hear an audio file from the tour
Interesting to me is the fact that this big boat traveled at the same 26 miles per hour as our smaller fishing boat. Instead of slamming down on the far side of the waves, we rode more like a smooth roller coaster. For excitement, we would occasionally go outside the cabin where the wind and spray transformed the experience into a much wilder ride.

We got up close and personal with a number of creatures including, hump back Wales, dolphins, sea lions, sea otters, a black bear and a host of birds.
Black bear on the hill
Sea Lions perched on a rocky cliff
Puffin birds on a rocky cliff
Our captain was like Bill Nye the Science Guy. I had no idea Penguins could dive over 200 feet deep although they are not part of the “Alcid” bird type, which dive deeply. The hump back Wales are a ton per foot in length. They can be over 40 feet long. The Sea Otter has the densest hair on earth. They stay warm by ruffling air bubbles into their fur and apparently you could see them doing this.

We came within a quarter mile of the calving glaciers.
Bluish rippled Glacier ice
The boat was switched off and we listened to the thundering crash of huge chunks of ice breaking away from the glacier and plunging into the sea. Amongst this tumult, the seals played peacefully on the ice. There was a unique sound of our boat scraping over ice and churning among the ice cubes. It all seemed too magnificent for a tour boat to be intruding upon, quite impressive in sight and sound.

We were equally impressed by the train ride from Seward to Anchorage. We passed over 100 miles of meadows, valleys, glacier trails, rivers and more wild life, not your average train ride. Being served a nice meal in the dining car was a unique experience as well. We didn’t mind that the train was only traveling 13 to 26 miles per hour. It kicked up as high as 50 when we got closer to Anchorage. Sure seemed like we covered a lot of ground, water and track since we were awakened by the fire alarm 18 hours ago. And, of course, as it approaches 10 PM, It is still light out and will be light for another hour.

The train took 4 and a half hours versus 3 hours for the ride to Seward on the bus. The train had running commentary or a quiet car, as you wished. There was a bistro car or a dining car plus a domed car where you could stick your head into the rushing air to feel the wind or to take pictures without interference of the window glass. When we approached Anchorage, the conductor even asked people for their transportation needs and he called ahead for taxis and hotel shuttles. Pretty cush train ride and pretty productive glacier tour.

I only scratched the surface of Alaska travel and I can see it is a definite possibility for WayFun 2007, probably in mid June.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Fishing in Resurrection Bay near Seward

We were up at 5 AM in preparation for a fishing charter. The forecast was for rain so we spent a good deal of time tracking down rain gear. There is a whole vibrant world around people going fishing at this hour. I had no experience so it was all new to me and mostly for the boys.

The Aurora Charter boat had a cabin that seated 10. It was full for the 25 mile roller coaster ride out into the ocean in search of salmon as we all tried to stay dry. It was really rough, even by Captain Kevin’s standard. We plowed into the waves at 26 miles per hour and would slam down with bone jarring regularity on the far side of the wave.

Lined in our yellow slickers, we stood in the wind and rain fishing. The alternative was to be bouncing around the ocean in something that felt and sounded like a bus on the water. I rather preferred rain blown fishing, thank you very much.

I actually found myself day dreaming, staying surprisingly dry in my yello cocoon. I was the first to snag a live one. Deck-hand Justin took my poll when the salmon got tangled with other lines, a problem when you have 10 poles in lines off one boat. The fish eventually broke loose and it was my last live one.

Wyndham caught a pink salmon and Carson caught a black rock fish. I was happy about that.
Mike and Wyndham with the fish that Wyndham caught
We tried 3 or 4 other fishing spots without much action. One of the other people pulled in a Silver Salmon. Back at the dock, we dropped off our fish to be vacuum packed and frozen. We called the hotel shuttle which picked us up and brought us back to a patient Miguel. I am so glad I left him in the room as he would have really gotten bounced around the boat. Nobody warned me about that problem. It was a fun adventure and we were happy to be back.

I was surprised that my GPS told me we were in Resurrection Bay for a good 10 to 15 miles offshore. Eventually, I got an unknown position report. I mostly looked at the heading as I tracked Captain Kevin’s efforts to avoid big waves and debris. I marked the rock islands where we stopped to fish although I can’t say they are spots worth marking in terms of the fish activity.

Monday, August 14, 2006


Alaska Center for the Blind and traveling to Seward

The Alaska Center for the Blind was a great host for a presentation on Wayfinding. I mostly met with staff. They have a Trekker and are very interested in the Sendero GPS. They think there is only one BrailleNote GPS user in Alaska. Other BrailleNote users who don’t have GPS. We talked about having WayFun 2007 in Alaska. They are very receptive. We could count on excellent local support. They even have accommodations at the Center.

I checked out a couple hotels in addition to the Anchorage Grand where we were staying. I have a much better feel for the Anchorage downtown area and I think it will be great for some WayFun exploration. The city is a simple grid, the people are friendly and there is considerable activity.

The bus from Anchorage to Seward left from the history museum we visited yesterday. The transit people had a table set up outside the museum; they held our bags and gave us free passes to the museum while waited for the bus. The bus was comfortable; the driver gave commentary on the beautiful 3 hour ride. We were dropped off at the Small Boat Harbor and the Edgewater Inn sent a shuttle to pick us up. The Edgewater is actually pricier than the Grand even though the Grand was a one bedroom suite and the Edgewater is a standard hotel room. We will be investigating other hotel options for a future WayFun event in Alaska.


Anchorage, Alaska, Day 1

After a canceled first leg of our flight from Sacramento to San Francisco and a taxi ride instead, we barely made our flight from SF to Anchorage. By the time we got to the hotel, it was nearly 2 AM in the morning, Alaska time, an hour behind California. Nonetheless, the boys were wide awake after sleeping on the flight so we ordered a pizza delivered.

We got going on the late side later that morning but covered a lot of ground our first day in Anchorage. After breakfast, we explored our way to the Imaginarium, not worth the stop, more of a gift shop than an exploritorium as we thought.

Then we wandered through the local Farmer's Market, which had lots of fur objects, hats, coats, ear muffs and the like. Carson and Wyndham in fur hats
Miguel was extremely curious about all these animal skins.
Miguel sniffing a fox hat that Mike is wearing

I liked the wooden walking sticks, flutes and even jewelry. We watched a performance by a guy who could tell you where you were from based on your zip code. The live music started out sounding like Johnny Cash but got unbearable, so to speak, when someone sounding like an out of tune Tiny Tim started singing along.

The Anchorage Museum of History was well worth the visit. There was no charge for the boys and they didn't charge me because they didn't have any accessible materials, neither Braille nor audio. The boys ended up being excellent tour guides however.

We spent over an hour in the rapture exhibit, the best I have ever seen. Wyndham read me lots of the exhibit descriptions and many of the birds were high enough contrast that I could make them out. The wings of 4 birds were laid next to each other for example so you could see the difference, the Condor at 10 feet, the Bald Eagle at 8 feet, the Red Tail Hawk at 6 feet and the Turkey Vulture at 4 feet. I particularly enjoyed the audio booth of owl calls where you could click on each type of owl and hear their sound. The burrowing Owl and the Spotted owl were both pretty unusual. The Barn Owl sounds more like a crow than an hooting owl.

The Native Alaskan exhibit was relatively tactile. There were various animals that had "do not touch" signs but nobody said anything when I checked out a Grizzly, a Musk Ox and a Moose.
Miguel and the Musk Ox
Miguel and the Moose
Miguel and the Grizzly bear
There were huts, forts and villages behind glass. You could touch the various boats and canoes. This was well worth another hour of exploration.

After a quick walk through some paintings, we left the museum and headed for Ship Creek where we heard the salmon were spawning. Sure enough, we found a bridge with a fish ladder and dozens of salmon were floating on both sides of the damn. Lots of people fishing down stream. I'll have to get someone to explain a fish ladder to me as this wasn't something the boys understood and not something I could touch.

We capped off our first day with an excellent meal at Sacks Restaurant and then ice cream at the E Street Ice cream shop. It is still quite light out at 10 PM. It has been cloudy most of the day and is just a little drizzly right now. Not a bad first 20 hours in Alaska.

Friday, August 11, 2006


Through the woods to Grandmother's house we go

Kevin in blue on right, Chris sitting in a green WayFun shirt on left and Aerial in a WayFun shirt in back
My name is Kevin Chao. I am a senior at Bear Creek High School,
located in Stockton, CA. I attended this years Way Fun event that was held
starting in Napa then we worked our way to San Francisco. We spent about two
day's average in each location.

The thing that really stuck out for me as a participant was the famous quote,
"it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive." I experience this on the
first night, while we were at Enchanted Hills. The famous quote started when
I was leaving from the camp fire and heading on back to the cabins for the
night. Instead of going uphill towards the cabin, I went down the hill,
through the woods, on a dirt path. I was stranded for about 2-3 hours. I
thought that it was pretty nice, especially seeing that I was getting closer
to my destination, but couldn't figure out the path to continue on through
the woods. I thought that enough was enough. I flipped on the GPS receiver,
used the blue and orange flashing lights as a tracking device, and yelled
the famous phrase, "help!" The moral of the story is , never go through the
woods alone, or in a unfamiliar place; always carry a radio with you at all
times, especially in a group; and the GPS receivers can be used for more
than its standard purposes--a tracking device.

I also felt that the famous quote arose while we were in San Francisco.
Since there are many tall buildings, which will make the GPS pick up
erroneous information, thus not allowing the user to rely on information
such as heading, instead one must rely on the "getting warmer method." We
got the message, "warning off-route," several times, it was nice just
problem solving and finding out what is really happening and picking up
again where you left off. It is a little tricky traveling with a big group,
especially a group over the size of ten. But, also at the same time very
rewarding, just imagine a 16 year old leading a group of over ten people. It
was a truly nice and rewarding feeling. I know that the members of the group
also had confidence in me, or else they wouldn't have had me as their
leaders. And, when we finally got to our destination, we got the nice
message, "arrived near destination," it is almost like a pat on the back.

This years Way Fun was really nice, and I am looking forward to what is
coming on down the road. And, for myself, I really did feel the sense of
traveling hopefully and enjoying each and every step of the adventure, as
oppose to solely focusing on my destination.


From Buffalo to San Francisco

My name is Chris Grabowski, I attended Way fun 2006. I was not sure what to expect. The only for sure thing was that thirty people and I were doing things in a strange city that we had never seen before. I started my adventure in the airport. I met up with three other participants. We then gathered our luggage and then took a ride on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to meet up with the rest of the group.

The next day thirteen people met at 6:15 AM to use our gps's and create a manual route to a destination called sunrise hill. It felt like we were climbing up to the sun.

After breakfast we broke into groups and were showing each other how we
use our GPS units by creating manual routes. It was fun. Later that
day we used the GPS to do a geocash. We had to find Sendero group
balloons that were hidden by Mike around the camp.
I had a great time this year and have met some very special people that I would not have met if it wasn't for this event.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Way Fun 2006 Audio Wrap up

Hear an audio report of one day's highlights from several WayFun participants

Monday, August 07, 2006


San Francisco - Way Fun Day Four

Mark and Chris leading one group through the streets of San Francisco
Charles,Teresa, Chris, Sheila, Mark, Jamie, Bob and Sue touring museums in San Francisco

Sunday, August 06, 2006


Way Fun - Guide Dogs Tour

Way Fun group at Guide Dogs in San Rafael

Saturday, August 05, 2006


Sunrise Hill - Way Fun Day two

Kevin, Chris, Adam and Gibbie, left to right, on a bench in the woods
Eight WayFun folks on a trail overlooking the Quail Ridge vineyard in route back from Sunrise Hill
Twelve people and 3 Seeing Eye dogs, including brother and Sister, Miguel and Missy, atop Sunrise Hill

Friday, August 04, 2006


Way WayFun!

Exciting, intense, funny, intriguing, fascinating, exhausting: these are just a few of the words that come to mind in trying to imbue what goes on in five days of adventure when 31 people from 7 states meet, learn and set out to see what they are made of. Here are a few stories and snippets about the people who defined WayFun 2006, from the Napa foothills to the streets of San Francisco.

Kevin is a 16 year-old from Stockton CA who has only been using the Sendero GPS for less than a year and yet, he was teaching others as well as finding his way off-road at Enchanted Hills Camp, where he had never been. His skill and confidence along with his cane and BrailleNote gave him the tools and techniques to explore, discover, get lost and get unlost.

Kevin and others were learning by example from our two Sendero super trainers, 71 and 72 years old respectively, Carl and Gil. Along with their dog guides, this dynamic duo guided WayFun excursions from Chinatown to the Titanic exhibit at the Sony Metrion. Their patience and energy are titanic in their own right.

Our youngest GPSer is Adam, 10 years-old, from the Poconos of Pennsylvania. He and his mother, father and brother Jake drove cross country to WayFun in a motor home. Adam has a thousand questions. His charming personality and inquisitive nature has endeared him to all of us. From 6 am to midnight, Adam explores his world and it is a treat for us old codgers to tag along.

On Sunday, we had five groups among 7 vehicles wandering the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. They found wineries, the Petrified Forest, the Old Faithful Geyser, the Charles Shultz Museum, Saint Helena, Calistoga, Santa Rosa and lots of good food. Jamie and I were in a roving vehicle and we had fun finding moving targets. When Chris G. called on the two-way radio from a restaurant called Home Plate, which was not in my database, he gave me his lat/lon, I plugged it into my unit and followed the GPS route to his position. We then connected with Charles and Theresa at the Sterling Winery overlooking the valley. We managed to find at least five of the vehicles.
Mike May and Charles LaPierre at the Sterling winery overlooking the Napa Valley
We had three distinct types of experiences: first at the camp navigating amongst trails and roads not on the GPS maps. Then we were in vehicles directing our drivers to various locations over an 80 mile area. And finally, we were in San Francisco, mostly walking, and finding our way amongst the streets and tall buildings.

On Monday, in “the city”, I decided to stay with one group rather than bouncing around as I did the prior day. One group went to Chinatown, another to Pier 39, another to the Metreon and I volunteered to lead the “alternative tour.” I pitched this tour as more about the process of exploring rather than about the particular destinations. Sound familiar?
I set out with Mark, Cathy, Jim S., Ginger and Jim K. Our first stop was Starbucks. Not too hard to find one of those. After being fueled up, we searched for and set the Saint Francis of Assisi statue as our destination, about .75 miles line of sight away. This did not account for the steep climb up Powell Street to Pine Street. The tricky part was finding the narrow alley between two flats where the statue was located. Having been lead there before by Jerry Kuns, I recognized a set of stairs at Pine and Dashiell Hammett streets.

Ginger touching the St. Francis Statue

The statue is smaller than I remember, just a foot or so tall tucked under some sort of thorny tree or rose bush. We all crouched down and checked it out thoroughly before searching for our next stop, a chocolate shop.

It was located two blocks back down the hill. We found it with only one bit of wandering on the wrong side of the street. It wasn’t really worth the stop but like we said, it was about the trip and not the destination.

We set my favorite San Francisco anomaly as our next target location. I didn’t tell the group that this would involve going back up the hill and then some. We climbed up to the crossing of cable car tracks at California Street, and then descended down Powell Street through the upper edge of Chinatown. All our systems said to turn left to head West on Green street, up another set of hills. We had a pretty agile group and we moved at a good clip with 4 dogs and a cane. I teased that we were just helping Aerial keep in shape for the International Rowing championships in the UK next week. She informed us she had already worked out earlier in the morning.

After finding Macondray Lane, a quiet wooded path between houses, we sat on the sidewalk of Leavenworth Street, taking a break and looking for a place to have lunch. Nothing like 5 BrailleNotes perusing hundreds of restaurants in the POI database. We settled on a restaurant in a Northerly direction. Settling on the cuisine was harder but we finally established Las Margaritas as our lunch destination and found our way there with only one wrong turn. We had a nice meal outside while listening to a musician in the plaza of the Cannery.

From the Cannery, we found our way to nearby Ghirardelli square, where part of our group headed back to the hotel, with chocolate in hand, while Ginger, Jim and I parted the waves of people along the fisherman’s Wharf walk with our three Seeing Eye dogs. It always gives me goose bumps to have Miguel work me through such dense crowds at a surging slow/fast pace. Our next stop was Pier 39, where we headed straight for the Fudge House. The GPS, our dogs and noses lead us straight in the door. This is a must stop on a San Francisco visit. While contemplating which flavor to buy, the words of a performer outside the shop filtered into my thinking. “Now, my mother and father were in the iron and steel business. My mother ironed clothes while my dad would steal.” Chocolate Peanut butter and Fudge Mint were the two fudges I selected. They are history as of this writing.

After 8 miles of walking and 7 destinations, we decided to grab a taxi back to the hotel so we could connect with the rest of the WayFun folks before we went our separate ways. We had a debriefing of the day’s highlights and one final drink together. I can’t say everyone subscribed to our group’s motto, “It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.” I do think everyone made new friends and new inroads into their own level of accomplishment. I think everyone could say that their own personal bar had been raise and they had leapt over it, just like other WayFun pioneers have done in the three previous years.

WayFun 2006 Participants:
Mike M., Carson, Sheila, Jeff S., Jamie, Gil, Carl, Charles, Theresa, Adam, Kelly, Jake, Paul, Rebecca, Eliza, Kevin, Sioban, Sioban, Sue, Bob, Eileen, Kathy, Jim S., Ginger, Jim K., Aerial, Sandy, Chris, Mark, Jeff L., Mike G.


Way Fun 2006 Day one

Thirty-one people have gathered from six states to explore the hills around Enchanted Hills Camp for the Blind, nestled amongst the wineries of the Napa Foothills. Here we are on a group tour of the camp. We took a break within the wooded chapel in lower camp with a cool evening breeze and a stream passing by. Half of the group went on a hike to Sunrise hill at 6:15 AM. Probably the most physically challenging event of the Way Fun event. All returned in tact.

The Group hiking in the woods

The group resting at the wooded chapel


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