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Traveling Boy: Jim Friend: The Iron Goat

title/front view of tank gun barrel, Iron Goat Trail

henever you're going on a 12 mile hike and the first thing you come across on the trail is a tree shredded by giant claws and a big pile of bear crap, you know you're in for a great day. That's what happened to me and my good friend Alex recently as we were starting off on the Iron Goat Trail near Steven's Pass in northern Washington State. Our topic of conversation turned immediately to the subject of whom amongst our friends owned the handgun we should have borrowed, and also about whether or not the law allows the carrying of firearms in such environs. As we were talking, I internally decided that my defense against any potential angry bear pouncing on me would be to proclaim loudly to the evil carnivore that the federal government is moving away from allowing anyone having a gun in their possession while on federal lands, and that the bear would do well to listen, because that's what Uncle Sam said. That should, by the standard of bureaucratic reasoning, compel the bear to move off of my writhing frame, immediately relinquishing the winsome charms of feasting on my tasty meats, with the beast having duly apprehended, via my prescient suggestion, that world governments everywhere are moving en masse towards sunshiny days and lolly pops and unicorn dreams.

tree shredded by bear
Harvest of arms
Seeing all of that madness on the trail settled it. The next time I hike in a remote location I'm going to bring a gun, a big one. And if a federale along with a ghastly bear jump out in front of me on the trail at the same time, both seeking to violate my inherent right to protect myself, the first three bullets will be assigned to the wicked demagogue, with the remainder being duly appointed to the bear. If thou wouldst respond with modicum of religious disdain, let it be reiterated that back in the olden days of this rapidly degenerating but still glorious country, Benjamin Franklin proposed a seal for America that read, "Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God." To this, I would respond, "Long live the Republic." Franklin wanted to have this seal placed on the back of every American dollar bill, but instead, it was replaced with a cryptic Egyptian pyramid with an eyeball at the top. To this, I say again, "Long live the Republic, and death to all bears."

Anyway, the Iron Goat Trail was built on an abandoned Grand Northern Railway line originally constructed in the late 1890's. After some big problems with that stretch of the line, including the Deadliest Avalanche in American History, which swept two entire trains and 100 people to their deaths, it was abandoned in 1929 in favor of a newer section of rail line that featured a newly built Cascade Tunnel, which is still in use today. From then on, the old stretch of the railway languished in solitude until the 1990's, when some brilliant dude decided to make a trail out of it. Long live that fellow, too.

As far as trail hiking goes, the Iron Goat offers some serious strangeness that makes it a notable destination fit for enthusiastic recommendation. It's a convenient hour and a half jaunt from Seattle, and a very scenic drive at that. Other than being infested with hordes of vicious, pooping bears with vampire teeth (as was noted earlier but not promoted as a huge promotional draw, which it is, of course); the Iron Goat Trail will consistently blow your mind. The first really cool part about this trail is that it's virtually flat, an almost unheard of feature of a high mountain trail. There is a gentle slope to it, but of course, since it was originally built to accommodate heavy trains, the slope is almost imperceptible. In addition, scattered along the trail, especially on the western end, are the accoutrements of the original builders of the railway: Old pots and pans, kitchen gear, and the remnants of old leather boots. Wow.

author's friend Alex near the start of the trail
The intrepid Alex takes on the Goat

Besides being emotionally assaulted by recent evidence of hungry bears (so desperately hungry, in fact, that they will strip the bark off a pine tree like a banana peel to get to two or three tiny insects); another amazing thing you'll notice about the Iron Goat are the massive concrete retaining walls that consistently line the trail, nearly from start to finish. These structures are so ancient and impressive they give you the feeling you're a WWII spy, sneaking up on an impenetrable Nazi-inspired St. Nazaire or Soviet Murmansk-era submarine base. So enormous and frequent are these monstrous concrete retaining walls, it's hard to imagine how a corporation, especially one from the turn of the last century, could have made such a rail venture financially feasible with the massive amounts of capital they would have had to be expend on such a herculean construction endeavor. Totally amazing.

Hiking onward, there also exist several enormous abandoned train tunnels along the trail. At least one of them was so tempting to explore, I went as far as I could before turning back for lack of light. While skirting the tunnel on the trail, I estimated that this particular tunnel was 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile long. It appeared that most of the tunnels were collapsed, but judging by the wind howling through this particular tunnel, I concluded that it's almost certainly passable on any given thru-exploration attempt. However, you might have to wrestle with your conscience as the posted warnings to "stay out" at each cave entrance might echo menacingly in your mind along the way. You might also have to contend with the premonition that the cave might be a perfect place for a ravenous bear to house itself within and raise its young, which was definitely directly on the path of my mental landscape as I crept quietly into the darkening abyss.

Depending on what time of year you arrive, wildflowers abound on the trail, as do strange skittering earth creatures with roughly squirrel-esque dimensions, I don't know what those things were, but they were really jittery and dang fast and mostly in the realm of something you'd expect to see out there, but not quite. In addition, we heard the coolest bird call ever, it sounded like a computer generated noise from Star Wars. The trail also offers a few waterfalls and the occasional good view of the North Cascades.

Alex with ax in one of the tunnel
Axe indeed required... Alex squares off in one of the tunnels

The tour-de-force of the entire trail, and certainly probably the most astonishing of all pay-offs at the end of any hike, comes at the eastern end of the trail, which produces absurdly constructed, cathedral-like snow shelters. I won't even try to describe them, as the task is impossible, even for someone as long-winded as myself. I will say though, that they go on forever, have incredibly tall concrete pillars and ceilings, and have to be seen to be believed. The sunlight, cast into the interior of this marvel, also plays an enchanting role in the ambience of this architectural phenom. If you pay close attention as you're walking through it, you will find, on one of the pillars, the remnants of an imprint of a wooden mold, inserted for the impression of fresh concrete, placed there by one of the original construction workers over 100 years ago. Permanently engraved on this pillar is the relief of a human face, echoing the handiwork of humble and antique American-frontier humanity on this most massive of corporate imaginations.

Alex on the Iron Goat Trail
Yes, it really does go on forever.

Shortly after this unbelievable structure, the trail spit us out into the eastern trailhead and parking lot. To my sheer delight, or something to that effect, we stumbled upon a sight that should greet every traveler at the end of every trailhead, everywhere. There in the middle of the parking lot was an Army tank, hooked up to solar panels and a big propane tank. You know what that means, right? The thing was good-to-go, in some sort of crude working order. There was even a cell phone antenna on it. Nice. I'm sure they use that tank and its spitting, thundering orifice for avalanche control, but if you're ever looking for a military tank that's parked in an isolated spot that you can pretty much have to yourself all night to jury rig and drive back to your place so you can park it in your garage, this is the one. It is sitting there waiting for you. And if you should so choose to clandestinely purloin said contraption, take me along for the ride please.

On the hike back to the western trailhead, Alex came up with the best idea in the world, as is his custom, by the way. We got to talking about how awesome it was to have the evening light aglow so long into our northern-hemisphered summer's evening. We moved onward within our intellectual discourse and profound philosophizing into the truth of what a sure futility the concept of daylight savings time is. At this, Alex suggested that in a better world, clocks would be set every single season so that sunset always coincides with 8:00pm. I thought that was brilliant. Shortly after deciding we would start a new country where this concept would be enshrined into our Constitution, a bear jumped out of the bushes, shrieking bloody murder, his emaciated and infuriated gut howling out in joy for the tasty meat feast he was about to receive at our expense, his fangs overwhelmed with the frothing and squirting of nitric acid-strength salivary juices. His eyes spit literal, epic streams of narrow and bloody fire, as he whipped his voracious gaze upon up. Of course, as usual, I killed that bear with my bare hands; which, incredibly, is something I've had to do in every single one of my Travelingboy writing adventures; which, of course, should compel you to immediately read all of my other Travelingboy articles on this website.

Alex posing in front of old tank
Your new car

Anyway, should I also mention that I like the Iron Goat so much that I chose to hike it on my 38th birthday this year? Yes, c'est vrai. Also, previously, just to let you know, I also hiked The Goat, for the first time, on my 36th birthday. It's a pretty good trail that will bring you back again on another birthday, non? Oui. Maintenant aussi, il est un bete noir abattoir. Bon mot? Ok... les boules. Eh bien, ca ne fait rien I should also mention that the Iron Goat is one of the most isolated trails I have ever put a foot on. In my two adventures there, I only saw a few people at the trailhead at the beginning of my two trips, while the rest of the trail remained human-less from start to finish.

The very next day, at REI, as I was renting some gear for my next adventure in the North Cascades, I asked the clerk if she had any hiking plans for the summer. She said that she had many such plans, so I asked her if she had ever hiked the Iron Goat. Her eyes lit up, and with a big smile, she gave me an enthusiastic, "Yes!" I was not surprised by this reaction, because it was the same reaction I had. Twice. To this, I say: "Long live the Republic, death to all bears, and long live the Iron Goat."

"Namibia" Article

Jim,

I spent several school holidays in Windhoek with family friends. Much later I took each of my kids (U.S. born & raised) on separate trips to my native, Cape Town and "Overlanded" through Namibia into the Kaokoveld. I enjoyed your travelogue immensely. Please advise me if you ever publish a collection of your travel experiences. The apple strudel at Helmeringhausen somewhere after Ai Ais was the best ever. Graciously,

Merv Hayman, Sarasota, FL

Hi Merv, thanks for the correspondence, glad you enjoyed the article. It sounds like that country got into your blood, as it has in mine. I'm looking forward to getting back there someday and seeing much more of the place, Namibia has a peculiar allure. Thanks for the complements and I will certainly put you on the list for a travel stories compendium.

Cheers and happy travels!
Jim

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"Bullriding in Texas" Article

Hey Jim,

I love your website. It has shown me that all this time my boyfriend was lying to me about who he was. On his Facebook page he was using the picture of "Thomas Bosma"... Btw great story and pictures.

MaKayla, Rapid City

Hi MaKayla, glad we could be of assistance in busting your prevaricating suitor! Thanks for the complements as well.

All the best, Jim

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"Canadian Arctic " Article

Hey Jim,

Just wanted to say 'Hello'…love your intro/bio Mr. Boitano, fits the call of excitement/steelo of Mr. Friend. Hope to keep correspondence, and hope all your travels keep you busy but safe, Check my Friend...

Mico Gonz, Seattle, WA

Miiii-coooooooooooooooo!!!

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"Jalalabad, Afghanistan" Article

Hello Jim,

Very interesting, I find it very important for me because my BF is there. Hope he is fine...His name is Sgt.Jason Adams...Thank you and God bless...

Leonila, Guiguinto, Bulacan, Philippines

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Cpt. Disi was at Kutschbach with the guys of 2nd platoon. I was in 4th, we were right up the road at FOB Morales Frazier. I don't think I read anywhere about you being at KB but if you were up there in Kapisa province with us you would have loved it. It was 10x better than Jbad. The air there was so full of smog, and you couldn't really see that far out early in the morning when the sun was rising. But its nice to see someone like you who was out on patrols and documenting all the things we did. Great stories. Keep up the good work...

Kevin Myrick, Calhoun, GA

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Love your writing. Have you read Spike Walker's books by now?

Kerry, Wenatchee, WA

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Nice.

Christian Louboutin, New York City

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I do not believe I've seen this described in such an informative way before. You actually have clarified this for me. Thank you!

Janice Randall, Post Falls, ID

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I like the style you took with this topic. It isn't every day that you just discover a subject so to the point and enlightening.

Charles David, St. Anne, Manitoba

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Hey Jim! LT Singh just checking your site.. looks great… very slow internet here.. will be home in 2 weeks.

Alvin Singh , New York

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Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones. You have a lot more creativity and originality now. Keep it up! And according to this article, I totally agree with your opinion, but only this time! :) .

Arthur Cox, Next to Paris

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Jim. Take it all in, smother your senses with the culture and people. Watch your top notch and have a once in a lifetime experience. Miss you.

Jeff and Andrea, Los Angeles, CA

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Fascinating photos Jim! Singly they are all fodder for short stories; together they really capture an out-of-body trip! Enjoyed mine, thank you! I'm curious what those compounds contain...mostly businesses? residences? Love that the T-Boy card is making it's way around the globe!

Wendy, Los Angeles, CA

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These are outstanding photos. You capture scenes that I've never seen in the "mainstream media." Haunting images that make me think that there is danger around every corner.

Al Burt, Friday Harbor, WA

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Enjoyed your article immensely! Your title is fun and so is learning about bin Laden skipping out without paying the rent - what a loser! It's great you could meet with Mr. Jouvenal, hear the stories and see the guns. Give our highest regards to T.G. Taylor and the other military personnel serving in Afghanistan. Courage to you all!

Steve, Renton, WA

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Jim, I enjoyed this fascinating article. It reminded me of how sublimely surreal life is. Also, I would like to thank you for your courage, and to express gratitude towards your bringing this piece of the world, with its foreign realities, to my doorstep. I look forward to reading more from you.

Sandra, Seattle, WA

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This is outstanding reporting, Jimmy F! Fascinating stuff. You've taken on a dangerous, important assignment in Afghanistan, and we readers appreciate your work with the military and your unique observations. I look forward to your next post. In fact, I'm going to go through the archives to see your entire body of work on TravelingBoy.

Terry, Los Angeles, CA

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I really enjoyed my entry into Kabul with you and the visit with Peter Jouvenal... look forward to more of that adventure.

Brenda, Richland, WA

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Great story, Jim, a story really "as current as yesterday's news." Now there's a real TravelingBoy!

Eric, San Diego, CA

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Jim you have probably revealed more about Bin Laden than anyone...his rage on the world has to be linked to his limp handshake. Be careful over there!

Janet, Caldwell, ID

Thanks Janet! I get the distinct impression that his handshake isn't the end story to all that's limp with bin Laden's physiology!

Jim

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What a fantastic piece. You're a modern-day Hemingway. Your writing is compelling and fascinating. I look forward to much more of this great adventure.

Roger, Puyallup, WA

Wow, Roger, what an awesome set of complements. Thanks a lot. My first journal entry of 2010 was: "The stories will tell themselves. I just need to show up." So far, so good! Thanks again!

Jim

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Jim, first time reading your stuff. Very cool. I hope to read about our units and life in eastern Afghanistan very soon since you will be coming to our area as an embed. BTW, I'm the PAO here in Jalalabad and will be coordinating your visit with CPT Disi.

T.G. Taylor, US Army, Jalalabad, Afghanistan

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Hello T.G.!

I saw your email address included on a couple of correspondences, and I cannot wait to spend some time with you, and even yet more of our honorable fighting forces over there in that bleak neck of the woods in Afghanistan in January, including CPT Disi. This is truly a trip of a lifetime for me, and I'm completely looking forward to absorbing the experiences there and recording the sufferings and sacrifices of so many of those of you who continue to strain and press to make Our Country Great, those of you who daily labor to assist those in other countries whose lives had once withered under the burden of tyrants, and whose hopes can now flicker again with the help of those like yourself. Thanks so much for putting it all out there for us every day. My fervent hope is to honorably document the expenditures of each of your individual lives in the midst of this conflict, those of you who "anonymously" struggle daily to make what We Hold As Good prevail in what, at times, is a dark and wicked world.

Thanks so much, man. Great to hear from you... See you soon!

Jim

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Sad to say, this is the first time I've read one of your articles Jim. What have I been missing!? Thanks for the funny, informative, and just plain awesome read! Take care and have a great Turkey day!

Jeff, Pasco, WA

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Jim, I just loving reading your blogs. As I've dreamt about going to Costa Rica for at least 20 years, this was a very insightful and fun read for me. You always make me laugh.

Deborah - Burbank, CA

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Wow, what a HILARIOUS guy!!!!! I really really enjoyed the article. The Village Artist is my 'uncle Boyd" as I call him. He is closing his shop next year. That made my day and thank you for letting me know of this on the world's BEST travel information source.

Sandy - Sitka, Alaska

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Hi Sandy!

Comments like those that you wrote make all the hassles and travails of writing resoundingly worthwhile, thank you! I am so sorry to hear that Boyd is closing his shop! The Alaskan State legislature should immediately intervene to make his shop an Alaskan cultural heritage site of some variety (not kidding). Meanwhile, from the sound of the conversation Boyd and I had, it's the federal government that's confused and harassed the poor guy with inconsistent and random applications of federal law to the point where it's probably not worth it anymore. I hope that's not the case, but I wouldn't be surprised. Whatever the reason, I am really sorry to hear that he's closing shop. I'm privileged to have seen it... once in a lifetime. Thanks again for reading and thanks a lot for your comments!

Jim

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Hi Jim,

Now I know what you were doing on the Alaska cruise when I wasn't around. Besides playing cribbage. I'm glad that you, a younger, more slender and fit person, also saw the value in cruising. I didn't come back with a tan, but I did lose 3 pounds while sleeping every night and eating every meal but one. Jade and I are looking forward to three weeks exploring Mediterranean ports in May. We put down our deposit for it on our last night on board and have starting our training. Sleeping in the same wonderful bed every night makes such a break-neck pace completely possible for a grandma like me. I'm looking forward to reading your Afghanistan piece WHEN you have returned.

Janice - Seattle

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Hi Janice!

Yes that was a blast! I would do all of that again any day of the week. Have fun on your Mediterranean cruise, that sounds like great fun!

Jim

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Love your expeditions. Keep writing.

Karen Cummings - Yakima, WA

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Jim can't tell you how much I am enjoying your writing. One other commenter mentioned you are living the life we all dream of, ain't that the truth. As far as looking for a place to live that will challenge you to be able to make a real living and supplying a steady flow of women looking for the bbd (bigger better deal) then you should try the Yakima Valley here in Washington State (inside joke). Look forward to reading more from you.

Huston Turcott (hooter) - Yakima, WA

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Awesome!!! I love Japan!

Maja - Chur, Switzerland

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Jimmy my love,

I totally thought you were kidding when you told me you went bullriding. OH MY GOSH you actually did it. (SIGH) Am I going to have to smack you around a bit?? heheheheee Seriously, come see us!

Leah, Richland, WA

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Jim,

Rock on Friend! Living it up... inspiring us all to do the same!

Celeste, Seattle


Jim,

Are you for real? You're living the life many people only dream about. You're obviously not yet married. What wife would allow her husband to do all the crazy things you do? This Virginia skydiving adventure is probably the scariest yet. Your writing style helps bring the exhilaration out. Great photos too. Loved the caption about you striking that "gangsta rap" pose. Come to think of it, why do we do that in front of the camera?

Thanks also for the tips. $250 for a few minutes with nothing between you and mother earth is a bit costly but I guess if you have a death wish, this is definitely the way to go.

You mentioned that 25 people a year lose their lives doing this. With my luck I will be among that number if and when I decide to do this.

Enjoyed it very much. Can't wait for your next adventure.

Peter Paul of South Pasadena, CA

Jeem!

Found ur Glacier trek (I will Destroy You Glacier Peak) to be serious kick ass. To be honest, I’m such a lightweight, I’ve never been more than a day tripper. When u really get out there on one of those long solo treks, and the water runs short … can u drink from local streams? I’ve heard that pollution is so bad that even places untouched by man are now off-limits.

VitoZee

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Howdy VitoZee,

Great to hear from you and thanks for the complement and question. That is a seriously cool name, by the way: VitoZee. Just from the phonetics of it, I get the impression that you might be a very friendly and mild-mannered hitman working out of North Jersey. Really cool.

As for your drinking water from streams question, there are a lot of answers for it. The simple answer is that, no, you can almost never implicitly trust stream water sources, unless they are flowing straight out of the ground (via an aquafer or spring) bubbling up right there in front of you. That's your best bet, but you rarely see that in the wild unless you're looking for it, and even so, I have actually gotten sick from drinking spring water straight from the source at Panther Springs on Mount Shasta. You never know what you're going to get drinking untreated water from the wilds.

Most of the time the pollution you'll be dealing with out in the wilderness is not man-made, it usually comes from bacteria and parasites that inhabit the bodies of wilderness animals. For example, on this Glacier Peak trip, I drank from a stream I was confident was trustworthy. In the immediate vicinity were living quite a few marmots. A number of days after I got home I fell ill, and had to wonder if I hadn't picked up something from the water I drank, as there was not much of any other explanation for my symptoms. I knew a trip to the doctor would probably result in them sending me back home with a plastic cup that was required to be filled with my own poo, which would need to be delivered back to the lab steaming hot so they could figure out exactly what kind of bacteria or parasite they were dealing with. (Not a joke, remember Panther Springs?) After this diagnosis, I would then have to go back to the doctor and get a prescription, but by then, my body would have probably fought off the tiny invaders completely on its own. Not worth the trouble, and all of this would certainly = Jim minus $280. So I suffered it out, and whatever happened to be bothering me left my system in about 7 days or so. Yuck. No fun.

Anyway, I don't recommend drinking straight from the streams of the wild, but in a pinch, I do it everytime, unless I see a bear or a moose straight upstream from me pooping in the river, which has only happened about ten times. (Or zero times.) Anyway, sometimes I get sick, sometimes I don't. If I'm exhausted and thirsty, to heck with it, I'm drinking it.

All this notwithstanding, or withstanding, or notwithoutstanding, whatever, they just recently invented the coolest thing in the world though, so you might want to check it out. Previously, for treating your water in the wild, you'd always have to put a pellet of iodine or a congregate of other evil ingredients into your jug of stream water and let it sit there for an hour before you drink it while the chemical cocktail thoroughly treats your water. That is ridonkulous because when you're hiking and thirsty, you aren't going to wait a full hour for that pill to dissolve and work properly, you are going to guzzle. Anyway, they just invented this magic wand of sorts that you can find at any decent backpacking or outdoors store. You turn it on and dip it in your stream filled water jug, and the ultraviolet light it produces irradiates everything to death on the spot, after about 30 seconds or so. Kind of like my pinky finger, which I keep forgetting to treat my stream water with, because I'm always so dang thirsty.

Jim

Keep it comin' Jim. Sounds awesome.

Matt Langley, Duvall, WA

Hey Jim,

Enjoyed your Victoria article. It was an intersting slant on a city that is generally just promoted as a destination for tea rooms, gardens and double-decker buses. Now let's get serious ... are the Canadian women there really that attractive, good-natured and open-minded? Maybe I won't get married either and just move up there. It sure sounds refreshing after having to deal with the smugness of all those LA starlets, trying to make it in Hollywood.

Gary, Santa Monica

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Gary,

Thanks so much for the communique. I can honestly tell you that there was little exagerration involved in my description of the girls there in Victoria. God, in his infinite wisdom, has thankfully granted American mankind a few other places than the great old U.S. of A. to relieve our hearts of the burden of the eternally-self-absorbed, career-tracked, Bill-Gates-as-a-husband seeking beastly variety of female. I know, after living here in the States forever (especially in Seattle), how it is. I was recently researching a trip to Columbia, and heard the same news implicitly spoken about the women there, they are apparently of the same caliber of those that live in British Columbia. I invite you, before relocating, to take a trip up to Victoria, to see for yourself. I'll never forget it.

And my brotha', if you think you have it bad in the Los Angeles area (I lived there for six years), try Seattle (where I have lived for the last laborious three). Seattle seems to be crammed with nothing other than Ice Princesses, who live their lives completely within the confines of darkened cerebral domains, mental attentions locked firmly onto the goal of marrying the next Bill Gates, hoping to live in one of those big houses smooshed up against Lake Washington, hearts available only to the ultimate goal, the dream of all dreams ... being on Oprah someday...absorbing the jealous attentions of the millions of suburbanite women watching, all hoping to sit right there across from Ms. Winfrey someday, too, while regaling her with the tales of the good life, closets full of the savvy and smarmy garb purloined at Nordstrom's, their husband a virtual "Prince Charming," their family-owned barnacle encrusted yacht anchored firmly in some northern fjord. Oprah smiles back approvingly amidst a cacophony of applause, screen fades to commercials, all conduits nourishing The Beast.

You're my kind of guy, Gary. Hang in there, amigo. I look forward to meeting your smokin' hot wife someday.

Jim


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