Driving Miss Peaches

Rachel's company has sponsored a series of concerts this summer called ZooTunes at the Woodland Park Zoo. Last night's performance was Etta James and Rachel was wise enough to sign us up to volunteer for the event. So we showed up and breezed by the front gate thanks to our awesomely hip Wahington Mutual volunteer t-shirts. We showed up to the volunteer tent to check in, they didn't have any "Joe" name tags, so I was christened "Mike" for the evening. We then sat down for a spell while the opening act finished and the volunteer coordinators tried to decide where to put us. Rach had volunteered a few weeks prior and ended up at the gate stamping peoples' hands for reentry where she couldn't even see the band. A woman approached us and offered the crappiest volunteer job available. She needed somebody to walk around and use a yard stick to measure the lawn chairs the spectators were sitting in. If they were above 24" we were supposed to destroy the chair and promptly escort the perp to the exit.....well, no not really, but she did want us to politely ask them to fold up the chair they hauled in from the parking lot and sit down on the grass. Rach and I bluntly explained to her that this job did not sound like fun and we were merely here in an attempt to see Etta James for free and that we had even considered changing out of our volunteer T-shirts shortly after entry to the event. She wasn't really expecting anybody to jump at the chance to harass complete strangers about the dimensions of their camping chairs anyway. It was a good thing we held out too. After all the joking with Rachel about being assigned to Etta's personal security staff and carrying her to her limo bodyguard style while kicking the menacing paparazzi and reporters square in their faces, our assignment came. Shortly before Etta took the stage, one of the volunteer coordinators approached us and told us to report to Henry at sidestage. I wasn't actually Etta's body guard, but was pretty close, they gave us a radio and put us at the side of the stage. We were to allow only Etta's family, friends and those with the "all-access" passes to come backstage. Along with that we were charged with enforcing Etta's strict no-video, autographs or photography rule. So, in short, we ended up about twenty feet away from the legendary singer and had damn near the best seats in the house. We're pretty sure that Etta was giving me the eye too, though I fell out of her favor when an onstage fan was blowing in her face and she said "Somebody turn that SHIT off," and some fat stagehand came to her rescue instead of me... Oh well, she put on a great performance and had everybody up out of their 24" high lounge chairs dancing, clapping and singing.


Get Your Kicks at Sparks '06

At any of Rachel's family gatherings the word 'sparks' finds its way into conversation frequently. "See ya at Sparks," has almost replaced goodbye as the farewell of choice. I was invited to join in this wonderful experience this year and see the legend firsthand and I must say that it surpassed my high expectations. The campsite on Sparks Lake is accessible by a twenty minute canoe ride or mile long hike only. Some campers, like Rachel's parents, arrive early to set up the small village in the woods that hosted over thirty people at one time this year. I managed to get a couple days off of work to give me a four day weekend at Sparks.

Rachel has told me a lot about this place that her family has visited annually for the past 26 years but wasn't quite able to detail the beauty of the area. It's something that has to be seen in person. Ancient lava flows and pumice make up much of the landscape, the lake is long and has many many small lagoons and channels to explore by canoe. It sits among the glacier covered peaks of the three sisters, Broken top and Mt. Bachelor.


What to do at Sparks? The camp is on one of the lagoons. Three or four rafts are constantly anchored in the middle and during the day kayaks, air mattresses and pretty much anything else that floats finds its way out to the "floatilla." People are lounging in the sun and hollering for more cocktails to be floated out by the beer barge. Dogs are swimming everywhere, particularly Samba who felt the need to "rescue" everybody who splashed in the water. People take turns jumping off a log thirty feet up in the air into the water to the cheers of everybody watching.

There's tons of hiking to be done too. The geology of volcano country allows for some pretty awesome pits, caves and boulder fields that I had a great time exploring. Armed with a rope, hiking stick, a camelbak full of ice water and flashlights, Rach and I found are way into some pretty gnarly spots.....

Playing in volcano vomit makes a person very hungry and the chefs of Sparks answer the call. Highlights and perennial favorites at Sparks are Doug's Chili Rellenos and the infamous Mclennan Prime Rib feast. Rachel's dad put half a cow on a skewer and cooked it on rotisserie over his grill for three hours(it's no small task to cook for 30+ people in the middle of the forest). The results were absolutely delicious and not a scrap of meat was left. Even the dogs got a special treat that night as Rachel's dad found his way into their little doggy hearts by handing out the leftover rib bones....

After dinner, the firewood for the night is prepared and everybody gathers around to tell funny stories. Many people have really good stories about inappropriate places they have peed, suitcases, drawers, closets, etc. Along with my duties as "Cabana boy," I also helped the fellas prepare some firewood, Rach took this great pic of Jason and I gettin' our lumberjack on....
Be sure to stop by Rachel's family blog for more great photos of Sparks '06. Thanks again to everybody for being such great camping companions and making my first trip to Sparks such a memorable event!! I had a great time and can't wait until next year!!