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Horseback Riding on Orcas

horseback riding on orcas shoop

Sadly, no, not horseback riding on orca whales, which is probably a ton more exciting though rife with danger if you’re shitty at holding your breath and a wimp about getting hypothermia. Instead, I went horseback riding on Orcas Island, the largest island in the San Juans (though not as populous as San Juan Island, which I visited briefly last year and plan to revisit soon).

Just like San Juan, you can get there by ferry or plane–I elected to take the ferry again, this time taking my car across so I’d have an easier time getting to Moran State Park, where the ride was to be held. In case you would like to do the same thing–learn from my mistake and make ferry reservations. I hadn’t even considered that capacity would be an issue, because I was getting to the terminal so early and just figured it would be first come, first served. When I pulled up to the ferry ticket-seller, she scowled and asked if I had a reservation. When I told her that I didn’t, she said I’d just have to wait and cross my fingers…uh oh. Luckily, I was able to drive on to the ferry I’d planned on taking, as there are so few ferries that I never would have made my ride time with a later crossing. After the crossing, Jason immediately made reservations for the trip back, and I’m glad he did, as some of the scheduled crossings were already indicated as full and I had no intention of spending the night.

After the ferry docked, I made my way to Moran State Park, which is on the other side of the horseshoe-shaped island (you know, if a horseshoe was sort of mutated and mangled and really nothing like a horseshoe at all), bought a Discovery Pass, and parked. I ended up with a good amount of time to kill, so I took a short hike on the Cascade Lake trail and also started on the trail to the waterfall before second-guessing my ability to get there and back before the ride and doubled back to wait. And wait.

cascade lake

docile deer

Eventually a big horse trailer pulled up, we filled out some waivers indicating that we would not sue if involved in a horse-related injury, checked off boxes pertaining to our level of horsemanship and whether or not we wanted helmets. As I’ve fallen off of a horse before (in a lesson that was attempting to teach me to ride at a trot bareback, which I wasn’t ready for and promptly went ass-over-teakettle), I definitely wanted a helmet. Not so much to protect my head from impact with the ground, but to protect it from those four skull-crushers that they have the audacity to call hooves while I’m rolling around on the ground like a helpless squishy bug. No one else wanted helmets, but after they saw me strapping one on, they changed their minds. I’d like to think that it’s because I make wearing a helmet look cool, but not even I am that self-deluded.

safety first

Once we were properly geared, we were assigned horses based on our skill levels. I’d selected that I’d had more than 8 hours of riding under my belt (which is true, I probably have at least a hundred hours, just not, you know, in the most recent twenty years save for a couple of rides at Long Beach), and I was selected to ride Candy. Not because she was particularly difficult or spirited, but because saddles tend to slip on her and they figured I’d be the least freaked out if I started going sideways.  Which didn’t end up happening, so hurrah for that!

candy the horse

trail ride orcas

horseback riding on orcas

The trail ride was suitably difficult, not the nose-to-tail plod I expect from the majority of rides, but a lot of narrow switchbacks with steep ascents and descents, needing to pick your way through huge roots and other hazards and duck under low hanging branches. On my beach rides, I felt 100% comfortable pulling out and fiddling with my camera, but on this ride, I was able to take a quick shot while we were stopped and immediately put my phone back in my pocket because I needed my concentration elsewhere.  Speaking of stopping–we stopped every single time a horse pooped so one of the company riders could hop off and kick the poop off the trail into the weeds, which meant we stopped a lot. A lot. Sometimes we’d ride ten feet before having to stop again. Candy pooped six times. Multiply six poops by seven horses and we stopped 42 times. I don’t think it was quite that many, but it was close. 

Close enough that by the time we made it back to our starting point, it was nearly an hour later than we were supposed to have finished. Which wasn’t really a problem for me insofar as the ferry was concerned since I still had nearly five hours before I had to board, but was a problem in that nearly everything else on Orcas was closed. At 4pm.  Someone recommended a pie shop in nearly Olga. Closed. Back near the ferry terminal, the gift shops were closed, the ice cream shops were closed, and the only place that was open, the Orcas Hotel, sold us a sandwich and a drink and then hustled us off their property so our sandwich-eating wouldn’t be in the photos of the wedding they were hosting.  So we went back to the car and waited. And waited. And waited. I ended up falling asleep for a while. I actually considered trekking back to Doe Bay and paying for access to their clothing-optional hot tub because trying to avoid looking at hippie schlong would at least be something to do.

orca friend

Finally, FINALLY, the ferry arrived and we boarded just in time to catch the tail end of a really pretty sunset.

orcas island ferry sunset

sunset orcas

purple sky

purple and blue sky moon


Hippy lady? I’m ready to get out now: an hour in a sensory deprivation tank

“You’re about to take a journey into the mind. You may see and experience things that are strange and frightening, but remember, they can’t physically harm you. Though they may destroy you mentally.”

The Simpsons, Make Room For Lisa

Sometimes I don’t know why I feel the desire to do the things that I do. Friends asked me why on earth I would want to try sensory deprivation, and I had no cogent response. Maybe I wanted some really alone time. Maybe I wanted to shut the world out for a while. Maybe I wanted to see if I’d trip balls when my brain had nothing else to do. All I knew was that someone was selling sessions to hang out naked in a salt-filled techno pod for an hour at a crack, so I might as well try it. I don’t know about all of the OTHER minutes that encompass the history of human experience, but a sucker was definitely born the second I popped out into the world.

I started out in the “pre-float lounge” before my appointment. I’d dutifully followed their email instructions, refraining from caffeine, not shaving that day, and scheduling plenty of time to arrive and park so I wouldn’t show up harried and stressed. I then signed a waiver basically stating that if I managed to injure myself while floating or on their property that I wouldn’t sue–they didn’t mention anything about the mind cracking and breaking from the lack of external stimuli, but I suppose that’s covered under the general terms. After that, I watched a video on a provided tablet about how to use the pods, what to do to prep for your session and how to finish your session, with a lot of hard sell about how it might take you a few floats to get the hang of things, how Olympic athletes have used floating to improve their times, how people have used floating to heal injury, and maybe something about how floating on an endless sea of the salty tears of your enemies rejuvenates the blood and fills you with the powers of Poseidon. I don’t know, I might have tuned out a little. It’s floating, not rocket science, and I’m about as far from an Olympic athlete as a person can be, so I had my doubts that floating was going to magically unlock my pole vaulting potential.



After I signed my life away, I was escorted to a room with a bench, a shower, and a glowing pod that looked a lot like a clog would in Tron. The employee again explained how the session would work: take a shower beforehand (no conditioner), pop in earplugs, turn off the light in the room, and enter the tank. At that time, I had to choose whether I wanted music pumped into the pod for the duration of my float or silence, with a bit of music starting when I had five minutes left in the tank. I figured if I was going to do sensory deprivation, I should go whole hog and elected for silence. As far as things I could control from the pod itself, I could experiment with leaving the lid open or closing it completely, and having a blue light, white light, or total darkness inside the pod. I could control the lights from a button on my lefthand side. On my righthand side was another, identical button that I should press if I have a panic attack or other medical emergency and need assistance from an employee. Also on the left was a spray bottle with pure water in case I got salt into my eyes, and on the right was a pool noodle in case I needed something to prop under my head during the session. After the session was over, I was to exit the pod, take another shower, take out my earplugs, and rinse my ear canals with vinegar. After the explanations, I didn’t have any questions, and I was left alone to do my thing.

   sensory deprivation tank

Once I was in the pod, I decided that again, if I was going to do this thing, I should do it all the way, so I shut the pod completely and pushed the light switch until I was in complete darkness. The first few minutes went something like “OH MY GOD IT IS SO DARK AND SMALL IN HERE THE BLACKNESS IS CRUSHING ME I AM DYING” but I acclimated to it fairly quickly. The general idea with a sensory deprivation tank is that the water and the air are held at skin temperature, so that you’re unable to tell where your body ends and the environment begins. This didn’t quite work for me–I could definitely tell which parts of me were in water and which were not. What I didn’t have any frame of reference for was how my body was oriented, and my mind definitely began to play tricks on me. I felt like I was spinning around on my back, that I was flipping end over end in the void of space. It was eerie. I struggled with turning my brain off, constantly self-narrating the experience and then telling myself to shut up shut up shut up and just experience it. They suggested a few different arm positions while in the tank, and I tried them all. My least favorite was with my arms crossed on my chest, which made me feel like nothing so much as a vampire in a space coffin. And once that experimentation started, I found it hard to stop. I goofed off in there a lot, seeing what positions I could twist my body into with the aid of 1200 pounds of salt water, once almost accidentally flipping myself onto my stomach with all of the splashing and flailing that entailed. I swooshed my legs around like a half-assed mermaid. I pulled my head out of the water repeatedly because I enjoyed the sensation of the water running off my scalp when it was the only thing I could feel. I began to wonder how much the people outside the room could hear of what I was doing inside–about the only thing I didn’t do in the tank was sing little songs to myself, which is what I usually do when I’m bored. I tried, but it was so loud that I stopped at the first hum. Even blinking seemed incredibly loud, which may have been a function of the tank and the keening of my senses, or the fact that I had earplugs crammed in my ears which makes everything going on inside your body seem louder.

The hour seemed both long and short at the same time–when the first strains of music started swelling into the pod, I was surprised. I knew I’d spent some time playing and experimenting and imagining things because I felt like I had so much time to kill, but then when it was over, it didn’t feel like an entire hour had elapsed. Either way, I was glad that I had noted which accessory was on which side of the tank, because owing to my short stature, I had completely flipped around in the pod and the emergency button was now where I would have otherwise believed the light switch to be and having someone bust in the room to rescue my salty ass would have been just a little bit awkward.

I still can’t pole vault for shit.

Up and Atom! Flying with Paradise Air

paradise air hanger

early morning kitty

powered hang gliders

powered hang glider sunrise

sunrise north shore

all suited up

good morning over oahu with paradise air

sunrise paradise air

backlit over oahu

fountain birds

over the water powered hanglider

shoreline north shore oahu

I have always wanted to fly. Whenever someone asks that “what superpower would you choose if you could have any superpower” question, my answer is always flight. Hands down. Immediately. No question. Keep your invisibility, keep your laser eyes, keep your ability to spontaneously generate a puppy from thin air (but stay close, because sharing is caring, especially when it comes to puppies). I want to fly. I don’t care that I’d probably get sucked into a jet engine or shot down by the military, I want to fly. I don’t know if it’s a short person thing or a can’t-even-jump-that-high fat person thing, but breaking the bonds of the earth to go soaring in the sky is the dream. Sadly, due to the lack of wings and hollow bones and, you know, not being an actual freaking bird, my options are mostly limited to gimmicky rollercoasters and closing my eyes in front of a really large fan. So when I heard about Paradise Air‘s powered hanglider flight lessons, it was a foregone conclusion that I absolutely, positively must try it.

Just like going for a worm, you have to be an early bird to fly a powered hanglider. Tom and Denise, the owners and operators, like to get the first flight in the air just prior to sunrise. Not only is there less air traffic, but the skies are calmer as well, which makes for a better overall flight experience. After you arrive at the tiny airstrip on Oahu’s north shore in the black of night and sign a waiver  (all the best activities start with waivers), they outfit you with a flight suit, a helmet, and gloves, and it’s off to the races. When you’re comfortable in the air, you’re taught how to steer, as well as how the whole shebang works and the various safety features, including that it’s a hang glider and you could glide your ass to land if you really got into trouble. Having last flown a plane with a rocket parachute safety feature, I was not at all worried. I don’t think I would have been worried, regardless–I’m not afraid of flying, what with it being The Dream and all. Sure, it’s unnatural for humans to fly, and yes, gravity would probably like to rip us all from the clouds in an equal-but-opposite-reaction death hug, but for whatever reason, that knowledge doesn’t bug me. Put my face in the water and it’s heart pounding panic attack time, but strap me to whatever sky contraption you want and I’ll be fine. Unless you somehow manage to put my face in water while I’m in the air. You monster.

 I think flying in a powered hanglider is as close as I’ll ever come to achieving The Dream. Not only can you twist and turn in the air like a bird, but you can feel the wind whipping at your cheeks, the sun on your face, and you can see the wide sky all around you. We saw a geyser of water erupting from the ground with a cloud of birds wheeling around it and we did the same. The sun blazed forth over the horizon, illuminating the water and setting the clouds alight. The water was so clear, I could see the reefs snarling toward the shore. And we four occupants of the hang gliders were the only ones to see any of it from the skies. They belonged to us alone. The wind may not have been the only thing I felt on my cheek that morning.