11/22/63 by Stephen King

Melanie and I are not fans of horror.  Why does someone want to be scared on purpose?  I don’t get it.  We are becoming bigger fans of Stephen King though.  Growing up I loved Stand by Me which was based on King’s The BodyRita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption was excellent.  The most helpful book I’ve ever read about how to write is King’s (see my list of recommended books in the sidebar).

We just finished listening to 11/22/63 on audiobook and both of us really loved it.  The basic plot is so well known that I won’t spoil anything by saying that this is a book about time travel and trying to stop the assassination of JFK.  Those of you who just said, “Ooooh!  That sounds good!” are in for a treat.  Those who are about to click away from this article, just wait.

King really knows how to write compelling characters.  Within the first thirty minutes of listening, we were hooked and had to know what happened to these people next.  It is easy to identify with these folks and you care about what is happening to them.  There are no action heroes or brilliant detectives.  You experience the story of mostly normal people having normal lives with the monkey wrench that one of them is from the future.  Don’t be confused though there is action, danger, and romance – just not of the supernatural monster-y sort.

The biggest surprise to me was how compelling the background stories of a 2011 man just getting through life in the 50’s and 60’s were.  This book is very long and it takes its sweet time getting to the main story, but you will not care.  That part is almost secondary.  Maybe it is secondary.  The coolest thing King achieves with this book is putting present-day you in the 50’s with a little bit of cash, some knowledge, and a goal several years down the road.  Where would you live?  What would you eat?  How would you talk?  What would you do with your time?  Who would you seek out?  Who would you avoid?

It is clear that King either spent a lot of time researching the assassination or had an army of helpers.  All of this detail really helps flesh out the setting of this book.  I can’t overstate it.  My favorite character in this book is the time period.  The abundance of these inside, and sometimes personal, facts really anchors the main character in the true-life storyline of Lee Harvey Oswald.  King has so much good info in fact, that the afterward by the author detailing more of the history surrounding the assassination is one of the best parts of the book.  Be sure to read it.

If you are looking to settle down with a good fiction book for a while, I invite you to give this one try.

Oh, and I know at least one person is going to be thinking it so I’ll just answer now.  No, the ending does not suck.  🙂

Yosemite – Ovaltine Bonus Material

I know there are not that many pix from Half Dome. I was having a tough enough time just doing the hike without taking pix. I’ll get better at this the more I do it.

We were testing out some new equipment for this trip:
1. Gregory Z-30 daypacks – Awesome! Light, small, comfortable. The pack is held away from your back so you don’t get “pack sweat back” so easily. Lots of freedom of movement with these. Along with our tent, probably my favorite piece of outdoor equipment we own. Citron Yellow is a great color too. [Editor’s Note:  In the three years since this article was first published, we have continued using these packs and still love them.  The Z-30 in the link above is the newer version as our exact model is no longer available.  We really like the longer narrower profile of these packs.  They hold as much stuff as a standard day pack without limiting the range of motion of your arms. We still love the curved frame to hold the pack away from your back but have noticed it makes accessing smaller things in the bottom of the main compartment more difficult.  They are sized right holding as much water and other stuff as you’d comfortably want to carry for a day. The well-designed shoulder straps and waist belt allow you to distribute the load comfortably across your torso.  On the downside, these packs are expensive.  For us, being able to hike with the stuff we want to carry for a day without ending up with a sore back, shoulders or neck has been worth the price.]

2. Camelbak 2L water bladders – Highly recommended. The biggest size that would fit our packs. 3/4 of the people we saw hiking had these and with good reason. They make drinking water fun and easy. 🙂 The weight stays centered on your body and you are more likely to drink more often because of the convenient drinking tube. Nice large mouth that you can fit your hand in for cleaning. Con’s: Still a pain to clean. No locking “off” valve (although you can buy one for it). I read that you can just toss them in the freezer rather than cleaning in between uses on longer trips. This is what we did and it worked great. [Editor’s Note:  The link takes you to the newer version of this bladder.  You’ll see that these now come with a locking on/off valve standard.  We still love these bladders and have had no leaks with our bite-valve-only versions.  Part of the trick seems to be pushing the tubing far in to the bite valve.  This way the bite valve and the tubing must be compressed a little for water to flow (more resistance so more force is needed for a leak).  We’ve come up with a pretty easy cleaning routine:  1. Fill part way with soapy water, shake, drain through valve.  2.  Clean any dirty areas inside and out with remaining soap.  3.  Rinse thoroughly.  4.  Dry inside and out with a towel.  5.  Stuff interior with two paper towels to hold it open for drying. 6.  Remove bite valve and spin hose (like you are cowboy getting ready to rope a steer or a kid playing jump rope).  7.  Let everything completely dry.  8. Replace bite valve and store with lid unscrewed.  It sounds much more complicated than it is.  It takes about as long as washing and drying a dirty dish.]

3. Marmot PreCip rain jackets – More affordable that the Goretex alternatives but much more breathable than standard nylon or coated nylon. Available in lots of colors. Cut large enough to cover a couple layers of clothing. Pitzips are nice for ventilation and work well. Stuffs in on itself with one of the pockets forming a stuff sack (handy). Overall this product was a good match for us. I’ve read that the waterproofing doesn’t hold up a super long time. Didn’t break the wind all that well. The hood works well but the feature to roll it up into a collar is a joke. If you are a woman, skip the lady’s version. The men’s design is better and available in more colors. [Editor’s Note:  The link now takes you to a newer version of the same product.  We still really like these jackets.  The waterproofing has not failed, but that could easily be because we are intentionally babying them.  They stay stuffed in our day packs and are only used when we are hiking.  Since we try to hike when it isn’t raining, they see little use.  We’ve probably only used them 5 or 6 times total.  We’ve also added long rain pants to the ensemble.  We usually hike in cooler weather and having dry legs is nice (in the summer we just wear shorts and don’t care).  As noted in the Yosemite write up, nylon running or hiking pants don’t cut it.  They let the water right in.]