Georgia & Armenia Trip, July 2019

For my 59th birthday, my wife Linna worked with local Georgian guide Davit Berishvili to provide a well-balanced 10 day journey that included hiking, site-seeing, food/wine tasting and culture gathering. We invited our good friend Michael Curry to join us on this truly once in a life-time vacation packed excursion.

This will be our first vacation/journey that we hired a professional guide for the duration of a trip and looking back at it now, I am so pleased that Linna organized it that way.  There would have been a language barrier at many of the locations and restaurants we visited. Also, there is a unique way of driving in Georgia, similar to China….there are no set of road lines or rules.  People will pass with on-coming traffic and at the same time deal with local cattle wandering on the road. But, we were so fortunate to have the best tour guide in Georgia…Gaga Chechelashvili.  Not only was he a safe aggressive driver, but also a fun tour guide and a true gentleman. Gaga picked us up at the Tbilisi airport in his 4×4 right hand drive Mitsubishi Pajero. Not sure, but maybe 1 in 10 cars were right hand drive purchased from Japan because of their excellent condition and reliability.

Beautiful village of Mestia, Georgia. The Svan tower homes were family living quarters and offered protection to their owners and to their livestock. Usually 4 to 5 floors with the first floor lacking of doors or windows.
Rick Freeman & Mike Curry hiking from Mestia to a tiny village of Tsvirmi.
Having beers with Gaga Chechelashvili and Mike Curry at the farm house in Tsvirmi.
Village
We toured Baia’s Winery. Once the grapes are harvested, everything (seeds, stems, skins & juice) is tossed into a Qvevri which a very large clay pot buried in the ground. This method of wine making in Georgia has been recorded by archaeologists back to 6000 BC.
Clay pots are buried at Baia’s Winery.
I purchased a bottle of Tsitska Tsolikouri at Baia’s Winery…this is a dry white wine. I am with the wine maker Gvanca Abuladze.
Mike Curry, Rick Freeman and Linna Freeman in front of Shkhara Glacier. We hiked from the village of Ushguli.
The Bridge of Peach that is 490 feet long that connects the old Tbilisi with the new district.
Villige
Many of the farm/guest houses that we stayed in had wood fired stoves for cooking and keeping warm.

Nashville Trip, February 2019

Nashville is a great city for music, restaurants and bar hopping, it has that feel of Biehl Street but a bit cleaner and safer. Not only is Nashville the Capital of Tennessee, but home to Country Music Hall of Fame, Johnny Cash Museum, Grand Ole Opry House and the historic Ryman Auditorium. We also celebrated Linna’s 47th birthday in Nashville and attending a Fleetwood Mac concert.

Linna and I did a bourbon tour at Belle Meade in Nashville…we had a great experience.
A large Still at the Belle Meade distillery in Nashville.

We bought 6 bottles of select Belle Meade Bourbon to bring back to our highly whiskey taxed state of Washington. State of Washington has the highest state taxes on whiskey in United States. For each proof gallon is subject to a whopping $35.22 tax. Which means 50% of my whiskey cost in Washington is going to state and federal taxes. Tennessee state taxes is $4.46 for each proof gallon…thus the case of whiskey!
Visited the Space Museum in Huntsville, Alabama. Linna standing below Saturn V space rocket.
Space condom! This could be handy on long road trips. Or when you are overnight camping in a tent on a cold night.
Space Shuttle and Linna Freeman looking on.

Mt. Pilchuck Snow Hike, January 2019

The cold air and heavy snow made this sweet basic Pilchuck hike into a cold ass kicker. Washington received tons of snow this year so every hike this winter has seen heavy snow pack. The winter route up to Pilchuck is steep and deep in snow…..but still very worth it.

This last steep part was the ass kicker. The look-out tower was only 5 minutes after this ass kicking steep area.
Michael Curry waiting on us.
Jim and Ione Darmiento
You had to crawl into the look-out tower.

Ione Darmiento and Rick Freeman
I finally put my jacket on as we got into the open….cold and windy.

Mailbox Peak Hike, November 2018

It was time for a calorie burn after Thanksgiving, so my wife Linna, niece Chloe Wei and my good friend Matt Kerby hiked up Mailbox Peak via the old trail two days after stuffing our face with roasted duck, lamb and cold Chinese sliced beef.  

Rick Freeman, Chloe Wei & Linna Freeman enjoying the peak of Mailbox Peak.  

The famous Mailbox Peak

We ascended and descended the old trail (red)…4,000 feet up in 2.5 miles.  I have descended the new trail (blue) a couple of times, but the 5 miles one way down seems to take forever.  My knees are tender and some of the larger step-downs send agonizing jolts of pain on the 2.5 miles old trail, but I will bear the pain to forsake the extended 5 miles. 

Wuyuan County (China), November 2018

We stayed in the Wuyuan County for a couple of days, known as the most beautiful countryside in China. Located northeast of Jiangxi Province and near Mount Huangshan that we just visited a couple of days ago.  We were ending our China trip that started in Shanghai a week ago.  My wife Linna Wei put together the perfect itinerary for twelve days.The beautiful drying racks in the ancient village of Wuyuan.

Immense sea of golden rape flowers.

We are enjoying a wonderful lunch.

Harvest time.

Amazon delivery.

We stayed in the Hongcun village before and after hiking Mount Huangshan.  The 900 year old village is located in the historical region of southern Anhui Province near the southwest slope of Mount Huangshan.

We stopped here twice for breakfast inside the Hongcun village.

Huangshan National Park (China), November 2018

After a couple of days of playing around skyscrapers and dinning at fine restaurants in Shanghai we took a G series bullet train 417 miles southwest to Huangshan National Park. This was a relaxing 4 1/2 hour train ride. Also called the Yellow Mountains, not because they are yellow in color but the area renamed after the legendary Yellow Emperor (Huang Di) in 747 AD.

Linna chose November to avoid the tourist crowds, but beware it’s colder and you just might be hiking in snow.  We had a bit more clouds then we wanted on this two day mountain visit, so Linna and I already decided to come back.  Next time we will probably take the cable car up for a head start.

By the way, on your way up the mountain, don’t ask how much farther….because you will receive inconsistency replies from one hour to three hours.Huangshan is most well known for its remarkable pines and probably has inspired most Chinese paintings and drawings. Matt Kerby took most of these remarkable pictures.  

Stairway to heaven.

The most famous pine in the Yellow Mountains and probably all of China, the Greeting Guest Pine….maybe 1,000 years old.

Huangshan is known for its 60,000 stone steps, carved in the mountain. We might have hiked up 30,000 to 35,000 steps our first day.  We didn’t utilize any cable cars like most people, but we started hiking from the bottom.

One of Huangshan’s wild monkeys.

After 35,000 steps we reached our Huangshan Baiyun Hotel, yes…there are hotels on top of Mt. Huangshan.  I headed to the bar area and sipped on a cold beer as Linna checked us in.  After climbing all those steps, the private cozy room with shower was the perfect way to end the day.

Shanghai Trip, November 2018

Fall is a good time to visit China, weather is cool and a few less tourists to deal with.  We asked our good friends Matt and Shelly Kerby to join us in China for some site seeing and indulging in wonderful food and drink. We spent two days in Shanghai before moving onto Huangshan Mountain.  

The Freeman Move on top of the Shanghai Tower, currently the second largest building in the world.  Shanghai Tower is 2,073 feet / 632 meters tall.

Linna Freeman lighting things up in front of the Pudong skyline. I started traveling to China back in 2000 and at the time there were only two tall buildings in Pudong. 

Looking down at the Pearl Tower and the famous Bund Street from the Shanghai Tower.

Looking down on the World Financial Center from Shanghai Tower in the Pudong district.  At this posting date, WFC is the 11th tallest building in the world at 1,614 feet / 492 meters.

Sitting comfortably on the G series bullet train heading to Huangshan Mountain. G is short for Gaosu Dongche meaning high-speed in Chinese. China has the world’s longest high speed railway network at 17,000 miles heading to 24,000 miles by 2025.

Matt Kerby munching on Yodi’s hand from Star Wars.

The fabulous Pudong skyline with the the Pearl and Shanghai Tower standing tall.

Our traveling partners, Shelly and Matt Kerby.  Matt is also my professional photographer.  

Having cocktails from the Jinmao Tower looking down on the beautiful Bund Street.

The Enchantment’s Backpacking, October 2018

Linna and I were fortunate to be asked to come a long on a two night backpacking trip in the Enchantments, near Leavenworth, Washington.  Linna’s Chinese friends were lucky enough to win the lottery for overnight camping in the upper Snow Lakes near the core of the Enchantments.  We met up with the other 6 Chinese friends at the Snow Lakes trail-head on Friday morning and started around 8:00 a.m. on a cool sunny day.

Our group chose the very South end of upper Snow Lakes, which was 8.2 miles from the trail-head with 4,700 feet gain.  We were completely surprised how low the lake was, it was difficult scurrying down the lake bank for water especially after carrying a 40 lb. pack all day.

One of the Chinese guys brought a liter of Bai Jiu liquor and Linna brought a pint of Scotch, which encourage a lot of loud obnoxious singing that I am sure the other backpackers around the lake could hear but not understand.

We spent all day Saturday exploring the core of the Enchantments and taking a zillion pictures of the beautiful lakes and Larches.  After a long day of accent and decent from the core, we were in our warm sleeping bags right after a hot bag of Mountain House Chili Mac.

Sunday was another long day with heavy packs on the decent back to the cars, but cold beers and hot bratwursts awaited in Leavenworth for us.Our home for two nights, my 10 year old REI Half-Dome tent.

We hit the fall colors at the right time.

The larches in peak season.

Rick Freeman standing tall in the core of the Enchantments.

Linna got a great shot of a local goat.

Linna standing tall on Crystal Lake.

Granite Mountain Hike, September 2018

Linna wanted to complete another fall color hike before the season was over and from the WTA trip reports, Granite Mountain was reaching full peak.  We met up with Mike Curry at the trail-head at sunrise and got an early start on the hike knowing that it was going to be a busy day on the mountain…especially on a beautiful fall sunny day.

The reports were accurate, vibrant fall colors decorated the mountain.  Near the pond area and the back side were abundant with thick flamboyant fall leaves.  We had lunch near the look-out tower huddle by some of rocks to protect us from the chilly wind.

On the decent we ran into hordes of hikers seeking the same pictures we took. Chloe Wei, Rick Freeman and Mike Curry enjoying another hiking day.

Rick Freeman & Mike Curry

The colors we were seeking…..near the pond.

Mike Curry, Linna Freeman and Rick Freeman loving Granite Mountain

Linna Freeman overlooking Mount Rainier

Mike Curry hiding from the brisk wind