Danube and Dachstein, Austria 
Monday, October 22, 2018, 07:14 PM - Trips
Posted by Administrator
My birthday weekend landed in the middle of a work trip to Vienna, so I took the opportunity to visit an old friend: Zee Alps. I rented a car and after work drove into the heart of the city to find the via ferrata equipment I needed. It was a mess. The parking garages were full, tourists and locals were everywhere at 4pm on a Friday, and I couldn't read any of the signs. Somehow I managed to drive my manual Renault Captur past St. Stephan's Dom, through the cobblestone streets and locate a parking area close to the Alpenverein Austria, who's website claimed that climbing equipment could be rented. As it turned out, you needed to be a member of the club to rent, so as opposed to paying the €61 member fee, I found another nearby store to purchase a Edelrid Cable Kit for €120. (Shocking that I don't own one already, I know!) I picked up some supplies and set the alarm for 6am.

Thankfully the dark streets were empty in the morning and I made a quick exit for the Danube. I crossed the river at Mautern an der Donau and snapped a few photos of the dawn glow over the river. The sun rose on the way to Dürnstein and I was treated to foggy, glow on the Burgruine Dürnstein castle around the corner. I took a quick walk around town along the river and up to the Monastery and Church and then continued on up the Wachau Valley. In Spitz, the terraced wine hills glowed in the morning sun and I cruised through the backroads to a spectacularly decorated graveyard by the Weingut Hofstätter winery. The town was a postcard picture in every direction. Then I climbed up to the Hinterhaus castle and it only got better! There wasn't a single person in sight, the morning fog was burning off the Danube, and the hillside vineyards stretched as far as the eye could see. I climbed to the top of the castle with delight and snapped photos. What a great start to my day and it was only 9am! Upstream, I doubled back at Melk to visit Burgruine Aggstein. I wasn't able to absorb too much of the history written in German, but really appreciated the 12th-century design and the view of the valley.

At this point, I headed southwest past Linz and into the Alps. Tunnel after tunnel past and I arrived in Liezen nestled in a glacier carved valley in the state of Styria. I passed pristine farmland with steep mountain backdrops until reaching the ski town of Schladming. I stopped off at the info center and asked what a nice ~2 hike they recommended. I ended up selecting the "Holl" trail up Riesach Waterfalls which included a suspension bridge and an obstacle course of metal stairways through the canyon. It was fun. After the 10th waterfall the trail cut left and popped out in an open area with a glacial lake and surprisingly, Gfölleralm Inn, packed with trailrunners and others travelers enjoying a late lunch or bier. I grabbed a well-deserved half liter of Schladminger and basked in the afternoon sun. It felt great. The people watching was topnotch as well - groups of various sizes would stop in to rest and have a drink before making the final descent to the Seeleiten Car Park. This was part of the 18 km Klafferkessel King's Tour route that included 1759 m of climbing, so I'm guessing many of the guests were completing similar excursions. (BTW Make sure to add that to the to-do list.) I made the descent and only got lost once attempting a risky shortcut. I drove across the valley and climbed the switchbacks to Ransau am Dachstein. I checked into Pension Rötelstein, a ski chateau overlooking green horse pastures. The hosts recommended getting dinner at Alpengasthaus Edelbrunn. I sat on their deck enjoying pork cooked with pumpkin seeds, potatoes, bacon wrapped green beans, and a beer as the sun set over the distant peaks.

The next day was my birthday, so I set my sights on a challenging task: tying together three via ferratas called Anna, Johann and Schulter up Hoher Dachstein - the combined "Super Ferrata" is Austria's longest secured climbing route. This adventure would require 1200 m of climbing, so I made sure to start early. Just as the first rays of reflected alpenglow were reaching the base of the tram, I started trekking towards Dachstein Südwandhutte. It was 6:35am and I was excited for my day. I got some beta from the hotel owners: the glacier traverse would be safe since it's snowcatted daily, but the via ferratas might not have many people. Since I was solo, I did want some others around in the case of an accident. Luckily, there was a group of 3 from Salzburg in front of me, so I'd be able to yell to them if I had any problems. I geared up at the base of the climb and watched as a couple groups in front of me slowly worked their way up. Interestingly, the Ramsau/Dachstein area is very well known for Klettersteigen (Via Ferratas "Iron Paths"). There are 21 fixed cable routes in the area and the route up the Dachstein was installed in 1843. These were used in WWI and eventually upgraded in the 1970s to the modern versions that exist today.

I started out very poorly on Anna. It was hard! I didn't have the technique so I made a number of mistakes and had to constantly pull the lanyards up to switch to the next section of cable. Unlike the via ferrata that I remember being easy in Zermatt, this required some rock climbing moves in addition to just pulling on the iron pins. After a couple hundred feet I was tired and stressed. If this is rated C/D, what's the D/E-rated Johann going to be like? After struggling and over muscling myself up the first section, the difficulty lightened and I got to work on technique. I mastered quickly clipping and sliding the carabiners along with me. Before long, I found a rhythm. An experienced climber using a single attachment passed me and I asked about the Johann. He said that it was similar to this except there was one overhanging part that gave it the D/E grade. Interesting. Over the next hour or so I finished off the route and found a couple guys with a topo of the route that I should have printed. It showed that the E grade move was at the start of the climb, so I figured I should at least have a look. As I approached, there were a couple women working on the move. The first made it look easy and then the second climbed up but couldn't pull over the top, lowered down and then fell. She was caught by her gear, spun upside-down and sat there for a minute talking to her partner in German. Her partner down-climbed the moves and we helped get her off the cable. Unfortunately her bungee was torn (as designed) but was no longer usable. This is the bad part of this equipment - it's a one-shot deal. You don't get a 2nd chance. And if you're on a 500+ m route, there might be a lot of distance between you and the exit. Fortunately, the ladies could just head down from there.

Having seen the person in front of me fall, I cautiously tried the moves. It turned out to be a fairly easy ~10 ft of upper-body work to clear the overhang and move on. Honestly, it's quite straightforward when rested. It's always nice on the top side of the crux. The rest was just good fun and the middle section looked like a Yosemite big wall! It was sick. I worked up the the group of 3 in front of me and we finished the climb together as the cold wind picked up. You cross over to the otherside and there's a hut and a crowd that walked from the top of the tram. It's a little bizarre. I took a few bites of a brie and Hauswürstel sausage sandwich and walked across the glacier to the final klettersteig. It was close to noon and since I had a good 3.5 hr drive back to Vienna to go, I got straight to work. The Schulter route was easier than the others, but before long the route turned to ice and my shoes would slip on the rock and pins. Luckily I brought some yaktraks and put those on. It worked like a charm - I gripped the ice and could hold the rock/iron reasonably. By this point, I was tired and considered bailing, but it was still early and the weather was great on that side of the mountain. I scurried up the to the summit of Styria/Upper Austria and the massive cross at the top. It was a good feeling and great to do it for my birthday. 12:30 on the summit!

I down-climbed the route carefully but passed a handful of people. At the bottom, I walked across the plank across the crevasse between the rock and glacier and skipped down a hundred feet or so. I reached into my back pocket and didn't find my phone. Oh no! Did I drop my phone off the cliff somewhere?! I searched my backpack and all my other pockets: nothing! I was gutted. No photos, no GPS navigation, and a full week without communications. I figured I'd ask the person behind me if they saw anything and then I thought it might have dropped into the snow on the glacier. On the way back to the crevasse I saw a familiar case laying in the snow. Yes, crisis averted! I warmed myself in the hut, took off the climbing gear, and walked the short way back to the tram. A quick ride back down the mountain and I was at the car. It was 3:00pm so I had done the whole route in a little less than 8.5 hours. Not shabby.

Then I drove the long way back to Vienna. I ran out of water on the Hallstatt/Dachstein Gletscherwanderweg and was fighting off cramps on the drive. Eventually I stopped to rehydrate and get an apple strudel birthday treat. There was a traffic jam on the way back but I eventually dropped the rental off at the airport and took the metro to my hotel by 10pm - just in time to catch a few z's before getting up at 6am for meetings.

The rest of the week was more subdued, but I did get to see some of the city. My colleague from the University of Zurich studied 5 years in Vienna, so he was keen on showing off all the local cafes (i.e. bars) like Cafe Bendl, Lamée Rooftop, SKY, Loos, etc. I managed to sneak into a private nighttime tour of the Schönbrunn with the ISGAN crew, had dinner at the Rathaus, ate too many treats at Cafe Dommayer, and visited a biergarten near the conference hotel. All in all, it was a lovely week.

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Playing around the Tetons 
Thursday, August 2, 2018, 08:55 PM - Trips
Posted by Administrator
After the Grand Picnic, my knee was toast. I entertained the idea of mountain biking for a while, but I couldn't even get up and down the condo stairs. The ladies were off at the Mountain Biking Camp, so the gents got a massive brunch with sausage, pancakes, hash-browns, and an omelet at Nora's in Wilson. After Mike and I did a bit of day-drinking, the gang went out on Jackson that evening to The Rose, Silver Dollar, and Million Dollar Cowboy, which was popping on a Saturday night. Cool times with the lads and Adi. A number of locals were very impressed with our picnic adventure--which is a big part of why we do those things: so we can tell good stories at the bar.

The following day, I finally mustered the strength and right ibuprofen dosage to do some riding. Dave and I rode Lithium, which was a super steep loose double black diamond. It wasn't all that fun until the bottom when the trail turned into more of a bike park and we could choose our own adventure. I didn't hit anything large, but sent a few nice rollers and drops. We snagged a beer and lunch at Stagecoach and then shuttled up to Phillips Ridge. After some navigational issues, Josiah, Dave, Grant, and I ripped through the canyon, sessioning the bridge launch, and generally being silly and blasting tunes. The weather was so perfect, especially considering it was 102 in Albuquerque.

That evening the ladies returned, we all cooked up a great pasta dinner and then hit the town. This time our crew closed the Million Dollar Cowboy, and the DJ declared this was the best Sunday he's because our crew was so fun.

Monday, we grabbed breakfast at Cafe Genevieve and then headed north to camp up near Shadow Mountain (roundabout 43.700852, -110.604518). Some folks mountain biked, but Mel, Bri, Jo, Dave, Adi, and I headed down to Jenny Lake to swim and paddleboard. The winds whipped up, so SUPing wasn't very easy, but we managed a few laps. We grilled up chicken back in camp and told stories around the camp fire. The sunset over the Tetons was spectacular. In the morning, it was off to the airport and back to the real world. Also, don't forget to ditch your bike CO2 cartridges before flying - TSA really doesn't like them apparently.

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The Grand Picnic 
Wednesday, July 25, 2018, 09:02 PM - Trips
Posted by Administrator
A crew of mountain bikers invited me up to Jackson Hole to ride for 5 days, but I thought it might be nice to mix up the adventures, so I asked the faceplace if anyone would be interested in climbing the Upper Exum. My friend Mike said he'd be down, and then asked if I would be into a picnic? I quickly replied, "I would die if I tried the picnic." But one's mind tends to wander, and after watching the following movie a couple times, I couldn't help but be sucked into the audacity of such an event: 22 mile bike, 1.3 mile open-water swim, and 10 mile hike with a 7500' climb to the top of Grand Teton. Then reversing the whole thing. I had to go from zero to fit in 3 weeks!

On July 20th, 2018 at 1:30am, after 3 hours of sleep, the alarm went off. Mike and I crawled out of Josiah and Briana's van--we slept there to avoid the revelry inside the condo. To our surprise the gang was still up and wished us whiskey-soaked well-wishes as we scarfed leftover spaghetti (Jay) and oatmeal (Mike). Then we loaded up the last of the gear and drove Mike's truck to the center of Jackson, WY. I insisted that we use bike racks/bags to haul gear because it would be much easier on our backs. We were easily towing 40 lbs of gear between the climbing equipment, clothes, wetsuits, food, and water but we managed to keep the weight on the bike frames through some combination of jerry-rigging and engineering prowess.

Our food supplies.

My bike setup.

We snapped a few photos at the antler arches in Jackson and at 2:26am, we rode north into the darkness. After a block and a half, Mike's bike light strap popped off his bike and skittered across the empty street. The handlebars were too large for the design so he held the light the remainder of the ride in one hand. Within 1/2 hour my bike light faded to a useless glow so we rode side-by-side on the road. There were only a couple cars at this hour so we preferred the wide road over the bike path. I was able to catch enough second-hand light in the moonless night to estimate the lanes. By the time we passed the Jackson Airport, Mike said he had a emergency dump on deck. We worked our way to the Visitor Center in Moose, but the restrooms were locked. Not knowing the area well, we continued until the Jenny Lake Campground, where Mike noisily relieved himself. I insisted we try the bike trail along the campground because it appeared on my Gaia map and I didn't want to backtrack. Fortunately, it worked out and we quickly reached the Jenny Lake Overlook.

My feet were absolutely freezing in the 45 degree night. The bike had chilled me significantly and the idea of getting into a snow-fed lake seemed profoundly asinine. I was stoked to have the first leg of the trip completed but Jenny Lake looked beautiful, vast, and intimidating. It was amazing seeing the Tetons silhouetted on the horizon and Mars reflecting off the small ripples. I proudly announced, "Look at how big Mars is Mike! It's the closest it's been to the US since like the 1990s." He replied, "The closest to the US, eh?" "Shut up, I might be a little tired, alright."

I took the lion's share on the bike in exchange for Mike swimming the gear across Jenny Lake (playing to both our strengths). He had purchased a small Ozark Trail inflatable cooler holder from Walmart for $4. Upon inflation, we both admired it's seeming inadequacy. We stashed our bikes in the forest to the north of the parking area and hoped they would be there when we returned, and then hiked down the steep embankment to the rocky shore. We tossed our shoes, gloves, hats, and lights into the dry bag and then wrapped the gear into a semi-buoyant mass with 40' of 7mm dynamic. I brought an ice climbing axe leash to act as a bungee in the line; by inserting this in a bight of the rope between the raft and Mike with a couple alpine butterflies, he could swim more smoothly. I helped push our gear out to sea as Mike and I worked our frozen feet over the rough rocks until it was deep enough to start swimming. It was 5:00am.

Without the moon, it was really, really dark, but the stars were spectacular. We aimed for the notch in the mountains where we thought the dock was. I alternated breast, free, and back as I worked across the bottomless abyss. While I backstroked away from shore, I tried to memorize the patterns of trees in case we were going to return in the dark. Even with the gear in tow, Mike was a powerful swimmer and I had to swim free to keep up with him. Fortunately the peanut butter-honey-banana bagel sandwiches and donut we had at the transition provided ample fuel. I figured it would take us about an hour to cross the lake, so every few minutes I hit the light on my watch to see our hypothetical progress. The time ticked by and we had extensive disagreements about who was off course. "Jay, are you trying to make this a 2 mile swim?!" "No, you're the one that's drifting with the current because of the floaty!" In the end, we both ended up at the dock at the same time - ~50 minutes after entering the lake. I pulled out a phone and made Mike go back to get some sunrise photos.

We stripped naked on the dock and changed into our hiking gear. A family of ducks happily paddled through the mirror-like sunrise reflection. Mike stashed the water equipment in the forest to the south and we topped off water bottles. We started the hike, but quickly discovered that the normal Jenny Lake Trail along the lake was closed and we'd have to take Moose Trail, which added nearly an extra 500' of climbing (each way!). It was painful to start, but we scored nice photo in the process.

At Lupine Meadows Trailhead, we completed a heavy round of restroom use and began the ascent in earnest. The Garnet Canyon Trail climbed quickly through a series of switchbacks above Bradley and Taggart Lakes. The wildflowers were gorgeous in the morning light and we tried to not to become too discouraged by groups passing us.

We made our way into Garnet Canyon and worked our way through the early boulder fields. When we had the opportunity to transition to the snow, I happily took it. After a while, I looked at Mike and said, "Are we heading left of this headwall and going for this peak? Because it really looks like we should have gone right of the waterfall back there," pointing to Spalding Falls. We pulled out the phones. Yep, we managed to miss the trail and were aiming for the Middle Teton, despite reading the route description multiple times each. Backtrack or push on? We decided to climb Meadows Headwall which consisted of hundreds of feet of loose scree and then work across the North Fork through boulders and snow. It was a critical error because it burned a lot of our strength and was mentally draining. But we continued in style.

After another stretch of rockfield meandering we arrived at the fixed line. It was an easy way to reach the lower saddle, but as opposed to cutting left at the top of the wall, we tried to save distance and work right which led us into another steep stretch of exhausting scree climbing. At the top, I was completely cooked. I filled up water at the creek so I was good, but Mike needed to head back to the saddle to refill his camelbak. This was the critical break I needed to eat a bacon-cold cut-swiss bagel and recharge. Bacon in the backcountry is magically stuff. Even if you don't feel hungry, there's something about the fatty taste that compels your body eagerly put it down. Sheltered from the chilly winds behind a boulder in my rain jacket, I could feel some strength returning. There was still ~2500 feet of technical climbing above us, but the weather was perfect, and we'd come so far already. We had to give it a go.

At the Needle, I ditched the trekking poles and Mike left his ice ax. From here, things got more exciting. We worked up the Chockstone Chimney, through the Eye of the Needle, and pulled the exposed "Belly Roll Almost". The moves weren't particularly difficult but there was enough exposure to give me pause. Mike, who's done big wall climbing in Yosemite and free soloed a number of moderate routes in the Sandias, didn't seem to think twice at anything the OS threw at him. It's nice to have someone with so much confidence on your picnicking team.

My normal hiking shoes lost their sole on a trip up Oxford and Belford a couple weeks ago so I pitched them and revert to an even older set of bald Cascadias with sizable holes in the front mesh. Mike said bald tread would be a recipe for my demise. My La Sportiva approach shoes were too heavy and my attempt to pick up light trail runners gave me arch pain so, at the last opportunity, I got a new set of Brooks Cascadias. Mike was right about the safety issues without tread, but it meant I was doing the Picnic with shoes I owned for 36 hours. Not a great plan but aside from a few hot spots, they performed admirably, especially on the steeper rock up high.

We continued to pull bigger-than-necessary moves up the Central Rib and every couple of moves I'd have to stop to catch my breath. The altitude was less an issue than pure exhaustion of 10 hours of exercise. At the upper saddle, we took at food break and watched dozens of butterflies blowing across the saddle. That was unexpected. It was 12:30pm and another group was rapping off the top. There actually were quite a few (maybe 6) guided teams on the way up and down the OS while we were there. We expected company but were happy that they weren't in our way and we could move at our own pace. At this point, we put on harnesses and pulled out our 7mm dynamic line. It looked like floss, but was rated to 12.4 kN so it would hold a fall (if it wasn't cut with a swing). We only brought it mostly to just give me the mental security to make the moves comfortably. We examined the bellyroll - easy but exposed. Mike made the moves while I fed rope behind the rock in case of a slip. He tossed all the pro we brought (a couple nuts) into a crack on the other side, and I made the move. No big deal. Then Mike shimmied through the crawl and I followed him. Standing on the block below the 2nd entrance to the Double Chimney, Mike climbed up and slung a flake. I was puckered as he made the slabby move since we were tied together without any pro. He assured me, "I never fall," which is usually the part of the movie where nothing happens. I used the hand crack and worked up the 2nd entrance. We ditched the rope there for the remainder of the climb and worked up the icy Own Chimney. This didn't feel as exposed, but realistically was probably just as dangerous. We climbed the main route up Sargent's Chimney and scrambled to the summit. What a feeling of accomplishment that was! It was time to picnic! We pulled out four slices of pizza and snapped photos of the stunning national park. I could see much of the Teton Crest Trail and my parents and I completed back in Sept 2008, Teewinot, Jackson Lake, the Middle Teton, and a picturesque snowy alpine landscape stretched around us. We were at the half way point.

The way down was exciting. We stuck with the Main Sargent's Chimney because we didn't really know where the hidden exit was. As I made the down-climbing crux move, I noted to another climber repelling next to me that this was, "a little spicy," and he responded, "Uh, yeah, that looks crazy." I refused to rap to follow the strict ICEHAMA rules. Mike and I did bring ATCs in case we needed to bail and assumed (correctly) that there would be other groups around. We took the catwalk back to the bottom of Owen Chimney. The bottom of the Chimney was very icy, and I used a hold on the ice to make one of the final moves. It blew and scared the crap out of me. A few deep breaths later, we continued down the Double Chimney, and then reversed the roped work to reach the upper saddle. It felt good to be past the most exposed portions of the route, but we still had to carefully work our way back to the lower saddle. At this point spirits were high because we knew we had The Picnic in the bag. We just had to keep our nutrition in check and avoid cramming too much. We carefully descended the dry Owen-Spalding Couloir, through the eye-of-the-needle and back to the lower saddle. I was disappointed they didn't have a bathroom in camp, but we filled water and worked our way to the top of the snowfield to climbers left of the fixed lines.

I was very interested in saving myself as much down-climbing as possible, even if that was only 200'. We slipped into our trashbags and contemplated glissading down the steep face. The run-out was good but there were quite a few small rocks in the snow at the bottom. I should have collapsed my trekking poles to use as an ax and put on yaktraks - but I did neither. I was tired and lazy. As I was getting into the starting position, I lost my footing. At first I flipped face down and dug in, but then said to myself, "fuck it, let's do this" and rolled back over and used my feet, hands, and poles to steer - trash bag flapping around on my lower limbs. The body orientation and direction were good, but velocity greater than desired. I careened into the water runoff wavelets at the bottom and went airborne a few times. I lost my hat and sunglasses on one of the ramps. I dug in harder and came to a stop safe at the bottom with frosted arms and hands. "Woohooo!" I yelled up to Mike. A couple climbers on the trail yelled over that that was the best glissade they had ever seen, and said, "you were flying!" Indeed. Mike took his time to put on a jacket and gloves, and using the ice ax did a much better job of controlling his descent, until the bumps where he got tossed around too. That was certainly not a great idea, but it does make for a good story.

Down, down, down we hiked and scrambled. It was Friday and we watched as many climbing parties worked their was to various base camps. I did my best to use the trekking poles to shield my knees from impact, but my right knee slowly grew more sore. It was an absolute relief when we finally cleared the last of the boulderfields and would walk with a normal stride and minimized impact. On one of the switchbacks a deer was casually eating. Further down, Mike scared a small bear off the trail. Luckily, Mom wasn't around. The miles did not slide by quickly but we slowly brought the valley to foot-level. At the Lupine Meadows Trailhead many people seemed happy to have their hikes over, but we knew we had hours to go.

I was very interested in completing the swim before dark so we could avoid the navigational issues from the morning. We hiked fast and reclimbed the hill on Moose Trail. It hurt. We were tired. And then the mosquitoes came out. They were everywhere. We reached the boat dock at 8:00pm -- about 1 hour of light left. Once we found our aquateering equipment in the forest, we quickly changed into our wetsuits to keep the mosquitoes from eating us alive. A hiker, showed up and yelled, "what are you guys doing?!" I answered, "It's a lovely evening for a swim, don't you think?" Mike stepped in and described The Picnic. They guy called us crazy and I dove into the icy water. Ironically, in the evening, the snow/ice melt decreased the water temperature significantly on the West side of the lake so it was frigid. I thought it might actually be good for icing my knee.

We swam and swam and swam but the far shore didn't seem to be getting any closely. I would put my head down and swim freestlye with regular bearing checks, but the far side remained depressingly distant. It was starting to get pretty dark too, but we could see the rocky hillside below the parking lot. Eventually, we completed the 2nd swim and dragged ourselves across the rocks to shore. A surprised couple lounged in a hammock and watched us crawl onto a boulder. Then we noticed we were in front of their time lapsing iPhone. Oops. We pulled our shoes out of the drybag and walked up the hill to our bikes.

It took a long time to change back into dry clothes and rig the bikes. The decision was made to deflate our Walmart inflatable via ice ax. It gave a gratifying "pffff" when Mike stabbed it into a pile of cheap Chinese plastic. (Per the ICEHAMA rules, we did bike this back to town in order to start and stop the trip with the same equipment.)

It was extremely dark by this point. I had half a wrap that I scarfed down to fuel the return. We biked with our dim headlamps down to Moose. Traffic was heavy but we still stuck to the road because it was flatter and more predictable (even if the drivers weren't). Winds were calm so the riding wasn't terrible. It was great to be on the final stretch, but the car lights were blinding. I was happy I was wearing a baseball hat under my helmet so that I could shield my eyes. Mike wasn't as lucky. Toward the airport, someone slowed down and yelled at us to get on the bike path, so we finally transitioned over. It was harder riding, but nice to be separated from traffic. We could see the glow from Jackson, but it didn't seem to be getting closer. My knee ached like hell. We kept spinning. On the dark ride down to Flat Creek, the cars were blinding and it was a challenge to track the path. A couple days ago I joked to my friends that I was conducting an experiment; the experiment was to see if a 30-something with a beer-gut and a desk job can keep up with a ripped super-human who lives at the climbing gym and wakes up before 5am to interval hill sprints. I was thrilled to be leading the charge into Jackson. I held my own all day and I was proud of myself. We eventually reached the city limits and climbed the small hill to the square at 11:23pm. Mike and I hugged, stopped our Stravas, and sat down at the NW antler arch. The glowing screen reported 69 miles and 9860' of climbing. We had just finished the Grand Picnic! After convincing a scared tourist couple to snap a photo of us, Mike looked at me, "Do you remember where we parked?" I said, "Yeah, a couple blocks that way. You don't remember?" "It's been a long day."

We drove back to the condo, cracked a couple beers, showered, and fell asleep comfortable in the knowledge that no one else in Jackson had a bigger day than us.

0225 Start Time: [Elapsed: 0]
0410 Bike: 1h45min [Elapsed: 1:45]
0455 Transition: 45min [Elapsed: 2:30]
0545 Swim: 50min [Elapsed: 3:20]
0620 Transition: 35min [Elapsed: 3:55]
1047 -- Fixed Line [Elapsed: 8:22]
1237 -- Upper Saddle [Elapsed: 10:12]
1340 Total Hike to Summit: 7h20min [Elapsed: 11:15]
1400 Summit Break: 20min [Elapsed: 11:35]
1440 -- Upper Saddle [Elapsed: 12:15]
1555 -- Glissading past fixed line [Elapsed: 13:30]
2000 Total Descent: 6h [Elapsed: 17:35]
2020 Transition: 20min [Elapsed: 17:55]
2115 Swim: 55min [Elapsed: 18:50]
2155 Transition: 40min [Elapsed: 19:30]
2323 Bike: 1h28min [Elapsed: 20:58]
GPX link

Note: while I enjoy joking about our mishaps and challenges, The Picnic is a very serious undertaking that will stress any person physically and mentally. I have been volunteering with mountain rescue for nearly a decade; I have multiple triathlons and quadrathlons under my belt; I swam competitively for 9 years as a kid; and I can easily draw on a wealth of trad climbing and winter mountaineering experiences. I'd strongly recommend a comparable resume before even thinking about the Grand Picnic. It's a dangerous and exhausting outing. Be careful out there.
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Mexico + Pico De Orizaba 
Saturday, March 31, 2018, 07:00 PM - Trips
Posted by Administrator
Mike and Ximena were getting hitched in Oaxaca, so I decided to add a little mountaineering to the trip. I wanted to climb Pico de Orizaba for years because of the high altitude challenge, so here was my chance. I asked a few friends to see if anyone was game and my old buddy Nick from my soccer team said he'd be up for the challenge. I had a few doubts about his fitness, but when he started doing La Luz laps, I booked the trip.

March 25th we flew into Mexico City, and eventually found the bus to Puebla. The coach bus had A/C and was very comfortable, but it didn't drop us off at the correct station in Puebla and we had to grab an Uber to CAPU before locating our connection to Tlachichuca. We spent an embarrassingly long time lugging double backpacks around the bus station before finding the Valles bus company - but we were on our way. It felt like the bus driver dropped us off on a cobblestone road at middle-of-nowhere Mexico in the dark. We rang the buzzer, and Maribel and the wonderful Cancholas family welcomed us into the Summit Orizaba fortress. We were treated to dinner and a beer and then shown to our room.

In the morning, we took a nice walk around town to the plaza and church and then arranged our 4x4 lift up to Piedra Grande Hut. Overall the place wasn't that busy and the only other climbers heading up were a couple guys from Oklahoma. Joaquin Canchola, who's a bit of a legend in his own right, deftly piloted us up the road toward the hut. He greeted everyone in town like a grandfather would. I spoke broken Spanish and he spoke OK English. We managed to hold a number of conversations about the poor farming practices of the area (i.e., vegetation burning), the weather, the forests, his family business, and our planned pick up time tomorrow. He had been bringing climbers up to the hut for three decades and had climbed Citlaltépetl a couple dozen times. Now in his 60s, he complained that his back was taking too much abuse from the rough road and he needed his sons to take over the driving. As we climbed, the flora shrank until it vanished. We could catch tasty glimpses of the Jamapa Glacier; then, after a couple hours, we made a scary turn to the homestretch where the hut sat miniscule under a looming giant. Piedra Grande sits at about 14,000' so just moving your gear into the shelter gets you breathing.

After checking out the facilities, we decided to do an acclimatization hike. I had gotten some beta from my buddy Pete that it was worth going through the labyrinth the first time in the daytime to get your bearings, so I wanted to check that out. Nick and I started up and I was feeling good. I had taken a little Diamox (acetazolamide) and it was doing it's job. Nick on the other hand was slow to start and was complaining of AMS symptoms within 500'. I told him that he needed to head back to the hut recover. I carried on and slowly got to the labyrinth--a massive boulderfield with mud, waterfalls, and lots of seemingly good route options. The trail was flagged many places, but not enough to keep me from getting lost a couple times. I finished the 2000' climb well to the right of the actual trail. Clouds had moved in so I couldn't see the glacier, but I had enough of the route memorized that I had the navigational crux figured out. I stashed a water bottle at the top to save a little weight in the morning, and then headed back to the hut. The Oklahoma team made it to within sight of the labyrinth but headed back when the weather started rolling in.

Back in camp, I talked with Nick about options. He was feeling sick and had already vomited. Ultimately, we decided that I would go in the morning at 2am and he'd start up later to acclimatize more. If things went well, we'd stay an extra day to give him a shot at the top. I would be going solo, but had the OK team around to lend a hand if needed help. (Although, something told me it might be the other way around.) They were going roped up because of the crevasses, but when I asked if they knew how to ascend a rope, they said they had practiced in the barn a few times after watching YouTube videos. I asked them to demonstrate and I gave them a few pointers. It was dumb luck that the hut that sleeps ~50 only had 4 Americans staying that night. (The next evening at least 7 different groups would be there.)

At 2am, the alarm went off. I ate some oatmeal and completed the final packing arrangements. I made a nontraditional choice to hike in running shoes to the glacier and carrying my mountaineering boots in my backpack. This would keep me faster down low and not tear my feet up as bad. It was a good decision because I moved very quickly through the steep loose terrain. I retraced my steps through the labyrinth from the day before and found my water bottle at 4am. I worked up to the glacier and made the transition to my glacier gear. Poles and shoes stayed, and the ax and crampons came out. I was extremely nervous that my toes would freeze up high, so I brought boot warmers for my La Sportiva Baruntses. It turned out that the Cascadias had lost their warmth by the transition, and I was super happy to turn on the heaters to begin the next stage of the climb.

The glacier ice was super hard and difficult to crampon at first. This was the section of the mountain that refreezes everyday and it was the cold period. I looked up and could only see blackness and white glacier. Aside from the towns lit up on the horizon, there was nothing to navigate to naturally so I headed up the fall line. I thought there's got to be a summit up there somewhere! After a half hour of painful climbing on steep ice, I doubled checked the GPS route from Pete and could see that I was a little to climber's left of where I wanted to be. I shifted right to avoid any crevasses and make sure to make the summit where I didn't have to traverse the crater rim. I continued but could tell I was slowing. The climb was very steep and the snow was so hard. The ice would often make awful cracking sounds, but I told myself that this was just the refrozen surface layer. I side-cramponed on one side, then shifted to the other - zigzagging up the mountain. It was too difficult to use the toespikes. I had to break every 20 minutes or so to catch my breath and look around at nothing. I didn't seem to be going anywhere and the altimeter seemed to be incrementing so slowly! I came upon a 6-foot deep, 2-foot across crevasse that gave me a pause. I decided it was harmless and I stepped over it and carried on.

By this point, sun started to lighten the sky and I could start to get my bearings. The glacier seemed to stretch indefinitely, but I knew where I was going: up there somewhere. I stopped for some tea and to snap photos of the black cone shadow on the flat farmland. The sight was incredible. I checked my altimeter: 17,900'. Time to give this another push and finish it off. I hiked about 100' and found strange ice formations. They were columnar ice fins about 2 feet high and very hard to traverse. I made a push through and I was standing on the rim of the volcano. What?! I checked my altimeter again: 18,100'. Huh, guess I should have calibrated it this morning! I walked the 100 feet over to the summit and happily dropped my pack. 6:30am - not bad at all. 4500' of climbing in 4.5 hours is mighty respectable when your going to 18.5k I figure.

It was my Dad's birthday, so I bought up a special flag to commemorate his 60th. I sipped warm tea and cracked a cold Modelo summit beer to take in the sunrise from the top of Mexico. I don't know if it was perfect combination of beer and altitude, but I had a smile ear-to-ear. I had the beautiful summit to myself. After all the hero shots, I headed back toward the heat.

The descent was fast, but it was surprisingly long. The glacier is 2000' high but certainly felt even more expansive. I could barely make out the Oklahoma team from up top. And by the time I got to them, they were about 500' up the glacier and moving slow. Apparently, they were lost in the labyrinth for an hour in the twilight. Yep, sounds about right. I snapped some photos for them and carried on down the mountain. I switched over to the trailrunners at the base of the glacier and carefully worked through the lower mountain. I rolled into camp at about 10am to find Nick still in bed guarding the gear. He had gone up to the labyrinth, but still wasn't feeling well. About an hour later, a crew of 18 locals arrived at Piedra Grande. The crowd cornered Nick and I in the hut and explained that they were a family that wanted to BBQ. We said we didn't have much aside from an assortment of dehydrated foods and bars to contribute, but they took the gesture well. One of the younger guys started pouring tequila shots for the alpinistas locas. They loved snapping photos of us and couldn't believe I climbed to the top. The BBQ was great, tequila spot on, and when Joaquin showed up at 2pm my heart was full from a successful expedition and gracious hospitality of the locals. After a bit, we finally spotted the others slowly working their way back to camp. Sadly they had to turn back at 17,200' because they weren't feeling well.

Maps: GPX and KMZ.

Back in town, we picked up a bottle of Tequila Corralejo Reposado and drank with Joaquin. He started pulling out all these log books of famous and no-so-famous climbers who had come through his hostel. He was particularly proud of his Fred Beckey notes and photos. He also is featured in a number books on the mountain and Mexican climbing. It was really cool to hear the stories from a man that was there all those years ago. One of his poetic quotes from one of the books read:

"Esta montaña
siempre va a estar
aquí presente,
pero tu vida
es única
y solo se vive
una vez,
tenle respeto
a la montaña"

The next day we headed back to Mexico City and got some good tacos, bought wrestling masks, and tried out a nice mescaleria. The following day, Nick and I toured Teotihuacán. Climbing the Pyramid of the Sun was actually a little tough with how sore my calves were. We did a big tour of the place but around noon things were getting a little too hot and we went for tacos. Along the way we ran into a few guys doing the Danza de los Voladores (Dance of the Flyers) which was supremely entertaining. We bused back into the city and did one of the ride-on-top bus loops. Because many people had time off for Semana Santa, or Holy Week, it was fairly crowded, but we eventually worked our way to the upper deck. Riding around the town was super pleasant in the warm weather. Although it took forever to go only a few block we were happy to people watch from our mobile perch. It was a nice way to see the Plaza, Zocolo, Av. Reforma, Monumento a la Independencia, etc., but my favorite spot was in the south near Tamaulipas Michoacan where there are a bunch of nice eateries with dense tree-lined streets. Since it was a hop-on-hop-off setup, we stopped a few places to nab food and drinks.

The following day, Nick headed out to Peru in the morning and Jess landed a couple hours later. Jess and I grabbed a simple lunch near the airport on Easter, dodging a number of parades and demonstrations. Then we hopped on a flight for Oaxaca.

Oaxaca was a very walkable city. We could easily get to nearly everything from our AirBnB. We started by exploring the markets, sampling chapulines (crickets), and buying plenty of pastries. The entire town was quite touristy, but it still retained it's authenticity and charm. There were many walking streets, quaint bars and restaurants, and lots of nearby archaeological sites. After a fun 1/2 day exploring the town, we caught a bus up to Mike and Ximena's wedding. They insisted everyone have mezcal mixed drinks to toast to their future throughout the proceedings which would make sense if you knew them. The ceremony was short and heartfelt. Then it was on to a lovely dinner, dancing, and socializing. I was happy to present the married couple a gift - a beat up warm can of Tahoe Beer. (Long story but it was a running joke from our Tahoe ski trip in which these awful beers would show up randomly in our gear bags, cars, etc. Mike slipped it into my bathroom mirror cabinet 6 months ago, so it seemed fitting to give it to him on his wedding.)

The following couple days, M&X had tours arranged for the wedding guests. We visited Monte Albán ruins which was a lot of fun to explore with Jess, though the sun was vicious. We climbed up and down all the platforms and tried to hide in the shade where possible. That evening, Jess and I got adventurous and went to a Lucha Libre Mexican wrestling match down in the southern barrio at Arena Mastin III. It was a shockingly stressful event because it was a tiny venue of 3 rows of chairs (everything was the splash zone), we were regularly called out by the locals, and bodies were tossed off the ring into the audience all the time. You had to know when to get up and out of the way, which at first we didn't, but then we worked it out. There was tons of audience participation. After the rounds the kids would get in the ring and play fight or get signatures from their favorite wrestlers. We also had no idea what was going on and almost left before the pros came out for the finale rounds. In the end it was nice to have survived the evening with a lot of stories.

The next day we journeyed to the petrified waterfalls of Hierve el Agua. Jess and I did the hike down to see the falls from below and then took a swim. The water color was unreal and being able to walk and swim in the pools was stunning. It was like being able to swim in Yellowstone's pools if they were nice and refreshing. On the way home, we toured a mezcaleria where they showed us the labor-intensive process. We finished off our Oaxaca trip with a few bar stops and a lovely rooftop dinner with Jeff, Nicki, and other wedding-goers.

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Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore 
Sunday, January 28, 2018, 02:47 PM - Trips
Posted by Administrator
I worked out with my family to hold Christmas a little early in order to jump on another sailing adventure with Alejandro and crew. I landed in Phuket at 1am on Christmas day, couldn't get to sleep until 4am, and was headed to the marina by 9am.

Yacht Haven Marina had a chill vibe on Christmas. The charter company walked Dro and I through the boat systems on our 38’ Lagoon, “Hermione” while Taylor (‘T’), Hannah, and Nicole filled the galley lockers. I'd done a fair bit of research on catamaran construction and operation but it was nice to see familiar equipment aboard. I was also happy to operate as first mate for another trip. Skippering is stressful and I was happy to do another chartering dry run before I try it on my own.

We got out of the marina at 1pm and tried to make it up to Koh Hong. The day was particularly hazy and I wondered if we'd get blazing sun at any point on our sail. There was about 1 knot of wind, so we motored our way north and eventually gave up at Koh Phanak near dusk. (Some mooring information is here, but the definitive guide is the Southeast Asia Pilot.) We jumped on the dingy and I motored us around the karst features. We noticed a bunch of tourists heading for a cave so we decided to check it out as well. We were lucky and it was nearly low tide because the cave was actually an extensive underground river and it took us back in a serpentine path until we discovered light! We looked at each other and said, "can we fit through there!?" We ducked under the limestone arch and popped out in a hong (Thai for 'room') in the middle of the island. It was incredible. None of us were expecting to re-emerge in the middle of the island so it was wild. Just as we did it, the kayaking tours started coming through the “Bat Cave” tunnel; we were lucky to have gotten the solo experience just before dark. We paddled back through the tunnel back to our boat for dinner. (Here's our GPX/GPS tracks)

The next morning, I was up by 5am (thanks jetlag). By 6:30, I couldn’t wait any longer and I popped my head into Dro and Nicole’s deck hatch and started singing the James Bond theme song. I wanted to get to the island before it was overrun with tourists, and my ploy worked. Dro jumped on the helm and I operated the windlass. We motored for about an hour while people started waking up. We passed Koh Hong with a small hong and vertical islands. It's amazing how the island cliffs spring straight out of the sea--such strange, mindblowing geology. The longtail boats were zigzagging around with the first tourists, but we were ahead of the larger tours. Since Khao Phing Kan and Ko Ta Pu (James Bond Island) are in such shallow water (less than 2 m according to our charts) we decided to anchor off Koh Yang and dingy over. Unfortunately, the wind was starting to pick up and we were heading straight into it. The couple foot waves were enough to soak everyone on the boat and we needed to bail, with our way-to-small-to-be-effective bottle. T declared this is exactly how James Bond would have arrived on the island. (That is if he didn’t have a seaplane.) We managed to stay afloat to land at Ao Phang Nga National Park and walk the path up to the beautiful overlook on Ko Tapu (เกาะตะปู, “spike”). Khao Phing Kan also include some other cool caves and neat limestone features for exploring. We caught this island at low tide so we could get close to JB island. I convinced T to re-enact the scene from The Man with a Golden Gun, but was disappointed that no one saw (or remembered) the film.

Back aboard Hermione, we raised sails and finally got enough wind to properly cruise. Motoring at 3 kts is nothing compared to 6-7 kts on a beam. It’s quiet except for the waves and wind and boat creaks. Such a lovely day cruise down to Ao Nang. Ko Kudu was gorgeous and I wish we could have stopped – worth checking out the next time we’re in the neighborhood. Dro and I took turns sailing, although he gave me plenty of shit when I got caught in the lee of an island near Ko Pak Ka. We anchored at Ao Nang around 3pm and went ashore for snacks, beers, and to pick up Travis, Sarah, and Dee. Generally, we’d just order up a load of food across the menu and eat family style. That was a fun way to explore the Thai culinary experience, especially when getting particularly adventurous. We loaded up everyone motored south to Railay (Rai Lei) Beach for the evening with dinner and drinks ashore. With the new crew, I bought out a sheet and pillow and slept on the trampoline of the catamaran. It was chilly, but waking up with the killer view and the birds singing to me was heavenly.

In the morning, we popped around the corner to Ao Phra Nang Beach at Tham Phra Nang. Everyone grabbed their snorkeling gear and dove in. I headed through the tiny islands to the south east and out along the cliffs. The water visibility was poor, so the snorkeling was so-so (big fan coral and barrel sponges) but the island features were great and the little caves and cliffs were fun to explore. I climbed a rope to get to what I thought would be a fun little deep water soloing spot, but the rock was so sharp, I couldn’t make it up to the smoother stone and fell 5’ back into the ocean – nothing very exciting. I headed back to Princess Cave and found Travis, Sarah, and Dee on the beach. A bunch of climbers are playing around on some routes in the caves and we watched them, like the hundreds of others congregating on the beaches by speed boat and longtail.

About noon, we went back to Ao Nang and picked up the last two crewmembers, Michael and Gail. After resupplying ice and a few other provisions, we pointed our boat south and anchored north of Ko Dam Khwan “Chicken Head Island”. The snorkeling here was far better and I spent nearly a couple hours exploring. Watching the branded sea snake hunt was a particular treat, but the schools of parrotfish, angelfish, butterflyfish, and damsels across a backdrop of anemones, brain coal, clams, staghorn coral, and plate coral was just as awesome. I chased the schools around with my GoPro gleefully. We had the whole crew assembled at this point, so it was fitting to have finest sunset of the trip that evening. From the trampoline, hammock, and foredeck, we watched the golden sun drop through the craggy islands on the horizon with our happy hour drinks in hand. Travis fired up the drone and flew it around our boat at sunset to capture the moment from 1000’. The footage was spectacular. There were 7’ long coffin-like berths in the front of the pontoons. They were slightly claustrophobic, but I realized I could pull the cushions out to sleep on the tramp without losing heat through the netting. That helped a lot.

In the morning, we continued South, stopped for a lunch snorkel at Bamboo island. The visibility continued to improve as we moved out of the delta into deeper waters. Large coral heads towered 10 feet above the ocean floor and I played around diving deep. On shore one of the longtail drivers was playing around with a small ray to the delight of the tourists. We then headed around the east side of Phi Phi Dom (the northernmost Phi Phi island). We stopped off at the monkey beach on the west shore of Ton Sai Bay. The monkeys were feasting on fruit the tour boats brought, but weren’t shy either. When a new longtail landed, one monkey jump on the boat stole a plastic juice bottle from a woman’s hands, jump to shore, and popped the cap off expertly.

We filled water at a floating pier and anchored on the west side of the bay. A couple dinghy rides later we were all ashore at Phi Phi (Pronounced “Pee Pee” and often written “PP”). We feasted on mango sticky rice at the Mango Garden, sipped beers on the beach, and had dinner at Anna’s. I tried three different dive shops before I found one that would pick me up on Hermione on their way out of the bay. Eventually, Phi Phi Scuba Diving Center agreed and in the course of 15 minutes I had my gear picked out and paperwork squared away—although I didn’t have my passport or dive certifications so I may have guessed at a few numbers.

At 7:30am the next morning, a yellow PP Scuba boat pulled up to Hermione and we were headed to Ko Bi Da Nok. I met the divemaster “Thaiman” from the Netherlands and my dive partner, Rob, from Seattle who was working on his divemaster cert. We three and two Chinese divers geared up and hobbled over to the back of the boat and took a big stride into the Andaman Sea. It was cloudy so the reef didn’t glow, but the visibility was 10-12 m. We circled down and around the island. We saw 3 black tip reef sharks, an eel, loads of starfish (and feather stars), clams, fans, trumpetfish, etc. Despite being a ‘beginner’ dive site, the current was stiff and the Chinese woman could barely move forward because she kicked with her ankles bent. Funny but annoying. We did a surface interval at Maya Bay on PP Lee and then dove Mushroom Coral. I talked Thaiman into letting Rob and I have more autonomy, so this was a much nicer dive and I could explore at my own pace. We dove down a cliff to 18 m and saw Clark’s and False Clown Anemonefish (Nemo!) in their anemones, a couple rays, lionfish, a lobster, Giant Travelly, Slugs, whip coral, plate coral, sponges. Greatly enjoy that one. When we got back to PP, I was surprise to Hermione still anchored. So after our debriefing, I texted Dro to link back up with the group. It turned out they wanted a little more shore time for hiking, massages, and in the case of Dee, a commemorative world map Thai tattoo on her left shoulder.

After lunch and a short downpour, we did a little provisioning, and then sailed down to Maya Bay at Phi Phi Lee for the night. This spot is super popular because it’s the beach from “The Beach” and everyone wants to be like Leo. We snorkeled around to a few spots on the north side: a secluded beach and a cool tidal cave. In the cave, the waves were amplified and knocked me off my feet. It was fun, but a little unsafe and I did end up strapping my shoulder. That evening, riding the high of diving and duty-free scotch, we blasted music into the bay while dancing under the stars until midnight. The next morning, I lay bleary-eyed on the foredeck around 6:30 when I heard 3 loud longtails cruise past. I jumped up and ran around the boat yelling, “let’s go, first dingy to the beach now!” as I released the lines and dropped the boat into the chop. People were taking their time getting up, so Dro, Nicole, and I headed in to the fabled Beach. It was already swimming in people at 7am and we only made it about 10 steps before someone asked us to pay the park fee. None of us had money, so I returned to the cat for cash and the 2nd load of people. Admittedly, it was a very nice beach—if it weren’t for the hundreds of people. We snapped a few pictures but didn’t wait around for more invaders. We swung around to the other side of the island to poke around in Pileh Lagoon. This was stunningly beautiful as well, but wasn’t as crowded since it didn’t have a beach. After a dingy loop, we headed south to Ko Ha Yai.

Ko Ha Yai had a set of islands with different geological formations, described best as a bricklayer best effort after gallons of Chang beer. There was a cool arch island that we could swim through and the snorkeling was the best of the trip. The coral was diverse and vibrant and fauna abundant. I enjoyed joining huge school of Yellowback Fusiliers. We then headed to Ko Lanta for our evening anchorage. We originally planned to eat at a nice restaurant recommended by the guidebook, but after waiting for an hour, we found a different spot down the beach, where the steamed lemon red snapper was potent but very well done.

The following morning, Dro woke me early to make a major sail all the way back north to Ko Yao Yai. I was very worried that we’d get trapped down south and couldn’t pull off this big leg, but the winds locked in from the NW and we cruised 6+ kts. As we rounded PP Dom, I put us on a beam reach and watched our speed climb to 7.5-8 kts. Awesome. As we came to the southern tip of Ko Yao Yai, the darkening storm clouds seemed particularly ominous. The winds were only 14 kts, so we keep the sails out, but this was a mistake. Dro was at the helm, suddenly we had sustained 30 kts and Michael and I went into crazy action. We managed to get the boat into the wind and fuller the genoa and drop the main. It was clear we should have seen this coming and reefed, but we didn’t. In the action, one of the jib sheets flapping aggressively wrapped under the galley port hatch handle and broke the window. We enjoyed getting the breeze through the galley, but should probably have closed those while under sail. Some good lessons learned and ultimately about $200 shared between the 10 shipmates. We motored the rest of the way to our anchorage outside Yao Tai Beach Resort. We managed to do 52.1 miles in 8:35 with 5.3 kts (6.1 mph) average and 7.8 kts (9.0 mph) max; by far the biggest sail of my life.

We knew that Ko Yao Yai was a Muslim island, but assumed that westerners would still have easy access to liquor on New Years Eve. This turned out to not be entirely true, but we worked a deal out with a beach restaurant to BYOB, so we brought our remaining liquor to shore. I found someone willing to sell beer and the crew danced until midnight, when the pier lit up with fireworks. For the record, laying on a white sand beach in Thailand watching fireworks light up the Andaman Sea is a great way to ring in 2018.

Way too early the following morning we headed back to Yacht Haven Marina. We topped up our diesel for $80 and went through the checkin procedures. I was in a hurry to meet my girlfriend, Jess, at the airport, so I said my goodbyes and took off for the next segment of the adventure. Jess didn’t have an international phone plan so we preplanned to meet at the southern end of the airport. I was relieved when she triumphantly showed up on the far side of the world. We taxied to our hotel and explored old town Phuket by foot. We got a nice lunch with Changs, Coconuts, and curry and visited the Hai Leng Ong (Dragon) Statue, Wat Mongkol Nimit, the silly Phuket Trickeye Museum, and got Thai massages at Kim’s. For dinner, we met Dro, Nicole, Michael, and Gale at Tu Kab Khao. Then we said our goodbyes again, but this time for real, and then Jess and I began our great trip south.

We had a “ferry” booked the next morning, so we asked the front desk to get us a taxi. The nice lady called a few taxis said they were far away and then looked over to her counterpart, as if to say something secret, and then called another person. She said we’ll have a driver out front in a couple minutes. We were surprised when a decaled Mitsubishi rally race car pulled up and waived us over. The interior was covered in auxiliary gauges for monitoring, presumably, the engine and turbo pressure and temperatures. He blasted Mexican, Thai, and English techno all the way to Rassada Pier – quite the wake-up. But then we sat around for an hour while ferries loaded and took off. To my surprise, we were loaded into a smaller speedboat with triple 250 HP outboards. We pulled out into the open water and proceeded to get knocked around in 4’ waves all the way to Ko Lanta and then down to Ko Lipe. We covered 135 miles at ~30 mph and by mid-afternoon we were deposited dazed on a beautiful beach in southern Thailand. The island is entirely walkable and popular as a low-key destination for families. We grabbed some fruit on the way to our hostel and then walked out to the beach through the impoverished ghetto. On the other side, photogenic beauty reappeared. We did a short snorkel, but the tide was so low it was hard to find routes through the coral. Jess still thought it was great since this was her first time snorkeling! I was also her first time backpacking, in the travel sense. She was making the most of it, but was struggling with a persistent cough. I always hate traveling while sick, but she seemed unfazed. That evening, we snagged beers and walked down sunrise beach around to sunset beach. Normally this wouldn’t be possible, but because the tide was so low we could sneak through the rocky areas. Then we crossed the island to the southern beach and had a tasty dinner on the beach with Mai Tais and G&Ts. We took the Walking St back to the hostel and perused the wears, trinkets, and eateries. This evening was definitely a highlight of the trip.

The next day, we tried to catch the sunrise on sunrise beach but it was cloudy. Instead we walked the beach and checked out all the beached longtails. The 2-meter tide is very aggressive so half the day the boats can’t clear the reef. As the tide returned, we did another snorkel and then set out to catch our ferry to Langkawi. Unfortunately, I assumed it was the same timing as the previous day as that boat was to head on to Langkawi, so we ended up missing our speed boat and had to go through an annoying process of getting another one. Fortunately, getting stranded in paradise isn’t so bad and we saddled up on the beach to wait to go through immigration. A few hours later we found ourselves in Malaysia in a driving rainstorm. We taxied to our hostel, the Honey Badger Hut (I couldn’t not stay there), and we headed for Kampung Lubok Buaya and wound up at Lavazza Café on Cenang Beach for dinner. It rained more. We tried to Uber, but after 25 minutes and no progress from our driver, we just walked back to the Hostel in the rain.

In the morning, I let jess sleep in and went out to gather breakfast. I found it surprising that the large grocery store we visited the night before wouldn’t open until 10am. Luckily a place next door, Siti, was open and a woman with a hijab was cooking made-to-order roti canai with a honey sauce – way better than traditional donuts but probably no healthier. I did really like all the fishing boats in the small river in the vicinity of 6.303155, 99.722448, so I stopped to get a few pictures on the way back to the hostel. Jess was up and ready to go when I got back. We had our breakfast and Ubered to the Langkawi Cable Car. It’s a bit like Disney Land around there, but we managed to find it a ride up to the Langkawi Sky Bridge. The storms had moved off, but the visibility was still poor from a low-lying Malaysian haze. We hiked up to the top of the mountain and then down to the arcing Langkawi Sky Bridge. The suspension bridge used a single internal tower, which is very cool architecturally and mechanically. There were also a couple transparent floor tiles on the walkway where we could stand over a hundred feet of nothing, and did the trick of giving our hearts an extra beat.

Back at sea-level, we hiked up to base of Seven Wells Waterfall and then the hundreds of steps up to the upper pools. We were hauling our full packs at this point, so Jess and I were dripping sweat by the top. Fortunately, this area was a great spot for locals and tourists alike to cool off in the humid midday heat. We had fun relaxing in the pools and watching the local long-tailed macaques hunt for natural foods and human refuse. We had arranged for an older taxi driver to take us to the ferry terminal at 1:00, but when we got back down at 1:00, we asked the driver to wait while we got some food. The price for a meal is incredibly about $2 and exploding with flavor. This seems to be the universal case in Malaysia.

After this, our driver slightly raised the price of our pre-negotiated drive by about a dollar. I lightly protested but he explained it was documented on the sign at the Oriental Village but forgot the amount. Then he went way out of his way to make sure we saw the sign, in what I took to be an over-the-top gesture of honesty. After that hiccup he zipped us across the island to the Ferry terminals in Kuah. Along the way he showed us his circa 1993 military photo and explained that he was part of the UN peacekeeping operations led by the US military in Bosnia. I got the sense he was impressed with the leadership in that conflict because he started referring to me as ‘sir’ after I said we were American.

A far more relaxed ferry ride dropped us off in George Town on Penang Island. The city was sizable, but the area around Fort Cornwallis was quaint with small shopping areas like “Little India”. Actually, this area was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 because it represented an exceptional example of a multi-cultural trading town in Southeast Asia with unique architecture and lifestyle. The rain came and went so Jess and I were happy to drop off gear at our hotel. We visited Kapitan Keling Mosque and tried to get a drink at the rooftop bar of the Kontar, but lightning prevented anyone from going on deck. Instead, we found a dim sum place and I gorged on dumplings until I couldn’t see straight. Jess managed to exercise self-control, which I couldn’t understand as we were being faced by an endless supply of such wonderfully scrumptious packets of happiness. Somewhere along the way we also snagged a quarter of a durian. It’s a horrifically stinky fruit but tastes ok if you pinch your nose. Jess and I watched in amazement when a small Asian woman devoured an entire fruit without gagging.

In the morning, we walked in the rain to a ferry to a bus station that took us to Kuala Lumpur. I think taking the train would have been slightly nicer, but the bus worked out well. Then we took a metro across town to the Bukit Bintang district and our 5-star Marriott across the street from the Pavilion KL, a grandiose shopping center with Louis Vuitton, Prada, and other fashion shops that I had zero interest in visiting. We walked the surface streets past dozens of construction jobs to the Petronas Twin Towers and KLCC Park. It was interesting to see the famous bridge halfway up the towers by day, but the towers were far more spectacular at night when they seem to glow with rings of light. The evening was unexciting: we strolled the mostly-closed KL Citywalk and purchased a celebratory Pina Colada (which is taxed something like 300% because Malaysia is a Muslim country). We did finally figure out the series of skyways on the way back to the hotel though, so that was far more pleasant to stay out of the rush-hour traffic.

On our final day in Malaysia, we took the metro to Batu Caves. Initially, we (accidentally) visited a very strange, neon-powered collection of ‘psychedelic dioramas’ in Ramayana Cave, named because the oddly sculpted characters depicted the Indian story of Ramayana. Feeling confused, Jess and I walked along the shops until we discovered the actual Batu Cave, along with hordes of tourist buses. We climbed the 272 steps past the golden Murugan statue to the monstrous Cathedral Cave. Passing through this cavern, you climb another set of stairs to an open limestone room with a Hindu Temple and mischievous monkeys. We saw one woman have her lunch striped from her hands. On our way down the main stairwell, we decided to do the Dark Cave tour. It included nice cave features (columns, curtains, stalactites, gour pools, etc.) and critters (crickets, bats), but we didn’t see the famous trap-door spider. We did some fast shopping at the gift shop and then it was Ubering to the hotel and airport to head further south.

The way the flights worked out, Jess got to Singapore a couple hours before I did. I met her at our hotel and we linked up with Mervyn, my first grad school advisor from Georgia Tech. We hadn’t seen one another for 12 years (!) but hit it off talking about complexity theory, former colleagues, and the future of technology. He was nice enough to show Jess and I to a section of town tourists don’t often visit: Eminent Frog Porridge. A Chinese run establishment that served bowls of whole cooked frogs slathered in sauce. The frogs were pretty good actually and I ate a couple of them. But Merv wanted to give us the authentic Singapore experience and ordered a feast of chili crabs, prawns, fried rice, and veggies. It was a flavor rollercoaster. We then got a couple drinks (including a Singapore Sling for Jess) at the Bungy Bar at Clarke Quay. It was nice to sit along the Singapore River and reminisce about a part of my life that seems so long ago.

Early the next morning, Jess and I were on a plane heading back stateside and somewhere around 24 hours of travel later we were comfortably back in burque.
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Boundary Waters Canoe Trip 
Wednesday, September 13, 2017, 07:56 PM - Trips
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I took a much-needed week off work to join my parents and three of their friends for a canoe trip into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) Wilderness in upper Minnesota against Canada.

I got lunch with Daimon and his wife in Minneapolis - a real treat since the last time I saw him was for his wedding 5 years ago. Then a van full of excited southerners towing a trailer and 3 canoes showed up and whisked me north. We stayed in a small motel between St. Paul and Duluth that night as the rain poured down. I hoped the weather forecast was right and we would have lighter weather during the next week. Luckily, I convinced the rest of the team to take a detour to get Betty's Pies in Two Harbors on or way to our campsite and put-in at Fall Lake Campground. We had pie for dinner and we had pie for breakfast. It was fantastic.

The next day, we headed north. We portaged around Newton Falls to Newton Lake, and quickly reached Pipestone Falls, and portaged again. On the first one, Mom and I found someone with a cart to help bring our gear across, but on the 2nd we were on our own for the 1/4 mile walk. I threw the canoe on my back for the walk, but halfway through the middle thwart broke - so we set it back in place, carried about our business, and started dreaming up campsite remedial actions. Back on the water, we paddled our way up Pipestone Bay of Basswood Lake and saw a Bald Eagle leave his perch and cruise the shoreline. We did a quick, albeit jungley, hike to Azion Lake for lunch. The entire day and all the lakes were glass. It was quiet and eerie. Eventually, we found a chipmunk-operated campsite on the south-side of Pipestone Bay and set up camp around 1:30pm. With plenty of time before dinner, the whole gang took a swim and then Steve, Kurt, and Andreas fished while the rest of us heckled them.

The next morning, Dad cooked some of his legendary pancakes while Andreas and I fashioned a new yoke for the canoe. Using a hand saw, we were able to notch a section of pine tree to do the job (and it held for the whole trip!). Needless to say, we got a later start. In general, canoeing is such a relaxed way to travel through the world, aside from the portages, of which we did have one to cross over to Back Bay. At first the weather was calm, but eventually a south wind set in. Mom and I struggled into a moderate headwind through the shallow waters of Back Bay and wondered why there were thousands of dead insects on the water surface. Too cold? Natural life cycle?

The group separated some, but we regathered on an unnamed island on our way to Hoist Bay when we ate lunch. When we got to Hoist Bay, we took a 90 degree turn ENE and the winds turned to our favor. We slid past Canoe Island and Norway Island before finding a suitable, unoccupied campsite on Washington Island. More swimming. More Fishing. And Mom and I cooked Quesadillas for the crew. Steve served up a couple small-mouth cooked in southern spices.

The next day was difficult. Winds rotated to the North and we were battered making our way up the US-Canada border to United States Point. The chop was getting large enough that Dad and I were politely asked to stay close to the Andrea/Mom canoe (we rotated teams). This day I got my first taste of paddling "the barge" which was our only plastic canoe. The other two Kevlar canoes slid through the water with an estimated 76.3% less drag. After fighting the wind and chop, we turned the corner and headed West toward Basswood Falls. Surprisingly, even with the wind at our backs, the waves still made this a tough stretch. This area does not allow motors, so we were suddenly alone - at least for large portions of the day, which was nice. It felt like a wilderness area. We stopped off for lunch on a beach and looked at Canada. M&A snuck into Canada, while Dad and I may have drifted into international waters. Definitely a different scene than our southern border. Eventually, we found a campsite we called, "Camp Blowhole" because it was on the blowhole of the island that looked like a whale. It was well sheltered and we pasted the time looking at the moss and lichen that covered the island. Mom, entertained the group with a crossword puzzle that lasted a surprisingly long time (days).

We decided the leave the tents up and do a day trip to Basswood Falls the next day. We walked down the Basswood River for about a mile inspecting whatever flora and fauna (eagles, an otter, and more chipmunks!) we came across. That night we tried to catch the Northern Lights - Andreas said it would be the highest probability of catching them that night based on the NOAA data. But we didn't see anything except a wonderfully starry night.

The following day we battled another headwind south toward Pipestone. We hoped we could float through the creek from Jackfish Bay to Pipestone, but beavers had dammed it, so we had to run another short portage. On the other side, we stopped off at an awesome cliffside campsite to take in the views and rest a bit for the final push south. We paddled another hour+ into the gale until we made it back to our first campsite, where we were greeted by Charlie T. Trouble our favorite food-stealing chipmunk. Lathered on the DEET and killed a handful more mosquitoes, the state bird, for the 5th night in a row. The weather held off until that night, when a ferocious thunderstorm came through camp, but the rain had stopped by morning.

The final day was fairly easy, even with the two portages. We knew the way and a few of us were ready get off the water. It was a fun trip, great to see the world from a canoe, and the bugs were actually manageable.

GPS data
Approximate Distances:
Day 1: 6.8 miles to Pipestone Bay
Day 2: 10.3 miles to Washington Island
Day 3: 9.8 miles to "Whale Island"
Day 4: 5.45 miles, day-tripping to Basswood River
Day 5: 10.7 miles to Pipestone Bay
Day 6: 6.6 miles to Fall Lake
Total: 49.65 miles of fun + a few miles of canoeing on Day 0 to go fishing with Steve.

And Here's a video my Mom put together of the trip:

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Josh's 30 Birthday  
Thursday, August 10, 2017, 10:52 AM - Trips
Posted by Administrator
Like my 30th Birthday, my Mom wanted to do something fun for my brother for his 30th. She created an elaborate medieval/fantastical plot involving a bunch of people in the family. I had three roles: the first was to give Josh clues to start a treasure hunt that my parents would conduct to give him Amtrak tickets to Chicago (where he would meet his cousins and a family friend); the second was to give him a time and place where he would get a weapon (super soaker) for the final battle with the evil king; and the third was to be taken hostage, rescued by Josh, and help him kayak down the river battling river enemies to the king.

For the first clue, since we are both getting into cybersecurity work, I thought it would be fun to create do something with encryption. I sent him the following message:

Lord Marcel,

Nearly 40 years ago, Knights Ron Rivest, Adi Shamir, and Leonard Adleman created a tool for exchanging information between kingdoms. I must use this tool to securely send information from the land of Adobe as there are many eyes watching our movements.

Your secret code was recently sent via text. The public key is (n = 597782322723352841, e = 65537).

Use your code to decipher my decimal messages by converting to hexadecimal and then to text. As an example, 454340527577251408658717599750907599391754895552930391484449 is an unencrypted base 10 birthday message.

Please await my next letter for instructions.

God speed,
Earl of Tillay

P.S. 16172526842824332 486461013351423796 372855876819966270 173013308343788726 175628482683316976 51457655426288031 112532939420200262 103102526154905960 212110150840885429 116036075239775253

I sent him the private key in a text: "162568843699643261"

Without going into too many of the details, Josh was required to perform RSA decryption of the coded message. The description of how to do that is here. And the python code to do that is here (for all your programming needs).

A few days letter, he sent me a message indicated that he figured it out and I sent him the coordinates for his first clue for the scavenger hunt that my parents put together. He managed to complete that and get his tickets to Chicago. Yay!

The next round of puzzles (to give him the water gun) was a little more involved. It started with me sending him a link to this image: http://adventurejay.com/stereoclue.jpg

which, read adventurejay.com/josh.pdf which had a bunch of clues. The solutions to the puzzles are here.

With a couple hints, and a couple required corrections on my part (whoops), the solution was determined to be "421261450043257479" or "/c3.pdf" when decrypted. That led him to adventurejay.com/c3.pdf.

He got back to me fairly quickly with the solution: White Fire Mayhem. And I told him where he could meet up with someone who would give him his water gun :) It's not easy turning 30!

For the extended, weekend party, Jess and I flew to St. Louis. The first night we had dinner at Josh's with Mom and Dad. Then we drove down to Washington, MO to pick up Grandma and take her down to the Huzzah for a beach picnic and float. We also visited grandpa in the old folks home.

The following day, we woke up early and Dad, Josh, and I competed in the Wood River Triathlon. Dad did a great job with the swim (most people just walked on the pool bottom and should have been disqualified) and came in 21st out of 234 with a 8:15. I jumped on my Dad's (small) road bike and did my best to ride the turny course. It was six laps with six 90 degree turns, so it was hard to keep the speed up. I managed to take a wrong turn into the staging area after my first lap (not much signage at this event), which probably cost me ~20 seconds. (I've got all my excuses lined up.) In the end, I averaged 20 mph for 33:20 and 25/234 although I would have been 17th without my navigational mistake. Not too bad. And Josh suffered a couple laps (4 miles) to bring us on home with 2nd out of 10 for the teams (the first group was pretty stacked).

After that we headed back to Washington, MO where we (tastefully) shackled Josh and put him in his own van with instructions on how to find me. I left in my parent's Prius with Mom and Jess, while Dad, cousin Tim, and aunt Holly came separately with the kayaks. There were a few complications with instructions, but eventually I was freed of my captors' restraints and on the water with Josh in a couple kayaks loaded with water guns and water balloons. Ready for battle, we navigated through the drunk rafts and eventually came across captured Maid Jess along with three in the king's legion. There was a water battle, and I don't really know who won, but I'll say it was us.

We jumped off the cliff and floated down to Uncle Jim's place on the Meramec. There Josh vanquished the evil king and saved the day! We played around in the river a little more, BBQed, and eventually headed back to WashMo to rest. The following day, I had one last visit with grandpa before indulging in a bottle of Chambourcin at Montelle Winery and catching our flights back to ABQ - although the trip was ultimately delayed a full 12 hours with back-to-back mechanical and weather issues.

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Vegas, Baby! 
Sunday, June 4, 2017, 09:27 PM - Trips, Weekend Fun
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Jess was getting together with old friends, Kristen and Keith, in Vegas for the weekend and she invited me out to stay with her. I said, "Sure!" We all met up at the Luxor on Friday morning and then went out to the Rehab pool party. Their friend, Josh, just moved out to Vegas so he acted as our official tour guide. Beach balls, swimming and loud music was a great start to the trip. It was super warm so the margaritas were tasting especially good. We all headed out to First Friday on Fremont St. where they have live bands in addition to the booze, gambling, street performers, and outdoor alcohol vendors. After strolling up and down the well-lit street with movie screen canopy and ziplines we ubered back to the strip and worked our way through the casinos back to the Luxor for bed. Nothing too insane, but it was fun.

In the morning the group went over to the Aquarium at Mandalay Bay. It was short but pretty nice with a few tube walkways. The gang then headed north along the strip hitting up casinos, bars, and any shiny attraction along with way. We had a great steak dinner at Mon Ami Gabi across from the Bellagio, before the rest of the crew took off for the airport. Jess and I nearly ran to catch the Cirque du Soleil at the MGM Grand. I think this show was the highlight of the trip. The hydraulic stage was awesome and the way that used it to play out different fight scenes was spectacular - especially when they were using the 'arrows' to traverse the stage.

The last day, I had to gamble a little just to say I tried it. Jess and I bet on black and won. Then we bet on 12 and lost. I played a couple hands of blackjack and lost. I did double my $1 in the dollar slots, but ultimately lost about $50 over the course of the weekend. We we're very good gamblers - but Keith and Kristen managed to win $200 at the Buffalo slot machine (and probably spent similar quantities to do so) and Josh won $1000 with a royal flush on bar-top poker on Fremont St., but with the quantity of time he spends at such things that does make sense (he's a blackjack and poker dealer and has a strong affinity for slot machines). I can see the appeal though - it's a rush to see the next card or roulette wheel spin.

Jess and I went to the Bodies exhibit at the Luxor. I had seen it in L.A. 10 years ago, but it was still fun and educational. We headed up to New York, NY to ride the roller coaster, but they had it shut down due to wind when we got there. Instead we wondered through Cesar's Palace, Mirage, and Treasure Island and got ice cream. So I think I can say I've done Vegas now and I did a little gambling, so I can cross that off the old bucket list.

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Mountain Collective Ski Trip 
Tuesday, February 14, 2017, 08:32 PM - Trips
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Jeff and I took the A-liner camper around to 5 Mountain Collective ski resorts over two weeks. We'd been planning this trip for years, and actually wanted to go up to Canada to ski 3 other resorts on the pass, but work/life obligations got in the way. At any rate, here's a movie that I put together of our excellent trip!

"The lightly anticipated and highly sensational "Dirtbags on Skis" has it all: powder, costumes, bad decisions, crashes, humor, and a healthy dose of bromance. This film, brought to you by Why We Do It Productions, will leave you wondering how they did so much skiing without a GoPro."

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Aspen and Telluride for New Year's Eve 
Monday, January 2, 2017, 06:23 PM - Trips, Weekend Fun
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Jess, Jeff, Sheilah, and I took the camper up to Aspen for New Years. Jeff and Sheliah got a place with some other friends in Snowmass but I scored a deal through the mountain rescue community to crash at Mountain Rescue Aspen's cache to save some cash. Keith gave us the grand tour of the multi-million dollar facility with all their cars, snowmobiles, climbing wall, kitchen, locker room, laundry, etc. It's truly impressive.

On New Year's Eve we hit Snowmass and Jess and I skied for 1/2 day before Jeff and I went out to find bigger lines. The snow wasn't fresh but it was still fun to explore a new place. We hit KT Gully, Possible, Split Tree and at the end of the day, Jeff found a ~8' drop at Rock Island. I couldn't commit to the cliff - and ultimately wouldn't hear the end of it for 24 hours. For NYE, we found a little bar called The Red Onion in Aspen where Keith knew the bartender. We snagged a booth and Jess and I rang in the new year with champagne and a kiss.

(Cliff I chickened out of)

The next morning, the slopes were unsurprisingly and pleasantly empty. Jeff and I went over to Aspen Highlands and beat ourselves up on frozen bumps in Steeplechase bowl before Highland opened. We caught the snow cat to the halfway point with a pile of stoked skiers and then hoofed it to the highland peak summit at 12,392'. The views were wonderful and the run down Ozone was wonderful. At lunch we caught the bus to Aspen Mountain and linked up with Keith, who's on their ski patrol. He directed us under a couple closed ropes to a little place patrol "reserves for themselves and their friends." It was only a few turns, but they were the softest we'd found in the last couple days.

That night I dropped Jess off with Mario and company to drive back to ABQ, while Jeff and I headed to Telluride. We stopped at Lance and Bobbi Jo's in Ridgeway for the night and camped out on the street. Leigh, Justin, and Arthur were also there so it was great to catch up with their family.

In the morning Bobbi Jo loaded us up with egg and bacon bagels and we drove the hour over to Telluride. We found a place to park in the 72 hour lot and then began exploring. I quickly fell in love with the place because they had a whole cirque to play. Sadly Palmyra Peak wasn't open, but we took a couple laps in Black Iron Bowl and hit a great powder line in the (unnamed?) chute on skiers ' left. That night we headed to Smuggler's Brewpub for dinner and watched the dramatic Penn State vs USC Rose Bowl Game. After making friends with the locals, we agreed to ski backcountry the next day with someone. In the morning, I said I texted him saying that I would need to borrow skins because I didn't have any, and I never heard back. Oh well. Instead Jeff and I did a couple laps on Bald Mountain, Revelation Bowl and the frontside steeps. Ultimately, after 4 days of hard skiing, we threw the towel in the early afternoon and headed south.

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Christmas 2016 
Sunday, December 25, 2016, 04:28 PM - Trips
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I spent a week back in Southern Illinois and Missouri for Christmas. I caught a ride from Josh down to Alto Pass and we started right away with tree-decorating, Christmas songs, and overeating. The rest of the family came down the next day and we hiked up to Bald Knob Cross in a light drizzle. It was the 27th annual winter hike for my dad and I, but I can't remember it raining any other year.

Kathy, Twy, and Gabe joined for caroling and a hilarious game of reverse charades. Grandma stole the show with her ice skating impression and knack for being one or two cards behind. We also got in a family game of HORSE, held the family annual photo competition, opened way too many gifts, and Tim attempted to show me how to Ripstick.

Before flying back to the Southwest, I visited the uncles in St. Louis and my grandfather in the old folks home in Washington, MO. The family time was great.

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Red River Race Camp and Bull-of-the-Wood Yurt 
Monday, December 19, 2016, 04:49 PM - Trips, Weekend Fun
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Jeff and I took the Aliner pop-up camper to Red River and snagged a perfect little camp spot in the forest by the resort parking area. We skied a 3 days with instruction from the Lobos alpine team. It was especially great to ski with Nick because he grew up in Taos and is one of only a few NM racers to make the team. By the end of the three days, I was feeling good on my skis and running gates as well as I ever have (mediocre). Unfortunately the camper was an ice box without reliable heat and the temperature dropped to 1 F. Our breath put a layer of frost on everything in the interior of the camper. One of the perks of supporting the Lobos is that they sometimes offer corporate cup racers tickets to basketball games - so I was lucky enough to snag a seat in the box seats at the Pit later that week.

A couple weekends later, we broke with tradition and moved the Bull-of-the-Woods Yurt trip up to Dec. I brought Jess up with me on Friday and we skied a day inbounds in a whiteout blizzard. It wasn't that fun with the high winds. We met up with Spencer and hiked up to the yurt. I borrowed Leigh's sled and used it to schlep a 1/6th barrel of Marble Pils up the mountain. With me thoroughly weighed down, Jess and I were about the same speed so it worked out well. It did take a very long time, especially through the 5-6 downed trees, and I hurt pretty bad making it up from Taos Ski Valley (9,300') to Bull-of-the-Woods Meadow (10,800'). Fortunately, Spencer was able to break trail for most of the upper stretch.

Jeff came up later and strapped a box of pizza to his pack. In one of the trees, the box popped open and littered the trail with pizza slices. He tried to gather them all up, but managed to miss a couple. Later, Briana was coming up the trail and said that she was feeling really hungry but didn't to take the time to dig through her pack for food; when what should appear in the center of her headlamp glow, but a slice of pizza from the trail gods! She said she didn't even think twice about it and just picked it up and ate it. Once everyone made it up, we cranked the fire and drank merrily.

The following day, Jeff and I took a little tour up to Bull-of-the-Woods Mountain. The snow conditions were extremely unstable and the slope by the trail keep releasing as we hiked up. On the summit, it was freezing cold and the winds were howling. We concluded we couldn't ski anything steep, but we could work down the spine. A few turns into the descent, we dug a pit to check conditions. There were 40 cm of heavy dense wind slab on 30 cm of facets: a very bad combination. The column test failed with one hand tap at the boundary, and the Rutschblock test showed the whole upper layer slide on the facets. Scary! I was starting to think we might have bitten off more than we should have, but we skied the most conservative line we could find through the trees and quickly linked up with a mountain bike trail that took us back to the main road/trail. Definitely very scary conditions for any backcountry skier. Back the yurt, even more people trickled for night 2, making our total party crew 15 people.

Sunday, we cleaned up and skied back to the TSV. My sled was loaded with trash and I had to hold a power wedge all the way down the steeps. Unfortunately, on a couple of the dead tree crossings, the trash bags were punctured and I leaked a few items. Jeff was behind me though, so it helped pick up my mess. Back at Taos, it was chilly but clear and Jess finally got to see the place. We skied the backside for a few laps and then hit the Bav at the end of the day for dinner. Good times in the mountains. But then I spent a couple weeks recovering from a cold that was shared around the yurt...

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Niagara Falls and an Aussie Reunion 
Thursday, December 8, 2016, 10:02 PM - Trips
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I traveled to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls for the 2016 IRED conference. I had a great view of the falls from my hotel and snuck in a trip on the Hornblower (e.g., Canadian Maid of the Mist) at the end of the conference. There is sooo much water there. If we could only pipe that to New Mexico!

The other fun piece of this trip was I reconnected with a lost friend, Adam, in Buffalo. We hadn't seen each other in 12 years, but had done a few great trips together when we were both foreign exchange students at the University of South Australia. I couldn't believe how young and excited about exploring I was at that point in time. It was so cool to see him again! And it wasn't long before we were reminiscing of our adventures:
- The overland trek in Tasmania, where I did battle with the opossums and tassie devils; we climbed to the top of the acropolis, and cranked the heat by burning coal in a small cabin by Lake St. Clair.
- Camping on the beach in Freycinet National Park where we named the camp wallabies Wallace and Gromit.
- Watching sunrises in Uluru in the red centre.
- Tim Tam Slams on the Legendary Ghan train ride from Adelaide to Alice Springs.
- Cheering on Port Power in Aussie Rules Footie.
- Drinking wine in the Adelaide park for Forth of July.
- Goofing off on the Kangaroo Island tour.
- My junk bike with the bent front wheel and how I was too cheap to take a cab back to town after the pubs closed so I walked the 10 km train line from Glenelg to downtown until the sun rose one Saturday night/Sunday morning.
- And all our classmates, that I have long lost track of...

I was happy to meet Adam's wife and kid and take a walking tour of Buffalo. The town was clearly in a period of revitalization and the waterfront was awesome to stroll.

Unfortunately, I had to take a last-minute trip to DC for the halloween weekend, but Briana hosted a Monday night party for a few folks. My costume this year was an injured cyclist - how original!

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Chaco Canyon with Parents 
Friday, November 25, 2016, 09:54 PM - Trips
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My parents visited Albuquerque for the week surrounding Thanksgiving. We had a small, but sweet, thanksgiving feast at my place and ultimately decided to explore a little of the southwest with the camper. Mom was especially excited to try it out, that was until the heater failed on a 20 degree night.

After battling the washerboard, potholed, dirt road for miles, we popped up the camper in the Chaco campground and had a sandwich lunch. It was cold but the sun warmed up the canyon nicely. We toured Una Vida and the Petroglyphs and then took the first 80% of a guided tour of Pueblo Bonito, until the guide repeated the same thing for the 4th time. On our way back to camp, we stopped at Casa Rinconada and watched the visitor center video. We cooked up turkey soup and played backgammon and gin rummy back in the camper. The stars were spectacular in the cold clear night. Unfortunately, the contact in the thermostat was corroded so the heater wasn't working for most of the night and it was very chilly.

The following day, we hiked from Pueblo del Arroyo around the Pueblo Alto loop. The views of the valley with Pueblo Bonito and Chetro Ketl from the rim were worth the extra effort.

Next, we made an attempt to reach the San Antonio Hot Springs lookout on the rim so my Mom could soak, but the road was a mud bog and dozens of large trucks were out there cutting down christmas trees and rutting out the road. My dad suggested I should probably give up once the hitch was dragging through the mud. Just then a crew of 6 or more lifted trucks and jeeps came our way and I had to back all the way down the muddy road with an audience. It didn't go great and I let my dad help with the last 30 ft. So we cut our losses and camped off the road there in the wilderness just off NM-144. Dad whipped up a fire and we cooked dinner in the camper. That night it snowed about an inch. After admiring the snowy pines, I set to extracting the family from the Jemez wilderness and heading home. We originally planned to visit Bandelier, but with the snowy road, I figured it was better to avoid the road through Valles Caldera. Instead we visited the Jemez Springs Church and got lunch at The Range Cafe. It wasn't a completely successful trip, but a good test for the camper and fun mini-adventure with my folks.

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Moab Canyoneering Trip  
Saturday, November 5, 2016, 09:01 PM - Trips
Posted by Administrator
Jess and I joined a mostly AMRC crew in Moab for a weekend of Canyoneering. We joined Justin and Craig in Arches and started off the adventure with a warm up lap on U-Turn Canyon. I was relieved to see that Jess was a natural and hardly blinked when it came to steep cliffs or exposed rappels.

The following day, Arthur and Leigh joined our group for a trip through Pool Arch ("Rock of Ages") Canyon. The first rap down next to the arch is just spectacular! Then the barefoot obstacle course to get to the last couple rappel is pure fun. Oh and that last rap is pretty stellar for the view!

At that point the gang split up and Jess and I went off to do our own thing. We debated about what to do in Arches (hike, driving tour, canyon?) but settled on going to Elephant Butte - another technical route. Justin had warned me that the route-finding was tough - and it turned out he was right because I was left guessing a couple times before finding the first rap station. To get there required one awkward low 5th class move that left me thinking for a couple minutes. Once I was up, I put Jess on belay from the other side of the saddle and she made her way up with the rope. The first rap looked out on the fins of the Elephant Butte area, but required me to reclimb a little of the end to pull the rope. At this point, I convinced Jess to head up to the summit of Elephant Butte. It's only 5653 ft. but the the highest point in Arches National Park, so the views were stunning in all directions! Then we went back to retrieve our packs and realized we needed to head out a different valley - 15 minutes later we finally found the rappel station and were on our way back to the car through the Garden of Eden. We escaped the canyon just as the sun was getting low so the lighting was perfect with the dark storm front passing us to the northeast. I decided we had better take a sunset stroll through the Windows and we watched the sun drop over the horizon from a comfy seat at North Window Arch.

Back in camp, we cooked dinner and Jess won the hearts of everyone when she pulled out the s'mores. Lance carried on his usual jokes, and the Moab marathon crew joined the fireside party.

Our final Sunday morning, we finally got some sun! We decided with all the recent rain it would be too wet in Dragonfly, so we went to do Cameltoe Canyon. It was an interesting area north of the CO River at Gold Bar, but we didn't do the best job of route finding (I blame Justin), but eventually did get to a cool oasis-y little canyon with plenty of vegetation, medium-deep pools, and one moderate rapel. It ended up being a good length trek because we were able to have a group lunch and hit the road by 2pm.

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John Muir Trail and Death Valley 
Monday, September 12, 2016, 09:14 PM - Trips
Posted by Administrator
I linked up with my Dad for a backpacking trip from Mammoth Lakes to Tuolumne Meadows stretch of the JMT. We rented a car and cruised up to a little campsite at the Grandview Campground in Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest outside of Big Pine, CA. We arrived at about 10pm on a Saturday, so it was no surprise all the spot were taken. I worked my charm with one of the campers and we popped our tent up on the side of the meadow for a quick rest. The next morning, we headed into Mammoth Lakes and hiked the Sierra High Route from Crystal Lake TH to a red pumice cone and cliff face that overlooked all the lakes in the valley. Dad did great, even with the altitude - but I was carrying all the gear. We returned to town to finish our last minute shopping and have a flight at Mammoth Brewing--complete with a metal/rock band.

The following morning my Dad went to the ranger station extra early to make sure he was first in line for the JMT passes and we easily secured a pass to hike to Tuolumne for the next day. At the ski area hotel we met John, Andy, and Dave--all of whom were classmates at my Dad's high school in St. Louis and hiking the full JMT. After hotel room beer, my dad and I drove down to Red's Meadows to camp and hike around the Devil's Postpile area. While the photos of the national monument didn't impress me much, I did really enjoy checking out the postpile and seeing the basalt columns up close. They were formed when a lake of lava solidified in the valley.

The following morning, I dropped the car off at the ski area where our shuttle from Tuolumne would drop us off in 4 days, and shuttled back into Red's Meadow. The 5 of us tossed our packs on and headed into the Sierras. The 3 hiking veterans were in serious shape after 17 days on trail and they didn't waste time in out-climbing us. I hung back with my Dad and we slowly worked our way up to Trinity Lakes for lunch. My Dad was taking rest breaks every 10 minutes or so on the climb, so I moved his bear canister into my bag in exchange for the tent, which shaved about 5 lbs off his pack weight. We continued our haul up to Rosalie Lake for the night. Since my Dad was taking his time, I took the opportunity to talk with other hikers (and as my hiking colleagues noticed, I seemed to talk especially long with the solo female variety). We finally made the drop into camp at Rosalie Lake and set up camp overlooking the lake. Andy and Dave pulled out the fly rods and managed to snag a nice Rainbow Trout for dinner.

The following morning, the crew woke early and quickly packed up camp - you get fairly efficient after 18 days! We dropped into Shadow Lake and then crossed a pass to Garnet Lake. The crew of 3 left Dad and I straight-away again and it became clear that we wouldn't be hiking with them at all. I knew this bummed my Dad out because he was hoping to spend time with John. But I was there to keep my Dad company and we explored the Sierras at our own pace. We slowly climbed up another pass, by Ruby and Emerald Lakes, and rested at Thousand Island Lake for lunch. There wasn't much cover here so we hunkered down under a bush to eat sausage and cheese sandwiches, pistachios, and energy bars. Island Pass wasn't too bad, but down at Rush Creek Trail we expected to see the gang camped out--so when we didn't, my Dad struggled to keep going up toward Donohue. Then the rain rolled in. We layered up in rain gear and trudged uphill in hopes of finding our compatriots. After about an hour we did find the camp and my Dad got to drop his pack! We filtered water, setup the tent, cooked dinner, pulled out the whiskey, and before long, high spirits were returned to all.

The next day, we tackled Donohue Pass and Dad was in surprisingly strong form. After snapping a couple photos on top, we carefully moved down into Lyell Canyon. The trail dropped and dropped into the valley. The bear canisters still felt really heavy, so I suggested we eat lunch along the creek. With the hardest part over, we took our time cruising and watched the deer and chipmunks in the blue bird day. At the Ireland Lake turnoff, we found a note addressed to us from the other 3 guys. They were in a rush to finish off the trail and decided to push past our camp to Tuolumne that night. My Dad wasn't going to cover the last 5.5 miles so it was a sad we wouldn't share our last night on the trail with the crew. At least we scored a nice campsite in the valley where we could finished off the whiskey and eat a so-so dehydrated dinner with a delicious apple pie dessert. It was nice to have this quality time with Dad to talk about my career, plans for world domination, etc.

The following day we finished off the hike to Tuolumne Meadows in the morning sun. The thing to do apparently was to indulge on burgers and frosties at the Grill, so that's exactly what we did. Then went to Tenaya Lake to relax on the beach for a couple hours. From that vantage point, I could tell there was certainly a lot of climbing in the area and I was wishing I had my rack and a trad partner to go exploring. Maybe next time. Dad and I took the first shuttle back to Mammoth, helped few other JMT trekkers hitchhike to their condo, and then drove south to Taboose Creek Campground for the night. The next morning, we found a 60-year-old man heading to the highway - he bailed on the JMT after struggling with the altitude, so we gave him a lift down to Lone Pine where his truck was waiting. He vowed to go back and finish the trail next year. These older folks are definitely tougher than I am!

It's so rare that you can calibrate your altimeter with a beer.

Dad and I turned our sights East and drove into Death Valley. As we descended toward Stovepipe Wells the temperatures climbed from the 90s to ~110. We decided to take a hike in Mosaic Canyon, but when we weren't in the shade it was HOT, "but a dry heat." The canyon did have some nice polished marble slot canyon surfaces... that you could fry an egg on. We hiked the Salt Creek Trail (somehow a fish lives there, even though it was bone dry), checked out the Borax Works, and then found some shelter in the Furnace Creek Visitor Center. We ate lunch in the AC in the rental car because it was too hot to sit outside. On our way out of the park, we completed the Artists Drive, hiked to the Natural Bridge (at this point it was 117F!), and walked around Badwater (the lowest elevation in the US at -282 ft). I was thrilled to see the temperatures drop into the double digits as we exited the park - who goes to Death Valley in the middle of the summer?

We tried to get a spot to camp at McWilliams Campground by the Lee Canyon Ski Area, but it was full. Fortunately, Dad spotted a rustic camp area and we snagged a free spot nearby, right about (36.342202, -115.646307) if you're interested. In the morning, we did the Bristlecone hike around to the ski area, spent a couple hours cruising the Las Vegas Strip, and then I caught my flight back to the real world.

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Rainy bikepacking trip - Durango to Moab with SJHS 
Wednesday, August 10, 2016, 08:39 PM - Trips
Posted by Administrator
It was a rainy week we chose to ride from Durango to Moab this summer. The 7 day, 6 night hut-to-hut trip was spectacular but packed with rain and mud. The ride is 215 miles of singletrack and dirt roads across the high alpine San Juan to desert slickrock and supposedly 25% tougher than the Telluride route that I (mostly) did last year.

Day 1 the crew left from DMR on a Monday for Bolam Pass Hut. It was a challenging 3600' of climbing up to 11,400' at Bolam Pass with tough grades, but we made the distance before the afternoon rains rolled in and got some nice photos from the top of the pass of Lizard Head. Then it was on to the relaxing hut life away from electronic distractions. Jason and Briana cooked up a great pineapple curry curry for dinner.

Day 2 we climbed 3400' to Black Mesa Hut. We elected to do the singletrack alternate in the morning, which was fun but challenging with all the river crossings. I gently crashed in one of the creeks when I caught a submerged rock I wasn't expecting. We ripped wonderful singletrack all morning and found some wild strawberries to go with lunch. The weather held out for a while, but one the final climb to the hut, the skies opened up. It was miles of cold, wet riding and I was exhausted. Unfortunately, I got out ahead of the group and was forced to do my own navigation, which took longer than it should have because I was only using a map and not the GPS. In the end, Mike, Kendrick, and Scott caught me on the final climb that seemed to take forever and we soggily rolled up to the hut completely wiped out. We opened up the hut, made mac'n'cheese, drank a Dale's and passed out in my sleeping bag for an afternoon nap. The rain later broke and gave us a great rainbow and sunset up on the hill overlooking the Wilson massif.

Day 3 was much easier to get to Dry Creek Basin. We cruised it in less than 4 hours, took a great swim break at Groundhog Reservoir, and dried out in the sun down in the desert. That evening, the monsoon began about 4pm. It rained hard and would not stop until about 12:30 that night. We watched as the dirt turned to mud. Things weren't going to be pretty in the morning. On the bright side, as we were pinned down for the evening we wrote a great story in the journal about the local yeti and declared it the "people's choice" winner for the log book.

Day 4 we could barely make it the 50 feet to our bikes without packing inches of mud on our shoes. We walked our bikes out to the road, but even pushing my bike the drivetrain filled with mud as the tires coated in adobe mud. After a non-thorough cleaning, we headed down the gravel road and luckily didn't collect mud. We took the "less mud route" and managed to not get too stuck on the mostly flat ride to Wedding Bell Hut. The final stretch was muddy but it had dried enough that we managed to get through to the spectacular Wedding Bell Hut overlooking the Dolores River and canyon. We picked out a great spot on the rim and eat quesadillas and drank beer, and life was good, for a little while....

Day 5 was a nightmare. We woke to heavy rain and watched as the road turned to puddles and then rivers. By the time we had breakfast, washed the dishes, packed, and cleaned the hut I new things were going to be interesting. At first we managed to ride, but the mud slowly packed up on all of our bikes and by 2.3 miles into the ride everyone had ground to a stop--drive trains, brakes, and stanchions were completely coated. After a long debate and a few spotty phone calls, Jason worked out a shuttle for the day from Greg (a Paradox Valley farmer who we had planned to dine with that evening). We threw our bikes on our backs and walked the 2.3 miles back to Wedding Bell Hut. It was hard. Spirits were low. Fortunately, a couple hours later Greg arrived, we loaded 8 bikes on his pickup roof, and piled into the back of the bed. He barely made it out and we fishtailed through the mud for 90 minutes to make it back to civilization. At Greg and Marty's, we cleaned up, washed the bikes, and were served a scrumptious dinner of egg salad, greens dish, burgers, and pineapple upside-down cake. Everyone cheered up and we were ready to knock out the morning's climb.

Day 6 is the toughest. It was 5300' of climbing up into the La Sals to Geyser Pass Hut. We were lucky the temperatures were moderate and we all made good time up the hill. We ate at Buckeye Reservoir, took a few photos at the CO-UT state line, and then finished the final, punchy, demoralizing climb to the hut. The weather was nice that evening, so we settled into the cow pasture and watched the mountains, clouds, and drinks disappear into the night.

Day 7 is the big reward for the trip: the whole enchilada down into Moab (7500' of descent!). I felt strong and toughed out the climb to Burro Pass in a single push. I chatted with the female MTB guides and some campers (with goat sherpas!) at the top. Then we worked our way down Kokopelli and Porcupine into the desert heat and Moab. We grabbed dinner and a drink at the Moab Brewery and drove all the way back to burque.

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Crested Butte Bike Week 
Tuesday, June 28, 2016, 07:34 PM - Trips, Weekend Fun
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Spencer and I met Josiah and Briana mid-afternoon at the North Bank Campground to shuttle up to Doctor Park for a MTB ride. The weather didn't look too bad as we left and car at 3pm - just a few spotty clouds. ~1200' of climbing later we found ourself at the edge of a storm. There was a distant rumbling of thunder that seemed to be working our direction, so we didn't waste time and pushed up the ridge. It got worse, so we did a check to be sure everyone was still in for the ride. We were essentially at the summit of the climb so it seemed 50/50 for which way we headed down. We continued, but things worsened quickly. The cloud-to-cloud lightning changed directions and started striking near us. I started yelling out the distances to Spencer: "0.8 miles away," wait 10 seconds, "0.4 miles away," wait 3 seconds, "0.1 miles away," flash-bang. "Shit!!" Spencer stopped before the descent at the edge of the meadow. I made a hasty decision and decided the group should make a run for lower ground and screamed, "GO GO GO!!" And Spencer took off at spence-speed through the single track. It started to rain and hail on us and we were flying 25+ mph through a lightning storm. Crash-bang! It was right on top of us!! I have near ridden a bike with such extreme focus. A crash now could mean death! The trail got technical fast as we exited the meadow into the forest and I eventually lost Spencer. Around a couple tight switchbacks I felt comfortable stopping and waiting for Briana and Josiah to re-emerge while I finally donned my rain jacket. After 3 minutes I started to worry. After 5 the storm had lightened up a bit and I started re-climbing the trail to see what happened: mechanical, injury, lightning strike? Luckily a couple minutes later, they showed up and said that they had taken cover before entering the meadow, which Briana said that the San Juan Hut System Biker's Bible recommends. I said that my preference was to get off the ridge at all costs because splash currents exist if the lightning hits nearby trees - and on the ridge that was likely. At any rate, we were happy to be safe and enjoyed riding the mud all the way down Doctor Park through rough rock, smooth sand, and then techy sedimentary layers. Great ride except for the near-death experience. Briana and I huddled in the restroom in the cold rain while Spence and Josiah ran shuttle. We were cold but safe.

The house we VRBO'd was great: right on the main drag with easy access to everything in town. Karl, Rose, Tony, and Laura joined the crew later that evening. The next day we did a nice lap up Tony's (Upper Loop) to the ski area, Snodgrass, Lupine, and back on Slate River Rd because it looked like rain. By the time we were back at the house, the weather looked much better so I went out on my own to do lower loop trail up and around Budd Trail. A great day out with 28 miles with 2500' of climbing.

Back at the house, we were positioned right in front of the chainless race finish. Did I say that this house was perfectly located! Plenty of interesting characters, clothing choices, and "bike" mechanisms came ripping down the trail. The whole town came out to see these characters:


That night, we stayed up late playing Rock Band, billiards, shuffleboard, and darts while Mel, Bonnie, and Dave made the Friday night drive up.

Crested Butte is wonderfully bike friendly with racks everywhere and no one bothers to lock any of them up. It's great to take a cruise to the grocery store or to the bar and not worry about your bicycle.

In the morning, half the crew headed to the ski area to run downhill laps, but I decided to go with Rose and Karl to get some climbing and reduce my chances of another crash. Hit the ski area, climbed Westside to the top of the ski area, dropped Luge to some combination of other trails, Snod, Lupine, on to the awesome Gunsight Connector descent through tight aspens, and lower loop back to the house. After a shower and stretch, we grabbed a pizza dinner and danced the night away to Trout Steak Revival at the Crested Butte Music Festival. Once back, Spencer and I jumped in on the Bridges of the Butte 24-hour bike tour. We did a couple laps and talked Tony into doing one with us, and then talk Mel into riding with us for our last lap on the seat of Spencer's cruiser. The last lap includes a couple spontaneous bridge parties too. What a wild night!

On the way out of town, we shuttled another Doctor Park ride, but this time it was sunny and wonderful! Spencer, Josiah, Briana, and I jumped in the icy Taylor River to clean up for our nice dinner at Garlic Mike's. And then it was the long haul back to the Burque.

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Portland and South Sister 
Tuesday, June 14, 2016, 08:26 PM - Trips
Posted by Administrator
I had nearly two weeks in Portland for the PVSC conference and 1547 meeting. I knocked out my presentation and chairing duties by Weds, so that left plenty of time to eat donuts, check out a few of the brewpubs, and eat well. The conference dinner was at the Portland Timbers stadium too! There wasn't a game, but after a tour of Providence Park, they set up gambling stations for the solar nerds; I won at blackjack but lost at craps even with Jack's advice.

Originally, I was planning to come back to ABQ for the weekend between the business trips, but decided I'd cancel the flights when Kelley invited me to climb South Sister with her and her friend Allison. Pretty much all I brought on the "business" trip was a suit and a couple nice shirts/pants, so I made an REI run to rent camping equipment and get a jacket for the ascent. Kelley found some yaktrax at the scratch-and-dent sale in Bend for me, so I was ready for 5000' of climbing in tennis shoes and jeans!

Road tripping to Bend and beyond.

Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge.

Kelley, Allison, and I camped at Soda Creek Campground and my photovoltaic grid integration colleague, Brian, joined us in the morning for the hike. We weren't more than a half mile into the 6.2 mile hike before we hit the snow. I was very happy that I had the yaktrax and Allison was nice enough to loan me one of her poles. Allison had gone walk-about from her hotshot lawyer job in in New York City a couple months prior, bought an Outback, and set out on a year+ tour. She was hitting the west hard with nonstop trail running, climbing, and mountaineering adventures, so she zipped up the mountain. I did my best to keep up. With a summit of only 10,358 ft, it wasn't too tough. Kelley got nervous on the steep icy parts and Brian struggled with the altitude and cramping, but otherwise the climb went great in perfect conditions. I brought my uncle sam hat for the U.S. Copa America games, so I wore that on the summit pitch and much of the descent to try to get a few laughs. Plus it went well with my glacading trash bag diaper and backpack that read "rental". The team stopped off at the incredible Crux Fermentation Project in Bend for dinner and a drink. The city has a great vibe and it was fun to explore a little of it on a beautiful early summer weekend.

On the way back to Portland, I took the long way and visited Yaquina Head to see the tide pools and soak in the ocean ambience. The weather turned a little, but it was still a fun to play with anemones, urchins, and starfish.

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Bareboat Chartering Certification in San Diego 
Saturday, May 28, 2016, 11:02 AM - Trips
Posted by Administrator
After sailing in the BVI and Grenadines, I understand the allure of sailing to remote anchorages around the world. I constantly think about the seas in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Thailand, Australia, etc. The first step in making that dream true is to get a bareboat certification. In this case, I went with the American Sailing Association (ASA) and signed up for the ASA 103/104 class. To regain my touch on the tiller (or wheel), I went out early and sailed with Jason on Tuesday night, Weds, Thursday, and then took the class Fri-Sunday. 6 straight days on a boat! It was wonderful even with the May gray on the bay during the week.

Tuesday, Jason and I practiced picking up a mooring ball and anchoring by Shelter Island. On Weds, after getting sick Chama comfortable at the house, we biked down to the Marina. We sailed the 24' Newport Neptune to Peohe's Dock on Coronado for a big Greek dinner and then anchored in Glorietta Bay for the night. The following day we practiced man overboard drills and worked on the finer points of sail trim. As we were coming back to Shelter island we saw that the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier was coming into the bay, so we sailed out the channel to greet it. In our little sailboat we waved to the navy crew on the deck. Then we biked back up to Jason's house.

Friday, class was focused on motoring skills: prop walk, prop wash, backing into a slip, docking, spring (lining) off, standing turns, etc. Ironically, I did better backing into the slip than I did on docking maneuvers.

The following day, we practiced anchoring and then sailed up to Mission Bay. It was a fun sail in the ocean with ~5 ft swell. I got good chunk of time on wheel. At the end of the day we were coming into the anchorage at a very low tide, and the instructor, Ed, asked that I swing wide so that I could come up on our anchor spot from the downwind direction. I obliged and ran aground! Luckily we were at idle and I kicked it to neutral and then back into reverse and was able to get us off the muddy dredge bank. There are two types of sailors, those that have run aground and those that lie about it. Now I can choose which I would like to be. We anchored, took the ASA 103 test, and then setup the anchor watch. I ended up with the 3am-5am slot. Ugg. During my shift, I popped out of the v-berth hatch every 20 minutes to check our position and feel the rode. We were fine unless the winds shifted, so I monitored that closely.

In the morning, we took the ASA 104 test, which was far more difficult. I ace'd the 103 test, but I missed 6 out of 100 on the bareboat test, which was somewhat disappointing. We did have an A+ crew of 4 people, however: Ty was a Navy Doctor, Ben was retired coast guard, Jason was chief instructor for the Torrey Pines Sailing Club, and then there was me. Luckily, with a good crew, running drills is a lot easier. We all went through the MOB drills, hove-to, keefed the main, and sailed anywhere Ed told us to go. Overall, I was very pleased with the class because I came away feeling confident in my skills and I felt comfortable chartering a 35-40 ft boat with the right crew. Looks like this will need to happen soon!

To celebrate, Jason and I had a great seafood dinner at the C Level Lounge on Harbor Island. We toasted to our new sailing accreditations, and then I jumped on the last Southwest flight back to the desert.

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