Monday, July 27, 2009

Week 4 A Dash to Portland July 24th

So last weeks adventure was about getting back in touch at least partially with my more mainstream side. This weeks however is much more me, both the situation and activities made for a great day! If there is anything better than a gallivant across a state, it is the same but with the strict deadline of a flight at the end.

So here is the situation. Eliza and I disembark from our week-long cruise at 8:30 am. Our flight does not depart till 10pm, but faced with the option of dragging all our luggage around as we see more of Seattle we decide to taxi down to SeaTac and see if we can catch a couple seats on stand-by and get home early.

Of course there are none, and now we are faced with 13 hours in the airport. Sounds even worse than hauling our luggage around. But we have any idea. 10 minutes later we have checked our luggage and minus 60 bucks are now sitting in a luxurious Hyundai Accent that we can call our own for the next 13 hours.

Eliza and our getaway car

It is amazing the sense of freedom a car gives you. Our world went from the size of the airport one minute, and suddenly we could span several states or even countries if we wanted to. There is something so powerful about the American vehicle system. Now I am just as much of an environmental hippie as the next guy, and truly believe our system is way out of wack and something drastic must be done to correct it. Addressing this situation is something I hope to spend some time working on in the future. However something we as American nailed is that when you step in a car and 1000 of miles of relatively inexpensive interstate lay before you its hard not to feel the freedom, the sense of space we have.

Now in an event many months prior, akin to Joseph Smith happening upon his Golden Tablets, a document arrived at our household and Eliza found it gleaming in all its glory on the front porch. This document may have been masquerading as a mere NY Times travel section but No! here indeed lay the road to the promised land and Eliza's eyes had never seen anything so beautiful. It read... " and the path to enlightenment and eternal happiness lies west, way west in a humble city called... Portland"

And so we found ourselves months later. With ample transportation. With 13 hours to kill. And even in adjacent states! The time had come for a pilgrimage.

220 miles later and quite peckish we grab a coffee then pull into Bunk sandwich shop in the brooklyn-esque neighborhood (think other side of the river and small shops). Billed as the "tastiest breakfast sandwich ever" we had high hopes and were not disappointed. We met the owner who after introducing us to his sandwich artiste Javier described the naming of the joint to be after a character from the distinctly Baltimore show The Wire. Sated and happy we aimlessly drive around town, noting the cleanliness of the city.

Now one thing must be said. Eliza is pretty darn convinced that this is the promised land. Not that I am unconvinced, just that havent been fully convinced yet. But certainly the people are nice. The city is the right size. The location while not perfect, is pretty darn close to many of the things i love to do. Lets just say im open to the argument.

One last drive through the alphabet district, which is like a bigger Hampden, and I convince Eliza that I need to get out and see the countryside a bit. The pacific NW is known for its volcanoes and we at random pick one (Mt St. Helens) and start driving. Its now about 3:00 pm and as Eliza sits contentedly in the passenger seat I try and cover up the clock.

We drive through Cougar, which is alas seriously devoid of cougars; feline and sumptuous varieties alike, and head up to Windy Ridge. Among the funny things you learn about someone when you live and vacation together are their habits in a car. I drive slow on highways and fast on twisty roads in the mountains, which in turn puts Eliza to sleep (carcolepsy) and makes her nauseous respectively. The road to the Windy Ridge lookout 16 miles is by no means tame, and as I race up the hill I contemplate the alternate paths which lie ahead. Eliza sick in the car, us missing our plane home, both occurring simultaneously... I slow down a bit.

The happy couple

When told that area around Mt St Helens looked like a moonscape. President Carter responded that "the moon looks more like a golf course compared to what's up there." Even now nearly 30 years later destruction abounds and the desolate landscape shows what nearly 1 billion cubic meters of mountain can do to a landscape. Seeing this and haven driven around Yellowstone which could do something of the same but 1 million times as bad gives me the chills.

Note that from this view looking SW you can see the North side of the mountain is completely blown away. Oh yeah and it used to be 1300 feet taller

Obligatory hdr pano on at Windy Ridge.

We snap some shots, and get back in the car to head back down. It is 6:30. Flight leaves in 3 and half hours, we are 160 miles away 4000 feet up and a long long way from a fast road. I had spied a shortcut road on the map and found it on the way down. Eliza points out the no cars sign, and the 4WD only sign, which I promptly ignore. Pretty quickly i come to the realization that in every adventure where you have pushed things to the limit, and while the limit is what you came out here to find, bursting through that bubble and going over the edge is not where you want to find yourself. Whether its a whirlwind tour of Oregon and Washington, or a 2000 foot rock climb, ending up on the wrong side of your abilities to deal with the situation gets you in trouble... and fast.

I turn around, knowing that in fact that that moment was what I was looking for all day. The 500 miles of driving, stopping 15 minutes here 30 minutes there was so I could reach that point on that road.

3 hours later we waltz through security and find our seats on our plane with at least 4 minutes to spare.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Week 3: Alaska July 17-24

Sometimes an adventure is not one of pushing the boundaries, but instead pushing my boundaries back towards the middle.

Not that I am some sort of extremo crazy guy living on the fringes. I have, rather successfully, found a place where i can feel sufficiently apart from the day to day humdrum but also take part in mainstream life.

However at times I can recognize that there are things I miss about the middle and strangely enough my recent trip to Alaska showed me some of these.

While a trip to Alaska may seem like a strange time to find some normalcy, what I really did was take a cruise to Alaska. What better opportunity to be average than when as a captive audience aboard and all you can eat relaxing extravaganza.

Appreciating the origins of a global monopoly (and some tasty coffee)

Mountains (appreciated from afar) would be a staple of this trip. Though most arent terribly tall (4000 feet or so) they sure do get to that elevation in a hurry. It would be hard to live in Seattle and not want to climb this monster (Rainer at 14410)

Formal Nights with the Fam. Having dinner everynite at the same table with the same people was oddly soothing.

Lounging on the Deck

Cultural Awareness.. a visit to the now deposed Governor of Alaska. There was even a clock counting down how many days left she had to make a difference. It said 505 days.... how about 1!!!

Sightseeing at the Mindenhall Glacier

Hanging out with the family, playing some cut-throat monopoly.

Local Fishing Culture.

Long Walks on a Pier in Canada

Of course it wasn't all eating and enjoying the on-ship entertainment. As I am wont to do... i managed to find a few things to do outside in the extraordinarily beautiful landscape of SE Alaska.

Hiking up 4000 foot Mt Gatineau from Downtown Juneau. In the rain, at 1500 feet elevation gain per mile.

Eliza and I enjoying some sea-kayaking

It rains 250 days a year here and this summer was no different.

Glacier Bay in Hypercolor. An hdr taken from the back of the ship.

The tidewater Margerie glacier runs 15 miles back to Mt Fairweather at 15000 feet.
It rises a greater distance in a smaller amount of linear mountains than the Himalayas.

Hiking above Ketchican. Where we met a a sage of a man. In perfect shape, flying gloat planes in the summer and running aid organizations in South America in the winter.

All in all a great trip. Nice to experience some wonderful things usually outside of my day to day, and also try and work the system and make the most of our limited times in an amazing environment.

Week 2: New Friends and Old Friends July 11-12

It may seem at times that I go on these adventures selfishly. Certainly even to myself I wonder whether i am in this just for myself. This weekends adventure proves the contrary.

Starts as any normal weekend, a trip to the Gunks.

Drive to NYC to meet some of Eliza's college buddies for dinner. 5 minutes of driving through NYC and i am reminded that I like persons... but the general populace on the other hand not too high on my list.

Luckily at dinner I manage to be both friendly and talkative albeit on tequila greased tracks.

The next morning Eliza and I drive to the Gunks to meet up with some older friends for me and new for her. Nathan and Bomber (of Squamish fame) have taken a sojourn up from Asheville to experience some of our Northeast Rock, and brought his girlfriend Nicole to boot.

Bomber seals his place as the second cutest dog in the Universe.

Great day with ascents of Middle Earth (doing the finish which i never have before), Absurdland and Three Pines.

Eliza about to go for a ride on Absurdland

Climbing photo tip: To make a 5.8 look like a 5.13, just get on a rope right next to the climb and shoot away with as wide a lens as you can muster.

Nicole cranking through the crux

Eliza split to go see some friends back in NYC while Nathan and Nicole and I stayed for another day.

Second day Nathan made a nice ascent of Wasp, and then we climbed a combination of Moondance and Sundance at the end of the Trapps.

Nathan at the ledge about to dance.

Of course a note from my closest friend.

Not finished yet I go meet Eliza and her bestie Addie down in Philadelphia. Everyone concurs that Philadelphia is way closer than Kentucky.

The last friend experience of the weekend however was not the kindest, and worst the "gift" kept on giving the whole next week. At final count I had acquired 47 chigger bites from my time in the Gunks.

Moral of the story is just to make sure that the friends you pick are not parasitic, acid-injecting vermin and you will be fine.

50 weeks to go!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Week 1: Expectations, July 4th

Apparently I am better at going on adventures than writing about them. Hope to catch up soon.

When posting about my road trip, i was mostly concerned with preserving my memory of the events that transpired. As such it often became a roll call of... climbed this .... saw this beautiful thing... blah blah blah. Great as a log of what I have done... not so great for trying to explore what is going on in my head.

This time I want to strike a better balance. Sure ill give the rundown of what I did, but it will not be the focus.

I am a hypocrite.

I am so scared of dying, and yet I climb 1000 foot rocks as my hobby. I love helping people, but i am one of the most selfish people i know. I have always known this and have always struggled to reconcile my contradicting views.

This is a story exploring just a little of that.

Occasionally after many weeks of not getting out, my plans start to escalate. Im planning a nice hike in the woods. Ends up no one can go so it turns into a solo trip. I decide to climb instead. All of a sudden, what was a hiking trip with some friends is now a solo 2 day wall climb 500 miles from our house.

Usually when this happens my pictures start looking like these...

Burnt to a crisp in Peshashtin

and of course the 1000 yard stare

While certainly not easy or relaxing these adventures are some of my favorite memories, and certainly a cathartic experience wiping the day to day drudgery away.

So the plan had formed in my mind. Eliza was not going to be back till friday afternoon, so I could take the three day weekend and drive to NC. There i would attempt Glass Menagerie a 900 foot route up the steepest granite wall on the East Coast. Though now a free climb (at 5.13a!) Glass Menagerie is a classic wall climb at 5.8 A2+, with tons of exposure and some exciting hook moves.

This promised to be a real adventure... Basically a very full schedule of driving and climbing and hauling, exciting climbing, and exciting head space. Living on the hairy edge. My head felt good and I was ready to go.

Then things changed. Eliza changed her flight and was going to be home early enough for us to do a full weekend. Then we were going to bring Phil our Boston Terrier, then I had a commitment to see my sister briefly, then we had to get to annapolis to drop off a phone.

All of a sudden my plans had changed significantly. And as i sat in traffic taking 30 minutes to drive a block in downtown Annapolis on a holiday weekend, i will admit that I was quite angry.

My goal lately is to recognize these points and take a step back. To think about the decision rather than just blindly follow my impulse. The question of course is one of priorities... what is more important, a weekend by myself, or a weekend with Eliza. But this isnt a question of better. Both are great options for a weekend in the woods, so it is more a question of timing.

Really the hardest part was to adjust my expectations. I think my head is like a rocket, slow to get started but hard to adjust once on a course, and it feels like it takes herculean efforts at times to re-adjust.

In any case we had a lovely weekend, and really pushed Phil to his limits.

Certainly packed alot into a weekend... First practicing self rescue at Elizabeth Furnace in VA, then a hike in WV on Spruce Knob, then back to MD for hiking near Thurmont and crabs!

Phil still looking perky as we drive to West Virginia

Eliza just starting on our 14 mile hike of the High Meadows trail on the back side of Spruce Knob. Note camping gear.

Halfway through at the High Meadows. Despite lugging out camping gear we would easily finish this in one day. Go check out the incredibly detailed site about his hike at Hiking Upward Also a great source for other hikes in the area.

Not finished yet, we go do some hiking and bouldering at the place that started it all for me. Wolf Rock at Catoctin Mountain Park. A bouldering traverse of the rock is a wonderfully long piece of climbing for MD.

Nearly 20 miles of hiking and Phil is toast.

Week 1 done! Only 51 more to go.

One Year Later

From May until September of 2008 I took a trip across the country; alone, in a questionable vehicle, and with little plan on where I would be going. 5 months later I returned from the most amazing experience of my life.

The beginning...

The end?

Eliza and I happened to be climbing with Jeff and Monica at Cooper Rock exactly one year from the day i left for my trip. We camped 4 sites from where i camped that first night.

I was overwhelmed by the feeling that while this trip had been amazing. I hadn't redefined myself as i thought I would. But i feel this mountain of potential energy the trip has given me... I just haven't used it yet.

To that end, this year I will do something a little different. I can not justify another 5 month trip so soon. And regardless I must learn to live with the world.

So instead I will make sure I can have an adventure... every week... for a whole year. Maybe I can put some of my experiences to use.