Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Element of Snow

Yesterday probably ranks in as one of the hardest hikes I've ever done... Sadly. Some friends and I decided to go make an attempt on Mt. Sherman from the fourmile creek road. Snow drifts had covered parts of the road that caused us to stop short of the trail head by vehicle. GPS readings showed that we started at about 10,500 in elevation.
As always, I was well prepared for anything. I had my medical kit, big enough to treat a small mass casualty incident. My tent fly, poles, and ground pad, for a quick shelter should it be necessary, also included lots of utility cord to tie the thing down, as I was expecting high winds in the afternoon. I also had a complete change of clothes for all 3 layers I was wearing. On top of that, 4 liters of water, and my camp stove, fuel, and a pot to melt snow for water if we needed it. I probably had enough food to last 2-3 days as well. Add the snow shoes in to the mix when on my back, and my pack weighed in at 40 pounds. Why do I always do that to myself? I need to stop. 40 pounds for a day hike is ridiculous, even if you are preparing for the worst. My 5 year old son weighs less than that!
Anyway, we found a place to park after getting the Jeep un-stuck from a snow drift in the road, I put on my Gaiters, wool sweater, balaclava, and coat. Threw the pack on my back, and we headed up the road to the trail. It wasn't long till we figured out we did the right thing by parking where we did. I was soon post holing in the snow to mid calf. The Jeep would have never of made it through (at least not without a lift kit, and some much larger tires). After about 1/2 mile of pushing through this stuff, we got the bright idea of actually using the snow shoes we brought. I was getting really hot, sweating and beginning to feel my inner layers get a little damp. so it also seemed like a good time to shed all those layers I put on back at the jeep (sweating in cold weather is very dangerous, and can eventually cause hypothermia when you stop moving). The snow shoes made the going a lot better. However, after about another 3/4 of a mile, the road/trail became windblown and not much snow lay on it. Instead of taking off the snow shoes, we hiked uphill in the ditches, where some snow remained. Eventually we took a break and took of our snow shoes, for the remainder of the hike up. There were only a few areas that were deep with snow, that didn't warrant the time and effort it would take to put the shoes on and off again. Through all of that, I learned that snow bails would have been great to have for my trekking poles, as without them, they didn't provide a whole lot of support. Fortunately, the snow wasn't super deep, and extending them beyond my normal length seemed to do okay.

After about 4 hours of hiking, we made it here, to one of the old mining shacks, situated right around 13,000 feet. You can see the peak of Mt. Sherman in the background. I was finished. Every step forward/up with my pack yielded a wonderful burning sensation in just about every muscle in my legs. My back and shoulders were tired from carrying the load. The altitude had gotten to me. It wasn't that I was out of breath, but more that my body just couldn't get the oxygen it needed to my muscles, putting them in anaerobic respiration, for every step. So we stopped at this old mining shack (above) and ate our lunch. The rest was good, the food enjoyed, and the company most excellent. Despite all the work and pain to get to this spot, it all goes away when you turn to enjoy where you are at. Having had no expectations to reach the top of the mountain, I was glad to be where I was.
We sat on a small wooden plank, with the wind at our backs (along with the building) and the sun on our faces. One of my hiking partners (John, though they were both named John) had mentioned that he thinks that this is what the light at the end of the tunnel is like. I have to agree, I don't think its far off. The sun shining on us in the cool weather certainly didn't help negate that feeling.

After lunch, we turned, and looked at the peak ahead of us (above), looked at trail options, and considered the time. We all agreed that heading down back to the Jeep was in our best interest. I repacked my pack, slung it around to my back, and we started to head down.

The view was great, and it was quite a relief to be going down. There were a few spots we contemplated doing some glissades, but decided not to. Oh well. Carried the ace axe all the way up and down for nothing, except maybe the feeling of safety that I had the tool should I actually need it (much like the rest of the stuff in my pack). We eventually made it back to the snowy section of the trail and stubbornly pushed through it for a ways without snow shoes again. Becoming quickly exhausted, we put the snow shoes back on and continued out to the Jeep. I don't remember this section seeming so long on the way in. It seemed to just keep going and going. The extra weight of the shoes on our legs made every moment harder, but it was still easier than post holing. With much relief and about 6 miles of total hiking round trip, we made it back to the car and headed home.
This trip was the first time I've ever had a pair of snow shoes on my feet. I have to say, its pretty neat to be able to walk on the snow like that. I had rented a pair from a local outdoor shop. I have to say I was impressed with how easy they were to put on, especially compared to the brand my hiking friends had. Mine were made by Atlas and I would have to say if I were going to buy some, I'd probably get a set of these, after this experience. They seem to be on the pricey side, but I really liked how they worked. They fit well with my boots, were a snap to put on and take off, and seemed to support my weight, including my 40 pound pack, above the snow. Now all I need to do is keep up the exercise so that I can do this kind of thing again, and not feel so bad afterward. I suppose getting up in altitude to keep my body adjusted to it would help too.
On a side note, I have an interview with the alpine search and rescue this coming sunday, if I make it past that step, I'm sure they'll give me the opportunity to spend more time in the mountains :)

Monday, December 22, 2008

Home and Adjusting

Made it home from Christchurch last friday, the absolutely longest day I've ever had in my life. I did after all, land in Denver about 3 hours after I took off from Christchurch. It's nice to be home again, and even better to be on vacation from work until January 5th. I'm still trying to readjust to Mountain Time schedules, but I'm improving, should be better by Christmas :) I spent most of this day messing with all the pictures I took, and selecting some of my favorites for all of you to view. So please enjoy them, and have a very merry Christmas!

If you are interested in prints or anything, let me know. Feedback is always welcome as well!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Top 5 Restaurants in Christchurch, NZ

I've spent more time in Christchurch, NZ that I had originally intended to. As a result I've had the opportunity to sample several of the restaurants within walking distance of the Heritage Hotel, which is located on Cathedral Square, in down town Christchurch. Several of these restaurants certainly stand out in my mind as ones I would certainly love to return to, and a few that I have. Listed in no particular order.
  1. Octagon Live - This place, is far and above my favorite restaurant here. Likely mostly because of the atmosphere it provides. Don't get me wrong, the food here is great, but they have live music, to go with it. It's mostly in the form of either piano, organ, or guitar, with the occasional vocal accompaniment. The restaurant is setup in an old church building, and houses a 1400+ pipe organ that is older than the building is (by only a few years), which dates back to the mid/late 1800's. The service there is very good, but my American standards is certainly not speedy. In my opinion though, its not needed. You should go there expecting the experience, not to get in, eat a meal, and get out. Everyone is very friendly, and the host (whom I think is the owner) is very willing to share a story with you. It's certainly not a cheap meal, but I don't believe its unreasonable giving there's live musicians playing. Make reservations (bookings, as they say in NZ) ahead of time, is it pretty much seems, once the tables are filled, there's no hope of waiting for someone to finish their meal and leave. There's a lot more I could say about this place, but simply put... My favorite, a must if your in the area, especially with a significant other.
  2. Strawberry Fare - The name of this place gives away its specialty. Dessert! But it doesn't skimp on the main course either. I had my doubts when I first walked in. It seemed rather "diner-esque" in setup. Looks can be deceiving though. The menu here was top notch as well, offering a wide variety of dishes and drinks. Make sure to leave room for dessert though. I had a piece of chocolate cake that was soaked in raspberry syrup, with a chocolate frosting and a raspberry glaze on top of that. For those of you who know me, you can probably understand how much I enjoyed this. I might have to go back tonight, before I leave for good. Service was excellent. I would also recommend a booking here as well if you wish to have full service. The place quickly filled up with people, and there was a line when we left. The only drawback I see of this place, is it did get really crowded inside, and became quite loud. If you are looking for a quiet romantic evening, this probably isn't it. Get the dessert 'for takeaway' (that's how they say "to go" down here)
  3. Cook-n-With Gas - This place is like a little house they converted into a restaurant, and a top notch one at that. The food here was absolutely superb, and they had a very extensive spirit, beer, and wine list. The wait staff was always on the ball, despite how busy it seemed, and the atmosphere was nice. The "compartments" created by the rooms never have you feeling that the place is packed and busy, even though it was. There are plenty of accoutrement's on the walls to liven up the place and provide atmosphere as well. Bookings are also recommended for this place.
  4. Cafe Roma - My favorite place for breakfast (they only server breakfast and lunch). The restaurant seems kind of tucked away, and if you are walking next to the building you may not realize you are walking past a restaurant. Its up off street level a bit, but is on the first floor of the building, best I can tell. It required you to ascend some stairs, go through a very large set of wooden doors and hang a left to get to. Upon entering, you find yourself in what could have once been a sort of living room. Its not terribly large, and there is a fireplace against the far wall with some chairs and a couch around it for those there to just enjoy some coffee. There are also some tables cantilevered out of the windows for a couple to enjoy the view that overlooks the Avon river that flows through town. Wait staff are very friendly, food is served piping hot and soon after ordered, and is obviously made from very fresh ingredients. Every time I've gone here I've been asked if I have a booking, as if most people are expected to have one, but had never had to wait to get a seat.
  5. The Tap Room - This place was well enjoyed because of one style of dish in particular, that I've never run across before. They call them "stone grills." It's probably about an 8 inch square stone, maybe 1.5 - 2 inches thick that has been heated to some insanely hot temperature. You then get to choose the meat of your choice to put on it (I had Kangaroo and Wild boar). The dish comes out with the hunk of raw meat(s) sizzling away on the stone. Its up to you how you want your own meat cooked. I took the strategy of searing the whole thing, then cutting little slices off the big chunk and cooking them. It was a fun experience. This place seems to get packed during peak eating hours too, so I would either recommend showing up at opening time, or making a booking.
Runners up
  • Bailies - The only place I found that serves Kilkenny beer. If you've not had the opportunity to have some, and are in the area, I recommend stopping by for a pint.
  • Drexels - This place only serves breakfast, and you often need a booking to get in, especially during peak hours. The food excellent and well worth the price.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Home Stretch

Well, its Monday here in New Zealand, and back to work I go. I had to learn how the Christchurch Metro system works, so I could get transportation from the city center to the Antarctic Center at the airport. Its not to bad, and they have handy little RFID based "MetroCards" you can buy, and deposit cash on them as needed. The bus fares here are pretty cheap, at least with the exchange rate. It cost me a little over US$1 to take the bus here, which is probably about a 15 mile ride.
The flight back from McMurdo was pretty low key. The way the flight schedule got all jumbled up resulted in me getting bumped from my original flight on an LC-130, and I ended up catching the next flight out on a C-17, along with 17 others. It was kind of weird to be in this monstrous cargo plane with so few people on it. For cargo, we had a good sized drilling rig tied down to the floor, but that's about it. The flight was also 3.5 hours shorter this way too.
I've been enjoying the darkness that comes with the night time sky too. I never thought that 24 hours of sunshine would mess with me as much as it did, but I'm pretty certain it messed with my sleep while on the ice, simply because my body is responding so much better back in New Zealand again. I'm sure a nice big bed with no snoring roommates helps a lot too though.
So other than the news that I'm back in New Zealand, finishing up my work, I don't have a whole lot to report. Nothing plan
Publish Post
ned as far as sight seeing goes here. Mostly I'm just looking forward to getting home and not working. A lot of the tasking I have that provides a business justification for this trip, I don't really enjoy to much, and it wears on me, so it will be nice to wrap it up. I also have had some comments made to me that stating something along the lines of it seeming like I enjoyed my trip to the Antarctic peninsula more than I have to the South Pole... Truth be told, I probably did. I've sat and thought about my past 2 trips pretty seriously over the last few days and have tried to analyze the differences, some of them are subtle, some of them are not. There's a quote from a guy named Chris McCandless that has had some real meaning to me on this trip: "Happiness isn't real, unless it's shared." Despite being surrounded be people for most of the trip, sharing the experiences has been difficult at times. I'll just leave it at that.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

to fly, or not to fly...

My time has come to leave this place, and head back to Christchurch. Overall, I have to say that this place is pretty amazing. It's unique, harsh, and beautiful all at the same time. Outside the confines of 'Mac Town,' you can find yourself in a peaceful surrounding with refreshingly clean air, crisp blue skies (with no contrails), and a quietness to still your soul. Mountains (and volcanos) rise in the distance, and demonstrate thier majesty to all who view. the layering of clouds form various strata in the cold dry air. Winds almost always originate out of the south and have a cold to them that can penetrate the smallest of opening in fabric exposed to it. To have come here in the early 1900's as Scott and Amundsen had done most have been breath taking.
Life in town is a different story, muddy, wet streets leave me wishing for gaiters where I go, so as not to get my pant legs dirty. The "dirt" is ground volcanic rock that forms a dust that blows everywhere in the wind. With no ogranics present in it, abrasive and sharp, it's like a course rough sand running through your fingers. Think of those lava rocks you can buy to put in your gas grill... now just think of those rocks, in the sizes varrying from small stones to a fine dust. There's almost the constant drone of an engine running somewhere, vechicles moving people or equipment. Helicoptors inbound or outbound to a field camp, carying cargo beneath, science equipment, people, or both. The smell of burnt Jet fuel (JP-8) diesel and gasoline lingers low to the ground in the cold air. The streets are busiest during the day time, but night never really ever comes, with the sun circling overhead, making a complete cycle every 86,400 seconds. The oportunity to enjoy the outdoors can never be excused to the lack of light. Instead, its excused by the lack of energy.
The community here is tight, not perhaps in terms of the relational connectedness of all the inhabitants, but in terms of the quaters in which all 1200 of us live. Eating facilities are comunal, as are the bathrooms, depending on your housing situation. You are rooming with at least one other person, but potentially up to 5 others. There's a curse that lingers around station called "the Crud." With every new arrival of a plane and its contents, comes the introduction of a new Crud varient. It comes with runny noses, caughing, pains and general feelings of blah. Can one avoid it? Your only defense is good heigene. Wash your hands before you do anything, especially eating. Wash your hands after you do anything, especially when it involves handling surfaces that others have handled. But at the same time conserve water, its expensive here. Only 4 showers a week, but feel lucky, because at the South Pole, you only get 2, 4 minute showers a week.
The people are friendly, and willing to help, but you can't be shy. If you wish to isolate yourself from the rest of the world, you can do that here too. News and information must be sought after, should you wish to stay connected. Rules and Regulations from up high prohibit certian items and activities that are otherwise allowed in the states, but theres a strong "underground" community that knows how to get things done, you just have to ask the right people. Those people are usually those that have been around for a while. Is with the rest of the world, your success can depend a lot on "who or what you know."
So anyway, after all that, I'll return to what I was previously saying. Tomorrow I'm supposed to fly back. The end of my trip is starting to sound a lot like the beginning. The posibility of not actually getting on a plane tomorrow is significant. While it is apparently a rarity to see delays on this end, this time of year, Murphey has made herself known. A C-17 was supposed to fly out with passengers (PAX) today, and was going to be the last C-17 flight for a while). This meant we would be flying a slow, noisy flight back on an LC-130 tomorrow. I've heard the 8 hour flight in an LC-130 in the military style cargo seating is about anything but enjoyable. Well, turns out the C-17 had mechanical problems in Christchurch and never made it here. So, those C-17 PAX now have a higher priority than us to take our plane out of here. Which means we could be delayed. However, there is the posibility the C-17 gets fixed, and flys here tomorrow, and then we are on its return trip back to Christchurch, we just arrive later. The flight however would only be 5 hours long, be less packed full of people, and a bit quieter. So in the end, it could turn out for the better. Here's to hoping so.
Once I arrive in Christchurch, I'm to remain there until December 19th, when I finish out my flights in commercial jetliners, straight back to Denver (via Aukland and Los Angelas) The interesting thing is I will be landing on the same day I leave, thanks to crossing over the international date line again, despite flying through the night. Once there I get to figure out how I get home from the airport, as I really have not yet arranged anything, but that's fairly trivial. I'll be glad to be home a few days earlier than planned, and better yet, ready to enjoy the 2 weeks vacation I have scheduled through the holidays.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

same old...

Still alive down here at McMurdo base, finishing things up. Work is work. My after work activity involvement could certainly be more interesting. I've been having a really hard time sleeping lately though, which hasn't left me with much motivation to go do anything. You can rent cross country skis here for a few bucks a day, and go skiing around, but I just haven't had the energy (as I sit here yawning as I type).
I took a significant hike last Sunday, which was nice, but other than that, I haven't done a whole lot. I've added a few more pics to my McMurdo Album on Picasa, if you are interested. Currently, I'm scheduled to fly back to Christchurch on the 13th (this Saturday). Then I'm in Christchurch for another 6 days, as that's the earliest flight I can get out, since travel told us that the flight out on the 17th is full. I'm ready to come home, for various reasons I won't really dwell on here. Overall, this experience has certainly been eye opening. From a business perspective it has been useful, and will help me do my job better. From an experiential perspective, its really cool to see this "other world" and the types of things it has to offer. The science being performed down here is truely amazing, and I wish I could be a bigger part of it. Maybe someday I can.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

South Pole Pics

Well, here are a few pics of the South Pole that should give you some idea of what its like down there... I'm not sleeping well, and have been pretty exhausted this whole trip, and it feels like its really starting to catch up to me. Probably doesn't help that I hiked about 8 miles yesterday either. Oh well... Enjoy.

Friday, December 05, 2008

No where to go but North.

Its been a few days since I posted here, not entirely by choice, but somewhat so. Last Thursday I took an LC-130 flight 3 hours south to reach Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. The flight was pleasant and we see some interesting terrain from the air. Most of it was quite desolate though. Recent changes in orbiting satellites, more specifically, the de-orbiting of one has left the station with an approximate window if Internet connectivity down to about 10 hours every day. and almost 50% of that window is currently during most people's sleeping hours on station. On top of that, the station lives at 9,300 feet in elevation, however the atmosphere is thinner there than on the continental US at similar elevation, so the "real feel" there is close to 11,000 feet. After living in Denver for a year and traveling through the mountains, I usually don't have problems at such elevations, but it would seem that the time I spent at sea level on my way here has made my body unaccustomed to such elevation change in such a sort period of time. I opted not to take any diamox (Acetazolamide) to help with altitude when it was offered to me at McMurdo station, I don't really like the way it makes me feel (dexamethasone is my preferred drug, but hey, that stuff makes you feel good, diamox does not). Anyhow, what I'm getting at, is the fact that the altitude got to me, headache, nausea, lack of apatite, and not much motivation to do much of anything, include post here. But here's proof none the less that I was there:
Overall, the experience was good, and I would have to say that I wouldn't mind going back there. Though, if I had to pick what my favorite station is, it would have to be Palmer, which I visited last spring (northern hemisphere spring). The facility is pretty much brand new, just being dedicated last year, and some rooms still have that "new building smell." So just how cold is it down there you ask? Well, the temp usually hovered around -25 degrees F with a windchill right around -50 F. It was surprisingly not as bad as I imagined it, though I have to say winter down here must be pretty harsh. The air is EXTREMELY dry, at around 5% humidity. I don't think I've ever been so thirsty. Just talking to people for any period of time made my throat sore. The snow is fun. Its pretty hard, and it makes a hollow squeaky noise when you walk on it. If you pick it up with your hands and crush it, it runs out like sand when you open your hand up again. There's always some amount of ice/snow crystals flying around in the air from the winds. The terrain itself is awe inspiring. I've never seen so much of just "nothingness." Flat snow in every direction, the only variation in it is caused by the community immediately surrounding the area.
Community wise, there were 255 people at the South Pole doing research, or supporting it when I was there. Most of them lived in what is known as "summer camp" outside the main station. They are a bunch of little half dome buildings... pictures coming soon, they're still on my camera. The other half live in the station itself. I was lucky enough to get a room in the main station. The rooms there though are anything but roomy and spacious. I think I've seen walk in in closets with more room. There's a sauna, a gym, workout room, library, arts and crafts, and other things to do while there too. About all I did though was read, as I didn't have much ambition for anything else.
Today I returned back to McMurdo. Our time at the pole was cut short due to the delays in flights coming down here, and the need for the bed space at pole. It was a mixed blessing. It was nice to get into the plane and almost immediately have my headache go away once they pressurized the cabin. There's a lot more science stuff I wanted to see at pole that I never had the time or opportunity to go check out though. Oh well. Guess that's it for about now. I'll work on some more pics and stuff for you all to see soon.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

McMurdo Life

Well, life at McMurdo has given me a throw back to my college years, kind of. Many of my colleagues have described this place as a cross between a College campus and a mining town and I would have to agree. From what I understand, do to the fact that I am staying here for a relatively short period of time, I have been placed in a building houses people who are also in for similarly short periods. What this means is that my room is about 10'x30' has 6 beds, 1 desk, 2 night stands, and one closet/wardrobe thingy. There are currently 4 of us in this room, and any attempt to control the temperature in the room fails. Its crazy hot, and no, I cannot open the window (without breaking it anyway), and that would be wasteful of the fuel spent to heat the place.
It was time to go to bed last night, and I can't say that I was all that tired, so, I figured I would take advantage of the 24 hours of sunlight here, and go on a walk. Well, I guess after sitting in a dark plane and dark buildings all day, exposure to the sun created the wrong balance of chemicals in my blood to induce sleepiness. I was more awake than ever. Oh well, off to bed I went anyway, only to interrupted by one of my roommates sawing down the Amazon rain forest, and at the rate he was going, it should be about gone by now. It took me a while, but I finally remembered that my ear buds isolate outside noise, and I figured a nice come album might help me fall asleep. Seemed to do the trick for a while. The "shutters" for my window don't stay shut, so there was a good amount of light flowing into the room. Once I woke up and noticed that I had a hard time falling back asleep again, any beneficial sleep from that point on was questionable.
The food, while not that bad, is not all that great either. Its buffet style, a lot like we had in the Lottie Nelson Dining hall, for any of my college classmates reading this. Yup, all you can eat, though you really ought not to eat all that much of this if you value your health. I should cut them some slack though, I'm only coming to this conclusion after 4 meals, and breakfast really shouldn't count. Anyhow, I don't think it would be hard to gain weight here if you aren't careful.
Life outside of work seems active, though I haven't gotten involved in to much yet, there seems to be plenty of choices. There are 3 bars, a gym, bowling alley, tap dancing classes, martial arts classes, a band, hikes, tours, clubs, etc. Lots of stuff posted to do. You just have to be extrovert enough to make an effort to get involved. I think if you really wanted to draw inward here and not be noticed, that too is possible.
So with that, I'll leave a little slide show of some pictures... as I had mentioned before, I have been taking a lot more, but don't really want to post them until I've processed them to look the way I want, and I don't have that software with me.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

It's cold

Yep, I arrived on station today. It's impressive, and seemingly cold, but probably because I left 70+ degree weather. Its around 30 F here, not too bad considering I suppose. Pics coming soon. Just wanted to give a quick update. It's busy here, and there is a lot I have yet to figure out, and information isn't exactly forthcoming and obvious. After finding the proper building, and stuff, it was dinner time, and after dinner, I find myself writing this, and soon after this, the people who made "Planet Earth" for the discovery channel will be presenting some footage they are making for an Antarctic film. I figured that should be interesting. Hopefully I'll have something more meaningful to post tomorrow. I'm tired of traveling. Now I just have to figure out how to wake myself up in the morning to go to work (I forgot an alarm clock).

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Tourism on the Cheap

So, I've spent the last 3 days traveling the South Island. The first, a bus ride to Akaroa, secondly, a visit to a location where Lord of the Rings was filmed, and thirdly (yesterday) a Train ride over the southern Alps to Greymouth, with a one hour layover then the ride back. After spending cash on that, and the potential of possibly flying south today, I had nothing planned. I arrived back to the hotel last night hoping to find a letter under my door saying I would get to fly today, but alas, nothing. So spent the morning doing some laundry, and going to my favorite breakfast place; Cafe Roma. There are a few breakfast specialty stores around, and they are all REALLY good. And they are usually so busy that you need a "booking" to get a seat before the close in the early afternoon (a Booking Kiwi for Reservation, and "Takeway" is the same for "to go"). I managed to get in this morning with out a booking. Seems easier to do when you are by yourself, depending on how they have tables configured, or a bar to sit at.
After Brunch, I visited the Art Center, which is by the botanic gardens. Entry is free, and there are plenty of galleries on display, where you can buy pretty much everything you see. All types of craft are there, from Jewelry making, pottery, wood turning, weaving, painting, and photography. Very nice. I probably spent a good 4 hours walking around there looking at everything. On weekends they also have a local street market as well, which was nice. Lots different yummy food vendors to choose from. Egyptian, Greek, Japanese, Thai, Korean, and lots more. Within the Art center buildings is also an exhibit called "Rutherford's Den." For those of you who don't know who this man is, he is the discoverer of Nuclear Energy. That exhibit is free, and is very well done (Though Donation's are appreciated). You get to see some of the equipment he used to work with, as well as the actually room where many of his experiments have been done. There is also a well preserved lecture hall from when the building used to be part of the University of Canterbury.
After that, I walked across the street to the Canterbury Museum. Again, this was free, donations appreciated. It was way bigger than I expected. It has exhibits that explain the history of Christchurch, all the way to geologic history of the area, dinosaurs, Egyptian, Chinese, Japanese, Antarctic, and modern issues. All very impressive and well worth a visit. If you are ever in the area, I recommend stopping buy these places before you leave.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Visit to Middle Earth

So the roller coaster of "We're flying... no we aren't, yes we are, no we aren't" continues. About an hour before scheduled departure from the hotel last night (11:45 pm) I received yet another call saying the flight has been delayed by an unknown amount of time, and "we'll be in touch." Oh Joy! So I turned my alarm off, and tried to go to sleep. I had pumped myself full of caffeine, by consuming large amounts of dark chocolate, 3 cups of tea, and a tall espresso during dinner. So between that, and the mounting frustrations of all of this, I have to say, that was about the worst night of sleep I have had since I arrived.
That morning I received word that we were going to be scheduled to leave Monday morning. Great. Its Friday here, and now I've got to find stuff to do. Soooo, my colleague whom I have been traveling with, and I booked ourselves on a Lord of the Rings tour. This is my preferred way of viewing the scenery of any particular country, but hey, hassle free transportation, lunch was provided, and if they were good, a decent commentary to go along. Why not. Overall, I'm quite satisfied with what you get for the price. The only drawback, is I didn't get to stop at every place I would have liked to take a photo. The vehicle (see picture) we were in was off road capable (3 axles, 6 wheels total) and it had a snorkel to go through some deeper water, which we did (about 2 feet deep), and was pretty fun. Yeah, I know, its not crazy serious off roading, but the things designed to hold about 20 people, what do you expect?
Also, while we were at it, I decided to take a train ride over the Southern Alps to the west coast as well. That's tomorrow. I hope the weather was as great as it was today. Amazing. I haven't decided if I would ever want to live here or not, but it certainly wouldn't be the worst place to live on the planet. I'd honestly say its one of the best, of the places I've been so far. It just seems remote to me. Perhaps I'd think differently if more than just my nuclear family came with me.
So I'll leave you with a few photos from the Akoroa trip from yesterday, and some Edoras photos from today. Just a sampling though. I don't care for the editing choices I get in Picasa, and I'm used to Adobe Lightroom, so all my final picture posts won't be until I get home.

On the way in, it was a cool ,windy, overcast morning.

By Afternoon the clouds started to break up. This was in the main little harbor area.

On the trip back, we stopped for a sunnier picture.

The vehicle we rode in.
First siting of the hill the set was built in. (center rightish)
Just a nice shot. Actually, just left off the shot is the background to Helms Deep. You'll have to wait to see. All of the "dust" is just that. It's "rock flour" on the river beds kicked up by the winds this area is well known for. Wind gusts up to 110 mph are common. When I was there, it blew my glasses off my face.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

On my way.

So, it turns out that I was scheduled to fly out this morning, but somehow got bumped by a few Italians who had "more urgent things to tend to" on the ice. That meant that I had yet another day to blow on the south island here. So I celebrated my Thanksgiving touring in Akaroa. It was about 1.5 hour tour bus ride from Christchurch. Overall, very nice place. Apparently its popular for its marine tours. You can take wildlife boat rides, rides to go swim with dolphins, or a sailboat ride where they'll let you help sail. Being the land lover that I am, I opted to take a nice hike up out of the caldera, to see what I could see. Was a quite enjoyable day really. I have some nice pictures that I'll post once I get down to the ice. I'm scheduled to leave the hotel tonight at 0045. The actually plane is scheduled to lift its wheels around 0400. Looks like its finally happening. Just wanted to give a quick update. I wish you all a happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

2 photos

The pictures, as previously mentioned:
This is the main church in the center square of Christchurch. I wasn't happy about the vendor cart, so hopefully it will be gone at some point with an equally nice sky on my way back.

Here's a picture of the 2 main types of planes that fly to the ice. In the foreground is an LC-130. These are the main mode of transportation between McMurdo station and South Pole. In the background is a C-17, and is what I hope to be on tomorrow morning, on my way to McMurdo.

For Best results, wash 3 times?

Yep... delayed 24 hours more. Crazy. Its going to become difficult to actually get the work done I was sent down there to do if this keeps up. On the flip side, I am getting work done in New Zealand that I was scheduled to do on my way back up, so maybe it will even out. Who knows. I think I've got some decent pictures of the church at the center of Christchurch. Haven't looked at them yet. But if they are decent I'll post them in a little while.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Wash, rinse, repeat

Flight south delayed another 24 hours.... :-/

Sunday, November 23, 2008

No Flight for Me... or anyone else.

I had my bags all packed, everything sorted, and organized for how I would need it. Carefully setup my "boomerang bag" with an extra days worth of clothing, and toiletries. Set my alarm for 4:50 AM. That should be just enough time to get up, take a quick shower, grab my things, and head down to the lobby to catch the 5:15 shuttle to the airport. If we were to boomerang, which means after we take off, it's been determined we can't land in Antarctica, we turn around and head back, we would be given our boomerang bag. All other checked luggage is kept palletized for up to four days. I was plenty tired and fell asleep quickly around 10:00 PM last night, only to be rudely awakened by a man with an Asian accent at 4:30 AM. Glancing at the clock before answering the phone, I almost immediately came to the conclusion that this phone call could not be good news. Either the flight was delayed, or something was wrong with the time on my clock, and I overslept. I assumed my first thoughts were more likely than the latter, and I was correct. Barely awake enough for my brain to process the heavily accented English coming from the man on the other end of the phone, I acknowledged what he had to say, hung up and turned off my alarm. The flight has been delayed 24 hours due to bad weather in Antarctica. I was to report to the CDC at 9:00 AM for further instructions, so, now here I sit, trying to figure out how to spend my day. I have work to do, and should probably do that.

Basically, wash, rinse, repeat for tomorrow morning, hopefully with a different outcome that results me sitting on a plane, trying to pass time by reading and listening to some tunes.

On another front, I have to say the food here is much more satisfying than it was in Punta Arenas, Chile. Lots of Asian around, especially Thai and Indian, but that doesn't really surprise me. Last night I got to eat at a place called "The Stonegrill." It was pretty neat. You select the meat you want. Mine happened to be Kangaroo, because I live trying new things, and adding another meat to my growing list of things I've tried is fun. Anyhow, the bring out a wicked hot 6x6 inch square, and probably 1.5 inch thick stone on a plate that's been heated to some searing hot temperature, with the chunks of raw meat on it. You then get to slice and cook the meat to your liking on the stone. It was fun, and pretty tasty. Overall, though, I can't say Kangaroo is my favorite (Elk is), but its not bad. It's a red meat without a very strong flavor, but was certainly moist and tender, as long is its kept to the rarer side of done. The pieces I cooked longer seemed tougher. So now I quest to find something to do for another day. I have to go get some Single Malt for some friends down on the ice, so that will take up some time, but certainly not all day. I've got some work I need to do anyway. Anyhow, just wanted to give a quick update, since most of you were probably expecting me to have some kind of "ice story" today. Sorry to disappoint.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Early Flight

I've just gone through clothing issue here at the CDC (Clothing Distribution Center), in Christchurch. The CDC building here houses the main US presence in New Zealand for the United States Antarctic program. I contains travel offices, logistical office, a post office, and all the gear that people deploying to the ICE get. I was impressed with the size of the building. It also seems relatively new, and is certainly in a lot better shape than the warehouse down in Punta Arenas, Chile that provides a similar job function for those going down to the peninsula. After getting all our gear, we had to try it on, and make sure everything was functioning properly (zippers, etc). Everything seemed fine to me. We were then briefed on how things work and when to get here etc. I have to report back here at 6:00 AM, get all weighed in, get a boarding pass and all that jazz, and then we take off. If all goes well, we won't boomerang and turn back.

Internet availability here in Christchurch (at least the legal way) is largely a for profit enterprise. It's quite expensive at the hotel. You can pay for a 2 hour connection and be limited to 30 MB of data transfer, our you can select a 24 hour option, which is a flat rate, and an additional charge per MB, with no cap. There are numerous internet cafes around too. I find it annoying to have to pay for an internet connection though, where its so freely available at most places in the US, at least that I frequent. Perhaps its just my American culture showing. Looking back at the places I've been, the hotel in Chile I stayed at offered free internet. However, the hotel in Amsterdam had a flat per day charge. The place I stayed at, in Germany was so small and tiny, and old seeming, I don't think it would have been capable of providing an internet connection. There was now wireless signal penetrating its walls either. There were internet cafes there as well. So I wonder what the general consensus is out in the world... Generally, do you have to pay to use the internet, or are more and more businesses, hotels, and restaurants providing free access to paying customers?

Sorry to not have any pictures up. My intentions are to just kinda survive until I get to the ice, and then start posting pictures of things there. When I get back off ice, and spend more time in Christchurch, I'll post more pictures then. Hopefully I'll get some good ones. The more and more I think about it, the more I kind of convince myself that doing some stupid touristy "Lord of the Rings" tour offered by a touring company sounds appealing. So I'll probably do that, and hopefully grab some nice pictures. Gotta justify the expense of paying for it somehow. So hopefully the next time I write, I'll have some initial "ice pictures" for you, and have my feet on Antarctic soil.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I lost a day somewhere.

Well, I have safely arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand. It's weird to have taken off on Thursday night, traveled for a total of about 15-16 hours and land where its Saturday. I'm missing a day somewhere. At least I'll get it back when I fly home, kind of.
It's overcast, and probably in the mid 60's here, and sprinkling occasionally. The flights, well, were flights. 13 hours stuck in economy isn't my idea of a great time. However, I've had a lot worse. Qantas airlines has a pretty sweet setup. Every seat had its own little 6" tv screen in the seat back in front, and in the arm rest was a removable (corded) remote control that controlled the video on demand system. There were a myriad of movies to choose from, as well, as a bunch of television programs. The remote control also had game pad style controls on it, and you could play old 16-bit gaming system quality games. So between that, my book, and trying to get some sleep, I managed to say fairly occupied. The seat configuration was in a 2-4-2 setup too, and I had the isle seat of the outside row. The only think to be aware of... If you ever fly into Auckland and make a domestic connection, be prepared to walk. The domestic terminal is a separate building and what seems like a good half mile path between the two. My connection was far enough apart time wise, that I didn't have a problem, it just took a bit to figure out we had to walk to another terminal.
Flying from Auckland to Christchurch was nice. I somehow managed to get booked in a first class seat. To bad the trip wasn't longer. Total flight time was about an hour. Try and get a seat looking west, as you get a nice view of the mountains. My first impressions of the place is its kinda like a Green Denver. Christchuch is on flat land, with big mountains off in the distance. But its obvious they actually get rain here. I visited the botanic gardens here to. I can't believe the size of some of the trees there. I took a bunch of pictures but probably won't upload them until tomorrow. My hotel internet connection is currently for 2 hours, and capped at 30 MB of data transfer, so I need to use wisely. (I should have composed this before getting online. Oh well.)
Tomorrow we go over to the USAP building and get all of our ECW gear (Extreme Cold Weather) and then on Monday (Sunday, in the US) we fly out. I guess that's all I have to report for now, and I've a bunch of e-mail to sort through. Cheers!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

California, first impressions

Well, my short time in California is about up. My first thoughts of the state aren't anything great...
  1. I'm surprised its not greener. I was expecting something more like Georgia I guess, but it seems more like Denver, with Palm trees. I suspect I'd have to go further north for things to "green up." That does explain the wildfires though.
  2. Yes, the traffic around LA is absolutely as bad is they say it is.
  3. Are the houses here really worth what the asking prices are? They sure don't look it.
  4. It's the end of November, and temps are in the high 60's.... but it was in the high 60's when I left Denver too. I suspect they are much more stable here though
  5. I'm reminded that the beach really does not do anything for me. Don't care for the feel of sand in my toes, or the sticky feeling the air leaves on my skin. The water didn't seem all that warm either.
  6. Houses on cliffs are probably not the safest things to live in.
  7. The people seem nice enough around here
  8. I do find the geography of the area appealing, mountains around the horizon.
  9. Eucalyptus trees are neat looking, but I imagine they aren't a native species.
Tomorrow we'll drive back down the pacific coast highway to LA. Should be much better this time, since it will be daylight. The drive north was simply nerve wracking. I don't care for driving in unfamiliar land at night, and the lanes were narrow at points. It was also disappointing to not have any kind of view. The plane takes off for for New Zealand at 8 PM pacific time, and then I'm stuck on it for 13 hours. Yipee! I heard that Qantas flights are pretty nice though. We'll see.

Well, in closing, I'll leave you with a few photos I took at the beach in Port Hueneme during sunset tonight

Friday, November 14, 2008

T minus 4 days

So all my flights and hotels have been booked through my companies travel department, travel documents collected, and itineraries confirmed with the people I am meeting at various locations to conduct business.  Next Tuesday I start my journey to highest, driest, coldest, windiest, most isolated place on earth, the South Pole.  Some may argue if it is truly all those things,  I can neither confirm or deny it.  Its a large banner in my office, and it sounds good.  I think the trip overall should be fun, though busy.  Tuesday my co-worker and I leave Denver to go to LA.  From there we'll rent a car and drive to Port Hueneme, CA.  I was hoping to drive up the pacific coast highway and get some nice views and photos, but I think its going to be dark by the time I get my luggage, etc.  Maybe I'll luck out and get some nice pacific sunsets.
Thursday we then drive back to LA, and begin our long flight to the southern hemisphere.  We'll arrive at Auckland, NZ and then take a connection to the south island, and the city of Christchurch.  The day after we arrive, we'll be issued all of our ECW (extreme cold weather) gear, and the day after that, we board a C-17 for the flight to McMurdo Station, Ross Island, Antarctica.  Provided all goes well, we won't "boomerang" back to NZ.  That typically happens if conditions become to difficult to land at McMurdo.  Once there we'll spend a little over a week doing some work, and then prepare for our flight to the South Pole on an LC-130.   Spend just under a week there, and then begin the journey back to Christchurch.  Once we're back at Christchurch, we spend a few days going over their computer systems.  Currently I'm scheduled to arrive home on Christmas eve, but I hope to be able to catch an earlier flight home.
I'm seriously procrastinating on the packing side of things.  I've decided that I'm just going to pack one of my hiking backpacks.  The tricky part is having to pack clothes for New Zealand (it's their summer) and also for the cold of Antarctica.  Typically temps at McMurdo are from the 20-40 degree F range, but I should expect highs to be -20 at South Pole, and that's being optimistic.   At the time of this writing its currently -37.5 F with a windchill of -59.5 F.  You can get updates for South Pole weather here, or here.  Currently, McMurdo has a temp of 17.6 F.  Weather info here, and here.  I've been thinking of bringing some of my hiking gear and trying to go for a quick overnight hiking trip while in New Zealand.  We'll see how things work out.  It will likely depend on how much I pack.
I'll be Internet connected for most of the trip, though South Pole only has a 9 hour period of satellite connectivity each day.  I should be able to make frequent updates here though, and I hope to post a bunch of pictures to share with everyone.  Unlike my last trip though, I won't be renting a big huge expensive lens to take with me.  I don't think the photo opportunities will present themselves like they did at Palmer station.  I also need a good excuse to practice getting better with the equipment that I have, rather being frustrated not having the equipment I want.
So a little update on the Alpine Rescue Team thing, I went to one of the 2 prospective member meetings last Monday.  The other meeting is being held while I'm deployed.  31 new people attended that meeting alone.  Wow!  There's only 8-12 slots open and they haven't even had the other meeting yet.  Makes me kind of nervous.  I've been going to trainings, and trying to meet people and show interest, ever since I found out about them.  Hopefully that relationship building will help out a little.  I turned my application in (I was the first one), and will have first pick of interview times.  First come first serve.  Turns out that the person in charge of the perspective member stuff actually spent a season in Antarctica as well.  Maybe that will help too :)  They aren't necessarily looking for people with all kinds of mad skills, but more for people who have the time and are willing to give it to the team.  So I filled out the application trying to emphasize that my past experience have shown my commitment to those teams, and that I'm willing to provide the same kind of commitment to this one too.  We'll see.  Interviews will be January 11-13th.
So with that, it's likely that the next time I post, I'll be in California, so until then, cheers!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Feeling Inspired

I don't have a whole lot to report.  Well, maybe I do, the more I think about it.  Got a promotion at work last week.  Not bad almost exactly a year to date at this new job, and things are working out well.  I enjoy the people I work with the most.  Doing Federal Government work certainly has its drawbacks, but there's a lot to be said about working with a bunch of intelligent people.  That was the hardest part about leaving my previous job, and really the only thing I miss from it.  That's likely to be the hardest thing about this job, should that day come.  Going to Antarctica on occasion is pretty sweet too, I must admit.  Though, if Geoffrey were older, I would seriously consider spending a season down there, especially if I could get Jess a job there too.

So I've now officially been in Colorado for a year now.  We arrived a year ago, to the day.  Looking back, I'm glad we made the decision to come out.  This place is everything I've thought it could be, and more.  Probably the biggest part of my life that I left back in Pennsylvania was the Fire Department and the Urban Search and Rescue Team.  I had a lot of time and energy invested in that, and I miss the service.  Much of the Volunteer fire companies around here involve a serious time commitment, which usually involves staffing the station.  Something I just don't want to commit to around here, especially living so far away from a station.  The area that I live in now is staffed by a career department.  With that in mind, I have begun looking elsewhere, locally to apply some of the knowledge I've gained.  I ran across the Alpine Rescue Team.  It's something I've wanted to become a member of, but wasn't sure if I could until I moved more into the "mountains."  After visiting one of their training session, it seems like it may be more of a possibility than I thought.  Only problem is they seem to have the opposite problem facing most volunteer companies in Pennsylvania; too much interest.  As a way to combat that, they only open up to new members once every 2 years, and from the 30+ applicants, select 8-12 people.  Everyone gets interviewed, and then you go through a "training course."  I look forward to it, should I be accepted.

On a somewhat "Alpine" related topic, tomorrow and Tuesday are the final days of the Altitude Mountain Sickness study I am involved in.  Talking with the staff there, I found out that I'll be locked in the chamber with Climber and Mountaineer Pete Takeda.  I will admit that before I found out about this, I didn't really know who they guy was.  I recall the name vaguely, probably from articles I've read here and there.  Well, as you can see from his website, he's well published, and his most recent has one some awards.  I figured since I was going to spend 12+ hours in a small chamber with him, I'd read his book and have something to talk about with him.  

As far as the book goes, I'd give it two thumbs up.  I don't read much, especially "stories," fiction or non.  Most of the stuff I read are often technical books related to the computing industry.  This book has inspired me to do otherwise.  I truly enjoyed it.  So much so that I went out and bought another(similar) book at the bookstore tonight.  The reviews of Mr. Takeda's book, An Eye at the Top of the world, are accurate.  It is well written, and keeps you locked into his story. It's hard to believe that the people went as far as placing nuclear powered device on top of some of the worlds tallest mountains.  Maybe its hindsight, but it just doesn't seem to intelligent to me.   After reading his story, I look forward to spending some time with him, though I'm not certain its anything he may enjoy talking about, we'll see.  The story has really inspired me to want to peruse some more technical mountaineering skills though.  Its just a matter of finding people to go with, as its certainly not something to do alone.  Also involves a little more gear acquisition too.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Noisy Varmit

Speaking of wildlife... We had another visitor last night. It would seem that the racoon's are feeling territorial over our yard (more than likely, our compost bin). We were woken by an amazingly noisy ruckus. You would have thought there was some part dog, part rabbit creature being subjected to some sort of medieval torture device in our backyard or something. Jess and I scurried out of bed to see what was up and spotted this one in our tree. Now what would be cool is if we could attract some mountain lions to eat these guys, that would actually be worth getting up over :) Question then is what would eat the mountain lion? I dunno why she swallowed the fly, perhaps she'll die.

Needless to say, my picture shooting skills aren't that great in the early hours of the morning. I didn't even think to grab the tripod that was 5 feet away from me. Oh well. He wasn't sitting all that still anyway. Not bad for a .6 second handheld exposure though f/1.8 ISO 1600

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Suburban Elk

Well, I have to say, the fall sure does bring about some wonderful weather here in Colorado. Nice cool nights, perfect for sleeping, with crisp mornings that don't offer much incentive for getting out of bed in the morning. By afternoon though the temperature is near perfect, coupled with the wonderful sun shiny weather that the state is known for. Fall has always been my favorite time of year. It's cooling down in the mountains, and the peaks are starting to become snow covered, which I have a wonderful view of from my office window at work. In fact, 2 local ski resorts have already opened, but only one slope on each so far. Talking to others that have lived here longer than I, soon we'll see some of the other crazy weather Colorado is known for. Unbelievably radical swings in temperature... It's in the mid 70's here today, and they're calling for mid 40's the middle of the week, then a swing back up to the 70's again. Variety is the spice of life I guess.

On another note, and also the reason for the title of this post. The fall weather has brought on a flurry of wild life activity in our area. When I first moved here last year, I had mentioned observing quite a variety of wildlife as well. Well, nature does not disappoint. We were over at a friends house last night, who happens to live across the street from our local park. This lead to the opportunity to witness an elk in an area I would have never suspected one to come. Seems this guy likes to chew his cud in the local ball park.

After running home (literally), and grabbing the camera, I managed to get these shots of him. Turns out he wasn't to afraid of me either. I was probably standing about 15 feet away from him at one point (with a fence between me and him). That was close enough for me. I suspect he wasn't lucky enough to win himself a harem this season. Someone else said he was walking around with a bum leg too. Still, pretty wild that I live close enough to the mountains that these things are around. Several of my co-workers who live further in the mountains have some nice photos to show off of the wildlife they get to see. Let's just hope the cars around here drive with enough caution to not make a mess of things.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


So we took a trip up to Rocky Mountain National Park again this weekend. The leaves are beginning to turn down here in the front range, so I figured that a lot of leaves up at higher elevation must be getting close to peak. I had this planned for at least a week and was quite excited to get back up in the mountains. I've been limited to 7000 foot maximum elevation due to the clinical study I am in. Last Friday was my last session until next year, so I could get to higher elevations now. Of course since I had this planned, the weather forecast wasn't all the great. It was supposed to rain late in the day, with accumulating snow at night in the high country. I decided I wanted to go anyway. I'd just have to pay attention to the cloud activity.

We arrived at the park around 10:30 AM. I had chosen a trial to hike on the western side, since I've been in Colorado now for almost a year and was yet to make it over the continental divide. (Crazy huh?) Well, trail ridge road, and old fall river road were both open. I was in luck. These roads usually close down sometime in October because the road conditions become so bad. I don't blame them The road up is pretty steep and twisty turney. I can see why the close it down. Old Fall River road is dirt, and unidirectional (up only). My wife made the comment that she never intends of driving up that road. I thought it was great. There were several areas that were quite narrow with a significant exposure (drop off) down the side of the mountain, without any kind of barrier preventing you from going over. Anyhow, below is one of the views from Old Fall River road, of the valley. It was pretty much at the base of road, not very high up.
Also, before we started to ascend the road up over the divide, we made a quick "nature break" While my son was doing his thing in the privy, a couple of other photogs (with mighty big lenses and tripods, I must add) spotted this little squirrel gnawing away on a bunch of pine cones. I guess it was fattening itself up for the winter. I pulled out my camera with my measly lens (yes, I had lens envy) and managed to snap this shot. Not to bad for being extended out to 300mm and hand held with no image stabilization, if I do say so myself.

We finally got to the trail head around noon, ate lunch in the car, then headed off up the trail. It was 4.4 miles to the ultimate destination (a lake). I knew this late in the day, we would never make it, but it would be nice just to get out anyway. Below is a picture of a small stand of Aspen that has turned for the season. This picture doesn't really do these trees any justice. They seem to range from an orangy red color all the way to an amazingly vibrant yellow. Almost as if they were luminescent, generating their own light. Several times, walking through the forest, you would spot some aspen through the trees, and they were so vibrant, it was almost as if a ray of sunshine was shining right down on them, even though the sky was overcast.

A little further down the trail, we came across a nice stream. Of course, Geoffrey had to play in the rocks and in the water, etc. He seems to like getting his picture taken, as long as its on his terms.

One of the good things about overcast days in the forest, is you can stop down your lens and get a decently long exposure without having to add filters. I always enjoy taking pictures of water and trying to get that nice flowy, fluid look. I was pretty happy with this shot.

About halfway up the trail, I spoted some mountains in the distance that I was able to see earlier. I always like to track terrain in the distance to use as a reference for my location. The cloud deck dropping down on them. Not a good sign when you want to stay dry. So we turned around and headed back down the trail towards our car. Along the way we spotted this Elk cow grazing on some vegetation. She wasn't to really willing to move, but after slowly approaching here and making some noise she moved for us.

Turns out where she moved to, was with the rest of her harem, protected by this here bull. It was kind of cool the way he followed up through the trees as we were hiking to make sure we weren't going to go after any of his property. That's one guy I would not want to tangle with.

As we were walking about it started to rain lightly, so we called it a day and drove home. It was nice to say that I've now seen water that flows to the pacific instead the Atlantic. In fact, that stream I took a picture of above, is part of the head waters that becomes the mighty Colorado River. Hope you enjoy the pictures. Don't forget you can always click on them to see bigger versions.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Time for a bigger Lens!

So just when I was beginning to come to grips with my camera equipment, what it can do, what it can't, and what I can['t] afford, this guy comes and plops down on my neighbors roof and start munching on what I believe to be a fuzzy rabbit.

Taken with my Canon EF 100-300mm f/4.0-5.6 fully extended to 300mm, which is a Canon XTi equivelant of 480mm. 1/3 sec exposure at ISO 200. The tripod and remote trigger where an absolute must. After much tweaking in Adobe Lightroom, this is about the best I can come up with. The chomatic aboritions were absolutely aweful. I suppose the overcast dusk sky didn't help though. I wanted to expose enough to bring out the color in the bird, which resulted in a crazy bright sky, which in turn make the aboritions worse. Oh well. I'm just really glad that I live in an area where photo opportunities like these present themselves, and of course wanted to share with all of you. I probably took about 70+ photos of him sitting there, more than half were junk due to him moving around and my slow shutter speed. I didn't want to boost the ISO any more since I know I'd be blowing up the photo, and was trying to keep noise to a minimum. Perhaps I'll process a few more pics a little later and put them up on picasa for you to view.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Writers Block?

I know, its been some time since I posted to this blog. Okay its been a long time, almost two months. I don't really have many excuses. Mostly I just haven't had a lot to say. Life has been a lot of the same, go to work during the week, relax on the weekends. Cycling has been sliding, and I haven't ridden to work in a while. Mostly due to the shortening of daylight hours I think. My body has a hard time getting up before the sun does. I can't say I enjoy ridding in the dark either. I have, however, finally acquired a mountain bike though. I've gone on 5 rides thus far, and can ?proudly? say that I've drawn blood on every single one of them. Amusingly, when I ride with friends they tell me that if you don't fall at least once, you aren't riding hard enough. Well, I've got that covered. Mountain biking is worlds harder than I had ever imagined it being. Mostly due to loose rocks, and terrain so steep, its hard to keep the front wheel on the ground. I'm getting the hang of it though, and slowly but surely getting better. My last ride was the first time I didn't actually go over my handlebars. LOL.

Of interesting note though, I have managed to enroll myself in an Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) study. My first "trial" occurs at the end of this week. It consists of a baseline study at local altitude, and then I get to spend 14+ hours in a pressure chamber simulating the atmospheric equivalent of 16,000 feet. I already know that I get sick at altitudes of 14,000 feet from the time I spent at Long's Peak earlier this summer. I wouldn't call it severe, but it was certainly noticeable, so we'll see what adding another 2,000 feet does to me. There are 3 different sessions of this, that include things like MRI's and bike pedaling, and cognitive testing. Each time I'll also take either a medication used to combat the symptoms of AMS or a placebo. Only the prescribing Dr. will know which (the people running the tests will not). This is the first study I've ever been in, but I find the topic pretty cool, as well as the stuff the use for the tests. I've already been in for an initial screening, which involved a VO2 max test. I've always wanted one of those, but not really willing to pay $200 to have one done at a sports med place. I should hopefully find out the results when I go in later this weeks. The person administering it seemed impressed, so I guess I was at least above average.

In other news, I'm scheduled to visit Antarctica again later this fall. Unfortunately, I won't be able to spend Thanksgiving with my family as my current deployment dates have me leaving November 18th and returning December 21st. This time I'll be traveling to LA, California, and then driving to Port Hueneme, where a fellow co-worker and I will be evaluating system at our small office there. Almost all cargo destined for "the ice" (as we like to say) pretty much goes through the port. Hopefully I'll get to drive up route 1 (pacific coast highway) to get there, provided time allows. After spending a day there, we then take the long flight down to Australia/New Zealand, where final destination will be Christchurch, NZ. We'll spend some time there, getting gear issued and recovering from jet leg, before we board a C-17 for the flight to McMurdo Station. If the weather is good, we'll land, otherwise we 'boomerang' back to Christchurch and try again later. Once at McMurdo we'll spend time looking at the systems there, and then take a flight on an LC-130 to South Pole station. Spend a few days there, and then make the journey back to Christchurch. Unfortunately, it sounds like we'll also be taking an LC-130 from McMurdo back to Christchurch. I've heard its a bit miserable due to loud noise and the much longer (~2x) duration of the flight. Oh well. Once back in Christchurch well spend some time looking at the computer systems there, and I hope, taking in some of the sights of the south island as well. After all that, I get to come home in time for Christmas with the family.

So that's pretty much been going on for the last 2 months. I hope to come up with some good things to post about in the future, but no guarantees. I imagine the next thing you have to look forward to is find out how I react to 16,000 feet of altitude. I was thinking of bringing my video camera, and recording how messed up I get. We'll see. ;)

Friday, July 11, 2008

No Pain, no Gain.

Lots of pain, and lots of gain (in elevation), let's hope there's some fitness gains in there too.

Somehow I got it in my head that it looked like it should be fun to bike up Mt. Evans. I think the important part is picking your starting location. Initially I had illusions of grandeur that it would be really cool to start from my house. That changed when I drove the family up Mt. Evans last week. The round trip would have been well over 100 miles, let alone the first half of the trip taking me from about 5800 feet in elevation all the way up to 14,150+ feet. I can safely say that that's not going to happen. Probably not ever, after today's experience. If it does happen, you can also look forward to seeing me in some televised domestic Cat 1 /Pro Tour race somewhere. Either that, or I'm retired and do nothing but bike all over the place and am in the best shape of my life.

I had decided on starting somewhere around Evergreen, CO:

View Larger Map

The grade didn't seem to bad in the car, averaging between 3-7 percent, and 32 miles to the top of the mountain... seemed doable in my head at least. 32 miles couldn't be that bad, and overall, I'd get a nice metric century ride in this summer.

The ride to echo mountain lake wasn't all that bad. Not very much traffic, cool morning, seemed to be in the low 70's, not a cloud in the sky. The no cloud part would be a slight problem, as I forgot to put on or bring any sun screen when I left this morning. At 14,000 feet, you have 40% less atmosphere to block those evil UV rays. I did bring some arm warmers for the descent so I could cover up a little. I still got burned a bit on the top of my legs, and my arms toasted up a little after I got back down and took off the warmers, but all in all, its quite minor. Lesson learned.

Anyhow, at Echo Lake (18 miles from the start, and about 2+ hours later) I queued up with the cars and some other cyclists going up. There's are $3 fee if you plan on stopping anywhere along the way, if you just want to drive/ride up and then turn around and go back down without getting out of your car or off your bike, its free. (Note, its a $10 fee for cars, $3 for motorcycles). I paid the fee, since at this point I already knew once I'd made it to the top, if I made it, I'd want to take a rest. The climb up the road started out well, and I just paced myself, and tried to keep the mindset of the "little engine that could." I was anticipating some pain, and significant respiratory problems but I was up for it. I was in for a surprise though. I really expected to be huffing it in the thin atmosphere, but it was different. I had no problem keeping my breathing and HR under control, but eventually it just felt like my quads where on fire, or someone was injecting acid directly into them. It was so hard to turn them over, and eventually got to a point where it felt like if I would stop, they would seize up and not move again... Ow!

To top it all off, the road up the mountain just seems to keep going, and keep going, and keep going. You can see the top from what's probably 2/3rds the way up. It doesn't look to far away, but never seems to get closer. You'll round a switchback only to be presented with yet another ascent up a long road with a turn way off in the distance. Ugggg. I was so close now. I couldn't give up, as much as I wanted to. I must only be 2-3 more turns I told myself (about 8 times). Finally turned the last round and I saw the parking lot and observatory I was so familiar with. Yay.

Oh, almost forgot to mention. I was talking about doing this at work earlier in the week (and trying to find people to suffer with me). Well, one of my co-workers decided to come up too (in his car). And was sure to find me suffering up the way and point out how nice his engine powered iron horse was working. Thanks Rob! I eventually made it up, and saw Rob coming down from the small foot path that leads up about 50 feet to the top where the USGS marker is, as I was leaving.

I didn't spend much time on the top. It was cold, as expected, and I didn't want to cramp up. So I stretched out the muscles a little, tried to eat my cliff bar, put on my arm warmers and left. At this point I could barely stand up. It wasn't a pretty sight (probably quite comical actually). The ride down pretty much sucked, in my opinion. And as far as I'm concerned, the biggest reason for going up is for the opportunity to go back down. Going up the mountain at 4-7 mph isn't bad and the cracks and bumps in the road aren't really noticeable above the pain emanating from my quadriceps. Going down however was a different story. At 20+ mph, every bump and crack seemed to jar my aching body as I tried to keep my muscles tense enough to support my body above the bike, so as to let bike go easily over them. The wind was also atrocious in spots cooling me beyond comfort. It was only motivation to try and get down faster so I could rest at echo lake, in thicker, warmer air.

I finally made it. Took a good rest, bought some Gatorade at the little shop / restaurant there, stretched some more and tried to prepare myself for the last 18 miles to the car. From Echo Lake, I had to go back up hill a bit and over squaw pass again. The climb was not all that significant in length, so I was able to suffer through it pretty well. Also at the lower elevation my quads weren't burning so much either. I figured the "extra" oxygen and lower altitude was able to buffer out some of the lactic acid that I had built up at higher elevations. I was quite hot at this point though, so I pulled over and took off the arm warmers.

Cruising down the rest of the way was pretty fun. The main road is in much better condition, and where there were bumps and pot holes, someone had outlined them with orange paint so they were easy to spot. Cruising down the curves at 30 miles an hour was a blast. This was what I was waiting for. I guess I got a little to lax towards the end though. About 2-3 miles out from my car, on one of the last turns I crashed. I was slowing for the hairpin when I caught some cinders just before entering the turn, while I was breaking. My back wheel locked up and started to slide right. I let off the rear brake and steered left to correct and catch myself, but at this point I was coming into the turn hot, and at the wrong trajectory. Into the loose cinder burm I went, trying to stop without locking up the front and not smash into the wall in front of me (at least it wasn't a drop off.) I managed to hit a deep section of cinders and my front end stopped abruptly sending me over the bars and off to the left a little. Managed a 3 point landing (my elbow, hip and knee) with minor scrapes and skin removal. I was shaken a little, but not to bad. I was quickly back up and back in the rhythm. The intersection at which my car was parked approached quickly. I've not been so happy to make it back to the car in quite a long time.

You can see most of the details of my ride here at motionbased. I had some problems with the cyclocomputer turning off when jolted hard by a bump (am looking into sending it in for repairs, as its getting worse) and as usual, the HR strap on my body when its windy and I'm cold gives bad readings.

Will I do this again? I don't know. Probably not by myself. Some details of the ride:

Length: 64 miles
Total time: 7 hours
Moving time: 5.5 hours (probably higher when you add in the moments my computer shut itself off)
Total Elevation gain: 9,070 feet (most of this over the first 32 miles... ouch)
Average Heart rate: 160 bpm

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Catch Up

It sure seems like a long time since I've posted anything here, not quite a month. Mostly I've just been doing the same routine, work, eat, sleep, etc. Life is good. Parenting is difficult. Work is work. Nothing new really. I did however manage to go on a backpacking trip with a friend from Pennsylvania, and his friend. We spent 4 days and 3 nights hiking around Rocky Mountain National Park, the highlight of which was climbing Long's Peak, my first time above 14,000 feet in altitude.

The above Picture is Long's peak from Boulderfield campsite, the morning of our summit. You can see the weather was perfect. It's quite an amazing experience being up that high, and yes, I certainly could tell there is less oxygen up there... In fact mild symptoms of altitude sickness set in for me on the second day. I had a nagging headache that was there enough to make itself known, and by the time we came down off the peak, I had no desire to eat lunch. It was time to hike down to the next camp anyway, lower altitudes fixed all that.

Before the backpacking trip, the family and I drove up to Cheyenne, WY to check out the Sierra trading post brick and mortar store. Its pretty nice, prices are good, as always, but the selection lacked compared to the online offerings. On the drive up we saw our first wild Antelope playing in the fields, but alas, no roaming buffalo's Bison. The trip also reminded me that I'm not cut out to live anywhere between Denver and the Mississippi River. The plains just do nothing for me. I think I would go crazy without mountains, and at least some vegetation.

Cheyenne, itself wasn't all that exciting either... we drove around a little bit. I didn't see anything to exciting, and the place seemed kind of vacant. Some areas more well kept than others. Given my impression of Wyoming so far, its hard to believe that Yellowstone is in this state... but then again, you'd have the same impression, seeing eastern Colorado too.

So that's what's going on around here... Was feeling bad about not posting in a long while, and wanted to share the pics from my recent backpacking trip. Enjoy.

From RMNP Backpacking
"The Trough" It's steeper than it looks.