Saturday, July 29, 2006

Our hero continues his impressions of his trip west...


My first conscious observation of this phenomenon occurred on top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire. Mount Washington is the tallest mountain in the northeast - home to some of the worst weather in North America (including the highest wind gust ever recorded on Earth). It is also home to, among other things, a railroad, a road, and a gift shop (the buildings are literally chained to the ground using battleship chains - see previous comment regarding wind gusts).

It is difficult to describe the feeling one gets after walking for miles, ascending several thousand feet from the valley floor while carrying a 35 pound pack and finding at the top of the mountain people wearing flip flops, jeans, sun-visors, and deoderant. Also some of them carry purses, small children, and/or gameboys. There's a reason thru-hikers moon the Cog Railroad that helps bring these people to the top, and it's not just the smoke or the whistle (both of which carry for miles).

Yosemite Valley suffers a similar fate, although the feeling is muted somewhat by the fact that Yosemite is so large that we had to drive ourselves (it's hard to get indignant about others when you yourself have just stepped from an air conditioned vehicle). It certainly felt crowded, though, especially after the relative solitude of the Ansel Adams Wilderness.

It's a little more difficult to get frustrated with the tourists in Yosemite than the ones on top of Mount Washington. Some of them, yes, it's easy to get irritated with the ones who leave hot dogs in their cars and then act surprised when the bears pry the doors off. Many of Yosemite's visitors, however, do have to camp while they're there, or at least fake it with RV's. Also, Yosemite is just so beautiful you WANT other people to see it so they'll begin to understand why wilderness conservation is so important. This is the place, after all, that inspired the whole concept (thank you John Muir and Abraham Lincoln). So I don't really mind the flip-flops there. Besides, you can't get to the REALLY cool places in flip flops anyway.


It is virtually impossible to take an ugly picture in Yosemite. Tourists serve as the only real threat to aesthetic and they'd have to be pretty darn ugly to mess it up. On the other hand, it is also very difficult to take a satisfying picture - one that captures a true feel of "being there." Ansel Adams came close but even he could not adequately reproduce in two dimensions the impact of this place.

I am no Ansel Adams, nor, for that matter, was I using Ansel Adam's camera. I do, however, have some nice pictures (I took 173, it's hard NOT to end up with at least one or two decent ones that way). If you're interested in seeing any of them, let me know and I'll share what I've got. (I'll also try to actually post one or two in the midst of these columns once I get home to upload them - considering how long it took me to get this entry up, though, you probably should not hold your breath).


My Dad, my brother, my uncle, and I all seem to think alike. We tended to spread out as we traveled (thinking alike is one thing, moving alike is something else) and many times over the course of our journey, one pair (usually my brother and my uncle were in the lead) would pass something interesting and comment on it, only to hear the pair behind them make the same comment a few minutes later. Part of that is family, and part is the essence of the place (ask nicely sometime and I'll tell you what I mean by THAT, but not here).

Also, when it came time to get souvenirs, we all bought the same shirt. That actually might be less a comment on the similarity of our taste and more an indication of the similarity of our financial outlook. That particular shirt was the cheapest shirt in the store. It was also one of the cooler shirts, so maybe it was taste. It was probably both.

Regardless of the reason, three of us ended up with the shirt independently and the fourth got it after seeing what one of the others had chosen. We were so amused that we decided to play "tourist family" and all wore the shirt on our last day. It was partly for our own amusement, but mostly an attempt to embarass my cousin. We showed up at her door wearing them and bearing one for her, too.


A fantastic trip. I heartily recommend all of it. Even if you don't like hiking, you will find much to enjoy and appreciate in Yosemite Valley. If you do like hiking, definitely visit the valley, but also make sure you get out and away from it at some point, too. You will not regret the trip.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Yay, new posts! I'm not providing the excuses, just the new posts... backdated - so you know even MORE new posts are on the way (and, at least in the case of this post and the two that follow, the dates are accurate, they really were written when I say they were, just not posted until now)


For some time now I have not been within reach of "the internet." Nor have I been within reach of "electricity" or even "mattresses." I have, however, been within reach of bears. Fortunately they were kind enough not to exercise that option. The mosquitoes were not so considerate.

To clarify, I spent last week in the Sierra Nevadas. More specifically I spent several days in the Ansel Adams Wilderness (no tourists) and several days in and around Yosemite Valley (tourists) with my Dad, brother, and uncle. My cousin was supposed to join us, but she ran out of vacation and has heartless bosses (marketing, if you must know) so she had to be left behind. There probably would have been fewer fart jokes if she had been along, but maybe not. In any case, we missed having her there, but she made up for it by giving us a tour of San Francisco at the end of the trip.

It was a busy week and any one activity would take more words (than you would care to read) for me to even begin to describe. So I'll do the half-assed version: provide you with a series of impressions and admit right out that anything I can say will be inadequate to capture the experience. As these impressions continue to process, I may find that one or more of them require their own entry (and indeed getting them all out is going to require two entries in and of themselves). Until I do decide such a thing, however, you're going to have to settle for just the impressions. Let us begin...


As this was my point of arrival and as we almost immediately went for a walk to Haight-Ashbury, this is my first impression. It's combined somewhat with my final impression since my cousin took us on a driving tour as my final activity before I flew home.

San Francisco is a unique city. I do not think it could ever be mistaken for any other city. Consider a game (for really bored rich people) where you blindfold a person, spin them three times, drop them into a random city anywehere in the world and then make them guess where they are. They'll get San Francisco right on the first try every time. Admittedly, my perspective may be skewed considering the first place I saw in SF was Haight-Ashbury, but that impression was not contradicted by anything I saw in my later tour. It's partly the hills, partly the architecture, but it's mostly the people. They're fascinating - many of them very attractive, but attractive in the unconventional sense, by which I mean tattoos and piercings, also hair colors usually reserved for Kool-aid, and some astounding (to me) fashion decisions. Of course, some of them could have stood to shower more often...


We spent most of our trip above 7000 feet. So when it was 104 degrees in the valley, we were experiencing a comfortable 70 degrees. As we drove higher, we turned off the air conditioning and opened the windows. The Sierra Nevadas even SMELL amazing. It wasn't my first sign that these mountains are not the Appalachians, but it was one of the most compelling. (Just to be clear, I love the east coast mountains. Nothing I say here should lead you to believe otherwise). Before catching that scent I think I had been imagining these mountains as simply bigger versions of the Appalachians. Not so. It's a different world on the west coast. The trees, the views, the rocks, even the trail we walked upon, all had a different flavor than anything I had experienced before.

There's a good deal less undergrowth and a lot more "tree trash" on the ground - dead branches, fallen trees, loose bark, more dead branches. Nothing seems to rot there, it burns (this is a good thing, fire serves as a crucial component of the ecology).

There seems to be less top soil, or at least poorer top soil, no rich loam. The trails were either dusty (sandy in some places) or muddy with no middle ground. Also, it felt odd to me that most of the trails we covered were actually trails. In the White Mountains, by contrast, when you're not stepping on rocks you're stepping on roots. And when you're out of the trees entirely, you feel like you're standing on one big pile of rocks (which, at the age of the Appalachians, is basically the case). When you clear the trees in the Sierra Nevada, you're standing on ONE rock - otherwise known as the mountain.


In a word: awesome - in the contemporary sense (wicked rad and totally cool) but even more so in the classic sense (inspiring awe, humility, and a sense of your own insignificance that can sometimes be confused with fear). Other words that could be applied include: beautiful, amazing, fascinating, gorgeous, breath-taking, stunning, inspiring, magnificent, majestic, and indescribable. Also: tourists.

- but more on that next week -

Sunday, July 02, 2006


In preparation for my move to Atlanta, I have begun cleaning out my apartment. I do not mean the dirt-removal kind of cleaning - in that sense, my apartment is already pretty clean - I mean the clutter-removal kind, getting rid of whatever I do not need to take with me.

This is a daunting task for two reasons:
a) I'm something of a pack rat
b) I have not actually made any kind of concentrated effort to "unclutter myself since I left college, and even then I did not do a very good job.

Neither of those reasons should come as much of a surprise to you. After all, you have probably read about the ranch dressing incident, wherein our hero bravely carried an unopened bottle of ranch dressing through three moves over three and a half years, never dreaming of the darkness that lurked within. Well, friends, I have looked into that darkness, and wept for what it revealed. Since that horrible day, I have practice caution when peering into my refridgerator or foraging through my cabinets. My kitchen is a much safer place than it used to be.

But what of my bedroom, my living room, or my coat closet? In those dark dens lurk ancient things and I, who would scour them, have no expiration dates to guide me. Until now I have left these mysterious objects to molder quietly in the darkness or, as the case may be, in piles upon my bedroom floor.

Well this week that changed. I took the first steps in to identify and remove that which I no longer need, which would only weigh me down, wasting both the strength and the space I would need to move them to yet another aparment.

And that first step was to make a list. After all, I like lists. I called it "The Great Clean" and upon this list I wrote the names of every major container of stuff I need to go through: Dresser, Desk, File Cabinet, Space Under The Bed, and so forth. I then identified subcategories which were, in most cases, drawers.

First on the list is my filing cabinet. Second is Bedroom Floor. It would be first, but since most of it is going to end up in the filing cabinet, I figured I'd better start there first.

It is an interesting process, this uncluttering. As I said above, I am something of a pack rat, and what I keep (everything) I keep for a long time (indefinitely - well, until this week at least). I shredded my first bank statement about four days ago. I don't mean "first bank statement to be shredded this week" (although it is that, too), I mean the first bank statement I ever received in my own name. It was nine and a half years old.

I certainly don't need that anymore, or the pay stubs for my college job, or the manual for the iron that I lost two years ago, or the three copies of my first resume. I have been getting my money's worth out of my shredder this week. I have also lightened my moving load quite a bit (assuming I don't convince myself I should bring the shreddings with me...).

That's just the paper, the bottom drawer of the file cabinet. There are two other drawers and they contain stranger things. Things I do not need, like the two empty altoid containers I swore I'd find a use for someday, the water color paints originally purchased for my college drama class (which have made the transition from "paint" to "paperweight" sometime in the two years since I last opened them), or the bottle holder that's supposed to be on my bike (actually I am keeping that - I just, you know, attached it to my bike).

Besudes space and weight, I may also be saving myself some money. I found three half opened packages of batteries. Hopefully I will remember where they are the next time I need batteries and will save myself from creating a fourth half opened package. I also found two half-used rolls of tape, an unopened package of post-it notes, and four pins from my pin collection that I had thought lost or had forgotten entirely. That's a lot I do not have to buy, replace, or in the case of the tape and the batteries, buy again.

I really should do this more often.