Pockets of Blue

musings of my mind

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Grand Canyon 2012 Part Two — Days One to Five and Some Scares

Continued from part one

After a stressful two days of preparation, we were finally floating. At this point, as a trip leader, you should really just sit back, crack open a beer, and relax, because there’s really nothing more you can do from a planning perspective. There’s no returning after you pass the “permit required past this point” line.

Day 1: Jubilation
We only floated eleven miles due to our late put in, and they were almost all flat except for a few small rapids to warm up a little bit. Beers were consumed en masse until (and after) Graham whipped up a tasty batch of steaks, and I remember having fairly civil conversation with only a couple people falling out of their chairs. Pacing oneself is an important river skill to learn.

Day 2: Tidal Surprises
We woke up on the beach to find our boats no longer in the water. Oops. We had heard about the “tides” on the Colorado below Glen Canyon Dam, and were now acutely experiencing the side effects. Each day, water is released from the dam in cyclic intervals, with the greatest flows around late afternoon to keep up with hydroelectric demand from the parched cities of the Southwest. 12 hours later, the lowest volumes are released, and this continues in a predictable 24-hour cycle. Our flows were forecast to be 10k – 18k CFS (cubic feet per second), a reasonable flow for midsummer.

So, most mornings we would wake up to the boats either totally marooned on a beach, or floating 15 feet past the waterline. It took about a week to get a feel for the tides, and after that we adjusted the boats accordingly before going to bed.

The first large rapids were right after we put in, which provided some excitement first thing in the morning. I was having a tough time controlling the boat through the first couple 6s (on a 1-10 scale) — Hitting the entry point wasn’t a problem, but I kept getting an oar stuck in the water which tended to spin the boat around uncontrollably. It was not confidence-inspiring for either passenger or rower. It was the first time I had rowed a boat with oarlocks, though, so the learning curve was understandable.

Day 3: Uh-oh
The third day started out well; we were at a spectacular camp (Shinumo Wash) with a large beach right next to a 400-foot cliff and spirits were high. There was a really cool-sounding slot canyon hike just upstream from camp, so we decided to check it out. It was semi-technical, involving fixing a rope for downclimbing a steep ramp into the central slot. Everybody fared well until we ventured up some slick waterslides farther up. Jon was ill-prepared and had to choose between climbing barefoot and with flip-flops and went with the former. This did not bode well as he slipped while climbing the uppermost slide. The ugly sound of skull meeting rock reverberated throughout the slot, and once the blood started gushing it wasn’t quite clear if things were going to be alright. Half the group went down with him to apply medical treatment while the rest of us continued up the slot, which didn’t go for much longer. We carefully climbed hand-over-hand back up the rope and descended to a bummed-out Jon holding a bloody shirt to his wound. After much discussion and waiting for a clot we had applied antiseptic to the wound and covered it in steri-strips while the rest of the group rigged the boats.

Over the next few days we consulted with numerous commercial parties for advice, which varied from immediate helicopter evacuation to staying the course. Kudos to Graham and Shawn for handling the whole situation calmly and professionally. It had stressed me out big time but I elected to step back due to my lack of medical expertise.

What made matters worse was my own medical issue that night — while eating a tasty burrito I had an especially severe esophageal cramp (a recurring condition of mine) which sidelined me for the rest of the night. I couldn’t swallow any food or water as it would just get lodged in my esophagus, and eventually be regurgitated. I suspect it was largely stress-induced, as the last few days were as anxiety-ridden as any in my life, and the condition just exacerbated it. Some good conversation with Shawn and Zac helped a bit (along with everybody’s favorite green pain reliever), and I was feeling better that night. However, it wasn’t until I swallowed a Benadryl the next morning that the dilation cleared and I could finally swallow again. What a relief.

Days 4-5: Rain and the Little Colorado
With the group’s medical problems somewhat relieved, we could focus more on enjoying ourselves. The next couple days didn’t bring any really big rapids, but enough smaller ones for me to get a better handle on controlling the boat. There weren’t any more unexpected 180-degree spins mid-rapid and I was able to keep the boat straight consistently. On the fourth night we had an unexpected rain squall roll in at three in the morning. I woke up to a few people groggily stumbling around setting up the large tent, and soon after I was struggling to erect my own, swearing the whole time. On the bright side, it cooled things off considerably and the next morning was quite pleasant.

On the fifth day we came to the Little Colorado River, an impressive cerulean blue flowing over bright-white, soft limestone deposits. We tied up the boats and hiked a half mile upstream, passing some really fun-looking overhanging conglomerate boulders that I had to play on. Everybody jumped in the refreshingly warm, tropical-feeling waters and butt-floated with our life-jackets most of the way down, shooting through small rapids and giggling like toddlers. It was an absolute blast and the most fun I had had in quite some time.

Next: Phantom Ranch and big rapid day — Hermit, Granite, Crystal!

Grand Canyon 2012 Part One — Preparation

I’ve been doing a fair number of river trips the last few year, and haven’t really posted a whole lot about them here. Over the last four years I’ve done five major trips and a scattering of shorter 1-2 dayers: Desolation Canyon twice, Cataract Canyon once, and the Middle Fork of the Salmon last year (July 2011). The Middle Fork trip was the highlight of the bunch: a small river running through stunning, remote mountain scenery in central Idaho. Ninety-three miles over seven days resulted in a nice relaxed pace, with plenty of time to hang out, read, hike, go on hikes, or have beers around a fire. Just about perfect.

After that trip, I figured the next year would be hard to beat. I wasn’t even all that excited about doing a trip this year and was content to take that extra time to do a climbing trip or two instead. The one trip that might be able to beat it was the Grand Canyon, so I applied to a follow-up lottery in late March, fully appreciating the low odds. I actually thought I might have missed the deadline when I remembered it at 12:30pm the last day of the lottery, but logged on and submitted regardless. Must have lucked out as Arizona is in either Mountain or Pacific Time depending on Daylight Savings.

Sure enough, I get an email a few hours later congratulating me on winning a permit! I could hardly believe it as I pretty much applied on a whim, not really sure if I even had the time to do it. I didn’t even specify an alternate trip leader in case I couldn’t go. July seventh was the date, so I immediately emailed some river-running friends to try and drum up interest. I had about two weeks to finalize some details and pay permit fees (almost $800!) so it was a bit stressful getting commitments so quickly. I got six firm commitments which was good enough for submitting the application, so we were off, with another three months or so to fill the remaining two spots (it was a small-sized permit with a maximum of eight people).

It was remarkably difficult filling those last two spots, especially as we focused on finding interested women to balance out the genders. There was some interest, but after six weeks or so of deliberation I tried to get firm commitments unsuccessfully. We were back to square one with about a month left before the launch date. However, after removing the gender limitation we filled the remaining spots pretty quickly (surprise surprise), and everything seemed to be coming into place. I had notified my clients of my impending absence, cleared it with Katherine, and seven of us rendezvoused in Salt Lake on July 5th to gather gear and pack the coolers. Cooler organization was a nightmare, as we had to find a way to keep food cold for fifteen days in 100 degree heat. We elected to aim for twelve days of cool food, with the food split over three coolers. Only one cooler would be accessed at a time, while the rest would be sealed with duct tape to preserve its contents. That meant figuring out which meal would go in which cooler for 24 meals. I did my best but it ended up being less than ideal as a lot of ice had already melted.

The next day we took off in two vehicles, one of which would be meeting Cam in St. George. He was driving from San Diego to meet us. The pick-up went smoothly and we ran some last minute errands in Page, AZ before arriving in Lees Ferry at around 11pm. Loading and rigging took all morning the next day, and by 1-2PM all three boats were rigged and we were good to go!

Part two

Emotional Vertigo

One of my earliest memories from childhood is lying on the couch, covered with a blanket, with an aching body from the flu. Sometimes, when especially out of it, I would enter a kind of hallucinatory state where the room would tip and shift, and I would daydream about cubes and spheres in the room expanding, contracting, and bouncing around. The empty space in the room would take on a life of its own, rotating and breathing as a single unit. Really weird stuff, and probably a by-product of my 103° temperature and various medications.

When you’re a kid you seem to be rather susceptible to various diseases, especially when being exposed to them on a daily basis at school. I haven’t gotten the flu in years, and the only instances of coming down with more than a mild cold have been when traveling. Yet I sometimes still experience vestiges of the visions from when I was a kid.

They’re most acute when engaged in an intense, emotional conversation or situation, usually with Katherine about our highly personal innate flaws and expectations. When she’s sitting across the dining table, or on the bed, at times it’s as if the space between us is expanding and contracting in that same breathing manner. At its worse she’s perceived to be yards away, and the table surface, walls, and ceiling between us stretch out three of four times, then condense again moments later. The more intense the conversation, the more space gets warped. It’s like the emotional part of my brain is disrupting the cerebellum.

For the years in between, I never experienced this. Probably because I would unconsciously shield myself from emotional experiences, avoiding deep relationships, and relating superficially with others. I doubt this vertigo had anything to do with it, but it was definitely not anything I would experience, save perhaps occasionally for the exceptionally low moments of undergrad. Now I embrace it, for it is proof of a richer existence. You’ll never learn anything about yourself when avoiding commitment, whether it’s in love, friendship, or work. Open up and be opened up.

Edit (5/28/12): Here’s a very powerful talk exploring this: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html

Adios Barcelona

Well, it´s my last day here in Barcelona, and I wanted to write a quick post before leaving later this morning. I´m typing this up at a public computer of my hostel, which has been a lively place to stay four nights at. I feel a bit old for the daily-clubbing college scene here, but it´s a nice location with nice facilities. Katherine and I had a fantastic week in France and Spain, touring Nîmes and Carcassonne before making our way over the border to Barça. Today I´m meeting up with a friend (currently living in Spain) to go climbing in Margalef, one of the newer locations of Spain´s ridiculous hard-climbing scene. I´m really looking forward to it after not climbing for three weeks (an eternity for me!). And yes, there are apparently a host of moderates to entertain a non-sporto like myself.

Barcelona has been fantastic, it´s a big city with a rich history and a vitality I haven´t seen in any other city. I never really explored the nightlife since it´s not really my thing, but definitely did the beach thing (there are miles and miles of excellent beaches on either side of the city) as well as a ton of sightseeing, mostly with a focus on the Roman history in the area. More on this (hopefully) later.

But for now, I´m off to pull on pockets in Margalef. Venga!

Provence

It’s a lazy Wednesday, as I was roused by the impossibly bright Provençal sun at nine this morning. The weather has been perfect for sleeping, around 60 degrees minimum, and I have yet to close my bedroom window in the three nights I’ve spent there. My wonderful Great-aunt and uncle, who rented this house almost a year prior, unfortunately were unable to make it. Louise’s health has been deteriorating, and she was determined to make the most of her holiday rather than be cooped up in the house all week.

The house

They have certainly been missed — the house is much too big for the four of us (my folks, brother and I).

We spent varying amounts of time with them at their estate in the UK. I flew in last and was picked up at Heathrow by my father and Great-uncle (who hasn’t seemed to age in ten years!), then spent a day getting over jet lag. We took a train to the Southern coast and spent the day in Brighton, touring the decadent mansion of Louis XIV and wandering the pebbled beach admiring the salty sea waves. Before long we were saying our goodbyes and on a train to France.

The original idea was to rent (“hire”) a car in Lille and tour the French countryside over three days, staying in hotels along the way. We seemed to underestimate the size of the country, though, as we likely spent more time in the car as on our feet, often in a relentless rain. Chambéry was especially nice, nestled in the outskirts of the French Alps, with an exceptional Sunday market to browse as the fog and rain slowly lifted over the valley mid-morning. Sunday afternoon found us in sunny Provence, where the weather has since hardly changed, and we took full advantage of the pool and ping-pong table the next day.

Brighton

Yesterday we drove through much of the Provençal countryside (through some stunning tree-lined roads) on our way to the Gorges du Verdon, the largest canyon in Europe. It was nice to tour a natural spectacle for once, rather than the castles, museums and cobbled streets of typical European vacations. The Verdon was spectacular, half as big yet much steeper as Arizona’s Grand Canyon, with a road hugging its cliffsides the entire way. We escaped the car for a nice hike at the canyon bottom, with the overhanging limestone cliffs above us and emerald-green river at our side. I was trying to spot climbers but saw none — probably a bit warm this time of year.

So here we are, halfway through the week in our home in Provence, off to Ménerbes and the Coustellet farmer’s market this afternoon. On Saturday we’ll make our way to Marseille, with Sunday a travel day and the start of the next phase of the adventure…

Europe bound

Well, it’s been a long time coming (over a year now?), but I’m off to Europe on Sunday. I feel like I’ve been telling people about the pending trip for eons, and have started resorting to the terse cliff-notes version out of fatigue. To be honest, I really haven’t been all that excited about it, preferring to live in the moment and enjoy my summer and all the traveling I’ve been doing around the west.

That’s starting to change. Katherine has been the impetus, dropping off tour books and various literature for her sake as much as my own. It should be a non-rushed trip with three countries on the agenda, including one which I’ve never been.

In case you haven’t gotten the brief from me directly, here’s the (rough) agenda:

Aug 21 – Depart from SLC to Chicago. Long story as to why I’m spending the night here…
Aug 22 – Chicago -> London. I’ve never had a non-overnighter across the Atlantic, and am frankly a bit confused why these flights even exist, as I get in at 10:45 and will undoubtedly be exhausted.
Aug 24 – London -> Northern France somewhere (Calais?). I’ll be with my folks and brother at this point and I believe we’ll be renting a car and heading through Eastern France (Champagne, etc.) on the way to Provence.
Aug 27 – Arrive at the house in Provence. Hopefully my Great-aunt and uncle will be able to meet us here for the week.
Sept 3 – Leave the house, go to Marseille, where my folks fly out and Katherine flies in. Begin dirtbagging it. We plan on making our way to Spain, and Barcelona eventually.
Sept 11 – Katherine flies out of Barcelona, leaving me by myself. I will continue the adventure traveling around Spain…
Sept 20 – Fly out of Madrid back to SLC.

Whew! For now I’m wrapping up a project at work and taking care of some odds and ends before my departure. My roommate will be holding down the fort at home (thank you!) throughout the duration.

See you all in a month!

Freelancing: One Year In

Well, technically it hasn’t quite been a year yet, but close enough for me to provide some perspective on my new career freedom.  I guess I quit my job at the end of June 2010, so I’ve been going at it for over eleven months now.  A few thoughts:

  • Holy God I’ve done a lot of traveling.  Several weeklong trips over the summer, dozens of weekend trips, an extended holiday trip: I’ve been all over the place.  Sometime around the end of last year I started realizing how much I’ve been getting around, and started collecting stats (this is for all of 2010):
    1. Overnight trips (at least one night away from home): 21
    2. Days away from home: 82 (divide that by 365, and I’m gone 22% of the time!)
    3. Nights sleeping in a tent: 36 (almost 10% of the time, which is kind of ridiculous as I’m a homeowner)

    And I was only freelancing for half of that year. This year has been pretty much the same, and this summer is shaping up to be the most epic yet — more on this later!

  • I’ve only had a handful of projects, but can already tell that I’m making leaps in my development ability, especially in Javascript.  I can bang out snazzy user interfaces in no time at all, much to my clients’ delight.  The short project timelines (typically less than a month) mean I’m regularly shipping code and building my portfolio.
  • I’m basically working for two companies right now, thanks to one friend who basically single-handedly launched my freelance career.  Thank you, Corey, you are amazing, and I’m so grateful our paths crossed not so many months ago.  Both are a joy to work with, are super laid back, and employ exceptionally talented and good-natured people (I swear I’m not trying to be a kiss-ass, though it’s probably coming out that way…)
  • There’s not a better time to be a freelance developer here in Salt Lake, especially in the advertising industry.  Even if freelancing isn’t your cup of tea, if you’re a halfway decent programmer, make sure you like where you’re at, because you have tons of options.  Just count the billboards advertising for programmers on I-15; it’s laughable.
  • One thing I run into from time to time is the feeling of being expendable (which, let’s face it, is often a reality).  Companies need to keep their employees busy before they can contract stuff out, which sometimes leave the less desirable projects for freelancers.  This might improve with a better relationship with each client (where they learn your strengths and weaknesses and can cater to them), and it may just be the nature of the job.

In short, though, so far so good!  I’ve got a jam-packed summer ahead of me, and I’m trying to save a bunch of money for my trip to Europe this fall while still packing in a few trips.

Richard D James, or the artist formerly known as Aphex Twin

It seems every year or two I get on an Aphex Twin kick, revisiting some of my old favorites from Drukqs and beyond.  Usually these reminiscences lead to reading an old interview or two.  I’m not sure if I like his music or public persona more.  Interviews tend to fall into two categories — the more professional interviewees get lambasted by James while the more casual encounters uncover some real gems.  Like this one.  It’s in a narrative style, but James’ very British humor comes out hilariously.  Some highlights:

“The Warp press release states that he ‘has been teaching his computer to write music so he can spend more time shagging'”.

“I tell him about when I go to bed drunk without drinking any water.  In my dreams, I drink soft drink after soft drink trying to quench my thirst.  Says Aphex, ‘Oh yeah, yeah, I do that as well. It’s worse, if you piss yourself as well.  I’ve done that about three times, when I’ve been drunk.  You want to go to the toilet so much, but you’re drunk, so you just dream it.  And then when you wake up, you go, “Ah fucking hell, I’ve pissed myself.”’”

“Talk about strange purchases.  A priori the vault aquisition, he bought a tank.  A real tank — it even fires, but he uses this function sparingly, cause he only has four rounds of ammo left.  He bought it in Cornwall, but his mom and dad moved to Wales, so he moved it with them.  He’s going to try to bring it to London.  The thought occurs to me that this must bring some grief from the government.    ‘But no one actually thinks of stopping you.  Like the police laugh when they see you.  They don’t think of stopping you, because it’s too ridiculous to even contemplate,’ he says”.

James hasn’t released any music in six years.  Analord was pretty weak in comparison to just about all of his full-length studio albums, especially Drukqs.  I would be surprised if he released anything else, as it is pretty clear that he has no desire to, either personally or financially.  I suppose when you can entertain the idea of buying your own submarine it means you’re pretty well set.

It’s a pity, as his prolific music-making nature pretty much guarantees some surely stunning music.  Perhaps we’ll see some yet.  As for now, I’ll keep reading old interviews for laughs.

 

 

Goodbye, Personal Computer

I spent a couple hours procrastinating today, and, as is often the case, started surfing the web.  Mainly Hacker News as it’s pretty much replaced every other news source in my life. (Crowd-sourced technology-centric news, with brilliant, engaging discourse on each item?  Yes please!)  Today brought me to an article by Max Klein, originally about his wondering what do with $24k made in a single month on the iPhone App Store, then to an interesting suggestion to Apple about their flagship iPhone.  Basically, add a mini-DVI (or mini-DisplayPort, whatever) output so you can view your phone on your giant 24″ computer monitor.  Applications would have two interfaces — one for the phone, and another scaled-up for an external monitor.

While thinking about a world where this was possible, my imagination took over:

  1. Having two interfaces is inherently awkward, especially when one is on a touch-screen and the other controlled with a mouse and keyboard.  I learned this the hard way while trying to “fix” a simple website to work properly on iOS. A shared, alternative input method (voice recognition?  Neuron readings? I digress) would help.  Or why not just have cheaper, largish (by today’s standards) multi-touch-capable monitors?
  2. What about a pocket-sized projector that plugs into your phone?  Then, you have the processor (the “brain”) and a large display, both of which are completely portable.  Perhaps we’ll have white 4×4 squares painted every 100 yards on every building, wall and home to facilitate projection.  Applications these days are increasingly “cloud-based,” meaning they live on servers rather than on the devices themselves, so as long as there’s connectivity, the functionality will be (already is) there.  The only thing missing is the transformative input device, as keyboards and mice obviously won’t work (and when you think about it, are laughably outdated).
  3. It would pretty much make the personal computer obsolete.  I’m not saying nobody would sell PCs anymore, but for most users, those who just use the web and email, there’s really no point in having an electronic device other than your “smartphone” (which, in this case, would desperately require a new name).  We’re already seeing this with the iPad.  Current laptops may be the hardest hit, as the only real use for a separate device is for “work” purposes (photo/film/media creation, design, programming, etc.), and you might as well have some beefy hardware (think towers) for power and speed.  With further hardware advancements, even phones as we know them will be capable of performing “real work.”

Realistically, personal computers and laptops will still have their place for a few years to come, but their market share will dwindle drastically as smartphones become ubiquitous. This will be especially true in poorer countries (which have effectively already skipped the personal computer era).  It seems that the next big technology disruptions will be enabled from two things:  improved batteries and an intuitive, portable input device.

Americans’ Dysfunctional Relationship With Food

It should be easy, right? You’re hungry, so you eat. A few hours pass. Repeat, et cetera.

But no. It hasn’t been this easy in decades. Probably right around when we were able to eat anything grown anywhere in the world, and all kinds of foods recently invented. If I want a banana, I can eat a banana, even if the nearest banana tree is in Jamaica. Pretty much anything I can imagine eating can be found in minutes in any decent-sized city in the US.

So why do between six and eleven million Americans suffer from an eating disorder? Why do we refuse to eat, habitually binge, or binge and purge? Why have up to half of all high schoolers practiced unhealthy weight control methods? How did 28 million Americans contract Diabetes, the vast majority being Type Two? It’s this country’s elephant in the room.

Yum

It must be the parents, right? I mean, kids learn eating habits from somewhere. Without boundaries, they’ll gobble up all the sugar in sight. Growing up, we had a bowl of salad every single day at dinnertime. I despised it. But if I didn’t eat it, I didn’t get dessert, so I resolved to the gambit more often than not. I don’t eat a whole lot of salad anymore. I remember lashing out as a freshman in college, buying Pizza Rolls for dinner and Lucky Charms for breakfast, gorging on all the things I wasn’t permitted growing up. It didn’t last long before I realized that Cocoa Puffs for breakfast were kinda gross, and ice cream every day gets old.

I consider myself lucky, both to have such strong boundaries growing up, and being exposed to so much gourmet food as a kid. My father would cook fairly extravagant dinners 3-4 times a week. I was eating capers and scalloped potatoes before most kids could pronounce them. Yet the sweet tooth is still exceptionally strong, and I have to be very disciplined to refrain from candy bars at the checkout aisle, ice cream for dessert, a whole pan of brownies for myself. Even after 18 years of fairly draconian food discipline, it’s really hard. I can’t imagine how it’d be for someone else.

What about the supermarkets? After all, they’re the ones displaying candy bars at perfect toddler eye height in the checkout aisles. Or dressing up pastries, cakes and donuts in fancy tins and 360-degree stands. Well, they sell. What sells, wins. It’s not their responsibility to mandate our nutritional choices. Or is it?

The industrialized food system! They’re the bad guys. Multinational corporations thriving on subsidized corn and tax breaks. Injecting corn or soy into every processed food item in the supermarket. Breeding chickens to have breasts so huge they can’t even walk without toppling over. Then turning the pristine, shrink-wrapped pieces over to us for three bucks a pound. How couldn’t you buy it at that price!

No, no, no…it’s not any of these things. It’s all of them, and then some. The system is really, really broken. And it’s slowly killing us.

I don’t have the answers. Others have explored this topic in much more detail. You should do the same. I posit that, like most things in life, keeping it simple is the way to go. Or if not simple, than perhaps old-fashioned. Food has not been much of a beneficiary of the modern technological world. Perhaps being a luddite is the way to go.

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