Monday, December 14, 2009

Starfishing

We've been under the thumb of an Omega block high pressure system for some time. Omegas typically provide lots of cold and severe clear weather. This one is shifted a bit from "normal" and is grabbing warm air off the ocean. It's been pretty nice, snowmaking temps down low with an inversion that has been providing warmer temps up high. One day last week we had 14 degrees F at the base while the red bulb passed the 50 degree mark at the top of the mountain.

The severe inversion causes a thin layer of ice fog just above the town that covers everything with hoar frost. While the trees look beautiful blanketed in thick feathery frost, it's awfully hard to see the stars at night, which is most of the day this time of year. And you can't see meteor showers if you can't see the stars. So we needed to gain some elevation if we were going to see the Geminids, said to be the best shower of the year, peaking at 140 shooting stars an hour.

The Geminids are caused by a skeleton comet named 3200 Phaethon. Skeleton comets fly too close to the sun and over time all their ice melts. 3200 Phaethon flies closer to the sun than any other comet, that's why it's named after the Greek god Phaeton, son of the god Helios and 3200 represents the number three thousand, two hundred. Maybe there are 3199 more of these guys, maybe the dude that named it huffed Scotch Guard in college.

A group of patroller types drove out to the Pass to get away from the cloud layer and the light pollution of the snowmaking operations. Weather at the Pass didn't fully cooperate. We had broken high clouds so we could only see a relative sliver of the sky.

Pad and Gail were best prepared to go fishing for shooting stars. They brought whiskey, warm clothes, and lawn chairs while the rest of us decided to wake up in the morning with sore necks. This morning I feel like I went ice climbing but without the miserable memories that sport sometimes provides.

We stared up, waiting hopefully for a long yellow tail to blaze across the sky. People pointed and hooted if they saw one, groaned if they missed it. Every once in a while you'd see a little teeny tiny one or maybe your brain just skipped a beat, who knows?

Our sliver of sky provided forty or so shooters, something different to do, and a connection to past civilizations that mapped the heavens without telescopes and with gigantic calendars made of stones. Not bad.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Big Puffy

It's that time of year again. Fall segued nicely into winter. This year's batch of ski bums have trickled in full of anticipation. Most have bounced from snow town to snow town, starting in the East on the ice in minus temps, then heading west. They soak up the sun in the Rockies while learning to absorb miles of moguls. Often they stop over in the Wasatch for the "Greatest Snow on Earth." Great snow, three or four steep turns, and 3.2 beer. Yuck. Or maybe Wyoming with its couloir and its social scene.

Eventually the ski bums get to AK and its coastal ranges jutting right out of the ocean. Broad peaks with big ramps too steep to hold snow most places abound here. High winds plaster snow against the mountains while snow sliders dig out their gear and curse themselves for not waxing the boards in July when they finally gave up skiing for the year or dealing with the funky construction like ten feet of sewer pipe outside of the house.

The snowguns crank out a base to get us started and get us through the inevitable bouts we'll have with rain. The darkness limits travel time so we all share the few places one can get to and back from without getting slapped by alders we didn't see. We stare longingly from the ridge to all the future lines beyond but remember we need to wrap the pipe with heat tape and insulate it or tomorrow morning's dump will be in the bathtub, too.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Do you have a band-aid?

a drunk irish blacksmith by the name of jack offered
his soul to the devil for a drink. the devil agreed and
turned himself into a sixpence so jack could pay the
bartender. jack had a moment of clarity as he reached for
the coin and decided that his soul for a pint was a bad
trade.

he threw the coin into his purse next to a silver
cross which rendered the devil powerless. carrying the devil
can weigh a guy down, so jack let the devil go with the
agreement that he'd leave jack alone for ten years.

ten years to the day the devil returned. jack had been
walking through an orchard and asked the devil to climb a
tree and toss him one last apple before he took jack to
hell.

the devil must have been a real dumbass cuz he agreed.
once the devil scampered up the tree, jack carved a cross on
the trunk and the devil was stuck in the tree. fucked,
really because this was long before ladder trucks.

jack made the devil promise to leave jack's soul alone
before he removed the cross, freeing the devil.

years later the drunk died. heaven wouldn't take him.
the devil honored his promise and wouldn't accept jack
either. he tossed jack an ember from the fires of hell and
told him to go back where he came from. jack placed the
ember in a turnip he'd been eating, cursed to walk the earth
for eternity with his lantern.

when all the micks headed to the gold-paved streets of america, they realized that this country had a serious turnip shortage. they turned to another little-used vegetable to keep their tradition alive. and you thought you could only blame your march 18th hangovers on the irish.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Trip's over, Sunshine

Eight or nine years ago I walked into Max’s with my friend Fritz. We ordered beers. I took a big swallow of the delicious nectar and began to hiccup. I hiccupped through that beer and another. I held my breath, tried to burp, whatever and still the hiccups came one after the other.

Finally, Peddy the bartendress with the bloody mary mix that required three months of aging came over. She said she could make a concoction that would cure them or the beers were on her.

We watched her throw all kinds of stuff-soda, bitters, eye of newt, Tabasco, and who knows what else into a pint glass. She slid it to me and instructed me to drink it all at once. I drained the glass in one swallow, set it down and promptly hiccupped.

With a bellyful of that painful brew, I decided to walk home. When I got to the Glacier Creek Bridge I vomited fiercely, wiped my mouth and hiccupped. That’s the last time I vomited until the Welcome Dinner for the second India tour of 2009.

I didn’t feel ill at all. I just had to excuse myself mid-curry and find the men’s room. I vomited violently, though it’s always violent, isn’t it? I washed my face and went back to finish my meal. No bellyache, no loss of appetite, just had to get all that puke out, I guess.

Then in Kalpa I got up at five to take a pee. I’ve been standing to piss for quite a few years now with no fears but a fart while urinating turned out to be dangerous business. Explosion is a word that comes to mind. As long as I’m up and there’s loose stool running down my leg, I might as well shower.

Hotel rooms in India mount the shower, sink, and toilet all in one small area. There is no shower curtain or anything like that. You always need to consider the placement of the toilet paper before showering. This simplistic design makes clean up a breeze.

I spent the rest of the trip clenching my ass while pissing, just to be on the safe side. I’m happy to report as was well.

Here are couple of notables from the second trip. One of the kids was overwhelmed by the time we got to Chattru. It was the most technical day of riding so far and he felt that he was beyond his ability and no longer having fun.

So he hopped in the chase vehicle and Manoog(pronounced Manoosh) got on his bike in his jean jacket, cotton slacks, and penny loafers or maybe they’re rupee loafers here, I don’t know. He grew up in Dehli and learned to stand on a moped so the boy can ride. He sure looked ridiculous wearing Karl’s American head-sized helmet but he ripped through the water crossings, over the boulder fields, and into the mud like he was born on a bike. I couldn’t confirm it, but I think he was.

It rained hard that night and continued to pour while we rode. It doesn’t take much water to have a big effect in this steep topography. Mudslides oozed over the road in many places. Brown water ran down the tarmac making haystacks over six and ten inch rocks. I saw lots of land in motion and rocks tumbling. Mariska missed kissing a rock the size of a basketball with his front tire by centimeters.

On the last day, we woke up to falling snow and got an early start so the kids could do some last minute trinket buying when we got back to Manali. It had rained hard all night but changed to snow for us in the morning. Dodging moving rocks and going over mudslides around hairpins requires sharp reflexes, a clear mind, and the ability to feel one’s fingers.

I noticed the kids holding onto the cylinder head whenever terrain allowed and realized that their hands were probably much colder than mine, and mine were damn cold so I told Anu we needed a break.

We stopped in Sissu for some chai. Anu made the decision that we were done riding for the day and taking a taxi over Rhotang La (3990 m). None of the kids protested in the slightest. We stuffed nine people into an eight passenger van and were off. I drew one of the jump seats behind the axle and made contact with the roof using my head several times.

We picked up a bottle of beer for the driver, dropped off a cell phone battery at a random house, and picked up three more people which required lap sitting. The snow began to stick as we climbed and was six inches at the top, which is about 5 and a half inches more than you’d want on a bike, good call Anu.

Twice we went around mudslides that Tatas and buses couldn’t slide past. Only two vehicles behind our chase vehicle got through the last spot before the mud oozed all the way across and closed the road. Lucky kids, we were. They didn’t have time to get the trinkets, but that’s what saved us and it’s the thought that counts. I hope their significant others will understand.

I’ve had a wonderful trip, full of great people, mind-blowing scenery, world-class riding, and some much needed helmet time. But I gotta tell ya, I’m ready for a bacon cheeseburger in the land of trusted farts.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Shanti

We left Kaza and continued up the Spiti Valley. We headed past Losar, our refuge from the storm last year, and climbed Kumzum La, the 4990m pass that we had climbed twice in a blizzard. It was much less arduous with dry roads and warm temps.

At the bottom of the pass we hooked a right turn to Baikal or Moon Lake. The road to the lake was challenging with several deep water crossings, loose rock, and lots of exposure. It would be a several hundred meter tumble to the valley floor if one missed a corner.

I noticed several different camps of men raking the desert with straw brooms. Several small clumps dotted the landscape, some with full gunny sacks leaning against them. When we got to the lake trailhead, I realized that the clumps were piles of sheep and goat shit.

The small balls don’t burn as well as cow or yak dung, so they aren’t used for fuel. The herders gather it up to take back to the gardens or fields for fertilizer. Think of making a living in a place so stark that one rakes up the sheepshit in the desert for the family pea patch. Three dollar lattes sure seem silly here.

The short hike to the lake rewarded quickly. The glacier at the top of the valley fed it, so the lake had that beautiful green hue. I saw several minnow type fish from the shore so, maybe it has big fish too. We hustled back to the bikes after a quick lunch because our water crossings were snow fed and would be deeper the longer we dillydallied.

We followed the Chandar River from its birth at the lake all the way down to Chhattru or Chatru or Chattru depending on which sign one read, where we camped for the evening. The road challenged constantly with its ruts, blind hairpins (horn ablaring), loose rocks, goat herds-some of them moving above us and trundling rocks down, water crossings, and scenery.

Every valley varies from the last. The particular beauty of the Chandar Valley is the river itself. It rolls and boils at quite a clip. Not pool drop to pool drop, but just constant rapids with little or no eddy opportunity. Even when one can see the line, there is always a hole or two that would reach up, grab the raft and shake it like a dog with a rat before spitting it downstream to the next.

Alexander the Great tried to cross the Chandar to expand his territory. His troops had one look at the angry, churning mass of mud and boulders and refused to cross it. Every time I stole a peek at it, only a peek at a time will do if one wants to keep the bike on the road and out of the river, I agreed with them. I’m sure some world-class crazy paddlers would give it a go, they could have it. I was content to camp beside it, admiring the glacially-carved walls reminiscent of the Yosemite Valley in California while eating the best food of the whole trip. They kept bringing dish after wonderful dish that had been made on the kerosene two-burner they squatted beside.

The other notable aside from a gazillion stars, the Milky Way, meteors, blah, blah, blah, was that it was our first dog-free evening. It was great to have the roar of the river to sleep to instead of the usual canine symphony.

Doug’s health had been deteriorating since Kaza, and worsened by the time we got to Keylong. Each time he ate food it was so excited to leave his system that it couldn’t decide which way to go. Couple that with altitude sickness, first heart attack at 39, and implanted defribilator and it’s easy to see why he made the right decision to head back to Manali with Jeff rather than risk the affects of climbing higher the next two days.

The rest of us continued on for a night of camping in Sarchu. It is the halfway point between Manali and Leh, so is a popular stop. There are no permanent structures as life would be too harsh come winter. We had another abfab meal and an icy stream to store our beers in before drinking them.

I woke at about three to pee and was rewarded with quite the sky show. Lightning lit up the ridge two valleys to the south, the half moon lit up the north, and off to the west a meteor shower burned trail after trail across the sky. I wish I knew my astronomy better but I think it was the annual Pliedaes shower.

We rode beautiful roads out of Sarchu that begged for fifth gear, which was a rarity in a land where most of the riding was white-knuckle at 30 kph. But frost heaves soon made us ratchet our speeds back for fear of breaking the frame from catching too much air, actually catching the air was fine, it was the landings that were scary.

We climbed twenty-two delicious switchbacks (they call them loops which makes little sense so is perfect for India) on our way to the high point of our trip of 5063 meters. The land was stark with prayer flags the only thing growing. We took some pictures and a couple of deep breaths that didn’t seem to satisfy and headed down to the evening’s destination of Jispa.
Jispa wasn’t much for a town but we had comfortable accomadations and I met an interesting fellow. He and his son were on their way to Leh to install some pre-fab wood cottages that he dealt in.

Wood construction is a bit of a novelty here because if one is caught cutting a tree down, it’s fifteen years in the slammer. All construction is concrete, stone, brick, or a combination there of. His cottages are made of spruce in Russia. They are constructed, numbered, and disassembled for shipment to Delhi.

While I found the cottage industry interesting, it paled in comparison to the story of how he got to Delhi. His grandfather had a 500 mule train that he used to haul rice, tea, and sugar over the Kiber(spelling?) pass. Instead of selling all that stuff for a big o’pile of money, he traded it for guns which he smuggled to the Indian resistance. In 1919 he was caught at the border with his unusual cargo and refused entry.

It was really the best way to be caught. If he had made it into the country, his sentence would have been death or life imprisionment on one of their island jails which is the same as a death sentence only slower. As it was, he only got deported.

When the Brits were ousted in 1953, the Indian government told his family that they would honor their Indian citizenry because his grandfather had been a freedom fighter. So there he was, an Indian citizen living in Kuwait wondering as he was driving to work one day why all the Kuwaiti tanks were zooming through the traffic with him.

A couple of hours later, tanks of a different color filled the streets. He loaded up his family to flee the Iraqis. They noticed his turban (he and his family were Sikhs) and called him their brother and gave him escorted clear passage over the border.

Incidentally, one of our clients had been on a Navy vessel during Desert Shield and said that their ship had advanced warning that the U.S.S. Stark would be fired upon but did nothing. Another example of a false flag to sell a war to a people. But back to the grandson of the gun runner.

They spent several years bouncing through the tribal lands of Iran and the ‘Stans, staying with family connections. Connections that would happily hand you a rpg, uzi, ak-47, or whatever to try out as long as you paid for the cartridge first. So now he sells pre-fab cabins and maybe dabbles in other things.
Our ride down Rhotang La ended the trip on a high note. The muddy, slimy, rocky, wet roads full of Tatas, taxis, and tour buses challenged our riding ability. Especially because visibility was often less than 10 meters and even driving through a cloud, the majority of Indians leave the lights off.

Once we broke out of the cloud we had pouring rain to entertain us until we got back to the Ambassador in Manali. Oh yeah, all that traffic coming off the pass was local tourists celebrating Indian Independence. I guess I would have felt more festive if I were in a country that sold beer on holidays.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Halfway done w/number 1

We took the boys on a day ride to get familiar with the bikes and left-side driving. Back up Solang Valley and they all looked solid so we headed halfway up Rhotang La for lunch. The dry road gave them some idea of what they may be in for without the added stress of hundred meter mud puddles and water crossings, plus traffic was light because we timed it so that we would not be competing with the tour buses.

Larry cut a corner too sharp on the way down and was surprised by a Tata coming around the bend. His front tire caught in the sandy duff and over he went. He had a smashed headlight all right but no injuries, so it was a cheap wipeout. Good to get the first one out of the way so everyone could relax.

Day one on the road involved traffic and heat. We had to wait for a bus to unload all the people from the roof and some from inside so that it could climb up and out of our way on the road to Jalori Pass. Shortly after we passed the bus, Anu pulled over and said, “We stop here for night.” There was barely enough room to park the bikes and all I saw was a cornchip Granny stand. He told us to leave our bags cuz the boys would get them and led us down a little cow trail that turned into a sidewalk. “This special place, in no books,” he said.

The hotel was beautiful with spectacular views of the valley. We could hear singing from down in the bottom of the valley and after we pitched our bags, one of the boys took us down to the annual Raksha Bandhan, which is a festival honoring brothers and sisters.

Women lined up from oldest to youngest with linked arms performed a set dance while singing to a similar line of men. Both lines circled seven or eight men with drums, two men with some kind of oboes and two others with six foot long silver horns straight out of Dr. Suess. The festival lasts for three days with people constantly joining and leaving the circle.

It’s been great to reacquaint myself with our route. Things have changed a bunch since we were here last. The road to Solang no longer requires bouncing over round river rocks for three-quarters of a mile. The future ski resort, a project ten years in the making that Carl, Matt, and I toured won’t open, power lines now criss-cross its slopes.

We stopped for lunch in Recong Peo and I led the way up some crumbled and uneven concrete stairs. I remembered thoroughly enjoying our lunch there last year. I topped out on the stairs and found only a pile of broken bricks where our cafĂ© had been. They hadn’t knocked out all the windows yet so I was able to point out the AkRider sticker to the boys to prove that it was the right place.

We ate next door which was convenient but somewhat below standards, not quite as dark and dirty as the asshole but you could see the hemorrhoids from there. The boys were troopers though; they’ve all traveled quite a bit and rolled with the third-world shake of the dice.

We slept that night in Kalpa, which is an apple orchard community at about 10,000 feet. The neighborhood dogs held quite the symphony for us crescendoing with enthusiasm until the rains started.

We scheduled the tours much earlier than our scouting trip so snowfalls would be rarities that didn’t stick to the roads and avalanche closures would be non-existent. But it’s always something and this time of year is monsoon season.

The dogs quieted all at once up and down the valley as if the maestro’s stick had suddenly stopped. I wondered what had happened. There was no shout from a neighbor followed by a shotgun blast to scare them like I remembered in my youth when dogs were being unruly. I was mid roll over when the rains came.

There was no howling wind or a sprinkle that built in intensity. The sky just opened up. It did whatever was two notches above poured for three hours. Then it didn’t taper off, it simply stopped. The sun poked over the ridge and my favorite blend of heat and humidity cranked while we packed.

Anu voiced his concern at breakfast. That kind of rain often leaves landslides as a reminder of its passing and we would be spending most of the day exposed in that kind of terrain. We had sixty kilometers to cover through a canyon construction zone which is the biggest hydroelectric project in the entire Himalayas, and that’s saying something in a country where the Colorado would be just another river.

We got lucky on the landslides. The rains turned some of the duff into peanut butter which was pretty exciting to spread with our street bikes, but mostly it just kept the dust down.

We drove through shanty towns with rusted corrugated steel roofs dotted with satellite dishes full of naked children and mothers doing laundry in muddy streams and past the various construction zones where men wearing hardhats and flip flops ran jackhammers.

There was a natural stopping point at the end of the construction zone where we watered up and Mariska pointed across the valley and up maybe 600 vertical feet to where the new road would be. Last year we could see the frontline folks blazing the trail with pickaxes while a team behind them trundled rocks down to build up the sides. It looks like it may be ready to pave already, truly an incredible amount of progress to make in one year by hand.

We stayed the night in Sarahan. A work crew mixed concrete for the third story of a building next to our hotel. They had the old rope and shovel team (one man holds the shovel, his partner pulls the shovel through the pile via a rope attached just above the spade, then the handle holder lifts and dumps the rocks into the waiting basket) filling basket after basket with aggregate, an old man (who looked about a hundred and twelve but was likely in his fifties) shoveling sand and a young boy adding water. I watched for a long time trying to figure out what sort of mix they were running. Knowing that an extra quart of water in a yard of concrete weakens the mix by thirty percent, it was easy to imagine why the story below sagged on the far end.

I read a book after dinner until two boys with music blaring out of their cell phone came up and asked me if I had any money for their foreign currency collection, a common scam here. I told them that I had already converted my money to rupees and asked them if they wanted to join me.

School is compulsory here until age eight or nine depending on whom you ask. They looked to be about that age so accounting for poor nutrition, I put their age at ten or so and asked them if they went to school and how old they were. Yes, an hour bus ride each way and thirteen year old twins. Their father owned our hotel which made them some of the wealthiest kids in town and still they showed no signs of puberty at thirteen and were much slighter in build than the average American third-grader. I guess I don’t mean average third-grader but the ones whose parents don’t consider Sunny Delight and Ho-hos as a snack option.

They gave me some Hindi lessons at my urging. I won’t be conversing about the local cricket team or whether India should really be focusing on going to the moon with the locals anytime soon, but my pleases and thank yous are now pretty solid.

We’ve been on the Inner Line for the last few days and are currently layed over in Kaza. The Inner Line was opened to tourists, Indian and foreign alike, in the Nineties. It is a well-maintained, by Indian standards, road with very little traffic save for military vehicles. It was built because China decided to move the border about five miles closer and the Indian government decided that that was shit up with which it should not put.

Our first night in the restricted area was at about 12,000 feet in the village of Nako. I hiked up to an abandoned monastery with Colin. The whole area is terraced with rock walls and aqueducts channel snowmelt to the apple trees and pea patches.

The tops of all the walls and fences have flat rocks with Sanskrit symbols carved in them and I’m talking the top two feet of many miles of walls and fences stacked with flat rocks carved by hand from long before the Iron Age. It’s hard to wrap one’s mind around how long people have been carving on those rocks; it must be in the thousands of years.

Just got back from a day ride to a one thousand year old monastery and the highest road accessible village in India. At the monastery a little boy of four or so grabbed Mariska’s hand and pulled him up two flights of stairs and into a dark room with candlelight shimmering off the walls. The boy waved to a monk in the corner and left. The monk asked us if we wanted tea.

His master relieved him and took us on a tour of the facilities. He had been brought there by his parents when he was six. Twenty-four years later, he is about halfway through his training. He has taken a vow of celibacy and poverty as have all of the 170 monks there.

The village of Kippa gives them food and that along with donations keep the lights on. The fourteenth Dali Lama stayed there in 1971, 2003, and is slated to again in 2010. The monk showed us the bed, it is the same one each incarnation of the Dali Lama has slept on since the monastery opened.

Many of the rooms are filled with ancient scrolls, paintings, and the like. But what most impressed me was the monk sitting cross-legged on the floor in the last room we visited. He held a thick hemp rope in his hands. He kept rhythmically leaning back with his arms straight which pulled the rope.

The rope spun a prayer wheel, which is really a cylinder, that was about eight feet tall and six feet in diameter. The top edge of the wheel had one silver bar maybe a foot long protruding from it. The bar struck a knocker on one of two bells as it went by.

The bells were different sizes and so gave off distinct peals as the cylinder spun. The monk kept up the pulling as a form of meditation until another one came to relieve him. The cylinder has been spinning and the bells ringing twenty-four hours a day for four hundred years.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Field trip

We started our day at the hot springs in the temple just up from our hotel. You leave your shoes outside the temple with a man who will keep an eagle eye on them for one rupee(3cents.)

Many locals bathe daily in the temple pool. The water is much hotter than you will find at a hot tub in the states. Your skin quits sending the pain signal to the brain instantly and you relax into a puddle.

We had fresh squeezed oj from a roadside stand then headed to a rooftop restaurant for chai and breakfast. We shared a table w/ a Frenchman named Tony. He told us about his ten years here while he rolled mixtee after mixtee. Halfway through smoking his first the owner came to the table and asked him for a hit. Tony handed it to him and he went about his business, merrily puffing while he made breakfasts and teas and clearing tables.

After breakfast we returned to the hotel to find two shiny Royal Enfields parked outside. Mine had 735.3 km on it. Anu pulled up and suggested that we head up Solang Valley.

There is a rope across the road at the ski resort. We asked if we could park on the uphill side of the rope to get our bikes off the road. Bikes secured, we headed down to the clearing for a chai.

A constant stream of paragliders and bubble boy transport systems provided our entertainment. The paraglider pilots have an interesting technique that involves running over their passengers when they land. Most of them look young and inexperienced. I think they are also too small to effectively flair the wings at the crucial moment.

While the pilot gets off the client he just smashed into the ground two boys roll the wing up into a ball that may or may not be a tangled mess by the time it gets hiked back to the top of the hill.

People mill about the landing zone, sometimes eliciting a shout from a pilot that fears he may clip them. The north side of the clearing serves as the runout zone for the bubble ball things that hold two or more passengers. I never saw one catch air but they do roll along at a good clip and probably smell delicious with the residue of lots of vomit baking in the heat.

It became clear when we left why Anu wanted to park uphill of the ropeblock. We headed up the valley in the area restricted to Army and road building vehicles.

The freshly paved road twisted and climbed up the valley. The air cooled as we got closer to the hanging glaciers dribbling down from the peaks.

The pavement ended because they had come to the point where they planned to begin the tunnel. It is to be 9 km long and is necessary as an avalanche mitigation measure. The hope is that Leh will be accessible nearly year round.

Supply trucks must climb steep and dangerous Rhotang La to get to Leh at present. The rough road skirts numerous avalanche paths and usually closes for the season shortly after the first snows fall.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Smells

Sally (shameless plug for alaska travel source) pulled some strings, worked her magic, threatened, cajoled or whatever and got me on Thursday's oversold flight. Mariska and Anu picked me up in Kulu and only an hour late, which is practically early in India.

The first thing I noticed was the heat. 34 degrees Celcius (double it and add 30 for F, I'll do this one for you, it's 98.) Then the smog which along with smelling, instantly makes throats scratchy and eyes watery. Then it's the arnica, nag chumpa, and human waste(sweat, feet, and feces.) Then the foods hit yer nose. The curries and spices and fennels, oh my.

Speaking of food, one of the meals on my Continental flight was a chickpea burrito. I guess they thought they could have a meal that included one familiar thing from each major culture on the plane. But the two don't really go together so, ah well it's the thought that counts.

I'm in the mountain town of Manali, in the Himalayan foothills, I gots 15 large in my pocket, a great friend to adventure with, a bike that may or not breakdown every day, and all the crappy beer I care to drink. Pretty good alright.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Second Worst Flight

I'm getting a divorce. My poor parents are 0 for 3 in the children's successful marriage category. Since Brooke and I have seperated, I've been surrounded by good friends trying to help me heal. Some really good pearls have come out of that time like, "You're either in a relationship or 0 for."-Josh

Some opportunities have presented themselves as well. I decided to jump on Phil's offer to tail-guide for Mariska in India. It seemed like the perfect place to spend the purgatory between married and divorced. So I put in a rush order on a passport and visa renewal, tried not to think about the financial ramifications of this decision but rather the emotional ones, did my best to remain kind and gentle to Brooke through this transition, and chain-smoked.

Anchorage to Houston to Newark to Dehli to Kullu. Everything was going just peachy until we were about two hours out of Houston. I woke from one of my seventeen naps and raised my window shade. The sun blinded me. That seemed odd, either I had been asleep for many hours or we had turned around. Before I could wipe the nap drool off my chin, the captain came over the PA. You can always tell when an annoucement is coming from the collective groan of all the people using the inflight entertainment that just got interrupted.

The captain told us that a heckuva storm was pummelling Newark. Air Traffic Control had closed all of New York's airspace. "Don't worry, we anticipated this before we left Houston so we have plenty of fuel." So we circled and circled, mostly over Tennesee. The inflight map showed that the captain was doing a pretty good job, the circle on the screen got wider in a few spots but mostly he was following the same track until...

"Well folks we've used most of our extra fuel, ATC has routed us to Norfolk Virgina." We landed and got in line for fuel with the rest of the jets that had been hovering while waiting for the storm to blow through Newark.

My departure time out of Newark was 8pm. Since it was 7:30 and ATC still hadn't let us leave Norfolk, I was pretty sure I missed my flight. Ah well, at least we were waiting on nice hot tarmac that heated the cabin somewhere near the triple digits range, with an absolutely sold out plane full of parents on tour. The thing about parents on tour is that they realize no one wants to see the parents so they usually bring the babies.

The babies had a wail-off to pass the time on the runway. I had a contender sitting across the aisle from me but try as she might, she couldn't out scream the future President, astronaut, shortstop or teenage father in 12C. That boy could scream.

We finally got to Newark. Guess what waited for me there? It's true, another line! This one was full of patently pissed-off folks. The line crawled when it moved at all. At 11:05 about thirty people that I recognized from my flight joined the line. They had found a service desk right next to our gate when we had landed. I missed it and am glad I did cuz the agent's shift ended at eleven and no one replaced her.

"Next." I stepped up and a cute Hispanic American with way too much blue eye shadow said, "Where were you headed?" closely followed by, "Shit, why do I always get the hard ones?"
I got booked stand-by on Thursday and confirmed on Friday. Most folks know that the airlines no longer bump honeymooners to first-class for free, charge for lunches and extra bags and that sort of thing. Another awesome cost-cutting measure is that they no longer put people up when connections are missed.

Ms. Guerro told me that all the hotels near the airport were full due to the sheer volume of travellers that had been stranded by the storm. She said that I'd be able to find a motel on the strip, near where she live, miles and miles of motels and a cheap cab fare.

I've only been in the Newark airport once before, in fifth grade. Dad took me to New York and I remember him trying to find a cab to our hotel in Trenton. He asked a few drivers how much it might be, he wanted to make sure that the slick drivers weren't trying to pull one over on a hayseed and his son.

They all told him the same number. One of them explained to us that the lawmakers in Jersey had decided to fix fares by zone. So everybody going from the airport to all those motels on the strip would pay $18.

I finally got to the front of the cab line and said, "Take me to a motel on the 109 strip." Which one? Any one. But I have to have a name. Why, don't you know where I'm talking about? Yeah but I can't just drive around tell you find one. and on and on until I just got in and told the guy that i was done with lines and hassles and I was going to the 109 strip to find a motel and he indeed was taking me there.

Now I'm typing this in the Oak Grand Motel. $34 for two hours or $56 for the night, which is a pretty good deal if you think about it.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Springtime in Alaska

Fourth time's a charm! This time my retirement from landscaping seems to be sticking. No more rolling over at night and waking Brooke up with my whimpers of pain.

I took a job with Alaska Wildland Adventures for the summer. Brooke works for them year-round, winters in G-wood, summers in Cooper Landing. So far it's been pretty great. I've spent more time with Brooke this summer than all of last summer combined.

I'm working with the fishing department. As a lover of irony I thought that would be the best place for someone with a seafood allergy.

Oh yeah, I pulled a hamstring while playing softball. Another example of becoming those people you laughed at a decade ago. Hopefully I won't be found in a closet with a rope around my neck and my genitals in ten years like former Kungfu star David Carradine was yesterday.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Redoubt Erupts

Magma on the inside, lava on the outside. She huffed, puffed, shimmied, and shook for months. Chicken littles ran around yelling of impending doom. Suppliers ran out of respirators, Spam, and shrink wrap. The media screamed into microphones while status colors changed from yellow to orange.

The populace looked west, some with fear others, with longing. Longing for a view of a sun fading out, a foot of ash, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria. Maybe longing because it's the only way to feel connected to the natural world while texting, twittering, changing one's clock for daylight saving, and eating Argentinian asparagus.

It faded to page 3, people forgot. Scientists spoke of "geologic time" and of patience.

On March 22 at approximately 22:38 local time, Mount Redoubt erupted for the first of six (and counting) times. Ash went from 40,000 to 60,000 feet in the air. Wind patterns steered most of the ash toward Skwentna. Residents reported half an inch on the ground.

Planes heading to Anchorage hauled twice as much fuel just in case the wind switched and they had to turn around. Even if the passengers made it to their destinations, their luggage often did not because it had to be left behind to offset the extra fuel.

Brooke took off from Seattle on Monday evening. The plane turned around by Sitka, 590 miles southeast of Anchorage, and landed in Seattle. Her luggage made it to Anchorage on another flight. She and Neil hit the thrift stores on Tuesday.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Take a break from skiing, go skiing!

Brooke and I spent a week in British Columbia at a backcountry lodge. What a treat to stick your head in different snow. Alaskan skiing big, steep, wide-open ramps can't be beat but pillow-drops, tree-skiing, and 6% snow are pretty nice too.

The players: Heather, Gwen, Kyle, Brooke, Stacy, Ken, Rachel, Rory, Nels, Phil, and me. Most knew each other before arriving. My wife the connector was the common link. Digging into her trusty costume bag every night helped forge and tighten bonds.

Shelly and Martin Glassheen run Valkyr Adventure Lodge. They built it, they love it. Lots of thought went into the place. A pipe from a nearby lake brings water first through the hydro power system then to the shower. Yep, sauna or shower or both, feel free to bring a beer. The rooms are comfy, the sauna perfect after a day of skinning, and the food both tasty and filling.

We took a twelve minute heli ride in. Brooke and the kegs of beer went in the first ship. Weather moved in and the rest of the group was stuck on the heli pad drinking whiskey and throwing snowballs for a couple of hours.

The clouds broke and we got to the lodge just in time to drop our bags, click in, and start skinning. The lodge sits at 7200' at the base of a sweet face. We skinned the 800 vertical feet to the ridge and got one run in before dark. I think the whiskey really helped most of the group enjoy the first skin. We came from sea level and it was for the best that the burning of our lungs had been dulled.

I'd recommend Valkyr to anyone from lower intermediate on up. The terrain is varied, the travel straight forward, the ridge walking, world-class. 

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Hedgehog

Classically trained actor. Masters degree in education. Special education teacher. Extra in "Ghostbusters." Porn star.

We waited forty-four minutes and twenty-seven seconds in line. They routed us through aisle after aisle of videos with titles like, "Totally Virgin 3" and "Fat cumdumpsters 2." We caught an occasional glimpse of him getting his picture taken with an adoring fan.

Ron Jeremy is even hairier and greasier in person. It's easy to see why he can no longer get the job done, but can only kiss the tip. The man credited with kicking off the "Golden Age" of porn has let himself go to hell. He says he traded the gym for the buffet. Don't worry, it'll be awhile before he stars in a film that brags "over two tons of fun" on the front cover but soon his costars may demand more than he just shave his back.

Mr. Hyatt was courteous and efficient as he signed our skis and a helmet. We got a photo with him and he asked Brooke for some skiing advice. Well, she said it was skiing anyway. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Look! There's Another One

May 28th, 1934 the first quintuplets to survive infancy were born in Canada. The Dionne sisters became a tourist attraction and cash cow for the Canadian government. Ontario decided to take the sisters on as wards of the state to help the struggling family with the burden of quintuplets.

A hospital and nursery, complete with observation area, were built for the girls and their caregivers. Observers watched them play twice a day from 1936 until 1943. Quintland brought in nearly $51million through admissions and merchandise surpassing Niagra Falls as Ontario's largest tourist attraction.

Sextuplets have only survived a couple of times in natural human pregnancies. A Woman recently gave birth to octuplets. Now septuplets will maybe make page seven, if it's a slow news day. The business of fertility has blossomed from women giving birth to litters to eighty-year-old men getting boners and chasing little boys around the rectory.

How is it ok for a doctor to impregnate a woman that already has six children? This planet has 6.75 billion people and counting according to the US Census world population clock. Check it out, the count goes up as you watch. It takes into account kids banging in the back seats of buicks, trying to save the relationship sex, make-up sex, casual sex, and every other time a sperm successfully runs the gauntlet.

It seems to me that we have plenty of folks around. If you can't have one without putting your legs in stirrups, donating a cotton swab full of who knows what, holding your knees to your chest to help some tired swimmers along, and the magic taking place in a centrifuge, perhaps you shouldn't have one.

There are plenty that no one wants. Pick up one of those. You can still mold the child into your own image and force it to do all the things you regretted or failed at, but with no guilt if it turns out to be a piece of shit. I mean, you did the best you could didn't you?


Thursday, January 22, 2009

SOS, DD

Well, we're two days into it and my life hasn't changed. I had a pitcher of beer with a couple of co-workers after work on Tuesday. CNN ran on all seven televisions. Must have been a slow news day because the Obamas dancing at various (I think the real number was a ridiculous 10) balls. 

I realize it's a historic day and the nation needs to celebrate. I wore my tuxedo t-shirt, I didn't think that it would be prudent to rent or buy a tux in these economic times. I think it would have really showed that things are changing if the Obamas were to use one of the bibles the Gideons are always giving away.

Instead we spent $160 million, while pushing a man through to run the Treasury that doesn't pay his taxes. Yep, people make mistakes and perhaps he is the best man for the job. But I think someone that makes that kind of money should pay a professional to prepare his taxes. Obama letting that mistake slide isn't much different than the last administration bending or breaking rules. Above the law is dangerous.

Don't get me wrong, the world's attitude toward Americans improved on Tuesday. That will benefit those US citizens that hold passports (less than 30 %) the most. But black, white, or purple, this country keeps on truckin' down the same road as empires of old with a new technological twist. The spread between rich and poor grows, our citizens produce little, and gladiators chase balls around the arena while the zoned out masses stare at handheld mind control devices.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Keep your day job

"You guys want extra napkins?" "What for?" "For the blood."

Brooke surprised me with ringside tickets to Thursday Night at the Fights last week. Seven amateur bouts followed by the pros in the headliner. Holy haymakers, batman. The first couple of fights featured never evers wearing surf shorts and tennis shoes. They made up for their lack of skill with boundless enthusiasm to pound the living shit out of their fellow human beings.

The first blow to land solidly on a jaw caused the opponent's contact to fly out of his eye. The bright lights reflected off it as it spun out of the ring. Mr. One-good-eye won the fight in spite of the obvious handicap.

The fighters get to pick nicknames like "Carolina Clubber" and "King Sting." One dipshit forgot which sport he participated in and decided that he should be introduced as the "Karate Kid." He won his fight but Mr. Miagi would have been disappointed.

What didn't disappoint was the token cat fight. That's right, Ladies and Gentlemen two chicks duked it out for glory and the $150 that goes to the winner. One of them probably was the first girl picked for teams in gym class. I thought there was a mistake in the program until the second fighter entered the ring, it was much easier to tell that she was a female. Alas, the pretty one got her ass kicked by the driver of the Lesbaru, suffering the second broken nose of the evening.

We shared our side of the ring with "professional" photographers who seemed most concerned about getting as many shots of the skanky ring girls as possible. One of them was take-home-to- Mom pretty but the rest probably couldn't land a job pole dancing in Butte, Montana. They all wore skirts so short that it was easy to tell that they wore thongs. Actually it was hard to see some of the thongs through all the cottage cheese.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Ullr why have you forsaken us?

I can't remember the last time it snowed. I do remember that it was a ten inch storm that blew away the next day. My bent skis no longer cut it. They worked fine when the snow was soft but became scary as hell once things firmed up. So I sucked it up and bought a new pair of sticks.

They'rrrrrre great! The trick is to wait to buy new gear till yours is more played out than a forty-four year old crackwhore with a bad back. Then whatever you get on will feel fun and lively.

Folks seem ready for the cold snap to end. In fact, we probably should use the word spell instead of snap cuz snap implies quick and this has been going on for weeks. People with crawl spaces in Girdwood that hadn't had their faucets on a controlled drip spent the last week underneath their houses on hands and knees in the spiderwebs and porcupine shit trying to thaw pipes.

Plumbers are as backed up as Grandpa after eating a pound of cheesecurds, "It's gonna be a week, at least." 

Speaking of plumbers, I heard that Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, aka Joe the Plumber is headed to the Gaza Strip to interview their 'average Joes.' A couple of things come to mind when I think about that. One is what in the wide world of sports is happening to the media? The other is that he seems to be recovering better from those heady campaign days than our governor, what with her daughter's drop-out daddy losing the job she got him when it was pointed out that he didn't meet federal apprenticeship requirements, rumors still swirling about whether Trig is hers, and drop-out daddy's mommy's oxycotin arrest.