Text Trail. 2002 - 2003. ~mike gradziel.
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December 18, 2003
ami, au revoir! I shall return tanned and speaking a little more French. Exciting times approach; our first Mars landing vehicle touches down just a few days after the Rose Parade and both the Lab and the city are looking sharp. Little of note has happened of late, save the first-ever broccoli festival at our place (I'm serious... there was so much broccoli I had to host a dinner to have it eaten) and the gathering dubbed the 'ultimate beer pong festival of joy.' I posted some photos from Phoenix, top link below. The desert calls for a hiking trip soon, as do the High Sierra. happy holidays all!
December 7, 2003
While the Northeast was being buried by snow and Pasadena succumbed to gray wet weather, Phoenix was enjoying above-average temperatures and sunny skies. I was too, since I was in Phoenix. There were butterflies and colorful leaves, birds singing in the trees, bright green carpets of grass, and rivulets of water burbling peacefully in a stream beside which Marla and I sat in the sunshine. Nearby, the signs said, dangerous rattlesnakes were also enjoying the afternoon sun but we didn't pass those signs until later. It's common sense anyway that we are guests in the home of other creatures and should step carefully. Later we saw two such creatures, collared peccaries looking very much like their relatives I spotted in the Peruvian rainforest. It was late afternoon and we'd just visited the Tonto cliff dwellings, though the approaching darkness kept us from climbing to the ruins. It was for the better since we were descending the narrow, winding, mostly unpaved road from the Roosevelt dam back towards Phoenix at dusk in time to see the flaming clouds reflect off the water below in the canyon and silhouette saguaro cacti perched on the steep slopes. The wispy clouds were leading in a weather front that was blasting the San Bernarino pass the next morning as I drove through. Unusual lenticular clouds were anchored in the sky above the mountains, streamlined and stacked like saucers. Snow covered the higher peaks and clouds roared over the ridges. The same strong winds had spun up hundreds of wind turbines and the entire pass was a churning mess of dangerous-looking whirling blades of many sizes, turning at different speeds and in different directions, seeming to block my way. I was allowed to pass unharmed but plunged into a fog bank and became mired in traffic that had been defeated by a light rain. The desert ran in rivulets off my car, departing with the last hours of the weekend.
December 1, 2003
The world is shrinking, a disturbing occurrence since if the trend continues then well before I've collected enough years to access my retirement funds the planet will have lost its allure. I should not, however, base this observation on the banality of crossing the continent after lunch, to arrive in time for dinner, because our fine land spans only an eighth of the globe at its latitude. The holiday crowds were well-behaved and nowhere did I have to battle long lines or traffic during my migration to Massachusetts. Three days at home convinced me, judging by the slow pace of life and the lack of progress, spontaneity, and creativity, that if I did not depart immediately half my life would vanish with nothing to show for it. The news was the same as always: Classmates returned from universities resumed dreary jobs they'd worked in high school. Friends got married, or divorced, or drunk at the bars too much. Some pushed baby strollers home to households strangely lacking in family. I wish I remembered their names, as they know mine, but I've been home so little and found so much else to occupy my thoughts that those details escape me. Everything seemed to move so slowly and without any drive to exceed. I miss the place, but not the lifestyle. Back in Pasadena life's fast as ever and I can't complain. It keeps me occupied, and no one out here has yet complained that I can't stay still. Speaking of which, I must move on! g'day
November 24, 2003
Leaves turning color, flowers blooming, blue sky sometimes on crisp days that could easily be Northeastern winter if it wasn't 70 degrees. Days at the lab, evenings at the shop, weekends on the move. Just got back from Santa Barbara, going to New York. Nights in Hollywood, sunsets beyond palm trees. Snow in the mountains, groves of orange trees covered in fruit, sidewalks packed with people on warm Sunday afternoons. Crashing waves, silhouettes of islands, canyon country. Wildfire and burned hills, windstorms, even some rain; a big thunderstorm flooded Los Angles last week. Counting the days till landing on Mars, working away at the next mission. Movies, dining out in Pasadena, shopping the Saturday morning farmers market, grilling steaks out on the balcony while the Rose Bowl blimp circles over our place. Sometimes we watch fireworks from the back deck. cycling to work when it's warm, racing the sunset home, dodging the deer. Some evenings I spin my globe and look at all the places within a hand's spread of home, the reasonable week's escape. Perhaps French Polynesia, I think.
November 16, 2003
Sunday again, and I'm exhausted but one more weekend wiser. Now I will include peace of mind in my selection criteria for campsites. We were out wheeling again, among the lava beds and cinder cones southeast of Baker, and found a lovely site in a dry wash atop a 20-foot high cascade. Undeterred by swollen rain clouds, we set up camp in the constricted channel and parked a car length from its edge. Steaks, roasted potatoes and onions, beer, and fire completed the evening and a game with the glow-in-the-dark green football fortunatlely caused no injuries or cliff diving. He who holds the glowing orb can see nothing and must range and orient the throw with sound, like a bat. Then the rain started, just as we were turning into sleeping bags. We rigged a tarp between the two vehicles and slept there and in the cars, thrashing about to avoid drips or strange objects in the cars, all the while imagining a distant heavy shower sending a wall of water to sweep us over the cliff. But in the steady light drizzle it seemed foolish to get soaked moving camp - and to where? - so we stayed. Some slept more than others. In the morning we explored sandy creek beds and rugged tracks in the lava before heading home. Lesson learned: the good night's sleep is as important as the view and thrill of the site. Plan carefully ;)
November 9, 2003
On Sunday Sean and Steve drove up to the high desert in their respective 4WD vehicles so we could explore trails and creek beds and roads not normally considered passable to autos by the rest of us street drivers. It is quite exhilirating creeping up and down steep hills and over large boulders and off ledges but I'd liken it to the excitement one could get navigating a hiking trail in a wheelchair: the two just aren't very compatible and the sport is about combining them without getting stuck or broken. Strange, isn't it?
The weather's cooled enough that I could climb out at J-Tree. I could pick up scuba diving again in the kelp forests of the Channel Islands. I could do more cycling, but I'd need to get out to the desert because the trails nearby are frequented by hikers and other riders and I have to stay far below the speed (and degree of recklessness) where descents become thrilling. I could start running trails regularly again, or buy a kayak and paddle, or take up skiing for the winter. But I'm starting to realize that if I continue to be an occasional participant of all these activities, I'll never be much good at any of them. I have equipment to maintain and skills to remember and strengths to build upon. Must be time to make decisions and direct my life... I was trying to avoid such a situation! But if I don't, I'll lose the edge that keeps each sport fun and the confidence and understanding and feeling of progress that motivates me. Hmmm... much to be learned. How to be capable, but specialized? Interesting, but focused? Responsible and guided, but flexible and accepting? How come I wasn't taught these things in gradeschool? The exact same things apply to work. Well anyways, all's well in Southern California. I'll retreat to my peaceful bubble of Hollywood lights and fine restaurants in this metropolis of people and goods from all over the world. I'll pretend for a little longer that until I get my own life figured out, I can ignore the worldly social issues I hope to address with my career. Eventually I'll have to make some decisions. It's a sobering thought..
November 2, 2003
It rained in Pasadena this weekend. The sky turned blue and clouds - real clouds, not the haze of summer - arrived. The air is cooler now and it almost feels like fall; when I step outside in the morning I half expect to see bare trees and brown grass and dry leaves blowing in the wind. But like always there are the palm trees and flowering shrubs and irrigated lawns that change little through the year. Timeless California..
October 20, 2003
San Gorgonio Peak is the tallest in Southern California, a dome-topped mass of granite 11,500 feet tall. Beckett and I climbed it Saturday with overnight gear and camped at the summit, where there are tent sites. The valley was hot - temperatures in the high 90s - but the air cooled rapidly as we climbed. The lower slopes are forested with large redwoods and pines, green grass lines stream-fed gullies, and there were even some maple trees turning yellow. They were a far cry from the fall foliage of home but nice to see nonetheless. Soon there will be snow on San Gorgonio; we were reminded of this as the warmth of the sun sank into haze to the West in a brilliant red flame. Arriving at the breezy, boulder-strewn summit after dark we greeted the other campers and then retired to a site on the East slope to cook dinner and warm up in sleeping bags. The lights of Palm Springs ended abruptly at the dark expanse of Joshua Tree, not far away to the East. In the north I could see the glow of Las Vegas lights some 200 miles away. The stars were brilliant until the moon rose and blinded us. I slept off and on, trying to keep from sliding down the gravel slope onto uncomfortable stones and shivering in my too-light sleeping bag. Then finally there was a glow in the East, then a red ribbon on the horizon, then a brilliant pink smudge and a point of light. The frost on our packs melted as we cooked breakfast, packed our bags, and prepared to depart. The tent dwellers were complaining of the raging wind they had imagined from the flapping of their tents in the light breeze, but they had been warm. The walk down took much less time than the walk up and we were back in Pasadena at 1:30. Much recommended... I'll be going back as soon as there's snow.
October 19, 2003
Weekends are becoming more numerous as time passes, or else work weeks are getting shorter. It seems that way, though my calendar says otherwise. But the weather in Pasadena hasn't changed much at all since I arrived here in August - a little cooler, more clouds - and the only noticeable difference is the lengthening hours of darkness that push me down like a heavy blanket in the morning and chases me home at night. Other than that, weeks pass unnoticed. Back in the Northeast the foliage is changing colors and there's frost some mornings and rainstorms and crisp clear days and soon, snow flurries. Maybe I'll drive up north seeking more familiar terrain.
September 28, 2003
I am closer to becoming a Californian. My car passed the smog check, soon will have CA plates, and then I will never again be eyed as an alien as I ply the streets. Actually, I may still be eyed with apprehension because in Los Angeles it is important that people drive the most expensive, showy car they can get their hands on and my Saturn wagon doesn't quite fit that image. It will be great for carrying my planned kayak or outrigger canoe though. The car thing bothers me. My emissions report details measured, average, and maximum permissible pollutants in parts per million. My engine is a typical small-car engine, a 1.9 liter 4 cylinder, but it generates far less pollution than the average vehicle. The average auto in California puts out 50ppm of nitrous oxide, while my car generates only 6ppm. Average hydrocarbon density is 7ppm while my car spews only 2ppm. And the maximum allowable pollutants are sickening in comparison: for example, 47ppm hydrocarbons and 764ppm nitrous oxide. I suppose that's for large trucks and other dirty vehicles, but if only commuters would drive small cars instead of SUVs and pickups then we'd have so much less smog and acid rain and fuel consumption. Trucks are for work, sporty cars for play, greener machines for the freeways. I try do my part - cycling to work, driving this friendly car, recycling my trash. You should too. That's my 2 cents. Just can't sit here indifferent after traveling and seeing what's going to be lost if the third world becomes just like my neighbors...
September 20, 2003
Isn't it odd that I had to get a job to become poor? The start-up cost astounds me. I bought a car, insured and registered it twice, and put down money for insurance and a lease on the house. I bought just a few pieces of essential furniture and nearly maxed out the credit card which no agency acknowledges the existence of, a problem that further complicates my efforts to finance and lease. But I'm slowly earning paychecks though they evaporate en route to my accounts. For the forseeable future I'll be living low.. no dining out, no more buying, no washer or dryer for the house. The next traveling will be back East for Thanksgiving. And, the calendar this year is such that if I take two days of vacation near the Christmas holiday, I can have 8 days free for a trip someplace. That's an opportunity I can't miss. Out of academia, no longer a wandering grad, I'm starting to realize why people reminisce about school. Personally, I don't miss it a bit. Building interplanetary robots to send to Mars is so much more fun than any class I ever took, and Pasadena has much more to offer than Troy. I do miss autumn in the Adirondacks though. That's what's happening here.
September 14, 2003
I got a bit burned by the sun today during the four and a half hours that it took to climb Mt. Baldy. The trail was good and the temperatures still cool early in the morning so we made good time up the ski resort access road and then across the Devil's Backbone to the summit. There, a lofty 10,069 feet high above Los Angeles, we were higher than every other peak in the San Gabriel Mountains. Pasadena was shrouded by the haze that lay over the entire area. It can't be all smog because even the desert to the north was hazy and gray. There was a nice cool breeze coming over the ridge and a sailplane was catching it and circling overhead. About 20 people milled about on the barren gravel summit, where we munched some snacks and then set off down a much steeper trail through scattered trees and along a wildflower-covered gully with a trickling stream. Also this weekend I acquired more furniture, hung more pictures on the walls, and stocked up on groceries. The place is almost starting to feel like home.
September 10, 2003
I'm working now and I've nearly finished furnishing the house. See the end of my xc-drive page for some funny move-in photos. Never underestimate how much a jeep can carry! The job is slowly getting busy. I'm picking up a project I worked on two years ago, my first task as a co-op. It's the job that got my name on a patent and papers and publications, and some cash has even come out of the deal. Now I'm developing an ultrasonic resonator based hammer-drill/coring tool for the proposed 2009 Mars surface study mission. I'm doing the hands-on design and testing work I love, bicycling to work every day 20 minutes up the arroyo and taking a few hours each night to unpack a few more things. I put up about two dozen good prints of my best photos, top pics from my six year collection of about 4000 images. The trusty old Canon point-and-shoot still turns out fair films but economics may press me to get a digital camera. I went out for a short hike in the hazy San Gabriel mountains last weekend and, looking through all those photos, realized how much I'll miss the Northeastern woodlands. I'm a country boy at heart, needing a place to run. But also I need some excitement such as can be found down in Pasadena (sometimes) or Santa Monica or Hollywood or any of countless other places people come together here. And, we have things like J-tree and Yosemite and the High Sierras and the Central Coast and Baja and the Mojave and the Channel Islands. All's well enough, I guess.
August 30, 2003
I have a home now. It's nice to have a place to live and work and relax after three months of wandering, but the freedom I've known cannot return for quite some time. Instead there are luxuries like furniture and a car and a real bed. I live just a few miles from work and a few blocks from a grocery store. My life need not wander past those bounds for weeks at a time, but hopefully Southern California will be the place for weekend escapes and midweek breaks from the job.
August 13, 2003
My trip started in a heavy downpour early on a Friday morning. I raced to the car but still got soaked, turned on the defog blower, and splashed my way out of town. The Southern Tier of New York was misty and wet. Pennsylvania was flat and short. Ohio was dry and cloudy and hazy and had the opressive crush of an urban industrial area. In Toledo strong thunderstorms moved in and gave an impressive light show and downpour as I crossed into Michigan. I stayed with Erin&family for a while and we drove up to the tip of the mitt, a resort area in northern forest beside the lakes. Sunsets on Lake Michigan were beautiful. The restaurants and towns were quaint and overpriced. Mackinack Island, at the strategic channel between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, was devoid of cars, overrun by bicycles and horse carts, and full of tourists like ourselves come to see the historic buildings and try samples from all the fudge shops. When I continued West, it was through Chicago and Milwaukee and up the West shore of Lake Michigan. White-crested waves lapped ashore on lighe sand beaches that gave the blue water a beautiful emerald tone. Farmland gave way to forest as I headed into the Lakes region of northern Wisconsin. I reached Lake Superior and drove out to Duluth, a pretty port city with great heaps of ore awaiting transport down the rivers. Minnesota started out as hay country and then became wheat fields. All across North Dakota the wheat was being harvested, and combines plied the fields in fleets. At dusk they crawled home, caution lights flashing, the workers no doubt exhausted from a long day's work. Only in the parks did bison roam free and prairie dogs nibble grass while their sentries stood tall on mounds and whistled the all's-well call. I drove into hilly hay country and then found mountains in Montana. Climbing over a high pass for thrills, I soon dropped back down to Cody, Wyoming, a tourist town done up in Wild-west decor. I rolled into Yellowstone on a Sunday afternoon and found the crowds not too large. The Canyon was spectacular - turquoise water far far below in a yellow, orange, red, brown, and white slash in the earth where wisps of steam vented from cracks and trees clung to the sides of gullies. The terraced hot springs were also beautiful, but the rest of the park - the geysers, the lagoons, the stinking fumaroles, the burned hills, the lakes - were rather ordinary at least to my travel-weary eyes. I think perhaps I am just seeing too much too fast. Traveling solo isn't a good way for me to relax. The Grand Tetons were indeed grand, craggy, sharp, tall, but not very expansive. I'd like to explore that mass of granite sometime. Jackson Hole was full of resorts and tourists though, and so I hurried on to the vast Wind River Range. These peaks are remote! No roads lead into the mountains. Few even approach them. On the West side the nearest towns have just a few hundred people and the land is desolate range. Thunderstorms flashed and boomed in the distance. Sunlight cut through the broken clouds and the breeze whipped past. From an overlook I peered into a huge expanse of sharp peaks and trackless valleys and nameless crags. Some day I will return and take a week to get lost in what might be the most remote range in the 48 states. But now, with a car full of stuff and no provisions and no hiking partner, I had to leave the range sadly watching it fade at sunset in my rearview mirror. Utah came next, and Colorado, a whirlwind tour of dinosaur fossils, red sandstone canyons, towering rock formations, rivers, lakes, and the lovely Arches near Moab where I watched the west horizon fade to red at sunset. My little car is out of place among all the pickup trucks. America is an empty land of farm fields, small towns, and country music. The roads are free and fast and well-maintained. There are no crowds, no suburbs, no crush of concrete and traffic. There's not much to do out there either, compared to my two homes in the Northeast and Southern California. My country is home to hardworking people who have built themselves a decent lifestyle that's become the envy of the world. The way was not honorable - the historic markers I pass tell of the massacres of the Native Americans and the scattered parks show how completely the land has been exploited, fenced, planted, and subdued. It makes me wonder what right the United States has to go about the globe telling other countries not to crush their peoples and plunder their resources.. but I suppose we must try to keep mistakes from repeating. I'm still thinking about how that might be done though. I must get to work! My free days are nearly gone; I am starting to think seriously about the job, an apartment, health insurance, furniture, and - scary but true - retirement savings. I could live as a nomad for years, I think, but something inside me wants a home.
July 14, 2003
I'm home after an uneventful 3800-mile trek up the meridian to Massachusetts. What a luxury it is to have shampoo and shaving cream! Yes, as a solo traveler I only need a bar of soap. The grass is tall, the strawberries are delicious, raspberries are getting ripe. I wander about guzzling fresh, cold, clear water and munching on fruit. Mom's salads fresh from the garden are wonderful. It's nice to have good bread - somehow even the fresh bread in Peru is tasteless and dry. I've washed my clothes and unpacked my meager collection of souvenirs: a few blankets and trinkets. Next I'll have my 600 photos developed and printed! There's work to do but my vacation is only half-over. I start work in September. It's time to see my own country now.
May 18, 2003
Commencement at Rensselaer was very nice. The procession into the field led by bagpipes was followed by a presentation of colors by the Joint Service ROTC color guard and a flyover by a B2 stealth bomber - a nice surprise. It came in low over the field house so we couldn't see it until it appeared directly overhead and roared past. The invocation by a Muslim chaplain singing verse in Arabic from the Koran and then translating it was particularly meaningful. The guest speaker was Dr. Benjamin Carson, an accomplished pediatric neurosurgeon with many good things to say about his success and our choices. He noted that the great societies of history - Greece, Rome, and Egypt, among others - declined because they became enamored by sport and philosophy and material wealth. They lost touch with the path of progress and reached a point where nothing was right or wrong because everything could be justified by some means. He pointed out that this is the information age: the agricultural age was led by America but it is long gone. America proved its superiority in the industrial age by figting and winning the second World War, but that age is finished. To continue to excel and to halt the historically-predicted decline the country is already falling into, we must educate ourselves with information and technology and continue to push the limits of our ability forward. And, we should not become lost in a murky philosophy of political correctness where one can't say hardly anything for fear of offending someone. It was great advice. The presentation of diplomas took hours - there were some 1500 - but walking across that stage felt so good. The ceremony was followed by a huge picnic on campus. I attended my sister's commencement in Ithaca Sunday, visited with the family, and depart for Peru Wednesday.
April 30, 2003
It is May at last and the bursting of spring from every twig and blade of grass is a reminder that time is passing. For a while it seemed that we were hung up in the midseason with ice and gray weather, and it was rather nice to put off the future for a bit longer. But now exams are here and classes are done and I am packing up. I've already taken away some of the furniture in my apartment. There are no tables, only one chair, and the walls look empty. My 3-foot wide piece of open-cell foam that has been my bed for the year is still here, however, and comfortable as ever. Maybe in August I will climb to a higher social class and buy a spring mattress. It seems so unnecessary though. Wait and see what I say after 7 weeks of backpacking with no ground pad (trying to keep a small pack; and I do have my pack's small foam framesheet). I must say, it's time to be leaving this town. Imagine living in an ordinary small city for four years, but in a cage. You would see opportunities and know of places to go and things to do, but you would stay in your cage and do classwork and study. I'll be back someday to climb more peaks and paddle more lakes in the Adirondacks and perhaps see more of the city life - shows, restaurants - but it's time to escape from the cage.
April 21, 2003
Spring has arrived at last, which is nice but also brings a sense of urgency to my end-of-semester assignments and plans. There are just a few weeks left till the close of exams. Erin leaves soon after to peruse the forests of Hawaii in search of elusive wildlife (all good ecologists tread through exotic places as summer interns. I should have been an ecologist). Given the beautiful weather, we decided to make the best of a (mostly) free weekend and went exploring. Friday night we made our way to Malta for another dinner at Chez Sophie, a delicious bistro in my once-yearly price bracket. Saturday, after lunch with my folks in Massachusetts, we meandered north to Williamstown and browsed the college-town shops and cafes that Troy so painfully lacks. Williams has a most beautiful campus and it's too bad they don't teach engineering, for I would attend. Continuing on to Vermont we at length arrived in brattleboro on the Connecticut River for dinner at the RiverView Cafe, a favorite of mine from paddling trips. From our window table we watched the orange light of the setting sun shining on the riverank as the blue water swirled past. Every table in the restaurant had an arrangement of tulips and an oil lamp and white linens. The paintings on the walls followed a mountain theme, depicting craggy, snowy mountains with soft brush strokes that belied the sharp, hard, real rocks and ice. As expected the food was excellent and well-worth the drive: local meat and produce with a Vermont cider-and-maple flair and the highest standards of quality. The drive home to Troy was long but it was good to get out of town. Sunday we again ventured out, exploring downtown Albany. The sky was clear and the air cool and crisp, church bells were ringing for Easter services, and families walked past on their way to church. We admired the architecture and decided that Albany was just compensation for Troy, helping to balance the scales. The real purpose of going out, however, was to buy some books at the bookstore in preparation for summer travels. That completed, work as usual began again. That's the news this week.
April 3, 2003
In spite of my hopes to one day build a sailing canoe and take it island-hopping (Greek Isles? Caribbean? Micronesia? where should I go?) I am finding life on solid dry land much more inviting than hopping from one rocking boat to another (figuratively, that is). So, I've got an offer with Boeing - Palmdale, California starting at the end of July and the good JPL family is going to hire me back. It's a tough call that is complicated by quite a few reasons to stay where I am and let Boeing build its own airborne laser aircraft. I've considered both options and jumped back and forth between them. It looks like JPL is buying me off the auction block. Regardless, I didn't get enough of Southern California in the last two years so I'm going back.
March 25, 2003
Saturday morning I took a taxi to the airport and somehow got seated in first class all the way to Los Angeles. My ticket was originally booked as economy class. It was fine flying weather and I was about to direct my rental car to Utah (snow on the mesas still) and the Grand Canyon and perhaps Colorado (lots of snow!) upon arriving, but that probably would have been frowned upon by Boeing and would almost certainly affect my job prospects. So instead I lounged in my huge seat, sipped wine and dined on the barrage of food they brought by, and picked out familiar landmarks in LA. It was like coming home, in a way. At the rental lot I picked out a brand new bright red Olds Alero, with just 1200 miles on the odometer, and took off up the coast highway to Malibu. At Leo Carillo state beach I circled around till I found Sean's unmistakeable Jeep tire cover, Sean, and his friends at their campsite. We relaxed on the beach, bouldered on the rocks, watched dolphins and surfers, went to the store and bought steaks, watched the sunset, built a campfire and grilled the steaks, and sat around talking. I fell asleep sometime around midnight local time despite the noisy campers (I despise campgrounds!) and the lack of a ground pad to soften the twigs and stones and trapped ground squirrels under me.
I woke at 4am the next morning and watched a beautiful sunrise, stayed till midmorning, and then headed East. On the way I picked up Damon the hitchhiking cyclist with a flat tire and the wrong spare. He was mid-way through his 120-mile workout in preparation for upcoming races, and he showed me around Santa Monica, chatted about his time in Desert Storm, and described the consequences of biking on the coast highway with its careless traffic. In Pasadena I met Doug for lunch, wandered around town for a bit to visit my old haunts, drove the 60 miles up over the mountains to Palmdale, and checked into the Mariott. I met for dinner with the Boeing site director, regional engineering manager, some recent hires, and some of the 10 candidates. The next morning at 6am we gathered at Air Force Plant 42, where most of the advanced combat aircraft are manufactured, and began 6 hours of interviewing. We toured the facility, saw the X37 (space plane test vehicle) airframe being built, rode up to Edwards AFB and saw a C-17 cargo plane, a B-1B bomber, and a variety of other aircraft. Then we returned to the hotel, went out for dinner and drinks, soaked in the hot tub, and otherwise made good use of Boeing's money. The years of study are starting to pay off; engineers are actually worth something!
This morning I was on the road at 4:30am, but the traffic was moving and I got to Santa Monica with time to make a beach sunrise detour. The place was absolutely empty at 5:30am, quite the opposite of the afternoon crowds. On the flight home I had to sit in the back of the plane beside screaming toddlers. I guess my luck with seating ran out. Now I'm back in the real world thinking about ways to postpone my assignments further. I should probably just tell the interview part of the story to my professors!
March 18, 2003
My last true spring break was quiet time to visit family, catch up on work, plan summer trips, and continue the job search. It was still snowing midweek with a foot and a half of snowpack still on the ground in the valleys, but then the weather warmed into the 60s. Two months left till graduation!
The rest of the photos from my Adirondack trip to Algonquin are posted.
Photos have doubled in number on the Mexico page; check it out to see more of last year's spring break adventure!
New photos are also up on the summer 2002 page, from my business trips and weekend wanderings around southern California.
March 2, 2003
At 6am Saturday we rolled out on the familiar route north to the High Peaks, headed for the ADK Loj and Algonquin Peak. Two and a half hours later we were on the hard-packed foot and ski trail to Marcy Dam and Algonquin. There were about twenty people registered for the trail that morning but most had gone to Marcy Dam and there were only four ahead of us. We meandered upwards through a sparkling landscape dusted by fresh snow. The clouds were breaking up and we hoped for a clear summit. Higher on the trail the footing became slippery and the trees covered in ice, very pretty in the sunshine. I finished one roll of film and began another. Occasionally one of us would step off the trail and disappear waist deep into a spruce trap. The eye-level trail markers were at knee height. We caught a first glimpse of the summit partially obscured by a gray-white mist that made it look like the mountain had dissolved into the clouds. Tiny figures clambered over the rocks above us. We ascended surprisingly fast, and as we climbed the clouds drifted away and bright blue sky emerged. The ground was coated with a thick layer of ice that had melted away from the sun-warmed rocks, making brittle glassy shells that crunched under my crampons. Nodules of ice covered the grassy areas, icicles that had grown sideways in the wind of the last ice storm. The fir trees were encased in ice as well. At the top a stiff West wind buffeted us and we took shelter behind a boulder. The horizon was still socked in with haze but very pretty nonetheless. We dined on sandwiches and granola bars until the chill surpassed the discomfort of hunger, then began to slide and shuffle our way down among the icy boulders. The descent was great fun and took a quarter as long as the climb had. We rested for a while atop a sunny cliff and watched high clouds blow in and obscure our sun, then returned to the trailhead. After browsing the gear at The Mountaineer in Keene Valley, we decided to eat dinner at the Olive Garden in Queensbury. Dressed in hiking clothing, tasting wine and cheese among the dinner guests, we did our best to avoid causing a scene. Sunday it rained: proof once again that one should never miss an opportunity to get out for a day, because you might not get a second chance.
February 24, 2003
Spring break is only two weeks away, but it still feels like winter. The weather has been warmer and the snow is melting. Classes are as usual - much work, little free time. That's the news.
February 9, 2003
NASA got more money this year than last from the administration, so job prospects at JPL might be good after all. I'm still unsure of what will happen after graduation, but what happens really doesn't matter too much. At the moment there is plenty of work to keep me busy, and little else to distract me at this season of wet gray slush and empty sidewalks downtown. Let me know if you'll be in Peru or Bolivia or north Chile in June; maybe we can get together for lunch sometime.
January 21, 2003
We had no class Monday, so I and fellow hiker Liam went to the Adirondacks very early Saturday morning. My thermometer registered -1 degree F at the Upper Works trailhead, in a remote lead mining area at the west side of the High Peaks region. A group of seven from Cornell, out for a map and compass class, had broken five miles of trail the evening before so we proceeded quickly to a log shelter beside Panther Mtn. Where the trail had not been broken, we sunk knee deep on our snowshoes. Spruce traps swallowed entire snowshoes, sometimes dropping us waist deep without warning. We set up our tent outside the small shelter and then went exploring to find Panther brook, which would lead us to the top of trailless Panther Mtn. the following day. From there we hoped to continue across the ridge to Couchsacraga and Santanoni. But hiking up the steep gully with its thin ice and many waterfalls, in waist deep snow, was difficult and we ran into trouble before we had made much progress. The binding of Liam's borrowed club snowshoe shattered as he pulled the shoe out of a hole (Don't buy Tubbs snowshoes with the light duty bindings). I lashed it together and we retreated to camp, where I fashioned a usable binding from a small metal grill, parachute cord, and spare webbing straps. The rig worked better on my boot, so I hiked out on it the next morning. It's too bad we didn't get to climb, because the trees were covered in ice up high and very pretty, but it was also nice to be back in the warm apartment with a chance to catch up on work.
January 13, 2003
Winter break brought lots of snow and some time to breathe. I'm back at school for a final semester now, hoping to get out now and then on weekends but expecting to be rather busy as I complete my degree in seven semesters instead of eight. I'm hunting for a job still; any ideas?
December 19, 2002
The exams are over and I have just 15 credits, five classes, remaining between me and a degree. I'm still job-hunting though and have no exciting plans for break. I'm hanging in between two places not really knowing where I'll be in six months and waitng for some amount certainty to arrive, but three weeks off are quite welcome. I've posted 179 photos from Erin's trip to Kenya - check them out!
December 8, 2002
Absolutely nothing exciting is happening. I have just enough classwork to keep me close to home and just enough exams to require well-planned studying. No weekend forays to the Adirondacks, no hiking trips, no climbing, but we did get a little snow here and it has been tempting me to get out. That's really all there is to say at the moment... no plans for break but work and figure out where to go this spring and summer.
November 30, 2002
I lose track of days now. There are a few weeks remaining before winter break, and I've no plans beyond my last exam. Most likely I'll be outside exploring places within a half-day's drive of home base in MA. The money's got to stay in the bank if I'm going to travel someplace in May before starting work, so I can't venture too far until then. It's turkey time this week, a welcome respite from classes. I'm amazed by how much more tolerable RPI and Troy become when there aren't exams and assignments hanging over my head. It's a good school, but I am convinced that there's a better way to get a degree and spend four years of one's life.
November 14, 2002
My girl's home from Africa, tanned, with sun-bleached hair, and not at all acclimated to the slushy, icy snow that has blanketed New York. She was in Kenya almost two months doing field research and taking classes in conservation ecology. So, needless to say, any free time I have is spent with her. The last rush of exams has passed and job interviews are still happening. I've got no plans for break yet. But it is finally snowing!
November 2, 2002
Classwork and gray wet weather are keeping me inside, studying, rather than romping round with a backpack or a mountain bike. I've got job interviews and midterm exams and all the usual assignments happening at once. I'm talking to Lockheed and Kodak and WL Gore and General Dynamics and I've got hopes for an offer from JPL. And I am still filing applications. So, I could really end up anyplace next summer. I'm more interested in the work than the location because I think I could find some way to get into mischief no matter where I am, but it is definitely time to get out of this town. My buddies at work and wise friends have advised me to take two or three months off before starting full time and travel someplace. Where should I go?
October 14, 2002
I didn't get my campfire and time on the trail was minimal this weekend. Time off the trail was substantial as my three companions and I blazed a new route up the East slope of Panther Mountain in the Big Slide Wilderness. It never stopped raining during our stay in the Catskill Mountains. The kayakers were happily paddling on the muddy brown, rain-swollen Esopus Creek as we ascended through misty forest and selected a beautiful campsite at the ridgetop. Golden ferns filled a small clearing in the fir trees, beside a rocky ledge that sheltered us from the wind. We pitched two tents and retreated inside mid-afternoon, passing the time until dinner. It was dark by 7pm and soon afterward we were asleep. It continued to drizzle and rain all night but the tent stayed dry. Each of us had a story in the morning about the rock, hump, root, or hole we were sleeping on or in but we all had sept well, warm, and dry. Outside it was still the same timeless gray misty wet wilderness it had been the day before. We cooked breakfast in the vestibule of my tent, packed up, and hiked down the trail. Water ran over our boots and soon everything that had been the slightest bit dry was thoroughly soaked. Six miles later we emerged dripping and piled into Mike's car, which promptly fogged up. Windows open, heat turned up, we drove out of the rainstorm to dryer places. I still want that campfire!
October 7, 2002
I've been losing track of time lately. I manage to escape on weekend trips that get me out for precious hours of freedom before I return to the fast beat of studying and looking for work. Isn't it rather comical that I feel the need to look for work with such urgency?? I've already got enough to consume my life! But I don't get paid for it and most of it isn't very much fun either. If I ever need to get a big programming job done I'll hire a programmer. If I ever need to build a mathematical model of a complex electrical system I'll hire a control systems engineer. Most anything else.. I can do it. So I've been offered a couple of interviews and I'm still pondering the great question of what line of work I would like best, now that I have the opportunity to do anything I want. hmmmm, unanswerable questions on a Thursday evening. I think I'll get back to those equally unanswerable transfer functions. Last weekend I took a group of ROC hikers up to Indian Head in the Adirondacks. It's a two or three mile hike in to a beautiful rocky cliff above Ausable Lake. We napped on the sunny rocks, admired the rugged hills adorned by foliage in peak fall color, and then shuffled back to Troy by late afternoon. This weekend looks like it might be damp but I've hatched plans to take a group down to the Catskills for an overnight backpacking trip. I need a campfire and a quiet night on the trail.
September 30, 2002
The Rensselaer Outing Club has an annual migration to Lake George on the last weekend of September. Not all club members make it; some succumb to RPI homework, others to pressing commitments elsewhere, others to apathy caused by various causes, but the strong beat natural selection and make their way to beautiful Turtle Island by any craft that can float and be propelled across water. From schools across the Northeast, other outing clubs send delegations that arrive throughout the night. Heavy rains from the remnants of a hurricane battered us as we paddled to our muddy camps. People drifted in all night long, some arriving by the powerboats, others by canoe and kayak. At times the only indication for the unfamiliar of which way to paddle to the island was our 3-kilowatt sign blazing the letters ROC into the foggy blackness. I didn't want to bother with bringing a tent, so in the early morning hours I went to sleep under my canoe and was very comfortable and dry. I woke at 6:30am and tumbled out into a beautiful clear calm morning. Greg and I picked up the wreckage from the stormy night and set out breakfast for the sleepy campers who had begun to drift in. Throughout the day everyone ate, slept, swam, paddled, hiked, dove, jumped, climbed, and found every imaginable source of entertainment. In the evening we fired up the coals and produced hundreds of pounds of grilled meat to feed the island. Then, just after dark, the dancing began. Our fiddler, guitarist, and squaredance caller seemed to feel a little out of place playing tunes under a maple tree beside a lake, a distant generator powering amps and lights, and 200 energetic college students romping about in their best attempts at dancing. Fortunately, Mount Holyoke and Lehigh provided extra women to counteract the skewed ratio induced by RPI, MIT, and the other engineering schools in attendance. Rensselaer worker bees stepped out from time to time to tend the hot cider operations, check the power situation, and ensure that their carefully planned operation was going smoothly. Afterwards, some of us captured what beautiful ladies we could for stargazing on the rocks beside lapping waves or shared stories around campfires. I reluctantly retreated to my comfortable accommodations after several hours watching meteors and napped for a short while before rising early again to arrange breakfast and start the long process of packing up the island and sending it back to shore. The work never ends, it seems, with each night for a week before and after calling for some amount of time tending plans and equipment, but just one evening of dining and dancing and quiet hours by the lake is more than enough reward.
Been busy. Trips hiking and the like, much work. Classes are going well. The weather's been nice. The two cats which live downstairs have made themselves at home in my apartment, entering and leaving by the window when I'm around. So I've got some furry company which often interfere with homework! I have many new photos to post once I get them scanned and formatted. Keep watch for them!
September 8, 2002
The sun chased me all the way to Detroit on Friday morning and finally managed to rise as my plane descended over the lakes. First, Erin took me out to breakfast and coordinated a special arrival of the Stanley Cup. She insists that it wasn't planned but I must be skeptical. Unaware of why it was causing such a commotion, I looked over the giant silver soup can with a salad bowl welded on top and decided that Detroit was very proud of its hockey team. Next, Erin introduced me to everyone who would listen and we went to various places on the island of Suburbia. I enjoyed an excellent dinner with the family, after which Erin secured her neighbor's bright yellow racing Corvette for our transportation the next day. Her driving skills improved remarkably while I flinched in the passenger seat at every pothole and too-close curb. With the top down, we sped around the neighborhood and eventually arrived at a giant mall the size of my town. There, we explored store after store, checking out the very ordinary inking capabilities of a twelve thousand dollar pen at the pen store, browsing the aisles of the clothing stores, and trying out the agressive and violent pummeling/massage lounge chairs that seemed to have been designed by the same people who build paint shakers. We raided the candy store and then headed home, noticing happily that our car could exceed any legal speed limit in the state in about three seconds. Erin delivered it back to its owner in pristine condition and we set about reducing another excellent dinner to crumbs with the rest of the family. By Sunday evening we were on our way back to Troy, having run out of time.
September 4, 2002
I went hiking Sunday, from Woodland Hollow in Phonecia to the summit of Wittenberg Peak. The weather was cool and gray and at the summit overlook Matt and I found clouds drifting past, obscuring the view. It was surprisingly cold there in the wind, a reminder that September had arrived and snow was on the way. Some early fall foliage had already settled to the ground and crunched underfoot. Monday, however, summer was back with blue skies and fluffy white clouds overhead. Seven of us drove to Lake George and paddled canoes and a kayak from Bolton Landing out to the Islands. A couple of us swam, and two more took a dunk when their canoe overturned in the middle of the lake. We successfully emptied it partly into my boat, partly into the lake, and made our way to an island to bail out. On the way back the waves and wakes had begun to pick up, making paddling rather interesting. It's a three-day class week for me... going to Michigan Friday for the weekend.
Back in Troy for fall classes. The helicopter flights went well in the Mojave last week. The sky is blue, a welcome change from the Los Angeles gray haze. Work to be done...
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