Text Trail. 2003 - 2004. ~mike gradziel.
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Also read from 2001-2002, 2002-2003, 2004-2005, 2005-2006, 2006-2007, 2007-2008, 2008-2010, 2011-2012, and 2013-2015.
Saturday Jeff and Joanna and I cycled the 50 miles between Rosarito and Ensenada, with about nine thousand other people. After the pack got moving it wasn't crowded at all, partly because of our slip to the back after occasional stops for tacos, beer, burritos, tamales, water, and search and retrieval of wayward components of our trio. Northwest Baja is not a particularly inviting place in late summer. I'd previously been there in spring, when the hills are green and misty and the towns are uncrowded and seem a little more removed from adjacent US cities. On the same land, it's surprising how different life can be on the two sides of the border. The fastest riders rolled across the finish a two and a quarter hours after the 10am start and we arrived after about six hours, with many people still behind us. Some folks really took a beating on the course, which was low near the coast for the first part, then climbed inland for several miles before turning back down to the coast ten miles above Ensenada. Aside from a little sunburn I'm unaffected a day later (somehow the legs aren't at all sore). The fiesta in Ensenada was loud, overwhelming a wedding party finishing up at the church across the street. I felt bad that the event took away all hope of a quiet reception in the courtyard for the newlyweds. The bride looked like she was seventeen. Our shuttle buses were parked behind the church and after making the rounds through food stands at the fiesta (the roadside tacos were far better) we returned to the lot and waited for the last stragglers to clamber onto the bus. One pair of seats stayed empty: a man died of a heart attack near hilltop mile 30, and his wife was being taken home by event organizers. About half-way through the ride, after dark, the light above the man's empty seat turned on mysteriously. It was the only one lit on the bus. Everyone was sleeping or waiting dumbly to get home and despite our patience, it was still very frustrating waiting at the border and navigating back into the Quallcomm Stadium parking lot just after a game had ended. Long day, much fun, something I'd do once every few years though it's held twice yearly.
It came as a surprise to me how different my country, or a part of it, appears when experienced from a visitor's perspective. Sean and Caleb and Steve and I stayed three nights at the tourist hostel in Santa Barbara, sharing our room with travelers from England, Ireland, Germany, Holland, and Australia. Most were true wanderers, living on dollars and cents, smoking and drinking their way by bus and train through the publicized highlights of the States and doing it over periods of months or years. Each seemed to share a single purpose: to have a good time at every stop along the way. They will settle down once they've learned enough about themselves. Think of it this way: some people can find purpose and education close to home and ascend to security and success without straying far or hesitating long. Others need to wallow around probing their bounds and amusing themselves for a time - months, or years - before settling on sufficient purpose and education to ascend, their travels folded into the past and forgotten once new bearings were set. And the remainder feel compelled to dive below again and again, distrustful of any foundation and forever searching for a straighter path or a way to a higher peak.
The Santa Barbara Tourist Hostel wasn't a shining star of accommodation. The twelve bed bunk rooms had mildew-stained mattresses and pilled blankets and peeling paint, and the bathrooms were muddy and not well sized for the 50 or so guests. The surfer staff was easily befuddled by menial tasks and instruction sheets lying around the desk indicated that there was great difficulty in tracking arrivals, departures, and the dispensing and collecting of keys and sheets. Help wanted bulletins appeared twice during our stay. The cost of $23 per bed per night was comparable to a hotel out of town shared by 4 or 5 people, but we were conveniently located near State Street and right next to the train station and tracks. Though the front door was locked at 2:30am, the windows remained open for air and latecomers so between the talk and the trains we found sleep difficult. We went for a cheap room, but we stayed because there was so much to see and learn by sharing a room with five Dutch girls or a group of travelers from England.
We saw the town, ate in its restaurants, sat in its bars, played volleyball on the beach and walked up and down the streets. We browsed the grocery store - more ritzy than even the La Canada markets - and took a tour of the high life ourselves in a nine passenger limo with black leather and a bar and a driver who took us to four wineries over the course of five hours. Beautiful Sunstone is still the best by wine and setting, Gainey a solid second by architecture and atmosphere, bridlewood a nice location if one gets a membership for access to the grounds. The Santa Ynez valley was prettier when cool and green though.
I also went to Sunday mass at the Santa Barbara Mission, a 1780s construction that is supposed to be one of the nicest missions in California. My main purpose was to get in and see the place without paying for or plodding through a tour, so I attended for the hour and a half long mix of music, a sermon with far-flung points that somehow connected together and related to scripture, and the tedious ritual of wine, water, wafers, candles, and a book on a pillow. My impression was of a hall full of people united by the purpose of asking for things they wanted for themselves. The speakers dispensed advice on how to act so one would profit most, the prayers were pleas for divine generosity, and the people obediently followed their rituals to appear dutiful and worthy either to gain status in the community and congregation or perhaps to gain favor with god (I think perhaps the former intent was more prevalent, at heart). I think such things do good for people though, since most are more peaceful with something to follow. As I alluded to above: people walk on a thin sheet of ice. The ice floats on a deep sea of information that is too vast for our intellects to ever fully understand in the time we have been given, though we see deeper as we become increasingly better at working together. The ice floats in pieces, each on the same sea but different in character such that looking through one piece or another, one perceives a different base below. At times two pieces will fuse together, and at others they will fracture and part. The pieces will break apart if too many people take one position, but cities can be built securely on the ice. The cities will eventually crumble however if no effort is made to understand what lies below the ice and adapt to the activity there; the sea of information is dynamic and truth is slowly changing. Some people will step carefully across the ice for their entire lives - it is slippery - following established paths on which one never needs to peer through the ice to the frightening depths below. Others range freely across the ice, sometimes leaping across leads, looking into the sea and at all the things on the ice and eventually settling on favorites. A small number float stubbornly in the water, wanting nothing to do with the ice but leading more or less the same live as their ice-dwelling neighbors. And others dive below, chasing the truths and modeling networks in the sea and finding ways to move life forward, sustaining the masses living above on the ice. Many religions put evil below and paradise above. Vices lie below, where one can easily be swept away and lost. Safe empty certainty lies above. But only life can feed life, and one must dive down and fight and take and forge new understanding. It's a dangerous place to live, not just dabbling and paddling like the drifters but swimming straight and deep and keeping notes and feeding the people what they need to survive. If I've lost you, return sometime - maybe next week's post will be more familiar. But with this latest foray, I think I've got a net around the culture of wanderers. Next: keeping up the castle. I've been out and about so much that everyday tasks and projects are falling behind.
Ottawa has an attractive airport, comprised of angled tubular steel columns and trusses, glass, abundant fountains and rock-lined splash pools, polished maple trim, potted plants, white translucent countertops, and stonework of white blocks evoking a Northern ice environment. I slept there one night - it is more correct to say "rested there" after arriving late from Los Angeles en route to Iqaluit, capital of Nunavut. To the unaware Southerner, the Nunavut sounds like something out of Gulliver's Travels but this newest of Canada's provinces is home to twenty-five thousand Inuit and the animals that they pursue by boat, sled, ATV, truck, and occasionally on foot or with dogs in the traditional way. I spotted the place on my globe and booked passage north to investigate. Iqaluit (pronounced "eeHAllowit" or "eeHAlloweet", or "ihKAllowit" if you're a southern transplant mispronuncing the Inuktitut) is in the Barren Lands, where not a single tree grows and the sea ice is out for only a few months of the year. It's the largest town in the region but it didn't hold my attention, so a couple days after arriving in the wet mosquito-bitten place I was again airborne in the back of a Hercules 748 turboprop, headed to the short gravel airstrip in a beautiful fjord at Pangnirtung. That name's pronuounced "PAngnuktuk" or "PAngnuktung" and commonly referred to as Pang. Inuktitut speech is a pretty sound, a syllabilic language without well-defined words that flows together but is spoken with double-consonant breaks that sometimes make it seem that the speaker is choking on a piece of fish.. I stayed a few days with an Inuit family, dining on caribou and Arctic char from the previous week's hunting trip, venturing out into the fjord in their aluminum boat fitted with two Honda 90's, and walking all over town and the surrounding hills. I found a beautiful but desolate land, carpeted with wildflowers and blueberries and lakes and ice fields, windy and free of mosquitoes and all wildlife but birds. Even the birds fled at my sight. Every creature is hunted. The people are troubled, many suffering from the collapse of their traditional simple lifestyles and unable to adapt to the ways of the South. The North is Canada's great welfare state, where city costs and prices lurk in rustic villages and few sources of income are available. I watched icebergs drift past in the sound and waited for breaks of sunny weather to catch glimpses of the rugged peaks to the North, hiking to hilltops and ice sheets or strolling through town watching the people, browsing the stores, and reading historical references at the Visitor Center. Skins were strung on fences and hung over porch railings, bright red fillets of char joined at the tail hung over wooden poles to dry in the sun, antlers and tusks lay piled atop sheds, a polar bear hide swayed in the breeze as it hung from a line, and adorable furry puppies raced among the older dogs chasing one another around the streets. Pang is a small town housing about 1500 people in small government houses perched atop steel piles drilled into the permafrost. It was a good place to see, but I had trouble leaving when windy weather arrived. After a day's delay a plane made it in, and when it departed with me aboard we porpoised like a boat and fishtailed like a car driving on icy roads. My checked bag vanished after customs in Ottawa but I've returned home with film and stories to share.
Texas is a different land altogether from every other place I've seen. It's a land of corrugated steel shacks and windmills and rolling open range, of limestone bluffs and creeks and winding county roads that have never seen paint, of thunder storms and barbed wire and lone star flags flying high. Barn door and mailboxes and fences are painted with the flag and highway signs say "Don't Mess with Texas." The people are friendly and proud even though few wear hats these days. They're conservative and segregated, even more separated than other places I've seen, but the underlying flavor of the place was one of hard country capability and pride in American freedom. There is no nonsense, no timid concessions, no dainty footwork of soft social politics. The sky is clear, the grass is tall and green, and I would in a moment give away my posessions and buy a truck and a horse and a strip of land in the south central limestone hill country, at the edge of the rangeland, if I could take that quiet life.
I flew home for the long weekend, bringing in cool clear weather from the West much to the delight of everyone. The cool mornings kept the bugs away so I hiked, canoed, and fished happily. The orchids were blooming, everything was brilliant green, and the sky was baby blue with puffy white fair-weather clouds that never form on the California coast. Little seems to change there so I quickly caught up with friends around campfires. People are home from school for the summer, or returned having graduated, looking for work and lamenting how few opportunities there are. The towns are gradually absorbing urban troubles from the cities; I wonder whether they're destined to become past-prime puddles of humanity or if they will revive to become attractive rural hamlets to where successful people retreat from their hectic city jobs.
Been puttering around the house lately, around the town, getting stuff done like that furniture I've been building and work projects and climbing and some hiking, biking to work, escaping from work for an afternoon at the Huntington library - a lovely place especially the Japanese gardens and the Palm garden, I think. Claire and I went for tea and a buffet of tiny sandwiches and fruits and sweets English style but, as was pointed out to me, in American casual buffet quantity rather than proper English setting. I was perfectly content to have the buffet rather than proper English starvation rations. bread without crusts is for weaklings, though the food was tasty! I was proud of myself: I was able to identify most of the cheeses.
It's been a busy weekend again: snake pit Thursday (weekend is a vague term), a migration to the beach Friday evening for sushi and contemplation of wave patterns, Saturday errands and an evening party and a late evening visit to Huntington beach. Unfamiliar with the way to my destination, I navigated south and then Westward by instinct, a road atlas, faint recollection of having been there before, and celestial references. On the PCH I passed the campfires at Bolsa Chica and was struck by the disturbing order of fires, people, and light poles. It was a scene out of brave New World, the free elements of sand and surf and fire now controlled, the beach fenced off by straight barriers and illuminated by perfectly spaced light poles and the fires each identical in their circular concrete cages, also neatly spaced in straight lines across the sand. And like Aldous Huxley's characters the people swarmed across the sand in clusters predictably gathered around the caged fires and content to enjoy their prescribed evening of fun at the beach. Huntington Beach was farther south but there too the fires were burning, and though they were seventy miles from home on a long dark strip of sand my friends were easily located beside one such encampment. Is this really the future of humanity? Sunday we went to the Getty. The view of Los Angeles is spectacular on a clear day and it greatly improved my understanding of the geography of this city. The Hollywood hills were beside us and I could see the San Gabriels to the East, the San Bernardino Mtns on the horizon, the curve of the coast clearly visible, sailboats scattered on the blue ocean, Catalina Island shimmering in the haze offshore, planes taking off from and landing at LAX, the spires of downtown poking up from the sprawl of homes and warehouses, and a web of streets and freeways fading to the south. The architecture is impressive and the exhibits intriguing though I must admit that I prefer to see them at a comfortable walking pace, no less. I become sleepy if I linger.
Climbing on Saturday, Devil's Punchbowl on Sunday. The Punchbowl remains largely unexplored to me since I always walk straight to the clear cold streams and scramble up the channels and to the tops of sandstone ridges. Elsewhere in the Natural Area, about 75 minutes from Pasadena, there are many sandstone arches. We will have to go back to find them. It's hot here.. high 90sF. I think spring has passed; the green is fading and the haze has arrived. Winter was too short!
Another weekend not working but should have been. Instead Steve & Joanna & I hiked most of the way up Strawberry Peak in spite of the rainy weather. The precipitation turned to stinging sleet on the high ridge and ice began to accumulate on the ground. The San Gabriel mountains are particularly beautiful now since many wildflowers are blooming but winter hasn't quite departed yet: Droplets of water delicately supported at the center of tiny lupine leaves among the purple blossoms were on the verge of freezing, each droplet filled with fine ice crystals that gave them a semi-solid quality. The wind was stiff and our hands were getting cold so we didn't climb the final few hundred feet to the top. Later, as we descended, the clouds began to break up and we could see intermittent views of the valleys below. Weather always makes a landscape appear more dramatic.
Sunday I was introduced to Yoga. It completes this week's multicultural lesson which began with teachings from the Dali Lama on Wednesday at the Pasadena Sheraton, where I happened to be for a training class, and continued with a dinner of pho - the Vietnamese noodle soup promounced "fuh." The spiritual/relaxation/meditation part of yoga doesn't appeal to me but the balance/strength/fitness part does. Before I can make any progress in either that or climbing at the gym I need to stop working 65 hour weeks. That should happen at the end of the month~
Sunday we cycled a 38-mile route around downtown with about 1300 riders to benefit the LA Children's Hospital. It was nice having a rolling street closure - no stopping at lights, no watching for cars. The time change made for a very early morning ride to the Gold Line station and by chance we took San Pedro from Union Station acrosss downtown, a poor choice especially at that hour. Several blocks in particular are the sleeping place for dozens of homeless people and at 7am they are all gathered on the sidewalks, waking from cardboard pallets and tents and heaps of trash. There was an unbelievable quantity of trash strewn across the streets and the smell was awful. I'm amazed at how low people fall when they stop trying to keep a respectable life. Later in the afternoon they have dispersed and the streets are partly cleaned, but again every night the same sorry lot must return. I wonder if it is the distance of separation that pushes people over the edge. Every impoverished place I've traveled to, though pitifully poor, has an element of sufficiency that speaks to the hope of the people who make the most of what they have and continue to strive for more wealth, more security, and more freedom. Seeing these basic purposes cast aside in the midst of a city that is often thought of as the epitome of rich America surprises me but also accents the inequality of the situation. When the gap between rich and poor is great, there is mutual distress and eventually the efforts of both classes will fail. That's not to say socialism is a solution - for history clearly shows otherwise - but it does speak to the value of sharing, educating, dissolving stereotypes and prejudice, and working for the benefit of one's neighbors rather than one's self. I see selfish lifestyles, ethnic separation, and reluctance to change these ways all very much alive here and while I'm pleased by the coexistance of diverse groups I'm puzzled by the way they assemble in a hierarchy rather than an array at equal footing. You people all assume too much and question too little... well anyway, the ride was nice. The weather's too ordinary, the snow is melting too soon, the spacecraft is too heavy and costs too much, the car needs work and the furniture still isn't done, the painting hasn't changed for months, the projects exceed the time I have, but all is well.
This weekend: Santa Barbara. A drive up the coast through green hills sporting the orange beginnings of the poppy bloom ended at the waterfront in Santa Barbara. It's a quaint place. All the buildings in town are white stucco with red tiled roofs and fine landscaping. Palm trees sway in the breeze. State Street was bustling with the usual crafts vendors and also with kiosks for the Whale Festival encouraging marine conservation and awareness of issues. We walked out on the wharf, browsed the shops, ate lunch, and then drove into the mountains on the 154. After spring rains the scenery was vibrant green and very much alive. Behind us was the blue ocean and ahead were steep hills and deep ravines covered with tangles of oak trees and soft grass. As we descended we came across beautiful ranches, pastures with horses grazing beneath ancient twisted oaks, and neat vineyards draped across the gently rolling lowlands. We visited a few wineries, the last in the village of Solvang. The "Danish capital of America" is a beautiful village of European architecture, pastry shops, craft sellers, restaurants, and wine sellers. We lingered there as the sun set, admiring the starry sky and colorful lights while munching on sweet pastries. Back in Goleta we acquired 9 pounds of meat and some vegetables, grilled dinner, and played darts and card games until everyone was falling asleep. Every hotel within 80 miles of Santa Barbara was booked but my reservation was still good and we were happily asleep in time to get five hours of rest before sunrise. Home on Sunday.. back to the 65 hours a week spacecraft component design!
30 miles Pasadena to Venice Beach, 29 back, a couple more up the beachfront to Santa Monica and back. Rode through downtown - Joanna knows her way around and what many of the buildings are so I got the tour - and then crossed an endless traffic-choked strip of asphalt to the sea. Lots of people at the beachfront, drumming on plastic buckets or selling incense or performing strange acts for dollars and change or strumming guitars and singing half-heartedly in the hot sun. We ate at an excellent cafe and lingered for a while atop the cliffs in Santa Monica chatting and watching fat squirrels dart in and out of their burrows. Rode back along Venice Blvd and took a different route around downtown through a quaint, older Los Angeles. Found the Mexican Culture Institute - looks straight out of Mexico City - and City Hall and a better way home on the north side of the 110. Home at sunset. Surprisingly, not sore at all from the long day. Better incude some hills next time.
Big Bear has snow but it's 55 degrees. The lake doesn't freeze; the blue water reflects snowcovered mountains that line the horizon. The snow is still icy in the late day shade but for the most part it was excellent for my second time on a snowboard - the first time being same place, 3 years earlier. No problem though: I took the lift up with Steve and Joanna and learned to ride again in the first ten meters off the lift. I do think I prefer skis. A board takes more effort to ride - one can't ever go straight or an edge will catch and cause a tumble. Getting around on a flat or riding lifts is very awkward. It's still fun though; I'd go again.
Joshua Tree: brilliant stars, abundant meteors, fine weather, excellent scrambling, some hiking, a drive over every major road in the park, a big campfire, steak and chicken, good times. Nice weekend escape. Work's getting busy, very busy. I have a hundred things to do even when I'm not at the office.
At the instant the rising sun first peeks above the horizon it is a bold cyan. The color races through turquoise to a brilliant emerald green before a gush of yellow spills over the edge and brightens to a blinding white a fraction of a second later. On most days there is dust on the horizon, or a marine layer, or thermal activity that disturbs the atmosphere, or clouds. Only once before at sunset have I seen the green flash and even then it was faint in the haze. But Monday morning when the sun rose over the Gulf of California the air was cool and still, there were no waves, and under pink wisps of cloud the colors of the sun rushed out onto the sea. The sun was so low that its light had not yet reached high mountaintops behind us and it was many minutes before warmth began soaking into the cool earth. We banked the campfire and sat against the mottled yellow and black brick walls of a beach cabana that stood half-finished forever more with its cracked ceiling planks weathered silver and sand drifted beneath the arched doorways.
San Felipe is about six hours by car from Pasadena and the drive is maddening. It goes through empty and desolate country so lacking in evidence of life that I wondered why I had left the Northern latitudes for such a place. The wind turbines in the San Bernardino pass twirled lazily, some not at all, under a thin gray sky. The Salton Sea was lost in haze. South of the border immense tidal flats merged with the sky in a distant mirage. But as we continued we came upon colorful purple, yellow, and red wildflowers scattered among green shrubs and grasses. bright blue water appeared to the East and a few miles outside of town we turned down a sandy road and drove straight to the water to watch the sun set.
I found it discouraging to see the crush of wealthy Americans towing trailers of ATVs, driving hulking trucks and utility vehicles, gobbling up gas and beer and fireworks, roaring around the dusty hills and chasing birds on the beach with motorcycles. Indeed I was one of the same, one of the overpowering Northerners able to come and go as I please, buy anything in town, and make Mexico my weekend playground. It must be terribly disheartening for the local people to see. Some of the fishermen now spend their days on the waterfront soliciting tourists: "Hey guys. You want to go fishing? Come, we fish. I have a boat, poles, life jackets." From across the street they would wave and make motions as if reeling in a line. A few bills from my wallet could be more profitable for them than commercial fishing and much less work. Prices across town were artificially high for Mexico, small tacos running a dollar apiece and beers about $2 a bottle. We wandered from taco stand to taco stand, bought drinks, and browsed the shops. During the day we lay on the beach, collected shells, and napped in the shade of the cabana. Monday morning we stopped at the panaderia and bought a bag of breads and pastries. They were the same as those in Mexico City, same as those in Peru and Bolivia. I wonder how these bakeries in Latin America all come to have the same goods for sale.
It is difficult to convey the feeling of stepping out from my warm tent in the night and turning to see a huge snow-covered mountain surrounding me with toothy spires on three sides, brilliant stars above and a bright moon casting sharp shadows from the pine trees and tumbled granite boulders. There are no sounds but the wind sweeping through the trees and smoothing over my tracks in the snow. Though it was quite dark after sunset, now that the moon has risen above the ridgeline the light seems bright enough to read by. I have stepped into a magical world unknown to everyone who has retreated to their homes hidden beyond the distant hill.
The road above Mt. Baldy Village was lined with cars on both sides so it took me 15 minutes to park. Snow-seeking sledders had overrun the hills and were blindly enjoying themselves, parking and sledding anywhere and hitting trees, judging by the abundance of traffic enforcement and parking permit patrols and occasional emergency vehicle sirens. I finally nosed my car into a snowbank with both tires just clear of the white line at the edge of the road and set out on the now-familiar trail to the Baldy Bowl. Someone had tied prayer flags to a limb at the trail register but the scene didn't quite look Himalayan to me. The snow was melting quickly in the sun but patches of ice and snow still covered the trail in the shade. I passed many people descending. Some had dogs, others carried skis, and those who stopped to say a few words seemed to have enjoyed the hike. I raced the sun to the bowl and arrived just as it sank below the ridge, taking with it the afternoon warmth. On a rise protected from rockfall and situated to get the morning sun I found a sheltered grove of trees and battled the light breeze to set up my tent. This time I tied every guy point to tree branches and piled snow against the windward side of the tent, thinking how different a midnight collapse would be from the incident in Yosemite given the snow and cold. As darkness fell I ate and squared away the campsite, cooking in my vestibule and looking out over rugged snowy mountains to the southern horizon. It would be a warm, balmy evening in Pasadena yet here an hour's drive away it really felt like winter. There were occasional murmurs from the Sierra Club hut a few hundred feet below me; I'd seen a large group wearing helmets descend late in the evening and I presume it was a Club-organized climb. I was the only one camped out in the cold that evening though and it was perfectly serene and peaceful.
I made one mistake that night: not cutting a flat shelf in the snow before placing my tent. I thought the soft powder would pack comfortably but the wind crust was enough to give me a slanted bed and I fought gravity all night long. The sound of falling rocks alerted me to the arrival of sun in the morning. I could see trails in the snow where boulders freed from the ice had leapt down the slope. Tea and oatmeal and idle minutes in the warm sun became hours until finally all was packed away and I, armed with my axe, went out to play in the snow bowl. The north slope was both covered with snow and safe from rockfall and here I climbed and glissaded until the hot sun and effort of climbing sent me back for my pack and on down the mountain. I first met hopeful skiers who would climb far for only short runs and then about three dozen Japanese hikers spread along a mile of trail. Back at the trailhead at 11am the mob was arriving once again. Though there was plenty of parking space available a guy in a truck nearly slid into my car while parking. People here don't realize how tires drive on snow - or rain, for that matter - so I can't be upset. I quickly finished chopping my front wheel out of the snowbank with my ice axe, closed the tailgate, and hurried ahead a safe distance from the lurching, spinning truck. Home again where I can spread my tent on the driveway to dry and walk around in shorts. You can't do *that* in New York!
Mt. San Antonio was snowy. It was even snowing! Sure is nice to feel some weather around here.. too much blue sky, dry weather, warm days. Beckett&I climbed up to the sierra club ski hut at about 8000 feet and the host, staying for the weekend, said two people had died on the mountain in the past 3 weeks. Icy! Intent on seeing how conditions were we climbed higher. Crampons and axes worked great and I marched right up to the ridge, but the higher I got the harder the ice was and self arrest would have been unlikely. So, I downclimbed through exposed rockfall chutes for 500 feet until I found Beckett again just before the cloud layer below us (beautiful being above the clouds, even if another layer of stratus lay above too) leapt up and reduced visibility to about 50 meters. It was so beautiful, and threatening, great swirling vortices of mist rising thousands of feet a minute, fingers of white cloud racing over ridges and spilling like waterfalls. It started snowing lightly and continued to snow as we clattered down a thousand feet of scree and boulders and snow to the trail. Back to Pasadena for pizza. Mars Exploration Rover MER-B lands, one way or another, tonight. Hope for a soft landing! and MER-A has been partly diagnosed and treated. There are some great people working at the lab!
Jan 18 - On this third iteration of my life in Southern California I finally have both a car and a bicycle so now the desert can be cycled. That was my intent as I drove to Red Rock Canyon to explore the sculpted rock formations and creek beds but I soon learned how the desert is meant only for travel by foot or horse. My two-inch tires cut through the crust on the sand and I spun my wheels even on flat ground as I struggled into the valley. The gravel-strewn ridges were thrilling to ride along but rather difficult to climb and descend because the hard surface covered with loose pebbles gave little grip. Sidehills were particularly testing. I located my nearly three-year old campsite and sat awhile to enjoy the absolute silence there at the mouth of a canyon. Ravens croaked from the cliffs but there were no other sounds. Clouds had moved in at midday and lay like a peaceful blanket; I could have napped for hours. Instead I leapt into a dry creek and slalomed down the gravel bed, climbing high on the banks and dodging the sharp black rocks that looked little changed since an ancient volcanic eruption had splintered the cinder cones they came from. Next I drove to Tehachapi. I could see snow in the hills from Highway 14 and was drawn closer by that unceasing curiosity about what lies beyond the pass. The pass was guarded by an army of swordsmen spinning in the breeze and generating electricity for hungry California. Trains rumbled alongside the road. Tehachapi is the only major link in southern California across the mountains to the Central Valley. The sign announcing the town of Tehachapi read "Land of Four Seasons." It did look northern and wintry with leafless trees, brown pastures, and snow covering the hills. It felt a little bit like home. I ate lunch at a restaurant/gift shop/bakery where I bought a paper bag of local apples. That was another thing from home: apples on a crisp cool fall day. In the gift shop there was a book entitled "White Trash Cooking." It was a two-volume set with recipe names spelled in their proper phonetic pronunciation. Deciding that Tehachapi wasn't quite like home, I went on my way.
MER-A, dubbed Spirit, is on the surface and sending back beautiful photos. The atmosphere at Caltech was tense (to say the least) as mission control listened for sigals announcing the landing events. The first wild cheers followed doppler data confirming a deceleration from parachute deployment, the second from a hint of a bounce on the surface, and then after 10 agonizing minutes the celebration began with good signals from a landed vehicle. The well-trained robot unfolded its shell, deployed a camera mast, and documented the flat plain where it came to rest. The scientists are ecstatic that they're on a flat plain with good rocks and little dust, the mechanical engineers are happy with the nearly level vehicle position that makes driving away easier, and everyone is stunned by the flawless landing. We are exploring again and I love it.
Whisked into French Polynesia under cover of darkness I ventured out at first light and saw a stunning landscape of sea and sky and lush forest. I made my way to Moorea, a most beautiful island of volcanic crags and coral beaches, and wandered off along the shore. Wisps of cloud drifted among the mountaintops, waves crashed on the reef, and the air smelled of flowers and salt and warm earth. I paddled a canoe out into the bay and peered through transparent turquoise water to coral and white sand below. I dove with schools of colorful fish, sat on the beach and devoured fresh fruit and coconuts pulled from nearby trees, and cycled past orchards and pastures and quiet villages. I hid from the burning sun and read books, watched squalls blow in from the sea, sat by the water each evening at sunset, and talked with other visitors from the States, Australia, and Europe. There was no work to be done, nowhere to go beyond the edge of the island, nothing to worry about. I needed no shoes, no shirt. Beautiful women abounded dressed to varying extent in colorful pareos. Restaurants served fine French food and the happy Tahitians saw to it that alcohol was readily available for evening merrymaking. There were few insects and rain was infrequent. It was so good a life, and so beautiful a place, that I became very much aware that something was missing. I'm home in cool California mulling over the realization that when one captures the body of a dream, the dream is lost. Like birds and butterflies, snowflakes and dewdrops, an enchanted tropical island in the South Pacific can't be located and explored and captured and preserved. Only the rocky husk was there, though this was covered in beautiful plants and animals and people. The allure of distant islands is gone and I don't feel that any boat can take me to it now. I'm sharpening my crampons... I think that which I pursue may have escaped to the frozen heights of the Sierra Nevada.
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