Tuesday, June 30, 2015

You Are Going on Vacation!

We live in a digitally and virtually hyper-connected world where the temptation to constantly check email and log into the work laptop from home is ever present. If there is something I do fairly well it is draw boundaries between my corporate life and the rest of my life. I have talked to a few people in the minutes before they leave on vacation recently and I think I have come up with some best practices.

There are fears associated with going on vacation:

  1. They need me, I am essential to the success of the program and irreplaceable.
  2. They don't need me. I am not adding much value to the program and quite replaceable.
The challenge is to allay both fears. Each one is very real even if none of us want to admit either one. 

The truth is somewhere in between depending on the specific situation. We need to communicate the following to people well. You are unique. We like having you in your job, there is a reason you are in the job you are in. You create value for us. Sure, it may be hard to quantify and political sometimes, but you are there for a reason. On the other hand, yes, you are in fact replaceable and we will survive for two weeks without you. After all, someday you will be promoted, retire, or take a different assignment. 

I started writing this strictly in the realm of business and corporate life, but this applies to other relationships as well. Certainly, a parent is needed by a child more than any one employee is needed by a corporation. At the same time, that child grows and becomes more independent and does not need the parent in the same way a three month old baby does. 

My solution has been telling people that they need to not check their email or log into their computers, and also that we will be waiting for them when they return. Go, do your thing, we'll be here when you get back.

Monday, June 29, 2015

I Live in Iowa: Week 210

Weeks can be good or bad for totally different reasons. Also, the definition of good or bad seems to be always changing depending on our goals of the moment. This was an above average week, for two reasons.

  1. I ran 27 miles! I know that's not a lot, but it's more than I have done in two months. Also, Friday on my run I didn't have any sort of bad feeling in my achilles, for the first time in this recovery.
  2. We solved a pretty big issue at work! I didn't personally solve it, but I was one of the first three people to agree from looking at the data that yes, that was our problem. Part of the problem now is, the root cause (the specific part, the design) is unavoidable. However, when put into our system there is some damping missing, or perhaps we just optimized everything else too well...
On the work side, solving problems, especially the ones that take months, is very rewarding. I wanted to walk out of that two and a half hour meeting Tuesday and jump for joy, expect that I had been at work for like 9.5 hours and in meetings like 7 of those hours, so I was exhausted. Still, the problem has a root cause now, and it's even more interesting because it might not actually be a problem. HA! Oh engineering...

This stress fracture/tendonitis on my left leg that led into achilles tendon issues on my right leg is the longest injury I have dealt with since plantar fasciitis in 2008. Coming back is not easy. I ran every day this week, which is an accomplishment. I did a "workout" on Thursday of 3x30 seconds at a moderately fast pace, which ended up being about 4:50 pace, downhill of course. Still to be able to pick up and do that for the first time in months was great! Then Friday having no pain or tightness at all... amazing!

In other news, wow space is getting interesting! Philae is slowly making contact with Rosetta. Dawn is spiraling down to Ceres and those bright spots keep breaking up into smaller spots. New Horizons is finally getting to Pluto and returning the best pictures we have of the planet so far, including colored pictures! 

One of my friends was teaching in Taiwan the last year and I had a chance to talk with her this past week, and it's funny how across all disciplines and cultures communication is always a bottleneck. The challenges she faces teaching middle school and high school kids are some of the same challenges we as engineers face simply talking to each other. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Colorado Next Weekend!

I'm headed out to Colorado July 4th weekend like I did last year. It's going to be a short trip about 4 days total. I am not in shape to run Nolan's 14, and there has been snow and rain in the mountains, so many of the routes might be difficult in running shoes and clothing. So, the objective will be climbing, specifically I want to take a shot at the north face of Peak C in the Gore Range just north of Vail. Obscure mountain range, officially unnamed peak, only one real north face route so far, long approach, unknown conditions, it's going to be fun!

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Relationships, that's all we've got. The relationships with ourself, God, our family, our friends, our coworkers, our planet, our neighbors, the air, are really it. You can buy many things, including relationships, but that doesn't give them any depth. They are work, not always easy, but they are all we have. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"The Record"

There is a record for everything. World records, American records, state records, facility records, personal records, route speed records, most difficult climb records, first person to do this or that, best in class, highest mileage midsize suv, steepest route in the Gore range, you name it. There are many goals, everyone is inspired by something different. I have found myself recently thinking in terms of records. It's strange to think about external records. On one hand, it's no longer you against them, it's you against the world. On the other hand, it is no longer you against you, but rather some external measure of "success". 

In some ways it's a shame, instead of the process being the most interesting part the result becomes more interesting. Instead of seeing what is possible, it's simply seeing if it can be done 0.5% better/faster/more than before. In other ways it is inspiring. The mentality that says, 'just doing it, even doing it well, is not enough. I have to do my best.' It's a different level, and in a way brings it back around to the you against you because to get "the record" it's going to take the best you have, without yourself standing in the way. 

I'm not sure what record you are striving for. I can tell you if it is a good one you will laugh in elation and cry when you struggle and the effort will be worth it. The results aren't always pretty, but the lessons we learn along the way are well worth the pain it takes to learn them.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Increasing Training Volume in the Summer Heat

I felt like I was going to faint Monday on my 3.5 mile run. I was sweating like crazy, breathing hard, and a little light headed. Sure I gave blood last week and haven't had much iron to eat since then, but wow that was still harder than I expected! It really isn't a surprise when I think about it, increasing the volume of training, of running, that I do during the summer is very difficult. Because of the increasing heat and humidity a four mile run in 80°F and 80% humidity will feel as hard as a four mile run in 75°F and 70% humidity did last week when I was in worse shape.

Moral of the story, don't get down on yourself when you are out there dying while exercising in the summer, take it easy, stay hydrated and get your electrolytes. When the air cools down in September and October, you may be in the best shape of your life.

Monday, June 22, 2015

I Live in Iowa: Week 209

This past week was a good one. Slowly but surely I'm headed in the right direction. Sunday I went to church and then rock climbing at Backbone State Park in Iowa, a good start to the week.

Work was educational, which I like. I'm taking a class on gear failures, which is definitely interesting, and I learned about torque converters, which are so cool I can't believe I didn't know what they are until last week. Basically, a torque converter is between the engine and transmission in an automatic transmission car. It is a cylindrical pump inside of a turbine, and a closed system that had a fluid (oil) that flows from the one to the other. It converts torque from your engine to the transmission. However, it does lose some efficiency, but it protects the engine, or transmission, from spikes going up and down the power train system. A torque converter is why your engine can idle in drive, because the engine is still spinning, but at those low rpms, it takes very little brake force to keep the transmission from spinning and your car from moving.

Running was good, another 20 mile week, just .5 miles farther than last week. While my left leg is all healed my right Achilles is still tight, but not painful anymore. I'm not 100% healthy, but I'm close. We (my coach and I) are still taking it slower that I would on my own, which is part of why I hired a coach. This week looks to be 25ish miles and some strides.

I will not be running Nolan's 14 over July 4th weekend, I'm not in shape to do 100 mountainous miles.

Saturday I was home at my parents in Wisconsin to watch my mom and sister run a 5k. For my mom I think it was her first organized athletic event in decades, and for my sister it marked a return to running, which she did when she was younger. It was awesome to see my mom and my sister train the last few months doing a couch to 5k program. I know that starting to run is harder than running when in shape. Also, seeing my mom get into exercising, and her slow progression, it confirms that I have to stay active my whole life, because it gets harder to ramp up training as one gets older. We'll see... my dad even talked about starting to run.

Thank you to my dad, for exposing me to so much growing up that set me on the path in life I am on. I think I had more diverse experiences and support growing up than the vast majority of people. My dad always came to my middle school basketball games, I'm not sure why, I didn't play much and I wasn't that good. Several times he was one of the only fathers in the audience. Changing subjects I would like to point out that I am not a father, and yes I can guarantee that, and for an unmarried man like myself that's something worth advertising.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Summer 2015 Space Exploration!

Wow! What a summer! Dawn at Ceres, Rosetta and Philae at a comet perihelion! And my favorite, New Horizons at Pluto! All were launched in the previous decade, and all have now reached their primary mission. In addition to the mission websites linked above, the planetary society is writing timely and detailed updates on the missions.

Dawn is the first spacecraft to visit Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt. There are several very bright spots on Ceres which have drawn quite a bit of interest. Frankly, no one knows what they are.

Rosetta is not the first spacecraft to visit a comet, but certainly has the best camera so far. Plus, Philae, a little 100 kg lander successfully landed on the comet last fall and have enabled us to study comets far more than any previous mission.

New Horizons was the most significant, in my opinion, space probe to launch while I was in college, getting my aerospace engineering degree. We've never sent anything to Pluto, and our knowledge of Pluto is very vague. Only a few years ago in 2011 and 2012 did we discover the fourth and fifth moons of Pluto.

Just a note on orbital mechanics, in order to get to Pluto in only nine years, we can't really afford the fuel to slow down the trajectory and stay there. It's going something like 13.77 km/s, 30,800 miles per hour. The fuel required to slow down would cost hundreds of millions of dollars so the spacecraft was built without large fuel tanks to save money and designed to simply make a flyby.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

I Gave Blood Yesterday...

And I am tired! I haven't given blood since 2012 or maybe even 2011 because of my racing schedule, Indonesia, Rwanda and Nepal, which all limit when I can take myself out of action for a week. 

When I run or bicycle it feels like I am at altitude, like I can't get enough air. So I've been running slower. Good news is, my injuries seem to continue healing well.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Look at ME! Don't Look at me!

I've been thinking about getting a sports car, something mid engine, 0-60 miles per hour less than 6 seconds, the farther under 3000 pounds the better. Why? Because they are fun!

However, on a deeper level, I blew three years of life savings on Mt. Everest last year and it basically all evaporated in an avalanche. Sure I had enjoyment out of that trip, I learned a lot, mostly about relationships, and I made new friends, and have the offer of a discount if/when I return to Everest. Point being, I laid all of that money on a gamble at an opportunity, and I lost. Buying a fun little sports car, like my nice road bicycle, is something that I can enjoy just about every day.

I like big goals, I love commitment, but in between the huge things, It's nice to laugh on a run on a sunny day. It's nice to hug a friend. It's nice to climb a 40 foot tall climbing route in Iowa. It's nice to survive, like actually physically alive, to the next payday. Small victories are definitely a lure.

As I have been taking more of an interest in sports cars the last few months, or half year really, I've looked at vehicles more than any other previous time in my life. Driving a minivan around, people don't really look at you, unless the giant dent in my hood scares them that I might hit pedestrians, in which case they look at me before crossing the street. Driving my little Honda Insight I get a few looks, the wheel covers are pretty distinctive, but most people have seen them before so it's no big deal.

Reading the articles, and talking to people, vehicles are something that people use to define themselves. People drive what they feel describes them. Okay, maybe not all people, maybe not even most people, however I live in the rarified world of wealthy engineers, and people are continually buying newer cars. It must be said that many people do legitimately view vehicles are something to get them from point A to point B with X number of people or Y volume of stuff. Those people drive minivans or compact cars. Ok I'm joking, mostly.

One of the challenges of any out of the ordinary vehicle is the "look at me" factor. In other words, in an analogy, yes I have a website, I blog a lot, I realize I come across as arrogant, but have you ever met me? This blog functions as my outlet for all of the vain attention I want, and frankly I don't care if you read it, it's most important to me that I simply write it. In real life I can sit back and be quiet and listen. The challenge of something physical and flashy, specifically a sports car, is it is really fun to drive, but it comes with all of the unwanted nonverbal communication that I am rich, that I speed, that I live life fast or dangerously, that I want attention.

I read recently that Oprah thought most people had a need or desire to be validated. Umm, yeah! I enjoy mountaineering and running because they are so personal, can I do it? It's me against myself. Yet in engineering, where I spend the majority of my time, or in relationships, it's not me validating myself, there is a crew of people validating me. The problem is, something like a sports car to me seems too close to the external validation rather than the internal validation. In other words, if I buy one, I'm not going to tell people about it as long as I can because I don't want it to change my relationships.

The battle we wage within ourselves for external validation on one hand and privacy on the other is bound to increase in the future. We surely don't think of it in this way, but people do things to get good pictures or credibility on social media. Maybe this only affects me. I suppose thinking back 200 years, it was probably similar, you had a reputation in your small community and you had what you do when no one else is around. In some ways today and the future is more like the long ago past than the last few decades.

This topic brings up another question, Pakistan or Nepal in 2016?

Monday, June 15, 2015

I Live in Iowa: Week 208

I suppose this would count as four years, although I actually had my first night in Dubuque April 17th, 2011. I'm not going to dwell on staying in one place for four years, because in a way it depresses me, as if I am giving up on ambition and pushing myself in favor of complacency. Complacency scares me.

I ran 20 miles this week! Well, 19.8, but outside of that little 90 mile run in April this is the highest mileage week I have ran since February! Hooray! Five days of running! You know what, this week is going to be even better, not much, but a little. My left leg stress fracture/tendonitis has healed, or all but healed, and my right leg achilles is coming around quite nicely and in a week or two will be full strength.

Work was good. I was in the office two days and a few hours, before heading to North Carolina for the end of the work week. Eh, work is work. I got some things done, but not as much as I would have liked because there are so many processes to go from concept to reality that going by the book is a legitimate three to four month process to implement something as simple as a plastic washer. However, having gone through our production launch this past winter, and learning as much as I did, and seeing how "production" really happens, I'm not frazzled at all about it. I want to say I don't care, but it's more like, I'm not going to fight to be more efficient and effective, because I've been there and I've done that and I don't get paid enough to do that all the time.

If you are ever in Monroe, North Carolina I recommend Spiro's Hilltop restaurant. They have good seafood and they have good land food.

Saturday I volunteered at the Grandview Gallop with 1042 runners. Since I am still on the injured list, or at least not the healthy enough to race list, I wanted to help out and give back, so I helped hand out registration packets and answer questions. It was a good experience, and I would do it again if an opportunity presents itself.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Explaining Complexity

These last few days I was in North Carolina at a show trying to explain a complex topic, a continuously variable transmission with a hydrostatic assist. In short, it allows the engine to stay at a constant speed for improved fuel efficiency and the transmission does all the work of controlling the speed. There is no changing gears, even though there is a hard mechanical link from engine to wheels. 

Bigger picture, explaining something complex, how does one do that? I enjoy teaching and using analogies when I can, yet even I struggle to fully explain something that took a decade of development by a team of engineers. I really don't have an answer. 

I did an okay job explaining the new transmission, but there were some confused or glazed expressions, so I know I could have done quite a bit better.  Good experience I suppose. Teaching my work to others certainly helps me understand it better because the students questions refine my own explanation. Even bad teaching on my part helps me learn, and that has value, at least to me. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Running Half of Mt. Rainier

So I ran from Paradise up to Camp Muir in about 1:42, and then back down in 39 minutes by my watch. See for yourself on the Strava activity.

Oh my, what a run! What a nice day! Saturday night we went to our hotel and out to eat in Tacoma, Washington and frankly, I was tired, but I was okay. I was not done with my vacation weekend.

Sunday morning we woke up and had breakfast and I had plenty of energy. I considered going over to Olympic National Park to do a long 30 mile type run, or doing something local around Seattle, but Mt. Rainier was the reason I came out to Washington, and I already had a park pass, so I looked again at objectives I could do within the park. Considering I once ran the whole 93 mile Wonderland Trail in 2010 in under 32 hours, nothing I could do in six hours on that trail had any appeal. I didn't have the equipment or fitness to do any real technical stuff, but I did have running shoes. Inspired by the sub 4 hour round trip records on Mt. Rainier I decided I could run from Paradise up to Camp Muir and back.

Sorry, there are no pictures, I was going light. There was no live GPS tracking either. I had a 20 oz.  vitamin water as my sole sustenance.

I started off wearing knee high compression socks, short shorts, trail running Inov8 243s, a long sleeve shirt, white running hat, and sun glasses. I was flying past everyone up the trail, trying to run when I could, although my fastest mile uphill was the first one, just over 14 minutes. As I got higher I slowed down due to mushy snow, of course the altitude, and tired from the previous miles. Still, it's always quite fun to be passing everyone on the trail. Mountain climbing or hiking is not a race, but passing others is confirmation that I am strong and moving well.

When I reached Camp Muir, I talked to the rangers for two minutes about people summiting that day (many people did, the weather was beautiful) and the two climbers that had done Liberty ridge the day before and camped on the summit (they climbed down Emmons Glacier safely). Then they asked about sunscreen on my legs (no) and commented I would get sunburn (which I did). I finished the Vitamin Water, tucked my shirt in and put the empty bottle behind my back under my shirt. Then I ran the whole way down. I was taking these huge plunge steps and half skiing down. Just imagine running down a mushy ski hill.

At one point I veered off the trail to go around some people and my leg went into a hole above my knee, it stuck and pulled me over so I did a quick summersault and it was slow enough I had time to think and when I was upright again I just kept on running. I wish it was captured on video because it felt like one of the coolest spontaneous things I've ever done. At the time I'm sure there were ten others staring at me, and if I knew any of them they could verify.

I made it to the parking lot, filled my water bottle with water, then sat in my rental car for a few minutes to eat something and rest before turning on 107.7 and blasting the radio as well as I could with spotty reception while barreling down the road back to our hotel in Tacoma. It was a good day in the mountains.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Loan 4 of 11 Paid Off!

I'm working my way through my student loans and I just paid off the 4th of 11 loans I had when I started working full time! Only seven to go! Although, two of those loans are under 3% interest, so I'm not going to pay those off faster than the minimum payments.
That's a quick shot from my mint.com account. Pretty exciting when the black negative number turns into a green zero! I expect to have a few more paid off this year. The best part of paying off a loan is that then that money can be thrown into the other loans, and they can be paid off quicker. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

I Hired a Running Coach

The last six years I have coached myself, and run faster and farther than I had during my years of middle school, high school and college. I have enjoyed much success. Let's recap, by the numbers:

High school:
800 meters: 2:14
1600 meters: 5:03 (junior year, 2003)
3200 meters: 11:06 (junior year, 2003)
5k XC: 18:26 (state meet senior year, 2003)

I was blessed with a coach in high school that was quite a bit above average.  He had had a very successful running career and some of the things he taught us I still use. One example was the story of him warming up for three hours before an indoor 800 meter state final when he was in high school, and then running a great 1:56. Point being, if you are nervous before a race, just jog to relax yourself. The secondary point being, you need to run a fair number of miles so that on race day you can do a big warmup and then race well.

On the other hand, he did push us hard, and I took my first six months of college totally off, not running a step for six months because I was burnt out. We had too many doubles in my opinion. I also never understood that summer training meant three months, not just two weeks before the season started.  However, while it was difficult my senior year our women won state and the boys came in 7th, our highest placing ever as far as we knew.

200 meters: 27.9 (field day after season was over 2009)
400 meters: 58 (after practice one day in 2006)
800 meters: 2:11 (graduate student, 2009)
1500 meters: 4:15 (senior year, 2008)
Mile: 4:38 (senior year, 2008)
3000 meters: 9:01.9 (senior year, 2008)
5000 meters: 16:03 (senior year, 2008)
8k XC: 27:34 (senior year, 2007)
10,000 meters: 32:58 (senior year, 2008)

I had three coaches throughout college that all taught me quite a bit. I came onto the team as the slowest guy, and in the four races I ran my freshman year of college in 2005 I came in dead last in three of them running times like a 4:50 1500 and a 19:07 5k, on the track.

However I learned that training volume makes a big difference and my sophomore and junior year I had fifteen consecutive personal records. That year, 2006 was my breakthrough year. I broke 5 minutes in the mile in December 2005, then proceeded to just get faster. We shaved our heads with mohawks before the first meet of outdoor track and then I ran a 16:47 5k and I remember standing on the starting line wondering if I would hopefully break 17. The mixture of fear, of doubt, of excitement...

My coaches all had different styles, and I am thankful that they were as diverse as they were. Recovery was emphasized, academics was prioritized, I learned what lactate threshold felt like, and how to run those workouts, I ran hard intervals, I started to run long runs with my friends. I also would say that during this time I became the runner I am. That is to say, running was no longer something I just did, it was something I became passionate about. After the 2007 and 2008 olympic marathon trials that I watched in NYC and Boston I made it a goal to go after those standards when I graduated. I knew when I left college that I had more in me.

Post-Collegiate, last six years:
800 meters: 2:08.97 (indoor season 2013)
Mile: 4:31.2 (indoor season 2013)
5000 meters: 15:44 (outdoor season 2012)
8k XC: 26:30 (fall XC 2013)
10,000 meters: 32:12 (outdoor season 2012)
Half Marathon: 1:11:48 (fall 2011)
Marathon: 2:30:20 (fall 2011)
24 Hours: 154.57 miles (fall 2014)

I've PR'd across the board in the five Olympic events (1500/mile they are basically the same thing, I just haven't run a 1500 since 2009), cross country, the half marathon, and in my debut ultra race I qualified for the world championships, which I have now run, and I became a national champion.

At this point in writing this article, I want to just stop and retire and say, 'I've had a good run. I'm done running competitively, it's a lot of work and I'm lazy.' But now that I have had a taste of ultras, I am curious to explore them more. The problem is, I have only run three races in the last eight months because I push myself too hard and don't get the recovery I need, so I end up injured.

For years I have thought about hiring a coach, but the coaches I want to work with don't work with people as slow as me. Renato Canova isn't going to start sending me workouts. Scott Simmons, the Hansons, Greg McMillian, Joe Vigil... These guys aren't going to work with me. Or on the odd chance they would, what do they know about ultra running, the real long stuff, 24 hours+ or 8000 meter mountaineering?

So I hired Howard Nippert to be my coach.

I met Howard briefly at the North Coast 24 last fall. He motivated me to run faster the last few miles, and congratulated me afterwards, although I'm a little hazy about that. He was the team coach for the 24 hour world championships and after talking with him a few times over the week we were in Italy, and then thinking about it for another six weeks, and emailing him a few times, I decided he was the guy.

It is possible for me to get to the next level. By next level I mean more world championships teams, more national championship wins, quite likely at a variety of distances, personal records at a variety of distances, getting on the podium at a world championships, and then there are national records, and even world records, all of which I know I am capable of, but these aren't the kind of thing I can just bang one out every six weeks. The training plan needs to be deliberate, consistent, and most of all, keep me from getting injured.

In a coach I was looking for someone with ultra running coaching experience, of which there are only a handful. I was also looking for someone with competitive running experience. Personal competitive running experience does not make a coach good, but for some reason it helps me respect the coach more because I know he or she has been there when the training is lonely and difficult. A coach doesn't necessarily understand like an athlete Saturday night after a hard workout when all we want to do is sleep instead of go out that we are sacrificing part of a social life to pursue this challenge.

I booked him for a full year, and the focus is going to be make the 100km world championship team, probably for 2016. The tentative plan is to take a crack at qualifying in the fall and again in the spring.  The funny thing is, my biggest worry is giving up control. I hate the word control, I think influence is a much better word, but feeling that I was giving up control was important for me to realize. Of course I will still influence my running. However, it is a mistake to think that I had control over my own running. If I controlled it, then why did I get injured or have bad races?

This new chapter excites me. What is possible? "...with God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26

Monday, June 8, 2015

I Live in Iowa: Week 207

I spent the week in Canada, doing what felt like maybe ten hours of work all week. But then again Friday was a 17 hour day from 4 AM Eastern to 8 PM Central traveling with all of the driving and flights and eating. I didn't even have any poutin. That being said, the power of human connections, and answering all of the questions people did have, that's worth a lot. When the engineers are there talking directly with the customers and dealers, it's powerful. We're not the marketing department. We know truth about our machines and systems.

I ran nine miles over three days including Friday and Saturday, my first two back to back days in a long time, perhaps February.

In Quebec they speak French and only have French on their signs. I was not expecting that. In Ontario there is English and French on signs. Even in Europe there is stuff in English on signs.

The week started off at my grandparents. It's funny, it was such a short trip, but it's always so nice to see them. I am getting older and they are too. I will most likely be on this earth after they are dead and I need to visit them now because inevitably when they are gone I will have a question for either one of them and there will be no person to answer it for me. That's part of the reason I blog. I journal too, not very often, but who will ever read it? If I can share something with others than this blog is a success.

I suppose the point this week, between visiting Canada and my grandparents is that time in person is worth more than phone calls and emails. Relationships are best developed in person, and the truth is relationships are business. Stronger relationships = stronger business.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Similar Differences of Traveling

How do you capture the ordinary and the different? How do you capture the fear of a foreign language with the normal everyday life of the people who live there?
No idea, but I like this stop sign in Macamic, Quebec because it felt so foreign and yet so familiar. Traveling can be so terrifying when directions, schedules and a menu all happen in a foreign language. I take comfort that to the locals, it's just every day as normal. I don't like taking pictures of people I don't know, it feels like I should get consent from them first, but people are remarkably similar everywhere you go. Despite our language differences we are far more alike than we are different. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Amos, Quebec

I had actually never been to Quebec, until yesterday. You know what, they all speak French here! Not in a Germans all speak German, but have English on many signs anyway, and most speak good English, but signs only have French, and at least up where we are, there are not too many English speakers. I just wasn't expecting that.

We are in Amos, Quebec. Which you might not have heard of, and you are missing out. For a town of 12,000 people they have a sushi restaurant, Vietnamese restaurant, Chinese restaurant, and at least half a down outdoor patios on more traditional restaurants.

Amos, Quebec
We are halfway to Hudson Bay. Although I don't think there are actual summer roads that far north. I think there are only winter roads up this far. There is a train, the Polar Bear Express, that goes up to Moosonee, although I hear that even though there are Polar Bears as far south as Moosonee, there aren't a whole lot.

There are Moose up here, we saw a small one on the drive from Timmins yesterday. (It's kind of hard to get the camera centered when we're driving 40 mph and the moose is jumping.)

That's all for now, I have to go practice my French.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Expedition: Mt. Rainier May 2015

Four times have I tried to organize a trip to Mt. Rainier. Twice with summer camp friends and twice with college friends. Every time it fell through for the same reasons, no one had the experience, or the experience and the money. Finally, this past winter a few of my rock climbing co-worker friends grew a little interested in mountaineering and pushed and prodded until I agreed to take them on a climb of Mt. Rainier. I was the last one to buy plane tickets, and commit. Wow, I'm super happy I went!

For all intensive purposes, Mt. Rainier is "The" mountain in the lower 48 United States. Alaska has bigger and badder, and there are others that push past 14,000 feet in Colorado and California, but this mountain has a staggering 9000 vertical feet of elevation gain from the parking lot to the summit and it's covered in glaciers. Mt. Everest is only 12,000 from the "parking lot" to the summit. I'm using the idea of a parking lot pretty liberally there, you can tie up your yak, or park your helicopter, but I'm sure no car has ever been there, motorcycle perhaps. Point being, it's big, and it's serious.

My three engineering rock climbing partners had never set foot on a glacier. We had done some mountaineering day school practice in March when the local ski resort closed, which I thought was very helpful. However, that was about it. Apparently they tried to practice crevasse rescue in a tree one time in a Dubuque city park, but where quickly told by a ranger, "no". While their rock climbing skills are well established, and they have even done ice climbing on a silo here in Iowa, mountains are different. There are crevasses, avalanches, route finding, breaking trail, cooking, weather, altitude,  and a whole lot of walking. When I learned how two of them had never climbed any mountain, two weeks before we left, I grew dubious of our upcoming performance.

They all flew out on Wednesday night and rented gear on Thursday. I met them at the lovely hotel a 30 second walk away from the entrance to the national park on Thursday night after flawless flights out to Seattle.

We woke up at the too early hour of 5 AM. Seriously, I sat around a good half hour waiting on everyone else, because I couldn't sign into the ranger station until 7 AM. However, once we got going, everything went really well. I registered to fall into a crevasse for $45, or something like that. Then we started hiking, after a quick stop at the hotel to pick up a plastic spoon because I forgot mine. There is usually something that gets forgotten.

We trekked up the Muir snowfield fairly undramatically, making good time, passing several other people. When at perhaps 8000 feet it started to drizzle. Not so bad, but we put on rain gear because it was getting cold out too. Around 9000 feet or so it started snowing, lightly, but it made our wet clothing cool our bodies down. At the time it wasn't an issue at all, we were hiking uphill, a 20% grade, with 50 or so pounds of gear so we were generating a lot of heat.
The View from Muir Above the Clouds
I was a little paranoid that we would not be able to get a spot in the shelter, so I kept pushing everyone to hike to get to camp Muir. Fortunately we made it just after noon for about a 4.5 or so hour hike from Paradise to Muir. Not bad at all considering the weight of our packs and the weather. There were plenty of spots Friday before Memorial Day so we quickly grabbed spots to sleep on the bunk plywood platforms. In total I think there were 15 people spending the night, our group of four, a West Point graduates group of four Luitenants, a group of three that made it pretty far Saturday, and then I think two groups of two that either weren't planning to summit or decided not to attempt based on conditions.
Camp Muir Shelter
After an hour or so of resting at the shelter, we started the boiling snow process. It's a slow time consuming process. Snow must be melted then it must be boiled. We had two stoves and got them cranking so it didn't take much more than an hour to boil enough water to fill people up. Then we boiled water for an early supper at about 4 pm. After a nice meal of freeze dried food, the weather had calmed down, and we took a little walk around over to the rangers and guides and talked to Brent Okita about his plans for the next day. We told him we were planning to start maybe 30 minutes after him and just follow his group up. It sounded good to him.
Kyle on Friday on the trail to the Summit (Well before the Crevasses)
After a couple pictures we boiled some more water and tried to go to bed at 8 PM, for a nice and early 1 AM wake up call.
1:30 AM, Sorry for the Flash
We woke up at 1 AM and started getting ready to go. Getting ready is never a fast process and after boiling some water and getting our clothing on it was 2:30 by the time we started hiking. The first hour or two went beautifully, clear skies, low wind, but soon enough the wind picked up during the gusts, snow began to fall, and and the fog rolled in. We crossed a couple crevasses, and got started up the cleaver. The climbing was steep, but there were fixed ropes, and it wasn't that steep. At the top of the cleaver the wind was a little stronger and the snow picked up. The situation was deteriorating.

Below is the video from my GoPro of the minutes leading up and following our turning around on Mt. Rainier. It's hard to completely understand everything that is going on, but you get to see crevasses, hear wind, see snow, see me climb steep snow with no defined tracks. It's over 13 minutes, so if you watch it, you've been warned.
Needless to say, we didn't make it to the top. You can see our GPS coordinates below.

Our Delorme inReach GPS Tracking Friday and Saturday

After some deliberation when we returned to the shelter we made the decision to head back down to Paradise and Seattle, which we did so safely. I'd like to thank my teammates Steve B.,  Kyle E., and Shane R. without them this trip would not have been possible. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Travel: The Exciting and The Hassle

Travel is both an exciting experience, and one that is a hassle. I think the actual ground travel seems to be in general more exciting, well, helicopter rides are exciting too. You know, as I start to write this, the things that are a hassle really boil down to a few small things, going through airport security and customs, not knowing directions, although GPS has largely solve that issue, and the uncomfortableness of a strange new bed. Actually once you get those out of the way, travel is downright pleasant. When I think of road trips and mountain expeditions they really do feel more exciting to me than any particular aspect that is a hassle. Although, I'm still not a fan of goat meat.

Right now I am way up north in Ontario, the farthest north I have ever been actually. It seems to be small rolling hills, swamps, and lakes up here. Not too much unlike northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. It's nice to be here, but it seriously took all day yesterday to get here.

Monday, June 1, 2015

I Live in Iowa: Week 206

This will be short, I have to finish laundry and make two phone calls before I leave for Canada Monday morning.

The week started off running from Paradise to Camp Muir and back in 2:21, a Strava record. Not the actual record by any means, at least 40 minutes slower than others have done it. Anyway, that was my Sunday during the day, then I met up with my three amigos in Seattle at Feathered Friends before going down to the Pike Place market and seeing all that there is to see. We ate at a nice place, Elysian, although it was not cheap. Then we all crashed in our hotel and Monday morning every woke up early and left. I had a couple extra hours so I did some Seattle sightseeing going to Discovery Park. Then a series of flights back to Iowa.

The work week was thankfully uneventful! After the last few weeks of this breaking or that being high priority, it was nice to just work through some things we have to get done. I will only be in the office two days in the next two weeks, so many of the paperwork things I wanted to get done this week I did. It may be boring, but getting the paperwork stuff done is rewarding in it's own way.

Friday I realized I had no plans for the weekend until Sunday evening, so I called up my grandparents in Minnesota who I haven't seen in person in six months or more, and make the trip up Saturday and spent the evening with them.

It was a nice week. Oh! I almost forgot, I ran 14.9 miles over three runs although one of those was the 8 mile run on Mt. Rainier that took 2:21, so not exactly all running. However I went on two three mile runs later in the week. My aerobic capability right now feels terrible, but I seem to be healthy. Shin "feelings" abound in my lower leg, but might just be from the graton technique taking time to heal.

I will be up in Timmins, Canada most of the week this coming week for work, in other words, very much out of contact.

Happy June!