Sunday, September 30, 2012

First mountain snow and thoughts on golf

It has been three weeks since my last mountain run. A combination of travel and visitors has curtailed my high level trips and I am also now constrained to two hours on the hills due to my wife travelling to Europe and three dogs at home to look after. A very early start and a nearby trailhead - Brainard Lake - were in order. I wore leggings, hat and gloves for the first time since March and at 26 degrees, minus 6, I was pleased at getting this decision right.

I could detect a lightening sky as Livvy and I set off from the trailhead. The peaks had fresh snow and there was ice and frost on the trail. We made reasonable progress along the north shore of Long Lake. We were the only ones on the trail and the isolation was a pleasure after such an intense month of travel. It felt great to be above 10,000 feet again and headed for the high country. My aim was to run for 75 minutes and then return straight back to the car. The dogs at home would be hungry.

At the Jean Lunning trail split the first sign of sun was striking the mountain tops and as we emerged from the dense woodland the mountains were illuminated in an orange glow. We quickly turned right where the Isabelle Lake trail kept straight and gained altitude just as the sun warmed my back. It was still below zero and a stiff katabatic wind blasted us in the face. I first encountered these strong winds when climbing in the French Alps 35 years ago. As the morning sun warms the air at lower elevations it rises quickly and draws air from higher levels causing a downdraft from mountain to valley. These winds can reach hurricane force...not what we experienced this morning, but very cold. My sac thermometer showed 24 degrees and it felt accurate.

The rising trail crosses streams at a number of points and the log bridges were heavily iced. Even studded trail shoes were hopeless and Livvy and I had a few anxious moments as we skated across. Falling in the water would have been disastrous and would have forced an immediate retreat.

The Ryder Cup is golf's greatest event. Yes, I know the Rest of the World feels left out and America's dismal recent run against Europe has meant they enjoy the President's Cup a little more these days, but the event is still a great one. And it seems, before the final day, that the US team will make amends for a string of defeats and turn the tables. I'm not sure I like the extreme patriotism and partiality with mega-rich golf stars winding up the crowds with their fist-pumps and shrieking and commentary from our US networks being so biased and Tiger-centric.

I really like golf. It's a game that has held a lifetime interest since our father took my brother and I to the local moorland golf course as toddlers and we swung our sawn-down clubs in an attempt to get the ball in the air. It was clear from those very early days that the difference between my brother and I was that he could hit the ball and I couldn''s a minor thing called "talent"...but the thing about golf is that a "handicap" system at least attempts to create some kind of parity. And when I say it was a "golf course", I don't mean in the beautiful green manicured sense of the term, I mean in the northern English, 3 feet high fairway grass with sheep droppings all over the greens (which may or may not have been mowed for 3 weeks) variety. It was only 9 holes but it was brutal and hilly and not necessarily the best preparation for a quick 18 hole round at Medinah.

I've never been able to separate my colorful memory of golf from the thought of sheep. In fact, as a child and teenager I though all golf courses had sheep to keep the "fairway" grass down below knee height. It was only when I started to pay more attention to photos of proper golf courses that I realized the absence of a flock or two on the fairways, there was no fencing around the greens and no clumps of sheep dung surrounding the fact, I could't see a broom next to each green for exactly this purpose. Maybe sheep and golf weren't synonymous.

About 15 years ago I even joined a local club. It was another 9 hole hilly course and although it was absent sheep on the fairways, these excessively dumb creatures were populating the adjacent fields. So I guess I felt at home. I recall my very first round vividly. I joined a group of three at the clubhouse who were willing to let me play with them. None seemed to possess what I would call a "golf physique" in the Tiger Woods sense of the term, indeed one of the players had trouble touching his hands around his considerable girth, but he looked immensely strong and when he did pick up a club it seemed to scream in pain in his grip. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at things), he wasn't able to transmit this obvious strength and power to hitting the golf ball - well, not in a way that was consistent with the general aim of the game, which is to get around the course in as few a number of shots as possible. From the first tee it became evident that this player was recycling a news reel - one of constant frustration, anger and bewilderment at each and every shot he took, followed by some rather colorful language emphatically stated as a threat. Had he been a 4th century Jesuit he would have self-flagellated around the entire course...and he would have deserved it. It wasn't that he couldn't hit the ball, it's just that he couldn't hit it in the general direction of the green...the green we were driving towards, that is.

He certainly connected well with the ball on the first tee box. It was a perfectly timed shot and the ball went a merry mile. I think I lost sight of it after it rebounded off a car windscreen in the club parking lot about 300 yards away, and I couldn't decide whether it went into the woods or a large field. I had him down for a score of 15 on the first hole as he marked his card angrily with an eight. However, it was what happened on the sixth tee that completely destroyed my round, and it happened without me playing a single shot. The previous hole he had awarded himself 4 shots on a par 3, despite me counting two balls that he hit out of bounds. His mathematically challenged stroke of the pen elevated him before me as we each took our drives on the sixth hole. He was third to drive. His cumulative score after 5 holes was 58 and even he recognized that this wasn't one of his better rounds. He removed his driver from his bag - a club, I should point out, that wasn't exactly his strong suit on the evidence so far - and started some very fast, almost violent practice swings, one of which removed an 18 inch long divot from the tee box without him even noticing. He took a stance that seemed to imply he was aiming for the right fairway and shook the stiffness out of his considerable belly and gripped the club. Sweat was dripping from his chin down his disheveled golf shirt. He was a picture, be in no doubt. I think the golfing term "grip it and rip it" was written for exactly this moment. The ball was going to get spanked and we all knew it.

I'm not sure the best slow motion camera in the world could slow down his swing for proper analysis, but as he wound back his arms the club seemed to scream in pain at the thought of the torque to come. There was so much pent up aggression in his downswing that his left foot slid backwards and he was already anticipating a fairway landing 400 yards away when the toe of his driver clipped the ball and it rocketed like a bullet 3 feet above the ground out of bounds to the right towards a group of grazing sheep. Had I not been standing behind him I would have missed the spectacle. The ball smacked one of them on the forehead square between the eyes. The sheep crumpled and it collapsed in a heap. It looked stone dead to me. I am convinced that at the moment of impact its eyes crossed ever so slightly before it blanked out. Meanwhile, and I don't recall how I was able to keep track of this, the ball, with a metallic ring still sounding in the air, ricocheted in a large, slow arc and landed in the middle of the fairway about 200 yards away. It was his best tee shot of the day. It is the only time in my entire life when I almost lost control of my bladder. The three of us, mimicking the sheep, collapsed for an entirely different reason and it took me a good 5 minutes before I could even grip my club. I was still laughing as I took my swing and sent my ball all of 20 yards. I never recovered.

In all the years of watching the Ryder Cup I've never seen anything quite as funny as that 6th tee experience. For all the talent of these overpaid pro's, I would bet money on none of them being able to repeat that shot.

I thought about these things as I completed the ascent of Pawnee Pass. It was enjoyable feeling the crunch of hard packed snow under my running shoes. I had selected my Walsh PB Trainers with a heavily studded sole for precisely this reason and although they have zero waterproofing, I wasn't expecting a lot of melting snow in the cold morning temperatures.

The views across Shoshoni Peak to Navajo were stunning in the early morning sunlight. It is still my ambition to take a trip up Navajo in the next few weeks, but the snow covering might turn this into a winter mountaineering trip rather than a trail run. We shall see...I expect we'll have some warming days during October and this might create a window where an attempt is worthwhile.

There's something about Livvy's enthusiasm that makes running these trails so much fun. It's as though she understands the rules. She knows that these runs aren't about darting from side to side pursuing interesting scents - which is what we do when walking - and she isn't remotely interested in dog treats. She just puts her nose infront and trots along. She gets tired like I do, but she seems just as excited to be out in the wilds. Running without a dog just isn't as much fun.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Washington, DC

Washington, DC, one of the world's finest capital cities, is a little surreal. Its carefully manicured street and parks around the monuments on the National  Mall stand in contrast to its seedier neighborhoods to the south east and north east - areas where untidy and unkempt streets are littered with the bullet-ridden bodies of the drug wars. But it's surreal for other reasons, both related to politics.

First, it is home to about 650,000 government workers. The heavy density (and I choose the word carefully - dare I call them a "thicket"?) of flexi-time and part-time, largely disengaged individuals, turn the District's beltway into a parking lot from about 5am. It seems, in the interests of "public service" that huge numbers of these employees attempt to "clock" their hours early enough not to actually have to meet and greet the public they are paid to serve. While this isn't an altogether bad thing it does mean that long lines in key government departments necessitate a day off work for a visit that should really only take minutes in actual service time. The morning "rush hour" lasts from 5am to about 9am. The afternoon "rush hour" starts at about 1pm and dribbles along for the rest of the afternoon. The pervasive active disengagement of such large sections of the city's working population manifests in attitudinal dissonance on subways and buses and represents a viral contagion that spreads via proximity. Misery, so it is claimed, enjoys company. Extreme unhappiness appears to be their only pleasure in life. The infrequent exceptions - the ones daring to offer a glimmer of a smile - prove the rule.

Second, DC provides the stage for the nation's only real soap opera - the tragi-comedy that plays daily between Capital Hill and the White House. This week, in the thick of election campaigning, it was unusually quiet. Only "rent-a-mouth" Newt Gingrich, was making the usual disgraceful headlines offering his version of moral clarity defending Senator Akin's "rape" comments. There is something a little perverse about a serial philanderer and charlatan offering comments on moral certitude, but this doesn't cause Newt to pause for a second. I guess divine inspiration has its benefits. The reflexive muscle that connects his jaw to his knee, jerks in a way that completely bypasses his diminishing brain, and he spews forth nonsense without his stupidity ever registering or troubling his synapses. For the leading Republican "intellectual" thought leader, these are barren times. Consistently on the wrong side of all the issues that will come to define this age, Newt exists in a time-warp of his own making, caught between pretending to be scientific while maintaining his support for a party who denies the reality of climate change, evolution and a whole series of other "settled" scientific problems. I recall attending one of Newt's speeches at a private gathering. His full throttled contempt for "Obamacare" was woven into a Biblically justified hostility that claimed the moral high ground for though, somehow, attempting to provide basic healthcare for all represented a crime against humanity. The echo of his words had hardly dimmed when I stood, as the first questioner, and made the obvious point. " If it is morally wrong, for ethical reasons, to provide universal healthcare, was it morally right for you to cheat on two wives, one of whom was suffering from cancer at the time, and to lead the impeachment of a sitting President for allegations of misconduct that you, yourself, we're at that very time committing?" As a so-called student of history, Newt could only manage a form of historical revisionism of the type that the author of the Hitler diaries well understood. It seems that there is little difference between lying for Jesus and misleading others for a greater cause...apparently behavior that will reward him as one of the chosen few in the life hereafter. Hell sounds idyllic by comparison.

I managed two circuits of the town on successive days. The Reflecting Pond has never, in my view, been a place that encourages reflection. Standing at the Washington Monument the Lincoln Memorial is beautifully framed by a setting sun and the water is bright orange and yellow. I enjoy the long, straight pathways that connect these two structures. I can step out more purposefully and the wide avenues enable me to avoid the inconsiderate groups who persist in walking across the whole pathway. 

My first run took me to the north of the Lincoln Memorial, across the Arlington bridge and upstream on the West Bank of the Potomac. I chose the diversion around Roosevelt Island which includes about 1.5 miles on an elevated boardwalk. There were few people around and lots of wildlife. There are few places in DC where it is possible to escape the noise of traffic, but the north end of this island is one of them.

Georgetown high street is a place to avoid and I dropped down to K Street and picked up the Ohio and Chesapeake canal before rejoining 24th Street just before Washington Circle, NW. 9.5 miles of reasonably  quick running and I was tired.

My second run was less adventurous. Taking the same initial route as my first run I opted to circle the Basin around the Roosevelt and Jefferson Memorials before taking the south trail along the National Mall to Capital Hill. This is always a busy place with runners and cyclists competing for space with the large numbers of daily tourists. Approaching darkness helped thin the numbers and made running easier, but this also brought the added obstacle of homeless people lying on the verges, grabbing whatever sleep they could before the capital police moved them along. 

I did see one spectacular collision and was thankful not to have been involved. The lake and fountain directly in front of Capital Hill always attracts photographers at nightfall. The illuminated dome reflected in the water is a favorite snapshot. It's strange, but even with zoom lenses on the most basic cameras, many aspirant photographers seem to need to take several steps backwards to better frame their chosen picture. Their movements aren't always easy to predict, and a runner just ahead of me took a flyer over a backward stepping leg, crumpled on the concrete and then rolled into the water. Shock quickly turned into anger and in no time the offending photographer was dragged into the water and his camera submerged with him. Excessive retribution, even disproportionate, but only egos were hurt and I quickly skipped by and disappeared into the dark.

I can't seem to imagine a "President Romney". This socially inept, out of touch multi-millionaire seems about as qualified for President as Sarah Palin was for Vice-President four years ago. Even Newt seems lukewarm in his endorsement. If Romney can't excite mercurial Neanderthals like Newt he'll have a hard time dealing with Obama's sophisticated reasoning. Even magic underwear and the will of God won't turn this situation in his favor. Still, when defeat is confirmed at least Newt will be able to explain the reason - Romney just wasn't praying to the same God as him. I spent the last few miles fearing that Washington somehow contributed to people becoming stupid and I wondered if I would be smart enough to know if I was similarly affected.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

New York on 9/11

I seem to belong to a socio-political section of US society that Republicans, and particularly those who inhabit the Christian fundamentalist/evangelical fringe of that once respectable party, most despise. Socially Liberal, I support Gay marriage, equal pay, affirmative action and the right of women to make their own decisions regarding their bodies. Based on the "no harm to others" principle, my laissez-faire liberalism takes zero interest in what others are doing in the privacy of their own homes. As an atheist I am self-classified as one of the most reviled and distrusted "religious" (for that is how my atheism is classified on the State Department census) groups in America. This takes the biscuit, so to speak, that considering the reaction of American's to Muslims after 9/11, they are still more trusted than atheists. It doesn't matter how nasty a list of people you create, from terrorists to murderers and even rapists, atheists always come bottom. I recalled an exchange with an acquaintance of mine who, for reasons I cannot fathom, is a Biblical literalist (of the kind who believes the earth is 6000 years old and the Theory of Evolution a hoax perpetrated by evil scientists who will one day be punished by God...although the punishment - that of being cast into hell- seems preferable to me than the genuflecting servitude in perpetuity to whatever deity is alleged to be in control of heaven these days). My question to her was simple enough - "Is it better for society to have a law-abiding, productive atheist engaged in philanthropy, or a serial murderer who 'discovers' Jesus, repents, and becomes "born again"? I'll let you guess on her answer.

But these all pale to insignificance when I add yet another "strike" to my "most distrusted" moniker - that of being a vegetarian. After disclosure of this rather unalarming fact about my dietary preferences the questions follow a similar pattern.

"Surely you eat chicken...that's not really meat? I have a vegetarian friend who eats chicken every once in a while"

"Do you eat fish?"

It seems churlish to pedantically point out that the term to describe such individuals is "meat eaters", but I do point this out, and it is clearly confusing.

But at some point the true feelings of people surface.

That's a tricky one. Yes, Hitler was a vegetarian. He was also male, small, dark haired and European, and I am all those as well. But whereas I draw the line between myself and Hitler at that point I'm not thoroughly convinced that my questioners do as they sit there waiting for my confession of guilt for war crimes and the Holocaust...except for that growing group of Republicans who seem hell bent on denying the Holocaust ever happened.

It isn't easy being a vegetarian in America. For a country so technologically advanced it is surprising it can't get the math right on simple food production regarding wheat and animal protein. With huge swathes of the country seduced by the vision of consuming a plate full of cow every night, it is easy to see why they might view vegetarians as strange. The honorably motivated organizers and supporters of PETA (Peaople for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) have been skewered, so to speak, by those sporting bumper stickers proclaiming People Eat Tasty Animals

Suspicion of vegetarianism explains so much about the levels of ignorance in standards of food preparation and is my number one eating annoyance. I once visited a Subway store to order a "veggie" sandwich. The person ahead of me had a meatball sandwich with extra meat. The dribbles of barbecue sauce smeared the counter top ahead of my sandwich. Attempting to point this out felt like I was communicating in a foreign language. "I don't want my sandwich touching that meat sauce". The rest isn't even worth describing and when the server cut my sandwich with the knife that had only just been used on the meatball sandwich I walked out in disgust.

It's not that people don't want to help, it's that they show a level of ignorance that is staggering. But the bigger problem is where there is even no attempt to even cater for the possibility that someone might not eat meat. As I write this on board another United Airlines flight I have just been asked, in the first class cabin, whether I would like a shrimp salad, a hot chicken sandwich, or a turkey sandwich. Hmmmmm. That's a tough choice. "Well, I can pick the shrimp off the salad if you like", is the most helpful suggestion. "No, no, I couldn't possibly ask you to do that." A small pack of Almonds comes in handy for precisely these situations.

It was surreal to be in New York again on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. I recall visiting a few weeks after that disastrous day when the thick, acrid smoke and dust was still so very much evident across southern Manhattan. I couldn't take in the magnitude of what had happened. I was still struggling to imagine being faced with the "choice" of burning to death or jumping a hundred stories to my death and wondered how bad it was for so many to have chosen the latter as preferable.

I thought about some of these issues as I ran a circuit of southern Manhattan in the shadow of the new World trade center building, at about the time of the morning when these events happened 11 years ago. It was a beautiful, warm morning, just like 11 years ago. Clear blue skies with just a faint breath of wind. I thought about that morning and how so many people would have been doing what I was currently doing...and what others were still doing - tourists enjoying the morning, couples sitting in Battery Park, a ferry heading off to Staten Island, cyclists heading out towards Brooklyn Bridge, an elderly couple enjoying an expresso and bagel on the pavement cafe.

As bad news spreads about violence erupting in the Muslim world in response to the insensitive, but protected, free speech of an underwhelming "film editor", we have to remind ourselves to hold firm against such disproportionate and oppressive behavior. The cherished freedoms that were so much the focus of what was attacked that terrible day 11 years ago, must not be part of what we negotiate away in response to those who use violence and murder as justifiable expressions of their hurt feelings.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Jasper Peak


The shortening days are more noticeable as we head into Fall. Two months ago I was driving to Hessie in sunlight - today it was darkness. I parked up as the sky was lightening. It was 32 degrees and a crisp frost covered the ground. It would undoubtedly get warmer as the sun climbed, but this first hour was going to be challenging. I still haven't accepted the need to carry a lightweight fleece or gloves...maybe two more weeks and I'll succumb to the inevitable.

Fall colors are evident everywhere, and earlier than last year. Even below 10,000 feet the grasses are showing distinct autumnal tinges.

With the political conventions now over the Presidential election is in full swing and there is a lot for a nation to think about. I followed events as carefully as travel enabled and my general feelings have been negative. I was particularly disappointed with the lost opportunity to put both candidates on the spot with respect to science and how their views of science would impact policy. Scientific American polled eminent scientists and came up with a series of questions to which both candidates have responded. The questions are terrible and are phrased in such a way as to allow candidates to waffle. The outcome is that I am no clearer on where either candidate stands with regards to science. For example, the following questions should have been asked...

  • if the findings of science contradict your beliefs, which will carry precedent and why?
  • do you believe and accept the theory of evolution? If not, what is the scientific basis of your rejection?
  • do you accept the scientific fact of climate change caused largely by human activity? If not, what is the scientific basis of your rejection?
  • when does human life begin and what scientific evidence supports your opinion?
  • would you support stem cell research and provide state funding?
  • what have you learned from recent scientific research in molecular biology and the human genome?
  • can you provide an example of where you changed an established belief because of scientific discovery?
Scientific American completely ducked the issue in my view and I am left with only a rough idea of how I think the respective candidates would align on these issues. Sadly, I think Romney will be the most challenged. 

Hessie is my favorite trailhead and I enjoy all the routes that depart from here. Leaving so early meant I would have the initial trail to myself and I set off towards Jasper Lake on the Devil's Thumb trail.

The temperature rose as we climbed towards the lake which lies just below 11,000 feet. The trail is steep in places and I wasn't interested in breaking any speed records today. I think Livvy was relieved and we just took our time gaining altitude in the early morning sun.

I passed by Jasper Lake just a few weeks ago and I was surprised how low the water was today in comparison. The route we would follow involved skirting the south shoreline passing the campsites. There is a sign for Camp 7 which is the trail to take and this eventually deposits you by the entry creek at the extreme west end of the lake. In the photo above Jasper Peak is in the far distance left of center. It lies just below 13,000 feet so we still had 2,600 feet of climbing ahead of us. We would follow the creek up the obvious valley toward Storm Lake.

This is the view back to Jasper Lake as we began to ascend next to the creek.

This is the view up the creek from the same point as the previous photo.There is a very good trail up to Storm Lake...after that it is definitely off trail.

I'm annoyed with Romney for reasons that have much more to do with the fact that he is Republican. I know, and like, many Republicans, but Romney annoys me because he so obviously is prepared to do and say anything to become President. His stance on Gay marriage is just one example.

There was a lot of coverage last week of a a pro-footballer declaring his support for Gay marriage and being reprimanded by a politician (a Democrat no less) who seemed to want to limit his First Amendment rights. Then we had the spectacle of a Veteran confronting Romney directly on the issue of Gay marriage. What started out as an ideal photo opp for Romney quickly deteriorated as the reality of his questioner sunk in.

So what is it with Republicans and Gay marriage? Clearly the influence of the evangelical Christian right is at the heart of this, but surely they see public opinion is working against them? And what right does any human have to restrict the freedoms of other humans for reasons based on bigotry and ignorance? As we see Romney repeat that he believes "marriage is between a man and a woman", what is he frightened of? What does he care what the couple next door do in the privacy of their own home?

So I have some questions for Romney on the issue of Gay marriage.
  • in what way does gay marriage constitute a threat to heterosexual marriage?
  • do you believe that individuals "choose" to be gay? If so, at what point in your life did you "choose" not to be gay?
  • does the presence of married gays cause you to have doubts about your own sexual orientation? Are you concerned that you'll suddenly be tempted to be gay?
  • you have publicly stated your support for heterosexual marriage is because of procreation, so why allow infertile couple to marry? Why allow mentally retarded couple to marry?
This issue is the purest form of bigotry and has everything to do with pandering to the fears expressed by the lowest common denominator in this debate. We need a President who can take a moral lead, not one who fans the flames of bigotry.

As I thought about these issues this morning I tried to remain optimistic and kept trying to refocus on my environment.

Approaching Storm Lake the view back to Jasper was beautiful. The screeches of Alpine Marmots kept Livvy entertained and I knew we still had a lot of climbing ahead of us.

We skirted to the right (north) of Storm Lake and struck up the slope towards Jasper peak directly below the tiny snowfield just left of center. 

The cold of the morning seems to be conveyed by this photo. A breeze was blowing across the lake and I didn't want to hang around. 

Just below 12,000 feet we passed Upper Storm Lake. This lake is nearly always ice-bound the whole year, but the warm summer has released it from its ice coating. 

The final mile up to the summit was brutal. The peak of Jasper on the skyline is actually a false summit and we struck up the grass slopes taking a direct line to the obvious col. This slope was 56 degrees in places and it took longer than I expected to reach the summit.

I was surprised to find only a light wind on the summit. I signed the summit register - we were only the 22nd ascentionists this year. Jasper Peak is often admired from afar but very rarely visited because the approach is so long - I clocked 7.25 miles on my GPS, and we still hadn't reached half-way on our intended trip.

Mount Neva lay to the north. I had ascended this peak a month or so ago from the far side and then descended between the lakes in the foreground. That was a great trip.

After a 10 minute break we descended to the south aiming for Devil's Peak, which is the small mound at the end of the obvious ridge. It is possible to see James Peak way in the distance top left.

We got a great view of the Devil's Thumb and the lake of the same name as we descended the steep shoulder. I could see, in the distance, the first human activity of the morning.

We were both tired at this point and we had steep talus to descend towards the Devil's Thumb trail. It was going to be another 90 minutes before we would get back to the car.

Lest you are in any doubt that Fall is early this year, the evidence was all around us.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Stag Hill, Mahwah, NJ

I like to argue with GPS units. More specifically, I like to prove them wrong and it drives my wife nuts. I'm never without good cause, at least in my mind, for protesting the calculated route. And I'm always right. And the evidence I am always right are the countless times when I have been right. Except when I've been wrong. But those times have been so few and far between that I can almost discount them. Unfortunately the number of times I claim I've been vindicated don't tally with the number of times when my wife says I erred. I guess that makes her as bad as the GPS unit. At least at calculating route effectiveness. After all, I'm right so often...nearly all the time.

And it isn't a male thing. Is it? I generally have a very good sense of awareness of where I am in space and time. I tend to know what direction I am heading, or can work it out by the position of the sun and the rough time of day. I know how to detect North when in a forest. I can work out directions from the stars. I can generally backtrack turns in my head when driving to figure out whether I should turn left or right at the next junction. At a fork in a trail I have good instinct for taking one rather than the other. How could I ever be wrong when up against a GPS unit?

It doesn't matter whether I am talking about the portable Garmin unit I plug into my car, or the built in model in my wife's car, these units speak in such a smugly, annoyingly polite accent they deserve to be challenged every time they say something. It's not just that they are wrong, they deserve to be wrong. And I like to prove it.

Apparently it is now possible to download regional accents (as well as foreign language versions) to GPS units in both male and female voices. Who cares? Smug certitude is just as annoying from a New England female as it is in Irish brogue. Personally, I think these GPS companies have missed an opportunity to truly "connect" with their customers. I would like a GPS unit that spoke with an "attitude". Rather than accents, it would be preferable to select from speech styles, such as, 

"mildly sarcastic" ("Oh, who's a clever boy that he thinks he knows a quicker way than me?"), 

"moderately insulting" ("are you usually this stupid or are you making a special effort just for me?"), 

"extreme exasperation" ("any more nonsense from you and I'll switch myself off"), 

"unpredictably contrary" ("quick, turn left...left...left...errr, I meant right"), 

"Mitt Romney" ("if it makes you happier turn right, but I'm with you whatever way you choose"), 

"downright abusive" ("you complete and utter numbskull"), through to the coup de grace, 

the "Ozzy Osbourne" ("what the *?x# did you do then you $&-*^~#"). Now that would be something worth arguing with.

Rather than the purely descriptive "Recalculating..." it would be much more invigorating to hear "You blithering idiot, why don't you do as you are told?" If voice programmers could induce a sense of sporadic randomness into these responses it could even simulate an argument...of sorts...and make the outcome truly one of win-lose.

But I digress. I had neither GPS unit nor physical map on my recent work trip to New Jersey. Yes, I know...New Jersey...whatever was I doing there? After all, when making choices does NJ ever get a look in? I'll refrain from comments like "Grass? What color is that?" when talking about the local populace, but there are parts of the state that are beautiful. I regret that I was negatively influenced by much early train travel through the state when riding from Baltimore to New York almost every week a few years ago. The stretch from Trenton through to Newark was a miserable experience of graffiti and litter in a depressed industrial wasteland sprinkled with refineries and container depots. The locals didn't "live", they merely existed. But then I discovered western NJ...the bit that borders Pennsylvania...especially towards the north, and the rolling, wooded hills stretching to the Appalachian Trail were very pleasant.

I have never been that clear about the boundaries of the town of Mahwah, but the Sheraton Hotel, where I have stayed on many occasions, overlooks some nice green hills and I was tempted by some hilly roads and trails that crossed this terrain. I had neither map nor GPS, so nothing to argue with. I needed to trust that sense of judgment of mine. It was late afternoon and I enjoy running in strange territory, not quite sure what to expect. Leaving the hotel I passed close to a small group of Roe deer grazing on the verge. Alert, but unthreatened, they kept a close eye as I approached and then left. One day they won't be so lucky navigating traffic or a hunter's bullet.

Stag Hill road climbs away from a busy intersection through a wooded hillside. I was glad to be wearing a bright yellow tee shirt as the traffic that did pass had that aggressive city feel to it exuding both impatience and lack of care for others. The plan was to do a loop by running to Mountain Drive and then following some fire breaks through the woods. I was careful to align the direction of the sun to the route I was taking to help provide some bearing to which I could calibrate.

I was a little shocked by how steep some of these sections of road were. I'm used to steep climbs in Colorado, but somehow I had allowed my mind to assume that a road wouldn't be as steep...and it wasn't as steep, it just seemed that way. I was blowing quickly and my effort level was high as I reached the top of the 600 foot ascent after about 2.5 miles. Mountain Drive came a little quicker than I expected, but I headed west and looked out for the trail ahead. Climbing again through a residential block the road turned into a twisting and turning dirt trail. This didn't feel right. Google maps had seemed to suggest a pretty straight line and I was weaving all over the place. After about a half mile the trail did straighten and it felt like the general direction was right so I plodded along. The tall trees framing the fire break gave me little choice and the dense woodland was definitely to be avoided.

I wasn't wearing trail shoes and had to dance around deep rain pools and muddy sections, but the running was interesting. The direct line of the firebreak cut across the undulations of the hill side and there were some very steep sections, both up and down and the trail turned very rocky and unstable in many places. 

I really dislike the disrespect some of my fellow humans show for their environment. Our "throw-away" culture extends far beyond household trash to old motor vehicles, shopping carts and household appliances, all rusting and decaying and fouling what would otherwise be very pleasant countryside. I don't know what they are thinking as they foul their nests. It would be no surprise to find that some of the most vociferous deniers of global warming come from this same section of the population.

I kept my eye on the declining sunlight as it colored the treetops and felt confident that my direction was right and, sure enough, I came to a trail junction that matched what I recalled from the map. With no hesitation I turned left and knew that in about 1.5 miles I would hit the road. This section was particularly bad for litter and rusting vehicles yet, paradoxically, was teeming with wildlife. About 20 deer skipped across the trail just in front of me and I gave a wide berth to a slower moving skunk. 

With my thoughts drifting and my eyes only casually scanning the route ahead I was startled by a loud crack and a group of rabbits scattering in the grass only a few steps in front of me. A man with a gun emerged from the trees to claim his prize completely unconcerned by my proximity and clearly disinterested in the obvious danger he had caused. Grabbing his gun and twisting the barrel into a figure eight quickly crossed my mind but I quickly recalled very good advice my father gave me many years ago - never argue with people who carry guns, or with those who can fight back with ink (newspapers). I completely ignored the hunter and took pleasure from him missing his target. I clapped my hands loudly and the rabbits who had settled further up the trail bounced into the woods. These are small pleasures in life. 200 yards further up the trail I passed a sign declaring hunting to be illegal in the area and quickly concluded the futility of efforts to control those with such willful intent to break the law.

I had one objective on rejoining the road and turning back to the hotel - could I beat my personal best for running a mile. Currently set at 6 minutes 49 seconds (not exactly threatening any records) when running along the lake front in Chicago, I thought I might stand a good chance. But I had covered about 7.5 miles already and had also done over 1000 feet of ascent. Still, I could try. I pushed myself as quick as I was able on the relatively flat finish. I checked my watch and had covered a half mile in 3 minutes 20 seconds, so definitely on target. But the second half mile was too hard. I was tiring and I also knew there was a 400 yard climb just around the corner. I glanced at my watch as I completed the measured mile - 7 minutes and 1 second. Not bad, but disappointing.

As I turned onto the hotel approach road the Roe deer were still grazing. Two had chosen to lie down and some younger deer were playing in long grass. I didn't much rate their chances of long term survival and pondered the destructive behavior of some humans. But don't get me started on guns...that is going to require an essay all of its own.

Still, some complex navigation was achieved without the need for a GPS and the arguments they provoke. I'll see if I can find an Ozzy Osbourne voice for my car GPS and then just watch for my wife's reaction when I switch it on. Maybe she won't be able to tell the difference.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Rollins Pass to Rogers Pass from East Portal

I undertook to do today what I ducked out of two weeks ago and complete the long, rough ridge line from Rollins Pass, south to Rogers Pass. The short, clockwise version I ended up doing recently was both frustrating and disappointing given the mapping errors for the Arapaho Lakes trail. There would be no mistakes today. I arrived at East Portal just as the first shards of sunlight illuminated the Moffatt Tunnel and was met with a cold, stiff wind and a temperature of 50 degrees - probably around 40 degrees with wind chill. I was glad I brought a long sleeved shirt and Livvy and I set off with the wind buffeting us around. Up high we could see thick cloud cover hanging over the ridge and James Peak was completely obscured from view. The early morning sun was having a hard time breaking through cloud cover and I felt the cold as we ascended to the Forest Lakes trail junction after 1.3 miles.

I knew that following comments about Lance Armstrong on Twitter would make me annoyed. One of the characteristics of a person declaring themself a "fan" is that they suspend objectivity, but even so, not seeing the duplicitous behavior of their hero, indeed, the lengths some are prepared to go to justify the unjustifiable, are difficult to fathom. It seems that in the spirited defense of the indefensible, we currently have a long list of denialism - the theory of evolution, the holocaust, climate change, President Obama's citizenship, and now Lance Armstrong's doping.

A cursory examination of the rationalization of Armstrong's behavior tends to see reasons for supporting him on a number of fronts - that others have it in for him (the persecution apology), that others were also doping (the moral equivalence apology), that it happened a long time ago and the prosecution currently serves no purpose (the "let him get away with it" apology). Each of these kneejerk responses is interlaced with comments, such as "no one can ever say whether he is guilty", or "this is no way to be treating a sporting hero". As someone who cheered Armstrong on to each of his Tour de France victories the fall from grace exemplified by his capitulation in the face of overwhelming evidence is tragic. I wish it weren't true, but Armstrong is a cheat and a liar. As his fans (as witnessed on Twitter) put themselves through contradictory contortions of the truth in a feeble defense of their hero, the Emperor clearly has no clothes. While I wish his foundation continued success the Armstrong name has been tarnished. I only wish he could be prosecuted criminally given the level of deceit involved, his hubris notwithstanding.

Livvy and I passed the lower Forest Lake as early sunshine penetrated the cloud cover and joined the long Rollins Pass road after 4.25 miles. We ran this section in reverse a few weeks ago and, with a stiff headwind, I knew it was going to be a long slog.

The route takes the obvious rising trail and then climbs over the tunnel visible on the sky line. The wind battered us from all sides. It was extremely cold and deafening. Occasional lulls would quickly warm us, but these were brief and infrequent.

The wind tore through us as we contoured above the tunnel overlooking Yankee Doodle Lake ringed by a lower section of the Rollins Pass road.

It was difficult to breathe running up to Rollins Pass at 11,600 feet altitude, but we saw this magnificent view of Betty Lake (Bob Lake is just visible a little higher) which was our destination last weekend.

We reached Rollins Pass proper after 2 hours. 7.75 miles of continuous ascent in a cold head wind had taken its toll. The route to Rogers Pass followed the long, undulating ridge line from the left across the sky line. There was no trail and this was going to be 5 long miles of rough and rocky ground with a gale blowing from the west (hitting us from the right). Annoyingly it was still a headwind...would we get no respite? In the photo above, James Peak is still shrouded in cloud cover - our route would take the crest of the ridge above the cliff line immediately below James Peak. It seemed a long way away. We jogged along Rollins Pass road for about a mile and then struck a rising line across the shoulder of the Divide aiming to contour at around 12,100 feet and take out some of the annoying undulations in the ridge line. I am pretty good at contouring, but 5 miles on an uneven slope is rough on the ankles, at least at my age.

After 3.5 miles we arrived at the final ridge line overlooking Iceberg Lakes. Only faint social trails serve these lakes and they are rarely visited - a much better trail goes to Crater Lakes (immediately to the left of where this photo is taken). The cloud was starting to build up and the wind wasn't easing at all. This was one of the coldest sections on the route - my temperature gauge showed 34 degrees air temperature and windchill would be below freezing. It certainly felt like it.

I was finding it difficult to run with any consistency. The ground was rough and the wind was knocking us both around. My foot rarely landed where I intended and I was lucky on a few occasions not to roll over my ankle or crack my knee on rocks. Livvy was amazing as she skipped across huge boulders, but we both needed a break and some fuel - I just couldn't stop at this altitude, I had to drop below Rogers Pass. The photo above shows the Rogers Pass trail coming up from Rollins Pass road. We would join this at the obvious shoulder for the final mile to the top of Rogers Pass.

The last section to Rogers Pass was level and as we turned towards the east the wind, at long last, came from behind my right shoulder and we were able to run a little quicker. Back in June we ascended the Rogers Pass trail and took the obvious line up to James Peak - that was a great run...better than this one...and I'll try and do this again before the snows come.

Just below Rogers Pass the wind stopped and this spectacular view of Heart Lake came into view. The East Portal is visible in the valley over 5 miles away. I think this section of Rogers Pass is one of my favorite sections of trail - extremely steep and technical, with severe drops. A slip off the trail here would have very serious consequences. We threw caution to the non-existent wind and hared down the steepest sections in quick time. It was exhilarating, and after 13.5 miles of hard running it was downhill all the way back to the trail head.

We passed a couple of parties coming up from Rogers Lake and aimed to stop for a break on the north shore.

Some campers on the hillside had this huge dog off leash that wouldn't stop barking. Livvy had a few nervous glances to make sure it was keeping its distance and then enjoyed a dip in the lake. After the cold wind and low temperatures I was back in a tee shirt enjoying the warmth of the sun.

I felt wiped out when I got back to the car. Livvy drank a little and just as we were setting off a train come through the tunnel. It was a huge coal train about 2 miles long and I knew this would delay us at the rail crossings heading back to Nederland. It was good to be back in civilization. Can't wait to check the idiocy on Twitter.

4,000 feet of ascent in just under 18 miles.