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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Storm Clouds, Territorial Marmots, and Unidentified Whiskey

Salman and I woke early, powered up with coffee that looked like the black gold spewing from the Gulf, and hit the road by 3am.  Destination: Bishop, California.  Another battle we await with blood and victory in mind.

Breakfast consisted of the finest of fast food restaurants alongside the 395 freeway.  The soundtrack a mix of heavy metal, reggae and angry rap.

Wilderness permits and bear canisters were obtained, as doing it the legal way can have its benefits.  With hours to kill before the rest of our band of marauding vikings and ninjas joined us, we set off for the Bristle Cone Pine Forest.  The wilderness area houses the oldest living things on the planet, with some of the denizens having existed 2,000 years before a wandering Jew named Jesus decided he was the son of God.  They look it.  Gnarled, weather-beaten and scarred, these trees have borne witness to more than we can comprehend.

Here below, I sit next to one of the kings
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Suitably daunted from our brush with immortality, we headed back to Bishop to buy a topographical map, snickers bars, beer, and other necessities.  I took a long nap.  My brother Bryan and his much more cheerful girlfriend, Britney joined us at the Motel 6 that night, while Kalvin stumbled in around 2am.  Joined by Dan, Nate, Squire and his dog the next morning, we were more or less ready to stake a claim on the rugged back-country of Kings Canyon.  First though, there was the urgent need for coffee.  We stopped at the Schats Bakery, where we uniformly ordered a "schat in the dark," or a coffee with espresso shot if you want to be boring about it.

Finding the South Lake trail-head without any major injuries or a single death, we yawned, stretched and slapped at mosquitoes before taking a "before" shot with everybody fresh-faced and excited.

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I sincerely wish that it was possible to get to the top of a mountain without going uphill, but it never seems to work out that way.  Uphill.  Always uphill.

Dan demonstrates


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Of course, if you could get here without effort, then everyone would do it, and it would probably end up looking like the 405 freeway or some similar atrocity.  I suppose views like this make a little sweat, effort, grit, desire, and drive worth it.


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Going from sea-level to a 12,000 foot pass has its issues, and after a break to deal with elevation headaches, we conquered Bishop Pass, took advantage of her and promised to call some time.


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While the pass clocks in at 11,970 feet, those of us who had never been above 12,000 quickly scrambled up a nearby ridgeline to notch the milestone.  Not much air up there.  Bishop Pass was the highest point of the trail, and we hiked another 6 miles through Dusy Basin and into the stunning Laconte Canyon.  Our campsite stared deep into the dark chasm of the valley and up towards some of the most imposing peaks that I have seen in person.  Storm clouds gathered and settled over us, soaking us down with random thunder and rain storms.  When the sun did prevail, we were treated to incredible views over the jewel of Kings Canyon.  Dark red sunsets settled over the peaks, making it look like the mountain of fire in Tolkien's Mordor.


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We stayed here for two days, absorbing record levels of mosquito bites, honing our poker skills to world-class levels, lying on our back and staring at the swirling clouds, and of course, drinking whiskey and discussing immortality.  While Kalvin was proactive and explored the depths of the canyon, the rest of us waited and the heavy rains would make the crossing impassable on our later attempt.  Reason enough to do shit when the opportunity presents itself, and not after.


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In order to get a bigger bite out of the higher elevation that the Dusy Basin would provide, we broke camp Saturday morning, and waved good-bye to the formidable scenery that we had been provided.


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Dusy Basin is bowl-shaped terrain surrounded by dozens of 12,000-14,000 mountains, some of the highest and least accessible in the lower 48.  I say this unequivocally; I have never seen such beauty.  We set up camp alongside one of the nameless lakes in the area, surrounded by granite and territorial marmots, snakes, and a yellow-legged toad.

Kalvin with a garter snake
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Nate in man vs. marmot
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The rest of the day was spent exploring the many ridgelines, having snowball fights, jumping into lakes made of snow-melt, skipping rocks, and avoiding any thought of responsibility.

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As the sun fell, we smoked Dominican cigarillos and watched falling stars and bright planets, while Kal pointed out different constellations.  One would be hard-put to find a better way to spend 24 hours.

All things must end though, and we broke camp the next morning.  A few miles back to the Pass, and another 6 up the South Lake trail.  Negra had sore paws, and Dan generously let her perch in his backpack for a first-class ride down.  And that's it.  We returned to the car, searched desperately for any somewhat-less-dirty clothes under the seats and returned to Bishop.  We ate Mexican food, and enjoyed indoor plumbing.  I was pleased to note that the old adage is true, and beards do grow longer whilst in the mountains.  We said our good-byes, and we went our separate ways.

Thanks to Dan, Bryan, Britt, Kalvin, Salman, Nate, Squire and Negra for an incredible trip, and "cheers" to Will and Clara, who were there in spirit.


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Monday, July 12, 2010

Bears (maybe), Whiskey and Rihanna

As Linda mentioned a few minutes ago on G-Chat, my posts lately have been a bit "somber."  I think she meant "depressing," but she is too polite to say so.  I guess she has a point, so it is with some pleasure that I announce that I have an adventure a'brewing.  Two days hence, I and my outlaw brigade will set out from the urban streets of Los Angeles to wage bloody war on the mountain crags and dark forests of Kings Canyon National Park.

We will leave the noise, stress and chaos of the city for the sweet silence of the California high country.  We are well-equipped with flasks filled to the brim with medium-grade whiskey, obnoxiously large knives that we will have no use for, hearts full of grit, and motivated (strangely) by the soundtrack of Rihanna's "Hey Mr. DJ." 

I don't want to go too much in detail, as I am sure that I will be writing a trip recap afterward, but suffice to say, there is one 12,000 foot pass on the first day, and plenty of 13,000 and 14,000 foot peaks in the vicinity of our base camp.  We will almost assuredly see a few marmots, and I am really hoping for a bear-free trip.  Bears scare me.  Fortunately, I am armed with Ally's "I love bears" good-luck t-shirt.  I believe this will keep me safe.  Sadly, she has not made an "I love Mountain Lions" shirt, and this worries me.

In any case, I need to pack all of this stuff from my living room floor to my backpack, but I has a procrastination.  Besides, I'm not leaving for another whole day or two.  I will get in touch upon our safe return.  

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Friday, July 9, 2010

To be a Cactus

"The Almighty conceived the cactus plant.  If God would choose a plant to represent him, I think he would choose of all plants the cactus.  The cactus has all the blessings he tried, but mostly failed, to give to man.  Let me tell you how.  It has humility but it is not submissive.  It grows where no other plant will grow.  It does not complain when the sun bakes its back, or the wind tears it from the cliff or drowns in in the dry sand of the desert or when it is thirsty.  When the rains come it stores water for the hard times to come.  In good times and in bad it will still flower.  It protects itself against danger, but it harms no other plant.  It adapts itself perfectly to almost any environment.  It has patience and enjoys solitude...[it is the plant of patience and solitude, love and madness, ugliness and beauty, toughness and gentleness.]"

Other than making me want to start a cactus garden, this quote from the character of Doc in Bryce Courtney's "The Power of One," gives one hell of a blue-print to pattern a life after.  Respecting everyone while fearing no one is the only way to meet people on equal and amicable terms.  In any situation where one or the other party is intimidated by the other, the response cannot be genuine.  If I fear you, I will tailor my response to engender a favorable impression.  Only by respecting you and seeing you as an equal can my response be perfectly honest.  Whether you "like" me or not is of no concern.  Certainly I want to be liked, but if I present my authentic self and you do the same, we do not need to be overly concerned about our effect on each other.

Likewise, complaining serves nothing.  The great man is the same under difficult circumstances as he is in times of prosperity.  A certain degree of stoicism could benefit us all.  Preparing for bad times during good times is always a good practice.  My needs should stay close to the same, even if I get a raise at work.  If I am living paycheck to paycheck at $30,000 a year, I certainly should not be when my income rises to $50,000. 

Enjoying solitude is important, as this is when we sharpen ourselves.  I become more self-aware both in public and in private, but in privacy I can consider and weigh my responses, and hopefully learn from them. 

I will enjoy the good, and I will survive the bad without complaint.

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Marmots, Being Outside, and Why Stick Wars are a Bad Idea

"...the 21st Century American man spends an estimated 90% of his time sealed off from nature - in an office, at a desk, in his house, behind the wheel, on the couch watching TV, or in bed sleeping in air that's often artificially cooled and dehumidified.
...we need to get out more."

When I was growing up, my parents insisted that we were outside for as long as the sun was up.  This rule was to be adhered to, even during vacation, summer breaks, and weekends.

At the time, my Dad was working construction, repairing re-po houses in order for the banks to put them back up for sale.  His hours were heavily dependent on factors outside of his control, including the availability of materials, distance of the site from home, and the complexity of the job itself.  As such, Bryan and I never knew when he would getting home on any given day.  Woe to he who was caught in the house when he got home if the sun was still up.

We got pretty creative at finding things to do.  Bryan dug and built dirt jumps to take his BMX bike on while I played a lot of basketball in our driveway.  We also had epic wars involving acorns as projectiles, and the battles would span our entire neighborhood.  Long sticks stuck in our belt scabbards were our swords, used primarily for settling duels and maintaining justice and order in our kingdom.  This was considered a good idea until our friend Scott fell off his horse (a bike) with the stick stuck in his belt loop, nearly impaling himself on it.  By decree of all the neighborhood parents, we were instantly demoted from cavalry down to infantry over the incident.

Now an adult (in age if not maturity-level), I spend most of my time indoors.  I suppose a lot of it is unavoidable when one considers what a "job" looks like in this day and age.  Don't get me wrong, I am not idealizing the pre-internet days as some golden era, but if our generation spends a lot of time inside, it makes you wonder for the next one.  Thanks to my parent's insistence, I had this great head-start on an appreciation for the outdoors, and still, I spend most of my day in front of a computer screen.  For kids who grew up with the internet from day 1, I wonder if they will even realize that something is missing. 


"On a deep, atavistic level, we know where we belong.  And it's not at a desk."

Eight days from now, I will set out with some close friends for Kings National Park in the Eastern Sierras.  We will start in the town of Bishop, picking up the South Lake trail, and cross over Bishop Pass (11,960 feet) into the isolated Dusy Basin.  We will set up a base camp at one of the many nameless lakes in the area, and set out on day hikes and adventures from there for a few days. 

I can't emphasize enough how badly I need this break from noise, computers, traffic and city.  While it doesn't happen immediately, you slow way down within a few days on backwoods trails.  There are no electronic beeps or reminders, you get back to a natural cycle of sleeping and waking with the rising and falling of the sun, and have more time to think and consider, as opposed to responding and reacting. 

Maybe we'll bring back a pet marmot.

* Note - all quotes are from this month's Men's Health article "Wild Side."

How about you?  Any favorite backpacking routes or trails that I should add to the list?

If you liked this post, you may enjoy:

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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Best of the Web - July 4th, 2010

This week was full of good writing all around the internet. 

Kat talked about the ridiculousness of a quarter-life crisis at Smoke Yourself, and advise those afflicted with such a condition to "stop crying in the bathroom and get up." 
J.D. Roth at Get Rich Slowly talked about the rewards of frugality and thrift, and discussed how being frugal is different than being cheap. 
Nicole admitted to not knowing where Alaska was in one of her typically hilarious posts over at More is Better.
Brett and Kate McKay put together an excellent primer on acing a behavioral job interview over at The Art of Manliness.
Trent Hamm at The Simple Dollar continued his 14 part summary on David Allen's productivity book, "Getting Things Done."  The system outlined in this book and summary series has made a huge difference in my life, and I use it for everything that I am working on, both personally and professionally. 
Linda at Curious Notions talked about her "Money Mantras" for a Schwab Bank-backed blog carnival.
My brother is officially an asshole, so of course he wrote a whole post dedicated to beating me at the Great Currency Save of June, 2010.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Post so Emo that "Fall Out Boy" Should Play the Soundtrack

"Life has become immeasurably better since I was forced to stop taking it seriously."
-Hunter S. Thompson

I haven't been able to focus on my reading at all lately.  I will re-read the same line for the 15th time, my mind will be all over the place, and I don't absorb anything.  I was staring at the page in my book tonight, frustrated, and I realized the problem.  I'm dealing with far too much input lately, and my brain is full.  Work is crazy, I have some personal stuff going on...there is just a lot of balls in the air right now.  

Most of the day I walk around frustrated, angry and depressed, irritated by every minor inconvenience and probably just a joy to be around.  There are so many negative phone calls and emails pouring in that I am constantly running them around in my head, analyzing and critiquing my responses, calling my Dad to both vent and ask for advice.  He's probably beyond sick of hearing about what happens at a textile factory thousands of miles away, but he always takes my calls.  Yesterday, I found three gray hairs at my temples, the first ones.  Today I decided it was time to buzz my head again.

For the first time in my life, I completely understand the temptation of people to get off work, drink a few beers, and then just zone out in front of the TV.  It is a break from thinking, and it is a break from the constant stream of news, information and data that I have been processing over the last 10-12 hours.  I have always been excellent at separating my LIFE from work, and stress never kept me from training, reading and doing the things that I care about.  These days, I am so wrapped up in it all that I can't let myself let go of it.  I've been exercising less, drinking more, and eating like shit.  My blog posts are all emo like this one.

Starting tomorrow, I am going to pull my shit together and get back to being me.

How do you get yourself out of a rut?  What do you do when work is becoming your everything?


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Thursday, July 1, 2010

You Are Not Your Bucket List

You may have noticed the "50 in 500" tab on my homepage.  I am certainly not the first to come up with a thing. These days everyone has a bucket list of things they want to do and see.  It seems to be a symptom of our generation that we want to make sure that we are getting a lot of things "done" in our limited time on this earth.  A noble sentiment.

Lately, I wonder if this mindset is appropriate for the type of activities that one typically finds on these lists.  For example, some of my "goals" include a backpacking trip with friends and family in the Sierra back-country, and a wine-tasting tour with my mom.  The point of these activities is to enjoy the time spent with people that I care about, engaged in activities that I enjoy doing.  I'm not sure that would qualify them as goals.

When Kalvin and I completed the C2C, one of the most difficult day-treks in the world, it wasn't "having done it" that was important so much as the "doing it."  It was the camaraderie, the effort and willpower that was required for every step, the shitty motivational songs that we made up, and it was the triumphant beer-guzzling at the bar afterward that made it worth doing.  The point is, the photographic summit moments are almost always anti-climactic.  The last steps were no more significant than any of the hundreds of thousands before it.  At the end of the day, it was both less and more than an item to be checked off a list.  Less, because an activity done for no purpose other than "fun" is not properly a goal, and more, because the time spent in exertion and challenge, and in the company of good people cannot be defined so easily as with a check mark.

I am too ignorant of the interwebz to figure out how to change the title on my "50 on 500" tab, but I am going to start thinking about it simply as a Someday/Maybe list of things that I would like to do.  There are no time limits, and there are no penalties for anything left undone.  I will simply resolve to live an adventurous life and trust that this will lead me naturally to spend my time among good friends and good times. 

* Thanks to Juliana and Linda who helped me fix the title of the tab

If you liked this, you might like:

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