Sunday, June 30, 2013

Go West Young Man

Tomorrow morning I'm leaving home for awhile. For about half a month probably. It's an unexpected journey, but it's one to scratch an itch that I've had since I was a little kid, forgot for awhile, and recently felt again: The American West.

Last week I got a text from Josh, an old friend I recently reconnected with. Last month we spent a day hanging out in Ithaca, New York, and a couple weeks later we went to some rally events over beyond Wellsboro. So I was expecting to hear he wanted to do something similar to that. Instead he asked if I wanted to spend two and a half weeks driving out west. After taking a couple hours to make sure it was okay with all of my quasi-employers, I said yes.

So at sunrise tomorrow, armed with bear spray and a collection of Louis L'Amour short stories I have no intention of actually reading, we're headed for the Pacific Ocean.

From what I understand––which isn't that much––we're going to go visit some friends in Colorado, and then his sister who I've heard lives somewhere off the coast of Washington State (I'm not quite sure how that works, but it's what I've heard). From there, it's nothing more than some vague plans involving rest-stop road maps and whimsical decisions. Some national parks will definitely be involved, maybe a city or two, and––hopefully––the desert. Did I mention I've been missing the desert?

But it's really anyone's guess.

I'll be leaving my computer behind, but will still have my camera and my phone. So hopefully I'll be able to share a little of what we see along the way.

It should be a memorable couple of weeks.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

I took a walk through this beautiful world - I felt the rain on my shoulders

While it's not what this post is about, I now realize most of the traffic coming to it is people interested in the intro song from Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain. For your convenience, the full lyrics are:

I took a walk through this beautiful world
Felt the cool rain on my shoulders
I took a walk through this beautiful world
I felt the rain getting colder
Sha-la-la-la-la-la (2x)

This song was written and produced exclusively for Parts Unknown by the band Queens of the Stone Age, who happen to be long time friends of Tony and have been featured in his previous shows such as No Reservations Season 11: US Desert .

PS. If you found this post helpful, feel free to like my facebook page. I post some interesting stuff from time to time. Thanks! 

About two thirds of the way up the side of Sawteeth, my more experienced climber friends started trying to recall if they'd ever been "really poured on" during a climb in the Adirondack Mountains.  They decided that in the 20 or 30 some peaks that they'd summited, they hadn't.

Five minutes later it was pouring on us.

Noah's Ark style.

While I'd only gone high peak climbing twice before, I'd managed to experience it in both summer heat and snow. The rain was something entirely different. And not altogether pleasant. Especially when it became apparent that it wasn't going to stop before the point of soaking through our backpacks, clothes, and worst of all, shoes. It also turned the trail into a pond––or creek––or waterfall––depending on the grade.

To add insult to injury, the rain clouds that enveloped us made it difficult to see more than 200 yards in any direction, so we reached the summit of Sawteeth at 4,150 ft, and might as well have been standing on the grassy knoll in a golf course as far as view was concerned.

While the plan had been for our group to split and part of it hike to the adjoining Gothics peak, we were considering calling it quits for the day. When the rain finally let up, though (no sign of the clouds lifting), we made the decision that we'd all continue to Gothics. So after another few miles of pulling ourselves upward through the eerily shifting fog, an equally invisible panorama from Pyramid Peak, which is between Sawteeth and Gothics, we reached the summit.

And just at that moment, a miracle happened. The fog blew back, the clouds shifted, and there was the Adirondack Forest spread out in front of us with clouds spilling down the sides of the mountains and blue sky directly above us. We could see all the way to the tiny speck that was the giant Ausable Club boat house a few miles from where we'd started, beyond that to other summits my friends had climbed in the past, and almost to the horizon––though I'm not quite sure if it was the real horizon.

It was beautiful, and made the entire climb my favorite so far.

Okay, it was already my favorite so far because of the people I was with. But this gave it a more tangible feeling.

Then, as quickly the clouds had parted, they came back in a misty avalanche through the teeth of Sawteeth, over the Ausable Club, over the lakes and around the bases of the other mountains like waves. We had to hurry to snap this photo before even we were surrounded again:

And then it was a six mile plunge back down into that sea of cloud, and rain––this time on sore feet and legs––and I don't think we saw much but that wall of gray again. That's life I guess.

But it's not all cold and gray like I used to think. It's cold and gray, but sometimes it's also clear and beautiful.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Color and Fire and Music

This whole past weekend was a swirl color and fire and music. It was the Summer Solstice, the Super Moon, and everybody and their cousin's graduation. I think I was literally at a party more time than I wasn't. Friday night was the annual barn dance at my neighbor's farm. Saturday afternoon was my brother's graduation party. Immediately after that was Pie Festival. That's an event that deserves an entire post of explanation in itself. Yesterday afternoon had graduation parties for several students from my church, and last night was the last Jesus Feast––another event that could use more explanation than I'm going to give it––with friends of mine who are soon moving away to Texas. I'm too tired to actually describe all of it in any detail though, so here are some photos. Little frames of moments in a continuous explosion.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


I'm in a somewhat unusual state right now. And not really in a bad way, although how I got here wasn't that good. Sunday in church I kept feeling horribly cold all through the service, and then that afternoon started coming down with lots of typical head cold symptoms. It came on slowly though, and for the last three days I kept on thinking I was "beating it" or just around the corner from being better. I even kept running and tried to do everything I'd normally do if I hadn't been sick. Then yesterday I started feeling really cold again, like anytime I was in the shade for even a couple seconds I was cold. By yesterday evening I had full blown chills and lying in bed last night I felt sure I had a fever. But when I took my temperature sometime after midnight, I didn't––in fact it was slightly low. So I went back to my bed and shivered fitfully with strange thoughts and scenarios going through my mind (it probably didn't help that I recently read The Sheltering Sky, the majority of which is one character's thoughts as he slowly succumbs to typhoid fever) until 4am when I finally blacked out. I don't think I stirred until nine when my alarm went off and I woke up in a strange position––which is unusual for me. I rarely sleep for more than a few hours at a time without waking up. The stranger thing though is how I feel. I still have a cold (although now I suspect it's a sinus infection), but I feel nearly completely new. Like, as if I woke up and was nine years old or something, with a complete sense of disconnect with everything before waking up. And more alive somehow. I guess I've actually felt like this quite a number of times before––though of course it doesn't feel like I have. Almost anytime I wake up after having a fever I feel like this (though it doesn't seem I actually had one). The funny thing is, I seem to remember always feeling like this when I woke up as a kid. I remember pretty typically feeling awful every night, like I was carrying more and more stress and anxiety and guilt the longer the day went on, and by the night it was unbearable. But then, every morning, I felt completely new, like that was all gone and this day was a completely fresh start. Then sometime in my early teens though, that completely stopped, and I started waking up worried about all the same things I was worried about when I went to bed. And then in college, I'd generally wake up almost with an anxiety attack, which would slowly dissipate throughout the day, until it got to be night. And at night I'd feel the best. I guess that's just a fairly normal part of growing up, but sometimes I miss feeling really new in the morning. So that's why the state I'm in right now is somewhat unusual––and I felt like writing about it. I feel pretty darn new. It's just too bad it takes being sick to feel that way.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Liberation Day

Friday, June 14 is a day that will no-doubt go down in infamy. Liberation Day.

Guinea Fowl Liberation Day, that is.

After two months of slave labor (by me), one death (by the guinea fowl), and calamitous prophecies from my younger siblings about what was going to happen when I finally released the birds, I  received the green light from my neighbor––who knows about such things––to go ahead and do it.

So this afternoon, most of my family excitedly standing by, I descended into the coop and spent a couple minutes trying to manually remove the birds. After deciding that that was not the manner in which I wanted to die, I opted for grabbing a pair of wire cutters and slashed a large hole into the side of their wall. And––nothing happened. We tried to scare them, and still nothing happened. So I left them alone for half an hour, and again, nothing happened.

Finally, I took their feeder-bucket and placed it outside of the coop. Almost immediately they all came out. Then I put it back in, and they all went back in.

After everything I'd heard from people about the difficulties of getting them to go back in their coop, I felt this was rather anticlimactic. But it was also a relief, and I went inside to eat supper in peace.

Half an hour after that, I heard a tremendous racket in the back yard and, fearing the worst from the dog, dashed around the house. What I saw was this: The entire flock of guinea fowl standing toe-to-toe in a formation that looked vaguely like the herd of herbivores in the Disney movie Dinosaur when they are warding off the T-Rex, craning their necks and screaming as they moved in a slow, coordinated circular pattern. The object of their wrath: My family's chickens.

The chickens––who were behind a fence, by the way––didn't seem the least bit perturbed by all this, and only stared at the belligerent African jungle birds in disinterested silence. And after half an hour or so, the guinea fowl lost interest as well, and turned to excitedly devouring grass out of our yard. And as far as I know, that is what they are still doing.

So the guinea fowl are free. And one thing is certain: The world will never be the same.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

First World Problems... right?

Sometimes I hate living in the United States. And this afternoon was one of those times.

I was standing in a field lot beside a concert hall outside of Canandaigua, NY, waiting for an event to start with three friends when we were approached by two police officers. One of them demanded to see our photo IDs. The reason, I assume is that we'd just opened several alcoholic beverages––just as most of the other 2,000 people scattered around in the field had. Now, we were not in a car mind you, no one was driving, and we were in an inflow-only lot, so we couldn't have gone anywhere for the next five hours even if we had wanted to, and were all in our mid-twenties. But those who are doing nothing wrong have nothing to fear (right?), so we gave him our IDs per his request.

Apparently, in the State of New York, however, valid Pennsylvania driver's licenses are no longer a readily acceptable form of identification, as he started asking my friends (who all live in New York) questions about me. When none of them immediately answered, he said: "So you got this one online? Because I'm calling it in, so you better tell me now if you did." I responded that he was very welcome to call it in if he wanted to––and he did.

Apparently there was some kind of communication backlog/breakdown between our friendly Sheriff, the dispatcher, and whoever it is in Pennsylvania who looks these things up, because I ended up having to stand there for an extended period of time with two police officers repeatedly insulting my intelligence and honesty and educating me––and all of my  friends––about how easy it is for "kids" to order fake Pennsylvania IDs online and how "all the kids are doing it."

By the time the dysfunctional Pennsylvania DMV connected with the overbearing Canandaigua police force in the nether-world of cyber-governmental surveillance and beamed back to our bicycle-cop-sherrif-friends the prodigal transmission that my driver's license number obviously corresponded to a real drivers license issued by the Sate of Pennsylvania, and that the name on that license obviously corresponded to my name, and that it was not a misprint when it said my DOB was in the 1980s, almost fifteen minutes had gone by. My beer was warm, and the concert had started inside. And then they just handed my card back to me and went off without saying anything.

Now, tremendous #FirstWorldProblems, right?

Practically speaking, yes. I was not physically injured, forced to pay any fine, and when justice prevailed, it wasn't questioned. So, great system right?

I would beg to differ. Just think of the stupidity of the basis for the whole thing.

I was, in principle at least, interrogated, asked to incriminate myself so as to not inconvenience a law enforcer who was already confident of my guilt, forced to produce identification, had my identification initially rejected because I came from a different political district, insulted, and detained (you may argue that I was not detained, to which I'd ask you to imagine what might have happened if I'd attempted to leave at any point during the interaction....). And what was the reason for all this?

Oh, right, I was standing in a field drinking a beer.

In what other crazy part of the world would that even be an issue? I've done similar things in conservative Muslim countries, in a post-Soviet bloc country, in just about every kind of country you can imagine, and no one even looks askance at you.

[Deep breath]

Now, certainly, I would be unfair to overlook the privileges that we do have in America. In America, I could own an assault rifle––if I wanted to. In America, I could "gain" $50,000,000 a year from investments and be taxed at 50% the rate of my sister who works at Lowes. We have a lot of rights, and there are a lot of things in America that I could do if I wanted/were able to.

But when it comes to things I actually would like to do, like stand in a field and sip a beer with my friends in peace, it sucks.

And sometimes I get tired of it.

Sunday, June 02, 2013


It's been an amazing and super-fun (if exhausting) week. Last Saturday I ran an 8k in Corning, NY, Monday I ran a 5k in Mansfield, PA and Tuesday I did a day trip to TO, Canada. I think it's safe to say yesterday was the climax.... Or, well, at least I think it was.

A couple weeks ago I did some casual hiking in the gorges around Ithaca with an old friend, Josh, and on the way back, he invited me to go to the annual rally racing event in the woods out beyond Wellsboro, PA on the first of this month. Growing up I'd always been aware of the event, but figured it wasn't really my crowed and never had much desire see it. Relatively recently though, some things had peaked my interest in the sport (okay, those things were TopGear, TopGear and TopGear). So I said yes––completely forgetting that the first of June was also when I'd planned the second bonfire of the year, and there were about 30 people coming to my house that evening.

So it was that yesterday I ended up careening along no winter maintenance roads in the passenger seat of Josh's WRX, chasing the rally cars from stage to stage in the Godforsaken wilderness that is everything for 100 miles west of Wellsboro. Online they advise that you only go to one stage per day. But relying on backroads and paths that showed up as dotted lines on the ancient state highway map Josh had in his back seat (there's 0 cell service and even spotty satellite coverage out there) to get us there faster than the recommended routes, we managed to make it to three without ever missing the first car (okay, one time we only heard it).

It was fun. I would attempt to describe it more, but some photos will do a better job.

And then, after a relatively long "shortcut" to a town near the base of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon during which we almost hit a rattlesnake, we ate ice cream. It was a good day.

And then I got home just in time for nearly all of my friends from Corning to show up an hour early for the bonfire. Three boxes of shotgun shells, 100 clay pidgins, a lot of unexpected (but very welcome) guests, and several cases later, it was 3:30am, and I was still standing by the fire having a conversation with another very old friend that took an unexpectedly deep turn. It was a good night.

Church was a little rough this morning though.