Sunday, July 27, 2008

into the woods

Today we start in on backpacking, which naturally means this will be my last post for a week. We drive up into the mountains from Pueblo this morning towards Buena Vista. We'll camp at the trail head tonight and then start hiking Monday morning.

I've gotten a lot of questions over the past few weeks regarding such things as: Are you really going to sleep in a tent for a week? Are you going to have to carry all of your food on your back? You mean you're not going to have running water out there?

Yes, all this is true. I consider this true camping - back-country backpacking, carrying all your needed items on your back in a pack, and far, far removed from civilization. We sleep in a tent, not a cabin. We cook our own food. We do not have bathrooms. We do not care if we smell bad this week.

This in my opinion is the purest form of a vacation, and I absolutely cannot wait.

Our trip this morning will take us up one the prettiest drives in Colorado, that being the Arkansas River canyon from Canon City westward. It features 100-300 foot sheer cliffs on either side of a narrow canyon which twists and turns upward over the course of 30 miles. The road is right at the bottom of the canyon, bordering the Arkansas River which at this point will be quite narrow, though moving quickly and appears extremely pure with a blueish green tint. Very beautiful.

Buena Vista is the closest town to where we will be hiking, though even that will be about 20 miles away from us once we get up into the back-country. But to give some sense of placement, we'll be about 100 miles directly west of Colorado Springs up in an area called the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. It's called this because the primary mountains of the region - reaching upwards of 14,000 ft tall - are named after a handful of the Ivy League schools such as Mt. Harvard, and Mt. Yale, etc.

So that's the plan folks. Five days from now (Friday) we'll be exiting the wilderness - hopefully much refreshed, and inspired by some of the most beautiful country in the world. Priority #1 will be finding a steak restaurant to partake of a medium-rare prime rib, after a week of eating dehydrated meals in ziplock bags. But after that I'll post an update or two here to bring you up to speed on how the week went.

I will say this, if you don't hear from me for say, I don't know, two weeks from now, you may want to call the ranger station in Buena Vista, CO. But I don't anticipate any issues... let's just pray for good weather, and safe hiking. Talk to you soon!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

oil fields and corn wells

Today was Kansas. All of it, in all of it's hot, flat, windy, dusty glory.

We hooked up with my parents, brother, and sister this morning in Olathe, KS - stocked up on required caffeinated beverages and took off down the road. We stayed on the Interstate for all of about 40 miles, and then hit the ol' US Highway. My dad had it in mind to take the scenic route today, which is fine - we have no real time barriers, so sure, let's experience the American Midwest.

My Grandma Burns lives in Ellinwood, KS, which is this tiny little hiccup in the middle of the country. We figured this was a good opportunity to see her, as well as my aunt, uncle, and cousin (along with her new baby boy). But first, we had to visit our oil well. Well, not our oil well... my Grandma on my mom's side inherited a share of an oil well that was drilled back in the 1930's, and by a share I mean .000009%, which is not a lot at all. I think she may get a check once a month amounting to about $25, so what the heck right? Now if you do the math on .00009% per quarter, it equals out to be $2,700, so the thing is pumping some oil. I don't expect to become a millionaire via an inheritance on this thing though.

So we visited the oil well, and well, you know it was an oil well. Doing it's drilling - pumping it's oil. I mean, what do you say about an oil well? Next we were off to Grandma Burns' house, and it was great to see my family again. I especially love my Uncle Rob - funny, funny guy. Uncle Rob taught me when I was little how to eat my mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving, by making a 'lake' with my potatoes, and filling it with gravy, the 'water', and then putting little kernels of sweet corn, which naturally were my 'ducks' swimming in their lake. Fun times huh? Anyways, the family was doing good, and we ate ice cream together, and then were on our way.

But dang, we got one of those true honest to goodness thunderstorms on our way out from Grandma's. Huge clouds, big wind, heavy rain and lots of lightning. Drove through that for about an hour, then it cleared up and on the back side of the storm some of the most beautiful cloud formations I've ever see. The Midwest has the best clouds.

The rest of Kansas was pretty predictable. Lots of corn, lots of oil rigs. Cow pastures all over the place. And now it's late at night and we're heading out the west side of Kansas toward Pueblo, CO. We'll sleep there for the night, and then take off for the beginning of our backpacking trip Sunday morning.

Friday, July 25, 2008

the great american roadtrip

Today, after staying up until 3:00 AM for the most epic night of bag-packing ever, we left Nashville for the American West. Destination: Colorado. Mission: Backpacking the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness Area.

We're taking 3 days to get out to our starting point, which will be a trailhead near Cottonwood Pass west of Buena Vista, CO. But the short term goal for today is Kansas City, MO where we visted with Steph's dad, and will meet up with my family to caravan the rest of the way out to CO.

We left Nashville in a rainstorm, which was fine - the car needed to be washed and we didn't have time to do it before we left. I'm certain my backpack is much too heavy. I pride myself on loading a light pack. During highschool packing trips I would load up a 24 lb. pack pre-food (which is pretty dang light). But on past trips I've always been a little light on food, and as a result have been left feeling a little too hungry some days. Never a good combination when you're exerting yourself physically.

So I've got food for this trip. Lots of food, and it weighs a lot. I'm afraid I'm going to have to thin things out a bit before we hit the trail.

Another thing adding the weight is my camera gear, which I've resigned myself to accept. I've never taken a really good camera up into the mountains before, and it's something I've always wanted to do. I've got my Canon 35mm SLR, which is a great camera, and 9 rolls of black & white film (I'm fascinated by really good black & white film landscape photography). I've also got two lenses - a standard zoom and a wide angle zoom (which I just bought off Ebay last week). And finally the tripod. Got to have the tripod for good landscape photography, and here's why:

Good landscapes show incredible detail as a result of a great depth of field. This means that things really close as well as really far away are all in focus, which means you need to set your aperture very small, which means that only a tiny amount of light is allowed to hit the film. This automatically means that your exposure time has to be set relatively long. And you know what happens when you have a long exposure time and you're holding your camera by hand - blurry pictures. Unacceptable, and this is fixed with a tripod.

So here we are in Kanasas City, ready to meet up with the rest of the family tomorrow morning. We'll drive through the entire breadth of Kansas, stopping off to see my Grandma Burns and aunt, uncle, and cousin. We'll get into Pueblo, CO late Saturday night and stay in a motel, and then it's off for the mountains Sunday morning.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

electroshock therapy works on cats

We have a cat. His name is Linus. He's two years old now.

Recently he started the bad habit of making incredible amounts of noise beginning every morning at 4:30 AM in the form of meowing, scratching, pawing, and general cat-play. It's incredibly annoying, to the point that Steph and I are losing significant amounts of sleep because of our crazy cat.

Without going through all the details, suffice it to say we've tried everything to quiet him down. We let him roam the house - he makes noise. We lock him in our bedroom, he makes noise. We lock him in a different room, he poops on the floor because he's bitter.

The most annoying of his traits is his incessant pawing on our closed bedroom door - believe it our not, this keeps us up the most. So we made a little investment the other day. While perusing through Petsmart, amongst all the cute little well behaved puppies and kitties, we picked up a feline torture device known as "The ScatMat".

This handy little tool, when rolled out on the floor, sends 9 volts of electric current through the feet and/or paws of any trespasser who steps on the mat. For the last three nights we have rolled out the ScatMat in front of our bedroom door, and I must say... works like a charm.

Night #1: About 20 minutes after we rolled it out he started sniffing around and investigating the mat, and finally he ventured onto it. Hair on end. Tail puffy. Jumped straight up in the air about a foot, ran into the wall, and dove under the bed, not to make a peep for the rest of the night.

Night #2: We read that for effective "training" we should try covering the mat w/ a sheet or towel so that eventually we can remove the ScatMat and simply leave the towel on the floor as Linus will have associated the shock with the sheet, not the mat. To work effectively through the pillowcase we threw on the floor we had to turn the power up one notch. Oh my. He hit the thing at about 5AM and it sounded like he had climbed halfway up the wall in shock. Once again, not a peep for the rest of the morning.

Night #3: Linus has now picked up a new trait when entering or leaving the room. Regardless of whether or not the pillowcase is on the floor he now jumps a full three feet through the door frame in attempts to "clear" whatever is shocking his little paws. He steers clear of the door from now on, has settled himself down, and Steph and I have been sleeping wonderfully.

And that. my friends, is how you train a cat.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

jon's pears

It's 4:53 PM. Long day at the office. My esteemed colleague Jon, tired from a long day's work returns to his office craving a fresh can of... pears. Actually, they're not fresh. The can of pears has been sitting in his desk drawer for months, maybe years. He finally brought a can opener into work earlier this week so that he'd have one on hand just-in-case. Came in useful today.

Jon was proud of his Spoiled-Chef can opener, or Coddled-Chef... whatever it is, I can't remember. He demonstrates how it has a handy little magnet on the top of it to lift the cut can lid from the can and transfer it to the waste basket without touching it at all. Oh wait - magnet failure. He dropped the lid. Pear juice everywhere.

Come on Jon.

Monday, July 07, 2008

picturing myself backpacking

Less than a month from now we leave for Colorado for our summer backpacking trip with my family. I am truly excited for this because it has been far too long since I’ve been packing in the Rockies.

This will be Steph’s first time backpacking, so that’s going to be an adventure in and of itself. She’s a little concerned about the bear issue though, and I’m not really sure how to reassure her that things are going to be ok. Truthfully I’ve never seen a bear while backpacking, and I figure as long as you make a decent amount of noise while you’re moving along the trail, and don’t keep beef jerky in your tent at night you’ll be ok. She’s not convinced though.

We have a couple of goals to outfit ourselves with some camera gear before we leave. First of all, we need to hook up Steph with a new digital camera because the one she currently has, I believe, is running DOS as it’s operating system. I think it measures resolution in Kilo-pixels. This is obviously unacceptable, so we’re gonna fix that.

As for myself, I’m all analog. As much as I’m all about the techie stuff I have a great appreciation for good ol’ black and white photos captured on film, and I enjoy removing myself from digital world when I go out to take pictures. I have a very nice SLR that I’ve had for a few years, but I’m in desperate need of a new lens. Ultimately I’m looking for a good wide-angle lens as well as a nice zoom lens. I’ve been seeing some good deals recently on lenses, so I may in fact try to find myself a wide-angle lens this weekend, as that will be the best lens for big mountain scenery pictures.

Which reminds me… something I want to do by the end of the calendar year is to try my hand at developing my own film. I’ve been reading up on developing 35mm film and my understanding is that it’s relatively uncomplicated. I need to do some additional studying to see if that’s something I can pull together over the next few months. Note to self – need to add this to the 101 in 1001 list.

Other note to self – review your 101 in 1001 list because you haven’t looked at it in months, and let’s face it, time is ticking.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

goodbye and hello

So it’s been pointed out to me several times now that I haven’t blogged recently. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

In truth I’ve been taking a bit of an intentional “sabbatical” from writing because, well, because I wanted to. And it’s been nice. I’ve enjoyed stepping away from feeling the pressure to keep on the blog from week to week. Also, I've been embracing the world of micro-blogging via Twitter, and that's been fun too, keeping the world up to date 140 characters at a time.

So I would say the biggest news from the last month is the fact that we had to retire our dear purple Cavalier – the fine piece of American machinery that we purchased from good friend and ex-blogger Timmy a few years ago. We pushed it past 200,000 miles earlier this spring, but the transmission finally gave in on us, and it just cost too much to fix.

So, we went out searching and in one short weekend actually found a car that we really liked! We landed on an 2003 Mitsubishi Galant that we picked up from a used car dealer in Murphreesboro. We like it a lot, and it’s treating us well. Can I just say that I truly enjoy entering the 21st Century by now having a car that has power windows, power locks, tinted windows, and brakes that don’t shake like an earthquake every time I try to stop. And as much as I like a manual transmission, I don’t have to sit in rush hour traffic arguing with a clutch anymore, and that is glorious.

Thanks for bearing with me through my sabbatical. I hope to offer up additional reading material soon.