Nevada

17 July 2017

On the border of California and Nevada, where gold meets silver, lies the Nevada highpoint. I find it funny how Nevada’s license plate touts second place. Who wants the silver? Regardless, the road to the highpoint was littered in abandoned mines. I assume they weren’t gold.

 

It was Independence Day weekend and it was about time I took advantage of the highpointing scene on the West Coast. I grabbed a buddy and a Jeep and hit the road to cap Nevada. Seven hours from San Ramon with holiday weekend traffic, we didn’t catch a glimpse of Boundary Peak until mid-afternoon. The roads en route were interesting: steep, curvy, and desolate. Shortly after crossing the state border and fifty miles from the nearest services–gas, water, cellular–was a little unnamed road. Two-track, dry as dirt, and littered in loose rock; the trail to the mountain gave the Jeep Patriot a ride for its rental car insurance.

 

I maneuvered through the red rock and narrow pass alright, but eventually reached a point too steep for the Patriot. We parked before an abandoned mine and hiked the last mile to the trailhead. It was hot. It was steep. By the time we reached the register, it was four o’clock in the afternoon. A pair of Wranglers were parked at the trail and their owners were pitching tents. They said there’s no way we’d summit before sundown. We shrugged and signed the register. A wedding party had beat us. Apparently a mountaineering-loving couple was tying the knot atop their final highpoint today. A novel idea for a wedding–one I’d be lucky to ever have.

 

We started the ascent. The going wasn’t easy between the heat, rocky terrain, and occasional pile of wild horse feces; but we managed to reach the base of the mountain–several miles in–before six. The wedding party was descending as we began the climb. They wished us luck against time and the dark storm clouds overhead. I emptied my bota to finish my water and we began. False peak after false peak, we reached the top of the first shoulder before seven and got a clear glimpse of the summit. Traces of snow covered parts of the shadowed rock and the sun was dipping low. My partner and I were pretty spent, but we had made good time. I estimated we’d peak around eight and get back to the base before nine. I had a headlamp and we could make the off-mountain return after dark. My poor friend listened to me. So we went for it.

 

After losing track of the trail among the boulders and scrambling our way to the summit, we were cutting it close. My friend threw in the towel around seven thirty and said he’d wait for me at the base. Neglecting mountaineering law, we parted ways and I summited minutes to eight. Thrilled, I snapped pictures and watched the sun dip below the mountainous horizon. Legs shaky and throat dry, I began my descent, slipping and stumbling over the loose rocks. Halfway down the mountain, darkness fell and I toggled my headlamp. The going was rough and I nearly twisted an ankle on several occasions, but I managed to reach the bottom by nine. I looked around and called out for my friend–who had agreed to wait there–but turned up nothing. So I carried on.

 

I knew my friend didn’t have a headlamp, so I could only hope his phone battery lasted long enough to function as a flashlight. The trail was relatively easy now–over scantly vegetated rolling hills–but I had to keep a sharp eye on the path. With no cell service or landmarks to navigate by, I had to stay on trail. Walking along, I started to see a small white light in the distance. I called out. My friend must be holding his phone. Picking up a jog, I moved toward the light, calling. No response. Soon the light multiplied. First there were two, then four, six, eight, ten…several pairs of white lights along the trail. They were about eight feet off the ground and quickly approaching. My heart thumped and I slowed to a halt. The lights were coming up fast. Squinting, I saw they were attached to large, dark bodies. The lights were a reflection of my headlamp in their eyes. I toggled to a brighter setting. Ten wild black stallions, like the horsemen of the apocalypse, were charging toward me. ‘Shoo!’ I yelled, as if they were stray cats. ‘Shoo!” The horses whinnied and scattered about me, rushing past so close I could feel the breeze. I froze, watching the large bodies run an arm’s length away. It was beautiful. And terrifying.

 

With an adrenaline rush, I made it the rest of the way to the trailhead, arriving around eleven. The Wrangler people were playing cards at a popup table. My friend, bloodied, was collapsed in a chair beside them. Laughing at our misfortune, they told us to sleep in our Jeep and drive down in the morning. We agreed and walked the last mile to our car. We hopped in and turned on the lights. The empty mine stared back at us. The poltergeists of passed prospectors were certainly waiting in the darkness. Bloody, dehydrated, sore, and spooked; we decided to go. Why start heeding advice now? After an hour of treacherous rocky cliffs and limited visibility, we sighed relief and returned to the highway.

 

With a quarter tank of gas, no service, and no maps; we took a lucky guess on direction and drove fifty miles to a gas station. It was closed, but the pumps ran. Still no water, but at least a full tank and some cell service, we set our sights for the next motel…another hundred miles away. We trucked on, through winding mountain roads, until we reached Mammoth Lakes. It was nearly two in the morning, and no signs advertised vacancy. Desperate, we approached every hotel in town–Best Western, Travelodge, Motel 6, and–but to no avail. Independence Day left no room free. There wasn’t even a stable.

 

So we doubled-down. We found a twenty-four hour grocery, loaded up on energy drinks and Slim Jim’s, and drove seven hours home. After a shower and some breakfast, I fell into bed. It never felt so good.

 

You put up a fight, Nevada. But you lost.

 

Boundary Peak. 13140 ft / 4005 m. 1 July 2017.

June 2017

16 July 2017

Northern California is brown now. The rolling green hills of winter and spring have turned dry–the plants shriveled and dull, ground hard and cracked. During my first week here, I took my bike up and down green slopes. The earth was so wet that I ended up sliding face first in the mud. This June, I biked through the hills again, over earth so dry that I was nearly vibrated off the trail. The weather change may be minor, but the seasonal climate shift is nothing to scoff at.

 

Short of work and biking; I had a quick trip to Atlanta. It was the first time I had flown in several months, and I had the pleasure of spending long layovers in new airports. Sarcasm withheld, I am quite fond of long layovers. Once through security and not late for a flight, airports are relaxing. There’s plenty of time to read, think, and people watch. The anticipation of the flight to come is exciting, and there’s always a conveyor belt to walk on.

 

Despite the anticipation, the Atlanta trip was a net loss since I dropped my phone in Lake Lanier. Unable to retrieve it–despite the Otter Box probably keeping it perfectly dry–I upgraded to the iPhone 7 when I came home. Short of the missing audio jack (improved aesthetics and impetus to buy AirPods), there was nothing notably different than the 6. t was due for an upgrade anyway.

 

Beyond a technology upgrade, I enhanced a few other things. One, the premium version of Spotify–convenience and quality well worth the monthly fee. Two, a subscription to The Economist–well worth the limited ads and world news. Three, a loss of my best never-have-I-ever: I drank coffee. Black. At a little diner in Eastern California, I had my first taste of the world’s life fuel. What’s more, I actually liked it. It was plain, bitter, and got my mind rolling much quicker than it normally does in the morning. Haven’t had a sip since, but I’ll consider working it into my routine. Why limit myself? While self-denial can be a differentiator and bolster of strength in some regards, other limitations are just silly.

 

May 2017

4 June 2017

I dog sat this month. The beast was nice–friendly and well-behaved. I couldn’t tell you the breed, but he was some kind of mutt. He was a pleasure to babysit–I enjoyed walking and feeding him and generally having a dependent for the week. But the week was enough. Guilt weighed me down each time I left for work, keeping him caged for eight to ten hours. To compensate, I spent about an hour each evening taking him for walks and giving some TLC. As much as I enjoyed it, my free-time was spent and my couch covered in fur. I really enjoy free-time and a clean apartment, so this state was not sustainable for me. Thus, a realization: I love animals, but I don’t want pets.

 

Just as I live a transient life–moving from place to place–many people come in and out my life. This month, I had a handful of visitors, which gave me the excuse to explore several of the national and state parks. In San Ramon, the Las Trampas Open Space was an idyllic place of rolling green hills and views. Just ten minutes from town, you felt completely remote among the hills. Along the coast, I visited Point Reyes National Seashore and the Sonoma Coast. It was boggling to see rundown ranches along the cliffs of the Pacific, cows grazing before the crashing waves. It was beautiful to see such picturesque landscape left for agriculture instead of wealthy housing. On the east side of the state, I visited the chain of National Parks amidst the granite canyons and giant forests–Yosemite, King’s Canyon, and Sequoia. Yosemite was crowded and remote–requiring a two-hour drive along narrow mountain roads to get to the main tourist area. The granite cliffs were worth it, especially with the rain and fog to add a flavor of mystery. Sequoia and King’s Canyon left me feeling like an insect. The Sequoias were super trees–growing three times larger and older than any other tree. They survive forest fires and droughts and mankind.

 

California is truly America’s Greatest Hits. The source for technology and innovation, film and entertainment, agriculture and natural beauty. It’s a wonderful thing to look at maps of the state and see the eastern half colored green. National Parks and Forests abound, and it’s critical we keep it that way. Not everyone agrees, even in today’s age. National Parks are managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior. National Forests are managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A seemingly trivial piece of information, but a differentiation with potentially dire consequences. National Parks, such as Yosemite, are very difficult to take away, whereas National Forests–such as Stanislaus–are, as so eerily labeled on a roadside sign: “A land of many uses.” There are fewer restrictions on National Forests, so the government has the power to develop, farm, mine, or sell the land as needed. Hetch Hetchy, for instance, was a valley that John Muir found even more beautiful than Yosemite. When the City of San Francisco decided it needed more water, it dammed up the valley to build a reservoir. This could have been built somewhere else–in a less picturesque setting–but they took it in an exhibition of power. The people would never see the valley, so they could care less. Few people even know of Hetch Hetchy, despite it being the source of their livelihoods. But it’s for this reason that we must pay attention to the classification of our parks. While seeing the green half of California may provide a sense of comfort, know that a good portion of that land could be repurposed when the government deems fit. It’s something I keep in mind, especially in the current political climate.

 

April 2017

2 May 2017

I hate ads. At least bad ads–spammy popups, billboards, unwanted phone calls–but I have soft spot for podcast-style commercials. Brief and solicited by the host, they’re actually credible and targeted to me. This blog isn’t sponsored, but here are some endorsements:

 

In my final days of 23, I submitted DNA to 23-and-Me. In fewer than the advertised 6-8 weeks, I learned I’m of 99.8% European descent, lactose-intolerant, blue-eyed, and not a carrier of major disease. At least nothing the tests caught. I highly recommend the service. As the company continues to flesh out their genetic research, more information will be available to patrons of the site. The more contributors, the better the results–so give your body to genetics. To science!

 

I’m not into clothes–I hate shopping and feel more comfortable naked. But I believe every man should have a good suit, myself included. For the past six years, I’ve attended formal events in the mismatched sport-coat and slacks from my high school prom. The pants were getting worn and the coat a bit tight in the shoulders. It was time for an upgrade. Rather than drag myself to a crappy department store and buy a crappy suit, I used Indochino. Applying the discount code from my favorite podcast, I got a custom wool suit for quite a bargain. Charcoal with adjustable sleeves, custom stitching, and an embroidered interior; perfect for any occasion and many moons. All without leaving my door.

 

Jealous of birds? I’ve been there. Bored by planes? Me too. Enjoy dangerous sports with legal ambiguity and unending thrill? Who doesn’t? I’ve wanted to hang glide for many years, and this month I indulged in that dream. After a short drive to Milpitas on weekend mornings, I spent several hours learning the basics of constructing and flying a hang glider. East Bay Hang Gliding offers in-depth lessons on a beautiful California hillside.

 

It was a good month. Now onto May.

 

Soylent Nectar Isn’t People

10 April 2017

Last week, I drank Soylent and ate nothing else.

Monday through Friday–breakfast, lunch, and dinner–all Soylent. Five bottles of 400 calories and all your daily nutrition.

Now this isn’t to be confused with the 1973 film Soylent Green, in which an overpopulated America begins grinding up people to sell meal replacement tablets. These pills were projected to exist in 2022. We’re but five years and a bottle away.

Soylent currently comes in powder and liquid form and has a few flavors–Original (chalky Cheerios), Cacao (chalky Cocoa Pebbles), Nectar (chalky Fruit Loops), and Coffiest (I can only assume chalky coffee; didn’t have it). Nutrition bars are in development, but no pills are on the market…yet. This isn’t a supplement like Muscle Milk or Pediasure, but a full meal replacement. Not only does it cut the time of meal prep, but Soylent is 100% vegan (so no human parts, to my knowledge) and has all the vitamins and minerals you need. It’s convenient, affordable, and tastes okay. It’s the sustenance of utopia.

But I’m not joining the cult. For now.

After a week of drinking liquified chalk, I gained a new appreciation for food. I now enjoy the variety of taste and texture and the act of chewing. My initial thoughts for trying Soylent was to improve efficiency and gain more free-time. Instead of slaving away in my kitchen to prepare meals, I could chug a Soylent and do more interesting things. But I didn’t find this to be the case. I often felt unfulfilled. I wasn’t hungry, but I craved food. Smell became more apparent. The neighbors’ daily cooking spices tickled my nose and aroused my palette. Distractions appeared everywhere as I longed for an opportunity to relax and turn off my mind. The time I used to complete tasks expanded to fit the new time I had gained–without improving quality or satisfaction. Ergo, upon consuming my last bottle of Soylent Friday afternoon, I indulged in a steak dinner and spent the weekend cooking meals for the week to come.

And this meal prep wasn’t tedious. It was quite enjoyable. Pre-Soylent, I was annoyed by the practicality of it–I needed to eat and this was the most affordable means to doing so. Post-Soylent, this was a choice. Whereas volunteering is more fun than work, cooking and eating food became more fun when it wasn’t required. I am by no means a foodie, but I am human and eating is beneficial to me. Socially, it’s nice to share a lunch. Personally, dinner is a mechanism to unwind from the day. The process of preparing a meal and consuming it helps refocus me and actually makes me more productive.

But this isn’t to say that Soylent failed. On the contrary: Soylent fulfilled all of my nutritional needs and kept me full. It proved that a pure liquid diet is feasible for me. Does that mean I’ll live entirely off Soylent in the future? Maybe. Will I in the foreseeable future? No. I’m not busy nor evolved enough to completely abandon traditional meals.

Soylent certainly has a place for contemporary breakfast or backup meals. It’s the new, healthy fast food and could honestly improve the health of many people worldwide–provide supplements to those lacking and cut the reliance on food to those consuming in excess. It has the potential to solve world food crises and may very well be the meal of the future. But until society changes to a food-less culture, Soylent may stay an interest of efficiency-obsessed Millennials. We’re too young to get the reference.

March 2017

1 April 2017

March was boring. Relative to the last few months, I did little of interest to anyone other than me.

 

This month allowed me to acclimate to my new work and get situated at my new residence. I did some spring cleaning in multiple regards–environmentally via Craigslist sales and Goodwill donations, mentally via cutting back personal projects , physically via dental and optometric exams, professionally via resume cleanup, digitally via server consolidation, and spiritually via bad habit kicking. Isn’t that exciting?

 

I had acquired the bulk of my living room furniture for $9 when living in Schenectady. I’ve travelled with it since, but with my now slightly smaller apartment, I was better off without it. The same went for a pile of old t-shirts and a microwave. Moving apartments a lot generates a deal of excess. Some units have microwaves, some don’t. Some have balconies and others dryers. As such, each move leaves you with excess in some things and a shortage in others. One of these current shortages was a living room rug. After a beloved trip to Ikea, I stand behind the Dude: It really tied the room together.

 

This March was the Lenten season, so I was inspired to kick bad habits and hold a series of personal retrospectives. The result: A realization that I waste an inordinate amount of time on personal projects that yield more headache than value. I’m now trying to divert that energy into cultivating better holistic health. I scheduled my annual appointments to get new contact lenses and an inspiration to floss. So far, I’ve been consistent enough for my gums to stop bleeding. Small wins. I also cleaned up my digital life. Rather than spending $30/month on highly customizable virtual servers to host my blogs, I switched to HostGator for a 3-year shared contract at a quarter of the price. Did I mention this post was sponsored?

 

But it wasn’t a wholly boring month. On the weekend, I explored the surrounding landscape. From wandering about Mount Diablo–the ~4000 ft mountain that overlooked San Ramon–to the hills of Las Trampas, I can now say that the idyllic rolling green hills are just as majestic to the touch. It’s a beautiful area that inspires me from the inside out.

 

February 2017

7 March 2017

February began in Schenectady for a weeklong work event. After spending time with peers, I got to ski on my first non-Michigan mountain. So, my first mountain. After New York, I flew back to my apartment in New Orleans and moved out my remaining possessions in the morning. It was good to leave. As much as appreciated the character of New Orleans, living next to Canal and Bourbon Street wasn’t a good fit for me. Too much vomit on the sidewalks, music in the streets, and crowds. If I live in the area again, I’ll keep some distance from tourist territory.

 

I spent the day driving through Louisiana toward Shreveport. I stopped at Driskill Mountain as dusk fell and capped my 24th highpoint. The relative elevation and surrounding hardwood forest impressed me. After leaving, I drove through Texas and slept at rest area outside of Dallas. It was the first time I slept in my truck in almost two years, so it was a much-needed night. In the morning, I continued across Texas, marveling at the unexpected scenery–a hillside littered in nothing but truck beds and the coexistence of oil wells, wind turbines, and beef cattle. I entered New Mexico, stopped at a curio shop along Route 66, and bought a horsehair hoodie. That night, I wimped out, got a hotel, ate at Denny’s, and soaked in the hot tub.

 

The next day, I kept trucking through Arizona. The curvy and pothole-ridden roads that wound through the snowy, coniferous mountains of Flagstaff threw me off guard. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought I was in Montana. As the sun was setting, I crossed the Colorado River to California. Interestingly, there was an agricultural border patrol. Thankfully, they permitted my palm trees and bamboo plants. The trip would have been for naught otherwise. That evening, I slept in another rest area near Bakersfield. It was incredibly windy. I could feel it against the truck as I lied down. The dull white noise relaxed me.

 

On the fourth day, I finished my 2,200 mile journey to San Ramon. On the final stretch of the trip, I enjoyed the rolling green hills–finally relieved from the seven-year drought–and the countless wind turbines they hosted. I moved into my apartment and re-acquainted myself with the Bay Area–from the bag-less grocery shopping to the self-absorbed residents. In the remaining days of the month, I settled into my new home and new job. My truck, having now earned the name “Old Faithful,” received a well-deserved break as I incorporated biking into my daily commute and default mode of transportation. With a recreational trail behind my apartment and work and a BART station no more than 5 miles away, I can reach most anywhere I need via bike. This is great physically, economically, and environmentally and something I’d like to keep up wherever I live in the future.

 

The stark contrast between New Orleans and the Bay Area is something to note. New Orleans–despite being dirty, chaotic, and rampant with questionable infrastructure–had rich culture, enjoyment, and friendly people. It was very human. The Bay Area is the opposite. It is clean, efficient, and orderly. While there is plenty to do and enjoy, the people are not as friendly–more self-important and terse in interactions–and there is little culture or identity. I will enjoy living in the land of the robots, but I will miss the humanness of New Orleans.