Saturday, July 30, 2005

Hiking and Hitchhiking

Andrew and I just got home from backpacking in the Colorado wilderness.

Lots of outdoor stuff on the blog these days.

Short summer seasons in the high country in Colorado and very short summer school vacations here create a pretty small window of opportunity.

The trip had two possible itineraries.

In Plan A, we hike and camp a lot. Both of us carry our backpacks over the Continental Divide.

In Plan B, we hike and camp a lot, but Andrew decides he doesn't want to do the slog over the divide cuz it's too far and too heavy. We hike out after two days and Janet picks him up and then I continue over the top to the other side.

We do Plan B. After carrying my pack over the top I know he made the right choice.
Pretty impressive for a 12 year old who wants to please dad.

Plan B also involves hitchhiking. We take a short spur trail out of the woods and end up on a highway many miles from any place a cell phone will work. We need to call Jan so she can come and pick up Andrew.

So we stick out our thumbs and try to hitch a ride to a place with a land line phone.

Lots of cars pass for a couple of hours but nobody picks us up.

I think about my junior high and teen years when it was easy to catch a ride. My friends and I hitched along the 15 miles of Beach Boulevard to Huntington Beach almost every week during our summers in SoCal.

I wonder why people won't stop and pick us up.

No need to fear Islamic terrorism in this situation. People with sleeping bags don't do detonations.

But you never know what imaginative citizens are thinking these days.

Other options?

1. Fear of serial killers.

I know those types are always the guy next door. But are they ever the guy next door and his young son hefting camping gear on a country road?

At 50 mph it's all first impressions.

You're the driver. Make up your own mind. You've got 5 seconds.

2. Poor technique.

After 45 minutes of hitching failure I look back and notice that Andrew is turning his thumb directly up in the universal "it's all good" signal and waiving it at the passing cars. Good intentions and poor technique never get it done.

3. Inadequate Personal Hygeine.

Who wants a couple of people who obviously haven't taken a shower for a couple of days in their car?

Ya, I'm ok with that reason. Good thinking.

A conflicted family from Missouri finally rescues us. They drive up slowly as if to pick us up. The teenage daughter behind the wheel sticks her head out and says, "Don't think there's enough room."

Their large van has plenty of room. All of us--both inside and outside of the van--can see that clearly.

Dad--riding next to her in the shotgun seat--looks embarrassed. He does the kind thing and invites us in.

On the way to our destination, which turns out to be their destination, dad and teen daughter say nothing to us and act like we're a couple of strays who just peed on their dining room carpet.

Mom, in the back of the van, strikes up a friendly conversation and makes us feel welcome for the few minutes we spend with them. God bless Mom.

I'm not sure which trip--the hiking or the hitchhiking--was more of an adventure. Good learning experience for Andrew, for sure.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

My Most Excellent Self

Because of the work I do I get lots of emails from folks in the developing world who want help or financial support.

I saw one today from a guy in India who directed his request to me with the opening, "Most Excellent Director."

I get quite a few messages with these kinds of flowery, honorific titles from people in India, Pakistan, and parts of Africa.

Basically, they come from anywhere the English did their imperial thing. The British love of titles combined with indigenous hiearchical forms of address produced this sort of stuff that some people use to this day.

I've decided I like this whole third world honorific deal as a change of pace. "Dude" or simple first names get old from time to time.

So from now on, you can address me as "Your Most Serene and Honorable Excellency" when you're feeling more formal.

Or, if you'd like to be more informal, I'm good with "Your Excellency."

Since this is blogging, I'll understand if you cut it short to YMSAHE.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

War in Our Spare Time

In my last post I asked why Americans seem--at least on the surface--so unconcerned by the big numbers of civilian deaths and injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Maybe part of the answer lies in how little these wars seem to affect Americans practically.

Our soldiers are starting to figure that out. I've been reading reports recently about US soldiers and officers wondering why our government hasn't asked US citizens for even the smallest sacrifices during "wartime."

Beyond waiting longer to get through airport security to catch a flight, I wonder how much "the war against terror" affects most Americans in a personal way.

Not much.

From my perspective, the war on terror is mostly an abstraction for everyday people.

It's a lucrative living and a good way to stoke the ideological flames for the extremists who control both ends of the political spectrum these days.

War is usually good business and it's often the best way to build careers quickly. So it makes sense that ideological and political elites flourish during wartime.

But beyond the satisfaction of participating second or third hand in abstract ideological battles, I'm not sure the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have had a lot of real impact on everyday people in the US, no matter what their political take or persuasion.

Patriotism is pretty popular these days. But it's an abstract kind of nationalistic fervor that requires little effort or committment.

The vast majority of US families want nothing to do with the military. That makes sense since very few people really want a career where the competition actually wants to behead you or blow you up. And who wants that kind of thing for their kids?

Most sane people--and especially sane and educated people--understand that war is a bear market. Only people with the strongest sense of patriotic duty or people who really need a paycheck join up.

That means only a very small percentage of Americans--or American families--are involved in the military right now. That's very different from the situation in past American wars.

Our casualties are so miniscule from an historical point of view that only the tiniest percentage of American families have felt the ultimate cost of war.

Our primary political leaders and their children--George Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleeza Rice and the vast majority of our congressional leadership--have never heard a shot fired in anger. In the case of Bush and Cheney, they used their wealth and family connections to avoid real military service during Vietnam.

The loudest and most powerful political voices for war these days don't have personal and human experience in actual combat. The only real soldier among them--Colin Powell--became an outcast because he raised questions about the headlong rush into war and about the way the war in Iraq has been managed.

Big business leaders from industries that specifically profit from the wars--and especially their children--are conspicuously absent from the rosters of soldiers and officers.

Because of severe military restrictions on what the media can show, and because of some of the unique characteristics of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, most of us see or hear very little of what's actually happening--whether good or bad--in those countries.

Americans pay no war tax to finance the immense deficits created by these wars (though our children will). We haven't been asked to conserve a single thing to advance the cause of these wars. Even the immense financial deficits themselves are so large that they seem unreal and abstract.

In short, we're fighting a war on terror in our spare time and with no real discernable cost to everyday Americans. The death and destruction in Afghanistan and Iraq have had little personal impact on most of us and have required little or no sacrifice.

Well, that's not exactly true. The military itself is overstretched and our weekend warriors--The National Guard--have bitten off way more than they thought they were going to have to chew. These folks have seen what's really going on and have felt the cost very personally.

But since rank and file folks in the military can't speak honestly and since civilian politicians overseeing the military and high ranking military leaders themselves know they risk their careers and reputations in the current political climate if they tell things like they are, there isn't much chance--at least in the short run--that we'll get an honest and detailed take from the people in uniform.

It may only be in retrospect--through the emails of soldiers that historians and journalists will someday obtain--that we'll get a more straightforward picture of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It seems to me that past generations of Americans understood the realities and costs of war more clearly and in a much more firsthand way. They seemed less glib about killing--which is what war is really about without all the spin and caked on makeup.

My father was one of the "greatest generation." He served in General Patton's Third Army command group in Europe. After the killing stopped he helped direct the army's massive effort to serve the millions of European refugees displaced during that war.

He was rarely willing to speak about his experiences. When he did he expressed wonder about people who celebrated war and dressed it up in patriotic and especially religious garb. He had contempt for politicians and others who made careers out of fanning war, particularly when they had no personal experience of it.

In my own view, the more concrete the experience of war the more people on both sides of the conflict are personally moved and affected by the death and destruction. We're arguably in the midst of a very abstract war.

That, rather than a basic lack of human feeling and compassion, may explain why Americans right now appear to have so little human connection to the very real deaths of tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Some Numbers from Iraq

Haven't weighed in for quite a while on our adventures in Iraq.

The US military no longer keeps track of enemy combatants killed or "enemy" civilian collateral damage. Why upset the country with that kind of downer?

But statistics are as American as basketball.

The US media is filled with memorials to the roughly 1700 Americans killed in Iraq. Along with every American, I'm sad to see the lives of our family members cut down well before their time.

But what about the Iraqis who've been killed and wounded? My experience is that Americans are pretty decent people. Why so little comment or concern about the deaths of so many Iraqis and Afghans?

In the most rigorous report on civilian casualties in Iraq undertaken since the war began, two British based NGOs carefully tracked news reports of civilian deaths from March 20, 2003 (the day the invasion of Iraq started) to March 19, 2005. Their numbers don't include the many people killed from March 2005 till now, one of the bloodiest periods in the entire campaign.

They conservatively estimate that 23,000 Iraqi civilians died during that period. Another 42,500 were injured.

Of the estimates I've read, this one comes in on the low side. Other reports put the number of civilians killed at twice that number.

What about Iraqi soldiers? Sober estimates put the number of Iraqi soldiers killed during our initial invasion at around 15,000. Since the new Iraqi government has taken over, thousands more Iraqi police and military have been killed.

So I think it's fair to say that at least 40,000 Iraqis have died since we invaded the country when you include the couple of thousand killed in the past few months. If we assume a 2-1 injury to death ration, we're probably looking at 80,000 Iraqi wounded.

Basically, 120,000 Iraqis have been killed or wounded in a little over 2 years. That breaks down into 20,000 Iraqi deaths a year and 40,000 wounded.

For perspective, consider that 50,000 Americans died in Vietnam over a 10 year period.

Of course, the US military killed and wounded only a portion of the dead and damaged. Foreign insurgents as well as Iraqis who are understandably very angry that a foreign power is dominating their country--and in some cases, Iraqis angry at the loss of inappropriate privelage--took out a lot of those people too.

But Iraq had no foreign Islamic militants in the country before we invaded. And they certainly had no home grown fighters willing to kill themselves and others in order to get our troops out.

Iraq is now the training and breeding ground for an increasing number of even more battle tested and sophisticated terrorists. A CIA report a few months ago made that clear. The conservative international magazine The Economist , which supported the war, reported this week that Iraq is now becoming "the new Afghanistan." Afghanistan became the breeding ground of Al Queda during the Russians' stupid and ill-advised war in that country, and that conflict led directly to the newfound power of Al Queda and 9/11.

Hussein is a truly evil man.

But even the most liberal estimates of his reign of terror put the civilian death toll at 300,000 over 30 years.

Twice as many Iraqis are dying per year since our invasion. And Iraq is now ground zero for a whole new generation of global Islamic terrorists.

Comparisons like this are grim and absract mathematics. Ignoring them might be an even greater abstraction.

I understand why we invaded and have real sympathy for that line of thinking.

But even people who support what we've been doing might take a few minutes to look at the results. Some very good things no doubt. But some very disturbing things too.

Let's add it up. 40,000 dead Iraqis and 80,000 wounded. In Afghanistan, conservative estimates place the death toll at 10,000.

Al Queda killed 2500 Americans on 9/11. That was our original motivation to get into this whole thing and it continues to be our primary motivation in spite of all the ideological spin since then.

50,000 of "them" for 2,500 of "us," and "we've" lost another 1700 along the way during the course of the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

If we compare the number of Muslim deaths in these two wars to the 9/11 deaths, we're looking at a 20-1 ratio.

If we add in US military deaths, we've got a 12 to 1 ratio.

Those are some statistics worth considering.

When do the big numbers of dead people among "them" begin to stir real public concern? After well over three years and two wars I still haven't seen much public discussion. Maybe it's time to start it up.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Renting Wonderland

Went up to Rocky Mountain National Park with the family for a quick four day mini-vacation.

Some takes on the trip.

Welcome to the Flood

Andrew and I went up Thursday afternoon to set up the tents and get things ready. As we drove into Estes Park, the small town on the edge of RMNP, a very heavy mountain monsoon rain began to fall. Afternoon summer weather in the Rockies is always unpredictable, but after bone dry conditions and 90 degree temps for almost two weeks we expected nothing but blue skies.

It wasn't to be. A typically intense 3 hour mountain downpour dumped on us just as we arrived. Large hail also pelted the campsite before we got there.

As we drove into the Moraine Park campground we plowed through 8 inch deep puddles. When Andrew and I pulled up to our spot, the rains were washing away a good part of the parking area for our campsite. A 9 inch wide gully like a little Grand Canyon split the steeply pitched parking space in two.

The tent area turned out to be the downhill drainage for the parking spot. A mini-river coursed through the gully in the driveway and dumped two inches of muck and debris on our tent site. The whole thing was a mess.

At that point I was starting to channel Clark Griswold on his hellish trip to 'Wally World' with his family. I half expected some semi-crazed hillbilly cousin would jump out of the woods and announce he was going to stay with us over the weekend even though I don't have any semi-crazed hillbilly cousins.

After sizing up the situation we did the sensible thing and drove back into Estes Park and waited out the rains in a coffee shop. By the time Jan and Rebecca arrived the weather had cleared and we all set up camp together in the mud. Fortunately, we didn't get any more rain and things eventually dried out.


Campgrounds, like airports, are a great place to people watch. It's fun to see what folks do when they're only passing through.

An older couple from Texas camped next to us for the first couple of nights and they barely made a sound.

When they left THE LOUDS moved in.


It's amazing the kinds of things you can hear in your sleeping bag through ear plugs.

The father and son were pleasant and considerate enough, but mom and sis liked the high volume. The very excitable twosome spent most of the time laughing hysterically and talking at what seemed like the top of their lungs.

We all got to know far more about mom and sis's personal lives than we really wanted to know. After a few hours I started to feel true empathy for dad and little brother.

We were annoyed, but we also felt like Scrooge because they were obviously having so much of a certain kind of anxious and obsessive fun.

A graceful group of women in their mid to late 30's camped together across the way. We dubbed them the "Ya Ya Camping Sisterhood" within minutes of their arrival.

One family made the biggest impression. They were Mormons from St. George, Utah who were traveling all over the west camping at national parks. Very sweet people. They set up camp a few days before we arrived.

After a day of running into various members of their family on the way to the bathroom, Andrew decided we should call them "The Ned Flanders Clan" after the sappy-sweet evangelical Flanders family on the Simpsons. Look for a neo-punk band with that name sometime soon.

He wondered if they'd bake us a cake on some kind of special Mormon camp cookware and bring it to us "because we're new in the neighborhood."

Once you've had a little camping experience, it doesn't take long to notice how ritualized the whole thing is. You get the feeling that each individual has played the same role with every other family member, and that each family follows pretty much the same routine as every other family of set up, making fires and food, sitting around talking, breaking down the camp, etc, etc.

It's sort of a middle class, outdoor Kabuki theatre where everyone knows their tightly scripted roles. That's part of what I enjoy about it--the traditions are pretty comforting.

Water and Fire

RMNP is full of water, and everybody in the park seemed to want to get near it, stick there feet in it, swim in it, hang around it. The water in the park is mostly glacial snowmelt very near its source so getting into it can be sort of painful. But that didn't seem to stop anybody from plunging in (pic at the top of the post of Andrew and Rebecca river dipping...).

Fire though, particularly for the men and boys, may be even more fascinating.

Guys love burning things. Men and boys will throw anything combustible that probably won't blow up into a campfire. Andrew particularly got into throwing grass that had gone to seed into the fire every night--the seeds explode in a mini-fireworks display.

Campfires probably awaken some primitive impulses. At night, as the campfires burned all around, you could almost hear the men grunting deeply, "Mmmmmm, fire good, fire very good."

The License Plate Game

I saw an Idaho license plate in the park with the state motto "Famous Potatoes."

Idaho is one of the most beautiful places on the earth. So I think it's safe to say that somebody in state government there suffers from a serious lack of imagination and market savvy. Not to mention the matter of a little false advertising.

Let's face facts. Other than Mr. Potato Head, I can't think of any other famous potatoes. Dan Quayle, our famous ex-Vice President, was once unable to spell the word "potato" correctly in public, but I don't think he qualifies.

20 Mile Roller Coaster Drop

I had a chance to climb up Old Fall River Road on my mountain bike, something I've wanted to do for a long time. It's the original dirt road that was, at one time, the only way to get over the Continental Divide from the east side of the park to the west side. 11 miles and 4,000 ft. of elevation gain through some of the most breathtaking (literally) scenery you can imagine. The pic below shows the scene to the south at the top of the road where it runs into Trailridge Rd, the highest paved through road in the US.

I left very early, so there were very few cars on the one way road. On the way to the top, though, I met a couple of very old guys from Kansas who were driving up in their 4x4. The guy on the shotgun side rolled down his window as they came up next to me and said, "Can we throw ya a rope?! We been comin' here for years and we never seen a bicycle up here before and then we come around the bend and there you wuz!" He seemed truly delighted.

He obviously wanted to talk but after 5 miles of climbing a convo was a no go. I said, "See you up top," which is my standard greeting when passing or being passed. They drove on laughing and shaking their heads.

The real payoff came at the end of the road. To get back to the valley floor I had to ride down Trailridge. A four thousand foot drop along 20 miles of paved road starting on the tundra and screaming down through the forest. I don't think I pedaled more than a few times and my hands cramped up from squeezing the brakes to keep my speed from getting out of control. Very nice.

Renting Wonderland

We stopped at the Moraine Park Museum, an educational center that explains RMNP and its history.

Moraine Park is the heart of the park. It's a huge, miles-long meadow with a river running through it, surrounded by some of the most spectacular peaks in the park, including Long's Peak, one of my favorite mountains. To say Moraine Park is beautiful doesn't do it justice.

As it turns out Moraine Park was once covered by a golf course, hotels, and lots of retail stores. It was a resort for the wealthy that the middle class or the poor could not afford or enjoy. It was only when cultural and political progressives established Rocky Mountain National Park and other national parks that all of that upscale blight was torn down, the meadow was restored to its natural state, and the middle class and poor were encouraged to come and enjoy wonderland along with the wealthy.

Given current cultural and political trends, I wonder if at some point in the next few decades we may see a return to the days when places like Moraine Park are covered with upscale commercial developments built only for those wealthy enough to afford them.

The National Park Service sees itself as a steward of the land which is owned by all the people of the US. Those of us with a more spiritual bent think they work for the artist who's the real owner of the land.

I don't guess many wealthy people were camping with us. But it was great to see so many other people "renting" a piece of wonderland. We paid $60 total for three days of looking out over the meadows and up at Long's Peak, which changed its stunning look every 15 minutes with the shifting light.

There is something very right about that. Fairness and beauty are a tough combo to beat.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Scar Tissue

I met a young woman at the gym today.

She had a fresh 8 inch scar that started two-thirds of the way down her quad muscle on the front of her left leg and stopped at the top third of her shinbone. It looked like a hardened little lava flow.

She was lovely and obviously athletic, and she couldn't have been more than 25. When she noticed my glance at her scar she smiled and invited my question.

I asked her if it was an ACL injury. The ACL is the very tough piece of tightly roped flesh that holds your knee joint together.

My knees are sort of crappy so I'm pretty familiar with the many ways a knee can do you. Women athletes are especially prone to ACL injuries.

She told me she was a serious soccer player but that the injury wasn't an ACL.

She said she played all the cartilage out her knee and that the doctors had to replace it. They cut her three weeks ago.

I loved it that she was already back doing a kind of that beloved thing.

Jesus. She had to go through a knee replacement surgery at 25. I was told at 30 that I'd have to have one of my knees replaced when I was 50. I think the doctors blew that call, but it's something I've had in the back of my mind for many years.

So I guess you could say that the idea of a knee replacement upsets me.

She had such a great spirit about the whole thing that I ended up leaving the interaction feeling stronger. She told me she'd had a "great week" and that in 3 weeks she'd gotten 90% of her full range of motion back.

Sometimes you think you're going to encourage wounded people but mostly I've found that they encourage you.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Guns, Germs and Steel

PBS broadcasts a tv version of Jared Diamond's book, "Guns, Germs and Steel" tonite (see posts below for more on Diamond and GG&S). I think it's a three or four episode thing with one episode per week, but check listings to make sure.

Watch it if you can, or tape or tivo the series if you can't. I think this is one of the more important books to come along in quite awhile, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what PBS does with it.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Small Town 4th of July

For the 4th we all went up to Golden, a little place just 10 minutes up the mountain from here.

This is the first time I've ever participated in a "small town" Independence Day celebration. I'm used to big beach bashes with friends or the kinds of mega-celebrations you tend to get in SoCal.

A few quick observations on this new cross-cultural experience.

---Golden may be small, but the security is tight.

While saving a parking place I momentarily dropped one of our backpacks in the empty slot next to my car. I walked 30 ft. to throw something in a trashcan, and as I headed back to the car two Golden police vehicles screeched up and a couple of cops jumped out and carefully checked out the backpack.

I caught on right away and had to suppress my laughter. They thought I might be an Islamic terrorist ready to blow up the celebration even before the fireworks went off.

Leaving the backpack alone in an empty spot was my big mistake.

Most of us wouldn't think of doing something like that in an airport, but it never crossed my mind that the police in dinky Golden would be concerned. Sheriff Andy and Deputy Barney Fife were definitely ready to thwart the big attack.

They were very cool about it. After I showed 'em my ID I said "Sorry to give you guys a start." The oldest cop replied, "Oh, people sometimes lose things."

Yeah, and I'm sure they normally send multiple squad cars out to retrieve lost and found items.

I thought his comment was unusually kind. What he probably wanted to say was, "What were you thinking, you bonehead?!" While the intense security suggested "large city," the cops' attitude definitely said, "welcome to Mayberry."

---There must be a rule at small town 4th of July celebrations that men should look as silly as possible. A subsidiary rule states that children should look nearly as silly as their fathers. See above.

I thought the guys were pretty funny. Since the 4th of July is mostly a celebration of all the ways America is not like sophisticated and socially oriented European countries like Britain and France, what better way to capture the spirit of the thing than by looking goofy and demonstrating your own very personal bad taste?

To be fair, it's hard to avoid looking dumb on the 4th. As long as people insist on wearing clothes covered with various American flag designs, there really is no escape from the essentially silly look of the star spangled banner.

We're all emotionally intimate with the flag on one level or another. So we may miss how goofy the colors and design really are. I've always thought it looked like it was designed by a clown at Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey.

Why couldn't the Founding Fathers have chosen a cleaner and more aesthetically pleasing look? Take the flag of Botswana, for example:

Now, think of all those people at the 4th of July celebration wearing clothes with variations on that flag design See what I mean? Instant good taste, as far as I'm concerned.

---Golden is dominated by the Coors Brewing Company, the venerable Colorado institution led by the very conservative evangelical Coors family. They market their stuff by associating the beer with big cleavage and extreme sports with an emphasis on the cleavage. I'm sure they paid for most or all of the celebration.

Vendors sold Coors at stands spaced 50 feet apart. This contributed significantly to the silliness index as some folks who were dressed stupidly began to act that way too.

The city supplied 10 Porta-Potties for a crowd of many thousands. When the beer stand to bathroom ratio is one-to-one you've got a pretty uninhibited crowd that's really gotta go.

So the lines for the bathrooms were very long and filled with lots of people crossing their legs and hopping up and down.

Rebecca and I took a dip in Clear Creek, a beautiful river that runs right through Golden. When we went to the Porta-Potties to change our clothes I had the opportunity to get to know one of the Coors family's best customers while waiting in line.

He insisted he'd seen me "riding your kayak" in Clear Creek and told me how cool I was and how much he loved and respected kayakers.

I told him I wasn't in a kayak.

He wasn't having any of it and kept praising my skill and courage.

Colorado lushes may be the only drunks in the country that have delirious delusions of kayaking.

---Overall, I loved the whole thing in spite of the overzealous police and the inordinant chemical influence.

Most people seemed to have a great time--very welcoming and friendly all the way around.

The Golden civic band played through the entire event and they were really good--they did a bunch of pretty sophisticated patriotic stuff by Copeland and George Gerswhin as well as the expected pop standards.

The fireworks were exciting.

And it's pretty hard to beat the natural surroundings in Golden--really striking red mesas under a blue sky on the north horizon and green Mt. Zion to the south.

I think we'll probably do it again next year.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Up and Down in the Rockies

Andrew and I just climbed Quandry Peak in the Ten Mile Range. It was his first "Fourteener."

The old school 48 states contain about 70 mountains over 14,000 ft. 54 of 'em are in Colorado.

I've had a chance to climb 20 of them in Colorado along with Mt. Whitney in California and quite a few similar peaks in the Sierras and the Pacific Northwest and in Latin America and Africa and Asia.

Last summer, when Andrew was 11, we climbed up to the source of the Colorado River in Rocky Mountain National Park. That one got us up to 12,000 ft., and he did so well I thought we could take a shot at a big peak this summer.

I wasn't sure how he'd deal with the higher altitude or the extra physical and mental effort necessary to get to the top of a much larger mountain.

Altitude sickness is a strange thing. Some people, no matter how fit, get hit by strong headaches and nausea and irregular heartbeats when they get up high. And even if folks don't experience those symptoms, it's just a lot harder to breath and exert yourself when you're climbing a steep incline in an oxygen depleted environment.

He did great. Some headache and nausea symptoms, but he punched right up to the top. I think he only complained a couple of times and didn't quit when he was really struggling near the summit. He even slogged through a steep hundred yard snow and ice field at the very end without getting panicky.

We got to know some very cool people on the way up. Folks doing high altitude hiking and mountain climbing treat each other with a lot of affection and respect--everybody is your new best friend on a mountain. If we all had to live with each other every day I'm sure the bloom would go off the tundra flower quickly, but it's nice having some small moments in your life when relating to people seems surprisingly easy.

On top the views were astonishing as always.

About ten others climbers joined us up there. When they heard it was Andrew's first 14,000 ft. summit, they made big like it was his birthday. A very nice moment for both of us.

I've also been picking up on my new mountain biking skills. I took up the sport a couple of years ago.

Little by little I'm gaining greater skills and confidence, and at this point I'm a pretty decent intermediate rider. I'm hoping to kick it up to an advanced level in the next 2-3 years.

One of the things I like about mountain sports is the unpredictability.

A few weekends ago I took my bike up one morning to a single track trail close to where we live. Conventional wisdom says that summer mornings in the Rockies are always good--sunshine and no threat of the thunder and lightning storms that can appear suddenly in the afternoons.

I got about 5 miles into the ride and one of those storms hit big time.

I've had some close calls with lightning up on exposed ridges while hiking and climbing, but I've never had a storm come up so fast or so violently before.

I ended up bailing on the bike and ditching in a gully. The lightning flashes and thunder claps went off simultaneously, meaning the strikes were right on top of my part of the mountain.

I knew that crouching down and trying to squat on one leg was the best prevention against an indirect lightning strike. Very few people get hit directly by lightning. Most folks get fried by the electrical charge that radiates out along the ground from the strike point.

If you're on two legs within the strike radius, your legs create a nice circuit. We all know how uncomfortable a plasma flow in your pants can be.

So I squatted for over 15 minutes in that very uncomfortable position while waiting for the hot spot of the storm to pass.

Of course, the squatting-on-one-leg thing was mostly wishful thinking.

It was a little like the nuclear war drills we used to do when I was in elementary school during the height of the Cold War. We were supposed to kneel under our desks to protect ourselves in case of a direct nuclear hit on San Francisco.

Nonsense? Sure. But hey, we've all got to maintain some illusions of control from time to time

But nonsense or not, the whole thing made for a pretty interesting bike ride. Rarely a dull moment here outdoors in the summer, up or down.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Sorry To See Her Go

I guess Sandra Day O'Connor is retiring from the Supreme Court. What a sad day for the country.

As a conservative who leaned toward reason, moderation, humility and pragmatism, I thought she was one of the best things to happen to the Court.

In spite of the wierd excesses of both the current left and right, we have a national genius for pragmatic moderation. We just have to remember who we are.

Well, here it comes. We'll see if the current administration can stack the court with even more extreme people like Clarence Thomas and Scalia. I hope not.

If so, it's not the end of the world. Americans have "elected" extreme conservative and progressive courts before and we've eventually snapped out of that kind of foolishness.

But in the short run, if we're dumb enough to hand the Supreme Court to ideologues, well, I guess we'll get the Court we deserve.

There is plenty of time to make your voice heard for moderation in the upcoming appointment(s). Write to your Senators and get involved with groups like Sojourners who will encourage a less divisive process that produces moderate and reasonable appointments.

Any new justices appointed by our present rulers will be conservative, but that's not a problem as long as they're reasonable and wise. There's a big difference between a life giving and moderate conservative like Sandra Day O'Connor and an embarrassing and ideological conservative like Clarence Thomas. I'd encourage you to have your say.