Some notes before the good stuff…

I went on an awkward date Wednesday. I'd invited her to music-jam with me in the park, which had turned into a plan to simply stroll about Minnehaha Falls park. Unfortunately, when the thermometer hit 103°F, we mutually decided it was really too hot to do anything: you could taste the heat on the breeze. So we met at Annie's and used malts to intersperse a series of random pauses, simultaneously-started small-talk questions, and entirely too much smiling. She was a travel-addict who'd started college at Northland(!) and then transferred to Green Mountain in Vermont to follow a policy-path, now she was working for an indeterminate with a non-profit in Minneapolis focusing on educating people about recycling and trash (and doing some collection on the side); she also enjoyed biking and singing. It was a nice time, but didn't immediately suggest a second meeting.

Stayed up until 4AM Thursday night. The USHCN climate data's been plaguing me. Months and months ago, I made a decision regarding processing the station information files and forgot I made it. I truncated the files and, apparently, removed stations. I cannot think of why I would have done this. I ran through all of my code first, thinking that was the problem. I then figured out that there were missing stations and figured I'd downloaded the wrong USHCN data—maybe daily instead of monthly. I've submitted corrections to the USHCN several times now and found them quite responsive to this, so I thought maybe this was another such instance. But no, comparing the two files, I found they were the same. Hence, I concluded that I'd made a poorly documented decision much earlier.

My persistence is a foam-covered baseball bat with which I beat the USHCN data into submission.

I was encouraged by the process. I've worked before with people who look for mistakes in other people's work first and I try not to be one of them. Incorrectly accusing someone else of making mistakes is a heinous thing. You must be sure.

I'd dropped my laptop off for repairs at the Best Buy on Thursday night, which marked the full switch a netbook I'd borrowed from Max at the coop. 8GB-SSD, 512MB-RAM, 800MHz processor. It was not happy, so I went to General Nanosystems and picked up a $17, 1GB RAM card. They wanted $15 to install it for me, but having someone stand next to me for forty minutes, guide me through the process, and occasionally snap things open or closed for me when I was afraid was free. And I was afraid: there are a LOT of little wires and screws and some of the laptop's parts only come off if your apply force. General Nanosystems is a good place: I recommend them.

Met with the CBS department's IT people today. They have a friendly-family office and we joke about slicing computers with katanas and having bugs installed in the walls. In an hour and a half they guided Shelby and I through the basics of a $12,000 web design project. I am astounded that web projects can cost this much. I am astounded that the people we hire will get paid $80-$100/hr when I can also do what they do.

Okay, the good stuff…

Jusko's been suggesting for several months now that I join him on a trip he's taking with B.K. to Colorado to climb an epic mountain. It's been deeply tempting—I love mountains—but I'm very serious about producing great things with my work, so it wasn't until this week that I began feeling out whether it would work or not. It wasn't until Thursday that I reached 90% confidence, and not until Friday morning that I reached 95%+. 100% usually doesn't ever happen until I'm in the vehicle and it's moving.

Jusko called earlier in the day and told me they weren't leaving Saturday morning, as I'd believed for a week, but rather Friday night at 8PM. Most of the day was taken up with meetings, expanding the computer's RAM, getting supper at the coop (our freezer died, so it was something of a feast), and the packing got pushed and pushed.

Ultimately, Jusko walked in to find my bed covered with stuff and me trying to decide whether to take my big hiking backpack or my little gray one. The gray one's served me well in the past: Haiti, Greenland, Britain, Seattle, Louisville, and so on. The big one's worked well to: the SHT, New Mexico, Alaska, and so on. For Jusko and the rest of the world, the big one is the right choice. It's a good size, maybe even a bit small by some standards, comfortable, and carries well. The small one, on the other hand, is only mildly larger than a school backpack and only carries comfortably if it isn't heavily loaded (it's too short for my torso). Few people would use it as hiking backpack, and Jusko says as much.

But I believe, and have believed since August 02007, that you shouldn't bring more than you need, so I go with the little backpack.

And yes, that should be enough stuff for me to comofrtably do my work in any location, traverse snow fields, hike through broiling sun, camp in the wilderness, and go swing dancing in Denver.

Jusko and B.K., meanwhile, brought enough stuff to go climbing:

Now it's 2:18AM and we're cruising through Iowa, headin' West. Jusko's driving, feeling fine, and has had some caffeine. BK's reading outloud from a book of North American climbing accidents, making sure that we're all appropriately cowed, and Peter, another rider, is sleeping to my right. As much as I hate all night drives, I'm enjoying myself so far! Now I'm swapping stories of Canadian highways with B.K.; remind me to tell you about the Alaskan Highway someday, dear Reader.

Well, I think I'll call it quits for the night. But I'm gonna be in the mountains by sunrise and the next time I write to you, I'm going to be in them. Take care, reader.


Okay, so we're moving a little slower than we'd hoped to. During the night we stopped at the QuikTravel gas station. Outside, there was a white van with a sign behind it that said "Safe Place" with a really creepy picture of a big, looming person apparently groping a smaller person from behind. I dozed for a few hours as we passed through heavy ground fog and then woke up, to find that we were at the same station! Only not… it just had the same white van, the same train tracks with a train going by, and other remarkable similarities. Much more dozing brought us to Kearney, Nebraska. Bummer. But Colorado isn't too far away, and we begin to see oddly-shaped clouds on the horizon.

Snowfields! For the next hour or so the mountains grow and grow. We pass through some rocky hills, a large flat area, one last hiccup, and then the road dives into a canyon and winds its away along with a quick-rushing, white-splashing brook beside it. B.K. and Jusko, more avid rock climbers than I, are sitting up front whistling over all the rock. There are SOO many things that could be climbed.

The road summarily shoots out the other end and we emerge into a flat-bottomed valley ringed by mountains. This is Estes Park. B.K. said that in planning the trip he looked at three things: a place to have breakfast, the location of the local climbing shop, and rock/hiking routes.

Stop #1 is Mountain Home Cafe for late breakfast. I had a Clif Bar in the canyon, but B.K. and Jusko are starving. The food is mixed Americana and Mexican: we favour the latter.

Stop #1.5 is the dumpsters behind the cafe and the supermarket. Alas, we find nothing but bad smells.

Stop #2 is the Safeway Grocery store. My friend Robert Barlet's Safeway card saves us about $8 and we walk away with pasta, pasta sauces, taco shells, sriracha sauce (spicy sauce being a staple of all hiking and camping excursions), and cheese. B.K. has a cooler full of Clif and Nature Valley bars.

Stop #3 is the local climbing shop. It's in a strip mall and has, I think, consumed one-by-one its neighbours. The store is long, narrow, and filled with everything outdoors. We gravitate to the maps and the store clerks. These clerks know everything. The mountains, they tell us, have a goodly amount of snowpack—more than B.K. wanted to an ascent he was planning, change of plans!—so much so that there are ice routes which may be usable for the first time in 25 years. Free camping? Oh, they know where that is.

It's getting on a little bit by this time, so we drive out of town and up to an over-looking ridge. The road is gravel with dozens of switchbacks and finally lets out at a non-descript parking lot large enough for about four cars, or one greedy pick-up truck (encountered later). From there we begin hiking along a hot, dusty gravel road blocked off by a thick metal bar set into a bolt-cutter-proofing enclosure.

Jusko suggests the first spot: a flat area by the edge of the road with a good view of the valley below and some serious wash-out streams wrapping around and avoiding it. B.K. diplomatically suggests that we walk up the road a little farther.

A hundred or so feet farther brings us to a much nicer spot, again just off the road, but flat and with scattered pine trees shading the gravel and needles below. As we wander to the far edge, B.K. and I simultaneously see another spot across a mini-valley: it appears to be a set of pine trees, again with a flat needle-strewn forest floor, set in a bowl of rocks.

Hiking over, we discover that not only is this true, but there are a couple of great fire rings and rocky out-croppings affording stellar views of the valley and no-longer-distant mountains.

There are a couple of lessons here. Local climbing/outdoors shops have a wealth of knowledge to be tapped that isn't necessarily available elsewhere. Exploring a few options can lead to superior results.

So, basically, we have the best campsite ever. After getting everything all setup for the night, we share some pasta on the rocks over-looking the valley. Afterwards, Jusko and I walk down to the car by moonlight to drop off the electronics in my backpack (don't want them getting wet!). The road is washed with moonlight and shadows. At times you could run, other times our feet are feeling for secure footholds.

We set up our sleeping bags on a rock out-cropping and the moon is like a giant spotlight. I have to cover my eyes to sleep! Early in the morning I wake up cold. Time to crack another hand-warmer for my feet (this has been an excellent and life-changing discovery). Feeling outside my sleeping bag, I find the whole surface of it is damp. B.K. had warned us that this tended to happen and that what followed would be frost. Oh well, I thought, tiredly. The inside still felt pretty dry and kinda warm. Above me a thousand thousand stars agreed: stay out with us!

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