Thursday, June 26, 2008

Exciting Day in Low Density Residential

It's raining! It's Pouring!
The suburbs are boring!
Cut the grass,
With the middle class!
See the smog pollution warning!

Seriously, the burbs aren't that bad, I'm just poking fun at my parent's residence of choice in an attempt to annoy my Dad.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Youtube Videos

It probably would've been for the best had I not learned to embed youtube videos.

Two Links, a Gary Fisher, and a Didgeridoo

The start of my break has begun in earnest with my first truly slow day, as I took things easy and relaxed quite a bit. Tried to wake up late. Figured I'd make it a productive day, but still take it easy. The events for the day went as follows:

1. Both my parents left for work, leaving me stuck in the "burbs." Then I had about 6 hours to see what an exciting, dynamic and interesting neighborhood where my parents live in the South-Westernmost corner of Denver.

2. Futzed around the house digging up my old clothes, boxes, pictures and things I'd left behind for the past four years. Man I've got a whole lotta crap sitting around! And this doesn't even include the stuff my folks put in storage! My Black Belt Certificate from Cordova Martial Arts. Staff picture from Camp AZDA (forgot the name of that cute nurse I liked). My Japanese cell phone. T-shirts I've had since High School. A framed shot of me hanging off Devil's Tower. My Yukata. The laundry hamper I used in the NAU dorms. My High School Yearbook. A framed poster signed by the late Alex Lowe. And of course all the junk I brought back from Kuwait.

3. After reveling in the fantastic excitement that is my parent's home and neighborhood, I just couldn't take any more of the stimulation around the house, lest sensory overload give me a nervous breakdown, and force my parents to put me in a straight-jacket in a rubber room somewhere near Ohio. So what did I do? Write in my blog and go for a run outside. The run was esp. pleasant, and considering the altitude and how little I've exercised for the past 3 months, I'm pleased with my stamina.

4. Inventoried food in the basement for the Colorado Trail. I had to escape the excitement and mental stimulation somehow.

5. My dad was concerned about me being overstimulated and winding up in the rubber room, or whatever, so he took pity on me and drove me down to the Littleton Family YMCA. I joined the gym and flexed my atrophied muscles for an hour or so. And they have indeed been lying dormant for TOO long.

6. Looked at the old Gary Fisher mountain bike I left in the garage 4 years ago. The tires limped flat and the chain was covered in rust. The rest of the bike was caked in mud. Definitely replacing the chain. But the components all seem to be in good shape, so after I add some semi-slicks and a pile of grease, I should have a pretty good commuter setup.

I'm also just within range of Littleton Station on the light rail, so quite a bit of metro Denver is open to me. And a trail network should connect me to the Littleton Family YMCA. HA! I won't have to buy a car after all!

7. Pestered my Dad about the UPS box that arrived. He wouldn't tell me. Finally found out he's got a new didgeridoo! OF ALL THINGS! He's never been Down Under, nor shown any particular interest in aboriginal Australian culture or Australia. Nor has he to my knowledge ever shown interest in musical instruments as long as I've known him (awhile I suppose).

But judging fom the quality and price of the didgeridoo he bought, and the instructional DVDs, he's dead serious about learning it. Further pestering on my part revealed that the throat muscles people utilize for didgeridoos can cure my father's snoring problems, an ailment that has plagued my mother for at least 3 decades now. I figure I can make fun of him playing it for a few more days without any serious consequenses!
Also, here's a couple links for people interested in the Colorado Trail (CT).

PMAGS: Paul Magnanti's Outdoor Ramblings, Journeys, & Photos
Paul Magnanti's site contains a journal and a very rough guide for the CT. This guy is a "Triple Crowner," someone who's done the Appalachian Trail (AT), the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), and the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), the three epic long distance hiking trails that traverse the contiguous United States.
Check out his

Chomp's Ongoing Adventures
This guy has a great album covering most of the Colorado Trail. Lots of great shots to get me inspired. I'm also shamelessly stealing one of these shots for this post!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Indiana Jones with Uncle David

I also managed to stop by my Uncle David's house in Tempe, Arizona. We kept things pretty low key and laid back though. Summer temperatures in Tempe and Phoenix were near record highs for the week, 8 straight days at 114 degrees Fahrenheit. This comes to about 46 degrees Celsius. Not much to do but hang out indoors to beat the heat! So, to entertain ourselves, Uncle David took me to the YMCA for a bit of treadmill action and then we went to see a movie.

And what else did we see? Harrison Ford in his signature role as Indiana Jones again. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull takes the spectacle, stunts, and campiness of the first three films to a whole new level with blue screens and computer animation. At times, I thought the film's plot was so contrived and over the top I couldn't help but laugh. As my Aunt Nancy astutely observed, the film "felt like a ride at Disneyland." I couldn't agree more.

Uncle Dave is also exited about his new Dodge Ram truck. A full size Ram 1500 4X4 with a 5.7 liter Hemi, it will no doubt serve him well on the numerous boy scout camping trips he leads with his Tempe area scout troop.

"I could cram 5 scouts in the cab if we need to!" Uncle Dave exclaimed as he excitedly expounded on its towing capacity, off road capability, and general suitability for hauling boy scouts and camping gear into the Superstition Mountains and up to the Mogollon Rim.

May Uncle Dave have many good times with scouts and his new truck.

A Visit With the Cousin

Not having a brother, I've always been pretty chummy with my cousin Jonathan, longtime son of my Uncle David. I always have a good time hanging out with my cousin.

Jonathan gave me the unfortunate news though, that he and his wife Jessica will be splitting up soon, and are simply waiting to time the paperwork with the sale of their home.

I remember meeting Jessica my first year of college. Then his girlfriend, the three of us often hung out together on my trips down to Phoenix.

Despite this recent turn of events, my cousin seems to be doing pretty well. But then he's always had a pretty even keel and takes most everything in stride. I'm confident he'll recover soon enough.

Tech Support & Editorial Consultant for Grandad

While in Arizona, I also had the chance to visit my Grandad's home in Prescott, Arizona. For an old guy approaching his mid nineties, he's doing pretty well. He still teaches his Sunday school class sometimes and still gets consulting calls on different beetles and insects that only he knows about. Evorine, my grandmother, is also doing well, and recently finished a week teaching all the little ankle biters at their Baptist church.

A retired entomologist, Richard Beal's been busy writing short stories and trying to promote his recently published, The Grand Canyon, Evolution, and Intelligent Design. He seemed especially excited about a recent endorsement. Awhile ago, he started up his own blog to promote his book, but was having some trouble figuring out how to publish certain things on it. I was happy to help him out.

He's also been writing some Christian themed short stories in his spare time and was eager for my input on one of his stories, The Blowfly Man. When the old entomologist presented me with a story of this title, I must admit I had a few misgivings, as 90 percent of his published work consists of dry academic descriptions of blowflies, dermestid beetles, and stored products insects. The story however, proved itself surprisingly entertaining, despite its amusing self indulgence in topics that my grandfather finds interesting: bugs and insects, evolution, theology, and Arizona history.

Knowing my grandfather well, I certainly found myself chuckling at all the lengthy descriptions of beetles he had. In the end of the story, an entomologist winds up solving a murder mystery using his knowledge of insects and larvae on decaying corpses long before the days of forensic science. A promising story and certainly one that my Grandad's family and friends would like, knowing the author as well as we do. If he wants a real evaluation though, he should take it to someone without any knowledge of the author or his prepossessions. An audience unfamiliar with his proclivities might prove less understanding and less amused by his diversions into the wonderful world of creepy crawlies. To his credit though, the story caught my attention and kept me entertained on the shuttle bus down to Phoenix.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Hiking the Peaks Again

After hanging out in Phoenix with the Hansons for a bit, I drove up to join Eric Hanson at his new place in Flagstaff and help Jenny get moved into her apartment. But I didn't do any of this before driving up the Snowbowl and trying to climb Mount Humphreys. But alas, it wasn't meant to be. Poor planning and a late start prevented me from reaching the top. I didn't even reach the base until 3:30 in the afternoon and ran out of water before reaching the saddle between Humphreys and Agassiz. Hungry, thirsty, my head throbbing from thin air, and quickly running out of daylight just above timberline, I turned back to make sure I wouldn't be stumbling around in a hazy stupor in the dark.

While I'm terribly ashamed at my recent sissyness, in my defense I should mention that I was making pretty good time. I reached the saddle in about 1 hour and 15 minutes. I probably could have reached the top in another 30. Still, this was disappointing, as I could reach the summit in that amount of time during my prime years when well prepared. I've definitely slowed down and need to focus on my fitness more than I have been lately. But I'm confident I'll be in top shape again after the Colorado Trail and a few weeks at the YMCA where I'll join in Denver.
The next day turned out better, however, as I climbed Mount Elden and got these great shots. Aahhh... Summer in Flagstaff just can't be beat! From the pictures you can clearly see the fire lookout (alas, now closed) and the beautiful Ponderosa pines that DIDN'T get burned in some long ago fire my dad and Grandad keep telling me about.

Had a good time with Eric, Jenny, and Eric's roomate Rich McPhearson. Saw the funny, but forgettable Alvin and the Chipmunks movie. Yes folks, I definitely need to spend more time in Flagstaff.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Ixnay On The Kathmandu Curry in Colorado

Like I did last year, I took my grandfather's truck from Prescott down to Scottsdale and the Phoenix area to visit family and longtime friends the Hansons.  So I've spent the last day or two catching up with Cathy, Craig, Eric and Dave.
The huge Colorado Trail through hike Dave and I are planning on doing mid July however, is dominating our time and energy here. Needless to say, planning a 50 day hike is quickly exploding into a logistical nightmare.  Previous backpacking excursions were easier to plan.  Fewer days and no resupplies forced us to adhere to a close ended schedule.  If we didn't have the time, we simply didn't take more food. 
Now however, we find ourselves planning for 45 to 50 days of open ended hiking.  Between the two of us, we could probably carry food unsupported for 6-8 days without much trouble.   The trouble however, lies in the fact that we don't know exactly WHEN we will arrive at certain points.  Will it take us 3 days or 5 days to march from Denver to Jefferson?  Will we want to spend an extra day in the Holy Cross Wilderness Area?  Will bad weather make that decision for us?

In light of this, we've decided to plan the trip cautiously and conservatively, planning on averaging 12 miles a day between resupplies.  I genuinely think both Dave and I can exceed that estimate most days, but with blisters, thunderstorms, peaks to climb, and beautiful areas to goof off in, that number could quickly go out the window.  The only alternative is OVER planning the trip, but Dave and I are both adamantly opposed to an anal schedule that restricts any spontaneous fun.  

So, we're planning resupplies that assume we will move 12 miles a day.  We've agreed that if we can beat that, the extra time it generates will allow us flexibility and time to do other things (bag peaks primarily).  We're giving ourselves 5 days for unexpected contingencies and 5 days exclusively for climbing.  Four days averaging 15 miles a day (Something we both think is possible), instead of the 12 will give us a bonus day for either rest, climbing, swimming, or some other activity.  

We've also spent the last couple of days going over details about our diet and gear we need to take along.  We bought about 10 different energy bars and spent some time sampling them (I seemed to be more enthusiastic about this than Dave).  We found some good options.  Kathy Hanson also seems eager to contribute to our cause by making the Hanson's famous jerky recipe.  She'll be sending mail drops full of fresh homemade jerky to the same locations I'll be sending them.  Dave seems to be relatively happy with the meal plans I'm coming up with, so everything seems to be on track for a departure in mid-July.

Other than that, I finally got to meet Jenny Dawson, longtime girlfriend of Eric Hanson whom I'd known previously only through my Facebook news-ticker.  I'm also heading up to Flagstaff next, where I hope to climb Mount Humphreys again, or at least the Mount Elden lookout.  Wishing I'd brought my climbing gear so I could hang out with Eric at Paradise Forks or something.  Oh well.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Daily Belly Button Lint in Colorado

After a long and difficult year I'm back in the United States. As many of you know already, I won't be returning to Kuwait anytime soon for a number of reasons. I'm still processing the whole episode in my mind and I'm not quite sure what to make of it all. Kuwait has been a very interesting place, and I'm going to miss many good friends I've made there. I've learned volumes about a place and a culture that is very often misunderstood and misrepresented, and as time goes on I'll be reflecting on these things. After spending some time outside Kuwait, I should soon have the energy, perspective, and the license to reflect on everything I've seen and observed.

But for the moment, I'm busy, preoccupied, and very excited with my next big endeavor: thru-hiking the length of the 470 mile Colorado Trail. Close friend and all around cool Dude David Hanson and I will be setting off from Roxborough State Park sometime in mid-July. The trail begins in Waterton Canyon or Roxborough State park in Southwest Denver. The trail crosses the Contintental Divide four times , Lost Creek Wilderness, the Collegiate Peaks, the San Juans, and the Grenadiers. It finishes just outside Durango, Colorado, in the Southwest corner of the state and a world away from where we started. Hiking the entire length should take in the vicinity of 40-50 days if we include all the 14,000 foot mountains Dave and I would like to climb. Needless to say, planning is turning out to be significantly more daunting than I initially imagined.

At the present time, I'm in Phoenix crunching numbers and going over details with David about the hike. While we're not going quite as light and fast as I'd like, I genuinely think we're putting together a VERY good plan that should make for a VERY enjoyable hike. I'm personally quite thrilled. While I did quite a bit of enjoyable hiking, skiing and camping in Japan, I always missed the intense encounters with the natural world that I experienced regularly during my time in college. This absence of wilderness and nature was only exacerbated in the intense urban landscape of Kuwait. A long commune with God's creation in my life is long overdue and I'm excited beyond belief to be able to do this with a close friend.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Counting the Hours

Today is the very last day of School here in Kuwait. All the other teachers have left and I'm waiting for one last parent to come in. He wishes to "discuss" a test grade his child receieved weeks ago.

I wait around my classroom for the last day. The desks are all stacked in one corner, and the books are all put away in plastic to keep dust off them in the summer. I'm not looking forward to this meeting, knowing that this once friendly parent who couldn't stop praising my work (when I gave his child A's) will get in my face, start yelling, and generally make life unpleasant for me until he gets what he wants.

My principal is waiting in his office as well, knowing that I'm not going to simply give his child a better grade because a parent isn't happy with the grade his child earned. Once this meeting is over, we can both go home.

The parent comes in and starts yelling and demanding answers to questions about some test his kid took a couple of months ago that I hardly remember now. When not interrupted with more yelling, I smile, tell him my side of the case, and why I can't simply change the grade because he doesn't like it. When he's yelling, I sit back and think of something more pleasant until the noise stops.

Finally he demands to see the principal. The entire conversation above repeats itself, this time with the principal present. After realizing he won't get anywhere with either of us, he vows to take the matter up with the school's owner. Finally the two of us can go home.

I'm relieved, because now I can finally say goodbyes to all my friends and get ready for my flight later that evening.

I have an enjoyable and delicious dinner with my friends Sarah and Ramona. Despite the great Lebanese food, the event proves somewhat melancholy, as I'm departing forever.

I'm going to miss Ramona and Sarah. Sarah particularly is someone who really knows something about friendship that I hope to learn. She's several orders of magnitude cooler than I am, yet she accepts people for who they are, tolerates and deals perfectly with their quirks and idiosyncrasies, and handles it all with more class and sophistication than just about anyone I've met.

I was going bananas trying to get everything ready to leave. My maid, Pushpa, was busy cleaning my room before I left, and I was all ready and packed to go to the airport for a flight later that evening. She calmed me down, made me relax, and it wasn't until much later that I realized how bananas I'd really gone and how difficult I must've been to deal with. Here's to a cool person. Cheers, Sarah!

Counting Days

Just a few more days of school left. Its almost surreal how things are almost over. It won't be too much longer and I can leave Kuwait.

I'm home, sick in bed right now, sometimes well enough to blog, sometimes not. Hopefully I'll get over this soon. Won't be long before I leave Kuwait forever.

I'd better remember to get to the Kuwait towers before I go.

Korean Food

I haven't had Korean food in a long time, probably not since I was either in Korea, or before I left Japan. Nevertheless, there appear to be a number of Korean construction contractors here in Kuwait, and therefore a small Korean community just large enough to support a couple of restaurants.

So I went out to eat with my friends Angel Gabriel, Alison, Jeff Wallick, and some others.

Once in awhile, you just need some spicy food. Angel, from South Africa didn't care too much for the Korean dishes. "Have you ever heard of chicken?," he kept asking sarcastically. Guess we won't be eating here with Angel again anytime soon!

Back to Work

I'm back to the daily grind here in Hawally. Nothing terribly new or interesting to report. Due to burnout, I haven't had the energy to get much exersize done. I've been trying to get my mind off of events and have been watching a lot of movies lately.

So, with nothing better to do on a Saturday Morning, I'm compiling a list of films that I think are above average and worth Seeing. These movies are in no particular order, but simply stuff that comes to mind.

1. Braveheart. First saw this with a group of friends in high school.
2. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Loved this movie. First saw it with Josh Johnson at Friendly Pines Camp
3. Legends of the Fall. Great movie of three brothers coming of age in turn of the century Montana.
4. The Eiger Sanction. One of the only good movies I've ever seen about climbing.
5. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Loved this movie as a kid. I don't think my mom was thrilled with the scene of the crazy dude ripping a burning heart out of someone's chest.
6. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. First in the Trilogy. The only thing I didn't like was that these films have forever influenced my perception of the books. I'll never read the books again without thinking of Ian McKellen as Gandalf.
7. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Some said this was the weakest of the films, but I actually liked it best, even though it was my least favorite of the books.
8. Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Great, but like the book, the ending was a little too long.
9. Why We Fight. Excellent documentary on the military industrial complex, America's endless wars, and the causes and effects of the American empire both home and abroad.
10. Crash. Provocative film about race and stereotypes and the nature of karma.
11. Fight Club. Don't remember where I first saw this. Either way, excellent. Brad Pitt in this movie now competes with the first Rocky as my motivation to work out.
12. Rocky. Now that I've mentioned it, I have to list it. I always watched this before I started training for my half marathons. Makes you want to go for a run and guzzle a protein shake.
13. Saving Private Ryan. Good film, but way overdone and overbearing. Prepare to be drenched in nostalgia.
14. Memento. Excellent film with innovative narrative that moves backwards. Great for wallowing in postmodern existential angst!
15. Schindler's List. Good, but like a lot of Spielberg, overdone.
16. The Last Samurai. Even liked this one before I went to Japan, grudgingly though.
17. We Were Soldiers. Great story of a war leader who leads his troops to battle and fights for them, and not the evil post-colonial aims of his greedy, over ambitious imperial government. Again, grudgingly liked.
18. Black Hawk Down. Soldiers again, fight for each other, and not so much their governments or policies.
19. Cold Mountain. One of the only love stories to appear on this list. Perhaps I should add more.
20. Letters from Iwo Jima. Excellent story about the soldiers defending Iwo Jima. Much better than its counterpart, Flags of our Fathers. Among Eastwood's best films, this proved a well done film in a Japanese film style about soldiers wrestling with a moral code that demands their sacrifice and their own desires to live. Superb insight into Japanese ethics and moral philosophy.
21. Flags of Our Fathers. While definitely inferior to Letters from Iwo Jima for any number of reasons, I found this to be a fascinating film from a historical perspective about the way our country (or any nation for that matter) has a need for heroes. It speaks to society's need for a triumphant historical narrative and how that need often trumps the need for facts and truth, or in this case, even the needs of the people involved.
22. Apocalypse Now. Great Stuff. Redux doesn't even deserve mention here.
23. Spanglish. While perhaps not his funniest, definitely one of Adam Sandler's best. And Paz Vega is simply gorgeous.
24. Hero. Another stylistic martial arts film. Not as good as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon though.
25. House of Flying Daggers. Sad film about unrequited love. Beautiful color schemes.
26. The Terminator.
27. Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
23. Gladiator. Another Ridley Scott Masterpiece. Speaking of Ridley Scott...
24 Alien. One of Ridley Scott's earliest good movies. Jaws in Space, only better. And I never liked Jaws anyways.
25. Aliens. Lots of Aliens in this one. Still good.
26. Alien 3. Probably the darkest of the Alien movies. After this things just went downhill.
27. I Am Legend. Love the Post Apocalyptic Movies. Speaking of which....
28. Waterworld. I know, I know. But I liked it. Will have to remove these if I ever run for office! Paul Brodar is probably to blame for this and...
29. The Postman. A little bit better, but it still barely made the cut.
30. The Princess Bride. Must have seen this one 100 times with my sister, and a group of friends I knew in college.
31. Romancing the Stone. I wonder if anybody even remembers this one.
32. The Hunt for Red October. Sean Connery in a submarine.
33. The Abyss. Ed Harris in a submarine.
34. Big. 6th grader turns into Tom Hanks and lives in New York.
35. Dave. Great movie about a guy who looks like the president.
36. Gattaca. Guy lies about who he really is to get a job. Inspiring.
37. Seven Years in Tibet. Good Movie. Even better than the book in some ways.
38. Stargate. Kind of corny, but I always liked this one.
39. The Fly. One of the greatest movies from the 1980's.
40. Unforgiven. Along with Letters from Iwo Jima, this is among Eastwood's best work.
41. Lord of War. International small arms dealer destroys developing countries.
42. Last of the Mohicans. Great Battle Scenes.
43. Dances with Wolves. Kevin Costner again. This is probably the movie that gave him the ego he needed for Waterworld.
44. The 13th Warrior. More good battle scenes.
45. The Saint. Val Kilmer as the Saint. Elizabeth Shue has never looked better either.
46. Desperado. One of the coolest movies out there. Bonus: Salma Hayek is in it.
47. Ronin. Secret operatives get laid off after the cold war ends. Greatest car chase I've ever seen.
48. The Beastmaster. Another one I should erase before my senate campaign.
49. Conan the Barbarian. Arnold at his most muscled. More inspiration to hit the gym.
50. The Mothman Prophesies. I always liked this movie. No apparent reason. Probably the only Richard Gere movie on here.
51. The Silence of the Lambs. Yeah I know, kinda sick, but I liked it anyways.