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Patagona and Buenos Aires

March 22nd, 2014

Just got back from the biggest trip I’ve done since my Round The World in 2007. Shayna and I spent over 2 weeks in South America, mostly to hike the mountains in southern Patagonia, but also to see glaciers and check out Buenos Aires. As you may or may not know, Patagonia refers the southern part of South America – both Chile and Argentina, covering mountains, lakes, and desert regions. Patagonia means “Big feet” – Spanish settlers apparently thought the natives had big feet. Some may call our trip a vacation, but if your definition of a vacation includes relation, pampering, and time to do whatever you want – this was not a vacation. It definitely was an adventure – and we enjoyed it tremendously.

Actual Itinerary (planned itinerary had more days in El Calafate area)
2/14 Fri ORD-GRU, Chicago – Brasil
2/15 Sat – stuck in Sao Paulo Airport, Brasil
2/16 Sun – GRU-EZE, Sao Paulo to Buenos Aires
2/16 Sun – AEP-FTE, Buenos Aires to El Calafate
2/17 Mon – Eco Camp 7-Day W-Trek Begins
2/24 Sun – Eco Camp 7-Day W-Trek Ends
2/25 Mon – El Calafate, Moreno Glacier
2/26 Tue – FTE-AEP – El Calafate to Buenos Aires
3/2 Sun – EZE-GRU-ORD Bye Bye Buones Aires
3/3 Monday, 6am, arrive back at Chicago O’Hare 

Our trip began on Valentine’s Day, Friday Feb 14, at 9pm by flying from Chicago to Buenos Aires through Sao Paulo, Brasil. We were supposed to only be in Brasil for a few hours (from 11:40am to 3:40pm), then spend saturday night in BA, then fly from BA to El Calafate on Sunday, then leave El Calafate Monday to begin our 7 day hiking trek in Patagonia. However, we ran into problems in Brasil. TAM, the airline in Brasil, said there was no room on the flight we booked 6 months earlier to BA. Of course this made us happy. But they found a spot on another flight later that night. Then when we were actually boarding the flight, they asked where our print out was of the Argentina reciprocity fee payment … we didn’t have it. Snafu part two. Glad they didn’t bother to ask us in the previous 7 hours we were at the airport. But its not hard to get – just go online, pay, and print. Of course there is like one printer shared amongst all the gates and wifi is soo slow its unusable. TAM did work with us and said they would print it once we paid. We went back to the United VIP lounge to use the wifi there (thank god for the VIP lounge), but we still missed the flight. TAM claimed that United in Chicago should not have let us board without it. Luckily, the United agent at Sao Paulo was extremely understanding and worked with us on getting to BA, as well as tracking our bags down. Between 1 and 2am, over 12 hours after arriving their, we had located the location of our bags (in Buenoes Aires EZE airport), confirmed a new flight to BA, and found a new flight from BA to El Calafate (since we were going to miss our previously planned flight to El Calafate). Also, you can’t purchase one-way tickets to/from El Calafate, so we had to leave El Calafate 2 days earlier than planned – meaning we had to remove El Chalten and Fitz Roy from our trip. The good news is that buying a brand new round trip flight last-minute costs almost the same as buying one a half-year ahead of time. Gotta love “emerging markets”.

Once we arrived in El Calafate, I felt like the Patagonia trip began. We had booked a 7-day W-trek in Torres Del Paine with EcoCamp. I know I wanted to do the W-trek, which is like the most famous trek in Patagonia. Normally we love planning and doing everything ourselves, but we liked how Eco Camp was environmentally friendly, had good food, and would take care of all the details for us – neither Shayna nor I speak Spanish. The first and last day were just getting to/from the camp. So day 1, Monday, we left El Calafate, Argentina, at 7:30am, crossed the border into Chile around noon, and met the EcoCamp guide at the bus station in Puerto Natales, Chile. We signed things, had lunch, and headed north to Torres Del Paine. On the way we stopped at a park and learned about Milodon, an extinct native animal to southern Patagonia. We got to the camp, had happy hour, ate dinner, and slept in our luxiourious bed in a canvas dome. No, really, the bed actually was amazing, had plenty of comforters to keep us warm – no heat and got down to near freezing temps (still warm coming from Chicago where it had not been close to freezing in weeks).

Tuesday, Day 2 of the 7-day trek was our first real day of hiking, roughly 11km (7miles) heading mostly west from Eco Camp (base camp elevation was around 150meters, or 450 feet above sea level). There were 12 of us that paid for this 7-day W-trek, 14 if you include the 2 guides. Each guide had 6 people – but after the first day or two we were just one big group. It was an easy day of hiking in terms of distance and terrain, but was the only day with bad weather – just cloudy, windy and light rain. We spent the night at our first “Refugio”, Refugio Cuernos (78m). Similar to US, backpackers are only allowed to sleep at designated areas in the park, the refugios. You can sleep in a tent or in dorm-style bunk beds. Thats where we stayed. It was packed, and got the late dinner shift. But thats ok, cuz they sold cold-ish beer, and the sun didn’t set till 9pm (summer down by the south pole). We played cards and walked around outside with some of our new Canadian friends. Food was not bad, but definitely not as good as the food at Eco-Camp.

Day 3 was one of my favorites of the trip – 23km (14 miles) in and out of the French Valley. We had a late start (3rd shift for breakfast), but had good weather. It took about 2 hours to hike 5km to Campamento Italiano. From there took another 2 hours to go 5km mostly north straight up the valley to our destination, the Mirador Britanico, aka Britanico Lookout. We had lunch on the way, and the whole way up was amazing views. West of us was the Glaciar del Frances (thats the French Glacier to you and me), and we heard several mini avalanches happening, but i only saw one from start to finish (it was far enough away that by the time you heard it and looked up, it was mostly done). After arriving at Campamento Italiano (170m) for the second time, we headed 7.5km southwest to Refugio Paine Grande (50m). This one was way better than the previous – more like a hotel. We still had dorm-style bunk beds and communal bathrooms, but we had huge cafeteria with good food, good company, great views, and refreshing beer and wine.

By the end of Day 3 we had made friends with everyone in our group. First there was the 2 guides, Nico (our guide), and Roberto. In our 6-person group there was Shayna and I representing Chicago, Rob and Laurie from Toronto, and Kyong and Marlene from Seattle. In Roberto’s group there was Petros and Lukas from NYC, Carlos and Laura from Mexico City, and Sharon and David from near Boston. Shayna and I were the youngest “couple” there, and Shayna was the youngest one except for the guides. Everybody spoke great English except the couple from Mexico City, who spoke good enough English. Everyone brought their A-Game to this trip. If they were tired you wouldn’t know it from their spirit, and talking on the trails and sharing dinner with everyone was one of the highlights of the trip.

Thursday, Day 4, involved a half day of hiking to the “Grey Glacier” followed by a boat ride and drive back to Eco Camp. It was 10.5km from Refugio Paine Grande to Refugio Grey, where awaited our boat journey. We hiked mostly north along Grey Lake, seeing little blue icebergs floating before we laid eyes on the big real glacier. Even though the lake and glacier were named “Grey”, the glacial ice was blue like most glacial ice. It’s blue because the immense pressure made the ice so dense that only the blue part of the light spectrum can pass all the way through. Although if you take a piece of blue ice and put it in your hands, it does not look blue any more, looks like regular ice. We had lunch at the refugio while waiting for our boat. Inside they had nice couches, hot cocoa, and beer and wine, of course. There was no dock for the boat, had to board via raft. The boat was big, and got close to the “Grey” glacier before zooming back south to let everyone off. The glacier was amazing, but I like Moreno Glacier more (details in El Calafate below). We got off the boat, walked to parking lot, took the standard 15-person Eco-Camp minivan back to basecamp where cocktail hour and dinner awaited.

Friday, Day 5, was our last real day of hiking, but one of the best of the trips. We did 18km (11miles) total, to get to Base Las Torres (886m) to see Mirador Las Torres, or as I call it, the lake with a view of the three spires. We hiked 5km north up a valley to Refugio Chileno, which was similar to Refugio Cuernos in size. We didn’t stop long. The next stretch involved hiking right along the river as well as through forests and then at the end a bit of hopping boulder to boulder. But the end was definitely worth it – beautiful. We all took lots of pics, had lunch, and I got a quick nap in. Even though I was still low on sleep, I felt better than I had at any point on the trip. All that exercise and fresh air makes me come alive. On the way down Shayna and I stopped at Hotel Las Torres for wifi and a fresh beer. Beer always tastes best after hiking all day. And shayna needed to check her work emails. The hotel was much nicer than our eco camp, the dining room had giant windows facing north so guests can be in awe of the mountains. And they also had a releif map by the front desk that made it easy to visualize all the mountains and trails we covered the last few days. Glad we stopped in. Then we headed back to camp for shower before cocktails and dinner. Knowing we could finally sleep in the next day, i had a few after dinner drinks and hung out more with people in our group.

Days 6 and 7, the end of the trip, were less exciting, but still interesting. Saturday, Day 6, all 14 of us drove around and looked at the geology and animals. Chile protects the Guanaco, an animal native to patagonia similar to a deer. Well, Chile law forbids humans from killing the Guanaco, but not mountain lions, or Pumas as they prefer to call them. We saw several carcasses – apparently the mountain lion will kill, eat some, then take a few of the good bits back to the kids. They may come back in a day or so to get more. Vultures or other smaller animals might have a snack, too. We also got a little biking in – that was fun – but the bikes were a bit rusty and it was super windy – made it quite a challenge. The day ended early with the standard shower, cocktails, dinner. After dinner everyone had some drinks, told stories, and played Jenga. It was our last night and it was bittersweet. Ok, not really, but i always wanted to say an ending was bittersweet. We had gathered everyone’s emails and promised to share pictures. Day 7 was another early departure – had to leave at 6:30am to catch the bus back to El Calafate. There was a little concern that Marlene might not make it back into Argentina since she didn’t have the correct print out of her Reciprocity fee – but it all worked out.

We arrived in El Calafate around 1pm on Sunday. Our hostel room was not great, but it was sunny and grassy out front and I laid down for an hour. That was very nice. Shayna did some work emails (she would spend at least an hour on her laptop each day for the rest of the trip. We also booked our glacier adventure for the next day – we decided to do the mini-hike on the glacier, which includes boat ride and bus. Then we wandered around town looking for dinner, ended up at an Italian-pizza joint (80% of all restaurants in argentina serve pizza or italian). Patagonia Lamb is supposed to be the best meat in the region, and as an avid lover of lamb, I was anxious to try it (never had lamb option in Chile). I wanted the Lamb stew special, but they were out, so I had lamb on my pizza instead. And it was sooo good. I also had a great local weisse beer. El Calafate is approved.

Monday was another one of my favorite days of the trip – seeing Porito Moreno Glacier. This was not my first time on a glacier – i walked around Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand in 2007. But this one was visually much more impressive. Right up there with mountains as one of the most beautiful awe inspiring things on this planet. We had to pick up lots of people in Calafate, then 60ish of us made a bee-line to the boat, leaving the dock around 11am. We split into 3 groups, one english, two spanish, put on our ice cramp-ons, and climbed around the glacier for about 2 hours. At the end we had some scotch on the rocks, where the rocks where made fresh from glacier ice. Then off the glacier, off with the crampons, ate some lunch, and waited for the boat. On the other side we drove around to the parks main viewing center, and we had an hour to wonder around and see the glacier head-on. It was just so amazing. We were hoping that we’d get to see a big chunk of ice fall in the water, but no dice. Then we took the bus back to Calafate, where we had dinner at El Cucharon. I finally got my Lamb stew and it was deeelicous. Altho I might have enjoyed the lamb on the pizza a bit more. After dinner we did a little shopping and I bought Shayna a ring made from a local artist. Awwww.

Tuesday we had a flight to Buenos Aires later in the afternoon, so we killed time by going to Glaciarium. It’s a glaciar museum with a Ice Bar. We did both. The museum part was very well done, we covered it in one hour. perfect. Then we had a drink in -13 Glacio Bar. Back in Calafate we did some more shopping and headed to Airport. Our flight was uneventful and we arrived at our friend TJ’s apartment in the Palermo district of Buenos Aires. I tried to go out exploring but couldn’t figure out how to leave. Luckily we already ate and didn’t need anything. The next day i figure out that you have to touch the key fob to the special part of this metal box by the gate. Ok, i didn’t figure it out, somebody showed me.

Wednesday through Saturday was mostly sightseeing in Buenos Aires. Highlights include the paid 1 hour tour of Teatro Colon, the Buenos Aires Opera House.   We didn’t make it to Mendoza, Argentina’s wine country, but enjoyed wine tasting with Anuva wines, followed by an amazing Italian dinner. We also got a free english guided tour of Recoleta Cemetery where Evita is buried, followed that with Lunch at La Biela, a famous outdoor cafe that comes with a clown playing an accordion.  We saw a professional Tango Show as well as Tango in the streets of  San Telmo.

We walked alot around down Buenos Aires – in awe of the grandeur and humbled by protestors, squeezed in some shopping, bought shoes for shayna, and pants and shirts for me.  And many delicious meals, including an amazing middle eastern joint called Sarkis, our favorite cafe, Sans, in Palermo Viejo, which was about 20 minute walk from TJ’s apt where we stayed.  Last but not least, we had to eat what Argentina’s famous for – great steaks.  We hit 2 parrillas – La Brigada and Don Julio.  We both like Don Julio better, probably because we had meat more like a filet mingon.

In conclusion I’d recommend Patagonia to everyone who likes the outdoors, loves  to travel, or wants something awe inspiring.  It’s up there with my favorite mountains in the world – others being Sierra Nevadas (Yosemite or Kings Canyon), Rocky Mountains (Glacier National Park), and Himalayas (Lamayuru Trek), and maybe the Swiss Alps.  However, if you are watching the wallet, skip the EcoCamp and plan the W-trek hike yourself.  Make sure you check out all my “Best of” pics, either on flickr or in my facebook album (assuming we’re connected). If you’re daring, you can check out all my pics on flickr (635 in patagonia, 143 in Buenos Aires). Note that we whittled those 800ish pics down from 2,000.   The next big trip is Alaska – shooting for summer 2015.

Fluent 2013

September 14th, 2013

The Fluent conference this year was just as good as Fluent 2012 last year, and bigger and better in some ways. I still loved how at then end you walkaway realizing how popular, important, diverse, and interesting javascript still is. I want to echo what I said in last year’s post, that I love seeing javascript used to solve real business problems, but the conference was much more than that.

Here are some of my highlights from the few talks I attended out of the 80-ish talks across 8 Topics: Doing Business on the Web Platform, The Server Side, Front End Frameworks and Libraries, HTML5 and Browser Technologies, Mobile, Pure Code and JavaScript, The Leading Edge, Tools, Platforms, and APIs

Noteworthy Speakers

  • Paul Irish – Google Chrome Advocate / Wiz [Wed 9:45a]
    • Insanely fast with chrome and sublime.
    • Talked about workflow, similar to 2012 (editor, browser, etc)
    • Chrome workspaces (in canary) – maps local files to what chrome gets over network
  • Sylvain Zimmer (french guy, scraping sites) [Wed 4:15p]
  • Eric Elliot – Adobe – [Wed 5:05p]
    • Classical Inheritance is Obsolete: How to Think in Prototypal OO
    • npm install stampit (stampit on github)
    • Classes deal with the idea of an object, Prototypes deal with the object itself.
  • Ariya Hidayat – Sencha – [Thu 11:50a]
    • Code quality tools are very important for good software dev
    • Feedback is important: tools <–> engineer
    • CI server, build tools, editors, code testing, code coverage (istanbul)
  • Sarah Mei – Pivotal – [ Thu 2:35p]
    • Emphasized importance of team communication ==> good code
    • One study said biggest predictor of good code was (in order)
      1. team communication, more so than
      2. tech qualifications
      3. experience with code base
    • Great book (for js, too): “Practical Object-Oriented Design in Ruby: An Agile Primer” by Sandi Metz
    • Loves pair programming.  good speaker
  • Brian Rinaldi (Adobe Systems)
    • NodeJS is more than just server js – offers lots of command line tools: UglifyJS, Grunt, GruntIcon, JSHint and HTTPster
  • Nick Zakas
    • Say Thank You.   author of 4 books.  Good speaker.

Other Takeaways

  • Websites need fast page load
    • About 250ms is google’s max page load time
    • 1000ms is max time users wait before mental context switch
    • 2000ms delay on bing/google SRP made 4.3% drop in revenue/user (HUGE)
  • Improving page load
    • Tie performance improvement goals with biz goals
    • Test your site with google’s pagespeed
    • Render Above The Fold (ATF) ASAP - inline critical css, logos, so browser can render at least part of page fast.
  • SPDY
    • HTTP 2 today, avail in chrome, ff, opera (no IE), apache, node, nginx
    • Requires TLS (HTTPS)
    • Many big sites adopted in 2012: some google, facebook, twitter, wordpress, cloudfare
    • Really only need 2 domains to serve images (google says 10 images is enuf)
  • Refactoring JS – lots of tips
  • Games
    • asm.js is da shit (runs C code in js)
    • Brendan Eich (Mozilla) demo’d game “Unreal”, ported to js/html5
  • Google Glass
    • Android, like TV. camera, geolocation
    • Simulator on github, mirror API
    • Avail in 2014, $200-$600

 

Kings Canyon: Goddard Canyon

June 18th, 2012

Got back last week from a very much needed backpacking trip in the California mountains.  I was out in SF for a conference, and decided to stay a bit longer to see old friends and get some time out in the mountains, enjoying nature, and being offline (for more reasons why i love backpacking, see my honeymoon post).  I was prepared to go solo, but was happy that my friend and old roomate Damian Spain could join me.  I chose Goddard Canyon because it had plenty of water along the route, the trailhead was in a national forest (easier to get permits vs national parks or wilderness preserves), had a ferry, hot springs, and a waterfall, several options for camping (campgrounds are * on key points) and was below 10,000 feet so we could have campfires. We planned for 5 days, but on the fourth day we decided to hike extra and drive home that night.  It was an amazing trip and would totally do it again.

Day 1:  Drove 4 hrs from SF to Prather, CA (got permit), 2.5 more hrs to trailhead at Florence Lake.  Hiked almost 8 miles to Muir Trail Ranch. Elevation from 0 to 7,700′

This was a busy day. We left SF at 7am, got permit around 11, had leisure lunch and drive to Florence lake, stopping by other dams and lakes, campgrounds, and ranger offices, arriving at the lake around 3.  The ferry was not operational for the season yet, so we had to hike 3.4 miles more than we planned, putting us around the private ranch around sunset.  We had trouble finding the campground by Blayney Hot Springs, so we just put up our tent along the jeep trail near the ranch. (Day 4 we found the campground, see below). If you arrive at night, another option would be to camp at one of the many car-camping campgrounds along the road about an hour from Florence lake. You can get a backcountry permit at a smaller High Sierra ranger office near Mono Hot Springs (map) the next morning, and have plenty of time to hike to the nice campground by the river and the hot springs.

Day 2: Hiked over 7 miles to the campground right passed the bridge 2 miles from the bridge marking Kings Canyon Boundary. Elevation from 7,700′ to 8,700′

This was a much easier day then the previous day.  We stopped because the campground was so nice – part shade, part sun, nice campfire ring,  plenty of wood, 50 yards from river and a little off trail (but still very visible to hikers).  One of the more interesting moments of the trip was when i stopped to fill up water in a small stagnant lake – a few leeches got on my water filter.  There were always tons of large black ants around, so i decided to give the ants some lunch.  Upon arriving at the campsite we took a nap and had a late afternoon campfire.

Day 3: Dayhike – Hiked about 10 miles up Goddard Canyon to see the falls, turned around before hitting Hell For Sure Pass.  Elevation 8,700′ to 9,700′ back to 8,700′.

This was another easy day, we did it without packs and returned to the same campsite.  Goddard Canyon was similar to what we had seen so far, just more granite and a more narrow canyon.  The river was also a bit more interesting, having 5-10 feet granite walls in several places.  The falls were impressive, but next time I’d like to try going up Evolution Canyon instead.

Day 4: Hiked 16-ish miles back to car.  Elevation 8,700′ to 7,326′ (Florence Lake), drive back to SF.

By this point we had acclimated well to the elevation, so hiking was easy.  We made it from our campsite to Blayney Hot Springs campsite by lunch time (over 7 miles).  As it turns out, the campsite is right by the river, about a half mile from the main trail (just follow signs to Blayney Hot Springs).  We found campfire rings but could not find the hot springs – later we figured out you must cross the river to the hot springs which lie in the meadow.  At lunch we decided to cut the trip short and hike all the way back to the car and drive home.  Damian said he had to be back to try on some dresses (or something like that).  I actually had a blister on the bottom of my left foot so I was also down to finish off hike.  We had an amazing time up to that point and I was completely satisfied.  On the way home we stopped in Fresno for enchiladas, only Damian was too tired to read the entire menu and got something else instead.  We arrived in SF about 2am thanks to D’s mad driving skills.

In summary we hiked about 40 miles, drove 13 hours, saw beautiful mountains, lakes, amazing trees, and animals, had time to relax, play with fire, get lots of exercise and fresh air, and had that reset button pushed hard.   Can’t wait to make it to the Sierra Mountains again.

Honeymooniversary

August 15th, 2011

Shayna and I just got back from one of the best trips I’ve ever had – spending 10 days in the beautiful mountains of Glacier National Park, Montana, where we celebrated the one year anniversary of our wedding honeymoon.  The trip was awesome on so many levels, including the camping, hiking, and majestic views, but mostly it was great to spend quality time with the wife in the great outdoors. I highly recommend everyone to go, whether you stay in hotels or in tents, glaciers or not. I cover more on the trip below, but first here’s why it’s awesome:

Why I love Backpacking

  • Being surrounded by nature
  • Tons of exercise
  • Tons of sleep
  • Campfires (and s’mores)
  • Spending quality time with fellow backpackers
  • Getting away from it all (people, technology, normal life)
  • Everything you need is on your back or found in nature
  • Food tastes awesome when you’re burning 2-3 times the usual amount of calories
  • Re-appreciating how great showers, beds, and other comforts are when finished

Why I love Glacier National Park

  • The view – mountains, glaciers, lakes
  • The smells – fresh pine, cedar, sweet flowers, smokey campfires
  • The hikes - Favs are Highline Trail and hike to Ptarmigan Tunnel
  • The temperature – Hot enough to go swimming, but cool at night

When we first arrived at the airport, we got our rental car and drove to the town of Kalispel, the largest of many small towns in Flathead valley, just west of the park.  We stopped by a famous house, the Conrad Mansion, barely catching the last tour of the day.  It  was an impressive house and an interesting tour – built over a hundred years ago and restored to its original condition (we took many pics of this).  From there we drove to the hills to our first Bed and Breakfast, The Garrison Inn.  Our hosts Gene and Anne Marie were very nice.  Gene is also a professional chef and made us a delicious dinner and an amazing breakfast – probably the best omelete I’ve ever had (insanely fluffy, almost a quiche).

After the B&B we drove about an hour before entering the park.  We debated white water rafting and horse back riding, but decided water was too cold and horses were not my favorite.  We got lucky and found a spot in the Apgar campground, had lunch, then went for our first real hike to the Apgar Lookout.  The next day we moved a bit further east, getting a spot at Sprague Creek campground.  That day we did one of our longest and most beautiful hikes – Highline trail from Logan Pass to Granite Park Chalet, then on down to our car at The Loop, about 12 miles total.   We saw our first big animals – mountain goats.  Did you know they have bacteria in their stomach that generates heat?  That helps them survive the mountain tops during 40 below winters.  That night we slept super solid – 7 hours of hiking will do that to ya.  The next day I gorged on the breakfeast buffet at the lodge (totally worth it), then we drove over the to east side on Going to the Sun road, which was supposed to be awesome but all the road construction made the experience a bit annoying.  That night we stayed at St. Mary campground and were lucky enough to catch a performance by the Blackfeet tribe, the native americans who live east of the park.  They explained their music, competition dances, and costumes in great detail.  Big props to traditional Native Americans.  Afterwards we had our first campfire.  I love fires.

The next day we got up super early (6:30am) to get to Many Glacier campground to ensure we get a spot.  It’s the most popular campground in the park, and, like all but 2 campgrounds, takes no reservations – first come, first serve.  All spots are snatched up by around 8am-8:30am every day.  After securing our spot, we took the day off from hiking and explored the Many Glacier Lodge and surrounding areas (the great lodges are amazing).  I also explored my book and the back of my eyelids in the afternoon (gotta have naps on vacation, right?).  We had a camping stove issue that was resolved the night before (oh, thats how you clean it) and this was the first day we had hot meals from the stove.  Previously we snacked on bars, PB, fruit, nuts, broccoli and hummus, bread, cheese, crackers, and pickles, which were all good. Now we had hot oatmeal and other warm dishes like rice and beans and indian food. We saved the freeze-dried for backpacking. Our second day at Many Glacier we hiked to Iceberg lake. We wanted to hit up  Grinnell glacier, but that was closed due to bears.  So guess what we saw about 150 yards off the trail to Iceberg lake?  A grizzly bear and her 3 cubs.  Awesome.  We also saw a mama moose and her baby – from only a few feet away as they were on the trail.  The last day at many glacier was more chilling out, shayna did a short hike and I did some picture/laptop stuff.  That evening we had our first rain storm and were lucky enough to be able to watch it from the lodge.  Later after that we had another campfire along with s’mores.  Mmm-mm.

Saturday morning we left Many Glacier to start our backpacking adventure.  We drove to the Chief Mountain Trailhead, which is right next to the Canadian border, to enter the Belly river area of the park.  It was about 10am when we began backpacking, a mostly level hike 13 miles to our first camp at Glenn’s Lake Head.  Let me reiterate how unbelievably beautiful this park is.  Gorgeous natural diversity, from moutains, glaciers, snow, streams and lakes, to fields of grass and flowers, to rocky and dusty mountain tops, to pine and aspen forests, and more .. sometimes all at once.  The highline trail gave us a taste but being surrounded by nothing but pure nature takes it to the next level.  The next 2 nights we spent at Elizabeth Lake head campground (i say head since the bigger lakes have 2 campgrounds, one at the head where water comes in, and one at the foot where water exits).  Each night we had to store all our food, toiletries, even water in bear bags and hang them high up in the trees.  We also had to prep food and eat in common areas. It was a nice way to meet people – we met boy scouts, families, and several couples .. but not the most romantic.  Except the first night, where we had a campfire and more s’mores, we crashed pretty early – often before dark.  Once shayna was down for almost 12 hours, after hiking probably the most scenic hike on the trip, up to Ptarmigan tunnel.  It was 12 miles roundtrip, over half a mile vertical, with the most diversity and impressive views of any of our hikes.  It was tough, but thats how we like it.  Gotta earn it.  Other adventures included discovering amazing waterfalls, fording rivers, and dealing with hail storm on the last day hiking out.  The last 2 nights of our trip were just us appreciating showers, beds, nice meals, and relaxing.  It went by much too quick.

This trip was definitely a backpacking and camping trip first, and honeymoon anniversary second. I say honeymoon anniversary since this trip, being a backpacking trip, was more similar to our honeymoon backpacking adventure on Isle Royale (more deets) than our wedding  That said, wife and I had an amazing time together.  I feel so lucky to have a girl who is into backpacking almost as much as I am, even though she’s only been on 3 real backpacking trips! We both hope to do at least one major trip a year from now on.  So stay tuned for more adventures.

Coachella Rules

April 29th, 2009

Last week I got back from Coachella, a 3-day music festival in Southern California.  It was my 4th time going, the other years being 2001, 2002, and 2006.  This year, like previous years, was awesome – good friends, good drinks, pimpin’ house and pool, and tons of cool bands and DJs to rock out to.  Here are noteworthy moments followed by details from the whole weekend

Coachella 2009 Lineup

  • Groove Armada doing superstylin for like 20 minutes, including a few mins of daft punk in the middle.  After “Around the World” they unloaded the superstylin’ drop that totally electrified the crowd.  This was my favorite moment this year – 3rd favorite coachella moment of all time, after daft punk in 2006 and my personal fav squarepusher in 2001.
  • The Do Lab giving off a great burningman vibe, sick music, interesting art and decorations, water hose, and central location. My favorite spot. Video. Big UP to Jupiter, Random Rab, Beats Antique, Lucent Dossier, and many more.
  • The Dome was another sound location in addition to the Do Lab and the 5 official ones – they provided sound as you entered and left, going till 5am for those in camp city.  LA Riots played sunday night.
  • Naked Hippie getting tasered.  3 fat cops using a taser on a dude out of his mind. article.
  • Contact solution containers are very useful.
  • The Ting Tings singing “Whats my name” (my fav song of 2008)
  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs rocking it – love that gold costume, Karen O. video.
  • Girl Talk really knows how to rock a party, short-attentions span style. milkshake.
  • MIA was good, but Blackstar (her Coachella DJ) went a little crazy with that air horn – could barely hear the songs. Lame.
  • Public Enemy doing the entire album of “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back”
  • The Black Keys got Soul, damnit.  a video.
  • Leonard Cohen rocking it at age 74.
  • Morrisey left the stage early cuz he smelled burning flesh.  Sigh. Pass the Bacon.
  • The Cure did almost 3 hours – including 2 songs after they cut the sound and lights (only saw first hour, tho).
  • I heard Paul McCartney, would have been really impressed if i still loved him.
  • Wish I saw Etienne De Crecy. Awesome video.
  • Wish I saw MSTRKRFT, saw them in 2008.
  • Wish I saw Roni Size, The Kills, Atmosphere, M Ward, Crystal Castles, the Orb, etc.
  • Out of 166,000 people attending coachella, I ran into my boy Zac (chicago) twice. I ran into tons of other people from California as well. Attendence was second only to 186k in 2007 (src).

Team Coachella

It all began with my arrival Thursday night, along with checkoway and kerry, crashing at my friend Rob’s place in Ontario. Friday morning our new best friend Jason picked us up in his super 80′s Van – Our Carpoolchella.  The rumor was that one lucky crew with “Carpoolchella” written on their car/van would win lifetime vip tix to coachella.  No, wed were not that lucky crew.  Anyways, we drove 80 miles to Palm Springs, got supplies, checked into our house for the weekend, and met up with Isabel (not Babs), Jess, and Brian.  We got our drinks on and headed to coachella friday, coming home around 1 or 2 and staying up till 5 in the morning.  2 hours later I’m up for some reason and ready to go.

Saturday started with more drinking, a surprise arrival by Ding Dong, Cake-Oh, and Katheeee.  Yay.  After some pool shenanigans we left the house for the iMeem party – more pool, free-drinks, DJs (A-Trak was there but did not spin), and great people watching.  It ended up being pretty fun, till the Asahi ran dry.  We made it inside the coachellas around 5 or 6 and lasted till about midnight,  then home and more drinks and late nite grilling by Chef Checkoway. Sunday was more of the same, morning cocktails, donger made eggs, pool chillin, a few visitors, and music at coachella from 6 to midnight.  I was planning on leaving sunday night but I aborted that plan due to lack of sleep and desire not to get sick.

Monday we cleaned up and left the house by noon, made it to LA where most of us did more pool side chilling at the roosevelt in hollywood.  Around 6pm everybody left but me and checkoway – he was in LA for biz and my flight didn’t leave for chicago till 6am the next morning.  Lee Williams showed up, instigating round 7, and with the help of Katie Curry we were out drinking till the bars closed.  After some post-bar pizza I took checkoway back to the hotel where i crashed from 3:30am till 4:30am (thats 1 whole hour of sleep for you kids at home), got up and taxied to LAX.  Needless to say i slept the entire plane ride home.

Good times, Good times.

SnowCamp

March 4th, 2009

I just bought my ticket to San Francisco for SnowCamp weekend, flying out Thursday 4/2, returning Monday 4/6. Rejoice. I was on the fence about when to visit SF this spring/summer, and Snowcamp won. You really can’t beat it – the best crew of crazy fun loving trouble makers this side of the mississippi (which side are we talking about?), dressing up (this year’s theme is Fairy Tales) and enjoying delishous tahoe powder (if it doesn’t all melt by april). In addition, carrying on the spirit of Otto, funds will be raised to send girls from Hunter’s Point to summer camp. Deets on FB. Any suggestions as to which Fairy Tales thing I should dress up as?

And 2 weeks later I’m going to Coachella Music Festival, another Thurs-Monday adventure which I’m totally excited for. Check out the amazing lineup and our house for the weekend.

Obamauguration

January 22nd, 2009

Last night we got home from a 5 day road trip to our nation’s capital, Washington DC.  It was a long journey, 12 hours and 700 miles each way from Chicago, but I’m glad I went.  Obama’s inauguration itself was definitely the highlight, being on the mall with about 2 million other people to witness the change of power and the beginning of a new day.  It was also great to feel the spirit and mood of Washington – the town was excited, energetic, and happy.

Obama Cheerleaders

Due to some car trouble, we didn’t arrive till late Sunday, missing the “We Are One” concert on the mall.  The Sunday show featured Bono, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Beyonce, Garth Brooks, Tom Hanks, Tiger Woods, and more.  It also included a nice Obama speech and a test run of the jumbotron video screens and security, among other things.  Monday night we headed out on U street near 14th, and it was crazier than a friday night.  Restaurants had 2 hour waits, there were hundreds in line to get ben’s chili, and street guys were selling obama shirts, pins, posters, and really bad art.  We even passed a car just blaring obama speeches.  Not knowing how U street normally is, this probably does not impress you.   But trust me, you could feel the energy.  We ended up eating at some Italian place with a clueless bartender as our waitress, but that did not stop our energy from doing “OBAMA!” cheers (yes, that last person in the pic is the exclamation point).

Tuesday morning we woke up at 7am at our friend Becky’s apt (border of Adam’s Morgan and Columbia Heights).  We walked about 3 miles down to the mall, stopping for Starbucks and snacks.  When we were about a mile away it was so crowded the entire width of 18th street was packed with people streaming in.  We followed the stream to the Washington Monument, where 2 of our posse of 5 decided to setup camp.  Bobby, Shayna, and I ventured on towards the Capitol, mostly just to check things out.  We barely crossed 14th street at the north corner of the Mall (Madison Dr). I say barely because there were lots of camo-wearing army dudes that had zero understanding of crowd control and flow, preventing us from crossing easily.  Or perhaps they intentionally wanted to funnel thousands of people through small openings, creating artificial crowds irritated and confused to why people weren’t moving, you know, for security reasons. After getting through that, we ventured on as far east as 7th street, which appeared to be impassable. We retreated to the carousel on the south side of the mall near 10th st and setup camp. There were tons of people, but for the most part you could navigate as long as you didn’t try to walk in front of a jumbotron, as you can see in this google satellite picture.

JumboTrons

It was almost 10am by this point, and the jumbotrons had been replaying Sunday’s show for the last 2 hours, but now they were switching to live action.  From 10 to 11am we watched various politicians and famous people arrive, including all those Senators, ex-Presidents, Bush, Cheney (aka Dr. Strangelove in a wheelchair), Bidens, and the Obamas.   Everybody got cheers but bush/cheney, surprise, surprise.  I was surprised that the boy scouts and girl scouts handed out thousands of little American flags for everyone to wave – very nice move.  About 10 minutes till noon Biden was inaugurated as VP, then Obama shortly after noon (altho Chief Justice Roberts redid the oath).  When Obama gave his 18 minute inauguration speech (nytimes interactive video), we all listened carefully.  We were surrounded by a million people excited to be part of a new era, despite the fact that it was 22 degrees outside and we had been walking and standing for over 4 hours. I was moved by the speech, I identified with it, and definitely felt the moment much more so than if I was just watching it on TV at home. I won’t go into details of the speech, but I will say that I felt hope and inspiration, I felt a reconnection to our politics and policies, and I felt sober and ready to face the future. I was not alone, and many were moved.

After the speech we started heading out, fighting confused crowds and poorly designed routes to our friends Becky and David by the Washington Monument.  Then we ambled incredibly slow on the massively crowded 18th street back towards Becky’s house.  We stopped to eat, rest, and warm up at a nice mexican mexican restaurant – sitting and eating never felt so good.  The rest of the night was uneventful, followed by a 11 hour drive home Wednesday (9am to 8pm) with our driving buddies, John and Cat. Go Team.

YES WE CAN.

Getting Cheap Airfare

July 8th, 2008

Everybody loves Flying. Ok, maybe not, but everybody does it. Here’s a few tips on getting the most bang for your buck:

  • kayak.com – AWESOME. Use this first when figuring out flights (better than expedia, travelocity, etc). Kayak knows all the flights and airfares and lets you sort them based on what time you want to depart, what airports you like, leave a day before/after for cheaper, show only nonstop, show all ones that match this departure flight (for roundtrip), etc. In fall of 2007 they merged with sidestep, the only site that was as good as them.
    NOTE: as of 2008 July, Kayak does NOT show flights from Southwest, Skybus, Allegiant, USA3000 (src). Kayak also not great at international – just great at USA domestic.
  • International: Mobissimo (favorite after kayak, international, includes vayama), Lessno (europe, some asia), wegolo (europe, some asia), AirNinja (covers smaller airlines, usa and international, best at europe), Attitude Travel (international, latest lo-cost)
  • Big Trip? airinfo.travel and flyertalk – read these if you do lots of traveling, or international flights. Helps you find a good travel agent, explains things behind the scenes, etc. OAG also shows you which airlines fly between specific airports. boots-n-all has good round-the-world info. Travel Agents: STA (USA, Europe, International), also consult local travel agencies – World Travelers Club in SF
  • cheapest flights, don’t care when? try priceline and airfarewatchdog
  • Other tips
    • Get a airline credit card, so you can earn frequent flyer miles when you buy stuff
    • If you have one, american express sometimes has great deals.

But with rising gas prices, airlines are changing the rules, and adding fees like $15 to check your bag. See latest airline fees on kayak.

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Jamaica

July 1st, 2008

Just got back from 10 days in Jamaica. It was a real vacation, time spent away from my life with old and new friends, warm weather, fun, and a slightly different culture. We spent most of our time in a resort in Negril, on the west side, a bit secluded from the real Jamaica, but still met a few locals and ate a ton of Jerk Chicken.

Jamaica Beach

The trip was 12th in a series of Midsummer gatherings by a large group of friends. It was my first, Shayna’s second, and going into it I knew about a third of the 40 or so people that were part of the group. They rented out Xtabi for an entire week, which included lodging and 2 meals a day. We had to buy our own drinks, usually a dirty banana from the bar, but mostly red stripes (second day we bought 12 cases from the store).

The coolest part about the trip (besides the amazing people who attend) are the Midsummer Rituals throughout the week. The first is the night of fire – each person writes down a fear or something they want to get rid of, optionally reads it to the group, then burns it in the fire. The second event is the Masquerade, which involves lots of costumes and fun. Then comes the Feast, which includes a giant delicious meal where each person holds a super-sized goblet and toasts a success or trait they admire in themselves or others. Then there’s kickball with beer – this year the teams were jamaica inspired – Rum vs. Weed (which would you pick?). Lastly, there’s Baccanal which is the grand party at the end.  Oh, and this year midsummer started off with a wedding – Big Up to Saleem and Lorraine!

Jerk Chicken

Besides the rituals, we also did alot of swimming in the ocean, chilling at the beach, jumping off cliffs, and an amazing trip up Mayfield Falls. Sadly I got no pics of the falls, but it could be my favorite adventure. It involved swimming in refreshingly cool water, adventuring over rocks, and waterfall massages. And the food was much better than expected – best chicken, breads, and french fries ever. Seriously – I think they fry their potatos and pig fat – nothing else could make them taste so good. And the bread – plantain fritters were my fav – mostly batter, lightly fried, a tiny bit sweet .. soo good. And what can i say about the jerk chicken? Duh-lish-us. Kyle actually got a local dude to deliver chickens – $80 for 4 half chickens plus a sensi bonus. If you’re ever in Negril, make sure you check out Best of the West (super small, but tastee).

Every Ting Irie, Mon.

Solo Backpacking

June 16th, 2008

I’ve been wanting to do a Backpacking trip by myself for some time. And after Otto’s Passing, I really needed it. I wanted to do 3-5 days, enough time to get out there, let the dust settle in my brain so i had time to think, reflect, or just relax. I also needed some good exercise, different than my constant running. So off I went …

Chad entering Kings Canyon National Park

On Tuesday, June 3, I packed up, voted, then left San Francisco for the Sierra Nevada Mountains. At first I wasn’t sure where to go .. I considered Yosemite, Tahoe, .. but went for Kings Canyon. I did a day hike there in 2006, as well as a Backpacking trip near there at Jennie Wilderness with Juan and Damian in 2004, so i knew what to expect. I got there a few hours before sunset, enough time to eat, setup camp, and walk around a bit before bed.

Wednesday I got early and went to the Lodge to find trail info from some backpacking books. I took a few pics of some good hikes, then went to Roads End to get my wilderness permit. The rangers warned that there was still lots of snow .. mostly above 9,000 feet. I considered doing Paradise Valley (start of Rae Lakes Loop), but ended up picking Bubbs Creek to Junction Meadow, with a day hike option to East Lake or Charlotte Lake.

I started hiking around 10:30am Wednesday at Roads End (Elevation 5085 ft). It was 2 miles through the valley floor to my first Junction, then I crossed Bailey Bridge up Bubbs Creek, hitting switchbacks out of the valley to Sphinx Creek Campsite (6280 ft), my first rest, about 4 miles in. As soon as I took my backpack off, I brilliantly twisted my ankle. I hurt like hell at first, but turned out mostly OK .. wasn’t able to use it fully for over a week. After water refill and a snack, i continued on to Charlotte Creek. It was 4pm when I stopped, and my GPS watch said i hiked over 7 miles. I wasn’t sure if i had 3 or 5 miles more till Junction meadow (depending on if you trust books, maps, or trail signs), so I decided to camp, since 5 miles more would be too much. I setup tent, got water, cooked dinner – delicious spicy chicken with rice and vegies, and appreciated clean air and sunset. I was wiped out, and was in bed asleep around 9pm.

Preparing for Swim

Thursday I woke up 6ish, got out of the tent at 7am, packed and hit the trail by 8. Charlotte Creek (7280 ft) was overflowing, and I had to crawl over wet slippery logs to cross .. my first semi-dangerous adventure. I made it to Junction meadow (8190 ft) around 10am .. so it wasn’t that far after all (about 3 miles according to GPS watch). I decided to setup camp, have brunch, and do a day hike. After some tasty oatmeal, orange and banana, I hit the trail by noon. The rangers warned that bubbs creek would be too high to cross to east lake, but i ran into another hiker (first person I met on the trail) who just came from there – he spent the night on top of snow at Lake Reflection, a few miles past east lake. On his suggestion, i went to east lake instead of Charlotte Lake – mainly cuz it was closer and I’d like to spend some time swimming and exploring the lake. Bubbs creek was super high and I ended up crossing water 4 times, mostly over fallen trees, but the last crossing involved some jumping and getting my feet wet. I ringed out my socks, put my boots back on and kept on. I climbed out of the junction valley up east creek to the most beautiful views (video). I made it to East lake (9475 ft) around 2:30, swam, ate, and sunbathed till 4pm. Happy and fully rested, I hiked back down, getting back to camp by 5:30 (crossing the rivers again without falling in this time). I could feel the elevation but felt great after the afternoon at the lake. My stove wasn’t working, so i got a fire going and boiled water for my beef stronganoff (not as good as the spicy chicken). After eating I basically played with fire till after dark, and was asleep by 10pm. There were 3 other groups at junction meadow, from 2-4 peeps each.

Friday i didn’t get out of the tent till 8ish, had a leisure breakfast and wrote in my journal till 11. I then busted out of there, thinking i had to return my bear cannister before the ranger station closed at 3pm. It took me about 3.5 hours to hike out, arrived at 3:10pm – rangers were gone but they had a drop-off for the bear cannister. I was beat. I took off my boots and it was awesome – they were still pretty new and rubbing me raw in weird places. I grabbed a beer at the lodge and hit the road back to SF around 4pm. I stopped at In-N-Out and had the most delicious burger and fries ever. I made it home by 9, and went out to Amnesia for some brasstax action. Yay.

In Summary, I hiked about 30 miles over 3 days with about 4,400 feet elevation gain. You can check out my hike info from GPS Watch (it shows just the going up part, batteries ran out at east lake). Also view the Google map of the hike. At some point I want to do Rae Lakes Loop Hike, a 4-7 day trip. It is supposed to be so Amazing, one of the best in the Sierras. Here’s a sample itinerary.