Thoughts and Adventures From Greenlite Heavy Industries

Monday, December 28, 2009

Taking Care of Your Stuff

Melony, Sam, Sophia and I went up to the cabin on Saturday only to find a wet basement floor and a leaking valve at the main shutoff. Seems like sub zero weather proved too much and water in the ball valve froze consequently cracking the brass body. My first reaction was the typical “why me” whining: “why did I build this place,” “why is it always something,” but after I got that out of my system my attitude changed for the better. This perspective shift is in no small part due to the book Shop Class As Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford.

Crawford is a PhD motorcycle mechanic, so much of what he writes goes over my head – both scholastically and technically – but occasionally I do catch a glimpse. The chapter entitled To Be Master of One’s Own Stuff has proven especially enlightening and useful. Instead of being a headache, the plumbing problem now became an opportunity to improve my competence (I wouldn’t call it mastery) at taking care of my possessions. I built the cabin and now I need to take care of it.

After a conversation with my cousin Andrew Liske a plumber down in the Bay Area (and incidentally the guy who installed the cabin pipes) I came up with a repair plan. Sam and I went back up the next day, cut out the broken valve, un-sweated the PEX-to-brass fittings (which we needed to re-use) cleaned it all up and systematically put it all back together. The job took three hours with the two of us working at a steady pace. The job entailed some serious solder work, and I gave myself a 50-50 chance when I turned on the water. Thankfully no leaks. Being able to tip up the work while sweating the joints provided a gravity assist, which I’m sure made up for some poor technique on my part. At the end of the job I installed a heater coil on the incoming water pipe.

On the 1.5 mile walk back to the car Sam seemed very proud of himself. We had had a problem and he and I working together had used our brains and our hands to solve it. That’s a pretty damn good feeling.

Un-sweating the old fittings - I liked the green flame

Gravity assist

Monday, December 21, 2009

Getting Back on the Horse

Even Sophia's coach had to cover her eyes.

The worst part is that her older brother Sam is laughing so hard that he can hardly hold the camera straight. The best part is that she gets back up and goes again.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Just Who is King

Listening to the health care debate reminded me of the Tom Waits line:

In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Green Wave

Check out this awesome video:

The Greenwave and the Pre Green are genius. Contrast that to my old town of Redmond, the self-procalimed Biking Capitol of the Northwest, which doesn't even have bike lanes.

Like the narator says: if you make biking the fastest and easiest way to get around people will ride bikes.

Why do we Americans have to stumble through the dark for so long. Don't build roads, build bike lanes.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Finally getting around to editing some of last year's photos. I liked this image of the window at the Sundance Glass Studio.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

60 Channels And Nothing On

I have to confess to loving television. TV is entertainment and entertainment is a good thing. I don't see anything wrong with sitting down for an hour of TV before bed, but what amazes me is the amount of total crap that floats around out there. I was just about to give up on the whole notion of television when I came across the HBO series Deadwood.

Currently it's 20 degrees outside and even though some people do I'm not getting on my bicycle when it's that cold, so now I'm trapped on the trainer. Time on a bike trainer goes by very slowly; I speed it up by watching movies or videos of television series'. The TV series route is better because if I can get hooked on a storyline I find myself looking forward to the next training session. Two years ago I got hooked on Six Feet Under," last year I wallowed looking for something good, this year I'm loving "Deadwood."

As the name suggests Deadwood is set in the Outlaw town of Deadwood South Dakota during the 1876 gold rush and features Wild Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane as main characters. Everybody and everything in the show is filthy dirty, John Wayne probably wouldn't have approved, but I figure it's probably a more accurate depiction of what the wild west was really like.

The storyline is solid and the characters are engaging, and so just when I thought it was all junk I found a little treasure that made me eat my words.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Good Stuff in Odd Places

I recently came across a very timely passage:

Your are too just, Lord,
for me to dispute with you,
but I would like to talk with you about justice,
Why do the ways of the wicked prosper?
Why do all the treacherous live at ease?
You have planted them and they have taken root;
they grow and bring forth fruit.
You are near to their mouths
but far from their hearts.

Jeremiah 12, 1-2

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Crouching Tiger

In 2007 (the latest year I could find data) the median family income here in the United States was just over $50,000. In that same year, according to Fortune Magazine, Tiger Woods took in $100,000,000 for endorsing sugar water, poorly designed and cheaply made shoes and, I must admit, fairly descent razors. So it would take the average American family 2000 years to earn what Tiger got (note that I don’t use the word “earn” in reference to “the Tiger”) in just one year. I believe that this disparity has given Mr. Woods a mental illness I call celebrityitis.

When we garner these incredibly disproportionate salaries on sports stars, CEOs and the lucky few actors and musicians who “make it” we are in essence driving them crazy. Michael Jackson is the classic example. Sure Mike was a good singer and a great dancer, but does that make him 20,000 times more valuable than the guy mowing his yard. If you surround yourself with yes-men and you take in more money in a week than most of your neighbors will see in a lifetime you could either emulate Paul Newman and shake your head at the ridiculousness of it all and use your money for the greater good or you can be like Michael and Tiger and convince yourself that you are special – not of this world – and therefore deserving.

One read of Tiger’s comments regarding his infidelity reveals a guy completely disconnected from reality. Those of us in the real world have to face the consequences of our actions; Tiger apparently likes the goodies but squeals at the prospect of paying the price. Tiger made a Faustian deal: to date he’s taken in nearly a billion dollars for selling the clean shaving, clean living family man (i.e. the Tiger Brand) in return he sold his privacy. All he had to do was keep it in his pants. Not only couldn’t he keep himself in check, but when he gets caught he has the gall to release a statement, devoid of any apology, which blames his problems on the “media.” Talk about biting the hand that feeds.

We certainly don’t do celebrities any favors by rewarding them with ridiculously disproportionate salaries and gawking at photos of them walking their dogs in gossip magazines. In fact I think we drive them crazy. It seems like it’s about time that we made our own lives so interesting that we don’t have to resort to idolizing a guy simply because he can hit a little white ball with a metal club.

Monday, November 30, 2009


Yesterday was the something something annual running of the Seattle Marathon. Melony rode and I ran the 15 miles over to Leshi and back to get this photo of my buddy Joe passing the mile 18 mark. My only advice: Joe next time save the basketball shorts for the court, a marathon is a running race not a pick up game.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Weight Training

For the past several months my friends Stephanie, Tina and Emily and I have been hitting the weights Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays. We have a nice core-centric program and I’ve found that a regular resistance training program has greatly improved my overall fitness and physical well-being.

My back has been “bad” for over twelve years now, and I can usually count on at least two episodes a year when I find myself down on the floor paralyzed with pain. In between those episodes I’m perpetually in a state of red alert wherein I’m only one false move away from a week to ten days of intense pain. The most significant affect of resistance training has been to completely stabilize my lower back and though I don’t feel as though I can lift a piano without worry I do feel much sturdier and secure.

The core-centric training has also significantly increased my sense of balance and my agility. My buddy Bill is always jumping on handrails, slack chains and anything else he can tightrope walk. I never joined him because I knew I was hopeless, I mean I couldn’t even stand on one foot. After a few months of serious weight training I can now at least stand on one foot and walk the length of my daughter’s practice balance beam.

In retrospect it seems that for decades I relied on the strength that I’d built up doing high school sports but now that I’m forty four I need to start putting some money back into the bank. If you’re middle aged and just want to be fit, I can’t think of a better start than finding a good weight training program. One good resource seems to be this guy:

Monday, November 16, 2009

First Day

Sam and I hit opening day at Snoqualmie Pass. The snow wasn't plentiful but what was there was worth the drive. The last time the Pass opened this early we ended up having a nearly zero snow winter, so let's hope this isn't a repeat performance.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Cancer Mow

Lately the major occupier of my free time has been preparing for and thinking about Ironman racing. Honestly I’d like to figure out how Ironman is a metaphor for life or how racing these things cures incurable diseases or something, but as of yet they are simply a selfish time bandit that leaves my house messy and my manuscripts half-written. I lot of athletes run for a cause, me I keep my causes and my Ironmans separate. A few months ago my father-in-law was telling me how a lady came to his doorstep asking for a donation because she was going to do the three day cancer walk. He said that he told her “mow my yard and I’ll give you fifty bucks, you can keep it or you can give it to cancer research.” She just walked away.

The more I think about it, the more that sounds like a good idea. Instead of having a cancer walk where folks just waste calories walking around a city, why don’t they have a cancer mow. The participants would expend the same calories but in the end they would have something to show for it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Good and the Bad

I suppose for every ying there must be a yang, the good and the bad, the bitter and the sweet. Lately I’ve been reading some of the “classics,” and just completed Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Prior to that I tried, I mean I really tried, to wade through the absolute worst book I’ve ever had the misfortune to come across: Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.

I like books that are what they are and nothing else, and Treasure Island is an awesome tale of adventure - that’s it nothing else, nothing more. A mysterious old seaman, a treasure map, a double crossing pirate, a marooned sailor, an arrogant doctor and a stoic captain all give the young Jim Hawkins enough adventure – and riches – to last a lifetime. If you didn’t have to read it in school I recommend picking it up.

On the other hand, Ayn Rand’s nine hundred plus pages of cartoonish characters and unreal reality makes for one eye roll after the other. I’m sure that a lot of Rand fans would scream “oh you left winger you just don’t like the tale of rugged individualism,” but my argument is not with the story – stupid as it is – my problem is that the writing just plain sucks. The characters are flat – without any dimension or depth whatsoever - the dialogue could have been written by a fifth grader and the shallow silly world in which the story takes place makes Harry Potter seem realistic. Ayn Rand’s deep misunderstanding of the real world makes me wonder how she even managed to go to the grocery store for a bottle of milk. I suppose Ayn Rand gives all of us struggling writers hope: if that junk can get published well maybe – just maybe.

Monday, October 5, 2009


Andrew Carnegie said that one should spend the first half of one’s life acquiring wealth and the second half giving it away (or at least something like that), well it seems like I’ve spent the first half of my life acquiring “stuff” and now it’s time to get rid of it. Downsizing certainly has been an eye opening experience. Honestly I can’t believe how much stuff I’ve collected in the twenty years since I loaded the trunk if an ’82 Malibu and drove west from Des Moines, Iowa. Over the past two weeks I’ve thrown away over five times the amount of “stuff” I started here with.

I must admit that tossing that “stuff” over the chain at the transfer station is a cathartic experience. It’s like I can feel the weight being lifted. You trade a little bit of your freedom for every item of “stuff” you acquire. Like it or not you have a responsibility to everything that you own: you have to maintain it, store it, lock it, etcetera, etcetera, and the more responsibilities you have the less freedom you posses. Some responsibilities, such and family and friends, are good: I’ll take a little less freedom in order to enjoy the benefits of great family and friends, but what about trading freedom for “stuff.”

Whether you call it “the Man,” “the Machine,” or whatever else, I do believe that there is a concerted effort among advertisers and corporations to convince us to trade freedom for “stuff.” They want us to believe that their “stuff” will make us happier than we were when we didn’t have their “stuff.” They want us to believe that whatever little freedom you had to give up in order to acquire their stuff was worth it, that it was a good trade. In most cases I’d say that it probably wasn’t.

Now that I have this point of view I look at every acquisition with a new light. Instead of thinking “how is this thing going to help me,” I think “how is thing going to affect what little freedom I have left.” The miniscule dose of freedom that I have left must be preserved at all costs.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Rules Rules Rules

I’ve been reading Brad Warner’s book Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate: it’s a good overview of Zen philosophy applied to the real world. I’m not signing up for any Zen retreats just yet, but I do find the Zen philosophy intriguing. It seems to fit my no religion is the best religion mode of thinking. Anyway while reading Mr. Warner’s book I came across the Ten Precepts of the Dogen Sangha school of Zen Buddhism. Here they are:

1. Don’t destroy life.
2. Don’t steal.
3. Don’t desire too much.
4. Don’t lie.
5. Don’t live by selling liquor.
6. Don’t discuss the failures of Buddhist monks and of laypeople.
7. Don’t praise yourself or berate others.
8. Don’t begrudge the sharing of the Buddhist teachings and other things.
9. Don’t become angry.
10. Don’t abuse the three supreme values: Buddha, the Awakened One; Dharma, the true teachings; and Sangha, the community of Buddhists.

I was struck by how similar these are to the Mike McGuffin Three Rules:

1. Don’t take what isn’t yours.
2. Tell the truth.
3. Don’t harm anyone or anything.

And Two Truths:

1. Nothing is fair.
2. Nothing is free.

I think I need to add Zen Rules 3 (Don’t desire too much) and 9 (Don’t become angry) to the McGuffin three.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mercer Half - Take One

I met a guy last Tuesday at Sam’s cross country meet who’d knocked of fifteen Ironman races, a few ultras, including a fifty miler, and numerous marathons, and he said that the Mercer Island Half Marathon is the most difficult race he’d ever run. Well now that I live on Mercer Island and my house is only fifty yards from the course I decided yesterday afternoon that I’d better check out what all the hub bub is about. According to my bike odometer from my door, around the island and back is 13.1 miles – a half marathon - easy enough. So I had a big corned beef and coppa ham sandwich at 12:30 and then took off at 1:00; I was going to regret my dietary choice.

I took off feeling really full and somewhat slushy in the stomach, but I figured I could run through the early digestive phase and things would get better. I did take along a quart water bottle. I came around the south end of the island at a good clip and then started up the west side (as a side note I did flag down a lady who rode by me with her bike helmet on backwards – “sorry I don’t want to embarrass you but your helmet is on backwards”). At mile seven I was tempted to turn right and climb the hill over the island, essentially shortcutting the route by a few miles. My stomach was feeling queasy and consequently I wasn’t taking on much of my nutrition drink, so in hindsight I see that prudence would have been the wisest decision of the day. I’m neither wise nor prude, so onward I went.

I kept a strong pace across the north end of the island and made it to the city hall, it must be about mile ten, in one hour eleven minutes. I figured once I hit East Mercer I could ease up the pace and even if I ran ten minute miles I’d be home in under an hour forty five – not bad for coming off the couch onto a tough course. I made it to the ShoreClub where I had total shutdown. I mean I was so messed up I could barely walk straight. Never before has this happened. I won’t gore you with the bodily function details, but it wasn’t pretty.

I was now faced with the need to hustle three miles home in order to meet Sophia when she gets off of the bus. I was doubled over more than once. I made it just as Sophia’s bus was rounding the corner, I told Sam to go get his sister and I went straight to the bathroom. As it was Wednesday I had five minutes to recover before I had to drive Sophia fifteen miles to piano lessons. I couldn’t cancel as I’d done that the week before and her high school teacher gave me a good dressing down about cancelling without a twenty four hour notice. Actually she was very nice and respectful about it, but the first version is funnier. Anyway I changed and got in the car.

My hands were shaking and I could barely get the clutch in. One minute I felt like I had to puke, the next like I had to crap, I was sweating, shaking, in other words miserable and with no business behind the wheel. I did manage to drop Sophie off and then went to the Safeway to buy some Squirt, which I figured that might help my stomach. In the store I had to use the bathroom and began to worry that I might pass out behind this locked door; that would be embarrassing, so I struggled to stay cool. I got out, grabbed two bottles of soda and headed for the express checkout. Well I got behind a cashier who felt like she needed to discuss every little detail of the fourteen items the lady in front of me was buying. I about told her that either she picks up the pace or I puke on her shoes.

Sitting in the shade drinking the Squirt helped me a little bit, but it was still touch and go picking up Sophia and getting home. I walked in the door and hit the couch- I’d made it. It took me another four hours to even begin feeling normal again.

Whether it was a bad lunch choice or the eighty five degree weather or something else I don’t know, but whatever happened had never happened before. I’ve never shut down like that. Weird.

Friday, September 18, 2009


Twenty years ago I moved to Seattle with what I could fit in the back seat of an ’82 Chevy Malibu, now I can’t fit it all into two major U-Hauls and a pair of moving vans. I shouldn’t say moving vans as they were moving semi trucks. The amount of “stuff” that I’ve acquired is unreasonable, but I wasn’t able diagnose this unreasonability (if that’s not a word it should be) until I took all my “stuff” from one place to another.

We moved from a large house in the burbs to a small house on Mercer Island for many reasons, many of which came from reading James Howard Kunslter’s book The Long Emergency, and now we’re trying to fit ten pounds of crap into a five pound bag. Bottom line is that it just ain’t all gonna fit. Going to have to purge, which is no easy feat for a guy who places significant sentimental value on delivery boxes.

Leaving the comfort of good neighbors and friends was tough, but in the end I believe that we’ve made the right decision. Simplifying, downsizing and compacting one’s life is a good thing. Dream big, live small that’s my new motto.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Born to Run - Again

Lately I’ve been pondering this whole Ironman/marathon running gig that I’ve thrown myself into: is it healthy, is it purposeful, but unfortunately have come up with no major revelations. Luckily, however, Christopher McDougall, a Michael Pollanesqe writer, has also been pondering similar questions and has come up with some revelations. In his book, Born to Run, McDougall studies the Tarrahumara Indians of Northern Mexico to find out how they are able to run one hundred plus miles with apparent ease. What he finds is that these guys just love to run; they are not mutants with superhuman strength and stamina, they are just regular guys who enjoy bounding from rock to rock at the miles pass beneath their sandal clad feet.

I’ve been running for nigh on thirty years now and though I’ve had some good times I can’t exactly say I find running joyful, that is until last Monday, and all it took was a change in attitude. We were coming home from working on the cabin when I had Melony drop me off about seven, maybe eight miles from home. I figured a nice late afternoon run would be good after a weekend of pounding nails and sawing boards. The weather was nice - mid sixties scuddy clouds – the farms in the Snoqualmie Valley were in full bloom and from the very first step I made a conscious decision to “run happy.” I smiled the whole time, kept a nice even pace and stopped to pick blueberries, and even an apple, when I got a little hungry.

I reached the turn to my house way too early so I took a little detour through the woods. Coming up from McDonald Park required the ascent of a hill that nears cliff status but I just kept smil’n and strid’n and pushed right up no problem. I’m familiar with the trails that exit near my house because I used to mountain bike this area a lot, but now that the exit closest to home has been blocked off by development I had to venture onto unchartered territory. I kept heading north, or at least what I thought was north with the idea that I’d have to come out of the woods some time. After about twenty minutes of wandering around I popped out at the end of some road. I figured that the road had to go somewhere so I just followed it a couple three miles until it ran into the main road. I was about two miles downhill from home, no problem, this was a “fun run” and so I just motored on up. Fifteen seconds after setting foot in my driveway the hail storm hit. Sometimes you get lucky.

I learned that running only sucks if you make it suck. We humans are born to run, our ancestors didn’t live to run, they ran to live, all we have to do is awaken those memories.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Success Vs Significance

I'm finally back after an end of the summer hiatus. The house is sold, we take possession of the new house on Sept 14th, the kids are in their new schools, and with the exception of needing to be packing boxes I have a few minutes each day to write.

It must have been a few weeks ago now, but I recently heard a great interview on NPR with author/farmer David Masumoto One thing he said really struck me because I had just finished preaching to my son about the important role education plays in forming a successful life. Mr. Masumoto noted that he had pursued a life of significance, and not a life of success - the type of material success typically sought after in modern American culture.

Lately my definition of success has been whether or not I've reached a summit or a finish line: I topped out on that peak, I knocked off that race, and I must confess as to not really caring about the significance of my actions. I put a heck of a lot of work into doing things, but really how important are those things?

Significant - meaningful or influential - man that's a tough question: are my actions meaningful. Outside of being a parent I can't say as most of what I do has any meaning, time to start looking at my priorities through a different lens.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Baby We Were Born to Run

One hundred and two degrees here in Seattle today, we here in the Northwest just aren’t used to this kind of heat. I went for a run this morning – it was a mere ninety two at the time – along the old railroad grade near our house, and boy howdy was it nice to be out with nothing more than two shoes, a pair of shorts and a water bottle. I love running in the heat, it gives me what I call a good sweat, the kind of sweat that does what it is designed to do: evaporate and cool the body. It reminded me of just how well the human machine is designed.

I can’t even speculate as to how many times I’ve been accused by folks who neither engage in nor understand endurance sports as a zealot who doesn’t know when to say when. The underlying argument is that we humans just aren’t designed to run long distances and that I’m ruining my body. What a load of nonsense. The more I run the more I appreciate the fact that we humans are born to run.

No matter what side of the creation/evolution argument you are on (I hope you’re on the evolution side, but if you’re not that’s cool) the end result is the same: we were either created as runners or we evolved into runners. Prehistoric man didn’t saunter, he didn’t ramble, nor did he shuffle, he ran that’s how he got around, and we have the same physiology as that guy; many of us have it buried beneath a layer of fat, but it’s there none the less. Homo Sapiens have been a physical animal for about two hundred and fifty thousand years, he’s been a couch potato for about forty; I think I’ll bet on the two hundred and fifty thousand.

I suppose running isn’t for everybody, but for me I was born a runner and I’ll die a runner.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

In It To Win It

I have a good friend who says “adventure isn’t a race,” but on the flipside a race is a race, and I have to ask myself if I’m not racing then what am I doing on the course. I guess I should backup here; I’ve done a number of marathons, an ultra marathon, two Ironman races, who knows how many century rides and even a double century ride, but I’ve only participated I’ve never raced. If somebody passed me who cares, certainly not me, good luck brother, more power to ya sister, have a nice day, but lately I’ve been asking myself, hey man if you’re not trying to win then what exactly are you trying to do.

This line of thought really came to a head this past weekend during the Hagg Lake Triathlon down near Portland. I couldn’t do the race due to a lower back pain, but I went down with my two friends Stephanie and Piper and Piper’s high school buddy Jenna. The thing about Steph and Piper is the fact that they showed up Saturday morning ready and able to win the race – in the end Piper did win and Steph placed third. I mean they were in it to win it. This is totally foreign to me.

I’ve never entered a race with even the faintest idea of winning the thing I’ve always been the guy who was simply happy to be there: you know the line every finisher is a winner. I have one more Ironman in me and I have to ask myself just what am I doing out there. Currently I’m in the no man’s land somewhere between qualifying for the World Championships at Kona and simply crossing the finishing line in under seventeen hours. This is an eight hour gap.

I suppose the real question I have is how much is physical and how much is mental. No matter how many baskets I shoot in the driveway I’m never going to play in the NBA, this is just fact. No matter how many miles I ride I’m not going to ride the Tour. So what about being competitive in my age group in Ironman: in other words if I train harder and smarter and become willing to tolerate more race day pain would I be able to be competitive or is it a hopeless cause.

Before I step onto that beach in Coeur d Alene next year I’m going to have to decide am I in it t
o race or am I just out here for a long day with some nice people.

Monday, June 29, 2009


Bradley and I logged 17,000 vertical feet of climbing last Saturday. It was a spectacular day, all was right with the world.
Bradley approaching Chinook Pass

Ten miles without a single pedal turn

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Joe, Lori, Kris = Ironpeople

Spent the weekend over in Coeur d' Alene Idaho watching my friends Joe, Lori and Kris compete in the Ironman competition. This was Lori and Kris' first iron distance race and Joe's second. Everyone did great. Kris finished 14th in her age group with a devistating 11:40. She did everything right: trained hard and smart and raced hard and smart. She came out of the water in 45th place, she got off the bike in 10th. Lori knocked off the miles with a smile on her face from start to finish. After a great swim and bike Joe got knocked back due to a bad stomach, but he perservered: you just never know how you're body is going to react to that kind of punishment.

I was bummed about not being able to race this year, but I signed up for the 2010 race. This will be my last iron distance race, unless Sam or Sophia pull me out of retirement sometime down the road.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Know When to Walk Away

A good friend just sent me an email detailing the deaths of two climbers up on Denali. They were on the Messner Couloir. I don’t yet know the details of the accident, but I know that it wouldn’t take much to send a man rolling down that slope. I remember standing in the twilight at the 14,000 foot camp watching Adrian the Romanian ski that line - I thought for sure I’d see a man die that day.

Another friend, who left God’s country here in the Northwest for Park City snow, sent a second email telling about three super hot climbers who were recently swept into the next life by a Chinese avalanche. He sent along some cool video footage of the trio, man those guys were so full of life, what a loss.

Both accounts remind me of how happy I am to have made it out of the climbing world not simply alive, but also with enough intact fingers to type this here blog. I was never what you would consider a hot dog climber, but I did have a few “whoa boy you’d better keep it together lest ye meet yer maker” moments. Man I loved climbing, moving fast and light through the mountains with the best people humanity has to offer, there’s visceral joy in that, but it’s time to move on.

Life, I’ve discovered, comes at us in phases, and the secret, it seems, is the ability to not overstay your welcome in one phase and thereby miss the open door into the next. I’ve gone from climbing to endurance sports such as ultra running and Ironman triathlons, and I don’t regret the change. It was time for me to move on, to seek new opportunities and new challenges. Yeah I miss climbing, but I still have the friends, the memories, the self knowledge, and as Kenny Rogers said, “you got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run.” I counted my money while sitting at the table and lived to tell the story, which in the end is all that matters

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Never Go Full Retard

I just saw the funniest movie I've seen in years: Tropic Thunder. We watched it up at the cabin on the tiny set that Melony has had since high school (it has the same screen size as the original Macintosh computer) so I only caught every third word of dialogue, but still it was hillarious; I laughed so hard I bout busted a nut.

I've taught the kids four rules of behavior, but after watching Tropic Thunder I have to add a fifth. The original rules are:

  • Don't take what isn't yours
  • Tell the truth
  • Don't intentionally hurt anybody or anything
  • If you can't do good, look good
Now I have to add:
  • Never go full retard

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Gate

Following our tradition of slightly too big architecture Melony and I ripped out our old poorly constructed backyard gate, sunk a couple of eight by eight cedar posts and hung a gate that we made out of clear cedar. Premium cedar is easy for us to find as our good friend Hootie Clark owns and operates Issaquah Cedar, but finding the metal hardware did require some searching. I finally found some nice hardware at Stoneway Hardware located, surprisingly, on Stoneway in Seattle. It was a long drive, but any excuse to go into town is fine by me.

Few things in life are as enjoyable as a cold beer after a hard day of building something that actually turns out the way you had envisioned it, so I had two.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Fix

After a long week at camp with 130 fifth graders I was able to log enough garage time to finish my fixie.
Back in 1988 I got my first real job, as an engineer with Boeing, and spent one of my early paychecks on a 1987 Schwinn Prologue frame. I loaded it up with a Shimano 600 groupo bought from a deep sea diver living in Seattle's University District: he was in interesting guy, I wonder if he's still around. Well anyway that bike, complete with its downbar shifters and Biopace chainring lasted me nearly twenty years.
The Prologue is a high quality lugged frame made of Tange Prestige and just letting it sit around seemed a shame so I decided to give it a fixie makeover. I ground off all the braze-ons and had the frame stripped and powdercoated fire engine red. I cut out the old rear hub and re-laced it with a fixed hub. A little fingernail polish remover cleaned up the Cinelli bars and wa la I had a fixed gear bike.
I live atop a big hill and good thing I opted for the brake; if I hadn't I'd be writing this from a hospital bed.
This should make for some interesting riding, more to follow.

Fresh from the powdercoater

The finishing touches

Monday, May 18, 2009


Just when you think you're getting in shape you go out with a couple of guys who really take you to school. Joe and I are Saturday morning riding partners and over the years we've kind of found a common pace, we move along pretty well, but as it turns out that wasn't "well enough." Joe invited Bradley and Brian to join us on a fifty mile early morning ride yesterday; they pushed the pace three to five miles per hour faster than I am used to.

Honestly it was great to get out with some new folks and to really push your limits. I had to keep my head down and my legs circling just to stay on Brian's wheel. The worst part is I don't even think he was working that hard.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ride Hard

Joe and I went 96 miles to Granite Falls on Sunday. Beautiful weather, good roads, great company. Spent a few minutes early on watching vultures swoop out of their roosting trees to finish off a carcass - as Clint Eastwood, as the Outlaw Josey Wales, said: buzzard's gotta eat, same as a worm. Stopped at the Sultan Bakery for coffee and donuts. It's hard to find gloves cooler than the Knog Ride Hards, unless it's their Love/Hate fingerless model. Picked up a can of coffee at Granite Falls, wondered what the heck that shirtless guy across the street was doing; I guess life goes at a slower pace up there. Those mini cans of Starbucks milkysugarcoffee have become my new weapon of choice.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Three Truths

Four decades have taught me the Three Cosmic Truths:

Nothing Is Free
Nothing Is Fair
Everything Is Connected

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Haute Route 4/3/09

Cabane Bertol to Zermatt

Another sleepless night. We were in the winter room which we shared with the three young French guys and Denver the dog. He was one tired dog. They had come from Cabane Dix – a long day by any standard.

Had to use the outside bathroom twice, it was snowing and blowing and I didn’t know what to expect come dawn. At worst we could be stuck at the hut, second worse was low viz and totally missing the Matterhorn, at best was a clear and cold day with new powder. We got the third.
What a spectacular morning. We woke fifteen minute after the guided crowds as we figured that there would be quite a kerfungle getting down the ladders and chains. I was first in our group to the dining room and immediately stuck my head out the window, what a view: a cloudless blue sky sunrise over the Swiss Alps.

We took our time with our two pieces of bread with jam and our bowls of Nescafe Gold. Finally we pushed on our boots and stepped out the door; a guided was being belayed down the ladder. I think this was quite common. The clients were slow, but it gave me plenty of opportunity to shoot photos.

Once on the snow we skied through a col and then descended about 200 vertical feet through feathery powder onto the glacier. . The snow was great for skiing, but strenuous for the trail breaker. The guide who had broken trail yesterday was once again out in front. More power to him I say. I was just coming up for breakfast when he was hustling his group of Swedes out the door.

Oh what a glorious morning: sunshine, crystalline snow, mid teens. We skied quickly over relatively flat country before heading up to Tete Blanche. Bill kept bumping up against groups in front of us, as for myself I took the advice my artist friend, Dan Weimer, gives to some of his students: relax and lower your expectations.

We had to get over a few false summits before finally reaching the saddle below Tete Blanche. We made a right and followed the skin track going to the summit. I passed a couple of groups and was now behind the trial buster and his troop of Swedes. That guide was one tough bugger, he’d broken trail all day and was still going strong. The summit of Tete Blache is marked by an iron cross – certainly not uncommon in the Alps – below us the Zmutt Glacier flowed into Zermatt. The Matterhorn was front row center. I was so happy to see the famous mountain on this trip.

The sun was quickly heating up the fresh snow and so we hustled through the summit photos, clamped down our boots and dropped in. Bill and I took off out in front, the snow was good, but not as great as I had hoped. After loosing about a thousand feet we were in bottomless mashed potatoes. A guide came flying past and shouted to Bill and I “beau coup neige,” which I figure to mean something like “a lot of snow.” A group of free heelers from Ellensburg were suffering in the heavy stuff. There was also a Swedish tele guy who was cranking on his monster boards. Free heel turns weren’t coming cheap, but I was able to line some up. I overheard the Ellensburg crowd say “this is impossible,” so I felt a need to prove that it wasn’t.

Brian and Scott caught up to us at some avalanche debris. The slope seemed a bit tenuous so we dropped down gingerly and finally hit the straight run traversing in front of the Matterhorn. A delicate trip through an icefall put us on the final ride towards the Zermatt ski area.

We hit a road, walked about half a mile and then came to a small restaurant. Scott proposed a beer, Bill noted that it was only 11:30, so we hopped back onto our skis and dropped down the cat track and into the gondola station. An eight Franc gondola ride put us in front of four beers in Zermatt.

Self Portrait at the Cabane Bertol

Bill descending the chains

A good look at the Cabane Bertol

All smiles

Summit of Tete Blanche, the Matterhorn is in the distance

Monday, May 11, 2009

Haute Route 4/2/09

Arolla to Bertol Hut

Up and out of bed at 6:30 after yet another partially sleepless night. I don’t know what’s going on with my sleeping, went down to breakfast to find a king’s feast waiting. Scott cheffed up bacon and eggs while we gorged on cereal, yogurt, ham, cheese and bread. What a relief to finally have a high calorie breakfast prior to a big day in the mountains. The hut fare of Nescafe, bread and jam just doesn’t carry a body that far.

Caught a ride to the hydro plant at the end of the road, and were on the snow by 8:30. The slog up to the base of Mt. Collon was long and flat, the sky was spitting some misty rain and the snow was unpleasantly crusty. We made the hairpin at Mt. Collon where we climbed a small rise, off in the distance was a long train of bright colors.. A lot of teams were coming up from Vignettes. We had to wait in line to round a bit of a dicey corner, thankfully I had ski crampons. Scott had to boot it - would have been a bad fall if you’d gone off.

After the corner we trucked up the glacier to the Bertol hut. The skin track was crowded, but well packed, I just put my head down and pushed one ski in front of the other. Bertol is a crazy place. We gained the col, dropped our skis and then followed a chain on some high exposure icy rocks, up a ladder, another chained section, another ladder and then we were at the door; it was 1:00 – so 4.5 hours Arolla to Bertol. The hut filled up fast, it was at capacity and we were lucky to get beds. This is the first time we’ve been crowded in a hut.

Three French guys showed up at 6:30 – dinner time – with a large husky named Denver. They shared our table. This trio was the only other non-guided group in the cabane. Funny, we are some of the youngest people in the hut.

Cabane du Bertol - How do you get in there?

Ohh that's how

Bill climbing the ladder - not a good place to look down

Enjoying well earned eight dollar beers

Scott and BSAT on the sun deck

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Haute Route 4/1/09

Chanrion to Arolla

After a sleepless night in the stinky dormatorie #1 and another low-cal breakfast of bread, Nutella and coffee we were off and skinning by 7:30. We took our time getting out the door, letting the Germans, Welsh and four French Basques go out ahead. Having a broken trail didn’t last long, however, as the other teams went up the Breney Glacier on the right and we stayed on a moraine up the middle. We all met up at the icefall – everyone had elected to do the icefall instead of the Col du Serpentine. Two of the French guys struggled on skins while the rest of us donned crampons and booted up. One of the French dudes kicked steps all the way up. The icefall was a good alternative to the slog up the Otemma Glacier, which is the route the Swedish foursome had chosen.

At the top of the icefall the French team roped up and led out. Bill carried the rope in a guide coil but we didn’t tie together. The rope was good for the guy in front, but we felt safe following as we didn’t even see a hint of a crevasse. It has been a big snow year and the glaciers were totally buffed out.

The slog up to the Beney Col was just that – a slog. At the Col I pointed to the peak on the right and asked “Pigne De Arolla” to which the French team replied “no” and then they all pointed to the left. They headed out left while I waited for Bill, Brian, Scott. We map jammed and found that indeed the Pigne De Arolla was off to the right. The Germans came up and we had the same debate again, they thought the Pigne De Arolla was off to the left. Jurgen,pulled out a GPS that had a full map on the display, once again our position was confirmed – the route was to the right. The French foursome was on the road to nowhere.

We continued to the col below the Pigne De Arolla and descended on wind hammered snow towards the Otemma Glacier. After some debate we continued rightward and then made a hard left where we traversed beneath the wire, what that wire is for I don’t know, from the Vignettes Hut and hit the col below the hut. The Vignettes Hut looked inviting but despite its one hundred and thirty beds it was full; we hoped for something better in Arolla – something worth losing all that altitude. We started down towards Arolla on some delicate corn, and passed a lot of parties coming up. I talked to a couple of groups and they were all coming from the Dix Hut via Arolla, kind of out of the way but I suppose straight forward enough. Back in 2000 Bill and I had gone from the Dix to Vignettes via Pigne De Arolla.

The ski down to Arolla wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined, it got a bit thick at the bottom, but I managed to stay vertical most of the time. I had made reservations at the Hotel Kurhaus, it was a bit of a hump up getting to it, but in the end the extra walk was worth it. What a great hotel, we all shared a single room – cozy but nice. The much needed shower felt great.

With clean bodies and stinky clothes we hit the town. Thankfully the Hotel manager loaned Scott and I some Croc-like shoes, so we didn’t have to clomp around in our ski boots. We had a couple of beers on a terrace where I used Scott’s phone to call Melony, Sam and Sophia. It was good to talk to home - it was 7:30 AM in Seattle and Melony was getting the kids ready for crazy hair day.

After trying to get a table in a little basement place we went back to the hotel and threw down $150 on a birthday dinner for Bill. Bill, Scott and I had the set dinner of pork and olives with cauliflower, while Brian ordered something that came with a fancy dried meat salad, man that looked good.

We all drank a lot of free water and then were in bed by 9:00. I’ve been a bit dehydrated during the tour as water at the huts cost CF 2.00 (almost $2.00) per liter. We bought some good stinky cheese and dried meat at the little market in Arolla, that’ll keep up fed between huts.

The trip from Chanrion to Arolla took 6.5 hours.

Ascending the Breney Glacier in dubious weather

Bill below the Icefall

Map jam at the Breney Col

The Vignettes Hut clinging to the cliff

A good meal with good friends

Monday, May 4, 2009

Haute Route 3/31/09

Valsorey Hut to Chanrion Hut

Horrible night’s sleep, awake most of the night, when I was asleep I had nightmares. Yesterday on the ascent to Valsorey we got in the middle of some wet, point-release slides, in hindsight they weren’t that big of a deal but I guess they kind of shook me up. I think that the aura of the Plateau Du Couloir, combined with the left-over anxiety of the slides, had me a bit freaked out, and kept me awake. I should be tired tonight.

The sleeping room was quite warm, perhaps too warm. The hot stink really hit me in the face after returning from my many forays to the outhouse. I was already awake when my alarm went off at 6:00. I laid in bed till 6:10, no other folks moving, but I decided we’d better get going. Packed and down to breakfast at 6:30. We shared the hut with twelve other folks:
4 French
4 Swedes (2 husband/wife pairs)
2 Germans from Freiburg
2 Welsh

The French (Basque) were very stand-offish, the Swede ladies were nervous about the Plateau Du Couloir, while the Welsh and Germans were pretty cool.

We were skinning up to the Plateau Du Couloir by 7:15 – it took about two hours to reach the top. It was some exposed skiing and I sure was glad to have my ski crampons. Skinned about two thirds of the way up; the final third was in crampons. Bill busted trail the entire way. Scott made it about halfway on his split snowboard before he packed it up and started booting. The climb wasn’t super difficult, but a fall wouldn’t have ended on a positive note. Snow was very slabby and a bit nerve-wracking. All of the other parties were at least half and hour behind.
Skied over to the Col du Sonadon, and then descended horrid breakable crust – I mean really bad. A few big traverses and several good descents put us in the valley below the Chanrion Hut. We could see a good portion of the route behind us, but we never saw the other parties. The final six hundred foot climb to the hut was easy and we pulled in at 1:00. The French team came in around 2:30 and the other parties filtered in till 4:00.

We ordered up some pasta with meat sauce for lunch – that hit the spot.

Saw what I think was a Chamoix on the ascent to the hut, and stopped to take a few photos with the big telephoto. The weather was spectacular, couldn’t have asked for better. Right now clouds are coming in from Italy. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

Plateau du Couloir

Big country ahead
We even manged to ski (and ride) a bit

Chanrion Hut

Time to relax

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Haute Route 3/30/2009

Bourg-St. Pierre to Valsorey Hut

Woke up at 7:00 AM. I had had an acceptable but certainly not a stellar night’s sleep. Bill got me out of my little one man bed and then I rousted Brian and Scott who were both dead to the world. Downstairs I found a breakfast of champions: fried eggs, granola, bread, jam, ham cheese, OJ and coffee. We each had three pulls off of the shiny espresso machine. The left-over ham and cheese was wrapped in napkins and stuffed into Scott’s pack.

We began the climb across the road from the hotel, and we were skinning by the reasonable time of 9:00. Freezing rain had coated the highway with a slick layer of ice and we nearly had to don crampons just to make it across without breaking a hip. A one hour gradual ascent up a road leading to a river drainage brought us to the Valsorey Hut/Velan Hut fork. The modern curves of the steel clad Velan Hut came into view; we were still searching for our destination. We continued up a narrow chute that opened up to a plateau. Finally Bill spotted the Valsorey Hut; the little stone and timber structure was maybe fifteen hundred vertical feet away. Stopped for lunch at about 9000 feet, the sky had cleared, and it was time for some sunscreen. The final 1000 feet were a bit of a struggle, two slough release avalanches clenched me up pretty tight. Above us new snow hung to rapidly warming dark rocks. Luckily the sloughs were slow moving and you could hustle to get out of the way.

We arrived at the hut at a little past one in the afternoon. A slow moving Welsh pair was in front (Bill and I had caught them at the avalanches) and a French quad came up behind. A group of four showed up at 4:45, we had passed them earlier in the day; I wonder what had taken them so long.
Scott nice and warm inside the Valsorey hut

Our home for the night

Velan Hut - see it there on the ridge

Brian starting across the avalanche slopes

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Haute Route 3/38-3/29/09

Travel Day – Seattle-Amsterdam-Geneva-Martigny-Sembracher-Orsieres-Bourg-St. Pierre

Everything had to work like a Swiss watch if we were going to make it to Bourg-St. Pierre Sunday night. The critical link was in Orsieres: we had to catch the last bus, so any missed connection would have ended with us stranded one stop short of our starting point.

We changed into our mountaineering clothes and packed our backpacks in the Geneva Airport. We were doing a point A to point B trip and would have to ditch our street clothes and any miscellaneous travel gear somewhere along the way – we figured on stuffing it all into a couple of lockers in the Martigny train station.

Thank goodness for Swiss precision, we arrived in B.-St. P at around 6:30 – exactly as planned. Everyone was a bit jet-lagged especially Bill who had just come from Asia via Salt Lake City and Detroit. Scott is the type of guy who really needs one of those transporters like they had in Star Trek – in other words he likes to be places and doesn’t necessarily enjoy getting to places – he visibly relaxed when we stepped off the bus in this snowy little Alpine Hamlet. As for myself, I worry not one bit when I’m with the boys, there’s nothing we can’t handle.

Bourg-St. Pierre is a small village hanging to a hillside below the Col Du St. Bernard, at the Swiss-Italian border. Bill and I spent two days here in 2000 and it looked exactly as it did eight years ago. I couldn’t remember where we had stayed in 2000, so after making an internet search I reserved us a couple of rooms at the L’Hostellerie Du Moulin, which, as it turns out, is owned by a French speaking Swiss guy named Stephan. He was a gracious host and served us a big fondue/pizza dinner despite the fact that we had tried to go to another restaurant first. During our walk to the hotel we passed by the place we had stayed at in 2000 - the Hotel Aubergine – which had served us an amazing fondue. We wanted more of the same so after two beers at the Moulin we went to the Aubergine. The place was packed; the entire town must have been there. We were shoed out of the place – no room at the inn – and so we returned to see Stephan. I think it turned out for the best, we had a big fondue then some pizza, some wine and finally some high test white lightening that Stephan had poured into four tiny shot glasses. Was in bed and snoring by 10:00. We had worked hard to stay awake all day in order to minimize jet lag, and I looked forward to a well-earned rest.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Hot Foot

Had a big day on Saturday, literally moved a mountain – a twelve cubic yard mountain of bark to be exact – using only a grain scoop and a wheel barrow. The whole family was out working in the yard and we made a big burn pile, incinerating everything that was dry enough to ignite. When everything that could burn was burned we had a huge pile of glowing embers, I was raking them out, feeling the heat when I said to my eleven year-old son, “bet I can walk through that - barefoot.” Well one thing led to another and soon I stood shoeless and sockless at the edge of the glowing coals. I cleaned away any rocks that might have stuck to my feet and gingerly walked across; I then turned around and came back. Cant' say that it was totally pain free.

In hindsight walking barefoot across glowing coals in front of your elementary school age children probably wasn’t all that smart. Going to bed that night Melony said, “I bet if we took the thousand closest fathers not one of them would have been stupid enough to do that.” I took that as a compliment.