Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Mt. Tam(pon)

Last Thursday we gave the backpacking gear a chance to prove itself and found out some things we already know (our stove doesn't work, we bring too much food) and some things we didn't know (our tent is definitely too short for some of us). We headed just north of San Francisco to Mt. Tamalpais - affectionately known as Mt. Tam - for a three night excursion in preparation for the High Sierras. After camping up at the ranger station the first night, we won a two man lottery for a campsite down at the seashore. We packed up (the only time we carried all our gear) and hiked 2-3 miles downhill to the campsite overlooking the ocean and Stinson Beach just to the North.
The next day we left most of our gear and went for a marathon hike from sea level up Mt. Tam (2700+ ft.), down to Muir Woods, up and back down to the campsite. Needless to say it was quite a day and we appropriately rewarded ourselves with a feast of top ramen, mac and cheese, tuna, and chocolate oatmeal for dessert. Above is the view from the top looking East at toward Rafael.
Dizzle, the campfire-making legend, just about foreshadowed the Angora Fire in Tahoe on Friday night, when he nearly started the whole campsite on fire. I was humbly setting up the tent in the roaring coastal winds when I hear an explosion and turn around to see 4-5 different fires outside the campfire in dry brush! He is also holding a flaming fuel tank and throws it into some more brush to start another fire. Panicking, we move in quickly on the fire with feet and water bottles and somehow manage to stave off disaster and preserve the natural beauty of the Northern California coast. When we weren't threatening to set the wilderness on fire, we typically spent a long time cooking (we didn't bring firewood and our stove didn't work as mentioned) playing Go, and reading books that were entirely too heavy to bring on a backpacking trip. We slept terribly in the tent, it is entirely too short for Colton. Below is our campsite at the shore.
Dave picked us up on Sunday at Stinson Beach where one weary traveller was comforted with a cheeseburger. Monday morning we got a tour of Michelle's sweet new apartment in Berkeley which is about ten times the size that she describes it as. She took us to meet Uncle Tom in Vallejo, who took us out to In N Out Burger and brought us up to Camino in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas where we are staying with Aunt Cathy. Muchas Gracias Tomas. With Bobby, Tommy and Tanner all home for the summer, we are having quite a Wii and Basketball festival. And now for Dizzle's account. Please excuse the confusion of having two accounts in non-sequential order.

Colt hardly mentioned our stay at the Hoyt's house, which was extraordinary. Mr. and Mrs. Hoyt were very generous with their house and cooked excellently. We owe them big time. Thanks also go out to Dave, for driving us to and from our expedition. In Berkeley, we did a fair amount of hanging out and planning, but I'd say that the stay was highlighted by our trip to this excellent cinema where they serve beer and pizza. Beer and pizza at a movie theater, yes, you heard right. Well the movie wasn't that great (Hot Fuzz), but the atmosphere was incredible. Plus price of admission was a mere 3 bucks, which s great considering our tight budget.

Then, as noted above by Colt, we headed out to Mt. Tam, staying at Pantoll station the first night. Here's our camp.

As I noted in my journal, we weren't exactly roughing it with running water less than 20 yards from our campsite. Our first full day we hiked up halfway up Mt. Tam where we meant two kind women, Mary Jane and someone else. They were very excited for our proposed trip to Desolation Wilderness and kept trying to feed us or have us stay at their house. We resisted the urge for a return to civilization and headed down to the sea, picking up our gear on the way, via the Steep Ravine Trail, where we camped on some cliffs overlooking the ocean. The waves were quite spectacular as they broke on the rocks.

The hike down was quite beautiful; since the trail followed a stream, we were hiking amidst giant redwoods and lush vegetation, while the water gurgled alongside us. Once we got down to our camp, we realized our relative isolation from other trails and were dismayed at the prospect of hiking back up the trail from whence we came. As Colt noted, I nearly set the entire meadow on fire, which was pretty embarrassing. Luckily we put the fire out quickly and settled down to a dinner of disgusting, overcooked instant mac and cheese. The sunset on the water was spectacular, although Colt didn't turn out as well.

The next day we hiked back up Steep Ravine Trail to the Pantoll station, then continued up Mt. Tam. I actually found the views on the way up to be more satisfying than the one from the peak because the peak was covered with people, structures, and power lines. Nonetheless, it was a great 360 degree view of San Fran, Oakland, and the surrounding wilderness. Having reached the top in a mere 3 hours and 45 minutes at 12:30, we ambitiously began our descent, planning to take a roundabout way through John Muir National Monument. Well, the heat of the day got to us a little bit once we got down into the valley of the redwoods. Looking at the map, we realized that we had hiked down nearly to sea level, which meant that we had nearly another 1000 vertical feet to climb over a ridge separating us from our campsite. 5 o'clock rolled around and our provisions got low. Luckily we had found a stash of pistachios on top of Mt. Tam and made a late afternoon feast out of the nuts - very salty, but delicious. We then began our ascent and returned to camp by 7 o'clock. Since it was our last night in the wild, we cooked most all of our remaining food and had a big meal of ramen, mac and cheese, oatmeal, and our regular treat of hershey's chocolate. I tried the ramen without cooking it, but merely soaking it in water, a la Mike Siciliano of Swarthmore, PA. I found it edible and will be bringing ramen on our trip into Desolation Wildnerness, despite the lack of a stove.

Our last day we hiked down to Stinson beach and waited around for Dave to come pick us up. I fell asleep on the beach with the wind whipping sand all around me (I was nearly buried by the time I woke up) while Colt made his way to the nearest restaurant and ordered a cheeseburger (lame). Dave showed up at the beach, dog in tow, and we headed back to civilization.

As Colt noted, we're now just outside of Sacramento, staying with his Aunt and cousins. They've been extremely generous with their house and food and much thanks goes out to them. Tomorrow morning, bright and early, Colt, Bobby (Colt's cousin), and I head to Desolation Wilderness for a five night stay. As you may have heard in the news, there has been a large fire in Tahoe, but it seems to be contained now and hopefully will not have scared bears into our path.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Last Wednesday, Mr. Andrew Leclair (see picture below) and I arrived on the Greyhound in Pittsburgh on our first leg towards the music Mecca that is the Bonnaroo Music Festival. Graciously picked up by Dizzle, we traveled back to his mom's abode in SE Ohio at the Olney (Referred to as Only by this group of travellers) Friends School (Yes, it's Quaker) in Barnesville. We burned some locally-raised filet mignon and passed out.

Thursday morning we woke up and left at about 10am. The drive down to Manchester, TN was supposed to be about 8 - 9 hours. After insane traffic in Nashville and waiting in a massive line to get into Bonnaroo, we finally arrvied at our campsite at midnight. Yes, you did do the math right, that is 14 hours in the car and we are forever indebted to Mary Ellen for the use of her Honda CRV stallion.

So, what the heck is Bonnaroo like? As an engineer, I propose the following equation:

Bonnaroo = (Loud Music + Dust + Heat + Camping + Drugs - Inhibitions) x 4 days x 80,000 people

It is amazing that more people don't die at this thing. From what we heard, a guy died on the first day and a musician passed out on stage from heat stroke. We managed to survive through numerous trips to the water well, skillful and diligent application of sunscreen and by adhering to a strict drug-free regiment. Also, Bonnaroo is huge! Apparently we were one of the last cars to get there because we were in the worst campsite. It took us 40 minutes just to walk to the stages! Of course it was too hot to do in one go, so we had to divide the trip up into legs with water and shade stops. I don't think it was too far off from crossing a small desert everyday.

We were also greeted every morning by vendors of uranium, plutonium, rolls, Mali, headies, dank, chocolate mushrooms, balloons and everything in between. We did eventually make it to Centeroo where the music was and we saw about as many sets as possible. There were two outdoor stages, three tents and several other venues for movies, comedy, etc. All the stages were humorously named: What Stage, Which Stage, That Tent, This Tent, That Other Tent, etc. I don't believe we were the only ones to continuously get into a "Who's on first?" charade when discussing where we were headed next. Dizzle will now give his picks on best music from the weekend.

The disclaimer for this ranking is that its completely subjective. How much I liked a show depended entirely on my mood, energy, and where I was in the audience. Also, we missed a bunch of shows that I'm sure others loved.

1. Bob Weir and Ratdog. Early Sunday afternoon, when everyone was exhausted and just about ready to go home, we headed over to the mainstage. I'd heard from friends that his shows have not been that great, but I was completely blown away. He walks onto stage wearing some sandals, hiking shorts that exposed much of his thigh, and a t-shirt. He looked like he just got back from a walk in the park with his wife. But then he procedes to play some great tunes, very bluesy with a great saxophone accompniment. Of the many songs he played, my favorite were Franklin's Tower and Throwing Stones.

2. The Police, featuring God (aka Sting). So I really wasn't too excited about this show going into it. I mean I like the Police and all, but they're nothing special. I read that they were the top selling band of the eighties, but the eighties were a shitty decade for music. We got to the show on Saturday night and were just sitting down by the mist tent, cooling off after the hot day. Once they started playing, we pushed our way up front, led by Colt as usual. The music was great and the show was even better. Sting gets the entire audience to chant some ridiculous shit and everyone is really into it, which is why he thinks he's God. The drummer was pretty amazing and old looking and the bass just pumps right through you. Nearing the end of the show, someone comes over the P.A. and announces that Sting will take off his clothes and dance with the audience. Well he takes off his shirt and dances around and plays some. The women behind us were going absolutely nuts "Take it all off Sting!" The most hilarious part of the show was after, when this huge pack of people all try to leave at once. Thousands of people all shuffling in unison as they make their way to other stages. Lots of mooing lightened the mood.

3. Franz Ferdinand. I always kind of thought these guys sucked when I heard them on the radio. Sure some of their songs are catchy and have some good hooks, but it didn't seem like there was much to them. Well, we had a pretty good vantage point and this guy just comes out and rocks our socks off. Everyone's waving Scottish flags around and dancing up a storm.

4. Sasha and Digweed. Saturday night, starting at around 2 am, we went over to one of the tents because we weren't enjoying the Flaming Lips all that much. We ended up in a trance show that was pretty intense. I'm fairly certain that about 50-70% of the people at this show were on extacy. Even though I wasn't, the music really drove you and made it easy to lose yourself. Also, it was really loud.

5. The White Stripes. I really felt like this show was similar to Franz Ferdinand. I think I liked the Ferdinand show better simply because I wasn't as tired. But that's not to say the Stripes didn't rock. For those of you that don't know, this is a brother/sister band, with sis on the drums and bro on the guitar and vocals. Without a bass, the sound is a little shallow, but they make up for that with energy.

6. Girl Talk. Colt really didn't like this show that much, but Andy and I loved it. This guy just mixes pop songs over a bumping beat and then goes wild on the stage.

7. The Brazilian Girls. This band's name is very deceptive, as there is only one girl and none of the performers are Brazilian. The lead singer (the woman), is a great performer and really carries the show. For most of the show, she wore a gigantic circular mirror on her back, so that she was reflected out towards the audience. Also, it was the first show that we saw and it really set a good tone for the festival. As a reggae band, the Brazilian Girls had a lot of competition, but I though they were the best of the bunch.

8. Ziggy Marley. Speaking of reggae...really not a lot to say about this show. It was hot, he was good, and his best songs will always be when he covers his dad's.

9. Widespread Panic. Although these guys were good, I thought they were the biggest dissapointment of the show. Everyone talked about them all weekend, so I was kind of excited, especially since they were the final act of Bonnaroo. Don't get me wrong, they're good. They know what they're doing and they don't make any mistakes with their music. But they just weren't special. Colt and Andy really enjoyed sleeping to them.

10. The Hold Steady. Having seen this band at Olde Club, they had an impossible task of topping that performance. They were awesome and the crowd loved them, but when you've already been sweated on by the guy, it's hard to get as excited as seeing them from 100 yards away.

11. Aesop Rock. Kinda like the Beasty Boys. They were the only rap show that we went to, and I liked them a bit.

12. Tool. Colt got to this show and pushed his way forward to the front, so he had a great time. Andy and I, however, both fell asleep. Yes, I fell alseep during a Tool concert.

13. The Flaming Lips. They had a really great light show, but all the lead singer wanted to do was talk. Maybe would've liked them better if we'd stuck around, but the bass from Sasha was calling.

14. Spearhead. Another reggae band. The lead singer had 3 things that he really liked to say: 1, jump up and down; 2, let me see you clap your hands; and 3, a combination of 1 and 2. He just loved to see the audience doing things on his command. Following the Brazilian Girls, this guy couldn't really compete.

15. Manu Chao. Totally dissapointing. Another reggae band, when I was expecting a more electronic sound that they put out about 5-8 years ago. Also, we skipped the Roots for this show. Bummer.

16. The String Cheese Incident. If I tried to imagine a prototypical jam band sound, it would sound just about exactly like these guys.

Bands I wish I'd seen: Wolfmother, the Roots, Wilco, The Black Keys, and the WMD's. I'd already seen Wolfmother, plus they conflicted with Bob Weir, so there was no way I was going to see them.

Wow, nice picks Dizzle, but I gotta disagree with a couple:

1. Bob Weir and Ratdog - good call, also great performance of "Help on the Way/Slipknot!"

2. Tool - Hard to rank a band when you fall asleep, but for those that were awake they rocked the hardest. Also, great finish with "Lateralus", "Vicarious" and "Aenema".

3. Sasha and Digweed - Dizzle forgot to mention that the bass was driving, also the light show was probably second only to Tool and it was probably the loudest show we saw.

4. The Police - They have popular songs and it was entertaining at least.

5. Brazilian Girls - This girl lead singer was amazing. She brought a guy from the crowd up on stage, made out with him, and then smoked a joint. She had the most attitude we saw all weekend.

6. White Stripes / Franz Ferdinand - Hard to seperate, pretty similar, both great shows.

Shows that sucked:

Kings of Leon - not a fan of christian rock
Flaming Lips - will you shut up already and play a song?
Feist - we got bad advice on this one - the lead singer was not hot
String Cheese - lame

So that was our Bonnaroo experience in general. One final tidbit, we have to give a shout out to the Tennesee girls camping next to us. They saved our skin with their shade and they had nice accents and were nice.

Hopefully Andy got home safely, we flew out to California on Tuesday and are staying with Dave Hoyt - Swarthmore soccer alum extaordinare. Dizz and I are heading out to the Mt. Tamalpais State Park for a few days of camping. Smell ya later.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

"Welcome" and "Thank You"

So....we graduated from college. Swarthmore College to be exact. Thank you to all those who made it out to sweat it out (in the humidity). Peggy, Dylan, Billy and Grandma! (Mom and Dad as well and K-Factor). Duncan had a large contingent which was sweet because I felt like they were on my side as well.

Graduation was pretty cool I guess. If you're into cult ceremonies you would have enjoyed the strange robes of the faculty and the frequent "Quaker" moments of silence. The speakers were pretty decent. I thought the class speaker was overrated and should have made more jokes about her self-plagiarism scandal (whole story in-person only).

In four years we have gained all the tools needed to now go out and conquer the world, shoot for the stars, or build our cathedral, depending on whatever metaphor you like. What are we actually trained to do now? Not much really, become an academic maybe. Even with an engineering degree, I am not really as employable as a state school grad with the technical training to jump straight into a design firm. I guess 160 large doesn't buy what it used to. Of course, the real problem is not that I am unemployable, but rather that it is pretty difficult to do Swarthmore and look for jobs at the same time. I am confident that I am not in the vast minority when saying that I do not know what I am doing next year.

Naturally, I am not fretting (it's not like I have Giardia or something). Graduation gives me the opportunity to do what I have not had the chance to do yet in my life - that is, whatever I want, wherever I want (subject to some budgetary constraints of course). This seems to include concerts, California, summer, backpacking, Chelsea, Westport, though there will be more to come for sure.

Thus, we come to the motivation behind this blog. Maybe you remember the blog from Poland. Maybe you remember that it dominated most of the time. Anyway, I am going to keep the blog updated with me and Duncan (Dizzle)'s adventures across America. I will also be attempting to obtain a job or something for next year throughout all of this. My current plan is to secure some environmental work with AmeriCorps, possibly in California, Nevada or Maryland (?). I am pretty much open to anything, though, so we'll see what happens. Also, I am including Dizzle in all of this because I am hoping that he will do some blogging as well and he will be the photo man, although I haven't talked to him about it yet...

In the immediate future, I am staying my last night in "the barn" tonight, which is an off-campus apartment project which looks like a barn but is really not. I am planning to cook dinner for the vegetarians in my apartment tonight to thank them for letting me stay and feeding me - Waverly, Annie, Lilli (Michelle was around but moved to California last weekend). Also they showed me that the barn is a cool place to live even if it is not the commune it's cracked up to be. Tomorrow, Andrew Leclair and I take a 7 hour bus to Pittsburgh to meet up with Dizzle and prepare for the Bonnaroo Music Festival ( for the lineup). We drive down to it on Thursday (it's in Manchester, TN, almost dirty south). Next update will probably be after that, so you're not gonna wanna miss it.