Tuesday, June 19, 2007

It has been almost a month since I've put anything up on this site, which is really rather pathetic. For the past few weeks I've quite literally had absolutely no excuse for not posting. It has been a terrific, diverse month since I've last posted encompassing everything from an awesome week long road trip with Sarah to spending an entire NBA finals game sitting next to Ahmad Rashad. There are innumerable anecdotes in between, and one of the reasons I haven't posted is because at this point recounting them would be far too much like work. I'm also OCD enough to be unable to simply write up a few highlights--and even the few highlights would constitute a massive post. I realized the other night that the point of this blog was for it to be fun for me, and that getting a post up had become a stressor. That is just ridiculous (read: idiotic). What this means is that I am going to be taking a hiatus from blogging for the foreseeable future. In the next few days I'll post some pictures of the past month, and then disappear from the Web for a while. I'll send out an e-mail when/if I get back to blogging. Thanks for reading.


Monday, May 21, 2007

In order to avoid unbridled amounts of grief from my father, I would like to point out that despite the reference in my previous post, I am not, in fact, of Armenian descent. My father was a wandering Aramean, thus once again proving the evils of spell check.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

In a somewhat shocking development, I am, in fact, alive. For the past couple of weeks I've been blissfully out of e-mail contact, and truth be told, for the past week or so I've been meaning to blog and having trouble figuring out how to encapsulate my month without writing a Russian novel. (The Russian novel form was out once I realized no one I know has had consumption. Yet.) It has been a terrific trip on many levels, from the simple awe of natural beauty to more internal experiences. My initial draft of this blog post read as follows: "Writing one of my long-winded trip accounts would be highly problematic due to the similarity of much of my time (hiked to X, X was beautiful. legs hurt) and the mental health of my readers, so I've opted for a more streamlined version. I'll break this post down into a few sections, and you can read whatever interests you." Turns out that was just a tease, because what follows is a long-winded, rambling trip account that jumps back and forth like Mexican beans. Best of luck. For the impatient, here is a link to 20 pictures.

Since my last post, I've been to 6 national parks, 4 state parks, 2 national monuments, 2 national recreation areas, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. I've also eaten rattlesnake. I'm currently in LA house/dog sitting for my cousins who are down in San Diego. Sarah comes out tomorrow and, after a week of much needed nothingness, I restart the cross country extravaganza on Monday. (Extravaganza, for some reason, brings to mind sequins and fireworks) I pretty much collapsed once I got to Santa Monica, I think the whole moving out/rotator cuffs/3 weeks of hiking finally caught up with me. In addition to spending a bunch of time with Frank, a very good friend from forever, (and one who appreciates the quiet glory of sitting on a boat in the middle of a lake drinking mojitos out of plastic tubing) I've been seeing a good deal of Kevin, Alisa and their two boys Max and Ezra. (3 and 10 months, respectively) Max is pretty outrageously cute, and, as always, the attention of a child is the world's best ego trip. It's hard not to feel pompous when Max asks his mother why I can't live with them always. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, this absentee "Uncle" thing is really a good gig. Now, lest my mind wander like my Armenian ancestors, we return to the beginning.

Those of you who read my South America trip e-mails are probably sick of me fawning over pretty rocks, glaciers, waterfalls, and what have you, but I really am perpetually amazed by the amount of beauty in the world. The scale of the Southwest is also shocking--as someone who has very little experience with domestic travel, this trip made me realize that it is quite possible to spend a lifetime traveling without a passport and still not run out of things to see. The pictures tell the story better than words, and even the pictures fail in attempts to capture the odd mixture of raw power and serenity that is the National Parks of Utah. Of course, the serenity is somewhat hampered by the crowds, but venturing out on the longer, less popular day hikes usual affords you relative calm. My favorite stereotypical moment: after hiking to breathtaking Delicate Arch, the following conversation occurred:

New Yorker: Hey buddy, how about you move from under the Arch so the rest of us can take pictures?
Texan: I drove 2000 miles to put my hand on this damn slab of rock, and I'm not going anywhere
New Yorker: Listen [expletive], you aren't the only one who came a long to see that thing.
Texan: Then its a good thing I got here first. (evil belly laugh)

By about the midpoint of the trip, I was certainly pretty damn sick of clambering over slick rock, but overall I was actually pleasantly surprised by the geographic variety in the parks I visited. I'm already making plans to return. "Favorites" are impossible to distinguish, as each experience is colored by those before and after, but a few moments stand out. The hike out to the waterfall at Calf Creek (In between Capitol Reef and Bryce) was terrific. Seeing all that water, and its impact on the surrounding foliage, after two weeks in a desert climate was almost surreal, and the hike itself was a pleasant, easy jaunt. I also fell in love with Kodachrome Basin State Park, about 30 minutes from Bryce. (Bryce was another favorite, the "hoodoos" are otherworldly, majestic, captivating, etc. It was snowing [in May] when I was there, along with a bitter whipping wind, but it is a place I must get back to.) Not only was Kodachrome Basin blissfully uncrowded, but the rocks formations are this beautiful pink hue, and jut out in a wide variety of gorgeous, yet disturbingly phallic forms. The campground was also far and away the most pleasant I encountered, and I ended up staying there 3 nights. Of course, it was so windy that after returning to my tent one night the inside was literally caked in sand. Everything--clothes, sleeping bag, air mattress---it looked like Pompeii. That night, it dipped to about 25, a touch cold to be sleeping outside, although a dram of Balvenie warmed my spirits. The next day I returned from hiking to find that the wind was so fierce it had ripped my tent stakes out and suspended my tent in a tree. At this point, I realized that the camping portion of my trip was over.

Overall, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed both camping out and doing this trip alone. I do think a trip like this, that is inherently more of an internal experience, is much more conducive to going solo than, say, a trip to New York. It was also greatly facilitated by the physical nature of the trip--when you spend six hours hiking, then pitch your tent and make dinner, by the time you crawl into your bag you are too tired to get overly ruminative. After I ended up spending a night at a Best Western I realized that sleeping on the ground with torn rotator cuffs may make my shoulders hurt, but being out in the parks and sleeping in a Best Western makes my soul hurt. I ended up not doing any of the back country stuff I wanted to do, instead making due with camping in the established campgrounds. This was both as a result of my shoulders (carrying the overnight pack around=not good) and simple bad luck. Driving out to the trail head for an overnight in the Needles district of Canyonlands, I noticed the storm clouds getting progressively more threatening, and congregating over my destination. By the time I got there the thunder was rolling, and when I got out to take a look I was promptly greeted by twin lightning strikes, more thunder, and a raven crossing my path. I settled for a couple of day hikes, and was proven correct when it began to pour in earnest. The raven ended up being a light motif actually---one of them tried to steal my license plate, and at the top of a mountain pass the wind was so strong that a raven literally couldn't fly. (This was more interesting than it sounds---Ravens are big birds and to see one get bossed around was really unusual.) Of course, people complain about how aggressive the birds are, yet proceed to feed them Fritos. One of the scarier moments on the trip was when, after an elderly, corpulent lady fed a raven half a Twinkie from her hand, she informed her friend "oh yeah, he takes it real nice. all sweet and gentle like." Umm, ew.

Being divorced from technology was really terrific, and definitely made me think a bit about what makes me happy. Spending the day hiking, making dinner and then sitting outside smoking a pipe and drinking scotch---that makes me happy. I'm such a high octane/stress producing person that putting myself in the polar opposite situation is tremendously beneficial. You also realize just how "plugged in" we are. When I got to the aforementioned Best Western I immediately checked my e-mail, turned on the TV, used my cell, etc. Being in situations where you are not so constantly bombarded with stimuli is remarkably, well, relaxing. Now, I'm not saying that I want to live in a yurt in southern Utah, but having a "simpler" existence, weeding out all the bullshit, does have its appeal. I'm doing a pretty poor job of recounting my time, but the truth is that it didn't yield that sort of stories that my trips to South America and Thailand did. Rather, it was just a stretch of constant wonder at the natural beauty of our world, mixed with anger at the way we treat it, and a wistful longing for a less complicated existence. (As in, a lobotomy) Don't worry, I'm not going to go all granola on you. In all seriousness, I can be a, ahem, large personality, and doing this trip by myself, being fairly self-contained, was just really nice. It was also pretty much the perfect length---by the end of it, I was quite ready to see people I care about and sleep in a bed.

What I wasn't ready for, however, was Vegas. It doesn't get much more jarring than going from quiet desert harmony to the ritz and glitz of Vegas, with only a quick detour to Hoover Dam in between. I had never been to Vegas before, and it really is another planet. Eight of the ten largest hotels in the world are in Vegas. It truly is Disney Land for adults. My mother (she met me there) and I ate at a restaurant, "Picasso" that derived its name from the collection of original Picasso's prominently displayed in the dining room. The value of money also changes in Vegas---in order to get anywhere you have to walk through the casinos, you practically can't take a piss without spending twenty bucks. We saw one guy lose a grand on blackjack in all of five minutes. You just have to give in and embrace the absurdity, but after two days your eyes are spinning like the slots and you need to get the hell out of dodge. We did see a terrific Cirque de Soleil show "KA", which aside from being obscenely visually compelling was a great lesson in storytelling. From Vegas my mom and I drove through Death Valley en route to L.A. Death Valley is a pretty fascinating place in its own right---it was a cool 112 when we were there, but hey, at least it was a dry heat. I could write for days about each of the individual parks, but that would bore you and exhaust me. I also think that a play by play of each hiking trail would be about as exciting as grits. That being said, you should all feel free to buy me a beer and I'll ramble on till my heart's content. I'll try and do another update when I get to Chicago. Until then, good night, and have a pleasant tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

I'm sitting in the Landmark Motel in Moab, Utah---which is precisely where I was sitting at this time one week ago. The amount that has transpired in the intervening time has been, in a word, absurd. My past week, in brief:

Wednesday- Finished packing, drove 4 hrs to Moab. Actually patronized place called "Eddie McStiffs"

Thursday-- Up at 6 a.m, entire day spent hiking in Arches. Copious natural beauty seen. Legs destroyed. Nice people met. Walking stereotypes encountered. Campsite in Arches full, nearby campsites either full or awful. Ended up staying in The Gonzo Inn---rather appropriate. (More details on Arches to follow in my next post)

Friday--Booked whitewater rafting trip. Got phone call that my MRI results from a few days prior were back and I had minor tears in BOTH rotator cuffs. Canceled whitewater rafting. Got in car and drove 4 hours back to Colorado, sketchily picked up MRIs from underneath picnic bench circa 9 PM.

Saturday-- 7:45 A.M. flight back to Cleveland to see orthopedic surgeon. Running late for plane. After 8 hours plus of driving over the past few days, it is the twenty minutes to the airport where I'm pulled over by someone straight out of Super Troopers, complete with hat and mustache. All but acknowledges he is trying to get an early start on his quota, does acknowledge that I wouldn't have been pulled over if I didn't have out of state plates. Miss flight. No more flights to Cleveland, so I get on a connection to Chicago via Denver. Travel agent tells me that he told his building contractor that he wished the contractor's wife had ALS. Get into Chicago, meet up with best bud from college and hang out for a few hours. Thoroughly confused.

Sunday-- O'Hare Hilton claims they never got my wake up call---I wake up at 6:59 for a 7 a.m. flight. Manage to sprint from hotel to terminal and make a 7:50 connection. Stop home, shower, proceed directly to Cavs openning playoff game with Dad and one A.R. Madorsky, esq. Cavs win, shwarma consumed, sleep had.

Monday-- Go see orthopedic surgeon who pokes me, then has resident A poke me, then has resident B poke me. Altogether too much poking. Says that surgery in my case might make matters worse, best option is to do PT for 3 months and let the body heal itself. Also says to avoid activities that obviously strain rotator cuffs. One good example: white water rafting.

Tuesday-- AM flight back to Denver, hoping to be in Beaver Creek around 1, allowing me to get to Moab that evening. Encounter massive blizzard, several Semis stuck on Vail Pass, two hour drive takes 5. Finally get into Beaver Creek around 6.

Wednesday-- pack (again), drive 4 hours to Moab, handles some logistics, marvel at that fact that I've engaged in either air travel or vehicular travel exceeding four hours six of the past eight days.

It's been a doozy. I guess this falls under "character building experience" The good news is, with the exception of a few activities, the doc didn't seem to feel I should avoid doing much on my road trip. It is also a relief to realize that my arm pain/weakness the past 2 years or so was due to a legitimate medical issue, rather than my hallucinating. So, we'll take a mulligan on the past week and try this whole thing again. (2 to 1 odds my next blog post is about getting a snake bite in Canyonlands tomorrow.) Apologies for the rather linear posting---I promise my next post will be rambling as usual. Now, a few pictures of Arches:

View down into the "Fiery Furnace"--I'm going on a Ranger-led hike there tomorrow

Aptly named "Balanced Rock"
Ute Indian petroglyphs

"Delicate Arch"--the most popular and famous Arch in the park. Well worth the hit my ego took on being based by a 70-year old woman on the hike up.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

From a post about the past, we turn to a post concerned with the future. (As you can see, I'm not particularly good with the present!) I've always wanted to drive cross-country, and am in the unique position of having the time, and a nominal reason (getting my car to Cleveland) to do it. So, beginning on Tuesday, I'll spend somewhere in the neighborhood of two months going from Denver to Los Angeles to Newcastle, ME. The first bit is going to be primarily camping out/hiking through Utah's National Parks, where as the last bit will be essentially a whirlwind tour through places I have friends. (I know, you thought you were my only one...) One of the advantages of this road trip is the flexibility---if I love a place, I'll stay a few extra days. My primary goal for this trip is to not get ahead of myself. Now, a VERY rough itinerary, and highly subject to change. Basically, a best guess.

Depart Edwards, CO through Grand Junction, CO to Moab, UT
The five National Parks of Utah, roughly 3 weeks, me thinks. (Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce, Zion, plus Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument)
Hoover Dam/Las Vegas
Death Valley
Los Angeles---for a bit, I'll definitely need some civilization at this point, plus I have family/friends there. This is also likely where my sis will meet up with me for a bit.
Joshua Tree
Grand Canyon
Mesa Verde/Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Flat, boring, nothingness
Custer State Park/Rushmore/Badlands, maybe a jaunt to Pine Ridge if I feel like getting depressed.
Acadia if I'm not passed out yet
Newcastle, ME. Nibbling on sponge cake, watching the sun bake

So, there it is....I'm pretty excited, provided I don't get bitten by a rattlesnake in the first 24 hours. Incidentally, I'm hoping to write a decent amount of postcards---I got one from my Aunt Shell the other day and realized how nice it is to get something hand written. (Plus, what the hell else am I going to do??) So, if you want one, e-mail me your address.

Once I get to Maine I'll take a few weeks to relax, then I'm heading South. As in, I'm moving to Argentina, most likely Buenos Aires. This hasn't been fully fleshed out yet, but the basic plan is to stay down there until I can speak Spanish. Living in a foreign country is something I've really wanted to experience, and I am in the unique position of having essentially no commitments, making it an ideal time in my life to up and move to a foreign country. I really think having a fluency in Spanish in today's America is an invaluable skill--it also allows me to get back to an intellectual challenge. I think I'll take intensive language courses for the first few months until my Spanish is passable, then move somewhere and devote a few months to doing humanitarian work. (Something else I've been committed to doing at this highly flexible stage of my life)

Needless to say, most National Parks don't have WiFi, so my blog posting may fall off precipitously. When I do get a chance to post, I'll make sure to include a link to pictures as well.

A couple of travel-related quotes before I go, ranging from quasi-pretentious to geeky:

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes."
- Marcel Proust

"A good traveler has no fixed plan and is not intent on arriving."
- Lao Tzu

"The world is a book, ,and those who do not travel read only a page"
- Saint Augustine

"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. "
T. S. Eliot (Oh Shaker Theatre, you follow me everywhere. And, resolve.)

"All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost"
- J. R. R. Tolkien "Lord of the Rings"

Saturday, April 14, 2007

As my time here in Edwards comes to an end, I think it only appropriate to devote a few words to reflection. Certainly, my time here did not work out as I anticipated---for four primary reasons.

Reason 1: The job thing--already much belabored in this blog.

Reason 2: My penchant for tilting at windmills---it was probably a touch unrealistic to expect I would become an expert bartender, ski like Bode Miller, play guitar like Jimmy Page, speak Spanish like Borges, and get in shape like LeBron.

Reason 3: My personality. There are very few people who could manage to make skiing and bar tending in Beaver Creek stressful, yet I managed. I think I just need a base level of stress in my life, and this stress is so internal that it doesn't change much if I'm lying on a beach or running the CIA. (my night job) In short, I don't relax well.

Reason 4: Going cold turkey from an academic environment to its very antithesis. I try very hard not to be an intellectual snob, but most of the people I worked with probably thought Barack Obama was a tasty Indian curry. I don't need pretentious assholes, but people with whom it is possible to have a conversation beyond how many inches of powder there are would have been nice. This, in turn, contributed to a much greater isolation than I had anticipated.

These factors notwithstanding, my time out here was quite valuable, and a unique experience that I don't regret. When I graduated, I felt strongly that a break from academia was needed, and this seemed an ideal way to do it. I cemented a love of skiing, and improved drastically in that area. (Of course, not as much as I wanted to, but that is to be expected) I also ended up feeling very positively about my aptitude as a bar tender, and there certainly were aspects of it that I enjoyed. Moreover, I think the mere experience of working consistent 12 hours shifts in the service industry was invaluable. I was able to get very close to Jon, Meg and their three children---people who force me to challenge my sometimes dour view of humanity by virtue of their overall terrific-ness. (A technical term) Last, but certainly not least, I fell in love with this part of the country--and realized how beneficial an active lifestyle, couple with unending natural beauty, can be to not only your physical but mental health.

A mixed bag, certainly, and quite the growing experience. What lies in store for me next?? Well, that will be for the next post.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Every once in a while, someone will do or say something that makes it very difficult to be a cynical asshole, and my three year old cousin Ava filled that role admirably the other day. I was taking her for a walk and saw some flowers that had fallen from a tree. I suggested she pick them up and take them home for her mother, at which point she insisted I take some for my "mommy and daddy" too. I then suggested that Ava smell the flowers, and asked if they smelled nice. Her response: "They smell more beautiful than I could have ever imagined in my heart." [pause for aww-ing] When they say things like that, it really isn't fair. Part of the wonder of kids that age is that they feel everything so acutely. Their emotions are essentially lacking any sort of gradation, so every joy, and for that matter every sorrow is felt with equal and extreme force. (The flip side of this equation was manifest by a meltdown over not being able to ride in a specific car seat)