How I became a fiddler crab

fiddler_crab01_lIt was late in the snow season, but a forecast for mountain sun meant that our “cascade concrete” might be soft enough to ski on. My cross country ski club’s bus pulled into the Hayak ski area parking lot on Snoqualmie Pass at about 10:30 in the morning. The plan was to drop off the skiers here that wanted to do a one-way trip along the John Wayne Trail on the south side of Lake Keechelus; then move the bus to the Crystal Springs SnoPark at the east end of the lake. The one-way skiers would come to the bus there. Those who stayed on the bus could explore other trails near Crystal Springs.

I decided to stay on the bus. The lake trail was pretty level, and I like hilly skiing. Also, my diagonal stride isn’t that great. So I was still finishing up putting on my ski boots and gators when we arrived at Hayak. The boots have a partial plastic shell to better transmit my kicks to my skis, via the steel bar hidden in a recess under the toe that clips into the ski binding. Their soles are mostly smooth plastic, since they’re not intended for walking. Gators are waterproof tubes that fit around my shins, with a strap that passes under the sole of the boot. They’re to keep snow from going up my pant legs, though that didn’t seem likely to be a problem today.

Soon there were just a couple of us holdouts left on the bus. The driver closed up the luggage bay, came inside and started the engine. He tried moving forward, and he tried moving backward; but the bus seemed to quite like this parking spot and slid back into it. The driver and the trip guide got off, and I could hear shovels scraping outside.

After a few minutes, they came back in and the driver started the engine. We were still trapped. The engine was stopped, the door opened, and the two went back to shoveling. One of the remaining skiers decided not to wait any longer. He put on his backpack, got off the bus and got his skis out of the bay. I had been thinking of doing the same thing; this project could take all morning. So I got off and got my skis. The driver and the guide were shoveling sand under the rear wheels. The temperature was in the upper 30s Fahrenheit. The low sun was making the ice’s surface wet and even more slippery.  I retrieved my ski bag, pulled out the skis and tossed the bag back inside. I told them “See you down there,” and walked to the trailhead at the east end of the lot.

It was a Thursday, so there were not a lot of people around, which meant that the trail should be in good shape. And it was. The snow had been smoothed out by machine and fresh grooves cut into it for those who like to put their skis in them and just scoot along with no need to steer. The snow looked pretty chunky; it was basically roto-tilled ice. This might not be a great day to ski in the backcountry, so it was just as well that I hadn’t ridden the bus down to Crystal Springs. But on a groomed trail like this I thought I might do all right.

I laid my skis down in the snow and stepped into the bindings. But something didn’t feel right. I felt too light and had too much freedom of motion. I realized that I wasn’t wearing my backpack. It was still in the overhead rack above my seat.  So I undid my bindings and left my skis at the side of the trail. I walked back up the lot; but I didn’t see the bus. They had finally gotten it going and were on their way to Crystal Springs with my backpack!

Now I had a choice. I could ski the eight mile trail along the lake with no food, water, extra clothing or any other supplies. Or I could stay here, have a cold and boring day (and a hungry one too) and get picked up by the bus when it headed back to the city in the afternoon. I decided to ski, and to be more thoughtful next time I got off the bus. I walked back down the slight incline to the trailhead, perhaps a bit impatiently.  If I applied myself, I could probably reach the bus and get my backpack in time for a late lunch and still do some exploring.  My feet shot out from under me and I fell hard on my left side.IMG_3499

I was lying on my left hand. It had shot out instinctively to break my fall. Maybe I’d sprained something? It hurt, and the pain was not easing. Two men who’d come up behind me asked “Are you all right?”

They wanted to hear, and I wanted to tell them, “Yeah, sure.”  I told him I didn’t know. They helped me up and walked me, holding my arms, to a little building.  Here they turned me over to a ski patrolman.

He asked me if I’d broken my arm. I told him I didn’t know, but that it was hurting a lot. He told me he would call the park ranger. There was no shelter for me to wait in. It turned out that the building was just a cluster of little toilet rooms, and he and his partner were working out of the janitor’s closet. I could see the mop sink behind him. Downhill skiers have no idea what we cross country skiers have to put up with in exchange for a day of cheap or free skiing.  He started the engine of his pickup truck and let me sit in the cab to wait for the ranger.  I asked him to get my skis from the trailhead. He did, and put them in the back of the truck.

It was good to sit and get warm.  But I was going to need some help with the pain.  After a couple of minutes I went out to ask the patrolman if he could give me some pain killers. He said he didn’t have any, but the ranger would give me some.

The ranger was a capable looking young woman in the traditional uniform and cavalry style hat. She said she would call the medics. She didn’t have any painkiller; but they would.  She took down my details on a clipboard and left.

I called my wife and told her what had happened.  I didn’t know where on the mountain I might end up. But she decided to leave the class she was attending and head up from the city anyway, and work out the details later.  Meanwhile, the ranger called my guide; and he called me.  Now we were all in touch and ready for something to happen.

A red fire department van pulled up.  Two men came out of it, walked me over to the van and had me get in the back.  They explained that injured people are in particular danger of falling.  They took my information down on another clipboard.  They had no way to determine whether my arm was broken, beyond asking me where it hurt.  And they had no painkillers.  They helped me out of my jacket and strapped a cardboard splint on my arm to immobilize it.  Back I went to the “Mobile ski lodge” pickup truck.

When left my own devices, I tended to rock back and forth and moan. I guess I was full of adrenaline. But I was anxious to maintain a calm demeanor when anyone was around; and when I was with someone it hurt less.  Everybody I met on this day was concerned, calm and reassuring.  Loving, in fact.  And that helped a lot.

Soon the ranger drove me (and my skis) down to Crystal Springs in her truck. She briefed another ranger who was stationed at the entrance, so he could direct my wife to the bus when she arrived.

The bus driver gave me some ibuprofen; he helped me get into my street shoes and tied them. The guide came to the bus and gave me some codeine with Tylenol. I wondered if all these pills were going to play well together; but I felt grateful and ready to try the experiment. My wife arrived, and we gathered up my gear. Thanks to quite a few people, i didn’t lose my skis or anything else.

By half past noon we were on the highway to Group Health Hospital in Seattle. I was feeling more comfortable, but thought sadly that it was the end of the season for me. We munched on food from my backpack and her lunch, not knowing when we’d have a chance to get a meal.

Fear of dentists

I just hate it when I go in for my semi annual cleaning and the dentist says “you know, I’ve been keeping an eye on this filling and I think it’s time to do something about it! ”  He demonstrates to the dental hygienist (who, perhaps, might grow up to be a dentist someday) by maneuvering his probe between an old filling on my left lower wisdom tooth and the tooth.

When I hear this, I’m afraid that he’s going to start drilling then and there. But this job is apparently too big for extemporaneous measures. I make an appointment and escape to Seattle’s gray, moist exterior, for now.  But this proves to be an unfortunate escape, because it gives me a week to think about what’s going to happen next!  In what seems like no time at all. I’m back in the chair.

The hygienist checks my blood pressure and pulse with a little handheld gadget. “Your blood pressure is pretty high,” she remarks, rattling off numbers. “Is it always that high?”

“I’m kind of nervous,” I admit.

The dentist comes in. “I can’t be sure until I get in there; but there’s a good chance you’re going to need a crown.”  I got my first crown a couple years ago after I broke a tooth. I’ll bet my blood pressure is really up there now.

“Do what you’ve got to do,” I tell him.  I may be terrified, but I’m not stupid.  An hour and more Novacaine shots than I can count later, it’s become clear that I do need a crown.  The job is maybe half done but everybody is ready to call it a day. He makes some kind of temporary filling and says “let’s try something different next time. ”  Something different is nitrous oxide.  What I know about nitrous oxide: I once read a 1920s mystery in which the villain was a dentist. He used nitrous oxide to knock out the detective (who’d been so foolish as to climb into his chair) and make an escape.

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A week later, I’m back in the chair. My blood pressure checks out high. “The way nitrous oxide works is that it helps the anesthetic to work. It’s not actually an anesthetic itself. It relieves anxiety, which changes the signaling in your nervous system so the anesthetic can work. ”  He straps a sort of cap over my nose; I hear a hissing sound. “How does that feel?”

“I feel a little tingling in my toes. Honestly, I can’t say I’m very impressed.”

I get instructions on how to breathe nitrous oxide. Inhale deeply. hold my breath for five seconds, and exhale.  “It’s the 60s?”  Yes (laughter all around).  And exhale through your nose, not your mouth. We can’t enjoy what you’re enjoying; we have work to do.

“Let’s turn up your mixture, and have you practice for three minutes.”  I remember another relevant book here; The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe.  Or maybe the scene was from a different book?  Anyway, a drug test subject is challenged to say when some number of minutes has passed. He is pretty disoriented and has no grip on time; but he remembers his heart rate.  So he stealthily feels his pulse, counts his heartbeats and astounds the experimenters by telling them when the time is up.

I estimate that it will take me five seconds to inhale and exhale. This plus the five seconds during which I am to hold my breath sums to 10 seconds per breath.  That’s six breaths per minute, for a total of 18 breaths. I breathe and I count, maintaining separate totals for how long I hold each breath and how many breaths I’ve taken. The tingling feeling spreads upward, until I feel like I’m wrapped in a wonderful blanket.  After a while, a voice says “Open your mouth wider, please. ”  Are you talking to me?

The dentist gives me three Novacaine shots and starts in. I can feel what he’s doing, but it doesn’t hurt. And I’m really having too much fun to worry about whether it’s going to hurt.  They cram a lot of stuff into my mouth, and explain how to signal with my hand if I want more or less gas or need them to stop. I want more.  Things go along smoothly. They say I might feel sleepy; but I am alert, or so I suppose.  At one point the dentist starts squeezing my lower lip against my teeth.  I reach up and pull my lip out of the way, to his surprise.

The job is done. They let me enjoy their nitrous oxide for a couple more minutes while they are making my temporary crown.

I keep on taking 10 second breaths all the way to the bus stop.

XC skiing on the Teanaway River, WA; February 2017

Lance led The Outing Club’s third Thursday trip to the eastern foothills of the Cascades to get as far away as possible from forecast rain.  Our road took us past sweet little farms on open, gently rolling land that looked perfect for skiing.  The area is noted for wild turkeys, but we didn’t see any this time.  One farm had some goats.

I was looking forward to trying my new ski poles, a sturdy set by Rossignol with length adjustment clamps like a tripod has, buckles on the straps and removable back-country snow baskets.  Quickly I felt my right pole going way too far into the snow.  I looked at it; the basket was gone!  I turned around and skied toward the trailhead, peering into ski-pole holes.  A voice said “Did you lose something?”  I looked up.  A woman who’d skied up to me offered me my basket.  I screwed it on as hard as I could while still respecting the plastic; stripped threads would be the end of that pole.  I checked my baskets occasionally during the day; they stayed tight.  I must have done a lousy job of setting up the poles at home.

I went looking for Stafford Creek (route 4).  There were lots of meadows to explore.  I made a right turn that I thought was Stafford Creek that led me up the side of a lovely meadow.  The way was steeper than Lance had described it, and I saw only two pairs of tracks, indicating only one person had gone up and then left.  But these were plusses as far as I was concerned.  Not far up the road, I saw that my predecessor had gone off-trail to mess around in the meadow before leaving.  Someone else after my own tastes; I wonder who?  I climbed on in immaculate snow.

The snow was heavy, with a shave-ice consistency.  Under trees it was icy, from melting snow dripping onto it, and covered with pine-needles and cones.  My tracks were pure white, proving the snow to be a slightly darker shade of white, if there is such a thing.  Maybe I was squeezing water out of it.  The sky cleared beautifully, contrary to the weather report, and I was soon roasting from climbing the snowy road in the sun.  I like to work up a sweat; it just needs to go somewhere.  I stripped down to my polypropylene long johns, and unzipped the side-zippers of my ski pants so they were just held up by the velcro at the top.  I saw little danger of getting pantsed by middle-schoolers up here.  Now my backpack was bulging with layers I didn’t need.  My zipper-pull thermometer read 44 F. (7 C.).  Spring skiing!

I reached the end of the road in about a mile.  It was much shorter than shown on my map.  Lance said he’d found a hiking trail at the end of the road and followed it for a ways.  So I crossed a furrow in the snow that marked a buried stream and followed a meadow alongside it further uphill.  A mound stood at the top of the meadow, probably a buried stump.  I put my foam pad on it for a rest and a snack.  I had no trouble with sinking into this heavy snow.  When it was time to leave, my skis clicked back on easily; I must have intimidated them yelling at them last time.

This was really too steep a meadow for me to ski down comfortably, and too narrow for me to traverse.  I side-stepped down it for a ways and thought it was getting gentler.  So I tried a run toward a more level-looking patch at the edge of the forest that didn’t look too difficult.  I picked up speed way too fast, and I couldn’t push my ski tails out against the heavy snow to slow down.  So I used my “emergency brake” and sat down.  I had to cross my poles to push myself up, so still pretty loose snow.  I shortened my poles and immediately fell in love with them.  All these years I’ve endured long poles optimized for resort skiing no matter what the conditions were.  Everybody should get adjustable poles!

Now the meadow was wide enough for me to ski back and forth with kick-turns at each extreme.  (I don’t know how to telemark; I just blunder along.) I crossed the buried creek and followed my tracks back to the main road to look for the real Stafford Creek.  It was easy to find; I just hadn’t gone far enough.  I looped down from the road to look at the creek.  It was full, undermining its snowy banks and best not approached too closely.

img_2661On the way back, I fell in with Krista, a very mature lady who was still scooting gamely along.  She gave me hope.  She told me that she had three pair of skis; two were touring skis, and she was using her track skis.  Why?  Because they were lighter.  They were probably a good choice for one staying on the main route.  The snow had been compressed by snowmobiles, but they’d been well-behaved; it wasn’t torn up or rutted, and in this heat not frozen either.  I could kick and glide on this stiff yet malleable surface with long strides at a wonderful rate.  It made me want to ski forever.

I hadn’t imagined I would be skiing so fast.  Despite more detours into the meadows, I got back to the bus long before it would leave.  So I headed back out on Rye Creek (route 5).  This route had also been “groomed” by snowmobiles.  It was hillier and had more annoying trees with their skirts of messy ice.  But still worth doing!  Coming back, I decided to avoid a sharp turn at the bottom of a hill and just ski straight ahead into the fresh snow to slow down.  Wham!  Did I slow down.  I lurched forward and almost did a face-plant.  But I saved that maneuver for when I was within sight of the bus for maximum humiliation.

The driver had set up our hot drinks and cookies on a banquet table on the road in front of the bus. A friendly bunch soon gathered around it.  I did some stretches against the side of the bus with one lady.  She told me that Norwegians call sitting down in the snow to stop a “Danish Stop,” implying that Danes don’t know how to ski in hills (maybe Denmark doesn’t have many?).

“What do the Danes call it?” I wondered.


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Portal 2; what a good game

A word about the screenshots.  The bulbous white thing with wires sticking out of it that’s always in the bottom right corner is my portal gun that I’m holding.  The blue and orange ring floating in mid-air shows where I’ll make a portal, if I fire the gun at a surface that’s allowed to have a portal in it.


Portal 2 is a 3D interactive, animated puzzle game by Steam.  I really like this game, because it’s challenging and funny and the sets are beautifully rendered.  So I want to show you what it’s like to play Portal 2.  (Yes I know, everybody else was playing Portal 2 years ago; I’m so slow.)  You can run it on a PC, a Mac and some TV game boxes.

I’m running a 2011 iMac with 64 GB of memory and MacOS “Sierra” 10.12.3.  I’ve had some problems with Steam on my iMac.  Sometimes it ignores my mouse movements, which I need in order to turn.  To fix this I have to quit Steam and start it again.  Sometimes when I’m using menus my mouse pointer turns invisible.  Then I grope around.

The setting is a vast abandoned laboratory consisting of cavernous semi-ruined chambers where an insane, affectionate robot conducts fiendish “tests” in which you are the subject.  The goal of each test is to escape the room.  Or sometimes to acquire an object.  Or sometimes to not get killed.  You don’t die very often, because you’re tough; you can fall or jump off any height with impunity, and laser beams just make a nasty noise and bump you out of their way.  If you still manage to get killed, you start your last test over again, like Groundhog Day.

Your main tool is a portal gun.  The gun creates a linked pair of blue and orange holes in any white surfaces.  You can move from one location to another by passing thru the portals.  Other stuff can go thru the portals too.  Portals combine with force fields, catapults, weights, laser lenses and various other contraptions to form the elements of puzzles you must solve.

For a sample of Portal 2 action, let’s look at chapter 2, room 09.  It’s taken me about a week to get this far.  Spoiler alert; the fun in this game is figuring out the puzzles.  So if you’re about to explore chapter 2 room 09, you might want to stop reading now.


 

The elevator opens.  I save the game, in case things don’t work out and I want to get back to this point.  I check the movies playing on the elevator lobby walls for useful information, don’t notice any, and head up the stairs.

05-anteroomAn anteroom at the top of the stairs has wildly-flailing, harmless robot panels sprouting from the floor, a billboard with some visual clues about what’s going to happen next, and a door with a blue-green “running man” exit symbol.  I study the billboard for clues and go to the exit.

10-entranceThe exit is the entry into the test chamber, which feverishly configures itself as I enter.  I’m in a square room that has an upper gallery of some kind (top right).  I don’t notice any white surfaces, so I’m wondering how I will use my portal gun.

15-catapaultIn the center of the room is a catapult (I recognize it from earlier rooms).  Signs on the floor show how it works; I’m supposed to step on it and get shot at a target.  I examine the rest of the room.  But I can’t find the target, and there is nothing else to do here.  I get on the catapult anyway.  It does not shoot me at a target.

Instead, it smashes me against the ceiling.  The mean robot has lowered the ceiling so I will bounce off it, fall back onto the catapult, and get smashed against the ceiling again and again.

20-ceilingThe ceiling is white; so I can get out of this situation by making an orange portal in it.  But when I do, it has no effect, because I haven’t yet made a blue portal to come out of.  It’s hard to look around for a useful white surface while I’m being flung up and down, let alone hit it with my portal gun.

I can’t escape the catapult, which is going to smash me into the ceiling for eternity.  So I restart this test from my saved game.  Now that I know what I’m looking for, I explore the room with better effect.  I notice an overhead beam paneled with white tiles, and shoot a blue portal onto it.

25-portals-on-ceilingBack to the catapult I go, to be flung into the orange portal and out the blue one, dropping onto a hinged platform that has swung out from the wall.

30-objectiveLooking around, I see this test’s objective; a laser-powered motor that’s attached to the opening mechanism of the exit door.  The exit door is in a high alcove, and I don’t see a laser beam to power the motor; but perhaps these details will be resolved as I continue.

35-anteroomGlancing left, I do see a laser beam in another alcove.  To the right I see a white panel slanted at an angle.  I’ve learned that I can make a portal on such a panel and launch myself thru it to fly to a high place.

40-ledgeTo the left in the alcove I see a high ledge, and to the right another angled panel that’s aimed at it.  A sign points at the ledge; and a dotted blue line (I think of these as visible wiring) connects it to a cube dispenser that’s hanging from the ceiling of a higher alcove.  The dispenser’s control is on the first ledge (at the other end of the dotted line).

45-ready-to-flyI shoot a blue portal onto the angled panel.  Now I need to launch myself thru it with a lot of force.  If I just find a white wall somewhere, shoot an orange portal onto it and step thru it, I’ll stumble out of the blue portal onto the floor.  That’s no good; I need to fly upward.  My experience has been that, to attain that much momentum, I need to jump into a pit with an orange portal at its bottom.

I go back to the hinged platform and look down.  No white floor!  What am I supposed to do here?  Oh yeah, the catapult.  It’s still aimed at the orange portal in the ceiling.  I jump down to the lowest level (jumping any distance is totally safe), step onto the catapult again and get launched into the orange and out of the blue portal, zooming up to the ledge where the dispenser control is waiting.

50-dispenser-controlThe pedestal with the huge red button is the dispenser control.  I push it and look over at the far alcove.

55-dispensed-cubeA cube falls out of the dispenser and is sitting on the floor up there, far from the laser beam.

I jump down.  On my way to move the blue portal to another slanted white panel I’ve noticed and catapult up to the far alcove to get the cube, I pause to look at the laser motor more closely.

60-closer-look-at-motorA short wall is between it and the laser beam.  The wall is white; now I know what to do.

70-redirected-laserI get the cube and jump down to the laser beam level.  This particular cube has lenses that can bend a laser beam.  I put it in the laser beam, and adjust it to shoot at the white wall.

I’m going to need two portals to conduct the laser beam from one side of the wall to the other.  That will mean no more round trips to the catapult without a lot of bother.  But it’s going to be fine.

75-laser-into-blueI get up to the ledge with the exit door in the usual way.  I turn around and shoot a blue portal at the laser-washed side of the wall.  In the main room beyond, I can see the laser beam shooting straight down out of the orange portal that’s still in the ceiling over the catapult.

80-work-is-doneI make a new orange portal opposite the motor on the short wall.  The beam hits the motor.  The line from the motor to the exit door turns from blue to yellow, with a check mark at its end.  The exit door opens!

 

The robot with the love-hate thing about me makes some sweetly nasty remarks.  I consider them carefully in case there are hints amidst the abuse.

85-exitI go up the stairs, thru the door and on to the elevator and the next level.

This room took me about an hour to figure out.  What a good game!

XC skiing at Hurley Creek, east Cascades, WA; February 2017

Lance Young took us east for the second Thursday group day-trip of the One World Outing Club‘s season.  He wanted to avoid the unusual cold and high winds in Snoqualmie pass.  The bus drove north from I-5 up SR-97 and parked at the entrance to the Old Blewett Pass road.  The shoulder was icy.  The driver spread a long rubber mat next to the bus to keep us from slipping while we got our skis out of the baggage holds.  Lance shoveled fresh snow over the rest of the ice.

We had our choice of three routes from here, all snow-covered logging roads; Old Blewett Pass, Iron Creek and Hurley Creek.  I picked Hurley Creek because it had the most hills.  A sucker for punishment!

I crossed the two-line highway to its start and got started, noting that it was downhill and would slow down my return.  Under-ski was a couple of inches of feathery fresh snow on an annoying thin crust with more loose snow underneath.  The new snow kept things moving smoothly, but the old crust kept crackling and breaking unpredictably.  Days ago a lone snowmobile had driven up this road, compressing the snow; then fresh snow had fallen on its track.  This turned out to be the best snow for skiing.  Thanks for the grooming job, snowmobiler!

I’m easily distracted from a trail, particularly if it’s uphill.  Creekside meadows and wooded hollows opened up on each side of the road, so I didn’t get far.  The first meadow I explored was a fascinating little world of its own, billed with billows of immaculate snow and silent other than the gurgling of the buried stream.  Animal tracks criss-crossed like a model train layout from the surrounding forest to holes in the snow covering the stream.  While I was skiing from one mound to another, one of my tips dove into the snow and got caught in the buried crust.  My upper body continued moving ahead as long as it could, then hinged forward from the ankles to bury its face in snow.

img_2630One lens of my glasses was covered with snow.  I ignored it; it melted.  I returned to the road and moved up to another clearing.  Here I picked a sunny hillside for a lunch camp, unrolling a square of sealed-cell foam on top of my skis to make a snow-raft to sit on.

When I was done I found out that it’s harder to get out of this kind of situation that it is to get into it.  I couldn’t figure out how to stand up, put away the foam and get my boots back into the bindings without briefly stepping off my skis.  The moment I did, I sank in snow up to my hips.  I guess the snow had drifted up against the hill.  My right boot went into its binding okay.  But my left ski wanted nothing to do with me.  I scraped out the binding with a ski pole point, and cleaned out the toe of my boot as well as I could without taking it off.  I tried patience.  Finally, trusting that nobody would hear me, I threatened my skis in the most dire terms.  This worked.

I continued up the quiet, pretty valley.  My half-way timer went off.  I treated myself to one last explore and turned around.  Immediately I got cold; I’d been skiing downwind all this time, and now I was going upwind.  I put on my heavy fleece, and switched from gloves to mittens with chemical warming pads.  Still, a long downhill glide made my face ache.  I pulled a balaclava over my head (a baklava wouldn’t do at all in this situation) and a fleece-lined knitted cap over that.  Problem solved, except that my breath steamed up my glasses.

I’d been climbing most of the way; so my return was swift.  And the bit of uphill near the road didn’t amount to much after all.  I got back to the bus an hour early, but I’d had enough fun for the day.  Friends, hot water, drink mixes and cookies were waiting inside the warm bus.


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Northern Arizona XC skiing and hiking; January 2017

Monday, January 23: 18 members of Seattle-based One World Outing Club flew to Arizona for six days of winter adventuring in the high desert of the American southwest.  Lance Young, director of the club, was our guide.  IT freelancer David Stuart drove and assisted with herding cats.

Our first hop, to Phoenix on American Airlines, was happily uneventful.  When we approached the gate for the second leg of our flight, the adventure began.  The Skywest/American Eagle hop up to Flagstaff was delayed; then it was cancelled! The problem; too much snow in Flagstaff — the very reason we were going there.

All we could do was get rooms and come back in the morning.  SkyWest didn’t offer to pay for our rooms, reasoning that the snow wasn’t their fault.  Lance advised that, if we could scrape by with what was in our carry-ons, it would save time.  Nobody retrieved their luggage.  A pair of shuttle vans delivered us to an Econolodge outside the airport.

I checked Google Maps for places to go for dinner.  A scouting party hurried to the Phoenix Ale Brewery, only to confirm what I told them, that “Light Bites” meant no dinner.  We regrouped across North 32nd Street at the Knock-Kneed Lobster, queueing up at the counter.  A sign on the register warned, “We will not serve anyone who acts or looks obviously intoxicated.”  Good thing we bypassed the brewery!  Nearly all the fish was breaded and deep-fried; so I had a grilled chicken sandwich.

Rain set in as we walked around featureless vacant lots to our motel.  This was the edge of the Flagstaff storm.  Visions of snowflakes danced in our heads.

img_2558I was rooming with Lance.  He spent a long time on his phone and laptop, repairing our trip arrangements. The Monday me was very grateful to the Sunday me for the few overnight things I’d put in my backpack; clean underwear, toothbrush, and a set of long underwear for a quick change in case we had the chance to ski on arriving in Flagstaff.  My long underwear served as pajamas; the motel supplied Crest Toothpaste in little sample envelopes.

Tuesday, January 24: We had an early breakfast in the motel and shuttled back to the airport and our departure gate.  The scheduled departure time came and went.

  • Skywest explained that they were waiting for an absent flight attendant to report for duty; the plane must be fully crewed.
  • I explored the concourse’s slim retail offerings, and returned to hear that the Captain of the plane needed to determine his weight restriction for the upcoming flight.  Depending on this decision, there might not be enough capacity for all of us.
  • I bought a book; Dead Wake; The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson (excellent).  Now Skywest announced that the Flagstaff runway was icy, so our flight was delayed.
  • Just as I was starting to enjoy my book, I heard that the flight was cancelled; there would be no flights to Flagstaff today.

Our choices now; stay in Phoenix for a second night, or drive to Flagstaff.  The airline didn’t offer to pay for shuttles to Flagstaff, reasoning that the ice wasn’t their fault.  Even imperturbable Lance was annoyed; they’d known all along that it was icy, and they’d wasted our morning.

We reclaimed our luggage.  Lance booked us on the next two shuttles.  I let the first shuttle go, since it didn’t have many open seats and others might feel more urgent about getting to Flagstaff.  Those of us who were left took turns watching our mound of luggage and  sausage-like ski bags.  I had a sandwich in the Baggage Claim Starbucks.

At noon we left for Flagstaff.  the shuttle was a long van with a baggage trailer.  We made a pit stop at a gas station mimi-mart, and I bought a bag of large, woody roasted pumpkin seeds. (Pat’s are infinitely better.)  We got back on I-17, but soon came to a mass of stuck traffic.  The driver called his dispatcher, who said there’d been an accident.  Perhaps two accidents?  It seemed that the snow we were trying to reach had gotten in our way again.  Then she said that the Interstate had been closed due to “police activity.”  “That probably involves guns,” I joked.  We decided to try detouring thru Prescott, adding an hour to our trip.  Later I read that the police had blocked I-17 while pursuing a stolen construction truck (the truck crashed).img_2555

We saw a heavy snow shower drift past to the north, and wondered if the lucky passengers in the first van were skiing in it.  (They were.)  As we went on, I saw a spackling of snow along the side of the road; then large scraps of the white stuff; then continuous snow except for bare circles under each tree; and at last, lovely uninterrupted expanses of snow between one and two feet deep.  Happily, there was hardly any snow on the highway.

In Flagstaff, we unloaded our skis and luggage in the portico of a comfortable-looking Days Inn on the east end of town.  I helped transfer our gear to an orderly mound on the plush carpet opposite the check-in desk.  One of the ladies tipped the driver and we said goodbye to him. Then there was a commotion at the check-in desk; “Stop the driver!  This is the wrong hotel!”

Luckily, he hadn’t left yet. We took all the skis and other things back outside and loaded them into the trailer, and drove to a spartan-looking Days Inn at the west end of town.  This time, we made sure it was the right hotel before unloading.  By now the sun was setting; there would be no skiing today.  But there was always tomorrow!

We crossed the highway and made our way up an icy driveway to a little shopping mall, where we had dinner at a long table in the Delhi Palace, with wine courtesy of Lance.  I had saag paneer, rice and garlic nan bread, and shared my neighbors’ chicken and lamb dishes.    We all ate ourselves silly.

Wednesday, January 25: Breakfast in the small lobby was odd; no protein, soupy oatmeal, pastries, bread, sugary dry cereal and a waffle maker. One of the ladies in our group showed me how to drain the water out of the oatmeal by squeezing two paper bowls together.

Lance and David had rented a couple of vans.  We loaded up, and in two hours drove to the south rim of the Grand Canyon.  I skied with some of the group, while others walked, proceeding down the west side road and trail from Bright Angel Lodge toward Hermit’s Rest.img_2567

The park wasn’t set up for skiing, perhaps because this much snow at the Grand Canyon is a rarity.  We had to break our own trail between the road and the canyon’s edge.  Where the space was narrow, we skied in the lumpy debris field cast by snowplows.  At least it was clean; Arizona doesn’t use road salt.  Where the space was wider, we veered into the trees.  If the canyon rim didn’t look too treacherous, we skied along it.  We had great views from the canyon rim into the deep heartland of the Colorado River. And, away from the road, the snow was immaculate deep powder.

img_2559I’d set an alarm to remind me to turn around half-way to our rendezvous time.  On the return leg, I tried to ski an arc thru a wide section of woods to the road.  After a lot of awkward climbing amidst fallen logs and steep slopes, I began to worry, altho thanks to my own tracks I couldn’t get lost.   I studied the National Park map, and found the notice “Warning; not drawn to scale.”  I remembered a property manager whom I’d once done some work for, saying “That’s not a map — that’s a cartoon!”  I checked my compass.  I was heading east and uphill.  But to reach the road, I should go west.  But that was downhill and, I was certain, toward the canyon rim.  I decided to just follow my tracks back to the parking lot and ski the distance over again along the edge of the road.

While side-stepping down a hill that I’d climbed up with great effort twenty minutes before, the collar of my parka got caught in a tree branch; it retaliated by dumping snow down my neck.  I fell in a heap and wallowed around.  The snow was so powdery that I couldn’t lift myself up; my arms just sank into it.  I took off my ski poles and crossed them on the snow to make something I could push against.  When I put some weight on my skis they shifted downhill; I’d forgotten to put them across the slope.  I flailed around, trying to get them back under me.  I was at 7,000 feet (2133m) altitude and… out … of … breath …

I stopped struggling to pant and think.  I brought my skis next to me, downhill from me and across the slope, and pushed myself up against my crossed poles.  I checked myself for telltale globs of snow.  But it turned out that everybody else had fallen too, and I could wear my snow with pride.

I got back to the van in plenty of time.  Back in Flagstaff I had dinner with some of the ladies at a Mexican hole in the wall whose hot sauce was utterly alien and quite effective.

Thursday, January 26: I had breakfast at the IHOP restaurant next-door; a fine garden omelet with fruit and hot herbal tea.  We drove to the Arizona Nordic Village, 8000 feet (2438m) altitude.  This resort has a small log-cabin lodge and a scattering of rental cabins, and 40km of groomed ski trails.  Lance had warned us to dress for cold, and it was cold; 19 F. (-7 C.) with a life-sucking crosswind.  The snow on the groomed trails was dry powder that creaked under my skis and gave off a shuddering groan at each pole-thrust. The virgin snow off-trail felt like a cloud to ski on, and it glittered with small crystals.  My ski gloves were not enough protection to keep my hands from stinging; so I went to heavy mittens with chemical hand warmer pads in their tips.img_7920

I had a long climb up Goshawk, the layout’s most challenging trail.  At the top, I had lunch with some other skiers.  There was a yurt overlooking a wide meadow with a mountain looming beyond.  We couldn’t go into the yurt because it had been rented.

They took off, and a few minutes later I was ready to go.  But I couldn’t get my left ski back on.  I scraped out the little vampire-jaw of the ski binding with the point of a ski pole, but it didn’t help.  Luckily, an employee drove up on a little tractor and came over to help.  He got on his knees, scraped ice off the toe-bar of my ski boot with his car key, and guided it in.

After a long glide down, I followed the Thunder trail to the west edge of the resort.  I’d had quite a workout, and decided I was done for the day.  But the trail map was deceptively small, and I was still three miles from the lodge.

Karin made us reservations for dinner at Criollo Latin Kitchen in Flagstaff’s Old Town, a boisterous bistro with great food but slow service.  I had a nice salmon tostada.

Friday, January 27: When I woke up, I could hear powerful gusts of wind outside.  From the lobby I could see the entrance awning flapping and dumping snow.  The wind blew snow under the fire exit door.  The Grand Canyon weather forecast predicted a wind-chill of -12 F. (-24 C.).  Two pair of long underwear bottoms seemed prudent today.

We drove to the Grand Canyon again, and looked at the village galleries and historic buildings. The paths and roads were icy. Knowing that we’d be hiking in Sedona the next day, I went hunting for a set of points that I could attach to my shoes. I found some really good ones in the gift shop at Bright Angel Lodge for $50; “Ice Trekkers.” Each consists of chains of pointy links bolted to a flexible oval ring that slips over the sole of the shoe.  Now, instead of slithering across gray ice from one patch of white snow or bare pavement to another, I could just walk, crunching over hazards like a little tank.

In the afternoon, most of the group set out from Hermit’s Rest to ski the rim; but I didn’t want to ski here again.  It was too cramped, and the rim was too scary, and it was cold.  I had lunch and hot tea in front of the fireplace in Hermit’s Rest.  I talked with a man from Scottsdale AZ who was traveling with his 86-year-old mother.  He’d been hiking in two-foot-deep snow (not with her).  He didn’t want to hear advice about snowshoes.  I roamed around the facility and took tourists’ pictures for them. Here my Ice Trekkers were not a lot of help, due to deep snow. I found one promising icy trail behind Hermit’s Rest, and chained up my boots. It took me about 200 feet along the rim, separated from the view by a screen of trees, to garbage cans at the end of a dirt alley. The skiers returned to report a beautiful trip.

img_7942We did the tourist thing, stopping at lookouts and attractions on the canyon rim. At sunset we reached the Desert Lookout Tower. It was at the end of a maze of trails and buildings. It was a circular stone tower, picturesque and slightly ruinous. Between the loss of solar heat due to the setting sun and the wind out of the canyon, the cold was intense. I had to swing my arms every few minutes to relieve my aching fingers. I had to take off my gloves to use my camera with numb, painful fingers. On my way back to the van I pulled my fingers into the palms of my gloves to get them warm.

I emerged onto a highway instead of the parking lot. I checked the map, but it was too vague to be any help. I backtracked and found Lance, who was looking for me.

Five of us had dinner together at the IHOP; chicken Cobb salad for me. Pretty good. We adjourned to our rooms to pack for hiking and the flight home.

Saturday, January 28:  We drove down a swerving highway with wonderful mountain views to expensive-looking Sedona. From Airport Overlook, we enjoyed views of the forested valley and the scenic mountain range beyond it for a suggested donation of $1.img_7957

Then we hiked the Bell Rock Path; I went 3.5 miles (5.6km).  We’d descended to 4,300 feet (1,310m).  Here it was a warm spring day; no need for Ice Trekkers.  I soon shed my gloves, ear band, jacket, fleece and (discretely and awkwardly) my long underwear bottoms. This was beautiful country, not desert but arid scrubland, loosely populated by cacti, bushes and stunted trees.  Much of the way was on solid sandstone, with stretches of orange soil and viscous orange mud.  I saw scraps of snow on the paddle-shaped cacti. The trail started out well-defined, but soon widened and branched out until one could walk nearly anywhere.  Trail signs were frequent; they were set in wire-wrapped cylinders of loose rock, perhaps because signposts couldn’t be driven into the solid rock underfoot.  I explored icy dry washes and easily climbed partway up Bell Rock.  Quite a few people had come to enjoy the sunny, brightly-colored expanse, including dog-walkers and joggers, tourists speaking many languages, and families with children.

img_7975After this wonderful day in the sun, we returned to snowbound Flagstaff somewhat reluctantly.  At the airport, Skywest had one more trick up their sleeve.  Because they hadn’t flown us to Flagstaff, they’d cancelled our seats for the return flight to Phoenix.  Reasoning, perhaps, that we must still be in Phoenix and didn’t need them.  Lance straightened the snafu out somehow, and we had a 27-minute flight down.

David organized a farewell dinner at the Four Peaks Brewery pub in the Sky Harbor concourse.  I had enchiladas and peach beer; best meal of the trip!

We arrived at SeaTac Airport near midnight during a protest against President Trump’s executive order limiting travel from Muslim countries. The protest seemed orderly and well-led. However, airport management seemed unprepared to deal with it.

Our American Airlines flight disembarked at the north end of the terminal. All entrances to baggage claim were blocked off. I walked the length of the airport looking for a way out. There were no announcements or signs explaining what was going on and how to get my baggage, and no staff stationed on my route to tell me.

When I reached the south end of the terminal, a large group of police and security officers at Gate A6 let me into Baggage Claim.  I had to walk the length of the terminal again in Baggage Claim to get to carousel 16 at the north end. I passed amid the protestors near carousel 13. They were not intimidating, blocking or interfering with operations. If it hadn’t been so late with my wife trying to pick me up, I’d have been happy to join them. I’m impressed that so many people would come so far to protest Trump’s anti-Muslim restrictions, and and that they would still be protesting at midnight.

Pat left the car parked in the “No waiting” pickup zone outside Baggage Claim to come and look for me.  She was parked next to a police car, but they didn’t bother her.


Map

More pictures

Fun with Trump in Photoshop Elements – Part 3

Last post, we’d gotten to the point where we have one image of Nixon holding his left hand upward, and another image of Trump’s face.  Let’s put them together and have Nixon pulling off a Trump mask!

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I need to move the Nixon image over the Trump one, for reasons I explained last time.  I did some backing and filling last time to try to get the images in the same scale.  But I also need the canvas of the receiving image to be at least as big as the part of the sending image I want to use (which is all of it).  Image > Resize > Canvas in the Trump image to specify the height of the Nixon image. screen-shot-2017-01-13-at-10-09-38-pm

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In Nixon I Select > All layers.  A peculiarity of PSE is that the select functions are in their own menu, not the Edit menu.  Maybe that’s because there are so many of them?  To copy what I selected, Edit > Copy Merged.  This combination selects everything in all of the layers (let’s not forget the hand we worked so hard on), compressing the result into a single layer.screen-shot-2017-01-13-at-10-10-14-pm

Cue the drum-roll!  In the Trump image, Edit > Paste to put the new Nixon layer in the Trump picture.  In the top right corner, notice that I’ve moved the Trump layer on top of the Nixon layer to keep Trump’s face visible.

I find the result a bit disturbing.  Trump’s face is too lifelike, as if he’d been beheaded.  This isn’t Rome — at least, not yet.

I want to make Trump look more two-dimensional and mask-like.  I decide to remove everything below the jawline.  There isn’t much contrast between the parts I want to keep and remove; so instead of the Magnetic Lasso I try to Polygonal Lasso.  It’s a “dumb” lasso; it just selects what you draw around without trying to help you.  I make the Nixon layer invisible by closing the “eye” in the Layer Window.  But, the Polygonal Lasso doesn’t work!  The problem turns out to be the transparent background.  screen-shot-2017-01-13-at-10-16-56-pm

As scaffolding I make a layer under the sleeping Nixon layer, Select All, and dump green paint in it with the Paint Can tool.   screen-shot-2017-01-13-at-10-18-39-pm

Now the Polygonal Lasso works.  screen-shot-2017-01-13-at-10-19-45-pm

I erase the selected area with the Eraser tool.  Now it’s transparent.

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I wake Nixon up (opening that layer’s eye) and maneuver Trump’s face next to Nixon’s with the Move tool.  I rotate it a bit to approximate the way Nixon is holding his head.  I can’t get quite the right angle with the image I’ve got; maybe it could be warped somehow, but that’s beyond me.  I adjust Trump’s size (I’ll bet a lot of people would like to do that) to approximate Nixon’s by dragging the corner handles of his layer.

I move the Trump head over the hand.  But the fingers are behind it.  Oh yeah — the hand layer got combined with the main Nixon layer when I brought them over.  screen-shot-2017-01-13-at-10-25-15-pm

Back in Nixon world, I make the hand the active layer in the Layer Window, and Select > All and Edit > Copy.

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Edit > Paste in Trump world (sort of like WestWorld, a theme park you wouldn’t want to visit).  Now Nixon has two left hands.  In the Layer Window I make the new hand the top layer so the fingers will be on top of Trump’s chin.  I move it exactly on top of the hand in the underlying layer.
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Drum-roll!  I move Trump’s face into the hand with the Move tool.

I’m not quite happy with this.  For one thing, Trump’s head is much fatter than Nixon’s.  (I’m just talking about the image; I mean nothing personal.). I could squeeze a side handle with the Move tool while holding down the Shift key to suppress the automatic maintenance of proportionality.  But then it might not look like Trump.  Guess I’ll let it go.screen-shot-2017-01-13-at-10-34-18-pm

The other thing that bothers me is that Trump’s eyes make the mask too lifelike and disturbing.  At high magnification, I use the Eraser tool to remove the eyes.  Like the Brush, the Eraser’s effect depends on how long you use it in an area.  I go over the eyes heavily to completely erase them.screen-shot-2017-01-13-at-10-40-06-pm

To help those kids who aren’t sure who Nixon was, I use the Text tool and type in Nixon’s most famous quote.  What a thing for a president to say — but “Grab her by the _____” still takes the cake.  The Comic font seems appropriate.

mask2

All ready for Facebook!  Hahaha