Ryan's Journal

"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?" — David Mitchell

Lafayette, California

Posted at 9:45 am, March 26th, 2005

Overheard last night:

  • “Dude, I’m telling you, if you go up there they’re gonna send someone up these stairs on a Honda motorcycle to siphon kick you in the neck.”
  • “What if you had third nipples, but they were telepathic?”
  • “Pointing is so underrated.”
  • “You better watch what you say, the bald dude looks like he has a lot of anger inside of him.”

20 miles east of Las Vegas, Nevada

Posted at 8:35 pm, March 23rd, 2005

An inch of snow on the ground, winds so strong that standing up was difficult, and occasional hail and snow skuttled the idea of hiking today. Instead the Subaru ambled along from the South Rim through the Navajo Reservation and up into southwestern Utah. I actually got caught in a sandstorm at one point along the route, which was a first for me (who knew that clouds turn pink during a sandstorm?).

Despite the fact that a large part of my brain really wants to spend some time in New Mexico and perhaps continue across the country, I’m now on my way back to the Bay Area to join friends and family for Easter. Being away always makes it more clear how important it is to spend time with the people who matter, and with a bunch of folks coming into town for the weekend the right choice is to make sure I’m there as well. I’ve got a friend in Tucson who I’ve promised to visit, so I’ll be back on the road before long, although tomorrow will likely be the last full day of this portion of the trip.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Posted at 6:40 pm, March 22nd, 2005

U2’s “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” seems to be the theme for this trip, and I had it on repeat for about four hours while driving through the desert east of Joshua Tree. I decided to take the secondary roads instead of the interstate, and it was a good choice — the desert out there is the type of place where time and distance blur, such that you don’t know if you’ve been traveling for one hour or six, and it was a good time to think.

By the time I reached the Grand Canyon clouds had set in, but I still managed a bit of hiking. I’m hoping to hike the Kaibab trail tomorrow, although the forecast is for rain, which wouldn’t be ideal. My eating habits have been abysmal thus far on the trip, but tonight I decided that the possibility of a tough hike warranted a good dinner. Stopping at a cafeteria I discovered that the old Mexican woman manning the “South of the Border” station was totally hooking people up with the portions — plates were literally overflowing when she handed them back. The drool was probably evident by the time I got to the front of the line, at which point a Thai girl stepped in to take my order and made me a burrito the size of an egg roll; the Gods continue to mock me.

In other news, I shaved the dome again today. In the span of four days I’ve gone from being a guy whose hair was thinning at a young age to being a badass who inspires mothers to stand protectively over their children; I’m digging the change.

Grand Canyon Landscape

The Grand Canyon from the South Rim.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Posted at 6:50 pm, March 21st, 2005

I spent last night and the full day today in Joshua Tree National Park, which is a place where I usually manage at least one odd experience per visit. The first time I came here was while driving cross-country back in 1997, and at an out-of-the-way trail deep in the park I ran into one of my teammates from the school track team who just happened to be on his way to the Rose Bowl. On a more recent visit I was drifting off to sleep but looked up just in time to see a bobcat perfectly outlined in the moonlight. The strangest experience I’ve had here was on yet another visit while out for a run — during the run two coyotes decided to trot along with me, and kept pace with me about twenty feet to my left for a short time.

Today I roamed all over the park, and on one remote trail noticed what looked like an abandoned mine up on a hill. While scrambling up the rocks towards the entrance I heard a rattling noise that few people will ever hear, but most people would immediately recognize; the snake was only about four feet long, but he was stretched across the trail perhaps six feet ahead of me. Being the genius that I am I took a step closer, at which point his rattle went into overdrive while he slowly slithered off into some nearby rocks. Yet another memorable moment to add to the list.

Salton Sea, California

Posted at 3:45 pm, March 20th, 2005

As expected, the Salton Sea is one of the oddest places I’ve ever visited. For those unfamiliar with the history of the place, it goes something like this: a long time ago an engineer added two plus two and got five, and then smacked his head and yelled “DOH!” as a series of levees burst and the Colorado River spent from 1905 until 1907 flooding a desert valley. Since the average elevation of the valley was more than two hundred feet below sea level the water had no where to drain to, and the resulting lake was about thirty miles long and ten miles wide; all in all this was one of the more noticeable engineering failures in U.S. history.

People, being people, thought the idea of a giant freshwater lake in the desert was a pretty cool idea, so the area quickly became a popular recreation spot. Farmers, being farmers, thought having a huge water source available was a pretty cool idea, so farms started springing up around the lake. Between the detritus of tourism and the runoff from agriculture, the freshwater lake became not so fresh. Eventually the lake reached a point where the adjective “pungent” became appropriate, something that does not normally jive with tourism. As a result, what had been a booming vacation spot was suddenly not-so-booming, and today Salton City is a ghost-town wannabe on the shore of a lake of yellow-brownish saltwater.

From the summary it wouldn’t seem like this is a spot worth visiting, but I’ve kind of been curious about it for a long time now. Arriving this morning the first thing I thought is that the lake is huge, and the second is that the lake is nasty. I wouldn’t set foot in the water even if well-paid, and was even nervous about getting mud on my boots while hiking. The flip side is that migratory birds have no idea that this place should be declared a Superfund site, and tons of different species spend time here.

Another worthwhile part of this visit was the feeling while driving around Salton City. The place is eerie enough to be well worth experiencing; roads have been built with hopeful names like “Pelican Bay Rd” and “Flamingo Ave”, yet they have obviously not seen any repair work in decades, and most lead to nowhere. Large areas have been parceled out for homes, streets are neatly divided into blocks, but while there are a few fabulous vacation homes, most lots are empty with aging real estate signs posted in them. Since no one is buying in Salton City, once the current residents either leave or die then all that will be left is the ghost of what was once a booming vacation town.

Burbank, California

Posted at 7:20 pm, March 18th, 2005

Thus far today I’ve been asked for money twice, once in a gas station by a girl wearing clothes that were nicer than mine, and once outside of the grocery store by a guy who already had a handful of quarters. At the laundromat a bum was cursing at each person who walked in while he rolled joints from a beef jerky bag filled with pot and occasionally (incoherently) threatened a tiny dog who was wrestling with a stale piece of pita bread. I’m now in a Starbucks with no less than two tables of people having some sort of organized counseling session, while the girl at the table next to me is writing something that makes numerous references to the “Dark Lord” — I hope it’s just a screenplay. The evening promises at least a small improvement, although I’ve already been warned that the friend I’m going to dinner with may have a stalker following her.

Whatever else you might say about it, at least Los Angeles is never dull. Also, apologies for not visiting everyone here, but since the trip route is sort of spur-of-the-moment I didn’t know I was coming until late last night, and didn’t want to make a lot of rushed plans. Next time.

Las Vegas, Nevada

Posted at 7:00 pm, March 17th, 2005

The skies were overcast in Death Valley today, so I slept in until seven and then took my time heading out of the park. Amazingly, Badwater Basin is completely flooded — I was mystified, as what was previously a bone dry salt flat was suddenly a lake several miles long and a few miles wide. The wildflowers near the southern entrance to the park were even more spectacular than elsewhere, but as has been the norm on this trip I didn’t get any pictures that really did them justice.

Came to Vegas for dinner, ate very well, and it now looks like I’ll be heading back to Los Angeles to see a friend. I’ve warned her that she is likely to smell me long before I arrive, so it may be a brief visit.

Near Teakettle Junction, Death Valley National Park, California

Posted at 7:20 pm, March 16th, 2005

Woke up at 5:30 this morning and caught the sunrise at 6:00. After taking a few photos I headed over to Golden Canyon, which I’ve somehow never visited despite it being one of the most popular hikes in the park. Explored all over the place, including up and down side canyons, but the highlight was the awesome view from the very end of the trail. On the way back one couple asked me “is it worth it?” — I forget what I told them, but I was thinking that anyone who needed to ask should already know the answer.

The afternoon was spent finding out what a paint shaker feels like as I traveled the world’s most rutted dirt road up to the Racecourse, a dry lakebed in the park’s backcountry. By the end of the drive I was making stops solely for the joy of not feeling my teeth knock together, but the Racecourse turned out to be a nice spot for hiking.

Near Badwater, Death Valley National Park, California

Posted at 6:30 pm, March 15th, 2005

What little photographic mojo I possess is thus far not flowing on this trip, so despite some beautiful scenery I’ve yet to get any really good photos. The rangers are saying that due to the heavy winter rains that this is the best year for wildflowers that anyone can remember, so hopefully tomorrow I’ll recall how exactly the camera is supposed to be used.

The highlight of the day was a hike through Mosaic Canyon, which at times has walls so narrow that a person can barely squeeze through, and so smooth that it can be like climbing porcelain. In past visits I’ve never managed to find a way past a dry waterfall that marks the end of the trail, and so spent a while today scaling ridges and exploring side canyons. Definitely fun, but the waterfall remains an insurmountable barrier.

Other highlights included putting Subaru’s engineering to the test on a four-wheel drive “road”, along which I am camped for the night, and getting buzzed by a navy jet which was flying about a hundred feet off of the ground; luckily I saw him at the last second and covered my ears, otherwise I would probably have spent the afternoon deaf. The plan for the evening is to enjoy the incredible stargazing here, and with a newly-purchased guide to astronomy in hand I’m hoping to learn enough that in the future I’ll be able to point to the sky and say something more intelligent than “that one is called ‘the moon’.”

Wildflowers in Death Valley

Wildflowers in Death Valley.

Somewhere on I-5 between Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

Posted at 10:15 pm, March 14th, 2005

Spent yesterday morning in Sequoia National Park amongst the giant trees, although God apparently decided to send all of the snow that should have been in Yosemite Valley to Sequoia instead, so hiking opportunities were limited. At around noon a heavy, wet bank of mist rolled in, obscuring visibility so completely that the tops of the trees disappeared from sight. I decided to move south, but after traveling quite some distance got a call informing me that there was a minor matter requiring my attention back home. Now, twenty-four hours and five hundred miles later, I’m back on the road.

10 miles south of Kings Canyon National Park, California

Posted at 6:55 pm, March 12th, 2005

As expected, I made a mockery of skiing today. After cross-country skiing for little more than a mile, not only was a group on weekend-leave from the local nursing home flying by me, but I had developed blisters on either instep the size of silver dollars. Tucking my tail firmly between my legs I returned back to the trailhead. The afternoon was spent hobbling around Yosemite Valley, with a brief interlude spent talking to a “W-E-L-D-E-R” whose father, Jesus, made the valley. The guy was nice and the conversation was strange enough that it was enjoyable, although one of these days I need to answer the “Have you taken Jesus into your heart?” question in the affirmative and see how far I can take things before I start getting weird looks. $5 says I can at least get as far as a story of me and Jesus shooting pool in Berkeley, although I’m guessing the part where I win the game with a combo into the center pocket and Jesus demands to go double or nothing might draw a few questions.

The weekend crowd and my inability to walk without pain made an escape from Yosemite necessary, so now I’m just outside of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The drive up from Fresno to the park was surprisingly beautiful — the number and variety of wildflowers made me envy the horses in the meadows. Hopefully my nomadic instincts calm a bit and allow me to explore here for at least a day, although I’m guessing tomorrow may see a few more miles added to the odometer.

10 miles south of Yosemite National Park, California

Posted at 7:00 pm, March 11th, 2005

Yesterday’s wildlife sightings included a mouse fleeing across the highway. Today’s wildlife sightings included another mouse, although this one was in the process of being swallowed by a coyote. I spent an inordinately long time trying to get a picture of the coyote pouncing on mice (his mouse-catching batting average was one out of ten while I was watching him), but he had an uncanny ability to avoid being photographed. A group of ten deer had no such issues, and having several deer within feet of me provided the rare experience of feeling like wildlife was coming too close to me, rather than vice versa.

I thought it might be different to see Yosemite in winter for once, but was instead greeted by a high temperature of seventy-two degrees, and no snow whatsoever in Yosemite Valley. Baffling. Badger Pass, located at a much higher elevation, is rumored to still have some of the white stuff remaining, so I’ll make a run up there tomorrow and show the world how cross-country skiing was not meant to be done.

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls.

Rest Stop at the Junction of I-580 and I-5, California

Posted at 11:55 pm, March 10th, 2005

I don’t understand how time has gone so quickly, but it’s been nearly four months since I got back from the South Georgia trip. Sadly, while I’ve had fun and accomplished a few things, nothing particularly memorable has happened during this time. To all of the millions of people out there doing the nine-to-five (or worse), the idea of not having a life-changing adventure during a four-month break would be inconceivable, so it’s been with somewhat of a feeling of regret/guilt that I’ve been relaxing and working on various side-projects. Things change tonight, however; about two hours ago I set out in the Subaru without much idea of where I’m heading, whether I’m leaving for a week or six months, or what I’m gonna do, but once again life is going to be an adventure.

Bold talk notwithstanding, the adventures have not begun tonight. Aside from six fearless, nocturnal rabbits, this rest stop offers little in the way of excitement. Good thing tomorrow’s a new day.

Lafayette, California

Posted at 12:45 am, March 9th, 2005

The site has message boards again, and it is now possible to comment on these journal entries by clicking the comments link in the header of each entry. Feel free to flame me to a crisp for not supporting Michael Moore or for failing to give enough credence to theories of cow flatulence causing global warming.

Be aware that the message board code is still rather buggy. If you find problems please either post something about it or contact me and let me know what’s wrong so that I can fix it. Once the kinks are worked out I’ll release the code on the software page.

Lafayette, California

Posted at 10:00 am, March 4th, 2005

Here’s an AP article on the latest attempt to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. Two points about this article are worth mentioning: first, it seems that in recent years oil companies have shown “only modest interest” in drilling in the Arctic Refuge, and BP, Chevron/Texaco, and Conoco have pulled out entirely from the lobbying group that is pushing for drilling. Second, Interior Secretary Gail Norton, who is supposed to be protecting the environment and who the White House’s own biography describes as “a lifelong conservationist”, is quoted in this article as saying “You’ve got companies that have facilities 30 or 50 miles from ANWR. It seems like a natural extension”.

Apologies for posting politics again, but this is something that I’ve been writing about since I visited the Arctic Coastal Plain in September 2002. If you would like to contact Congress about this issue you can do so here or here.

Alaska oil pipeline

The Alaska oil pipeline.

Lafayette, California

Posted at 8:40 pm, March 1st, 2005

One thing about engineer-types is that they almost always harbor some hidden inner desire to be an artist. Whether it’s the geek in math class who wants to draw comic books or the folks like myself playing with photography, it seems to be fairly universal. Sadly, the vast majority of the time it seems that the analytical and creative sides of the brain are doled out disproportionately; anyone who reads this journal can tell I have the writing skills of a medium-sized rock, and I’m pretty sure that if given a camera, a monkey who shot thousands of photos would probably have the same handful of quality photos as I do.

That said, a few engineering-types actually do have some artistic talent. A friend of mine from college graduated near the top of his chemical engineering class, but along the way discovered that he really didn’t want to be an engineer. He went to Paris for a while, and I still have a drawing of the Eiffel Tower that he gave me while visiting (a downside of the art world is that the pay isn’t great, so gifts also become more creative). His girlfriend emailed the other day after discovering this site, and it turns out that he also has an online journal. Not only can the guy draw, but his ability to translate the stories from everyday life into words is pretty impressive. He’s no Steinbeck, but for an engineer it’s about as close to an artist as one could hope to be.