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

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.

Lafayette, California

Posted at 6:05 pm, February 27th, 2005

Apologies in advance for posting politics again, but this issue is one that seems like it should be getting a lot more attention and I’m baffled as to why it isn’t. In the past week several membes of Congress announced plans for a Count Every Vote Act whose goal is to improve the electoral process by providing greater transparency and making the voting process more consistent. This issue seems like one that any politician could use to make themselves look good, yet there is an eerie silence surrounding it. I’m stumped as to why there isn’t a ton of media coverage and political support for this bill; if anyone objects to this idea I’d love to hear your reasons for doing so, as I can’t see any reason why it would be a bad thing.

Lafayette, California

Posted at 4:35 pm, February 24th, 2005

Alaska is my favorite state for a number of reasons, one of which is that the people up there are a little… I guess different would be putting it mildly. Anyhow, the Alaskan Alpine Club decided that ice climbing would be more convenient if there was a large ice tower close to Fairbanks, so they are building their own. At last measurement they were at 136 feet, which is taller than the tallest building in Fairbanks. A red strobe was added to the top to alert aircraft, and still it grows.

Two money quotes (and there are many):

  • “If I’d ah knowed it were gonna get this high, I would not have been so impressed back when it was not so high.”
  • “We found some bones, feathers, a climber’s helmet and part of an airplane wing at the bottom of the ice. Tell no one.”

Winter diversions in Fairbanks

Lafayette, California

Posted at 10:55 am, February 23rd, 2005

The journal is going to remain dull for a bit longer — I’m still planning on a long roadtrip in the near future, but I’ve promised myself that some work I’m doing will get finished before I leave. The golden rule of estimating how long it will take to complete a software project is to make your best estimate and then triple it, something I obviously forgot to do; hopefully soon things will be finished.

In the mean time, check out Notes from the Road for some great travel photography and stories. This guy’s writing is so good that he can describe the stench and decay around the Salton Sea and still make you want to visit.

Lafayette, California

Posted at 10:20 am, February 18th, 2005

The Arctic and the Antarctic, two of my favorite places on this planet, have been the hardest hit by global warming thus far (average temperatures near the poles have risen several degrees in the past fifty years), so it’s difficult to listen to arguments about how global warming is a myth or that humans aren’t causing it. In a discussion about global warming on Slashdot, one poster nailed my feelings exactly:

“I do find it amusing to see people argue that a large number of experienced, intelligent, educated people are somehow irrelevant because some pundit shoots off his mouth… Seriously, anyone can have an opinion. Opinions aren’t special, how they’re formed and backed up is. I’m going to give special attention to people with the education and knowledge and listen to them if they seem trustworthy. Same reason I listen to my doctor on my health, my auto mechanic on my car, and why I expect people I work with to listen to me on issues of coding, data flow, and application development.”

With the majority of the scientific community now saying that global warming is real, and that it is almost certainly caused by humans, I’m baffled as to why the discussion hasn’t moved on to what can we do and is instead still focused on how can we be absolutely sure. If scientists are wrong about global warming, reducing pollution will still be a net benefit. If scientists are right, inaction will lead to countless extinctions and a vast disruption to life as we know it.

Gold Harbour

The glaciers (in the background of this photo) at Gold Harbour nearly touched the beach twenty years ago.