21 May 2016

traveling again

On the overnight flight from Gone West to Amsterdam, hours and hours in which the light never quite went away because the plane flew up over the Arctic Circle, I couldn't sleep. I don't know if it was for excitement or because the flight left Gone West at 1:30 pm. Who can sleep then?

As the flight tracker showed us beginning to descend over southern England, down over the English Channel toward Schipol Airport, I started counting to myself how many times I've flown into Amsterdam since 2000, when I first went back to Europe and Africa. 

How many times have I watched that flight tracker cross the English Channel? 9 or 10, I think. The 10th flight over the Atlantic might have been to Brussels instead, and the 11th to London, unless those were numbers 11 and 12. 

Schipol was the same shiny, bright place it's always been, with the yellow signs overhead. I had just enough time to go through immigration into the EU and back through security and to find a bathroom that didn't have a line all the way down the hall, and then I had to board my next plane. 

On that flight, I slept. 

There were no seat-back screens on this flight. Nothing to tell me where we were or when we would arrive, so I leaned against the window and dozed my way across Europe.

When I walked out of the "Nothing to Declare" door in Barcelona, J. was waiting with a sign that had my name, a picture of Barcelona, and the word "Bienvenidos" on it. (For any one who happens to be totally Spanish-less, that means welcome.)

Jet lag is a strange thing. I managed to stay awake until 11 pm Barcelona time, which was 2 pm in Gone West. By then I'd been awake for 32 hours, not counting the naps on the planes. We'd walked all across Barcelona, through the warren of narrow little streets full of tourists, past the markets and boulevards that everyone sees, and down along the waterfront, where we found a restaurant to sit protected by glass and eat thick-cut papas bravas next to the sand.

"I'm fine as long as it's light," I said at one point, "but even when we go into a street that doesn't have sunlight, I can feel myself fading." 

"You're a little loopy," J. said, as it got dark, as I blindly followed him across intersections and through alleys. 

I was quite loopy.

But I slept for 11 hours, and when I woke up, the air was warm and the sun was bright over Barcelona, and I was traveling again.

13 May 2016

another side of the road

The car overheated a few kilometers outside of Krka National Park. It was a little grey Peugeot 208, and we had quite liked it, initially. It had a transmission that could run as either an automatic or a manual, and it turned its engine off when you stopped with your foot on the brake. There were only 12,000 km on the odometer.

But then it overheated, and some warning words and red symbols came up on the navigation screen. They were in Croatian. Neither J. nor I can read Croatian. At all. And we had no internet to google the words. We knew that red symbols and exclamation points were probably bad, though, especially combined with the temperature gauge blazing past the top of the red zone, so we stopped and popped the hood.

The fluids all seemed fine. Nothing was visibly wrong. We resolved to turn the heat on to try to cool it off and limp back to Sibenik.

A kilometer later, the temperature gauge was back in the red and the symbols and words were back.


It took another kilometer or so to find a place to pull off - there was a tunnel - and when we opened the hood again, the coolant was completely gone.

Very bad.

We sat on the side of a hill for a while trying to connect to a cell phone network to call the rental car company. J. barely got through once in several tries, and then lost the call immediately.

At length, we decided to walk down the road to see if we could get better cell reception. We moved the car to the end of the pull off, debated the merits of leaving the hazard lights on ("The engine may already be destroyed," I said. "Who cares if the battery dies?"), and set off walking. (Well, first we took turns visiting the bushes for a pee on the side of a hill looking over a Croatian lake. It was a pretty pee.)

After less than half a kilometer of walking, a car containing two middle-aged men stopped and asked if we needed a ride. Gut-check revealing nothing other than a horrible smell of cigarette smoke in the car, we hopped in. The language barrier was real. We didn't even try to explain where to drop us off in town, accepting the bus station as a central (and explainable) location.

We arrived back in Sibenik about an hour after we planned, with no car. Instead of climbing up to visit two fortresses as we'd intended, we ended up using J.'s computer and then our host's cell phone to call the rental car company. 

"Does the car start?" the rental guy asked. 

"Yes," J. said, "but you can't drive it."

They would send someone, they said. It would be a couple of hours.

We got a bottle of wine and sat on the roof deck, watching the sun set over the Adriatic. 

That didn't suck.

We got some bread and cheese from the bakery and grocery down the hill, and we ate that, watching the last of the daylight over the islands.

That didn't suck, either. 

It was nearly 9 pm by the time the new rental car got there with two employees, and we directed them in the dark, studying the GPS on J.'s phone in the back seat of the little Suzuki. (I like Suzukis. I had a good experience with one on Zanzibar.)

They didn't believe us when we told them where to turn, but we finally convinced them to turn anyway, even though the wheels of "silly Americans who don't know where they are going" were visibly turning in their minds. The reason they didn't believe us about the turn is because we had brought them by a different route than where the car was, and so it required backtracking, not going toward the park. Which is a legit concern, but still. The J. and M. engineer/attorney combo is pretty likely to be right about a map. 

The car was still where we'd left it, blinking in the night. The coolant tank was still empty. 

"No problem," the English-speaker said. "We have water."

They poured a liter or two of water into the coolant tank. Employee #2, the non-English speaker, got behind the wheel and sat there for a minute, looking around the car. 

"He says that he can't drive this car," #1 told us. "It's an automatic."

Whaaaaaaaaaat? I still don't understand.

So #1 drove that car and J. drove the Suzuki. For about 500 meters before the Peugeot started having problems again. In the middle of the tunnel.

"They didn't believe me when I said it wasn't going to run," J. said. "They must have assumed the stupid Americans couldn't actually tell when something was wrong with the car."

Now the coolant tank was over-full, filled with a mixture of water and coolant. 

We left it on the side of the road, again, piled into the Suzuki, and drove back to Sibenik. The next morning, two different employees showed up at the guesthouse with two cars, the Suzuki for us and another for them. The company, they said, would send a truck for the Peugeot.

J. and I got into the Suzuki, which was a manual and had no fancy navigation contraptions, but ran like a dream, and we drove away along the scenic route down the coast, past emerald bays and steeple-topped hill towns, exclaiming all the way about how beautiful Croatia is. 

18 April 2016


"You are fearless," my mountaineering instructor said, as I leaned back off the edge of a rock to do my final safety check.

"Everyone has fears," I said. "I feel funny in my stomach when I stand at the edge of heights." (Facing backward is apparently fine.)

"So do I," he said. "But it doesn't stop you."

One other student and I were so excited about rappelling the forty feet off the rock that we did it three times. Everyone else did it twice, but we were first, and then we were standing at the bottom looking up longingly as the others finished up, so they let us do it again.

"You are a pro," my instructor's fiancee said, down at the bottom, as I finished my rappel, leaned fully back like I was sitting in a chair. 

"It's so much fun!" I said.

I was trying to explain it to someone the other day: I can't do sports that require much in the way of hand-eye coordination, which rules out most team sports. But give me a sport that requires fearlessness and a willingness to work hard, and I'm in. (See martial arts. See also mountaineering.)

14 April 2016

defeated by the children, again

Scenes from a trampoline park:


J. went running off to try something. The trampoline lifeguard dashed after him. 

"I think he forgot about the no running," I said. 

"First I thought he was running because a kid got hurt," the TL said. "Then I remembered that you two didn't come with any kids."

"You're making quite an assumption there, thinking he's not a kid," I said. 

"I kind of got that," the TL said. 

(J. found this hilarious. I am saying nothing here that I have not already said to him.)


J. fell into the air pit while trying to walk along a challenge tunnel, one foot on each wall. 

He crawled across the pit and managed to hoist himself out. 

Across the pit, a kid fell into it and stood up, walking effortlessly on the air. 


I dropped into the air pit just to see how it felt. (Weird.) 

When I clambered laboriously out, there was a girl with dark red-blonde hair staring at me. 

"You're supposed to wear closed-toe shoes to go in there," she said sternly, and pointed at the sign not three feet from me."

"Oh," I said. "You're right. You also have to be four feet tall. Do you do this one? Are you four feet tall?"

She gravely stood with her back to the sign. She was about 1/4 inch over 4 feet tall.

Then she showed me her caramel apple lollipop. 

"Those are my favorite, too," I told her.


I jumped off a ledge onto a trampoline, but my knees gave out and I fell. I rolled into a ball and stayed there.

I finally moved when I heard the TL coming over, expecting him to yell at me for lying down. 

"Oh, good," the TL said. "You aren't dead."

"She's just embarrassed," J. said.


J.'s list of injuries grew: 

  1. He slammed into the ledge as he bounced back toward it (arm). 
  2. He bounced on his head (neck).
  3. He got rug burn all over his feet, knees, and elbows. 
  4. That pulled muscle he already had in his thigh, from softball and all the other sports. 
"I'm so old," he said on one of the injury-recovery breaks. "Why would you want to date an old broken guy?"

(That's funny because he's younger than me.)


"You guys lasted a lot longer than most adults," the TL said. "Most people over the age of, like, 18, give up after an hour. It was a mistake, though. You'll regret it tomorrow. It was a mistake."


"Was that in the 1950s?" I asked J., today, when he told me the name of his first girlfriend. "That would be a good 50s name."

"The way I feel today, it might have been," he said.


(We actually both feel better than we expected. Trampolines are hard work.)

27 March 2016


One thing I am learning about mountaineering is that, if you let it, it will take all your time and all your money. Three weeks in, it's taken about $800 (and counting), all my Saturdays, two Tuesday nights and one Friday afternoon. Between that and the commute, I do virtually nothing else. 

The good news is that I save money in other areas. Plans for Friday night? What plans? I'm getting ready for a hike and going to bed in time to get up at 4:45 am. 

Yesterday's hike was even harder than the previous two, although I'm getting stronger and learning how to be more efficient. The key has been the rest step, which means that each time I take a step on a steep uphill, I lock my back knee, stretching my calf and improving blood flow. With that step, the 1000 vertical feet per mile for 3.5 miles was no problem. 

Also, I stay near the front. The front moves slowly and steadily. But I've learned that the long line of 20 people inch-worms, as the instructor says, and when you are in the back you have to stop for the people who are slow getting over some obstacle and then try to move faster to catch up. 

I am not so much sore today as I am stiff. My muscles are pleasantly tired, but my joints are displeased with me, especially my knees. I got stuck with the rope, you see, the 8 pound rope strapped onto my backpack, for most of the way down, even though I had proclaimed on the way up that I would carry it all the way up if only I didn't have to carry it down. Still, somehow, after hiking up and over a couple of saddles, it was my turn again by the time we started hiking straight down.

"What are your plans for the year?" the instructor asked, on the way straight up the hill.

"I haven't really thought much beyond this class," I said. "I'd like to hike [Mountain I've Climbed Twice Before] again, because I have friends who haven't done it. And I never thought I wanted to climb [Mountain that Overlooks the City] because too many people die on it, but now I think I might try it if I were with people whose safety conscientiousness I trusted."

"You've made a good start toward [Mountain that Overlooks the City]," he said. "Most people who die on it die because they aren't being as cautious as they should be."

So that might happen, despite my proclamations only 3 weeks ago that it would never would.

We also rappelled for the first time. Not straight down, though. We just practiced the rappelling technique on a very steep section of trail, which I found harder than (at least conceptually) rappelling straight down a vertical cliff, because I had to think not just about where my feet were but also about how to get over the next obstacle between me and the bottom. It mostly worked. 

Part of the expense of mountaineering is the class. Part of the expense is the gear. Part of the expense is getting to the places. Part of the expense is the food. And part of it is the fact that I will do just about anything not to be cold, including buying more warm clothes to ensure that I won't be cold. 

(It doesn't work. You can have the best clothes in the world, and when you keep switching back and forth between steep up and steep down, you are going to be alternating way too hot (take off layers) and then freezing (put layers back on). But I keep trying.)

20 March 2016

climbing problem

The hike yesterday was, hm, let's just say: harder. 

Much of it was very steeply uphill, so I ate my way through the ziplock bag of sour jelly bellies that I had stashed in my cargo pocket, which is my method of keeping my energy up on steep hikes.  

There were more ropes - did I mention that we all have to take turns carrying 8 pound ropes tied to our packs? no? we do, and it is not pleasant, because they are heavy and unwieldy - so we each had to take more turns carrying them. With the rope, I started up the trail with a 33 pound pack. (Truth be told, I have no idea how my pack got to 25 pounds without the rope. Maybe it was the thermos of hot chocolate? Maybe it was the climbing harness and all the carabiners?)

Our fearless leader wanted it to be as challenging as possible, so we climbed straight up a boulder field half-covered in slippery, melting snow. We walked/slid straight down a different snow field. (Not a glacier, thank goodness. The class last week made me paranoid about glaciers and crevasses and avalanches, especially since I live in a place that has constant rotation between snowing / thawing / raining / freezing / snowing, resulting in slabs of snow between layers of ice, which is apparently the perfect set-up for slab avalanches. But this was a small snow field, and I don't think the snow was deep enough for an avalanche.)

When I took my pack off at the end of the hike, I felt so free that I could hardly help but jog on my way to the restroom. It's kind of weird to me that I have so much energy after so much hard work. Never fear, it disappeared completely by the time I got home and had to try to stand up to brush my teeth. I could have used a stool to sit on in the bathroom. I was that exhausted.

Then I slept for 11 hours and today I started thinking that maybe I want to climb this mountain again. I looked it up, and it's harder than what I did yesterday but maybe about the same difficulty as what I'm doing next Saturday. Although if I go at the right time of year, there is no snow on the trail (the best time is August/September). I have time to get into better shape. And the view from the top is incomparable. I'm not sure there is anywhere else in this state with quite the same view. 

I'm turning into one of those people with a climbing problem. 

16 March 2016

little bitty mountain

I was a little bit nervous about the first hike with my mountaineering class because I am not in the best shape of my life and I hate carrying heavy things up mountains. I expected to be lagging at the back of the very fit crowd.

But lo! Apparently running the stairs in my office and walking the hills at lunchtime has kept me in better shape than I thought. I will never be able to keep up with the dudes who just race up the hill, but I can keep up with the bulk of the group. I never even felt like I was struggling. After we got down and went to a restaurant, I jogged on my way out to the car to get my rope to practice knots. (It was raining, thus the jogging, but the point is that I had the energy to jog.)

We hiked a little mountain that I've hiked before - it's about 3 miles up, with 2800' of elevation gain. Any time a hike approaches 1000' vertical feet per mile, I consider it strenuous. And I've hiked this mountain before, but it was two years ago when I was out of shape and having some issues figuring out how to pack the right food for hikes. I also hiked with some people who were radically in shape, so I almost don't even remember it. It was a haze of exhaustion and hypoglycemia. 

Not so, this time around. Even when I had to carry the rope on the steepest part of the trail, I was near the front of the pack, looking back to make sure we didn't lose the stragglers. 

The sun came out as we approached the tree line, but the wind threatened to blow us off the mountain. I put on my puffy jacket and my rain coat, and then I rolled up my neck warmer and put it over my ears. 

At the very top, some of the experienced climbers had gone up before us and were waiting with snacks and hot chocolate. 

Every climb should have people waiting at the top with snacks and hot chocolate. 

And it didn't start dumping rain until we got back to the car, which is a complete win for spring in this part of the world.