All posts by thewhiteboardpig

Waking up

I haven’t been back to CT since moving to CO almost 15 months ago – at least until this past weekend. I wasn’t sure what it would feel like. What places had changed. What places had stayed the same. I was most interested in seeing whether my perspectives had changed it all. Would it feel like I was “back home” after a vacation or would it be the vacation? Due to the mad rush of the shortest feeling “long” weekend ever (and the fact that I was sick but trying to push through), I think it’ll take a while and some reflection to answer most of those questions. Or maybe my fried brain didn’t actually absorb enough to answer any of them. Time will tell.

There were a few things that did jump out at me though, even in my fogged mental state… Above-ground power lines are really really ugly. That’s something that as a native you automatically filter out and don’t notice until you move somewhere that doesn’t have them. So many potentially scenic shots were ruined by gross looking rows of power lines. Of course within a half day of being back, I was no longer noticing them again. I also managed to find the answer to my oft-pondered question “why do long drives go by so much faster in CO?” 2-3 hour drives have become routine on weekends since moving out there. They don’t even feel that terrible or long. That same length drive in New England is agony. Even a ride half that length sucks. It only took me from the airport to Plainville to finally realize why. It’s the damn trees. You can’t see anything while driving. It’s always an endless hallway of trees. CO has amazing and diverse views that never get old. CT has… trees here, trees there, more trees ahead.

Something I missed more than I realized is the beach. Many people find the mountains and wilderness areas to be their ultimate relaxation spots – aside from weed, that’s the primary reason people move to CO. As much as I try to adopt that mentality, they don’t relax me at all. I see adventure and challenges, and I want to go and do. Nothing about them makes me want to sit, stare, and clear my mind – quite the opposite. The brief, freezing minutes I stood on the empty beach in Old Lyme are the most relaxing minutes I’ve had since moving. Having one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen may have been a contributing factor (see title image). In fact, the top three relaxing and at-peace moments of my life have all involved evenings on the beach. I need to make a mental note-to-self to fit in a beach vacation in 2017.

Seeing people I haven’t seen since moving was, of course, cool too. One of my friends noted that after a couple of hours together it felt like I never left. I think that sums up the trip pretty well. By the second day back, it did indeed feel like I never left. I could have gone back to my old routine without missing a beat. I picked up with friends right where we left off. That made the entire past year feeling like a lucid dream. In some respects I blame the air travel. Flying always has a way of making me feel like I’m being teleported or put in a time machine. You get loaded into a giant, noisy cigar tube, you can’t see much because the douche next to you that had to have the window has the shade drawn, so you take a nap and wake up in a very different place. Flying doesn’t allow for the same level of continuity as driving, and it’s that continuity that gives me the feeling I’ve actually traveled. You can’t really see the land change or feel the climate change in a plane. You’re in one place – then you’re in another. Throw in some massive sinus pressure/pain clouding your thinking and it’s easy to wonder whether the experience is real or a day-dream. On top of all that, there’s the incredibly hectic nature of the past 15 months (and maybe even going back two years, as the move stress began long before the move day itself). Even in spite of mini-vacas and attempts to wind down, it still feels like my feet haven’t quite hit the floor yet out here. It’s not what I was expecting to walk away from the trip with, but it’s actually CO that feels like a very long vacation, during which I have to work, of course.

Never meet your heros

Mayflower Gulch (the location of which Instagram can’t ever seem to decide on – I’ve seen Breck, Dillon, Silverthrone, and Frisco suggested – apparently it’s actually Leadville) has become our most frequently repeated hiking area. It’s easy to get to… after you sit in I-70 traffic for many hours in both directions, very scenic, has plenty of mine ruins to check out, can be used as a trail head for at least three 13ers, and is always loaded with snow in the winter so it’s a great backcountry snowboarding spot too.

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Summer conditions – lasts for like 3 months of the year
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The rest of the year conditions

There’s mining evidence all over the basin in various states of decay. In the back towards the Atlantic-Fletcher ridge there’s a surprisingly good condition cable tram tower that ran a bucket hoist to a mine sitting only a few hundred feet below Atlantic’s summit.

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View of the cable tower far below Atlantic’s west ridge
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At the cable tower, looking up to the mine (tiny black square below the ridge in center photo)

Incredibly, the 100+ year old lift cable is still attached to both towers. I remember seeing all this the first time we went to Mayflower a year ago and thinking it’d be awesome to check out such a secluded mine. It’s been kind of an unofficial goal to find a mine that’s difficult enough to reach that it’s basically been untouched since it was abandoned. Given that it sat at least 1,000ft up multiple cliff bands, this one seemed pretty promising. It also seemed pretty much impossible to reach, so I never thought about it beyond “would be cool if we could, but…” Every time we went back to Mayflower I looked at that mine and what appeared to be a pretty intact lift platform/loading chute and had the same “would be cool, but… it’s not possible.” But as our scrambling skills improved and I either lost my fear of heights or ascended that hyperbolic section of the increasing confidence curve right before an accident or close call sends it plunging to new lows (see: rule 64), looking up at the platform went from wishful thinking to determination and route finding. USFS maps confirmed a known mine tunnel and given the effort and expense that must have been required to build a tram run that I’d estimate at a half mile long and 1,500ft of vertical, certainly it was a very extensive mine working that would make for epic exploring.

Finally the day came when I looked up at the platform and a doable route seemed obvious – maybe even a few doable routes. The risk:reward suddenly seemed realistic. By all accounts it should be a very large, untouched mine, likely full of artifacts/cool shit, and at this point my opinion of the climb had gone from “impossible” to “it’ll probably go, maybe even easily.”

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Our actual route, which ended up being exactly the same as my initially imagined route. Hard to judge scale, but for size reference if there was a person at the base of the route, they’d be too small to see.

I’ve learned three rules after a year of being in the mountains out here.

  1. Everything is further away than it looks – much, much further away
  2. If a climb looks hard, it’s impossible. If it looks easy, it’s really hard.
  3. If the rock looks loose, it’s a death trap. If it looks solid, it’s really loose.

No exceptions to those rules here. Standing at the lower mine tunnel at the base of the climb, the rock was much looser than I thought it would be, the slope was steeper, and what was an obvious route looking at the entire mountain from a half mile away became disorienting and impossible to see beyond the couple hundred feet to each successive cliff band.

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The lower Gold Crest tunnel is the largest mine we’ve found so far

While getting ready at the lower mine tunnel, the dog took off after a mountain goat. In only a couple of minutes he was half way up and one gully to the west of the route. Locked in a stand-off with the goat on a tiny ledge, he wasn’t interested in listening to any commands and certainly wasn’t coming down on his own. If there were any remaining reservations about the climb, they were gone or ignored as we began up (at that point simply to get him down).

Due to a time crunch (had a really important massage to get to that afternoon), the focus on getting the dog, and the danger of the route, I took almost no photos during the climb. The dog was eventually called back over once we reached parallel to him and I had the pleasure of climbing with him tied to me the rest of the ascent and descent. The route more or less alternated between very loose gullies/dirt between the cliff bands and easy class 3 climbs on solid rock and/or slabs through the cliff bands. None of the route was exposed and none of the climbing was technical. Nevertheless it was slow and tendous with careful route finding being necessary. By far the largest objective hazard was rock fall, with literally everything small I touched coming out and plenty of large (fridge sized or more) ready to go with very little prompting. Thanks to the uniformly steep slope, everything that went, went all the way to the base of the climb.

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A little ways below the platofrm. Lower 1/3 of route drops over cliffs and is out of sight. Cable run visible to the upper left.
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The mine still looked promising at this point.

The crux of the climb actually ended up being trying to get onto the lift platform, which overhung the slope significantly (easily 30ft+ off the ground at its most outer point) and was located on the steepest terrain of the climb, leaving only a scramble over very large, very loose rock to the left, a 20ft 5th class block up the middle, or a “run fast and hope for the best” crumbling sand/rock ledge to the right. We went right and pulled ourselves up to the most disappointing climax of any climb so far.

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Platform with semi intact dump chute precariously overhanging the cliff 20+ft. Whatever was on top of the platform is totally obliterated by rock slides.
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The only… anything… not completely demolished. Lift cable is snagged in the chute, NOT still attached to the pulley. Could fall out at any time.
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Maximum disappointment. Mine tunnel went in 15ft, took a 90 degree right turn, then was completely blocked by the strangest wave of floor to ceiling ice that I stupidity got no picture of. Why the hell was there a wheelbarrow?
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Coolest (but totally not worth it) find of the day… carbonated Gatorade (gross). Left it for some other disappointed climber to find.

I think we spent a total of ten minutes at the top, mostly to eat, because there certainly wasn’t anything to explore. The views were incredible and of course it was a “route” totally free of other people, which is always a bonus. I also managed to find a drill bit for a souvenir. But otherwise it was a tedious, fairly risky climb and the biggest reward was a vintage, canned Gatorade (which was actually still full).

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Views were certainly incredible. Thankfully the route was south-facing and totally free of snow, unlike everything facing north.

I’d still do it again though. I’m not sure why people say, “never meet your heros.” I’d rather know that I totally overhyped them; that up close they’re decimated by rock fall and blocked by 6ft of ice. Why would I want to keep staring at them delusionally and building them up, always wishing I had gone for it? The only real problem is that I now need a new hero.

 

 

 

Survival of the least stupid

Within the last few posts on this blog I’ve begun to develop this odd idiosyncrasy requiring me to get the title image up before my brain will get into writing mode, even when the image has little or nothing to do with the post itself. Getting the first few lines down is always the crux of any written piece (at least for most people) and this has become just another barrier standing in the way. Luckily, being the problem solver that I am, I outsmarted it this time and used it as the opening lines.

 

i-am-so-7gtovh

 

This weekend we backpacked in to Crystal Lake and did the Father Dyer and Crystal Peak (both 13ers) loop on Saturday. The RunCam managed to survive the sub-freezing night and I was able to get some helmet video of the scrambly part of the Dyer ridge for anyone with the patience to watch it that might want to see what a typical summer route on a non-walkup 13er/14er looks like. I was merciful enough to insert some music to help pass time through the boring sections of video. I did this route last weekend in totally dry conditions and the addition of slippery snow/ice in exactly the places it needed to not be definitely took the difficulty and danger factors up a notch or two, but it was still perfectly doable and safe with extra care taken.

 

Semi-related…

We’ve been out-loud reading Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales very, very slowly for at least a month now, so we figured if it came with us on our backpacking trip this weekend we might actually be able to make some progress on it during our downtime. Of course, downtime during our trips tends to be more wishful fantasy than reality. But thanks to the not-so-comfortable evening temps of alpine camping and some hurricane force wind, we were able to find a little reading time this weekend. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t feeling it. I’m not sure if it was the exhaustion from the climb, the cold, the lack of useful content in the book, the repetition of ideas, or Gonzales’s confused, annoying writing style, but I called it quits that night.

We bought the book for obvious reasons. Many in the outdoors community consider it a must-read. Gonzales basically has a single idea in the book that he repeats ad nauseam: people die in survival situations because emotion takes precedent over logic and they make poor choices they had no control over. This is every chapter. Over and over and over. Interlaced with some flowery, metaphoric, and overly descriptive story writing that belongs in a poetry book. I have no idea how this book has the rave reviews and “must read” status that it does. The book’s tag line is “who lives, who dies, and why” but, bafflingly, Gonzales never actually answers the question. He describes (in the most, almost comically, over-descriptive manner possible) story after story of people NOT in survival situations getting killed by what he determines to be this emotional “short cut” system leading them to choices that are evolutionarily logical, but not appropriate in the given situation. The issues here are twofold. First, nearly every situation given as an example is NOT a survival situation. The examples are of people engaging in high-risk activities rather than fighting for survival. Second, in all his flowery narratives of these events he wasn’t even present for, he seems to have forgotten Occam’s Razor. He never actually presents any evidence that ties all his cited psychological research stew to the death of even a single person in his examples. The ties repeatedly made are only his opinion – and he seems ok with that, reinforcing his opinion by adding completely fictional inner thought narration to the soon-to-be dead person.

Maybe in example after example of people making stupid decisions during high-risk activities, the explanation isn’t some uncontrollable, complex feedback loop of subconscious emotion buried since our caveman days, but rather, people making perfectly conscious, controllable, rational (but piss poor) decisions in situations which are not kind to poor decisions. After all, that is what makes high-risk activities high-risk: there is little to no room for mistakes in actions or decisions. Maybe in his often repeated example of snowmobilers killed by an avalanche they created, the decision to charge up an avalanche-prone slope they were warned not to go up was made consciously. Maybe egos and male group dynamics (don’t want to be the “pussy” in the group) won out over the assessment of potential risk. Avalanche fatality statistics have shown the benefit of additional eyes and experience offered by extra group members peaks at a very small number of people, with each additional group member actually increasing the likelihood of poor decision making in avalanche terrain. Gonzales not only never touches on this, he doesn’t even brush by it. Maybe what got those guys killed was the all too common and deadly “it’ll never happen to me” mentality.

I’ve been in the type of situations Gonzales repeatedly cites. It’s not a “survival situation”. It’s a high-risk situation in which you’re faced with a choice. Every time I’ve made a choice in those situations, I’ve made it consciously after weighing my options and running them through logic and reasoning (even when things are happening quickly), just like all the people in his examples did (though he isn’t interested in examining that angle). Every time I leave the house to climb, I remind myself that getting home again is more important than summiting. It’s why I turned around within a very literal stone’s throw of Atlantic’s summit earlier this spring (though I’m still annoyed by that situation to this day) and why I’ve abandoned or rerouted several climbs over the winter due to avalanche potential. Even this weekend, I knew small amounts of snow on the route was not only possible, but likely. I knew that even a tiny bit of residual snow or ice on the wrong hand or foot hold could turn a fun and easy scramble into a bad situation. After an hour and a half drive on a Friday night, backpacking in two miles in the dark, and hiking up to the ridge on a freezing cold morning, I still would have pulled the plug and gone back home if I was uncomfortable with the situation. Every other person that’s playing in the mountains and surviving keeps that same mentality near and dear to themselves: err on the safe side and live to try again. Even my dog was capable of looking over multiple route options before moving and avoiding ones where the difficulty to exposure ratio was out of wack.

That’s not to say that all incidents in the mountains come down to decision making. Some people draw life’s short straw and have a bad day. No one is immune from bad luck and that’s why sometimes even the best decision makers don’t come home. This is when all the internet mountaineers come in to Monday morning QB the situation with after-the-fact woulda/coulda/shouldas that no non-psychic person could have possibly acted on during the incident. But bad luck aside, if you’re the type of person that snowmobile charges up avalanche terrain on a “red” day, then your days in the mountains are numbered (it’s a small number too) and to blame it on some deep, subconscious human thought loop that was uncontrollable means you’re either horribly naive or trying to sell a shitty book.

Caterpillars and Owls

Far away
The ship is taking me far away
Far away from the memories
Of the people who care if I live or die

The starlight
I will be chasing a starlight
Until the end of my life
I don’t know if it’s worth it anymore

-Muse, Starlight

That song, among others, has been stuck in my head for the past couple weeks. My idea to live cheaply enough that I can more or less drop off the grid has been stewing for years, but watching Into the Wild and reading up on Chris McCandless was the tipping point for actually beginning to finally take steps towards it. The way I saw it, Chris was able to have more life experiences in his final two years than most people manage in a lifetime. Even though he died young, he lived a full life. I looked at myself, getting older, spending the vast majority of my time tied to a desk and staring at a computer screen, doing nothing of value for myself or society, and I made the decision to pursue a life that was at least somewhat in the spirit of Chris’s, albeit much less extreme (for now).

I’ve been in Colorado for a little over a year now and I’m beginning to wonder if the physical isolation from old friends has given me a sort of tunnel vision, not at all unlike the tunnel vision Chris got when he decided to disown his family. Out of sight, out of mind. I know they’re still there. I communicate with them on social media and for the extra cool ones there’s also that modern human appendage called a cell phone. But over the past year, I seem to have discounted their value in my life and future. Friends didn’t factor into the move decision and they haven’t factored into any subsequent steps taken since then. I’m doing just fine without them. I have fun hiking, climbing, cycling, and snowboarding. What more do I need? Oddly enough, the answer has been right in front of me from the get go. One of last things Chris McCandless penned in his diary, after having two years of incredible experiences most people could only dream of, was “happiness only real when shared”.

I think it’s important to make a distinction at this point. The way I see it, there is a very real and significant split between two types of friends: friends made in childhood and friends made in adulthood (after entering the working world). At least in my experience, adult friendships tend to develop over shared activities and such, or the fact that you’re stuck together for 40 hours per week at work. The activity (or being stuck at work together) is almost always the connection. This differs significantly from more long-standing friendships that have weathered the many changes of hobbies, likes/dislikes, jobs, moves, life, etc. These older friends truly know you, because they were there and lived through significant life events with you. You can tell new friends about the past, but hearing about it isn’t the same as going through it together and being there for each other. New friends can be made, but they’ll never be a replacement for old friends. So don’t leave any comments saying, “just make some new friends”. Put simply, there is no substitute for old friends – not your new friends, not your significant other, not your dog. I’ve known this all along, but whether it’s the tunnel vision, lost perspective, or some type of failure to look at my future with a wider lense than merely what activities I can accomplish, I’ve completely written it off – until this past week.

As mentioned in the preceding post, an old friend (now getting old in more than one way, henceforth referred to as “sprout”, per the prior post) came to visit last week. This was the first time in a year I had actually seen one of my old friends and it reintroduced some perspective, totally shattered the tunnel vision, and made me do some deep thinking. It also brought to mind Chris McCandless’s statement I had previously ignored: “happiness only real when shared”. Why? I thought I was happy having endless outdoor activities and near perfect weather at my disposal. I thought I was happy doing things I’d never thought I’d do. Then I started reflecting and realized that when the film reel of my life is replayed, the events that stand out enough to make it on almost all involve friends. The things I’ve done and accomplished myself have faded away – no matter how seemingly important or epic they were at the time. At best, I remember that I did them, but the details aren’t there, if I even remember the event at all.

I’ve had the opportunity to do some solo climbs this summer that I chose specifically to push the envelope on my meager climbing skills and my fear of heights (yes, it is indeed comical that I have a fear of heights yet spend every weekend in the mountains). In fact, the title image is from just this morning – me looking like a dope on the Father Dyer summit. Even though these climbs were all within the past two months, I already know they didn’t make any lasting and certainly not any meaningful memories. As I do more peaks, these will simply fade away. The only emotion experienced during these events that was strong enough to leave an imprint was the fear that came from sketchy, exposed moves. The terror of realizing that my axe was penetrating the rock-hard snow so shallow that it would do absolutely nothing to catch a fall if I slipped while trying to traverse the peak of a 50 degree, 800ft high snow field on Atlantic Peak is pretty well seared into my brain. Everything else on that and every other climb is totally forgettable, because they were done alone. This phenomenon isn’t exclusive to climbing either. It includes any and all other activities as well. My seemingly epic and big accomplishment solo cycling rides and races fade away just the same. The feeling of fulfillment evaporates the following day and it’s off to the next activity to try to get it back. The forgetability (I have just invented that word) of nearly everything I do by myself has fueled the trend to push myself harder and to increase my risk tolerance. It has really made no difference, and it wasn’t until this week that I realized why.

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Final ledge on the Sawtooth traverse. As easy as a sidewalk… but with a 2000ft cliff instead of a curb.

The climbs, rides, and adventures I do remember in great detail even years later are the seemingly lame ones back in CT – the ones I did with friends while we joked and laughed the whole time. Or the ones that involved lots of whining and complaining, while reminiscing on all the whining and complaining from the prior time. The “boring”, easy bike rides that were anything but boring. The (at the time) seemingly epic hikes up Sleeping Giant that I could now probably jog through on a lunch break. I remember the good times I had, and those good times were a product of friendships and personal interaction, not the mountains, not the “challenge”, not the adrenaline rush of exposure or risk. There is no replacement for making new memories with old friends. I finally realized this while trying to figure out why I was having more fun dragging the whining sprout up tiny hills than scrambling 13ers by myself or how literal car camping in the most uncomfortable position possible was actually made enjoyable by caterpillar jokes and getting assaulted by an owl. Those seemingly lame activities were made memorable enough to tell in “remember that time” stories for years to come. It totally renewed my perspective and broke the tunnel vision. What I’m not sure of yet is how it’ll affect my decision making going forward. I do know one thing though…

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I’m still never moving back to CT.

Failure reloaded

This probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone, but pictures taken with the Note 4 are leaps and bounds better than pictures from the Galaxy S3. When digging back through my Mt. Evans attempt 2014 pictures I thought something was wrong with the photos or I was viewing some compressed version of them. Nope. The S3 is just old as dirt… or the Note 4 is awesome. The Note 5 and Note 6 hardly existed and now the Note 7 is burning people’s houses down; so I’m pretty content with my phone that won’t kill me and takes great pictures – plus it’s not paid off yet so I’m stuck with it.

That trip to Colorado in 2014 seems so recent when thinking about the trip itself, yet it feels like another lifetime when thinking about everything that’s occurred between then and now. That vacation planted the seed for my desire to move to Colorado. If we had never gone I’d probably still be living in Connecticut, riding laps of Walnut Hill Park after work and screaming at the hood rats walking their pit bulls to get out of the way.

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2014 vacation partner: The Sprout

 

During that vacation I developed (at complete random) an overwhelming urge to bike to the summit of Mt Evans. We already had rental bikes and CDOT had opened the Evans Scenic Byway just that week. Sprout thought the idea was ludicrous, because it involved going upwards and no one wants to do that on a bike, so I had to solo it while she sought out flat roads. Spoiler: I didn’t make it.

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But I did manage this Galaxy S3 crap pic of the summit that looks like it was taken with a potato

 

Sprout came out to visit this week (more on that in another post, maybe) and of course we reminisced about the 2014 trip, and last night I happened to pull my total lie “Mt. Evans – I made it” shirt out from deep in my overloaded t-shirt drawer. That all got me thinking about attempting Evans again and… you know… actually making it this time. It’s been two years, I might be in better (or worse) shape, maybe the mountain shrunk, maybe the trainer I don’t have has been slipping me EPO – it was worth a try.

On the drive there I was weighing out my probability of success by comparing attempt 2014 to attempt 2016.

In 2014 I had a few things working against me. It was early June so it was cold as shit and I ultimately turned around at Summit Lake because of 30mph sustained wind and 40+mph gusts. Getting this wind from the side was nearly pushing me off cliffs or into traffic. Getting it head on (which is where it was most often) had me at VO2max for nearly the entirety of the ride, simply so I could maintain through the gusts the >5mph pace necessary to not simply tip over. By the time I reached summit lake I was absolutely smoked. So I didn’t have to deal with any of that this time. It was a nice, calm, albeit storm threatening day. Back in 2014 I had also flown in from sea level and only spent a few days in Denver prior to riding at high altitude. This time around I’ve been not only living in Denver for a year, but have spent plenty of nights in the past couple months sleeping at 10,000+ft. I also now have the advantage of riding my own bike instead of a rental – although, given that the rental was a CAAD10 Ultegra, that might actually be a disadvantage.

On the flip side, even thought it was early in the riding season during attempt 2014, I had probably already done more riding that year than I’ve done in all of 2016. My bike riding has really fallen off this year. Whether my fitness has also remains to be seen. Then of course there is the minor issue that storms were predicted to start around noon and I was just beginning to head up at 11:15am. All-in-all though, I figured I had more going for me than against me this time around, just as long as the weather held out.

Of course the weather didn’t hold out. Scary clouds were rolling in before I even clipped into the pedals, but I decided to go for it anyway. Unlike climbing a 14er, which seems to take even longer going down than up, biking one gives you a descent time that is only a tiny fraction of the ascent time, reduced further by a factor that is directly proportional to the size of your balls…. meaning: I wasn’t really too concerned about my ability to beat a storm coming down. If I was hiking, I never would have even left the parking lot.

First, the good news. My 2014 split time from Echo Lake (the start) to Summit Lake was 1 hr and 32 mins. Today I managed to do it in 1 hr 7 mins, which is so significantly faster that I was feeling really good about myself, right up until I remembered how much wind there was last time and how much wind there wasn’t this time. I used the same pacing as last time, keeping in the threshold heart rate zone while climbing – which had me averaging around 7.5mph for the whole ascent while still recovering (rather than trying to hammer) on the couple, very short flat sections. I don’t know whether that speed is good or bad because I just don’t care enough to go look up pace times for the Mt. Evans Time Trial.

Unfortunately, the misleadingly named Summit Lake (which, in reality, is almost 2000ft below the summit) is once again as far as I made it (actually, I went like 100 yards passed just to feel like I accomplished more than last time). With a thunderstorm off to the east (pictured in the title image), plenty more building to the west, and a butt clenching descent ahead of me, the last thing I wanted was to start getting rained on. If I had to evaluate it, I’m probably in worse shape than last time, but the lack of wind and my altitude acclimatization seemed to have more than made up for it. I probably could have made it, were it not for the weather (I could have made it last time too). Nonetheless, it was a good training ride and great time to reminisce further on vacation 2014. I also managed the descent on RIM BRAKES… OMG. I even continued down into Idaho Springs through rain and hail on my RIM BRAKES… and I’m still alive!!

Oh! This ride also let me try out the Runcam2 for something other than drone and RC plane video. Below is a video of the descent that’ll only be impressive to people who don’t road bike. There’s no moral to this story or any witty conclusions either, because I hate blogs that try to give cheesy life advice. I go up mountain. I go down mountain. End of post.

 

 

Commoditizing hope

Waaaaay back in the first post on this blog (ok, maybe it was the second post) I mentioned that prior to coming to the realization that our envisioned lifestyle required cutting costs, we briefly attempted to come up with ideas to increase revenue instead. These didn’t work out for various reasons, which I’ll get into below, but they did recently result in us running across Robert Kiyosaki’s The Business of the 21st Century (I’ll get into that later too). I have absolutely no respect for Kiyosaki as a person or for his shitty advice, so I never would have read this book otherwise. However, it proved to be interesting for reasons he obviously didn’t intend and prompted me to remember a thought I had while mulling over income generation ideas months ago.

The standard way to generate income for literally more than 99% of the world’s population is to exchange significant chunks of their life for money. This is the foundation of labor that capitalism is built on. A massive underclass that does not own the means of production sells itself to the handful of folks that do own the means of production. If this doesn’t sound appealing to you (and obviously it doesn’t to me either, hence my dilemma that prompted creation of this blog), you really only have two other options:

  1. Become an owner of means of production.
  2. Generate money with money.

#1 means owning a business. #2 is called “investing” or “trading” or “Goldman Sachs raping Grandma’s retirement account”. In the book, Kiyosaki actually discusses four income generation methods rather than three, which he puts into a “cash flow quadrant” by differentiating between large and small business ownership. I think he only does this because quadrants look cool to people in the business world and no one actually knows the proper name for a three piece pie. In my opinion, there’s no relevant difference between the two. Anywho… there are glaring problems with a regular person like myself attempting to do either #1 or #2, all of which boil down to barrier of entry – i.e. you need to already have large amounts of money to leverage either of those methods to make money. Richard Branson famously said something to the effect of, “if you want to make a million dollars, start with a billion dollars.” That outlook isn’t far from the truth.

Kiyosaki makes all these points in the first half of his book, but these are also issues I was already aware of and had been trying to think through months ago. It’s very difficult to sell non-essential and non-highly marketed products or services to a general public that, for the most part, has very little discretionary income. Yet somehow, social media, the internet, farmers’ markets, and street corners are absolutely loaded with people attempting (very unsuccessfully, it’s important to note) to sell energy drinks, electricity providers, home goods, oils, and just about any product under the sun… all provided by multi-level marketing companies they belong to. Not so ironically, Kiyosaki’s book also came to me by way of someone attempting to get us into an MLM company. In fact, it turns out that Kiyosaki’s idea for the “business of the 21st century” is MLM. That’s when it all clicked.

The reason we were given the book was to sell us on the awesomeness of MLM. Undoubtedly, that’s exactly the read and conclusion most people will get from the book, and it’s probably the read Kiyosaki wanted people to have. Yet, anyone with a shred of common sense knows that nearly all MLMs are a scam, but in spite of that, Kiyosaki actually isn’t wrong… IF you can read between the lines. As a method to sell product, MLM is an abject failure. Anyone involved in one, when they’re able to finally be honest with themselves, will admit that. But if you pay attention, Kiyosaki never even talks about selling product. He only talks about building up people under you to generate you money. This connected the last couple dots in my mind of what I had been thinking on months ago. There is still one thing left that is easy to sell to a cash-strapped public and MLMs allow it to be done with minimal entry barrier: hope. MLMs sell the hope of financial freedom, freedom from a 9-5 job, freedom from asshole bosses, freedom to live your life in more than just the remnants of a 40 hour work week. This is what all MLMs really sell, regardless of what product they hide behind. And they don’t sell it to their customers. They sell it to their members and prospects. That’s why these businesses explode in popularity during recessions. That’s why they’re growing in popularity as the US wealth gap widens rapidly. Unfortunately for the people who join them, only the founders and early adopters ever see any of the promises come to life. Everyone else has simply been suckered into funneling money to them. If you don’t think so, I have a really good deal for you on the bridge in the title image.

The corporate dream

I’m going to have to put off getting right down to complaining and take care of some housekeeping first. It looks like this will be somewhat of a second intro post. For those keeping score, that’s two intro posts in only three total posts. I think that’s pretty impressive. Why the second intro? I was recently approached about joining mytrendingstories.com as a contributor. Obviously I accepted and am excited for the opportunity. The venture should be mutually beneficial – I feel I can contribute some unique perspective/content to their site and in turn increase the exposure of my personal blogs beyond what I would ever be able to do myself. I also happen to like what they’re trying to do over there: truly diverse content without censorship. Anyone that’s read TheWhiteboardPig knows I’ll eventually put that claim to the test, but for now… on to complaining!

Not long ago, I read an absolutely amazing article that delved into the true purpose of the 40 hour work week. You really should read it for yourself; it is worth every minute of the many minutes it takes to read. But if you’re feeling lazy or pressed for time and that makes you unwilling to read it, it’s probably because you just worked eight hours and are attempting to live your life in what little time is left over… and that’s the idea the article revolves around. The 40 hour work week drives consumerism as you attempt to treat and convenience yourself to satisfaction (by spending money) in what little time is left over to live your life. Our society is carefully planned and constructed to control labor, and this type of populace manipulation does not stop at the 40 hour work week.

After a couple of weeks of meeting with home builders, speaking with well drillers, realtors, HOAs, and bankers, the future picture of this “living cheap” endeavor is becoming more clear – it’s not going to happen… at least not without a major struggle and a lot of creativity. And it’s why it is not going to happen easily that got me thinking about that above mentioned article. What could be more simple than stripping down non-necessities and living cheap? Surely it’s consumerism that keeps us slaves to corporate America. It’s all my expensive hobbies and eating out that force me into working a higher paying job I don’t like over a lower paying job I would like (or no job at all). If I just gave up my excessively expensive hobbies and stopping buying stuff I don’t really need, I could just drop of the grid and go hiking every day. Well… that’s what I thought. Turns out, it’s far from that easy and that good old “shelter index” lie is back to bite me in the ass. If shelter costs are the best place to reduce living expenses because they’re the average person’s largest expense (by far), then surely they’re also a prime method of labor control.

We live in a society, and after briefly skimming some numbers it appears to be true the world over, in which it is nearly impossible for the average person to own shelter without going into a lifetime of debt. Never until now has it hit me how absurd it is that owning one of the basic tenants of survival is literally impossible to legally achieve apart from borrowing massive amounts of money. It’s just something we live with and accept. Everyone knows how the American dream goes. You become an adult when you buy a house. No matter how old you are, you aren’t “grown up” and living like an “adult” until you’ve strapped yourself with 30 years of debt. We’re sold this “dream” since childhood, along with $200,000 college degrees that score jobs at Starbucks, shiny stone rings that cost two month’s salary but wholesale for 5% of that, and increasingly larger weddings that decimate savings accounts across entire family units. We’re sold the idea that people who rent are in some transient state or somehow adolescent and irresponsible. Responsible Americans “own” (i.e. rent from bank) houses. End of story. Boil it all down and you’re not a “responsible adult” in America unless you’re drowning in debt it will take you literally your entire life to pay off (if ever). And once you’re saddled up with all that debt, don’t forget to consume your entire paycheck away… except that 401k pretax money you give to Wall St. banks to manage at a hefty fee they receive whether you win or lose.

But but but… you don’t HAVE to do that stuff. Almost anyone just can buy a $50 Wal-Mart tent manufactured by starving, Chinese five year olds. True. Where do you propose they set it up? It certainly isn’t going to be in a park or other public property. Even the Forest Service is cracking down on people long-term camping in places where it’s… perfectly legal to camp. So you’re going to need to buy some land. Easy enough. There are still plenty of places land can be had relatively cheaply, and that’s exactly the part of the process I happen to be at. Cheap, nice land located. Turns out even after you get the land, our planned, labor controlling society has ensured you can’t live on that land without spending large amounts of money. Building codes have square footage minimums and structure type restrictions. Covenants spell out what you can and can’t do with your own property. And when you summarize it all, guess what these things tell you that you aren’t allowed to do with your own property? Live on it cheaply. As I mentioned in my prior post, you can forget tiny homes, RVs, small mobile homes, or anything that would be possible without bank involvement for those not independently wealthy. Build a house you’ll need a huge loan for or enjoy looking at your vacant lot.

There is no better way to ensure compliant, desperate labor than to strap everyone to a debt grenade they’ll never be able to remove. Building codes and HOAs conspire to ensure that affordable shelter is an impossibility. Affordable shelter would remove what is, by far, the largest expense every American has. This would make workers less fearful for their jobs, less servile, and less desperate to kill themselves working up the corporate ladder to “get ahead”. Those are things corporate America would never stand for. If the 40 hour work week induced consumerism is the gun to the head of labor, then shelter costs are a nuke. We may have higher living standards than that starving, Chinese five year old, but our corporate masters have still ensured we give all that extra money right back to them whether we want to or not.