Monday, November 24, 2014

Weekend adventures!

I felt it was time to have an adventuresome weekend. Photos: https://picasaweb.google.com/105494084231616659850/November222014WeekendAdventures

On Friday, a co-conspirator R and I drove to the airport. Once there, we fueled the aeroplane and completed the preflight. A preflight inspection is performed to ensure the plane might not break apart. In this case, you just shake it really hard and as long as only non-vital components fall off, you're good.

Soon we were up in the air behind a hundred thundering horses and buzzing over Pasadena and Caltech. Then south towards Catalina island. We flew around the island, checked out our prospective hiking trail, flew over Avalon, then landed on the rather narrow airstrip. I went to chat to the dude in the control tower, bought a sandwich, and we got on our way.

Our chosen route was a short but sharp hike to the north, off the edge of the island. Descending more than 1600 feet in little more than a mile (1:3) gradient, it was one of the steepest off-trail hikes I've ever done. And it only got steeper towards the end. So steep, in fact, that in late November, the sun set by 2pm! Steep like the angle of repose of dirt. Any fall would have been a severely career limiting move.

We ate sandwiches, climbed, swam, skimmed stones, and gritted our teeth before climbing back up. I would say the return hike was really hard work, but the one I did the following day was pretty hard too. The first third was really steep, after that it was just a grind back up to the airport. 

The aeroplane started briskly, we taxied to the threshold and took off. Climbing to 3500 we settled into V21 and bug-smashed our way to Brackett airport, where we dodged some local traffic, executed a beautiful touch and go, then left for the practise area. As the sun set I demoed a few steep turns and not-so-steep turns for the full experience, then glided it back to the airstrip. 

We packed up, headed for the local Trader Joes, bought dinner, went climbing for a bit in the bouldering gym (I mainly climbed my unread email inbox), ate dinner, then dropped the car back at school.

I was asleep by 1am. At 3am, I was woken by my alarm, ate some breakfast, and joined second co-conspirator D to drive to Palm Springs, a mere 90 minutes away by the fastest expressways in the US. The plan was Cactus to Clouds, a 22 mile hike with over 10,000 vertical feet of elevation gain, and we were on the trail by 5am. By 7 we'd made substantial progress and the sun came up. By 9 we'd climbed the foothills enough to give us a view of the main false summit, at 8000 feet. By noon we crested that summit, got a hiking permit, and contemplated making a snowman from the patchy snow around. 

I finished my first liter of water, refilled the bottle, and we set out for the summit. We'd walked about 12 miles so far, it was another 5 to the summit and back. By this point, I was finding staying awake on so little sleep and breathing with a cold hard work and was managing an average speed of perhaps 2km/h. At 9700 feet I judged that reaching the summit and getting back before dark would not be possible, and I did not have enough warm gear with me. So I sent D (who is vastly more fit) on and curled up in a tree, in the sun, and decided instead to tackle the mountain of food I inexplicably decided to bring. In 90 minutes or so I ate most of it, the sun was beginning to set, the wind was picking up, and no sign of D. As I got cold I decided to start back to the ranger station, and before long D caught up, having caught summit fever close to the end.

We found the tram station, being the only four story building in the area, and eventually boarded the cable car back to the valley floor. Each gondola held 80 people and the floor rotated twice along the way. Ears popping regularly, the gondola took a LONG time to reach the end, and even there we were 2000 feet above where we had started. Cactus to Clouds is easily the most vertical feet I've ever walked in a day, even if I didn't make it to the top. 

Surprisingly, a day later I still haven't finished the food and my legs aren't too sore. But I digress. We took a cab back to D's car, drove back to Pasadena, made some dinner, then, lest you think I might sleep any time soon, we went back to Caltech to check out BigI.

BigI is short for Big Interhouse, a party the undergrads throw once every two years (or half a time per year?), wherein all houses team up and build one giant dance floor in each of the south houses' four courtyards. I remembered one four years ago in which Blacker and one other house built a giant submarine dance floor under a flooded pond with mechatronic godzilla and gundams. It was somewhat like Burning Man, if Burning Man was entirely people aged 21 and below and held on a single tennis court.

This time, Blacker/Lloyd had built a giant multilevel dance floor with a geodesic dome. Their nominated theme was space mining, so in their dining hall they had a large mural of jellyfish on Europa, a surprisingly Rosetta-like comet/asteroid dangling from the ceiling, a few autonomous robots crushing rocks, a spaceship mockup fitted with an actual jet engine, a few radar dishes here and there, and so on. Even in my insanely exhausted state I was quite impressed.

At last I dragged myself away from the spectacle, picked up my bike, and rode home. By 11pm I was tucked up in bed, a feat unheard of! And it was only Saturday.

On Sunday (today) I crawled out of bed at about noon, ate more hiking food, wrote an article for the school newspaper, organized photos, and otherwise strove to not exert myself at all. At last, I have succeeded.


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