Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Screw organic, I take the genetically modified please.

Many moons ago, when I was a wee 18 year old college student, living large on dorm cafeteria ice cream and cold cereal, I took two different engineering general chemistry courses. I got Bs in both of them and vaguely remember obtaining a 45% on one of the finals (average was a 40%) so I think it is safe to say that I struggled a bit. Several thousand beers later with no review any of it, I am back in chemistry but this time in the form of organic. Let's just say that it hasn't been all peaches and whipped cream.

On my first quiz of the class, I managed to get a 36% which I think is safely in the failing range. Gulp. I quickly starting revising my strategy from 'get an A' to 'need a C or higher for this class to count'. Second quiz, slightly better at a 68%. Third quiz, an 88%. So while I have been climbing up the bell curve with each attempt (with the class average being about a 60% right now), I have a long way to go. Adding to my woes is the fact that I am going to be missing two weeks of class due to trekking the Incan Trail and other fun activities in Peru/Ecuador in November and will be receiving zeros for the two quizzes taken during that time. Luckily they drop two quizzes anyway, but that means my 36% is going to a factor into my grade.

Another exciting development is that I recently realized that I fly back from my great South American adventures exactly 1.2 hours before my third and final ochem exam (worth about 1/4 of my grade). That is if none of my flights from Quito, Ecuador -> Panama City, Panama -> Houston, Texas -> Phoenix get delayed or canceled. If this happens I will miss my exam and win a ticket into the 'no way out of this hole challenge'.

This is exciting. It is the first time I might actually fail a class. Good news is, that this is my first class ever taken at this particular community college which would make this a "throwaway transcript". Never happened, don't know what you are talking about. Stayed tuned for the exciting new series "Will Me Fail Organic Chemistry" at it rolls out.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Looking back over my blog, I realize it seems like my life is one big giant nature picture. Hahaha. While I prioritize this part of my life and it is decidedly the most interesting thing to blog about, the rest of my reality just keeps on ticking silently in the background.

I just celebrated my one year anniversary on Monday. Life this past year has gone by incredibly quick, which is most assuredly a good sign of being busy and enjoying life. Tom and I have changed a lot in the past year, with both of us making major strides to reshaping our careers to a place that we want to be. He is starting grad school in February getting his MBA at Arizona State University and it on his way to taking his certifications for being a Professional Engineer.

As for me, my application for PA school is in the mail. It is later than I wanted to submit it since the deadline is next week, but things outside of my control happened and I will leave it at that. It has been an incredibly hard journey in the past year to get me to a place where I am at least able to apply for this opportunity and I am glad at least I made it this far. As for whether I get in... whatever happens is meant to be.

PS. Organic Chem is hard. I want to go drink some CH3CH2OH to celebrate. Happy Friday.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gilmore AR Report

Sometimes dreams come true. Even when you don't want them to.

Sometimes all the good intentions in the world don't really matter because fate has other plans.

And sometimes you just have to laugh and stop and smell the flowers and take a picture of that nice rock arch even though you are in a middle of a race, because shit hasn't really gone right AT ALL and you paid money to do this and so you might as well enjoy it.

I think I am going to be haunted by this race for 365 days until I can go and try again. It was so completely frustrating while also being really memorable and fun in an adventurous 'lets spend 8 hours lost in a really beautiful place where there are apparently no checkpoints to be found' type of way.

Team ODP was coming off of a couple of solid finishes in the short sprint races over the summer and we really wanted to continue that trend. This was a longer ~30 mile race with real UTM navigation and orienteering so it was going to be a much bigger navigation challenge. We had only done one other longer race with this type of orienteering and had been less than impressed at our abilities to navigate/kayak a blow up banana. Now was our chance.

We drove up late Friday night to camp at the race start and despite the dark, I realized that the area was a little hillier than I was expecting. Looking at a topo map before, I was worried it was going to be all flat. We pulled into the site at midnight, Sarah set up a tent and Angel and I just crashed in the back of the wagon. We were up at 6 am after a night of tossing and turning where I dreamed that we were racing and got totally lost on navigation. We all laughed about my nightmare, confident that it wouldn't happen...

These over-sized grasshoppers were everywhere...squashed all over the road, jumping onto us. They were multicolored and about 2.5 inches long. Gross.

I should have known thing weren't going our way when we realized that we had forgotten the keys to the bike rack and had to "break" out bikes out of the holder. Oops. Those locks aren't really that secure by the way. We were given the maps to the course about 5 min before the start and then had to run about 1/4 of a mile to get the coordinates.

We plotted the first two trekking points and located them up in some mountains about 4 miles away. We took off down some dirt roads, and tried to find a steady pace that we could sustain for a far distance. People were blowing past us, but we knew better than to try to match their pace in this long of a race. We noticed most people heading up a trail towards the North side of the range, but Sarah said we were heading towards the South side so we would catch a road further south. We should have known better than to leave the pack, but we saw some teams still ahead of us on the road, so all was still good.

After a couple of miles further, we came to the road we had been looking for and ran about a mile down it before coming up on a two person guy's team that we had been following. They were confused and seemed to think we were off. I looked at the map for the first time and realized that we were WAY off. We were south of the range that we wanted to be in the middle of. Shit. We had to backtrack 1.5 miles back the way we had come to even hit the right trail over to it.

This is when everything proceeded to go wrong. By the time we got to the correct area (according to our plots) no one else was around. We stumbled upon the first point not exactly where we were expecting it, but not terribly far off so we just stamped our card and continued. Our next point had us bushwacking into a rough valley and up the mountain side to a finger ridge. I was concerned that we saw no one else since I figured any walkers should still be around, but oh well. We looked and looked and looked for that damn checkpoint to no avail. Replotted it, checked again, nothing. We saw people way to the north but thought they were taking a trail to the first CP we already had. We did find an awesome rock bridge which we took a picture by.

After two hours of frustration, we gave up and headed back to the TA for the start of the biking completely devastated. How could we suck so bad at this nav stuff? I had a feeling that we were plotting the points wrong, but both Sarah and I couldn't not figure out the mistake in our current pissed off state. We had to head back to the TA for the bike transition without the CP because we were out of water and not making any progress.

During our long run back to the TA (where we were passed by all the slow teams who were already on their bikes) we realized that we had lost the camera while bushwacking for two hour looking for the CP2. We decided that the camera was more important that any checkpoints and that we would go get our bikes and come back to look for the camera. After a long run back to the TA, we hung our heads and asked a guy running the TA for UTM help. He took a look at our points and claimed we were correct. Turns out he was wrong.

We jumped on the bikes and took off back to the damn mountain that we had just spent 2 hours on. Back into the bushwack. Back to the rock arch. I felt like we were looking for a needle in a haystack. I tried to remember our path and suddenly looked up and saw an orange camera hanging off the branch of a tree. It was a miracle. Our first bit of luck the whole day. We grabbed the camera and took off back to our bikes and down some fun downhill back onto the course to proceed with the race.We still didn't have CP2 but we decided to just proceed with the biking checkpoints.

It was now about 12:30 pm and I would guess we had at least 12 miles on foot all for only 1 found CP. But we did have 1 camera. We started towards the first biking CP and a nice man stopped in his truck to ask us if we needed help. I still didn't believe we were plotting right, and he proceeded to look at our maps and tell us we were completely off. We had screwed up the northing points which have 4 significant digits giving the right quantrant instead of three that we assumed. This put us a whole quadrant off for the first two points and the fact that we had found one was still just a lucky thing.

We finally were on the right track and only 5 hours into the race. Sweet. I am still frustrated because I know that we are still relatively new to this type of racing, but the time has come to figure it out and put it all together. I am tired of chalking things up to a learning experience. I want to learn from winning already. Okay, enough whining...

We took off with our points properly plotted and hit the first two CPs easily. We then started on a long climb up to the third one. It was at least four or five miles up a steep climb on a dirt road and through some rolling singletrack. The race cutoff was 3:00 and at 2:00 we realized that there was no way to make it all the way to the furthest point and back. We were told in advance that from CP3 to CP4 was a hike a bike down a dry river bed. From our current location, our best choice was to hike a bike a different dry river bed to another trail which would lead to CP4 and CP5 back at the TA.

I would have opted to do the whole thing late into the night if I had to but I realize that it isn't fair to the race organizers to just not show up at the finish. So we started the hike a bike which quickly turned into a lower your bike down over a 30 foot dry waterfall in sections to your friend. Wish we had taken a pic of this. It was obviously not a path the race organizers had chosen for us. We had some pretty hairy descents.

Here Angel slides under a fence that cut across the canyon river bed.

We finally found a scant trail which we took towards CP4 and it eventually lead to an awesome singletrack ride back to the TA. We rolled back into the TA at 3:30 (30 min late) having successfully obtained 4 checkpoints in 7.5 hours out of the desired 10 CPs. Ridiculous. We didn't even turn our passport in. No point.

As far as post race assessment. It was a good training day :) Love it when people use that excuse. But it was actually. I felt really good at the end of 7.5 hours of running, bushwacking and biking and honestly, no bonk in sight. I was very proactive on keeping up with eating/drinking (at least until we ran out of water at the end). I forced a lot of calories and electrolytes early in the race and I think that made all the difference. So I will take that small victory and swallow my humiliation for our performance and underline this race for next year.

Oh and I will say that EVERYTHING from the accommodations, location, maps, swag, and raffle prices were top notch. Since the entry for this race is lower than most, it was most impressive. Go Gilmore go.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Bryce Canyon: Utah's Grandest Castle

Bryce Canyon, Utah - Navajo Loop

I said I would wait for a rainy day to finish my Utah recap. Well, it isn't raining, but I did see a cloud in the sky to that is about the same thing here in the desert.

We finished up our Utah vacay with a trip up to Bryce Canyon for a couple of days. Very very interesting rock formations here. My sister recently spent some time in Cappadocia in Turkey and couldn't believe how similar it looked to there.

We did one of the main loop hikes into the park (Navajo to Queens Garden Loop) through the amazing rock fingers. It was a very cool five mile hike and unlike anything I have really done before. Winding through giant hudus of rock and hard packed sand hills, it felt and looked like you were exploring a giant sand castle.

We cooked up some some nice chipmonk for dinner over the campfire, ate some smores, and froze our asses off. Okay, I might be lying about eating that cute little guy. It got down to upper 20s so us tenters ending up getting a room at the ajoining hotel to my parents campground. We took an ice cold dip in a semi outdoor pool in the evening and some of us even managed to get up early enough to watch the sun rise over the hudus. Then it was back to Phoenix for those of us with jobs...boohoo.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Popping my head in.

Yes I am still alive. Yes it has been a week since I last updated. I have no excuses other than not having any motivation. It has just been one of those no motivation weeks.

Big race on Saturday. Team ODP (Sarah, Angel and I) are competing in the Gilmore Adventure Race in Prescott. It will be a sprint race of 24-30 miles at a breezy 6000 feet above sea level. They end the race with an open controls section where you get as many as you can before 2:00 pm, so it looks like we will be out there for at least 6 hours. It will be interesting to see how my 2 hour bonk feels 4 hours after it begins.

I know I never posted the end of my Utah trip. I will savor my Bryce Canyon adventures for a rainy day.

Oh and ps, our economy is collapsing. I don't care if Palin can see Alaska or can dress a field moose, please vote on issues that make a freaking difference. The end.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Pink Coral Sand Dunes: More orange than pink.

Pink Coral Sand Dunes near Kanab, Utah My vertical is shockingly low (2nd to left).

Back to Labor Day weekend in Utah... Following Zion, we made a stop at the Pink Coral Sands State Park near Kanab Utah. Since it had just rained, the pink coral sand was more of an orange color. I remember thinking that at the time, but I have since googled coral and apparently it is actually orangish pink so those crazy rangers got it right this time. Although I do think that the Pink is unnecessary since it is implied by the coral, but I reckon that most people don't know that which is why they felt the need.

The sky was a very nice shade of blue cyan to offset the pink coral sand and the green olive plants. We did some long jump contests and races across the sand before heading to Kanab. It was a nice day in Pleasantville.

Pics courtesy of Sister S and Papa.

Utah has the most amazingly varied terrain.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Girl gets owned by South Mountain National Trail

A quick break from my Utah trip to bring you this breaking story of my past weekend. Your welcome.

Last weekend I was told to take my "training wheels off" and just shut up and join some friends in a bike trip to finally go up the mountain I usually ride around. South Mountain is a known downhiller's paradise with tons of trails rated at expert death level. I ride this range all the time on the Desert Classic trail, a cross country trail that winds around the base and smaller adjoining hills but have yet to had the guts to ride the famous National Trail.

I met Jack and Sarah at the trail head of Desert Classic at 6am and we started on a loop which would take us 11 miles on Desert Classic to the base of the Telegraph Pass trail and then upward. This first part is nothing too technical and I have ridden it many times, but Jack was in a "hurry" and I was told I wasn't allowed to stop until we reached Telegraph Pass. Umm not quite awake yet there buddy, but we sucked it up and made it to the other end in 1:15 for a pretty good time on this ride. We did have a quick stop when Jack ran over this little guy and he got a little pissed. We stopped to throw some rocks to move him off the trail.

By the time we started up Telegraph pass it was nearing 8 am and already felt hot as hell. I have hiked this trail many times and usually consider it a steep but short climb. Doing it with a 30 pound bike on my back really sucked. I have learned that I am very bad at hike a bike hell in hot weather and it usually doesn't take me very much time to fall apart. I didn't dissapoint. Jack and Sarah were faster than me and sat at the top laughing at me and taking pictures. They were not in my good book until Jack came down the last 30 meters and took my bike. That means he is 1/10th gentlemen. Nah, we all know he isn't.

This isn't the way that bikes are supposed to be used.

My incredibly nice friends laugh and watch me struggle up the hill.

Ahh, I am not even sure why I am posting this it is so bad, but hey, I don't believe in censorship. I look like I am hating life don't I. Man I hate these mandatory torture sessions. Oh wait, I did this for fun. Right...

Once at the top, we had to climb another 4 miles up to the top of the mountain on a road. Did I mention that I hate biking on blacktop in heat without water with all the roadies blowing by me? It wasn't that bad actually and we had a good view at least.

Finally we got to the start of the National Trail where Jack had told me "it is all downhill from here". I know better than that. Actually it was pretty much all down hill from there, except for those places where I had to climb up giant rocks or down giant rocks that I wasn't quite ready to bomb off of.

All down hill from here, right Jack?

I was relatively happy with the fact that most of it wasn't too technical for me to ride and I only got off and walked down some of the really big drops. Towards the end though, I was so thirsty and bonking that I just couldn't keep it together. I endoed down a steep hill and then somehow got a large piece of cactus attached to my leg. Sarah stayed with me to keep me together and only hours after I was home did I remember that right after a big crash while I was laying there, a dude carrying a unicycle was walking up the mountain. I don't know where he was going but he must have been crazy.

We finally got down National back to the easy fireroad leading to the car. I was soo happy to be almost done. Bottom line is, I have got to figure out the hydration/nutrition thing. I am bonking almost every time I get to around 2.5 hours when it is hot out and my grab a banana and some water thing really isn't working so well. I know most racers have entire "nutritional strategies" figured out and I guess I need to start trying to develop one. I swear Sarah doesn't eat or drink ever and seems just fine, but I realize that I am a delicate flower compared to her and I need to put more effort into planning ahead. All told, the loop took us 3:15 for ~19 miles and I only had water for 2 of it on a very hot 110 degree day. Bad bad me.

At least Jack is happy. He did endo onto his head though so it could be head trauma.

I want to do this loop again, if only to prove to myself that it can't be as hard as it was last time. But maybe I will wait until it is slightly cooler out, like in December. We'll see. They want to do it again this weekend those crazy kids. I guess my training wheels did come off, along with a whole bunch of other nuts and bolts that I think I might need. Thanks guys for the awesome sufferfest and breaking my "Expert Trail" virginity.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Zion: Angel's Landing

Day two in Zion brought a 70% chance of rain but I had a plan in my head and refused to submit to the weather. The plan was to get up really early to hike Angel's Landing so that we could head out that afternoon to another locale. Morning brought angry clouds and at 6 am, it was barely light enough to see. By the time we got to the trail head, it was already raining. I had a poncho, but some of my sisters where less keen at hiking in the rain. It wasn't that cold (my only deterrent) and so we started up the trail.

The trail switchbacks steeply for the first 2ish miles and then follows a ridge out and up the top. It was a beautiful view and I personally thought that the storm made it more stunning. We saw a HUGE tarantula on trail which didn't seem to worried about us.

The end of the first part of the trail is this ridiculous switchback section where you are basically going straight left/right/left/right on top of each other. I climbed ahead to take some pictures of the rest coming up. The white stumpy looking person is my sister.

At this point it had been raining pretty much the whole hike and it was only getting harder. We got to the cable part of the hike and it as pretty obvious that this was going to be more interesting in the rain. The cables were very wet as was the rock and you just had to trust your feet and hands not to slip. Here is my sister coming around the first corner on the cables.

After the first cable section, we were treated to a view of the rest of the climb to the top. Very steep and obminous looking in the rain. I can see why many people were turning around here. My fam opted out but Tom and I wanted to continue to the top. It is funny how everything seems pretty tame compared too our adventure during the Four Peaks Motherload. Off we went with plans to meet them back at the campground.

We are starting up this ridge to the top most place in this picture. You can see me in the yellow poncho.

The hike up the ridge took us about 30 minutes. It was wet with some areas of exposure but really I didn't find it that bad. Just amazing amazing views all around and a feeling of the power of nature as the wind and rain whipped around us.

We were alone at the top of the mountain as everyone else seem to think that hiking steep ridges in the rain was foolhardy. Which is great because this hike is really popular and usually full of people. I think the rain added a lot more excitement to an already exciting hike. We saw two other people coming and waited to ask them to take a picture of us before heading down.

Looking back along the last part of the hike on the top of the ridge. Not really as or narrow as it looks.

Tom led the way back down the ridge. We flew down the trail and finished the whole hike in around three hours which was counting stopping numerous times on the way up to wait for fam and take pictures. And it finally stopped raining right as we finished. Of course. I give this hike an A for "absolutely must do while in Zion".