Thursday, December 31, 2015
Sunday, December 13, 2015
Breakneck Ridge is probably the most famous NYC-area hike, and I've done it once before. It's always crowded (in some cases with people who have no business being there), but it's still worth it for the spectacular views of the Hudson River and Storm King.
Most people turn around and go back by an alternate trail once they reach the top, but we left the crowds behind and continued on to Sunset Point. It wasn't sunset, and it wasn't quite as amazing as the name would suggest. Actually, we had a lot more amazing views on the way, what with all the leaves being off the trees, like this one:
From there we kept on to the South Beacon Fire Tower. This photo looks north from the tower toward the Beacon Reservoir. The tower itself is 62 feet high and was only restored a couple of years ago. The crowds picked up here, since you can also get to the tower from several other directions.
We took the Wilkinson Memorial Trail back to Sugarloaf Mountain. Along the way, we encountered three jacked-up jeeps driving on the trails. This is your reminder that (a) this is illegal and (b) there are a lot of hikers on these trails, so this is an accident waiting to happen. Accept the fact that you can't take your preferred mode of transit everywhere (whether it be horse, bike, car, or even your own two feet) and don't be a jerk.
We reached Sugarloaf at Sunset, hoping to see the Constellation installation on Bannerman's Island. While we could see it, it didn't look like much from that angle; word on the trail is that the best way to see it is by kayak. From there, it was headlamps on, down to the train.
Our leader estimated the hike was 14 miles, and my watch gave our cumulative altitude as 4,200. I don't know if that's accurate: Up Breakneck is 1,250, and we had at least two more significant ascents, but that still may be high.
Thursday, December 3, 2015
- Be able to walk across a slackline: I haven't done anything towards this goal. Well, not true: I bought a slackline. But I've never used it. Maybe next time I go camping, but that will be perilously close to the big four-oh.
- Do macaco: I quit capoeira a few months ago. During the previous almost-four years, I lost a good two years due to shoulder issues and eventual surgery. Even so, I feel like I gave it a fair amount of effort, but I never got any closer.
Be fluent in Portuguese:Fluent? No. I learned a good bit, but I found out my limits when I was in Floripa. I'm okay with calling this one good enough, though. Travel to Brazil: This I unambiguously succeeded in, for a good seven weeks. Have a novel published:After making this goal, I reconsidered it, keeping in mind what I tell my students about goals - not to mention my department chair's admonishments for setting annual goals. To wit, a goal should depend mostly on your efforts. Since I wasn't considering self-publishing, as formulated it was not necessarily achievable. But if I revised it to write a novel, that was within my control. And I did, having just finished NaNoWriMo.
- Do the Annapurna Circuit: Given the timing when one needs to do this, I'd have to be heading over there right now, and I'm not. So nope.
- Hold a handstand for a minute unaided: Much like macaco, this goal suffered for a bit thanks to my shoulder. However, I still occasionally do handstands. I still am not anywhere close to holding it for a minute.
- Successfully traverse the swing-a-ring: Much like the slackline ... I haven't even tried.
Tuesday, December 1, 2015
- Lots of writers hate prescriptivist advice, but I can confidently say: Your production curve should not look like this:
- Word 2008 for Mac sucks. What do you mean, you can't spellcheck anymore once I get up to about 35 pages?
- I'm much more comfortable with writing novels than short stories. I always assumed that one had to master the short story before moving on, and so I really took notice when a couple of writers (I think, Kate Elliott) said that wasn't the case.
- I'm a plotter, not a pantser (not news), and plotting is hard for me (also not news). I love world-building and characterization, but I struggle to figure out what happens next. (This is probably why writing fan fiction has never appealed to me - it seems to be skipping over the fun part.) That said, once I reached a certain point, the plot started to figure itself out. My plot outline only went so far, and then characters started surprising me (there wasn't going to be a sex scene, and certainly not with a character I didn't plan on even existing). I was actually writing to find out what happened next, which I had never experienced before.
- Is it good? Of course not: It's a shitty first draft. What I don't know is whether revision will turn it into a decent novel ... or a shitty tenth draft. But it's DONE. DID I MENTION IT WAS DONE?
Monday, November 16, 2015
Sunday was a beautifully sunny day, and I joined the Ramblers for their first-ever "silent hike." For maybe a third of the hike we took a vow of silence, although we were promised to be released from our vows if any true emergencies arose. (None did.) "Silent hike" was actually a misnomer, though: With the leaves fresh off the trees, we kicked up quite a ruckus as we walked.
The Ramapo mountains are part of the Appalachians, although "mountain" seems excessive, as the tallest are about 1,200 feet. Still, they are scenic, and the leafless trees meant we had better views than we would have in summer.
Monday, November 9, 2015
I was in Denver for a conference, so I stayed an extra day to spend time with friends. On Sunday, we hiked Mt. Falcon in nearby Jefferson County.
The hike was 8 miles round-trip, with 2,000 feet of elevation gain. It was an unseasonably warm and beautiful day, even though we saw some small patches of snow, and we took it at a relaxed pace.
The hike has two non-natural highlights. One is the ruins of a mansion belonging to an early media magnate. The other, pictured above, is the site of a planned summer home for the president. Mind you, nobody checked with the White House, yet thousands of Colorado schoolkids donated their cents to the cause. Nothing was ever built.
The views were nice as well, very open in all directions. I've never seen Colorado at this time of year before. Everything was browner than summer, although the peaks weren't as snowy as they'd get in winter.
But I didn't see any falcons.
Sunday, November 1, 2015
Thursday, October 29, 2015
Most of the 3500 peaks are either fully marked trails or true bushwhacks, but there are a couple of exceptions - hikes with unmarked trails. One of those exceptions is Graham. The trail to Graham branches off from one of the official trails to Balsam Lake, following an old road on private property. On my last trip, I had hike Balsam Lake but not Graham because I hadn't called ahead for landowner permission.
This time, I hike it with the 3500 Club. The route-finding was very easy, and the hike wasn't too hard either. It's nearly all old road, mostly steep but with a flattish area in the middle, and no more serious "bushwhacking" than one downed tree.
There is a modest view at the top, as well as on the way up if the leaves are off the trees. The top itself less than attractive, thanks to the remains of a microwave tower.
I'd had a wild idea that I wouldn't repeat any of the peaks, except the winter ones, but the group decided to go on to Balsam Lake. I certainly didn't want to be the one to deny a fellow aspirant the chance to get another peak in, so off we went.
It was interesting to see that nearly all the leaves were off the trees, unlike my previous two hikes. It wasn't the difference of a day but micro-climate differences.
Sunday, October 25, 2015
Technically, the first bit is trail-less, which is bizarre. It's an old road (the continuation of Mink Hollow Road) that in about .3 miles becomes an official trail. So why not that first bit? In any case, it's easy enough to follow, even without blazes. (I actually missed the start of the blazes on my way up, maybe because they were yellow and didn't really stand out in the changing leaves?)
Less than a mile in, after only moderate climbing, the road hits the Devil's Path. I opted to head west to Plateau first, which proved to be a good choice for a couple of reasons - for one, heading east on Sugarloaf would have had me staring into the sun.
The hike up to Plateau is very rocky, and it was complicated by the inches of leaves that covered the ground. That made going slow even on the relatively few flat bits. The hike gradually got steeper, but I wasn't in any real hurry. Besides, I kept stopping to turn around and admire Sugarloaf behind me (above photo). Finally I reached a nice viewpoint quite near the top, looking roughly northeast. From there it wasn't far to the top, which - go figure - was a long, flat ridge.
The way back down was slow because of the leaf-covered rocks, which, spoiler alert, I wasn't going to encounter on Sugarloaf, making it another good reason to do it first, before I was completely wiped out.
Sugarloaf is roughly the same distance and steepness, and as they're neighbors, you might think it was much like Plateau. But it is mostly covered in spruce rather than deciduous trees, and it has just the right amount of rock scrambling (that is: a lot). It was a fun hike up, even though there are no spectacular views at the top - although you can turn around and see Plateau most of the way up.
I only encountered one other hiker, a gent hiking alone on Sugarloaf. Apparently the previous day's fair-weather hikers had all been scared away, although it was really a great day to be out. The sky was cloudless and the visibility was excellent. The leaves were actually past their peak, unlike at Overlook.
Monday, October 12, 2015
Monday, October 5, 2015
Storm King is one of the classic hikes near the city, so why hadn't I hiked it before? Because you can't get there without a car. It's easier to take the train to Breakneck Ridge across the Hudson and admire Storm King from afar.
But it's totally worth it. There are a lot of scenic views along the trails, and we lucked out with beautiful clear weather. Instead of being pounded by a hurricane as we half-expected, we could see clear to the Catskills.
The hike isn't necessarily high on mileage; we hiked nearly all the trails, and it still came in at only 8.4 miles. It is very steep and rocky, though, more like the Catskills than I expected. It would be a great hike to do once the leaves start to change, as there are many panoramic views that would be even more stunning in autumnal colors.
Friday, September 25, 2015
Monday, September 14, 2015
Westchester County, just north of New York City, isn't known as a hiking destination. It's a suburb, without any large parks within its borders. Of course, if one can find hiking within NYC, one can find hiking in Westchester. For the casual exerciser, there are plenty of parks and greenways to get out and jog or walk the dog. Putting together a lengthy hike is a bit more of a logistical challenge.
Luckily, the Ramblers thrive on those sorts of challenges, and this week's hike was 14.5 miles with probably only a mile on roads. We started from the Peekskill train statin and walked to Depew Park, which connects to the Blue Mountain Reservation. The reservation is mostly bicycle trails, but hiking is allowed. At the south end of the reserve we climbed up Spitzenberg Mountain, which would more accurately be called a hill. The photo at left is of one of our hikers approaching the summit. At the top there is an old building and a nice view of the Hudson River.
We then followed the Peekskill Briarcliff Trailway to the New Croton Dam, which holds water for New York City and marks the beginning of both the Old and New Croton Aqueducts. The OCA* is no longer in use, but a trail following its path stretches all the way down into Van Cortlandt Park. We followed the trail as far as Ossining, where we caught a train back into the city.
The hike was overall very nice in a "pretty woods" sort of way. Elevation changes were moderate. The dam was the highlight in the middle of the hike, but the woods to the north felt surprisingly isolated at times, although not wild - old stone walls and the occasional backyard served as reminders this was the suburbs.
* Everyone calls it the OCA for short, but I have trouble with that. To me, the OCA will always be the Oregon Citizens Alliance, the hate group that sponsored anti-gay Measure 9 when I was in high school. On the other hand, the "Old Croton Aqueduct trail" is a mouthful.
Saturday, September 12, 2015
Saturday, September 5, 2015
- My body can do more than I thought it could.
- Those with less natural talent are often better teachers than those abundant in natural talent.
- When people’s actions contradict their words, believe their actions.
- Most of your friends are friends of convenience. Whether its because you train together, work together, or are neighbors, when the mutual activity stops, the friendship does too. If you find someone who remains your friend, hold on to them.
- Hardly anyone uses every muscle in their body properly. If you’re active, it’ll catch up with you by your 30s, when it’s still easier to fix it. If you’re inactive, it’ll catch up with you when you’re elderly.
- Capoeira has a huge problem with male teachers preying on female students. I’ve seen all of the following:
- A male teacher engaged to a female teacher, who hits on another capoerista.
- A male teacher living with a female student, who hits on another student, offering to move to be with her.
- A male teacher sleeping with several of his female students, not serially.
- A male teacher in a supposedly monogamous relationship with a female student, but also being in another second, also supposedly monogamous relationship with:
- Another female student at a different school.
- Another female student in the same school.
- A male teacher who regularly cheats on his girlfriends with a female capoerista (not his student).
- A male teacher sexually propositioning students who have shown no interest.
- A married male teacher making out with a female capoerista.
- You need to be honest with yourself about why you’re involved with something. If you deny it to yourself, you’ll end up frustrated because you’ll likely pick a group that gives you what you claim to want instead of what you really want.
- Never date someone who thinks they deserve to be excepted from what even they agree is ethically correct. Don’t even be friends with that kind of person.
- Even someone totally untalented at music, like myself, can improve.
- Never look down on the person whose priorities change today, for tomorrow that could be you.
- People may choose to forgive people who have hurt them, but it’s never your business to tell them they must.
- People rarely share scuttlebutt with those who most need to know it.
- If you’re bothered by the way people are treating you, make sure you’re not treating other people in that same way.
- People at the top set the tone. If the leader makes Mistake X, so will the followers. If the leader doesn’t do Mistake Y themselves but doesn’t make stopping it a priority, some of the followers will Y.
- If someone seems unhappy, see if they want to talk, even if you aren’t close. If they don’t, of course, don’t push it, but far too often no one at all is willing to get involved.
- Breathing and not looking at the floor really help when doing cartwheels.
- I have no problem eliminating people and things from my life when they offer me nothing. I have a lot of difficulty eliminating people and things when they are just okay but standing in the way of truly good.
- As Thich Nhat Hahn said, there is no such thing as a perfect sangha; one must simply strive to be the best member of the sangha one is in.
- Fresh papaya is really delicious.
Thursday, September 3, 2015
No suspense here: I strongly disliked it. But literary merit aside, what was most striking to me was the lack of female characters. Consider:
There are 55 male characters and nine female characters, a few genderless creatures, and many (minor) characters unidentified by gender. Of those nine women, one is present but an illusion, one is probably fictional, five are only discussed or remembered by the men, and two are both present in the scene and real. One of the two real, present women is an old serving woman who appears and is gone in one paragraph. The other only appears halfway through the book, on page 430.
Shirl's character is pretty limp, and she seems to have no agency whatsoever. She is uninterested in the advances of the man who is obsessed with her, although she is nevertheless probably going to marry him. She is kidnapped and then rescued. She falls in love with her rescuer. Most of her action and dialog consists of waiting, listening to him talk about himself, and telling him to take care of himself.
One telling detail is that Brooks was the kind of writer who used "man" to mean "human." While this is old-fashioned, he really seems to mean it. All the women are either mothers or love interests (or a serving woman). There aren't even serving wenches in the inns or alive mothers to send their sons off.
Of course, Brooks is hardly alone in this. To be fair, compare Sword to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, a book I like much better:
The Hobbit actually comes off worse, as there are no women actually present in any scene. (The paltry few women in his trilogy suddenly seem overwhelming in number. Of course, it's rather like comparing the healthy food choices at fast food restaurants: "Hey, this place actually has a withered salad with carrot scrapings and a sad tomato!") To the extent that Brooks is a pale imitation of Tolkien, his lack of women is at least authentic.
I can enjoy books in spite of these kinds of issues (as I said, I liked The Hobbit), but some days they're just too hard to ignore.
Tuesday, September 1, 2015
On Sunday, I finished two more trailless Catskills peaks with the Catskills 3500 Club. North Dome and Sherrill are neighbors, just west of the Devil's Path. We first climbed up to North Dome, then down and back up to Sherrill. As with all the trailless peaks, the entire hike was quite steep.
This photo is from the descent from North Dome. There was a fair amount of interesting rock, not too much face-slapping balsam, and less stinging nettle than I expected. Neither peak offers a view at the top, alas.
However, near the end of our hike we were rewarded with this waterfall:
Monday, August 31, 2015
I decided to hike Balsam Lake on Saturday, as it was the only fire tower Catskills 3500 peak I hadn't yet done, and on summer weekends the fire towers are staffed with volunteers and open to visit. Spoiler alert: There was no one at the tower. (Other hikers reported that the volunteers arrived shortly after.) You can still climb the tower stairs, though, and get essentially the same view, so that's what I did.
The hike up seemed relatively easy - mostly because I've been doing a lot of the trailless peaks that require bushwhacking as of late. Even compared to many of the peaks with trails Balsam Lake is somewhat easy, simply because most of it is an old road. There is no scrambling up ledges, for example.
After two miles of road, the trail splits. The left fork continues the road, going to a shelter, another trail, and eventually the tower. The right fork goes more directly to the tower. There is actually another fork a little before this one, an unmaintained trail on private property to Graham Mountain, but it's more obvious when coming downhill than when going up. I didn't do Graham, partially because I hadn't called and partially because I promised my PT I wouldn't push it too hard.
After coming down, I decided to ride the Catskill Mountain Railway. The route is short and not really that interesting, but the stop at the railway museum was interesting. The railway is on the outside of Phoenicia, which is a touristy little town.
Many of the towns in the Catskills are only a collection of houses at an intersection, plus maybe a post office. Others have a business or two, but still aren't draws in themselves. In the areas I've explored thus far, there are two principal towns of size. One is Tannersville (shading into Hunter), which I am quite fond of. It's cute, it has several decent restaurants, and reasonably interesting shopping. You can stay at nearby North-South Lake Campground or sleep indoors at the Snowed Inn for reasonable prices, or stay at one of several pricier B&Bs. I am not qualified to speak as to those, however. Eat breakfast at Maggie's before hiking and dinner after at the Last Chance.
Phoenicia is the other town, and I just haven't been as fond of it. It's not as attractive; it is well-sited and has some historical buildings, but one side of the downtown strip is just boxes. There is a souvenir shop and an ice-cream-and-fudge shop; there is also a river tubing service ("Why not tube the Esopus?") and the railway. Its offerings seem to be aimed at families, and you could exhaust them in a day. It also has very little lodging and almost no decent food. Mama's Boy coffeeshop is good, but it's not an all-purpose restaurant. Brio's, which bills itself as a wood-fired pizza joint, is really a diner, and it's not bad but it's nothing special. There is an attached sports bar, and that's it.
However, there is the Phoenicia Diner, which isn't on the main strip but on the highway. I've seen it totally full up with bikes and pickups, but it's not always convenient eating for hikers - it's not open for dinner. But the railway ticket guy recommended it, so I tried it. You see that watermelon-feta salad above? That's from the diner. Apparently they hired all the chefs away from another former Phoenicia establishment. So, the diner in town is fancier than a diner, and the place that bills itself as a restaurant is actually a diner. Go figure.
There are a couple of other largish towns in the Catskills, such as Margaretville, but I haven't found their locations as convenient to explore, as they tend to be on the edge of or outside the "blue line" marking the park edge. But I readily confess there is a great deal I may be missing out on.
Monday, August 24, 2015
Sunday, August 9, 2015
I went back to capoeira class Wednesday, which worked me over after less time than I usually put in. The next day at the gym nearly incapacitated me - although, to be fair, I went to two classes whereas one is my usual. So I was still sore when I woke up Saturday morning and had to hike because, you know, I was the leader.
"But that's okay," you're thinking. "The one thing you've said you kept in shape was your hiking muscles." Indeed, my body could have gallivanted up and down a few hills. But this hike was the only kind of hiking my body wasn't prepared for - is never prepared for: a beach hike. 12 miles of this:
Pretty, yes? But that's a lot of sand hiking. By the end, we were all glad to be done with this flat, only 13.2-mile hike, because it had taken its toll on us.
We did have a beautiful day for it, complete with "swimming" at Bellport Beach (in actuality, letting the waves knock us around). It looked very different than my scout of a few months ago, due to higher tides, better weather, and larger crowds.
Anyway, if you need me, I'll be at home, lying here helplessly.
Friday, August 7, 2015
There were a couple of items I didn't wear:
- winter gloves
- Uniqlo down jacket
A couple of things I only wore so I didn't feel bad about packing them:
- street shoes
I lost a couple of items:
- one sock (why is it always one!)
- one SmartWool shirt (this made we very sad, as I was wearing it a lot)
- warm leggings
I bought a few items:
- Icelandic sweater (sadly, not a hand-knit one)
- wool leggings
- two wool shirts
- wool socks
But overall, I did a decent job of packing. Good job, me.
P.S. The new bag liner and pillow were the bees' knees. The liner was so warm! And the pillow was as good as my memory foam at home. My camping kit has been taken up several notches.