Thursday, 24 December 2009

Colorado

A nice hot day in California greeted my weary soul on Tuesday. There was no plan for today just settling into LA - learning that biscuits come in a can; being introduced to places of wonder like Yogurt-land; discovering that corn bread isn't very nice (imho); talking to a homeless man, and even meeting a republican! I don't like that alcohol from New Zealand is cheaper here than at home! 42 below is like $15 a liter, unfair! And a decent amount of juice won't break the bank here either. Does everything have to come with peanuts though?

A quick down-packing into one bag from two - ice axe still present but I decided not to bother with the crampons and all my cold weather kit... Colorado isn't cold or anything is it???
So with mostly adequate gear Kim and I flew onwards to Colorado. Had some nice fast food of Chinese - Panda Express, also discovered that prices don't include tax over here. Anyhow we had a quick stop in Las Vegas - saw that pyramid that is in every single movie set there. Got some nice views of sunset over the North American Rockies! 6 mini bags of peanuts later we got to Denver International Airport.


It was our friend AJ's last day of exams so it was awesome to be able to go out and celebrate with him. The very first place we went - The Mountain Sun. Well my supervisor had the right idea I think - they had some fantastic home brewed beers - Swan Son was one I liked a lot; the nitrogen foamed Pale Ale was a very interesting beer too, nice and creamy, almost buttery. Very nice burgers and grilled sandwiches too - Goony Bird was delicioumo!

The only thing I wrote for the next day is "I want to live in Boulder". AJ took us to a very warm yoga session - which was good cause there was snow on the ground. We had some Jamba juice and AJ cooked an amazing crock-pot of goodness. Books it turns out, are affordable in the states - we went to a book shop and somethings were reasonable - its amazing! New Zealand could learn from this! I paid money for a novel because it wasn't a rip off...
Visiting Neptune, an outdoor shop in Boulder, we asked about local "hikes" and were told about Lake Brainard. As it turns out Kim had been there before by a different route! We hired snow-shoes (well I bought a pair for my Mum's Tramping Gear Hire shop).

We got an early start, picking up Kim's friend Lesley on the way and saw sunrise as we got into the mountains. Snowshoes were pretty much required for this path, it would have been up to our wastes for hours without them. The snow is so dry compared to that in New Zealand though, doesn't make the toes anywhere near as cold! The wind on the other hand - that was just a light breeze but felt quite gnarly.
We came across a few large clearings like this, photos don't really do them justice.

Kim made a berry flavored slushy in the snow for everyone, here is AJ having a drink.
The bridge out at Brainard Lake.
The crew having lunch on the way back from a enjoyable outing! After returning the hired snowshoes, (and having a nap!) we went to AJ's Mum's house - wow could she cook! What a fantastic spread she had done! The next day was packing and moving up day for Kim and I; AJ was working early so we took our time and caught a bus from Boulder to Denver. Then we waited for my friend Dani to pick us up from our hideout in the "Tattered Cover" - a really amazing bookstore by the way. I couldn't resist a cheap physics book on additional dimensions in the universe, kept me quiet for the next few days anyhow! Also in Denver Kim introduced me to my new favorite fast food - Chipotle, a healthy mexican grill.
The next day Dani dropped us into the Natural History and Science Museum in Denver. Here Kim is trying to escape from the fourth floor... We went to a Genghis Khan exhibit that was really good, but I think museums shouldn't be visited too early in the morning. Sadly Dani had to work the whole time we were in Denver; we really had to monopolize her evening time!
While in town an ATM stole Kims check and we ate lots of pasta with spicy croutons. I swear Denver smells a bit off sometimes, it really stunk when we got out of the museum anyhow. The rest of that day seemed to consist of walking down to the frozen lake to see the millions of geese, then back to town via a bus, or the museum. Later that evening round at Dani's friend Brooke's house, I got properly introduced to s'moores; I believe the states might have one upped our old chocolate thins and marshmallows at the campfire to be honest.
Near Dani's house is Washington park, so the next day after a welcome lie in we wandered down and around that. Then Dani took us to the original Chipotle which was really close to her school, a couple of movies later and it was our last day in Colorado.

For some reason even though it was really freezing we had been told of some famous home made ice cream... so one Peanut and Chocolate waffle cone and two amazing fillings later I was ready for the warmer climate of Los Angeles! Kim's mother picked us up from the ridiculously busy LAX and then stuffed us full of fresh fruit, chicken salad and sesame chicken - no complaints from me!
Now I'm going to pretend today didn't happen; I didn't get slightly lost in LA by myself, twice. Nope, it has just gone and suddenly skipped a day to Christmas Eve.

Leaving on a Jetplane

Well I planned to write some stuff down about what I get up to this summer, so here is part one... getting to America!
Monday the 14th of December 2009 is when my holiday started. It is also the longest day I have ever had. First task was cleaning up and clearing out my room, this long drawn out process was spread over the preceding two days as well.

My room had certainly looked better, but I managed to find enough banana boxes to pack away all my belongings that weren't to come with me to the states.

A farewell dinner with the flat was a brilliant prelude to a long play of rock-band with the girls + Oliver. We were playing at HitLab - the amazing place that I call home at university, it was all fun and games until an agitated security guard decided we were clearly not supposed to be smiling on campus - he took our names and very kindly passed mine onto the university proctor for letting unauthorized people into a secure building.

Well after telling our lab manager about that hopefully minor issue I went on to meet with people about next year. Two of those meetings were in the computer science department. Firstly, I had submitted a paper for a conference next year and the department has agreed to send me, plane tickets are already booked; seems strange as it hasn't been accepted (or rejected) yet. Secondly, hopefully I'll be tutoring python to first years at the old University of Canterbury next year.
A quick meeting with my supervisor for my summer work who strongly recommended visiting The Mountain Sun while I was in Boulder, Colorado. Lots more vacuuming and cleaning of windows and I was out. Thanks must go to my wonderful flatmate Jo, for dropping me out to the airport with all my tramping and nerd equipment. Ice-axe and crampons were stowed out of site inside my pack and laptop case full to the brim!
My mother very generously lent me her digital SLR camera for my trip, so I have no excuses for crap or nonexistent photos! That said my wee laptop struggles with the high res images a bit, I can't use the normally swish OSX cover flow for previewing images...


Waiting at Christchurch airport for the small flight to Auckland before the big flight to the states. I was really lucky with the timing because I saw the most amazing sunset over the alps in the south island on route to Auckland. Everyone else was too busy sleeping to notice, but the view was magnificent; I didn't have the camera with me though, and didn't want to climb over people to get it; I won't make that mistake again. For some reason we were not allowed to take anything from duty free in Christchurch through the international terminal in Auckland - and no we were not warned this would happen. Luckily I hadn't purchased anything but I felt sorry for those that had! I was made to finish my water bottle twice though - I thought that after passing through security in Christchurch I could refill it, but then I had to drain it or drink it in Auckland as well. Shame because I then forgot to refill it for the proper long flight and I had to go to the toilet while all the flight briefing bollocks was happening. When I got onto the massive 747 and found my seat I was very worried - I had no TV and everyone else seemed to! Disaster?! No, luckily I was put at ease as the Air New Zealand stewardess pointed out that mine was under my seat on a stand... All good! Fast forward 12 sleepless hours.... One meal of fish later.. 

Honestly I know I watched 3 movies, but don't know what the were. I also saw at least 5 episodes but don't know what ones... Read a bit of two books and listened to music. Something quite cool happened after a few hours, when most others were asleep; it got light outside - the blinds had all been put down but I was awake to see us flying back to the Monday that had tried to leave us behind! Anyhow coming up to Los Angeles was a treat - obviously I was stunned by the size of it. Then the plane turned and I saw at least 5 times more in the other direction - we flew over the city until we couldn't see the sea on the horizon anymore... I really can't quite believe how massive this sprawled city is.

Once I collected my bags the damn phone machine stole $3 while I tried to make a single local call - not off to a great start but eventually I got through to Kim who came and picked me up from LAX!
Dropping off my bags, picking up her flatmates we made way to the Cheesecake Factory for a delicious welcome to America meal! Bring on sunset number two as we got back to her flat and from the window I spy the Hollywood sign up on the hill.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Kepler Challenge Weekend 2009

I went down to Te Anau for a quick visit and to drop of a few items (including my car). I also wanted to catch up the family before I head to the states next week. After a sweet road trip down, some ice cream and ferg in Queenstown I happened to arrive in town mid-way through the Fiordland College prize-giving, that was good to go and catch up with my old teachers and many other students I knew.

The following day was just spent catching up with people and then it was the day of the annual 60Km Kepler Challenge mountain run. My mum Bev was doing it for her 20th (and final) time! I dropped her out at the start line at 5:30am.

And the 400 odd runners are off! Some will take more than 11 hours to finish, most between 7 and 9 hours, and exactly one person has taken less than 5 hours (the last 3 years in a row).

I then went down to the lake to play with Mums camera - a nice cannon DSLR, I took a few shots that I later merged into these panoramas:




Some 10 hours later, Mum was finished - she looks every so slightly happy with herself! Sadly I didn't take this picture, I was some 40 minutes behind her! I had an elaborate plan to run the last section with her and according to the progress board she hadn't yet passed the checkpoint at Rainbow Reach - where you can drive to. Unfortunately by the time I started running she had apparently finished!

I somehow managed to convince her that she doesn't really need her DSLR for the next two months, and since I'm visiting the likes of Colorado and Banff in Canada that my need was greater. Not sure how she fell for that, but I now have a temporary loan of one sweet camera! Thanks Mum!

I went out with my littlest brother Douglas for a run up to Key Summit on the Routeburn track to take photos - he is a bit of a photographer so I thought I go along.  Mostly crappy ones from up there and I left them all on his computer in Te Anau but I did take one nice one of him being a photographer.


Some very nice people from the race (one of whom lived 200m from me) offered to take me back north to Chch, now I just have 6 days to pack up and clean out my room, clean the flat, organize my gear for this trip and then I fly away!

In theory I'll begin updating this blog thing a bit more once I start to travel - no promises though!

Kayak Safety Course in Murch

The kayak safety course in Murchison with the NZKS was fantastic. We had amazing weather and amazing instructors. Big ups to the New Zealand Kayak School.


We covered so much in two days. From how to tie all sorts of handy knots, to swimming out and saving people in the middle of rapids. Brilliant weekend.


One part I really liked was getting a throw bag clipping in my life jacket to one end, handing the other end to 3 people on the bank saying hang on! Then jumping off a rock into a rapid, swimming out to the victim, grabbing them, forcing there head out of the water, and swimming down the rapid. By this stage the rope has gone tight, the three people on the bank are knocked off their feet due to the crazy amount of power the river has, and we get swung in to the shore pendulum styles.... I sure felt cool!



Other helpful things were the mechanical advantage systems, useful for both horizontal stuff - eg getting a pinned boat off a rock; and for vertical stuff like getting someone up out of a gorge.

I really think it should be an annual thing for the instructors, maybe even a small amount of Combos money should be ear marked for subsidies just to ensure the standard stays high...

Obviously any weekend up in Murchison is fantastic, there were some good times at the camp ground too!