Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Putting the Nose to the Grindstone

You've all heard the saying "Necessity is the mother of all invention"? Well it seems like my mantra these days goes more like "Deadlines are the begetter of all productivity." I have come to find out that I dabble in procrastination more than I'd like to admit and log term projects are the bane of my existence. I always have these grand aspirations of starting a project like a term paper way in advance and followed by dreams of finishing it a week before the due date. Unfortunately, I have yet to actually do this, more often than not staying up super late the night before the deadline.

During the past couple of weeks, this semester's long-term obligations have started to catch up with me and I'm having to juggle the daily grind of studying for tests and finishing homework with working on these other major projects. Oh well, I'll just have to suck it up and get down to business. The next couple of weeks leading up to the end of the semester (and the end of my undergraduate experience) will look something like this:

Monday, March 29, 2010

Stopping to Smell Life's Roses

Yesterday in church the lesson was about Jesus' journey to Jerusalem. We have been working through the book of Luke on Sunday mornings and Albert (our preacher) emphasized that Jesus was very focused on entering capital of the Jewish world. Phrases like "he had his eyes on Jerusalem" or "while he was going up to Jerusalem" (my paraphrasing) occur fairly often in the text.

Yet for being as focused as he was on the destination, Jesus chose an interesting route to get there: he chose to go through Samaria. I would not hesitate to make the claim that every person with a familiarity of Jesus' teaching has heard the story of the Good Samaritan. What makes that story so poignant? Samaritans were looked on with disdain by the Jewish community, a feeling that Jesus challenged by placing one as the hero of the story. In this atmosphere, he also chooses to travel in a round-about way to Jerusalem through Samaria, teaching the people there and healing a blind beggar.

As I sat in the pew I couldn't keep my mind from wandering: I had to write a grocery list and compose a To-Do list, think about what I was doing for lunch, when I was going to get all my homework done, if I was... It just kept going on and on! I am a notorious "schemer," planning trips, events, and daily schedules like clockwork. But at the same time I feel as though I'm missing out on the important things of the present. I wouldn't really know how wonderful life's roses smell, since I only notice them as they brush my leg as I march past, eyes on the next mountaintop.

I can learn a lot from the telling of Jesus' walk to Jerusalem. The journey should not be fulfilled in the destination, but in the enjoyment of the path and the stops along the way sharing the joy of the trip with others.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bodies (and Stomachs) in Motion

I just got back from an all expenses paid trip with the Honors College to the "Bodies in Motion" (check out their website, there is a lot of information available) exhibit in Dallas. I had some clue what I was getting myself into, but was almost overwhelmed by the actual exposition. The exhibit shows human bodies preserved so they don't decay as an educational tool for the public. As you walk through the location, the displays take you through the various systems of the body: skeletal, muscular, respiratory, etc. It's like walking into a human anatomy textbook! For a geek like me, I saw the opportunity as a treasure chest of knowledge just waiting to be dug through. My plan was to read every display and listen to each station on the audio tour, but there was so much to absorb that by the end I was grateful there were the actual body parts there to look at, I couldn't read any more.

I have heard of some controversy regarding the exhibit itself. Some of you reading this blog might have a negative view toward displaying the deceases humans in this way. My view point of the idea is positive for two reasons:
  1. First, medical doctors and students look at similar cadavers to gain knowledge and training for their work. I see this as an opportunity for the general public to have access to an exciting learning tool. I can read about the body in a book and see pictures galore, but to see what's actually inside of your own body is indescribable. For instance, I would be looking at a display of the muscles in the shoulder and involuntarily find myself moving my arm around and flexing my own shoulder to try and "feel" what I was seeing. It also seemed as if everyone viewing the exhibit had some connection to the displays: one lady had broken her shoulder and could see what she was rehabbing (Mom, you could have appreciated that one...)
  2. Secondly, I found it inspiring to be looking at the human body, the pinnacle of God's creation, in a totally new way. Everything was completely exposed in all its glory. The subtle intricacies of the individual systems were highlighted and I felt like I can appreciate human life better.
After the exhibit, we were treated to possibly the best mexican restaurant I have ever eaten at. The restaurant is called La Familia and is native to the DFW area for over a decade. The atmosphere is amazing and lucked out and beat the early dinner rush, being the only group in the restaurant for a good portion of our meal! As you walk in you are professionally greeted with a handshake and a "Welcome!" The walls are all covered in old family photographs of the owner, Al Cavazos. They claim to prepare all their food fresh daily and I'd believe it: their salsa especially was out of this world, just make sure to hold off enough until your actual meal arrives. The main entrees were light and savory, not bogged down with a lot of cheese and grease that you often experience at similar establishments. Besides the food, the service was extremely friendly and personable, not to mention prompt. We even had a conversation with Al himself and he told us stories of some of the pictures on the walls and shared the history of the restaurant. To sum up, if you are ever traveling through Ft. Worth with a hankering for some grub, this is the place to go.

Guadalupe Bouldering

As I mentioned before in the Outdoor Club Adventure, Part 1: Guadalupe Mountains, a group of us forged out from camp during some down time in the afternoon for some rock climbing. I've climbed on a lot of limestone since coming down south for school in Texas. Lake Brownwood (Abilene's closest destination), Camp Eagle on the Nueces River, Reimer's Ranch near Austin, and even the world renowned Hueco Tanks are all limestone formations of varying form and quality. The limestone boulder that we found near camp was once a part of the Capitan Reef that I have mentioned in other posts, maybe even rolling from the summit of Guadalupe Peak eons ago to its current place of residence. I imagine if it could speak, it could tell of some crazy events in earth's past. But I don't really see a future in translating rock dialects, so we'll just have to speculate.

I've perused the internet quite a bit for any mention of rock climbing in the Guadalupe area and nothing has revealed itself. Some sources (namely the NPS) cite the poor quality of the rock dissuading people from establishing much of a climbing destination. Looking at the cliffs around, I don't know if I entirely believe that, but it would be beyond my ability to tackle some of the huge walls found on the side of Guadalupe Peak and El Capitan. From what I've seen though it has a lot of potential for being good bouldering alternative to the more crowded and more regulated Hueco Tanks. There is just something about being in a wilderness setting away from a load of people, climbing without pressure, not trying to prove yourself, just scaling the rock because you feel compelled to reach the top by the most difficult means your body can handle.
Me standing next to Martyr's Ladder, which moves from the nasty bush bottom center through the darker water mark and tops out in the "book" between chossy bulges.

That being said, for aspiring First Ascentionists like ourselves, the potentially virgin boulder just begged to be climbed. We quickly established three new climbs on the Northwestern side of the rock: Stage Left (FA myself), Exit Cactus Left (FA Alex Wann), and La Buena Vista (FA Wann). Then we saw a beautiful arete on the North East corner. The line was there, curving up and to the right through a gap in the upper lip of the boulder, but the start was a little questionable. We had discovered by that time that most living things in a desert area like the one we were in are "out to get you" and there was a monstrous thorn bush guarding the entrance at the base of the route. After pulling the bush out of the way to gain access to the rock, I was able to pull into the upper reaches of the problem. The crux move was near the top, 12 feet off the deck, making a potential fall pretty hazardous. I hung on and thrashed my way to the top, avoiding almost certain death by way of man-eating plant. We then dubbed the climb the Martyr's Ladder, referencing St. Perpetua's vision of her martyrdom: climbing a ladder with weapons on all sides and a dragon at the bottom. Appropriate, eh?

Our session didn't last an extremely long time, nor was the climbing itself extraordinarily difficult. Yet climbing in that mountainous setting with a group of solid friends sparked a fire of exploration and adventure within us all and will continue to burn, leaving us psyched for the next epic.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Backyard Adventure Club

I mentioned in my very first entry that my "girlfriend" is an 8 ft x 8 ft piece of plywood. Although this is a slight exaggeration, I wanted to introduce you to several friends of mine that I have had a lot of adventures with since living at 1210 Washington Boulevard.

First on the roster is La Murallita. The climbing club that I got involved with in Uruguay was called La Muralla using the Spanish word for "Really-Big-Wall" (I think it's used when talking about the Great Wall of China for instance). This one is just a much smaller version. La Murallita was a project that a couple of buddies and I cranked out the beginning of Fall semester 2008 when we first moved into this house. It has been an awesome training tool for the actual weekend climbing adventures that I look forward to.

Next is the Little Champ, my '95 Dodge Dakota Sport. Currently it has over 130k miles on it and is still running strong. Complete with a bike rack and a topper, LC has been the ultimate travel companion on road trips whether driving to Texas, back to Montana, or any number of great destinations in between. This past summer, I built a bed platform in the back to facilitate better storage and sleeping space. From the SNOLANE license plate to the window stickers and everything in between, it has become one bad pajama...

Last but not least, the newest member of the club is the Monster. It is thus named because of its immense size, which the friends who I coerced into helping me set it up can attest to. Built by a good friend of mine, Matt, I inherited it last December and it has weathered the change of homes with flying colors. If it looks a little different than La Murallita to you don't be alarmed. It is designed to be used in campus training, where you use only your hands (not your feet) to scale the wall.

Big and small, mobile or not, I've really come to love these back yard residents, and I'm going to miss them when the time to move out comes around.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Outdoor Club Adventure, Part 2: Carlsbad Caverns

The Carlsbad Caverns are created from the same rock that forms the Guadalupe Mountains interestingly enough. Limestone from the Capitan Reef was thrust to the surface through the surrounding layers of sediment that were left after a prehistoric salt water sea dried up. Cracks formed from the colossal forces of the uplift that pushed the formation to the surface and it is these cracks that allowed water to seep down into the rock itself. Through some chemical mixing, namely hydrogen sulfide laden water from the gas and oil fields of the surrounding area and slightly acidic rainwater, sulfuric acid was formed with began to dissolve the rock. Many of the joints and cracks that formed in the rock were horizontal in orientation allowing the creation of massive underground rooms such as those found in Carlsbad. (I won't pretend in the least to be a geologist, so consider this a brief overview from what I remember. If you're anything like me you will want more information, so go look up a wikipedia article or something. I realize I'm a nerd so thanks for humoring me.)

Our little group of explorers from ACU could hardly contain ourselves with the excitement of getting to examine these caverns. Yet the anticipation couldn't compare to the actual emotions present when we actually saw the mouth of the cave and descended into the darkness.

We woke early and worked like a well oiled machine Sunday morning getting breakfast ready, organizing brown-bag lunches, and breaking camp. It was no surprise when we all piled into the vehicles actually ahead of the desired departure time. We arrived at the Visitor Center and milled around a bit getting tickets, but then we were off to the Natural Entrance for a self-guided tour. The day before had taken us to what seemed to be the top of the world, making this morning, as we clambered down into the depths of the earth, beyond surreal.For those of you like me who aren't aspiring amateur photographers and haven't splurged for an extremely expensive piece of picture taking equipment, you will understand my disappointment with my inability to capture natural phenomenon. Most of the photographic technology that us poor college students employed that morning was also unable to fully capture the crazy shapes and wild formations living deep underground, but, as you can see by the pictures in this post, some of us overcame the odds.
Going back to a little earth science for a bit, I am always blown away by the speleothems, or cave formations, that are found in caverns such as Carlsbad. It's incredible to think of the time needed to form stalactites, stalagtites, flow stone, cave popcorn, and others. We were able to listen to a ranger and his "Geek Speak" about how many of the formations occur, especially the popcorn. It's actually from the air blowing through the cave and drawing the water out of solution leaving the mineral behind. Most formations happen on the windward side, much like moss on the north side of trees. Man, I love Geek Speak.

We finished the Natural Entrance hike, and moved on to explore the Big Room with all its wondrous offerings such as the Hall of Giants, views of the Lower Cave, Top of the Cross, the Bottomless Pit, the Rock of Ages, and Painted Grotto. I for one was ready for break by the end: my feet, head, and heart were overwhelmed by everything. Not to mention my stomach was ready for some lunch!After a quick sandwich in the parking lot, our group struck out for home. The weekend had been an amazing adventure that I won't be able to duplicate. I saw God in so many ways: the awesomeness of his creation, people interacting selflessly toward one another, and relationships were formed and strengthened. I can't help but reflect on how great God is to have created a world with such heights and such depths, where everything intertwines in such amazing ways. It takes a whirlwind trip like this to realize that he is in control, and thankfully I'm along for the ride.

My Somewhat Uncertain Future

When people hear that I am graduating this spring, inevitably they want to know two questions: 1) am I ready/how do I feel about it, and 2) what am I going to do after graduation. To answer the first question, I usually say that it's a weird "mix of emotions." I'm excited and apprehensive at the same time about this point in my life. My identity as a student (an identity I've had for 17 years ever since I first entered Kindergarten at H.C. Davis Elementary school in Cut Bank, MT) has the possibility of coming to an end. Thankfully, I plan on being able to postpone that identity shift as long as I can, which leads me to the answer of question 2.

I plan on attending graduate school to study Geotechnical Engineering, a more specialized branch of Civil Engineering. I'm in an odd spot compared to most students looking at grad school attendance since I will graduate from ACU with a degree in a non-engineering field (Physics). I also want to take some time off of school before entrance in grad school go work, travel, explore, and otherwise gain some real-life experience. So after a semester or a year off and having to take some remedial course work I might never stop being a student, at least until my family gets sick of me being a perpetual student-bum. Then I'll get down to business and get the cliche "haircut and a real job."

That being said, I have exciting news: I recently have been accepted into Colorado State University's Graduate School! Unfortunately they were unable to offer me any financial aid due to me having to catch up on the background coursework. That along with not being a resident of Colorado will need to be weighed carefully against my desire to study in Fort Collins.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Outdoor Club Adventure: Guadalupe Peak

Yet another amazing excursion for the ACU Outdoor Club! During the first weekend of March (the 5th-7th), the Club led a rockin' group of 18 students to the far western reaches of the state of Texas. Everyone was seeking friendship, escape, adventure, and a weekend of experiencing God. None seemed disappointed.

Getting ready to hit the trail in the morning

We scrambled to leave Abilene Friday afternoon amid some afternoon showers, but were able to hit the road before too late in the day and had smooth sailing all the way. We were able to fit all 18 of us and our gear into only 4 vehicles. That's right, doing our best to minimize that carbon footprint! We entertained ourselves on the road with solid conversation, great tunes, and fun on on the two-way radios. After a bit of a fiasco trying to find a decent dinner in Eunice, NM, we found ourselves at the Pine Springs campground around 10 pm MST. Everyone got down to business and we had tents set up in no time. Needless to say, I didn't have to twist any arms to get people to go to bed...

The next day, we awoke to amazing views of the sun rising over an inversion below us: the cloud bank covering the surrounding desert wasn't broken with islands of mountains like it is on Big Mountain back home during the ski season, but impressive nonetheless. After breakfast, we summitted the highest point in Texas: Guadalupe Peak at 8,741 feet. It felt pretty good to get gain some elevation since it's kind of lacking in Abilene. Gaining 3000 feet in 4.2 miles, the trail to the top isn't a pushover. Kudos to everyone for pushing to the top! Back in camp (after the knee-jarring, foot slapping descent) we had time for rest, relaxation, and reflection before having a super satisfying spaghetti dinner.

Members of the crew on the summit of Guadalupe

For some however, relaxation means something different than most. Asa and Ethan had brought their downhill mountain bikes on the trip in hopes of riding the Peak trail, only to read halfway through the drive over that it was prohibited. Not to be denied they hauled their bikes up the side of a ridge and rode down. They said the top was pretty nerve-racking but once they got into the groove they were able to connect some great lines near the bottom. I believe both of them crashed at least once (being saved certain doom via cactus and rock by wearing jeans and full-face helmets) and Asa got 2 flat tires. Although both conceded that they wouldn't do it again, they felt as though it was worth the effort.

Another group of crazies (I have to include myself in this one) had brought climbing shoes with the goal of climbing some of the limestone boulders near camp. We sauntered across the dry creek bed to a giant one visible from camp and climbed some new routes (possible First Ascents...). I will post a more detailed description of the actual climbing, along with photo documentation later, since I feel it deserves more attention that I can afford in this trip report. For now, know that we had a good session.

Some of us hikers relieved after making it back to the parking lot

Eventually, everyone was drawn back to camp, their empty stomachs being enticed by the promise of a hearty meal. With everyone satisfied, we got ready for the night's rest and met in the guys' tent for a devotional. It felt really good to be singing praises to God after witnessing first hand the awesomeness of his creation on the mountain earlier that day. And who better to share it with than the very people that he loves so much! Thus it was with hearts filled to the brim that we settled into our sleeping bags.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our adventure: exploration of Carlsbad Caverns!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Perfect Day

Days like yesterday don't come around very often. Everything just seemed to come together. Eric and I drove down to Lake Brownwood to meet up with Ben and Mary to pull on some good ol' sharp, rough stone. The weather was absolutely gorgeous with blue skies, no wind, cooler temperatures. Everyone there also seemed to be having an "on" day as well: new climbs were scoped, progress was made on projects, and several new climbs were unlocked for first ascents (FAs). To top it all off, I couldn't have asked for a better group of people to spend the day with. Eric, Ben, and Mary have been such inspirational mentors to me with their openness, love for people, and excitement about climbing. Jarrod and John are some cool cats to hang with and it's cool to see the next generation of ACU climbers catch the fire and really attack some projects.

Personally and introspectively, I feel as though yesterday was a good test of my maturity with regards to climbing. I've had difficulty in the past of casting off on my own and trying new routes that weren't previously established. With Eric and Ben as my examples, I established an unclimbed project and finished the difficult FA (now named All Knuckles and Elbows) after being denied many times over the course of the morning. Then while working on the FA of Smooth Sailing Eric, Jarrod, and I tried the route in turn and each pushed the limit of the previous climber. I felt extremely fluid on the lower section and confident for the send but I fell multiple times on the final move. Eric finally gained the FA and instead of feeling angry and jealous, like I have in the past, I felt as much a part of the ascent as my friend. The puzzle we were working on together was figured out and we were both pumped up.

My feet above the newly established All Knuckles and Elbows.

I realize that I will never be a Chris Sharma, a Sonnie Trotter, or a Conrad Anker. Pushing my limits will not push the limits of the climbing world. Yet, I look forward to continuing that journey toward my ultimate climbing potential and having the opportunity to pass on the excitement to others. "Perfect days" like this do a really good job of reinforcing that.

For a more detailed account of the day and all the climbing action, see Eric's entry at Abilene Climbers.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Vertical Plains 2010

I just posted a blog entry on Abilene Climbers about a trip that several ACU students and I took to the Vertical Plains Climbing Festival last February. Please check it out!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Short(s) Limerick

Yesterday was warm enough that I was able to bust the shorts out of their long hibernation in my dresser. Here is a limerick in honor of the changing of the seasons:

There once was a friendly old robot,
Who grew tired of being too hot,
So he asked his nice wife,
To take a sharp knife,
And make shorts of all pants that he bought.

Although the bot was now cool,
His friends all though him a fool,
For his knees were too bright,
And his legs very white,
As he sat in the sun by his pool.

I hope this brings a smile to your face on this beautiful March day!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Fighting the Demon Called Mono

About 3 weeks ago my life drastically changed. I went to bed on a Sunday night, slept horribly with a fever, and woke up with a painful sore throat. So off to the doctor I went only to be diagnosed with mono... Mono?!?
Thus my days dramatically shrunk as I attempted to get 10+ hours of sleep per night coupled with an additional nap during the day. The biggest thing I missed was being active, but all I felt like doing was laying around. Thankfully the Winter Olympics were on TV and I quickly got into a routine of watching the Games during breaks between homework and studying. Besides the increased sleep, I got some "all natural" remedies sent from my mom: elderberry extract, elderberry/echinacea tea, vitamin C supplement, and beef liver pills (smell like dog food but really aren't that bad).
All of it seemed to work though, and I've felt markedly better everyday since being diagnosed. Last week I would even wake up before my alarm in the morning feeling refreshed as if my body had finally gotten enough sleep (that was a feeling I don't think I've had before). Knowing that, I decided that I was ready to tag along with the Outdoor Club trip to Guadalupe Peak and Carlsbad Caverns last weekend. So, the time from learning that I had the disease until summitting Texas's highest point was just under 3 weeks. I have to credit being in good shape, eating healthy, being disciplined about sleeping a lot, and taking huge horse pills!
I can't say that I'm thankful for this experience, but I realize that it has helped me prioritize my time by what's really important, learn patience, and understand how much I miss being able to do all the activities that I want.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Starting the Journey

So this is it: the inevitable first post to this blog. I have only had one blog before, chronicling my journey abroad to Montevideo, Uruguay for a semester in 2008, and never really been able to write in a journal consistently. Yet I'm realizing the importance of self-reflection, communication, and self-expression and want to do more to foster that. My goals for this endeavor include improving my writing and communication skills, sharing my life with my family and friends, and keep a running log of my adventures.

As for the title, I've been accused (mostly by my housemates) of having no interests other than climbing and physics. This, for all practical purposes, is true to some extent at this point in my life: my "girlfriend" is an 8' x 8' over hung piece plywood dotted with climbing holds in my backyard and I do spend a lot of time with my nose in a textbook, pencil scribbling frantically on scratch paper. But I feel as though there is much more to me than "Mountains and Minds." I like to read, write, mess with photography, cook, eat, enjoy good movies...thus I want this blog to reflect that. Get read as I attempt to share the inner workings of me. Expect to see: tales of adventure; thoughts on school, life, theology, and even physics; reactions to movies, books, blogs, news, etc.; even stories about my failures and triumphs in the kitchen.

Proving myself more than mountains and minds will be a work in progress for sure, and I hope you enjoy the journey as well!