Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Last minute prep

FASTLAYNE catching up on some reading. There's grizzlies, bison, and wolves oh my!
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It was the night before Christmas..

Otherwise known as the night before a long trip. Mind a buzz with remaining logistical challenges, gear lists, to-do lists, and anticipation.

FASTLAYNE (aka Joe Stylos), arrived in the early afternoon. He flew out here to join me on this adventure and put his hardened legs to good use. Seeing as he just completed a bike ride across America and a 100 mile hike on the ole' AT, that means taking on the noble task of sherpa and body guard.

We were able to successfully register my car and get to the Backpacker offices just in time to hear about the recent major changes to the trip and pick up a box load full of gear. Christmas! Now sing with me!

"On the day before the trip,
my map editor gave to me,
a 7-lb tent,
two sleeping bags,
one North Face pack
and arms full of geeeeaaar!"

Ahem. And so we did what good gear testers do. We tromp out to the back yard, erect the tent and prey that it will stand up to 5 weeks of pre-winter weather in Yellowstone.

As the night wore on, among laughter and joy, we reminisced about times on the trail, pulling up images of trees and flowers and things long past. House mates began heading to bed and soon FASTLAYNE had departed for the cocooned comfort of down and waterproof nylon. When all through the house, nothing was stirring, not even a mouse the time ticks away! Maps and code fill my screen! Websites, update, edit, update! And now the shiny new Google MyMap sits proudly atop the page.

It is once again time for me. My head on pillow and eyes losing the fight. To this I bid you, a wonderful and cheery Goodnight.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Back in the woods again!

Once again I will be heading for the hills. Another Backpacker project, another opportunity to test my limits. Just that this time it won't be the miles testing my fortitude, it will be the weather. At over 7500 feet in elevation, Yellowstone in October boasts an average high of 55 degrees and average lows of 30. In November it drops to 38 and 19 respectively. To put it in comparison, the lowest point in the park is higher than ANY point on the Appalachian Trail. Heck, even sitting on my couch here in Boulder puts me within 1200 feet of Clingsman's Dome and higher means colder.

For the next 5 weeks, be sure to check back here every Monday for musings and photos live from the field.

Be well and wish me luck,

Jeff Chow
BP Map Correspondent

Defining Balance

So what is balance?

Is it like a penny on its side? Stable, precarious. Is balance the dichotomy between having it and falling over? Is it a state of equilibruim. What is equilibrium?

From science it is defined as a state where all forces in all directions cancel out (ck). Which defines equilibrium as a non-accelerating state.

Does that mean it has reached a state of balance?

How about this? Back when I was in school I would string up climbing webbing between two trees like a tightrope and walk on it. Except that webbing is stretchy like a rubber band when the weightof an adult is applied to it making the tightrope rather slack. Hence the name.

I would set it up twice a week for two semesters right near the heart of campus. As a main thoroughfair, people would gawk at me and the people bouncing and flailing wildly. Friends would stop by to hang out and give it a shot. I would also heckle those who stared to come over a give it a try.

"You wanna give it a shot? It's not as scary as it looks! We'll even give you two shoulders to hold onto. Come on, you know you want to!" I'd say as I smiled slightly mischieviously. I met a lot of girls this way. I met Sarah this way.

Whenever I got on the slackline, after having done it for over a semester, people would stare. And when they came up to chat they would say "you must have great balance!"

What do they mean by that?

The trick about the slackline is that it is never still. Like standing on one foot, you must always correct. On the line I fix a soft gaze at the tree in front of me and focus internally on my body and the line. My arms move from my side to over my head keeping balanced. My back arcs to one side then the other. My hips shift side to side. My feet turn ever so slightly.

And the more I practice the less movement is required. The quicker I sense imbalance, the quicker I respond and the more stable I look. What starts as constant uncontrollable leg shaking and arm flailing becomes a smooth sway in the wind like a leaf on a tree. (Or Chow Yun Fat in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon standing on tall stalks of bamboo). This is what they are calling balance.


Maybe then balancing life is more like the slackline and less like a penny.

It takes practice and a soft focus. New inputs cause you to sway and become unbalanced. But the better you get at sensing the imbalance the quicker you can get to a center (**needs more clarity). The closer you can stay to the current idea of balance.

There is also a move on the slackline called surfing. It appears just like it's namesake. But when applied to the line, you must first put yourself out of balance. You have to begin falling to the side pushing your legs out from under you and then at the last moment correcting by pulling the line to the other side. This causes you to carve like a surfer. As if swinging on a swing but standing on the seat and facing sideways. Your feet oscillate under you to the right and left. If you can hold it, it's a dynamic equilibrium. Moving balance.

In life there is the option of being a hermit and hiding under a rock. You can choose to isolate yourself from the world making it easier to manage, having every day be the same.

For some this is going to work, doing the same thing everyday and coming home and choosing between the same three meals before going to bed. It's no wonder there is an ever present need for a vacation.

Now I'm sure you've noticed my very stable patterns by now. There is a certain area of control that I like to have. In my tent when I put everything where it should be, it means I can grab my headlamp (around my neck) without searching. I can get a sip of water by reaching above my head for the nozzle. Check the time on the GPS to my left pushing the buttons by feel and memory. It means I don't have to think when packing things up. Patterns can create efficiency.

Each time I have to shift them, it creates a certain anxiety. Depending on my energy, sometimes I have to lay there and think for a while as the gears turn in my head as if rusty and full of sludge to adapt to the new situation. The same kind of brain fog people experience on Everest.

On the other hand, out here in the woods, my sleeping space and my pack are pretty much the only things I can control. If the weather changes I still have to keep moving. Cold, heat, rain or fog I have to keep moving. I have no climate control or central heating to provide a comfortable and stable 72 degrees. I am at the whim of the world. My body seems to act as a seperate entity as well. Fatigue so exhausting that thinking is a chore.

Out here, I am so much less sheltered from the world. Yet I feel so alive. I am not desensitized by insulated walls and noise-cancelling headsets. I don't have an iPod distracting me from the music of nature. It's simply my naked body and two swaths of polyester and nylon seperating me from nature and the world. I feel every breeze and every bug. I feel the sun on my face and the rocks under my feet. This is living.
To live isn't to shelter ourselves from the world, it's to adapt and dance with it.

Modern conveniences make the day to day easy. It's the hard stuff that makes a life worth living.

But which would you rather have? A stable, consistent life or one full of stories of failure and triumph?

I don't know.
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