Monday, March 31, 2008

Family reunion half a world away…

The first week that I was in Algeria this last trip, I got an email from my dad. He said that my cousin Becky was taking her daughter to London as a gift before she graduates high school and that they’d be there the last part of March. I didn’t really know how long I’d be in Algeria or what day I’d make it through London but I sent Becky an email and crossed my fingers that our schedules would allow us to see each other. Fortunately things worked out and I got to spend a day with them both in London. I haven’t seen either of them in almost twelve years. Sara was just an adorable five years old the last time I visited Becky in Eugene and now she has grown up and become an intellectual young woman. She’s still adorable but that isn’t something that a 17 year old girl wants to hear.
I’m having a hard time grasping how fast time is flying by. Becky’s kids are almost all grown up and mine is starting first grade this fall. Crazy!
After I met up with them we set out with no specific plans. We hopped on the tube (London’s subway system) and headed off to see Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. When Becky called me at noon I was in a meeting at the company office about twenty minutes from the hotel they were staying at. I told her I’d meet them at 2:00 across from Victoria Station, so I had to walk about three blocks and take two trains to get to where we were meeting. I got really lucky and timed it perfectly; I made it at 2:00 on the dot. I’ve had really good luck navigating around London via the tube over the last few months and have gotten pretty familiar with a few sections of the city. So I felt a little dumb that only a moment after I made a comment that I was impressed with myself for being able to find my way around London, the first train we got on was going the wrong way. Can’t win them all I guess.
After we walked around Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, we walked along the Thames River and crossed over to ride on the London Eye and see the Salvador Dali art gallery I have to thank Becky and Sara for seeing both of them; if I hadn’t been with them I probably wouldn’t have experienced either one. I really liked the gallery; Dali was a strange guy and had some pretty wild and strange pieces but I really liked a few of his sculptures. The London Eye was really cool also, I didn’t realize the enormity of Greater London until we were at the top (443 feet at the top) and you couldn’t see where the city stopped. Yesterday I was comparing my London pictures to Sydney’s (my niece) who was there the first week of March and we both had taken a picture from the London Eye that were almost identical. Pretty weird…
After the gallery we walked back across the Thames and down to Embankment where we met up with Hans for dinner at an excellent Italian restaurant that Hans and I ate at in January. Again I was kind of proud of myself for being able to find it quite easily. I have to say that although I have really enjoyed touring around London I could never live amongst seven million people. I’d go nuts; there is no such thing as personal space. Plus you have to pay to use the bathroom in most of the public places. Where I grew up we just found the nearest tree, over there that would get you a city tour I wasn’t quite up for.
I really enjoyed the time I got to spend with both Becky and Sara. It made me once again realize that as life is happening so fast we rarely get time to spend with the people we care about; sometimes even when they aren’t really that far away. Sometimes it’s because we don’t take the time but I think more often we really don’t have the time. Life is so busy all the time it’s really hard to make the time for spending with everyone that is really important in your life. When you finally do see them again, you realize how much you missed having them in your life. I don’t think that there’s any way around it; unless of course you are independently wealthy and can travel all the time. If by chance you are, feel free to send me a plane ticket and I’ll go with you!

I guess we could all use to look at our priorities and make a list of what is most important. I’ve learned from experience how important it is that if you think about calling someone to actually call them. If you think sending them an email, send it; and more importantly visit them if you can. You will never regret making the call, sending the note, or making the trip; but I can promise you that you could regret not doing it.

With that said I have a few calls to make…

Big Ben from street level.

Becky and I next to a statue of the Burghers of Calais (I haven't got a clue who these guys were) in front of one of the Parliament buildings.

A Salvador Dali sculpture in front of the gallery.

The London Eye from ground level.

Becky and I in the Eye.

This is the picture that is almost identical to one that Sydney took. Hers just had less people on the ground.

Sara, Becky, and I after a fabulous Italian Dinner.

Friday, March 28, 2008

How a bush can ruin a perfectly good tan…

I haven’t put any pictures on for awhile, I figured after all of the ones I’ve posted that they all might start looking the same. One of the reasons is during during my last week in Algeria, I over flexed my sandboard and caused a hairline crack across the bottom of it. You wouldn’t think it would make much of a difference but it really slowed the board down and made me a lot less inclined to make four to seven treks up the dune with my camera each day. The crack was just in front of my right foot and the weight at that point combined with the friction of the sand really slowed things down (it definitely isn’t snow). I figured out that if I sat on the board in front of the crack there wasn’t as much friction and the board would still go really fast. As I learned in January however; when you sit on the board, you have no control and stopping isn’t very easy. So in the end you are at the mercy of the board and the gravitational pull of the bushes. Mind you there are only four bushes on this giant dune but I didn’t have any problem finding them, well one of them anyway. There is a reason that even the camels don’t eat these bushes and that reason is thorns, lots of thorns. On my very last trip down the dune, I was going really fast when I got into the middle of all of the tracks coming up the dune. All of the tracks made like mini speed bumps and caused things to get out of control really fast. All I could see through the spray of sand (from digging my heels in trying to slow down) was the only bush on that side of the dune rapidly approaching. In whitewater kayaking I try to live by the saying “don’t look where you don’t want to go” because if you stare at a rock or a log you are going to hit it. While careening down the dune at mach 2 this thought never occurred to me. As I approached the bush that I couldn’t seem to divert my eyes from, I dug my heels in as hard as I could and unfortunately the result wasn’t what I was hoping for. I don’t really know how the laws of physics allowed me to go from sitting on my rear to skidding on my forehead in less than a millisecond but it happened. I still don’t know how I managed to take the brunt of the impact of the bush with my left arm and leg instead of my face, but I got lucky. It would have been much less pleasant removing thorns from my forehead than it was my extremities. After I skidded to a stop (still face down in the sand) all I could hear was Collin at the top of the dune laughing hysterically. He said it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen. It actually reminded my of another friend who also couldn't stop laughing hysterically after watching me take my kayak down a black diamond ski slope; but that was about ten years ago and is a whole different story. You would think that with age I’d stop doing stupid stuff, but how boring would life be if I did that.
I guess if nothing else, my last trip down the dune was my most memorable. The next morning I tossed my sandboard on the plane and headed out of the desert, and my nice tan all covered by a thousand little scabs (half of it anyway).

I have to say that my experience in Algeria was great and the people are wonderful. My only regret is that I was unable to see any part of the country other than the Sahara. Although the desert takes up most of the country, the northern part on the Mediterranean is beautiful and green. One of these days I’d like to get the chance to visit Algiers which is on the coast and I’d also really like to see Constantine which is in the mountains and is a very old city.
Maybe one day, but for now it is off to London for a day and then back home to see if Sandi and Thane remember who I am.

My last Saharan sunset

I really liked the way these clouds got more colorful the lower the sun got.

My last trip to the top of the dune, moments prior to my painful collision with a bush with a bad attitude.

The scene of the accident

These bushes are rooted deep and even my impact didn't uproot it. Notice how far I skidded before coming to a stop and how far down the bush is scattered.

Friday, March 14, 2008

On a different subject...

I was really glad to see Lance Mackey win the Iditarod again this year. I grew up racing sprint dogs and I'm not really into distance mushing but I admire the effort these people put into racing.
My dad ran the Iditarod in 1986 and received the "Red Lantern" ( ) which is more of an accomplishment than I think I could achieve. Twenty days behind a dog team is more than I ever desired, I preferred running for about thirty minutes behind fourteen to twenty dogs and then go somewhere that had a hot shower. A strong dislike of sleeping in the cold and lack of hot showers is probably why I'm not a distance dog musher or a mountaineer.
There are several other mushers that I know better than Lance, but the reason I was glad to see Lance win again is because of a conversation I had with him in early January 2007. Both last year and again this year Sandi volunteered to be a race veterinarian for the Cantwell Classic, a 200 mile mid-distance race across the Denali Highway . This year I didn't go with her due to being in Algeria but last year I went and we camped out at a checkpoint that was the first and last checkpoint (due to turning around at the halfway point) and checked the teams as they came through. I sat in a the warmup tent ( ) and talked to Lance for quite awhile, we talked about sprint racing versus distance and all of the work involved in both. Lance said he was thinking that maybe he should try something different than distance racing. Between all of the work and frostbite he said that he thought something like the Wyoming Stage Stop would be fun to do and would be a nice change from distance racing. I didn't think much of it at the time but reflecting back on it, it was a really cool conversation. Later that month he won the Yukon Quest and then the Iditarod in March and this year he had a repeat of both. A task never achieved by anyone previously, much less two years in a row. I just think it is really nice to see people who work really hard at something be successful.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A few more sunset photos...

Today I hiked the dune four times at lunch and three times after work. Tonight the sunset was really amazing, the Lead Electrician went up with me and took a few pictures of me coming back up the dune. The weather is perfect.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The changing sand...

Every day the sand is different, some days it is completely smooth without even a ripple and some days it looks like a washboard. Today the weather was great and was my best day of riding so far. I hope the weather maintains about the same until I leave, it is perfect. Although most of the locals are still wearing their coats all day, it is like a hot summer day to me.

I think I've got the wax situation finally figured out. Today I made five trips up the dune and Saturday I made seven treks up the dune, four at lunch and three more in the evening. This dune is like the ultimate natural StairMaster; with each step you gain between a quarter and a half step of forward movement, if you are lucky. If I keep this up I might be able to get back into decent shape.
I harp on Hans everyday to get him to go with me but he says that he moved from Switzerland to Houston to get away from having to climb any more mountains. This is Bob's first trip to site and he went with me Saturday evening, I told him about the easier route but he followed me right up the middle. I think he was a little tired at the top but I'm impressed he made it up as fast as he did.

Saturday was the first time since my first trip last year that I have been on top of the dune for sunset. It is really quite amazing to watch the shadows on the dunes as the sun sets.

You get a little vertigo while climbing because if you look at the ripples long enough they look like black spray paint.

The sun getting ready to set.

Bob on his way up the dune.

Bob at the top.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Still windy but warming up...

I'd expect the Sahara to be warmer this time of the year. It is really windy and still a bit cool except around noon but at least the sand is soft. Well semi-soft anyhow; there was one slope on a northern exposure that I fell on today that was still rock hard from the last rain that brought a tear to my eye and a bruise to my arse. After I finished my sobbing I took my sandboard to a southern slope that was nice and soft and in the sunshine. I think I'm going to require a dental mirror and pick to to remove all of the grains of sand from each of my bodily crevices.
This is actually a nice relaxing way to spend my lunch hour every day. Plus I don't eat near as much.
Here is a video of the wind at the top of the dune.

This was in the middle of a sandstorm, boy was it windy up there

The little black dot at the top of the tracks is a beetle that I was following. I thought his tracks in the sand looked really cool.

My tracks in the sand

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A couple of days in the UK

I spent Saturday (my 34th birthday) and Sunday in the UK on my way back to Algeria. On Saturday Hans and I took a train to Brighton which is south of London on the Coast.
(I am a little hesitant to refer to it as either England or Britain because I had a guy I was talking to in the hotel bar get mad at me because I referred to him as British rather than English, he got even more upset when I asked him the difference. I still don't get it but I'm not going to worry too much about it.)
After wandering around Brighton for a few hours and checking out the rocky coast, we headed back to the hotel and then took the train into London for dinner. Wether it is in the restaurants or just standing in a pub, I have met a lot of really great people and had lots of excellent conversations on all of my London trips.
We stay at a hotel in Gatwick airport which is about a thirty minute train ride from Victoria Station in London. On Sunday morning we headed back into London and wandered around some more. We walked a few blocks from Victoria station and came upon a beautiful building with a tall tower. I said to Hans "wow look at that church", he said he thought it was a museum or school but really didn't think it was a church। When we walked up to the front entrance and saw the sign for Westminster Catheredral I couldn't stop laughing and had something to rib Hans about the rest of the day.
I have to say that on my first trip I was very impressed with the Tower of London and all of the old architecture, but after walking into Westminster Catheredral I was even more impressed. The outside wasn't as impressive as the Duomo in Florence, but the inside of Westminster is amazingly beautiful with all of the marble, wood, and tile work. I have seen it on tv but had no idea of the enormity of it until standing in front of the altar. It is very impressive.

After that we had dinner at a nice Spanish restaurant and headed back to the hotel. Check in for our flight to Algeria starts at 3:30am for a 6:30am flight, so it was a short night.

Outside of the Brighton train station

A kind of market street in Brighton

An art gallery in Brighton

The English coast

A very ambitious man Kaiser Wilhelm

I have to agree with Plato on this one

I really liked this building all lit up

Is this a school or museum??

Oh, it is a church...

Above the altar

The main altar

I think this is the baptism pool but not sure. There are about three to four side chapels and rooms like this on each side of the main catherdal seating area. Each side chapel is for a different church, i.e. church of Scotland, church of Ireland, etc..

Each side chapel has beautiful tile murals and writings on the walls and ceiling

The day was overcast so the pictures are a little dark but it shows how busy the streets are. This was in Covent Garden (part of London)

Another street picture