Happy 2012 everybody!

On this, the near eve of our nation's independence, I would like to wish my readers* a happy new year. Hip hip! Let's all take a minute to toast to posting more in 2012 than in 2011. And really, despite the late start, it isn't a huge number to beat.

Having read through my old posts this morning, I realized that I never had all that much to write about, so I should probably stop worrying about that part. Plus I do have at least some stuff to write about. Stay tuned... And happy Independence/New Year's/Martin Luther King Day!

* there's gotta be like 2 of you left, right?


Jet Setting

Tomorrow night, I leave for what will be the start of my 7th round trip to the East Coast this year.

Holy. Crap.

This was for 3 weddings, 2 bridal showers, 1 funeral, and finally, Christmas. And I'm not even counting Kenya in that because that was technically crossing the Atlantic, and was tacked onto the beginning of one of the wedding trips, so there were no extra continental crossings there. Unless you count Africa, which I probably should, but 8 trips to the East Coast (of two different continents) is just too overwhelming. Anyway. It's been a busy year.

To say that I am travel-weary would be an understatement. I will have spent nearly 10 weeks in not-my-bed over the course of the year. And over 50 hours on airplanes. I guess that dude played by George Clooney in that movie from a year ago would scoff at such statistics, but right now it feels like a lot. And it definitely feels like it should have earned me more frequent flyer miles than it did—I still don't have enough for another trip back East, after all of that.

And yet, somehow, in the middle of all of this, I feel like I'm finally growing some roots in the damp clay soils of California. There are finally things that I will be sad to miss happening in the Bay Area this weekend.

And there are just as many people back East who I am so, so excited to see again. I continue to call it home. I just have many homes now, painfully far away from each other. But, on the bright side, I'm always excited to go back to every one of them.


I can't, I have roller derby.

So a week after getting married, I went over to Oakland, put on some roller skates

[Interlude: holy cow, I just saw a blimp! What crazy thing is my job doing today that there is a blimp over it?]

Anyway... I strapped on some roller skates—the kind you skated in when you were a kid, with 4 wheels in a square, but these didn't have Barbie on them—and tried out for the B.ay A.rea D.erby Girls flat-track roller derby league.

Yes, this is a thing that exists. Across the country, women (and men) are spreading plastic surfaces out in warehouses and other cheaply-rentable places, taping off an oval track, and skating around and around and hitting each other. It's an actual sport with actual rules. There's some showmanship, but nothing is staged. Unless you go to that one 'no-rules' banked track league in northern New Jersey, which is more like pro wrestling.

Anyhoo, I made tryouts!

What followed was three months of probation, where I went to as many practices as possible, trying to get drafted onto a team. I learned skating, hitting, strategy... A little bit of everything. Probably the most fun were the once-a-week scrimmages that gave me more game experience over those three months than I saw in two years of varsity college hockey (scrimmage time included).

To me, derby is all the awesome of varsity sports, minus all of the drama of high school and college, with some extra showmanship thrown in. What could possibly be more fun for an ex-hockey player/ex-dancer?

I quickly formed an addiction and am already wondering where I'll get my fix when I go home for the holidays, where the local leagues aren't practicing between Christmas and New Year's (Slackers! I'm looking at you, Gotham!) Well, not to worry (unless you're my husband or someone else who wants to see me at all in the new year), the new season starts on January 15th!


The Air Up There

Near Lenana Peak, Mt Kenya, July 2011

To be just a little kick-ass on our honeymoon, and earn all the lazing around on the beach we planned on doing later, A and I decided to start off the trip by hiking up all 4,985 meters (16,355 ft) of Mt. Kenya1. And because we're stubborn like that, we, unlike every other white person we saw on the mountain, decided to actually carry our own packs. We felt pretty badass about that part, at least after we realized how few people do it.

The trip started by the side of the road outside of Chogoria, where the bus from Nairobi had dropped us off. Motorcycle taxi drivers rushed over, hoping to take us into town, but we opted to be met by our guide in a car2. Still a little dazed from having landed in Nairobi at 1:30 that morning, I followed A's lead into a local hotel (food joint) where we had the typical upcountry meal: ugali, a corn paste made into a fairly solid chunk; some sort of cooked meat; and sukuma wiki, or sauteed collard greens.

After stocking up on some vegetables for dinner that night, we got in the 4-wheel drive to get up to the park gate. The driver was clearly experienced, and expertly got us through many muddy ditches, even helping out another stuck car along the way. We reached the park gate, where we would stay in a banda (bare-bones hut) that night, by mid afternoon.

View of the mountain from Meru Mt Kenya Lodge, at the trailhead.

And then things started to get interesting. We quickly realized that we'd forgotten a number of items we'd probably need for the trip, like enough cash to pay the park fees, the fuel tank for our camping stove, and warm gloves. But our guide saved the day on all accounts, and we managed to beg and borrow our way into at least the bare necessities for the trek.

We awoke on day 1 of the trip at about 3,000 meters, after a night broken up only by the sound of water buffalo horns scraping against the walls of the banda. After a bit of breakfast, we packed up and started what would be a 17k day. We headed up a red dirt path through the lush green fields, filled up on filtered stream water, and enjoyed the sun. Slowly, the lush greenery gave way to rockier, dustier terrain. The trees dwindled and then disappeared altogether, replaced by Giant Groundel, which basically looks like an alpine palm tree.

The tent, a giant groundsel, the outhouse, and me.

After a long day, we finally made it to Mintos Campsite, where our guide had a hut but we had to pitch a tent. We were on a slight hill, near a few tarns (alpine lakes fed by glaciers), and 4200 meters into the sky. Breathing was becoming difficult, but it was ok as long as you took it slow. Of course, when I did small things like go over to the tarns to pump water or jump out of the tent in the middle of the night to pee, I forgot all this, and would take a good couple minutes on my return to catch my breath again.

The next day, we awoke to a frozen tent. We'd been warm enough, but the condensation from our breath on the rain fly had become sheets of ice. We had a short day ahead, so we let the tent thaw and dry while we leisurely cooked up some oatmeal. The Austrians camping next to us, who, like most of the other Europeans we saw, had not only porters but a chef, had pancakes and hot chocolate. I'm not sure I'd feel like I was camping if I had pancakes for breakfast.

Eventually, the tent thawed—or we gave up on it, I can't quite remember—and we packed up and made our way onward and upward. We scrapped our back-up plan of hiking to another mid-mountain hut3 in favor of our original plan of sleeping at the hut just next to Lenanas Peak, and up we went. After some very steep (and therefore very slow) climbing, we reached the snow line. Snow! On the Equator! SNOW! Ok, yeah, so snow line. Moving on.

By this point, I'd learned to count my steps per breath. On the steepest parts, I was down to one. Step-inhale-exhale. Step-inhale-exhale. Thinking so consciously about it helped make it bearable, and pass the time. It felt downright leisurely when we got to shallower terrain and I could spread it to 2 breaths per 3 steps. We made it to Austrian Hut by lunch time. A was feeling a bit of a chest cold, so we made some Ramen for lunch and took a nap. In the afternoon, we made it over to check out the glacier. Glacier! On the Equator! GLACIER!

The next morning, we got up at 4:304, bundled up as best we could, and climbed the icy rocks to Lananas Peak. There was no air. It was frigid. And we got there early, meaning we had to sit around waiting in the frigid vacuum for the sun to come up. What's interesting, though, at that altitude, is that my body had so little oxygen that it had to concentrate all of its blood in the muscles I was using to get up the mountain, so my hands and feet went numb on the way up; however, once we were up and I was resting, my body had the chance to rush warm blood back into my extremities and I started to warm up a bit. Usually isn't it the moving around that warms you up? Anyway, we managed to get one shot of ourselves at the top of the mountain, in the dark, before the camera froze.

You'll just have to trust me that those blurry smudges are us at the top of a mountain.
We started our descent soon after the sun came up, as it was still freezing. We collected our packs at Austrian Hut and went down the other side of the mountain. The hike down began with a steep descent down a hillside of frozen fine gravel. It was soft enough that it felt like descending through sand, almost. We finally reached the valley and made our way over to MacKinder's Hut in time for breakfast (seriously, it was 9am and we were already halfway back down the mountain). Meanwhile, some rock hyraxes tried to have their own breakfast, courtesy of our backpacks. I'd have been more annoyed if they hadn't been just so darn cute!

After breakfast, we walked. And walked and walked. We went back up for some reason (seriously?), climbed around some rocks, and then hit... The Vertical Bog. It was more like a diagonal marsh, but who's counting? I proceeded downward with "The Neverending Story" playing in my head the whole way5. We eventually made it through (turns out an hour and a half of slogging down a marsh gets old, even with an awesome soundtrack), and were back under the tree line. More red dirt paths, then 9k of road later, we passed some herd animals and were at the gate!

Tired, but accomplished, we ate meat with our hands again and passed out by 9pm.

1: Actually Mt. Kenya is 5,199 meters (17,057 ft) at its tallest point. But the two tallest peaks require hella mountaineering gear and experience, so we, like most people, hiked up the third-tallest peak armed only with our boots and hiking poles.

2: Had we known the guide was just going to hire a taxi to come pick us up, we'd have gone for the motorcycles. I guess I'll just have to wait for my next trip to Kenya to enjoy that particular adventure.

3: What with our lack of preparedness, we'd planned to go to a lower hut on the second night, where it would be warmer. This would have involved waking up at 2am the following day to hike up to the peak in time for sunrise, which for some reason is what everyone does. Looking back, it was certainly majestic to watch the sun rise from the top, but it would have been plenty impressive to see the mid-morning view.

4: WAY better than 2am (see previous footnote).



I've been linked!

Well, doyle went and linked my blog, so I guess I'd better actually post something.

We moved! We live in the Mission in San Francisco now, where there are not enough back yards for us to have one, alas. But there are more coffee shops and taquerias than we know what to do with, so I guess it's a trade-off =D

So in addition to nobody's-watching-so-I-can-look-like-a-crazy-person dance parties in my living room, I've also been doing some serious ass-kicking at the gym. Last fall I started Crossfit, which basically uses gymnastics and weightlifting moves to train for the zombie apocalypse. We run around and jump on boxes and do pull-ups1 and push-ups and handstands and throw heavy weights around.

I guess the thing I really like about it is that it reminds me of playing college sports, but without the sexism. Back in college, despite being on a women's team, there were the subtle hints that we weren't as good as the boys (they ate at steakhouses on road trips while we had Denny's; they never passed to us in off-season pick-up games...). At Crossfit, the coaches expect everyone to go hard, we all encourage each other, and nobody's threatened by a woman who can bench press her bodyweight (unless they're competing against each other, of course).

And at the end of the day, I feel like I can kick a little more ass than I could yesterday. I walk a little taller. The soreness in my abs and legs reminds me of how hard I'm working.

They're doing a massive worldwide online competition now, and I threw my hat in. So far, not a week has gone by where I wasn't at least a little lacking in a skill. I made it through the last round by the skin of my teeth, as 20% of the competitors dropped out. But it's pushed me to improve on my skills--double unders, clean and jerk, kipping pull-ups--more than I would have otherwise. And by next year's competition I'll see just how much better I can do.

1. Erm... some of us try to do pull-ups. But I'm getting really close! With kipping at least.


Dance Party!

Work has been crazy this week.* I haven't made it to the gym at all, and have instead been spending 12-hour days at the office trying to get shit done. I did accomplish much shit-doing, but I also managed to start going a bit stir crazy. And so, when I got home tonight, I pumped up my guilty-pleasure-pop mix on Grooveshark and jammed out in the (YELLOW) living room.**

At first I was all careful like I was in dance class, doing very balletic (but still energetic!) moves and trying my very rusty hand at on-the-spot choreography. And then something very odd indeed happened. I stopped caring about being good. Rather, I just shook and wiggled and bounced my way into endorphin-rush-induced frenzy.

At risk of sounding like a native, it was Hella fun. I recommend.

And now, back to work...

* In all fairness, this week is 2 days long because tomorrow we leave for our ski trip offsite. But in all fairness in the other direction, we all have a hard deadline tomorrow at 10am.

** Toxic was mysteriously missing. Luckily there's enough Lady Gaga to make up for the MIA Britney.


The Damp Season

We're renaming the seasons in California. Not as in 'another referendum that will probably cost more than voters are willing to pay for and we'll go deeper into debt' renaming the seasons, just A and I have decided that the spring-summer-winter-fall quad-chotomy is imprecise in describing what the climate does here. It's a desert that gets wet in the darker months, or something like that. We only have two seasons. In April, it stops raining and the Sun shines brighter, becoming oppressively bright and dry by July/August or so. Then around October or November, the rain comes back, and the mild weather somehow chills you to the bone.

And so, I present, The Bright Season and The Damp Season.

Today marked the beginning of the damp season, with the first real rainy day since June (yeah, last damp season stuck around way too long). The tomatoes were probably the only thing really happy about it. The leaves are falling off the trees, despite not having to worry about snow coming and callously ripping them off or anything. By December, it will be gray and dark, the deciduous trees will look dead, leafless in the middle of fields of green, healthy grass.

There is still, as of today at least, that quite autumnal feeling that things are getting darker and cooler and we're working our way toward the winter solstice. I finally find myself in the mood to wear sweaters and scarves and hoodies with thumb holes. Actually, I had to wear hoodies all summer too, as evenings are always long-sleeve weather. But now they feel extra cozy. And I can put on introspective music like Arcade Fire and curl up inside without feeling like I should be out playing in the sun. Squashes and pomegranates and apples fill the shelves of the organic section of the supermarket, with the ever-enticing "California" label on them, indicating some amount of locality to my produce.

And the holidays, with a much-anticipated trip back East, wade ever closer. Despite the chill-you-to-the-bone 50°F, the Boston winter will still be a kick in the pants. But I'll be happy in my winter coat and my parents' justifiably heated house (we can never quite convince ourselves that it's cold enough outside to put on the heat here) and the candles and twinkles and other trappings of keeping ourselves happy despite the 10 or fewer hours of daylight.

And time hurries on.