Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Run Free, Zoom Loco

I learned on Saturday that my friend Ben Horne and his climbing partner Gil Weiss died in a mountaineering accident after a successful first ascent of a route on the south face of Palcaraju Oeste in the Cordillera Blanca near Huaraz, Peru.

Ben and I went to high school together. We were friendly, but I can't claim to have been incredibly close back then. After graduating I quickly realized the error in my ways, and we got together to share adventure stories a handful of times. I liked to point out the similarity in the paths our lives took--we did the same stuff, just in a different order. Immediately after high school, I spent two years living abroad in South Korea; after college Ben spent two years living abroad in the Peace Corps in Kyrgyzstan. He thru-hiked the AT, and when I got back from my two years in Korea, our mutual friend SC told me that Ben had thru-hiked the AT, and that I should read Bill Bryson's Walk in the Woods. I'd always thought about doing the AT, and realizing through Ben that now was the time, I thru-hiked a year and a half later. We both traveled internationally--by going to Pakistan, I've been to the only -Stan Ben never visited. When I was in the dumps early in grad school, I thought seriously about the Peace Corps, and had a tentative appointment starting October 6th teaching math in sub-Saharan Africa. My adviser decided to send me to Africa instead. While I was there, Ben decided that he too would earn a PhD in economics, and he was particularly interested in UC Berkeley because of its strengths in psychology and economics and game theory. Unfortunately for me and everyone in the East Bay who didn't get to enjoy his presence, Ben ended up at UC San Diego. We managed to get together a few times, and he'd tell me about his amazing mountaineering, and I'd tell him about my long-distance hikes and ultra-marathons.

In 2009 I told Ben I didn't like sprinting like he did, because if you ran 400 meters all-out, sure, you couldn't turn around and run it again just as fast, but you could turn around and run it. After 100 miles, I'm pretty sure I couldn't turn around and run another 100. I like that sense of pushing my limits. Ben replied that he didn't think it would be as fun to be giving anything less than your best for so long. He liked that sense of pushing his limits. A year or so later Ben ran his first ultra, doing R2R2R with his friend Tim Ray, and they were both hooked. TR here. Spring of 2011, we met up in eastern Washington and ran the Badger Mountain Challenge 100-mile race. This was my third 100, and Ben's first. This was also the inaugural BMC, and the race proved to be extremely poorly organized. My response was to call the race director an idiot and pull myself out after 24 hours with 5 or 10 miles left even though I felt fine, because I didn't think the race deserved it. Ben's response was to power through and make his original goal, finishing in just under 24 hours. What a fucking stud.

Ben's ability to wreck himself during competition was unsurpassed in anyone I've met. It reminds me of Jure Robic, the Slovenian soldier who won the Race Across America 5 times, and would pretty much go insane in the process. A couple months after Badger, I went down to San Diego to run the PCT 50. Ben had signed up for the race, but had still not recovered from his all-out effort at Badger, and he didn't want to hurt his performance in the Leadville 100 later that summer, which he and Tim planned on running, so he withdrew. But instead he introduced me to Tim. Being new to ultras, they grilled me about nutrition and pacing and gear and everything (for anyone who's curious, I don't really have much advice to offer--practice in the same conditions your race is in, eat a lot, take salt tabs, and just keep going.) The next day, Tim and his girlfriend drove me to the race, and Tim and I ran a good portion of the race together, bonding over environmental concerns, disliking the for-profit corporate culture of triathlons, and he being a Naval Academy grad and my having had a really positive job interview there. I set a PR, and Tim finished about 13 minutes ahead of me. We drove back to La Jolla, got burritos, and sat in the Ocean. 36 hours later, Tim died of a heart attack.

Ben wrote a memorial here. He ran Leadville with some of Tim's ashes that fall and finished in 24:47 despite being levelled at one point. (Race report here.) He ran the PCT 50 this year in Tim's honor and came in second place in 7:51. (Report here.) Ben and I were both signed up for the Wasatch 100 in September this year. I'll just have to lay it out there like he would have.

I'm sure Ben had his down moments like all of us, but I'll remember him as an unfailingly positive guy. I'm such a hardened cynic that in a lot of people, I view positivity as evidence of ignorance. Not so with Ben. He'd actually done the analysis, and still came out upbeat. He was also able to disagree without being disagreeable. He took strong stances on everything from alpine mountaineering aesthetics to music to politics to international culture, but only rarely did anything come out in a way that made you think someone couldn't still be great friends with the guy. (The one exception I can recall is his distaste for John Krakauer, based partly on Ben's high esteem for Anatoli Boukreev, the Kazakhstani climber who Krakauer pretty much savaged in Into Thin Air.) Ben was probably mostly libertarian, but mostly I remember his always being on the side of the struggling little guy; he was devoutly Roman Catholic, but it bred contention neither when I was devoutly Mormon nor now that I'm devoutly atheist.

I think a friend of his put it well on his facebook wall, which is overflowing with memories from friends:
"Goodbye Ben Horne. You were always ready to fight for the things that mattered to you. You fought for free markets and for helping those in need and giving voice to the powerless. You rapped about automobile safety. You helped rescue a 50,000 watt radio station from destruction. You studied economics and set dollar bills on fire. You lived by your faith and the four pillars of hip hop and gleefully played 20 minute Merzbow noise ballads. You saw the good in people and were always ready to tangle with the man to fight for justice. One of a kind, a true mensch, I tip my hat and my 40oz to you. God bless. We'll all miss you." --AC
NBC San Deigo
Washington Post
Ben's old blog
Ben's more recent blog

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Daily Misanthropy Justification

I sent this a couple days ago but it didn't go through.

http://slatest.slate.com/posts/2012/07/26/meatless_monday_at_the_u_s_d_a_is_off_the_table_.html

Conservatives flipped out when the USDA suggested its employees eat Meatless Mondays. Because humans are the only lifeform worth caring about, global warming is a hoax, large corporations have no unfair influence over government policy, and meat must be eaten at every meal or the terrorists win.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Friend Missing in Huaraz, Peru

Do I know anyone, or know anyone who knows anyone, with access to a light plane, or other means of assisting in S&R near Huaraz, Peru? Please contact me if so. My buddy Ben is 5 days overdue.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Statistics for Judges

http://slatest.slate.com/posts/2012/07/24/court_upholds_s_d_mandated_suicide_warning_to_women_seeking_abortions.html

Seriously. Scalia made it obvious during the health insurance reform arguments that he doesn't understand moral hazard or adverse selection, and now more circuit judges demonstrate incompetence with regards to correlation and causation. Abortion _causes_ suicide. I'd love to read the IRB protocol on that RCT. Oh wait, an RCT totally didn't happen because it would be unethical so we're taking away rights from women based on meaningless statistical correlations? Humans are awesome.

Friday, July 20, 2012

God Is His Coach

From The New York Times:

A Runner's Belief: God Is His Coach

As he prepares for the London Olympics, the marathoner Ryan Hall has embraced an evangelical Christian faith and has found biblical reinforcement for his training.

http://nyti.ms/LhmiDm

Fascinating and extremely disagreeable. Must read for angry atheist American runners.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A cool picture. That's all.

ht NYT

Adventures in Jealousy

My friends are doing awesome things. Krudmeister just finished his bike/hike/paddle trip from Reno to the Chilkoot pass and down the Yukon to the Bering Sea. Read his most recent post on his facebook fan page. Here's a bit I liked.
This has been a very positive way for me to re connect with the state I was born and raised in. It feels like home even though I haven't lived here for 20 odd years. It is changing fast up here due to global warming. The perma frost in particular is melting rapidly and the Yukon for example is literally washing away its banks and carving the river at a pace never seen before. I was blown away by what I was seeing. I apologize in advance for being pessimistic, but I really feel I need to see this stuff now. It isn't going to be around much longer. The villagers along the way told me they are seeing Polar Bear in Ft. Yukon and at the mouth of the Yukon near Emmonak. That is nuts! Musk ox in Galena? The villagers don't need any scientists to tell them a drastic change is occurring, they all agree and remark with surprise the changes they are seeing and how fast it is occurring. I just want to know I have experienced it and documented it for others to think about.
And Scott Williamson is at it again, attempting to lower his own PCT speed record. It's not my thing to hike the same trail over a dozen times, but more power to him.

I'm back in the US in less than 4 weeks.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Mackadoodle

My friend MacGyver, Mack, or sometimes Mackadoodle passed away last night. He'd been getting tired, acting well older than his age for a long time, but late last week he started losing weight, had no appetite, and couldn't keep anything down. We called both the district veterinary officer and Robert, but neither of them could really do anything, or even tell us what was wrong. He died last night with our whole house at his side. We buried him in our back yard this morning. 

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Safari

I thought a few people might be interested to hear thoughts on my somewhat recent safari.

Ngong Hills
I started in Nairobi and built in a spare day in case GF's flight was messed up. It wasn't, so we spent the day hiking around in the Ngong Hills. If the guidebook tells you anything about them, it's probably that they're not safe and you need a guide. Perhaps true, but only if you get there early enough in the morning that you want to hike more than 5 miles or so.  Otherwise, just get a bus to Karen Connection then the 128 to Ngong, turn right at the only intersection in town, curve up behind town, and start walking up the hill across from the police and KWS station. It's all uphill from here. There's an obvious guard station after a mile or so where you have to get a guide/guard if you want one. They're stupid expensive, so don't bother. The next 3 to 4 miles are free and safe. The ridge gives you great views.
Lamu
I basically hate everything about Nairobi except the restaurants, so other than eating at the Egyptian place behind the Coptic hospital, Ngong is all we did. We left for Lamu the next day. It was pretty clear that renting a house is the thing to do, so I asked around and a friend knew a guy, and he set everything up. We had a very cool large old house to ourselves for $70/night. There's not much to do in Lamu. Wander around narrow streets, take a boat ride, ride donkeys, and search through stacks of old bootleg DVD's in the closet for the least bad movie (a Timothy Dalton Bond). Sometimes the beach is gorgeous, sometimes it's rainy season and there's a storm off shore and there's one of the highest tides of the year and the water is super choppy and not at all inviting and there's literally not a single other person on the beach and it's apparently not the safest thing to wander too far from the village. So Lamu was still fun, but maybe Zanzibar would have been better. That's twice now I've decided against Zanzibar. Third time's the charm.

Mt. Kenya
Three nights in Lamu is plenty, and we flew back to Nairobi. We hired a taxi to Thika, which has no Elspeth Huxley charm left to it whatsoever. Four matatus later the next day, we started backpacking form Chogoria. God I love backpacking. The instant we started walking and I knew I'd be able to walk until it got dark and sleep wherever I ended up, I was ecstatic. We entered the forest reserve that afternoon and saw a few monkeys. The next morning we entered the national park and kept climbing. We camped at about 14,000 feet. The altitude was rough on GF, but we summited the third day. You'll have to ask her for her excuse for being Californian, loving Modoc (next to Shasta), and growing up next to San Jacinto and San Gorgonio, yet never having been higher than the top of Half Dome.

The Chogoria route we took up is fantastic. The Sirimon we took down is mediocre. The whole park is quite littered with plastic bottles. Still, I definitely recommend it, more so than Kili, because you don't have to take a guide if you go in a group. Definitely hike the Chogoria route though.

Samburu
After Mt. Kenya we had planned to go to Meru National Park, but I thought it would be too brushy to see game, and GF couldn't remember why she originally wanted to go there, so we changed course and went to Samburu. I really like the northern part of Kenya; the environment is ridiculously harsh. After a fun hour waiting with a bunch of qat-chewing dudes, we squeezed 25 people in a matatu and made it to Isiolo. We tracked down a Land Cruiser (I want one!) for the next day, and spent it driving around Samburu and Buffalo Springs. We saw no lions, but lots of everything else. Crocodile sex, for example.

Safari ants interrupted our camping that night, but otherwise our return to Nairobi was uneventful. We spent only enough time to buy french fries, then headed to Lake Naivasha.

Lake Naivasha
We spent one night at Camp Carnelly's, a backpacker's place on the southern shore of the lake. The next day we hiked up Mt. Longonot, which is the most volcano-y volcano I've ever seen, with a perfect crater and a trail all the way around it. We then spent two nights at Sanctuary Farm, which is a working dairy farm that's overrun with zebra, impala, gazelle, giraffe, water buffalo, water buck, and wildebeest that you can go horseback riding amongst. Hell, you can just go walking or running amongst them too. It's on the lake, and right next to Crescent Island, which had wide open vistas and big open fields where you can pretend you're Farley Mowat running naked with the caribou, except with your clothes on with wildebeest. We didn't make it to Hell's Gate National Park, so I'd like to go there some day. The lower gorge is closed after children were killed in a flash flood.

Kisumu
The two largest highways (Nakuru-Eldoret-Malaba, and Mombasa-Nairobi-Kisumu-Busia) in Kenya are probably also the shittiest. Don't ever take them in anything smaller than a full-size bus. The Nakuru to Kisumu stretch is currently about half dirt diversions. Once the construction work is finished on that half, the other half will be in horrible shape because the construction companies I'm sure will only lay down 1/3 of the asphalt they're supposed to and they only got the bid in the first place because they're buddies with some MP. 

We did however finally make it to Kisumu and had dinner at the Yacht Club (they let the riff-raff in on Friday, I'm going again tomorrow). We wandered around the rusty old port the next morning and GF finally saw a hippo, if barely.

Kakamega
GF hung out at my place while I went back to work. She bought me some pretty plants, but failed miserably in her attempt to buy me a sheep.  She convinced me that baba ghanoush is dip worthy of sharing the same table as hummus. We rode my motorcycle to the rain forest, then she went back to the US, where George and I will be headed on August 12.

Since then I made sauerkraut, rode my motorcycle 800km, ran a marathon, watched the Jacques Mesrine movies, and did a ton of work.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Family Olympics

http://slatest.slate.com/posts/2012/07/02/romney_olympics_the_romney_family_vacation_in_new_hampshire_.html

Do you remember the episode of South Park where the Mormon family drove by on their way to volunteer at the homeless shelter and yelled "Our faces are painted!" as they drove off? I sure as shit do.

Lewa

Ran my 10th marathon, 42nd race of marathon or longer, this weekend in the Lewa wildlife conservancy in a time of 3:47, my 4th fastest time in the marathon. The motorcycle ride was beautiful, with only 100km along the annoying, truck-filled Nairobi-to-Eldoret highway, and the rest either pleasant (if pot-holed) or gorgeous and right next to a wildlife reserve fence.

More details to come. Probably not many pictures--motorcycle riding doesn't lend itself well to photography, especially when your electric starter is on the fritz.