Sunday, July 15, 2012

Camping Trip to Villanueva, July 13-14, 2012

Dorine with Kayla and Tyler
Kayla at the river's edge
Tyler on the bank of the river
Our campsite, next to the water tank

Mason, Kayla, Tyler
Easton and Devery

Mariah, Nolan
Dorine with Noelle

Mason and Tyler planning mischief

Another view of our campsite
Kristy and Devery with Noelle
The twins checking out the "bichos"

Zach, Nolan, Alexis, Nicole
Sweating out the heat

We took our annual family camping trip to Villanueva State Park on Friday, July 13.  It turned out to be a crowded evening at the park; it was a good thing that Dorine and I (along with Heidi and Dion's kids and Nicole's friend Mariah Smith) got there at 2:30 pm to claim a couple of "sheltered" campsites for our group.  As it was, we had to camp on the upper level at the water tank, which is about a quarter-mile walk from the river and the full-service bathrooms (although our sites did at least have running water and a decent pit toilet).  Feeling self-conscious about "squatting" on two campsites with one car, I didn't feel like we could even go walk around until Devery and Easton and their kids got there at about 5:30 pm, so we sat in the heat for about three hours.  (I should at least have gone and soaked my t-shirt to stay cool, but it didn't occur to me to do that until later.)  We had steak/chicken fajitas for dinner, which tasted great, and then Kristy and Chris and their kids arrived at around 7:30 pm.  

As always, it was a lot of work to set up tents, inflate air beds, and get out sleeping bags, but at least we had plenty of space for everyone.  We didn't do a whole lot that evening, but we did take the little kids on a walk down to the main bathrooms, both to wash up and to look for toads and bugs.  The next morning we had a nice breakfast of eggs, sausage, bacon, hash browns, pancakes, and orange juice.  We had brought along our inner tubes, so we pumped them up (and patched them, as necessary) and took turns using them to float down the river, which was enjoyable, and the kids got to play at the playground.  We didn't get to take any hikes to speak of, and our staying only one night once again raised questions about whether the trip was worth all the work, but overall we had a lot of fun.  Next year we may look for a different place to camp, as the "secret" is clearly "out" about Villanueva -- it's significantly more popular now than it was when we first went there in 2004.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

No Hike for Wussies (or Quintagenarians)

Hiking down Chimney Canyon for a change
John on the Osha Spring Trail

Second Part of the Hike
First Part of the Hike
Yesterday I "celebrated" my 20-year service anniversary at Sandia National Laboratories by taking a long, brutal hike with John Brewer, who not only is my primary "big hike" hiking partner but my supervisor at SNL. John recently turned 50 years old, so now we're both in our fifties, an age at which one might think we'd start becoming less-ambitious respecting the 3-4 hikes we get to do together every year. However, I consider myself to be somewhat like Matthew Broderick's title character in the film Ferris Bueller's Day Off, in that I'm not sure how many more "killer" hikes I have in me, so I'd better make "this" one count.  Yesterday's hike "counted" and then some.

Multiple hiking guides to the Sandia Mountains have contained trail descriptions for something called the "Osha Spring Trail," an old mining road for most of its distance; however, I'd never hiked it because of (a) the relative inaccessibility of the bottom trailhead, which is not far from the village of Placitas at the northern end of the Sandia range, and (b) the relatively long distance from the upper terminus to an easy pick-up point.  I'd also never hiked Chimney Canyon in the downward direction, something the current hiking guide author recommends as an alternative to the strenuous hike up, which I'd done on perhaps a dozen occasions through the years with various people (the first 2-3 times by myself).  Somehow I got the idea of doing a "traverse" of the mountain that involved both hiking up the Osha Spring Trail and hiking down Chimney Canyon.  I was more than a little apprehensive about taking such a long and arduous hike; however, John was game for it, so John's dad Jack (who, by the way, was Dorine's bishop when she was a teenager) dropped us off at the Osha Spring trailhead a little before 8:00 am yesterday morning.

The lower part of Osha Spring, briefly, was a killer for me, as it is both steep and exposed to sun and caused me to expend hundreds of calories that I hadn't "banked" by eating breakfast. Things got better after I ate something and drank a "Five Hour Energy," and after clouds rolled in that provided us with perfect hiking weather for most of the day.  However, sustained uphill hiking is not something that sits well with me these days, as both my age and my mal de debarquement-related physical limitations cause me to have to stop a lot on the way and catch my breath.  (I was never much of a "hare" in aerobic terms, but I'm definitely a "tortoise" now.) 

Notwithstanding the great weather we had, several factors threatened the hike we'd planned.  One, the Osha Spring Trail was much longer and harder than I'd anticipated.  Two, I'd forgotten just how far it is from the northern terminus of the 10K Trail, on the Crest Trail, to the primitive path leading off to Chimney Canyon.  Three, the idea of walking over to the upper Tramway terminal, then riding the tram down the mountain, presented itself as an appealing alternative as the day went on.  We'd originally planned to hike up to Sandia Crest and eat something at the gift shop there before heading back down Chimney Canyon; however, between the late hour and the effort required to go a mile or so out of our way, the only way we were going to go down Chimney Canyon was to forgo the Crest entirely.  (What finally settled our continuing down was my statement to John that I knew I'd count myself a wussy -- only I didn't say "wussy" -- if I didn't finish the hike we'd planned.)  Luckily, John had brought a big pouch of tuna and some crackers, most of which he gave to me to eat as we rested up for the trek down Chimney Canyon.

Chimney Canyon in the downhill direction isn't the aerobic ordeal that is hiking up it, but it's twice as dangerous and half again as scary.  After one finally gets out of the steep, loose couloir near the top of the route, it becomes somewhat easier to follow the "trail" down the canyon, and John and I were finally able to trace out the lower part of the route where it intersects the La Luz Trail.  (Hiking up Chimney Canyon, we'd always got onto the route by bushwhacking up from the prominent inside bend of the La Luz in the immediate area; frankly, now I'm not sure that isn't the easier means of accessing Chimney Canyon from the bottom.)

Finally, after getting onto the La Luz Trail, we almost immediately went off it again to take the variant trail that bypasses the lower switchbacks and puts one on the Tramway Trail about 200 yards from its intersection with the lower La Luz.  Then we hiked down the last mile of the La Luz to its lower trailhead, where Dorine, bearing ambrosial 44 oz. sodas from Sonic, came and picked us up at 4:30 pm.

This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime hike: having hiked up the Osha Spring Trail once, I will never do it again; and likewise, having hiked down Chimney Canyon once, I will never do it again, either.  (It may be a moot point if my current physical trajectory holds.)
Looking back up Chimney Canyon from the lower part of the route

Friday, July 6, 2012

Twenty years at SNL - and an uncertain path forward

Bldg. 802 - my "ivory tower" office indicated by red arrow
Today, July 6, 2012, marks my 20-year service anniversary at Sandia National Laboratories. It's sort of a bittersweet milestone in my life: on one hand, SNL has been a great place to work in terms of lifestyle and benefits; on the other, my career hasn't been precisely as rewarding in a larger personal or professional sense as it might have been. And now that I have disabling health issues that impede my holding down a job -- never mind jump-starting a career that stalled out about twelve years ago -- I think only about managing to put in another five years so that I can retire plausibly and at least somewhat gracefully.

What's my opinion of SNL? Well, that depends whether you're asking about the technical (i.e., scientific/engineering) side of the company, which generally does great work and consists of extremely intelligent and capable individuals, or the administrative side of the company, which has gradually become a "laboratory" of a more sociological sort, the "experimental results" from which have been, shall we say, somewhat mixed. I have mentioned previously that I ended up at SNL out of some desperation, as I absolutely hated the three-plus years I spent practicing law in 1989-92. Given that I, like a lot of my peers in those days, fell into a career at SNL -- whereas most business professionals hiring on now are recruited and often aspire to work at SNL -- I was never completely able to take seriously the administrative milieu at SNL, even in the early days.  And, to the extent I've been forced by circumstances to take it seriously, I could never take myself seriously as a part of the picture.  All of that, together with my innate laziness and preternatural aversion to sucking up to upper management, perhaps made it inevitable that I would never make the jump into management or "distinguished" status.  Luckily, I'm a sufficiently bright individual to provide value down in the trenches, despite my not being overly versant with the increasingly complex electronic applications we use for financial reporting.

However, it's difficult to do 100% of any real job when one is 40-50% disabled from persistent mal de debarquement, and that's by far the biggest issue I face moving forward.  Perhaps Cha, et al., summed it up best in this excerpt from their article "Clinical features and associated syndromes of mal de debarquement" (Journal of Neurology (2008) 255:1038-1044):

I'm fond of saying that if the people close to me could experience life for one day as I have to live it every day, they'd be clamoring to facilitate my retiring on a disability.  However, given the non-obvious origin, nature, and extent of my symptoms, I'd be viewed as a slacker and a hypochondriac if I pushed for it, so all I can do is try (a) to find the least-stressful job available, (b) to sleep and exercise to the extent I'm able, and (c) simply to ride out the storm.

(It's notable that my starting at SNL in 1992 coincided with the last year in which AT&T operated the company, when all employees were still being given 192 hours of vacation time per year from day one on the job.  After Martin Marietta [now Lockheed Martin] took over management in 1993, all new hires were given significantly less annual leave -- I'm not sure anyone else ever gets up to 192 hours -- which still sticks in the craw of many people who have otherwise passed me by on the career ladder.  Those are the breaks, I guess.)