Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Utah on iPhone

OK, so I'm in this camera transition. When going on a vacation, where I'll be traveling outdoors most of the time, I don't feel like lugging my Canon FT QL with all its myriad of lenses and accessories. In the past I have used my mid-range camera, which is a high-end point-and-shoot. But I've found lately that my iPhone takes just as good pictures as that camera, if not better. Basically, all my latest photos are taken with my phone. And as an amateur photographer I feel a little bit guilty about that.

I love shooting with film on my Canon FT, but it's just not appropriate for every situation. Right now the iPhone wins. Eventually I'd like to figure out another option.

Anyway, this summer I headed out West a couple of times, passing through Utah and New Mexico. Here are some pictures I took of Utah, a beautiful state. In fact, I'd say some of the most picturesque landscapes I've ever seen. I definitely need to get back out there and do more exploring.

These first pics are taken in the Snow Canyon area. Gorgeous, red-carved sandstone.
Petroglyphs, left by artists long ago for us to wonder at.
Slot canyons that don't even look like a natural formation. Corridors of the Gods.
This was just a short walk from where I was staying. A hummingbird nearly flew into me here. I followed the dried river bed as the sun rose.

The rest of the pics are from my day at Zion National Park, originally known by its Indian name of Mukuntuweap. I guess it was too hard to pronounce. This place really made me want to grab my harness and rock climb. But I understand it's super-intimidating here.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Caught in the Rain

"You're a fair-weather rider," the kid behind the store counter at the bike shop said. It was not meant as a compliment. But you know what? I am a fair-weather rider, and proud of it. I don't like riding my bike in the rain and my gear is not equipped for it.

Tonight I woke up on the couch after a long nap. It had been a long day, I didn't get enough sleep the night before and I had a couple drinks at a mixer my building held earlier on the roof. My friends birthday party started at 10:00 and it was now 10:45. I was in a stupor and still tired but was determined to make an appearance. I brushed my teeth, threw on the clothes I had worn earlier and prepped my bike for the night ride. It would only take 20 minutes to get there.

As I started my ride I felt a little detached from reality. Still a little tired and not in the mood for a party but the decision was made and I was on my way. It was dark and there was a siren and flashing lights (squad car? ambulance?) some distance behind me. A few blocks into my ride I felt a few rain drops. The sky was cloudy and it had been quite humid all day. But I didn't check the weather report and had no idea what to expect. About a third of the way there, as I approached the BQE above me, it started to rain. A light rain at first. But within seconds it picked up. By the time I was passing under the BQE it was now a steady shower so I checked my mobile phone to see what the weather prediction was. Didn't look good. Cloud and rain symbols for the next several hours. Not wanting to over-think things I decided to forge ahead. A little rain never hurt anyone.

Now I was heading down Kent Ave, the long stretch of road that separates Williamsburg from Clinton Hill/Bed-Stuy. The Navy Yard was to my left while Hasidic homes wrapped in wrought iron bars was to my right. It was at this point that it started to downpour. I don't have any wheel fenders and I knew the wet dirt was spraying me from the street. I was getting soaked. I passed a car getting towed, blinking orange and yellow lights that I had to swerve around. Any further obstacle to the situation was incredibly frustrating. The rain was pounding against my body, making it hard to see. Only a couple blocks further I realized I still had a third of the way to go. And then what? Leave my bike out, with its leather seat in the rain? Show up to the party soaked to the skin with no change of clothes? That was it. The weather had beat me and it was time to turn back. I cursed and turned around.

Somehow the rain seemed worse on the way back. I could barely see, there was so much water in my eyes. It suddenly occurred to me that my phone was still in my back pocket and must be getting wet. I had to think of a dryer place to put it but there weren't many options. So I stuffed it down my crotch, into my underwear, hoping it would be protected enough from the outside elements. I leaned all the way forward on my bike to try and shield it further. I was riding as fast as I could under the circumstances.

I finally made it back, swung the gate to my building open and fumbled with my keys. I was now inside the building and out of the rain. But every square inch of me was waterlogged and filthy from the street grime. Luckily my phone was ok. I gave up on the idea of making it to the party and crawled back to the safety of my apartment, stripped off my clothes and watched a movie.

Phew. Fair-weather rider indeed.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

My apartment featured on Houzz!

My apartment was featured on this weekend. I moved in last year and designed the renovations myself. I love houzz and was psyched to have them over. What an honor! 

The apartment as I found it was one big loft, with no dividing walls (except the bathrooms). On one hand this was great, but I knew the layout and overall feel could be improved if I broke up the space into more intimate quarters. I still, however, wanted to keep the open, lofty feel and not block the natural light coming from the wall of windows on one end of the unit. I therefore added new walls sparingly, with large cased openings instead of doors and leaving clerestory space above some areas.

Click on the link below...

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Born To Tri

This past weekend I did my first triathlon. The Born to Tri in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Actually, it was a sprint Triathlon, which is shorter than an olympic one. For instance, the New York City Triathlon is 1 mile swimming, 24 miles biking and a 10K run, whereas the Born To Tri is 1/3 mile swimming, 12 miles biking and a 5K run. It was a great experience, although I broke no records.

I didn't really train for this competition. I figured it was short enough to do without any training, and I really just wanted to do it for the fun of it. That and to see what it was like with the notion of one day doing a standard length triathlon. The verdict? The swimming was really, really hard. I would definitely not be able to do an olympic length tri without some serious training involved.

A few days before the race I did a full dress rehearsal in Brooklyn. I swam in the Red Hook public pool, biked through Brooklyn and ran around Prospect Park. It went great and I felt very confident about the upcoming Saturday. However, the pool did not prepare me at all for the actual event, which took place in the Atlantic Ocean. Whoa boy! I felt like it was a life or death situation. I was basically swimming (if you can call it that) for my life. My goal? To not drown. First of all, there were 375 people all swimming at once. Many people, like me, were complete amateurs. Everyone was kicking each other, splashing around like fish caught in a net. You could not escape the human onslaught. It was total confusion. Secondly, the ocean is rough. I  mean, it doesn't seem that way when you're just hanging out on a relaxing summer beach day, wading around. But try to do a consistent stroke in a straight line, and it's a different story. 

Let me clarify that I do not know how to swim. I can float, keep my head above the water, and move ahead in one general direction. But I've never taken swim lessons and I don't know what I'm doing. Clearly a handicap. Now throw a person with that limited amount of skill in the Atlantic with almost 400 people kicking him in the face, and you've got trouble. Amidst all this chaos, I was trying to keep sight of the buoys, which was the course to follow. Because of the tides, a lot of us kept getting dragged towards shore, leading to rougher waters. Every time I neared the next buoy I had to swim further out to sea just to get around it. I kept accidentally swallowing salt water (not too much, nothing dangerous), making it hard to breathe. There were only 2 safety people in jet skis watching over the whole thing. When I finally made it around the last buoy and headed towards shore my leg muscles were aching. Not helping was the riptide, which at times made me feel like I was swimming in place. Not a good feeling when you're already exhausted. When my feet were eventually able to touch the bottom I was in heaven.

After that everything else went like clockwork. Transitioning wasn't that difficult, since I was basically wearing the same thing throughout; just some tri-shorts and threw on the same shoes/shirt for the rest. Most of the people had really pro bikes. All I had was my single speed urban bike with a steel frame. Not ideal for racing. I was jealous of all the other peoples gear. I'd be riding along and hear what sounded like a car approaching me from behind. Then the cyclist would whizz by me like a tornado. I wasn't so bad though, I passed a bunch of people. We biked through a really nice neighborhood too, with mansions and sports cars in the driveways.

The last bit was the run. 5K is not bad, so it was a pretty chill ending. However, it was starting to get hot and the run was mostly on the boardwalk with no protection from the sun. I was sweating it out for sure. Also, the course kept psyching you out. You'd think you were at the end when you'd turn the corner of some building only to see it continue ahead. It did that like 3 times. Still, when I finally reached the finish line I felt like I could have kept running. The friend I went with beat me by a few minutes. He's a much more experienced swimmer and was ahead of me from the start. After the race we were treated to medals, bananas and oranges. Mission accomplished! And no drowning competitors!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Turbo 1500, First Class

During our travels, Shamus and I made a movie. Our last night was spent in Missoula, MT and it was cold and rainy. Refusing to camp we found a last minute room at the Days Inn. It was pretty dumpy but we weren't being picky (they described the bed as a Queen but it was definitely a twin - I slept on the floor). That morning I noticed the wall-mounted hairdryer was called the First Class Turbo 1500. I thought it was a funny name, considering the motel we were staying in was anything but "first class." We decided to shoot a faux-commercial for the appliance. Here it is...

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Where in the world is Banff???

I had never heard of Banff.

I even had trouble saying it. "Banff". Doesn't come naturally to me. I keep wanting to say Bamff with an "m". In case you don't know, Banff is a National Park in Alberta, Canada, which includes a small town of about 7,000 and the famous Banff Springs Hotel. It's situated in the Bow River Valley in the Canadian Rockies, between Calgary and Lake Louise.

As far as I know, nothing rhymes with Banff. As a result, despite Banff being recognized as one of the most beautiful spots in the world, there are no songs or poems about the place. There are, however, many songs and poems about the surrounding Canadian Rockies. I have yet to write a song about either geographical location.
So how does a guy like me wind up in a place called Banff? Friendship of course! My good friend Shamus, who I had earlier visited in Montana and made this movie, had been living with his family in Alaska for about a year and was now road-tripping back to the states through the Yukon, Alberta and BC. He proposed I meet him along the way and suggested Banff, which his wife had pointed out to him as a spot not to be missed. She, and their child, were not with Shamus, as a road trip from Alaska to Pennsylvania is not advisable for sane people. So Shamus was looking for some company and I was happy to oblige. I bought a plane ticket and was heading out there within the week.
Since Shamus' brakes had failed and his wheel was coming off, he was a bit delayed meeting me. So I took a bus from the airport straight to the beautiful Banff Springs Hotel. This place looks like a castle in the mountains of eastern Europe. I sat down to an incredible view, drinking a beer and eating french onion soup while waiting for my friend. When Shamus finally arrived it was starting to get dark so we immediately headed to the nearest campground and set up our tent. We found an axe lying on the ground so I started chopping up some firewood while Shamus prepared the food. I had never used an axe before, and it was on the smallish side, so it took a while to liberate the felled wood (I didn't cut down live trees, only cut up the ones lying on the ground). We got a good fire going and enjoyed our chicken and beans.
The next day was spent exploring Lake Louise, which is about an hour west of Banff. It was raining and cold when we got there but it soon cleared up and was well worth the trip. Lake Louise is a glacial lake and was just thawing out from the winter's snow. We hiked around the entire lake and talked about the life changing decisions that one makes in those pivotal years from about 18-25. Afterwards we headed back to Banff and climbed Tunnel Mountain. Now, Tunnel Mountain doesn't actually have a tunnel running through it. When building the Canadian Pacific Railway, the engineers initial idea was to bore a tunnel right through the mountain, when later realizing it would be a lot easier to simply go around the mountain and follow the Bow River. Still, the mountain was named after the aborted stupid idea. At the top of the mountain we talked about the craziest things that ever happened to us during our world travels. My story occurred in a karaoke bar in Shanghai while Shamus' involved a dentist in the Ural Mountains.
The next day we road-tripped it back to the US, waiting through hour-long traffic at the border, getting a sandwich at Eureka, Montana and driving past Glacier National Park and Flathead Lake. Missoula, our destination, was raining so we spent the evening eating chili and making home movies about the motel's hair dryer. I took a flight home the next day after a great trip with a good friend in a beautiful setting.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Human vs Car

Crossing the street is dangerous. In a densely populated city like New York it's especially dangerous. Everyone's in a hurry and nobody has patience. Pedestrians jay walk, bikers "salmon", cars turn right without looking. Hazards at every corner!
As a recent New York Times article points out, even obeying the traffic laws don't really make you much safer. It's more a matter of luck. I once saw a police car, recklessly speeding, swerve out of control and crash right into the sidewalk corner, destroying some signs and someone's parked bicycle. Luckily no one was standing on that corner at the time, otherwise...

Every day I cross Eighth Avenue at 34th Street. This crossing is a particular mess. The left turn on green from 34th St is dutifully ignored by pedestrians as they risk their lives crossing into oncoming traffic. Even the traffic guard can't stop the mayhem. I've created a series of diagrams below to explain the ritual of dance between man and machine that occurs on this block every day. It's almost beautiful.


I hope I've captured hilarity properly. I had an earlier post about the terrifying electric bike delivery men. I guess I'm on a road safety kick.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown

"I am the God of Hell-Fire!!!"
And so says the Godfather of Art-Rock, the Chancellor of Freak-Rock, the Minotaur of Goth-Punk. Arthur Brown's performances were a dangerous spectacle; armed with lighter-fluid induced fire and creepy druid-like costumes. His vocal style would range from the Wicked Witch of the West to the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz. He sang songs about God, the Devil and, of course, Fire. 

Predating Alice Cooper with his make-up and face-paint by a few years, Arthur Brown hit the British underground music-scene in 1967. He was known for wild performances that would sometimes spin out of control. One such instance was in late '67 when he wore a colander on his head soaked in methanol, lighting it on fire. This of course wound up accidentally lighting his whole head on fire, but the singer was saved by audience members dousing him with their beers. After this incident he designed a safer, metal crown that would keep the flames further away from his hair.

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown released their only album in 1968, produced by Pete Townshend of The Who. One of the songs, "Fire", became a hit in the UK (not to be confused with Jimi Hendrix's song of the same name). Check it out below.

Kinda crazy this song became a hit in the '60's. Pretty bad-ass and weird. Arthur Brown was a true iconoclast, and spoke out against religious dogma and conventional society. The song basically states that it doesn't ultimately matter what material possessions we collect over the course of our lives since we're all going to die anyway. Almost a nihilistic view-point. The opening spoken-verse in the song was sampled by Prodigy in the early '90's and was played at all the clubs and raves at the time. For years I never knew of the song that the line was attributed to until it came up one day on college radio. I remember thinking, "Oh! so that's where that comes from."

See 2 more movie samples below. The 1st one is from a really weird party; the type that people apparently threw all the time in 1960's England. The 2nd includes a humorous interview with Arthur Brown. I love when the interviewer asks if he's the God or the Devil, and after some rambling against the church, he simply states, "I see myself as Arthur Brown."

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

El Potrero Chico 2

A year after my last trip, Jesse and I (this time with our friend Jon) went back to El Potrero Chico; the sport climbing mecca of Mexico. The last time was such an amazing experience we knew we just had to go back. All those bolted limestone cliffs, within easy walking distance from the camp, and so many climbs left to do, the decision to return was an easy one. However, this trip was tempered by sickness, some bad vibes and tragedy (luckily not personal).
On my second day there I caught a bad flu-like cold. For the rest of the trip I was very sick, especially at night when it got really cold in the desert air. I would shiver with the cold sweats, every bone in my body aching, fever running high. I woke up every morning wondering if I should pack it in and go back to New York. But then I'd stick it out during the day and eventually make up for a few moderate climbs in the afternoon sun. However, it was not a good way to be and I didn't get nearly the same amount of climbing in as the year before. My longest climb achieved was the 6-pitch Dope Ninja, and even that one we botched the last pitch because of some confusing beta. 

This lead to some bad vibes. I felt really left out when my friends went on 2 really long day climbs without me. I mean, who could blame them; I didn't expect them to miss out too. But nonetheless I was marginalized to the role of the sick guy who couldn't hack it. Some of the fellow climbers in our camp weren't much help in regards to support either. There were a few all-natural hippie-types who would say it was all in my mind, or that I was too stressed out from city life, or I must have chronic health issues. The fact is, sometimes people get sick. Lay off the conspiracy theories when it comes to the common cold!
Finally, tragedy struck on our last night when a local band was senselessly kidnapped and murdered after performing at a nearby party. Tourists aren't targeted, but northern Mexico is a violent region, terrorized by organized crime and drug cartels. I don't see how it will ever end.

However, I don't want this post to be all bad news. Among the hard times were many good experiences. My friends Jon and Jesse had a really great time and got to do a couple classic climbs. Below are some photos of one of the longest climbs in the valley; the 15 pitch Yankee Clipper.

Preparing for the belay at the base of Yankee Clipper.

 Rappelling off Dope Ninja.

I also did some sketching while I was grounded with the flu. Here are a couple of sketches I made, looking up from below. I labelled them based on the climbing routes on each mountain.

Finally, I met some wonderful people while down there. This one guy, Marco, was setting a new route called Pitch Black. He was up there every day and night, cleaning rocks off the route. Nice guy too. Also, met a couple of really funny guys from Scotland/England. They were such good climbers with a keen sense of humor. Climbing hard but drinking every night! Just being young and bumming around the Americas for an undetermined amount of time. And finally the local people of Hidalgo. Such warm-hearted smiles, giving people a lift into town (this one young guy who picked me up was smoking a joint while listening to The Doors - didn't speak a word of english). When I went to the town's only Pharmacy, the employees were blasting the Macarena and dancing behind the counters.

So goodbye, El Potrero Chico. You challenged me this year. I probably won't be back next year, but maybe someday. Adios!