Archive for June, 2008

Gone Sailin’

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

For the last year, I’ve been living in Washington, DC, playing science writer. I spent the first 6 months as an intern at Science magazine, and in January moved over to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI; $18.7 billion to fund biomedical research). I’ve enjoyed both places thoroughly, but recently have felt the need to get back outdoors, and back into outdoor education. So I’ve hatched a plan, which is coming together.

My job at HHMI ends June 28th, after which I’ll do a little vacationing with my family and then a wilderness medicine course and a few days climbing with Elsa. What then? Not ten minutes ago, I accepted a position as able seaman aboard the Amistad, the state tall ship of Connecticut.

Amistad, actually the Freedom Schooner Amistad, is a replica of the original. “My” Amistad was built at the Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, and launched in 2000. She’s a beaut– modeled not necessarily on the original boat, but on the class. These low slung, fast-sailing “Baltimore Clippers” were a favorite of slave traders. The purpose may have been nefarious, but the lines are amazing. She’s sailing in that video with just her square topsail set, but she’s got at least a course below that, and perhaps a rafee above. I’m stoked.

I’ll join the boat after my WFR course in late July, at which point she’ll be in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Over the next 4 months, we’ll work our way south along the Eastern Seaboard, with stops in Maine, New York, CT, and Washington DC.In November, I may be making a change. I’ve applied to the NOLS sailing instructor course, in Baja. I don’t know yet whether I’ve gotten in, but if so, then I’ll jet off to Baja, do the course, and go from there. If I don’t get in, no big deal (next year I’ll be qualified for sure), and I’ll continue south with Amistad, ending up in the Caribbean in December (either way, tough life, huh?)

After the end of this year, things get a bit more murky. The plan in my mind is to try to combine environmental and science journalism with instructing wilderness trips. This, if it works out, will I think be an ideal situation for me– I’ll get to report on interesting things, and also spend a lot of time outside.

So we’ll see what happens. I’m going to try to post here as things develop, so check back from time to time (if you care, which you may not).

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My car hates climbing

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

This post was written months ago. I’m just publishing now…

To be fair, it might instead hate Virginia, West Virginia, or having both Paul Burow and Elsa in the car along with me for more than 1 hour at a time. I haven’t actually done the study to find out which. But whatever the cause, for the second time in a row my car had a tantrum on the way to Seneca Rocks.

Seneca Rocks is one of the premier trad climbing areas in the mid Atlantic. It’s a fin of (I think) quartzite that erosion has exposed in the Appalachians of West Virginia. It’s known for great extended climbs of a more strenuous than usual nature (and one of the “highest, most exciting 5th class summits” on the East Coast, according to the guide book. All of 2,000 or so feet; I’ll never get used to East Coast ‘mountains’.)

But I digress. The point of this post is to say that my car hates going there. The first time we tried it, back in February, as soon as we crossed into WV the car started overheating.

Two very nice policemen at a Sheetz station in Moorefield helped us figure out what was up with it, and everyone in the gas station gathered around to give advice. It was about 30 degrees, and we had a marvelous time people-watching (and listening– first experience with the West Virginia accent). Eventually it seemed to fix itself, and we continued gingerly onward. Climbing was sub-par, as we only had top rope gear, but we had fun. When we got back to DC, I took the car to the mechanic, who diagnosed either the thermostat of the waterpump as the problem. $640 bucks please.

Fair enough.

Except that it wasn’t. The next time we tried to go to Seneca, the car didn’t even make it to Moorefield– it started overheating as soon as we left I-66. This time I didn’t mess around trying to coax the thing to Seneca; Using Burow’s AAA extended towing service, Delmer (I swear) came and picked us up, and towed us back to DC.

Bottom line: blown head gasket had been the problem all along. $2100 bucks, and now the car works great.

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