27 October 2009Comments are off for this post.

Shambhala Mountain Center

A few weeks ago, Dara and I drove up to the Shambhala Mountain Center (SMC) outside of Fort Collins. We'd been meaning to go for a while, but it's a pretty long drive and we always remembered it at the wrong times.

At SMC you park just inside the entrance, and from there walk a half mile or so to the main buildings, and then another half mile or so up to the Great Stupa. It was a great fall afternoon, just warm enough, with the sun shining and the Aspens changing colors. Perfect for a walk in the mountains. Actually we both probably would have been happy with a longer walk up to the Stupa.

The floor of the interior of the great stoop is beautifully tiled with various patterns and designs. On the left side, there's a pomegranate tiled into the floor, with seeds spilling out of it. In Nepal, the gompas all had wooden floors, so the tile was a noticeable departure from what I'm used to seeing in these buildings. And I noticed the pomegranate, but didn't look as closely at it as I guess I should have. You see, they carved out chunks of the pomegranate in the floor, filled the cavities with bright red marbles, and didn't do anything to keep them in place.

So I'm walking along as quietly as possible, looking at the objects in the recessed shelves along the wall. Bam. My first foot goes into the marbles and they're rolling across the floor, bouncing off the baseboards and furniture. I pause, take take a step back and my second foot goes into the other marbles and even more of them are rolling across the floor. Dara, who was a few steps in front of me, struggles to contain her laughter and runs behind the Buddha statue, leaving me standing there like an idiot with marbles still rolling across the floor. I manage to step get myself out of the marbles without making more of a mess, and start putting them back into place. As each marble is dropped back into place, it makes a ticking sound. Tick, tick, tick, people are still meditating with very serious expressions, tick, tick, tick, Dara is still hiding, tick, tick, tick.

It really highlighted one of the big differences we both noticed, compared to the gompahs that we saw in Nepal. Over there, it seemed that Buddhism, and life in general were approached with a certain amount of humor. And I can only imagine that if I'd done the same thing there, the monks or nuns in charge of the gompah would have been laughing along with me. While we were there, we attended a ceremony celebrating Buddha's birthday; the monks were all laughing and chatting, and one of the younger ones was wearing a monkey hat.

The stupa is very nice, but we both decided that unless you're going to be spending more than an hour or so at SMC, it  isn't worth the drive from anywhere farther away than Denver or Boulder. If you're coming from further away, or even from those places, it would be better to find some other things to do in the area in order to make the drive more worth while.

[svgallery name="Shambhala"]

15 October 2009Comments are off for this post.

Annapurna Circuit Packing List

Before leaving for the trip I had some trouble finding good information about what was actually necessary for this trek. The packing lists really varied, with one including some items that definitely aren't necessary (ice axe and crampons), and others seeming incomplete.

A lot of this is going to vary from person to person, but the following should be a good start. Temperatures can vary from the high 80s to the low 10s, and rain or snow are both possible. The bags I carry tend to be heavier than average. My things were normally fairly light, but I carried some things for the group like the first aid kit, clothes, food and extra water.

For a full list of Nepal posts, hit the tag cloud on the side, or this link.

If you are thinking about traveling to Nepal, check out this article by Andrew Hyde. It gives a different than usual, and in my opinion accurate description of what travel there is like.


  • Socks x3 - Wool, not cotton.
  • Shoes x1 - Broken in! The trail is pretty good for the most part, so I recommend approach shoes. Boots are unnecessary.
  • Flipflops x1 - Great for wearing in the evening, and good to have for the shower as well.
  • Pants x2 - Nylon hiking pants will do you fine.
  • Short sleeve shirt x1 - Capilene.
  • Long sleeve shirt x1 - Capilene.
  • Underwear x1 - Patagonia, I only wore them in the evening after taking off the compression shorts.
  • Compression shorts x2 - Minimize chafing. Not everyone needs them, but my chubby thighs do.
  • Fleece/down jacket x1 - Nice for the lodges and the day going over the pass.
  • Shell jacket x1
  • Shell pants x1 - Optional.
  • Sun hat x1 - I wore a baseball cap, but the floppy hats are nice too.
  • Warm hat x1 - Mine is wool lined with fleece - awesome.
  • Gloves x1 - Nothing too warm, a set of fleece ones should be fine.
  • Handkerchief - can be used as a dust filter.


  • Big pack - Will be carried by your porter. We brought my 110L pack and were able to fit all of my things, Dara's things, and the porters pack into it.
  • Day pack - Depends what you want to carry during the day. I filled a 50L bag, but others got by with much smaller ones. *
  • Sleeping bag - For the most part it doesn't get all that cold at night. A 20 degree bag should be fine for most people. If you can't stay warm with that, most of the lodges have heavy blankets to use.
  • Thermarest pillow - A luxury
  • Headlamp - The power will go out, if there is any to start with.
  • AA Batteries - Fit my headlamp and camera flash.
  • Water purification** - The group should have two types.
  • First Aid Kit***
  • Knife
  • Carabiners - Good for hanging extra items off packs, or strapping packs together
  • Camelbak
  • 1L bottle - For water purification.
  • Trekking poles - If you like using them. If you do use them, take a complete pair, and not just a single pole.

Toiletry Items:

  • Sunblock
  • Chapstick
  • Hand cream
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Floss
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Bar of soap in travel case - Can be used for washing clothes also.
  • Shampoo
  • Toilet paper - We started with 3 rolls, but bought more along the way


  • Watch
  • Cards
  • Book
  • Trek map
  • Writing materials
  • Camera
  • Camera batteries - at least two, three is better
  • Camera charger
  • Camera memory cards - lots
  • Snacks - nonperishable items that won't melt are best
  • Cord - Always useful.
  • Clothes pins - Not all of the lodges have good places to dry things, can be used with cord for makeshift line.
  • Ear plugs - Teahouse walls are thin and people snore.

* In my daypack I carried:
- 100 oz camelbak
- 1 or 2 1L Nalgene bottles
- Water purification drops
- Shell
- Long sleeve shirt
- Hat and gloves (on the pass day)
- First aid kit
- Sunblock
- Map
- Book
- Rocks
- Camera batteries, memory cards, flash and charger

** There are lots of options for water purification.

  • MSR Sweetwater: My favorite. A bottle costs about ten dollars, treats 300L of water, kills just about everything possible, leaves only a faint aftertaste, works in ten minutes, and can be used to treat large quantities of water quickly. May upset some people's stomachs, so best to test before leaving home.
  • Steripen: Uses ultraviolet light to purify water. So it tastes about as good as possible. However, it can only treat one liter of water at a time (that cannot be cloudy), is dependent on electricity, is expensive, and I'm not convinced of its durability. Melissa and Franz had one that was held together with tape, and the guy at REI said they'd had some problems with them.
  • MSR Miox: I don't have any experience with this. Uses a salt solution to kill everything. Can treat large quantities of water, and has minimal taste. It takes a long time (four hours) to fully treat water, is dependent on electricity, and can be hard to find in stock.
  • Iodine: Will kill most, but not all things, leaves an aftertaste if you don't have the neutralizer, and takes four hours to reach full effectiveness.
  • Filter: Not recommended. They can't get all the little baddies.

*** First Aid Kit Contained:

  • Tape
  • Bandages
  • Bandaids
  • Bacitracin
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Liquid bandaids
  • Moleskin
  • Safety pins
  • Tweezers
  • Nail clippers
  • Scissors
  • Ibuprofen
  • Diamox - prescription
  • Cipro - prescription
  • Imodium
  • Suture kit
  • Firstaid book - added functionality as additional reading material

13 October 2009Comments are off for this post.

November Afternoon in Seattle

I once had this idea that business trips were like little vacations. You'd fly off to some place exotic, attend a meeting or two (about exciting things), do some sight seeing, have a nice meal, sleep in a nice hotel, maybe have another meeting or two (about exciting things, of course) and then fly back home. The reality of business trips is slightly different. You fly off to some city - it doesn't really matter which one - you're not going to see any of it, attend meetings (that are not about exciting things) for eight straight hours, have dinner at a chain restaurant, do some more work back in the hotel room - which isn't at all a fabulous room - attend more meetings in the morning, and then rush to get the rental car returned in time to make your flight.

Fortunately, this wasn't one of those trips. Dan and I finished up our meetings with WashDOT in Olympia early in the day and had a few hours to go out and do something. So we ran back to the hotel, changed, and jumped in the car to go up to Seattle. Somehow things worked out well for us, and instead of the usual cloudy, rainy, wintertime weather Seattle is famous for, the sun was out and the city was sparkling. We started out at the water front, walked through Pike Place Market, watched the sun set from an alley near the water, did a tea tasting at Vital Leaf Tea, picked up some food at Trader Joe's, stopped in a park overlooking the harbor to check out the skyline, and had some pizza and beer at Stellar Pizza. It was pretty much what I had always though business travel would be like.

[svgallery name="Seattle"]

11 October 2009Comments are off for this post.

Nepal Part 3 – The Adventure Begins

You know how in movies and television shows roosters crow just as the sun is beginning to rise? That's bullshit. Roosters crow all night, and then continue after the sun has risen. They're the most obnoxious animals that I can think of, besides our cat, and everyone in Kathmandu seems to have one (a rooster, not a cat, Nepalis pretty much hate cats).

Normally 4:30 is closer to the time I go to bed than get up, but with shifting our clocks almost exactly twelve hours, our early bed time the night before, and the crowing, waking at 4:30 wasn't a problem. We got dressed, grabbed our bags and dragged them out to the taxis that were taking us to the bus station. Between the six of us and our bags, it was quite a feat packing everything in, but with a little experimentation we made it work. The taxi I rode in had incense burning in the air vent, and Nepali music playing on the radio, both of which served as a welcome distraction as we sped through the early morning streets of Kathmandu.

A funny thing happened at the bus station. Like just about every other place where there are buses, there are people walking around selling things - food, drinks, trinkets, the stuff nobody really needs, and in this case, watches. I was already wearing a watch, but they tried to sell me one anyway. As I was saying no I took a quick glance at the watches. Something caught my eye, so I looked again, and saw that they were trying to sell me a counterfeit copy of the watch that I was wearing. It's nothing special, just a Seiko diver that I use as an every day beater, I was surprised that anyone would even bother to make a fake version. But I digress.

The bus system in Nepal works a little bit different than in the United States. Buses aren't owned or run by the government. If someone wants to be a bus driver they buy a bus and start picking people up. I suppose there are certain advantages to this, but it also means that the buses can be pretty inconsistent. Actually, I should say that the buses are very consistent - consistently bad, and poorly maintained. The drivers are what's really inconsistent. Some are great - they drive at a reasonable rate, are sober, and aren't overly aggressive. Others aren't so much - they speed, they're drunk, they pass aggressively and race each other for fares at the risk of wrecking the bus and everyone inside it. Fun.

Our first driver turned out to be a pretty good one. Without the driver to worry about, we were left to the helper's questionable taste in music and movies, and hoping the drivers around us were sober - for the six hours it took us to travel one hundred miles. Before you start thinking that's a pretty outrageous amount of time to spend going one hundred miles, I should mention that another group we ran into later took over twelve hours to travel the same route * - we were doing pretty well. Aside from the awful movie that was restarted after every food and bathroom break and played at full volume.

Our first bus ride ended in Besisahar which is the traditional start of the trek. In order to avoid walking on roads and to save some time we decided to have lunch and then take a jeep up to the end of the road. The jeep was more like another bus than a jeep, and it was packed about as tight as can be. To avoid spending forty-five minutes with a bunch of hot sweaty people I rode on top with the luggage and a few of the younger Nepali guys. It was like a roller coaster, with everyone throwing their hands in the air and yelling every time we started down a steep section, crossed a stream, or passed a girl. Then I discovered that two of the three bolts intended to attach the ladder I was riding to the bus were missing, and remembered that this was more of a third world death trap of a roller coaster.

At the time, the road ended about two hours of walking away from Nadi Bazaar, though with continued construction the distance is likely less now. The distance worked out to be just about perfect because just as we arrived in Nadi Bazaar, the sporadic drizzle we'd been walking in turned into a full out downpour. After that we were left with what would become the nightly ritual of drinking tea, purifying water, eating dinner, and collapsing into bed sometime around eight.

*something about the bus getting a flat tire and the spare tire being flat and flagging down another bus which also had a flat spare tire and then driving on a flat tire to find a shop to fix it. Twice.

[svgallery name="Nepal2"]