Monday, February 28, 2011

Floating to the Mississippi Delta

As a teenager, I was always curious what the Eagle River delta looked like, which was no more than 10 miles from where I lived. The above picture has directions from my house to the delta. I spent a good amount of time next to the river, walking around and riding my bike. But I was always restricted from discovering the delta of my precious hometown river. Walking along the river bank, west of where Cottonwood Creek hits the river, west of the Glenn Highway bridge there's a sign.

My fear of being hog tied-porcivincuphobia started on the first day I saw this sign. I heard pigs squealing, not far in the distance and vowed to never go past that sign. So I was kept from seeing where my river met its ocean.

Now that I live in Colorado, things have changed. I still live next to a river, but I just might get a chance to see where my new river meets its ocean.

I was in my adviser's office, talking with him about plans for new simulations to run. I had been planning on asking him for time off to visit my sister for several weeks, but never got around to asking him since it would need to be tagged alongside a request for another 5-6 weeks of vacation this summer. I worked up the courage to ask him and he immediately gave me all the time I wanted off. Jumping for joy, I went back down the hallway and looked up plane tickets for the flight out to Mississippi. 200 dollars. Hmm do I really want to spend 200 dollars?

I decided what I would do. In order to save money I would just float down the rivers all the way to the Mississippi delta and have my sister pick me up in Naulins. It would be perfect. 20 days on the open water, lots of cornfields, and exertion of very little energy. I would build a boat and just float on down. Afterall, I have boat-building experience.

If you like do live in blissful ignorance, don't click this link

So, I planned out my route.

Hop on Clear Creek, which runs into the Platte, which runs into the Missouri, which runs into the Mississippi, which runs into New Orleans, 2 hours from my sister's house. If the water moves at walking speed, I should be there in 23 days. It'll be like Huck Finn. It'll be the adventure of a lifetime. My thirst for a real adventure will finally be quenched. And then I'll be able to tell my 1 year old nephew the whole story.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

There's An Abandoned Bus On Top Of Mount St. Elias

It's nearly impossible for us flat-landers to really visualize how big a truly big mountain is. St. Elias mountain is the tallest mountain from base to summit at 18,009 ft from its base at sea level to its summit (Yes Hawaiians, I know you have a bigger one, but most of it is under water). My goal for this post is to graphically, and possibly painfully, help you visualize how big this is.

Now when I hear about big things, I usually try to visualize them with calculating how many football fields it makes. Luckily, St. Elias actually has a football field up there on the west side of the mountain somewhere around 11,000 ft. Are you having trouble seeing it in the picture? Here's a zoom-in of the football field:

At first glance, it looks like a field goal on the west side of the field would cause the ball to fall all the way to the Pacific Ocean, but I urge you to look closer. You've got another football field and a half before the edge, so unless you can kick 165 yards, you should be good.

If you've ever watched a famous movie about Alaska, it's one of the following: Balto, That one chick flick that I never saw, That one with the crazy guy who lived with the bears, or That one with the crazy guy who found an abandoned bus in the middle of no where, then died from eating a poisonous plant. Well, that one with the abandoned bus is called "Into The Wild." Christopher McCandless supposedly died in the abandoned bus near Denali National Park. Well, I've been near Denali National Park and I never saw no abandoned bus (except for the tour bus that was attacked by a pack of rabid wolves and turned into an exhibit designed to scare little children). Here are some biking directions from Sarah Palin's house to the supposed site of the abandoned bus. No, I believe Christopher McCandless actually died on top of mount St. Elias. His bus is there too. What? You can't see the bus on the picture I put at the top? Here's a zoom-in to prove to you that there's an abandoned school bus at the top of St. Elias:

That would be a normal sized yellow school bus at the top of St. Elias (click on it for full-size). That's quite the feat to have driven a school bus to the top of St. Elias. Look at how tiny that bus is compared to the mountain!

Now imagine being a dust mite--a baby dust mite that's approximately 4.5 times smaller than a normal sized dust mite. Here's a nice picture of a dust mite.

Now zoom out 3,132x.

That would be a dust mite on my right cheek wrinkle. The closed eyes indicate that I was about to sneeze because the dust mite had just made dust. Anyways, that dust mite is 3,132 times shorter than me. And I'm 3,132 times shorter than mount St. Elias.

And finally, to beat a dead horse: According to global warming scientists, and assuming conservation of mass is invalid, the Earth's sea level will reach the summit of St. Elias in the year 20,020. That means we could replay the time between Jesus and today 10 times before the sea level reaches the summit.

Monday, February 21, 2011

It's A Sin To Kill A Mockingbird

If you're one of those people who can't enjoy a book after hearing an important piece of the plot, then don't read this.

My reading material is pretty random. I have a hard time reading an entire series and I skip from genre to genre--Science Fiction, Biographies, fiction and nonfiction Adventure, Christian, Classical Literature.

The most recent book I finished was To Kill A Mockingbird. I first read this book when I was a sophomore in high school and I immediately loved it. Recently I've been re-reading books I enjoyed reading in language classes in high school, so this was the next one in line.

Unlike some books, I think the title really captures the whole message of the book. I've never actually seen a mockingbird, but they are apparently very nice birds. They don't dig holes in bad places. All they do is sing nice songs and they're never annoying. They never did anybody any harm and all they do is make nice music, so it's a sin to kill them.

One of the main parts of the book is the story of a black man who was falsely accused of raping a white woman. The accuser knew fully well what had really happened, but he knew he could shift the blame to the black man because of his low status in society. The black man never did anything wrong, in fact, he was incredibly generous to the accusers and was repaid with a rape accusation. After overwhelming evidence for his innocence, he was proclaimed guilty by a jury of white men.

In one of the final scenes of the book, Scout, the main character was in her 3rd grade class. The teacher was teaching them about Hitler's persecution of the Jews.

"An inquiring soul in the middle of the room said , ' Why don't they like the Jews, you reckon, Miss Gates ?'

'I don't know, Henry. They contribute to every society they live in, and most of all, they are a deeply religious people . Hitler's trying to do away with religion, so maybe he doesnt like them for that reason.'

Cecil spoke up. 'Well I dont know for certain,' he said, ' they're supposed to change money or something', but that ain't no cause to persecute 'em.They're white, ain't they?' "


It's amazing how we can put on blinders and ignore what's going on right next to us.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

La Guitarra

I left Alaska in 2005. If I had one obsession, it was music. I woke up at 5:30 every morning so I could play my trumpet in the Chugiak High School jazz band. Later in the day, I played in the CHS Symphonic Winds Band. I would ride the bus home and the first thing I would do when I got home was sit down at the piano and play for a good 45 minutes. Senior year I played in my church's worship band which practiced every week. Come Christmas and Easter I always played trumpet for the church choir's cantata. Throughout high school I also taught myself how to play the guitar, harmonica, and the saxophone.

Back in Alaska, music was therapeutic for me. I told people that the only way I survived high school was because of the bands I played in. When I played piano at home I didn't have to worry about what people thought about it, I just pounded on that piano as hard as I could and it helped me with my bitterness about high school. My friends really didn't even know that I played piano, but that was my instrument that I ran to when I wanted to get away from everything and get lost in music.

When I moved to Colorado things changed. I could only bring a few things with me, so the only musical instrument I brought was my trumpet and I also brought piano sheet music, hoping I could find a piano to play on campus. I started out playing piano in the student center. I never played piano in front of people and now this seemed like my only choice, so I had to force myself to ignore them. I really wasn't able to get lost in the music because I was always thinking about the people walking by, wondering what they were thinking. I found some practice rooms in the music building with pianos, but they still didn't have the privacy of a home that I wanted.

I went home for Christmas break freshman year. I asked my parents for an acoustic guitar for Christmas, so my mom took me guitar shopping and bought me a Takamine acoustic guitar called Jasmine. I brought the guitar back to Colorado, hoping it would be my new instrument that I could run to when I needed to get lost.

It took a long time for this to happen. I had only been playing guitar for a year, so I wasn't that good yet. I couldn't play anything without reading it straight from the music. It was different from the piano. I didn't feel like I could get lost in the music while playing the guitar. So I didn't play very much. My sister asked me to play the prelude for her wedding that spring, but I hardly practiced before returning to Alaska, just a few days before the wedding. I was plenty prepared for the wedding, but I just had no desire to play more than I needed because I just couldn't connect with the music on the guitar like I could on the piano. The only way I played guitar was by forcing myself.

Sophomore year I went to Moab for a 3 day weekend with a bunch of Mines guys. Some of them brought guitars, so we sat around the campfire, ate hot dogs, and played guitar. John gave me his guitar and I played the one song that I had memorized that was very interesting. It was Stone's Serenade by Trace Bundy. I played it then handed the guitar to Davey. He played that guitar like it was part of him. It was second nature for him. He had countless songs memorized, so he told people to request songs and he knew most of them. I was impressed.

Finally, I was starting to realize why I didn't enjoy playing guitar that much. I really couldn't play anything without staring at sheet music or tabs. I resolved to memorize every song I ever learned so I could play anywhere I wanted. Guitar is a completely different instrument from the piano (pretty obvious huh?). Piano is a stationary instrument and guitar is a mobile instrument. You can pretend that the guitar is stationary and just play at home with your sheet music, but some of the most precious moments of playing guitar are somewhere completely different from your living room.

The summer after junior year of college a guy named Andy stayed at our house while Narf was staying with his family. Andy played the djembe and he knew that I played guitar. One day he came home from class and I was playing guitar hero. We started talking about guitar and djembe and decided to play some music together that night. We went outside with a couple of the housemates and just played up on the roof of the Den. It was one of those special moments playing guitar that you could not forget.

The next day he came home and I was playing guitar hero again. We joked about playing out on the street since we had such a good time playing on the roof last night. There was silence. We looked at each other realized that it wasn't really a joke. Even though it seemed crazy we both thought it would be really fun to do that. We grabbed some of the Den's 30 year old suits and a couple fedoras and walked down to Washington Street. We had never once seen a street musician in Golden, but we figured that the best place to do it would be in front of the Starbucks downtown. So we put out one of our fedoras and "seeded" it with a few coins of our own to encourage people to donate. We played for about an hour and it was great. It was just a ton of fun and Heather, who works at Starbucks, came out and sang 2 songs during her break. She had a beautiful voice and she made more money in the 2 songs she sang than we did in the 30 minutes that we had already played. She refused to take the money she made and wished us good luck. We ended up making about $6 and even though it added up to $3 per hour per person, we were excited. It was a great experience and I won't ever forget it.

When I was a sophomore I met Bengsoon the Malaysian. He was the kind of guy who was always fun to be around and was always excited to play music. I didn't know him incredibly well, but he always invited me to play music with him. We played at Soiree twice (big dinner for the girls at Mines) and several Open Mic Nights with Andre playing the cajon. We played lots of Iron and Wine, Dispatch, Derek Webb, Oasis, and many more. All of those were very good memories.

The more songs I memorized, the more experiences I had, the more I learned to love the guitar. Now it's the instrument I run to when I need to get lost.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Tips For The Ride-Your-Bike-Without-Moving-Forward Enthusiasts

If you use Google Reader or something like that, you probably noticed my most recent blog post entitled "(title unknown)." I hope you enjoyed that one. It was a doozie. If you missed it, I'm sorry. It's now in the oblivion of deleted internet files.

It's now been 13 days since I last rode a bicycle while moving forward at the same time. I'm starting to get tired of not accomplishing any mechanical work while riding my bike. But I have become very familiar with all the interesting dynamics of riding a bike in your living room. So for your reading pleasure, I've compiled a number of lessons I have learned while training that will help you know what to expect, should you decide to take up a hobby of riding your bike without moving forward.

First of all, it feels like such a waste of time, so be prepared. Over half of the days in the past two weeks I've gotten home around 7:30 because of after-work meetings and other adventures. Back in the day, when life was good, I was able to ride my bike to and from work, more than accomplishing my goal of 1 hour of riding, 5 days a week. Getting home at 7:30 meant I could make dinner and eat till 8:30, then zone out and watch TV till 9:30. Now that it's snowy and cold, when I get home at 7:30, it means I have an hour to eat, then I have to spend a very boring hour on my bike downstairs. Praying that there's something ridiculously good on TV because your average TV show just doesn't cut it when you have to ride a bike while watching it. It feels like I've wasted that hour of much needed vegging-out time.

TV show selection is an important thing to consider while riding on a trainer. Basketball games are perfect because 2 quarters takes almost exactly one hour. When you're watching the game clock, it goes slower than real time, so 12 minutes on the game clock will pass by and a good 24 minutes in real time will have passed. Basketball also gets your adrenaline pumping because it's pretty exciting to watch. Don't settle with anything less than the best. A run-o-the-mill show will be torture, but a really good show will be tolerable. So, what I'm really trying to say is, just don't watch Glee. Anything else will do, but please don't watch Glee. That show needs to disappear and never return.

Don't ever look at a clock. Hide all your clocks, because if you keep looking at the time it will pass very very slowly. As the saying goes, a watched pot never boils. Rather, use your TV shows to time yourself. They usually come in 30min or 1hr sizes, so that works great. Most 30min shows have 2 commercial breaks. So if you watch two 30min shows (two episodes of Simpsons for me yesterday), ride till the first break, get off the bike and stretch, ride through the second break and take a break in between shows to drink water and let your rear-end rest, then ride till the second commercial break, take a final break, then ride for the last 10-15 minutes left in the second show.

I have found one good thing about riding a trainer. People will look at you weird if you ride shirtless outside, but inside you can do whatever you want. So shut your door and ride on your trainer without a shirt on. It's glorious and nobody's around to judge you. Let your gut stick out and just enjoy it. Don't judge. I can sense you judging me while I'm writing this.

Even though shirtless bike riding without moving forward is one of my favorite pastimes, it doesn't make riding a trainer that great. That being said, I'm looking forward to Denver's warm weather this week which shall be perfect for activities like shooting stuff with shotguns and riding two-wheeled contraptions while moving forward at the same time.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

51 Days

51 days. That's how long it is till the Rockies' first game. Now that the football season is officially over, many people find themselves asking, "Is it baseball season yet?" Like a little child on a road trip to Disney World. While I very much enjoy watching basketball and hockey this time of year, I fully sympathize with these people who can't wait for the baseball season to start. Here's my top 10 reasons I can't wait for baseball to start.

10. An excuse to eat seeds. Sunflower seeds bring back great memories of my days as a pinch hitter. I thought being a pinch hitter was lame at first, but then I realized, wait, I get to eat seeds during the boring half of the inning, then hit baseballs and run the bases during the fun half. Perfect.

9. Always having something to watch on TV. Usually there's a Rockies game on 5 or 6 days a week. No other sport can have that many games a week because, well, baseball isn't exactly tiring unless you're a pitcher. I never have to worry about keeping myself entertained when I get home. But this can be one of my biggest weaknesses for getting anything done in the evenings and then getting to bed at a decent hour.

8. When baseball season starts, you know it's summer. Few things represent summer as well as baseball.

7. Riding my bike to Coors Field. This is my favorite bike ride near my house. I get on the Platte River trail and take that to Cherry Creek. Take the cherry creek trail to Wynkoop St. and cruise through the city blocks till I get to Coors Field. It's a fun 4 mile ride and the ride home is always very relaxing in the cool evenings.

6. Eating at Illegal Pete's before the game, listening to a guy play the same 2 songs on his trumpet, then listening to the crazy preacher on the sidewalk.

5. Watching Carlos Gonzalez hit a home run.

4. Going to Rockies games without spending a fortune on my tickets like I would going to Nuggets, Broncos, or Avs games. One of the benefits of liking a less-than-wildly-popular baseball team.

3. Shouting from right field, "Comoooooooooon Jimenez," wondering if he can hear us, then looking straight down to see who's warming up in the bullpen.

2. Applying copious amounts of sunscreen and enjoying the blazing sun on a hot day game.

1. It's baseball. How could you not be excited?

Monday, February 7, 2011

My New Bike

After putting together a budget for my Big Ride, lots of at-home research, and test-riding 3 bikes, I decided to buy this wonderful bike. It's a Surly Crosscheck and I bought it from Salvagetti Bicycle Workshop in Denver. Sadly I've only had a chance to ride this bike for about 24 miles so far because of that white stuff outside, but knowing Colorado, it won't be long till I get to ride it again. This is officially the most expensive thing I've ever bought besides my education (which costs me half the price of this bike every single month) so it's a pretty big deal for me. It didn't come with pedals, so I bought some cheap bright blue platform pedals to put on it.

This was traditionally built as a bike jousting bike (hence the name "Crosscheck") because of it's toughness, but was later adapted to be a cyclo-cross bike. Cyclocross is apparently a kind of racing where you race around a dirt course and half the course is unridable so you have to carry the bike half the time. I know it sounds kind of dumb, but it means you get a tough road bike with a nice, upright body position.

The three main things I wanted in my bike were for it to be comfortable, fun and able to carry lots of junk. I'm planning on mounting a 20 in. battery-powered tv to the front of the bike so I don't get bored on my tour. Who wants to look at the ocean when you can watch Wipeout? Obviously, a touring bike would be ideal for a tour, but might be less fun for non-tour riding. So my two categories of bikes to consider were a touring bike or a cyclocross bike since cyclocross bikes can be used for touring and are also fun.

In the 3 bikes that I test-rode, I was amazed at the differences. I've always kind of wondered what the big deal about different road bikes was. They all look the same to me. How could they be that different? It's pretty crazy the difference a couple degrees or a couple inches makes.

The first bike I tested was a Jamis Aurora.
This is a steel touring bike. The bike I normally ride is a racing road bike and I couldn't believe how different the Jamis felt from my Bianchi. I tried turning back and forth on the Jamis and it only did nice, slow, smooth turns. It felt like I could wobble back and forth as hard as I could and never fall off. It was extremely stable and very very comfortable. The riding position was much more upright compared to my Bianchi and it was like a Cadillac compared to a Mustang. So comfortable.

The next bike I tested was a Kona Jake.
This is an aluminum cyclocross bike. This one was a lot more fun to ride than the Jamis because the turning was much faster and I felt like I had a lot more control over the bike. It just felt fun. But it was also a good bit less comfortable. It wasn't because of the riding position. The Kona was as upright as the Jamis, so the position was nice. It was because of the material. Every crack in the side walk was a much bigger deal on this Kona than it was on the Jamis. Aluminum is lighter than steel, but does a bad job absorbing shock compared to steel.

I rode each bike again just to confirm my observations. If I had to choose between the two I would have chosen the Jamis because it was that much more comfortable than the Kona. But I wasn't that crazy about it. The problem was that the Jamis was very comfortable, but the Kona was fun. I wanted both, but neither bike offered both. The solution was the bike that I was hoping to test-ride in the first place. My hope was that I could test ride a Surly Crosscheck, but they didn't have one in stock. The Crosscheck beckoned me with its offers for both a fun ride and a comfortable ride because it's a steel cyclocross bike. Scott at Salvagetti was very generous and ordered the bike for me without any obligation to buy it and it would arrive in about 6 days. He even told me about his friend who rode the Southern-Tier route across the U.S. and gave me a link to his blog.

So the next Saturday (9 days ago) Salvagetti called me saying the bike was in stock. So I took the bus to the shop anticipating that this would be the exact bike I was looking for and would buy it on the spot and ride it home. I showed up and test rode the Surly and the Jamis, comparing the two. It was exactly what I was hoping for. The Surly was very fun to ride and it was as comfortable as the Jamis. The Jamis was significantly better than the Kona, but the Surly was significantly better than the Jamis. It was exactly what I wanted. So I bought it. I would have bought some tire patches too, but they threw the patches in for free!

Later that day I went on a 20 mile ride, basking the happiness of my new purchase. I'm getting closer and closer to actually doing my tour. I'm getting in shape and now have a great bike to take me from Canada to Mexico, so it's exciting.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Why that darned contraption with two wheels won't fall over

When I was a senior in high school, I took my first physics class. It was A.P. Physics from a man named Mr. Soandso. It was a great class. We had lots of fun labs and it made me realize I might want to be a physics major. But here I am six years later, remembering something he told us that was incorrect.

One day somebody asked him, "How can you stay balanced so easily on your bike when it's moving?" It's hard to balance while you're standing still on a bike, but ridiculously easy if you're moving. He told us that it was because of the wind moving on either side of us that kept us balanced as we moved. That didn't make much sense to me, but I accepted it and moved on in life. Years later I realized that was wrong, or at most has only a small effect on the balance.

It really is quite amazing that we can ride on two very narrow wheels and not just tip over. The tires on my Bianchi are only 2.5cm wide, so they're definitely not helping me have a nice stable footing. If you remember my recent post about the conservation of angular momentum of a swivel chair, the problem of a bike's stability is also an angular momentum problem.

If you own a bike, take off the front wheel and do this experiment. If you teach a class, show this to your kids. Take the wheel so you're holding the axle in both hands. Spin the wheel on the ground or have a friend spin it for you. If you hold it in front of you so the wheel is still vertical, it will feel about like you'd expect. It feels no different from holding the wheel up in the air while it wasn't spinning. Now try to turn the axle and be careful. The wheel will resist your attempt to turn it.

That's exactly what's happening when you ride your bike. Your wheels start spinning around an axis and then they resist turning when you try to fall to one side. Now if you wear clip-less pedals, you can certainly feel the lack of resistance when you slow down to a stop, forget to clip out of your pedals, and promptly fall to your side in front of the pretty girl in the car next to you. Angular momentum helps you get the ladies.

Angular momentum also helps you turn on a bike. When you're going slow, you just turn your wheel and the friction causes your bike to turn-that's boring. But when you're going fast and try to turn, you'll notice that you're barely even turning the front wheel, if at all. You just lean to one side and you turn that way.

Here's another experiment you can do that helps you understand how you turn on a bike. Grab your front wheel again and get it spinning while holding both sides of the axle. Now take one hand off and just hold one side of the axle with one hand. First of all, you'll notice that it stays pretty much upright. That's pretty cool, but you'll also notice that its weight has caused it to tilt to the side just a bit. The last thing you'll notice is that the wheel actually starts to turn. You'll feel really silly because you'll have to keep repositioning your body so the wheel can keep turning. By allowing the wheel's weight to tip it to the side a bit, the wheel naturally turns.

This is the same thing that's happening when you turn on a bike. You tilt the wheel just a little bit and it applies a torque to the whole bike, making it turn.

Here's the technical version of why this works:
The civil engineers know that torque is r cross F. The mechanical engineers and physics peeps know that torque also equals the time derivative of the angular momentum vector. The civils are left tapping their heads because they've never seen a lower case t in an equation before. But all it means is that if you change your angular momentum, you get a torque. The direction of the wheel's angular momentum is along the axle. If you change the angle of the axle, you will get a torque in the direction of the change (note that the L is a vector, not a scalar). So if you tilt the axle to the right, the wheel will turn to the right. Get it?

Hopefully this tidbit of knowledge will help you remember to unclip from your pedals when you're at an intersection next to a pretty girl (unless you have mad trackstand skills). Hopefully this will also prevent you from inventing a bicycle that has two wheels side by side. It won't work.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Minus 148 on Denali

Yesterday I finished reading Minus 148: The First Winter Ascent of Mt. McKinley. I finished the book while I was walking down the bus aisle to get off and walk out into the 5 degree weather in Denver. It was a very appropriate time to finish the book.

The book was really good and I'd recommend it to anyone who likes reading about adventures. First of all, it's crazy because they're climbing the tallest mountain in North America in March. They were happy to have a warm day where the high was -10F. It turns from an already extremely difficult climb to a survival situation and it's really fascinating.

Mountaineering has been a fascination of mine for a while. I love climbing mountains, so it makes sense. I completely understand the thrill of climbing a 20,320 ft mountain. The technical climbing, the camping at high altitudes, and the amazing views all sound thrilling. If this was all there was to mountaineering, I would jump at the opportunity to learn how to ice climb and travel in glaciers so that I could climb Denali and other high peaks. But there's much more to mountaineering than the thrill.

The thing that's had me confused ever since I started getting interested in mountaineering is how the climbers are willing to go through so much suffering to climb a mountain. The suffering seems ridiculous.

Even though I grew up in Alaska, I can't understand why climbers are okay with being so cold for so long. The guys in this book scheduled an entire month to climb the mountain. The high was around -10 at base camp, but they spent most of their time at higher elevations where the temperature got as low as -50 (with the wind chill it was colder than -148). I was stiff and grumpy by the time I walked 3 minutes in 5 degree weather to my connecting bus stop. I could never spend a month in weather colder than that. The cold is a huge thing about mountaineering that confuses me.

At high altitude, your body has major issues. First, there's the whole breathing issue. You have half the oxygen that people at sea level have for an extended period of time. You get to a point where you have to take a break after every few steps. Next, you have headaches, dizziness and slow brain function. Then you have altitude sickness, where you just feel miserable and your only option is to hike down in your misery to a lower altitude and wait until you recover. The worst thing that can happen because of the high altitude is pulmonary edema. Relatively high pressure in your blood veins causes fluid to fill air spaces in your lungs, making it even more impossible to breathe. You can die in days from this if you don't immediately descend to lower altitudes.

On Annapurna, a 26,545ft mountain in the Himalayas, 142 climbers have attempted the summit (as of 2008) and 58 of those climbers have died. That's a death rate of 41%, but people still climb it. Death is something that all climbers have to accept, especially on solo attempts, the very difficult routes, and winter ascents. Even on Everest, where the death rate is only 10%, it is still the most popular 8,000 meter mountain to climb. They know that one in 10 people will die climbing it, but it's worth it to them.

So you can see my confusion. It's hard to understand why climbers climb these high peaks with all the suffering they are putting themselves through. The cold seems unbearable, the altitude sounds miserable, and the danger of death is inevitable. This is why I have been so fascinated with mountaineering recently. I want to understand their motivation for going through so much difficulty just to climb a mountain. Mountaineers have a completely different view on suffering and death than we who have never climbed a mountain higher than 15,000ft and that's what keeps bringing me back to their stories.