State by State

Apparently there is an entire country between Boston and San Francisco.

kid

by Damian

Sometimes I just don't get people. Take kids for example. In theory I know why people have them, care about them, even love them. Or, at least, I think I know. It has something to do with an iron grip our genes have on us. Ancestors of a more kid-relaxed persuasion have unfortunate tendency of disappearing from the gene pool. Regardless of the real reason, kids are valued in our society - like cars, or houses, or iPads - and one is supposed to look after them. Well, in any case, that has been my working hypothesis.

Then, one day, I find myself hiking down Mount Shavano happy that we've managed to get off the summit before the midday thunderstorm. Suddenly I see a tyke not taller than 4 feet running up. The kid looks scared, asks to use my phone, and frantically calls his mom. She is not picking up.

After couple of questions we establish we probably had seen his mother 30 minutes before. Her party was still going up while we were on the downslope. If we were really concerned about humanity wellbeing we would have attempted to turn them back. It's a middle of the Colorado lightning season and thunderstorm is a daily phenomenon. During the entire hike we were acutely aware of gray, heavy clouds and one tends to be an easy target for lightning on a rocky mountaintop. Did I mention wet rocks tends to be slippery? But hey - it's a free country. If you look remotely like an adult we are not going to talk sense into you.

But now we are with this kid on the verge of tears, scared of the thunderstorm (slowly but surely getting closer) and worrying about his mom on top of the mountain. We learn that his mom told him to wait for her. We are on 13000 feet - the partial oxygen pressure here is around 65% of that on the sea level. Which may not affect judgement but certainly causes one feel tired beyond actual physical exertion. Loose rocks make footing tricky. You can hurt yourself here in 10 different ways without trying hard. I would think twice about hiking this trail alone without at least letting somebody know my exact whereabouts. Then again: I am not a parent.

Come to think of it, American parents are strange. They talk about their children all the time (which, I realize, is not unique to American parents). They praise them for the most inane reasons. They forbid them them from playing outside unless it's some kind of organized and supervised activity. They don't let them walk to school even in those rare walkable suburbs. They teach them to use sanitizer instead of just telling them to wash hands. They refuse to vaccinate them because someone on Oprah voiced a negative opinion on the whole science thing. And then, apparently, they abandon those sheltered kids on the mountainside.

But those thoughts come much later. Here and now we are in pure survival mode. We try to connect with the kid. Not an easy task. Telling a child not to worry about his mom - good luck with that. We change the subject, try to talk about other hikes he's been to. I suggest we all go slowly down (mostly for my own benefit - I am not a big fan of being in the middle of an open space in a thunderstorm). We start going down and sure enough wind picks up and it starts to hail. Not a life threatening size but big enough to be painful. Temperature drops suddenly and the kid start shivering. He is in shorts and a t-shirt. No, he does not have any jacket. His mom might have it but I would not bet on it and she is still nowhere to be seen. Natalia urges me to take off my jacket and give it to the kid telling him to follow us. I take a bag of rocks he collected and put it in my backpack; we start walking down.

Once we reach the treeline, err… shrubs one can barely crouch under, the kid starts crying in ernest. He is safe here and I am cold-hearted (not to mention really cold at this point without my jacket) so I pretty much just let him cry. People who were behind us start arriving. Apparently everybody either made it to the summit or turned back and they are all going to be here soon. After 15 more minutes the mom appears. Quite relaxed if wet. Kid stops crying as soon as he sees her, probably a bit ashamed at this point. I return the rocks, recover my jacket, bid the kid and his mom good bye and start down the mountain as hail turns to rain. The mom says something to the effect that it was nice of us to let his son use our cell phone. She heard the ring but was just at the summit in a hurry to get to the top so she did not stop to pick up. Which I know on some level makes sense. Or is very disturbing.

Here's my modest request to American parents. I don't much care what you do with your progeny as long as you don't abandon them on trails that I hike. But, if you expect me to take care of your misplaced offspring, give them some clothing, since I am not sure I am parting with my jacket again to keep the junior warm and safe. Also, pick up your freaking phone when it rings.

tire

The hissing whoosh of the escaping air was unmistakable. We got our first flat. In the middle of empty and, yes, flat as a pancake part of Colorado. At the beginning of what was supposed to be the dullest day of our trip. We somehow managed to make almost 70 thousand miles up to this point. Mostly backroads. Not a trivial amount on the surface that only a wildest optimist would call a road. Only a day ago our car took us up the Mt. Princeton Road. Couple of weeks ago we drove to the Nellie Creek trailhead on the way to Mount Uncomphagre that involved not one, not two, but three stream crossings. Our car survived sandy dunes, sharp rocks, impossible steeps, and holes big enough to swallow a grown man - all that with no malfunctions greater than a side mirror broken by a raccoon and a battery that expired in the cold of the winter.

byways

Furkot - a trip planner web application that we develop - displays attractions and points of interest that can be worked into one's trip. So we are constantly on the lookout for websites collecting geotagged information about particular type of attraction, be it divesites or museums, that we can point Furkot to. Imagine my joy - and, as I explain below, imagination is all that you have to go on - when I found byways.org. It was a website for travelers that presented information about scenic roads in US, over 850 of them, complete with maps, photos, and sample trips. And we didn't even have to run our crawler over it, since the raw content was made available as a set of XML files.