Saturday, December 1, 2007

Rainier Climb: Onwards and Upwards

The morning of the climb arrived. We woke, scarfed some food, downed some coffee, and packed and unpacked and repacked, just for good measure. Our packs were transporting the lightest load that would allow our continued survival, so we stashed the excess gear in the rental car and headed to meet our guides. Below is an image of us in those precious naive moments before the climb:



Our lead guide frequently guided trips up Kilimanjaro and was pursuing his 132nd summit of Rainier. I realized immediately we were in good hands. I reaffirmed this opinion by glancing at the guide's pack, visually weighing it in at a solid 90 pounds.

Our fellow climbers were of all ages. Many had lived in the area and looked up at Rainier for most of their lives just wondering about the summit. Others had placed Rainier as the goal of a personal fitness revolution. Others of us weren't quite sure why we were there except for a general desire for adventure. I am pretty sure Gabriel and I fit in this last category.

The bus ride to the Paradise Lodge seemed interminable. I felt thankful for every small gain in elevation along the way, each foot up was one less I would need to surmount. The bus parked at Paradise Lodge, and my altimeter watch (I know, gearhead) indicated an elevation of roughly 5,000 feet. Only 9,000 feet up along 20 miles round trip awaited me. I refilled water bottles, grabbed my trekking poles, and got in line. From the parking lot, I looked up the mountain to see the view captured in this photo. The summit did not seem so far away, but I had to remind myself about the intense foreshortening that occurs in these settings. Distances are wildly deceiving to the eye. The summit seemed close, but it was very, very far away.




The hike began gradually and quickly became more vertical. We had been clearly instructed that we could only stop when the guides allowed a break, so complaining was no option. We were headed up through nature's greatest solar reflector, cooking in an icy oven. The sweat began gushing as it had the day before, and I was feeling fantastic.

A break arrived, and I munched on another Cliff bar. Each bar is dense and flavorful--three or four swallows offered over 300 calories, and I was thankful for the fuel. Each rest stop came after such a long march that the views became substantially more spectacular at each break. The rest stops allowed us to continue our education. For example, we learned an important mountaineering rule of wisdom: don't walk if you can stand still, don't stand if you can sit, don't sit if you can lay down, don't lay down awake if you can lay down and sleep, don't lay down and sleep alone if you can lay down and sleep next to a woman, . . . and it goes downhill from there. Anyway, here is a photo from one of our breaks:





The march continued at a fast pace. Gabriel and I made a point to be near the front of the line. The group generally stayed together, but as the march continued, some folks began to drag behind. By being near the front, Gabriel and I knew we would get the longer breaks, getting to enjoy a few precious extra minutes while the stragglers finally made it our way. The disadvantage of being near the front was the need to keep up with the grueling pace set by our lead guide. I kept thinking of Gabriel's label for the climb: a "tour de force." I let willpower triumph and demanded that my body follow suit. Upwards and upwards we struggled. At each break, I'd down some more calories, but I absolutely could not keep up with my body's consumption. I downed a sandwich, Cliff bars and other candies. I tried, but I felt continually behind.

When I get hungry, I tend to get really grumpy, and I found myself approaching camp in a rather foul mood. I wondered what compelled me to climb, why I didn't just enjoy a long weekend in less glaciated locations. I sat on my pack and consumed a sandwich. I wondered if I had what it took to make it the rest of the way--knowing that the five mile lug of that morning was nothing compared to the fifteen-mile task facing me the next day.

Muir Snowfield

With each bite, my mood improved. Pretty soon, I realized that I was sitting at the most beautiful place I had ever visited. I knew I could do it, but I also knew I would have to do a better job scarfing the food during the summit bid.

The stopping point for the night was the Muir Snowfield, 10,100 feet according to my altimeter watch. Climbers using the RMI guides get to stay in a cabin on bunks:





Other independent climbers choose tents. The bunkhouse was nice, but, I had to capture the cliche, outdoor magazine image of a tent perched on a rocky escarpment overlooking an abyss:



Rest

We arrived at our rest spot in mid-afternoon. We would eat a quick dinner and face lights out at 6 PM. We had to go to sleep at 6 PM, naturally, so that we could wake at midnight and then climb up and down over the next 15 to 18 hours.

I ate some sort of freeze-dried nastiness and realized my mistake. Many of my fellow climbers had simplified the food situation by ordering a pizza the night before and wrapping that to eat cold the next evening. That allowed them a very tasty, calorie-laden meal. In my effort to recreate my old backpacking days, I had purchased a freeze-dried meal that I had fondly remembered in hikes of my past. These fond memories excluded how truly salty and disgusting most of those meals are. And, for a short trip like this, how unnecessary. Remembering my utter grumpiness earlier in the day, I opted to eat the whole meal.

After dinner, we had a group meeting. We had climbed the first part of the mountain unroped, without ice axes and crampons. Tomorrow morning, the climb became much more serious. They reminded us of the basic safety measure: if someone screams "falling," you should drop to the mountain and dig in with all of your strength. If someone shouts "rock," turn your pack toward the mountain, hope your helmet is on tight, and pray that the missile either misses you or is small enough that it does not kill you. Awesome.

Then they announced rope teams. Apparently they had evaluated us on the climb up to assess our strength. They wanted to match teams evenly and then send the teams out according to ability. Despite our utter lack of training, Gabriel and I were selected for the lead rope team. The lead team can be tough since that group would potentially have to break trail for the other teams. I also knew that being on the lead meant greatest chance for success. Most importantly, I felt that I had duped the mountain. From the time I signed up for the climb to the time of the climb itself, I had exercised very little and assumed my willpower would allow success. Apparently it was working wonderfully (little did I know that the mountain would soon have its revenge).

I crawled into my bag, and tried to sleep. Unfortunately all of my fellow climbers also struggled to sleep, and the cabin filled with the sound of tossing, turning and frustrated breathing. Except, of course, for the one guy who managed to snore at epic volumes. The snowpack seemed stable, but I was certain that this snore would trigger cataclysmic avalanches. Alas, the shack survived, and after six hours of lying in a down bag terrified and wide awake, I donned my garb to climb this beast. It was "tour de force" time.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Rainier Climb: Education

Ashford, Washington is a quaint place. The city vanishes into a lush valley of green with rivers and lakes and other visual pleasures that would have been much more enjoyable had a massive hunk of stone and ice not loomed over everything. Yes, I could enjoy the scenery, but these same vistas constantly reminded me of my goal, a goal resting nearly three vertical miles off the valley floor.

We had reserved a spot in a bunkroom at Whittaker's Bunkhouse, a climber's hotel affiliated with the Rainier guides. The place was wildly stimulating. Climbers who usually stick to crags were testing their skills on a climbing wall or on a tightrope. Others were planning climbs of Rainier as a step toward a Denali expedition. Folks coming off the mountain seemed haggard, and those of us about to head up were wired with anticipation. Nerves were building.

Warning

We found our room, picked up the rental gear, and headed to the bunkhouse to sort and re-sort, to pack and unpack and repack, to anticipate and get anxious. Eventually we dropped our tasks to head out for some pasta (carboload) and salad with blackberry dressing before eating some blackberry pie (they grow enormous loads of blackberries in the area, so nearly every dish had been topped with various derivatives of the succulent fruit).

We returned to the bunkhouse to try to rest up for climbing school. As we walked in, we met a guy who was preparing to head out the next morning for his second climb of the mountain. He began a strange rant, what seemed the product of decades of serious experimental drug use:

"You guys goin' up the mountain? It's a huge, freakin' mountain, man. I mean, that is a huge freakin' climb, man. You just got to stick your face in the mountain and don't look down, man. 'Cause if you look down, you're comin' off the mountain, man. You're fallin' down like 'aaaaaaaaaaaaaah!' (arms waving wildly), man. You just got to stick that ice ax in the mountain and keep going up. You look down, and it is over, man, over. It's over. Just look at the mountain."

I tried to dismiss the comments as insane, but my anxiety latched onto his words and the fear mounted.

"So, here's what you need to do tomorrow. You'll go to climbing school, and you'll pay attention. You'll learn what to do, and you'll pay attention, man. Then you got to come back here, and hit the climbing wall. Just burn it out. You have to burn it out. Just hit the climbing wall and burn it out. Just burn it out, man. You know what I'm saying? Just burn . . . it . . . out . . . man. And then you'll rest, you'll sleep, and you'll head up the mountain. Remember to look at the mountain. Don't look down. Just look at the mountain. Then come back down, get some food, have a cold beer, and then hit the climbing wall and burn it out. You have to burn it out, man. Just burn it out. It's going to be awesome, man. Just burn it out."

Sweet. All I had to do was burn it out. No problem. Just had to burn it out. Fair enough. But I was a little more concerned about the "aaaaaaaaah!" part of the climb. Somehow, Gabriel and I extricated ourselves from the deranged monologue, and proceeded to our bunkroom to quietly express our shock and incredulity. We packed and unpacked and repacked and tried to sleep.

Climbing School


Climbing school was brilliantly designed. They managed to take a tremendous and daunting task and make it seem achievable. I was thrilled to finally have crampons on my boots for the second time in my life. I broke out the climbing glasses (old school-style with leather shields on the side), and I was happy to be moving around the snowpack. We practiced arresting a fall, learned how to work with rope, learned that we needed much more sunblock and generally figured out what we were going to have to do. Here is a picture of Gabriel and me enjoying climbing school . . . notice the massive summit looming in the background:



I also learned that I needed to reevaluate my gear situation, something that I love to do. After watching my father over the years, I realize that I am genetically predisposed toward "gear-headedness"--it's a recessive gene that effects some individuals. While a problematic condition, at least financially, I note the genetic advantages that the condition brings. A gearhead often accepts his or her own limitations, limitations, physically and mentally, to what they can accomplish in climbing or motorcycling or hunting or photography or cooking or golf or whatever. Then, the gearhead does extensive research to ensure that their equipment will eliminate as many of these limitations as possible. So, for example, I knew that I was not in condition for the climb, so I grabbed my lightest backpack and proceeded to pack in the most efficient manner possible with ultralight long underwear, ultralight shell, etc. Of course, this also meant an ultralight disposable camera which left the climb poorly documented, but, heck, I needed my gear to work for me because I was definitely not strong enough to do it myself.

Anyway, I had expected my time on the glacier to be a cold experience (gear switch: ditch Smartwool Mountaineering socks). Instead I found myself gushing sweat, massive loads of fluid pouring off my skin. I might as well have been running a marathon on a July afternoon back in Texas (gear switch: use Patagonia lightweight long underwear, switch to a lighter padded Smartwool sock). The side effect of the sweat was the need to constantly reapply sunscreen. It also meant a stream of metallic taste into my mouth, which was less than pleasant (gear switch: Burt's Bees lifeguard lip balm to reduce metallic taste). The intensity of the sun was truly stunning, and the hat I had purchased the day before at Seattle's REI offered little shelter (gear switch: acquire goofy hat with extra long bill and protection for neck and ears).

With climbing school over, we enjoyed the new education. I made some gear adjustments and packed and unpacked and repacked. Gabriel and I headed out for a dinner, a "last supper" of sorts. We felt tired in a great way and ready for the task. I enjoyed more salmon with blackberry topping of some sort, and looked forward to a good night's sleep. We'd need it for the tour de force.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Rainier Climb: Preparations

"This is crazy, just crazy. Utter insanity. Absolutely crazy." I kept muttering this to myself, fortunately unheard by my cabin mates. It was roughly one a.m., and I was shivering as I stuffed my sleeping bag. The plywood bed had offered little rest, but I doubt a feather bed would have allowed me to sleep given my nerves. I choked down a couple doses of oatmeal and a Cliff bar, chugged a load of water, and re-laced my boots. My hands were shaking out of a perfect mixture of adrenaline and frigid air. In what seemed like moments, it was time to head out onto the Muir Snowfield and rope up. The summit bid was on.

Getting Ready

Six months earlier I had made the initial decision to climb Rainier. Having read about mountaineering adventures for years, I decided it was time to actually have an adventure of my own. I had visited Everest Base Camp and handled the altitude with ease, so I needed to find a good test. More importantly, this test would have to fit within a five-day vacation window at the end of June. My objective would have to require ice ax and crampons, and this pretty much left me with Rainier. Coincidentally, the last week of June tends to offer the best climbing conditions on the mountain, so all signs pointed to go.

I was reluctant to head off on this feat alone, so I began searching for a climbing partner. I had to find a person whose idea of a great vacation also included hauling a heavy pack up a massive glacier. Gabriel Rainisch was just the person. He and I had not-so-gracefully gone swimming in a class four rapid named "Tablesaw" just the summer before. Although we both swallowed our fair share of the Ocoee River in the process, we had survived--so surely our good karma would carry us up and down Rainier.

So, we booked the trip, reserved some rental equipment, and spent the next months intending to train. Instead of training, I studied, ate lots of food, and began a clerkship at a law firm. Gabriel got married, bought a house, and worked long hours. It quickly became clear to us that victory on the mountain would have to be a result of willpower and determination. As Gabriel put it, our climb would be a "tour de force" in every sense of the term.

Lift Off

Departure day arrived quite suddenly. Gabriel and I had been chatting often that week trying to figure out gear, meals, and generally venting our nervousness. I spent an edgy day at the firm before leaving a bit early and heading to DFW. Somewhere in the midst of trading my wool suit for climbing pants, I realized that I was really going to have to climb this thing.

The flight passed slowly. My nerves built as I reread Jim Wickwire's excellent climbing memoir Addicted to Danger. Wickwire accomplished amazing achievements in mountaineering while also practicing law. I sat on the plane wondering whether I would follow in his footsteps or find my own climbing career end on my first three-day "expedition" up the easiest route on the mountain.

As the plane descended, I spotted a peak in the distance, and I felt really confident. It didn't look so bad. I really couldn't see what the fuss was about. Even adjusting for the distance, the peak really didn't seem like a big deal. Rainier ray-schmeer. Apparently the money I had spent hiring the best mountain guides on the planet was unnecessary.

And then the plane landed and turned around. I'm not sure what peak I had spotted earlier, but Rainier was now in my window--and I lost my breath. It's enormous. Absolutely enormous. I knew the mountain was 60 miles away from me, but it still loomed over everything. Tour de force.

I waited for my baggage as Gabriel reserved a rental car. I noticed that my baggage was different that most. Almost every other person from the Dallas flight picked up a rolling bag and a cooler. These people, the sane ones, were up in the Northwest to go fishing for salmon. This is a healthy activity with little chance of plummeting into a crevasse or losing fingers and toes. I picked up my Mountainsmith pack and wondered why this was going to be better than fishing.

I found Gabriel and we headed to his cousin's house on Bainbridge Island. The scenery was beautiful, but the mountain was always right there in the distance. Gabriel's cousins were skeptical that we would make it up, and I was wondering if I would find any confidence myself. We sat in the backyard, sipping coffee, watching a bald eagle in flight, and I wondered if it would be a smarter decision to just enjoy Bainbridge for a few and head home rested.

Fortunately, we had spent a substantial sum reserving our spot on this climb, so we had to climb, out of fiscal responsibility if for no other reason. The time on Bainbridge rocketed by, and it was time to head to Ashford . . . climbing school was a day away.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Texas Bar Exam: Reprise

The advantage of being a sophisticated blogger of such a popular blog is that I have the technological sophistication to know what brings people to my blog. In the beginning, folks came to the Knapp Adventure Blog by clicking on links that we so generously emailed out. Then folks turned to search engines and found us when wondering about "hardebeest" or "South African wine" or "naked culture shock" (actual search terms used . . . I wish I had been inspired to actually write that exact combination of words).

For the past several months, most folks have discovered the blog by searching for "Texas bar exam." Thus, the worst single task of the past 25 years of my life, mentioned briefly in just a couple of posts, became the major source of new traffic to the website. Meanwhile my lengthy and reflective posts on Tibet and the Maasai have produced a mere blip of interest in a planet full of googlers.

When faced with this issue, I really had two options: a) ignore; b) pander. Obviously, I selected the latter option. So, this post exists primarily to pander to the bar exam traffic and maybe help out those stressed souls desperately hoping for a blog to solve their study problems.

In the weeks leading up to the bar exam, I did my own searches for blogs about the Texas bar exam. I found a great post on Above the Law where Above the Law solicited general bar exam advice for anyone who might be seeking help (which is everyone about to take the test). One comment struck me as particularly helpful: "Stop reading blogs and study." Yeah, probably sound advice.

Eventually, I found something that was somewhat reassuring--one blogger's reflection of his own successful study experience. He took it easy in May (I golfed and socialized in various drinking establishments in May), put forth more effort in June (less golf, more reading for me too), and then dedicated his life to the task in July (ditto). Seems to be the formula everyone employs, and it has worked for generations. Presumably it will work for generations to come until, in a blessed rebirth of human wisdom and profound rediscovery of basic human rights, the bar exam is firmly and finally abolished.

As far as actual study tasks, I worked countless practice essays, enough multiple choice questions to know that I felt terrible about the multi-state, and enough Texas procedure questions to realize that the bar examiners repeat the same 20 questions on nearly every test. Practice added the illusion of comfort, but that illusion was vital.

So that is it. My last and most shameless attempt to pander to any steady source of internet traffic. Maybe my next step should be to head to Africa again . . . some naked culture shock could be in order.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Yes, The Blog Still Exists

Literally hordes of readers have expressed deep discontent at the lack of recent posts on the renowned Knapp Adventure Blog. Countless readers have been left wandering the earth in utter curiosity about the lives of one famous couple, bound by fate to journey the globe . . . driven by a combination of madness and insatiable wanderlust.

So an update is in order. I would write about our voyage to Timbuktu, Kathmandu, Ouagadougou, and Tuvalu, but, alas, we have not been to any of those places.

We have, however, rooted ourselves in Dallas in a more permanent, 30-year fixed fashion by purchasing a house in Lakewood. The house is a ten-minute walk from White Rock Lake, so we look forward to days of running, biking, rowing and sailing as we slowly get settled in. Here's a shot of the house . . .



Since my last post, I claimed victory in the Chaco Challenge. Originally we planned to let my avid readers vote on the victor, but Mark Everett conceded defeat. Below is an image of domination. Mark Everett requested a rematch, but my feet find themselves permanently encased in leather dress shoes . . . meaning my Chaco Challenge days are behind me.



We are both settling into new jobs and currently face a void in our travel schedule. We went to Austin City Limits Festival a month ago and had a fantastic time as always. Our next adventure will likely consist of a Thanksgiving trip to exotic San Angelo, Texas. Over Christmas we will be in Brenham and Amarillo, and we're hoping to get a ski trip going in February or early March. Otherwise, we'll be kicking it in the Big D, doing some unpacking, and enjoying the fall . . . and maybe, just maybe, I will start blogging more regularly again.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Pony Up!

Just a little something to get the SMU spirit flowing before we dominate Texas Tech on Monday . . .

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

San Miguel de Allende: Overview



Our plane landed at Queretero at sunset. Upon descent, I noticed that the clouds and mountains had conspired with the sun to give us an appropriate welcome. The scenery stunned us as we slowly walked across the runway toward the world's tiniest baggage claim and onto Manuel's minivan for the hour-long trip into San Miguel. Immediately we realized that were in for a great week.

Food, Shelter

We arrived after dark in front of a large wooden door on an extremely narrow street called "Animas" just blocks from central San Miguel. We had rented a room, unwittingly, from a woman who had recently completed a fascinating documentary about expat life in San Miguel called Lost and Found in Mexico. Since she and her husband were in Dallas at a film festival, her daughter showed us to our spacious room, impeccably decorated with artifacts from trips to Oaxaca. The room looked out into a garden courtyard, and we looked forward to afternoons, book and wine in hand, among the hummingbirds.



The food we encountered was remarkable. We enjoyed an amazing variety of salsas. From the restaurant salsas, the standout had to be the green chile salsa at Cafe La Parroquia that featured massive chunks of avocado. We enjoyed fresh fruits and fantastic meats, culminating in an unbelievably affordable Chateaubriand at Tio Lucas. For a break from the spicy, we headed to La Palapa, which is a funky little burger stand run by a US expat off Calle Nuevo. La Palapa sits next door to the Longhorn Smokehouse, a Texas-style barbecue restaurant run by a British man who lived in Houston for roughly 30 years. As one expat told us, San Miguel offers any type of food you could hope for . . . except Thai. Restaurant ambiance in San Miguel is almost unbeatable. We enjoyed martinis on the rooftop bar of La Azotea, and we shared pasta in a peaceful courtyard at Chamonix.

Activities



Before visiting, I had searched on line for lists of "things to do," which proved to be rather pointless. Aside from eating, San Miguel really offers two main activities--either wandering or sitting. Both proved to be fantastic.



The main joy of wandering came in discovering random architectural details like the door knocker pictured above. The town is full of fascinating nooks, small churches, and interesting fountains. The wandering also carried us into amazing shops and art galleries. And maybe more significantly, we encountered the world's most terrifying handicap ramp, featured below.







We also spent a lot of time just sitting in the main plaza, called the Jardin. From a bench in the Jardin, we watched men laden with inflated playthings sell items to jubilant children. Our favorite toy was a 10 peso balloon designed to be inflated and released. Upon release, the balloon makes an obnoxious screaming noise as it flies around.



We also watched the interesting cast of characters that move around the square on a daily basis. Our favorite was a guy we nicknamed "Teddy Roosevelt." He wore knee-high riding boots, khakis, a denim button-down, a wide-brimmed olive hat, and a narrow TR-style mustache. Teddy drew our attention by sitting kids down on benches, studying their eyes and their feet, and determining the quality of the child's soul based on the examination. He also purported to be a miracle worker. Needless to say, his antics left many Mexican grandmothers a little disturbed.



After a day of wandering and watching people, we would normally retire to the room while the afternoon rains arrived. We'd grab a book, open a bottle of Mexican wine (best $5 bottle I've ever had), and just enjoy the rain.



Monday, August 6, 2007

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Just thought I would give everyone a head´s up that Megan and I may never leave this place.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

From New to Mexico



New Mexico offered a fantastic way to unwind after the exam. I enjoyed cool temperatures, dart games at a mountain bar, road closures due to mud slides, and plenty of time to romp in the rivers.

Now Megan and I leave for San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. We're hoping all that Spanish we once learned will start to come back to us . . . and soon.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Texas Bar Exam: Three Days in Arlington

Arlington is a strange little place. While I assume people actually live in Arlington and work in Arlington, most people in Dallas tend to think of Arlington as just a place to play . . . and as the city that keeps stealing the stadiums.

This week, Arlington was a different sort of place as a massive load of people from around the state collected at the Arlington Convention Center for the Texas Bar Exam. I wish I could estimate the number of people taking the test, but I really can't begin to guess . . . and most readers probably don't want to learn how many new lawyers will be joining the world this year alone.

My mornings in the City o' Fun are now a hazy memory. I'd pull in to the parking lot, my mind racing with various tidbits of legal minutiae. I'd park, glance over the flashcards relevant to that day's exam, and grab my pens and laptop and slowly walk toward the center. On the way I saw that my routine was pretty normal. Several cars were filled with people studying up to the last second, others collected on a concrete platform over a storm drain to smoke that last cigarette for the morning. Being tired was a non-issue, the nervous energy filling the space was infectious.

And then some testing would happen. It kind of felt like blacking out for three hours and coming to, realizing that I had vomitted a massive load of jargon onto the paper.

At lunch, I could observe my surroundings and realize that the Texas Board of Law Examiners likely had a great laugh when they selected the Arlington Convention Center as a test site. To the north of the center, I could see the famed "Black Hole," a water ride at Hurricane Harbor (formerly Wet 'n Wild). To the east, I could see the top of the best rides as Six Flags. To the west, I watched the construction at the gargantuan new stadium being built for the Cowboys. And to the south, separated from the Convention Center by a beautifully landscaped park and pond, stood the Ballpark. Yes, literally everyone in Arlington was having fun except us.

The test ended yesterday afternoon. I expected to conclude the test with a late night of partying, but I soon realized that I was just genuinely tired. Of course, the margarita, flank steak, and beers magnified this exhaustion, and I was pleasantly unconscious before 10 pm. And, yes, I think that turned out to be a fantastic way to celebrate.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Hiatus Update

The posts have become scarce this month as bar exam studying has dominated my life. The bar exam is just days away, so you can expect more regular posts to resume once this mess is over. Here are a few things to look forward to:

1) The nitty-gritty of the Rainier climb

2) A day in the life of a guy studying for the bar, a story in photos

3) Details on our July trip to the glorious Twin Cities

4) Photos from my upcoming trip to New Mexico

And best of all . . .

5) Stories and photos from Megan and my upcoming trip to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

For now, I need to get a better grasp of Article 3 of the Uniform Commercial Code--figure out how transfer warranties differ from presentment warranties and what not . . .

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Mount Rainier Summit Anniversary



One year ago this morning, I reached the summit of Mount Rainier. To mark the occasion, I originally intended to write an in-depth account of the climb. Unfortunately, the bar exam has thwarted that plan, so my frequent readers will have to wait a while longer for that post. For now, a few photos will have to suffice. The photo below features Gabriel and me standing at climbing school the day before the hike. The summit appears in the background, roughly 10,000 feet above and ten miles away from us. The photo at the top of the post shows us enjoying our accomplishment, completely ignorant of the difficulties that would face us on the long walk out.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Japanese Game Shows

Really no commentary is necessary for this one. The video says so much about Japan.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Tales of Two Road Trips: "The Places In Between" and "The Road"

My daily schedule has become hectic, but each morning presents a solid half hour of blessed public transportation. This allows me a half hour to read and relax on the train before a day of trying to cram information into my head. My recent selections have presented stories of two drastically different road trips, each devastating in its own way.

The Places In Between, by Rory Stewart

I began The Places In Between with a large number of preconceived notions about the author. I knew the story detailed the author's walk across Afghanistan in 2002. Based on that detail alone, I expected the author to be a macho risk-taker. I expected the story to be interesting but full of boastful anecdotes. I formed these opinions by pondering the type of person willing to take such a risky trip.

Fortunately, I could not have been more incorrect. The author comes across as introspective and knowledgeable, resourceful and kind. He weaves threads of his own story along with Afghanistan's history--both recent and ancient. The result is a beautiful tale of danger and discovery. His narrative is a welcome contrast to the way Afghanistan tends to be presented in the mainstream media. Instead of discussing a monolithic culture, Stewart reveals an Afghanistan marked by diversity. While reading, I realized that much of what I have read about the country had been littered with overgeneralizations, and the lack of subtlety in our conception of the nation will likely be the downfall of the US project.

As a travel story, the book was one of the best I've read. He faces difficult conditions throughout his trip, and his survival depends on the hospitality of strangers. He encounters dangers that seem alien and absurd, but the dangers make the journey so remarkable.

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

I assume most folks who come to this blog have heard of The Road by now, so I will keep my comments short. It's a story of the love between father and son, the end of civilization, and being. The writing transports me, and each time I set the book down I have to shake off the world McCarthy creates so deftly. The story is scary and beautiful, and it unmasks existence to its core, finding a perverse clash of good and evil. I call it "perverse" because I'm forced to decide where I would fit in this world. I'd like to think that I'd be "carrying the fire," but I can't be sure.

I now face the first time that I have been afraid to finish a book. I lack only fourteen pages, but I don't know if I can face what they may hold. When you read the book, pause at the bottom of page 272, and I imagine you will feel the same way.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Gun Barrel City, Texas: Saturday Night at Cedar Isle

The moon illuminated Cedar Creek Lake as we slowly cruised toward the bar. It was a cool night, the sort of night one sorely misses in August. The water was calm, and, as the breeze from our motion forced me to squint, I soon fell into some strange space between sleep and consciousness. The short trip was relaxing and peaceful, and it in no way prepared me for what would ensue.

We were headed to Cedar Isle, a bar that squats above a dock along highway 334. It's the kind of bar one expects to find on a lonely tract of tourist beach . . . the type of place that should have Jimmy Buffet blasting from the radio while the owner bitterly rants in a drunken haze about how the beach bar was the fulfilment of a lifelong dream. In that vein, the bar sports tattered turquoise siding, a guy grilling burgers near the dock, and easy boat access. This bar was different though. First, the ocean is roughly 500 miles away. Second, Jimmy Buffet never entered the band's playlist. Third, this bar made me feel out of style for not having a mullet. Cedar Isle is a world of its own.

As we pulled toward the dock, we strained our ears to determine whether the bar had a live band or a karaoke machine. The water distorted the sound, and we couldn't tell whether the vocals came from a self-labeled "professional" musician or a drunken hack reliving past glories. We soon realized the sound definitely came from the band, but it was likely also coming from someone reliving past glories.

We muscled past the grill and onto an open patio. Our senses were soon occupied with an eclectic cast of characters. We saw an aging woman in a red top with Shirley Temple, red-died curls framing her weathered face. The band seemed to be a gathering of utter strangers: a bass guitarist who looked like a young Paul McCartney with Ringo's 70s hair and a cut-off tank top. The lead guitarist flaunted a grandiose mullet that moved with his rockin' gyrations. The other guitarist looked twenty years and about nineteen thousand cigarettes behind the rest. Together, they offered three distinct sounds: Beatles (he sounded like a young John Lennon, meaning this one man was effectively channeling three Beatles), high-pitched hair rock (via the Mullet), and 90s grunge rock. They were perfect.

We staggered through the crowd and immediately realized that we were about five beers behind our fellow patrons. We also realized that we would not, and probably could not, catch up to them. We found a table next to a couple of guys from Waxahachie who were just passing through, apparently enjoying a day of "fat doobies" on the deck of their boats. While they confirmed that detail in conversation, their smiles had told us that already.

Our table gave us great views of the dancefloor. A lone dancer in a polka-dot top thrusted her arms about violently, jerking in utter disregard for rhythm. Occasionally she would collapse suddenly on the ground and then rise again, a drunken phoenix. Her efforts were soon joined by countless others. Perhaps a result of the crowd, the polka-dot dancer vanished. A while later I spotted her in the distance, continuing her dance quite alone on the dock. This night was all about her.

We sipped our beer and laughed, thankful to be the hell out of Dallas. Megan and I had visited a posh Dallas establishment the night before, a place notable for its creative cocktails, unique food items, and plastic-surgeried patrons. Cedar Isle was a simpler universe. The beer was canned, the music was classic, and the deck shook with a lust for life repressed in the Dallas restaurant by self-consciousness and glam.

I took in the scene and reveled in the unbridled joy. Somewhere in that reveling, I noticed a woman had pulled off her shirt and was giving lap dances to her friend. Meanwhile, polka-dots was coming dangerously close to assaulting the younger guitarist. The cops seemed to have circled in on a group of underage partiers, and somewhere in the emerging chaos, we decided it was time to head home.

We untied the boat and headed off toward the moon, which was now high in the sky. The cacophony of Cedar Isle slowly slid into the distance, and the hum of the engine prepared us for sleep. I shook my head and wondered whether that trip to the bar was just a strange dream.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Brothers Australia Update

Just finished a brief online chat with Tom and Mark Everett. They are currently in Cairns, and there were a few items to note.

1) They couldn't talk too long. They needed to eat a quick breakfast before heading out to a rainforest where they will "snuggle with koalas."

2) They are enjoying new experiences with beer. Tom's favorite so far is called Toohey New, or "new" by the locals. Mark Everett prefers mango weizen, a German hefeweizen featuring a couple small dollops of mango nectar.

3) Tomorrow Mark Everett will get to work on his Chaco tan during a seven-hour boat ride . . . that will take them to an empty sandy atoll . . . which will be their starting point for a snorkel trip . . . on the Great Barrier Reef.

Bar review classes might be a bit tougher to sit through tomorrow!

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Bon Voyage, Brothers!



My alarm went off at 4:08 AM, and I was immediately confused. My first sensation was regaining awareness of the fact that I had these things called "hands" that could be used to silence alarms. I heard that someone was in the shower and quickly remembered my next task--taking Tom and Mark Everett to the airport so they could get to Australia. I looked at the clock one more time and thought, "I'm a really nice brother."

The guys were significantly more energetic. The alarm had brought little surprise to either. Tom had a difficult time sleeping given his anticipation. Mark Everett assured me that his body fell soundly asleep, but his mind remained awake all night.

They made last minute packing adjustments. Tom decided to leave behind his 600 page book of poker tips to lighten their otherwise quite heavy load. Then again, there is nothing wrong with being prepared. These two have roughly 6 to 7 books between them, three iPods, two large sets of Bose noise cancelling headphones, and two sets of "nap" fabric socks from Brookstone. Oh, they also packed a rum cake, just in case. Below, Mark Everett proudly displays the rum cake (which is surrounded by Cliff bars, granola bars, some strange sort of fabric wipe and other essentials):



I drove the guys to the airport, and their energy was infectious, making the drive pass all too quickly. I dropped them off at the terminal, and we hugged farewell after I snapped this photo.



I drove away wishing I could join them and hoping their journey would be a safe one. As I approached the DFW exit, my phone rang. Tom and Mark Everett had not checked updated gate information, and I needed to get them to a different terminal. So I grabbed the guys and moved them to terminal D--then we repeated the farewell process. Two more hugs, and they were off to fight the Panhandle High School marching band through the security line. They reached Los Angeles, and they should reach Sydney in about 16 hours or so.

Safe travels, guys!

Brief Chaco Update:

Mark Everett has proven a worthy adversary. His feet are right, mine are left.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

More on our Cape Town photographer

I have previously written about a fascinating photographer that we encountered at breakfast at Cape Town, Jehad Nga. Since I last wrote about him, he has recorded a multimedia feature with the New York Times that offers an insight into his art. What we would have given for another hour of conversation with him.

Next "Knapp Adventure" involves two of my brothers. Tom and Mark Everett arrive tomorrow for a brief night in Dallas before flying out toward Australia and New Zealand. Needless to say, Megan and I are jealous . . . but hopefully our jealousy will be short-lived as we work out our plans for August.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A New Adventure Begins

This one will be much less exciting. Today is the grand kick-off of bar exam preparation. I picked up 8 hefty volumes of review materials and have started trying to adjust my brain to learning once again. The review course will keep me very busy over the coming weeks, but hopefully it will get me ready.

If anyone is curious about the details of bar exam preparation, I found a good discussion of what it takes at a blog by a person who took the Texas bar last summer. Hopefully I'll enter the test feeling that confident!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Thoughts on Editing

I'm now deep into the process of editing the Africa footage, and I find the task to be stressful for a number of reasons.

First, my timing has been less than ideal. Had I edited this footage immediately, I could have preempted the whole "Planet Earth" show on Discovery Channel by wowing the world with our terrific footage. After watching this video, no one would be interested in seeing sharks in HD. After all, why watch sharks in HD when you can see shaky footage narrated by two wildlife geniuses?

Second, I have had to revamp my project in response to Planet Earth. Since they have done the "beautiful wildlife footage" thing so well, I am left with two options: art film or mockumentary. I think the art film option is foreclosed by the lack of angst and torment. Megan came up with the idea for a safari mockumentary, and I think that idea is golden. Discovery Channel did the documentary--now it's our turn to take it to a whole new level.

So, I'm currently scouring our footage for potential hilarity. The folks from Cannes and Sundance are calling me nonstop, and I've just had to set up our phone to forward our calls to our agent. I just can't deal with the fame anymore.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Liberation!

Last night I handed in my last assignment of law school, meaning I am now liberated. Bar review begins very soon, but I'm hoping to use some of my free time in the next few weeks to edit some of the video from Africa. We'll see how that goes. Doing nothing might be good enough too.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Great Chaco Challenge of 2007



Well, the gauntlet has been thrown . . . metaphorically at least. I don't know anyone who owns a gauntlet, but if my brother, Mark Everett, did have a gauntlet, he would have thrown it, thereby initiating the Great Chaco Challenge of 2007.

Why Chaco Sandals Barely Leave My Feet


To back up. The Chaco sandal is the greatest single piece of travel footwear ever created on the face of the planet, and I say this having previously been a wearer of the Teva. Unlike the Teva sandal, Chacos feature vibram soles that can handle the toughest terrain, and the absence of velcro make them ideal companions for river activities. My Chacos have carried me through crowds of tourists in Europe, through flooded rivers in tropical rains in Mexico, through dusty streets in Tanzania, and to Everest. Megan and I wore them almost exclusively throughout Africa, and I can imagine no better travel shoe.

Why I had to take the bait

That said, a side-effect of extensive wearing of Chacos is the Chaco sandal tan. And, a side-effect of that phenomenon is that the tan provides yet another means for sibling rivalry to take flight. Specifically, Mark Everett sent me a random email last week stating:

"I hereby bet you the amount of $20 of who can achieve the best chaco tan by Sept 1 at 12 noon. I started mine this weekend and I can already see the outlines of greatness. I am no where near your level, but I aim to destroy you.

Do you accept??"

I assumed Mark Everett wrote the email and followed it with this facial expression:



Normally, I would ignore this email as a random product of an extremely well-developed imagination by a very creative fellow (after all, I think Mark Everett's main goal in life is to obtain some sort of machine to record his dreams to DVD . . .). So, I'm used to getting random emails of this sort . . . but I also have lost nearly every bet I've made with Mark Everett in the past two years . . . in this email, I saw my chance at redemption. Nay, I saw my chance at victory!

So, the competition is on. My plan is to randomly chronicle our progress on this blog over the coming months. On September 1 (or thereabouts if the date proves to be impossible), I will post photos of our final product. At that point, readers will have several days to vote on which tan has achieved the highest level of greatness.

Let the competition begin!

Here we are at the beginning of a battle. The first photo shows my feet, and Mark Everett's are second . . . and no, I don't mind that I have an amazing head start.



More Texas Storms

Well, the storms returned, but this time Megan was able to participate in the chaos. Here is Megan sheltering in the closet as tornado sirens sounded:



To back up, I came home from a day at the library yesterday and turned on the TV to see that a tornado watch had been issued. The day was cloudy but not bleak, and I was surprised . . . until the radar revealed a massive line of storms heading our way. The main storm was traveling west to east with straight-line winds at 70 to 80 miles per hour. Another line of storms was headed south to north with a tendency to produce tornadoes.

The clouds darkened, the line of storms approached, and, predictably, sirens sounded. At this point, Megan's emergency preparedness instincts came into play, and she moved our massive emergency kit (this thing has everything . . . if we needed to perform open heart surgery, the equipment would be in this box directly next to the coloring book, there in case children need emergency entertainment). Megan moved into the closet along with the entirety of our bedding.

Meanwhile, I'm looking out the window. After all, we'd seen about an hour of footage so far of reporters around the metroplex being blown around in winds that had now been gusting to 100 miles per hour. It was raining sideways, and it was very impressive to watch. Naturally, I wanted to witness this first-hand, but, with safety in mind, we retreated together to the closet . . .



Hopefully the weather will mellow out, but, if not, we'll be sure to keep the camera handy.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Beijing Olympics: Making Rain, Angering Governments

I read a fascinating article today that connects to yesterday's book review of The Worst Hard Times, by Timothy Egan. During the worst years of the Dust Bowl, the drought-stricken region saw many individuals who purported to be rain makers--people who could shake the moisture from the sky. Many would collect money for their services and simply skip town. Others, like Amarillo-based Tex Thornton, would launch dynamite into the clouds hoping to explode the clouds and release their rainfall.

Apparently the Chinese are also working on how to artificially cause rain. I have previously written about China's air pollution problems, which I experienced first-hand in Beijing. One morning in Beijing, we headed out after a long night of rain, and some locals told us that we were very lucky to get to see blue sky. Well, given the high chance of rain during the Beijing Olympics next August, the Chinese hope to artificially trigger the rain early to avoid rain during competition. Moreover, they hope to cause the rain in order to clean the air.

Let's just hope they are more successful than Tex Thornton.

On a side note, the Beijing Olympics are set to be a very big deal for a variety of unusual, political reasons. In fact, the most contentious Olympic torch relay in history is already in the works. China wants to run the torch to the top of Mount Everest in Tibet as well as through Taiwan. Taiwan, which has never accepted China's stance, is livid about the plans. The run to the top of Everest has caused controversy of its own. Many around the world do not accept China's occupation of Tibet, and, after visiting Tibet, it became clear that most ethnic Tibetans do not accept the continued Chinese occupation of Tibet. The plans to run a torch up Everest has already sparked protests landing several US climbers in jail.

Beyond the political message, others oppose using Everest for a political statement. After all, the mountain is called Chomolungma by the locals, "Goddess Mother of the World," and climbers engage in a "puja ceremony" before climbing to ensure that their climb is blessed religiously. Moreover, this season the Chinese have sent a large team up the North side of Everest to test the viability of a torch placement. In the process, the team has taken extra large campsite areas with armed guards stationed to protect the gear. These "preparation" efforts destroy the sanctity of the mountains and really taints the climbing experience for the north side climbers this year . . . climbers who are very well aware of other misdeeds by the Chinese military in the Himalaya region . . . typified by the massacre at Nangpa La near Cho Oyu last year.

This blog intends to keep an eye on these developments. China is a fascinating place, and these games give an opportunity to spotlight the good and the bad.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Book Review: The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan

One of my new favorite movies has to be The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, starring Tommy Lee Jones. The story revolves largely around a young Border Patrol officer who committed a terrible crime. While his crime is appalling, the bulk of the film traces his punishment--part human inflicted and part seemingly inflicted by nature itself. The story of this officer is one of karma . . . with teeth. By the end of the movie, the viewer wonders whether the officer's sins are worth the repeated punishments: the beatings, the snakebite, the grueling journey, and the corpse companion.

Timothy Egan's book, The Worst Hard Time, reflected a similar theme, this time rooted in history. Set in the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma Panhandle, Baca County Colorado, and parts of Kansas and Nebraska, Egan traces the broad history of the Dust Bowl from cause to windy conclusion. Just like a viewer watching Three Burials, the reader becomes very well aware of the farmers' fault in contributing to the Dust Bowl but later concludes that no one deserves the hell that followed.

Hubris. It's a word that appears frequently in Egan's work--probably because it's the perfect choice to explain the growth of that part of the country. The entire region was founded on hubris. The grasslands had been home to millions of very well-adapted plains buffalo who fed on equally well-adapted grass in a region of high wind and low rain. In an effort to settle the central portions of the US, railroad marketing programs and US government incentives led farmers into this arid region with promises of limitless fertile croplands. An area that had been home to the Native Americans became the home of cowboys until the farmers appeared and plowed millions of acres.

At this point, the history began to remind me of Collapse by Jared Diamond. Diamond studied societies defined by their hubris (or at least ignorance) in good times, hubris which became their downfall in times of environmental or economic change. The good times were really good on the plains. World War I left grain prices soaring, and the early part of the 20th century saw unusually high amounts of rain. Towns exploded, and banks responded with risky lending practices, allowing farmers to acquire new cars, homes, and farm equipment--which created more plowed land. That part of the world was built in a guarantee of continued good conditions, environmentally and financially, and, when the world began to change, it all came crashing down. With the grass gone and crop prices plummeting, that world of hubris vanished in a massive cloud of dust. The plains had a collapse rivaling any detailed in Diamond's book, leaving the population propped up, and barely, on pure grit and government subsidy.

Egan paints the story of the impending struggle clearly and beautifully. His language carries the feel of an old time Panhandle slang, and he leaves the reader almost tasting dirt in her teeth at times (then again, this reader grew up in the Panhandle and is very familiar with that particular flavor of dirt). While the farmer obviously carries the blame for plowing up land fit only for grass, Egan makes it clear that the punishment for that sin outweighed any normal sense of justice. Egan quotes a diary entry from the time: "Those who coined the phrase 'There's no place like Nebraska' wrote better than they thought. In Nebraska, you don't have to die to go to hell."

The people who survived that time period are a tough lot, and I wondered, while reading, whether I could have weathered that decade. More importantly, I wondered whether I would have to survive conditions like that and then look back on another period of hubris. Let's hope not.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Inn of the Anasazi: Santa Fe, New Mexico

A loud noise appears somewhere in the walls around me, and I woke up in a haze.

"Megan, did you hear that?"

Given the volume, I was sure she had to have heard, but it was 3 AM. We were in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the previous evening had involved a nice amount of wine with the folks--so perhaps she wouldn't have heard.

"Yes, and you need to do something about this."

Right. So I sprung to action. We were lodged at the Inn of the Anasazi, frequently rated in the top 500 hotels on the planet. And the place had, so far, lived up to this expectation. The staff was amazingly helpful. The rooms were spacious and charming, and the location could not have been superior.

But now it was 3 AM, and the walls were making a groaning sound of epic proportions. I was pretty sure this was the sound a dinosaur would make if it were having bamboo wedged under its toenails. As I walked toward the bathroom, the volume increased. I turned on a faucet, thinking that perhaps our pipes somehow had some air pressure that needed releasing (obviously I had no idea what I was doing), and the volume just increased. So, I called the front desk.

"Ummm. This is Brad Knapp in room 226, and a loud, groaning noise is coming from the bathroom." Immediately I realized that this probably sounded delusional, if not perverted, to the night manager. "It's like a loud, echoing screech." Maybe that would help.

"Well," he began in a voice that notified me that I definitely woke him, "we have someone in the basement working on the plumbing. Maybe that is it. See if it goes away."

Translation: I don't want to deal with this right now.

So, I laid back down, and the sounds continued. Megan and I mused that the sound was the ghost of the Anasazi coming to warn us about something (I was reading Collapse, which details the collapse of the Anasazi civilization, collapse triggered by a long period of resource depletion followed by a drought). Megan is not a fan of ghost stories however, so we quickly focused on our annoyance.

Meanwhile, I heard doors opening and shutting in the hallway, leading me to believe that the problem affected many. I didn't realize that my father was, at that moment, walking the hallway in his own investigation.

I decided to call the desk again. "Yes, this is really, really loud. Is everything alright?" The noise continued.

"Wait, is that the noise in the background? Wow! Okay, we'll get on that." Finally, the proof had been transmitted by phone, and action would take place. I felt better--if this hotel is among the best in the world, I would need to see proof and quick.

About twenty minutes later, the noise ceased. Shortly therafter, I heard a knock at the door. I quickly tossed on one of the soft robes featuring the hotel's monogram and opened the door. In front of me was an older gentleman in a denim shirt and jeans. He appeared to be completely soaked in water.

"I'm sorry for the noise, sir. A pipe exploded in the basement draining all of the water in the boiler and gushing cold water as well. The noise should be finished now."

I was speechless. I choked out a "thank you" and closed the door. I felt like an enormous jerk. I had spent the previous morning on the ski slopes enjoying a late March snowstorm that left me with empty slopes and gorgeous powder. That evening we had dined at The Compound, my favorite restaurant in Santa Fe. We had enjoyed gorgeous afternoon sunshine in one of the prettiest settings on earth. After all of that,I had crashed on a very soft mattress surrounded by down blanketing, and I had slept beautifully until briefly disturbed by the noise.

Meanwhile, this messenger came to the door after spending an hour, at least, getting soaking in a cold basement at 3 AM. He then was sent, by the management, to apologize to me, which, of course, made me feel like a horrible brat. I went back to bed feeling guilty but finally drifted into sleep.

The next morning the hot water was gone. Other guests were complaining about the situation, and, at this point, I decided I'd just keep my mouth shut. I'd shower later. For now, we'd just let the ghosts of the Anasazi work their mischief on someone else.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Thoughts on Wine . . . and Resource Depletion

Well, we really weren't kidding when we extolled the beauties of the Cape Town area wineries. Apparently the New York Times has caught on as well.

But this only reminds me of our latest wine problem. Cape Town made us South African wine converts. In fact, Megan and I normally avoided white wines altogether until we were introduced to the sauvignon blancs of the Western Cape. While we were greatly restricted in the amount of wine we could bring back with us, we soon began the quest for the perfect Cape Town-area sauvignon blanc at our local wine store.

And after arduous testing and tasting, we encountered the Southern Right, a wine named for the whale that thrives in the waters of the South Atlantic. This encounter left us hooked.

The first bottle went fast, and we restocked. Those bottles complemented grilled fish, pork, salads, air, water, etc., and they were soon gone. We returned to our store to find at least a dozen bottles left, so we acquired three more.

Those passed quickly as well, and when we returned to the store, we found just three bottles stashed away in the back of a wine refrigerator. Our resources, it seemed, had been depleted at an unsustainable rate. As a result, our attitude toward the wine changed drastically.

The first bottle in the new stash went relatively quickly--after all, we had two more, and maybe we could find another supplier in the meantime? Despite my best efforts, no new supply was forthcoming. Monday night, we consumed bottle two. This leaves just one bottle of the precious elixir. This last bottle now has an elevated status: it has transformed from a nice complement to sauteed fish to a "special occasion" wine. We will likely hold onto the bottle until some point of celebration, preserving that resource as best we can.

Meanwhile, we have begun the hunt for a sauvignon blanc that reaches the quality of the Southern Right and at about the same price (around $12 a bottle). If any reader has a suggestion, please, please, let us know. And Golden Kaan doesn't cut it. Neither does Arabella.

I suppose we should feel fortunate that our only depleted resource, at this point, is wine. After all, it's hardly necessary to our continued existence, and we can safely stash this bottle away without any economic penalty. I just wonder what happens when the rest of our resources start vanishing. For example, if instead of sauvignon blanc, we were stashing away our last bottle of clean water, I think we would be in a drastically different situation.

That situation, however, is not entirely unimaginable. Perhaps I am paranoid having just finished Collapse, the terrific book by Jared Diamond, but, unless folks across the globe make some big changes, we might be savoring each drop someday in the not-too-distant future.

For now, though, we are blessed to simply need a good white wine. Suggestions?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Shelter from the Storm

It's been a remarkable evening here in the DFW. The local news has fixed its attention for three days now on the "massive" storms that would reach Dallas this evening. All week I assumed this incessant coverage was just a result of slow news (I know, Anna Nicole Smith's baby's daddy was discerned . . .). After this evening, I realized they really weren't kidding.

The storm has moved very quickly--in and out of Fort Worth in a matter of minutes, leaving behind tennis ball, baseball and, apparently "teacup-sized" hail.

And Brad Remembers One Fateful May Evening . . .

As the reports came in, I had flashbacks to a May night in my grandmother's basement in Amarillo. Tornadoes approached town, and baseball-sized hail ravaged rooftops and car dealerships all over town. Meanwhile, safely in the basement, my then 8-year-old sister began wailing, "Why does today have to be today!?!" Megan comforted her while Dad and I fulfilled her one urgent request, "Brad (sob), would you (sob) please go get (sob) my blue bunny (prolonged wail)?" And how can you say "no" to that?

Dad and I rushed around the cul-de-sac, sprinted into the house, and, alas, I spotted the blue bunny. We returned to Mommer and Grandad's basement, and, to Em's disappointment, I had grabbed the wrong blue bunny. While this created a moment of distress, I think she simply appreciate the effort . . . either that or, at 8-years-old, she had already inherited that universal joy at seeing men jump through hoops on a lady's behalf . . . maybe a bit of both.

Anyway, we escaped that hail storm with a few broken skylights, and Megan had finally seen a real humdinger of a West Texas storm. My grandparents ended up with a broken window and an imperative to replace their shingles. Otherwise, we were unscathed, a fact I credit to the strange powers of my grandparents' basement to ward off danger.

Back to the Present


The storm raced this direction from Fort Worth. Sirens began wailing, and, simultaneously, the news began showing the destruction in a small burb north of Fort Worth. Quickly, I assessed my situation.

With Mommer and Grandad's basement roughly 398 miles to the north and west, I considered the structural integrity of our building . . . something I should have considered before leasing I suppose. Very quickly, I recalled our utter lack of faith in this structure. At night, Megan and I feel the building shake whenever anyone sets foot on the stairs. The walls are remarkably thin, and the windows shake with passing breezes. More importantly, we sit on the third floor . . . on a building supported by 12" diameter concrete stilts . . . and enjoy an entire wall of windows.

As I imagined our glorious windows with their stunning downtown views converting into massive machete-like projectiles, I realized that the central closet was my only hope. Sirens began wailing, and I prepared my shelter.

At this point, I realized that preparing a shelter was more a psychological boost than anything that would actually sustain my continued existence. For those minutes, I felt like I might be doing something to assist my survival . . . even if that something proved utterly futile.

The closet is crowded and something had to go, so I tossed my entire rack of pants on the floor of the bedroom. When the fury of Nature hit, I would have no need for pants, after all. Since Megan is safely in Chicago, I had a small temptation to make some extra space by tossing her shoes out of the shelter--then I realized that sacrificing her shoes might be an amateur new-husband mistake, so they stayed in. If I was going to live, these shoes, also, would live on.

The sirens continued wailing, and I quickly realized, as I listened to the massive drops of rain, that a hail stone the size of a teacup could pierce the ceiling and smash my skull (that May storm in Amarillo sent hailstones through the ceilings of several two-story houses). Ever the quick thinker, I located my bicycle helmet . . . just in case.

Then I realized that massive hailstones would also hurt my body, so I tossed some pillows and blankets into the shelter. And when we lost electricity, I'd need lighting, so the headlamp joined me, my blanket, my bike helmet, and Megan's footwear.

The sirens began again, the news reporters shouted for us to take shelter, and I dove into my hovel. Two minutes passed, and apparently the storm had already set its sights on Rockwall County. The sirens turned off, the wind died down, and I came out of hiding.

It turns out I am safe . . . and now I have all this stuff to pick-up. What a night.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

That Time of Year Again

Yes, the time has come once again for the weather to taunt Dallas-ites in various evil and carefully planned ways.

Naturally, the Easter holiday weekend came with menacing clouds, snow flurries, and chilly temperatures. This transformed a planned camping trip in Dinosaur Valley State Park into a day hike. It turned a usually raucous Easter dog parade into a more subdued event, two hours of toughing it out in the cold followed by fleeing indoors.

As can be expected, the return of the work/school week brings sunny skies and perfect temperatures, a light breeze and, naturally, a mountain of work to prepare for final exams. When these forces conspire, I have to work really hard to get myself to walk into a classroom. Once inside, I forget about the ramifications of Uniform Commercial Code section 9.323 on the continued priority of a security interest after a future advance, and I focus entirely on the idiotic decision-making process that carried me indoors in the first place. After all, Dallas is probably two weeks shy of 100+ degree temperatures--these perfect days must be enjoyed while they last! While I don't welcome the impending heat, it will at least help with one task . . . forcing myself indoors to study, this time for this alleged "bar exam."

Anyway, we hope to have Dinosaur Valley pictures up soon. Megan and I found a thick field of bluebonnets that became the perfect setting for a very cheesy photo opportunity. Megan's travels take her to Chicago this weekend (a city neither of us have visited despite frequent stops in O'Hare airport), while my "travels" will likely take me between the law library and coffee shops.

Were we in Africa four months ago? Sometimes it really doesn't feel like it . . .

Monday, April 2, 2007

Flight of the Baton Twirlers

Well, April has arrived, and it appears as though I can return to my usually laid-back 3rd year pace. After two intense weeks of work, I can now focus again on writing random stories and book reviews and what not.

Yesterday offered an interesting travel experience. I went to the Amarillo airport to fly back to Dallas at about 5:30 or so, and I noticed a lot of strange-looking young girls. They had bizarrely sculpted hair with enough metal pins to surely set off the metal detectors. Some wielded trophies or strange velvet tubes. All had a mother plodding behind carrying a massive garment bag.

It turns out that I happened to catch the same flight as about 25 competitive baton twirlers who had recently competed in some regional event up in the Texas Panhandle (I think Pampa . . . not sure). I made several observations about this lot. First, I was stunned at the choice of hair style--they looked like minature versions of a bad movie about Dallas in the 80s. Not sure why this style persists.

Secondly, this was a very annoying lot to fly with. I don't know what it is about groups flying together that makes them inherently obnoxious. I used to fly places with a speech and debate team, and I assume we could occasionally be annoying--then again, my main flight memory was having an older teammate explain why everyone should read Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish (by the way, he's right--everyone should). Okay, so I guess that's almost as obnoxious as the conversation about Justin Timberlake I endured on this flight.

Finally, I had flashbacks to the last time I flew to Dallas with a plane load of strangely perky women wearing way too much make-up. I caught an Atlanta to Dallas flight along with about three dozen women headed to the international Mary Kay cosmetic salesperson convention. Perhaps they had traded in their own batons for pink cadillacs. Regardless, I think I'll be a more conscientious group traveler in the future.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Slightly Preoccupied

Well, the Knapp Adventure Blog has had a very silent week . . . the silence was largely the result of a 52 page paper I finished yesterday on the liability of successor corporations under CERCLA. While I considered sharing the work with the blogosphere, I quickly realized that I would inevitably lose all of my readers, now and forever.

DC stories still deserve mention. After all, Mark Everett and I witnessed three arrests, were attacked with soda, and spent glorious hours throwing the frisbee around the Mall. Our trip also provided some great photo opportunities, so I hope to add those pictures next week.

For now, Megan and I are packing once again--this time for Santa Fe, New Mexico. With nearly 70 inches of snow still on the slopes, I plan to join Dad for another run down Muerte. Otherwise, we should enjoy a few days of food and relaxation before returning for the final weeks of my time in law school.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Shamrock Fest, Washington DC




I got an early start to Saint Patrick's Day celebrations with Washington DC's Shamrock fest last Saturday evening.

Mark Everett and I had traveled by plane from Dallas to Kansas City to Baltimore before catching the Amtrak to Union Station and then a cab to the hotel. The trip took a while, and we were pretty beat. Upon arrival, we kept getting calls from our brother, Tom, to head to RFK Stadium to some event called "Shamrock Fest." We were told the event was some sort of festival with Irish music, and we expected a low-key time.

As we reached the Metro platform, we noticed large numbers of folks wearing green. In fact, it seemed that a ton of folks were headed that way.

We started walking to the stadium after reaching the Armory-Stadium metro stop, and we soon noticed that we would likely encounter something a bit more exciting than just traditional Irish music. The crowd leaving the festival consisted of a mass of stumbling, mumbling, near-comatose individuals . . . and it was 6 PM. We saw guys concentrating hard to stay on their feet while several couples decided that the world needed to participate in their affectionate cuddlings with their drunken escorts. The crowd that had decided to cut themselves off from the party was sloshed, which left us a bit fearful of what the actual festival would hold.

It was like Dante's journey through the Inferno. Except we were encountering deeper circles of drunkenness. Finally, at the eighth circle, we found the festival and the madness it entailed. The ground was littered with cups and food wrappers with several individuals deciding that games of kick-the-cup were wildly entertaining.

The music hardly qualified as Irish traditional as covers of rock songs filtered through the air. Thousands of people rocked on their feet on the verge of unconsciousness as they horded around beer lines and food lines and toilet lines. Needless to say, Mark Everett and I quickly had to shake our exhaustion and wake up fast, even if just for added awareness and self-preservation.

We wandered for the first hours observing the madness around. We partied to a Journey song at one stage, grabbed chicken sandwiches, and listened to the musical brilliance of DJ AM.

Finally, Flogging Molly was set to headline, so we made our way down to the main stage. The crowd, at this point, was rowdy, and Irish punk music lit quite the fire. The front of the crowd immediately became a mosh pit leaving one of Tom's roommates with a hand injury. Folks began streaming out of the center of the crowd with fearful looks on their faces.

After a while, a guy staggered our way being held up by his friend. The friend was gripping the guy by his t-shirt. At one point, the drunken fellow fell to the ground--we assumed he would be out for good, but he rebounded, did a really silly dance, and wandered away.

Immediately behind us, a mosh pit opened as a group of folks decided that this music really required them to smash their bodies into one another on full runs. Occasionally the pushing from behind would shift our group into near collapse, but we escaped unscathed.

Flogging Molly tried to sedate the crowd, imploring them to take it easy and be kind to one another. Their words had no effect, and after a few awesome songs, we decided to head to calmer climes at the Hawk and Dove, a bar near the Capitol.

I decided that the music scene on that particular day suffers from a serious lack of hippies. I could not imagine Austin City Limits turning into such a raucous drunkfest . . . then again, ACL doesn't take place near St. Patrick's Day.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Great Links

I am headed for a week of great times in Washington, DC. Since Knapp Adventure Blog will remain idle for a week or so, I thought I'd provide a couple of links that will potentially fill the void.

The Long Roadtrip South is a great chronicle of a car trip from England to Cape Town. Last time I checked, the couple was in Lome, Togo. Their route is enormous and audacious, and it is exciting to read about their latest adventures.

One of the Conde Nast travel magazines is sending a writer Around the World in 80 Days. He has created a number of rules for the trip. He cannot travel by air, and he cannot travel over 100 miles per hour. He began in Brooklyn just a few days ago, and, at his last entry, he was headed westward out of Denver. The trip promises to be fascinating, and I cannot wait to see if he makes it.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

War and Witchcraft

I was reading a BBC article on a conflict in Vanuatu sparked by a claim that a sorcerer used black magic and witchcraft to kill a rival. This accusation spiraled into wider conflict along "tribal" lines.

It is easy to dismiss these sort of news stories as a product of another culture's "ignorance" or "superstition." These stories seem far removed from our generally scientific way of thinking.

But, as I read this story, I thought about our own motivations for the current conflict in Iraq, motivations that proved as ephemeral as these accusations of witchcraft. Weapons of mass destruction and ties to terrorist networks were myths encouraged by our own fears, and we will probably be leaving Iraq in pretty bad shape. While the violence in Vanuatu left three dead, the violence that has emerged in Iraq has killed tens of thousands (and probably more than has been estimated).

Moreover, our decisions are branded as policy decisions based on "intelligence" gathered by various agencies. The term "intelligence" is invoked as some untouchable, mysterious set of sources that we-the-people obviously cannot understand but is something we should just trust in. In that manner, "intelligence" becomes our own "black magic," and, in this case, proved just as elusive.

Perhaps we are not so immune from war out of ignorance after all.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Driving Across Africa

I previously wrote my thoughts about "The Long Way Round," the documentary tracking Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman's trip across Asia and North America. As I mentioned in that post, they plan to leave in September on the "Long Way Down," a trip from the northern tip of Scotland to Cape Town.

I have wondered what route would be feasible given unrest in various places along their path. Fortunately, Ewan and Charley will have a chance to determine the appropriate route by following the Long Roadtrip South, an overland trip that a British couple is taking from England to Cape Town. Instead of motorcycles, they are in a well-equipped Land Rover Defender. Their vehicle looks up to the journey: though, in the words of Andy of hobotraveler.com, "man, this seems like a great truck to rob." Hopefully the couple won't face that threat . . . as long as they watch out for picnics near rivers in Tanzania.

I'm excited to follow their progress. They have posted photos, diaries and video tracing their journey from initial preparation to their current location in Lome, Togo.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Concert in Cardiff: No Room at the Inn

Shivering as we walked through the dark streets of Cardiff, I had fantasies of being tossed in jail . . . at least that would be warm, right? And how bad could a Welsh jail be? Shake the thought . . . and just keep moving . . .

The thoughts were largely provoked this morning by tantalizing blog entries by a couple of cousins currently studying abroad. My cousin, Will, is at St. Andrew's in Scotland, and his blog describes a close encounter with Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds in Glasgow. Similarly, my cousin, Alyson, is enjoying a study experience in Copenhagen, and her blog mentions an upcoming music festival where she'll be seeing great shows like Galactic and Keller Williams. Their experience with these US musicians in intimate European venues reminds me of my last week in London in December 2002. We headed to a venue called "Bush Hall" where we saw Austin singer-songwriter Patti Griffin give a remarkable show. It was a taste of music from home as welcome as the barbecue restaurant we found in an East London market (run by a guy from Arkansas . . . which was good enough for us).

Meanwhile, I have been creating a mix of global music back home. I've collected some great stuff over the years ranging from random Tibetan pop music to the bluesy sounds of Ali Farka Toure. I've add some interesting European finds, like Sui Vesan and Sigur Ros, to the mix as well as a great Blanquito Man track from the movie, Babel, called "Cumbia Sobre El Rio."

I sit at home listening to music that reminds me of being abroad while my cousins are abroad listening to music that likely reminds them of home. And we all do a bit of travel, at least metaphysically. But back to the cold streets of Cardiff . . .

24 Hours in Cardiff

My favorite international concert experience involved a much different situation than the ones above. A friend from college, Shelby, and I headed to Wales in November 2002 to see Welshman, David Gray, perform before an adoring home crowd in the city of Cardiff. Even his grandfather watched from a balcony.

Our plan was to stroll into Cardiff the morning of the concert, see the sights, find a youth hostel, and have a few drinks at local pubs before and after the show. Immediately upon our arrival in Cardiff, we knew our plans would be derailed. The streets were swarming in a strange patchwork of black and green and red. The black colors belonged to the jerseys of the New Zealand All Black's fans while the green and red represented the Welsh team. Cardiff was mad for the rugby event about to unfold, and we soon realized that our lodging prospects were dimming. Regardless, we headed to a castle and some shops and generally fell in love with the town. The day felt like Mardi Gras, with the Kiwis getting a very early start to the celebration. In the first match between New Zealand and Wales in a very long time, both sets of fans were there to party . . . and to win.

A quick inquiry into our lodging options revealed that there was really no room at the inn, so we determined the time had come to reach a pub and get a pint before the concert. We watched the match from the bar and soon received lectures from our fellow patrons on how rugby is a vastly superior sport to American football. After all, why do our guys have to hide behind pads? They had a point, and they were buying us beers--so of course, we agreed. After watching more rugby, our agreement was suddenly genuine.

So we headed to the concert, and we loved every second of it. The venue was like a high school gymnasium, maybe a bit larger. The crowd adored the show, David Gray's drummer performed his usual quirky antics, and, for those hours, I had forgotten that we would soon be out on the cold streets without shelter.

And then we were on the cold streets without shelter. The post-rugby party was in full swing, and we began thinking creatively. As we wandered, we grew colder before noticing a glow from a nearby Burger King. A bit hungry anyway, we realized we could hang out at the Burger King until they closed at 2:30 AM. So, equipped with fries and cokes, we headed to a long wait at a warm booth.

But we hadn't really thought this plan through. After all, drunk people tend to be attracted to fried nastiness, and Burger King offered exactly that. After a few hours, the natives were growing restless, and the Kiwis and Welsh fans were started to have a bit of a row. This was relatively entertaining until some genius realized that cups of coke make ideal projectiles. Soon, the Burger King was turning to a chaos of soda showers as cups missed their targets and smashed into the walls. Hoping to avoid a cold night of soaked stickiness, Shelby and I headed out of the King and back into the streets.

But the streets had changed in the passing hours from clean cobblestone to knee-high refuse. Styrofoam containers, previously home to delicious doner kabobs, now blocked our path, and the bottoms of our shoes became stained in condiment juices. Nice.

So we wandered and wandered. We soon found the train station was closed (the Gare du Norde had been a nice home on a cold Paris night once), so we huddled into seats at a relatively sheltered bus stop. Soon , we were shaking from the cold, and Shelby threw out a suggestion, "Dude, why don't we just sleep in a hotel lobby?"

I pondered his suggestion and images of vagrants flashed through my head. We couldn't be vagrants (obviously not thinking . . . we had just been sleeping at a bus stop). "Come on, man, maybe a hostel has some space."

So we navigated the dark streets until we found a youth hostel. We rang the buzzer and soon heard a voice, "We're full."

"Please, just a little room on a couch? Do you have a floor we could sleep on?" I sounded pathetic because I was. It was 3:30 AM, and my body was shaking.

"No room."

And we were wandering. Movement kept us warmer. We noticed some doner kabob stores open, but we were both short on cash--the exchange rate had been killing us for four months, and paying for a sandwich seemed like steep rent.

"Maybe we can find a hot vent." That's what people find in the movies, right? We just needed to find a grate with steam rising up.

We wandered through the refuse and considered making a small fire. The fire would warm us, and, worst case scenario, a night in jail would give us a warm bed, right?

Around 4:30 AM we spotted a hotel. The doors were open, the lobby looked warm, and a group of All Black's fans were still drinking at a table. Shelby's suggestion, made two hours before, seemed brilliant, and we soon found ourselves unconscious in green wingbacks in the lobby. We were warm and asleep and life was good.

At 6:30, a manager tapped me on the shoulder. "Sir, you will have to leave around 7. The guests will be waking up."

I thanked the man for his hospitality. We must have looked pathetic to warrant the charity . . . it was welcome.

We wandered back toward the train station to catch the first train back to London. We had down duvets awaiting us. As we boarded the train, we miserably slumped into our seats and began to doze. As I passed out, I noticed the seats next to us being filled with three guys carrying a few cases of beer. It was 7 AM, and they were beginning to drink.

Their energy was nauseating, and I was soon blissfully asleep.

It was an awesome concert.
 
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