“There you are, because that’s where you are, you’re there.”
That little trinket from Austin Powers characterizes what’s been going on the last few weeks. Following the ‘success’ on Red Slate, I got on the road, and the experiences have been diverse.
First brought some work travel to our test turbine in Missouri, and you’d think that dropping out of the Sierra [8k’ above sea level] to almost sea level in the lower 48 in late March would bring some much needed sunny, warm, spring weather. You’d think wrong, at least in 2013. The same storm dropping feet of snow across the rockies and making chaos of the streets of the greater Denver area continued it’s easterly trajectory and spread winter storm warnings across the great planes. It didn’t spare us, but also didn’t prevent us from doing our job wrapping up testing on our prototype.
The second winter gracing the country didn't spare the midwest
I often get the questions “do you actually work?” or “what do you actually do?” Love it or hate it, there is a car analogy for just about every business case, and I’ll use one here: When Elon Musk and Tesla decided to make cars, would you have rushed out to buy one [assuming you had the ducats and desire] if he and his team didn’t
the car would both perform like he said and was safe? Probably not, and we look at our wind turbines the same way. If you’re a utility and are paying close to $2MM for one of these machines, you want proof showing it’ll behave like we say it will, so that’s where my team steps in: we prove our turbines will give you the megawatts you paid for, and wont fell like a tree when the weather gets iffy. And that is what brought me to the Midwest, and what will bring me back a few times this year.
The views at the office aren't so bad sometimes
What does that really mean? Crawling around a 360’ steel and fiberglass dynamic structure, figuring out what to instrument, wiring it all together into a network, and “playing” with the resulting combination of brain and brawn like an RC car whilst recording the data from said instruments. Simplified but that’s it in a nutshell.
Making data...lots of it. Hi Jeff!
With the testing mostly in the bag, I was overdue for time with the better half. Fortunately that meant a double whammy of the goods: time with lady and returning to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness to see what was left of winter up there. Turns out there was quite a bit of white left on the hills which meant for fun ski turns, interesting avalanche pits and snowball fights.
Corn-powder-corn transitions? Let's do it again
There isn’t much in life better than exploring new, gorgeous areas, exhausting yourself in the process of making the best of the weather you have, and assuaging a raging appetite with professional-grade culinary feats. In steps Hope’s Artisan foods in downtown Red Lodge, MT. If you ever find yourself in that neck of the woods, ignore the temptation of the taco bus on the southern edge of town [I know, that’s tough] and stop at Hope’s: She can do no wrong in the kitchen. Everyday up there involved probing stunning canyons, viewing vast, big sky vistas and feasting on the marvels Hope and Susie crafted in her kitchen on Main.
I love food
Where did you take your last telecon?
Parking ticket? No, much, much better. How would you feel if you saw this after a tour?
If there was any question whether
was in this year...
Then what? A dawn patrol on Red Lodge Mountain with the early rising locals was needed before bidding adieu to that Southern Montana hamlet, and a brief return to the responsibility of building callas’ for the upcoming rock season. That meant a rendezvous with Bryan in one of the coolest towns in Wyoming: Yes, Lander boasts the home of NOLS, and a young, vibrant, athletic population soaking up what the outdoors has to offer there: And plenty there is. Great trail running and mountain biking, access to the Wind Rivers and hard limestone climbing. Sprinkle in big views of the Laramide Erogeny and some road biking when the winds are calm, and you’ve got a winner. I had a great host, and I’m looking forward to a return sometime soon.
Civil engineering works can be beautiful
"That looks hard"
Alas, winter hadn’t yet had a proper exit, so when Nathan’s message included words like “dumping,” and “face shots,” google maps led the way to Colorado – pronounced Colo-Rad-Bro. Nate was correct: people may have been wearing shorts and tee shirts in Boulder, but Summit County looked more like January than April, so the puffy came out, along with the AT gear and the avy beacon. How fortunate I was for a contagiously enthusiastic college buddy, a list of 50 classic ski descents of North America to tick off, a deceptively deep, [sort-of] stable snowpack and the Colorado Rockies. Highlights were A-Basin’s side couloirs, Buffalo Peak’s
, the Sky chutes and washing down a good day in the backcountry with a German sour beer at Proust in Frisco. I will stand by my claim that the best towns anywhere have at least two things: an artisan bake shop and a good brew haus.
"Don't Zorro my turns, bro."
I love skiing
Nate, his lovely and I also managed to squeak in a weekend trip to what I have always considered - and am always reminded of - one of my favorite places in the contiguous US: the San Juan Mountains of SW Colorado. With the US being a relatively young nation of immigrants, there is often a short list of what is truly “American.” Gustatory creations, SUV’s and barbeque aside, the smattering of old mining towns mostly concentrated in Colorado are what I’ve come to recognize as authentic, raw American history.
Not a whole lot has changed in the last 1.5 centuries
The x’s representing mine shafts cover topo maps up to 14k feet and surround the towns here like satellites, and their rugged geography begets stories flaming one’s imaginative fire about what it was like back in old days. There were no pertex down parkas, Gore-Tex or a Starbucks on the corner with free wifi: prospectors were panning in the streams and miners were risking life and limb to dig out the nuggets of precious ore buried in the towering volcanic hills above. They wore cotton and wool, used pick axes and open rail cars and didn’t have weather satellites: No, their lives were tough and the ubiquitous sepia photos, voluminous tailings piles and preserved relics in the streets help keep the spirit alive. It puts a big smile on my face just thinking about sitting on a bench in Telluride, Ouray, Silverton or Creede reading a placard about the history of these places while looking at the same dramatic landscape those hopeful vagabonds saw a century and a half ago.
The towns still have the magnetism for adventure-seeking vagabonds…but also for uber-wealthy third-home buyers, glitzy celebs and real-estate speculators. Nathan had been eyeing two peaks in the San Juans – both 50 classics, and worthy descents. Wilson Peak’s north couloir had a reasonable approach, and was way too close to the wonderfully inexpensive shoulder season lodging of Telluride to pass up. After a night of easy going in the local saloon and restful sleep slope-side in town, we were skinning from the car at 0700 and full of excitement after dawn - with her fingertips of rose -illuminated Wilson Peak’s upper reaches. By the time we emerged above tree line for the first time since the car, however, we were greeted with a most unfortunate situation: A large natural slide loomed at the base of the face and warned against further exploration of the aspect, the lower cliff band was nearly impassable without a long, exposed, contrived contour, and the entire upper face was void of a skiable line.
Q1 sheer 18" down? See ya!
The approach certainly was beautiful...that natural slide, not very inviting
“Three strikes and you’re out.” We skinned up closer to the slide to dig a pit, and it revealed what we suspected: instability dictating the day would be absent a summit, so best to ski the ‘whoop-tee pie’ and look for a plan b. An adjacent side summit had a promising chute to ski, but a pit on the way up revealed the same conclusion: the snow up high was unstable, and though not extreme, the avalanche concern was enough to turn us around. Next time, Wilson…next time.
Buckle up, and lets get outta here
Meandering back to the car
Beers on the turbo tailgate and stories shared greased the taste buds for a stop at the local pizza shack, and after the Detroit-style pie [Detroit style pizza? Really? Yes, really, it’s delicious] was half over, the lack of accomplished objective was an afterthought: though it’s never a great feeling to walk away from a goal unachieved, it’s more fulfilling to understand that the mutual decisions made were sound, and proper judgment and prudence were exercised.
The red hue is not photoshopped...and Silverton Mountain's lift access terrain
A pair of days in Silverton brought a couple unique experiences:
from the south gave the air a red hue and making the ambiance feel more like the pollution fog welcoming you to Beijing than the typical views dropping into the San Juan’s valleys. Such a weather condition turned the snow a muddy mess, rendering touring a bust for that range this season…oh well, first world problems are not really problems. The second was being in a well preserved and barely habited ghost/mining town in the lowest of low seasons. An after-dinner stroll down the infamous Silverton streets after dark when virtually no one is in town is an eerily unforgettable lapse into either a dream or a horror movie set. Creaking signs swinging on storefronts, dirt devils swirling around dimly-lit sidewalks and hauntingly empty windows give me goose bumps just thinking about it.
It doesn't get much better
No tours, bad snow and nothing open meant it was time to join the exodus Colorado’s SW corner. The mountains and towns are magnetic, but when the conditions are slushy and unstable, and nobody else is around to enjoy the splendor, it’s a lonely place, and fortunately even beautiful and smile-inducing in the rear-view mirror. I will be back to ski Silverton Mountain’s lift-accesses side country sometime soon…Days of work passed and after toying with the idea of a spring pilgrimage to the Utah desert, I got another message from Mr. Nathan saying “Come back to Summit County…face shots dude, face shots” Four hours later, it’s pure winter again, albeit with the strong, long standing April sunlight from behind the blanket of cloud cover.
Making sure the ascent wasn't avy prone, we stuck to the rocks
An after work blitz of the sky chutes was a worthy outing, and Peak 1 the next day was a most excellent backcountry exploration. It’s worth noting that Nathan and I both were cautious on peak 1: the avy report was considerable given the second winter hitting the Colorado high country throughout the week, and we were aiming at an exposed line. After a thorough analysis of risk, and a mitigation strategy, we skied a north couloir almost off the summit. The smiles from our powdery descent lasted through the bushwhacking back to Frisco, where delicious beers awaited…as did the fateful news of
– just eight straight line miles northeast of where we were earlier in the day - a humble end to a great week and a reminder to stay vigilant, and to trust your instincts.
Peak 1 sure was fun, eh Nathan? Let's go to the brew haus.
So wherever ‘there’ is for you now, I trust you’re being attentive, making the most of the situation you see, and having fun doing it.
Stay classy, wherever you are