I am ALWAYS looking for good reasons to go to Alaska

I could get paid for being in Alaska? Inconceivable! This looks awesome at first glance: University of Alaska Career Opportunities Recruitment System. And I just found this: National Park Service Seasonal Employment Program.

Oh, while I'm on a roll, might as well post a list of reasons to go to Alaska:

And this list fails to mention that I'd have to drive through Montana, the Canadian Rockies in British Columbia and Alberta, and Yukon Territory to get there. I wish I had several lifetimes in which to accomplish all of the nutty things I'd like to do.

inauspicious start to 25

My research assistant position with the university has been cancelled, so I have the choice to stay on and pay for things myself next semester. Ugh... how bad do I need a masters degree? And the timing was placed with surgical accuracy; I bought the ticket to India and was relying on paychecks leading up to Christmas to finish paying for it. I guess I had it coming to me for taking a risk like that...

What does this all mean?

There were two important external decision points to help direct me. First, there was a ~3-month position open with the X PRIZE Foundation in California; this would have been some cash and some direction for a little while, but didn't pan out. Second, there is the potential of a tuition waiver from the aerospace engineering department at the university, but I don't expect that to happen. This leaves the decision up to me: stay or go. Stay means live on a student loan and some job that I don't have yet or haven't even searched for (the timing of this India trip went from good to bad in a hurry). Go means... well, I'm not really sure what it means, packing up the car and heading off somewhere to find a job that can pay bills temporarily until I can find something that I don't hate (I've given up being so picky as to hope for finding something that I like).

So. I've been faced with a situation that might rouse me out of my personal doldrums and into action. Happy 25th birthday, Kirk. Now grow up and do something.

(Confession: it sounds more tempthing now than ever to drop out of everything and create a new situation somewhere... if only I hadn't spent all the cash on this trip! Well, I am sitting directly in front of several hundred dollars worth of engineering textbooks; maybe this is where I start.)

Preparing to close out 2005

I'm trying to organize my thoughts to write a short story about my experiences in 2005... so why not scribble them online instead of in my notebook for now?

2005 was a year on the road...

  • Started on Bourbon St. in New Orleans
  • Travel to Mojave for X PRIZE Foundation internship: Urbana, IL to St. Louis, MO to College Station, TX to Big Bend National Park, TX (hail and the top of Emery Peak and more hail) to Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX (top of Guadalupe Peak in the moonlight) to Tucson, AZ to Saguaro National Park, AZ (which is really in Tucson) to Las Vegas, NV (to spend $370+ on new brakes) to Mojave, CA
  • Weekend trip to Yosemite National Park with Brian Woodard and Mike Conti, who is on his first campout ever but doesn't complain about the combination of leaky tent and sub-40 weather
  • The greatest or second-greatest weekend trip ever, a weekend trip to Death Valley National Park with Brian Woodard; climb Corkscrew Peak, explore the end of Mosaic Canyon, watch the sun rise from the dunes at Stovepipe Wells, camp in the freezing cold at Wildrose campground, watch the sun set from Death Valley Buttes
  • Weekend trip to an LA Dodgers game
  • Weekend trip to Joshua Tree National Park, solo; hike down to Lost Palms Oasis and Victory Palms
  • Weekend trip to Brookey-B's parents' house at the end of the world: Trona, CA; ride a four-wheeler; hike out to pristine Panamint Dunes with Dana and Brian
  • Weekend trip to Joshua Tree National Park with Brian Woodard, Sarah someone, and Surjeet; guide the group back to Victory Palms, hike amongst the Joshua trees, then back to Huntington Beach
  • Weekend trip to Death Valley National Park, solo, backpacking 5-miles up Surprise Canyon; to get to Surprise Canyon I have to borrow Fernando's truck and learn how to drive a manual transmission; get stumped by the snow above the Panamint City ghost town and abort a trip to the top of Sentinel Peak; break Fernando's truck somehow...
  • Weekend trip to Mojave National Preserve, get a little lost trying to find Fountain Peak without a map
  • Weekend trip to Death Valley National Park with Dana, Brian, and Grant; explore the Racetrack and top of Ubehebe Peak waaaaay off the main road; get kicks at the top of Eureka Dunes
  • Trip to Washington, DC for the Goddard Memorial Symposium
  • Trip to Washington, DC for the International Space Development Conference
  • Return from Mojave: Mojave, CA to Reno, NV to Lava Beds National Monument, CA to Portland, OR to Seattle, WA to Ochoco National Forest, OR to McCall, ID to Missoula, MT to Bismarck, ND to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ND to Park Rapids, MN to Ingersoll Scout Reservation, IL
  • Trip to Fukuoka, Japan for the Space Generation Congress and International Astronautical Congress
  • Weekend trip to visit Taro at Texas A&M
  • Weekend trip to Boston to visit Surjeet and conquer Mt. Washington in New Hampshire
  • Near-spontaneous trip to Toronto, Ontario to help with the International Lunar Conference and the re-establishment of SEDS-Canada
  • Trip to Las Vegas, NV to help with the Return to the Moon conference; make $60 on craps; meet the lovely Megha in person for the first time; return to Mojave for a reunion before heading out to Manhattan Beach
  • Trip to Houston to present at the American Astronautical Society's national conference
  • 2005 will conclude in India

I've got my visa

Visa: check. Plane ticket: check. Immunizations: scheduled for Thursday.

Wooooo, this excursion is really going to happen! Now I just need to finalize my itinerary (which I can't do until Megha is at home in Ambala around December 10) and collect addresses from people who want postcards.

Oh -- just got an email from Sandhya, an Australian friend from the Space Generation Congress. There's a small chance that I might be able to meet up with her in India while she is visiting family. And my "boss" from the project in Mojave will be flying into New Delhi around January 15 en route to somewhere for a 3-month music school; I may be able to meet up with her, too.

Please just give me my visa and stop making me go to Chicago

Today marked Day #2 of the not-so-incredible Indian visa saga. Day #1 came last Friday, when I failed to make it to the Indian consulate in Chicago before the 12:30pm visa application deadline. As it turns out, the drive from Lewistown to Newman to Champaign to Chicago plus extra time to discover where the damned NBC building was added up to nearly six hours of travel. Strike one.

Day #2 was a bit more interesting, though I still do not have my visa in hand. Let me break this down for you. The Chicago Indian Consulate web page says that I should have been able to retrieve my visa on the same day that I deposited the application. But after depositing my visa application -- at 10:30am this time, well before the deadline -- I was told that I could pick up my visa starting at 4:00pm the next day.

OK. This was a foul ball, not a swing and a miss... but it's strike 2 nonetheless. Let me tell you what the unexpected delay did. First of all, I opted not to take my car to Chicago, understanding what a pain it is to park it for the entire day and how much I would hate myself for having to drive in morning and evening rush hour traffic. Instead, I took the train. To get to Union Station in Chicago with a reasonable time margin, the train departing from Bloomington had a more favorable schedule than the one departing Champaign. However, the train would leave Chicago at 5:15pm, leaving almost no margin for the theoretical visa pickup time range. The train returning to Champaign was more favorable. But my car would be in Bloomington. This bit of complexity was fixed by taking the Amtrak bus from Champaign to Bloomington, albeit the next day in late afternoon. Fine, no big deal, but had I known that I couldn't pick up my visa until the day, I either would have stayed the night in Chicago or have taken the train back to Bloomington and then drove home. Argh.

Preparing for India

Now I've completely lost my mind...

Tomorrow morning, I'm driving up to Chicago to stop at the Indian Embassy to pick up my visa for a trip to India. I'm currently at my parents' house in Lewistown, where I spent Thanksgiving. The drive from here to Chicago is typically a three-hour tour, but -- and there's always a but when you're travelling with me -- I first have to drive out of my way to my apartment in Newman to pick up my passport. This will add... about two extra hours to the journey all because I wasn't attentive enough to pick it up as I left on Wednesday. Ah well, as long as I find some coffee early on the trip I'll be OK.

So -- India. Wow. This is the exclamation point to a sincerely crazy 2005 for me, a year-long excursion that started on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, took me to my four-month home in the Mojave Desert of California, and then saw me off to places like Seattle and Missoula and Houston and Boston and DC and Japan. Now -- India.

My itinerary looks something like this... and this is a very rough sketch since I'd rather be in bed right now...

  1. Wed Dec 28: Chicago to New Delhi
  2. Thurs Dec 29: Chicago to New Delhi
  3. Fri Dec 30: New Delhi
  4. Sat Dec 31: Rajasthan
  5. Sun Jan 1: Rajasthan
  6. Mon Jan 2: Rajasthan
  7. Tues Jan 3: Ambala
  8. Wed Jan 4: Shimla
  9. Thurs Jan 5: Shimla
  10. Fri Jan 6: Ambala to Allahabad
  11. Sat Jan 7: Allahabad
  12. Sun Jan 8: Allahabad to Kolkata
  13. Mon Jan 9: Kolkata
  14. Tues Jan 10: Kolkata
  15. Wed Jan 11: Kolkata
  16. Thurs Jan 12: Kolkata to Mumbai
  17. Fri Jan 13: Kolkata to Mumbai
  18. Sat Jan 14: Mumbai
  19. Sun Jan 15: Mumbai
  20. Mon Jan 16: Mumbai to New Delhi
  21. Tues Jan 17: New Delhi
  22. Wed Jan 18: New Delhi to Chicago

I'll have to go into more detail some other time, but not tonight. I need some rest before heading off on my visa adventure tomorrow. It feels so funny to have $150 in cash in my pocket--checks and credit cards are not allowed for the visa purchase. Off to bed... and we'll see if my Indian friends have any comments for me when I check back in here.

Country Music Marathon, Nashville

Country Music Marathon, Nashville, TN, April 29, 2006

My first marathon experience at the Chicago Marathon in October wasn't enough to turn me away from running. If anything, since the Chicago race, I've been looking for another race to motivate me to start training again in earnest. I've probably run less total in the last 6 weeks than did during the marathon itself. What a crappy way to get trained to race.

The goal in Chicago was to qualify for the Boston Marathon, which would require me to run a 3:10 marathon for my age group. Was I close? ...no. Was I stupid? ...yes. At the start of the race, I got in the opening line at the 4:45 pace group (that's 4 hours and 45 minutes for the marathon, NOT 4 minutes and 45 seconds per mile). Upside: I got to pass more than 10,000 people during the race. Downside: I finished at 3:36:55.

Yewston

Hello from Houston. Just recently, I discovered how to relax again. In the last two months I've been to Toronto and Japan and now Houston, all while wrapping up my role as the organizer of the 2005 SEDS-USA national conference. And now I'm in Houston, or if I'm hearing the locals correctly, Yewston. Then it's back to Illinois and business as usual (granted no business has been usual since I left for Mojave).

My next stop in December may be India. I'm still working that trip out, i.e. I'm waiting for my next paycheck to purchase one of the new roundtrip tickets between Chicago O'Hare and New Delhi. Why go? Most significant reason: good friends. Through my work in SEDS, I've met a few very good friends that are travelling home to visit their families, or in one case, staying at home with his family. I will be trying to visit Megha, whose home is in Ambala (north of New Delhi); Pradeep from Mumbai; and Palash from Kolkata. Perhaps I might even be able to visit Sandhya, one of the great girls I met at the Space Generation Congress--she gets bonus points for being Australian (as far as I'm concerned all Australians get bonus points for being... well... Australian).

From my Japan trip--my first trip overseas--I learned to enjoy the feeling of being lost in a place that was strange to me. Sure there were signs written in English, and many of the store owners or taxi drivers knew enough English to get my what I wanted, whether it was a coffee or a ride to the airport. It's a feeling of helplessness, almost of going backwards in time or maturity to a place where I was unsure of any of the decisions that I could make. Waiting waiting for the "a-ha!" moment when the meaning of the environment falls into place--understanding when a faux pas is about to happen and observing the situation in order to prevent it. It's a feeling where the simplest sign (that I can't read) becomes art and the conversation on the street (that I can't understand) becomes music. Travel abroad was, to me, an escape to a place where I had to learn the situation on the fly, as opposed to everyday life with its routines that I have stopped thinking about--rote, mechanical movements.

That's a major reason that I'm travelling, not just for the girls. I can use this space to discuss my plans so that they can be critiqued. Two birds with one stone: filler material for the blog and travel suggestions from the wise.

Journals

The "Mojave" posts were done w/ pen and paper in the first journal that I ever used. That was a journal that I miss using -- a small, moleskin journal that could easily fit in my back pocket or the breast pocket of my shirt. It resisted damage from being dropped on rocks and sliding down sand dunes (not to mention the torment of being stuck in my back pocket). My first post in this journal was on the trip down to St. Louis on my way to Mojave. My last is the post prior to this blog post: the journey Epilogue. Now, it's retired, on a shelf, staring at me when I come home... asking for another trip.

Nowadays, I have a larger version of the Mojave journal for day-to-day use. It doesn't fit in any of my shirt pockets, and only in selected pants pockets. For excursions, such as my recent trip to Fukuoka, Japan, I carry smaller journals--the same size as the Mojave journal, but fewer pages and of less durability. They're only meant for one small trip and can be tucked into the larger journal when it is completed.

Why am I talking about writing materials? Just thinking about writing in an electronic format makes me nervous. Consider this a warmup.

Return from Mojave, Epilogue

There was no indication in the background music of life to say that the scene had changed. This is, apparently, a construct that exists only in Hollywood or on primetime drama on television. The truth is this: the scene is always changing. The scene? The scene is now -- where I am, what I'm doing, how I feel -- the scene is now. After a trip such as this, I expected a fanfare to announce that I had returned to my home state with evolved skills, a new self-awareness, and permission to change the world.

These three thing sall occurred. And the reason for no fanfare is simple: the scene is always changing, and no composer will survive continuously writing the thrilling notes that draw attention to the change in plot or action.

In other words, I believe that I learned this: I should not wait, with one ear cocked skyward to detect that something new is eminent. Rather, I should understand that there is a constant current of enlightenment that is always moving and whispering. I returned from the West hoping to find a single moment of breakthrough, an "a-ha!" that I could use as a lesson to enhance my character. I sought out places of great beauty and enormous desolation. I traveled to these places, looked into their hearts and my own, and discovered greatness. But I also found this greatness in unexpected places -- in wrong turns, long drives, and friends' homes. The current of life is everywhere and everytime.

In less general terms (I hope) -- the opportunity always exists to discover what capabilities I possess, what character I have, what I want to do with the fortunate life that I have. To roughly quote Prefontaine -- to give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift. Though I found it easy to assess my gifts in immense vistas and rocky peaks, I also found it was possible to recognize my gifts in everyday life. Now it is time to train, to give my best. This is what I have to offer the world every day. Evolution on a personal scale. I will be a leader of leaders, I know this now and I can live with this in mind in times of personal greatness and average-ness and low-ness.

This is the end of one road and one trip but there are many more to follow. What lessons there will be to learn, what sunsets there will be to experience, what life there will be to live.

Illinois to Mojave and back again. The experience of life can only go on from here.