Sunday, December 20, 2009

Air Rifling

On my quest to try as many new things as possible, I accepted an invitation from my friend Andre to join him at a Benchrest Air Rifle Competition this past Saturday. I had shot one time in his backyard (air rifles are cool that way) and thought it was very intriguing. It takes a lot of skill to hold the rifle steady as you launch a little lime seed sized lead pellet to a very small (1 inch inch diameter) target 20 yards away using only air as the propellent.
How could I turn down an offer to go to an indoor firing range way out in the middle of the woods about an hour south of seattle and look into this very small but specialized subculture.

There were a couple of small kids, a couple of guys my age, and a lot of 60 year old geeky air rifle enthusiasts. All very nice people.

This sport is all about the gear. I over heard the classic letter and number dominated conversations that went on for ever. "You shooting a 300 with 22 on an R11 at 20?" "Yeah, I like the 75 K100 with the 26 much better" (or something like that). Interesting how all hobbies like this have their lingo. I think of motorcycle lingo with all the brands and models and parts or of climbing lingo with weird words like bomber and jengus and manky that once you are indoctrinated into the culture, it all makes perfect sense. But as an outsider sounds completely like a bunch of techno gibberish.

It was a fun day doing something I had never done. I have to say that air rifling is pretty cool. Something about hitting a bullseye 2mm across at 20 meters away with a pellet smaller than a pea using only air that is satisfying. There are guys at this competition who can do it 98 out of a hundred times in a row. Impressive.
More photos at this flickr site

Friday, December 18, 2009

Swing in Thailand

As Jon's post says it so well, when in Thailand it is best to adapt the attitude of Mai ben lai (meaning in this matter- no problem).
Normally, I am opposed to Golfing. I have an issue with the fertilizers and the obscene amounts of water that go into creating and maintaining a golf course and therefore want nothing to do with the game (it is a game by the way, not a sport).

Well, when Jonathan Siegrest (who is also opposed to golf) suggested that we give it a shot while in Thailand, I first turned my head the other way. "I'm not wasting my time here doing that." But then Jon kept pushing saying how much of a crack up it would be for two people who have pretty much never swung a club before to ride up to a course on a little scooter and make the best out of nine holes, I finally gave with a mai ben lai.

We found the cheapest course that was decent. Nine holes will set you back 120 Baht (4 dollars) with a mandatory caddy (2.5 dollars) and golf club rental (7 dollars). We split the rental.
So with clubs thrown over the shoulder we strut outside to find our caddy's- two thai women- smiling and unsuspecting of what they were about to get into.
We looked around and saw that other people were swinging their clubs around while waiting to hit the ball at the first hole so we grab a big club and start to do the same. Then we see a guy actually drive his first ball, and immediately start to have second thoughts.
"I can't do that," I say. Jon looks a little red in the face and also feels discomfort at having to go up to the tee and swing the club around.
Up we go, the caddy hands us the right club and we have to joke around with them for a while so that they let us drive the ball from the furthest forward tee.
They give in and instantly realize after our performance (see the video below) that this was going to be a different sort of caddy experience.

9 holes later we manage to improve our skills. After many instances of fishing the ball out of the water, slicing our ways out of sandtraps, putting our way from one side of the green to the other, and letting faster parties pass us, we finished up being able to hit the ball in about the direction we wanted to and with a big smile on our face. A little fried pork with basil and some vegetarian fried rice back at club house allowed us to reflecton the new experience.

I think it was something we had a really good time doing. I hadn't laughed so hard for such a long period of time in a while. We were happy that we were forced to get caddies. At first we didn't want to, but we had to. Let me tell you that this made the experience much richer. Not only did we get to play a new game, we had a great cultural interaction while doing it. We pushed our Thai as far as we could and learned quite a bit about always smiling no matter what happens. Well worth 10 bucks spent on the day.

On this video, the green is across the water. We had an ants nest chance in Thailand (Thai people go crazy for ants nests because of the eggs inside) of keeping our balls out of the water. Splash!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

2 weddings and cipro

I was going to write a bunch about going to two fantastic wedding while we were in thailand and about taking Cipro at the second wedding because by going South I always get sick. As if by default. However, I keep putting the writing off (as I am now in the midst of planning for the big moto trip from Seattle to Argentina) so I thought I'd just post this video of a bunch of riding up to the wedding in Doi Ang Khang. The second part of the road from Chiang Mai to Doi Ang Khang is one of my favorite motorcycling roads that I have ever ridden. See my post on the Tour-de-Rain and the caving adventure about this fantastic area.

And here are some photos of the look out now built over the valley of caves. Mary (pronounced Maelly) runs this stand and lives in the valley below. She asked if I wanted to build a house down there and live. I said I'd think about it. And I am seriously thinking about it. Anyone want to invest in a house in a remote valley on the thai burmese border that is inhabited by Chinese who had to leave China during the cultural revolution. You can have all the oranges and avocado you can eat.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Roller skating in Virginia Beach

I don't have too much to say about this except I found these files on my phone. We were in Virginia Beach back in September and decided to go roller skating with Megan brother, greg, and his daughter Lili. Correctly speaking, that makes them my brother and niece.

Picture a room packed (over 100) with 13 year olds and then us. I started to feel the immense insecurity of being that age. Not a good feeling.
But roller skating was fun.

a 2 hour haircut

Normally, when it comes to cutting my hair, I view this as a necessary evil in my life and attempt to get it done as quickly as possible. In fact, I purposefully choose a barber shop in seattle, Magnolia Barber, where the women that cut hair don't really speak english so that I can get in and out of there without having to say much. It's nothing against the people who cut my hair, its just one of those things that I have never felt comfortable doing.

However, the haircutting experience in Thailand is a whole different thing. Here, getting your hair cut is only a small part of the experience. Yesterday, I went and got the detox and hair cut. The detox is essentially a 1 hour shampooing of my hair/ scalp. I lied there (still slightly jet lagged) for and hour as a woman massaged and rubbed my scalp and neck into pure bliss. These pictures are of my friends Josh and Cacci also getting the same treatment.

After that, they dry your hair, and rub down your shoulders for 15 minutes. Then, a guy comes and cuts my hair which takes around 1/2 hour, and then it is followed by a final shampooing (and massage). All this costs... 20 dollars. Worth the price of the flight. Why can't we get this kind of service in the states? I might actually look forward to a hair cut.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Back in Thailand

You know you are back in Thailand when... there are ants climbing across your keyboard as you try to blog. In fact, I'm pretty sure there was an ant nest in my computer last time i was here.

But you also know you are back in Thailand when... you wake up in the morning, make the short trek (by riding three up on a motor scooter) to get Kao Man Gai with a friend you haven't seen in a year. Kao Man Gai is, literally translated, Rice with Chicken. And that really is all it is. You boil an entire chicken. Cook rice in the water used to boil the chicken. Cut up the chicken, put it on top of rice, pour a sauce of ginger, chili sauce, and vinegar over the top and sink into a blissful heaven. It sounds simple, but there is certainly an art to the way it is put together, and our favorite place, aptly nicknamed "smiling chicken with fork" does it like none other. the woman who runs the place always remembers us and I get to push the limits of my Thai as I explain what we have been up to for the last year and why we are in town. We laugh about how cold it is right now (lows of 60 at night) and how I come all the way over from the states to eat her food.

We arrived in Thailand for a 3 week trip. We have two couples that are getting married within 5 days of each other so we had to come over and visit. Amazingly, this place still feels like home. From the minute we stepped off the airplane, I feel like i belong here. The thai script which always keeps me entertained trying to decipher it. The obsession with food that thais have. The fantastic community of friends that we have here.
One friend is Dao. When Dao started dating our good friend Jeff a few years ago it was like instantly adding a best friend to my life. She is a unique person in her ability to mesh her culture (Northern Thai) with her curiosity about the rest of the world. She has the ability to see outside of her personal world perspective and be open to any all new ideas. If only we could all be so open in our lives, I'm sure that the world would be a better place.
So we are staying at Dao's place while we are here which is about 2 blocks away from where we used to live when we lived here. She has opened up her place to use so it quite feels like I can slip back into my old life here with a home in a great neighborhood.
The plan is to be in Chiang Mai for a couple of days, then hop on the motorcycle and drive about 3 hours north of here to Doi Ang Kang. This is where my post about caving takes place and a place we first discovered on the tour de rain a couple of years ago. Last year, when I showed to area to my good friend Josh, I think it got the wheels turning in his head about a place to get married, and sure enough this is where he is going to have his wedding. It is going to be a hell of time. Josh does nothing on the sly, so when him and Kat decided to get hitched in Doi Ang Kang, the befriended the head of the Royal Project National Park at Doi Ang Kang. Now, with the ultimate connection, they are throwing the ultimate wedding in one of the more lovely places in the world.
After that, we head to another wedding on a remote island in Southern Thailand (read tropical beach paradise) for our friends Kieran and Heather.
Then it is back to Chiang Mai for a couple weeks of caving.

I will try my darndest to post more as we start the indulgent adventures of bubbs and bubs phase two.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fullfilling my lifelong dream

It all started back when I was young. I seem to remember it as being when I was in 7th grade or so, but an internet search shows it as March 1991. National Geographic ran an article about the discovery and subsequent exploration of the Lechuguilla Cave. I remember being glued to the images and actually reading the text of the article (as opposed to doing what most of us do which is to only look at the pictures). This was something that I wanted to do when I grew up! Find a new cave, keep it a secret, and spend some serious time exploring, mapping and and discovering a new world right here on this planet. Who wouldn't want to do that?
As readers of this blog might already know, a lot of my time in Thailand has been spent searching out limestone areas and obsessing over scoping out new caves.
The good news: there are tons of caves in thailand.
The bad news: most locals know about all of them.
The good news part 2: In general thai people are afraid to go inside caves because they are full of ghosts.
The bad news 2: There are plenty of people who aren't afraid to go in them.
The good news 3: While on a motorcycle ride (see article: Tour de Rain) in an area where hardly any cave hardy tourists go, I scoped what I thought to be the future of caving in Northern Thailand.
The bad news 3: I ran out of time in Thailand to get the opportunity to go back and see what lay underground.

Well... here I am back in thailand for a 6 week vacation and I was able to talk my buddy Josh into going up to this area to see what we could find. He speaks fluent Thai which was helpful when talking to the farmers. Almost everyone we talked to knew of a cave in his orchard or of a cave on that hill over there. We spent two days following creeks into the hillside. We found lead after lead of potentially new stuff, the most promising of which was an enormous entrance with a creek gushing into it and a big drop 1/4 mile into the cave. When picking apples from a heavily laden tree, you might as well pluck the low hanging fruit first, eh? We can leave the other river flowing into cracks for later.

We put together a team of 4, grabbed every static rope we could find and headed back up last week for a 3 day event. Like me, Josh was giddy. The possibilities that lay in this cave were massive. During our scoping adventure, we had stood at the edge of a drop with water pouring down and a steady breeze at our back (for cavers, a breeze indicates ongoing passage- the air has to be going somewhere, right?). What was down that drop. Where did the water go? Would we be able to find the basement level of this system with some massive underground stream flowing into Burma? How big was thing going to be? Were we the first to ever go in here?

I won't give a blow by blow, but we found what is for sure the deepest recorded cave in thailand and might just be the longest (we were lazy and didn't map it). Three days of exploration resulted in rappel after rappel, the longest of which is a 65 meter free hanging tube plunging straight down into earth. It took a rock 3-4 seconds to hit the ground after we threw it off. That's long enough to not be able to see the bottom from the top using our headlamps. The system holds untold complexity.
We found fossil passage that hasn't been altered in what I think to be really long time (100,000 years). We found large bat populations and animals that live off the bats and bat poop (giant translucent cave leeches, blind cave crickets with 10 cm long antennae, wacky cave centipedes with extra long legs). We found enormous mud cracks positioned on mud with large stalagmites growing on top, a utah style slot canyon that goes on for 2 km or so, giant columns, cave pearls, 100 meter high rooms 500 meters below the surface of the earth. We left untold booming passages unexplored (for now).
It was 3 days of what I would consider to be absolute underground bliss. Often, we would have to stop for a second to look at each other and remind ourselves of the coolness of what we were doing. This was it, for three days I couldn't think of anything else in the world I'd rather be doing. I had been dreaming of this moment for most of my life. We found the holy grail for cavers. Massive unexplored passage. We figured we were the first humans on the planet to see these rooms and it wasn't just a puny cave. It is huge!
In 56 hours, we were underground for 29. Many of our friends asked if we got an itch to see the sun after being underground for 8 hours. The answer is a resolute "no." I could have easily camped in this thing and stayed under for days on end. The only thing that made us turn around at the end of an 11 hour day, was that we told a guy on the surface that we would check in with him at 10pm. We were focused and our hearts were gleeful.
Eventually, we were expected back in Chiang Mai. We cleaned up our ropes and rolled back in, stopping occasionally to buy a can of beer. We sat in the car, talking excitedly a moment and then silent and thoughtful the next. We were pondering what we had just done, and the fact that so much more adventure lay ahead.
I head back to America on Saturday, and for me, this cave will have to wait for the future. But my list of things I must do before I die is now a bit shorter. I still need to open that goat farm. Maybe I can do it at the mouth of this cave.

[Saluting a great flow feature. Actually, we were holding down the "ultra-bright" buttons on our lamps to get more light for the photo]

[Squeezing through a narrow section- the inner canyon is only about 5 meters deep, but the cave is around 40 meters tall here (at least we think- we couldn't really make out the ceiling)]

[Packing up gear to go into the cave. Next time, we will definitely sleep in the cave but this time we stayed at the killer place called the Happy House. 50 dollars a night rented us this enormous house with private patio and fire place]

[A big bat on the ground. He was alive, but couldn't seem to fly. We felt a bit guilty because it was probably us who caused him to fall to the ground. After all, they aren't too used to seing anything in this cave.]

Click on this photo for a slideshow of lots of images from the trip- captioned even