Scroll to the bottom of the page for the Math Geek Adventures blog archive.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ski Seaons 2012-13 Begins

The Mission Mountains from Lavelle Chairlift.
Alex and his new stache.
The snow waited to come this year: at Thanksgiving the mountains were still pretty barren, but then the snow arrived in early December, and pretty quickly conditions at Snowbowl and elsewhere in Montana were good.

We've been out quite a few days already, mostly at Snowbowl, but with one trip to Lost Trail. The skiing at the Bowl has been great for early season, but it's been rocky, and over the course of the past few weeks, my skis have made the transition to 'rock skis' due to the myriad early season hits they've taken. Lost Trail, on the other hand, is already deeply buried in white. Jen and I had a great powder day there before the kids got out of school for their Christmas holiday.

Alex has been getting out tons with his buddies this year, which is cool. He's not doing the freestyle ski team, but Ellie is. She seems to be loving it and her new powder skis, which have biased her toward only wanting to ski powder runs. It's amazing the effect equipment has.
Ellie's outfit is pretty dialed in this year.
Early season is always a trial for me on the physical front. My left knee gives me trouble, and I've never been one to moderate well -- I'm just an all or nothing kind of guy. As I write I'm on a self imposed couple of days (at least) rest after two days that have left my knee sore. Anyway, I hope the knee comes around. It did last year, once I made the switch to alpine and got back to work again so that multiple days per week was no longer possible.

There are a couple of ways to look at the body aging and not being able to hold up to what you'd like to do with it: despair and acceptance. It's clear which path is the healthy one. You've got to adjust. Life is a teacher. The body is a teacher. I'm a reluctant student.

On Jan 1, I'm off to New Zealand for work and two weeks off of my skis, which will probably actually be good. Hopefully I'm blessed with some good conditions at St. Clair beach, where I'll be staying with my surfboard in tow. It's summer down there. Amazing how the tilt of our planet and 7,000 feet of elevation take one from summer on the beach in NZ to the winter wonderland in the below picture taken at Snowbowl a couple of weeks ago. Given such a delicate balance, how could anyone imagine that climate change wouldn't be a fact of life on earth.
Winter wonderland early December.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Wound Too Tight

Balance is a difficult thing to achieve. Your life pulls at you from many directions, each of which requires a different kind and/or amount of energy. This would be great if what was easiest or most natural was also most important, but in fact you can't gauge the importance of a responsibility by how easily you take to it.

For example, I feel that I'm well suited to my work. It demands a lot from me, but for the most part I know how to apply my energy and see a result that I'm happy with. On the other hand, in some more complicated and important areas of my life, I'm often unsure where to put my energy and find that pushing is frequently the wrong approach.

And yet pushing is what I do well. It works with my job, and so more opportunity and responsibility come, which means I'm busier. Pretty soon I'm wound too tight and find myself trying to fit a square peg in a round hole in other areas of my life.

My father's gift as a parent (and human being) was that he knew how to back away, to live and let live. Paradoxically, this way of not-pushing and withdrawing energy is actually harder for me than taking action. It brings to mind the Tao Te Ching which I've quoted here before and should return to:

The highest good is like water.
Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.
In dwelling, be close to the land.
In meditation, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
In speech, be true.
In ruling, be just.
In business, be competent.
In action, watch the timing.
No fight: No blame.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving with Grandma Jane in Southeast Texas

At the Pompano Club, Thanksgiving dinner.
This Thanksgiving, Alex and I took a trip to visit my 85 year old grandmother in Pt. Neches, Texas. My brother, the kids, and I are Grandma Jane's only blood relatives. She's my father's mother.

Grandma was born in Miles City, Montana in 1927 and lived there through her high school years. Her mother had also been born and raised in Miles City, but her father (Bill Leavitt) was an East Coast transplant; he came out to Montana after law school in Michigan (Grandma said he drew straws with a law school friend over who would take the Montana job), spent his professional life as a lawyer in Miles City, and even spent a few terms in Helena as a State Representative. In fact, the law firm he started in Miles City still exists under a different name: Lucas and Tom P.C., see this link for more detail.

Grandma's stories of growing up in Miles City include visits to Indian camps, the nearby army fort, spying on local people visiting the red light district (for which she spent a night in jail), and visits to the ranch of the Brewsters who were local ranching royalty link. Grandma tells stories specifically about Lyman Brewster, who it seems was also trained as a lawyer, but from Grandma's description was a hard drinking fellow who had burned most of his fingers off falling into a camp fire as a kid and could handle a horse like no other.

Grandma married my grandfather Barney, who was ten years her senior, in her early twenties. They moved to Billings where my dad spent his growing up years. Around the time Dad went to MSU for college, Grandma and Grandpa moved to southeast Texas for a business opportunity with Barney's brother. Not many years later (before my parents met) Barney was shot and killed.

Grandma was traumatized by the death of her husband, but eventually came out of it and remarried a local fellow named Homer Wallace, who was a fun-loving, crude-humored,  hard working, honorable Texan. He died a couple of years back and had been sufficiently miserly that though his station in life had been modest, he was able to give one million dollars to Lamar University to establish the Wallace Chair in Fine Arts (link) when he died.

In addition to the shock of losing her husband violently, Grandma also lost her son, my dad, to murder here in Missoula in 1999. Most people in her position would have simply given up at this point, but she has persevered, even now alone in Texas, she still enjoys life and so fights on. She's still feisty and enjoys verbal sparring.

And she loved Alex, who is an ideal person to have along on such a trip. He charmed her effortlessly and she raised her game because of his presence. Her and I are both combative, so we have a tendency to banter and argue, but with Alex there it ended up the best visit in recent memory.  I hope we're able to get down there one more time, hopefully with Ellie in tow, who Alex says Grandma Jane reminds him of.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Cyclocross Season 2012

Gathering after one of the early races this season.
The end of cyclocross season is already weeks back. Here in Missoula, we have a six week Wednesday night series, culminating in Montana's largest cross race, Rolling Thunder. This year, I made it to all but the last race and Rolling Thunder, which I hated to miss, but overall it was a great season.

For me, cyclocross season is foremost about the many trips, ostensibly for training, that I make around Mt. Sentinel: from my office at UM, out the Kim Williams trail, some variation up Deer Creek Canyon, and then down Pattee Canyon. During fall, I've come to prefer Deer Creek Canyon to Missoula's more popular spots. Maybe it's because I feel alone back there most days, or that the larch trees explode with color in October, or perhaps it's just the repitition: with each lap, the canyon's imprint on me deepens.
larch turning golden
But cyclocross season is also about the races, because they drive me to ride more and harder, they bring me together with a community of bike lovers, and they feed that competitive itch that I love to scratch. Missoula's cyclocross race series brings color to my fall, much like the larch trees whose needles have now fallen.
more of the same.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Shoulder Season

I'm not a hunter, so November is a shoulder season for me. And there's a shoulder frame of mind: more peaceful, grounded, and unhurried. In the frenetic activity of summer and its extension into October, some key things are overlooked. November is a time to take stock, reassess, recommit, replenish stores. But time is flying and there's a lot left to do, so I won't be resting long.


Missoula Valley from the trail up to Lolo Peak.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Three peaks in one week, or wringing the last vestiges of summer dry

The Rattlesnake Wilderness from Stuart Peak.
October has been an extremely busy month for me. It kicked off with a week-long visit from Ralph Smith, a math professor at North Carolina State University, followed immediately for three days by my former PhD student Aaron Luttman, who is now working as a mathematician/senior scientist for the Department of Energy on nuclear energy applications.

October has also been extremely beautiful here in Missoula. In fact, it's been as nice of a fall as I can remember, probably in part because I've been able to get into the mountains a lot; as always, I feel a sense of urgency with winter looming.

On the weekend that Ralph left and Aaron arrived, the weather in Missoula was as fine as it gets, and so I took both visitors on separate hikes: the first on Saturday, with Ralph and current long-term visitor Heikki Haario (a Finn), to Lolo Peak; and the next on Sunday with Aaron to Cha-paa-qn Peak, which sits prominently on the northwest edge of the Missoula valley. We got an early start on both days, had spectacular weather and incredible views from the top.

Unfortunately, my camera ran out of batteries on Lolo (the alpine larch and views were stunning), but a few of Aaron's pictures from Cha-paa-qn are below, but I do have pictures from my hike with Jen up Stuart Peak in the Rattlesnake (which I can see from my office window) the next weekend, on another perfect day. Those pictures are what accompanies this blog.
fall colors with Pudge the dog

view from the top of Stuart Peak to the west.

Pudge with Mosquito and McCleod Peaks in the background, from Stuart Peak, Mission Mtns far in the distance.
on top with Jen.

Twin Lakes from Stuart Peak.
Aaron on Cha-paa-qn

Bitterroots from Chapaaqn

Missions from Chapaaqn

Glacier Peaks to the north from Chapaaqn

me on the summit

Aaron from summit.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Spanish Peaks with Al Parker

Spanish Peaks at Summit Lake.
This fall has been an excellent one for getting out into the high country, albeit usually without the family in tow. The weather has been stellar, various friends have shown an interest in joining me, and the kids have erected an effective stone wall for deflecting my attempts at planning family wilderness trips (with the exception of Storm Lake -- see the blog last entry). Jen reminds me that not many share my passion for wilderness.

Al Parker is an old grad school friend of mine. He's another PhD mathematician from Montana State U, but has taken a different path than I. He's now a statistician at the Center for Biofilm Engineering at MSU. He's got a sweet gig (maybe even better than being a professor), a sweet family, and lives in an amazing place, Bozeman.

The last time Al and I got together for a backpack trip was five or six years ago when we went into the Lolo Peak area and did the Sweeney-Lolo Peaks traverse.  This year, our plan was to meet in the Pintlers, but the smoke was so bad (this was back in mid-September) that after meeting for breakfast in Butte we continued east, away from the smoke, eventually settling on the Spanish Peaks near Bozeman, a place I'd been wanting to do a trip for some time. It didn't disappoint.

We hiked nine miles or so into the incomparable Summit Lake, spent the night, and then hiked the remaining 15 miles or so the next day, with a side trip to the awesome Gallatin Peak. The scenery was grand, the weather good, the smoke not as bad as in Butte and Missoula, and the companionship as good as it gets.
Al filtering water at Summit Lake

High on the Spanish Peaks
Summit Lake and Gallatin Peak

Al with the route to the summit of Gallatin Peak in the background, day 2.

Mountain goats day 2.

Looking back the way we'd come, Gallatin Peak.

Al and Indian Ridge.

Fall colors.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Storm Lake, Pintlers

Jen and Mt. Howe.
The weather over the past month or so has been consistently dry and sunny. That makes for great fall days, if not for the persistent smoke we've been seeing here in Western Montana.

This past weekend we got away from Missoula and went camping at Storm Lake in the Pintlers, less than a two hour drive from our house. It was incredibly difficult to leave town. First, there's the work of packing for such a short trip (Jen always says, "That's why people don't do this kind of thing."), and then the far more difficult work of making it happen in the midst of teenage misery at having to leave town with the family.

Once we got there, we did a short walk toward Twin Lakes to the divide separating the two drainages and then headed off-trail to a noname lake I like to visit when I can. It is a beautiful place, the alpine larch were turning, fall was in the air, and eventually harmony prevailed. 

MORE BELOW


Alpine Larch turning

Chillin at the noname lake.

Ellie near the noname lake

Alex and Ellie (hidden)
Chillin at sunset

Little Rainbow Mtn.
In the morning, I set the alarm for 5am and went for a walk up to the top of Little Rainbow Mtn. The first hour of the hike was in the dark, and then nearing the summit, the sky lightened. I went down the other side of Little Rainbow with the intent of climbing Mt. Howe, but cut the loop short. Pudge (the dog) was having trouble in the scree with his gimpy back leg and I was dreaming of breakfast at the Seven Gables. We were back on the road by 10am, a successful stay in the bag.
Morning hike up Little Rainbow.

sunrise shot

another

Kurt and Queener Peaks ('Come climb me," they're saying) with Upper Seymore Lake. 
same shot with the moon


Rainbow and the nearly full moon.
Pudge, looking down Twin Lakes drainage.