Archive | July, 2012

Chuck Yeager’s insane NF-104 crash… or “Holy shit, this guy’s hardcore”

28 Jul

Yes, it’s long. No, there are no Cliff’s Notes

Excerpted from Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff


Two extraordinary pieces of equipment were being developed specifically for ARPS. One was a space mission simulator, a device more realistic and sophisticated than the Mercury project simulator NASA had on the boards. The other was the NF-104, which was an F-104 with a rocket engine mounted over the tailpipe. The rocket engine used hydrogen peroxide and JP4 fuel and would deliver 6.000 pounds of thrust. It was like a super-afterburner. The main engine plus the regular afterburner would take you to about 60,000 feet, and when you cut in the rocket, and that would take you somewhere between 120,000 and 140,000 feet. At least that was what the engineers confidently assumed. The plan was that the ARPS students would run profiles on the space mission simulator, then put on silver pressure suits, space-flight style, and take the NF-104 up to 120,000 feet or more in a tremendous arc, affording up to two minutes of weightlessness. During this interval they could master the use of reaction controls, which were hydrogen-peroxide thrusters of the sort used in all vehicles above 100,000 feet, whether the X-15, the Mercury capsule, or the X-20.

The only problem was, nobody had ever wrung out the NF-104. Just how it would handle in the weak molecular structure of the atmosphere above 100,000 feet, what the limits of its performance envelope would be, nobody knew. The F-104 had been built as a high-speed interceptor, and when you tried to do other things with it, it became very “unforgiving,” as the expression went. Pilots were already beginning to crunch the F-104 simply because the engine flamed out and they fell to the ground with about as much glide as a set of car keys. But Yeager loved the damned ship. It went like a bat. As the commandant of ARPS, he seized the opportunity to test the NF-104 as if it had his name on it.

The main reason he would be testing it would be for use in the school, but there was an extra dividend. Whoever was the first to push the NF-104 to optimum performance was certain to set a new world record for altitude achieved by a ship taking off under its own power. The Soviets had set the current record, 113,980 feet, in 1961 with the E-66A, a delta-winged fighter plane. The X-2 and the X-15 had flown higher, but they had to be hauled aloft by a larger ship before their rockets were ignited. The Mercury and Vostok space vehicles were lifted to altitude by automated booster rockets, which were then disengaged and jettisoned. Of course, all aircraft records were losing their dazzle now that space flight had begun. It was getting to be like setting some sort of new record for railroad trains. Yeager hadn’t tried to break a record in the skied over Edwards since December 1953, ten years ago, when he had set a new speed mark of Mach 2.4 in the X-1A and had come down in the far side of the arc in the most horrendous bout with high-speed instability any man had ever survived. Now Yeager was back on the flight line again to go for broke, out by the shimmering mirage surface of Rogers Lake, under that pale-blue desert sky, and the righteous energy was flowing again… and through that wild unbroken beast… a few volts of that righteous old-time religion… well, that would be all right, too.

Yeager had taken the NF-104 up for three checkout flights, edging it up gradually toward 100,000 feet, where the limits of the envelope, whatever they were, would begin to reveal themselves. And now he was out on the flight line for the second of two major preliminary flights. Tomorrow he would let it all out and go for the record. It was another of those absolutely clear brilliant afternoons on the dome of the world. In the morning flight everything had gone exactly according to plan. He had taken the ship up to 108,000 feet after cutting in the rocket engine at 60,000. The rocket had propelled the ship up at a 50-degree angle of attack. One of the disagreeable sides of the ship was her dislike of extreme angles. At any angle greater than 30 degrees, her nose would pitch up, which was the move she made just before going into spins. But at 108,000 feet it was no problem. The air was so thin at that altitude, so close to being pure “space,” that the reaction controls, the hydrogen peroxide thrusts, worked beautifully. Yeager had only to nudge the sidearm hand controller by his lap and a thruster on top of the nose of the plane pushed the nose right down again, and he was in perfect position to re-enter the dense atmosphere below. Now he was going up for one final exploration of that same region before going for broke tomorrow.

At 40,000 feet Yeager began his speed run. He cut in the afterburner and it slammed him back in his seat, and he was now riding an engine with nearly 16,000 pounds of thrust. As soon as the Machmeter hit 2.2, he pulled back on the stick and started the climb. The afterburner would carry him to 60,000 feet before exhausting its fuel. At precisely that moment he thre the switch for the rocket engine… terrific jolt… He’s slammed back in his seat again. The nose pitches up to 70 degrees. The g-forces start rising. The desert sky starts falling away. He’s going straight up into the indigo. At 78,000 feet a light on the console… as usual… the main engine overheating from the tremendous exertion of the climb. He throws the switch, and shuts it down but the rocket is still accelerating. Who doesn’t know this feeling if he doesn’t! The bastards are fantastic! … One hundred thousand feet… He shuts down the rocket engine. He’s still climbing. The g-forces slide off… makes you feel like you’re pitching forward…

He’s weightless, coming over the top of the arc… 104.000 feet… It’s absolutely silent… Twenty miles up… The sky is almost black. He’s looking straight up into it, because the nose of the ship is pitched up. His angle of attack is still about 50 degrees. He’s over the top of the arc and coming down. He pushes the sidearm control to bring down the nose of the ship but the nose isn’t budging. It’s still pitched up! He hits the thruster again… Shit!… She won’t go down!… Now he can see it, the whole diagram… This morning at 108,000 feet the air was so thin it offered no resistance and you could easily push the nose down with the thrusters. At 104,000 feet the air remains just thick enough to exert aerodynamic pressure. The thrusters aren’t strong enough to overcome it… He keeps hitting the reaction controls… The hydrogen peroxide squirts out of the jet on the nose of the ship and doesn’t do a goddamned thing… He’s dropping and the nose is still pitched up… The outside of the envelope!… well, here it is, the sonofabitch… It doesn’t want to stretch… and here we go!…

The ship snaps into a flat spin. It’s spinning right over its center of gravity, like a pinwheel on a stick. He pushes the sidearm control again. The hydrogen peroxide is finished. He has 600 pounds of fuel left in the main engine but there’s no way to start it up. To relight the engine you have to put the ship nose down into a dive and force air through the intake duct to and start the engine windmilling to build up the rpms. Without rpms there’s no hydraulic pressure and without hydraulic pressure you can’t move the stabilizer wings on the tail and without the stabilizer wings you can’t control this bastard at the lower altitudes… He’s in a steady-state flat spin and dropping… He’s whirling around at a terrific rate… He makes himself keep his eyes pinned on the instruments… A little sightseeing at this point and it’s vertigo and you’re finished… He;s down to 80,000 feet and the rpms are dead zero… He’s falling 150 feet a second… 9,000 feet a minute… And what do I do next?… here in the jaws of the Gulp… I’ve tried A! – I’ve tried B! – The damned beast isn’t making a sound… just spinning around like a length of pipe in the sky… he has one last shot… the speed brakes, a parachute rig in the tail for slowing the ship down after a high-speed landing…

The altimeter keeps winding down… Twenty-five thousand feet… but the altimeter is based on sea level… He’s only 21,000 feet above the high desert… The slack’s running out… He pops the speed brake… Bango! – the chute catches with a jolt… it pulls the tail up… He pitches down… The spin stops. The nose is pointed down. Now he only has to jettison the chute and let her dive and pick up the rpms. He jettisons the chute… and the beast heaves up again! The nose goes back up in the air!… It’s the rear stabilizer wing… The leading edge is locked, frozen into the position of the climb to altitude. With no rpms and no hydraulic controls he can’t move the tail… The nose is pitched way above 30 degrees… Here she goes again… He has no rpms, no power, no more speed chute and only 180 knots airspeed… He’s down to 12,000 feet… 8,000 feet above the farm… There’s not a goddamned thing left in the manual or the bag of tricks or the righteousness of twenty years of military flying… Chosen or damned!… It blows at any seam! Yeager hasn’t bailed out an airplane since the day he was shot down over Germany when he was twenty… I’ve tried A! – I’ve tried B! – I’ve tried C!… 11,000 feet, 7,000 feet from the farm… He hunches himself into a ball, just as it says in the manual, and reaches under the seat for the cinch ring and pulls.

He’s exploded out of the cockpit with such force it’s like a concussion… He can’t see… Wham… a jolt in the back… It’s the seat separating from him and the parachute rig… His head begins to clear… He’s in midair, in his pressure suit, looking out through the visor of his helmet… Every second seems enormously elongated… infinite… such slow motion… He’s suspended in midair… weightless… The ship had been falling about 100 miles and hour and the ejection rocket had propelled him up at 90 miles an hour. For one thick adrenal moment he’s weightless in midair, 7,000 feet above the desert… The seat floats nearby, as if the two of them are parked in the atmosphere… The butt of the seat, the underside, is facing him… a red hole… the socket where the ejection mechanism had been attached… it’s dribbling a charcoal red… lava… the remains of the rocket propellant… It’s glowing… it’s oozing out of the socket… In the next moment they’re both falling, he and he seat. His parachute has a quarter bag over it and on the bag is a drogue chute that pulls the bag off so the parachute will stream out gradually and not break the chute or the pilot’s back when the canopy pops open during a high-speed ejection. It’s designed for an ejection at 400 or 500 miles and hour, but he’s only going 175.

In this infinitely expanded few seconds the lines stream out and Yeager and the rocket seat and the glowing red socket sail through the air together… and now the seat is drifting above him… into the chute lines!… The seat is nestled in the chute lines… dribbling lava out of the socket… eating through the lines… An infinite second… He’s jerked up by the shoulders… it’s the chute opening and the canopy filling… in that very instant the lava – it smashes into the visor of his helmet… Something slices through his left eye… He’s knocked silly… He can’t see a goddamned thing… The burning snaps him to… His left eye is gushing blood… It’s pouring down inside the lid and down his face and his face is on fire… Jesus Christ!… the seat rig… The jerk of the parachute had suddenly slowed his speed, but the seat kept falling… It had fallen out of the chute lines and the butt end crashed into his visor… 180 pounds of metal… a double layer visor.. the goddamned thing has smashed through both layers… He’s burning!… There’s rocket lava inside the helmet… The seat has fallen away… He can’t see… blood pouring out of his left eye and there’s smoke inside the helmet… Rubber!…

It’s the seal between the helmet and the pressure suit… It’s burning up… The propellant won’t quit… A tremendous whoosh… He can feel the rush… he can even hear it… The whole left side of his helmet is full of flames… A sheet of flame goes up his neck and the side of his face… The oxygen!… The propellant has burned through the rubber seal, setting off the pressure suit’s automatic oxygen system… The integrity of the circuit has been violated and it rushes oxygen to the helmet, to the pilot’s face… A hundred percent oxygen! Christ!… It turns the lava into an inferno… Everything that can burn is on fire… everything else is melting… Even with the hole smashed in the visor the helmet is full of smoke… He’s choking… blinded… The left side of his head is on fire… He’s suffocating… He brings up his left hand… He has on pressure-suit gloves locked and taped to the sleeve… He jams his in through the hole in the visor and tries to create and air scoop with it to bring air to his mouth… The flames… They’re all over it… They go to work on his glove where it touches his face… They devour it!… His index finger is burning up… His goddamned finger is burning!… But he doesn’t move it… Get some air!… Nothing else matters… He’s gulping smoke… He has to get the visor open… It’s twisted… He’s encased in a little broken globe dying in a cloud of his own fried flesh… The stench of it!… rubber and human hide… He has to get the visor open… It’s that or nothing, no two ways about it… It’s smashed all to hell… He jams both hands underneath… It’s a tremendous effort… It lifts… Salvation!…

Like a sea the air carries it all away, the smoke, the flames… The fire is out. He can breathe. He can see out of his right eye. The desert, the mesquite, the motherless Joshua trees are rising slowly toward him… He can’t open his left eye… Now he can feel the pain… Half his head is broiled… That isn’t the worst of it… The damned finger!… Jesus!… He can make out the terrain, he’s been over it a million times… Over there’s the highway, 466, and there’s route 6 crossing it… His left glove is practically burned off… The glove and his left index finger… he can’t tell them apart… they look as if they exploded in an over… He’s not far from base… Whatever is with the finger, it’s very bad… Nearly down… He gets ready… Right out of the manual… A terrific wallop… He’s down on the mesquite, looking across the desert, one-eyed… He stands up… Hell! He’s in one piece!… He can hardly use his left hand. The goddamned finger is killing him. The whole side of his head… he starts taking off the parachute harness… It’s all in the manual! Regulation issue!… He starts rolling up the parachute, just like it says… Some of the cords are almost melted through, from the lava… His head feels like it’s still on fire… The pain comes from way down deep… But he’s got to get the helmet off… It’s a hell of an operation… He doesn’t dare touch his head… It feels enormous… Somebody’s running toward him… It’s a kid, a guy in his twenties… He’s come from the highway… He comes up close and his mouth falls open and he gives Yeager a look of stone horror…

“Are you all right!”
The look on the kid’s face! Christalmighty!”
“I was in my car! I saw you coming down!
“Listen,” says Yeager. The pain in his finger is terrific. “Listen… you got a knife?”

The kid digs into his pocket and pulls out a penknife. Yeager starts cutting the glove off his left hand. He can’t bear it anymore. The kid stands there hypnotized and horrified. From the look on the kid’s face, Yeager can begin to see himself. His neck, the whole left side of his head, his ear, his cheek, his eye must be burned up. His eye socket is slashed, swollen, caked shut, and covered with a crust of burned blood, and half his hair is burned away. The whole mess and the rest of his face and nostrils and his lips are smeared with the sludge of the burning rubber. And he’s standing there in the middle of the desert in a pressure suit with his head cocked, squinting out of one eye, working on his glove with a penknife… The knife cuts through the glove an it cuts the meat of his finger… You can’t tell any longer… It’s all run together… The goddamned finger looks like it’s melted… He’s got to get the glove off. That’s all there is to it. It hurts too goddamned much. He pulls off the glove and a big hunk of melted meat from the finger comes off with it… it’s like fried suet…

“Arrggghhh…” It’s the kid. He’s retching. It’s too much for him, the poor bastard. He looks up at Yeager. His eyes open and his mouth opens. All the glue has come undone. He can’t hold it in any longer.

“God,” he says, “you… look awful!” The Good Samaritan, A.A.D.! Also a Doctor! And he just gave his diagnosis! That’s all a man needs… to be forty years old and to fall one hundred goddamned thousand feet in a flat spin and punch out and make a million-dollar hole in the ground and get half his head and his hand burned up and have his eye practically ripped out of his skull… and have the Good Samaritan, A.A.D., arrive as if sent by the spirit of Pancho Barnes herself to render a midnight verdict among the motherless Joshua trees while the screen doors bang and the pictures of a hundred dead pilots rattle in their frames:
“My God!… you look awful.”

A few minutes later the rescue helicopter arrived. The medics found Yeager standing out in the mesquite, him and some kid who had been passing by. Yeager was standing erect with his parachute rolled up and his helmet in the crook of his arm, right out of the manual, and staring at them quite levelly out of what is left of his face, as if they had an appointment and he was on time.

As the hospital they discovered one stroke of good luck. The blood over Yeager’s left eye had been baked into a crust-like shield. Otherwise he might have lost it. He had suffered third – and second-degree burns on his head and neck. The burns required a month of treatment in the hospital, but he was able to heal without disfigurement. He even regained the use of his left index finger.

No one even broke the Russian mark with the NF-104 or even tried to. Up above 100,000 feet the plane’s envelope was too goddamned full of holes. And Yeager never again sought to set a world record in the sky over the high desert.





The Badass of the Week.

Chuck Yeager

If you were to look up the words “balls-out” or “fearless” in the Great Big Encyclopedia of Ultimate Badassitude, you’d probably just see a giant picture of Chuck Yeager’s scrotum. The man was the world’s premier test pilot for over three decades, literally getting into giant rocket-propelled flying deathtraps with wings, embarking on the most dangerous flights ever attempted, and blasting through the stratosphere at ludicrous speeds so fast that most lesser people would have their brains blast right out the backs of their heads. The man is an aviation legend, a pioneer in the field of “going as fast as fucking possible just for the sake of being totally awesome”, and a guy who made a living out of giving the Grim Reaper the finger, spitting in his eye, and/or pounding him in the balls with a two-by-four.

Chuck Yeager’s adventure in badassitude started in 1941 when he got sick of the Axis powers’ bullshit and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces as an aircraft mechanic. Fixing planes and tightening nuts quickly got boring for Yeager, probably because he didn’t have to spend every waking hour warding off the ominous Black Hand of Death, so he transferred to aviation and became a fighter pilot instead. On just his eighth combat mission Yeager’s P-51 was shot down over the French countryside, but he didn’t even give a crap. Chuck joined up with the French Resistance, helped them make some bombs to throw at the Nazis, and eventually escaped back to England. Oh yeah, and he won the Bronze Star for throwing a seriously-wounded American pilot over his shoulder and carrying this dude across the motherfucking Pyrenees Mountains.

Getting shot down by the fucking Krauts only served to get Chuck Yeager really really ripshit pissed off, and he immediately went back and became one of the war’s few “Aces in a Day”, blasting the shit out of five German Me-109s in just a couple of hours. Not long after that he won the Distinguished Flying Cross for being one of the first Americans to ever take down a badass Nazi Me-262 jet fighter. During the war, he recorded 13 official aircraft kills over the course of 61 missions, and by the time he was sent back home he had already achieved the rank of Captain.

But shit was just getting started for Chuck Yeager in terms of limitless badassitude and pushing-it-to-the-limit-ness. His experience as both a mechanic and a badass fucking fighter pilot got him attached to the Aeronautical Systems Flight Test Division back in the States, where his chief duty was to test-fly repaired aircraft to make sure they were airworthy – an exercise that was basically one step removed from playing Russian Roulette with an automatic pistol. During his tenure flying around in a bunch of “hopefully functional” airplanes, Yeager so greatly impressed his superiors with his amazing ability to not die in a giant flaming inferno that he was selected to test-fly the new rocket-powered experimental Bell X-1 prototype aircraft. This was a pretty big deal, since he was chosen from a field of 125 senior pilots with buttloads of flying experience, and he definitely lived up to the task. Even though he had broken two ribs the day before and was in so much pain that he could barely get the cockpit hatch closed, Chuck Yeager sat behind the controls of this giant flying explosion and prepared to do what no man had ever done before – break the sound barrier. On 14 October 1947 Yeager went completely balls-out full-throttle, hitting Mach 1.07 and becoming the first man to ever travel faster than the speed of sound, proving that it was possible, in fact, to travel that fast without having all of your internal organs disintegrate and turn into a thick disgusting soup (before this, scientists weren’t so sure). For his amazing fearlessness in the face of probably-certain death, he won the Congressional Silver Medal of Honor. To give you some indication of how fucking huge this accomplishment was, his MoH citation states that it is, “For consipicuous gallantry and a total disregard for his own personal safety.”


Some dude broke Yeager’s air speed record by busting out Mach 2 in 1953, but Chuck wasn’t the sort of total fucking badass who was going to roll over and die just because someone stole his claim to being the “Fastest Man Alive.” No, he sought vengeance pretty much immediately. A mere two months after his record was broken, Chuck Yeager hit Mach 2.44 in a Bell X-1A. He went so fucking completely over-the-top balls-out that immedately after he hit the fastest speed ever recorded, the plane went completely out of control, plummeting 51,000 feet in the span of 51 seconds (!!) but Chuck didn’t even blink. He just said, “fuck you plane!”, pulled out of the dive mere feet from the ground, and flew back to safety.

After serving as the United States’ premier test pilot for over nine years Yeager became the first-ever commandant of the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School, where he trained the first generation of badass NASA astronauts. He also served as an Air Force squadron commander in Europe for a while, and led the 405th Tactical Fighter Wing in the Vietnam War – personally logging 127 combat missions in a B-57 bomber. He retired as a Brigadier General in 1975 and spent much of his free time afterwards working as a consultant for the USAF and NASA. His final flight was in 1997 – the 50th anniversary of breaking the sound barrier – when he hit Mach 1 in an F-15 Eagle at the age of 74. During his decades-spanning career, Chuck Yeager logged over 10,000 hours of flight in 155 different military aircraft and completely re-defined what it meant to be badass, fearless, and balls-to-the-wall all the goddamned time.

High five for the buddy system!

27 Jul

Just something to think about next time you might want to wander off trail alone…

Why I Never Hike Alone

by jane koerner high country news on July 27, 2012 · 1 comment


The boulder was the tallest in a field of tabletop-size stones, seemingly undisturbed by the passage of centuries. It had the stature to have borne witness to a solstice ceremony at Stonehenge, a human sacrifice at Teotihuacan.

I must have brushed it with my right elbow when I looked back to see if I could see my friend, Drew. We had just climbed some unnamed peak in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, and he was somewhere behind me, making his way down, testing the trustworthiness of each step, or so I hoped. It wouldn’t take much to launch a missile attack that would sweep him off the cliff below.

One second the boulder stood upright; the next second, it toppled, pinning my right leg. The shock of the blow threw me on my back, and the weight of the boulder registered instantly in a tsunami of pain. My right leg was caught below the knee in a tightening vice.

Stifling a scream, I sat up and pushed. The boulder did not budge. I pushed again, encouraged by a tremor that suggested a lessening of resistance, a possibility of release. Wishful thinking. I leaned back, pressed my buttocks into the boulder underneath to maximize my leverage and rammed the rock on top with a hip and shoulder butt. The rebound knocked me flat and the boulder bore down, crushing more calf muscle.

I’d heard Drew’s shouts two hours ago when I scrambled up the chimney to the summit ridge. He’d had to duck to avoid some flying pebbles. Could he hear my shrieks now? Another friend had long since disappeared over the next rise, no doubt racing for the truck. Would my screams reach her? I probably hadn’t shrieked this loud or this long since my mother gave birth to me.

Barb arrived first and knelt by my side, watching helplessly as I flopped on my back, exhausted by the pain. The slightest movement on my part increased the pressure on my leg. Barb barely weighed 100 pounds — no contest with a ton of quartzite.

I heard the click-click-click of advancing hiking poles as Drew approached, panting. He dropped the poles, knelt beside me, and shoved with all his might. The boulder tilted towards me. I cursed in three languages and wailed from the pain, the fear. We were three and a half miles from the car, 2,700 vertical feet up. It would be dusk by the time my friends hit the road, hours after sunrise before the arrival of a search and rescue team. The steep, rocky terrain ruled out a helicopter landing.

Drew studied the position of the boulder from every conceivable angle. Then he squatted as if he were competing again in a collegiate wrestling match. Relying on the laws of physics rather than blunt force, he braced himself with his muscular thighs, hugged the boulder tight and pushed with his arms and chest. The boulder gave slightly, shifting in the right direction, until finally, at last, there was just enough space to drag my leg out. I rolled up my shredded, bloody pants leg, expecting to see exposed fibula. I was numb below the knee. The skin was torn in several places, the calf double its normal size, but no bone protruded.

I swallowed a pill from Barb’s supply of Percocet and another from Drew’s, and they got me up on my left leg, one on each side of me. Using their shoulders as crutches, I hobbled 100 feet down the talus to a snowfield. They packed some snow in my rain jacket and wrapped the jacket around my calf, now the size of a small watermelon. Three hours later, they bundled me into the back seat of Drew’s pickup for the one-hour drive to the only medical clinic within 50 miles, in Lake City, Colorado.

Next morning, the orthopedist in Gunnison examined the x-rays. “You’re lucky. No broken bones. One inch higher and I’d be scheduling a knee replacement. One inch lower and I’d be reconstructing your ankle joint with plates, screws and a bone graft.”

“How long could my leg have withstood that much weight?” I asked.

“An hour maybe. Then we’d be amputating — not that there’d be much to amputate at that point.”

He showed me how to check for impaired circulation, a dangerous side effect of massive swelling. I followed his instructions religiously. Two weeks’ confinement in a wheelchair with my raised leg frequently wrapped in ice, followed by another two weeks on a walker seemed inconsequential, a mere inconvenience to be borne with a sense of humor.

Two years later, whenever I hike in shorts, strangers on the trail sometimes ask about the crater in my calf. If they’re from Texas, I tell them I was kicked by a moose. If they’re hiking alone, I recount the real story as a cautionary tale. Don’t ever hike off-trail alone, I tell them.

In affiliation with High Country News. Boulder photo by Shutterstock

Make it happen.

26 Jul
I love this piece by Brendan over at Semi-Rad
If you don’t follow him, well, get your shit together.
For the past seven months I’ve been dwelling on something and thinking about it and thinking about it and thinking about it some more. I hadn’t really told anyone because I knew it would take some prep and not be a “next weekend” thing, and I don’t want to be the guy who talks a big game then never follows through. But after I read this back in June I knew I had to just make it happen. So I told my wife my plan, which she totally supports, and put the wheels in motion.
Now I’m starting the plan for my thru-hike of the John Muir Trail, with hopes of completing it in two weeks.
I’d like to think this kid’s book had something to do with me making it happen.

The Importance Of Big Dreams


I have a copy of this children’s book that I take everywhere I go.
It’s called An Awesome Book, and everyone I know who’s had a baby in the past six months owns a copy, because I bought one for them. It’s a kids’ book, but I think the message is for adults too.

I like it because it reminds me that I don’t need things, but I need dreams, goals, things I decided I wanted to do one day when I was looking out a window somewhere scratching my chin and thinking about what my life should look like. And Dallas Clayton draws incredible unicorns and dinosaurs and bears.

My favorite passage in the book is this:

There are places in the world where people dream up dreams

so simply un-fantastical and practical they seem

to lose all possibility of thinking super things

of dancing wild animals with diamond-coated wings

instead they dream of furniture

of buying a new hat

of owning matching silverware

can you imagine that?

I like to buy books for my friends’ children because I think stories are more meaningful than toys, and more memorable. And that goes for adults, too, although sometimes we forget it because we make our lives so hectic.

If you do anything at all in the outdoors, somewhere in your mind is the capacity to dream big, or envision yourself doing something amazing. You want to ride Slickrock, climb El Cap or Mount Rainier, run the NYC Marathon or the Western States 100, or do a raft trip in the Grand Canyon. Maybe you just want to be a climber, or a skier, or a mountain biker. Or marry a beautiful girl, or see the Eiffel Tower, or write a book.

But we get busy. Too busy scrolling our phone screens, watching TV, catching up with all the mundane shit in life and we forget about our dreams. We say things like “I don’t have time,” and when we get frustrated that we don’t have enough time, we assuage that feeling of impotence by buying shit we don’t need, which we think will make us feel better. Granite countertops, leather sofas, sometimes skis, climbing gear or bikes we never use. Maybe that’s because we’re scared of whatever it is we’ve been thinking about for so long, or maybe it’s easier to buy something instead of doing something. Or maybe something we saw told us our dream was something different, and we bought into that.

A few months ago, I was talking to a friend of mine and she told me she had always dreamed of going to Hawaii for her tenth wedding anniversary. I asked Are you going, and she said Well, we don’t know, for a number of reasons—a new house, some stress and financial things with a new business, et cetera. I said I think you gotta put that shit on a credit card if you can and go to Hawaii this year. We go into debt for tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars for the most mundane things—houses, cars, sometimes furniture, sprinkler systems—but most of us have a hard time sliding our credit card or taking money out of a savings account to pay for what could be the experience of a lifetime.

If you start a sentence off with, “I’ve always wanted to …”, you either

  1. aren’t going to do it, which means it’s not really your dream, or
  2. just haven’t done it yet.

Procrastinating, putting it off is fine as long as you’re 100 percent sure that you’re not going to die in the next year. Because you’re going to die someday, and if you’re honest with yourself, you will admit that you never once as a kid said to anyone, When I grow up I want matching drapes, or a riding lawnmower that mulches too or a cozy living room. You wanted to be a cowboy or a polar explorer or Amelia Earhart.

Experiencing Awe Improves Well-Being and Personal Awesomeness

25 Jul

Experiencing Awe Improves Well-Being and Personal Awesomeness

by brendan leonard on July 9, 2012



Experiencing awesome things can make you more awesome, according to a recently published study. More scientifically, standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon can change your perception of time, make you less materialistic, and alter your understanding of the world, according to a recent study. So can going backpacking in the Tetons, or climbing El Cap, or kayaking a big river, or any other method of experiencing perceptual vastness. Awe is often experienced in nature, or when we encounter things we think are unfathomable.

The study, to be published in Psychological Science, examined what happened when test subjects experienced feelings of awe — which is different than happiness. Awe, according to research, has two features: Perceptual vastness, or the understanding that a person has come upon “something immense in size, number, scope, complexity or social bearing,” and the stimulation of a need for accommodation, meaning it “alters one’s understanding of the world.”

Researchers from business schools at Stanford and the University of Minnesota conducted a series of experiments to determine what happens when we experience awe, compared to a feeling of happiness. The findings:

“[The experiments] showed that awe, relative to happiness, engenders a perception that time is plentiful, curbs impatience, and inspires a desire to volunteer time. These outcomes have been related to well-being, suggesting life satisfaction itself might be affected by awe.”

“Eliciting a feeling of awe, versus a neutral state, increased perceived time availability, which in turn led participants to more strongly prefer experiential over material goods and view their lives as more satisfying. [The experiments] also found evidence of mediation: Greater perceived time availability mediated awe’s effect on momentary life satisfaction and participants’ choice of experiential (over material) products.”

Also interesting: Although awe increased participants’ willingness to donate time, it did not increase their overall generosity, or willingness to donate money. But still, they were more awesome.

Photo of the Grand Canyon by Shutterstock


Power Through

20 Jul

“High volume/high frequency anything sucks ass the first week or three. I’d expect a lot of fears of overtraining and adrenal fatigue, plenty of second guessing, and generally lots of bitching and moaning.

“But it passes. I was as stunned as anyone, but if you just keep going, you shake it off and enter this wonderful land where you feel indestructible. That’s not quite right, because you still feel horrible in a way – and your markers of stress will almost certainly reflect it – but it’s like you learn to ignore it.

“You go into a different headspace where it doesn’t matter, and the motivation to keep going overrides anything else; a very strange place that is, but also wonderful from a training standpoint.

“Body comp changes happen. It’s unavoidable. Likewise for neuro-endo-immune markers – unavoidable, but at the same time, so decoupled from the performance variables that you can power through.

“The powering through is what becomes the Useful Thing. It’s a skill that can be practiced like anything else.”

The Beginning of a Long Journey… a looong 500,000 step journey.

17 Jul

Of all the travelling and random shit I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to do, I firmly believe the seed for this one was planted years and years ago.



“There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mysteries, its melancholy and its charms.”

– Teddy Roosevelt



I suppose it all started the first time I went for a hike in Rocky Mtn Natl Park. I have always loved being outdoors and if I had my choice I would spend every bit of free time in the American West. From the vacations in NW CO growing up to the more frequent and recent trips to the FoCo area, Lake Tahoe, etc, I just can’t get enough. My wife tells people, only semi-jokingly, that she is the socialite and I could be content the rest of my life staring at a tree with a book in my hands.



So I guess I should have seen the writing on the wall when I found a copy of The Wilderness World of John Muir; a selection of entries from his personal journeys.

As a conservationist, John Muir traveled through most of the American wilderness alone and on foot, without a gun or a sleeping bag. In 1903, while on a three-day camping trip with President Theodore Roosevelt, he convinced the president of the importance of a national conservation program, and he is widely recognized for saving the Grand Canyon and Arizona’s Petrified Forest. Muir’s writing, based on journals he kept throughout his life, gives our generation a picture of an America still wild and unsettled only one hundred years ago. In The Wildernesss World of John Muir Edwin Way Teale has selected the best of Muir’s writing from all of his major works—including My First Summer in the Sierra and Travels in Alaska—to provide a singular collection that provides to be “magnificent, thrilling, exciting, breathtaking, and awe-inspiring”


My job affords me the opportunity to travel. A lot. I have enough airline points to fly basically free in the US. I fly enough that my wife has a pass that gets her a free seat on any flight I’m on. I have seen some really awesome places in my years here and we have a long list of places we still want to see. All of this travelling, combined with my love of the mountains instilled by my parents has given me a bit of wanderlust.

Seven months ago I had a thought: “I want to do something memorable. Something big… something that most people only talk about doing while sitting around being lazy but never pull the trigger on. I want a fucking EXPERIENCE.”



“Anything that puts a sense of the miraculous in you… we should appreciate the fact that we’re alive. Anything that makes you feel alive is good.”

– Ray Bradbury



So here it is. The John Muir Trail.

The hike begins at the Happy Isles trailhead in Yosemite Valley.



It wanders generally SSE for 211 miles, passes through Yosemite Natl Park, The Ansel Adams Wilderess, The John Muir Wilderness, Kings Canyon Natl Park and Sequoia Natl Park.



and ends at the 14,505 ft summit of Mt Whitney



USGS has calculated an elevation gain of approximately 46,000 ft and and a loss of 38,000 ft when travelled north to south.



The official length of the JMT, as stated by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), is 211 miles (340 km). From its northern terminus in Yosemite Valley, the trail runs northeast, passing south of Half Dome and then on to Tuolumne Meadows. From Tuolumne Meadows the trail turns south, running parallel to the main range of the Sierra Nevada, through Yosemite National Park, Inyo and Sierra national forests (including the John Muir Wilderness and Ansel Adams Wilderness), passing through Devils Postpile National Monument, Kings Canyon National Park, and ending on Mount Whitney in Sequoia National Park.[2] From the southern terminus of the JMT at the summit of Mount Whitney, an additional 11-mile (18 km) hike on the Mount Whitney Trail is required to reach the nearest trailhead at Whitney Portal, thus making an end-to-end traverse of the trail effectively 220 miles (350 km).[3]


There will be lots of this:


But that’s ok, because that means there will also be lots of THIS:



Starting near 4000 feet and ending at the summit of Mt Whitney, it will be a good long trek. Nearly the entire trail is over 8,000 ft so for a guy from TX the first couple days probably won’t be that great. With that in mind I am giving myself a bit to prep for this. I’m halfway through my 28th year now. I plan to complete the hike, in one shot, as soon as possible after my 30th birthday (but in ideal conditions, not in January). This means that if all goes to plan it will be September 2014. In the mean time I have a lot of conditioning to do… it’s been a while since the peak of my cycling days. With an effective length of 220 miles I’ll need to cover 11 miles/day to get out in three weeks. It sounds easy, and I would love to complete it in two weeks (15-16 mi/day), but shit happens.

And though I’ve told two or three people about this plan (with a loose invite) over the past 7 months, I’m also thinking about doing it solo.

Thoreau on foot, if you will.

My wife, who is an incredibly supportive person has actually encouraged this, and even had another great idea. I’m a bit of a nerd [understatement], I love to read, and research is fun to me, so I might try to write a book after all of this. Part journey, part history lesson, part wilderness education. I figure I can channel a bit of T. Roosevelt and a bit of Muir and come up with something at least semi worthy of reading.

Also, her first book is being printed right now… so maybe I just don’t want to be the only one in the house (other than the dogs) without my own ISBN number.

Anyway, this is all pretty pointless at the moment, but I might pop in with some gear or training updates now and then. I have some wilderness medical training (NOLS), but I’ll need to brush up on my orienteering… I’ll be spending time/money on new gear (lightweight, obv)… It should be a fucking fun time. Also, I’m really bored in an airport waiting for a long delayed flight to bring me home. Any other day I probably wouldn’t have typed this for you people.



I’m gonna walk a lot. There will be trees. Maybe bears. Fuck bears.



Anyway, with all of that in mind, I’m off to form a plan. All updates will be tagged “John Muir Trail”

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