Skiing Stowe (with the Other Tourists)

Skiing Stowe was expensive and nice. Great weather, they take care of the mountain well, tons of parking right next to the lifts (!!), lifts go to useful places, many (long) runs of varying description, etc. Locals seem to dislike it because it doesn’t offer them any in-state discounts. Fair enough, but the discounts for out-of-staters aren’t great either, but I got over it.

Top of Mt. Mansfield (Vermont’s highest point!) from the top of the Stowe quad.

Looking up the gondola lift-line.

Chute full of moguls somewhere at the bottom of the hill.

I think this run (“Hayride”?) is less flat than it looks.

View across the top of the ski hill from the quad to the gondola.

So that’s what it looks like. Sunny weather and the snow was surprisingly good everywhere. What else?

  • I think the locals also don’t like it because Stowe doesn’t let skiers ski in the woods. That’s usually sort of a thing in the northeast.
  • Stowe moves a lot of people up the hill, but the slopes never seem crowded and there were never any serious lines. The place feels smaller than it is. IMHO. In a good way.
  • A lot of French-speaking Canadians. Again.
  • The resort has two different sides to it with a gondola connecting the two sides (by crossing the parking lot and the highway). The other side is kind of lame though.
  • Although it seemed odd to me that the lame side is the one with all the condos and shops.
  • The lodges on the non-lame side seem a little more rustic than you’d expect at a ski resort that charges $92 a day.
  • Skiing on the quad is more challenging/interesting than skiing on the gondola.
  • The bacon cheeseburger in the cafeteria was overpriced. That probably would’ve gone without saying.
  • At the top of the gondola they have a waffle stand, but I did not buy a waffle.

Had a great day here. Would gladly return. $92 (or $78 pre-purchase through Liftopia) is steep, but if you’re going to drive 12 hours to go skiing, I mean, you know. May as well.

Your pal,



Saranac Lake Is a Town in New York Where I Took These Photos

First night of the trip I stayed in Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks in New York. Thought the place was cool when I was there in the fall of ’09 on my road trip (e.g., this 48stateroadtrip post), so was stoked to be back up there. Took about nine hours from my house in Pittsburgh to the Best Western in Saranac Lake.

One of the best things about that part of the country is its complete lack of pretension. Saranac Lake is a lake-based tourist town, but it doesn’t come off acting like it. Which I appreciate. For whatever reason.

So that’s about what the place looks like. Also they had icicles like this:

Which were pretty awesome. All we get in Pittsburgh are straight, boring ones.



Whiteface Mountain Has an Appropriate Nickname

I suppose it’s a good thing it was icy, otherwise I’d feel like I hadn’t had the true Whiteface Mountain experience. “Iceface” being the nickname. It rhymes (sort of) and, therefore, is true. Also it’s icy there.

New York, Adirondacks. Near Lake Placid. It’s where they did all the skiing events for the 1980 Olympics. Steep, stupid pretty, stunningly cold, and firm.

Whiteface summit. The olympic downhill course started here. I tried it. It was steep. And icy.

Heading up-lift toward the summit.

Whiteface summit (highest point in New York!) taken from the top of the gondola.

Lake Placid taken from the top of the summit lift.

Inside the Gondola with French-speaking Canadians. The French-Canadians seem to need to talk (to each other) a lot.

Au Sable River at the bottom of Whiteface Mountain. You cross this to get from the parking lot to the lodge.

I guess that’s enough photos. Whatever. Some bullet points because they’re easier than paragraphs:

  • -2 at the bottom, -12 at the top. Degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Firm at the beginning of the day, firm at the end of the day.
  • “Firm” means “icy”.
  • Just about had frostbite from driving there. Switched hands on the steering wheel every 30 seconds so I could keep the other one inside my coat. Apparently it takes more than half an hour for my car’s heater to start working.
  • I had never skied from a gondola before. It’s warmer than the normal chair lift.
  • Tons of French-Canadians.
  • The cafeteria chili wasn’t very good.
  • I got my lift ticket for $25.75 off of Liftopia. Regular price is $79. BKD ftw. For once.
  • I caught an edge on the downhill course and ended up sliding on my belly for about half a mile. It was steep. And slick.

I imagine a little snow and about 15 degrees warmer would make this place great. If only.


Ski Blue Knob

Went to Blue Knob a couple weeks ago, which some Web site (not mine) says is arguably the second best skiing in the state (first is some place in the Poconos, which isn’t very close to here). Haven’t had much snow this year, the place is out near Altoona, so it was a 2:15 drive (hours and minutes). The place is basically the same as Whistler.

As evidence:

Green circles mean GO!

Top of the hill. This is taken from the parking lot. I mean, the *parking lot*.

Do the tops of these lifts sort of look like the at-at walkers from Empire Strikes Back to anyone else? Maybe it’s just me.

See? From the parking lot.

This elevation is within 50 feet of being the highest point in Pennsylvania. (Srsly. I was surprised there were elevations in PA that were this high.)

This is the interior of the lodge. The sushi chef had the day off, so I stuck with the cheesesteak.

Experts only.

I’ve never actually been to Whistler.

Condescending photo captions aside, this was a very fun day and a great place to go skiing.

  • Unlike Seven Springs (the other PA ski resort I’ve been to), Blue Knob has more and colder snow. By the end of the day nothing had turned to ice.
  • It’s also higher, steeper, and has longer runs.
  • Also, since it’s primarily pulling people from Altoona and not mighty Pittsburgh (let alone Philthadelphia), there aren’t a whole lot of people up on the hill. I.e., there are no lift lines and most runs you have all to yourself.
  • The expert terrain was closer to being expert-like terrain (although a lot of it is on the bottom half of the mountain, where there’s less snow).
  • It isn’t actually green circles as far as the eye can see. The intermediates are fun, fast cruisers. There was only one black diamond-ish run that was worth taking (it’s been a warm, dry winter), but it had fresh snow and fun moguls on it. (With more snow, the black diamonds at the bottom of the hill looked like they’ be a good time.)
  • Relatively speaking, the place is *cheap*. $38 for all day or $32 for a five-hour pass (any five hours, the clock starts when you buy the ticket).
  • It’s cool to be able to park 100 feet away from the top of the hill. No mile-long slogs back to the car at the end of the day. If you decide you want to change from mitts to gloves, I mean, your car is just *right there*. It’s like parking at a bowling alley rather than parking at Disneyland. Maybe I have unusual car-separation anxiety, but it’s nice to be able to see your vehicle every time you get off the lift.
  • Because, seriously, the parking lot is at the top of the hill. That’s how we roll here.

Totally worth the 2.25-hour drive.


(PS, Curiously, as with Seven Springs, Blue Knob has a situation where there are two different lifts that start in the same place and end in the same place. As with Seven Springs only one of these two lifts was operating.)

(PPS, If you’re curious, here’s a trail map. Only four lifts, two of which are redundant and one of which is about 200 yards long and intended for beginners ONLY. The bottom-to-top lift has a midway station, which would be useful especially if you wanted to focus on the more advanced terrain at the bottom of the hill.)

Tourist Day in Pittsburgh

For Thanksgiving, my brother, his wife, his two kids, and two caged dogs came to visit. The day after Thanksgiving, we did tourist activities. This is the story of those activities.

“Story” is a strong word.

First we drove out to Fort Necessity, the place where George Washington inadvertently started the French and Indian War.

Things I learned there, the veracity of which having not been verified: the French and Indian War precipitated the American Revolution, George Washington accidentally signed a document accepting sole responsibility for assassinating a French officer, his time in the area made Washington a big proponent of the US’s eventual expansion into the Ohio Valley, and most 18th century North American forts aren’t very impressive.

We then stopped at the only restaurant on Highway 40, a Pizza Hut, where there was considerable confusion about what specials were or were not offered. Then we went to Ohiopyle to see the falls:

This is Mr. and Mrs. Telkontar, btw. And the Telkitos. I talked about the falls in a much earlier post in case you feel cheated by lack of additional photos or description.

Then we went to some guy’s house:

I’d never heard of it before moving to Pittsburgh, but it’s apparently the most famous-for-architecture house in the US (Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright). We didn’t have reservations, so we were not allowed inside and were treated like dogs. The waterfalls were nice and the use of stone was kind of cool, but the preponderance of pink concrete was perplexing. Definitely better than the Biltmore Estate, though.

Then we drove back through Ohiopyle and came upon the following waterfall:

It’s named Cucumber Falls due to the prevalence of wild cucumber in the area.

It was starting to get dark, then, so we did what comes naturally to tourists in the Pittsburgh area: ride the Duquesne Incline up to Mt. Washington.

There was probably a good photo there if I could have found something to which to attach my gorilla pod.

And then we went home and debated the relative utility of creche committees.





How People Found My Blog Last Year

The number one source of traffic for my blog is search engines. Crazy, I know. And I like self-evaluation. So, here’s this.

The top 20 search terms used to find my blog in 2011:

  1. diy tv stand (and what a stand it is…!)
  2. forbes field (I have one photograph)
  3. ford trimotor (ibid, but at least this one’s a potentially interesting photograph)
  4. diy kitchen table (although it turned out to be more of a writing desk)
  5. trigger finger (the ligament inflammation, not the need to shoot people)
  6. spooky gulch (referring to the gulch, not to my grad school experiences)
  7. b-52 (several photos actually)
  8. diy tv stand plans
  9. reagan library
  10. tv stand diy (it was still a terrible project)
  11. gluing wood together (although I can see my info being possibly helpful to someone trying to glue wood together)
  12. general sherman (the tree, not the general; anyone looking for the general will have been disappointed)
  13. tv stand plans
  14. b52
  15. ford tri motor
  16. diy tv stands
  17. flying tigers (one photo)
  18. diy entertainment center
  19. washing machine drain (one photo)
  20. spruce goose (ibid)

In addition, 49 people found my site by searching for the word “clamps”, 33 by searching for “kia jeep” (which isn’t discussed anywhere on this domain), and 30 by searching for “pittsburgh toilet” (and to think that two years ago I’d never heard of such).


Why I Don’t Like Maui That Much

I was there for a conference. By and large it’s a nice place for a conference. It’s like being at work, but with nicer weather. And yeah, I know, I can find a problem with anything. But that’s because there are, in fact, problems with everything.

I am nevertheless comfortable in asserting that Maui is the least interesting of the Hawaiian islands with which I’m familiar. I can see why someone would like it, but those antecedents of “like” would correlate strongly with that someone and I being generally incompatible as co-vacationers. FWIW. Maui would be great for someone who wants nice weather, a mega-resort, a mall with expensive boutiques and galleries, sub-par restaurants, and resort-style golfing.

Here’s a photo of sunset from the hotel pool:

I think it’s a nice photo and all, maybe even enticing. But what amount of time on your Maui vacation could staring at sunsets across pools productively take up? I’m going with eight. The second sunset you stare at is clich√©, and by the third one you’re just desperate for meaning. Um, IMHO. So then what are you going to do for the other 6 days, 23 hours, and 52 minutes?

Well, there are a couple things. Maybe even three:

  • The Hana area is genuinely nice. It’s slower paced and not dominated by mega-resorts. It seems like a place you would find on Kauai. Except that: (a) it’s a pain to get to — you can romanticize that drive all you want, but at the end of the day it’s arduous and there are only four or five places worth stopping, and (b) since it’s the only place on the island that looks anything like that, it’s necessarily crawling with escapees from all the mega-resorts. Who aren’t necessarily fun to hang out with.
  • The drive around the northern part of the western lobe is kind of nice. It’s not all that crowded, not quite as arduous as the Hana drive (I mean, it’s arduous, just not wish-I-was-dead arduous), and has at least one nice little church and a little tidal swimming pool among the rocks in one spot.
  • Haleakala is something that’s probably worth doing once, although it’s a long ways up there for maybe a couple of hours of entertainment (with thousands of your co-tourists).

So it’s got that going for it.

Here’s a photo of a bird taken from the lanai of the hotel room at the mega resort that we stayed at (because it was close to the conference):

See that little black bird in the tree? Awcute, right? Except that it’s loud, it’s everywhere, and it’s a non-native species. In a sense, it’s a type for the real problem with Maui:

*Tourists*. And there’s nothing for them to do. No way to disperse. Just sitting around the pool mutually reassuring themselves that they’re doing something interesting.

The place is dominated by the mega-resort whether in Kihei-Wailea, or the whole Lahaina-Kaanapali mega-hotel-opolis. It’s hard to break free from these places and there aren’t a lot of reasons to do so (other than the three above and to buy groceries at Wal-Mart). Maui ends up feeling like the Las Vegas strip, but without all the stuff to do.

If you have to go to a conference and cost has no meaning, it’s a nice place to have a conference. Between sessions you can hang out outside, in January, and it’s warm. Nice. OTOH, you’re still at a conference and, for the most part, there’s not a lot different about a conference session room at the Grand Wailea on Maui and a conference session room at the Will Rogers Airport Embassy Suites in Tulsa.

Then with the opportunity cost. It costs the same to go to Honolulu, only that place has better food, more stores, a “scene”, and several regions to consider exploring. It costs the same to go to Kauai, which has rivers everywhere, waterfalls everywhere, easy-in snorkeling, world-class hiking, fewer crowds, etc. It costs the same to go to the Big Island, which — I haven’t been to. I’m guessing I’d like it better so long as I wasn’t stuck in Kona.

Long story short, I’d like to go to this conference again, but probably when it’s on some other island.

Here’s a picture of water:



Hana Waterfalls (Two of Them)

I don’t even know the names of the waterfalls. I didn’t drive, I wasn’t the one planning, so I took very little responsibility for knowing anything. The one was at the top of a two-mile (each way) hike that was named after some gorge. There was a bamboo forest. I’ll look it up. Later.

Everything pictured here is somewhere on the other side of Hana. I like Hana better than the rest of Maui. The hippie vibe is refreshing compared to the tourist vibe of everywhere else, plus it rains more there so it looks greener.

The bridge below those falls:

The gulch is called Oheo Gulch by the way. The trail goes through a bamboo forest. The forest looks like a bamboo forest.

And the falls are the Oheo Gulch Waterfall. Clever. It’s a high waterfall. Sorry about all the portrait-orientation. Waterfalls and trees, I guess.


Dennis took a really sharp photo of me hanging out in the waterfall pool, but I’m afraid it’d end up on some¬† porn site somewhere. If everyone were Mormon, I wouldn’t have to worry about that. It’d just be a photo of a guy giving a thumbs up from the bottom of a waterfall. Maybe I should move to Provo. Or Saudi Arabia.

Not always a fan of the species.

Also in the gulch:

This is a view of the “forbidden part” of the Hana Highway. The part that’s beyond Oheo gulch. It’s drier there.

So there you go. I think the highway has some other name on this side of Hana also.

In January, Pittsburgh is colder than there.


Maui Red Sand Beach

Dennis had told me about this secret beach in Hana and stuff. It’s pretty. Not sure anyone would ever swim at it what with the rocks and all. There’s a journey vs. destination story here as well.

The beach is sort of on private property or requires you to cross through private property or something. There’s a hotel there that has signs posted that declaim any responsibility for you killing yourself while trying to get there. Not without reason.

A few photos I guess:

The beach itself:

Red Sand Beach, Maui

And I got about 50 more photos that are some variation on that. The tree is in all of them. Seriously, like *all* of them.

On the hike:

  • It’s not very far — maybe 3/4 mile from the place where you park.
  • But: the trail is pretty dodgy. There’s one part where the footing is poor (sandy and loose pebbles), and the trail is narrow (ca. 12 inches) and slanting off the edge of a cliff (20-foot drop). It’s about a 10-foot stretch, but that’s about all it takes.
  • I was wearing flip-flops, which did not grant me goat-like powers of ground adhesion.
  • Ended up gashing the side of my foot.
  • Alternately, there’s a trail spur that bypasses this section. It takes you off the cliff and down to the beach, then goes back up onto the ledge above. Would’ve been smart. Would have.
  • And then coming back up, we came up one trail too early. This too-early trail goes to the cemetery and is steeper than you want it to be. With loose, sandy pebbles.

Cemetery is like this:

For some reason all the stones had Japanese writing on them. On the interesting scale, I’m guessing the story behind that (unknown to me) rates a 3.


PS, This was a purely Google-driven headline. Thanks, search algorithms: you’ve destroyed blog post headlines forever.

Cell Phone Photo Dump, 2011

Another year, another full flash memory card. Except it wasn’t full. Not by a long shot. Because I didn’t do very much this year but go to class. What a year! What a year.

I should probably just start posting these on Facebook instead. Just that I kind of want Facebook to fail, so — you know. Also, I don’t remember in which month I got the phone. Probably spring some time.

Large eagle in lumber department.

A giant eagle at Lowe's: a retail allegory.

Because Giant Eagle is the big grocery chain in western Pennsylvania is why. That’s a really big bird, though. And not very shy. And I’m not sure which of the small children there he had his sites set on.


Pan fish

A pan fish I caught.

It’s not as big as it looks. Orrin did a nice job with the trick photography. But the impressive thing in the photo isn’t the fish that was about to be un-hooked, it’s (IMHO) this:

Poison ivy on arm.

The effects of poison ivy.

Before moving to Pittsburgh, I was barely even aware that poison ivy still existed in the modern world. I certainly wasn’t aware of how, just, ridiculously awful it is. Fortunately, after the fourth or fifth outbreak I figured out a regimen to minimize the damage of the contact. But man, at this point I itch just looking at it. Hopefully none of the poison got on the fish…


Meanwhile, here’s a sunset:

Sunset at Keystone Lake, Pennsylvania

Sunset on Keystone Lake


Also this…

Eastern Rat Snake

The eastern rat snake that got into my garage.

As mentioned elsewhere, he was a gentleman among snakes. Waited for me to open the garage door before slithering in, then barely complained when I picked him up with my snow shovel and threw him out into the yard. Four feet long, inch and a half thick. They eat bird eggs, mice, and chipmunks.


This next photo was taken at the mall nearest my house (Century III) at about 12:30 PM.

Century III Food Court

This is the food court.

Interestingly, most of the restaurant spaces were occupied (and the restaurants were open for business). OTOH, you know your mall isn’t doing very well when it not only has two GameStops in it, but it also has two Army recruiting offices. (Would seem to indicate low lease rates is what I’m saying.)


A shirt I wore one day while fighting my cell phone.


Here are a couple shots of Mt. Rainier taken while maneuvering around the breakwater barges in Commencement Bay (Tacoma) in my dad’s boat.

Tyee Marina breakwater

Heading out of the marina

Mt. Rainier from Commencement Bay

Then onto the open waters of Commencement Bay.


Also while out west this summer, I got to reconnect with some old friends:

Carl's Jr. in Spokane

This was in Spokane (downtown). It is the most friendly Carl's Jr. I've ever been to. The guy taking orders at the counter actually knew the names of his regular customers *and* knew what they usually ordered. It was almost too much to handle.

Del Taco in South Bend

The Del Taco in South Bend (Ind.) wasn't as friendly. And South Bend isn't exactly "out west", it was just close enough to have a Del Taco. Food was good, but I got the impression they don't sell a lot of the churros.


And this is a cup of Postum:


And then I went to eBay and saw that a jar of the stuff costs like $400 now because they quit making it several years ago.


All right, then there’s this building on the campus at Pitt that’s called the “Cathedral of Learning”. It was a WPP project. How could it not have been? Anyway, every time I see it I think of the Tower of Babel, although I’m not sure any sacrilege (or language instruction) actually happens there.

Cathedral of Learning (University of Pittsburgh)

Cathedral of Learning, Pitt


And then there was this day when I was thinking that I hadn’t seen an AMC Pacer on the road in like a decade. Then a couple days later I saw this one (with current inspection stickers).

AMC Pacer at Pitt

You can't beat the paint scheme.

Or maybe you *can* beat it, I don’t know. I’ve never actually tried.


Anyway, that’s a big enough dump I guess.