Christchurch New Zealand

I have a had a fantastic week in Christchurch NZ. It has  been tremendously interesting to travel here and find out how technology development and commercialization is done in a different part of the world. On a personal level it has been very interesting to go intercontinental again and discover what travel is like now that I have a growing family of my own.

First off, the city of Christchurch was hit extremely hard by the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 and there are still many visible signs and daily reminders of this destruction for New Zelander’s. I was staying in the central business district (CBD) which was hit very hard and where the majority of the deaths occurred. Walking around at night was spooky, in a very other-worldly and post-war sense. The people here are friendly and I certainly didn’t feel unsafe, rather the spookiness comes from the dark buildings, the empty streets and the rubble of buildings all around. I did have the good fortune to spend time with some friends from Denver that have moved to Chch as a change of pace. Kea and Jason, with their son Porter showed me around the city and we took a short drive out into the country as well. it was fun to re-connect with people from my past and to hear a familiar accent upon arriving here in NZ.

On the second day here I rented a car and drove out to Mt. Cook. This wasn’t my first time driving on the left, but it’s been a few years since I was in Scotland so the skills were a little rusty. The roads here are great in the narrow and windy sense of the word. I was able to cruise along and the enjoy the scenery while still maintaining enough concentration to keep the car on the correct, eg left, side of the road. Particularly impressive are the hedges, they grow they massively tall to act as wind-breaks I suppose. Many a prairie farmer would be envious of these hedges, some of which were solid walls of green towering 20 feet high or more!

After a few wrong turns (that’s just how I navigate) I stopped at Lake Tepako for lunch, leg stretching, and great photo opportunities. Lake Tepako is an enormous and beautiful lake with a glacial aqua-marine colour that would rival Lake Louise. In fact, picture Lake Louise and Moraine Lake crammed together and you’ll get a good image of the colour. Now imagine 108.75 Lake Louises all squished together and you’d have the 87 sq km Lake Tepako. Simply gorgeous. From Lake Tepako I continued on to Lake Pukaki and took the road that winds up along the west side. This road leads to the Hermitage and ultimately to Mt Cook.

Mt Cook is an inspiring place set into a verdant and familiar feeling valley. When I was there the summit was wreathed in clouds and all-but inaccessible to mere mortals. We did have a great view of some sub-peaks and the large gaping crevasses that have opened up in the Kiwi spring. I took a short walk up the Hooker Valley trail, across swinging bridges, and decided to climb up Hooker Bluff. My goal was to get as high up the bluff as possible and to change my view of the towering Mt Cook, even so slightly. On the way up the bluff I passed a group of Japanese tourists that had pulled of for tea and I smiled when their leader told me “this is not the trail” – that’s precisely the point! My grin turned to a grimace before long as the bluff became a frustrating mix of loose scree and tight thorny vegetation. Finally, I reached a suitable and respectable stopping place and sat down to enjoy the view. I peeled an orange, saved from breakfast, and looked out over the Hooker Valley trail. The well groomed and graveled path led a steady stream of tourists through the scraggly valley bush to the cool blue Hooker Lake and above it all stood the giant of Mt. Cook. Finishing the orange and taking some water I put my camera away and headed back down the bluff and thence back along the path to my rental car.

The drive back to Chch was largely uneventful and my stomach started to rumble right around the local dinner time. It was then I also discovered some small amount of big-city snobbery that I seem to have developed. Despite being quite hungry I passed up many grungy looking small-town restaurants in hops that I would find one more suitable. I suppose flexibility and openness are skills that need to be practised. Finally, I asked a girl working at the local gas station if they “had any restaurants that were any good”, yes, those were my exact words. I cringed inwardly when I heard them but she didn’t seem offended and after paying for my fuel ($2.12/litre!) directed me to a local pub/restaurant. It had all the signs of a small town place, furnished in the 70’s and only a handful of clearly regular customers inside. However, i was immediately struck by how warm and friendly the owner was, she struck up a conversation with me and I felt myself smiling and changing my attitude. The roast lamb dish was excellent with flavourful gravy and a heaping side of potatoes, squash, and fresh vegetables. The dinner included a huge helping of a banana caramel cream pie on a biscuit (cookie) crust, which was also amazing. The rest of the drive back was uneventful and I enjoyed the short walk from the rental car place to my hotel.

The next day, Tuesday, was the official start of the conference I was here to attend; however it was primarily focused towards students. I decided to walk from the hotel to the university, a delightful 6km walk that took me through the Botanic Gardens, Riccarton Bush, and a number of residential areas. The Botanic Gardens are amazing. With the mild climate and reputation as “The Garden City” they have the ability and desire to grow fantastic gardens. There were flowers of the like I’d never seen, towering trees from the 1870s, and rose blossoms larger than my hand! In the residential areas it was refreshing to see something that hadn’t been impacted by the earthquake and to know that life was somewhat normal for most people. The campus of the University of Canterbury is well established and  buildings coincide with gardens in a very natural way. Like most of the CBD the campus was under some level of reconstruction and the site was swarming with men and women in bright orange vests blazoned with “Earthquake Reconstruction Team” and then in a smaller font below “Safety is no accident”. I didn’t spend much time at the student-focused conference, I did introduce my to the organizers and get the lay of the land though which helps for the following days.

The rest of the day was spent walking and wandering and generally touristing, albeit in a low key kind of way.

The conference was enjoyable, I met many new and interesting people including a large number of Canadians over here for work or school. It was interesting to hear their stories, fill them in on local news, and get a real perspective on what life in AUSNZ is like. Mostly they agreed that life is slower paced in Aus, and slower yet again in NZ; there was no consensus on whether this was good or not and I suppose is up to personal taste. Given that it’s winter at home right now I was envious of their ability to live outdoors most of the year and the ease with which they can blur the lines between inside and outside. I was staggered  to learn that Aussie houses of a certain vintage do not have central heating/cooling or proper insulation, in fact one fellow mentioned wearing a down coat in the house because the winter was so cool and the house so drafty. It’s always good to hear things that change the default point of view.

At the start of the conference they had a Maori invocation and good wishes to open the conference. I’ve noticed that Maori is very integrated in the life of NZ even coming first on many official signs and structures. A few times during the conference they referred to New Zealand as “bi-cultural” which I found to be very interesting given that Canada is purportedly “multi-cultural”. So I assume then that the two cultures are Maori and “New Zelander” (my term, I don’t know of a proper one to use) and I would be curious to find out more about how immigrants from other cultures are integrated into NZ society. Does they need to fully adapt and integrate? Does the definition of “New Zelander”  change over time to reflect a changing demographic? Does it retain a traditional anglo-Caucasian definition leaving cultural immigrants to exist in a shadow-culture? I don’t know, but I’d be interested to find out.

The first night we had a dinner in the Cardboard Cathedral, a transitional structure designed by a Japanese architect after the local Cathedral and traditional city icon was nearly destroyed in the 2011 earthquake. It was a fun and social time with a great group of industry and domain level peers. The food, drinks, and setting really set a positive and fun mood.

All in all I have very much enjoyed this short trip and the opportunity to see a new part of the world. I often find myself reflecting on the adventures and travels contained in this blog and sometimes lamenting how little travel or “adventure” we have these days. However, being away has highlighted so many of the good things that I have in this life, my family, kids, friends and colleagues. Sometimes it is hard to accept that one phase of life is over and that we are entering a new lifetime. Sometimes we need a reminder that the old phase like an old jacket, no longer fits in the way that it used to. I am thankful for all of my previous adventures, travels, and experiences. I am excited to be in this phase where I can watch our children grow and marvel at the world. And finally, I look forward to a day when Logan and Riley are of an age that we can travel with them, show them the world, and experience it through their eyes as well.

(I’m in an airport so can’t upload photos… for now check them out on Facebook link)

One Year

This past weekend marks my One Year Anniversary living and working here in ‘merica and overall it has been a very positive experience. There have definitely been times when it was tough, or lonely, or when homesickness got a good hold on me but they have been fleeting periods. Since I have been here I have had a great chance to see many new things, climb new mountains (both physical and metaphorical) and have met many people that I am proud to call friends.

Professionally I know that I have taken on many new things and have achieved some huge goals that I didn’t think were possible a year ago; or more accurately, couldn’t have even conceived of a year ago. I don’t tend to talk about work on this site, and I’ll generally keep it that way but since it was the whole reason I came down here it definitely deserves a few column inches. I am pleased with the professional relationships I have forged, and the lessons I have learned along the way. I am really curious to see what the next year brings!

After a year I don’t have any earth-shattering profundities or soul changing revelations, just a sense that my time here has been worth the cost so far. Even today, as the novelty has completely worn off of the “new city” and the “new job” and the “new place to explore” I still find things that are interesting and challenging and keep me on my toes. My experience so far with Search And Rescue has been a true lifeline for me. The training was intense and real-world, and the close-knit feeling of the group was by far the best part of my week for a long time. I do want to extend a sincere and significant Thank You to everyone that I’ve met here that has become a new friend, to all my friends in Calgary who have stuck with me, and especially to my family who I know is always there for me.

Ok, ok, they’re bringing up the orchestra so I should get off the stage 😉 but let me wrap up by quoting myself, a “myself” from a year ago:

This opportunity has taught me something else about myself though, I like challenges and I like being out of my comfort zone, I like confronting the unknown (and I like triumphing as well!) I believe life is about adventure and with the right frame of mind adventure can be found in many different places: the back yard, the mountains, the wider world, and in this case, a new job in a new city. The difficult thing with adventure is that it’s so often synonymous with adversity and how often do you roll out of bed in the morning and say “oh boy! A chance to face more adversity!”… yeah. I guess this is my way of acknowledging that this change, this adventure, will come with it’s dark moments and it’s downtimes.

So I say, bring on the adventure! Bring on the good times and the bad times and everything in between! (source)

And what kind of “mussings” post would it be without a little insight from my good friend, my poetic Rock, Mr. Robert Service:

Have you gazed on naked grandeur
where there’s nothing else to gaze on,
Set pieces and drop-curtain scenes galore,
Big mountains heaved to heaven, which the blinding sunsets blazon,
Black canyons where the rapids rip and roar?
Have you swept the visioned valley
with the green stream streaking through it,
Searched the Vastness for a something you have lost?
Have you strung your soul to silence?
Then for God’s sake go and do it;
Hear the challenge, learn the lesson, pay the cost.

The Nature of Adventure

If you’re a regular reader here you’ve probably noticed that there are two things I generally avoid talking about: work, and my personal feelings/issues. My philosophy has always been that I wouldn’t post anything here that I wouldn’t put up a on a bulletin board in a public place but for this posting I’m going to change that a little because in the last week or so some fairly major changes have come about that are a collision of work and personal issues. Don’t worry, I’m not going to go all emo on you though.

First, the good news: I was offered a promotion and a chance to work in the Denver headquarters of my company. The bad news? I took the promotion and it means moving to Denver. (If reading this here is the first time you’ve heard about it then I’m sorry I didn’t get to tell you in person)

Let me say that I am unequivocally excited about the new position, it is a huge step up in responsibility and involves leading a core group with tremendous influence on the other segments of the company. I am excited and scared in equal measures about the prospect of moving to a strange new city and this has been the largest stumbling block of the whole process. I am excited because it is a new challenge and a new city and an opportunity to explore and push my own personal boundaries. I am scared for all the same reasons which usually manifest as the “what if” reasons: what if I can’t cut it? what if I don’t meet anyone? what if I hate it?…

This opportunity has taught me something else about myself though, I like challenges and I like being out of my comfort zone, I like confronting the unknown (and I like triumphing as well!) I believe life is about adventure and with the right frame of mine adventure can be found in many different places: the back yard, the mountains, the wider world, and in this case, a new job in a new city. The difficult thing with adventure is that it’s so often synonymous with adversity and how often do you roll out of bed in the morning and say “oh boy! A chance to face more adversity!”… yeah. I guess this is my way of acknowledging that this change, this adventure, will come with it’s dark moments and it’s downtimes.

Let me also say that my long term plan (adventure?) is still hazy and ill defined. Calgary will always be home to me, a home which I will be glad to see again in a few days! (June 5th actually)

So I say, bring on the adventure! Bring on the good times and the bad times and everything in between!

Have you gazed on naked grandeur
where there’s nothing else to gaze on,
Set pieces and drop-curtain scenes galore,
Big mountains heaved to heaven, which the blinding sunsets blazon,
Black canyons where the rapids rip and roar?
Have you swept the visioned valley
with the green stream streaking through it,
Searched the Vastness for a something you have lost?
Have you strung your soul to silence?
Then for God’s sake go and do it;
Hear the challenge, learn the lesson, pay the cost.

Four Corners and Mountain Passes

Yesterday I drove nearly 400mi and a good portion of that was deep in a Navajo reservation. The roads were made of bright red earth, packed solid and scarcely traveled. After going 40mi off the paved road I ended up at a place with a fantastic view, and tons of pets. Two dogs in particular took an interest in me and were so excited I figured the least I could do was take a picture

After I was done surveying there I made my way east and ended up traversing the “4-Corners”. It’s on an Indian reservation and the admission fee is a whopping $3! Turns out I had $3 and 20min to spare so here I am.

And just because I know you need a closeup of it, here’s the marker.

Today I headed out of Cortez CO through Durango and on the way I passed through this seemingly ubiquitous place!

Heading up towards Wolf Creek Pass the weather took a turn for the worse.

Even at +1C there were tons of riders, hardcore!

Top of the pass, should have brought my skis…

Tonight I’m in South Fork Colorado, a tiny, tidy little town with a decent pizza place and friendly folks.

Nuh-vah-duh

Today was good, really bloody hot, but good. We started out in Elko NV and talked with some fine government folks about getting permission to put one of our surveys on their land. The fellow we talked to was classic, a really nice guy with a crushing handshake and his life story literally written all over him. The upper right side of his shirt had the government department he worked stitched in big blue letters while the upper left had his name deftly embroidered into it;  best of all was his Texas-sized belt buckle that read “Masters of Agriculture” along the top and “University of ______” along the bottom, just fantastic!

After we got permission we headed south of Wells NV for about 50mi or so and then pulled off the highway, through a fence and took a rough dirt road through the scrubby desert until we reached our survey spot. I twisted the key out of the ignition, opened my door to the blast furnace of Nevada weather and tossed my keys onto the dash so I wouldn’t lose them. Right about then I learned about a great feature that Jeep includes in the ’08 Wrangler, a huge hole between the plastic dash and the windscreen! My keys slipped down under the plastic, past a metal guard and snuggled into a tight little crevice inside the dash of my Jeep.

After a large amount of swearing we (me and Robb, the fellow I’m working with) decide to get the survey going and use the 4hr occupation time to figure out a way to get my keys out of the dash. The first attempt is the most basic, reach in and wiggle my fat fingers to see if I can grab the offending keys, I cannot. Robb has daintier fingers and his don’t reach either so step 2 is to take off the moulding on the side of the dash and also some little snap panels on the top… they grant access for nothing larger than a vole, and I’m fresh out of well trained voles at this point. Step 3, fold down the windscreen! Jeep builds these so you can take off the top and fold down the windscreen and live on the edge of life, but to live on the edge you need a #13 hex, not included in the set. We’re rooting through our respective toolkits and from the back of his Highlander Robb triumphantly holds up some stiff wire and suddenly we’re fishing for keys in the middle of the desert!

One guy takes up an awkward position on the seat and slips the wire into the Abyss while the second guy mashes his face against the windscreen so that he can peer into the Abyss and direct the fisherman for The Coastal Side. For 40 agonizing and tortured minutes we trade places, offer new ideas, gasp as the keys slide deeper into the dash and whoop with joy when the little metal hook finally grabs the key ring! With a carefully controlled hand and joy held tightly down I tug the wire and the keys slowly lift up out the Abyss, pass the metal guard, thuck against the plastic and then my fat fingers are grabbing them and pulling them to safety like some dangling screaming heroine in an action movie. Unlike the unfortunate supporting actress before her this one escaped the Abyss and all is well again with the world.

(Edit: I’m pretty aware of the mixed metaphor up there, one minute fishing and the next an abyss but you’ll just have to live with it, this is stream of consciousness writing after all)

Once my heart stops beating so furiously I begin to look around and lo and behold there are some nice hills in the near-distance and we still have 3hrs 20 min to kill…. 3mi later the scrabbley desert road terminates in a canyon that would be a rushing waterfall in the run-off season. With my keys tucked safely inside a zippered pocket we strike out.

My original goal was to try and climb the whole thing (1000m elevation, ~4km one way) but it’s roughly 100F outside and suddenly that seems like a loooong way. We start up anyway and it’s pretty easy going, loose rock with clumps of trees to hold it together and it isn’t long before we get a great view of the valley all around us. As far as I can tell this area is called “The Great Basin” and with valleys the width of Saskatchewan between each range I can see why. We work our way about halfway up the mountain but it’s now nearly 2pm and the heat is becoming quite oppressive so we take refuge in some shade at the top of a ridge and relax for a while before heading back down.

Tonight I’m in Wendover NV which straddles the border with Utah and it’s funny to see how the casinos spring up right as you cross the state line. Tomorrow I think will be back to Salt Lake City so I’m gonna gamble away the rent money tonight (c:

You-tah

Today finds me in Utah, Salt Lake City actually which probalby isn’t any surprise. For the next three weeks my goals in life are 1) Find flat spots 2) Get very precise coordinates of these flat spots 3) Put large sheets of metal onto these flat spots. On the bright side, I get to do this near to some cool mountains and the sun is shining and I have a 2008 Jeep Wrangler to drive around in (c: On the downside….. hmm….

So today we were about 30mi west of Delle, which is pretty flat and has some desert-y bits all around it. A gravel road led past a gas plant and then fairly predictably it took us right to 1) a great a great flat spot! After we found the incredibly flat spot we used our “hi-tech” survey equipment to 2) get very precise coordinates of our new flat spot. Unfortunately #2 took roughly 4hrs of surveying to figure out which provided a great opportunity to a) do paperwork b) sit in the sun c) watch military helicopters and jets on bombing exercises (c:

Tomorrow we’re headed out across the border to Nevada, just south of Wendover… should be fun!

Yup, more pictures of Colorado

I hope that you’re not getting tired of pictures from Colorado because here are some more (c:

We didn’t fly last night so I took the morning and went back up to the Monument again with the intent of playing around, taking pictures and just generally enjoying some relaxing time in the hills.

Grand Junction in the distance

Some goofball got in the way of a perfectly good shot!


Red Canyon view

Red Canyon view 2

My other intent was to hang out somewhere nice and high up and take in all the sights, and fortunately I found this spot (c: The view was amazing as the two pictures above will attest and there were a whole bunch of birds flying below me in the canyon.

I’d love to post some of those bird pictures for you, but not a single one turned out! 57 blurry pictures… I’ll have to go and practise some more.

Here is another shot of “Cold Shivers Point” from a different angle, I think it really helps show the exposure and gives a better feeling of what it would be like to stand on top of that wee outcrop.

Fantastic Day in Colorado

Today was another excellent day in Colorado; I woke up to sunshine and clear blue skies! After some quick breakfast and few hours of working that we’ll just gloss over I ducked out of the office and headed for the Colorado National Monument again. It is this huge mesa with some amazing cliffs and canyons all over it.

I played around for a while and tried to boulder on some of the rocks and, you guessed it, boulders, but it is mostly sandstone which meant that my shoes wouldn’t stick very well to the crumbling red rocks and any of the really great ledges I stood on would break off and send me tumbling! After taking a few tumbles and getting nice I dirty I figured I’d abandon that spot and try to find something better to climb on.

This is what I found:

This is Independence Monument, first ascended in 1911 by the founder of this park it is ascended every year on July 4th and people plant the flag on top. Awww, how nationalistic! It’s a pretty easy climb if I recall, a 5.9 A1 or something… could be worth a trip back.

View across the valley

Cool formations

This next one is one of my favourites!

This is called “Cold Shivers Point” and from where that couple is standing you can probably figure out why it’s called that! You’re probably wondering why I have a picture of a Hutterite couple on their honeymoon? Well, aside from a strange attraction to dark patterned wool-clad ladies it was really the only way to get any perspective in the picture! And to be fair, there is now a honeymooning Hutterite couple with a picture of a strange Canadian guy standing in the same spot (c: The view from Cold Shivers Point is definitely something else, from there you can peer down probably 400 feet in all directions! I did feel bad for the lady trying to climb up there in her dress.

Canyon View

After my little sojourn I did a couple more hours of work, which I’ll again gloss over, hit the gym for a bit and was just about to sit down and work some more when I got a call that someone had a volleyball to go with the volleyball net in behind the hotel! Yup, played me some beach volleyball, and had a kick ass time doing it in the wind and rain storm that ensued!

So now I’m sitting here, working, with a belly full of Mexican food and contemplating what tomorrow will bring.

Grand Junction

Tonight I’m in Grand Junction Colorado, it seems to be a decent town but then again it’s also very dark right now. I missed my original flight today, the application process for a new visa took over 2hrs(!) most of which was waiting… terribly frustrating. Nevertheless, I’m here now and have a spiffy blue Subaru for a rental car so I think it’ll be a good time.