See the world on less than three hours of sleep a day!

Big planes. The novelty wore off surprisingly quickly.

In a shocking turn of events, I found myself driving on the wrong side of the road past fields full of ostriches and citrus trees with warning signs that say “Baboons!”. Less than two months ago, I got a call asking “Would you be willing to come to some place in the southern hemisphere to help us out with an occultation observation?” This put a bit of a kink in my summer plans, in particular a big race I’d been training for, but when this opportunity strikes, grab your bags and hit the road. Adventure is where you find it and there was certainly plenty of adventure to found, as long as you don’t insist on much sleep.

Even in the best of circumstances, I don’t sleep much when I travel. Usually I’m busy with work stuff (whatever that may be) and fill up non-working time exploring. Even if it’s a pretty “uninteresting” location, I’ll get up early and go for a quick reconnaissance run or something. I know this and have accepted it about myself; sleep comes as a third priority. But in order to be functional on an intensive ten-day observing trip to the opposite hemisphere, fraught with all kinds of logistical challenges, managing my sleep schedule would be crucial.

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It worked?!

It worked!

I don’t want anyone to die of suspense after last week’s cliff-hanger, so here is a quick resolution to the South Africa Occultation story (see here for part 1 and part 2).  Team 13 (myself and Simon along with Alistair the documentary maker) ended up having decent (though not great) weather on our event night.  Recall that concern for bad weather is what sent half our team driving across the Karoo in the night at the last minute.  Clouds were in the sky periodically for us, but never covered the actual field.  A less-than-steady mounting situation and less-than-perfect seeing gave us slightly degraded image quality, but we did what we could  The teams who drove east apparently had great seeing as well (and some amazing you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up stories from their adventures and misadventures).

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The things we do for science

Equipment checkout in Capetown.

A few weeks ago I posted an article about our occultation-chasing trip to the Southern Hemisphere and some of the science behind what we’re doing. Three weeks ago, I didn’t even know which continent I would be visiting. Since then, a lot has happened and most of it is very different than I’d imagined (except for irregular sleep schedules part). For instance, I didn’t expect that my original blog article would be so popular and get picked up by so many places. Nor did I expect that I’d be updating you all on the eve of the main even while sitting on the verandah of the strangest “hotel room” I’ve ever had the pleasure of utilizing, staring out over a lovely bend in the Oliphants River north of Clanwilliam, South Africa. I’ve got a “backie” (aka, large pickup truck) parked with a about five thousand dollars worth of telescope gear buckled, literally into the back seat with a sheet of plastic thrown over it and I had a crash course in driving said backie with a finicky manual transmission on the other side of the road in the middle of the night. Also, I’m having my morning coffee at 1 pm because that’s how we astronomers roll. Continue reading

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An Unexpected Journey to the Southern Hemisphere?

Artist’s rendition of New Horizons at MU69.

Normally my work life is not too exciting from an outdoors adventure standpoint. I mostly sit behind a computer writing code, writing papers, writing proposals, and writing recommendation letters. Or I’m jockeying powerpoint slides and waving my hands around at the front of large lecture-halls. Or I’m getting coffee or scrounging for left-over pizza in the fridge (actually, that happens a lot.) But every now and then, being an astronomer enables some pretty cool adventures. We have conferences (which are mostly boring) but sometimes they’re in interesting places like Venice or Hawaii and I can add on adventures. I sometimes go use large telescopes on remote mountaintops (which is cool for the first bit) and spend some daylight hours exploring the area nearby (also cool). But, very occasionally, it’s the work itself which is the adventure…

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James Peak Skimo Rematch

Making it look, just for a moment, like I don’t suck.

Back in the day when my quiver of skis was a lot more barren than it is today, I thought it would be a grand idea to skin up and ski down James Peak.  It turned out okay and was a hoot, but my equipment (in this case, a very skinny set of glorified XC skis with metal edges and some low, soft-leather boots in three-pin bindings) was laughable.  Consequently, I fell down a lot.

Fast-forward eight years…  more skis in the quiver, more miles under my belt, some harder (?), scarier descents, and another attempt on James Peak.  For once, I wasn’t organizing this one; Peter, Jake and Russ were headed out for some skimo and invited me along.

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Be Fruitaful and Springbreakify

Spring Break 2017

Another winter too quickly over means it’s time to harness all that cabin fever and plan another big family expedition for Spring Break. To top the 2015 and 2016 editions, we’d have to go really big this year… and somehow we just couldn’t muster the logistical where-with-all to plan it. So we dialed it down a bit but still had a dandy time; a nice balance of adventure, relaxation, recreation, and rejuvenation. Continue reading

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Descent Via Flattop

“I couldn’t catch a ball or do any of that stuff. I could do only what required brute stupidity.” — Warren Harding on mountaineering.

Nice view of Longs.

Nice view of Longs.

Back in the day, the Stupid Brutes were pretty active in the ascending of mountains, the scaling of rocks, the talking of smack, and the generation of weird inside jokes. Many an alpine trip was undertaken in good—or at least kindred—company. For a bunch of suburban white guys of we were a colorful and varied bunch from Fabio the gear wizard and sage pundit to Dan(imal) the enthusiastic young rope gun to people like me content to formulate obscure type-II adventures and then tag along as best they could. We had narrow escapes, triumphant victories, and lots of brutal stupidity hauling heavy packs in inclement conditions at ungodly hours of the day and night.

Most frequent for the Brutes were alpine trips in Rocky Mountain National Park since it was the highest concentration of interesting objectives at the closest distance requiring the least alpine of alpine starts. So many memorable trips! We climbed Tyndal Glacier and descended via Flattop Mountain. We climbed Dragonstail with a descent via Flattop. We climbed Taylor Glacier with a descent via Flattop. We climbed James Peak with a… at some point, all descents were de rigueur via Flattop even if we were in a different county altogether.

Over the years, the Brutes have gone dormant as we’ve matured (in some cases), aged (in all cases), and moved on into parenthood, careers, and other pursuits. But the Brutes were only sleeping (albeit pretty soundly). It was time to descend via Flattop again! Continue reading

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