11 April 2015

Fresh Air February, Merry March - 2015

[Evening in Waikiki, Hawaii]

It would be nice to say that when granted a bonus thirty-day leave of absence stateside in February, I would show up at a log cabin somewhere in the forests of Northern New England, chop firewood and not leave until I had written a novel. It would be a pleasure to boast how I spent a month at a rented house in Monterrey, CA devouring 3,000 pages of John Steinbeck while learning how to surf in the frigid Pacific. Maybe I should have hired a flat in New York to rediscover old haunts and eat in great restaurants for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But I didn’t do those things. Instead I did the following.

Two weeks in late winter in DC are quite enough. I left Tel Aviv for home leave two weeks early so I could take some training for work, and thereby save my employer thousands on future required travel. But the Northeast is a miserable place in winter, outside the sweet, incandescent holiday cheer of December. By the first of January, the grey skies are oppression incarnate, and the feet of trudging down-coated commuters become as heavy as bitter cold concrete. I did what I always do when I pop in to DC – I called on a myriad of old friends and family, packing every vacant space in my schedule with catch-ups. Just like always I emerged exhausted. This time, in some gloomy foreshadowing of the aging process to come, I severely injured my back while packing - moving my suitcase from the stand to the bed. By the next morning – I could barely stand without my eyes filling with tears of extreme agony. I barely made it to my last day of testing before retiring to my undersized glass hovel of what was supposed to be a four star hotel room. The next morning, back patches and OTC painkillers applied, I was on my way to DCA, home leave bound, wincing with every pothole.

Flying South - fond memories of a four-day weekend are whiskey with stories with friends at a lakeside fire pit in Atlanta, bacon-oyster pizza with my nieces and the finest pork BBQ imaginable with my brother and sister-in law in Birmingham- all hard-to-come-by opportunities back in the land of Israel.

[Frosty river, shot somewhere above the fruited plain in Kentucky or southern Indiana.]

As an ice storm blew in to Birmingham, I blew out of Shuttlesworth airport’s spiffy new terminal (which still had that new carpet smell). It was a frigid Tuesday morning flight to Chicago in a frosty Canadair commuter jet warmed only by the Chik-Fil-A chicken and biscuit I had with my morning coffee. I switched aircraft in ORD for my flight to SFO, happy to not have to endure more than an hour in one of America’s most frenetic hubs.

I’ve spent three and a half of the last five years overseas and every time I return home I notice that something has changed in America. For example, I noticed that every man who can grow one sports a full-on bushy lumberjack beard, a fifties style haircut and tight pants. Slip-on canvas boat shoes are also in. And the airlines it seems have begun handing out Boarding Group 2 and Premier Status to everyone with a credit score of 650 or higher.

My point of stopping in SFO on my way to Hawaii was simple logistics – I didn’t want to spend an entire day traveling from Alabama to Hawaii only to arrive in Honolulu at midnight completely exhausted and having to return to the airport the following day to fly out on an interisland anyway. Spending two nights and a full day in SFO seemed to be a nice idea. I love being right.

Steeley Dan’s “Babylon Sister” played on my phone as the BART pulled out of SFO towards downtown. I stayed in an old hotel off of Market Street which kept the faith, in a tastefully renovated, modern sort of way, in the early 20th century style of tiny bedrooms with sinks with bathrooms down the hall.

The last time I was in San Francisco proper was in May 2001. I had just graduated from college and I was thinking about moving back to California. Travel west young man and all that jazz. Gifted a few nights worth of Marriot points by my aunt and uncle, and burning an airfare voucher gifted by guilt-plagued airline due from an unfortunate return trip from Costa Rica a few months earlier, I had come to scope out the area. My interviewer at a temp agency said, in the nicest way humanly possible, that I had no marketable skills and no immediate prospects for employment in tech-bubble-burst Bay Area. So I spent the balance walking miles and miles of the sidewalks of San Francisco, resound to the fact that I had no business being there.

Fast forward almost 14 years, and here I was burning a few nights layover on my own dime, albeit in a much cheaper place, decades wiser, a half million miles more on my odometer and not at all daunted by the prospect of making it in San Fran. It felt like a completely different place, maybe because I was in a completely different place.

My first stop was for something I had not yet developed a taste for in 2001, but today I am near insane with craving. The Pacific coast from Washington to British Columbia produces the best oysters in the entire world. No one should take that title lightly, and when bestowing it on this region, I certainly don’t. At Hog Island Oyster Co. in the Ferry Building, I had the best six oysters I have ever had. I will not tell you the name of the variety, lest frenzy break out and the world supply is exhausted. But they were small, but deep and had the flavor of the type of white chocolates found in the middle of an oyster, filled with sweet salty spring water at the bottom of the sea. Disappointingly I had a terrifically subpar dinner afterwards in Chinatown, but walking through that neighborhood at night was fine consolation.

For me, the only proper way to see a city is to get lost by foot. So next morning, the sun rose on one of my favorite days of home leave. I set out in search of a breakfast burrito. I walked up hill from Market st, into Nob Hill, ascending Polk Gulch through Russian Hill before descending into Cow Hollow where I finally discovered an old deli, the Marina Deli on Chestnut Street, where I wolfed down a respectful breakfast burrito and watched life cruise by. Newly fortified with egg and tortilla, waltzing through the Marina District, I stopped in to gawk at the weird yet magnificent Palace of Fine Arts, before once again ascending, this time hiking the hills adjoining the Presidio.

Through Presidio Heights, Lake Street and down into Richmond, I found the Victorian houses and steep streets to be a small straw short of paradise. Little wonder this place is so sought after. It’s a good thing that I hadn’t walked this way back in 2001, I thought. I probably would have found myself a few months later, destitute and dreaming of any way possible I could remain a resident of San Francisco. The comically built steep streets, the Pacific vistas – the late morning clouds burning off the tops of eucalyptus – the cast iron domes of 19th century shipping magnates and eccentric appetites of Victorian facades; who could not be impressed?

I finished my long day on foot with a circuit reminiscent of my 2001 trip – Golden Gate Park – one of the world’s finest large city-center parks- followed by a walk down Shakedown street – or Haight street, the least boring avenue in America. I almost ran late for a meet up for lunch with a friend at a dark pub in the Financial District to lament the gloomy state of European security over a few frosty Anchor Steams. Dinner with another old friend at a sushi joint in Japantown was superb – she had been there before once years ago for a wild bachelorette party. Gulp. Yelp. Heading to the airport the following morning, life was somber on the BART. I wish my layover had been a week at least …or several years. In this place in my life, I’d have been happy with either one.

Upgraded to first class, I boarded in Group 1. The plane was an old triple 7 with no entertainment or working wi-fi. It was like kind of like getting extra leg room on a Greyhound bus. But breakfast was decent, I had plenty of movies downloaded to my pad and I was traveling to Hawaii for two weeks, so who could really complain about anything?

The plane banked sharply into a low holding pattern just south of the Honolulu airport while we were awaiting clearance to land. I used to always sit in window seats before I started flying internationally. Nowadays, I flight at night and/or over featureless terrain so often, that I usually select an aisle set for the dual-use benefit of myself and my fellow passengers. But if I fly at daytime and if it’s a short hop or I can get up without bothering others, I purchase window real estate. Today that selection meant the jackpot to see far below - a pod of humpback whales happily making their way around the waters of the South Pacific, looking for a nice place to have lunch. Later as we descended on final approach, I spotted an impressive convocation of four F-22 Raptors taking off from a nearby air base. Perhaps “launch” is more apt.

Honolulu International Airport is a decrepit, sorry complex of scary concrete. Not at all what I’d expect from one the Pacific’s busiest air hubs of passenger and commerce, and certainly the State of Hawaii’s most important. The monitor said that I could pick up my baggage at the C12 belt. There was no C12 belt, but I did see that the belts were numbered instead of lettered. I found my belt by walking by and reading the inbounds manually. I asked a branded airport attendant standing by the belts where the interisland terminal was, and how far away it was. He gave me one vague answer and one wrong one – waving his hand in a general direction towards my back and stating that there was a shuttle, but that I could walk there in five minutes.

Twenty minutes of running later with all the worldly belongings one might need on a seven week trip, I finally found the interisland terminal, and was almost late for the bag drop deadline. The interisland terminal was in even more dire straits than the main terminal: no windows or doors donned whole sections of the pedestrian walkways, a depressing array of dining options and not enough seating in the waiting areas. Hawaiian airlines happily provided status in their premier program to all residents of Hawaii, or so it appeared. Well, I suppose I deserve some time at the bottom of the airline status ladder from time to time - healthy for a balanced perspective diet.

I flew into the tiny Hilo airport, rented a car and began the drive across the Big Island to Kona. The volcanic landscape was so bizarre - like driving on a paved two lane highway on the moon.

There was some difficulty in picking which island in Hawaii I wanted to visit. Of course I was eventually going to stay on Oahu – my sailing class was there. However, I labored over whether to pick Kauai or the Big Island to spend my run-up week. Kauai was the clear winner, but unfortunately the winds and the seas were not in my favor. I could not kayak the famed north shore of Kauai this time of year. What would be the point of going to a place I would certainly return to anyway? Better cross a place off my list and not return. Besides, I had never seen a volcano up close and personal before – they were always looming above me or off on the horizon.

The Big Island it was. This would be my first and likely last trip to the Extraterrestrial Island – a crispy and boiling moon anchored to the bottom of the Pacific.

In Kona, and in the Big Island itself, I took it easy. I’d been on the road for three weeks and was exhausted. I drove around the coast and went snorkeling. I checked in to a few nights in a cheap hotel in downtown Kona and drank Hawaiian beer and ate Hawaiian pizza which I shared with a unionized Minnesotan welder who lives in Anchorage and a local surfer who was attending community college but soon wanted ditch everything to go backpack Europe. A few days later I drove north along the coast to spend a few nights in a camp shelter on scenic Hapuna Beach. My first night at Hapuna Beach, I left to join a guided tour to summit the 13,000 foot Mt. Mauna Kea and do some star gazing. Curious that the highest places I have ever stood are the Himalayas and the South Pacific. Mt. Mauna Kea is actually the tallest mountain in the world, if you measure from its base on the ocean floor.

Tremendous sunset that evening high above the Pacific, but by the time it dropped below the horizon, I was light headed in the thin air.

Universities and foundations from all around the world have telescopes up here.

I had come to all the way to Hawaii because I thought it was one of the few places in the country that were acceptable in the month of February – yet I sought out and found the only place in the state where you need a winter coat.

Stargazing was quite clear that night. We looked at Jupiter, some jaw dropping supernovas and learned some helpful advice on navigation. Embarking on a useful hobby like sailing the following week, stargazing on the Big Island that night seemed the perfect time and place to learn about the night sky. After all, stars and sails brought man to Hawaii. Always a little sad to remember when looking up though – that all that light is history and where it comes from may already be long, long gone.

The following night I was aboard a diving boat off the Kona coast, heading out to sea. This was actually my first night dive and because of the experience, it most certainly will not be my last. The world famous spot to view giant manta rays is just next to Kona International Airport. The manta rays didn’t show up until the last ten minutes of the dive. I guess they were late getting off their shift at Cinnabun. Magestic bubbles lifted up from our regulators in the light of a firepit of lamps. Schools of fish danced between us in the twilight. Disturbing the peace was rafts full of uncertified snorkelers above, hovering over us like man-eating UFOs with waterproof cameras. In the heavy current, I imagined myself a naked, half-paralyzed Robert Downey Jr. squirming below a TMZ helicopter.

Long drives are part of the repatriating process. In fact, they are a required part. From Hapuna, I drove north from Hapuna as far as I could go without driving into the ocean. Then I back tracked a bit and ascended southeast into the breathtaking heights of Kohalo. The road then went through the crossroads of Waimea before I tracked it all along the north coast to the Akaka waterfalls.

Figuring I was on vacation and I should do pretty much what I wanted, I skipped my last night in Hapuna and checked into a hotel in Kona. This place, like so many adjoining establishments had gotten some sand stuck in its time gears somewhere 1974, and never really left. Paint peeled as sugary mai tais were still served in yellowing punch bowl shaped glasses on the pool patio. Floral-shirted pot-bellied husbands feign wide-mouthed zombie at some stateside sports event playing loudly on a box television suspended above the bar while the wife in her cover-up chats Iowan gossip to a bystander. Meanwhile the sun set a perfect scene to those who looked seawards and staff coolly lighted tiki torches for the $75-a-tikihead luau.

The luau I forwent and opted instead for a cheeseburger in paradise at a local joint nearby. Bar side, I met a veteran and his wife who were owners of a local construction company. Even though they were in their sixties, they were avid skydivers who had just returned from vacation in Los Angeles.

My last day on the Big I spent in a reverse traverse across Senator Inouye Highway back towards the east side of the island. Several false starts resulted from me being unable to locate a gas station on the west side of the island and there being no gas stations between the coasts - I had to fill up before the 70 mile traverse. Good thing I did too – would have run out in the middle of the moon.

Entering Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, I immediately regretted having only planned a few hours in this uncanny corner of the world. However, much of the park was closed anyway due to “high amounts of dangerous sulfur dioxide gas” and I dislike touring national parks from the cabin of a motor vehicle.

On the Illiahi Trail, one can feel the eerie heat radiated up from the ground, which formed the floor of the dripping rainforest corridor. Natural steam vents billowed across the flora in all directions like walking atop the vegetable roof, which conceals a massive underground factory. I hiked around the north rim of the Kilauea Caldera, mouth watering in lust for the Halema’uma’u Trail snaking towards the boiling crater. There it is – my reason to return to the Big if these poison gasses ever subside.

By late afternoon I was in Janus-faced Hilo; hideous from one angle (the shopping mall and parking lot lined thoroughfare) but absolutely spectacular from another [the harbor]. My 60’s style hotel room looked out onto the lively, yet tranquil harbor. Outrigger canoe clubs were departing for a late afternoon workout. Teenagers jumped off a rock in the city’s island park just offshore. It looked like fun, so I walked across the bridge to the park and decided to have a go at it. It was a lot higher than it looked from shore. “Uncle,” one boy said to me, “it is no problem. The water is deep enough.” This was the first time I had ever been called uncle by a stranger, but I instantly appreciated the novelty of respect that exists for one’s elders here in the Pacific. My trip to the Big ended with that brief, happy preview of a very Asian merit of hierarchy in relationships – a hint of the delicious Asian buffet to follow.

Back to Honolulu, where I checked into the Hyatt in Waikiki after an izakaya lunch of karayagi chicken, seaweed salad and rice with pickled vegetables. Soon I realized where I really was. I was in a Japanese resort with all the fixings. I was in heaven.

All of Waikiki is one sensational skyscrapered all-inclusive engineered for the well-deserved appetites and diversions of the beautiful people of the Land of the Rising Sun. This means a handsome dividend for the visiting American who once lived in Japan and hasn’t tasted an authentic miso ramen or even a passable tonkatsu since he left twelve years ago. My one week life on Oahu consisted of Japanese izakaya or sushi, ramen house or Korean BBQ - lunch and dinner, everyday. Breakfast in Hawaii is best served with a banana with blueberry scones and, of course Kona bean coffee.

My hotel upgraded me from “nice” to “fantastic.” My balcony had this view on the 23rd floor. I stocked my mini fridge with Longboard Lager and watched the world and the weather roll by, with only minor intermissions in the jacuzzi far down below.

One evening I pulled up to a sushi bar in Waikiki and met an attractive woman who had just moved to Honolulu. Naturally, she was married but we had a nice long chat anyway. It turns out we had something in common; we both drive resource-intensive, Mission-focused, USG-owned mechanisms in far corners of the world. She pilots Navy warships for a living. Wow.

Soon it was time for me to check out of my expensive perch in the skies above Waikiki, check my luggage with the bellhop and walk down to the harbor where I would live on a boat for three days and two nights while I learned how to sail.

Three quarters of the world is covered by water, and the wind blows over every inch of it. Sailing must be one of the most important skills of the human race, yet it is a skill that fewer and fewer of us are mastering.

Since I was a boy, I have daydreamed about sailing the world. As an adult, I realize the difficulty and danger of solo ocean-going. Even coastal cruising is fairly dangerous. Recently I read about a man who had been sailing his whole life on the fresh water tributaries and inter-coastal waterways of my old haunt of Conway, South Carolina. The first time he attempted to sail on the open ocean, he disappeared for two months and nearly lost his life before found floating on his capsized 35 foot sailboat, having barely survived on fish guts and rainwater. The ocean is no joke. If I longed to one day become a competent fifty something sailor frequenting the small ports and hidden coves of the South Pacific and Caribbean archipelagos, I better start to get some experience as soon as possible. As Fareed Zakaria would say, “Let’s get started.”

My instructor was a greying, salty, sarcastically ornery man of the sailcloth whose hold was filled to the brim with caustic ballast for the novice. Insults and seawater go together like gin and tonic, so it was the perfect way to learn how to sail.

The second night, he invited me to the Yacht Club where there was a special dinner hosted by the Commodore. The Yacht Club was not at all like a country club. There was certainly no dress code whatsoever (except for the Commodore, who was expected to dress the part). The average age was somewhere around seventy and the d├ęcor was also from the seventies. Given the surrounds, I assumed the fare would be something like Jimmy Buffet’s assessment of ‘warm onion bread, said to raise the dead’ which reminded him of ‘the menu at a Holiday Inn.’ The buffet, it turned out, was thankfully no cheeseburger in paradise either – it consisted of traditional Hawaiian pork and salads and it was of an absolutely astonishing quality. I chatted with “cruisers” – or boat people – those who lived in their sea craft on the harbor, calling on ports all over the world. Some of them, you could tell, were wealthy while others were just middle class blokes who used their modest craft like mobile homes on the waves – collecting drifting income wherever they could find it. In traveler sharing ecstasy, I listened to their sailing advice, and maritime tales of adventure and survival. One Scandinavian couple had guided their impressive sailboat all the way across the Atlantic, all the way through the Northwest Passage, south around Alaska into the Pacific and all the way to Hawaii. They were circumnavigating the globe – at a leisurely pace.

Fully accredited to take a sailboat out on day trips [but not on overnight excursions!] within sight of shore and in clear weather, I checked back into my hotel for two final nights in the islands.

On the last day, I went out to Pearl Harbor. I took a public bus from Waikiki and besides saving a metric ton of cash, I got to see more of Honolulu, which is unlike any other American city. I would compare it to New Orleans for two reasons: One that the Old Section has an exotic feeling to it. Like it was a house moved from a foreign land, root and tree, and plopped on American soil. Parts of it are quintessentially American – 19th century American Colonial or early 20th century Victorian Revival peppered with strange flowering trees or Asian shrubbery. Second comparison to New Orleans is that the new section of Honolulu consists of battered skyscrapers that show their age like tanned, working class chain-smokers.

At World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, one has many choices for site seeing. I chose the USS Arizona Memorial (a no-brainer really – like going to Gettysburg and not seeing Little Round Top) and the USS Bowfin submarine.

The USS Bowfin is a perfectly preserved WWII submarine. In the enlisted mess, I could still hear the Benny Goodman and smell the scrambled eggs and coffee.

There was one thing in particular I wanted to see in Pearl Harbor that had fascinated me since I heard about it years ago. It is the oil slick that is still, after more than 70 years, emanating from the USS Arizona after it was sunk by the Japanese.

I did not expect to be so enamored with the USS Arizona memorial. It has a specific, understated character of serene simplicity. Calm, proud patriotism. No gothic columns required to convey a sense of gratitude here. Although the surrounds are pretty, the focal points of the memorial are not situated out onto the harbor. Aside from the wall commemorated the fallen, the memorial urges the visitor to look up - at heaven, and our flag. And down, to the sea to the mighty ship herself. After all, the monument is the ship itself. The memorial on top, although remarkably wrought, is merely a dais from which makes it possible for all who desire, to fittingly mourn her.

It was crowded and noisy on the memorial, but leaning over the side, I had a quiet moment and saw what I had longed to see. Below, floating up to the surface from not far below but long ago were tiny impressions of 1940’s energy. Fading fast, yet indelible for all of time. I felt almost like I was witnessing a much more recent version of the stars - gazing out onto a colorful expanse streaming across an ocean void - it was history, living and breathing, that I was witnessing.

An indescribable feeling I vainly here try to inscribe.

At any rate, it was a wonderful way to end my time in Hawaii.

After a day of flying across the Pacific, I landed in a dusty valley in the Arizona desert to visit family.

One day we drove down to Tombstone, Arizona, home of the legend of the Shootout at the OK Corral. America must be one of the few places in the world where historical celebrities might be known as lawmen (Wyatt Earp), wandering scoundrels who befriend them (Doc Holliday) or murderous criminals (Billy the Kid). But that is the Old West: moral absolutism and relativism all in the same saddle. Again for the foreign tourists happening in on my blog – the Shootout at the OK Corral was one of the most famous legends in the Old West. Google it or watch the Kevin Costner film, Wyatt Earp.

A great thing about enduring legends, despite their veracity: they are pistol-carrying vigilantes for the cause of historical preservation of a place and time, albeit a degree of the sort demanded by commercial interest. In this case, little Tombstone would have been consumed by the desert like the Egyptian Tanis had it not been for the shootout in an alley behind the OK Corral. Curious that a famous gun fight would preserve an entire 19th century town in the middle of the desert.

Tombstone was even more interesting than I thought it would be. I never realized how wide the streets in an old West town were. It makes sense, though. Plenty of space to build, so why have cramped avenues when there was so much horse manure? One of the highlights of Tombstone was the Bird Cage Theater, a relic which used to be the center of town life and famous singers and performers from all over the Victorian world would pop in.

On the way back to Phoenix, I played my visitor trump card with the family and got them to stop over in Saguaro National Park on the outskirts of Tucson. Unusually, there are actually two distinct disconnected sections of this national park, and we dropped in to the eastern section. This National Park is gorgeous, but quite inhospitable – certainly an exception to my avoid viewing a national park from the car rule.

I've never heard of anything like a Renaissance Festival happening outside of the US. Well, they're probably considered historical reenactments in places like Europe, where the Renaissance actually took place. But in my country, Renaissance festivals are fully embraced as a treasured piece of Americana - like our county fairs or traveling carnivals. More like a mixture between the two, except with booze and costumes. Add even further novelty to the notion of 14th century knights and kings roaming America, is them roaming the Old West! I'd never seen knights joust before, so this was a real treat for a Saturday diversion in Phoenix.

Spring is the perfect time of year to visit Arizona: the weather is nice, what can be green usually is, and then there is the baseball. For the foreigner – half of America’s professional baseball teams descend on the Valley of the Sun for “spring training” a month long series of practice games against other teams. The games take place in small stadiums at much more reasonable prices than during the Season.

Either by the reins or the cow horns, one must seize any opportunity possible to explore the American West. I had a few more days of home leave to kill before heading back to the Holy Land. So I rented a car in Phoenix and set off north to Denver.

I hadn’t been back to the Grand Canyon in more than 20 years and it wasn’t too far off the beaten path northbound. Just northwest of Flagstaff, I hit a beautiful highway that snaked through a fine fir forest, then out into a wide open expanse. It was a bittersweet moment, thinking that it might be that last time I’d be driving West in the West for a while. But as soon as I reached a T in the road, I took a right and headed North, feeling fine with the fact I was heading back towards the flight home.

At the Grand Canyon Village, I rented a room in the Bright Angel Lodge - a legacy bunkroom almost a century old and only about 20 feet from the South Rim. Just like the old Bachelor’s hotel in San Fran, this one also was modestly apportioned with an in-room sink and toilet down the hall.

I took a long walk West along the South Rim and plodded along in quiet elation alongside my old dear friend, this chasm. While she listened, my mind wandered over the decades since I last visited, offering my regrets for the lateness of my return. Thousands of millennia and millions visited, so she took no particular offense.

Late at night, I could not sleep. I walked out of my room into the frigid air and peered down into the abyss. A Black Hole on Earth. Then, down below a single light emanated from a camper’s flashlight bivouacked down on a plateau above the canyon floor. A half-sleeping dragon the color of midnight with one eye open – it was warm and you could almost hear it breathing beneath the canopy of stars.

It was easy to get an early start precisely because I hadn’t slept. Driving due east along the South Rim, it was mighty easy to become distracted by the formidable views of the Canyon. Eventually, after an hour or so, the canyon fell away to my left and I began to descend along a gradual winding highway. My radio picked up a Navajo station and the songs and drums of the first Americans filled the car cabin as I entered the Painted Desert.

This is why I’d come all the way out here – open space therapy.

The Navajo station faded out of reception and the dial settled onto a public station playing folk from the 30’s.

Before saying farewell to the Southwest, I knew I wanted to see Monument Valley.
The famous American director John Ford filmed numerous Westerns here in the 40’s and 50’s, including the 1939 classic masterpiece, Stagecoach. Yet the veneration factor of seeing it up close makes the fact that it was used as a quintessential backdrop for movie sets a minor footnote. What is a wonder is why it was never designated a National Monument by the federal government. But it is on Navajo land, and it seems they treasure it even more than the National Park Service ever could.

I walked around the Wildcat Trail, a few mile loop around one of the closest “mittens”.

Continuing on further into Utah, North on 163 then heading east and then south east in a curve bending towards the border of Colorado I dropped in and out of differing flavors of desert every few dozen miles. I realized twenty five years ago when I first saw the West that the desert is anything but dull and barren. In fact, the desert of the American Southwest is the most colorful place on earth, even more brilliant then a mid-autumn day in a New England forest or a tropical island off the coast of Africa. But you forget the extent of that truth until you are out here.

Ever wonder why there is a town called “Mexican Hat” in Utah? Because there is a giant sombrero shaped rock carefully balanced by nature on a bluff overlooking the town. I didn’t take a picture, but laughed when I saw it. Natural history has such a great sense of humor.

I entered Colorado and drove to Cortez where I checked into a roadside motel. Yearning to stretch my legs, body thirsty for a swim and craving the smell of chlorine I drove to the nearby public rec center for some laps.

Colorado has been rated as either the healthiest, or one of the healthiest states in the Union by almost every online poll I see. This is due to several reasons; the weather is conducive to outdoor activity, it is an outdoor sports state and most social activity centers or is book marked by outdoor sports, and there are plenty of healthy options to eat out in many places in the state. However, twenty or so years ago, the state government did something highly important which altered the waistlines of its residents forever. It helped municipalities build recreation centers all over Colorado, so that there would never be an excuse not to stay fit in the cold, snowy months of the year.

So, my biggest complaint that afternoon was that they only had one lane open for lap swimming while the rest of the empty pool was reserved for open swim. Developed country problems.

I had dinner in a local diner, a true Mom and Pop operation as the sign was the name of the husband and wife proprietors. I ordered the chicken fried steak with fried okra and as hungry as it was after my two mile swim, I could barely finish 60 percent of the massive portions of fried goodness smothered in white gravy. American problems.

The chef came out to chat in the near empty diner. She was the Mom of the Mom and Pop operation. She asked where I was from and where I was going. She had a son in the USMC and was very proud that her daughter just bagged a massive Elk just down the road in the San Juan National Forest. She wished me happy trails, glowing contentment and I waddled back to my hotel room: fat and happy.

Continuing due east, I stopped into to see Mesa Verde National Park – my fifth National Park Service visit this home leave! I wondered if I get a free tote bag for my fifth visit in three weeks? No, that is PBS, not NPS I corrected myself.

Most of the park was unfortunately shuttered this time of year due to the weather, roads and leave schedule for the park. This time of year the park was definitely best toured by vehicle. Again, proving my foot bias wrong.

The Mesa itself was arduous to surmount, even by vehicle. It took what seemed like hours to ascend the winding road from the highway to the top.

Our native forefathers obviously chose the location of assembly of cliff dwellings wisely. It reminded me of a more extensive version of Mangup Kale in Crimea (see blog post in 2007), which curiously was also at its peak around the same time as Mesa Verde - 900-1000 A.D. Mangup Kale was intentionally established on mesa top for defensive reasons, but some archeologists have argued that Mesa Verdeans lived cliff side for climatic comfort, not really for defense until the end when things seemed to have been becoming dicey internally. But its all conjecture, really. No one knows why everyone mysteriously disappeared in the 1300s – maybe famine or internal strife.

Wanted to take a hike to get a feel for the ecosystem, but alas was wearing improper footwear for trudging in the snow.

By late afternoon, I was soaking in hot springs, which is pretty much what I spent the following three days doing. Pagosa Springs is like the Walt Disney World of Coloradan hot springs. It has 20 pools, some small and very hot, some large and cool, some with waterfalls and some within the gushing cold river itself. Like Disney World, it’s ridiculously crowded and feels like a small town carnival at night, but it’s well worth the money and the stopover. Most people gawked at me as I leapt from hot water into the freezing cold waters of the river. I convinced several to try it, extolling the virtues of the cold water therapy and insisting that they were only getting half the pleasure of the hot springs without the cold. I boasted few converts.

The following day, I woke early and headed east then north through a familiar, yet perpetually magnificent valley that stretches between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on the east and the Collegiate Peaks to the west. Exited only to buy some local honey and then to soak in the Princeton Hot Springs, duly deserved recognition for its in-river hot pools.

In Breckenridge, it just started to snow a bit as I arrived. This was the first snow of my entire trip, having narrowly missed storms in both DC and Alabama.

I spent the evening catching up with friends over pizza in downtown Breckenridge: meticulously constructed and care taken, whereby invading moneyed yuppies from the cities and young hipster ski bums were squatting on a Norman Rockwell painting of a quaint Coloradan mountain town.

A few whiskeys later, I awoke to find my rented Ford covered in four inches of powder and it was still coming down. I was pretty sure I hadn’t driven in snow since Bill Clinton was President. The 11,000 ft Loveland Pass on Highway 70 was going to be quite a challenge in a sedan.

On the upside west of the Pass, things looked golden. The snow wasn’t that severe and the highway surface was slick but somewhat clear. Then through that marvel of engineering, the Eisenhower Tunnel, I exited the east side and encountered the weather’s treachery. It was snowing very hard and the entire right lane had disappeared under a white blanket. Foolhardy idiots in SUVs or 18-wheeler freight trucks barreled down beside me at full speed. Their road luck or driving skill was sufficient, however, as I encountered no accidents on the 40 miles of downside. The sheer edge of the saddle between heading either to destruction or to destination in a motor vehicle has always impressed me. I stopped in the caves of Idaho Hot Springs for a soak to calm my nerves before continuing to Denver International airport to drop off the car.

The last couple of days of home leave were of course, over in the blink of an eye. I stopped in Denver to shop for clothes, have a few beers at My Brother’s Bar, swim laps in my old pool at the University of Denver, before flying to DC for a night out for St. Paddy's, a day of work and then back to the airport and over the Atlantic to Tel Aviv.

Unpacking from this trip, little need to say, took a while.

29 December 2014

No Matter What the Weather at the End of the World

For the past three years selecting where I’ll take my annual November vacation has always been an exercise in convenience. In 2011, a training session for work was cancelled in Bangkok. I had my heart set on the tropics, so I took leave and went anyway. Later I went down to spend Thanksgiving in Armenia – because, well, it was just right around the corner from home in Ukraine.

Two years ago, I traveled here to the Holy Land, also because it was just around the bend from Kyiv and because like Lincoln, I always wanted to walk the streets of Jerusalem - that ancient place. For the geographically-challenged, there are many places worth visiting that are in Ukraine’s neighborhood.

Last year I went to Zanzibar because I was craving some diving, and because it was just down the road from South Sudan (well, not exactly, but there aren’t a whole lot of destinations that are ‘just down the road’ from Juba).

This year, I wanted to get as far away from both Tel Aviv and Washington DC as I possibly could. Escapism was the main point of the vacation. The quest for adventure had fallen by the wayside. I had had my fill of thrills and challenges. I looked on Google Earth. The most far-flung place from both homes this year was the South Pacific.

As long as I could remember, I always wanted to travel the islands of the South Pacific. Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga. New Caledonia. Fiji. But I wanted to see them in a long maritime sojourn. And on this trip I only had about 17 days to spend before eyebrows would be raised at work on my absence.

Then there was New Zealand. I had never been there before and always wanted to go. It was an easy choice. So I booked an 11 day backpacking trip with an outfit based out of Christchurch, and purchased tickets from Tel Aviv to Auckland via Seoul.

Two twelve hour flights later, I landed in Auckland, having gazed nothing more our planet of my entire traverse of the Asian continent other than oil wells flaring on the Caspian, some oddly planned Soviet scheme of lighting in some civilization in Turkmenistan, and the distant skyscrapers of Seoul as I changed planes during my one hour layover.

It was gloriously sunny in Auckland for a pleasant walk from the international terminal to the domestic terminal outside along a meandering sidewalk. Two hours later, I puddle jumped down to the South Island to the sudsy port town of Nelson, where I would meet up with the hiking group in two days’ time.

On the curb in front of the tiny airport in Nelson, I reached for the driver’s door on the taxi. “No worries. That’s a common problem,” the driver mused. Remembering several near death experiences in Wales and Japan, I immediately reminded myself to always look right before crossing the street.

A long nap and several pints of beer later, more or less in that order, I acclimatized to the brilliant weather. In every shop or restaurant I walked into, locals boasted about how nice the weather was today. That should have foreshadowed a uniqueness about fair weather “down South” but I was too much in bliss in the inauguration of my holiday to ponder. I was too much captivated by the delicious beer – Nelson had been producing its own locally grown hops for more than 150 years so internationally acclaimed that they were exported all over the world. Likewise perhaps I was too enchanted by the charming scenery of this attractive little channel side town. Behind the city is a round hill that is awarded the title of “geographic center” of New Zealand. I confess that I did in Nelson what I would have done on a nice Saturday morning stateside: swim some laps in a local pool, go for a hike in the forest and wash it all down with a tasty IPA. Brewpubs dot the down like casinos in Vegas. Therefore in little Nelson we have Independence, Missouri, Fort Collins, Colorado and Portland, Oregon, all in one convenient, frothy quiet place.

On a Monday morning, the ten-night tour started from in front of the Travel Information office. Waiting were three young American ladies traveling together. They had met in Seattle. One ER nurse, two zoologists. That could be useful on a multi-day hike. Save any necessity for venomous snake identifications or crocodile bite tourniquets here in New Zealand. There was an Electrical Engineer from Sydney and an electrically eccentric senior citizen from the suburbs of Auckland. There was a couple from Canada on their way to Brisbane. Our guides were seasoned hikers, one of who was a geologist who had calves the size of small watermelons. He had conquered the Appalachian Trail, the Great Divide Trail and the Pacific Coast Trail in subsequent summers of self-induced insanity. Between the RN, the two zoologists and the wayfaring geologist there was no debate that I was in capable hands, or legs.

At the trailhead to the first hike, we were welcomed by a Kea, or mountain parrot. This first walk started in Kahurangi National Park, ascending steeply through beech forest into tussock-strewn plateaus. It was a kaleidoscope of wilderness. At one section, the forest would be thick and dark, like the deep forests of coastal Maine. In other sections it would open up into formidable scrublands like in the High Plains in the foothills of the Rockies, only with more exotic coloring than exists anywhere in North America. On the first night, the guides forgot the meat and the rice so we wound up devouring grilled vegetables for a meager dinner beneath a rocky outcropping in an old Miner’s camp as it began to drizzle. The temperature plummeted to zero Celsius as I once again regretted my thrift in exchanging warmth for weight. Luckily, I had not forgotten my trusty Spanish bota bag filled with New Zealand Cabernet.

The hike out and back was a veritable buffet of forest, plateaus, saddles and mountain peaks. Ditto for the weather: sun, drizzle, wind and rain. First, the path meandered through dark gnarly forests carpeted with thick moss. Strange, otherworldly bird songs echoed off the trees. Gradually as we climbed, the forest gave way to the treeline. The goal was Gordon’s Pyramid; a low summit crowned with panorama views of the South Pacific, Nelson Harbor and the Kahurangi peaks adjoining Mount Arthur. At only 1489m, one would hardly think the goal for the day was worthy of Tenzig or Hilary, but it was a formidably long 11km assault for the day that felt as if the trail drifted constantly and wildly in altitude. The fellowship then traversed the basements and chasms of various barren granite neighborhoods, more than one of which had some vague Antarctic air about them. As we reached the trailhead for Mount Arthur, we were assaulted by a murderous sidewind and rain that seemed to seek to blow us off the mountain. Just in time we reached a hut. Inside, a fireplace awaited - beside it a larder stocked with wood. We built a toasty fire and boiled water for tea.

From then on, the trip would be well lubricated by the weather. The van snaked through the Murchison Valley to the little town of Murchison. There, we encamped in a complex consisting of a little cabin dating from the 1920’s and a large three room Army tent roofed by a permanent shelter situated above a swift moving river fork. The twelve of us pulled numbers to take turns to use the outdoor shower as a local pub delivered dinner.

Torrents of rain pounded the Tapawera Valley as we departed camp after breakfast. The climate improved enough for a few leisurely strolls along the cliffs of the West Coast to be entertained by seals frolicking in the morning surf at Tauranga Bay. The weather decided it was best to change our plans to hike up the Fox River so instead we made our way to a beachside motel in the resort town of Punakaiki.

Punakaiki is famous for the “Pancake Rocks” - interesting coastal rock formations formed by some volcanic event or such I’ve already forgotten the process in which to describe to thee. I recall being quite hungry at the time and kept thinking about Homer Simpson’s drooling “Hmmm pancakes” to be too interested in mere rock formations. They were decent maple syrup for the eyes (we were with Canadians after all), however, so much more Disney were the magnificent blowholes adjoining the Pancake Rocks.

Incredible were the bone-moving booms that were generated by the wave machine moving under our feet. Humongous puffs of mist would push out of points on the horizon like hot spring geysers.

That evening was one of my favorites of the trip. If I could spend a few fortnights just reclining in rickety wooden chairs sipping pints in country pubs across Anglophonia, reeling in fish tales over gravy-covered steak, I would emerge from the ocean a far grander man. The Punakaiki Tavern was the only drinking establishment open in town, but it did just fine. After sampling an array of ales and pale ales, I wandered outside to gaze at one of only three starry, starry nights on my trip to New Zealand. This wasn’t the first time I saw the Southern Cross, but it had been more than a decade since. The Milky Way stretched out in a massive ribbon of white from the horizon.

The next day a break in the weather invited us to start the hike up the Fox River.

As many hikes as I had walked in my life, I had never crossed streams to the frequency and depth as I had done on the hike up the Fox River. We crossed in our boots, to guarantee wet feet for at least the next 36 hours. After stopping in an impressive cave formation to do some minor spelunking (not my favorite thing to do in a seismically active area), the rivers were given our full attention. One of the final rivers to cross was quite challenging. My crossing partner, [the Electrical Engineer from Sydney] and I decided to be the first ones to try crossing what looked to be, and turned out which was, the swiftest and deepest of the dozen or so rivers we crossed that day. The water came up to my upper thigh, and we nearly lost our footing, but we made it across. Others we not so lucky and almost were swept downstream.

It was dusk when we arrived at the Ballroom Overhang – a 50 meter expanse of rock jutting out from a cliff face above that provided a permanent shelter for campers. This evening was one of the very best pasta dinners of my life. I feel like the red wine contribution from the bota bag was a significant contribution to the overall success of the pasta operation. That and fresh grated Parmesan cheese.

Shortly before everyone turned in for the evening, while washing my dishes in the river I saw a lone flashlight bouncing around in the distance. My heart jumped for a moment at the prospect of an ax murder or thief, but then I remembered I was in New Zealand. There are not even poisonous snakes here! It turned out to be a German backpacker who was unexpectedly detoured on a trail eight hours prior. He arrived in our camp visibly shaken and thankful that he had located some dry land and the warm hearth of our campfire before he developed hypothermia in the rain. He scarfed down the remnants of our dinner and fell immediately into the satiated bliss of relative safety.

It took the morning to hike back down the river and reach the very aptly named town of Greymouth. Here, the town’s claim to fame was the Queen’s visit in the 1960’s and it was properly advertised in any public space that would be appropriate to do so. I lunched on seafood chowder and several cups of coffee and managed to get a hit of internet so as to sigh with relief with the fact that the world had not collapsed while I was out of wifi and mobile phone range. Rejoining the group, we stocked up on provisions for the three days in the small seaside village of Okarito where we would lodge in tents in a campground.

The first night started out fine. The beach offered a perfect location to roast a pig in traditional hangi style – whereby the meat was laid in a sandy hole with hot rocks to cook for a few hours with potatoes and yams. It was delicious.

By midnight however, a gale had settled in to the coast and oppressed my senses. The rain raged throughout the entire night – the wind blowing with increasing velocity in a colliding roar. So when I awoke in morning to find that the gale had not subsided (indeed it was if it had increased by morning) I was incredibly grumpy in assuming that kayaking, something I had looked forward to the entire trip, was cancelled. It turns out that it was not cancelled, and the tour operator was still insisting the weather would be OK for kayaking. This made me just as agitated, as any kayaker knows it is not pleasant to kayak when there is rain AND wind. It’s just silly. I made my point abrasively, but was overruled. Just as the guide finished the briefing, the weather miraculously lifted and the sun came out. The clouds lifted off the bow of my kayak as to reveal dramatically the Southern Alps as I made my way upstream solo up one of the most incredible tributaries I had ever paddled. So sure was I that I wouldn’t go kayaking that I neglected to bring with me any sort of camera at all. I saw storks, herons, ibises, swans, sandpipers and egrets. The Texan who had joined our group in Punakaiki snapped a National Geographic quality photo with a point-and-click.

I left the kayak feeling; 1.) exhilarated in seeing what I had, 2.) wiser in knowing that life never stops teaching me lessons in humility, and 3.) wanting for wishing that such life lessons occur before I’m caught up a creek without a camera.

Later that day, we accomplished a rainy walk along the beach. Here fresh water cascading from the forest met the ocean and made some colorful arguments. Despite the seeming anger, the sounds of the surf were like a lullaby. I went back early to camp, took a nap and felt much more affable when I awoke.

Leaving grey and forlorn Okarito the next day was a welcome change. Our caravan climbed up into the Southern Alps. The pressure forced a slow leak in my bota bag, which would later prove to be terminal for the device which had been a trusty companion in Yosemite. Up in the Alps, we spent the bulk of the time marveling at all the disappearing glaciers, Franz Josef Glacier and Fox Glacier, trying to savor those precious moments of looking out at these massive dodos hewed from the last Ice Age.

Unfortunately, if I am a bellwether for the end of the folly of man in warming the planet, I have terrible news. All I could think about was how delicious the sausage pie I had for lunch was that day.

One day, the people awoke, and then there were none.

That night, we were happily indoors. We cooked chili in a motel what was rally a 50’s rancher with six bedrooms. I am, to the depths of my soul a fireplace man, and therefore thoroughly enjoyed building a roaring fire in the living room wood stove. There was even *gasp* a TV from which to receive a news fix. Having been long starved of Australian politics, I listened intently to an Aussie couple that had joined the company in Greymouth explain their opinion of the current Australian Prime Minister. Then we watched a viral video mishaps show on MTV.

Outside the air was cold, but the sky was crisp and clear with a billion suns of distant systems setting a glow across the field behind the house. A meteorite careened across the sky.

It was a Monday morning when we embarked on the final backpacking leg of the trip. From the trailhead, a 17km path non-venomously snaked its way along side a river in the stunning Copland Valley. The destination was a place called Welcome Flat, a backcountry hut complete with toilets, 30 beds and a natural hot spring.

Once I got going on my pace, I couldn’t stop. The guides allowed me to walk ahead a bit and I thoroughly enjoyed that therapeutic quality time alone in the woods, although I am fully unworthy of the comparison, in the spirit of Emerson, Steinbeck, Thoreau or Bryson. There I was in a rainforest with Jurassic tree ferns the size of TV station satellite dishes, upside down and as far from work and the worry of the World as I could possibly be. Just the mere thought of it was curative.

Reaching the cable bridges alone was a bit hairy. I had some second thoughts about solo crossing a gorge with the cable bridge swaying in the wind. But I took a deep breath and laughed as I crossed, thinking I could be issuing contract modifications or stuck in some staff meeting right now instead of here, a hundred feet above some river rapids in New Zealand. And if attacked by turbaned devil-worshipping bandits, I know precisely what I would need to do. All I would need is a machete.

I am certain there is some allegorical meaning in the bridge that would dawn on one finishing a year filled with evacuation, civil war, humanitarian suffering and terrorist rocket attacks, but I am at a loss. But I was awfully happy when I made it to the other side of the river. Definitely worth a picture.

The Copland Track was simply one of the top ten hikes, possibly even top five, of my life so far. The train was not overly grueling, but nor was it the least bit forgiving. The trail varied ecosystems approximately five times. As for trail conditions, the first couple of kilometers setting from the trailhead are terrible. It seems that the train isn’t maintained at all and is so poorly sign posted in the mud, that its easy to become lost. But after three kilometers the trail miraculously turns into one of the best engineered and best maintained I have ever walked.

Normally I’d say that the journey is better than the destination, but at Welcome Flat tonic certainly came in the form of the destination. Welcome Flat is situated in a valley surrounded by the snow capped peaks of the Southern Alps. The river leading up to the Flat is non-navigable and there are no roads, no settlements and no access save foot or helicopter. Speaking of helicopter, that is how they a.) bring in coal to heat the hut and b.) remove feces from the portajohns. Now that’s environmentally friendly!

About 100 meters from the hut was a marvelous collection of hot spring where one may recline in the mud pools and watch the snow cascade off the crevices between the peaks like waterfalls.

This was the first time I had ever stoked a coal fireplace. Coal fireplaces are certainly not as pleasing as tending a wood hearth, but the chore was most definitely a novelty in this century.

At night, I was awoken several times by what sounded like bellowing thunder. It was not really thunder, as I later found out, but terrific avalanches occurring from the peaks all around us. This was evidenced the next morning by looking up and seeing a changed landscape from the prior day. One could see how the snowline descended, and where the avalanches had occurred. Only earthquakes, volcanoes and asteroids bring about so abrupt changes in nature.

About 100 meters from the hut was a marvelous collection of hot spring where one may recline in the mud pools and watch the snow cascade off the crevices between the peaks like waterfalls.

This was the first time I had ever stoked a coal fireplace. Coal fireplaces are certainly not as pleasing as tending a wood hearth, but the chore was most definitely a novelty in this century.

At night, I was awoken several times by what sounded like bellowing thunder. It was not really thunder, as I later found out, but terrific avalanches occurring from the peaks all around us. This was evidenced the next morning by looking up and seeing a changed landscape from the prior day. One could see how the snowline descended, and where the avalanches had occurred. Only earthquakes, volcanoes and asteroids bring about so abrupt changes in nature.

We had to leave camp quickly on that last day because yet another system was moving in from the vicinity of Australia. It wasn’t going to dump funnel web spiders and box jellyfish on us, but flooding streams might block our paths back to the trailhead.

After a hike back down the valley, we made our way to a fine comfortable camp just south of the tiny hamlet of Haast. The weather was finally gentle. We cooked a grand dinner of local farm raised salmon and fresh potatoes.

The last day was a series of breath taking views, a stop in at an old pub, the Cardrona Hotel for a delicious pint of Emerson’s and some uplifting scenery as we approached Queenstown, where the fellowship was dissolved and everyone went their separate ways, but not before a small pub crawl which ended unceremoniously in an Irish pub.

I had in mind that I was going to do some sort of adventure-adrenaline thing in Queenstown, but I wound up sleeping a good bit of the day away. It was raining, and besides, I was too happy to feel guilty on my vacation. After all, it’s not as if I hadn’t experienced enough adventure lately.

There were two free days in Auckland before hopping a flight back to Asia. I swam laps in an old, yet quite hip 50 meter pool in the Newmarket section of town – creatively named “Olympic Pool” it obviously hailed from the 50’s. They really oughta add some chrome bumpers to make the place feel even more at home with itself. Against one wall were large glass screens where folks in the fitness rooms, saunas and steam room could watch the swimmers. Between the sweaty gawkers and the scuba divers in training peering up at me from the bottom of lane six, I felt quite popular.

On my final day upside down, I indulged one of my new hobbies I plan to start cultivating – the art of catching air particles passing from high pressure to low pressure with tightly woven aliphatic polyamides while manipulating a device consisting of tightly woven and highly compressed glass fibers suspended on dihydrogen monoxide.

In a few places, this hobby is known as sailing.

It’s immediately obvious to anyone outside a shopping mall that Auckland is a sailing town, perhaps the foremost in the world. About one in every three households in Auckland owns a boat. It wasn’t hard to see why Aucklanders would want to sail out their backyard, looking at all the hundreds of coves, dozens of islands and multiple bays that one could put into.

The ship we took out, she is an 80ft racing yacht used for practice runs of a crew training for the America’s Cup in 2007. We accomplished my main objective which was to come more than 45 degrees off the water so one has to lean to be comfortable. Check. On my last day in New Zealand, I felt as if I was doing something quintessentially Kiwi, even though I know I was a tourist on a tourist ship. I was sailing in Auckland harbor on a sunny, perfect day. What could beat that?

The next day, I hopped a ship with sails of a different sort and scooted back to Asia. Luckily, I had an overnight layover in Seoul, so I checked into a five star downtown and binged on Korean food. The next morning, a swim in the hotel pool left me feeling like Bill Murray in Lost in Translation, and departing for Tel Aviv left me with the more lasting feeling of how much I missed East Asia.

The tour guide back at the dock in Okarito was right. At the edge of the world, far from work and war, the weather was everything while it was nothing. And also this – no one can predict the weather.