Banning State Park

My brother and I hiked Banning State Park in Minnesota in June 2019. The highlight was going off the official trail map in the Hell’s Gate area along the Kettle River. That entailed some rock and cliff scrambling and a few wrong turns. We both thought about bailing out a few times, but stuck with it. No regrets. The park includes the remains of an old marble quarry and associated buildings, some of which are seen below.


California visit, July 2018

In July 2018, I visited family in Bakersfield, California. Here’re some highlights from a road trip we took from Bakersfield to Pismo Beach, and back through Morro Beach and Paso Robles.


Saguaro National Park and Wasson Peak

On Christmas Eve 2017, I hiked in Saguaro National Park with a friend. We started at the Kings Canyon trailhead and turned around on Wasson Peak, the highest point in the Tucson Mountains west of Tucson, Arizona.


Gen Con 50: fun had and lessons learned

Right now, I’m recovering from Gen Con 50, my first Gen Con, and the largest gaming convention I’ve ever attended by a good factor of 100. Their post-event press release claims that there were 60,000 unique attendees, and I believe it. The place was packed. I couldn’t even physically see most of the vendor booths until Saturday.

For those who are unfamiliar, Gen Con is a four-day convention in Indianapolis that celebrates gaming (mostly board and tabletop games). The main attractions are the massive vendor hall, with hundreds of booths, and the gaming events. These are mostly board games and pen-and-paper RPGs, but there was some video gaming too.

For five days, I played games, ate bad food, didn’t sleep well, and spent way too much money, so I think I did Gen Con right. That said, the work/fun ratio was a bit in the wrong direction, and that was mostly my fault.

Fun highlights

  • Played “Pressed!” (Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls) with Jerry Teleha, who gave all his participants a signed copy of his Darkshade Chronicles DC01: A Day in Baru-Kesh. Thanks Jerry!
  • Played “Some Dungeon Delve (Probably) Involving Bears” (Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls) with Bear Peters, one of T&T’s primary authors.
  • Played “Can You Survive Character Creation?” (Traveller5) with Traveller’s original author, Marc Miller. I took away two Traveller dice and various equipment cards (which aren’t yet for sale).
  • Played “Necropolis” (Call of Cthulhu 7th Ed) at Chaosium‘s official event hall.
  • Played Ascension, then bought it. This is a fantasy-themed deck-building card game. Deck-builders are my favorite board game genre, as it happens.
  • Played Fortune and Glory, then bought it. This is an Indiana Jones-themed adventure game.
  • Played Gloomhaven, a combat board game. I disliked this one, at first, but toward the end of the one-hour demo I warmed up to it a bit. I want to try it again sometime, but it’s not released until November.

Lessons learned

  • Get the hotel at the conference venue. This was the biggest negative of my Gen Con experience. My lodging was 15-20 minutes away from the Indiana Convention Center, so I had to commute to the con. This made it hard to take breaks, and made late-night events too difficult to be worth it. People staying a the hotels connected to the ICC effectively lived at the con. For future cons, I’m staying at the venue (if applicable), or I just won’t go.
  • Toll road transponders are my friends. I didn’t have any en route to Gen Con, and ended up paying more money and wasting time at toll plazas that I wouldn’t have had to do if I had a transponder. I’ll elaborate on this more in a future post.
  • Events, events, events. For me, the best time I had at Gen Con was participating in various gaming events. There are literally thousands of these; I did exactly four. The rest of my time was spent in the vendor hall, or wandering around aimlessly. For all future cons, I’ll keep myself much more thickly booked. This is easier to do if my room is at the con venue.

Gen Con was worth it. I’ll do it again someday, but armed with better ideas and better planning.


Saguaro National Park

Yesterday evening I did a short hike in Saguaro National Park, and caught some nice sunset color.


Midwest trip: new family

One of the biggest events of my life happened this year: for the first time ever, I met my brother, sister, dad, grandma, two nieces, two aunts, two uncles, and a cousin and her children! It was exciting, exhausting, and totally worth it. I plan to see these people on a regular basis from now on.

The trip first took me to Minnesota, where I met up with my sister, brother, and their daughters. We spent much of the the next day in Duluth, sightseeing and talking. The day after that, we headed south to see more relatives. The highlight of that evening was food at the North Country Steak Buffet with Dad, Grandma, aunt Eva and uncle Robert, and her daughter and grandchildren. Dad ate three five-ounce sirloins; I think Joe tied him.

This post and the accompanying photos convey about one tenth of the reality of the event. But to be clear, I had an amazing time, saw new places, met great people, had good conversation, and hope to do this again, and often! You can’t go wrong spending time with family.


Wickersham Dome

On Saturday, June 11, I hiked the Summit Trail to Wickersham Dome, a 3200 foot hill north of Fairbanks, on BLM land. It’s 3.5 miles from the parking lot to the top, for a round-trip total of 7 miles.

The trailhead is about 40 miles from town, on the Elliott Highway north of Fox. I knew I’d be in for an interesting hike when I got there: a thunderstorm was in progress. Incidentally, that’s the first one I’ve experienced all year (the Alaska Interior doesn’t get too many). I was a bit apprehensive, but I started hiking up anyway.

After a half-hour or so, the storm passed. The rest of the way up was pretty boring. Typical boreal forest at the lower elevations, grading into tundra as I climbed higher. Recent rains made for some wet spots, and I couldn’t keep my feet dry. The real attraction wasn’t the trail itself, but the views from it. The photos really don’t capture the sweeping vistas too well. I could easily see for 200 miles or more.

Up top, I was surprised to find that a) it was dead calm, and b) I had cell phone service! I made a call to a relative just as a gag. No more than 5 minutes on the phone, I noticed a cloud billowing over a sub-peak to the west, and it was growing fast. Before it reached me, I felt the cold wind carrying it; the wind chill factor went from nothing to nasty in 5 seconds flat. I got off the peak just before it got fogged in.

Naturally, it started raining, and the rest of the trip back to the car was cold, wet, and miserable. Enough rain fell to make the soggy trail a complete swamp. I slipped and fell several times, stepped calf-deep in mud that didn’t exist on the way up, and the mosquitoes came out in force once the wind died down.

By the time I got back to the car and ready to drive away, I had over 100 mosquitoes in the car with me. I dropped all the windows and tore off down the highway. Most got pulled out, but I was swatting them all the way home to Fairbanks.

But, it was all worth it.


Table Top Mountain

On Friday, May 27, 2016, I hiked up Table Top Mountain, in the White Mountains northeast of Fairbanks. I tried this hike back in May 2012, not long after I moved here, but I had to abort because the trail was too muddy. Not this year!

This was a spur-of-the-moment thing, so I hiked it by myself. Going deep into the wilderness alone sounds like a bad idea, but if you’re prepared (which I was), it’s not a big deal. It was impossible to get lost; I could see my car parked at the trailhead for the entire hike. In addition to the usual trail accoutrements, I brought along bear protection and communications gear. Being Memorial Day weekend, there were of plenty of other noisy (read: bear-repelling) groups on the mountain that day, including whole families with young kids and dogs.

Table Top Mountain is a pair of mesas, deep in the White Mountains, about 70 road miles from Fairbanks. The trail itself is a three-mile loop, with a one-ish mile spur that goes to the top of the east mesa. I’m unsure who high the top is, but since a few stunted trees grow there, I’m guessing less than 3000 feet.


UAF campus walk

Yesterday I picked up some new trail running shoes, and decided to break them in by walking (not running) some of the paths behind the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus, on UAF property. Obviously, I took the camera. The walk was about 10 miles total, and by the end my feet were soaked (Alaska is a swamp), and I was tired, hungry, and had a headache. And it was totally worth it.


Getting back

On May 3, my employer approved my application to work remotely, allowing me to move just about anywhere that I can get high-speed internet. For me, there’s only one destination: back to Tucson.

August is looking like the most likely month to make the move. That gives me plenty of time to prepare.

I wasn’t “supposed” to be here this long. I moved here in 2012 to take a job as an entry-level meteorologist with the National Weather Service. The idea was to spend enough time on the job to be ready for the promotion to general forecaster, and then bid out to that open positions in other forecast offices. In other words, Fairbanks was a foot in the door. But, after a year, when it was clear that things weren’t working for me, I took the job I have now. That “reset the clock”, so to speak. This time around, things have worked out, enough for me to earn the privilege of becoming a permanent teleworker.

Fairbanks is a nice place, but four of its long and dark winters is enough. That said, I made the mistake of not fully taking advantage of my time here. I came up with the mentality that this was “temporary”, and didn’t spread my wings and have fun from the get-go, like I should have done. Lesson learned. Wherever I go from here (including Tucson), I won’t be making this mistake again.

I’ll be leaving behind some friends and connections, including Arctic Amateur Radio Club, Fairbanks VIP/CERT, Interior Alaska Gamers, and others. Of course, friends stay friends wherever we go, and Tucson will offer plenty of new opportunities to pursue those interests. In fact, I already have a few arrangements lined up!

Since I’ll be still employed at the University of Alaska, I have the perfect excuse to visit once in a while; I won’t even have to take time off work to do it!