Saturday, September 29, 2007

Crazy Carpets Down The Mountain

Adirondacks, New York State, March 2005

Together with my hiking buddies Jessie and Rob we went up the very steep face of Mt Algonquin though the Avalanche Pass Trail. Overall, it was a long ride and it took us all day to reach the top in adverse conditions.

It had snowed A LOT in the past weeks, and no one had gone up that route so we had to dig our own path with white powder up to our thighs (with snowshoes on) and a slope so steep that every 30 feet, the snow would slide down and we'd have to climb back again on the ice beneath.

When we reached the top, it was 10 PM, 25 degrees below and a blizzard was raging. Rob managed to have an eye frozen for a few seconds while trying to find the way down. It was an eerie moment because it was snowing in reverse as the fierce wind pushed the snow flakes upwards.

Once we went down into the treeline, everything was suddently quiet. No more wind, and instantly warmer.

Going down was one of the best thrills of my life. 45 minutes of crazy carpeting non stop in 4 feet of snow. Everything white in our headlamps ray and pitch black around, no sound except for the speed induced wind in our ears. After a few seconds, these little plastic sheets go VERY FAST!

Fortunately, there was a ton of snow and we somehow survived the numerous impacts we had with trees and rocks.

The fact that we used our walking poles as rudder helped, because braking with the snowshoes was hazardous as it lifted a cloud of snow that instantly froze on our goggles, bliding us completely.

At one point, the others were far in front of me and I leaned back, lifted my poles/rudder a bit and gained speed. I must have been going at 20 miles an hour or so (wich is scaringly fast on a plastic sheet going down a mountain with 8 feet of effective visibility) when I felt the ground disappear underneath me. Rob and I had hiked this trail (Van Hoevenberg) 3 years before and marked it as good for sledding back down. I didn't remember any significant drops or cliffs on the trail. Now that was conforting...

For a fraction of a second that seemed like forever, I was in mid air and pondering how high I was and what kind of landing strip waited for me. Fortunately for me, the drop was only 6 feet and I landed of soft snow. But what a rush!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Today's the day

This is the story of a man who went all the way toward his dream.

Every morning, he and his companions would dive in search of the elusive sunken treasure of the Spanish Galleon Atocha, only to come back empty handed. Every morning, he would cheer his companions: "Todays' the day!" And it went on for 16 years.

He had to fight over 100 court battles, bankrupcy and divorce as well as discouragement. And he kept going on for 16 years...

On July 20th 1985, he woke up and told his team once again: "Today's the day!" But this time, he was right.

On the seabed, they found the biggest treasure ever recovered from the ocean. Over 40 tons of gold and silver were located, including 100 000 Spanish silver coins known as "Pieces of Eight", gold coins, columbian emeralds, silver and gold artifacts and over 1000 silver bars. For a total worth of over $450 million.

The man's name is Mel Fisher and, had he stopped one day earlier, he would be a nobody instead of the World's Greatest Treasure hunter.

For more info:

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Explorer's Club of New York

This club is more than 100 years old and a popular hangout for media types. The Explorer's Club was formed in 1904 by Henry Collins Walsh, when he invited a group of buds to create a club "to encourage explorers in their work by evincing interest and sympathy and especially by bringing them in the bonds of good fellowship."

The nonprofit club began in 1905, and the founding members consisted of an Indian fighter, museum curator, Arctic explorer, mountaineer, archaeologist, war correspondent and hunter.

What makes the Explorer's Club a must is the fascinating decor created by 90 years of collecting trophies and junk from around the world. The six-story 1910 town house with its magnificent library is an "in" site for parties in New York.

For those who do not live in New York, there are 27 regional chapters, seven of them in other countries (Australia, Britain, India, Norway, Poland and Western Europe).

The club likes to lend out numbered flags, so that you can take them to some godforsaken place on some harebrained quest, and then throw a party when you return the dilapidated piece of cloth. They sponsor some expeditions, award medals (the Explorer's Medal) and provide local support to scientific and educational programs, all based on merit.

The club publishes a quarterly journal and a newsletter and offers a 25,000-item library, a 500-item map room and historical archives. Membership includes 3000 men and women, with 500 of them outside the New York area.

As with most of these clubs, to join the Explorers Club of New York, you have to have some type of experience in being "adventurous." Driving a cab in Harlem probably won't impress them, nor will big-game hunting trips, extensive travel without a scientific purpose or photography in remote parts of the world. But if you provide sponsoring letters, fill out the application form and fork over the hefty membership fee, your chances are good.

You can be a "fellow" if your exploits are published, or try for regular membership if you are modest about your exploits. In any case, it will depend on what the membership committee and the Board of Directors say. Also available are student memberships (16-24 years of age, over 24 if you are pursuing a graduate degree), and corporate memberships. - Robert Young Pelton

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Be Well Remembered

Picture by Matt West

As I strolled past a funeral home the other day, I was struck by their slogan: "Be Well Remembered".

Is it how we see it? The last impression is the most important? The obituary, the burial or the cremation and all this masquerade? Will a more expensive casket in oak and silk and gold will really make a difference once I'm dead?

Hell no! Give me a cardboard box, no tombstone and bury me naked under a beautiful tree. (With global warming, cremation is soooo out!)

If you want to be well remembered, skip the funeral process part and concentrate on the important stuff: how you lived (and maybe how you died in some extreme cases), but certainly not how you were buried.

Monday, September 24, 2007

My 3000km week end

Just got back from a roadtrip to beautiful New Brunswick where, in Acadia, I probably met the nicest people in Canada; if not the World.

I shared the wheel with my dad and the old pilot managed to get me scared driving 120 km/h on narrow costal roads.

Beautifull scenery (check out the pictures), awesome seafood and a couple of World records including the longest bridge over ice covered waters (12.9km long Confederation Bridge) and, in the Bay of Fundy, the highest tides ever recorded: 52 feet!

Can't wait to go back!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

You are unique, just like everybody else

My biggest fear in life is to be like everybody else. Become average. It led me to do some crazy things, but il also pushed me forward toward expressing my individuality.

The more people I meet, the more I discover that the vast majority is very, terribly, well... ordinary. And it doesn't get better with age.

First, while not always unhappy, they do not exactly enjoy life to the fullest. They are, to quote Theodore Roosevelt, in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

Second, they are so predictable it becomes boring. They have the same dreams as everybody else: be rich and famous, date a supermodel, look good, have a big house, a sports car, children, a successful carreer, bla bla bli bla bla blah. The stuff they sell you.

When I ask them what unique dream they have, the one that defines their individuality and will make them express the Picasso or Einstein they have within, I get a blank stare.

Another one that will go to his grave with his music still inside him.

Remember, people don't like sheeps. They eat sheeps.

“In the multitude of middle-aged men who go about their vocations in a daily course determined for them in much the same way as the tie of their cravats, there is always a good number who once meant to shape their own deeds and alter the world a little. The story of their coming to be shapen after the average and fit to be packed by the gross, is hardly ever told in their consciousness; for perhaps their ardour in generous unpaid toil cooled as imperceptibly as the ardour of other youthful loves, till one day their earlier self walked like a ghost in its old home and made the new furniture ghastly. Nothing in the world is more subtle than the process of their gradual change! In the beginning they inhaled it unknowingly: you and I may have sent some of our breaths toward infecting them, when we uttered our comforting falsities or drew our silly conclusions: or perhaps it came from the vibrations from a woman’s glance.” – Middlemarch

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Gone Flying

A couple of years ago, I had the chance to meet a person who, for me, embodies the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.

His name is Carl Hiebert, he lives in Waterloo County near Toronto, Canada.

In his '20s, he was a sport jock: barefoot water skiing, motorcycling, hang gliding and other adrenaline junkies remedies. After a winter spent in the Northwest Territories, he traveled around the World on a 1,35$ daily budget and managed to hunt boars in India and make an attempt on the Matterhorn's summit.

On a fateful September 12th, in 1981, a hang gliding accident confined him into a wheelchair. While he was recovering from his accident, he left a message on his hospital door: gone flying.

He had found a new passion: flying ultralights.

He became the first paraplegic instructor in Canada, opened a flying school and became financially independent. But that was not enough. In 1986, he decided to cross Canada with his Ultralight (really, a chair suspended in the air) - 8000 km from the Maritime Provinces to Vancouver to Rally Expo '86 whose theme was Travel and Communications.

While so doing, he amassed money for numerous charitable organizations and took 14 000 pictures. The best 140 turned into a wonderful book: Gift of Wings - an aerial portrait of Canada.

Carl is now an international speaker and motivator. When he his not empowering people through is speeches, he travels the World (Haiti, Uganda) and comes back with pictures that he turns into books whose profits help build schools and hospitals in these impoverished countries.

Carl has a zest for life I have rarely seen and he's an example of courage for us all.

Next time you're busy finding excuses for all the things you "can't" do, think about Carl, and it will give you a kick in the butt. I know it does for me.

Monday, September 10, 2007

It's All Your Fault

The World is falling apart, and what are you doing about it? Let me guess... not much.

The average American spends 4.5 hours daily in front of his television. What a boring thing and what a waste of time.

We never had access to so much information with so few bothering to open a book. And when they do, 9 chances out of 10 it will be Harry Potter. Ah, yes, of course, it requires an effort to read. Sorry about that.

So we sit there, brain dead, in front of the TV with little knowledge of what is going beyond our little nombrilistic universe... until it affects us. And then we complain that the world is unfair.

I'm with Thomas Friedman from the New York Times when he said: "In today's globalized World, it you don't visit a bad neighborhood, it will visit you."

I just read in the paper this morning that the slump in the housing market doesn't seem to go away and that it had more impact than anticipated on the economy. Duh?

Wake up and smell the coffee Ms. Bueler.

Let me tell you, it's not going anywhere but down. People are up to their ears in debt and the interest rates can't go much lower than this. Exotic mortgages of 40 years and more with no down payment and only interrest payment the first years. It didn't take a genius to see it coming.

Its another classic housing market bubble. And you think that people would have learned? Next thing you know, people will have forgotten everything about the dot com crash of 2000-2001, and we'll have another stock market bubble.

The only thing we learn from history is that we don't learn from history.

Let me finish by quoting Michael Moore, from his book Stupid White Men:

“There are forty-four million Americans who cannot read and write above fourth-grade level – in other words, who are functional illiterates. How did I learn this statistic? Well, I read it. And now you’ve read it. So we’ve already eaten into the mere 99 hours a year an average American adult spends reading a book – compared with 1460 hours watching television. I’ve also read that only 11 percent of the American public bothers to read a daily newspaper, beyond the funny pages or the used car ads. So if you live in a country where forty-four million can’t read – and perhaps close to another two hundred million can read but usually don’t – well, friends, you and I are living in one very scary place. A nation that not only churns out illiterate students BUT GOES OUT OF ITS WAY TO REMAIN IGNORANT AND STUPID is a nation that should not be running the world – at least not until a majority of its citizens can locate Kosovo (or any other country it has bombed) on the map.”

“And to the C students, I say you, too, can be President of the United States!” – George W. Bush, in his commencement address to the Yale Class of 2001

So, I guess, we have the governments we deserve...

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The World's Finest Hat

Toronto based Tilley is manufacturing what may be the finest hats in the world.

Alex Tilley, the company founder, is an avid yachtman and started designing the perfect hat he longed for but couldn't find.

Let me tell you, he did a mighty fine job.

I personnaly abuse my Tilley T3 hat on a regular basis and came to the conclusion that it will probably outlive me.

The duck cotton fabric doesn't shrink, the wind cords keep it on my head in hurricane force winds, it floats (yes, I tried), repels rain and sun, and it even has a secret pocket. It is garanteed for life (something you learn to appreciate the hard way) and assured against loss.

Now I understand why Indiana Jones risked his life to get his hat back.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The 53rd Democracy

Driving to work this morning at 6:00 am, I was listening to Al Gore's great book Assault on Reason on my i-pod.

I was a bit surprised to learn that the United States of America, are now ranked 53rd in the World on the Free Press Index. A huge drop from the 17th place it held in 2002, and not exactly great for a country that claims loud and far that it is the first democracy in the World.

And for my fellow Canadians, we are not that great either in terms of free press. In 16th position, we are behind countries like the Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovakia, Latvia, Portugal and Slovenia...

For those interrested in the subject, I highly recommend Kristina Borjesson's fascinating book Into the Buzzsaw about 15 high profile american journalists who lost their jobs, were discredited and sometimes prosecuted when they investigated too far.

Let us not forget that Freedom of press is limited to those who own one.