BBotE Vacation Alert, Big Trees, Bad Air, and Camping Theory

Scheduling information first: the short ordering window that closes on September 19th, before I get on a plane to Boston, is now open for most items. After the 19th, another ordering window will open so you can continue to place orders, but nothing for that one will ship until after I return on October 5th. So, if you need ultracoffee, now is your time to jump in line.

Moving on to more fun things: national parks & regulator humor

BEHOLD! General Grant (the tree, not the Union general). Note: the trees it's dwarfing are ~150-200' tall.

BEHOLD! General Grant (the tree, not the Union general). Note: the trees it’s dwarfing are ~150-200′ tall.

In honor of the National Park System 100th Anniversary, and because I really needed some time camping, my Lovely Assistant and I headed to Kings Canyon & Sequoia National Parks last week. I give these parks my wholehearted endorsement for hermitage purposes. With the exception of open wifi at the two lodges, there is no signal to the outside world. Much like Burney Falls State Park, you’re free. They can’t get at you unless you make an effort to reconnect. This also meant that my steady stream of terrible tweets was also nipped in the bud. Less pretty pictures in your life (bad) but less high quality poop jokes as well (also bad), so I had to save them up. Let’s start with the General Grant Tree, for which this corner of Kings Canyon was original named as it’s own separate national park.

Giant sequoias (sequoiadendron giganteum) are big. Very large. Some folks might say gargantuan. I wouldn’t because I grew up surrounded by coast redwoods (sequoia sempervirens) and 200′ tall second growth trees just seem normal to me. What giant sequoias are is “girthy”. The old growth monarch trees top out in height around 250′ and then start getting wiiiiiiide. When you walk around them and get winded from the effort, because you just came from sea level to 7000′ of elevation, because it was just that long a walk to get all the around the tree you say “Damn. That’s a big tree.” And then you want to go back to the camp to sit down and have a beer to really appreciate all that majesty.

We stayed in the Grant Grove Village cabins because my Lovely Assistant grew up in Alaska. She had this very important Alaskan wisdom to share with me when I first tried to convince her to go camping 8 years ago which I will paraphrase here:

“Alaskans go hunting and we may build shelter while out in the bush.

Alaskans go fishing and we may build a bivouac near the smoker.

Alaskans go prospecting & logging and we may make a lean-to out on the claim.

Californians come to Alaska to go camping [emphasis for disgust] and are eaten by bears.”

The perfect camping breakfast, Kings Canyon Nat'l Park edition.

The perfect camping breakfast, Kings Canyon Nat’l Park edition.

To be fair, she’s got a point but I convinced her of the value of letting me play in the woods because that helps me not go axe happy after being exposed to intense MBA bullshit field over a protracted period. (I believe the unspoken part of the famous John Muir quote is “The mountains are calling and I must go, or I may start shanking people.”) So we came to the understanding that “camping” could happen together if a cabin was involved. Didn’t have to be fancy, but it need to at least give the bear some pause before it tore the door off. Also, I am required to make all food/cooking happen while camping. Which brings us to our next picture, the ideal camping breakfast: a nice stout or porter and Poptarts. You may not agree that this is the best breakfast, but I have learned there’s nothing quite like a nice strong, dark beer as pain reliever for the previous day’s hiking and to get you ready for what’s yet to come. Poptarts, on the other hand, are breakfast that needs no cooking which is important in situations where cookfires may be forbidden (something you used to not find out until you showed up in the park).

The other reason you might want a nice sit down at altitude is because of the air quality up there. I’m not speaking ill of these parks, as they freely admit it with resignation, but Kings Canyon & Sequoia have the worst air quality of all the parks in California. At a vista overlook, there is a side by side picture from that location into the canyon of good & bad air quality days asking  how it looks to you today. The prevailing winds off the Pacific blowing eastward run into big goddamn wall of granite called the Sierra Nevada, and Kings Canyon is a low point for things to try to funnel through. This brings us to regulators.

When I first started work in Silicon Valley, one of my many “other duties as necessary” tasks was wrangling our airborne discharge permits with the California Air Resources Board’s local representative, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, AKA BAAQMD (normally, pronounced Back Mad, not to be confused with Strong Mad). My local regulator shared that every AQMD or APCD (Air Pollution Control District) had its own special duties to take care of that reflected the particular local challenges of their district. For example, BAAQMD had the unenviable task of trying to wrangle several large research universities, three national laboratories, and the constantly changing high tech industries. Accordingly, the joke view of BAAQMD was that their purpose was to impede research and development and hold back the progress of humanity itself. Whereas the joke for the San Joaquin Unified APCD’s purpose was to put corks in cow asses and sue the Greater Los Angeles AQMDs into doing their job.

You see, that prevailing wind is blowing everything from Los Angeles, Ventura, Santa Barbara, Fresno, etc. into the park. All the smoke from their wildfires, not that the Sierras lack their own, ends up trapped in the Kings Canyon. That smell of campfire may not be from the your neighbors making smores, it may be the forests ablaze outside Hearst Castle.

Kings Canyon from Zumwalt Meadow (I believe the mountain cliff on the right is The Sentinel)

Kings Canyon from Zumwalt Meadow (I believe the mountain cliff on the right is The Sentinel)

Now that I’ve taken the time to tell you what’s wrong with, let me tell you what is best: everything you love about Yosemite with maybe, at most, 1% of the crowds. You want giant trees? Got ’em. Staggeringly beautiful glacier carved granite U-valleys? A+. Waterfalls, canyons trails, giant boulders, and stories about John Muir being a dick? Check, check, check, check, and ohhhh man check.

But now, I must go have all the fun with playing with radiation, making BBotE & steins, and generally getting ready for a trip to Boston with a cross-country train ride home afterward. ADVENTURE!