Thursday, September 16, 2010

Underworlds & Strawberry Mountains

It's drizzling outside as I write this. I'll be leaving Corvallis for Texas tomorrow. The start of the rain makes it a bit easier to leave. The Buffalo's got a brand new set of tires, a new drinking water pump (the old one froze during our ice climbing trip in Colorado), and has had a check-up with the mechanic. My house is rented out to college students again. I just need to make some final decisions about what I'm going to take with me and load up the Buffalo.

I've had a few more outings since my last entry. In August the NavUnit, SecurityChief, Matt, and I climbed Three Finger Jack in the Oregon Cascades. After the climb we spent a night out next to a lake, then searched for some caves the next day. The caves were the most novel part of the trip for me. The location of these particular caves is a well kept secret. Cavers in general seem reluctant to divulge the locations of caves. The reason typically given is that others will show up and trash them. After seeing these caves I think another good reason is that you could easily get yourself into a lot of trouble. After hiking cross-country with no apparent trail we came to what looked like giant, cone shaped anthills made out of pumice (a volcanic rock). The anthills turned out to be miniature craters. Inside were holes that opened up into lava tubes. The second one we saw was very impressive. It was a shaft oriented at maybe 80 degrees. The hole at the top was maybe a dozen feet across, but it quickly opened up into a much larger diameter. The shaft went down at least a few hundred feet before it turned completely black. We couldn't see the bottom. It was an odd feeling to suddenly discover that you were standing over a very large empty space which you had previously believed to be solid earth. Kind of like walking on the roof of a domed stadium, believing that it's solid all the way down to the Earth's center, then suddenly peering through a hole in the roof and realizing that there's a whole other environment underneath you. I'd read about caves which extend for many miles, far underground, some with underground rivers and lakes. I now understood why many societies have legends about the underworld.

We'd brought climbing gear with us and started looking for a way to set up a rappel anchor. The second cave required a free rappel down the center of the cave. We didn't know if our rope was long enough to reach anything solid, so we'd have to be prepared to ascend the rope. We weren't sure if we could gather our nerves to do it, but I told the NavUnit that if he could build a solid anchor I would go. The NavUnit's safety module seemed to be operating well, and he's previously rescued climbers off of mountains, so I left the judgment of the anchor's safety up to him. He couldn't find anything near the entrance which satisfied him. There was a dead tree which seemed solid but, as I said, was dead. The rock walls around the crater moved when the NavUnit set up and tested an anchor in them. We didn't have enough rope to reach the nearest ideal anchor (a big living tree), so we decided to look for another cave. Another thing I realized about caving is that it requires a lot of gear. I thought climbing was a gear intensive sport, but serious caving requires far more gear. It was clear we didn't have enough gear. At the very least we needed a few hundred feet of static rope just to set up a good anchor. Better lights would have been good too. We found a third cave. It had a very large opening, with a relatively short drop to a sloped floor you could stand on. The anchor was still a problem. The NavUnit did the best he could with what he had, but it was far from ideal. Since I had previous experience serving as a self propelled disposable anchor tester I went down first. If the anchor failed I'd probably just be permanently maimed instead of instantly dead, as would have been the case with the second cave. Fortunately the anchor held and we all made it to the sloped floor in one piece. The floor sloped downwards under a rock overhang on the side opposite from the anchor. I kept making my way down to try and determine if the cave kept going. At the point where I turned back the cave had narrowed considerably to the point where it was about the width of a human body. It also steepened abruptly. From stories I've heard, squeezing through tight holes seems to be another aspect of caving. A draft suggested that the cave continued through the narrow hole. We called it good, climbed back up the rope, and hiked out to the car. It was a good exploratory outing and introduction into what caving is all about. I'm still not sure how much caving I want to do in the future. Offhand, spending time in dark, constricted spaces doesn't sound terribly appealing. I would like to rap down into the second cave someday, though. Also, spending time in high cold places doesn't sound very appealing either, but I've done it anyway on many occasions.

Over the Labor Day weekend Ann and I headed out to the Strawberry Mountains in Eastern Oregon. Ann had planned out a three day, two night backpacking trip. Neither of us had ever been to the Strawberries. I always enjoy visiting a place I've never been to. An extra bonus is that the route was a loop, so we'd be seeing new scenery the entire time. The Strawberries are a high, craggy ridgeline, surrounded by idyllic alpine lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and meadows. Our route looped around the ridgeline, passing through beautiful alpine landscapes along the way. We took a few short side trips off the loop to visit various lakes and Strawberry Mountain, the highest point in the Strawberries. The weather was mostly sunny. I was glad I had taken plenty of warm clothing, as it got below freezing at night. I was surprised to see a scary looking water ice climb during one of our side trips. We spent the first night next to a spring running through the middle of a meadow with a great view of Strawberry Mountain. After it got dark I tried to sneak up on some deer, but they noticed me well before I got close enough to touch them. We spent our second night next to a lake, which I submerged myself in. It was ice cold. The trip was over all too soon. The next day we hiked around some waterfalls and a lake in the Cascades on the way back home.

Most recently the boys and I floated down the Willamette River which runs through Corvallis. As seems to happen on all our river trips, it was an eventful float. The story is too long to tell here, but I will say that the NavUnit has a new chicken as a direct result of our trip.

We bailed on the adventure race I mentioned in earlier posts. Some combination of barely sufficient training, escalating costs, and other opportunities lead to our decision. I was never really too keen on it, mostly because we were going to shell out a significant amount of cash to do something we can do for free. So, I wasn't too sad to see the end of it. I noticed that my exercise program changed dramatically once the decision was made. The race certainly had been a good motivation for me to get into better shape.

The software business has progressed since my last post. The first business model I experimented with was giving away the software and generating revenue via advertising. I tried that for a month before giving up on the idea, at least for now. It made some money, but not enough to justify the effort. The problem appeared to be that there wasn't enough advertising to go around. I moved on to the next business model, which was paid, ad free software. That resulted in an immediate, relatively large jump in revenue. Over the past few weeks I've been experimenting with different prices, changing the price every week in an effort to find the price which maximizes revenue. It was clear that I was undercharging at the original price. I'm not sure I've found the optimal price yet, so I'm going to keep experimenting with it. I'm now moving on to a third business model, which is offering an enhanced version at a higher price point. The enhanced version will go on sale next week.

It's encouraging to see the business generating some revenue. It's still not a lot, especially compared to what I was making at HP, but it's better suited to my current lifestyle. I also think there's a lot more value the software could add given a bit more time and effort. Hopefully the increasing revenue trend will continue with the enhanced version. For now, I'll be ramping down my efforts with the software business as I switch focus to the bakery.

Before that I'll be crossing the American west in the Buffalo. I'm giving myself two or three weeks tops to make the trip. I'm not sure what places I'll be visiting yet, but roughly I plan on heading south first into the southwest before heading east. The NavUnit and I have arranged to meet FixItMan at a lake in the Oregon Cascades this coming weekend for an overnight kayaking trip. That's the extent of my trip plan so far.

The photo at the top of the entrance to the second cave. The NavUnit took the photo. A few more photos are here.

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