Sunday, September 10

Practice Day II: Ruby Lake

Our second day in the Sierras begins at Mosquito Flat, the highest trailhead in the Sierras at c.12k feet. From the start, the grade is around 7% for the first 2 miles, before kicking up to over 12% at the start of the switchbacks (near Ruby Lake, pictured), for about 1.4 miles. We encounter first minor snow on the trail which nonetheless requires spikes.

First Trail

I begin my transformation to the trail on a practise hike to Gem Lake from the Silver Lake trail head, or about eight miles out-and-back. Gem is our first experience with switch-backs, which causes asthma and nose bleeds for Madeleine but rewards with a beautiful view of an alpine lake and waterfall. Our backpacks are heavy and awkward and we struggle with pressure points on our shoulders, back and hips.

LA And Out

Madeleine decides to have her hair corn-rowed for expediency on the trail (no washing?). We find a salon in East LA that caters to the style.
We find a Wahacan restaurant in Korea-town of all places while renting a car.
I originally planned bus transportation from LA to Lone Pine, a desert town located on the Eastern side of the Sierras but was convinced otherwise by Adam. Instead, we drive the 3-4 hours to Mammoth (7,900 feet) to begin our adjustment to altitude and continue our preparations.
Lone Pine btw is a central location for Hollywood Westerns from the 1950s with over 100 films shot here and in the surrounding mountains.


Relaxing before the adventure.
Eitan recovers from his ACL tear and so unable to do the JMT with me as planned, post-GCSE and sweet 16 years of age. Madeleine fills the void without hesitation: she is 'all in', no coaxing nor suggestion from me. I sense she feels an opportunity to escape the shadows of her older brother.
We try our 65 litre Gregory back-packs for the first time: filled with food and equipment, each weighs about 25 kg. We shed unnecessary clothes, field books and accessories to drop the weight. Whatever goes in, goes in on our backs.
Our team includes Adam (clothing, poles and sleeping system), Peter (back pack and hydration); Ken (emergency extraction); Moe and Grace (food; Bay Area pre-JMT base camp) and Christian (LA pre-JMT base camp). Also included is Sonnet, who helps make the whole thing happen with her encouragement, patience and planning assistance. Without her it would have been nowhere.

Los Angeles

Christian meets me and Madeleine at LAX.
Christian and Lisa 'hosted' our equipment in their garage for six months as I notch my checklist from Patagonia and REI. 
So freely did I spend at REI that I created a useful currency unit: 1 REI equals $500. 

JMT Pre Planning

Guy and food for 24 days.
On Guy and the John Muir Trail: He completed the JMT in 2003 with his son Jacobus and wrote a book about the experience, pictured. Guy opened my mind to the idea of the adventure, which I have been thinking about for ten years and planning for about a year. Prior to the trip he provides advise and share some notes; Jeanine gives me a zip-bag of homeotherapies covering spider bites to altitude sickness.
Guy is as close a thing to Yosemite Sam as I will ever know. He is inspiring.

Photos From The Summer I

Jasper and last morning, pre departure.

Monday, July 10

ACL Repair

Eitan pre-ops
Eitan is in good hands with Dr Bell, who specialises in knee surgery and has repaired over 1000 ACLs. While it is a serious procedure - Eitan will be under anaesthetics - it is also a routine practice.

Dr Bell reports that the surgery was "completely straightforward". The boy will remain in hospital for one night and home tomorrow.

Sonnet is with him this week.

Sunday, July 9

Go'n To Buffalo

Madeleine receives her final instructions from Sonnet (somehow the dog is always in these moments). She catches a mid-day plane to Toronto with her 60L Gregory Pack stuffed for Buffalo and the JMT (I have gotten to calling her backpack "the house' as in 'you're going to be living in it for the next six weeks').

Madeleine for her part is used to the long-haul flights. She and Eitan went together sans us from Denver to London via JFK when they were 12 and 13.

On the other side will be uncle Marcus to greet her.

Tomorrow she begins her volunteer work the community garden.

The Crew BBQ

Madeleine has some friends over on a lovely Saturday evening. They are all laughter and politeness but we know what's really going on. Sonnet and I weren't born yesterday.

Emily and Lawton are with us for several nights, returning from Munich and other stops in Europe.

Both head for their freshman year at UNC in autumn and full of excitement and admissions stories (enough to freak out Sonnet). Their father, Brad, is the Vice Chancellor of Campus Enterprises and I suggest to Emily and Lawton that they should expect good service (eye roll please, but too polite).

The kids picked up for their flight 5AM Friday which does not stop them from seeing friends until 3AM Friday morning (now it is my/ Sonnet's turn to roll eyes).

I take the dog for a 3 hour hike in Richmond Park which otherwise takes c.60 minutes running and 30 minutes on a bike. Countdown JMT.

Sunday, July 2

Cool Yuf

Bella and Lola hang out with Johnny Depp, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga in el lay.

Madeleine and I watch the women's 400m finals of the British Athletics Team Trials on the BBC.
Madeleine: "Why are they crying?"
Me: "It's emotional. Women cry."
Madeleine: "Great Dad."
Me: "How the heck should I know ? They're your age. You're a runner. And they're women. So you tell me: Why are they crying?"
Madeleine: "It's emotional. Women cry."

Portobello Market

Our first years in London, in Maida Vale W9, a Saturday morning routine included friends (or solo) at Lisboa, a Portuguese bakery on Golborne Road, for coffee, followed by the Portobello market and a search for groovy purchases (me, chords and the occasional age-inappropriate jacket; Sonnet, silver or household items).

On the Kensal Town side, Portobello is a flea market on steroids - stalls selling ancient tools, books, ceramics, table ware, junk - and a colourful neighbourhood that is still working class though seriously gentrified since we first came here (Look over there! (Where?) Here comes Jeanie with her new boyfriend).

The road connects into Notting Hill and becomes densely crowded with high and very-high end shops where one may find Rolexes and antiques. I bought my Yashika Mat dual lens box camera here which is now in Madeleine's room; it is a marvelous camera but the medium format film renders it impractical.

Eitan (in the crowded market): "What's my budget?"
Me: "Well, how much money do you have?"
Eitan: "I thought you were going to give us some money."
Me: "Tell you what. You say 'I love you Dad' and I will give you twenty pounds."
Me: "Easy money. 'I love you Dad.'"
Eitan: "I am not going to say that here."
Me: "Ok no money."
Eitan, whispering: "I love you Dad."
Me, loudly: "What ? Can't here you."
Eitan: "I love you Dad."
Me: "Here's twenty pounds."
Madeleine: "I love you Dad!"

LA Cousins

Erno Goldfinger lives on
Brook, Sonnet's cousin from Silver's side, joins us for five days on the way to a wedding in Greece. With her are Bella and Lola, second cousins to Eitan and Madeleine, and almost exactly the same age.

The crew otherwise live the California dream, not far from the Pacific, and the girls surf the Pacific waves. The kids instantly comfortable with each other and settle into a marathon of Harry Potter movies. Madeleine was to join them this summer but instead will hike the JMT.

From where I sit, they could not be more cool.

Saturday, July 1

Mr Blue Skies

It's flat
Another day, another skyline. This time it is Amsterdam.

Eitan and I have dinner at The Wolseley on a Friday night mano a mano. I order a vodka martini with a twist ("Nice", he says) and him a beer which he nurses two-thirds of the way. We order the same: wiener schnitzel, steamed spinach and fries. Classic.

Eitan is keen to ask questions about what I do, what investment means and how Astorg goes about it. He's decided to concentrate his A Levels (lower and upper Sixth Form begin September - serious stuff) on the humanities including English literature, history, Spanish and politics. Hard to imagine but the boy may never take another math course, unless he selects to do so outside school. We discuss its implication for business as Eitan (I sense) wants to do it.

Unlike the US, where one can faff about in the liberal arts until deciding junior year of college to study economics (OK, me). These Brit kids must decide their interest - and future - at age 16. Who knows what the hell he's going to do for life at this age? Eitan, for his part, doesn't have much fixed beyond the summer (which will be spent recovering from an ACL operation).

That said, Eitan continues to explore and while he won't go to soccer camps and the JMT over the break, he has signed up for piano and guitar lessons, wants to learn bridge and is looking into a few summer business course. Hard to do without any planned structure (the ACL disrupting Sonnet's to-the-hour planning) but we are rolling with it.

Madeleine, from the back seat, in heavy traffic: "Mom just texted and asked where we are and why we are so late." 
Me: "Tell her we went to the mall and we'll meet her when we're done."
Madeleine: "You don't really want me to say that do you Dad?"
Madeleine: "Yep."

Sunday, June 25

Hiking Days

Me and the little g. We are on the clock for the JMT.

We join Ben and his family for Ben's bar mitzvah in St John's Wood, which the boy delivers without breaking a sweat, Torah and all. Ben's grandfather, who is seated a few seats from me, is a Founder of Israel. It is an important day.

In the evening there is a party with speeches and dancing with many close friends (A few jokes come in suggesting that I shouln't overdue it given that I am now 50. Jokes not lovingly received).  I am seated at a young table, across from Sonnet, and similar to Bath last weekend, I get to observe my beautiful wife.

Madeleine and I go to a Shepperton to do some open air lake swimming. It is Madeleine's first time.
Me to the agent: "Two adults to swim please."
Agent: "How old is she?"
Me: "15."
Agent: "She can't swim. It is for 16 and older."
Me: "She turns 16 tomorrow ."
Agent: "So come back tomorrow."
Madeleine: "Nice one Dad."
Me: "Well, I tried kid."
Madeleine: "You should just say 16 all the time."
Me: "True dat."
Madeleine: "Oh my God."

Saturday, June 24

Viva La Suisse

I am in Zurich and ask the hotel concierge for swimming pool recommendation to swim some laps. He suggrests I swim in the nearby lake and so I think: why not? I don't have my trainers so I exit the hotel in the white hotel slippers and a towel slung over my shoulder, goggles on my head, and cross the busy road alongside lake Zurich and, for lack of an obvious gateway into the water, I dump my stuff on a bench and go for it. At 50, I am allowed a little eccentricity.

Madeleine, at my request, waters the front yard plants.
Me: "Why such a dour look ? Is it really that bad?"
Madeleine: "Then why don't you do it then?"
Me: "You're going to be working all your life kid. Better start getting used to it."
Madeleine: "Gee, Dad, is that supposed to make me feel better?"
Me: "If you love your work then it isn't work is it?"
Me: "You'll be like living in some appartment with your friends or a guy and maybe, if you're lucky, one day you will have a job that you enjoy."
Madeleine: "Yeah, so?"
Me: "And you will be like, "Dad, you can stop paying my allowance now."
Madeleine: "It's not that funny Dad."

Tuesday, June 20


Sonnet and I drive to the South Downs so I can swim in the sea (about 18 degrees - nothing like the Bay at 13). Before the swim, we hike the downs. It's a good practise run for the JMT with steep hills; my backpacks contains c.30 lbs of canned beans and peanut butter to mimic the load.

The South Downs are a range of chalk hills that extends for about 260 square miles across the south-eastern England, characterised by rolling chalk downland with close-cropped turf and dry valleys. They are recognised as one of the most important chalk landscapes in England, and is one of the four main areas of chalk downland in Southern England.

The dog eats half of Eitan's chocolate birthday cake.

A Brave New World

Self portrait XXXXXIII
And in a wink I am 50.

So, I am asked, how does it feel?

It has not been an easy ride to get here - a bunch of crummy years working at an investment bank, a hard adjustment to London, a start-up tech company that did not make a billion nor a million bucks and no sub-three hour marathon. Cal has not been to a Rose Bowl in my lifetime.

But here I am now, with a couple of healthy teenagers, a loving wife who I love and work that sustains me.  An extended family and friends that I cherish, and an ability to see them every now and then. A few good stories that are re-told on a good evening. My demons, for the time being, at bay.

Life is interesting. I am happy.

@Madeleine: I am not getting a tattoo.

Sunday, June 18

The Hope Ball

A beautiful smile
Sonnet and I are in Bath for The Hope Ball, a fundraising event to build a state-of-the-art Cancer Center in Bath, arranged by our friend Tabitha.

The Champagne black-tie affair is held under an open tent on the lawn of the Royal Crescent, overlooking the city, on a beautiful warm summer's evening. It reminds me of Campus Dance at Brown, held each year in late May around the college graduation.

Friends And More Friends

Madeleine Saturday morning
Me: "How are you doing these days kid?"
Madeleine: "Three more weeks of school."
Me: "But you love school, right ?"
Madeleine: "It's school Dad."
Me: "What would you do if not school?"
Me: "Get up in the morning. Come downstairs. Have breakfast. Watch an episode of Friends. And another episode of Friends. And another episode of Friends and. . "
Madeline: "Alright I get it Dad."
Me: "And another episode of Friends. And another episode of Friends. .."
Me: "And another episode of Friends. And another episode of Friends . .."
Madeleine: "Having fun, are we Dad ?"
Me: "Always."