The Jostling Roar of Rickshaw and Spirit

•October 24, 2012 • 1 Comment

Awoken in the jostling roar, I found my face inches from the Trident Thunderbolts’ front wheel.  Our hired berserker driver had been hurtling our beasts and our diesel-sooted selves for 18 hours across Java.  Stifling heat, exhaust, gas fumes, and the constant shaking to the point of launching in the air already resulted in one extended lean over the side to rid my stomach of its fanta and cracker contents.  I crawled out from under Rota and her poking brake cables to find another position to attempt sleep.  The truck from Surabaya being a bit short, the tuk-tuks slammed together the entire 26 hours—adding some cosmetic damage to the interior disorder of cable-tied carburetors, dismantled leaking brake lines, tenuous clutch cables, and falling off mufflers.  A mutual alliance of support with the Aussie team of Bay, Owen, and Buzz [dubbed T.R.A.P. Trans-archipelago Rickshaw Association Pact] resulted in our being the first teams to reach Sumatra and its waiting wonders.  The northside of Java never varied from its trash-strewn shanty-lined highways and decrepit cities of buzzing scooters, though our illegal toll-road highway attempt did end in a noteworthy police escort.

Rain thunder astounds.  We are in the jungle.  The green aliveness closed in on the road as a smothering sound.  The children dance, laugh, wave, and yell their “Hello Mister”‘s everywhere in Sumatra.

My hands are as black as this ink.  Blew a head gasket yesterday—Buzz soon had Rota’s engine flayed open and we roamed Krui for a non-existent new one until a trip to a dump procured us an aluminum scrap, which I fashioned into a new gasket with my leatherman and a hatchet.  Readjusted valves, fixed the carburetor, only to have the stabilizer bar snap in two a few km’s into the hills.  Buzz lashed the axle to the frame with rope and we limped along until the drive shaft disengaged and began thrashing the engine.  Immediately a truck offered a tow and we took it, breaking the T.R.A.P., lashing a huge rope around the cabin for the slow quiet return along the shore to Krui and its drunken fishermen.

Waiting in the rain in the Bajai, in a truck for a driver who inexplicably points to his shirt when questioned on our departure.  Another 27 hours yesterday on a truck, and another head gasket replacement—this one made with real tools.  25 hours to go from Padang to Lake Toba…

Rota gave one of her finest performances on the final day.  At 4:30am I gave her the final tune up in the rain, re-attaching the exhaust pipe with asbestos rope, adding oil, tying back the transmission linkage that had been slipping her into reverse from second or third with ubiquitous baling wire, and deciding to neglect the new but broken and dangling shock absorber.    We had arrived at the aptly named Tuk Tuk on the volcanic crater island in Lake Toba two evenings before via very slow truck through the highland monsoons, unloading just as the ferry was departing.  Waterfalls burst from the cliff edges and the placid lake reflected the clouds.  The locals in this stunning environment turned pleasant tourist village had been warring cannibals until the 1800’s.  A relaxing day scooting up for a beer and a view through the fields and small herds of water buffalo.

Rota had only 170km to do down to the battlefield plains of Medan, which would have been her longest day had she made it.  Gliding down the volcanic slopes, clutch engaged, leaning into curves to avoid tipping over, we felt hopeful.  Things, the world, and most notably the engine began to heat up.  Oil dripped out of, but had stopped circulating in the engine according to the ex-motorcycle racing champion mechanic who had fashioned the third and fateful head gasket.  A wrong turn near an unpronounceable city landed us in a field of scarecrows with a snapped clutch cable.  Buzz and I fixing it in the mud produced the usual 20 to 25 children and gawkers, a few photos and we were off to the main road.  In heavy traffic with about 7km to go we lost compression as the head gasket ruptured, putting an end to finishing under our own power.  Tied to the Thunderbolts, we began our ignominious traffic-choking final push[pull].  At the head of a long stoplight lineup the Trident ran out of gas, we pulled[pushed] her over, siphoned gas from Rota, had a quick soccer match, and continued, high-fiving the buses as we loitered.  We didn’t see the line of eight rickshaws in a corner of a playing field that was the finish line until we were past.  Owen jumped out–slowing the advancing army of scooters long enough to stall halfway though a u-turn.  Amid much honking and weaving we managed the half-block against one-way traffic and into the mud hole to finish at sundown.  It was abandoned, the other eight had been shipped there days before, the organizers had gotten bored and left for the finish party, and the rest were still scattered about Sumatra.

We were the only teams to finish on time wheels to the ground–if not under our own power.  In a technicality sort of way we won, the Mergansers being the only team to finish on time that had stayed with the rickshaw the entire trip, suffering [some would say needlessly, stupidly, or dangerously]  for over 70 hours perched on the back of a truck.   As we left her there in a puddle, I felt a large void open up inside me that had been filled with mechanico-logistic concern for Rota, and it felt good like adventure.

The Thin Green Line

•May 16, 2012 • Leave a Comment


Visibility had diminished so that all we could discern was the large bergschrund directly in front of us.  Two snow bridges looked crossable; I approached the right, and soon my foot was dangling in open air.  I peered into the dark blue-grey opening, glad to avoid that silence and remain in the swirl of wind and snow.  The left wider bridge had a thin crack running through it, but being tied to two solid paramedic students, I felt confident attempting this obstacle along the east face of Snow White mountain.  Deep and soft, the snow necessitated crawling past the crack and plunging my ice ax into the other side above me.  I anchored a picket and belayed Russell and Bryan over.  A final headwall to the narrow summit ridge full of fluted rime ice, and the three of us were crammed onto the summit, staring into each other’s smiling ice crusted faces.  I laughed aloud into the blinding snow at the absurdity of the triumph, and Bryan astutely mentioned being half-way there.

Somewhere above the bergshrund a wind loaded slab of new snow let go–an odd sensation to have the only point of reference moving and tugging at your knees.  I leaned in, set my ax, yelled to the rope team, and it was over. A few anchored belays and a quick glissade over the crevasse, and we were feeling our way back to the skis next to the icefall.  If the storm had intensified as we ascended, it abated as we descended, skin sliding through the new snow on the glacier.  My mind dulled from the 12 hour endeavor, I skied in back, intently watching the dancing thin green line–sliding and hopping grooves.  Spying our gothic-arched, aluminum covered abode in the late fading Alaskan dusk, we skied the final flat-light bowl to comfort, warmth, and food.  The Delta Range holds much, and I will return.

Traverse of the Bomber

•May 1, 2012 • Leave a Comment


“This windy mountaintop trough is ours.  It sustains and protects, and you do not arrive here by just straining your neck to look at the mountain.  You must start out and continue on.  You have to leave the place where everyone worries about rank and money, where dogs bark and stay home.”  -Rumi

I drove back to Palmer in a daze—some sort of beauty-shock from the things I had seen.  The final near-vertical snow ridge of Lynx Peak required the blank focus so well known to climbers.  At the release of the summit I wrote:  “Snow molds to rock contours as far as sight allows.  The icy slopes towards the Wrangells shimmer and shine.  Denali to my back has just been cloud blanketed.  The Aleutian Range mountains hover over the brooding blue of the sea.  Quite simply the greatest view I’ve seen in Alaska.”

The long haul up the Little Susitna valley the day before landed me at Mint Hut:  “Hot tea, warm sun.  Snow-sitting surrounded by the dark jaggedness of the Talkeetnas.  Silent—a breeze and breathing breadth.  Whole and tired in beauty.”

Joy-whoops escaped while climbing up to and traversing the Penny Royal Glacier at the thought of having this paradise to myself.  The day was so clear and still every crystal of ice was light dancing.  The B1 bomber wreckage came into view at the next couloir as a speck of wing in the middle of the glacier.  The line on Lynx was shaded and good looking, so I dropped skis and pack headed for upness.

Lunch at Snowbird with snow-clouds, a ski past a non-negligible nunatak, out through warming slush, and the circle was complete.  The wonders of Alaska never cease.

“Journeys bring power and love back into you.  If you cannot go somewhere, move in the passageways of the self.  They are like shafts of light, always changing, and you change when you explore them.”  -Rumi

Shabistari: Secret Rose Garden

•March 23, 2012 • Leave a Comment


You are plurality transformed into Unity,
And Unity passing into plurality;
This mystery is understood when man
Leaves the part and merges in the Whole.

If you wish to see that Face,
Seek another eye. The philosopher
WIth his two eyes sees double,
So he is unable to see the unity of the Truth.

As your essence is nothingness,
How can you have Free-will?
Seeing that your being is one with not-being,
Whence comes this Free-will of yours?


In the empty heart, void of self
Can be heard the echoing cry,
‘I am the Truth.’
Thus is man one with the Eternal,
Travelling, travel and traveller have become one.


(From The Secret Rose Garden)

The Great Doubt Beyond All Words

•February 29, 2012 • Leave a Comment

“Prajna [wisdom] is aroused awareness, but not of ‘something’:  something would imply content, something that the mind is resting upon.  Prajna is pure awareness, awareness seeing into itself.  There is no entity, however subtle, that is aware of being aware;  nor is there any being however attenuated, of which there is awareness.  It could be said that prajna is seeing into emptiness, or much better still, that it is seeing as emptiness.”

“Words cease to be opaque and are but windows onto the great doubt beyond all words.”

-Albert Low

“Listen, you say to the sound of philoso-phy, philoso-pher, education and custom dissolving to a roselit piece of shell.  That is all we get, a bit of a look into where there is no beginning, to what is always constantly starting out.  No belonging, only daring and courage, the beauty of those.”

“The willow shakes her head, and I have this to say to language, Leave me alone.  But language keeps chasing me, arguing.”

“Your fire wavers with the thought of death, but if it burned in eternity, it would not tremble.”

“The master who teaches us is absolute light, not this visibility.”

“Journeys bring power and love back into you.  If you cannot go somewhere, move in the passageways of the self.  They are like shafts of light, always changing, and you change when you explore them.”

“Live in the opening where there is no door to hide behind.  Be pure absence.  In that state everything is essential.  The rest of this must be said in silence because of the enormous difference between light and words that try to say light.”


Silence and Advertising

•February 4, 2012 • Leave a Comment

“Spoken or printed, broadcast over the ether or on woodpulp, all advertising copy has but one purpose—to prevent the will from ever achieving silence.  Desirelessness is the condition of deliverance and illumination.  The condition of an expanding and technologically progressive system of mass production is universal craving.  Advertising is the organized effort to extend and intensify craving—to extend and intensify, that is to say, the workings of that force, which (as all the saints and teachers of all the higher religions have always taught) is the principle cause of suffering and wrong-doing and the greatest obstacle between the human soul and its divine Ground.”

-Aldous Huxley


•February 3, 2012 • Leave a Comment

“Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance.”

-Daniel Kahneman