Running the Bolder Boulder

I'm on the far right...

I’m on the far right…

I ran my first 10k – pretty easy but a whole lot of fun because we wore ridiculous outfits. The Bolder Boulder is the second largest 10k in the US and the fifth largest road race in the world [wikipedia]. My friend Brittany suggested we all dress as nerds (a little too close to home – I already had the proper helicopter cap from my internship at Google):

My nerdy running friends

My nerdy running friends

The best part is – we didn’t run it for time. I could have easily done at least 8 min miles, probably a lot better, but instead we stayed as a group with the slowest runner. We focused on doing all the fun activities along the run – free beer, bacon, candy, slip and slides, and a literal pool. We jumped in a pool along the run, fully clothed and wearing shoes. The run was so much fun, I gave everyone high fives during the run and basically yelled enthusiastically the whole time.

Being crazy in a nerdy outfit during a race

Being crazy in a nerdy outfit during a race

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My Acroyoga Hobby

Flying bird in Indian Creek, Utah

Flying bird in Indian Creek, Utah

The past three years I’ve gotten more and more into this crazy hobby called acroyoga. Its a combination of yoga, acrobatics, and Thai massage. But my main teachers in Boulder (Ryan Hamity and Cassie Drew) have been strongly from the acrobatics and performance side, which has of course strongly influenced me. I got started at my climbing gym where they offered free weekly classes with the amazing teacher Yuki Tsuji.

Standing foot to hand

Standing foot to hand

Practicing standing acroyoga in Singapore at a park jam

Practicing standing acroyoga in Singapore at a park jam

I like acroyoga because it challenges me in very unique ways – being comfortable touching people non-sexually, communicating in very intense/difficult situations, and lastly playing like kids. Acroyoga is so playful and fun – you should never forget to laugh at how ridiculous an activity acroyoga is and not take it to0 seriously. Except safety – take spotting and looking out for each other very seriously.

There’s a whole world wide community around the hobby – you can go to almost any major city in the world and find friendly people to practice with. There’s even a Facebook group dedicated to passing dead time at airports by connecting with a fellow acroyogi and playing in the terminal. You get a lot of funny looks.

My Colorado acroyoga community together at the world acroyoga conference in Portland, OR

My Colorado acroyoga community together at the world acroyoga conference in Portland, OR

I’ve learned a lot from these crazy people – we challenge each other and push each other in our friendships and connections. Its not natural for a nerdy conservative guy from Alabama, but I sure appreciate their influences.

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Backcountry Skiing

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Red Lady Bowl, Crested Butte, CO

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Gaper Day at Loveland Pass, dressed in lederhosen

The past two years I’ve gotten pretty into backcountry skiing and its been really fun and adventurous. I first learned to ski 5 years ago at the Vail resorts but after three years I was ready for something new. The past two years I’ve instead gotten the Rocky Mountain Super Plus Pass – Copper, Winter Park, Steamboat, Crested Butte, and Eldora – but I’ve also started to venture away from resorts entirely.

Backcountry skiing is a type of skiing that requires you to hike up the mountain first, before skiing it (unless you can afford helicopters or snowcat skiing). It is much more strenuous than taking a lift up the mountain and you generally only get a few ‘runs’ down the mountain before you are exhausted or the day is getting late.

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Hans Peak, outside Steamboat Springs, CO

The upside to backcountry skiing is you avoid the crowds on the slopes and instead experience fresh powder in a serene, tranquil winter landscape. The backcountry is much more peaceful and majestic. The sense of adventure breaking fresh tracks since the last snow storm is palpable. The plethora of skiable terrain is unending, making every weekend a new location to explore. And of course its free – no expensive ski ticket required.

An example avalanche

An example avalanche

But there are very real downsides to backcountry skiing – avalanche danger is an ever present prospect. Snow science is complicated and even the biggest experts in the field cannot always predict when a slope or recent snowfall is safe from avalanche. Many tools today now exist to help us predict when conditions are high risk of avalanches, including the Colorado Avalanche Information Center and related phone apps. Training classes put on by organizations like AIARE teach skiers how to reduce avalanche dangers and avoid high risk areas, but still these tools are heuristics for hard to predict forces of nature.

Finally, there are tools that every backcountry skier should always carry with them – pictured below is a beacon, probe, and shovel. In the event you or your friend is buried in an avalanche, the other people in your group take out their electronic beacon which can use radio waves to track down buried people. Once the general location is found, a probe is used to poke deep into the snow and feel for buried bodies. Once a person is located using a probe, the shovel is of course used to unbury the victims. Often times, however, these tools are not fast enough and only find dead bodies after asphyxiation or just plain body trauma has already set in.

Backcountry Gear

Snow safety – beacon, shovel, and probe.

New safety tools may reduce risks in the future – recently on the market and rapidly gaining in popularity are airbag backpacks that you deploy once you see an avalanche has been triggered. They form a protective barrier around your head as well as keep you towards the top of the snow fall due to your increased volume but decreased weight ratio.

Example airbag deployed after an avalanche

Example airbag deployed after an avalanche

But enough about the risks – there are low angle slopes and late-season skiing that reduce the risk to be virtually zero. And besides that – the most dangerous part of these days is still probably driving on the road towards the mountains.

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Deep pow on a mountain along 4th of July Trail, Nederland, CO

Another aspect of backcountry skiing that I love is spending the night in the wilderness. This typically means staying in rustic huts accessible only by hiking through snow – no winter road access. In the next picture we are hiking up to Betty Bear Hut:

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Trail up to Betty Bear Hut, part of the 10th Mountain Division System

Another hut trip brought us to Arestua Hut right beyond Eldora. In the following picture you can see some friends of mine chilling around a wood burning stove in a small shack:

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Hanging out in the Arestua Hut

Another option for spending the night is winter camping in Quinzhee Huts, or snow caves. These are built by collecting a large pile of snow then hollowing into the mound a cave. They keep you surprisingly warm (32 degrees F) and are fun survival skills to know:

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Camping at Rollins Pass, starting from the East Portal Trailhead/Moffat Tunnel

A night time shot from the outside of a quinzhee hut, looking in:

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Maggie the dog inside a snow cave

 

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Canyoneering in Utah

Ticaboo Mesa, Lake Powell, Utah

Ticaboo Mesa, Lake Powell, Utah

The approach to the canyon

The approach to the canyon

I recently went on my first Canyoneering trip in Ticaboo Mesa area, just outside Lake Powell, Utah. It was a fun 3 day adventure with a group of 12 strangers from a Meetup.com group. The trip leader Yannick is an amazing world traveler with many great stories.

I really wasn’t sure what canyoneering was going into the trip but basically its extreme hiking with rope. You hike into slot canyons (narrow canyons formed by rushing water) and when it drops off, you use ropes to rappel down. Ingenious methods have been devised in the canyoneering world to create anchors that leave no gear behind. I learned about sand bag anchors – clever bags that have a “dead man” pull cord. When the cord is pulled, the bag walls collapse down – releasing the sand and disabling the anchor. This allows a team to easily explore deep slot canyons with only a few ropes.

One thing I certainly wasn’t expecting in the canyons was the unforgivingness of the sandstone walls rubbing against your backpack, clothes, shoes, and even skin. My brand new belay gloves instantly got holes in their fingers due to my climber-like tendencies to crimp on anything and everything. My medium size backpack (large day pack) got holes all along its internal frame – internal frame backpacks are terrible for narrow passages. And my novice lack of elbow and knee pads quickly led to large scrapes in my skin.

It felt like Mars

It felt like Mars

My advice for beginners – bring lots of DUCT TAPE. It is indispensable in thwarting off the abrasion. Yannick recommended wetsuits for the trip and I did bring mine, but it ended up being too dry for their use.

In summation – canyoneering is a unique sport that I’d try again but I would never call it my favorite or primary interest. I’m ready to try caving now…

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Burning Korea – Regional Burn

Burning Korea - night the man burned

Burning Korea – night the man burned

Rachel, Quest, me, Jordan

Rachel, Quest, me, Jordan

My visa to work in Japan was for only 90 days, so I had to leave the country for a couple days to renew it. So what did I do? I called up one of my best friends Quest and his gf in Thailand and joined American ex-pat Rachel and we visited South Korea for a Burning Man regional burn on Chung Po Island, south of Seoul.

2nd degree burn!

2nd degree burn!

The best story from that weekend was by far getting a huge burn all over my body – I was the burning man! I saw a guy building a bonfire and I walked up to say thanks, and right as I did he was lighting the gasoline-drenched wood and it fireballed into my face. I immediately ran, jumped into sand, and rolled screaming. Quest and I spent the next 20 minutes convincing that we could bandage it ourselves and didn’t need to leave the event for a Korean hospital that was many many kilometers away.

So much art at the event

So much art at the event

The wound was fine after being treated and bandaged, and I had an amazing weekend painting, laughing, slacklining, and relaxing. The event was about half local Koreans – whom were hilarious in our experience – and about half foreign English teachers.

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Hong Kong Side Trip

Top of Hong Kong

My Japanse boss Okada-sensei and I hanging out in Hong Kong

My Japanse boss Okada-sensei and I hanging out in Hong Kong

Atlas Robot in Hong Kong

Atlas Robot in Hong Kong

I finally visited China, albeit only Hong Kong, this summer. I visited for the International Conference of Robots and Automation and had a fantastic time hanging out with my Willow Garage / OSRF / Rice University / Google friends, as well as my summer colleagues at JSK Lab in Tokyo.

I also attended ROSCon where I finally saw an Atlas robot in person – so creepy!

Finally, I went on a really long amazing run up the highest hill in the Hong Kong area:

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Outdoor Adventures in Japan

Japanese summer

So many fun adventures this summer in Japan, and so many wonderful people I shared it with!

This visit to Japan I brought my climbing gear and joined a mixed group of locals and foreigners for a beautiful summer day in the mountains near Hanno Station, in this area:

 

Climbing

There were some really strong Japanese climbers in the group. The routes were pretty short but plenty tough. It was a very relaxed atmosphere. I amused myself by trying to read the Japanese text climbing guidebook.

I spent my summer frequenting Shinjuku Gyoen park and Yoyogi park on the weekends to picnic, slackline, do yoga, paint, and drink.

Shinjuku-goen park

Shinjuku-goen park

Playing around at a free yoga class

Playing around at a free yoga class

My friend Jaimeson and I taught so many Japanese people the joys of slacklining. Its fun seeing Japanese people wrap their head around the pointlessness of walking on a length on nylon for fun.

This random dude in a turtle suit decided to try slacklining

This random dude in a turtle suit decided to try slacklining

The picnics with Rachel and friends were always very relaxed, fun times to get away from the city life.
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We hiked Mt. Fuji in the cold rain, spending the night in a lodge on the mountain. As we were departing I was interviewed by a local TV crew asking why I was going up despite the weather. I told them “to protect the ladies” because my crew I was hiking with happened to be 3 women and myself. The hike was miserably cold and wet, as portrayed in the following:

Unhappy, wet, hikers

Unhappy, wet, hikers

A great way to spend a summer sightseeing in Japan is via road biking, which my close friend Carol was very happy to join in.

Biking in Japan

Biking in Japan

Unfortunately there was also a lot of rain for many of our rides

Biking in the mountains in Japan

Biking in the mountains in Japan

Another hobby I tried for the first time was windsurfing!

Winsurfing beach in Enoshima

Winsurfing beach in Enoshima

Finally, I really enjoyed running about twice a week with the Tokyo House Hash Harriers. Its that crazy running group that does about 5 miles then goes to a restaurant and eats, drinks, and is marry together. It was a fun way to hanging with English speaking Japanese people outside of a professional environment where they weren’t afraid of being crazy.

Friday night hashing group in Tokyo

Friday night hashing group in Tokyo

Overall, it was a really adventurous fun summer, I loved it!

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Living in an Incredibly Small Japanese Shared House

The skinny ugly teal apartment building was mine.

The skinny ugly teal apartment building was mine.

This summer I’m living in Tokyo, Japan for a 3 month research collaboration with the University of Tokyo JSK Robotics group, continuing my research on humanoid robots that I started with them in February.

Because I’m still a PhD student, I only get paid a small stipend, even though I live in Tokyo. To make living Tokyo affordable, I scoured the internet for a cheap room that was within walking distance of the University. After many comparisons I chose Tiger House Ueno-Okachimachi without ever touring the place, because it was only a 20 minute walk to work, cost $490 a month, they were ok with just 3 months, and it had no deposit/initialization fees. Unfortunately, it was the most depressing, smallest, worse place I’ve ever lived.

Sad Dave in small room

Sad Dave in small room

Thin mattress pad

The room was so small I could lay in bed and touch the front and back of the room with my legs and arms at the same time, and I couldn’t even stretch my arms full length without touching the sides of the room. The bed had no mattress, just a thin comforter thing you slept on.

One floor of the terrible guest house in Tokyo

One floor of the terrible guest house in Tokyo

The room from the hallway

The walls were super thin and, even though everyone in the building tried to be quiet and respectful, simply by walking and opening doors I was awoken a lot at night. I had to install a phone app that played smoothing sleeping noises to help me sleep. The community was like living in a hotel – no one talked to each other and there was no real communal space. Except the hotel rooms were the size of a closet.

The place smelled so horrible. The bathroom was pretty disgusting. Particularly insulting was that I had to walk 3 stories up stairs to take a shower or use the kitchen, and the shower cost $1 to use. The kitchen was basically useless, and always disgusting. Despite having lived in Mexico at a camp ground, and Thailand in a bungalow, and camped many places, this was the worse place I ever lived!

**Luckily**

Motoazabu Hills

I met a friend towards the end of my first month in Tokyo who was sympathetic to my plight and who had a super nice apartment with two empty bedrooms. I moved in and it was completely the opposite of the slum I had been living in – some of the richest people in Tokyo live there! It is unbelievably nice, and its crazy the contrast in places I moved from:

Super nice living room

Super nice living room

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Dabbling in Acro Yoga

My instructor and her base. Image courtesy of Yoga Yuki http://yogayuki.com/

My instructor and her base. Image courtesy of Yoga Yuki http://yogayuki.com/

A new interest of mine is Acro Yoga, which is a blend of yoga, acrobatics, and Thai massage. Classes are offered free from my climbing gym (Movement Boulder) and one day a friend suggested we go try it out together. She has since stopped going, but I am hooked.

Image courtesy of Yoga Yuki http://yogayuki.com/

Image courtesy of Yoga Yuki http://yogayuki.com/

I find Acro Yoga really hard – I have tight hamstrings, and am not the most flexible person overall. I should really do more regular yoga first, but at the same time its really fun to do what is basically partner yoga.

It involves lifting others up over you on your feet, or hands, and having your partner “fly”. But in our class, taught by Yuki, everyone takes turn both “basing” and “flying”. Flying someone heavier than you is quite a challenge. But also, I really like that it challenges your personal space/personal bubble. You have to become comfortable with touch, something I think our society is not so good at. Its a fun, playful environment that I’m really enjoying exploring.

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Meeting European Roboticists in Belgium

KU Leuven Workshop on Robotics

KU Leuven Workshop on Robotics

A lot of amazing Belgium beer was had in this courtyard area.

A lot of amazing Belgium beer was had in this courtyard area.

In January I spent a week outside Brussels with a group of roboticists from around Europe at the *PhD European School of Robotics* hosted Herman Bruyninckx of KU Leuven. It was another interesting experience in that I was the only non-European in the group of ~12, and thus became the de-facto representative of the overall United States school of thought on robotics, and in particular the Robotic Operating System.

We spent the week discussing and arguing various approaches to the software engineering of robotics, the big challenges currently facing the field, and the weaknesses of current implementations (such as ROS). We had a great many heated debates about the pros and cons of various approaches, which I really enjoyed.

Overall, it was a superb week in Europe with great Belgian beer in the evenings shared with lively scientists from other countries.

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