Sub-Title

John "Lakewood" Fegyveresi

Friday, August 12, 2022

The Invisible Mountain

Sitgreaves Mountain

I've lived in Flagstaff now for just over 3 years. In all my time here, I've become quite familiar with all of the various topographical features in the area. I've hiked to the summit of just about every major peak, I've explored lava tube caves, and I've ventured out on some of the most remote and inaccessible roads and trails. In short...I've explored.

In all of my various local adventures, and across my myriad journeys, I have however, discovered one particularly oddity. There is one specific feature that seemingly goes unnoticed. There is a prominent mountain peak, just to the west of town, that despite being quite visible from the major interstate (I-40), no one seems to know what it is. What's more, is that no one ever talks about it, mentions it, or really even recognizes its existence at all. I like to call it, "The Invisible Peak".

Well, this peak has a name. It's called Sitgreaves Mountain.

Some of the well-known and prominent features around Flagstaff.
Well...except one "Invisible Mountain"

Even over on SummitPost, their entry for Sitgreaves literally says, "This mountain stands alone along I-40, very visible, but very few bother to ask, 'What is that mountain?'. It's just passed by. Very vew people actually take the time to figure out what the name of it is, or figure out a route to the summit"


Well...given my fascination with geographical oddities, I think you can see where this short post is going. This past weekend, I took a trip out to Sitgreaves Mtn. with the sole purpose of finding my to the summit. It's important to note here, that there are no established trails up the mountain. Any trekking one does on or around the peak is entirely off-trail. It took a fair amount of planning, route finding, and research, but I was able to come away from the adventure with a successful summit (despite getting hailed on and nearly struck by lightning!)

I used various websites like Summitpost and Hikearizona to determine the best routes not just to the summit, but to the mountain itself. Given that there are no established trails on the peak, even staging a vehicle for the hike can be tricky. Lucky for me, I recently picked up a very-capable new toy, that makes these types of excursions a bit more accessible. A couple of months ago I decided to sell my trusty 125cc scooter, and upgrade to something a little more robust. I opted for a new Honda Trail 125. Needless to say, this has become my go-to method of transport around town whether it is to the coffee shop, my office, or the trails. This little machine is small enough that I can explore just about anywhere on it (including single track trails), without fear of dropping it like with my much larger (and way heavier) Himalayan. In addition, it gets over 125 miles per gallon, which is definitely a plus right now in this very inflated economy. The only downside is that it means I've been using my bicycles less for my daily commutes.

The new Honda Trail 125

Ripping up some single-track trails on the Honda

I spent an afternoon last week recording some fun video clips of me playing around behind my house on the new Honda. As you can see, I really enjoy playing on this new bike...


So...back to Sitgreaves Mountain. I sorted out a way to get to the base of the mountain almost entirely on backroads and forest roads. On the Honda, I knew I'd have no trouble with this route. The questions started to pop up once closer to the peak. Many of the roads around the base of the mountain are not viewable on satellite imagery, and are not well-documented. I simply didn't know the condition of some of my planned roads. My hope, was to be able to take the little Honda all the way up to a high saddle just East of one of Sitgreaves sub-peaks, known simply as "Peak 9004". Then I could simply hike my way over to the primary peak of Stigreaves passing up and down several false summits and sub-peaks along the way. I would essentially be doing a ridge-line traverse from Peak 9004 over to Sitgreaves proper.

Planned route to Sitgreaves Mtn.

Planned route once at Sitgreaves Mtn.

Well, this was the plan anyway. As usual, it didn't quite work out that way. As I made my way up the roads towards my intended parking area on the saddle, the roads became increasingly technical and degraded. It was getting harder and harder to make progress, even on the small and nimble Honda Trail 125. Eventually, I split off from my intended route on a slightly better side road, and ultimately parked just a few hundred meters further down when the road simply petered out in the woods. 

Where I actually parked for the hike...

The hike proved to be much more difficult than I had anticipated. The gradients were true Barkley-level, and I found myself moving quite slowly up the steep inclines. I did eventually make it up to Peak 9004, the first of many summits that day. After a quick celebration, I began the rollercoaster hike over to Sitgreaves Mtn, going up and down several summits and sub-peaks along the way. The entire route was free hiking through the woods and while easy to navigate, was surprisingly difficult terrain. It was littered with rocks, fallen trees, and steep cambers. By the time I did finally make it to the Sitgreaves Summit, I was presented with another rather unfortunate problem. It had taken me longer than I had anticipated to make the hike, and so I was now right in the middle of peak monsoon weather. 

Snapshot from the summit of Peak 9004

My entire route over to Sitgreaves Mtn (GPS Track)

I didn't waste anytime on the Sitgreaves summit, and immediately started my descent. Rather than do the rollercoaster again, I opted for the slightly longer but ostensibly quicker route back that would follow a relatively stable contour around the ridges. This would also keep me off the exposed summits, which were now being threatened with lightning.

As I descended, the hail, rain, and lightning soon followed. I was down far enough to be in the protection of some trees, but I was getting absolutely soaked. In addition, the lightning was frighteningly close with many strikes occurring effectively right on top of me. In addition, all the rain was making an already unstable and highly-angled contour around the mountain, incredible loose. Every other step I took, the ground would give way and I'd slide a few feet down the debris-covered hill side. It was arduous hiking, and incredibly slow going. After what seemed like an hour in the pouring rain to go less than 2 miles, I finally made it around in view of the Honda. The rain let up by this point, but of course the primitive forest road that I had ridden up earlier in the day, was now a flowing torrent of water and mud. 

My approximate return route (blue). My watch wasn't recording anymore.

When I got back to the Honda, it was of course soaking wet. I got it fired up quickly and it was another 40 minutes of very-slow and tedious navigation down an incredibly loose and water-logged road. There was even snow in a few places! When I finally did make it back to the paved roads, I was happy to have survived without any major incidents, lightning strikes, or bike drops, but still had to ride about 25 miles back in the rain, while soaking wet. Well...I shivered a lot, but did finally make it back home about an hour later...where I promptly jumped in a hot shower to warm up. The Honda got incredibly caked in mud, and I got another experience like no other. Truly, it was a ridiculous day. Just how I like it ;-)

I captured a lot of footage of the day and am including a very-low-resolution video below for more of an intimate and in-depth picture of just what I experienced that day. Enjoy!


Wednesday, June 15, 2022

My Experience with Solar Panels

Our 13-Panel Solar Array

Last year, I went through the process of having Solar Panels installed on my house in Flagstaff. Now granted, Flagstaff does get over 300 days of sunshine per year, but the questions I most often get when others learn of my rooftop solar are: 1) How much did it cost? 2) Has it been worth it? 3) Do you get paid for power you don't use? 4) Did you get battery storage?

There was quite a bit to learn, and a fair amount of nuance involved with investing in solar, so I thought I would run through my experience here so that you all can see just how valuable it has ultimately been for us, and some of the things that I learned along the way.

First off, let me get to the those big questions. How much did our rooftop solar setup cost? Well, the answer to that question is not as simple as you might think. First, cost typically depends on whether or not you pay outright, or you finance. Outright payment typically comes with a price reduction/discount. With that said, a good rule-of-thumb for cost is typically about $1000 per panel (but that is definitely dropping fast). We designed our array based on our typical monthly usage...and opted for a 13-panel array. This is somewhat on the smaller side, but our typically monthly usage is only about 300-400 kWh (for our 1600 sq. ft. home). For a larger household, our array probably wouldn't be sufficient. We wanted to go with a setup that would essentially generate at least 200% of our daily average usage (meaning we'd generate at least a 100% surplus). This was not only so we could "make some money selling back to the grid", but would also future proof us a little for the day when we finally buy that EV car. There are also several appliances in our house that would be nice to ultimately replace with electric. With that all said, our quoted up front and out-the-door cost was $14,147 ($17,996 if we financed). But...this is where it gets interesting. There is a 26% federal tax credit you can claim on your taxes for new solar. This meant the following April, we would be able to claim $3743 dollars as credit on our taxes, effectively giving us a $3743 refund. On top of that, Arizona adds another $1000 State Credit. So, while we did have to pay the full amount up front, just 9 months later we got almost $5000 back...resulting in a NET cost for our solar installation of under $10,000. Not bad for a full rooftop solar setup. Now, I realize that not everyone has $14,000 dollars to plunk down on a solar array, and frankly neither did we. BUT, we were clever in how we made it work. 

Rather than finance the panels and pay a higher price overall, we saved up and were able to put down about $9000. Then, I took out a 12-month interest free Discover Card and paid the remaining $5000 on that card (and getting $100 in rewards points). I then put that card away and never used it again. Nine months later when we got our tax refund, I paid off the full balance and haven't used the card since. This allowed us to pay the reduced price, and not have to finance or take out a small loan from the bank or credit union.

So how much did our solar setup cost? Well...after it was all said it done, about $9500.

It's important to know, that the federal and state credits are going away fast, so I highly recommend if you're interested in solar, get it installed no later than next year. By 2024, the credit will effectively be gone.


So...has it been worth it?

I guess the short answer to that question is....Maybe not quite yet, but it definitely will be.

On a full sun day, we are generating about 27-28 kWh of power. We typically only use about 10 kWh per day. In other words, we're generating over 2x our daily use on a good day. So you might be thinking, "Awesome, that means you make money on the 18 kWh you sell back to the grid!". Sort of.

Yes it's true that we sell back all unused power we generate to the grid. BUT, we live in an area with an effective vertical utility monopoly. Flagstaff is serviced by a company called APS, and they have full reign over our area. In order to use solar, you must sign contracts with APS and agree to their terms. To put it bluntly, APS is trying to make money, and my rooftop solar basically loses them money. So...how do they rectify this? Well, they eliminate what's called "Net-Metering" and instead implement time-of-use plans with reduced buy-back rates. Let me spell this out for you:

Several years ago, rooftop solar operated on a simple principle called "net metering". This meant that monthly power usage was essentially a simple net calculation. How much produced - how much used. If that number was positive, APS credited your account at the going kWh rate (usually between 11 and 13 cents). If that number was negative, you paid for the net amount used. This model was not ideal for APS however, and the Arizona Corporation Commission changed the rules and allowed APS to instead implement what are called, "time of use plans". These plans not only charge consumers a higher rate for used power between 3 pm and 8 pm, BUT they can buy back any over-generated power at a lower rate than we they sell it. So even if our rooftop solar generates 200% of our monthly use, we won't earn 100% credit on our account. To be fair, time-of-use plans do also help to eliminate the problem introduced with large solar generation: "The Duck Curve" (Google it), but it still means you've got to be mindful of how and when you use power. It get's incredibly complicated, but the short story is that we've become really good about not running any energy intensive appliances between 3 and 8 pm. When it is all said and done, during a typical month (excluding winter), we can "Earn" somewhere between $1 and $1.50 per day. This doesn't sound like a lot, but this is on top of all the power we use. So not only are we breaking even on all our usage, BUT, we are earning about a dollar a day.  Now in the winter, when the sun is lower, and our roof is covered in occasional snow, we sometimes don't even break even. Currently, our electric "Bill" is -67 dollars (meaning we have a $67 credit). For this month, we are on day 12 of the billing cycle and are earning $1.09 per day on average. When winter comes, we'll probably start chewing in to that credit and if we have any credit left over come Jan 1, APS sends us a check and we start they cycle over again.


My last electric "Bill"

So let's do some back-of-the-envelope math. Let's say that when we average our production over an entire year, we'll assume the worst case scenario that we are only breaking even. Before solar, our electric bill was about $80 per month when averaged over the entire year (some months it was $40, other months $120). This means we were spending ABOUT $1000 year on electric for our home.

We paid ABOUT $9000 for our panels, so this would mean in 9 years they pay for themselves. This is an incredibly conservative estimate, and I would guess our buy-back break-even period is probably closer to 6 or 7 years. So, as long as we stay in our house for at least 6 years, the panels will very likely have been "Worth It". Of course this doesn't factor in the net value of our home as well. The panels most certainly increased the equity/value of our home by at least the $9000 that the panels cost, meaning if we were to sell, we'd likely not lose money in the long run. And lastly, as to whether they've been "worth it"....well we certainly think that they have been even if just for the fact that we're doing our part to reduce our fossil-fuel based energy consumption. Next up....an EV car!

So have our solar panels been worth it and do we get paid for the power we generate and don't use? YES! and YES! We'll have a buy-back period of probably about 6 years, and our home equity has increased, our fossil-fuel energy consumption has decreased, and we are providing the grid with our surplus renewable energy.

And lastly...did we get battery storage? This is an easy one. NO we did not not get battery storage. I would absolutely love to have a battery storage unit installed on our house to truly tap into as much of the power we generate as possible. The battery setup compatible with our unit (Enphase), would provide enough storage power to essentially keep our house fully running overnight (except for our electric dryer). In the end, it's always better to use as much of the power we generate as possible as it costs more to buy power from APS, then we earn selling power back. So why didn't we get battery storage? Well, mostly because the technology is not-quite-there yet...and because what is there, is REALLY expensive. I got a quote on a basic battery storage unit for our house, and it was almost $20k. This is twice what we paid just for the panels and we couldn't justify the expense. I imagine the technology and costs will come down ridiculously fast over the next 5-10 years, and we are planning to simply wait a few years and re-assess.

SOME TIPS:

Here are some things I'd tell you based on what I learned along the way. First, try to find a local company to work with. We had a lot of people from Phoenix (or national companies) try to sell us panels, but we ultimately went with a local company that works and services Flagstaff. This also allowed us to use a referral from a neighbor that gave us another $500 off our price (and gave them a $500 bonus!). We also felt better about supporting local business.

Do your research on what technology the company uses. Many solar panels are cheaply made overseas and are not reliable, or have faulty inverters. Make sure to go with a company that has good reviews, and has reliable equipment. I'm not saying you should only buy American panels (ours were made in Germany), just do your due diligence here.

Think about the condition of your roof. If you need a new roof, it might be wise to do that before installing panels. If not, it means having to remove them a few years down the line when re-roofing your house. Our roof was redone just a few years ago, so that variable was not in our equation.

Plan for the entire process to take at least 3 months (probably more like 4-5). Once we signed papers with our company, it took about two weeks for the initial roof inspections, and then another two months for the approval from APS, the City, and our HOA. After that, the installers actually put everything up in just two days. It took another couple of weeks for APS to install their meters and get us tapped into the primary grid. After that, our installers came over as we turned things on, and set up our unit to our wifi so we can monitor everything from our phones. Watching the app becomes a fun daily game to see how much you are producing vs. consuming. We signed papers in late-April, and "flipped the switch"in late-July.

...and that's about it. The entire process, while lengthy, is actually quite painless. It's important to note that you also don't necessarily have to buy your panels. You can also lease them and simply allow a company to "use your roof". You won't earn as much this way, and you don't ever own the panels, but it also means you are not responsible for them. Also, if you do buy, and finance...most solar companies have ridiculously low interest rates, and they will tailor your monthly bills, to be roughly equivalent to what your electric bill is. So to you, you aren't really seeing any difference in your monthly bills.

I hope this was useful/helpful to you and I'm happy to answer any questions in the comments.


Power generation and consumption for June 14th.
(We consumed 7.1 kWh, and produced 27.7 kWh, exporting 20.6 kWh)


Also, I highly recommend this video talking about why we should cut ties with gas appliances...and why "Cooking with Gas" being "Better", is a common misconception.







Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The Necessity of Science Communication (& an Experiment in Machine Learning)

Cartoon by Tom Dunne
(Cartoon by Tom Dunne)

As a scientist working in the broad field of the "Geosciences", I've always been fascinated and intrigued by the "Social Sciences". As I worked my way through graduate school, and all of the various milestones along the way (i.e. Candidacy, Comprehensive Exams, and Defenses, etc.), I was constantly reminded of the "Scientific Process": You must pose a question and/or hypothesis, and then test that hypothesis in order to make predictions. To my trained brain, questions in the natural sciences or engineering world lead to explanations of how and why the world exists as it does, and then ideally allows us to make empirical predictions. With the social sciences though, despite the ability to pose and test hypotheses, when you add in the human factor of free-will, I have always wondered just how much "prediction" is truly possible. I suppose it is simply a lack of understanding on my part, and I fully admit my own ignorance with the social sciences, but it is just so hard for my process- and math-oriented mind to wrap my head around the scientific approaches to various social sciences. 

I recently participated as a member of a search committee, with a focus on hiring a new Social Scientist. As this was my first search committee, I made sure to take an incredible volume of notes, as I knew that my position and training as a "Natural Scientist" undoubtedly gives me certain biases (even if unconscious). I tried to copy responses verbatim as best I could. I knew that in many ways, I would defer to the expertise of the other Social Scientists on the committee, but for the sake of scientific and interdisciplinary diversity, I was happy to serve on this committee, especially given the desire to hire colleagues eager to work across disciplines. During many of these interviews, as other members of the committee nodded along to the respective interviewee's responses, seemingly following along with full comprehension, I found that I was constantly asking myself questions like, 

"So what does that actually mean?"
"What does that actually look like in practice"
"What is the research trying to solve or predict?"
"What are you actually trying to say here?"

...And to be honest. I felt terrible about it. Clearly, I just didn't understand. I'd often look down at my written notes, sometimes comprised of paragraphs of text, and scratching my head thinking....."That's a lot of words....but I don't really understand what is being said". Clearly, the other search committee members are following along acutely (so I am in the minority), but it really made me realize again, just how important the concepts of Science Communication are. Social Scientists (and Anthropologists for that matter) undoubtedly carry out important and relevant research. They look at questions of human behavior and interactions, and the interplay across many disciplines (including the "natural" or "environmental" sciences). To someone not intimately familiar with that type of research, it can seem very nebulous though. And this of course works the other way as well. I imagine if a social scientist were to attend one of my talks or poster presentations on glaciological processes in West Antarctica, they'd be asking just as many questions. The truth is, with all of the training that goes in to advanced graduate degrees, it can be easy to form a strong foundation and understanding for our respective methods, structures, and processes. And despite efforts to branch out and be more interdisciplinary, it can be really hard to think outside of our proverbial boxes.

This entire process has really reignited a spark within me to focus more on interdisciplinary science communication. I need to work with others across fields to not only find ways to better communicate the science that I prioritize, but to better understand just how other fields are going after the questions that scientists like me are unable, and unqualified to answer. It also makes me realize that I need to continue to strive to be more open minded, and more receptive to science concepts outside my scientific literacy and familiarity.

As a fun way to end this post, I thought I'd share results from a silly experiment. One of the questions that our search committee asked interviewees, was essentially "What makes you a good fit for this position?". I compiled all of my written notes in an effort to get a sense of the "word clouds" and specific mention counts of certain concepts or words (and again, my notes were essentially verbatim responses from candidates). One approach I took, was to upload my notes into a machine learning algorithm to see what it would spit out. What I didn't realize though, is this particular engine actually creates new text based on the inputs you provide. It essentially creates its own version of your text as though it is an actual person talking to you (almost as if it were a crude Turing Test). Based on the results, it illustrates that there is nuance to the responses that I clearly wasn't getting. My notes were obviously packed with "buzz" words and phrases. This also explains why I was asking myself questions like, "What are you actually trying to say here?", as the AI text results contains over 150 words, but yet doesn't really say anything truly substantial or substantive. It's essentially just empty words. Again, this speaks volumes to my true lack of understanding of the actual science. Still, I thought the results were somewhat amusing....

So...what makes you a good fit for this position?.....

"I like to think that I work at the nexus of multiple disciplines, but also across boundaries. I have a passion for interdisciplinary work that bridges gaps and deconstructs silos. I also leverage my strengths, understanding what I am, and what I am not. When working through my research or designing a project, I employ methodologies centered on co-production of knowledge, and strive to augment community assets and maximize the potential of human and social capital. I focus on community engagement, evaluate multi-dimensional resilience, and prioritize just transitions. It is important to build a scaffolding when working across cultural boundaries and marginalized communities. My research methodology involves merging qualitative and quantitative approaches, and using broad frameworks, while also incorporating focus groups; I really like to understand where breakdowns occur. It is also critical to identify key stakeholders, and establish strong foundations. It is about working across research paradigms, and more simply, facilitating conversations."

....Wait...what??

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

2021 in Review: A Year of Reserved Endeavors

Having fun at the Bighorn 100

Well here we are again...at another year's end. I sit here nestled in the corner of the coffee shop, living in this uncertain "new-normal", occasionally pulling my face mask down to sip my coffee.....and trying to come up with some kind of clever title that best encapsulates this year. What I realize though, is that there really isn't any. Every time time I think about the various experiences that have made up the year for me, one word always seemed to come to mind: "reserved". I think about trips I've taken, hikes I've been on, runs I've done, or my various motorcycle adventures...and in each case while there was excitement and thrill, there was also a a constant and nagging feeling of caution. This global pandemic we've all navigated our way through over the past two years has left us all with a prolonged sense of fatigue. While I feel like a fair majority of us all want to do the right things and remain vigilant, I think we are all simply tired in our own ways, of this new reality. Tired of zoom, tired of extra steps required for previously inconsequential tasks, and tired of the constant and heightened vigilance. It's kind of like when you go on a long road trip...and spend 8 hours behind the wheel. On paper, it shouldn't be exhausting....as you're just sitting there occasionally turning a steering wheel. BUT, as we all know, it is exhausting due to constant mental commitment and vigilance required.

I think more than anything what has surprised me, and frankly saddened me, is just how many people I've witnessed that simply don't care about doing all they can to help and protect others. What has emerged from this pandemic is an overwhelming abundance of selfish and entitled attitudes that is really just...well....ugly. So many of us proclaim to hold strong or commendable morals, or to be followers of various faiths....faiths that almost universally teach mandates to be kind to all, and always help others. Yet, over the past year, there's been so much of "me, me, me" and to heck with my neighbor or fellow. I've seen people get into full on fist-fights with airline flight attendants because rather than do something small to try to help others, they contend that wearing a small piece of fabric over their face somehow is an affront to their "personal freedoms". I think of people like that flight attendant who is just trying to get by and provide for their family in these weird and difficult times, and it's no wonder so many people in service jobs are quitting in record numbers.

Since when did vaccines become government conspiracies? They are probably the most effective medical advancement every developed and have likely saved billions of lives. I think back to my post about climate denialism when I wrote:

This is when I realized this strange and unnatural propensity to gravitate towards conspiracies and pseudoscience. It's simply more tantalizing and exciting. I think there's something gratifying about getting people to believe you as well...almost as if you've "recruited for the cause". Additionally, people, by nature, are very stubborn and defensive.  When someone shows you empirical evidence that a long held belief about something is potentially wrong, rather than get excited about something new and possibly wonderful...people tend to deny it, or defend their own belief.  No one likes to find out that they've been wrong about something.

As far as latching on to conspiracies....well this has been going on for centuries.  In the last 50 years, and particularly with the recent development of the fast global connectivity of the internet, conspiracies establish themselves quickly and get deeply rooted.  Regardless of the obvious counter-evidence presented, these conspiracies hold on tightly and people stay dug in, like a tick, believing them....rather than to just laugh about it, admit their gullibility, open their beliefs to something new, and move on.  I think back to the the countless hours of network news coverage of the most ridiculous things I could imagine.  The president of the United States having to present his birth certificate to prove his citizenship.  People convinced that somehow 9/11 was an "Inside Job", despite members of terror groups openly boasting about it.  So why do we want so much to believe these things?  Why would anyone want to believe that 9/11 was a coverup of some sorts?  I just don't understand.  What feeds into this even more is that some real "conspiracies" do actually exist (e.g. Watergate),  and only further perpetuate the idea that "anything is possible" and "see!...the government has secret agendas!"

At any rate, I don't want to dwell on this, and instead will take a walk down my 2021 memory lane. Despite the heightened cautions, and the reserved nature of most of my outings, I did still manage to have a really wonderful and satisfying year. So....let's take a look back.

YEAR IN REVIEW:

Starting the Resolution Challenge (still fresh)

The year started like every other year has started for the past 8 years....with my annual running of the 3hr CJ's resolution challenge. This year I chose to run a 1.1-mile loop around my neighborhood. I knew I wasn't in great shape so was just hoping to get close to 20 miles. As usual, I cut it incredibly close on the penultimate lap, crossing the start lap for my final lap just seconds before the 3-hour mark. As per the rules, I am allowed to start a new lap as long as the clock reads under 3 total hours. I started the last loop in before the cut-off, and ultimately walked the last loop in as a victory lap. In total I did just eke out 20 miles with a total of 20.1 (18 total laps).


Not long after running loops on a sunny January weekend, we got pummeled in Flagstaff by over 26 inches of snow. As fun as it was to see this much snow, it also meant that most of my preferred outdoor activities were officially over for the season (principally long bike rides, trail running, and motorcycle jaunts). I had a lot of fun digging snow trenches in the backyard for the dog to navigate, and performing various measurements on the fresh snow. Once a snow/ice scientist, always a snow/ice scientist....


Measuring the fresh snow after the big storm

I paid for this picture with my back....

At the end of January, I received news that as an educator within the Arizona Board of Regents "domain", I was considered Tier 1B for the new SARS-Cov-2 Vaccine. While part of me was ecstatic to be eligible, I also felt guilty knowing there were likely thousands at greater risk, that should be ahead of me in line. I asked about this, and was told to get the vaccine so that I would be in compliance with University Policy. I posted the picture below on my social media accounts with the following caption: 

"Thank you to all of the medical researchers, scientists, trial phase volunteers, and everyone else that made this picture possible. It speaks to the incredible ingenuity of our researchers and scientists that this picture could even happen only 1 year after really just recognizing SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19. I had to drive through a literal blizzard this morning to get to the vaccine site...but would have truthfully snow-shoed there if I had to."

Vaccinated!

At some point in late-January, I set out on a quest to "Run Every Street" within the city limits of Flagstaff. I figured it would be a good way to try to knock out some fun winter miles. Progress went well for several weeks, but eventually my interest in the project began to fade as the weather got nicer and I started getting out more on trails. I did manage to knock out several hundred miles in total before suspending the project. I do plan to still complete it at some point down the line. Despite being on roads, I did still experience some beautiful sunsets and views that I hadn't expected. In many ways doing a project like this did allow me to see parts of my city that I otherwise would have likely never seen.

"Run Every Street" progress map

An evening sunset while "running every street"

One of the more primitive "Roads" that I had to run

In February I came to the decision that I finally needed a new road bike. For years I had been riding an older commuter bike that I picked up from a friend...but it never quite fit me right. Initially, I was trying to get my hands on a bike called the Space Horse from a company called All City, however this bike was impossible to find. After some more searching, I stumbled across the Specialized Diverge and found one in my size down in the Phoenix Area. I put a deposit on it immediately and picked it up a few days later. A few short weeks, I customarily earned this new bike by completing the requisite century ride by cycling 50 miles out and back through the hills of Flagstaff.

The new wheels!

My first century ride on the new bike

Mile ~75 on my century ride

As the weather slowly got warmer, my interests turned from running/cycling, back to the motorcycle. Early on, I was having some issues getting the bike to run consistently due to a faulty fuel pump relay, which was causing it to stall a lot. Once remedied though, the bike ran smoothly for the rest of the year. All it took w as a $10 upgraded relay, and a slight adjustment to the throttle position sensor. As the snow began melting, I starting venturing out further and further on the bike to satisfy that itch. It wasn't until May though that the county finally opened the forest roads and I was truly able to "rip it up".

Early Spring ride (note the snow in the background)

Ripping it up on some newly opened forest roads

When the end of the semester rolled around, I found myself itching to get back into the "Big Ditch" again. I made another pilgrimage up to the South Rim and completed my 2nd R2R2R. Little did I know that I'd be back once again a few months later for a 3rd go. As with my first attempt, I did the standard Kaibab Trail Out and Back (and avoiding the Bright Angel Trail). For this attempt, I was notably slower and more out of shape. The return climb up the South Kaibab that evening was brutal.

4:30 am start

Crossing the Colorado

Finishing up the R2R2R right at sunset.

In May, I made my way back to my old stomping grounds in Vermont and New Hampshire to run some samples on the Micro-CT analyzer. This was my first time back to my old neighborhood and research lab since leaving in June of 2019. It was nice seeing friends and colleagues and playing around my old favorite places. It was also nice just working in a lab again. I do miss the ordered predictability of running samples and compiling data.

Another bonus to this trip was that I was able to visit with my sister and Nephew who drove up from NY. We did a bunch of hiking, and of course visited the Ben and Jerry's factory. I also was able to visit with my good friend and running partner from Boston (the same friend that rescued me at the finish of my Long Trail FKT attempt). We met up in the White Mountains of NY, and hiked up Mt. Moosilauke. It was grand. Having now lived in Northern Arizona for 2 years, this trip taught me that I still have deep affection for the mountains and woods of the Northeast. I don't think I'll ever shake that.

Micro-CT Analyzer

The Quechee Falls just across from my old Apartment

My nephew taking after his uncle

Hanging on Moosilauke

Reflecting on how much I miss the Northeast woods.

When I returned to Arizona, I made a rather spontaneous, yet long overdue purchase. I found a bike shop down in Phoenix that happened to have a foldable Brompton bicycle in stock, that fit the specifications that I had been looking for....for almost 10 years. On a whim, I bought it and it has brought an incredible amount of joy into my life. I've mostly been using it for commuting, but it also does well for longer rides. For the rest of May, I spent many hours playing around on the Brommie. 

I did post a bit more about my Spring here: A Spring Update

The new Brompton H6R

After a long ride

As May was coming to a close, a rather frightening realization came into focus: I was scheduled to run a 100-mile race in less than a month (Bighorn 100), and I was not in shape to do so. SO....I immediately began putting in some "desperation" miles knowing that I would not have a fast race, but hopefully still have a fun race. I got my mileage volume up to a respectable level and even completed a 46-mile loop run around Flagstaff on the appropriately named "Flagstaff Loop Trail". I fared quite well on this loop, despite speed-hiking a lot of it. I knew that Bighorn was going to be slow, but I at least now felt confident I'd be able to finish it.

On the Flagstaff Loop Trail.

Towards the end of June, C and I flew up to Sheridan Wyoming for what would ultimately be my only 100-miler of the year. I was genuinely quite excited to be running this event if only that it was my first real "overnight" ultra in a long time. I was excited for the 3 am headlamp running through the woods and mountains....even if a lot of it would be hiking.

Just before the start of the race

...and crossing the finish just under 30 total hours

After the race, we spent the remainder of the week camping and exploring various parts of Wyoming and Montana. We kept mostly to ourselves and primarily on back roads. I came to discover just how lovely the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming are.

Bighorn Canyon

One of our camp sites on the trip

We returned from Wyoming to learn that Flagstaff was literally on fire. As our plane came in to land from Wyoming, the entire town looked like an apocalyptic nightmare. A very large wildfire, the Raphael Fire, was burning just a few miles outside of town and moving towards our neighborhood. This created smoke and terrible air quality for the entire city. We were on "standby" to evacuate...something I never thought I'd be faced with. The fire continued to burn for days, but was eventually stymied. I did catch several photos of the smoke plumes...

The Raphael Fire plume as seen from the FLG airport.

In July, came my biggest adventure of the year. I had already agreed to captain an aid station for the Hardrock 100 endurance run up in Silverton CO....but this year, I decided to make my way to the event a little differently. I loaded up the Himalayan with all of my camping gear and supplies, and headed out for a multi-day moto-adventure tour.

About to head out for a 7-day moto-tour!

I spent several days traversing Arizona and New Mexico before popping up into Colorado over by the Sangre de Cristo range. I opted to head there first as I still need to summit the two Crestone 14er peaks. In my quest to bag all 58, I was still sitting pretty at 49. Knocking out the 2 Crestones would leave me only the 7 Elk Range peaks to complete the full circuit. So how did it go? Well let's just say that it was incredibly memorable for many reasons. I would also not that Crestone Needle was the most difficult 14er I have completed to date (although I recognize that I still have Pyramid, Capital, and the Maroon Bells to do...which are all quite difficult.

I did post a detailed synopsis of my Crestone Mountain experience here: Bagging the Crestones!

Starting up the Crestone Route (Crestone Needle visible in background)

Mountain Lake near the base of the Crestones.

On the Summit of Crestone Needle (Crestone Peak in Background)

I eventually made my way back to Silverton, taking a rather circuitous and scenic route to get there. The Hardrock race went off smoothly, although it was admittedly a bit difficult to see the runners head out and not be among them. I again captained the aid station at the Finish Line and it was the smoothest and most efficiently run station I've had to date. No hiccups, not problems whatsoever and all of my volunteers were fantastic.

First aid-station shift at the finish line

When I returned home, I spent the remainder of the summer mostly just getting out on short runs and rides, and focusing on some home projects. We had a thriving garden that was producing an insane amount of green beans. I also installed a second rain-barrel to collect water for the garden. We also spent July and August getting our home solar panels installed and configured. By August, everything was up and running...producing well over our typical monthly usage (resulting in net-positive electric bills)

Who says you can't have a garden in Arizona!?

One day bean haul.

New rain barrel (and self-made stand)

New Solar Panels!

On the work front, I was informed I'd be moving offices, so I took it upon myself to paint the walls a fun orange and spice it up a bit. It has been a vast improvement over my previous "dungeon" office.

The new office (before the furniture upgrade) - note the Brompton ;-)

Before I knew it, Fall semester had begun and I had a cohort of over 30 graduate students that were keeping me busy. I did still sneak away on weekend jaunts either on the bike or on foot. I made my annual trip up Humphreys and even stopped to visit the old plane crash site.

On top of Humphreys

Plane crash debris amongst the boulder field

A rather unique trip I took was up to the Grand Canyon on the Motorcycle. I decided to strap the folded Brompton to the back and have a "bike-n-bike" trip. It worked out perfectly and I was able to explore a large part of the South Rim inaccessible my motor vehicle (primarily Hermit's Rest).

The Himalayan + Brompton combo

Relaxing on the South Rim with the Brompton



The Brompton overlooking the Grand Canyon

End of the Road at Hermit's Rest

In October, my Mom came out to visit for the first time since we moved to Flagstaff, I took her up to the Aspens with the dog and we had a nice time exploring various places around town.

Hanging with Mom

Catching some Aspen colors.

A visit to the Wupatki Pueblo

The following weekend I finally made the trip up Kendrick Peak north of town. This is one of those trips I had been meaning to do for a really long time, and finally just went for it. I rode the Himalayan to the trail head, and the hiked up the 2500+ feet to the summit. Along the way, I spotted a famous Northern AZ Tarantula.

Northern AZ Tarantula

On the Summit of Kendrick

In October, our University Department again set out on the annual R2R trip at the Canyon. I couldn't resist going for another solo R2R2R. I decided on this trip though, to see not only how fast I could make it to the North Rim, but, to ascend the Bright Angel Trail on the return. I ended up shaving 20 minutes off of my crossing time and hit the north rim in 5 hrs 40 minutes. Not bad for 22 miles and almost 6000 feet of gain. As expected, the views were again stunning and the Bright Angel Trail was magnificent (albeit longer). One thing I really enjoyed on this crossing was how long I was night-hiking at the start. I didn't turn off my headlamp until the Cottonwood camp well over 10 miles into the hike. I descended the entire South Rim in the dark by headlamp. It was surreal. The one downside to this hike was that I had to wait for the shuttle once I made it to the top of the Bright Angel Trail as my car was still parked down by the Kaibab Trailhead. I didn't make it home until well after dark that night.

Part-way up to the North Rim

Looking up to the North Rim

On the Bright Angel Trail looking up the final 6 miles.

A Black-Backed AZ Scorpion on the Bright Angel Trail

At the end of the climb...again just before sun set.

At some point in the Fall, I was contacted by a local Himalayan owner/rider in Flagstaff that happened to come across a picture of mine online. We exchanged contact info and ended up going on several rides together. It was really fun getting out on some group rides as up to that point, all of my riding had been solo.  On one ride up and around Schultz Pass, there was actually 4 of us all ripping it up together. It was splendid.

Heading out to "Edge of the World" scenic lookout in Flagstaff

Somewhere along the route....

Group ride near Schultz Pass

In Early November, I made my annual pilgrimage to Virginia where I would once again run the Mountain Masochist 50-Miler with my Barkley friends. Due to various reasons this year though, it would only be myself and Travis running together. The course this year was also significantly changed and we were pretty sure it would be harder. The race director did extend the race cut-off to 13 hours, however we decided between us that we would still shoot for a sub-12 hour finish as usual. Well, needless to say, the course WAS significantly tougher, and I was not in shape for it. I managed ok through about 32 miles, but from mile 32 to 45, I was in a really bad place. I struggled every step to keep up with Travis and every time I thought I was making up time, I'd check my watch and see that we were just barely on 12-hour pace. Around mile 40, I told Travis to just go ahead, get the sub-12, and I'd just come in a bit later at the finish. I had sort of made peace with the fact that my finish was likely going to be about 10 minutes over 12 hours. Travis was out of sight by mile 42 and for the next 3 miles I slowed a bit on the final climb in an effort to gather myself. When I topped out at around mile 46 I saw that I had about 40 minutes to still make a sub-12. This would require some serious running, on some rocky trail, with completely trashed lags. But...somehow I managed to hit a groove and was overcome with a final surge. I banged out the next 3 miles in sub-8 minute pace and absolutely screamed down the final descent. It was awful, yet amazing at the same time. As I approached the road and final mile I saw that I had run those three miles in about 22 minutes, meaning I still had 18 minutes to run the last mile and make it under 12. When I hit the last straightaway with the finish line in sight about 1/2 mile ahead, I saw Travis was only about 2 minutes ahead of me. I had actually managed to almost catch back up to him.  I crossed the line in 11:54 after slowing down a bit over the last 1/4 mile. It was a hard-fought finish....but one that brought a definite smirk to my face. This marked my 6th MMTR finish, and Travis's 22nd! Next year, I will definitely come more trained.

Me and Trav (with our crew Mark) at mile ~20.

Right after finishing...

The next day....featuring 4 Barkley Finishers!

When I got back from Virginia, C and I took a long-weekend trip down to Sedona just to get away for a few days. We explored some caves, played with the doggo by the river, and mostly just unplugged. It was fantastic.

On a hike in Sedona

Oak Creek with the doggo

Climbing up to the "Subway"

View from the "Subway"

View of Sedona from the "Subway"

Inside "Hideout" Cave

View from "Hideout" Cave

For Thanksgiving this year, we headed to Southern California to the town of Wrightwood...as a way to meet up 1/2-way with some Family coming from Northern California. I had not been to Wrightwood since my PCT thru-hike back in 2010, so was excited to return. As it happened, I had some "unfinished business" in Wrightwood. Back in 2009, a large wildfire (Station Fire) had burned through the area, resulting in several sections of the PCT being closed in 2010 during my hike. I had to hike many re-reroutes or alternates to get around these sections. One such section was the part of the trail that goes up and over Mount Baden Powell....a rather well-known summit. I had always been bummed that I wasn't able to do that hike, so now that I was back in Wrightwood, I hiked it not once, but twice! I was a spectacular section of trail and the views from the top were top-notch.

The start of the Baden Powell section at Vincent Gulch.

A view of Baden Powell from the highway

On the Summit!

When I got home from Thanksgiving break, I had the wonderful pleasure of seeing off 13 new graduates from the Climate Science Masters Program. Many of these students spent their entire graduate experience over Zoom, making their graduation all that more meaningful and impressive. I am incredibly proud of each and every one of these students. As part of the celebration, I held a "Hooding Ceremony" where we celebrated each student, and also exchanged fun, silly, or occasionally embarrassing stories.

2021 Climate Science MS graduates (5 not pictured)

Hooding a Student

The next day at graduation

Very shortly after graduation, the first real snows fell, effectively marking the end of any sort of trail season, or riding season. I immediately put the scooter up for winter storage, but kept the Himalayan on standby just in case we got another warm spell (which I am not anticipating). I think it's probably just me not being willing to admit the riding season is over just yet. I suppose I'll come to terms with it soon enough...

....and 14+ inches of snow overnight....

Good night Scootie. May you live to ride another year...

And that wraps it up. There were definitely some other fun things I did along the way this year that I didn't include here, but I figured this post was probably long enough. I do have some fun ideas bouncing around my head for 2022, but we'll see how things shake out as the year starts to progress. Needless to say, I'm hopeful for another good year, and cautiously optimistic that I'll be able to experience some new and exciting adventures.

So...with that said. Happy New Year everyone, and as always....KEEP EXPLORING.



I'll leave you with my silly doggo wearing a Yeti costume, mid-yawn....making her look like a ferocious abominable snow-dog!
GRRRRRRR!