fredag den 16. november 2012

Another life - Texas revisited

In 2000/2001 I spend my 17th year as a Rotary International Youth Exchange Student in a sleepy highway town, Van Horn, Texas, close to El Paso and the Mexican border. The most occuring event was teenage pregnancy and the most prominent sights were tumble weeds and road runners (meep meep!). This might sound dim, but actually it was the best year of my life to date. It was a very maturing experience and due to the Rotary meetups with other exchange students and my wonderful host parents it was also a very dear year with lots of adventures.

Actually my year in Texas was the foundation for my travelling deeds.

In 2004 I had to go again. Along with my German friend, Thomas Weimann, I went to Argentina to visit our friend Mauro Denughes and traveled the country for 2 months. We all met during our exchange in Texas and New Mexico.

Four years later in 2008 the urge came back again and I sailed the Pacific Ocean for 2 months with my best friend Jane. This blog was initiated for that travel. 3 days later I moved to Sweden and did an exchange program during my master studies.

Now, in 2012, I am in Colorado on a PhD exchange with my boyfriend, Morten, enjoying the international environment and the gorgeous nature opportunities.

I wonder when and what my next adventure will be. Maybe a "work exchange" in 2016?
What do you think?

But to get back on track, this post is to tell you about my reunion with a previous life of mine. Out of my 3 host families I still keep in contact with two of them. Everybody I know have left Van Horn and so have these families.

Texas revisited
This week Morten and I skipped work and flew to Austin, Texas, rented the smallest car we could find. There's no mountains here, so 4WD is not needed. Surely enough we were upgraded to a bigger car. Presumably a very nice one: a white Toyota Camry. What do I know? I like white cars...
2 hours West-South West of Austin in Brady, we met up with Mitch and Glenda Van Horn. They were my first host parents. They had new jobs, cars, home etc, but really, they were just the same.

A country home

With Mitch and Glenda

Mitch and Glenda showed us around town and we sat at their big terrace facing a creek. Donkeys at the neighboring field came by and said hi. The cacti are a normal sight in Texas. The cat AJ played in the grass and kept us company at the TV.

They really have a lovely home with lots of country details like the ones in our room below.

How could you not sleep tight in a beautiful iron cast bed like this!

Glenda in the kitchen. A good breakfast consists of pancakes, sausage rolls, biscuits, fruit and yogurt. Yum! Glenda had even found Gevalia coffee which was the only coffee I drank back then.

Mitch fancies collecting old things. When I lived with them in Van Horn it was veteran cars but now it is old radios and air planes.
Nose art on Mitch's plane from 1944

Unfortunately, we couldn't go for a ride because the military had thirty-something toys in training at the air base before they were to be shipped off to war.

A toy
Mitch took us to the town museum/old jail which had a big collection of WW2 items. It was also Veterans Day, so we greeted a veteran and feasted at the cookie table.
We won't have no stealin' horses here!
A just as memorable place was the interieur store with lots of country style furniture. I quite liked it, but the prices were ouch! We also found out how popular taxidermi is.

Maybe we should have this coyote guard our visitors bed?

Mitch loves chicken!
Mitch is the manager of the Chicken Express in Brady.

His coworkers are fun, neat people and we pulled their leg by ordering in Danish at the drive in counter. The snappy employer answered: "and would you like a bun or a roll with that order?". They are probably used to Mitch's friendly teasings.

The Loveladys
Monday morning we drove down to Houston to visit my 3rd host parents, Jim and Lolly Lovelady.
We had a quiet afternoon and visited my old favorite country style restaurant Cracker Barrel. The evening went on with lots of talk about old days. Lolly told me that I used to talk a lot. That evening I almost coundn't get a word through for all the talking she did. :-)
It was great to be back.

Morten and Jim in front of the house
The next day Jim took us to see NASA and the town of Galveston.

Inside a cockpit with Jim. I remember this "suit" of his. But back then it was blue. I guess some things change 
A typical romantic style house at Galveston, the sea side town close to Texas city and Houston.

The winds and waves were high and we enjoyed a hot cup of coffee and cookies from Glenda.
Houston has a lot of shipping and oil industry. We saw numerous ships waiting to be towed in.

Houston industry - typical highway view
In the evening we went to a Mexican restaurant with one of their sons, Skip and his wife Ronnie.
Real Mexican food is not the same as Tex Mex, but it is tasty.

Morning portrait

It was really great to be back in Texas!
The people I love are still the same. 11 years has left its physical marks, but Jim & Lolly and Mitch & Glenda are still the same, sweet parents I had back then.
Texas is also the same. Everything was big. The sky, the road, the cars, the hearts and the self-feeling and state-patriotism.
I look forward to my next visit!


lørdag den 6. oktober 2012

The summer seemed to last forever

I really thought that this was my Summer of 69. On Tuesday we dined in the basking sun for lunch and the temperature was a nice, hot 29C. Today we woke up to light snow and the Flatirons had left us for the day, playing hide and seek in the heavy, white clouds. Gloves and hats has been a must today. However, even though it is cold, the dryness makes it very bearable. The air is fresh, the yellow colors of the cottonwood trees along the creek brighten the dimming day light and people on the creek path seem more aware today. The eye contact with the passing byers was much more intense than normally. Maybe it's the seasons reluctant promise of snow and a coming skiing season that lures people. I am not sure.
But I am happy with this cool weather, because next week the mercury will again reach 20C. As my supervisor, Ted, says: Don't worry, the summer will return soon here in Boulder.

After we came back from our roadtrip this past Sunday, I really started noticing the fall colors. Especially along the beloved bike creek path. Boulder must get fall later than most of Colorado. In Aspen, the aspens (aspetræer) are almost finished, but for all the other places we visited, last week was the peak of the fall seasons. As you will see below - we love yellow!

Colorado Roadtrip September 21st-30th
Morten and I set off for our counter clockwise roadtrip of the hilly and mountaineous part of Colorado on Friday at 4 pm. We enjoyed the changing colors every where we went along with the charm of travelling in off season - or in between seasons as it is here in Colorado. All the campsites and hotels were almost empty and this emphasized the grandeur of the many National Parks and National Monuments we visited.

I won't give a detailed description of everything we experienced, but rather some highlights and stats which I find interesting.

Here's the places we went:

Go west
To avoid the afternoon trafic we took the mountain route through Nederland to I-70 which is one of the largest roads in Colorado. We got off at I-40 towards Grandby on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park and continued to Steamboat Springs.

Street view of Steamboat Springs. This nice bench can be put in your garden. Here you can also buy a table covered by an eagles nest including eagles and its youngs. So if you have a huge ranch house and loads of money you really need to go shopping here. Less prosperous people might call this place kitch...
Strawberry Springs north of Steamboat Springs was like an oasis

A visit to Strawberry Springs and we were ready for the next stretch going to Dinosaur National Monument.
Enjoying the evening light and the fast flowing waters of the Yampa river at our first campground Deerlodge Park in the eastern end of Dinosaur NM
Here we enjoyed outstanding nature scenery along the Yampa river, rode some crazy four wheel drive on Yampa Bench Road along ever changing canyons and burned regions, saw the piles of dinosaur bones sticking out of the rock and had encounters with the cute critters on the camp sites.

The chipmunk Flying Squirrel
at Strawberry Springs

The chipmunk Bear
The chipmunk Hungry Bear


The chipmunk Cat
At Green River Campground, Dinosaur NM
Down south
Going south towards Grand Junction we had a bit of rain - while Boulder had lots of rain the whole week. Grand Junction was an American town when it is worst. Elongated along the highway and interstate (yup, right next to each other) the town stretches on and on engulfing many smaller towns ending in Palisade to the east. If there is a pretty, old towncenter we surely weren't close to it. Most of what we saw was fast food restaurants, the usual hotels and gas stations and badly build houses (vægge af bølgeblik!). We ended up staying luxuoriously at the Wine Country Inn in Palisade. This is the wine region of Colorado which they are very proud of. However, they are much more famous for their giant, juicy and tasty peaches. Unfortunately, we were just a few weeks late for peaches.
We slowly made our way further south on yet another daytrip with the 4WD in Umpahgre National Forest and straight through the little town of Montrose and directly into the stunning Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park where a roaring river has cut deep, bold scars in some of the most ancient cliff in Colorado. We spend the whole afternoon and sunset looking down, down into the awe-inspirering deep. I recalled my childhood where my mom would instruct me in pulling my hanging jaw back up where it belonged. After a night in bear country on the bottom of the canyon we headded further south to The little Switzerland of the Rockies - Ouray and onwards to its sister city Telluride which is renowned for its hippies and bluegrass roots.
Telluride city sign and a piste in the background
After enjoying the stunning scenery, hot tub in the cool night and accidently running into a book reading and promotion with free beer and Colorados craziest mountain columnist we continued our trip to the next national park: Mesa Verde. This is where houses from the 13th century of a prosperous indian people still stand today. The barren, wide stretched plains with scrub and trees - almost a dessert made you wonder how people could build a civilisation here that lasted 600 years. We stayed inside the park at the Far View Lodge which didn't seem to have changed a bit since it was build in the 60's or 70's. This was truely a visit to the past.

Where the wind blows
Towards the east we found Great Sand Dunes National Park, a dot of sand in the middle of the scrub land and mountains which surrounds it. It reminds me of Råbjerg Mile in Nordjylland, Denmark. At first the 800 feet tall sand dunes didn't look like much with the roaring fourteeners (mountains 14.000 feet high, red.) of the Sangre de Christo mountain range in the background. A closer inspection did change my perception and now I think they are plenty tall and pretty rough to traverse. Squeezed between the sand dunes and the mountain range a sandy 4WD road took us up through Medano Pass (Spanish for sandy pass) with deep sand, many river crossings, a car that was stuck with a transmission problem and a couple without their runaway dog. Did I mention this was also bear country?

Homeward bound
After a good nights sleep and the mountain crossing we headed north towards Summit County where many of the great fourteeners and ski areas are. Just south of Leadville we turned left, drove over Independence pass, saw the mining gost town of Independence in 12.000 feet, which was abandonned in one day during a long lasting winter when supplies ran out. They cut down their cabins to make skiis and organised a race down to Aspen a days travel away. Aspen was busy and the hotel prices went through the roof. Our first 3 campsites were full and the last one we found had only a few spots left. We decided to skip the concert we had planned for (probably good as we hadden't showered for two days and were pretty smoky) and stayed back in camp and enjoyed a Palisade Cherry wine with REI's freeze-dried apple cobbler cake. The next day we really got to feel that Aspen is not anywhere near its off season. Trying to visit the beautiful Marroon Bells we were kindly told to park our car and take the shuttle which couldn't hold all the visitors wanting to go there. This is truely a place for the rich hollywooders and other people not accustomed to the wilderness experience. However, the view was stunning and although Aspen had passed the peak season of the yellow aspens the view was breath taking.

 Aspens pride: The Maroon Bells seen from Maroon lake where the bus stops. They are also know as The Deadly Bells due to the treacherous, crumbly stone that makes up these mountains. The recent death of a climber was just 2 weeks ago.

We did the "hard" hike up to Crater lake eternally hoping for blue skies for the picture taking. These people fed all interested animals, critters and birds and I comforted my soul with the likelyhood of these people not making it to any other wildernesses in Colorado so that these clans of mountain animals were the only ones being poisoned by human food. After the splendid and overcrowded hike we jumped into the less white Ford Bronco and headed towards I-70. A lunch stop on the I-70 in the amazing lego mountains of Glenwood Canyon and a shop-stop at the outlet city in Silverthorne were our only distractions before we reached home at 8 pm and ordered take out.

tirsdag den 18. september 2012

Conquering Longs Peak

We did it!
We climbed Longs Peak this weekend, September 15-16th. Longs Peak is the most famous fourteener (mountain higher than 14000 feet, red.) in Colorado. A sheer 14259 ft high (4,3 km) and the highest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park. It has been romantisized for centuries and cost many alpiners and mountainers their lives. This is a place where you need a sturdy foot and a clear head. Any time a storm can whip up within a few hours bringing strong winds, rain, snow, hail and not least lightning. As the pictures will reveal this is not a place to be caught in bad weather. Since I started reading about the fourteeners, I have dreamt of climbing Longs Peak. Special inspiration came from the letter collections written by Isabella L. Bird in 1873 and the very informative webpage which has trail descriptions and mountain weather forcasts and loads of pictures. Climbing Longs Peak is so far my only defined "must do" during my stay here in Boulder, Co.
Preparing for the trip, I did my first 13er in July on Mount Audubon and after Morten arrived we climbed an easy 14er called Mount Bierstadt. This was a few weeks ago and since we didn't feel the altitude very strongly I was confident about trying my luck with Longs Peak. After reading multiple trail descriptions, Morten wasn't very convinced that this was a good idea. Up to the last day, I was not sure whether we would end up not going. On Wednesday we had pretty bad weather in Boulder and when I called the rangers backcountry office on Friday they said that it had snowed and that there was some snow and ice in a steep part of the route called The Trough but also that it was avoidable. How much was "some" snow? Was this now only a hike for people experienced with cramp ons and ice picks? This information did not pull our confidence in the right direction. Luckily, the forecast promissed us a clear sky and temperatures above freezing during daytime. We hoped that the snow would melt away and agreed to continue as long as we felt safe. And thankfully, the day of departure came with sunshine and good mood.
On Saturday we got our backcountry permit (permission to sleep in tent in designated areas of the park) and the ranger assured us that there was not too much snow up there. He had just been up the same week. He also showed us the route on a 3D model and said that it was more than 2 years ago any major incidents had occured. Longs Peak is a very visited mountain and on clear weekends 100s visit each day July-September "when the window is open" and there's not too much snow. We felt much better after talking to the ranger and went back to the car. We had double parked in this rather large parking lot and had to drive quite a while down the road to find a spot for parking. It seemed that most of Colorado's outdoor enthusiasts had chosen to climb Longs Peak this day...

The trip to the Boulder Field where the camping site is located is a 7 mile (10 km) hike. It is a nice long stretch of slow inclination and the Boulder Field is where the hike gets technical. With is location at 12750 ft (3,9 km) it is pretty high and many do not sleep well due to the thin air and sometimes strong winds. The first few miles were in pine forest and the intoxicating smell of butterscotch from the ponderosa pine with its orange stems followed us along the trail. As we went higher yellow aspens started to dot the pines with their beautiful fall colors. The trees got shorter and after a creek crossing a sign reminded us of the dangers of severe weather.

So many hazards... Courtesy of Morten
The next mile or so the forest was replaced with alpine tundra. Golden grasses, small bushes in red and yellow and large rocks decorated the scenery.

Alpine tundra and to the right a sneak peak of Longs Peak. Courtesy of Morten
Longs Peak became visible from the east side as we aproached the trail fork to Chasm lake which lies right beneath a vertical face of Longs Peak called The Diamond. Many climbers have tried to climb the diamond, some with luck. The first woman to succeed was a famous climber, Agnes Vaille. It took her 4 tries and in January 1925 she finally succeeded. The climb up took 25 hours and after that she was so exausted that she couldn't go on. Her partner, Kiener went for help, but she froze to death before he and a rescue party got back to her. Kiefner, lost toes, fingers and even a foot from frostbite. He eventually became an alpine botanic professor and continued to climb mountains. A cabin shelter has been put up by Vailles family at the keyhole so others might have a chance to survive the mountain.
We continued behind a mountain pile of loose rock and lost sight of Longs until we passed the peak and climbed a few switch backs before arriving at the Boulder Field where the view offered us mountain ranges to one site and the keyhole with the Agnes Vaille cabin just below it. We cooked our great freeze-dried food and went to bed when it got dark.

Cooking in our little stone lot. I am so happy I brought my "bearskin" hat. Note the bear canister, it's mostly protecting the food from pikas and marmots. We enjoyed the view of The Keyhole to the far right. Courtesy of Morten 
My light 2 kg tent had to endure a night of increasing wind and I was anxious to see how it would perform. The inner tent is almost only mosquito net... We were in bed at 9 pm and at 12 I still hadn't slept at all. I didn't feel sleepy at all and wondered if it was the excitement or the thin air. I think I slept a little the rest of the night and so did Morten. The wind picked up but the tent withheld. We got up a bit later than intended and set off at 7:15.

Morning glory
Morten at the top of the Boulder Field, just below The Keyhole

Me in the middle of The Keyhole. Courtesy of Morten.

The wind was firce in The Keyhole. We were almost scared to blow of the mountain. A hiker who was on his way back assured us that once we got off the opening there was alsmost no wind. We were very happy to hear that and continued 5 feet onto the other side of the mountain and hiked a shallow part called The Ledges.

View of The Ledges. We were happy that we brought plenty of warm clothes. Courtesy of Morten.

Here's a pic of Morten at The Narrows and one from a bit further on. Notice the carefull woman in a black jacket and her nochelant husband with his hands in his pocket. The difference between the first climb and "oh, I've done it before".

In case you don't know which way you are going, here's some guidance

And we made it to the top

Courtesy of Morten

So cute and so fast!

Majestic towers

Do you see the trail?
After climbing Longs Peak we had a nice and fast lunch at the tent, pack our stuff and went on our way. What had taken us 7 hours up only took 3 hours down. I was in a good mood and feeling energized. The backpack didn't seem heavy at all. However, when we made it to the pine forest I was pretty tired and my knees too. Now Morten was the energized group leader and we didn't have too many breaks. When we got down I invited Morten for a victory dinner at a restaurant and inn that had grand views of Longs Peak.
Needless to say - today we are having a hard time making our legs transport us from A to B. Today it is snowing on Longs. It was an extraordinary experience and I am very happy we did it and that we had our luck with the Holm talent of planing trips in perfect weather. 

torsdag den 30. august 2012

A week of encounters

It's a wild life here in Boulder! Things are happening all the time.

Last weekend we went up to Hessie Trailhead in the Indian Peaks Wilderness and tried our 4WD new Ford Bronco, which was awesome - like riding a rollercoaster. The views were stunning and I promise to upload pics soon.

On Tuesday we each got 2 free tickets because our French, hilarious movie The Intouchables which we watched with the psych hiking club was delayed.

Yesterday we spend $550 on food, gear and outdoor clothing at REIs and saved 100s of dollars with their Labour Day sale (Labour day Sep 3rd)

Turns out I just missed this fella today on my 7 a.m. morning run.

And on Sunday I have a date with Obama (don't worry, Morten will be there too).

Crazy, crazy. And I wonder why I never have time to update my blog and write you guys a proper email. Tsk tsk.

søndag den 12. august 2012

External stay in Boulder, Colorado

June 26th - July 26th 2012
The reason
Finally, the day I had been waiting for for two years arrived. I moved to Boulder, Colorado as part of my PhD study at KU. Protein pharmaceutics just took one step up the coolness ladder as I will now be working with protein pharmaceutics at high hydrostatic pressures. For those of you not in the protein world, it's like befriending superman. In this case he (the high pressure) saves proteins from the death of aggregation and even restores them back to good, healthy, refolded proteins. It is rather awesome and I am looking forward to cool experiments in Ted Randolph's lab.

Arriving to the wildfire
Smoky morning at 5 a.m.
My roommate the first few weeks, Mel, kindly picked me up at Denver International Airport and we chatted during the 45 min ride back to Boulder. The mountains were hazy, but as we approached the city it became obvious that smoke was making its way down canyon openings. The mountains were on fire! Driving through Boulder, a pleasent smell of wood burning in a fire place reached us. When we got out of the car the air was blue from dispersed smoke and we had heard on the radio that South Boulder was on a preevacuation notice. People had to come home from their holidays and pack valuables and personal belongings, ready to evacuate. Precausion was key because wildfires were roaring in Colorado, with a part of Colorado Springs being consumed by flames (and Fort Collins) was on alert too.
From my window I followed the fire at Bear Peak
Bear peak as a vulcano
which is one of the most distinctive peaks visible in Boulder. Every night the fire had moved to a new place. Huge numbers of fire fighters came to Boulder and stayed in Schools etc. They dropped red ammoniumphosphate onto the fires to sufficate the flames. Boulder had just hit 104F (40C) a few days before and broken all heat records. It was hot, dry and with most afternoons thunder came dispersing lightning and only little water. It was the high season for wild fires and all grills, open fires and fireworks were canceled. The turmoil lasted about a week until the fire department declared the fire under control. We continued to see small smoke stribes every second day for a week.

Twilight view from my room
Same view at night

Mel and the psych hiking club
Melanie is Canadian with parents from England and Germany. Many of her coworkers in the neuroscience field are international postdocs and phd students. They often refer to themselves as the psych hiking club because they go on shorter or longer hiking trips - though, usually only one day at a time. I only got to have this fantastic roommate for 3 days, before she went on a long trip to Europe. Luckily for me she left me her friends and we have had much fun and social life together.
Goodbye and introduction dinner at a pizza restaurant.
From left: Marina, ES; Marieke, NL; Mel, Ca; Jess, US; Nic, FR and my self
Before the first hike near Breckenridge @ Snickerdoo Mountain
Snickerdoo Mountain - My first thirteener (13,000 ft = 3,962 m)

Unexpected visit from a good friend
My friend and coworker, Mette, is currently doing her external stay at Kansas University (KU) in the neighbouring state. I had been trying to reach her for days after my arrival, but her American number seemed to only work through Viber in Denmark and not with a normal American phone number. My first Friday night she called me and apologized that she hadn't called back. She just passed through Boulder and was on the way back to Kansas with her boyfriend. What? Why Boulder? And why hadn't she called if she was in Boulder? Turned out that Lawrance, Kansas was so hot and had so little to offer for tourists that her and Jan rented a car and went hiking 10 hours west in what is actually the Boulder backcountry: Nederland and James park. They were just half an hour out of Boulder so I pursuaded them to come back although they were driving the whole night to catch a flight back to Denmark the next day. Mette has been in the states since March and it was fantastic to see her again. Jan had come here for a conference + quality time and they were so cute.
After their visit I felt lonely and drained from energy - possibly still jetlagged, I decided to skip the New Belgium (free) beer and short movie event that a colleauge of mine had invited me to the same day. The only low key night I have had in Boulder followed accompanied by multiple episodes of the TV show Mad Men.

Boulder creek path and tubing
I live in Family Housing which is a branch of university housing. We are perfectly situated between campus and Pearl Street, right next to the most beloved cycling path here: The Boulder Creek Path. It starts in the mountains and runs east through town. It is shared between pedestrians and bikers. Paved and adventurous. Just a 6 minutes ride takes me to east campus where my lab is. Boulder is a great bike city. Once you've figured out which roads to take (and which to avoid), travel by bike is safe and fast. I never had a mountain bike before, but was determined to get one "just in case" I would go for a ride in the mountains. I simply love it!
So lush

Always twisting a winding

Hanging out at Boulder Creek (Path)
The creek is also subject to tubing. On a really hot day before my arrival Tubing to work day was initiated by a Bouldarian in a suit.
Firmly decided to go tubing, I bought 6 tubes for me and the psych hiking club. After airing them the tubes very huge and barely fit into the commute car I got though the university carshare deal. I soon discovered that they were not nearly as big, though, as they should have been. The blue marks on my butt after Mette and I did our virgin voyage on the creek were good proof (sorry, no photage!)

Goofing out at the sun heated wall of my building after ½ an hour of tubing