Mountain Bike Haiti – launching in November 2011

Whether you are a hard-core mountain biker, an adventurous historian, or just someone who likes to explore *truly* off the beaten path, here is an experience that will live with you forever.   Take a wild guess at where this picture is from.  

Would you have ever guessed Haiti – literally “Land of Mountains.”  It is one of the least explored countries in the western hemisphere, and offers thousands of miles of epic trails for hiking, climbing and mountain biking.

Through our partnership with Extreme Bike, we can offer fully inclusive tour packages.  Click on facebook.com/MountainBikeHaiti to join Haiti with a new chapter in sustainable adventure tourism.

The Failure Club, Class of 2011, is starting now

The original vision of The Failure Club was similar to a book club, in that a group of no more than 10 friends would gather together on a monthly basis to discuss the trials and tribulations that each person was facing as they embraced their respective ‘failures.’  This model has failed to take flight, and after much personal resistance, we are now launching a new variation in which participants are spread around the US (and possibly overseas), and will be dialing into a monthly conference call.  Another key distinction is there are almost no preexisting friendships.

I will use this forum to journal about my personal journey over the course of the year.  Aside from the self-doubt and logistical concerns, I am actually quite excited to be creating the first ‘cloud-based’ Failure Club, and am eager to work with these folks on some very cool projects.  If you would like to follow some of the projects, check out http://thefailureclub.org as we start tracking progress.

Also, if you are interested in submitting a project for consideration, click on http://thefailureclub.org/projects/

Onward and Upward,

Tomato, Tomato, Potato, Potato

We are part of a CSA that was recently awarded Second Place for best tomatoes.  This week brings us 4 lbs of these delicious, award-winning heirloom tomatoes.

Taste-Testing Heirloom Tomatoes — New York Magazine.

Lando, a four-legged smile generator

In the clogged and frenetic heart of Midtown Manhattan, squeezed between the north end of Times Square and Central Park, lives a magical creature with an irresistible power to bring a smile to the faces of everyone who sees him.   I have the profound privilege of being his caretaker for several months each year and feel compelled to share this experience with those who have not witnessed it firsthand.

Lando (also known as Landall and Londolozi) started life as a Companion Dog in Training (CDIT) with Canine Companions for Independence (www.cci.org).  He spent the first 18 months of puppyhood learning the basic skills of a companion dog while navigating the hectic routine of my NYC lifestyle (subways, office buildings, grocery stores, bars, etc) as a volunteer puppyraiser.  
He then spent 6 months in intensive training, honing the exceptional discipline and attentiveness to human signals that make service dogs so invaluable.  Ultimately, he was not matched up with a long-term human partner, and I was offered the opportunity to adopt him.  He was just over 2 years old.

While there was no hesitation about adopting him, I had some serious considerations about his new lifestyle.  As a service dog in training, he was legally allowed to go everywhere in NYC – cabs, subways, stores, restaurants, office buildings, etc – so he was with me around the clock.   Having lost that status, he would now be subjected to the limitations that make raising a dog in Manhattan such a challenge – principally long periods of time spent inside, by himself.

Fortunately for me, Lando is a truly exceptional being that not only grasped the new circumstances, but eagerly developed new skills and almost seamlessly fell into a new routine.  Among the more amusing skills is his ability to hit the elevator button in the lobby to carry him up to our home on the 13th floor.  Far and away the most practical skill however, is his street navigation, and it is this ability that evokes wonder and brings joy to hundreds, if not thousands of tourists in the neighborhood on a daily basis.  People marvel that he can carry his own leash and walk himself .

Lando has developed a keen sense of awareness of sidewalks, curbs, and streets, and knows to stop and wait when he approaches each intersection.  He also understands the unique NYC nuance of following the walk signs in a diagonal pattern to get from point A to point B in the most efficient manner possible with the fewest stops.  He carries his leash in his mouth and walks ahead 5-10 paces, always alert to avoid tripping pedestrians and (undoubtedly resulting from his CCI training) especially deferential to wheelchairs, canes and other indications of a person with a disability.   Every few feet, he glances back over his shoulder to maintain eye contact with me and look for clues as to upcoming changes in direction.

It’s takes little more than a subtle tilt of the head in one direction to indicate a turn, and a gentle stop movement with my hand will halt him.  If there is an urgent need to get his attention, a click (reminiscent of Xhosa) or whistle brings him back to my side.  Naturally this mutual trust has developed over time, and I have had to learn the lessons of ‘letting go of fear’ in order for both of us to enjoy the freedoms and magic that have resulted.

This mutual trust means that he can wait outside of stores, coffee shops, deli’s, etc while I complete various errands, without needing to be tied down.  He patiently waits – sitting or lying down when he wants – and generally ignores the surrounding crowds.  Even dogs that walk by won’t pull him from his spot. Passers-by can rarely resist him, and I often times come out to find a small crowd gathered around him.  Although he patiently allows himself to be pet, photographed, and fawned over, he immediately makes eye contact with me when I emerge and tunes in for instructions.  Invariably, people express sheer awe that a dog can be left sitting alone outside.  I just tell them that there is just an innate, mutual trust, and although I don’t know what goes on inside his brain, I can only imagine that he senses that love, trust, support and/or protection at some level, and reciprocates it.

The most dramatic effect usually comes as unsuspecting pedestrians are walking towards us.  They first encounter Lando, leash in mouth, walking determinedly towards the park.   As they are trying to figure out who he is walking with, he turns his head to check in, and they are comforted that he is not lost.  Then they are struck by his independence, his discipline, and the immense trust that exists for him to be able to do this.  Many people stop me to ask how I trained him to do that, and honestly, it was just a process of letting go of fear, and building up trust that he was smart enough to recognize danger (curbs, cars, etc) and would respond to my recall command (which he invariably does).   In some ways, I feel like he has taught me a new trick – faith.

You can see more pictures here

Escape from Alcatraz? yeah, whose wild idea was it to sign up for this?

Swim 1.5M, warm-up run .5M, Bike 18M, Run 8M

See details here http://www.escapefromalcatraztriathlon.com/

Fresh – an uplifting movie about sustainable farming and the future of food

I saw Fresh screened last Wed, and it is both inspiring and insightful. It will be showing at Quad Cinema’s in Manhattan for about 4 days starting this weekend, so get tickets NOW. If you want to hear some optimistic news about the future of the family farm, this is a must see!!!

Visit Nepal and install solar panels – Swogun Nepal Voluntourism program

These are the types of programs that Travelcology will be facilitating.

Please visit http://travelcology.com and follow us on Twitter @travelcology to stay connected

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SOLAR AID VOLUNTEER PROGRAM

Swogun’s Solar Aid volunteer program has been running successfully over the last few years. Its ultimate mission is to provide renewable energy for rural communities in Nepal.

Swogun’s Solar Aid volunteers install solar home systems in rural communities, public houses, libraries, temples, health posts etc.  After installation, training is provided to ensure that users can take proper advantage of having light after sunset. This includes the teaching of income generating skills; like weaving, carpet making, etc. This helps the villagers to become self-sufficient.

How do volunteers work with our Solar Aid Program?
On the first few days of your visit, you can explore Kathmandu Valley. You can learn various aspects of Nepalese culture – the people and their way of living. You then travel to the installation site, which are usually a day bus ride from Kathmandu and a day’s walk from the bus stop. After an intensive one day training in the village, volunteers install the system at the selected venue. Finally, our technician checks each system connection before the final installation

solar volunteer
solar support
solar help

The Solar Aid program emphasizes cross-cultural exchange. So during the installations, you will stay with families. Accommodation is simple and shared with family members. Nepalese traditional food is taken sitting on the floor with family members. Hands are use to eat food instead of spoons. You will enjoy joining in with typical Nepalese family activity because the system is entirely different to western culture.

See More at swogun.org.np

John Rudolf’s bid to complete Seven Summits

Climbing the Seven Summits is a long term goal of mine, joining a small group numbering about 110 today.

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Everyman on Everest
By TIMOTHY EGAN

SEATTLE — My friend John Rudolf left for Mount Everest on Monday, off to clamber up toward the roof of the world at an age, 62, when some people have trouble getting out of bed in the morning — or at least finding a motivation to greet the dawn.

He’s in great shape, full of the kind of energy that could keep a poker game going at 3:00 a.m., and I’m convinced if weather, luck and logistics are on his side, John Rudolf will join a very small club of people who have climbed the highest point on each of the seven continents. For him, Everest is the last one left on this most rarified of bucket lists.

Oh, and he’s been diagnosed with prostate cancer as well, though at this point it’s in a wait-and-watch stage.

“Sometimes I wake up in the morning like that character in the Kafka novel [‘Metamorphosis’], I look at myself and say, ‘How did I get old?’” he said. “Because I don’t feel like that guy.”

He is a divorced father of two grown children, a money manager with his own firm here in Seattle, who is most happy when pedaling his bike over the braid of roads at the punishing waist line of Mount Rainier. He describes himself, athletically, as “an average guy” who is as tough as a goat gnawing on a salad of tin.

I’ve known Rudolf for a long time. Our families are close, with shared interests in sports, argument and the outdoors. I spent a morning with him just before he left, putting on my journalist’s hat for the first time in our relationship. I came away in awe — and mystified at his motive.

Certainly, there’s a Walter Mitty quality to his quest. Who doesn’t dream, while feigning interest in price-to-earning ratios, of standing in the company of alpine gods like Reinhold Messner?

No doubt he also hears “time’s winged chariot hurrying near,” to quote the poet, but he denies being in the grip of any kind of midlife crisis, and I believe him.

He’s gone out of his way to make this vertical challenge less about him, donating large sums of money and dedicating the climbs to four worthy causes, which you can find on his blog.

Still, none of this adequately answers the question — why? — to which George Leigh Mallory, having grown tired of struggling to find the words, famously snapped: “Because it’s there!”

At the beginning of Jon Krakauer’s book about the 1996 tragedy on Mount Everest, “Into Thin Air,” which is all the more extraordinary on a second read, he quotes the Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset:

“Men play at tragedy because they do not believe in the reality of the tragedy which is actually being staged in the civilized world.”

Rudolf says he never had a late middle-aged plan to top the tallest mountains. But after climbing Kilimanjaro in Africa, Aconcagua in South America and Elbrus in Europe, and gaining confidence with each peak, he started to think he could follow the Seven Summit goal first articulated by Dick Bass, another businessman who traded his loafers for climbing boots.

Ascending Mount McKinley, also known as Denali, the Alaskan giant that is the highest peak in North America, Rudolf walked past a dead man on the summit — someone from another expedition who had collapsed on the top the day before.

While biking in the Pyrenees just a few years ago, following the Tour de France route of his hero Lance Armstrong, Rudolf took a high-velocity fall from his bike and shattered his shoulder, which gives him a bit of a slump to this day.

On Vinson Massif, at 16,000-plus feet the high point of Antarctica, Rudolf thought his body would never warm, wrapped in the constant chill of 40-below-zero, the most inhospitable place on earth.

Risk, by its nature, enhances life.
And in about month or more, he will face the two biggest obstacles that stand between him and the 29,028-foot apex of Everest. One is the Khumbu Icefall, a jumble of groaning, splitting frozen slabs, many of them bigger than a suburban house. Entering the maze of the Khumbu, which guards the entrance to higher country, is a kind of Russian roulette, Krakauer noted. The other is trying to stay alive in the Death Zone — that troposphere air above 25,000 feet, where the body breaks down and the mind is mush from trying to breath air with one-third of the oxygen at sea level.

All this is, as the philosopher says, is playing at tragedy. But I’ve known enough mountains and mountaineers that I understand the playing. Risk, by its nature, enhances life. That’s the allure of danger — walk up to the edge, take a deep inhalation, and walk away in triumph.

Most of us will never find a cure to cancer, or broker a Mideast peace deal, or even grow a truly great tomato. But, as John Rudolf says, he can put one foot ahead of the other, gutting it out, grinding ever-upward, even as he qualifies for early Social Security.

If he stands under cobalt blue sky on the frozen perch of Everest in mid-May, he will be one of about 110 people to make all seven summits. Death is not something he worries about.

“If your time is up,” he says, “death will get you wherever you are.”

At the end of our chat, I walked outside with him in the bracing Seattle spring, thinking of the days ahead when he would not see anything green or blossoming, nor draw a bath or get into a fluffy bed. I gave him a hug. “I want to see you alive,” I said. “I don’t care if you make the summit.”

“Neither do I.”

“Seriously?”

“To summit is optional,” he said, paraphrasing the mountaineer Ed Viesturs, “to get back down is mandatory.” And, again, I chose to believe him.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/31/everyman-on-everest/?hp

Plan Calls for Rebuilding Haiti Away From Port-au-Prince

NYTimes.com

Prepared by a group of urban planners from the Haitian government agency responsible for the country’s development, the plan is built around a bold central idea: to redistribute large parts of the population of Port-au-Prince to smaller Haitian cities, many of them at a safe distance from areas most vulnerable to natural disaster. In the process the plan would completely transform Haiti from a country dominated by a single metropolis to what the planners call a network of smaller urban “growth poles.”

Architecture – Plan Calls for Rebuilding Haiti Away From Port-au-Prince – NYTimes.com.

A microcosm on the insanely complex Haiti challenge

This article closely resembles the personal experiences I discussed in my post about the local bar adjacent to the HODR camp in Leogane

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March 27, 2010

Quake Accentuated Chasm That Has Defined Haiti

By SIMON ROMERO

New York Times

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The lights of the casino above this wrecked city beckoned as gamblers in freshly pressed clothes streamed to the roulette table and slot machines. In a restaurant nearby, diners quaffed Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne and ate New Zealand lamb chops at prices rivaling those in Manhattan.

A few yards away, hundreds of families displaced by the earthquake languished under tents and tarps, bathing themselves from buckets and relieving themselves in the street as barefoot children frolicked on pavement strewn with garbage.

This is the Pétionville district of Port-au-Prince, a hillside bastion of Haiti’s well-heeled where a mangled sense of normalcy has taken hold after the earthquake in January. Business is bustling at the lavish boutiques, restaurants and nightclubs that have reopened in the breezy hills above the capital, while thousands of homeless and hungry people camp in the streets around them, sometimes literally on their doorstep.

“The rich people sometimes need to step over us to get inside,” said Judith Pierre, 28, a maid who has lived for weeks in a tent with her two daughters in front of Magdoos, a chic Lebanese restaurant where diners relax in a garden and smoke flavored tobacco from hookahs. Chauffeurs for some of the customers inside lined up sport utility vehicles next to Ms. Pierre’s tent on the sidewalk near the entrance.

Haiti has long had glaring inequality, with tiny pockets of wealth persisting amid extreme poverty, and Pétionville itself was economically mixed before the earthquake, with poor families living near the gated mansions and villas of the rich.

But the disaster has focused new attention on this gap, making for surreal contrasts along the streets above Port-au-Prince’s central districts. People in tent camps reeking of sewage are living in areas where prosperous Haitians, foreign aid workers and diplomats come to spend their money and unwind. Often, just a gate and a private guard armed with a 12-gauge shotgun separate the newly homeless from establishments like Les Galeries Rivoli, a boutique where wealthy Haitians and foreigners shop for Raymond Weil watches and Izod shirts.

“There’s nothing logical about what’s going on right now,” said Tatiana Wah, a Haitian planning expert at Columbia University who is living in Pétionville and working as an adviser to Haiti’s government. Ms. Wah said the revelry at some nightclubs near her home, which are frequented by rich Haitians and foreigners, was now as loud — or louder — than before the earthquake.

The nongovernmental organizations “are flooding the local economy with their spending,” she said, “but it’s not clear if much of it is trickling down.”

Aleksandr Dobrianskiy, the Ukrainian owner of the Bagheera casino here in the hills, smiled as customers flowed in one recent Saturday evening, drinking Cuba Libres and plunking tokens into slot machines.

He said business had never been better, attributing the uptick at his casino to the money coming into Haiti for relief projects. That spending is percolating through select areas of the economy, as some educated Haitians get jobs working with relief agencies and foreigners bring in cash from abroad, using it on housing, security, transportation and entertainment.

“Haiti’s like a submarine that just hit the bottom of the sea,” said Mr. Dobrianskiy, 39, who moved here a year ago and carries a semiautomatic Glock handgun for protection. “It’s got nowhere to go but up.”

Sometimes the worlds of haves and have-nots collide. Violent crime and kidnappings have been relatively low since the earthquake. But when two European relief workers from Doctors Without Borders were abducted outside the exclusive Plantation restaurant this month and held for five days, the episode served as a reminder of how Haiti’s poverty could give rise to resentment and crime.

The breadth of Haiti’s economic misery seemed incomprehensible to many before the quake, with almost 80 percent of the population living on less than $2 a day. A small elite in gated mansions here in Pétionville and other hillside districts wields vast economic power.

But with parts of Port-au-Prince now in ruins, tens of thousands of people displaced by the quake are camping directly in the bulwarks once associated with power and wealth, like Place St.-Pierre (across from the elegant Kinam Hotel) and the grounds of Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive’s office.

The city’s biggest tent camp, with more than 40,000 displaced people, sprawls over the hills of the Pétionville Club, a country club with a golf course that before the quake had its own Facebook page for former members. (“Had the best Citronade; I bet I drank thousands of them, no exaggeration,” one reminiscence said.)

Pétionville’s boutiques and restaurants stand in stark contrast to the parallel economic reality in the camp now at the Pétionville Club. Throughout its maze of tents, merchants sell dried fish and yams for a fraction of what the French cuisine costs in exclusive restaurants nearby like Quartier Latin or La Souvenance.

Manicurists in the camp do nails. A stylist in a hovel applies hair extensions. The camp even has its own Paradis Ciné, set up in a tent with space for as many as 30 people. It charges admission of about $1.50 for screenings of “2012,” the end-of-times disaster movie known here as “Apocalypse.”

“The people in the camp need their diversion, too,” said Cined Milien, 22, the operator of Paradis Ciné.

Still, a ticket to see “Apocalypse” is a luxury out of the grasp of most people who lost their homes in the earthquake. Some of the well-off in Pétionville who have reopened their businesses have done so cautiously, aware of the misfortune that persists on their doorstep.

“It’s kind of hard for people to dance and have fun,” said Anastasia Chassagne, 27, the Florida-educated owner of a trendy bar in Pétionville. “I put music, but really low, so like the people walking outside the street don’t hear, like, ‘Hey, these people are having fun.’ ”

Not everyone in Pétionville has such qualms. Mr. Dobrianskiy, the casino entrepreneur, said he was pleased that Haiti’s currency, the gourde, had recently strengthened against the dollar to a value higher than before the quake, in part because of the influx of money from abroad.

And on the floor above Mr. Dobrianskiy’s casino, a nightclub called Barak, with blaring music and Miami-priced cocktails, caters to a different elite here: United Nationsemployees and foreigners working for aid groups. They mingle with dozens of suggestively clad Haitian women and a few moneyed Haitian men taking in the scene.

As hundreds of displaced families gathered under tents a few yards away, the music of Barak continued into the night. A bartender could not keep up with orders for Presidente beers.

“Those who are gone are gone and buried, and we can’t do anything about that,” said Michel Sejoure, 21, a Haitian enjoying a drink at Barak. Asked about the displaced-persons camp down the street, he said, “I would want to help but I don’t have enough, and the government should be the ones that are actually helping these people out.”

“But,” he said over the booming music, “they’re not.”

Grant Fuller contributed reporting.


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