Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Pittsburgh/PA-MD-WV highpoints

As I have the past few years, I flew up to Pittsburgh this week to take part in Carnegie Mellon's Spring Carnival. I figured this year, I would go a little bit earlier to take a little road trip to pick up the Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia high points. It was a pretty good trip, but ultimately left me completely exhausted trying to relive my college years.

I flew out on Tuesday, but figured I may as well take Monday off of work as well. I spent all morning in the gym swimming, running, and doing some strength exercises in anticipation of not having the time and/or energy to work out the rest of the week. My flight was uneventful, I got into Pittsburgh on time at 5 and rented a car. I had brought along my GPS, but hadn't bothered to study any maps as to how I should get from the airport to my friend MN's house. It was quickly apparent that the maps in my GPS were woefully out of date, and quite possibly it would have given me bad advice even with up-to-date information (as it has many times before). It acquitted itself well the next day, but I was not happy with it when its route took twice as long as the proper route. I was also not happy when the tire pressure warning started saying that the passenger side front tire was low. It was still well within the limits of operability, so I figured I would just deal with it the next morning. Shortly after I got to his house, MN and I went and had dinner in Pittsburgh's South Side. In typical Pittsburgh fashion, it was an enormous sandwich loaded with meat and fat, sprinkled with vegetable-like substances.

When I got up Wednesday morning, the car's tire was completely flat, ruling out the original plan of just topping it off and hoping for the best. I called the rental car company, and for whatever reason, their policy is just to swap out the car. When I checked, the car didn't even have a spare tire, just an emergency inflater. They said it would take two hours for the replacement to get out to MN's, but it wound up being more like 3, and I didn't get off on my road trip until after noon. The weather was quite poor- a lot of fog with patches of rain. It was so foggy on the small roads near Mount Davis, Pennsylvania's highpoint, I would have had a very difficult time navigating without my GPS. There was barely 30 feet of visibility at the summit (a very short walk from the parking area). I felt obligated to climb the observation tower, even though there was obviously no view, and the wet aluminum stairs were pretty treacherous. I took a few pictures and headed south into Maryland. The access to the Maryland highpoint is actually from just across the state line in West Virginia. Again it was fortunate I had my GPS, as the state line did not appear to be marked. There was a small sign pointing to the parking area, but I don't think I would have found it without the electronic help. There was a short hike necessary to get to the actual high point. The trail was not very well marked, or at least I had trouble discerning it in the fog. I somehow managed not to make any wrong turns, but I couldn't find the one branch of the trail past the state line marker, so I had to backtrack slightly. The WV/MD marker (Number 3) is an old lichen-covered concrete obelisk, dated 1910, set on some slanted rocks that were mossy and exceptionally slippery in the light rain. There wasn't much to the highpoint itself- a picnic table, a historical marker, a pile of stones, and a mailbox with a register and certificates of completion. Like PA, there was no view due to the fog. It had taken me about 30 minutes to hike up, but I kind of jogged back to the car and it only took about 15. I left there around 5:15 and got to the West Virginia high point around 7, as the sun was going down (I had broken out of the fog, and there was actually sunlight visible). There is a nice, well paved road leading several miles up the mountain to the parking area, but due to some weather phenomenon, there were occasional piles of gravel on top of the asphalt. It wasn't a problem in the rental car, but would have been worrisome, at least, on the motorcycle. While the view was much better than the other two highpoints, it was quite windy, and there wasn't a good place to set my camera for a picture of myself, so my camera fell to the ground and was at least temporarily damaged. The observation tower was much sturdier and safer than Pennsylvania's, but not as high. I drove from there back to Pittsburgh, getting back at 11, right as MN was getting home from work. He and I stayed up BSing until about 2, initiating the sleep deprivation of Carnival in earnest.

I decamped from MN's Thursday to a hotel close to campus, in order to avoid transportation issues to/from his place north of the city. First, though, I went to campus in order to check out the buggy design competition. The actual competition aspect takes place behind closed doors, so that the supposed secrets don't get out, but the organizations are required to bring out all buggies that are competing for public viewing. Many organizations also bring out older, retired buggies, which are fun to see as well. To step back for a second, buggy is a student competition where they race a "buggy," constructed of advanced composites, they have designed and built, over a course that goes back to 1920. The sport, unique to Carnegie Mellon, is a nice blend of engineering and athletics. The buggy, with a very small female inside, is pushed up one hill, and then it rolls downhill by gravity, reaching speeds up to 40 miles per hour, and at the fastest point, makes a hard right turn, and is pushed up another hill. [See cmubuggy.org for more information.] I chatted with old buggy people for a while at design comp, then met MN and we had lunch at another typical Pittsburgh sandwich shop that serves all sandwiches with french fries and coleslaw. I checked into my hotel, then drove back to the airport to drop the rental car off, since I didn't really need it any more at that point. On the bus back to campus, I didn't quite nap, but did manage to lower my level of consciousness for a little while. I tried to take an actual nap at the hotel, but it didn't seem to be happening, so I went for a little run at 5. I ran the buggy course and a couple laps of the track. After a shower, another old friend picked me up and we met up with some other old friends for dinner. Afterward, they dropped me off at the bar closest to campus, where there were a number of my fraternity brothers, almost none of whom I actually went to school with. MN came by after he finished work, and we stayed much too late, and once again I didn't get to sleep until after 2 am.

I woke up at 7 on Friday morning so as to get to the buggy races when they started at 8. I picked up some breakfast and headed to the "chute," the fast, hard turn section, where most accidents happen. And there were plenty of accidents this year. One organization had so many, that the two times they made it through the chute without spinning, people cheered. The buggies are very solidly constructed, and other than one incident, all the drivers who crashed were perfectly fine. Another rabid buggy fan from my era had driven out from Cleveland for the races. After races ended at noon, we all went back to the bar and made many ridiculous statements about buggy. After dinner with numerous fraternity brothers, we went to a party at old friends' house. It was a good time, but I unfortunately missed an opportunity to leave at a reasonable time, and MN gave me a ride back to my hotel at about 4am.

I was not exactly happy when the alarm went off at 8am Saturday. It had rained overnight, but I was optimistic that the finals for buggy would still be held. I packed up and checked out of my room. I was disappointed when I found out that the race had already been canceled while I was waiting for breakfast. I half thought about trying to get back into my room, but figured there would be buggy people milling about the course, not realizing that the race had been canceled at 2am, and nobody was there. My mood was not improving. I found a place that might have made for a half-decent nap, but I could not manage to nod off. At 11, it started raining again, and I didn't even want to wander around campus or anything. I did basically nothing until 2, when I suddenly got quite hungry. I braved the rain to walk to a restaurant I liked in college. At least at first, the service was quite poor, and my mood was very negative. Either I ate too fast, or the food did not agree with me, because as soon as I was done, it felt like I had a bowling ball in my stomach. I went to the bar and stood around with my fraternity brothers, but I was not in a social mood. Later, MN and I went to dinner at a former church that has been converted to a brewpub. At that point, my stomach was feeling much better, and my mood had improved to somewhere around "mildly ticked off," by far the best it had been all day. We went back to the bar afterward, but I was ready to go before we even walked in. Between the smoke and the music that mostly ranged from terrible to just okay, my mood deteriorated rapidly. When a Katy Perry song came on around 11:30, I had had too much, and walked out and went to the car. MN came out a little later and we went to his house. After roughly 10 minutes of sleep in the car, I felt the best I had felt all day, but went straight to bed to avoid jinxing it.

Sunday morning, MN drove me to the airport, and I had another uneventful flight home. I tried starting on catching up on television I had missed, but my eyes were having difficulty staying open.

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