Thursday, January 24, 2013

The real heroes

I spent all of last weekend learning about avalanches. I try to do avalanche courses whenever I'm given the opportunity, and the main thing I've learned is that avalanches are really scary. Skiing that irresistible 35 degree slope in beautiful, fresh powder is often tantamount to treading on the toes of a sleeping tiger. But as I spend most of the winter trying to harness the tiger, as it were, and since I believe knowledge is power, I try to keep learning more.

The course last weekend had a slightly different, if more morbid angle. What to do if you and/or your friend(s) get caught in an avalanche situation. How to think, what reactions to have. How to dig people out, then judge their physical state, and give them first aid. How to stay alive and keep people alive.

The question I found myself asking throughout the weekend was, How would I react if this happened to me? Could I keep myself calm enough to track down a friend and dig him or her out? Would I remember everything I was supposed to get done? Could I save someones life?

This guy could:

The police officer (whose name was Benjamin) who showed us the ropes at Alpe d'Huez' avalanche rescue station. (By the way, I looked up those boots he's wearing, and they are the La Sportiva Spantik boots designed for alpine climbing in cold conditions at 6-7000 meters. Just so you know.)
On Sunday we visited the avalanche rescue station at Alpe d'Huez, where a squad of specially trained police officers, some specially trained avalanche rescue dogs, and doctors wait around for avalanches to happen so they can do what they are best at. Saving people from avalanches.

The day was a flood of information and stories. Although it wasn't incredibly structured, it was really cool to get an idea of how an avalanche rescue squad works, and thinks. After lunch, we went out behind the station to practice digging snow caves, shelters, and the proper technique to remove and avalanche victim from the snow. And then it happened.

My Swedish friend Joel shows off the snow cave we're building.
As Benjamin, the police officer in charge of our visit, was instructing a group of diggers, someone called his name from inside the station. Within 3 seconds he had straightened up, slid down the side of the snowbank he was standing on, and ran instead the station. A half a minute later he ran back out.

"There's been an avalanche. I have to go."

All of a sudden, the station was a flurry of action. Everyone was grabbing their gear and tensing for action. As our group of 20 or so students looked on timidly, no less than 3 helicopter loads of rescuers, including two dogs, were flown out to the site of the avalanche almost immediately. Luckily, the avalanche had happened quite close to the station, about 5 minutes helicopter flight away.

Rescuer + dog get ready to get in the helicopter.
I don't know if you've ever been near a helicopter lifting off in snow, but it gets pretty dramatic. The helicopter blades make a droning chop-chop noise, and as they rotate faster and faster, a wall of snow is blown in every direction. It may happened to hit you full in the face if you happened to be looking on, seeping down through the neck of your jacket. If you didn't happen to turn around and/or close the neck of your jacket and pull up your hood. Which would be the obvious course of action.
And liftoff.
Watching all those rescuers leave the station got me really excited. All I could think was that I wanted to help, but then I realized the best way for me to help was to stay of the way. Sigh.

A couple of hours later, all the rescuers, as well as Benjamin, had arrived back at the station. He didn't even look like he had broken a sweat. "Two buried, one was under the snow for 15 minutes, but wasn't in bad shape. The other was only buried to his waist and was able to dig himself out. One broken leg." he stated matter-of-factually. And continued to teach us about first-aid on avalanche victims.

So heroes now-a-days don't wear capes and Lycra. They wear avalanche transceivers and LaSportiva high-altitude climbing boots. They stay calm in one of the most stressful situations I can imagine. They are sometimes lowered down to the site of the avalanche on 90-meter cables (true story. The helicopter pilot told us this).  Which is kind of superhero-like if you ask me.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Dear LaSportiva

Dear LaSportiva,

I fell in love with your LaSportiva Quantum trail running shoes.  And then they broke my heart.

From their narrow profile that fit my feet like a glove to the funky purple and green colors to the wavey tread that actually works on slippery terrain, I thought that these were the shoes for me. I would search no more, I was ready to tie myself down to one pair of shoes.

My favorite pair of trail running shoes.
That is, until six months later, I noticed this starting to happen:
Exhibit 1
Exhibit 2
I didn't even run that much this summer. In fact, I spent most of the summer biking (just read the backlog of my blog). But somehow, running once a week or less, I ground my lovely LaSportiva Quantums into the ground.

So dear LaSportiva, can you please make me the same shoes, but more robust?

- The Wild Bazilchuk

P.S. If any LaSportiva executives read this and feel a deep need to send me new shoes, please comment below and I will give you my contact info.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Finding my groove

Procrastination. Thirteen million eight hundred thousand Google hits. The sinking feeling in your stomach when you realize you just spent 30 minutes on Facebook looking at pictures of someone you knew five years ago, and who you really don't contact. You just photo stalk them.

The irony is that productivity feels amazing (Wow! I'm getting all this stuff done! I must be superwoman!) whereas as procrastinating is basically kind of numbing (Hohum. I wonder if anyone has tweeted anything interesting. Nope. Maybe I should try and figure out what I want to make for dinner tonight...). Yet minutes and hours slip away in the grip of the ever-changing Internet.

In this truly interesting article (take the time to read it, even if you are distracted by something else), Nicolas Carr confirms the nagging suspicion I feel that my concentration has been shortened by the vast volume of information available on the World Wide Web. My mind darts away from whatever I'm doing, because somehow, no matter where I am, I am also thinking about something else.

But what can I do? I am Generation Web. I use the Internet to study, work and play.

I can try to find my groove, sink in, indulge in the fully concentrating on one single idea. Read a whole book. Wash the dishes without listening to a podcast at the same time. Try to understand my notes without looking up every single concept on Wikipedia.

Most important of all, I can realize when procrastination is inevitable, when the sun is shinning too brightly and I should be outside procrastinating by letting my mind and my legs run free.

Cité Internationale and the mountains of Vercors as seen from the Bastille.

Grenoble and the Belledonne mountains as seen from the Bastille

Selfie on top of the Bastille.
Go and be outside.

But that's just my two cents.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Monday, January 14, 2013

On the similarities between Hogwarts and physics

My notes
I, like any self-respecting child of my generation, loved Harry Potter. We grew up with Harry Potter himself, and each new volume was a window into a world where anything and everything was possible. From candies that transfigure the eater into a canary to inexplicably evil dark wizards without noses, the Harry Potter universe seemed like a more exciting parallel version of our own.

A place where even going to school - in a castle(!) called Hogwarts - would be infinitely more entertaining than real school.

I used to wait for my Hogwarts letter. I thought that maybe, just maybe, it was all real. Maybe I could take Potions, Transfiguration and Charms instead of history, math and science. But my 11th, then my 12th birthday passed and I realized what I had known all along. Fantasy books are actually just fantasy.

The older I get, though, the more I realize how close I really am to a fantasy world. I may not be levitating things with a wave of my wand, but, wait, I am actually levitating things - with physics (heard of superconductivity?!)

In physics we write down mysterious symbols and equations, we manipulate them and bam!, the secrets of the universe appear. Phenomena are explained and all of a sudden I see from my cloud of mathematics the base of modern technology appearing. If things as real and tangible as the computer which I'm writing on appearing from math is not magic, I don't know what is.

Have you always wanted to go to Hogwarts? Learn some physics instead!

Endnote: Yes, I am studying for exams. Yes, this is procrastination. But how excited am I to go back to learning how lasers work again!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Thursday, January 3, 2013

How to greet the new year

First, go out on a frozen lake and dig a hole in the ice. Useful tools are an ax,

Chop that ice!
an ice drill,
Drilling through a layer of slush and water
a second ax for when the first one breaks,

There is ice at the bottom of the icy pool of water - and we are going to chop through it, or bust!
and a shovel.

Once you've made bathtub-sized hole in the ice and lugged the chunk of ice the size of a 10 year old out, take a moment to enjoy what you've done.

How many engineers does it take to drill a bathtub-sized hole in 40 cm of ice? Four and half (that would be me)

The next morning, it's time to truly enjoy the work of art you've created.
Kai takes the plunge
It's not nearly as cold as it looks, except for that your feet turn into blocks of ice.

Ingrid is refreshed and no longer hungover after yesterday's festivities
If the sun comes out, take the time to enjoy. It is, after all, Norway in the middle of the winter - the amount of sun is limited!

Kenny has spent the last year in Ghana and it has been far to long since he really got to cool off.
If you forgot your towel, don't worry. A good roll in the snow will get you nice and dry.

Audun rolls
How do you greet the new year?

- The Wild Bazilchuk