Losing My Marbles

You are probably familiar with Randall Munroe of XKCD fame.  One of his most famous strips is this:

(image © Randall Munroe)

I am usually good about not falling into this trap, but sometimes the bait is too tempting, and I blow an hour or two futilely trying to educate someone – usually with a smile on my virtual face, since I’m a honey-not-vinegar kind of guy.

Yesterday I stuck my foot directly into the bear trap, and (unsurprisingly) it snapped shut. In my defense there was a mathematical riddle just sitting there on the tension plate. What, I was supposed to leave it there?

The riddle was posted innocently to a D&D Facebook group.  It’s an old riddle, long-since solved, but the solution is not intuitive, and there are plenty of smart people out there who insist upon a wrong solution.  Here it is:

“You have three bags, each containing two gems. The first bag contains two blue gems, the second bag contains two red gems, and the third bag contains one blue gem and one red gem.

You pick a random bag and take out one gem.

It is a blue gem.

With what certainty would you guess that the remaining gem from the same bag is also blue?”

That’s it verbatim as it appeared in the Facebook thread. I think traditionally the riddle uses marbles, but this is a D&D group, so we’re probably looking at citrines or tourmalines or something.

The obvious (but wrong) answer is 50% likely.

The less obvious (but correct) answer is 66% likely.

The way to think about it actually quite simple:

  1. You have three bags with two gems each, which means when you pick a single gem, there are six possible ways that you can do it:

a. Draw one of the red gems from the bag with two red gems

b. Draw the other red gem from the bag with two red gems

c. Draw the blue gem from the bag that has one of each color

d. Draw the red gem from the bag that has one of each color

e. Draw one of the blue gems from the bag with two blue gems

f. Draw the other blue gem from the bag that has two blue gems

  1. In the riddle, we know you’ve picked out a blue gem, which means that a, b, and d didn’t happen.
  2. That means there are possible choices you DID make, each with the same likelihood: c, e, and f.
  3. If your draw was e or f, then the remaining gem from your bag is blue. If your draw was c, the remaining gem is red.  Therefore, Q.E.D., there is a 66% likelihood that, given your first gem was blue, that the other gem in the bag is also blue.

I explained this in about four different ways. I even re-taught myself Python so I could write a simple script to simulate the problem.  Sure enough: 66%.  And yet there’s one fellow on this thread who has made a personal crusade out of his certainty that the answer is 50%. (I’ll leave him anonymous; I harbor no ill will towards him.)  He has gone so far as to post YouTube videos showing how the puzzle can be “solved” with (I kid you not) collapsing quantum states of the gem bags. And, no, he’s not trolling the discussion. I’ve been around the block enough times to recognize a bridge under-dweller, and this guy is legit.

He has not convinced me, of course, that 50% is the correct answer.  Because it’s not. What he has convinced me of is that no power on this world or any other will convince him he’s wrong.

The funny thing is, I’m sure he’s thinking the exact same thing about me.

 

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A Million Words

If you search the Internet on the topic, you will discover the notion, ascribed variously to John D. McDonald, Ray Bradbury, David Eddings, and others, that a writer’s first million words are garbage.  Eddings phrases the idea thusly:

“My advice to the young writer is likely to be unpalatable in an age of instant successes and meteoric falls. I tell the neophyte: Write a million words—the absolute best you can write, then throw it all away and bravely turn your back on what you have written. At that point, you’re ready to begin.”

It seems staggering to consider: a million words! That’s 8-10 full length novels! Were Eddings and others telling us we had to write ten crappy novels before we’d have the chops to write something decent?

Well, no. Not exactly.

Imagine that you’re interested in writing, and decide to start keeping track at fifteen. There will be 7300 days in the next 20 years, which is an average of about 140 words per day. That’s about as many as this blog post contained before I started the current paragraph.

Now consider everything you’ve ever written. Elementary school book reports. Diary entries. Essays for social studies classes, for high school history tests, for college applications. Letters to your grandmother. Letters to the editor. Your grad school dissertation. E-mails to your kids’ teachers. It all counts! I submit that for someone for whom writing is not specifically a chore, the natural course of life will carry one a good ways toward the magical million word threshold.

I don’t remember everything I’ve written in the last 40 years – heck, I’m lucky to remember things that happened in years that started with “1” – but I can, I think, recall all the major milestones of my writing life.

When I was seven years old, our 2nd-grade teacher, Ms. Lovingood, required us to write THREE eight-page research papers over the course of the year. Remember, this was in the days when the Intertubes weren’t even a gleam in Al Gore’s eye. My parents had to drive me to the local library, I think in a horse-drawn carriage, but my memory of past centuries is hazy. Our topics for these essays were a country, a composer, and an Indian tribe. (I chose Austria, Beethoven and the Nez Perce, respectively.) This was pure trauma at the time, but Ms. Lovingood knew what she was doing. We shed tears, gnashed our teeth, wailed about the unfairness of it all…and by the third grade we were never again fazed by any kind of writing assignment.

In third grade, I wrote a short story that earned me an extremely concerned letter to my parents from my teacher. The story was a humorous piece about two grown-up friends who were always landing in trouble. In each of their escapades, one of the men would repeatedly and accidentally rescue the other by sheer drunken luck. Literally. One guy was always drunk, and stumbled into a series of life-saving coincidences. Mrs. Cantrell’s summary was something of the sort: “Extremely well written for a third grader, and appallingly inappropriate. I think we should have a talk about Dorian’s home life.”

In tenth grade I wrote my first (piece of a) fantasy novel. Our class had an entirely open-ended writing assignment that we had a couple of months to work on, so I decided to write as much of a fantasy story as I could. Neither of the main characters was drunk, but my two protagonists – a burly fighter and a scrawny wizard – still found themselves in one seemingly un-survivable scrape after another. I typed the whole thing on an ACTUAL WORD PROCESSOR, which in 1985 was a great big deal, and painstakingly printed the final copy out from my Apple IIe via a dot-matrix printer. I was intensely proud of it, and was hoping for all sorts of flabbergasted praise from my English teacher. Alas, Mrs. Hedges was notoriously lazy, and the sum total of her marks upon my hundred pages of lovingly-crafted prose was “99/100. Good job” on the cover page. I’m fairly certain she didn’t read it; I think she figured I was a decent writer for a 10th grader, and dear God that was a lot of pages of schlocky fantasy, so 99/100 sounded about right.

In my senior year of high school I wrote an excessive number of short stories, hoping to win my high school’s writing prize using a scattershot strategy. (Surely if I submitted enough pieces, one would win just by chance!) The longest of these was a first-person present tense non-fiction account of what it had been like acting in my first play. I had never written anything like it before, but I was inspired by a piece my father had written that had been published in a local newspaper. Like most things I wrote before I turned 30, I imagined it a work of startling genius while I was writing it, but on review it stands the test of time in much the same way Bernie Sanders would stand up to Ronda Rousey.

In college I majored in creative writing, and my senior thesis was an (again unfinished) fantasy novel about a college student who accidentally acquires unwanted magical powers. It was blatantly autobiographic, cringingly self-indulgent, and marginally better-written than my high school story had been.

A few years ago I was invited to write an interactive novella for the excellent choose-your-own-adventure publisher Choice of Games. Over about 15 months I wrote Choice of the Star Captain, a humorous science fiction romp, of which I was (and still am) quite proud. It was a combined writing and light coding exercise, but despite that my career had been in game design, I think I naturally emphasized the “writing” part over the “game” part.

A year after that I wrote a 40k word non-fiction humor book centered around a few years of Facebook posts about my kids. I called it Status Update Parent, and maybe someday I’ll polish it up and publish it, but for now it’ll have to wait in line behind my fantasy novels.

Finally – and this is where the most sizable chunk of my million words comes from – I wrote a fictionalized account of a long-running D&D campaign which I ran for about fifteen years. Those campaign journals would wind up as the foundation for The Ventifact Colossus (and soon-ish, its sequels), as my novels are based heavily on the characters and events from the game.

When I go back and look at everything from Star Captain onward, I can see the quality of my writing finally shedding most of the skin of mediocrity that had covered it lo those twenty-odd years. I can watch myself discover my voice at last, and learn how to narrate, describe and entertain all at the same time. Of course, even a million words isn’t sufficient to perfect one’s art; no single lifetime is that long. But for me, at least, the words of David Eddings were absolutely spot on. I don’t know precisely how many words it took for me to turn the proverbial corner, but a million is certainly in the ballpark.

Total elapsed time between first deciding I wanted to write novels, and actually publishing one:  36 years.

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Upon Further Review

I was chatting with my friend Ed the other day on the topic of reviews. Having just self-published a novel, it’s been a topic much on my mind. At some point in the discussion, we swapped links of the most scornful reviews of our previous works.

A couple of years back I published an interactive novella, Choice of the Star Captain, through the publisher Choice of Games. The app was generally well received – across multiple platforms and review sites, it averaged something like 4.4 stars out of 5 on well over a hundred reviews, and that included a bunch of people who rated it a “1” because they couldn’t get the app to load. Point is, there was decent evidence that I had not, in fact, produced the worst interactive story ever written.

But there was one review… hoo boy. The reviewer would have given me negative stars had that been a choice. His review was lengthy, detailed, and uncompromisingly scathing. I felt as though I must have accidentally kicked his dog and set his pants on fire sometime in the past. It was pure, lovingly-crafted vitriol. Not only had I written the worst interactive story experience in mankind’s history, I had single-handedly set back the evolution of the written word by several years all by myself.

That review also served the valuable purpose of severing most of my emotional ties to strangers’ views of my work. As tempting as it can be to make a personal investment into others’ opinions, it’s ultimately a losing proposition. For every great work out there, someone is going to hate it. For instance, here are some quotes from reviews of Pulitzer-prize-winning Anthony Doerr’s wonderful book All the Light We Cannot See:

“It felt like reading a cookbook. I didn’t feel that invested in the characters, which was probably a good thing since the plot sputtered out and died.”

“Tedious as a catalogue but without the point.”

“This is the most unsatisfying, lazy book I have read in years.”

I think of these reviews, leveled at what I consider one of the best books I have ever read, and use them as armor against what I know is coming. And what’s coming, inevitably, are similar reviews about my own book. Right now, even as I type, two people I don’t know have marked The Ventifact Colossus as “reading this now” on Goodreads. It’s entirely possible that one or both of them will grace the review page with sharp-edged complaints about the book. If it’s not one of them, it will be someone else down the line. Heck, there’s a decent chance that a less-than-pleasing review will come from someone reading this blog entry, right now. And when it happens?

To use my 10-year-old’s current favorite phrase: “meh.”

In fact, as Ed pointed out, bad reviews are about as valuable as good ones as long as they don’t make up too big a percentage. (It starts to look suspicious when all the reviews are 5-star love-fests.) If you read the book and think it merited 2 or 3 stars, please, still go ahead and write up a review. I promise not to take it personally. What I *will* do is mine it for ideas and improvements I can take away and carry to my next book.

All of this is not to say that I won’t feel happy when I read the reviews of people who liked the book. I certainly will; I am a human being, after all. But the book is out of my hands now. I’ve put it in its little wicker basket and sent it down a river full of churning rapids and hungry piranhas. It’s bound to get a little beaten-up and chewed-on over the course of its life.

But I can live with that.

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Book Launched!

Today I took a big first step.

Specifically, I forced my finger to stop shaking, and pressed it down upon the Enter key, thus clicking the button that told Amazon to expose my book, The Ventifact Colossus, to the public.  The moment I did that, my brain divided itself into three distinct entities:

Stupidly Optimistic Brain: “Woo hoo! Fame and fortune, here we come! By next week the Amazon servers will be melting into pools of slag due to the heat generated by our thousands of sales. Critics will gush, reviewers will petition Amazon for a “6 star” rating, and fistfights will break out in Hollywood over the movie rights.”

Bleakly Pessimistic Brain: “No one will like our book. No one will buy our book. If someone does buy it by accident, they’ll read 2 or 3 pages and decide it’s better served as a lining for the cage of their pet canary. And the canary will then demand something with more literary merit, like maybe some old “Marmaduke” strips. You’re a writer in the same way that your 8-year-old daughter is an Egyptian pyramid.”

Realistic Brain: “Come on. You wrote a solid fantasy novel. It’s well written and entertaining, and it’s fine that it’s not going to win any literary prizes. Some people will love it, others will hate it, and your life will go on. Also, your next book will be better because now you know what writing a complete novel is like.

And speaking of your next book, you should keep writing it.”

In my heart, I know that Realistic Brain is also the Smart Brain. It would be easy to view this book-publishing thing as a path either to complete validation or utter repudiation as a writer, but down that path lies madness. Realistic Brain says: enjoy the ride, learn from your mistakes, don’t stop writing, AND FOR GOD’S SAKE STOP HITTING AMAZON’S LITTLE SALES TRACKER GIZMO EVERY NINETY SECONDS. IT WILL STILL BE THERE TOMORROW.

If you want to get on my mailing list to receive (very infrequent, I promise!) updates about how the series is progressing, click here.

I also have a Heroes of Spira page with more info.

And here’s a link to where you can actually buy the book!

http://amzn.to/1KdEZa3

 

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

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Kira and the Gold Coin

It’s five thirty on Saturday evening, and Kira is hanging upside-down and backward over the edge of the sofa. This is entirely typical.

I’m sitting nearby with a book on my lap, relaxing by the lights of the Christmas tree in the corner. I’ve been chipping away at this book for a few weeks now – it’s a thousand pages long – and I’m down to the final fifty pages or so. Outside a winter storm is shifting into high gear, but in the living room I have achieved a nearly perfect state of domestic peace. The kids are playing, Kate is watching Kira with amusement, and the heating pipes are making that comforting gnomes-hammering-behind-the-walls sound that connotes a snug warmth.

That’s when Kira stands up straight, makes some choking sounds, and announces she’s going to throw up.

I’m saddened, but not alarmed.  She’s on the tail end of a pernicious virus, one of those horror-shows that results in liquid coming out of every orifice she has. We thought she had it licked, but apparently not. Filled with concern about keeping vomitus from the carpet, I hustle Kira into the bathroom so she can evacuate herself as hygienically as possible. Which she does.

Even when she starts complaining that something is stuck in her throat, I don’t panic.  I’m sure it’s simply that some piece of stomach matter has scratched her esophagus. I bring her a glass of water to help rinse the acidic taste from her mouth, and (I hope) soothe her throat a bit. 

“It feels like something metal is stuck in my throat,” she croaks.

That’s extremely unlikely, and I tell her as much. “Why would something metal be in your throat? That doesn’t make any sense.” 

“Because I swallowed a gold dollar coin,” she says.

My brain doesn’t really process that right away, and when it does, it ranks “literally true” as the third most likely descriptor for Kira’s pronouncement.  First is “she’s kidding,” and second is “she’s lying.”  Kira is a good kid, but she shares the trait of ‘unreliable narrator’ with so many young children. Also I’m at a loss to imagine that a gold dollar coin was anywhere near the sofa, or that Kira, at six years old, would have put it in her mouth, let alone swallowed it.

I press her for the truth, but Kira is insistent, and she’s usually quick to admit the truth of things when she knows the jig is up. So I ask her, “why was there a coin in your mouth in the first place?”

“I have a bad habit,” she explains. “I like sucking on coins.”

She speaks the phrase ‘bad habit’ as though it’s a sovereign shield against recrimination. She can’t help herself! It’s a habit! My brain is now thinking that Kira has regularly been putting some of the germiest, filthiest objects in existence into her mouth. How have I not noticed this?  From there it’s a quick and slippery slope to ‘How can I have been such a bad parent?’ Sure, other kids put things in their mouths that they shouldn’t, but those kids are all less than three years old. Kira is six! If I haven’t managed to inculcate her with enough sense not to put large solid non-food objects in her mouth, what else have I failed to teach her? Not to stick metal forks in electrical sockets? Not to drink laundry detergent? Not to put her hand down the garbage disposal?

Parenthood has just been one long trap, lulling me into thinking that I was a grown-up with a grown-up’s sense of responsibility. Look! I’ve managed to raise to kids to the ages of six and eight without them suffering any permanent physical harm! But now that thin and wavering illusion is rippling away. Behind the veneer of teaching Kira to read and do math and play chess, I have failed at a much deeper level. And thanks to my failure to provide any knowledge of how the world actually works, my beloved daughter is now gagging over a toilet and complaining that she’s having a little trouble breathing. Because she swallowed a dollar coin.

I waste a good two minutes calling her pediatrician, but it being a Saturday night I get the answering service. The physician on call will get back to me, soon, they hope. At least I have the sense not to wait; I bundle Kira into her coat and shoes, hand her a bucket since she’s still bringing up gobs of saliva, and hustle her out to the car. Kate, my fantastic wife, whose main fault right now seems to have been leaving her incompetent husband to do the bulk of the domestic kid-raising duties while she earns the family’s living, stays behind. Several days earlier she threw out her back and can move only slowly, and even then with significant pain. It only makes sense that she stay with our older daughter while I drive through the blizzard to the emergency room.

Kira is in the back seat constantly spitting into her bucket. She can’t bring herself to swallow; it hurts too much. I keep her talking, because if she’s talking then she’s breathing, and it’s hard to keep worst-case-scenarios out of my mind right now. The minivan skids a few times en route to Winchester Hospital, but we make it, grab one of the rarely-achieved parking spots right by the emergency room entrance, and head inside. (I stop to empty her bucket into an outdoor trash can; it seems poor form to bring a pail of germy spit into a hospital.)

In my past experiences with the E.R., if you’re conscious and not carrying one of your own limbs, you’ll probably get triaged to the back of the queue.  But the doctors seem to regard our situation as dire enough to get her x-rayed immediately, which is both gratifying and worrying. It’s not long before a nurse comes to tell me the news.

Yup. She sure did swallow a big honking coin. It’s lodged at the base of her throat, not having decided yet whether to head for her lungs or her stomach. The good news is, it’s angled edge-wise to her breathing pipe, and so is not seriously restricting airflow. The bad news is, it could easily shift around and become such an obstruction, and obviously that would be quite grim. They recommend that it be removed as soon as possible. But they can’t do that at Winchester, so we’ll be put ASAP into an ambulance and taken  to Children’s Hospital in Brookline, 20 minutes away in good weather.  Have I mentioned that half a foot of snow is falling on the Greater Boston area right now?

Kira takes it all with a calm and curious equanimity so endemic to her nature. The ambulance driver lets her choose whether we’ll drive with sirens blaring or not, but Kira plays it cool, says it doesn’t matter, and the driver can choose.  She just thinks it’s neat that we get to ride in an ambulance. As we’re whisked down the highway, she chats with the EMT, a friendly fellow with kids of his own, and explains about her ‘bad habit’ of sucking on coins. Not wanting the EMT to think I’m condoning this behavior, I jump in. “Kira, that’s a habit you have to break. I want you to promise me you’ll never put anything in your mouth again that doesn’t belong there.”

“I promise.”

I’ve already made her promise this several times since leaving the house. I still haven’t come to grips with the fact that I hadn’t pounded this into her head hard enough to stick, back when she was three.

Then the EMT says something that proves to be the most important thing Kira is going to hear throughout this entire ordeal.  “I bet once they get the coin out, you’ll get a Popsicle.” Kira locks in on this with the single-minded focus only kids can achieve. She has found her brass ring, the Holy Grail of rewards. She asks some questions about the Popsicle, regarding flavor, color, and how many hours from now she will have it in her possession.

Upon arrival at Children’s, we are escorted to a hospital room and Kira is hooked up to a pasta factory of tubes and wires. Since she’s not allowed to eat or drink anything before the procedure, they put her on an IV drip to prevent dehydration. She’s not happy about the needle but endures it with good grace. A movie-set Hospital Machine shows several rows of blipping lines, measuring her heart rate, oxygen level, blood pressure, and a couple of other mysterious life-sign indicators. They’re still most concerned about her breathing, though there’s no sign of trouble there at the moment.

A bewildering parade of doctors and nurses marches into the room over the next few hours. Kira diligently quizzes each of them about her Popsicle, before they ask me their standard batteries of questions: what exactly happened? How long ago? Is Kira currently taking, or allergic to, any medications? Is she generally healthy? Eventually I have the spiel down so pat I could deliver it at a comedy club, though this is equal parts comedy and tragedy.  Before we’re done, I know it’s going to tip fully one way or the other.

Along with the visits from seventeen medical professionals, I have to sign an equal number of waivers and release forms, most of which involve giving consent to the hospital to remove the dollar coin, as if there’s a possible universe where I’ll say ‘nah, let’s not bother.’ They’ve explained to the procedure to me, which is quite simple.  They’re going to sedate Kira, reach down her throat with something that’s effectively a giant pair of tweezers with a mounted camera, and pluck out the offending currency. I ask how likely anything is to go wrong, and am told “Almost zero. Less than 1%.”  The more numerate among you will recognize the vast probabilistic gulf between those two estimates, but surely if there’s one thing children’s doctors are good at, its removing objects from kids’ throats.  And heck, won’t Kira’s case be easier because there’s more room to maneuver? You know, because she’s twice as old as every other patient who needs this done?  Oy.

Among all the talks and assurances and assessments and paperwork , it’s hearing from the anesthesiologist that gets to me. He talks about Kira’s sedation, how they won’t knock her out fully, but only mostly, before they go treasure diving. When he talks about risks he divides them into two categories.  The first is “things that are very serious, but also very unlikely.” These mostly include outcomes wherein Kira stops breathing for some significant length of time. He describes the likelihood of these as “one in the fifties or hundreds of thousands.” He busts out the oft-used comparison that Kira was in much greater danger on the car ride to the hospital.

The second category is for things that are less serious but much more likely. As in, 15-20% likely.  The most common of these is that Kira will, upon waking, achieve a state of delirious hysteria, panicking and screaming and probably not even recognizing me. I appreciate the warning, but I’m still trying to think of comparative occurrences with 1 in 50,000 chances of happening.  My numeracy is being sorely tested. My rational mind is fine with those odds, but my Irresponsible Parenting Mind is pointing out that people win the lottery every day, and get struck by lightning and meteors and satellite debris and goodness only knows what else falling out of the sky with worse than 50k to 1 odds.

I sign the anesthesia consent forms, and now we wait. At some point Kira stops spitting into her bucket, and we’re able to have real conversations. I casually mention that, ha ha, I’ll bet she’ll never eat another coin again, huh? She nods, and complains that it’s uncomfortable drinking through her arm. Kira is an amazing kid who seldom complains, and this whole trip is no exception, but she does mention quite often that she’s annoyed by the IV needle.

We pass the time by playing 20 Questions, and “guess the number between 1 and 100.”  The nurse comes in and tells us, apologetically, that Kira’s procedure will be delayed, as another patient has come in with life-threatening injuries.  She brings me a bottle of water, since by now it’s about 10:00 P.M. and I’ve had nothing to eat or drink since noon.  Around 11:00 we learn that yet another imperiled child has arrived, and there’s still no word on when Kira will get her extraction. A nurse keeps Kira company while I nip around to the in-hospital Au Bon Pain for a belated dinner. I inhale about 1500 calories of roast beef sandwich and a few bready confections. Kira must be starving, but she makes no mention of it. She’s willing to watch me eat in front of her because, as she reminds me, she’ll be getting a Popsicle pretty soon.

By midnight Kira has fallen asleep. My eyes flicker from her face to the beeping, hopping lines on the Hospital Machine, particularly the one measuring her oxygen levels. Her face is peaceful, her be-tubed arm dangling off the side of her hospital bed. I realize that I have never been so annoyed with, and sympathetic toward, the same person at the same time. It’s a state I think only parents can achieve.

It’s 1:30 A.M. when the nurses come to wheel her into ‘surgery.’  It’s not actual surgery, since they’re not cutting her open, but it’s a serious enough business that surgeons have to perform it. Kira wakes up en route, and I tell her everything will be fine, that the doctors will have that coin out in no time. She tells me her favorite flavor of Popsicle is bubble gum.  Then she goes one way and I am obliged to go another, into a large waiting area.

A young couple is there, watching TV.  Next to them is a pile of clothes and bags heaped on an infant car-seat carrier. I wonder if their child is one of those who came in with a more serious affliction than my own. It seems rude to ask, so I just nod and sit some distance away. My situation snaps into a saner perspective; here are parents with a baby in surgery. They’re probably still in that addled state of sleep deprivation and new-baby angst, and now they have to deal with a hospital-worthy health crisis? Kira’s money-gulping woes suddenly seem less awful.

I watch the TV to take my mind off of things.  The young couple seems engrossed and so I don’t change the channel, even though what I’m watching is some kind of insipid “mansions and millionaires” show full of quick camera pans and excited real-estate-agent sound bites about multi-million dollar properties and the celebrities who live in them. The commercials are worse. Surely the existence of a Duck Dynasty beard-growing Chia Pet heralds the downfall of our civilization.

Abruptly, I realize that over an hour has passed since Kira was wheeled away. Being a Bad Parent, I never thought to ask how long I should expect the foreign body extraction to take.  The way they described it, I imagined it would take about 3 minutes. Tweezers go in, make their grab, come back out.  Like a sword-swallower doing a quick demo of their art. How could this be taking an hour?  Unless… unless something has gone wrong, of course. My composure, weakened by guilt and sleep deprivation, disintegrates. I start pacing and looking at my watch every fourteen seconds.

At 3:00 A.M. one of the doctors comes into the waiting room bearing a plastic medicine bottle. He smiles, walks to me, and hands me a cylinder containing a tarnished John Adams gold dollar coin.  “We ended up removing it from her stomach,” the doctor tells me. “It must have dropped down when her throat relaxed from the anesthetic.” I suppose those tweezers were longer than I was picturing. I am taken to yet another hospital room where Kira, freed at last from her numismatic obstruction, slumbers peacefully.

A nurse is fiddling with her I.V. drip. They have some fancy machine that monitors its function, and this is beeping a constant alarm that there’s air in the tube. She calls in another nurse and they try a number of fixes to this problem. None of them work. I’m so amped up on adrenaline and worry that I’m certain they’re injecting deadly air bubbles directly into Kira’s veins, but the nurses don’t seem worried. Eventually they disconnect the thing and we all travel down some corridors and into an elevator, then up to the fourth different hospital room of the day.  Kira wakes up en route, and the first thing she says is not “Hi daddy” or “Did they get the coin out?” It’s “Do I get my Popsicle now?”

Ensconced in our recovery room, she is finally given her reward, a double-stick grape-flavored Popsicle. She immediately gets down to the serious business of consuming it, savoring it lick by lick over half an hour.  When she’s done, I dispose of the wrapper and stick, make sure she’s comfortable, and we both go to sleep.

An orderly knocks at 8:30 and brings Kira a big pancake breakfast. She eats three Frisbee-sized pancakes and sucks down four juice boxes. I keep thinking she won’t be able to finish, and that I’ll be able to scavenge some leftovers, but this is a fool’s hope. She hasn’t eaten anything for over 20 hours.  But my hunger pales next to the joy of seeing her eat (not to mention breathe) without discomfort. We watch some cartoons and the middle section of A Bug’s Life while we wait to be discharged. Kira is quite happy with this arrangement.

Sometime around 11:30 we are released from Children’s Hospital, which has paid for a cab to take us back to Winchester Hospital. There I find, as expected, that the minivan is effectively a glacier with wheels after sitting out in the storm all night. Kira gets comfy in her car seat, I turn the interior heat on, and spend the next fifteen minutes chiseling away the ice until a car emerges. I’m fairly well exhausted by now, not to mention exasperated, not to mention giddy that my daughter did not choke to death. Since Kate’s injured back prevents her from putting on socks, let alone shoveling snow, I realize that when I get home I have several hours of shoveling ahead of me.  But lo! My wife, a Goddess among wives, has paid $38 to a plowman for the removal of the polar bear’s share of the snow and ice. All that’s left for me is about 45 minutes of ice-breaking to remove the bottom layer.

And after that?  I come inside, eat some leftover Chinese food that Kate has set out, and then start wrangling Elanor, who needs to get dressed and ready for a piano recital that afternoon.

Because parenting doesn’t stop, no matter how tired you are.

I feel like I should have learned some valuable lesson out of all of this, besides the obvious one about doing a better job of teaching my kids about not accidentally killing themselves. I should be embracing platitudes like “Appreciate what you have,” and “Life is precious.” But mostly I’ve just been reminded that Parenting Doesn’t Stop. It’s an endless Super Mario side-scroller where we spend 18 years or more jumping with agitated desperation from one moving platform to the next, dodging monsters and grabbing all the coins we can.

Don’t swallow them.

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A Walk in the Pyrenees

This is the first part of an eventual three-part account of our recent holiday in France and Spain.  It covers the “long days of hiking” portion of the trip, as we walked from Collioure, France to Port de la Selva, Spain.

ACT 1:  THE WALK

April 25/26 – Boston -> Philadelphia -> Barcelona -> Cerbere -> Collioure

The first day (two days, if you consider the time-zone shift) featured an unavoidable series of airplanes and trains as we made our way from Boston to the small French town of Collioure (pop. 3000) near the Spanish border.  U.S.Airways gave us some unwanted tension as our flight out of Boston was delayed by “hot brakes,” and then my large rucksack was temporarily AWOL in Barcelona, but after that our travels were straightforward.  Two trains took us from Barcelona to Collioure, France via the border town of Cerbere.  (France and Spain use different rail gauges, so Cerbere is a common point of transfer.)

Kate at the Cerbere train station

Kate at the Cerbere train station

(Note: all photos can be clicked to expand. For the landscapes especially, it’s worth it for the extra detail!) This first portion of our vacation is called “The Walk” because we had a planned five days of hiking ahead, during which we would make our way southward from Collioure to the Spanish town of Port de la Selva along the Vermilion Coast.  An outfit called Sherpa Expeditions had arranged hotels for us in each port o’ call, as well as for the bulk of our luggage to be carried ahead of us each day. Most importantly, they provided maps and directions for our cross-country journeys.

In Collioure, our hotel was “Les Templiers,” a tiny vertical place with an elevator barely large enough to accommodate Kate and I and our two large rucksacks. (Speaking of which: to get to the hotel, you had to go through the bar and out the back to a smaller street.  I got myself wedged in the exit door, trying to pass through with my pack on, silly American that I am.) Our room itself was about 10′ x 10′, but plenty nice for our minimal needs. After dropping off our stuff, we wandered about Collioure for a bit, fighting off jet-lag until dinner at a local restaurant. Back at the hotel we FaceTime’d with the kids, and found that my mom and stepfather had managed to fend off anarchy for at least the first 18 hours of our absence.

Collioure, France. The windmill and fortress on the hillside are part of the walk on Day 2. (Click to enlarge.)

Collioure, France. The windmill and fortress on the hillside are part of the walk on Day 2. (Click to enlarge.)

One of  Collioure's narrow streets

One of Collioure’s narrow streets

April 27 –Collioure -> La Valle -> Collioure

This was supposed to be the first day of a five day, forty mile hike, from Collioure to Port de la Selva.

Approximate recreation of our route using Google Maps

Approximate recreation of our route using Google Maps

A broader perspective on where we were

A broader perspective on where we were

As the well-worn saying goes, “The best laid plans of mice and men are often rainy and lost on a mountainside somewhere.”

Forgive me; I paraphrase. Things started off with breakfast in the hotel restaurant, while chatting with a travel writer at the next  table who commented on the unusually gloomy weather. After procuring provisions for the day (anchovy subs and a baguette from a local baker, Pim’s and water bottles from a local grocer), a taxi drove us out of town for half an hour, to the tiny hamlet of La Vall.  The way this was supposed to work was, we’d get dropped off far from Collioure, and then hike back to town via trails over the mountains.  It even started out that way; the taxi left us outside a shuttered church in a town so small, all 20 of its man-made structures fit in an area smaller than an oval quarter-mile track.  A cold drizzle was falling as the taxi drove away; we pulled out our waterproofed map and direction-sheet and started hiking. The first hour or so was fine, if a bit cold and damp.  Our spirits were high, and we took a few pictures.

This probably would have been a lovely hike under better circumstances.

This probably would have been a lovely hike under better circumstances.

As we left the last signs of civilization behind and headed up the mountain, the trail split.  We consulted our printed materials, and it seemed that either one of the two trail options would work, so we struck out up the tree-covered slope, following a series of orange blazes that matched one of the highlighted routes on our topographical map. In hindsight, the fact that the written directions didn’t specifically mention orange blazes should have been a clear sign of impending disaster, but… er… well, anyway, as we climbed higher and higher, the weather grew worse. After another hour or so, the rain was falling harder, the temperature had dropped and a chilling wind had kicked up, slicing through the trees and setting us shivering in our raincoats. (The actual temperature that day was just about 50 degrees, with wind-chills in the low 40’s.) Then the blazes ran out. The orange slashes on trees and rocks had at some point been joined by orange treble-clef symbols, which was cute, but probably meant we were following marks set by some music camp the previous year, and not anything meant for us.  And somewhere up on the mountainside, both slashes and trebles ceased to appear; the trail ended at an orange raincoat wrapped around a tree-branch.

We spent a fruitless few minutes searching in every direction, but there was nothing – not even an unmarked trail for us to follow. Soaked and growing numb with the cold, we decided to abandon the day’s walk and head back to La Vall.  As best we could we followed the orange blazes back down the mountain… and about halfway down, we lost them.  So, there we were, a cold late morning rain pelting down, and the two of us lost on a forested foothill of the Pyrenees, miles from nowhere.  The vacation had only one low-point, and this was it.  I started seriously thinking about our emergency whistle, and whether anyone in La Vall could hear it from where we were.  (Kate never panicked, of course, but I freaked out enough for both of us.)

We spent another half an hour searching the woods before we picked up the trail again, and half an hour after that we trudged into La Vall, hoping to find a phone by which we could call for a return taxi. The entire population of the town could probably fit into an elevator, and the one restaurant was closed for the season.  No one was inside the church. There was no public phone, and not even a place to shelter from the rain so that we could break out the phone-function iPad. In the end we found a residence with a car in the driveway and knocked on the door. A hesitant woman answered, alongside her huge, growling dog. Kate speaks enough French that she was able to convey our need, and though the woman didn’t let us in her home, she did call us a taxi.  We waited 20 minutes across the street from her house, squeezed under a tree while Kate ate her anchovy sub. (My fingers were too numb to get mine out of my pack.)

By one o’clock or so we were back at Les Templiers in Collioure, drying off and warming up and happy to be alive.  I wolfed down my anchovy sub like I hadn’t eaten in days, and then we headed to a laundromat to dry our clothes and packs.  As our soggy stuff tumbled, we reviewed the next day’s map, and holding the directions up to some extra scrutiny in order to prevent a recurrence of today’s failure.

Traveler pro tip: before you throw your stuff into a dryer, make sure your wife has really emptied out all her pockets.

Especially if they contain an old tube of lipstick.

Unless you’re going for the “hiker fresh from the slaughterhouse” look, of course.

Anyway, the whole lost-on-a-mountainside fiasco turned out to be a lucky break in hindsight. The rain stopped by mid-day, it grew a bit warmer, and we spent a delightful afternoon exploring Collioure.  We wandered around the exterior of its castle, explored its little streets, and I even did a bit of juggling with a local who was plying his circus trade on the beach. We also took many pictures, to make up for the ones we didn’t take while freezing in the wilderness.

This path around the castle connects the two halves of Collioure.

This path around the castle connects the two halves of Collioure.

Sure beats seven hours freezing on a hill somewhere.

Sure beats seven hours freezing on a hill somewhere.

I stand beneath the Château Royal de Collioure

I stand beneath the Château Royal de Collioure

The Château Royal de Collioure

The Château Royal de Collioure

View of the Château Royal de Collioure from the beach.

View of the Château Royal de Collioure from the beach.

Now no one can say I've never skipped a rock into the Mediterranean.

Now no one can say I’ve never skipped a rock into the Mediterranean.

If you look carefully at the distant ridge, you can see the tiny nub of a tower about 4/5 of the way along from left to right. That tower was the half-way point of the following day's hike.

If you look carefully at the distant ridge, you can see the tiny nub of a tower about 4/5 of the way along from left to right. That tower was the half-way point of the following day’s hike.

Mediterranean Sea, or North Atlantic? Hard to say at this point.

Mediterranean Sea, or North Atlantic? Hard to say at this point.

A consultation with TripAdvisor on the iPad led us to l’Ambroisie for dinner, a tiny but wonderful restaurant whose cuisine was not equaled for the remainder of our vacation.

April 28 –Collioure -> Banyuls sur Mer

We sat next to our travel writer friend at breakfast again; she turned out to be the award-winning Solange Hando, still going strong at 69 years old. She told us a story about visiting the unheralded gravesite of Eugene Poubelle, a French pioneer in trash disposal and drainage, and the reason that trash bins in France are called “poubelles” to this day.

Once more we provisioned ourselves with delicious anchovy subs (Collioure is famous for its anchovies, which have been described as the best in the world), and prepared for a day of hiking. It was another cool day (temps in low 50’s, wind-chills in the low-mid 40’s), but the rain was light and sporadic, and the directions seemed straightforward.

The day’s route, from Collioure to the city of Banyuls-sur-Mer (pop. 5000), would cover 9.3 miles and about 2700’ of elevation gain. Things started well, as we climbed up away from Collioure, stopping often to look back and admire the views.

Saying farewell to Collioure.

Saying farewell to Collioure. (Remember, these photos look much nice if you click to expand them!)

In short order we reached both the windmill and Fort Sant Elme, seen on the hillsides the previous day.

Windmill above Collioure

Windmill above Collioure

The approach to Fort Sant Elme

The approach to Fort Sant Elme

 

Looking up to distant Madeloc Tower.

Looking up to distant Madeloc Tower.

As Madeloc Tower (a 13th century watch tower) grew ever closer, our gain in elevation led to inevitable increased winds and lower temperatures. We stopped for lunch outside the walls of an old fort, then hunkered down for the final ascent.

Our path is the one that forks to the right, climbing up toward the peak of the mountain.

Our path is the one that forks to the right, climbing up toward the peak of the mountain.

In that part of the world, they have a name for the high north winds that blow across the mountains: Tramontane.  Loosely translated, that means “winds so powerful only Americans are dumb enough to hike up mountains while it’s blowing.”  Our directions even included an alternate route if Tramontane was blowing too cold and strong.  But though the winds were indeed cold, and gusting upward of 50 mph, we were determined, after our ignominious failure of the previous day, to finish the route as intended.  At times this meant leaning into the wind at such a steep pitch that had it abruptly stopped, we would have fallen over. We crouched low and scooted across exposed ridges, occasionally pausing and clinging to rocks when particularly powerful gusts kicked up, but at last we made it to the tower.

We arrive at Madeloc Tower. There was one other hiker there, whom you can see standing at the tower's base, conveniently showing scale.

We arrive at Madeloc Tower. There was one other hiker there, whom you can see standing at the tower’s base, conveniently showing scale.

The views were not as stunning as the ones shown on the back of the box, but the feeling of accomplishment was real enough.

We didn’t stay long at Madeloc, and began our descent toward Banyuls-sur-Mer. As if the cold and the wind weren’t enough, a sideways-driven sleet started up, pelting us with stinging needles of almost-ice. We took shelter for a few minutes in a ruined fort, joining a dozen other walkers who were likewise waiting out the sleet. We gulped some water and ate some Pim’s, but as the sleet showed no sign of abating, we walked back out into it and kept going. The sleet kept up for about another twenty minutes before deciding to spare us, and I’m happy to say that as we marched down toward Banyuls, the sun even poked its nose through the clouds, making the final couple of hours extremely pleasant.

Our destination: the town of Banyuls-sur-Mer

Our destination: the town of Banyuls-sur-Mer

The trail leading to Banyuls-sur-Mer

The trail leading to Banyuls-sur-Mer

We followed the well-marked GR-10 footpath down into town, where we stopped for crepes in a local restaurant before walking the final 15 minutes to our hotel.  Dinner at the hotel restaurant was lovely and featured a variety of local fromages.

A postscript: shower stalls in France feature a variety of mysterious extra nozzles and handles not typically found in the States. When I turned on the shower, water sprayed unexpectedly from a secondary shower-head that was angled upward such that in about five seconds, I had hosed down every wall in the bathroom. Silly American!

April 29 –  Banyuls sur Mer-> Portbou, Spain

“This could be Scotland, if it weren’t for the cactus and palm trees.”

That was Kate’s comment as we walked through town to start another day of hiking. The sky was overcast, and the Mediterranean a steely Atlantic gray. The weather forecast was extremely grim: rain in the morning, rain in the afternoon, more low temperatures, and a strong wind throughout.  But for the morning, at least, the rain held off and the air wasn’t too cold. Also this was a shorter and easier day than yesterday – 8 miles of walking, with about 2000’ of elevation gain.

We stopped for provisions at a small convenience store.  The poor weather was so unusual, it was the front page story of the local newspaper on the store rack.  Yay, us.  The woman behind the counter was full of sympathy. “Weather is so sad,” she said. “Like English weather.”

Looking across the bay from Banyuls-sur-Mer

Looking across the bay from Banyuls-sur-Mer

As if to drive the point home, our directions indicated that we should “…walk along [the] road, with a dry riverbed on the left…” but the riverbed was anything but dry. Dozens of swallows took advantage of this unusual state of affairs, darting and swooping and collecting the insects the water had brought.

The first part of the walk was a steep, zig-zagging ascent through the outer streets of Banyuls-sur-Mer, before the trail rose up and away from the town.  The rain held off until we were up on an ascending ridge, and even when it fell, it wasn’t a torrential downpour.  After a slightly-harrowing ridge walk with a cliff on one side, and an upward climb following a dry stone wall, we reached the final scramble to a local maximum.  The directions were phrased thusly:  “About 6 mins after the wall, you are confronted with a rock band in front of you, a 5 metre strata of schist. Don’t bother looking for a way around it, the yellow waymark on your left means go straight up!”  But it wasn’t any more difficult than any number of rocky scrambles we’ve made in New Hampshire, and soon we were having a snack next to a high tension power-cable pylon perched on the hilltop.

Looking down at Banyuls-sur-Mer

Looking down at Banyuls-sur-Mer

The rain was on-again, off-again (though mostly on-again) as we traversed a long section of high trail cut into the mountains that separate Banyuls-sur-Mer from Cerbere, and Cerbere from Portbou. Portbou (pop c. 1300) was the Spanish town where the day’s hike would end.  There were lovely views throughout, and while the cold, wind and rain prevented us from appreciating them properly, Kate still stopped to take pictures.

Good thing those are quick-drying pants!

Good thing those are quick-drying pants!

Looking back on France, which were just leaving about now.

Looking back on France, which were just leaving about now.

The mountain pass to Portbou, Spain.

The mountain pass to Portbou, Spain.

The rain let up slightly as we crested another hill and reached the ridge separating from France from Spain.  We stopped there for lunch, and to take the inevitable pictures where we’re standing in two countries at the same time, before starting the long descent to Portbou.

Left foot in Spain, right foot in France. (If you're wondering why only my pants are blurry in this shot, it's because the wind was whipping them at about 50 mph!)

Left foot in Spain, right foot in France. (If you’re wondering why only my pants are blurry in this shot, it’s because the wind was whipping them at about 50 mph!)

Given the portentous weather forecast heading into the day’s travel, we were counting ourselves extremely fortunate that for hours now, the rain had been sporadic and mostly light. It turned out the Weather Gods were just toying with us. While still on the high and shelterless trail, the heavens opened wide and sheets of rain fell upon us. Or, more accurately, sheets of rain were driven sideways into us by the 30+ mph winds blowing across the ridge. It was like being sprayed by a host of angry firemen just off stage, and in less than a minute we went from tolerably damp to just-climbed-out-of-the-pool drenched. Our boots filled with water in about 20 seconds, so every step thereafter was made as if our feet were simply encased in water balloons.  The downpour lasted about 20 minutes, though for the final 19 of those we weren’t really getting much wetter, having so quickly reached maximum saturation.

Perhaps realizing their diminishing returns the Weather Gods turned off their hoses, and the final hours of downward trek into Portbou were actually quite pleasant, marred only by the squishing sounds our feet made with every step. The hillsides above town were covered with cactus and lavender, and we wended our way through on a tiny narrow path, at last reaching town and our hotel.

Starting the final descent into Portbou.

Starting the final descent into Portbou.

We managed another FaceTime session with the kids that evening, and they seemed both happy and uninjured. Actually, they seemed like circus clowns, since the moment they realized they could see themselves in the little FaceTime window, they started hamming it up, making one ridiculous face after another, giving each other bunny ears, and constantly shoving one another out of the frame. Good luck, Grands!

April 30 –  Portbou -> Llanca

Portbou was a sleepy little town, and there wasn’t much of interest save the tree that was growing inside our hotel.

Is that a tree growing out of our hotel?

Is that a tree growing out of our hotel?

Yep, sure is!

Yep, sure is!

We walked around a bit before setting out for the day’s hike, mostly in the vain hope that the bakery down the street would open up.  It didn’t  but we weren’t too worried about provisions, since we’d be passing through an intermediate town half-way through the day, and there was purported to be an excellent restaurant on a beach we’d be reaching around lunchtime.

The weather was still Scottish; a bit warmer, perhaps, than the previous days, but the clouds were draped low over the hills, and a damp mist filled the air. We climbed up a steep hill out of the town, rising into the clouds, and soon Portbou had vanished into the fog.  Today’s leg was 8 miles, with  1650’ of elevation gain.

Clouds sit low on the hills above Portbou

Clouds sit low on the hills above Portbou

An hour into the day’s march we reached a high point.  Quoth our direction sheet:  “You now walk on a beautiful path for the next 25 mins or so… You have wonderful views across the bays, but probably as the sun is in your face, it will be hazy.”

The what now?

The trail was beautiful as advertised, and the Mediterranean below us certainly sounded lovely, but we couldn’t see anything more than a hundred feet away seeing as we were walking inside a cloud bank.

Kate above Portbou

Kate above Portbou

Since we couldn't see anything distant, we focused on close-up things.

Since we couldn’t see anything distant, we focused on close-up things.

On the trail between Portbou and Llanca

On the trail between Portbou and Llanca

Kate amidst the flora.

Kate amidst the flora.

After a  time the trail veered downward and below the cloud layer, and we descended into the small town of Colera (pop. 600).

Down to Colera

Down to Colera

We stopped for some ice cream, but Kate convinced me that we didn’t need to eat anything more, since we weren’t far from Garbet Beach where the restaurant awaited.

The directions indicated that we should cross a bridge over the bay – the only bridge, apparently – but it was closed for construction. Hm. We sat and consulted the topo map on our iPad, and found an alternate route that followed a trench-road with a steep rough-cut stone stairway rising up where the bridge would have ended.

Let's not go  that way.

Let’s not go that way.

The trail leading up from Colera

The trail leading up from Colera

Dorian amidst yet more flora.

Dorian amidst yet more flora.

The original pathway cut over to a mainland track that brought hikers down to Garbet Beach, but a rich landowner had built a house across it and prohibited hikers from trespassing.  Instead, we had to skirt around the cliff face, as the new path involved wading through the Mediterranean. Had we arrived at low tide we wouldn’t have gotten our toes wet, but we didn’t, and there was probably some extra surge from all the recent wind and rain, so in places we were up to our knees as the waves came crashing to the cliff wall.

The trail goes down to the left, around that short cliff.

The trail goes down to the left, around that short cliff.

(Aside: having been warned of this possibility, we had stowed sandals in our day packs. Kate took her boots and tied them to the outside of her pack. I had the clever idea of tying my bootlaces together and stringing them around my neck, but it turns out that any plan that involves boots you’ve been hiking in for days being suspended inches below your nostrils, is a very, very bad plan.)

It took us only about 15 minutes to wade and rock-hop around the cliffs, after which it was only a short walk across the beach to the restaurant.

Which was closed.

Reports that I gave Kate a hard time about this are not exaggerated in the slightest.  Lunch consisted of two apples we had been lugging around since Collioure, and a half-empty container of Pim’s.

As we prepared for the final leg of the day’s walk, a very strange thing happened.  A weird and frightening yellow orb appeared overhead, and both sea and sky turned a very strange blue-ish color. It was very confusing at first, but after some discussion we figured out what was going on.  The sun was shining! We took many pictures of this odd new phenomenon.

The sea... the sky... what color *is* that, exactly?

The sea… the sky… what color *is* that, exactly?

Despite our hunger, our spirits stayed high as the day grew brighter and bluer, affording us (finally) the views we had been hoping to see since the start of the walk.

So... blue... !

So… blue… !

Coastal trail en route to Llanca

Coastal trail en route to Llanca

The city of Llanca sprawls against the opposite side of the bay.

The city of Llanca sprawls against the opposite side of the bay.

Finally we strolled into the large town of Llanca (pop. 5000), where we stopped at a beach-side tapas restaurant that had the decency to be open. We sat, delighted, watching kids frolic on the beach while we ate anchovies and calamari and Kate consumed a large glass of sangria.

At last it was time to walk the final leg to the hotel.  “But not just yet,” said Kate, glancing at her sangria glass. “I don’t think I should stand up right now.”

May 1 –  Llanca -> Port de la Selva

This was the final day of our walk – an expected 7.4 miles, with 2750’ of elevation gain, between Llanca and Port de la Selva, with a midway stop at the monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes.

A small plaza in Llanca, with its prerequisite tree and tower.

A small plaza in Llanca, with its prerequisite tree and tower.

We bought lunch in town in order to guarantee that the monastery’s restaurant would be open, and packed our rain jackets and pack liners to guarantee good weather. (Both ploys worked, though it meant that Kate hiked the entire day with an uneaten baguette poking out the top of her pack.)

For the fourth straight day we climbed steeply up from our starting town into the low Pyrenees. To our confusion and delight, the sun shone from a warm blue sky for the entire day, and so we were able to soak in the experience in a purely metaphorical manner.

The trail out of Llanca

The trail out of Llanca

Looking down on Llanca. What nice about this photo is that the most distant headland is the one we skirted around on the previous day's walk.

Looking down on Llanca. What’s nice about this photo is that the most distant headland is the one we skirted around on the previous day’s walk.

The trail wound up and over the hills, through ancient stone walls, until we started getting peeks at Sant Pere de Rodes.

Kate Jenkins, Trail Warrior.

Kate Jenkins, Trail Warrior.First glimpse of Sant Pere de RodesFirst glimpse of Sant Pere de Rodes

Finally we reached a gap between peaks call the Col de Perer, from which the expansive views over endless miles of Spanish farmland were utterly breathtaking.

View westward over Spanish countryside, as seen from the Col de Perer.

View westward over Spanish countryside, as seen from the Col de Perer.

From there, a wide dirt track led slowly upward to the monastery, a Benedictine abbey constructed mostly in the 10th through 12th centuries.   There we had lunch and spent an hour exploring the monastery’s interior, before hiking the 500’ up to the ruins of a small castle perched on the mountain peak above.

Final approach to Sant Pere de RodesFinal approach to Sant Pere de Rodes

Inside Sant Pere de Rodes

Inside Sant Pere de RodesLooking back upon Llanca from the monastery.Looking back upon Llanca from the monastery.

Spain, as seen through a window of Castell de Sant Salvador, above Sant Pere de Rodes.

Spain, as seen through a window of Castell de Sant Salvador, above Sant Pere de Rodes.

Even better in person!

Serious acreage!

After reveling in more fantastic views, we started the parachute-drop descent to Port de la Selva (pop. 1000), losing over 2000’ of altitude in less than two miles.

Sant Pere de Rodes, seen from above.

Sant Pere de Rodes, seen from above.

Port de la Selva, at the end of our multi-day hike.

Port de la Selva, at the end of our multi-day hike.

The funky vaulted restaurant at the Hostal La Tina, Port de la Selva.

The funky vaulted restaurant at the Hostal La Tina, Port de la Selva.

A fisherman plies in trade in Port de la Selva.

A fisherman plies in trade in Port de la Selva.

Once I’ve written it, part two of this photo-journal will feature our journey from Port de la Selva to the French town of Ginestas, and the wedding of Kate’s cousin Sally.  Part three will detail our travel from Ginestas to Barcelona, and our time spent wandering the latter.

 

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My interview with Edge

A strange and fortuitous chain of events has led to me being interviewed by Edge magazine about my career as a game designer.  Please do not download or disseminate this PDF; it was was provided to me as a courtesy by Edge, so I could share it with my friends and family.  Thanks!

Edge Interview

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