Sunday, August 20, 2006

Mono Pass Hike: Day 3

[ Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 ]

I awoke the next morning when the stars were still out, and Jessica and I hit the trail at around 6:30 am, hiking in near darkness. The reason for this was that we planned to run ahead of the rest of the group and meet the ferry at Edison Lake. The ferry, which would cut our walking by about 5 miles, left the landing at 9:30 and we still had six miles to go. It didn't seem like all six of us would make it in time, but we hoped to convince them to wait, or else come back for us later.

So Jess and I were already a few miles down the trail when the sunrise began touching the tips of the mountains.

So we wound our way down the river to where it let out into the man-made lake. We made great time, and reached the ferry landing well before the time. The ferry didn't wait for everyone else, but they did promise to return in a few hours to fetch us. So we spent a few hours lounging on the beach, waiting to be rescued...

... which we eventually were... by a pirate boat, which took us across the lake to the furthest inreach of civilization: a boat rental, a cafe and some cabins at the end of a windy dirt road. And a great view looking back in the high country from where we had just come.

[ Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 ]

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Mono Pass Hike: Day 2

[ Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 ]

The next morning, the lake mirrored the mountains perfectly.

We had coffee and oatmeal and savored the sunlight.

After packing up, we climbed up higher and there was a beautiful view to the south, including the lake we had just camped at. Sun and thin air meant that we were both hot and cold at the same time, and we stopped often to catch our breath.

At one point, we heard a loud rumbling that sounded like a jet plane, but then we noticed the plume of dust rising up off the snowfield where an avalanche had just come to rest. Thankfully, it was on the other side of the canyon.

Mono Pass -- 12,000 feet above sea level, and we made it! Apparently this route, which is one of the easiest over the Sierras, was often used by the Mono Indians on the east side of the Sierras to trade with other tribes to the west.

We had lunch at a lake just below the pass. There was nothing but rock and snow and wind - it was like eating on the moon. It was barely hospitable in high summer, so I can only guess what it's like here on a winter night.

Finally, we started off for greener valleys below. Beyond this point we only ran into a small handful of people. A day of walking had wrung out all the pop songs and commercial jingles out of my head, and I became more aware of the sun and trees and water and just how gorgeous everything was.

We made it below tree-line and found a great little campsite right by the stream. The one downside of camping low and by water are the foot-long, carnivorous mosquitoes that feast upon your flesh.

The stream at dusk, while I was shivering and doing the dishes.

[ Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 ]

Friday, August 18, 2006

Mono Pass Hike: Day 1

[ Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 ]

We drove six hours through Yosemite and over Tioga Pass to the east side of the Sierras where our trail began. As usual, Mom was quite happy to drive and leave the hiking to us. This was also the first major backpacking trip for Aunt Kay and Steve, so we decided to have an easy 3-mile first day.

The parking lot at the trailhead was already about 10,000 feet high, which meant we only had about 2,000 vertical feet of hiking to reach the top of Mono Pass, and head cross over to the west side.

We found a nice campsite at Ruby Lake, and we were extremely grateful to stop early since when you have towering peaks to your west the sun tends to set pretty early. I also tend not to sleep very well when camping above 10,000 feet, so it was nice not to be sore on top of that.

Once the sun dropped behind the ridge, it got cold pretty quick. Kay and Steve seemed especially chilled, although they steadfastly refused to complain. We ate a gourmet meal of gnocchi with sun-dried tomatoes (really) and got directly into our sleeping bags.

As the wind died down, the lake became calm and smooth as glass.

[ Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 ]

Friday, August 11, 2006


Well, we made it to DC, stuff and all. Tuesday was truck-packing and goodbyes. Wednesday was a 14 hour drive from Chicago to DC. Thursday was unpacking and this weekend is full of wedding festivities for Eric and Holly. Monday is a job interview and then off to California for a few weeks. At some point I will have a free minute to relax and then blog a bit. 'Til then...

Thursday, August 03, 2006

My Teeth and Moral Hazard

Until this month I hadn't been to a dentist in over two years. This was the unfortunate result of no dental coverage and (truth be told) shocking laziness on my part. Turns out the damage was extensive (yikes), as was the bill (double yikes). Thankfully, we were able to get dental insurance through Laura Jean's new job so we didn't have to choose between our teeth and paying our rent. Since I will also be switching jobs soon, we've been looking at various health insurance options, and the whole thing has got me thinking about our national health system, which leaves 45 million people (and growing) without health coverage, works and doesn't work. The episode with my teeth reminded me of the opening section of a recent article by the always interesting New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell entitled:

It's well worth a read. The take-away points I got from it are the following:
  • Insurance changes people's behavior to some extent. When people don't pay the full cost for some resource (like covered health care) they may tend to use it more, which might lead to wasteful overuse. Economists call this "moral hazard" and it is the intellectual underpinning of the conservative push for Health Savings Accounts and their opposition to universal health coverage (as exists in every other industrialized country).
  • But, in the case of health care, is "more use" really "overuse"? Maybe, maybe not, it seems. Gladwell makes the point that uninsured people not only cut-back on "frivolous" use of the health system (whatever that might mean) but also necessary care and (more importantly) inexpensive preventative care (mammograms, yearly checkups, dental cleanings, etc) that has been proven to save a lot of money in the long run. And indeed, it is often said that universal health care systems are much cheaper than our American system, although I don't know much about the details. Hmmm. I guess since most of us aren't doctors, cutting costs in the health care system by forcing us patients to be more frugal is not really the best idea.
  • Gladwell talks about two models of insurance: (1) social insurance, where the healthy pay for the sick and elderly (in the form of higher premiums or higher taxes), with the assumption that someone will pay for them when they (inevitably) become sick and elderly themselves, versus (2) actuarial insurance (think car insurance) where high-risk people with illnesses pay higher premiums for their care, while the young and healthy pay less. For me, option (1) just makes sense as a good way to organize society, a social contract between generations if you will, while option (2) seems unfair, although good for the insurance companies, no doubt. Driving a car is just different than health care, and shouldn't be treated the same way.
Anyway, I wish I knew more about this stuff, and I'd love to hear other folks' thoughts on it.