Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My life.

Before and during high school, my focus was education (influenced by my father who had grown up an orphan, barely graduating from high school, but since had become a world-renowned engineer publishing numerous books, hundreds of scientific articles, and reaching the top of his profession). My main diversions came from the mountains including fishing, backpacking, skiing, and mountain climbing with a few close friends.

Robert Simons, Lee Morrison, and Dave Frick - Mt. of the Holy Cross

Climbing 14ers with Bill Marquardt and Lloyd Heikes

Lee Morrison - skiing

Bill Marquardt and Robert Simons – Rawah Wilderness Area

Lee Morrison crossing a stream

Since graduating from FCHS, life has continued to be wonderful and extreme - full of numerous very interesting experiences. After high school, I stayed at home and went to CSU graduating (summa cum laude) in Civil Engineering (along with Dave Frick). I had some very boring summer jobs (like classifying snowflakes 8 hours a day as part of a cloud seeding study for the Atmospheric Science department – very boring) and some great summer jobs (finding canal leaks along the Grand Ditch in Rocky Mountain National Park and collecting hydrologic data as part of the Venezuelan International Meteorologic and Hydrologic Experiment – VIMHEX, supporting the development of weather radar) during my college years.

Robert Simons and Tom Richardson – Venezuela 1972

Typical house in Venezuelan countryside

Through the work in Venezuela, I was introduced to life a little different than what some have since called “Vanilla Valley” (Ft. Collins) and began a life of work abroad.
After graduation from CSU, I went on a mission (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) to Quebec for 2 years (taking advantage of all the years of French in junior and senior high). Upon returning, I married a beautiful young woman (Lynn) who I met during my senior year at CSU.

After completion of a masters degree in Engineering again at CSU, we moved to Arlington, Virginia working for a consulting firm (a.k.a., beltway bandit). After a couple of years there and the birth of our second child (as well as taking advantage of the culture of Washington D.C., New York City, and other areas along the east coast), we returned to Colorado and real mountains (skiing on the east coast generally sucks as does the traffic).

After returning to Ft. Collins, and continuing work on a Ph.D. that I started at George Washington University, we got into building houses (also in our spare time where I designed and did part of the construction of the first one then just managed the construction of the next one and used a contractor on a third house) while working full time with a consulting firm that my father and I started (Simons & Associates, Inc., http://www.rksimons.com/) which took me all over the world working on some amazing projects. After about 16 years of college (mostly part-time) I finally earned a Ph.D., again at good old CSU (for what I was doing it was one of the best universities in the world). Things were pretty busy during all this time as our family continued to grow with 3 more children (3 girls and 2 boys).

The two oldest graduated from Poudre, the next two graduated from Rocky Mountain, and the youngest graduated from FCHS. The oldest daughter was on the swim team and a cheerleader. Both sons were valedictorians and played tennis, with the teams winning multiple conference championships and making it individually to the state championships twice each. The middle daughters participated in various sports, photography and other activities. All five are married and we have 4 grandchildren with twins on the way. We left Ft. Collins after the graduation of our youngest and moved to Vail. More recently, we moved to Midway, Utah (a little Swiss village in the mountains) to be closer to kids and grand kids (and Deer Valley has been ranked ahead of Vail for the last 3 years as well as having significantly more snow).

Christmas 2008

I continue to do some part-time consulting out of a home office. I mainly am a ski bum and fly fisherman, and Lynn and I do some traveling. Lynn is an expert in spoiling the grand kids. We have dinner at our home on Saturday evenings for our kids and grand kids (several of whom live within walking distance, as well as our youngest son and his wife who are at the university 30 miles away). I just started writing a book and I have several outlines of scripts for movies in various states of progress; however, the close proximity of world-class skiing as well as the fishing and mountain recreation have not allowed me to make as much progress as I should.

The twins are here!

And now for the extreme stuff:

My youngest brother was a heroin addict. I will always remember visiting him in New York City where he lived in an old apartment building immediately next to the building occupied by the Manhattan Chapter of the Hells Angels. One night I spent there sleeping on the floor with only a coat for a bed (along with the cockroaches and rats).

My next younger brother is gay and an artist.

My mom contracted a bad case of cancer and died decades ago.

My dad committed suicide.

I’ve eaten snakes, alligator, reptiles, bugs, ground up trees and other vegetation, all sorts of strange animal parts, wild animals - raw, hunted and killed for food with my bare hands. I’ve had a couple of interesting eating experiences with stone-age cannibals in the wildest place on earth. I only got sick once from food while traveling (at a restaurant in Jakarta).
I’ve been stopped several times at military checkpoints and held for interrogation while carrying very suspicious looking equipment (streamlined weights that, to some people, look like miniature missiles). I’ve flown into one country and was immediately taken away for prolonged interrogation. I managed to get myself on some kind of list so that frequently when I returned to the U.S., I was questioned. I’ve been ordered to the ground with a very serious assault weapon pointed at my chest and questioned. I’ve had big needles inserted into various parts of my body and the electricity turned on causing muscles to convulse to the point of bending the needles with blood coming out where needles were placed (after being taken underground several levels, maybe so people couldn’t hear the screams).

I’ve been to work about every way conceivable: walking through the jungle wading up to our necks (and beyond) following native guides, wading in rivers or dangling from cable cars, hiking on dry ground, dugout canoes, rubber rafts, kayaks, flat-bottomed work boats, jet-boats (going over class V rapids in the middle of the winter in Idaho – Hells Canyon), airboat, ocean-going boats, swamp buggies, ATVs, hovercraft, tram (the longest single-span in the world and the longest and highest elevation in the world), float planes (ranging from a fabric-covered, bi-wing with an open cockpit to more modern float planes to large ocean-going float planes whose fuselage provides the main flotation), bush planes, numerous types and sizes of helicopters, a range of propeller driven airplanes, commercial airplanes of all types and sizes, Elvis Presley’s private jet (numerous times), other private jets (including a pimped-out 757).

I’ve stayed in a wide range of conditions while working: camping out in tents in the middle of nowhere from hot, steamy jungles to alpine tundra, slept in hammocks in an abandoned military barracks for a period of months with snakes, lizards, bats, scorpions, etc., paid money for a hotel room with a dried cornhusk mattress, a metal box in the middle of the jungle, a building made of tree limbs wired together with a tin roof, a tent with a cot with the floor constantly submerged in icy water (occasionally when it rained hard, the water submerged the cot) on Kodiak Island, a yurt with an electrified fence to hopefully keep the bears out (Katmai National Park), months in a cabin cooking on a wood-fired cook stove high in the mountains, motels and hotels of ranging from one with no heat in winter in Alaska to some of the nicest and best in the world, private guest houses, beach condo on one of the world’s best beaches (in the Caribbean that included areas for those wearing swimsuits as well as topless all the way to the nude section).

Lynn and I have visited the homes (both on the canal with boat access to the Caribbean as well as their new mansion on the beach of a nearby island) of a couple of some of the wildest looking heavy metal rock stars (both husband and wife) and have been with them on their boats and gone snorkeling and fishing with them.

Lynn and the "Rock Star"

I have participated in some amateur sailboat racing. I came in 3rd place in a 50 mile ultra-marathon in Washington D.C. (without any training whatsoever – the next day, however was not very pleasant; come to think about it, neither were the 50 miles). I learned how to race cars from a fellow who won the 24 Hours of LeMans 5 times. I was the owner of a race car with a driver who won rookie of the year (You can now see him occasionally on the SPEED channel as an engineer on a NASCAR team). On a recent trip back to Colorado, I tried to keep it under 130.

I had the opportunity to work on some very interesting projects including:

One that involved the first use of the “God Squad” (various cabinet secretaries of the U.S. Government to override environmental laws), three states (that periodically resort to Supreme Court lawsuits in an attempt to protect themselves and their water), numerous state and federal agencies, federal, public, and private organizations that store, divert, and use water. I worked for more than two decades collecting data, developing and applying computer models, participating in hearings, writing reports in an effort to develop a reasonable way to use water and power in the Platte River Basin among competing interests of municipal water users, agriculture, hydropower, recreation, and improve habitat for a number of threatened and endangered species (whooping cranes, least terns, piping plovers, bald eagles, and pallid sturgeon).

A hydropower project that diverted water from a river that drains the back side of Mt. Everest and experiences GLOF’s (glacial lake outburst floods). This project was so far away that the first step was to build a $190 million dirt road for construction access (1980s dollars).

When flying back out by chopper, we were trying to clear a Himalayan ridge when the cloud ceiling dropped and we were trapped. Eventually, we made it out by going down river all the way to India. To walk out, we figured would have taken several weeks.

Various projects in Alaska (Kodiak Island, Katmai National Park, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park) where the rule was to try to keep at least 50 feet away from the bears.

Nice bear! There are some really tasty salmon in the river – Behind you!

Various projects in South and Central America including a major diversion from the Rio San Francisco, Brazil, river diversion for power in Colombia, flooding problems in a large banana plantation in Costa Rica, riverbank erosion in Argentina, a huge hydropower project in Ecuador.

(There are numerous crocs in the photo below)

A significant amount of our projects involved in litigation. We worked on several U.S. Supreme Court cases – typically between neighboring states. For another case, our client was sued for $6.3 billion dollars and involved conflicts with native-Americans. We won the initial round and it was appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (if you know anything about that particular court) and we still won. One of the key experts on the other side was a next door neighbor, with whom we already had disagreements over competing articles in the scientific literature. On another case, the opposition included Abbie Hoffman (founder of the Yippie movement and one of the Chicago 8 – of the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention fame). Our attorney and the opposition attorney hated each other once resulting in them getting into a fist fight during a deposition. We even had some interesting litigation in Colombia and Bangladesh. What have I learned regarding the legal system – pray you are never personally involved in such a process.

I worked, to a limited degree, on anti-submarine warfare during the Cold War.

Over a period of about 6 years (traveling there for about a month at a time - 4 times per year), I worked in the wildest place on earth – Irian Jaya (currently known as Papua on the western half of the island of New Guinea). Why is it the wildest place on earth?
Dramatic topography and scenery ranging from mangrove and sago palm coastal plains up to 16,000 foot mountains with equatorial glaciers (including the Carstenz Pyramid – one of the Seven Summits of the world [the highest peaks on each of seven continental areas of the planet] You can fly over the area for hours and never see signs of people.

Native population consists of stone-age cannibals. (I had the opportunity to travel all over the area where few, if any, white men had ever been. We usually carried extra food with us to give away. On one expedition, however, we had run low on food and had an interesting meal with the help of natives [luckily it was not us]. On another trip, as we approached a native village by boat, a school of fish starting jumping into the boat causing a great celebration as the natives ran into the water to us to collect the fish for a feast.)
The military attempting to control the area sometimes treat the natives like the American Indians of the old west (i.e., a good Indian is a dead Indian).

There is a loosely organized group rebelling against government control sometimes attacking (killings, hostages, sabotage, etc.). There were several more killed just recently (July 2009).

Taken from MineWeb: Deadly Freeport Grasberg copper/gold mine attacks kill two
A series of incidents at Freeport-McMoRan's massive Grasberg copper and gold mine turned deadly this weekend as two FCX contract employees were killed and several other persons injured.
Author: Dorothy KosichPosted: Monday , 13 Jul 2009

Mountain climbers leading to geologists found, and miners subsequently developed, the largest copper and gold mine in the world in the high mountain area of Irian Jaya bringing significant conflict between development and environment interests and a very interesting clash of modern society with those who know very little more than pure day to day survival.

Mountain Rescue

While working in Irian Jaya, I had the opportunity to participate in the rescue of a group of the mine’s exploration geologists and their survival trainers. They had been up in the mountain and glacier area for high altitude training, and had overdone it. Some of them had the most severe high altitude sunburn I had ever seen (with fairly thick skin and underlying layers burned and falling off their faces). It is, after all, high altitude on an equatorial glacier where the sun can be absolutely brutal. We had previously worked in the area placing glacier monitoring equipment so I knew the area quite well. A couple of us were dropped off by helicopter near their base camp to help organize a few things and get them loaded on the chopper for evacuation. As we were loading up, the loadmaster determined that (even though we loaded none of their equipment) the helicopter could not safely take off at that altitude with everyone on board. I volunteered to stay behind and walk out on my own as that gave them a light enough load for high altitude take off (I did not think I was that fat). The helicopter would not return as the weather typically did not allow flying later in the day due to virtually daily storms.

The Flood

One evening, at the mine town it began to rain quite heavily (noting that, as an example, one of our rain gages showed 12 meters of rain one year, or about 39.4 feet or 472 inches – compared to about 14 inches per year in Ft. Collins on average). Soon the three small rivers that ran through town were on the rampage with the sound of large rocks rolling and crashing downstream with the turbulent, muddy water. As the floodwaters rose out of banks and flowed over roads, through buildings and began to threaten property and life we began to organize a way to get to our stream gaging stations that night and to scope out the damage. As one bridge abutment was eroding away, we crossed over the bridge that led out of town, obtained a vehicle and begin to drive up the mountain pass that led to our gaging stations (only to find the road had been blocked by a landslide). We ordered a caterpillar, in the middle of the night, to clear the road so we could drive on – only to find a second landslide only a short distance up the road. With road travel blocked we walked to the helipad to take a reconnaissance flight at dawn. Sure enough, the pilot was soon there and we took off to get a better view of what had transpired. In the days that followed, we searched for the bodies. Out of the unknown number of dead (perhaps up to a hundred or more), no whole body was ever found due to the extreme turbulence of the rampaging flood and heavy sediment load. The biggest pieces were a headless, limbless torso and a thigh. Everyone else was either ground to shreds or buried.

Landslide caused by heavy rain – note debris from destroyed huts

Truck washed into the river

Photo from inside the chopper as the pilot hovered in the air with one skid balanced on a large rock as the guys pulled in a native with a compound fracture of the femur who was lifted up to us by his buddies from below.

A few things I’ve learned along the way:

A well fed cannibal is a friendly cannibal – at least temporarily.

When you step out of a helicopter in the middle of nowhere and the natives point at your feet and try to talk to you in a somewhat agitated way – you had better find out what is going on and take care of it - pronto. Otherwise, you may end up with very large scars on your body, just like theirs.

Keep your satellite phone in a zip-lock bag when you are walking miles across the jungle in ankle to neck deep water and then trying to cross submerged log bridges you cannot see, but can only feel with your feet to cross flooded streams.

Even though when you toss a bite of sandwich into the river during lunch and the piranha attack it, they usually will leave you alone when you wade into the river.

When traveling in an airboat on a river where there is a possibility of a cable or fence across it – have a steel cage welded over the passenger area to protect you (if not – you risk decapitation and the propeller out back just explodes when the cable meets the spinning blade).

It is not wise to drive across a field of tall grass without a seat belt or you might put someone through the windshield when you hit a 2-foot diameter stump hidden in the grass (or maybe you should just walk).

Keep a good safe distance when you are clearing trees with explosives – and then maybe walk just a little bit farther.
When working on a boat just upstream of a big waterfall - a life vest doesn’t do you much good (Or, don’t work too close to a waterfall and don’t fall overboard).

When sliding down a steep snowfield in your hiking boots – take it a little easy near the bottom as the rocks are hard.

(Natural selection has failed to collect – yet again!)

If your boat motor conks out and you are drifting towards shore, make sure that log you are pushing off is not a crocodile.

It is a good idea to watch the depth-finder even 6 miles out to sea so you don’t run aground. Some people get really upset when you run their ship aground.

How do you find the bodies after a flood in the tropics? Just follow your nose to the scent of rotting human flesh.

Whenever you are spending time in a place (town?) named for its distance along a road such as Mile 50 on the road from Timika to Tembagapura or Kilometro 88 on the way to La Gran Sabana (described in the travel guide as “a dirty little shanty town,” you can be sure you are staying in a really swell place. Or, as a friend said, “I spent a week there last night.”

When traveling some places, you might think twice about drinking the water.

There are some very good reasons why the natives in the rain forest build their huts on stilts or up in trees rather than sleeping on the ground.

Don’t hoist someone up from the ground to a hovering helicopter through trees when there is a chance of a gust of wind or he could end up dead with a broken neck when he is dragged through the trees.

(photo below from National Geographic, February 1996)

Always shake out your clothes, shoes, and anything else you are putting on before you put it on in scorpion country.

Do you know how to make a small fortune racing? Start with a big fortune.

You can get a pretty good idea of how tough someone’s life is by looking at their feet. (photo by Forbes Wilson)

For some people at least, it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.

A quote from a song by Warren Zevon, one of my favorite musicians: “I’ve seen all there is to see and I’ve heard all they have to say. I done everything I wanted to do – yeah, I done that too.”

Photos of a few friends and people I met along the way: