Home Again

I’m home. In fact, I’ve been home for a week, but it took a week for my life to get settled down enough for me to sit down and time to write for pleasure. My trip to Peru was amazing; I can’t wait to go back, and I can’t wait to tell everyone about it. I’ve been talking about it nonstop ever since my flight touched down in Boston, and everyone I talk to wants to see pictures (or at least they say they do…).

I want more than to look at pictures; I want to relive the moments: summiting 17,782 foot Urus East with my wife; climbing to the top of Ishinca (18,143 feet) and sitting on the knife-edge ridge with my climbing partner Scott; bailing of Ranrapalca (20,216 feet) after watching three major rock fall/avalanche events and reaching the Southwest Ridge way later than planned. Those are memories I’ll never forget, but it’s back to work now. And I don’t believe I’ve had a busier month.

We did have challenges. For one thing, don’t ever fly Spirit Air, unless you’re taking a very short trip. We rode Peruvian buses with more amenities. And one member of the expedition got sick for almost the entire trip. She went from pharmacy to doctor to hospital but was never able to figure out what was wrong. She was a trooper, however, and never really slowed down, despite being at 15,000 feet and not having eaten in a week.

I missed a lot while I was gone. I knew I would. Summer is ending, September is starting, and I’m still trying to find my bearings. In Berlin, political season has been ramping up and it’s getting down to the wire on the biomass projects. Lots going on. But I’m still catching up.

I’ve got a couple extracurricular North Country projects lined up, one for the New Hampshire Charitable Fund and one for the New Hampshire Grand Initiative. I’m also enrolled in WMCC’s Leadership North program, and taking a couple classes at Plymouth State University. Plus I’ve got a city to cover…

I’m still waiting to hear from United States Forces—Iraq about embedding with troops there. We’ll see how that goes. Lots going on, almost more than I can handle. But that’s what keeps life interesting.

OK, I’m back, I posted a few photos, and now it’s time to get to work. It’s a short week this week, with the Labor Day holiday, and because of my disorientation I’ll need all the time I can get to fill the paper. It’s time to get to it!

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Down South

Well, today I went to 14,000 feet to get used to the altitude, and for my trouble I got a splitting headache. Tomorrow we are headed to a nearby rock climbing are to test our climbing skills at altitude, and then we’ll head east to begin our adventure in earnest.
I have to admit, walking around here, climbing seems like a frivolous thing to be writing about. I’m happy to do it, but the poverty, the inequity and the ecological degradation seem more pertinent.
But the market for such stories is limited. Stories about leisure and travel sell, stories about poor people in developing countries don’t.
I’m really interested in this opportunity in Iraq, and I am hoping to maybe leverage that experience into more of that type of work–international reporting of consequence. I get to do that kind of work at the Reporter, from time to time breaking truly important stories. I’d like to do that more places.
Regardless, I’ve got an interesting story here, and it’s great experience. I’ve been able to get a few of the photos I need, but as we are just getting into the mountains I’ve got a lot more to get. Mostly I’ve just got to have a great time so I have something positive and upbeat to write about. That shouldn’t be too hard, as long as I don’t ascend 14,000 feet in two days again.

Packed…

My two bags are packed to the limit, and I still don’t have a place for my cameras. I’ve got ice tools, crampons, a tent and sleeping bag, ropes, a harness, and all sorts of other gear.  I’ve still got to add socks and flip-flops to the mix, but mostly I’m there.

This is a project that might make me a couple thousand dollars, in addition to providing me with a great vacation. Working at the paper is a good job, but it isn’t lucrative enough to convince me to give up other opportunities. I’ve got to chase them just to make it all come together.

In many ways I’m like Berlin: I’ve got to diversify. My staple industry just doesn’t pay the bills the way I’d like it to, so now I’ve got to figure out how to spread myself around to make that work.

I just finished a video project for a nonprofit client, making three short videos aimed at their various demographics. (These are the rough cuts. I just burned the final DVD today, but I’m not going upload updated clips to YouTube before we leave tomorrow.)

These are another example of what working in the modern media landscape means. It pays to have multiple skills, because as newspapers change they are edging out the promise of a secure profession. Having a bit of photo, video and audio skills, plus some design experience and website development, really helps. It makes it possible to live in the most seemingly impossible places, like northern New Hampshire.

I’ll be chasing after another branch of my diversification in the coming weeks, and then again when I head to Iraq (hopefully) this fall. And piecing it all together, if I can make it happen, should be quite rewarding.

It’s like reviving your economy with a prison or two, a biomass plant, a resurgent paper mill and some tourism dollars—not the same as the old model, but it can work if it’s the right combination.

So while my packs are almost packed, in some ways it’s my schedule that’s even more packed. At least every piece is baggage I’m excited to carry.

More Projects…

I am in the process of finishing up everything I need to do before I travel to Peru for three weeks of alpine climbing and work. In reality, those two are one and the same—I’m trying to put together the materials for a feature length article for an outdoor magazine about climbing on the east side of the Cordillera Blanca, the main climbing destination in Peru. Traditionally everyone climbs there from the west, based in Huaraz, but my climbing partner and I will be visiting the other side of the range, which is supposedly remote and untracked.

I’m taking my cameras in addition to my ice tools and crampons, and hopefully I’ll come back with enough material to pull the article together. I’m not much of a travel writer, choosing instead to focus on hard news, but I have a feeling if I can pull together the photos I can make this happen. It is a little disconcerting, however, to be going to South America with $4,000 in camera equipment when I’ll be spending most of my time in a tent.

It been interesting in the lead up to this, because as I’ve been getting ready to leave it seems more and more keeps happening around Berlin. Developments with the biomass projects and the Fraser mill are rapidly changing, and I’ve been trying to keep on top of them while preparing to leave.

I spoke to the woman who will be filling in for me for about an hour this morning to catch her up to speed on all of this. She will working in my stead for the three weeks I’m gone, so hopefully she got enough information to move forward.

I have to say, however, it is tough in an organization like the Reporter, where contacts and institutional memory are limited to individuals. I only have a year and a few months experience, but that has been invaluable recently in making connections that break stories. What the community needs is a reserve of those types of connections, not a shallowing of the well.

But I’ll only be gone a few weeks, which, in reality, isn’t that long. A lot will undoubtedly happen, but at the same time much will stay the same. That last part is unfortunate for the region, which needs so much to change.

More Energy, as Always

Again, as is usual, this week I wrote about energy in Berlin. I found something interesting when looking over the power purchase agreement between PSNH and Laidlaw. If you’re following the discussion be sure to check out the Reporter on Wednesday. If you can’t wait until then get a copy of the PPA and look on page 11. I don’t think anyone will be surprised, but it is confirmation of lots of people’s speculation.

Aside from that, there was good news on the Cascade mill gas pipeline project this week. We shift from biomass to methane and natural gas. If that mill goes down it’ll be pretty dark for a number of families around the Androscoggin Valley. It seems AVRRDD might have averted that fate. Quite a task for a refuse district. I’m not sure how that fits with their mission, but it certainly is something they’ve been working hard on for several months. Again, to learn more check out Wednesday’s Berlin Reporter. I’m headed to Berlin shortly for my last day before flying to Peru tomorrow, so I better get on my way.