Tuesday, December 29, 2015


It's been a second since my last post.  I don't even have a good reason other than being distracted by a whole lot of nothing.  I think the nothingness of Central New York is a bit mind numbing sometimes.  It's easy to get into a malaise unless you make a constant effort to stay engaged.

Something noteworthy that did happen was visiting Portland Maine to see my friend Allie before she moved to the West coast with her new boyfriend.  As much as I've traveled in the Northeast, Maine has always missed me somehow; I HAVE NO IDEA WHY!

For someone who is obsessed by hippie lands like Vermont and Ithaca, lord knows how Portland missed my radar.  Portland is seemingly covered in folks below the age of 40 and about as far from mainstream as it gets.  The downtown is bursting with head shops, secondhand stores, co-ops, fair trade cafes, breweries, cocktail bars and what can only be described as hippie-hipster hybrids that work and patronize all the above.

We stopped by a shop that specializes in French Fries that are fried in duck fat.  It's fittingly called Duck Fat.  Whilst dipping our 4,000 calories worth of fries into various sauces, we drove to the Portland Headlight, a classic lighthouse a few miles outside of town.  It was a perfectly foggy New England day so we got to hear the blast of the horn and witness the flash of the lamp as it warned uncertain sailors of the presence of land.

If Portland is good for anything though, its food and beer…I had far too much of both.  Bull Feeny's is one of the oldest pubs in town, with over 200 whiskies on stand by.  Move around the corner and you'll find a merry band of hippies selling recycled and/or fair trade-organic everything.  Turn right and you'll find the pop corn specialty shop, with flavors like XXXBuffalo and wasabi dill.  Head up Exchange St a few steps further and you can either swing a right and got to the salt shop, wherever everything is made out of…well…salt.  Or swing a left and you can hit Bard Coffee and get a nitro infused coffee that tastes just like a Guinness if you close your eyes.

I could go on all day with the quirky shops and flavorful drinks and dishes, but all I can say in the end is go there!  I HIGHLY recommend Marcy's cafe, the infamous sight where a screaming child and neglectful parent caused the owner to blow her top, making a national news story that would go on for weeks.  The sign above the counter say's it all: "Darla's Place".

See it for yourself and get a big slice of peace, love and "lobstah."

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The 46ers Film

The 46ers Film: 4/5 stars

I've seen a lot of new climbing films in the last couple of months.  Meru was spectacular, Everest was an expected dud, but my favorite was an understated independent film about the mountains I know the best, The Adirondack High Peaks.

The 46ers film goes to show that a climbing movie can be missing the special effects of Everest and the blood chilling risk of Meru and still touch the viewer on a deep level.  Am I biased?  You bet your bottom I am!  However, this film had a warmth and charm about it that would make anyone want to wander through the ADK's.

Directed by the young Blake Cortright, the film interviews those who were aspiring or already have completed hikes on all 46 high peaks.  The film manages to track down some of the oldest 46ers still with us, including a 96 year old woman who was amongst the first 50 to achieve the feat.  The best part of the film was when she retold the story of chasing down a Black Bear with pots and pans until it dropped her lunch.  When asked if she was scared, she replied with a nearly dismissive "no."

You're also given the story of how the Adirondack Park came to be protected, how several "high" peaks fell below the 4,000 foot mark, the inevitable comparison to other mountain ranges and the story of how the mountains can, indeed, be deadly.  

Running an hour, the movie is as beautiful as it is a fantastic chain of personal stories.  A pleasant and heartfelt change from the overly intense films that have been dominating films about the mountains.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Everest: Into Thin Air and a Thinner Story

Everest: 2/5 stars

I'm coming into the Everest film debate a little late, but I just can't help myself.  In my review of Meru, written before seeing Everest, I suspected that the film was going to be too digitally dense, with special effects burying the story of the actual tragedy.  Well, I was right.

The story of the 1996 disaster is well-known in mountaineering circles by now, mostly because of the highest-selling climbing book ever written, John Krakauer's Into Thin Air.  The book was immediately turned into an atrocious made-for-TV film that remained the only depiction of the event until Everest.  The film is not an adaptation of the book though.  In fact, Krakauer had some choice words for the film:

"It's total bull...Anyone who goes to that movie and wants a fact-based account should read Into Thin Air"

However, he may have a personal reason for being upset.  One of the more uncomfortable moments of the film occurs when Krakauer (portrayed by House of Cards actor Michael Kelly) refuses to aid the rescue effort due to a mixture of fear and snow blindness.  Kelly trembles as he utters "I don't want to die man."

I'm not sure which account is accurate, but that calls the film's validity into question.  Aside from the accuracy issues, the acting is generally good, with Jason Clark, Jake Gyllenhaal and Jason Brolin delivering stellar performances, when they actually acted that is.

Everest, like most disaster films, has an issue with giving the viewer a high-quality narrative in-between the avalanches, equipment malfunctions and sudden thunder snows.  Other than the heart-wrenching conversations between Rob Hall and his pregnant wife, it's difficult to develop a solid sense of each climber's humanity, let alone why their risking it all.  The film takes the "they don't even know" method, leaving you to assume why each climber signed-up for the life-threatening struggle.  Unlike Cloverfield or 2012 though, these men and women actually existed and had complex and compelling stories that were glossed over to show how advanced special effects have become.

The difference between a film like Meru and a film like Everest is simply success vs disaster.  The former is a film for climbers and outdoors enthusiast, the later is a Hollywood crowd-pleaser meant for the masses.  Meru has its real-life, harrowing elements, but ultimately wants to show how skilled mountaineers preserver.  Would a film about a successful mountain ascent sell like Everest?  Probably not.  Perhaps that's why the director and screenwriters chose to depict a slow-motion catastrophe that was eerily missing the human element.  There's something macabre in simply watching life coldly snuffed out over a two and a half hour timespan.    

Monday, October 19, 2015

Under the Rainbow is Skaneateles

Just west of Syracuse New York, lies the town of Skaneateles.  Normally this kind of town would barley register on my radar.  It's small, homogenous, uberly rich and, well, boring most of the year.  When I'm not out hiking or something of the sort though, I'm working my butt off at a winery that operates out of the town.  How did I get from political science to managing a wine bar?  I'll save that for another post.  I've been here for over a year now though and have been able to find the character and charm that this town exudes once I started paying attention.  And then, once upon a rainy day:

Skaneateles has never looked so good. With plenty of bars, restaurants, local artisan shops and of course me, the town is well worth a visit.  Just head down to White Birch winery and ask for Stephon.  Drinks on the house.  Cheers.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Letchworth in Autumn

Being the Millennial I am, most of my trips start as Google searches.  When I glimpsed an image of Letchworth State Park, about 30 minutes south of Rochester NY, I was taken by an image of a shroud of clouds surrounding the "Great Bend" in the Genesee River.  I swore up and down I was going to catch it for myself.  Waking up at 4am was the price I had to pay, but look what I was rewarded with in return:

They call Letchworth "The Grand Canyon of the East."  Having been to the actual Grand Canyon, I can say that is a bit of an overstatement, but who cares?  Letchworth has three gorgeous waterfalls and one of the deepest gorges I've ever seen outside of Arizona.  You can hike the entire park, but if you take the most popular route you'll be sharing the hike with the road.

It is a built-up park and always has been.  Some of the trails on the East side of the park follow the path of a canal built in the early 1800's that connected the Allegheny River with the Erie Canal.  Nowadays the park is less industrial and more touristy, with campsites and an Inn just feet from the gorge.  The splendor can't be ruined though, with plenty of secluded points to enjoy in peace.  Let my pictures do the talking though. Cheers!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Meru: Strictly for the Climbers

Brew: Guinness 1759 Edition. 5/5 Stars

I'm a Guinness fanboy so I had to review one of my favorite editions.  Before Guinness made their world famous stout, the original brewmaster made an ale.  This is a throwback to the original.  The malted flavors burst through with sweet caramel and butterscotch notes.  9% ABV. Go find it!

Meru: 4/5 Stars

I know everyone is excited about the new Everest film, but for anyone in the climbing community, you have already heard that tragic story the better part of a hundred times.  Furthermore, all the theatrical effects and creative license taken by its producers (touching the "tip" of the summit, really?) it's not really a climber's film anymore.

Meru is strictly for the climbers (available now for streaming and preorder).  No special effects, no dramatizations, not even a camera man really.  Instead you're left with a portrait of three men, suspended in mid-air, slowly scaling one of the most technically difficult climbs on Earth.

I'll be honest, I never heard of Meru or its notorious "shark fin" until the film.  After a quick bit of research before the film I got a good sense of the daring/insanity in attempting the climb.  The mountain is nearly 21,000 feet of unforgiving mixed-climbing.  The three climbers were far from amateurs though.  Jimmy Chin has been the subject of many articles, always glowing with admiration.  Conrad Anker was the veteran of the crew, having been trained by the legendary Mugs Stump, and credited with finding the body of George Mallory on Everest.  Renan Ozturk was the newcomer.  I've always dreamt of being a climbing dirt bag and living out of my Camry for while.  Renan kicks it up a notch by forgoing the car and even a tent, living out of a sleeping bag in the American Southwest.

I won't spoil too much for you, but I will say that this is actually about three stories in one.  There's multiple climbing attempts and numerous scrapes with death, both on and off Meru.  **Minor spoiler alert**  One of my favorite parts of the film occurs when a storm pins the team in place for about a week.  Having only brought enough food for another couples days, logically it would seem that the expedition was coming to an end, as one member of the team believed.  I couldn't help laughing when the other two members never even considered descending, despite being left with only cheese.  Needless to say, the third member was quite confused.

This is definitely a film strictly for climbers.  What I mean by that is those outside the community will do what they always do when confronted with the types of images and situations mountaineers find themselves in: roll their eyes at best, call us selfish lunatics at worst.  This is what climbing films often look like without the dramatization, I think this is a good thing though.  While the masses fill up seats for the next Everest film, Meru will act as a realistic counter-balance to Hollywood.

Thrilling.  Captivating. Breathtaking.  Heart Breaking.  Go see Meru!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

When a Road Trip Turns South: South of the Border, S.C.

I've traveled to the South Eastern portion of the US once or twice a year for a long time now.  I used to have family in Atlanta, and now an ever increasing number of my girlfriend's family lives in the Carolinas.  Despite being a hardcore, North Eastern Leftist, I always manage to have a decent time in Dixie.

This time we headed down for the merry matrimony of my girlfriend's cousin.  The wedding was on the South Carolina coast, the far more tropical sibling of its northern counterpart.  It made for a incredible setting.

Having driven down in the middle of the night, somehow I missed the tragic comedy called South of the Border.  Driving back in the daytime, I had no choice but to notice.  Before we proceed, let me be clear: DO NOT GO TO SOUTH OF THE BORDER.

Just in case you missed that:

The facility was too intriguing not to go to while I was still ignorant.  For over 100 miles there's billboards announcing the park's existence.  The cost of advertisement in South Carolina must be exceedingly cheap, because I saw no less than three dozen signs announcing I was getting closer and closer to this magic, Mexican-themed fairyland.  I knew it was going to be a trap, but I just couldn't help it.  After all, they were trying reaaalllly hard to get me there.  

I gleefully pulled off the highway to the most bizarre "attraction" I've ever seen.  Playing on the fact the park was just South of the North Carolina border would be one thing.  To take every stereotyped perception of Mexicans and turn it into a theme park was disturbing.  I was too hungry to fully take in the sombrero tower, but as I was in the midst of my frozen burger, I noticed everything was one ridiculous cartoon.  The rides looked ill-maintained and the employees looked like they were going to flee to actual Mexico for better employment. And the food? Best said by one customer with a thick Long Island accent:

"I didn't think you could F*** up a Hot Dog!!! How did you do it?!"
Even the waiter had to laugh at that one.  I walked out into the balmy South Carolina air feeling rightfully suckered.  I'm not sure how the owners raised enough money for all those billboards.  Are there really that many stupid drivers on route 95?  Then again, it must be the billboards that does it.  Have a look:

I know what you're thinking.  It's like the Napoleon Dynamite of attractions; you have to go just to see how bad it is.  DON'T!  Please keep driving.  South Carolina had better things to offer than South of the Border.  You were warned here on Trail Lust.