YouTube Channel:


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Don’t cry for me Argentina? Sometimes I want to.

Looking at what’s been difficult so far in Buenos Aires. Part 1.

Today I went for a run. Cool. Thanks for sharing. What’s new?

Well, I’ve been running in the park every day, and the grass and the trees make it so I don’t succumb to wilderness deficit disorder. This morning I thought I’d run along the river. I ran up Pampas (that’s a street), and got to the river. Floating trash was what I found.

Buenos Aires at first glace is a cosmopolitan, South American headlight with rich European roots. At second glance, it’s covered in dog poop and trash. That is not an exaggeration. Because Argentina has changed governments so many times, there is a complete lack of structure. People litter because there are no laws against it, and no one says anything if you let your dog poop on your neighbor’s doorstep. A common response to the lack of a litter law is “How would it be enforced?”

Trash is taken by garbage trucks to large landfills outside the city, and left to forget about.

As far left as anyone says Argentina may be, they don’t do a whole lot to stifle the free-market. Though the free market doesn’t stop people from littering, it’s done something else that’s pretty interesting.

Buenos Aires has no government-sponsored recycling program. Private enterprises fulfill said roll. They offer a monetary incentive for bringing them reusable materials, such as cardboard, plastic, metal, and paper. Some people get it, and separate their trash. Others do not. “Cartoneros,” who are made up of the poor and homeless, go digging through everyone’s trash to reclaim recyclable materials. They take them in their giant carts to the private companies in order to have money for food.

Though I perceive this to be a pseudo-bastardized version of a private welfare-system, it extremely interesting from an economics perspective. I just wish the city would also offer an incentive for cleaning up the streets of the city as well.

On my run today, I passed a rainforest-charity organization in the park that was collecting plastic bottles in order to recycle them. It helped me realize that even though Buenos Aires is dirty, and only cleaned by the rain that falls from the sky,
“Hay gente maja por todo sitios,” which means that there are cool people everywhere. People are inherently good, and when I see the opposite of apathy manifested throughout the world, it makes me feel better. It makes me feel at home, and it makes me feel like I’m not the only one who wants to at least try to create a better future.

Living in my apartment for the first two weeks, I assumed that to the Argentines, recycling was a nuisance, and that I was going to have to get used to throwing cardboard away. I’m happy that I was wrong.

95% of my trash is either recyclable or compostable. The other 5% is made up of the bags the store owners give me before I can say “I don’t need a *silent expletive* bag.” I figured out the recycling deal, but what do I do with my banana peels? In a landfill they turn into methane, which is a greenhouse gas WAY worse than carbon dioxide, and I can’t just throw them in the woods like I do at home when I’m too lazy to bury them in the garden.

The railroad tracks in Buenos Aires are lined with broken bottles, plastic, and other sorts of trash. Since “littering” is legal, I figure I’ll make my own compost pile, which will just turn into soil. No one will think twice about it. All of my waste is now sorted out. Strange, huh?

I’m fully aware that I can’t change the Argentines. They have to realize for themselves that living in a landfill with dog poop everywhere is disgusting. They have to realize that leaving diapers on the beach is absolutely foul, and that when you throw your bag of chips out the window of your car, no one is going to pick it up, and if karma is real, your child has a good chance of choking on it. That being said, getting used to all of this for these first two weeks has made me have to step back a few times and tell myself, “This is why you’re here.” Going out of your comfort zone is how to mature as a person, not because you’re making yourself do things you don’t like, but because you force yourself to adjust to what you have, and make something new a part of you.

I won’t cry for you, Occupy Wall Street: Part 2.

Remember the cartoneros? The people that dig through the trash in order to eat? Some of them are older guys with scraggly beards. Others are families. Some look just like the kids I take kayaking at summer camp…the ones that I sing songs with? Yeah, they’re digging through the trash so they can have dinner.

There are social problems in the United States. Everyone should have healthcare. The rich take advantage of the poor. Our financial sector is corrupt. I’m a yellow-dog democrat, and I fully understand the cause of Occupy Wall Street, even if those who are protesting have no idea what they’re marching for. What I’d love for them to realize is how good they have it compared to these kids, and how much opportunity they’ve been given just for living in the United States. Would their time be better spent helping those who are even less fortunate, instead of protesting income inequality? The thing about income inequality in the United States is that the only thing you need to make it is knowledge, common sense, and desire. Humans are capable of so much more than we think we are, and seeing those who are leagues poorer work twice as hard for a quarter of what we make might make us reconsider asking for help from our government when we don’t necessarily need it. Occupy Wall Street makes people think; I think that is its biggest achievement. Beyond that, I think some of the squatters might do better to vote and support the American left, and go find a job as opposed to complaining about not having one.

Was that last paragraph insensitive? Yes. Unemployment is very real, and I’m someone who has always had enough good food to eat, good clothing, a good education, and a loving family. You have the right to tell me to shut my mouth because you and other people have it way harder than I do. What I’m saying here is that some people, not the hard-working, yet unfortunate populace, don’t believe in themselves and look to and blame Uncle Sam for everything. My point is that that isn’t how it works. While I firmly believe in wealth re-distribution programs, pulling ones own weight is something people need to start doing more of; somewhere there’s someone who has it three times as worse, but works three times as hard to get one third of the benefit.

More commentary on Argentina's current and past political predicaments to come. I don’t know enough about it to pass judgement right now.

My daily life on the surface, February 26th, 2012.

Buenos Aires has taken some getting used-to, I think I’m doing a decent job of working through that stage.

I live in a nice neighborhood. It’s called Las Cañitas. On the street below me are several small supermarkets, a fruit and vegetable store called “Frutihorticola,” a fishmonger, a butcher, a cheese shop, about five bakeries, and a natural foods store with a really cool young lady who runs it.

I’ve joined a gym with a pool. It’s 400m away from my front door. The pool is closed until 2/28, so I’ve been walked 30 minutes/2 miles to another branch. The sidewalk there is pretty clean and smooth, so I can walk barefoot without worrying too much.

I was running in the parks and on the sidewalks for a while, but cement is so incredibly hard. I now run nightly on the golf course after it gets dark. There is never anyone out there, and I just duck through a hole in the fence. I sometimes see dogs, but they just run away. The only think anyone could really do is tell me to leave, considering it’s a public course. I still do tempo workouts in the park on the smaller dirt loops. They’re great for intervals, but the perimeter of the golf course is 1.63 miles…something I can’t complain about.

It’s pretty common in Argentina and Latin America for guys to yell pickup lines at random women on the street. When I run in the park, I get yelled at by women, and I’ve heard that it never really goes that way. Sure it’s a compliment, but it’s kind of annoying after a while. I suppose I’m asking for it though, with the short shorts, shirtless frame, fast and light running form and long blonde hair flying in the wind.

In the few weeks before classes start, I’m taking an intensive Spanish course at di Tella. It’s interesting when we have political discussions, but I already know all of the grammar specifics that we’re learning. The grade doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t transfer back as anything, so I’m really there for the Argentine culture and to meet people. Not a bad deal.

With some extra free time, I’ve been cooking a lot. Here are some of the things I’ve made:

-Salmon in the oven with rice and green beans.
-Rice and beans in lots of varieties
-Mussels with rice pasta and sundried tomatoes
-Lots of eggs and tortilla with beets and other vegetables when I don’t have the energy to do something new
-Steak with potatoes and home-made ketchup
-Beef heart with onions, carrots, and potatoes
-Rice flour and sugar-free banana bread with pecans and amaranth seeds
-Spinach salad with blue cheese, apples, walnuts, olive oil and balsamic vinegar

I don’t really like cooking chicken, but I supposed I’ll have to get over it. It’s not the texture or anything, I’ve just always like cooking other things. Gretchen made chicken, pesto, and tomato crepes the other day which were really good. I might have to try something like that.

I’ve been trying to staff of wheat lately, specifically because I just feel a lot better when I don’t eat at lot of it. The only things I’ve tried are the Argentine pastries, as life is too short to not enjoy sweet things on occasion. Chocolate and dulce de leche ice cream is also amazing.

This is a general update of what’s going on. Other posts will be more in depth, of course.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia

There is far too much beauty in Chilean Patagonia for my words, pictures and video to show, but I’ll do my best. If you’re reading this, and have questions about traveling to Torres del Paine, please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions.

The night of Feb. 1st, I spent the night in Puerto Natales. It’s a small port (on the ocean) at the foot of the Patagonian Andes.

It’s incredibly reminiscent of Telluride, Colorado.

Really nice people everywhere, and great food on every corner. I ate at a vegetarian café called “El Living.” I highly recommend it, vegetarian or not. Super inexpensive for what you get, and super healthy.

In the morning, I took a bus up to Torres del Paine, and talked to family that was traveling around South America for the year with their 11 and 13 year old daughter and son. They’re learning Spanish early, and becoming quite wordly, which is incredible. Evelyn, the daughter, told me “If you ever have kids, you need to take them here when they’re our age, and not wait until they’re older.” The parents and I agreed and chuckled. We saw Andean condor, flamingo, guanaco (wild llama), and Darwin’s Rhea (flightless, ostrich-like bird) from the windows.

At Hosteria los Torres, I took a right on the Paine Circuit, and headed towards Campamento Seron.

There isn’t much I can write to describe the deciduous mountain landscape that is Chilean Patagonia, but I can show you.

I hike alone, so lots of thoughts and songs fly through my mind as I walk. Like running, it clears my head to say the least, and I find myself in a place of deeper thought, while at the same time not really choosing what to think about.

My pack is lighter than others. It’s a 45 liter ultralight (if you will), so I can’t fit the kitchen sink in it. This is what I had with me:

Food (heaviest item…calorie dense is key, since I chose not to cook with a stove):
Banana chips
Sunflower seeds

Sleeping bag
Sleeping pad
Bivvy (Small one-person tent)
First-Aid kit
Water bottle
Water purifier (which I didn’t need)
Contacts, glasses, travel tooth brush + paste, but nothing more as far as toilettrees go.
Wallet + Passport + Phone (lifelines)

No cotton except a bandana
Wool socks + light synthetic socks
Hiking boots (zero drop of course)
Wool long johns
Zip-off light weight pants
Short sleeve tech top
Capilene long sleeve top
Heavy fleece

The only thing I forgot were my rainpants…I unpacked and packed my pack to make sure I had everything, and forgot them on my bed in Buenos Aires.

Passing Seron, I headed to Camping and Refugio Dickson. It was a long day, about 17 miles. Walking is different than running, especially walking with a pack, so I was decently sore.

At Dickson, I met a nice couple from San Francisco who had been traveling down South America. The bugs were pretty bad, and I’m not allergic to mosquito saliva, so nothing happens when they bite me, but even so having 20 on my leg at once was annoying to say the least.

Refugio Dickson is similar to a hut on the Appalachian Trail. It’s on the side of Lago Dickson, which is a glacial lake. The water is incredibly cold, and you can drink it straight up. It tastes great!

In the morning, I started another 17 mile day to Campamento Paso.

I passed Campamento Perros, where Charlie the fox was hanging out.

There I bought some salami. Animal fat is an incredible fuel, especially when walking. Nut and seed fat/carbs/protein is great, but you can’t digest it as well.

After Perros was the John Garner Pass, which everyone talks about. It’s a part of the circuit that takes you higher up, and through the weather. It’s like the top of any mountain in the white mountains…lots of rocks, cairns etc. I walked through a snow storm, but the sun came out afterward, and looking down over the glacier was incredible.

There's a bird in this picture:

I continued down through the woods to Paso, where I set up my tent, and ate my granola and sunflower seeds with some students of Santiago. Some Chileans speak well, but these kids had rocks in their mouths. I speak Spanish, but Chileno is ridiculous.

Day three was incredibly long. 22 miles from Paso to Refugio Cuernos, in the rain.

This section was about 80% burned from a fire that an Israeli Tourist set by lighting his toilet paper on fire. It’s not like there are a huge amount of signs specifically telling you to pack out your trash toilet paper or anything…

The fire was devastating, depressing, and is going to take 80 years to fully recover. Fires help coniferous forests open their cones and drop their seeds, but that’s a different biome than Torres del Paine. It’s a temperate deciduous forest, which fire isn’t a part of. Even though it rains and rains and rains, the intense winds dry everything out making it just…burn.

Passing Italiano, which was closed, I continued for another 90 minutes to Cuernos, which was packed, as it’s the only open campsite between Grey and Refugio Torres.

The wind was insane that night. I’ve never seen so much wind. Ever. Consistent, 50 mph+ gusts, blowing the water up off the lake. Tents were literally flying away. Think Wizard of Oz. I set up my bivvy underneath some bushes, and the wind didn’t touch it. Definitely a plus for having a small tent.

Sat on the porch with three Chilean dudes and played the ~5 songs I know on guitar, and sang to theirs. They knew how to play Californication, but didn’t know the lyrics. We did some entertaining.

Day four was rain, sleet, hail, and snow in the same day. I hiked up the French Valley to Campamento Britanico. I was so incredibly wet…wringed my socks out, after taking off my “waterproof” hiking boots a few times. Oh well. Valle Frances was beautiful though.

That night I brought my sleeping bag (and myself) into the refuge to dry a bit, and talked with a couple from the Netherlands who were traveling during the recession. They had beef WOOFing for a bit, and were working their way down Chile. I also talked to some climbers from Montreal about climbing…something I’d like to take up in the future.

Day five, I walked over to Hosteria Los Torres, took a nap after eating a wonderful cheeseburger, and then walked up to Refugio Chileno to try and get a sunrise glimpse of the towers. It rained all night, and my bivvy was a lake. Next time I use it, I will be bringing a tarp and rope to actually make a decent rain fly. In the refuge, I talked to a girl named Mica who working there. She was marrying her fiancé in the fall. He was from Punta Arenas, but they had met in Colombia. When I walked into the hut, she had The Tallest Man on Earth playing, so that started our conversation. She had just finished a masters in public health at BU, had an undergrad degree in anthropology, and had studied in Bolivia a while back.

There was an MRG sticker on Chileno!

Day six was more rain, so I hiked back down the trail, and took the bus back to Puerto Natales.

I found a hostel, had an amazing (for about $20) dinner, and crashed. It was salmon wrapped in jamon Serrano, over potatoes with cream, spinach, and walnuts, with blueberry jam on the side. I even bought calafate (Patagonian blueberry) mousse for dessert. So good. The one souvenir I bought was a Patagonia flag. Definitely worth it.

This was February 7th, and I had one more day in Chile before my flight back, so I decided to go riding in the mountains with some too-legit-to-quit gauchos, but that’ll come with the next post.

Friday, February 10, 2012

OTC to Chilean Patagonia

Got back from the OTC on the 26th, packed, got some new contacts etc., and headed up to Vermont to see all of the people I love, after going to my Dad’s house to see him, Nancy, and Sam. Went skiing at Mad River Glen for the first time on Saturday and Sunday. I hadn’t skied since freshman year due to knee surgery and Spain, but it went well. Super icy, but it was fun. 180cm skis + tele turns + icy bumps isn’t easy…I literally have to do jump lunges down the mountain for anything to work out. Saturday night got to see Jill, which was great. Had breakfast Sunday morning with Kaleigh, Gretchen, Em, and Dominique, which was great. I made eggpeppercheese dishes, and Emily made pumpkin pancakes. Went to Slade dinner Sunday night…so bomb. I love Slade food.

Left Littleton on the afternoon of July 30th. Said goodbye to Grammy, Mom and Matt. Overnight flight to Buenos Aires. Sat next to a gorgeous girl named Lucila from San Isidro. She had a boyfriend from Switzerland, of course. We talked about buying iPhones, Pentathlon (it somehow always comes up), windsurfing in Buenos Aires etc. Dropped my stuff off at my apartment, and headed back to the airport.

Flew from BsAs to Santiago, and missed my connection because customs couldn’t decide if my Pepperoni was cooked or not. Slept for a few hours in the terminal on my sleeping pad, and caught the next flight that left around 5. Got into Punta Arenas around 09:00 and caught a bus to Puerto Natales, which is the capital of the Chilean Province of Magallanes. Punta Arenas is on the Strait of Magellan. It’s 53 degrees south latitude. I’ve now been farther south than I have been north. The Gatineau river in Quebec is at 46 degrees north.

Pentathlon, Life, and what I want to be.

I’ve spent just over a month in Colorado Springs, at the OTC, training, training, and training. It’s been unreal. I leave tomorrow morning for Boston.

When I first got here, just after the fall semester ended, I was in normal-people “great” shape, but not in Harry Greene “great” shape. I was a student who was training on the side for a sport that acts like a full time job.

Where am I now? I’m a bit further along. I’d say I’ve done about a semesters’ improvement in around three weeks. I’m dead serious.

There’s a reason they call it the Olympic Training Center. I wake up in the morning, start training, and stop before dinner, read after dinner, and then go back to bed. The pool is a 6-minute walk away from my dorm room. Fencing is 5 minutes away from the cafeteria. There are trails to run on about 2 miles away. I have structure in my day. It’s not 20 degrees outside (usually).

Typical week:

Monday, Wednesday, Friday:
Fence 8-10
Shoot 10-11
Run 12-1
Swim 3:30-5
Dryland training for swimming 5-5:30

Tuesday, Thursday:
Running or track workout: 9:30-11
Shoot: 12-1
Swim 3:30-5
Usually fencing footwork and target practice somewhere in there.

Long run in the morning
Swim in the afternoon
Shoot at some point individually

Sunday: Competition or day off

I eat and sleep like a mother in between all of this.

I fence with quality fencers who push me, and give advice. They react correctly. Janusz is an incredible coach. I don’t even get private lessons yet, and I’m still improving drastically.

G pushes us in the pool. Long course meters at altitude absolutely sucked at first, but I got used to them. Workouts I couldn’t fathom a month ago are now fun. We get our strokes recorded and analyzed with an accelerometer. It doesn’t get any better than that.... My stroke has improved tremendously over the past three weeks, and I can feel it. I’m more efficient, and I love it.

I’m running the most I’ve run in years, consistently, without pain. I went on a 13-mile long run at altitude the other day, got back and realized that my average mile split was 7:04. Justin and I weren’t pushing. It felt great. I’m faster than I was two and a half years ago with UVM Cross Country when I was running 50 miles per week at sea level, in the summer, after a great base.

I hit 5 shots in 12 seconds the other day. It was during practice, and without a heart rate, but I’m happy with it to say the least. Two months ago it took me about 40 seconds. No lie. I can consistently hit 5 shots in 20 seconds without (and sometimes with) a heart rate. It’s really all about the front sight and developing the right muscle memory.

What does all of this mean? It means that Pentathlon is that much more tangible. It means that when I focus on something exclusively, without distractions, I get better. A lot better. Who would have thought?

After junior worlds, and the all of the “How did it go?” I got from everyone, my parents didn’t have much faith in me. I try not to blame them, since they don’t come from athletic backgrounds, but to be honest it put a bitter taste in my mouth. They support me financially, and I can’t be more thankful for that, but the little things that get thrown into conversation that show that they only like Pentathlon because it’s resume material doesn’t really help with the mental edge. When I feel like my head is going to explode in the pool, I need my own positive thoughts flying through my head, as opposed to doubt. This winter break, I proved to myself (and hopefully to them) that I am competitive. I improved 300 points, passed Americans that I haven’t beaten before, and am 200 points away from the next one up. I went from 11th at nationals to 6th at this passed World-Cup qualifier.

I have a good idea of who reads my blog, but to be honest this post is more for my own benefit. I’m at a time in my life where I believe in myself, and to quote Steve Prefontaine, “Having a true faith is the most difficult thing in the world…many will try to take it from you.” I’m sitting here at 11 pm, typing, not having packed anything yet, and I have to get up reasonably early. There’s a reason I’m here right now. I need to tell myself that as running is real, so is pentathlon. It may not be pure, but it’s brought a sense of verisimilitude to my life.

I’ll be taking four business courses in Spanish in Argentina. Hitting on the realism side of things, I won’t be able to train as much as I want to. Instead of 25 training sessions per week, I might have 12, but that’s life. That’s college. What I want to convey is that after I’m done with school in two and a half years, it will be time. I’ll be fast enough in the pool by then. Fencing will be better. I’ll be in running shape, and fast. Shooting will be there. Riding will be fine as usual. I’ll then have a year until I have to be on my game…to become a true elite athlete, and then another year until the games. After that, life starts. Until then, I sacrifice what I need to in order to become he who I envision.

One might think that if I just train and study, I’ll end up without a social life. The funny thing is, the more I train, and the more time I spend with good people who understand this lifestyle, the closer we get. I train with the same good people, eat meals with the same good people, and shoot the shit with the same good people every day. I’m sorry, but when you’re all fighting for a common goal, that’s how friendships are made (highschool cross country anyone?). When I first got to the OTC in August, and met everyone in person for the first time, I didn’t know how to act. I had heard about Margaux for instance that it was a good idea to “just get on her good side.” I had heard that Pentathlon was catty, political, and that people weren’t actually that cool. Hoooooo man, is that complete bullshit or what? Margaux is fucking awesome. Everyone is awesome. Normally, after I’m around people for a bit, I tone down the filter a bit, and just say Harry Greene things. Some people get sick of my gags, nonsense, stupid humor, etc. What’s weird is that people here…don’t. They spit it right back. They make the same kind of social commentary that I do. They say things that I would hesitate to say in front of other people…and it’s perfect. When I break into song, Margaux sings with with me. When I talk about how showering and soap are completely optional, and how food is sacred, Justin is right there with me. When I make strange faces at Sammy and Rendy, they make strange faces right back. When I ask Janusz if I can wear spikes for the combined event (which involved running over the fencing strips), he tells me “Yes, but only if you take them off every time you run across the strips, and up to the shooting zone.” At dinner with RC (Greco-Roman wrestler), the bobsledders, the fencers, Tucker the paralympic swimmer, Andrew the gymnast, stuff gets brought up that I thought only I talked about… You know how when you know someone really well, you can set them up for witty remarks, and you both just understand each other? I do that here with people I’ve just met, and it works. All of the negative energy just gets blasted into space by the positive vibes that people send out, and it’s perfect.

Athletes seem to be a different breed, no matter where they come from. It’s not about their physical ability or what they’ve done, it’s about the mindset. It’s about trying to be a better person.

Sometimes at home, I’m perceived as arrogant, cocky, a show off, lacking in modesty, you name it. The funny thing is, I haven’t gotten that here once. Not once. Strange, huh? I’ve been called “Someone who just stepped out of an REI catalog,” “Mr. American Man,” and some other stuff that I can’t remember right now, but it’s all viewed as a good thing. My point is that there’s a difference between confidence and arrogance. When you do what you do with conviction, and you’re relatively good at it, and you’re proud of yourself for being yourself, you’re not arrogant, you’re doing life well, and that’s a good thing. Sometimes it feels like other people resent you for it. Yes, I’ve been handed this opportunity by my parents. Yes, I’m relatively well-off. Do I take it for granted? No. Am I going to give all of this back to the youth of tomorrow? Of course! That’s why I want to do what I want to do as a career! Also, living and training among Olympians makes me a small fish. I no longer get called “Hercules,” and I like it. I like going out of my comfort zone. That’s what life is about. When you’re a small fish, no one’s going to say that you’re arrogant. When you’re a big fish, some people resent you for it, because some people just don’t have the drive to be the best that they can be. Funny how that works. If cocky is the converse of apathetic, consider me a large rooster.

My family runs an international overnight summer camp in Maine, and a day camp in Massachusetts. I talked to Rob Stull (president of USA Pentathlon) about life for a while, and he told me that I’d be crazy not to continue with Pentathlon. With the people you meet all over the world, with my International Business major, I’d be stupid not to do it. I like Rob. He’s a good guy, and not just because he tells me what I want to hear. As I recall, that statement was unprovoked by me.

What I’m trying to say with this is that if I were to send a letter back to 12-year-old Harry Greene, I think he’d be happy. I want to keep it that way.

What I’m getting at with the first half of this post is that I can never take what I have for granted. People say that you never realize what you have until it’s gone. When I come back and read this in the future when I’m starting another stint at the OTC, I’d like to tell myself to work as hard as I humanly can, because I only get this chance once. From day 1, do it. Please. Fence like you mean it. Beat the pool to death. Run strong, run smart. Focus on your god-damned front sight.

You only live once. Work hard, train hard.