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[personal profile] philena
That "and" in the subject line meant to be taken more as contrastive than conjunctive: in other words, I have run across two types of switchbacks in recent memory, one of which was "civilized" while the other was "efficient."

What's that, you say? What are switchbacks?

Switchbacks, gentle readers, are a method of making a steep climb longer but shallower. Instead of going straight up a hill, you go back and forth, climbing a little bit on each leg, and then "switching back" so as not to go too far out of your way in terms of lateral distance while you cover the vertical distance. Now, good switchbacks are a careful balancing act, because you don't want to make people work too hard by making each leg too steep, but on the other hand you don't want to create too much extra lateral distance in building a path that covers the vertical distance slowly. I'd never really consciously thought about this before, until two weekends ago I discovered what happens if you do switchbacks badly.

The park in question: Olompali State Historic Park, which is right on the way to Mr. Philena's parents, and which we'd been meaning to stop and check out more thoroughly for a while now. Well, Mr. Philena did his research and found that there's about a ten-mile round-trip hike which takes you to the top of "Mt" Burdell. I write "Mt" in quotation marks because it's only 1558 feet high, and, to come to the point, the summit of "Mt." Burdell is not five miles from the parking lot. As far as I can tell from Google Maps, the summit of Mt. Burdell is about 1.1 miles from the parking lot. Why, then, was what could have been a nice little 2.5-mile stroll a ten-mile hike? Because of poor switchbacks. Figure A below demonstrates the problem.

Figure A: Bad switchbacks. Note the excessive use of lateral distance to cover not very much vertical distance.As you can see, the absurd backing and forthing of the switchbacks adds something like four times the necessary distance to get to the summit. Mr. Philena, who considers "hikes" like this more about the journey than the destination, very charitably calls these "gentlemen's switchbacks," or "civilized switchbacks," meaning that you could do this hike in spats and a morning suit. I, on the other hand, consider it ridiculous to hike nearly two hours hours to get to the top of a mountain that I could have reached in forty-five minutes. (And the view from the top wasn't all that great, either.)

By contrast, the hike we took yesterday, up to the summit of Mt. Diablo, made much better use of switchbacks, illustrated below in Figure B.

Figure B: Good switchbacks. This hike was of a similar length as the hike in Figure A (about 10.5 miles), but the path gains almost thrice as much elevation (3500 feet)--in large part because of a judicious, balanced use of switchbacks.

Now, it is quite possible that my fairly new snootiness with respect to switch backs is the result not of my recent, disillusioning realization that not all trail crews know what they're doing, but rather because I'm in somewhat better shape than I've been in for a while. See, I took a volleyball class this last semester, just for fun, and it got me sweating twice a week for an hour in a way that I haven't experienced since the days when I was regularly ice skating or fencing. And it was great! I loved it! And on the way up Mt. Diablo I didn't have to give up in exhaustion at Murchio Gap, but instead cruised right on up the Bald Ridge Trail to Prospector's Gap and thence to the summit. I won't say I did this all without breaking a sweat (indeed, I sweated so much that I had a fine crust of salt covering my face, making reapplication of sunblock awfully unpleasant), but I did it--which is more than I could say last time I attempted a Diablo summit. Clearly, this exercise thing has something going for it, so I'll be taking volleyball again next semester,* and I've signed up for a yoga class this summer. It meets four days a week, 7-8:30, which is perfect, because . . .

I'm going to be teaching Intro Linguistics! It's just me. I'm the instructor of record, not simply leading TA discussion sections. I'm writing the syllabus, giving the lectures, coming up with the homeworks, and it's going to be awesome! It meets at 10:00 in the mornings, so the timing of the yoga class gets me up and moving, with time for a shower and a snack before lecture. I'm super, super excited about this.

*The instructor said I probably have the skills to advance to the next level! This is encouraging, given that I feel I've made myself stand out in the class in ways such as the following:
  • The first few weeks, I once had to step out of the warm-up exercises to catch my breath. The warm-ups! Not even the drills proper!
  • During the footwork assessment, I fell flat on my face in front of the instructor the first time I had to show my one-step t-steps.
  • During a spiking drill, I not only missed the ball entirely, but so overbalanced myself with the swing that I fell over and rolled under the net. "Oh, for a camera," said the instructor.
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