From time to time my friends and family ask me “so what is your typical day like in a start-up?”. Usually my reply is one of these three: “I was on the phone all day”, “I was designing parts”, or “I have been writing”. Sprinkle in a few “this guy was an idiot”, “I was stuck in traffic”, or a selection of expletive filled tirades and you’ve got me down pat most days.
But I’m not talking about one of those in this post. I’m going to speak on those days where nothing gets done, when you’re tired of looking at Netflix, and there are no more new episodes of “The Colbert Report” to catch up on. These are doldrums, they happen every now and then. You could have reached a major milestone, temporarily run out of money and ideas, or in my case, waiting for strategic investor’s board to meet so you can get finish what you’ve started.
A couple days ago, after going for my usual afternoon walk with Evan, I did not want to follow it up with a nap. So I decided to go for a joy ride and do some thinking. I’m a bit of car guy, so being behind the wheel is a bit of an escape (ask any other car guy if you don’t believe me). I decided to tackle the one of the mountains in the San Gabriel valley, which are a constant backdrop here in Pasadena.
So I went to google and found out that California Highway 2 basically runs the length of this mountain chain. I also found a road that would take me from the summit right back down to pasadena and thus I would have nice round trip and probably kill an hour or so.
Though I expected a lot of switchbacks and a lot of green trees I was surprised to find not much of either on my ascent. Instead, I found a lot of winding roads, bushes, rocks, and tons of trees that had been burned out a few years ago. This was actually my first time seeing trees affected by a forest fire. It was both intriguing and scary knowing that 8 miles away from where I’ve settled there was a major forest fire not that long ago.
Anyway, about 30 minutes into my climb I realized something was wrong, in that I started descending the mountain and had not reached the winding road that was supposed to round out my trip, so I stopped and consulted my phone. There I found out that google maps listed a road that turned into a trail, so I had to make other plans. But then something else caught my eye. It was a large white dome on the top of a mountain across from me that is hidden from the LA side of the mountains.
I set a course for it and found it was only 2.5 miles away. The last mile consisted of one of the scariest roads I have ever been on in my life. Tons of twists and turns, rocks jutting out so far into the road that you had to get on the wrong side of the road clear them, and tons of blind curves. I never made it above 20 mph. I later found out that I was at an elevation of 5700 feet (Pasadena is only about a 30 minute drive away and is nearly 4800 lower than this)
So I discovered that I was on Mt. Wilson, and was greeted by a ton of tv and radio antennae. If you ever want the LA gossip to stop, coming up here and cutting the power would be a good start.
The road ended and I parked. The first thing I noticed was that no one was here (I mean no one: no cars, no joggers, no trash, no music), but the place was open: it was very eery. In the distance I caught two things that looked like water towers but were actually solar towers, used to look at the sun.
I headed to those first and after a quarter mile walk found that there was a museum next to them. I took a few photos. Again this museum was wide open, no one was in it.
It’s 150 feet to the top of that tower.
Then I discovered that were about 6 other observatories up there. The smallest one as big as a one car garage and the largest one had to be about 6 or 7 stories tall. So naturally, I went to that one. Again, it was wide open, no one was there, and I walked up a couple stories to a visitors area where I saw a telescope will a 100-inch mirror. For those of you bad at math that’s a mirror over 8 feet tall.
I took pictures and video, but my phone managed to not saved them or I accidentally erased them in pocket. Either way, it was engineer’s or scientist’s wet dream. So many structural elements, sensors, and buttons.
Strangely enough, I felt uncomfortable. It was like I was in a post-apocalyptic world where everyone had died (but me) and stumbled onto this sprawling research facility. After inviting myself into several other buildings and reading a bit I found out that this place was jointly run by UCLA, USC, Berkeley, and
Georgia Tech (or was it GSU?).
I had run out of water, which meant that it was time for me to head back to my car for the ride down. On the long walk back to the car I got a little lost. But I did notice that the squirrels up there seemed not to be that familiar with humans. I would attempt to walk by one of them and they would just stare at me. As I walked, they would timidly come closer, but when they came too close I became nervous and would stop walking. When I stopped walking and stared at them, they would stare at me, then scamper away, scamper back, scamper away, and stare at me some more. It was awkward.
I found another one eating a nut on the side of the road and I noticed he was going to let me walk right by him while eating. So I figured I would record him with my phone. Sensing I was killing his vibe, the squirrel ran up a tree before I could press record. I guess he thought I was paparazzi…typical LA.
The trip down was tedious and uneventful, other than the three cars behind me that were essentially pushing me down the mountain.