Launch Pad Days 4 and 5 (Catching Up)

I did not get a chance to blog yesterday. I gave fiction-writing priority because I’d finally broken my 140-day writing streak the day before and I wanted to get right back on the horse. So what follows is two days worth of Launch Pad covering Thursday and Friday. Hold on to your hats and glasses, kids, this here is the wildest ride in the wilderness.

A Walk in the Woods

By Thursday morning, Chaz Brenchley, Doug Farren and I had cleared established our routine. We’d gather by the elevators at 7 am and head over to the student union to write for a few hours. On Thursday, Brenda Clough joined us. Chaz, Doug, and I sat at our regular table and Brenda took a table behind us so she could spread out her things. I spent that writing session blogging and did not get a chance to write fiction. It turned out to be my only opportunity of the day, and so after 140 consecutive days of writing, my streak came to an end. Behind us, as we wrote, Brenda kept laughing aloud. She continued to do this for pretty much the entire time we were there. Apparently, she was re-reading one of her older novels in preparation of putting it online, and found it to be very funny.

Around 9:45, we all gathered by the vans. We lathered up with sunscreen and bug spray and then caravanned over to Vedauwoo recreation area for a hike around Turtle Rock.

Slip Slidin’ Away

There is, apparently, a long-standing tradition here at Launch Pad, of having to visit the emergency room at least once per workshop. My understanding is that last year, no visits were required, and I am happy to report that as if this writing (Saturday morning) no visits have been necessary in our group. But that is not to say that there weren’t a few missteps.

The Vedauwoo recreation center is up in the hills above Laramie, at an altitude of maybe 8,000 feet or so. It was beautiful and the weather gods sent us gorgeous weather. I took a bunch of pictures, most of which you can find over on Flickr. Here is one panorama shot to give you a flavor of the place:


During the course of the 2+ hour hike, we had four minor slips. It began with Jenn Brissett, who slipped on a path coming down from the parking lot, before we really even got started. Then, not long after we were underway, Brenda went down. She had turned to talk to me and tripped over a rock. She was unhurt, but I felt guilty, as I had been the one she’d turned to talk to. Some time later, walking down a small dip in the trail, Jeri slipped and skidded down the path. She was okay. Perhaps the most dramatic fall of the day came toward the end of the hike. Chaz tripped on a rock or root and face-planted. All six-plus feet of this tall, English writer went sprawling face-first into the ground. His camera followed him. He ended up scratching his nose, but otherwise, both he and his camera were unharmed.

After the hike, we returned to the picnic area and wolfed down the sack lunches that were packed for us. Then it was time to head back to campus for the day’s lectures. The afternoon’s lectures went into great detail on the death and end states of stars. (My notes are extensive.) After this, we were visited by an astronomer who studies interstellar dust and gave us a quick, but detailed lecture on dust and what you can learn from the dust floating about in the galaxy.

An Impromptu Lecture

After dinner on Thursday, I had agreed to give an impromptu lecture on using Evernote. I went back to the dorm after dinner, and began putting together some hastily constructed slides. Kelly called and I got to see the kids via FaceTime. It was so good to see them. But I couldn’t get detailed slides done in the short time. So I winged it.

Those who wanted to attend, five or six people, I think, met back at our main classroom at 6:30 and I proceeded to discuss, demonstrate, and lecture on Evernote for the next 90 minutes or so. I think it went over pretty well. It was the first time I’d ever given an impromptu lecture on Evernote, but I think I managed to cover all of the important bases.


Baseball, Beer, and Science Fiction

Thursday evening, Doug Dechow and Anna Leahy arranged for folks to meet at O’Dwyers for beer. Chaz and I got to the bar just past 8 pm. Doug and Anna were already there and I discovered they were baseball fans, so we chatted about baseball, as well as some computer science topics and even super-nerdy things like Markov chains. All the while, drinking beer, of course.

Eventually, Andy, Liz, and Caren also joined us and the conversation grew and evolved. I think we finally left the bar at around 11 pm. It had been a long day, but another fun one, reminding me on countless occasions how lucky I was to be able to attend Launch Pad.

Asleep at Breakfast

I have been trying to make the most of each day while I am here. Lectures and other activities usually don’t start until 10 am, and I have been getting up early in order to take advantage of the downtime. I have typically been getting barely 5 hours of sleep each night. It all caught up to me Thursday night. I was up Friday morning at about 6:15, and went with Chaz, Doug and Brenda to the student union to write. I didn’t blog because I was determined to get fiction writing done and not get derailed simply because my streak had come to an end. And I did write, adding about 1,000 words to my story. But I was tired, sluggish, and the caffeine just did not seem to be working.

Jay O’Connell had joined us and at about 8:45, he and I walked over to Turtle Rock cafe to meet some of the others for breakfast. We sat outside on the patio, basking in the warm, morning sun. Eventually, Andy, Jenn, Jennifer, and Liz joined us. I’d had a muffin earlier and so I didn’t order any food. I listened to the conversation around me and before I knew it, I’d fallen asleep in the wicker chair in which I sat out on the patio, with the voices of my new friends chittering on around me. I did not sleep long, twenty minutes, maybe thirty. But I did sleep, and since I rarely (if ever) crash in the midst of a gathering, I think it illustrates just how worn out I was. It might also have been the altitude. Jeri skipped the morning lectures because she wasn’t feeling well, also the affects of the altitude.

Smiling at Saturn

We had another full day of lectures, beginning at 10 am with black holes, a fascinating topic and also a favorite of science fiction writers. Mike covered black holes in detail and it was a great lecture. Next, Andria gave an interesting lecture on science ethics, which included stories about some of the personalities behind sciences biggest discoveries. After that we headed to the cafeteria for lunch. They offered lasagna today and it was some of the best dorm food I’ve had since getting here.

After lunch, Mike gave his second talk on science fiction-specific topics. This time he covered interstellar travel, and once again, it was a fascinating and useful topic for science fiction writers. We took a break after this lecture to run outside and get a group photo. We set it up so that we were facing Saturn in the eastern sky. On the other side of Saturn, the Cassini probe was photographing the ringed planet with Earth in the background, so we all waved to Saturn:

Launchpad Group


We enlisted a student who was innocently walking by to take the photo. I didn’t get his name, otherwise, I’d give proper credit.

With the photo taken, we headed back in for our final lecture of the day, given by a computer scientist and amateur astronomer. The lecture was on amateur astronomy and the process of doing amateur astronomy, including what you needed and how long it took to get up to speed. It was very interesting. I never realized how important to the science amateur astronomer were. It is one of the few sciences in which amateurs can make significant contributions.

The Oldest Bar in Wyoming

We decided to jump ship Friday evening and go out to dinner, instead of eating in the cafeteria. We broke into two groups, the vegetarians and the carnivores. We all went into downtown Laramie, the former going to a place called Sweet Melissa’s, and the latter going to a place called Altitude. I was in the carnivore group, along with Doug Farren, Jay, Mike, Brenda, Chaz, and Jennifer.

Altitude is also a micro-brewery and so we got to try some good beer with our food. I ended up ordering a bacon-wrapped tenderloin in a red wine reduction, and it was fantastic! While our counterparts at Sweet Melissa’s talked Dyson Spheres, we chatted about more mundane things, like our kids and potty training.

After dinner, Mike took us to a local called the Buckhorn. Regular patrons claimed that this was the oldest bar in all of Wyoming. Inside it was dark paneled wood with moose heads hanging everywhere. We ordered some shots, and then also had a local shot. I can’t remember what the latter was called, but it was sweet and fruity.

We finally made our way back to the dorm, and then a bunch of us including Liz, Andy, Chaz, Caren and I chatted until 11:30 or so.

Today is the last day of Launch Pad and it is, of course, bittersweet. I’ve made some great new friends here and I’ve learned so much. But I miss Kelly, the Little Man and the Little Miss, and I’m looking forward to seeing them tomorrow evening when I arrive home.



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