Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Different Story

I shot a photo of this locomotive on my way out of the Italian Dolomites. It's not an old piece of machinery. The nameplate reads Anno: 2001. Daimler Chrysler later sold their ADtranz rail division. Fascinating.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Could this be the solution?

Just thirty minutes southeast of Bern, Switzerland rests the tranquil community of Linden. Ancient wooden chalets dot the landscape, and a patchwork of small farms float on green hills that roll into the distance. The region also produces Emmentaler cheese, but despite the treasures of scenery, gastronomy, and solitude, Linden typically remains absent from most tourist itineraries. I, however, plan to visit Linden in May. More specifically, I plan to visit a small outlying community of Linden called Methernitha, because I heard a rumor that the people that live there possess something that could change the world.

According to the rumor, about 30 years ago a German engineer named Paul Baumann built an electrostatic generator that supposedly produces more energy than it consumes. Many people refer to generators like these as “free energy machines,” but most scientists and engineers would quickly point out that in nature, energy is never free. In fact, the first law of thermodynamics forbids it and plainly states that energy is neither created nor destroyed. The second law goes a step further and states that in all energy exchanges, if no energy enters or leaves the system, the potential energy of the state will always be less than that of the initial state. In summary, we don’t just create energy out of nothing, but we can harness it, and convert it into other forms.

Baumann’s machine, called the Thestatika, apparently functions by generating electrostatic energy, but also by harnessing outlying energy from the aether, a concept that isn’t new to physics. To understand the aether, imagine a large swimming pool filled with all sorts of floating stuff; this is the universe. The floating stuff, beach balls, rafts, half sunken beer cans, would represent the atoms that bump into each other to form molecules and physical matter. The water would represent the aether, or the medium, in which those atoms and molecules are suspended.

Nicola Tesla patented a radiant energy machine almost 100 years ago in attempt to tap into this aether. Though not exactly extracting energy from the aether, Tesla postulated that the radiant energy machine grabbed charged energy particles streaming into our atmosphere from the sun, much like a solar panel does today. The difference between a solar panel and Tesla’s radiant energy machine is that Tesla’s machine also works in the dark. It even gathers electrical charges from lightning storms miles away. Could it be that Baumann’s Thestatika actually utilizes concepts from Tesla’s radiant energy collector?

A more likely interpretation is that the Thestatika is actually a Wimshurst electrostatic generator, a device that produces relatively low levels of high voltage electricity through electrostatic induction. Paul Baumann supposedly discovered a way to amplify the generated electricity to powerful and useful levels. To operate the Thestatika, a person rotates a pair of disks to get the machine moving, but once it’s in motion, it provides enough electricity to power itself and provide indefinite electricity to whatever is hooked up to it. It doesn’t break any laws of thermodynamics, because it simply grabs energy from a source that we can’t see and are just beginning to understand. Imagine a machine that requires no coal burning, no water flow, and no nuclear collisions, just a small rev to get it humming.

If this thing really does exist, then it fascinates me that a device like the Thestatika might rest just 30 minutes outside of the very city where Albert Einstein developed his theories of relativity. Is there something in the water of the Canton Bern that inspires contemplation of the great mysteries of the universe?

The people that own the Thestatika call themselves the Methernithans. They are a conservative Christian community with deep spiritual values and a dedication to meditation and contemplation. They apparently believe that the rest of the world is not responsible enough to embrace a technology that could redefine our lives. They fear that the rest of the world would find a way to use this device for military purposes and to ultimately harm humanity. So for now, they are content to power their community with this machine, continue to conduct their independent research, and only invite a select number of people to visit.

Could this be a solution to our energy problems, or is this just a marketing hoax dreamed up by a group of people with a flawed understanding of physics? I aim to find out. I’ve been tinkering with my own projects and I’m already amazed by the possibilities that surround us, possibilities that some people choose to blatantly ignore. It makes me wonder what else is out there. Even if this thing is a hoax, at least it gets people thinking. At any rate, I feel a bit like Indiana Jones, on a journey to uncover the secrets of a machine that could revolutionize our lives.

See the Thestatika on video:

In English:

A different video in German:

Friday, February 20, 2009

Joins us on Facebook and Twitter

If you’ve used either one of these programs then you know what all of the fuss is about. Facebook gives us a fun place to upload attractive photos and videos that didn’t make it into our catalog or website. (We only have so much room). Fans of Ryder-Walker can also upload their own photos and video as well, and they can start conversations on our discussion board. "What if I don't want to share photos with the rest of the Facebook world?" Don't worry, we'll have an exclusive, password protected Ryder-Walker photo sharing site available this spring. For now, Facebook just offers a fun place to interact with our fans.

The web is quickly becoming a virtual hiking tour of sorts, and each stop from blog, to Facebook, to website, offers a different and unique experience. This virtual hiking tour reminds me of a visit to a cozy mountain chalet on one night and a rustic mountain refuge on the next.

Just log into your Facebook profile and look us up under “Ryder-Walker.” Then click “become a fan.” We just launched our page so stop by frequently for updated photos and video. You can also follow our blog on the Facebook page if you’re so inclined. Now, if we could just serve delicious Italian coffee then we’d never have to leave.

As for Twitter, well, it’s another time waster, but it’s fun time waster. We can update from our cell phones on the trail, and YOU can receive instantaneous text messages on your mobile phone as well, or online. You choose the method of delivery.

Just visit to follow us. Twitter provides an extremely quick way to disseminate short messages, called “tweets” in Twitter language. If you’d like to know if somebody’s about to snag that last single room on the High Route, or you’re looking to share a double room to save some money, then Twitter is for you. Imagine the possibilities. Twitter allows us to instantly update our guests on trail conditions, tour status, hiking gossip, and more.

Oh, and one other thing. We will never advertise the names of our guests without their prior consent, nor will we publish photos in which they are easily identifiable unless they give us their approval. We honor the privacy of our guests.

See you on the virtual trail.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Should I Purchase Travel Insurance?

This is a question that we hear time and time again, and our simplest response is yes. Like most insurance policies, the amount of coverage that you receive is directly proportional to the amount of money that you pay for the policy. You can add as many extras as you like. Some comprehensive policies cover everything from rental cars and missed connections to medical evacuations and tour cancellations. We recommend travel insurance for a number of reasons, but unexpected tour cancellation tops our list.

A number of years ago a gentleman asked me if I recommended insurance. I said that I did, and he wanted to know why. I explained that sometimes we just cannot refund money for unused portions of a trip, say, if a guest had to leave prematurely for an emergency. The gentleman informed me that he was in good health, he had a good job, and he didn’t plan on canceling his hike for any reason. I honored his response.

Unfortunately, this was not the end of the story. Our guest experienced a family emergency that he never could have anticipated, and he had to leave his hiking tour on day 2 of a 10-day itinerary.

Here’s the rub. Once we’ve committed money to our hotels and contacts overseas, we become another link in what quickly becomes a long refund chain. Our policy is to work with our guests whenever we can, but once the tour starts, we are very limited because we’ve already paid money for goods and services. This puts us in a very undesirable position when one of our guests requests a refund for something that was out of both parties’ control. The gentleman would have received a full refund even if he had purchased the bare minimum amount of travel insurance. Cancellation insurance covers tour interruption due to preexisting medical conditions, employment lay-offs and/or transfers, family emergencies and more.

Travel insurance also covers you in case WE have an emergency and have to cancel your tour, and it covers you in case we go out of business. We’ve been somewhat aggressive in the past about recommending cancellation insurance, and some people wondered if this was the reason. The honest fact is that we’ve been around for 25 years, and we owe our success to our commitment to your guest experience. We would never cancel a tour without speaking with our guests first and making sure that they’re taken care of. Leaving someone in a bind is bad for business. As for going out of business, well, we’re still waiting for bailout money. Kidding. We don’t plan on leaving anytime soon, but we DO plan on hiking with our guests for many years to come. Travel Insurance, even it only covers unexpected cancellations, puts both parties’ minds at ease.

We work with an insurance company called TravelEx, and they’ve treated our guests well. Please visit their website for a look at their different policies.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Da Vinci Would Have Hiked With Us

I’ve been thinking about Leonardo da Vinci lately. As a weekend tinkerer with a soft spot for art, I can’t help but to be fascinated by this man. Many people know about da Vinci’s famous painting the Mona Lisa, but do they know about some of his more obscure works and inventions? Consider the robot lion, for example, which walked across court under its own power and presented a bouquet of flowers to the French King 500 years ago. Da Vinci developed an underwater breathing apparatus a full 300 years before inventors would realize the concept and take men to the bottom of the sea. Perhaps most fascinating are da Vinci’s flying machines. Flight fascinated da Vinci, and he spent many hours in the countryside researching the mechanics and the physics behind it.

One of the regions that da Vinci traveled regularly was the area known today as Lombardy. It’s a corner of northern Italy that borders Switzerland to the north, the Trentino-Alto Adige to the east, and the Piedmont to the west. To put it bluntly, Lombardy rests comfortably against the three primary alpine landscapes that Ryder-Walker calls home. Lombardy offers a delightful mix of alpine and pre-alpine zones, undulating foothills, meandering rivers, and scenic lakes. Milan is the capital of this region, and it served as Leonardo da Vinci’s home for more than a decade.

We recently developed a tour that explores this inspiring countryside. We call it the Italian Lakes District: Como to Bellagio. This self-guided tour offers a wonderful excuse to wander the enchanting outdoor studio that lent creativity to one of mankind’s greatest geniuses.

The above photo, shot by our own Porter Teegarden, offers a brief glimpse of the winding passages, mysterious alleys, and hidden doorways that da Vinci would have known. In fact, most of the villages that we visit pre date da Vinci by centuries, and in some cases, millennia. Roman footpaths and tranquil olive groves characterize this little slice of Italian heaven, while hill top chateaus and medieval harbors make our trip a veritable journey back through time.

Milan is the gateway for this tour, but a must-do for any da Vinci enthusiast is a post trip down through Florence and the neighboring village of Vinci, Leonardo’s boyhood home. Leonardo’s last name, da Vinci, literally means “from Vinci.” Both Vinci and Florence offer enough da Vinci museums to satisfy the hungriest weekend tinkerer and artist, but you don’t have to like museums, or Leonardo for that matter, to enjoy this tour.

The Italian Lakes District combines quality mountain hikes, lakeside relaxation, delicious Italian cuisine, and a unique historical perspective in a tidy little package. The mild climate also makes this a great trip for spring, summer, or fall, and the location offers a great jumping off point for Venice, Florence, Pisa, and Rome.

Please contact Ryder-Walker for a detailed itinerary or for more information.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Enjoy the View

This photo comes from Sandy Mairs, one of our recent guests on the Engadine Summit Series.

Sandy writes, “It is an outhouse perched on the very edge, (only in Switzerland would you trust such technology), of a rather precipitous drop. As you can just make out in the picture, there is a window located on the back wall, at eye-level, so that one can enjoy the view while enjoying some relief (if you're a male, that is).

Sandy shot this photo behind the Segantini Hut, of one of our favorite Engadine lunch spots. He adds, “Great barley soup, too.”

His comment regarding the soup doesn’t surprise us. Many of our guests have commented on the delicious flavor of the barley soup on offer at this particular mountain hut. In fact, we’ve often joked about linking our other favorite eating establishments and offering a "soup tour" of Switzerland. I wonder if we could offer a tour of interesting outhouses as well. It might make an exciting, and somewhat necessary, complement to the cheese tour. ;-)

Do you have an interesting photo that you'd like to share from your Ryder-Walker experience? Please drop us a line. We’d love to hear from you.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Man Behind the Curtain

One of our dear readers wanted to know who authors these blog entries. You can find the answer at the end of each entry in the lower left hand corner. In most cases the line reads, "Posted by Chris P." Our reader highlights a valid point however. Many of you know me, but some of you do not. So, click here if you'd like to read a quick blurb about the man behind the curtain. Or, for something more exciting, watch the video below. It offers a rare opportunity to watch Chris P. come out of his box.