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An exercise in saying yes to the world

I recently went to Las Vegas to attend two conferences: Black Hat and Def Con. I was attending these alone, and knew no-one from other institutions that would be attending. As a result, I intended to spend a fair amount of time wandering the strip alone.

In the pre-conference phase of Black Hat, I attended a two day course. The course was very interesting and I learned a lot, but the administrative powers that be messed up in creating my course attendance certificate and so I had to get it reprinted. As I was stood in the queue waiting to get my new certificate, the guy next to me in the queue started making conversation. He admitted to talking to me because of the incredibly worn out looking hiking boots that I habitually wear, assuming that I was quite an outdoors-y person. He mentioned that he had only attended a two day course (out of possible four), and I said that I was the same. He mentioned that he was going to go hiking around Death Valley for the two spare days before the conference started, and asked if I would like to join him. I declined on the basis that my ankle still gives me a lot of issues, and that was that.

After getting my certificate sorted out and leaving the conference centre, it occurred to me; I’m saying no to things when it’s not like I have anything better to be doing. Yes my ankle still gives me issues, but I spent 3 weeks backpacking around Europe and made do with the pain then. I decided that I would leave it in the hands of fate- I would walk back to the conference centre and towards the administrative desks. If I encountered Sughosh (as his name turned out to be) again, I would ask if the offer was still open. If not, I would continue with my plans of aimlessly wandering the strip. In the lobby of the building, I spotted him. We went to grab dinner to discuss plans, and I learned that Sughosh planned to leave that night. We went to our respective rooms to grab gear, and collected his rental car. Off to Death Valley it was!

I’m sure I’ll end up posting pictures of Death Valley here one day, but we had an excellent trip. Despite the fears of my friends back in England, I did not get murdered. On the evening of our full day in Death Valley (after some 10 hours of exploring), we decided to drop by an abandoned village named Rhyolite on our way back to the hotel. This town used to be one for miners to live in, and indeed featured a large mine. It has been abandoned for a long time, and is reportedly haunted.

As we drove in to Rhyolite, we realised that we had perhaps been a bit naïve. We had torches sure, but there were no street lights in the town (most likely due to it being abandoned). We had no idea where the buildings of interest were, and no way to orient ourselves. We spotted a bunch of people with torches by the side of the road as we drove in, and I asked Sughosh to pull over. I rolled down the window and asked them semi-jokingly: “Are you guys ghost hunting?”

As it turns out, yes, they were ghost hunting. I asked if we could join them, and they said yes. We parked up where they advised us to, and walked back to meet them. The group consisted of five guys, and a whole bunch of equipment. They had GoPros on head mounts, stationary video cameras, an EMF detector, tape recorders, and temperature guns. They also had real guns, explaining that out here in the desert there are real safety risks stemming from both coyotes and rednecks. In addition they had a large stick to beat the ground as they walked to try and deter rattlesnakes. Being a naïve Brit, it had never occurred to me that such risks might exist.

We wandered the town, and managed to get some way in to the mine. During this trip, the group attempted to use a Ouija board to contact the spirits of the village. I’m sure I’ll write more about this later, including pictures. After the adventure we exchanged contact information, and parted ways. Sughosh and I returned to Vegas in time for the conference.

I attended Black Hat fairly uneventfully, and then came the time for Def Con. Again, I did not know anyone here. I saw that there was a bio-hacking village in the event, where people could get implants of RFID/NFC chips in their bodies. I decided to get an NFC chip, and made conversation with people in the queue. I ended up making friends with one of the people in this queue, and we stuck around for moral support when we in turn received our implants.

Later on in the day, I stopped by the Def Con contest area. I had read a little about the contests, and quickly realised that most were far too technical for me. There was one that I perhaps had a chance at: the Scavenger Hunt. The problem was that this was a team event, and there was no matchmaking service offered. I hung around the desk for a bit in the hopes of finding random people to team up with, to no avail. The organisers suggested that I leave contact details with them, and if anyone else turned up wanting to play without a team they would pass the info on. I did so and was just about to leave when my NFC implant friend, Noah, wandered in. I asked him if he wanted to do scavenger hunt, and it turned out that he did. As we were having this conversation the organiser yelled over to me that they had a guy looking for a team. So, our three man team of strangers was born.

The activities involved within a lot of the hunt are not really suitable for discussion here, but we had a great time working on them and became fast friends. Although we only came second in the competition, we made plans to compete again next year and found a fourth teammate next year in a solo-entrant who had placed third this year. I think that my experiences in the scavenger hunt were the highlights of my trip to Vegas.

After the conferences had ended, I had a car rental lined up. I made contact with my American ghost hunting pals, and asked if they wanted to come along as I went to explore the real-world locations that were used in the computer game Fallout: New Vegas (I daresay I will write about this separately in the future). Two of them did, and we had a great day out. I then went on a long drive out to see the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley alone, but we decided to meet up again upon my return. One of the ghost hunters, John, offered to let me stay at his house for a little. As it turns out his family is from Mexico, and they are very keen on their hospitality. Apparently I am family now, and am always welcome- it’s been decided that when I’m inevitably back in the US for next year’s Def Con Scavenger Hunt we will be making a trip to Six Flags together.

The point of this post is that on this trip I said yes to things. Going to the desert with a random person is a bit sketchy, but I did it and it was great. Talking to random people on the side of the road? Great. Teaming up with random people? Great. This trip to Las Vegas has been my busiest and favourite trip anywhere to date. If I had not said yes to the random experiences, I don’t think that I would have enjoyed it anywhere near so much. I think this mentality of saying yes to the weird and wonderful is something that I will have to continue in the future, and hopefully I will continue not getting murdered for it!

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