Monday, December 31, 2012

A little slice of Death

On a recent run to Vegas to visit the in-laws--Oy!--we hit Death Valley on the way back and packed in a couple of nice hikes.  We left grey, off-and-on snow/hail to land in perfect weather--cool, clear, a day for wandering and dreaming and feeling the joy of life.  These are obscure, off trail hikes, and the car featured above forced us to think about water in this driest of places.  That car is from the 1940's, giver or take, yet the interior is filled with rocks and debris.  That means that once in a great while, this wash is actually awash in volumes that can move rocks and slowly bury a car abandoned decades ago.  It's so hard to imagine water flowing in this place, but flow it must.  I personally have never seen moving water in Death Valley.  It is now, officially, the hottest place on earth, so we only go in the winter.  I understand that many Europeans, especially Germans, like to come in the summer.  The problem with that is that one is confined to staying close to the car, hotel, whatever.  Hikes of any length are simply too dangerous and/or miserable. To each his own.  We hiked in the Funeral Mountains  and then camped in Panamint Valley to the west.  We feel blessed to have these spectacular areas so close to home.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Out and About

Storms line up in the Pacific and roll in waves onto the shore.  It's always a good time to get out, to fill the sting of frosty air, the push of winds and snow and mist.  Only a few hardy souls dare to venture out, even if conditions don't require much hardiness.  No, all you need is the hunger for movement and a thirst for what the world has to say for itself, in all its moods.

Squeezing in a hike as the weather settles in:

Oak leaves and granite:

Monday, December 17, 2012

Eye on the prize

I've been surfing the web, obsessing about my goal of climbing the Incredible Hulk and came upon this photo by Tad Hunt from a trip report on SuperTopo.  The clarity of the image, the burning edges of alpen glow, the clear sky all speak to me in a deep way.  I was incorrect about the length of the route in a previous post.  It's more like 1,500 ft.  Yow.  That is a big rock.  Gotta keep my eye on the prize, keep the workouts solid, and hit the rock whenever I can.  Stoke the stoke.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

December in Tehachistan

Winter, now almost officially here, is one of our favorite seasons in this remote region.  We've had at least one minor dusting of snow earlier in the year, but this is the first substantial coverage, although nothing compared to the truly High Sierras.  Within a few days, most of it will be gone--toy snow.  Unlike so many, too many of our box-bound neighbors, Jodi, Django, and I can't help but get ourselves out into the crisp air and sometimes tempestuous elements.  We recently loaded up the packs and struck out for the summit of Black (now white--see above) Mtn.  We summited a couple of days ago before this current storm rolled in to do work its magic.

The ascent gains about 1,500 ft. overall, most of it on the continuous ridge that drops down to the right of the summit.  The views are spectacular.  In the photo below, if you look closely, you'll see snow covered peaks in the distance--Mineral King, at over 13,000 ft.:

These hikes and the rock climbing that we pursue whenever possible have filled the void left by the end of The Tour, which lingers in our minds every day.  In my office, as I type these words, I often look over at the opposite wall to see a map of the United States that currently has the route of my 2007 cross country ride on it.  I'll be adding the Rocky Mountain tour soon.  Those states, the mountains and miles, the hard-won transits have left their mark.  I've begun work on my new book about the Rocky Mountain tour, so those experiences will live large for months to come.  While our histories are vital, enriching our lives and setting a course for the future, we must live in the present, pulling joy from each day.  Here's a parting shot from this morning's outing.  Django knows how to be in the moment.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sucking wind

Hit the slopes this morning with moderately heavy pack, trekking poles, and Django the Wonder Dog.  I've started doing my usual loop, which involves a nice stretch of single-track, but I'm occasionally adding in a steep ridge climb near the end.  It's not much longer, but Hay-soos, it's steep!  The ridge featured in the photo can be followed for a total of nearly 1,500 feet of elevation gain.  When we have more time and want some stank on the hike, this route is one of our favorites.

Still life: Pack, poles, hound, mountain...

I'm really enjoying the extra effort wearing the pack requires-- and that light spring in the step when I take it off at the end of the hike.  Note the whacky contrails above the summit of Black Mtn. in the background.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Gear talk: Our new tent

Since Jodi and I have recommitted ourselves to foot-powered travel, I started thinking about ways to shave weight from our packs.  We've already purchased a couple of REI Flash Packs, which we like very much, and these save us about 3 lbs. over our previous Dana Astralplanes (no longer in production), which are huge, more than needed for backpacking.  We used these for mega mountaineering loads, but even then, they're probably heavier than they need to be.  Then I considered the tent.  We own several, and they've all been great performers--a couple of Sierra Designs (one and three person models), two Mountain Hardware (one and two person models), the Big Agnes used on our recent Rocky Mountain tour, an old Black Diamond Megamid, and, featured above, the new Black Diamond Betamid Light.  I know, I know.  That's a boat load of tents, but keep in mind we've been at this outdoor adventure thang for decades, and we tend not to sell or give away gear as often as we should.  This has proved useful with the Vision Quest outings because now we have some good gear to loan out.  With cycle touring, I tend not to worry about a few extra pounds, but when the weight is bearing directly on shoulders, backs, hips and knees, those pounds really start to count, hence the new tent.

I researched many models, and the Betamid plus bug liner seemed to be the best compromise for us between weight, cost and function.  Taken altogether, including stakes, the tent clocks in at about 3.75 lbs.--a full two pounds lighter than our Mtn. Hardware or "light" Big Agnes.  If we decided to go without the bug liner and use a light tarp for a floor, we can get the tent weight down to about 1 lb. 10 oz.  That's some insane weight savings.  A big part of the weight savings is accomplished by using trekking poles for tent poles.  We've been pole converts for sometime. 

They provide greater stability and help take the load off knees during steep descents.  Also, using poles engages the arms and shoulders for a better workout and aid in ascending, too.  So if you're going to be hiking with poles, why not use them as part of the tent?  There are lighter tents out there, but size is a consideration.  I'm 6'4", and we hike with good ol' Django, so the super light micro-tents were out.  Also, we wanted secure bug protection for some outings.  The bug liner can be pitched alone or left behind--very flexible system.  In the picture below, with brewski to set scale, the small bag is the actual tent.  The bigger bag is the bug liner:

The tent body is that fancy new sil-nylon, incredibly tough and waterproof.  The big grey tarp we used to cover the trikes on the Rocky Mountain tour was of the same material.  The one drawback is that the material, for some reason, cannot be factory seam sealed, so that duty falls to me.  Tomorrow, I'll pitch the tent inside out on the lawn and go to work.  It's best to have tension on the seems so that the sealer can properly penetrate.  Note:  You need special sealant for sil-nylon.  This tent is not free standing, so a minimum of six stakes is required, but we've found that our so-called "free standing" tents need staking, too, so that's a wash.

I can't wait to take this new rig out into the field.  Soon we'll do a little overnight in the local mountains, which will be the subject of another post.  Don't touch that dial (yoiks! dated reference, boyz and girlz).

Carry on...

A quick trip to the rocks...

Jodi, Django and I were blessed with the time and weather window to zoom out to the eastern Sierras for a day of rock climbing.  Our goal, as is often the case, the Alabama Hills, which we can reach in about two hours from home--traffic free driving.  Sweet.  The day was cool and bright with hardly a breath of wind.  We both surprised ourselves by climbing at--for us--a pretty good standard and no falls on some 5.10 climbs.  We have our aches and pains as a couple of middle-aged warriors, but overall, we done good.  I've got no action shots, but some mood pieces will have to suffice.  Above, afternoon sun on the rocks.

On the drive: Django in "Gimme sum!" mode:

One of our climbs: The route follows the clean, steep slab in the middle of the picture:

Waste not a minute (yeah, right!) for life is short....

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Re-Vision of the Vision Quest

This photo, by Louis M Lenzenhuber, features the central challenge of what will become of Vision Quest 2013.  While I still love cycling and touring, I've felt an overload of that type of experience, the unavoidable fact of cars and traffic and noise.  I feel it is time to test myself and the few who join me in a different way, a return to my roots. That huge mountain is Olancha Peak, the first mountain in the southern Sierras over 12,000 ft--12,132 ft. to be exact.  While not the highest in the range, its eastern aspect featured here provides an exceptional challenge: A continuous hiking and scrambling ascent of over 8,000 vertical feet starting at the desert floor amidst creosote bushes and finishing far above timberline where travelers will find nothing but rocks, ice, and wind.  If my young companions didn't find "visions" on the bike tours, this should do it!  Now, too, Jodi and Django will join us.   I suppose it is unlikely, but we're hoping to interest some intrepid women to join us.  Few, male or female, are up to the demands of my various Vision Quest expeditions, and this peak challenge perhaps winnows the field even more, but when I began to think about a different sort of outing, this peak immediately came to mind.  Years ago, pre-Django, Jodi and I ascended this route, and we still regard it as one of the most satisfying adventures we've ever had.  It's wild, it's difficult, and virtually no one does it, only adding to its appeal.  Included with this climb will be two days on the rocks and another mountain climb, a hard one-day ascent of Boundary Peak, 13,140 ft., highest peak in Nevada (photo from Wikipedia):

Overall, the adventure challenge will last ten days, provide a lifetime of memories, and raise a few dollars for wounded veterans.  Too many Americans go through their daily lives without thinking about the fact that we are STILL at war, veterans still coming home in need of care and support.  Bumper-sticker support is meaningless.  Participants in Vision Quest 2013 must provide at least $100 for the cause in order to come on the big trip.  That, however, is a whimpy amount, so I'm hoping for a better fund raising effort.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Fun Fotos....

This post is a mixed-up collection of recent photos from our little excursions after returning from the Great Divide tour.  The ride was unique and intense, and I have yet to start work on the book that experience will become, but we are blessed with an abundance of mountain glory, and each day we must drink what we can.  The picture above is from another quick trip to the Alabama Hills below Mt. Whitney, our way of celebrating Thanksgiving.  May all of your holidays be as rich and rewarding.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Back in Jack

Yesterday was Jodi's 60th birthday, so after spending the last three months cycling like a maniac along the length of the Rocky Mountains, the next logical thing to do was to get back in shape for climbing beyond the tarmac.  Let's get vertical.  We loaded up the Subaru and headed out for our first day on the crags in about four months.  My last outing was marked by the unfortunate smashing of my left middle finger.  On the tour, that nail eventually came of with a minor tug--eeeeeuuewww.  The digit, however, is back up to rockin' standards, so it was time to get on the stone.  We were both a little nervous after spending so much time away from climbing, but we adapted quickly, especially since the kind of climbing at New Jack City featured above is so-called "sport climbing," which means bolts spaced closely together--perfect for weak minds and fingers.  We didn't climb anything too drastic, and we were both pleased at how relaxed we felt leaving the ground.  We didn't get any climbing shots because we were always busy either climbing or holding the rope, and the light was not the best, either, but here are a few photos to give you a feel for this strange, dark, metamorphic basalt.  It's not our favorite place to climb, but it was warm and still and almost empty on a lazy Thursday afternoon.

Jodi's gift--new iPod Nano--too cool:

Hiking in the rocks:


Monday, November 12, 2012

The road to The Hulk and other stuff...

Okay, I've decided to become a bulging angry green super hero.  You got a problem with that? Huh?  No, not quite, but a real hulk is in my future, and it's not a comic book character or a virtual creation for the big screen.  It's this (pic from Peter Valchev's climbing blog):

This is 1,000 ft. of High Sierra granite goodness, some of the best alpine rock climbing in North America.  I've wanted to climb this for years and figured I'd better get on it before I'm getting around with a Rascal and oxygen tank.  My best buddy, Pete, and I have a serious bro-date with this thing, and it''s about time we got down to business.  The route we'll do--the Red Dihedral--is not hard by world class standards, but I suspect I'll find it quite challenging.  The route takes a line pretty much directly up the center of the face in the sun to the right of the deep, shadowed corners.  For those who understand ratings, its VI 5.10b, mostly 5.8/9 crack climbing.  I need to get back into shape as three months of cycling have left me and Jodi with killer legs and aerobic capacity, we're sporting virtual T-Rex arms.  What this means is a lot of climbing and working out over the next few months.  We head out for our first touch of stone on Thursday.  Expect a quick post and much fear and shaking on my part until I get my head back in the game.

I've also been thinking about what form I want my Vision Quest expeditions to take.  Of course they've been bike tours for these last five years, but I'm growing tired of dealing with traffic--and it's attendant risks.  Two years ago, when I had to drive sag, the crew got some introduction to rock climbing on rest days or when we finished early.  This got me thinking--always a dangerous thing.  Why not make the Vision Quest about hiking/peak bagging/rock climbing?  We could do a long trek, climb a peak, hit some rocks.  I'm thinking now that a combo peak bagging/rock climbing trip would be fantastic.  I could sell off a couple of the trailers I own to finance a couple of packs and/or some climbing harnesses, maybe a couple of pairs of shoes.  The appeal of the wilder wild is strong in me now.  I can feel a deep, internal shift in that direction, a return to some down home roots of my experience.  We are fortunate to live in an area that offers much in the way of hiking and climbing challenges, so finding places to take out the posse would be easy, and Jodi and Django could come along now that the problem of blending bikes and trikes is out of the picture.  I'm excited about this new direction.  Let's see where it goes....

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Gear talk: Heroes and Zeros

Now that our big tour is completed, I want to offer up some observations and opinions about the various bits of kit that made this extended cycling epic work.  Overall, our gear choices were solid, but we had some problems, and perhaps others can benefit from our experiences.

The Heroes:

Catrikes:  These held up beautifully and made all those long, hard miles as comfortable and safe as they could be.  As noted elsewhere, Jodi rides a now discontinued version of the "Road," and I crank on the "Expedition,"  both purchased and expertly outfitted by Bent Up Cycles in North Hollywood.  Dana, the owner, is THE man for recumbent gear.  My expedition had a slight advantage when pushing over rough terrain to get to wild camps because of higher ground clearance, so anyone seeking to do this kind of tour, you'll be well served to get this model.  Also, the bigger rear wheel makes sustaining higher speeds easier.  Because of our big loads (doggie!), we both are outfitted with 203 mm discs on the brakes.  I was never at a loss for powerful, controlled braking on those wild mountain drops.  My trike developed a super annoying squeak after about the first 1,000 miles, which I was never able to eliminate.  I'm pretty sure it has to do with the rack, which I'll remove to see if that solves the problem.

Schlumpf mountain drives:  In many ways, this tour was made possible because of our spectacular gearing.

This device fits into the bottom bracket and has a button on each side that the cyclist taps with his heel, giving a low (2.5 : 1) and "high" range (1 : 1).  This means that even the steepest climbs and the heaviest loads are manageable because of the super low gearing.  Our knees were never stressed in an uncomfortable way.  These units aren't cheap ($700), but we wouldn't tour on trikes without them.  My unit did develop a problem, which I'll have to get checked out.  I lubed both drives before leaving home, but mine developed a severe rattly scraping sound as we got into Montana.  Once we figured out the source of the sound, we got it lubed in Helena, which eliminated the problem--until it came back in Wyoming.  The sound only seemed to occur in the high range.  I resorted to using my rather heavy Chain-L lube--not the light grease, which is the recommended stuff.  By setting the trike on its side and pouring a few drops into the lube access port, I was able to stop the hideous grating sound.  Every few hundred miles, I would repeat.  I don't know if there is some sort of alignment problem or if I need a bigger injection of the proper grease, but the noise was worrisome.  Fortunately, it always worked flawlessly, never slipping or refusing to change gears.  One cool advantage of the Schlumpf Mtn. Drive, is that if you forget to downshift when coming to a stop, you can always pop the drive and be able to ride away.  We need a monument to Florian Schlumpf, the Swiss genius who invented the thing.

Exped air mattresses:  I reviewed these in an earlier post before the tour.  Amazing.  They held up under lots of abuse with Django scrambling over them at every camp.  The ability to pump up the pads without getting light-headed at the end of big day was a true blessing.  The only drawback is that they are VERY noisy when the sleeper turns over.  Using the seat-conversion kit dampens this somewhat.  I wonder if some material can be used that would reduce the squeaking?

B.O.B. and CycleTote trailers:   Fantastic, solid performers.  Jodi LOVES the B.O.B., and the dry sack duffel is a neat feature. I wouldn't haul Django in anything but a CycleTote.  The low center of gravity, inwardly canted wheels, and center-pull design make this the most stable unit out there.  They ain't cheap, but our security on the road is worth it.

Coleman Apex II backpacking stove: This, alas, is discontinued, but for us, it's been a very reliable stove, which, unlike most liquid fuel stoves, burns unleaded gas reliably and simmers as good or better than any stove out there.  The only drawback is the sooty flareup when getting started.  The cooking area needs to be well ventilated.  If/when this stove dies, it looks like the Brunton Vapor line fills the niche for unleaded burning stoves.  Other models claim to run on unleaded, but I've heard they clog easily (MSR Whisperlite, for example).  The Coleman NEVER clogs. 

Big Agnes tents:  Not just the product but the company.  We've loved our Copper Spur three person.  It truly became home.  When the zipper started to fail, the company provided a new body free of charge in the middle of the expedition.  As promised, it was waiting in Hot Sulphur Springs, Colorado, when we rolled into town.  Thanks, Big A.

Leatherman Blast: 

This multi-tool was the Blast and the bomb.  We used almost every tool on here many times.  On long tours, some tool like this is essential.

MSR Alpine kitchen knife:

Jodi found this to replace the zero-rated blade featured below.  The MSR unit costs a whopping $9.95 and works so well that we now keep it handy in the kitchen at home.  Super light, super sharp, stiff, cheap! and comes with its own sheath.  Can't beat that.


Okay, while not everything listed here was/is a total "zero," we did have some problems, so it's good to know what to watch out for.

Sea to Summit mugs: 
These are JUNK!  Yeah, they're light, but we found them to be expensive dribble mugs.  They don't insulate well, and once hot liquids are put in, the lid doesn't seal well--behold the dribble.  We threw them out in Cooke City, Montana, and replaced them with heavier stainless steel lined mugs.  Whatever you get, don't get these.  Full on zeros.

34 gram knife:  Okay, so it was too good to be true.  The knife was soooo cool looking, but it's performance was mediocre at best.  The thin blade flexed far too much and made food preparation a pain in the butt.  Too expensive.

The seat cover in Jodi's left hand, while not used much, was an excellent tool.

MSR MiniWorks EX water filter:  

While this filter gets high ratings on the REI website AND it was chosen by the US Marines, I was not pleased.  It's slower than other models, and it seemed finicky, not wanting to pump properly on the second time we used it.  The intake valve was staying open so that when I compressed the lever, water went back OUT the intake tube rather than into the bag.  Pain. In. The. Ass.  We had problems, as you know, with the MSR Sweetwater system:

The problems, however, were my fault.  The main issue seems to be that the ceramic filter was wet, and then we had some hard freezing nights, which cracked the ceramic. Note to readers and self:  When the filter ain't totally dried out, keep it close on cold nights.  We've always liked this filter and never had problems in the past, so I returned the MiniWorks EX (thanks, REI), and replaced it with a new Sweetwater.  These are lighter, pump more easily, and have fewer moving parts than the MiniWorks.  With the adapter, it can be attached to virtually any container.  We'll stick with this from now on.  After The Time of Hurling, we never needed the filter again, but we will have other trips.  Check 'em out.

I think that covers some of the key players.  Jodi was very pleased with her sleeping bag system comprised of two ultralite Mont Bell down sleeping bags.  This was handy for dialing in sleeping temps, although Django was known to take a little too much of the cover bag on some nights, the sneaky hound.  I use an REI "Sub Kilo" 20 deg. F. down bag, which I've had for five years.  It seems to be losing some of its loft, but I was generally comfortable most of the time.  Our tires were strong performers too: Schlwalbe Marathon Racers, Performance Series.  I think most of the Racers are of this new style.  We had only six flats for the whole tour, and all of these but one came after we'd put more than 2,000 miles on the skins.