Sunday, December 29, 2013
From the Mojave, we headed south to the land of saguaros, the Sonoran desert. None of these iconic cacti are found west of the Colorado River, although the cactus in the opening shot is a type of cholla--very pretty but nasty to tangle with! Keep your distance and enjoy in the abstract, thank you very much. We camped and hiked in the fabulous Kofa National Wildlife refuge, a place of over 500,000 acres set aside for the elusive desert bighorn sheep, which we have spotted on a couple of occasions, although no this time. Rough dirt roads and incredibly rugged mountains define the area. Except for a couple of jeep drivers, we had the area to ourselves for a couple of days--sweet silence and remote camping. Except for washes and the few roads, there are no trails, so one must navigate by the numerous landmarks. We found that by carefully selecting our route, we could keep Django (and ourselves) clear of the dreaded cholla spines. We always carry a Leatherman multi-tool for pulling spines and such from paws and boots and legs. To our delight, Django go no spines in his paws on both the hikes we did, even if the second one was only following a road. Jodi did, one morning, inadvertently lead the poor hound into a nest of the dreaded things, but I came running to the rescue and lifted Django--whole hog--out of the mess and cleared his paws. Virtually windless, still and sunny days, cool and silent nights, the joy of desert camping in the winter:
We tried a little rock climbing in the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix:
In the morning shade we headed for the Hand--the slender spire on the right. I don't have a lot of pictures, but the climbing was thrilling, with often poor or sparse protection. At one point I clipped into an old, bent, loose piton that, if I fell and it pulled (likely?), I would smash into the ground from at least 60 feet.
Sunday, December 22, 2013
We finally got on our way. The grades, at long, bloody last, had been posted. The house sitter was put in place, the rig packed, the winter air clear and crisp. Our first stop was Joshua Tree National Park, featured above. I didn't get any action shots of the climbing, but that sunset was one for the record books. We're still adapting to life on the road, the tight quarters of the camper, the long winter nights. The climbing has been going okay, but we both feel rusty and need to log more time. Still, hiking, gawking at the big desert sky, climbing a few rocks, what more can you ask for? Important, too, is digging deep into books we've been nibbling at but not really digesting. My current read is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell--fantastic! Count me in as a major fan. Below are a couple of shots from hiking up Teutonia Peak in the eastern Mojave. Currently we're doing a Las Vegas drive-by to visit some relatives. Can't wait for southern Arizona. Looks like good weather, at least for a while.
Monday, December 9, 2013
As people across the West are well aware, an arctic flow has descended upon us--thanks fer that, Canada. We love it in remotest Tehachistan when the glaciers advance and the ice bears cometh. Fortunately, it hit after school and during a weekend, so travel was never a question. We sat back, watched the temperature and snow fall. When the storm cleared, we lit out for the territories in the mountains hereabout. As a teenager when I became aware of what mountains really were, I always fantasized about living in a place where it snowed. Here, at least a few times each year, my dreams come true.
Saturday, December 7, 2013
We've been seduced by the gravity dance lately, so I thought I throw up a few photos of our cool/cold weather destinations. The lead photo is from Texas Canyon, as a few below will show as well. It's a strange conglomerate that can have loose pebbles and holds, but these clean up over time, but if you look closely you can see holes, pockets, knobs and nubbins. Some of the biggest holds are chunks of coarse granite somehow glued to the matrix--weird and fun. All of the climbing is bolt protected as there are few cracks. The route above is unnamed, clocks in at easy 5.9, and runs for a full rope-length, about 150 ft.
Jodi and Django keep a sharp eye on the fool on the rock:
Next we sampled some limestone way out in the desert:
December on a south-facing crag and we were hot! Not scorching, but Jodi did construct a shade structure for Django, which he was happy to use. We enjoy this time of year when the rest of the country is icy and cold and we get to grab sun-warmed rock. Of course, in August, this wall would be killing-hot. Everything to its season. Currently, this is our seasons as I type these words:
So we hunker down, sip hot coffee, and enjoy the snow as it blankets this remote corner of Tehachistan. The ice bears are coming down out of the high peaks. Time to sharpen some sticks and stoke the fires.
Friday, November 22, 2013
My favorite Zen tree dominates the foreground in this picture from my hike this morning with Django. The local mountains took a waxing down to about 5,000 ft., our first good snow of the season. I love this time of year. Django is bouncing off the trails, rejoicing in the cool splendor of it all. My semester grinds on, papers growling in the corner, demanding, sneering--Read me! Read me! Can I bear another dangling modifier, another comma splice, another garbled sentence that leaves me reaching for a 40-ouncer of Scotch? The hike has put me in a good mood, so I'll soldier on, as we all must. Three weeks to the end. Can such things be? The silent snows of the Tehachapis aren't saying. Django, however, heartily approves:
Sunday, November 17, 2013
With the nights of winter looming, headlamps become a regular feature of outdoor adventures. When Jodi and I hit the deserts in December and January, we'll be facing long hours in the tent and camper. For the trike tour through Death Valley, close to 12 hours in the tent is not unusual since we'll be traveling during the shortest days of the year. This means lots of dealing with camp chores, reading and the like done in the dark. A reliable headlamp is essential. The compact LED revolution has created a wealth of fantastic headlamps with a brightness and battery life that was unthinkable back when I started hiking, biking and climbing.
There are many lightweight models on the market, and two of the biggest brands are featured in the lead photo: Princetontec Fuel and Petzle Tikka.
Princetontec: I love so much about the Fuel model: Its compact design, its brightness, and a very reasonable $20 price tag. What I don't like is the extremely fragile hinge on the battery access hatch. As you can see in the photo, it's not connected to the body. That ain't right. This is, in fact, the second time something like this has happened. The first unit I owned exploded when I dropped it from the astronomical height of about three feet. I was on an extended hiking/climbing trip, and the lamp bounced off the bumper of our truck. The hatch snapped and popped. Thinking that this was merely a fluke, I later ended up purchasing a second one on a different trip when I found I had forgotten the Black Diamond headlamp that was purchased immediately after the first Fuel explosion. Recently, the second Fuel exploded in an even more ridiculous fashion: All I did was apply some leverage to the hatch release, and the damn thing went flying! Clearly, the spec on the hinge is too thin to perform its function. I've recently contacted Princetontec about the issue. We'll see what happens. Until then, stay away from the Fuel model. It's a waste of money.
Petzl: The model featured in the lead photo, the Tikka, has a trike-touring related history. A couple of years ago, I undertook a solo trike tour of the Pacific coast from Sonoma County to Santa Barbara, a tale recounted on Crazyguyonabike as Mists and Ghosts. While climbing to the area featured in the title page photo, I stopped to take a break on the brutally steep Coleman Valley Rd... and behold: A Petzl headlamp lying in the dirt. Road booty! I scooped up the swag and went a-grunting up the 19% misery above. The Tikka has been my go-to lamp for reading and checking on the chickens at night. Years ago, I had another Tikka. The plastic on its body turned brittle after a while and cracked, too, finally becoming unusable. My current Tikka seems to be holding up nicely, however. Perhaps Petzl got the memo?
Below are two other lamps we've been using--the Black Diamond (apparently discontinued model) I purchased to replace the original Fuel and another Petzl Tikka XP 2, which Jodi uses:
The main advantage of the Petzl is that it has a red LED single bulb mode, which is great for reading at night. Your night vision isn't adversely affected--at least not much--and if your partner needs to sleep, the red is far less obnoxious. The XP 2 has a beefier case and hinge--hooray. I'm kind of on orders to get one of these for our coming adventures. As I'm reading the latest book about Lance Armstrong's litany of sins, I can head to the front of the pelaton while Jodi calls for the sleep sag and drops off the back. These more versatile headlamps come at a premium and generally run in the $50-$60 range. The XP 2 has held up very well, and Jodi recently replaced the headband with the only one the shop had available, this one by Black Diamond, as you can see.
So grab a good book to fill the hours between hitting the road, rock and trail, and don't forget your trusty LED headlamp. In the heart of winter, morning is a long time coming.
Princetontec update: What awesome customer service. I sent an email yesterday about the battery hatch, and this morning I got a response. The company will be sending me a new part free ASAP. So, be wary of the delicate hinge, but the company stands behind its products.
Sunday, November 10, 2013
Shadows lengthen, the days shorter and cooler, the trees burning with a dying fire. Autumn is my favorite time of year. I tolerate the summer, but it is the fall that I live for. I've been hip deep in the demands of teaching, so like most years, my outings are restricted to a weekend day here and there, the thrill of a short bike commute or the occasional longer run down to the college, although I'm growing tired of that ride, mostly because of the illegal dumping and garbage along the second half of the ride. Let's face folks, Bakersfield is pretty much a dump. Once I'm out of the mountains, the riding is good, but the scenery blows. I'll continue to do this 45 mile mega-commute once and a while for the exercise and the little thrills it can give me, but my heart isn't always in the game.
At long last my injured finger seems to be tolerating some genuine effort and strain, so Jodi and I have been hitting the rocks. I found that I've been benefiting from more regular weight training in my little home gym in the garage. We've had some incredible weather this year, so even in November, I've had some workouts with the garage door open, shirt off, slingin' weights like the middle-aged fool I am. In fact, I was in mid-workout on Halloween when three kids--the only children I would see--came over from across the street, a girl about 8 or 9 years old leading her younger charges. She was dressed as Hobbes, her little brother as Calvin, so I was down with this crew. Probably the scariest thing she did was cross the street towards a half-naked 6'4" tall man in dark glasses pushing weights! The uncertain look on her face was classic! I was delighted and ran to get them a few candy bars. The good stuff, too: Kind peanut/chocolate 1 percenter bars, I tell you what. They left, and I reveled in the bright evening sun on the mountains. The kids were out early, for sure.
The rocks. The rocks. The rocks. This is a deep, old addiction for me, one that got its claws into my soul back when I was 15. Virtually all of my friends have long since dropped the sport, moving on to other things. Jodi is my main climbing partner, and this activity has been central to our relationship in many ways since we first met. I did, after all, sell her a pair of crampons for the Sierras when we first met. Yeah, she was hot for a shop boy. Now, if I don't climb with Jodi, it has been with some young lads, over thirty years my junior, who tie into the other end of the rope. It's a sad fact that most men of my age are on the accelerated path to sedentary and fat. I read today that the average American eats 150 POUNDS of sugar every year, much of that in the form of high fructose corn syrup, of course. GAH! Imagine three fifty pounds sacks of sugar. Grab a spoon. Dig in, dudes.
Where am I going with all this? I have no idea. I'm addled from too many essays, a beer heading too close to empty, the setting sun on the mountain. We climbed well the last couple of days, feeling that old joy of the push and pull, the bite of fear and overcoming. We have some great adventures in store that I will record here for the handful of readers who stumble in. We will ride our heavily laden trikes from Lone Pine, California, to Las Vegas, Nevada, over ten days ending on Christmas day in Vegas. We've done this ride before, although never precisely this way. First, we've never cycled directly over Towne Pass from the Panamint Valley, usually taking Wildrose Summit. This time, we'll go direct. Then, instead of heading out through Death Valley Junction, we'll head due south from Furnace Creek and then over Salsberry Pass to Shoshone. We've never climbed that pass from west to east before. Should be some good, hard triking and a few sub-freezing nights for sure. After the first, we're bound for the outrageous rocks of Cochise Stronghold in southern Arizona for a week or so of vertical hooliganism. I've got some ideas for tech articles, too, so check in occasionally. You never know what you might find.
Get out, get out, wherever you are!
Saturday, September 28, 2013
Our first ride together for the fall 2013 season and it was a beauty. Winds from the east scoured the sky and burnished the blue and left us gaping in wonder. We scrapped plans for a rock climbing day, rigged the trikes and cranked out the twenty mile, two thousand foot round trip to Keene. Jodi and Django slug away at the big grade in the photo above. This is my 100th post, and it's nice to feature a beautiful ride. The Microshift levers on the Expedition are still proving their worth. After our big 10 day tour to Vegas this winter, I'll post more about them and any other gear that needs discussing.
Ever since early August, Jodi and I have been thinking about where we were this time last year--in the Rocky Mountains, of course. Below I've uploaded a couple of pics from this day, 2012. We were in the heart of the Colorado mountains in the vicinity of Hot Sulphur Springs, and Jodi had just recovered from a harsh bacterial infection caused by bad water. It would come back to haunt her when we landed in Espanola, NM, but for the rest of Colorado, we were in fine form. September 28th has proved a blessed day for this triking couple.
Saturday, September 21, 2013
For cycling nerds like me with deep experience using Dura Ace bar end shifters, the sorry tale of Shimano's poor quality control is well known. Once the gold standard in shifters, the bar ends got worse and worse. For over a decade, I used the old thumbies on an mtb and never had a single problem. When Jodi and I had our Greenspeed recumbent tandem, we went for thousands without a problem. On my old HPVelotechnik Street Machine, I put in 10,000 trouble-free shifting miles. In the years since every set of these shifters has failed to one degree or another. Mostly it's a slight and then increasing sloppiness that makes precise shifts impossible. You can feel the indexing go, the sharp notches blurred. The issue is a flimsy plastic ring with holes in it. It wears and cracks pretty quickly. One of the nice features of Shimano's bar ends is that they can be converted to friction with the spin of the wire ring featured above. The bad news is that I've been given no choice in the matter. To cope I've simply adapted to friction shifting. For the most part, this has been fine, but when cranking the Catrike Expedition down the road, I really prefer indexed shifting because of the radical maneuvers I have to make working with the Schlumpf internal bottom bracket gearing. That unit takes a 2.5 to 1 jump, so to make my gearing transition smooth, I have to pop up or down two to three gears in the back. Making this move precisely every time without indexing is pretty challenging.
Enter Microshift! The black unit on the right is one half of a new set of Microshift bar end shifters I recently acquired. They are Shimano 9 spd compatible and don't have a friction option. The rubber cover on the lever has a slight ergonomic flare that I prefer over the Shimano. So far, I have a couple of rides on my Catrike with the rear shifter. I'll get to the front one soon, but always being friction and only dealing with three gears, that's never been a problem. The Microshift has performed well, although I may need to adjust the derailleur a little still. The shifts are sharp and pleasant. Occasionally, I've had to do a tiny "trim" on some shifts to clear a slight noise, but this could be due to improper adjustment. Overall, I'd say I'm happy with the results. Finish and materials are very bit as nice as the Shimano stuff. After I've logged some bigger miles, I'll post a follow up. The best news? They run about $70 vs. the $129 $himano is now asking. And I believe Shimano has dropped the friction option. So if you need to replace, or you're putting together a grouppo for your next steed, check out these units. I think you'll like them.
Sunday, September 1, 2013
The enormous Rim Fire (300+ square miles) in the Yosemite region was expected to impact our air quality today with a "Air Quality Warning" issued for our neck of the Sierras. This morning we suffered under the skies featured above. I can't complain! Okay, a little. It was humid, but the building cloud cover shaded us from the full assault of the sun for much of the ride and made the final 10% climb back to our house almost pleasant. A nice ride for sure. I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon working on bike/trike maintenance. A stubborn chain ring bolt needed replacing on Jodi's Catrike, and I struggled mightily for some time before succeeding. Boy did that feel good when I finally got it out--a stupid little task that took far too much time, sweat and swearing, I tell you what. Then it was on to the Haluzak and a much needed front derailleur adjustment, which lead to a much needed general cleaning, especially chain and chain rings--freakin' filthy. I gotta do a cassette clean on that rig, too, I tell you what. Still, it was fun and productive to futz with the velo-gear for a couple of hours, and the Haluzak is now scrubbed and ready to rock for the big ride down to Bako on Tuesday. Get out and ride, folks.
Friday, August 30, 2013
For human-powered travelers, the road, any road, is the road less traveled. Regardless of the traffic, the streams of SUV's, buses, big rigs, and Harleys, when it's our legs and lungs that carry us, the way ahead is a different place, both internally and externally. We feel the wind in our faces, the heat sizzling on our skin, rising up from the blacktop in shimmering waves. The cold bites and numbs. The climbs wear us down while the descents recharge our flying spirits. Each mile requires an investment that no bank account or MasterCard can buy. We engage in an intimate relationship with the earth and the elements, with our own will to continue, our own straining muscles. Each ride, every hike leaves us changed in some way. Can the same be said for sitting in a car? A boxed-in chair that deposits us, blood pooled in our butts, at the next destination? Every day I witness the multitudes of the overweight, sick Americans seemingly content to let machines do all the work, content to take the road most traveled, always, and I despair. I'm not that old, just 51, and I've seen the shape of America morph into its current diseased spread. What joy of movement, what charge of spirit and soul these bodies are missing! There is a religious and philosophical point of view that calls the body the temple of the soul. We need to stop defiling the temple. When we take the road less traveled, we honor that temple, we reinforce the walls, put up the finest stained glass, and let in the light.
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Zippin' with ol' Zeus, I rolled away from my garage at 5:30AM yesterday for my first run of the semester down to the college. Thor was kickin' Asgard to the northeast, lightning ripping through a dark wall of clouds. Hot, humid, I started to sweat right away, over 70 deg. F. at dark thirty. I pushed on, tipped my wheels over the pass and plunged into the valley. Ferocious tailwinds kicked in, causing dangerous eddies and swirls as the road twisted down the mountain. At times I was flying along at over 40 mph, others I had to unclip, hang a foot out just in case, and hold my speed under 20 mph when I would normally be doing close to 40! Then, on the long, gentle decline at the bottom as the road straightens out, slicing through large orange groves, I maintained a steady 30+ mph with minimal effort--everywhere and all around a deep blue sky and towering thunderheads. Breathtaking in so many ways. It's good to be out on the bike sometimes, yeah know?
Sunday, August 18, 2013
The key to success at hill climbing, rock climbing, career building--virtually anything--is sticking to it. We get nowhere in life or on our rides unless we persist. Although often painful at first, like running a piece of barbed wire through our thighs, we find that after a time, the pain recedes and serves as an almost pleasant reminder that we are not suffering but living, tapping into something elemental, essential. The oak featured above has been at its job for many years, caring not one wit for the strand of wire stapled to its trunk. If you can't shake something, make it part of your couture! We hit the road early today, and I finally got the photo of this tree that reminds me of an important philosophy every time I grind by in the low- to mid-single digit speeds. Persist...
Saturday, August 17, 2013
The "beautiful woman" of a different, European variety, a tincture of this plant was used in eye droppers to dilate the pupils of women to make them more seductive. Oooooh, baby, drop some of that there poison in yer eyes and you'll be sooooo HOT! Add to that a dose of radium skin whitener, and we can see that the women's liberation movement didn't come a moment too soon. The European belladonna is among the most deadly of all plants, and a single leaf can kill an adult. The so-called "jimsonweed" pictured above is our home-grown version and blooms in astonishing white trumpets this time of year. Prepared properly, it can provide a dangerous hallucinogen. Don't snack on this at home, kids.
Went out for a walk in the woods at dawn, just good ol' Django and me, cool, even chilly down in "Sherwood Forest" as I call it. I've seen bob kitties, coyotes and other critters down there. Early morning is always the best time. Recently, folks have been running sheep down there, so the grasses are virtually all gone. It's an area we call the "doggie park" or "bark park," although it's really a long defunct golf course and adjacent land. Django goes fully off leash and we can walk for an hour or more. Not bad.
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Hard to believe, but one year ago today, Jodi, Django, and I set out from Jasper, Alberta, bound for glory, sweat, and lactic acid. It will be some time before we can undertake a similar journey. Over the last few months, I've been working hard on a book about this adventure, and, unbelievably, I was able to get a literary agent in New York City to take a look at it. Freaky, right? I'm still a LONG way from getting published, if ever. Of course, if I strike out with the big, professional publishing houses, I'll eventually go the self-publishing route, but this time, I wanted to give it my all and see if any of the big players might be interested. For all the profound difficulty of that trek, and even though I said back then that I wouldn't repeat it, we would both like to be there again, suiting up, clipping in, heading south. If anything, I think we'd both enjoy it more now than the first time. I think I've developed a better perspective on suffering. Of course, perspective comes easily when the sufferer isn't actually suffering! Harrumph. So, in honor of that great trek and all those yet to come, I'll put up some photos of that first day: