Friday, November 22, 2013

Winter's march

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

Gear talk: A tale of two headlamps

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

Falling into place

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!