Tuesday, July 21, 2015

This Old Rope

I’ve owned many over the years—climbing ropes, cords, lines, klettertau auf Deutsch.  As a teenager, I was perversely proud of my first real climbing rope, an 11mm in bright yellow.  With that thick snake coiled fat and heavy over my shoulder, I was a climber, by God.  Ignore the tall, gangly, mettle-mouthed kid awash in insecurity.  See this rope?  Yeah, I’m a climber.  I had knickers, too, for a while, obsessed as I was with the world of classical European alpine climbing.  I even shook Riccardo Cassin’s hand once, so sit down and shut up.  But it was the rope more than anything that symbolized my new-found identity.  Once, while waiting for a friend to get out of class, I walked the halls of my high school with that first rope over my shoulder, showing it off, basking in its reflected glow.  It made me exotic, staked out a small patch of adolescent turf that helped me navigate that difficult time, even if I now cringe at the memory.  I couldn’t talk to girls, but I could begin my training in the vertical arts, and those fifty meters of golden nylon were my path out of the emotional mud pit of high school.  My first climbing friend, Jim, admired my new rope, too.  And his mother was Swiss, and he’d done guided climbs in the Alps.  It just didn’t get much better than that.  For a long time that rope hung off the end of my bed as I drew pictures of big mountains and read through every climbing book I could find, the stylish moves of Gaston Rébuffat playing across my youthful dreams.
The Northwest Tooth in the Matterhorn Peak range of northern Yosemite became my first alpine ascent.  I’d been bouldering and climbing obsessively that year.  This was in the 1970’s, before climbing gyms, sport climbing, and endless Youtube clips of superstars flashing the gnar.  At sixteen I was almost always the youngest climber in any gathering, hanging out around the intimidating older men, but Jim and I resolved to do this expedition on our own.  He piloted a fine old Mustang over the Sierras, through Bridgeport, and up to the Twin Lakes trailhead where we shouldered huge frame packs and pounded the dusty miles up to the shining granite of our ambitions.  With virtual alpen stocks, we climbed the steep snow slopes, bridged the moat, tied in to that beloved rope, and clambered up the mid-fifth class rock in clunky mountain boots heavy with steel eyelets and stout Vibram soles.  It’s what Rébuffat wore, so that’s what we used.  We were real mountaineers at last.  On the descent, we even had to rappel, trusting our lives to that symbol and fact of our connection to the mountain, to ourselves, to each other.
I don’t remember what happened to that first rope, but I’ve loved and left many.  There was that stout length of purple steel cable my friend used for a while, a Chouinard rope of fearsome handling qualities.  I’ve cursed an old-school Maxim with a mantle slipping inches, the tip dangling like a flaccid miniature elephant trunk.  I’ve fought devilish kinky knots as I hung from overhangs, the brake side of the rappel line wrapped around my thigh going numb as I worked diligently to clear the entanglement.  My life improved dramatically when I learned the butterfly coil for carrying and throwing.  Like a fool in a hot blacksmith shop, I quickly dropped Satan’s method of sitting on the ground and throwing the rope in quick loops around my knees and thereby inserting a twist into the line with each stylish toss.
There are few experiences with gear as sensual as taking a new rope into your hands for the first time, that slippery silky promise of adventure.  Of course, the old hemp and goldlines of yore were hard, unforgiving, and dangerous, but the modern kernmantle cord is a sexy beast first developed in 1953 by the German company, Edelrid, a brand I’ve used more than once.  I’m no fundamentalist prude when it comes to rope ownership.  Indeed, polyamory is encouraged.  Sample many and find your true loves: Edelrid, Edelweis, Mammut, New England, Maxim, blond, brunette, redhead.  You’ll need a time machine to latch onto one of those steely Chouinard cables, however, since Yvon dropped his climbing gear company long ago.  While you’re back there, check out the foam-back storm gear, too, for some old timey sweating.
A reliable belayer and a trusty rope have saved my bacon more than once, helping me rappel off stormy peaks and arresting unanticipated circus tricks at the crag.  On a recent outing to a small lump of crusty quartz monzonite, my wife, Jodi, fed out the new favorite, a Mammut 9.5mm, as I scampered up the edges and slopers of a route we discovered on the grimly named Tombstone.  Perhaps forty feet off the deck, I stepped gingerly to my left and latched onto a comfortable but gritty finger rail—nice.  More ascents should clean this right up.  A few feet shy of the anchor, I saw a perfectly shaped knob that would allow an easy hang while clipping.  I quickly glanced down the rope as it now led some distance down and to the right, passing through three bolts and into Jodi’s capable hands.  Hmmm, I thought, that would make an interesting fall.  I pulled in and up on the rail and slipped the fingers of my left hand over the knob—oh, this was a good one—a perfect lip and texture to accept my eager grip.  Curl, lock, hoist—snap!  With most of my weight committed to the knob, there was no fighting gravity this time. I pitched off and accelerated hard, a 185 lb. meathead arcing towards the deck.  With a loud “Oomph!” I hit the end of my swing, winched Jodi’s hundred pounds into the sky, and together we bounced about ten feet off the ground.  Bug-eyed, both of us looked at each other.  “Should I lower us?” she asked.  “I guess so,” I replied, and the excitement was over.  We lowered, I saved the hold for the menagerie at home, and we climbed the route without further drama.  The rope worked, and Jodi saved her husband from actually needing a Tombstone instead of climbing one.
Ropes have always worked for me, but of course that is not the case for everyone.  The most famous rope failure of all time was the broken hemp of the Whymper party on the fateful descent from the first climb of the Matterhorn in 1865.  Ironically, the weak rope saved Whymper and some of the party because it failed.  Unanchored to the mountain, had the rope held, the entire party would have zippered off the mountain to their deaths.  A hundred and thirty three years later, Dan Osman would fall to his death when a weathered and worn roped freefall line broke and sent him to the ground.  He’d left it up for weeks, and the park service demanded he take it down.  One more jump couldn’t hurt. 
And then there was the case of a rope working too well.
For pitch after pitch, Simon Yates had lowered his injured companion, Joe Simpson, down the snowy face of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes.  Whiteout conditions blanketed the wall, and Yates couldn’t see that Simpson had slipped over an ice cliff and out into space with insufficient rope to reach the bottom.  Holding the full weight of his companion, Yates was slowly being pulled from his unanchored seat in the snow.  Simpson dangled in the icy gloom, too injured to ascend the rope and unable to communicate with the increasingly desperate Yates, who knew that little time remained before he, too, would be pitched off the mountain.  Yates did the only thing he could.  He took out his knife, made sure all the loops of rope were clear, and cut loose his friend, certainly killing him.  We can hardly imagine the grief and horror of such an act.  As chronicled in Touching the Void, Simpson survived his deadly fall.  Perhaps, in this case, cutting the rope saved both their lives.
The rope from my Tombstone fall has been retired now.  It sits in two pieces and a partially constructed rug on our living room floor, a summertime project for Jodi.  The ends were getting puffy and worn, frizzed and frazzled.  When you start to have doubts, it’s time to let them go.  Sorry, old friend, but we had to part ways.  No hard feelings, eh?  It was good while it lasted.  We’ve got your mate in the rope bag now.  She’s new, shiny and slim, 9.5mm across, 70 meters long, dry treated, knows how to take a knot, over $300 worth of kernmantle glory.  Like you, I know she’ll treat us right.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Horror: Real Estate

We sit in the comfort of an air conditioned room at the Trees Motel, an old school joint with--you guessed it--some trees out front.  We are in Bishop, California, with the terrifying plan of buying a new home.  The day is hot, muggy, threatening rain but not delivering more than a drop or two.  We've done a nice hike in the mountains, and now we wait to meet some new friends for dinner. This situation, sitting in a motel room, is so familiar from the long tours we've done, but there are no trikes or bikes clogging the space between bed and wall, no jerseys drying in the closet, no take-out spread across the table.  No, we're on a mission to change our lives.

Jodi has had a few health challenges lately, some adrenal and thyroid issues, and when we came home from a recent doctor's visit, she said, "Scott, you have to retire in two years."  I didn't argue, but when calmer minds reflected on the finances, the idea of a full retirement at 55 was pushing the edge too far.  Technically, we could make it work, but there would not be enough padding for things like out of control gas prices, exploding cars, alien invasions, that sort of thing.  No, I couldn't unhook so early from the community college that has dominated my life for the last two decades.  The retirement structure is such that they really encourage senior faculty to hang in there.  That's okay.  They win.  I'm not digging ditches.  The main issue is burnout--with certain kinds of students, with the administrative duties that kill the soul.  What we did resolve to do was go to our original plan:  Work full time (for teachers, that is), for the next two years then go to half time for as long as I can take it, probably until I'm sixty, maybe sixty-two.  So, that's the plan.

The problem is that now is a good time in the real estate market, and while we had considered buying a house and moving to Bishop fulltime, that would be leaving a great home and good friends.  But there was no doubt about the draw of the East Side, so a second home plan was hatched, a place to escape to, a base of operations, a getaway for getting to what satisfies our souls.  With my academic schedule and then going half-time in two years, we'd have ample opportunity to use a place.  But what would that look like?

Housing in Bishop is, well, insane.  Between Los Angeles Water and Power and the BLM, there is precious little real estate for anyone.  This state of affairs keeps housing prices very high.   We found that decent homes in the 1,300 sq. ft. range start at about $300k, and such places will likely need some work.  That's right:  $300k buys you a "fixer upper"!  Of course, with such high prices come high taxes.  No go, Joe.  So we immediately turned to mobile homes, of which there are quite a few in the Bishop area. 

After scrapping the idea of a full move, I kept scanning the real estate listings.  Then, one morning: Uh, oh.  Jodi, we have to look at this one.  Tiny park, end unit, big trees, a creek.  A lightning drive up and back in a day to check it out, and now we find ourselves in escrow.  The horror.  Endless expensive inspections, worry about whether or not we're making the right decision.  Ugh.  It's a big investment, about $60k, but when all is said and done, we can make the monthly nut.  We're excited to have a tiny piece of the East Side, even if we do have to rent the tiny patch of land from the Piute tribe, which is fine by us.  The tribe is mellow about dogs, and Django quickly made a couple of good buddies in our short time there.  Actually, our end unit comes with about 1/4 acre private land--almost unheard of in mobile parks.  We don't get the expansive views, but the huge willows and the north fork of Bishop Creek are sweet compensations.

Now the long, drawn-out escrow process grinds along like a glacier.  I don't think we'll have access to the place until sometime mid- or late August, just in time for me to get back into the classroom.  Oh well.  Below are pics of our latest adventure:

So that's it for now.  My adventures these days are financial!  Oh, I'm slowly recovering from my rib injury, and we hike or bike every day, but I don't know when I'll be back in the great outdoors.  Below are a couple of photos from hikes we did during out quick trips to find and purchase the mobile.  Trailheads for these hikes are about 20 minutes from our new place.  You get the draw?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Gear Talk: East Side Tour notes

This is just a quick post to review some gear selections and issues from the recent tour.  Above are the two totally new pieces of gear used on their first tour: a Thermarest Neoair Trekker and the super fantastic Instaflator!

The Trekker, while not the lightest of the Neoair series, is a bit thicker and a good deal more durable--perfect for my needs.  The large model featured is a full 72 X 20 inches, so when I pile up rain gear/sweater/etc. for a pillow, my 6'4" frame fits just fine.  With 3" of thickness, I can dial in the softness for side-sleeping, too.  This is the best back packing/cycle touring pad I've ever used.  It's a good deal lighter and more compact than the Exped or the Camprest I've used in the past.  And it works well with a Big Agnes camp chair, which I can't recommend enough.  My back can't take sitting on the ground without support for long periods, and the chair kit makes rest days especially restful.

One drawback to non-foam filled air mattress, such as a conventional Thermarest, is the dizzy-inducing need to pump them up.  At the end of a had day's riding, the last thing you want to do is blow into a big pad and fall over like a drunk.  Enter the Instaflator.  This is an ingenious device that weighs only a couple of ounces and allows one to pump the bulk of the air into the mattress very quickly.  And it will break your bank at $3.95.  Below, I'm giving the tube a quick puff to open it, then one simply rolls the tube like a giant tube of toothpaste (see above).  Presto, you've got a pumped up pad.  To get the pad firm only takes another breath or two at the valve.  Be careful not to push it too hard as I did first time out.  I busted the light plastic, which I easily fixed with some clear packing tape.  The whole pump rolls up into a small handful when you're done.

The grey tent in the photos is my trusty Light Year by Sierra Designs.  If I were in the market for a single person tent, I'd go with the Eureka equivalent: Spitfire I.  It's lighter, somewhat better price, and seems to garner excellent reviews.  Both of these work well for tall guys.

Blogging was accomplished with my Dell Windows Tablet and Fintie keyboard--great gear!

I was able to keep things charged up with an Instapark Mercury 10 USB solar charger, which I highly recommend.

More my next tour on the Haluzak, I'll be ditching the yellow panniers.  They work, but hassling with the zippers gets old after a while with the way the bags fall open like a slacker's mouth.  I'll get an underseat rack and use the LLoonngg panniers we purchased for out desert trike trip last Dec.:

I'm not sure these are still available from ERRC (Easy Riders Recumbet Club).  I'll check and report back.  These are big, waterproof, and just the best recumbent panniers around.  Pretty light, too, checking in at under 3 lbs. for the pair.

Ride on, brothers and sisters...

East Side Tour: Days eight and nine

Day eight: June 15th

What is wrong with me?  Why do I strain at the pedals, fight gravity in the burning sun on a bike with load tipping the scales at 80 lbs. or more?  Why do these miles slip by in slow, sweaty effort?  Why do I smile and think that I am astoundingly lucky to be here?  Clearly, there is something wrong with me, an extra chromosome kinking my helix, an infection of the brain, a flaw in my character.  God help me, but I love this shit.

We awake to a stillness that was missing for the first part of the night when a mighty wind came down off the mountains and thrashed everything in town.  We fill our guts with Whoa Nellie Deli goodness in the midst of a fevered rush, crowds crowding, a slick band called String Theory busting out jazzy, bluesy, Celtic and blue grass tunes.  We have to crank hard downhill to get back to the RV park.  But now, at 5AM, all is still, the earliest possible light knifing into our camp with little to block the sun on the horizon, many dozens of miles away.  Danny is way ahead of me, almost fully packed, then fully packed as I’m still shoveling cereal and slurping coffee from his cup, mine having vanished somewhere in the gale, a coin for the ferryman.  Dang, that was one of our best backpacking cups, too.  I’ll have to order another one when I get home.

We start slapping blacktop shortly after 7AM, rolling into a 40+ mile day of rolling climbs, although Deadman’s Summit will work its magic for over 1,000 ft. of elevation gain.  There is no question that we could make it to Bishop and home today, but dropping into that caldron of molten lead in the afternoon sounds crazy even for us.  Dawn patrol for the last day makes much more sense, so it’s Tom’s Place today and a long afternoon curled up in the shade of a Jeffery pine, where I write these words.

The day is brilliant, not a whiff of cloud nor a single contrail in the dry atmosphere.  Danny and I leapfrog across the landscape, slicing through tall pines, gaping at mountains with lingering snow, too soon to be gone for the year.  But there are the Whites, hanging on still to the big dump they received in May.  We feel like we’re cycling within view of the Himalayas, those peaks in white so remote and inaccessible. 

The traffic is light on 395; sometimes there isn’t a car in sight, and when a vehicle does zoom by, the usually wide shoulder makes it a non-event.  I think of my and Jodi’s ride down the Icefields’ Parkway in Alberta back in 2012.  The riding here in the eastern Sierras is almost as spectacular but with better road conditions and far less traffic. This route, from Lone Pine to Carson City, needs to be recognized as a national treasure with some significant improvements put into sections of the route to make it more bicycle friendly.  WAY more people should be riding this country.  With the exception of roadie day-riders, we only see three other long-distance human powered travelers:  Two loaded cyclists on different days and German Jesus with dog and a dolly, who makes a plodding appearance in Lee Vining as Danny and I are hanging out at the RV park.  “Hey!” cried Danny, “There’s that Jesus dude!” That’s one determined evangelist, ja.

Eventually, we peel off the main highway and take a nearly deserted route to Hilton Creek, Crowley Lake, and the last significant climbing of the day.  This is where I strain and grin like a fool.  At least it keeps me in shape.  There’s utility in that.  I do think the UN would freak out if we made Gitmo prisoners ride up mountains like this for which mental patients such as we eagerly volunteer.  I can hear tin-hearted Dick Cheney smacking his lips in pleasure: Yeah, that’s it.  Forget the water board—too easy on ‘em.  Let’s make ‘em pedal Monitor Pass on a fully loaded recumbent!  They’ll be begging us to talk after five minutes.  But I do this by choice, by preference.  This sick puppy dreams of such struggles.  So it goes.

About noon, I turn into the shade of Tom’s Place, grab an orange juice, and revel in the shade. It’s good to pedal, but it’s also good to stop.  Danny arrives and we celebrate with burgers in the restaurant.  Later, we crank up to the campground and this delectable shade, the breeze singing in the pine needles. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Tomorrow, we rise before the sun and plunge into the valley ahead of the rising mercury.  This tour is almost over.

Day nine: June 16th

Four thirty AM, and somehow I emerge from the clutches of the Sandman to see the faintest light on the horizon.  I struggle to sit up, grab my headlamp, and start packing.  It always seems to take over an hour between first wakeup and first push of the pedals, so I fight the urge to go back to sleep.  By 5:50AM, we’re zipping down from the campground, sun on the high peaks and now pouring in golden intensity into the valley.  Oh, how I hate to leave.

In moments, we’ve tipped over the edge, gravity’s claws hooking deep, the wheels spinning furiously.  I pull ahead, loosen my shoulders, and nervously finger the brakes.  No time for mistakes, no room for error.  A crash at 40 mph would be gruesome.  Therefore, I will not crash.  The bike and I are old friends, comfortable with our moods, responsive to each other’s movements.  I know what she can do; she knows I’ll keep the speed below ludicrous.  I’m grateful for the dual discs slicing the chill air in the canyon, the trees blurring.  I channel the late great Dean Potter for a few seconds.  I don’t have a wingsuit, but I’m flying just the same. 

I bottom out in the darkly shaded canyon and begin a short but serious climb to the last summit of the tour.  It’s a bear, full-on granny gear spinning.  Above, a band of sun ignites the volcanic rocks.  Bring. It. On.  Danny pulls up behind and starts to gain on me, but at the top we discover one reason for his failure to overtake:  a flat on the trailer.  He can usually beat me on the climbs—but not with a dead tire.  We patch it in a trice and throw ourselves into the wild curving deliciousness beyond.  Mt. Tom’s outrageous bulk commands substantial visual real estate, but the sinuous curves bring us views of the Whites, the dark gash of Owen’s Gorge, the broad flat valley and the inviting square of green denoting Bishop over a dozen miles away.  Bank, brake, accelerate, for a couple of minutes, I have no motorcycle envy.  We are children cut free on a 2,000 ft. super slide.

Except for a gentle bump on 395, virtually all of the remaining miles are very gently downhill or dead flat.  When a sign indicates Bishop, 9 miles, we know they have a very short life expectancy.  Massive cottonwoods overhang the road at broad intervals.  Mostly, we are engulfed in brilliant light, the morning still cool as we’d planned.  It’s the best of all possible endings.  By 7:30AM we pull the brake levers for the last time and dismount next to the truck in a quiet neighborhood.  Danny and I grin, shake hands, a little stunned that our adventure has ended.

Time to plan for another one.  Next!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

East Side Tour--Day seven

Day seven: June 14th

We slept well beside the river, the breeze blowing steadily through the pines.  Up with the birds and the first paling in the east, I sit up in the tent and get the day rolling, packing the down bag in its tiny compression sack, putting on riding clothes.  I stumble out and spark the stove for my solo drug habit.  I know it's not good to drink alone, but when it comes to coffee (the true spelling of God), I'll drink solo if that's what it takes.  I've got to find a way to get Danny hooked.  By 7AM, we're turning pedals up canyon, following the river to its source, a large but shrinking reservoir going to the dogs in this drought.  This one is saved by grasses growing down to the shore, so the "bathtub effect" isn't so bad.  The crown jewel of the area glows pale in the morning sun, the Matterhorn Peak range bordering northern Yosemite, the scene of my first alpine climb back when I was 16. 

We zip along the water's edge, happy to find the road has been repaved to mostly fill in the previously brutal frost cracks, which resulted in miles of chunk-chunk! chunk-chunk!  chunk-chunk! as front and rear wheels hit the mini Grand Canyons.  Now we gently glide over the gaps, the dips mild and quickly forgotten.  By 8AM, we turn onto Hwy 395 and begin the business of Conway Summit for the second time on the tour.

Hot, slow climbing leaves us gasping and suddenly pouring sweat after the earlier cool riding, but there's nothing to do but keep at it.  The massive peaks of the Sierras close in to keep us company and ease the strain.  After a couple of miles, the wind shifts, and suddenly the climbing is all roses and puppies.  By 10:30AM, we're grinning fools on the summit.  The descent is too quickly over, like life, in the end, I've been told, but these moments of speed and freedom, the blue eye of Mono lake calm and inviting, the White Mtns. still white and lordly in the distance, the high country around Mammoth to the south pulling us on and on and on...these moments are worth living.  We live them well and roar into the basin, cross the lake shore, and climb painfully back up to Lee Vining, the day's riding done and done.

The tour is nearly done.  I'd thought of climbing Tioga Pass, but the heroics of yesterday have slaked my thirst for big days.  Today we'll lazy about, shower, rinse out riding gear, slurp coffee at Latte Da.  A world class re-match is in order at the Whoa Nellie Deli, gourmet food at a gas station if you can believe it.  A pitcher of Golden Trout Pilsner is in serious trouble, too, if we have anything to say about it--and we do.  Tomorrow we'll roll back the miles to Tom's Place for a fairly short day because the thought of descending into the furnace of a Bishop afternoon is not appealing.  As it is, the day will be warm enough.  My next post will be from home to wrap up the adventure and discuss the gear I've selected for this adventure.

Play hard, people.  Life is happening now.

East Side tour--day six

Day six: Sat. June 13

A handful of slacker mosquitoes fancy a drink, but I’ve got other plans. With a mighty smite, my hand crushes the mosquito dream.  So it goes. We’re camped beside the East Fork of the Walker River.  The sun has left the high ridges, and, finally, a cool has settled into this remote canyon.  Today hinged on a whim, and the payoff was grand.

I crawl from my one-person tent at 5AM to find Danny already packing his tent.  A man on a mission.  We have some big hot climbs to do today, and we want to hit them as early as possible. Shortly after 6AM, we’re pulling away from the campground, rolling through the silent town, and attacking the first hill of the day, a 700 ft. stinker to test the coffee pulsing through my veins.  We enjoy the perfect new pavement, and I overheat after putting on too many layers down in the chilly damp of the creek bed where we spent the last couple of nights.  I relish the cooling descent to Woodfords and another thrilling roll along Carson River Rd. past stout pines and vertical cliffs of chocolate basalt.  In no time, we’re motoring north along Hwy 88 then cutting over to Hwy 395, the Mother Road, my home no matter where I live.

Warm climbing straight into the sun makes for journeyman cycle touring.  Scruffy ridges of sage and pinyon pine rise on both sides of the road.  To the west, the massive Sierras dominate the skyline under a clear sky.  Sweat and spin, sweat and spin, these will be our reality for most of the day. 

Danny drops me, especially after I pause to adjust a brake pad in the vain hope of curing a squeak that was coming on in the last day.  Quiet climbs are now punctuated with an annoying little sound.  Later in the day, the gremlin will vanish most mysteriously.  I keep my eyes on Danny hundreds of yards ahead and keep my cadence up. By mid-morning we’ve cracked the bugger and cost down the south side, inhaling a few well-earned fast miles.  We coast and crank due east on Rt. 208, straight into the wild heart of Nevada.  At a rural store, I connect with Jodi briefly.  She’s astonished to be almost done with her job, quitting after almost ten years.  It’s got to be hard, strange, and a relief all at once.  I feel disconnected, in another world staring out at a vast sage basin.  It’s already 80 deg. F. in the shade.  Time to get moving.  We scarf down a couple of ice cream bars to get us up the next pass.

The road is classic Nevada blacktop—a heartbreaking straight shot all the way, miles of incline mocking us, taunting, demanding, but alluring, too.  On the other side is the Smith Valley and our next camp, an RV park on the Carson River.  But something happens on the way to RV heaven.  A breeze makes the heat bearable.  The climb falls with ease.  I dig into the grade and love the effort, feeling challenged, alive, happy.  At the summit, I know what we have to do.

“Hey, Danny, what do you think about going past Wellington?  It’s so early. We’ll be at the RV park by noon.  I don’t fancy sitting around there all day.”

“We’ll have lunch in Wellington?”

“Sure, of course.”

“Then why not?”

Good man, that Danny.  Always up for the next adventure.  Damn the heat.  We’re going big.

We burn gravity into Wellington, shot-gun peanut butter and honey sandwiches and an apple, get some cold bottled water at the local saloon, and plunge into the hot sage beyond.  At times, the air feels airless, and sweat pours off my arms and down my neck, but clouds are building over the Sweetwater Mountains and spreading partially over the valley.  Occasionally, a delightful pool of shade washes over the road, and we pedal for several minutes in bliss, only to ride out the other side and back into the full glare and heat of the sun. 

As we near the mountains and the serious climbing, I stop to take a couple of pictures.  I don’t see Danny again until near the summit.  We pedal in our own worlds, gearing down, straining, watching the thunderheads swell and bulge over the high peaks to the west.  At one point my feet are simply burning, so I park the bike and creep into the shade of a nearby pinyon, munch a bar, and take in the silent wilderness of trees and sky.  How far ahead is Danny now?  I don’t worry.  He’ll wait at the top. Tops and turns, that’s the rule for waiting for either of us to catch up.  Tops and turns.

Once again I press the pedals and prey the clouds ahead will shade the road.  A chaotic flock of swifts suddenly fills the sky, darting and chirping, towering clouds and heartbreak blue as a backdrop.  Wild irises dot the green meadows beside the road.  Perhaps once every ten of fifteen minutes, a solitary car passes.  I hardly notice them.  The sky, the mountains and storm, the heat, I’ve pedaled into a feverish dream, and I never want to leave. 

At last I turn a corner and see the unmistakable silhouette of Danny on the crest above.  He sees me and moves on.  I take painful bites out of the increased steepness ahead but choke it down nonetheless.  Soon I’m by Danny’s side. He explains about a low front tire.  We figure—wrongly it turns out—that we can nurse it down to camp.  I pump it up while he steadies the bike.  We push for the top.  As I hoped, the massive spreading grey mass has cooled the high country, and we pedal more comfortably, break the last high point of the day, kicking off into a miles-long descent through a landscape of thunderheads, sheets of rain to the east.  We seem to be threading the tempest.  A brilliant, ragged lightning bolt rips the sky and vaporizes a tree on a distant ridge.  I study the spot for some time as I coast gently into the valley.  Wildfire?  It looks like smoke is lingering, but the country is still damp from the huge storm we cycled through, and nothing seems to catch fire.  I hope for the best and resolve to enjoy all these hard-earned miles.  In a stunt impossible on a conventional bike, I cross my legs over the boom of the recumbent, and stretch out, wishing I had a cold beer to sip as I enjoyed the scenery.  What joy!

I’ve far out-paced Danny with my greater aerodynamics, and he’s nowhere to be seen in my mirror.  I hit the bottom curve and swing due south to gain the East Walker drainage, the big clouds grumbling their complaints.  My complaint?  A chip seal job on the road.  Not the worst I’ve seen, and it will improve in a couple of years through wear and tear.  But still….

I climb and descend gently, deciding to wait for Danny at the California border just a mile ahead.  I round the corner and leave the chip seal and Nevada behind.  And I wait. And wait.  And the storm is closing in.  And I wait some more.  Where is this guy?  He should be here by now.  I worry about the flat, or another flat, or Danny being knocked off the road somewhere.  Rain starts to fall.  I rig the bike for storm, don rain gear, and flag down a car that is coming from Danny’s direction.  A little desperate, I say, “Hey, have you seen a guy back there on a bike?”

“Yes,” says the main in the white cowboy hat and thin mustache, “he’s right behind me.”

“Great!” I say, and pat is truck as he pulls away.  I walk back along the road, and there, at last, his Danny—pushing his bike.  The front wheel had suddenly gone flat a mile or so back, and he figured we’d meet up eventually.  We fix the flat in the spitting rain and head out, the hour getting on.  We still had a couple of miles to cover.

 Finally, Danny finds the bridge access to the other side of the river, and we roll down the dirt and find camp just beyond the water.  Hallelujah and pass the Ramen, brother.  We’re done for the day.  We each went down to the river and doused and doused and washed off the heat and miles and strain.  The storm shifted to the south east and faded away as is the habit of summer tempests.  We pitch camp, eat, and retire to our tents as darkness falls into the canyon.

Now I write sitting up in my little tent, the wind in the pine needles, the river rushing gently a few yards away.  The incense of sage fills the air.  It’s been a great day, certainly Danny’s biggest touring day, and a stout one for me, too.

81.5 miles

4,700 ft. climbing.

Friday, June 12, 2015

East Side Tour: Days 3 and 4

    Above: The climb up Monitor Pass

Day three: Wed. June 10th

We awake to dry but seriously threatening clouds. The sky everywhere is grey.  As I slip on my cycling shoes, the first drops of rain fall.  Okay, here we go.  We slip out of the RV park and drop steeply off the bench where the town of Lee Vining sits—fast, cool. For some long, blissful minutes I harbor a dream of out-riding the storm.  Perhaps it will stay more to the south, and we will somehow thread the needle.  This dream lasts until the base of the serious climbing to Conway Summit.  A determined, opaque, thoroughly soaking grey wall envelopes us, the rain suddenly steady.  I put on Goretex tops and bottoms, slip the bags over my feet, and get down to the very wet business of getting up the pass.  The rain builds and builds until it is a steady soak, sheets of water pouring across the blacktop, a virtual Ganges in the gutter.  The pants and jacket do their job, however, and I’m warm, sweaty, but comfortable enough in short-sleeved jersey and short cycling pants underneath.  In fairly short order, I round the final curve and catch up to Danny, waiting in the recess of a Caltrans materials building, his bike pressed up against a huge pile of grey gravel.  He’s just barely under the overhang.  I take the next bay to the left and pee around the corner into the dark broken rock.   The rain comes down steadily and cold at over 8,000 ft. 

We eat, shake out, watch a group of other cyclists coming up from the north.  Two vehicles are waiting for them, some sort of organized ride. They’re soaked, too.  After almost an hour, the rain seems to be easing up, so we make a break for it, and rip down into Bridgeport, eating the wet and road splatter, but eventually we punch out of the rain and cruise into town under a leaden sky waiting for the weakest of excuses to cut loose again.  We dry out and coffee up in town.

The café occupies a beautiful 19th century brick Victorian.  As we enter and my fingers throb and tingle in the warmth, we hear a loud voice.  Sitting at the window table is a trim 50-ish man with grey beard prattling most voluminously into is Blue Tooth headset about some poker game.  He’s by himself and stares down at his hands—“You’ve got seven cards, and….”  These types always drive me nuts, but I had to take off my raincoat, use the restroom, and get me some brewed bean.  This clown could wait.  When all my duties were complete, I rejoined Danny in the seating area, and Blue Tooth guy was still at it.  Well, doood, two can play this game.  I shook out my plastic foot bags most vigorously.  I talked to Danny in a loud voice, anything to disrupt BT dude.  Eventually, he got up, never stopping his conversation, and walked out to the street.  Jeez.

We shopped for dinner, picking up a couple of brews for later.  These were carefully wrapped in sweaters and towels to maintain a suitable chill, which didn’t seem to be hard to do today.  We stormed back onto Hwy 395, gunning for Devil’s Gate, our last pass for the day.  True to our luck, we cranked straight into the guts of steady pouring yuk, the occasional big rig spraying everything far and wide.  I found that my jacket hood could accommodate the bike helmet, so with this snugged down and the long visor I’d installed, I was able to keep my glasses reasonably clear.  We regrouped on the summit.

“Hey, Danny.  What do you think about pushing through to Walker and getting a room?  Does it sound too wimpy?”  I asked.  He didn’t think so.  Down it was.  We cut sweeping turns into the Walker River canyon, granite crags, pines and boulders overhung by the brooding atmosphere.  For a moment, caught up in the optimism of a break in the rain, we considered stopping, but wisely reconsidered and pushed on as the rain poured down again.  Banking along the meandering white water, we soon broke out of the canyon and landed in Walker, taking the first motel we could find—Sierra Vista, cute cabins.  Ah, the escape of a warm room!  We could actually dry out.  Dinner, the last two thirds of Terminator Three, and out for the count.  We’ll be back.

Day four:  June 11th

This was about the brilliance of a clearing storm, the deep scent of sage, and a climb to the heavens.  After futzing with gear, packing, the usual morning chores, we lit out for the high country, a 3,000 ft. climb to Monitor Pass, one of the best cycling routes in North America.  We reached the base by 8AM and dug in, the pass throwing a stiff punch early, a stout double digit uppercut to assert its superiority.  We countered with a granny gear to the belly and winched up, out of the shadows and into a hot sweaty grind.

We took a break at the first hairpin, a bright stream nearby, the breeze in the aspens.  We’d already climbed 1,500 ft. in the first hour.  Do your worst, Monitor.  We’re ready.  The higher we climbed, the more the air cooled, a breeze came across the high ridges, clouds came and went across the sun—perfect conditions for the hard work.  Stands of healthy green aspens covered the slopes, the angle of the grade weakened, we picked up some gears, and by 10:30AM, we had attained the summit.  What a grand a glorious climb. 

Then, the descent.

The drop to Markleeville on Hwy 89 from Monitor Pass is life changing.  There is your puny, limited little life before this Drop of the Gods, and then there is the rich, fulfilled completeness of your life after.  Until you’ve done it, you’ll never understand.  Trust me.  It’s that good.  Sweeping turns, perfect pavement, mountains, meadows, snow and craggy canyon combine to inspire bliss and sublime flashbacks.  Do it.

The alpine burg of Markleeville oozes quiet charm.  A shining creek cuts across the south end of a collection of cafés that cater to the likes of touring cyclists, roadies, motorcycle groups, and the usual parade of fishermen, hunters, travelers and seekers.  Don’t expect much from the market, but you won’t starve, and the beer is good.

We camped down by the creek in the deserted campground—amazing.  Dunked in the river, lunch in town.  Rest day tomorrow.  These are the simple pleasures of the cycle tourist.

Rest day addendum:  We are going to bake.  We are going to fry.  We are going to roast, sizzle, sauté, simmer.  Looking like low 90’s for the swing into Nevada.  Oh well.  One must suffer for one’s art, mustn’t one?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

On the road on the East Side

Sierra East Side Tour---June 2015

Sorry--connection is too slow for loading photographs!  Imagine for now. 

Day one: Monday, June 8, 2015

Sweat pours from my skin only to instantly evaporate in the high, dry air that hardly moves.  I grind upward, mostly moving at less than 4 mph. Behind me, the Owen’s Valley begins to bake, simmer, and boil, the first hot days of summer moving in.  Vast, dry mountain walls shoulder massively into the blue sky, rising 10,000 feet above the valley floor.  To the east, the White Mountains are, surprisingly, white, still shedding the gift of a heavy May storm, the mantle of snow quickly retreating up slope.  My left hip aches, my feet burn, salty sweat stings my eyes.  For some strange reason, I am happy.  I grin through the discomfort, happy at my labors.  The mighty Sierras are fringed in snow, the enormous pyramid of Mt. Tom dominating much of the view to the south.  Up high to the north, our direction of travel, pinyon pines and volcanic boulders flank the nearly deserted road.  Danny, my partner for this torture, is out of sight somewhere above.

We arrived in Bishop, Ca, mid-morning—too late for such a climb, but there you have it.  We finally starting rolling at 10:20AM, reaching the base of the big climb at Noon sharp, the sun high and glaring down with full intensity. Now we are bound for Tom’s Place, maybe Mammoth.  Given how this climb is kicking our asses, I’ll be happy with Tom’s.  The mileage for the day won’t be impressive, but we’re hauling full loads, and the climb is a full 3,300 ft.  On the way to the base of the giant climb, we come upon one of those weird denizens of the road, a solitary figure with a small, terrier-ish dog trotting along beside him.  The man, on the other side of fifty at least, is hauling a heavy duty dolly with fat tires, the rig stacked high with fat duffle bags.  He marches, head down, in the growing heat.  I stop to ask him what is up.  He answers in a heavy German accent.

“I am heading north.  I have a message vom Got I need to share.”

I ask him if I can take his picture.

“No, I…no, I don’t tink dat would be a good idea.”

Alright then.  Too bad.  He was quite the character.  Unwilling to hang around for the sermon, with a devil of a climb heating up, we roll on down the road.

In the heat of battle, I take a break and let Danny extend his lead.  I’ve got to cool off and let my burning feet take a break.  Hot climbs take it out of most body parts.  I snap a couple of shots, the obligatory selfie, and saddle up for more hijinks.  Shortly I join Danny, who’s standing in the shade of the only tree around.  I join him amidst the scraggly branches of a pinyon pine really too small for a decent shade tree, but it offers some relief.  After too many years of these games, I know well that mountains do not submit to idleness.  Only a solid work ethic gets the job done, so back at it boys.  Lunch down by the creek, okay?

We crack the false summit, plunge too quickly down to Rock Creek, and slip into some blessed shade by the water, the little creek chortling merrily across our naked feet.  Not bad, mate, not bad.  After lunch, more climbing.  Near the top, I come up to Danny who’s standing bent over, his face looking not good.  “Hey, man, what’s up?” 

“Cramps,” he groans.  The sun, heat and sweat are taking their toll.  Danny throws some electrolyte powder into his water, chugs hard, and staggers painfully around the side of the road, trying to shake off the cramps.  After some slow riding, we limp into Tom’s Place and cold drinks in the shade.  Camping just above will be just fine, thank you, even with the $22 rip-off fee.

We make camp, procure adult malt beverage recovery drinks and all is fine.  The early evening sun glows on the snowy mantle of the Whites, a cool breeze cuts through the pinyons, we joke and tell lies around the picnic table.  It’s a good life if you can get it.

Day 2:  Tues. June 9th:

After yesterday’s grinding 3,300 ft. of climbing, today comes down to less than 2,000 ft. and only 40 miles of perfect cycle touring—fat, generally smooth shoulders, building clouds shading the sun, rolling climbs and breezes in the Jeffery pines.  I grin and whoop and holler and wish Jodi were here to dig this groove.  Before noon, we roll into Lee Vining, showers, and camp.

As I type these words at almost 2:30pm, clouds are covering the sky—blessed cooling but leading to a 40% chance of showers tonight and 80% tomorrow.  Things could get pretty interesting for the big climbs.  Oh well.  I’ve got rain gear, and it looks like I’ll need it.  After tomorrow, odds for rain back way off for the monster climb over Monitor Pass.   Then we get a rest day, which we will definitely need.

Some pics of the shizzle:  : (

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Impending tour

Here's the good ship Haluzak ready to tour.  I don't think I'll use the Burley this time, however.  I'll be using the Radical panniers that carried me so efficiently across the USA in 2007.  Here they are hanging on my dearly departed Street Machine--Mojo:

This photo was taken in western Arizona on the big day from Kingman to Needles, one of the great days of that cross country epic.  The back route through Oatman is one of the best rides anywhere.  After doing the calculations, I just couldn't resist the temptation of losing twelve pounds.  Also factored in there is that my partner, Danny, is a monster.  He's been doing triathlons and hitting the podium in smaller races for his age class--a couple years above me.  He's fitter than most fiddles and has the added climbing speed of an upright, so I need to stack the deck in my favor.  Here's the look of the new rig tricked out:

As I unloaded for packing into the truck, I weighed all the stuff, including a full 3 liter hydration bag.  It comes to about 50 lbs.  That includes the weight of the bags, trunk pack, straps, EVERYTHING.  I don't have a hanging scale, but I figure the bike with fenders, seat pad and all is in the 30+ lb. category, so we're looking at a fat load, which will go up a little once we add some lunch and dinner stuff.  Oy.  Still, I took it out for a shakedown spin, which includes a mandatory 11% stinger getting home, and all was well.  Yeah, it's work, but that's the point, right?  I'll be fine.  To deal with the big climbs and heavy loads, I popped on my Stonich shortened mtb. cranks:

That's a 22t granny.  I would have liked to put a 12/36 on the rear, but I'll get by with the 11/34.  It shifts great, and I'll need that bottom for sure.

Here's an uninspiring photo that represents a pretty good struggle:

X marks the location of a tiny tiny itty bitty puncture in a Thermarest pad I might loan to Danny.  This leak would take hours to deflate the sleeping pad, which I struggled with during the big winter tour. I'd have to get off the pad in the dark AM and pump a few breaths in so as not to bottom out--ugh.  I had to use a few inches of water in the tub, pump the pad up to the max, fold it over a couple of times, THEN put all my weight on it to finally discover the friggin leak.  I've had this pad since before my cross country ride in 2007,

Here's another challenge met today:

Not impressed?  I put toothpaste INTO the small tube, a paste transfusion, if you will, from the big to the small tube.  Living life on the edge, I tell you what.

This ain't my first rodeo, but it's surprising how keyed up I've been today getting ready.  These big rides are always exciting even if it's familiar terrain.  We had originally planned to ride a big loop in N. Cal. and S. Orygun.  The more I thought of it, the less excited I was about the full 8 hour drive to get up there, basically two full days sitting on our butts, not pedaling.    I convinced my partner with a brief phone message that we could start in Bishop and do an alternate tour:


We may not include the bottom loop, but I would like to slog up Tioga Pass to the Yosemite entrance as I missed that last time we did this, back in 2011.  God, has it been that long?  Stop, demon time, stop!  Well, one way to stop it is to plug into these massive climbs, and that is what we aim to do.  This tour has some genuine epic passes.  One must-do is Monitor Pass, one of the greatest ascents in N. America, for sure.  The descent to Markleeville is life changing

Well, I should be able to post a little from the road, so stay tuned for some updates.  I'm bringing my Windows tablet and a solar charger to keep things fueled.  We'll see how it goes. 

Ride on, ladies and gents, ride on.