Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Long Term Love Affair with a Certain Type of Land

While selecting a new tow vehicle I have been aware of the disadvantages of having once worked in the automobile industry. Consider the analogy of four middle-aged male friends, sitting at a cafe after golf. The geography of their table makes for some pleasant and harmless girl-watching, at which all of the men except one consider themselves an expert.

The foot-dragger is a middle-aged, male gynecologist, who has been putting in unusually long hours lately. He tries not to be a "wet blanket" on the discussion, especially after one of the men brags about how "hot" his new girlfriend is. But the best the gynecologist can manage is a condescending smile for the sake of his friend.

But I wonder, does the world-weary gynecologist really consider his ennui a higher form of wisdom? Or is there one part of him that envies the naive enthusiasm of his friends at the table?

This analogy doesn't just apply to someone like me buying a new tow vehicle. It also applies to a longtime traveler and full-time RVer. We naturally feel superior to the wannabees and newbies who drastically over-rate scenery and escapism. But don't we "old wise" ones want to hold on to something of the freshness and naivete of the newbie?

These two situations are best approached from the point of view of the "Zest" chapter in Bertrand Russell's "The Conquest of Happiness." I have been forewarned by his book against the conceit of feeling superior to those who enjoy topography and scenery. It's true that I spurn bar-coded postcards and photo cliches. But these are passive and mindless. It is far better to select land that the mass-tourist doesn't whip out his digital Brownie camera for. There are several choices. 

It my case it has been a long-term love affair with grassy ridgelines. There is a fine set of these overlooking the townsite itself of Little Texas #2, CO. Today my dog and I took advantage of the end of rain and hiked up these lush, productive, feminine, ascending rumples, starting at town level. For years I have lusted to do this, and now we finally have. I was not disappointed. 

I even backtracked to the trailer because I forgot my camera. But it didn't matter. We got such a late start (0800, blush) that the best light was already passed. Next time, sunrise. 

Perhaps it does the reader more good to be teased into imagining these rumpled ascending ridgelines, rather than to be spoon-fed photographs that he can passively consume. At any rate, I have found my long term love, and hope that you find yours.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Hiking Should Be More Interesting and Less Donkey-like

Clearly it has benefited me to do a fair bit of hiking during my years as a full-time RVer. It would have been easy to underestimate the pleasure of hiking and to get discouraged. I'm glad I didn't let that happen. Still, it would be nice if people who enjoy the sport even more than I do would divulge a few of their secrets and principles.

This would be far more helpful than the typical hiking blog post. Why even read the post if you already know what it is going to say: that they walked X miles and climbed Y feet along the Pioneer Trek trail; and that it took Z number of hours; and they walked to Emerald Lake, by way of Bridal Veil Falls; along the way there were some breathtakingly-beautiful wildflowers, sunsets, bunnies and Bambis, etc. Yawn.

Too harsh? Because 'the medium is the message,' the internet favors chirpy posts, globbed over with Photoshopped digital postcards. Must I throw in the sugar pill that 'there is nothing wrong with any of this?' But it is an opportunity missed. Trumpeting that opportunity is the theme of this post.

Walking for a practical purpose seems more natural and interesting to me than "normal" hiking, aimed at scenery and exercise.  But that is another topic. Today let's restrict the topic to "what can make normal hiking more interesting?"

Why do some people enjoy hiking so much more than other people do? To many people, outdoor exercise is a dreary or uncomfortable thing that they probably 'should' do because it would be 'good for them.' I think that this is the first syndrome to avoid. We should learn to want to hike.

1. Start early in the day. When you are chilly, you do want to walk. You don't have to nag yourself into it. Hiking tends to be a hot sport. It is slow-moving, and the air feels dead.

2. Don't aim at long boring hikes. Steer towards short, intense ones. Duration is inherently boring and donkey-like. Intensity is stimulating.

The best way of avoiding getting sucked into long boring hikes is to avoid car-pooling. Go somewhere close, and drive yourself. When you are bored, turn around and go home.

3. Other people can be a source of fun on a hike, but a dog will be fun  -- almost automatically. Obviously she must be off-leash to count as a wild and joyful canine. Study the dog. Let her infect you. Be more like her and less like a Camelbak-humped, bipedal beast-of-burden. A dog's enthusiasm is centered on being a predator. They are not interested in punishing themselves for being a few pounds overweight by hiking a certain number of dreary donkey-like miles.

See if you can adopt a predatory attitude towards what is out there. Hunting and fishing are more natural than typical, city-slickerish, Honda-CRV-driving hiking. But that would take us off onto another topic. Let's just say we need to find the 'moral equivalent' of hunting and fishing. Go off the trail. Get lost, get scared. Take a chance with the weather. Come back with manful boasts about what you did.

Finding a rare flower or rock, or sneaking up on wildlife -- and outsmarting them -- are other examples of thinking in a predatory way. So is nailing the perfect postcard. But wouldn't this contradict my usual disdain for postcards? Actually my objection is to mooning and swooning over beauty. It is too nambie-pambie. And beauty by itself doesn't make outings interesting.

4. Aim at trails that have a lot of contrast. Nothing could be more boring than claustrophobic hikes through an over-grown forest. Similarly I find a hike completely above treeline to be lunar and sterile.

The other day I was hiking along a ridge near Little Texas, CO. The forest would get thick and miserable for 15 minutes, and then I would pop out of it, off to distant views, and a cool breeze. This cycle of Agony and Ecstasy happened several times. It was glorious. You can find hikes like this at the lower treeline as well as the upper. This is frequently overlooked.

Imagine a hiking trail laid out along this serried ridgeline. In and out of the forest gloom, in and out of the view and breeze. The hiker would be like the sun popping in and out of the puffy cumulus clouds.

It is difficult but important to learn how to appreciate the positive side of Suffering.

5. Are you new to an area and having a hard time making a choice? Perhaps there are so many possibilities that you find yourself procrastinating and doing nothing. Then park at the bottom of a cell tower, and hike up its road. Many hikers think they need to be on an 18 inch wide, official, hiking trail. Not so. Roads sometimes provide more open views and faster walking.

There are many more techniques, and I truly wish that people who do more hiking than I do would explain what works better for them, and why! Don't just tell us What and Where -- we could get routine information of that type from the visitor's center.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Thinking Yourself into -- and out of -- a Hole

No doubt most readers have experienced dead-ends when they were trying to solve tough problems in life. Even worse, there is that dreaded feeling that the more they think about the problem, the less good it is doing them.

Yes, it infuriates me how large and expensive vans and pickup trucks have become. Perhaps the best way to start is with a sense of humor.

Consider the more-or-less useless car reviews written at the big name websites (Edmund's, Car and Driver, Car Connection, etc.) When it comes to a specific model made by Corporation X, their reviews are bland and innocuous. How could they be otherwise? The reviewer is at the mercy of the corporation for a freebie car to test drive. Typically the corporation flies the reviewer to the assembly plant, puts them up at the airport Marriott, wines and dines them, gives them a tour of the automobile assembly plant, and perhaps an interview with a high-level executive.

Even if all of this didn't butter up the reviewer, the reviewer has to realize that a negative review will mean that, next year, a rival reviewer will be the first to get the new car. And the corporation might become an ex-advertiser with the reviewer's employer.

So does this conflict-of-interest make reading car reviews a waste of time? Not completely. Reviewers can get away with being candid about entire categories of vehicles. For instance they are having fun with the minivan-ization of the so-called crossover utility vehicles. These are the vehicles that have virtually replaced the heavy, gas-sucking, truck-based SUVs that every other suburban soccer mom drove between the early 1990s and the late 2000 Aughts.

We aren't talking about Toyota RAV4s and Subaru Foresters. We are talking about the Chevy Traverse (and its corporate twins), the Toyota Highlander, the redesigned Nissan Pathfinder (better called the "Mall-finder") and even the larger version of the new Hyundai Santa Fe. These are good vehicles, but they are also thinly-disguised minivans for 30-45-year-olds who don't want to look old, married, and stodgy.

I was hanging out at a bakery in Little Texas, CO, the other day, and watched one crossover "utility vehicle" after another roll in. I noticed that the side panels were stamped with a slight crease around the front and rear wheels. No matter how superficial this was, it still made the mommy-mobile look more "rugged" and "truck-like". This trick really works! It was funny. (Serious trucks and SUVs have flare-outs in the fenders around the wheel wells. It is supposed to make you think of muscular shoulders.)

And that is the right attitude to have. Laugh it off, while continuing to try to beat the system, no matter how restrictive and idiotic the modern vehicles have become. In fact I noticed something on somebody else's pickup truck that might come in quite handy for a guy like me. Next time...