Sunday, July 26, 2015

Failure to Summit

It is quite a balancing act to find the perfect topography for mountain biking: mountains and canyons that are fun to look at, but are not so harshly vertical to make pedaling a wheeled machine impossible.


There is a beauty to land that is felt rather than seen; felt from the pressure in your feet, butt, and legs. When steering, shifting gears, or leaning your weight, you feel the land like a wind surfer or sea-kayaker feels the surf of the sea.

On the way back we passed a group of hikers who were getting out of their motor vehicles (their most important outdoor equipment, after all) and getting organized to climb the nondescript mountain in the photo, above. There was something un-stereotypical about them that pulled me in. Perhaps it was the high dog/hiker ratio. Maybe it was the vehicles: not a single Honda CR-V or Subaru Forester in the bunch. And everybody was wearing long pants, long-sleeve shirts, and broad brimmed hats. (They were from Arizona.)

They were attempting the trick that I had been thinking about: taking an ATV trail partly up the nondescript mountain, bushwhacking through a dead spruce forest, and then, hopefully, popping out onto that beautiful flowery and grassy ridgeline, for a soft boustrophedon walk to the top.

The next day I came back and tried it. The ATV trail turned out to be flattish and smooth enough. But where was the point to cut away from it and bushwhack through the dead forest? I had hoped to see better through the dead forest, and to get a peek at a bright green spot, the tell-tale hint of the desired grassy ridge.

No such luck. Eventually I realized that the chance was missed. Now what? What a desirable question that is! It is fun to be stymied by nature. To hell with maps or GPS gadgets. Let it be an honest duel between the mountain and the man, with only the sun to steer by.

Would the ATV trail eventually give me a peek through the dead forest to the giant "park" (meadow) that dominates this area? If so, I could tromp my way back to the dirt road.

This time, it worked. We emerged onto miles of open and soggy meadow, graced with una brisa fresca. There is no pleasure sweeter than feeling openness and a breeze after the buggy claustrophobia of a dense and vista-free forest. I felt giddy, and wanted to put my arms out wide and start turning, like Julie Andrews at the beginning of "Sound of Music."

Ahh but Mother Nature still had a few tricks up her sleeve. The meadow looked dry on top. But you never knew when your step down would produce a squish. I was finally appreciating Gore-Tex hiking boots! The meadow was a plurality of semi-parallel swales. A swell word, 'swale', and this is the year for it. One syllable, fun to say, and of "origin unknown" according to Merriam-Webster.

The grassy part of the meadow fell off into a bushy part. One has to be careful not to be suckered into supposed through-routes of grass, only to land in a cul-de-sac of unwalkable bushes.

This was great sport. It was like kayaking through a marshy estuary, and keeping your senses attuned to the slightest current in the water, which might suggest a through-route, and finally debouch into an open bay.

Out in the middle of the soggy meadow there was a good view of the mountain that I had somehow missed:


From this angle it looks so easy to find the isthmus to the soft curves of the mountain.

There is a certain type of land that brings a smile to my face, and why shouldn't it? No shape is more pleasing to the fevered male imagination than a reclining earth-goddess:


Stripped of modern perversions of nature, and spurning the prudishness of the virginal Henry David Thoreau, there is no reason to be uni-sex or puritanical when "nature-writing." Nature means all of nature, not just some of it.

Instead, let us embrace the timeless classics of Mythology 101, by seeking out productive land that embodies the Female and Mother principle, while consigning the Male principle to the sky...



...with all his bombast, showing off, and undependability.

Or better yet, consider the brief drama of the two opposite Principles temporarily cooperating with each other:


Be that as it may, was I ever going to make it back to the van? It helps to look for rocky lines through the soggy meadow, because you stay dry along them. I successfully navigated my way through the bushy cul-de-sacs, only to end up in larger cul-de-sacs of meadows and dead trees. But we kept on until the dirt road could be peeked at through the dendrological detritus of the Rio Grande national forest.

Out we popped onto the dirt road, and just a few feet away from my big white van. An unsuccessful summit, but a successful meandering loop.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Can Old People Still Learn?

It is funny how a somewhat vague idea can grab you sometimes. But you suspect that there is something valuable hiding in that vagueness, so you wrestle with it on a blog. It might be one of the better reasons for blogging.

Currently I'm on a 'learning counter-intuitive habits' kick. I am beginning to see the development of new habits and capabilities as an example of learning at its best. Think how far it is above the learning of a mere factoid.

But this is not a sermon for developing sheer willpower, like some crazed Puritan, and forcing yourself to develop a new habit which actually repels you, but which you have come to believe is 'good for you.'

Rather, it is about the exquisite tipping point, half-way from habit A to habit B, as if you were trapped in a Escher print.  

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Wasn't it Edward Abbey's "Desert Solitaire" that described the transition of Arches National Park into an over-improved tourist trap, replete with a paved auto-loop, visitor's center, and entrance fees? You could probably walk into a bookshop, head to the "Travel" section, and find a book with a title like, "Top Ten Auto Loops in America's National Parks."

Indeed, the human mind has a predisposition to loop-routes, rather than out-and-backs. I did too of course, at the beginning of my RV career. I wondered if I would ever find enough loops to make bicycling (or hiking) a big part of the Good Life.

My inclinations were just the opposite of geographical reality: most dirt roads started at the side of a secondary road; then they headed up into the mountains, getting steeper and rockier as they climbed. Finally they just crapped off altogether, perhaps at an old mine, abandoned ranch, or water tank, or at an impossibly vertical side of a mountain. You could only turn around and come back down.

This seemed so disappointing and frustrating. After all, wouldn't I see the same thing again? How would that be any fun?

But reality eventually won. Instead of a 'grin and bear it' attitude towards geographical reality, I came to think of it as 'my idea.' Over time I became addicted to the rhythm of the out-and-back. The scenery didn't look the same on the way down, because I seldom looked backwards on the way up. The relationship between the dog and the mountain bike reversed itself on the way down. Instead of getting an aerobic blowout, I got lazy, thought about safety, and enjoyed the scenery on the coast back down. It seemed like eating dessert.

Thus a "problem" turned into a new habit, Counter-intuitive Habit #3, Enjoying out-and-back trips. It might have been the first success in my new lifestyle.