Friday, August 30, 2013

William Blake Paddles Down a Dry Granite River

The word 'flow' in the title of the last post and a comment by uber-commenter, George, reminded me of something. Gee, if only the search box in blogger worked right. After some brute-force-searching I finally found that other post. 

This blog isn't a travelogue of Breaking News of the day. There is too much of that approach on the internet. The more minute-by-minute writing becomes, the more trivial it gets. So I rewrote this other experience, hoping that a couple "moments of truth" will come across more clearly to the reader.
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The Little Poodle and I "paddled" upstream -- on the mountain bike -- along the popular Arkansas River, near "Byoona" Vista, CO. We saw one river rafting company after another. As luck would have it, we made it in time for their mass "descension" of the Arkansas River. (If balloonists at the Albuquerque festival can have a mass ascension, then rafters in Colorado can have a mass descension.)


It seemed like a documentary about the D-Day invasion of World War II. Actually it all happened quickly and smoothly.

It has always been a poignant experience to watch people enjoying any water sport. I have tried to connect with the water over the years, and nothing really worked. So I surrendered to my fate as a land mammal.

The little poodle, not being a Labrador retriever, felt the same way. So we turned away from the river and biked into an area dominated by foothills of spheroidally-weathered granite. The road was actually just a dry wash of decomposed granite: small, clean, bright, and loose. It is tiring to bike uphill through loose gravel. A rocky path is actually easier.

We plodded onward, uphill -- or rather, upstream--and into the hot morning sun. Along one section there was a rivulet of clean water that the parched poodle desperately wanted a drink from. He needed some help because the rivulet was only a half inch deep. 


So I scooped the loose granitic gravel into a hole, making it easier for him to drink. It was strange how this didn't muddy-up the water. Here I was, surrounded by the Collegiate Peaks (all Fourteeners) and the marvelous Arkansas River. But the mere sight of such things had little effect on me.

It was only when I scooped out a drinking hole for my little poodle, and felt the desperate lapping of his little tongue against the palm of my hand, that I was strongly affected by what was around me. I guess William Blake really was right. ("To hold infinity in the palm of your hand...")

I pushed the bike uphill for a long way, knowing that when we turned around, it might be easy to bike down the dry wash. (A more prudent approach would have been to test that theory closer to the start.) Indeed, it worked out just as hoped. It's one of the advantages of mountain biking.

Descending the dry wash on the bike was a strange experience because I couldn't really steer the bike, properly speaking. I could only react to the changes in the looseness of the granitic gravel. The path was troughed and concave, and I could only try to keep the wheel straight. 


Looking at my front wheel, it appeared as though it were stationary and the gravel was flowing by, like water flowing by the bow of a sailboat. I could only help the gravel steer me back to the center. With each minute, this unusual mountain bike ride seemed more like kayaking down the Arkansas River. It gave me the unusual satisfaction of actually connecting with a water sport for perhaps the first time in my life. And I was on dry land.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Flowing Through Colorado's Best Land

Gunnison, CO. Why try to restrain myself? I am in my favorite land in Colorado. Good luck to those who enjoy static shapes and colors in the landscape. But I'll never understand them, for better or for worse.  For me, the outdoor experience is primarily about motion, be it transportation, cyclical processes and strife in the environment, or my own motion as an observer.  Even an activity as pokey as hiking can provide enjoyment if I vicariously experience the frantic running of a doggie hunter companion. 

I don't care how the motion is achieved; be it horse, bicycle, a raven playing with ridge-lift, human hang gliders, or kayakers. (As long as it doesn't require a yukkie engine.) Perhaps I should add a You Tube gadget to this blog and let you click on the opening-credits scene of William Wyler's "The Big Country" (1957).

And indeed it is a big country in the upper valley of the Gunnison River. It's a land that has a healthy balance of horizontal and vertical characteristics in the topography. 


The Vertical makes the land visually interesting. The Horizontal invites motion. They each provide something that the other can't provide. They are like the alternating series of sine and cosine waves that monsieurs Laplace and Fourier added up to approximate any wiggle in the world.



There is a  unique opportunity to enjoy motion here, especially for a mountain biker who does not care for technical single tracks. You see, the land is a menagerie of granite hobgoblins.





Better yet, it is decomposing granite. It devolves into a coarse sand. When other places are monsoonal mud-holes, this land is merely wet, with good traction for wheeled machines, presumably because of the shear dilatancy of the granitic sand. The single tracks take on the concave trough-like shape of a toboggan run. In fact one of the trails is called the "Luge."

As a result you can enjoy the childlike pleasure of screaming down these troughs on your mountain bike, while still being relatively safe. How many times have you screamed "yee-hah" without feeling like you are begging for an accident?

By pure luck this was the time for the annual "Rage in the Sage," a 24 hour mountain bike race. How many places could you mountain bike all night with a headlight on and not break your neck?! From the dispersed campsite I could see mountain bikers screaming down an inclined ridgeline, silhouetted against the sunset. Glorious and unique!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Famous "Go Anywhere" Traveler Caught in Boondocking Scandal

I think I had honored my guest, Glenn of toSimplify.net, a week before he showed up in Gunnison, CO. The bolts that hold the travel trailer to its frame were loosening -- and credit that vital discovery to my friend Mark (Box Canyon Blog). Since one of those bolts was under the shower stall, it was necessary to remove the shower stall. But hell, why not just get rid of it! You can see I was already under the influence of Glenn's philosophical penumbra, despite him still being a couple hundred miles away.

What horrors would be revealed by removing the shower stall? Tools, money, or cellphones, that were lost years ago? A rodent nest and one pissed-off mama rodent baring her teeth at me? How about ghastly water damage and mildew?

Oddly enough I found nothing except the bolt that needed to be replaced. It was no small miracle that a plastic tub of just the right size was found at a well-known big box retail store. Then I rigged up a cloth shower curtain that hangs into the plastic tub. The flexible plumbing stayed the same. After taking a standard navy shower, I lift the plastic tub out of there and dump the dirty water into a sink.

This can't be claimed as a huge success at downsizing, but it will be, eventually. That plastic tub could be temporarily laid down on the floor in front of the kitchen sink. Thus you could take a nice navy shower without allocating space for a permanent shower stall. (I also got rid of several feet of shower drain plumbing which used to chop up storage space under the bed.)
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Very well then, I had honored my visitor where it counts: with action rather than words. But would I learn that much from his famous Vanagon? He considers it "self-contained," but I don't. In fact I wish I had a nickel for every time I got excited about a smaller RV, only to see the bubble burst when they finally admitted that there was no toilet or holding tank; then they give the standard van-camper spiel about sponge-baths, baby wipes, or paying $5 to take a shower at the city swimming pool.

To make it even more challenging, Glenn is basically an urban boondocker. That is an activity I deign to, occasionally, when the back-country is pure mud. Still, if 10% of what he did to his customized and ingenious rig was useful to me, then he is worth learning from.

He got into town and we had a marathon BS session at the coffee shop. Because of the rain and mud we both went off in the evening and found our own urban boondocking sites. My site was known to me; I got a great night's sleep there, and that is no small miracle in any town or city. 

In the morning I had many hours to kill before the danged City Slicker would wake up. So I did some errands. While driving around I wondered what sort of place he had found last night.  After hearing him boast of  the "go almost anywhere" qualities of his rig, it was easy to imagine him finding a rare and exotic niche; perhaps it would be representative of an unknown category of places! I was really curious.

Well, as long as the engine was warm I might as well drop in at a certain well-known big-box retailer and do some routine errands. I was not emotionally and philosophically prepared for what I found:



Camp anywhere, go anywhere indeed! Another bubble burst. Still, it was his first night in town, and he soon redeemed himself.



The best way to benefit from Glenn's example is pull out of of the muck of phony pragmatism; ignore dissimilarities of his camping style and yours; and look for the larger significance of his project.

1. He did a rare thing in tackling a ball-buster of a project, instead of the mainstream RV approach of comfort and security worship. These are the very things that turn the "RV Adventure" into a non-adventure.

2. His project would be called an "existence theorem" in mathematics class. Metaphorical existence theorems are very important in the real world. Some people won't try a difficult project until somebody else has demonstrated it to be feasible.



Saturday, August 24, 2013

Travesty in a Tractor Supply Store

Why are they doing this to me right now? It's just going to get me going. They are building a Tractor Supply store in Gunnison, CO. I'm appalled.

Tractor Supply. I'm old enough to remember going to "town" with my farmer-grandfather to buy something at a Tractor Supply store in the Cornbelt of the Midwest, 50 years ago! And the store actually was a part of the agricultural sector of the economy back then. An old fogey's memory being as selective as it is, I remember that he needed to buy a new water pump for his tractor.

Today I will occasionally walk into a Tractor Supply just to wallow in disgust. They are nothing but boutiques that project a "fine country home" image for the benefit of ex-metropolitanites who have moved out to a hobby farm or ranch. Fancy western-style clothes, cute-sie decorations, and gimmicks galore. OK, to be fair, there are still some serious and useful things in the store.

My grandfather drove me there in his pickup truck, of course. What else -- he was a farmer. He must have owned that Chevy pickup for 30 years. It was completely utilitarian. And not that big.

Yes, I know, we are supposed to laugh at the retrogrouch who yearns for the pickup truck to go back to its hallowed past. This is not a new phenomenon of course. Consider the retrogrouches of antiquity. Quotidiana.org has several nice essays by Seneca written about 50 A.D. that scold the "moderns" for living like decadent Greek sybarites, rather than with the honorable, simple manliness of Romans back in the heroic age. Or read up on Cato the Censor in Wikipedia.

But is the retrogrouch actually wrong? There is a larger, more general issue here; but human beings find large projects too off-putting and daunting. That's why it is useful to try to boil it down to a concrete case -- like the pickup truck -- so we can wrestle with it, using our own common sense and experiences.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Retro-Grouch Goes Truck Shopping

Urban Dictionary dotcom defines a retro-grouch thusly:
-noun
1. One who is skeptical of technological developments until their usefulness and reliability have been proven.
2. One who insists on minimalist equipment that may be user-serviced.
3. Sagacious but irritable expert.
OK I plead guilty. Nevertheless I defy you to find a better example of the absurd depravity of modern American culture than the pickup truck. I have never liked them, especially compared to vans, which are my preferred tow vehicle. Alas, vans are going through big changes these days to meet the fuel economy requirements. I am not eager to buy a used van that has become orphaned and obsolete. And really, their fuel economy does suck.

Considering how many complications they are willing to add to the new vans to coax them into slightly better fuel economy, wouldn't it make more sense to just make them smaller, like the late Chevy Astro van? Ahh, but that would be 'turning the clock back', which would violate the "Whig Interpretation of History." They could also make pickup trucks the size of a Toyota Tacoma in the 1990s, but that ain't gonna happen neither.

That leaves a ghastly full-sized pickup truck for my next tow vehicle. Somebody I knew once said that "half of driving is parking."  That memory came to mind recently as I sat in front of a coffee shop and watched these ludicrous vehicles trying to parallel park. And if the turning radius and sheer length of the silly things weren't bad enough, the sides of the cargo beds are so high that it takes a step ladder to reach in and pull something out.

Can somebody who used to work in the automotive industry think more clearly and choose a motor vehicle better than the general public? You'd think they would have an advantage. They should have the same mindset toward motor vehicles that, say, a middle-aged male gynecologist has towards women. But so far, this supposed advantage hasn't really paid off for me.

Gee I've got a lot to say about this topic. Hence I've been procrastinating, as we usually do when a project looks too big.  So let's break it up into small pieces each day...

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Good Feelings When Visiting a City

Moments like this are so rare for me that they really stand out. (And of course they beg for explanation.) I was outside a coffee shop in Gunnison CO, and was enjoying being around the human race, and being in a city. It was amusing to watch full-sized, four wheel drive pickups try to parallel park in front of the restaurants.

A few college kids are back in town early, for the fall session. Every few minutes a pair of remarkably trim and tanned Colorado girl legs would prance by; it made me glad for sunglasses.

The bicycle culture is in full blossom in Gunnison. What magic the right bicycle can perform on an overburdened matron: she sloughs off 20 years as she jumps on her townie-cruiser, in her dress, and pedals away with a few items from the store in the bike's wicker basket. 

Of course Coffee Girl is enjoying the parade as much as I am. The best results are obtained when I am inside the cafe, since that allows passersby to approach her without inhibition. I look out the window and see her knocking off one customer after another. Sometimes she gets the same people coming and going. The most vulnerable of all the saps are those that had to leave their dog home for their Colorado vacation.


It seems so carefree and so entertaining to be around people -- at the right time. First you must get them out of their motor vehicles. They must actually walk down the sidewalk, and the city must actually have sidewalks. Festivals bring out the best in people, but this morning wasn't a festival.



But it seemed like a festival to me. I was in a mood that was reminiscent of the opening paragraph of "Rameau's Nephew", by Denis Diderot. He was one of the leading lights of the Enlightenment in France in the mid-1700s. It's one of the writings that he is best known for today. I don't care for it, actually, except the opening paragraph:
No matter what the weather, rain or shine, it's my habit every evening at about five o'clock to take a walk around the Palais Royal. I'm the one you see dreaming on the bench in Argenson's Alley, always alone. I talk to myself about politics, love, taste, or philosophy. I let my spirit roam at will, allowing it to follow the first idea, wise or foolish, which presents itself, just as we see our dissolute young men on Foy's Walk following in the footsteps of a trollop with a smiling face, an inviting air, and a turned-up nose, then leaving her for another, going after all of them and sticking to none. For me, my thoughts are my trollops. [Gutenberg Australia.]
People can be charming creatures under the right conditions: out of the damned car, out of the drive-through at Starbucks, away from their boob toobs and smartphones, and off of their riding lawnmower. I just wish that I could find more such opportunities.

There was a wonderful scene in "SeaBiscuit" about a messed-up horse, which pertains just as well to dysfunctional human societies.
The trainer, assessing SeaBiscuit's potential: Hell, he's so beat up, it's hard to tell what he's like. I can't help feeling they've got him so screwed up running in a circle that he's forgot what he was born to do. He just needs to learn how to be a horse again.

The owner: Well, how do you do that?

Then SeaBiscuit was taken out to the country and allowed to run for all his might across beautiful country.


This is pretty much my lifestyle out on public lands, away from the filthy noise and traffic of the city. But today I'm thinking about how we can learn what it's like to be a human again -- and stay in the city.






Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Quixotic Quest of Replacing a Zipper

It has happened to most people, several times. You buy a fine jacket and then the plastic zipper craps-off two years later. In the past, "wardrobe malfunction" in the zipper department has followed washing/drying the jacket. Is overheating in the dryer to blame? Maybe I should machine wash the jacket, followed by "gentle" heat, or air-drying since temperature controls at public lavamaticas seldom work.  Please don't tell me that a jacket (with a zipper) needs to dry-cleaned.

This wouldn't be such a big problem if you lived in one town all year. Eventually you would find somebody. But when you are traveling, it is a much bigger problem. It is infuriating to think that the world wants you to scrap such an expensive jacket just because a couple cubic millimeters of YKK Delrin plastic has gotten dinged.

It happened again, just a few days ago. It wasn't as infuriating as the previous time: after making an excellent winter parka last for 20 years, I had finally replaced it with an even better winter parka that had taken weeks to find on the internet. Nobody makes a men's parka that covers your tush. Why would anybody want to walk around with a cold tush in the winter? It finally dawned on me that nobody does walk around; they drive. Parkas are kept short so they don't bunch up when you sit in your motor vehicle.

But eventually I did find a semi-long, well-made winter parka. One day I was out walking on a cold, windy, winter day when the zipper croaked. One failure to get it fixed led to another failure. (Remember that I was walking from place to place, in the cold, with an unzipped jacket.) I was ready to pop with frustration and anger. This forced me to bust out in a different direction: beating the System on this wardrobe malfunction was my Noble Cause for the day. I was going to beat it, even if I had to walk to every possible place in town, and even if I half froze to death. 

'Noble' is not meant facetiously. Think of what is at stake here -- think of what this represents.

CHAPTER VIII. OF THE GOOD FORTUNE WHICH THE VALIANT DON QUIXOTE HAD IN THE TERRIBLE AND UNDREAMT-OF ADVENTURE OF THE WINDMILLS, WITH OTHER OCCURRENCES WORTHY TO BE FITLY RECORDED 
At this point they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that there are on the plain, and as soon as Don Quixote saw them he said to his squire [...], "this is righteous warfare, and it is God's good service to sweep so evil a breed from off the face of the earth." 

"What giants?" said Sancho Panza.

"It is easy to see," replied Don Quixote, "that thou art not used to this business of adventures; those are giants; and if thou art afraid, away with thee out of this and betake thyself to prayer while I engage them in fierce and unequal combat." 

So saying, he gave the spur to his steed Rocinante, heedless of the cries... (As usual download this for free from Gutenberg.org.)
The mundane, prosaic, and literal-minded Sancho had a lot in common with middle-class retirees -- the kind of timid retiree or traveler who haunts travel blogs or discussion forums, and looks for "practical" tips. Actually this means looking for "constant assurance" that it's OK to be the slightest bit unconventional or rebellious of a lifestyle of phony pragmatism, busyness, and mass consumption.  At the very least they should stop thinking like Sancho, and be more like Don Quixote.
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Fixing a zipper is symbolic of how difficult it is to find freedom in an increasingly unfree world. Largely your escape from the Grind consists of lowering your "overhead."  This requires an economy with lots of options for the freedom-seeker to exercise his ingenuity and rationality, albeit with the motivation of sheer stubborn pride.


But America is becoming a country in which what isn't mandatory, is forbidden. There is an unstoppable, downward ratcheting of options and choices. The costs of unavoidable necessities are run up to the moon by government-caused inflation and requirements.

But the good news is that I did find a place to repair the latest zipper problem, in a small mountain city where success was doubtful. They thought that excessive heat in the dryer is the most common cause of zipper malfunction. The store owner was quite old. A sign in the window said that it was for sale. 



Friday, August 9, 2013

There Must Be Something of Value in Mud

Well, I certainly failed to "meet spec" on the recent cold mudhole debacle in Colorado. Yes, it was disgusting and uncomfortable -- but so what?  Let's see if I can redeem myself today.

But first, consider how absurd the situation was. It was cloudy and rainy and only got into the 50s (F), even in mid-day. I was wearing thermal underwear and a skull cap, but just couldn't get warm. In August!  I refused to go out to the tow vehicle and retrieve my winter parka; I also refused to turn on my propane heater. Finally I crawled into bed in mid-day and watched "Lawrence of Arabia", so that the mere sight of hot sand and deserts and camels would cheer me up.

What is valuable or meaningful about mud? Perhaps mud is the best example we have of true progress, in the form of gravel roads. It is easy to look up the date that certain gadgets or machines were "invented." (This is usually a bit misleading, since a working thing is a combination of technologies, and which exact combination constitutes "the invention?") Still most things are easier to date than gravel roads.

For instance I had a grandfather born on a Midwest farm in the year 1900. Most Americans were farmers in that era. How many roads in his county were better than simple dirt roads? Imagine the isolation and inconvenience that that involved. Why, it must have isolated them for weeks or even a couple months in the late winter!

It is true that horses do OK with muddy roads, at least if you are riding the horse. But they couldn't pull a wagon or carriage through that goo or slop. How did a family go to town on Saturday or to church on Sunday?

Consider how much the world changed in our grandfather's era, compared to our own. We are brainwashed to believe that a new gadget of some sort is proof of how rapid progress is. But look how trivial gadgets are compared to the inventions of two generations ago! Even in my youth, the "invention" (meaning widespread acceptance in middle-class homes and cars) of air conditioning was a drastic thing, compared to version 8.2.05 of some operating system or a minor change in the form factor of an iPad.

Although it is just human nature to take miracles like gravel roads for granted, it is still very nice to take a vacation from such ingratitude.  Real camping provides many opportunities of that type. It's a pleasure that mainstream, comfort and status-worshiping motorhomers will never experience.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Rocky Mountain High Mud-Skiing

Gunnison, CO. There's always something new to learn in the travel racket, or at least, to accentuate. Camping in the mud has never been my favorite thing, and most dog owners would say the same.

But wait, wasn't I just praising the ability of the human imagination to turn any situation into one of Noble Suffering? And I meant it, too. But I draw the line at flying insects and mud. Mud is not noble.



You might wonder why I had to crash in the photo above, with all that "dry" land between the two tire ruts. The photo doesn't show how crowned that middle area was.

And speaking of crowned... I couldn't take the forest mud anymore. I had to head in to town, just for the pavement. Towards the end of the day, it appeared dry enough to attempt an escape. It was only 200 yards downhill to the main road. I was patting myself on the back for having the foresight to camp uphill of the escape route, at this time of the year.

On the way down, the tow vehicle and travel trailer were actually sliding down the hill, despite having 8 brakes! This caused a moment of panic. Here again it would be nice to boast of foresight. But in fact it was just dumb luck that the dirt road was troughed (concave) like a toboggan run. The van's steering would not "answer", but the concavity held the rig on track beautifully. What a relief! 

All kidding aside, folks, don't underestimate the importance of 1) camping uphill of the escape, and 2) troughed versus crowned escape routes.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Danger Stalks a Ridgeline

Gunnison, CO. There were two pairs of those beady eyes. I had turned back just to see how much work it would be to climb back up the edge of the severely eroded laccolith. And there they were: two coyotes, with their acute powers of observation. They moved down the rocky edge as I did. Were they following -- stalking -- Coffee Girl and me? Surprisingly, she didn't sense the two coyotes up the ledge.


Coyotes are just 35-40 pound dogs, with the same weapons that a domestic dog has. But I have learned the hard way what kind of damage they can do, with their sneakiness. Even worse, they were hunting as a pair; I almost always see solo coyotes.

An instinct of extreme protectiveness kicks in, at times like this -- protectiveness for my kelpie, Coffee Girl, that is.  They might have some tricks up their sleeves by acting as a pair of killers. Recall the fate of the Australian hunter in the original "Jurassic Park." Remember when he took his hunting rifle out to match wits with the dinosaurs that hunted as pairs -- or was it triples? "Clever girl..."

The coyotes had the speed and the fangs, but I had a vast arsenal of baseball-sized rocks to throw. The rest of the armory consisted of a hunting knife and a small cartridge of pepper spray. I clipped Coffee Girl on her leash so that the pair of coyotes couldn't play any mind-games on her.

One of the coyotes was larger and bolder than the other. Wikipedia claims they typically hunt in pairs, sometimes as a mother and a yearling.

 
I almost wished for them to come in for the kill. I wanted revenge for what one almost accomplished on my little poodle a few years ago. Remember "The Last of the Mohicans."

Magua (the fierce Huron who hated the English): "The Grey Hair's (an English colonel) children were under Magua's knife. They escaped. They will be under it, again."

French general: "Why do you hate the Grey Hair, Magua?"

Magua: "When the Grey Hair is dead, Magua will eat his heart."
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There is something threatening and dangerous about any predator moving along a ridgeline, especially if it is silhouetted.  Years ago, there was a best-seller named, "Lonesome Dove." I read it, just to see what all the fuss was about. I never really did understand why it was popular. But there was one memorable scene between the two main characters: one of them warned the other that there were safer ways to go around hills than straight over the top of them. You were too likely to be unpleasantly surprised by what you found when you reached the top.

So it has always seemed to me. There is always a little tension when surmounting a small rise in hilly or ridge-y country. You are the landlubber equivalent of a sea kayaker, wallowing in the trough of a wave which obscures his view. But his imagination can reach out past the crest of the nearest wave, out to the enormity of danger on all sides -- Danger that can swallow him in one gulp.



 These images popped into mind in just a few seconds after seeing the two ghouls on the rocky ledge.  It made for quite an interesting experience. (I said "interesting" -- not "nice" or "pretty.") Of course I soon realized that my imagination was getting carried away. But maybe people who have watched Ingmar Bergman's "The Seventh Seal" will never be able to get the image at the end of the movie completely out of their minds.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Enjoying the Full Cycle of Pain and Pleasure

What a relief it was to get downriver from the San Juans, and to get away from cliff-like mountains directly in front of your face. Each mile downriver, the valley got wider. Finally I could breathe again, and stretch out my arms to distant horizons, and reach upward to bigger skies. Who needs those giant heaps of static rock (mountains) when there are moving, puffed-up, monsoonal clouds to admire, instead. 

Now then, so far, so good. But where was I going? I hadn't really decided. Yes, that happens a couple times per year. I wear myself out on the pro-s and con-s of two or three alternatives. This is great fun. If there is still a stalemate at the moment of decision, I sometimes defer to trivial happenstances, such as 'what lane I'm in' or 'what side of town I'm on.'  Few things could better capture the sweetness of this style of travel as deciding your itinerary on the spur of the moment.

And so I headed through an area I hadn't been to, in ten years: Paonia CO to Crested Butte, or maybe Gunnison. A severe thunderstorm was prophesied, and indeed it had been following me to the east, all afternoon. It finally caught up with me on a dirt/gravel road near Kebler Pass. Just imagine how slippery this smooth surface would be if it were soaked. Fortunately I found a pull-off to wait out the storm.



The next morning I assessed the area for dispersed camping, mountain biking, and hiking, but found it wanting. There were few side roads to explore or camp on.  But some hikers at a trailhead looked happy enough. (Oh geez, I was so sick of hiking poles, hiking boots, stereotypical motor vehicles, etc.)  But what were they so eager about? The forest was dismal and thick. It would probably take hours of dreary plodding before they would get above tree-line and be able to see more than 20 feet.

So why linger? At Kebler Pass I had to decide whether to head down to Crested Butte or Gunnison. Since Crested Butte is a congested tourist trap, I opted for the Gunnison Basin, my favorite area in Colorado.
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Why am I going through a blow-by-blow description? The internet is full of trivial travel-blogs that do just that. I wanted to describe how sweet it is to experience a full cycle of Aversion and Enjoyment; the blast of lightning between positive and negative charges; or the wind rushing between high and low pressure. 

Those who deny themselves the full cycle -- typically for the sake of some mistaken notion of  "positive thinking" -- are missing a fundamental pleasure. They are trying to settle for half of a sine wave, instead of experiencing its full undulations, and thus rob their travels of vivifying contrast and drama.

And speaking of undulations.  Finally I was at the Promised Land of the Gunnison Basin...

Thursday, August 1, 2013

How Can Anyone Say the San Juans are "Beautiful?"

Newbies to either this blog or to my disputer-in-chief, Box Canyon Blog, must wonder why two friends are always being "nasty" to each other on the subject of Beauty. Why can't we just be "nice?"  Well, can't two friends play tennis with each, and each try to win? Just think, the two contestants are hitting the ball in opposite directions. How awful! How negative!!!

I've just finished having another wonderful visit with friends in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. The hiking was uniquely good. But don't think that having a good time there was effortless. For one thing, the San Juans are not beautiful. They are merely visually impressive in a freakish and unnatural sort of way.

How can we think of natural beauty without first thinking of nature? It is inescapable to me to see nature as the marriage of male and female characteristics. Primarily female. On one hike John Q and I went up the "Stairway to Heaven." It was on the edge of the San Juans, so we could see along a green river valley leading north to the Gunnison River. How healthy it is to see land that is good for something (!) besides rocky lunar-scapes and frozen alpine tundra.

The San Juans seldom have the gentle curves and high green pastures that I look for. But I did find one excellent example, again on the edge of the mountains, this time on the east side:


Ahh, what a relief to find a serried ridgeline/tree-line and a useful horse pasture in the high country!

The San Juan Mountains have the strutting and puffed-up look of a male weight-lifter posing. Many a 16-year-old lad would like to look like that, I suppose. But how could you call it beautiful?

There is a place for puffed-up male braggadocio, noise, and violence. It is the realm of the Sky where the angry, capricious, and unreliable male sky gods live.

Classic afternoon build-up over grasslands in the Southwest.

The characteristics of these male sky gods might not make for a very flattering list of adjectives. But they usually manage to "get the job done" on ol' Ma Nature:


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There is a serious issue behind this type of (frivolous) disputation, particularly for a traveler or independent person: being too mainstream destroys your opportunities. Next time...