Saturday, March 29, 2014

Partly in Paradise

One of the advantages of writing is that it is deliberate and slow. It gives you a chance to test the clarity of your thinking.  Computers have made it so easy to edit what you've written that there are few excuses to be inaccurate or misunderstood.

Despite all those advantages there is still room for improvement, particularly in my recent advertisements for the Good Life in the great outdoors. I haven't been clear: it's living partly outdoors that deserves to be praised to the heavens.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Cycle-Sauntering with Benji and Thoreau in Pata-Goofie, AZ

After a successful winter of deliberately pursuing a lifestyle (in Yuma, AZ) that complements the other three seasons, I thought it would be effortless to get back to the normal lifestyle of traveling, RV dispersed camping, and mountain biking on public lands in the Southwest. Much to my surprise it is taking some deliberate effort. I am not complaining. The sheer momentum of living in any fixed way narrows a person and starts to make them inflexible. 

I want to live deliberately, as Thoreau promised on his way to Walden. For some reason, the modern interpretation of Thoreau ignores the word 'deliberately', and visualizes Thoreau's lifestyle as a solitary hermit, talking to the animals, living on fruits and nuts, and posing as a "nature fakir" by walking around the woods of Concord MA in a polartec loincloth.

Thoreau's short essay, "Walking," is worth reading. At least the beginning. Unfortunately he then meanders away from his theme.
I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks -- who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived "from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going à la Sainte Terre," to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, "There goes a Sainte-Terrer," a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds;
Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all;
For every walk is a sort of crusade...

We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return -- prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms.
But Merriam-Webster gives a different etymology for 'saunter': it comes from a Middle English word that means 'to muse.' Thoreau's religious imagery might be misleading. I really do prefer the modern definition: "to walk about in an idle or leisurely manner : STROLL..."

I see what Thoreau was trying to do in this essay, but I don't want to go to his "Holy Land" when sauntering. But let it be sentimental, nostalgic, and leisurely. 'Sauntering' usually refers to a style of walking, but most of the USA is too spread out for that. It's actually easier to go cycle-sauntering. Appreciating this kind of sauntering to the fullest was made easier by following a winter of semi-racing with crazy old buzzards in Yuma.

It also helped to be in Pata-Goofie, AZ, a small town where I have a long term friend. Think of it as Mayberry for old hippies. Let your mind meander off to Lake Wobegon and the Chatterbox Cafe, or to the opening of the original "Benji" movie.
Riding bikes used to be a part of summer in America. Today of course you would be arrested for this.

I jumped on the mountain bike, after a 3-4 month hiatus, and pedaled from the grasslands down towards town.

My dog, Coffee Girl, is normally leashed to an external belt around my hip, but here I let her run down the dirt road at full gallop. What bliss!

We were announced at the grassy knoll of the RVinos by their two "guard" dogs, Carly and Jake, who are friends and team mates of Coffee Girl. 

Down to town we continued. You are doing something last done when you were a little squirt on your bicycle, during summer vacation, looking for a puddle to ride through after an afternoon thunderstorm.

Long ago...despite looking into the sun, a sibling was happy with her "new" bike
We checked out the bird sanctuary; then the knee-deep creek that re-emerges from underground. No water dog like Carly and Jake, Coffee Girl only splashed around to her ankles. I remember hosting a hiking and biking gathering with RVers here many years ago. It made my day to hear one of women, from the god-forsaken East, rhapsodize over riding her mountain bike through the water for the first time at this same creek.

Back in town proper I reacquainted myself with the funky, dilapidated, Southwestern architecture.

Of course my favorites will always be a simple adobe or ranch style house, well along in noble rot, and with rusted corrugated metal roofing. There I would wiggle the handlebars and weave around on the road, like a silly boy.

Finally we made it to the coffee shop. Unlike much of America, it is still legal to tie your dog up outside a business on Main Street. A cat was making the rounds. It stopped on the sidewalk, 20 feet away, and objected to my dog being there. What a personality that cat had! It's the first time a cat made me laugh. And it really did seem like the beginning of "Benji."

There have been changes; and the long-suffering reader thinks I am going to trot out Thoreau's "improved means to an unimproved end." But I certainly wouldn't include a newly bulldozed/graded road in that category! Another new road to mountain bike on, smooth, and with no traffic.

On the other hand, they stopped using their venerable wooden card catalog in the town library. You know, with the cards in it, one for each book. Sigh.

But there is hope. They still allow dogs in the town library. There were two canine bookworms in there on the day I went in, to check out the last two Aubrey/Maturin novels of Patrick O'Brian. I told the librarian, "I hope Patagoofie never becomes 'normal.' " She smiled and agreed.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Peek at Picacho

Approaching a small desert peak north of Tucson, I began to understand why it had barely been named -- it's "name" sounds more like a common noun than a proper noun. The atlas had piqued my interest so, just out of curiosity, I came to "Desert Peak."

I was a bit frustrated in wasting the gasoline to get here. It looked as uninteresting as it did on the map. I got parked and we immediately started walking towards this lackluster "peak." It was a shock to see how much the vegetation had changed from the desert floor along the Santa Cruz River, just two hundred feet lower than here. How could plants be so local, so particular about where they grow? We were back in sticker and thorn country, especially the nasty chain cholla.

Many of the place-names out West are rather colorful. Unlike constellations in the sky, mountain peaks sometimes actually look like the animal, saddle, or portions of Mollie's anatomy that they were named for.

Many peaks were named to honor early explorers and settlers. Some peaks even had the dishonor of being named after politicians of the day. Usually they sound more romantic in Spanish, although that can lead to linguistic redundancies, such as the nearby Picacho Peak. In a few minutes the dog and I reached a small saddle for a peek at Picacho:

It is quite amazing how some small peaks can be so recognizable and useful for navigation, or at least orientation. Visiting them year after year, you come upon them as an old friend: Castle Dome near Yuma, Baboquivari southwest of Tucson, Picacho northwest of Tucson, Ute Mountain on the way from Taos NM to southern CO, and of course, Mollie's Nipple near Hurricane UT.

The view from the saddle was nice, but I didn't expect any more visual excitement. There wasn't a single thing about this peak that would tempt the BLM into wasting a brown stake on it. 

I purposely lower my expectations when approaching an area in order to be surprised on the upside.  That is a crucial, but difficult, technique. Sometimes, to make it easier, I go overboard and imagine scenery as a positive evil -- whatever it takes to renounce puffed-up expectations and visual greed. Hence surprise and serendipity get a chance to shine.

With nothing but plainness and mediocrity to think about, all I could do was follow my best instincts by walking up a declivity to a saddle. Small though this peak was, it had a wide variety of what you might wish to see on any mountain, and why shouldn't that be good enough? It had slopes and faces that met fresh mornings, and others that waved farewells at weary afternoons. I doubt that this is on anybody's "Top Ten Desert Wildflower Auto Loops" list, but who knows, you could always find a surprise:

Friday, March 14, 2014

Admit it! You Too Admire Putin

From a BBC article today we have,
"The constitution of Ukraine requires that any effort by any entity within Ukraine to secede be done through the constitutional process," Mr Kerry said.
Aren't you proud and happy to live under a Washington DC regime/Imperium that understands the constraints of constitutions? (emoticon eyes rolling upwards) And knows everything about how to handle secessions sensibly?

I don't follow the news very closely. There's a tendency to get angry, and anger gets wearisome. And yet, this Ukrainian debacle is perversely fascinating in the sense that it has resulted in theoretical maximums. How complacent can the Media be? How hypocritical can the Washington DC regime be? How poodle-like can Europe be?

It demonstrates to perfection how nothing of importance will ever be discussed in the establishment Media. Does anyone ever say, "Isn't the Cold War over? Washington and Russia aren't enemies."  Why is NATO trying to encircle Russia with tighter and tighter circles? Why does NATO even exist, since the USSR and the Warsaw Pact died over 20 years ago?

The more I learned of Vlad Putin, the less I would probably like. He is a politician who used to be in the KGB. What's there to like? And yet there is something gratifying about seeing him out-fox and defy the Washington/Wall Street/London/Brussels regime. I guess this is just an example of seeing the enemy of your enemy as your friend. That's hardly an attitude to be proud of, but that's the situation right now.

After writing the above I realized that I didn't provide a constructive alternative to sitting in front of the toob and passively absorbing the Media's and Washington's lies. Very well, consider,, or

Friday, March 7, 2014

Lending Wings to Your Stride

There was a time when I seriously feared and hated the onset of Dry Heat in Yuma, usually in March. Experience and old age have turned the experience into what could almost be called 'appreciation' and 'good humor.' It's not that I no longer feel the misery of heat; but now I can see past the temporary misery, and playfully romanticize it as noble suffering. Think of the dramatic religious procession in Bergman's "The Seventh Seal."

Besides, what fun can there be in leaving a place unless you really, really, want to leave? And it is getting like that, now.

But before I crawl out of winter's chrysalis, and stretch out my new wings of travel, let's think about what was accomplished this winter. It is 1/4 to 1/3 of the year, after all. I realize that most readers have no interest in bicycling, but they might be interested in the general principles that the cycling experience can illustrate.

Furthermore I will assume that the reader has a certain amount of sympathy with the noble quest of making outdoor exercise non-puritanical. Let's take Duty, Guilt, oppressive repetition, and drudgery out of it.  Let's look for reasons for outdoor exercise other than 'because it is good for you.' So then, no more goodie-goodie; nor do we really need to be  'bad'; but let's be a little bad-ass at least. 

When William James discussed the "moral equivalent of war," (Lecture XIV, The Value of Saintliness in "Varieties of Religious Experience") he argued that courage-with-poverty could fit the bill. My thinking runs in a different direction: towards intense outdoor sports as the moral equivalent of war.

There were supreme moments of excitement during this winter cycling season: moments when I ignored everything, including my self-consciousness; everything except half-crazy, bloodthirsty, male, tribal, hunter/warrior feelings. Sometimes this happens when the cyclist takes a noticeable step up in his athletic performance.

The feeling might be intensified by simultaneous competition and cooperation amongst the cyclists. The cyclist is most aware of the snapping heels of the cyclist ahead of him. He is also only a foot or two away from touching tires. If that happens a fairly serious injury (messed up shoulder or broken collar-bone) will usually result. Therefore the paceline of cyclists shares much of the psychology of a platoon of combat troops.

But even more, I've come to appreciate the synergy, the feeling of enlarged corporate tribal power, that comes from moving along, aggressively, with your mates.

Hill Climb on annual Tour of the Gila near Silver City, NM

By luck I found the book, "The Culture of War," by Martin van Creveld. In Chapter 6, "The Joy of Combat," he quotes a well-known historian, W.M. McNeill, on his military experiences:
Almost half a century after leaving the army, a famous American historian also recorded, not without surprise, how much he liked "strutting around" on the parade ground. "Words," he wrote, "are inadequate to describe the emotion aroused by the prolonged movement in unison that drilling involved. A sense of pervasive well-being is what I recall; more specifically, a strange sense of personal enlargement; a sort of swelling out, becoming bigger than life, thanks to participation in a collective ritual."
Anthropology, assuming that it is more than conjecture, is real nature, rather than the PC, bowdlerized version of nature that is presented in coffee table books. Can you think of a constructive use of human anthropology in your outdoor activities? This isn't just a rhetorical question.

The last thing you want to do is get solitary and unsociable, and start up another of those travel blogs that writes paeans to "Nature", sacred solitude, peace and harmony, and the rest of that sickly drivel.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Indispensable Country, The Exceptional People, The Judge of the World

From a CNN article we have:
"President Obama made clear that Russia's continued violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity would negatively impact Russia's standing in the international community," according to a statement released by the White House.
Gee, aren't you happy and proud to live in a country, like the USA, which would never seriously consider violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of another country?