Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Learning From Somebody Else's Enthusiasm

Because I know nothing about the sport of rock climbing, it seemed like I should at least watch people doing it. When was it -- the early 1990s? -- when this sport became popular where I lived at the time. I had a friend who got sucked in, while I just rolled my eyes at the latest fad.

After all, there weren't good places to pursue the sport locally. So it was likely to turn into one of those sports where one buys a bunch of equipment and spends most of the year planning and fantasizing over a vacation at some exotic location. I have never been attracted to sports that can only be pursued at a few specific locations, far far away from where you live.

Therefore I was not pre-disposed to think highly of the rock climbing that I watched recently. Surprisingly, it was rather interesting.


For one thing the climber was using their entire body, unlike the aerobic sports, which tend to only use the legs, lungs, and heart.

Secondly, there was risk to the climbing. I am not going to offer an advertisement for pursuing risk for the sake of risk. But I won't deny that a certain amount of risk is necessary to make sports interesting.

And what great skill the climber needed. He was intensely focused on problem solving of a mechanical and gymnastic nature. He wasn't just plodding along on some tedious sport that leaves nothing to talk about at the end of the day, other than "how many miles did you do?"

So there is much to be said for climbing. But that isn't really the point. It was an example of what I need to when I do anything outdoors, or more generally, when I pursue a do-it-yourself project, or read books. I need to ask myself: why is this interesting?, or what could I do to make it more interesting?

For instance I don't think much of technical mountain biking trails. But by focusing on skill rather than tedious plodding, I can reap some of the advantages that the climbers have.

Monday, May 29, 2017

How To Improve Memorial Day

Every year, on Veteran's Day, I suggest a way to improve it by making it more real, honest, and fair. I have gotten one email that praised the essay.

Today I would like to improve Memorial Day. Let's start with the premise that it is a fine thing to remember and honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

The question is, why should those honorees be restricted to members of the U.S. military? Let's honor the civilians killed intentionally or unintentionally by the U.S. military. The civilians' sacrifices were just as real. Why do we discriminate in such an unfair way?

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Choosing Rather Than Being Chosen

Is this really happening? I am camp hosting on the first of the Big Three summer weekends, in Colorado, and I am enjoying myself. So is everybody else. And they are such nice folks.

So what's the catch? Oh yea, we did have some obnoxious ultra-lite planes fly over the campground at 7 a.m. at low altitude, for no reason other than saying, "Look at me." But the kids probably enjoyed it.

So why am I jinxing myself by shooting my mouth off on the internet? The gods smite mortals who commit hubris online. At least I won't compound the sin by also committing blabbermouthery about my location.

This experience reminded me of a trick I learned long ago when winter camping in one of the crowded places in lower Arizona. It seemed clever to camp away from the crowd. But invariably, some clown would see me off by myself and move in close. Then they would start off-loading the kiddie motorcycles, contractor generators, etc.

And I would think, what did I do wrong? Actually, what works is the opposite of what you would think.  Instead of trying to get alone, you should deliberately insinuate yourself into a group of  people who all have solar panels and non-motorized sports.
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The experience above reminded me of something. From time to time you hear a woman sigh and say something like, "You always meet the right guy at the wrong time, or too late in life." Or inverting that, "You always meet the wrong guy first."

Is that because, traditionally, women waited to be chosen, instead of actively doing the choosing themselves? If so, it is analogous to the camping situation above.
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What if Colorado becomes more and more crowded, and travel plans, MVUMs, and camping restrictions keep expanding? How will it end?

Perhaps in a new way to do free camping. If you qualify as a desirable campground neighbor, people will be willing to pay for your campsite if you camp next to them. You must be certified as yellow generator-free; similarly with ghetto-blasters, outside entertainment centers, two-cycle kiddie motorcycles, and drones. Carried to its logical conclusion, there may even arise a new profession: the camping call girl or gigolo, who is paid a serious salary to merely camp or park next to you -- and nothing more.
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This has been a convoluted way to talk myself into adjusting to an over-crowded world.  If no neighbors are no longer possible, then at least let them be the right kind of neighbors.  And that will happen only if I get proactive in choosing them. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

How Real World Experience Affects Political Theories

Although I am not one of them, there are people who enjoy reading political science or 'theory of government' books. It would be interesting to see what a person of that type would go through if exiled from their reading lamp to the right place in the real world.

Let them take a campground hosting job for awhile. Quite aware that my suzerainty is much better than the average gig, or rather, that its clientele is much above average, I am still affected by the experience. It gives me a chance to see how people behave when they act as they really want to act.
  1. Many people immediately turn to generating noise, destruction, or filth. 
  2. Unmindfulness of the consequences of their own behavior on their neighbors, who have an equal right to enjoy their public land.
  3. Using a construction site generator to power a microwave oven to make a cup of tea or coffee. Are they really unable to understand that they can heat a pan of water on the propane stove in 3 minutes?
  4. Do they need high power appliances in their RV, including a 54" diagonal television set?
  5. The redneckization and ghetto-ization of American popular culture. You see that every time a codpiece pickup truck comes into camp, with thumpah-thumpah "music" pounding the ground around it. More than anything else it is the music that makes me feel completely unpatriotic toward what used to be "my" country.
  6. And speaking of codpieces, why does almost every one of these suburbanites and city slickers have a four-wheel-drive machine, while I -- a guy who could actually benefit from one -- do not have one?
  7. Why am I the only mountain biker who uses the flatter trails -- which are actually appropriate for a self-powered, wheeled machine? Put differently, why don't people hike on rough rocky trails, and pedal on smoother flatter trails?
  8. How citified and feminized our culture has become. The more someone thinks they are a 'nature lover,' the bigger of a fraud they probably are.
The good news is these annoyances are quite minimal in my suzerainty, for which I am grateful. For instance, after a busy Mother's Day weekend, there wasn't a scrap of litter left at our campsites. Wonderful!

Experience with real people in the real world persuades one to see the great deity of democracy as having 'feet of clay.' How could we be brainwashed with the notion that it represents some kind of perfect theory? Readers are encouraged to talk me out of spiraling down into a preference for mildly repressive authoritarian regimes.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Outdoor Perfection

I actually got a picture of both of them disporting on the ridge, but it isn't worth showing. After all, that is the whole point.

Chilly, dry air. A mostly blue sky, with a few puffy clouds. And just enough cool breeze to stimulate without annoying. But I wasn't the only creature to respond to the breeze. A turkey buzzard was using ridge-lift to fly along, almost effortlessly.

A mountain bike, a dog, and a turkey buzzard. I thought my dog was tired until she saw that turkey buzzard. Then she blasted across the ridge, using the trail as her route -- quite surprising. The turkey buzzard was curious about her, but didn't taunt her as much as a dastardly raven would.

It doesn't get any better than this. But you're not telling us anything new, the long-suffering reader is thinking. But I don't care. I'm not trying to invent something, I'm merely trying to wallow in something good.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Defeating the Prevailing Tourist Culture

Stepping out of your camper early on a cool windy morning, you don't expect to be greeted by a slithering rattlesnake. But there it was, sidewinding its way from the tow vehicle to my trailer door. Of course, it could have been a bull snake, but I didn't have time to ask questions. It was strange how purposeful and sentient its behavior seemed.

I chased it underneath the trailer. I cringed when it wrapped itself around the axle and then expanded its circle to fill up the inside of the wheel. Hey wait a minute, don't I have holes in the floor? This snake was becoming alarming.

I kept chasing the snake with rocks, a broom, and then a (short!) mattock. He knew I was after him. When I circled around him, he would turn his head to face me, head on. He also retracted into a multiple-sigmoid shape, and struck at me, several times. Finally the mattock cut him in half.

But he didn't die right away. He lacked rattles, so perhaps he was a noble bull snake, who is supposed to be the enemy of rattlers. (There wasn't time to check the internet to see if immature rattlers completely lack visible rattles at the end of their tail.) If I'd had a camera, a video could have zoomed in and recorded the death-throes of the snake. These were quite horrible. 

By now I was feeling guilty: I hadn't really killed anything other than insects since I was a high school lad who did a little hunting. Hunting didn't really interest me. It seemed like incompetent, amateurish assassination to merely pull the trigger on a powerful piece of technology. True hunting should be more chivalrous. Your foe should have a chance to fight back, and if you do manage to vanquish your valiant foe in a fair fight on the field of honour...

But let's not head off to a Sir Walter Scott novel. This fight with the snake occurred on the same day as the good conversation with the man who was filling his truck with the spring water. What a remarkable piece of luck it was to have experienced authentic and fundamental nature twice in one day. It shows that you shouldn't be too discouraged by the tourist kitsch of Taos or some such place.

How the tourists in Taos visualize Nature. (Except that the photo needs pretty butterflies and wildflowers.)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Authenticity Surrounded by Taos Tourism

If you want to lose confidence in your own judgement, just try visiting the famous plaza in Taos, NM. First you will have to fight traffic and struggle for a place to park. Then you will walk around, visit a shop or two, and put up with aggressive store workers and high prices.

Then a seditious thought lays hold of you: that there is nothing "famous" about the place. A visit to the downtown area in any small city in Mexico (or any place with a Mediterranean culture) is more interesting, chaotic, free, colorful, and authentic than Taos, NM.

But if that's true, what are all the tourists doing here? There are a hundred of them for every one of you. Are you going to claim that you are so much smarter or have such superior taste to the hundred?

Perhaps one reason that some of the suckers are there is that the previous president abused the Antiquities Act to declare a gigantic area nearby a national monument. The Antiquities Act is not should not be a way for a presidential signature to bypass Congress's responsibility in declaring a national park. But mass-tourists from the big city don't care about legal fine points like that. You have to crawl into their heads to see this.  I thought I did a pretty good job of that in my favorite post in all these years of blogging, on a tab at the top of the screen, entitled "Shopping at the Nature Mall."

But it is too easy to walk around Taos and feel superior to dumbshit tourists from the big city. It is also too easy to feel discouraged. Instead, let's see if we can find something authentic near all this phoniness. I was lucky...
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Considering how much traveling and camping I have done, it is strange that I have drunk water from nature only once. I was camped at nearly 9000 feet at Cuba, NM. A little spring was gushing water. I asked somebody in a nearby campground, and learned that it was safe.

What a shame! What could be more important and more real than water, especially in the Southwest. While camped in the Rio Grande gorge close to Taos, my dog and I went on a mountain bike ride along a dirt road. We saw a surprising sign about, "Caution, Water Hauling Trucks." Then we came upon a pickup truck with a giant water tank being filled from a hose coming from a spring.

Just think of this experience from a qualitative point of view, rather than the usual touristic one. Yes the gorge cut into the lava is impressive. 


But the scenery isn't world-class, as it is at Moab or in the San Juan mountains. I'm afraid the tourists are going to find a certain devaluing in the spectacular-ness of the scenery as presidents declare places to be national park wannabees. That is, they are running out of truly spectacular scenery.

But, thinking about that fellow filling his tank with spring water, it makes you think of this solid-looking volcanic lava differently. Maybe it is filled with cracks, and is rather permeable. I have seen ponderosa pines sink roots through the cracks of lava that come right to the surface along the Mogollon Rim in Arizona.

It was gratifying to see some bighorn sheep.


This is only the second time I have seen a large number of them, so it should have been special. Oddly though, it was disappointing. Perhaps that is because I held my dog back, now that this is a national monument. That took all the drama out of it. It makes the sheep seem too placid and cyootsie-wootsie. Wildlife doesn't seem authentic unless it functions as prey or predator.

Outside of an over-regulated tourist trap, we have had more authentic experiences:


Wow, this guy thinks he's fast. But watch this, Pops!

Hot dang, this is fun, this 'being in harmony with nature' stuff.

 Isn't real nature supposed to be 'red in tooth and claw'?

Alexander the Great would have been pleased with the phalanx formed by these Bighorns in fending off the 'big bad wolf,' aka, Coffee Girl.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Creating the Perfect Tow Vehicle Out of Imperfection

Wiser men than I have fallen victim to the 'previous investment trap.' That is my official excuse for taking so long to turn an imperfect -- and steadily worsening -- tow vehicle situation into a drastically better choice. 

(Since I refuse to carry a mountain bike on the outside of a vehicle, my tow vehicle choices are restricted to a van or a pickup with a heavy, expensive cap on the back. I am afraid the white cargo van has become such a stereotype that it will receive prejudicial treatment from rangers.)

In fact I haven't been this pleased and excited for a long time. There really is something to be said for agonizing over a problem for a long time before finally 'hitting the ball out of the park.' It adds drama to life.

When I put the doggie door into the rear cargo ramp in my cargo trailer, I finally broke free of the Previous Investment Trap. I abandoned the idea of making a screen room out of the back of the trailer, and decided to see if the mountain bike could be mounted on the cargo ramp.

Could it really be this easy?

i

But won't the bike snag or jam something as you raise it to the inside?


Nope. It is the same each time, so the empty space around the bike can be filled with storage bags or boxes.

But what about the chain reaction this was supposed to cause inside my trailer? It only took a day to work all that out. A bit of downsizing helped. Having the bike inside has only made things slightly more cramped.

The end result is that my next tow vehicle can be 'anything.' It will probably be a Chevy Silverado pickup or a Nissan Frontier. No cap will be necessary. I'll put a couple wheel-well tool boxes in the bed of the truck.

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But how does any of this help the reader if they are under different circumstances? The details don't, of course. But if we back up a step at look at the principles involved in the problem solving, it can be useful. 

1. Rebelling against the Previous Investment Trap.

2. Hitting a 'double' on the rear cargo door before trying to hit a 'home run.' (Think of the cautious, build-on-small successes taken by the USA and the UK in rolling back the Wehrmacht in North Africa, then Sicily, then Italy. Also, consider the island hopping by General MacArthur in the Pacific war of World War II.)

3. Being nudged by comments on this blog and on other blogs. Not trying to operate in a vacuum. Not surrendering to the romantic nonsense of the solitary inventor.

4. Realizing that I am dissuaded by a half dozen small disadvantages to some approach, because I have a tendency to exaggerate the cumulative effect of all of these. Perhaps it is the messy clutter that makes me lazy.

5. Solving the tow truck conundrum by not falling into the 'take that hill, boys' approach of a stupid general. The general should try a flanking movement or move his offensive to an off-center theater of operations. (Consider the success that General Sherman had in the Chattanooga/Atlanta/Savannah theater in the American War Between the States. I believe that, despite its failure, the Gallipoli operation in the Great War was brilliant. It failed because of tactical mistakes.)

6. The consequences of stubborn, moral intransigence. Even though my current mountain bike only has garage sale resale value, I have simply refused to transport it on the outside of a vehicle. That created the conundrum in the first place.

But I'm glad I didn't surrender on this point. 

7. Forcing myself to give in on something before I could expect to gain something.

8. Although it has never been a habit of mine to look back at a solved problem and lay out the principles involved, it should have been. It should be.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Any Way to Get an Authentic Native American Experience?

Long-suffering readers probably think that Native Americans are among my favorite piñatas, but that's not really true. But it is true of the gringo's romanticization of Native Americans. 

Earlier I wrote about how easily charmed I once was by an Indian squaw carrying her papoose around in a laundromat I was using at the time. I insist on believing that she learned that trick from her mother or grandmother, and not from a college course called, "Native American Heritage 101," taught by a professor with a federal grant. This proves I am a bigot with a heart of gold.

The best places to think about this issue of Authenticity versus Romanticization are those where the juxtaposition of the two things is extreme.  Consider the northwestern edge of burgeoning St. George, UT: there an upscale gringo retirement enclave lives only a few miles from a small and raggedy-assed rez. 

Another, and larger scale example, is Santa Fe versus Española, NM. (That latter is a rez town that makes Gallup, NM look like a "Leave it to Beaver" neighorhood.) We won't even get started on Santa Fe art galleries, Georgia O'Keefe, or Native American chic. But I wonder how many tourists who are taken in by the chic of Santa Fe ever visit Española, and what they think about it. 

When I go to a rez town, I always wonder who is responsible for what I'm seeing.
  1. Is it the Native American themselves? If so, no wonder why they were conquered. 
  2. Is it the welfare state culture of the rez, unemployment, and several generations of miscegenation?
  3. Or is it the legacy of conquest and defeat. If so, how does it compare to other defeated tribes, such as Southerners at the hands of the Yankees, or Anglo-Saxon 'dogs' at the hands of the Normans?
I really don't have the answer to any of these questions. Oh, one could read books by academics about issues of this type, but what would you get other than PC ideology?

As I was typing this, a fellow drove my trailer door a bit too closely. He slowed down and appeared to look through the window. Perhaps I will leave it to other tourists to park here overnight. I will go somewhere else to live in harmony with nature and contemplate the animals and plants that were sacred to the Native American.