Friday, June 30, 2017

A Better Way to Spend Your Holidays

Addendum: A Honda Element just had a contest with a snow-melt-engorged tributary of the Gunnison River. Which one do you think won?

I missed the show, but I heard about it. Perhaps the Crossover Utility Vehicle (CUV) driver had heard (incorrectly) that there was free camping on the far side of the river, from one of those lists of free campsites on the internet -- that are obsolete the microsecond they are published. Then he took the chance of trashing his vehicle, all for the sake of saving 5 or 10 dollars.
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It is time once again to put out an advertisement for a better way to spend your holidays than camping. Just a few years ago, "stay-cations" were talked about as an alternative to travel-oriented vacations. Has that new buzzword already receded from public thinking?

I hope not, because it is a great idea. Think of how much fun people could have by going to a nearby luxurious hotel, resort, or casino. Let the kids go to a real movie or a water slide. Let Mom and Dad treat themselves to a candlelight dinner at a great restaurant. There would be little packing and unpacking. Little driving. They may even have time to relax. [1]

That is just the opposite of what they are doing by driving long distances to the mountains or the shore, where they fight crowds and bugs. 

This proposal seems obvious to me, but why won't other people jump on the bandwagon? Is it the high cost of the 'stay-cation' at the nearby resort?

I'll bet that is mostly perception rather than economic fact. It's all about sloppy accounting systems that people carry around in their heads. Consider the people who resent paying a couple dollars at my campground, where it had always been free before. 

But they have thousands of dollars tied up in mountain bikes, kayaks, ATVs, UTVs, motorbikes, Goretex hiking boots, climbing equipment, generators, miscellaneous camping junk, driving costs, RVs and trailers, $60,000 four wheel drive vehicles, etc. Oh, and then the storage costs.

And how many days a year is all that crap used?
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[1]  I asked the mother of one family of campers how long it had taken to pack all of their detritus, back home. She said she had been packing the entire week.

Monday, June 26, 2017

A Statistical Approach to People

An extreme illustration occurred today. A woman went from 'no luck' to superb luck in just a couple minutes, as we went to find her an open campsite. Based on actual experience, most people would have been delighted with her luck.

But the woman kept dragging her feet, finding something wrong with the postcard-perfect campsites we found. What was she looking for?

Since I have taken other people to these campsites, it was easy to laugh off the woman's quirks by rolling my eyes and thinking how sorry I was for her boyfriend, husband, or sons. What is worse than a woman who is impossible to please?

The difference is between a statistical (or 'diversified') approach to a person and being trapped in an 'all your eggs in one basket' situation.

As society has 'progressed', we have devolved from well-balanced and diversified situations to over-concentrated, tense, worrisome situations:

1. Imagine a folk dance in olden times compared to a couple waltzing 50 years later.

2. Extended families versus a nuclear family, followed by a nuclear family with only one or two children, followed by single-parent families.

3. Knowing neighbors and church members versus the soul-less modern suburb where you never speak to neighbors, and where secularized people no longer go to church.

4. The decline of legislatures and congresses to a rule by 9 supreme justices or EPA bureaucrats, all nominated by a president. 

5. The war-making power going from congress to the white house.

6. Self-sufficiency on a farm, supplemented by a cash crop, compared to a paycheck-to-paycheck life, all dependent on one employer, and one boss to suck up to. 

7. The sole and supreme importance of happiness on earth in the Here and Now, compared to balancing it with a belief in an afterlife.

8. No longer being a 'nation of shopkeepers' who satisfy dozens of people most of the time, but now a cubicle rat whose day can be poisoned by ill relations with two or three cubicle mates and one supervisor.

9. The collapse of local newspapers into opinion-makers controlled by just a few global 'News' corporations. 

10. Have heard of the book with the excellent title, "Bowling Alone," but haven't read it yet.

A healthy diversification is so important to approaching anything in a truly rational way. The world doesn't make it easy. I am afraid it has been getting even harder over the last couple centuries.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Fresh Promise of a New Day

The birds start their days between 0450 and 0500. How sensible they are! There is just enough light to see the outlines of the mountains, yet a planet or two is still visible. Dawn is always like this; fresh and full of promise.

If I had a tripod I might try to photograph dawn. But that may be the wrong approach. The appeal of dawn is only partly visual.The other senses awaken. Most of all, the imagination awakens.

Nobody at the campground is up. They sleep through the best part of the day. What are they thinking -- that it is too cold at dawn? There are no mosquitoes at this time of the day, and that is no small advantage. Colorado is not a bug-free state like New Mexico. There is no wind at this time of the day. No rain.

But the true miracle of dawn is that the world is not over-populated. Still, I would like to see a lonely campfire, making some cowboy coffee. I might even invite myself in and try to find out how that person thinks.



Sunday, June 18, 2017

Philosophical Ripples from the River Rats

It is always enjoyable to see people having fun in the outdoors. I even like studying their exotic and expensive equipment. And I did so once again, this time with river rats, aka, whitewater kayakers. But I should have left well enough alone.

Once the first flush of interest was over I asked one of the kayakers whether his sport was good for his moral character. He acted as if nobody had ever asked him that before.

It isn't as silly as it sounds: hobbies, activities, and sports all have philosophical implications. Looked at in this light, whitewater kayaking is all about getting 'a thrill a minute', that is, risk and excitement for the sake of themselves. 


So how does one become addicted to the drug of excitement and go home and deal with the drudgery that is inevitable in normal living?

What would these river wild men around me think if they sat down and read Bertrand Russell's "The Conquest of Happiness"? Especially the chapter on "Boredom and Excitement."

A person accustomed to too much excitement is like a person with a morbid craving for pepper, who comes at last to be unable even to taste a quantity of pepper which would cause anyone else to choke. There is an element of boredom which is inseparable from the avoidance of too much excitement, and too much excitement not only undermines the health, but dulls the palate for every kind of pleasure, substituting titillations for profound organic satisfactions, cleverness for wisdom, and jagged surprises for beauty. I do not want to push to extremes the objection to excitement...
And indeed, neither do I. What would be the sport that has the opposite characteristics of kayaking? Hiking, which has no excitement whatsoever. Naturally it is popular with women.

The whole issue of outdoor excitement shows that I am married to Aristotle's doctrine of the Golden Mean, as boring at this doctrine is to the young.


It might not be exciting, Pops, but it's delightful.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

What Exactly Is a Conspiracy Nut?

Everybody has their deficiencies. If it happens to be paying attention to the news, then you no doubt hear the word 'conspiracy theory' bandied about, quite a bit. Nobody ever talks about what exactly is meant by the term. Why does conspiracy-mongering appeal to some people and not others? There are questions that are worth asking about the subject. But all you really hear is somebody using 'conspiracy' theory as a handy smear against anyone with a different political viewpoint.

Recently I stumbled across an interesting discussion on, of all things, a mountain bike forum that bears on the subject of conspiracy theories. The topic was 'Which goodie on bikes is most over-rated?" Considering the cost explosion in the mountain bike industry, it seemed like a topic that was worth reading. The discussion was better than usual: the commenters were knowledgeable, and thread-hijacking and trivial quips were minimal. 

And yet, something was missing. The discussion was mired in details. All of a sudden, a new commenter starting talking about how the industry works, instead of the merits of individual pieces of equipment. He also discussed the psychology of the customers.

What a relief the new comments were! It reminded me of the opening of Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey," which features the 'Sunrise' movement of Richard Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra."

Here was somebody groping to get at fundamental truth by seeing specific details of equipment as Effects. But the Cause was the economic realities of the mountain bike industry. I'm surprised that one of typical detail-oriented commenters didn't come right back and accuse the fellow of being a conspiracy nut.

It was so refreshing to encounter an illustrative example in my daily life, free from the hackneyed milieu of politics and news.

I wonder if conspiracy nuts could be compared to alchemists of the Middle Ages. Neither one had much in the way of results, but it was certainly not for a lack of trying. Both are easy to mock. And yet, the alchemist did make progress in glass making, various techniques, and familiarity with different chemicals. Eventually real scientists came along who were able to take rapid steps forward, as in the music of Also Sprach Zarathustra. They benefited from the technical soil left by the charlatans and alchemists.

Some aspects of medieval alchemists and modern conspiracy nuts are admirable, such as the desire to understand cause and effect. But they don't know how to succeed. So they grope with trial and error. They also become trapped in a stubborn and subjective mental prison. The conspiracy nut becomes addicted to the emotional kicks he gets out of his efforts.

And yet, is the non-conspiracy-nut really more admirable?  With perfect insouciance they sit in front of the television and accept today's lies and spin as being real and important. Wouldn't they benefit from trying to understand how the world really works?

Let me leave you with a visual metaphor: think of Dorothy's dog, Toto, in the Wizard of Oz. Remember when he pulled the curtain away, exposing the Wizard racket? Does that make Toto a conspiracy nut?

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

"Handicaps" for Conversationalists

Tonight my sleeping pill will be the movie "Seabiscuit." The reader may have seen the movie. If not, I highly recommend it. 

Now, I'm not one of those bookish types who thinks that movies based on a book are supposed to be identical to the book. But after the movie I read the book, and appreciated the importance of handicaps to the sport of horse racing. (The movie made Seabiscuit into a Rocky-for-horses.)

Golf tournaments use handicaps, don't they? The NFL draft has the same function as handicapping. But in fact, handicapping could be used in more than just sports. It could be used in just about any endeavor in which unequal "contestants" would produce a dull contest. 

Conversation could be seen as a sport that uses handicaps. That is what I am discovering as a campground host. I have better luck than I normally do in face-to-face conversation with strangers. 

But I won't kid myself. It is not because I have suddenly become charming. Rather, it is because I am "cheating." My pseudo-uniform and hat make me a weak form of authority figure. In addition, people feel safe talking to a campground host the same way they warm up to the host of a party.

But this doesn't bother me. I need the handicapping in order to have a close match with the other contestant. It needs to be "close" in order to make and observe incremental improvements. Otherwise I will keep committing the same verbal faux pas the rest of my life. 

I'm not sure how the reader or I could apply this principle to more things in life. But I'd like to.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Three Different Types of Campers

I looked out the window and couldn't believe the trailer coming into camp. Most of our sites are built for car campers and tents. Smaller motorhomes and trailers get by. But this thing!

Besides, the campground was almost full. I went along with him to help, as a tugboat does when an oil tanker needs to dock. You've got to give him credit for guts. He made it. But it was close. 

They were newbies. I tried to think of something helpful to say, but it was difficult. They did not want to hear, "Ya got the wrong trailer." I finally decided to encourage them to camp in flatter, more open land; and to avoid going right up into the mountains proper, with their narrow roads and cramped forest campgrounds.

Later, we joked about the movie of Lucille Ball and Desi, "The Long, Long Trailer." As it turned out, he was a young lad at some state or national park in California when they were filming that movie!
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A backpacker walked up. He was doing the Continental Divide Trail, but was veering off of it from time to time to escape the snow. Thus he was using the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, which is at lower altitude, and is seldom single track.

Talk about a minimalist! He did have an ice axe, though. Sunset was coming on, so he needed to camped soon. But I could tell he really wanted to keep talking to somebody. I get a kick out of chatting with people like him, and I usually treat them like celebrities. But once the novelty and entertainment value of their extremism wears off, one is left with the dreariness of crappy food, sleeping in a tent every night, and nobody to talk to. 

Have they never heard of the 'point of diminishing returns?'  What is so interesting about doing one and only one thing all day, every day? You see a lot of outdoor extremism in Colorado, such as 24 hour races and the like. Well, they see something worthwhile, so good luck to them. But I have no desire to emulate.
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Did I mention that the other weekend I was just 'in love' with my camping neighbors? They were two families, with children, dogs, and bicycles. The kids climbed around on the rocks like the baboons of Gibraltar. The dogs were friendly and always frolicking. The mothers were young and pretty. It's funny how a young man sees a mother as "old, boring, unsexy," but eventually he sees fertility as attractive and reassuring. What confidence in the future it implies!

At night they had a campfire. And I kid you not: somebody was strumming a guitar at the campfire. Talk about 'old school!' Imagine what an impression that could have made on the solitary backpacker. What if he had been trudging along all day with nobody to talk to, and then, quite unexpectedly, he had come up to a campfire with some singing and laughter?

Actually this family seemed like the ultimate in 'being in harmony with nature.'