Showing posts with label Colorado. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Colorado. Show all posts

Friday, September 15, 2017

Bringing a Cliché to Life

Why do certain phrases annoy, in a vague sort of way? For instance, 'scudding clouds.'  'Scudding' is an interesting word.

Currently I disport on a mountain bike in the sage hills near Gunnison, CO. The monsoons have survived until now. Sometimes this area is hit with showers and wind on these open, sagebrush-covered hills. Once again I thought of 'scudding clouds.'

I wanted to be inspired by the phrase, but it still seemed flat. What was I missing? Perhaps I needed to stop worrying about beauty, and think about ugliness, instead. Some of that was readily available: power lines bisected this area.

But are these power lines really ugly? One could think of the power lines and towers as noble pieces of triangular architecture, like the ropes and masts on a ship at sea. This area, with its lonely rock skerries in the midst of a 'sagebrush sea,' (another cliché!) brings to mind the place where 'scudding clouds' is typically used. The mountain bike becomes a sea kayak that nervously paddles and pedals from skerry to skerry, looking for shelter. A dip of only a few feet destroys the horizon, and the bike is swallowed by angry waves in the 'sagebrush covered sea.'

This is how natural beauty actually affects me. It only happens after the mind cuts itself on sharp contrasts, and then soothes itself by wandering off to analogies far away in time or place.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Another Tourist Asking for Trouble

I was becoming inured to tourists drowning their brand new $50,000 motor vehicles in our neighborhood river. So perhaps it was a good thing that the young woman showed up at the campground and asked about how to get to her friend's remote location higher up in the mountains.

There was only an hour of daylight left, the usual time for tourists to get organized enough to do foolish things.  She had a text message, but no map. She was driving a low clearance, passenger car. I didn't quite know the place her message named, but I was suspicious. Back in my trailer, I looked up the place on one of my smartphone apps. It was as I feared. 

Did she have much of a chance to get there? There wouldn't be any car repair places open tomorrow, Sunday. She had already lost cellphone reception. Had her friend made it to that location because they had a high clearance car? 

A tourist can be so foolish and get away with it because  -- and only because -- they have cellphone reception and a credit card. I'll bet that young woman didn't know how to change a tire, and that she was not equipped with warm clothing, a tow rope, a can of expanding tire sealant, or jumper cables.

Her notions of safety and normalcy were totally dependent on that delicate tendril of communication to a cell tower, and she had already lost that.

Or was I just being an elderly worry-wart? Would somebody else come to her aid? Young women do have advantages when it comes to getting assistance from a stranger. 

I admit to feeling a foolish male urge to chase after her and help her out of the mess she was working so hard to get in to. But I pushed the urge away: this summer has taught me not to expect too much from people who need to be rescued. In fact she would probably resent my interference.

So all I could do was sigh in resignation, and think of an image from the beginning of "The Wizard of Oz," when Dorothy is running away from home, and she encounters the kind-hearted old carnival man. He cons her into returning home. As she leaves, he looks up at an approaching storm, and says, "Poor kid. I hope she makes it."

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Soggy Tent Campers Making the Best Out of It

Oh no, here it goes again. What will it be this time? Hail, a slow all-night rain, or a monsoonal downpour. But the campground is full, mostly with tents or tent trailers. What do people see in this activity?

They have told me stories of how wet they get. But many people seem so good-natured about it. Some people are well prepared with tarps strung up between trees. Their gazebo-shelter-canopies sometimes protect an entire picnic table. Life seems to go on pretty smoothly at the picnic table.

So I want to admire how people make the best of it. I am held back only by the seditious thought that these people are crazy, and should be doing something else on vacations with their hard-earned money.

But they see something I don't. Think of this as a small example of how hard it would be to be a good novelist, who must crawl into the heads of the characters. 

I have better luck using a historical imagination. The other day a Brit was telling me about Scottish weather. Think of life in the winter in medieval Scotland. These people at their protected picnic sites help me imagine it.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Helping Versus Interfering Versus Enabling

When I was first told by my employers to not get involved with people driving across our river, it seemed harsh and unkind. After all, every man is a bit of sucker for wanting to play the hero. But with experience, I have come to a 'keep hands off' position.

Sometimes people seem to resent my advice. Do they suppose I know nothing about the situation when I just saw some fool, with a car of the same category, maybe an hour ago? But now I accept that they want some adventure, and don't want a safety lecture. Apparently the financial consequences of their rashness do not matter to them. Well, they should be a better judge of that than I. 

The biggest reason for adopting a hands-off policy is that I was being an enabler -- that is, offering a safety net for encouraging post-adolescent foolishness. Let them make up their own mind, and live with the consequences. 

Let's find some goodies in "The Case for Working with your Hands," by Matthew Crawford:
My point rather is to consider the moral significance of material culture. 

On all sides, we see fewer occasions for the exercise of judgement...

The necessity of such judgement calls forth human excellence. In the first place, the intellectual virtue of judging things rightly must be contemplated, and this is typically not the product of detached contemplation. It seems to require that the user of a machine have something at stake, an interest of the sort that arises through bodily immersion in hard reality...
Don't you just love it that this quote used the word 'immersion' ?! Thank you, Matthew.

This post could be interpreted on a second level: turning the reading of a book into a hands-on experience by blending it with real life.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

German Engineering...in the Middle of a River

These days I feel like a professional accident-gawker. People are doing the craziest things, and not always getting lucky about it: driving across a high and fast stream in crossover utility vehicles; driving low clearance vehicles on rough roads; and in general, having the wrong tires on the wrong car at the wrong place.

They can't imagine being away from phone service, therefore they are confident that every problem can be fixed by whipping out their smartphone, and giving somebody a credit card number. Do they know how long it can take for a tow truck to arrive in the mountains on a festival weekend in a busy tourist town?

Don't they understand that automobile repair and tire shops are closed on the weekends in small towns? That a small town tire shop isn't strong in specialized European or barrio-style tires? That the river is higher in the evening than in the morning?

My favorite was a small Mercedes crossover utility vehicle that tried to do exactly that, cross over, our river. It was probably his license plate that I fished out of the river the next day. He learned that, despite the vaunted reputation of German engineering, it is not a good idea to put the alternator at the bottom of the engine compartment.

Naturally he didn't have a tow rope. (Why would he ever need a tow rope -- he's driving an expensive car?) Although there were plenty of pickup trucks who could have pulled him out of the drink, none of these ruff-n-tuff weekend warriers had tow ropes, either. (I did have one, but my van was in town at the repair shop.)

It took all day for a tow truck to come. I went out a couple times to check on their phone connection and their supply of drinking water. Then I couldn't believe what the tow truck had to do: a modern vehicle has an electronically-controlled transmission. So when the vehicle is electrically dead, you cannot shift into neutral. So the tow truck has to winch the vehicle up its ramped bed, with dead car's wheels skidding on the ground.
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But we could drown in more examples like this. (ahem...) What principles do these examples illustrate? In general they show the disconnect from physical reality that most people from the big city have achieved.

Nobody knows anything about cars anymore. That part of American culture has been killed off by the mandated complexity of modern cars. 

Nobody knows how to use tools anymore. Everybody works in a cubicle,  and dicks around all day with spreadsheets and planning software.

Men have become useless to women in situations like this, and if they weren't useless, women wouldn't trust them anyway, or resent their sexist helpfulness.

People's notions of automotive capabilities are completely warped by television commercials showing some mommie-mobile blasting through snow banks or gliding over sand dunes.
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But it is too easy to mock modern society. Let's end this post with a practical and positive suggestion: that it should be mandatory for high school students to read, "The Case for Working with Your Hands, " by Matthew Crawford.

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.'

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Mark of the Beast

You would expect something bizarre when you are traveling in the greatest volcanic explosion in Earth's history. Something unearthly. And sure enough, we found it. 

Do you think she likes mountain biking? Hard to tell with the stoical expression that dogs always have on their faces.

In case you didn't catch it the first time:


Monday, September 26, 2016

A Different Kind of Colorado Postcard

When embarking on any new project, the most important precaution is to keep expectations quite a bit lower than what seems 'fair.' Give the world a chance to surprise you on the upside. This is what I tried to do in the first post on campground hosting.

Some of the campers did just that. One fellow -- and I swear he was the one who initiated the topic -- ranted about how much he preferred semi-open land to thick-as-dog-hair forests. What a relief it was to hear somebody more fanatical than me, on that topic!

Actually, in five days, I have had more quality conversations than in five years of solitary camping. 

The trick is to encourage compliance with the campground rules without becoming officious; to be briefly friendly without being intrusive; and to resist my entrenched habit of steering the conversation in the direction I want, the excuse being that the other person is too much of a blockhead to talk about anything other than 'so where you from?' 

I also need to stop seeing women as the impedimenta of the camping experience, and need to avoid certain expressions, such as, the average blockhead, motor-crazed yahoos, dumb tourists, etc.

The most pleasant memory of my first week on the job will come from a moving, visual image, rather than a conversation.  

There were two nice young families camped adjacent to me. Towards sunset, the slender, attractive mother was on her mountain bike, imprinting the lifestyle on a couple young boys who chased after her on their kiddie bikes. Following the people came the family dog, trotting jauntily with a big smile across his face. He was a friendly herding dog. Do you suppose he thought he willed the human members of his pack back home for the evening? Everybody looked so happy and healthy.

This image meant more to me than a thousand photo-clichés of yellow aspen at this time of year. Why so? Perhaps because I could only half-see them. They were backlit by sunset, so I only saw their silhouettes.
No views create such lasting impressions as those which are seen but for a moment when a veil of mist is rent in twain and a single spire or dome is disclosed. The peaks which are seen at these moments are not perhaps the greatest or the noblest, but the recollection of them outlives the memory of any panoramic view...
Edward Whymper (conqueror of the Matterhorn), Scrambles Amongst the Alps in the years 1860-69

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Seeking Authenticity in the Natural Experience

There weren't too many mountain bikers around in my time on the Uncompahgre Plateau, near Montrose, CO. First there was muzzle-loading rifle season, and then the archery season. I do feel a little nervous riding my bike with hunters around, but I make the best of it by wearing a flaming bicycle vest. I even got a bright orange safety vest for my dog.

There is something admirable about the bow-hunters, something atavistic, noble, and honest. And quiet. One day a bow-hunter came by my dispersed campsite. I took an instant like to him, and my dog immediately charmed his socks off.  Normally, when I converse, it seems as though it is my job to keep the conversation alive, for the simple reason that the blockhead can't think of anything to discuss, other than 'where ya frum?'

But in this case, I let him do 90% of the talking. He was raised on a real ranch as a boy. He spent some time as a professional hunting guide. He has hunted in Idaho, Montana, and Alaska. And oh my goodness, he had great stories about close calls when cleaning a carcass, with a bear smelling it and circling around. And the one about being trapped between wolves. On and on the stories went. I just sat there and soaked it up. 

He took out his 9 mm semi-automatic pistol, removed the magazine, and let me play with it. This is his personal protection device against mountain lions and black bears. I had just told him about coming within 100 feet of a large adult black bear, a few days earlier. And my stupid dog went after the bear! But the bear ran so fast (and so noisily) through the sapling aspen forest, that she gave up in 5 seconds, and returned unhurt.

When I finally walked back to my trailer, it was the middle of the afternoon. I had been listening to him for 4 or 5 hours. It was an impressive reminder of Man as a Hunter/Gatherer, and the oral tradition of 'swapping lies' around the campfire. There are few examples where male foolishness is more charming. Ultimately it was responsible for the epic and legendary poems and tales that began the tribal literature of many peoples.
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In a few days it was time to declare victory for my stay on the un-touristy Uncompahgre Plateau, and drive past a very touristy area, especially at this time of year: the periphery of the San Juan Mountains between Ridgway and Telluride, CO. The leaf-peepers were certainly out in full force, and rightly so, considering the yellow-blazing aspens. They would pull over at the official 'scenic overlooks', walk as far as 10 feet from their motor vehicle, hold up their smartphone, and snap-away at the breathtakingly beautiful scenery.

Although I probably appreciate the scenery as much as any of them, I didn't even bother with photographs. It is not a negative statement about scenery to acknowledge that the buzz starts fading away after just a few minutes.

At any rate an outdoor or 'nature experience', like they were having, does not inspire me. It's not wrong, it's just shallow.
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On to Dolores CO, one of my little sweethearts on the annual loop through the Southwest. For the first time since the Fourth of July I was in ponderosa forests again. Even better, the parent rock was sandstone. Sheer bliss it was to mountain bike on packed and troughed dirt trails, with few rocks and roots.

Last year I wondered how many zillion miles of non-technical trails you could have on flatter, non-touristy areas in the West. It would not cost a lot, and it would benefit small towns with weak economies. What is blocking this, other than a lack of appreciation of smooth trails on non-touristy land?

'Non-touristy scenery' does not mean 'boring.' Rivers, wildlife, no fees, no restrictions against horses or dogs, beautiful spacious forests, grass, colorful oak bushes, a perfect altitude and sky... and yet there are no tourists holding out their smartphones here. Real land has balance.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Benefits of Getting Outside the Comfort Zone

There probably aren't many readers who are interested in bicycling. Nevertheless I will write about a certain kind of bicycling as an example of a principle that applies broadly and beneficially to early retirement and full-time travel.  

Lately I have given advertisements for adapting to steep land by pushing the mountain bike up the hills and coasting down. This makes me uncomfortable, more so psychologically than physically. It helped to consider the history of mountain biking: it originated by using cars or ski-lifts to get up the hill, and then they would ride the bike down.

But I overlooked the examples of other "one-way" sports, such as river canoeing or kayaking, downhill skiing, hang gliding, and parachuting. None of these practitioners think that their sport is ruined by "one-wayness." They would probably have a hard time imagining it any other way. 




The "push up/coast down" style of mountain biking is somewhat similar to a surfer, who drops their belly on the board, and paddles out past the surf-line, and then turns around and takes a wild ride back to shore.

What is the result of this experiment? Back onto sagebrush hills near Gunnison where one can do normal "two-way" mountain biking, I have the pleasure of feeling like a young superman. The pay-off of suffering that discomfort in the San Juan mountains shows on every ride.

Gunnison, CO. High altitude BLM hills at sunset, after an evening thunderstorm. That gives it a "Brahms moping over Clara Schumann, in November" sort of mood.

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This is a nice little example of the principle of doing things that are difficult instead of merely entertaining; of 'experiencing' rather than consuming; of reaching out in different directions instead of fixating on trophy scenery; and of living rather than vacationing.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Becoming More Optimistic Around Motorheads

I've been putting it off: mountain biking up the famous high passes in Colorado's San Juan mountains. Remember that the main tourist draw here is the "adventure" of driving your noisy vehicle over the passes, and then dropping into the boutique towns of Ouray, Telluride, or Silverton in order to eat fudge, ice cream, or pizza. 

If I wanted to share the road with motor vehicles, I would be a "roadie" instead of a mountain biker.

Ahh but...the tourist season seems to be in a little lull right now, with most of the country busy with sending their urchins back to school. The hazy and smokey skies detract from the postcard scenery. So the timing seemed right for mountain biking up to Engineer Pass from Lake City.

There are tricks of the trade when visiting tourist areas. You always win when you start your day early. Tourists are on vacation -- that means sleeping late. Besides, most motorsport-people are exposed to the air much more than in a regular car, and they don't want to get too chilly. So I got started early enough to have cold hands and feet, and that ain't easy when you are climbing.

"Expectations engineering" is the most important trick of the trade. I resigned myself to bumper-to-bumper motorsport traffic up to the pass. Naturally I was relieved when only a half dozen of them passed me on the way up, and 15 on the way down.

People can be so effective in allaying prejudice when they offer a little friendliness. I had a nice conversation at the top with an ATVing couple. In addition, most motorheads slowed down when they passed me, so I didn't get coated with dust.

Remarkably I only had to push the bike for the last two miles. The air quality was better than I expected, and it was fun to get the viewscape of the Ouray area at the top. But I didn't bother with the camera, except for a closer view on the way down.


As an added treat, I got my first close look at a porcupine. Thankfully my dog, Coffee Girl, did not respond to it.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Can Land Be Too Steep?

Although Mother Nature might not be friendly to me in the San Juan mountains of Colorado, there is a way to partially win. It isn't my favorite place for camping or recreation. The land is just too steep for dispersed camping and mountain biking. There are too many ATVs and Jeep Wranglers on the dirt roads. The tourist-boutique towns are over-priced and gimmicky. It is the best tourist scenery in Colorado, but you know how long that lasts.

Hiking works better on harshly steep land. The ascent is always a fun aerobic blowout; the descents are simply drudgery and trudgery that must be tolerated. But I am addicted to looking forward to descents on a mountain bike.

I have found a trick of the trade that helps me, and it might be useful to some of the readers. Rather than focus on achieving some goal on an outing -- and thereby talking yourself out of going, altogether -- focus instead on being defiantly lazy on an upcoming outing. Think about your dog, camera, clouds, or wildlife. To hell with grinding your way up the hill. Why shouldn't you please yourself? Why do things on other people's terms? There is no paycheck waiting for you at the end. 

With that mindset in place, I will go. Once the joy juice kicks in to the bloodstream, it is easier to surrender to an aerobic orgy, and enjoy it! But the key thing is not to head out on a trip with that in mind.
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But does he practice what he preaches, you wonder? This morning was rainy and I was starting to get demotivated, enough to call off the day's outing. But wait: maybe it would rain halfway up the mountain, and I would be forced to jump on the bike and quickly return to the van. 

What was so bad about that? I didn't want to go to the top of that silly ol' mountain, anyway! 

So I started in on the mountain, and soon was pushing the bike more than riding it. This is the same mountain that caused me to post, "Summiting: Ideals and Suffering," in the tab at the top of the screen.

The dirt road actually had fresh bulldozer tracks on it, so I could ride up some of the mountain, unlike last time. The descent would be sweet indeed.

And then it happened: the lucky break with the recent bulldozing and the usual 'mood modification' chemicals in my bloodstream caused me to summit once again. 

Arguably, the 14-teener with the most interesting shape is the "Unc", Uncompahgre Peak, near Lake City, CO


But the thing that was cute about it was that I preached against summiting, all the way up. Let the external conditions work their magic on me, if they will. I am just the passive victim here of forces outside myself.

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 17, 2015

Why Isn't Heating Your Home Free?

The forests in Colorado are no longer merely worrisome. They are well on the way to complete destruction. Here's an example of what I saw near Little Texas #1:


I asked the visitor's center if the Rio Grande national forest was the worst. Surprisingly he said that it was worse elsewhere. Bark beetles.

Believe it or not, there is something good to talk about. I saw pickup trucks going up my road everyday to cut up and haul out a load of firewood. They are my heroes. 

I asked one about the catalytic converters in the chimney of wood stoves. His experience was bad. In fact he removed it. But catalytic heaters, oxygen sensors, and computer-based control of automobile engines are pretty reliable. So why couldn't the same be true of wood stoves. (Please don't complain about the cost. Wood stove customers will squander an extra thousand dollars for a stove that is nostalgic or fashionable, so what is wrong with a few hundred dollars for something that works?)

Why doesn't the forest service increase the amount of firewood cutting by a ratio of 50? Does it allow commercial companies to harvest dead trees and sell firewood? If not, the answer is pseudo-religious ideology (and lawsuits) of the well-funded Big Green lobby.

There are a lot of expensive McMansions in Colorado. Virtually every square foot of private land already has a house sitting on it. The ultimate status symbol is a house that sticks out prominently on a cliff or mountain, and 'borders the national forest', in real estate salesman cant. I saw some of those pretty close to where I was camped.

And what do they see out the prominent and expensive windows in their McMansions? Dead spruce trees, as in the photo above. Perhaps the real estate lobby will start fighting the Big Green lobby. That would be interesting to see. Then again, forests like in the photo are great for the woodpecker lobby.

I wish I knew more about the politics, pseudo-religious ideology, and junk-science of forest management around here. I suppose Big Green sees wood stoves as evil because they spit out carbon dioxide. If somebody pointed out that forest fires put out a little of that...


...the Green true believer would counter with, "Yea but that sort of carbon dioxide is natural and is coming from the Cathedral of Nature."

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Camping Neighbor, of All Things

It has been a long time since an impudent camper had the effrontery to move in on my dispersed campsite. My campsite. I took an instant dislike to the guy and to his large wide-jawed dog.

But he was a real camper, and you have to admire that. All his junk was in the back of a regular cab pickup truck. No cap. In no time he had his tent and tarp set up. He used a shovel to dig a drainage ditch to empty out some of the puddles that were threatening to trap us. (So I'm not the only person who does silly things like that.) The campsite was at 10,000 ft. It was raining day and night, as it is prone to do in the Colorado high country.

Coffee Girl sneaked away from me and went over to see his rather intimidating dog. But he was young and playful, and soon they were wrestling and frolicking to their hearts' content.

He had an amazing ability to spot elk on a ridge above tree-line, maybe 2000 feet above us. With his naked eye! He got out his snooper scope, and it was all I could do to see them in his scope. That wasn't the only example of his phenomenal ability to spot wildlife.

There was a good reason for this skill. He had been a hunter and guide all his life, including Alaska. But he lived in Texas, so Colorado was his area of expertise.

My dog's collar slipped off because it was too large and loose. I admitted that I had made of mess of adding another hole in the collar by trying to drill through the nylon collar. He suggested that I heat a nail on the stove and then poke/melt it through the nylon collar. Well duh, why hadn't I thought of that? It worked well.

Perhaps the lousy weather drove us to more conversation than we would normally have had. The last thing he did was tow me out to the main road with his four wheel drive truck. We left quite good buddies.

But what is the moral of this story? Have I made a mistake by camping alone too much? I seldom feel a desire to "converse" with most people. Why is that? Is that the sign of a recluse or misanthrope?

If disappointment results from excessive expectations, well then, we must pound our expectations down into the mud. But then we give up entirely, which is not a happy ending either. That is the conundrum: no matter how you adjust your expectations, the result seems unhappy.

There might be a third choice, a subtle one: don't expect a good result today, but leave the door open to a lucky event in the future. I find it difficult to maintain such balance and equipoise.
 
So goes my usual thinking. But what happened with this fellow shows that the calculus of expectations doesn't explain everything. It was easy for a stranger's conversation to please me, under the right conditions. What a pleasant surprise! Maybe this applies to other curmudgeons out there. It is why I am writing about it.

Perhaps the secret lies in the topics of conversation: most people rattle on about the standard Ten Questions. They want to be some sort of entertainer, with their dumb jokes. The quips remind me of television or Facebook. Or they think they are going to win the other person over with their magnetic or attractive personality. I simply am not "buying" what they are selling.

But I love talking to people who know things, who approach any new topic with a sense of perspective, know tricks of the trade, and how to solve problems.

I guess that is it: they are selling "themselves", while I am more interested in things.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Recidivism on a Pit Bull's Rap Sheet

The weekend finally over, the animal shelter opened up today.  I dreaded taking "Tipper", our self-invited weekend guest, to the shelter. I imagined the volunteer taking one look at Tipper and saying, "Oh that's just great, just what we need, another uncastrated pit bull! And this one requiring veterinary expenses on top of that!" Oh geez, would that mean 'the back room' for this sweet monster?

I had to lift Tipper into the van because of his sore foot. He was lighter than I thought. He just sat there. Not a squirm out of him. I rubbed his head all the way to the shelter. There was a stoic resignation that was disturbing. Did he know something that I didn't?

It was the opening of the work week at the animal shelter, and the dogs were acting out their anarcho-libertarian political leanings. They were running loose and barking their heads off. The place stunk. Apparently they don't like being ignored all weekend.

The volunteer opened the door of my van and immediately said, "I know this dog. He's been here before." The volunteer looped a leash over Tipper's head and led him through "processing." In fact, there was even a grim humor to ol' Tipper's behavior. He seemed to know the route.

Perhaps the reader remembers the Coen Brothers' classic hit movie from the 1980s, "Raising Arizona". Recall Nicholas Cage's low-key, routine response to being re-processed and re-incarcerated in the same ol' prison for his same ol' crime of knocking off convenience stores.

Remember him appearing one more time in front of the committee for his parole review. "There's a name for people like you: recidivism. REEpeat OAF-fender."

The volunteer gave me Tipper's rap sheet. But it was good news actually. He was born across the street from the animal shelter. These days he was owned by a guy with an actual job, which is no small luxury in this impoverished part of Colorado. The owner was prone to hiking in my camping area. In fact he worked for the forest service. So why had Tipper run away? The volunteer suggested thunder. Also there is some gun fire up there.

The volunteer said that they would get the bad boy over to the vet, who was right next door to the animal shelter. I gave a small donation. The volunteer mentioned that the law had recently been changed in Colorado so that animal abuse was now a felony. That didn't really have anything to do with the case in question, it was just an aside.

Or maybe it did. I learned that Tipper's real name was "Sponge Bob." Good grief. 

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The animal shelter took my name and phone number. I'm not asking to be fawned over, like I'm some mighty hero or something. But it would be nice to get a simple 'Thank you' call from the pit bull's owner. But past experience has shown me that the System does not work like that. 

Since I was in the animal shelter why not have the fun of checking out their "inventory?" Along the way I stopped back at "Sponge Bob's" cage and put my fingers through the chain link fence. That mighty maw was waiting just on the other side. He gave my fingers a soft lick. 

What is that famous quote by Mark Twain that ends in the punchline 'and that is the difference between a man and a dog?' 

Monday, September 1, 2014

A More Sane Approach to Holidays

Little Texas #3, CO. Let's get one thing out of the way: I like Texans. All it took was spending my first winter as a full-time RVer in the Texas Hill Country. I left wondering why so many Yankees have a prejudice against such friendly people. At least I did, at one time.

Furthermore, I do not hate motorized recreational sports. There are just too many of them, that is all.

Aren't there better alternatives to the weekend/holiday warrior pattern? Just think of the expense families suffer when they own motorized toys, one for every family member over age 6, and then use those toys a couple days per year. And then there is the toy hauler or flat-bed trailer, and a $65000 King Ranch F350 pickup truck to pull all that crap. They are pissing money away so fast. They should save it for double digit inflation in healthcare, college, and food.

Let's try to come up with some constructive alternatives. Wouldn't it cost less to give their little darlin' 6-year-old girl lessons with an Uzi machine gun? And stay home. Keep the money in the local economy. (e.g., the Uzi instructor or the local gun shop.)

Seriously folks, wouldn't it be advantageous to take under-utilized public facilities, such as the county fairgrounds (or the county landfill for that matter), and build a dirt obstacle course? There could be a kiddie track next to the adult track. Public safety would be enhanced. Think of the ski industry.

At my dispersed camp this weekend there was a bit of excitement. An ambulance circled through my camping area, with all lights flashing. A sheriff followed. Then they left. What was that all about it?

The next day I returned to camp to find a flat-bed toy trailer loading up ATVs, with the supervision of a Law Enforcement officer of the U.S. Forest Disservice. I must have given the father a dirty look for blocking my campsite, because he began apologizing. One of the ATVs was pretty banged up. He said his son had driven off into a ravine the previous day, had broken his shoulder blades (?), and was now in a Denver hospital. That was what the ambulance and sheriff's car were all about the previous night. I wonder what the kid's age was.

Besides safety and expense, dirt tracks with obstacles at the county fairgrounds would create a festive atmosphere every weekend: country-western bands, barbecues, antique car or tractor shows, arts and crafts. People could camp in the infield of the racetrack and whoop it up all night. Nobody has to drive anywhere that night -- all the fun is right there! And that county fairground is un-used most of the year.

You might say that this would hurt the tourist economy in Colorado. Yea well, so what? The economy of this state depends on retirement McMansions as far as I can tell. The money not spent in Colorado would be spent more efficiently and safely back in Texas.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Long Term Love Affair with a Certain Type of Land

While selecting a new tow vehicle I have been aware of the disadvantages of having once worked in the automobile industry. Consider the analogy of four middle-aged male friends, sitting at a cafe after golf. The geography of their table makes for some pleasant and harmless girl-watching, at which all of the men except one consider themselves an expert.

The foot-dragger is a middle-aged, male gynecologist, who has been putting in unusually long hours lately. He tries not to be a "wet blanket" on the discussion, especially after one of the men brags about how "hot" his new girlfriend is. But the best the gynecologist can manage is a condescending smile for the sake of his friend.

But I wonder, does the world-weary gynecologist really consider his ennui a higher form of wisdom? Or is there one part of him that envies the naive enthusiasm of his friends at the table?

This analogy doesn't just apply to someone like me buying a new tow vehicle. It also applies to a longtime traveler and full-time RVer. We naturally feel superior to the wannabees and newbies who drastically over-rate scenery and escapism. But don't we "old wise" ones want to hold on to something of the freshness and naivete of the newbie?

These two situations are best approached from the point of view of the "Zest" chapter in Bertrand Russell's "The Conquest of Happiness." I have been forewarned by his book against the conceit of feeling superior to those who enjoy topography and scenery. It's true that I spurn bar-coded postcards and photo cliches. But these are passive and mindless. It is far better to select land that the mass-tourist doesn't whip out his digital Brownie camera for. There are several choices. 

In my case it has been a long-term love affair with grassy ridgelines. There is a fine set of these overlooking the townsite itself of Little Texas #2, CO. Today my dog and I took advantage of the end of rain and hiked up these lush, productive, feminine, ascending rumples, starting at town level. For years I have lusted to do this, and now we finally have. I was not disappointed. 

I even backtracked to the trailer because I forgot my camera. But it didn't matter. We got such a late start (0800, blush) that the best light was already passed. Next time, sunrise. 

Perhaps it does the reader more good to be teased into imagining these rumpled ascending ridgelines, rather than to be spoon-fed photographs that he can passively consume. At any rate, I have found my long term love, and hope that you find yours.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Lure of Incomplete Information

If only I had a nickel for every time somebody said, "Buying a DVD doesn't make much sense, because once I've seen the movie, it isn't interesting anymore." They are correct of course if they are thinking purely in terms of how the story turns out.

But I prefer to ignore that issue and focus on identifying classic lines from classic movies. These become philosophical building blocks, comparable to Aesop's Fables, famous quotes and speeches from Shakespeare and the Bible, and the proverbs of folk wisdom.

The same thing can be said of classic jokes. For example, consider one of Jack Benny's, from the days of Radio: menacing footprints are heard approaching, as he is walking down the sidewalk at night. It  turns out to be a mugger. The mugger tells Benny, "Your money or your life." There is a long pause after that. Benny finally blurts out, "I'm thinking about it!"

There was a joke similar in spirit in Sydney Pollack's mid-1990s remake of Billy Wilder's "Sabrina." Harrison Ford played the money-making ogre. After his playboy-younger-brother is taken to the emergency room after sitting down on glass champagne flutes, the Harrison Ford character tells a business associate and doctor about it, on the telephone:

Doctor on the other end of the phone, unheard by the audience: " ... "
Harrison Ford: "Uhhm we have no idea. Mother thinks the glass flutes were left on the chair by some guest."
Unheard response on the other end of the phone: " ... "
Harrison Ford: "He's not going to sue his own mother."
Another unheard response.
Harrison Ford: "Well he's not me."

No matter how many times I rewatch this movie I always laugh at this joke. This seems odd, because I hardly ever laugh at the lame jokes of movies and television. 

What both jokes have in common is incomplete communication -- the audience must fill in the gaps with their own imagination. Without that trick, the joke wouldn't be all that funny.
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But now that you mention it, isn't that the trick that increases our enjoyment of many things? I recently had someone, not terribly experienced at RV boondocking, email me for a list of camping sites in southwestern Colorado. I tried to convince him that being spoon-fed a list of such places would detract from his pleasure, since it depends of the effort of finding the campsites. Once again, it is incomplete information that creates mystique, fear and doubts, drama, and ultimately, triumph. Sure, I could have given him fairly complete information, but that would have reduced him to a passive consumer -- his opportunity to be an honest adventurer would have been destroyed.
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I return to this part of Colorado (Gunnison) every year. There are no famous tourist traps right here, although they are close. The big peaks are visible, but off in the distance. There is a mildness to the sagebrush hills in the foreground that lends itself to dispersed camping and non-technical mountain biking.

It takes effort to bring my camera along on mountain bike rides, because this landscape -- that I love the crap out of -- isn't vertical enough for standard gee-whiz internet postcards, as if the world really needs any more of them, anyway. Sunrise and sunset are the only times when the camera does this land justice. But I don't really care, I'm not living for the camera.

A lonely Gibraltar of decomposing granite, set amongst a vast sagebrush sea... how's that for purple prose, befitting the travel blogosphere?
Once again I think it is the incompleteness, the subtlety, of this landscape that affects me so strongly. I like the big peaks off in the background, rather than having them slosh right into my eyeballs. It is like standing on an ocean shore, and watching the fog lift. Off in the distance an uninhabited island appears...