Showing posts with label bicycling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bicycling. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Blog Spin-off Happens

In the old days, successful television shows occasionally featured guest stars who took off on their own shows. With that pattern as our inspiration, I am advertising a link to a discussion thread I started on , a mountain biking forum.

Its intention is to foster a sort of traveling club of mountain biking RV/van campers. We are trying to be rig-agnostic, that is, we welcome people in any rig. Where they camp is their business. (My cycling compadre and I disperse camp.)

The theme of the autumn and winter Romp is Utah and Arizona. Obviously we will follow the weather, as we head to lower altitudes and latitudes, approximately down the Colorado River. 

We have not advertised on RV forums. Perhaps we should. I don't know where the right place is.  

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Autochthonous is the Magic Word for Outdoor Recreation

Surprisingly Wikipedia has no article on the 'history of the downhill ski industry in the USA.' Presumably it was a well-established industry by 1970. It had become expensive, some of which was unavoidable to a sport that requires special and exotic locations, and requires engineered slopes and lifts. Plus the cost of getting there.

But there were a lot of not-strictly-necessary expenses: fancy restaurants, chic ski fashions, gift shops, etc  -- all encased in glamor, faux exclusiveness, and hype. There was always a chance that somebody would have more expensive equipment than you.

Then, circa 1970, something radical happened: the sport of cross-country or Nordic skiing came to the US. It was the most un-American thing that has happened in my lifetime, in the field of outdoor recreation. The person who taught me to cross country ski said, 'This is so great! Just throw on regular clothes and a nylon windbreaker. Just head out from your backyard.' I was suspicious that that all sounded a little too good be true, at least for long. I was right.

This is a lengthy preamble to my attitude towards the mountain biking industry. With my mountain biking/RV friend, my job is to gently persuade him away from industry hype; that is, to look at the gorgeous land right in front of his rig, and adapt his attitude, riding, and equipment to that land, rather than go looking for situations that live up to the preconceived template produced by the industry. But of course, I won't push too hard.

It is just too nice to have somebody to ride and travel with, to jeopardize his cooperation with my blowhard theories. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

RV Friends: Be Careful What You Wish For

It always seemed like a personal setback that I had to mountain bike alone. Such was not the case with road cycling. But a person gets better at accepting that 'the way things are, is the way things ARE', the older one gets. 

When I was least expecting it, a mountain biker showed up at my campground and introduced himself as a reader of this blog. We ended up doing quite a bit of mountain biking together during his canonical 14 days.

So that's good news, right? Not so fast...

He left me behind like I was a walker every time the trail got a little rocky or rooty. One explanation is that he had 29" by 3.0" tires. Since we are the same size, it was easy to exchange bikes. I was won over to "big rubber" immediately.

Today I bought a new mountain bike, on sale, with big rubber. In a week I'll run down to the urban hellhole to pick it up at the REI store. 

The moral of this story is 'be careful what you wish for.' It never cost me money to mountain bike with a dog!

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?


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.


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.

Friday, March 31, 2017

An Irrepressible Smile

If only I'd been quick enough on the draw -- with the camera, that is. The group of mountain bikers passing by on the trail would have made a nice photograph.

It has been years since I've seen a half dozen senior-ish mountain bikers riding as a group -- competently, but not competitively. It gave me a good feeling. Why are these encounters so rare?

Location. Terrain, weather, and access to practical things dominate my camping locations. Then I ride on the nearest dirt roads. In contrast, most mountain bikers buy into dedicated single track trails, usually at brand-name locations. So, no overlap.

It feels good to see people pursue a sport without a young male's obsession with competition and 'whose bike cost more.' Millions of people are deprived of the pleasure of mountain biking because of its image as an 'extreme sport' for athletic freaks. They think of reckless stunts for acrobatic geniuses. America has bifurcated into two non-overlapping camps of obese couch potatoes and obsessive athletes.

Actually, mountain biking blogs and forums do a great job in building up this negative image of the sport. 

As for RVers, I sometimes wonder why a sport as slow, hot, and plodding as hiking seems fairly popular with them, while there isn't one in a thousand who rides a bike. When all is said and done, most RVers have rigs that gave no thought to carrying anything other than a Walmart bike that they never ride. They need a pickup truck with a high cap or a van.

As we come down the trail with her frolicking off-leash, we encounter a walker from the other direction. An irrepressible smile breaks loose on their face: "That is one happy dog," they usually say. They appear gleeful. It gives real pleasure and satisfaction to know that we helped to incite it. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Great Chapter of Life Ends

A title like that sounds like a traveler who is announcing that they are going to hang up the keys, or at least, close their blog. Nothing quite so drastic. 

I came back from the bicycle shop sniffling and whimpering, like a puppy with an ouchie stuck in his paw. But my friend in Mayberry-for-Hippies just laughed at my silliness. I was halfway serious though. A big chapter in my life has been closed: I sold my road bicycle. Now I am down to one bike, a mountain bike. Earlier in my career I traveled with four and a half bikes in my van.

It has been a wonderful part of life: road cycling, that is. I built my annual travel schedule around it. Most of my friends were bicyclists. I felt happier road cycling than at any other time. 

With an advertisement like that, why give it up? Primarily because of safety and better agreement between backwoods camping and mountain biking. You need to camp in town to be a road biker. 

As a help for anyone taking up road bicycling, note that there are more off-street recreational trails than before. That is the good news. But there are more cars, and half the drivers are more concerned with playing with their electronic gadgets than looking out the windshield.  So if you must ride on roads, do yourself a big favor and ride with a club or at least a small group of riders. I always did; perhaps that is why I have never been seriously injured on a bike, despite doing it most of my adult life.

When readying the road bicycle for sale, I was reminded of all the silly fads that bicyclists have been suckers for. Don't worry: I will spare the reader any standard stump speeches. Suffice it to say that this was the last time I will be bothered by hard-to-mount skinny tires and those damned Presta valves.

Thinking back, I have known so many other bicyclists who were admirable on at least some level. But they weren't perfect either. In any group of voluntary association, one always comes away feeling, "I can't live with 'em, and I can't live without 'em." That sounds bittersweet on paper, but tonight it feels more sweet than bitter.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Navigating by Feeling the Topography

Do you suppose there are people in this racket (RVing) who aren't map/geography nerds? Anything is possible I suppose. At any rate, such a person would not like this post.

I had to drive from Quartzsite to Havasu to find a veterinarian to remove some infected cactus spines from my dog. The job was successful, so I was in a good mood driving home. Perhaps that had something to do with my sudden appreciation for the road design in that town.

Yes I know: it's not something that you think too much about, or would deem worthy to write about. But I tend to write about things that seem unusual; and enjoying the 'town planning' of any place is unusual, especially after disliking the road layout of Havasu in the past.

The road system was a grid of approximately orthogonal lines: one set of streets went roughly uphill, along the steepest gradient, away from the Colorado River. The orthogonal set of streets ran along isoclines, more or less, which eventually fell back down to the main highway.

Believe it or not, it was fun to drive through town, completely unaided by maps or GPS help, and 'feel' my way back to the main highway by looking at the topography. (It goes without saying that using GPS gadgets is only for the unmanly traveler.)

Now I understand why I had disliked Havasu in the past. A sailor or a midwestern landlubber thinks in terms of latitude and longitude, and any other type of grid seems barbaric and random to him. But Havasu's grid isn't random: it was laid out relative a noticeable ramp away from the Colorado River and towards the mountains in the east.

Many 'old towns' were laid out parallel/perpendicular to the river which created the town in the first place. In such a place, you would only confuse each other giving directions in terms of north, south...  

Rather, you say "away" from the river or towards it; upstream or downstream.

When I was a young navigator there was a small town nearby whose streets were cock-eyed. I didn't see how anybody could live in such a place. But once again, the street design was set up with respect to the 45 degree railroad track that founded the town back in the 1800's.

Even the longitude/latitude thinking of the sailor/midwesterner is 'topographically' based. It's just that there is no topography there except the shape of the globe and its spinning.

Long-term camping near Quartzsite.

This line of thinking hits paydirt -- literally -- when getting perplexed by the plexus of ATV trails that lead from my trailer door, into the surrounding lunar-scape of Quartzsite. The layout seems random at first, and I haven't been able to repeat a circumnavigation around Dome Rock without getting 'lost.' But I love getting lost on my mountain bike, with trails and trails...

...steering by insinuating my body into the canyons and saddles between the lunar mountains; and looking for a gap, a passage. I wouldn't take a map along if you paid me.

A philosopher would say, 'All topography is in one of two categories: convex or concave.'  Then he would yawn or sigh something like, 'All is vanity...'

But a human animal, who wants to survive, looks at the individualities of terrain. He cares for distinguishable differences, not commonalities or broad categories. Thus the land stays interesting to him for a long time.

If you'd like, you can crawl on top of this sturdy mine-shaft-guard, look down the vertical shaft with a flashlight, and drop a pebble in. Not me!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Making Peace With Quartzsite

A big part of an independent lifestyle is being able to appreciate things. Now and then I see a sudden jump-up in my appreciation of something -- many times a location. The more general question is what is holding me back? But let's consider a tangible example.

I have always found Quartzsite AZ difficult to appreciate. Most of the junk for sale isn't such a great bargain. Besides, what is so great about a clutter of miscellanea and detritus?

On the other hand, it has been easy to appreciate the fine winter weather: cool dry air with no insects. Quartzsite is not too crowded in December. Library privileges are offered to visitors.

This year I have made better use of the plexus of ATV trails that one of the camping areas has. Mornings are cool, so the motorhead crowd waits until afternoon. (And even then, it still ain't bad.) That makes these trails excellent in the mornings for mountain biking with my dog. 

I don't know why I overlooked this advantage, in the past. Perhaps the highway noise bothered me. Noise from an interstate highway is rather steady after all, so I could have tried harder to think of it as white noise. Besides, it drowns out the neighbor's generator.

With wider tires, a mountain biker can adapt to the rocky trails. And you would never have to worry about mud! I pedal along, fantasizing about bigger and wider tires. Ah well, that's OK. Delayed gratification is fun. 

(People who still have 26" wheels are starting to feel like losers. Even better than a standard 29" wheel, would be a 29er bike with the wider "Boost" hubs. These bikes accept a 27.5" X 2.8" wide tire, as well as a standard width 29" tire. They also eliminate the front derailleur by using 1 X 11 gearing.


Epilogue: I take it all back! Quartzsite lost its veterinarian. Now it's a long drive to Havasu or Yuma. A grand total of one in Blythe. Imagine the problems with getting in to see a vet in January when the dashboard dog population spikes!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Longest Frog Hollow

It is quite something how popular 24-hour races have become over the last few years. But why should that matter to anybody other than extreme athletes? 

That was the challenge before me, as I camped in "Frogtown" and volunteered at the "longest 24 hour race in the world," so called because it goes from 10 am Saturday to 10 am Sunday, over the end of Daylight Savings Time. Thus it is 25 hours long in real time, and Frog-Time.

Some "typical" scenery, mountain biking in central Utah.

Practical benefit: I learned how some 29 inch mountain bikes will accommodate the 27.5 inch (aka, '650') wheels with 'plus' sized (wide) tires.  I was leaning to the 650 Plus bikes for my next mountain bike.

Additional benefit: having my nose rubbed in the obsolete-ness of my 26 inch mountain bike. Will I even be able to buy tires for it five years from now?

When roaming free range over a wide group of people, it is so easy to begin categorizing creatures. Otherwise the human mind drowns in minute and fractured details. Here is a list of my favorite categories, stepping down to least favorite:

1. Dogs. Surprisingly my favorite was an uncropped male Doberman pinscher. I praised the owner to his face for allowing his friendly pooch to remain au naturel. 

2. Cute little girls.

3. Pretty young mothers.

Then there is a huge gap in the likability ranking.

Negative infinity plus 2. Old crones who cackle.

Negative infinity plus 1. Young boy monsters. (These may be promoted one notch, depending on the upcoming election)

Negative infinity. Males 16--30, who speak half-intelligible English, composed of the latest slang; and who wear their testosterone-crazed egos on their shirt sleeve. My goodness, how did young women ever put up with us, back then?

The difficulty of riding all night cannot be fully appreciated until you remember how deeply a younger person sleeps. They are really affected by sleep patterns that are disturbed.

Although mountain biking at night sounds semi-suicidal, remember that all riders had two powerful headlights. These have become remarkably good the last couple years.

Perhaps this experience is like that of soldiers in combat. Visualizing it thusly, and trying to put yourself into the shoes of the participants, may be the trick to making the experience interesting for a non-extreme athlete, who would otherwise laugh off the race as useless. Perhaps William James himself would have appreciated races like this as the "moral equivalent of war."

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-clich├ęs 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

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The "System" Shows Itself in an Innocent Sport

I was being foolishly optimistic on a mountain bike ride on the west side of Colorado's San Luis valley, by giving the benefit of the doubt to a trail that was likely to be too rough.

At one point we saw a fellow standing and looking at something, as if he were earnestly studying it.  He said he crashed on his bike at that spot, a couple years ago, and had broken a couple ribs. And today, he was out to even the score with this rocky obstacle. He enlisted my help in standing on one side of the rock, with the intention of preventing his fall and crash, this year.

His second weapon was a new mountain bike. It looked like it cost over $5000. He succeeded quite easily this year. If fact he did it twice.

I kept my mouth shut, that is, I resisted the urge to remonstrate against his foolhardiness.  This man in his sixties had a right to risk his own neck and wallet as he saw fit, without any criticism from me.

What interests me is whether it really was his idea. The American mountain biking industry can't compete with Asia on the basis of 'bang for the buck,' so it must encourage extreme trails, constant innovation in the design of the bike, and high prices, now enabled by financialization. (Bike shops now offer financing for their unbelievably over-priced bikes.)

The message comes through to the average consumer via advertisements, discussion forums on the internet, sponsored racing teams, television shows with guys on mountain bikes flipping over in mid-air, and old fashioned glossy magazines. 

And there are brown stakes on the trail and area, showing that it bears the imprimatur of government. 

So there you have it: the innocent sport of mountain biking is really just another manifestation of the unholy alliance of Corporations, Media and advertising, Financialization, and Government. Would any of these institutions care about your broken neck on your mountain bike ride? But the average peasant is OK with that. 

What if it isn't OK with you? What gives you the effrontery to have your own opinion? Are you smarter than the experts? Maybe you are just a crank, a troublemaker, a negative thinker.


West side of the San Luis valley, in Colorado.
Another possibility is that you are a cultural survivor from a long dead age. Currently I am reading Herbert Spencer's "Autobiography" from He explained the tradition of his recent ancestors, especially his father. They were independent thinkers. They didn't believe things merely because an Authority said so. Spencer saw the connection between these "personal" traits and the longer tradition of his ancestors being Wesleyans.
The nonconforming tendency—the lack of regard for certain of the established authorities, and readiness to dissent from accepted opinions—of course characterized, in considerable degrees, the earliest of Wesley’s followers;
What gave those early Protestants the sheer pride, self-assertiveness, and courage to take on the "Establishment?" They had an "ally," their belief in a Higher Authority, i.e., the Bible and God. They also had a grip on the high moral ground, as shown by their austerity and earnestness. They also got together with similarly-minded individuals every Sunday.

That was then. Today, when we confront the mindf*#k of the Establishment, we have only ourselves, as a puny weak individual, trying to stand up to a world that makes no sense to us

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Stubbornness of Some Myths

If a town like Coyote NM lacks up-scale glamor to a tourist, then this forest just made it worse:

Believe it or not, I sort of liked it. The altitude was over 8000 feet, so it was cool. It was flat enough to use more than one gear on my mountain bike. And there wasn't one Jeep Wrangler after another, as there soon will be in Colorado.

Getting all the damned trees out of the way just helps you admire the sky. It is the time of year when the sky gets more interesting every day, thanks to the swelling humidity. Although the onset of the summer monsoons is routine in some sense, nature is never totally predictable. So a peasant living close to nature always feels a certain amount of nervousness. The drama of the sky becomes interesting, once again. 

Besides, the trees' loss is the understory's gain. Think of it as as a French Revolution for the forest. But what were the humble verdancies that were bustin' out all over? Good eatin' for somebody?

It didn't take long to find out. We ran into the herd of young elk cows, again. This time they were agglomerated into one herd, between 50 and 100. We spooked them into the bowl beneath our trail. They raised holy hell with their bugling/squawking.

Then they ran uphill and crossed the trail 100 feet in front of us. My dog was as astonished as I was. She wouldn't even chase them! (Just to make sure, I snapped her back on the leash.) There were times when all those hooves in motion sounded like a cattle stampede in a Hollywood western.

The austerity and harshness of a burned forest adds to a sense of forlornness and loneliness.  This used to bother me more at the beginning of my career as a full-time RVer: my favorite sport was the least popular activity of "fellow" RVers. But I responded by getting a dog and taking it on every outing.

There has been another way to adapt. At the moment I am reading Owen Wister's "The Virginian," acknowledged to be the progenitor of the cowboy myth in America. The lone rider of the plains. Of course, America is not the "exceptional" nation that it thinks it is; South American countries have the gaucho mythology. And all Europe had the romance of the knight errant before that.

It may at first seem ego-centric or narcissistic to glamorize one's own sport as a re-invention of a myth. Actually though, I think it is the opposite of egocentricism to see yourself as just one more manifestation of a long-lasting or recurring archetype.

A mountain biker's claim to be today's "lone rider of the plains" is even better if he blogs anonymously and reinvents the "man with no name" of Wister's novel. When the forest service smacks him with more travel or camping restrictions, it pains him in a manner similar to the mythological cowboy who saw barbed wire fences going up.

There was a wisfulness in Wister's novel for a West that had disappeared in his time, 1902. But perhaps poignant nostalgia for a dead way of life is not the right attitude. Wister could not have predicted the invention of the mountain bike in the 1980s. 

More generally, the importance of a myth may depend less on its oldness or popularity than on its ability to survive obsolescence in an ever-changing world, by somehow reinventing itself in a newer world. Like the forest after a fire.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Evanescence of a Trail

It was hard to believe this forest road: it was an official road on the official map. But why weren't there any tire ruts in it? The grass and other vegetation had filled the road space in. But there was a noticeable road space: flat and smooth. 

Where were all the rocks? Credit the geology for that. 

It was strange to think that I had all this to myself, while just a few miles away in Abiquiu, the tourists were burning up in the heat to see the standard things. Perhaps a place like Coyote NM lacks the cachet they are looking for.

The topography was perfect for mountain biking, albeit backwards. When you camp at 9200 feet, you will usually have to start a ride going downhill -- not what is desirable. But in a heat wave, what else can you do? So smooth was this "road." It felt funny to have the grass tickling my bare leg.

I really hoped this road didn't crap off on me, because it would be a long push/walk back up the hill. It is the buggy season, June, if you think that the southwest ever gets buggy. But it is also the season for big yellow-and-black swallowtail (?) butterflies.

We came upon two herds of youngish elk cows. I thought elks were supposed to "bugle." Their sound was more indignant and higher-pitched. Can ungulates ululate?

Surely I wasn't still on an official road! And then, just like that, we popped out onto a main through-road. Now at least, I knew where I was. I felt relief for a couple minutes, but then felt that evil urge to try something that wasn't so straightforward, such as an unmarked dirt road that appeared to climb back to the high elevation of my campsite.

And then this new road started crapping off, as we climbed out of the ponderosa pines and into the hideously thick spruce and fir. It was a "sinking" feeling as I ascended. But then that perfect moment came, as it has, so often: the exquisite feeling of knowing that you are almost lost; of looking for signs of a continuing road, but feeling that these signs are only imaginary. The real world has left you.

For the benefit of new readers, there is a quote I like to whip out here, from "Five Stages of Greek Religion," by the classicist, Gilbert Murray.

The Uncharted surrounds us on every side and we must needs have some some relation towards it...

As far as knowledge and conscious reason will go, we should follow resolutely their austere guidance. When they cease, as cease they must, we must use as best we can those fainter powers of apprehension and surmise and sensitiveness by which, after all, most high truth has been reached as well as most high art and poetry; careful always really to seek for truth and not for our own emotional satisfaction, careful not to neglect the real needs of men and women through basing our life on dreams; and remembering above all else to walk gently in a world where the lights are dim and the very stars wander.

There is no better physical representation of these thoughts of Murray's than getting lost in a thick forest, on a waning trail.

I had to surrender and backtrack, and then take the straightforward road, up, up...

I had brought plenty of water, and my dog was doing her duty of sipping some. You can only get so hot when riding between 8000 and 9000 feet, in the morning, and mostly in the shade. But I thought of the heat wave that was baking the entire Southwest, and the news stories about hikers croaking in Arizona. 

Then we encountered what I have never encountered before:

If only I had been a newbie and gotten desperately thirsty before seeing this. Still, my dog, Coffee Girl, honored the occasion by wading into the water -- something she seldom does -- and having a good long drink.

It reminded me that soon I'll cross over into Colorado, with its over-rated mountains, traffic, and tourists. But every year it is worth it, just to experience the miracle of running water.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Back to Marvelous Dirt Road Mountain Biking

Going back to mountain biking on dirt roads -- rather than single-track trails -- is a straightforward opportunity to think independently of the System, and to reap rewards. Surely, this is easy to preach and hard to practice.

If you limit yourself to areas with networks of single-track trails, you will tend to pin yourself down in more touristy areas. The more uncrowded areas, with the best dispersed camping, have no single track trails, but they have many regular ol' dirt forest roads. 

New Mexico is under-rated as a place to mountain bike on dirt forest roads. The best feature is the balance between scenery and rideable topography. Look at this photo:

The cliff is pretty high and steep, and therefore fun to look at. But imagine there were a road along the top of the cliff. It would be challenging enough, but at the same time, not too steep. Those are the magic words for enjoying mountain biking, "not too steep."

The land was cooperating with me. Have you spent a little too much time alone if you start to anthropomorphize topography? At any rate Coffee Girl and I headed up a dirt road to a mountain peak because I was trusting the land. The climbing started immediately from the van. Uh-oh.

But the dirt road wasn't too rocky. There was enough dirt for some interesting footprints to show. I never realized how human the footprints of a bear are! I stopped and studied them, but it was impossible to photograph them. Should I snap little missy onto her leash? Remember her chasing the black bear on the Uncompahgre Plateau last autumn?

There are plenty of black bears in New Mexico, but I decided to leave her off-leash, and hoped that the tinkling bells on my bike scared off the bears. Soon we saw the big square butts of elk, and she chased them -- for about 4 seconds. Doesn't gravity mean anything to animals like that?

As usual I forgot to bring my GPS gadget. There is an advantage: instead of an uninteresting number, progress up the mountain is marked off in stages that seem subjectively interesting: unzipping the vest halfway, and then all the way; unclipping the left shoe as the road got steeper, and then the right shoe, as well; and suddenly the ponderosa pines giving way to the yukky subalpine spruce and fir that I don't even care to learn the names of. (But these things look so uninteresting on the page.)

There is a strange contrast between the mountain biker's keen awareness of the world around him and his self-absorption with the straining of his body. These two behaviors seem like the opposite of each other, and yet they don't cancel each other out.

What's this? A perfect campsite near the top, at least for a primitive camper. But was I near the top? I was going to turn around there, but then saw the forest fire watch tower on the top, not so many minutes away. It really is fun to whip out the first decent monocular of my life and check things out.

We finally humped it, and were rewarded with a view of the Plains of San Agustin, to the east. Surely it is one of the most unique areas in the Southwest.

To the west was the mighty little metropolis of Reserve, NM.

The descent was pure dessert, as it usually is, when mountain biking. One can get addicted to throwing everything you have into a monotonic climb, and then getting your payoff on the descent. It is a pleasure you don't get when you get sucked into single-track riding. (Nor do you get it on hikes.)

But the brakes didn't turn cherry red, nor did I feel like I was going to break my neck. Not too steep.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Rite of Spring in the Travel Blogosphere

It is my favorite time of year as a reader of travel blogs. Bicycle touring blogs, that is. In the winter "Crazy Guy on a Bike" goes into semi-dormancy because even the "Southern Tier" route across the USA is not that popular. That leaves the southern hemisphere, which is a rather small place and expensive to get to

In particular it's worth keeping an eye out for the blogs about the GDMBR, the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, which goes from the Mexican border to the Canadian, while staying pretty close to the physical continental divide. Since it consists of dirt roads on public lands for the most part, a dog lover could at least fantasize biking it with their best friend. Not so, with the road cycling routes of course.

But I still give the roadie blogs a glance. Once in a great while, one of these is quite enjoyable. So why not celebrate the occasion? Recently that happened with "Looking for America", by Dan Schmiedt.  I have only read half of his blog up to the current date. It is fun to try to explain why a blog like his is so much more enjoyable than the average blog.

Perhaps what I am searching for, when scanning a list of mostly dreadful blogs, is the right travel-paradigm for me. Forget 'how to' blogs. Forget the 'scenery' blogs, who stubbornly disbelieve in the existence of anything between a person's ears other than a pair of eyeballs. 

Schmiedt's blog is more concerned with interesting observations, the sensual impact of cycle touring, and conversations with real people.  His title made me a bit wary: it sounded like a Charles Kurault-wannabee blog. But Schmiedt takes people as they are; he isn't looking for ostentatiously eccentric, colorful, licensed-lunatic types who fit a preconceived template for a 'feel good' story at the end of Walter Cronkite's evening news.

In contrast Schmiedt has a way of making more-or-less normal people seem interesting.

He also avoids the great besotting vice of bicycle bloggers: biting off too many miles per day, and ending the day with nothing to talk about other than ride statistics and weather reports.

Consider taking a look at his blog, especially while it is still ongoing. 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Real Life Showing Itself in the Do-it-Yourself Syndrome

I don't know where you come down on the Do-It-Yourself question: whether it is a trap, a moral sickness, or a great part of life? Depends on the situation.  

Consider the long overdue improvements I've been making to my mountain bike, as the season cranks up again. 'Cool' mountain bikers never put a bag on the handlebar. They also spend $4000 on a bike that only holds one water bottle. Then they load up their back with a hot, sweaty Camelbak pack. No way! I have had every brand of front handlebar bag made. Last autumn in Moab I went over the handlebar, broke the plastic bracket of the bag, and got scratched up.

This has been going on for decades! Handlebar bags are expensive, protrude too far in front, rotate (fall) downwards, and make your bike harder to store. Or they are cheap, floppy things. And they can't hold something as simple as a jacket regardless of price. 

It seems like you should be able to dig through the toy box, find an old fanny pack, and then loop it over the handlebar. Perhaps that would work if the loop and buckles were in the right place. And you must know how to sew! A loop here and there would accomplish miracles. Chalk up one more failure.

After all these years of frustration I finally jumped in with the Do-it-Yourself approach. Take a tubular stuff sack with a nylon webbing strap on the bottom, and loop it over the brake lever or the handlebar grip, as shown:

The black strap in the bottom of the stuff sack is hooked into the V of the handlebar grip and the brake lever.

Then loop a bungee-ball over the string that closes the stuff sack:

Extend the bungee-ball over to the other side, hook it into the V, and then pull it back to the original side, and hook it in.

This is more detail than a non-cyclist wants to know. Readers may be wondering why I would go into a blow-by-blow account of such a trivial project.  Trivial? Well then, why had I tolerated this situation for 40 years!?  

It's not that product designers couldn't come up with this idea. But a product needs to be 'cool', expensive, and profitable. Not many customers will pay much for elegant and shrewd practicality in a product. They want a showy status symbol. In the perfect color.

It is such a good illustration of how pleasurable and meaningful it can be to finally take the Do-it-Yourself approach. When you work on a Do-it-Yourself project, you are thinking for yourself. How many things are more important than that? Perhaps solving practical problems is the only time when a person really does think for themselves.

In contrast, with abstract thinking you can convince yourself that anything is true; there is seldom a way of verifying or falsifying your result. A lot of abstract thinking is just following the leader or public opinion. But there is a way to validate your thinking in a Do-it-Yourself project. 

The smallest Do-It-Yourself project is capable of humbling anybody. You start drowning in frustration. You are a demonstration of how inefficient and fumbling a person is when they are doing anything for the first time. You feel the shame of defeat. But if you persist, you may be crowned with success. There really is a drama to the struggle. You might even save some money -- but don't expect too much in that regard. These things are important components of life; and are really brought to life in a Do-it-Yourself project.

The final result. Cost was zero. Safer than a naked handlebar. Easy to repair. The industry now has bags that cost $175.

You can add another stuff sack starting from the opposite side. With two sacks, one can be used for emergency stuff, while the other one goes to comfort. If you don't have stuff sacks laying around in your closet with webbing straps on the bottom, and if you can't sew, consider buying the S or XS stuff sacks made by Sea-to-Summit. (5--6" in diameter by 12--13" long.)