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Showing posts from July, 2013

Summiting Through Ideals and Suffering

...So there I was, pushing my mountain bike up a mountain, with little hope of ever being able to pedal it, except downhill where it might be dangerous. I'd never deliberately injected myself into a situation like this, before. But I simply had to make the San Juans a bigger success for my favorite sport of mountain biking. Defeatism had become disgusting. Although Anger was useful at the beginning to getting me going, it soon wore off. Now what? The aerobic buzz was great, but it's not enough: the mind needs something to chew on.  Few things lend themselves to metaphor-mining like mountain climbing. The choice seemed obvious: Christ carrying his own cross up Mt. Calvary. So my mind stayed occupied all the way up the mountain by visualizing the awkward and uncomfortable (and weird) ascent as a type of Noble (voluntary) Suffering. No doubt, the most metaphorical and non-literal allusion to religious tradition is sufficient to send many priggish atheist readers running fo

Alpine Chiaroscuro

Hope and Frustration in the high country.

Hiring a Mountaineering Guide

Although this post will begin wrestling over concrete activity in a specific location, I hope to progress to the more general. Is there any better opportunity to take this approach than when climbing a mountain? Human nature loves a physical challenge, but as the viewpoint becomes grander and grander, the climber naturally wants to entertain "bigger thoughts," that is, wider perspectives that transcend the trivial "jostling on the street," that William Blake referred to. The Little Valiant One surmounts a 13,000 foot pass on his 13th birthday. A superstar traveler would come into a place like the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado and "knock the ball right out of the park." He would aim "high" at some completely new level of experience, or at least a completely new sport. But I was aiming at a solid base hit instead of a home run. One of the benefits of becoming wise old men is that we get a little better each year at choosing

Can a Good Traveler Break Bad Habits?

Finally it's time to explain how I got on this "What are Mountains Good For?" kick, a couple weeks ago. I knew I would soon be in Ouray CO, wallowing in the friendly hospitality of the San Juan's best hosts of Box Canyon Blog. Before that happened, I needed to bust out and expand the San Juan experience. So I spent some time in the eastern San Juans, an area I didn't know too well. Enough (!) of the excuse that there is no Verizon wireless in that area; there is a roaming signal, and that's good enough. Actually it was high time I made those areas work, in general.  Remember, this isn't a standard RV travelogue that aims at the mission of comfortable, serial sightseeing.  The best way to expand into a new area is to take up some new sport or activity, there. I had the good luck to camp next to a couple fly fishermen , over there on the east side. It would be a good idea to stay open-minded about that sport. After all, the rivers (streams and

Why Bother Photographing the Mountains?

Earlier I expostulated on Tolstoy's idea of Art: that Art is really NOT about Beauty, but rather, is anything that conveys emotion from the artist (who experienced it directly) to an audience. Now that we are all agreed on that, let's move on to conquer the issue of Beauty. Even the most dissolute and stubborn optical sybarites -- and I know a few, personally -- would be willing to correct the old adage about 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder', to 'the brain of the beholder.' But we should really say 'the mind.'  Somebody needs to convince the optical sybarites that Reality and Beauty actually exist in Ideas, of which photographs (paintings, sculptures, etc.) are merely the concrete representations.   Yes, I said 'merely'.  Shapes and colors, or textures and contrasts, no matter how well they tickle the eyeball, can only be "beautiful" in the same sense that gooey lacto-globular confections at a Dairy Queen can b

Why Climb Mountains? (II)

Long before Jon Krakauer was around to write about climbing mountains, others did, although not necessarily as well. It wasn't so long ago that mountaineering was an adventure for gentlemen. Before that era, little was written about climbing mountains. What's the oldest? Oldness is not good in itself, but something could be gained by reading something written when the idea was fresh to Civilization.  And we're lucky, too. Apparently the first written record of a mountain climbing expedition was left by the "father of the Renaissance," Francesco Petrarca, aka Petrarch. In the 1330's, just a few years before the Black Death hit Europe, he got it into his head to climb Mt. Ventoux, aka Windy Peak. (You might recognize the mountain as a famous stage in the annual Tour de France.) Even odder, he then blogged about it. When I came to look about for a companion I found, strangely enough, that hardly one among my friends seemed suitable, so rarely do we meet

Flowers to a Lovely Girl

On my way to a visit in Ouray CO, I drove through Gunnison. It is nice to see a "cycling chick chic" culture developing there, as it has in Salida, Crested Butte, and a few other towns. There are very few examples when I actually like visiting a city. It's nice to finally have a chance. Although the word 'charming' is easy to overuse, it does seem to be the right word to explain a middle aged (!) woman in a summery dress, pedaling a funky girlie-style bicycle, while wearing flip-flops. A wicker basket in mounted on the handlebar, and she might have a boule of bread sticking out of the basket. How youthful, unburdened, and unhurried she becomes the minute she jumps on that bike!   It would be nice to know where else this culture has developed besides a couple towns in Colorado -- and Copenhagen, of course. I dispersed-camped overnight while visiting Ed and Patches . I think they liked the sagebrush hills and dirt road that we chose for our "Rage in the S

Kissing a Butterfly in Colorado's San Juans

Silverton, Colorado. A classic hike up to a glacial lake and cirque sounded good. We used a road rather than a hiking trail in order to get a more open view in the forest. Although there are a lot of motorheads in the San Juans, the ones we encountered were all polite adults. We got a start still early enough to experience something that should not be interesting, but was: when walking into the morning sun, all of the flying insects were backlighted. They zinged across the glare, like a video game. But they didn't all zing away. A small, orange butterfly remained on a rock in the middle of the road. Maybe it was too frightened to move; maybe it was just sunning. Then the little poodle quite amazed me by slowly lowering his muzzle to the butterfly, until he and La Mariposa shared a gentle nose kiss. On the way up to the lake we saw scenery like this: But since this is the kind of scenery you expect in the San Juan Mountains, it didn't have much effect

The Dog That Should Take Over the World

...and wouldn't you know that I didn't get a photo of her. My next camera is going to be smaller. Maybe high-resolution cameras on smartphones is the way to go. Anyway, her name is Emma, and she is a half-grown miniature labra-doodle, sired by a miniature poodle, and brought into this world by a Labrador Retriever mother. A good guess is that she will top out at 25-30 pounds. A person can be a professional dog-lover and still have only weak respect for many dog-owners. For all I can see, most dog owners have little practical common sense about their dogs; they selected the dog based on its physical appearance more than anything. How did the average metropolitan Indoorsman/couch-potato/cubicle rat ever get it into their head that they need an 80 pound Lab or an energetic hunting breed? Why do so few owners try to socialize their dogs, such as taking it to the dog park and getting it used to having fun with other dogs? Where did they get the idea that dogs are better than a

Crappy Cellphone Service

From time to time, most cellphone users must have wondered why, with all the progress in telecommunications technology the last 20 years, cellphone voice quality is not as good as landline voice quality when Alexander Graham Bell was still alive. But then they push the issue aside because every third TV commercial is about the latest and greatest, cool, smartphone; so the world believes in all this exciting "progress" taking place in that field; so why think thoughts that make you feel like a crank? It is very gratifying when I actually find something on the internet that is worth reading. And it happens so rarely, I feel like a fool for wasting as much time on the Internet as I do. There is an interesting article on Karl Denninger's blog today about cellphone service ("The Destruction of Quality"). You don't have to agree with his politics to enjoy the article -- the article isn't political.

Why Climb Mountains?

" is not sufficiently considered that men more frequently require to be reminded than informed."  [Samuel Johnson, Rambler #2, available at] Few better examples of that aphorism could be found than that of a traveler, moving up into Colorado for the summer, who rereads Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air."  And so I did, just before climbing Mt. Taylor near Grants, NM. It might seem silly to read about somebody's hard-core adventure before heading off to our own soft-core adventure. But is it silly for somebody walking along an ocean beach to wade out, ankle-deep, into the incoming foam? It helps them connect mentally and philosophically with the ocean.  I haven't enjoyed a hike this much, in years. Although Mt. Taylor is only 11,300 feet high, it completely lords over a large section of New Mexico. It was oddly calm on top. The lack of wind made for visibility of 70 miles in all directions. There are certain conditions that almost

Cleaning Fire and Smoke with Water Music

While waiting out the smoke from the forest fire, I was able to walk and bike some without the smoke bothering me too much. Bicycle garb can be soaked each day in a bucket of soapy water, and then rinsed off. Here is what the water looked like from one day's bike ride: My gosh, what was the smoke doing to my lungs! When the evacuation order was lifted for South Fork, CO, I finally had a chance to get to their laundromat. It had been open during the week of civilian evacuation; the fire fighters had been using it. There were still hundreds of small laundry soap boxes lying on the tables. They had been offered free to the firefighters. I kidded the attendant that an entire box or two was probably needed for each load of their laundry. She had indeed been amused by the brave and hardy young buckaroos. After I gave up on getting a package delivered to the post office in South Fork, I was free to escape all that dreadful smoke. It felt so liberating, and was overdue.  At some p