Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2022

The Pleasure of Big Land

If you find yourself reading about camping or recreating in Utah, there is a 99.9% chance most of it will be hysterical screaming about red rocks.  This post will try to convince you that Utah can be appreciated in another way -- a better way. Let's look at Utah from the point of view of someone who is heading south, from the Northwest.  Let's say they were in a 2,000,000 acre forest there.  Sounds big, doesn't it? It's not.  You can only access the trails and roads.  Most of the land is too steep to camp on, even alongside the roads.  You cannot walk between the trees since the forests are a thicket.  The creeks are not walkable of course, because there is water running in them.   I would like to see a study done that would put a number on it.  Until then, let's say that 0.1% of the land is actually useable -- and that percentage is generous, I think.  That means that 2,000,000 acres comes down to 2000 acres, the size of a couple farms in the Great Plains. I am not

The Great Man 'on Horseback'

What is the benefit of paying attention to the news?  I can think of one: some top story in the news might spark or revive an interest in a book. For instance the recent election in Italy made a splash.  The corporate media immediately began calling her "far right."  This bumped me to reread the biography of Mussolini by Nicholas Farrell. Mussolini certainly had an interesting life.  Because he is not usually thought of as 100% evil -- like Hitler -- the reader of Mussolini's biography can actually put themselves in his shoes, as they must in order to get anything out of reading a biography. Mussolini started as a serious and fairly orthodox socialist, but then he made drastic innovations to socialism that changed history.  Prior to World War I, socialists took their internationalism seriously. The war changed that.  German socialists supported German war efforts.  Then socialists in other countries did the same for their governments. "Men had gone off to fight the n

Can Germany Respond to the Challenge?

Perhaps someday somebody will prove that Washington DC is not responsible for the destruction of the gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea.  Let's assume that Germany will be most affected by this act of sabotage. Isn't this an opportunity for Germany to rise to the challenge by acting heroically?  It would be foolish to expect this, but I need to look for mere possibilities during this meltdown.  It is too grim and depressing, otherwise. There have been times when societies faced an existential threat and they responded heroically.  The classic example is the Greek response to the invasion of the Persians.  Or the response of a rather small number of American colonials at Concord bridge and Independence Hall in Philadelphia. I think that the people of eastern Ukraine (Donbass) responded heroically as they voted for secession from the Kiev regime, as explosive shells came in on their heads. There are probably more examples of this kind than we think, perhaps because we only honor an

Authentic Experience on the Oregon Trail

A couple years ago I got interested in the topography and history of the old Oregon Trail, mostly in southwestern Wyoming.   This seems a little strange since I never visit 'Pioneer museums' across the West.  The Oregon Trail sounds like a chapter in a 5th-grader's history book, so why would it appeal to a hip urban sophisticate like me? (eyes-rolling emoji) It might have been the book, "The Oregon Trail" by Rinker Buck, that got me going on this. (Rinker  did much of the Oregon Trail in a wagon pulled by mules, about 10 years ago.) Yesterday I was cutting a diagonal southeast in southwestern Wyoming.  So why not do (in reverse) the road that Rinker Buck said was the most difficult part of the Oregon Trail?  (I am pulling a light trailer with a rear-wheel-drive van.) WARNING: don't forget to turn off your traction-control system when you are doing steep climbs! It certainly helps to pull off at wide spots on the road and walk to the next wide spot.  When you

Uncertainty When Traveling

I was returning to camp after a ride on BLM roads that was only half-interesting.  Maybe that is why I gave the benefit of the doubt to one last possibility.  The scenery didn't appear interesting.  And this last road might have a puddle or two. At least the road had a nice uphill slope and a hard pack surface.  The road went between two parallel ridges about 500 feet high.  Except the east side was more like a series of small volcanos.  The road kept up with this uniform climb.  I thought that the vegetation was becoming taller each mile, but perhaps I was just imagining that. Would there soon be an isolated copse of aspen trees?  There is something wonderful about frail aspens just barely surviving in the midst of all that sagebrush.  They huddle together, holding on to life by their fingernails. There were no up-and-downs the entire way.  Only a uniform, second-gear uphill.  In all my years of dirt road mountain biking,  I have never had this happen before! Now I could put my cu

Worshiping One of the Older Gods

People like to complain about the weather.  They should try living without it. That's right, no weather.  In the inland Northwest, I haven't had any weather since the dry season started in late June.  In other words, one day has been like the next for 3 months.  But I am not complaining.  By camping above 5000 feet of altitude, mid-day temperatures never got over 90 F, and the horrid smoke and fire season held off to the first of September. And recently, this happened: Just imagine the feeling of relief, the sheer bounteousness of walking outdoors without a wide-brim sombrero! And then it did the unthinkable: it rained hard that night.  (But not so hard as to produce puddles on the ground, of course.) Meanwhile, people who stayed in the Southwest, had a glorious monsoon season. People like to gush over tourist scenery, that is, the freakish, the vertical, and the red.  It doesn't matter to tourists that those features are utterly useless. I think clouds of the right type s

Biking With a Dog, Part 2

Her royal cuteness climbed 1600 feet yesterday on a bike ride.  I unsnapped her from the leash and off she went, wondering why I was so slow! There are pretty good products you can buy online to take your dog along on a bike ride.  But will they fit your bike?  Think of all the variations in bike geometries out there! But there is a trick: strapping on a small board to a straight section of your rear triangle.   Look at the rear triangle of my mountain bike: Attaching to my bike is not straightforward.  The rear axle proper is not available because of the special parts that go along with the Old Man Mountain rear rack. Notice the weird bend in the chainstay, the tube that  connects the rear axle to the crank area ("bottom bracket") of the bike.   But it doesn't matter because at least the seatstay is a straight tube.  (The seatstay is the tube that slants up from the rear axle towards the seat/saddle.) With a straight tube you can strap on a straight piece of wood. [1]  W

How to Bike with a Dog

If you are one of those people who love having a dog along on your outdoor activities, this post may be useful to you, especially if you bike on dirt/gravel/two-track roads.  Most of this would also apply to riding on residential streets or off-street recreational trails. You could consider one of the products available these days. Do a search using words like "dog running with bicycle" on You Tube.  But it is hard to make such products fit a modern mountain bike, with a seat-dropper-post and through-axles. Hence this post. Dogs do become trained over time to run alongside a bike without getting into trouble.  This post is meant for a younger dog who still needs to get used to the idea. Always attach the dog on the right side (starboard) of the bike.  Keep the leash short -- which is a bit counter-intuitive.  Always attach the leash to a halter on the dog, not to a collar. If the dog was used to the idea, you could put a carabiner on the end of a standard 5' or 6' do

A Eulogy for Europe

These are significant times.  It appears that a 500-year era of European ascendancy is coming to an end.  Perhaps this should not shock anyone.  Many other civilizations and cultures have had their time in the sun, and then fizzled out. When historians are writing about the European era, will they do as bad a job as they have with the decline of other civilizations?   Maybe it is not the historians' fault. After all, they work from documents, and maybe documents don't really contain the essence (zeitgeist, mindset, soul) of a civilization.  Therefore how can you explain 'what went wrong' with that civilization? But back to the 'Rise and Fall' of the European Age.  Imagine you lived in 1453 A.D. in Constantinople, and you witnessed the final end of the Roman Empire after a millennium of ups-and-downs -- mostly downs. Imagine a group of sages from around the world sitting down at a Turkish coffee shop to discuss the big picture.  At your table are a Chinese schola

Should the Russkies Take Their Gloves Off?

People are talking about the Russkies taking their gloves off.  They could hit Ukrainian power grids, energy infrastructure, and railroad bridges.  I don't understand why they don't try harder to intercept NATO weapons.  Russian leaders certainly have a tough decision to make.  The counter-argument is that it is still a few months until mid-winter, when the energy shortages in Europe will bite hardest.  So why not just let "General Winter" do their fighting for them? There will be giant protest marches in Europe, people say. (There already have been.) So what?  You could argue that protests work in the favor of the intransigent political leaders of Europe, since they let the peasants blow off steam.  They make it look like Europe governments are listening to Rousseau's "General Will".  They legitimize the notion that the masses have a say in these 'model' democracies of Europe.  After the protests, nothing will change. Does 'democracy' m

The Glory Season

There is no excuse for 'watching a pot, waiting for it to boil,' but here I am, doing it again, waiting for the last of the summer heat to wind down. Most people probably like autumn.  So many things work.  The truly remarkable thing is how good autumn is over a vast section of North America.  People in the hurricane belt would disagree. Lower temperatures will probably slow down fires and smoke, which means faster containment of the fires by the firefighters.  We really need rain but September is unlikely to give much.  Ah well, let me just be happy about all the things that are good at this time of year: 1.  Driving down wider roads on BLM land, instead of struggling with narrow roads in steep national forests. 2.  More than ample shadows.  They are generous and positively useful. 3.  Better sleeping weather. 4.  Fewer summer tourists and weekend warriors. 5.  Fewer insects. 6.  Enormous geographical freedom.  

Changing My Method of Autumn Migration

What am I overlooking?  There has to be a better way to manage my autumn migration.  If I moved 50 miles south of here I would probably escape the smoke, according to airnow.gov.  But I resist going into Nevada.  Besides, where will the smoke-blob be tomorrow?  The westerly direction of the wind on most days is all that we can rely on. I am probably not the only seasonal migrationalist who resists retreating back north for short periods.  It is like a military general refusing to retreat!    In practical terms, retreats do increase your transportation costs.  But perhaps this can be overestimated. Instead of my usual pattern of pushing relentlessly southward -- despite local eccentricities in altitude, smoke, and latitude -- perhaps I should do tactical switchbacks to the east or west, while still maintaining a strategic southwardness?

Keeping Camping Fun

Recently I camped with a couple aspen trees outside my door, for the first time this summer.  It was hard to believe that such a little thing could make the camping experience so cheerful. Why?  Is it because the white bark and twittering leaves of aspens are such a contrast to the dark bark and uninteresting needles of spruce/fir trees?  That makes it sound like I don't appreciate spruce/fir trees.  But I do.   In Idaho they are so grand and noble, and stay big in diameter a hundred feet up.   _____________________ The summer heat has finally broken.  It is time to appreciate once again how nice it is to sleep in cooler weather.  And my little dog runs like a maniac in cooler weather. _______________ What is surprising about these humble examples is how intense they were.  Normally when we praise the simple pleasures of life, it sounds like a cliche'.  It reminds you of a Hallmark card or a Campbell's soup commercial of yesteryear. 'Simple pleasures' sounds like in

Solving One Problem at a Time

I have no complaint about (greater) Idaho this summer.  The fire and smoke held off until September.  But now it is time to get the hell outta' here.  I went south, focusing on solving the smoke problem before going on to the next problem. The bank sign said it was 102 F in a little town.  Well, it was clear what the next problem would be.  Strangely though, I walked around town without being bothered too much.  And no, it wasn't because "it's only a dry heat."  Humid heat or dry heat don't bother me too much.  What bothers me is bright heat, that is, relentless, oppressive sunlight. And there just happened to be a miraculous cloud blocking the sun right then.  Still, I needed to find some shade.  On BLM land?! Luxurious shaded camping on BLM land? Well at least the roads are wider than in the forest. And there is a better breeze.  And I did find a flat spot at 5500 feet, with ATT coverage. I wanted to visit an old mining town that I hadn't seen in years.

Escaping the Smoke and Fire Season

So far I have not delivered on my promise, made in early summer, to leave the inland Northwest in late summer, typically its season of heat, fire, and smoke.  Why suffer needlessly? I avoided this decision because May and June were so wet that the fire and smoke season was postponed -- until the first of September.  In fact I have only started this week to use a cooled 8-liter water bladder as a pillow for sleeping. Gotten to by doing internet search for "airnow.gov"   This screenshot pretty much sums up the problem: late summer in the inland Northwest is about as awful as the Southwest in early summer. So what can be done? Go to the Southwest? After all, it has had a good monsoon season this summer. I'd rather not.  Remember that North America becomes drastically smaller in the winter, for campers.  Thus the camping-areas in the Southwest become well known and over-used.  So, unless you like camping around noisy neighbors, it is best to minimize your stay in the Southwes

A New Category of Terrorism

I have read a lot of history books in my life, and several times I have threatened not to read any in my 'next life.'  The reason for this is clearer right now than ever. For instance, when you read about diplomacy in 1914, just before World War I, or 1939, just before World War II, you see the historian trying to come up with rational explanations for the decisions of the political class.  That is a mistake. What does reason have to do with it?  Look at the decisions of NATO today.  It's as if insanity were a virus infecting one national leader after another. When are we going to start calling these leaders what they really are: economic terrorists?, and then treat them as we treat other kinds of terrorists. This would be more useful than calling people 'domestic terrorists' just because they disagree with you.

Reacting to Different Animals

  Driving to town the other day, a brownish black bear ran across the road, about 50 yards ahead of the van. It was only half-grown. Q.t. π had no reaction to the bear whatsoever, and she must have seen it, because she hangs halfway out the window when we drive at low speeds. Anyway, I was relieved that bears don't fit her 'prey profile.'  It is bad enough that she goes crazy when a chipmunk runs across the road ahead of the bike.  She did that the other day and got her left forepaw under the front wheel.  She screamed, but was not injured.  In fact that might be one of the most beneficial experiences she ever had while biking: hurt -- as in 'ouch' -- but not injured.  The same principle probably applies to us! By the way, it is not necessarily dangerous if you have a dog that chases bears.  My late kelpie, Coffee Girl, once took off after a black bear on the Uncompahgre Plateau in Colorado.  The bear had no cubs, and ran away so fast that Coffee Girl surrendered an

Some Sweet Pleasures of Summer

Since I promised to stop apologizing for writing about the sweet pleasures of camping: Maybe a North American boondocker should come up with a blog/vlog aimed at the European audience, since living in a normal house or 'flat' for them is becoming similar to boondocking. The trouble is: how do you monetize it?  Isn't making money off of Europeans a bit like getting blood out of the proverbial turnip? Too bad.  North American boondockers could certainly give them great advice on taking fewer showers and using less water, too.  On the other hand, my navy-style showers are always taken with hot water, which a good European is supposed to abandon. During a recent late-summer heat wave, I warmed the shower water only a little higher than body temperature.  I couldn't believe how pleasurable that was!  It felt like I was honoring the occasion. Was it reminding me of the pleasure a child gets in the summer from a lawn's water sprinklers, a lake, or swimming pool?  That was

The Trouble With Being Civilized

A European fellow, I, and a couple other people were hanging around a coffee lounge.  He offered this opinion, "Canada is a more civilized country than the USA."  "Perhaps," I said, "but they are nice people anyway. "  The European fellow thought I was being slightly witty, but actually, I was serious. This memory came to mind while thinking about the needless partial-suicide of Europe.  I have never lived in or even visited Europe, so this is just speculation, of course.  It has always seemed to me that Europeans have too much trust in their bureaucratic elites -- their experts.  Europeans just need to be told that there is some new rule, and they instinctively and reflexively follow it. The bureaucratic elites of the modern age are just the replacements of the Catholic clerisy that kept the peasants under their thumbs for over a millennium. Perhaps they think that the bureaucratic elites are well-educated and smart.  They probably are , in a bookish and

Doting Is Such Sweet Pleasure

I spoke to an older gentleman in the laundromat the other day and formed an approximate opinion of him.  Later, it surprised me to see him dandling a small puppy in the back seat of his pickup.  Somehow it just didn't fit the image: It was a 3 month old Havanese. Quite the little charmer: It was his third Havanese.  They are probably fairly rare, thereby requiring you to get them from a breeder.  Too bad.  They seem like a small, shedless, and personable dog. Not to be outdone, my Q.t. π went into 'dashboard dog' mode: Ah well, I am in my dotage now, so why shouldn't I dote over small cute dogs?  

Better Training For Federal Reserve Members

It might be useful to give some warnings to people who pull trailers on forest roads.  I used to think that all that was necessary was to look at Benchmark Atlas, and find roads marked by heavy dashed red lines.  This worked well on the Colorado Plateau or on BLM land in the desert Southwest. But in the inland Northwest, this method isn't working so well. I don't know whether it is because Benchmark's state atlases are inferior in this part of the country, or that the landscapes (non-mesa and thickly forested) are to blame. Whatever the explanation, I had to back my trailer down a road for 0.6 miles the other day.  I have never done more than a hundred yards in the past. The trick was to move at 1-2 miles per hour, get out of the driver's seat frequently, and pull forward occasionally to straighten things out. Even more important was learning how to anticipate corrections at the steering wheel.  Looking in the mirrors of the van I made small corrections to the tiniest

Idaho Finds a Use for Burned Trees

  A couple posts ago I fantasized about cutting all the burned trees on public lands, chopping them down to size, and sending the firewood to Europe this winter.  Be careful what you wish for! As it turned out, they are cutting a burned forest on some Idaho state land nearby.  Fortunately the workers commute to work at 530 in the morning -- it is no fun to share a narrow forest road with them.  Don't blame them -- blame the exterior wheel wells on my trailer. By sheer dumb luck I arrived in the area on the day they weren't working.  It would be just a little bit difficult to drive by this monster: I had a nice chat with the operator.  Most of the trees were too small for lumber, so they would get turned into firewood. (He didn't say anything about sending it to Europe, though!)  Where would the agricultural, forestry, mining, or military world be if the caterpillar tread had not been invented?  These machines make a wheeled vehicle look useless. Following the operator&#

A Photographic Success

Although photography is a pretty big part of camping and travel, have you ever actually had a conversation about photography with another traveler?  I have, but only once.  We were at Shiprock, the picturesque volcanic throat in northwestern New Mexico. He was a landscape photographer. What I really have in mind is a different type of photographer: one who sees photos as visual representations, metaphors, for important issues that might otherwise drown in excess verbiage and messy details. It is easy to see this as a good idea, but it is not so easy to put it into practice.  A habit needs to be formed.  One must break the habit of looking at something mindless and snapping a photo 'jes cuz it looks sorta perdy.' But on the other extreme, one must not get too hung up in thinking or analyzing at the moment of opportunity, lest it disappear.  It is enough for a visual situation to suggest -- to smell like -- a visual metaphor.  You can finish the thinking later. This is exactly w

Time For Going On a Media "Diet"?

How can the world not know whether Ukraine or Russia are shelling the nuclear power plant in Zaporozhye, Ukraine?  What is all the vaunted technology good for: AWACS planes, satellites, drones, radar?  What are the various international organizations good for?  Can't they just put some observers on the ground in Zaporozhye? If I had any sense, I would just bleat out the old cliche that 'in war, the first casualty is the Truth,' and ignore the media completely.  None of us goes out and looks for garbage or poison to eat, so why should we allow the media to put their lies and garbage into our minds?

Natural Selection Isn't So Simple

For somebody who lives outside the rat-race, a big part of their job is becoming interested in various things, on a daily basis.  On a recent bike ride, I almost laughed at a couple wild turkeys that we frightened.  They sounded like broken helicopters trying to take off.  But they were able to get to a branch in a nearby tree. Still, you have to wonder: how does such a big slow heavy bird find enough food in a monoculture of bark and needles?  Can they sit on that tree branch, evading coyotes, for hours or mere minutes?  They can't migrate south in the winter, so how do they survive? Maybe someday I will learn more biology.  But it is so easy to say that.  Every now and then I will attempt to brush up on a subject by running to Wikipedia, and then seldom last more than one paragraph.   That's the trouble with "book larnin'."  The interesting stuff is diluted with an ocean of jargon or dry technicalities.  It never seems to pertain to the observation or question

Making a Boring Forest Interesting

  Something tawny crossed the road about 200 yards ahead of me and my dog, while on our morning walk.  I didn't really get a good look at it, but what struck me was how graceful and fluid the motion was. Uh-oh. Can anything move like that except a cat? In cases like this, it is best not to let one's imagination run away with itself.  But laugh it off all you want, it still stays in your head on the rest of the walk, especially if the forest is thick and dark. Early in the morning, spots of sunlight penetrate the forest better than in the afternoon.  I looked out to these bright spots and imagined a frighteningly clear image of a mountain lion growling at me. Therefore I benefitted from this unconfirmed sighting of a mountain lion.  There is nothing interesting about thick spruce/fir forests, visually.  But a little imagination made it interesting. I should feel good about that, and yet, am reluctant to write about such things or to wallow in them, even when they please. Dogs d

The Perfect Peach π

I really wanted to drive to town today for the Saturday Farmer's Market.  Two years ago I went to the market despite having low expectations regarding food.  Food isn't the first thing a person thinks about when they think 'Idaho.' One of the booths had peaches for sale.  When I bit into the peach I almost fell over -- it was the perfect peach.  They grew it halfway down into the Salmon River trench.  The river is practically at sea level down there, that is, 1000 feet of altitude.  The deep canyon topography is quite impressive around here. I wanted that to happen again, today.  But I have gotten more disciplined about driving to town just for one errand.  So I didn't go.    That damn Putin.  He ruined my peach-life. Instead, Q.t. π and I went on the perfect bicycle ride in this area.  It was actually a loop ride, which is rare for me.  The terrain was interesting and the road knew how to take advantage of it -- and that is precious!  It brought us so close to the

How Can China Retaliate?

Well, the Chinese leadership showed that it was sane and adult by not reacting immediately to the provocation of Pelosi visiting Taiwan.  Does that mean that nothing has changed?  Or does it mean that the Chinese are wise enough to choose the right way to retaliate and the right time?  Why should they let their enemy set the agenda and goad them into a possible trap? Time is on the side of  the Chinese, because they will become stronger every year, as the USA sinks.   What do you think their best kind of retaliation is?  They have already cancelled a big lithium battery factory that they were planning on building in the USA.  Lithium batteries might be the best pinch point for them to hurt the political (or regulator) class in the USA, because that class is almost wholly invested in the electric car. If China sabotages the development of the electric car, it will increase its cost at the very least, and create a game of chicken between Green regulators and their timetable and diktats

Let's Send Europe Firewood!

A camper might have a funny reaction to the news coming out of Europe these days.  The commissars are telling people to take fewer or shorter showers.  My reaction: what is so bad about that?  Similarly with other diktats, such as lowering their thermostats next winter. But it does make you wonder whether people in Europe will completely lose interest in camping.  After all, their normal living in a 'flat' or house will already be too much like camping. I expect to be indifferent to the discomfort that Europeans suffer this winter.  People get the government they deserve. Greens are clever politicians.   If they imposed their Great Reset on the peasants of Europe as the Green agenda, there could be a severe pushback that might injure the Green religion. By disguising the Great Reset as wartime austerity necessary in pursuing a Noble Cause, an escape valve is created.  When the pushback starts getting severe, European leaders will be able to back off on the sanctions and the U