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Showing posts with the label outdoorsAppreciation

Yoga for Chilly Travelers

Several times I have attempted -- and pretty much failed -- to convince readers of the value of surviving winter without a furnace. Very well then... one more try and then I'll quit. I'll be a good sport by consigning the readers to the fleeting shadows of perpetual unenlightenment.

The time for 'glory' was running out for this winter. A new warming trend was starting today. Just in the nick of time, the temperature inside my trailer went below freezing -- a magical place that can seem unattainable. (Once again, compare this to the beginning of the movie, "The Right Stuff," when the Air Force was trying to break the sound barrier.) I celebrated the occasion by heating water and putting it in the flexible water bladder (Platypus brand), and then inserting it under my parka.

But the real moment of enlightenment occurred yesterday. For a couple nights I had been sleeping in my insulated bib overalls. In the morning I simply got out of bed, threw the parka over the…

Photographing a Flash Flood

A long time ago I saw my first flash flood, after years of being in the Southwest. It was pretty scrawny -- but still impressive if you think of what it represents.

Recently it happened again, except that it was even tinier. The onset of running water was only a quarter inch deep. But it was fascinating! I walked it downstream, at a rate of maybe one mile per hour.

I tried to play games with it. Could it be photographed? I looked at it from above: boring. Then I tried to get light to glance off of it: no good. Perhaps if the camera was lowered almost to the ground, and it focussed on the oncoming 'wave front', it might have looked a little bit impressive. But any still photograph would have missed the drama.

Where are the photographers when you need them?!

I played the game of guessing which way its downstream-most finger would extend. It proved impossible. That finger seemed like a sentient creature, probing, invading, and choosing its next victim.

There is such great use of this…

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 …

Philosophical Ripples from the River Rats

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

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

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

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

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

Son of a Son of a (Sagebrush) Sailor

Although I've never felt much of a need to read Sigmund Freud, his "Civilization and its Discontents" was interesting. In it, Freud mentioned that some people had described a powerful "oceanic" feeling; but he had never experienced it.

Perhaps Dr. Freud never had the experience of camping in drab, ugly, and half-dead forests in the summer -- to escape the heat -- and then busting out into the open in September. An oceanic feeling can be very powerful indeed.Better yet, this feeling can be used for a practical purpose: it helps to keep an outdoorsy lifestyle interesting, long after the tourist phase is over.

Recently this oceanic feeling provided a real phantasmagoria for me: breaking out into the sagebrush hills seemed like heading out to sea on a sailboat. Perhaps this was helped by reading Jack London's "South Sea Tales." (  I even listened to some Jimmy Buffett songs for the first time in a long while.

For instance, as you creep out…

A Shopping Orgy at the Best Outdoors Store

It is so strange going through small towns in the ranching country of the West. Especially shopping. You can not avoid the feeling that the purpose of life for these businesses is to be closed. No wonder there is a Dollar Store in the tiniest and most impoverished town.

Show Low, AZ, is one of the few shopping meccas for me, on my annual loop. As always, I visited a couple car dealerships. I come away shaking my head about how ignorant car salesmen are about the product itself. They only know about the process of selling: demographics, applied psychology, and filling out the paperwork. The average customer could not care less about the $60,000 pickup truck they just got suckered into. They only care about the monthly payment and whether it is huge and showy, and raises their self-esteem. Imagine that: a culture where people get a boost to their self-esteem by being a fool!

But this post has good news: I had a wonderful time at my favorite store for outdoor products. I didn't even kn…

A Newbie Couple Camps With an Ol' Desert Rat

There are some disparities that are made to poke fun at: men versus women, old versus young, northern Europeans versus Mediterraneans, city slickers versus rural hayseeds, and even newbie campers versus grizzled old "mountain men."

A long term bicycle club friend of mine visited my camp recently. She and her significant-other were embarked on their maiden voyage in a converted van. They don't know of my blog. So hopefully I can write about their experience with candor. Although it may seem like I am poking fun at them, their foibles and mistakes are no different than any other newbie, including myself at one time in history. They both have a lot of practical skills, and I suspect that their RV careers will be a great success if they keep with it.

The idea here is to describe a newbie's ideas, habits, and mistakes, in order to let the reader flush out the principles and draw their own conclusions. I will try to suppress my own shop-worn sermons.

They reminded me how diff…

Immortality in a Threatening Wind

What a nice morning it had been: moderately cool, calm, and sunny. Coffee Girl and I had just finished a mountain bike ride up an arroyo where, at the beginning of my travel career, I had stumbled onto a "cliff dwelling." Not an official one, of course. But it was possible to imagine turning it into a cliff dwelling or emergency shelter. Back then I took a chance in dragging my trailer upstream in the gravel arroyo, with only my rear wheel drive van. And I camped there that night, and made a fire in the little cliff dwelling, and amused myself with making shadows on the ceiling. (Plato would have been impressed.)

Alas, the cliff dwelling seemed less romantic today than it did way-back-when. This stung. Did it mean that my travel lifestyle had become too predictable and tame?

We laid down for the usual post-ride siesta, relaxing to a movie with a good musical score. But it became difficult to hear the movie because of the howling wind. What the hell was going on, out there!? Si…

The Autumn of Experiencing Nature in America

What should an experienced outdoorsman look for in a hackneyed location like Moab, UT? Certainly not the iconic red rock arches and canyons. They are justly famous, but you've seen them a hundred times in jeep commercials, cellphone commercials, nature pin-up calendars, etc. They belong to everybody and to nobody. They certainly cannot belong to you.

But that doesn't mean you should just give up, and relegate Moab to the tourist trade, as I used to do. When the weather was still a little summer-ish, my dog and I started a mountain bike ride before most of the tourists were up. As always, we wanted to beat the heat.

We started going downhill; not far, maybe 300-400 feet. I was shocked at how chilly it was getting. In fact, I wished I had gloves on! At the bottom of the canyon I was amazed to find a "crystal house" of dew, that is, preternaturally dense dew, glazed onto grasses in a little swale. 

It reminded me of the ice crystal house in Dr. Zhivago. The movie was filme…

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 goodn…

Worshiping the Wind

Perhaps one of the readers is up-to-date on El NiƱo and this remarkable summer in the Southwest, a summer of monsoons starting in May instead of July. The result has been the absence of wildfires, and an explosion of greenery and flowers. And bugs. This has been the first summer in years when I applied bug spray before going out on a mountain bike ride. Well it's about time I was made to appreciate how little I normally think of flying insects.  

The appreciation of something else goes up, too: a nice breeze to keep the bugs off. It's a miracle drug. Normally I praise the breeze in passing on to another subject in these posts. For once, let me talk only about the wind.

It's odd that so many people dislike breezy days. I used to, too, earlier in life. Some of these preferences are explainable: people with allergies are not helped any by the wind. 

Also, many people don't wear hats, which is too bad, considering how well the right hat desensitizes you to wind, sun, and rain…

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 tha…

Cabin Fever of the Mind

In an earlier post I played at visualizing cold wet weather and mud as medicine. Not only does it postpone the wildfire season later into June, when the monsoons are only a couple weeks away, but it also rebuilds a healthy appreciation for sunshine in your own mind.  Depending on where you live, you might not need any help in appreciating sunshine; but a gringo in the arid western states certainly needs help.

And Mother Nature is at it again. When cabin fever reaches a crescendo, you can fight back, but don't fight back too soon: there is an art to enjoying a miserable day. Your rebound is robbed of its glory if it isn't prepared by a nadir. Artificial aids are permitted: consider watching the first five minutes of the latest "Jane Eyre" movie, the one with the faint lighting and the haunting score by Dario Marianelli.

It is quite amazing how tuned in you can get to the amperage and voltage of your solar controller. Even doing pushups on a muddy trailer floor brings in…

Balanced Scenery

'Balance' is a subtle form of beauty in a landscape, but it is a real one. It is also a rare one in the West. When people show postcards of western scenery and describe it as 'breathtakingly beautiful', they are being narrow and philistine. What they mean is that something in landscape -- hopefully reddish -- is freakishly large and vertical.

The truth is that much more balanced scenery exists in the East and the South, and a little bit in the Great Lakes region. Imagine a place that actually has pretty forests full of a variety of trees that have leaves (!),  a creek, a barn, and some productive fields. In most of the West (other than the Willamette Valley in Oregon) forests are nothing but dreary monocultures of some species of needle-tree.

The lack of balance and variety in the West just means that I have learned to appreciate those rare places where it can be found. One of those places is southeastern Arizona. That is the theme of today's postcard.

The Mesa Minders

OK I admit to feeling a naughty grin when I looked down on the mesa where some Lazy Dazers are camped. My dog and I were on a mountain bike ride on a higher mesa popular with my breed, near St. George UT.

Zooming in, I can see somebody's rigs, left-center and slightly to the right of center.

An allegory popped into the mind: do you remember that episode in the third season of the original Star Trek, called "The Cloud Minders:"  a community of exalted intellectuals, musicians, and poets live in a city called Stratos that is levitated in the sky. They do nothing but pursue intellectual and aesthetic pursuits all day. Meanwhile, down on the planet's surface, live the miners who do all the grunt work that allows the elitism and luxury of Stratos to exist. 

As I looked down on the Lazy Dazers and grinned naughtily -- and haughtily -- the allegory grabbed control over my mind. Why was it so powerful? It was not caused by the visual stimulation alone, impressive as it was. M…

If Eclipses Don't Terrify Anymore, What Good Are They?

Whew, what a relief! Tonight is supposed to be cloudy, so I needn't get up at 425 a.m. MDT to watch the Blood Moon total lunar eclipse.

Now isn't that a terrible thing to say? But admit it, how many times have you watched the media buildup to some celestial event -- be it an eclipse, a comet, or the Northern Lights -- only to be disappointed by the actual event? But like most people, I want the event to be interesting.

Why then are these celestial events such let-downs? We tend to forget that throughout the superstitious and religious period of our history, celestial events were truly frightening. That made them NEWS. But thanks to our scientific knowledge [*], celestial events have devolved into mere visual entertainment. As eye candy goes, they are rather slow and unimpressive. Compare them, as visual entertainment, to action scenes and special effects in a movie.

Perhaps you are dissatisfied with this grim truth. Maybe we can think of some other way to make such events intere…

Holidays as a Chance to Re-assess Your Sports

With the hordes coming out for one last fling (Labor Day) I made sure to get one last mountain bike ride in. Hiking works better on a holiday weekend because it is easier to escape the motor-crazed yahoos.

At first the slope was perfect (semi-steep) and the road was smooth. When it got rougher I got a bit discouraged, but then gradually got used to it and learned to like it. It does take some effort to see the benefits of rough roads.

But let's back up a step. I once had an outdoorsy friend who acknowledged that aerobic-exercise sports (e.g., hiking, bicycling, running, swimming) might be "good for you", but were dull and repetitive. He preferred sports, such as technical climbing, that emphasized skill and risk. He had a point that would probably help me if I would work harder on developing more technical mountain biking skills.

But there were times when it seemed like buying crap for his sport was the main attraction. There are many sports like that: they have their own g…