Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Winter

Outside my window the warm Spring sun is unleashing its 93 million mile payload upon the roof over my head resulting in a steady draining of water from the final snowfall of the year (a surprise 5 inches). How do I know this will be the final snowfall of the year? Well based on this winter’s history as a meager producer of the white stuff here in the Northeast I can say it’s a pretty safe bet.

In fact I would go so far as calling this final gasp a near miracle given the up and down nature of the past 5 months. Spring has been dragging its feet for the past two months (we’ve had flowers blooming for nearly that long). I don’t know about where you live but this Winter was a strange one here in Maine – a true seasonal battle between Dr Jekyll and Mr Winter.

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Dear Daylight Savings Time, I hate you (my sentiment last Fall)

Just ask all the obese squirrels that bulked up last Fall in anticipation of the approaching season. Maybe this one was planning an expedition to the North Pole? I suppose he could have a thyroid condition but I’m pretty sure the neighborhood cats have weeded those guys out of the population by now. This guy just got his forecast wrong.

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He hauled himself up onto the railing like a walrus onto a beach

Of course after my first full winter in over 17 years I shouldn’t be throwing stones at chubby squirrels from within my glass house – it’s tough to keep those winter pounds off sometimes, this I know!

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Thanksgiving gravel grinding in VT (with the iconic “Camel’s Hump off in the distance)

My personal anticipation for the winter was sky high after a weekend of racing in the Green Mountain state of Vermont last October. As a guy planted firmly on the upper end of the normal distribution of weight for bike racers (even before this winter), the cool weather suits me just fine. Although toward the end of my cross race near Montpelier I considered dunking myself into the lake for refreshment on a 20 deg morning (note to self: do more intervals to get ready for cross season next year).

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Arctic sea smoke in Vermont (ok, it’s lake smoke). Photo courtesy of Onion River Sports Facebook page.

The next day at my first Circumburke Challenge (I will be back for more editions!) in East Burke the conditions were much more suitable for my style of racing – they involved beer and nearly impassable mud. Incidentally only liquid sunshine was seen in the state of VT for that entire day… perhaps the entire month. El Nino had arrived on the East Coast and it was wet. Warm (relatively) and wet. The pattern persisted all season.

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Mmmmm who needs sunshine when they can it?

True, we had moments when it actually felt like winter in places other than vicarious trips through the snow reports of western ski resorts. Lacking any ultradistance goals for the first time in at least 8 years, I had planned to hit up some local races in New England. Due to Dr Jekyll being in full control only one of them was actually held: the Moose Brook Fat Bike Race in Gorham, NH. The remainder were cancelled.

The best laid plans of fat squirrels and fat bikers often go awry.

The race itself was a blast with -15 deg temps in the morning followed by a slow warming into a perfect winter day in the woods. Thank you Mr Winter! Who could ask for more? Well I can – I wish the entire winter had been like this! At the very least it would’ve helped slim down the squirrels a little.

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A -15 deg F morning along the ME/NH border

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Wy won’t this thing go faster? Oh right, it’s not the bike’s fault. Photo courtesy of Moose Brook Fat Bike Race Facebook page

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If you win the race you wear the moose antlers

But following every cold spell there was a predictable drastic warming this year. Hopes and dreams of fun in the snow vanished like ghosts in the night. 5deg F one day, 55 deg F the next – Dr Jekyll and Mr Winter.

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“We take death to reach a star” – Vincent Van Gogh

The weather warmed and alliteration ran rampant with water spilling from the spoons of soupy nights. Fog was my co-pilot. With the short days I forlornly navigated the rocky shores of my new area via candlepower, ummm battery power… whatever. I also told myself riding in the rain at night is fun. Look into the light and repeat after me: riding in the rain is fun. Riding in the rain is fun.

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Two Lights State Park, Cape Elizabeth ME. OK, more like Three Lights

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They say the lighthouse keeper is the loneliest man on earth, looks inviting!

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Slimer from Ghostbusters?

Then like a snowplow in the night, snow returned one morning and the world smiled. Or as my next-door neighbor probably described the scene outside his window to his wife: “that stupid Californian is out taking pictures of the snow AGAIN”.

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Unrideable rocks become rideable in a world transformed

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“The snot green sea, the scrotum tightening sea” – James Joyce

And so began a final, glorious 2 week span of true winter. In the midst of the warmest season on record it felt almost normal. Mr Winter was in control and he went about administering his business like a nun with a ruler.

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There are few things more welcoming than a warm sun on a cold day

A series of storms skirted the coast and dropped blankets of fresh snow on the trails and beaches like Christmas in February, which considering it had been almost 70 deg F on Christmas Day this would be our one and only chance at having a picture postcard New England Christmas.

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“It came without ribbons!… it came without tags!… it came without packages, boxes or bags” – The Grinch

In the wake of the storms cold air wrapped around the backside of the cyclone and was pumped in from our neighbors to the North (if only they would also send poutine!) The collision of this cold air with the (relatively) warmth of the ocean is a fascinating sight. The water appears to boil on the surface and almost hisses as the wind rakes across its surface producing sea smoke. On calm cold days deep, icy fog banks develop offshore, but it is at its dynamic best when the wind is howling and sheets writhe across its surface like apparitions out windsurfing.

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Sea Smoke and Snizzle

The release of so much moisture from the water sometimes produces a light drizzle of snow when conditions permit: snizzle. Sea smoke and snizzle: two great tastes that go great together.

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Portland Head Light during a snow squall

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Thank you Mr Snowmobiler for the path!

I broke out the 5 inch tires and held mass within cathedral woods, my drivetrain reciting their vespers with each pedal stroke…

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and skied along the coast, waves crashing to my East while the sun settled on the snowcapped peaks of all those lucky bastards out west that were reaping the spoils of El Nino. Wait a second, I was finally enjoying winter! I’d forgotten how much I’d missed it.

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A wayward lobster buoy displaying remarkable color coordination with my skis

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“And the poets down here don’t write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be” – Bruce Springsteen

At long last I could take no more. I cried into the blackest night:”why on Earth did I move to the East Coast this winter? Why can I not be in the Sierra Nevada, the Range of Light, and be doing this more often? Dr Jekyll and Mr. Winter, why do you torment me so?”

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Another squall, a different view

Why have you put me through such hell this winter when all I wanted to do was ride my bike and ski to my heart’s content? An answer sprang forth from the Universe in the form of a weather bulletin: the forecast now called for Jekyll. I could see his warm eyes burning on the horizon. Say what you will, Mr Winter is the “normal” one in my version of the book. Winter should be wild and without conscience.

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My winter playground with the lights of Portland Maine on the foggy horizon

Which brought me to one final moment, the one I managed to capture in the photo below.

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Nothing makes one feel so insignificant, so in the moment, as standing beneath the moon and stars on a cold, still night. How many light years have those pin pricks traveled just to reach this spot at this moment on this night? It’s all but a fluke of coincidence between distant entities of the same whirling system that casts this cold light from fire then hurls it across the vast reaches of space to reach this point at this time then be harnessed by the lens and captured by the camera. At this moment on this moonlit night, this is where I was supposed to be – I belonged.

5 Seconds of light exposure from a multitude of stars, some of which has been traveling for longer than I have been alive just to make this chance encounter on a lonesome hill in Maine. All pettiness disappears in a moment like this as it reveals just how tenuous our individual toeholds are in this world. Circumstances can (and will) change in an instant. A misstep here or there and the entire scene will vanish like a blurry photo to the recycle bin (of which there were a few as I was using a tree limb as a tripod). Capture the light while you can.

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And just like that spring was here. From dark to light, Jekyll to Hyde, in an instant the snow retreated and flowers began blooming as another round of warmth spread over the land. I hope to see you again on my next trip around the sun, Mr. Winter.

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The Extra Mile

The Dallas Cowboy’s Hall of Fame quarterback, Roger Staubach once said when asked about the nature of hard work “There is no traffic jam along the extra mile”. While I am inclined to believe that a little extra effort in the pursuit of a worthy goal is a good thing, I can also say with a high degree of confidence that there is sometimes black ice glazing the road along the course of that extra mile. Especially along the ME/NH border this past weekend.

I’m always a sucker for a road trip and since the weather has been so ridiculously fickle this winter here in coastal Maine, I decided to pack up the fat bike for a scouting ride in the White Mountains of NH. Spurred on by Dunkin Donuts coffee, patches of grass showing in the yard and the forecast of warm temperatures later that day I hopped in the car before dawn and headed north by northwest toward higher ground. Though this corner of SW Maine is off the beaten path of most people traveling through the state, it’s also remarkably close to everywhere.

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This sign really exists!

Within an hour my efforts were rewarded as the vision of snowbanks lining the road emerged in the glow of the headlights like something out of a Hallmark card proclaiming “Season’s Greetings”. Problem was, the next instant the car was oddly pointed straight at one of those snowbanks even though my steering wheel was currently turned somewhere to the left of straight to negotiate the turn that had presented itself in the road. I’d hit a patch of dreaded “black ice” that had formed overnight. The greeting card dawn had changed from light to dark in a millisecond.

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Liquid water at dawn is never a good thing for February in Maine

Since my exodus last summer from the great parched state of California I’ve driven in a little bit of snow and ice here in the Northeast (not to mention instincts learned from late night abandoned snow-covered parking lot, sliding car<ahem> “vehicle dynamics exercises” from my 20’s) so my foot immediately came off the throttle, followed by an excruciatingly long second before my front tires regained traction, followed by the familiar snap reaction of the rear end of the VW over-correcting with the new-found traction, followed by a steering wheel correction toward the snow bank to avoid a spin, followed by a lurid slide on the shoulder with the reapplication of the throttle followed by an audible “phewww!” from my mouth as I continued along my merry way with the snowbanks once again parallel to the direction of my travel.

Oh, and I immediately reduced my speed by about 20 mph lest I find myself a shiny ornament wrapped around a fragrant balsam fir tree. Perhaps more importantly the shiny new bike strapped to the back of my car was safe.

Yup, a new bike – or more specifically a new frame to which I had spent my Saturday evening transferring my old parts. My battle weary 9:Zero:7 that I had won at the Arrowhead 135 pre-race raffle yrs ago had finally given up the ghost and cracked at the seat tube. Fair thee well mighty warrior, I’ll see you again in the happy hunting grounds.

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Top of the notch, blissful fat biking with the new Carver

Saturday afternoon I had picked up this spiffy titanium Carver O’Beast from the friendly folks at  Bikeman/Bath Cycle and Ski. I’ve heard good things about the Carver brand plus <ayuh>, she’s designed right here in the Pine Tree State. As the saying goes: drink local, buy local, ride local right? While my entire order was not complete the Bikeman guys took advantage of the traffic jam free roads along the extra mile and bent over backwards to press in my new headset and have the frame ready for me to pick up rather than waiting a few days and paying for shipping costs. Huge kudos to the Bikeman/Carver guys.

25 slowly driven, black ice laced miles later (so much for “ride local” but hey, we don’t have any snow!) I arrived at the foot of Jefferson Notch. To quote another great (Vanilla Ice – “great” is open to interpretation): “Ice, Ice baby”. Amazing what you can ride when you have 480 carbide tipped studs bristling from your tires.

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The dreaded tilted ice rink , with crown. This would’ve been instant death without studs

Jefferson Notch Rd holds the distinction as being New Hampshire’s highest elevation “maintained” road at a whopping 3000ft (insert West Coast laughter here). In summer you can drive this dirt road and cut up and over “the notch” (that’s “pass” to you on the West Coast) from near Gorham, NH through the White Mountain National Forest to the foot of Mount Washington (the northeast’s highest peak and home to some of the worst weather outside of Antarctica). In winter it’s a snowmobile route, well… when it snows in winter it’s a snowmobile route. Oh, it’s a STEEP snowmobile route.

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South Branch Israel River. Set my people free to go fat biking!

Even though it’s been a weird winter in these parts, what the Ice Coast lacks in elevation it makes up for in ferocious and changeable weather. Just last week it had been minus 40 deg F in this area, followed by a drastic warmup to near 50 deg F in the days before I arrived. This weekend the temperatures were a mild 20ish with lightly falling snow. The result was some fantastic conditions for fat biking at higher elevations. In between? Not so much. At least it keeps the crowds away.

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Is it me or does that look like a snowflake covered snowflake?

Upward I continued on the ice, ice baby. A few flakes of snow fell too. A sketchy descent ensued as I plummeted down the other side as precipitously as Vanilla Ice’s career. Occasionally I slid, slid baby but the studs, studs saved me.

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The other side of the notch, closer to Bretton Woods

20 years ago I had ridden this route in summer on my mountain bike as part of a longer ride so it wasn’t totally unfamiliar terrain. In some ways it felt like a homecoming of sorts. The scent of balsam fir in the air, the cheerful songs of chickadees (the colder the better for those little guys) scouring the branches above the rush of water in the streams and rivers beside the road – all the things I’ve missed about the Northeast while out wandering in the deserts of the Southwest. And as Roger Staubach predicted, not a soul was encountered the entire time I was out riding.

Aside from the occasional slip on the ice, that’s how we roll out here along the course of the extra mile.

 

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Bring It On, 2016

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” – Dr. Seuss

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Outlive the Bastards

Last night after work I didn’t really feel like going for a ride. I wound up being held up at work a little later than anticipated so the thought of heading out into the dark was not appealing to me especially since it had been raining most of the day. But since I’ve got a few fat bike events upcoming later this “winter” (namely the Moose Brook Fat Bike Race and the Ski, Shoe & Fatbike to the Clouds as well as the Liberal Cup Biathlon) I’ve been trying to increase my riding time a bit. Relearning how to nordic ski will probably help for the biathlon as well but unfortunately up until this point the weather has been abominable. And that “abominable” has nothing to do with snowmen as it’s been warm and wet.

Trust me I get it: this is Maine and the weather is not going to be “perfect” in the San Diego sense of the word I’ve become accustomed to the past 17 winters. I have no expectations of that, but when the temperatures are consistently running 10-15 degrees warmer than normal around here and all we are getting is cold rain I feel I can complain. It’s supposed to be snowy and cold by this time in the season, not wet! This is winter! Somehow I willed myself out the door and into the saddle.

I cannot understand the logic behind those that are happy to be having all of this cold, miserable rainy weather – their mindset just doesn’t make sense to me. They say they like “warm” weather, but this still is not “warm” by any stretch of the imagination. All it saves them is snow shoveling as far as I can see while the rest of us that like to get OUTSIDE and ski, snowshoe or fat bike have to deal with the worst conditions of all: 35 degrees and raining (or some equivalent thereof). It’s demotivating to say the least.

If this weather is so great why aren’t there hordes of people out frolicking in the puddles all day long? Where are all of the “35 degrees and raining” lovers that hate snow? Probably inside watching TV (or living in Florida, sitting inside and watching TV). If you dislike what is supposed to be our normal weather, why not move? Yes, I’m feeling my curmudgeon-oats today.

So as I slipped and slid all over the local root-infested trails last night (which was a blast made all the more enjoyable by my fat tires I might add) my thoughts were a little negative to say the least.  At least the rain had ceased a few hours earlier and as the miles wore on the temps dropped below freezing. My mood improved as the familiar crunch of ice began to crackle from beneath my tires.  I stopped to snap a photo of my favorite stretch of root-infested trail, then shut off my lights so I could be part of the forest for a moment.

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Glancing toward the clearing on my left I caught sight of the stars as if it was the first time I’d ever noticed them. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness I saw that the sky had cleared revealing the clearest moonless night I’d seen in years framed by the dark silhouettes of the tree creatures of the northern forest. The silent evergreen sentries of the bogs stood at attention guarding their golden hoard of tussocks. Stars sparkled like ornaments where their light filtered through the branches. Pausing for a moment, I puffed a vapor stream into the cold night and watched it evaporate into the timeless vacuum of space.

The moral of this story? Don’t stay at work too late, deal with the unseasonable weather the best way possible and always remember that you will outlive the bastards.

“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast….a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.” – Edward Abbey

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Up North

“Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose” – Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

Years ago I had a running joke with one of my college roommates that began one brisk winter morning as I ran out the door with xc skis in hand.

“Where ya headed?” he asked.

“North” I replied with a smile and continued walking out the door without looking back.

From there the joke grew that if I ever failed to return one day he could tell people to look for me “up North somewhere”. “Where’s Tom? Oh he headed North”. That sort of thing. Usually I returned.

I hadn’t really thought about it much in the past ohhh 25 years or so but this morning as I drove to work on yet another placid (for Maine) early winter morning, again the urge to head North kicked in. The weather has been unseasonably warm so far this season.

It began with an urge to just keep driving until I find snow, then watch the road signs turn to French (note to self: bring passport to work tomorrow in case the feeling returns). Reach the Chic Chocs of Quebec by sundown and sleep in the car. Maybe bang a right from there and head to Newfoundland by ferry. Or go left and cross the St Lawrence then drive to James Bay, just go somewhere cold and lonely and watch the frost creep across the land from the driver’s seat as the feeble winter day spreads across the horizon.

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Use my seven words of French to conduct a conversation, just get lost in the landscape with no particular place to be or go. To have no plan other than to just “go” wherever and “be” whatever the hell the universe asks at that particular moment. The wandering need not have a point other than latitude and longitude to describe it – and even then why bother try as it’s constantly in flux like light through a window. Just migrate like a caribou herd across the land; go like I know where I’m going because in the end we all KNOW where we’re headed no matter how lost we may feel at times. The daily journey doesn’t need to be to an office to work, or worse yet in the evening to a couch to watch the hours pass punctuated by commercial breaks. Wanderlust has no bounds, only constraints bounded by the topography of your brain (and maybe continents, if that).

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Fighting wanderlust is like trying to wring the neck of a zen master made out of water balloons (the one who keeps asking those annoying questions), and just as futile. Some people are plain born to wander, and this morning I wanted to go. I’m not quite sure how I made it into work.

Somehow I summoned the courage to go through the motions required to enter the office door, then banged out these 400+ words in frustration on my lunch break. I’m not sure if that qualifies as a victory or a defeat.

But the truth is most of the day I’ve been up North.

If you want to read about some real wanderlust check this guy out BikeHikeSafari

 

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A Sense of Wonder

As we approach the winter solstice dealing with the short days and their lack of sunlight is a little hard to get used to, especially when you’ve lived the past 18 years in Southern California. There is something inherently wrong with having to turn the headlights on while driving in the car at 3PM, but “it is what it is” I suppose. It’s not like I didn’t know how it can be around here at this time of year. So yesterday after a long day away from home for various reasons I had conked out on the couch a little early to the pitter patter of rainfall outside the window. The gloom (and the couch) had won.

This time of year can really suck you in and encase you in ice if you’re not careful.

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After a few hours of sleep I awoke around midnight to the howling of wind shaking the entire house with the occasional creak and groan. A strong cold front was moving through and the window panes were shuddering with each gust like an old Russian woman beneath her babushka. One look out the window confirmed the passage of the cold front: it was snowing! Winter has been slow arriving to Maine this year but for the time being, it was a winter wonderland outside.

For the next two hours I couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t really accumulating much out there as the ground is barely frozen even at the end of November (I’m shaking my fist at you El Nino and your warming influence on our weather!), but at least for the moment it was white. I stared out the window in amazement watching it blow around in the North wind, just as I had done as a kid all those years ago. The gloom was gone even though it was 2AM and the entire world was at rest. Now I couldn’t sleep. The world was alive!

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There comes a time in most people’s life when they get tired. Whether just plain exhausted of the grind required to make a living or fatigued by the energy extracted from us as we combat the forces of entropy battling to bring us to our knees. Sometimes we must relent – if only for a moment (even for the strongest amongst us). Fighting upstream your entire life is never easy and somewhere along the way emotions like “wonder” and “amazement” get swept beneath the rug like some abstract detritus that accumulated on the floor from being ground to dusty oblivion in our footsteps. We “grow up” and focus on the darkness.

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But if you’re lucky sometimes those long subdued emotions can return like warm rays of sun on a cold morning. Perhaps some uncover these emotions as they rediscover the world through the eyes of their children while others do in the pursuit of new hobbies or experiences. For me all it had taken was a late night snow squall – one that really didn’t amount to much as by the next morning almost all of the snow had melted. Maybe it had been only a dream, but a dream with eyes wide open to a world I once knew but have since strayed from. Out of darkness comes light, and from cold comes warmth

No matter what mechanism you rediscover it through, wonder is a vital part of the human experience that should never be lost. True, one can exist without it but doing so is like having a cold, wet El Nino induced winter on the East Coast: why bother? Bring on the snow!

“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible” – T.E. Lawrence

 

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The Elemental Vastness of the Windblown World

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The winds were howling and the house was creaking this morning when the alarm went off in the predawn darkness. With the weather forecast calling for cold and windy conditions I figured it was a great day to head out to the mountains of western Maine and scout some new terrain: Mount Blue State Park. I jumped out of bed and into the cold.

“Powerful winds that crack the boughs of November! – and the bright calm sun, untouched by the furies of the earth, abandoning the earth to darkness, and wild forlornness, and night, as men shiver in their coats and hurry home.”

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By the time I reached Mount Blue, the trails were slushy delicious – half frozen and slippery like the surface of gelato on a warm day. Although this area is ridden predominately by ATV’s during the warmer months, the fat bike makes it fun and rideable. A network of snowmobile trails run through here and since it’s a multi-use trail system on State land I’m pretty sure that fat biking will be possible  here during the winter months. Multi-day tours may be possible using the adjacent trail systems… western Maine is a gem!

“And then the lights of home glowing in those desolate deeps. There are the stars, though! – high and sparkling in a spiritual firmament. We will walk in the windsweeps, gloating in the envelopment of ourselves, seeking the sudden grinning intelligence of humanity below these abysmal beauties.”

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Speaking of winter, right beside the trail – a warming hut (teepee, whatever) with a supply of firewood. Reminded me of the shelters I’ve seen in other cold parts of the world (Finland, Alaska, Minnesota). This could come in handy in the future. Awesome.

“Now the roaring midnight fury and the creaking of our hinges and windows, now the winter, now the understanding of the earth and our being on it: this drama of enigmas and double-depths and sorrows and grave joys, these human things in the elemental vastness of the windblown world.” – Jack Kerouac

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Though today started cool (around 20 deg F in the AM) it warmed quickly to the upper 30’s melting that little bit of snow out there frosting the mountains. With the climb up to Hedgehog Hill getting my blood moving I was sweating up a storm by the time I powered up to the summit. Of course this basically sums up the near-term forecast for this part of the world in this year of strong El Nino: warm and wet. Since the skiing will no doubt suck I sure am glad to have the fat bike to get out into nature and enjoy the elemental vastness of this windblown world, Luckily There’s so much to explore out here in the wilds of western Maine!

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Smashing My Fat Skull Into a Box

 “There’s room at the top they’re telling you still, But first you must learn how to smile as you kill” – John Lennon, Working Class Hero

One of the joys of having dragged myself back across the country and started my life over again is finding a new job here in the great, somewhat economically challenged state of Maine. True, most sane people would’ve looked before they leaped and found a job BEFORE they pulled up stakes and moved to a new area. But seeing as how I’m the kind of guy whose first-ever fat bike ride on snow was 135 miles in minus 20 temperatures across Minnesota in the dead of winter (the Arrowhead 135 in 2008) that sort of logic doesn’t really enter the discussion. I like my learning curves to be steep or else I get bored.

So lately I’ve found myself sitting at job interviews across the desk from potential employers trying to sound professional. Well, I guess I should rephrase that as I’m fully capable of being professional but as I’ve gone a little feral over the past several months I feel as if I’m a poor actor playing the role of prospective engineer. The interviewer poses a question and I answer, the camera rising overhead like a vulture riding a thermal in a full out-of-body drone shot. My words echo against the harsh fluorescent-lit walls of the office like glint off ice.

Well, the main reason I left my last job and moved east was to be closer to family and escape the frenetic life I was leading in California.

I can hear the words from my lofty vantage point as the horizon opens up allowing a view to the nearby lighthouse, the one whose horn I now hear from home on foggy evenings.

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I would describe myself as largely self-motivated – I’m curious by nature and always looking to learn new skills

The waves roll in and the words roll off my tongue like water off a rock. My lips may be moving but suddenly I can’t hear what I’m saying as the pull of the surf is strong today. I really need to get a sea kayak and explore more of the coast around here. Sometimes a bike just isn’t enough.

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Just who is that babbling fool in the chair talking about himself, trying to sell his wares like those annoying people at the cell phone kiosks? I think I’ll leave him behind for a bit and go for a little ride on the nearby trail system. I head into the woods to the low, metronome tone of the foghorn as it guides me through the fog that drapes the hardwood scalloped edges of the pond. Working with my bike I retreat deeper into the forest.

No, I don’t have any direct managerial experience but I do like working within a team environment. It’s a special feeling when the team comes together to complete a task.

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At this point I’m unsure who that guy sitting in the chair is as he’s now so far away I can barely see him, but he seems to know what he’s talking about so I’ll leave him to his chore. There does seem to be something a little “off” about him however, something I can’t quite place my finger on. Maybe it’s the way he keeps looking out the window like he’s scanning high peaks, or how some of what he says seems a little forced. And why did he ask if the office has a shower as he sometimes rides his bike to work? That seems like an odd question to ask at an interview.

What’s my greatest weakness? Hmmm that’s a tough question to answer…

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On the far side of the pond an unknown trail beckons with its ring of Autumn fire. The leaves whisper softly on the wind “Abandon all hope ye who enter here” as I ride beneath the arch losing sight of the stiff body back in the interview. You’re on your own now you babbling fool who needs to earn a living – we’re going out for a ride on this glorious day. Don’t wait up, it’s gonna be a long one.

Can I start next week? Well actually the week after next would work best. I have some business to take care of…

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17 Years of Summer

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower” – Albert Camus

I’ve been seeing a lot of strange things recently that are hard to explain. After 17 years of basking in the benign climate of southern California the warm weather and sunshine has turned noticeably cooler. So chilly that I’ve begun questioning whether flipflops are the proper attire for the frosty mornings. But the strangest thing by far are the hallucinations I’ve been seeing here in the wilds of Maine.

Maine? Ayuh, you read that right – Maine. I haven’t posted in a while (transcontinental moves are not easy!) so those of you that are accustomed to my past California-centric rantings might notice a change in the landscapes from here on in. Although I do have SD cards full of photos from some wandering out west the past few months (more on those some other time when the snow gets deep and the cabin fever of winter sets in), different sorts of environs exist up here in the Pine Tree state.

So like the inevitable descent into madness of a character in a Stephen King novel, the times they are a changing here at Doughboy Chronicles World Headquarters. Only time will tell how long it will be before I start dropping my R’s in conversation (I think I’ll have lobstah for dinnah), using the word “wicked” to adjectivize every situation (wicked pissah, they’re out of those wicked good whoopie pies!) and genuflecting toward Tom Brady’s deflated balls 5 times daily. Change is good… well it is unless you end up with that awful accent and unwavering allegiance to the New England Patriots perhaps.

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Change can be gradual. It can creep up on you and may not be noticed much from day to day: one day you’re climbing a hill like nobody’s business with a dust trail streaming behind you like a cartoon roadrunner streaking across the desert. The next week you go back and do the same climb feeling like Floyd Landis after a refreshing shot of Jack Daniels and testosterone. This goes on for years until one day you suddenly you feel like you’ve been a lifelong devotee of the Joe Camel-train of malignancy when you try and push it. California had snuck up on me like that over the course of 17 years.

When the hallucinations started about a month or so ago it was gradual. At first the occasional rogue leaf of a young maple went all old school skate punk and dyed its leaves. All it wanted was a Pepsi.

Trees, being conformists, watched all the other trees in the nearby forest and soon started doing the same thing as if to answer the age-old rhetorical question: If all your friends jumped off a cliff would you too? Personally I think that since trees stand around in the same spot their entire lives they can get bored. When given the chance they jump off that cliff if only for a change of scenery. The shedding of leaves is like freedom for a tree it’s how they move around, well parts of them at least. And as I’ve found out with my move to the East Coast, sometimes a change of environment is all you need.

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After 17 years California had left me feeling I was standing around with my hands in my pockets, a tall oak in a world where everyone had chainsaws for arms and really, really wanted to hug me. I loved the state yet absolutely despised it. In some ways it was killing me yet I really miss it at times. I’m glad to be gone and can’t wait to go visit. California is a strong drug and I thought maybe the bizarre colors I had begun seeing in the forests around here stemmed from some sort of Golden State withdrawal. But instead of fading over time, soon the colors became much more vivid and intense like these during the Northwoods Gravel Grind a few weeks ago.

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Clearly this was not withdrawal but a new beginning. The air was clean and crisp and suddenly I was standing around in flipflops on a 25 degree morning taking pictures of the frost. Old habits like grabbing flimsy footwear may die hard but the strange new world of Fall is now in full swing and I have been entranced by the changes going on around me.

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Maybe it was due to the 17 years of summer I had “endured”, but as more leaves have begun to turn the more alive I’ve felt. Though Autumn inevitably leads to Winter and with that the contemplation of one’s own mortality (or at the very least Vitamin D deficiency brought on by lack of sunlight), I feel reborn. How can you not feel alive when every trip to the trails is like falling down the tunnel of a kaleidoscope?

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New sights, new smells and new opportunities to break out into the clean light of day as I did this past weekend in the mountains of western Maine. And what before my drought-encrusted California eyes has appeared? Actual water running in the rivers! The change in the forest here is just getting started, a mere hint of things to come as the foliage approaches peak.

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Once the winter snows arrive (I’m assuming 17 years of Autumn is not in the cards) a whole new world will open up on the fat bike friendly Maine Huts and Trails. I can’t wait to ride out here on a sub-zero day this coming winter. After all those years of summer I’m primed and ready to see my breath again in the mornings instead of a blanket of smog covering the horizon.

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Autumn is not the end but a new beginning, one that spreads a smile upon the face of the earth. Some day I’ll head back to California to revisit my old haunts (specifically the Caldera 500 is beckoning), but until then a grand new world is at my fingertips just waiting to be explored. Autumn has arrived with vengeance in the forests of northern New England. It’s time to leave summer behind and pedal into the unknown.

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Solitude in the Sand

“Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god” – Aristotle

The sheer weight of stars threatened to bring the night sky crashing down onto the desert floor. How can light be so heavy? From the Laguna Mountains in the distant west to the nearby hulk of the Santa Rosa’s to my east, 180 degrees of the Milky Way’s whirling teeth smiled from horizon to horizon over the flat plain of the Borrego Sink while I pedaled beneath the incomprehensible mass of the desert night. For all I knew there may have even been a planet or two suspended in the milk up there, but there was no time to stop and look as I was no wanderer. I was a man on a mission.

For years I’ve wanted to ride this section of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in the early morning hours and watch the sun rise over the land. Today was the day I finally set the alarm clock early enough to get it done. I’m not sure what quirk of personality allows me to think that a solo ride in an isolated area like this in the wee hours of the morning is fun, but the further I rode away from the protected cove of Borrego Springs the stronger the wind became and the less I questioned why I was out here in the dark. Despite the stinging sand that was beginning to flash in the rays of my headlamp like snowflakes in a snow globe, the ride felt right. Sleep and stinging eyes be damned I was happy to finally be riding through the desert night.

The wind had been calm as I descended into the desert near the town of Borrego Springs, but as I moved away from the mountains and out onto the broad valley floor it began to increase with intensity as it funneled down through Coyote Canyon from the north. Squinting into the distance I noticed a low smudge on the horizon in the direction I was headed. It could mean only one thing: a minor sandstorm was brewing out in the Badlands. I reached the turnoff for Inspiration Wash and headed deeper into night.

P1100769 Just as I had suspected, a minor ground blizzard of sorts was blowing as I pedaled across the track that cuts through this section of sand dunes. The sand hissed jealously beneath my tires on the breath of the wind. Thank you five inch wide tires for floating me through the unconsolidated sand in this area!

I knew from previous rides that this is an area where the washes run across the land like the goals and dreams of youth. Some flame out abruptly as immediate dead ends. Others wind slowly for miles before petering out at the foot of the mountains far from where they started with retreat being the only escape. Try as they might, few cut all the way through the Badlands with Inspiration Wash the only one that leads to the other side of the desert in this region. Where there’s a will there’s a way and Inspiration had somehow made it happen. I needed to follow Inspiration.

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As luck would have it somewhere along the way I had made a wrong turn. I rounded a corner and the walls of the wash closed in around me while the sand blew into my eyes. Crap, a dead end. Time to retrace my steps back to that left I took into the unnamed wash when I should’ve gone right. That’s life for you I guess. Soon I was back on track and as I slowly gained altitude the surroundings began to look familiar again. This time I had found Inspiration. After a few miles of slow climbing I reached Inspiration Point and sat down in the dirt to wait for the sun.

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Sometimes I get questions from people asking me if I’m ever lonely on some of these rides I take. In fact, I have no doubt that if someone had come around the corner at this moment and seen me they probably would’ve exclaimed “wow, that sure is a lonely looking guy sitting over there in the dirt all by himself”. From his viewpoint my seeming detachment from the world might declare me a wretched figure lost in the vastness of the badlands. But though I might have been a little cold, solitary and chomping on a Clif Bar for breakfast I was definitely not lonely. Loneliness is imposed by others. Being lonely requires a feeling of terrible isolation, of estrangement from a world that exists in only black and white. I had chosen to be out here. I was not lonely.

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I was here to experience glorious solitude. The scene deepened with a richness that played across the fissures and arroyos of the badlands as the sun began to rise from behind the mountains. While the wind continued to howl up here on the ridge at least the windblown sand was no longer a problem as I had risen above the worst of it, drawn as I was to the purpling of the sky as if by osmosis. The dessicated land watercolored in the pastels of dawn while my shadow, though faint at first, gradually sharpened and lengthened across the world with the rising sun. In an apparent contradiction, I had ridden Inspiration to Solitude rather than the other way around – though they both were clearly feeding off each other here in the soft light of dawn.

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Solitude is a rare and beautiful thing in this world and I was fortunate to have become a part of it, yet somehow still watched it from afar. Life is full of contradictions, beautiful contradictions. With my batteries recharged by the solitude I continued on to Font’s Point and took in the view. Mission accomplished.

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