The Old Man and the Sea

“A man can be destroyed but not defeated” – Ernest Hemingway

Despite the grand Hemingway references there’s not much of a story here.  No epic “Man vs Nature” struggle or any great drama just a morning ride down the beach at San Onofre State Park.  “Man vs. Sleeping in Late” or “Man vs Sand” might be a more appropriate characterization.  Just a few photos that capture the spirit of a beach ride less the crunchy drivetrain and ensuing maintenance that’s always required after a spin through the shifting sands of San Onofre. P1100095 I love riding this stretch: it’s beautiful, it’s uncrowded (on a midweek morning) and it’s always thought-provoking. The bluffs hem you in so that the only direction that can be faced is the sea and the horizon, and who among us isn’t forced to confront certain questions while facing the horizon. If you hit it at the right time of day and squint really hard you can imagine the beach as being your own tiny salt-infused universe, if only for the duration of a precious little curl of the waves lapping the edge of the space-time continuum. This morning the touch of early “May Gray” sullenness enhanced the scene. P1100083 P1100135 I am at a crossroads right now.  Big changes are just over that horizon and as I pedaled down the beach I thought of an article I had stumbled upon while idly surfing the internet the other day. Titled  “The Moral Bucket List” it had some interesting things to say.  Take a look if you’re interested in a thought-provoking read, I especially like the concept of “the stumbler”. Heck, while trying to get this shot of the wildflowers and my bike I stumbled a bit – it’s what I do. At least I usually stumble forward.P1100118 P1100123 A stumbler though I may be, it sure is nice to sit down over twelve hours later and still smell the salt air that engulfed me as I climbed back up the bluffs and into the dawn of a clear new day.  For a guy that’s starting to feel a bit old as I attempt to heal this nagging hip joint problem, I sure felt young.  Nice morning for a ride. P1100126 P1100128

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Searching

My brain has been a bit locked up recently, probably because I’m dealing with an as yet undiagnosed hip problem that has been dogging me for many months.  The physical therapy I’ve been doing is helping it heal (or so it seems) but I really hope to get a more targeted diagnosis with an MRI next week so that I can speed this recovery process up.  The lack of miles on the bike is starting to drive me nuts at this point!  I think while I ride, so lately I’ve been a little, well… blank.

So instead of thinking (and doing much more than a few rides each week) I’ve been reading and absorbing (or at least I hope I have) as I get ready to confront some tough questions.  I’d like to think this frustrated bikeaholic is priming the pump for some big decisions upcoming in the next few months… so primed in fact that I’m sure the decisions will flow like water from a mountain stream when the time comes.  But until my brain unlocks chew on some thoughts from Sterling Hayden (from his book, Wanderer).

“I’ve always wanted to sail to the south seas, but I can’t afford it.” What these men can’t afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of “security.” And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine – and before we know it our lives are gone.

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What does a man need – really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in – and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That’s all – in the material sense, and we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention for the sheer idiocy of the charade.

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The years thunder by, The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed.

Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life? ”

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Springtime in San Diego

“Soon it got dusk, a grapy dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon fields; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed with burgundy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries.”- Jack Kerouac

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Snorts, Sighs, Bellows, Shrieks, Cheers, and Spoken Prayers

Was reading at lunch today and came across a concept that originated with Harlow Shapley in his book “Beyond the Observatory”.  In the spirit of the exchange of Argon atoms he describes, consider the following passages the next time you’re huffing and puffing while riding your bike up a hill… or walking… or sleeping… or droning out watching television… or wasting time at work… or reading the regurgitated thoughts of some lazy blogger who usually writes about bikes and stuff… or doing every single action of every single second of your life.  Kind of puts that crappy day you might’ve just had at work into perspective (for better or worse) doesn’t it?

“Since about 1 per cent of your breath is argon we can determine approximately the number of atoms in your next argonic intake. The calculations are really rather simple and straightforward, but to some readers this dizzy arithmetic is repulsive and I shall simply state the results. In your next determined effort to get oxygen to your lungs and tissues you are taking in, besides the nitrogen and oxygen, 30,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms of argon; in briefer statement 3 X 10^19. (Count the zeros!) A few seconds later you exhale those argon atoms along with quintillions of molecules of carbon dioxide.

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“Now let us follow the career of one argon-rich breath in your next exhalation, let us suppose. We shall call it Breath X. It quickly spreads. Its argon, exhaled this morning, by nightfall is all over the neighborhood. In a week it is distributed all over the country; in a month, it is in all places where winds blow and gases diffuse. By the end of the year, the 3 X 10^19 argon atoms of Breath X will be smoothly distributed throughout all the free air of the earth. You will then be breathing some of those same atoms again. A day’s breathing a year from now, wherever you are on the earth surface, will include at least 15 of the argon atoms of today’s Breath X.

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“This rebreathing of the argon atoms of past breaths, your own and others’, has some picturesque implications. The argon atoms associate us, by an airy bond, with the past and the future. For instance, if you are more than twenty years old you have inhaled more than 100 million breaths, each with its appalling number of argon atoms. You contribute so many argon atoms to the atmospheric bank on which we all draw, that the first little gasp of every baby born on earth a year ago contained argon atoms that you have since breathed. And it is a grim fact that you have also contributed a bit to the last gasp of the perishing.

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“Every saint and every sinner of earlier days, and every common man and common beast, have put argon atoms into the general atmospheric treasury. Your next breath will contain more than 400,000 of the argon atoms that Gandhi breathed in his long life. Argon atoms are here from the conversations at the Last Supper, from the arguments of diplomats at Yalta, and from the recitations of the classic poets. We have argon from the sighs and pledges of ancient lovers, from the battle cries at Waterloo, even from last year’s argonic output by the writer of these lines, who personally has had already more than 300 million breathing experiences. Our next breaths, yours and mine, will sample the snorts, sighs, bellows, shrieks, cheers, and spoken prayers of the prehistoric and historic past.

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California Greening

“‘The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream” – Jack Kerouac

There’s something about the recovery process from a bad cold or illness that awakens the spirit.  I’ve spent the last couple of weeks dealing with the worst cough I think I’ve ever had, so bad that I dry-heaved at one point from the constant, acute contraction of my stomach muscles in addition to coughing blood at its worst.  It was demoralizing. As a consequence I walked around for a good portion of January like a Roomba with a crappy attitude – my body was capable of day-to-day tasks but my mind was incapable of higher functions.  Sure, I avoided running into walls for the most part, but my soul was asleep.

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But now that I’ve turned the corner I feel alive again, much like the parched earth of southern California that is beginning to show signs of life.  The little bit of rain we’ve received this “winter” has been sucked up by the land and coughed back out in the hopeful kaleidoscope that is Spring.  I hope it doesn’t cough blood.

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Last night I rode after work for the first time in many weeks.  With the lengthening of the day I was able to ride through the sunset and watch the moon rise over the rim of the valley as coyotes called from all corners.  I can only guess that they were calling out to me and asking where I’d been. Though my conditioning may be total crap right now, that’s OK. Getting back into shape is the fun part, right?  There is color again in the hills and the climb out from the fog of the valley is illuminated as bright as day.

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Faltering Words on the White Rim

“The pictures tell the story, this life has many shades…” – Dropkick Murphys

As you know, I’m the kind of blogger that likes to form a story around my experiences.  Maybe tell a tale or try (usually unsuccessfully) to weave some sort of symbolic statement into the recounting of what is really just a bike ride – something almost all of us have done since we were children.  I find it fun and it’s a passion of mine, which is why I keep babbling away on these pages.  The truth is I’ve been sitting on these photos of my first ride on Utah’s White Rim Trail (yes, I will be back some day!) as I really want to write a proper story about what this trip meant to me.  It was a turning point of sorts, but finding the time to babble has been a little difficult as of late.  Take it from me, when life intervenes on your babbling time you’re on the wrong path.

So for now I’ll keep my mouth shut, post a bunch of photos and let the scenery speak.  Hopefully the sights of Canyon Country will motivate you to get out and experience a place you might have always wanted to ride but never quite ponied up the sweat fee.  If you’ve ever wanted to ride the White Rim but thought it too regulated, too crowded, too overdone, too remote, too tough, too easy, too everything… well you’re right, it can be.  But as with all rides, it is what you make of it.  The one thing that is certain is that the White Rim is one of those places where words are unnecessary, if not superfluous.  It’s just that gorgeous.

To give you a framework, I’ve posted the photos in the order that I took them.  I loaded my trusty Salsa Fargo up with enough water to drown a whale and then rode clockwise down Shafer Trail camping overnight at Murphy’s Hogback (where I grudgingly shared my dinner with a pesky kangaroo mouse whom I named Edward Abbey, the little son of a bitch). The next day I rode out through Mineral Bottom.  I saw only 5 people out there, a perfect November weekend in Canyonlands National Park.

By the way, one of the best photos I’ve ever taken (in my humble opinion) is mixed in – I got one right finally!  Enjoy the ride.

 

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Punched in the Face on Boxing Day

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth” – Mike Tyson

It was a surprisingly simple plan, especially for one formed on Christmas Day after drinking a couple of beers.  The next morning I’d drop my wife off to spend the day with friends in Mammoth Lakes and then I’d head off to a nearby area for a much-needed training ride before my upcoming trip to Idaho.  The forecast was calling for cold weather and living where I do, I need to take advantage of every opportunity possible to expose myself to it.  I’d ride for the afternoon then meet up with everyone for dinner: the perfect plan.

Put even more simply, the mountains were calling and I was listening.

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The Eastern Sierra of California is home to many volcanic features and one known as Glass Mountain rises from the eastern edge of what is known as the Long Valley Caldera.  The caldera contains the shattered geologic remnants of a massive eruption that occurred 760,000 years ago.  One of the largest calderas on earth, it’s roughly bordered by Crowley Lake to the south, The Sherwins to the west, Glass Mt to the east and Mammoth Mt to the north.  Named after the shards of black obsidian which litter the area, Glass pays homage to the unique geologic heritage of the area and if given the chance it will slash a bike tire or two to uphold that tradition.

I had always wanted to ride Glass Mountain but had never been motivated enough to drive out there, it’s just not the sort of place that most people seek out to ride when visiting the resort area of Mammoth Lakes (ok, I came close last year, but that’s about it).  In fact, most people would tell you that there really is no reason to head out there, except for the good people at Fat Bike Mammoth who recommended the area when I emailed them asking for some information.  Take a look at their site as they have a lot of good information about the area and are enthusiastic to the nth degree about fatbiking, well just “biking” in general.

Speaking of looking, I should’ve looked at the elevation profile for the ride before I started it.  Sure, it was only 20 miles long but the 3700ft of elevation gain packed into those miles might’ve changed my perfect plan a bit especially since I was riding a loaded fatbike in the snow.  Plus, my fitness is not the best right now (there’s a thin line between being a  fatbiker and just being a fat biker, if you know what I mean). Oh well, live and learn – at my age I should be a freaking genius.

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Back to the perfect plan… everything was going well on the ride as I chugged up the lower slopes bellowing like a burrito powered locomotive as I wound through a nice deserted valley or three.  Really nice open country up here with views that stretch forever in an almost infinite solitude.  It’s the type of landscape that introverts retreat to when they suddenly fall silent in a crowd – if you’re an extrovert you’re going to have to trust me on this one.

Facing the distant hulk of the northernmost peaks of the White Mts (which straddle the CA/NV border just beyond the caldera), the wind picked up precipitously.  The slopes above me were suddenly so steep that they obscured the low summit of the cinder cone known locally as Squaw’s Teat which, in addition to being my planned high point for the ride is one of those descriptive place names that pop up in obscure environs that just make sense when you see them.

The other reason I couldn’t see the summit is that a dark cloud had formed in the lee of the mountain as the winds howled straight out of the north like Norsemen hellbent upon destruction.  Whatever moisture was contained within the air mass was being wrung out by the Glass Mt range.  The wind was howling up there, not exactly what I had planned on for an afternoon jaunt in the hills.  A gust of wind blasted my face and I recalled that I had not packed a balaclava or anything to cover up my face with with on this trip.  The perfect plan was not so perfect after all.  Just goes to show you that you can be lulled to sleep when you live in an area surrounded by palm trees.

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I marched on as the wind howled and the trail suddenly went vertical around the 8500ft level… ok not exactly vertical but at least 25% vertical covered with crusty snow.  As a flatlander unaccustomed to this altitude, in these conditions that’s vertical enough for me.  Reaching the top of a minor ridge the wind hit me full force and almost knocked me over.  For the moment the ride hung in the balance.

I peered into my gps for guidance like a gypsy into a crystal ball.  On this lollipop loop route I was now about as far from the start as I was from the finish.  My thought processes went Joe Strummer and mocked my indecision as they sang “Should I stay or should I go” to the tune of the wind. Steadying myself in the face of the gale I decided to go for it, frozen face be damned. “If I stay it will be double”, so onward and upward I trudged (the conditions were no longer rideable).

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Perfect plans are rarely perfect and my preparation for this ride had clearly not been the best.  As I type these words nearly a full two weeks down the road from this ride the patch of superficial frostbite I ended up with on my nose from the combination of howling wind and near-zero degree temperature still has not healed.  Always bring your balaclava.  Oh well, it’s not the first time I’ve frostbitten my nose – good thing I was born ugly.  I won’t lie, it wasn’t a perfect ride but it was a lesson learned to be prepared even in sunny California.

But I will tell you that climbing up the final pitch toward the summit at just under 10000ft over ruddy, volcanic earth enveloped in the incongruously warm ochre of the setting sun while bearing the full force of the wind with snow streaming by and rime ice developing all over my body and gear while the clouds screamed around me, within me, and damn near through me was a perfect climax to an imperfect plan.  So perfect I didn’t even bother taking a picture as it was so damn cold that I would’ve frozen my fingers by even attempting to do so.  Even having to push my bike downhill through snowdrifts was pretty cool.  There is beauty in the harsh and the unusual even if you have to fully expose yourself both mentally and physically in order to experience it.

I descended into the dark back to my car and began to shiver the moment I stopped moving.  Reunited with my wife and friends 30 minutes or so later back in Mammoth Lakes, I finally stopped shivering.  Having pushed myself a little harder than expected I was dehydrated and devoid of energy, but as I ate I started to feel a bit better and reentered the fun little social gathering.  I sipped my beer and began to explain the scene on top of the mountain to them – the exposure, the winds, the earth – but the words rang hollow as soon as they left my mouth.  That moment was mine and there was no use talking about it. Switching to other topics, I emerged from my thoughts and basked in the warmth of the company.

 

 

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The Year of the Seuss

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself, any direction you choose” – Dr. Seuss

Today was a fantastic start to the New Year with below normal temperatures and crystal clear skies.  Kind of hard to believe considering I am in Southern California, but the temperature at the start of my ride this morning was 10 deg F. Combined with the aftermath of yesterday’s cold storm, it was a day to remember in the high desert area I chose to ride.  I’ve never seen snow this deep this low in this area and it lent a magical quality to the ride right out of a children’s book, I half expected the Lorax to appear around every bend in the trail.  It was a truly unique experience and a great start to the new year.

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Of course this is traditionally the time for New Year’s Resolutions but I’m going to buck the trend and not make any this year.  Honestly, I’ve made a bunch over the past few years (some of them I’ve even talked about on this blog) but there are quite a few I’ve never followed through on – I have leftovers to finish.  I’m sure you can relate as we all tend to fall short sometimes… well you can probably relate to the leftovers too as that phenomenon tends to go hand in hand with the holiday season.

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So if you’re in the same boat as I am with a mountain of unfulfilled dreams, make this the year you throw off the chains and follow through on some of the biggies you’ve been putting off.  Forget the thorny details and head to the hills, do that big ride or climb that mountain you’ve always wanted to scale.  Or if something big is not in the cards do something more manageable, just get off your ass and DO something.  Create. Don’t let another year go by without pushing some of the boundaries you’ve confined yourself within.  These aren’t resolutions, they’re restitutions owed to your soul.  It’s the year of the Seuss, oh the places you’ll go.

By the way, it may help to have a fat bike to assist you on your journey.  Happy New Year!

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Ground Control to Major Depression

“One must choose in life, between boredom and suffering” – Germaine de Stael

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I’ve been staring at this photo (which is now the desktop background of my computer) much too much this morning while at work.  In fact, I’ve been transfixed upon it for so long I think people are starting to wonder what’s wrong with me.  Of course if they looked closer they’d also see the red, abraded skin on the side of my nose from a mild case of frostnip I received last Friday (forgot my balaclava on a training ride that took a turn for the worse with some unexpected cold temperatures and wind), although that wouldn’t provide them with many answers either as not too many people are familiar with the effects of windchill around here.  They’d probably have even more questions – most people prefer to see things in black and white and not dwell in the grey areas.

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But the main reason I’m staring at my screen is that I’m bored – extremely busy (maybe even overworked by some standards), but bored nonetheless.  However, contrary to the opening words of this post by Madame de Stael I currently have no real choice between suffering or boredom.  They are one and the same.  In reality, my suffering is rooted in the boredom of endless deadlines and tedious tasks.  First world problem?  You bet, but a problem no matter how you look at it. One that I need to solve before wasting too much more of my life without seeking some sort of fulfillment.  For that I need a plan…

But plans require work, work for which I have no time in my state of busy-boredom.  So for today I’ll just occasionally return to my computer screen and stare longingly across the Long Valley Caldera and race on my bike as the rising sun marches ahead of me across the escarpment of the Sherwin Range.  Sure, the wind will be howling as the mountains greet the day, but my pedalstrokes will be strong and easily overcome the whirlwinds of the office as it fights for control of my brain.  After all, when dreaming it’s important to visualize your place within it otherwise you’re just staring blankly at a computer screen until it’s time to go home and that doesn’t do anyone any good.

And the aftermath of a frostnipped nose is nothing a little aloe vera (and time) won’t ultimately cure.

 

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I Believe in Father Christmas

“And I believed in Father Christmas
And I looked to the sky with excited eyes
Til I woke with a yawn in the first light of dawn
And I saw him and through his disguise”  – Emerson, Lake and Palmer

A few shots from yesterday’s Christmas morning ride taken just hours after enduring the usual traffic horror show leaving southern California.  Sure were lots of sleighs on the road for Christmas Eve.  As usual, the first few pedal strokes of the ride were quite the shock to the system as being thrown into single digit temperatures, high winds and altitude after 3 hours of sleep doesn’t really agree with my system these days, but as soon as I started riding I felt like a child again, a child on Christmas morning unwrapping my presents.  Yes, I must’ve been nice as I got most of what I wanted: solitude, the splendor of nature and a good workout.  When combined with an afternoon spent with the wife and friends I can only say that maybe there IS something to this whole Santa Claus thing after all…

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