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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Unbalanced

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This shot was taken a couple of years ago in the Owens Valley near Bishop, Ca while on my way to the White Mountains for an overnight ride.  After starting out riding in the dark it’s always nice to see the sun begin to rise and feel the warmth of the sun on your face.  There’s definitely a primal aspect to it that speaks to deep areas within our genetic makeup, and on some level I’m almost certain that the stones of the mountains feel it too.  I have no question that the mountains are just as happy to see the sun as we are after a cold night.

I love this time of day and this type of scene, the perfect moment where day and night hang suspended from the edges like children on either end of the celestial teeter totter.  Such an innocent scene, each dangling their feet beneath them while encased in the all-encompassing Present.  It does one good to be in the present and free from the obligations that are highlighted in the light of day as well as the fears that dwell in the shadows.

During moments like this when everything is right, the rising day roams the far side of the valley while night lingers in the vanishing shadows casting but one last sideways glance before dissolving into the mist of consciousness that is day with its chores, deadlines, bills and all of the other clutter that fills our brains while “conscious”.

But until then there is one perfect moment when it all hangs in the balance.  It simply is.

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Let My People Go Biking

It’s the end of the year and like most people I’m currently being ground into flour on the millstone of the American dream and haven’t had much time to post recently as my work schedule has become a little bit unmanageable.  Corporations must meet those yearly goals no matter what, right?  Hopefully in the new year I will rehydrate the flour mixture I’ve reverted to and reform as a doughy terminator of sorts complete with many new Doughboy blog posts (hey look, I metaphored myself).  I’ve many new goals for the coming year and I hope you do too – don’t let the bastards grind you down!  If you do have some goals, leave me a comment and let me know what you’re up to!  Maybe our paths will cross.

My first goal is to at least finish the Backyard Fat Pursuit up in Idaho next month.  It’s a homecoming of sorts for me as my first winter race was in WY at the Togwotee Winter Classic (another really fun race, by the way) in 2008.  Really looking forward to heading back up to that part of the world, even if it’s only for a few days.

Until then I’ll spend my days wishing I worked for Yvon Chouinard:

“Work had to be enjoyable on a daily basis. We all had to come to work on the balls of our feet, going up the stairs two steps at a time. We needed to be surrounded by friends who could dress whatever way they wanted, even barefoot. We needed to have flex time to surf the waves when they were good, or ski the powder after a big snowstorm, or stay home and take care of a sick child. We needed to blur that distinction between work and play and family.” – from Let My People Go Surfing

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Oh, I’ll also be riding in the desert a lot – the bottomless sand is the closest thing I have that replicates riding on snow (and it sure can be purty like this view yesterday from Font’s Point in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park).  Let my people go biking!

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My Name is Bicyclist

“Those who are about to die salute you” – gladiator’s salute as recorded by Suetonius in AD 52

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Standing on the rim of Shafer Canyon with my loaded bike getting ready to drop into the maze below, I was struck by the similarities between the Colosseum in Rome and the eroded tablelands of Canyonlands National Park.  The scale is beyond description, especially when trying to place oneself into it.  Maybe it was because I had been driving all night with little sleep just to get to this place but a sense of awe overwhelmed me as I traced the path of the White Rim Road knifing across the floor of the natural amphitheater spread out before me. I was about to descend into that and suddenly I felt really, really small.

One of my favorite movies is “Gladiator”, especially the scene in the Colosseum where the character Maximus is forced to reveal his true identity to the emperor that had killed his family and left him for dead.  When first asked his name, Maximus replies simply “My name is Gladiator”.  I absolutely love that scene. With a few words the lowly gladiator bent on retribution rises to overwhelm and dominate the evil emperor.  Best scene ever.

For me, this photo gives rise to some of the same emotions.  It sums up the anticipation I always feel at the start of a big ride, the hope that I have enough fitness to pull it off and the worry that I had forgotten something important while packing my gear the night before.  It speaks to the teeth-gnashing, gut-wrenching bumper to bumper traffic I fought to even get to this place and the crappy day I had at work before driving all night just to stand there.  All of the hope and joy that goes into planning a proper “adventure” is expressed in the vastness of that scene below me.  I live for these simple moments and work my ass off to make them happen.  If I had been asked who I was at that moment who I was I would’ve answered “My name is Bicyclist”.  It would’ve been worth it just for a good laugh from whomever had asked me.

Anyway, I’ve spent a little time the past few evenings sorting though photos from my two days on the White Rim this past weekend and relishing the experience.  Eventually (before the glow dies) I’ll share a bunch with some words, but first I wanted to relive the moment I took this photo while standing on the brink of the abyss.  What a great ride.

 

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80 Hours

“Take a right at the light, keep goin’ straight until night, and then, boy, you’re on your own” – Bruce Springsteen

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I’ve been wanting to ride the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park for many years now but have always put the idea on the back burner and told myself various things to assuage my guilt.  The things we tell ourselves when we get lazy, things like: It’s too far to go without making it a major vacation. When I’m in better shape I’ll do it. I’m too busy at work right now to take time off.  The sun is in my eyes.  The dog ate my plan. Nostradamus didn’t foretell me riding it so why tempt fate?  The trail’s not going anywhere, I’ll do it next year.  Those sorts of excuses (and worse).

Enough is enough.  The trail may not be going anywhere but I’ve headed over the crest of the hill age-wise and have begun to pick up steam on the steep side.  A few months ago following a particularly frustrating day at work I secured a permit to camp at one of the designated spots along the trail.  Tonight after work I’m driving 750 miles to Canyonlands.  Tomorrow I’ll bikepack half the loop, finish the other half on Saturday then head to Moab.  A stop to rehydrate at the Moab Brewery is almost guaranteed.  Sunday morning I’ll ride some slickrock then begin the long drive home.  Seems like a simple enough plan, why haven’t I made up my mind and done this sooner?

80 hours, that’s the amount of time it should take to pull this off (though I wish I had more).  I’ll run myself ragged as it still won’t be enough time for what I’d like to do but I’m going anyway as it beats sitting around making more excuses.  What dream have you been putting off doing because it seems too difficult to accomplish?  How far will you go in the next 80 hours to feed your soul?

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