The Forest for the Trees

“Most people are on the world, not in it” – John Muir

It’s easy to become overwhelmed while out riding your mountain bike. Concentrate too much on the roots and rocks that litter the trail and you miss reading the natural flow. On the other hand if you choose to just go with the flow and bang on over the rough stuff while chasing your ideal vision of a line those pesky obstacles can sending you flying over the bars… or perhaps less cinematically just sitting on a stump fixing a pinch flat alongside the trail.

As with metering light when trying to take a photograph, it’s all about finding balance.


Early morning light and East Coast humidity can be magical (and surprisingly mosquitoey)

A few weeks ago I was out in Maine’s Carrabassett Valley doing a little scouting ride for the 100k race I’ll be attempting this weekend. I hesitate to say I’ll be “racing” as I’m just starting to get back into the swing of these bigger rides and “attempting” is clearly the best description of my plans, especially since I’ve been recovering from an achilles tendon/ankle problem that has slowed me down over the past month or so. Trust me, once you start pushing 50 years old you don’t want anything ELSE slowing you down!

However, one positive of being forced to ride slower is that you tend to have more time to see and experience the little things while you ride, not just the granny gear!


Random trailside bog beauty near the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center

The constant interplay in nature between the micro and the macro endlessly fascinates me. On the one hand the wide world beckons with mountains that have stood the test of time, washed and ground to flour in the tides of glacial advances and retreats while continuing to stick their craggy necks into the sky like old turtles. Yet, they still stand proud – never defeated. The mountain majesty of the great high ranges of the world may be tough to beat, but give me a rugged Appalachian peak and I’ll show you a survivor. Them mofo’s got some scars!


Sugarloaf USA, Maine’s best ski mountain (and where I learned to ski many years ago)

However, inevitably as I crawl up the mountainsides in my granny gear the vision turns to the micro where every blossom is life and death, a passion play performed upon petals while I sweat my ass toiling to spin the magic gear. Beauty can be dangerous and the benign can bite (and deer flies can take chunks of skin!)


Beauty and the Beast


Again, Beauty and the Beast (the Carver Bikes Ti O’Beast that is), this time on the Bigelow Mt Side of the valley


So perhaps it’s a blessing to be able to slow down and experience the highs and lows more deeply than those that can simply fly over the rough stuff with ease, those that never pause to concentrate on the pesky little details of this trail called Life. Although I suppose that’s what all of those starving, angst-ridden artists have been saying for years. They must like the rocks on the trails. “The doer and the thinker, no allowance for the other”, until race time this weekend that is – then it’s all about Time.


“Dude, you almost ran me over back there – be careful”

Time to struggle to keep up with the pack and perform the calm calculus that occupies the pack fodder as they calculate how to stay one step ahead of the cut-off times for each stage of the race:

“Motivation” times “I wish I was in better shape” divided by “damn ankle is bugging me” multiplied by “I need to do more intervals” raised to the power of “hydration, nutrition” Eventually it all approaches some asymptote (theoretically the finish line) unless one crosses over into an alternate reality of post-race beer drinking and socializing before that point is reached. It all depends on the initial conditions.

And no, that’s not some lame self-defeating prophecy. That’s just seeing the forest for the trees. See ya on the other side!


The path to riverside twisty heaven begins here


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Curious Attractiveness

On the face of it, this post is merely a few photos from a simple pre-work bike ride through one of my local riding areas, an area called Robinson’s Woods. Though surrounded by suburbia and within sight of the famous rocky coast of Maine, this area remains undeveloped. It was never farmed back when this area was being settled as it was deemed to be too rocky to be much good for anything. The colonial era farmers were not known for mountain biking so their loss was our gain.  It has since been conserved by the Cape Elizabeth Land Trust and a network of trails  developed to allow easy access to the wonders of the forest.

Hmmm maybe there’s more to it than a few pictures taken with my cell phone. Within such beautiful surroundings a simple bike ride can definitely expand one’s brain a bit – must be all that sea-level oxygen that helps get the old grey matter percolating. I may be a little biased as my entire blog is pretty much based on leaning my bike up against things and taking photos but the following passage pretty much captures my sentiments:

“It is well, at certain hours of the day and night, to look closely at the world of objects at rest. Wheels that have crossed long, dusty distances with their mineral and vegetable burdens, sacks from the coalbins, barrels and baskets, handles and hafts for the carpenter’s tool chest. From them flow the contacts of man with the earth … The used surface of things, the wear that the hands give to things, the air, tragic at times, pathetic at others, of such things – all lend a curious attractiveness to the reality of the world that should not be underprized.” – Pablo Neruda


A wayward lobster buoy, the glint of the rising sun off titanium and stormy skies over Pond Cove

Yup, if you’re an aficionado of muddy tires and crusty fishing gear washed up on shore you’ve come to the right place. Tell all your friends about the “bike-lean artiste”. One person’s muddy tire is another’s gold I guess, and instead of trash I see gold in that thar sunrise. The struggle is told through the tread of those tires and that bit of battered gear thrown upon the stones by a fearsome wave. The dents of a rim tell the story.

Perception is a funny thing. Sometimes I wonder what my neighbors may think of me as they peek out from behind curtains and watch me head off in the early morning for a ride on my cartoon bike with the balloon tires. Well, maybe for a moment or two I wonder, but mostly I really don’t care what they may think. Life is about exploration and self-fulfillment, even if the only adventure you can fit into your busy day is that hour before heading off for the day to do whatever pays your bills. You can live an entire day in an hour if you approach it as a child would: with wonder.

“The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which we are permitted to remain children all our lives.” – Albert Einstein


A somewhat rare terrestrial orchid known as a “Pink Lady Slipper”

Of course wonder must be nurtured in the right environment, much like a Lady Slipper needs exactly the right soil and conditions in order to bloom. That’s where the struggle comes in to play. These orchids don’t do well in “captivity” and often wither and die if transplanted. I find the same thing happens to me most Monday mornings as I head to work. A simple morning ride through the woods is a remarkable antidote for withering. Rage, rage against the dying of the inner child.

“Out there is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours, a world which sustains the little world of man as sea and sky surround and sustain a ship. For a little while we are again able to see, as the child sees, a world of marvels. For a few moments we discover that nothing can be taken for granted, for if this ring of stone is marvelous, then all which shaped it is marvelous, and our journey here on Earth, able to see and touch and hear in the midst of tangible and mysterious things-in-themselves, is the most strange and daring of all adventures.” – Edward Abbey


An evening of thunderstorms provides an energized stream first thing in the morning

As I said at the beginning of this post, just a simple ride through the woods. Hope you enjoyed it!

“For whatever we lose (like a you or a me),
It’s always our self we find in the sea.” – E.E. Cummings

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Dawn Patrol

“To live is to be slowly born” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

My current hometown of Portland ME is not really that far north, it just feels that way. Although it sits at 44ish deg N latitude (roughly halfway between the equator and the North Pole) after living most of my adult life in the sunplashed 32ish deg  N latitudes of southern California the signs of the change in seasons up here have been sharpened. For one, I’ve become much more aware of the shifting length of day.

This time of year the eastern sky begins to blush with dawn around 3:45AM. By 4:30Am (civil twilight) it’s almost fully light outside. At 5AM I can’t stand stand the singing of the birds any longer and jump out of bed to go ride my bike on the local trails. Fortunately for anyone within earshot, I let the tread of my tires do my singing.

The holy water of a soft, welcome shower blessed my trails last night so there’s hero dirt to found between the slippery roots this morning. Unlike the miserable, dreary rains of Fall and Winter it had been a soothing rain, and after a relatively dry winter a much needed rain. The earth exhales with mist as I alternate between slide and traction, yin and yang.

The birds pay no heed to my passing in these cathedral woods. I’m just a fleeting part of the scenery to them I think. Chickadees, cardinals, blue jays and many birds that I can’t quite place by ear sing their notes in the chorus assembled on this small parcel of relatively untouched coastal woodlands. A whitetail deer bounds silently across the edge of a meadow like a cloud across the sky and the forest is complete – dynamic and alive.

This morning I am drawn toward the coast and the rising sun via a somewhat technical trail, a path whose difficulty is made even more so by the sleep that dulls my reflexes a bit. That’s what I tell myself when I misjudge a corner and bang a tree with my elbow: it’s not my reflexes slowing with age, I’m just tired. A cup of coffee would’ve cured that. Yup, I’d be fine after my morning coffee kicks in. Yessirreee.

I hit the final stretch of singletrack that leads to the shore and hop the massive root that protrudes like a finger of death from the big pine atop the crest of the hill. The beating of the surf upon the stubborn rocks of shore ebbs and flows like the tide itself as the dense, moisture laden salt air fills my lungs. Breaking out onto the rocky cove with a delighted squeal from my brakes I come to a stop upon the stones. I bend over my handlebars to rest and watch the surf rise and fall.

I know this path dead-ends upon the shore yet I take it every time.

Perhaps because it’s my first true Spring in many years or maybe it’s the realization that within a month the days will begin to grow shorter again, but I can’t escape the need to try and hold on to this fleeting moment. I close my eyes to cherish the warmth of the sun upon my face. Time to head home and have that morning coffee.


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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.


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.


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!


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).


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.


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.


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


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


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.


“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.


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


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


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”.


Unrideable rocks become rideable in a world transformed


“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.


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.


“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.


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.


Portland Head Light during a snow squall


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…


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


“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?”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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!


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.


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


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.”


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.”


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


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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