“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” – Dr. Seuss
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” – Dr. Seuss
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
“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
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
“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.”
“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.”
“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
“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.
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.
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.
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…
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…
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Whenever I get the opportunity to head to the mountains my eyes always turn skyward and marvel at the interplay of clouds and peaks. Like the moai on Easter Island searching for whatever it is they’re looking for just over the horizon, I trace the moisture as it’s thrust upward and wrung from the atmosphere by the hulking granite of the Sierra Nevada in cathedrals clouds of billowy cumulus. I stare in awe. Sure I probably look like an idiot with my eyes glazed and unblinking standing around looking at the hills, but I really don’t care how I look. I can watch this show for hours. I’m positive the moai feel the same way.
Which is exactly what I did last week during a ride up and over Tioga Pass into Yosemite Park and back: I watched the show. It was a glorious spring day for a ride with crisp air to breathe, cool water to filter from the streams and a show overhead on the great whirling diamond of the sky. In addition I also had the good timing to ride a couple of days before a late season dump of 12-18″ of snow closed the pass too. Although I’ve never won anything in the lottery I guess I’m a lucky guy. Just for fun, on the way up through the Eastern Sierra I also dropped in on the Alabama Hills for a fat bike excursion through the Mars-scape that exists out in the shadow of Mt Whitney. It felt good to pedal through the sand.
Two great rides navigating the cloudlands through miles of silent thought while riding some of the most inspiring landscapes in North America. Not too shabby for a guy that just finished his hip physical therapy and is starting to get back into shape.
Of course John Muir had already beat me to the cloud observations, it seems that guy thought of everything (something tells me he didn’t waste much time watching TV):
“Another midday cloudland, displaying power and beauty that one never wearies in beholding, but hopelessly unsketchable and untellable. What can poor mortals say about clouds? While a description of their huge glowing domes and ridges, shadowy gulfs and canons, and featheredged ravines is being tried, they vanish, leaving no visible ruins. Nevertheless, these fleeting sky mountains are as substantial and significant as the more lasting upheavals of granite beneath them. Both alike are built up and die…”
The next post will be about rocks. Wow, rocks and clouds – what an interesting blog huh?
At over 600,000 acres Anza-Borrego State Park is California’s largest state park offering over 500 miles of winding dirt roads that trace many of the washes and canyons. Far from being a wasteland, it is a geologic masterpiece of raw landforms ripped and torn by erosion. Before I started fat biking I had never really given much thought to riding this area as sand and skinny tires are usually ingredients in a recipe for futility (not to mention that the park literature discourages biking here for this reason), but now that I’ve ridden most of the park I can proclaim it for what it is: Fat Bike Heaven. It’s a great place to ride, as long as your tires are fat and it’s not too hot.
Last week I had a few free days and the weather looked good (forecasted highs in the upper 80’s and low 90’s) so I planned a car camping overnighter to explore an old favorite (Fish Creek Wash) as well as a new area in the Borrego Badlands. So in the interest of getting people out exploring the desert on something other than a fossil-fuel powered 4WD, here’s a photo essay of what can be found out there on a typical ride. Trust me there’s lots more where this came from (if you look back in my blog you can find some other rides that give a flavor of the Coyote Canyon and Sandstone Wash areas).
Oh, I did not encounter ANY other traffic on either ride that I took – that’s almost 10 hours of complete solitude (amazing for California). So if you want a personal experience with the desert make sure that you are prepared with plenty of food and water, go midweek and enjoy the silence. Most importantly, get out and explore!
Cold, sweat and gear
Bikes + Beer = Happy
A Dyslexic Journalism journal about downhill, fatbike, cyclocross, dual slalom, snowbike, adventure, bikepacking, xc, dh, enduro, ridebikeswithfriends, paddleboard, snowboard, ski, cross-country ski
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