Silent Celebration

Good grief! Twenty-five years ago I was sitting atop a pile of lumpy scree in the Flat Tops Wilderness. I had, in fact, previously dumped the greater portion of the contents of my backpack — a huge Lowe Special Expedition approach ruck which must have weighed six or seven pounds all on its own — at a trail head along the South Fork of the White River. Beyond some very basic things, I wasn’t carrying too much. I was easily trekking 35 miles a day, sometimes a lot more.

I can recall sitting on top of that mountain, listening in on campground hosts as they negotiated how many bog rolls needed to head to Trapper’s Lake and where they would all meet for dinner, while looking at a map. I was marveling at the distance I had traveled and staying off the transmit button on my radio because I’d dumped the extra batteries along with all the extra stuff.

My foray into MYOG and ultra-light backpacking started on that trip and I became aware of what it meant for me on this afternoon twenty-five years ago, today.

The Spread: Gear laid out for last week's bikepacking trip.

The Spread: Gear laid out for last week’s bikepacking trip.

Today, I spent the morning in physical therapy, working my back and legs in the hope that I’ll be able to return to that sort of life. So many decisions, in my life, have been predicated on this singular realization that is now a quarter century old.

My mind stutters at the implications.

Yesterday, most of you were shooting off fireworks and blowing things up. Yeah, ‘Merica! I could smell the smoke from the beach far below our deck, so don’t try and deny it. I kept on returning in my mind to the long climb up W Mountain while snow blew in my face and lighting flashed on the Hog Backs many miles away.

Somewhere, on a back burner of my brain, simmers the idea that I’ll be able to return to this sort of existence. A living in which celebrations are only in the moment and never extend beyond the bounds of your own perception. A wild grin on a dusty trail, a welcome rest on top of a stormy mountain.

My biggest challenges at this switchback are finding ways of enticing A-bear toward this lifestyle and figuring out how to capitalize my efforts as well. I have ideas.

If you’ve been watching my Strava feed you’ve noticed that Aral has been walking/running/biking with me on my regular “workout” trips. His willingness to participate varies, but I’m finding that the more I engage him this way the more likely he’ll want to come along. My struggle here is dealing with his slowness compared to my own pace and occasional fits along the way. These are both artifacts of his age and conditioning through repetition will reduce their frequency.

A friend recently suggested that I stop writing science fiction and instead focus on writing stories from my past. Turning all that history into something I could sell has merit, and apparently I’ve done some crazy things that have a certain appeal. I’m not certain I’d necessarily need to stop writing SF, but yeah, penning some of those experiences as stories, memoirs, or even trip guides or write-ups has potential.

The more I think about it, writing about blending hiking with children and ultralight philosophy has exceptional potential. I’m noodling.

Beverly Crossing

Beverly Bridge

“The trestle across the Columbia River connecting the western and eastern trail sections at Beverly is currently CLOSED, gated, and unsafe to cross.Trail supporters hope for renovation of this trestle in the future. The nearest bridge across the Columbia River, the I-90 bridge at Vantage, does not provide for pedestrian or nonmotorized traffic. There is no shoulder nor sidewalk, and the crossing often involves heavy traffic and high winds.
“Please contact your legislature and the State Parks Department to encourage them to fund upgrades and improvements to the John Wayne Pioneer Trail”.

The Friends of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail posted this recently and of the bridges and trestles that need attention along this excellent multimodal route, this is chief among them. Of the many people I’ve talked to this bridge represents the most significant obstacle for completing the whole state crossing. The alternate Vantage crossing (via Interstate-90), the current way to cross the river, is dangerous if you’re in a car, and feels much like playing Russian roulette with a semi-automatic pistol while riding up the grade toward the eastern shore. A sketchy proposition; we shouldn’t be asking if an “accident” will happen, only when.

From the East Side of the Columbia

The Elephant

This spring a number of public meetings have been held regarding the fate of the eastern portion of the JWPT, specifically, the 130+ mile stretch known as the Milwaukee Road. Two key issues have been distilled from the pot of problems adjacent landowners have raised and neither of these concerns directly addresses this critical problem with the trail. The Beverly Bridge and its alternate crossing are apparently an afterthought given the recent State Congressional attempt to give away a significant portion of this public resource.

Trespass

First, trespassing; supposedly users of the JWPT are violating property rights along this corridor.  I will say that I find this claim somewhat specious, actual trail users are often attempting to move through the corridor and tend to be conscious of the narrow boundaries that define the trail. But it is worthy to note that access issues, such as the one presented by the Beverly Bridge, could be pushing users onto private property in order to bridge places along the trail that have been neglected beyond safe use.

If the Washington State Parks department can get off their hands and address basic trail maintenance issues (with the help of the State Congress) then I think it’s safe to say that trespass will magically disappear.

Weeds

Second, the issue of noxious weed control keeps coming up. Folks, Washington State, has one of the most progressive invasive species programs in the country if not the world. Just like its Parks Department, however, it is understaffed and underfunded. Here again, the narrowly averted cure to this problem, proposed last year, is worse than the disease.  If the sole source of weeds is the JWPT than reporting them to the correct authority is a far more workable option. My experience suggests that areas were noxious or invasives are common we’ll find that the trail is merely supporting populations at densities similar to adjacent private lands.

I’m encouraging trail users to record the geolocations of noxious weeds, with a picture if possible, and report them to the appropriate County Weed Control Board.

No one likes to get flat tires, and no one likes the potential problems an ingested noxious weed might present for a horse or livestock along the JWPT. The workable solution to this problem is control, and that means that both trail users and landowners need to make regular use of the reporting and control boards for each county while demanding accountability at the state level.

Deny Value

Each community along the JWPT stands to lose much should this human powered thoroughfare ever be gifted into the hands of private ownership. The route ultimately stretches from the Pacific Ocean to Chicago, with branch lines spanning many northern states. And just within Washington State, it represents a nearly-finished bicycle autobahn.

European countries have long recognized the importance of these networks. They represent potential for increased tourism, low-cost mobility, cultural conservation, and place of community pride-in-place. The potential economic impacts are more than enough to justify this fight; by “fight” I mean the sustained conservation and recreational development effort that is needed to reopen the Beverly Bridge.

The point of this all being that a loss or even interruption in the JWPT represents a diminishment in the value of the public resource to the communities which still exist along the corridor. Both of the issues I’ve mentioned above, which have become the core focus of public hearings, are an attempt to appease a tiny handful of private landowners along the route. And, I would argue, distractions which threaten to delay or derail the kind of development that the trail needs to become an internationally recognized recreation corridor.

Updates of a Bicycle Nature

Rainy Day Ride

Rainy Day Ride

Word counts are suffering. The family just survived another freak viral infection, and I apparently was most vulnerable. Colds suck!

But that’s mostly behind us now and while it’s still months in the future my Colorado Trail trip is starting to loom large in my imagination. The idea of riding over my home state on a fat-bike laden like a rented mule, given my current state of physical fitness, seems a near impossibility at this point. Consequently, I’ve been making time every morning for a run or a ride.

This morning was no exception. I dropped the boy off at school and hit the beach with my trusty dog and loyal ride plus base load. Yeah, it’s heavy but that’s a good place to start.

Intelligence in our Hands

Aral working in Scout II

Aral working in Scout II

Last week was mid-winter break for my youngest. Which means he’s been with me more or less non-stop since the Friday before last (his last day of school). That’s a lot of time to spend in anyone’s company, especially mine. It didn’t help that on Friday I got sick (first time this winter) and my project list just keeps getting longer and longer. More to do, less time to do it in.

Consequently, A-bear has been asked to help. The biggest hurdle I face is to bring his mood to a point where he finds the work at hand enjoyable. Most days, my encouragement must necessarily begin as soon as he’s up and about. This is a lot of extra effort–emotional effort if you will–on my part. Emotional energy I wouldn’t otherwise have to expend if it were just me doing the thing.

Today, for instance, we headed out to the garage and started stripping down my velomobile. It’s a project I’ve been meaning to get to for a while and I’ve had the trike up on a makeshift stand waiting for me.

Once I got Aral out there he dug into it with enthusiasm. We started by vacuuming out all leaves and spider webs. Aral *wanted* to get inside the cockpit, even with the mucking that needed to take place. We spent most of the morning first cleaning and then stripping parts off the vehicle. He was happy because he, like me, gets a great deal of pleasure doing things with his hands. I was happy because he was so happy.

This kind of interaction gets me wondering about our future. When I went through middle school, for instance, there was a vibrant shop program. We learned to do plenty and many of the skills I learned there are still with me today. Shop and the industrial arts aren’t a part of the modern curriculum. And while I imagine there’s a small body of parents out there left scratching their heads and wondering why, like me, I’d assume that most are just trying to get our kids through the relentless testing we know they’ll be subjected to sooner than later.

For Aral shop time is the most effective tool I have when it comes to teaching him the basics. “Caliper starts with the sound ‘ca.’ What’s the sound at the beginning of lever?” When we’re working on things together I know I’m making real progress. Last weekend we took apart the J-traps on a couple of sinks in our house. As he turned the collars off the pipes he talked to me about all the important stuff in his life. How much he likes his friend Marlow. Why it’s important not to use potty talk. What the best lego set is in his opinion. You can see it in his eyes, you can watch him working it all out as his hands do their thing.

I think back to my time in school and I know that I missed out on a real opportunity when I made it to high school and avoided shop class. Yes, we had a shop program back then, but there was a social stigma attached to participation; that’s where the dumb kids went. The kids who weren’t ever going to amount to much, they learned auto body skills.

There’s nothing wrong with AP English, but diagramming sentences and Wuthering Heights never really stuck. I never gave myself the time I needed to work those kinds of abstract problems out.

I see this requirement to learning in both my kids. I see it and I feel powerless to give them these sorts of opportunities (beyond what I can provide in the way of shop time). We all learn our own way, yet the system is only optimized for a cross-section of the population.

Cycle Update

Yeah, today I spent a chunk of time working on Rosie. She is now clean. I added a new chain, degreased and ready for lube. And I returned the rear rack to the bike.

The bike is still on the stand as I’m waiting for a new set of inner tubes to show up. I own two wheel sets and of those four wheels, I have two flats that need to be replaced.

Next up, complete cleaning and lubing. Return bags to bike. Break out overnight kit and sort through gear, repair and replace as necessary. I should be done sooner than later and this is good news because I really could use a microAdventure.

There’s Even a Race for That

Yesterday I posted briefly about getting things done for next summer’s big bike tour of the Colorado Trail. The reaction I got wasn’t the one that was expected. “You can bike that?” didn’t come close to what was anticipated. As a consequence of that, I’m guessing that I should explain.

The Colorado Trail is bikeable, save for four detours around Wilderness areas. The detours are mapped  and even put riders in range of resupply spots along the route. The official maps, guidebooks and data books provided for your money are indeed focused on hikers, but directions for the bike route are provided.

Right now I’m trying to create a trip-queue flip book for the route so that I can estimate where we’ll be camping along the way. The idea being that the Grand Parents might meet up with us from time to time.

Justin just received his new fat-bike, a Surly Wednesday, which he’ll be assembling and pimping for the ride. We’ll both be riding a wide, hard tailed footprint. Rosie is about to undergo some much-needed maintenance and tweaking too.

Justin's new ride, currently unnamed

Justin’s new ride, currently unnamed

Side projects I’m considering:

  • MYOG Bikepacking bag set-up for myself. It’s been a very long time since I sat down with my sewing machine, but this idea is growing on me. When I look at the bike-packing setups out there I’m coming away underwhelmed. They’re expensive, they would tend to require me to reinvent my touring kit, and many of them aren’t very weight conscious.I believe I might be able to do a better job, customizing panniers to fit my needs exactly instead of adapting someone else’s perfect setup to approximate my requirements. Cardboard cut-outs are on the way.If, you’re going to ride without resupply, most of the commercial kits out there require that you ride with a backpack. I dislike this very much, so I will attempt to off-load that gear to the frame and hope for a better outcome.
  • TripQ Flip Book. Because we’re not racing, this trip will be more about exploration. Justin has already signaled his desire to climb a couple more 14-ers and consequently we’ll be breaking from the path to climb. I know some stretches of the CT intimately, having participated in their construction back int he 80’s, but for those areas I know less well I want to have a good idea when and where breaking from the trail will yield excellent results.This is why I’m going to play amateur cartographer and develop a detailed ACA-style queue book for the CT. I think I may publish the results here when I’m done so stay tuned if you’re interested.
  • Revitalize my backcountry meal-making skillz, yo. Some time ago, I ate well on less than a handful of dollars a week. When I worked as a backcountry wilderness guard on the White River I fished and gathered for a pretty significant portion of my usual caloric intake. It was a much healthier way to live too.I’ve been wanting to do a lot more scratch cooking and this is a perfect way to make that happen. Sooner than later I’m going to start building dried meal packets again and work on knocking the rust off my food making repertoire.
  • Bike overnights. Finally, I am spending regular time on my stationary bike. As I start to feel better (damn this cold) I plan on getting out for some short tours in the area. This will help motivate me, get me into better condition, and assist with working out all the kinks I know I’m going to encounter.

Now, I’m going to attempt to head the next set of questions off at the pass. “Why are we riding fat?” Because it’s so much fun. Well, that’s one answer. Another is that significant portions of the CT are renowned as rock gardens. Big piles of scree that require riders and walkers alike to slow down, and pick their path through the mess. I know that we’ll likely walk some of these, but my experience is that big, low-pressure tires have an advantage in these areas. With higher TPI tires you’re often able to crawl over the rocks and the pneumatic suspension effect saves wear and tear on the body. Ultimately, this will be a bit of a test of that hypothesis, but I suspect we’ll confirm the idea.

Getting Ready

Yesterday morning was spent stripping parts from Rosie and cleaning up the garage. I had to do this in short bursts because the garage isn’t insulated and it gets cold in there. Plus, I’ve been dealing with a secondary sinus infection bequeathed to me after the passing of a cold. The thing is that I’ve been making steady progress on a long-term goal.

Piece together a topo map of the whole Colorado Trail and hang it up on the wall, write a couple of thousand words on DISTANCE; this has been the pattern. Apparently, I need to get things done to write. I describe this to myself as a function of obsession. Clear the board before you start marking it up with mental notes.

Today Justin picks up his new fat-bike. He’s pretty excited, I am too. More time cleaning, more time writing. Soon this will be done.

Washington State Flavored Derp

Two state House Republicans, Joe Schmick (9th district) and Mary Dye (also 9th district), have proposed scrapping a significant chunk of the Iron Horse State Park Trail. In the plan, the 2015-17 capital budget called for the state to transfer ownership of part of the trail to adjacent landowners “to improve noxious weed control and achieve improved land stewardship and wild fire response.”

I’ve run, and ridden parts of this section of the John Wayne trail and I can confirm that it is not well used, however, deciding to scrap this piece of historic Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad seems about as effective as giving Wilderness to mining companies. Yes, we know that it’s not well used. That’s never been the point.

Both members point to the “cost” of trail maintenance while never actually acknowledging what maintenance on this disused segment might run the State. Ted Blaszak, a councilman and president of the Tekoa Trail & Trestle Association, is quoted in the Spokane Spokesman-Review, saying it’s “a blatant land grab … nothing less than public thievery.”

And while I cannot comment on the veracity of this claim it the land transfer, what amounts to little more than a gift of public land to private owners, seems suspicious.

Given the potential earning power of this trail, this appears to be another fine example of Republican budgetary myopia. The economic impact of the tourism this trail, especially in its entirety, might have far outweighs the maintenance costs the State has, up to this point, completely ignored.

Ask yourself, “where are all those piles of tumbleweed coming from?” The railroad grade certainly isn’t growing them, and nothing is stopping the same adjacent landowners from being good stewards of this public land as-is. Or “why have the tressels along this route fallen into decay?” You’d think that if the capital budget had contained even a little money for maintenance this might not be the case. At 253 miles, it’s the nation’s longest rail-trail conservancy easement and if that weren’t enough every segment along its length is rich with tourist attracting history.

The fact that Schmick and Dye have completely missed this obvious opportunity is telling. Why is Eastern Washington such an economic wasteland?” Ladies and gentlemen, you have your answer.

IOTD

Micah True “Caballo Blanco” Running Free

“I remember this photo of Ali, running along the beach, on the sand in combat boots, so his boxing shoes would feel lighter when he was in the ring. He said something about the fight being won in the gym, out on the road, long before he danced under the lights. Ali was my Hero. He’d rather go to prison, than go to war. I always respected him for that. He was a great fighter, and a great runner.”When I was 21/22 years old, I had been smoking lots of dope, drinking lots of booze, partying hard.
I always wanted to run free. And I wanted to do something. And, I couldn’t. It was hard. My throat was bleeding. I was panting and feeling like crap, and determined I did not ever want to feel that way again. I thought I was too young to feel that way. It was one of those turning points where you either live, or you start dying. I have had a few of those every seven or eight years. I go through the same thing. So, are you going to let it go, or are you going to live?”

-Micah True

Today’s inspiration is there to help you sure, but it’s more to kick myself in the shorts. Caballo was already an old horse when I ran into him, but as far as I could see he hadn’t been dying until he went.

Last November I hurt my back lifting a goddamned box of ski boots. I’ve been to the doctor, I’ve made trips to the PT, and I’ve even tried to get back out on the trail a handful of times since then. So, between the pains of growing a little older and that injury I’ve let my narrative diminish. I’ve watered it down with excuses.

I’ve always wanted to do something and now I’m not doing. Not doing anything. I feel like I’ve slipped and when I allow myself to think about it, even a little, I feel horribly depressed which makes all the aforementioned sensations feel that much worse.

Here’s the thing. I know what I need to do, I just need to find the cojones to do it. It’s going to be hard, but I’ve been through harder and even better I’ve got examples and heroes like Caballo to show me the way.

So, here I am. At this turning point.

Thanks Micah, much gratitude for showing me the way.