Friday, March 31, 2017

Rainy Day Riding

It rained all day today.  It rained all day in the above photo too.  It sure does rain a lot sometimes.

Oh, how I hate the driving rain,
The blowing, slowing, soaking rain,
Blinding sheets and eyeball strain,
Frozen skin and muscle pain.

Wind numbed digits start to shake,
Churning knees begin to ache.
Maybe I should take a break?
Rest won't make a fraud or fake...

Freezing gusts drive me insane,
Stormy thoughts torment my brain.
Frozen flesh still burns with pain?
Why am I on bike, not in a train?

My mind begins to darkly learn,
It's only worse at every turn,
No escape for me from icy burn,
No warm respite, for which I yearn.

But through the blowing, slowing rain,
I find a calm I can't explain,
A cooler head returns to reign,
My hopeful spirits back again.

It's how it goes when out on tour,
Wind can blow and rain can pour,
A happy ride sometimes a chore,
Until the joy returns once more.

Muscles mend and knees unsprain,
Struggles leave, and strengths remain,
One day to suffer, a life to gain,
Come to think... I can't complain.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Tricycles Gangs

I was riding down to South Philly via the South Street Bridge today when I passed a guy on an ape hanger chopper.  I'm not that fast, he was just going slow due to traffic.  Traffic that's going to get a whole lot worse once the new Roberts Center for Pediatric Research is completed.  That's when things are going to get bonkers.

Anyway, I passed this guy on his hog, and kept going.  Then he passed me once the light changed.  Then I passed him at the next light.  Then eventually we met, with him stopped at the front of a long line waiting for the light to change at 22nd and South.  Stopped at that light, I got a pretty good look at him.  He was a stereotypically, tough-looking biker-dude.  In his late 40's or early 50's, he looked like he'd probably seen and thrown a punch or two.  Based on his sun faded jacket, he'd probably also put a fair amount of mileage on that bike.  I'm assuming that whole time he was checking out my sweet Ross cruiser and thinking about how tough I was too.

As we sat there, a pair of two other motorcycles rolled northbound on 22nd.  As they reached the intersection, they slowed and eyed up the guy next to me.  He eyed them in return.  Then they made hand gestures at him.  He then returned his own hand gesture; a standard Italian, closed-hand, wassamattawityouse gesture, accompanied by a frowny scowl (see below).

Eh!  Paesan!

After that gesture, the two guys rolled through the intersection and stopped at the northwest corner to talk to this guy.  This was it!  I was going to see a street fight!  A motorcycle gang street fight!  This was going to be awesome!

But there was no fight.  Instead, one of the two guys yelled over, "Hey, you want to ride with us?"  To which the guy next to me replied, "No, I have to ride to 4th St!"  And that was when I burst out laughing.  I'd looked at these bikers as macho tough guys, when I should have been looking at them like the grown up children we all are.  "Hey, do you wanna ride bikes down to the park?"  "Nah, my mom said I gotta get home before dark or I'm gonna be grounded."  "Aw, come on, stop being such a dweeby."  "I don't wanna be grounded!  We're supposed to go to a Phillies game this weekend!  They're giving away mini baseball bats at the gate!"

Apparently it's not that big of a jump from adolescent wheelie kids to adult biker gangs.  They just want to ride bikes and hang out with their friends.  I'll have to remember that the next time a motorcycle blows by me revving it's engine.  That loud rev isn't the decibel equivalent of a peacock's tail as I had always assumed; it's a sonic plea for friendship and camaraderie.  It's a call to the other vroom vrooms out there: "You wanna ride bikes?"

Monday, March 27, 2017

I Hate This Video So Much

Hey all, originally I was going to write about Corona Arch, a tourist friendly, heavily trafficked, natural arch just outside of Moab along the Colorado River, but while doing a little background research, I found a video that I decided I wanted to write about instead.  Let's start with the video so we're on the same page (if not of the same position):

Do not do this on a whim.

I really try to stay positive in this blog as there's already so much to negativity bombarding us every day.  Heck, my last post was about a little desert bird's song, which I'd say is pretty darn positive.  But this video, well, it just rubs me the wrong way, and I prefer to be rubbed the right way.  That said, apologies for the negativity that's about to pour out.  Just know that it's coming from a positive place, in that I don't want people to die.  In any case, if you've already reached your downer quota for the day, probably just skip this.  No need to make things worse.

Ok, let's get this pessimism show on the road.  First off, this video was posted by the YouTube user DevinSuperTramp (all lower on YouTube, but I capitalized for emphasis).  I'm assuming that this name isn't an homage to taking the long way home, but instead to the deceased hitchhiker, Chris McCandless.  I'm not a fan of McCandless's chosen alias, nor of the people that go visit that godforsaken bus outside of Healy.  If Devin chose his YouTube handle in an attempt to emulate McCandless, he was unfortunately successful, both in dumb name and in his recklessness leading others to their own death.  That first wrong rub came before I even clicked play, not a good sign.

Next up, where is the safety information?  This video shows an extremely dangerous activity, and there's not even a warning at the beginning.  Even the Jackass crew puts up a warning up before tying bottle rockets to their genitals, an activity far less enticing than rope swinging from a giant arch.  To start this video without a warning of some sort is completely irresponsible.  Ideally, I'd think the video would have an intro with a link showing all of the safety equipment they used as well as precautions they took, not just a warning against imitation.  Showing the inherent danger as well as the associated costs of preparation may keep some people from attempting their own jumps.

Corona Arch courtesy of

Here's the thing about this whole stunt, there's nothing exotic about Corona Arch.  I know it looks stunning (in relation to where you live, presumably), but so does a lot of Southern Utah landscape (kudos if you live in the area).  Arches are naturally occurring in this general area due to its geological history involving prehistoric, mid-continental oceans.  Hell, Arches National Park is even closer to Corona than Moab is.  Corona isn't located in some faraway landscape that requires a powerboat or bush plane in order to be accessed.  All anyone needs to do is drive 20-30 minutes from Moab and then hike less than a mile.  Even getting to the top of the arch isn't that difficult, require neither special gear nor training.  All it takes is some vacation time and a little nerve or bravado, the latter being worse and rather prevalent in the "extreme" community.  So with the ease of access, why isn't there, at the very least, a safety disclaimer at the start of the video?  Anybody with more balls than brains could easily find themselves on top of this arch after seeing this video, and they need that safety check.

That said, a little over a year after the video was posted, someone did.  While attempting to recreate the stunt seen in the above video, Kyle Lee Stocking fell to his death.  He had miscalculated the length of rope he needed, and rather than swing like a human pendulum under the arch, he struck the ground.  Maybe if the video had some safety information at the start, this could have been avoided.  Who knows, though, maybe not.

In any case, that video racked up another 10 million views since Stocking's death (17 million prior), and safety information has yet to be added to the YouTube post.  Posting the video without a warning, while reckless, is somewhat forgivable.  Safety is a total buzzkill for adventure videos, and warnings take away from the fun, I get that.  In an effort to to look as cool as possible, someone touting their epic (the adjective usage of the word "epic" really needs to stop) lifestyle probably wouldn't brag about how much real effort and safety planning went into making their video.  But in the wake of someone's death, there's no excuse for not turning down the cool and putting up a solid disclaimer with intro links to instructional information.

That's my biggest gripe.  I guess anything beyond that is just petty and inconsequential.  Sure, the whole video looks like a douchey ad for Michelob Ultra, but in light of the above few paragraphs, mentioning it now would just seem shallow.  Ok, enough Curmudgeon Troy for one day.  Be safe out there, people.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Canyon Wren Doppler Song

Have you ever heard the call of the Canyon Wren?  It's probably my favorite sound to hear echoing through roofless canyon tunnels.  My least favorite sound would definitely be the rushing thunder of a flash flood.  Hypothetically, at least, as I haven't experienced that yet.  My current confirmed least favorite canyon sound is thunder.  Definitely have heard that before, sometimes while running top speed over erosion pocketed slick rock through a downpour on the way to a culvert trailhead that really seemed like it was closer but time flies and so does distance apparently.  I still have no idea how Quentin's phone survived that one.  The magic of bricks, I guess.

Canyon Wrens have a song that starts with a bland chirp not dissimilar from many other birds flitting about the landscape.  But their song takes a turn midsong, finding its own unique voice, and becoming distinctive from any other bird I know.  I'm not an ornithologist, though, so I may just be woefully underexposed to avian melodies.  If the song ended after two or three notes, it would just be any other songbird.  But it doesn't end at two or three notes.  Instead it starts with a chirp, and then goes into a long repeating tweet that seems to fade off into the distance, even if the bird is standing directly beside you.  Like its song is a toy train speeding by, down along the canyon floor.  My description is not doing that little bird's song any justice, so here's a clip:

Isn't it great?  Have you ever heard a bird call like it?  Maybe doppler isn't the effect I was looking to describe.  Listening to it now on a computer vs. in a canyon, it sounds more like an engine or turbine quickly slowing to a stop.  As if the song was a fan blade after the switch on the wall had been flipped in a room where inertia was disabled.  Or maybe the laws of physics weren't bent, but the axle connecting the rotor to the motor was.  Maybe the motor's about to fail.

In any case, lying on a slab of sandstone listening to those calls bounce off the fins and mushrooms of a staggered Utah canyon is just about one of the nicest ways to spend some time hiding in the shade from the summer sun.  I'd recommend trying it some time.  Canyon Wrens can be tough to find, but if you're really quiet, maybe you'll get lucky and one will find you.  In the meantime, just set that video to repeat for the next hour or so.  Your coworkers will love you for it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Jigsaw Puzzles: Making Brains Gooder

After Capitol Reef came Moab, where I would be meeting Quentin.  I got there early, though.  I whole day early at that.  What ever is a person to do in Moab, UT for one whole day?  Visit Arches National Park?  Rent a mountain bike and tackle Poison Spider?  Psh... it was a no-brainer.  Jigsaw puzzles.  I was going to do some jigsaw puzzles.

When's the last time you did a puzzle?  Not a crossword or sudoku, but an actual 1000 piece, make the picture appear, no that piece doesn't go there so stop trying to make it fit, jigsaw puzzle.  Do you even remember the last time?  We did them all the time as kids, (You all remember those puzzles.  Disguised as fun games, they secretly taught us all about the alphabet, farm animals, and spacial relationships.), but then as we grew older, we ditched them, thinking there was no more to be gained from the assembly of their interlocking pieces.  For shame, all of us!  Puzzles are still important!

According to one article that I've read from a biased source:
Research is now showing the quantifiable benefits of carrying this activity into adulthood... jigsaw puzzles and other mind-flexing activities can actually lead to a longer life expectancy, a better quality of life, and reduce our chances of developing certain types of mental illness, including memory loss, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s Disease (by an amazing third). 
But how does this simple toy accomplish such amazing things? Most likely it is due to the simultaneous use of both sides of the brain. The left brain hemisphere, our analytical side, sees all of the separate pieces and attempts to sort them out logically. The right brain hemisphere, our creative side, sees the “big picture” and works intuitively. Both types of thinking are required in order to successfully piece the puzzle together. In exercising both sides of the brain at the same time, we create actual “connections” between the left and right sides, as well as connections between individual brain cells. These connections increase our ability to learn, to comprehend, and to remember. In addition, completing a puzzle, or even just the successful placement one piece, encourages the production of dopamine, a brain chemical that increases learning and memory. 
The connections made while working on jigsaw puzzles aren’t limited to our brain cells. Exercising both sides of the brain simultaneously also allows the brain to move from a Beta state, the wakeful mind, into an “Alpha” state, the same mental state experienced while dreaming. The Alpha state is where we tap into our subconscious mind. Jigsaw puzzles naturally induce this state of creative, focused meditation, where connections can be made on deeper levels.
Woah!  Who would've thought?  So much science, right?  And their sources are totally credible.  If you don't believe me, click on the citation links provided with that article.  What do you mean neither of those links worked?  Try clicking again, I'll wait.  Still didn't work?  Well, who needs sources anyway?!  In any case, you should keep reading below where they talk about jigsaw puzzles being a metaphor for life.  That's some deep stuff.

But really, what isn't a metaphor for life?  To prove it, I'm going to open up a book and flip randomly and then blindly put my finger down on a word.  Here goes: Page 111, "drink".  Ok, "drink"... Give me a minute... Ok, here goes: Life is like a drink in that you need to take it slow to properly enjoy it.  If you rush through either, you'll miss out on the subtle nuances of each sip/day.  When you're young/have a full glass, you want to grow up so quickly/drink as much as you can, but gulping down life experiences/drinks rather than savoring/learning from them will leave you wishing you had better used that freedom that comes with a lack of adult responsibility/full glass of beverage.  BOOM!  Everything is a metaphor for life!  Eat it,!

Ok, let's get back to this.  While I was in Moab, I did a few with a rad Moabite and was reminded of how much fun jigsaw puzzles are.  The strategies (Edges first, obvs, but then what?  Sort by color?  By shape?  By section?).  The anticipation (I can almost see the mountain!).  The frustration (Did we lose a piece?  How am I not finding that piece?  It should be obvious!  It's neon freakin' green.).  The discoveries (Oh, right.  Colors are interpreted relative to their surroundings.  Neon freakin' green isn't quite as neon without it's surrounding neon pieces.).  And ultimately, the satisfaction that comes with patience and persistence (This puzzle has been conquered!  We are a team of geniuses!  How is it 4am?).

All that said, you should go do a puzzle tonight.  Start with a nice 500 piece puzzle and see how it goes.  I bet your brain will thank you in the morning.

I was ready to murder this sadistic ladybug puzzle by hour 6.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Mormons and Big Horn Sheep: How do they do it?

The drive from Kanab to Capitol Reef was a lot longer than I had anticipated.  By the time I pulled into the park, I was exhausted and ready to find some BLM land to sleep on.  I'd been to CRNP a few times and knew there were a few places I could camp for free, but in the middle of the night with a brain starting to enter evening dormancy, I couldn't for the life of me find the spot in which I wanted to camp.  Eventually I gave up and parked in a turnout behind a tall, leafy tree.  I really needed to get some sleep so I could hike Navajo Knobs in the morning, and at that hour in that state, that turnout was as good as it was going to get.

Capitol Reef is not a busy National Park.  It's situated in the middle of nowhere when compared to the big Utah National Parks.  Over three hours east of Zion and two hours west Arches, there's no real reason for the casual tourist to drop by.  Maybe just swing through on the way from one to the other?  It's just a bunch of canyons and rocks and stuff you can see anywhere else in Utah.  I don't recommend you visit, but if you do, be sure to stay in the family campground.  The BLM land around there is pretty rough and shouldn't be ventured off into.  Heck, I couldn't even find it and I'd been there before.

Hike-wise, there aren't that many options in CRNP, but of them Navajo Knobs is respectable.  It's about 9.5 miles out and back with over 1,600' of elevation gain (all on the way out, over roughly 4.7 miles), and most of the hike is on wide canyon ledges, all of which are typically in direct sunlight.  It can make for a long, uphill day in the sun, something I wouldn't recommend for everyone.

That said, when I reached the knobs, after having hiked a handful of sunbaked miles without seeing another living soul, I came upon a family of seven that was comprised mostly of children.  What???  I hadn't seen any grown-ass adults on this BS uphill hike in the BS heat and sun, and here were a bunch of kids and their parents.  Why were there five kids up here with their parents?  Why would parents do this to their children?  Why weren't they all wearing CamelBaks? Why were the kids not crying or dead?  The knobs of the NK are semi-treacherous with loose rock and a few easy places to slip and fall (not to your death, but to your bruises), and these kids were hopping all around having fun.  Since when do little kids have fun on dangerous rocks?  Oh.  Right.  This was a fun hike with a fun halfway point.  These were actually good parents taking their kids out for a real hike instead of the one mile loop near the campgrounds.  Good for them.

Once I wrapped my mind wrapped around taking five small children on this fairly strenuous hike, my brain was once again blown out of my earholes.  As the mom carefully came down from the rocky knob, feeling her way with her feet and holding steady with her hands, I realized she had an infant strapped to her back.  What world is this??  I was tired of carrying my CamelBak and she had a baby???  Crazy ass Mormons.  (They were a large family visiting from a small town just outside of Salt Lake City, so I'm making a fairly safe assumption.)

We exchanged some pleasantries and then I took a load off on the rocky ledge while they headed back to the trailhead.  I was amazed that those kids made it, ranging in age from what looked to be 6 to 14.  I was also amazed that people would want to have that many children, let alone bring them on this hike.

After a half hour or so, I headed back down.  On the way, I saw another family that perplexed me.  It was a family of Big Horn Sheep walking along the rocks.  This was not the first time I had seen sheep here, and every time I do, I have the same questions.  Where had they come from?  Where were they going?  They were walking away from a sheer drop and heading towards a vertical climb.  How were they managing all of this on those little hooves and without climbing hands and prehensile thumbs.  What was their secret?  Tell me!

Where is your portal???

I caught up with the family of eight with a mile or two remaining to the trailhead.  By then, those kids were dragging some serious ass.  That was when all the pieces finally clicked into place.  While the hike was brutal for the kids, those parents would be fine, even lugging one or two of them on their hip.  They were adults, and this was an adult hike.  This meant that by the time the family reached camp, those kids would be ready to pass out, thus giving those parents a night to themselves.  Well played, parents.  I only hope you don't use that alone time to make more children.  I think six is plenty.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary: Day 2

After taking that guided tour of the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, they knew I wouldn't be able to say no to picking up a volunteer shift.  Only a monster would have been able to say no to those adorable fuzzballs that only want cuddles.  The animals, not the employees.  The employees did not want cuddles.  In fact they mostly wanted me to stop trying to give them the cuddles I assumed they wanted.  The cashier was not amused.

So I signed up for a morning shift (8am-noonish) the following day, and showed up a little early, a spectacular feat for someone typically incapable of arising early.  Christmas morning kids would understand.  When I checked in at the Visitor's Center, they told me to leave my trailer down in the huge lot by the horses, as Cat World didn't have adequate parking for that sizable a rig.  This would be my first time unhooking the trailer since Mississippi.  Ok.  I could handle this.  All I need to do is park it somewhere level, put wedges under the trailer tires so it didn't roll, disconnect the electrics, unhook the two safety chains, unpin the hitch stand, lower the stand, unlock the ball hitch, raise the stand over the ball, pull the truck forward, lower the stand so that it was level, and put the hitch lock in place so the trailer couldn't be stolen.  Nothing to it, right?

A surprisingly short time later, I was on the upper canyon, high above the Visitor's Center  in the Cat World parking lot.  I needed to first check-in at the Cat World HQ/Clinic where I was shown a short video about cat handling.  Fun fact: Don't pick cats up by their hind legs like you would a chicken.  I guess chickens really only have hind legs as their front legs are wings.  Or are they arms?  Or are our arms just front legs that are really bad at running?

Cat World is made up of a six or eight or something around there buildings housing over 600 cats (also something around there).  Each has it's own theme, and I was assigned to Colonel's Brigade.  The Brigade, like the other buildings, was a large building that could be broken down into about seven to nine rooms.  The doorways on either side led to a long, rectangular room that served as the hub of the building.  That main room had multiple storage closets, a couple loose kitties, and a prep area with a sink for getting food and meds ready.  Then, all around that long room, were the cat rooms.  Each room had ten or so cats in it, as well as ample sleeping, eating, hiding, and bathrooming areas.  Everything a cat could need.  Those rooms were nice, but fairly boring, almost like they were designed from recycled office blueprints.  But connected to those rooms were the most amazing part of the whole building.  Each of those cat rooms were connected to their own very large, screened-in patios full of climbing structures (large driftwood, cat ladders, cat hotels, etc.) that led to exposed beam ceilings.  But they didn't call them patios.  No, I was in Cat World.  They were called Catios!  How cute is that?  I just want to cuddle that word!  Catio!

The Catios, aside from providing a lot of free space and fresh air, provided something a lot of those rescued cats desired more than anything else: seclusion.  Up in the ceiling, hiding in the rafters, were cats that were terrified of people.  They were all over, and there were even litter boxes and bowls of food and water so the cats would never have to come down if they didn't want to.  The kitties in Cat World were given time and space to acclimate to human interaction.  This is probably why Best Friends has an over 80% placement rate.  They let their cats get used to people on their own terms rather than forcing it.

Hiding out in the rafters!

After checking in, my first job was to take Benton for a walk.  There were only two people working in the CB, and they were busy with important morning tasks, so I think this was mostly to get me out of there hair for 20 minutes so they could get settled in.  At least that was what I thought until I unzipped the front of the blue cat stroller.  As soon as that first tooth passed through the slider, I heard the thump thump thump of a cat bounding down from atop a cabinet.  That was Benton, and he had clearly been waiting for his walk.  He jumped straight into the stroller and I zipped him back in.  I was told to take him on the winding walking path outside and to watch out for rattlesnakes while I did so.  To be fair, I'd been warned about eminent death when I signed the volunteer waiver.

While walking around in the blazing Utah summer sun, we happened upon other cats in strollers as well as some on leashes.  They all looked like they were having the time of their lives!  And they were all being walked by volunteers.  That's why this place was so successful.  There were a lot of animals and a lot of work to be done, but people come from all over the country to volunteer to help make the lives of these animals a little better.  And it was working.

Meowzers Meander??? Are you kidding me???

After a long stroll with Benton (seen above), I headed back to the CB.  Once there, the real work started.  Cleaning litter boxes, emptying uneaten food, putting out fresh food, putting out fresh water, washing dirty dishes, mopping, sewing up holes in the strollers, and more.  Pretty much anything that didn't involve some sort of special animal training.  Other than those jobs, though, there was the extremely important job of playing with the cats.  A very important job indeed, as all of those cats needed cuddles.  So many cuddles!

Aside from just playing with the cats that wanted to be played with, I also needed to put some face time in with the cats that weren't quite down with human interaction.  The rafter cats.  Petting a rafter cat isn't easy, but as with most creatures of some intelligence, bribery could probably get me through the door.  Armed with baby food and a small spoon, I moved the ladder under some of the rafter cats and attempted to grease the wheels of affection with mushy chicken.  I was mildly successful, which was good enough for me.  I would load that spoon up and slowly work my way towards one of the cats, and then, if they didn't run away, let them lick the spoon clean.  I'd do that a few times before eventually feeding them directly off of my finger.  It was real progress for some of them.  For others, not so much.

I say them, but you need to know that every single one of them had a unique name.  There was Darla (she had a smooshed face and a tongue that always poked out just a bit), Corky, Rhett, Nibs (so tiny!), Smoochy, Callista, and many many more.  And it wasn't just that every cat had a different name, each name had a two-year hold placed on it after a cat left (adoption or otherwise).  This meant that Mr. Whiskers would be the only Mr. Whiskers for at least two years after his departure.  That is some serious dedication to critter naming.

My four hour shift flew by in no time at all, and before I knew it, it was lunch.  This was when I found out that Best Friends Animal Sanctuary has a $5, all-you-can-eat, vegan buffet at lunchtime.  What???  Was I in heaven?  Had a died?  Did a rattlesnake bite me a few hours back when I was walking Benton?  Does time continue seamlessly as our consciousness evacuates our dying bodies?  Does that mean we have souls?  If we do and they maintain consciousness, why do we even need bodies?  Is it to dance?  I heard it's to dance.  That seems silly.  But then, a lot of silly things are fun.  Like pogo sticks and Halloween.  No, I wasn't dead.  I was hungry, and why would a disembodied consciousness be hungry?  Duh, of course I was alive.  Also, consciousness ends when we die.  It's a function of your brain you dumb doy-oy.

Before I left for lunch, my two CB leads asked if I wanted to work the afternoon shift too.  There wouldn't be any other volunteers in that day, and I just couldn't imagine those cats not getting vigorously played with, so I said, "Of course I'll stay!"  My original plan was to do a morning shift and then leave for Capitol Reef, but Capitol Reef was just going to have to wait because I was busy hanging with some cool cats.

This is how cool cats hang.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

PSA: OTC Cold Medicine and Cycling

Having spent the last four days alternating between DayQuil hazes and NyQuil (I wanted to say "dazes" for the sake of rhyming, but we all know that's not how NyQuil works) blackouts, I wanted to put out a little PSA for anyone that's on tour and fighting off a cold.  I've been in your clipped-in shoes, person.  I know how it feels to be on the road, a few days out from your next scheduled stop, with swollen glands, a hacking cough, and a throat that burns with every breath.  A bad cold can put you in a real tough spot.  If you take some rest days, it could possibly throw off your whole schedule.  If you don't take some rest, there's the chance that things will get worse and end your whole tour.  What is a cyclist to do?

I think most people would say to just take some time off.  In a black and white world, that is the best solution.  And on a lot of bicycle websites, I'm sure you'll get that very advice.  Take some time off and rest.  It's the safest, most responsible thing to do.  No one ever died from some R&R, right?

Well, this blog isn't like most bicycle websites (at your peril, possibly).  No, sir or madam or n/a.  The safest advice isn't always the most practical, and I lean towards practicality.  Sure, you shouldn't touch a hot pot, but how are you going to strain your macaroni if you don't?  What?  Are you going to wait for it to cool completely?  But you're hungry now and mac n' cheese is better hot!  Face your fears and get an oven mitt on!  That said, if you get sick on tour, and don't have the luxury of taking some time off (it happens to a lot of us that poorly schedule our tours), you need the rhinovirus-oriented version of an oven mitt: OTC Cold Medicine.

I'm not sick anymore, but this view of Crater Lake is.

But here's the deal, life on cold medicine can be difficult.  For example, I started writing this two days ago when I was halfway through a dose of DayQuil, and now here I am two days later finally able to string sentences together into complete thoughts (please direct all snark to the comments section below).  Sitting down attempting to concentrate becomes difficult.  Walking around your apartment without bumping into the tables and counter tops becomes difficult.  Remembering why you were even walking into the kitchen in the first place, before you went and slammed your toe into the island making it throb with pain, sidetracking your already distracted mind, but seriously, why were you even walking into the kitchen?  What were we talking about?

So if everything else in life is more difficult on cold medicine (with the exception of passing out on the couch at 8pm while watching Stranger Things), why would it be a good idea to ride long distances on it?  Well, it's not, but again, this is advice for people who don't have a different option.  This advice is for the type of person who has places to be and specific times to be there.  The type of person that can't rent a car to make up for lost time.  The type of person that will not take 'NO' for an answer.  All that said, you really should take some time off and rest.

In any case, here are some ideas for you sickies out there that can't waste a day on treating yourself well:

  • Avoid Drowsy Warnings - If an OTC has a drowsy warning, that is not the medicine for you.  Only daytime versions while riding.  Never ever ever ever take NyQuil and ride.  You'll die.

    Note: If you're on a prescription with drowsy warnings, you need to take some time off from riding.  Your doctor put you on an Rx for a reason.  Listen to them.

  • Keep OTC Dosages Low - Take the minimum recommended dosage and put as much time between dosages as you can.  This should help keep the fog level down.  You could even try cutting the dose in half.  You don't need to feel perfect, just good enough to ride.

    Note: This only applies to OTC.  Always follow your doctor's exact instructions for prescription drugs.  Also, always finish your antibiotic script so you don't create superbacteria within your body.  Those things will eat your flesh.

  • Easy Does It - Don't try to maintain a killer pace.  Your body needs some of that energy to fight off disease.  You're going to lose mileage per day while sick, and there's nothing you can do about it except make it up once you're healthy.

  • Shorten Your Day - Cut a third (or more) off of your day (if you can).  As with the above tip, you can add the lost miles to your healthy days.

  • Nap - If shortening the day isn't possible, wake up early in the morning, get a good morning ride in, and then take a midday nap.  Just find a nice patch of grass, lock your bike to a post (or your own leg with a cable), and lay down.  A solid two hours after lunch should get you primed to finish your day.

  • Stay Alert - It may be necessary to offset your cold medicine with some caffeine.  That's probably not the most medically sound advice, but it's more sound than being run over by a car.  Use your best judgment with this.

  • Listen to Your Body - I get that all of this advice is telling you to ignore your body, but again, life isn't binary.  If you are riding and you realize that what you are doing just isn't safe (can't concentrate, can't stay awake, dying), get the hell off your bike.  Days can always be made up one way or the other (hitchhike, rental, etc).  It's not worth putting your life at risk just to save some time and/or money.

Finally, please remember that I am not a doctor and that some of my advice may not be good advice.  These are just some (hopefully) helpful tips for the people that are going to ride while sick, regardless of how many times they're told that they shouldn't.  If you have any other thoughts, please leave a comment below.  And please remember that the best way to get someone to take your advice is to offer it kindly.  If you have advice, suggestion, or admonitions, just state them clearly and with as little condescension as possible, and people will probably listen to you.  Even if you have the best advice in the world, if you come off as a pompous ass, no one is going to care what you say.  Unless you're funny.  Then you can say pretty much anything you want.

Denis Leary - NyQuil

Monday, March 13, 2017

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary: Day 1

Once again, I struck out at the NCB lottery.  After having such a nice night outside of Coral Pink SDSP, I had high hopes.  High hopes that quickly diminished, as failure was all but guaranteed upon arrival, with the parking lot (empty the day prior) almost completely filled.  This nearly full parking lot gave me a new reason to dislike certain drivers, specifically those who park their little coupes in the extra long trailer parking spots even though normal-sized spots are still available.  The lengthwise equivalent of parking in two spots.  I crammed into the last available trailer spot, the one right next to the light pole that I didn't want to take because I was pretty sure I'd side swipe the metal post with the trailer as I attempted to pull out of the lot.  The small cars that occupied the other trailer spots looked so roomy and comfortable that I almost wanted to light them on fire.

Anyway, having struck out once more, I brushed my teeth in the parking lot, made some breakfast, and planned my day.  Having made the drive to the dunes the night prior, I passed two signs that piqued my interest (for two very different reasons): 1) Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, because I want to pet every animal, and 2) Moqui Cave, because I love tourist traps.  This post is about the prior, as the latter is a waste of both time and money, and not in a good way.

Cleaned and fed, I headed back up US-89 to the BF Animal Sanctuary hoping to make some furry friends.  I had no idea what I was in for when I turned off the highway and headed toward Kanab Canyon/Angel Canyon.  I didn't know that I was heading into the most magical place on earth.  Disneyworld doesn't have shit on the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.

The road in wound high through red canyons, passing staff and guest housing, and led to a massive field alongside a trailer-friendly parking lot.  Horses were milling about in the field, with workers doing work things with them.  I parked and headed straight up to the visitor's center, eager to get to meet a non-equine critter.  It's not so much that I'm disinterested in horses as I am leery of them.  They are giant animals that could stomp me into the ground if they so desired.  I respect their sized and prefer to steer clear.  I've ridden one once as an adult.  It was disconcerting.

After climbing the canyon stairs leading up to the visitor center (with a relaxing koi pond), I saw herds of people and charms of hummingbirds.  Did you know that's what a flock of hummingbirds is called?  I didn't until just now, moments before typing it.  I really could've called it anything and you'd have likely taken my word for it.  Maybe it isn't actually called a charm and I'm pulling one over on you.  In any case, there were multiple feeders under a shaded deck along the visitor center, and hummingbirds flitted about, alternating between feeding on nectar and scaring away other little HBs trying to get nectar of their own.  Apparently HBs are territorial little buggers and can get pretty vicious in defense of that sweet sweet sugar water.


From the vantage point of the VC, it was obvious that the Sanctuary is in a very special place.  Angel Canyon is a sprawling pink and orange canyon, not dissimilar from the canyons throughout Southern Utah, but instead of remaining untouched (conservation through desolation), the Best Friends had built their sanctuary harmoniously into the canyon (conservation through appreciation).  The main road horseshoes through the sanctuary (built on and in the canyon), passing open fields and a natural amphitheater, and gaining elevation as it climbs the canyon its natural curve.  I had come in at the bottom of the canyon, and beautiful as it was down there, it didn't have anything on the scenic overlook up above on the other side of the shoe.  The sanctuary was built in the type of canyon I love to hike in.  Animals and canyons!  It was perfect!

Situated on close to 21,000 acres, the sanctuary is home to over 1,600 animals (mostly temporary, some permanent, never kill).  These animals are then within the following species-based habitats:
  • Dogtown
  • Cat World
  • Horse Haven
  • Marshall's Piggy Paradise
  • Bunny House
  • Parrot Gardon
  • Wild Friends
These different areas are separated so that animals don't have any interspecies overlap, which could be especially traumatic for rescued animals that may have spent most of their lives being abused.  Aside from the specific-specific habitats, there is also a clinic for animals needing extra help as well as special plot named Angels Rest and Memorial, which was where any animals that passed before finding homes were laid to rest.  I wanted to see everything, and fortunately for me, they offer tours of the sanctuary.

After saying goodbye to the hummingbirds, I headed in to sign up for a tour.  I was an hour early for the next tour, so they gave me a map of the facility and showed me where a nearby trail was that I could kill some time on.  The trail was supposed to end at some petroglyphs, but I read the map wrong, so once I ran out of time scrambling about a sandy canyon, I headed back for my tour.

It's a Catio!  Get it???

Two hours later, I was pretty sure I wanted to stay forever.  So many animals!  Dogs!  Cats!  Everything else!  Even horses... Apparently some of the horses had come from BLM round-ups.  After wild ponies are caught by the Federales, some are brought to Best Friends to be domesticated.  What they do is put the wrangled pony in a low-walled stabled out in the horse field.  Then they bring out a domesticated horse and have them meet over the wall of the stable, with the tame horse out in the field.  Over the course of meetings, the tame horse teaches the wild pony how to be human-friendly.  Once tamed, the horse can be placed in a home.  I never cared that much about horses until now!

All the little towns and worlds were set up so perfectly for the animals with ample space in each facility, areas to run around outside on leash (or in a stroller), and most amazingly everything was so clean!  I know people with three cats that smell like they have 300, so the fact that their different cat facilities with 50+ cats didn't smell bad was impressive.  On top of all that, I learned about their 80% animal placement rates and lifetime return policy in cases where families decide that they can't keep a pet!  How was this all possible???  For the sake of keeping this from growing any longer, I'll answer that question next post. 

When I got back to the visitor's center, they asked if I wanted to sign up for a volunteer shift during the week.  I now knew why I didn't win a NCB lottery permit.  I was going to spend my last full day in Kanab playing with kitties, not hiking The Wave.  That made way more sense.

Friday, March 10, 2017

I Can't Back Up a Trailer

After the near disaster in PCSDSP, it should be fairly clear that I am in no way a professional truck/trailer driver.  I had made it over 1,600 miles without crashing or destroying anything, so that says something about my basic adequacy, but that really seems like a bare minimum for anyone to be able to handle if they agree to drive someone's truck from Mississippi to Nevada.  

To be completely honest, the only reason I was running on time was because I can drive obscene amounts of times straight without needing to take a break.  It's like a super power.  One time I drove solo from Kansas to Philadelphia in a straight shot.  I was supposed to take a break in the middle, but there was an incident at a Super 8 (never stay there), so I spitefully drove around 24 hours straight.  

While I had covered a good deal of ground since Mississippi, I had done it all very slowly and cautiously on account of my overall worries regarding the trailer.  If the speed limit was 70, I was going 60.  If the wind picked up, I might've been going 55.  I had many concerns with losing the trailer or control of the truck or both, and could imagine it all happening a million different ways as I was passed by semis speeding 20mph over the limit.  So it was fortunate I could drive over 10 hours each day, or else I'd have never reached Utah.  Aside from not dying, the other benefit of my granny driving was that I was doing great on gas mileage.

One of the many ways.

I was given a fair amount of driving advice prior to leaving Mississippi, most of which was pretty common sense, but still a good idea to point out.  One of the things that was driven home repeatedly as a cardinal rule was to always have an exit in mind whenever leaving the road (parking, gassing up, etc).  Specifically, an exit that doesn't involve going in reverse.  Driving in reverse in a car is no big deal to anyone that's been on the road for a few years, but do you remember when you first got behind the wheel?  Wrapping your mind around how the car would react based on your steering wheel movements?  How slight turns came with uncontrolled results?  I bet some of you still can't parallel park.

This piece of advice was at the forefront of my mind as I tried to find camping spots in Coral Pink SDSP, as most of the side roads went off into the unknown distance.  At a width slightly larger than a car, turning around on those roads would've been a nightmare if at all a possibility.  Not just there, but everywhere I stopped, I made sure there was a way out that never required me to shift into reverse.  This meant parking with the big trucks at every rest stop and always taking the end pump at the gas station.

Nothing to impede forward progress.

Having briefly attempted to drive backwards in Mississippi, I quickly became hyperaware of how important it was to never do it again.  It was not great.  I really sucked at it.  There is a finesse to backing up a single-axled trailer that I still do not possess.  Even the slightest turn makes the trailer jackknife.  And everything's backwards.  To move the trailer to the right, I had to move the car to the left.  My brain could barely wrap itself around reverse turning, let alone determine proper turning radius proportions.  And the thought of backing up in front of other people?  No way.  It would be mortifying.  Especially if I had to admit defeat, disconnect the trailer, move the truck, attach the hitch roller to the trailer, manually move the trailer, and then reconnect it to the truck.  In front of a crowd.

All that said, I only let me guard down for one second and my worst fear came true.  My second day in Kanab, I decided to get some lunch at a grocery store.  Glazier's Market was on my way back to my camping spot, so I popped in.  Finding no parking in the main lot, I headed down the side of the grocery store to see if I could find a spot around back, presumably where the tractor trailers unloaded.  Here's an overhead view of Glazier's parking lot before I continue.

So... yeah... there's no loading area around back of Glazier's, just a dead end.  A dead end with a building on one side, and a row of parked cars on the other side: Ok.  Don't panic, maybe you can back out.  Nope, no you can't.  You don't have nearly the skills to drive that far in reverse.  Ok, there's a little space behind the store, try to pull in as far as you can, then back out, turning the trailer away from the store, and then pull out forward.  Nope, there are cars in the way.  Ok, ok.  Just relax and think for a moment.  At least there's no one around to watch this debacle, this fruitless attempt and reattempt (and re and re and re) to get out.  Scratch that.  Hello employee lady that just came out the side door to smoke a cigarette.  You're not saying anything, but I know that look, and yes, I am an idiot.

Fortunately for me, smoky lady knew whose car was keeping me from my K-turn, so she went and got them.  Once that car was out of the way, I was able to sneak the truck out (after disconnecting the sway bar).  Lucky end to a terrible decision.  I wouldn't find out until Moab how lucky it really was.  Upon reaching Moab, I briefly inspected the truck and trailer to make sure there was nothing obvious I was going to need to take care of before heading off to Nevada (nails in tires, leaking fluids, etc).  During that inspection, I noticed that top of the one propane tanks that sat on the trailer was badly bent, as well as the bar (3/8" all-thread) that sits between the two tanks holding them in place.  When I got stuck behind Glazier's, I had turned so hard that the rear fender of the truck pushed into propane tanks.  Hard enough so that a few pieces of metal were bent.  Thick metal.  Wow.  Who knows how close I was to blowing myself up that day in Kanab.  Of all the things I'd worried about with that trailer, puncturing and igniting the propane tanks hadn't even made the list.  Just another reason to stop worrying so much.  For all the worrying I'd done, nothing would have prepared me for a full-on explosion behind a grocery store.

Fast forward to :53

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park has BLM Camping

After the fun, distracted, exploratory hike in Buckskin, I set my sights back on The Wave.  Protected from the rain, I hopped back on the highway, heading westbound towards Kanab.  I was going to need to camp closer to the BLM/Visitor's Center so I could try a second time for a North Coyote Buttes permit.  My hope was that this crappy weather would potentially scare off some of the more casual visitors.  I don't know why I would think that.  If anyone drove all the way to Kanab on vacation, I really doubt a little rain was going to scare them off.  But maybe rabid coyotes would...  I am going to have to start that rumor to keep the lottery numbers down.  I can just start here.  Did you hear about all the rabid coyotes in and around North Coyote Buttes?  There've been so many attacks that people have started calling it "North Coyote Bites."

The non-Lebowski Ranger back in Kanab had told me there was BLM camping up near Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, which was twice as close to the permit lottery as any of the campsites near Buckskin Gulch.  Also, since it was BLM camping, it would also be free.  Well, BLM is usually free, so I assumed it would be free.

It rained off and on the whole way back to Kanab and had mostly stopped by the time I turned off of US-89 and onto Hancock Rd.  Once off the highway, I followed winding Hancock for miles through rocky, sandy desert with scattered trees and shrubs, some areas greener than others.  I kept an eye peeled for turn-offs and side roads for potential camping, but everything looked like it was intended for off-road vehicles and quads, not two-wheel drive pickups lugging a trailer behind it.

Eventually I came upon a promising turnout.  It was a roadside clearing with some scattered trees and tire tracks running over pink dirt.  Clearly people had camped here, so I pulled off the paved road and took the truck onto the firm, pink dirt.  After getting up a slight upgrade, I found a series of "roads" that headed off into the desert.  I chose the one closest to the road since it looped back to the pavement in another 50'.  Backing up with a trailer is a pain in the ass, so being able to pull through was ideal.  Perfect.

As I started to head up the slight hill, though, I noticed traction start to give way.  This was the moment I realized that the pink dirt I was driving on wasn't pink dirt.  It was pink sand.  I was on a pink sand dune.  A coral pink sand dune.  An appropriately named coral pink sand dune that had been rained on for quite some time, and I was not going to be able to go any further forward without risking getting stuck.  Especially not without four-wheel drive.  So I decided to back out of the spot while I still had a chance.  I was only 15'-20' from the road, easy enough to back out onto.  Except I was already deep in sand.  The truck wouldn't move in either direction, with wheels spinning and spraying sand.  I was stuck in the middle of nowhere with no cell reception and miles between me and the State Park that may be able to pull my dumb ass out of the clearly labeled pink sand.

Driving that truck from Mississippi, I had a few worries.  Getting stuck was probably #3 on the list, behind (#1) being blown over but gusting crosswinds on the highway and (#2) the trailer getting disconnected and wrecking on the side of the road.  At least the other two hadn't happened.  They seemed a lot worse.  This was mostly just embarrassing.

Not giving up just quite yet, I still had a trick up my sleeve.  Anyone that's lived in the Northeast through the winter should know exactly what to do in the situation I found myself in.  Mushy sand, mushy snow, same thing.  You gotta rock that car, baby!  Gas, release, gas, release, gas, release... until I magically got out of my rear rut and was able to back out onto the road.  That had been a close one.  I wasn't going to make that same mistake twice.  Or was I???

I kept heading towards the Sand Dunes, and within a mile or so came upon a wide open turnout that looked to have a few camping spots around it.  Most importantly, it was full of hard packed, light colored dirt, not loose, pink, sand.  On top of that, it was so big I could make a full u-turn.  I pulled in, parked, hopped out, and took a quick survey of my surroundings.  There was a makeshift fire pit about 20' away, a lot of dried out juniper and pine, and no other campers.  It was perfect.

The first thing I needed to take care of was food.  I set up my little stove next to the truck and started making noodles. When I looked up, this was what I saw:

The cuisine was average at best, but the atmosphere was divine.  Review: ★★★★

This was clearly where I was meant to be camping.  Also, now I was pretty happy to have had that rain.  Even more happy to not be stuck in the side of a dune.

That night I collected some loose firewood, lit a fire, and tried my best to stay up for the Perseid Meteor Shower.  I fell asleep at the fire well before the shooting stars began (but well after the coyotes had started).  I only saw two or three, one of which was a monster on the horizon, but that's pretty normal.  I blamed my sleepiness on waking up early for the permit.  Stupid North Coyote Buttes.

I ended up spending the following evening in the exact same camp site, this time with a bigger fire, as I found a giant field of clear-cut pine across the road about a quarter of a mile away.  When I arrived the second day, I found out why the space needed to be so wide open, as a trailer was parked off to the west of me.  It had been full of quads that were now out tearing up the dunes.  Oh right, the dunes.  Here, this is what they look like:

Dunes with Trees.  Weird.