Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bike-Coast Slideshow

As a follow-up to the Going Solo post, I thought I would include a slideshow from that same coast ride (and try something new with the blog format).  This was in Sept 2011.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Going Solo

Southern Oregan Coast

Of all the questions I field about traveling alone, this seems to be at the center of what folks want to know.  Why go alone?  People often start off with comments and concerns about being lonely or scared or worried or bored, but as I formulate my answer I find myself justifying the advantages of solo travel and essentially answering the why.  Going alone is not my default setting mind you.  I do enjoy the company of friends when I go places, especially new places.  Nothing solidifies a memory like a familiar face.  And then at a later date, when you are sitting around doing nothing, you can be guarenteed a laugh when someone starts off a sentence by saying, "remember when." 

So I never intended to embrace solo travel, afterall I do enjoy the company, the storytelling, and the remeniscing, but for me it became a thing of necessity.  For years I had been conspiring to go to all of these exotic places yet over and over my plans came to a screaching halt when my co-conspirators couldn't make it happen for whatever reason.  A lack of money, time, preparation, or a host of other good and bad excuses intervened.  Suddenly my expectations weren't being fulfilled.  I found myself much further along in life but with far fewer experiences than I had planned.  I had to do something to remedy this problem and that something was to just go, no matter what.  And I did.  I went to South America.  

Traveling alone really doesn't have to be lonely, scary, boring or worrisome.  In fact it can be quite the opposite.  The best example I have is from a bike tour I took down a portion of the Pacific Coast.  Here I met Roger, a gentleman recently retired from a lifetime of fixing food prep machinary for the Hobart Corparation and a very distant connection to the Coast Guard.  He stood no taller than myself but very lean and upright and with a proud smile.  If it wasn't for his snowy white hair and a dense beard to match, you wouldn't guess his 60 plus years, especially considering the jaw-dropping 6,000 miles he had just ridden his bicycle.   By his own admission his adventure was long overdue.  Much like me he let too many excuses interfere with what he wanted to do.  So, a week after he retired, he hopped on his bike in Texas, pedaled north to Alaska, and was on his return voyage to San Francisco when we crossed paths.  He was alone but with the company of dozens, maybe hundreds, of new friends that he met along the way of which I count myself as one of them.

The two things I recall best about Roger were, first, his affinity for good beer, and second, the absolute pleasure he took from sharing and hearing stories from the road.  For 5 days our bike tour followed roughly the same route where each night we landed in the same hiker-biker campsites graciously provided by the state of Oregon.  It is weird how quickly a custom can develop and by the second camp I could count on Roger rolling in with a couple of Oregon's finest microbrews to swap with the handful I had picked up along the way.  Damn if Oregon isn't overflowing with good and plentiful beers!

At the end of each day those hiker-biker campsites would fill up with a dozen or so folks of the same ilk; people determined to find childlike satisfaction from a proven method, their bicycle, but on a grown-up scale.  It was around the campfire where I learned about Roger and storytelling and the phrase, "Oh, go on."  He was as full of as many yarns as you would expect from an old salt who spent years aboard a coast guard cutter followed closely by a second life worthy of a 6,000 mile bike retirement.  And as entertaining as his stories were, it was the way he took in the wildly embelished stories of everyone else around the campfire that I remember most.  With each outrageous claim or for every heroic reason someone set out to bike hundreds or thousands of miles alone, you could hear Roger say, "Oh, go on," and he meant it.  He thrived on that interaction and every night everyone sat up way past their projected bedtime, swapping stories and drinking beers.

And that is exactly how lonely traveling solo is.  

Sure there are moments when you feel a little worried or alone and scared when you are standing at a border crossing, not knowing a lick of spanish, and the only phrase the guard says in english is in a very accusatory tone, "Is this anthrax?"  All of that quickly passes though when he starts to laugh at you and sends you on your way.
Fitzroy, Argentina

Friday, January 25, 2013

Alien Probes, Gerbils, and Colonoscopes

What are things that people put up their butt, Alex?

 So a few years ago I had a near miss with colon cancer.  Since then I have been probed enough times to handle anything our alien overlords will throw at me once they arrive.  I never really know how much people are willing, or want, to hear about this topic once it's brought up and I think that most people don't know how much they dare ask either.  I suppose that makes sense and I guess to make things easier for you to decide if you want to continue reading, I will just hang it out there, not my ass exactly but that colon cancer is the topic discussed here.

To start off with, I was pretty lucky.  Early detection is the best prevention of colon cancer but it is difficult to detect due to the lack of symptoms in many people.  I had symptoms.  For those who are still reading, you are probably asking what they were?  For me, it was blood in the stool, plain and simple.  That doesn't mean you should wait until that happens to go visit your doctor.  In fact, for many people, if you wait that long it may be too late.  Some will never have any symptoms even if they eventually die from colon cancer.  So, if you have any reason for concern or if you have any close relatives (parent, child, or sibling) who have given you reason for concern, go visit your doctor - I'm talking to you brother and sister.

Now to be perfectly clear, I did not have cancer.  I had what I call "almost cancer."  I had a very dangerous polyp and a dangerous family history (sadly my uncle died very prematurely, which happened just a couple years prior to the discovery of my polyps) .  Colon polyps come in several types with some cell types being more dangerous than others.  The size of a polyp is a huge factor in cancer development too.  The most critical polyp they removed from me was of the most dangerous type and twice as big as what normally triggers serious red flags.  

As a word of caution, if you do ever show symptoms, do not do what I did.  I denied the severity of the problem and made excuses for why it was happening, such as believing without reason that the blood was the result of hemorrhoids (you know I bike a lot and sit on my ass a lot too).  To jump ahead a little, when I came out of the anesthesia in the recovery room, I was met by a very sober faced doctor.  He explained to me how the procedure went, which was now considered an operation because polyps were removed, and that we needed to wait on lab work to determine what was in store for the future.  He also explained, in no uncertain terms, that I was extremely fortunate to have visited my doctor when I did.  I was 34.

Don't make excuses!  Don't wait!

I feel it is important to add here that if you are younger than 50, or 40 for those with a family history (or anyone for that matter), and seeing your doctor for the first time for reasons pertaining to colon cancer, be very direct.  If you are anything like me when you go to the doctor, by the time you make it to the exam room, you tend to minimize why it is you are there.  Do not do that.  My general practitioner ordered the correct follow-up - a colonoscopy -  but largely because I stressed my family history in combination with my symptoms, otherwise the attitude was one of doubt for both he and I considering my young age and general good fitness.

So now what about the colonoscopy?  I find that when people discuss this topic with me, there is a lot of apprehension about having a very big camera shoved up your butt.  Anyone proficient in the gerbilling arts will have no problem with this procedure.  Actually, it is quite simple and painless even without that background.  I was under full anesthesia and had no awareness of what was happening and, aside from the requisite farting in the recovery room (yes it is required), nothing felt out of the ordinary.  I have been through at least 6 colonoscopies now and none of them have left me bow-legged either.

The real difficult part for me came in the days and weeks and months following my initial scoping.  Like I said, one of the polyps they removed turned out to be quite dangerous and required lab work.  If I remember correctly, it was at least a week, maybe two, of waiting on the results.   I also remember receiving the phone call while at my job and being in a very big and lonely warehouse.  The individual on the other end of the phone was quite direct in telling me that my results were back and that there was abnormal cell development.  I asked her what that meant to which she replied that I needed to schedule an appointment with my doctor very soon.  Things are a little hazy in my memory following that.  I vaguely understood the implications of this whole process having just watched my uncle die from colon cancer.

30 days following my first colonoscpy I was back at the hospital for my second one, then in another 90 days, and then again in 6 months.  Each follow-up was designed to determine if, or how fast, the abnormal cells were growing.  Without going into too much detail, this was an extremely stressful period for me and I was very irritable all the time.

I have since gone through a couple more probings and each one is more positive than the previous when I'm sitting in the farting room waiting to hear that the scope was clean.  Clean is an unfortunate choice of words considering all the farting and the very recent location of said scope.  I am now about 5 years away from my next visit and approximately 5 years past my initial visit.  I suppose the only reason I put this little narrative together was to demystify what happens for those who are interested and maybe prevent someone else from making the mistakes I made, i.e. waiting too long and making excuses and being dismissive.

Be honest with what is going on, both with yourself and with your doctor.  If you have a reason to go talk with your doctor about colon cancer, then do it.  If you have a family history with this or another medical illness, learn what you need to know.  It could add years to your life.

For information visit:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Conditioned Helplessness

source:  (1-23-13)
"Learned helplessness is the condition of a human or animal that has learned to behave helplessly, failing to respond even though there are opportunities for it to help itself by avoiding unpleasant circumstances or by gaining positive reward."

This wikipedia definition adequately reflects what I learned in college psych and pretty much sums things up. 

Or is it denial?  

Whatever the psychology is, the air is disgusting.   It is bad for you.

I feel especially guilty about it today.  It's probably because I had to drive.  I know . . . excuses, excuses (we all got 'em).  I swear that I usually opt to ride my bike but I had a meeting.

It also hurts to breath. 

This is unequivocal evidence that as a species we are fatally flawed by our own convenience.  I am watching to see who is picking themselves up by their own bootstraps in the spirit of rugged individualism to self-correct this health threat based on a sense of moral responsibility . . . but really I just feel bitch slapped by the invisible hand.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Snapshot documentaries

The Grand Teton as viewed from the summit of Teewinot.

I took this photo a fews years ago and it remains one of my all-time favorite pictures.  I even have a framed copy of it in my apartment.  As a point-and-shoot kind of guy I don't pretend to be an expert photographer (my sister has that talent) but the snapshot, as a form of documentary, is an amazing device.  It is simple, quick, and extremly effective.  I have enjoyed many remarkable adventures to amazing places and have been fortunate to share them with great friends.  Curiously on this trip I was alone, but as I dragged my ass to the top of Teewinot, I looked across the glacier into the north face of the Grand Teton and fondly remembered climbing to that summit with Brady, Justin, and James (not via the north face mind you although that east ridge is looking mighty tempting).

This snapshot enjoys the benefit of the documentary in multiples for me.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

(Literal) Mountain Bike Demons

The twinge of a rock solid, head splitting crack to my occipital lobe as I desperately tried to extract myself from a place I never should have been was not enough to stop me from breaking into laughter, nervous as it was.  Such is the nature of a good scare and quite startling coming from someone who doesn't generally scare easily, especially in such a cartoonish manner; jumping straight up in the air, hesitating, feet spinning aimlessly in circles while trying to gain traction in the nothingness, eyes springing in and out of my skull before falling ass over tea kettle backwords in the dirt, trying to escape.
Running scared

If it wasn't for the uproar of laughter from my friend Trever, who took great pleasure in my circumstance, I am not sure I would have regained my usual skin color let alone a steady heartbeat.  His timing was impeccible and welcome.  With his laughter as confirmation, I felt the blood rush back into my checks as well as a powerful sense of irony.  Afterall, this prank was largely played out on myself or, at the very least, at the expense of my undeniable curiosity, predicated by someone who is far too familiar with my kind.  You know, the kind of person who can't resist looking.   Surely the execution of this gag came from deep within its creator too.  I believe him to be a kindred spirit who is also compelled beyond his own better judgement.  He is a person driven to put his nose where it doesn't belong (quite literally in this case) and this was a lesson meant to be experienced by someone who never learns from experience.

Trever was lucky and witnessed my folly and therefore he knew better.  I imagine when he was young and saw someone get burned on a stove, he was much less inclined to touch said stove than perhaps certain others.  His wife, on the other hand,  who is smart as whip and not prone to such folly either, arrived late on the scene and was oblivious to what just happened.   Worse yet, she knew nothing about the redemption I required.  It took some coaxing but I was able to convince her to follow my example and, to my delight and her horror, I witnessed my own unravelling through her reaction.

The lesson I took away from this experience was this:  When you find yourself in the middle of nowhere and confronted by strangely peculiar things, there are a few important questions that you should stop and ask yourself; decisions you should make.  Is it really truly wise to stick your head inside a tiny window that leads to nowhere?  If this window is completely out of place; completely unnatural in the most natural of settings; completely dark and dingy and barely big enough to fit your fat head without contorting your body and craning your neck perfectly sideways ... should you really choose to stick your head inside?
En route to face our demons

We all have our own fears and doubts and manifestations of that which frightens us most.  Each of us has our own demons that haunt us and keep us awake at night and sneak up on us when we least expect it but sometimes those demons are just a lot more real than we ever thought possible ... and things can get real fun when we unleash them on our friends.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Fool's Progress, a book recommendation

Edward Abbey (1927-1989)
This blog title is not of my own creation.  Fitting as it may be, it is the title of the last book published by Edward Abbey before he died (Hayduke Lives! was released posthumously).   The complete title is Fool's Progress: An Honest Novel and if you haven't read it and trust my opinion enough to read this drivel that I'm writing, it's about time you pick it up.  For those of you that have read it, the title alone probably forces a sly grin and likely a whole host of other emotions.   It really does run the gamut.  Funny, witty, offensive, stubborn, sad, incisive, and lifelike are but a few apt descriptions.  Abbey is often more closely identified with his other titles such as Desert Solitaire and The Monkey Wrench Gang but this is vintage.  This is my favorite and I feel obligated to give credit where credit is due.  Hopefully you read it.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Thoughtful Pause For Hamburgers

This is the essay I referenced before which was a reaction to the articles linked at the end.

A Thoughtful Pause for Hamburgers:
An Essay On My Own Hypocrisy And The Laments Of An Enthusiast

I would be lying if I wrote this without first admitting that I have been the beneficiary of that for which I am bitching.  In fact, I am not sure I would have indulged in some of my most favorite activities so frequently, if ever, if it wasn’t for certain modern conveniences.   After all, I am not some daredevil, adrenaline junkie.  As a climber I am rather reticent and as a mountain biker I have the balance of a toddler on greased stilts.  Needless to say, I have really benefited from a lot of “innovation” in these activities.

On the flip side, I recently read two articles about the “dumbing down” of both climbing and mountain biking as a consequence of “innovation.”  Anyone that has spent any time around me is all too familiar with my like-minded diatribe.  Usually I have a beer in the opposite hand from the one that I’m using to point my finger at everyone else (admittedly not wise).  But even if it wasn’t for the liquid courage or the advent of talent bolstering technology, I like to think I would remain equally active and, furthermore, I would hold firm to this point of view: being outside, being in the mountains and deserts, exploring nature, should always keep the promise of a bold adventure.

Now having committed this opinion to paper, I can hear my climbing friends complain,

“I’ve watched you clip bolts.”

“You really enjoy a lot of top-roping at ice climbing parks for someone who is so stoked on adventure.”  

“If you are such a bad ass then why don’t you climb more (or any) R/X rated routes?”   

Fact of the matter is, I’m often chicken shit.  I enjoy pulling the hardest moves that I possibly can with the security of a bomber bolt mere feet below the foot of my sewing machine leg.  But I also marvel at the accomplishments of those before me who did it with so much less; those that accepted the challenge.  So I will concede that adventure is measured with a sliding scale but I will also argue for preserving our most daring traditions in their purest form in the event, rare as it may be, that I grow a pair.

Hogum's Fork, LCC (2012)

Mountain bikers as well, beware (and other enthusiasts too).  You are in the midst of your own adventure crisis.  Trails are changing at an alarming rate.  Rides are being crafted to showcase how quickly people can mold the mountain to fit their style.  I know because I have enjoyed a fair amount of resort riding.  At times It is more of a roller coaster ride than a mountain bike excursion.  It is a weird upending of aesthetics.  Today the emphasis is on “the flow” of a rock-free berm that transitions into a hip jump over a gap into a seamless roll-out.  And what about tomorrow?  When I started mountain biking “the flow” was a babbling brook in some remote destination with the possibility of spying a moose.  All of this meant that my weak ass
had to push my sled up some insufferable, non-bike-specific grade followed by a descent down countless chattering baby heads capable of removing all of my dental fillings.  Fuck if I had a serious mechanical problem because I chose to ride way in the hell out there ... but that was a big part of doing it.

Little Creek Mesa, UT (2012)

Now I’m not some Neo-Luddite.  My mountain bike is fully suspended and I love it.  Those colorful cams are a welcome addition to my climbing rack.  I am also not some holier-than-thou elitist although I am often accused of it.  I know that I wax nostalgic about the “good ol’ days” yet at 40, I accept as a relative youngster that there are generations before me that are more nostalgic about better days than mine.   I too believe in the remarkable up-and-coming talent out there engaging in much more athletic incarnations of my own passions.  I even aspire to that kind of prowess as much as I yearn for adventure.  Yet as we all grow in what we appreciate, we need to recognize the alarming pace at which things change.  And why is it changing?  To satisfy the expectations of some glossy magazine ad?  Perhaps, but there is a noticeable lack of thoughtful pause.

Maybe this is just an updated John Henry story involving my own aging, egotistical views, but the more we depend on machinery and modernity in natural settings to do what we could have done without, the less we are a part of what we do.  

So what the hell am I rambling about?  Trail building machines?  Bolt protection placed with power drills in remote destinations?  Perhaps ski lifts where skiers never needed them?  I suppose these are manifestations of my concerns but, at the heart of it, they point to a bigger qualitative difference and one, to some degree, that we will never get back.

So if I just wanted to eat a hamburger I could go to McDonald's.  It’ll do the trick.   It has a bun, meat(?), condiments, and a pickle.  By most accounts it is a hamburger and it epitomizes all the luxury and convenience of modern living including speed, ubiquity, and the absence of flavor.  But if I want to savor a burger, I should break out the grill and heat up the coals as I press a fat patty from good quality ground beef mixed with diced onions and green peppers and special seasoning.  I should grill it slowly while I slice more fresh toppings and build it on top of a hearty whole grain bun.  I should consider it and anticipate it.  I will even remember it fondly as I suffer indigestion from a little too much special seasoning but that is just the risk I take.  Sure it’s not the perfect burger and it is not for everyone ... but it is pretty damn awesome.  Cheers!

How about some introductions?

As is usually the case for me, I am about 10 years behind the fad.  In this instance the fad is the blogging craze and the only reason I am jumping on board this late in the game is because it seems that this sort of technology is here to stay and currently I abhor the micro thoughts of tweets and status updates, etc.  It became all too obvious when I posted an entire essay to everyone's favorite social networking site.  It turns out, I felt compelled to say more than what is typical for that format. Surprisingly, people read it. That I didn't expect.

So now I am here, for better or worse.  Fortunately for the few people who stumble across this writing travesty, it will be short-lived.  I have terrible follow-through which is ironic since I am advocating for more fully fleshed out ideas.  Oh well.  So this brings me to what you can expect from my blogging message.  The world is ironic and naive (myself included).  Sometimes these observations are fun to explore and at other times they are quite bothersome.  I don't pretend to know which is which and for whom.  Nor do I expect my observations to match your own.  Perhaps you should go start your own blog if you feel so inclined.

Hopefully when you visit this site you will find my ideas, at the very least, thought provoking.  If you don't find it to be such, tell me to shove it or give me the feedback you deem worthy of my nonsense.  Admittedly, at times, I am just trying to be provocative and for that I apologize in advance.  Like I said, I am as equally ironic and naive as the next guy.