Last Summer Blast

I don’t know about other parts of the world, but here in Bend there is a palpable sense of summer (and even fall?) drawing to a close. We’ve already had a couple nights where it’s dipped into the 20’s, and the week before last had a definite bite to it: cool days, overcast skies and brisk breezes… all hallmarks of the winter months ahead. But this past week has seen a (brief, I’m sure) return to summer – balmy weather in the 70’s and 80’s, and beautiful, glorious, blue high-desert skies. It’s no surprise that everyone is scrambling to eek the most out of what we all consider to be the last dregs of summer.

For me, this meant accepting without hesitation a couple of invitations do some hiking and biking this past weekend. Saturday found me hiking South Sister, the highest of a triplet of ~10,000′ peaks near town. Climbing this peak had been one of my goals for the summer, but my original plans (the prior week, with my friend Andy) were quashed by the weather. So it was nice to be able to pick this one off at the last minute so to speak. And as you can see, we made the most of it – the weather and views were spectacular! That top picture there is me (the little dot) standing in the middle of the glacier on the south side, with Broken Top Mtn. in the background.

Part II to this weekend was a mountain bike ride along the McKenzie River. This trail is hailed as one of the most spectacular in North America and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The ride is set among the verdant forest of the Cascades, with towering Douglas Fir and Oregon Cedar trees; the volcanic geology of the region, with jagged black rocks lining much of the trail; and the McKenzie river. The river alone is pretty amazing – crystal clear, blue water that spills over some spectacular falls and which collects at one point in the “Blue Hole”, a swimming hole for those willing to brave the sub-40 degree temperature. (Which we did, btw! And all three of us guys looked pretty ridiculous as we splashed our pasty, white heinies back to shore as fast as we could.)

Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, the fall colors were absolutely stunning along the upper half of the trail! I mean just amazing! At times the we rode through overhanging canopies of vine maple where the colors were so vivid you’d swear the air itself was on fire.

Anyhow, I’m back in the office this morning, with legs and body pleasantly sore from… hmm… 12 miles of hiking, 28 miles of biking, for a total of something like 8,000 of vertical gain. And I’ve got an inbox full of pictures from the folks I did all this with, that are so stunning I need to post at least a few of them here. Which just leaves me the problem of how to write enough to fill up all the otherwise empty space that’s gonna be next to them.

… oh, wait. 🙂

[South Sister photo by Ted and Shannah Werner. McKenzie trail photos by Tod Wooldridge]

Complex Systems, the Saga Continues

Remember my little rant about messing with complex systems and how feeding the birds resulted in my having to wash the skunk smell off our dog, Roni? Well, there is yet another chapter to this …

I was working in the office last night, when I heard Roni rustling around in the living room. She was doing her usual, “hey, help me get my tennis ball routine”, snuffling in and around the couch. Which was a little wierd since her balls usually end up under the coffee table, not the couch.

It eventually became annoying enough that I went out there and looked under the couch for her, but didn’t see anything. I even went so far as to move the whole frickin’ couch out of the way to prove to her, “look, see? No tennis balls!” But instead of being satisfied and lying back down in her bed, she kept at it, circling around and around. Finally I’d had enough and thought, “Well, I suppose it might be in the cushions or something”. So off came the pillows, off came the cushions and, finally, I lifted the hide-a-bed. There, to my [almost] utter amazement, was a Bushy Tailed Woodrat, who had apparently been attracted to our house by all the free birdseed lying around the backyard, and had wandered in a couple evenings ago when I accidentally left the backdoor open while I was out. At least I sincerely hope that’s what happened, because otherwise this guy is just the tip of a rather hairy and unpleasant iceberg!

It turned out that in my maneuvering of the couch, I’d somehow pinned the rat underneath the bed portion and he was out like a light by the time I found him. Which was fine by me since I needed to go to the kitchen to get a bag to put him in. Of course by the time I returned with a bag the rat had woken and beat a hasty retreat to some dark corner of the living room.


To make a long story short, what followed was probably the best 15 minutes of fun Roni has ever had. To her credit and immense enjoyment, she was invaluable in tracking the rodent as he scurried from beneath one piece of furniture to another, and she showed admirable restraint by not treating this guy the way she does her stuffed toys (which, for those of you who don’t know, is about like a piñata in the hands of a luchador). Unfortunately I eventually had to spoil her fun by getting a broom and using that to pin the little bastard down, and scoot him out from under the antique trunk he’d hidden under. Of course I managed to half-suffocate him again in the process, but oh well. C’est un rongeur.

This all ended (please, let this be the end of it!) with my hucking the rat about 20′ from our backdoor into some bushes out in the backyard. I know, I know, this all seems a bit callous and against my love-all-living-things character, but while these guys are pretty cute as rats go, they aren’t that cute. Besides, maybe it’ll endear him to the flying squirrels that I’m told live around here.

Pole, Pedal, Paddle Serendipity

Our first ever visit to Bend happened to be the day they ran the 2004 Pole, Pedal, Paddle race. Our friends took us down to the amphitheater where the racers were finishing and we strolled around the booths looking at energy bars, racing clothes, and active footwear. All while enjoying the spicy scent of damp pine trees and the gorgeous scenery of the Central Oregon Cascades.

It was a spectacular day, punctuated by a torrential downpour that had everyone huddling together under the vendor tents. We happened to chose the Teva Sandal booth, where I bought a pair of sandals, and managed to weasel the guy into throwing a t-shirt and a demo CD into the mix. (Great CD, btw, but hard to come by. “The Nomadic Anthology, Vol. II” if you’re interested.)

During last year’s race, I found myself deep in the Grand Canyon on a river trip I wrote about previously, wearing those same sandals.

And this year I found myself shod once again in those sandles, running (well, more like trudging pathetically) toward the finish line, with both my calves threatening to cramp at any moment. Fortunately I was the now-moot half of a tandem team – my partner, Doug, having sprinted (well, trudged in his own way I suppose) ahead of me. My plodding was simply to avoid the ignominious stroll that was otherwise required to get from our kayak to the finish.

So plod I did, and finish I did. And, remarkably, we managed to meet our goal of finishing in the top 10. Barely. We finished 10th in a field of nearly 800 teams and individuals, with a time of 1:54:22. That’s to cover a 1 mile downhill ski, 8km x-country ski, 22 mile bike ride, 5 mile run, and 1.5 mile kayak paddle. Not bad, eh?

Even though my sprint to the finish would have embarrased a drunk platypus, I was proud enough of the slalom and bike legs for which I was responsible. I managed to finish 2nd on the slalom and averaged a smart 30mph on the bike ride leg. Meanwhile Doug represented admirably on the other legs, which are admittedly much harder.

But winning and our time weren’t that important. After all was said and done, the real pleasure was in finishing the day at our house with a small party of race-goers, eating chips and salsa, drinking beer and wine and just relaxing in general.

Oh, “what’s with the mug”, you ask? Why, yes, it is nice isn’t it? We got that for finishing first in the tandem division. And if you would be a dear and fill it up for me… yes, from the margarita pitcher there, please … I’m afraid my legs will cramp if I try to stand up.

Factors of Five

One of the side-effects of Cycle Oregon is that I’m in better cycling shape than I have been in quite some time. Riding 70+ miles per day for a week will do that. So, after a week of sitting around eating pizza and recuperating, I decided to tackle one of the bigger outdoor goals I’ve had since moving to Bend – to bicycle the “Cascade Lakes Loop”.

Without going into detail, the ride is a 100+ mile loop that starts here in Bend and does a counter-clockwise loop out around Mt. Bachelor and through the lake region of the Cascades, eventually returning through La Pine and Sunriver, two quaint little towns to the South. It was exhausting and fun, featuring glass-smooth blacktop, unbelievably washboarded-out dirt roads, chilly morning temps in the 30’s, and eventually absolutely perfect 70 degree weather. Well worth doing!

So, why the funky title for this post? As you might imagine, spending 7 hours on a bike gives you time to think. And so I found myself contemplating the speed with which we travel…

  • Walking: 2.5-4 mph
  • Bicycle: 12-20 mph
  • Car: 60-100 mph
  • Plane: 300-500 mph

It seems that the factor of 5 is an important technological discriminator in terms of how/when we adopt new forms of travel. One can conclude that the next widely-adopted form of travel will operate at speeds of 1500-2500 mph (mach 3-4).

Which is cool from a, “Gee Whiz!” standpoint, except… well… as speed increases, so does stress. Or so it seems to me. I mean, walking is easy. Bicycling is sorta easy except you do risk significant injury. Driving involves insurance, road rage, motorcycle cops, and auto mechanics. And planes? Well, full body searches, annoying strangers sitting next to you, crappy airline food, and finally the ever-present knowledge that your life depends on a horribly complex web of technology operating perfectly. Thus, there seems to be some sort of conservation of stress at work.

I’m not sure if there’s any real conclusions to be drawn from this, but I do know that cities that encourage walking tend to be friendlier, more inviting places. Contrast San Francisco and Paris to Los Angeles and Phoenix.

I rest my case… and my legs.

The Calm After

I’m back from Cycle Oregon. 7 days, 518 miles, and some uncountable number of new friends and faces later.

As you can see, the scenery was spectacular (pictures are one of the roads we rode on, and sunrise the morning of the 1st day, respectively). But more importantly, the people on the ride were just amazing. Every meal was a chance encounter with whomever you happened to be sitting next to, and every person had a story. Some, most, were like me; just bicycle enthusiasts taking the opportunity to see a part of Oregon they hadn’t experienced and do a little more riding than they ordinarily do. But every day I met people that were there for some reason that transcended the ordinary. The 350lb gentleman doing his first bicycle tour ever, the innocuous looking retiree wearing a backpack that said, “You’ve just been passed by an 80-year old”, or the amazingly inspirational paraplegic doing the entire 500 miles on a hand-bike.

The most humbling moment came on the last day. I’d been riding for a half-hour or so with a father and his college-age son. Two very nice guys, and the fact that the son was taking a week to ride with his father across Oregon impressed me deeply. It was only later that I would learn the son was a cancer survivor, having twice beaten Lymphoma… thus casting their relationship into a whole new light. As the father put it, “every day is a gift for me.”

I can only aspire to embrace and appreciate the ride in the way those two did.