Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Forty-Seven Years of Mapping 'Bodfish Gravel Routes'

        It was 1973. I moved to Bodfish, California with a Kelty backpack and a couple of bicycles and my adventure buddy Franny Sullivan. We set up home on Erskin Creek Road in a one room cabin that provided plumbing, heat and a tremendous front porch. Franny got a job with the Sequoia National Forest and I started writing for the Kern Valley Weekly. I was also in charge of pruning the orchard we lived in. Rent was minimal.
         I wrote a column called Outback Of Bodfish, in which I chronicled my various explorations afoot and/or on one of my bicycles along the backroads and trails of Kern County. The paved roads in the area were on the busy side so most of the outings I wrote about were taken on gravel roads and dirt paths. The editor of KVW thought I was nuts..."It's alright we like nuts around here."
         I pedaled up roads to Breckinridge Lookout, Mt Cook, Kelso Valley, Saddle Springs, Sherman Pass (unpaved then) and to Peppermint Camp. I rode a Japan-made town bike made by C.Itoh. The tires were fat enough to tolerate all the rocky and rutted roads that I explored. My map making skills were not at all refined (still aren't) so, the little newspaper often left them out of my published stories. I was actually paid a nominal amount for these columns.
        Selling little books and giving out free maps has given me great joy these last 4+ decades. Guiding friends along many of the routes with the help of my durable (and talented) wife with much fatter tires on our bicycles over the same period has also been a thrill. We are still actively scouting out loops in California for what is now called "Gravel Grinding". We will be publishing a couple of new routes this Spring through the valleys and along the ridges of Plumas County. You might have to visit Bodfish Bicycles in May to get your hands on these new challenges.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

What's Your Mission?

        My old friend Jack (94, two days ago) bops in once in awhile just to make sure I am awake. The bicycle store is extremely quiet in January. Jack usually has a tune playing in his head when he comes through the door, either Jazz or Swing. and he challenges me right away with "What's your mission here, Chuck? You've been in business here for a quarter century, you must have figured out what your mission is." Rubbing my chin, I get the mental gears working and offer...Putting retired truck drivers on bikes!
         Retired truck drivers usually have back or knee problems or hips that don't rotate fully or "deadleg" and they can't feel their feet. Do you know what'll fix those ailments every time? Bicycle riding.    Jack quickly retorts, "Damn right, Chuck, good answer." We are definitely a 'working class' cycling shop...we listen, we diagnose and we set you up with a $500 ride that will change your life. It' no more difficult than that. "I'm proud of you Chuck. I've asked that question to many merchants over the years and nobody has given me a better answer than that. You know what you are? You're honest and a realist. Honest as the day is long."
        We don't try to impress folks with the latest technical gadgetry or $6,000 bicycles. We just want humans to ride and enjoy their ability to get out and explore, listen to the wind in the trees and an incredible variety of birdsongs. Jack loves birds and fish and especially birds who hunt fish. Jack road bicycles competitively for a couple of decades before moving north to Chester. He rode recreationally for a couple of decades on Plumas County roadways. Before all this he worked on trucks, "a fender bumper" he once told me, "I was a body shop man with a big rubber hammer."

Friday, December 13, 2019

We gave up on being Normal 'Mericans in the early 70's

        We are a happy and successful family and here comes 2020. I'm making a list of what makes us unique and why we are not considered normal:
We never watch situation comedies on the TV...never have.
We don't play video games, paintball or pinball.
We don't eat out or take-out from restaurants.
We believe that our dog and our bodies need exercise every day.
We are not so much into clothes, we are minimalists and we don't shop for new clothes...in fact, if it's warm enough we forego the use of clothes altogether.
Our house is like a Spa...we have a hot tub, a sauna and exercise machines...and there is always Yoga.   We are always striving for more vitamin D and we religiously take Glucosamine.
We always tell each other the truth (no secrets).
We always stop at two drinks (alcohol).
We believe there is such a thing as enough income...keep your "needs" moderate.
We can go for days without driving our car...when we do drive we begin by clasping our hands while saying, "safe drive".
We don't eat red meat, we seldom eat any meat at all and we prefer rennet-less cheese.
        So, how strange are we? We've founded and practiced these behaviors as we have grown together and traveled to far corners of the world over the last 44 years.
We are a little different but, we are harmless and we do what we can to help others negotiate their way through a life filled with obstacles. Counseling, sympathizing and understanding those we consider friends and family. Criticizing is not our habit...as they say, different strokes for different folks.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Bodfish Bingo...A Lowpoint and a Resolution

         Lake-bagging, one of my very favorite outdoor seasonal activities, is promoted by a game I created a decade ago called Bodfish Bingo, which is represented on a card I hand out from my Quiet Mountain Sports desk on request. Forty-nine spaces on a 7x7 grid that each represent a lake within twenty-five miles of Chester. To earn a point you must fully immerse your body in one of these lakes. You can only score on a lake once per season. You earn 2 points when you plunge naked and you can earn as many as 4 points if you have to remove ice before diving in nude. The scoring was developed by UBES in England's "lake district".
         I usually earn close to 20 points yearly in this thrilling endeavor. However, 2019 saw me earn a meager 6 points. One of my customers earned 32 points this year and completed a 'row of seven'...Bingo! She won a Bodfish sweatshirt! She described each visit to a lake and how it made her feel. This is required in order to win a prize. " I felt like I was Eve and the lake was my apple."...her description of diving in to Blue Lake.
         Here's where I need to make a New Year's resolution...in 2020 I need to score 20 points. It doesn't seem like it would be that difficult. A single day hike through Lassen National Park can result in 10 points if you plot it out correctly. I'm careful to slip in to the clear mountain water without being a nuisance or offending families. If you really want that extra point for immersing in the nude,  just ask those in attendance if "sans costume" would be a problem. We've seen whole families strip down and follow us in after expressing this courtesy.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Biggest Year For Bodfish Bicycles and Quiet Mtn Sports

        The numbers are in, our twenty-sixth year was the busiest and most profitable. We got a big boost from the displaced Paradise people who, over the last two and a half decades have supported us by purchasing bicycles and kayaks. When the insurance checks came in they ran right in and resupplied. There is undoubtedly more to it than that...we've seen a big increase in Reno-based customers over these last few years. Most express frustration and disgust with the crowds they encounter during their Tahoe visits and are quick to say, "Lake Almanor is more accommodating, friendlier and definitely less crowded than Lake Tahoe."
        I'm hoping this means we will see a re-energizing of the downtown Chester business scene. The east end of Chester (olde towne) is presently occupied by only a half-dozen brave merchants. There are definitely services and merchandise that are better supplied by local businesses. Keeping the money in the region is a much better strategy than sending hard-earned cash to Amazonville. Price is not everything. Personal service, advise and attention from a caring local businessperson is incredibly valuable. As I said, we are definitely doing better than "just hanging in there".
        The decision I made 27 years ago to switch from teaching children to encouraging older outdoor recreators was timely and has been incredibly rewarding. When I pass this shop on to another family looking for those rewards, I know that they too will be serving the Chester community with pride and satisfaction. Folks just need a little encouragement and guidance to find excitement and a healthier life from playing in the out-of-doors.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Humans and Systems Are More Fragile Than We Know

        This realization often occurs to me in the Autumn. The hubbub of Spring and Summer keeps me from thinking too deeply about the world around me, but damn, what we like to call Fall usually ushers in the bad news...fires flare, people die, friends commit suicide and the nation threatens to get flushed down another rat hole. November especially, how is it that there is never good news in November? I'm guessing that this is why Thanksgiving is in November.
         My life has been one of good fortune...psychologically and physically, I have been one lucky boy. I'm often heard saying, "What's everyone whining about? We are still taking oxygen in and exhaling carbon dioxide... and there is always ample food in the grocery stores." I'm a type "B" personality. I often say that my life is going "swimmingly"...I progress forward by back-stroking and breast-stroking...I'm not fast and I suck at forward crawl (freestyle). I'm seldom in a hurry, which somewhat frustrates my lifelong partner. She's an excellent straight ahead swimmer. I am not a big worrier, in fact I am sometimes accused of being insensitive to the worry and troubles suffered by those around me. 'Get over it' is likely to come out of my mouth before I've thought deeper about it.
        As a "mom and pop" retailer I encounter hundreds of needy people every week. I have dozens of casual conversations with people who "just want to talk" to someone. My early training in the 'social sciences' and 'special education' come in handy in my line of work. I can usually figure out which bicycle, bicycle accessory or repair a person needs within minutes of their arrival in my bicycle store. I don't irritate people and I'm good at knowing when I'm approaching the "thin ice". Every once in awhile I perceive that someone is in need of more thoughtful advise...I usually start with, "Ahhh, what do I know, but have you tried such an such?" This is not a good counseling technique but what do expect from an uncertified bicycle mechanic?

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Bicycles Evolving Into Motorcycles, Again

        It began happening one hundred and twenty years ago and then, right after WWI each machine went it's own way...one quiet path and one noisy path. Sixty years later, when the Mountain Bike came storming out of the seventies into the eighties, little did we know...it was happening again. Upright handlebars, fatter tires, suspension forks, soft-tails, hydraulic disc brakes, electronic shifting and now electric assist motors and here we are...another generation of fossil fuel-powered cycles.
        There is something irresistible in society about letting the machine do the hard work.  I have wavered a few times over the last five decades from nutrition-powered machines to fossil fuel-powered contraptions (driving Ducatis and Hondas) but, my first love has always been the leg-powered bicycle. I'm not saying they can't co-exist, however nothing satisfies me more thoroughly than earning my own way by leg-spinning up a long hill, followed by the sensation of soaring silently down the other side and repeating same, for hours, day after day.
         I'm in a position now where I am encouraging customers to utilize both modes of transport. I can't help but think the electric bicycle people are really cheating themselves out the euphoric pleasure that comes with climbing and descending under your own power. The endorphins just don't get "cranking" when you are twisting a throttle or setting your handlebar-mounted monitor to Turbo mode. The adrenalin can still be there but... that is a drug that can only get you into trouble somewhere down the road.