Saturday, October 28, 2017

Thoughts About Riding Across The Country

        It was nearly 40 years ago when I said to my girlfriend, Let's ride our bicycles all over the West. Amazingly she said, "OK". We pedaled for three+ months, north and then east and then south...to Kalamazoo, Michigan. We had laughably basic equipment...old steel ten-speeds adorned with adapted canvas saddlebags from the Army Navy Store in Chico. Wool Navy bell bottoms converted into knickers and odd flat shoes (bowling shoes, I think) which we wove into toe clip pedals so that we could slide into them barefoot. Yet, we easily covered 75 miles a day.
       I haven't told her (now my wife) but, I've had thoughts of doing it again. We could hopscotch with Amtrak, jump out with our bicycles for the pleasant stretches and get back on the train for the bleeker portions of the nation. How different would it be? We met many fantastic mid-country Americans along the way...people who bought us lunch, offered us camping, showers, saunas and swims in their barns and backyards. Politics and poverty were never discussed...these people wanted give us a taste of their "good life" in America. This was 1978. Would it feel the same in 2018?
        We still love riding our bicycles and enjoy conversations with new people (we've been Main St. merchants for the last 24 years) but, is America a different place than it was during those "good" years? I'm guessing that they're still out there...fantastic mid-country Americans.
        People respect that you are making your own way...self-propelling at a slow and easy pace. They know how you arrived and they know you aren't going to ride off with any of their stuff, because you are easy to catch and you don't want any excess weight or worries. (I won't be carrying your flat-screen TV from Iowa to Wisconsin.)
       Hmmm...don't tell my wife just yet but, I'm coming up with a plan...we really aren't that much older and I know we are capable. The only drawback? There might not be many wild swimming opportunities in Iowa.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

I Was A Teenage Motorcycle Guy

        I learned that it hurt to crash a motorbike. It wasn't so much the loss of epidermal layers that impressed me, it was the fact that this three hundred pound machine just wouldn't take it's own route when I was hurtling through the air...it wouldn't leave me alone, our direction and destiny were always the same... toward the object that finally brought us to a sudden stop. Problem was, I always arrived first...guard rail, back end of an Impala, side door of a Plymouth Valiant, curb or tree. I was a little heavy on the brakes so, the machine would hesitate and I would continue on...just ahead of it.
        In my early twenties I was smarter, in fact, I was a frickin' genius. I bought a bicycle and became an avid cyclist. My bike was simple...no electronics or hydraulics or fluids of any sort and it weighed one tenth as much, thirty pounds (a Columbia 10 speed). Even in these early years I was impressed with the fact that my vehicle was of little consequence to the environment (remember, the first Earth Day was in the Spring of 1970). It took me longer to arrive at my destination but, because of this I was more judicious in my choice of missions and I would combine errands. There were numerous new lessons being learned here. My next bicycle was five pounds lighter, shifting and braking were so much easier. Simpler was better...lighter was incredible.
        This brings us to the second decade of the 21st Century...most cycling enthusiasts are adding weight, adding electronics and adding fluids and even worse they're worshiping brakes that can be operated with pinkie fingers...greatly increasing the chance that one will leave the two-wheel steed suddenly when an obstruction appears "out of nowhere".
        Call me a Weight Weenie, call me a Luditte, call me a retro-wank...I think we are headed in the wrong direction here. Somebody needs to call a halt to this Industry-wide tendency to make the bicycle operate like a motorcycle.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Tickled To Be Plumas People

        They say small towns are drying up, shuttered and being abandoned by Americans who want better WiFi, bigger medical facilities and fresh dark-roast coffee available on every corner. Well, there are those people and they are folding their tents and heading out of the hill country in favor of more urban settings. Plumas County is definitely hill country.
        This county is more than twice as big as Rhode Island and has less than 1/50th the population... less than twenty thousand souls, we find it easy to take care of each other. There's always a new crop of wanna-be residents, each Spring...hoping to not be too inconvenienced by Winter, and able to find new cultural entertainments and friends. We moved to remote Plumas County from a vibrant, low elevation college town 32 years ago.
        At first, I thought I'd miss the friends and activities that come easy in a California college town...and I did. However, there is joy in living through the seasons, knowing and taking care of your neighbors. There is comfort in the safety of a neighborhood and never having to wait in line...for anything. Well, once or twice in the Post Office and on a holiday in the Holiday Market...but really, that's it. There is not even a traffic signal in this village.
        I built a house and a business with my own hands here in Chester. We grew a child, established a garden and earned a good reputation without joining a local church or service club. We do worship each day and we work to improve the health and well-being of our community every year. I have become reluctant to travel to the big city as I am more sensitive to noise, rudeness and pushy people. I don't need that type of exposure. I don't want to toughen-up. Let me live my new found fairy-tale of the Perfect Life In Plumas.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

PrimeTime Plumas, continued.

        In my previous entry I referred to Prime Time Plumas...let me expand on that theme. Autumn is almost here. This has, without a doubt, been the hottest Summer that I've experienced during my 32 years in Chester, California. Yet, I am inspired...this green lush water oasis is the place to be. A healthy, wet Winter helped accentuate the upside of life in Plumas county.
        We are physically working extremely hard on the Wagon Rd homestead, as I mentioned last week. Lisa will say, "Let's go do the Juni-jump or... let's bring chairs and a Torpedo to Silver Lake or...let's put our butts in Butt Lake." It doesn't take much to get me to drop the chainsaw or big rock lever and change to my sporting clothes. Also, when we hit one of the area's pristine bodies of water, it doesn't take me long to shuck the sporting clothes and swim like a fish....underwater with swift, cleansing movements, well, maybe more like a frog.
        How much longer can this go on? Lisa asked me yesterday, "What kind of Winter do you think we'll get?" I am thinking...drought-like. Five out of the last six were warmer than usual and I'm seeing us riding our bicycles up the paved portion of Juniper Rd. during most of the season...which was freaky and unusual but,  possible during most of the last handful of years.
        If I am wrong we can always drop down a thousand feet in elevation and ride in the American Valley or the Indian Valley. A little extra snow higher up however, will make the American Valley... Great Again! Battered by fires in 2017, we are looking forward to this regeneration of the "good life" in Quincy.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Reasons Not To Travel Far

        Unusual Summer snowstorms in the Pyrenees, hurricanes popping up out of the Atlantic, financial systems teetering on the brink, airline pilots and passengers getting goofier by the week, a pall of dense smoke covering Oregon, uninformed lemming-like people racing into the smoke (therefore adding to the ridiculous lack of air quality) so that they can watch the sun blink through the smoke. Europeans questioning the sanity of all New World cowboys who are shooting to Make America Great Again. It's complicated.
        We have decided to "focus local" for the next several months. Swim local, ride local and work our butts off on projects that scream for attention...and, go to work at least five days a week. I am even plotting a couple of overnight bicycle tours. The motorized tourists and second-homers have headed home leaving us with space and time to twiddle our thumbs and chunky dunk most anywhere we like. This really is primetime in Plumas. I have rock retaining walls to build, a dangerously rotted deck to replace, wood to split and stack and an eroded driveway to repair....focus local because you can't do anything about the big picture.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Pouring Over Maps Of France

        The summer business cools to a simmer right before Labor Day weekend...and what do I find myself doing? Studying maps, electronic maps, folded paper maps and the maps in my head...you don't have those?
        The river drainages of France...geez, we've not explored the river Loire (which starts on the northslope of the Massif Centrale and rolls west to Nantes and the Atlantic Ocean). There are more than a few hundred kilometres of bicycle trail along the Loire and there is a plethora of camping possibilities.  We would be zigging and zagging the heights of the drainage, the side canyons, the mountainside villages. The riverbanks of the Loire are undoubtedly noisy with motorists but, that's where the camping will be located. Ahhh...the trip of a lifetime. No, we are not flying to France this autumn, nor at any time in 2017.
        We must save miles and money and get the deck rebuilt but, I am plotting an excellent adventure that will include miles of cycling, gourmet camping (which is not the same as "glamping") and numerous wild swims....or saunas...or naked afternoons. I can't imagine a better location for all this to come together than France...unless, it would be Northern California and Oregon. Aren't we fortunate? We have all this at our fingertips but, we fly across the pond and find the experiences that we love most in rural France. For now, we plot mini-vacations to wild places in our own backyard but, believe me we are casual-mapping another escape to wild and wooly France.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The "Extra Days"...

        Pedaling to work this morning I see my neighbor puttering in his yard, stacking firewood against the oncoming winter. Hey Dave, what are you doing with the extra days you've been given? "On the water as much as possible but, there are still chores that need to be done." Dave has been a medivac passenger to the hospital in Chico (70 miles away) twice in the last 18 months. "You know, you are right about these being extra days."
         I always figured that days over the age of 65 and days after a medical emergency (especially those experienced after the age 65) are "extra days". When you reach the late 60's your list of friends and relatives who have expired "too early" is already becoming quite long.
        Time on the water (and for me, time in the water) are some of the best moments. The sneaky dips, the ones where you hike to a private location with friends, are my very favorite. I did this often as a teenager. We didn't crash friend's pool parties (in our neighborhood no one could afford a pool) but we did find remote natural locations to plunge au natural. I never stopped. Many of my closest friends never stopped. Underwater sans clothing is one of the best sensations out there....but yes, you have to be willing to go "out there".
       One of the side benefits of this activity is that you become much less self-conscious about your body. Body acceptance, no matter your shape, or your flaws, or your scars... just doesn't affect the pleasure of chunky dunkin' with friends.