Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Disaster Movie

        We've executed the drive from Burbank, Ca. to Chester, Ca (nearly 600 miles) at least 40 times over the last 40 years. One has to psych-up for the escape from the West's most populous regions to the least...from the San Fernando Valley out through the desert suburbs of Palmdale and Lancaster to the relatively safe roads beyond Mohave. This last Sunday we found it a very different experience...we shared the eight lane fwys of I-5 and I-14 with only a handful of trucks. It was daylight (7 to 8am) and there were stretches of freeway with absolutely no cars in sight. Soooo...was this a set-up for another SoCal disaster movie?
         Beyond Mohave...nothing moving. A group of nearly 100 passenger jets were parked south of the highway for dry storage where we usually see a only two dozen. I treat my Honda like I want it to last for a couple of decades so,  I try to keep the speed down near sixty miles per hour. When there are no other cars in sight 62 miles per hour feels very slow. The few cars I did see passed me like I was standing still (maybe 90 mph)...have I seen this movie? A Mad Max movie? I was wishing I had a weapon...more than just an oversized pedal wrench. The Coronavirus (Covid-19) has convincingly changed the motoring mentality of the majority of Californians.
        Sure it was Sunday but, suburban Californians race to malls and 'big box' stores on Sundays. By 8am everyone is filling the football field-sized parking lots, jockeying for the best slots...on this day, the parking lots were empty. The boulevards that underpass the freeways were empty...really, there was no one in sight. We'll never see this again, I told my wife in the passenger's seat. I must say, I prefer a little more activity than this...how are the gas stations going to stay open?

Sunday, March 15, 2020

He Is A Liar, A Con Man And A Cheat

       When I was growing up in the fifties, such accusations (He’s a liar, a con man and a cheat) would only apply to a mob boss, Mafia Don or a huckster (that my step-father didn’t approve of) probably from some Eastern European country. My step-father, to his credit, taught Honesty (with a capital H) to all of us little people who were nourished by and benefitted from his hard work and strong principals. Not in so many words, he explained, to me and my siblings, that our personal integrity and reputations (and therefore our future) depended upon how we dealt daily with the issue of honesty.    
        I’m not incredibly intelligent, I’ll never measure up to the ideal of material wealth by American standards but, I did take to heart the teachings of my surrogate father and I continue to operate under the idiom that ‘Honesty is the best policy’.
        Of course, in his world, politicians and community leaders were not beyond reproach...in fact, they were roundly admonished and criticized for their progressive ideas (ie. Eisenhauer, Martin Luther King, Kennedy and Johnson). None of these were tagged by their personal lawyers (for a decade) as “A liar, a con man and a cheat.”

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Feeling Kind Of Insane...Six Weeks And No Rain

        February and March are normally our wettest months...if not in the shape of snow, definitely in the form of rain. It has been six weeks without either. This is truly insane...the new normal and, we worry about the flames. The first week of March has already squeaked by and now we are not trusting the weatherman's eye. I am thinking we always need something to worry about. Why do we worry when there's nothing we can do to change the politics or the weather?
        Now, we have Covid 19 a new bug in the air and plenty of talk about it, to give us a scare. I'm really not worried, I'm not flying anywhere... this month or next. So, I really don't care.   ( I'm stuck in a Dr. Seuss loop here.) What I really mean to say, is that we really shouldn't worry, we should just go out and play.
        Oh brother...it's what my sisters always say. Is this what it's like when your mind goes astray? Ok, I'm looking forward to Spring, maybe it'll be wet. But, if you were a thinker like me ...you wouldn't take that bet. Give me a wrench, ball bearings and grease...aren't we all glad I didn't become a priest.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Yes, They Are Watching Us....Infecting Us..Wherever We Go

        A friend and I had this discussion while skinny dipping up in the Caribou Wilderness a few years back..."We think they are mosquitoes, what if some of them are drones...tiny drones?" This sounds a bit like paranoia, but in this 'day and age', who can blame you? A virus spreading through our civilization is much more common than we like to admit. It was inevitable...we are all facing infection and we are all being snooped on.
        I enjoy my time on the internet. I have so many questions about the world around me...type in your questions and slowly, you are revealing (to the keepers of information) your soul. Humans exposing their souls. Machines collecting this information and putting it to use. Bugs invading every secret hideout, some of them natural, many of them developed for private gain.
        As my friend says, "There is nothing we can do about this." Except for....find a refreshing small lake in a wilderness nearby for secret swims and do not carry your smart phone with you. We dismissed the 'mosquito drone' worry immediately by laughing it off and reapplying the Deet. Being kept track-of is a more serious and pervasive conundrum. We are being watched nearly everywhere we go...satellites could spot us as we plunge into our secret lakes. So often, we volunteer our warm bodies for information gathering, nearly every waking moment of our days.
        I have imagined how I would drop-out of society, a plan of escape, if it all became too much for me to handle. It's not bullet-proof, especially if I mention it here. It involves bug-out supplies in my go-bag and a bicycle. I would stay on the move along the backroads of society...the unpaved roads...and hope they would accept my debit card when I get hungry.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Please Melania, Vanquish Bullying

        I witnessed bullying, rather extreme bullying when I was in Junior High School...by a "fireplug" of a kid, who was my age but one year behind in school. Unknowingly, I sat next to his girlfriend in Study Hall. She asked me what I thought of 'RK' one day while we were supposed to be studying. He's a prick, was my answer. I told her that I witnessed him picking on a "special needs" kid in gym class and I was sorry I didn't step in and stop him. That was the end of our conversation...we went back to studying.
        The very next day, 'RK' challenged me to an after-school fight...sure enough, events unfolded quickly and two days later we were squaring off on the school football field. 'RK' was stocky. a wanna-be football team running back. I was taller but "lanky"and had no interest in making the Northern Huskies football team.
       Most in attendance, yes, we had spectators, I was sure, were betting on 'RK'. He didn't have the grades to make the football team and he knew it. He was angry and his brother had just shipped off to Vietnam...  (I found out later.)
       "No weapons, just fists." My step-father watched from his Studebaker pick-up truck. We exchanged a couple of loud and impressive blows to the face, mostly the foreheads. I moved in quickly and put him in a headlock, which I was determined to maintain..I pushed his face down in the dirt a few times. Surprisingly, he said, "That's it, I'm done." Which surprised me to no end...I let go and sure enough, he stood up and walked away. He seemed to be sobbing as I watched him walk under the goalposts.
       We didn't finish our last four years of school as friends but, we did talk a few times, no hard feelings. I had a few extra 'friends' after that and I was never called into the office for an explanation or discipline. It turned out that I wasn't the only one who'd witnessed him bullying "the slow kid".  Mr. Warner, our P.E. teacher watched a couple of these bullying incidents and he hadn't done anything about it either. He told me a couple of years later while our class was immersed in a "boxing unit", "I've seen you box, you tagged 'RK' pretty good back in ninth grade." Really? I had no idea that there was a teacher watching our skirmish. I hated bullys then and I detest bullys and bullying now. I'm rooting for you Melania.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Couldn't Make This Up...If I Didn't Dream It

       I've been tossing around the idea of selling my Old Town Chester business for about a year now. In last night's dream I proposed the sale of Bodfish Bicycles and Quiet Mountain Sports to my old friend Kenny G. He said, "I'll get back to you." In just seconds (dreamtime seconds) he called back saying, "Yes, I'm going to buy the entire core of Old Town Chester. Six properties, I believe."
       Fast forward...I get up to pee and return to my warm bed, next to my lifetime sweetheart...Same 'dream world' finds me running a much more complicated business empire...A pub, a bookstore, a health food store, a diner and a much bigger outdoor sports store. I'm scratching my head, "How did this happen so quick?" I'm worried, "How do I lock all this up at night? Who are all of these employees? Do they know what to do? Are we really doing this?"
        Fast forward again, after another draining of the bladder (I drank two cups of tea before going to bed)...
        We are partying in the parking lot of this complex when Lisa says, "Chuck, Lance has to go. I thought you wanted to talk to him." I run down to the entrance gate and say, "Hey Lance." He says "Yeah, I wanted to talk to you". I introduce myself as Bodfish. He says. "That's not your real name, that's just what your handlers use to make money off of you." I agreed, not sure why I agreed to that. I say, "Hey, let me walk you around the place." We step out on the Main Street and suddenly the business complex starts rotating around in front of us. Behind the front view a mammoth castle/ brewery unveils itself. "Wow, how did you do that?" asks Lance. "Chains, I think." was my answer, just before the main chain broke in front of me..."I'll get it, I'll pick it up. I don't want you to get greasy."
         I awoke with a loud "Wow!" Lisa, sits up asking, "What happened?" I don't know if I can explain it. I don't want to jinx it...maybe it'll come true. I describe where I've been in my dreamworld and she counters, "I thought you wanted to retire."

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Coming Out, All Opinionated On Gravel Bikes

        I must respond to the question I hear most often these days..."What kind of bike should I get for riding dirt roads?" All of the cycling media seems to be drinking the same Kool Aid when it comes to this subject.
        Let me start with front derailleurs...Front derailleurs are a great thing to have on your Gravel bike...Your chain will last longer because you should be in the habit of keeping it in as straight a line as possible. It will get gritty and it will make noise because of this accumulated grime but, it will wear less and irritate you less often, especially if you don't 'cross it over' into extreme configurations. The one chain ring/ no front derailleur fashion of the day will necessitate replacing the chain more often and will come with a ridiculous set of cogs on your rear wheel. Twelve cogs with the largest being a forty-eight or fifty toother. Right away you'll need a much thinner chain and on dirt...That ain't good. A 2x10 or a 3x9 will give you a much larger range of gears operating with a much stronger chain.
        My next suggestion involves the front fork. A rigid fork is lighter and cleaner looking but, hey...there are some outstanding and relatively light (when compared to MTB forks) 700c suspension forks out there. Dirt roads get hammered by cows, sheep and teenagers in Dad's new Jeep Wrangler or Polaris quad vehicle. Have you ever tried to pick your way down a road that was slightly damp when a herd of cows took a shortcut from one pasture to another? Who needs hours of vibrations and stress on your wrists, elbows and shoulders. It's something I've learned to avoid, if possible.
        Drop bars look cool and provide a little extra suspension however, flat bars provide a little more control due to leverage afforded by the extra width. Brakes are another issue that folks like to argue about long after the sun sets...doesn't matter, as long as they stop you when you need them. I like mechanical disc brakes like Klampers or TRP dual piston disc brakes but actually, my 'dual sport' GF Fast City (which I use for most of my rides, dirt or paved) with rim brakes, has never failed me. They all need pads replaced periodically depending on how hard you use them and on how wet your outings are.
        How about waterbottle cages? People even argue about these. I like cages, it's great to have extra water on the bike instead of a sweaty hydration pack on your back. If it's a very long ride in an arid zone you better have both.

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 rode 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."