Nányóu Jì


Journey to the South

I posted earlier about my encounter with macaws in the context of Mimbres culture and how it seemed to offer a framework to structure a New Mexico to Chihuahua bike ride around. I’ve spent the morning reading RITUAL CHANGE AND THE DISTANT: MESOAMERICAN ICONOGRAPHY, SCARLET MACAWS, AND GREAT KIVAS IN THE MIMBRES REGION OF SOUTHWESTERN NEW MEXICO and 1) my mind is blown and 2) it’s an incredible framework and needs to be a longer ride.

Mimbres macaw bowl

Enlarge the photo and check out the bowl with the macaws and people – note the info on the tag!

The paper argues, well, I’ll let them say it…

Additional points:

  • given that women are most often depicted handling macaws, was this a woman’s quest to the south?
  • I was thinking trade routes, but trade – perhaps turquoise for birds or something similar- may not have been the point. It may have been about esoteric knowledge and the birds that symbolized it with nothing given in exchange except religious alleigance.
  • the Hopi have a story of Tiyo, who journeyed south and returned with ritual knowledge of the Snake Dance – another case of ‘listen to what the people tell you about their history’?

I’n going to keep investigating , but this is exciting stuff! And for those who didn’t recognize it immediately, the title is a riff on Journey to the West. “The novel is an extended account of the legendary pilgrimage of the Tang dynasty Buddhist monk Xuanzang who traveled to the “Western Regions”, that is, Central Asia and India, to obtain Buddhist sacred texts (sutras) and returned after many trials and much suffering.”* Appropriate, I think.

L.A. River Camp Coffee and the Canning Stock Route

I first had coffee outside with the L.A. River Camp Coffee crew a couple years ago while out on a visit and doing it again was a priority this time, given that I’d legit biked into town. By way of explanation, LARCC is an informal group of cyclists, organized originally by Errin Vasquez, who meet at a small park on the L.A. River bike path to brew coffee and shoot the breeze – my kind of group! First thing Wednesday morning, I put Lotte in her basket and pedaled 5 miles north to meet the group. It was – no surprise – a ton of fun and there was lots of interesting bike talk.

#adventureteckel at L.A. River Camp Coffee!

Errin and I were talking about Molly Fin (the bike) and frame materials; I said something about a steel mid-tail being a dream machine and he filled me in on the ur-midtail – the bike that inspired the Salsa Blackborow. In 2013, Rick Hunter built a bike for Scott Felter (bagmaker/Porcelain Rocket). Not just any bike, obviously, but a mid-tail fat bike for a ride along Austrailia’s Canning Stock Route. More on the route in a minute, but check out this bike!!!!

Lots of cargo capacity, not because Scott planned to take an #adventureteckel with him, but because the route requires that folks ride with 30-35 days of food and 4-5 days of water. If you want to read about the ride, Tom Walwyn’s blog is the place to start; he has a great Flickr album, too.

20130801-Dune descent 1

I’d never heard of the Canning Stock Route, so I googled it up. It’s clearly a tangent I’m going to spend some time reading about. I’ll quote from Wikipedia:

The Canning Stock Route is a track that runs from Halls Creek in the Kimberley region of Western Australia to Wiluna in the mid-west region. With a total distance of around 1,850 km (1,150 mi) it is the longest historic stock route in the world.

The stock route was proposed as a way of breaking a monopoly that west Kimberley cattlemen had on the beef trade at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1906, the Government of Western Australia appointed Alfred Canning to survey the route. When the survey party returned to Perth, Canning’s treatment of Aboriginal guides came under scrutiny leading to a Royal Commission. Canning had been organising Aboriginal hunts to show the explorer where the waterholes were. Despite condemning Canning’s methods, the Royal Commission, after the Lord Mayor of Perth, Alexander Forrest had appeared as a witness for Canning, exonerated Canning and his men of all charges. The cook who made the complaints was dismissed and Canning was sent back to finish the job.

I’m especially interested in the Royal Commission and the cook, Edward Blake. I wonder if my initial take – that for things to have risen to Royal Commission level, the accusations were serious – is indeed correct. I’ve got no background in Australian history, so no context to judge against; looks like an opportunity for me to learn. Thank you, Errin, for exciting my curiosity!

Zeitgeist and s*cial m*dia

The past week of the trip has been a whirl of dogs and raptors and art and friends; a wonderful few days. What’s been sticking in my mind is a conversation I had with RKO’C – we ranged all over the place, but talked especially about s*cial m*dia. I’m embarrassed to admit it but I don’t remember exactly how R and I first connected; it might have been via a third person’s blog, but I’d put money on Twitter being the channel. On top of that, we’d just eaten an incredibly delicious meal that had been, in large part, generated by a Facebook post and some actual phone calls (it’s Rebecca’s story, it’s great, and I will let her tell it). In spite of all the backstory, we spent a lot of time being sad about what the two big platforms have become. IMHO Facebook is just an evil company – lacking any compelling reason to stay I deleted my account last winter. And Twitter, where I’ve established some of the most important relationships of my (current) life, has become a slough of bile and stress. People who are very important to me are active on Twitter, so I need to make my peace with the platform, but I have noticed that not spending much time there as I ride has done wonders for my mental health. Not being able to obsessively refresh news sites to keep abreast of the latest torrent in the Trumpian shit maelstrom might be a contributing factor, too! I’ll leave the ‘why’ behind social media suckiness to smarter people, but lots of internet history suggests that unmoderated, “freedom of speech” defaults on platforms enable the folks with the most power and/or the least amount of give a shit as regards behavioral norms. “We can’t censor (except when we do).” is a ridiculously weak position, but it’s inexpensive for the platform – hate speech as an externality: pollution that the community has to absorb.

I checked Instagram the morning after we talked about all this to find that Olivia Laing had just published a piece in the Observer titled ‘I was hooked and my drug was Twitter’. To state the obvious, Olivia was way ahead of me in understanding what’s going on on a personal level with s*cial m*dia. And, duh, R & I are not the only people wrestling with wanting a broader community but being daunted by platforms’ toxicity.

As further proof that talking with friends over Mexican beer and tequila gives one UNIQUE INSIGHT into the state of the world, we also discussed human/machine integration and the next morning Alexa read us a headline about implantable gadgets. We marveled at Laurence Fishburne as Cowboy Curtis and the next afternoon as I rode the Pacific Electric bike trail I passed a fellow riding a beautiful replica of the bike from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.

Yeah, I stopped.

Travelogue follows…

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I pulled into Los Angeles yesterday evening and am comfortably ensconced with family! L.A. is/was a big milestone – the primary destination when I set out from Austin a couple months ago and that I actually did it is blowing my mind a bit. While I get myself back together and formulate an actual blog post (eagles! zeitgeist! mole!), here’s a map of our path, post-Tucson.

Just ran the numbers – 2543.69 miles/4093.67 kilometers!

Q: What time is it?

A: You mean now?

I chanced on this WaPo piece on the health effects of being on the west edge of a time zone and it resonated with something I’ve been thinking about a bit. My daily activity is matched to actual sun position; earlier in the trip the question was, “When will the sun be high enough to warm the tent?” and over the past week, as temps have pushed triple digits, the question changed to, “When will there be enough light to break camp and head out before the sun does its inferno thing?” Depending on where I am in a time zone, the sun/wall clock time match can be no big deal, or a bit of a problem. I noticed it most in west Texas because the sun didn’t set ’til extra late (wall clock time) and stores tended to close relatively early, thus I needed to pay attention to resupply concerns well before I was ready to wrap up the day’s ride. And start times were a little jarring, too – getting up with the sun but not being on the road before, say, 9:30 felt odd. It’s worth keeping in mind that standardized time was very much a product of the industrial revolution, especially railroads. As much as I love trains, I have to give the whole enterprise a failing grade There’s an aspect of fetishization – valorizing wall clock time (and the scheduling needs of capital) over the health and safety of human beings. I’m not saying we should throw the clock out the window, but the notion that folk’s schedules should have no connection to their circadian needs is BS. Howard Mansfield wrote a good book about the development of standardized time: Turn and Jump – recommended.

Before I turn and jump to the travelogue, one more time zone note. Coming into Portal, AZ, my phone kept switching time in hour increments. I couldn’t figure what was going on until I remembered that Arizona, with the significant exception of the Navajo Nation, does not observe Daylight time, so they’re effectively on PDT in the summer. Duh. I’m guessing time zone wobble on one’s cell phone is a pretty bike-tour specific malady: in a car one is going fast enough to switch from towers in one time zone to another definitively, hiking one is traveling slowly enough to do the same, but on a bike, especially moving north/south on a boundary, time, um, changes.



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The Chiricahua Mountains

I wanted to say a little more about the Chiricahua Mountains; when I met Drew in El Paso he told the that the Chiricahuas were an absolute must-experience and he was right. They’re an ecological Four Corners: Rockies from the north, Sierra Madre from the south, Chihuahuan desert from the east and Sonoran desert from the west. Add in the effects of altitude – a change in vegetation, etc. every thousand feet – and you have one of those meeting places in the landscape with incredible diversity. The part of the ride that took me through Cave Creek Canyon was my favorite – I’m a sucker for bosque dells.

Cave Creek Canyon

I’d mentioned that hummingbirds woke me up in Portal; “In fact, thirteen species of hummingbirds are know to occur in the Chiricahua Mountains, and many of these are Mexican species that are rarely seen in the United States.”*

One of the big draws is the Elegant Trogon* – I was told I was a week too early to see one, but B’s feed on Strava indicates it was more like 4 days. Ah, well – a good excuse to return with birding as a focus. I did see a Gould’s turkey, so that’s 2 new wild turkey subspecies this trip (the other is the Rio Grande turkey). Merriam’s wild turkey is a possibility in a week; I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

One last reason to dig the area – Portal has very dark skies. The stars at night are amazing!

*pronunciation note – I’ve always said ‘trogon’ with a hard G, but I heard someone say trojawn in Portal. Google search says hard G is correct; maybe the J person was from Philly – or maybe Google is wrong?


It was the worst of times, it was the best of times*

This post is going to be 95% travel narrative, because sometimes the story of one damned thing after another is a reasonably interesting yarn. The last post ended with me pushing off to Lordsburg. I felt OK as we headed southwest, but pretty rapidly realized the day was going to be a difficult one. It was a lot cooler on the bike than I thought it would be and there was a strong headwind. It was nasty enough that i stopped 5 miles into the ride to change into warmer clothes, eat something and re-bundle-up Lotte. We used a small shelter south of the Tyrone open pit mine (complete with info plaques extolling the mining company’s reclamation efforts o_O) and I could see precip coming at us from the west. We continued on NM90 and got maybe another 5 miles down the road before it started to spit rain. Low 50’s (10’s C), rain and a 20+ knot headind? Ugh. Then the wet snow pellets (not really graupel afaic) started. It got to the point where I was shifting with the palms of my hands because my fingers wouldn’t work to do it. But there were a couple good moments: crossing the continental divide for the 3rd time, seeing some patches of sunlight on the plains to the west, and realizing that I’d finally done all the climbing I had to and that all I needed to do was descend into Lordsburg. Looking back on it, I think I was a little under the weather with a touch of digestive distress. I was laboring up hills suddenly doubting whether I’d ridden myself into shape at all. All in all, one of the tougher days of the trip so far.

Saturday the 13th dawned cloudless and cool and we rode southwest again – this time with Portal, AZ as our destination. Goog initially steered us to a road that, as far as I could tell, did not exist. No matter – there was an alternate route that peeled off left instead of right a quarter mile farther on, just past the CDT trail marker. The alt route turned out to be a pretty rough jeep trail, complete with gates – fun!

Happy trails!

The jeep trail eventually debouched on to Animas St., a lane and a half dirt road. Lots of dust and lots of grinning – the kind of terrain where Molly Fin the bike can really strut her stuff. Another nonexistent Goog road (it may have been converted into a wash a monsoon season or two ago), then it was a long slow descent to NM338. A bit northward to pick up NM145 and thence to NM80. We’d started south on 80 and I was checking he map on my phone when a truck pulled over. The driver got out and we exchanged greetings – turns out he was (is) a Warmshowers host in Portal, just coming back from pilot trucking an oversized load up into the PNW.And just like that, my tenative plan to bike up into the Coronado NF and camp for the night changed for the better. It took me a while to get to R’s place (Google bike routing again), but once there: paradise. R is a fascinating person and we had a lot of interests in common: birds, trains and Copper Canyon – turns out he used to lead tours there! The contrast between Friday and Saturday couldn’t have been more stark: tough, doubtful day/glorious, long, fun day.

Entrance to the canyon last night.

* with apologies to Chuck D (no not him – rather, this dude 🙂 )

Next, into Cave Creek Canyon, Tombstone and Tucson…

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Mimbres and Mogollon

One of my measure of goodness of an experience is how much curiosity it excites, how many tangents I wander down because of it, what I learn as a result. By this metric, New Mexico has been HC.

It started with a roadside historical maker. According to the marker, the Apache first acquired horses after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Until the moment I read the sign, I’d assumed that the conquistadors had ‘leaked’ horses starting about 5 minutes after they pitched up on shore. But if it wasn’t 1520-something, but 160 years later, my amazement at the brief blossoming  of southwestern and plains horse culture increases. A way of life that left a mark across the planet lasted for something like 200 years. People got horses, mounted up, became consummate riders, made and adapted their culture and then… Crazy Horse and Wounded Knee and dead buffalo and the rez.

I knew that there had been long-time trade between southern Mexico and the southwest,  but holy carp, Scarlet Macaw feathers? And for all I know, given the macaw perches in Paquime, perhaps the birds themselves? My first encounter with macaw feathers and trade routes was at the Mimbres Culture Heritage Site.

Macaw feathers

Macaws and parrots popped up again in a film at the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument; even today the Hopi people have a Parrot Clan.

Another connection with something I’m interested in – some think that the Mogollon people migrated south when the drought of the 1200s made living in Gila cliff dwellings untenable. The genetic evidence suggests they ended up in Copper Canyon (where folks continue to live in cliff dwellings). Chatting with a ranger at the National Monument, I had a small inspiration: a ride from Chaco Canyon (northernmost trading center), through Paquime, to Copper Canyon. Maybe next fall? Regardless, I need to read more about the Pueblo revolt and ancient trade routes.

Gila cliff dwellings


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High-heeled sneakers

It’s been a while since the last update – much to tell. I’m going to break it into two posts: the last bit of Texas first and then New Mexico, so far.

I had a great experience in unfortunate circumstances at Crazy Cat Cyclery in El Paso. I’d ordered replacement tires to be drop shipped to them and anticipated a quick and easy swap. I’d swung by the bike shop Monday the 1st to introduce myself and got a call Tuesday morning that the tires had arrived. I was already on my way in to town, so it only took 15 minutes or so to roll into the parking lot. I chatted with Dave, who I’d met Monday, just to confirm the plan of action. He pointed me at a couple good spots to check out: a falafel spot around the corner and San Jacinto Plaza a few blocks away downtown. Lotte and I set off for the alligator fountain in the center of the plaza and hung out for a bit… then we got a call from Dave. Seems that the tires I’d ordered were not tubeless compatible.

Tangent for non bike weenies – the traditional setup, tires with tubes inside, is being supplanted in a lot of applications by a setup using special rim tape (to seal spoke holes), rims and tires that are tubeless compatible, and a healthy potion of latex sealant sloshing around inside the tire. The main feature that makes the rim and tire tubeless ready is a very tight fit at the bead – the place where the tire latches on to the rim. WTB has a good picture of what I’m talking about here.

I was a retrogrouch regarding tubeless. Mike at Maine Bike Works suggested it when we set up the bike, but no no no I was going to run with tubes. Then I talked with Liza and Tyson about their experiences on the Baja Divide Route. The word from them was that a ride like that (still on my to-do list) would be ridiculously difficult with tubes, much much better to go tubeless. So I converted.  It was a good decision – it’s impossible to know how many patches I would have put on tubes by now, but I can tell you that I accidentally ran over a couple twigs with 1″ thorns attached, gritted my teeth and pulled them off the tires. Bubbling latex, hole sealed and off I went. So I am very much a convert; Mike was right!

Back to a week ago in El Paso: I’ve had Schwalbe G-Ones on Molly Fin since the beginning. They’re got a tread that works well on pavement or dirt and plenty of volume which makes for a comfortable ride. But I’ve been doing most of my riding on pavement and I noticed that the tires were wearing quickly – especially the rear. So I decided to switch to Moto-Xs and in a fit of misplaced optimism managed to assume that any 27.5+ tire would be tubeless ready. Sadly, no. We had a couple options: Moto-Xs with tubes or stay with the G-Ones and swap front to back. I decided on the swap and Dave agreed with me. We looked for other 27.5+ alternatives that I could get shipped to the next big bike town, Tucson – no luck at all. I’m going to write Schwable an email, suggesting the Moto-Xs go tubeless, but that won’t help me this ride. I’m guesstimating that by the time I reach Tucson and fresh G-Ones, I’ll have a little over 3k miles on this set (2853 miles now) and I guess 2.5 – 3k is what I can expect going forward. It could be worse: one of the tires Dave and I looked at (and rejected as being too dirt oriented) was the Terravail Cumberland. I looked at a review of the tire later, just out of curiosity.

To illustrate tread wear, each tire was photographed (front at left and rear right) after about 300 miles on a somewhat equal amount of singletrack, gravel and pavement… 260+ miles loaded and over 40 unloaded. As shown, the grooved lines on the center tread are still intact. I would expect the tread on the Durable Cumberland 29×2.6 tires to last well over 1,000 miles. *

*huge grin*

Old woods hippie in front of an excellent cyclery. : David D. (incredibly helpful bike person)


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