Bees, hills and a late night.

An eventful few days since Marathon. I’m pitched up at El Cosmico in Marfa after taking a tangent through Big Bend country. I’m going to take a couple days off – today is day 1 – to recharge after a few big mileage days. It’s not that I’m turning into a marathon hound, more that 60 – 70 miles seems to be typical distance between water sources out here in W Texas.

No deep thoughts to share. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that a lot of my thinking this leg has been of the “one more hill, John” and “jeez my ass is sore” variety. That’s part of bike hoboing too, it’s not all meditation on glyptodonts. One observation: it seems that I start to notice altitude somewhere around 3600 feet. Nothing super obvious – just not quite as much oomph in my legs and a bit of lightheadedness and the occasional flashbulb going off  when I stop to rest after a good climb. We’ll see how quickly I acclimate.

One last random observation – there are a lot of bike tourers here at El Cosmico, And I’ve met a few on the road. It’s likely a function of the time of year (not summer vacation), but I seem to be right in the middle of the demographic age-wise. I’m obv hors catégorie when it comes to co-pilot, unusual bike and general hobo attitude 🙂 .

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More…

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Paris^H^H^H^H^HMarathon Texas

Taking a needed rest day in Marathon, Texas (a filming location for Wim Wender’s Paris, Texas – thus the title). It’s been a fun and strenuous few days moving out of scrub and caliche into high desert and mixed sandstone and caliche with real mountains on the horizon.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about while riding has been the past and the future of the land I’m riding through. I’ll save future for another day – too depressing – but imagining Pleisto-scenery has been a lot of fun. Two things have been big inspirations: all the vultures, black and turkey, eating road kill, and the rock shelters at Seminole Canyon. The vultures make me think of their big cousin, the California Condor and the tar pit illustration on the cover of Brooks’ Mythical Man Month. I’d really like to see something huge sitting on one of the roadside deer or calves. And another variety of road kill, armadillo, brings to mind an all time favorite: glyptodonts. The environment in and around Seminole Canyon reminded me a lot of the Dawn of Man sequence from 2001 – again tossing me back in time. So along I rode, imagining family groups of glyptodonts, herds of the extinct pronghorn, Tetrameryx shuleri, stalked by American cheetahs, all watched over by soaring condors. Proper!

Seminole Canyon

Travelogue below fold, as usual.

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Del Rio

A very short update – we clicked off approximately 70 miles today, riding US 90 from Uvalde to Del Rio. I’m not distance crazed, but the route was pretty flat, there was a slight tailwind and a Warmshowers host in Del Rio. Why not go for it? It was good riding – not exactly flow state, but something close. My legs were turning the pedals, the road was straight and I had a chance to watch birds and wildflowers, horizon lines and cloud deck. Today’s big sighting (not new, but I love seeing them) was a Caracara. The next section, especially Comstock to Marathon, is supposed to be pretty isolated. I’m going to restock tomorrow morning before heading to Seminole Canyon, but there may be a bit of a gap in blog updates. See y’all on the other side!

Pano with glitched p/u

Uvaldeeee

Checking in from Uvalde, Texas. A great few days of riding – I’m starting to get my rhythm going. A morning routine of making coffee, eating and breaking camp, riding for a good long time, and pulling in to the night’s camp site, getting set up, eating, showering, replenishing water bottles and having a bit of a nap. Again narrative to follow, but before that…

The wildflowers are getting underway!

Texas stork's bill

paintbrushes

diamond flowers

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Report from the road!

Coming to you from *clap clap clap clap* deep in the heart of Texas! I’m taking a rest day in Fredricksburg; though I’ve only been moving west for 2 days, I put a lot of miles and saddle time in kicking around Austin.Some impressions, and a more detailed chronology below the fold.

The experience so far has re-affirmed that, for me, the best way to really see (and hear and smell & that’s important) the world I’m moving through is pedaling along on a bike. Petrichor, the repeated kee-ah of frisky red shouldered hawks and small wildflowers right on the road margin are all things that are tougher to take in when one is moving faster. A convertible or a motorcycle might do it, but for me it’s all about the bike. On earlier rides I’ve found strangers consider me approachable – perhaps a “dude is probably crazy, but good crazy” vibe? Put a wee adventure teckel in a basket behind you and approachability becomes sheer Lotte-animal attraction.

Pedernales River pano

The bike has been performing beautifully. It’s a good solution to hauling an extra 16-20 pounds of dog and dog food and probably 7 or 8 of camera, lenses and electronics. It’s not fast up hill but it’s geared perfectly – I just downshift and goooo slooooow.

A more detailed narrative follows…

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A note on providential timing

Today is Fat Tuesday – Mardi Gras! – and I am in Austin, getting ready to head out on the Big Bike Ride tomorrow. The Mardi Gras Indian chant “Indian Red” supplied both the motto for the ride and the bike’s first name: M’allé couri dans deser” which became “Madi cu defio, en dans dey”. I didn’t plan it, but it’s very fitting that I’m beginning my run into the wilderness the day after the parades, chants and partying come to a crescendo!

Shinrin Yoku

Via Maine Bike Works on Instagram, a heck of a good read on bicycling in a less competitive, less focused way. This has been, and is, very much my goal on the the bike – get myself back to that carefree feeling I had when I jumped on my crappy wonderful Sears Sting Ray knock-off as a kid.

At one time, Jacquie even thought about starting a male version of WOMBATS, and had “already dreamed up the acronym, which is M-A-N-A-T-E-E: the Male Auxiliary Non-Athletic Testosterone-Enhanced Enthusiasts! Just a silly retort, because it’s this giant thing that’s, of course, going extinct, but sort of a pleasant animal—and obviously not up to any seedy tricks.”*

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Kite Aerial Photography

I’ve been interested in kite aerial photography almost as long as I’ve been on the internet. I’m not sure how I got there, but I remember falling over Prof. Benton’s KAP page back in the days of usenet and listservs. I’ve flown a couple different kinds of drones, but the notion of a kite as the camera’s skyhook never stopped being attractive. As I thought about camera equipment for the trip, a KAP rig immediately suggested itself. Drones are heavy and power hungry; kites are neither of those things. I got the stuff together and yesterday – a day of 20 mph+ blustery winds – was the first sky trial.

KAP requires 3 things: a kite (and line obv), a camera with some sort of automatic or remote triggering capability, and a way of hanging the camera off the kite string. I already had a GoPro; they come with wireless capabilities and a phone app to control them. The kite was easy, too. Though I already had an old parafoil kite, I ordered a larger one (for better light wind lifting) with a monster tail (for stability). The last bit, the camera/kite interface, is interesting. I’m using a picavet (or picavet cross if you prefer). It’s named after its inventor, Pierre Picavet, who came up with the notion in 1912. Side note: the history and longevity of KAP is another thing that attracts me.

Labruguière photographed by Arthur Batut's kite in 1889.jpgArthur Batut’s aerial photo of Labruguière, 1889

Here’s my picavet on its way up:

Picavet.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Yesterday was the first day that all the elements were in place: good wind, no rain and all the components rigged and ready. So off I went to a nearby (sodden) playing field complex. When I got there, I discovered that I wasn’t the only person with kites on their mind. This person was doing some dry land kite-boarding practice.

kiteboard

We spoke briefly – I wanted to make sure I didn’t get in his way – and I walked off to a different corner of the field. He left soon after; the wind was strong and out of the corner of my eye I saw him execute a nice landing after getting pulled a combined Olympic long/high jump distance by his kite.

I had a good time and came away having learned a few things: a mark of a successful outing in my book.

  • Wear gloves!
  • I need to spend more time with the GoPro phone interface. The interface is simple, but when you’re using it one handed with an angry kite in the other hand, well… And distance may or may not be an issue – again, tough to troubleshoot when one’s attention is divided.
  • I am going to experiment with more and heavier line. The kite came with a 300′ spool of 80lb line. I have a 500′ spool of 160lb line – it weighs more (boo!) but the extra 200′ will come in handy.
  • Don’t expect stable video when you are flying in a wind right at the top of your kite’s rating.

Here’s some barely-edited footage of the first flight; not great but there’s nowhere to go from here but… wait for it… up.

First flight.

Logistics note: I’m planning on posting video to both Flickr (esp after they open up the time limit to 10 minutes) and Youtube. I realize there’s angst on the internet over how SmugMug/Flickr is handling the free account downgrade. I’ve had a Flickr Pro account for a long time for exactly that reason: lack of trust in the permanence of free internet services. And so the thing I pay for (Flickr) will be the primary drop and the “free” thing (Youtube) will be there as a secondary source.

Sub-miniature Graboid

Via Tetzoo, a critter that I would love to see on the the Big Bike Ride! Dr. Naish’s post is on speculative, “could yet be discovered” animals that are not already cryptozoological cliches – so no Nessie. The whole thing is a lot of fun but the entry for “A gigantic, predatory, limbed amphisbaenian” really caught my attention.

Among the weirdest of amphisbaenians are the ajolotes (or bipedids), the only extant group to possess limbs. These limbs are not small stumps or flaps (as they are in some other near-limbless, serpentine squamates) but well-developed, clawed forelimbs. According to some phylogenetic models, ajolotes are not the sister-group to limbless amphisbaenians but deeply nested within the limbless clade (Conrad 2008, Videl et al. 2008), in which case their limbedness – if you will – perhaps evolved from limbless ancestors. Add to this the fact that some amphisbaenians are robust-jawed, short-faced predators of vertebrates that ambush prey from beneath the surface and bite chunks from the bodies of surface-dwelling mammals and reptiles.

[…]

So then… where oh where are the giant, limbed, robust-skulled, vertebrate-eating amphisbaenians? By ‘giant’, I am not talking about a graboid-sized monster of several metres (though that would be nice), but a more reasonable animal of a mere 1.5 metres or so. Easily the stuff of nightmares. They could inhabit warm regions of any continent.

So what’re these ajolores? The word references 2 very different animals: the axolotl of Lake Xochimilco (endangered in the wild) and the Mexican mole lizard of Baja California – obv it’s the latter we’re interested in.

Bipes biporus is a small pink worm-like lizard with forellimbs only – no hind legs. Their scalation is segmented and used. peristaltically, to move through burrows. The big digger feet move sand out of the way (see the illustration in the Tetzoo post) and the blunt head helps in their fossorial fun.

I wanna see one!

Bipes biporus.jpg
By marlin harms, CC BY 2.0, Link

And in case ‘graboid‘ doesn’t ring a bell:

 

 

The Why? behind the Big Bike Ride

K asked me recently whether I’d posted anything about the thinking that led me to plan a serious long duration bike tour and I had to confess that I hadn’t. I’ll remedy that with a bit of the history of the idea and some of the things I hope to do on the ride.

I’ve thought about going mobile for a long time; I was struck by Stephen Bodio’s description of prairie/basin and range grouse hawkers and their Airstreams and tipis back in the mid-80s and the urge to try my hand at technomadism has been in my head ever since. Over the past few years, a constellation of factors, personal and societal, brought the desire to a full boil. There was the heart attack that demonstrated conclusively that I’m not immortal, a different kind of heart issue that led to a period of grieving, and all the thoughts and feelings that accompany watching loved ones in cognitive decline. The larger world doesn’t supply a lot of hope either. We’re rushing towards 1.5C/2.7F global temperature increases within 20 years and a country (hint: the US) that could lead on global warming issues is led by an incompetent kleptocrat, And as a side note, news came in this morning that Brazil has elected the fascist Bolsonaro who, among other things, has vowed to open up the Amazon to commercial exploitation. That’ll sure help with climate change (true, but not in a desirable direction)! Seems like a good moment to chuck it all and travel a bit. But how to travel? I had 3 options in mind:

  • Airstream. Pros: comfy! Cons: price (esp when the tow vehicle is factored in), lack of maneuverability.
  • Van conversion. Similar to the Airstream, but less comfy and more maneuverable.
  • Bicycle. Pros: cheap! Low/no carbon! Cons: much smaller load capacity.

The bike option won. I love bike touring – I think it is one of the very best ways to actually experience the country one moves through. It can be stealthy, low impact and inexpensive. And a well set up bike can handle a huge range of terrain: pavement to singletrack. My body was also a consideration; apparently I am not getting any younger and if I do want to take a big ride, sooner is favored over later.

So a-riding we shall go! The thing I most want to do on the trip is simply to experience the landscape: rocks, rivers, trees, birds, lizards, people, bridges, stars in the night sky and everything else I can wrap my senses around. And I want to learn! I want to pick my high school Spanish back up and get way better at it. I want to write more, and more betterer. 😉 I want to learn the names of unfamiliar things, I want to improve my photography and film making chops: I’m bringing a camera with macro and tele lenses for wildlife stuff and a couple GoPro Sessions for on the bike vids and kite aerial photography. I’m going to go fishing – and swimming! And I’m going to ride where I want at any pace I feel like. The riding itself is also part of the point. I find it to be meditative and a good way to sort things out in my head. I’m hoping to spend significant time in the moment – Flow for Dummies – and I want to think about post-ride activities – how I can help my loved ones survive The Jackpot.

Pre-ride. Bundled up.

We’re now a couple weeks from departure (I hope). Soon, this space will become a travelogue blog!

 

 

Monarchs

The migration south is still going strong here in southern NH, so monarchs have been much on my mind. The starting point was finding what I think was a freshly emerged female in the back yard a few weeks ago. I’m sure she would have been fine, but I moved her to a protected perch on the breezeway to rest and warm up a bit.

Then the Oct/Nov edition of Adventure Cyclist arrived. It’s the house organ of the Adventure Cycling Assoc. – a great group that’s created some amazing route maps. The cover story was Sara Dykman’s 10,000 mile ride following the multi generation migration from Mexico to Canada and back. Naturally, I’m wondering if I should swing south after either Baja or Barrancas del Cobre. Hmm.

monarch story

Ms. Dykman’s web site is here and I’ve embedded a map of her route below. A dang cool ride, I must say.

From ButterBikes to Butter-Gliders – shifting gears a bit, the Venture Bros. are back on teevee, For those who don’t know the show, one of the main characters is a supervillian called The Monarch (née Malcolm Fitzcarraldo). The new run – Season 7 – is superb and gets a strong recommendation. The AVClub has a TV Club 10 post with ten essential episodes; let me quote the intro to give those of you unfamiliar with the show a sense of what it’s all about.

When it started, The Venture Bros. was an unsubtle parody of Jonny Quest, centering on a super-scientist, a burly bodyguard, and a couple of rambunctious teens who love a good adventure but are also just a hair too naïve to really survive for long on their own. Calling it a Jonny Quest parody now is almost comically reductive, though, because the show spent its first six seasons expanding into one of the most complex and bizarre universes of any animated series—including its newer Adult Swim contemporaries like Rick And Morty. It’s a superhero parody, with deep Marvel cuts that have become a lot less deep thanks to the movies. It’s an outlet for obscure musical references, where David Bowie somehow became a regular character until creators Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer decided that was too limiting and just made him into a shapeshifter who pretended to be David Bowie. It’s a G.I. Joe parody, where the good guys and bad guys all need a silly gimmick and a codename. Mostly, though, it’s about a family that always sticks together, even in the face of constant, inescapable failure.

That’s the word that always comes up when trying to describe The Venture Bros., but even saying it’s a show about failure is reductive. That reading doesn’t take into account how the characters have grown and changed over the years or how they sometimes completely stumble into success. Really, if you want to cleverly say that the show is about any one thing, then it’s about subverting expectations. The show knows what people like and what they’ll want to see, and then it goes off in a different direction that deepens the characters in an unexpected way or throws a needlessly complicated wrench into a plot that is already needlessly complicated (or maybe it pulls the wrench out and lets a complicated plot run down to something more simple).

From an earlier season, DRAMA!

And back to the real thing – while out for training rides with Lotte the Adventure Teckel, I’ve come across monarchs that are sure to be squashed by traffic unless they’re moved. So I move them. There have only been a few, but with the world in the state that it’s in, every one is worth an effort.

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Road rescue.

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