When the thing you’re experiencing…

… stops you from diagnosing the thing you’re experiencing :). My last morning in Marfa, I woke up dizzy. Tent spinning, can’t hold your eyes on a reference point, afraid to sit up dizzy. I forced myself to calm down and relax and the feeling passed. It recurred while I was showering a while later and, folks, I was concerned. Was I having some kind of mini-stroke? Had my inner ears decided to betray me? I have a friend who deals with vertigo – not fun.

I’ll bet you’ve already figured out what was going on, but it wasn’t until later in the morning after I’d moved around a bit that the light bulb went on for me. Marfa is at 4830′ above sea level and dizziness is a symptom of mild altitude sickness. Marfa is not high altitude by any means, but getting there by bike, thus high exertion levels, doesn’t help. It’s happened a couple times since; I pay attention to breathing deeply and regularly and >poof< all gone. Moral of the story – mildest possible oxygen deprivation does not make you smarter.

Daily driver

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Mapping/GIS

Had to throw GIS in the title – an acronym that always pricks up my ears 🙂 .  Friend S indicates in a comment that he’s following along & mapping my ride. I’m going to work on adding some sort of goog maps layer to make it easier for people, but until I get there I’ll try to make the underlying data ava to anyone interested in it. Looks like the best export source is Strava – my profile is here. I’ll try to download .gpx files for folks to a public goog drive folder here. And I’ll put links to both in the alt.tentacles section of the blogroll. Incidentally, alt.tentacles is where you’ll find links out to other thangs on the internet I populate and/or update.

P.S. Depending on the state of my goog drive filespace quota, the .gpx repository may be the X number of latest files – I think you can download any ancient history from Strava if necessary.

P.P.S. Nota benny: my World Wide Swim Club tumblog is listed in alt.tentacles. I’m documenting wild (and semi-wild) natation spots I’ve dunked in. If any other water fiends want into the Club, just let me know your Tumblr ID and I’ll share access (I ?think? I can do that).

Dawn at 7:49 - near the west side of the Central Time zone. (sunup at 7:54) #SandSAS

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 catĂ©gorie when it comes to co-pilot, unusual bike and general hobo attitude 🙂 .

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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’allĂ© 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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Stateless Stochastic Automatons

…is my krautrock band name. Seriously, while driving to NYC last weekend, I finally started listening to Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders’ podcast, Our Opinions Are Correct – specifically, ep. 18: Alien Minds. It was so good that I listened a second time on my way home; strongest possible recommendation. The episode addresses alien minds in 3 big chunks: alien aliens (little green men/BEMs), AI/created minds and aliens that live on the planet with us.

The outer space alien portion focused partly on communication (my sweet spot) – it caused me to add Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis series to my TBR list and made me think about a couple of my favorite aliens. The Ariekei/Hosts of China MiĂ©ville’s Embassytown speak with two mouths driven by one mind and their “Language does not allow for lying or even speculation, the Language reflects both their state of mind and reality as they perceive it”.* There are a bunch of interesting things going on: language/mind feedback, the destabilizing effect of new ‘technology’ and, for me especially, the Fall (of Babel/from a state of language perfection) as the Hosts learn to lie. The other aliens that sprang to mind were the Wang Carpets from Greg Egan’s Diaspora. I honestly don’t remember whether communication ever got established with the Carpets, but they were a great stab at building an intelligence that was barely recognizable.

[A] voyaging ship has found the first example [of alien life] on planet Orpheus, large “carpets” submerged and slowly moving through an ocean. The carpets hardly seem candidates for sentient life, each one being comprised of a single long carbohydrate molecule. But it turns out they are behaving as a Turing Machine made up of Wang tiles (renamed Wang’s Carpets by the human clones who discovered them).

Wang tiles are a mathematical system proposed by Hao Wang in the form of a conjecture that [simplified version:] square tiles with differently coloured sides can fill an plane, and if so in a periodic pattern. Hao Wang argued that if the such a tiling exists that would imply that there is also an algorithm that would decide if such a pattern exists. Wang’s student showed that there is no such algorithm and the tiling problem is undecidable.

The Wang Carpets on Orpheus are doing that computation, but instead of the simple two-dimensional case proposed by Hao Wang, in this story the carpets occupy many levels in the ocean and thus an immensely powerful computation is going on (and can be visualised by Fourier analysis). An intelligence comprised of a multidimensional Turing Machine. *

The AI minds portion was excellent as well – encoded biases/non-neurotypical AI minds/&c, but I’m going to just tell you to listen. I’m going on longer than I wanted and am going to cut to the chase; the portion where Newitz and Anders talk to Lisa Margonelli about her book, Underbug: An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Technology. Most of my exposure to eusocial insects is via the Hymenoptera as a beekeeper and as a lover of both Uncle Milton and Six legs Better. Termites are different critters entirely. They’re most closely related to cockaroaches and rely on their gut biota to digest cellulose. A superorganism with symbiotic protists, which in turn have bacterial ectosymbiotes? Hell yes. What really got me going was the discussion (35:27) of what I am assuming (bought the book, haven’t cracked it yet) are Macrotermes colonies.

Macrotermes colonies host a remarkable symbiotic relationship with a basidiomycete fungus, Termitomyces. The termites cultivate the fungi in a fungus garden, comprising a few hundred fungus combs, structures built from chewed up grass and wood, and inoculated with fungal spores. Each year, these fungi produce a crop of large mushrooms (pictured at left), known locally as omajowa, which are highly prized as a delicacy.

Unlike the fungi cultivated by leaf-cutter ants, which the ant colony uses as food, the Termitomyces culture in a Macrotermes nest aids in the breakdown of cellulose and lignin into a more nutritious compost which serves as the termites actual food. The fungus garden is, therefore, a kind of extracorporeal digestive system, to which termites have ‘outsourced’ cellulose digestion. *

An aside – I inoculated some logs last spring with shiitake and oyster mushroom spawn and it occurred to me at the time that what I was doing was turning wood into food with a fungal assist.

fungus comb

I’m unclear as to whether Macrotermes have the same gut biota as other termites (wait!! see below) – guess I need to read Underbug. Regardless, what a superorganism! What a community! Extra bonus – one of the species of fungus, Termitomyces titanicus, “has a cap that may reach 1 metre (3 ft) in diameter on a stipe up to 22 inches (57 cm) in length and is reputed to be the largest edible mushroom in the world.”* Termite-stuffed mushroom caps anyone (totally serious)?

By Blimeo – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56726209

P.S. It occured to me as I was proofreading that perhaps I could do a google search on ‘macrotermes gut biota’ and yes, there are papers!