Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bike Porn

The lovely Farah Fawcett & bicycle

The wind blows hard on my face as I pedal my new Cervelo R3 along the Coastal Trail around Anchorage. The cadence of my legs clicking off the miles, the slight burn in my thighs going up the short steep hills, and the trees flitting by my side combine to give me an intense rush that never ends, but continues to propel me forward. Only 35 miles to go; I know the route and can see the next turn, feel the bump of a tree root, watch for other cyclists, hikers, and runners.

The Cervelo R3

This has been one of my two aerobic exercises all my life, and I love every second in the saddle. I've been riding a bike since I was a small boy. As a young man in Finland I rode a bike every day, summer or winter for years. BTS, some think (Better than sex!). I'm not sure about that, but it's a rush. The biking world is huge: here in the U.S. it is growing, but still a sub-culture. In just about every other country, biking is a way of life. My last trip to Switzerland saw folks of every age cruising the roads on expensive carbon-fiber bikes in brilliant hot-colored lycra bike clothing. In Europe bike racing is big business - think of Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia, the Tour de Suisse, Paris-Roubaix.

For years I rode my hand-built beautiful Italian 'Legnano bike' with the full-Campagnolo components. I pedaled it everywhere through Maryland while in graduate school, through the Tetons, and around Alaska. It never wore out...lots of sew-up tires, but the bike is a beauty.

The 1970 Legnano

And every month I read 'Velo News', the only newspaper dedicated to bike racing. It was printed on folded newsprint with grainy B&W images of Eddy Merckx and the great racers of the period. Over the years it became a huge folio of glossy photos and high quality ads for premier bikes.

As the internet took off I googled 'cycling' and a world of wonders were unveiled. As the years passed, hundreds of sites appeared. Even 'Velo News' is there; '', and a zillion others. I could see the results of races within minutes; I could see video clips of the riders, the finishes, the new gear.

And then I clicked on and discovered bike porn!

Well, when I first clicked on the site it was called A fellow named Mikael Colville-Andersen was posting a blog about copenhagen's bike culture, filled with images of cool bikes and cool folks: lots of them women. I remembered back when I was a young man living in Finland watching all the women riding bicycles everywhere, riding in skirts...short skirts, riding in high heels, riding with flowing scarves, riding plain bikes with little baskets on the bars. They had the most beautiful legs in the world. I said then and still believe that every woman in Finland and Denmark is beautiful.

Copenhagen Cycle Chic's banner is a woman riding a red bike, gorgeous legs, and high heel shoes. It had my attention immediately. Clicking through the photos on the site I saw hundreds, thousands of folks on bikes. And just as I remembered from my youth, the women were awesome. The men were cool. Everyone had on great clothes. It was a site for us all.

Even the bikes are beautiful, normal street bicycles. Some have beautiful paint jobs, some are black and simple, some have huge baskets, others have carts attached. Drool drips from the lips as I check out the photos. I'm in love! In love with the women, in love with the bikes.

The sidebar lists an ever growing number of links to similar sites from virtually every city in the world. Some of my personal favorites are:

And check out all the bike manufacturers; for starters try Velorbis:

The blogs inspired me to sit on a bench in downtown Anchorage, Alaska, and photograph the fine folks in my local burg bustling past. In a few minutes I saw everything from kids to king size; from race bikes to trikes:

Future dirt biker with mud!

Mountain biker at Westchester lagoon

Red hair on recumbent

Friday, June 26, 2009

Leonard Cohen at Red Rocks - Episode 12

At 75, "Just a crazy young kid with a dream." Since I first read his poetry, since I bought his first album in 1967, I've been a fan. On June 4, I finally had the opportunity to watch him perform in person at the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado. I'd bought tickets two months ago in Alaska, flown to Denver, been on a month-long road trip climbing crags and mountains all over the West. The grand finale was here.
I asked Chris if she'd ever been to Red Rocks; she Lyle Lovett, twice! The event was supposed to be Tuesday evening, and my return ticket to Alaska was Wednedsay. On Tuesday afternoon, I got an email from Ticketmaster saying the concert had been postponed till Thursday!!! What???? Apparently the huge thunderstorms in the West had flooded the stage, and there was no way the concert could happen. Another $100 change fee on Alaska Airlines, and all was well again.

It is a beautiful drive from Boulder down to Morrison, Colorado, famous for its 160 million year old Jurrassic fossil beds. The Red Rocks, two huge tilted monoliths of red sandstone called 'The Ship Rock' and 'The Creation Rock' form a natural amphitheater. Since 1906 concerts have been staged in the space between the rocks. In 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps was enlisted to help build the modern stage and seating. Since its completion in 1941, it has hosted just about everyone from opera divas to The Beatles. We parked close, walked down through the museum and saw clips of John Denver and Santana. Outside, I rubbernecked the rocks, admired the stone work and thought of the men 70 years ago who laid each stone, erected each building, and played on the rocks at lunchtime. We walked down the side isles and into the center of the seating. I was absolutely awed by the setting.
We sat next to three lovely women who seemed to be our age. They were Cohen fans; one had seen him first in Montreal in 1957 when he was reading poetry. They began to tell us stories of how Leonard was friends with Axel and Marianne Jensen in the 60's, and after they broke up, Cohen continued to live with Marianne and her son Axel. 'Marianne' is named for her, she said. How Cohen and Suzanne Elrod were an item in the seventies, and they even had two children together, Adam and Lorca. That this Suzanne was not the one the song was written for...More gossip ensued; I was engaged, but I couldn't possibly remember it all.
Chris was very prepared; she had driven to McGuckins Hardware and bought two stadium chairs, because the seating consists of simple wooden benches bolted to the sandstone. We brought coats, rain coats, umbrellas since the weather was threatening: thunderstorms, lightning, tornados.... But it was warm and sunny. I never put a coat on all evening.
At a certain point all of the cheap seat crowd suddenly surged into the vacant higher priced seats. I wish I had known this ritual...I could have saved a hundred dollars and gotten an even better seat. But ours were right in the middle, and I had been prescient enough to bring the binoculars, should some detail require better vision.
The floodlights illuminated the 'Ship' and the 'Creation'. The half moon appeared behind scudding clouds. The huge thunderheads were illuminated by lightning in the east. The stage was set, and the band entered: Roscoe Beck, the music director and bass player; Neil Lars at the keyboard; Bob Metzger on the steel guitar; Javier Mas on the bandurria, laud, and 12-string guitar; Rafael Gayol on the drums; Dino Soldo on the keyboard, sax, and wind instruments. The band is the greatest.
But I've always been in love with the vocals that balance Cohen's gravelly monotone, so I was looking directly at Sharon Robinson who co-composed the album, "Ten New Songs" with him. She was striking! And the Webb sisters, Hattie and Charley. Everyone wore a black Leonard Cohen suit and a black fedora...even the women. Hot, Hot, Hot!!! This would be a great night.
Then out bounced Leonard, graciously bowing to the audience, thanking them for coming and moving right into the first number. I won't bore you with the details. They played the entire set you can hear on "Leonard Cohen: Live in London". Just go buy the album; it's his best ever!
The night went on and on. Cohen kneeling to the ground to pour out the melancholy melodies he has crooned for 50 years. I wondered secretly if the band ever gets bored with the same stuff after 50 gigs. But they didn't show it and put everything into each number. And Cohen was so kind to them, thanking them often, telling the audience little tidbits and stories. But it was all music. Tons of music, encore after encore. We sang along on almost every piece. It was a sea of gray pony tails reminiscing for almost four hours. The moon, the stars, the clouds, Red Rocks and Leonard Cohen.
Chris drove back to Boulder, and we went over the details of the past month: the friendship, the fun, the climbs, the adventure, the friends we'd met and made, how great it was to see Leonard Cohen. But Alaska beckoned. I'd run out the road trip, but it ended with a bang.

Vedawoo, Wyoming, Don and the Two Blonds - Episode 11

The road trip is only two-thirds over. The final third will be in Chris's Honda Element. What a cool car! My son is appalled that I like them: "They are made for teen-agers," he tells me. But the Element is amazing. All of our gear goes easily into the back, and she can wash it out with a hose when we are done. Unlike the Caddy, which should be detailed.

What next? Oh, we're in Boulder. Tons of climbing to do, although I've never really climbed here. This is Chris's turf; she knows the areas and will be the guide. We settle on Lumpy Ridge in Estes Park, about an hour north. We're off, and it is a beautiful morning. But by the time we get there (I slept in because I didn't get in till midnight) the thunderheads are already starting to build. No problem, we'll beat the storms. Usually it doesn't rain till 3 pm. It's only 1 pm now. Just as we arrive at the rocks, the first drops begin to fall. Thunder claps overhead. With our tails between our legs and Goretex on our heads, we trudge disgustedly back to the car and make the worthless drive back to Boulder. A wasted day...damn! Rain coats the road...lots of rain.

We need a new plan. 'We should have stayed in Vegas'. 'It was too hot!' 'This is's been raining for a month!' We check Laramie, Wyoming, only a couple of hours north. Slightly better report: A 30% chance of thunderstorms the rest of the week. That means it will be raining hard on us more than 30% of the time, I think. But it's our only hope, so we make the mental adjustment and head north, up 287, through the "L" towns, Louisville, Longmont, Loveland...through Fort Collins, to Laramie and Vedawoo.

Wow, this is a beautiful place. The campgrounds are so clean and well maintained, and at the senior citizen price of $5/night it's a great deal. We have our pick of sites, so we get the highest, best, sunniest place: picnic table, fireplace, close to water and doesn't get much better.

Vedawoo is old rock: a very course granite with large feldspar crystals poking from the otherwise smooth surface creating tiny hand and foot holds. They also create a sharp, abrasive surface that scours the skin and scrapes the body. The guidebook tells us to 'tape your belly' for one climb. Hmmm!

We wanted to get on the rock right away, so we dived into Chris’ guidebook and found 'Walt’s Wall', the most prominent feature, directly north of the campground. A route called “Ericson’s Crack” took a direct line up the face, and since we had been climbing a lot of cracks recently, we thought this might be just the ticket for an introduction. The crack was slightly more difficult than the guidebook grade had led us to believe, but we were honed and breezed up the pitch. It felt good to be on the rock again; we had begun to have climbing withdrawal symptoms, not having been on the rock for several days due to travel and weather. Large expansion bolts at the top of the climb allowed us to rappel down the ropes to the bottom.

Walt's Wall, Vedawoo

The climb was just two pitches long, and we were climbing fast, so after a quick descent, we tackled a second climb, "5.7 Cracks", a system of fissures that cracked up the middle of the face. Tons of fun! By now it was early evening, and we were getting ready to settle in, have a glass of wine, cook dinner, and wait for Don and Gillian, Chris' Boulder friends who would join us in the adventure. Don arrived just before Dinner.


The next morning we headed for a slippery slab on the south side, (translate that as sunny-side of the rock), of the Nautilis,a rock formation named for the nuclear submarine. There were two routes there: 'Etude for the Right Hand' and 'Etude for the Left Hand'. We did laps on the slab, enjoying the feel and friction of the rock.

Don in action on 'Etude for the Right Hand'
We then moved east to a large chimney and crack system to a tough route called 'Stinkzig', an odd name, but a great climb. While we climbed it, others accumulated at the base waiting to follow. Again, it was harder than the guidebook proclaimed, but a great route. Those following took hours and had a tough time. We wandered around on the top looking for the rappel anchors, finally found them, an descended.
At the bottom, lo and behold who should be climbing right next to us but Tom, our friend from Boulder who had driven Chris to Ouray two weeks before. It's a small world! Tom and Mary were on a horrendous climb with a flaring crack that required extreme skill and effort. We had a nice conversation as Tom grunted and squeezed his way up the chimney. They were all camped at a spot several miles down a dirt road and wanted us to come join them for a drink later in the evening.
Tom inches his way up the chimney

In the 'Bombay chute'
We wandered back to camp, broke open the kitchen and awaited the arrival of Gillian. Moments later she called and was only a mile away. Our group was complete! Gillian had come at the spur of the moment and didn't bring food, so we hopped in Chris' Honda Element and headed to Laramie, Wyoming, just a couple dozen miles west. At the junction of Vedawoo and I-80 flashing red lights signalled that the interstate was closed. A quick trip to the iPhone internet confirmed that a freak snowstorm had closed it just a few miles west of us. We waited a couple of hours, horsing around and telling lies, until finally the big trucks stacked up along the interstate started to move. As we went over Happy Jack pass, I couldn't believe the six inches of snow! Amazing for this time of year. A resupply of beer, wine, steaks, and seafood got us ready for the night.
Gillian arrives
The next day we were primed for adventure, so we picked 'Piton Perch', a three rope-length climb to the summit of the Nautilus. I lead up the first pitch, and about 75 feet up, two ravens suddenly descended and set up a raucus jabber right next to me. Another couple of feet and I smelled rotten meat. I knew what was up; I was approaching their nest! The noise was deafening, and I considered down-climbing the pitch, but I quickly went past so mama raven would calm down. All four of us went past the nest, and each time, mama warned us not to touch her brood. After we passed, she resumed feeding her babies like it was an every-day occurrence for climbers to come by.
The raven babies eye us closely
The climb consisted of a giant crack, a 'chimney' filled with huge chockstones which blocked our passage. Climbing around them was a tricky effort. At one point we had feet on both walls and inched up like flies. At the top of the first pitch, we could see through to the north, like we were in a giant crack in the mountain.

Gillian stems out on 'Piton Perch'

Gillian squeezes over the giant chockstone
The next pitch exited to a large rounded belay station, but first we had to surmount a huge chockstone blocking the way. Jamming a fist in the crack between the stone and the rock wall got us over the obstacle.

Chris and Gillian at the belay ledge, third pitch up
The final pitch to the top swept up a smooth granite slab. It was windy, but beautiful at the top. Large cumulus clouds scudded along the horizon in every direction, a welcome sight after the horrible thunder heads of the past two weeks.

Gillian and Your Guide at the top!
At the top were two giant bolts that we threaded the ropes through for the 200' free drop to the bottom. Looking down was unnerving, to say the least. I've been climbing all my life, but I still worry when I have to do something this crazy.

Gillian prepares to rappel down the rope 200' in mid air
At the bottom, we had a chance to see Tom and Mary in action again on another impossible, bomb bay crack. Mary made quite a show for us as we cheered her on. I loved the guns on that woman!

Mary does the splits up the overhanging crack
Don had to take off, so we waved him good-bye. A quick lunch at camp, and surprise, it started raining again!! After a quick shower, we spotted some dry rock at 'Cornelius', a climb right behind camp. The descent was a convoluted meander around the top of the rock, then hard down-climbing at the west end where we met two young men doing a horribly difficult climb called, 'Harder Than Your Husband'. Lots of jokes on that one.
In the evening we headed to see our friends, Tom, Karla, Mary, and a host of others. Climbers tend to congregate together, far from the madding crowd. It was fun seeing everyone, but it was getting late, so we didn't stay long and headed back to our campsite.
The next day we headed to Walt's Wall again. The rock was totally wet, and we tried to keep dry as more thunderstorms threatened. It continued to rain on us.

Chris climbs a big flake on Walt's Wall

The Merry Band at the rappel point
Monday was nice in the morning, but every time we tried to climb, the heavens opened. The rock was really too wet to be safe, so we followed Gillian, our resident horticulturalist, and with her open flower guide, walked slowly out to Reynolds Hill trying to identify every flower in bloom. Gillian was a master, poking through hundreds of plants as we had our eyes to the ground in front of us. Wild Celery, Cinquefoil, Arnica, Yarrow, Paintbrush.... If only we could remember them all.

Reynolds Hill
In the afternoon, time was up. We needed to get back to Boulder, so admidst more rain, we headed south on 287. Fort Collins is a great little college town, and we knew it would have some terriffic food. Consulting the iPhone's 'Urban Spoon' we found the Rio Grande Cafe, famous for Margaritas and fine Mexican dining. Lunch turned into a long social hour, but rain drove us from the outdoor seating in the garden. As we paid our check, I noticed a beautiful old bicycle on the wall: a vintage Legnano. Holy Cow!!!! It's the same bike I've had since 1970. They called this one vintage, and it dated from 1978...mine must be an antique. I took a photo and promised them a photo of mine, same color exactly!.

The Legnano Italian race bike at the Rio Grande Cafe

Kicked in the butt by the rain again, we drove down into Boulder looking for a break and a place for a final afternoon climb. Not in the cards today. I'm afraid that after a month on the road, visiting six western states, climbing every great area we could find, that time had finally run out. Only one final experience remained.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Road Trip in Daphne's Honda - Episode 10

It's all about logistics. The Cadillac has a home in Mancos, Colorado. Daphne is working in Mancos for her mother, but she is coming back to Boulder Thursday. The road trip is nearing the end, and I see a free ride from Mancos. So, first thing in the morning I make the nearly 8-hour drive south from Boulder, through Ouray to pick up my suit and extra gear stored there, then over Red Mountain Pass, Silverton, Molas Pass, Coal Bank Pass, through Durango to Mancos. I arrive just in time to change cars - a Caddy for a Honda! I'm now in the shotgun, and Daphne has a package to deliver to FedEx in Durango before 4:14pm. She is a speedy driver; always was, and we make it...almost. The agent is kind and stays open, helping immensely . FedEx is the best! Daph went to college for several years at Fort Lewis, so she knows the town. She's starved and recommends the 'Serious Texas Barbecue'; she say's I'll love it. We order heaping quantities of smoked beef and pork with cheesy potatoes. A carnivore's delight with not a green veggie in sight. But are we full! Sated, smiling and bloated we cruise east to Pagosa Springs, with its steaming waters bubbling into the San Juan River. Up over Wolf Creek summit, with its magnificent rock formations, and down through the narrow canyons of the South Fork of the Rio Grande to Del Norte. We roll out into the high plains where at an unlikely intersection in the middle of nowhere we make a left turn onto 285 for the journey north to Saguache, veer into the mountains again through Salida, and into the real South Park, and the town of Fairplay, known for the animated TV show South Park. It's an enormous valley, the southernmost of three great geologic features: North Park, and Middle Park to the north. Sitting at 10,000 feet, with the Mosquito Range to the west, the Front Range to the east, and the Thirty Nine Mile Volcanic Field to the south-east. It's been raining a bunch, and the Honda's wipers are crap. But Daph is happy.To the east we see the rays of the sun ignite a tiny layer of clouds under a huge thunderstorm. Lightning strikes constantly, magnifying the darkness of the clouds. Rain and hail pelt the windshield.
The sun shines under the thunderhead
As the sun fades...
The open road ahead
The heavens open
But we are talking a bunch; I haven't seen Daphne much since she went to college eight years ago, so we are making up for lost time. I ask her about her boyfriend: is he good to her? Yes, so good! He's so polite and caring... He's just great!I'm glad; that's what a father needs to hear. What will she do next fall after her summer job? Back to Boulder, get a job, make money, then go to Ireland. Wow, Ireland? What made you pick Ireland? Oh, I've always wanted to go. The music is so great there. It has such charm. It's a dream...
Daphne at the helm of the Honda
To the west the sun is blazing like an inferno, and the clouds magnify the effect. The rain is pelting the windows as we drive at high speed on the straight road. Every direction is magnificent. Elk and deer mingle with the cattle in the fields.
The sun sets in a blaze of glory
On up 285 to north to Boulder. We arrive at midnight. I'm happy; I've just spent eight hours with my daughter.

The National Parks in a Pink Caddy - Episode 9

Indecision seemed to rein as we drove north from Vegas. It had bee 98 degrees in the day, so we thought the thunderstorms of the West might be relenting. But by the time we reached St. George, Utah, two hours north, it was raining again. Bummer. Chris suggested we drive through Zion National Park. The Kolob district was on I-15, so we stopped at the visitor center to learn a bit about the area. The rain continued to be depressing, so we drove up to Cedar City. My glasses were a problem: I had bent over to retrieve a stuck rope in Red Rocks, and my reading glasses fell into the abyss; and my fancy sunglasses lost their coating and I couldn't see through them. So, Chris suggested we go to the Dollar Store. I'd never been in such a place; everything cost $1.00!!! I found cool sunglasses and fancy reading glasses - $1 each. I couldn't resist two ice cream bars - $1 each. Now I was a happy camper once again.We headed up Utah Highway 14, a narrow winding road rising to over 10,000 feet. The rain turned to snow, and although the Caddy performed well, I worried slightly that the road would get too slick for us. My Alaska driving skills came in handy. We drove into Cedar Breaks National Monument. I produced my Golden Age Passport for the ranger at the kiosk, and he wanted my ID to prove that I was the holder of the pass. I was offended: I was surely a senior citizen; I'd driven up in a pink Cadillac; did he suspect that somehow I was cheating the government???? I asked if he had ever caught anyone cheating. He said 'No', but he'd heard that it had happened somewhere. Mind boggling!
Cedar Breaks north of Zion park
We walked the hundred feet past the toll booth to the edge and peered over. It was stunningly beautiful. Patches of snow clung in the depressions and gullies. A cold wind blew, and standing there in shorts was a huge change from the heat of Las Vegas. Created in 1933, the park was celebrating its 75th anniversary. The little log buildings, even the little toll kiosk were historic, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933.
Chris contemplates Cedar Breaks
Several miles across, and 2000 feet deep, the red sandstone is a wonderful example of the process of erosion. Utah Juniper trees dot the lower landscape...trees my grandfather would have called "Cedars".
The incredible red sandstone of the breaks; snow still in the gullies
It began to be a trip down 'Memory Lane' for me as we continued down Hwy 14. My great grandparents on my mother's side were immigrants to the area in the late nineteenth century. My grandfather was among the first rangers when the Dixie Forest was created. And my mother was born at Panguitch Lake in the Harris Flat Ranger Station. We were headed that way. I remember as a small boy catching rainbow trout in the lake from grandfather's boat. It was a long time ago, and I hadn't been there since I was quite young. Today, the lake is surrounded by million-dollar vacation sad. I remember driving up the dirt road in the Forest Service pickup in 'granny gear', hauling supplies from town. At the ranger station Grandpa had horses which he would ride through the forest wearing his suit, tie, white shirt and Stetson, a little badge on his coat. It was a different era.
Yours Truly with Panguitch Lake in the background
I pulled into the ranger station; the building was gone, but a wonderful volunteer named A.J. Mitchell greeted us and showed us around. He was my age and was born in the area, so we were able to trace the outlines of the buildings on the ground. The flagpole still stands, the oldest Forest Service flagpole in the country. I can see grandpa raising the flag every morning.
Chris and A.J. next to the ranger station falgpole
Driving down the hill into Panguitch, I got the sudden urge to see if my grandparents' home was still standing. A short search found it in tact and beautiful. Smaller than I remember, the barn and chicken coops gone, the garden now a lawn, but it brought back a flood of memories. I moved here when I was 6-months old and came back every summer until I was a teen-ager.
My grandparents home in Panguitch, Utah
Being Memorial Day, I convinced Chris to take a tour of the cemetery. We walked around a bit and found my grandparents grave. 'Katie May Daly and William R. Hurst'. My Aunt Catherine and Uncle Vermon must have placed the flowers on the grave earlier in the day. Storm clouds threatened and poured on us.
My grandparents gravestone, Memorial Day 2009
Bryce Canyon was just 25 more miles up the road. My mother and father met there when they worked at Ruby's Inn in 1940, so it was another memory stop. The rain was now pretty severe, huge drops, hailstones, sleet, thunder, lightning.... But we pulled into the park, showed the pass (no ID required this time) and headed for the rim.
Chris in the rain at Bryce Canyon
Peering into Bryce Canyon, Utah
Being an Alaskan and used to a lot of rain, I'm not usually too conscious of rain, but I had planned on desert conditions and was dressed in shorts, a short-sleeved shirt, and no rain gear. Not to worry, it was probably still warmer than it had been in Alaska in over a year!The canyon was staggeringly beautiful, with huge thunderheads, boiling black, and menacing. Giant sheets of rain surrounded us. The rain pretty much washed all the tourists away in minutes, and we nearly had the place to ourselves. Chris and the Caddy overlooking Escalante, Utah
How far could we make it before dark? Through Tropic where Mom taught school in the early 40's, Henrieville, and into Escalante my Uncle Vermon's home town. We pulled into a beautiful little BLM campground, but it was full. The road traveled the apex of a sandstone cliff band, and the cars that went by were mostly local folks in pick-up trucks. We stopped often to take photos and look over the edge at the vistas; we had become tourists.
Grand Staircase country, Utah
Chris suggested we pull off the road at a convenient spot to camp...sooner rather than later so we could cook while it was still light. I was difficult, wanting to find better places. Finally I took her advice, and we pulled into one of the most beautiful sites ever, high above the Escalante river, overlooking the whole wilderness of southern Utah: Slickrock, forests, white sandstone, the Escalante Staircase....The pasta dinner, salad, and box of wine settled us down for the evening. We set the chairs over by the edge of the cliff and watched the storm clouds and black rain all around us. We could see forever in the clear evening air.
The campsite above the Escalante River
In the morning, the sun shone brightly; maybe we were going to beat the weather after all. I had a bee in my bonnet about visiting my friend Ace Kvale, a fellow climber, in Boulder, Utah, at the bottom of the valley below us. So we screwed around for a while trying to find his place. After making a valiant effort, I couldn't spot his truck, so we motored on out of town. The search gave us a feel for the place. Beautiful and remote are words that come to mind.
Sunrise over the Escalante
The next National Park on the tour was Capitol Reef, a bit further north up the road. The drive over passes, down sinuous mountain roads, and through pinon pine and aspen forests made the time pass quickly. The Waterpocket Fold is a 100-mile long wrinkle in the earth's crust which extends from Thousand Lakes Mountain to Lake Powell on the Colorado River. The little Mormon farm town of Fruita, Utah, full of orchards and historic buildings is also park headquarters. We checked in at the visitor center, and drove up the road to to see the big fold, cliffs, and greenery.
Chris at Capitol Reef
Capitol Reef
The landscape for the next 100 miles or more is a total desert, like the Badlands of South Dakota, a moonscape with little vegetation. Not many folks venture out here, but it was a fascinating landscape, and we rubber-necked the whole way to I-70. The freeway headed into Grand Junction. I was behind in a paying a bill, so I tried to find a free wireless and wasted a ton of time while I worried about the countdown to 2:00pm (4:00 EST). Chris suggested the public library again; excellent!!! It was a classy place, and we did our email. Next I found an oil change spot, fixed up the Caddy, and we began the marathon drive to Boulder, Colorado. This leg of the journey would soon com toe an end.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Pink Cadillac heads to Vegas - Episode 8

We head north out of the rain; it looks good going towards Moab, 50 miles to the north. Maybe Potash road would be good? Lots of climbing there, too. We cruise into town and make a beeline for the Grand County Library, the "2007 Best Small Library in America." With free internet access, and even a list of showers available in town, it is a superb resource. The library also suggests we walk a block west to the city & county building; a free lunch is provided daily by the local merchants. Climbing bums never turn down free food. In front of the building is a wild sculpture of possibly a mountain lion. It's a wild looking piece of art, and I have to get a photo of Chris posing in front of it.

Chris and the blue lion in Moab

We check our email and the weather report: the West is wet...everywhere! Except Las Vegas! We're only about 8 hours away by I-70 and I-15. One email is from my friend Luzon, from Oregon, except that she says she is working at Arches National Park for the summer, and if I'm in the neighborhood, stop by. She has just written the note, so we decide to surprise her at the desk. It's a shock, but we have a great time reminescing. Tons of fun!!! Then the pink Cadillac is on the road again. Thunderstorms pelt the car the entire trip; I'm worried that Las Vegas will also be under water. Good thing we're in sort of an ark.

By evening we are in St. George, Utah, and I remember that my childhood friend Milt and his wife Tammy live here. Milt and I floated the Glen Canyon on the Colorado River when we were 13, before the dam. We started climbing mountains together at the tender age of 14 when we didn't know anything. Self taught, we survived childhood. Milt still exudes that same enthusiasm and curiosity I loved as a boy and still do! Tammy was so kind to us, opening up her home, taking us to dinner, filling us with fond stories. It's like we'd never been apart.

The next morning we arose early and hit the road, heading for Red Rocks Wilderness, west of Vegas. We decided to do a climb called "Frogland" in Black Velvet Canyon.

Black Velvet Canyon

The only little diffugalty was that the hike started down a very old, rocky, rough road. If we could nurse the Caddy down the road we'd cut off a couple of miles and spend the day on the rock, not climbing. The Caddy, bless her engine, was not designed for jeep trails, but she surprised everyone by dragging us in, mostly unscathed.

Red Rocks Wilderness, Las Vegas, Nevada

It was hot! We shouldered the packs and started up the trail. We? decided to put all the gear in one pack, so we took turns carrying it. I always worried that when Chris was carrying the pack, passers-by would think ill of me. Anyway, we had a system.

Our Goal

"Frogland" is at the entrance to the canyon; it rises straight up a beautiful crack system, around a huge overhang, for seven incredible pitches of climbing.

"Frogland" goes right up the middle of the cliff.

We left the pack and extra gear at the base, put our running shoes, water, and peanut butter sandwich in a small day pack and headed up. The first pitch was a nice jam crack, but since we had been to Indian Creek, it was a breeze. By the time we were at the first belay ledge, the sun was curling behind the peak, and we would be in the shade for the rest of the afternoon, a true blessing at this time of year.

Up the first pitch

across the smooth crux pitch

The crux is a smooth slab with no protection, then hump up a little overhang to a crack. Well, the move seemed quite reasonable, but the rope got stuck in a crack and I couldn't move, so I had to downclimb the pitch, jerk the rope out of the crack, then re-climb the hard parts. All in a day's work.

Your guide in desert garb

The climb went on and on. In front of us were two young doctors doing their residency in different cities, but meeting in the desert for climbing. Behind us a local with his girl friend. All were friendly and fun, so we seemed to flow up the climb as a group.

Chris relaxing on a tiny belay ledge

On the summit, the sun was still shining brightly, and we shared the sandwich, some water, changed our shoes and headed down the steep, scratchy gully, back to our packs.

Chris celebrates the summit

Las Vegas shimmers in the desert heat

As we rounded the corner, the two doctors were sitting by the side of the trail...waiting for us. They tenderly asked if we really did drive a Cadillac in; they had a Prius and didn't dare take it down the road, so they had hiked the several miles in. We admitted we really did bring the Caddy. Did we have room in the Caddy for them? Well, it was loaded to the roof; it bottomed out in many places. So we said: "Sure, we'll make room!" So...the Caddy crept out at low speed, avoiding the bigger rocks that would take out the oil pan.

The Caddy emerges slightly scathed from the desert

Margaritas and Mexican food sounded tempting; Chris knew a great restaurant. We headed into Vegas. After looking for mythical $19.95 hotels in town, we camped in the BLM campground at Red Rocks...way after dark. The next morning it was 85 degrees at 6:30 am. My Alaska blood was boiling, and I dreamed of climbing cool granite in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. We motored north!

Druid Arch in The Pink Cadillac- Episode 7

yellow flowers
The beauty of spring in the desert

Indian Creek is in full blossom: tiny desert flowers, cacti, and green bushes everywhere. It's been raining and thunderstorms threaten the entire West from Chihuahua to Wyoming. I did bring a Goretex parka in the very unlikely event I ever encountered a desert shower.

Spring 2009 Road Trip 259
Camping at Indian Creek

So, I end up cooking breakfast in a parka...when it should be 85 degrees. Looking at Indian Creek through the mist, it appears to be more than ankle-deep. What a surprise! Gazing at the massive cliffs of Canyonlands is like looking 'through a glass darkly' in the distance. Cool!

Spring 2009 Road Trip 260
Indian Creek, rain in the distance

To the south, the North and South Six shooters rise out of the mist and rain, beckoning, but not for today.
Spring 2009 Road Trip 262
North Six Shooter - through the mist

We decide to spend the day hiking in Canyonlands National Park, which route we don't know, but a hike, nevertheless. It will be a nice respite from the heavy climbing schedule we've been on. And, it is incredibly beautiful. A quick trip to the visitor center at the park entrance finds a young ranger who looks like she might have personal information on the hikes, so I ask her what her favorite hike is. She tells us a loop trail she likes, but we have perused the literature and finally decide on Druid Arch, and 11-mile round trip through the Needles. A short drive down a winding dirt road in 'The Desert Rose' scraping bottom a couple of times brings us to Elephant Hill parking Area where we leave the Caddy, grab a lunch and water, and start up the trail. The sandstone trail is classic; the path is cut into the rock, large cairns mark the way, and it's a pleasure to walk on.

North Six Shooter
A mile or so in we see a sign, pointing the wrong way!

I know where we are headed, so in spite of the goofy signs (Why doesn't my old agency fix this kind of nonsense????) we continue in the right direction, up over the the hardscrabble and rocks. Looking down at my feet I can see a fossil from time to time: ripple marks from ancient wave action, little accretions, and concretions, and an animal or two.

Chris hiking
Chris hiking up through the Needles

The scenery is spectacular, and my little point-and-shoot, in spite of its Leitz lens, just can't do it justice. Red and white layered sandstone, laminated and weathered into slender pillars, form a crenellated fence around the canyons.

Hiking up the creek bed, into the heart of the Needles

A smooth rock floor forms the canyon floor. Blue racer lizards sun on the rocks, and a variety of hard-to-see warblers sang from the trees. At one point the trail narrowed and passed through a "Joint", a cleft in the sandstone. This is not the same as a slot canyon, eroded by a stream, but rather by the rock splitting apart through faulting.

The Joint
The Joint

A few hours of hiking brought us to Druid arch. I had wondered why, in the middle of Ute Indian country, an arch would have a Celtic name, but after seeing it, I understood. It was huge, much bigger than I had imagined. If it were near Stonehenge, the Druids would have had a field day.

Druid Arch
Druid Arch

We had hardly seen a soul the whole hike, but at the arch two groups of young women hiked in behind us. We took photos of each other and had lunch with the arch in the background.

New friends at Druid Arch

The hike out was wet; pools formed in the otherwise dry wash. The sandstone absorbed the water like a sponge. This was great for the ecosystem, but for climbers, it meant that the rock would not be climbable for the next 24 hours, at least.

A pool forms in the canyon

The beauty of Canyonlands National Park

Back in camp we watched the creek rise as the night fell. What was normally a very shallow trickle became a red-mud torrent. As the night went on we worried about flash flooding, because even in the afternoon, portions of the road were covered in a foot of mud. Now, when we could hear the roar of the creek, we thought we might be too close. Huge cottonwood trees tumbled by, roots, stumps, anything near the water was washed into the Colorado River.

Flooding creek
Indian Creek looks like nasty mud!

In the morning we ate breakfast in the rain, packed the tent wet, and loaded the 'Desert Rose' for a trip to a dryer climate. How could you get more arid than the Utah desert? We drove to Moab to find out.
Caddy in the rain
The Caddy in the rain - time to move on!