Once upon a time isn’t now

March 6, 2023 Comments Off on Once upon a time isn’t now

Once upon a time I rode 220 miles in thirteen hours.

Once upon a time I rode 600 miles a week, every week.

Once upon a time I got a bronze medal in a 120-mile, elite state championship road race.

Once upon a time I smashed on the Flog Ride, every fucking Thursday morning for six years.

Once upon a time I rode up the coast to Canada and back to LA through the Cascades and Sierras in 82 days.

Once upon a time I did the FTR every year.

Once upon a time I never missed the Donut, the Holiday Ride, or NPR.

Once upon a time I trained with Fields and Marco Vermeij.

Once upon a time I climbed some of the toughest mountains in Japan every day before lunch.

Once upon a time I held Zdenek Stybar’s wheel most of the way up the Sa Calobra.

Once upon a time Kristie and I rode 138 miles with 40-lb. backpacks in a day, camped, and rode home.

Once upon a time I crossed Germany on a MTB-hybrid with nothing but a small knapsack.

Once upon a time I sat on Kristie’s wheel for 120 miles through the desert and Glamis to Blythe.

Once upon a time I rode in the dead of winter from LA to Houston to see my ailing father.

Two days ago I rode 19.1 miles with a loaded bike and was wrecked.

Yesterday I rode 37 miles on same loaded bike and felt pretty darned tired.

Today I rode another 37 miles and feel like I rode 100.

And you know what?

I’m good with that.

—-

END

Fake snow

February 24, 2023 Comments Off on Fake snow

Growing up in Houston, it snowed twice. Tiny flurries, half-an-inch on the ground, just enough to make a mud snowman. It was amazing. Some of the very best memories of my childhood happened in a few hours. Our dog Fletcher discovering snow. Snowmudball fights for the better part of an entire day, later degenerating simply into fights.

After that first snow in the winter of ’72-’73 I lay awake every cold winter night, hoping against hope for snow. Sometimes I’d wake up and see the white ground bathed in moonlight. “It snowed! It snowed!” I’d tell myself, hoping against hope. But as they say, hope is not a plan.

Snow meant more than missing school, which was incredibly meaningful for someone who never did his homework. It also meant that everything changed. Houston’s semi-sub-sorta tropical climate became a winter wonderland, or at least a winter mildly credible land.

I’ve often wondered why those two snows were such a big deal. Today I think I cracked the code.

Up here in the low Sierras it snows every year, though global warming has greatly diminished frequency and quantity. We’re at 3,000 feet, but the backyard goes up to about 6,500, and across the way, over the river and up into the Domeland Wilderness the peaks strike out at 8,000-9,000 feet. That’s still lowdown compared to many places, but you’re most certainly not in Kansas anymore.

The snow pattern here at the cabin is heavy snow up top and a couple of inches down below, where it melts the same day. As I write this, yesterday’s snow, mostly melted, got covered with last night’s snow, mostly melted, which is now getting repaved with this afternoon’s snow. For this low down it’s a lot of snow. Suddenly outdoors seems a lot less inviting than in.

People who live where it really snows might consider this a late spring dusting, if that, although the seven feet or so about to be dumped up higher would get your attention pretty much anywhere. But the snow snobs still wouldn’t consider this anything. How can it be snow if you don’t need a plow, salt, chains, and a survival kit in case you don’t make it from the front door to the car?

I get it, but fuck off anyway. We used to be heat-humidity snobs in Houston. People would touch down in March and choke on the heat as their hair flopped straight down as if magically treated with motor oil. “This? This ain’t nothin’,” we’d say. And we were right. March is to July in Houston as September is to February in North Dakota.

In other words, our little fake snowstorm here wouldn’t cause a Mainer to even consider gloves, but for us it’s show-stopping. The shelves are bare. People are afraid to drive. Fireplaces that haven’t seen action since Ma was a teenager are roaring with well-seasoned walnut and oak. Me? I’m curled up next to Snykes enjoying a hot cup of tea as winter swirls outside. It’s cozy in here, beautiful out there.

I took Snykes outside for his first taste of snow. He was ambivalent. When he came inside after less than a minute he looked at me like, “Call me when you get some warm snow.”

On the other hand, we’ve taken a couple of walks, and once out in it, he’s fine. It’s easier on his torn footpad than asphalt or dirt. Plus, he got to see a big fat coyote that had come down due to the snow. Snykes pointed, then strained at the leash. “Snykes,” I said. “If you had trouble with a raccoon, that coyote might tear off more than part of your paw.” He growled to make his point, peed on a bush, and we headed back.

I threw out extra rations for the birds. The snow has brought them in droves, along with fellows who never come to the feeders: chipping sparrows, fox sparrows, and California towhees are hungry enough to stand beak-to-wing with the quail, doves, white-crowned sparrows, jays, spotted towhees, and the innumerable juncoes. Even the acorn woodpeckers aren’t too proud to get on the ground and peck for seeds.

The four Anna’s hummingbirds were miffed at the snow covering their feeder, but it thawed and they were able to get back to the usual business of fighting over food supplies that were enough for ten families.

It’s by looking at all the usual friends covered in snow, the trees, dirt, rocks, roofs, streets, and steps, that I cracked the code. Snow for us hotlanders transforms. Boring old water, which is scarce even in good years, becomes powdery, white, and cold at first, virgin pure, and quickly turns muddy, mucky. Everything changes in an instant and then changes again.

When I was a kid I thirsted after that change. I hungered for that moment when the world shifts shape overnight, when the thing I saw yesterday was no longer the thing I see today.

I still do.


END

Vicious attack of the scurrilous raccoon scum

February 22, 2023 Comments Off on Vicious attack of the scurrilous raccoon scum

I was sitting on the floor reading, when out of the corner of my eye I saw something move.

“Fuck!” I thought, remembering that I’d left the back door open. It was 9:00 pm, prime raccoon time.

The hallway was dark, so I grabbed the flashlight. “C’mon, Snykes!”

He bounded up and led the way into the back room. I switched on the light. The raccoon was on the threshold but when he saw Snykes he came back in and attacked. It appeared to be the same raccoon that Snykes had tangled with a couple of days before.

The fight was horrible and lasted for over two minutes. A couple of times, Snykes had him by the throat, but he doesn’t have the killer instinct, and at the last minute he’d let him go. “Can’t you see I’m gonna win? Why don’t you just leave?”

Each reprieve led the raccoon to redouble his attacks, at one point climbing up on Snykes’s back. Eventually the raccoon had had enough, and retreated outside. Snykes went into the yard to make sure the raccoon’s exit was permanent. It had climbed over the fence but even so it charged the fence a couple of times, though it didn’t dare come back into the yard. Snykes didn’t budge until the coast was clear, no matter how much I called him.

Anyone who thinks wild raccoons are cute little critters is crazy. They are not afraid of anything.

Snykes came back into the house, and he was limping. That’s when I noticed blood all over the floor. The raccoon had gotten his teeth into Snykes’s foot, and torn away half of one of his foot pads. Now that the battle was over, the pain from his wound hit him. He could barely walk.

In a couple of minutes the bleeding stopped, but he has been unable to walk for three days now. The wound is getting better but it’s still incredibly painful. Since he can only hobble, he’s been spending most of his time in a sunbeam.


END

New eyes

February 19, 2023 Comments Off on New eyes

The more you look at a thing, after a while, the less you see.

No matter how beautiful the landscape, with time your eyes adjust. The extraordinarily beautiful becomes ordinary. Seasonal changes, sunlight, heavy snows, a freshening rain, these things can all reawaken your mind to the beauty of a landscape, but soon it becomes background again.

This is mostly neuroscience. Your brain is trained to decode what’s new, store it as memory, and built new transitions atop the old landscape. It’s the efficiency of not having to be stopped dead in your tracks every time you gaze upon the astonishing beauty of nature. And although conscious looking can keep your mind taut, the more you do it, the more difficult it becomes to see the old as if it’s new. To paraphrase Greg Lemond, it doesn’t get easier, you just see more.

I was returning home from my walk yesterday and saw something truly new: a jogger coming up Old State Road. People don’t jog up here because it’s rather remote and because it’s very uphill. The only jogger I’d seen before was an Air B&B denizen who had made it less than a quarter mile up the mostly flat, paved, bottom section of the road. When she got to the hairpin she simply stopped and whipped out her phone. We could hear her telling her boyfriend how her “workout was over” and “it was super hilly and hard out here.” Minutes later he came by in his car and scooped her up.

But this person was way up above the paved section, and laboring mightily. Snykes and I watched him slow to a crawl, then to a walk. We continued down the road until we met. Snykes lunged at him to say hello, and he was terrified. I felt awful.

“I hate dogs,” the small, old man said. “I was bitten badly once.”

I pulled Snykes back. “I’m really sorry. He’s friendly but all dogs bite. I’m really sorry for scaring you.”

The man smiled. “It’s okay. He looks friendly but I’m afraid.” Then he looked at me, ragged beard, ragged hair, red plaid woolen shirt, suspenders, green wool jacket. “Do you live here?”

“Yeah,” I said.

His face opened up in a smile bigger than Dallas. “You are so lucky!” he practically shouted. “This mountain air! It’s incredible! It fills my whole body with life! This is the real America,” he said, sweeping his hands at the snowy peaks. “This is real life! This!” he repeated, “is the real America. You are a lucky, lucky man to have this!”

“You’re pretty lucky, too. I’ve never seen anyone jogging up here before. So you’ve got a million or so acres of wildlands to yourself.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“It’s incredible!” Then he frowned. “Los Angeles is so horrible! Do you know LA?”

“I’m not crazy about it.”

“It is so horrible! You have to work so hard to make money and then you have to work even harder to pay for the things you bought with the money you made. It is endless! I hate it! In the end you can only get ahead if you lie, cheat, steal, become a horrible person like everyone else.”

“Sounds about right.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m retired.”

“No! You are too young! It can’t be!”

The man had a strong accent but I couldn’t place it. It wasn’t Chinese, or Japanese, Korean, or Vietnamese. He was in his 70’s, wiry, and decked out in the most expensive running outfit, replete with new shoes. “Well, I didn’t say I’m rich. I said ‘retired.'”

He shook his head vigorously. “You are rich, my good friend. You are more than rich. You have what is not for sale, what cannot be bought. You have this!” He swept his hands again, shaking his head at the beauty, and snorting as he inhaled. “Do you see my shoes?”

“Yes.”

“They are brand new, best model, very expensive, big cushion. Do you know why? Because in LA everything is asphalt, hard, paved, it breaks your bones. So I have to buy these expensive shoes to protect my joints. But out here the ground is so soft! It is like running on a mattress! It is amazing!” He paused. “Are you married?”

“Divorced.”

He nodded. “She won’t come to the mountains. My wife, I mean. She hates nature. She loves the city. I have begged her to move, to leave it all. We have money, a nice house, we could live here. I’m an old man. I am tired of working. I want this. I need this. But she won’t.”

I nodded. “Not many would.”

“But how many years do I have left? Not long, that’s for sure. I dream about taking a bunch of credit cards and running away in the middle of the night.”

“Don’t do that.”

“No, I couldn’t. I’m too old. There is either divorce, or acceptance, or running away. That’s it.”

“It’s called three bad choices.”

“And I’m OCD. Do you know what that is?”

“I think so.”

“It helps me be successful at work but it makes me miserable.”

“Nature can help you if you let it.”

“How?”

“See that giant stone way over there?” He shaded his eyes, looked and nodded. “Now ask yourself, ‘What am I looking at?’ Are you doing that now?” He nodded. “Notice how your mind is empty except for that one thought?” He nodded again. “That’s your OCD medicine. When a compulsive thought enters your head, just look at the natural world and ask what you’re looking at. It will vanish like chalk wiped from a blackboard.”

He turned to me. “This is true! It really worked! You are a very wise man!” He was getting emotional.

“I’m hardly wise. But nature can soothe what ails you if you let it.”

“This meeting. It was ordained. It was meant to be. I know it.”

“Maybe.”

“Tomorrow morning I’m going to church with my friend and I will thank God for you and your kindness and your wisdom.” He put his hands together and bowed towards me.

“Well, I have to thank you, too.”

“Me? What for?”

“For the new eyes,” I said.


END

Hoppy little doggie

February 16, 2023 Comments Off on Hoppy little doggie

The sun did not shine. It was too cold to play. So we sat by the fire on that cold, frigid day. I sat there with Snykes, we sat there, we two, and I said “How I wish we had something to do! Too cold to go out, too much wind to play ball,” so we sat in the house, we did nothing at all. And all we could do was to sit, sit, sit, sit. And we did not like it. Not one little bit.

I checked my laptop and it said “Enjoy your empty inbox.” I think what it means is “Email is a horrible affliction that ruins your life, and every moment you don’t have to devote to it is a check in the win column.” This little message used to say “Enjoy your day!” until they realized that email means your day sucks, and the overlords at Microsoft didn’t want to re-emphasize what you already know. But it begs the question how you’re supposed to enjoy something that’s empty? Stare at it with relish? Give it the finger? Stick out your tongue?

The best way is to turn off the computer, which is the last thing the overlords want. So I turned it off.

Snykes and I headed up the road. The sky had cleared and it was even colder, but so beautiful.

Snykes stood in the middle of the road to check on my progress. He always does this. “Hurry up! You’ll miss things!” Snykes was wearing his pink sweater.A couple more lovely vistas unfolded. On the hillside a small herd of deer looked down on us, then nimbly disappeared. Snykes smelled their trail and dashed away. I walked up the switchbacks and he was waiting for me. He bounded over. He has the biggest and happiest hops. He is a very hoppy little doggie. Look at the little dust cloud he kicks up!

We walked farther. Further? Shortly past the 2.5-mile mark, with 1,134 feet of elevation gain, we decided to turn back. It was so cold. The wind cut through my wool jacket, wool shirt, undershirt, and through my wool gloves. My toes were even cold. Snykes wasn’t cold at all. He much prefers cold to hot. He bounded along and didn’t seem especially eager to get home. We saw some more pretty views. Finally, he stood at the edge of the road and surveyed his dominions. It is nice to have dominions so vast. Especially when you are a little doggie in a pink sweater.


END

Foot conditioning

February 14, 2023 Comments Off on Foot conditioning

Winter is a time when everything gets out of shape, especially my feet. In summer they are rough and callused. I can walk most anywhere, and do. Last summer I did the bulk of a 16-mile hike unshod over rough terrain.

It doesn’t take long for foot fitness to go away, like any other fitness. The mDNA get instructions that no more extra foot skin is needed when you start wearing shoes and bam, the mDNA stops producing it. So now my feet are soft and tender and they hurt when I walk on sharp gravel. There is a lot of sharp gravel in the yard. It’s either a perfect training ground or hell.

Walking barefoot is great for your brain. It improves cognition and memory. It also improves sensory awareness of eyes and ears, especially eyes. When you are getting started with your calluses you can hear your brain analyzing everything beneath your feet. Is it sharp? Is it soft? Hard? Warm? Cold? Cool? Hot? Rough? Smooth? Spiky? Bendy? These are all crucial things your brain has to sort out as you walk barefoot.

As your brain catalogues things as pain-inducing or not, you then lose awareness of them. It’s synapse building-as-you-go.

Calluses don’t take away feeling. They protect the skin from cuts and punctures. Studies comparing the feet of flabby-footed Westerners with villagers who never wear shoes show that the villagers’ feet are every bit as sensitive as the flabby-footed folks. But the villagers’ feet aren’t damaged by walking, a novel idea, and the habitually barefoot have a much more sophisticated ability to discriminate between painful and non-painful sensations.

It’s almost as if people evolved to walk without shoes, almost.

Once you’ve spent the better part of a year walking shoeless, it doesn’t take long for the calluses to build back up. Like other kinds of fitness, having done it in the past makes it easier to do it in the future as long as too much time hasn’t gone by.

It is a very nice feeling, getting in touch with Mother Earth this way. You feel so much more, literally and figuratively, when your skin is in contact with the unpaved surface of the world. And since you stare at the ground a lot, you notice more. You notice little things fighting for life, just the same as you. Little flowers. Tiny shoots of green. Extra-tiny bugs scurrying here and there on important missions, just as important as yours.

We can learn a lot from bugs, none of whom wear shoes, and from dogs for that matter, who generally go bare-pawed. Snykes has extraordinary proprioception. He rarely misplaces a paw, and his rear paws never hit sharp things. How does he do that? His rear paws are behind him. Maybe he memorizes everything in front and then his brain calculates where his rear paws need to land to avoid the ouchies.

It has to be more complicated than it looks, and it looks darned complicated.

By the time April rolls around my calluses should be back, along with my foot muscles. I have told people that walking barefoot is easier than walking shod because in fact your foot muscles do all the work when you walk, not the calves/thighs/glutes. It seems counterintuitive but it isn’t. Your feet are evolved to make you walk with maximal efficiency, and barefoot walking builds up the arches, ankles, and the hundred-plus ligaments/tendons/muscles in the foot itself. The larger muscles in your leg evolved to stabilize and support the weight of the upper limbs and body.

Cover the foot up with a shoe and the foot muscles atrophy, and since they’re constricted and can’t flex, the work shifts to the bigger, less efficient muscles in the legs. Shoes are the reason that even runners can have fat feet with weak connective tissue. And people who don’t even run, like most cyclists and the population at large, simply have flabby and inert feet.

It takes a long time to build up your feet, but when they finally get strong they start to look fundamentally different. The muscles and tendons become pronounced and the foot itself gets skinny and elongated. Your arches start to raise and your toes splay out. And you find that you can walk so much farther with so much less effort.

We still have some cold, therefore shoe weather ahead, but spring foot training has begun.


END

Super weekend

February 13, 2023 Comments Off on Super weekend

On Friday morning, Snykes and I hiked up the 5 Hills, then up to the big lookout. It was a 6-mile walk with 1,316 feet of climbing. At the bottom of the Big Hill, Snykes let me know that he was tired by lying upside down in a ditch.

But I knew he was just taking a break, so we continued on to the lookout, looked out, than tramped the 3+ miles home. He was super tired. He is a little doggie with short legs. Running up steep hills is hard. He does it anyway.

After a few hours I decided to go on a bicycle ride up Old State Road. It took me an hour and fifty-two minutes to go just over thirteen miles. The sand was deep. The road was steep. The melted snow made everything muddy. The road above Wagy Flat was washed out from the the snowmelt. Cars couldn’t go on it and they hadn’t, it months. There was a downed tree in the middle of the road. I pedaled very slowly but it was hard as fuck.

Finally I got to the snow. I tried to ride it for a few yards. I couldn’t. It was only going to get deeper, so I turned around. But dog it was beautiful. When you are high in the mountains it is so quiet. You can hear rushing water from the creeks and freshets below. An occasional scrub jay squawks; that’s about it.

That night Kristie arrived. We got up early on Saturday and went to Lake Isabella for groceries and bird seed. Snykes loves the car because he thinks we are going to McDonald’s. He also thinks he is a lap dog. He sits in my lap in the passenger seat, usually crushing my thighs and occasionally my nuts. I don’t mind. He is happy with his nose out the window. Snykes’s approach is good. He thinks we have to do everything together because we are pals. Pals are like that.

Next, we decided to enjoy the pre-game show, not the one that everybody else saw, but rather our own private one along the M-99 en route to the Johnsondale Bridge. I think we saw less than a dozen cars in three-and-a-half hours.

We decided to ride heart rate and I averaged 121 bpm for the whole ride, which although that’s only the top of my Zone 2, ended up being a really hard 52 miles with 3,100 feet of elevation. It’s the same ride I’d done earlier in the week but I felt great and rode faster, finished faster, and ended much less tired. It’s almost as if training works. And when you’re on a 30-lb. aluminum bike with fat tires, it almost feels like you accomplished more. Almost.

On the way back we stopped at Brush Creek to marvel at the little falls. Usually there’s hardly any water in it. We also stopped to check out a downed power line. The cliff fell over on it and buried it. SCE had better things to do on Super Bowl weekend than repair downed lines.

We got home and were really tired, but we both had that satisfied feeling of having done a hard ride. Coming into town I pretended I’d gotten clear on the Poggio and had made it alone to the Via Roma, only to be chased down at the last second by Merckx, Zabel, de Vlaeminck, Cavendish, and Kelly. Catching my breath I dropped back, then swung wide and hit out early, catching them by surprise and taking the first classic of the season by a tire width, right there in front of the adoring toothless lady standing in front of Charlie’s Grocery Mart.

On Super Sunday we were super tired. Snykes was not happy because he’d been excluded from the bike ride. He has always wanted to win Milan-San Remo, too. We decided to do a ten-mile hike up Cannell Meadow Trail.

There were two other people with dogs but we soon passed them and had the trail to ourselves. We made a detour before turning around, scrambling a half-mile up a crazy steep wall that ended atop a peak looking down into the river valley. Snykes loved it so much. He is a good little doggie and such a strong little hiker.

We climbed over 3,100 feet in five miles of ascending. It felt steeper than it was because of the hard ride on Saturday. The air was crisp and chilly but not cold. At times the sky cleared and at others it looked stern and wintry. Snowy Sierra peaks cut the skyline. We had the whole million acres to ourselves.

Back at home we all three collapsed for a long winter’s nap. During that time someone threw a football somewhere and lots of drunk people got drunker and half of them got happier and half of them sadder. I hope it all worked out for everyone in the end.

I know it did for us.


END

Freedog

January 31, 2023 Comments Off on Freedog

When I got Snykes I had a romantic vision of taking him to the mountains where we would take long, rambling walks together. He would bound ahead, sniffing out quail and dove and squirrels, and I would stride along behind. He’d look back at me from time to time but I’d never need to call, wouldn’t need a leash. Snykes would be a freedog, rescued from the pound by a benevolent me who gave him the freedom to simply be a dog.

It was a geriatric version of “A Boy and His Dog,” retitled “An Old Fart and His Dog.”

But Snykes had other ideas.

The first thing he did was to bleed all over my shoe. Life in the pound had meant little to no walking, so his pads were tender as a puppy’s. Simply jumping around in the “get acquainted” pen for a few minutes, walking out on the SPCA grounds, and bounding around in the parking lot shredded his feet. When we got home he could barely walk.

The pads healed but Snykes appeared to be more of a sleeper than a walker. He’d eagerly jump up to go outside and was always happy to walk for longer distances, but his status quo was asleep. And then when we brought him up to the cabin it got even more complicated.

Even though we’re flush up against the Sequoia National Forest, you can’t just let your dog run off leash until you’re a pretty long way from town. There are occasionally other dog walkers, and of course some people simply let their dogs run wild all day. The dogs are aggressive and Snykes has a certain street dog air to him; the one time in LA that he got attacked by two large dogs off leash, the attackers quickly thought better of it. Snykes deftly got to the large shepherd’s throat, and if Snykes hadn’t been on his leash, it would have ended badly. For the shepherd.

Moreover, Snykes loves to meet and greet people, and it’s not always mutual. So we would take long walks every morning with him on the leash. He strained a bit in the beginning, but as long as I let him sniff and pee where he wanted, it was okay. I wanted to let him off his leash but I also feared he’d run away. So we walked together, tethered.

Yesterday, after we’d gotten a solid two miles up the road, I decided to give it a try. I’d never seen another person that far up the road, and I mean, “A Boy and His Dog,” right?

I unsnapped the leash and he trotted a few steps, waiting for some other type of control to be asserted. None came. He glanced back at me, confirmed that he was in fact off the leash, and sprinted away. I had no idea he could run that fast. In a few seconds, kicking up dust like a car, he was fifty yards away, and then, without stopping, he wheeled, skidded backwards, and going even faster made a beeline back towards me.

He was running downhill so fast that his rear legs couldn’t keep up with his front, sending him in a full sidewise, barely-in-control run, his tongue flapping like a sail until he got within a foot of me and instead of crashing and sending me sprawling, he sheared off and continued sprinting down the hill, turning again and racing back to me at breakneck speed.

I’ve seen happy dogs before but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one as happy as Snykes being freed from the leash. We walked another couple of miles up the road, or rather I did. Snykes ran ten steps or more for every one of mine. He sniffed, he checked, the galloped, he loped, he trotted, he dashed down the road embankments, he explored and leaped and bounded as only a free person can. I mean dog.

No, actually, I don’t.


END

Slow, slower, snowest

January 30, 2023 Comments Off on Slow, slower, snowest

I went for a ride yesterday, 43 miles round-trip up the Kern River and back up the 1.1-mile hill to the cabin, a whopping 2,484 feet of climbing.

It felt awful, it took forever, and when I was done, I was done.

Last October, when I rode from here to LA, bike fully loaded and busting at the lungs with enthusiasm and strength, that was considered a throwaway ride. Yesterday I saw that it was still a throwaway ride, but what had been thrown away was my fitness.

The massive storms of Christmas and early January have left deep snow on the peaks, peaks I’ve never seen snow on before. For the first time they’re really looking like the Sierra Nevada, the “Snowy Mountains.”

The snow on the lower slopes is all gone, which is to say it has melted and drained down into the Kern River, which, though no longer boiling, is fuller than I’ve ever seen it. And it’s loud for most of the twenty miles or so upriver that I pedaled.

At one point I got off and went down to a favorite campsite. The high water mark, judged from the debris in the trees, was six or seven feet high. One massive old pine which had lain on its side, forty feet long and maybe six or seven feet in diameter, stripped of bark and covered with knife graffiti from years of campers, had been picked up by the raging river and tossed downriver some 200 feet, now resting up into the boughs of another tree.

Large boulders that had been easy landmarks were either gone or so far downriver and mostly submerged that they were invisible.

All along the way, dry creekbeds gurgled and tumbled and poured water into the river from the upper slopes, dry no more. Most of them were creeks I hadn’t even known were creeks.

And up on the peaks I could see the snowpack waiting for the spring. All those millions of gallons of frozen water will have to go somewhere, and that somewhere is “down here.” It will be a glorious and beautiful and watery spring and summer. Things will be so green that they hurt. The southern Sierra will be born anew.

But.

This is a throwback winter, one step forward, ten steps back. The reality isn’t that it’s been a winter of heavy snowfall, it’s that global warming caused by unabated burning of fossil fuels created a weather storm more destructive than beneficial to temporarily relieve the artificial drought caused by same burning of fossil fuels. The big trees don’t need a one-off freak storm, they need annual heavy snowfall to create the big snowpack that lets the taproots of young sequoias and other conifers grow quick and fast and strong and deep.

The creeks and rivers don’t need one freak snowmelt to recharge, they need millenia of steady precipitation to refill the springs, the drips, and the habitat, even the man-made reservoirs built so we’d never run out of almonds and oranges.

This throwback winter, I realized on dead legs, may be the only time in my life that I experience a true southern Sierra winter and spring. There’s always a last time, and last winter was dry as a bone. Future winters are certain to be that dry or drier. The joy of snowfall and the richness and life it brings, those things are swirling down the river forever.

What corporate farms see as an opportunity for more nuts, and what urbanites see as more cheap lawn watering, I see as a swan song.

But for now I get to pedal with heavy legs in search of a bit of fitness, marveling at the beauty, and full of excitement at what nature has in store. The lake is fuller than it’s been in years. Pine cones are everywhere. Spring may not be bustin’ out all over, but winter is so beautiful that I can wait.

If you haven’t made your 2023 resolutions yet, make just this one: to catch the Sierras in full bloom one last time, and make sure you burn as much gasoline as you can to do it.


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What’s an iPhone?

January 20, 2023 Comments Off on What’s an iPhone?

I was exiled to LA for about three months. I tried to fit in but couldn’t. Once you get acclimated to the quiet of the mountains and to the absence of people and things, it’s hard to go back. Maybe it’s impossible. Or maybe it’s just a luxury to be able to leave. Maybe it’s both.

Snykes and I made our getaway back to the cabin, where the southern Sierra is recovering with many, many feet of snow. The lower snowfall has melted and already swelled the Kern River, and Lake Isabella, which had become a bathtub, is once again spreading out as it fills. When spring comes the thick crust of snow on high will turn the river into a boiling froth, and the lake will rebound to its previous levels.

The sequoias need this snowpack as desperately as the rivers, creeks, springs, and reservoirs. Global warming means that this winter is only a reprieve, one step forward, five steps backward, but I’ll take it.

Snykes has suffered through a lot of change, beginning with his escape from the pound. But it’s hard getting used to living in an apartment, and then moving up to a cabin in the mountains. His pads were so tender from his time in the pound that minimal walking turned them bloody and raw. He’d never walked up stairs before, and that was terrifying as we are on the third floor. And then the whole issue of riding in a car. He didn’t know how to get in or out, and was terrified by the whole process.

Just when things seemed like they might settle down, he got whisked up to the mountains in a 5-hour logjam of LA traffic. The only thing positive about it was that we stopped at McDonald’s in Bakersfield and got him a burger, so now he knows the purpose of the car: hamburger.

Although he’s a very calm dog, all the change got to be too much, especially going in and out of the cabin to get firewood, haul water, feed the birds, and get things squared away. Even at the apartment in LA, Snykes showed some separation anxiety when I left him at home for a short bike ride. I got back to find a pretty solid section of the molding chewed off. Well, dogs gotta chew when they are anxious since they can’t go online and vent their spleen on Twitterbookgram.

At the cabin he evinced some anxiety by taking the frill off the edge of a Persian carpet, and then he mysteriously appeared in the living room after a brief absence with some strange white stuff around the edge of his mouth. I didn’t think anything of it until I went into the back bedroom and noticed that it had snowed inside. A quick peek inside the closet showed that Snykes had gotten hold of my down sleeping bag and opened it up to set all the down feathers free.

I sighed and started vacuuming while he lay on his blanket in front of the fire, or so I thought.

In mid-vacuum I wondered if he had gotten into something else, so I switched it off and walked into the living room. Snykes had just gotten hold of the iPhone 13 Mini I’d bought in February. I knew better than to wrest it from him; when he gets something in his mouth you don’t want him to think you’re going to take it away. I distracted him with a gentle pet, he dropped the mortally wounded phone, and I cradled it in my arms as it exhaled its final breath.

One of his canines had efficiently punctured the protective plastic and the screen, giving a spiderweb appearance as the screen flickered and valiantly tried to hang on, but alas it could not.

Thankfully he hadn’t chewed through the Internet cable, but that normality was soon remedied by a service disruption later in the afternoon, common up here in the mountains. Last night we camped in front of the fireplace. He left his blanket and crawled up onto mine, his big warm body radiating heat onto my legs and torso.

No Internet, no phone, utter silence. So I was really alone. Which, I guess, is all he really wanted anyway.


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