The Things You See – 4

I may or may not have been busy. Lots of trail days, the Taylor House Ride, and after spending a few days in the back country up on the North Rim with friends and taking well over a thousand pictures… the thought of going through them all to find the best ones to put up was a little daunting. Maybe I’ll do a North Rim photo dump, yeah?

Anyways… a few highlights up until a few weeks ago. More to follow when I pull it off the camera.

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Bzzzzzz…
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Wotan’s Throne, Cape Royal, North Rim of Grand Canyon.
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Sunset at Cape Royal, North Rim of Grand Canyon.
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Fire on the rim from Bright Angel Point trail, North rim of Grand Canyon.
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Agave fractal, Point Sublime, North Rim of Grand Canyon.
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Curt Walters, painting plein air at Point Sublime, North Rim of Grand Canyon. 
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One of the coolest rigs I’ve seen in a long time!

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My Favorite Time of the Year

Well, one of them, anyways.

I love storms. I’m aware that they cause a lot of problems for a lot of people, but out here in Arizona, we don’t get a heck of a lot of moisture from the sky, so I celebrate the storms. I’ll go out in them, hike, ride, work in them, and I’ll get depressed when they go away and the Sun comes back out.

Maybe I should live in Seattle.

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But does Seattle have this?

I love it when the monsoon season starts up in Flagstaff. It’s been a long stretch since the last rain, usually, and the forest is dry and thirsty. It’s hot, It’s dry. Dusty. Most years, there’s been at least one big forest fire, and countless smaller fires, usually human caused. They closed parts of the forest this year because of how dry it’s been. Usually, around the beginning of July, big thunderheads start rolling across the sky, rains, lightning and thunder, hail storms, the occasional tornado. This year? About right on time! They opened the forest this past Wednesday.

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A welcome and scary sight in the midst of a hard drought.

I like to ride up to a thunderstorm, then race it home to see if I can beat the rain. I call it storm poking. Sometimes, the storm wins. Sometimes I’m faster. I like finding a place to sit and watch and listen to the storm, too. That’s my favorite.

Today, I got wet. Very wet.

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Heavy clouds over the Peaks.

I was up on top of Mt. Elden, planning to ride down Sunset, ride some of the trail work that we did before the closure, then hook up with Little Bear, and decide where to go from there.

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Not even five minutes later.

When I saw the rain marching down the slopes of the Peaks towards Schultz Pass, I knew I was going to get wet. Fortunately I brought my rain cape! Unfortunately, rain capes are really only effective if your bike has fenders… Tri lacks the fenders.

The rain caught me on the Catwalk, and I put on the rain cape. It’s all so fun, though, I ended up spraying everything under the cape (So, me, my bike, and everything attached to it) with wet sandy mud. There were points, where the trail drainage needs work, where the water was running down the trail five or six inches deep. Lightning was striking around me, the rain was getting heavy, and I was having a blast. Not even in that retrospective “It sucked in the moment, but looking back, it was kind of fun.” way, I was genuinely enjoying it.

I opted not to go down Little Bear, because of the Schultz Fire, a lot of that trail is totally exposed, which is bad with lightning. I got down to Schultz Pass, and took the road down. As I got to the Y, the rain let up and the Sun came out. I rolled up my (now very muddy) rain cape, dumped about three cubic feet of sand out of each shoe, and headed home, the long way, enticing more storms to come and get me.

It was a great ride. But next time, I’ll bring a rain jacket, not a cape.

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Short fun section of Sunset, above the Catwalk.

I’m planning on riding tomorrow. Will I get wet? We’ll see!

Camera Play – 2

So, last week… was it last week?

*Checks*

So, last week, I put my camera on my telescope and pointed it at the sky, and put up the pictures.

A few days later, I did the same thing, because Saturn was at opposition. I actually put my telescope on Henry and rode down to the school and set up on the field, since the planets were in the trees, as seen from the backyard.

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Now, a little bit of storytime:

Mom and I both love the sky. Many nights were spent staring up, looking at stars, satellites, meteor showers, comets, and even the northern lights when they stretched down to Arizona once.

A long long time ago, my mom and I got a little telescope from Big 5, and we set it up, and looked through it pretty often. I still have it. Neither of us knew how to use it well, as evidenced by the first time looking through it, what I thought were planets was actually poorly focused glares OF the planets.

Yeah, go me.

Living in an area with no nearby trees, we had a wide open view of the sky, so we set up fairly often, and I started to get… passable at using it. Figured out the focusing, zeroed in the finder scope, learned how to use the fancy dancy equatorial mount that it came with, and we saw some cool stuff. Jupiter and its moons, the crescent of Venus, some nebulae, and of course, the moon.

Two things always eluded me, though, the Great Red Spot on Jupiter, and Saturn. The Great Red Spot, because it always was facing away from Earth every time I set up, and Saturn because… well, Saturn is hard to see. So far away and all, and our scope was not exactly a high powered scope. I either couldn’t resolve it beyond a dim yellow dot in the eyepiece, if I could even locate it in the field of vision at all at higher magnification.

Finally, a few years ago, I saw Saturn and its rings, through that same telescope. I got lucky, Saturn happened to be at opposition, there was no wind, and I saw it. A tiny golden dot with a yellow ribbon around it. I was happy, but I was at the limits of that scope’s abilities.

Then I got better lenses. A new telescope and better mount. Learned how to better use them.

I think that brings us up to current… Oh right, pictures of planets!

I saw Saturn through a telescope for the second time ever! I even took a picture of it! (Well, several….)

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After staring at Saturn for a long while, I turned to Jupiter.

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On the lower left of the disk, at the end of the band? That’s the Great Red Spot! I managed to see two of my favorite sky sights in one night!

The pictures do neither justice. I can zero in the focus perfectly for my eyes, but the camera is a lot more difficult. A dual speed focuser will help, as would setting up the mount with tracking motors to do long exposures, but we’ll see if I keep doing this. As it is now, I’m just dabbling, and I enjoy just looking just as much as taking pictures.

I’ll be doing this again, though, Mars is at opposition on the 27th!

Camera Play

Yesterday I mentioned that it’s important to look up. Not just for hanging branches, or dive-bombing birds, or attack squirrels, but because there’s a lot of scenery up there, too.

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It is no secret to anyone who knows me that I love taking pictures.  So much so, that I have a real camera with me in addition to my phone just about all the time. I don’t consider myself terribly good at it, just good enough that luck carries me the rest of the way to some good pictures. I don’t necessarily take pictures to remember scenes, I do it because I go a lot of places that people I know don’t go, and I like sharing.

As a result, I play a lot with my camera. I make it a point when I go out camping to spend some time just snapping random shots of what’s around me. When it gets dark, I’m usually spending time taking pictures of the sky. Moon, stars, planets, nothing’s safe from my lens. I’ve even caught a satellite or two.

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Tree, reaching for the Moon, as was my camera.

Astro photography is something I’ve always wanted to dip my toes into. I’ve got a good telescope and mount for it, so why not? I got a cheap t-ring for the camera, and set up in the backyard Sunday night.

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The Moon
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It almost looks like something out of a book!
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Jupiter! And if you look close, you can see four moons!

What do you think? I’d say it went rather well, for my first shot at it. Next time I’ll play with filters.

Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.
— Stephen Hawking, 1942–2018

Meet the Bikes: I’m Henry!

Most of my bikes have been through some sort of evolution throughout their lives. That is the nature of having a thing… you start off with it, then, over the course of time, you change things, add or remove bits, modifying it to make it suit your needs. My bikes… some start off serving a specific role, but maybe that role changes. Or they start off with one set of components, then get a completely different set. Sometimes, even whole new frames.

The question could be asked “Is it still the same bike if none of the parts are the same? I say… it depends. When I name a bike, I’m naming an idea, the personality, the soul that develops around the bike. Sometimes, the name is tied to the hardware that the bike is made out of. Sometimes… it is tied to something deeper, more personal.

Out of all my bikes, no bike has changed over time as much as Henry the Packmule.

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“I’m Henry!”

Henry has existed across three bike frames and countless changes in parts. I think the only original part is the kickstand. Henry even has a history that starts before there was a bicycle named Henry, but you’ll have to ask my sister about that, she knows the story better than I. Suffice to say, she named him.

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Henry the Packmule started out as a Trek 820 frame, built up with road components from another bike, and a Surly 1×1 fork. I built my own front and rear racks, because why not? I was on a budget, and it was cheaper to build them from scratch myself.

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Original Henry in the wild.

Eventually, Henry got moved to an aluminium Giant Boulder SE frame when I noticed that the steel Trek frame had a slight bend.

Then, one day, my dream frame went on sale.

I had long drooled over the Surly Big Dummy, but man they were pricey. Worth every penny, but it took a lot of pennies to buy one. So, when Surly updated the design of the Big Dummy frame, they put the previous model on firesale. I still really didn’t have the money, but I crossed my fingers and bought it anyways.

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I think it was one of my better choices.

I built the Big Dummy frame up with mountain bike parts, used the old wheels and brakes, and built my own rack for the back. Xtracycle was having a sale on their bags, so I picked up a set of those for cheap. Many adventures were had.

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From the doomed Grand Canyon ride attempt, overlooking the Babbitt Ranch.

Eventually, I built my own wheels, installed disc brakes, put a 29 inch wheel on the front, set Henry up with the Surly Dummy Cargo Kit, and have gone back and forth endlessly with front racks and baskets.

I’ve hauled a few hundred pounds of wood home with Henry, carried other bikes, some light bike touring and camping, gone mountain biking, ridden in parades, towed (pushed) a car, and had it in the air. I’ve even brought home groceries.

Even more impressive are the bike moves with the trailer I built.

Currently, Henry is the bike that gets the most miles, partly because the platform pedals let me ride in sandals, but mostly because, for the most part, Henry is set up just about perfect for me. With a 29 inch front wheel (helps smooth out bumps, and stabilizes the bike) a 26 inch rear wheel built around a Rohloff Speedhub 500/14 internally geared hub, (the Big Dummy frame was designed with this hub in mind.) Hydraulic disc brakes keep the speed in check. (Haha!) The Dummy Cargo Kit with a few mods is the ideal setup for my needs, the bags swallow whatever I throw at them, and a homemade wide loader bar helps me cary anything big or heavy. All this rolls around on Schwalbe Big Apple tires.

And I almost forgot… Henry has the coolest horn.

Henry looks big and unwieldy, but for a packmule, he’s surprisingly quick and nimble. Sure he’s heavy, but he rolls fast and smooth, even with a load. Once you’re moving, you don’t feel the weight. And once you get used to the long wheelbase, he’s a surprisingly capable mountain bike, too.

I feel like this is turning into a long term review…

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Henry and Two-Spot

So, what’s left to change on Henry? Well… not a whole lot. I like Henry, even after all these years, as he rolls now, Henry is still my dream bike. Getting on Henry is like putting on your favorite old jacket.

I guess that’s another part of having a thing. You make changes to it over time, and if you stick with it, eventually, you make it perfect for you.

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The Dummies, catching some sun.

I hope you enjoyed reading about Henry the Packmule. This took a while to write, as Henry has the most history behind him, even though he’s not the oldest bike in the garage. I know I had fun remembering, going back and reading and looking for old pictures, and re-living some of the old memories with Henry.

Take it easy.

That thing electric? ~ The majority of people who come up to me as I’m strapping down an impressive load to Henry

The Ongoing Struggles of Photographing my Artwork

I love and hate taking pictures of the things I make, especially when they are gifts. I love it, because I get to stare at it a while, in different lighting, and study this thing I’ve made, and really memorize it, because usually I’ll not see it again, at least for a long time.

I hate it, because I can never seem to take pictures that do it justice. But I’ve gotten better, largely due to a new camera and lens setup that gives me more manual control. This time, my problem was mostly lighting, which was my own darn fault.

Aaanywho.

So, a good family friend? Niece-in-law? Not sure how to put it? Anyway, she graduated high school, so I decided to make a graduation gift for her. For no apparent reason, I decided to make a pen, which is something I learned to do when I was in high school, and not something I do often. (The significance of this was lost on me until my sister pointed it out…) To dress it up a bit, I opted to make a nice case for it as well.

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Have you ever had one of those projects that ended up going a different direction than you intended? You start off with something in mind, but due to materials, or tooling, or desire to do something new, it ends up miles away from what you had envisioned? Not to mention, way cooler?

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Yeah, that happened with the case.

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Focus on the front
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Focus on the lid

The pen, and both the base and lid of the box are all cut from the same figured walnut board. The lid is mortised, with no joints. The pen groove is flocked. The whole thing is sanded to 1000 grit, then rubbed with steel wool and my finishing mix, then buffed with beeswax. What I love is that you can feel the texture of the figuring in the wood, something that is usually lost in sanding, but makes for a much closer, natural feel of the wood, in my opinion.

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I could gush on for a while about this, so I’ll stop here. However, it’s not the biggest thing I’ve made, but it’s definitely one of the more fulfilling, and nicest things I’ve made. Between trying new things with it, and nailing everything on the first shot, I am very happy with it, and so was Autumn!

 

A man who works with his hands is a laborer; a man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman; but a man who works with his hands and his brain and his heart is an artist. ~Louis Nizer

Campout and Sunset Trail Day

What is normal?

nor·mal

ˈnôrməl/

adjective

  1. conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.

When normal people go camping off their bike, they take all their lightweight gear, compress it into an impossibly small space, strap it to a lightweight bike, and ride, all the while trying not to complain about how the weight changes the handling of the bike. It’s called “bikepacking.”

I go a different route. I throw all my camping stuff at a Big Dummy, and ride. It doesn’t change the handling, nothing’s super compressed, and it’s got plenty of room for extra stuff like trail building gear, extra water, marmots, and tree stumps. Sure, the bike is heavy to begin with, but you don’t really notice the extra weight. (at first…)

This past Saturday, the 19th, there was a trail day up on Sunset, up on Mt. Elden. I try to ride a bicycle to as many trail days as I can, but I also enjoy sleeping in on the weekends. So, as a compromise, I end up trying to camp out the night before nearby the work site. It’s a great arrangement. I get to sleep outside in the hammock, sleep in, take my time waking up and having breakfast,  and then go build trail. Everyone wins!

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Let’s go!

So, I loaded up Stitch with all the fixings of a trail day campout: My usual complement of camping gear, an LPG stove because I can’t use my wood stove due to fire restrictions, boots, a hardhat, a soft hat, my trail day backpack with rock hammers and chisels and a saw, and extra water. We rode up the Arizona Trail to Schultz Pass, and from there we went up the backside of Sunset trail to Sunset Peak, where I found a great pair of trees well off the main trail. I hung the hammock, cooked dinner, and watched the stars come out in the hammock, as the coyotes and elk and wind made the music of the night.

Click to embiggen.

The next morning…

I woke up to the Sun in my eyes. This was as planned, as I purposefully hung my hammock so that the Sun would hit me in the face as it rose. It’s a big bright warm gentle alarm clock.

An hour later, I was packed up and bombing down Sunset. The meeting point was at the bottom of Red Onion, a tight, techy social trail with logjams, narrow gaps, and tight turns, and I was a little curious if Stitch would fit. He did, but only just. That silver bar on the left side of the bike? That’s my wide loader, and it’s bent now. Aside from that, we made it down Red Onion without incident.

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People arrived, breezes were shot, and trail was worked. The section of Sunset trail we were working on was heavily eroded, due to poor layout. We couldn’t really re-align the trail here, so we put in some huge drains in the worst erosion spots, and improved drainage further up the hill. The Flagstaff Hotshots crew was there working, which helped immensely, many thanks to them.

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Some rockwork I helped out with. The only picture of actual trail work I took.

After the trail work, and the consumption of much post-work pizza, (Mmmm Fratelli’s…) I had a choice to make. I could take the easy way and ride down Lookout Road to get home, or I could essentially retrace my steps and ride back up Red Onion, up Sunset over all our freshly done work, and down the steep other side, adding a few miles and a lot of steep climbing to my ride.

I can’t do anything easy, so up I went. My phone was on point with motivation, as it played My Silver Lining, by First Aid Kit, one of the lyrics being “I won’t take the easy road.” For how heavy Stitch is, between bike and cargo, he climbs pretty well. I did my part to pack in the fresh dirt. Then, because I’m a glutton for punishment, I made the climb up the side of Observatory Mesa to take the Loop Trail home, rather than ride through town.

I loved every minute of it.

Ultimately, this was another good shakedown ride for Stitch and I. I have a better idea of how the bike handles technical singletrack with a load, I should leave the wideloader at home, and I think I’ll trim the front fender some, as I popped some zip ties as it hung up on a drop. I know I wouldn’t have enjoyed the ride as much on a shorter, lighter, more normal bike with the same load.

The experiment continues.

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I hear a voice calling
Calling out for me
These shackles I’ve made in an attempt to be free
Be it for reason, be it for love
I won’t take the easy road

My Silver Lining, First Aid Kit

Meet the Bikes: Stitch!

Let’s kick off the Meet the Bikes series with the biggest, longest, fattest, heaviest, and youngest ride in the rack, (If he could even fit in the rack…)

Stitch!

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Wrong Stitch! (Lilo and Stitch, Disney)
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Stitch, the bike!

Stitch is a Big Fat Dummy, built by Surly Bikes, and is a variation of the Extracycle longtail standard. With tires over four inches wide, and up to 400 pounds of load hauling capacity (Rider and cargo) this is the ultimate go-anywhere-do-anything utility bike.

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Do these tires make my hands look small?

I’ve gone bikepacking, trail building, mountainbiking, and snow biking with Stitch so far. I’ve even brought home groceries with him. He climbs mountains with forty pounds of camping and trail-day stuff on the back, and does it with more stability than a shorter, lighter bikepacking rig.

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On the way up the mountain for a camp out and a trail day!

Stitch also inspires my creativity a bit. I’ve made two frame bags for him, (The blue bags in the middle of the frame) as well as coroplast fenders to keep the mud and spray away from me and the cargo.

So…. why a Big Fat Dummy?

It’s weird. I mean, the bike is weird. It is big, and heavy, and unique. I like unique bikes. And it looks cool. It’s art in function and design, and a testament to the fact that I don’t need a car. And he’s sturdy. Like a lobster!

I went back and forth for a long time before I got Stitch. I mean, I already have one longtail. But  ultimately, I knew I would use it. I bought Stitch as we were finalizing the Trail Faeries, with the intent of using Stitch to haul trail tools, camping gear and myself to a worksite, in addition to the bikepacking and winter commuting and errands.

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Custom tool cradle on the back, holding a McLeod, pick/mattock, a shovel, and a pair of pants.

So…. why Stitch?

You’d have to ask my sister, she named him. But, it’s a good name, an accurate name. All my bikes seem to grow a personality, except this one. Stitch came with a personality, and if you’ve ever watched the movie Lilo and Stitch, Stitch the bike, and Experiment 626 are cut from the same cloth. Both are outrageous, a handful, out of control at times, but in control at the right times, and make me giggle. And they’re both blue, so there’s that.

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Stitch puts his foot down.

Stitch and I went on an adventure this past weekend, an overnight camping ride on Mt. Elden ahead of a trail day. He’s still new to me, and I’m still getting to know him, whittling down the list of things to add onto or change, to make Stitch my ultimate bikepacking ride, as well as just figuring out all the quirks and tricks to a new bike. But, we’re getting close, and I’m glad Stitch and I are friends!

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Down Little Bear? Maybe next time.

 

The correct number of bikes to own is n+1 . While the minimum number of bikes one should own is three, the correct number is n+1 , where n is the number of bikes currently owned. This equation may also be re-written as s-1 , where s is the number of bikes owned that would result in separation from your partner.