The death of Purple

I’ve cracked three nalgene bottles in the past two decades.  The first was a classic 1 liter in milky plastic, before lexan invaded REI and college lecture halls.  It was ancient and wrapped in duct tape, and split radially when I dropped it in the Sylvan Lake parking lot, which was sad.  I think I was relegated to old juice jugs for the rest of that summers rock bumming.  The second was a few years later, Elephant Butte in Arches, at the flat sandstone base of the exit rap.  I got lazy, it might have been the third lap that day and the 40th that year, and let a single kink in the opposite strand rise 30 feet in the air.  I spent 10 minutes trying to huck a partially full 48oz silo through that loop, tied to the other end, before it shattered into pieces striking the rock.  The third was just the other week, when I gave Purple a stout whack on a tree, to split loose the ice which had layered inside after a 10 degree evening.  Purple cracked, and functionally, was no more.

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We found Purple on this trip seven years ago, in the midst of the talus along the west side of Norris Mountain.  Purple has been around a lot, on my first successful elk hunt, most memorably.  And this is why I’ve always like nalgene bottles.  They aren’t invincible, but they’re close enough, in the face of accidents and hot water and intentional abuse, that over the years deep memories accumulate.  Purple has the sticker from our Double Duck, and the one from that place with best coffee porter, and the stack Jamie sent me after I proofed their gorgeous map.  I don’t quite have any ideas what I’ll do with it, but I’m certainly not ready to just put it in the trash.

Without Purple, we have perhaps nine or ten nalgenes in the house.  Some are hiding in dark corners.  A few sit in the mud room and are used daily.  I believe, years ago, I bought one of them.  Another was a gift.  Several more were freebz at trade shows.  The rest, a solid majority, were found in the wild, taken home, cleaned, sterilized, restickered as needed over time, and adopted.  And for the pleasure of keeping fewer gatorade or smartwater bottles out of the wild, I’ll gladly keep hauling the ounces.

Montane Allez Micro Hoodie review

Not necessarily a huge amount to say here: the Allez Micro is a hooded quarter zip baselayer shirt, made from Polartec High Efficiency, a fabric which was one of the very best innovations of the past decade.  I reviewed the Patagonia Capilene 4 hoody back in the day, when it was one of the very first pieces to use the fabric.  Later that year I bought a Capilene 4 long sleeved crew, and have used that since, when the weather gets reasonably chilly.  I ended up passing that gen 1 Cap 4 hoody along, mainly because the hood was too tight for all day comfort.  I’ve periodically missed the warmth and functionality of having a hood in that particular layer, as well as the versatility of being able to use a warmer baselayer hoody as a midlayer, too.  So I bought an Allez Micro, and have been happy.

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The main, perhaps only difference of substance between the Allez Micro and the current Patagonia Thermal Weight hoody is the hood, with the former being a single layer, and the later double.  I much prefer the reduced warmth, and enhanced moisture transport, of the single layer.  For the same reason, I much prefer no pockets on a shirt like this.  I did buy the Allez Micro in size large, which lets me wear it over a t-shirt if desires, while still being slim enough for layering.  This also makes the hood big enough to wear for days at a time, even over a variety of hats.  Sleeves and torso are very long, almost excessively so, though it makes the thumb loops fit ideally, and the fabric is light and flexible enough that some excess around the wrists goes unnoticed.

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Polartec HE was on the vanguard of the defining textile apparel trend of the past decade, and understanding how unusually, occasionally exceptionally wicking and air permeable fabrics interact as various parts of a layering apparatus.  The Allez Micro, for example, is light enough and would seem to be more than fast wicking enough to be a hot weather baselayer.  A few months ago I found myself wearing it on a windless day pushing into the 80s, even at 7000 feet, and having it rather than something like the Pulse hoody contributed significantly to my pace suffering in the heat.  Not only does the grid fabric trap air and as a result add warmth, when worn alone on a calm day, it also wicks too fast to work in hot weather, as the fabric effectively eliminates convective cooling.  That same attribute is of course it’s main virtue in the cold, and why most of the time Polartect HE works best against the skin.

Some sort of shell is often important, in cold, weather, to control evaporative rates and thus provide for some adjustment in heat and cooling.  A big virtue of HE is that it moves moisture so fast that there is a lot of foregiveness in layering.  One can, for instance wear a relatively not-breathable wind layer, to guard against stronger winds and to take advantage of the more limited moisture absorption (relative to soft shell windshirts), and get away with venting via the front zip in warmer and calmer moments.

Something like the Allez Micro also works, decently, as a midlayer over a slower wicking t-shirt, which slows down moisture transport against the skin, but speeds it up through the midlayer.  In this case, there is less wiggle room when it comes to a wind layer, but on something like a spring ski trip where one might have both hot afternoons and very cold mornings (or days), this arrangement might be the best way to cover as many conditions as possible without duplicate layers that can’t all be worn together (for instance, while sleeping).

The Allez Micro is a versatile option, and Montane did well providing the salient details, without anything extra.  Recommended.

Much thanks

In spite of, or because of, it all, there are many objects for thank today.  I want to thank all of you.  With few exceptions writing has been tough this year.  With a head crowded enough that bare basics are generally daunting enough, and big, unpleasant, hard to grasp things doing that clogging, putting thoughts in order has on a daily basis been pushed down the road.  Which is ok, just not ideal for composition.

Even so, conversation here, and with readers and friends over text and email, has been a highlight, and a reminder of what we all had and still have.  So thanks for that.

Anyone who orders some straps between now and Monday, and would like a few stickers as well, just say which ones you would like in the order comments.

Old dread

These words, two months ago, have proven to be good guidance, and underline one of the more astounding things about my 2020; that I haven’t been sick at all.  Not with COVID, we’ve been quite cautious with that, but with a cold or a flu.  Between working in schools and having plenty of stress upon occasion, I can’t recall the last winter, to say nothing of a whole year, without at least a little illness.

When it comes to stress I must be doing something right.  Given the volume of stress this year, and the omnipresence, I haven’t had a reasonable alternative.

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Our daily routines hadn’t changed that much, back in September, which was a handy benefit, as local COVID cases have escalated drastically.  We had more new ones last week than we had all spring and summer, which has only served to reinforce habits, most of which existed BC (before COVID).  I’ve altered my arrival and depature at school, avoiding people even more than I used to.  We only get takeout, and eat it outside.  We don’t see other people, which again, isn’t that far from things as they were before.  We go on vacation, cook our own food, and sleep outside.   In all of this we are fortunate.  Precious few habits and dreams have been definitively out of reach this fall.

The combination of small people and the cold, long evenings of November have made things more difficult.  Easy refuge at the library or kids museum are not options this winter, and our children’s energy does not fit easily in the house for too many hours at a stretch.  30 pound humans get cold easily, and we just happened to come home last month, after a week in the desert, to two feet of snow and temps below zero.  Since then the snow has melted, fallen again, and melted, and I’ve put serious effort into training the children, and to providing ways to make being out in the dark and the cold appealing.

The snow melting has made that much easier.  Little Cloud is finally runbike obsessed, and several good wrecks on ice patches have yet to dampen his enthusiasm.  He’s also, verbally and conceptually, come to know what hunting means.  Long walks through deadfall are beyond him, but short walks to a nice tree where you can cook sausages and ramen over a fire (top) are great fun.  On that outing I was somehow the only one to step on a cactus.  Being out in the moment isn’t just a vital way to put kid energy to good use, it is an essential distraction from how thoroughly our leaders and neighbors are failing us.  Optimism grows more easily in starlight.

My favorite shoes

This fall I’ve been wearing little other than the Astral TR1 Merge, and for the sort of walking I like to do these days, they are far and away the best pair of shoes I’ve ever had.

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While they don’t have a tremendous number of miles on them, almost all of those miles have been off trail.  They went elk hunting in the Montana prairie badlands, did an alpine traverse on broken granite, went hiking, biking, and climbing in the Colorado Plateau, and have spent more time bushwacking and traversing limestones ridges close to home.  All of those are more abusive on shoes than average, in their own way, and the shoes are holding up perfectly thus far.

Traction across mediums has been excellent.  The lugs grip loose soil, either straight on or sidehill, while having enough surface area for good friction on bare rock.  The rubber is soft enough, without wearing too fast.  The midsole is thick and protective enough, without any hinge points, and without feeling unnatural or slow.  They’re supportive enough, for me, for technical mountain biking using flat pedals, but I can tolerate far softer shoes in all areas than most.  Significantly, the modest padding and added material in the heel and toebox have improved both hold and protection; I’ve not experienced any of the unpleasant talus bites I got often in the Brewers.  The only real flaw is the open mesh used in the toungue, which extends down into the toebox just enough to become a magnet for cheatgrass seeds and a conduit for sand.

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For me, they’ve been supportive enough to carry a 70 pound pack on a few occasions (deer pack out, as well as a family backpack load with a toddler on top).  For me and my feet, support means  enough padding and structure to insulate my feet from the terrain, even when I’m suddenly 50% again my own weight, while being pliable enough to not cause hot spots.  Zero drop is a big part of the later, as is the lack of illusory things like ankle support.  The Merges work for me because they’re a coherent package, the level of support, degree of structure, even the sole and rubber all working to serve one particular style of walking.

That style is a light footed one, based on balancing over terrain and using weaknesses and variations for purchase.  Smearing across the loose wet sidehill, rather the kicking steps.  Working the stable pieces of a talus slope, rather than digging through and into the loosest parts to make steps.  This style is as much about strength and ability as it is about the type and style of trip.  People who regularly take big packs into rough terrain are more often drawn to stiff boots due to pace, and indeed due to their line through a place.  This isn’t to say that fast line, fluid pace shoes are not compatible with a big pack, simply that melding such shoes with a heavy pack requires more than simple strength.  It requires a skillset, and that combination is due to how learning conventionally evolves has historically been uncommon.

That is changing, and as fluid line choice under expedition conditions works further toward the norm, I hope shoes like the Merge remain around as options.

Shame

…shame occupied a permanent and necessary place in the Trumpian scenario insofar as it was externalized and lodged in the left: the left seek to shame you for your guns, your racism, your sexual assault, your xenophobia! The excited fantasy of his supporters was that, with Trump, shame could be overcome, and there would be a “freedom” from the left and its punitive restrictions on speech and conduct, a permission finally to destroy environmental regulations, international accords, spew racist bile and openly affirm persistent forms of misogyny.

-Judith Butler

Trump is, unfortunately, not only America’s problem, which has in the past 3 weeks been one of my larger sources of comfort.  One could, this month, read only the New Zealand Herald and be perfectly informed on Biden v. Trump.  The best summary of US ballot initiatives I saw was in, of all places. Le Monde.  And it’s easier for me to think of the news sites, worldwide, which haven’t been closely covering our ongoing fiasco of succession the past two weeks than those which have.  Insofar as Trump is, along with Brexit, the most visible crest of the reactionary wave which has swept over much of the world recently, and insofar as he’s been an emboldening influence if not outright inspiration for the Bolsanaros and Jansas, his antics are a clear and vital interest for most of humanity.  As another commentator wrote; “I think we all feel the hand of history on our pussies.”  

Trump is a horrible person.  The question is not why he is, or why so many people embrace his horrid policies, but why so many people have embraced him, as a totem and lodestone.  In this he has a lot in common with the previous president born in New York City, Theodore Roosevelt, who also understood that the politics of personality have in the US so much to do not merely with symbolism, but with an idealist instantiation of national identity.  The US president is king, not in fact (though TR and Trump have disconcerting commonalities when it comes to executive power), but in spirit.  Just as TR embodied the agency America was afraid of losing in 1900, Trump embodies the supposedly uncomplicated world back before the rest of the world reminded white men how pervasive, difficult to shirk, and evil their bias is.  

The appeal of this is, obviously in retrospect, not just confined to white men.  It is one thing to embrace Obama winning the Nobel for being elected.  It is another to sustain a nuanced conversation about how policing in America is both systemically biased and has for decades been eroded by an expanded mandate without matching increases in funding and support.  US abortion policy (and evidently, abortion policy elsewhere) is, now more than ever, explicitly in the interest of sustaining the patriarchy, something which does not prevent the many Coney Barret’s of the world.  4 years ago Trump’s election was a specific backlash against a black president, and the possibility of a female president.  That backlash is still strong, as 75 million voters reminded us.  Wanting to keep the world thus simple is on the wrong side of history, as nearly 80 million voters and a female vice president can tell us.   The question for the future is not whether the patriarchy will give up their grasp on the world, but when, and how much those holding on will let crumble in the process.

A hunting story

This weekend I went hunting.  After a week of peculiar weather that began with 2 feet of snow and lows below zero and ended with sunny highs near 60, it was a quiet day.  The snow had been melting so fast I found no set tracks, new or old, and by the late afternoon had failed to glass up deer or elk in even the shadiest of beds.  When the sun sunk far enough for coolest to seep into the blue I was a ridge further than I had intended to be, and finally seeing deer.  Two bucks working through the sage far below me got me diving off the ridge.  After surfing scree and cactus down the gully I saw a bunch more, out in the flats, 3 feeding, another half dozen bedded.  They were far enough, and the light poor enough, that I pulled out the spotter from kneeling, behind a shrub, and double checked they were not the bucks from earlier.  Elimination said the bucks must still be on the gentle ridge, so I hauled down the final slope and up the wall , diagonaling a fresh deer trail through the pines as fast as possibly imminent shooting would allow.  Short of the crest I went left, trying to hold something dark in my backdrop, and balancing stealth with the fact that if I didn’t find them in the next 10 minutes lack of light would make further pursuit irrelevant.  And I found one, a ways out, antlers tall and white against the sage and then juniper.  He had me pinned, and while I had time for an off-hand shot, the distance was a bit much, and the shrubbery made kneeling or sitting impossible.  There was not answer, and the deer stotted off hautily as daylight left.

This is where the story begins.  I was perhaps 1 and a half miles, straight line, from the car.  My route, on the ground, had been easily three times that.  Reversing the same route and taking out the squiggles would shorten things nicely, the disadvantage being route finding in the dark along forested hillsides and along steep ridges which I knew had at least a few cliff bands.  The safe and palatable alternative was a brief bushwack the other way and a long circuitous walk on trails, faint enough that I would probably briefly get off track a few times.  The safe and unpalatable option was a steep side hill to the paved road, and a long walk on a road with no shoulder.

The deer trail led east through the sage, and in a few hundred yards I had decided to take the direct route.  Continued progress dead east should whack me straight up against the ridge, and a walk along the top would lead me to a saddle.  Ideally I’d contour at the right time, hit the saddle dead on, contour again up the opposite slope to not gain needless elevation, then drop just a hair south to avoid contour lines which looked suspiciously steep on the final descent.  And that is just what I did.  I had to stop after 10 minutes and do what I ought to have done when I got out my headlamp: put my little Silva compass around my neck.  They currently have the Field model listed as a beginner compass.  It’s light without being too small, and I have it strung with a length of reflective 1/16″ bungee, on a loop small enough that it hangs high and tight, but can be pulled far enough out to site a bearing.  I found immediately that my gut had been right, the sidehill in witch I’d been battling thick fir had curved south, and I needed to cross the gully and begin the steep climb.

This I did, skirting a few cliff bands on the way up, and a few more along the ridge top.  Moon rise was still distant enough to give no hint of relief in the night, and I yelled down into the void to double check that I was atop the correct, deep, canyon.  I almost hit the contour correct, bottoming out in the now gentle gully 100 vertical feet from the saddle, and confidence reinforced, missed the cliffs on the decent by 20 yards.  The moon rose and cold sunk as I reached the trail, and I put on all my clothes for the final 15 minute stroll to the road.  What had been a enjoyable and interesting, if unremarkable hunt, had turned into a lovely piece of physical and skills practice by impulsively agreeing to take just a bit of a chance.  With everything going correctly, it took a hair over an hour to go from headlamp on to feet on the trail.  Either safe option would have likely been twice that.

The Frank Open 2021

Bonanza to Fenn Ranger Station.  Saturday April 24th, 0600 MDT. (?)

That’s 126 straight line miles.

Here’s what is in my head about this.  First, that is a big route.  Probably close to 200 miles on the ground.  Second, that time frame has the obvious potential to be quite challenging.  Third, and most important, I don’t know much about the area.  I don’t know which trailheads are plowed regularly, which roads get lots of snow machine traffic, how the more open terrain does or does not melt off come early spring.  I have my guesses about all of these things, but a decade of the Bob Open has taught me repeatedly that guesses aren’t ideal for the organizational aspect.  Adding to the complications, the shuttle from one end to the other is massive, and even six months out we’d all be fools to expect anything in particular of the Coronavirus.

For all of these reasons the Frank Open really isn’t going to be an Open in the sense we’ve come to expect.  Even moreso than usual, this is a route I’ve been eyeing for a long time, and if other people want to get in on all or part, that would be neat.  Ideally, and with health concerns permitting, we’d be able to figure out a way to make the driving less irksome.

This is almost a packraft mandatory route.  There are a handful of ways to use bridges, but the rivers (and in late April I assume streams) are several notches bigger than in the Bob.  I chose the start point based on things I want to float, which brings up the second complication, river permits.  Having one for stretches of the Middle Fork will make a lot of sense in many cases.  As of today, there is almost full availability for the relevant week.

This will also be a ski or snowshoe mandatory route, though I am guessing that in a normal year there is a surprising amount of dirt walking to be had.

Interested?  Get in touch.

The mighty 5

Last week we did what we used to do every fall, and spent a week in the Colorado Plateau.  In this we’re fortunate; the number of things we did differently, because of Coronavirus, amounted to almost nothing beyond wearing masks into gas stations and always getting restaurant food to go.  Camping, biking, climbing, backpacking on the Colorado Plateau: in many respects they’ve changed a lot in the decade since we lived either in or near it and were out there on a weekly basis.  But in many ways they have not, and while the pandemic has likely contributed to the changes, perhaps significantly, those impacts were easy to not see while camped in the sand looking up at the milky way, and after the last 9 months, that constancy and nostalgia was restorative.

Things were undeniably busy, and while generalizing from one experience is always problematic, it is a useful leading indicator.  Parking lots at Bryce were entirely full, even the more obscure ones.  Thunder Mountain was as dusty and blown out as any trail I’ve seen.  Every pullout on the spur road to the White trailhead on Gooseberry was taken.  We started the walk down to Fence Canyon in the Escalante at 430 in the afternoon, and passed at least 30 people, 3/4 of them dayhikers, on their way back up from Neon.  On the other hand, we saw almost no one on every one of our adventures, save the on the trail to fence and while in the national parks.  Places like God’s Skateboard Park and the Golden Cathedral look much as they did a decade ago, in spite of more footprints in the sand.

Zion, and specifically its shuttles, did look quite different.  Since reopening this summer the park has been significantly limiting traffic on the shuttle buses, which have for decades been mandatory for going into the heart of the canyon, and on who restrictions are mandatory, given that at busy times they’re routinely standing room only and packed beyond capacity.  I logged on mid-Zoom meeting to snag reservations for two days in October, and out of distraction stuffed up the numbers of seats reserved.  After 3 minutes, when I went back to get more for one date, they were already booked solid.

The perhaps intended result of this restriction on traffic, and on those without the willingness or ability to plan ahead, was a stream of folks walking and riding bikes up the road into the park.   LB and I rode in on the day we were short seats, and that 40 minute pedal up a cool and mostly empty road was far preferable to the next day, where we spent almost the same time waiting in line to get on the bus, me using first proximity and then silent farts to keep the loud folks from Tennessee a full six feet behind us.  Zion has long been the standard bearer in the park service for shuttle use, with Bryce close behind.  Grand Canyon muffed their implementation long ago by failing to build a parking/orientation/shuttle complex in Tusayan, and the list of parks for whom shuttles, or obligatory shuttles, are sorely needed has been growing by the year.  Even Capitol Reef, which even recently was sleepy even by national monument status, is this year running into parking lots which are vastly exceeded by visitors, even in non-prime times.

After our trip abroad I believe COVID has injected significant momentum into the growth in the outdoors which was already underway.  (By 1000am on a Saturday Great Basin, the definition of far from anything in the lower 48, had parking lots filling up.)  The extent to which remote work will in the next years become widespread is likely being overstated, but it ought to be the hope of many smaller western cities and towns that the movement in nonetheless significant.  This is the answer for sustainable growth, the third way which is neither extractive industry nor pure tourism.  These people will want to be local to some parks, and within a day or a simple weekend from many others, and along with the greater group of now-enlightened tourists they will want a quality national park experience.

In the very near future having a quality park experience will become the educated and crafty exception, rather than the rule, and the resultant cynicism about rocky, tree-y disneyland is as of today a vastly underestimated liability for the parks, longer term.  Zions shuttle experiment, essentially a quota, showed definitively that such an approach can both provide a better (though still very busy) experience and motivate plenty of people to get in under their own power.  It reminded me just how more congruous biking up a paved road is for the park experience.  And hopefully, it will provide impetus for more parks to take similar action, wholeheartedly, and very soon.

The best trail

Last month I bought a new bike, my first brand new one in almost a decade. That one, nine years ago, was the first generation Salsa Mukluk, the first broadly available fat bike not called Pugsley. It has, because it still works great, a lot of things my new bike does not: straight steerer, one choice in headset size, external cable routing. I bought the Mukluk as a frameset, meaning I got a frame and fork in a box, bought everything else I didn’t already have separately, and put it all together. This also is an increasingly dead way of getting a bicycle, with few of the options I considered last month available frame only, and none of those making economic sense on the face of it. The new economy of scale gets you all the relevant components for less than the price of the frame over again.

And scale is another thing that has changed in the bike industry this year. I almost missed out, and ended up hunting down a shop in Mississippi which had a San Quentin 1 left, in XL. Numbers I’ll cover in a later post, save to mention that I called that shop, again, at the beginning of October to inquire if I might get my new bike before we left for the Colorado Plateau in a few weeks. I did barely, as they had sold through their whole 2021 stock in a matter of days, and were weeks behind in building them. And no, they could not (due to warranty reasons) just send me the whole mess to sort out myself. So 52 hours before we left a very large box arrived, and I had that time to assemble, alter, trouble shoot, figure out that I’d need a new headset to mount the rigid fork I’d purchased, make a trip to the local shop out of utter confusion at what headset that would be, then finish component swaps and tubeless conversion, atop packing all the other stuff we’d need for 11 days away from home.

The new bike worked great, and having it stowed day to day on the roof rack, rather than on a hook in the bike room, took me forcefully away from the discontent and the fiddling which bridge a new machine, eventually, into familiarity. Instead I rode it on an almost daily basis, often in dirt circles around camp, but also on the practice loop at Gooseberry, up the road to the lodge in Zion, on a pump track in West Salt Lake (wiggle break on the drive home), and down Thunder Mountain, the best trail in the world.

Thunder Mountain is on the west side of the Paunsaugunt, with Bryce on the east. It starts in rolling, sand bottomed ponderosa forest, snakes its way through liminal drainage heads to the ridge, above, before plunging down a few sets of steep, loose, and very dusty switchbacks and ridge drops in the process of going north to the ridge next to the road. At which point I was late, and at which point one encounters a trail sign. 1.4 miles that way, to the road, and untold miles the other way, into the unknown. Over a decade ago I experienced that unknown, and had a cold night out as part of my trouble. On this trip I tucked into the subtleties of the descent to the road, glad that it was very quick, and that my new bike came alive on it’s first full force outing.

Everyone loves a new bike, it just takes a while to finally know each other.