On Pooping. And Snakes.

The following information may be considered… oversharing. Should I ever run for political office, I’m sure this will be used as part of a vicious smear campaign. That being said, I find it interesting that something we’ve managed to do for thousands of years has become so complicated. That something is pooping. Specifically, pooping in the woods. The modern outhouse and toilet paper (or “bathroom tissue” as it’s known so as not to offend anyone) is a relatively modern invention. In a short span of time, modern society has become horrified at the idea of dropping trou in the outdoors and letting ‘er rip. I know people that when confronted this situation will become instant poop camels and hold it in for the better part of a week to avoid exposing one’s buttocks to the breeze.

This is not me. My intestines run like the German train system. Orderly, on-time, and on a precise schedule. It’s all good unless that schedule is interrupted. If the trains get backed up, anarchy and chaos soon follow. The unhappy commuters rapidly begin to send more and more urgent messages that the trains need to get back on schedule ASAP. Trust me, we like to keep the trains running on time.

Which brings me to the woods. I’m not one of those folks opposed to pooping in the kiltwoods. It can be downright peaceful at times. There are of course the positional challenges. Leaning against a tree, lean back holding on to a tree, sitting over a log, or the traditional squat and hope your aim avoids the trousers bunched up around the ankles. There are times the Scottish kilt in the backcountry has its advantages. As fascinating as all this may be, it is not my point. My point is snakes.

If you know me, you’d know that I have an unnatural fear and adversarial relationship with snakes. This wouldn’t be a problem if I was a librarian, but unfortunately I like the outdoors. Snakes have a tendency to live in the outdoors. This is an issue. Which brings me to my latest encounter. I recently got back from a long river trip to a remote area that, coincidently, is infested with rattlesnakes. Even though snake fears kept me from getting out of the boat unless absolutely necessary, I was having a great time until midway through the trip. After unloading all the gear and getting camp ready, I sat down in my chair to enjoy an adult beverage when I heard something in the grass. A large snake slithered by, not six inches from my foot. My river mates commented that I have an impressive vertical leap for someone my age. A little girl scream may or may not have been uttered, but that detail will stay on the river.

Which brings me back to my original point. As I sat in my tent that night, refusing to come out for dinner, it dawned on me that if I wanted to keep the trains on schedule I was going to have to wander through the snake infested grass and rocks first thing in the morning. absFaced with two undesirable choices, keeping the trains on schedule or being chased by snakes, there was little sleep that night. I made the only choice a rational person would make – I went into camel mode. No coffee, no breakfast, little water. Thank god I’ve been diligent with the ab machine. The cramping became bearable after a while. Major fist-bump to the ladies if this is what the monthly visitor is like.

The fatal mistake came on the second evening of operation anhalten der Deutsche Bahn. Succumbing to hunger pangs, I ate one of those freeze-dried backpacker meals. While they may be tasty going down, they impart a certain… urgency to the train schedule. Early that next morning, with a pounding heart and clenched cheeks, I made my way into the woods to perform a ritual our ancestors have done for thousands of years. Who knew my heart rate could sustain 200 bpm for so long? Fortunately for me this story has a happy ending. Like a Christmas morning miracle there were no snakes and the trains were back on schedule. It’s rumored I may have had a skip to my step when exiting the woods.

My point? As usual, I’ve forgotten. Maybe it’s that snake chaps are a real thing. And that I own a pair. Now to figure out how to wear them with the outdoor kilt. Under or over?


[Upon opening the Well of the Souls and peering down]
Sallah: Indy, why does the floor move?
Indiana: Give me your torch.
[Indy takes the torch and drops it in]
Indiana: Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?
Sallah: Asps… very dangerous. You go first.


Neville Flynn: ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
[the terrified passengers on the plane turn to Neville]
Neville Flynn: I HAVE HAD IT WITH THESE MOTHERFUCKING SNAKES ON THIS MOTHERFUCKING PLANE!

On Camping. And Totes.

Last weekend I went car camping. It’s been awhile. The last number of years have been more focused on river trips, backpacking, and a mega land-yacht RV. All of which arguably have components of camping, but are not exactly the same. To me, “campintrucksterg” is loading up the family truckster, driving to a designated forest service campground and unloading a mountain of gear at a designated “site”. Said site shall contain one rickety picnic bench, one fire ring, tent sites that are on a mandatory slope of at least 30 degrees, and easy access to a standard forest service toilet that contains horrors that shall not be mentioned.

While all of those items are worthy of discussion, it’s the mountain of gear that befuddled me. With backpacking and river trips you have clear space limitations, so you’d think that I would be good at packing efficiently. Apparently those rules don’t apply when car camping. I looked at the volume of space I had in the pickup truck and lost my mind. I packed gear for every possible contingency. Enough clothing to cover temperature ranges from  Death Valley to the top of Everest. I brought enough lighting products to perform neurosurgery at midnight. Small, medium, and large flashlights. A 5 pound lantern powered by 6 D-cell batteries. A headlamp. And a backup headlamp just in case. What did I actually use? The 2 inch mini flashlight one time, while digging around in the cooler for another beer. I had approximately 2,000 feet of utility cord, mosquito nets, shaving mirrors (but no shaving kit), tools, zip ties, plastic zip lock bags, a compass (we never left the campground), a broom, and at least four different drinking cups. All told I think I had three full duffle bags, a backpack, a cardboard box, a cooler, a half cord of firewood, an air mattress that was too big to fit in the tent, and a ten pound folding chair. I briefly considered renting a trailer but that would have been… excessive.

Within the first half hour at camp all this gear somehow exploded, covering the camp site. And when it rained – it all came into my little tent. I slept surrounded by mountains of stuff. The contents of every duffle bag had been pulled out and strewn everywhere, looking for the extra pair of socks I was sure I had. When it came time to leave there was no careful packing and organizing. Everything got stuffed into one giant pile into the back seat of the truck, which is now spread across the garage, the basement, and the kitchen. I plan on cleaning and putting it all away any day now. Promise.

I vowed never again. I will become the Martha Stewart of camping organization. I’ve spent approximately 45 hours researching camping organization web sites. I have visions of campkitchencolor coded plastic totes, camp kitchen boxes, and gear organizers. In my mind I’ve been crafting plans for adding a camper shell to the truck and building fantastic storage options so I’m ready to camp at a moments notice. I will craft laminated efficiency checklists and pare all equipment down to the bare minimum.

And then I stumbled across the Sprinter van. I am now officially obsessed. This is the ultimate car camping vehicle. Small enough you can drive it sprinteranywhere. Big enough you can comfortably sleep and have all your gear available. There’s whole community dedicated to van life. I could be ready to go fishing, to faraway hikes, climbing, escape the zombie apocalypse, a horrific nuclear accident, or just plain old camping at a moments notice. It works for campsites, boondocking, sleeping at truck stops, or Walmart parking lots. Never mind that I average about two camp trips a year. The point is that I could if I wanted to.

Now I just have to convince Mrs. troutdog. Or I could just buy more totes.

—————————–
Clark: I think you’re all fucked in the head. We’re ten hours from the fucking fun park and you want to bail out. Well I’ll tell you something. This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest. It’s a quest for fun. You’re gonna have fun, and I’m gonna have fun… We’re all gonna have so much fucking fun we’re gonna need plastic surgery to remove our goddamn smiles! You’ll be whistling ‘Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah’ out of your assholes! I must be crazy! I’m on a pilgrimage to see a moose. Praise Marty Moose! Holy Shit!

The Five Dollar Shake

The other day, in an effort to wean myself off the political crack I’ve been smoking in ever-increasing amounts, I was scrolling through a gallery of photos. It was an attempt to motivate myself to maybe take a picture again someday. Anyway there I am scrolling away,  every once in a while stopping to click on a picture that grabbed my attention. I started wondering what is it about a particular photo that reaches out and triggers something in the brain? All the photos were technically accurate and well done. Many were similar scenes or subjects. Why does one out of many grab you?

It would be a curious experiment to take a hundred photos and let a bunch of independent folks pick their top 10. How many people would pick the same list? There’s something about that “it” factor that’s so hard to quantify. We know it when we see it, but none of us can explain exactly what “it” is. Probably because it is often different for everyone. This applies to art, music, food, writing…

I don’t know what the right word is to describe this phenomenon. How does one restaurant or bar capture that vibe or buzz, where a very similar one a block away sits empty? We have a local business that, after a gazillion (I’m too lazy to look up how many) years, is closing at the end of the summer. This place is basically a “beer garden”. It’s way out of the way. A limited menu of mostly fried food and simple non-craft beer. A run down, biker bar looking place, with nothing more than a giant dirt “patio” and a bunch of rickety wooden picnic benches. It does not have one element going for it that would indicate any possibility of success. It would be listed under marketing 101 as exactly what not to do.

During the summer months – packed. Score of cyclists make it an end of ride stop. It’s practically a requirement to go there after floating the river. Flotillas of people make multiple pilgrimages there every summer to drink beer and bake themselves in the dust. How is it possible that a place like that creates a vibe that works, without advertising, and the fancy new million dollar brewpub downtown goes out of business in six months?

It’s a strange thing. The marketing folks spend a significant portion of our GDP trying to artificially capture or create it. Sometimes they get it right. At the risk of the implying to the Taylor Swift army that they’ve won the battle, her new ad spot for Apple struck me. It’s simple, unexpected, and funny. Why did that ad grab me and not the 2.7 million others we see on a daily basis?

As is the on-going theme of my life, I have very little point to this. I think it’s worth spending time looking at art, or writing, or something outdoors, and trying to figure out of all the images we see each day – which ones grab your attention? Now go find more of those.

VINCENT: Did you just order a five-dollar shake?
MIA: Sure did.
VINCENT: A shake? Milk and ice cream?
MIA: Uh-huh.
VINCENT: It costs five dollars?
MIA: Yep.
VINCENT: You don’t put bourbon in it or anything?
WAITOR: Nope.
VINCENT: Just checking.
_____________
VINCENT: Can I have a sip of that? I’d like to know what a five-dollar shake tastes like.
MIA: Be my guest. You can use my straw, I don’t have kooties.
VINCENT: Yeah, but maybe I do.
MIA: Kooties I can handle.
VINCENT: Goddamn! That’s a pretty fuckin’ good milk shake.
MIA: Told ya.
VINCENT: I don’t know if it’s worth five dollars, but it’s pretty fuckin’ good.

On Adventure. Or Lack Thereof.

I am a fraud. To use the vernacular of my 80’s upbringing – I’m a total poser, dude. I’m an armchair adventurer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not fully in the Walter Mitty category. I do occasionally go outside and do stuff. But it’s happening less and less often. What’s more telling is that I’m starting to feel more apprehension about activities than I ever did before. My fear of getting hurt, or failing, and the unknown are starting to creep into my head far too frequently lately.

What I’m discovering about myself is that I really, really, like the idea of being adventurous. It’s the doing part that I don’t follow up with. The other day over dinner with some friends we talked about all the things we’d like to do this summer. I was happy to jabber on about road trips, backcountry motorcycle expeditions, climbing and mountaineering, and spur of the moment mountain bike rides. After the drinks wear off, I know that the possibility of my actually doing any of those things isn’t super high.

I’m not sure why that is. Some of it is just laziness. A rolling stone and moss and whatnot. I’ve been gathering a fair amount of moss these days. A lot of it is just caution. I’ve noticed that at the climbing gym, once I’m five or six feet in the air I’m very reluctant to try a move because of a fear of falling. It’s not like I’m going to get hurt. I’d be falling on a soft crash pad. Worse case I get the wind knocked out of me. So why am I so afraid? It must be a facet of getting old.

What gets into my head is that I really want to do these adventures. I can easily spend all day reading about adventure trips and free spirited folks who just do things. Americans have always been enamored with the antihero. The folks who just get stuff done and go out and make adventures happen. Shane McConkey, Jimmy Chin, Cheryl Strayed, Alastair Humphreys, Hank Patterson. These folks decide to do something and just go make it happen. Granted it didn’t always turn out so well for all of them, but they did what they wanted to do. I fear I’m turning into that kid in the commercial who calls his grandma on the phone in the next room for another grape soda.

I’ll spend two hours on the ADV forum following some guy’s two week motorcycle trip across the backcountry dirt roads of Idaho and tell myself, dammit I’m doing that. But that would mean getting the motorcycle running again and buying some more gear. And it’s kinda cold out right now. And I’m directionally challenged so what if I got really lost, or what if the bike stopped running and I got stuck? Besides there’s a couple of episodes of Walking Dead I haven’t caught up on and there’s some yardwork that needs doing. Maybe in a few weeks I’ll think about it again.

I think I’m one of those people who always needs a guide. Someone who takes me by the hand and says we’re going to go do this, and here’s what you need, and here’s how it’s going to work. Once I do it I’m golden. I’ve skied for years at my local mountain without exploring some areas that I knew were there, but didn’t know if they were above my ability or if I’d get lost. This season I finally put on my big boy pants and followed a friend to these places. Now that I’ve seen them and they’re not the unknown I’m happily exploring every off-piste area I can find. Why was I so worried about exploring them before?

Is there a moral to this rambling? Doubtful. I think it’s mostly an internal pep-talk to convince myself to go do stuff and that I don’t always need a “guide”. Besides, what’s the worst that could happen? I’ll end up with a good story to tell. Then again there’s a bag of chips in the cupboard and 24 hours of political coverage to watch. And I hear there’s a threat of rain today. Time to catch up on my Instagram feed of adventurers and amazing photos.

Are You Hurt, Or Are You Injured?

Back in the Paleozoic era, I played Pop-Warner football. I remember one game when I got my “bell rung”. The sophisticated first aid of the time was smelling salts and some weird pushing on your diaphragm to get you to breathe again. Executed by “the coach” who had comprehensive medical training which consisted of watching M*A*S*H reruns. It was probably a pretty good concussion (which may explain that strange twitch I still have) since I didn’t remember much after that. What I do remember was coach asking if I was hurt, or injured? I said I didn’t know, so he sat me on the bench for a few plays. He came over and conducted a thorough neurological exam by asking if I felt ready to go back in. I must have said yes, ’cause I played the rest of the game.

pain.jpgTo this day, I’m still not entirely sure which is which. Do you go back in the game if you’re injured or hurt? I know that if there’s no pain, there’s no gain. Also, pain is just weakness leaving the body. So if I have pain someplace, I know it hurts but does it mean I’m injured? No, wait – I’m merely injured not hurt. But what if it ’tis only a flesh wound? I’m so confused.

What I do know is that these days something always hurts. The current inventory is as follows:

  • A shoulder that aches all the time from arthritis and a torn supraspinatus resulting from a mountain bike crash.
  • An acute elbow, epicondyle / tendon strain from the climbing gym.
  • A couple of wicked blisters from a several thousand feet of climbing in poorly fitting boots to get some backcountry turns in fresh powder.
  • An odd pain in the back of my knee that comes and goes. Probably a blood clot.
  • And worst of all… I stabbed the roof of my mouth eating Doritos. Those little bastards are sharp.

Anyone with more a few more brain cells than me would realize that at my age I should probably spend more time at the library rather than pretending father time doesn’t exist. Getting old sucks. I don’t remember having these issues when I was younger. We just went out and did things. No warm up. No stretching. No specialty hot-house yoga classes to focus our inner chi so we can properly concentrate on hydrating with our pomegranate energy drinks. We drank water. Or orange flavored Gatorade if you were lucky. We carried salt tablets when we went backpacking. I’m not sure what I was supposed to do with them, but I brought ’em every trip.

soccerbubbleApparently today kids can get a concussion simply riding their scooters into a strong headwind. It won’t be long before football disappears completely, replaced by hoards of young soccer players – encased head to toe in temperature controlled, memory foam suits and $2,000 cranial protective devices. Each player will be subjected to a 28 point neurological exam by the on-field physician and lawyer before being allowed to go home.

I miss the days of feeling young and invincible. Of not walking my bike around an obstacle but instead thinking, “I bet I could jump that. What could possibly go wrong?” You’re not going to get any extra credit points for meeting your maker with zero scars. Besides, what’s a few concussions here and there? I don’t drool that much. Now, where did I leave my car keys? I’m out of Doritos.bigwheel


F-Bombs On The Bunny Slope

While my life achievements have been numerous, impressive, and intimidating to most mortal men, I tend to not publicize them.  After all in today’s age we have at least seven different social media accounts (five of which you can’t remember the passwords), LinkedIn, blogs, Christmas newsletters, and on-line “brag books”.  I have no idea what that last one is, but every professional job search service says you must have one.  I usually just bring an old photo album of baby pictures.

So, imagine my horror when a friend sent me someone’s “climbing resume”.  Seriously? With everything else going on in the world I now have to stress over my lack of a climbing resume?  I’m a busy guy.  I don’t have time to be searching for climbing resume examples on the internets.  I have nymph fishing videos to watch (yes, this is a real thing and how I spent my morning).

Sigh… not wanting to be left out of the next social media, job hunting fad, I present my climbing resume:

  • 1975   Climbed the big kids playground at the junior high school.  Solo ascent.  (class II 3.7+)
  • 1977   Group climb of the Matterhorn.  Seated climb, Disneyland-style.  (class II 5.1)
  • 1982   Ascended some hill in the dark to drink two beers we’d stolen from my friend Roberts house.  (class I 1.0+)
  • 1994   Summited high point in Houston (some office building downtown).  Done in classic alpine style, carrying only a briefcase and sack lunch.  (class I  2.2++)
  • 2007   First ascent of Funny Bunny Express, Heavenly Valley, Tahoe.  Expedition style, utilizing both “magic carpet” and “rope tow” methods.   (class III 5.10)

Speaking of climbing and rope tows, I attempted to teach a friend how to ski this past weekend.  First off learning how to ski when you’ve reached middle age, while commendable, has a few challenges you may not have anticipated when you were a little tyke.  It’s not like a golf course – there’s no beer cart lady who periodically comes by to serve you tasty beverages.  Your center of gravity is a few feet higher and further in front of you than it was as a youngster.  This tends to have a negative impact on your relationship with Newtonian physics.

Also, the bunny hills tend to be filled with little kids and moms.  It turns out they don’t appreciate expletive filled tirades when you fall.  I tried to explain to the ski patrol dude that some little three-foot tall psycho went screaming by at mach II and cut us off.  Anyone who wears an all pink “My pretty pony” ski outfit should have their pass pulled just on general principle.

The lesson learned?  Don’t drop the F-bomb on the bunny slope (hey, that’s T-shirt worthy!).  Also, knit ski caps give you really bad hat hair.

I Ride A Pink Bike

Yesterday I was able to go on a mountain bike ride for the first time in months. Way up here in the frozen north, winter tends to interrupt such activities. Ok, not exactly frozen… we get snow a couple of times a winter. But it does get cold which makes my nose run. Perhaps growing up in a temperate climate has diluted my hearty Swedish genes somewhat?  Anyway, the point is that the trails get too muddy to ride if you’re the responsible type.  Since I’m a rule follower I did my part and sat in a chair for three months, moving as little as possible.

Shockingly, this did terrible things to my once meager fitness level.  And as I near the half-century mark, nothing depresses me more than people older than me who are in better shape.  So of course, there I was on my first real ride in months, huffing, puffing, wheezing like an old inner tube with a leak as I climbed up a trail I flew up last summer.  And by flew I mean I rode it without stopping.  And once outrode a twelve-year-old girl to the top (a high point in my career).  Struggling with my climb I heard bikes coming up behind me.  I did what comes naturally and pretended to have a mechanical issue so I could stop and let them by.

Three old coots (at least ten years older than me) went by at near race speed, carrying on a conversation, going uphill faster than I normally go down. A devastating blow to my already fragile ego.  Once they were gone I climbed back on the bike and slogged my way up. And sure enough as I got towards the top, the three old dudes were up there stopped and chatting away.  With the last hundred yards in full view of my audience, I pushed myself to the red zone.  A tactical mistake, as once you’re in the red zone you need oxygen… and it’s really hard to suck in your gut and pretend you’re not breathing hard when your brain is screaming for O2.  I think I got a little light-headed at that point.

After giving the traditional ‘bro nod and “hey, ‘sup?” (also known as the urban white dude greeting), I made some lame comment about taking too much time off during the offseason.  The obvious leader of this group of geriatric fitness freaks looked at me and actually said something very profound.  “Well”, he said, “nothings free. You gotta earn your beers.”  With that they mounted up, said have a good ride, and off they went.

I spent the rest of my ride thinking about what this Bodhi Zafa of cycling had told me.  He’s right.  Earn your beers (or chips ‘n salsa, cake, or tasty Cheez It’s snack treats) by going out and playing hard.  I used to do that. We all did when we were younger.  Why do we stop?  How did “working out” become a chore that had to be done rather than something fun we did?bike

A hundred years ago I used to be that way. It was hard to get me off my bike back then.  I must have had an attachment to it, as twenty-  eight years later I still ride that same bike on my daily commute.  A 1985 Miyata 912.  A reasonably high-end bike at the time.  It saw a little racing and a lot of road miles.  And yes, it had a black and pink paint scheme.  Super popular for the eighties.  Not so much for a number of years.  Now… I get a lot of compliments on it.  What was old is new again.

Today is another beautiful day.  Time to go out and earn a few beers.