Monday, March 5, 2018

Boycott CamelBak, Giro, and Bell?

In the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting there's been the typical flurry of talk about gun control and the flaccid, uninspired, and insincere pledges of "prayers and thoughts for the victims and their families" by the Republican lawmakers who will simply wait for the furor to die down and be replaced by the next awful political story du jour (it seems like it's been done with the inexplicable demand for higher steel and aluminum tariffs that will likely result in the inflation that the bad tax bill was supposed to prevent??!).  But for a coupla reasons, this time the conversation seemed to have some good traction, partly due to otherwise-average high school kids becoming incredibly inspiring and impassioned and leading the conversation, with even Trump telling lawmakers they were afraid of the NRA (even after he has lunch with the NRA leadership and claims that they are ok with reforms that they definitely are not?!?).  And Dick's Sporting Goods - a big gun dealer - joined WalMart in announcing new limitations on gun sales.  

The last week I got this article calling for a boycott of Bell and Giro bike helmet/accessory brands and CamelBak, because they are owned by Vista Outdoor, an Ogden, UT-based company that owns A LOT of other companies, including Serengeti (sunglasses), Bushnell (binocs and such), Blackburn (bike accessories), Camp Chef, and a bunch of brands I've never heard of before because they are hunting and tactical brands, including one that is an automatic rifle maker.  Calling for a boycott of those non-gun brands on went semi-viral on social media, and last week REI announced that they were halting all orders from those brands.

Now, I'm as nutcake left wing liberal as they come, and even though I grew up with a fancy gun case full of rifles owned in our living room owned by my NRA-member father, I am not a fan of guns at all and love to remind people that guns cause over 13,000 deaths annually in the US and relative to most of the rest of the world (except Latin America) our deaths per 100,000 people the US is awful, esp as compared to most other countries of similar economic status.  And anything that can be done to limit 'mericans' ridiculously-easy ability to buy all sorts of guns is  - in my mind - a good thing.

But boycotting such "wholesome" (my term) brands as Giro, Bell, and CamelBak because they are part of a portfolio of a really big company?  That seems like a stretch.  Though I have worked with CamelBak in the past and have friends who have worked for/with Giro and Bell I don't know any details of their relationship with their parent company, but typically the many outdoor brands that are owned by big conglomerates (and there are many) basically "rely" on their parents for very little besides capital and maybe distribution help.  The companies that are acquired are typically run completely independently from their parents, who wisely know that they are buying a good asset that doesn't need a lot of mucking with.   Apparently REI's announcement "caused" Vista's stock to the same week that the entire stock market dropped.

For sure, this is a huge deal for those brands; I have long decried the fact that REI has way too much influence over the industry and has singlehandedly stymied a lot of innovation, but for better or worse they can make or break brands' success or failure.  Therefore, a quarters-worth of halted orders by REI can bring a company to its knees.  And perhaps that's what consumers want:  CamelBak, Giro, and Bell hurt so badly that Vista actually "cares" and changes its tack on its tactical brands and congressional lobbying. But what about the brands themselves?  Will righteous mountain bikers be stoked when they find out that CamelBak or Bell/Giro is laying off 20% of its workforce?   Those are people who likely feel just as strongly about gun control as you and I do, and they would/will be losing their jobs in sort of funky economic areas for something that is far, far beyond their control. 

After 9/11 my 80-odd year old step dad put an American flag sticker he bought for $1.98 at a 7-11 on the bumper of his Subaru.  I asked him why, and he said "Well hell, it's the least I can do!"  And I had to agree:  there was literally nothing he could do that would have less of an effect on anything than putting a sticker on his car.  So if you are in the market for a new helmet or hydration pack and buy yourself a Poc or an Osprey in deliberate accordance with boycotting Giro/Bell or CamelBak that's fine (those are good brands/products too) but don't gag too hard in the smug cloud that has formed over your head; you aren't saving any kids from the next mass shooting, and in fact you are hurting some companies that have been dedicated enough to the industry that they are hands-down the leaders in their categories despite being owned by big conglomerates, not because of them.  And if you feel really good about your politically-correct purchase, keep in mind that many other brands in the outdoor sphere quietly make significant chunks of their income by selling products to the over-funded US military, which has historically put a lot of effort into the business of killing people. 

There is no doubt that the proletariat can make waves with protests and boycotts. But these days the way to really affect some change is twofold:  vote for candidates you like, and support them financially.  If you do indeed feel strongly about changing our gun control laws, spend a little less time deciding between Osprey and Salomon packs and a bit more time writing your congressman or woman and tell them that if they don't support more gun control laws (for example:  reinstating the assault weapons ban that was in place from 1994 to 2004) they will NOT get your vote or your $$.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

A Monumental Disaster Follow Up

Back in December I (almost literally) threw up a blawg post about Trump's big announcement to slash the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments after being a bit distraught by going to the protest outside the capitol while the president was inside with Secretary Zinke and all of Utah's leadership backslapping each other over their victory.  Since then a few things have happened:

  • Trump's "gift" to Senator Hatch of monument restrictions that he hoped would result in the Senator deciding that he would serve yet again to support the president went unrequited with Hatch announcing his retirement, clearing the way for on-again/off-again Trump critic/sycophant Mitt Romney to almost assuredly announce (on Feburary 15) to run to take his Hatch's place (but that didn't stop Trump from using - and conveniently modifying -  Hatch's quote that Trump "could be the best president ever"  this week)
  • After Patagonia ran its now-infamous "The President just stole your land" ad Rob Bishop's House Natural Resources committee made the unprecedented move to use its official twitter account to lambaste Patagonia, an action that raised some eyebrows, at least according to the former director of the US Office of Government Ethics 
  • Ryan Zinke did the same thing - also on an official government account - towards Patagonia, a private company.  
  • My congressman Chris Stewart conveniently introduced legislation to create a new national park in the Escalante area that - if passed, would upend the concept of national park management as we've known it (the Salt Lake Tribune's opinion of that here). 
  • we have come to find out that the new Bears Ears boundaries conveniently got drawn along the lines of uranium claims that were drawn by a Canadian uranium factory (here's an article in the NY times:
And most importantly, my blawg post got a comment! (all too rare, in my notso-humble opinion).  Layne, a friend from the local enduro-geek crowd, commented as thus:

Tom, I'm having a hard time seeing how the BE downsizing is so harmful. It has reverted back to whatever status the land was before the monument. Zinke is a off-putting, as are many of the other local politicians like Herb and Orrin.

My experience is that many of these amazing places fly under the radar until great status is given to them (Zion, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce, etc.) Then they become an utter junk show. Anyway. I'm optimistic that the lands will largely remain the same even if they don't have the same status they did last year."

and followed up with this:

Hopefully, that comment doesn't come across as too argumentative, I don't like being caught up in the rhetoric from the politicians or the hippies at Patagonia. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. 

and then, importantly, this:

Let's go skiing! 

Layne's comment was legit for sure, and it got me thinking, and I prepared a response to him that I decided to turn into yet another blawg post.  Here it is:

Hey Layne

Thanks for the comment; I always like getting them, even if they are few and far between!

Your question is a good one.  I have often said that national parks are sort of the sacrificial lambs of public lands; lure all of the tourists there to keep them out of wilder places, with the price being that they are absolutely overrun.  Unfortunately, they do take up some of the best places (not many unrecognized places as awesome as Zion, Yosemite, Yellowstone, etc).  That said, canyonlands is a bit of an exception; regular tourists can’t really figure that place out, and it’s far from overrun due to the lack of infrastructure and the wildness/remoteness of the terrain.  And it seems to me that to the general public, “National Monument” is quite a bit different than “national park”; having visited GSENM a few times over the last coupla years it has really benefitted the local economies and infrastructure has grown to accommodate increased visitation, but it must be at least sustainable growth because the Escalante city council and mayor ignored their local business owners in 2015 when they declared an economic state of emergency, even as home prices weree/are going up, there are no homes available to buy, and they recently built a new school, even as grazing fees that should be ~$150/head/year adjusted for inflation are only $22.  And Zinke ver conveniently ignored the local businesses on his spring tour; even the Boulder/Escalante chamber of commerce was snubbed!  (I went into that in more detail in this article for the Utah Adventure Journal)

But to your point of “what’s the difference?” there actually isn’t that much, with some big exceptions.  Grazing is still allowed in national monuments (something that NM opponents conveniently forgot in their arguments, and the effects of grazing are pretty devastating (all it takes is a walk from terrain that naturally lends itself to grazing to that which does not, like a big pourover ledge in a drainage).  The big exception is drilling, and what I find sort of offensive is that despite the market-based depression in coal prices and the automation in the coal industry (that prevents coal miners from getting fatal and awful black lung disease; that link is a haunting story) and the fact that there are fewer coal workers nationwide than there are Arby’s employees that they are opening up those lands to mining. If you’ve been up around Dead Horse Point lately there’s an amazing number of  natural gas mines going in up there and big new roads to service them with big trucks, and a few years ago when we paddled the White River south of Vernal the tablelands between the river and Vernal were a huge maze of new fat paved roads that are  - to my knowledge – mostly abandoned due to the price drop in natural gas that has left Vernal gasping economically after its boomtime.  And the BLM has historically been a far-worse steward of the public lands than the National Park system with allowing environmental degradation at the expense of the short term economic successes of private companies getting really cheap leases on public lands.   Just today is an article in the paper talking about this: 

That said, I did kinda cringe when I saw the Patagonia byline of “The president just stole your land” because it was factually false (it did go back to federal land, just under the auspices of a different agency) and opened themselves and the entire community to getting rightfully lambasted by Zinke, even if it just means going to a lower level of protective/conservation management.  That said, using the official house natural resources committee account to send out a tweet insulting a private company is  - to my knowledge  - unprecdented, and Chris Stewart’s very-quick follow up national park proposal that seeks to fundamentally change the way national parks are managed showed a fair bit of shrewd manuvering in the leadup to the announcements.  

Additionally, I know very little about the concept of protection of artifacts and such, but what I do know I learned from this:

And the residents of San Juan county haven’t really proved themselves to be very good stewards of native antiquities, with the town of Blanding getting torn apart some years ago by a antiquities trafficking scandal that resulted in a federal sting and the suicide of a well-liked town doctor (Here’s a comprehensive article about it in the LA Times) 

I think it’s pretty clear that with the exception of Rebecca Benally who tries to speak for the entire native population as a member of the San Juan county council despite the fact that the Russell Begaye – the president of the Navajo nation - disagrees with her,  the entirety of the five native nations with stakes there are really upset about this and are driving the lawsuits against the dept of interior.  After all, why would the native nations expect the US federal government to follow through on their promises of protection?  

As always in heated political debates in a divisive bipartisan environment the truth lies somewhere in between the extreme hyperbole on both sides.  In this case, I am far closer to one side, if for no other reason than I was formally one of those “hippies” you mention while working for Patagonia in the late 90’s (attaching socially derogatory labels like “hippies” and – in my case - “rednecks’” rarely gets the side referenced to even listen to an argument, much less come over to your side).  

It’s definitely complicated enough that it takes a good depth of knowledge to understand the details, and Brian Maffly – as the public lands reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune – has done a great job at objective reporting of this issue, and goes into it in detail on this interview., and for a good 17 minute overview here is a good video:

And indeed Layne, let's go skiing!  Clearly there's plenty of fodder for skin track conversations.....

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Hokkaido Powder Heaven

Five years ago Ashley and I succumbed to the reports of epic powder in Japan that we had heard about, and despite never being that interested in Japan or its culture (not sure why,'s old, rich, complicated, and fascinating) we went over for a quick trip and saw the least, what little we could see through the copious snow that fell from the sky and blew around our faces.  As the anemic early winter snowpack didn't accumulate in Utah we saw the writing on the wall:  when it was going to snow it was going to be challenging at best (the Ironic Insult to Injury of a lean snow year is that when it doesn't snow much the avalanche danger typically is also much higher when it does actually snow) and it was time to return to the Land Of The Rising Sun And Deep Powder (LOTRSADP)! 

Many people are surprised that there is even skiing in Japan much less being a global ski hub, but there are actually over 500 ski resorts, even though it's 4% of the size of the US, and from December through March in snows.  A lot.  Our last trip there was in late February and the base snow depth at the resorts was 15 feet, even though it's at the same latitude as Utah and the mountains only top out at 6000 feet and typically the skiing is between 1000 and 3000 feet.  In a nutshell, the reason for this phenomenon is because they are just across the Sea of Japan from Siberia and storms consistently sweep down, pick up moisture from the Sea, and dump it on the first land that pushes that air upwards, which is the smaller northern island of Hokkaido and the northern section of Honshu (the "main" island).  The Wasatch Weather Weenie Jim Steenburgh, who is one of the world's experts on "lake effect" snowfall, calls it a winter monsoon, and just a couple of weeks ago published a blog post on Japan here, and here is an (unpermitted; hope Jim doesn't mind!) image showing it:

Our first adventure within the adventure began right when we hit the ground; our flight over was late, and as we were exiting the plane in Tokyo a gate agent was holding up a sign with our names on it; yes, what up?  "We saw that you were coming in late and we were worried that you may not make your connection, so we are here to help!"  Wow, welcome to the supernice Japanese people.  That gate agent hustled us to our connecting airline gate people, who processed us quickly and then two of them grabbed a couple of our bags and - even though they were dressed impeccably and were sporting high heels - asked very nicely "can you run?!" And off we all ran to catch our flight!
a respite on the hgh-heeled gate-agent chase while we are on the inter-terminal train.  
Our next mini adventure came up the next morning when we went to pick up our rental car; on our previous trip we had based ourselves exclusively at Niseko (sort of the Park City of Japan) and didn't need a car, but this time we wanted to wander about a bit more, so we felt a car would be handy.  However, this:

was "big problem".   huh?  "You need international drivers license!"  Wow, ok, how do I get one?  "must be in home country!"  Wait a minute, I am a 'Murican!  Make America Great Again!  America First, even when it comes to drivers licenses!  Getting an international drivers license means sending $20 to AAA and getting a piece of paper, but according to the 1949 Geneva Convention rules (not kidding) that's the way it is.  Once we recognized that we weren't getting a car we did an abrupt strategy shift, and a quick scramble to connect into Japan's extensive and prompt public transit system we were on a bus heading for Furano within 30 mins, even as we were cautioned that some bus reservations need to be made far in advance.  Whatever; we'll deal as it comes....

Furano is both a city and an adjacent ski resort, and has fun sidecountry (and there's a great Aussie who has been in that area for a zillion years who is super helpful:  John Worrell) .  Which brings up another interesting point about Japan; Japanese skiers like to ski on piste, and even within resorts un-groomed slopes are really only skied by Westerners, and much of the "backcountry" skiing is resort sidecountry that in the US would be hammered within hours, but in Japan stays untrammeled for days.  And something as simple as a 10 minute hike from the top of the tram (all Japanese resorts sell 1-ride tickets for cheap) and dropping off the backside that requires skinning to get out ensures untracked turns.  So we spent a couple of days doing that, including one with our SLC friends Jeff and Janine Wood, Christine Hasagawa, and Lauren Scholnick. 
Christine gave us this new use for a Buff; trim off a bottom strip and use it as a noseguard!  
A classic destination not far from Furano is Daisetsuzan National Park and the famous Tokachidake Onsen.  Even though it's high in the mountains with no ski resort, there's a 3x/day public bus that slithers up the really snowy road for about $5 each, and ends right at the door of the hotel there.  The hotel was probably started for summertime Japanese hikers, but now gets constant winter use by westerners looking for opportunities to ski the high alpine lines in the brief windows of wintertime weather clearing and the long treed shots below when it snows.  We had heard from multiple folks that this place was a must-stay, and we were not disappointed.  A few km down the road from the hotel was a trailhead, and we followed a skinner up for a coupla thousand feet up one of a series of ridges with great tree skiing off each side.  It had snowed pretty much continuously since we arrived in Hokkaido, and despite the popularity of this area (a lot of guided groups) we had no problem finding plenty of untracked lines and the navigation was easy. 
like a typical Wasatch trailhead! 
Our second morning we awoke to wind.  In the Wasatch we get a lot of pre-frontal wind events that are quite warm, but this Hokkaido wind didn't have much associated with it besides...wind.  From the comfort of breakfast we watched the trees whip and bend and the light blower snow that had been accumulating was creating an effective ground blizzard, and it was easy to just bag any attempt at skiing for the day - and most folks did.  But we decided to give it a go and at least tromp around a little. 
this was a mountain club outing; I think they optimistically anticipated going out for a snowcamp, but we saw them later when they had wisely dumped their packs.  
We were worried about avy danger with the wind so we went to an area that we thought was lower-angle skiing.  We put our heads down and tried to plow uphill through the wind-cake, but the wind and snow was literally taking our breath away and the terrain we chose was almost flat, and after Ash once got ahead of me as I was futzing with my gloves or somesuch and her deep skin track was obliterated in seconds and she virtually disappeared into the blizzard, we decided to turn around and march back down.  We got a ride back up the few km to the hotel with a Swiss guy who was laughing as the car was literally bouncing off the road's snow walls since we couldn't see a thing even in the car.  And thus we retired to the onsen. 

"Onsen" is Japanese for hot springs, and is one of the only words you need to know as a skier in Japan.  We assumed it was also a verb, and thus we were always keen for onsening, which apparently is a big part of life all over Japan.  The Tokachidake is part of the Ryounkaku hotel, and it's one of the best:
One of the rules of onsening is "no photos", and even tho I was tempted to be the boorish American and do it anyway, I poached this from their website.  
The wind picked up before it let up, and we went to bed literally feeling the hotel shaking, and my last thoughts going to sleep were of spending the next week subjecting ourselves to trench warfare trying to get uphill and having perpetual avalanche hazard.  But miraculously we awoke to this view:

and sometime in the night, after the wind event, as if to apologize for its ferocity the heavens dropped down about 8 or so inches of gentle fluff onto the supportable windjack, and thus our snowpack was revived in only hours.  And thus again we partaked in more blower powder:
some nice angulation in the carvable cream! 
We bumped into Kelsey from the Utah on the skin track, who was sporting her own Wasatch Backcountry Alliance buff! 
sick air brah!

riding the bus in my ski boots; I forgot my shoes at a previous hotel for 3 days, but didn't need them, and they were still happily awaiting me in their little cubby when I returned.  
After another half-day in the Furano backcountry (the only crimp in our non-auto-centric trip was being denied a few hours of skiing because a late bus was full and we had to catch a 1:30 bus) we moved over to the Niseko area.  Moiwa is a small resort adjacent to the Niseko megaplex and its sidecountry   -even though it's lift-served - provided a great day's worth of terrain, and we spent a day at/near Chisenipuri, which was a one-lift resort that we visited on our last trip but has since closed (and is now a cat ski destination).  The glades nearby are a favorite for guided groups, but since typically guided groups don't move very fast, there was plenty of terrain for all. 

one of the few brief minutes of sun we saw on the trip. 

big snowbanks for mid season

When they don't plow the road, the snow stacks up, and they have whole villages focused around onsening...

If you can't find a bus, the taxi drivers are fearless in the snow and are quite nattily-dressed
Salt Lakers Bart Gillespie and Jared Inyoue had been in Hokkaido for the week prior and we had exchanged lots of texts about possibly hooking up and then just beta, but the best one was this:  "Mt Shiribetsu has multiple 2000-foot runs on all aspects all around the mountain with great tree skiing." That was all we needed, and we headed there.  At first all we could find for lodging was the $500/night Hilton or somesuch that was associated with the nearby ski resort of Resutsu, but Ash found a place called the "Clydesdale" (we didn't see any horses, and didn't want to stretch our hosts' limited english to explain the name), and it was as cute and quaint as the Hiltons were fancy and the Niseko hostels were dirtbag.  And most importantly, it was a 10 minute skin to the base of  -as Bart and Jared had pointed out - 2000 foot lines from the top of the volcano.  And not only was it 2000 feet, but it was steep as well, so in addition to having all the snow that had stacked up on top of the windjack, we had steeps to be able to ski fast.  I've never, ever been prone to hyperbole, but this time I swear....this skiing was The Best Ever. 

lapping it up
Everybody's happy about powder snow
the snowy view out the breakfast window towards Shiribetsu
a small but oh-so-good volcano
A pic of a pic; Shiribetsu is in the foreground, the much bigger Yotei is behind (an amazing day in clear weather).   The Clydesdale in near the fields at the base.  
Much of this report has been about the skiing, but one of the great things about skiing Japan is the people; they are so nice, polite, considerate, and endearing.  From friends who have worked with/in Japan I know that this can be a bit of a front, and the Japanese are famously non-committal, non-confrontational, underspoken, and even sly, which can drive brusque, loud, obnoxious, and blunt 'Muricans and Aussies (the other big ski population there) a bit crazy, but at a tourist level it's really nice to be around so many nice people. 

And there are some nice amenities:
beer vending machines

drinking fountain/toilet combos

amazing food
cut little cars with really small wheels, which makes for a lot more interior space for the size. 
beautiful snowy trees
snow removal is a constant battle in Hokkaido
Utah can go ahead and keep their cute little license plates that say "The Greatest Snow on Earth", but after partaking again in the LOTRSADP I was reminded that it's pretty hard to beat Japanuary Japow in Japan.  We'll be back.

I think I'm Turning Japanese I really think so think so think so!  

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Lessons learned from The Duke

Sometime in the fall of 2003 a friend of Brother Paul’s was driving from Colorado to California and had contacted Paul about stopping and spending the night at their house en route.  No problem, and the guy showed up in the early evening….and brought a guest.  Somewhere in the plains of eastern Utah he had driven past a small dog chowing on some road kill and the fact that there were no homes for miles made him spin around and go back to see what was up with this dog, that turned out to be a big puppy.  I don’t remember all the details about any attempts to find a local home, but the end result was that the puppy got a free hitch to Salt Lake City and, as it turns out, a new lease on a great life. 

The only catch of the nice guy picking up the dog was that he didn’t actually want a dog, and made it very clear that SLC was the end of the ride.  Paul and Janette already had a great dog and even as that dog was getting on in years there were no plans to get another.  The friend left in the morning quite pleased that he had saved the dog, and Paul and Janette were left wondering what they were going to do with this skinny, happy puppy.  They tried to get us to take him but we had long before decided that our lifestyle was not dog-appropriate, and they gamely contacted other potential dog folks for a couple of days.  I finally said something to the effect of “look, this seems like a nice dog, Kiva is not only pretty old but is pure white and this one is jet black so you get a bit of the yin/yang deal going on, and because Kiva’s nickname was (appropriately) The King and this dog was picked up in Duschesne (“Du-shane”) he is undoubtedly The Duke!”  By this time the puppy had endeared himself to all (but The King) and indeed he stuck around.

Duke had it good, and he knew it.  His humans were great, and even though the old white guy was a bit ornery, he could teach a lot about human-management, and Duke clearly absorbed it all.  It wasn’t long before Duke became a strapping lad himself, and when Kiva died unexpectedly a year or so later, the rightful heir gracefully assumed the throne. 

Everyone thinks their dog is great/the best/the smartest, but not even being one of his formal humans and as one who grew up with a lot of amazing dogs, I think it’s safe to say that Duke was The Best.  If for no other reason than I learned a lot from The Duke.

Like a lot of medium-big dogs, he was a good strong runner and loved to get out on adventures, and like most dogs, he loved to charge hard.  But his pace and charging was always a function of his human; he was happy to chug along behind patiently biding his time, but when you moved aside and said “Go!” he’d blast past with literally huge grin on face and absolutely tear down the trail…but not too far, ‘cause he wanted to get back and hang with you as well.  I remember well one night when we went skate skiing (well, he joined me; a remarkable dog, but not that remarkable) and I didn’t want him behind me with my pole tips and ski tails flinging around his zone, so I told him to go ahead, and he stayed 20 feet in front of me, and with my headlamp I saw the glow of his eyes turn back to confirm I was still tracking with him at almost exactly 1 minute intervals.  Recreating with Duke has always been a great reminder to (try, at least) be a good partner and keep good tabs on who you’re with and how they are doing, but when the appropriate opportunity arises, charge hard with a huge grin. 

Ironically, as good an athlete as he was, he wasn’t a good scrambler.  When the going got rocky and technical, the Duke got….weenie.  But the brilliant thing is that he didn’t care.  No whining; he’d just stop and look at you and basically say: “This is too tough for me.  I need help here” with no shame to that whatsoever.   Once over the obstacle, he’d bound away happier than before.  I really admired his ability to be acutely aware of his abilities and have a total lack of any insecurities about abilities that were beyond him, and marveled at the pleasure he received from being helped.  It was a good reminder to me to charge hard, but don’t go beyond my means, and if others are better/stronger/faster and/or can help me, that’s great and I’ll be as thankful as he was to have good partners. 
"man, slot canyons are challenging!"
 We had the good fortune to dog-sit the Duke many times over the years as his primary humans would (inexplicably!) go on some non-dog friendly trip, and Ash would ride to work with Duke running alongside.  Because he lived in a less-busy area Ash was a little worried about how he would do near more cars, but she quickly realized that he was fine:  he clearly recognized the hazards.  He pretty much told her “look, I get it:  cars are bad!  I will be predictable and stable in this chaotic environment.”  A great reminder to me that predictability and stability in the face of unfamiliar chaos are great characteristics to maintain. 

Whenever we’d go to visit the Duke and his humans he’d always grab one of his stuffed toys and bring it to us.  I honestly don’t think he really liked stuffed toys that much for himself (he was happy to give it up, and if you let him keep it he dropped it pretty quickly) but the fact that he honored our entrances by bringing us a gift was so damn endearing, and it made us feel special and welcome in his home.  a great trait, and Ash and I try to emulate it. 

As his muzzle greyed more and he wasn’t blasting down the trail quite as fast, he still loved to get out.  But in a variation on his younger years, he didn’t mind being behind:  “this is my speed, and I’m ok with it. I’ll catch up eventually, and no one cares.” He aged as gracefully as anyone I’ve seen, and as mine own muzzle greys, I’d be well-served to keep that in mind. 

Recently in a valiant attempt to keep his back legs strong enough to keep him ambulating his humans got him into a PT program that get him onto an underwater treadmill to keep his legs moving without his full weight. But as much as Duke loved exercise and charging, indoor activities on machines were absolutely no substitute for racing around outside on trails, and he let his humans know!  Hear hear, Sir Duke.

This past week The Duke’s humans made the inevitable decision to provide for him what we all wish we could do for our peers whose quality of life has diminished to an untenable level.  As rational beings that typically live about 7 times as long as a dog it’s what we sign up for eventually when we get a cute puppy, but it's still damn hard.   He was The Best Dog, and he’ll be sorely missed, but for me I hope his lessons live on.  Thanks to Paul and Janette for helping Duke to be such an important member of our community. 

Friday, January 5, 2018

Bike Touring Ethiopia - part 3

To pick up where I left off on our little sojourn around northern Ethiopia  -since it's been an inexplicable amount of time since did the last post (not sure what I've been doing; I haven't been skiing much!) we rode through the highlands of Tigray and did a long climb up into the Simien Mountains, which is one of the big ranges of Africa and also is home to a few quite rare animals, including Walia ibex, the African Wolf, (which they just recently discovered is actually more wolf than jackal, and is endangered) and a ton of big birds including the super cool lammergeier.  Visiting the Simien mountains was the main reason that we completely changed our original itinerary.

At last check I had bonked pretty hard, was saved by some locals who kindly delivered a coupla cokes, and then stumbled into the fancy lodge that was our destination swooning with yet another bonk:
I was wiped.

But a great meal and a great night of sleep in the beautiful Limalimo Lodge brought me back to life for good. 

I suppose every tourist area in every developing country has "eco lodges" like this that are sort of ridiculously nice by any standard, much less developing-country standards, but Limalimo was pretty exceptional on a couple of different levels.  It was envisioned by a couple of Simien mountain guides who wanted to make a pretty awesome place, and somehow they pulled off financing and building a pretty incredible rammed-earth lodge perched on top of a cliff in an area that consists of mostly of homes made of bamboo and mud.  They help their financial situation by charging a fair bit for their place, but they get the clientele who will pay for it and we were lucky that they had space for us. 
A German guy arrived at the lodge in this; the kids playing soccer around it live in mud huts.  Weird.  
Simien park rules specify that you not only are mandated to have a guide, but also need to have an armed security guard accompany you:
resting while hiking is a good time to clean your gun.  
Ironic considering that this isn't the African alpha predator safari and the animals that you are likely to see are about as mellow as they come:
tourons hanging with baboons.  these guys were so mellow; it was pretty intoxicating just to sit with them and watch them play and interact with each other. 
We had planned a big day of hiking and emphasized to our guides that we were planning on more than little strolls, but early on in the day it became Ash's turn to be ailing.  She and I assumed she was getting a little car sick on the bumpy, windy road into the mountains, but even moving up to the front of the van didn't help.  The guides assumed that she was getting altitude sickness the way a lot of tourists do there, but we knew that 10,000 feet was really common for us in the Wasatch and that wasn't it.  Ash was determined to hike and gamely kept on trying:
a 1500 foot waterfall

trying to get rid of the dizzies
but ultimately ended up being down hard for about a full day, fortunately in the relative lap of luxury of the very-sleepable Limalimo.  A lot of sleep and a couple of Cipros and she bounced back strong:
"ok, I'm ready to go!"

back on bike
A few scenic shots from the lodge:
the only rain we saw on the trip made a nice 'bow

from the sunset the other direction

only a few hundred yards from the lodge.  big views! 

that farmland in the background has no access roads for tens of miles.  
is that sac full of poison?  

A day's ride brought us to Gondar, which is a bustling city with huge castle in the middle of town that looks more reminiscent of Windsor than Africa:

a cool door with a huge staple. 
coupla dork tourists

but it was nice to see that Ethiopians were dork tourists as well. 
the bigger cities had great bakeries
Apparently the capital of Ethiopia moved from city to city as various leaders and areas rose/fell in power, which extended through modern times, since the current capital city Addis Ababa was only founded around 1890 (and now has ~6 million people). 

We met a great guy who was determined to show us the best way to ride out of town but couldn't leave his hotel/restaurant, so we came up with the idea of following a tuk-tuk.  He gave the guy the directions, and we waded into the sea of tuk-tuks trying to keep ours  - which looked exactly like all the others - close with furious pedaling and bold bike handling in the thick of it:

and finally ended up back out on the quiet country roads:

"Hey, can you put that gun to some use and watch my bike for a few minutes?"

We didn't see any trucks that said "Trump" on them.....

guns are a part of rural life in Ethiopia.  

Once again, rock reminiscent of Utah
In Addis I had met a 60-ish German woman who was doing a 2 year tour of Africa, and of course two weeks later we bumped into her on the road. 

An interesting mix; she had no problems traveling by herself in Africa, but her attitude and route choices were odd; she had no interest in seeing any of the cool stuff we had seen, and was determined to get into hot, flat, windy, and desolate eastern Sudan (after a 2 week wait in Addis for her visa) and  - like a lot of tourers we meet - was carrying way too much stuff.  So it goes. 
As in all developing countries, people take full advantage of moving vehicles to transport as much as possible, even if it's just a lot of empty bottles. 

building a house.  What would OSHA think about this?  

We rattled onward, staying at a couple of "hotels" that were about as bleak as the Limalimo was palatial, but the food was consistently good:
A western/African blend of injera with scrambled eggs...just for us!
and had another all-day climb back up into the mountains. 
These eucalyptus trees were thriving at over 10,000 feet. 

The guy we had connected with for our route had told us that in the far north the kids knew not to throw rocks at bicyclists, but we had ventured into a zone where few cyclists went, and - particularly with the slow climbing - we had a few instances.  I actually got hit once, and in a rage I surprised the kids by veering of the road and chasing them on my bike through a field (which they thought was hilarious) and when I caught back up with Ash she told me about her interaction with one kid: he was running alongside her grabbing at her rack so she veered into him, he turned to dash into the adjacent field but didn't take into account that Ethiopians tend to build (very effective) "fences" out of super-thorny acacia tree branches, and the kid did a full-on belly flop onto a pile of acacia (which he thought was as hilarious as we did). 

We needed to leave the buffed paved roads to get to the end of tour; even though Lalibela is the most famous tourist destination in Ethiopia it's only serviced by gravel roads that are based on big embedded rocks (most folks fly there).  We had a 2+ thousand foot descent, but after only a mile or so we started to think about hitching a ride:
hard to see the embedded rocks, but Ash is on the wrong side trying to avoid them. 
And we got one:
It was sort of crushing to lose all the elevation that we had gained and miss out on a descent, but the potential for flatting and getting bounced around hard by the embedded rocks loomed large.

We surprised the driver by saying we wanted to get out as soon as the road started going back uphill, and then soon enough we saw that they had paved one lane:
they littered the lane with rocks to keep cars off the pavement while it cured, but it looked to us like the "new" pavement was months old!
The Italians built the original gravel roads, and the Chinese are now paving them.  Here's a boss man:

Lalibela is famous for its churches.  Around the 12th century King Lalibela - the king of the Ethiopia region at that time - decided to throw down hard and take the ambitious church building techniques of Petra (in Jordan) and build upon (so to speak) what the carved-into-hillsides churches that we visited further north in Tigray had started and just dig straight down into hillsides and carve churches out of solid basalt. 
The concept of excavating holes while leaving enough rock to build a multi-story church seems sort of mind boggling using today's available technology, much less using tools of the 12th century, and according to local lore it took "only" 20 years to build a dozen churches. 
This is a World Heritage site, and they invested a lot of money in big steel girders holding up huge ceilings to keep the elements off the churches.  The fact that they lasted hundreds of years without those pretty unsightly beams made me wonder a bit about their appropriateness (and most of the churches didn't have these roofs).

Ash giving the inside of one of the churches perspective.  All those columns were once just connected rock. 
And these images were carved into those columns.

Plenty of tourists throwing down $50/day to see these churches. 
there are many of the gratuituous religious paintings too, that have remarkable clarity considering they are 800+ years old.  

Priests hung out inside and were fine with being photographed, when they weren't surfing their phones....
They dug slot canyons to move the rock out of the "holes"
Ash doing her SI swimsuit pose in one of the church slots
Best door ever.  that's one piece of wood!  
another great door. Ash wishing we could have one like that for our house! 

I'd love to have met the guy who modeled this bearded wonder....
and interesting use of a modified swastika. Ironically, this image has been used globally by very peaceful religions  - including Christianity. 
We had heard that getting a local guide was invaluable, and we took that advice and were introduced to Getay, who indeed proved to be not only a wealth of information about Lalibela as we expected, but he was also very willing to talk about life, politics, and warfare in Ethiopia, which was rare. 

Getay was a soldier in two different wars (against the communist Derge and the Eritreans), loves Lalibela, and is taking steps to start a new solar panel business, which has a lot of potential in the high desert. 

He also helped us navigate the local market:

Almost a little overwhelmed

Salt is super valuable; back in the day it was literally more expensive than gold in that region
We also had the opportunity to visit a church nearby that was having a celebration, and we joined thousands of people huddling around a small church.

trying hard to be discreet
at least she's got her holey socks on!  
some various characters from the celebration

other tourists came trooping in. 
Getay introduced us to a friend, who fed us lunch and insisted we drink some of her local brew

We also drove a couple of hours north to yet another carved out church (it's what you do in that area).

it's got a buttered door (for maintaining longevity, apparently)
One somewhat unnerving thing is that there are apparently thousands of bodies stashed behind the church, and the dry air in the cavern has preserved them well:
a bit creepy, but fascinating. 
this guy is unfazed by spending his working life near thousands of mummies
Being the aerobic geeks we are, we asked Getay what we could do in the morning before our noon flight, and he was kind enough to indulge us on a dawn patrol hike to a ridge a few thousand feet above town:

It also occurred to me that I needed at least one pic of the least-appreciated, but invaluable members of the Ethiopian community:

There are more burros in Ethiopia than any country in the world (6 million!), and the Ethiopian people use - and unfortunately abuse - them extensively.  There's actually an org that works to protect them and educate locals the value of treating them well:  the Donkey Sanctuary.  We really developed a love and respect for these noble and tough little guys.  

And their brethren small horses get a good workout hauling touristos around:
And finally it was time to go home.  There aren't any bike boxes in Ethiopia (most folks ride their bikes for years with bubble wrap on the tubes) so we just winged it by covering up the drivetrain with cardboard and our first inter-country flight went fine:

But they decided to shrink wrap the bikes for the international flight:
these guys took this project very seriously, and to their credit, it worked! 
All in all one of the best bike tours ever. Ethiopia has great food, super nice people, incredible riding with very little traffic, beautiful, and with a fascinating history and current society.  I'm super psyched that Ash was able to get away from a really busy fall with Wasatch Community Gardens to make it happen.