19 January 2011

Dog is...

Buddha Beach Oak Creek
The other day, over the long MLK weekend, we took our kid and the dogs down to Oak Creek at Buddha Beach for a hike and a swim.  Everyone had a blast.  Templeton trail to Buddha Beach is a short but lovely hike, red rocks to riverside.  Midwinter-perfect.

But that evening, a few hours after our return home, we woke our older dog, Shadow, for her dinner.  And she couldn't rise to walk.  Eventually, after some stretching, massaging, and coaxing, 5- or 10-minutes later she was able to get her feet beneath her and wobble outside to her bowl.  The next day, she was just fine... perhaps a little slower than usual, but mostly just fine. But the whole episode, it kinda shocked us.  We'd processed it mentally.  Discussed it openly.  But never really witnessed it: Shadow's getting old.

I've been thinking about this for a while now: our aging dog.  And, as another homage, I submitted two photos of her to Mountain Gazette magazine a while back, for their upcoming annual Dog Photo Contest issue.  And, I'm pleased to say, one of them made it through the first-round of cuts.  That's not to imply that I'm actually going to have a picture I took published in a magazine.  It's only to say that a picture I took actually got through the first round.  Which is cool!  But it is by no means the prize.  I guess, one of these days, they'll let me know if my other picture made the final-cut.  But until then, have a gander at this: the picture (at right) that didn't make it through the first round.  No surprise, I guess.  It's not really a superior photo or anything.  But it's really-and-truly a photo I like, one that I think captures Shadow in her essence: outside, soaking wet, and so black she's almost blue.

I'll wait to reveal the other photo until I hear who made the final cut.

But today I got an intriguing email from the editor of Mountain Gazette... an email he sent to all of us who submitted photos to the magazine for this little contest, which read:
I'm putting together a list of 10-20 reasons why people should have dogs for inclusion in our subscription ad. If you'd like to send in one (and, please, one only) one-sentence reason why people should have dogs (or what dogs bring to our lives, anything along those lines), I'd love to see what our dog photo contributors come up with. Funny, poignant, obvious, not obvious— as long at is relates to dogs in general and necessarily to one specific dog... If nothing comes to mind, fret not.
I thought about it all morning, whenever I had a moment... Why do we love our dogs?  I re-Googled a few old quotes, favorites of mine, about dogs, to find inspiration.  I love Travels With Charley.  It's one of my favorite books of all time.  So much of what Steinbeck had to say about dogs, especially his giant poodle, Charley, rings true to me.  Like:
"A dog is a bond between strangers."
"It is my experience that in some areas Charley is more intelligent than I am, but in others he is abysmally ignorant. He can't read, can't drive a car, and has no grasp of mathematics. But in his own field of endeavor, which he is now practicing, the slow, imperial smelling over and anointing on an area, he has no peer. Of course his horizons are limited, but how wide are mine?"
My favorite dog-quote really has very little to say about dogs.  But it is one borne by many a Bookman's employee and customer; it's on one of their popular T-shirts, a quote by Groucho Marx:
Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."
I like that one because it's kinda funny, and a bit unexpected the first time you read it.  It gets less funny the more you read it.  But still...

As I've said before, I love our old dog, Shadow.  And I'm learning to love our crazy puppy, Rubia, too.  I think most dogs are good dogs.  Better than people sometimes.  I think dogs are a means for us to better understand ourselves. In my case, our first-dog was an important means to help me gain unexpected insight into my capacity to love something, or someone, that I really never expected to love, in a bigger and better way than I ever imagined I could.

I really do think it was this dog-borne epiphany that compelled me to really want to become a dad.  And I'm so glad it did!

So in the end, after a lot of thought, I sent this to the editor today:
"Dog is patient.  Dog is kind.  Dog does not boast.  Dog never fails."
Gotta say: I think I got that one right.

08 January 2011

Just about a bike: Specialized Epic 29er [UPDATED]

2011 Specialized Epic Comp 29er
I took my new bike to Sedona early today, well before the mud and ice were able to thaw, for its inaugural ride.  I assembled it down at the shop over the course of a couple afternoons after work this week.

I had originally considered going down to ride on the weekend with a group from the shop.  But then, later in the week, I sorta settled on the idea that I might take my daughter skiing instead.  In the end however, once Saturday morning finally rolled around, posting a max-temp of 19 degrees on the mountain at 8:30 AM, I opted instead to go down to Sedona and ride alone in order to work out any kinks or quirks of the sort that tend to reveal themselves on first-rides on new bikes.  Every new bike needs a good shake-down ride, just to make sure everything's snug.  That's what I say.

Plus, I really didn't want to slow anyone down.

Ya see, this new bike is very new.  Especially to me.  Not just out-of-the-box new, although it is that, and in my world that's pretty novel.  But this bike is actually new to me in the sense  that it's a totally-radical, turn-the-world-on-its-head, like-nothing-ever-before sort of new thing, too.

Ibis Mtn. Trials
I've got a lot of bikes.  That's no secret.  But they're all of  a vintage and quality that befits bikes of their age and utility.  In a nutshell, they're all old bikes.  Old, rigid, hardtail (I hate that word by the way; it's stupid) steel bikes that creak. And break.  A lot.  And, frankly, I've been growing tired of trying to keep them running. However, until recently, that's pretty much the only choice I've had: keep 'em going or stop riding. And I really didn't consider the latter choice to be anything but hypothetical.

So, basically I've got a garage full of crappy old bikes that only a bike-dork like me could love.  And, to the degree that they're material things that really don't matter much in the long run, I do love them.  They're all great bikes that I've spent a lot of time riding.  I dig brass fillets and TIG welds, Prestige tubing, top-mounted friction shifters, rigid forks, SS-5 levers, canti-brakes, and old Onza pedals.

Rock Lobster
And, honestly, when they're running, pretty much all my bikes have always been able to take me where I want to go.  And, except in the most extreme cases, they get me there at more-or-less the same rate as my friends.  More-or-less.  Over the years, I must admit, I've become ever more familiar with the status of Off The Back Jack.  Not because I like it back there, eating dust, but because, in truth, that's where you end up when you're on an old rigid hardtail bike and your pals are all riding fancy new lightweight bikes with shocks front and rear.  It's only a matter of seconds, occasionally minutes, between our times, but on a lot of trails that can still make you feel like you're pretty much riding alone, as all your companions disappear ahead of you around the furthest bend in the trail.

So I finally sold-out and bought a new bike.  A real, live 21st-century bike, a 2011 Specialized Epic Comp 29er.  A pretty nice bike, if I do say so myself.  Easily the most expensive bike I've ever owned.  And also the most technologically intimidating.

Lots to learn.  Lots to figure out.  A ton of stuff I've never really dinked around with much, much less ridden any further than around the block downtown: disc brakes, shocks, pressure settings, rebound and compression adjusters, clicking shifters... plus a whole new kind of handling: new approaches to going up, and especially to going down.

And so today I rode alone, sans friends, sans iPod, sans GPS, sans camera.  Because, I didn't want to have any distractions, and as I mentioned above: I didn't want to slow anyone down.

And I think that was a good idea.  'Cause I stopped.  Several times.
  • To click my rear shock rebound knob a setting or two
  • To set the Brain knob a few more stops clockwise, toward firm
  • To pump a few more pounds of air into the negative spring in my fork
  • And once, unexpectedly, at the top of a hill, to pick myself up off the trail where I'd tumbled over the front of the bike when my fork compressed into a rock.  Dur.
But, all in all, despite the many stops and the tumble, it was a fabulous ride!  As in really, really super awesome!  I've gotta say: I think like this bike.  A lot.  Sold!

With that in mind, yet still thinking and writing from the perspective of a confirmed, card-carrying Luddite, I'd like to offer a few conclusions, which I drew during my shake-down ride today... a few rather surprising conclusions, I think:
  • Disc brakes work great, even when they're super-new and still a bit grabby
  • Suspension lets you go fast-as-ever (maybe faster) over gnarly stuff and yet your neck and shoulders don't ache at the end of the ride
  • Clicky-shifters find their gears well; you've only got to remember which of four buttons to push and then push the right one.
  • Bunny-hopping on a bike with full-suspension is hard, or at least very different... and maybe nearly completely unnecessary, as the suspension lets you kinda plow a line straight through the stuff you'd normally try and hop over
  • When you float off a ledge you also float into your landing.  The sensation is like jumping onto a waterbed.
  • Bigger wheels do let you drop taller steps, but you've got to prepare for the fork compression a the bottom of the step, and fork compression seems to change the way a bike handles in these situations.
So, there it is.  One new bike: thoroughly shaken-down.  One grumpy old-bike rider: happily sold-out!

Update -- 30 July 2016

My Epic 29er has flown the coop and is no longer in my possession.  I traded it for painting by my favorite artist and super-good pal, Lyle Motley.

It's called A Serious Man and we're absolutely stoked on it.  Pretty sure I got the better end of the deal.
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. -- Ed Abbey