Sunday, February 23, 2014

Ride In Beauty - Visitor Center Canyon de Chelly

A cold and windy ride this weekend
I'm learning that although temps are reported in the mid-50s to almost 60, it does not really feel that way!  Ha ha ha ha - the sun is intense and bright like my Tucson Days, but I'm at 7200 feet elevation - so it's not actually that warm.

I miscalculated the distance from TS - 39 (my spot in the college trailer park) to the Visitor Center - I thought it would be a 60 mile round-trip ride, when in fact it's just under 50.  Oh yeah, it's Visitor Center not Visitor's Center - kind of how the weekend went for me, Gentle Readers of This Blog.

As my riding progressed this month, I went out and rode down to the first pull-outs, Mummy Cave and Massacre Cave.  That went well.  For the Birthday I went a little further down to Antelope House - so now this past weekend I got all the way to the Visitor Center.

All week long I looked at weather reports - and the report was warm weather.  Late in the week, there was a massive dust storm with the sky turning red - dust everywhere - and wind blowing like 60 MPH! The Library has a maintenance hatch - a ladder that leads to the hatch, and then onto the roof.  The wind ripped the hatch off roof with a shriek!  When I went to check it out, I saw the red sky above and the door gone.  Facilities guys came right away - found the hatch out on the grounds, and then strapped it down from the inside.  Finally I was glad it was Friday - it was a long week.

Saturday morning was very cold, but started to warm up as the sun came out.  I got everything ready to go, and expected to head down the mountain at around 50 degrees, and then enjoy 60 degrees plus part way down and all the way back.

I took my camera, but this time out I wanted to spin at a good steady clip, and try to get my average speed up.  Well, it was simply a powerful head wind all the way down and cold too.  I still tried to pedal steady, and not stop for photos.  Pretty much I was in the drops and trying to stay upright on the bike.  I could just not get any speed on the down hills - the wind was blasting me - and the climbs were so slow too.  I felt I needed to tough it out, keep going like a brevet rider would, and get to the Visitor Center!

The pullouts I'd ridden to the last few weeks went by, and I started to speed down the road closer to Chinle and the Monument.  Even with a full-on head wind, I was riding fast - just wanting to get there - because you know, Gentle Reader of This Blog - with these fast descents, comes climbing when you're coming home!  I felt okay because I knew that I would have a 15 to 20 MPH tailwind to help me climb back out of here.

So then there I was, the final three or four miles shooting down to the Monument entrance - which by car is okay because the speed limit slows to 45 MPH, but on a bike - you are really gaining speed and the road narrows - then no shoulder.  Lucky for me there was no traffic behind me - I was riding into a strong headwind at 35 MPH and the road curved and banked, like you're favorite set of fast rollers, except this is a very busy intersection - and suddenly you stop.

There I was at the entrance to Canyon de Chelly Nat'l Monument - I did it!  Numb from the cold.  Yes it was actually getting colder, mes amis!  So I stopped in, got out of the wind and sat on a bench in front of the entrance to building and got warmed by the sun.  The sun felt great - and the roar of the wind in my ears was gone much to my relief too.

I went inside to fill my water bottles.  Probably best to get back on the road and get home.  I'd ridden about 25 miles in exactly two hours - not very fast.  And you know what I was thinking - it will be a long haul back.  I could see the two choices for a restaurant but I'll save that adventure for a better ride - one where I start out early and not so damn cold.

Inside the Visitor Center there are a few foreign tourists, and folks from back East.  I receive many perplexing looks - and a guys asks me, kind of as an aside, "Where did you come from?"  He asks this because my friends, we are in the middle of nowhere - practically.  I tell him I live and work up at the college, and then show him on the big park map.  "It's up here, about 25 miles - a pretty good road for riding."  The other tourists look to and are satisfied that I'm not some crazy man.

I begin the climb back - right out of the Visitor Center is it steep and grueling.  I have the help of a strong tail wind, Gentler Reader of This Blog - but it is now frigid cold.  Instead of a roaring blast  of air through my ears that's deafening, it is now so silent and still - the tail wind is pushing me, adding about 3 MPH to my already super slow speed of about 5 MPH (yes it is steep!) and I can now hear my breathing and the tires on the road, and every strain the frame and the wheels take over the rough pavement.

I have to tell you that I caught a glimpse of the canyon from one of the tight turns, that was spectacular - one you would never see from a car, but only by foot or by bike.  I almost stopped, but thought I better just keep pedaling...  I'd say for at least 9 miles I crawled up and out of the lowlands of the edge of Chinle.  Finally I got to Antelope House, where I had been the weekend before, and tackled two more big climbs - then finally a downhill and with tail wind.  I flew like a rocket toward the Chuska Mountains ahead.   Again, it was eerie quiet because the wind is pushing me and not roaring in my ears.  I hear birds - thousands of them - on the wind.  The call out warnings as I make my way past on the road.  Again, I hear the sounds of my bike melding into the sounds of my breathing - it doesn't last long but I stay in the drops, pedal as steady as I can to take as much advantage as I can from the wind and slight descent.

Even with the tail wind - and with about 8 or 9 miles to go of these 50 miles - I was cooked and feeling like I had nothing left.  The last descent, where it seemed I was descending anyway, I could only reach a top speed of 12 MPH.  Finally I made the one last climb to the highest point in my ride - the one where from the top I can see Tsaile, and The College spread out below.  Next is four miles of very fast descent - and I pull into the trailer park.

Good God - what a tough ride.  I was frozen and stiff.  I was also starving.  I'd only had a Cliff Bar at the turn-around.  I should have had more calories...  Wow I did it - what a ride!

So I know I can do it - I did do it in just over four hours.  My average speed was 12.8 miles per hour.  To me that seems very slow.  I would not be able to finish a moderately difficult brevet - a 200 - if I rode so slow.

I guess I can just get better, right?

Okay thanks for coming along!  Cheers!  Bruce

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Road Biking Around Canyon de Chelly

Antelope House Pullout 
This past weekend, for my Birthday, I went out for a pretty good ride, Gentle Readers of This Blog.  The weather has been nice - in the mid 50's but just for a small window of time during the day.  Even though it's a bit cold up at The College - and still some snow left melting away - there seems to be this invisible snow-line when the temperature is like 15 degrees warmer - suddenly the hills don't feel so big and bad after all!.  I'm 52 now and think that this is the time to do things head-on.  For instance, if the opportunity arises to put in some miles (good weather, clear roads, etc) well then mes amis - let's go!

I've ridden down to the first pullouts on Hwy 64, which runs North-South along the boundary of the Monument - those were Mummy Cave and Massacre Cave.  There and back to The College is just at 30 miles.  For a Birthday Jones, I wanted to ride down to the next pullout, which would be Antelope House, roughly 7 more miles down from those first pullouts.

Like the other pullouts, you go it about a mile or so, then you're in the Park.  There are fast rollers but as always, be careful for cattle, horses, and donkeys.   Maybe when it gets warmer they'll be more slow driving tourists - which I don't mind, but back at Saguaro Nat'l Park in Tucson, sometimes a visitor would be standing in the middle of the road with a camera - to get that perfect shot - then suddenly you're zipping around a curve and you just miss hitting them!  Be careful, mes amis!

I made it to Antelope House, but just the parking lot.  To go see the view, you have to walk about a quarter of a mile on a path.  I might do it sometime when I drive down - just too hard to walk in the bike shoes.  But there was on old Navajo Woman with her hand-made jewelry spread out on the hood of her car there waiting for tourists.  I should have stopped and got me something for my Birthday - I waved at Grandma and she laughed and waved back - I was on my way home.  I would have some climbing to do, and the weather changes quickly.

Chuska Mountains and a Friend
I tend to stop and look while I ride, if the mood strikes me - certainly now since a lot of this is new scenery.  I'd probably have a better average speed, but I need to slow down a bit and get out the camera.  Click to see a bigger image of this if you want, but it's the Chuska Mtn Range up where I live.  To the right is Tsaile Peak and about eight miles Northeast of The College.

I've just pulled out of the Park and now I'm here at Hwy 64.  It was a very pleasant ride down, and landmarks help me find the Antelope House Pullout because the sign going down South is missing.  I told the Park Ranger at the Visitor's Center a few weeks ago and they were like "Again?"

Anyway, I liked how the cloud and the mountain seem to be having a lazy afternoon together.  So much snow up here, and then temps in the 50's!  Up in higher elevation, the road had been plowed, so the snow was melted and the road, and the shoulder very clean!

Even though the Sun is bright and warm, I still need to dress in some layers.  If you keep moving you're okay, but if you stop, you'll get cold quickly.

Tsaile Peak and the Invisible Line
At some point, what some people have told me is "The Invisible Line" the temp, the light, the plants, and the air change - and then there's snow.  I will discover for us, Gentle Reader of This Blog, the exact location!  But I have to say, I enjoy the route and the traffic is low.  There is a silence that is big here - mostly the clouds start to move in - and most importantly - I get a boost from an awesome tailwind!  The best thing about this ride is going home - a tailwind that makes most of the ride effortless!

There is a long straight-away, probably about two miles, where I'm up in the High Country for sure.  Snow blankets the landscape.  Around here I am pretty sure it was an Elk that came out of the trees, stopped in the middle of the road - took a bewildered look at me - them gracefully bound up into the trees on the other side.  I say Elk because it was big - was black - and I have seen lots of deer in my time and this was not built like those.  It had no rack so maybe a female?  

As always with deer, or Elk (I don't know about Elk) you wait for the rest to follow - but just this one is all I saw. I told some people about it, and they asked where - they say it could have been an Elk but was probably a big deer.  A long-time Dine College friend told me they introduced a herd of Elk up around The College, "Years ago," which means before I was born maybe.  "Yeah, could have seen an Elk on your bike... Probably not though...  But it's happened..."

Tsaile below, The College just off to the right.
From here I'll have a very fast descent down to The College Trailer Park, which is great to have at the end of a long ride.  Of course, coming up this pass, first thing out the door, is a killer, mes amis.  When I look at my Garmin download right here is where my heart-rate hits the max!  Going home is okay and really I'm ready to just take it easy.  The descent is one of those where you quickly gain a lot of speed, and then you have two very sharp turns that are blind.  

The Mighty Trek
About 40 miles, and they were good ones.  I was dressed right, but maybe could have had more water. I noticed that I quickly used up two bottle this time out.  I should probably have a third in the back of the jersey when I'm out for a longer ride. 

I feel that I can easily now ride all the way down to The Visitor's Center - 30 miles - and back with not so much trouble.  That will be a good goal.  Then I'll not bore you with the little details of this road so much, and concentrate on getting the ride done at a good pace, and then try to continually improve.

Probably what I will do is ride down to The Visitor's Center, and then stop in at the Lodge for breakfast!  That is a blog post I'm looking forward too!

Cheers!  Bruce

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Don't Fence Me In

At Hubble Trading Post
For some R and R I drove out to Flagstaff, Arizona and stayed the weekend by myself.  I mostly went for a change of pace, and to see if I could get my cross-country skis set up with boots and binders.  It was, for the most part, a long four hour drive.  On the way back, I spent a bit more time at Hubble Trading Post Nal't Historic Site.

Little Egypt grew up in Flag, and lived not far from here, and went to Catholic School around the corner.  This church is in old Historic Flagstaff, just right along Old Historic Hwy 66.

I ate at one of my favorite spots in Flag, the Dara Thai Restaurant - the tower is right across the street so that's how I know how to find it - it has been many years since I was here and always with Little E - not the same without her!

Beer is not allowed on the Rez - and not allowed on Campus.  I was brought a 21 once bottle of Guinness, mes amis!  Enough to last me a month!  The Pad Thai I ate was also more calories I've consumed at dinner than I have in one week living out here in Tsaile.  I was in a food coma most of the evening.  

Bunk House for the Hired Hands at Hubble
Flag was okay - cold and slushy as the sun was out and melting the snow in the streets.  But it was kind of empty as not many tourists around.  Flagstaff was always a blue-collar city on Route 66 - a mountain town.  Lots of up-scale and over-priced shops and stuff for the wealthy tourists and skiers today - not too many around the weekend I was there.  Hubble Trading Post was much more fun, and the Rangers and staff at the Post remembered me from my short stop over MLK Holiday.  I took a ton of photos and had a tour of the Hubble Home.  If you ever can stop in Ganado, it's really worth checking out the place.

The waitress at the diner where I had breakfast gave me directions to the Safeway there in East Flag - and I got supplies to bring back up here.  Best thing was that they had a Safeway gas station, and I got 20 cents off my gas!  So I filled up with higher octane (does better up here) and still have half a tank in the car for the next trip!

Snow blew through and it was cold.  Back to work.  My trip to Flagstaff was expensive Gentle Readers of This Blog!  Mostly gas and food and stuff!  I'm better off going down to Tucson as there I can stay with friends to save a little money (actually a lot of money) and it's warm...

I did better than most cars and trucks with the bike.  The snow came in and then the sun warmed and melted some of it - but then it got very windy and cold so things got very icy!  The studded snow tires work great for these conditions!  They grip the snow and ice like claws!  Really worth buying if you can...

Chuska Mountains
Riding home this particular evening from work, the Sun on the mtns made them really shine - but just briefly - glad I saw it!

Cheers!  Bruce

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Power of Words

Monument to Navajo Code Talkers at Window Rock
You may have heard of the 29 - the 29 Navajo Marines that were the original Code Talkers that created the radio or communications code that was then used in the Pacific Theatre of World War II.  They created a code in a few weeks that was unbreakable - it could not be translated or deciphered or de-coded, and it provided instantaneous communication between parties.  When you put that in context of real-time combat on the ground, it was a superior and deadly advantage for you should you possess that ability.

Basically before the Navajo Code, if you were being shot at by an enemy from point A, and you wanted to aim and then shoot your artillery at point A to get the bastards off your back, you would send a message by what ever means, courier, by radio, etc - and it could take up to two hours for that message to be received and then your artillery guns given that information to aim and shoot.

By that time, if you weren't dead, the enemy on point A could have moved off, or reinforced, etc.  If the enemy intercepted your message and decoded it (which the Japanese at times could do) they knew your  move before you were going to make it.  This is a logistic that all armies, ours and the armies we have fought, struggled with during wartime.

With the Code Talkers, they could send and receive messages in REAL TIME - instant messaging if you will.  You could know instantly what was going on on the battlefield, and react and possibly - and hopefully turn things in your favor.  What it did was save many an American soldier and sailor's ass.

You also may or may not have seen the war movie with Nick Cage.  Like any movie, it's entertainment / fantasy - so I suggest you read a book by Chester Nez, one of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers, and from reading that book - which is from the voice of a modest and dignified man, you will get a sense of how important and how fascinating the Code was, and what it did for the United States Military in combat.

One thing I liked about his book, is his experience and frankness about attending boarding school.  For one, most if not all of Indian Children that went to boarding schools went voluntarily - it was pretty clear, at least in Mr. Nez's time, that having an education, and being able to speak English and deal with an increasingly modern world - would be a necessity.  His father certainly knew this, and with his family's support, he did go to boarding school.  It was not easy for him, and it was not easy for other kids like him.

Many Pseudo-intellectuals - primarily Native American Pseudo-scholars will rant, if and when given the platform, will spread misinformation about boarding schools.  They do about Haskell all the time.  Mostly it's anecdotal - or what the Indians would say "Gossip." 99 per cent of this so-called boarding school abuse is bullshit.  When ever there was cruelty, it was always Indian Staff working at the schools being cruel to Indian students - but they never tell you that.

When this issue comes up - the unread and uneducated folks are somehow given the opportunity to keep this crap going - usually they are somewhat connected to Haskell - maybe they went to school there.  They just repeat what they've heard, and what they have heard is not accurate - at all.

People don't do their research anymore, they "data mine" for some statement and then twist it.  I was the fucking librarian there at Haskell and it was easy to fact-check what these assholes were saying (yeah there are Native People who are uneducated assholes)  I had the books right there, and Gentle Readers of This Blog - I was amazed, then shocked - the offended at what these people were claiming  was historical truth.   They hadn't done their homework.  They hadn't done their research.  It makes me sick.

The fucktard Governor of Kansas, Gov Brownback, in late 2013 apologized to "The Native Americans" for the ill treatment of Indian Kids at boarding schools - what a bunch of shit!!!  All Indian Children that went to boarding schools in the entire country?  That is what the Pseudo-scholars will tell you is the truth.   At least Brownback did not mention, to my knowledge, Haskell in particular, because there was no ill treatment of Indians student there - no documents and no evidence.  By default, that was the only historically accurate thing the Governor said by not mentioning Haskell specifically.

So, you may think you know something about the Navajo Code Talkers but do you really know why the code was so powerful? or important.  Most Native People I know, and many Navajo People I know, do not understand what these guys did.

Because this kid from the Navajo Reservation was forced to speak flawless English in boarding school - reading, writing, speaking - he could instantly take a spoken or written statement in English and speak in Navajo (using the code spoken in Navajo) to the other Code Talker on the ground (usually in combat) and the power of what he spoke made bombs fall and shells rain in on the enemy.

That is pretty heavy to think about when you're 19 or 20 years old- that your words can vaporize other people.  So after reading about this young Navajo Marine, and how the code worked, I can see how these modest guys down-played the power of the code.   I also believe any person, Japanese, Russian, German, American with that kind of experience would do the same - it's just that the War Machine found the most effective means, and that was the Navajo.

I was driving back up to The College from Gallup, and I thought I would actually see for myself the Window Rock.  Here it is - The People don't attach any spiritual or any other significance to the rock formation - it just appears a good place to camp.  Everybody knew that, and the place - so having the Capital there makes some sense.

I wanted to get out on the road bike again, but it was just too cold.   Instead I took the Desert San Campus bike down to Tsaile Lake.  The air was clean and crisp, mes amis!  And most of the heavy snow we've had looks like it melted.

I want to tell you that as the snow melts, the ground turns to mud!  the mud is thick and oozy and like warm wet peanut butter!  It sticks on everything!  Those rocks in the pic are some sort of boat ramp to get closer to the lake - get off these rocks and sink in the muck!

I have seen people out here ice fishing.   I'll wait awhile before I go try to fish.  I hear that the trout are awesome, and I plan to catch some for dinner this Spring and Summer!

The Sun is intense out here - like Tucson.  Years ago I should have worn a broad rim hat - Tucson Sun has damaged my skin - Also, the Sun on the snow is blinding!   If I stay out too long and there's bright sunshine and lots of snow, I will get a sunburn...

There are roads like this that lead everywhere across this country.  You can't tell, but it is a muddy muddy mess!  Actually on a bike, it's okay.  But driving on these kinds of roads beats your vehicle to pieces...  Still many students I know, and my colleagues at work have to use roads like this from where they live to get to the jobsite...

You can't really tell, but mud was caked on the bike.  Again, it's like wet red sticky gooey peanut butter, but seems to dry hard and thick when on your tires or your boots.  If you step in the mud, and then try to get out - your shoe or boot sticks and your foot slips out!

So here's the inside of my little place.  I have the new couch and the new table and chairs I brought up from Tucson.   The remoteness and striking vastness of this county can get to me.  Also sometimes the Navajo, especially the students can get on my nerves.  Cell phones and tossing cigarette butts - shit young college students do everywhere pushes my buttons.

There's this big Indian named Tom who comes into the library every afternoon.  He's kind of fat and does not dress well - and he smells really really bad.  But he has a lot of charm and he makes it a point to speak with me in a cordial way- he calls me Cowboy.  I told him I was not a cowboy by any means - Drugstore Cowboy, he says.  That works for me and we have a laugh.  You know - I like this guy...

He is a bit loud, and his English broken.  He appears to be not very bright - he's in college up here, and he's not a young Navajo - he's like in his late 50's.  I've tried to help him with computer things and and some reading - he struggles, and I struggle because his B.O is over-powering.

Today he came up to the front desk to speak to Mary, my colleague.  I was in my office but I could hear Tom speaking...

Speaking in Navajo - I have never heard him speak Navajo, nor Mary either for that matter.  

In Navajo, Tom speaks like a regal statesman.  So eloquent, so articulate, so poetic - it sounds like a song - the way a Summer Storm would sing it's song.

Cheers!  Bruce