bikes outdoors

Vintage bike camping

A small com­pa­ny called Stephenson's Warm­lite makes some of the world's best gear for camp­ing. I've long admired their bomb-proof tents and burly sleep­ing bags, and of course the unabashed, straight-from-the-70s nud­ism in their vin­tage paper cat­a­logs [a PDF is avail­able here, for now]. Which is why I couldn't help but be deeply charmed by the men­tion of Stephenson's in this old Pop­u­lar Sci­ence arti­cle about bike camping.

Popular Science - Bike campingFrom the April 1972 edi­tion of Pop­u­lar Sci­ence — avail­able in Google Books!

I won­der how many earnest, sci­ence-mind­ed read­ers sent away for a Stephenson's catalog?

california ecology outdoors

Mommy, where does Capilene come from?

I tend to obsess over out­doors gear. The pin­na­cle (or nadir, as the case may be) of this obses­sion was the spring/summer of 2001, when I hiked the Pacif­ic Crest Trail. Over four months, I sam­pled a ton of gear — six pairs of shoes, a few dif­fer­ent shirts, jack­ets, socks, shel­ters, cook­ware. I had dozens (maybe hun­dreds) of con­ver­sa­tions about this stuff, spent hours dis­cussing the var­i­ous qual­i­ties that dis­tin­guished some lit­tle piece of back­pack­ing equip­ment or appar­el as the light­est, strongest, dri­est, most com­fort­able, most long-last­ing, most whatever.What did I take away from these dis­cus­sions? Two things: (1) At some point, ratio­nal eval­u­a­tion becomes reli­gious debate. Gear nerds have deep, com­pli­cat­ed rela­tion­ships with their hard­ware, and we have a hard time remain­ing lev­el-head­ed about the stuff saves our butt dur­ing a thun­der­storm, or keeps us con­sis­tent­ly com­fort­able as tem­per­a­tures change. And, (2), for me, Patag­o­nia appar­el last­ed longer, bounced back bet­ter, fit bet­ter, dealt with rain bet­ter, and just gen­er­al­ly worked bet­ter than the oth­er stuff I tried. Oth­ers poo-poo-ed it as "Pata-guc­ci." Froofy, high-end cou­ture pos­ing as out­door gear, i.e. stuff that "real thru-hik­ers" wouldn't be caught dead in.All of this is good and well, but I recent­ly came across anoth­er excel­lent aspect of it. (And I still wear it).

Patagonia - Footprint Chronicles - Nano Puff - OverviewCalled the Foot­print Chron­i­cles, they're a series of detailed accounts of how indi­vid­ual pieces of their gear are made — where the mate­r­i­al is sourced, how fair labor prac­tices are ensured, how the gar­ment is assembled.
Patagonia - Footprint Chronicles - Nano PuffThis exam­ple takes you through the design and con­struc­tion of the Nano Puff Pullover, made from recy­cled polyester.

This is a dif­fer­ent kind of mar­ket­ing, clear­ly: Doc­u­men­tary accounts that high­light the qual­i­ties of the com­pa­ny, rather than the per­for­mance of the gear. I'd be inter­est­ed to know how (or if) they mea­sure the return on invest­ment of this kind of thing.

lit outdoors

No amount of modification can substitute the man-made piano for the real thing

Thomas McGuane takes a shot at describ­ing what it's like to land a tar­pon:

The clos­est thing to a tar­pon in the mate­r­i­al world is the Stein­way piano. The tar­pon, of course, is a game fish that runs to extreme sizes, while the Stein­way piano is mere­ly an enor­mous musi­cal instru­ment, large­ly wood­en and manip­u­lat­ed by a series of keys. How­ev­er, the tar­pon when hooked and run­ning reminds the angler of a piano slid­ing down a pre­cip­i­tous incline and while jump­ing makes cav­i­ties and explo­sions in the water not unlike a series of pianos falling from a great height. If the read­er, then, can spec­u­late in terms of pianos that herd and pur­sue mul­let and are them­selves shaped like exag­ger­at­ed her­rings, he will be a very long way toward see­ing what kind of thing a tar­pon is. Those who appre­ci­ate nature as we find her may rest in the knowl­edge that no amount of mod­i­fi­ca­tion can sub­sti­tute the man-made piano for the real thing — the tar­pon. Where was I?

I came across this in The Best Amer­i­can Sports Writ­ing of the Cen­tu­ry, an absolute­ly killer col­lec­tion edit­ed by David Hal­ber­stam, but you can check it out in the SI Vault: "The Longest Silence," by Thomas McGuane.

outdoors the ancient past


Handmade Houses - bed and domeThis pho­to is from an excel­lent 70s pho­to book called Hand­made Hous­es. I bought it after I read this inspir­ing lit­tle piece on Inhab­i­tat, and it has got me think­ing about get­ting back to basics. In this econ­o­my, basics may be all there are. In the win­ter and spring of 1997, I helped my friend Steve make a house by hand on the Cal­i­for­nia coast. At first, it was like Robin­son Cru­soe. No pos­ses­sions to speak of, oth­er than my ham­mer, some books, the sun and ocean, fresh air and work. We worked all day, doing what felt like good, whole­some labor in the sun, bang­ing, saw­ing, siz­ing things up. Slide Ranch - blue trailer - 1996This is where I lived for a while.Then El Nino arrived. After a few weeks, the whole thing had become more like Lord of the Flies. Days and days of rain, mud­slides on High­way 1, crazy-mak­ing iso­la­tion. In between squalls, we framed the house, affixed the ply­wood sheath­ing, put on the deck and roof, and ran the wiring. At some point, I came down with a cold, which even­tu­al­ly became pneu­mo­nia. In the spring, I retreat­ed to the warmth of Doug and Ted's house in Berke­ley to recu­per­ate, a few weeks lat­er I'd tak­en a job at a muse­um, and that was the end of sim­plic­i­ty. For the time being, anyway.

california outdoors

Days of old (growth)

Sarah brought over an excel­lent old book called The Trees of Cal­i­for­nia, by Willis Linn Jep­son. It was pub­lished in 1909, and it had some amaz­ing pho­tos of the red­woods up north.

Redwood - 16 feet in diameter - 1909

The cap­tion reads: "Fig 15. REDWOOD (Sequoia sem­per­virens Endl.) Mak­ing the "under­cut", which deter­mines the direc­tion of the fall, on a tree 16 feet in diam­e­ter. Hum­boldt woods." Pho­to: A.W. Ericson.Amazon sells Trees of Cal­i­for­nia for $75, but you can read it for free at Google Books. Cool.

california ecology outdoors

Origins & etymologies / Yosemite

Last Fri­day, we impro­vised a par­lor game dur­ing a vis­it to Sarah's par­ents’ house. They've got tons of books on Cal­i­for­nia his­to­ry, includ­ing a gem called Cal­i­for­nia Place Names: The Ori­gin and Ety­mol­o­gy of Cur­rent Geo­graph­i­cal Names by one Erwin Gud­de, a Cal pro­fes­sor and friend of Sarah's fam. There wasn't much "game" to the game; some­one shout­ed out a city or coun­ty or riv­er name, and then we all offered the­o­ries about its ori­gin before flip­ping to its entry in the book and read­ing aloud. A sam­ple. Yosemite:

From the South­ern Sier­ra Miwok yohhe' meti or yosse' meti [mean­ing] "they are killers," derived from yoohu- [mean­ing] "to kill," evi­dent­ly a name giv­en to the Indi­ans of the val­ley by those out­side it … Edwin Sher­man claimed dis­cov­ery of the val­ley in the spring of 1850, nam­ing it "The Devil's Cel­lar." In March of 1851, it was entered by the Mari­posa Bat­tal­ion and named at the sug­ges­tion of LH Bun­nell: "I then pro­posed that we give the val­ley the name of Yo-sem-i-ty, as it was sug­ges­tive, eupho­nious, and cer­tain­ly Amer­i­can; that by so doing, the name of the tribe of Indi­ans which we met leav­ing their homes in this val­ley, per­haps nev­er to return, would be perpetuated."

There's so much infor­ma­tion in here that it's hard to know where to start, but (1) Yes, majes­tic wilder­ness should be called things like "they are killers." This should be a require­ment for any place that is rugged and majes­tic and awe-inspir­ing. What words can match land­scapes like these? Those that involve vio­lent death, for starters. (2) I can guess at why were the Indi­ans leav­ing, "per­haps nev­er to return," but this seems like a detail that should be, say, expand­ed. (3) The "y" at the end, for my mon­ey, makes more sense. It was replaced by an "e" in 1852 by a Lt. Tred­well Moore. No expla­na­tion is giv­en as to why; the impli­ca­tion is, why not? More on Yosemite here, but the whole book is pret­ty great.

lit outdoors the ancient past visual

100 Northern California Hiking Trails

I stum­bled upon a trea­sure trove of old out­doors books at Icon­o­clast Books in Ketchum, Ida­ho this week­end; this one's from 1970. 

100 Hiking Trails - CoverThe cov­er ulti­mate­ly doesn't make much dif­fer­ence, but I like this one.

100 Hiking Trails - SectionIf only hik­ing through sun cups like these was as serene and love­ly as the pho­to implies. Also, the intro­duc­to­ry text instructs Yosemite vis­i­tors, "DO NOT FEED, TEASE OR MOLEST THE BEARS." Noted.

100 Hiking Trails - TrailThe page lay­out is classy, and the book is sim­ple to nav­i­gate — each set of fac­ing pages describes one hike. Also, the map is intend­ed as a thumb­nail overview, not as the actu­al guide for use dur­ing the hike. (In 1970, maps could be acquired by send­ing $0.50 to the USGS.)

100 Hiking Trails - DetailHow do you know which map to pur­chase from the USGS for $0.50? The rel­e­vant USGS map ID infor­ma­tion is in the top left cor­ner of each page! Each hike has a sum­ma­ry that con­tains all the impor­tant stuff — dis­tance, ele­va­tion change, esti­mat­ed time, and so on, ordered from most broad (and impor­tant) to most specific.

ecology flickr outdoors

Summertime / Camping in the Winds

Flickr photoWhen I start a camp­ing trip, the Van Halen song "Pana­ma" [Video on YouTube] often pops into my head — I wish I could rep­re­sent Eddie Van Halen's rever­by gui­tar open­ing in words, but I was hum­ming it and singing the cho­rus — Pa-neh-ma … Pa-neh-ma-ha — as this pic­ture was tak­en. That's the Wind Riv­er Range com­ing into view beyond my friend Nick. For the next 10 days, it would dom­i­nate us. In fact, this pho­to rep­re­sents the last few moments of peace­ful hik­ing. Our packs were real­ly, real­ly heavy, and soon enough the hurt would begin. Then, we would get rained on pret­ty often, and (for my part) suf­fer too many black fly bites and a few alti­tude-relat­ed headaches. Still, total­ly, total­ly worth it.

Flickr photoI could go on and on here, but my pic­tures on Flickr real­ly tell the sto­ry bet­ter than I can.

I'm a shame­less suck­er for gear, so here's some shout-outs:

  • Bridgedale socks. They were real­ly wet, real­ly often. But they stayed warm and they main­tained some spring, even when soaked.
  • Tarptent. I vis­it­ed Tarptent design­er Hen­ry Shires at his house on the Penin­su­la, and I bought the Squall [PDF] last spring. Since then, I've put it to the test in the Gila Wilder­ness, Yosemite, and the Yuba Riv­er. I was still skep­ti­cal about its abil­i­ty to real­ly keep me warm and dry, but I must tes­ti­fy that, even when it rains hard all after­noon (and even when the rain real­ly comes down), the Tarptent abides. Every­thing peo­ple say is true: It's a real­ly good, rea­son­ably light back­pack­ing shel­ter, and it's got every­thing you need to anchor and adjust it to respond to chang­ing weath­er and wind.
  • Blis­to­ban. Part of the rea­son for the shout-out to Bridgedale was that, halfway through, I switched to thin­ner Smart­wool socks, and they absolute­ly killed my feet in the mat­ter of a cou­ple of hours. Nick loaned me some Blis­to­ban strips, though, and they ruled. How does Blis­to­ban com­pare to my old back­pack­ing blis­ter-con­trol rem­e­dy: antibi­ot­ic oint­ment cov­ered by bandaid which is then cov­ered by duct tape which is then smeared with Vase­line? Jury's still out here.
  • Patag­o­nia Drag­on­fly. They call it the Hou­di­ni now, and it's a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, but I bought one of the ear­ly mod­els in 2003, and it still impress­es me. I wore it almost every­day, and it admirably repelled rain with­out ever becom­ing oppres­sive­ly warm.
ecology flickr outdoors

Yosemite rules

I'm usu­al­ly the per­son who rec­om­mends going any­where but Yosemite in the Sier­ras because it's expen­sive and tends to be over-run with peo­ple even in the high coun­try, where­as the Emi­grant Wilder­ness, for instance, tends to be pret­ty sparse­ly vis­it­ed, even on the busiest of week­ends. But let's keep that on the shh­hh. Any­way, I spent 3 warm, sun­ny days in Yosemite last week with my good friend and all-around good guy Andrew Goodman.We had nice weath­er, went to pop­u­lar places (North Dome, Yosemite Falls — which has its own Wikipedia page), and yet saw very few oth­er peo­ple. Maybe it's the time of year, or the fact that it was a low-snow year, or both? Or our route? We hiked down to North Dome on the Por­cu­pine Creek Trail, and then got back to 120 via the Yosemite Creek trail (where, inci­den­tal­ly, we took some excel­lent swims). What­ev­er con­tributed to it, I've now seen the good side of Yosemite.

Flickr photoYosemite Val­ley from North Dome, ren­dered via the mag­ic of Autos­titch. It assem­bled 25 or so pho­tos from my Motoro­la SLVR into a pret­ty com­plete panora­ma, and even the arti­facts — mov­ing clouds and ghost­ed edges — seem to make the result more com­pelling, I think.

Yosemite Val­ley is an incred­i­ble place, espe­cial­ly when seen from a place above the Val­ley, like North Dome or the out­crop­ping above Yosemite Falls. If you want a glimpse at the Val­ley was like when peo­ple were putting up the first routes on El Cap, check out Glen Denny's pho­to book, Yosemite in the Six­ties. It's real­ly nice­ly pro­duced and filled with amaz­ing black-and-white images of sim­pler times and the leg­ends who start­ed it all — Yvon Chouinard, War­ren Hard­ing, Roy­al Rob­bins, Galen Row­ell, and many more.

ecology flickr outdoors

Food / Lakes and cheeseburgers along the PCT

Lakes and cheeseburgers in Oregon
Lakes and cheeseburgers - California

Dur­ing my hike on the PCT in 2001, my two favorite pas­times were swim­ming and eat­ing. When I was walk­ing — which was most of the time — cool swim­ming holes and siz­zling cheese­burg­ers filled my day­dreams. When my hik­ing part­ner, Nick, and I talked, it was more often than not about swim­ming and eat­ing cheese­burg­ers: How far to the next riv­er, creek or lake? How long would it take to hitch out to get a cheese­burg­er at the next road crossing?As the two attached lists indi­cate, we found lots of chances to fol­low these par­tic­u­lar­ly bliss­ful pas­times. Cheese­burg­er-wise, the best were found in the Cheese­burg­er Belt, which begins as the Sier­ras give way to the Cas­cades in north­ern Cal­i­for­nia, and ends a lit­tle north of Ash­land, Ore­gon. The best of the best in the belt were found at Buck's Lake Lodge near Quin­cy, the Pines Frosty in Chester (which also has kick-ass shakes), and Lake of the Woods Resort north of Ash­land. At the bot­tom of the list was Belden Town, which shouldn't real­ly be sur­pris­ing since they don't seem to like hik­ers too much anyway.The best of the swim­ming was between in north­ern Cal­i­for­nia, between Sier­ra City and Etna. The Mid­dle Fork of the Feath­er (pic­tured below) was spec­tac­u­lar, though Nick pre­ferred Squaw Val­ley Creek, which he found a lit­tle cozi­er.

Flickr photo