Monday, April 30, 2018

Going From One To Two

I started hiking at an early age, camping and the outdoors being a big part of our family life. Family hikes and Boy Scout backpacking trips (and then military forced marches!) set the stage and I’ve spend a lot of time, and miles, hiking ever since, mostly on my own.

Through all this I never once gave thought to using a hiking stick. What the hell, I was too young to be using a cane! Then around the time I hit my early 30’s I nearly fell off a cliff while hiking in Alaska. That taught me two things. All that scrabbling and kicking of rocks loose is a good way to call a hungry eagle in real close when he comes to check out what sort of dinner just fell off the cliff, and that just maybe using a hiking stick isn’t such a bad idea after all. In fact I cut myself a stick right then and there and haven’t been without one since.

Well after three decades of being a one-sticker, last April to be exact, I scared the bejesus out of myself up on the Eyebrow, a section of the Dog Canyon Recreation Trail (Though I’m not at all convinced there’s much recreation about that trail!) that creeps along a ledge a couple hundred feet in the air. I followed that up in October, still as a one-sticker, by going ass-over-teakettle while trying to climb down a slippery chute into Illinois’ Little Grand Canyon.

I may be a few stamps short of full postage, but even I could see it was time to think about graduating to two sticks.

Original Brunton on the left and my new-ish pair of Foxelli’s on the right

You’d think something like that would be easy, but somehow I managed to make it difficult. First off I tried finding a twin to the stick I’ve been using for years, but it turns out that Brunton no longer offers hiking sticks at all.

OK, not an insurmountable issue, I mean Cabellas, Bass Pro, Academy, hell even Walmart, all sell hiking sticks, so I’ll just check around and find a pair I like. Except that apparently everybody in the world wants neon day-glow gear nowadays, and I’m just not a neon day-glow kind of guy. I don’t feel the need to announce to the world where I am, in fact I’d rather the world not know where I am.

Eventually I resorted to on-line shopping and found this pair of Foxelli sticks that weren’t too objectionable, though they would be even better without all the graphics. . .

What I couldn’t find was a halfway decent stick using the twist-lock mechanism of the Brunton, so I somewhat skeptically settled for lever-lock mechanisms even though I was concerned about their bulkiness and how prone they might be to getting pried open accidently.

Neither concern was valid. I have since done enough bushwhacking through thick crap with the Foxelli’s to know that the lever-locks are not any more prone to hanging up than the Brunton’s twist-lock was and I have yet to have one of the lever-locks get inadvertently pried open.

The tension of each lever-lock can be adjusted with a small knurled nob. With a little experimenting it was easy to find the sweet-spot where they were tight enough to resist slipping under a great deal of weight while at the same time not requiring a sacrifice of finger-tip blood to pry them open again.

And to facilitate getting the three-part sticks back to you own personal hiking length with a minimum of fuss, the shafts have length-markings on them.

The Foxelli’s come with a carry-bag, which I personally haven’t found a use for, as well as an assortment of tips. From left to right you get rock/asphalt tips, mud/sand baskets, and snow baskets. 

If I’m ever doing any prolonged hiking in mud or sand (possible) or deep snow (Unlikely!) the baskets thread securely onto the sticks. As for the rock/asphalt tips, they are friction fit and look a bit cumbersome to me. If I ever do use them I’m going to have the hassle of making sure the ‘rocker’ of the tips line up with the hand-grips. (And, having never used them, I’m still not sure which is front and back on these tips.)

The actual tip of the sticks themselves is this toothed tungsten rod.

If they remind you of those trash picker-upper-sticks you see last-night’s drunks using to clean up the park in the morning before they’re released to go home – or back to the bar – you’re right. They do have a tendency to collect leaves.

I’ll admit that these tips grip well and are really difficult to get to slip, but they are too noisy on anything other than soft ground for my taste.

The Brunton, on the left, came with a hard rubber screw-on tip but it wasn’t long before it unscrewed on me somewhere. The threaded aluminum rod-end was never designed to be banged repeatedly into the ground, pavement, and rocks, so I found a replacement crutch-tip at a pharmacy and epoxied it into place.

I have no idea how many miles have been put on this tip, other than a whole lot-a-lot-a, but it has held up to the abuse pretty well.

The Foxelli’s, on the right, come with what are called transportation tips, I suppose to protect duffle-bags and fellow travelers from those tungsten prods. As I don’t like the tick tick tick of the tungsten tips I’ve been using the transportation tips for hiking. I have a feeling they are not going to hold up as well as my crutch-tips, and then I guess I’ll give the rock/asphalt tips a shot. But if those don’t work out for me I can always head back to the pharmacy and pick up a couple more replacement crutch-tips.

The Brunton has a foam grip that has held up remarkably well, still unscarred and looking almost new even after all the miles it has on it.

I’m not so sure the cork grips of the Foxelli’s are going to hold up as well. I’ve only done a modest amount of hiking with them and already I am seeing signs of wear.

Because the Brunton grip is round there is no need for the wrist-strap to be adjustable, wherever your hand falls on the grip works just fine. But the Foxelli’s elaborately shaped grips mean there’s only one ‘right’ spot for your hand so the wrist-strap is adjustable. That way you can get your hand there into the right spot.

If you go back to the first photo of this post it’s pretty clear that the Brunton, properly adjusted for my height, is taller than Foxelli’s, but if you look closer you will see that all three wrist-straps are hanging at the same height, meaning my arm is at the same angle when using either type of stick.

Initially I was worried that the extra bit of strap needed to allow for this adjustment on the Foxelli's but dangling there under my hand was going to be bulky and always in the way, but it hasn’t worked out that way. Unless it twists and folds over, which is very rarely, I don't notice it at all.

Still, I’d rather have the round grip than the shaped grip, which I think is completely unnecessary. The shaped grip is supposed to help keep the stick from slipping through your hand when pushing on it, but instead of transferring the ‘push’ from arm to stick by gripping tightly with the small muscles of your fingers, (forearms) the proper way to hike is to loosely hold to stick with your hand using just enough pressure to keep it under control, which doesn't take much more than the relaxed hand you see in the photo, and let the weight of the ‘push’ transfer from arm to stick via the wrist-strap so you are primarily using the larger muscles of your shoulder and upper-arm.

So far I’m putting up with the shaped grips, but if I get tired of that I’ll shave them down to round and wrap them with a little grip-tape. Which is also what I’ll do if and when the cork wears out.

Foxelli’s marketing blub claims that those stepped foam grips below the cork are there to give you another place to hang onto when climbing in rocks or other wildly uneven terrain. That might work out for others, but I can’t see how you would ever get your hand down there if you’re wearing the wrist-strap properly and if you take your hand out of the strap then you risk dropping the stick, perhaps irretrievably.

The pair of carbon-fiber Foxelli sticks are only slightly heavier than the single aluminum-shafted Brunton, but I’ve still been giving some thought to lightening the Foxelli’s even more by cutting away most of that extra bit of useless grip.

The Brunton stowed, collapsed and upside down, inside the side door of The Van, tucked in between the back of the cabinet and the door-frame, but that wasn’t going to work for the Foxelli’s so I added a couple hooks and a small bungee so I can stow the sticks, without having to collapse them, inside the right-rear door along with my Eazy-Up, camp chair, and kayak. (The backpack is inside the left-rear door.)

Another concern I had with going to two sticks was that they would be in the way when I strapped two rather than just one to the top-tube of the Quad-B, but that hasn’t been an issue. Though they look pretty wide sitting there on either side of the top-tube, they haven’t proven to be in the way. I guess, like Wonder Woman, my thighs don’t meet at the top. . .

I also figured that there would be a steep learning curve when making the transition from single-sticker to a two sticker. I am decidedly left handed and always used the single-stick in my dominant hand. I expected that having a stick in my right hand would be clumsy and awkward for a while. I figured wrong.  In less than a mile of tramping the trails around the property I was no longer having to think about the stick in my right hand.

I’ve found that when it comes to hiking with two sticks there are a couple of natural rhythms depending on the conditions.

When ‘stolling’ on easy, levelish terrain, each stick gets casually moved and re-planted every 1.5 to two strides.

On steeper or rockier terrain there’s a firm stick-plant for each stride; left stick to right foot, right stick to left foot.

For really steep up-hills, especially with a bum leg like I had for a while, both sticks get planted together for that extra push, somewhat like a skier pushing across the flats.

There are a few extra two-stick moves I quickly mastered too. Such as balancing both light-weight sticks horizontally, almost effortlessly, in my relaxed left hand when walking on a road or paved section of trail where sticks are superfluous, or kicking the bottom of the left stick back with my foot so I can reach down and pull the trail-map out of my left-hand cargo pocket without having to free myself from the wrist-strap, or letting the right stick dangle from my wrist while I’m handling the camera.

I noticed the other day, when wobbling on a precarious perch, and again when I was wadding across a flowing river on slick rocks, that I was reaching out and planting the sticks automatically, without having to think it through. They are already a natural extension of me and I should have gone to two sticks long ago. I’m glad that practicality finally overcame ego.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Plan A 2.0: AKA Will I Never Learn?

OK, after my brutal ‘bike encounter’ yesterday I did eventually manage to drag myself up out of my chair, though it was hours later, and painful. I’m pretty sure my original intent was to do something about dinner, but some masochistic streak buried not-quite-deep-enough inside me saw me picking the Quad-B up off the ground where, in an earlier fit of spite, I left her when the wind blew her over. Then, instead of doing something sensible like crawling into The Van and preparing my dinner salad, I found myself mounting the Quad-B instead.

The two of us, once more joined foot to pedal and saddle to butt, limped our weary way down along the river where we could watch the sunset away from the other campers.

It was quiet enough that this girl tip-toed her way along the opposite bank apparently unaware of my presence,

and this guy, his kind usually much more shy than this, didn’t seem to mind sharing a little quiet-time with me in the last of the rays.

That quiet little ride must have mended things between the Quad-B and me because the next morning found me loading her up for another attempt at Plan A.

Pack strapped to the rear carrier, water-bottle/camera carrier on the handlebar, straw hat dangling down my back by its chin-strap, Tractor Supply ball-cap on my head with bike helmet over that, (For some reason most bike helmets don’t have a proper bill to shade your eyes) and most importantly, hiking sticks bungeed to the bike’s crossbar. (I double-checked that last point just to make sure this time!)

OK, let’s try this again!

That 3-mile-plus ride/walk up the River Trail wasn’t any easier this morning, but since I knew what to expect this time it somehow wasn’t as bad as yesterday.

This time I had all my gear with me, like I was supposed to yesterday but didn't, and when I got to the trailhead of the Gorman Springs Trail I was able to morph from trail-rider to hiker.

To get here it’s either the 3.4 miles up the River Trail or a mile and a half down the Gorman Falls Trail, both of which are bikeable, (Hey! If I can do it after that fiasco yesterday pretty much anyone can!) but since the Springs Trail is not bikeable a handy bike-rack has been provided.

Oh, and see that little white paper posted there just below the bird-house? That’s recommending you not let your little children run on ahead because there’s mountain lions in the area. . .

The Gorman Springs Trail meanders up the pleasant little valley/canyon formed by Gorman Creek which,

thanks to the strong spring at its headwaters, has a pretty decent flow for its relatively short length. (About a half mile from spring to trailhead then another quarter mile to Gorman Falls where it drops 65 feet into the Colorado River.)

The trail crosses the creek twice but at normal water-flows both crossings are dry-feet as long as you can stay on the sometimes slippery rocks, which, if you remembered to bring your two hiking sticks along, is easy.

The lower end of the watershed is a picturesque, pocket-sized valley,

that quickly starts morphing into the kind of limestone lined canyon which is more common for the area.

But other than a few riffles, there’s nothing ‘wild’ about Gorman Creek. Even when it goes over the falls (a different hike) it’s very measured and orderly about it.

The headwaters, where the trail ends, are a rock-lined pool into which the spring flows

and this is a good spot to shed gear and relax for a while.


I tried to include the toe of my boot so this photo would ‘read’ better, but I don’t think I was very successful. This is shot looking straight down along a foot-pipe that has been dropped into the pool right where the spring is bubbling up.

The other end of the foot-pipe is attached to this horizontal piston pump driven by an electric motor via a (missing) belt. The piston is tucked down there just below the electric motor and driven by the geared crank encased in a protective housing to the right.

Confusingly, the motor seems to be set up for a couple V-belts while the large drive wheel (a small piece of which is visible at the bottom of the photo) looks like it takes, or once took, a flat belt.

The discharge pipe, barely visible beyond the pair of 90 degree elbows where it arches up through the center of the photo, snakes its way up and over the edge of the canyon-rim above.  The Gorman homestead was up there somewhere but I suspect this pump hasn’t been used since at least the mid 80’s when the state bought the land.

If you're patient enough to sit still along the deeper parts of the creek you just might get a glimpse of the purest strain of Guadeloupe Bass left in the State.  I’m not sure if this is juvenile or breeding coloration, but the Guadeloupe Bass is generally greenish.

Later, as I was working my way back down the creek towards where I left the Quad-B a large bird noisily flapped its way out of the tree there in the background on the left and flew across towards that ledge just left of center. The noise initially made me think vulture, but as I briefly saw it in flight I thought Turkey?!

Turkeys don’t usually roost in the middle of the day, preferring to be on the ground foraging instead.

But I parked myself in an inconspicuous spot and settled in to wait for a while just to see what might happen.

Eventually, fooled into thinking he was alone again, this guy leisurely sauntered into view, though when he realized I was still there on the valley floor he did a double-take, turned, and head-bobbed back out of view as fast as his feet would move.

Not long after the turkey encounter I once again mounted up on the Quad-B and prepared to retrace my route back down the River Trail, pointed to there by the big red arrow on the right, battling up and down the various obstacles between here and and the campground, including heaving the Quad-B across that gap in the ledge over the mouth of Gorman Cave.

But  I had barely got my feet on the pedals when I was faced with my first challenge.

If you look close at the circled bit of trail, really close because the grey contour lines are kinda hard to spot, you’ll notice that that last little bit, the tail-end or the beginning, depending on which way you're going, of the River Trail is a bit steep.

In fact this is the lower end of the old Gorman Road where it switch-backed down the final plunge  off the bluffs to the river. That last drop is about equivalent to a 5 or 6 story building and now is a rutted, hard-packed chute of dirt and rock that is only vaguely related to a road; and it is really steep! (No photos because I was too busy surviving, both going up and down.)

Now here is where I broke my rule, the one that says if I would have to walk the Quad-B up then I also need to walk it down.

I don’t know why I broke my own rule. Maybe it was because I had just now got my butt on the saddle and was too lazy to get back off again, or maybe it was just because I’m a man and men do stupid crap. After all, it’s kind of our thing!

Remember the man’s prayer said at the beginning of every meeting of Red Green’s Possum Lodge? “I am a man: But I can change: If I have to: I guess” Well we have to say it every week because we actually never change. . .

Whatever the explanation for ignoring my own rule, I crept up to the edge of this downhill, grabbed for the brakes, and went over, desperately trying to pick out a line to avoid the worst of the ruts and biggest of the rocks while at the same time struggling to remember to keep my eyes open so I could look where I wanted the tires to go.

The motto of that same Possum Lodge is, ‘Quando Omni Flunkus Moritati’ – when all else fails, play dead – but there were a few times on that long slide down where I figured if I screwed up I wouldn’t have to ‘play’ dead at all!

But I made it unscathed.

Well – sort of.

You see, shortly after making it to the bottom in one piece (which I had to check a couple times before I believed it) I passed a family, mom, dad, two young children, and a terrier-sized dog, hiking the other way and I’m pretty sure they were well within earshot as I screamed the whole way down.

That was embarrassing. . .

Monday, April 23, 2018

Plan C - And It Kinda Sucked!

The plan when I set out this morning was a leisurely bike ride up the Colorado Bend State Park’s 3.5 mile River Trail which, as you’ve probably guessed, sticks pretty close to the river. At the end of that trail is the relatively short hike-only Gorman Springs Trail. After doing a slow and contemplative one-mile foot-born ambulation on this very pretty trail I would retrieve my bike and pedal the River Trail back to camp where I would put in some serious chair-time with a good book.

Things didn’t quite work out the way I planned.

Plan A fell apart about a mile and a half up the River Trail when I realize I haven’t brought my hiking sticks. . .

Yep, despite the carefully laminated checklist sitting right there inside The Van’s side door, on which the final item is Hiking Stick, I have neglected to bring them anyway. I mean that’s about as bad as a skydiver forgetting to bring his parachute and not realizing it until the plane is nearly at jump-altitude!

Gorman Springs Trail is not especially rugged, but it does include two creek-crossings and despite giving my bum leg the day off yesterday it's still pretty bum and I'm not too keen on attempting to splash around on slick rocks without my sticks.

And yes, sticks as in plural. I’ve been a one-sticker ever since I nearly fell off a cliff in Alaska back in the 80’s, but I’ve recently migrated/upgraded/devolved/downgraded (pick your ‘ed’ of choice) to two sticks. But that’s a story for another post. . .

So I've come up with a new plan for the day that doesn't include backtracking to retrieve said sticks.

This new plan, Plan B, keeps the leisurely-ride-up-the-River-Trail part from the original plan, but even that soon went to hell as well.

Long before I get to this spot, which is a little less than three miles from the campground, I have Stopped and Walked Bike several times already.

And when you add up 36 pounds of Quad-B (My Big Box Beater Bike) and 25 pounds of hiking gear, that sucker takes a lot of walking, up or down hill! And yes, my rule of solo-biker self-preservation out on the trail is that if I would have to walk it uphill, I walk it downhill as well. Doubles the walking but greatly improves the survival chances.

Recently another blogger commented that if you don’t have to get off and walk your bike a few times you picked the wrong trail. Which sounds all well and good, but he’s speaking as an accomplished, and perhaps somewhat crazy, (He hikes at 10,000 feet in knee-deep snow wearing shorts for crying out loud!!) single-tracker on a $1200 bike!

Me? I’m clodding around on a $120 bike, on which I’ve only had a few hours saddle time since last October, and with only one and a half legs! I'm sure if he knew what constitutes a 'walking section' for me he would be rolling on the floor with laughter.

Just as I’m sure little kids and most old men can handle riding down this short little rocky drop one-handed while carrying on a conversation over their shoulder, but it has me grabbing for the brakes and awkwardly dismounting, trying desperately not to drop the too-tall, top-heavy Quad-B in the process.

I sure don’t remember this trail having so many steep ups and downs!

This one I do remember. Except back in 2014 the trail went over the top of this old steam boiler casing which has been repurposed as a culvert. Clearly the water has washed it out one too many times since then


and now the trail has been permanently re-routed around it. Which makes for even more of a slog to push the Quad-B up and out of here. (Just like size and right-hand side mirrors, things are steeper than they appear in photos!)

As for that Stop-Walk sign, I was expecting that one too.

This is where the trail dips across the top of the opening to Gorman Cave, but back in 2014 you could still go into the cave, which I did back then, at least for a few feet. (But that isn't part of Plan A, or Plan B this trip. Just not that into caves.) Now it’s been gated off to protect the bats.

Besides being quite a dip to get down to the cave-crossing, there’s also this narrow ledge over the cave's opening to be negotiated.

Notice the crooked little tree in the center of the photo growing out of the ledge?

I don’t remember having to deal with that last time I was here,

but a check of my 2014 photos shows that it was there then too.

It hasn’t grown a whole lot since then, which is a good thing since I have to try to fit myself and the gangly Quad-B between the tree and the rock face. You know, the one with a cable anchored into it to help keep you from falling off the narrow ledge!

I especially don’t remember this section of ledge being missing! This leaves a 3’ vertical drop between where the Quad-B is and where it has to go next, and pretty much nothing to stand on to lift it down but air!

But looking back at the old photo it’s clear that the ledge was incomplete back in 2014 too. Of course back then I was on foot so wasn’t trying to horse 60 pounds of awkward, wheeled crap across the gap either!

OK, let’s just say that by the time I've left the River Trail behind and horsed the Quad-B up the Gorman Falls Trail to the Park Road near the north end of the park, about where the arrow is pointing, all thought of Plan B, piecing together a return route back to the campground from various trails roughly paralleling the road, has died as my wobbly legs dump me on my back where I lay in the hopes that someone will trip over me and perform a little recessitation.

Instead, after self-reviving because apparently no outside help was to be forthcoming, I capitulate, give up on Plan B too, and do the entire return trip, head hanging in shame, on the road.

And not even that is going to be easy! Aside from carrying the extra weight of humiliation on my shoulders, there’s several low-water crossing on this road and each one marks a steep up-hill, every one of which will soon defeat my legs, forcing me to walk while pushing that stubborn behemoth of a Quad-B up every hard-gained foot of altitude.

Back when we lived in the city our neighbor proudly brought home a $2000 road bike.  For that kind of money the thing was so sweet that all he would have to do was think about climbing on and that bike would effortlessly shoot off down the road without him.

I've done a little analysis and it turns out that though the Quad-B does have a little bit of bike DNA swirling around it's gears, it's actually much more closely related to a dump-truck. A loaded dump-truck!

Though the overall trend of the Park Road from entrance to campground is downhill, all the downhill is saved up for that last little bit of twisting, white-knuckled, brake-squeezing, butt-puckering road right at the end.

That last photo was taken about from where the left arrow is pointing.

The Van is sitting in site 45, where the right arrow is pointing.

In between the road falls over the edge of the bluff and reaches the river in the shortest, and steepest, possible way.

Are we having fun yet?

Even with Plan C, that long walk/ride of shame, saving me a half mile or more over Plan B, I still end up covering about 11.5 miles for the day.

Yep, a whole 11.5 miles on a bike, the most energy efficient transportation system man has ever come up with! I can remember the days when I could knock off 20 miles of relaxed, wind-in-the-face, wheeled bliss in less than two hours without even trying, and I'm pretty sure that right now, at this very moment, there's a whole gaggle of old English ladies pedaling, with long-skirted upright dignity, their basketed single-speed cruisers at least that far for a bit of tea and crumpets, but back at camp when the wind blows the 21 speed Quad-B over, I don’t have the energy to get up out of my chair, hell I don't even have the energy to hold my book up into bifocal range! So I just leave her lay there. . .