Thursday, June 10, 2021

Chained to Choices

The San Francisco Peaks from near my house. I have chosen to live in places where my weekends are like a vacation, placeS with great natural beauty and recreational opportunities, but I'm always looking for new and better things.

I'm struggling to maintain my personal responsibilities this year. After being stuck home for most of 15 months due to the coronavirus pandemic, I feel like traveling all the time, but find it difficult to justify the trips I want to take. Most days are taken up with work, and I have to use my earned paid time off judiciously.

Perhaps I'm spoiled. I got to take a long weekend to the White Mountains last year, and this year I visited my Mom once already (after a very long break), then I enjoyed a long weekend in Tucson. I have another family visit coming up. But the visits to family don't feel like a vacation. They are usually relaxing, at least in the sense that I get away from work, and it's good to visit loved ones. But we also have a contentious dynamic in my family, and sometimes it isn't all fun and games.

I also have to visit the house I inherited in Indiana this year, because I am responsible for maintenance. But I have no desire to go back to Indiana since my Dad died. It's a place that is now sad for me, and I have few close relatives remaining there. Also, as I have mentioned here before, I didn't particularly enjoy growing up in Indiana. That isn't what one does there (enjoy life). It's a safe place to live, and it's a place I'm tied to by property and family, but it isn't interesting.  Relatives expect me to visit, and I don't want to take all the time to do that, as I will be busy with the house. I can already foresee a desperately crowded itinerary. I may just invite them to stop by the house while I'm working on it.

When I was growing up, we took good vacations when I was young, particularly to Florida. I think this spoiled me with high expectations. But eventually my parents divorced and then we got geographically dispersed, and true vacations (or holidays) became few. We always traveled to visit relatives. This both saved money and took care of family relationships. But it never felt like a vacation.

I guess I'm a jerk, because most of the time I would rather see somewhere new than visit relatives. Nowadays we can keep in touch remotely and I just don't see the need to visit everybody that often. It isn't the old days.

If there is something at fault here, it is perhaps my failure to take chances when I was young, that might have put me in a financial position to travel whenever I want. Instead I chose day jobs, a steady paycheck, and weekend adventures, over entrepreneurialism or aggressive investment. I could write an entire book about the type of conservative, risk-averse culture that led me to those choices, but suffice it say, now I just have to put up with fitting scarce free time for travel in between work days. It's too late in life for me to start taking big chances. I'm anchored to the choices I made when I was in my twenties.

I'm preparing for retirement and eventually will be financially independent, but not until I near the average lifespan for my family. Except for a few of my more careful distant relatives, we generally don't live past our 70s. I'll retire, then die within a few short years like my grandparents and my Dad. If I even make it to retirement.


Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Golf and Gambling

Celebrating my brother's birthday on a golf course in Tennessee, April 25, 2010. I miss playing golf with my youngest brother. 

I buy the occasional lottery ticket. This is more based upon hope than competitiveness or the risk/reward cycle that I think most gamblers seek. Many gamblers use this catch phrase, "Make it interesting." They do this when they are competing against someone else.

I've never empathized with this sentiment. If something isn't inherently interesting to me, then I won't do it in the first place. Betting money on it is therefore irrelevant to me.

I'm thinking about getting back into golf. I haven't played in over 6 years and I've got the urge. Arizona has many beautiful courses, though there is only a single public course here in Flagstaff. If it weren't for the price of land, I suspect there would be more. But golf is something that can be done on the occasional road trip.

Golf is a sport where gamblers like to run a bet on every round. I don't like playing with people like that. To me, the game is the point. I compete only against myself and I wouldn't do it if it weren't worth doing without a wager.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021


The skies keep threatening but haven't brought much rain. Otherwise the weather has been lovely, despite some of the usual spring winds.

I have burned out before but it feels somehow different this time. Now that we are in the post-lockdown phase of the coronavirus crisis, things seem very strange to me. The country looks like a different place and my life is in a different place. I feel like a different person. I'm not sure what's going on with me but it isn't entirely great.

At least we have entered the warm months. The weather is fair and skies are beautiful. My fitness looked terrible for a few weeks but I kept at it and I'm starting to hit some of my usual goals for this time of year. On my last bicycle ride I conquered my two local nemesis hills, one of which I had failed three times to ride up this year without stopping. That feels good.

Monday, May 31, 2021

Tucson: Mission San Xavier del Bac

After supper on Day 2, I decided to go for the evening light at the Mission San Xavier del Bac, a church on the Tohono O'odham Reservation just outside Tucson that dates back to the Spanish colonial period. The Tohono O'odham are an indigenous people of the region. Construction began in 1783. I was originally planning to get up before dawn and drive over for the morning light, but decided I probably wouldn't want to wake up that early and anyway it might be a little discourteous to the neighbors around the Airbnb to leave quite so early in the morning.

This turned out to be a good decision. The light on the church was gorgeous and there were few people, the concessions having been closed for the day. It meant that I didn't have an opportunity to donate any money to the church, which I would normally have done. It's a functioning church and I'm sure they could always use the money. I also did not have an opportunity to go inside the church, as tours are offered. However, having seen photos of the inside of the church, it's ornate but not as beautiful as the outside, and that's the best I'll say about it. You can do a Google image search if you are curious.

As you can see, the mission is still under renovation, but the left tower is complete and beautiful.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Spring in the High Country

The Deer Hill Trail. I think that's O'Leary Peak just right of center. You can see what appear to be thunderstorms in the distance but they never came near.

We have entered one of my favorite times of year. The days are warm but not hot. The grass has greened. The grasshoppers buzz and jump.

Still a little bit of snow visible on the high peaks, but I've heard it's still deep in some of the shady areas on the high trails.

I went for a hike last Saturday on the Deer Hill Trail on the lower slopes of the San Francisco Peaks. The hike went through a burn scar from the Schultz Fire. It's been many years since the fire so despite being called a "scar" the area is beautiful and is being recolonized by pine trees. Since the young trees are still short, you get sweeping views of the inner core of the peaks, as well as views in other directions of the Cinder Hills, the Sunset Crater volcano, Anderson Mesa, and points beyond.

The hike was quiet. I saw a group of three hikers and a single bike-packer. Other than that I saw four pronghorn, the first I've seen in about three years or so, and one snake, which I haven't been able to identify. Nothing will make you watch your step like coming upon a snake sunning itself in the trail.

What snake?

I went with about 2.5 liters of water in my Camelbak, but as I do so often, got carried away and hiked the whole trail - over 11 miles out-and-back. I ran out of water and the last couple of miles were a little bit of a death march. But now I've done it and don't have to do it again. The trail looks like it would be great for mountain biking. It's just my type of trail: smooth and non-technical. Next time I'll bring my bicycle. If I go back to hike, I'd likely not hike the entire thing. I was limping all day Sunday.

I'll have to get in better shape if I want to hit my goal of doing another "big hike" in the Grand Canyon this fall.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Rain and Bikestands


Rain! It's been a while since we've had more than a few sprinkles. Kitty and I watched a short but thorough downpour today. There was even a little thunder and some graupel.

The last two years of drought have been oppressive on the mind, especially since we also had to endure the coronavirus pandemic. At least we have a few days of reprieve from the fire danger.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Tucson: Mount Lemmon - From Desert to Sky

Mount Lemmon Highway ascends the Santa Catalina Mountains above Tucson. It's one of the most scenic drives in the United States.

A summary from my 2016 visit . . .

I toured the town via car and eventually drove over to the University of Arizona campus to have a look. It was a school I was tempted to apply to when I was graduating high school but decided it was not viable. The campus is mostly unremarkable except for a particularly dramatic green or common lined with palm trees. It looks like something more appropriate to Florida. They also have an interesting street car line that I didn't think to photograph. Other than that it is a pretty typical large university.

Palms on the University of Arizona campus. It's a nice enough campus, but thoroughly urban in character, which I didn't really expect.

By that point I had pretty much had enough of the city and was ready for some outdoor adventure and scenery. I went over to the Tucson Mountain County Park to view the saguaro cacti. This is an amazing park adjacent to the western division of Saguaro National Park in the small Tucson mountain range. Rain clouds were threatening but I never got more than a few sprinkles so my escape from the very, very long winter in Flagstaff was successful, and the clouds were lit from a low angle by a revealed sunset to create beautiful views of the mountains and desert. It was spectacular!
Slopes of the Tucson Mountains under gathering cloud.


The view over a pass towards Tucson. Looks like it was raining in the distance. I recall a few sprinkles but it never rained properly on the park.

The hour was getting late so I did not do any real hiking or riding but it was still worth a visit.

The next day, I did some mountain biking. I visited a local mountain bike trail system called Fantasy Island. There I rode winding trails through mostly flat Sonoran Desert. It was light on saguaro but heavy on cholla and other desert plants and I came across a pink rattlesnake at one point. I kept my distance. Later research indicates it was a Mojave Green Rattlesnake (even though it was pink). This is the most poisonous of the rattlesnakes.

The Fantasy Island Trail System was full of these cholla "trees." It's not a good place to crash your mountain bike, but on the other hand it's very smooth and you are unlikely to crash there. Very fast trail.

Fantasy Island was a decent trail system, but not something worth driving several hours for on its own. It's right next to an Air Force base and I got the feeling most of the other riders there were off duty military. My Dad served 27 years of combined active and National Guard duty and you get to where you can tell, even if they aren't in uniform.

Rattlesnake in the trail.

The Santa Catalina Mountains from Fantasy Island. Headed up there later in the day. I have noticed that locals often refer to the Catalinas as "Mount Lemmon" collectively, even though that is just one peak. People from greater Phoenix do this with Flagstaff, collectively referring to the entire area as "Snowbowl," even though Snowbowl is just the name of the ski resort. People are funny.

The next bicycling location on my list was Mount Lemmon. I wasn't in shape for trails on this notorious mountain, but I wanted to get up out of the desert into the high country, and the Mount Lemmon Highway itself is well-know for scenery. This turned out to be an understatement. I have driven many scenic drives but this is one of the tops I've been on anywhere. The drive up into the high country was winding and somewhat busy with traffic and bicycles. I have to admit there was some type of permit system in place but I couldn't figure out how to get one, so I took a chance. I simply found a place where I could park and ride at least a couple of miles near the top, with open views onto the lower slopes of the Santa Catalinas and adjacent mountains, such as the Rincons.

There are amazing rock formations in several places along Mount Lemmon Highway.

By now, my knees were shot and my leg muscles dead. I wasn't yet fully in shape from moving to Arizona, though I had adapted to the altitude at least. The Mount Lemmon highway exceeds 8000 feet above sea level. The air temps were drastically cooler than in Tucson. I rode a little along the highway and then down a gravel side road to where a trickling stream flowed near some houses. The rough track seemed to head over a crest toward the tiny town of Summer Haven, but it was so steep that I declined to keep riding as I did not want to have to ride back over the top or take a ride of unknown length on the paved highway to get back to my car.


I stopped in Summerhaven at the end of the highway for some meatloaf at the small restaurant. The village has been threatened by wildfire several times in recent years and some houses have burned.

I was impressed with Mount Lemmon, and if I lived in Tucson, I would probably be up there many weekends during the hot part of the year. Mount Lemmon actually has a ski area, but it seems inferior to Arizona Snowbowl. It's still amazing it even exists though, providing skiing to the people of southern Arizona. Since I spent my childhood in flat Indiana, far from any real mountains, I have never ceased to be amazed by the differences in climate provided by mountains within a short distance.