Friday, July 30, 2021

Cat Attractants

Everybody knows cats go for catnip. That's the origin of the name. But after having several cats in the household for the last 16 years, I have discovered a few other "cat attractants."

Wrigley's Doublemint Gum

My old cat Zelda has destroyed several packs of Wrigley's Doublemint Gum over the 15 years we've known each other. Doublemint is my favorite gum and I usually have some around to cleanse the palate and avoid grinding my teeth. I always have to be very careful to store packs in a cabinet where she can't get to it. Even leaving it in the pocket of a jacket in insufficient. She invariably gets it. My other cats also respond to it, especially my youngest, Shadow, who will chew up any errant wrappers. The middle cat, Ada, usually climbs onto my keyboard and stretches out when I'm trying to work and is difficult to remove. Most cats also are at least curious about other mint flavors. This makes sense since catnip is a type of mint.

Listerine Mouthwash (original flavor)

My youngest and oldest cats both respond to this. I also have to keep it locked up, or they will lick around the top of the container, and then flop onto their side and thrash around attacking their own tails. When Zelda was younger, she often would watch carefully as I used the mouthwash and then lap up any splatters that I didn't rinse down the sink immediately. The she would settle into the sink and go in circles for several minutes clawing and biting the tip of her tail. This resulted in me constantly having to clean cat hairs out of my bathroom vanity.

Icy Hot (or similar)
I have a squeeze tube of generic cream that contains menthol and methyl salicylate. It smells like wintergreen, and I think the methyl salicylate is a key ingredient in wintergreen oil. Here is an example of the behavior Zelda shows when I apply this to my legs after a long bike ride. She climbs all over me and then goes to the floor for antics, acting like she's eaten catnip. I didn't take video but basically she flops around on the ground and attacks her own appendages, including her tail.

This is what I call "pathological scratching," a frantic scratching when nothing is there. It makes me think of meth addicts.

Now attacking her own foot.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Snowbowl Road and Birthdays

Looking back up at the main gate to Snowbowl, the usual stopping point for climbing Snowbowl Road on a bicycle (it's often closed). As you can see, storm clouds were building over the high peaks so I was glad to get in my ride before the storms started. The elevation at the gate is over 9,200 ft above sea level.

My annual fitness goal is to be able to ride my bicycle up the road to the local ski resort, Arizona Snowbowl, no later than my birthday. Since I usually take the winter off of bicycling, this is always a challenge.

Last year I had already achieved it early in the year (albeit with insufficient fitness, resulting in a suffer-fest), so instead I went hiking at Skunk Canyon. But I gained weight last winter and lost even more of my aerobic base than usual. Ok, I pretty much lost all of it, and it took longer to build back up, so I arranged for a day off from work on my birthday to hit my goal.

Over the last few months, I have been training steadily for this, but spring wasn't easy. I rode half of Snowbowl Road two weekends ago and it didn't go very well. I came home and didn't take adequate time to elevate my legs, and was horrified to step in the shower and see both legs covered with a blue net of what looked like varicose veins. It's happened before but I still took the time to Google search and reassured myself that it is normal for a cyclist who has just done a particularly taxing climb. It isn't a sign of vascular disease or anything. It's just a sign of a very hard workout.

Today things went better. I avoided "burning" my legs before getting warmed up, and pedaled steadily. Paradoxically, the fastest way to climb on a bicycle is not to charge up the mountain, but to stay just off your stress point. You should feel like you are spinning easily and should neither get short of breath, nor feel as if your leg muscles are straining, though going fast means being near these limits. Pro cyclists use power meters and set wattage goals, but I go by feel. And even then, the wattage goals of pros are ultimately dictated by how they feel. If you push too hard, you will either burn out, or run out of cardiovascular capacity and start to black out.

Before I was diagnosed with asthma, I actually pushed myself into a "grey out" scenario a few times while riding uphill (as opposed to a blackout). If you don't get enough oxygen, your vision will start to narrow and a circle of grey will rim your vision. If you keep pushing, the circle of grey will expand until you get down to tunnel vision, and can only see narrow view of what is in front of you.

I inherited excellent cardiovascular capacity from my dad and was in denial that it might be a shortage of oxygen for a while. Unlike most people, usually my legs fail before my cardio does. Eventually I decided to get a spirometry test and found out it was asthma, probably a result of years of exercising outdoors in one of the worst places in North America for lung health: Chattanooga.

Putting that aside, I had a nice ride up Snowbowl Road today. I've been faster, but that was when I was lighter, so I'm happy I made it all the way to the top. As a testament to increased experience, I got a couple of PRs on the descent. I still got a couple of 3rd bests on the climb. Not great but not terrible, and I feel like I'm recovering ok, though my Garmin watch suggested 4 days of recovery, lol.

It was a pretty good birthday. After I got back I elevated my legs to drain them for 20 minutes, then went out to one of my favorite local restaurants, Tiki Grill, for a salmon salad.

The view from where I stopped to rest before riding back down the mountain. Even though I've held an annual Snowbowl pass for several years now, I kind of resent the construction of this huge parking lot, which replaced beautiful forest and alpine meadow with a plain of cinders.

I was feeling pretty good and self-satisfied until I remembered it was my birthday, and my Dad, who died in 2018, used to call me every year and recount the story of driving my mother to the hospital in the middle of the night back in 1973 and it made me cry. It doesn't help that we shared the same birth month.

As Paul "Bono" Hewson said about the loss of his father, "There's no end to grief," but as he also said later in the same song, which is the song's subtitle, "There Is No End to Love."

But it was still a good day. I'm another year older but I can still ride a bicycle up a mountain.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Surface Water

Sandy's Canyon Trail after a night of rain. I was surprised that there was no flowing water in it, but it was humid wonderful.

I went hiking Saturday morning, looking for flowing water. Flagstaff has almost no flowing surface water, although there are some artificial ponds and lakes around, and just one natural lake: Mormon Lake. But the soil is volcanic, and even very heavy rains tend to soak in. And we've had a lot of rain over the last couple of weeks. I've seen water flowing down the paved alley behind my house and in other storm drains and flood control structures, but you can't see it much in a natural setting around here.

Unfortunately, it didn't work out. I saw plenty of puddles, but I don't think I saw any flowing water, not even a trickle. I was pretty surprised by this, since rains have been so heavy at my house. But an examination of National Weather Service data indicates that other areas haven't received quite as much, and apparently the volcanic soil once again drank whatever fell.

In Walnut Canyon, you could just see a short segment where water had obviously flowed over the trail. Why wasn't there more water? I think it probably has to do with the proximity to the dams on Upper and Lower Lake Mary. I assume they are retaining water right now to refill the lakes. Lower Lake Mary is still completely empty.

I enjoyed the walking anyway. The grass and ground cover are all green now, the tree trunks refreshed and the lichens look healthy. A light mist floated in front of the ridges and peaks. After two very dry years, it was wonderful.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021


Late summer in the San Juan Mountains, Colorado, September 2017.

I usually say that summer is the best time of year in Flagstaff, but that's somewhat because we had a couple of very dry summers in a row until this year. Now I remember that it's actually hard to do anything outside when the monsoon is strong. We've been getting thunderstorms every day beginning as early as 11:00 am. Worse yet, the storms tend to form earliest and be strongest atop the highest peaks, which loom over the best summer trails. And the lightning . . . 

Basically, I'm not having a very good summer. I enjoyed visiting my family in Tennessee and we got lucky with the weather over there, but I'm now having to "look forward" to some necessary travel to Indiana that will not be fun, instead of traveling, say to California or Colorado for leisure activities.

But maybe I'll do that in September or October.

Monday, July 19, 2021

The Two Kinds of Bicyclists

Schultz Tank. Time outdoors is mostly why I ride. The other reason is fitness.

Speaking of bicycling, after resuming cycling as an adult over a decade ago, I determined that there are two types of bicyclists. The first type is the person who simply enjoys riding. This would include those who like to compete, and people like me who like to be outside, but also includes joyriders and fitness freaks for whom the riding is the point. The other type is the gear head.

Gear heads don't so much like bicycling as much as the bicycles. They are obsessed with the machinery of a bike. In the field of mountain biking, they can be identified as owning expensive mountain bikes that are kept in pristine condition at all times. This is achieved by a combination of simply not riding (because they don't want to get the bike dirty or scratched), and completely disassembling the bicycle to clean it after every ride, literally. Or at least disassembling the entire drive train to include pedals and maybe even the crank.

Disassembling a mountain bike is not a trivial undertaking. I suppose once you have done it a few times it goes easier and faster, but it's slow even for an expert. And the process requires special tools that are not necessarily useful for other things, including a torque wrench, and the proper values to set the torque wrench. This is such a complex process that the average bicyclist who simply likes riding would not normally do it. It's especially notable when you consider that most experienced bike mechanics do not think it is strictly necessary to disassemble a bicycle to get it completely clean. Just search YouTube on the topic if you disagree.

You could go years without ever taking apart the entire bicycle to keep it clean and functioning properly. I know. That's exactly what I've done for over a decade now.

I wish I had the maintenance skill of the gear head bicyclists, but I wouldn't want to be afraid to ride my bicycle just because I'm obsessed with the shiny, cold machine perfection of a clean bicycle. That's ridiculous.

I always try to spend more time riding my bike than I do maintaining it. It's completely possible and more fun.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Rain Cycling

A rainy view from Snowbowl Road. This is just about at 8000 feet above sea level.

I know I've written how happy I am that we are finally receiving good rainfall, but Flagstaff has also been in the national news with cars floating down the street. I'm very fortunate that my neighborhood is not prone to that type of flooding. Not to mention somebody was just killed in the Grand Canyon by a flash flood.


Monday 8:00 - clear skies, I had to work, rained in the afternoon.

Tuesday 8:00 - same

Wednesday 8:00 - same

Thursday 8:00 - same

Friday 8:00 - same

Saturday 8:00 - yeah! Finally a day off, I'll go bicycling. Oh, wait, it's raining!

I went anyway. It wasn't too bad as I made my way slowly up Snowbowl Road but the downhill was fast enough to spray me with road grime. This is why commuter bikes have fenders. The ride went ok otherwise, but I don't think I'm going to be able to make it all the way to the top on my upcoming birthday, when I have arranged a day off for the purpose. At least not without stopping to rest and probably eat on the way up. I'll prepare appropriately and hope for a couple of hours of dry road conditions.

The monsoon is an important source of water for dry Arizona, but it also floods people to death, destroys houses and cars, and generally ruins your plans.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Weather Update


Kitty watching a downpour. I know it's good when there is a small stream flowing down the alley.

The North American Monsoon returned this year. We've had several good downpours and a few periods of light to moderate rain. It's a huge relief after two summers of no rain.

Unfortunately there has been some flash flooding in areas downstream of burn scars, but on the whole I think we are all grateful for the rain.

I hope it keeps going for a few weeks so we will be setup for the usually dry fall.

Hail or graupel last week. The Monsoon is delivering this year.

I'm trying to solve the riddle of getting things done for my day job, planning more necessary travel, and living my life in a way that makes me happy. It's not always easy, but at least we've gotten some rain this summer.

I also keep training for my goal of bicycling up Snowbowl Road as I watch the Tour de France. Everybody has to dream.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Brutalist Architecture

Brutalism at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in Texas. I'm unsure of the purpose of the tower. It appears to be a sign, but look how small the logos are. I'm sure it's almost completely tornado-proof but its aesthetic blandness overwhelms.

This entry echoes my previous entry regarding mid-century modern design. For any artistic movement, there are good examples and poor examples, but some trends are inferior on the balance, and I'm not a fan of much post-war architecture. I would include Brutalism in the list.

I traveled by air recently and there is practically no place better than an airport to see Brutalist architecture. To a certain extent, Brutalism is a necessary outcome of efficient use of concrete. Yet it also seems to have been selected for use in some locations. I don't feel any attraction to it, and I don't understand its widespread use.

Unfortunately, like mid-century modern, Brutalism has become a favorite of the hipsters in the Millennial and post-Millennial (Generation Z) demographics. I personally think this is fashionable nostalgia for eras in which they didn't live, because otherwise it's inexplicable. The movement is aptly named. Brutalism is ugly. It brutalizes the senses.

It Was All A Dream About Tennessee

It's kind of a pet peeve of mine that people always call Independence Day the "Fourth of July." Yes, we know the date, but does anyone remember why it's a holiday? This is emblematic of what's wrong with contemporary American culture.

Our family has a recent tradition of gathering on Independence Day to shoot off fireworks and catch up. Until this year, I've been missing it. This was somewhat because of my choice to live in Arizona. All my siblings have chosen to live within a day's drive of Mom's house in Middle Tennessee. It was also complicated by my desire to balance visiting my Dad in Indiana. Of course, he died in 2018, so that is no longer an issue1. I joined everybody this year and a good time was had by all.

As I have mentioned before, our family dynamic can be contentious at times so it was not entirely without flaws, and I'm partially to blame for a heated exchange after my mother suggested it was time for me to move back to Tennessee where she could keep an eye on me. But for the most part I enjoyed it, and I think everyone else did too. The air travel, not so much.

Airplanes can be uncomfortable if you ride in coach, but I try to always get window seats so I can at least enjoy the view. Also you don't get bumped by everybody that walks past.

I always go back and forth about whether or not to fly out of Flagstaff's baby airport or drive down to Phoenix. After sweating for hours driving to the airport and waiting on my plane, I think I'll switch back to flying from Flagstaff next time. The parking and security are easier, and the drive is negligible. And it never gets to 107 Fahrenheit in Flagstaff.

1 Unfortunately Dad insisted my sister and I inherit his house when he died. Yet his Last Will and Testament also gave my stepmother permission to live in it until she dies, without paying rent. This means I have to travel back to Indiana periodically to check up on the house and carry out maintenance, with no income to offset the requirement.