Saturday, September 17, 2022

Xenomorph Root System

 

This is not an H.R. Giger design for the Aliens movie franchise. It was under the landscaping in front of my house.

My house is relatively new, having been first inhabited in 2015. As a consequence, I have to live with some of the choices of the previous homeowners. At the time I bought, the housing market was tight and competitive so I accepted some compromises that I might not normally accept. One of these compromises was the choice of trees and bushes in front of the house.

I'm reluctant to change the plants that came with the house I bought due to the necessity of getting the approval of the HOA. Also, the cost, time, and effort. All the tree species in front of the house send out root runners to reproduce vegetatively. This causes a plethora of shoots and if left unattended, young trees, to crop up around the yard. This violates the HOA rules.

I looked online for an easy way to deal with this situation, but the usual course of action is just to dig up the ground and cut all the root runners. You can expect to have to do this periodically. This turned out to be a few hours of work. I had to rake off the gravel xeriscape, cut through and peel back the weed barrier, and then dig and cut with loppers and an axe to get rid of the roots. I put more weed barrier over the gaps before raking the gravel back over it. I don't really want the trees to die but if they do I won't grieve too much. I'll just get a tree company to remove the stumps and plant different species, subject to HOA approval. Ones that don't send out root runners.

Unfortunately I promptly injured my left rotator cuff during this process, and it isn't healing. Pretty disappointing. I've tweaked both rotator cuffs many times before back when I was running whitewater in a kayak, but this is worse. It's especially disappointing since I had been lifting dumbbells one or two days a week for months precisely to avoid this scenario. I'm not sure if I wasn't lifting enough or if lifting more would just have resulted in a similar injury.

The perils of aging.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Superyachts and Travel

 

Look at that cute devil! How can I leave him for any length of time? And yes, he is the one who ruined the window blind.

I'd travel a lot more if I didn't have pets. The other problem is money. If you can solve the latter problem then you can solve the former problem because pets can travel on a super yacht, and it's easier than in a car or aircraft. Yachting seems to be in fashion the last few years, popular amongst billionaires of both the legal and gangster type. With the economic downturn and sanctions on Russian oligarchs I bet you could get a good deal on one right now, if you could merely borrow a hundred million. Wouldn't I love it if I could afford it. Only knowing my cats, I'd have to watch them carefully or they'd end up in the ocean.

Seriously, I'm sitting here on some airline credits and my calendar is jammed up with critical deadlines at work, doctors appointments, weeks that I have to be on call, and business travel (but that doesn't count). Frustration is one of the most common human emotions.

As for why do I have cats? Because they keep me company in between travel. My oldest cat Zelda has been with me longer than any girlfriend. Girlfriends are better companions for travel though, and some other things.

Monoculture

 

For my tastes, this small section of park with pine trees, natural mulch, and wildflowers is more beautiful than a carefully manicured lawn with a grass monoculture.

There is an idea in American popular culture that the exterior of a home should be a neat, orderly, and uniform exhibit. The lawn must have a monoculture area of grass, typically of a single species that has been carefully bred by professionals. It's anachronistic.

We now know that monocultures are somewhat antithetical to a balanced ecosystem. They also tend to require chemicals to maintain. I've never thought that small flowering plants in a lawn were out of place. Especially not if they are native species. They beautify the lawn.

When I lived in Georgia my lawn was full of small flowers every spring. I thought it was beautiful. Wildflowers are not "weeds." This outraged my boomer parents and provoked much eye rolling. The young, stupid son didn't know how to maintain a proper lawn. Fortunately that mentality is dying out. Someday we will have seen the last of the monoculture lawn.

Where I live, we have mandatory gravel desert-scaping. Unfortunately the HOA rules were written by a bunch of boomers over a decade ago, so they still want everything to be completely neat and uniform. Of course, this is also tainted by the influence of investment buyers (house flippers) who want the neighborhood uniform because they think it will drive up property values and make it easier to sell. I don't know if that is true about value but it's morally untrue either way. Neighborhoods are for living, not for business ventures.

Uniformity is obsolete. It's one of those ideas whose time has come and gone, only the people holding the ideas haven't accepted it yet. They will either die out or live to see it change against their will.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Greenery

 

Greenery on the Highlands Trail. The tree in the middle seems to be a rogue fir or spruce from higher elevations.

I love Flagstaff but one of my few issues with it is the lack of moisture and flowing water. This monsoon season has been so strong that isn't true right now - everything is green! There are puddles and signs of water flow everywhere. The springs are full. I'm enjoying it while it lasts. Fall is usually very dry here.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Subcultures



I follow a bunch of storm chaser people on social media, as well as a few actual meteorologists. They are an odd, geeky bunch, united by the adrenaline of mostly violent weather and academic inclinations. Clear weather is boring to such people. When I was a child I was taught that a desire for action and academic proclivities were contradictory impulses, but when I grew up I realized they are not mutually exclusive.

When I was into running whitewater, there were some common traits among the people who participated in that particular subculture: free weekends, disposable income, and a taste for adrenaline. It's a time consuming hobby and once you find the friends you spend a lot of time with them.

There were also an unusual disproportion of former college athletes who checked both boxes but I never figured out exactly why that was the case, other than to mention that many people are mistaken about paddling being a "low impact" sport. Not on whitewater it isn't. Maybe on a lake. This led to people like me (un-athletic geeks) mingling with college athlete types. Strange bedfellows but it worked.

The point being that there are hobbies that are more than hobbies. They are subcultures that bring diverse people together. When I lived in the Chattanooga area, all my friends were from whitewater. Even when I did other things like hiking or mountain biking or even going to a museum or sampling a new restaurant, I did them with the same whitewater people. The storm chasers seem to be the same way.

I haven't found a subculture in Flagstaff to hang with in several years living here. I'm not sure why exactly but Flagstaff is notorious for difficulty putting down roots. It's hard to make friends or find a mate here. It would help if I got out more and found a subculture. It's a good way to make friends.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Cycling the Mormon Lake Loop

Mormon Mountain beyond the mostly grassy lakebed of Mormon Lake. There are elk in this photo but they are too far for the iPhone camera to resolve.

 

I meant to ride my bicycle around Mormon Lake since about the first year I moved to Flagstaff, but for some reason I never got around to it. It's about a 40 to 45 minute drive south of Flagstaff along Lake Mary Road, and I've never been in good enough shape to simply ride from my various domiciles all the way there, around the lake, and back.

I finally made time for it last Saturday. I parked at the Mormon Lake overlook and immediately the day promised a great experience. I started early enough to avoid the thunderstorms but was unsure about riding the entire distance. I committed only to a clockwise route with the potential of turning around if I got out about 5 or 6 miles and things were not going well. Fortunately things went well.

The view back towards Flagstaff under gathering monsoon clouds. It's sunflower season!


The monsoon has been extra rainy this year and everything was green. The lake still has not filled up as much as I've seen it in the past but there were areas of open water and a huge herd of elk were enjoying it. Unfortunately I don't have a camera with enough range to capture that so you'll have to take my word for it.

This incredible view was from the southerly edge of the lake.


The route is rolling with a net downhill to the south and I arrived in pretty good order at the turnoff for Mormon Lake Road. I made the turn and enjoyed the excellent pavement and scenery along the quick two miles to Mormon Lake Lodge. The views were incredible!

Approaching the Mormon Lake community. I would imagine it's a happy place to live but far beyond my means.


The day was perfect and I stopped a few times to take photos. I startled a deer at one point. There were many bicyclists out and most were friendly. Since I was on a mountain bike, I had little hope of passing anyone, and indeed I passed no one and was passed several times. The road winds along the base of Mormon Mountain and the skies were beautiful.

A panorama with Mormon Mountain along the road. It's quiet and high quality bicycling.

I looped back to my car with plenty of time to spare before the arrival of ferocious thunderstorms. It's one of the best bicycle rides I've ever done! I fully recommend it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Western Ambient

 

The Granite Dells of Prescott, Arizona with late monsoon clouds in September 2015.

The afternoon was pleasant with light rain and distant thunder. I sat working with my cats around me and the air cooled. Ambient western music played from my laptop. It established the perfect tone for sitting in my screen door garage with the monsoon rains falling just outside. My mood has been changeable lately but this afternoon I found a measure of peace in work and things seemed effortless today.

I'm pecking away at my novel. My creative output continues to be high, and I like where it's leading, though I don't know if it will be commercially viable or not. My prose improved over the last decade.

I've been organizing my personal library and it serves as a source of inspiration.

I have the urge to paint again.

Monday, August 8, 2022

Post-race Analysis

 




I finished the 5k run on Saturday. It wasn't a great race for me but not as bad as it could have been. I hadn't realized until shortly before the race that it was actually a trail run. After I heard that I knew I would record a slow time. Trail races are more difficult and slower than flat road races. In particular, the route ascended a moderate hill that I am familiar with. I knew it would be difficult to keep running.

When I was in shape back in 2017 and 2018 I probably could have run the entire distance for a respectable time, but reviewing the GPS track from my Garmin watch indicates I walked about 1 km of the 5 km distance. As many have said, trail running always includes walking at some point for everyone. It's just a question of how steep it has to be before you have to walk.

My time was slow but in line with recent training runs with slightly more elevation so I'll take it and hope to be in better shape next year. I'm built more for sprinting than distance. Also, my right "bad" knee hurts. That said, I again enjoyed the positive vibes of the race and saw a handful of people I knew.

Positive vibes in front of the start line, which was also the finish line, at Fort Tuthill County Park. The grandstand in the background is where the Flagstaff Pro Rodeo is held every summer.


I don't think I'll do another race this year and instead just spend the rest of summer and fall enjoying bicycling, hiking, and the occasional casual run. I like fall here in Flagstaff, but dread the reduction in daylight. It's the main thing I don't like about fall and winter. I'm just glad I don't live in Alaska, where the sunlight completely disappears for many weeks.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Open Space

 

The peaks are green behind airport instrumentation in this monsoon season. This large bit of national forest land features a network of single and double track.

I spent most of my life living "east of the Mississippi." There are substantial differences between living in the eastern United States and the western United States. One of those differences is the relative absence of development in the west. Consequently, it's possible to go for a hike or bicycle ride in the woods without having to travel in a car for a long time to get off pavement and into wildlife habitat. This is probably what I like most about living in Flagstaff.

I've been aware of an area of open space near the airport for several years. I also rode my bike around the area a few times without going into the patch of forest and meadow, but a recent news item stoked my interest. There is a parkway that is currently disconnected and will soon be connected by cutting through this particular green space. It was time to go have a look at it before the road construction begins.

Decorative vehicle blocking . . . blocks. These were obviously positioned at one end of J.W. Powell Blvd. to prevent people from driving motorized vehicles into this bit of forest and prairie. You can see it was used as informal campgrounds in the past.


The area isn't pristine. There are some aviation instruments installed, I suspect related to the Instrument Landing System for the airport. It's also an area that used to be frequented by people free camping - it's US Forest Service land. The entrances for vehicles are now blocked with boulders and logs and signage forbids camping and motor vehicles. That said, it's a lovely bit of pine forest and prairie that offers sweeping views of the inner core of the San Francisco Peaks as well as more distant views of Woody Mountain and possibly some other peaks. The monsoon has been healthy this year and the wildflowers were blooming, although I found it strange there were no sunflowers. I also saw a variety of birds and some lizards.

Mount Elden from the gated maintenance road that leads to the airport instruments.

Wildflowers were blooming!


I looped around the area, trying to fully explore it as much as possible. The double and single track lead throughout the property. Being unfamiliar with the area, I didn't follow every available path. If/when I go back, I will follows paths to try to get a clear view of the airport runway.


Thursday, July 21, 2022

5K

I went for a training run this afternoon, well . . . more like a walk. The skies were spectacular with scattered monsoon showers. I ran earlier this week but I was sore and afraid to push too hard leading up to a race.


I decided to sign up for a 5 km run in August. I haven't done one since I moved to Arizona in 2015. It's a charity event for the Children's Health Center and my entry was sponsored by our major software vendor, Oracle Cerner. As a consequence, I added a donation to the cause.

I'm not in great shape for running this year, but I signed up for the 5 km distance, so I should be able to trot through it. Over the last couple of years I got somewhat out of shape but I've made progress and I'm down about 8 to 10 pounds.

I miss the positive atmosphere of an organized race. Since I haven't emphasized running this year, I won't record a good time, but that doesn't matter. What matters is the participation and the cause and the motivation just to get out there. I know I will enjoy it.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Writer's Block



Despite a previous update stating that I'd found a way forward with my latest novel, I actually didn't act much on it after that. Months passed. Today I made a breakthrough and wrote about a thousand words. If a novelist can write a thousand words a day for a hundred days, they have a short novel. Or at least a novella. If they can do that for a year, they will have a massive novel.

I'm currently outlining the plot. I read Stephen King's On Writing, where he expresses utter contempt for outlines. For this reason, I tried writing this novel following the seat-of-the-pants method, but it wasn't working for me. I've written several short stories that way, but it isn't necessarily the only way to go about things. Anyway my outlines are not detailed. They are about as loose as it gets. It's easy to move away from the outline if necessary.

I value Stephen King's advice, especially since he has been so commercially successful, but I also think that he is slightly overrated. I find his protagonists unlikeable, which is the main reason I haven't read more of his material. Also, as many people point out, his dialog is anachronistic. His characters speak and think as if it is 1970. He doesn't seem to be able to adapt to contemporary society. Since he is a seat-of-the-pants writer, his plots sometimes wander, and include unnecessary episodes. This is a hallmark of an author who achieves radioactive levels of success. People are afraid to tell him no or that something needs cut.

Most of King's advice is still good. I'm just not going to follow all of it.


Monday, July 11, 2022

ImPatient

 

It's just the moon.

Perhaps it was inevitable but I caught some type of malady during my travels over the holiday. I won't go into the gory details but suffice it to say that I'm now sick of being sick. Generally speaking I'm not a good patient. Nobody enjoys being sick but some people sit around feeling sorry for themselves. Illness makes me angry and impatient to get back to my regular life. I'm there after several days. As long as it doesn't get down into my lungs it should just be a matter of waiting it out. I can't stand being ill. I was amused upon writing this to discover I have complained before about being ill on this blog.

Friday, July 8, 2022

Humidity

 

Downpours were the order of the day for the first half of my trip. This is in my parent's neighborhood in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

I just got back from visiting family in Tennessee for the Independence Day holiday. I keep having these impulses to move back to Tennessee, mostly because I miss everyone, but I don't miss the weather. The temperatures were in the upper 90s F and high humidity. It was miserable. I'd forgotten how impossible it is to do anything outdoors there in summer without becoming completely covered in sweat. Fortunately I'd brought almost too many changes of clothing.

We fit in fireworks between rainfall events. It was a hot, humid evening beneath the overcast.


When I'm in Flagstaff, I'm grateful to live here and do not want to move, but I miss my family. The outdoor lifestyle here can't be matched in Tennessee, even though it is a green state. Here I walk, run, or ride a bicycle straight out of my garage onto roads and paths that are relatively safe to travel. In Tennessee, you typically must get in a car and drive to a place that is safe for those activities.

When I lived there, I found things to do outdoors, but I recall not being able to do many things for much of the summer. This is one of the reasons I enjoyed whitewater kayaking so much when I lived there before. It was often so hot that being in the water was the only reasonable option.

Eventually I expect to move closer to family. As I approach within a decade of my planned retirement, I contemplate how I want things to play out, but so far the process is marked by indecision.

Monday, June 27, 2022

On Bonus Tracks

By The cover art can be obtained from Arista., Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3613286 

A million years ago I decided that I liked The Alan Parsons Project. It was the song "Eye In the Sky" that got me. Such a catchy song, driving and melodic, yet mellow and thoughtful. It was one of my favorite songs during my childhood, and still is.

Over thirty years later, I decided to buy the LP Eye In the Sky that contained the single. Then I was faced with a choice of buying the original LP as it was released in 1982, or a special edition with "bonus tracks." The bonus tracks included early demo versions of some of the songs as well as a guide vocal track, which is what a songwriter records for the vocalist or lead singer to go by to achieve the desired final product. In other words, the bonus tracks consisted of material that was imperfect or not intended for release due to lower quality. I decided to buy the special edition.

While it is interesting to hear what early versions of songs sounded like before they were perfected, the presence of these songs in the playlist messes up the flow of a carefully compiled album. When you get an LP, you are getting something that has been prepared by professionals. Experts listen to the playlist before the consumer does, and make sure the end product is good. It's carefully curated.

With modern software, it is fairly easy to curate your own track list to recreate the original album. In this case, the extraneous tracks are wisely appended to the end of the LP, which makes it easier. But even so I think it's a mistake.

Don't get the special edition with bonus tracks unless you already have the original. You lose the effect of listening to the original, historical version, and it isn't usually better.

Sunbeams and Rainclouds

 


Although there are some reflections on the window, I finally decided that weird sunbeam over the peaks was real. I'm not sure I've ever seen the like. At first I thought it was a tornado. My brain can't make sense of it, even though it more or less aligns with the angle of the sun for the time of day.

We really got a LOT of rain yesterday, enough to cause flooding. Most of it was a result of increased runoff due to wildfires, but a newspaper reporter found the cause of a flooded street to be a clogged drain. The explanation was mundane and a little funny since it was in a recently reconstructed area - meant to improve drainage. "The best laid plans of mice and men . . ."

I follow several professional writers on Twitter. This is a great way to learn, although writers being writers and Twitter being Twitter, it can be difficult to find people to follow that don't lose their minds to the mob mentality and go unhinged for days at a time. We live in an era of irrationality.

Still, I read their analyses of popular stories and try to follow their tips, where appropriate for my fiction. The more I learn, the more I despair of ever writing something satisfactory. I made a tiny amount of forward progress last weekend, sitting in my screen door garage, in between fleeing indoors when the lightning got close and loud. My cats got wild-eyed and jumpy. I'll keep thinking about it and writing when there is something to write.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Monsoon Lounge

 

My boy Shadow relaxing on the sun-warmed, and engine-block-warmed hood of the car, as only a cat can. He looks ill or something, but I can assure you he was in a state of bliss.

It's said that no human can relax as well as a cat. I present you this photo. My boy surely knows how to relax.

The monsoon arrived early! The official meteorological monsoon season begins on June 15th but historically the rain usually arrives around Independence Day, July 4th. Usually people just call it "The Fourth of July" but I refuse to cooperate with that tradition. It merely describes a date, whereas "Independence Day" describes the meaning behind the holiday.

Either way, we got excellent rain on Saturday and the air temperatures are perfect right now. I don't have a rain gauge but it fell for at least an hour at my house, punctuated by downpours. Now the skies are blue from horizon to horizon. The only fault is windy conditions, which present fire hazard and shake the house from roof peak to foundation. But all in all, things are good.

I'm happy again, even if it is only ephemeral. The monsoon will return in a day or two.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Humbling Arizona Trail


The rock layers visible here correspond to the upper strata in the Grand Canyon.

I decided to explore a section of the Arizona Trail that I had not seen before. I started at the Sandys Canyon trailhead, which I have mentioned here before. This intersects with the Arizona Trail after a mile or so, and if you take a right turn you head uphill onto Anderson Mesa.

I watched birds of prey circling over Walnut Canyon as I looked back towards the San Francisco Peaks. There were several miles of beautiful though dry trail on the Arizona Trail.


Everything went well for the first few miles. The trail switched back up the mountain through a variety of habitat. The sandstone escarpment along the bottom of the mesa: pink and red; photogenic. After ascending the initial steep sections, the trail levels out a little and crosses a burn scar reminiscent of that on the Hart Trail on the flank of Little Mount Elden. It's beautiful. There are views into the high country. The trail continues climbing into dry pine forest with a few pinyon pines and junipers interspersed. At some point I noticed I was lightheaded but wrote it off to exertion. I drank more water (I was carrying 3 liters).

Humphreys Peak and the inner core of the San Francisco Peaks from an old burn scar that has started to recover. This reminds me of the Deer Hill Trail.


As planned, I turned back after the trail crested out atop the mesa and intersected a fire road. The distance from the trailhead had been 3 miles according to my slightly unreliable Garmin watch.


Arizona Trail single track on the slopes of Anderson Mesa. This photo was taken along the side of a particularly "lush" drainage, atypical in Arizona. It reminded me somewhat of the drier hillsides in the Southeast.


The downhill return started off easy and fast, but I still stopped and rested in the shade, where available.

My turnaround point atop Anderson Mesa, where the Arizona Trail crosses a narrow fire/forest road. There were old signs of logging. By the time I got there I was anxious to turn around but made myself take a few minutes to consume a gel and some water before heading back downhill.

By the time I reached the floor of the canyon and began to ascend back to my car, I wasn't feeling energetic. I reduced my pace. I was frustrated with the slow pace, but as I hiked up Sandys Canyon, I found it necessary to stop to rest in almost every patch of shade available, and sat down on a boulder at least twice.

Sandys Canyon, filled with atypical undergrowth and short-needle pines more usual at higher elevations.


I finally made it back to my car, got the air conditioning going, and returned home without incident. After I got there, I determined that I was dehydrated. This was surprising since I'd had more than enough water with me. I realized that I need stop thinking of hydration in the same terms I would have when I lived back east and at low elevation. I also took my blood pressure and found it high. 

The other issue was nutrition. I'd eaten a fairly large breakfast of 3 eggs with butter, Roma tomato, and onions, but even so I don't think I'd eaten enough. The weather was hot (by Flagstaff standards), and the route was hilly. I've hiked much more difficult trails but that was when I was younger and thinner. When I reached the turnaround point, I stopped to consume a gel packet with sugar and electrolytes. This helped for a short time, but I really think I consumed inadequate food for the undertaking.

The Flagstaff region. The US Naval Observatory is the white dome just right of center on a hill. My house probably lays just between there and the point of view and to the right (not literally visible).


For what it's worth, Strava rated the Relative Effort as "Massive." Whatever the explanation, I would say the hike is a good route, although I feel a little humiliated that I wasn't able to complete it in a good, healthy state. Perhaps I am simply getting old. I work out regularly but have to admit my diet is not the best. I still hope to have a good second half of the year in terms of fitness.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Twilight

Days are still getting longer

I love the long days of June. Unfortunately it won't last. We approach the spring equinox. It's the twilight of spring. Just contemplating.

It's too early for the monsoon, though the local NWS office said the chances of precipitation start to climb later this week. I'm looking forward to some upcoming travel with a combination of anticipation and dread. I've had so many problems with airlines recently that it almost seems predictable there will be some type of issue. Hopefully it won't be weather. From what I hear, almost everyone is having trouble with air travel recently. I'm not alone in that.

Right now everything is perfect. I'm plotting exploration of a few new-to-me segments of trail and trying to get myself to work on my latest novel. The feeling of "things left undone" nags.


Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Exploration

The spring house at Veit Springs - one of the most beautiful sights in the Flagstaff area.


What a great four day weekend that was! I took it easy on Friday and Sunday but the other two days featured explorations.

Ancient pictograph at Veit Springs.


First up I led a hike at Veit Springs to view petroglyphs and generally enjoy spring in the high country. It was beautiful, though windy. We wandered off official trail to seek more mileage and got a bit lost, but we certainly got to see some forest that few other hikers see.

Skunk Canyon features some desert vegetation in the sunny areas.


On Monday I went out for a mountain bike ride into Skunk Canyon. I've hiked it before, but had never bicycled in, and I wanted to see how it linked up with some of the other approaches to Fisher Point. The canyon is a broad, sunny place that gradually heads downhill. I didn't start from the usual point, but the alternate route that I used from a small parking area on Lake Mary Road is a good beginning. It adds a little distance.

Skunk Canyon narrows.


The canyon narrows down in a couple of places and finally constricts to single track in a true stream bed, albeit usually dry. The vegetation ranges from semi-desert grassland to alpine species in the shady, steep-sided areas. Unfortunately the double track braids into true single track, split between a high road and a low road, and I chose wrongly. The high road was a little too difficult and risky for a solo rider of my low skill and I ended up doing hike-a-bike for a few minutes.

Fortunately, it didn't last too long, and Skunk Canyon opens up again shortly before the old tracks intersect with the Arizona Trail. From there I followed the AZ Trail over to Fisher Point. I decided not to ascend the short connector to the top, having done it before, but I did visit the cave at the foot of the promontory. It's one of the most beautiful spots in the Flagstaff region.

Fisher Point - another of the most beautiful places around Flagstaff.


I'm such a lackadaisical mountain biker that, as usual, I forgot to stop my watch as I walked around rubbernecking and taking photos. This habit causes me to register slow times. It's slightly embarrassing but I'm not a competitive person and I guess nobody really cares how fast or slow I am. Mostly I don't either. I compare my times and speeds only to my previous times and speeds. It's a good way to judge my fitness, but I tend not to pay attention to how fast other people are.

After visiting Fisher Point, I rode Walnut Canyon "upstream" to the junction with the Sandys Canyon trail, which turned into a beat down of hike-a-bike. There are bicyclists capable of riding up Sandys Canyon but I am not one, lacking both the technical skill and shear power to achieve it. I've pushed a bicycle up the trail before on an out-and-back so I knew what was coming but it was still unpleasant. I've done worse hike-a-bike a few times so by my very low standards it was acceptable though not fun. I was pleased that it didn't destroy me. I recovered quickly and resumed riding.

From the top, rather than going straight over to Lake Mary Road, I decided to follow some unmarked trail that headed in the right direction, but it didn't entirely work out. I ended up riding out into a neighborhood, probably over private land, although nothing was marked. The short road system still delivered me to Lake Mary Road and somewhat to my dismay, I realized that there were still a couple of miles of rolling hills to climb over to get back to my car.

It was a good workout, though the track from my Garmin watch seems to have understated the amount of elevation change. I'm unsure if it was literally inaccurate or if it is just that the route is deceptively difficult. In this case, you start on a plateau, drop down into a series of canyons, then must climb back out. But even after climbing back out, you have to deal with the long paved climbs on Lake Mary Road. Strava says it was a mere 594 feet of elevation gain, but that feels like an understatement. It's a rugged, difficult route that included inefficient pedaling on sandy trail in addition to the technical hike-a-bike.

I really enjoyed the ride. It was a fun day!


Thursday, May 26, 2022

Presage

Sprinkles on the sidewalk for the first time in weeks.


Much to everyone's surprise, we got a few sprinkles earlier this week. May is a difficult month for precipitation in Flagstaff, but the month is sometimes punctuated by a few showers. It was lucky, but not abundant. It was just enough to raise the scent of rain. God willing, it precedes an abundant, or at least adequate season of the North American Monsoon.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

May In Flagstaff



It's spring in Flagstaff and our world has become beautiful, and but for some windy days, it's perfect here. We hired a new programmer for the team at work and there is hope of reducing the proportion of my time on call and that means I should be able to enjoy more time outdoors on weekends.

Anyway, May has Memorial Day and I will have a couple of days off for the holiday, meaning a four day weekend. I feel a little guilty about celebrating on such a somber day, but on the other hand there is little enough time off for those of us who spend our lives as employees. I'm probably overthinking things again - that's what I meant in my previous post that my mind tends to numb itself.

Maybe some future generation will figure out how to allow people to live without arranging their entire lives around work?

Friday, May 20, 2022

Mind Numbing

 

My old girl Zelda during happier and healthier times. She looks healthy and bushy in this photo from 2018. Lately she's looking pretty skinny and it isn't healthy. We only have so much time on our personal clocks and her's is running out.

Life can be mind-numbing. I think the reason I haven't blogged much lately is because my mind numbed itself to normal interactions with the world. I've been pretty busy with work and other things and my brain went into a near-vegetative state after work every day for the last few weeks.

One of the "other things" is that my oldest cat had her required annual veterinary appointment, legally required to renew her medication. Unfortunately her kidney disease has progressed and she has lost yet more weight. I think we are probably in the last year of her life. It's sad, yet most days she acts normal and even gallops around the house and yard sometimes. It's just that she keeps getting skinnier.

As usual, the vet appointment caused the worst day she's had since the last vet appointment. I sometimes think vets (and human doctors) don't realize just how negative the process of diagnosis and treatment can be. By the end of the day, she lay sprawled and exhausted in an unnatural position, even for a cat. The treatment is often worse than the disease.


Thursday, May 19, 2022

Roxy Music

 


I discovered Roxy Music this week. It's a band I had heard of but never paid attention to. They were on the charts a little before my time, but several of their tracks are familiar, and a couple of them are wonderful. You hear them as background music and on movie soundtracks. Some of the earlier material sounds like an inferior copy of David Bowie, but they really hit their stride starting around 1978 and it got better.

It kind of sounds like the lead singer, Bryan Ferry, is somewhat of an icon in the UK, not only of music but also fashion and art. He's not that famous in the USA.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Novel Progress

My first novel was handwritten in two of these, but my latest is in word processor format.


I continue work on a second novel. The first sits on the shelf where I last touched it over a year ago - finished in 2011, abandoned during rewrite. I wrote a few thousand words on my latest several months ago and then ran into the conundrum that my protagonist is the least interesting character.

That's a problem. Not an "issue," or "challenge." I don't like to mince words when something goes seriously wrong.

I've been stuck with writer's block for a while now, trying to figure out what to do about it. Occasionally I have edited a few sentences or added a couple of paragraphs without getting to a point I can move forward. The cause was a combination of procrastination and hesitance to throw out the characterization already written. Of course, I really had to throw out the characterization. Fortunately, I have a solution, or at least an approach.

I admit it wasn't an epiphany, but rather a comment on Twitter that gave me the idea. The comment referred to characterization in Hitchcock movies, and suddenly I realized the value of reading a lot of other author's works to inform your own writing. This is advised by Stephen King, among others, and this is probably the first time I've seen the link directly.

I'm always willing to steal an idea, as long as it is a good one.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

The Workout

Strength training: I hate it, but I try to do a little every week.


This entry is kind of just fitness journaling so I can look back at it later.

I'm one of these people who goes through yo-yo weight gain and loss. I've been in exceptional shape for periods of my life: carved and fast. And I've been in lumpy, inferior condition through other periods. Normally I do some type of workout, but it can be intermittent for many months at a time, which is how I get out of shape. Currently my weight is greater than I'd like, but I've been in worse shape.


Cardio Training

My current plan is to do cardio two or three days a week. Usually this is two runs and a bicycle ride, but sometimes one of these is replaced by a hike. Running consists of trying to go at least 2 miles without walking, but sometimes I go farther and walk intervals.

Until last winter I didn't bicycle (or run) in winter. I finally got a bike trainer setup in my garage and managed to ride about once per week. I found it difficult to make myself do much more as I dislike the monotony. When the outdoor season begins, I usually start off with 6 to 8 miles and work my way up to as much as 20 - 30 miles by September or October. The farthest I've ever gone is 35 miles at the Grand Canyon a few years ago. I should clarify this is mountain biking, which is relatively more difficult per mile in terms of energy requirements than riding on pavement. I tend to take my mountain bike and ride everything: pavement, single track (trail), gravel bike path, dirt forest roads, etc.

Strength Training

I don't like strength training so I only do a minimum, just enough to make a difference if I'm persistent over time. Persistent means at least 2 days a week for me. I refuse to go to a gym so I only do whatever can be done at home. I used to do calisthenics but had to switch to mostly dumbbells due to joint pain.

Sets of 20 crunches - right now I only do a couple a week.

"Back lifts" or "Supermans" - I lay on my stomach and lift up my head and all four limbs and hold as long as I can. It's important I do these on the same day as crunches to balance out the front and back of my torso or I get back pain.

I lift the dumbbells from the carry position above waist level. I don't know the proper name of that exercise. Usually do a couple of sets of these. They are "easy" yet seem to work out certain muscle groups very well.

Bench press - sets of 12 (1 or 2 twice a week)

Overhead presses - not consistent with this

Curls - once a week, one set of 10 or 12

Sometimes I do other things like pushups or leg lifts on a whim.


Stretching

I'm not very good at stretching but I roll back on a yoga/exercise ball at least 3 or 4 days a week to stretch my back and the vertical muscles on the back of my neck. Skipping punishes me with neck and back pain. I also usually get a few relieving pops from the joins.

I also stretch my gluteus and psoas muscles nearly every day (5 or 6 days a week). Again, this is a back pain thing, which manifests in sometimes severe pain on my lower left back. It's asymmetrical and I think it dates to a back injury I got kayaking one year, but it also might be related to my twisted skeleton, as I have scoliosis of 11 degrees.

Other

I see a chiropractor once a month. I enjoy getting the joints cracked, although chiropractors tend to be quacks when they range off into metabolic theory or nutrition, so I like them to just stick to manipulation. I find this helps my flexibility around my torso and provides pain relief, though usually only for a couple of weeks.

I also sometimes use a foam roller stick, mostly on my calves and glutes when they feel too tight.

Un-American Scrambled Eggs

 

Three eggs only slightly gooey. Sometimes I cook them even less. No butter in these but I can recommend it.

Americans typically expect scrambled eggs to be cooked to dryness, but I prefer European style scrambled eggs, which are curdled but almost fluid. I've preferred them that way since I was a child and my stepfather apologized for undercooking the eggs one morning. For me, it was a happy accident, because I realized how good they are that way. The thing I can't understand is why many Americans will eat an egg fried or poached with a runny yolk, yet won't eat scrambled eggs that are comparatively more done.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Lenticular Clouds and Wildfires and Mountain Biking

 

Lenticular clouds downwind of the peaks, seen through my garage door screen. There is a new wildfire raging in the spring wind somewhere beyond.

I try not to make this blog a register of complaints, but often the most remarkable events in the average day are negative.

Flagstaff has entered wildfire season, and as usual the fires aren't really "wild." People start most wildfires in Northern Arizona and the idiots are off to the races again. We've had an outbreak of several different fires, all of which were likely caused by humans. I haven't heard thunder around here for several weeks, nor has the weather forecast included any lightning. The remaining possible causes are all anthropogenic: cigarettes, vehicles, campfires, etc.

The number of people who believe they are entitled to a campfire without taking any reasonable precautions makes me disappointed in the human race. That is to say, even more disappointed than I already was before I moved to Arizona.

A view from the Railroad Springs trail, about halfway up Observatory Mesa. Might be Mormon Mountain in the distance?


I replaced my back mountain bike tire last weekend and got in an excellent ride up Observatory Mesa. The tire had been flat since sometime last fall. I shouldn't have put it off so long, because I've missed the joy of a good trail ride. I have another bike but it's suitable only for pavement. Changing the tire was difficult and I dinged up my hands, but it was worth the effort. Sometimes you have to invest time in preparation to have a good time.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

April Jackass Day

I've pretty much hated "April Fools' Day" since I was a kid. It's not that I don't have a sense of humor, it's just that it doesn't align with April Fools'. Also, the people who like the day tend to take it as an excuse to act like jerks. Like Carnival, people seem to believe it's a day when they don't have to practice the values they would usually live by. They lie and pretend it is a joke. It's strange to me that some people don't outgrow it. It just goes to show that some people will take any excuse available to act like a jackass.

Seen in Texas recently. Looks like a place where "alpha males" might hang out.


While I'm on the topic of jackasses, I also don't believe in a popular supposed dichotomy of men. There are guys who go around calling themselves "alphas" and other men "betas," like humans are a pack of wolves or something. I don't believe it. In my life all the way back into elementary school I have sometimes behaved like an alpha and other times behaved like a beta. I don't believe we are one or the other. It's situational or maybe a spectrum. When a guy refers to betas, I automatically think "alpha jackass." I doubt they realize that's what I'm thinking.

Jackass is my word of the day for April 1st.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Busy March

I setup my screen door garage home office for the year and my cats are loving it! It was around 70 degrees Fahrenheit today. I rarely get a photo with all three of them this close.

 I guess I kind of skipped blogging in March, but I was busy. I had some travel on the docket and the preparation and arrangements always take up almost as much time as the travel. I met my stepfather in Dallas to go to the Conference USA basketball tournament. My second degree was from Middle Tennessee State and they were competitive in the conference this year. We didn't do as well as I'd hoped but the men's team leading scorer showed up on crutches and I think they did about as well as possible under the circumstances. The women's team underperformed but made the NIT and are still winning so there is that.

Spring has sprung here in Flagstaff, but as always, winter dies hard. I expect to see at least a little more snow before we get to summer. The first year I moved here, we got 7 inches of snow on May 9th, so it isn't over until it's over.

Grinding away. Work has gotten busy again and I'm trying to plan the rest of my year and decide whether or not to flip my house. It seems like a good idea financially but my heart isn't in it. I hate moving and what I really want is a house on both ends of the country. Right now that doesn't seem possible.