Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Day before Halloween

Looking across the river.  -Yukon River, Alaska [USA]

It's the day before Halloween and we've had snow for a month.  Last night, we officially hit "below zero" temperatures (-5 F/ -20 C).  This is the interior of northern Alaska.

I woke at 6:30, three hours before sunrise, to a light dusting of snow.  The snow is about 8" deep now.

As is my routine, I opened the doors to the school and turned on the lights.  I turn on the large heater in the gym.  This is the only heater that we ever turn-off because it is expensive to operate (translates to "incredibly expensive" in the rest of the world).  We leave all the other heaters on all the time because we need to, otherwise "things freeze up".

Today, "things froze up".

The cook comes in at 8 am sharp to start making breakfast.  It's still very dark outside.  The other teacher (there are only two of us in the K-12 two-classroom school) also comes in at 8 and starts going about his day.  By 8:30, after breakfast has started, I'm told that someone has flushed and the toilet tank isn't filling back up.... the water lines have frozen.

We live inside the Arctic Circle, and it really isn't that big of a deal to be without water.  None of the homes in town have running water nor indoor plumbing (apart from the two "teacher homes").  Each home does have an outhouse.  People are accustomed to "goin' to the creek" for their drinking and cooking water.  They fill 20 drums with water and tote then to their homes on the back of four-wheelers or snow machines.  "It tastes better" they tell me.

So, we tell the students that we need to use the outhouse until further notice.  My class gets a few 5-gallon buckets to fill with water.  We don't need the water, but it is a bit nicer for the cook to have some water to rinse the dishes.  It also helps us avoid any major health concerns should it take a while for the water to return.

The sun rises around 10 am, the same time we call the airplane to let them know the weather.  There aren't any navigation instruments in town, so we call each weekday to report whether we can see the mountains across the river.  If we can see the mountains, the clouds are above 5,000 ft.  That's enough of a ceiling for the plane to safely drop through the clouds without risk of crashing.

However, it isn't quite that easy; it seldom is here.  The pilot also needs to have a break in the clouds.  There also aren't any instruments for landing, so, he must see the ground before he can go through the clouds to land, otherwise, it's too risky.  With fog most mornings and the typical Alaska weather, the plane usually only flies into town 2.36 days out of the five scheduled days each week.

Today, we are in luck; the plane is going to fly.  It looks too cloudy to me, but they are coming anyway and that always brings a bit of excitement.  To add to the excitement, there are two families that have been waiting five days (due to bad weather) for the plane to return to the village.

Sunset at one of the many local
creeks  that feed into the Yukon.
-Yukon River, AK
At 11 am, I drive to the "airport" (translates to three quarter mile stretch of dirt road that is a little more than two lanes wide).  I've been waiting for over two months to have a technician visit to fix our copier/printer and he's scheduled to arrive today.  We are convinced that the school printer is possessed by the souls of many tormented teenagers.

I hear the plane fly overhead.  They always "buzz" town to let us know that they are arriving and we need to head to the airport.  I tell my three students, one is absent today, to "do their math" and dash to the truck.  It's cold, so the truck is "plugged-in" to keep the oil and other fluids from freezing.

I unplug the truck and make the 3.62 minute drive to the runway.  I wait for the plane to turn off it's propellers and then back-up to my favorite spot; the tailgate right under the rear stabilizers of the plane.  Here, I don't have to move quite as far to unload the cargo; easy-off, easy-on.

At times, there is as much as 1,200 lbs. of canned and frozen food for the school and it can get cold real quick unloading that much cargo.  Today, there are only two boxes to unload.

The plane is at capacity, five passengers in addition to the pilot.  All but one of the passengers gets off the plane.

Everyone recognizes everyone that gets off the plane; there are only 36ish people in town.  Anyone that isn't recognized getting off the plane is a visitor.

I stick my head in the plane and ask the one remaining passenger if he is the copier technician.  He gives me a bit of an unexpected look, but not too unexpected (after all, it is Alaska and we expect and don't unexpect most anything) and says, "no".  Then, the pilot tells me that the plane was over the weight limit, so, the technician wasn't allowed on the plane.  I guess the demon copier won't be exorcised today.

- - -

I return to school and stick my head into my classroom.  My class has been working on their math and two of the three are doing well.  One student has a question, so I help her.  Then I unload the truck.  The frozen food is fine, ain't nothing gonna thaw out 'round here.  But, it is cold enough that the contents of the canned goods can expand and explode the can if left outside for too long.

I finish unloading the truck right before lunch, when I'm stopped in the hallway.  I'm informed that older couple from town left Fairbanks yesterday, intending to drive back to town.  Nobody has heard from them and people are concerned.

- - -

Let me explain what "driving into town" means....

From Fairbanks, there is a horrible paved road that runs north, all the way up to the Arctic Ocean.  Paving a road isn't very popular up here, the frost upheaval from the extreme cold destroys roads in less than "no time at all".  So, dirt roads are almost always better roads and the preferred construction in the area.

To get to us, you drive for two hours on the paved road, you then turn and drive east along a dirt road for about an hour or so.  From there, it is possible to turn north and drive to our village.

You'll notice two interesting things about that last sentence.... the first, is that I said "it is possible"; the second, is that I did not say you could turn north on another road, and that really sums it up.  You turn north and drive, but, not on a road;  you just turn north and drive, but it is only possible for a few months each year.

You see, once it gets cold enough, the bogs and "creeks" freeze up enough that you "maybe can" drive over them.  And, that's our "road" into town.  Once everything is frozen enough, you turn north from the dirt road and drive for two hours up and over the frozen mountain and her streams.  It's about 24 frozen miles from the dirt road to reach our town, for a grand total of 5ish hours of driving from Fairbanks, if everything goes well.

This couple left yesterday afternoon hoping to be the first people of the season to drive into town.

- - -

We didn't know much at all.  We thought they had left Fairbanks, but we weren't too certain.

A few phone calls confirmed that they had left yesterday.  Now, we don't know where they are and there is growing concern.

Maybe, they decided to stay somewhere along the way... Plans change frequently here, not from  indecision, but from constantly changing factors.  Hopefully, they stopped somewhere last night and were still en route this morning.

We crossed our fingers and made a few more phone calls.  We are told that they had made it to the "frozen road" turnoff yesterday.

Now, we were really concerned.

- - -

We started to make search and rescue plans.

Again, there is a bit of explaining that needs to happen to understand these ramifications.

The nearest police officer is at least a two hour flight away.  The nearest "anything" is at least a two hour flight away.  Even if we could call, there just isn't anyone whom we might call.  The answer to most any question is, there is us, the 30ish people in town.

So, the 30ish people started discussing options.  We all know what an unplanned night in below-zero temperatures in the Alaskan bush potentially means and we prepare for the worst.

There are only a few snow machines in town that are functioning.  We took stock and slowly decided who should travel on these valuable resources.  There are plans to bring first aid equipment and sleds just in case we need to haul people back.

Everyone in town is related in one form or another.  These aren't just neighbors, it is family.  We keep our planning quiet so as to not disturb the students.

Planning is slow.  And, it really isn't much planning.  Finally, a few men leave with a couple of the women.  They start to go over the mountain on the frozen road.

They return in 15 minutes.

- - -

The older gentleman was found a mile down the road; he was walking back to town.

It seems that they got stuck last night trying to get out of one of the many creeks that need to be crossed.  They spent the night there.  This morning,  he walked the remaining 12 miles back into town.  His wife was still with the vehicle.

There is distinct relief that everyone is in good health.  We all know that it doesn't take much for things to go wrong; horribly wrong.  This was our daily reminder.

And, just like that, the day returns to "normal".  Barely a feather was ruffled; the unexpected is the norm 'round here and this was just another day.  This story will definitely be told, but not today.

- - -

I return to class.  None of the students are any the wiser to the dark decisions that were being made moments earlier.

We read a chapter in our novel.  It's written by a local guy and he talks about how he killed his first grizzly bear at the age of thirteen.  Eyebrows are barely raised.

After we finish reading, we go to the quarter-size gym for PE.  We almost always play basketball.  I'm trying to teach the difference between zone and man-to-man defenses, which is admittedly difficult with only three students.

We make a semi-valiant effort to understand the complexities of defense and then semi-resort to two-on-two until our recently eaten lunch reminds us to stop.  Today was chilli.

Once proud snow vehicle.
-Yukon River, AK
We return to the classroom (translates to a room smaller than a typical living room).  It's time for the next round of classes.  We have three simultaneous on-line classes which pushes our internet link to the very max.  Most days result in two of the three classes freezing and/or losing connection.

There isn't cellular service in town.  There isn't cable TV in town.  There is internet; but only at the school and small medical clinic (translates to a building about the size of a large garden shed).  The monthly bill for this luxury, which is a significantly less-than-medicore internet connection, is the cost of a used luxury sedan, each and every month.  We pay because, well, there isn't another option.

One student works on learning the local dialect, one student practices his watercolor technique, and the last student works on biology.  I move between the three students to reasonably ensure that everyone is paying attention and then answer a few e-mail.

School ends.  We have a snack; freshish oranges, another luxury.  Each day as I hand out the mostly green oranges, I think, "There'll be no scurvy here maties."  Each day, it makes me laugh.

I lock the doors and clean up the water buckets.  We've managed to get the water pipes "unfrozen".  None of the piping was damaged, another relief.  Freezing pipes leads to burst pipes, and that is a nightmare.  It would involve removing the pipes in sub-zero temps and then finding a way to get all the materials into town before we can even begin thinking about repairs.  That would take several weeks at best and a lot of organizing.  "At least the road would be in by then." I laugh to myself, glad we don't have to pursue that option.

I decide to push my advantage and go get my laundry.  There are only two washing machines in town and I'm on day three of the same clothes.  With the water fixed, there's bound to be a line at "the laudromat".

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The End of the World -Ushuaia [Argentina]

Hangin' Loose at the "End of the World" -Ushuaia [Argentina]
Happy New Year from the "End of the World"![1]

That's it... after nearly fifteen months of headin' south, I've made it as far south as possible and precisely on the eve of the new year.  I can't believe that I can actually say, "there ain't no mo' roads".

I can't believe a lot of things... I look at a map and can't believe that I've made it this far.  I can't believe that I'm in Tierra de Fuego.  I can't believe what a year it has been... it all has a very surreal feeling, particularly arriving at the new year.

But, in a way, it all makes sense.  I decided to go live life to the fullest, and that's going to bring a lot of interesting and a lot of crazy and even more "I always wanted to do that" kinda moments.

And so, here's my 2017 wish to you and to me and to the world (found on the garage door of the house next to my hotel for the night):

La vida es una obra de teatro que no permite ensayo.
Por eso, canta, rie, baila y vive intensamente cada momento de tu vida,
Antes que el telon baje y la obra termine sin aplausos.

Life is a play that doesn't allow for practice.
So, sing, laugh, dance, and intensely live each moment of your life,
Before the curtain falls and the play ends without applause.

Happy New Year from the "End of the World"!


The story of arriving to the "End of the World":

I was 35 km (20 miles) outside of town and there was still several hours of daylight, but I wanted to stop.  I'd already done 105 km (60+ miles) for the day and there was a camping spot that was way too gorgeous to pass-up.  Plus, I wanted to enjoy my arrival into Ushuaia... I had been waiting to "roll into town" for a long time and didn't feel the need to rush... I had food and water and an ideal setting to relax a bit.

Eve of New Year's Eve camping.
I quickly and efficiently set-up the tent and cooked dinner.  By now, this is now an easy routine for me.  I took a few minutes to sit by the river and enjoy a seldom-seen treat of dessert (in this case, some stale "new year's" bread).  Then quickly off to to bed; I was tired and wanted to get up early in the morning.

The next morning started-off with a very heavy dew; heavier than any I've ever seen.  The sun doesn't really "set" this time of year and this far south[2].  So, all night long there is always some light in the sky.  As such, I was awake at 4:30 am, cold from the dew, and with too much light to go back to sleep.

I waited, somewhat patiently, in my two sleeping bags until the sun's rays actually hit the tent and warmed things up a bit.  That didn't happen until 7 am.  Unfortunately, my phone battery was dead so there wasn't anything to do but wait...[3]

With the warm sun light hitting the tent, I ventured outside and quickly cooked breakfast.  In an amazing change of menu, I opted to not have oatmeal and went with the stale "new year" bread that was given to me the day before.... bad choice.... I quickly had an upset stomach and had to go use the "restroom".

Not daunted by the less-than-ideal morning, I started pedaling.  As I do, the warm sun disappeared into the clouds and a slow rain began.  After all, it is the Patagonia region, and weather changes faster than you can snap.

I continued past an automobile accident (in which a police truck had driven off the road), past amazing
View from the road.
scenery, and past rivers and lakes.  Trying to soak in all the beauty that surrounds me.  It's getting close to "end of the road" and I feel like savoring every last bit.

I continue for an hour and make it to the last 5 km... only to get a flat tire.  I can't believe it... I feel like it must be a sign or perhaps penance or maybe, just another flat tire...

Not wanting to spend the 20+ minutes to change and mend the flat, I try to pump-up the tire and "coax" it into town, I mean town is only 10 minutes away!  It only goes 500 meters before it's flat again.  I try again... only another 500 meters...  I do it a third time... I'm not a very fast learner...

So, I stop to swap out the inner-tube.  This inner-tube also has a flat... but at least I can get a complete kilometer before I have to pump again.  Good enough!  I will only have to pump a few more times to make it to town...

I arrive to town to meet the sister of a close friend.  It's the first time I've met-up with someone from "home".  It's pretty damn amazing to see a "known" face in town!  Even better, "close friend" and sister have brought me more chocolate and peanut butter than you can shake a stick at!

I hurriedly inhale the Rolos and a Snickers bar (I felt obligated as they were slightly smashed in the travel), and begin looking for a boat... to Antarctica!

A few hours, several agencies, and some sweet-talkin' later, we secure a cabin on-board a 15-day cruise to the South Georgia islands and Antarctica!  I'm going to Antarctica!!!

Soooo much chocolate!

1.  I have to admit that every time I say the "End of the World" the words from Jimmy Buffet's "Party at the End of the World" started playing in my head.  Here's a few exerpts:
The bad news is the world is ending
The good news is there's a party
But you better get here quick

There's a place you can go called Tierra del Feugo
Down in the Southern Hemisphere
It's kinda Troy without Helen
Past the Straits of Magellan
Things are always looking up down here

Who cares if there's no playa
We'll be rocking in Ushuaia
At the party at the end
You surely must attend
The party at the end of the world.   -return to the story

2.  The latitude of Ushuaia is nearly -55 degrees south... it's waaaaay down there.   -return to the story

3.  As opposed to my usual "time waster" of playing Solitaire.   -return to the story

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Bikin' Colorado

-Paradox, Colorado [USA]

My entry into Colorado was incredibly anti-climatic.

After a whole day of slogging uphill and a week of straight rain while struggling through “Middle-of-Nowhere", Utah, I crossed my first border.  Admittedly, in most people's eyes, it was an incredibly insignificant border.  So insignificant, that one might not even refer to it as an event, but to me, it marked a major milestone.  This marked the moment in which I began to believe that it might actually be possible to travel on a bike.  And maybe, just maybe, I might be able to complete this half-baked scheme of a bike trip.

And so it was, that ten miles outside the Colorado border, the sun peaked through the clouds for the first time in several days.  I desperately wanted to sit on the side of the road, strip-off my "super gross" rain gear, and enjoy a few minutes of warmth and sun basking.  But, I wanted to cross the state-line even more.  So, I kept pushing, pushing to make it to Colorado before the ebbing sun sent it's last fiery rays into the ever-approaching night.

I dropped down a short, but steep, series of serpentine switchbacks and rolled into the "Centennial State"[1].  I half expected/hoped for horns and fanfare.  Instead, I had a few more minutes of sun and then the rain picked-up again.  It was only a drizzle, but enough to put the candles out of my one-man party.

My entry, and first state-line. 
Thirty minutes later, I found a reasonably flat piece of ground to pitch the tent.  The walls of the canyon were too steep to offer much of flat area, so I made camp right-off of the seldom-used state highway.  In my haste, I failed to notice a sign announcing a mine vent in the area with the possibility of radioactive waste until I began unpacking the bike.  Another damper on my rained-out party, I decided it was worth a change of locale and quickly crammed the tent back into the bag, moving a little further down the road.

A semi-warm bowl of pasta sent me to bed early, only to wake to continued rain, turning to snow.  I packed the tent, cramming the wet material into a wet bag, and continued trudging through the mid-autumn storm to Paradox, Colorado.

Paradox isn't really a place... it's a section of road or maybe a valley or maybe just more of a general idea.  Officially, it is the valley named after the unexpected course of the Dolores River.  Here, the river flows across the middle of the valley instead of down the length[2], something I'd never seen before.  The valley is also the site of a Bureau of Reclamation salinity-control project which has caused thousands of earthquakes, and, is the proposed location of a new uranium mill (the first built in the US in over 25 years).  Herein lies two greater paradoxes, control the water so that it is usable to the farmers and ranchers at the cost of earthquakes; build an unwanted mill so that there is work in the area... Both a deal with the devil, both a story of the West.

But this isn't my story...  my story is one of people.  My time in Colorado was to become the beginning of countless acts of kindness that I have, and will undoubtedly continue to experience, through this trip.

Checking out gear in a friend's garage.
-Durango, Colorado [USA]
So, as I worked my way down the highway of Paradox, I got off the bike a bit to rest my aching legs.  It was only mid-morning, but my legs felt like it was the end of a long day, a function of many days travel without rest and the continual cold and wet.

After a few moments of stretching and massaging, and trying to convince my tired body to continue, I started walking down the road, trying to cover ground... not quite ready, mentally as much as physically, to pedal any more.

After 15 minutes of walking, I heard a vehicle approaching.  Then I heard it slow down.  Through the drenching rain, a middle-age blondish woman stopped beside me and rolled down the tinted window of her black, extended cab, long bed, dually Dodge pick-up.  "Honey, you look terrible... you wanna a ride?"

"Yes, yes I do."  I respond without hesitation.

I threw my bike into the back of the truck and peeled-off my rain gear before jumping into the cab.  I was freezing cold and shivering uncontrollably.

Fall in 'the pass'.
-Ridgway, Colorado [USA]
"Sugar[3], you're shakin' like a leaf!" the lady proclaimed as she cranked-up the heat.

I just nodded.

"I can give you a ride if you can help unload the elk."  she said with a thumb gesture towards the back.

Unsure if I understood correctly, I turned-around to take a look.  Sure enough, there were four elk quarters on the back seat, laying on top of black plastic bags, filling the air with a not unfamiliar smell of rawness.

"I'd be happy to."  I responded.

I was incredibly grateful... grateful to be out of the rain, grateful to rest my legs, grateful for the heat, just grateful... At this point, I would have done most anything to stay out of the weather.

"What in the hell are you doin'?" the women stated more than asked.

I started to tell her precisely what I was doing... riding a bike, come hell or high water, to the southern-most point of South America, about 15,000 miles away. She just looked at me like I was the craziest fool she had never heard of, or could have even contemplated.  Fair enough... The look became more perplexed when I told her that I had started in Utah, just a few weeks back.

I quickly changed the subject to other stuff... the weather, the terrain, the elk in the back seat.  This took most of the remainder of the 45 minutes ride to her home.  Upon arrival, I hobbled out of the truck, walking like a arthritic cowboy, to unload the elk.

After the last large piece of meat was placed precariously on her unstable table, I thanked her and began to take my leave.  She offered me another ride, 2 hours further down the road, if I could help her load the family dog, a large black lab, into the truck to take to the vet.

"He can barely walk... his hip is bothering him." she explained.

"I'm happy to help, no need to give me a lift." I responded.

"Fair enough.  I'll still give you a ride... the weather is horrible."
-Red Mountain pass, Colorado [USA]

And so I arrived two days ahead of schedule to the home of two dear friends.  They weren't expecting me quite yet, so I made myself at home on the front porch, protecting myself from the increasing snow flurries; winter had officially arrived.

And so my time continued in Colorado, receiving help from strangers on almost a daily basis.

I ordered better gear for the weather, but didn't have an address to send it to.  A friend offered me an address of his long-time ski buddy.  The long-time sky buddy gave a place to stay for several days and then sent my gear to another friend in New Mexico so I didn't have to wait an extra week.  My panniers began to come-apart at the seams and a local bike shop helped me get a new set at a major discount.  Another bike shop helped me tune and adjust my bike at no charge.  A man, traveling with his aging father, stopped me on one of the major mountains passes to cycle with me, just to hear what I was doing.  An oilfield worker from Texas, in the largest pick-up truck I'd ever seen, stopped to give me water while cursing me for "takin' up the road".  Another friend drove hours out of his way to meet-up and give me a lift over some of the now snow-covered mountain passes.

Unexpected help and amazing experiences pop-up at, and around, every corner.  I begin to realize that this what my life will be like for the next few years.  I begin to trust the unknown and myself.  I being to appreciate that I have something to offer in return, a story, an escape, a word of encouragement.

I try to give back, speaking to several classes at one of the high schools along the way.  I work as a volunteer for avalanche awareness classes.  But, I definitely receive much more than I could possibly give, a lopsided equation that proves to be the norm for the next several months.

Rocky Mountain sunset
-Ridgway, Colorado [USA]

1.  Colorado was given the name of the “Centennial State” because it became a state in the year 1876, 100 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America.  Other nicknames considered for Colorado, named after the Colorado River due to the ruddy-colored (in Spanish: colorado) silt the river carried from the mountains, included:
  The Silver State - reference to the large quantities of silver present in Colorado.
  The Lead State - reference to the large quantities of lead present in Colorado.
  The Buffalo Plains State - reference to the large herds of bison that once roamed the Colorado plains.
  Switzerland of America - reference to its elevation, its majestic mountains, and natural beauty.
  The Highest State - reference to Colorado as the state with the highest average elevation (and perhaps foresight into its legalization of marijuana).    -return to the story

2.  Think about it... it really is paradox.    -return to the story

3.  I'm not quite sure why, but throughout the world, almost without exception, I'm called these "terms of endearment" by grandmas, waitresses, and other womenly types.    -return to the story

Saturday, October 15, 2016


Celebrating one year with two double-scoop ice cream cones,
and a pizza.... well, two pizzas... the other one is on the way!
-Uspallata [Argentina]

One year ago, I left Heber, a small mountain town in northern Utah.  Now, 21,429 km[1] later, I find myself outside of Mendoza, Argentina in the similarly sleepy mountain town of Uspallata.  It's nearly 10 pm and I've managed to find my way into a meal from the last place open on the main street of town...  And, they sell pizza AND ice cream!  It really could be almost the same town, or any other town in the US.  And it feels entirely surreal.  It's been a long day, but one that is rewarding.  If nothing else, it has served as a day of contemplation over the last 365 days, each with it's own unique memory.

Ceviche and bikers.
-Mazatlán [México]
It's been an incredible and insane and invigorating journey to date.  And, I believe that I just may have a story for every kilometer along the way.

There has been rain and snow, thunder and gale, sun and clouds.  I have traveled through nearly every climate and ecosystem known to man[2]; through deserts and mountains, rainforests and tropics, jungles and beaches.  The scenery has been stunning and diverse.  The one great lesson has been a constant, daily awareness that our world is absolutely amazing and we are surrounded by natural beauty beyond belief.

Four nationalities cruisin' down the road.
-Villa Union [Argentina]
There have been thousands of people along the way.  There are new relationships and rekindled friendships.  I have seen celebrations and dances and ceremonies.  I have heard, and shared, experiences with people from every walk of life.  Daily interactions have become an opportunity to share.  Woodcutters, veterinarians, herders, drivers, miners, shop-owners, guachos... we all are alike and all have a story to tell.  Hundreds have gone out of their way to help me, most often as a complete stranger.  I have been nothing but humbled and incredibly grateful for the thousands of kind acts shown to me.

Andean condor over Mount Veronica.
-Ollantaytambo [Perú]
But, the greatest story, is the story of self.  The emotions, the challenges, and the contentment experienced have been much more than I could have possibly imagined.  It isn't even possible to attempt an explanation of what this trip has become for me.  An experience of of life-time is too trite of an expression... it has become my life.  A life that I am consciously living and exploring and enjoying.  My only explanation, as poor as it may be, is to say that the lows have been more difficult than I ever expected; but the highs, the highs have been sweeter than ever before.

All this might be summed up in nothing more that to live a life.  May we all go and chase dreams and explore.  In the word of Alfred Tennyson, may we all be "strong in will; to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield" and forever, "drink life to the lees"[3].

Momotombo volcano as a backdrop
-Lake Xolotlán [Nicaragua]

1.  That's 13, 315 miles for all the gringos in 'da house.    -return to the story

2.  In 1900, the Russian-German climatologist Wladimir Köppen introduced the climate classification system most widely used today.  The Köppen system recognizes five major climate types based on the annual and monthly averages of temperature and precipitation. Each type is designated by a capital letter:
    A - Moist Tropical Climates: high temperatures and large amounts of year round rain.
    B - Dry Climates: little rain and large daily temperature range. Two subgroups, S-semiarid/steppe and W-arid/desert.
    C - Humid Middle Latitude Climates: land and water masses with warm, dry summers and cool, wet winters.
    D - Continental Climates:  interior regions of land masses. Precipitation is not high and seasonal temperatures vary.
    E - Cold Climates:  areas with permanent ice and tundra; about four months of the year are above freezing.

Subgroups are designated by a second, lower case letter which distinguish specific seasonal characteristics of temperature and precipitation:
    f - Moist with adequate precipitation in all months and no dry season (usually accompanies A, C, D climates).
    m - Rainforest climate in spite of short, dry season in monsoon type cycle (only applies to A climates).
    s - Dry season in the summer of the respective hemisphere (high-sun season).
    w - Dry season in the winter of the respective hemisphere (low-sun season).

To further denote variations in climate, a third letter was added to the code.
    a - Hot summers where the warmest month is over 22°C (72°F).  Found in C and D climates.
    b - Warm summer with the warmest month below 22°C (72°F).  Found in C and D climates.
    c - Cool, short summers with less than four months over 10°C (50°F).  Found in the C and D climates.
    d - Very cold winters with the coldest month below -38°C (-36°F).  Found in the D climate only.
    h - Dry-hot with a mean annual temperature over 18°C (64°F).  Found in B climates only.
    k - Dry-cold with a mean annual temperature under 18°C (64°F),  Found in B climates only.
    -return to the story

3.  This is a line from the poem "Ulysses" by Alfred Tennyson (1809-92) from Poems, In Two Volumes (1842).  The word "lees" refers to the sediment accumulated at the bottom of a bottle of wine,  To "drink life to the lees" means to drink all from the bottle, not just the part of the wine that is found without sediment.

IT little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags
Match'd with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour'd of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro'
Gleams that untravell'd world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish'd, not to shine in use!
As tho' to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro' soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.

Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay>
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil'd, and wrought, and thought with me-
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads--you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'T is not too late to seek a newer world
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
    -return to the story

Monday, February 29, 2016

Bikin' Utah

Quaking Aspen.
-Guardsman Pass, Utah [USA]

It's 3 in the morning and I'm shaking... as much from nerves as from the cold.

There is that undeniable crispness in the air... The weather has taken a turn in the last few days and we are deep into a Utah autumn.  The mountains have put on her blankets of gold and crimson over the last few weeks as the quakies[1] and scrub oak begin to shed their leaves, creating a stunning contrast with the deep greens of Douglas fir.  Nature is preparing for the deep slumber of winter.

Two days ago I awoke to find the first frost of the season, typically the signal to clean out the remainder of the garden... squash and apples and carrots.  That cold snap causes the remaining plants to store the last bit of sugar in their fruits before the harvest is finalized.

Symbolically, I am also undeniably deep into a new chapter of life.  I have also been waiting for this day for a long time... waiting for the right time to harvest... waiting to maximize the sweetness.  That's the reason for the nerves.

And now, the day has arrived and I'm awake and ready.

I have arrived to northern Utah after living three years in China and two months of backpacking in southern Africa.  Now, I have just four weeks to prepare for a major expedition, a two-year bike tour of North and South America[2].  If I take more time, the penalty will be riding through the mountain passes of Utah, and even worse, Colorado, during winter storms.  It's too high of a price to pay for the luxury of a few extra days.  And so it is, four weeks... four weeks to put my entire life in 70 liters worth of panniers, the size of a garbage bag for the waste bin in your kitchen.

The task is terrific; terrifically grand, terrifically challenging, terrifically impossible.  There are so many possibilities and scenarios and unknowns, and I don't have any experience with bike touring... none...  It's incredible and daunting and exhilarating, and I love it.

Preparations include finding gear to traverse every type of climate; from the arid mountains of the US Rockies to the humid heat of the Central American jungles to the high-altitude cold of the Andes to the deserts of Bolivia and Chile to the wind-blasted regions of Patagonia to the ice fields of Antarctica to the immense rain forests of the Brazilian Amazon.  Everything imaginable will be encountered and gear must stand-up to the test.

I jump in, devouring the task at hand.  I find the bike that I want, not an easy task for a tall dude like me.  I order the largest frame they make, all steel. The steel adds a considerable amount of weight, but better handles the weight of gear and the abuse of life on the road.  Steel is also much easier to repair than aluminum or carbon fiber; any farmer, anywhere, can weld steel.

Simultaneously, I tackle sleeping and cooking gear.  This is easier for me... I have experience with this.  A bomber tent, warm bag, and dual-layer sleeping pad are quickly purchased.  I find a stove that can handle all types of weather conditions and fuels.  There is also the need for pots and utensils and food... lots of food!

Then I focus on clothing.  All clothing be usable for sitting on a bike for eight hours a day and then camping at night.  Also, I know that there will be a need to have some "fancy" clothes... one never knows where one will find oneself.  The entire wardrobe, shoes, jackets, shirts, rain gear, undies, has to fit in a 20 liter pannier, the size of that hand-held shopping basket at the grocery store.

Emergency plans must be developed.  Injury, kidnapping, visa problems, illness; all are considered and resolved.  Financial ramifications and access find a solution.  Interviews, web site, and back-up systems are finalized.

Space is incredibly limited.  There's no room for anything extra; everything must serve multiple purposes.  It's a constant struggle to balance weight with durability.  The bike weighs in at 20 kg, without any equipment... I'm a lean 85 kg, the gear is close to 30 kg, and then there's water and food... it's close to 135 kg (300 lbs) of man, metal, and meat moving down the road 100+ km each day.

There is no time for mental nor physical preparation, those will have to be tackled on the road... it's time to go.

The Adventure Begins
I've coincided my departure with two other events: my birthday (much less important) and a climbing trip in Zion National Park (much more important).

This is where it gets a little tricky... I would also like to leave from my surrogate sister's house in Heber.  I've spent my prep time here and it just feels like the right place to leave from.

So, I spend my birthday packing and finalizing and cramming in last minute items.  I pack past midnight, then go to layout my clothes for my morning wake-up, only two hours away.  Only now do I realize that I've packed everything but what I'm wearing, and, all my bags have been loaded at the bottom of a car that I will meet in Zion...  Damn it!!!

I'm not going to unpack everything.  I'll have to start biking at 3 am in shorts, borrowed jacket, and socks pulled up to my knees.  No time to worry about the cold; I lay down to get a couple hours of sleep.


And so it begins...
-Heber, Utah [USA]
The alarm goes off, but doesn't wake me... the anticipation has kept me from sleeping.

I jump up, make the bed, and go to the garage.

I feel like there should be something more ceremonial about starting, but there isn't.  So, I nonchalantly open the garage door and get on the bike, shivering as the chilly wind reaches me.  I roll down the driveway, pose for a quick picture, and start pedaling down the quiet residential street.

I gasp as the cold air penetrates deeper into my lungs; a result of the exercise.  I quickly make it outside the four-stoplight-town and start circling the reservoir that is at the top of the canyon.  I don't have a light (it was also packed with the rest of the fear), so it is difficult to see the road and the debris in the road.

I clear my mind to take a moment to enjoy the predawn stars and revel in the journey.  A few tears comes to my eye as I feel the weight of what is happening.  I understand that I'm jumping feet first into the deep end of the pool.  But it feels like I'm also blindfolded and wearing a straight jacket; like a Houdini act, but on a bike.

Rain, Food, Moab
-"Middle-of-Nowhere", Utah [USA]
After spending four days in Zion climbing, canyoneering, and hiking with friends, I start the true pedaling.  I get dropped in the middle-of-nowhere Utah, literally.  It's over 70 miles to the nearest human outpost.  There isn't a gas station nor toilet nor water until then.  I've also managed to start pedaling at the beginning of two straight weeks of storms.  Rain everyday, turning into snow at elevation.  This is absolutely unheard of in Utah.

I put on the raincoat, load the bike, and start.  I go for about 40 minutes when I realize that I've forgotten food...  It's been on my list, but in all the fun and excitement and craziness, I never bought anything.  I hurl a long string of cuss words into the air, several times.  How could I be so stupid?!?!?

I check my water.  Whew!  I have six liters, good enough for two days, my estimated time to travel the 70 miles.  I also remember that I have three stale birthday cookies; that will have to do until I can reach civilization.


I've been looking for a place to camp for the last hour.  But, with the rain and steep terrain, I can't find anything.  I come to quite a large hill and don't have the energy to keep pedaling.  I get off the bike and start pushing.  I'm soaking wet and cold and tired and hungry.  And I know that it's not going to get any better...

I decide to camp, no matter the terrain, at the top of this hill.  As I get half a mile from the top, a trucker pulls over.  A female trucker jumps out of the empty rig and hollers at me to put my bike on.

"I'm going all the way to Denver.  Let's go."

I had already decided to keep pushing on before she said anything.  But, as she speaks, I notice that she doesn't have a single tooth in her mouth.  It reminds me a little too much of a scene from really bad slasher movie...  I thank her, letting her know that I'd like to continue.  She gives me a bewildered look and shrugs.  She can't imagine why anyone would want to continue walking a bike, up a hill, in rainstorm, in the middle of nowhere.  Fair enough... I'm not sure why I imagine anyone would be doing that either...  good thing I didn't tell her that I didn't have any food.


I find a mediocre spot on top of the bluff to make camp.  I set-up the tent and tear off my wet clothes, climbing into my sleeping bag for warmth.  I try to slowly eat one of the cookies, to savor the few calories that I'll have today.  But, I can't; I devour it... and then another one of the two remaining cookies.  "Feast or famine."  I think to myself as I store the remaining cookie for breakfast.

Then I start hearing the thunder.  Out of habit, I count the seconds between seeing the lightning flash and the time I hear the thunder.  It's a way to calculate the proximity of the lightning.  Lightning strikes are a common cause of death in the nature and it's good to know the relative risk.  Anything under ten seconds is cause for concern; under five seconds is dangerous.

The first few counts are at twenty seconds... no cause for concern.  Over the course of the next 30 minutes, the timing gets down to 10 seconds.  It's getting close enough that I should be concerned.  At 5 seconds, I start cursing again...  It's getting close!  It's pouring rain and I don't want to move my tent and there's not anywhere to move anyhow and, moving doesn't really make me any safer...  I just sit and wait, hoping that I don't get turned into burnt toast the first day of my trip.

There are two more strikes before the final strike hits.  I feel the hair on my head stand on end then a massive boom-flash that deafens and blinds me simultaneously.  I jump and curse again.  My heart is pounding in the back of my throat and my ears are ringing.  "Damn!!!  That was way too close!!!"

The storm moves on.  I'm sure that I'll find a giant lightning crater outside of camp in the morning.

Finally, my adrenaline stops and exhaustion takes over.  "Things have got to get better,"  I tell myself before falling asleep.


I arrive to town in the late afternoon and roll into Ray's Tavern, a well-known secret amongst the outdoors crowd that wanders through central Utah.  I am ravenous!  Actually, that doesn't even begin to describe how hungry I am.

I sit down, order a burger combo with extra fries, salad, and a beer.  Before the waitress sets the plate on the table, I have inhaled half the hamburger.  She comes back one minute later, to bring me the ketchup, and the plate is empty.  Without saying a word (because my mouth is still full of food), I make a circular motion with my hand in the air, indicating that I would like to another order.... of everything.

"One more?  Of everything?" she questions, to make sure that she understood correctly.

I nod my head and smile.  Swallowing the remainder of the food.

She brings the next full order and smiles.

This full order goes down at a closer to "normal-starving-wolf" speed.

After a few minutes, I catch her attention again.  Now, I have enough food in system that I can actually speak now.

"May I have another order please?"  I ask, somewhat sheepishly.

"Another one?!?!?!"

"Ya..." I'm not sure what to say.  I feel like I should offer some type of explanation.  "I've been biking across I-70 the last two days and I didn't have any food."

"What?!?!"  She gives me a look like I'm a crazy man.... a warranted observation.

"I started biking and forgot food.  The bike is out front."

She looks at me, and then the bike, then back at me.  She walks away to place the third order.

I thank her as she brings the final order and get started on my third hamburger.


Campin' next to a Juniper.
-Moab, Utah [USA]
I wake to a break in the weather, all most long enough to actually dry out the tent.

I start pedaling, trying to maximize the opportunity.  After a few big climbs, I'm on a nice gradual downhill slope, all the way to Moab.  The pedaling is more enjoyable and the scenery is stunning.

About fifteen kilometers outside of town, the rain clouds open up, dumping buckets of rain.  I'm soaking wet in a matter of seconds.  Soon, there are flooding streams where roads and ditches and sidewalks once existed.  The water is high enough that I submerge my feet with each pedal.  I continue, hoping to get on the far side of Moab and find a place to sleep.

I continue as long as I can

I go as long as I can... which isn't far.  I'm cold and wet and incredibly exhausted.  I turn down a residential road with the last bit of energy I have.  It isn't ideal, but I just can't make it any further.  I can barely walk, let alone pedal.  It's been 100 kilometers today.

I set my tent next to a juniper and hope that none of the neighbors will get upset.

Within fifteen minutes, a truck comes down the dirt road.  I keep hoping that it will turn away, but it doesn't.  It comes right towards me.  I mentally prepare myself for a confrontation.  I'm sure that I'm trespassing and will be invited to leave... I'm too tired to even think of moving.

A man gets out of the truck, with his young daughter.  He walks up to me and holds out a bag.

"I saw you from the house and figured that you must be hungry.  You can stop by in the morning for breakfast too."

I can't thank him enough.  And devour the pasta and energy bars that he so thoughtfully gave me.

I begin to tear-up as I think how much this small act means to me.

Southern Utah scenery
-Moab, Utah [USA]

1.  Quakies is the local name for Quaking aspen.   -return to the story

2.  This journey will include approximately 40,000 km (25,000 miles) of travel.  Roughly the same distance as traveling around Earth at the Equator.   -return to the story