Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Book recommendations - Old Man's War & The Ghost Brigades.

I grew up reading science fiction, starting with Tom Swift, progressing to Edgar Rice Burroughs, and finally Robert Heinlein.

A while ago, a friend hooked me up with a book that I devoured in one sitting, between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. (on a work night, no less!).

The book was "Old Man's War," by John Scalzi, and it feels very much like a Heinlein novel. I enjoyed it more than I've enjoyed any book in quite a few years. I have since introduced five other people to it, and all have raved over it.

The ... well sequel is the easiest word, but not exactly accurate ... second book set in the same universe has just come out, "The Ghost Brigades." I bought the first copy from a local Barnes & Noble, and repeated the at-one-sitting performance; I highly recommend it as well.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Big Bend—Old Ore Road and the finale…

Day 2 – During breakfast (again, at the great cafĂ© in Study Butte, we looked at the map, saw what was left of the 4x4 roads, and planned our route for the day.

Here are the routes we took each day, Day 1 in blue, Day 2 in Green.

Dagger Flats was a plain old dirt road, well maintained for cars. The only notable part about it was that it had rained the night before, leaving the road with perfect traction. We rode to the end, then backtracked to Old Ore Road.

It started off a bit rocky, then turned into a great stretch of mild to moderately challenging terrain.

Here’s a short video clip:

At one point, we went off on a side road for a short distance, then turned around. The part where we got back on the road was nasty deep sand. Lee was already gone as I wallowed and wiggled through on the GS, then waited for Tom a hundred yards down the trail where it turned back to a “normal” surface. And waited. And waited.

I kept looking back, and couldn’t see him, until I realized that the KLR was on its side, and Tom was bent over trying to pick it up.

I parked the GS and walked back to help, but not before taking this picture:

The last time we were in Big Bend and Tom crashed (many years ago), I ran back to help without taking a picture. I swore it wouldn’t happen again.

Most of Old Ore Road did not lend itself to great pictures, until we came to the mighty sand washes that the old couple had told us about yesterday. Lee was leading me by several hundred yards. I didn’t see him enter the first sand wash, but I did see a HUGE cloud of sand in the air before I got to it. I slowed waaaaayyyy down on the GS, and surfed on through, while Lee watched, hoping to see a crash. No such luck.

A mile or two later came the second sand wash, deeper than the first. Lee had ridden through, parked on the other side, and walked back to watch. Tom and I looked at it, I said, “Looks dangerous; you go first.” I pulled my camera out as he motored into it and snapped these shots:

After we got Tom out, I cruised slowly into it, too slowly. The rear wheel started to spin, and almost immediately was buried to the hub in the flour-like sand.

Lee tried to lift the rear alone, while I eased the clutch out—no go. I hoped we could get it out with Tom’s help, but I wasn’t sure. At that very moment, a Jeep Cherokee with a half-dozen guys in it pulled up. They saw the problem and piled out to help. We had the big GS free in moments.

Events like that re-affirm my faith in the Universe as a mostly benevolent place. We had seen a total of three cars in a day and a half of riding-what are the odds that a car full of husky young men would appear at exactly the right place and exactly the right time?

We finished Old Ore Road and headed to the Hot Springs for some lunch and relaxation. There were several people already there. Unfortunately, they were all old and showing WAY too much skin.

There were a couple of guys from Boquillas across the river, selling trinkets. It’s sad to know that the town is dying due to the cutoff of tourism after 9/11. The border patrol has disallowed the old “rowboat across the Rio Grande” trip that kept Boquillas afloat.

Lee threw the two guys some candy bars from his pack.

After that, we took River Road West up to Glenn Spring road, and the last turnoff, up to Pine Canyon. At the end of the road we found the best wildlife sign I think I’ve ever seen. The stick figures with the hair sticking out is the best.

Finally, back to Terlingua to pack up, hit the Starlight theater for dinner one more time, then a 0630 departure for San Antonio.

It was about 45 degrees leaving Terlingua. I took this picture of Elephant mountain about 45 minutes out of Study Butte.

My heated grips, Gerbing liner and Aerostich kept me nice and warm … until … we hit the mountains near Alpine. We climbed up into the clouds and the temperature dropped to the mid-30’s, and the dampness penetrated my gloves. It was a miserable 30 minutes until emerging into Alpine, where the clouds were once again above us—where they belong.

We stopped at the Gage Hotel in Marathon for breakfast.

The fine linen tablecloth seemed like a dream after the previous couple of days. I don’t believe I’ve ever eaten a better breakfast.

After that, we split up, Lee and Tom taking I-10 home, and I came back on Highway 90. I stopped for a picture over the Pecos:

And that was just about that. I came home, unpacked, did laundry, and waited for the sweetest woman alive to get home from the Oscar party….

All the photos from the trip can be found here:

The route:

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Big Bend—Black Gap Road …

After the relief of getting Lee’s DRZ working again, we continued north up Black Gap road. We came to the much vaunted “killer” downhill. It’s a narrow section with high rock walls and a blind curve near the bottom.

We stopped about 30 feet from the curve and Lee walked down to take a look. He walked back saying something that sounded like, “ … no problem …” He mounted the DRZ and disappeared around the corner.

Without taking a look, I fired up the Beemer and eased downhill. There was a bit of roughness, then a gap and a sharp drop to some rocks set in concrete. I swung my weight back and hit the gas as the nose dipped, and then was through it. I thought, “Well that wasn’t much.”

A short while further on, the road climbed in a right-hand curve, and we rode straight into it. I found myself hitting rougher and rougher terrain, and having to increase speed and commit strongly to my line without having any moment to check what lay ahead. The right side of the trail seemed rougher, and there was a nasty rock and cactus-filled ravine on that side too, which may have influenced my decision to stay left.

Suddenly, the left side started getting rockier , and I had to get really hard on the throttle and go up on the banked left wall. I remember thinking, “I hope I don’t hit something that bounces me off to the right, or that’s really gonna hurt.”

The bank didn’t get rougher, and the GS and I didn’t get spit off the cliff. Here’s what it looked like.

Next, we took pavement to the Chisos Basin lodge for lunch. Nice views…

After that, a long, boring loop through the north end of the park, and Terlingua ranch road. Then, Terlingua, showers, and the Starlight Theater.

Tomorrow—Old Ore Road, or “The Sand Trap”

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Big Bend … Over – The spirits’ revenge …

The graves that Lee rode among were on River Road West, not too far from Castolon. We continued east towards Mariscal Mine.

The dirt roads so far, (Old Maverick road and River Road West), had been very easy. The big GS was a cinch to handle and the KLR and DRZ didn’t even notice the bumps.

The three of us took turns leading, so no one had to eat ALL of the dust. I was leading on the GS when the road suddenly turned to a twisty mixture of deep sand and occasional gravel. My old motocross instincts kicked in and I slid to the back of the seat and nailed the throttle. For the next three or four minutes, we blasted down the winding creek bed, throttle wide open, living on the edge (well, I was on the edge on the GSADV—the KLR and DRZ were in their element).

Once the road turned back to “normal” 4x4 road, we pulled over to take in the views. I thought back on what we had been doing, and realized that riding at 9/10ths on a very expensive 600 pound bike was probably a mistake for several reasons. The nearest hospital was 70 miles away, and the GS was my only transportation to and from the park. I resolved to take it easier on both my bike and my body … a resolution I was to break later.

We remounted, and took the turnoff to Mariscal Mine. An older couple stood there looking around. When they found we had come from the west, they asked about road conditions. We told them, “pretty easy.” They said that to the west there were two sand washes that were “very deep and difficult to traverse.” I remember thinking, “for a car, maybe.”

The old couple drove off. Lee took one look at the foot trail to the mine, then zoomed up it on the DRZ.

He returned after deciding NOT to make a souvenir of a mercury-contaminated brick. We backtracked to Black Gap road, purportedly the most difficult road in the park…

The first ten minutes on the road were non-eventful, then Lee coasted to a stop. I pulled up behind him and looked down. The spirits that Lee offended by riding near their graves had decided to yank his chain—literally.

I asked him, “Do you have a spare master link?” and the expression on his face said it all. We did not have a tow strap either. I heard Lee muttering “#@&! evil spirits” under his breath.

We planned for Tom and I to ride 45 minutes back to Terlingua to get the truck, then drive it out to where the bike was (probably an hour and a half) and pick it and Lee up. Lee began going through is pack to ensure he had food and water, since there was no shade in sight.

Just as Tom and I started to pull away, we heard a shout. Lee was holding up a little plastic package in his hand. It was a spare link for his old ZX10 that he had bought about 9 years ago in response to a broken chain. We checked the size and it was the same as the DRZ! Lee looked at us and said, “God must have put that there.”

After a twenty minute three stooges-esque master link install, we were ready to go again.

I figured that God (at least Lee's God) trumps any local Big Bend spirits.

Next: Black Gap Road

To Be Continued …

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Big Bend Over ... Continued

After dinner at the Chisos Basin Lodge, I continued on to Terlingua, where Lee had booked the rooms for our little adventure...

They arrived around 930 pm, and we sat out in front of our rooms, doing manly things, like smoking cigars, and drinking wine ... drinking wine? Definately a Brokeback scene ...

Day 1:

We were up at the crack of dawn, had a great breakfast at the Study Butte cafe (inside the gas station), then headed off to find some dirt.

Lee and Tom in front of the Santa Elena Canyon ...

And then Lee did something he later regretted ...

He found what looked like some graves near the road, and rode among them to see if they were real. He shouldn't have done that ...

To be continued...

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Big Bend ... over

With the excitement of Brokeback Mountain's Oscar buzz, Lee, Tom and I decided to spend a few manly days riding out in the remote Big Bend area, and see what popped up...

The llamas were very interested in my preparations. Pepper seems to be asking, "Can I come allonga?"

This little guy was busy rooting for lunch along the roadside near Rocksprings ...

The sky looked a little strange approaching Amistad Recreation area ...

After a refreshing 7 hour ride, the Park appears...

The Chisos Mountains (and more importantly, Dinner) loom on the horizon...

To be continued...

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The trails!

Here are the paths we took in our Big Bend exploration--The blue line is day 1, the green day 2....