The Summit Trail runs along the Sawtooth Ridge on the north shore of Lake Chelan for thirty miles at an average elevation of 6000 ft.  I hiked it over the weekend for at least the fifth time.  I first hiked it in 1974 when I was newly arrived in Chelan and fell in love with it.  July is the peak season for wildflowers up there.  Strangely, I met only a Forest Service trail crew along its entire length.  It was snow-free so snow wasn’t the problem.  I guess fewer people are backpacking these days.

Access has always been a problem for the Summit Trail – especially this year when the best access, the Black Canyon Road, was badly damaged in a flash flood.  Even when that road is in service, getting to the trail is a logistical headache.  I chose to ride the passenger boat Lady of the Lake II to the mouth of Prince Creek and hike up that trail to the Summit Trail.  The Prince Creek Trail is poorly maintained and the day was hot.  If the prize awaiting me had not been so alluring I think the heat and the bugs would have outweighed my enthusiasm and I would have turned around and gone home.  I was dead tired when I finished the 6000-ft climb at 8 PM.  It was all I could do to set up my tent, un-roll my sleeping bag and conk out.  I was even too tired to eat!

A long romp through meadow after meadow of wildflowers the next day made it all worthwhile.  Check out these photos:


The weather cooled considerably the second night and a howling wind at tiny Juanita Lake nearly toppled my tent.  My hands went numb from the cold when I packed my gear in the morning.  The National Park Service, which is responsible for the trail from Juanita Lake to Stehekin, is also woefully remiss.  That trail was overgrown in many places.

Even so, it will take more than overgrown trails and washed out roads to keep me from The Summit Trail.


A funny thing happened in America during my lifetime – Americans have come to abhor physical labor. I first became aware of this twenty year years ago during the years I built stone walls. Lifting stones all day and fitting them into walls definitely qualified as physical labor. To be completely honest, I wasn’t crazy about the dirty, sweaty part of the job but the freedom to be my own boss and the more-than-adequate remuneration the work brought me made it something of a dream job for me. One thing I learned during those years was that a lot of people can’t imagine doing hard physical labor. Many was the time when a client would say something like “How can you do this work!” You would think I was laying my life on the line from the tone of their voices.
Driving home after a day’s work I would make a mental note of who was doing what and sure enough, very few Americans today do anything to raise a sweat on their brow. Who’s doing the hard work around Wenatchee, WA? – Mexicans.
I’m retired now from the rock business – living off the fat I stored up during my Rockman years. But I was kinda bored a few weeks ago and after reading that one of my neighbors was looking for someone to do some brush cleraring on his land I offered my services. He accepted my bid. It was a good day’s work and my back ached at day’s end but I made more money in a day than I could make working all week at Walmart (about the only option open to a 67-year-old dude without career credentials.) I put out the word through our community email chain that I was “a gun for hire” and I got five takers. Every job I bid, I got. Hard work, good money.
Frankly, I don’t get it. I would much rather be outside pulling brush and mowing weeds than stuck in an office. Am I some kind of oddity? Why do most people find physical labor so repugnant?
The fact is, they do. Good for Mexicans. Good for guys like me


READY TO ROLL

In about two months we should be on our way to Amsterdam to begin our ride to Rome.  That being the case, it’s about time we start getting in shape.  We have already taken two training rides on our Bike Fridays and hope to do another tomorrow.  Rudy will not be accompanying us to Europe but he insists on being part of the training rides.  If nothing else, he (plus his trailer) provides useful ballast that approximates the weight of the panniers I will be carrying on the actual ride.  I towed him in his plastic bin yesterday but he was mad with thirst when we returned home and lapped his water dish dry in no time so I rigged up a Connestoga cover to shelter him from the sun (see photo).  I also greatly shortened his tether.  That’s because he saw a doe and her fawns yesterday and leapt from his bin as we were riding along.  Luckily we were not traveling but about ten mph so he only skinned his shin.  Had we been moving at high speed he probably would have been dragged by the neck along the pavement for some distance before I realized what had happened and was able to stop.

Our Dutch friends, the Maiwalds (whom we met on our Great Divide ride), procured us some nifty maps of the Amsterdam-Rome route which they mailed to us.  The maps are very detailed and follow bicycle paths and rural roads so they will be essential.  I’m going to have to brush up on my Dutch, however, because the narrative is written in that language.  In any case, the maps, being maps, should be mostly self-explanatory:


Perusing the map, I see “halfopen tunnel” which sounds suspiciously English if a bit treacherous – does that mean one lane is open or does the tunnel go half way through the mountain and then stop?  “Hoofdweg op” on the other hand, is a genuine head scratcher.  Oh well, there is always Google translator.

In addition to whipping our bodies into shape, we need to take a shakedown ride with all our gear and see how that works out.  I’m thinking the Cascade Loop, which crosses the mountain range twice, would be an appropriate venue.  That should be good preparation for the Swiss Alps.  

Next to the actual ride, I would have to say the challenge of training and sense of anticipation leading up to the ride are favorite activities.  Images of the bucolic Dutch countryside, French vinyards, German castles, Swiss Alps, and Italian lakes entice me as I pedal merrily along through North Central Washington.  


You can still buy a magazine called Mother Earth News but it’s not the Mother Earth News I remember from the 1970s.  Back then it was full of do-it-yourself, back-to-the-land articles like how to convert an old truck into a water pump or how to tan hides using goat urine.  Schematics of neatly sectioned homesteads like the one above were a regular feature.  Those drawings really struck a chord with me.  Something about those neat rows of corn, compost bins, and tidy greehouses attracted me like heaven on earth. Now that I think about it, they probably were a major contributing factor to the particular path I followed through life.

Not that I followed the path singlemindedly.  There were numerous distractions along the way.  But the idea of developing a piece of land and harvesting the fruits of that labor have always  powerfully attracted me.

And so it was that Mary and I started talking about a garden last winter.  I’ve had a lot of gardens over the years but not recently.  The problem in Union Valley is critters.  This place is crawling with rabbits, moles, voles, turkeys, squirrels, bears, and deer.  Especially deer.  Deer have nibbled our roses and fruit trees into oblivion year after year.  The last garden at our house, my son’s, was denuded in a single night by deer just as he was about to harvest.

Mary and I schemed on how to outsmart the critters with chain-link fences, raised beds and electrified deterrents.  It all started to sound like something we might need to mortgage the house for so I went back to square one.  What I came up with  is the modest layout in the following photo:


By using scrap lumber, cinder blocks, and home-made hinges we’ve kept the cost at $100.  The frames are covered with plastic deer netting.  The bed is protected from moles with a steel mesh bottom.  The frames are hinged so that the garden can be tended from either side.  Last summer we installed gutters on all the roofs that feed barrels from which the rain water is pumped to larger storage tanks.  We hope to water the garden exclusively with rain water.


Home-made hinge.  The pins (bolts) can be easily removed from all the hinges on one side of the bed so that the garden can be accessed from either side.

Home-made hinges, scrap lumber – the old Mother Earth News would be proud of me.


AT THE SUMMIT OF UNION VALLEY ROAD

Lord knows I don’t mind exercise but riding a bicycle up the Union Valley Road falls under masochism, not exercise.  Our house is a mere 6 miles from town but distance is not the problem – it’s the elevation change.  The road climbs 2,300 feet in that distance.  Back in 1980 when I was building my cabin in Union Valley and a mere thirty years old I rode my Schwin 10 speed to town – once.  It was such an ordeal to pedal back up the hill that I did not attempt it again for another thirty years.  

Bikes have improved since 1980 and I’ve made the ride several times in each of the last five years but I don’t do much else on those days – I’m tapped out.  So why do I do it?  Part of the answer is that sometimes I feel rambunctious and nothing quells my “rambunctuosity” like that tortuous (and torturous) ride.  But the other part of the answer is that it bothers me to use a 2,500-lb vehicle to transport my 170-lb body up that hill.  If I just need to pick up the mail or buy a couple of bolts at the hardware store it seems like such a waste to use a gargantuan machine to do it.  I’ve always thought there has to be a better way.

Well now there is.  It’s called the e-bike.  Thanks to the lithium battery revolution it is now possible to get way more bang for your buck (actually amp-hours per pound) than was heretofore possible.  Throw a small electric motor into the mix and strap them to a bicycle and call it an “e-bike.” They’ve been around for a few years but they started at around $3000 and for that price you can get a conventional motorcycle that has a lot more range and power.  They didn’t seem like a good deal. But an Internet pop-up ad appeared on my computer recently offering me an e-bike for $545.  On a whim, I ordered it.

The burning question was: “Would it power me up the Union Valley Road?”  My bike, the Cyclamatic Power Plus from Walmart.com has a 250-watt motor and an 8 amp-hour battery which is on the low end for e-bikes.  I had my doubts.  Unlike some e-bikes, mine expects the rider to contribute to propulsion.  If I stop pedaling, the motor stops running.  But that’s fine with me.  I enjoy the exercise.  It’s just that there is a limit to how much exercise I want and Union Valley Road crosses that line.

Well, the good news is: the Cyclamatic Power Plus gets me to the top of the hill with power to spare!  (There is no bad news)  When that motor kicks in it feels like Lance Armstrong is pedaling behind me.  Equally important is the fact that it gets me up that hill for 1.62 cents of electricity (I calculated it).   I figure I’m saving about $5 per trip to town over using my car.  Since I’ve already made five trips to town, that means that I only need to make 104 more trips to recover my $545 investment!


Got home at ten o’clock this morning.  Lake Mead, NV to Chelan, WA in two days.  We came through Ely, NV rather than Salt Lake City.  I think we shaved a few hundred miles off the old route.  We also threaded the needle again since it started snowing in Ely the day after we passed through.  We left Lake Mead a day earlier than planned because Mary noticed that we would have 40 MPH tailwinds.  That was too good to pass up.  I barely had to touch the gas pedal to keep our rig at 70 MPH!

A few relatable incidents:

When we got to Jerome, Idaho, (famous far and wide for the ubiquitous smell of cow manure that fills the air, known locally as “Jeroma”) Mary noticed that our trailer had lost its licence plate.  What can you do in such a situation? We just kept driving.  Or should I say slinking?  Every time we saw a policeman on the way home, we tensed up.  We had the rest of Idaho, Oregon and Washington to pass through.  Three potential tickets.  We made it though.  No one noticed.

I got an email saying that a bicycle I had ordered while we were at Lake Mead would be arriving at our Chelan house two days after we did.  The interesting thing is that the package had originated in Henderson, NV – about ten miles from our camp at Lake Mead.  I wouldn’t be surprised if one of those Fed Ex trucks we passed on the way home had my package in it!

When we got home, our house was as clean as we left it.  In past years we have had everything from a broken pipe to dead mice to tons of dead bugs.  This was the payoff for all the sealing we have done over the years.  The only intruder we detected was one mouse nest in the back of a kitchin cupboard.  He had managed to find one bag of icing that was not in a Tupperware container and he had lived through the winter on a diet of pure sugar.

Everything inside the refrigerator looked good except for the quart container of yogurt that had somehow been overlooked.  After three months in the refrigerator it was hard to imagine that it was anything other than spoiled so Mary gingerly removed it and was on her way to the garbage with it when she stopped and said “What could have happened to yogurt to make it so heavy?”  I hefted it and it was unusually heavy for a quart of yogurt.  It’s weight only made us imagine that the yogurt had undergone some disgusting transformation over the intervening three months and that inside that container lurked something akin to a rotting corpse.  I suggested that I carefully set it in the bottom of the garbage can outside our back door, as if it were an unexploded bomb that could go off if jarred enroute.

But curiosity got the better of me.  What could make yogurt get heavier?  I slowly pried the lid off.  Inside, we saw, not yogurt, but some white cylinders  ??????  What???  And then I remembered!  We had placed $1000 of silver coins in the container before we left.  The plan was that even if a thief broke into our house he would never guess that a yogurt container in the refrigerator had silver in it.  How clever, we are!   (We had thought.). Almost too clever by half.


SIREN SONG OF THE DESERT

Just about anywhere you camp in the desert you can hear the coyotes at night.  Their yip, yip, yipping, sometimes far away, sometimes just outside the RV door, is as much a part of the desert night as the starry sky and saguaros in the moonlight.  Naive little Rudy thinks they are calling to him “Come out and play with us.  We’re your friends……arooooh!”  Rudy doesn’t speak coyote, you see.  He only speaks dog and he thinks all dogs want to play with him.  He’s still a puppy and he wants to play with any and every dog so he doesn’t know any better.  He hasn’t yet learned that it is a cold, cruel world out there.  He doesn’t know that the coyotes would tear him into pieces.

What the coyotes really mean behind their siren song is “Give us the little black dog and we’ll leave you alone.”  The coyotes are trying to strike a bargain but I’m not buying.  They don’t intimidate me.  A man with a stout club is more than a match for a pack of coyotes.  I might even use the jaw bone of an ass, Sampson style, to subdue them.  I say “Bring it on, coyotes!”

Speaking of Sampson, I wonder what would have become of him if he had lived into old age.  They say his strength lay in his long hair.  Well what if Sampson had lived to be 67 like me and gone bald (like me)?  Would his strength have decreased as each hair follicle shrivelled up and blew away?  Would he have become weaker and weaker until he was just a feeble old man (unlike me)?  Would some Phillistine punk have jumped him in an alley and kicked the _ _ _ _ out of him?  Would the lead story in the Jericho Times the next day have been “SAMPSON ROLLED IN ALLEY BEHIND AARON’S BAR”?  Alas, we’ll never know since that Delilah bitch sold him down the river.  Poor Sampson.


SAMPSON AT 67


RUDY AND THE FRAU NEAR LAKE MEAD

The Frau (German, eh!) and I walked down to the lake (Mead) the other day.  Even though our campground is situated on the nominal shore of the lake, it’s a quarter mile to the water.  That’s because the lake level is about 300 feet below maximum capacity due to a prolonged drought.  If you look carefully at the above photo, you’ll see a bathtub ring of white above the lake.  That’s where the water should be.

Anyway, there was a family walking ahead of us.  Mary, or rather The Frau (gotta use my German), said she heard German speech.  We caught up to them and she was right.  They were a young couple from Kiel, Germany with two little kids. So what does The Frau do?  She informs them right away that “My husband has been studying German at the University of Arizona!”  Talk about putting me on the spot!

I was hoping to exchange a few words with them in their native tongue but after that introduction, I felt like anything less than total fluency would paint me as a fool and a charlatan.  Linking me to the university put the bar pretty high and my German is a little more down to earth.  Without that high falootin introduction I could have just been some American guy who knew a little German.  But no, The Frau had to set me up to fail.  I stuck to English rather than make a fool of myself.

The weather is sunny and warm.  We’ve ridden the 34-mile River Mountain Trail twice.  We have just returned from our second ride and we’re recovering in the shade.

The desert here has jackrabbits as big as Rudy and they could probably take him if he ever caught up to one.  He doesn’t know that though and he takes off after them like a bullet.  He’s probably going 20 MPH by the time he gets to the end of his leash which gives my arm one hell of a jolt:


We arrived at Lake Mead (near Las Vegas) this morning after leaving Tucson yesterday.  Several events to report:

 Just outside of Wikieup along Highway 93 our windshield was pelted by a sudden downpour (or so we thought).  Strangely, the sky was cloudless.  Even stranger, this downpour only lasted a mere second although it left our windshield covered with residue.  Mary and I traded looks of bewilderment.  On closer inspection, I noticed that the “raindrop” residue had a distinct yellowish cast.  “Bug guts!” I declared in triumph.  Further inspection when we stopped for gas showed the bug remnants to contain bits and pieces of bees.  We had hit a swarm of bees at 60 MPH and the bees, predictably, had not fared  well.  Lucky for us, we had a windshield in front of us.  A band of motorcyclists that had just passed were not so lucky.  We passed them a few miles down the road, pulled off to the side, removing their clothing and picking bees out of the folds.

At the aforementioned gas station, we pulled in behind a car to be next in line to use the only accessible diesel pump (which was the next one in front of the car).  Before that car moved, a motorcycle drove up to the pump we wanted to use and started pumping gas.  Meanwhile, the car leaves and I’m all set to pull forward as soon as the motorcylce leaves.  About this time, Mary decides to wash the bug guts off the windshield and she’s hanging on to the cab with the door open (because the truck windshield is too high for her to reach from the ground.  The motorcycle leaves but I can’t pull forward because our open door would have hit another motorcycle or squeezed closed on Mary.  Before I can notify Mary to get down, a car full of women pulls up to “our” pump.  The driver gets out, but instead of pumping gas, she heads into the MiniMart, to pee (or worse).  Five minutes go by; ten minutes.  About this time I’m thinking about barging into the Ladies Room and pulling this lady out by the shirt collar with her pants around her ankles but she saves me the trouble when she finally emerges.  She leisurely pumps some gas.  But now the gas station attendant has decided to clean the garbage cans and has pulled one out to block the way.  I don’t even have to tell Mary what to do.  She runs up to our pumps and begins to stand guard.  Woe be to anyone who had dared drive up to our pump!

We finally get our diesel, drive away and a mile down the road we see a large yellow sign next to a palm tree with thick black letters that reads “INDIAN JEW”. “Indian Jew?” I wonder.  “That’s a first”.  But as we drive past, I see that the palm tree has obscured the rest of the sign.  No, we have not come across a unique cultural hybrid.  The little adobe building next to the sign is actually selling INDIAN JEWELRY!

Another fifty miles past Wikieup, we stopped in Kingman and had a nice chat with my nephew Ranier and his mother Mavis.  Kingman is the spittin’ image of Victorville, CA forty years ago.  Same Joshua Trees, same elevation, same jackrabbits.  All in all, a nice little town.

The last time I remember going through Kingman was 1960.  That was before Interstate 40.  Route 66 went through downtown then.  I was ten years old.  I must not have been paying attention as we came into town because as we drove along the main street I noticed Kingman Grocery, Kingman Hardware, Kingman Pharmacy, etc.  I said something like “Boy, those Kingmans sure own a lot of this town.”  Older brother Lars set me straight:  “Kingman is the name of the town, Idiot!” 


LIEF & HIS TUTOR

When looking for a project this winter, we considered prospecting for gold, volunteering to labor on the Pacific Crest Trail, and rehabilitating a house in Ajo, Arizona.  After due consideration, none of those projects was panning out so I investigated Plan D – studying German in preparation for our bicycle trip in Europe this summer.  Plan D was looking like another dead end when I chanced upon a University of Arizona website that listed something about language tutoring.  I was rather discouraged at that point but on the off chance that something might come of it, I inquired about a possible German tutor.  I was immediately put in touch with a student named Christina whom I then contacted and it has worked out very well indeed.

The arrangement between tutor and tutee is whatever the two agree to.  In our case, it is $20/hour.  For that, I received the undivided attention of Christina  with no unwanted emphasis on grammer or other linguistic trivia that is of no interest to me.  No waiting while each classmate in-turn regurgitates the same answer to the same question.  Pure conversation is what I got; lots of practice deciphering everyday speech and cobbling together phrases determined by the situation.  After six weeks of conversation, I am convinced that an hour of conversation is worth a week of classroom instruction.  Christina is a German exchange student at UofA studying architecture so I got the real deal, not Americanized German. (It didn’t hurt that she is a beautiful young woman either).

Winter is over so we’re pulling up stakes and heading home.  After six weeks of conversation practice my German is much improved.  Now, if only I can find a German tutor near Chelan to keep up my progress.