A drawing a day and zen on the unicycle

Posted by on September 27th, 2022  •  0 Comments  •  Full Article

I haven’t written in 16 days. We did so many things I barely know where to start. The first thing was Sue and I backpacked two nights at LaPush to Rialto Beach. It’s a 3 mile round trip and people were towing wagons with full size beer coolers up the deep gravel of low tide. I painted two moderately good plein air landscapes, though both frustrated me and I was wishing I had oils. Water colors and pen are so difficult when the light is bad or there is too much movement.

Next we went to Uncle Ed’s funeral. He lived a grand life and died at 95 with his 4 kids and wife by his side. He knew it was coming and they told me he was joking right up until the end.

We saw him in the spring and could see the natural slowing down that happens at that age. Ed was a huge presence in my life, and our kids too. I guess that’s what an uncle should be. We were lucky to have him just a few hours away. Even as we had grown kids of our own we continued to visit Ed and Mary Ellen. Their new earth home was right next to one of our favorite climbing areas, so we naturally stayed at their house from time to time. After my parents passed, Ed and M.E. were as close as I could come to still having parents. Staying at their house was almost like being home. They had great grandma’s old dining room table, featured in over a hundred years of our family history. My mom was also named Mary, so my dads sister Mary, who Ed married, was early on called Mary Ellen (ME) to cut down on confusion.

Back when I was a kid, we lived 15 minutes from grandma. All her kids and grandkids (me and the cousins) would gather every holiday…which at least meant Thanksgiving and Christmas, if not more.

Dad had a ping pong table in the basement as long as I can remember. I’d play with my friends, and I’m sure we played a bit in the family too. But dad and mom were never really that into the game. I know my cousins played a bit, definitely remember a few of those games. But the real player in the family was Uncle Ed. He must have been about 50 when I first became aware of his talent. I had been slowly growing into my game through my awkward teenage years. Meanwhile, he played at work with the guys on the Prosser cattle station where he worked as sort of a scientist slash cowboy. They tested different feed on cows and put plastic windows in their stomachs to research how food got digested.

I was gradually growing up and becoming a talented player while he was hitting the downward slide of his 50’s. Ed was very, very good…but I was young, fast and learning quickly. * Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance. * – David Mamet. The family used to watch me and Ed play. We’d have 20 people down in the unheated basement cheering us on. They were epic times.

But then I decided to drop out of high school with only 2 credits needed to graduate. I wanted to march in the streets protesting the Vietnam War. I felt it was my duty to ‘go back to the land’ and live naturally…to stop consuming…basically stop pursuing the American Dream. I cut down 20 slender fir trees for tipi poles, sewed the tipi and began living the dream. I had a part time job as a printer, but spent most of my time embedded in the hippie culture of 1970 Olympia. When the tipi got too cold I’d hitchhike to California and live on the beach off the kindness of strangers. Dad had wisely kicked me out…can’t blame him looking back…I would have done the same. I spent 3 years off the rails before I came to my senses and went back to college.

There was a period there where I was estranged from the family, for obvious reasons, living in my lonely tipi. But dad felt bad. He knew I was a good kid, just a bit lost. He called me up to invite me to Thanksgiving Dinner. I thought about staying pure sitting around my campfire in my lonely tipi, eating my lentils. But then he said that Uncle Ed would be there….and wouldn’t I like to play some ping pong?

Ed, through the magic of ping pong was able to reach out and make me feel included. I’m not saying it was a turning point, I really had to hit bottom before that happened. But it was a huge step in the right direction…and boy, did we play some wicked ping pong!

Since we moved to town Sue and I play ping pong twice a week at the community center. We usually have 3 tables playing doubles for a couple hours. It’s one of the highlights of living in town. It’s social, it requires a lot of skill, and there is a ton of raucous laughter. Trash talking is expected. I really miss it when I go on trips.

My other town sport is unicycle which I do almost every day. I’ve been pedaling my unicycle in the local baseball stadium parking lot. But the last two times I went there they were either having a game, or paving the parking lot. I like it there because, unlike the tennis courts and those annoying tennis players, the stadium lot is almost always deserted, other than a few skateboarders riding the public ramps. I’m just another weirdo wearing wrist guards.

Plus the lot is big at about 3 city blocks across, and there are posts and walls for me to lean on as I start. I need that help because I can’t get on the uni without a wall. So, to make a long story short…I’ve been having wind problems. Meaning, I run out of breath and have to stop to rest after crossing the parking lot. I’m not just winded…I’m literally heaving for breath, like a horse that just ran a race. It’s awful. My heart rate never gets above 145, but that rate feels unsustainable and I have to stop and rest until it calms down.

I can go back and forth across the lot just fine…usually. But with all the stops it takes 45 minutes to go a mile. Sometimes I push it up to one and a quarter. The wind problem has been very frustrating. I was plateaued for months. Oddly, my climber friends and Sue noticed that I was hiking uphill faster, so my wind is improving…just not noticeable to me on the uni.

But, today. Today there was another darn baseball game…the nerve of those guys! Don’t they know I need that lot empty?!? So I drove to the tennis courts where I first learned to ride. It was a Sunday morning, in late September and no annoying tennis players were in evidence. Sweet!

I suited up with my knee, elbow and wrist pads and launched off the fence inside the 3 court enclosure. I nailed the launch and was quickly heading for the first narrow opening between the end of the far net and the outside fence. I sailed through the gap with only a slight wobble and accelerated out into the open court headed West.

As I ride I often try to focus on what I can do better in the moment. Like:

  • put more weight on the seat, and less on the pedals;
  • lighten the pressure on the pedal coming up in the back
  • lean forward just enough to keep the wheel turning…it wants to turn, give it permission
  • keep my back straight in that slight lean
  • focus my eyes forward, not too far, not too close
  • breath evenly and deeply
  • keep my arms low, they don’t need to be flailing around
  • look where I want to turn, don’t force the turn, let it flow

And to my great surprise, I was able to do all those things at once! I finished a loop from West to East and back to West. I was closely monitoring my wind and remaining power. All systems were in the green and I decided to go for another lap…something I’ve only done once before. I finished that lap, checked my wind and thought, hell, let’s set a record, a personal best. I kept going…and going…and going. I did so many laps I lost count. I was in the zone and the damn, hateful, horrible excuse for a bicycle felt (almost) like a normal “I can ride this forever” kind of two wheeled bicycle. Except it was a unicycle.

Damn. I felt like I could have gotten on a real bike trail and put in some distance. Which has been something I’ve been wishing for ever since I got my first Good Will unicycle 6 months ago.

One wheeled bicycle:

First time on a bike path, two miles in 50 minutes, including rests

Rather than start a new post, I’m going to tack onto this one. And by the way, I rode my uni 2.25 miles yesterday, and 3.3 miles today. I’m really liking the views down on the waterfront. It’s better than either the stadium or the tennis court. My wind has kind of broken through a ‘glass ceiling’ of sorts.

I spend far too much time on a climbing website called mountain project. It’s more entertaining than netflix when I don’t feel like drawing the evening away. And real conversations happen there…along with the usual angry rants from keyboard warriors.

I replied to a rant about dogs off leash at the climbing crags. It’s a problem that is not easily solved. Anyway, I wanted to preserve my words in case mountain project goes down. Here is my reply:


I’m late to the party. 15 pages about dogs, and people will still bring their unleashed dogs to the crags. It’s a thing.

Sue and I didn’t feel the need for a dog during the nine years we climbed together before our first kid. We were happy with each other, no fur needed.

We used to see all these hard core climbing women in their late twenties, mid thirties who had chosen not to have kids. But they often had a dog, and would treat it like a human baby. I’m no shrink, but it made me wonder.

When my son was six months old, we went to a huge palette fire in Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree, New Years eve. All of those women (and men) were there with their dogs. They were super strong climbers, crazy devoted to their fur babies. When they saw we had brought a real *human* baby to the bonfire, they all wanted to hold him. Sue walked around with Clint, letting all the women coo over him.

I stood there watching the scene. When they were holding Clint, they completely and totally forgot about their dog. What, I have a dog? They seemed, in the moment, like they’d make great human parents, but they had chosen the climbing life and a dog. The longing on their faces as they held my son is still a vivid memory 37 years later.

Oddly enough, both of my kids got dogs in their twenties, and then had their human babies. Nobody listens to old dad


Photos of Sue and I with Clint that year are here

Plein Air backpacking Mt Baker

Posted by on September 6th, 2022  •  0 Comments  •  Full Article

For our 43rd wedding anniversary Sue and I spent 5 days up at Mt Baker. We left Tuesday around 10 AM and drove up to Artist Point, arriving at 2 PM. We loaded our backpacks and hiked the 4 miles out to Ptarmigan Ridge. There had been a lightning strike the previous day and a huge mushroom cloud was looming on the ridge beyond Shuksan. Though we were walking away from it some smoke was wafting our way. Over the last 6 years fall seems to have become fire season. At least it looked like Artist Point and our hike would’t burn…so we soldiered on. After our epic last summer I now carry an inReach Explorer. In a worst case scenario we can always reach out to communicate.

The trail has a series of long side slope ridge traverses that are like false summits. We’d pop out of a patch of trees and see another long open slope with the trail cutting across it, sometimes for a mile or more. It was not steep, but that trail went on and on. The footing was often rocky and sometimes exposed. It was not a place for daydreaming.

We first learned about false summits while climbing Mt. Adams in the seventies. Hiking is about patience and suffering. Probably less of the suffering when you are young. But at our age, there is definitely some suffering as the old worn out joints plod along the dusty miles carrying 40 pound packs.

We’ve put a lot of thought into carrying lite loads. But combining plein air with backpacking makes for undeniably heavy loads. We could probly shave some weight here and there. Sue won’t share a quilt, insists on her own bag. I bivy in our tarp tent in down pants and a down vest, supplemented with a foil space blanket. It works, but it’s not ideal. I should have brought my expedition down coat, but it’s heavier. It’s scary to be 4 miles from the car and almost shivering in the middle of the night. We used to call it a *suffer bivy* back in my mountaineering days. A shoe for a pillow and all that. I could add a ultra light weight bag, and skip the down pants and puffy vest, since it was hot during the day. But my thinking is that the down pants will allow me to plein air paint in colder weather.

I also refuse to give up my easel. It’s an ultra light carbon fiber camera tripod that allows me to stand up and paint…but it does weigh 4 pounds including the shelf. I could sit on a rock and paint on my lap, but I hate that experience of holding the painting up while I paint. It’s so awkward. I like being able to walk away from the painting and see it from a distance. Van Gogh made it work and so can I.

The stars were so bright that it never got truly dark. I was able to look out from the bottom of the windy tarp tent through the mosquito netting and survey the ridge we were camped on…as I shivered. Hmm, no cougars or bears trying to eat us yet. Yeah, it has been a while since we backpacked…maybe a year or two? It was a little warmer the second night. Sue slept on the windy side since she had a real sleeping bag. It might be cool to get a BD Firstlight, or one of the new Dyneema tents since they are under 2 pounds and totally sealed from wind. But it seems silly to spend those kind of dollars when we backpack so little.

Smoke wasn’t bad Wednesday morning. We woke up to a fantastic sunrise with amazing light on both Shuksan and Baker. Alpenglow at 6200 feet is very special light. You have to earn it in our state because there are no highways that high. We found we had forgot our coffee. I had some shot blocks but it’s not the same experience as sitting with a warm cup and watching the sun rise.

The alpenglow faded quickly and the mountain settled down to a pretty morning light. I set up my easel and painted while Sue wandered around texting photos to the kids. It was odd to have service that high in the mountains. We assumed it was from the Mt Baker ski area. There was a massive cell tower installation just 4 miles away where we’d left the truck.

The painting was ok, but I was frustrated by a couple things. Grey clouds were on one side, but when I started painting them they promptly morphed into something else and I was left painting from memory. The lit up top edges of the crevasses were brighter than the glacier surface…which was a sort of light peach. Once I’d painted the peach, I had no easy way to add in the white crevasse hi light. I didn’t think of using a white pen.

Later in the day I tried to paint the afternoon light but it was all washed out from haze and being on the North side. It’s the reason I can’t paint Rainier at Sunrise: North light on glaciated volcanoes is very low contrast. That painting bombed. We slept a second night there to rest our old bones and hiked 4 dusty miles back to Artist Point in the morning.

Sue took a nap in the truck while I hiked up to be the designated Artist at Artist Point. Last time I was there a tourist asked me if I was on the payroll of the Mt Baker National Forest. I had a couple people make drive by jokes: “Hey, whatcha painting?” & “You know it’s cheating to use Paint by Numbers!”…to which I replied: “I know, but it’s the only thing I could find at the drug store.” That painting was ok also, though I wished I’d been brave enough to paint the trees under the mountain. I may still do that as I took photos with my little pocket Canon.

When I walked back at 7, Sue still hadn’t moved from the truck.That girl knows how to relax. How come I can’t be like normal people? Do a nice hike, take a few photos and call it good. What drives me to work so hard at being an artist? It’s not like we need the money. Well, I guess extra money is always nice. But unless we want to travel to Europe or something, we’ve got enough to get by.

In the evening, Thursday, we drove downhill away from all the No Camping signs and turned off on the first dirt road. It was completely deserted, zero traffic or people and found a nice wide pull out to park the Tundra for the night. Sue ran into and shared beta with some people the next day who asked if we had found any crash spots. When we went back the next night, Friday, they were in “our” spot. Funny how that works. But we drove down the main road further to Silver Firs campground which has an overflow lot and joined the tribe there.

It’s always nice when you are looking for boondocking spots to see other trucks, vans and trailers. We are all just trying to enjoy the great outdoors. And campgrounds are always, always booked up with the new online reservation systems. We spur of the moment campers have no option but to boondock. One oddity was a single guy with a little Ford Ranger pickup. He had a huge Walmart tent, an equally huge gazebo, 5 bundles of wood and a full size picnic table for cooking. He lit a monstrous bonfire under the gazebo, despite the 80 degree temperatures. We were glad he was parked on gravel so he couldn’t start a forest fire. Sue speculated he was recently divorced and used to camping with a family.

Backing up to Thursday morning…we got up late and set up our 12 volt DC and propane powered outdoor shower. I’ve finally got all the bugs worked out of my DIY hot shower and it’s pretty cool.

Around noon we drove up to the ski area again and parked in the lot for the Heather Meadows hike. I headed downhill for the afternoon shift at the salt mine while Sue went hiking on Baggly Lake Loop trail. It was blazing hot on the wooden deck at the lake but I had my mister (hillbilly air conditioner) and a sun hat/hood. The bugs weren’t bad and my painting turned out ok again. Not brilliant…but interesting.

I’ve been studying drawing online and this guy says you have to draw a lot of bad paintings before the good ones come along. I’m doing great at making bad paintings…it’s kind of a gift.

I’m thinking of doing Shuksan again…but this time planning it better. I had planned to have the water reflections in the lower half. But I screwed up the pen and ink drawing. Once you make a mistake with pen, the goose is cooked, there is no erasing. I may do it in oils at home where I have time to draw it right using my plein air painting as a reference. This is what the pros do. Plein air is not meant to be finished and sellable. Oils would give me a ton more control. There are no compromises with oils.

I was recently at my gallery by Mt. Rainier and he has one of my oil paintings. It’s one that was started plein air and finished in the studio. It’s a really lovely oil painting. I was staring at it and thinking “Damn, I used to be really good at oils!” Pen and wash is full of compromises and mistakes…but its lightweight makes it attractive for hiking.