Return to Squamish

August 13th, 2022

After a 3 year absence I finally got back to Squish. Though crossing the border was not without its drama. We had complied with all the arriveCAN headaches, which included uploading your vaccine proof via a photo, and scheduling your arrival time…basically making an appointment to cross the border. We also had to give them an address where we would be staying.

A Canadian address is problematic because we were dirt bagging it and in reality had no idea where we would end up finding room to camp. But I told them we were staying at the Chief, since it has a street address for the arriveCAN form and does not allow reservations…which simplified the paperwork.

We sailed through the border with no problems until the very last moment when the border guard said:

“You have been randomly selected to take a Covid Test. Here is your kit.”

“How is that going to work?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s super easy, you just follow the instructions and schedule a FedEx pickup. You have 24 hours to do it.”

We drove north with a growing sense of un-ease. Our first priority was to get a camp spot. It was Friday morning at a world famous climbing area in a perfect weather window with rain to either side of our 5 day stretch. Both the Chief and Mamquam were fully packed with climbers in all manner of vehicles from $200,000 Sprinters to beater rusted out Chevy vans, not to mention a few packed to the brim Subarus.

Squamish in good weather is the place to be and any climber worth his salt within walking, driving or flying distance was already there…many for several month stretches. But I’ve been climbing there since 1978 and I know a few of the secret camping spots. Privacy concerns prevent me from sharing online…but I will say that we headed up towards Whistler and got lucky.

After putting up a tent, we headed for the Smoke Bluffs and the Black Zawn. I’d planned to deal with the Covid test in the evening…but of course we were far too tired after the long drive and a day of climbing. On the next day, we did a dawn start to get a parking spot at the Bluffs.

James cooked while I battled through the long process of navigating a very badly designed website to set up a Microsoft Teams meeting at 11 AM for the remote home Covid Self administered test. They want a nurse watching while you swab.

We climbed a few fun routes at Neat and Cool before I logged into Microsoft Teams. I wasn’t sure which log in to use. I have a backup account with another email address, but not the one I used for arriveCAN. I wasn’t sure how tightly the databases were integrated. Plus, I haven’t used Teams in 4 years. It sucked back then even on a computer. It was even worse on a smartphone. It’s the kind of thing that is supposed to be easy, even for a beginner…but it’s not.

By some miracle of the computing gods the nurse and I were able to see and hear each other. But it immediately became apparent that my extended Verizon Canada coverage plan was throttling my data. That would have been survivable, but her accent was very strong. They had clearly offshored the work to a place where people work for pennies and can barely speak English.

I had assumed that she would walk me though the whole process, starting with opening the sealed serial numbered box. But due to her strong Pakistani accent and the bad ‘FaceTime’ connection, she had to repeat every instruction several times. I was sitting on a ledge in climbing gear and didn’t know I needed a pen to write with. James had to hike over with my pen…which was fortunately on my key ring. I got a few lines penned in and she had to move on to her next appointment. They only schedule 15 minutes!

We went climbing after that up at Ronin’s corner…which, by the way, is still in the sun at 3! It was too hot to lead without incurring rivers of sweat. Our plan to escape the inland heat by climbing on the seashore at Squish had backfired. Not that I’m complaining. It was so lovely to be back on the exquisite Canadian granite.

We knocked off at 4, drove into town and I once again waded through the awful website to schedule another appointment for a home test. Despite a 4 bar signal the FaceTime experience was even worse. And his accent was abominable. I even asked him if there was anyone there who could speak English more clearly…because even when he slowed down and repeated his words multiple times, it was as if he was speaking gibberish. By that time James was in the car. Even with both of us guessing at his meaning we were getting zip.

Prior to this latest meeting I’d done some research and discovered that there is a $5000 fine if you don’t complete the test within 24 hours of crossing. Or maybe it’s by end of day the day after you arrive…I read conflicting reports. Either way, with our facetime crashing repeatedly, Verizon throttling my data, my RoboCall software intercepting his phone calls when FaceTime crashed, we were having a first class sh$tshow. I was looking at a $5000 fine with a deadline…plus he was running way over his 15 minutes of allowed time for our ‘appointment’. I think he even mentioned that we were out of time…but that he was going to make it work, even if he couldn’t see me.

I was like, you mean we can do this by phone…really? You don’t have to watch me on video?

So that’s how it ended. Despite all the communication nightmares, we managed to get a swab into the packaging and I dropped it off at Shoppers Drug Mart in Squamish. They were familiar with the border sh$tshow and had a form to accept my test kit.

My 24 hours of stress were finally over and we spent the rest of the trip enjoying ourselves. We spent a day at Octopus Garden, a day at Klahanie Crack, a day up at Chek and maybe somewhere else? My favorite lead was Edible Panties. And no, I don’t name these things. Climbers have a long history of ribald route names. It probably stems from the fact that these routes were put up back when women climbers were thin on the ground.

Sue and I would be out climbing with a bunch of sausages and she would literally be the only women in a crag filled with 20 guys. This used to happen all the time. It worked in my favor when I’d call my buddies to ask if they wanted to go climbing, they wanted to know if Sue was coming.

Painting again with ink and wash

July 31st, 2022

A couple weeks ago Sue and I hiked up the skyline trail to my favorite view of Rainier. I did a strong pen and ink underdrawing feeling dialed in. I put my pens away and started in on the Gouache. Normally, the India Ink is dry and I can paint over the top of the ink as if it wasn’t there. This time a disaster ensued.

I need to back up a little. Back in March, my Twisbi pen had clogged up. I was too ignorant to realize I was using the wrong ink. I’d gotten away with using India Ink because it does work for a while…just not in hot weather.

India Ink, also known as *dip pen* ink is designed to be used on pens from the 1860’s. Those pens were a wood body with a thin split metal tip (nib). You dip the nib in the ink bottle and draw. I’m not big on reading directions, and having come from dip pens back in the seventies, I put that same ink in my modern $60 Twisbi fountain pen. As long as I drew every few days, the ink, which has shellac and large pigments particles would work fine. But if I stopped drawing for a couple weeks, or tried to draw in a heat wave the ink would dry up and ruin a $25 nib.

Fast forward to last March when my nib died. I purchased a new Lamy pen in Vegas, thinking it was using the same waterproof ink as my Twisbi. What I didn’t realize was that India Ink has shellac in it, not to mention small particles of carbon. It is not meant for fountain pens.

The Lamy ink, which comes in disposable cartridges, is designed for just the Lamy fountain pen. It will not dry out in the pen. Part of the reason it stays wet when the pen is capped is that it doesn’t have shellac.

My Twisbi pen would literally dry out while I was drawing if it was hot and the sun was shining. But back to that day on Rainier a month ago…I start to paint over the Lamy pen and ink drawing and the black ink melted and ran. Every color I painted had black added to it as the line dissolved. My yellow gouache brush strokes turned brown, my reds turned muddy. It was a wasted hike and a bad painting.

Wednesday Sue and I hiked up to the same viewpoint. This time I had my Twisbi fountain pen loaded with a new ink. I’d done my research after the Lamy disaster. I’d found a new waterproof and permanent ink called de Atramentis Archive. I also had my Lamy loaded with this new ink, plus a technical pen from my Uncle Dan (thanks Marcus) along with a new pen called a Noodlers Safety pen loaded with true India Ink. Beyond that I had a few Pigma disposable pens. I was loaded for bear.

I did a fine pen underdrawing and started in on the color. Big surprise: it worked flawlessly. No bleeding, no melting, a perfect ink. With that problem out of the way I could focus on what I do best: staring at the subtle colors on the mountain and interpreting them into something I could mix on my palette. As a famous painter once said: “The hue doesn’t matter if the value is right”. This means if you view a crazy colored painting in black and white it will look correct.

Painting the Nisqually glacier is always the heart of the matter. If I can nail those blues and greens down the rest of the painting is easy breezy. Those go down without a pen underdrawing. The values are so light pen can’t be used. I can usually capture it with about 7 barely there colors. Almost all the same value…just variations on emerald as the waining afternoon light builds into alpenglow.

I usually have about 90 minutes of stable light. It’s a mad dash of mixing and throwing color around. I love that part of the process. I’m like a kid in a candy store. Every little stroke of color makes me smile. I’ve had small crowds of hikers stand behind me while I’m laying down those brushstrokes, murmuring amongst themselves like I’m some kind of magician.

On the last trip, I was listening to some calming music on my headphones when a hiker suddenly appeared at my elbow. He startled me as it had been a fairly quiet day. But suddenly he was there, lips moving. I had to pull my ear buds out to hear him. I don’t mind talking to folks, but it does stop my painting process until they leave.

I thought of dropping by my gallery on the way through Ashford. But if he had wanted them, I wouldn’t even have high resolution photo for my records. Plus I like to fondle my latest creations for a few weeks. If it’s a boring day and I’m feeling uninspired, I can get them out and bask in their illumination.

Do you have any Grey Poupon?

July 30th, 2022

In 1981 there was a famous commercial where a window rolls down in a limousine and some rich guy asks another rich guy if he has any Grey Poupon mustard. It’s become legendary as a friendly gesture for handing something off to a stranger in unusual circumstances.

We were up at Index waiting to lead a difficult 5.9 off width called Battered Sandwich. There was a party of three on it, and two of them had already climbed it with little trouble. But as I watched the third guy rack up I sensed some alarm bells going off. You can tell a lot from how a climber presents themselves on the ground. Little things like how they talk about the route, how new and shiny the gear is, and most importantly: do they have enough of the right gear.

Battered has 60 feet of four to eight inch crack climbing. If you don’t have at least three #4’s, four #3’s and a #5, you’d better have the skill to power through with long run outs. This guy had half of that gear and I was not getting a good feeling about his plans. I was in the queue, having asked my standard question on arrival at the crowded crag: “Who’s doing what?”

I usually walk up to the route and hangout until there is a break in the conversation. When they glance my way, they know why I’m there. It’s pretty obvious on a crowded weekend why a new climber would suddenly crash the party. But I try to be courteous and friendly. They said that they only had one guy remaining, and he was going to lead and clean the route. That sounded great, and would normally be a short, maybe half hour wait. I had gear to rack, shoes and kneepads to put on…no problem…except for the alarm bells.

40 minutes later he was frozen in place at the six inch flare. He was out of big gear as expected, but fortunately had the good sense to not climb further into danger. By that time I’d already told James that we should lead the open 5.7 next to him, for something to do. At least we’d be climbing, instead of watching another sh&tshow, and maybe we could do a good deed by handing the poor guy some of the big cams he so desperately needed. The Wild Turkey route we were planning to do was just 10 feet to the left. James took up an extra #3 and #4 to hand off to the guy in a “Grey Poupon” moment.

I was focused on belaying when it happened, but I heard a murmur of quiet laughter go through the dozen or so people milling around the base of the route. I looked up and saw the second cam being handed off between the two routes. It was a beautiful moment. With all the violence and chaos in the news these days…war in Ukraine, mass shootings, homeless people sleeping on sidewalks, raging wildfires…it was a very warm and fuzzy moment to see the mustard exchanging hands. This guy’s battered sandwich would at least have good condiments.

Later I led the route cleanly, though I almost fell out of it when I got my moves scrambled in the off hands section. The feet were bomb bay flaring, and the hands were between fists and hands. Meaning, I had no feet or no hands that were worth a damn. My pro was good, I was safe enough…but jeez, it was so insecure! And that wasn’t even the crux!

I forgot to mention that Jame had gone off to belay Ethan when my turn came up on Battered. I asked one of the friendly 5.8 leaders if they could give me a catch. The girl who belayed me was very experienced. I’d seen her float up seniors and Wild Turkey. I knew I was in good hands.

At the top she was very impressed with my lead. She asked if I had any advice to offer so she could up her lead game for climbs like Battered. It’s very flattering for an old white haired has been to have a twenty something woman ask for advice. It’s true that I have paid my dues on Index nines so I was able to offer up a few words of wisdom.

Later on the ground people were commenting that they had looked up, worried, hearing all my frantic grunting. I hate it when I do that. Some of us are just noisy leaders. James led it later, breaking a trigger wire in the same spot and having his own little epic. I had to sit on a tipped out #3 to get his broken #4 out of the crack. On a top rope I was able to find a very tight but good fist jam and power through. I need to remember that key jam next lead.

At the true crux, I found (on top rope of course) that if you do just 6 inches of upward heel toe wiggling with your left foot, you can lean out into space and get your right toe on the two by six inch ledge. With this foot hold you can step up into chicken wing territory and most of the difficulties are over.

City of Rocks Rendezvous Number 2

July 6th, 2022

Sue joined me for my second ‘over 50’ rendezvous in Idaho. It was organized by Helen again, and about 8 of the same people came, plus as many as 10 new people. Simultaneously the super topo group was there at the Sisters. Jim has been going to that group for at least 5 years that I know of, maybe longer.

Because of the two groups there were a lot of gray and white haired climbers around. When we got there some of my friends from last year were camped down below, waiting for the group site to open up. Only Helen was up top, she was camped in 58, a walk in down by Carols Crack.

We had done the drive in two 6 hour days. For our midpoint we camped just past the crowded Emmigrant Springs at a campground called Hilgard Junction State Park. It was empty, $25 cheaper than Immigrant, and just a short 20 minute drive further South East.

On the second day Sue was on a quest to find an old school campfire percolating coffee pot. REI in Boise didn’t have it, nor did Cabellas. While in Boise I rode my Unicycle in a deserted parking lot. I also rode it every couple days in the gravel lot at the group camp. Gravel is really hard compared to pavement. It requires an aggressive forward lean that is very energy intensive.

Sue and I did Windance and Da Boyz on the first day after helping Helen set up her gazebo. Folks started rolling in over the next couple days. Cindy, Jill and I did Easy Corner on the back side of Breadloaves. On the rap down I saw a nice line of new bolts through a roof. It looked like a one move wonder at the roof.

It was just one move alright but it was a whopper. You clipped a few bolts and cams until you were standing under a 4 to 5 foot roof. Perfectly horizontal with a bolt out at the lip. The clip meant leaning way out behind your head, coming perilously close to falling over backwards. Once clipped I walked down the slab and reached up to the lip. Great jug at the lip, and with just a little stretch I could reach a super good left hand jug.

My chin was even with the lip jug. The move was to do a pull up on the left jug and put your foot by your chin. I was pulling so hard on that ultra sharp waco that I still have a painful scab two weeks later. Nothing like getting to bad bleeders on the first day. And no running water to keep the wounds clean. Plus they are right on the flexing joints of my first and third fingers.

After 8 falls and and two bleeding flappers I put a sling on the bolt and aided the move. Cindy followed it cleanly. The rest of the climb was barely 5.7. Cass showed up for a couple days. I climbed with her and a bunch of other friends old and new for the next 10 days. We checked out a new crag on the weekend called Geowatt. It’s out toward Stripe Rock on the right on the Geology trail. There was only one other party there so our crowd plan worked. I led a two sevens an eight and a nice sport nine with a couple falls. It was fun, but not worth the hike.

Midway through the trip we were all invited to have Pizza at Kim’s house. He has a lovely log vacation home overlooking the City of Rocks. I don’t know him personally but I’ve heard he is a long time climber who simply likes giving back to the community. He was very gracious and welcoming to all of us unwashed climbers showing up to eat many, many boxes of pizza. My friend Jim knows him from way back due to his association with the super topo group.

Sue, Jim, Keith, Jay and I hiked out to Lost World and climbed a bunch of the chill sevens and eights. They were also at Geowatt, along with Mark and family.

After Dara left, I followed Cory up Skyline, Scream Cheese and Swiss Cheese. I led Private Idaho 5.9 but the sun was baking Cory by the time he had to clean. We zombied out in the shade at camp for a few hours before Mark and I led one of the two new bolted Pogue routes on Bath Rock.

That’s our trip in a nutshell. Since returning I’ve been to Index with Christine and have returned to regularly scheduled programming on the unicycle. Riding tennis courts is problematic due to the annoying appearance of tennis players. Who knew that was a thing?

I just recently discovered a skate park in a huge abandoned parking lot by a stadium. It’s all asphalt, much larger than any tennis court and weirdos with helmets and kneepads are expected. I’ve found my unicycle Shangri-La!

Laps on the tennis court

June 16th, 2022

Ping pong started up again at the community center. Sue and I have been having a lot of fun there. We know many of them going back 3 years now. Most of them are our age, not because it’s for seniors, but because it’s in the mornings on a weekday. It’s doubles ping pong so not only do you play the game, but you also have to avoid your partner as you dance in and out of play.

I’ve also been to the climbing gym about once a week with Chris and or Alex. It’s good to keep up some gym power for pulling on plastic. The skills do transfer over to outdoor climbing a bit. But my main sport, and the most exciting one is still the unicycle. I practice about 2 hours a day.

It must seem odd to an outsider why a bicycle with only one wheel would catch my fancy. They took a perfectly good, stable transportation device and cut it in half. What were they thinking? And why would anyone want to learn to ride something so difficult? These are questions that I ponder.

Maybe it’s just for the challenge? Initially I thought it would be a cool and compact way to bring a bike in the car. It’s so small it doesn’t have to ride on top. And the guy I saw riding around the campground at Joshua Tree looked really cool. He made it look so fun and easy.

The price of entry was very low. We found one second hand locally for $60. But it almost put me in the hospital. I did a backwards fall onto concrete landing on my elbow and tailbone. This was before I learned to armor up. My elbow hurt for a month, and Sue gave the sport up on the spot.

But bone headed me…that just upped the ante. I kept at it. For some bizarre reason I thought the sport was worth the risk. Anyway I’m almost 6 weeks in and it’s finally getting easier. My old 1980 broken ankle is not happy with the sport. It’s not liking all the jumping off that occurs when I crash. So far it’s just stiff, and loosens up with time. Hopefully I’m not damaging it.

Tennis court zero, Unicycle one

Does not require a push

June 9th, 2022

I’m on my 6th day of riding my new 29 inch unicycle. I had my 19 inch dialed in to where I could reliably ride 120 feet. But this new bigger wheel is very different. I’m only 10 inches higher in the air, but it feels so much more dangerous. Surprisingly, the falls feel about the same. I’m not hitting any harder. In uni jargon falls are called UPD’s. (Un Planned Dismounts). As one gets more graceful, the UPD becomes a simple stop where you gently step off, like stepping down off the last stair on the porch.

There is a certain ponderous momentum that has to follow through before I get spit off onto the tarmac. So even though I’m falling from higher up, I don’t seem be hitting harder. It’s still just a light jump down onto the pavement / tennis court. I’ve learned to tighten the top lacing hole on my high top loggers to give me more ankle support.

But today the space aliens had stolen my brain. I spent at least an hour falling off repeatedly and immediately. Thoughts of selling the damn thing passed through my mind. Like, what happened to all my skill and knowledge? How could I be so terrible when just two days before I’d been pedaling 60 feet? Over and over I’d pull myself upright on the tennis court fence, only to fall off after pedaling a yard. To the neighbors around the park I must have looked like a madman: getting on, falling off, over and over.

I could picture them looking out into the drizzle at this crazy person beating themselves up at a sport in which they clearly have zero talent…so pathetic. I found myself falling into that loop of self doubt…the one where you know you’re going to be bad, so of course, you’re bad, as expected, and repeat.

But after an hour of being a total sap, and as the June rain started to soak the court, I made a little discovery. Well, several actually.

  1. The fence is not your friend. Everything you need to learn happens away from the fence.
  2. You must be in perfect balance before you launch away from the fence. DO NOT push off the fence…because that push ruins your balance.
  3. Once you find that still moment of perfect 360 degree balance, cock your hips and shoulders forward and start to fall to the front. As you fall, pedal out of the fall, steadily. Not too fast or too slow, but plan on at least a few rotations.
  4. That momentum will give you a gyroscopic stability side to side. And that stability is maintained as long as you keep pedaling.
  5. Today, of all days, considering the bad first hour…today I pedaled the new 29er all the way across the tennis court: 3 courts, from fence to fence.

That was yesterday: Saturday. Today I did it again. I started at Jefferson park and got 30 feet on my second launch. I made it across a few times before tennis players showed up and I diverted to Whittier park. I did full transits at least 5 times in a row. It started to feel much more natural. I had more weight on the seat.

With more seated weight, it takes less effort to pedal and you can get into a rhythm that feels very stable. Falling off is less of a concern and you can start to think about the process of steering, which is also new. In general it was less thinking, more solid launches with error free stability. Almost like I knew what I was doing.

In other news, today I completed 4 repair projects on my sewing machines, i have the industrial Juki, and an old 1950’s home machine: (1.) added new leather lacing strips to my worn out red rock shoes; (2.) re-sewed the detaching neoprene wear panels on my black and green rock pack; (3.) repaired a rip in my ultra light 3 oz climbing wind shirt; (4.) Fixed my skate boarding wrist guard gloves. I opened the glove side seam and replaced the ripped one mm leather with full grain 3 mm leather.

And two days later (today) I ended up at Ruston point on the bike path overpass. My first launch was a 60 footer…that has never happened. Ruston is a fun place to ride because there are no tennis players to compete with. On a weekday it’s pretty quiet, just the occasional joggers and walkers. Often there is a long line of cars waiting to board the ferry. I wonder what they think about the wacky guy on the unicycle.

I was doing quite well, riding halfway along the bridge…about 100 feet. I still find this sport exhausting. It reminds me of skiing early in the season when I get that thigh burning sensation. It’s also extremely aerobic. I literally have to stop and lean on the railing to catch my breath.

As I was waiting for my heart to slow down, two gray haired bicyclists pedaled up and stopped. They were fascinated by my unicycle. Never mind that they were riding $4000 top of the line carbon fiber road bikes. They wanted to know all about my uni. One of them had ridden a uni in grade school but not far and not since. They knew how hard it was and we talked about the challenges of one wheel. I joked that I “should have spent more and got one with two wheels!”

They kept egging me on to ride it, they wanted to watch…like I was a tight rope walker or something. Talk about pressure! But I manned up and wobbled off, riding my usual 100 feet. As I was rolling away I heard him holler: “Good on ya, mate!”

I kept at it and finally managed to ride the entire span, or at least the first span to the turn. Which looks to be 60 meters…200 feet. My longest ride yet. Still a lot of arm flinging and wobble…but by golly I’m riding.

First attempt at a turn, filmed by Sue and Jamie, with Rose

Unicycle

May 23rd, 2022

For 15 hours of the 30 hour learning curve I could not pedal farther than 3 feet. Some days I’d barely go 10 inches. But after doing it for at least half an hour for two weeks I made some progress. Four days of that two weeks I wasn’t riding. I’d broken our cheap second hand uni and was waiting for a new one to arrive from Unicycle.com. In hour 16 I suddenly started putting a lot of things together.

You can watch all the youtube tutorials you want, and you can fill your mind with do’s and dont’s, but at a certain point you have to turn off all the noise and just pedal. It’s called launching in uni world. It means to leave the fence you’ve been leaning on and head out into the open, pedaling this impossible contraption called a unicycle.

Due to a disease I got in my ear in 1999, I only have one working ear…which of course contains the balance organ. Normal people have two, I’ve only got one. I thought that might impact my riding…but it hasn’t. From 3 feet at hour 15, I progressed over 4 days to 120 feet. I look like I’m really riding. In reality, I’m barely hanging on and have zero steerage. But I’ve learned to not fear the launch. There is safety and grace out there pedaling into the wind. I can stay up just fine. Not every time…but maybe 70 percent of my launches go at least 40 feet now.

Looking back, I’m amazed I stuck with it. I was so bad and so hopeless for so long! It’s really true that you just have to keep trying. I’ve heard people say that your body needs time to get used to the process. You have to strengthen critical muscles. Learning to fall safely and reliably is extremely important. No one wants to break bones. I’ve almost mastered the simple “step off” maneuver…from every possible angle. Forward, backward, to the side, at speed. I’ve done them all soooo many times, it’s automatic. I’ll be pedaling along, feel a crash coming and simply step onto the ground, easy peasy.

I did a big run today across three tennis courts in a row…about 120 feet. Never, ever thought I’d get there. I’m too old to remember how excited I was to learn to ride a bicycle….but it must be comparable. Maybe even better since the uni is much harder. I mean, a bike pretty much rides itself once it’s going. It’s totally stable. A uni must be ridden every inch. I was dripping sweat today after a couple hours of riding.

And just yesterday I nailed my first free start. This means I wasn’t holding onto a wall for balance as I started pedaling. My friends are laughing at me for entering this bizarre sport. I seem to have a knack for picking activities that are completely out there on the fringes of normality. Ping pong, climbing, painting, blues harmonica, inventing, metal working, and now Uni. One wonders what will be next?

Broke my artist block

May 3rd, 2022

I’ve been sort of down in the dumps lately. I’ve been cranky around the house…just generally off my feed a bit. I think it might have started back in March when we got shut down by weather at Indian Creek. When I’m not painting (or working) I guess I rely on climbing as a source of…what is the right word…satisfaction? But life is what happens when you’re making other plans.

Anyway, I’ve also been fighting off a bad case of artist block going way back to last fall. I don’t feel at all like painting. Not even a flicker of interest for sketching around the house. Which is weird because I’ve got sketchbooks going back to my teens in 1971 where I’m drawing something every other day. It might just be a sketch of my hand, or a car in a parking lot. Point is, there was something driving me to make art.

And I know it is totally normal for that to come and go. Grandma saw this in me back in 1989. I was driving her home from a family dinner at dad’s house. I had shown the family some recent paintings and I’d also mentioned that I was blocked again…didn’t feel inspired.

She looked at me with those 94 year old eyes and said: “Mark, promise me you’ll never stop painting.”

“Okay”, I said, not really meaning it.

Grandma had an aunt who was a famous painter. She took grandma on a tour through Europe when grandma was a teenager…which would have been 1910?. She is listed in a book entitled American Women Artists of the 19 century. I checked it out once from the local library and there she was. I have one of her paintings, as does my sister.

A few days ago I had to repair a painting a collector had broken. I was really surprised that I was able to get inspired standing on a strangers back deck, painting a mountain that wasn’t there. I didn’t even have a photo, just a few other similar paintings from my “unsold” box. And yet, there I was, living in the moment, happy as a clam. I had my tunes on, she was coming and going but it was just like painting at the mountain. Nothing mattered but the magic flowing from my hands. I was happy. Go figure.

So with that recent history I finally followed through on my promise to Grandma. TBH it was also on my todo list. I brought a few monotone paintings of Josh out to the garage, set up my easel and painted Chimney Rock in full, glowing color. Just stood there and created from thin air. It was so good I was busting some moves to my iPhone playlist. Even more impressive is that I’ve been afraid of using full color in Josh. I could never color rock with oil. Always did it in monotone. Like, twenty in a row. Now that I’ve popped that cherry, I’m going to do one of Rainier. Watch out Grandma, Unky Mark is back.

Solar Power in Tundra

April 29th, 2022

On my last long trip we were car camping for two weeks in Josh. Because we weren’t driving the car, I was unable to use my inverter to charge my camera battery. The easy solution would have been to buy a new battery, but Canon is backordered. I’ve also dreamed about a 12 volt fridge for a while…buying ice is frustrating.

When my dividend arrived from REI it was enough to pay for a 100 watt Goal Zero solar panel. In my last post I talked about building a DIY solar generator. I have since upgraded that to a real car sized LifePo4 battery in a bigger, stronger milk crate. Today I finally put the solar panels on the top of the Tundra and hooked them up to the milk crate. I have 4 amps coming in to the battery with one amp going out to the strip lights inside the canopy.

The solar charge controller is managing everything and will supposedly shut down the power if the battery gets overcharged, or undercharged. I’m running the canopy lights off the Load terminal on the solar charge controller.

In other news, we broke the pedal off our beater secondhand unicycle taking so many falls. I have a new one on order from unicycle.com. I got what is called a “Trials” uni. They are built for mountain biking trails and lots of hard falls.

I had one of my collectors buy a pastel painting 30 years ago. She saw some dust on the matt and decided to re-frame it. The frame maker told her she could avoid more dust by spraying it with fix. The fix ruined the painting. It looked like it was under 2 layers of wax paper. All the vibrant color of the raw pastel was totally killed. You could sort of see the old painting but it was awful.

She found me online and I drove up there yesterday with some unsold paintings from that era. I used those as a reference to re-paint her painting, bringing it back to life. I’ve never done that before. It was actually quite fun seeing the painting start to breath again. I’m not sure it’s as good as it was before…but it’s definitely quite pretty. I know that darn mountain so well I can paint it when it isn’t even there.

March Road Trip

April 9th, 2022

Pictures first, I’ll write the narrative later. This is taking a long time to write…lot of things to do at home after a month long road trip.

A week ago when I got home I started working on Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car. The first two weeks of practicing it focused exclusively on guitar. Singing along with it was absolutely hopeless. The timing of the picking is so precise that is has to become automatic. And for my aging train wreck of a mind that took a loooong time. Two weeks to be precise, playing it for an hour a day.

But today, I listened to her sing it on this tutorial and started singing along…badly. I had to simplify the chords initially to give me the spare brain bandwidth for voice and guitar together, all while listening and playing along with them. But finally, something clicked and the flood gates opened. I stopped the video and started actually playing it all by myself. So fun!

I’ve been playing Fast Car for a couple weeks now and it’s starting to smooth out. I’m into the polishing process now. This is where I’m relaxed enough playing it that I can start to think about what the words mean, and how to add emotion to the verses.

This is the longest I’ve ever taken to write a trip report. It was also my longest trip. I’ve been diverted by two problems I noticed on the journey. One was the roof top solar heated shower pipe. All the shower places closed down due to covid. Our shower does work, but it’s slow and cold. I looked into instant water heaters but the cheap ones had bad reviews and I don’t want to spend big dollars on something you can do perfectly will with a pot of warm water…pioneer style.

So I built a heat exchanger coil from 35 feet of one quarter inch copper refrigerator tubing. I coiled it up small enough to fit in one of our camping cook pots. I dropped that coil into a large pot of boiling water and it heated the water up nicely. When I did a smaller coil (started with 10 feet) in a smaller pot the water didn’t stay warm. The cold shower water coming through the line cooled the boiling water.

I needed the larger pot to offset the reverse cooling of the heat exchanger. My problem now is that water is scarce while dry camping in the desert. So I need to try heating the coil in a campfire bread maker stove…which I don’t own.

After that I started working on solar. We were climbing in one place so long that we couldn’t charge my camera batteries. They run on 110 and take up to four hours…and we weren’t doing more than 20 minute shopping trips. I’ve always resisted solar, but my REI dividend covered a goal zero panel and I thought: why not?

But storing the electricity led me down a rabbit hole of information I was unaware of. Initially I was tempted by the goal zero ecosystem. Its plug and play but extremely pricey for what you get. I ended up building this with a small battery and some other components I had on hand from ham radio.

It was a huge learning curve…and now I’m rebuilding it with a much better battery and some other improved circuitry…so we’ll see.

And then for some dumb reason I dropped everything and bought a used unicycle. I’m all over the place these days.

My most recent diversion was jury duty. As a working stiff, I’ve always been excused from jury duty. This time I had no excuse. We spent 4 days working through the process with 60 people for one trial, whittling it down to just enough for a jury. I had a bad attitude at first…but gradually came to realize that, at least in some trials, it can be an honor to serve.

I told them early on that I have an intense dislike for lawyers, thinking them too rich and often dishonest. And that I thought there was far too much litigation in this country. I could get much deeper into the experience but we were warned not to talk about the case.

I was surprised at how nice the judge and lawyers were. They asked us over and over if we needed to be excused. “We totally understand if you don’t want to serve…for any reason at all. Just let us know, it’s OK, we get it.” They totally understand how taking time away from an important job…or maybe your only job…is a huge financial burden. I was not expecting that amount of kindness and humanity from people wrapped up in the murky world of legal proceedings.

Q: Why won’t sharks attack lawyers?
A: Professional courtesy

Towards the end I was actually hoping they’d pick me. In a way, it meant I had integrity, and I could be an impartial juror. I was starting to make friends in the crew…there were some really nice people there. But I’m guessing my initial attitude towards the case (which I can’t disclose) showed I might not be impartial.

After getting out of jury duty today Sue and I walked the unicycle down to the park where there was a narrow fenced walkway where we could practice. At 14, I couldn’t ride my brothers unicycle. But now at 68, Sue and I are making some progress. It seems…not impossible. Still extremely hard and scary…but maybe, maybe if we keep trying, we might just get it.

I saw a guy riding one around Josh last trip. It would fit in the truck better than a bicycle. Oh, and Clint finally replaced Jamies wrecked car. Nothing like a car problem to wreck a household budget.

In our family, we’ve wrecked 4 cars, including my Tacoma which was hit and run by a sideswiper right in front of our house. One of the others was Dan hitting an elk, while the other two were Jamie and Dan sitting in traffic and getting rear ended. All 4 cars were totaled at a time when car prices and availability is awful due to covid.

We really are so lucky to all have good jobs, and or retirement, so that we can recover from financial disasters like car accidents. Many people seem to whiz around in their cars thinking it’s no big thing. But for me and Sue, driving feels like a big responsibility. Maybe it’s just that we’ve been driving so long, over a million miles, that it feels like the odds are against us. No one is perfect forever. On the other hand, we have some serious skills after all those miles. So who knows.