Saturday, October 30, 2010

To use or not to use Trekking Poles

Any good athlete knows that a steady rhythm and efficiency of motion is the best way to move fast and conserve energy. This is especially applicable in hiking, mountaineering, and backpacking. A couple of years ago four of us took the trek up Mt Saint Helens two of us worked our way up the trail with poles and the two younger members went without. As we climbed the mountainside the boys, like a pair of dogs, would race ahead and then stop and rest. By the time we reached the bottom of the trail they were exhausted, with their proverbial tongues hanging out.

The idea of conservation of energy has been around for a long time. Any experienced mountaineer knows the value of the rest step. For the uninitiated, the rest step involves relaxing all the muscles not required to take the next step up the hill; the quadriceps need to be tightened to lift the leg but the calf and ankle muscles should stay relaxed and loose. This is the concept of conservation of energy as it applies to the human body.

Rhythm is another important concept to be fully familiar with when involved in physical activities such as hiking. Most people think rhythm is something to be found only in music to keep the beat at a constant speed so that the music feels right. Isaac Newton, one of the inventors of Calculus, suggested that an object which is in motion tends to stay in constant motion so long as another force is not applied to it. Speeding up and slowing down, irregularities in rhythm (hikers call it pace), are additional forces applied to a hiker. This stopping and starting caused an irregular pace for the boys and burned more energy then necessary. This is why the two boys were tired by the end of the climb up and down Saint Helens.

Now to the subject of trekking poles. Poles are used for both conservation of energy and pace. When I was growing up I could not stand having a stick in my hand; for some reason I could not get used to the feeling. I wanted my hands free so that I could reach down and hitch my pack up and take some of the weight off of my shoulders. Finally someone handed me a set of trekking poles to try. With some intrepidation I took the poles and used them. What I found was a more consistent walking pace and less strain on my legs and knees. The point here is that the trekking poles provided an extra two points of contact with the ground taking a portion of weight from the legs and applying it to the arms hence conservation of energy on the legs. The second benefit of poles is the constant pace. With each plant of the pole comes one step which develops a very rhythmic an constant walking pace.

Trekking poles for any casual or avid adventurer is a must which provide both a means of conserving energy and a way to set an even pace improving both distance traveled and speed. Even if you are considering a short hike or a long trek the first consideration before hitting the trail should be the purchase of a decent set of poles.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Taking Time for Adventure

The other day I decided to turn off a street I had driven many times before onto one I had never done.  I just developed a sudden urge to see something new. The turn was worth the ten extra minute it took me to get home.  I found a long staircase that rose from the valley I had dropped into up the side of a hill and out of sight, (would like to explore that sometime to see where it goes).  Some old and very nice houses that were along a narrow single lane street and the statue of a sphinx.

The type A personality is sometimes a curse to random adventure, always needing to get to my destination and if it is not in the plan then it is not going to happen.  This day the plan, the get to the grocery store and then home, was spontaneously readjusted and a new unknown route was taken, kind of an intentional wrong turn.  One warning here, some places in this world a wrong turn could be dangerous, i.e., a turn into Compton, CA. 

Here is the point, to find a little adventure take a "wrong" turn and see where it will lead you, whether on your bike, on foot, or in a car.  You may find something unique, historical, or even spectacular.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

India Star Garnetts

Treasure hunting is not usually what one thinks of when looking for an adventure but getting out and both going to an unknown location and doing something new is. In this particular case traveling south through St Maries, Idaho to the Emerald Creek Camp ground and parking in Forest Service parking lot beside a nice forest stream was worth the leisurely drive. From the parking lot it is a short quarter mile walk to the "dig" site. Once arriving at the site there are helpful Forest Service employees who take your $10 fee and promptly explain how to go about panning for India Star garnets.

Here is the process, find a spot in the very large pile of dirt and fill a five gallon bucket. Take the bucket over to the screening area and screen the little particles out, quite a bit of little stuff filters out and you are left with pebbles and round balls of clay, most of the soil is made of clay.  Next you take to dirt over to the sluice and work your way through your bucket picking out the garnets as they appear. It is a treasure hunt. The rangers tell you that you can take up to five pounds per $10 permit. After four hours of panning I came away with 8oz, and according to the forest rangers that was pretty good, only one man that they know of has ever gotten five pounds and he brings all his own equipment. Then for a little more adventure I decide that a different route home would be exciting.  Driving on instinct and no map is always exciting and can lead to very interesting finds, but this is a subject for another blog.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Stone Henge - A memorial to the sacrifice of the Great War

Recently, after a successful bid for the summit of Mt. Adams, I visited a full sized replication of Stone Henge in one of the most out of the way locations you could think of, across the Columbia River from the tiny town of Biggs, Oregon. This Stone Henge is oriented exactly as the original in England, toward the Autumnal and Vernal equinoxes, there is even a key stone.

It is believed the ancient Druids offered human sacrifices upon the alter at the center of the monument, probably as a way to appease whichever gods they worshiped. The new Stone Henge is dedicated to the greatest sacrifice of human life up to that point in history, WWI. The man with the money, Sam Hill, built the monument and placed plaques on the inner ring of columns with the names of those from Klickitat County, Washington, who gave their lives on the battlefields of Europe. Sam Hill also gave large sums of money to the country of Rumania to help it rebuild after the destruction of the War to end all wars. He gave so much that that he became close friends of the queen of Rumania, Queen Marie. They were such good friends that she donated some of her personal things to the museum in his mansion, including the dress she wore to the coronation of her cousin Tsar Nicolas II of Russia. Stone Henge in Washington is a great place to visit and admire and also to remember the sacrifices men made for others.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bike Maintenance - The Untold Story

Yesterday I picked up a copy of Bicycling Magazine’s Complete Guide to Bicycle Maintenance and Repair: For Road and Mountain Bikes by Todd Downs. What surprised me was the amount of “routine” maintenance you are suppose to do on a very regular basis. Before every ride there is a checklist and after every ride another checklist. Once a month a bigger list and then once a year the whole bike needs to be gone through oiled greased and cleaned. It reminds me of drivers education, the instructor made it clear that a responsible driver, before getting in the car, checked all the lights and turn signals, walked around the car to make sure it was clear, and generally did stuff that would take at least 15 minutes before you even put the car in drive. Well now I am off the clean, oil, and shake my bike to make sure there are no loose part.

The Cows are Watching

This blog is about getting out and exploring places whether they are close to home or far away. So why call it, “The Cows are Watching”? I think the question deserves an answer or more to the point a story about one of my little adventures or more precisely misadventures. 

This past summer I took my kayak out to a local lake I had read about in one of those books with a list of different nearby adventures. Getting to the lake required paddling up a channel until the lake magically appeared out of the landscape. At least this is what I expected. I got the the boat launch just fine all excited about my little adventure. The launch was on the side a bridge and since the lake was not visible from the road and I had failed to examine the map closely enough to see which direction the lake was from the bridge, I decided that going under the bridge was the wrong direction. After paddling through stagnant and narrow waterways, should have figured out I was going the wrong way, especially when a cow crossed the stream in front of my kayak, I finally decided I was going the wrong direction, mostly because a small waterfall was blocking my route. 

At this point only one option was left, turn the kayak around and paddle back up stream. At the place the cow had crossed in front of me earlier, the spot was a wide little pool with a narrow inlet and outlet, I pulled up in my little 13' wooden boat and realized that there were about 10 cows standing on the rim of the little rise which surrounded the pool, staring at me while chewing their cud. The whole experience was like something out of a Far Side comic, the cows on the rim of the hill keeping watch over me while their companions are on the other side plotting the conquest of the world. 

So the name of the Blog derives from the my experience of the cows watching me as I was paddling my boat the wrong direction. The story does have a happy ending, I did find the lake once I went under the bridge and up a much wider canal.

The Spirit of Adventure

Have you ever desired to see what was over the next hill or around the next corner? Then you have the spirit of adventure. When most of us think of going on an adventure we imagine ourselves being some one like Sir Edmund Hillary assaulting the oxygen deprived heights of Mt Everest or Percy Fawcett exploring the jungles of the Amazon seeking the legendary lost city of Z pursued by cannibals, crocodiles, and mosquitoes or maybe Ernest Shackleton as he trudged across the frozen wasteland of Antarctica pursuing the glory of the south pole. The truth is each of us can have our own little adventure requiring far less time, commitment and danger. First let us look at what brought some of the greatest explorers of last century to seek their grand adventures.

So what drove these great explorers to seek adventure? Wanting to be the first, the fame, the desire to gain knowledge, all of these were probably on their minds. But mostly they just wanted to see something beyond their normal everyday life and experience. Hillary gained fame by being the first to survive and return from the summit, Shackleton's most famous moment came from rescuing his entire crew from a ship wreck in Antarctica, and Fawcett lost his life somewhere amidst the jungles of Brazil while walking over the top and missing what he sought. We too can get outside our normal everyday lives and enjoy a little bit of adventure without the extreme danger. 

As an adventurer you will not need to risk life and limb to find the thrill of discovery. A pair a walking shoes, a bike, a boat, or car, or even horse and buggy are all you need and a desire to just go some place you have not been before or just overlooked. Even better grab a family member or friend to go with you, there is nothing more exciting then sharing your adventure with someone else, a sort fellowship of exploration. Look around your local town for historical markers, trails, rivers, and museums. Just outside of the little town I live in in Eastern Washington can be found a historical marker for the battle of Four Lakes. Few people even know of it but many of the local names, Fort George Wright, Mullen Road, George Wright hill, Chief Garry Middle School all named after some of the major participant at this one battle. Without a little desire for adventure and exploration this treasure would never have been found and a little bit of local history never learned. 

So turn off the TV and the computer, put on the walking shoes or biking helmet and get out to look around for some adventure. Who knows, maybe you will find some long forgotten historical marker, or old building. Maybe you will climb a local mountain and feel as if you have conquered your own Mt. Everest, or walked into the local woods imaging you are tracing the course of the Amazon River. There are places to discover everywhere all you have to do is get out a look around and capture the spirit of adventure.