The only thing about riding a bike from Portland to Phoenix is that in-between there is something called... NEVADA.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Chapter Three: Global Warming and Virtues of Ecological Restoration. Ronald Sandler

Chapter Three begins by explaining the concepts of values, traits, and virtues. In summary, "...a character trait is a virtue to the extent that its possession is generally conducive to promoting the good, and a character trait is a vice to the extent that it is generally detrimental to promoting the good" (p.67). The author continues by identifying character traits that are valuable for effective ecological restoration in a changing climate.

Global warming will increase both the unpredictability and the rate of ecological change, exacerbating the information deficit that already exists in restoration work. The author describes this well by saying "our ecological future is accelerating away from our ecological past with increasing rapdity, and [that] it is increasingly unclear where it is going" (p.64). Given this increased complexity, what character traits are most valuable in ecological practices?

The author identifies openness, accomodation, patience, restraint, humility, and reconciliation as important virtues. Promoting a less controlling and more hands-off approach to restoration, the author believes these traits are virtues due to the unpredictability of systems under a changing climate:

"In an age marked by amplified ecological uncertainty, technologies that are more control orientied are likely to be less successful than those that are not, and technologies that are more interventionist into complex ecological systems are likely to be less successful and have greater unanticipated effects than those that are not. This is a straightforward function of complexity and uncertainty in dynamic and integrated systems" (p.71).

The author also argues for the decreased importance of historical fidelity, or the attempt to make the system that is the object of an ecological restoration match what it has been at some time in the past (pre-disturbance). If the abiotic conditions in a particular place have changed, or will change, then an attempt to cultivate a species assemblage that thrived under that lost past may be doomed from the start.
Thawing permafrost in Churchill, Manitoba creates the "drunken forest" and thermokarst ponds.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Last Leg

After many days spent in Arizona, it's time to go home. Having lost my riding partner more than a week ago (Kevin shipped his bike and flew home for the start of winter term classes) I made the ride ~40 miles south to the Maricopa Amtrak station solo. An unusually cold (for Phoenix) morning had me putting on extra layers at the beginning of the ride, but as the sun rose higher the thin layer of clouds disappeared, and by the time I left the Phoenician suburbs and their irrigation-canal-following trails for the open highway, it was plenty warm for one pedaling. A wide shoulder on a moderately busy highway made for a pleasant enough ride, leaving my eyes free to scan the ditch for oddities amongst the unusually thick scattering of trash - a stuffed dinosaur, blue plastic twine, yet another dead coyote...

Arriving in Maricopa, I quickly found the train station, bought a bike box, and packed up my gear. The bike box was so big I needed only to remove my pedals and handlebars (hanging by the brake and shifter cables), leaving the wheels on so I could actually roll the bike into the box and tape the flaps shut behind. The attendant took the box unceremoniously, and I wasn't sure whether to yell "goodbye!!!" to its retreating form, or plead with the attendant and make him promise to be careful. Hanging on to appearances and composure I did neither, instead turning to pursue the next item on the agenda -- could this finally be the town where I would find cricket tacos?

Walking up the main strip confirmed what riding down it an hour before had decided - No, no it would not. The town seemed to have been built yesterday, constructed entirely of pre-fabricated Standard American Boxes. Was this section of Earth really just a blank slate for Jack in the Box Carl's Jr McDonald's Basha's Subway Fry's Carwash Carlot Parking Lot? Apparently so, although the jagged and dark peaks on the near horizon hinted at something else.

After finding a reasonable burrito at a cheap price and devouring it on a sunny sidewalk, I stopped at the grocery store to search out snacks for the nearly 48 hour train ride. That is where I met "extreme butter hull-less popcorn". This product contained neither butter nor popcorn, but it cost only one dollar. Morbid fascination urged it into my hand, and the 14 grams of fat per serving from unspecified vegetable oils almost had their way with me, but in the end I begged the checkout guy to take it away. The mystery of oily cornmeal posing as buttery popcorn couldn't have been anything but a monstrosity.

Walking back to the train station a nagging desire chewed at the edges of my mind - what did it want? Coffee, chocolate? a house made from adobe and Saguaro? Biosphere 2 (a visit that will have to wait for cycle tour Arizona, round two)? No matter - thoughts of sinking deep into a window seat on a northbound train, and the phantom cyclists that had been following me since the Gorge finally being real again, trumped all. Homeward bound!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Actual Route

Here is the route we rode as best we can represent with Google Maps. Some of the bike paths could not be included with highway sections into a single map. Please contact us if you have questions on road conditions.
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MVPs of the Road

Alcohol Stove - small, lightweight, and virtually unbreakable. Fuel for this stove can be bought at most gas stations in the form of HEET, a cold-weather gasoline additive that is mostly methyl alcohol. Isopropyl alcohol and denatured ethanol also work.

The Sleeve - a soft scrap from an alpaca sweater. A last minute addition to Kevin's gear, this tight-woven piece of cloth became a balaclava for cold-weather protection.

Sunglasses - sun, snow, blowing sand, and wind protection. If you forget yours, just keep your eyes searching the shoulder and you may soon find a free pair, as Kevin did.

Silk Liners - sewn from old garments (found at Goodwill), silk adds lots of warmth without a lot of weight or bulk. Along with ~35 degree F down bags, mylar "emergency" blankets, tyvek bivy sacks, and closed-cell foam ground mats, hand-sewn silk liners played a big role in keeping our bedrolls both warm and packable.

Thin gloves - despite daytime temperatures below freezing, these minimalist gloves performed better than their technical cousins could have. Wind protection plus breathability keeps hands comfortable and dexterous while exercising in cold weather.

The Mar of The Car

The brightening eastern horizon marked the first morning of 2013. Day broke and Laura declared she wouldn't get up until the sun had melted the frost from her panniers. The cold night was cold, but it had prepared us a special breakfast - olive butter. Olive oil had turned into a spreadable delicacy, and we ate it on crackers with chevre and peanut butter. 

The day was warming quickly, and from our high perch we could see the highway stretching south in wide looping curves. After a quiet moment in the rocky desert forest of saguaro, ocotillo, palo verde, and creosote we packed up and hit the road. Shortly we came to the turnoff for the sanctioned campground, and turned down the steep road to fill our tanks with water.

Well hydrated, we climbed back to the main road. The shoulder was wide and smooth, the grade gentle, the weather warm and clear. Designated the "Joshua Tree Scenic Byway", we rode through a diverse forest of desert shrubs, cacti, and the spunky Joshua trees. After the Nevadan landscape, it seemed positively lush. Dark bluemountains on nearly every horizon framed the desert foliage, and the ride through this land would have been transcendent but for one problem - the traffic. Constantly streaming by, cars shredded the still air, providing a background roar that never ceased.

As the day progressed, the traffic built to a steady stream. Were all the people returning to Phoenix from New Year's festivities in Las Vegas? Would the motorized boxes never stop? Why don't the two layers of Chex stick together?
With limited vacation time, we arranged a rendezvous in
Wickenburg, 56 miles from Phoenix, for the final boost to our destination. Meeting Jim and Lois at a Shell station, we creatively strapped our bikes to the top of the vehicle, ate Mexican food, and were transported into the winter-time weather paradise of suburban Phoenix, AZ.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Slow Start, Strong Finish

Refueled and ready to roll we rushed to pack our gear before the 10am check out in Kingman, AZ. In our usual bike maintenance overview I noticed a good amount of plant spines and a few goatheads in my tires. Removing the gruesome spikes rewarded me with my first flat of the journey. Finishing the repair job we hurriedly reorganized our gear and set out.

Our enthusiasm to ride hard after a few low mile days was soon checked by a shoulder quite wide but as rough as a gravel road. A few bumpy miles later, another flat on Laura's back wheel. Our misfortune turned to relaxment as we found a sun-drenched 55" TV box next to an especially friendly shrub. There Laura patched the tube and I sewed up the busted fingertips in my gloves. Feasting commenced. Lazily we wondered if we could even make it to the Hwy 93 turn off, 15 miles, before dark. If we just kept eating and basking in the sun would we even have to try?

At last the calories and radiation had sunk in and we roused ourselves to ride. The 55" palace had done us more good than we realized. The shoulder was not as rough as before.

A slow climb gave way to smooth descent, leading us into the turn off and onto a more maintained shoulder. We flew down the buttery asphalt to Wickiup in no time at all. The landscape had shifted again. Saguaro, ocotillo, and prickly pear poked out from between the rocks and shrubs.

Hunger setting in we rolled up to a place called Dazzo's. After the glaze of the road left my eyes I saw that the building was covered in signatures, messages, and dates. This was the famed yellow sandwich shop Dillion had told us to look out for!

After a quick nutrition stop and the obligatory blog address on the building we rode off into the sunset, headed for the Burro Creek Campground. The hills turned to a pastel painting as the sun dipped behind them. Soon we were covered by a blanket of stars along the winding highway.

Throwing our bikes on the side of a hill and climbing to the top we found our flattest campsite yet. The din of the traffic below was surprisingly heavy for New Years Eve. We watched the lights wind their way up the long, slow rolling hills we would tackle tomorrow. In the moonless sky the stars sparkled bright. We fell asleep early and left 2012 behind.