Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Access Codes....

6 Things you don't say to Someone You have dangled over the cliff in order to get The Access Codes.

1) Some long monologue. Don't do it.  Get what you want, or deliver the coup de grace.

2) Seriously, if you have to do a monologue, at least make it somewhat sinister.  It fills the awkward time as you walk through your ridiculously ginormous lair.  Who pays your heating bills?  Plus, you can only get there by sailboat?  How does the Jimmy John's guy bring you lunch?

3)  Wait, you don't have one of those fancy wing suits do you?  Because, you sort of lose your 'dangling over cliff leverage.'  Unlikely but classic mistake is to ignore the possibility of small parachute or wingsuit as part of clothing.

4) And now prepare to die... again, you're kind of monolouging here.

5) If you can't follow these instructions, at least hire good people.  Getting access codes is a team endeavor.  

6) Seriously.  Look behind you.   Maybe hire some competent henchmen.  I know, I know, good help is hard to find.

Monday, February 2, 2015

California Bike Ride -- Boulder Peak

Summit ridge

The approach ride
For several years now I've been a crew hand on the baggage group for the Bicycle Rides Northwest.  This year I ascended to the lofty position of chief roustabout.  The trip covers several hundred miles of new terrain each year.  I enjoy the labor, the company, the riders, and my co-workers.  But every year I make an effort to get in some adventure.  Notably this trip.

The California Bike Ride in 2014 toured through the State of Jefferson in Northern California and Southern Oregon.  Big Foot country.  Famous also for growing lots of dope.  I did see plenty of state of Jefferson flags, but the only big feet I saw were my own, and thankfully we didn't come across any angry "farmers."  What we did come across was "hot" and lots of it.  The drives were of long duration, the roads were of marginal quality and width but the cyclists seemed to have fun.  The highlight of my trip was of course the annual, "get out the map and go get on top of the tallest thing available in the place with the fewest people."  Based on the one and only rule of adventure -- you must be doing something you'd rather be at home talking about -- the challenging ascent of Boulder Peak was a singular success.

The trip was months in the making.  Once the route was published, I started scrambling for a scramble.  Thank you internet.  I settled on Boulder peak, in the Marble Mountain wilderness.  Remote, challenging and tall.  As notes:

"Boulder Peak is the highpoint of the rugged Marble Mountain Wilderness in Northern California. The Marble Mountain Wilderness is one of the finest tracts of pristine mountains in the state of California. Containing nearly a quarter million acres this wilderness is home to countless rugged peaks, beautiful alpine meadows, rich old growth forests and dozens of deep subalpine lakes. Despite these fantastic qualities the Marble Mountains see relatively light use, due in large part to their isolation from most population centers. "

It would prove all of that. Planning for the event went completely as expected, if you know me.  I basically ignored any thought of planning, until I got to Northern California on the Bike trip, and then suddenly realized that I needed maps, water purification, etc.  But understand -- what world do you imagine you live in where you could get these things ahead of time.  

The crew for the adventure was mainly the Baggage crew on this trip; and that was almost exclusively former students.  Tosch R., Brandon R., and Bryce C. had had all finished up college and were here to inject youngblood into the endeavor.  And Ryan G., another teacher who worked on the SAG (support and gear) crew would prove to be the critical piece to our adventure.

The day before the trip, baggage-hand Brandon R. and I commandeered a mini-van (politely pleaded to borrow) and roared into the nearest town (drove leisurely while listening to wait - wait -don't tell me).  It took a while, as we went to a hunting store, another hunting store, and finally, after stopping a the third hunting store, we were directed 2 blocks to the National Forest Service station by the hunting store, where we bought a map.  Never did find any Iodine pills.

Live music the night before kept the intrepid crew up but 
there was no need for an alpine start as we had the day off; the trip was a layover day, and the clients would be doing a loop.  Our teamster skills were not needed.  So, the plan?  Bike 25 miles on asphalt.  Then 2.2 miles on a gravel road on our road bikes gaining about 2000 feet.  Then stash the bikes, hike 7 miles (one way) while gaining an additional 4500 feet.  Did I mention no water purification, and 100 degree heat?  Remember our motto on the Baggage team is "what's the worst that can happen" and "i don't know, your bag is probably somewhere."  JK.  We cradle bags like infants (my boss made me put that in).
The one they call bear bait on the summit approach.

Dawn broke, and we slept in.  Par for the course.  But we had a plan.  A quick cup of coffee, and ride the riders' route backwards to arrive at the rest stop just as it opened.  A variety of treats awaited us, and fortified us for the last bit of the ride.  We made good time as the fit athletes pushed the tempo, and this "athlete" said "wait up" a lot. 

Hats and hikes and hats and hikes and hats and hikes
Ryan was the real key to the trip.  He didn't have a bike;  but he did drive to the trail head, arriving EXACTLY as we did (my logistical acumen, well, just saying)...  He had carried our running shoes/ hiking boots, backpacks... all the things that let us ride in style to the trail head, but now hike with gear.  The climb was an absolute beast.  7 miles climbing 4500 feet is legitimately STEEP.  Plus, we were startled by a large, but lethargic rattler.  Along the way we passed a couple high alpine lakes, saw some bear sign.  We also saw 3 other people.  This was disappointing.  I mean, how dare they tread in our wilderness.

Really the climb was just a ramp for 7 miles.  As you can see, the views were stellar.  The mountain has the "51st greatest prominence" in the state of California.  Basically, that just means that it's tall, and a lot taller than the things around it.  And as it's in a wilderness, the views are untrammeled? un marred?  You know.  Trees and such.  We Summited in good form (see what I did there Summit High Alums), and signed the register.  As is often the case, the stay at the top was brief.  We got a few pics, and then, were quickly chased off the 8300 foot summit by some biting black flies.  We strung out a little on the descent.  I don't "run" down mountains anymore.  It's undignified, plus, 'my ol' hips."  I did find our rattler again.  I hopped like i'd been stung and screamed out with some excitement.

At the bottom of the hike, there was a minor amount of macho posturing about biking back down 2000 feet of gravel, then biking back 25 miles.  Thankfully, Ryan had driven the van.  Tune in next year for.... THE TETONS.

It's my blog yo.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

UGA ultimate, Ultimate, and The Complete Saga of UGA Sports.... Sort of.

A Bunch of us used to play frisbee together.  This is that story.  

Today we tell the story of OTP -- the funnest bunch of miscreants ever to cleat up.  For a couple years we'd fly from across the country to play wreck our bodies with two days of ultimate frisbee with no substitute players, and generally make fools of ourselves.  This is that story. 

One Trick Pony

The Early Years

In the beginning there was the Haley House. We all lived there in collegiate squalor. Well not actually. Just some of us lived there in collegiate squalor. Others just came to play cards, and to lie in the hammock.

The Diaspora

But like all great things, the golden day of Georgia Greatness Passed. Grant and Alex moved to New Mexico. Robbye moved to North Carolina. Rob Barrett moved to Boston. Luke moved to Seattle. Of course, these events happened over several years. And in fact, it was not until Grant returned from Santa Fe that Eric Olson even arrived on the scene. But these were nonetheless, seminal events in the saga of the Georgia Ultimate Playing community, so the lack of, well, accuracy can be chalked up to artistic license.

But to summarize, over the years, a bunch of us played cards, drank beer, and played ultimate frisbee in and about the area of Athens, GA.

Coast to Coast

Then came that fateful day in 1999. Grant called us all and told us the awful news. He was due for a partial phlebotomy. At the time, none of us were at all aware that this meant that he was going to have some blood drawn. In our anguish, and concern, that Grant was having emergency surgery to have his "phleb" removed, we hurriedly purchased plane tickets, rented cars, and hustled to get back to Athens, GA for the Savage 7 Tournament: To play Ultimate with our friend Grant for one last time. Of course we found out at that point, just what exactly a phlebotomy was, so we celebrated by having a bar be que, playing cards, and having a good time.

One Trick Pony

2000 was no different. This time Grant was developing a case of Olfactory Hirsuteness. And to make matters worse, Alex (who had, moved back to Athens) was developing an adipose problem over the long winter months. Well, we (Rob, Robbye, Andy, Eric, and Luke) almost fell for it (hey, we went to UGA, not Harvard), until Rob Barrett looked up these words in the dictionary and bailed us out (Rob is in Graduate school. He is therefore, "book-learned" -- the highest level of intelligence for a southerner). Turmoil rocked the team. Luke was waffling horrifically, making up injuries to fictional body parts (how exactly do you strain your arugula), Robbye (also in graduate school), was making up examinations, and Andy. Well now.

Andy wrote this incredibly long email describing how busy he was, how out of shape he was, how long a drive it was, etc. It was disgusting. Only my longstanding friendship with Andy precludes me from posting the entire email here. The entire team was in jeopardy. But then Eric laid down the law... he ripped Andy a new one, so to speak. Luke was so embarrassed he had to buy the ticket. Rob, and Robbye threw it together...

It was ON!

Which in turn led to THIS nonsense. The Trading cards.  Where are they now?

Today, after getting his grad degree from UGA, Rob is a school counselor I think... help me out.

Robbye "River" is a PT in NC?  He is demonstrating the "kareem."  The throw that took America by storm during the 1990's. 
Luke taught HS for 10 years, and now is in another Master's program at UMN for Public Health (Epidemiology).  No, I don't know anything about your mole.
 Grant is managing his properties and doing contracting in Athens.  He did love that upside down thumber throw.
Design work of some sort EO? Need some details; living out in California.
Andy was teaching last I heard.  Maybe at Kennesaw State.

Alex Crevar was the 7th.  Today he's a journalist, perhaps you've read his work in National Geographic, and Cat Fancier.  (Nat Geo is true, not so sure about the Cat Fancier).

Alex's trading card was lost to the dustbin of time.  But there he is bottom row, having a lemonade.  Also this is the same savage 7 different year.  I'm not sure how many years we kept flying in; good times.


And here is a bunch more of the crew in their salad days.  Tomorrow, some poultry days.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Oregon Bike Ride and Mustache Contest.

Photo bombing the selfie.
The 2013 Bicycle Rides Northwest "Oregon Bike" ride has come to it's conclusion.  Spectacular scenery, wonderful clients and co-workers, and of course, a mustache competition made this the ride of rides.

The Ride started in Dayton, Oregon and circled through some epic terrain in eastern Oregon, as we visited dense forest, wine country, mountain peaks, deep canyons, and arid plains.

The write up is not a comprehensive description of every day of the trip.  But I hope I can capture some of the fun I had.  To be clear, this is not journalism:  I'm looking for a little humor out of life, not Shackleton's journals from the Endurance.

Bicycle rides northwest is a non-profit that runs an absolutely spectacular trip.  The food, camping, and routes are incomparable. One colleague, who's experience in the bike industry has taken them to many bike tours, says that this is the best trip in the country. 

While I can only look at one year to the next, I keep coming back to get out of bed at 5 a.m. and move literally tons of luggage.  So, I guess it's good to me.

Day 1) Day one was a morning drive from Bend to Dayton, Oregon.  Camping in the city park was cool and shady.  It was relatively uneventful from an employee standpoint:  Help the riders out, set up some canopies (I'll edit this later when I find a picture of the tents), set out some tables and chairs, and pick up some U-Hauls.

With no tales of adventure to share,  let me take the time to introduce a couple of the characters.  There are probably 30 employees to go with the 300 riders.  Mostly the individual crews tend to stick together, if for no reason than that they work on the same schedule.  I.e., 'baggage dudes' hang out, as do the hard workers at 'camp central' who keep the riders supplied with beverages, snacks etc, and the caterers who crank out 18 hour days.  But there is great camaraderie amongst the workers, and certainly we all had a lot of laughs together.
Tosch and Brett

Let's feature a couple of hard working baggage crew members.  Here we have Tosch on the left, and Brett on the right.  They are an interesting contrast.  Like everyone on the team, they got along famously, but they were very different in many ways.  While both are cyclists and climbers, there are some differences.

Tosch is a designer of custom hand made packs, musical prodigy, and all around renaissance guy. Brett is a commercial fisherman / rock climber.  They got along great, but it's an interesting character study.

Tosch, for instance, was the constant recipient of gifts of fruit, praise, and microbrews from riders.  Brett, on the other hand, was told by a client to, "hey, make sure my luggage is right side up when you unload it."

I don't want to make any broad assumptions about human nature, but Tosch is a constantly smiling cheerful young man.  Brett carries three knives on deck to cut himself free if being dragged by a longline to watery doom.  Just saying.

Lost in Flanders?
Day 2) Dayton to LaGrande.  Some fine memories for me of LaGrande.  This is where I spent 3 weeks in 2002 as I entered into my Eastern Oregon University Masters Program.  It was a fantastic summer then, and my one day there in 2013 was also great.   After a delay due to the site being occupied by 36 softball teams, with tents and evidence of a late night, the crew went through the daily ritual of offloading 6 tons of bags and setting up 12 tents (that's the last time I'll give those details).

While it was hot, Brett talked me into a 26 mile trip to check out some springs in the town of Cove.  After not really looking at the map, we proceeded to get lost.  And zig zag back and forth through the country.  And ended up on gravel roads.  And, As is my want, I complained mightily, but enjoyed every minute of it.  The springs turned out to be a pool that charged $7 for a swim.  Water water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.  We churned on, and while dehydrated, and laughing at our self made adventure, we ended up on and rode a marked Oregon bikeway.  The picture above was taken riding through a field of sunflowers.  We managed to take every wrong turn, but made it back in time for dinner, a sweet ska band, and some pops. 
wallowa lake
Eric's First Ever 'real ride'
 Day 3) LaGrande to Joseph.  If I have fond memories of LaGrande, my experience in the region around Joseph from 2002 are even better.  Joseph is a gateway to the Wallowas.  Nestled against a high alpine lake formed by glaciers 10,000 years ago (If you believe the Democrats). (That's a joke.  I mentioned in the preface I would do some of that.  Please don't take offense if you find my characterization of Democrats as liberal bothersome).

Brett and I took Eric on his 'first ever bike ride.'  Let me clarify, While Eric has worked on the trips for several years, he's not really been a cyclist.  But during the week off between the Montana ride and the Oregon ride, Eric threw down for a nifty Trek 1.5.  A very cool bike.  Compared to some of the exotic steeds that some of riders ride, it might be considered an 'entry level bike,' but it is no slouch.  Eric and I dropped off Brett, who headed solo up into the Eagle Cap wilderness.  I rode another 10 miles or so, and hung out in camp.

eagle cap
Chloe at Trailhead
I would make the hike in the next morning.  This was one of my defining memories of the trip.

Day 4) Joseph Layover day.  The riders did a 60 mile canyon descent.  I tried to round up more participants for my planned fast pack hike from Wallowa Lake to the Matterhorn.  Depending on whether you trust the guide book, or the map, it was 18-22 miles round trip, but over 5000 feet of vertical gain.

Only Camp Central worker Chloe would join me.  She'd never done much hiking, and was worried -- needlessly, as she cranked out the miles.  I've included a few extra photos to try to capture the amazing change in scenery.  The dense forest at the trail head provided views of the Wallowa River, but little else as we climbed, and climbed, and climbed.

Eventually, we began to get slight views of distant high peaks.  As we switch backed through the dense forest, we moved into more open terrain.  The views became more expansive, and we found cascading waterfalls, and animal tracks.  We moved quickly, stopping only to snack, and to purify water.

We knew Brett would be camping at Ice Lake, and summiting in the morning.  Whether we would meet him was a question, but, from the map, it seemed likely we would at some point.

Chloe shooting Ice Lake footage
Eventually we arrived at the incredibly scenic Ice Lake.  Nestled below Sacagawea and Matterhorn peaks, Ice Lake is a crystal clear gem of unparalleled beauty.  It's also the end of the real trail.  We paused, snacked, and planned our summit ascent.  Chloe chose to stay at the lake.  I went for the summit, but promised I'd not go all the way if It was turning into a time issue.   With 2000 vertical feet to go in less than 1.5 miles, I wasn't sure what would happen.

Mirror lake... 'mirrica lake

I climbed steadily, on what can best be considered a steep ramp.  There was a slight trail:  It disappeared occasionally, but small rock cairns ahead pulled me upwards.  I found myself simply counting one foot in front of the other, and would allow myself to pause to sip water after 2000 steps.
Brett, Mirror lake, even higher
In what was no huge surprise, I met up with Brett part way up the trail.  I estimate about 1/3 of the way up.  We agreed that as he was descending, he and Chloe would take off, and I'd be free to ascend to the Summit.
 And what a summit it was.  The Eagle Cap is a unique area of granite sprouting up in the far eastern portion of Oregon.  Having climbed 5000 feet, I was exhausted.  The last 300 feet was on bare exposed granite, with no trail.  I was happy to summit.
Summit, Matterhorn

Descending was a bit sketchy:  I started dropping to the climbers trail too soon, and suddenly found myself clinging to a pitch that was steepening rapidly, with a perilous fall below me.  I gathered my scant wits, and climbed up, traversed, and continued.  
The descent was the hardest part:  steeply walking downhill on a slippery trail was exhausting, especially after covering the miles and altitude.

I shot some panoramic footage from the summit.
Take a moment to scroll up and look at the astounding change in view as we climbed up 5000 feet.  Nothing compares to alpine scenery, and the Wallowas are world class.

Day 5) Joseph to Asotin.  The riders experienced one of the finest rides in America:  The rattlesnake grade.  10 miles of winding rapid descending, with a matched grade on the Washington side.  We camped on the Snake river. 

It was hot as blazes.  But gorgeous.  Multiple Osprey soared, and riders swam in the Snake, and several of us camped by the cool waters. 

If you ever wondered what 2 osprey fledglings sound like at 4:00 a.m., here is the translation.
Hey, HEY, Hey, HEY MOM, HEY MOM, DAD, are you up, HEY, HEY, HEY, HEY, hey, got a fish, FISH, GOT A FISH, HEY let's poop on a tent, YEAH POOP, POOP, hey... (needless to say, we were up early).
Dr. Bill and his 'stache

Day 6) Asotin to Dayton. Uneventful, but had a great burger at Threshers in Dayton.  Good time to talk about the mustache contest.  The crew managed to talk numerous riders and crew into growing, or shaving mustaches.  Clear winner, is our good friend, and rider of the year, Dr. Bill.  Yes, he's a doctor, and a hell of good guy.  My mustache?  Well, one week's growth on a pale blonde dude looks... dirty.  But I went for it.

Day 7) Dayton Layover ride.  I failed in not taking a picture of this 20 mile winding road to the base of Bluewood ski resort.  Steady smooth climbing with Don, Tosch, Brett was good exercise, without turning into a race (well, except for the last 100m).  I lost.  The descent was 20 miles of pace lining, averaging 30 miles per hour down the grade.  Burger, and late night dancing with a jam/ funk band at Threshers.

Day 8) Dayton to Athena for the riders.  We powered it out, did our work, and waited for the last rider to leave.  A reasonable 4.5 hour ride later, I was tucked into a Los Jalopenos Burrito, and asleep by dark.  

Another epic trip.  I'll update and edit this when I get a few more photos emailed to me.  And of course, after I go through and find all the grammar and syntax errors.  Summer's coming to an end, and I'm at last feeling recharged to teach.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Big Sky Bike Trip.

Day 1: Bend to Spokane, and
Day 2, Spokane to Missoula.

I'll skip the detailed description of the drive From Bend to Montana.  Suffice to say it was a long trip with an overnight stay in Spokane.  Part of the job.  But Spokane gets a little more press on day nine.  Missoula is our official start, but I'm calling it day two.

We rode up a couple of canyons north of town and visited the Draught Works.  We also checked out Charlie B's, a classic cowboy place that attracted LITERALLY all kinds of people.  OK, actually, it attracted literally several kinds.  Cowboys, College kids, fishermen, and etc.  I got to bed pretty early, as the trip is long and the road is winding.

Day 3  Missoula to Darby.
The camping was functional, as we stayed in the local school house yard.   I Did a short ride out of Darby, our first stop.  I checked out some high mountain roads before getting into bear-like country (which  can be said about most places in Montana) and a rough jeep trail.  Returning to smoother roads, I scouted south of town and shot this picture of Trapper peak.  Glacially shaped, and over 10,000 feet tall, Trapper is apparently considered a 'walk up' with occasional use of hands, but safe. (Class 2 if you're a climber). 
lewis and clark

Day 4 took us from Darby to Jackson.
We camped on the Lapham ranch.  Here's a link to a pic of our camping.  The green pastures are misleading.  This is definitely High Country.  Snowmobiles (or 'sleds' if you're a cool kid) are tools not toys here.

I got in a snappy 26 miler that falls under the category of better remembered than repeated.  A 13 mile time trial with Brett M. turned into a 13 mile death grind into a brutal headwind on the return to camp.

Day 5, Tuesday, had us driving to Wise.
As we drove a different route than the riders, I had no idea of how scenic the bike route was.  I caught a 'SAG' wagon up into the hills and rode in 20 miles of gently winding canyon road paralleling a pristine stream.  Apparently the day's riding was "10/10" with a mix of high country, canyon, and varied mountains.  Certainly the part I rode was.

I guess there was a complaint that there was kind of an issue for some riders that the porta potties were too far away from camp.  As the blue box doors slamming are a constant sleep interruption, I'm not hugely sympathetic, but, the riders write checks, meaning the clients are the boss.  But there was a humorous missed opportunity:  When asked by a rider, "Don't you think the port-a-potties are too far away," the reply was an honest, sincere, and appropriate, "It's the best we could do given the site restrictions."

In my upcoming novel, it goes like this:
Client: "Don't you think the port-a-potties are too far away"
Me: "Hmm, Depends." (Ba-da-bing).

Day six, Wednesday,  took the ride from Wise to Phillipsburg, with a day 7 stay in Phillipsburg.
This would be our 'layover' allowing me unfettered opportunity to ride the next day.  It would be an epic.  I won't elaborate, but Phillipsburg, MT,  population approximately 800, has some interesting stuff going on under the surface.  I'm not getting into it in this post, but feel free to comment below or email me if you want more dirt.

There was a dog there, that had a collar with just the town license.  So we took to calling the Lab/Shepard/Collie/and Chow (I mean, always a little Chow, eh?) "Town of Phillipsburg" as a complete name.  I asked people not to feed the obviously well fed animal, to no avail, so I resigned myself to watching good ol' "Town of Phillipsburg" sucker some people out of french onion dip, chicken, etc.  Those tricky fake eye brows!!!!

skakhalo passThe ride was, I think 68 miles, including 14 on gravel.  3 of us had brought cyclocross bikes in anticipation of adding some gravel roads to spice up the ride.

A highlight of the ride was a lightly traveled mountain road up Skalkaho pass.  I flatted out 7 miles up, and on the THIRD innertube I was rolling.  It was fortuitous that I flatted next to what was described by one member of our crew as "The greatest swimming hole ever."

And truthfully, I was just glad to turn around as there was plenty of riding to be done.

Brett on the Gravel
We stocked up on tubes at the wonderfully stocked Bicycle Rides Northwest Rest stop (fruits, sweets, spam) and took an alternate ride on Rock Creek Road.  Where the mapped ride for the riders was an out and back, we jogged left and took the gravel, and crossed the Mountains at a different pass.  (Technically they were just hills.  Interestingly, in Montana, the mountains are MOUNTAINS, but the Rivers are creeks #irrigation).  The ride was steady to fast pace on gravel.  The rewards were riding back on a different road than we came in on, and riding a less traveled road.
bike ride
Muffy feeding before the climb.
But there was a brutal climb ahead.  I did not win the climb.  I'm attributing my loss to failure to hit the albuterol (totally legal in the olympics, fyi) after the dusty road and before the 4 mile grind.  Girth, weight, and lack of fitness can't possibly be the issue.
View from Phillipsburg Lunch 'Murica

While in Phillipsburg we saw yet another fire.  I love that smell, it smells like... OH, It smells like the, like, LITERALLY 7th fire in seven days.  (Do you see how I used literally correctly, while incorporating the horrific abuse of the word "like?"  Helicopters  rotating up to fight fires was a common sight.

As I remember  zero rain, lightning, or thunder on the trip, I have to assume the fires were man made.  If that is the case, I don't know whether to hope for gross stupidity from some yahoo flipping a cigarette butt, or parking a hot engine on roadside grass, or arson.  Obviously Arson is worse, as it implies malevolence.  But if it's just idiocy on this scope we're all doomed anyway.  So I'll just pretend that an arsonist roams Montana, in a manner that deserves a book treatment.  Hmm.  My next project: Big Sky Burning: Book one in the Jim Bridger, Montana DCI series: .  Hmm sounds like a lot of work.  Just pay me $1000, and you write it.  That's how Tom Clancy does it these days.  But make sure you include this line in the novel:

Sally: "Jim it's 500 miles.  How will you make it in time"
Jim Bridger: "Depends"

Oh, and bringing the story of Phillipsburg full circle, it turns out the Dog was the town dog.  So, "Town of Phillipsburg" it was.  After a night of sleep marred only by some kind of loud domestic dispute from a nearby house (my campsite was far enough that I didn't get bothered), we went onto Ovando!

Day 8, Friday, Phillipsburg to Ovando!
Wikipedia lists the population of Ovando, as 70 in 2000.  We were told 64.  Regardless, small town.  Here is the scene as the town served us our lunch.  It was termed by many as Outrageously adorable....

It would be better called 'Dinner' as you had to sit down.  Yep.  The 3 little kids would follow you to your seat, and then pounce, handing you a tuna wrap.  But, no seat, no food.  That's called Dinner.

I'm hoping to get some pics, but our entertainment was by 3 local kids, ages 16, 15, and 14, who played key boards, banjo, mandolin, and guitar; they were heavily influenced by blue grass and folk music, but showed talent in numerous genres.  And they were impossibly adept, leading Wes, a crew member and graduate of Berklee college of music to comment that it was "incredibly unfair that they were that talented."  Kill your TV folks, just saying.

'Selfie' = 'alone because jersey stinks'
One of the kids had an original model T that he'd pulled from the mud and restored, down to hand carving the wooden spokes on the wheels.  I'll edit this when I get a picture.  I managed to get in an easy ride -- I didn't have much to give after the long ride the day before, but I felt compelled.

This picture is outside of Ovando. This is a 'selfie' of me riding some gravel road in the middle of nowhere.  Stunningly gorgeous, if a bit austere.  The cyclocross bike was definitely the one to take on this trip as it let me get to somewhat more remote locations.

Day 9, Saturday, riding from Ovando to Missoula was uneventful.
After the riders packed up and went home, the staff drove onto Spokane, and went to Northern Lights Brewing for dinner.  A small group of us went into check out downtown Spokane, and the falls.

Which brings us to one final story.  As were getting ready to cross the street, what appears to be at least 500 riders starts to ride through the traffic light.  It looked like a critical mass ride (rides held nationwide where large numbers of riders gather, and then take the streets shutting down traffic, etc), and I fully expected the riders to break the law, and continue to swarm once the light turned red.  But instead they obeyed all laws.

And this is where it got weird.

Staff member B. called out to a rider, "Hey what's going on"
Rider in Spokane, "We're the F&%#ing Bike Club"
Me, "Hey no need for that, I'm hurt"
B, "Seriously you don't even KNOW me"
(Aside: we were being quite obviously, childish, as I'm not easily offended by language, and B. is an actual fisherman).

Some blocks later, a dad and his child are politely last at the light, as the 500 riders are ahead of them, and again, I yell, "Hey, what's going on?!"

Dad, "We're the FBC"
Me, "What's that mean"
Dad, "The F&%#ing Bike Club"

And they were.  They even have a Blog.  For language reasons I won't link to it, but you can probably find it.

All I could do is laugh. They were indeed the one and only FBC.

Made it home in time for dinner on Sunday, and fell to bed nice and early.  Stay tuned for the trip to the Wallowas next week.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

You will be paying more to go to college. That ensures Oil companies get subsidies.

   OK, just to clear up the title, it's not a direct movement of your student loan dollars to oil companies.  There's more than enough money in the loan profits to pay for that.  

   Big goings on today in student loans.  Political Gridlock has led to a doubling of student loan rates from 3.4% to 6.8%, as reported HERE in the LA Times.  Basically, Obama wants a plan that has  loan rates for "needy" about 2% lower than non-needy students.  His plan is keyed to the prime rate, ensuring the continued profitability of the loan program. 

  House Republicans want a program that is also keyed to the prime rate, but makes no distinction between needy borrowers, and non-needy borrowers.  The plan also runs the risk of ballooning rates, as there are no guarantees for borrowers that the rates will stay the same.  

  House and Senate Democrats want a program in place that provides caps on the top rate.  The details of the varied plans can be found in Mother Jones, HERE.  A liberal rag, no doubt, but there are some nifty charts.

   Interestingly, as mentioned in the Mother Jones article, and detailed in the LA Times HERE, Elizabeth Warren proposes tying the interest rates given to need based student loans to the Federal Discount rate, which is the rate the government loans Banks.  Obviously, there are compelling reasons to make very low interest rate loans to banks (It's the economy, stupid), but something something the children are the future.   That looks like the 'libural' plan, as it probably would result in some reduction in government profits on loan interest.

   The stop gap plan (that failed) would have kept the current rates at 3.4% for another year, so that the rates wouldn't go up while the issue is dealt with.

   That's the summary for now.  OK, now onto the 'OH REALLY' part of the extravaganza.

1) The government MAKES money on the 3.4% rate.  Plenty.  Like Scrooge McDuck plenty.  50 billion in 2012 alone, as reported in USA today HERE.  50 Billion!? OH REALLY.

2) See 1, Above. OH REALLY.

It doesn't seem like we need to presumably double the profit.  It's not clear why we need more profit at all on loans, to students. Or it didn't until I found this ARTICLE, from the Atlantic.  I've reprinted the big numbers below, but basically our government  spent $37 billion on such things as paying oil companies to explore for oil, paying them for they oil they took out of the ground... OH REALLY?  SERIOUSLY?  You, dear reader, get the idea.  Just read on.  It's just way too depressing.

Here are the numbers on the oil subsidies.  Oh PS, in case you didn't know, the oil companies made a profit last year.  A pretty good one.

From the Atlantic (link above).
·  Expensing Intangible Drilling Costs ($13.9 billion): Since 1913, this tax break has let oil companies write off some costs of exploring for oil and creating new wells. When it was created, drilling meant taking a gamble on what was below the earth without high-tech geological tools. But software-led advances in seismic analysis and drilling techniques have cut that risk down.

·  Deducting percentage depletion for oil and natural gas wells ($11.5 billion): Since 1926, this has given oil companies a tax breaks based on the amount of oil extracted from its wells. The logic is, if manufacturers get a break for the cost of aging machinery, drillers can deduct the cost of their aging resources. (You decide for yourself whether that makes any sense.) Since 1975, it's only available to "independent oil producers," not the big oil companies, like Exxon and BP. But many of these smaller companies aren't actually small. According to Oil Change International, independents made up 86 of the top 100 oil companies by reserves. Those 86 had a median market cap of more than $2 billion. So essentially, this is a tax break that subsidizes the Very Big oil companies at the expense of the Very Biggest.* 

·  The domestic manufacturing deduction for oil and natural gas companies ($11.6 billion): In 2004, as American manufacturing was being ravaged by China's entrance on the global scene, Congress passed legislation designed to encourage companies to keep factories operating in the U.S. Thanks to some intensive lobbying, the oil industry ended up as one of the beneficiaries. But while the refining process does involve high-tech manufacturing, there was never any danger that either drilling or refining was going to migrate overseas. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Class action lawsuits, oh joy.

Here is the 2nd time I was invited to join a class action law suit.

I used to use Sprint for my cellular coverage.  Their coverage zones were good enough, their rates were at least competitive with other services, and it was more or less a functional relationship, at least when I was willing to pay full price for massive amounts of minutes. 

But this was the late 90’s, early 2000’s and I was a corporate type guy, and I saw those relatively modest dollars as not worth worrying about.  No, it wasn’t until I entered graduate school, and spent all my savings, and struggled to find work as a newly minted educator that the trouble began.

Basically, I had to cut my minutes down, as the 70 or 80 dollars I paid each month became the difference between eating (well), or going out for a microbrew with a buddy now and again (I’m going on memory regarding the cost:  I DO remember that it was a number that would seem high even a decade later).

I had settled on some modest minutes figure.  There were plenty of nights and weekend minutes, and the phone had a ‘minute minder’ feature that kept a tally about how many minutes I’d used.  If I felt I was pushing it, I’d just turn the phone off during the day.

Until that fateful day.  I received my bill, and it included an extra $100 fee for “overage.”  I was driving somewhere, and phoned Sprint (I know, that’s terrible to use the phone in traffic, but let’s not pretend that I pioneered the concept). 

I was perturbed, because, it seems as if their minute minder feature was a joke.  A cruel joke, but a joke. But their more advanced, “keep you on hold until your battery fades and dies feature,”  while apparently in beta testing.   Worked just fine.

I called them back later, got through, and the conversation went a little like this.

I said to the Sprinter, “Hello, Yes, I’m a little perturbed that my bill was so far off.”

The sprinter replied,  “Well sir, it shows that you used (x amount) of minutes, and it’s ten cents per minute over your base program.”

I noted,  “Well, yeah, but I used the minute minder one week ago, so, three-fourths of the way through the month, and it indicated that I had at least half my minutes left.  I don’t really see how I could somehow use more than double my allotment of anytime minutes.”

The sprinter calmly explained that, “Sir, I’m sorry, but the minute minder feature is just an estimate.”

Channeling my inner Mark Twain, I replied, “When you’re off by a factor of 50%, it’s not an estimate, it’s a wild ass guess.”

My credit rating probably still bears the scars of my refusal to pay the overage charge.  And it was small solace when some years later, I received an invitation to join a class action  lawsuit against Sprint for their clever minute counting policies.  I didn’t bother, as it seemed tawdry, and small.

In point of fact, I’d rather join a class action lawsuit into their infuriating technology that allows them to keep me on hold for as long as it takes for my phone battery to die.

I’d be thrilled to join that lawsuit.  Anyway, that’s the story of the SECOND time I was invited to enter into a class action lawsuit.

Morrison Luke Smith