Friday, April 17, 2015

Harvest on… hooves?

You may remember last spring, when I returned home from my Flatistan Tour of Duty, Li’l Burro and I took a celebratory ride in the desert.

This year*, I once again find myself savoring the wonders of springtime from the saddle.  The blooming desert is almost too glorious to bear**. Oh, happy homecoming!

Easter Hike Hugh Norris-Sendero Esperanza-Dobe Wash-Hohokam Road 044

Eventually, the gaudy display does become unbearable. I may have stomped my foot angrily, and said a little too loudly, to no one in particular: "Would you just look at this ridiculousness?!"***

Easter Hike Hugh Norris-Sendero Esperanza-Dobe Wash-Hohokam Road 059

Cholla blooms outshine their younger siblings, but it’s worth taking notice of the plain green buds, because…

Cholla Harvesting (2)
Can you see the shimmery bead of sap at the base of each bud's thorn?

… you can eat ‘em!  It helps to travel properly equipped****.  Depending on the length of your tongs, harvesting the buds can feel downright dangerous.

Cholla Harvesting (4)

My ride is right at home amongst the wildflowers.

Junior and Wildflowers 002

Not what you expected, eh?*****

* I've been home about a month now.  For a probably never to be blogged Flatistan Eating/Kayaking/Unmotorized slide show, click here.
**Springtime in the Sonoran Desert is not without its dangers. Pilot Guy documented one of our encounters last month
***Seriously, it's ridiculous. For more photos, see here.
****Toss the ciolim, as they are called by the Tohono O'odham, vigorously in a mesh strainer to knock off their spines. Stand upwind!  Or singe or roast them off, if you prefer. You must boil the buds for at least 15 minutes to denature their oxalic acid, and, incidentally, release a wealth of calcium!  I think I'll use mine in a pico de gallo to go with some heavily spiced tepary bean hummus I made recently.
***** Introducing “Junior!”  Li'l Burro can't wait to meet him!  Truth be told, I've been riding Junior sporadically since September, but this week I have officially leased half of him for the next two months. I'll actually be home!  I'll save you the trouble of asking: I'm leasing the left half. Never fear, the iron horses are still being exercised...

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Baja Reprise: Seeking Cetaceans on Three Wheels and Two Wings

A tale from The Back Burner (March 2013)

March is a time of year when I have to schedule in my showers, and decide which I have time for on any given day, brushing either my hair or teeth. Days off are few and far between (if any) for weeks at a time, so making a trip to a remote lagoon in Baja to pet whales is really not something that comes up.  Except sometimes.

A group of riders, including Phil, from my recent Baja Unadventure, are heading down to the San Ignacio lagoon at the end of the month, and – what? is it possible?- due to some freak alignment of the planets (and jobs), my days off from my four different positions actually coincide this month! Wumph! I sit down hard in my chair in disbelief.  It must be too good to be true.  Of course, it is. Too good to be true. I look at my calendar again, check the map... Arghhh! I don’t have quiiiite enough time to ride the miles, pet the whales (requiring at least one, possibly two, overnight stays), and get back to Tucson before the clock strikes midnight.  But I was so close!!

Sometimes, good things just need a little adjusting to make them true.  Pilot Guy, who has been courting me these past two months*, says coolly, slyly, “Yanno, we could fly down to pet the whales.”  I raise an eyebrow.  It might be a bit early to be hopping in his Bellanca Super Viking for an overnight, but I don’t care. I’m in!  I was so in, I even agreed to get up at 4am** to begin our adventure.

Our wheels are up before the sun,  and we watch it rise as our little aeroplane crosses over the international border.  Immigration and customs laws designate that we must first land in an international port of entry.  Guaymas is beautiful from the air!  Can you believe this? I’m flying in a private plane to Baja to pet whales. I really can’t wrap my brain around it.  I may be wearing sensible adventure appropriate footwear, but I check my feet for glass slippers, just in case.  Nope. I'm good.

Guaymas Aerial View

Negotiating customs and immigration in Guaymas is a bit of a trick. I speak (some) Spanish, but don’t speak Pilot. Pilot Guy, although obviously well versed in Pilot, is less capable in Spanish. We dance round and round, from window to window, each no more than ten paces from the other, seeking this stamp and that document before we can proceed. I’m not entirely sure, but it sounds like the official at one window is telling us we aren't allowed to fly from Guaymas to the San Ignacio Lagoon.  Huh?  It's something about flight plans, and towered vs. non-towered airports, but I can't discuss the topic intelligently in any language.  We're stumped.  Pilot Guy plays his ace - a call to a pilot friend, who flies to Mexico regularly.  Aha! The the wink and nudge system that, in the US, might have a curious military jet alongside us in no time, wasn't published in the airport directory. Wink and nudge we can, and soon, we’re on our way!

"What do you mean the landing gear won’t go up???"  I suppose this is better than the alternative, but mechanical failure in the air is not the sort of adventure I had in mind when I signed up for this trip.  Pilot Guy starts to circle, and checks in with the folks on the ground.  But before we’ve landed to investigate the problem….Oopsy!   Pilot Guy was right when he said you don’t so much get in a Bellanca as wear it.  During my clumsy entry when departing Guaymas, I’d inadvertently deployed the emergency landing gear switch.  It’s always good to test your equipment, I suppose.

Traveling by private aircraft is part glam rock star…

Bellanca Super Viking Sedona
Feeling glamorous in Sedona, AZ

… and part grubby safari.

Bellanca Baja Laguna San Ignacio

Today was definitely the latter.  This is an airport?  It’s simply a little dirt landing strip and a shack of sorts. But it works for us!

Final Approach Laguna San Ignacio Aeropuerto

Laguna San Igancio Aeropuerto

Our boat is also more safari than rock star.  Our captain pulls it to shore.

Pulling in the Majiben I

Majiben I

We set sail…

Laguna San Ignacio Shoreline

… and before long the whales show themselves. A flipper here…

Grey Whale Flipper Baja

… part of a tail fluke there.

Grey Whale Fluke Baja

Ahoy!  Friend or foe?  Dolphins, too, are leaping about, twice as high as I’ve ever seen them do at Sea World.  I’m spellbound and nearly mute with emotion.  Still, I have no idea what I’m about to experience.

Whale Breaching

They are so friendly and curious, that they mob our little boat. There are 3, 4, 5… all within reach, nearly too close to photograph. Who’s watching who?, I wonder.

Grey Whales Baja

Indeed, I am petting whales - whales far bigger than our little boat. They roll beneath my fingertips, we look each other curiously in the eye, and breathe the same air.  Mothers push their calves towards us, as if for our inspection.  “They feel just like olives!” observes Pilot Guy. He’s absolutely right!

Whale Adoration Experience

Whoosh! I catch a direct blast from a blowhole and sputter.

Whale Blowhole

They roll out of the water and look us. I try in vain to catch their eyes with the camera lens.

Grey Whale Eye Baja
Look carefully - you can see an eye near the center of this photo, if you use your imagination!

Our captain’s wife prepares lunch for us. Eight hours bottle to throttle, says the law.  We’re not flying again until tomorrow, so a beer is perfectly okay, too.

Lunch Laguna San Ignacio (6)
No whales were harmed in the preparation of our seafood lunch, I hope.  It's a bit salty, but we're simply too elated to care. Our meal disappears quickly.

A reconnaissance flyover before landing at the lagoon revealed that the airstrip closer to the town of San Ignacio was obscured with shrubbery. We would be okay to land there, but the Bellanca wouldn't!  Perhaps it's best we hire an SUV to take us across the strange landscape and into town.  There are things to see there, too…

Ride from Laguna to San Ignacio palm trees…

San Iganacio

… and banana blossoms.

Bananna Blossom

And the cathedral.

San Iganacio Church

San Ignacio Church Inside

We try to hunt down the riders at Ignacio Springs, but communication is too difficult here. We savor an amazing date shake near the oasis, instead.

The next morning, we're pretty sure we can spot whales from the air.  The watery loops below us are mesmerizing, like misty contrails melting into the sea.

Laguna San Ignacio Flyover (1)

Bye, bye, lagoon!

Laguna San Ignacio Flyover (2)

Hello moon!

Full Moon Returning to Tucson (2)
Wheels touch down back in Tucson

This is as good as it gets, I think to myself.  Without a motorcycle, anyway.
A fascinating article in the New York Times describes the behavior exhibited by these mysterious creatures, specifically when nursing their young in the San Ignacio Lagoon.   I encourage you to read it. When I came across this poignant story back in 2006, eyes nearly brimming over, I had no idea one day I would experience it all myself.

*Pilot Guy was quite the patient man when we met. Dating during the busy season? Hah! I literally said things like “I can meet you for coffee for 20 minutes a week from Wednesday, if that works for you.”  Not to mention the fact I was ready to ditch him for a motorcycle ride to Baja on my first days off since meeting him.  Lucky for me, he stuck with it.
**No small feat for the work weary sleep deprived musician who was working mornings and nights.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

To Hell and Back Again: Hell’s Canyon National Recreation Area (What I Did Last Summer)

Hell’s Canyon National Recreation Area has always been a teensy weensy bit out of reach for me while working in northern Utah. But this summer, thanks to a work-free span of unprecedented length, I tagged it.  We should not have been surprised to have to negotiate a few Circles of Hell along the way…

“I’ll toss it in the top box and deal with it tomorrow,” I said of the Go Pro camera.  It was mid-morning, we were still packing the bikes, and I was getting impatient. “Today’s not going to be a pretty ride, anyway.”  The straight red line on the map that connects Blackfoot to Challis was not particularly alluring to this motorcyclist.  The twists and turns are few to none, and there are no little green dots alongside it to indicate a particularly scenic route, although upon closer inspection, one can note that the road does pass by the highest point in the state.  That ought to qualify as scenic.  But for a reason I’ve already forgotten, I chose this route to our first camping stop near Stanley, ID, anyway.  I’m not sure who has to make the terrible choices in the map making world as to which route is scenic and which is not, but I can tell you they were dead wrong on this one.  This portion of the Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway (someone realized it was scenic) caught me off guard.  It was so majestically beautiful, and I have not one single photo of it.  The stunning Big Lost River Valley and Lost River Range of towering craggy peaks are spectacularly laid out before the lucky traveller along this stretch of Idaho 93, and when we stopped in Challis for gas, I was nearly trembling with joy.  After the long motorcycle drought of 2013-14, I’m finally out exploring the Great American West on two wheels again.  It is so very, very good.

It still feels right, despite the black cloudburst overhead, now. It's Pilot Guy's first street tour, his first time riding in a downpour, and a serious crosswind is adding to the excitement. We take it easy, and he's doing fine. Isn't motorcycle touring fun, Pilot Guy? It's a brief event though, and we smile as we shake off the rain and make our camp. 

Pilot Guy does not have the campsite dish washing aversion that I do, so we dine a bit more generously when he’s around.  We have a lovely division of labor. He manages the feeding arrangements, I the housing arrangements.

Flat Rock Campground Idaho
Appetizers at Flat Rock Campground

Kielbasa Dinner

The next day, as we pass through Stanley, ID, I’m missing photos again.  The Sawtooth Mountains are well named and as craggy and sharp as they come.  These wild looking peaks are deserving of a proper photography stop, but I’m stuck between enjoying the ride and stopping for photos.  I’m missing turnouts, turning around, missing them again, enjoying a corner,  and doing everything except getting a good photo.  I had a chance to get those jagged broken teeth of mountains with green grasses and a charming split rail fence in the foreground.  Or happy grazing cows. Or a glimmering creek.  And I missed every single opportunity.  It’s positively disgraceful.  Even worse, I’ve been to the area twice before, and I don’t have any good pictures from either of those trips, either.  And so, until I have a chance to go back, get good photos of both the Big Lost River Valley and the Sawtooth Mountains, and bathe in the Sunbeam Hot Springs* that have intrigued me for so long, you can enjoy a few photos by a friend.

Photo by Steve Madancy. Thanks, Steve!

I can always count on Steve for a great photo.

On the way home, we managed to document our presence near the Sawtooth Mountains.  When I clomped into my house upon arrival from my 2014 Return Migration, I found a 20 x 30 version of this photo hanging in my house. Thanks, Pilot Guy!

For a motorcyclist, any road named Wildlife Canyon Scenic Byway prickles the heart with fear.  Wildlife encounters move me to tears**, but I’ve no interest seeing any on or near the road while I’m in motion.  But in this case, it almost doesn’t matter, since we are stuck crawling across the all-too-rugged pavement in the summer heat behind RV after lumbering RV.  Circle of Motorcycling Hell Number One!  Relief comes in the form of free iced tea refills and a big slice of surprisingly good pie at the Route 55 Café of Cascade, ID, and an unencumbered run across the smooth pavement of Idaho 55/the Payette River Scenic Byway.  The Payette river is all that a mountain stream should be – sprightly here, threateningly roiling there, ever engaging to watch when you’re not busy doing other things, like riding your motorcycle. Idaho, Idaho!  How did I forget how beautiful you are??

Idaho 71 is a wonderful surprise, and I feel like Alice in Wonderland, instantly transported to California wine country, except there aren’t any actual grapevines. It’s beautiful and the road is eminently sportable . But Pilot Guy is a bit too close behind me.  Sporty riding involves aggressive braking, and his proximity is unsettling. As I ride slower and slower, he gets closer and closer.  On our first street tour together, we’re a bit like awkward lovers; unsure of what the other needs. Too far apart, too close together, not communicating as well as we could… well, we have a thing or two to figure out in this department.

It's been a hot day of riding, and the showers at Woodhead Park Campground are a welcome surprise. But even the shower water is too hot.  Friendly camp neighbors offer provisions, and I am not shy about eating at least half of their refreshing, cool watermelon. We found ourselves a party!
Friendly camp neighbors seem to be everywhere. Note the deluxe motorcycle parking on the right!

As we approach our target the next morning, we have new road challenges to contend with.  Enter Circle Two, deer blinking at us from the side of the road.   With another sighting every few miles, we start feeling a bit jumpy.  We pull over for Circle Three, an angry stinging insect inside my jacket. Somehow it's worked its way inside my riding jacket and under my clothes. I leap about, trying to free it, squash it, somehow stop it, but no... There's an painful, quickly swelling welt where my belly button should be.

Oregon: a first for both Pilot Guy and my Kawaski!  (For this trip, my trusty Kawi made more sense than his Suzuki Dual Sport.)

Evidently the road to Hell is lined with cherry trees.

Hell's Canyon Scenic Byway Roadside Snacks

If this is Hell, I'm stayin'!

Hell's Canyon National Recreation Area

It hurts to just tag this beautiful place and leave, but no musician is going to risk getting to the show on time, no matter how beautiful her motorcycle camping trip happens to be.  We probably  have time to run up the tempting squiggle on the map known as ID 95 to White Bird, and ride the Old White Bird Grade Road, reportedly positively riddled with switchbacks, as suggested by Pete the Cheese Guy, but, but… well, I’ve always struggled with the phrase, “It’s probably fine.”

So after Circles of Hell Four, riding directly over the jagged necks of broken beer bottles in the road*** (an immediate tire inspection followed), and Five, the sickly sweet salad dressing at the Gateway Store and Café  (to be fair the rest of our meal was quite good), we take a route home that actually heads, you know, toward home.  But there’s still plenty to see on the way!
Pilot Guy and I are riding better together, now, and I take the opportunity to speed ahead and enjoy ID 71 properly this time. Lean, left, lean right!  Hard brakes! Harder throttle!  All as fast as I am able.  Lovely landscapes aside, this, too, is good for the spirit, and brings a sense of balance to our little tour.

Make no mistake, sweltering construction delays really are a Circle of Hell (Six, if you're counting) for motorcyclists.  It’s a hundred degrees or more. We’re stopped, waiting, waiting… waiting for the slow, winding, interminable snake of oncoming traffic to end, signifying that our turn to creep down the single open lane of several miles of roadway is nigh.  We are, as always, dutifully wearing our 20lbs or so of safety gear: helmet, leather and carbon fiber gloves, boots, over pants and jackets made of durable, heavy fabric or leather, complete with armor covering elbows, spine, shoulders, hips, knees…  Our heads and bodies droop with the passing minutes.  The gear is so heavy, so hot, it even feels difficult to breathe.  The principles of the venturi effect, which bring blessed breezes through our jacket vents, do not apply when we’re at a standstill.  Will this be 45 minutes?  Five?  It’s hard to say.   There are certain advantages to being at the head of the line when we finally do receive permission to depart, so the question becomes a game of heat stroke chicken.  Is there time to dismount and pull off gloves and helmet for a drink of water?  What about a half unzip?  Do we fully deconstruct, only to have to scramble to get dressed again two minutes later?  Tough it out?   We all have our own strategies, but it’s simply a miserable situation, regardless of the tactic chosen.  Finally - thank God, finally! – the construction worker flips her sign and waves us forward.  Our bodies and mind perform a 0-60 feat of sorts, leaping to action after our heat induced near coma.  Put away the water! Gloves and helmet on!  Ooops, zip jacket!  Gloves back on! Start bike! Ack, why can’t I find neutral?  Ack!  Forgot to secure helmet strap!  Gloves back off!  But it’s all just a tease. We’re rolling, but barely enough to (occasionally) lift our feet off the ground.  Slowly, slowly, we creep after the pilot car, the hot smell of asphalt wafting over us and into our open helmet visors.  So we go for miles.  The breeze does not come, and our hands, ever on the clutch, ache…

This was just one of the many we suffered through. Another kept us held a good 30 minutes next to a sign “eggs for sale.”  I really should have fried one on the sidewalk for what would have surely been a successful Eating on Two Wheels diversion.  It seems our decision to forgo the extra 200 miles for a White Bird run was the right one.

We camp on the banks of the North Fork Payette River, at Big Eddy Campground. Despite all the water rushing by us, there is no water spigot at camp, and it’s too dark for me to leave to find more.  We wring out the last drops from our supply to test my Eating on Two Wheels proprietary instant Creamy Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup Mix.  It needs refining, but I am clearly on to something!****

Forest fires areas are not all that fun to ride through, either.  Nor is a hot, sweltering, and smoky construction delay.  Consider the Whiskey Complex Fire, Circle of Hell Number Seven.

Eternal Damnation

Just a few days ago, Garden Valley Airport (U88) was full of happy little Cessnas, each with a cheerful tent pitched next to it. Not so today!

 A few pilots seem to have made their getaway using alternate methods.  We stood by and watched a helicopter towing buckets of water to douse the fire. I wonder if it felt as hopeless as it looked.

While the pizza may have been simply serviceable, the lemon sorbet at Leroy's stand in Ketchum, ID is the perfect remedy for our throats, so irritated by the wild fire smoke.  But the crowds of Sun Valley vacationers are unsettling after the wide open spaces of motorcycle touring, so we escape by climbing the nearby Bald Mountain Trail. It feels good to get some exercise.  We close our day with a pleasant sunset walk at nearby Boundary Campground, after securing the last available site, and Pilot Guy’s sharp eyes spot what could only be an abandoned grass runway.  I never would have noticed it.

Craters of the Moon National Monument must have been, during its creation at least, the very definition of Hell on Earth.  My nose wrinkles at the thought of the smoking, acrid lava flowing over anything and everything in its path, and my heart sinks when I reflect upon the barren and lifeless wasteland it must have been for years after these volcanic events.  But time and nature have transformed it to a more hospitable, yet no less fascinating, land.

The crumpled and cracked waves of dark, hardened lava call to mind a chocolate glaze that has been, in a bold stroke of avant-garde confectionery destruction, worked with a palette knife after it has already begun to set. 

The porous rocks look as crunchy, light, and sweet as the honeycomb toffee center of a Violet Crumble.   My mouth waters, and it occurs to me that they are both made in the same way, with gasses creating bubbles in a quickly hardening substance.

It's the first day of work for the girl at the Mountain Man Trading Post, in Arco, ID. She doesn't know how to make our sandwiches, so phones the owner for a long distance consultation. That's okay with us.  This funny out of the way store has a roomful of culinary oddities to explore while we wait.  I wish I had a way to carry back some of the locally made sausages. 

I watch the sun move in the sky. I sigh. It's time to roll. Our trip is ending, soon, too soon.  Five days of heat, smoke, fire, construction and RV caravan delays, road hazards, bee stings, questionable salad dressing...  One could ask, was it worth it?

Hell, yes!

*They are right next to, no, really, sort of in the Salmon River, so the hot water mixes with the cool river water to make the temperature just right. Facilities are limited to a little historic bath house next to the river.
** Not exaggerating. I positively sob aloud. It’s more than a little embarrassing.
*** This was an shamefully amateur riding error, and a gentle reminder of where not to position yourself when riding behind a car. Stay back, so you have more time to react to a road surface hazard that may be hidden by the car, and ride in one of the car’s wheel tracks, not between them, where road debris is more likely to occur.  Honestly, I really do know better.
**** I dare you to try to find an instant soup that does not include sweetener. And just so you know, "evaporated cane syrup" is a code word for sugar.  Sugar in soup?  Ew. I'll invent my own.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Throwdown, Knockout… “I fell. Ooh, that’s not good.”

I’m sure you won't be surprised to learn that when I say "last Monday," I actually mean “sometime late last October.”  I wrote this post then, but didn’t edit or publish until, well, now. Par for the course, eh?

Last Monday, Pilot and Guy and I set out on a fine Eating on Two Wheels expedition to Patagonia, AZ via some four wheel drive roads. Our food destination was inspired by the 2014 Downtown Lecture Series (2014 topic: Food!). We were off to visit the Native Seed/SEARCH Conservation Farm, and possibly pop in on Gary Nabhan , presenter of the October 22nd lecture, and his farm, as well.

Of all the possible riding scenarios I’ve prepared for, by wearing all manner of safety gear, carrying tools and knowing (mostly) how to use them in a pinch,  owning a SPOT device, carrying Pilot Guy’s satellite phone, not riding off-road alone (I break that rule on occasion, though I may not again for a long time), telling people of my plan and when to expect me, carrying extra food and water, etc., etc., there’s one scenario that never, ever occurred to me.  And that is that I might have a low speed fall on a technical hill, and, despite the Shoei full face helmet strapped firmly to my cabeza, knock myself completely out and wake up with amnesia.

Yup, I had my very first motorcycle induced temporary amnesia event.  And I am here to tell you it is fascinating, hilarious, freaky-weird, - pardon me - shit.

I think I’m about to write a coherent post, but in recollecting my usual run-on sentence style of writing, which I happen to be exhibiting right now in a spectacular fashion, I admit that anyone could fairly argue that I’ve never actually done so. Consequently, I take that back.

To call this little incident a “crash,” or even an “accident,” would be assigning it far too much glory than it deserves. It was more like a low speed throw down during my ascent of a challenging ( i.e. rocky, rutted, steep, loose, sandy, but not out of the realm of possibility) bit of 4WD road.  The short story is that we (Li’l Burro and I, that is), got tossed to the ground by a narrow rut. The long story was something like: “Christ, I should stick to hang gliding…  Scary Hill!!  Okay, we got this.  Deep breath and go! [commence motorcycle noises]  Oof, needed more time to get set up*… Aieeee, this is not pretty, but we’re almost theeerrrre… [poor form, too much clutch, compensated for by too much throttle; engine revving.] Don’t go in the rut! Avoid the rut! Whooop whooop!  Okay, we’re in the rut. We can work with this.  Ohhh, falling isn’t so bad, is it?”  Thump.

And then… nothing.  Not even crickets.  It seems I conked myself right on out of consciousness**.

Pilot Guy said by the time he got to me, I was just coming back. “I’m kind of dizzy.” (I do remember saying that much at some point.)  But for the next hour, my little blonde flute brain completely lost its capability to glue together any information at all.  I had, quite simply, the memory capacity of a goldfish***. Or worse.  Pilot Guy and I had the same conversation over and over starting with, “I fell. Ooh, that’s not good. Did I get up by myself?”  I would loop back every minute or so, not realizing we had just been over this. Did I know who I was?  (I did!)  And then, “I fell. Ooh, that’s not good. Did I get up by myself?”  Did I know who he was? “Why, you’re my lovie!,” I said, cheerfully pleased with myself, before turning back to the beginning.  “Did I get up by myself?”  Finally, Pilot Guy started drawing a line in the dirt next to Li’l Burro each time we started again. “See this?”  I’d see it, believe, and understand what he explained for a brief moment, and then, in 3, 2, 1… “I fell. Ooh, that’s not good. Did I get up by myself?”  Always with the same inflection, but never with any recollection.  I knew who I was, knew who he was, but had no idea where I was, why I was there, what year it was (evidently I cheated by looking at my license plate, admitted as much, and promptly forgot again), and then… “I fell. Ooh, that’s not good. Did I get up by myself?” Another line in the dirt.  By the time my ability to write neuro-data  started to reappear, there were a lot of lines in the dirt.  I do remember those moments when my circuits first started reconnecting.  I remember having to work really hard for the date: was it 2013, 2014, or 2015? Hmm…  And the names of the dogs, I had to dig deep for that, and I felt bad about it.  And, aha! - we’re near Amado, aren’t we?  But I couldn’t place Amado anywhere on a mental map of AZ, and I found myself praying I hadn’t permanently scrambled myself.   Surely we must be here on a food adventure, right?  I got the details after a hint.  Finally.  I can only imagine Pilot Guy’s relief.

The whole way back to Tucson (desert extraction courtesy of Bohemian Bicycle Dave), we laughed at the bizarreness of it all, marveled at the weirdness of it all. “I said that??”  We mused over my compliant, cheerful demeanor each time Pilot Guy suggested we go over all of it again, to make sure “we’ve got a lock on it.”   We puzzled at how I could seemingly be so normal and so not, all at the same time. “You did all that??”  I had absolutely no memory at all of the battery of first aid diagnostic tests Pilot Guy had performed on me before letting me get up and before taking my helmet off.  Those lines in the dirt - that moment of realization was the stuff of freaky movies!  We wondered what I would have done had I been alone. Sat down and eaten my grilled chicken, roasted pepper, and chipotle sandwich? (I did eat it, and it was delicious, by the way.)  Wandered off into the desert? Would I have remembered I had various communication devices with me, or even realized I needed help at all?  What would an interaction with a stranger have been like? How long would it have taken before he or she realized I was, er, a bit “touched.”  I simply have no idea.

As it turns out, recovery from a concussion is much less fascinatingly weird and interesting than recovery from transient global amnesia. It’s more like being locked in a spa against your will. I guess there are worse things, but I can’t say I’ve had a good week.  The prescription I was given was anti-inflammatory medication, to keep my brain from swelling out of my skull, and “brain rest.” Mostly, I lay in the deliciousness of Pilot Guy’s Temper-Pedic mattress, listening to the soothing soundscape of his dated Brookstone clock radio.  Its processor was a bit scrambled, too, occasionally mixing up the loon sounds with the ocean waves, the babbling brook with seagulls, but I forgave it.  I took soothing baths enriched with almond oil, and learned that a slippery tub is terrifying when you’ve just sustained a head injury. Things that I might have been able to do with a broken ankle felt nearly impossible. One simple rehearsal left me dazed and exhausted. I came home and slept for nearly 36 hours straight.  Sorting silverware felt like a challenging Facebook brain quiz, and required a restorative nap afterwards. I caught myself putting my dirty cereal bowl in the oven instead of the dishwasher.  Writing an email required every last bit of my mental and physical energy.  Driving a car was completely out of the question.  But the recovery process was mercifully quick, and for this I was, and am, unspeakably grateful.

I’ve always been one to wear my helmet even if I’m just moving my bike a few feet from here to there. After this incident, I won’t stop that practice any time soon.  I don't like to imagine the damage that would have occurred had I not been wearing it.  Surprisingly, my helmet looks completely untouched, although it has certainly been retired from service.  And I think it will be a while before I break the “don’t ride off-road alone” rule.  This one goes against my grain more than a little. I like to ride alone.  Finally, politics aside, I’m very grateful for my insurance policy.

Good Heavens, no one tell my mom.

*Turns out, at my skill level, I could not get set up before meeting the challenge.  I need a few feet of flat rolling distance to comfortably get the bike in the appropriate gear and my body in the proper position.  Consequently, my weight wasn’t where it should have been, which forced me to sacrifice a bit of control.  Lesson: I should have moved the bike back a bit to give me a little space before the actual hill.  (Pilot Guy and I had stopped to assess and recollect after a mechanical issue he was having with his own wheels.)
**Li’l Burro got his noggin banged up a bit, too, but I think he’ll be straightened out pretty easily. Still, I feel bad about it.  Poor faithful little guy.  I sat on him a bit later in the week, patting his side, promising he’ll be okay, and that we’ll win the next round.
***Goldfish have a memory span of three seconds, or so the story goes. Evidently that’s a myth, though.  Either way, any goldfish had me beat.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Morning After: Holidays 2014

So yeah, the holidays are over, and I feel a bit like this leftover cake. A bit weary, a little melted… where did the time go??

Triple  Chocolate Mousse Cake the day after 001
Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake, the morning after.

I’ll tell you where.

On Thanksgiving Tuesday, I made a pot of gold, or, if you insist on being specific, a pot of turkey stock.  On Wednesday, I poached a 14lb turkey in it, transforming that pot of gold into something even better. Pot of platinum?  Pot of gold, squared?  At least! I browned that bird in a roaring oven on Thursday, and, as we sat down to eat, swore I would never cook a turkey any other way again. After the gravy and, later, the soup, I strongly encourage you to slowly boil the quarts and quarts of liquid gold you still have left as long as you dare. If you hold out for a supersonically savory syrup and freeze it in an ice cube tray, you will have veritable neutron bombs of turkey-ness at your disposal.  Handle them with the care and respect they deserve.

Pot of Gold 003
Gratitude: Life has been a pot of gold in 2014. I hope that you were able to find genuine gratitude for something, big or small, no matter how the pendulum of life swung for you this year.

For Christmas I had important tasks at hand, like making teeny tiny camel spritz cookies and a couple pounds of peppermint bark, eating gingerbread men before getting around to decorating them, and building the aforementioned Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake.

Spritz Camels 008

Cresta Loma Tree 003

Christmas Eve Dinner Cresta Loma 019
The crushed candy canes were the sleeper hit: sparkly pretty in the low light of an elegant dining table, with a zingy crunchy contrast to this immensely dense finale.

I won’t tell you what I made for Christmas Eve dinner,  but Pilot Guy has touched my heart with his little dinner inspired po-em, simultaneously supplying you with a whimsical hint:
I know a place where food magic abounds
where faeries queue up for their sugar plums, without making a sound,
where tri-colored beagles, each one to a cup, sprinkle nutmeg on nogmugs, then line them all up.
A place for pork tummies to get pampered just so,
why, they're swimming in sour cherries, wouldn't you know!
And apples of earth, taters by name, are sliced so thinly, you'd think it insane.
Through each spudwindow, the next you can see, shaped into a cake, quite perfectly.
Sprouts from the host of EU, here don't get neglected.
They're sliced and sprinkled and perfectly toasted.
Were it not for the myriad other delights, they'd steal the whole show, they are so out of sight.
In case you were worried about leaving the table, without a sweet bite, as if you were able,
there is a confection, just out of view, so dreadfully sinful; if only you could...
wield a utensil, just one final time...
to top off the evening, chocolate and cream!
It's impossibly sultry; so intimate, so deep,
anyone with a soul is brought to a weep...
Do try to guess the menu!

At the very least, surely you can tell it was no small wonder we hauled our still full bellies up Blackett’s Ridge on Christmas Day.

Blackett's Ridge Christmas Day Hike 007-Edit

Then we went snowshoeing in Santa Fe….

Snowshoeing Big Tesuque Campground Area and Trail 013

…where it was rather cold.


On the way, I dashed in here, in hopes of finding this guy. I didn’t, but I slipped a note in the café’s mail slot.  For the record, Lunch at Tre Rosat in Silver City was notably good.


On the way back, we splurged  - one whole dollar each! – to view a roadside attraction I’ve driven past countless times.  No, I can’t possibly tell you what it is.

The Thing Exit 322 001

Then another hike in Tucson, where, strangely, it felt, but wasn’t, even colder than something-teen degree Santa Fe.

Wasson Peak via Sendero Esperanza and Hugh Norris Trails 031

That same evening, we quietly greeted 2015 with fireside fondue and wine, while battling out a Scrabble sudden death tie breaker and watching snow fall in the desert.  Remarkably, I have a Scrabble photo, but no snow in the desert photos. See here for some from our last snow, in 2012.

Scrabble Dead Heat 002

You may have noticed that my holidays were suspiciously devoid of any sort of two wheeled activity. First, there was that incident at the end of October that kept me from riding for a my final week in AZ. You know, the one I haven’t written about yet?  Or, to be more accurate, have written about, but have not posted yet.  Then  - whoosh! - I was in Miami. Then – whoosh! (again) - I was back!  And ready to roll!  Sadly, the Ducati wasn’t quite so ready. I dutifully connected her to the charger the day before my planned ride, failing to realize – oopsy! - that electrons were not gaily skipping from pig tail connector to battery**.   So when the starting gate opened… well, we weren’t starting. Then – whoosh! (again again) – back to Miami! Then – whoosh! (again again again) – back to Tucson!  But that high maintenance Ducati insists I pull her tank to investigate and hopefully restore electrical integrity***, and there was no time, no time, what with the pumpkin cakes with caramel cream cheese frosting, pork bellies, beagle parades (really!), Santa Fe fine dining****, and, oh yes, the December work schedule of any musician.

And now  - whoosh! (again again again again)… I’m back in Miami.

But just for a week! (Impending whoosh!) And when I return, there will be time!

God, but I miss riding. Little things unexpectedly tweak my heart. Yesterday, mind elsewhere, I saw a rider on the street out of the corner of my eye do that iconic motorcycle slouch thing that I and surely ever other rider often do when waiting at a light: leaned back, spine curved, right hand on the thigh, left foot on the ground.   The impact of this brute force attack of nostalgia startles me, catches me off guard. It is a wholly unpleasant jolt to my psyche.  I rode how many thousands of miles this summer? Seven? Eight?  Still, these dry spells unsettle me.

I freely admit this is quite possibly my most boring and disconnected post since I started writing in 2007. (2007? Really?) Which is saying something.  Yet I’ve told myself I will not get up from this laptop until I hit the “publish” button, proofreading and obsessive editing be damned.  No doubt this hurts you, dear readers, even more than it hurts me, so I apologize.  I miss writing my little stories and I’ve no idea why I’ve lagged during the past couple of years.  This, too, has been unsettling.  So, like a literary New Year’s resolution public weigh-in, I make this promise to you: By the time we reach  - let’s not be too ambitious! –  Valentine’s Day, I’ll have told you what happened in October, what I did last summer, and have published the first of a “Back Burner” series, either about the 2012 Baja reprise trip via Two Wings, or Grand Bahama on Two Wheels*****.  How’s that?

Ready, set... publish. <click>

*Recipe Continuation: As the final coup de grace, you just might make your stuffing in a casserole dish, using turkey fat to sauté your mirepoix, and some of that liquid gold to moisten the bread cubes you dried out yesterday.  Slap a turkey back on top of it while it cooks, for extra yum. Then cram it (the stuffing, not the casserole dish), still hot, in the bird, after they both come out of the oven. You will be have done the impossible: made delicious (and safe!) in-the-bird stuffing, without  overcooking the turkey in sacrifice.   Sneaky, huh?
**Explains that malfunction vest at the North Rim, eh?
***Nothing at all like the good natured Kawi, who only asks that I pop off the seat.
****The cauliflower velouté was the surprise best-in-show at dinner for two at the Coyote Café.
*****Finished on time. But barely!