Sunday, August 31, 2014

Return Migration: Gear Review, Canyonlands National Park

Aside from my top boxes, I’ve never had waterproof luggage.  And since I’ve been generally happy with the seemingly indestructible RoadGear  “Euro-Sport Jumbo Hauler” that came with my Kawasaki when I bought it some nine years ago, I haven’t been able to come up with a good enough excuse to buy actual dry bag luggage. But there must be something empowering about knowing your tail bag is 100% impermeable to water, no matter how hard or long the rain might fall.  Pilot Guy has a Wolfman Expedition Dry Duffel, and I admit to being rather jealous of it.  In addition to the obvious perk of having your tent remain unmoistened by the fiercest deluge, you also have a confirmed drip free, dew free zone to store your riding gear overnight.  If you’re touring “a due,” as I occasionally do,  you’ll find that two sets of armored take up almost as much room as two people.  And four is definitely a crowd in my two-man tent.  So when Kiara Wilson, Marketing Manager for Motorcycle House and Viking Bags, offered to send me a piece of equipment to review*, the choice was obvious.  “Adventure Dry Bag, please!”  “Size Large!,” said my greedy little self.

And large it is!  It doesn’t just swallow my tent whole, but could be my tent.

Adventure Dry Bag Trial 010
My tent is not particularly small, and nearly fills my old Roadgear tailbag.  Plenty of room to spare in this spacious specimen!

As I’m loading the Ducati for my annual August return migration to Tucson, it occurs to me that I might just meet my still unrealized motorcycle packing dream: fitting tent, ground pad and essentially enormous zero degree Marmot Ouray sleeping bag, all in one streamlined and gloriously waterproof capsule.  About three seconds after going weak with the thought of it, I realize I have to get all 71.59 liters of this bag on my tiny little motorcycle.  Hm.

The modestly priced Nelson Rigg Adventure Dry Bag is designed to be mounted either along or across the seat, although the orientation of the straps undeniably favors the former arrangement.

Adventure Dry Bag Trial 002
Clearly this won’t work on a Ducati 696.  Not one with a topbox, anyway.

What about the other way?

Adventure Dry Bag Trial 006
I really didn’t think this through, did I? (Although the bag can be mounted in this manner, the provided mounting straps do not attach to the short sides of the bag, making it a bit of a trick on my bike, anyway.)

I’m not seeing a simple way to safely mount a bag this large on a motorcycle this small.  And it’ll certainly never fit on Li’l Burro.  I am going to have to make a decision. Spend a lot of time working on a solution that could quite possibly wreck this cool new piece of gear, or keep it in new condition, and exchange it for the smaller size when I get home.   Either way, I get to feel really dumb for not checking the measurements before ordering.  I hang my head, pull off the Adventure Dry Bag, and load up with the Jumbo Hauler.  I have no idea the amount of irony I’ll be feeling in just a few days.

But for now, I’m excited to be headed home, and looking forward to meeting a few new roads and places along the way.  First stop, the Uinta Mountains, by way of Flaming Gorge National Monument.  There’s a bit of a drizzle as I traverse the sweeping turns of the Flaming Gorge-Uintas National Scenic Byway and I have to chuckle.  Now would be a nice time for that waterproof luggage, eh?  But aside from ruining my chances for some nice photos (see here instead), the rain doesn’t keep me from enjoying the descriptive road signs highlighting remnants from former geologic ages.   “Stegasaurus Walked Here!,” one declares.  I can’t really argue with that.

Did you know you can actually wander around the mountains of Utah and Arizona at certain times of the year and find wild porcini mushrooms? I didn’t, either.  At least not until just recently.**  After setting up camp, I poke around to see what I can see.

East Park Campground Uintas 003
Why, hello to you, too!  Genus Russula is all I know at this point.

East Park Campground Uintas 012
This one (a Grisette of some sort?), had a beautiful silvery sheen to it. And no, that's not bird poop on it, but a piece of the "veil" that covers many mushrooms at birth.

Never having done this before, I’ve no intention of eating any of my finds, of course.

East Park Campground Uintas 014
When your campsite water source is down, keeping you from making your Eating on Two Wheels proprietary instant soup, St. Dalfour French Bistro “Gourmet on the Go” canned dinners are actually a decent option.  If you pay attention and buy only those varieties without added sweeteners**. Unless you happen to like dumping honey or pineapple juice on your savory pasta.

The next day I make my way to Canyonlands National Park. I can’t help but notice, as I energetically brake upon seeing a big buck on the mountain pass I’m negotiating, that it’s raining a teensy bit more than yesterday.  That dry bag sure did look nice.  Hmph.

Canyonlands Sunrise 005
Ducati with Rainbow, Squaw Flat Campground, Canyonlands National Park Needles District

The showers don’t stop me from finding some interesting textures in Big Spring Canyon.

Canyonlands 028
Cryptobiotic Crust: It’s alive! And extremely fragile. Do not step here!

Canyonlands 030

Canyonlands Sunrise 011
Canyonlands Sunrise

My Day Three plan is a fabulous one.  I’ll ride UT 95 through that bit of Glen Canyon I liked so much last year, pay Highway 12 another visit  (It’s been too long!), dine at Hell’s Backbone Grill (still haven’t been!), and poke around Kodachrome Basin State Park.  I even reserved my campsite for the night ahead of time, so I wouldn’t have any “find a spot before dark” worries spoiling my fun.

But… there’s a pounding watery barrage from the sky, eliciting a sensation not unlike the feeling of having a waterfall on your head.  Surely it’s just a brief mountain cloudburst, right?  It's already clearing up, see?

The rain stops. But only for a minute. Dry bag, dry bag, why didst I forsake thou?

Not so, not so. This particular weather is the talk of the town.  “It’s like this over the entire state!” marvels one person at a gas stop. “It’s going to last for days!” celebrates another.  I consult the weather forecasts and radar images to find that these excited people are absolutely correct. Flash flooding and severe storms block my path in any and every direction, and my prior excitement about Day Three turns soggy. Try as I might,  I can’t seems to make a good case to seek out this kind of weather on technical mountain roads or river flood zones.  I try really hard, because I’d so been looking forward to this leg of my journey, but I simply can’t. I wrestle with the feeling of being wimpy, but I eventually point the Ducati towards less challenging terrain.   It looks like I’ll be home a day early.

Which is not to say I didn’t get wet!  I did. With a few brief exceptions, the rain did not stop for 325 miles.  Oh Adventure Dry  Bag!  How I long for you, a brilliant orange high-visibility beacon on the back of my motorcycle, proclaiming my presence to all around me!  Oh, for your electronically heat-welded seams!  Your air-tight roll closure!

Go Pro Monument Valley (5)
Ghosts in Monument Valley, during a momentary rain stoppage. Can you see them on the horizon?

Bless you Pilot Guy, for so thoughtfully using your free night to arrange a room in Flagstaff for me.  I’ll have a glass of wine right after I’m done wringing out my stuff. I’ve earned it!

Tomorrow, the cloud cover and occasional shower will be a blessing, bringing the normally three digit Tucson approach temperatures down to below the readout on my speedometer.  Home!

Go Pro Tucson Final Approach 009

*Disclaimers and Explanations: I received this bag at no charge.  I won’t review an item I wouldn’t generally be interested in using.  My reviews reflect my actual experiences. Just so you know.
**As luck would have it, my host this summer was a knowledgeable mushroom hunter.  I can not believe what I’ve been missing.
*** I’ll try not to rant, but… please, I don’t care if it’s organic cane syrup, I don’t want sugar on my dinner!!  It’s positively welcome in my dessert, of course.

Dining notes:
  • Flaming Gorge CafĂ©, Manila, UT: It’s so conveniently located that you can gas up, eat, and retrieve US Forest Service maps all with just one parking job. But don’t do it. It’s pretty hard to mess up a ham and cheese sandwich with fries, but they did so brilliantly.
  • Peace Tree Cafe, Moab, UT: What, burgers but no fries?  My camping caloric intake strategy requires I ingest nearly all my recommended daily allowance at lunch.  I don't skimp on my side dishes. A bleu burger without fries didn't feel quite right, so I momentarily pushed my pasta snobbery (demonstrated here and here) aside and ordered an alfredo dish instead. I don't expect pasta alfredo to be particularly good at a burger/sandwich/breakfast place, and I wasn't surprised by the specimen served me, but it wasn't terrible, either. The outdoor seating is pleasant, and even offered the Ducati table side parking.  As long as I wasn't craving fries, I'd stop in again. On the other hand, there are plenty of other establishments in Moab to try.
  • Cameron Trading Post Restaurant, Cameron, AZ:  I really probably would have done fine if I had ordered a burger or BLT.  But a warm bowl of Yah-Ahtay Chile sounded enticing after a day of riding in the rain. I should have listened to myself. The chile was simultaneously harsh and uninteresting.  The accompanying Indian Fry Bread was admittedly delicious and decadent,  although I don’t know how you could ruin fried dough.  I’ll give the place another try one day, I’m sure, but order differently.
Additional Rain Gear Notes:
  • This might be a good time to extol the virtues of my TourMaster Sentinel Rain Jacket and Pants.    It's been worth every penny, and every cc of cargo space it claims (which is significant).  While my stuff was sodden, *I* have been riding dry in any and every rainfall since the day I bought it back in 2007.   Not so for folks who buy those silly paper “breathable” numbers.   The key: you actually do have to stop and put it on for it to work.  The thin stretchy under the helmet hood that keeps rain from dribbling down the back of your neck is a nice touch, too.  If it had a second, detachable waterproof regular hood to wear when off the bike, the suit would be 100% perfection.  I find it useful as an extra layer when riding in the cold, too.
  • I feel differently about my Aerostich Triple Digit Glove Covers.  They are a fabulous idea, but even the smallest size is so ridiculously huge, I can’t possibly operate a motorcycle while wearing them.  Who wants two inches of extra fabric getting tangled up in the hand controls when it’s pouring out?  It just makes me angry. I haven’t taken them out of my rain jacket pockets for years now.  Pbbbbt on you, Aerostich, and your giant sizing.
  • The Roadgear Euro-Sport Jumbo Hauler Rain Cover does not turn a canvas tail bag into a waterproof fortress, but could be useful if you could thread the straps located on top of the bag through the rain cover. As it stands, I can either use the rain cover, or strap my sleeping bag (in its own protective dry bag) on top of the Hauler. Guess which one I choose.
  • All that rain, and wouldn't you know it? I lost* my old visor squeegee earlier this summer.  If you've ever used one, you'll know they are indispensable for restoring your field of view by sweeping off all the pesky rain drops that land on your visor.  I've just ordered a Finger Visor Wiper three-pack. One for each motorcycle! Update: Turns out they shipped them to the wrong address, and didn't offer to resend them to the correct address. Not cool.
  • I don't own too many Wolfman products, because they are generally priced out of my reach. I do have the Express Tank Bag, though, and find its construction definitely above average.  It does slightly rankle me, however, that the Rain Covers must be purchased separately.  The extra $8.00 shipping for this featherweight item, if you order it after the fact, or if you lose yours (Arghh!*), stings a bit, too.  I'm pretty darn sure their tank bag rain covers used to have a velcro strip allowing you to attach the map to the outside of the cover, but that feature seems to have gone away.  Harrumph.  This cover doesn't offer full waterproof protection in a hard rain, but it helps a bit for a while. I don't recommend you trust it to keep your camera safe in a downpour by any means. That's what your locking, waterproof top box is for, silly. 
*During the Season of Wind, things go flying out of your tank bag, never to be recovered, at an alarming rate.  I also lost a neat solar iPhone charger.  Seriously, don't even unzip your tank bag in May and June.  At all.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Annual Migration

The Ducati wanted a battery? She got it.  Fork seals?  Sure thing, sweetheart.  Fork TUBES?*  I’m outta time, my dear.

“Old Reliable,” the good Kawi was happy to step up to the plate and carry me northward on my annual migration to Logan, UT**.  That Kawi, she has as much grit as my beagle, and all she ever asks for is a steady supply of zip ties, WD-40, and packing tape***.  After a few gentle reminders she has half the front braking power of the Ducati - aieee! – we were comfortable with each other again.

Kawasaki at Roosevelt Lake
Roosevelt Lake, AZ

June belongs firmly in the Season of Wind. Riding hundreds of miles in a 55mph crosswind? Situation Normal.   Three hundred miles of vigorous pounding feels sufficient for the day.  Sunset Crater National Monument is a good place to spend the night.

Jet Boil and Ducati at Bonito CG near Sunset Crater NM (1)
Jet Boil (new acquisition!) with… Ducati?  And Ramen?  Do explain!

Yep, that’s my Ducati in the photo background.  You don’t mind if I cheat by writing about both Annual Migration 2013 and 2014 in one post, do you?   Yep, that’s Maruchan Ramen in the photo.  It’s not my normal fare, as I’m sure you realize, but a hasty test subject for the then newly acquired Jet Boil.  They’ve since been replaced by Eating on Two Wheels proprietary instant soup mixes.  Just so you know.  Why am I not whipping up a crown roast with fingerling potatoes and wild greens over the campfire?  Because washing dishes at a campsite downright disgusts me.  Just one of those things, I guess.  I strive to minimize my clean up duties, but refuse to resort to a depressing handful of GORP for dinner, or something even more awful than campsite dishwashing: an “energy bar.”  Ew.

The wind bashes the sides of the tent into me all night, while the Friday the 13th Honey Moon drills a hole through its walls.   I’m awake in the wee hours trying to calculate exactly why the sun is rising at 3am.

The rippling sea of grass in  Wupatki National Monument is mesmerizing in the morning breezes.  I nearly miss a turn watching the invisible hand brush the desert grassland this way and that.  Last year, I stopped to visit some of the ruins.

Wupatki National Monument Wukoki Ruins
Wukoki Ruins

At a gas stop in Marble Canyon, a familiar sound from just across the street makes its way into my helmet, past the music in my headphones, and into my brain.  I snap a blurry photo with my phone to send to Pilot Guy.
Marble Canyon Airport L41 from Chevron
I’ve never noticed this airport before!  I guess little planes haven’t been on my, uh, radar, until recently.

Last year, the Ducati and I had time to check out the twists and turns of the Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway, which had eluded me for so long, and Cedar Breaks National Monument.  You don’t have to hike far to get a spectacular view.
Cedar Breaks National Monument Spectra Point Pano
Spectra Point, Cedar Breaks National Monument

After a rough year, several hundred miles on the Ducati were just what she and I needed to rebuild our relationship.  We were finally getting places!  It was just about the time I was starting to trust her again, of course…

Rescue by Corolla

… that I was rescued by my own fearsome Corolla.  Pilot Guy and I had arranged to meet that evening just a few miles away, so it was easy for him to skid in for the glamorous rescue.  “It’s just the battery,” we told ourselves.  All that southern AZ heat is so very hard on batteries, you know.  And – Lo! – after a long drink from the Corolla****, she came back to life.  But you know what?  It’s never just the battery, as far as I can tell.*****  And I was right.  What we don’t know yet is that the stator had all but melted away.

Ducati outside of Panquitch
Rolling again… for now.

Whatever the mechanical issue, the next day I was able to limp the Ducati 270 more miles, with the Corolla support vehicle not far behind. We had to stop over and over for long stretches to recharge the battery, we sipping endless cups of lemonade and iced tea, she sipping electrons.

Limping the Ducati to Layton
Traffic stoppage in Salt Lake City.  What will come first, a dead again battery or an overheat?

We made it as far as Adrian’s****** house before nightfall threatened.  Adrian just happens to live about 60 miles from my final destination, and has a very well equipped garage.  It was an obvious place to throw in the towel.

Beagle Helps Install Ducati VReg
The beagle watches while I optimistically install a new voltage regulator.  It's not going to do the trick.

Happy Sushi Logan UT
Sushi consolation dinner upon arrival in Logan via Corolla. 

But that was sooo last year. This year, the easy-natured Kawasaki and I ride along encumbered only by the swan song of my tent stakes*******.   After my lengthy and arguably painful absence, I’m falling in love with the Great American West all over again: majestic, brilliantly painted, and just plain big here; gentle, sweet, and abundant there, with everything in between.  Utah Route 89 between Panguitch and I-70 has none of the drama of Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Capital Reef, and the areas further south, but it is so very beautiful in a simple gifts sort of way, that it still wrenches my heart on this, my twelfth migration.  The glassy blue Sevier Creek, hesitantly twisting its way through the verdant green grass, ever unsure of the proper direction, and later, as the Sevier River, briskly bubbling with intent, northward down the slope, touches me deeply and inexplicably.  The dreamy landscape is rhythmically broken by little towns from another era, sporting Lavender Festivals, baskets of flowers, soda fountains, and picturesque temples perched atop hills that call to mind storybook Transylvanian castles.  There’s something too special about this place for me to just pull the bike over, snap a casual photo, and be done with it.

I spend my last night out at Freemont Indian State Park, in quiet reflection and gratitude.

Freemont Indian State Park Castle Rock Campground

My final approach the next day offers little room for detouring, aside from a pass down Utah’s “Fruit Way.” The road is lined with trees visibly bursting with sweet cherries. It’s hard not to stop, but there’s no room on the bike for produce at the moment, and I’ll have a pleasantly difficult time keeping up with northern Utah’s cornucopia as it is.

Home for the summer is around the bend…

Blacksmith Fork River Backyard
My back yard - the mouth of this canyon.

… and before I know it, I’ll be packing for my August return migration.  Oh wait... ********.

*Turns out one of the new seals was defective.  For once, the easier answer prevails.
**Beagle, Toyota, and Ducati have since arrived under separate cover.
***It’s invisible!
****No, I couldn’t simply jump start and go. If only.
*****Recent victory!  As it turns out, sometimes it is just the battery!
******You met Adrian in Baja.
*******Quite problematic with the crazy wind, actually.
******** Posting about June at the end of August is also Situation Normal.  Have I broken a blog post asterisk record?
Cooking Equipment Review: 
The Jet Boil Sol Advanced Cooking System performs exactly as advertised, so I advise you not to turn your back on it for a second.   Jet. Boil.  Get it?  It's fast.  Despite the fragile plastic bottom cover (customer service replaced it with a smile,) and ill-fitting plastic lid, this thing has opened up a new camping culinary world for me. I can't believe there was a time I didn't want a camp stove.  The Coffee Press accessory is a neat little item, which I even used in the house in Utah, when I didn't have my usual press available to me.  I use the fuel modestly, but it's lasted so long that I haven't yet had the opportunity to try the fuel canister Crunch-It recycling tool.  You can use the stove to cook with an actual little pot or pan, too, but because of my camping dish washing aversion, I just use the provided cup to boil water.  The metal cup gets really hot (duh!), even with its little heat cozy, so take care not to burn your flute playing lips.  It's a bit tricky to disengage the cup from the stove itself, especially when it's hot, and I don't trust the cozy handle to keep me from spilling boiling water over myself, but neither of these things keeps me from loving my Jet Boil!  Not the cheapest stove in the shed, but worth it, in my opinion, especially since I got it as a birthday gift!

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Daily Special: Vegetable Tacos with a side of Snark

“…Maybe just think about that fact, which is that poor people are more likely to be overweight. Why is that? In the vast majority of the world, poor people are underweight, not in America. Stop giving them so much money, and they won't eat so much.”
                                     -“Son of the American Revolution,” New York Times commenter

I wonder if “Son” could healthily feed himself on $5 or $6 per day.*  Day in and day out.  What if he had a family?  Could he do it if he lived in a “food desert,” with no practical access to an actual grocery store, as so many of our impoverished citizens do?  What if he lost his job and had to pay his mortgage or rent, utilities, healthcare, childcare,  and transportation costs on a maximum of $240/week?**   Imagine the kind of gluttony he could support with that sort of excess cash!

Or perhaps he would do the right thing, pull himself up by his bootstraps, get a minimum wage job, and dine finely on the McDonald’s Employee Budget?  Surely he’d have no trouble re-educating himself at a local community college while doing so. He would certainly be eligible for a full scholarship, and be bright eyed, studying late, and scoring straight A’s, after a week of  double shifts and countless hours spent on public buses getting from home to workplace to classroom and back each day.  Oh right, there might be some kids in the picture, too.  Do you suppose, after all this, he just might - just might - fall victim to inexpensive,  subsidized, and readily available high fructose corn syrup laden foods and/or the dollar menu at his place of employment?  Or would he have the extra time, energy, and money to pick up some whole grains and organic broccoli rabe at the Circle K on his way home?  Does he even have the necessary skills to make himself a healthy dinner on a few bucks, if he could acquire the necessary ingredients?

As it turns out, in addressing this last question, someone is actually doing something to help our poorer citizens - no, no, not just them, but everyone - eat not just healthy food, but satisfying taste-good food on a budget.  Leanne Brown, as part of her master’s degree in food studies at New York University, has written “Good and Cheap,” a beautiful (and free!) cookbook that advises SNAP recipients (or anyone else who is interested, and who isn’t?) how to eat well on $4 a day.  It’s free for anyone to download.  Go ahead, I did.  For those without the luxury of computer and internet access, she has funded printed copies though her successful Kickstarter Campaign.   Although the scope of her work can not address most of the challenges to eating well listed earlier, Ms. Brown rightly points out that “kitchen skill, not budget, is the key to great food.”  Do you have the kitchen kung-fu to feed yourself well on $4 a day, every day?  Does “Son?”  We aren’t born knowing our way around the kitchen, and fewer and fewer of us are being taught this essential life skill.  Her book isn’t perfect***, but Leanne Brown is doing more than most in teaching us all how to fish for ourselves.

Don’t just stand there.  Do something.

Tonight’s Cheap Eats: Make a couple corn tortillas by mixing together a few cents worth of Maseca and a splash of water in a bowl.  Or get some masa at your local tortilleria. Or go full-on kitchen psycho, and make and grind your own nixtamal.  Anyway, shape the dough, however you've acquired it, into smallish golf balls, and flatten them until they, you know, look like tortillas.  You don’t necessarily need a tortilla press for this.  I am known to use a flat, heavy pot to press them between the cut apart sides of that annoying ziplock bag in the back of the drawer that refuses to close properly anymore.  I must say at this point, though, after using an actual tortilla press for the first time today, (borrowed), I’m sold****.   Cook the tortillas a few seconds to a minute on each side in a dry skillet, and adorn them with some bits and scraps of leftover vegetables (corn, tomatoes, and onions, in this case), and a few gratings of whatever cheese needs using up in the fridge drawer (cheddar).  Serve with some salsa and a dollop of that great multi-tasker, drained whole milk plain yogurt, since you never actually buy real sour cream and you're certainly not going to pay for Greek style yogurt.  Eat quickly and run off to your low paying job.

*Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) aka Food Stamp benefits can be found here.
**Arizona maximum unemployment benefits.  After 26 weeks, you’re on your own.
***I really wish she offered tips on reducing food waste (using your freezer skillfully, getting into the habit of eating in order of perishability, etc.), and more on buying and cooking in bulk when it makes sense, for example.
****Yup, I've been too cheap to buy a press. Plus, I wasn't sure it would be worth the footprint space in my small kitchen. It totally is.