Bubble in the desert

A blog I started whilst on a GE "Bubble" assignment in Nevada. I'm back in Cambridge (UK) now but still miss the desert and my friends out there.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


After a lot of rain and thunder last night we've snow on the top of Job's peak today! I don't expect it will be long before the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite closes down, since they say it shuts at the first dusting of snow.

Went on the last Bently Adventures evening hike tonight as it's now getting quite dark about 7ish.

Updated the blog a bit today, change link styles, made the page area a bit wider, added a weather report and some statistics tracker to show how many people are reading the blog and stuff like that (just for fun).

Monday, September 26, 2005

Still Alive!

Just a quick post to let you all know that I am still alive.

Camping arrangements last night were not quite as expected. I ended up backpacking and camping beyond Yosemite Falls (3,0000ft up from Yosemite Valley). I found a lovely secluded spot well away from other humans (they wouldn't hear me scream). Fine. Until 2:30am when I awoke needing a pee. I turned my torch on and it became pretty apparent that something large was outside the tent. After 30 minutes of waiting (terrified), desperate for a pee, I put on my down jacket (puffer jacket) to make myself look big (one thing to do when confronting bears is to make yourself look big). And then 'armed' with my trekking poles (bears don't like the sound of metal on metal), I unzipped my tent, looked around a bit and went for it. Jumped back inside the tent and surprisingly effectively convinced myself that it must've gone and promptly went back to sleep. I awoke in the morning alive! Moreover, my food store had been untouched, which with hindsight leads me to believe that I wasn't visited by Yogi bloody bear (yosemite bears, like yogi are, "smarter than the average bear" when it comes to dealings with humans), though I may just as well have been given the level of fright that, whatever animal it was, instilled. Top contenders have to be deer, or perhaps Coyote, though Mountain Lions would not be infeasible and they are much nastier than bears.

Anyhow, I'm off to sleep in my bear proof house! Not in the bloody woods tonight!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Yosemite Photos

No time to finish writing my Yosemite blog but here are a few photos to be going on with.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Buckeye Hot Springs

After some last minute packing in my lunchbreak, Dave and Scott sent me on my way early.

It was a pretty windy drive south to Bridgeport with tumble weed blowing across the road all over the place. I wonder if this wind is anything to do with the Hurricane which made landfall in the Gulf coast about the same time I was driving. It was a long way away but weather systems are complex. As I drove I pondered the sense of camping with my new tent in such wind.

I had a handful of directsions with me but the best were from www.swimmingholes.org. The last couple of miles on a dirt road was really very easy to drive (especially after my experience of New Zealand ski roads). As I got to the top of the 'hill' I saw a couple of tents in quite a big area on my right. I wasn't sure that was it so I carried on a bit down to another bridge. This looked more wrong so I drove back and had a chat with some of the campers. Met a very nice couple who told me I was at the right spot for the springs.

So, i put my tent up and headed off down a steep bouldery hill to the creek. Walking along the creek my hopes of finding hot springs were seeming ever more unlikely until I saw a cairn (pile of stones) which seemed to suggest I was on the right course. As I got there I saw the same couple again, just finishng up in the hot springs. So, after wading across a pretty cold creek, I stripped down to my speedos and jumped in, to the sadly quite shallow but lovely and warm springs. After a few minutes of chat my new friends left and I had the springs and the creek to myself.

I've been told that at these springs clothing is "strictly optional". Quite surprising I thought for America but this is after all, well into the back country so people seem to do what they like, within reason. Anyhow, in the true spirit of the occasion I lost the speedos and floated starkers in warm springs in the middle of an otherwise cold creek (and hoped to not attract the attention of any passing bears). [the photo shown is just one borrowed from the web, I didnt take it!]

As darkness started to creep up on me I got dry, put some clothes on and squelched back along the other bank of the creek getting quite muddy. I edged across a couple of fallen trees that had been sort of made into a bridge, and then scrambled up the bouldery slope back to my campsite. I boiled some water in my new MSR Titanium pots and made a bit of pasta. By now it was pretty dark so i tidied up the campsite, washed up the pots quiet thoroughly, put my toothpaste into my bear canister with all the other 'food' and ensured there was no food and nothing else smelly in the car (bear deterent activity).

After a while in the darkness looking up through the pine trees at the stars and milky way, i decided to turn in to the 'safety' of my tent. Before going to sleep I unpacked some new gear I'd bought, a compass and a water filter. Both bought for contingency reasons but the water filter was used a lot over the weekend.

My thoughts were not far from BEARS that night and I'm not sure I slept too much. But there was some comfort from being near a car and having a couple of other tents vaguely in sight. Though the campsite was in the middle of the woods and the whole thing didn't look unlike a scene from The Blair Witch Project at times.

I awoke to an amazingly clear day and lovely views on the way to yosemite.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Camping in BEAR country (with hot springs for comfort)

Well, I have a new tent (a North Face Tadpole 23 like Doug's) and I live 2 hours from Yosemite and the snow is coming pretty soon. At the first dusting of snow the eastern entrance to Yosemite closes down and re-opens next summer, it's then a 9 hour drive to Yosemite from here.

So, it has to be done. I have got my bear canister, some maps, and some advice from Robyn at Bently Adventures. Now I need to go shopping, get some camping gas and extract anything that smells remotely like food from the car (bears like to peel back the doors from cars and extract whatever smells good from inside, including chewing gum, deodourant, toothpaste - well, you name it). Yosemite it seems, has a big problem with bear-human interaction, with frequent property damage.

I've directions to Buckeye campsite, right next to some hot springs about an hour from here (outside Yosemite but still in bear country and at altitude). And plans for an early start on Saturday to get in the queue for a pitch in Campsite 4 at Yosemite - it is far too busy there to turn up friday night and dump the tent out of the car! I'm expecting friday night's camping to be much nicer!

So, I'd better go and buy some flat food for camping and to hopefully not share with my bear friends.

(this cartoon is reproduced on a website with some very sensible advice about bears too, which is pretty re-assuring, especially for parents and distant girlfriends!!)

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Bently Hike - spooner lake

Originally uploaded by CarlMyhill.
Robyn & Star dog led the hike around Spooner Lake again tonight. It was a cloudy night so made for an interesting sky. Nice walk! (still haven't seen a bear)

Veggie Chilli and Yoga, compatible?

On the surface you might think that being vegetarian and doing yoga go together quite well. Not always. Last night I mad a veggie chilli (from a packet!) and added a couple of tins of beans, including my exciting "Garbanzo" beans, which were disappointingly only chickpeas. Oh, and a tin of tomatos, which, not paying attention to the can turned out to be a tin of tomato sauce but similar enough! Rice cooker supplied the rice (when I had finally found the instructions and figured them out again).

Today was Yoga and after a 7am-11.30 stretch of meetings on the phone I was ready. Late for class and teach seemed in the mood for revenge ensuring we 'hold the pose for 3 more breaths' after my legs had started doing Elvis impressions. Anyway, following the bean fiesta last night required some more complex than usual control of stomach muscles today.

I shouldn't joke though, the yoga was extremely good and hurt a good deal. I even found my cobra today, which means my cobra position vastly improved by using back muscles rather than arms. Compulsory yoga for all I say, only allowed to skip it after a veggie chilli. Ran a couple of miles after class too, to try to break back into a fitness regime.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Kathryn's film club

I've been having a bit of trouble navigating the colourful boxes and interesting titles that surround crap films in blockbuster. I have however figured out that when there is only one review on the box and it says, "Two Thumbs Up", always by the same guy, that this is absolute rubbish.

Anyhow, Kathryn suggested I look at films by the Coen Brothers. So far I've seen The Big Lebowski and Fargo and both have been excellent. The next one lined up is 'Blood Simple' so I'm looking forward to that.

I'm pretty soon going to sign up for DVD rental on-line so no more trips to my local Blockbuster (not the nicest place in town).

Sunday, September 18, 2005

2 C/Karls and 2 Harleys

My mate Karl is keen to buy a motorbike so is renting a few to try them out. It costs around $120 to hire a Harley like this for the day, which is much cheaper than I expected, so we went for it.

I started on the VRod, which is Harley's new engined beast (Evolution engine which makes 115 BHP). A bit light on power compared with my Blackbird at home (160BHP) and the VRod noticeably didn't "nearly pull your arms off" as I had been told it might. However, it was pretty powerful and plenty enough power really, though it drank petrol.

Slow speed handling was difficult but that was really me rather than the bike. With practice these bikes will handle well at slow speed. For a sports bike rider, the idea of putting your feet out in front of you instead of beneath you, and a sitting position more like sitting on a toilet than sitting on a horse, the Harley took a bit of getting used to. The gearing was odd too. You don't use 2nd gear for any slow speed handling on a harley. I tried this on my first turn out onto a main road and stalled it. I expected to drop it at this point but the weight is so low slung it was ok. It didn't help my familiarization moments that I had cleaned my crash helmet visor in the shower (to prevent making and mess elsewhere) and just used shower gel (nearest soap to hand). It left a smeary mess on the visor.

When we finally got onto the open road (395 North) things were busy. The Reno Aero Races were this weekend and we got stuck in the traffic from that. The aero races are aircraft races around an aerial circuit, which is apparently a big thing here. Anyway, heading north to Susanville we encountered some clouds and what looked like possible rain. I was beginning to regret leaving my waterproofs at the Harley dealer and certainly my fleece. We found a Starbucks at Susanville and not before time. 80 miles in pretty cold conditions and my fingers were white. The vibration on the VRod is quite something too but that is perhaps part of the whole Harley thing, like the roaring 'potato potato' sound from the exhausts pipes (which clearly irritated some of the locals in some small towns we went through. After taking a leak at Starbucks I noticed in the mirror that I'd grown some thick black dandruff - apparently the foam inside my old crash helmet has decided to make an exist in particle form! Thank goodness for short hair and easy hairwash opportunity!

From Susanville towards Quincy the pretty way. The first 30 miles were a real treat, real sweeping roads through the forest. Views of Lassen Peak (10457 ft), an active volcano which last erupted in 1915, were something else, even from a distance. It is clearly a very big mountain and looked it especially from the lower 'ground level' vantage point than I'm used to here.

Stopped in Quincy for a coffee, another 80 miles done. At least we tried to. All the coffee places were shutting up at 14.00. In the end we got one in a pretty groovy looking health food shop there, in time to witness a huge ridepast by a pack of Harleys, and to see dribs and drabs of a similar BMW pack we heard about.

From here we switched bikes. My turn on the Heritage Softtail Classic. Riding position was different again, with higher handlebars and running boards to put your feel on. You also need to stay in 1st gear with this bike, and it felt a bit heavier too, having a fuel tank in the normal place rather than the odd VRod low stowed fuel with false tank above to ensure the right look.

I was surprised with this much more classic air-cooled Harley. It was clearly slower than the VRod but it felt more comfortable and definitely more authentic. I hadn't expected authenticity to make any difference to me but the bike had a fairly simple design and was very competent at what it did - munching miles. I reckon I had this to 90 at one point (though mostly stayed less than 70) and it liked the high speed just fine. This was unlike the more VRod which was more twitchy at speed, perhaps not helped by the solid wheels which caught the wind, and the fact that it isn't designed with a screen in mind, so aerodynamics are hardly optimized.

We made it back, and I was certainly a bit relieved to have not dropped either bike. I've been riding motorbikes, quite big ones too, for more than 10 years and I was quite nervous about dropping these big beasts. It was Karl's 2nd ever ride on a bike bigger than a 125cc and he really didn't show it. Rode well all day and only suffered the same slight unnerved slow speed handling problems as me. He'd done a MSF course which combined with some good road sense left me no concerns at all about riding with a novice.

On the way out on the VRod I thought that if I had a million quid I'd get me one of these. After riding the Heritage, I think part of my million would go in that direction instead of the VRod. If I wanted a quick bike, I'd get something else (probably Japanese) or perhaps the BMW RG1200. But to cruise around on US roads, a Harley would be quite nice, though their cult image would put me off.

Before we set out I thought that some animosity was often apparent between Harley riders and the rest but on the roads, Harley riders were waving to Japanese bike riders. Even the Harley dealer was particularly sympathetic to the plight of the sports bike rider trying out a Harley. I'm inclined to think that the 'Harley versus the rest' issue is perhaps bigger in the UK. Today we were all just bikers of one sort or another (well, sort of, some of us were making more than our fair share of noise!).

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Dinner with Scott, Amy, Sam and Molly + new word 'Kegerator'

Scott and Amy had me over for dinner tonight. Fantastic, Amy cooked some really nice lemon pasta (and gave me leftovers to bring home!). Scott introduced me to the "Kegerator" that the boys from work gave them as a moving in present. This is an old refridgerator which has been converted to hold a beer keg, with a tap on the outside. Kegerator seems to be a really important American English word which needs to make a more international debut. What a great thing to do with an old fridge. Of course, a more eco-friendly and English version might just be a 'keg' served at room temperature, which would be easier on the teeth but less satisfying in th desert. Scott and Amy's current keg is a dark porter, really rather drinkable! Actually the best beer I've had since I've been here, though, Old Milwaukie still works out cheaper at $5 for 12 cans!!!

Molly (the dog) was well behaved and friendly and Sam (1) continued to illustrate only the good things about associated with children, mainly putting his energy into beeming smiles and happily bounding around or otherwise entertaining himself. Whilst I was impressed that he could point to his 'stomach' on demand, I was even more impressed that when asked to point to his nose, he realised that actually the biggest nose in the room was mine, so he pointed to mine (several times). Quite charming. Although my nose can eclipse the sun on a good day, it's nice for a 1 year old to remind me of it.

Very nice evening and a very important word made more concrete - of course I've heard the word around the office but seeing the thing for real made much more sense. I'm just wondering why Homer Simpson doesn't have a kegerator, perhaps Duff beer is not sold by the keg.

Here's a photo of one I found on the web to give you and idea of the principle.

As a small part payment for dinner I had to demonstrate the correct way to make tea! I like the bbc instructions for the perfect cuppa but the microwave way of warming the pot they suggest would not be approved of by my Gran, so we did it Gran's way! The result, usng some tea from Whittards which I bought when I was last home, was ok but not quite perfect. By far the hardest part of this tea making exercise was buying a teapot. Neither Target nor Walmat's HUGE stores had one, and when I asked I got directed to kettles each time. Until I found some nice lady in Walmart who told me to try 'Bed, Bath and Beyond', who did indeed have one kind of teapot though no tea strainers. Having struggled so much to find teapots I bought 3, one for Scott and Amy and one for Dave and Kathy and one for home (I nearly bought one for work too but that was perhaps too mad).

We also discussed cockney rhyming slang a bit, and phrases like Taking the Mickey. When you stop and think about phrases like that you realise that they don't make a whole lot of sense. For the record, to be a proper cockney you need to be born within the sound of Bow Bells in East London. Sadly many people who sound cockney do not meet the criteria. To be insulting you could call them mockney! I worked within the sound of Bow Bells when I was 18, so that perhaps influenced my slightly mockney accent.

Final thoughts of the day.... K E G E R A T O R

Asked for my ID buying 1 bottle of wine

Bought a bottle of wine to take to Scott and Amy's and the woman at the checkout in Raley's asked for my ID. Apparently they have to do that if you look under 30. I think this is ultra cautious legal guidelines to make sure nobody under 21 (?) gets booze. Blanket rule is that if you look under 30 you need to show ID. I told her I was closer to 40 and she said she only wanted to see my ID really (English accent thing maybe).

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

iPod (finally)

After all these years I have got my first iPod from Dave. It's a second generation one that was formated for Windows. In a few clicks it was reformatted for the Mac and has all my iTunes music collection on it now. And the iTrip device is now working ok (after a simple install) so now I have all my music available to broadcast to FM, so all my music is now available in my car too.

It's a bit of a cliche but the iPod design is pretty impressive. A very stress free installation procedure and very fast uploading of all my music. Fab!

Thanks Dave and sons!


Harley Trip Coming Up

This weekend me and another Karl are hiring a couple of Harleys and going for a cruise about, or whatever it is you do on a harley. I have visions of turning up at the dealership with white stickon letters on my leather jacket saying 'Hardly Drivable' but perhaps that wouldn't be wise. No, I figured these Harley things must be tried. Here are the choosen steads...

Heritage Softtail Classic (Karl's bike)

VRod (Carl's bike)

Should be fun!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Coyotes around

Saw a coyote in my headlights as I drove the 2 miles home in the dark. I'm not used to the sight of wild dogs roaming around though I am now used to hearing them howl at night. A little spooky that I normally cycle home that way with very little light - I'll now know that I should wonder what's out there!

Monday, September 12, 2005

Cycled around lake Tahoe - 'Tour de Tahoe'

Headed over to Lake Tahoe with Scott and some of his buddies to cycle around the lake (72 miles). Coincidently it turned out that an event called 'The Tour De Tahoe' was occuring at the same time (Elevation Map), so it meant lots of signposts warning of bikes and extra police around. So, quite lucky that our trip coincided with this really.

On the drive up Kingsbury Grade from Minden at 4,700ft to the summit (Heavenly ski resort) at 7,700ft I passed a sign saying 6,000ft. By this time we had been steadily climbing for quite some time with lots of mountain still to climb. But around 6,000ft I was struck by the fact that the lake itself sits at 6,500ft, so after all this climbing we weren't even level with the lake yet!

We arrived at the Lake at around 7.30 and were ready to roll just before 8am. We couldn't help noticing that it had turned cold. The thermometer on my bike read 0 degrees C (32 degrees F) which was colder than I expected by quite a lot, and I was not thrilled to be the only one in fingerless gloves (though was well happy to have those leg cut-offs to go with my cycle shorts - great Christmas present dad!). A few of us went through the drill of putting suncream on, though it seemed weird to have to strip off arms and legs in the freezing cold to do that.

So, we set off just before 8 and I couldn't feel my fingers for the first 30 minutes at least, which made changing gear a bit tricky, especially with my new bike which has shifters on the brake levers (which is an excellent improvement though doesn't work great with frozen fingers).

As we got to the south west corner of the lake, the traffic died out, we had a nice climb to do and things warm up a lot. From then on the temperature was great. After various stops for mechanical things, bio breaks or whatever we eventually got on our way. At about 25 miles in, a few of the leading group got a bit fruity and were very hard to catch. So we had a bit of a spurt to the 35 mile mark and our lunchbreak in Subway.

The way back was pleasant too with one big climb of 1,000ft up to Spooner Lake but after doing climbs like on the Deathride this was very easy (I had my Deathride shirt on too, determined to look cooler than when I actually did the Deathride). At one point I was riding in a group behind Scott, Scott and Big Daddy (Keith)- you can really get an idea of the benefits of 'drafting' when you are cycling at the back of a group of big blokes, the shortest of which is 6ft4!

Mostly very fast downhill from Spooner but with a couple of little climbs to keep us working. We got back in about 4.5 hours (rolling time, not including stops). Not a heroic time but a good fun fast ride and a great test for my new bike, which performed very well (especially after Scott showed me how to adjust my gears with a half click on the chainring side, very helpful feature of Ultegra components). Mind you, at the end of the ride my camera failed so no pictures of me on the new bike (which is quite lucky because I still have those awful bike glasses!).

After the ride I would like to say that I felt fresh as a daisy but in fact I felt a bit ragged and wasnt walking well. Though it didn't last much more that the rest of the day so I think I'm just used to riding a long way at the moment. My lifestyle here doesn't involve daily cycling like it does back home.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

updated swimming club website

Not much of a blog entry but I spent much of the day updating the Impington swimming club website. One of the big changes recently has been the integration of blog content into the main section but this required some restructuring - a little dull. However, Swimshop now have an online shop so asked for us to mention that, which we have done - nice shop.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

lunchtime bike ride (and gopher snake)

Went for a bike ride with Scott lunchtime on the new bike, which was cool. My gear selection needs some work but "the loop" (15 miles) was fun. Scott pointed out a snake on the road so I turned around for a closer look. It was a good 3 feet long an looked impressive as it sunned itself on the road. Scott observed that it was quite fat, so perhaps it had just eaten! When we stood looking, it decided it didn't much like the look of us so it move off the road.

Mum - don't worry, it wasn't a dangerous snake! Scott thought we'd struggle to identify it, and although I said I'd just put it down as the most dangerous similar snake I could find in my Nevada wildlife book, I think it was just a gopher snake. They apparently sometimes imitate Rattlesnakes but this one clearly had no rattle, so quite light on the fearsome scale.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Bently Hike after work - around Spooner Lake

Went on a nice walk after work tonight with Robyn, Star Dog and a couple of the guys. Nice to get some air and some views but unfortunately we didn't see any bears but saw a funny looking squirrel, which my wildlife book seems to indicate might have been a Lodgepole Chipmunk (though I think Star Dog deserves the credit for spotting it).

Perhaps didn't see a bear because I was talking so much. Guess I hadn't really seen people much over the long weekend!

Monday, September 05, 2005

bought a bike! LeMond Versaille

Haven't felt that great all weekend but on Sunday decided to do something about my dreams of buying a road bike. I started doing some proper research on the kind of models of bike that would suit lightweight touring and long distances in the saddle - known in Europe as Audax bikes or Cyclosportif. Too late in the day I found the website for College Cyclery a bike store in Reno, who I heard were good and when I called, discovered that they had several interesting bikes there from Specialized (including the Roubaix), Bianchi and LeMond.

I arrived at the store at 3pm and they shut at 4pm so I didn't have a lot of time to check out the bikes. Well, I didn't think I did but they stayed open until 6pm for me! I tried a handful of bikes and liked the LeMond Versaille the best, in the 59cm frame. I thought I would prefer a huge frame but in the end found those a bit too reachy for some reason. If you are interested in the details, it's frame is a part carbon fibre and part steel and it had Shimano Ultegra stuff on it, which is very slick!

So, I now have my steed for next weekend's Tour De Tahoe, 70miles around the lake.