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.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Hanging out at the Robys

We planned to snow shoe with the Robys today but the weather was awful. Probably not too bad for adults, but no fun for Sam in the child carrier rucksack arrangement. So we went for coffee at Pony Expresso and headed back to the Robys to hang out. Boys walked the dog and Sam (and got rained on) and the girls did Yoga.

The yoga started earlier in Pony Expresso as Sam demonstrated his impressive flexibility with some help from his Dad.


We had a really nice time hanging out so weren’t bothered about missing snow shoeing.

We headed up to Carson City to have lunch at Chilli’s with Dave, Kathy, Chris and Marisa too. Really nice to sit around and chat and eat after such a busy holiday week. Chili’s is pretty nice too, good food and well priced and big enough tables for a large group.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Benighted & Oasis

The Artist's Palette...


Crows - could they be a more unsuitable colour for the desert? How do they survive?


We lingered too long at the Artist's Palette and heading back from there we thought it was all downhill. How wrong we were and how disappointed to see the tarmac snaking upwards again.


When we eventually made the main road it was really too dark. We sped up and I left Kathryn at an extremely posh hotel whilst I shot off to get the car. It was only about 10 minutes further on. I chucked my bike in the car and went to get Kathryn. We pulled out to the dirt car park of the posh hotel and tried to quickly load bike bits and trailers into the car. This was a faff not helped by someone in a van driving past, stopping next to us, looking at what we were doing and driving off - 3 times he did this. It turns out he was some kind of security but a pretty stupid security guard to behave like some miscreant.


Tired and now irritable thanks to security guard weirdo, we headed for furnance creek and got a room on the complex. Not at all bad it turned out. Food ok, nice pool too, nice late checkout times. All good! Well, a little expensive but not really so bad given that it was an oasis in the middle of the desert!

The Dunlop Drivers Cup - Death Valley, Nevada/California 2006

In the afternoon we kept getting passed by some kind of racing cars, well, both cars and 4x4 trucks. Most were quite courteous but some were way out of line, driving far to close to us and far too fast. They seemed to be doing loops around The Artist's Palette drive in Death Valley.

When we finally got to The Artist's Palette viewpoint we were disappointed to find these (apparently German) 'racing drivers' there playing loud music and spinning their cars around in what I believe is called a doughnut. In the picture you can even see my bike a few feet from this smoking car (if any Police would like the registration details of the car please contact me, I have lots of photos of these antics). This seemed extremely dangerous an unnecessary at a quite tourist spot with tourists trying to enjoy the sunset. It seems a shame that people feel so inadequate that they need to endanger others by putting on such outrageous displays.

dunlop drivers cup out of control in death valley

dunlop drivers cup

Dunlop drivers cup - lunatics on public road in Death Valley

I'm quite a fan of motorsport but was extremely unimpressed at cycling on roads frequented by the lunatics amongst this crowd.

Cycling in Death Valley

We didn't get started as early as we hoped but dumped the car at Furnace Creek ranger station ready to ride. I had picked up a second hand trailer from Randy at work. After a couple of hours and several tantrums I gave up trying to fix it to my bike. The skewer just would not tighten and things were bent which shouldn't have been (the skewer, forks, etc.). So, I put some things in a rucksack and we set off.
The first thing I noticed was just how much I like my new bike. Wow that Carbon Fibre LeMond Versaille is REAL SMOOTH. What a treat. The second thing I noticed was again, how comfortable Kathryn is on a bike. Her new bike has lots of unfamiliar things going on, from the gear changers attached to the brakes, to clip in pedals and drop handlebars, and none of it bothered her at all - with the possible exception of the leather saddle, which we have one each to break in.
We trundled on a fairly quiet but somewhat touristy road to Bad Water 17 miles away. There we strolled out onto the salt flats and listened to the ranger talking about the place. We became uncomfortable with this when he explained how the human body responds to being in the desert for an hour, then 2 hours and then 3 hours. The other tourists were enjoying it but they all had a short stroll back to air conditioning. We had at last 17 miles of cycling to do with a steadily disappearing water supply. We skipped the end of the talk and headed home!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Desert - pretty warm

Death Valley was quite a way from June Lake. We eventually found ourselves in the desert in the early afternoon. Pretty, and warmer than I expected right from the outset.


Death Valley is a little odd geographically. Here in Northern Nevada we're at 4,700ft. Driving South takes us even higher. Then at some point a great crack opens up in the earth and decends to a couple of hundred feet below sea level. So, we had a bit of driving down to do to get there.

We arrived in time to get to the ranger station at the aptly named Furnace Creek and arranged camping for the night, and planned our cycle trip. Camping was near Furnace Creek itself, with well organised camp sites on pretty solid dirt/rock. No showers but running water and toilets (our neighbours set up a solar shower avec cubicle as we were leaving - they had previously given us strawberries so we couldnt hate them for the shower!). Camping in the desert was frankly awesome. Amazing views, very warm, loads of stars - beautiful.

The idea of our trip was to Death Valley was to test some of our gear ready for our Alaska cycling adventure. Well, testing the food was surprisingly excellent. Trail rations from REI, though not cheap, were very easy to cook and tasty. Our thermarest kit for joining 2 thermarests together worked brilliantly but for one problem, my tent was a bit too small to accomodate 2 thermarests side-by-side (we subsequently bought a new tent, which is frankly ENORMOUS).

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

June Lake

We stayed the night at June Lake on the way down to Death Valley (on the recommendation of Kathryn's parents who stayed here once). The motel we stopped at was pretty basic but very cheap. June Lake even has its own ski resort. We drove up and had a quick look. It's a small resort but very few people seem to use it. One thing I hate about skiing is the crowds. I can very well see the attraction of skiing in a place like this with few people.

In the morning we met a few locals at the lake, transients like us looking for a nice place to spend the night...



Carl's big idea - "Cycling in Death Valley might be a bit warmer"

I had an idea. Death Valley is quite warm usually, even in the early spring, so I felt sure it would be an excellent spot for a bit of cycling.

The journey down there was a bit longer than we expected but the scenary was breathtaking. These mountains are HUGE and it was a real treat to see them snow covered.


Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Dream Job

Checking her email Kathryn was surprised to see her dream job had been advertised. Today was spent finishing CVs and writing an application.

(Mid-April: She got the job! Kathryn is going to be a Consultant. Impressive. Worth spending a day of holiday on that then!)

Monday, March 20, 2006

Kirkwood Downhill Skiing - A "bluebird day"

Signs leading to Kirkwood made it known that we would need chains on the tyres to get up there today but the road seemed quite dry. We got there without chains. However, i think the authorities put those signs up because they want people to be carrying chains just in case. I don't have much trouble believing that this is sensible, since the weather can come in fast at 8,000ft.

I managed to get Kathryn a guest pass at Kirkwood so that was a bit cheaper. The snow was deep and powdery and the sky was blue, a "bluebird day". Awesome!

Kathryn hasn't done much downhill skiing but enjoyed the runs off chair 7, even thought they were a bit harder than she had done at Heavenly last week. She coped well with the steep stuff on chair 7, and then the bottom of chair 5, which is a bit intimidating. We skied across to chair 1 and then down the back by chair 3, over to the cafe on the backside of the mountain. The skiing was a bit easier for me than I had done recently so I took some shortcuts through the trees to make it more interesting. One was a very steep V shape and when i hit the bottom of the V I came up suddenly and face-to-face with a tree. It took a lot of effort to crash into the snow rather than the tree but i made it and tolerated the embarassment rather than breakages!

We stopped off at Sorensen's, on the way home, for a cuppa. It was such a nice spot we also stayed for dinner. They have lots of log cabins for rent there. Nice, civilised, near the skiing, with all mod cons - but not really a patch on Wild Cat!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Cycling to Genoa to the oldest bar in Nevada

Slept in a bit after our few days of roughing it at the cabin. Not having hot water is sort of roughing it, even though I'm becoming convinced that Wild Cat Cabin is my favourite place on Earth.

Today was the start of our cycling training. Kathryn got on her bike, clipped into her clip-in pedals and we were off. I was pretty much convinced that anyone learning to use clip-in pedals has to fall off once so they remember the importance of clicking their heels to unclip before trying to put a foot down. We set off on our chilly ride and Kathryn's natural cycling ability dealt with drop handlebars, funny brakes and gears, brand new leather saddles, funny lobster style gloves and clip-in pedals. She regularly rides quite long distances around London, which has got to hone the old cycling skills, but I was still a bit worried about the number of new things she was having to deal with at once. In particular I was worried about the pedals. You really need to fall off to learn how those pedals work, i just hoped it would be at a quiet spot. In the event it was a gravelly spot, albeit with a lovely view of Job's Peak. I'm afraid my prediction of the event and relief that there was no traffic, and relief that the event had occured safely, may have made me seem a little less considerate and sympathetic than one might expect given Kathryn's gashed knee, but she's pretty tough about stuff like that so we pushed on.

After about 9 miles we passed some streams in a boggy patch. The streams were very odd, they were steaming plenty. Soon after we came upon Wally's Hot Springs, a very nice looking hot springs resort with pleasant cafe (shut 5 minutes before we arrived). We looked longingly at the water (Kathryn more than me) and we headed on to Genoa, to the oldest bar in the state (1863).

The bar was very pleasant indeed and seemed much more authentic than "The Bucket of Blood" in Virginia City (a city with much potential for historic interest, squandered - there is even a Mark Twain museum, since he worked there, but it is not very well done). Anyhow, on a cold cycle ride (about minus 3 with Wind Chill), the bar and it's wood stove were a welcome sight. Coffee and whisky soon warmed us up ready for th 13 miles home. A couple next to us in the bar had been skiing at Kirkwood and were pretty keen cyclists too, so we had a nice old chat. It's amazing how much nicer it is in a place when you can have a nice chat with whoever is next to you at the bar!

For the 13 miles home it was getting a little dark and cold but was downwind and pretty pleasant and fast. The usual treats of cycling were never far away - huge birds of prey (Red Tailed Hawks) circling overhead and the feeling we were out there with them, rather than encased in a metal box. Beautiful. A good reminder of what cycling is all about.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

A little more back country skiing before we leave

Originally uploaded by CarlMyhill.
A usual skiing pose of mine.

Kathryn enjoying the skiing much more now the ice had vanished from the trails.


On the way home we went to eat at South Lake Tahoe to a place called Freshies, which was very nice indeed. Catered well for vegetarians and was a bit nicer than Sprouts (which was very cheese oriented - though this is not something I normally complain about!)

Friday, March 17, 2006

Hanging food out of reach of bears and other shenanigeans

Originally uploaded by CarlMyhill.
Although we heard a story of a bear getting into Wildcat cabin once, following bacon smells and doors left open, all the bears were asleep for now.

However, i was keen to try the PCT food hanging method. unfortunately, standing in 3ft of powder snow does not provide a very stable base for dextrously chucking a stick up and over a banch 20ft up. I hope it is easier without the snow!

On the way back to the cabin we dug a little shelter in the snow and played at rolling snowballs down a slope to see if they would get bigger as they fell. We found that altough we couldn't make very good snow balls, we could dig down into the ice beneath the powder and cut some snow ball shapes out. A delightfully childish afternoon of playing we snow the like of which we'd never seen!

Getting back to the cabin for some tea was a delight and gave us time to enjoy the views from there too.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Snow shoeing

Originally uploaded by CarlMyhill.
We set a GPS waypoint to show us where the Rin Trail was from the cabin and set off to hike the 0.75 mile up there. This was much harder than we expected with the deep powder making the snow shoes sink more than I was used to. Kathryn didn't know any better though since it was her first go on snow shoes!

At one point we pushed the poles down into the snow to see how deep the light powder was - it was at least 3 ft before we had any resistance. Amazing!

A little unsure about the characteristics of deep powdery snow we stuck together and kept a careful eye out for slopes which looked like they could avalanche, though our experience of such things was very limited.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Getting to Wild Cat Cabin with back country skies

I left work a little later than planned and we headed up towards Wild Cat cabin to check in. By the time we had our skis on, our snow shoes packed on our backs and were ready to go it was 5pm with an hour until dark.

The backcountry skiing we'd done with Amy had been a little different. Up at Spooner lake, where the cabin is, there are groomed cross-country skiing tracks. This was ok but for 2 things, they were fast and by 5pm they had become very icy. Skiing downhill was extremely sketchy, especially with a heavy rucksack each, carrying our cabin luxuries (wine mainly).

Our first couple of hills were gracelessly slid down with some manner of snow plough going on. The last big hill had a very pretty stream next to the track surrounded by 4ft of powder snow. Had we fallen in it would've been a nast plummet into some icy water - this didn't help our stability.

Ultimately though, the trip to Wild Cat cabin is 2 miles up hill. This began a little easier but when the ice became firmer, which is did at unpredictable spots, and as the slope got steeper, the little fishscales on our skis stopped working. So, a well intentioned slide forward with one foot could see you do an impressive double footed slide backward, turn (backward) and fall (sideways) into the deep snow. There, totally stuck in deep powder under your rucksack with funny hinged skis on. Needless to say we needed a bit of perseverence to get to the cabin. As darkness fell we gave up on the skis and planned to switch to snow shoes, though it was immediately clear the ice was such that we wouldn't need them, our boots were fine.

Eventually, the snow grooming machine (a big catapiller type thing with lights and all manner of mechanical attachments) discovered us. The driver was a superstar and offered to take our packs and skis and drive them to the cabin (a few hundred yards further on). At this we donned our snow shoes and ran in front of the groomer all the way to the cabin - not difficult now we were relieved of our burdens. The groomer driver deserved a medal. he brought our stuff up and even lit the gas lamp in the cabin to get us going.

Even in the dark the hut was both familiar and unfamiliar and very beautiful. Outside the door there is a wooden platform, which is around 4 feet up front the dirt in the summer. This time it was level with the snow, and what snow, at 7,500ft it was deep and powdery for 3ft down. So powdery we could not make a snowball out of it. I'm no longer surprised that eskimos have hundreds of words for snow.

We soon got some hot wine on the stove and cooked dinner. It was minus 5c outside but pretty cosy in a 10ftx12ft log cabin. This place is paradise.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Grover Hot Springs

There is an upside to living on millions of tons of molten lava - lots of hot springs!

Grover Hot Springs are in Markleeville, a pretty small town famous for The Death Ride. The hot springs are state run, clean but a little basic (nowhere to buy a beer). We sat in the spings too long. Then Kathryn, queen of the cold water swim, decides we should get in the cold pool. I weakened and followed suit. Not too cold but cold enough!

We were about to get out when someone collapsed after leaving the pool. Kathryn switched to Dr mode to ensure the attendants were doing the right thing, then satisfied they were chilled out. It was then i realised I had been in the springs a long time and the last time I made that mistake I collapsed too and passed out another 8 times as I tried to get up. My exit from these springs was considerably more careful after having just seen someone else land their head on concrete.

Back country skiing lesson - Hope Valley

Amy, Scott and Sam took us for a back country skiing lesson up at Hope Valley. Later in the week this was to prove useful, though the skiing at Hope Valley, in a big dollup of powder snow was the best back country skiing we were to do. Amy taught us what to do on the skis and Scott joined us on snow shoes, with Sam in a carrier.

Back country skiing is rather strange and very squirly. These skis are only joined to the front of the boot and only then as a hinge, so to turn you need to kneel down with one leg whilst you slide the other forwards. It looks good when you watch someone good at it. It doesn't feel so clever as you see a tree looming up ahead and can't seem to steer.

We had lunch at a little cafe/store past Sorensens on the way back. Very nice too. Especially since the food was wheat-free and veggie but also because the place had lots of character.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Kathryn arrives

Kathryn arrived today, not looking jetlagged or over tired from the considerable delays on the San Franscisco to Reno leg.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Shopping at College Cyclery in Reno

We did some serious shopping today, mainly at college cyclery where Randy was supremely helpful as usual. He gave us many hours of advice about bikes and our big trip and spent a lot of time helping Kathryn to get a bike which fitted her well. She ended up with a Bianchi Volpe from last year, in red, with a steel frame and a touring orientated set up. Not a hugely expensive bike sale for Randy but from the amount of time he gave us you might expect it to have been a very expensive bike. Randy is clearly a cyclist first and foremost.

Randy called us before we left home saying he was feeling unwell but would come into the shop to meet us since he'd remembered we were headed in. Despite feeling ill we still got excellent service from Randy, his wife and the mechanics. It's a really friendly bike store where people have time to help you out and chat. A great place, highly recommended.

We just about made it home in time to go and eat Sushi with Scott and Amy at Wasabi's. Actually it was 'all you can eat' sushi and we all left feeling ready to burst. There are instructions that go with the 'all you can eat' menu which explain you must eat everything you order. Towards the end it felt very like the end of the scene from Cool Hand Luke where Paul Newman is eating 60 hard boiled eggs for a bet (a film borrowed from the DW & Family Movie library). We we're looking at those sushi roles the same way Paul Newman's character was looking at egg number 55+!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

In and Out burger - hypnosis or drugging?

Whenever we mention "In and Out Burger" to Dave he turns really serious. Some very deep customer loyalty going on, almost to the point of drooling!

Abs of steel

I've done 4 workouts with intensive ab work in 3 days (with running on top) and it has nearly killed me. However it seems to be doing some good. I had quite a bad back at the weekend which I have recovered from uncharacteristically quickly. My Physio (US: Physical Therapist) in the UK was very keen on core strength from ab work because strong abs support the back.

You may think that with this level of ab workout I now have abs of steel and a washer-board stomach. Sadly, still have the keg version instead of the 6 pack. It must be my age.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Dinner with Scott, Amy, Sam and Molly

Scott and Amy invited me for dinner. Amy made some excellent grub (US: food) and we sat and drank a couple of Newcastle Brown Ales, which was very nice. Sam was his usual entertaining self, trying on my Doctor Martins boots for kicks. Molly pretended I was her best friend ever, though she is usually quite depressed when she is stuck with me and everyone else is away (apart from out walking).

The excellent food was a South Beach diet version of a vegetable stew, with lots of spinach, chick peas (garbanzo beans) and suchlike. Followed by pumpkin pie. Followed by the same tonight, since Amy insisted I take some home with me. Leftovers are one of my favourite things!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Skype (or should it be shitepe)

I used to think Skype was a great idea but we're run into loads of problems with it and are about to give up on it completely.

First, it wrecked Mum's computer when she tried to install it.

Then I found out the headset I bought doesn't work on the mac, because the mac has no power to its Mic port.

We discovered the Mac version of Skype is running behind the PC version and doesnt support webcams yet.

We had a little success with using a cheap webcam from my work Windows computer but it was a bit one way, since Kathryn didnt have a webcam.

Then I bought a new headset for the Mac which plugs into USB. This was ok until the 'acoustic shock' problem started. You can be chatting away with the headset on, when suddenly you get blasted with a sudden screeching sound down the headset, loud enough that it hurts (but only audible one end). Not great for having a relaxed conversation.

And then last night we finally managed to get 2 webcams working. Kathryn's picture updated every 14 seconds or so, so not really very dynamic. We could have perhaps forgiven that if Skype had managed to stay running long enough. I reckon in an hour conversation, 45 minutes were spent trying to figure out skype or complaining about it.

Enough with the VOIP, back to the phone I think. Very disappointing.