Friday, September 23, 2011

Interesting article

I was eating some delicious broccoli and tomato pizza for lunch today, reading a back issue of Wired magazine.  Typically this magazine gets on my nerves because it is dedicated to discussions of technology and its intersection with society.  Oftentimes, it is championing technology and "progress".  Anyone who knows me well can tell you that technology doesn't usually blow wind up my skirt.

Regardless, I was reading the cover story which was an article by Joel Johnson examining the story behind 17 worker suicides at one of the world's largest consumer electronic mega-factories.  What began as an account of working conditions and labor practices at the factory turned into a serious discussion of consumerism and collective guilt by the end of the article.  While I found the entire article interesting, two statements especially stood out for me that I have never been able to adequately elaborate for myself.

"But I believe that humankind made a subconscious collective bargain at the dawn of the industrial age to trade the resources of our planet for the chance to escape it. We live in the transitional age between that decision and its conclusion."
"I don’t know if I have a right to the vast quantities of materials and energy I consume in my daily life. Even if I thought I did, I know the planet cannot bear my lifestyle multiplied by 7 billion individuals. I believe this understanding is shared, if only subconsciously, by almost everyone in the Western world."

I don't want to escape this planet.  I want to relish it in all of its beauty and wealth and variety.  It is arguable whether or not everyone in the Western world understands this, even subconsciously.  Either way, I want people to get it out of their subconscious and into their conscious and change their lifestyles before it is all too late.     

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Adventure is a state of mind

What do you think of when you hear the word adventure?  Probably most of us think of huge mountains, foreign languages, gold, or any other grand idea that we've read in novels or watched on the big screen.  According to, adventure is defined as "an exciting or very unusual experience".  So I take that to mean that if I am excited about doing something in a way that I haven't done it before, then that would count as an adventure.  I don't need a Spanish armada, a treasure map, and an eyepatch to have an adventure.  When I was confronted with what to do this past weekend, I initially made a plan to drive up to the Adirondacks in a sleepless push, climb something horridly long in the backcountry, and have an epic that lives up to the fine storytelling tradition.  What I ended up doing couldn't have been further from that, but provided me with just as much adventure.
Gravel roads, loaded touring bikes, & approaching nightfall
Friday evening, Jeff "Spotted Zebra" Carlson, Eric "Seven Fingers" Durante, and I set out with loaded up touring bikes and a simple plan: have an adventure in our backyard without a car.  Since Jeff has a real job, we waited until about 6 to take off, making it into Rothrock State Forest around dusk.  Our bikes handled the gravel ascents and descents of the fire roads neatly and we eventually found ourselves making a stop in the dark at Detweiler Run.  Our friends, Clay Chiles and Peter, Jess & Sacha Buckland, were camping there for the evening.  We stopped and said hello and as a reward, Jess gave us malfunctioning glo stick bracelets that ended with me looking like a glo in the dark cheetah.  Since we still had about 20 miles of riding in the dark left that night, we bid them adieu.
Ridgerest = bikepacking crashpad
By about 10 o'clock we made it to the parking lot by Hunter's Rocks where we cooked up a delicious dinner of tortellini before finding a campsite along the Link Trail.  The next day we took all of our stuff over to the Powercut climbing area where I bouldered, Eric went hiking, and Jeff sought out the best vantage points for meditation (or was he just sneaking off with the group whiskey supply?).
Jeff, the upper crust of society, holding a boxed wine and string cheese party for one
I managed to claw my way up some familiar problems and also give some pointers to other folks.  I was impressed that two guys, Dan and Davey, had driven all the way from Gettysburg to get in about 8 hours of bouldering at Hunter's and the Powercut.  Unbeknownst to us, Eric got to see an enormous hawk migration from an adjacent ridge.  Concluding an evening bouldering session later, Eric and I were delighted to see our friend, Tor Nordmark, appear through the trees.  
Eric, myself & Tor
Tor had stopped out to do some hiking and to check up on our condition.  In fact our conditions couldn't have been any better.  Our camp that night was situated on a ridgetop with stellar views off of the surrounding rocks.  A convenient fire ring (well that and a few nips of whiskey) allowed for us to stay nice and toasty on a night where we could see our breath.  And against common belief, there were adequate flat, rock free spots to house our tents.
 The next day, Eric and I parted ways with Jeff.  It wasn't a mutual disgust of each other's fireside flatulence or adolescent humor (of which there was plenty), but instead we had another climbing objective whereas Jeff wanted to keep riding.  (It turns out that Jeff had some climbing to do of his own as anyone who has ridden northbound on 26 over Pine Grove Mountain can attest!)  Eric and I rode further south to Donation Rocks.  Of course a rope and harnesses were among the items strapped to our bikes so we were able to enjoy several hours of toproping.  Then began the business of riding 30 odd miles back to town before nightfall.  Not following Jeff's lead, we rode back through Rothrock and had a longer albeit much more gradual climb than he did.
The definition of "fully loaded touring"
"So, whoopedydoodah, you spent a weekend riding your bike around like you always do and climbing in the same places you always do.  What an adventure!", you might say with a rolling of your eyes.  Eric, Jeff and I could not disagree with you more.  I think we could all agree that we had an exciting and unusual experience.  Yes, we were familiar with a lot of the elements of the trip.  But when you descend Bear Meadows Rd in the dark with a fully loaded bike, it is a whole new ride.  And when you're pulling climbing moves with just your foam sleeping pad under you instead of a cushy 6" crashpad, it's a whole new problem.  And when your legs and not your car carried your tent, food and malfunctioning glo stick bracelets out to that ridgetop, the campsite seems all the more sweeter.

So like the title says, adventure is a state of mind.  I think many of us (and I include myself here) get too caught up in making grand schemes that rely on lots of money, time and preparations.  Instead of doing what we love, we spend our time making money, building up vacation time, or ordering a new mapset.  Finding a new way of doing something local or familiar can bring adventure and fulfillment just as much as a "big" trip.  I may venture to say that I had more fun this past weekend than when I went on a three week roadtrip out West this summer.  In the end, don't hold yourself to lofty goals that may only end up in preventing you from doing anything at all.  If it is "an exciting or very unusual experience" no matter the scale, seize it!

Author's note:  Does this mean that I am abandoning all of my grand, stupid, far-reaching plans?  Hell no.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Cultural Recyclists

I was in downtown State College yesterday talking to my friend Bob Vander Voort aka "Taxi Bob" about bicycle touring and our mutual love of Long Haul Truckers (the bike, not the kind that doesn't shower for weeks on end), when Bob started calling out "Will.  Will.  WILL!!" to someone across the street.  I looked over and there was a young man about my age trotting along the sidewalk wearing just a pair of shorts and a reflective vest usually reserved for road construction crews, both of which had seen better days.  I realized that I had seen this guy along with a couple of other similarly clad folks biking around town for the past couple of days.  The only reason that I took any note of it was that all of their bikes were laden for touring, sporting racks, panniers and in one case, custom kitty litter bucket saddle bags.

Will made his way over to us and as he and Bob fell into excited conversation, I started to learn a thing or two. It turns out that Will was one of a group of folks that called themselves The Cultural Recyclists.  I think that it started out as just two of them and people came and left as they pleased.  Either way, Will had spent the past 14 months traveling along the northern Lower 48, travelling down the West Coast and then bouncing his way back to PA along the southern border and all of it by bicycle.  Along the way, he and his travelling partners would stop at farms and do whatever work needed to be done in exchange for food or a place to rest his head.  You might think this sounds a lot like wwoofing but Will assured us that he had no site guiding him nor any structured plan.  He wanted to travel by bicycle.  He wanted to get closer to the land and get a feeling for where his food comes from.  He didn't want to worry about where to go or where to sleep but instead let spontaneity and strangers' goodwill guide him.

It sounds like he had a great experience and I look forward to looking through his blog for more inspiration. Hopefully when they're back in town, The Cultural Recyclists can give a talk either on campus or at Appalachian Outdoors.