Redefining Old

worth the effort

Spread out along the southern border of far west Texas is a State Park that has only one paved road that skirts the southern edge along the Rio Grande. If you enter the park near Presidio Texas and the Fort Leaton visitor center, you’ll turn north onto a washboard gravel road where the sign tells you that it’s about 25 miles to the visitor center. Plan on at least an hour to get there. A few Border Patrol officers and Park officials might make it in less time but they travel the road every day. Trust me, you’ll want to take in the sights. I’ve driven first timers into the park, even people who live in the region, who have to stop and take photos, it’s hard not to. It’s different every time I go.

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Pictured above is the Sauceda Big House next to the Park Headquarters of Big Bend Ranch State Park. That’s my 4wd truck and our mountain bikes. The park literature recommends “high-clearance 4wd and 2 spares.” My own additional advice is, unless you’ve rolled your vehicle or otherwise sufficiently gotten well past the showroom new look, don’t drive down any of the back roads. It’s faster and less dangerous on a good mountain bicycle, or as in our case, mediocre mountain bike, and more fun. You can get a room in the Big House, and I’ve enjoyed that on a cold night because the rooms have fire places, or you can get a bunk in the bunkhouse across the way, but most of the time, camping is the way to go. This is such a great place to camp. Visitation is so low that it usually feels like you have the park to yourself.

Get a good map at the visitor center if you plan to do any long hiking, mountain biking or running away from your campsite. People easily get lost and you do not want anything to ruin your time in the Park. Take lots of water, follow the Park advise and regulations regardless of how experienced you are at backcountry adventures.

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The Park was designed so that no two campsites would be within sight of each other so isolation and solitude is easy to come by. You feel as removed from modern world as you can get.

One of the truly great things you can do at the Park is spend a day with a Park Interpreter. Several years ago Beth gave me a birthday gift that consisted of a day long guided tour of a part of the Park of my choosing with the Park Geologist. I have a deep interest in geology so this turned out to be one of my favorite birthdays ever. The first time we rented the geologist for the day he took us to a remote and geologically unique part of the Park called The Solitario. It’s was our first choice. I had read as much as I could find about it and was eager to hike there. Google it or look at it on Google Earth just west and north of Terlingua TX. Aerial photography is the best way to get a sense of how unusual this place is.

the solitario

It looks like a crater but it’s actually a laccolith about ten miles across. The “roads” going into The Solitario are so rough and overgrown with brush that I was grateful to be driving in a Park vehicle equipped with a satellite phone. In geologic terms there is much to see and talk about. I picked up and examined a piece of rock, part of a large distribution of pieces of an exposed layer of the earth’s surface that was 500,000,000 years old. We ate our lunches near a place known as “the bar”.

On my next birthday he took us to another remote area called Guale (sounds a little like “Wally” if your Spanish is lacking) Mesa. Again, a rugged and very slow drive down an eroded narrow jeep track. We stopped frequently to talk and take pictures. Blaine kept saying “it get’s better.” I enjoy his sense of humor.

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Near the end of the “road” to the south you will find this spot. Look closely at the ground and you will see that this was an old travel route between Mexico and the ranches in this part of Texas. You can still see ruts from the wagons that were driven over this edge and down into the valley below. In the photo at the top  there is a line of rock on the right side that formed one shoulder of the road as it dropped down toward the Rio Grande.

You can pick your level of adventure and difficulty. As always in the desert, be careful, be smart, pack lots of water, leave no trace, and leave your RV at home.

Why am I working on fitness? Linda Hedges

linda hedges 5When she retired after 18 1/2 years as Regional Interpretive Specialist with Texas Parks and Wildlife, Linda Hedges, 57, of Fort Davis, Texas, started taking weight training more seriously. Though she’d worked with a trainer for a couple of years, the retirement forced a change. Linda hedges 3

Linda offers a reason why, “Women my age need to strongly consider weight-bearing activity and weight-lifting to ward off osteoporosis for sure. And there are so many other health benefits. One is never too old to start exercising! The results can be amazing. Working with a trainer has really helped me to progress.” And her trainer, Alan Vana of Ironheart Gym in Marfa, Texas agrees. “All business when Linda’s in the gym! Great job, Linda!” linda hedges 1

Her friends praise the results:

“Dang, girl! I am impressed!
“Your muscles are badass”
“You look fabulous!”
“All I see is your strength, and that is very attractive.”

So why is Linda working on fitness? “I think that, particularly as we get older, it becomes our duty. It just takes a little more effort, but it’s so worth it. Use it or lose it, as they say! When we are fit — and that includes both exercising and eating right — then we feel and look our best. I want to live as long as I can, as HEALTHFULLY as I can. I want to stay off of medications and avoid joint replacement surgery if possible, too. Diet and exercise are huge components of that.”

Linda hedges 2Linda continues many of the same activities she enjoyed before including hiking and cycling in the Texas Mountains and on excursions in Europe, Costa Rica, Canada and throughout the U.S.

linda hedges on bikeLinda always rides in the annual Wheels for Meals fundraising bike ride, benefiting the Food Pantry of Jeff Davis County. The event takes riders on part of the Scenic Loop through the Davis Mountains and to the tiny town of Valentine, the full route extending 88 miles. The ride provides critical support for nutritious, supplemental food for qualifying households in her community. Hitting her fundraising goal is as satisfying as completing all the miles.
“I’ve ridden as many as 63 miles (100 km) of the 88 mile course; one of these days, I’m going to ride all 88.”

Now there’s a goal for 2016!

Accidental lunch

This was originally an Instagram post I wrote after an excursion to central Illinois. I’ve edited it slightly for the blog.

Every once in a while when you’re traveling you have an experience that is nothing short of remarkable. A random act of kindness and generosity that perhaps was more common in an earlier time in this country. We were on the road on a holiday and decided to try to find lunch in Galesburg.

Most businesses were closed in the architecturally charming but still largely vacant downtown where we hoped to find some vegan friendly options. We happened to see a group of people eating in a place called baked and tried the door. The door seemed to be locked and I thought maybe it just sticks so I tried it a second time. No, it was locked so we started to walk away. Someone opened the door and he invited us to come in even though they were closed. It turns out that the people eating were friends of the owner and not merely random customers like we were. It felt awkward at first but we were hungry. We asked if he could make pizza without cheese and meat and he said sure. He asked what we’d like for toppings from a long list of locally available ingredients including sausage made in house, so we said you put what you want on it, half vegan half regular. Read More

“Why do I ride? You will eventually FLY down the other side.” –Artist Carola Locke

Through friends, we met artist and cyclist Carola Locke.  Her story about getting on the bike for the first time as an adult? Inspiring! carola and bike indian lodge

“My husband did it. I had ridden a bit as a child, but never even considered it as an adult. It was one of those “impossible” things that gifted athletes did. However, shortly after being married, my husband found me an old steel road bike, rebuilt it, and gave it to me. I fearfully started riding it, but soon enough remembered what to do, and was thrilled with the rush and freedom which riding invokes. That was about ten years ago. Riding a bike, whether for exercise, to commute, for socialization, or for therapy, has encouraged me to tackle fears which, otherwise, I never would have been brave enough to encounter. Riding has taught me to pace myself in life, and not to expect instant results. It has helped me learn that like riding up a hill, sometimes everything sucks, but it is only for a time; you will eventually fly down the other side.

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The Guru by Carola Locke

My husband and I came out (to Fort Davis, TX) together to ride Cyclefest, and while it is the hardest ride I’ve done yet, it is also my favorite. The clean air and clear night sky, being able to see for miles, this area is my favorite in Texas. I’ve ridden the 75m route three times now, and hope to ride it many more times.”

As for the art:

“I have always been artistic. But, about ten years ago (oddly the same time I began riding), I picked up a paintbrush and began trying to hone my skills. I painted a lot of people, beer, and nature themed pieces, but it wasn’t until three years ago that I found my niche in painting bikes and their riders. The first piece I tried, “The Guru”, floored me with how well it turned out. Usually, when I finish a painting I stand back and am amazed. It doesn’t even feel like I painted them sometimes. I began showing my work two years ago. I love watching people enjoy the work I’ve done. Art allows me to meet people and travel and connect. As I meet cyclists at events I am flooded with new ideas and inspiration. Read More

Taking what comes

Friday:
Went to run in the woods this morning. I was feeling fine. I dressed in enough layers that the cold temperature  (17°) didn’t bother me. It was sunny out so that always helps. The ground was frozen hard and those parts of the trail that had been muddy were molded into rock hard shapes of pounded mud extruded by multiple footfalls in heavily crenelated soles of running and hiking shoes.

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I found the rougher spots difficult to navigate, my feet desperate for an area big and flat enough to land on without twisting under my weight. But the morning was fun, birds were animated by the sight of sunlight and around every turn there was a sight or sound that caught my attention. I’ve definitely become a multi-tasking runner naturalist.

About halfway into a 3 mile hill and trail run my feet started hurting. I chose to run in a great old pair of orange  Mizuno Cabrakan trail shoes that may have outlived their usefulness but I’m too attached to them to give them up. Of course, the shoes may have had nothing to do with how my feet felt they’re just convenient scapegoats. Besides, I have to stand still sometimes to see if the golden crowned kinglets are working these woods today.

Saturday:
Beth joined me for the morning run. I got up early even though the temperature was a mere 13° because I figured she would need time to drink coffee before the run. I had a special new coffee from PT’s called Cerro Azul, a Gesha coffee that’s out of my price window but they sent it to me as a gift for being a good customer. What a treat! She’s always very appreciative of my coffee but this morning she said, “this coffee is spectacular.” I agree completely. We were pretty excited because the sky appeared to be cloudless and clear. We layered up, I added a thermal buff to my gear from yesterday and switched to lighter shoes with a different cleat pattern. So my layering consists of a soft singlet, a tech t-shirt, a soft long sleeve tech shirt and a medium weight long sleeve running top, running shorts, running pants, calf length winter running socks from Feetures, my favorite, my thermal buff, a thermal stocking cap, a great new pair of Manzella fleece mittens and a windstopper soft shell vest. I chose my Salomon Speedcross trail shoes to change the kind of wear and tear on my feet the trails cause.

It was a spectacular day. We hardly felt the cold. We were practically giddy with how pretty it was and we both felt good.

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We had a great run and as always having a running companion always gives me more energy. After a quick breakfast we headed to the gym to lift weights.  Our Saturday mornings usually start with this kind of pattern but somehow the cold added to the fun of it.

Sunday:
Today began a little differently than yesterday. The temperature was much milder, 38° but cloudy. We lightened up our layering for the warmer day and headed to the woods again. Outside we realized that we had wind to deal with and we both thought briefly about going back and adding adjusting our layers but resisted. Better to be too chilly than too hot. Even without the sun it was fun and there was much to see. White tailed deer were active, we encountered a couple of birders and some nice dogs as always excited to walk in the woods with their owners. We both felt pretty good but by the time we finished we were both ravenous. We had to eat a real breakfast before going to the gym and neither of us worked as hard on the weights today.

road trip

In the spirit of getting the most out of life our other joyous pursuits besides exercising are travel, reading, eating healthy and drinking exceptionally good coffee. We generally try to combine all these interests whenever possible. As a typical example, last year we took a long road trip west. For me it was a chance to retrace some of the travel my family did when I was still a child, a chance to see how real my memories of those places I saw were. We left the summer heat of the Chihuahuan desert and headed north. Stops along the way were chosen for the presence of independent booksellers, vegan fare, interesting hikes or bike trails. We like to think of it as themed adventures.

We go to great lengths to get and brew the best coffee possible at home. And when we travel we take it with us. This past weekend we took a day trip to a small town in central Wisconsin which in theory was 4 1/2 hours away. I had found out about a coffee roaster there and was curious to see this operation that purposely chose such a remote rural location. We’ve lived in some pretty remote places ourselves and we like seeing and supporting someone earnestly making a go in a non-urban setting. Better yet, on Saturday mornings they have a tasting.

When we left Iowa City at 6 AM I figured we had plenty of time to make it before the noon Saturday closing time. As with any good adventure we are always open to surprise. We only got as far as Dubuque before we started getting hungry but it was too early still so we crossed the Mississippi River and headed into Wisconsin. We’ll talk more about Dubuque later, interesting town with a lot of intact historical architecture, a lot like Butte MT.
The east side of the river is noticeably more rugged country. The deep road cuts reveal evidence of the geologic history of this place. It seems less like farm country. Small towns crop up along the road with more frequency and we start looking for a place with local character to eat breakfast.

We fix our sights on Mineral Point. Google Maps indicates some small cafes and the promise of something like home cooking. I’m getting ravenous by this time.
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We pass up the packed restaurant in a metal building near the main highway and head into town hoping to find something in the old part of town. The architecture gets more interesting the further we drive into town and we find ourselves driving slowly, studying each neighborhood, each block, following the signs for historic downtown but already immersed in a significant amount of history. Then Beth sees The Red Rooster. I pull over and park.

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This is the place we wanted. The old storefront feels right, the tables are full of locals in the front so we grab a table on the right side of the long bar/counter with vinyl covered antique fixed bar stools. Our table butts up against a large cast iron radiator that I hope is still functional. By the time we get our order placed I hear the first banging of steam coming through the pipes! A few minutes pass before it starts to hiss and our little corner is warm and toasty.

All sorts of imagery is tacked up on the wall behind the bar, old photos of the town hang on the walls but hardly seem necessary since the buildings are almost all still out on the streets near where we’re sitting. Images of roosters on the walls reinforcing the red rooster theme bring the Rolling Stones cover of Little Red Rooster to mind. I remember it mostly from watching the Houston Ballet’s performance of the Christopher Bruce choreography set to that music at Miller Outdoor Theater in Houston years ago. This place would be a perfect model for a theatrical set for that ballet.

Breakfast was exactly what we wanted, local cuisine (I learned about pasties for the first time) with families and friends from the community who like to gather for a meal in this place that’s been a food and drink establishment for decades. After a quick tour of the historic downtown we got back on the road to Nelsonville thoroughly excited by the way the day was shaping up.

Somewhere just past Mt. Horeb WI the route gets really complicated. The printed instructions I had made no sense and for the first time I felt like without GPS on my phone barking out instructions we wouldn’t have found the way. Back roads, narrow lanes, unmarked corners, mislabeled roads. We were at the mercy of my cell phone. Pretty country though, lots of little towns, but suddenly I felt pressured by time when my phone informed us that we would be there by 11:57AM. What happened to the morning? Eventually we connected with I39 North and were able to make up a couple of minutes.

If you look up Nelsonville WI on Google Maps you’ll find a symbol for Ruby Roasters and if you click on that symbol this is the image you will see. We drove into town and sure enough it was one of the first structures we came to on the right side of the road. We walked in the front door and found ourselves surrounded by antiques and craftsy things and a small table with a selection of Ruby Coffees and a thermos. Was this it?
google maps image of ruby roasters

A nicely dressed woman was giving another nicely dressed woman the grand tour so we wandered into the back room looking for roasting equipment or any signs of a serious coffee roasting business. There was nothing back there. I was a little stunned. We were just left to mill around in confusion. Minutes passed. The tour guide finally asked if she could help us and we asked about the tasting. She replied that we must be looking for the roasters “they’re just out the back door.”

In the next lot over we saw an industrial looking building that had the Ruby logo painted on the side.

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We had finally arrived. We missed the tasting after all but there were 3 employees inside still cleaning up and they were nice and the roaster made coffee for both of us, Beth had an espresso and I had a latte. We loved them both. Next time we’ll plan this trip a little differently.

Links:

Mineral Point, Wisconsin
Ruby Coffee Roasters in Nelsonville, Wisconsin

The Shirt that Changed Everything

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I saw it in a store window, and maybe it was the color–a beautiful cornflower blue–that caught my eye.  There was just something about it that made me want that shirt.  But it wasn’t just that.  I wanted to BE the person who would wear it.  I wanted to be a person fit enough to do it justice.

Fifteen years ago, things were not going so well.  I was confused about the direction of my life and I was not very happy.

I’d started riding my bike, a heavy hybrid perfect for oldsters venturing out only on safe gravel paths.  And come to think of it, that was my situation.  I was feeling ancient too soon at 43, and not very adventurous.  Definitely not fit.  And definitely not stretching myself, in any sense of the word.

But that shirt…that shirt kept beckoning to me.

So I stepped into the store and bought it, my first athletic wear ever.

Gradually, I stepped up my bike rides.  Gradually, I started to walk in the mornings, then jog.  I worked myself out of some difficult relationships and stepped out on my own two feet.

After each laundry day, the shirt was there on top of the pile, ready for some adventure.  That shirt waited for me on the shelf, begging me to get out.  Morning after morning, the effect of the exercise and the endorphin rush built confidence.  Each day, things got better.

And while at first I thought I’d have to grow into being an athlete, a person who sweated enough to “earn” the shirt; in truth, I was legitimately that person from the very beginning.  All I had to do was trust myself to keep at it day after day.

So when I visit with people who are considering a new fitness practice, I encourage them to buy clothes that feel good to wear, and clothes that inspire them.  It may be a cornflower blue, long sleeved technical T, or it may be something else.  But when you see athletic wear that speaks to you, buy it, and wear it and love it.  You may be surprised by the athlete inside it.

weightlifting is for everybody

By now most everyone knows or has heard that we lose bone density as we get older and that weight lifting helps prevent that loss. In other words, it’s something we should all be doing to take care of ourselves for the long haul. Most of us thought we left that kind of thing behind when we got to the point in school where we didn’t have to take a gym class (PE was a misnomer) any more. If you’ve never spent time in a gym with weightlifting equipment it can be embarrassing, intimidating maybe even a frightening thing to face but once you start you get over that pretty quickly. Then if you stay with it and you start to feel and see signs of change. It not only increases your bone density, it strengthens your joints and like a good cardio workout it will also improve your mental well being. By the time it becomes part of your regular routine you really start to look forward to it. I’ve heard people express concern about getting all bulked up. Weight lifting by itself will not turn you into a muscle bound freak but done right it will make a lot of physical tasks easier and very likely improve your appearance. Regardless of your gender, you can benefit from increased skeletal muscle mass in ways that will surprise you.

In running a partner can be a great help in keeping yourself motivated. Weight lifting however is much more of a solo endeavor so if you go to the gym with a friend or spouse, each of you should stick to your own personal routine. Go there to work, not chat. If you can carry on a conversation you’re not working hard enough. In the long run you’ll find it’s actually more fun and more rewarding to work as hard as you can.

Wilderness Coffee Seminar October 17

Want to learn how to up your game at making coffee at home?
Love good coffee but miss it when you travel?​ ​
Want to learn ​how to make better coffee than any you can buy in a coffee house with technology you can take anywhere, even wilderness backpacking?coffee outdoor set up

Come join us for a “tail-gate” party Saturday October 17th at Design Ranch in Iowa City at 9am.​ On the corner of Dodge & Davenport
319-354-2623 | info@designranch.com

​Monte, will demonstrate his obsession with making the best possible cup of coffee. He’ll discuss the advantages of “unplugged” coffee-making, how you can brew the same quality coffee whether you are at home or traveling using a stove top espresso maker or moka pot. Monte will cover the pros and cons of several hand brewing techniques, the qualities to look for in a moka pot and the differences between two Alessi pots he uses. Using camping stoves he will be brewing coffee for you to sample with the Alessi  pots and a backpacking moka pot in the back of his pickup truck (assuming cooperation from Read More

Monte’s story

monte running blue shirt sunlight I did not decide when I was young to develop an exercise routine that I could stick to the rest of my life. Foresight was not involved. But at almost 66 now I can look back and say I’ve been doing some things for the majority of my years. It might sound like I planned it that way but that’s not the case. When you develop a habit or ritual that you’re comfortable with and enjoy, the years just begin to pile up on their own.

I was not enough of an athlete to play on a team at any level above grade school but I loved sports when I was growing up and I played them whenever I could. At 30 I realized I needed to do something that would fit with my work schedule. Running was the easiest form of exercise I could participate in regularly and that would give me some fitness benefit without requiring infrastructure and coordinating of Read More