Monday, November 24, 2008

The Greatest Word in the World

One of the conversations we had during our drive down to Fall Moab addressed the ugliest words in the English language. Dug can't stand any word with "moist" in it -- "moisture," "moisturizer," "moisturizing ointment." He got such a sick look on his face when he said these words that I very nearly asked him if he needed a vomit bag.

I mulled over words that I dislike -- "phlegm" and "caucus" immediately came to mind -- and then I decided I was being too negative. Let's turn it around. What is the best word in the English language? You'll be surprised at the answer:


It makes you smile, doesn't it? Who doesn't like a tugboat? First, unlike a word like "spendthrift," you don't have to unpack its meaning. A tugboat is a boat that tugs another boat. It seems simple enough to name a thing right, but our nomenclatative skills are often found wanting. In the nautical industry alone, we have "yacht" and "ferry" and "cruiser." On land, we must deal with "hangnails" and "inflammable" items.

Person 1: "Is that moist tugboat flammable?"

Person 2: "Yes, it's inflammable."

Person 1: "That seems incongruous."

Person 2: "No, it's congruous."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Not-So-Prompt Awards Ceremony for Fall Moab 2008

After every Fall Moab, I have a tradition of handing out imaginary awards based on movie quotes. Ergo, it should come as no surprise that I'm doing the same thing this year, as you will discover if you continue to read. And I do, in fact, command you to read.

Warning: This blog entry may not be suitable for children, Mormons, and certain wives of certain gentlemen.

Anton Chigurh: What's the most you ever lost on a coin toss.
Gas Station Proprietor: Sir?
Anton Chigurh: The most. You ever lost. On a coin toss.

This goes to ... Fatty, whose luck has not been kind of late. Hang in there. We missed you on the trip.

Carla Jean Moss: You don't have to do this.
Anton Chigurh: [smiles] People always say the same thing.

This award goes to ... Ricky, who always says the same things. And I love it. He always asks Gary about one of his old bosses from back in the Novell days. The first dozen times Ricky brought it up, the question evoked a Tourette's-style outburst from Gary. Unfortunately, it's more difficult to get Gary to bite nowadays.

And Ricky asks me the same question every time there is a campfire and alcohol. He wants me to belly dance. That's because back in the 90s, I learned how to belly dance. True story. It was Plan F in my attempt to recover from chronic fatigue syndrome. For all I know, it ended up being the cure, or maybe it was Ambien, sun meditation, or the quack scientist from Reno who claimed he had a cure for CFS and cancer (which is cause by evil spirits). I'll say the same thing to Ricky now that I've said since: "I am tired. From where the sun stands, I shall belly dance no more forever."

Anton Chigurh: That's foolish. You pick the one right tool.

This award goes to . . . the singlespeed bicycle. In Moab, it's the right tool. Since the other guys started riding singlespeeds a few years, I held out until last year, and fell in love. As a result, riding is different, maybe better. Instead of stopping every few minutes to test our skills on uphill moves, we now try moves less often, and we try more downhill moves. I like it.

I especially enjoyed the Sunday ride on the Slickrock Trail. Being on a singlespeed meant that I wasn't able to do some of my favorite moves -- like the Z move or hairlip hill -- but the overall feeling of cruising along the trail was one I hadn't enjoyed that much since I first started going to Moab. The singlespeed offers a flowing feeling that reminds me of the old "rhythm of the road" adage that roadies used to talk about. With a singlespeed, it's the Rhythm of the Trail. I can dig that.

Llewelyn Moss: What's this guy supposed to be, the ultimate badass?

The ultimate badass award goes to . . . Jeremy. Sorry, Kenny and Brad, when Jeremy shows up to ride, he's still the king -- even though he rides only a couple times a year. My favorite move was when he appeared to be struggling up hairlip hill. When he reached the top, where the "hard" line is to the right, he stayed straight and rode over the ledge, which I had never seen done before. When he caught his breath, he popped a cigarette into his mouth and smoked. Seriously. He kept stopping to take cigarette breaks.

That was nothing compared to the show he put on Saturday night, when Dug and Paul and I were out looking for Lost Tom Burch. I can't relay the nature of his report in full. Wait, why not? He said his ex-wife used to smack him around. That's hilarious. And a girl had a crush on Jeremy back in the day. Jeremy wasn't into her, so he told her he'd provide service to her only if she brought a friend along. And that's all I can say about that. This is a family blog! By the way, what's a short 'n tall stack?

Llewelyn Moss: Yeah, well, I been immobile.

I don't know who to give this award to. In years past, this award would have gone to Paul, who rode his bike only once a year -- at Fall Moab. Since he's been riding to and from the courthouse, he was on fire. The award could go to Tom because he's badly out of shape, but frankly, he already has too much hardware. Maybe I'll come back to this.

Loretta Bell: How'd you sleep?
Ed Tom Bell: I don't know. Had dreams

This award goes to . . . two gentlemen I cannot name. Let's call them Jared and the Brother of Jared. They decided to sleep better by taking Ambien. The thing is, you need to go to sleep right away if you take Ambien, or you end up in a weird, sex-crazed sleepwalking state. Or so I've heard.

The Brother of Jared headed into the trailer to go to bed, while Jared remained around the campfire. When Jared stood up to go to bed in this condition, he could barely stand up. Dug had to escort dizzy Jared into the trailer. As he did so, Dug's phone buzzed. He read the text message, which was from the Brother of Jared: "Wanna have sex?" Dug turned and looked at the Brother of Jared, who stared up at him with bedroom eyes. When Dug turned back around to help Jared into bed, he noticed that Jared was "dibs-ing" the stove with his genitals.

If you're tempted to take Ambien, just say maybe.

Ellis: Whatcha got ain't nothin new. This country's hard on people, you can't stop what's coming, it ain't all waiting on you. That's vanity.

This goes to . . . Tom. We ain't all waiting on you. We'd rather have to call search and rescue than watch you futz around with your shoes. Oh, and Barack Obama is not a Muslim socialist who supports terrorists. He just wants to take all your extra cash and give it to poor people so they can buy malt liquor.

Ed Tom Bell: Well, age will flatten a man.

No one gets this award. For a bunch of middle-aged guys, most of us ride as well as we've ever ridden, even after leaving a long line of empties around the campsite.

On a side note, I watched this movie again, and I don't care what anyone says, the movie falls apart after the woman invites Llewelyn to drink beer by the pool. For goofballs, not showing that scene is a brave choice made by a superior artist. For people like me who enjoy good stories, it's a left turn into a drainage ditch. The rest of the movie is folk-wisdom babble. That could have been a great movie.

Wendell: It's a mess, ain't it, sheriff?
Ed Tom Bell: If it ain't, it'll do till the mess gets here.

This award goes to ... the sheriff who busted Dug's chops for having left Tom behind. Don't worry, Dug. That would have been the right move four out of five times.

Gas Station Proprietor: Is somethin' wrong?
Anton Chigurh: With what?
Gas Station Proprietor: With anything?
Anton Chigurh: Is that what you're asking me? Is there something wrong with anything?

This goes to ... Sleepy and his friend, who thought it was too cold to camp, so they slept the first night in the cab of a running truck and the next night in a comfy hotel room. Oh, was something wrong with 25-degree weather?

By the way, when I showed the boys Nick's videos (Part I and Part IA), one of them asked who made a nice move up a steep ledge. When I told them who it was, they laughed so hard they were shaking. "Sleepy! Is that his real name? Sleepy? Sleepy!"

Every time Sleepy came back into view, both boys yelled, "Sleepy!"

Anton Chigurh: You know how this is going to turn out, don't you?
Llewelyn Moss: Nope.

No award. It just wanted to include this quote because that phone call was my favorite scene in the movie.

Llewelyn Moss: Yeah, I'm going to bring you something, alright. I decided to make you a special project of mine. You ain't going have to come looking for me at all.

This award goes to ... L. Tom! Nice try, letting us get ahead of you so that you could surprise us. It would have worked if you had the ability to pedal your bicycle faster.

Carla Jean Moss: And what are you going to do?
Llewelyn Moss: I'm fixin' to do something dumber than hell, but I'm going anyways.

This award goes to ... Cori. Whenever he rode down a section of trail that would give a mountain goat pause, he let out a whoop. His luck held out better than Llewelyn's.

Boy on Bike #2: Mister? You got a bone stickin' out of your arm.
Anton Chigurh: Let me just sit here a minute.

This award goes to ... Dan, who gashed his leg with a chain saw a couple months ago, nearly died, and thought seriously about coming along anyway. Then I assume he just sat there a minute and decided against it.

Llewelyn Moss: You keep runnin' that mouth I'm gonna' take you in the back and screw ya'.
Carla Jean Moss: Big talk.
Llewelyn Moss: Keep it up.

This award goes to ... Brad. What do you want from me? Does there have to be a reason for every award? Brad gets this award because he deserves it, end of story. Got it? Sheesh.

Carla Jean Moss: Fine. I don't wanna' know. I don't even wanna' know where you been all day.
Llewelyn Moss: That'll work.

This award goes to all the guys who, upon hearing that Tom was lost up on the mesa, ate dinner at Moab Brewery, headed over to Woody's Tavern, and then drank and told stories around the campfire. That'll work.

(And yes, I'm jealous that I missed most of the campfire stories.)

Loretta Bell: Be careful.
Ed Tom Bell: I always am.
Loretta Bell: Don't get hurt.
Ed Tom Bell: I never do.

This Lifetime Achievement Award goes to ... Dug, who probably has this conversation every time he goes on a ride. I'm not saying he's an uxorious mollycoddle. What gave you that idea?

Llewelyn Moss: Where's the last guy? Ultimo hombre. Last man standing, must've been one.

This goes to Kenny, who rode his heart out all weekend. Kenny, you're the ultimo hombre. Yo tengo un cuaderno rojo en mi pupitre.

Carla Jean Moss: I got a bad feeling, Llewelyn.
Llewelyn Moss: Well I got a good feeling, so that should even out.

This goes to ... all the women back home who watched the kids while we were gone. As we sit in chairs around the campfire and boast of our sexual prowess, we often don't give you enough credit.

Carla Jean Moss: Sheriff, was that a true story about Charlie Walser?
Ed Tom Bell: Who's Charlie Walser? Oh! Well... uh... a true story? I couldn't swear to every detail but it's certainly true that it is a story.

No one gets this award, because all the stories that were told, including Jeremy's, were absolutely, 100% true.

Carson Wells: I was wondering...
Man who hires Wells: Yes?
Carson Wells: Could you validate my parking ticket?
Man who hires Wells: An attempt at humor, I suppose.

This award goes to ... Rick S. who is quietly one of the funniest people I know. An example or two would be a nice touch, but you're just going to have to believe me. In other words, you should have been there.

Ed Tom Bell: Yea. Got some hard bark on him.

This award goes to ... Nick, our mate from Australia had never ridden on slickrock before, nor had he dealt with a bizarre bunch of Utahns. Not only did he make it through the weekend, he seemed to enjoy himself. He must got some hard bark on him.

Anton Chigurh: Would you hold still, please, sir?

This award goes to ... you, the faithful reader, who made it all the way to the end of this entry oh so obediently.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fall Moab 2008 Report

In previous years, I looked forward to Fall Moab like a 7-year-old looks forward to Christmas. I get to hang out with a bunch of life-long friends, some of whom I've known since childhood, and I get to ride my bike in one of my favorite places on earth. Since earth is my favorite place in the universe, it means I get to ride my bike in my favorite place in the whole entire solar system.

This year, I thought seriously about canceling. I blame it on Elden. He selfishly put his own needs above the needs of the group by staying home and nursing his ailing wife.

Seriously, the thought of going to Moab while Elden dealt with the heartbreaking situation at home just didn't seem fun. We bucked up and did three rides over the weekend -- Porcupine Rim, Gold Bar Rim, and Slickrock. At least 23 guys rode along. Before I give out awards based on movie quotes, I'll describe the three rides.

Porcupine Rim

The plan was to arrive in Moab early enough to ride the extended version of Porcupine Rim. According to Dug, that meant riding "two miles" further up Sand Flats Road and then dropping down onto new singletrack. I know now that when Dug says "two miles," he really means SIX miles. He used the old bait-and-switch technique on us.

Not that I'm complaining. I wanted to ride six miles up a fire road. In fact, I prayed aloud that morning, "Dear Zeus and/or any other available Gods, thank you for my singlespeed bike, and bless me that I may ride it along a fire road until my legs are weary with joy, Amen."

When we finally reached the new section of trail above Porcupine, any sarcastic feelings I had were swept away as we weaved our way down between juniper trees and ledges. You'd think it would be hard to find a great new trail in Moab for someone who's been there more than forty times, but great new trails somehow keep popping up.

Unfortunately, Nick -- who had never been to Moab -- paid too much attention to us when we told him to ride soft tires on Slickrock, so he let some air out of his tires to do Porcupine Rim. To clarify, soft tires work great on the Slickrock trail, but not necessarily on all slickrock terrain. And especially not on Porcupine Rim, which probably pops more tires per capita than any other trail. Nick flatted once, replaced the tube, and then flatted again.

Since Nick was the only rider on 26" wheels, and since you can't use 29" tubes in 26" tires, Nick was out of luck. We split up. The faster guys rode down Porcupine Rim, while the Paul and Nick and I took a spur back down to Paul's car. Paul and I rode up and down the technical sections of the trail, while Nick walked his bike.

How do you like Moab so far, Nick?

Gold Bar Rim

While this was a great ride providing plentiful tales of heroic moves and splendid crashes, the real story was the fact that L. Tom Burch got separated from the group, remained up on the mesa well after dark, and was finally located by the Search & Rescue team. Here's how it happened.

L. Tom is a notorious tinkerer. When most guys get to the trailhead, they put on their gear, make a few last-minute adjustments to their bikes, and off they go. With L. Tom, it's a much different story. It's not that he rebuilds his bike. I don't even know if he does more work on his bike than anyone else. I think he just stares a lot, stumbles around, and indulges in methodical nonsense.

Our group of 15 met another Utah group at the trailhead, so there were 21 guys doing the ride. (That's because there were 6 guys in the other group. Sorry I didn't make that clear.) The plan was to ride the singletrack portion of the trail, which is marked with blue paint instead of white paint. The white trail is wider and more obvious -- it's where jeeps go -- while the blue trail is for hikers and bikers. The blue trail is especially difficult to follow after the first overlook, where we traditionally meet and take a big group picture. Only Kenny had followed the blue trail after the overlook.

L. Tom was riding slow, bringing up the rear. Like me, L. Tom does not live in Utah. He lives in Iowa. I don't think it's a coincidence that we're the two pudgiest guys. A couple of guys from Lee's group seemed to be struggling, and Paul doesn't like doing long rides. There was talk of riding to the overlook and then making a decision. Anyone who didn't want to do the long blue trail could head back down and be back at the parking lot within an hour or two.

After we all posed for the annual picture, we geared up and got ready to ride. It's not like we burst into action. Most of us are in our 40s, and we move slow after getting pounded all day (see the 9:00 mark for evidence here). Paul told me he was going to keep riding. At this point, I should have asked L. Tom what he was going to do, since I had in my mind that Paul and L. Tom were heading back down. Instead, I rode on with Paul and Nick.

Dug saw that L. Tom had his shoes and helment off. "Are you coming?"

L. Tom shrugged.

Dug assumed L. Tom wasn't coming along. When Dug told us this later, I assumed that L. Tom wanted to save face. Hey, where did everybody go? I wanted to come along, but now I guess I better ride back down. We rode slowly for about ten minutes, and then we stopped and waited another five minutes or so to make sure no one got lost. Here's the thing. Even with fifteen riders ahead of me, I still had a difficult time finding the right way to go in some places. The blue trail just isn't marked well, and the terrain is gnarly.

What we didn't know is that L. Tom decided to come along. Only instead of riding the blue trail, he stuck to the traditional white trail used by the jeeps. As he rode up and down the white trail, he could see us from below as we picked our way along the edge of the rim.


L. Tom told us later that he saw us gathered at the top of the mesa where four trails converge -- the two Gold Bar trails, Poison Spider, and the Portal Trail. According to his story, he shouted to us that he was coming up, and someone from our group shouted, "You're on the wrong trail!"

Must have been someone from the other group, because we were speculating about whether L. Tom really followed us. Paul even joked about using our comments during the forthcoming deposition in a criminal trial. And this was before we realized Lost Tom Burch was on his own.

From this point, we could have gone down the Portal Trail, which is an exposed two-mile section of trail that cuts along the side of the mesa. Every few years, a cyclist falls and dies. This time, we decided to go down Poison Spider Mesa instead of the Portal Trail.

On our way down, we took a spur to the little arch and hung out a bit. I had ridden across this arch back in the day, and I secretly hoped to show off and ride across it again. In my memory, it wasn't a big deal, but when I took one look at the arch I decided against it, not with a wife and five kids at home who might have to explain that their husband/father died while showing off. "We have video footage, but frankly, it's difficult to watch."

After goofing around at the arch, we meandered down Poison Spider Mesa. Whenever someone had a mechanical (yes, the adjective works as a noun, kind of like when sports reporters say a player is "out with a knee") -- I broke a chain, and Sleepy and Gary flatted -- a small group stopped and helped out.

We got to the parking lot at dusk. A group of drivers hopped in the shuttle car while the rest of us hiked up to see the dinosaur tracks and Native American drawings. When the other drivers got back, they broke the bad news. Tom's car was still there.

Dug felt horrible, since he took responsibility for Tom. The rest of the guys drove into town and ate dinner while Paul and Dug and I drove back and forth looking for signs of Tom. It was dark.

We didn't know at the time that Tom had a lighter, warm clothes, matches, and a flashlight -- everything but a cell phone, which was in his truck. Had I known that, I would have gone into town with the boys and gotten drunk. Instead, I cycled through the emotions of guilt, frustration, and anger. Did he try to follow us along the blue trail? Did he clunk his head somewhere? Why didn't he tell us what he was doing?

Dug called the county sheriff and met up with the guys who were to go out and search for Tom. I wasn't there, so I'll have to let Dug tell the story about one or two of the guys scolding Dug for leaving a man behind. The plan was to send a hiker up the Portal Trail and several four-wheelers along the other routes.

According to L. Tom, he was hot on our trail. He barely missed us at the little arch, and then he had a mechanical. When it got dark, he realized he couldn't find his way down Poison Spider Mesa, so he walked his bike down the Portal Trail. It was the right decision. In fact, he did everything right, except for tinkering. And riding too slow. And failure to communicate.

The Portal Trail hiker found Tom near the bottom, and radioed the news to the rest of the team. As L. Tom ate dinner with Paul and Dug and me, he felt sheepish and grateful.


The next day we did Slickrock. It was the first time I'd ever done it on a singlespeed. More on that tomorrow, when I give out awards based on quotes from the movie, No Country for Old Men.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

McCabe & Mrs. Miller isn't a popular movie, and it doesn't seem that critically acclaimed. Sure, a few critics rave about it, but you don't see it listed on the great films lists. Or maybe it's just me. Before seeing it, I thought it was one of the inferior Robert Altman movies that has appeal only because it was an Altman film. I finally broke down and watched it.

It's one of the greatest movies I've ever seen.

I still can't get over why this movie isn't better known, other than the fact that it's bleak. Maybe it's the fact that people looking at it as western would be disappointed in its lack of western qualities, and people who look for an arty movies end up seeing a western.

The movie reminds me of Deadwood. In fact, Deadwood seems closer in spirit to McCabe & Mrs. Miller than M*A*S*H is in spirit to Altman's original movie.

If you have any poetry in you, go see it.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The McCain States

I've been trying to pinpoint what the states that voted for John McCain have in common with each other, but I just can't pinpoint it. What is it about the people in Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, North Dakota, Tennessee, and South Carolina who insist on voting for the likes of George W. Bush and John McCain?

Are they all hot weather states? Land-locked states? Is it the shared ideology of trickle-down economics and free market deregulation? The love of Jeffersonian small government? If you have any theories, feel free to spout off. I'm stumped.

UPDATE: I know this post is unfair. In the immortal words of the current President of the United States, "I know that. Don't you think I know that?" As I mentioned in comments, a lot of smart, well-informed had their reasons for voting for Bush and McCain; and a lot of dumb, uninformed people voted for Obama. Most of all, I'm delighted that the Bush Era is nearly over, and I'm still mad at anyone who helped him take office. The way the Republican party used the religious right to get votes while putting policies in place to help big corporations was deeply cynical and short-lived. Despite McCain's gracious speech, he still tried to win using these same Rovian techniques.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Ultimate Election Thoughts

Even though work has slowed down for me, I haven't been updating my web log because I've been obsessed with politics. I'm going to go through a serious withdrawal next week.

I'm not alone. The guy in the office next to mine is taking the whole week off next week. When his boss asked him to reconsider, he said no way -- he's not going to get anything done anyway. It's nice to know I have company. I wonder if I'm still going to spend a significant amount of my leisure time tuning in to political discussion. Before the 2000 primaries, I wasn't all that interested in politics. When Dubya hit the scene, I tuned in. I've spent eight years trolling political web sites, often in horror.

My favorite new web site is FiveThirtyEight, which offers statistical probabilities based on recent polls. According to this site, McCain has a 6.3% chance of becoming President. Barack Obama has a 93.7% chance of becoming President. Robert Raleigh has a 0.00% chance. America just isn't ready for a Native American in the White House.

The two states to watch closely in the early polling are Virginia and Pennsylvania. If Obama wins both, it's over.

In both states, the Republicans are pinning their hopes on the fact that a lot of working class white people -- many of them union guys -- are going to refuse to vote for a black man. The Bradley Effect is their greatest hope. So for you right-wingers out there reading this blog, buck up -- there's hope in racism.

By the way, it really bugs me that Jack Murtha was derided by the media and slipped in the polls because he said a lot of rednecks in Western Pennsylvania were too racist to vote for a black man. Anyone who spends any time in rural areas anywhere in the U.S. will hear lots of examples of racist rednecks who refuse to vote for Obama because he's black. Isn't this criticism an example of the political correctness that torments conservatives?

Back in 2004, after Bush defeated Kerry and the Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate, right-wing pundits shared their expertise by giving advice to the DNC. They argued that Democrats need to drop the moon-bat element (, DailyKOS, Michael Moore, etc.), and move further to the right. They said this as if the likes of Howard Dean were looking to The Corner for how to proceed. In reality, the best advice should have been, "Just sit tight and watch what happens when Republicans like George Bush and Tom DeLay run the country without opposition."

Now it looks like the Democrats have a 93% chance of having the same advantage. This has the likes of Rush and Sean terrified. What's going to happen to the country when Democrats take over? They'll politicize the Supreme Court! They'll run up huge budget deficits! They'll make us less safe! You'd think these guys would be more concerned about what just happened to our country than what might happen.