Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Another week of training is almost over and Austin is on the mind. Heading to the North American Handmade Bicycle Show on Saturday and hopefully meeting up with my friend Bill of I'm looking forward to hanging out with another friend from State College as well who actually lives there. She's the one who's being so nice and letting me sleep on her floor. Tons of stuff going on. A lot I want to do, but I need to realize that I can't cram it all into one weekend.

Training is going by so fast. Students will be here in no time and I need to plan for the summer as well. Such is the life when doing seasonal work.

Best part of today....learning night activities and making our own goals for the season. The night activities focus on developing and learning about night vision, taking in the surroundings, honing your senses in the dark. Fun, peaceful activities. Definitely things that take kids out of their element. Taking a moment as a group to think about our goals for the season helped frame everything. Since it's moving so fast, it has been too easy to forget why we're doing this and what we want out of it. Being outside, around cool people, and in a cool place. Sure. This was an opportunity to think beyond those.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Outside work

Today we spent several hours preparing for the fast approaching Spring season. We don't have students until March, so all that we've been doing is staff training. This afternoon there was a pause in talks and demos for those who will be teaching the academic courses like myself, rather than the adventure activities (i.e. high ropes, climbing, kayaking, etc.). So sheds were cleaned out, gardens were tilled, animal pens swept, wood cut & collected, and sport facilities stocked. The Mesquite down here is brutal to saw; so dense and hard. Like everything else down here, it has thorns too. Huge ones. My hands are all sorts of cut up and rough (from riding this weekend too). It's a great feeling.

The coolest thing that happened today was saving a lizard. While cleaning out the little shed that housed the tennis rackets and balls, we found a foot long spiky reptile on a racket. With further inspection we realized that it got stuck crawling through one of the square holes of the racket. Its hind legs would not squeeze through. Knowing it was in trouble, it patiently waited as we figured out how to free him. The first thought was to force him to move back through the hole, but when we picked up the racket to take a closer look we saw how big his scales were. Going that way was not an option. So I started pulling apart parallel strings to open the square. That did the trick and he scurried away. Neat little guy. Mostly tan and black with light blue stripes on his side and belly.

It's these little experiences that might not be framed as educational or are necessarily part of our training, but serve to familiarize us with our surroundings. To work with your hands in your surroundings, getting dirty and scratched up, having unexpected run ins with wildlife...this is how you learn a place, how you come to appreciate it for what it is. The task will be to correlate this learned appreciation into the lessons I teach and experiential education I put forth.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Hill Country Riding... WOW

Guess what Central PA Mountain Biking elitists. There are rocks in Texas too. Not the kind we're used to. Not long jumbled stacks of Glacier waste that get dusty, grey and white with wear. Not trail after trail of body contorting, torque grunts. The difference is that they're interdispersed with fast, loose, sandy stretches that blur the Prickly Pear cactus and Mesquite trees. There are long, bare bedrock stretches where the line is not so apparent. The rocky sections are technical, challenging, and lo and behold, damn fun.

I've done two mountain bike rides since I've been in Central Texas. The first was in Muleshoe Bend, a pay-to-park hive of trails run by the authority that looks after the series of man-made lakes strewn along the Colorado River. $5 got me a freshly printed map and trails reminscent of PA's beloved Raystown Lake and a delighful smattering of tricky bits similar to those found in the Cooper's Gap region of Rothrock State Forest. That's right. Raystown AND Cooper's Gap. Two of the riding gems of Central PA. Minus of course layers of snow and ice, and plus tons of shit with thorns. The singletrack isn’t as wide as it is in most of Raystown but would open up to a picturesque Lake Travis every once in a while, similar to Rays. It is only an 8mile loop and I had plenty of time to complete one and a half laps before I left. I was pleasantly surprised. Riding round here was off to a good start.

Today, almost on a whim, I went to Reveille Peak Ranch, just North of me. From my searches of nearby trails, I’ve gotten the sense that open access trails are not nearly as common as places like these. Luckily, since their grand opening was last weekend and they’re still trying to attract riders, they were offering free access all weekend. So I loaded the Selma back on the truck and drove up past the county seat, Burnet towards Lake Buchanan (pronounced Buck-canon down here, as opposed to Bew-canon). After getting lost a bit (which was enjoyable, because I got to see more of the lake), I rolled into a red dirt lot alive with mountain bikers. The single speed, full rigid rig on my truck captured everyone's attention. I got talking with Russ and Jamie who seem to manage the place and immediately got solid vibes. This was the sort of place where killer weddings go down. The lot was adjacent to a "spare no expenses" outdoor kitchen, bar, stage, pool and sand volleyball court, all overlooking a beautiful little lake tucked in granite and green hill sides.

When I finally pulled myself from all the friendly people (including both the trailbuilders/designers of this place AND Muleshoe!) and told them my story, I rode double track around the water into something like 20 or so miles of spectacular single track. Up and down granite outcroppings. Round and through junipers. Switchbacks to vistas. Short grunting rises. Across exposed bedrock in streams....I forgot to drink water; I was having too much fun. I'm going back tomorrow. It's the kind of place that would certainly get me in shape when ridden frequently. And I hope to. A guy back in the parking lot, from Austin, made the bold statement that it was the best Texas had to offer. I'm ok with finding it this soon! Plus, the cook hooked it up and took three dollars out of his tip jar so I could afford a burger. Nice. Oh...and they plan to add 40 more miles of single track. Very cool place.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

1st Impressions

1.) They don't know how good they have it down here. Leaving in an ice storm that locked up the entire Northeast made this even more apparent. It is temperate and comfortable down here. Downright beautiful compared to the miserable winter I left behind.

2.) I know absolutely nothing about the flora and fauna down here; especially in Texas. My second day in Raleigh, I rested at a lake on the NC State campus and watched the birds. Other than a few mallards and Great Blue Herons, I didn't recognize any of them. There must've been six different kinds that I saw. Now in Texas Hill Country, it is painfully clear that I am in a foreign land. All through the Northeast when out and about, I remained enthralled by my surroundings, but was rarely surprised. Down here, the trees, the birds, the dirt, the general geography, is all so different. Are there bears down here? What are the major predators? What should I look out for? What plants should I not touch? Which ones can I eat in a pinch?

3.) Where are all the bikes? On the entire drive down to Raleigh, then Athens, then Houston and now up to Austin and Marble Falls, I saw maybe five bikes on cars. In Raleigh and Athens I barely saw anyone riding. It wasn't until Houston, on the bike paths in between homebase and trails, did I see a number of roadies and tri riders. This goes back to numero uno I think. Most cyclists are probably still hybernating.

4.) I'm not sure what the general environmental ethic is down round these parts. The trails I rode in Houston went alongside what they call a "Bayou". I would call it more of a hybrid between a stream and a canal. The Houstonian's must think "bayou" is French for "drainage ditch". I rode over countless culverts, dumping fluids of all sorts. One rivulet appeared to be flowing with a mixture of Windex and Simple Green. I can't imagine it's all that different in Texas compared to Pennsylvania. I suppose I'll learn in the coming months. The contrast really was that of a rural area like State College to an urban, sprawl of a city like Houston.

5.) I stick out! My red half-ton pickup with two bikes prominently posted on the back. PA plates. My cycling cap and sandals. I probably sound funny to 'em too. Yea, I get stares.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Houston and Onward

So I got sick once I arrived in Houston. My body must've known that it arrived at a familiar, comfortable place, and it just gave in. It has been freezing all week here, so it wouldn't have been much fun to go explore anyway. I spent most of the week inside, playing with the nephews, sleeping, and eating...a lot.

Yesterday it got warmer finally and I forced myself to get out and ride, eventhough the flu wasn't entirely kicked. In Houston, a place that always gets a bad rap in my circle of friends, I was able to leave the front door, ride a few miles on a bike path and find a network of trails that were challenging and fun. I was impressed. And I was pleased to find out that Houston isn't completely hopeless. This site helped further ease my mind. This place has more green spaces than I previously thought.

Tomorrow I head to Marble Falls and begin staff training. But before I get there, I'm stopping at another pocket of trails called Muleshoe Bend. It's right across Lake Travis from where I'll be working. I figure it'll be a good way to start the big day. Get my head on straight.

Everyone has been telling me that I will love it where I'm going. Finally I get to find out for myself.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Raleigh to Athens to Houston

Thoreau wrote as part of a rich discourse on the idea of walking that a 'saunterer', someone who meanders with purpose, is someone who has "no particular home, but equally at home everywhere". I often apply his thoughts on walking to traveling in general. Whenever I travel, this idea comes to the forefront of my mind and I realize how at home I feel on the 'open road'. This time around I forgot how much I missed the feeling; to have everything you need in motion with you. Whether that be in a backpack or in this case, in a small pick-up truck. Living off of the land you find yourself in; water from a spring, coffee from a gas station. Sharing food and laughter with friends or strangers.

My travels to Texas led me to Athens, GA to spend time with close friends Casey, Travis, and baby on the way. The three of us know eachother from thru-hiking the AT in 2004. We spent time drinking and eating together, catching up, listening to music, walking and taking it all in. We made a delicious corn and potato chowder Saturday night before I left. It was nice spending time in their space, seeing how their lives are unfolding, witnessing the beginnings of a young family.

In Raleigh, my first stop, I visited my old boss and friend Susanne with her kids Marcos and Jenna. Sadly, no pictures from there. As soon as I got to Raleigh, Susanne and I went for a run in the unseasonable warmth. We all walked just down the road later on to get pizza in a cool place called Five Points. The next day I explored NC State, the bike paths, and the greenways by bike. All in all a brief but splendid visit, with great solo explorations and collective conversation.

This drive South so far has resembled a shopping trip. Going from cool city to cool city, having close friends show and sell them to you. "If you lived here, you can do could live'd hang out there" and so on and so forth. It's great. If and when I head back East, Raleigh, NC and Athens, GA are high on the list.

Today I awoke to the voices and garbles of my sister and nephews. Here in Houston for a week. We'll see if Houston can make the list. Having been here before, I doubt it will.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

State College to Raleigh. Contrast.

Yesterday I woke up to a place covered in spongy ice, holding water that refused to freeze. Damp, dreary, and depressing. Monochromatic and uninspiring. I arrived in a place full of warmth and fervor of life. Within minutes I was on a run in shorts and a tshirt in a byzantine maze of town parks, bike paths and historic houses all framed in deep coniferous greens.