Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Giro Privateer shoes

Earlier this year I got a pair of Giro Code mountain shoes and I love them. Unfortunately riding every day, doing a lot of walking off of the bike and generally punishing them, has worn them out. Far more fortunately, I am still riding for Blackburn Design, so Giro sent me a new pair of Privateer mountain shoes. While technically for trail riding, mountain biking shoes are ideal for getting around in dense urban environments when you need to be on and off of the bike but still want the performance of a dedicated cycling shoe.

After a couple weeks in the Privateers, I can say they live up to the Giro name and while different and lower priced than the Code shoes, I wouldn't exactly say they aren't as nice. The Privateer lacks the EC90 carbon last of it's up scale twin, leaving it more flexible and not offering quite the same efficiency. However, this also leaves the shoe slightly more comfortable off the bike as it has a bit more flex when walking. The hardware and fit are essentially the same with very few cosmetic differences side by side. All said and done, it's probably a better(in some ways) urban and short distance shoe than the Code but it would be hard to go wrong with either.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Refrigerator pickles

It's fall, even in the bay area where it is never really winter. The wild berries are all but gone, root crops, cabbage and other late season crops are coming in. Apples are still in full swing but today we made refrigerator pickles. The kind my grandmother feels is a cop out but we all still eat them, including grandma, with side of Midwestern guilt for not going the full measure and canning them. I hadn't done refrigerator pickles outside of her kitchen before, I was short on time and needing to pickle the cucumbers or lose them soon. The unexpected realization was that even if I can only lay hands on a few cucumbers we can put up a jar or two without much effort. Small investment of time and resources for a fairly big payoff in the pantry, that's good right?

There are lots and lots of various brines and an array of vegetables to get creative with if you want to try pickling but an easy starter project is basic cucumber garlic dills. Most grocery stores carry dill, though not pickling dill, but you can grow it from seed if you can't find a place to buy it. It grows easily without much attention and you can dry it for later use.

You will need:

About 3 or 4 medium to large cucumbers
6 tbsp distilled white wine vinegar
4 cloves of garlic
3 cups water
3 tbsp kosher salt
1 bunch of dill

This will give you 3 to 4 16oz jars of pickles

The cucumbers should be washed and may be left whole or cut into any shape you like. If the skin is unbroken you may have to let them sit an extra day or so to pickle.

To make the brine, mix vinegar, salt and water until the salt is dissolved.

Sterilize your jars with hot water and place a single pealed clove of garlic and sprig of dill in each before packing with cucumbers. You will want to put as many cucumbers in each jar as will fit without smashing them and be sure to leave an inch or so open at the top so you can completely cover them with brine.

Once the jars are full top them off with brine, put the lids on and wait a two to three days. They are safe to eat at any time but won't be fully pickled for at least 48 hours and it will take at least that long for the taste to develop. Your pickles should keep in the refrigerator for 3-6 months or more.

I have had success using this brine with several kinds of cucumbers, okra and shallots. It's a great way to save garden produce and farm market treasures.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Making Peach Vinegar

After canning a batch of peaches recently I was reluctant to throw away the scraps. They smelled good and there was a fair amount of scrap. What to do with bruised peach flesh and skins? Hmm... How about peach vinegar? Wild yeast fermentation and conversion of the resulting peach liquor by further bacterial activity into vinegar. Pretty nifty trick. It's simple, takes mostly patience and provides another way to not let something go to waste.

There are many many sources online about fermenting and making vinegar. I'll include a bare minimum here and a few ideas for what to do with your vinegar. It should also be noted that while I used peaches, most any fruit will work. Most sources say citrus vinegars don't do as well and don't taste so great but that is admittedly hear say on my part. Peach, berry and other stone fruit vinegar is sometimes considered a drinking vinegar rather than something you might use for preservation. It has already graced our table in a nice peach vinaigrette and been made into a nice fizzy beverage. That alone would be enough to make a batch but I'm sure there are other uses ahead. Knowing that commercial vinegar is distilled to a standard 5% acetic acid, I'm left wondering what my recent batch is. That would certainly help if I intend to use it to make pickles or some other acid dependent thing. At least one source says this is a bad idea and that litmus paper cannot accurately measure the acidity of home brew vinegar. Not really worth getting sick over.

The basic method is nothing more than letting the fruit scraps ferment in sugar water, straining out the fruit and letting the resulting liquid acidify.

Sugar water

1/4 sugar dissolved in 1 quart of water

Make enough to cover the fruit in about a 3 or 4 to one ratio.

Put it into a glass or stoneware container, not metal. Cover the top with cloth or mesh to keep fruit flies out and let it sit for a week or so, stirring daily to prevent surface mold. Easy.

You will notice when it smells fermented. At this point strain out the fruit scraps and pour the whole thing back into the container you had it in and let it sit covered for a minimum of about two weeks but up to several months if you like. A white "scum" will form on top of the vinegar. This is the mother and should not be removed. Acetobactor is an aerobic bacteria and needs oxygen to do its job. Hence the floating mass on the surface of your liquid. Once your vinegar is at a point where you like it, you can bottle it or can it using plastic or old style glass lids. Vinegar will corrode metal lids and containers over time. Stick to glass, ceramic or plastic.

To make your peach vinegar beverage:

Add two or three tablespoons of peach(or other) vinegar to a pint glass, add a teaspoon(more or less) of your preferred sweetener and top off with ice and soda water.

For a dead simple salad dressing:

Splash enough vinegar over your salad to leave it wet, drizzle on the olive oil of your choice and top with sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Almost too simple to call it dressing but it makes for a very nice salad.

You can read more about vinegar at Bragg and if you want to speed up your vinegar making process as well as insure positive results, you could add a couple tablespoons of Bragg's vinegar to your batch after the fruit has fermented. This wasn't necessary with mine and I had no trouble with the three week process but it's out there if you want it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

BSA 574 Yucca Pack

For me the BSA 574 Yucca pack will always be "the" pack. A timeless classic that has carried gear unimaginable miles on countless treks through urban and wilderness environments alike. It's a simple design with only two pockets, one internal and a smaller external is for the most part adequate. I have two vintage Yucca packs, an early one for the 1930's and a later model made in the 1960's that are of nearly the same design and both still in usable condition. Though not exclusively, I've carried canvas packs and bags most of my life, the Yucca being one of the first I remember using for Scouts as well as non-scouting adventures.

Diamond Brand built the first Boy Scout Yucca packs way back in 1931 and they remained in use for decades, both durable and versatile, especially with the addition of an external frame. Many scouts built frames themselves using everything from metal tubing to scrap wood and occasionally even saplings or tree branches. When packed lightly the Yucca is more than adequate for as much as a week on the trail depending on how much food you pack in, with a frame they are good for most any length expedition if you accept them as they are and don't expect them to perform in the same ways a modern rig built from man made materials will. If you follow the same simple rules scouts of generations past did, a Yucca pack will serve you well and outlast many of their modern counterparts. Personal experience with canvas packs and sea bags leaves me noting that I have used the same canvas duffels for years while theoretically better bags have succumbed to the scrap heap due to everything from broken zippers to torn cloth that wouldn't take a patch. Unless canvas molds and rots, it can be repaired. The Yucca in particular is pretty accepting of most repairs from replacing grommets to sewing torn fabric and seems to riveting on new leather parts. 

Canvas isn't hard to care for but it does have a few special needs. It isn't waterproof though it will shed water for a bit and will do a pretty decent job in the rain if you Scotch Guard it. I have also used either a rain poncho big enough to cover my pack or covered it with a black lawn and leaf bag. Either method works fairly well. All in all, water is not a friend of canvas. So, rule 1 is keep it dry. That means let it hang and air out at night, don't set it on the ground and if it gets rained on, hang it up and let it dry. There is usually a handy tree branch to hang things on. If not you can use a tent pole or run a line and hang it from that. 

This leads to rule 2, keep it clean. repeating the mention above, don't set your canvas pack on the ground. It'll get dirty. Dirt can get in between fibers act as an abrasive and cut them leading to holes. Dirt also often contains components other than "soil", food and other sticky things often attract bugs and other animals that will damage the canvas. So, avoid that as well and if your bag gets dirty, wash it and hang it up to dry. It's canvas after all, not hard to clean. I've washed Yuccas by hand in the past and more than once successfully in a machine using a mesh delicates bag followed by line drying the pack. Just do your best to look after a Yucca and know they are not hard to clean if they do get dirty. 

In spite of these rules, I have also seen a heck of a lot of dirty beat up packs that have gotten rain soaked, spent time on the the ground and been generally abused but keep on going just fine and still provide years of service before being retired to end up as "art" on a wall or hall tree.  

As of this writing I was finding serviceable examples, some with frames, on eBay for as little as $12 and $15 plus shipping. I have seen a few of the 1307(D), 573 haversacks as well but the 574 is  more common by far. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Small Batch Canning

When I was growing up in the Midwest we had very stereotypical canning adventures each harvest season.Tomatoes, pickles, peaches, apples in several forms, jams, jellies, even cherry pie filling. It was great and most of it came from our family orchards and gardens or from some place nearby. Now that I'm out in San Francisco both the getting/growing and the amount of canning is a bit different. We're also not trying to feed eight or ten people until the next harvest. One of the things I like about my new canning adventures is opportunistically putting up small batches, even just a jar or two of preserves from the last chance sale bins at the market. For one it takes a lot of pressure off of production and since it's just a small amount, it's safer to try something random or new. This year it's been a lot of peaches and wild berry preserves and since we just finished the last jar of okra pickles, we'll be making more of those soon as well.

Canners aren't always terribly expensive, some are as little as $20, $5 for the occasional garage sale find. Truth be known, you don't even need a canner for the small jobs, it's really just a deep stock pot after all. As long as the water covers the jars you're good to go for fruits, preserves and other acidic foods. A starter pack of jars is often less than ten bucks or again, available at garage sales and thrift shops for next to nothing and once you have some you can reuse them indefinitely with new lids. With everything on hand an opportunistic jar or two is well worth the effort.

So, keep your eyes open for fruit on the trail, your neighbors yard and of course local farm markets. If you barter well you might even trade fruit for canning, provided you can get yourself to part with some of your stores. In addition to the fun, having the best things on hand when you need them and being able to take pride in making things yourself, in this day and age of over processed everything, you control the production. You know exactly what went into your jars and you can feel good about making what ends up being both a frugal and healthy choice. Between, health, frugality, creativity and entertainment value, canning is an art that shouldn't be lost for any number of reasons all of which are good on their own and undeniable in combination.

Friday, September 6, 2013


The Northern Midwest of my youth was often like living in a time capsule or living diorama of life a century out of date. Growing up under the care and tutelage of great grandparents born in the late 1800's no doubt added to the time warped towns, woods and country roads I was free to roam. Beyond things still being taught in Scouts and summer camps, volumes of seemingly ancient guidebooks and Victorian wisdom still in active memory was the tail end of an age where it was common to allow children to learn how to use tools safely by way of self injury. A world less fettered and free to act as both home and hands on learning lab. It really was great and while some of those skills are no longer terribly PC, they remain useful.

Even if you weren't blessed with that sort of environment there are numerous books like Wildwood Wisdom, first published in 1945, still on shelves and websites. One of my favorite books is a 1967 edition Scouting Fieldbook For Boys and Men that first served my uncle through his scouting years and then mine. My elders didn't call it "survival" by the way. It was simply, "camping". If you were merely surviving you were clearly doing several somethings wrong and shouldn't be out in the woods in the first place. I suppose that's what inspired me to write this post, the idea that there are many kinds of camping and not all of them rely on much gear or even any high tech gear and that doesn't have to mean you are "roughing it". In some ways, roughing it is a state of mind. So, a minor re-framing of "the great outdoors" and the addition of a handful of basic skills changes the experience of being out there quite a bit.

I like "glamping" as much as the next person and having a big tent you can stand up in, a propane grill and cooler full of food is great when you aren't packing it in but the bulk of my camping has been with far less, often little more than an army blanket and a pocket knife. The big secret isn't that someone handed me a pocket knife at age five and said, "Try not to cut yourself." (I still have a scar on my thumb from that day), It was probably just being outside and getting used to it, out there, somewhere beyond the power outlets, pavement and climate control, just hanging out. Beyond a pocket knife and blanket, the radical improvements in comfort offered by an old sailboat mainsail, a coffee can and a metal spoon are exponential. A wine bottle makes a good water bottle once it's viniferous contents are gone. It can be amazing how far simple things go when you embrace how little humans "owned" in the past, how little we actually need and acquire a handful of skills.

I'm revisiting a book I haven't read in years but, like countless readers before me, have found lasting value within its pages. To paraphrase Thoreau, I support the idea that a [person] should be able to walk into the wilderness with nothing but the clothes on their back and feel like they left something behind. That idea holds meaning for me both in terms of being open to the idea that our natural surroundings are enough as well as the idea that we should be able to look after ourselves beyond mere survival. In essence, short of overcoming an injury, being lost in the wilderness can, and should, actually be fun.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Of literary agents, editors and ISBN's

One of the unfortunate results of last years accident, related to getting my head scrambled, was having my
I don't have a compelling ISBN photo.*
nearly finished novel derailed. However, the novel isn't a dead project! I needed help to get rolling on it again, new tools and methods(for me) and assistance from a literary agent and editor, both of whom I am lucky enough to have access to.

Over a recent weekend, I spent time with both, agent and editor, made a loose plan and started the re-write of the first chunk of the book. Among other things we talked about the digital publishing revolution, something I have been a part of as an editor and publisher and now plan to join as an author. While the European market still views self publishing as circumspect, the practice is enjoying wider acceptance in the States. We talked a lot about the virtues of getting a traditional publisher vs going it alone and for my first literary work I think I'm just going to put it out there myself. You don't even need an ISBN to sell on Amazon anymore. That's pretty cool of them to accommodate authors in that way by creating the ASIN or Amazon Standard Identification Number. (Even if Jimmy Wales is not a fan.) ISBN numbers cost and if you are only buying one they cost as much as $125 when you get them direct from Bowker, the company that mysteriously has control of the ISBN market. If you buy 10 ISBN's the price drops to $25 each. That's pretty real savings if you can swing the cash. So, essentially if publishing holding you back, like it may have even five or ten years ago, and you were afraid of submitting to publisher after publisher facing the black box of getting a mythical book deal, fear not, for times have indeed changed.

Incidentally, once you buy even one ISBN number you are technically a publisher. There is a heck of a lot more involved in publishing than assigning a number but if you ever considered getting into the publishing world, writing a few novella's or something similar, there's no time like now. You might even consider forming a little writers collective with a group of friend's. I've been thinking about it recently as I meet more and more photographers who want to make books. Printing a physical book is still a tough thing to even contemplate but more digital books are sold world wide now than print and the numbers have yet to plateau. Don't get me wrong, they will, but this is as good a chance to find your pet genre and dive in on the ground floor as you're likely going to get.

The key thing to remember in all of this though, if you wrote your book, or even your short story, published or not, you have already achieved something. The success is in the act, not the external validation.

*Me in a tree stump near Humboldt. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Evolv Royale lace up

I am so not shoe obsessed! ...well maybe a little but in the world of adventure sports, shoes can be a make or break item, certainly essential for some activities, climbing being one of those. So, I'm trying a pair of Evolv Royale lace ups. It's another trad shoe with a suede upper similar to the 5-10 Coyote I've come to know and love. (Still in good shape by the way!)

The Royale is comfortable for wide feet and has a slightly more broad sole that works well for smearing but remains stiff enough for edging. The toe isn't terribly pointy but presents enough to get the job done. Good for both gym climbing and outdoor stuff where you are going to be on route for a while. The laces are nice on leather shoes as the uppers can stretch with heat and moisture and be easily pulled tighter on the go. This wouldn't be an issue with synthetic material shoes but I like my shoes to break in at least a little and I feel like the suede breathes better. Just my opinion but I'm sure I'm not alone in it.

So far it's a nice pair of shoes. Thinking it may be time to dedicate a pair foe gym climbing and other for outdoor. Once I put some more time in with them I'll post again. Either way they are affordable and good looking if you like trad shoes.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Climbing at Ocean Beach

There is a lot of climbing in San Francisco, even in the city proper. Some spots are well known and others you'll almost always have to yourself. A little frequented place for climbing is Ocean beach below the Cliff House. It's best to go at low tide and be discrete but you can get in some great bouldering and free solo routes that probably should be top roped or done with a lead climber placing protection. It's certainly high enough to get hurt and be completely out of safe bouldering range.

You can also find a few small caves at low tide if you look carefully. They are mostly tiny things or simply big piles of breakdown. I've never found any sand caves in this area but I would caution anyone who may to stay out of them, as in completely avoid them, sand caves just aren't safe.

It was definitely a good place to test a Go Pro 3 the other day. I'd say it's probably money well spent to get the remote but most smart phones will do the job as well, if only within wifi range of the phone. For sure a good way to document antics and adventures, especially when  you venture out alone, something I do often. Looking forward to giving it a go sailing and on the long board as well as more climbing and bicycle trips.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Farewell to The Grove

One of my favorite places to grab coffee and an occasional breakfast burrito is, was, The Grove restaurant on Chestnut. Alas it is no more. A Marina neighborhood icon since the 90's, recently closed due to a rent increase, gentrification at it's best. All quips and socio-political commentary aside, the ubiquitous we will miss the place. Coincidentally, the nearby Peet's Coffee is also closing, leaving us with Starbucks, Noah's Bagels and the hold out Chestnut Coffee Roasters  as a remaining local business option.

The Grove has a handful of other local locations, the one on Filmore is great and the Hayes Valley venue, while not as "warm", is in a fun neighborhood for evenings out. One of my favorite things to do after morning rides over the bridge was to roll into the Marina location and meet friends for coffee by the fireplace. Maybe I can talk The Blackwood down the street into firing up their hearth for morning visits to soothe my caffeine and *Cro-Magnon needs to sit near a fire.

Also coincidentally, I went on a bicycle foraging day trip and brought back a couple pounds of wild berries and rode by the now closed location undergoing the last phases of being gutted. Near the front doors was a box of books, containing among other titles, a book about cultivating, cooking and decorating with berries. How cool is that? A literal final chapter to The Grove on Chestnut St.

*Noting the current consensus that Cro-Magnon is Sapiens Sapiens and my being of Northern European extraction. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Machine made glass in the archaeological record

Glass, it's been in every historic site I have ever worked on. Even digs in what look like empty fields usually contain glass and it's usually broken bottles of one kind or another. Sometimes it serves as a nice indicator of the era you are dealing with and whether or not you have cleared disturbed soil or are simply in historic strata. In short, it's useful. Especially if you learn to tell machine made bottles from mouth blown, not dead simple but an off the cuff indicator that you are working with something post 1903 is the presence of machine made bottles. Pretty cool. 1903 was the year a guy by the name of Michael Owens unveiled what the Corning glass company calls the most significant advance in glass production on over 2000 years.

The knowledge of how to go about dating bottles can be gained in a number of ways, field and lab work, hours of nosing through antique stores and eBay or, thankfully, via a handy site run by a Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management employee! Whew that's a lot of bureau but it's a great resource laid out so you can look at an artifact and run through a series of questions to help pin point the date of a given bottle within ten years or so of it's date of manufacture. Absolutely worth checking out if you have even minor interest in the topic.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Ending my social media blackout

Rodeo Beach
For quite a lot of months now I have been relatively social media averse. Between run of the mill social drama, time constraints and ongoing recovery from "the big accident" last year, I just needed a break, especially from things like Facebook. I've been returning to more of what I have come to think of as my normal activities and activity levels, especially in the last couple months or so. Learning to manage some of the aftermath of the crash, get on with, rebuild and just plain old build life anew.

I remain a dedicated bicycle commuter though my knee still gives me grief and it's certainly weaker than it ought to be. I'm not doing much yoga or sailing right now but hoping to return to those as well. I am cycling more each day and trying to get out and climb redoubling my efforts and commitment to pursue the things I'm passionate about. Bound to those efforts I am now riding for Blackburn Design as a Blackburn Ranger. It's been fantastic thus far and I can only imagine it will get better as the project progresses. Without a doubt this is becoming a true growth experience on many levels from personal and physical to professional and creative, things I hadn't fully anticipated.

Here is an early look at a video introducing the project.

Blackburn Out There from Blackburn Design on Vimeo.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ano Nuevo Seal Rookery

A very cute, dangerous wild animal
After posting about the Chimney Rock release I realized I hadn't written up anything about the Ano Nuevo visit. The visit was back in February during the breeding season when there is a mix of males, females and seal pups. It's one of the few times when they haul out on land. baby seals are incredibly cute and tiny compared to the adults males that can reach well over 5,000 lbs. The pups start out about 60-80lbs and quadruple their weight while nursing before then losing about a third of that during a phase called the "weaner fast" toward the end of the eight to ten weeks they remain in the rookery learning to feed themselves once their mothers have returned to the ocean.

This one is likely just squalling for food
This was another outing with The Marine Mammal Center, a very worthwhile trip. No doubt at least a few of the many animals currently under the care of The Marine Mammal Center in Marin were among those we saw that day. I took several hundred photos, most are still in the editing and post production cue. A local venue in San Francisco has offered space for a show, so I may be putting something together in the coming months.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Giro Code Shoes

I recently got a pair of Code mountain shoes from Giro. After some initial rides of 80 or 100 miles, I have to say I love these shoes. The break in period was fast and painless and they're remarkably light and rigid giving them great efficiency on the bike with the mountain style sole adding utility for getting around on foot. The highlight yellow and black color scheme is a welcome option, even though there is no ghosting in, wearing cycling kicks you hope might pass for regular street shoes. I do say welcome though, as there is a lot to be said for two bright, high contrast, objects moving in the view field of motorists. The EC90 carbon is no doubt what keeps them light weight, again an appreciable quality in shoes I wear both on and off the bike. As an urban rider and commuter my needs are different than on trails, road rides or doing cycle cross. In some ways the urban environment and the basic transitions in a given day are more demanding than all but the most dynamic days dedicated solely to riding.

Still playing with the fit but they are pretty great right out of the box, took the cleats without a hitch and work well on both Shimano and Bontrager pedals. I'd like to say something deeply insightful about these shoes but essentially, I just like them a heck of a lot and thus far they're an excellent product on every level from quality, function and fit to appearance. I admittedly didn't start with entry level shoes in my adoption of SPD style pedals, not sure what difference that might have made but even from the standpoint of a daily commuter this constitutes a tangible lifestyle improvement. When I think in terms of what I wold be spending on fuel alone if I were commuting by car the value of things like cycling shoes comes squarely into focus as a bargain by comparison and in terms of safety there is simply no rational case for not adopting a best practices approach. 

Chimney Rock Seal Release

Started Memorial Day weekend lending photography skills and a little heavy lifting to The Marine Mammal Center in Marin. They were returning more than a dozen sea lions, harbor seals and elephant seals to the wild near Chimney Rock. I've photographed harbor seals a number of times and elephant seals at the Ano Nuevo rookey so I'm starting to get a feel for these animals in particular, at least what to expect from them. There was also a documentary film crew working with the team and a number of well wishers and press had come out to see "Bumblebee", the first baby harbor seal rescued in 2013, as it ambled off into the surf.

Between loading, transit and the release it was about an eight hour shoot that produced some great photos and a lot of excitement for all in attendance. For a mostly volunteer operation the mammal rescue center does an amazing job of rehabilitating a returning animals to the wild, saving them from things like shark attacks, boat strikes, starvation and about every other difficulty you might imagine. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Allagash Pack Basket

Growing up in Northern Indiana and Michigan I used a lot of pack baskets. As a scout, camper and historic interpreter they were a regular part of my life until about the middle of college when I switched to mostly using cloth packs of one kind or another. The main reason was that pack baskets are much harder to come by if you don't go looking for them and I was simply no longer part of any organizations that used them. Pack baskets are good for a number of things and arguably superior to many pack styles for a variety of uses.

Being basically rigid they protect the wearer from hard and odd shaped objects. This makes them favored for hauling things like trapping and fishing gear. They also protect fragile things like mushrooms, field greens and other forage. The only real drawback is their bulkiness and inability to be stuffed or stowed in tight places. Examples like the Loring pack basket  will last for years and go toe to toe with more modern designs on a lot of levels. Another useful trait is how repairable they are. The harnesses are simple and relatively easy to replace even for those with few tools and limited experience. Though, realistically, any bag can be repaired if people would bother to.

I had been wanting a pack basket for quite a while but had balked at the prices for most of the decent ones. Not that the market rate is unfair, on the contrary, it's a reasonable long term investment. Enter the Allagash Pack Basket from L.L.Bean and a gift certificate. Bean sells pack baskets made in Maine, light weight, durable and built from domestic maple. It comes unfinished with roughly adequate nylon straps if you don't really plan on loading it down. These packs are capable of carrying a lot of weight and doing so comfortably. Ones I have used in the past had either leather or canvas straps, usually wider at the shoulders. While the nylon straps on the one from Maine are no doubt durable, they aren't wide enough to distribute a heavy load. Nor is the harness as a whole set up for the weight the pack can handle. That said, the stock setup is probably enough for most uses.

There is seem to be about three schools of thought as to how to care for the baskets. One is to leave them unfinished. Scrub them clean as needed and keep them from drying out and crack but not so damp that they mold. With regular use the ideal conditions to do that actually come naturally in most environments other than very dry or humid climates. Just don't let the things stay wet and don't store them in direct sun. Not so tough. Another popular option is oiling the basket with a marine grade finish, teak oil and Deks are popular but any oil finish ought to do. I don't like oil finishes on things that will come in contact with clothing. That's not always a bad thing as evidenced by countless oil finished rifle stocks but my preference is for a third option, varnishing. All of the baskets I have used in the past were varnished. The finish was durable but not brittle and made it much easier to keep the baskets clean as well as preventing them from soaking up water in rainy and humid conditions. All of these methods work to some degree or another, if you find a way that works, it's likely the method you should use. We're talking about pack baskets that will last for years with minimal care regardless of care methods. I have seen a wide range of reinforcements and repairs ranging from cloth and leather to copper sheeting and basketry materials. Simple cloth bags or fitted cloth liners can extend the use and life of pack baskets even further. I'd still like to have a Loring but the L.L.Bean is a welcome addition to my outdoor gear.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Nor Cal on the Bianchi

Not too long ago I went on a team ride in Big Basin down near Santa Cruz on my early 80's Bianchi Sport SS. We took a short stretch of very rough dirt and the Bianchi came back pretty broken and wasn't ride-able until I replaced the wheels. As part of the re-fit I also upgraded to a Shimano 7 speed cassette and spun on some SPD's. That has collectively taken the old bike to a new level altogether. It's noticeably lighter, a little more snappy and responsive and is a better machine for climbing by far. I guess it's now a 14 speed and it looks less like a vintage bike with the alloy wheels and machined braking surfaces. It's old but reliable Ishiwata tubing leaves it squarely in the roadworthy category and well worth riding as it rivals many bikes built today. To look at it you might not guess it's a 30 year old bike but then again, a lot of it is no longer 30 years old.

Anyway, given the rebuild and an opportunity for a ride out of town, I struck out for Occidental and did some touring of wine country. It was beautiful weather and I got to drop in on the Union Hotel, one of the sponsors for the  St Patrick's Day Massacre Charity ride I did the photography for. The coffee was good and the peach turnover was great!

The bike is due for a new derailleur chain, bottom bracket and maybe a headset soon. I'll have to repeat the 70 mile ride, grab another turnover and compare.

New Marshalltown

With my dig kit packed away in an obscure corner, I needed a new trowel. Add that to curiosity about the resurrected Marshalltown moniker and it was a win for getting one.

Seems like it's still a solid tool and made here in the states but the joint at the blade looks different from my old ones. I'll have to pull my dig kit anyway so I can compare the new and old as well as check the Marshalltown site but it looks like maybe? something other than drop forging and the Marhsalltown name is printed on instead of embossed. Beyond that its the same old reliable 45-5 London pointing trowel from field school and CRM digs past. Same new(dull) edge too, now where did I put my file?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Dogpatch Boulders

Took the kiddo to climb at Dogpatch Boulders today. One of, maybe the biggest, bouldering gym in the country, it's got a great kids area and more than enough structures and routes to entertain all skill levels of climbers. Truly amazing place with ample bike parking and easy access to food and public transit. Well worth the trip out to Dogpatch. One of the best things I heard that day was my five year old girl saying, "I want to climb forever and never get tired!" Me too!

It was great to climb with her and share something I'm passionate about with such a young soul giving her the opportunity to either pursue it or not as she see's fit. Every chance I get I expose her to something new simply to make sure she knows what is out there in her world  and that if she wants to she can in fact chase after things and that with very few exceptions, everything is obtainable if you set your mind to it.
How cool is that? 

Climbing with a little one is also a great way to hone your skill as an adult. The demands for safety and focus are intense and it's a "no fail mission" sort of thing. You simply have to be there, present and on top of things. It also or at least it should, force you to pay greater attention to the example you are setting. Each move you make shows your little progeny how it's done, better think twice and show them right.

Climbing is a great way to spend the day with a kiddo no matter how you figure it. Now I just need to hang in there and keep her interested until she's big enough to be my belay partner!

Friday, May 10, 2013


Neat little piece of Talavera, or Majolica as it's listed in the site reports. Colorful tin-glazed pottery. Surface glaze looks about the same and geographical and chronological context would make sense for either type but the clay body isnt red. I think Talavera makes more sense but I have not done much historic archaeology in California yet. What is certain is I like pulling this stuff out of the ground!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Dues Ex Machina

Finally paid a visit to Deus Ex Machina in Venice(Los Angeles). Pretty great to see the bikes and boards and grab some coffee. Really well done retail space echoing the garages, surf shacks and club houses a lot of motorcycle and surf enthusiasts will be reminded of when they see it. The goods are high quality but on the spendy side and it didn't have the same feel of openness one typically gets in the non-retail version of these settings but that's just it, retail. It actually feels close enough to something not designed to sell clothes and bikes that it's borderline off putting. In this case though, other than the tension it causes, that's likely a mark of successful planning. I'd almost prefer it being more like a store than what it is for that reason but the locals seem to like it and they sell a lot of very cool stuff.

74 Schwinn Touring and Randonneur setup

When I unearthed my Le Tour it needed a lot of scrubbing and polishing but had essentially just been sitting neglected in a garage for 35 years. It's just a hint taller than I'd like but I've still got stand-over height and it's weight and long wheel base make for a comfortable ride with adequate gearing to climb hills in San Francisco. It's been an unexpectedly great bike. Not pictured are the additions of some very nice Tour De California 40mm bar tape(great review on Bike Rumor!) and some older Bontrager RE-1 SPD pedals.

So far the new setup has been great around the city and a few ten mile hops out and around the Presidio and Chrissy Field. It's also become my go-to option whenever I need to carry extra gear like cameras or climbing stuff and have a little extra time. The Le Tour is stable and good for a little extra loading but not as agile and snappy as my Globe Roll 1 or Bianchi Sport SS.

Rack, panniers and lights are from Blackburn.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Presidio Trust Archaeology

Typical unassuming site
So excited today to give a little time to the crew on a dig in San Francisco's very own Presidio. The site is a Spanish structure dating to 1815. Shallow stratigraphy and a huge amount of artifacts ranging from ceramics and bone to clear post molds and serpentine foundation stones make for compellingly rich excavations at even the shallowest levels. Even in the short time I was there doing minimal screening and trowel work I got to unearth a good range of the things in abundance at the site. Beyond cool.

Ah, faunal remains
I also got a peek behind the scenes at the lab and artifact repository. I was blown away by the level of tech and homesick for my days in the Indiana U ethno-lab and CRM work. This hidden little lab, while smaller, honestly rivals what I've seen of the facility at the Chicago Field Museum. Just absolutely blown away and the current dig site was literally a hundred feet from the lab.

Adobe interpretive wall
Can't say enough about the crew as well. They really had a handle on the site and we had a great time talking everything from timelines to artifact assemblages and cultural drift and transmission and the levels of adaptation or lack there of in the Spanish who were establishing the Northernmost Spanish outpost in California. My direct experience with this era is with US Army material on what was then the United States Western frontier in Indiana. Strikingly different in a number of ways, not the least of which was the emphasis on religious conversion for the Spanish VS the far more empire building centered approach of the US. The lack of solid Spanish military presence in California at the time may have certainly been an aspect of not having a contemporary military threat in the immediate area. The closest being the Russian outpost at Fort Ross which was primarily a fur trading and fishing station established well after El Presidio. Even so, it boggles the mind how ineffective the Spanish fort was. Three walls, mounted lancers and not enough powder to fire their poorly maintained cannons.

I was more than happy to help, ask a million questions and make some new archaeology friends in the city. I'll look forward to future opportunities to work on sites in the Presidio.

Certainly also adds fuel to the fire to push my experimental archaeology projects forward. Quietly continuing my caligae research but I have yet to build another pair or map the equivalent of a day's march or further. There is plenty of room in project to do more than one day march, as they were typically only ten miles or so, even if that does seem short for solo project like mine. Still wondering if some organization would fund a march retracing the steps of a historic Roman route.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Chrome Kursk Pro

Finally, yes finally, made the move to clipless pedals. I don't race,  but I ride an average of 150 miles a week within San Francisco's 7X7 footprint and tend to gravitate to vintage and minimalist bikes. It was probably a long time coming inevitability. Another factor was adding another specialized shoe to my daily carry gear. With "sport" and climbing shoes I needed a cycling shoe that would pull at least partial double duty if I was to make the switch.

Enter the Chrome Kursk Pro. Loosely resembling old faithful Converse One Star low tops, these are worthy sneakers without the SPD cleat and 3/4 rigid last. With it they become a shoe that works fairly well on and off the bike. 1/8th inch more rubber would make them completely wearable but as is, the tell tale crunch and grind of the cleat is still present. Not a big deal in my estimation and going from street shoes to any clipless pedal/shoe was sure to provide a "wow" moment.

I'm noticeably faster, climb somewhat more easily and the method of release is similar to platform pedals and straps so the transition was easy and did provide that wow moment I was expecting.
The test will be hopping on one of the other bikes without the new pedal setup and seeing if it feels lacking. For the moment I'm thinking these would be nice in almost any situation though maybe not necessary. Just in off the cuff observations I'd say the $150 needed for an entry level setup would be well spent for most riders. Especially considering safety gains whenever wet weather or mud might be encountered.

My only mishap so far was not cranking down on the cleat screws enough allowing one to work it's way loose. This meant the cleat wouldn't release until I stopped, took my foot out of the shoe and twisted it off by hand. An easy fix and no harm done but if I'd been on a long ride outside the city it would have been a crummy ride home. That's admittedly not the hardware at fault but simple operator error, so I'm still calling it a win.

The one pictured is a limited edition white. Other colors are still available from Chrome.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Blackburn Flea lights

I'd been eyeing the cool little Flea series lights from Blackburn Design for a while and finally got hold of some. I also got the hat/helmet kit and have been using the headlight on my helmet. Not a fan of Velcro but the rear light mounts well and securely for it. Also finding that while I will forget bike mounted lights once in a,while, with helmet mounts I always have them, and double up with handlebar and post mounts in bad weather. At least for now they have replaced my Serfas USB's. Both are good though the Flea seems brighter and has been easier to attach to my helmet. I'm likely safer at night than during the day at this point.

So far, in a field of three or four companies and seven or eight styles of lights, the Flea's are some of the best  I've used. The USB charging works great though rather than the solar chargers or using a USB port on a computer, I use an iPhone charging block and USB extension cord. They're light weight and the strobe mode has a pause so they pulse rather than simply flash. Another feature of the helmet mount that is nice(tested at Big Basin) is that it can be switched from helmet to hat and the headlight is light enough to use on the bill of a cycling cap. I hope to test the solar chargers in more favorable conditions. The off the cuff testing has been pretty inconclusive so far. For touring it's not been an issue with other USB lights using a hacked solar rig made for charging car batteries. It's not an elegant little thing but it was essentially free(ish) and works even in less than ideal conditions, point being, with USB lights solar is always an option.

I have both early and late commutes in the dark, fog and occasional rain. At risk of being dramatic, I feel like my bike lights are at times a live or die piece of safety gear. In California they are also required by law when riding after dark and the authorities are none too shy about tickets for scofflaw cyclists.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Big Basin State Park

Almost at the top
Had a fantastic time in Santa Cruz last weekend on an overnight ride in Big Basin State Park. There were about nine riders hucking bikes up and down the mountain. The ride was pretty rough, my Bianchi is broken awaiting parts for repair, but well worth the effort even if I did a fair amount of walking and carrying my decidedly cool loaner bike from Volagi. Mountain bike were invented for terrain like Big Basin and I had trouble keeping up on a cross bike. Though among the world class riders I was with I'd likely have had trouble keeping up anyway.

Probably the tamest trail there
It was absolutely stunning scenery and the park had great "tent cabins" I was lucky enough to stay in. We had stoves in the cabins and exposed rafters so I took the opportunity to use my ColorCloud hammock. We only stayed one night and it was hard to leave the next day.

Swank Volagi
I've been a roadie for years now but I used to be a pretty dedicated mountain biker. Among other things this trip has me considering trail riding again. It might be time to visit Bicycle Kitchen and build up something interesting. They never seem to have much in the way of road bikes in their project pile but there is usually a cool old mountain bike or two ready to be brought back to life. Who knows, maybe I'll find a replacement for my much loved early 90's Stumpjumper M2.

Photos courtesy: Dennis Barcelo

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Because it's made by Chrome

I'm a fan of Chrome Industries bags. The iconic bags that for many define messenger bags at large, many imitators but rarely are they matched in quality and service. At $170 bucks the roll top "Pawn" back pack doesn't seem like a bargain but given that is waterproof, built like a tank and comes with a lifetime guarantee on parts and workmanship, it shows up best when viewed as a long term investment.

I made a madcap ride out past Point Reyes a couple weeks ago, putting my unfortunately not so healed knee to a test it sort of failed, and putting my Chrome bag to a test it didn't weather so well either. Not one but two buckles failed and I rode the last 50 miles or so yanking on my straps and tying knots to keep the thing where I needed it. Granted I probably over loaded it but one of the buckles held no problem and the bags don't come with a weight rating or any sanity inducing disclaimers. First lesson being no rational person will take on a ride that poorly thought out and overloaded and admittedly on a whim. Lesson learned, pack better and keep a bag ready to do those spur of the moment 80-100 mile rides that really do just come up when the weather is good. It was a worthwhile ride in spite of the challenges. Lesson two, Chrome bags are pretty bullet proof for 95% of the crap you will put them through bu they have their limits.
Bravo (the loaner bag)

Now the good part and why you ought to buy Chrome. I rolled in to the Chrome shop in SOMA today, the much bigger shop and show room they currently occupy and told them what had gone wrong with the bag. Not only did they not give me a hard time about it or ask how the buckles had failed in an attempt to avoid fixing them, they gave me a loaner bag to use while mine is being repaired free of charge. I know the bags don't fail often, my other two never have, but it's nice to know if they do, Chrome stands behind their product and isn't simply hyping things or throwing out marketing copy. I ride everywhere and rely on my gear to get me and all the things I lug around wherever I'm going and while I do have other bags I like, I have newly vetted reasons to trust my Chrome gear. Next problem is that now I want the Bravo as well.

100 years! Machu Pichu in National Geographic

100 years ago this month National Geographic published the first photos and written story of Hiram Bingham's discovery of Machu Pichu. It was one of the most significant archaeological finds of all time and remains a world landmark in science and culture.
I've been fascinated with the site for as long as I can remember, likely because of things like old National Geographics around our house. I even have a copy of the April 1913 edition, need to get around to framing that thing.

In these photos we see the explorer himself posing next to a tent, possibly his. He doesn't quite conjure images of Harrison Ford running from tumbling boulders but he was obviously quite capable. The next photo is the cover of the article itself with all it's 100 year old gravitas. The final image is one of Bingham's assistants in front of a sacred stone, one of a number at the site carved to echo the shapes of mountains in the distance, letting us know of both a connection with those far off peaks as well as a high degree of reverence for them.

There is a lot to be impressed by with regard to Machu Pichu from the massive stone construction to simply being able to build something so immense at such an altitude and then go on to maintain and actually use it. The whole thing is such a great piece of human accomplishment. I've been fortunate to see so many things in my life but if there is one far off thing still on my list it's Machu Pichu. So, yes if anyone needs a photographer for their expedition I'm in and if someone just wants to sponsor a guy on a bicycle with some climbing gear to haul himself up there, I'm game for that too. The only thing better would be getting to sink a test pit or two with one of the preservation crews.

Here's to Hiram, National Geographic and the spirit of adventure that is in all of us.

(All images are photos I shot of my original copy of the April 1913 edition)