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)