Open Letter to Bikers Everywhere

The recent opinion piece in High Country News sparked a viral amount of dialogue on that magazine’s site and on other platforms that picked up the piece, like Adventure Journal. It begged a follow-up on improving understanding for all who use multi-use trails.

yield-trail-sign-tempeBelieve it or not, bikers and hikers must yield to horse riders on many trails. This rule isn’t some snooty, “we were here first” deal. It’s just common sense. It’s much easier for hikers and bikers to yield to horses than the other way around.

Horses are prey animals. Bikes approach like predators, quickly and silently. Even the best-trained horses can spook, bolt, or jump sideways when they encounter bikers or hikers with big packs.
The results can be harmful to all. Think of a moose-vehicle collision. Now, take away the vehicle.

To avoid collisions and flared tempers, take these simple steps:

Download a pdf and share it with your local bike shop.

•    Announce yourself: Once you see horse and rider, let them know you’re approaching as soon as you can. No yelling necessary, just a friendly “Hey, how are you?” will do.
Mountain-Bikes600
•    Slow down or stop: Ask the rider if she’d like you to stop and step off or if slowing down and passing is okay.

•    Keep talking: Being friendly and communicative isn’t just nice manners, it lets the horse know you are a person, not a predator.

•    Anticipate around corners: Avoid tearing around blind angles. There could be large, dangerous animals around the bend! If you can’t slow down, make noise to alert possible trail riders.

•    Take the low road: If you’re on a grade and are trying to move past a horse rider, take the downhill side.

trail-clipart-TRAIL6Horse riders are not victims here. Nor are they guilt-free when it comes to trail conflict. Let’s recognize our contributions to the problem:

  • Be a polite advocate. As we noticed in the comments on Adventure Journal, mountain bikers have plenty of stories of rude, entitled horse riders. Don’t be one of them. Remember, you get more with honey than vinegar.
  • Also, if it’s been rainy, stay off trails where horses can do serious damage. It can take a long time to renew and repair trails that have been trashed when horses move up and down them in wet conditions.
  • Got a horse who’s spooky around bikes? Practice. Expose your horse to bikes in a more predictable environment. Make it a positive experience.
  • Assume the worst. Don’t put yourself or your horse in a position where things can go sideways. If you see or know of mountain bikes presence, set yourself up for a safe encounter. If this means hustling off the trail, so be it.

Have fun sharing the trail!

Kevin Fedarko Interview, Part I

We spoke recently with Kevin Fedarko, author of The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon.
Fedarko, a former senior editor of Outside magazine, spoke at the Cortez Public Library as part of the Amazing Author series.
We met over lunch, before he headed off to another speaking engagement in Telluride. We’re cross-posting from our sister site, ColoradoOutsider.com
fed6
ColoradoOutsider: Wilderness and being outside are your topics. You’re recording, experiencing, and trying to be mindful. How does that work for you? Like on this recent trek, walking the Grand Canyon (on assignment for National Geographic), were you “on” all the time?

Kevin Fedarko: In that context, I’m always on. I’m very cognizant of the fact that everything that happens is grist for the mill. I think it’s really essential to record as much as possible, in situ, to get it down in the moment.
That’s a huge challenge during a trip like that because I’m always so exhausted. You can’t take notes while you’re walking. It’s just impossible. And I was so exhausted in camp at night that all I wanted to do was go to sleep. So I carry a tape recorder right on my backpack, on a strap. I found it was amazingly efficient.
Pete (photographer and videographer Pete McBride} was constantly recording as well. Much as I’d love to be in Zen poet mode or whatever, and not worry about being a journalist, this is my material, what’s happening. Also, to get down thoughts is really important even if it’s in a really rough moment.

COO: My kids and I have an ongoing argument on whether taking pictures takes away from the moment or adds to the moment, adds to one’s ability to be in the moment. When you’re on assignment, does that make your recall and memories sharper? Or does it put blinders on, because you might not recall what you didn’t record?

KF: For me it does make them sharper because I’m forced into a level of engagement that goes beyond having fun or registering its beauty and then moving on. When you’re forced to record, you’re forced to articulate your thoughts. That pulls you in. Some might say it’s a false engagement because it’s an intellectual engagement. I’m sure you could go down that road and have a long PhD thesis on that. But for me, it does heighten the experience. It imbues it with a coherence and meaning that wouldn’t be there otherwise.

Kevin Fedarko pauses before heading to Telluride

Kevin Fedarko pauses before heading to Telluride

It’s also less enjoyable. I can’t coast through it. Even when I’m trying to do that, I’m often pulled back in by some sort of insight or observation. My tape recordings may be just five seconds long or so. They are just impressions.

COO: Key words or snapshots?

KF: Absolutely. For instance, the way the pebbles at the bottom of a slot canyon are all different colors because the floor of a slot canyon collects all the different layers of rock and they are literally all jumbled together. Each represents a different place in time. Some are 2.5 million years old and some are 1.7 billion years old. So you have time jumbled together in rock, represented in color. That would be an example of an impression.

COO: But you don’t have time to fine-tune it as a wordsmith. You table that bit.

KF: Right. It seems to me it’s most important to record it. I can then think about the words later.

Read Part II, in which Fedarko discusses the specter of Grand Canyon development.

Read Part III

Kevin Fedarko Interview, Part II

We spoke recently with Kevin Fedarko, author of The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon.
Fedarko, a former senior editor of Outside magazine, spoke at the Cortez Public Library as part of the Amazing Author series.
We met over lunch, before he headed off to another speaking engagement in Telluride. We’re cross-posting from our sister site, ColoradoOutsider.com

Read Part I

COO: You’re really self-deprecating. Not just as a public speaker but as an oarsman (Fedarko manned the boat which carried the latrines during his boating stints on the Colorado River). Are you really that bad?

KF: No, I can’t resist a good joke on myself. The basic parameters of that story are true. I was a very bad oarsman. I’m still not great. And I did become the permanent poo boat guy. But I also knew that it was a great story. It’s kind of hilarious. And I knew that it would teach me something. Had I focused more on being an oarsman, I would have gotten better. I would have proven myself over time and acquired those skills. But I made a conscious decision not to because ultimately I’m a writer. I’m not a dory boatman. I had to decide that one avenue was more valuable than the other.

COO: And you’re not a bad presenter either. Your presentation was polished and thoughtful. Did you have help?

KF: I haven’t had any coaching. I have done it dozens of times. It is kind of polished. But I am really awkward when I start. It takes me a good 10 minutes to get going. That’s who I am: someone who’s very uncomfortable being up there, who’s stumbling over himself, who’s not a natural. Someone once told me that the difference between an introvert and an extrovert is that an extrovert derives energy from being around people and an introvert has energy sucked out of them. I’m definitely the latter.

COO: How do you divide your time now? Over the last few months?

KF: The last several months have been sort of insane. Pete and I have been trying to complete this walk and then write the story immediately. It’s been kind of like two trains colliding. I have also just completed a ghost-writing project. You’re also catching me at a moment where I don’t think I’ve ever been more exhausted. There is no balance in my life at the moment.

But starting June, I have nothing for two months. I have a pile of books I want to read. Nothing else.

COO: Are you happy with your daily, monthly, yearly life? With your accolades and whatnot?

KF: I think you’re laboring under the misimpression that there is all this acclaim. Sam Carter interviewed me for a radio interview and asked ‘What’s it like to be famous?’ I’m like, ‘Dude…’

COO: But book tours and racing around southwestern Colorado is not sitting in a lonely, dark room, typing away.

KF: It’s not as if the phone is ringing off the hook and people are calling all the time, asking me to speak.

COO: At the Cortez library, you showed a video of the specter of Grand Canyon development. Looking ahead to the generations to follow, are you depressed, optimistic?

KF: I’m not a father and I don’t think I know enough about young people to either be inspired or depressed. Around them, I find myself experiencing a bit of both. I worry that people don’t read. I worry that kids spend most of their time indoors.

COO: I noticed that most people at your talk were our age. (We’re both around 50 years old.)

KF: You’re right. But there are times when I run into young people and I think they’re amazing. There’s an organization called Grand Canyon Youth. The whole mission is to put young people on the river. They’re incredible.

People my age have been worrying about the superficiality and general cluelessness of young people since probably the age of rock art. I think some of these worries are a bit manufactured.

Read Part I

Read Part III

Kevin Fedarko, Part III

We spoke recently with Kevin Fedarko, author of The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon.
Fedarko, a former senior editor of Outside magazine, spoke at the Cortez Public Library as part of the Amazing Author series.
fed6We met over lunch, before he headed off to another speaking engagement in Telluride.

Read Part I

Read Part II

COO: This is your first book. When it came to the story of the Emerald Mile, did it call to you? Did people around you say ‘this story is book-worthy, you gotta do it!’ Or was there any compulsion, like, ‘at this time in my life, I gotta write a book’?

KF: It might have been a bit of the latter. A book represented where I wanted to get with writing. Not so much because a book is longer, but with a book, you get to focus on one thing. Not writing about something, then moving on. Even writing for a monthly magazine, you parachute in with a set of ideas. You emerge from a two-week process with something to say about it. That became dissatisfying for me over time. I really wanted to dive much more deeply. I think I’ve always wanted that.

This story took an enormous amount of time to coalesce in my head. I couldn’t figure out: what was the story? where was the center? what did it involve?

At first, it didn’t even occur to me that there were two stories, one at the dam and one on the river. So all that stuff got worked out in the very messy process of writing a proposal and trying to write the book.

It was chaotic and messy and lacked anything remotely approaching clarity.

COO: After the proposal, did it evolve again? Or did the folks in New York respect your vision?

KF: This was my first rodeo with book publishing. It doesn’t always work this way. I wound up with an agent who was very hands-on. She helped me shape the proposal. It was 20,000 words. She was part of the process.

The proposal is like a sales document. It’s not the book. It’s not like you can take it, like a balloon and blow it up into a 110,000-word document. I needed to throw that away and start from scratch again.

COO: Right. The sales document is how the book will fit into the publishing world and supersede all the other books out there. And why now is the time for it to be published.

fed7KF: By the way, The Emerald Mile was not a bestseller at the beginning. I talked with Brendan Leonard of Semi-Rad and there’s a DirtBag Diaries podcast that describes the whole thing.

[Simon & Schuster debuted the book in March, 2013. The release coincided with a long-running dispute between the publishing company and Barnes & Noble that climaxed with the bookseller refusing to sell any books by S & S rookie authors. For The Emerald Mile, “the marketing feel apart. It was a downward spiral that ends with the death of a book,” said Fedarko, who responded to the debacle by relentlessly touring the western states, doing book signings, sleeping in the back of his truck, “living like a river guide”, and cultivating his own following.] Listen to the podcast here.

Some people have criticized The Emerald Mile and it did get me thinking. It might be going to far to say I appreciated it, but it’s been useful and valuable.

COO: Yeah, readers tend to be unhappy if the book wasn’t what they expected. Not that it was a bad book, but book reviews tend to be 2 stars when the sales pitch wasn’t the same as the goods.

KF: It’s so interesting you say that because the single biggest criticism has been that it wasn’t enough about the journey and it was false advertising. It has to do with the subtitle. A certain type of reader has felt he’s been sold a bill of goods…I was

Fedarko speaks at Durango High School. Courtesy Durango Herald

Fedarko speaks at Durango High School. Courtesy Durango Herald

explaining the criticism to kids at Durango High School because I thought it might resonate.

Here’s a book that starts with two chapters, these kind of sexy things happen. But the next thing you know, you’re in the 1500’s with Spanish conquistadors and then you’re thrown 70 pages of environmental history before you even start to connect things. Certain readers felt that was unfair. It goes back to the subtitle. I would have really liked the subtitle to get away from what it is now and towards what’s more essential.

One of my favorite critiques: a guy wrote on some blog that The Emerald Mile was a terrible book and how there are only three chapters that deal with the speed run. His advice to readers, particularly kayakers, was to buy the book, rip out 75 percent of it, keep the last three chapters, and then throw that in the trash, too.

Isn’t that great?

COO: Well, at least one boater is reading the whole thing. My son.

KF: The idea that young people are reading it is great. Durango High School adopted the book. That’s the most amazing thing that’s happened.

COO: I’m sure the teachers chose it for the very reasons critics have panned it – the research, the history, and environmental issues.

KF: Right. They’re using it as a sort of base camp. They go to a power plant. They go to Glen Canyon Dam. They go on a camping trip. They’re on the Animas. Their adoption of the book is the single most gratifying thing that has happened in connection with the book.

Read Part I

Read Part II

Bench Benefits

Nina Fuller, photographer and equine-facilitated mental health practitioner, once asked me during a visit if I’d walk with her to “the bench.”

It seemed like an innocuous enough invitation, so I joined her. We walked with her dogs past the horse and sheep pastures, past a pond, and through the woods. Sun shone between the trees. Dew dotted our boots as we moved towards the back of her Maine 10455968_789033427796538_3278883839093501984_nproperty, across a tiny brook, to an opening in the woods.

There sat a blue bench. It looked like it was waiting for us.

The Blue Bench has been a funky Fuller project for a few years. The seat itself was a 35-dollar purchase made on a whim. The placement of it was her acknowledgement that the meadow itself and the walk to get to it were special. [Photo at right shows Fuller with Maddy Butcher, Marsha Craig, and Jack Martin. Read more about Craig and Martin’s work with equine therapy here.

“There’s something about it that resonates with everyone who goes there,” said Fuller recently by phone.

The horsewoman routinely invites visitors to stroll out to the bench. She takes her camera and posts images on her Blue Bench Project on facebook.

As the routine has developed, returning visitors often ask, “Can we go to the bench?” she told me. “There is a healing, spiritual thing going on there. It’s calm. People slow down. I think a lot of it has to do with the walk.”

No bench, but these boys have the same idea.

No bench, but these boys have the same idea.

Indeed, even the folks at the National Academy of Sciences are recognizing the mental health benefits of getting into nature. A recent study noted “reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness” when subjects took a 90-minute walk in natural environment. Broadly speaking, people who experience more nature are less depressed. There was no positive effect when the subjects walked in an urban setting. Read more here.

Scientists note similar mental health benefits from human interaction with animals, especially horses. Read this review of research on kids involved with equine-facilitated learning.

Most of you have animals. But do you have a bench to go to?

“This idea isn’t owned by me. Everyone needs one.” And with that in mind, Fuller ended our phone call. Her dog heard her say the word “bench” 20 minutes ago and has been ready to go ever since.

Read related article on time with horses.

Is Utah’s outside troubling your insides?

A few astute doctors are reporting a worrisome increase in brain-related cancers and diseases in and around Salt Lake County. IMG_4176The state rate of Parkinson’s Disease is double the national average. Some think the PD numbers are even under-reported because of the dearth of qualified neurologists in Utah. Last year, the University of Utah established the first in the nation Parkinson’s Registry with doctors now being asked to report all cases.

Doctors have also observed a relatively high number of two rare neurological pathologies: glioblastomas and the logopenic variant of primary progression aphasia. The former is the most aggressive form of brain cancer. The latter is similar to Alzeimer’s but it attacks the brain’s language center, not the memory.

Got the heebie-jeebies yet?

Admittedly, sample sizes are small. But the Utah Physicians for a Healthy

A typical smoggy day in Salt Lake Valley

A typical smoggy day in Salt Lake Valley

Environment has a chock-full library of links to articles and papers making the case for the cruddy-environment-cruddy-health connection. Remember Woburn, Massachusetts? (where the rate of leukemia was linked to water contamination. The award-winning movie, A Civil Action, was based on those events.) How about Fallon, Nevada?

Our house sits above the dreaded Inversion (the nearly permanent layer of smog that sits on the valley). But some days, I’ve had a constant headache. It consistently coincides with the air quality. I feel for folks living in the thick of it.

So, why aren’t more folks jumping up and down, asking lawmakers, civic, industrial, and business partners to address these concerns?

Could it have something to do with Utah being one of the most industry- and business-friendly states in the country? (Forbes  ranked it the most business-friendly state in the nation last year. The Beehive State rarely drops out of the magazine’s top 3.)

Could it have something to do with the composition of the legislature (about 80 percent Republican)?

I talked with Dr. Brian Moench, board president of the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. The group has lobbied successfully for cleaner air and last year won a significant court battle against a Salt Lake refinery. He pointed out the obvious:

Children at the Natural History Museum of Utah

Children at the Natural History Museum of Utah

advocates for clean air (and water and earth) swim against the tide in this state. Check out the UPHE library of research connecting environmental factors with illness.

I’m wondering which will trigger change: a greater uptick in disease or a downturn in the success of pollutant-contributing industries?

There’s a popular interactive exhibit at the Natural History Museum of Utah. It allows players to input populations and environmental factors to see just how very challenged Salt Lake County will be in a decade or two. The kids get it.

Why aren’t adults playing?

 

 

 

Five stay warm tips

  • Car rides with the windows down
  • Tall, ice-filled drinks
  • Swims with your horse

The pleasures of summer seem far, far away.

IMG_2844At my place, pasture walks are slow, laborious efforts of postholing, walking in snow that goes to my thighs and fills my boots. I’d like to say “I Love Winter,” but, truth be told, I’m not a huge fan. It does have merit, though:

Animals tracks tell stories we’d otherwise never read.

Hot pie and cocoa taste better.

It makes me really appreciate the other three seasons.

This year, Father Winter seems to have moved on from last year’s hobby of tormenting New England. (Read more here) Since November, he’s been schooling the Rockies with major snow dumpage. Ski slopes around here have had over 200 inches of snow (two hundred!). Parking lots consistently have two-inch layers of ice. Coyotes, deer and even bunnies are gravitating towards plowed roads and shoveled paths instead of suffering the aforementioned postholing.

dogs and meFor many of us, staying warm is the make-or-break element that determines whether these months are ones of enjoyment or drudgery.

Here are some toasty tips:

Layer up: long underwear tops and bottoms, hats and hoods, thermal insoles in your boots. Wool is a great layer and thanks to Ramblers Way can be worn right next to skin.

Turn on the heat: hand warmers, heated insoles and gloves, even hot beverages help out when and where layers cannot.

Eat well: substitute a protein bar for that donut and skim the sugar and syrup in your coffee. Your body will thank you.

Stay active: embrace shoveling as an aerobic activity and avoid the temptation to hibernate. Higher metabolism = more blood pumping (and that’s a good thing!)

Bath time: You’ll find a good soak will stay with you for hours, heating core to toes. It’s leverage that for a warmer morning or bedtime.

A coyote travels down road

A coyote travels down road

Little cheats: heat clothes in dryer or near a space heater, splurge on an electric blanket to take the chill of your bed before turning in, pick To Go mugs that aren’t so insulated. They can’t double as handwarmers.

At lastly…

Hug a horse. When the wind is howling and the temperature is heading downward like a kid on a playground slide, this method may be the most satisfying one for taking off the chill. Watch our happy video.

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