Los Angeles is Perfect for Alternative Thanksgiving

Have a mammoth time at La Brea Tar Pits. (Wikimedia Commons)

There’s nothing fun about sitting around with a belly distended and sore from overindulging on turkey, mashed potatoes and the other traditional Thanksgiving food. It’s a ritual that I’ve grown to like less every year. A few years ago, I stumbled on a great "alternative Thanksgiving" idea:

Go to Los Angeles.

My wife wanted to visit her sister, who was attending Cal Arts in the Los Angeles area. We arrived to find the city virtually abandoned. I guess all the transplants who moved to the area seeking fame and fortune fled back to their ancestral homes for turkey and stuffing.

The infamous LA traffic? Virtually non-existent. Long lines? Nope, none of those either.

That makes Thanksgiving weekend the perfect time to explore LA. And you won’t even have to do dishes.

So what’s there to do? Plenty, even beyond the beach and the theme parks. Despite the holiday, you’ll find plenty of open businesses, restaurants and attractions. Here are a few off-beat ideas to get you started: Continue reading

Restoring Sanity Through Mountain Biking

McDowell Mountain Regional Park
Awesome views, good times - McDowell Mountain Regional Park.

It’s all too easy for me to feel like the world is headed toward becoming one nasty place.

People on both sides of the political spectrum squawk constantly, demonizing and dehumanizing each other. The only social currency seems to be bad TV shows. Average waistlines expand to the point where people are starting to have their own gravitational pull. Corporations funnel money to the richest, leaving the rest of us behind in servitude.

It all makes me want to get on a plane to New Zealand and never come back.

And a lot of times, I can’t even count on my fellow mountain bikers to make it much better.

They put their earbuds in and isolate themselves in another world. Other bikers don’t even seem to register, even if I smile and say hello. Which I do. Because that’s what mountain bikers are supposed to do.

That’s all a petri dish for bad juju.

Then I have rides like today’s. I’m out there in 70 degree weather on a fast, flowing trail.

Before I know it, my GPS tells me I’ve ridden 35 miles. My legs still feel good, but the thick coat of grit my chain has attracted makes my bike plead "no mas!"

Then I pass two other riders. They’re off to the side of the trail, shooting the bull and enjoying the view of the Superstition Mountains, a volcanic caldera from a supervolcano complex that last erupted about 15 million years ago.

Another shot of McDowell Regional Park, with Four Peaks in the background.

I give a quick "what’s up, guys?" as I pass.

Both respond with a very genuine and friendly greeting. I can’t even remember the words. But the meaning was plain: We’re just excited to be out here today as you are, and we’re glad you’re here, too.

Great trails. Spectacular scenery. Other people who love riding ’em as much as I do. An unstoppable feeling of physical and mental wellness.

Yeah.

That makes it easier to get through the crap that can plug the toilet of everyday life.

A Quick Note to Any Mutual Readers

This is a quick update for fellow bloggers – you might notice my Links page doesn’t list you. That’s not because I’m not feeling the love anymore, rest assured! I just have some construction going on. This is mostly the result of upgrading (or “Upgrayding,” as they might’ve said in the movie Idiocracy) to the latest version of the Primepress theme.

I plan to restore normal linkage as soon as my meager HTML and CSS skills allow.

New Phoenix Trails Bring Recreation – and Dose of Controversy

Rusty Angel Deem Hills Wandering Justin
A look up the Rusty Angel Trail at Deem Hills.

There’s not much in the way of hiking and biking trails west of I-17 in Phoenix. That’s bad news for hikers and mountain bikers living in that area.

That makes the opening of Deem Hills Recreation Area, a great piece of news for people wandering around Phoenix, right? Right?

Um, maybe.

First, a small group of litigious homeowners halted trail construction for a few months, as reported in The Arizona Republic. Fortunately, a Superior Court judge didn’t buy their argument (“The suit claimed the building of trails violates Environmentally Sensitive Development Areas Policies Design Guidelines and the city’s own Trail Management practices and procedures,” wrote Republic reporter Betty Reid.).

Conversations with some hikers on the trail convinced me those arguments are a smokescreen: What really had the plaintiffs POd was:

1. They could see the trails from their backyard, a sad reminder that they’re not in an exclusive enclave but rather in a sea of tile roofs.

Deem Hills Google Earth
A Google Earth Views of Deem Hills and my routes.

2. They’re worried that trail users might be able to see into their yards.

Hmm. I drove about 30 minutes from central Phoenix to ride the Deem Hills trails for the first time. At no point did I peer into the yards of homes flanking the south side of the park.

You see, I was a little busy TRYING TO STAY ON THE TRAIL AND NOT WRAP MYSELF AROUND A CACTUS OR THREE!

Seriously, I’d love to know what these lawsuit-happy nabobs are doing in their backyard that has them so worried? Perhaps they’ve mistaken themselves for celebrities – they’ve forgotten that they are Joe and Ethel Suburb, and thus of little interest to the outdoor lovers enjoying the park.

Everyone I encountered on the trails was friendly, hikers and bikers alike. Many said it was their first time on the trails. But one of my talks with the hikers disturbed me: I mentioned that I saw some room for improvement on the trails.

Deem Hills Wandering Justin
A look at the trails in the hillside at Deem Hills.

“We don’t want it too nice,” she said. “We just live over in the neighborhood.”

In other words, “let’s prevent this amenity from rising above mediocrity so that I won’t experience any inconvenience.” And make no mistake about it: the trails at Deem Hills are merely OK. You can find out more in my review at Examiner.com. They’re not the best nor the worst – and they’re a huge score for West Valley mountain bikers, who will get some great training on the many climbs in the park.

The area is a bit unusual because it seems to be one of the few spots in the Valley of obvious volcanic origin. The park is littered with large black volcanic bombs. I’d definitely be curious to know more about its geology from those in the know. I’d have to guess the hills are heavily eroded cinder cones. I also spotted some agate-like minerals strewn here and there.

As for the controversy, let’s hope this is also the end of the legal drama and that the “don’t look in my backyard” NIMBY crowd gets over itself in all due haste.

Iceland Travel Tip – Is the Winter Fare Sale Worth It?

Check out a chunk of Iceland this winter with IcelandAir's special fares.

November 4 is the last day to book an IcelandAir flight from the United States to Keflavik for as little as $379 for a round trip (check out the complete list of deals). Here’s the deal: The price is for flights from Jan. 10 – March 31, depending on your point of origin.

That means you’re flying straight into Iceland when it is – how should I put this? – really freakin’ cold.

That means you can’t stay outdoors as much. Glacier Guides, one of the better-known tour companies, doesn’t run tours to the glaciers near Skaftafell National Park during that time. You certainly can’t get to Landmannalaugar for a few days of backpacking among some of the most mind-boggling terrain on the planet. So should you bother?

Heck, yes.

There’s still plenty to do in Iceland. Reykjavik is extremely lively. There’s a thriving cafe scene. If you’re a fashionista, you’ll have no problem finding some shopping. And let’s not forget – hotels in Iceland can be expensive … especially in Reykjavik. So there’s no better time to score a deal than late winter.

If you have an adventurous streak and don’t want to be confined to knocking back espresso in the morning and brennivin (the infamous Icelandic schnapps) at night, there’s still hope. Arctic Adventures runs some winter tours to Sólheimajökull, a glacier near the small town of Vik. You can also dig into some ice climbing.

IcelandAir is a pleasant surprise for fliers use to the brutal grind of domestic air travel.Â

Oh, and remember that it’s a good time to catch the Northern Lights. If you can schedule a few nights somewhere remote like Vik, you’ll have no light pollution and some really awesome skies.

So for a $379 flight on an excellent airline, I say check it out. Then come back in the summer to hike Landmannalaugar, hike the glaciers near Skaftafell and explore the crazy terrain of Myvtan.

La Mansion Inn a Great Place for Costa Rica Luxury

Monkeys hang out down the road from La Mansion Inn - the presidential suite was booked on the night they wanted.

Nothing livens up your breakfast like having a monkey come flying in through an open window and stealing a banana from a nearby table – all before shimmying up a telephone pole, crossing the wire and sharing the bounty with his troupe.

This isn’t the sort of thing that happens at luxury hotels. That’s one of the reason I prefer low budget.

But  I saw a place in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica (where this monkey business took place), that made me open to the idea of some luxury accommodations now and then.

La Mansion Inn is surrounded by jungle and ocean. At night, it’s dark and peaceful. It has a bar called The Bat Cave for people who want a high-quality beer (not easy to find in Costa Rica) and a taste of La Mansion’s luxury.

How luxurious is it? Well, presidents have stayed there. It lives up to the name, with a flavor more like you’ve stumbled into someone’s private estate than into a hotel. But it was also friendly – none of that “are you here to steal the silverware?” vibe from the staff. That might come from what are some pretty reasonable prices: $125-$295 for a standard room, depending on the season. The presidential suites, though, run $650-$850.

The views from the pool and balconies are amazing. La Mansion is up on a cliff, so you’ll have lots of visibility. You can also get hooked up with a tour or a deep-sea fishing trip.

I’m certain I’ll get back to Costa Rica one of these days. After spending a day or two in San Jose to take in a Saprissa match and load up on pupusas, I will head right back to the airport and catch a flight to Quepos, followed by a brief taxi ride to Manuel  Antonio.

Even though the odds are against your breakfast fruit getting pilfered by a primate, you can get your fill of monkey and iguana encounters just by taking a quick walk down to Manuel Antonio National Park. Check out the trails, lounge on the beach, grab a fresh coconut – and watch for the monkeys!

Airport Needs to Cut Specialty Lines, Improve Signs

Southwest Airlines, 737-700
All I want is a clear path through security and a seat on my flight with as little fuss as possible.

During a recent flight from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, I had a reminder that the security screening processes are concocted by people who are disconnected from reality.

It was actually a fairly light morning at Sky Harbor’s Terminal 4 as I was headed toward the checkpoint. I made sure I didn’t accidentally slip into the first class line and made my way to the agent. Her first words?

“Next time, make sure you don’t use the medical and family line.”

I told her I didn’t notice the sign.

“It’s there,” she said rather shortly.

I looked back again. All I remember is NOT seeing a sign for the first class line. But I also know that arguing with a surly TSA agent is not the way to get to a gate on time.

What I did was file the tidbit away for further reflection. And here are my conclusions:

1. There are too many specific lines that are too underused. There was not a single body in the first class line. There was not a single body in the alleged “medical and family” line. If nobody is there, why bother with them? It seems like a lot of effort for a tiny portion of the passengers. And why should TSA cater to airline customers? It’s not like you get frequent flier mileage for passing through TSA checkpoints.

2. When I’m headed toward a security checkpoint, I am driven for efficiency. That’s so I don’t hold up the line and consequently other people (who might be later getting to the airport than I usually am). I have my boarding pass and driver’s license in hand. Even though I thinks it’s a ridiculous mockery of true security, I’m unlacing my shoes to take them off already. I’m ready to clear the items in my pockets.

That’s where I focus my attention. If the airport has a bunch of lines for first class customers, medical and family, people with gluten allergies, passengers who prefer pot-bellied pigs to dogs and customers who drive hybrid cars … make clear, concise signs in large typeface. I am too busy trying to pass my way through the intestinal tract that is a TSA security line to notice tiny, poorly written signs. Make them big and make them concise, or don’t bother.

Better yet, test the signs out using real-world travelers – a nice mix of leisure and business fliers. If you have suits making these decision, they won’t be under the stress of getting to a gate on-time or the prospect of holding up a bunch of their fellow fliers.

Returning to the Daylight at McDowell

McDowell Mountains, Coachwhip, Pemberton, Bluff, Dixie Min
Nice trails, awesome views

It’s been awhile since I’ve started and finished a mountain bike ride in daylight. With the brutal summer weather, I’ve spent the past few months starting in twilight and ending well after dark.

I came back to the day side Sunday – but only after watching a rather head-scratching car accident on my way to the trail (I suspect driving while texting was at fault).

Like a big dummy, I also left my two frosty, frozen bottles of live-giving Cytomax (perfect for our still-toasty temperatures, a late morning start and a long haul) home in the freezer. I didn’t want to ride without electrolytes, so I stopped at Slippery Pig Bike Shop Too. Doug hooked me up with some bottles, some of those new-fangled Alka-Seltzerish electrolyte tabs and cool water.

I put it in about 30 miles on the Pemberton, Dixie Mine, Bluff and Coachwhip (which is a trail named for a snake named after a coach whip) trails. I took down a pair of Clif shots and a Primal Strips vegan jerky bar (saltiness) in addition to my fluids. I think that wasn’t quite enough – I felt pretty worked for the rest of the day.

Pemberton GPS track
GPS track from an earlier Pemberton/Dixie Mine/Windmill ride. This does't show the most recent route that included bits of the Bluff and Granite trails.

The cool thing about riding in the day again is being able to see everything. I can carry my speed more confidently since every potential obstacle is in plain view. Things can hide on you at night … the circle of light from my handlebar and helmet lamps can’t show me everything. That makes things a bit more fun. I don’t think the county parks hold their organized nightrides until summer returns, so I won’t get my favorite fix of night riding for several months.

I noticed that most people out Sunday on the Pemberton were riding counterclockwise. Not my favorite way to handle it – the far north side is a long bit of false flat through some fairly sandy conditions. No thanks! I might go up the Bluff Trail and then take the rest of it counterclockwise. That could be fun. I also need to take the Windmill Trail further. Last time I rode it, it was pretty rocky and raw without much flow to it. But it might be worth another look.

Phoenix Councilman Supplies Info About Residents to Special-Interest Group

Sal DiCiccio, a member of the Phoenix city council, has convinced me of something – that he’s funnelling information about residents to an outside organization to further his political agenda. Here’s how he did it:

Back in August, something strange popped into my e-mail box: a newsletter from Councilman DiCiccio.

I never signed up for it. I don’t even live in his district. I chalked it up as an anomaly until I got a newsletter from nofee2hikeaz.com a few days later. I also didn’t sign up for its newsletter.

DiCiccio and nofee2hikeaz.com, it turns out, have a common goal – opposing the Phoenix Park Board plan to charge for parking at less than 20 percent of the city’s trailheads.

City Staff Members Look Into E-Mail Mystery

On Sept. 8, I decided to ask city officials about what was happening: I contacted David Urbinato, parks department spokesman. He passed my e-mail to Toni Maccarone, the city’s spokeswoman. Here’s what she wrote to me:

" -- we did quite a bit of research, and the answer that we came up with is what we thought.  We do not share our city news list with anyone.  We’re sorry, but we are not sure how you got on these other lists. When I asked Councilman DiCiccio’s Chief of Staff Hal DeKeyser about it, he said that you may have been added to the Councilman’s list in a number of different ways because they have a separate, outside list that they maintain, and they add people’s e-mails from a variety of different sources."

Maccarone suggested I talk to DeKeyser. I know him – he is a former Scottsdale Tribune editor. I joined the paper as a reporter just after DeKeyser was effectively exiled to the then even-more-bustling (if you count retirees in golf carts as bustling) West Valley. There, he served as publisher of a flock of chicken-dinner publications like the West Valley View.

I decided to let things unfold a bit before talking to him.

I’m pretty sure DiCiccio had access to my information since I signed up for the phoenixnews e-newsletter. I registered using a personal address, not the one posted here at WanderingJustin.com.

Slip-Up Reveals the Connection

On Sept. 17, I got the break I hoped for: I received a newsletter from both DiCiccio and nofee2hikeaz.com – and the content was exactly the same: every subject line, every sentence, every idea. Identical.

To me, this is a major sign – likely outright proof – that Diciccio or someone working for him provided my e-mail information to nofee2hikeaz.com.

Both parties were stupid, arrogant or a radioactive combination of both.

Local Media is Watching

A reporter at The Arizona Republic also confirmed that the paper is curious about ties between DiCiccio and nofee2hikeaz.com. The reporter said interview requests for the website were not answered – and that DeKeyser denied any ties to the organization. Someone is lying. And the reporter has no motive.

Since the curiously similar e-mail blasts, I’ve continued getting DiCiccio’s Glenn Beck-ish squawking for the entertainment value. In his alternate reality, he is the only guy looking out for the little people of the impovershed Arcadia and Ahwatukee neighborhoods (someone has to make sure families there can afford the payments on their fleet of SUVs). In that alternate reality, it’s also OK to sign people up for e-mail lists against their will and to funnel their information to outside organizations that are not accountable or even willing to be interviewed by media.

It doesn’t seem the city has a policy governing how it handles residents’ e-mail addresses. So DiCiccio will probably escape censure from city officials. But I’m hoping he’ll answer for this and every other act of ethical dyslexia at the ballot box.

So what do you think? Does it look like DiCiccio or one of his staff members provided e-mail to addresses to nofee2hikeaz.com? If so, do you find that dirty pool?

3 Bizarre Buildings Still Stand Tall in Phoenix

Capstone Cathedral Phoenix
The Capstone Cathedral is one of the most odd and distinct buildings in the Phoenix area.

3 Bizarre Buildings in Phoenix, Ariz
Despite its short history, the Phoenix metro area has amassed some unusual architecture. Here are three of the best-known odd buildings you’ll find in the Valley of the Sun.
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Arizona Destinations for Aviation Geeks

Between airplane boneyards and museums, there's a lot for the aviation geeks in Arizona.

Four Air and Space Museums in Arizona
For a sparsely populated state, Arizona has a lot to offer when it comes to air and space museums. The Pima Air Museum is the best-known of the bunch, but there are others that are worth a visit. Here’s a look at them from north to south.
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Why Phoenix Councilman’s Stance on City Parks is Bogus

Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio has come out adamantly against a $2 a day parking fee for about 700 of 5,000 parking spaces at city trailhead parking lots. Here’s what he has to say in the latest newsletter he sent out (including to people like me who never signed up for it).

Let’s parse the massaged public relations quacking and uncover the truth, which will prove that DiCiccio’s stance is nothing more than a bush-league politician’s PR ploy:

1. The voice and presence of people who showed up, who contacted the council members, who passed out fliers and who talked with their friends and neighbors – that at least temporarily stopped the city from adding the $2 parking fee.

Right. So far, every single one of the opposition’s attempts to unite have been an abject failure. The NoFee2HikeAZ.com "protest hike" in August fizzled – according to its own Facebook photos, all of five people showed up. Its Twitter feed is followed by an avalanche of 12 people. And The Arizona Republic is reporting that "residents who spoke at the last parks board meeting Aug. 26 were 3-1 in favor of the fee."

2. First the Parks Board was convinced that if it didn’t produce revenue to kick into the general fund that pays normal city operating costs, cuts even harsher than the deep ones imposed in the current budget could be forthcoming. It considered a parking fee as high as $5 a day on hikers

Even at $5, the day fee is still less than the $6 day-use fees at Maricopa County Regional Parks. And I have yet to hear anyone who doesn’t consider that a bargain for excellent trail systems. Phoenix and its parks lag behind – they’re good, but they simply don’t equal the county’s offerings. A day-use fee for Phoenix might lessen the gap. Quality costs.

Continue reading

Sword Training – A Look at Ryu Iaido

iaido student arizona
Craig has practiced for about 8 years, making him one of the senior students.

My visit to a sword training class studying Araki Mujinsai Ryu Iaido was a great introduction to something new for me. I know – it’s not really the sort of thing you hear about every day.

Here’s what brought me there:

A few weeks ago, I was hanging out at Mama Java’s and overheard some guys talking about visiting Japan. Naturally, I had to horn in on this conversation. Hey, it’s travel!

What I learned was 10 times more interesting than I expected. They weren’t just traveling to see the sights, but planning to visit the home dojo of Araki Mujinsai Ryu Iaido. They are members of the Phoenix dojo, where they study the art Japanese sword training.

Their sensei, David Overby, invited me to a sword training session. I showed up with my camera and snapped the photos in this post. The lighting conditions were a bit tough, especially with the speed of their movements. But it gives you some idea of what a sword training session looks like.

iaido
Moving through a kata.

I also got a great sense of the people involved. They’re very welcoming to people interested in learning about their art. It’s a much more collegial atmosphere than the typical martial arts class, with students of all levels freely sharing ideas and tips. There’s some formality, but it’s balanced with a very easygoing vibe.

David even showed me the basic movement overhead cut and let me use his sword to get a feel for it. It’s just one building block of Araki Mujinsai Ryu Iaido, yet so many subtle, interlinked movements comprise it. Just trying that one basic part of the art illustrated the dedication of becoming even remotely proficient at Araki Mujinsai Ryu Iaido, which encompasses more than 60 sequences of movement with the Japanse sword (each called a kata, a term familiar to people who have studied a martial art).

iaido
David shows the intricate skate-leather handle of his sword.

As for find the right publication for a story about Araki Mujinsai Ryu Iaido, David suggested Black Belt. That would make an interesting entry into my clip book. I think that’s a great idea, but I also want to expose non-martial artists to this Japanese sword form.

See, what really made this so enjoyable is discovering people who are united in their dedication to something out-of-the-ordinary. They sought something unusual  (and sword training is hardly run of the mill!). They found it. They bonded over it.

The Phoenix dojo Iaido students also scuttle the notion that there is no culture in Phoenix. Maybe it’s not laid at our feet – we have to work to go and find it. But it’s there for those willing to seek – whether it’s Araki Mujinsai Ryu Iaido, kung fu or metal working.

That’s what I want people to take away from this blog post – and whatever story I write for a mainstream publication about Iaido: Get out of your house. Seek something. Try different things. Find the right one, dedicate yourself and reap the benefits.

iaido
A close look at a blade
iaido
Dustin draws his Japanese sword as he begins a seated kata.
iaido
Greg, Craig and David check each other’s forms and techniques.

An American Runs Iceland – Reykjavik Midnight Run 10K

One of these days, I'll be photogenic in a racing photo.
One of these days, I'll be photogenic in a racing photo.

I can now say that I’m officially a world-class athlete: I was the first American finisher in a race abroad.

I admit it’s a stretch of the definition, but here’s why: Back in June, I was the first American finisher in the MiÄ‘næturhlaup. That’s a 10K race in Reykjavik, Iceland, that starts at 10 p.m. The word means “Midnight Run.”

My time was less-than-spectacular at just a touch more than 54 minutes. I guess the previous 10 days of stomping around Iceland with a backpack and logging an average of six miles a day took their toll on my legs.

But still! I owe it all to the fact that:

  • There were few Americans. My wife and I might’ve been the only Americans racing. I checked the results carefully and came up blank.
  • The race was too short for my wife to warm up. I can usually take her in a 10K, but I am no match in a half-marathon. Had this race been another two miles longer, she would’ve just been stretching into full power and would’ve blown past me like she was on roller skates. Yay, short races!

This is one of the coolest things I’ve done while traveling abroad. The course included two three-mile loops that took us past a sports complex, the Reykjavik Zoo and a botanical area. It was incredibly pleasant, with a perfect running temperature.

It was also a great way to mingle with Icelanders and other Europeans – including a wonderfully friendly (and fast!) couple from England. They were kind enough to say that us being from Arizona actually sounds “glamourous.” And yes, they used the extra u!

The race also started and ended at the Laugardalslaug swimming pool Sarah and I came to love so much on our first day. So it was back into the hot tubs to hang with the other racers.

And I now have a shiny medal with some really cool Icelandic characters on it hanging in the dining room.

I should also add that our entry into the race is a testament to the innate friendliness of Icelanders. Sarah wanted to find us a race, so she got on the Web to find us one. Few sites were in English, so she took a shot in the dark at e-mailing a running club. A club member by the name of Torfi wrote her back and helped us find the Midnight Run and get all registered. He also gave us some travel tips.

4 Reasons I Turned to the Dark Side – Night Mountain Biking

A 10-second exposure of the moonlit desert at night. Check out the flash of lightning!

I used to have a lot of problems with night mountain biking. But over the past year, I’ve definitely turned to the Dark Side. It was around this time last year that a guy named Harry who found me on Facebook and some of his friends dragged me into signing up for the Kona 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo. I gave in because I have a hard time saying “no.” Here’s why I changed:

1. I found good, cheap lights. Most of Harry’s crew was hooked on the MagicShine GMG-900 light system. The guys all promised that I could get a good night riding system with a helmet light and a handlebar light for about $200. It’s easy to spend double that on similar lights. They were right. I love riding with these things. They’re simple to use, and the company has  updates on the way (I’ll post more about that in the future). So there goes the cost obstacle. I was also seeing a lot more of the distinctive green glow of the MagicShine power buttons. At least 10 other riders were sporting them. The secret is out! Check ’em out at Geomangear.com.

Snakes on a trail!

2. Since I had lights, I started riding at night more. And I sought out group rides like the McDowell Mountain Regional Park “Mountain Bike in the Moonlight” series. It’s very social, with more than 100 riders hitting the trails before enjoying some free cylindrical meat objects compliments of Slippery Pig Bikes. I’ve run into some old buddies like Bill from Adventure Bicycle Company and some of his long-time customers. Since I used to work there, it’s always very cool to see them – and I will tell anyone looking for a bike that you want to buy a bike from a guy that you’ll run into on the trails.

The park has done these night rides for years now, and it was the first government entity to sanction and host night riding. They have people sign on and off the trails to keep them safe, and it’s a good time for everyone. There is no better way to get into night riding than a Mountain Bike in the Moonlight session. Fact.

3. I love creatures. I’ve been seeing roadrunners in the twilight out at Papago Park – always one of my favorites! At McDowell, I’ve seen all sorts of kangaroo rats. And they are very cool little creatures with their big ol’ tails and hopping gait. It’s definitely a treat to see them – which you won’t in the day time. I may have seen some other rodent – it had an even longer tail with a big bottlebrush of fur on the end. I don’t know what it was. And after the Aug. 27 night ride, park supervisor Rand Hubbell spotted a young California king snake cruising through the dirt parking lot at the Competitive Track. He scooped him up to give us all a close-up view of this beneficial little creature – it eats rattlesnakes and is immune to their venom. Rand then dropped him off in a good spot in the desert so he could resume his king snake activities.

This is why a lot of bike people shave their legs - this would be a lot easier to clean without all that fur!

4. It makes old trails new. Seriously, you have less visibility. Everything happens in a relatively narrow cone of light. You can’t really goof off on the harder trails. I got a reminder of that last night – I know the Long Loop at the Comp Track pretty well … and I was about to descend into a chute I knew ended with a short, steep climb. And I couldn’t remember whether I was still in my big ring. I knew I’d need the middle, so I risked a glance at my gear indicators, which said “middle all the way.” When I looked up, I was about to start the descent – but the right side of the trail where I was had a nasty little erosion gully – just enough to catch front wheels and throw you to the floor. So I tried to ride through it – brakes off, letting the bike buck and kick through it. But that front wheels got caught, and I got pitched into a creosote bush. I was scraped up a bit, but I was back on the bike moments later. No harm – just a reminder to always mind your situation and don’t sweat the small stuff like what gear you’re in!

If you’re thinking about trying your hand at night riding -especially if you live in a place with broiling-hot summers- take my advice: Give yourself to the Dark Side.

Desert Museum is Worth a Drive to Tucson, Ariz.

Visitors to Phoenix probably don’t give enough credit to Tucson. That’s a mistake – the Tucson area has some great cultural attractions, and the outstanding Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is one you shouldn’t miss.

An owl readies for stardom at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum's Raptor Free Flight.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Shows Southwestern Wildlife, Plants & Geology
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson does a great job of showcasing the state’s flora, fauna and natural history. It’s also located in a very scenic piece of high desert terrain, so bring your camera.
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How Did I Get on Anti-Park Fee Group’s Email List?

A website called nofee2hikeaz.com is now online fighting the Phoenix government’s proposal to charge for parking at 5 of its most-congested trailheads. Check my earlier post for some of the details.

Let me get this straight: The people who launched this site have the time and resources – in both time and cash – to design, code, launch and administer a website complete with YouTube videos. Yet they don’t have an extra $60 for a yearly pass for unlimited usage of those five trailheads. And they can’t park anywhere else, either.

That is just risible.

I also love the name: nofee2hikeaz.com.

How disingenuous and misleading can they get?

This is about five trailheads in one city. Let me repeat that: five trailheads, one city. Not even an entire city. It has nothing to do with the state of Arizona. Classic scare tactic from some local with delusions of Karl Rove grandeur.

But hey, what’s a little misdirection when there are $60 at stake!

I can’t help noticing that the video shows some awfully slick SUVs and sports cars in the parking lot. Maybe they could just skip a latte or two a week and apply it to the park fee? Nah, that’s crazy talk.

And here’s an interesting addition to the equation: Two days earlier, I received an email from Councilman Sal DiCiccio, the same one who railed against the proposed park fees, two days ago.

I have no idea how the councilman acquired my information. And I have absolutely no idea how the Webmasters of nofee2hikeaz.com acquired my information. NOTE: They did not use the email address associated with this Web site, but my private address.

This was the first email I ever received from Councilman DiCiccio. And the first I received from this group.

Is it a far stretch to conclude that the councilman provided the group with my information? I wonder if he was equally cavalier with the information of any other city resident.

And he has the nerve to talk about “stewardship” of tax dollar. As of right now, I don’t trust him with my e-mail address. Or yours.

The World Hates American Travelers – Fact or Fiction?

It’s time for another in my series of posts on why relatively few Americans travel abroad. I’ve hit on how guilty family travel and fear keep us in our own borders.

Now I’m going to crush a myth for you: Contrary to what you hear, the rest of the world DOES NOT, repeat DOES NOT, hate American travelers.

What the world hates are obnoxious travelers. If you’re an obnoxious American traveler, the people in the nations you visit will hate you. But that’s because you’re a jerk, not because you’re a “bloody yank” or anything like that.

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Fear – Another Reason America Doesn’t Travel

A few posts ago, I said that traveling to visit family is ruining the country and making us dumb. And it keeps us from seeing the rest of the world.

Now, I present another reason: As a nation, we’re a bunch of chickens. Fear rules us, and we’re happy to let it happen.

The “Internet Fear Monger” is Exhibit A in my latest prosecution.

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How Visiting Family is Ruining America

Visiting your grandma is making you dumb and ruining the United States. I just realized this while reading Smile While You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer.

The author, Chuck Thompson, briefly mentions that most Americans travel to visit family members across the country. That, and the meager piece of vacation time doled out to Americans by those cutting their paychecks, are the roots of the problem.

Americans get the shaft when it come to vacation time.

I get 120 hours per year, and this is considered a king’s ransom of vacation time in the United States. Meanwhile, I get snickered at by part-time baristas from Holland for that measly chunk of paid time off (and for my health benefits, which to them is the equivalent of being cared for by faith healers, witch doctors and veterinarians).

So there’s problem one. We have a limited chunk of time.

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