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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Farewell Funk: summer arrives to save sagging spirits

Posted By on Sun, Jun 27, 2010 at 6:46 PM



It happened without much fanfare. Early last week people were still grumbling about the extended winter/spring weather and then it changed for the better overnight. The change was like a  giant weight had been lifted off Bend’s collective psyche. Summer had finally arrived.


Three small encounters during the week were clear indicators to me that the foul weather was indeed gone  and with its disappearance people were feeling a whole lot better about life.


My first encounter came at the Ace Hardware store on Third Street. On my way out after joining a number of people in search of ant control products, I was approached by an elderly gent. He must have been in his early nineties but was as spry as a 50 year old.


“You know about enza?, he asked with a twinkle in his eye.


“No,” I replied, “I don’t think I do."

“Well, “says the old gent, “I opened my door this morning and in flew enza. Get it, in flew enza. I thought it up on my way over in the car.”


We shared a good laugh and I was so glad the old gent had not only made up the joke but was happy to share it with a stranger. The meeting made my day.


The next day, my wife and I attended a party. It was an outdoor party.  The first one of the year and only the second time we’ve been able to sit outside comfortably so far.


The party was a huge success if for no other reason that everyone attending it was so happy to be outdoors, to be enjoying a warm evening.


Sure the jackets were need about 8 p.m., but the party, helped by good food and drink, sailed along nicely. You got the feeling that people were saying under their breaths: “at last, we get to live outdoors again.”


The last of the three  encounters that indicared to me that summer was here came the following morning when I took my aging, and cheap, watch to yet again get an emergency fix  at the small watch shop/kiosk in the Wagner Mall.


First off, that shop is an invaluable resource. Second the gentleman on duty that morning was in a great mood. The reason? He’d started back with his regular pre-work casual bike rides.


Rides, he assured me, “that really lift my spirits. This morning all the birds were singing and all the gardens looked so nice from all the recent rain.”


He cracked a few jokes and tried out some one-liners as he fixed my watch. I urged him to give up watch repair and consider a future as an opening act in Vegas.


So that’s how I knew when summer arrives.  Overnight, people became more open, more engaging and happier.



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Friday, June 25, 2010

Weltmeisterschaft: Watching too much "fussball" on television

Posted By on Fri, Jun 25, 2010 at 3:20 AM

The e-mail read: "please don't schedule anything between 1 and 4 p.m. as I'll be watching the World Cup."

OK, so the guy who wrote the e-mail is German, married to an American and happy to be living here and even happier to root for the old home team.

Every four years the World Cup rivets a good part humanity for much of the summer. I recall when the tournament was greeted in the U.S. with a big yawn. Now it's on ESPN, and ESPN-2 with reruns on all the other ESPN channels. Turns out, the World Cup has become a pretty big deal in the U.S.

Part of the increased interest is due to the huge number of Americans who played soccer as kids. Then there's the important factor that the U.S. has a fairly decent team this time around. Finally, a lot of citizens simply love spectacle and the World Cup is a spectacle.

But wait, not so fast. Not everyone is convinced that soccer/football is a good idea. Witness the ever-insightful television political commentator Glenn Beck. Beck says Americans don't like soccer/football and they don't want to see it on television. He indicated that the sportl is just another part of the Socialist agenda to brainwash Americans.

So there you have it, another Commie plot to subvert Americans- in this case using a round ball that guys wearing short pants kick. Enough said.

For the casual soccer/football observer like me, the Socialism argument is way over my head. What isn't, are some simple facts.

Fact 1: A lot of teams play possum during the round robin part of the tournament trying not to give away any strategies or strengths.

Fact 2: The game is rougher than it looks. Witness the vicious elbow American Clint Dempsey took to the jaw late in the game with Algeria. That was real blood coming out of his mouth.

Fact 3: The Italian team (i Azzurri, or the blue) is the best diving team I've ever seen. An opponent runs within five yards of an Azzurri player and the Arrurri goes down as if he'd been hit by a Mack truck. The Italian team's dives/flops make those done by NBA stars look amateurish at best.

Fact 4: Latin countries really know how to play soccer/football.

Fact 5: Italy is gone from the tournament and with it games that took on the look of comic operas at times (see fact 3).

Fact 6: We American television viewers get to listen to play-by-play announcers with either thick (read not BBC or Oxonian) English accents or Scottish brogues. Hey, once you get the gist of what they're saying, it's great stuff.

I never knew how great or important the World Cup was until 1970. That summer found me hitchhiking around Europe in the middle of the competition.

Everyplace I went, people were huddled around television sets watching the games. Watching them and then screaming with joy, moaning with disappointment or flat out weeping in despair.

In Germany, fans derided me as a "Hollander" (Dutchman). In Italy, they derided me as a Tedesco (German).

When Germans and Italians found I was an American, all was forgiven. What the hell do Americans know about soccer/football anyway?

I knew enough to enjoy the games on television and started root for the Italian team.

I arrived in Rome a few days before Italy met Germany in the semi-finals. That evening as the game played out on television, a friend and I walked around Rome on completely empty streets. Rome was like a ghost town.

Then at about midnight, the game ended with a 4 to 3 Italian victory (a game later called an epic match) and the streets of Rome came alive with people and a party that lasted all night.

Italy went on to lose to Brazil and the great Pele 4 to 1 in the final. Rome was silent yet again.

Which brings me back to this year's tournament. Here, based on nothing more than feel, is my prediction for the final four: Spain, Portugal, Argentina and The Netherlands.

And the winner is... ... .

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Monday, June 21, 2010

The Hag: Spending Sunday night with Merle

Posted By on Mon, Jun 21, 2010 at 10:22 PM

Too often, as they ease into their septuagenarian years, many a great musician falter. They simply skate by playing as few licks as possible and work hard trying to sing, and too often muffing, the lyrics.

Such is not the case with The Hag -- Merle Haggard -- who at 73 still delivers. And does it, as witness Sunday evening at the Les Schwab Amphitheater, with ease and style.

The Hag's voices is as smooth as the oil his daddy helped bring out of the ground in Bakersfield County California back in the 1930s. He'll be crooning along and then drops two octaves effortlessly only to climb back up with equal ease.

But perhaps the best thing about The Hag is how he keeps true country music alive at the same time paying tribute to Texas Swing a la Bob Wills in "Take Me Back To Tulsa" on which he played fiddle and gypsy/swing jazz as exemplified by one of the new relaxed tempo numbers that's on his new CD.

Newness is not at play with his backup group, The Strangers. Most of The Strangers have been with The Hag for decades. They're old cats who still play like crazy and Haggard's loyalty to them is touching.

Outstanding among The Strangers is steel and Dobro player Norm Hamlet. If there's a better steel player, I've yet to hear him or her.

Among the relatively new Strangers is Bend native Kevin Williams, a Mt. View High grad, who plays bass and had a coterie of longtime local friends in the audience.

Then there are The Hag's sons, Noel and Benion. The older Noel opens his dad's show playing with some a smattering of The Strangers. Foremost among them is 17-year old Benion Haggard, a monster guitar player.

Then there are the fantastic Malpass who look (pompadour hairdos and sideburns, cool looking cowboy suits and pretty boots) like Hank Williams senior and early Elvis revisited. They help open things for The Hag and when they do you got some retro-country going on.

So we've got two kids playing old stuff, family, longtime friends (sidemen), and The Hag's wife singing backup. In short, Sunday evening was more like being at someone's house listening to a bunch of people who really like playing music with each other.

And they played a solid set moving from one tune to another without the aimless and too often pointless chatter that every contemporary music act seems to indulge themselves in between songs.

When The Hag cracked wise, it was on point. When he introduced a song, he was short and to the point. It wasn't about him; it was about the music.

There were all the Haggard favorites ("Momma Tried" etc) that had the crowd singing along, a few recently written numbers and a concert-closing rendition of "Okie From Muskogee".

Once a almost a battle cry of a song, "Okie From Muskogee" today sounds a bit dated, anachronistic. But it still sounds good and knowing that The Hag wrote it for his dad and a generation of people struggling with the events of the late sixties and seventies, you appreciate its heartfelt nature.

As the show ended, there was a warm vibe around the Schwab. The Hag appeals to a lot of people from all walks of life and that's always been his trademark.

Hey, I'm a certified jazz fanatic, but I dig The Hag, always have and always will.

Photos by Ken Strode

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Wet and Windy: wandering around in Astoria

Posted By on Sat, Jun 19, 2010 at 2:16 AM

There's something about this town with its marine climate mélange of fog, mist, rain and wind that makes me feel good. It could be an inherited sense of belonging in foul weather delivered genetically by my Welsh and Scottish antecedents.

Whatever it is, I feel a sense of euphoria just mucking about the streets of a town rooted in a tradition of hard work and life in conditions most people would never take given the opportunity.

Yet Astoria residents forge ahead despite it all and have created perhaps Oregon's most soulful town.

There's soul in the old buildings downtown and the charming Victorian hillside homes that once earned Astoria the appellation: "the San Francisco of the North."

Riding a bike or strolling along the waterfront trolley line pathway from the east end to the west end of town feels like much like being along San Francisco's embarcadero or along the Atlantic seaboard is some Maine seaport town.

Off Astoria's backstreets, there are the old weather beaten stone and wood buildings that recall a time when the town was a thriving timber and fish cannery community.

A community of Norwegians, Swedes and Finns- hard working, stoic people who left their indelible mark on the city.

Riding a bike west down the main drag (Lief Erickson Drive) you pass the old Suomi Hall and right across the street the now closed Finnish sauna.

Swinging left and looping back to town you pass the old union hall, once one of the main centers of life.

Climbing the hills, you weave through neighborhoods filled with colorfully painted, well-maintained Victorians on quiet streets.

Ever upward with burning legs the road leads to the Astoria Column a imposing 125-foot high tower. A climb of the column's 164 steps leads to an amazing view out over the mouth of the Columbia River to the north and west and the Lewis and Clark country spreading out to the south towards Fort Clatsop.

The winds howl. The mist gathers. It's only mist but when joined with the wind seems like a driving rain. It makes you wonder how the members of the Lewis and Clark expedition didn't go mad living in Fort Clatsop's cramped confines during a winter full of weather far worse that the mist and wind of this day.

Apart from the weather, the most notable thing about Astoria is the lack of development, the lack of McMansions, the obvious lack of any impact of speculators on the town's look.

But there is some development afoot in Astoria and for the most part it's appropriate as in the renovation of old canneries and turning them into hotels and restaurants.

Take the Cannery Pier Hotel and the Bridgewater Bistro in the nearby Red Building. Both the hotel and the Red Building were built in 1896 as part of the old Union Fish Co-op.

Today Bridgewater Bistro is brilliantly designed airy restaurant with extraordinary views out over the Columbia River.

The Cannery Pier of the most comfortable boutique hotels anywhere on the coast let alone the entire country.

A short distance from the hotel and bistro, the Nippon Maru cruise ship is docked. Its passengers spill out to take the trolley downtown or to the Columbia River Maritime Museum.

Beyond museums, Astoria has is one of Oregon's most vital arts communities. From painting to photography, theater and music, there's a lot to choose from here. The upcoming (June 18 to 27) Astoria Music Festival offers a variety of classical music including Alban Berg's challenging and theatrically gripping opera, "Wozzeck".

The local arts and the scene are both dutifully reported on in the Hipfish Monthly, the local indie paper.

One of the paper's columns relates the adventures of a female cyclist dubbed "Madame Vela". In a recent bit on how to survive the tourist season, Madame notes: "The annual migration of Tourista Touristicum brings the blessings of revenue and the bane of congestion, the fun of meeting new people and the distress of ending up as their Lycra-glad hood ornament."

I read through a copy of Hipfish seated in the warmth and comfort of the aptly named Wet Dog Café, looking up from time-to-time to watch the gathering gloom and tankers and cruise ships passing by on the Columbia River.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Number 24: the life and legend of Willie Mays

Posted By on Tue, Jun 15, 2010 at 6:45 PM

"Into the box steps The Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams, " intoned the commentator as the Warner-Pathe newsreel flickered on the movie theater screen, "The Red Sox mighty slugger again wins the American league batting title with a mighty blast into the right-center field stands."

I watched that smooth swing and the blast with awe and Ted Williams became my first boyhood hero. Hero worship that entailed watching the newspapers for the box scores and tracking Williams' hits, homers, RBIs, the works.

It also meant putting a 32-ounce Louisville Slugger Ted Williams model bat on my Christmas wish list. I got it, a wood beauty that became a mighty weapon in countless sandlot baseball games.

Slugging it hard with the Ted Williams bat made me think that baseball was going to be my career when I grew up. So I started looking seriously at other ballplayers beside Williams for added inspiration.

That's when I discovered Stan Musial. He too hit left handed like Williams, but had a more coiled stance at the plate with the bat held high. And what a nickname: "The Man". He indeed became my man.

All was good hero-wise until the 1951 when all the kids could talk about was this new phenomenon named Willie Mays. Mays played the game like us-with abandon. He wasn't some adult playing professional baseball. Naw, he was a kid at heart, the "Say Hey Kid". Mays was our guy.

Talking about kids and Mays in his new book, Willie Mays... the life, the legend, James S Hirsch tells of NPR host Bill Littlefield growing up in New Jersey idolizing Mays.

"All Bill knew or cared about was his hero's special greatness on the field. It transcended race, team loyalty, even baseball itself. He later commented, 'His achievement beyond excellence was that he seemed to perform with such joy that he conveyed the impression that he was meant to do what he was doing. When you were watching him, you were watching the confluence of talent, concentration and enthusiasm that not only allowed the suspension of belief - because who could believe that anybody could do some of the things Willie Mays did?-but that also encouraged the mad notion that a world where such grace was possible must be a pretty terrific place."

And so it was a terrific place with my gang of nascent baseballers. We loved Mays and how as a rookie he helped the '51 Giants come from eight games down at the All-Star break to win forty of their last fifty games and tie the Dodgers for the National League pennant.

The came the famous three game playoff and Bobby Thompson's "shot heard round the world" homerun to win game three and send the Giants into the World Series.

From that season on the May legend grew and by the time he made "The Catch" in the '54 series against the Cleveland Indians, invented the "basket catch" and stole bases like a madmen, he became my all-time favorite player.

Now comes Hirsch's book. The first ever authorized by Mays, it's a wonderful read if you love the game in general and Mays in particular.

As much as the book is about Mays transcendent personality and zest for baseball, it's very telling in its description of the racism that faced the first African-American players to enter the big leagues.

The great Jackie Robinson tackled the racism head on, belligerently. Mays took another tack as former President Clinton noted when he said: "he had that personality that drew people to him." And Hisrch notes, that in saying this Clinton suggests that Mays did something important for social change every time he took the field.

"When you see someone doing something you admire, "Clinton continued, "the image of that makes a mockery of all forms of bigotry."

Number 24, Still the best player ever and his "catch" in 54 perhaps the greatest play ever.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Coasting: hiking through mud, mist and sun

Posted By on Sun, Jun 13, 2010 at 2:47 AM

At 3,280 feet high, Saddle Mountain, not far outside Seaside, is the highest point in northwest Oregon. On a clear day you can see Astoria to the north, Mt. Rainier to the north and east, Mt. Jefferson to the east and a whole lot of coastal Oregon to the south. Note, that's on a clear day.

On a soggy day like the one last week when a group of Bend hikers set off to reach Saddle Mountain's summit seeing ten feet in front of you was tough at times.

This was hiking through what I imagine it would be like to trek through Tolkein's mythical Mirkwood. A bit ominous looking at times with perhaps a troll under one of the wood bridges over a crystalline mountain stream or an Ent walking out of the forest to offer support and guidance.

The closest thing I can remember to having this feeling while hiking was while in the Scottish Highlands. That experience while roaming in the gloaming, like the Saddle Mountain hike, was a drenching yet beautiful.

The beauty at Saddle Mountain are the slopes of spectacular wildflowers.Especially in the diffused light under the misty skies that made each flower's brilliant colors seem even more radiant.

Besides the dazzling wildflower display, Saddle Mountain is one tough hike. Yes, it's only a mere 2.5 miles from the trailhead to the summit but the elevation gain is 1,660 feet.

Make that 1,850 feet by accurate GPS accounting that takes in not just the trail-to -summit height difference but also the dips and ensuing short steep ups along the trail.

What makes the steep hiking here a bit more difficult are long sections of gabion trail. A gabion is a box made of what looks like industrial strength chicken wire that's filled with loose rock. A gabion protects the trail from further erosion but makes for a slick hiking surface and they are notorious for breaking off hiking pole tips.

Gabion sections give an added cautionary nature to the hike as does a short downhill section of trail where a hiker stepped off to take a picture and plummeted to death this year. That same section also claimed another life when another hiker slipped on some late winter ice and sailed over the edge of the same precipice.

Nothing like that happened to the Bend hiking entourage which fared well. They slipped some, sweated profusely and saw enough moss covered trees to remind then that they were in a place where rain is the norm.

Coasting-Part II... Seaside to Cannon Beach and vice-versa.

On day two of Bend hikers go coastal, the group split in two. Some hiked the Tillamook Head south to north (Cannon Beach to Seaside) and some went north to south.

Either way, the hike turned out to be a muddy epic enhanced with downed trees. But it was sunny and a stop along the way at Indian Beach was the Oregon coast at it's-best with people enjoying the first warm sunny day in months and surfers (who knew there were so many in Oregon) forming a long lineup at the outer edges of the break.

For all the hard work, there was ice cream and beer for the hikers at the end in Seaside at the end of the day. And the realization that the town on a sunny summer Saturday makes Coney Island look downright tame.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Getting The Boot: Then end of a bad spring season for college football?

Posted By on Fri, Jun 11, 2010 at 1:20 AM

Consider me one who wasn't surprised when Phil Knight University (formerly known as the University of Oregon) quarterback Jeremiah Masoli got sacked after yet another run in with the law. Consider me even more shocked that the University's athletic department didn't try to strike a deal to get him back on the field at some point in his career. For once, the University acted properly in the case of an athletic miscreant.

Masoli blew, as so many sportswriters have written, a great opportunity. Yet not all was right as the Oregonian's John Canzano noted that after Masoli won a few games, he transformed from a seemingly decent kid into, "A pompous player who introduced himself in social situations with, 'you know, I'm the quarterback."

Given the attention lavished on Masoli and the almost unwritten rule that he could get away with anything and still play, no wonder he got a big head and truly believed he was untouchable. In his defense, he was the victim of a bad system.

A system that touches all major college football programs. For example, take Oregon State turning a blind eye to all sorts of football player transgressions this past spring. One of the most glaring was the offering of a scholarship to a young quarterback with a record of alcohol abuse and alcohol-related problems.

Sure enough, said quarterback got caught recklessly piloting a houseboat on Lake Shasta and was immediately booted from the OSU football program. Props to coach Mike Reilly for his quick and just decision.

Yet how's this for irony? Both the booted OSU quarterback and Masoli can still play somewhere else and probably will as big time university football programs really don't seem to care, in general, much about personal character.

To the big time college football programs, it's all about winning. Winning at any cost.

Meanwhile down at USC (aka the only professional football program in Los Angeles) the prevailing attitude of getting away with anything got shot down this week as the University's football program lost thirty football scholarships, a national championship season that will be voided as well as Reggie Bush losing his Heisman Trophy.

So who cares? I suspect the alums of all three universities mentioned above care a great deal. They want a winner on the field so they can crow to friends on at work on Monday morning how,"we won." No you didn't win, your hired hands won.

Getting quasi personal empowerment via the old school's football team winning has been around since Harvard first played Yale back in the dark ages. It won't change.

I attended a college whose football program was, and I suspect still is, more like a step above decent high school football. We went to the games knowing that not one player on the field was on an athletic scholarship. A few players might be on academic scholarships.

The games were fun without a lot of breast beating by alums. The school's player graduation rate was in the ninetieth percentile and most of the ex-footballers went on to have careers in finance, education, law, medicine, the military, etc.

There were two exceptions. One player during my time wasdrafted by the Chicago Bears. He made the team and for a moment held the NFL scoring record for five field goals in one game.

The other (a fraternity brother) washed out in Chicago but played in Canada's CFL. After he'd saved enough money, he quit football and went back to school to get his masters and then a PHD in education.

I always admired him and still admire all the young athletes who play college football for fun and don't get inflated egos and a false sense of entitlement only to find, as is true in so many of their cases, that the realities of life after football can be pretty harsh.
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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Mount St. Helens: where were you when the mountain blew?

Posted By on Tue, Jun 8, 2010 at 4:37 PM

The recent marking of the thirtieth anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens brought back memories and a lot of people saying, "I'll never forget where I was when I heard the news."

It was an historic moment made even more amazing because few people thought they'd ever experience a volcano becoming dangerously active in their lifetime? That is, except, perhaps, for a few academics and scientists.

Of course, there were some old timers when St. Helens started to act up who remembered when Mt. Lassen in northern California became active in 1914 and spewed steam, ash and projectiles during the late summer and early fall of 1915.

But that was ancient history. In 1980, it was history in the making.

A number of Bend locals, foremost among them Jay Bowerman of the Sunriver Nature Center and Dr. Bruce Nolf who taught geology at COCC, essentially commuted to and from the St. Helens region hoping to be there when the mountain finally blew.

Most of the rest of us in Bend just checked in on the national and regional nightly television news reports.

The day (May 18,1980) of the eruption was gorgeous spring day in Bend. A running race got off to a shotgun start under sunny warm skies in Drake Park at 9 a.m.

A few minutes later John Carroll (now living in Portland), Mike Anthony (living now in Alaska) Gary Bonacker (of Sunnyside Sports fame) and myself set off to kayak the lower Deschutes from above Maupin to Shearars Falls.

It was hot and getting hotter when we drove into Maupin and headed up river to the put-in. It was looking like a perfect day for a leisurely whitewater adventure.

Everything went well until we got near Oak Springs and a gigantic dark cloud began forming in the ski to the north and west. It grew bigger and bigger and by the time we'd paddled to lower elevator rapid a quarter mile further down stream, the cloud was just about to completely block out the sun.

It did and the air temperature dropped by 10 degrees in seconds. Fearing a major thunderstorm was headed our way, we decided to cut our trip short. We retrieved our van, loaded it up and headed back to Bend all the time watching the huge cloud grow even more massive as it moved steadily east.

On arriving home, my kids came running out of the house screaming, "Mt. St. Helens blew, Mt. St. Helens blew, and the ash cloud is coming our way."

Well the edges of the cloud mass came close but not much ash fell on Central Oregon.

A couple of weeks later, we drove to Portland for the annual Cascade Runoff footrace arriving equipped with particle masks to wear in order to protect our lungs. They weren't needed. The skies had cleared for the first time in weeks.

Yet there were places where you could see a thick piles of ash anywhere from 3 to 7 inches deep.

Had we been in Portland the day of the eruption, we might have experienced what New Yorker magazine writer, and Portland native, Susan Orlean did.

In a recent blog posting, Orlean tells of coming out of the Portland Art Museum on the day of the eruption and seeing volcanic ash that was: "As soft as baby powder, if baby powder were made of shards of glass."

Ash that, "drifted down from the whitened sky landing in dove-colored piles on the ground."

Orlean writes that the experience that day was like, "the end of the world."

Being what seemed like a world away here in Bend we missed the post-eription scary moments, the fear of what was going to happen. No long after things settled back down on St. Helens, the Oregonian printed a large photo poster of the mountain just seconds after its initial eruption. The scene was spectacularly beautiful and chilling at the same time.

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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Soaked-Part II: one more benefit of the seemingly interminable rain

Posted By on Sun, Jun 6, 2010 at 4:37 PM

Getting carried away about the firm, fast quality of our local singletrack trail system this spring is easy if you're an avid mountain bike rider. But as many people are discovering, being able to go fast and dust-free is but one of the benefits of all this rain. The other benefit, if you slow down and pay attention while riding, is the incredible wildflower display.

Never is my over three decades of living here have there been such a wildflower display. A ride at the Maston Allotment for example has turned from a roll through a somewhat blah landscape filled with junipers to one through trailside swaths of yellow flowers, brilliant small red and purple flowers, bunches of tiny white flowers and clumps of daisies.

By my less than expert identification, a Maston ride this past Saturday yielded asters, desert parsley, larkspur, buckwheat, golden gilia, western grounsel, cushion daisy and lupine.

A few of these identifications may be incorrect. It would have been nice to have had Dr. Stu Garrett from the Oregon Native Plant Society along on the ride to make the proper identifications.

Whatever the wild flowers are they've flourished because of the rains. Along the Maston Loop, on the Gray Butte trails and out at Horse Ridge there are places where the wildflowers are breathtaking. Not in the high Cascades pastures of plenty sense but in a more understated high desert version of small splashes of color brightening the muted landscape.

Ride abit more slowly and take in what might be a once in a lifetime high desert spring wildflower display.

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Friday, June 4, 2010

Soaked: a benefit from the seemingly interminable rain

Posted By on Fri, Jun 4, 2010 at 8:01 PM



There’s a line in the song “That’s Life”, made famous by Francis Albert Sinatra, that goes “riding high in April, shot down in May,” that could be rephrased, for local mountain bikers, to go something like: “riding high in April, May and June.”


Let’s go back to the second, and very warm and sunny, weekend in March when a friend and I rode the Maston Allotment loop. Three-quarters of the way through the ride we encountered about a quarter mile long section of loose sand. “Well,” my friend commented, ” it looks like the end of the riding season here.”


Then the rains came and with them some extraordinary April, May and now June riding.


In the past two weeks, the Maston loop has been as good as it ever has  been. In fact the friend mentioned above and I have had several of our fastest rides (not because of us but because of the firm trail) ever on that loop in the past month.


Meanwhile, Phil of Phil’s Trail fame checked in this week to say he’d ridden Horse Ridge over the Memorial Day weekend and said the dirt was as good as it gets.


The litany of rave reviews could go on forever. So suffice to say, that while it’s been one weird wet spring, the silver lining to the cloud of damp has been some of the best spring mountain biking I can remember in this area.


Hikers and trail runners are in agreement. The rain has made the trails perfect for them. Trails that will remain somewhat moon dust free much later into the summer months than normal.


Imagine being able to ride, run or hike one of your favorite winter trails well into summer and having those trails devoid of nostril clogging, eye irritating, body dirtying moon dust.


Carpe diem. Get out and do it. Our local trails will never be in better shape.

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Muddied: a comeuppance in the Hood

Posted By on Tue, Jun 1, 2010 at 3:45 PM



As is often the truth, the moment someone gets a bit cocky, a bit over confident, they get slapped back down to earth. And so it was with me this past weekend.


Coming off a good late winter/spring mountain biking season, I felt like I was riding well and ready to tackle something hard. I did and in the process I got squashed, flattened and deflated.


The site of my humiliation was the Post Canyon trail system just a bit west of Hood River. It’s a popular area especially among those of the “freeride” mountain bike persuasion. That means there are a lot of sketchy downhill sections, big air possibilities and all sorts of constructed stunts (teeter-totters etc)


The trail system’s builders have done an excellent job if you like to go big, enjoy wearing all sorts of body armor and have little fear of losing your life in an epic crash.


And if you ride Post Canyon, you gotta like skinny singletrack (about 6 inches on average narrower than trails in this neck of the woods) and mud.


Mud rules this time of year at Post Canyon and the ooze the day I rode there was super slick. So slick that on one long steep (read scary) downhill, I dismounted only to slide the entire length of the slope like I was skiing it.


My partner for the ride was a Hood River local who rode the trail with aplomb while I struggled to get used to the seemingly interminable sharp uphill switchback turns, the sudden sharp bumps, and the roots.  Exposed wet roots proved super slick.


We started out our ride with a climb of some 800 feet and then hit a trail that traversed the side of a thickly wooded canyon. I was riding cautiously when suddenly I was off the trail and doing a double cartwheel fall down a steep embankment into a thicket of ferns and bushes.


I survived but was shaken and rode the rest of the ride with trepidation to say the least.


As we started the long final descent back to the trailhead, a guy wearing a combat-worthy helmet and lots of padded body armor passed me. Seeing him only reinforced the fact that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.


Post Canyon is a great place to ride if you are not a charter member, as I am, of the WMBA (Wimp Mountain Bike Association). We wimps like our local trails to flow nicely, that don’t change direction every ten feet and are normally free of mud and roots.


We also like to come home with a clean bike and not spend an hour cleaning it thoroughly. Also not having to launder your bike clothes after every mud spattered ride is a plus.


But all excuses and complaints aside, I was humbled. Thanks to Post Canyon for making me realize that I still got a lot of things to perfect in my mountain bike riding.


Postcript: Two days after my disaster in the Hood, I decided to try a local ride in hopes of redeeming some self-esteem.


A friend and I rode the lower Mrazek. I came back full of gratitude to COTA and particularly to Phil Meglasson for designing a trail that not only put a grin on my face but made me realize that I can still ride a trail that flows.

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