Back in the Saddle



My first bike commute of 2017 after one of our many stormy days of this great January weather.
My commute is one of the most important parts of my life. I know that is an extremely strange thing for a modern, office-dwelling US individual to say, but in my case it’s true. And it’s because of one reason: I commute on my bicycle. Bike commuting is one of the bedrocks of my life. It starts my day right: I think about the day ahead, daydream, take photos, listen to music … all the while pedaling.



More scenes from that gorgeous first day on the bike. 

 Especially with the completion of the McCarran bike path and it’s interlinking with the Tahoe-Pyramid Bikeway and the river path, my commute is Reno has become a great pleasure. From our doorstep to downtown Reno I travel along (well on one side busy McCarran) the UNR Farms, a great piece of the remaining green space in the Truckee Meadows, then along the river path whose twists and turns reveal and hide the river’s trace, Mount Rose, Peavine. It also reveals a lot of industrial development, and heartbreaking scenes of homeless people, illegal immigrants, and other tortured souls carrying out their days. It is sobering to see the juxtaposition of our area’s great beauty with the pain that modern existence engenders in so many. But even that makes my day become real, and reminds me to keep myself in check, that my problems are just a tiny drop in a vast ocean.


Filled with gamblers, from outside the GSR is a landmark on the river path. Here from my second ride home of the year. 

I have always been a bike commuter, at least ever since I arrived in Eugene, Oregon. Those bikes and moments stay with me. Riding across town on my first commuter, a classic Schwinn Cruiser. Bike/bus commuting from our home way out on the Mackenzie River and then riding Manhattan on my Trek mountain bike. The Surly came into my life in Richmond, where it carried me sweating across town and Miami, and Reno. The only city I ever lived in where I don’t think I ever bike commuted was Santiago, Chile, for one summer/winter.



The UNR farms on my way to work this morning. 

But this year has not started promising on the bike commute front. A combination of the weather (which has been impressive) and lethargy have kept me behind the wheel of an automobile. On Friday I rode for only the second time this year. And the paths were fine, and then we had a great biking weekend, and then I biked again today, so some rhythm is building.

But I’m still behind. I’ve worked 18 workdays so far in 2017 and I have bike commuted 3 times, so 16.66%. I should be well over 50% so this situation won’t last for sure. I’m keeping track and am going to see how fast it takes for me to get back over 50% and then if I can keep up the momentum and going to keep my stats for the year for days on bike versus days in the tube. If I don’t drive again, I should make it back to over 50% pretty much toward the end of February. We’ll see how it goes!

Dreaming about a day on our bikes in the South Egans


The first lighting of the South Egans and Shingle Peak, which would be our companion for most of the day.

August 23, 2015. Camped in the shadow of an old windmill. Long day today, but beautiful and high spirits.


Our Kirch camp. Where we had spent Renee’s birthday the day before.

Started pretty early. The storms pushed out the smoke and when we awoke before sunrise all of the mountains around were crystal clear. It didn’t take long for the haze to make its way back though.


This is how you begin a day!

First thing detour to the Hot Creek pool where we bathed alone in the soft light. Tremendous and now when I am trying to sleep among all of the things from today it is what I want to remember.


Renee feeling her oats at the start of the Shingle Pass climb.

The morning ride out to the highway and to the rest area was silky smooth, mostly. A nice trucker at the rest area was very curious about us and offered us water bottles. The first of only two people we interacted with all day. Then a few miles up a rather corrugated highway and we were on Shingle Pass Road. There was a guy with an ATV there, interaction number 2, we asked him about the road, which he was right about, it’s been great, but he also said there was “lots” of water in Cave Valley, this bit of knowledge certainly hasn’t gushed forth haha so we have a dry camp, due to a mishap I’ll share in due time.


Shingle Peak.

From the turn of Shingle Pass up to the mountains a bright steep line of gravel road daunting although Renee says it didn’t bother her too much. She did spook a cow through the fence, in all fairness to the side it looked it should have been on in the first place. Otherwise just pedaling, steady, in low gear straight up; our only marks of progress noted by looking back or watching the looming cliffed mass of Shingle Peak grow nearer like a castle protecting the pass from marauding giants or dragons, but now haunted and fallen into ruins. It dominated the skyline for the majority of the day.


A grand day and a grand place and a grand girl. Life is good!

So up and up, eating here, resting in the shade there. My shoes still hurting tried adjusting more often but nothing does the trick so finally switched to sneakers, which also hurt but nothing so bad. Finally crested Shingle Pass and after some lunch started whoopty-doing the way down over these tremendous shining white rolling hills into the Cave Valley. The mountains beyond striking cliff faces glowing white and gray.


Hijinks descending into Cave Lake Valley.

In the bottom a nice ranch, but, on the last up and down pinched a tire. Stopped to fix it and found out that the big dromedary, which had been inside the dry bag, was leaking from its lid. We lost maybe a third of its water and so that’s why we’re on water rations although we’re only about 20 miles to Ward Charcoal Ovens where there should be water. Put a spin of excitement and through combination of dehydration and power of suggestion I feel thirsty.


The places we find ourselves and where we want to be.

Walked up hill behind the camp and sat in juniper shade for a while looking at our tiny camp below. Ate cold mini bagels and then dived into bed. Our plan to get to Ward early. Goodnight.


Our dry camp from the hill above.


Good night from the Egans.

NOTE: It’s a tired, cold night here in Reno and I feel like daydreaming about some places and adventures, so I’ve taken my journal entry from the day and added pictures. I’ve started a new category for memory lane trips I want to share, Day Dreaming. Just a couple of notes about the route: We passed Whipple Caves. It was just a ways off the road, but given that you need to know what in the heck you are doing and have special equipment in order to access, and that it apparently doesn’t show much just from the top, we passed. But this account of a visit is well worth reading. And we went near and along the Far South Egan Range Wilderness.

How to Read the American West: Indie Bookstores and a Day Out in Reno


Reno bike day fun day. Headed from the museums up into the Carson Range foothills for a baby shower/bbq.


Our Independent Bookstore Day goodies and purchases, including How to Read the American West in the foreground.


A dose of Reno pride on Holcomb Street as we ride by. Much food for thought after beginning my reading.

This past Saturday, Renee organized a full Reno day for us, we left the house at 8:15 headed first stop for Sundance Bookstore, which was celebrating National Independent Bookstore Day with a free goodie bag giveaway to the first 25 customers. We were officially first, arriving about 10 minutes before the store opened (although not by much). I love browsing in Sundance and indie bookstores in general. In contrast to a chain store, where I feel drowned and need to just get what I’m looking for and get out, a friendly bookstore like Sundance invites browsing and reflection. Browsing, one book caught my eye, How to Read the American West: A Field Guide by William Wyckoff. I’d never heard of the author before, but I’m very interested in interpretations of landscape and so I snapped the book up (and a signed copy to boot!).

From Sundance (after a detour for tea and coffee in the neighborhood), we rode up to UNR and took part in Free Museum Day. We visited the Natural History Museum, the Keck Geology Museum, the Anthropology Museum, the Library Special Collections display and the Nevada Historical Society. The collection (and the live animals!) at the Natural History Museum were great, but my imagination was more caught by the geology museum, set in an old building and filled with dazzling (literally in many cases) specimens from Nevada and around the world, and the Nevada Historical Society, especially its Reno exhibit.


A Reno divorce era newspaper article, with an oddly worded caption and a divorcee riding a cow into a bar, six guns blazing.


The Phone Booth, great neon sign at the Nevada Historical Society.

From there, onward up through subdivisions built into the slopes of the Carson Range to a baby shower, then back down the hill to Craft Wine & Beer‘s Txakoli Festival. Afterward we were pretty beat and had a leisurely afternoon ride home. Even though we’d been on our bikes since early morning, we weren’t quite ready to call it a day and so we rode out our neighborhood dog walking site/elementary school and sat along the old farmland beyond the school and watched the moonrise over Hidden Valley and the Virginia Range.

I’ve been reading in How to Read the American West and it is a really interesting and a bit more rigourous, less metaphysical take on landscape that my earlier explorations, but an interesting read and what I think will be eye-opening in many ways. Here are a few of the lessons from the first chapter that have been giving me food for thought. I hope to develop and apply these principles to later posts, but for now I’ll just list what the author gives as his “Tips for Navigating Western Landscapes”:

  • Appreciate the role of time.
  • Recognize that landscapes are expressions of the interplay between nature and culture.
  • Follow the path of water.
  • Recognize the importance of scale.
  • Pay attention to the edges in the landscape.
  • Develop an eye for measuring landscape density.
  • Ask who controls the landscape.
  • Make connections between western places and the cultures that shaped them.
  • Understand how the modern latinization of the West is the region’s most extreme recent cultural transformation.
  • Visit vernacular landscapes.
  • Inventory symbolic landscapes and representations of places.
  • Remember that what you see depends on the experiences you bring with you, the questions you pose, and the details you emphasize.

Note: These are quotes, but this is not a bulleted list in the book. This is the order in which they are given. See pages 5–15. Full citation: Wyckoff, William. How to Read the American West: A Field Guide (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014).


Night sky as we unwinded from the day. I’m really looking forward to applying lessons and insights from my new book into my “reading” of landscapte.

I find landscape to be fascinating and have been exploring it in my mind (and physically) for a long time. It will be a good exercise I think to have a more systematic approach to what I think about when I think about it.

A Ride to Carson City, Eilley Bowers, and Carson Valley Monkeyflowers 

South on Old 395 on a Sunday morning, love those empyty roads!

We woke up early on one of these recent spring mornings, our stuff all packed up the night before, and got on our bikes for a  ride to Carson City where Renee had convinced me we should go to take part in a Carson Valley monkeyflower survey. Since we had the whole day with no plans, Renee sweetened the deal by suggesting we take our bikes.

Getting a pretty early start for our first ride ina long time!

 We haven’t been on our bikes too much lately and it was a bit of a struggle starting out, cutting over  to Virginia Street/Old 395 I wasn’t sure we’d make it all the way at all, much less on time. But we had the road more or less to ourselves on an early Sunday morning through Pleasant Valley, up over Washoe Hill, and down into the valley. With just a bit of a breeze some parts felt like a battle. And such a beautiful morning, why not just turn around, sit in the sun, start to take it easy? But we were determined and pushed forward and soon enough (20 minutes early) we pulled into the parking area for the trails behind the Great Basin CC and met up with our other surveyees, the dedicated members of the Nevada Native Plant Society.

Carson Valley monkeyflower hunting with the Nevada Native Plant Society

I was definitely out of my element with all the latin names flying around (the Carson Valley monkeyflower is Erythranthe carsonensis, but I only know that because of the Internet), but it was a pleasure to spend time with these people who are interested in each and every one of the plants that we walked by. Renee was like a kid in a candy store! The Carson Valley monkeyflower is a threatened plant that exists in a very limited geographical range. It like sandy scrub soil in sagebrush/bitterbrush slopes, much of which has become housing developments.

Best pic of the little guys, needed a fancy camera for this one

 With this dry year too, the little guys were pretty well hidden. Renee showed me one at first, and I thought I had it down, but the first one I thought I saw turned out to be something else. But it didn’t matter too much, just walking and looking intensely at the ground for something was sort of meditative and it felt nice to walk after the miles on our bikes. I did sort of despair of ever finding my own, but toward of the end of the walk I did see a few that weren’t pointed out to me by someone else, which felt like a victory.

After lunch, starting up the big hill out of Carson City

 Then it was back down to the bikes, lunch on the deserted community college campus, a side trip for another nearby variety of monkeyflower. Faced the whole time with the big climb out of Carson City. But by the time we got back on our bikes we both felt better than we had in the morning and although it is a tough climb we rocked it and the ride through the Carson Valley on Franktown Road was an absolute delight of dappled pine tree shady lane with big views of the valley meadows.  


Franktown Road on a perfect spring afternoon

 We stopped and lazed away a bit of the afternoon at Bowers Mansion State Park. I’d been there before, but never really walked around the site very much, and it has quite a story. At its heart is the magnetic figure of Eilley Bowers. She was born in Scotland, made her way to North America with her recently converted to Mormonism husband. The story gets long but detours through in Virginia City where she makes a fortune in silver and oversees the construction of Bowers Mansion. Silver Rush money being what it is she lost it all and after all the windy path, she ends her days as a fortuneteller/street person in Reno and San Francisco. A legend. So much packed into that, a grand novel of the West, but instead of published it remains inscribed in this French style mansion on a quiet lane in Washoe Valley. 

A good long rest in the shade at Bowers Mansion

 After a nice relaxing rest, it was time back on the bikes for the ride back to town. The miles melted away wonderully now, energy of course building energy and, after a stop in south Reno for a bit of lunch #2, we were home tired and sore but feeling better than when we left. Bicycle Magic!