Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Winter Months

So, for any old readers of this blog who happen to stumble on it again, you may notice that some months are missing and Matt has disappeared. We ended our historic fall trip in San Diego in early December and Matt made his way to South America, where he still roams, chasing the wave. In June we are scheduled to guide a Chilkoot Trail/Yukon River trip together, so I expect some stories. I spent December, January and most of February in California, visiting some schools and adventuring here and there. It was a particularly snowy winter in southern California, so the skis and snowshoes got some use. On a college tour in the LA region, I picked kumquats at the Tenenbaum house in the morning and skinned up the San Gorgonio mountains in the afternoon.
Another weekend I went with my wonderful and patient girlfriend, Kristin, to the little mountain town of Idyllwild. We stayed in a cozy little cabin and christening our new fondue pot, then went for an epic 10 hour snowshoe ascent of 11,000 ft. Mt. San Jacinto the following day, getting up high on the escarpment and looking out across the desert to the Salton Sea.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


It's late in Chapel Hill. Someone at open mike night is covering Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee."

Visiting this legendary basketball school on a cool day in March inspires the Fact of the Day:
The Fried Piper has thus far visited eight schools in the NCAA tournament, with three more scheduled before the tour finishes on April 11.

Hitchin' Post

When you kayak alone on rivers, you get to do a fair amount of hitch hiking. Luckily, when you’re standing in goofy looking clothes, dripping wet and shivering, people tend to stop. It looked bleak in unpopulated north Alabama, after my run on the Little River, but then a Park Service law enforcement guy took pity on me. I sat shotgun with his shotgun.
Ben Franklin picked me up after my first paddle on the Rio Grande, an eight mile section through Colorado Canyon in Big Bend State Park, upriver from the National Park. Ben Franklin and his wife Debbie. I wasn’t even hitching, just contemplating my impending bicycle shuttle into a headwind, with a seat I’d forgotten to tighten. He pulled,over, offered a ride and I accepted. Debbie gave up the front seat and sat silently in back of me the whole way. Ben was the very epitome of the good ole boy Texan stereotype. Very polite and expansive. I told him about my paddle and he asked if I’d seen any Mexicans. I could tell right away that if I said, “Why, yes, I saw three and shot them dead," he would have been fine with that. It went south quickly with a diatribe worthy of a Minuteman blog quickly building.
“…And none of these politicians will touch it, not even John McCain, who will most-likely be our next president. And Hillary knows she just needs to get these illegals to vote for her and she’s all set.”
He’s referring to the Texas primary, just a few days away.
“But illegals can’t vote,”I protest in that gentle way I learned when I first started hitch-hiking.
“BUT THEY DO! How do you think Bill Richardson got elected governor of New Mexico?”
I attempt something lame about legal hispanics recognizing the need for a solution, but bristling at the overt racism inherent in much of the anti-immigration voice. He doesn’t buy it.
“I used to feel that way, that compassionate conservative stuff. But I tell you what: it’s like someone breaks into your house, steals everything, cooks you breakfast, then asks to stay.”
I don’t really follow the metaphor, but luckily we’ve arrived back at the van.
The next day after my overnight paddle, truly freezing from a temperature drop of 40 degrees, I was picked up
by two more classic Texas characters, Boyd and his wife’s first cousin, Charlie. They threw my boat in the back of the truck and told me stories of canoeing the river as kids and taking mules up to the little villages on the Mexican side. I sunk deep in my seat, lulled by the beautiful heat blowing through the cab and the soft cadence of their thick Texas accents.

The Demonet Family

Greg's family has grown since I last saw him ten years ago. Little Autumn is now a teenager, he's married to Paula and they have two more daughters, Elianna,2.5, and Emma Grace, 3 months.
A proper mountain time ensued including fire, music, church, beer, chicken, cycling in the Smoky Mtn NP, and some proper late night up-catching.

Run In with the Sherriff in Sylva, NC

On the right is Ceil Clausen, the widow of my paternal grandfather. In the middle is her neighbor, who called the police three times to report a "suspicious person and vehicle", on the left is the county sherriff who responded.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

My Own Private SXSW

Suck it, all you hipster music bloggers sipping lattes in Austin right now. I've had my very own SXSW festival over the past week, without the $650 wristband, long lines, or insufferable pretentious prattle.
In Austin, I managed to see four of the very best local acts as they geared up for the festival onslaught with inspired shows to appreciative and manageable crowds at the very cool Continental Club on S. Congress.

And,since many roads to Austin pass through Nashville, I was able to catch two of the most (deservedly) hyped bands out of the 1700 playing the festival, in warm-up shows on the way to Austin. For $10 at the door I caught a hauntingly beautiful, melodic set from Bon Iver followed by a blistering throw-down from awesome Canadian psych-rock outfit Black Mountain. And, burning used grease the whole way, my carbon footprint was almost nil. Take that, sustainability bloggers!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Sweet Foam Alabama

Scouting a 45 foot drop on the Little River.


The Fried Piper made it to New Orleans( a fried city if ever there was one), on a beautiful saturday morning just in time for beignets and chicory coffee at Cafe du Monde. Scoring grease proved to be a challenge. It was hard to get to, hydrogenated, or filthy. Finally I turned to one of the luminaries of New Orleans cookery, celebrity chef and transplanted New Englander Emeril Lagasse. He set me me up with enough high-class grease from Delmonico to get to the border.

In Hattiesburg, Mississippi,150 yards from the Interstate you'll find a Japanese restaurant with a tank filled with the nicest grease this side of Austin. Further north, you'll tune into a great live music radio show from Oxford. You'll want to check out this legendary literary town, but the road leads NW, to a rest area in Alabama....

Hanging out with James McMurtry in Austin

He was enthralled with my tales of the road, clearly...............

On to Austin

In 28 hours I saw five music performances, did some marketing work for IWLS at UT-Austin and an outdoor store, rode my bike along the river, ate some delicious tamales, watched the evening emergence of thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats, and scored 40 gallons of beautiful, kosher grease from the UT Hillel. I love this town.


Students took me out to see the two
real live ursi americanus at Baylor University.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Big Bend

Hello from Austin. Way too nice to blog. I've got a million stories, hopefully I'll be someplace more boring soon....

Saturday, March 01, 2008


Slept on a USFS road in the Gila National Forest on Tuesday and drove through the mountains to Hillsboro, NM on my way to NM State in Las Cruces. Then back north to Albuquerque.
In Albuquerque, I was hosted in fine style by Dara and Jeremy Johnson. Dara is the sister of my old friend and colleague Ben Houdek. Last year I worked with the third Houdek, Josh, lobbying Congress in support of a wilderness bill, so it was nice to meet Dara and round out the Houdektrifecta. Jeremy was busy in his role as outdoor programs director for a prep-school, so Dara and I biked and hiked around the area and hunted for grease. I found a huge score at a sushi place just down the street from their house, but the bin was locked. Decided to ask just to be sure. “We’ve been waiting for you,” the manager replied. Hmm. He’s made arrangements with someone and thinks I’m the one. Do I fess up, or just play along and score the fill-up? I fess up. “Uh, you must be mistaken. I’m just passing through.”
“Yeah, the bin’s full and we’ve been waiting for someone like you to show up and empty it for us. Go help yourself.” Someone like me…..

So the impeller in my gathering and transfer pump is broken and a new one and while Golden Fuel is great about shipping a new one, they can’t get it to me any sooner than Waco, some 1000 miles down the road. I result to the old dip and slop method. This works, but leaves me covered in grease and sweat. My high tech system has been taken back to a more primitive era. I resemble Daniel Plainview in the early scenes of There Will Be Blood. After a crazy time searching every business that supplies pumps to the southwest, I finally locate a hand-crank cast iron unit thanks to Dara. It will get me to Waco, but it won’t be easy. It’s a cool device though, really heavy and bright red, like something from a firefighting museum.

Now back south to Las Cruces- El Paso- Big Bend NP........