Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 Helmet-Cam Retrospective

Let me start by saying that, in general, I think it’s kind of pretentious to do a retrospective-year-in-review-type post, because doing so implies that a) the blog is more important/has a bigger audience than it actually does, b) the year was somehow exceptional or notable, which it really wasn’t (with the obvious though admittedly not-world-shattering exception that it was the first year I had a helmet-cam), c) even if it was an exceptional year, that I would somehow be in any way more qualified than any other Average Joe to, er, retrospect it, d) that the visual content of this blog somehow merits review/re-posting, and e) I think they always come off as a wee pit pretentious.

But, I’m doing it anyway, because a) I’ve been looking at a bunch of old helmet-cam clips this past week, which have really highlighted the remarkable changes in the living world over the course of the year, b) it allows me to get a post up during this quasi-nether-week without doing any real* research, and c) I guess, if we’re completely honest, I am just a wee bit pretentious.

*Just to be clear- the issue here is that I am lazy- not that I am unimaginative, or in any way out of cool post ideas. In fact I have a great two-fer brewing for next week, about a cool predator and hearing.

I get this weird thing about seasons every year. In the Summer I’ll be walking around in shorts and a T-shirt, maybe hiking or biking past some spot in the woods up in the mountains, and I’ll think that in just a few months, the forest all around me will be leafless, freezing cold, and under several feet of snow. And while I know it consciously, I just can’t really believe it. It just doesn’t seem intuitively possible that the same place could be so different in such a short time. Then 6 months later, skiing or what-not in the backcountry, I’ll have the exact opposite experience, looking around at the frozen silent forest, trying to imagine it green and leafy and warm and full of flowers and hummingbirds and dragonflies, and I just can’t really believe that it’ll be that different so soon. That all this snow will somehow melt away and the dead forest will just come back to life.

Tangent: I’ve been fascinated by the place-change effect of seasons for a long time, since long before starting this project, or even knew anything about forests. In the summer of 2001 I decided to photograph the same spot on the same trail weekly throughout the Summer/Fall. I didn’t see it through, but still have some of the old photos, reposted below.

Johns Slide

During past winters I’ve sometimes reality-checked myself by looking through photos from the preceding summer, which helps, but a still photo is just that- a still. But this year, looking at old video-clips, I’ve found a connection to the past cycle of seasons I never managed to experience before.

So anyway, I started to do a kind of a month-by-month helmet-cam retrospective, intending to document the change of seasons and be all kind of artsy and such, but by the time I got to May, I thought, “Man, this is a lot of singletrack through leafless scrub-oak footage…” So instead, I’m just going post a bunch of my favorite helmet-cam clips from 2010. Here we go:

The Clips, Already

Some of the best early season clips I got were down South. This is a portion of the descent of Upper JEM outside of Hurricane, UT, traversing the upper 3 members* of the Moenkopi formation. The trail is lined mainly with Blackbrush and the occasional Utah Juniper up top, with Rabbitbrush and Mormon Tea joining in lower on down. I love the flow of this clip, the way the land changes color as we tranisition between geologic members, the weird light and ominous clouds. Pine Valley Range in the distance.

*Upper Red, Shnabkaib, Middle Red

Tangent: Yes, that’s right. The helmet-cam was my Christmas present last year. What’s that? What did I get this year? Well, I received several nice gifts, eyeclops but one of the most interesting was a pair of Eyeclops Nightvision Infrared Binoculars. They’re not real night vision binoculars, like the kind of light-amplifying devices used by the military and such, but rather an infrared flashlight attached to a camera-viewer. It’s a fun little toy and I hope to use it for things like night-time bug-hunting, maybe checking out scorpions and such down in the desert come spring.

But in playing around with it (pic below, left = living room chair viewed in darkness) , I discovered a curious and unexpected side effect,Chair in IR which is this: it appears that artificial hair coloring doesn’t show up in infrared light. [I actually have a great photo that displays the effect, but unfortunately I can’t post the photo here, for reasons I can’t really get into.*] Meaning that when you look at someone with colored hair through the infrared viewer, their hair looks gray or white. You can actually pick up the viewer, scan a room full of people, and instantly see who’s dying their hair- Isn’t that freaky??

*Because Awesome Wife would likely leave me if I posted it. If you’re a real-world friend and want to see it, email me- it is way, way freaky.

Back in March I was in the same area with the team, and filmed this clip of the road descent into La Verkin with Teammate-Perry. I like this one for the rush of speed, as well as the physio-geographic significance: We’re crossing the Hurricane Fault here, dropping off the very, very Western edge of the Colorado Plateau and into the Basin and Range country, which extends clear to the Sierra Nevada.

Further down in the Mojave, this clip is from outside Blue Diamond, just outside of Las Vegas. The riding is slow and light dim, but I love the otherworldly feel of this ridge, following the faint singletrack, as well as the sense of solitude and open space just ~20 miles from the spawl and noise of the city. The tall yuccas alongside the trail are Spanish Dagger. Spring Range in the distance.

OK, this one isn’t helmet-cam, but I’m including it anyway. It’s driving across a wash in the Mojave, specifically Beaver Dam Wash, the lowest point in Utah. I love the blast of sun and green and water all together way out in the middle of this dry, spiky expanse of desert.

Tangent: What’s that? You’re wondering what else I got for Christmas. Well I got whole bunch of great books on my latest obsession, er, I mean interest- history of the first peoples in the Americas, and in the Great Basin in particular. (My recent rock art encounters have piqued my curiosity.) And I got some CDs and some more of that quick-drying underwear, and oh, yeah, this:

tallboy OK, so I bought myself that one…

Back up in Utah, this is one of one of my favorite stretches of Gooseberry Mesa, the South rim. Following Hunky Neighbor here, we’re rolling across the Shinarump Conglomerate, which marks the transition from Moenkopi to Chinle formations. About a minute in we roll up onto the next Chinle member “up”- the Lower Sandstone Member. We’re passing by Blackbrush, Mormon Tea, Cliffrose, Turbinella Oak, Utah Juniper and Singleleaf Piñon. Little Creek Mesa in the distance.

Closer to home, a couple of May bird-sightings. Here’s a male Black-Headed Grosbeak singing alongside the Shoreline Trail up above the Capitol…

And here’s a soaring Red-Tailed Hawk from Jack’s Peak. Oquirrh Range, Great Salt Lake, Antelope Island and Salt Lake Salient* in the distance.

*No, I haven’t explained this yet- it’s the geologic formation that comprises what I generally refer to as the “foothills” at the North end of Salt lake Valley. We’ll get to it when I do my Geology of the Wasatch post. (And yes, I will do a Geology of the Wasatch post one day and it will be awesome- my veritable Wasatch Opus. You will not want to miss it.)

Around the 1st week of June the forests around 7,000 – 8,000 feet practically explode in greenery. Here’s a clip from up in Pinebrook. The leaves (mainly Maple & Aspen) are only partway out, still that light, lime green color, and the underbrush (mainly Ninebark & Snowberry) though green, is still low, only recently freed from the weight of the snowpack.

Just 2 weeks later, on the eve of the solstice, I took this clip from the Northern (and best) stretch of the Mid-Mountain trail, passing through several Aspen groves. You can’t see it in the clip, but the trail is lined with blooming Sticky Geranium and Wild Rose.

I did some cool summer road trips this year. This clip is from along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, riding the Rainbow Rim Trail. The tall conifers are Ponderosa pines. In stretches we pass through stands of Gambel Oak and New Mexican Locust. Out at the point we roll by a couple of Colorado Piñons, and finish off with a corridor of blooming Cliffrose. This section smelled fantastic. (At 2:27 I glance into the inner gorge.)

This clip turned out cool. It’s the full moon rising over the Paunsaugunt as I pedaled the bike path back to camp. There are all kinds of cool conifers on the Paunsaugunt. It’s hard to tell in the dark, but I’m pretty sure we’re passing through Douglas Fir and Ponderosa.

OK, another non helmet-cam clip, but a good view of Redfish Lake up in the Stanley Basin of Idaho.

Earlier that same day, here’s a clip from up on the ridge on the West side of the lake (so on the right side of the previous clip) with some nice views of the lake. The trees on this stretch are Douglas Fir, and geologically I suspect I’m rolling over a glacial moraine, not from the last glacial advance, but from the one before, likely ~100,000 years ago.

Later on that vacation, here’s a clip from our campsite on the Lochsa River up in Northern Idaho.

Tangent: I just realized that reading the 2 previous tangents, you probably think that the only thing I care about around Christmas is getting presents. I assure you, nothing could be further from the truth. For while I certainly enjoy receiving gifts, I certainly know what really makes Christmas a truly unique, special and magical time, which of course is Making Fun of People’s Holiday Cards. Oh come on, you know you do it too. Every family has a Crazy Aunt or some such who sends out a whacky form letter every year that you and your significant other just can’t wait to get.* Actually, in all seriousness, I like Christmas card-form-letters**. Yes, sometimes they have a lot of detail, but they’re a great way to get caught up on the lives of friends and family you don’t get to see very often.

*Sadly, my own Crazy Aunt stopped sending us her card/letter a few years ago. I can’t figure out if she stopped doing it altogether, or somehow got wind of me making fun of it and took me off the list. It’s a shame, I loved it. It was always written in this super-happy upbeat tone, but kept mentioning things that seemed borderline inappropriate for a Christmas card. Actual line from a past edition: “After breaking off his engagement, Tad*** bought a VW Rabbit and moved to California…”

**Except for the downer ones. You know, the ones that go, “It’s been a year of challenges for the Hetzweigs; Hal lost his job in May, Betty’s back in rehab, and we had to put down Rasputin this year, but we’re hopeful little Petey will learn to cope with his deep anger issues…” Gee, I’m sorry it’s been rough, but did you have to dump all this on us the week before Christmas? Couldn’t you have emailed me or something back in October?

***Not his real name.

The truth is, there’s only one type of holiday card that drives me batty, and that is the Card With New, Unidentified, Unannounced and Unexplained Family Members. I’m not talking babies or pets here- I’m talking adults. Several years ago one of my cousins sent us all a card with a picture of him, his wife, their 2 teenage sons, and… another teenaged boy. We don’t see this cousin but every few years, but so far as we knew, he’d always had 2 kids. Could we have somehow missed one over the years? We doubted it. The card had no explanation, and we chat so infrequently with him, his parents or his siblings that there wasn’t a smooth way to just call him up on some other pretext and say, “Oh, BTW, who’s the other teenager on your Christmas card?” And because we felt awkward asking, by the time the next year’s card came around (again, with mystery teen) it was too late to ask, and so… anyway it was like 2 or 3 years before we were clued in*.

*He was a teen from a troubled home who played basketball with their sons and whom they took in and became his legal guardians. A totally awesome, inspiring story. I just wish they’d noted it in the card so we weren’t scratching our heads (and then semi-faking like we already knew) for so long…

This year, we got a card from AW’s cousin, a single(?) man with a young son. The card said, “Happy Holidays from the Jones* Family” and had a photo of the cousin, his son, a middle-aged woman and 3 teenaged girls. Who are these people? No note, no names, no nothing**. None of these women were in his card last year. We hadn’t heard of a wedding or even a serious girlfriend and suddenly we get the Brady Bunch Christmas card… We are totally clueless…

*Not his real name.

**Which is ironic, because this is the kind of Christmas card that totally merits a lengthy detailed form-letter…

Closer to home, the Wasatch Crest always makes for good video. This clip is from SkiBikeJunkie, Coryalis and my 83-mile Fourth of July Super-Crest tour. You can tell by the low brush/grasses and the light Aspen leaves that it’s still early in the summer. In addition to the usual Wasatch characters, we pass a number of Limber Pines between around 1:00 and 1:20.

For comparison, here’s a piece of that same stretch, exactly 2 months later. Check out how much higher (and drier) the grasses are, and how the Aspen leaves are now a dark, mature green.

This next clip I like- even with the problematic lighting- because it’s one of my favorite stretches of Great Western Trail, and also because it’s my only helmet-cam clip of, er, me. SBJ was kind enough to film it later during the Super-Crest ride. The conifers in the shady sections here are mostly Engelmann Spruce, which do real well on these North-facing slopes*

*And have been doing even better following a century+ of fire suppression in the Wasatch.

Here’s part of that same stretch 3 months later, the trail now lined with fallen Aspen leaves. Passing through the darker Spruce stands, the golden underbrush seems almost to glow, lighting up the forest from below.

The colors peaked in mid-October. Here’s another stretch of Mid-Mountain, about 2 miles North, and 4 months after, the Solstice-Eve clip up above.

Later in the Fall we returned to Gooseberry, where I took this clip following Fast Jimmy through Piñon-Juniper along the rim, with glimpses of the banded Moenkopi formations below.

In mid-November I followed Cory on this high-speed descent down into City Creek. The oaks and maples are bare, the grasses wilted and brown, the sky gray. The landscape is practically begging for snow. We’re rolling over conglomerate soils here, eroded down from the tertiary conglomerate cliffs above. I’ve been trying to keep up with Cory on the downhills for 15 years now, and he just seems to be getting faster. We hit 29.9mph on this stretch.

I saved my favorite clip for last. It may seem like an odd pick, and my feelings aren’t hurt if you don’t like or get it. It’s slow and meandering, I’m alone, the scenery is unspectacular, and the trail rather undefined. It’s the descent of a side trail* off Mid-Mountain trail during the peak bloom of Serviceberry on the day before the summer solstice. The video’s slow and poky, but when I watch it I feel the sun on my neck and smell the brush all around. I feel the Serviceberry brushing my arms, the Sagebrush scratching my shins, my flexed stomach flat on the seat and the braking-burn in my forearms**. For me, this clip is Summer.

*Lower Finesse.

**Because yes, I am a Luddite and ride with v-brakes. Or rather rode. Did I mention my new bike?

It was a good year. The next one will be great.


Unknown said...

top whatever lists may be a bit pretentious but as i get older they also help remind me of my favorite things that i did all year:) new follower, love your blog!

Enel said...

I want to congratulate you on a choice of a fine production 29 inch wheeled bike.

If you had asked me for a recommendation for you specifically, that bike (or the Specialized Stumpjumper) would have been at or near the top of my list. had asked. But you didn't and made a fine choice all on your own!

I don't know if you knew, but I have a savant like ability to put people on the correct bike for them. Just saying. It is like a super power or something.

Have a great new year and thanks for all the great posts and work this past year.

Dave said...

Love the Beaver Dam Wash clip. When I used to work in that area, at the end of the day, I would drive to the middle of the wash, take off my boots, and soak my feet out the car door and indulge myself in the utter riparianess of it all.

That's near where I had my worst stuck ever (dump truck full of salvaged Joshua trees, backhoe, and a $7000 tow bill (not paid by me thankfully)). That's a story for another time....

Anyway, Beaver Dam Wash just had a huge flood last week and I was out there with a hydrologist looking at the carnage. Neat area, nonetheless...

Watcher said...

Aleisha- Thanks!

Enel- I had no idea of your superpower and now regret not having consulted you, but of course am glad to have selected a steed that meets the Enel high standard of approval. Happy New Year to you and the “nel” clan as well.

Dave- Yes, I heard about the flooding. I probably won’t pass by there again till March/April, but am curious to see what it’ll look like. And oh BTW- 7K? 7K?? I thought I’d heard the worst backcountry towing horror stories, but that takes it to a whole new level...

Lucy said...

Lots of great videos there, Watcher.

You have my bike! I am shopping for that very same one right now. Where did you get it?

My Christmas card pet peeve is when cards only have the kids on them. Although I like to see how the kids are growing, I'm not friends with the kids; I want to see our adult friends and relatives. I don't care if they are fatter, or grayer, or have a really ugly sweater on, I still want to see them. When the parents are not on the card, we make up all kinds of funny and terrible stories about why they didn't put themselves in the picture.

Ski Bike Junkie said...

I'm happy to helmet-cam you anytime, even if it does require riding faster than I may have otherwise and the associated fear in hopes that I keep you in the frame.

Can't wait to see the new bike. When does it arrive?

Watcher said...

SBJ- Glad to hear it. Oh, and BTW- I intend to go faster on this bike. (Which is here and which you can see this afternoon when you pick up JunkieGirl.)

Jube- I hear you re:kids-only cards. Worse yet is the pet-only card. (While I'm eager to see how you and your kids have changed, I was already fairly certain that your dalmatian still was white with black spots...)

I bought the Tallboy at Guthrie's- the only dealer in SL Valley. They were fine to work with. I could've saved a couple hundred in sales tax with CO Cyclist or Speedgoat, but preferred to support (and be supported by, if needed) a local shop. My frame is XL, which fits me perfectly (I expect you'd ride an L) and I went with the standard SPXXC build with the notable exception of the drive-train, which I did 9-speed SRAM X0 with XT cranks and LX 12-36 cassette, so as to get grip-shift with the gear range I wanted. I hemmed and hawed forever on the wheels, but eventually stayed stock (DT 340 hubs, Mavic TN719 rims) mainly because they're pretty bullet-proof. In the Spring I may get a 2nd, lighter set so that I have 2 pair of 29" wheels- using lightweight rims like the Stan's Crests would knock off >1/2 lb of rotating weight. With Kenda Small Block 8's (non-UST, set up tubeless) and my old Shimano M540 pedals, it weighs in at 26 1/4 lbs.

Colin said...

I heartily approve of choice of a new bike (though admittedly I am biased).

Enel said...

Great weight on the bike.

Grip shift rulz.

Great wheelset. For the upgraded one, at your (normal) size I wouldn't recommend Crests, Arches are a lot more sturdy. I personally prefer Flows, but don't care about weight and am a little (ahem) rough on stuff.

Great cranks.

SB8s suck beyond belief IMO. They are very lightweight, fast and that is about it. Paper thin sidewalls, next to nothing grip. Good luck, but mind the front end for death understeer.

For your own safety I would swap at least the front for something grippier. For race style 29" tires, the Specialized and Bontrager tubeless ready offerings are hard to beat. For you I recommend a Specialized Captain control 2Bliss 2.2 for the front anyway.

I will be interested to hear your ride impressions with the switch to big wheels. I have been on them for everything for about 5 years now and would have a hard time going back. I think they are perfect for someone your size.

Remind me what bike you are coming from?? I think it was an Ellsworth Truth iirc.

PS: I like bikes.

29" bikes especially:)

Watcher said...

Enel- I tell you, the SB8 is like abortion or the Middle East: folks have strong feelings one way or the other! I've run them on my previous bike for 2 years and loved them. But I was running the 2.4 up front (not avail in 29) and in fairness have mortally wounded sidewalls twice.

Previous bike = Ellsworth Truth, orig '04, then warrantied w/'05 frame. I've loved it- climbed, handled beautifully. Then I made the mistake of riding friends' bikes with big wheels and thru-axle forks...

Enel said...

Ha! Very true. It just tells me you probably don't fly pell mell into corners at the limits of adhesion very often. In other words, you ride safely within the limits of adhesion most of the time. In other words, you don't ride I tend to:)

The 29" version will make that limit even higher, and more predictable in my experience.

Enel said...

And also:

Going to 29" wheels is just the first step toward a rigid single speed bike, followed by Jesus.

Sally said...

I can't say anything remotely intelligent about the bike choice, but I REALLY like the Jones' Trail clips and hope you'll finish it this year!

Happy New Year, W... keep on bloggin'.

Rabid said...

First, in the name of science, it seems appropriate that someone like yourself would dye that full head-o-hair (you seem to be so proud of) so as all of us can witness this night vision phenomenon. That whole hair thing has me freakishly interested in owning one myself.

Second, do you send Christmas Cards? (Capitalized on purpose because The Cards are the best part of Christmas.) It seems A Card from you might be one in which people would race to the mailbox for.

Third, everyone is talking about your bike, so I will too: My Spouse has a Tallboy (in XL if you care. I care, 'cause it's giant and I feel like a clown when I ride it. Speaking of giant, Shawn Bradley rides bikes these days. Many have witnessed the largeness of his bike, but no one has yet to produce a photo.) Before he bought the bike, the Spouse talked about that damn thing, as if it were a naked lady for, like, ever. I told him to buy the bike, even if it costs a million dollars, just quit talking about it! I didn't realize that he'd talk about his naked lady bike more once he owned it.

Watcher said...

Enel- "...first step toward a rigid single speed bike, followed by Jesus."

Well, I don't know about that, but at least I'm not making him cry.

Thanks, Sally!

Rabid- Truth is, I have wanted to do the Mother Of All Form Letter Christmas Cards for several years now, but AW has forbidden it. (So I started this blog.)

The Hot Mountain Bike/Naked Lady analogy is a great one, but now I feel weird about keeping her in the garage. It. I mean keeping it in the garage.

Lucy said...

Thanks for the bike set up info. Great weight on yours. I'm very close to purchasing, so I'm trying to figure out the setup I want. I will definitely not put small blog 8s on it though. Had those for two rides on my Blur and hated them. They are dangerous, in a bad way.

KanyonKris said...

That was a fun review. You've been a lot of places and discussed many topics this year. I've enjoyed being along for the ride, literally a few times. Just because you're talking about stuff you've done doesn't make it pretentious - well maybe, but what's the alternative, talk in 3rd person all the time?

My wife likes SM8 tires, and I used to like them until I discovered Ignitors and Crossmarks - fantastic Utah 29er tires.

Sorry Enel, for many of us a 29er is the destination, not a gateway drug to single-speed fanaticism.