Archive for November, 2009

Let me introduce you to this adorable little chiropteran fella:

lbb2(You’ll wanna click it for the bigger picture)

Don’t fret. It’s sleeping, not dead. It may look like it’s flat on the ground, but its clinging vertically to a beam under an eave next to the Amargosa Opera House. Susan and I found two others nearby. Just hangin’. In perfect position for me to get my camera all up in its tiny little grill and snap some macros. Either it was a sound sleeper or I was pretty good in not disturbing it.

And I do mean tiny. Its body wasn’t more then two fingers wide and maybe as long as my index finger from tip to tail. A search on The Google for “bats of the southwest” eventually showed me that we’d gleefully encountered representatives of the species California myotis, sometimes called the California bat even though they can be found throughout western north America from southern Alaska down to Guatemala, and they are the most abundant bat in desert scrub habitats, which is what Death Valley Junction is.

And I do mean gleefully. Bats to me are one of the planets most amazing and fascinating animals, and the fact that for the first time in my life I was able to be this close to one was a dream come true.

Plus it was so damn cute I wanted to pull it off its perch and put it in my pocket. But I didn’t.

Later on, I’ll introduce you to the wild horses who came close to where we were camping to check out who us humans were encroaching on their watering hole.

UPDATE (12/01): Courtesy of Susan, here’s a look behind the scenes at how I got this post’s shot that puts things in proportion. The rest of her great photos are here on Flickr.


(You’ll wanna click it for the bigger picture)

Directions: After enjoying turkey and all the fixin’s, and then lighting a campfire, mount a camera on a tripod at Eureka Dunes Thanksgiving Day evening with a waxing gibbous moon behind you. Next point the camera out into the pitch darkness in the general ballpark direction of north over the Last Chance Mountains. Manually focus the lens to just short of infinity and cross your fingers that’s correct. Then open the shutter for the 35 minutes you spend with your Baybee! and your dawg at the roaring flames hypnotized by the dancing licks while soaking in the still and serene solitude of it all as little brown bats dart through the air around you. As the flames start to die down and the cold temps encroach, return to the camera, close the shutter and the above stars-in-the-daylight illusion is what you get. Savor and enjoy.

Loads of other pix shot at much faster shutter speeds are here in this set on Flickr.

Well, we’re home safe from our oddball Thanksgiving weekend in Death Valley. There were moments of disappointment, such as when on a cold and windy and damp Saturday morning from Ubehebe Crater looking at the snow-dumping serious storm parked over the road to Racetrack Playa that I made the right but tough decision to delay again my long-wanted goal of  mountainbiking the 26-plus miles to the famed dry lake. And there were moments of exhilirated triumph, such as this one on Thanksgiving Day captured by Susan from her vantage point at the base of the 680-foot Eureka Dunes of me and Ranger way up at its summit. We’re the little black speck right of center where the sand meets the sky (click for the bigger picture):


With such magnificent ups and despite such frustrating downs, it was another remarkable Death Valley excursions. We toured the phenomenal Scotty’s Castle for the first time, and the camper van rental performed beautifully for every one of the 750 miles we traveled. Plus, the change of Saturday’s itinerary left Susan and Ranger and I to much more leisurely pursuits enjoying Zabriskie Point followed by lunch up Dante’s View. And instead of a soggy bitter-cold night at the Racetrack Playa, we ventured onward out of the park to spend Saturday night marveling at the wonder of Marta Becket’s surreal and magnificent Amargosa Opera House and Hotel at Death Valley Junction, replete with encounters with wild horses and nesting bats while also planning our next visit — in the spring — for another go at the Racetrack ride.

There are tons of pix, of course, and I’ll point you to them after I get them uploaded. But for now just one more, of the best sand-climbing dog otherwise known as Ranger at the top of the dunes looking in the general direction of her momma down at the bottom:


In August I wrote about our off-the-wall plans for what may very well be the oddest, bestest most awesome Thanksgiving of our lives next week. It involves packing up a rented SUV and leaving Los Angeles Wednesday night, driving straight out to Death Valley’s Eureka Dunes, spending Turkey Day and night there, then driving to Mesquite Springs Campground to spend a day and night there, and then our last day and night spent at the Racetrack Playa before driving out the long way via Baker and the 15 Freeway and back home.

In between there’d be the summiting of dunes, the biking of 26-miles of bad road between Ubehebe Crater and the Racetrack, and assorted other stuffs.

And in between all that would be the pitchings and ditchings of tents and the makings and breakings of camps three days in a row. On top of all that work, November nighttime temps in one of my favorite places in the world can get down into the low 40s or even the 30s. Brrrr.

So yesterday morning my baby suggests we ditch the SUV and the tent and the camping coolers for a camper van? And while I was hesitant at first because I was thinking about how such a potentially cumbersome vehicle might handle some of the bumpy roads we’ll be on, it didn’t take long for me to realize how much a campervan would eliminate all that tent pitching and camp breaking, while providing us not only a more comfortable buffer against any inclement meteorological conditions we might encounter but also some amenities from home.

26851_3And so I was all: Bay-bee! You’re A Genius!! Let’s Make It Happen!!!

So she emailed me today that she’d done it. She’d found a place in Hawthorne and made a reservation for a “B-19 Van Camper Motorhome” that looks a little something like this:

The ride’s somehow got a shower and a toilet in there, plus a microwave, and a stove and a fridge and a dinette that converts to a full-sized bed. And it’s only a couple hundred more than the SUV we were going to rent, which is a hella small price to pay for how much more fun we’re going to have and how much less we’ll have to work to have it. Woo!!! Hoo!!!

And bonus: The place is only eight miles from my office so I can bike over there from Westchester Wednesday afternoon and pick up our home away from home!

Death Valley here we come!

I began my 6,000th biking mile as I crossed the intersection of Venice and National boulevards at 7:08 p.m., but I stopped to commemorate the milestone with a more interesting background a block further on:


The above image is slightly biggifiable, or you can watch the brief vid from which it was culled (video because it was easier to capture the awesome Helms neon sign at the height of its cycle). Bonus points if you can make out some things I learned: 1) I need to practice holding handmade signs better, and 2) I chew gum like a freakin’ cow. Seriously, you’d think I was mawing an entire pack of the stuff instead of one little piece. The shame of it all.

So I was pointed to this page of the Yield To Life website by a member of the Bike Writers Collective. Apparently in an attempt to minimize what has the potential to be a 10-year sentence for Dr. Christopher Thompson his defense team is gathering letters and testimonials of support for what a good guy the former emergency room physician is who was recently found guilty of multiple counts in his road rage trial that resulted from his intentional actions July 4, 2008, in Mandeville Canyon that left two cyclists seriously injured.

To bolster its argument that Thompson be sentenced according to his crimes prosecutors are interested in receiving letters from the public to submit with a coming motion that support not letting Thompson off with a slap on the wrist. And so of course I sat down and pounded the following out to the DA’s office:

It is my hope that if the court must somehow refrain from throwing the book at Dr. Christopher Thompson, at least sentence him justly.

As a dedicated commuter cyclist who annually logs more than 6,000 miles across Los Angeles, I have been subjected to all manner of dangerous and threatening behavior from motorists, be it intentional or resulting from their inattention.

I was appalled when I heard about the horrible incident in Mandeville Canyon, and given the level of disrespect I can encounter when I ride, as well as law enforcement’s seeming predilection for discounting the rights of cyclists, I have to admit I was surprised not only that Thompson was arrested and charged, but that he was ultimately found guilty of his crimes.

For every conviction such as this one there are hundreds upons hundreds of car v. bike incidents that result in nothing being done, oftentimes with the blame being attached to the cyclist as if by default. In this rare instance of the blame being rightly attached to the motorist, I consider it the obligation of the court to send a message to the public by standing Thompson up as a loathsome perpetrator of the kind of aggressive and irresponsible behavior that cannot and will not be tolerated.

Thank you for your interest and for allowing me to share my opinion.

Will Campbell

I would encourage anyone who wants to see justice done waste little time writing to the attention of Mary Stone at L.A. County District Attorney’s office at the following addresses:

District Attorney’s Office
Attn. Mary Stone
11701 S. La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90045

The element that most consistently changes on this blog is that little box in the sidebar near the top of this front page titled “Bike Mileage Tally.” I’m pretty religious in its updating. Whenever I put my peds to the pedals be it for a short trip in my neighborhood, a mountain bike ride in the Verdugos, a work commute, or a much longer trek I get myself over to Gmaps, plot the course and log the mileage. Been doing that for a couple years now.

As of this morning my distance total for the year stands a few hundredths of a mile short of 5,980, and since my average work commute is somewhere around 30 miles roundtrip, that means that on tonight’s ride back home, I will enter my 6,000th mile for 2009 pretty much in front of the Helm’s Bakery Complex on Venice Boulevard.

I will probably pause and self-portrait the moment in time and space, and further up the road might be found procuring a couple Artie Lange cupcakes from Crumbs on Larchmont to bring home to share with Susan as a celebratory reward.

Last year, I got to that same mark on November 24, appropriately upon arrival to the Bicycle District at Heliotrope and Melrose where my somewhat lagging committment to cycling was reinvigorated back in August 2005 with a wheel-building class led by Jim Cadenhead now co-owner of Orange 20 Bikeshop, but then as a cook at the Bike Kitchen.

I’ve come a long way since then, baby. And I’ve got a long way to go.

Ride on.