Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Burn Rubber

Lo! Behold the saga of Dov, a.k.a. Diamondback as he voyaged to Tucson in early summer so as to ride a really, really long way by bicycle. The sights, smells, tastes, adventures, mishaps, and details shall be recorded in this chronicle.

Dramatis personae:
Dov: Our hero, riding a Kona Sutra.
Kyle: A ~30 year old bicycle mechanic from Portland, Maine, riding a Salsa Fargo. 
Johanna: A ~30 year old paralegal about to return to law school, also from Portland, Maine, riding a Surly Long Haul Trucker.
Russ: A ~60 year old retired firefighter and RN from Prescott, Arizona, riding a Marin Bobcat Trail.
Jane: A ~60 year old retiree from Long Island, New York, riding a Surly ECR.
Ben: A 22 year old student from Montana, riding a Trek 1120.
Candace: A ~70 year old retiree, riding a Salsa Fargo.
Et al.

June 1: Our hero did spend much of this night packing; disassembling his noble steed, Serenity, and trying to cram her into a slightly too small a bike box; sporadically watching Brooklyn 99 to relax; and freaking out a little when the Brooklyn 99 did not cut it. Afore he called it a night, he had his things packed into one (1) bike box, one (1) handlebar roll, two (2) heavy duty high capacity canvas panniers, and one (1) small nylon daypack.

June 2: Woke our hero at about 5 AM so as to get to the airport in plenty of time so as to deal with the inevitable unpleasantness of boarding an international flight with a bicycle (aside, paraphrased from a cycle touring blog I can’t remember: Traveling by bicycle is a uniquely sublime joy of the universe. Traveling with a bicycle is one of Dante’s circles of hell). The way his tickets worked out were Vancouver to Calgary to Los Angeles to Tucson, arriving in Tucson at about 9 PM. LAX is easily the most confusing, egregious, pestilential, least-well thought out airport in the world, and the people who work there reflect this. In any case, arrived he in Tucson to be met by Doug (a.k.a. Kingsnake) and Heather the Younger.

June 3: When dawn spread out her fingertips of rose, awoke our hero to begin the day’s preparations. Serenity was unboxed and rebuilt with the occasionally disruptive help of three beagles and the much more useful help of Doug. Supplies were obtained, including food, denatured alcohol for use as stove fuel, the first of three tubes of sunscreen, the first of two bottles of DEET based bug spray, a bottle of permethrin as a prophylactic clothes-based bug repellant, and a canister of whupass bearspray.

June 4: La madre de nuestro héroe, a.k.a. Sidewinder, arrived before the gate of the house of Doug and was permitted entry. Serenity, baggage, hero and la madre departed on I-10 heading east for Silver City. Once arrived in Silver City, la madre thought it wise to seek council from the Forest Service with regard to fires and road closures. Taking heed of the advice bequeathed, our hero was deposited outside Silver City onto a forest service road instead. There, while in the midst of unpacking and setting up his valiant steed of the next two months, Dave with the B.O.B. trailer showed up, confirming that yes, this was indeed the trail. He chatted for a little and went on. Once our hero was kitted up, la madre brought out her Trek for to ride a little bit of the ride. This particular forest service road, however, was steep, gully ridden, and made of tire-sucking sand, so progress was slow. After a heartfelt farewell, la madre ceased her Trek and began her Voyage Home, while our hero began the ride in earnest. “Hot”, “dry”, “dusty”, “godforsaken”, “alien”, and “pine-smelling” are all choice adjectives to describe this area, known as the Gila Wilderness. Our hero made about 10 miles before setting up at a forest service camp.
Gila Wilderness
Gila Wilderness
Top of a mesa

June 5: Our hero began this day with about 13 liters of water weighing about 27 pounds, way too much food, no adaptations for the altitude, and chicken legs, all of which contributed to the single hardest and most unpleasant day of the entire ride. When there was shade, our hero would dismount and hide from the sun for a few minutes. When there was a steep climb, he would dismount and push. He ate far too little and drank not nearly enough because his stomach was upset and forcing anything down made him feel sick. In the early afternoon, came he upon Kyle T. Randall on a Salsa Fargo, who was in the middle of tidying up from a snack. The two chatted and rode together for a bit before being separated eight miles from Beaver Creek fire watch post, as Kyle’s setup was much lighter and he was doing better. Valiantly our hero journeyed onward, but at this point he was flirting with heat exhaustion, and wound up walking for a big chunk of the time. Eventually, he just put down his bike and lay down on the side of the road, too worn out to do anything more. Eventually, Kyle returned, as he was combing the trail for an article he dropped. He managed to rouse our hero’s spirits and got him to continue on to Beaver Creek with the promise of cold water. This was achieved, and it was most refreshing. The fire fighters offered our hero a burrito, which he ate slowly, and some mint-infused sweet tea, which sent life and feeling coursing back through his sun-scorched frame. A cot was offered, and our hero passed out for the night.

June 6: The previous night, the fire fighters had provided council to our hero and Kyle, who dropped by after a fruitless trail combing. North of the outpost, the route took cyclists close to an area that was closed due to fire danger. A reroute via another forest service road was recommended, one which would cut off about fifteen miles of traveling. Our hero kept this council in mind as he departed, wearing his thermal underwear so as to avoid having to put sunscreen on his legs. Eventually he caught up with Kyle and his riding partner, Johanna GDMBR Greenberg. Rode the valiant three on and on through the Gila wilderness, stopping at a Continental Divide Trail water cache to top off their supplies, pausing under a tree for a late lunch and a siesta. Eventually the three crossed a highway and made their way up the road to a decent spot for wild camping.

June 7: Woke the three amigos after a refreshing night’s sleep and continued they on their way. The prospect of Pie Town hung over their heads, urging them along the trail with a hope of hot food, cold drinks, and showers. Much of this day took place in forest, providing at least some shade, and old buildings were occasionally passed. Our protagonist had learned his lesson about hydration and was packing it in to the best of his ability, but food was still not sitting well; the most he did snack wise was nibble a Cliff bar. The amigos stopped for lunch under a tree after a slog through tire sucking sand (Kyle had the only really appropriate tires for the sand: 29” x 2.25” Maxxis Ikons, versus Johanna’s 26" x 2” Schwalbe Marathon Mondials and Dov’s 700C 40mm Mondials). Lunch was delightful: Dov provided cheese and tortillas, Kyle had some dehydrated refried beans and MRE chili, and so everyone had freshly made burritos. The tire sucking sand continued for a little bit after lunch but eventually gave way to well packed dirt road. A storm started coming in too, which cooled off the air considerably but did generate lightning that was a little close for comfort. Dov and Kyle rode together to the outskirts of Pie town, while Johanna rode more slowly and fell behind. When they reached the south end of town, a dilemma reared its head: down which of the two roads lay the diner foretold by the map? Dov went straight and Kyle went left. Dov found the diner and got some food set up and was joined a few minutes later by Kyle, who rolled in via a truck carrying four other people riding the ride: Russ, Jane, Marty, and Ed. As Dov ate, drank, and thereby became more coherent, he chatted with the new riders and learned of the famed Toaster House, whence all the others were planning on sleeping. At some point another cyclist, Ben “Bearspray” GDMBR arrived, also a little strung out from the road. He had pulled a 100 mile day and was filling kind of worn out. Everyone finally finished eating and made their way to the Toaster House, where showers were had and cold drinks on the deck were enjoyed.
Right near an abandoned church about 20 miles South of Pie Town
A literal profile picture right after the storm

June 8: The three amigos from the day before plus Ben went out to eat breakfast, which was packed away nearly instantly. Kyle, Johanna, and Ben intended to make the day a rest day, but Dov wanted to push onwards and decided to only take a half rest day. He intended to resupply and see the town, tasks that he accomplished magnificently. During the resupply, our hero discovered two articles that would become staples of the rest of his ride: Country Time lemonade and Knorr noodle packets. The intended half day oozed into a three-quarters rest da, but he eventually hit the trail again and added some solid miles before stopping at the first alternate on the map.
Sunset just outside El Malpais

June 9: Our hero proclaimed that the easy road was not one he was interested in and stuck to the main route through El Malpais. He saw magnificent lava flows, fleets of pronghorn antelope, azure blue skies, and breathtaking mountains, all while listening to Going Postal. As the day was drawing to a close and as he was coming to the end of his water supply our hero rolled into a KoA just outside of Grants, where he proceeded to eat about 2000 calories, called his folks, and passed out.

June 10: After replenishing his water, our hero opined that Mount Taylor looked a little sparse in the aqueous way and that the Chaco alternate would be a better bet. Having chosen this path, he set off from Grants along the second most desolate section of the entire ride. There is nothing north of Grants except for mining and ultimately the eastern edge of Chaco Canyon. Water was a serious concern on this stretch of trail: our hero set forth with 12 L squirreled away but went through most of it throughout the course of the day. Eventually in the early evening he came to rest at the one business he had seen all day: a combination laundromat, gas station, convenience store, and post office called Chaco Wash. As he stumbled into the air conditioned building, verily did he run into Jane, one of the other riders from Pie Town! She and Russ had arrived earlier and spent their time drinking cold drinks and eating microwave burritos. The three shared plans and reminisced before making camp behind an abandoned freight container inside the Chaco Wash fence.
Bluffs just north of Grants
Cliffs along the scorching highway

June 11: Feeling refreshed and with only about 40 miles to go til Cuba, the new amigos mounted their steeds and began to ride. Most of this was highway shoulder riding, and our hero’s 700x40 tires sang as the miles burned away. Russ’s 29”x2.25” and Jane’s 29”x3.0” proved slightly cumbersome on pavement, but they stayed close behind for much of the way. As the day wore on our hero pulled further and further ahead until Jane and Russ were out of sight beyond the distant hills behind him. Eventually the town of Cuba resolved itself on the horizon. Our hero pulled into town, reserved a motel room, rummaged through the hiker-biker abandonment box for three packages of MRE chicken, washed the accumulated dirt strata off his body, and crossed the street to chork down some food. Eventually wandered back to his room for the finer things in life, i.e. air conditioning and mindless cartoons, before acquiring another 1800 calories for dinner and calling it a night.

June 12: Having sought council with his progenitors the night before, our hero did telephone the Forest Service to determine how recent forest closures would affect his route to Abiquiu. The Santa Fe National Forest had been closed due to fire danger, so he was forced to loop around the Jemez to the north on highway 96. Near the end of a long climb, stopped our hero for some lunch and a small break. Just as he was prepared to hit the road again, saw he in the distance Ben from Pie Town! The two talked for a bit before setting out again, refreshed and invigorated. Soon after the small town of Galina the vertical distance they had made became apparent, for now the road turned into a near perfect descent. “Fun” and “awesome” are adjectives that were used after the fact. Eventually they reached the overlook of Abiquiu Reservoir, only to run into Jane and Russ again. The four then set about trying to find cheap accommodations in Abiquiu, eventually calling a woman who let people camp in her yard. The four arrived, set up camp, and proceeded to eat.

Ben tries to capture the stunning red of the mesa

June 13: Our hero took a rest day with the intention of meeting up with the padre and the expectation of being provided with a truly enormous meal. The bottom bracket of Serenity had been creaking and clacking, so pater et filius drove to Santa Fe for some servicing, bringing along a picnic lunch. A delightful time was had, and the creaking fixed by swapping in a new bottom bracket, before returning our hero to Abiquiu.

Our hero and Padre

June 14: Our hero and Ben set out from Abiquiu at about 5 AM, for Ben wanted to get some serious milage in before the day was too hot. This unfortunately brought the two to El Rito at about 8 AM, which was earlier than the one restaurant in town opened. Continuing the uniquely unpleasant but not really bad highway climb up to and through Vallecitos, our heroes eventually found themselves on dirt road again. Near the edge of town they found a small building being run as a hobby like convenience store by a man who lived across the street. He welcomed in the road-wearied travelers, where they partook of ice cream and cold drinks and wound up discussing such topics as water rights, trout fishing, motorcycle ignition systems, and elementary education with the proprietor and one of his friends who happened to stop by. Refreshed by their repast, our heroes continued on and up through Carson National Forest. The ride was pleasantly shaded, but the climbing rough. Eventually Ben peeled away, leaving our hero to struggle valiantly upwards. Afterwards, during camp, it was calculated that the two had ridden 50 miles with ~4000 feet of climbing over 13 hours, which remained the single most exhausting day of the entire ride. In any case, eventually our hero reached the summit, coincident with Hopewell Lake and campground. He attempted to determine the location of Ben by reading tire tracks in the dust, eventually leading him to the main entrance. Wheeling in on foot, our hero ran into Jane yet again, who informed our hero that she, Russ, and Ben had set up camp a small ways further in. Everyone had had a bit of a long day, so conversation was somewhat muted.

June 15: Ben peeled out early in the morning, leaving the remaining three amigos to do their own camp teardown and ride up to Lagunitas. The ubiquitous pine trees started giving way slightly to Aspen, and the air seemed slightly cooler. Although this day was shorter in terms of milage and climbing, nobody had fully recovered from the day previous, and progress was gentle.

Ponderosas starting to give way to Aspens

Jane in the distane
Fun with Russ and Jane

 June 16: As the amigos were conducting camp teardown, a light drizzle began to fall. This caused some commentary, but only led to the donning
of wet weather gear. Our hero took lead, heedless of the increasing rain. The day soon devolved into a hell of unridable, technical descents on rocky roads followed by thick, sticky, peanut butter mud. Serenity’s fenders were eventually removed to ease pedaling. The New Mexico/Colorado border was a cattle guard in the middle of a forest, one side of which was proclaimed to be Rio Grande forest and the other Carson forest. Once our hero had made it to the Colorado neck of the woods, the road improved slightly, and eventually he climbed up to the highway after crossing the rails of the Cumbres and Toltec railway. As he paused on the shoulder of the highway, our hero was lucky enough to see the train riding the rails. The rain picked up again at this point, and our hero struggled valiantly onward for a few miles before being stopped by a guy in a pickup truck who proclaimed “Dude, you’re risking hypothermia. Get in.” Our hero was thusly transported to Antonito, where he got a room and took two hot baths and a shower before he felt fully human again. He then rode into town proper, ate two large dinners, and was wandering over to do a resupply when he heard an incredulous “Dov?” from behind, an exultation that was made by Jane.
Jane and Russ had not made it far from the previous night’s camp. The sticky mud and small frame clearance held them fast, and they set up a shelter to wait out the rain. At about three in the afternoon, however, a local, tooling around off road, happened by them and transported them into Antonito, where by sheer coincidence they caught sight of our hero. The three made plans to take a day off and discuss plans and strategies, and all retired to the Narrow Gauge Inn, beaten but not broken.
Just a few miles to the border!
June 17: As was planned the night before, the fellowship spent some time perusing maps, checking long term weather reports of the surrounding area, and washing caked mud off of bikes and equipment. Jane opined that, the previous day being ignored as an outlier, she was not enjoying herself and was considering leaving the trail. Russ and Dov were sorry to hear such tidings but hoped that a pleasant day in town might relieve her feelings somewhat. More cartoons were perused, and the three called it a night.

June 18: Russ and Dov pulled out of town with the intention of making it to Platoro, while Jane stayed behind, intending to ship her bike back home and continue her trek of Colorado via car camping. It was twenty miles from town back to the trail via highway, and the miles melted under the dynamic duo’s relentless pedaling. The two stopped at a small gallery at the turn-off from the highway, where they had been informed by Ben that there were Amish fried pies. Fried pies were had, as well as cold drinks, before the duo continued their journey north. At one point they passed a CDT hiker resting in the shade. Dov completely did not see him, but Russ stayed and chatted for a bit. Eventually the two got to Platoro in time for a well deserved dinner before pushing on to a forest service campground just after Stunner pass.
The road up to Stunner Pass
In Russ's words, "Don't bother looking it's just another gorgeous view"
June 19: Wiping the frost from their tents, our intrepid adventurers packed up and hit the road. They were anticipating a long, hard climb up to Indiana pass, the literal highpoint of the ride at 11,912 feet. The day’s journey took them through the ghost town and subsequent Superfund site of Summitville. Post Summitville, our adventurers passed the treeline and began the long climb towards Indiana pass. The air became thin and difficult, and eventually our adventurers paused for lunch. As luck would have it, just after they packed up, another cyclist, headed southbound, stopped to search for a sign indicating the pass. A cyclist named Lewis Ciddor, who was the current Tour Divide southbound race leader and eventual race winner. Russ and Dov got him to stop and talk for a whole two minutes before he jetted off again. The two amigos started off again and reached the unimpeachable highlight of the entire ride: a 25 mile, 4000 foot descent over well maintained forest service road. When they stopped at the bottom, the two conversed, half joking but also half seriously, about flagging a ride in a pickup to take them up to the top to ride it again. Hunger and a bike shop beckoned, however, and the two set up in a local hostel before heading into the town of Del Norte. Johanna had left the trail a few days before and started riding the highway, making it into Del Norte before our adventurers, and the three rendezvoused for a well deserved meal.

June 20: After a hearty breakfast, Russ and Dov headed out again, making good time and running into a couple of other southbound racers and more casual tourers. They stopped for the day and set up a pleasant wild camp.

First route sign!
June 21: Dov, having not wanted to schlep a lot of water and being confident about the likelihood of finding lakes and streams, had only brought six liters with him from Del Norte. He drained these by the middle of the day, luckily just before finding a reservoir from which our heroes did a water filter. This provided them with enough fluid to make their way into Sargents, where they stopped for the night.

June 22: Riding out of Sargents, our adventurers ran into a trio of ladies riding the divide in segments. The ride into Salida, late in the day, encountered a bit of a snag: Dov got ahead of Russ and, wanting to follow the obvious choices, stuck to the route. Russ, wanting to follow the obvious choices, bypassed all the county road doglegs and followed the highway into Salida. This led to some confusing hijinks, but the two eventually reconnected, partook of swanky pizza, and called it a night.

Two of three ladies riding segments

Aspens are now the dominant foliage
Going over a pass is a great opportunity to wait for your buddy and have a snack

June 23: Most of Colorado had been beautiful and mountainous so far. This changed with the road north of Salida: mile after mile of sandy washboard leading into Hartsel. There our heroes were gifted a free bag of cherries before they slunk off to an abandoned playground where they made camp rather sneakily.

June 24: Our intrepid adventurers rose on the early side so as to avoid detection and a potential storm brewing around Breckenridge, steeling themselves for the arduous journey up Boreas pass. Many of the climbs in Colorado were very pleasant: while they were often long climbs, the roads were usually good, and many of them were old railroad beds, meaning that they topped out at a 3% grade. While paused for lunch at Boreas pass, our heroes were hailed upon briefly; the storm continued to threaten and grumble at them on their way down into Breckenridge. After rolling into town, our heroes stopped for hot beverages and pastries, having been thoroughly chilled inside. Russ forged on ahead into Silverthorne to negotiate a room while Dov stayed behind awaiting Johanna so they could chat (she had ridden over Hoosier pass). After settling in in Silverthorne, Russ had a pizza delivered from a Dominos about 200 yards away because he wanted someone else to do the running around for a change.
Dov waited out a hailstorm here while Russ climbed at his own pace

June 25: Our heroes took a well deserved and relaxed rest day.

June 26: Having refreshed themselves after their rest day, our heroes ground out a 76 mile day, including a late lunch break in Kremling and a long, screamingly fun descent into the campground just outside Radium.
The first Tour Divide specific trail angel box
June 27: If the day after Silverthorne was industrious and successful, the day after Radium was much less of a successful day. Russ’s odometer clocked about 20 miles throughout the course of the day, many of which were walked while pushing the bikes. The road was steep, twisting, rutted, crossed by gullies, and deep in sand. The sections going up were too horrible to ride while the sections going down felt dangerous and unsafe. A common refrain for the rest of the ride were variations on the theme of “at least it’s not as bad as the climb out of Radium.” Our heroes stopped for the day at a campground with a pump, encountering one of the last groups of racers.

June 28: Our heroes pushed out for Steamboat Springs, having been informed via sporadic text that Kyle was taking a rest day there and was interested in forming a trio. Dov bent his front wheel in a bike rack but managed to get it whacked back into shape by a skillful truing in one of the bike shops on the way out of town. The party then voyaged north of Steamboat Springs, eventually setting up a stealth camp on the other side of a break in a fence.

June 29: The general store and cafe of Clark beckoned our travelers onward for a late breakfast and a chance to mail some postcards, in Kyle’s case, and they did drag their feet a little in leaving the last bastion of civilization in Colorado. Our heroes had been hearing for some time about a place called Brush Mountain Lodge, an unearthly paradise just south of the Wyoming border that was kindly to Divide riders. They nearly got lost off route a few miles after Clark, almost taking the Columbine alternate by mistake, but they corrected this navigational error and got back on the trail, rolling into Brush Mountain in the early evening. There they were greeted by a party of four Kiwis riding southbound, the proprietor of the establishment who plied the weary travelers with wood-fired pizza and cold drinks, and eventually the last southbound racer they encountered. Everyone was well fed, relaxed, clean, and at peace with the world. 
Looks like Lewis made good time!

June 30: Our heroes had been provided with this council by the proprietor the night before: when getting into Wyoming, go as far as the treeline on the first day, no further, and make camp there for the night. The wind on the plain was dreadful indeed and not the sort of thing people should really try to sleep through. With this in mind they did cross the border into Wyoming, riding into Medicine Bow National Forest, where it began to drizzle ominously. Verily did our heroes brave through the onslaught to a converted forest service station now campground with the intention of refilling their water. This they did, while also meeting a family out for a weekend of camping. After chatting for a while, our heroes set back out on the road, having been gifted with a pound of smoked salmon, a pound of elk jerky, and a pound of elk and cheese home-made Slim Jim equivalents. The edge of the forest was eventually reached in the late afternoon, and our heroes made themselves some salmon burritos before calling it a night.

July 1: Wyoming has a bottomless supply of strong, incessant wind, which has apparently attracted the attention of the powers that be. As a result, there is a project going on in southern Wyoming to build a wind farm. A side effect is that the road the route goes through is being paved, necessitating a two-mile shuttle by the road builders. This was pretty nice, but the subsequent wind and dust were less pleasant. The three rolled into Rawlins in time for an early dinner and set about finding a room for the night. Russ, who had ridden the TransAm four years prior, was concerned about the Great Divide Basin, calling it “desolate” and “barren”. Supplies were laid in and a good night’s sleep was had.

July 2: After a fun climb and descent out of Rawlins, the three entered the Great Divide Basin. The Kiwis from Brush Mountain Lodge had had a severe headwind that they waited out, so our heroes were cautiously optimistic about receiving a tailwind. But that did not happen. The basin is nearly perfectly flat and level, but the average speed was about 8 miles per hour if not a little slower. The wind was all, and there was nothing but the wind. Our heroes eventually reached the A&M reservoir in order to do a water filter when they met some CDT hikers who had started in New Mexico back in April. Eventually the two parties parted and our heroes rode on, trying to push a few more miles out before making camp on a relatively flat road shoulder.

July 3: Mindful of the wind and weather, our heroes woke on the earlyish side so as to ride during the calm part of the day. They continued to ride until Dov and Kyle came across a stretch of road that was being repaved. They chilled for a few minutes, waiting for Russ, until Dov was hit by a horrible nagging doubt. “Wait a minute, we’re not supposed to hit pavement. This is all supposed to be dirt.”
Some time while traversing the featureless void and attempting to reason backwards from southbound cues, our heroes had taken the wrong turn at a three way intersection. They continued to ride, blissfully unaware that they were headed north when they should have been headed west. When Russ arrived at the impromptu rendezvous, a conference was held. The available options were: 1) backtrack to the trail, probably getting lost on the way and leading to an at most 15 mile net gain on the day, 2) attempt to short circuit back to the trail via other dirt roads hinted vaguely at on the map, probably also getting lost, or 3) ride highway 287 into Lander for the 4th of July. The third option was chosen after little discussion. Lander was a solid 40 miles away, so the amigos pushed valiantly onward, trying to lessen the distance they would have to ride the next morning.

July 4: Kyle woke early to scoot into town in time for an all you can eat pancake breakfast. The other two took a somewhat more relaxed start to the day but arrived in plenty of time for the parade. The rest of the day was idyllic: barbecue, meandering throughout a classic instance of Americana, chilling with other cyclists, watching private individuals launch easily $1000 worth of fireworks. Good times.

Just wake up and smell the freedom

July 5: Our heroes headed south from Lander on the highway in order to get back on the trail. Wicked climbs and freak hail-driving thunderstorms did nothing to daunt their effort, and by the end of the day they had made it to South Pass.
The scope of the valley was staggering

A truly staggering amount of Grape Hyacinth, with Russ in the background

July 6: Yet more Wyoming. Russ and Dov pushed on to an RV park in Boulder while Kyle called it earlier and set up camp by the side of the road.

July 7: Rode through Pinedale, did a resupply that included hotdogs and green chile before winding up in Whiskey Creek campground, where said hotdogs and green chile were enjoyed over a campfire.

July 8: Even more Wyoming, through the Bridger Wilderness. I’m running out of ways of describing it.

July 9: Coming out of the Bridger Wilderness and climbing up to Togwotee pass, our heroes were met with enough rain to cool the air and impede visibility but not so much that the road was unridable or the ride miserable. Eventually the road flattened out and the storm cleared, leaving a clear view of the staggering Tetons rising up from the plain. The attached photo absolutely does not do it justice. Russ opined later that Tetons is one of the places where it’s better to just buy the pictures. The three rode into Colter Bay Village and finagled a hiker/biker campsite close to the ACA supported TransAm group, with whom a very pleasant chat was had. A huge and satisfying dinner was also had.
Tetons is a place where you just buy the photos. Home-made can't do them justice.

July 10: Kyle, feeling antsy about his ticket out of Calgary, decided to push onward with another northbounder. Dov and Russ took a rest day, which was spent swimming (Dov) and with Diet Coke (Russ).

July 11: When preparing to pull out for the continued journey north, Russ noticed a weird noise coming from his bike, a noise that was eventually discovered to be coming from bubbles in his rear tire rubbing against bolts on his rack. The dynamic duo instead made a trip down to Jackson to get new tires, Dov feeling that he should probably pick up a spare/replacement. On returning from Jackson, Russ realized that he also had a broken spoke, which was replaced with some grumbling that the bike shop should have noticed this when doing the tubeless install.

July 12: The two set out for real this time, making their way out of Wyoming and into the small chunk of Idaho that connects to Montana. The trail was steep and heavily rutted, causing Dov to get a pinch flat in his front tire that took nearly an hour to fix: both of his spare tubes turned out to have holes in them, so he patched all of them and then installed the least horrible one in front. The day turned out to still generate a high milage however, and the two rolled into camp in the early evening. There they met Candace, about whom they had heard stories as far back as New Mexico.

July 13: The first segment of trail was very pleasant: flowy, scenic, well-maintained but unpaved county road with not too steep of a climb due to being another decommissioned railroad bed. The second bit, not so much: a segment of road submerged by a seemingly impassible swamp, followed by mile after mile of straight, monotonous, tire sucking sand that eventually spat the two riders out into the thoroughly disappointing town of Macks Inn. Pushing on from Macks Inn, the riders wound up at an RV park where they ran into Candace again.

July 14: The border between Idaho and Montana is the continental divide itself, but the climb and pass were so gentle that had there not been a sign our heroes would have totally missed it. The road came down from the mountains and led through pleasant grassy swampland that meandered this way and that and eventually passed a small reservoir. Feeling that they wanted a nice big meal that someone else had prepared, our heroes pushed on to the small town of Lima (as in bean), where they met Candace for the third and final time before partaking a repast rich in the four bike touring food groups: fat, carbs, salt, and protein. 
Grinning like a maniac

July 15: The ride out of Lima took our heroes through rugged canyons and dusty roads and over one very tough climb. Our heroes met and interacted with a guy who had gotten to Glacier via the Northern Tier and was now riding the Great Divide, leaving them very impressed. While they were busy checking out his rig (Surly Troll with dyno hub and internal gear hub) a woman in a pickup stopped by and volunteered her lawn as a camping spot for the evening, a suggestion the dynamic duo met with enthusiasm. The mosquitos were in full bloom, but by all other metrics the location was perfect.

July 16: The day started slowly: Russ had discovered another broken spoke the previous night and decided to wait until morning to deal with it because the people involved had been not entirely coherent when they set up camp. The ranch owner’s mother was mowing the lawn as the two started to roll out, generating another half-hour or so delay due to chatting and general foot dragging. This state of affairs continued as the two rolled into Bannack State Park, a gold-mining ghost town that provided shade and cold drinks in addition to a fascinating early afternoon tour. The two ran into Candace for the fourth time out of three (forgot about this one) and a woman from London on an Oxford Bike Works rig before pushing on to the Elkhorn Lodge in Polaris for a meal and a room for the night.

July 17: A very steep climb met our travelers this morning before flattening out and descending through a veritable corridor of idyllic campgrounds and recreation areas. Dov tore away due to his relatively skinny tires and the thrill of speed, winding up at the highway intersection of Wise River. Russ arrived after not too long, and the two had a pleasant lunch. Candace rolled in just as the two were about to hit the road (last time we saw her, for real, I promise) and warned our intrepid adventurers against trying to ride Fleecer’s Ridge northbound, commenting that “people have broken forks.” Bearing this in mind, the dynamic duo opted instead for the Divide alternate before rejoining the main trail for a very long, very steep climb that left them very worn out. Eventually they were overtaken by two guys in a van who were planning on doing some mountain biking on the CDT. Russ and Dov pushed on to the forest service camp where the two van guys had set up and called it a night. 

July 18: Over the course of the trip so far, Dov had occasionally thought “Wow, what a nice town. This might be a fun place to retire to.” Butte was not one of those. It’s an old boom-and-bust mining town with no character and really obnoxious drivers. The two amigos made a stop for lunch and a stop at a bike shop to get Russ’s wheel trued by someone who knew what they were doing before pushing on. They passed by two abandoned forest service campgrounds before taking the Boulder alternate, which led them down a surprisingly fun and well maintained gravel ride into the Merry Widow Health Mine camp. They negotiated for a camp spot and then were told offhandedly “Oh, you’re in time for the tail end of the pot luck.” Free, functionally limitless food was quite appealing, and the two partook. As they ate, they heard the people gathered there talk about how the mine had helped treat various ailments of theirs, including arthritis, migraines, and muscular issues.
As an aside, Dov has little patience for anecdotal, non-double blind treatments but was feeling too polite and good natured to say anything about it at the time. Instead, he happily imagined that the health benefits existed and were caused by ancient, half-broken, self-replicating nanobots left in the water by a crashed alien spaceship from the Lower Transcend a la A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky.

July 19: The two continued the ride on the Boulder alternate, following the frontage road out to the highway. There, they made council. It was decided to stay on the highway so as to arrive in Helena before the bike shops closed. Russ’s replacement tire was very slightly too large for his frame and cause chain rub when in low gears, and Dov’s luggage rack had two broken welds and two snapped struts and was being held together with zip ties and electrical tape. The climb was long but not too arduous and was followed by a screamingly fun descent, and the two continued on frontage roads into downtown Helena. The people at Big Sky Cycling and Fitness were fantastic and, while completing the repairs, recommended a Cajun restaurant and an old-timey motor lodge.

July 20: Our heroes dragged their feet a little leaving town, which was absolutely par for the course, but started climbing valiantly, running into such delightful south bounders as Dana (rhymes with Montana). Ever since Colorado, south bounders had been singing praises of “The Llama Farm.” informing our heroes that it was a respite similar to the Toaster House and Brush Mountain, not to be missed. After some route confirmation via GPS, our heroes eventually saw a big fat sign saying “^ GDMBR” that eventually led to another sign that looked like a local radio station call sign: GDMBR 88.1 Bicyclists Welcome. The 88.1 stood for the odometer reading from mile zero on that particular map segment and indicated the llama farm. There was a vast fleet of south bounders there first, and our heroes had to scrounge up spots on the ground.
Onward! To llamas!
Doesn't GDMBR 88.1 sound like a college radio station?

July 21: The day previous had been on the short side given the llama farm distance from Helena, and our heroes attempted to improve on it this day. There were three climbs: one over Huckleberry pass that then dropped into the thoroughly unremarkable and forgettable town of Lincoln and the climb out of Lincoln that eventually plopped our heroes down into the incredibly small town of Ovando, where our heroes partook of a solid meal and Dov fell asleep in the hoosegow. Seriously, it’s the old town hoosegow that cyclists are allowed to overnight in. Very comfortable.

July 22: There was a trail this day that could have taken our heroes to Seeley Lake, and a second one that will be mentioned momentarily. The two riders elected not to head into Seeley Lake, however, and instead pushed onwards, aiming for informal campsites at Clearwater Lake. This led them to the first real single track of the entire ride, a mountain-hugging stretch of slumping, deteriorating road that led up a very difficult, occasionally unridable climb and down a screamingly fast descent. Once our heroes caught their breath on the other side, they noticed a sign marking the trail they had just come across: Closed to motorized vehicles to preserve grizzly habitat. Knowledge that they were very glad they had after riding the trail. They pushed further down the mountain and set up a wild camp on a decommissioned stretch of road near Clearwater Lake.

July 23: Dov had run out of water the previous night, and Russ was running low, so the two decided to take on some water at Owl Creek campground, just a few miles down the road. The pulled in and noticed, hey, there’s horses here! As they were filling up a woman taking her two year old granddaughter out for a sunlit perambulation started chatting and invited the two over to the mess tent for coffee. Having been on the road too long to pass up free beverages, our heroes agreed and were then plied with coffee and iced tea and cookies and two hours of truly delightful chatting. It was noon before our heroes rolled out. The next stage of the trail took them over some more singletrack that connected dirt roads, and they ran into more south bounders than ever before. At one point Russ saw a large, tan shape that was almost certainly a mountain lion. The two pushed on and on, which may or may not have been more on and on than previous on and ons, but it felt like more on and on. Eventually they crossed Fatty Creek and saw a spot near the river where people had cleared away the trees and made a small fire pit for a campsite. The evening was pleasant and cool, making them well aware that the following morning would be cold and damp.

July 24: The climb up from the river and over the mountain was an exhilarating wakeup and warmup for the rest of the day. A southbound couple on Tumbleweed Prospectors informed the duo about a brewery/pizzeria just south of Eureka, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The day was spent pushing into Columbia Falls with the prospect of showers and food cooked by other people.

July 25: Foot-dragging leaving the nearby town of Whitefish coupled with a slight off-route error led to initially slow progress by the dynamic duo leaving the Columbia Falls/Whitefish area, but they started climbing with nary a complaint and eventually reached Red Meadow lake, which included the two things our heroes had learned to look for in particular: pit toilets and bear boxes. A lovely evening was had talking with a family out for a weekend of camping and fishing, and our heroes were plied with Dutch oven cake.

July 26: Our heroes left the campground on the early side, knowing deep in their hearts that their was drawing to a close. They pushed on through long but mostly gentle climbs, encountering even more south bounders, coming across fresh bear scat on the road, and zooming into the land below where lay the pizzeria. Dov, being the incurable speed demon that he is, saw a big “Closed” sign and breezed on by it. Russ, passing by hot on his heels, noticed that someone was swapping the “Closed” sign with one that said “Open” and sped on after Dov, trying fruitlessly to flag him down before he had gone too far. Dov was eventually rounded up and, feeling chagrined, he followed Russ back to the now open establishment. The two partook of really, really nice pizza, which was saying something as the two had had many opportunities to partake of the pie during their expedition. Eventually they finished and rolled out for the town of Eureka, where there was free camping in the city park. Russ had heard a loud pinging noise coming from his bike on the ride over, and when the bike was inspected it was discovered that he had broken not one, not two, but five spokes on his rear wheel, possibly due to a loose buckle from his luggage that had got caught in the spokes. His two remaining spare spokes were called into action, but this still left three duds. Dov’s spares were just slightly too short. Figuring that the last ten miles to the Canadian border were merely a formality, Russ threw in the towel and renegotiated to be picked up in Eureka.
There were several southbound riders sharing the park, including a woman and her father who bequeathed their (greatly improved and very helpful) 2018 20th anniversary Canada section map to Dov.

July 27: Russ and Dov enjoyed a last big breakfast as amigos before going their separate ways. Dov crossed the border into Canada and was again, for the first time since Cuba, riding Han style (a.k.a. Solo). After grinding through some mildly unpleasant rural-residential roads, he continued onto the souther tip of the Elk Valley trail, which he would follow for the next few days. Dov stopped by a river north of Elko to make camp and called it a night, exhausted and worn out but mostly happy.

July 28: Another very damp, very cold morning found Dov eating his customary unheated instant oatmeal mixed with peanut butter and raisins. He set off on what soon became the most verdantly picturesque section of the trail so far, a veritable lush temperate Pacific Northwest rainforest. There were thimbleberries and saskatoons, and our hero would occasionally stop for a few minutes to browse. The road eventually turned to single track just south of Fernie, which made for slightly slow going. This was the one type of trail our hero’s rig was not well suited for. Our hero lunched in Fernie and then pushed onwards through yet more beautiful, enjoyable, thoroughly-inappropriate-for-his-bike single track to the town of Sparwood, where our hero dined. As he was about to get back on the bike it started to rain, first a drizzle and then more urgently. The nearby motel had a big No Vacancy sign up, and the in-town campground was so full the overflow had overflowed. Our hero then resorted to the age old trick of backtracking along his trail to find a nice out of the way nook where he could wild camp.

July 29: Our hero, having thought long and hard about how slow he had been on the previous day’s single track and how much of a completionist he really wanted to be, left the trail and took the highway into the town of Elkford, where he did a quick resupply before getting back on the trail. The road was well maintained, well packed dirt, and our hero’s tires did sing, letting him eat up the miles before he found a small, user maintained campground right next to Weary Creek. There was a Belgian family already there. As he talked with them, Dov learned that they were riding from Vancouver to Calgary via the TransCanada and had already been on the road for three months. Such a relaxed pace was explained away by the fact that they were traveling with two small children, and so their days had been of the 20 and 30 kilometer sort. A solo southbounder soon rolled in, closely followed by two friends who were riding the divide via guidebook and odometer. Dov bequeathed his US maps onto them, professing that they needed them more than he did.

July 30: This day found Dov really pushing some tough climbs up to Elk Pass, which marked the division between BC and Alberta. His drivetrain, while not actually dead, was definitely lying in bed waiting for the priest, and he had to carefully traverse so as not to stress it unduly. The descent from Elk Pass followed a power line for a ways but devolved into hiking trail and single track, which was slightly more confusing to follow, before dumping our hero out into Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, where he had to do yet more climbing. His estimate based on the map put him at only forty miles for the day, however, so while the siren song of official camping spots did test his resolve, grimly did he head north towards Spray Lake. Our hero had been on the road leaving the park for barely an hour when he saw a car stopped by the side of the road. Concerned for those inside, he pulled up close, finally noticing the driver leaning his body out of the window with a big ol’ camera pointed at the opposite side. Just as Dov was about to pass in front of the camera, two bears popped up from the grass, a mother and cub, seemingly grizzlies. While the bears seemed unconcerned and relaxed, our hero decided to place the car between him and them and passed behind it to continue his journey up the road. He was rewarded with a tough but enjoyable climb nestled in the rift between two enormous chains of mountains that eventually brought him to the southern tip of a large artificial lake. Our hero did bravely push on, knowing that at the northern edge there was a campsite where he could safely plotz.

July 31: Still worn out from a very long previous day, our hero was slow to move this morning, but rise he did eventually for the last day of riding during his epic journey. He had not been on the trail for more than an hour before he encountered another grizzly about thirty feet in front of him on the trail, contentedly doing its own thing. Calmly and smoothly our hero did turn back and gave the bear a chance to go away on its own. Twice did our hero venture forth again, and twice did he retreat due to the bear not having moved. The third time, our hero did start singing for a good two minutes before venturing forth, and this time the bear had gone away. Slightly shaken but undaunted, our hero did continue riding the Highline and then Goat Creek trails, confidently singing his way through such classics as Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath (both Ozzy and Dio), Kiss, Judas Priest, Amon Amarth, and Motorhead before he ran out and had to start recycling material. Soon he began seeing more day riders, and eventually, tired but triumphant, our hero rolled into Banff, which he immediately disliked. He had been on the road for nearly two months and was not used to crowds any more. Banff is touristy to an extreme, and most of the tourists are loud and obnoxious. Our hero was able to suck it up, though, and had some lunch while he bought himself a return ticket to Vancouver online. He then checked himself in to one of the least horribly expensive accommodations and, after conducting some other small items of business, went to sleep.

August 1-2: This was our hero’s return journey to Vancouver and, from a bicycling perspective, was not particularly interesting.

There you have it, my friends. The mostly accurate, sporadically photographed first hand account of Dov’s journey along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.

This is the collated trip report I did of my stint Northbound on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, which I did from early June to early August of 2018. It remains the single most joyous and pure experience I have ever had, and it's filled my life with purpose and meaning to ride even crazier trips in really wild parts of the world.
The report was stitched together after the fact based on emails and texts I'd sent to my parents, dated photos I'd taken, and triggered back-of-the-envelope reckoning with the map. While compiling it I'd frequently realize "there must have been another day in there, because otherwise this timeline contradicts itself." I was actually a little surprised with how well I could remember some very specific interactions, interludes, and pieces of scenery, even over a year and a half later.
The images got a little mangled when I turned this into a blog post. I will come back and fix them at some point.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Twas the night…

Twas the night before Christmas and within Khazad-Dum
The caverns were all silent, even Balin's Tomb.
The orcs were all dormant, immobile with fear.
The watcher asleep beneath Mirrormere.

Then a light shone out clear like a glint off of mithril,
Or the tree of great lineage that grew in Minas Ithil.
Gandalf had arrived! With the Rivendell eight!
They journeyed in Moria, denied the pass of Redhorn Gate.

But from the roots of Caradhras, a balrog did rise.
It tried to cross Durin's Bridge, held by Gandalf the wise.
He fought with the balrog, the fell beast of ill name.
The dark flame of Udûn, called by some Durin's Bane.

The balrog fell from the bridge, but its dread lash didn't miss,
And the grey pilgrim was dragged into the midnight abyss.
With Narya on his left hand and Glamdring in his right,
Gandalf fell off Durin's Bridge and dropped out of sight.

From the depths to the peaks Gandalf fought his foe,
Morgoth's dread servant, the Valarauko.
Yet on tall Zirakzigil the balrog was killed.
And Mithrandir died, his great task fulfilled.

There are those will whose say "There's been a mistake!
A December release does not a Christmas film make."
I respond with disdain and a contemptuous snort.
"Are you quite finished? Then allow me to retort."

There's white-bearded men, elves, presents, and bows.
Small folk are urged to be good. Hell, there's even some snow.
It brings friends together to join in the cheer
Of great happy endings at the end of the year.

So on December seventeenth, gather round with some friends.
Block out thirteen hours, make sure all can attend.
Dim the lights, start the film, and proclaim to all them:
Merry Christmas to all, and in the darkness, bind them!

There were two primary sources of inspiration for this piece: a friend of mine showed me a watercolor she made about How the Balrog Stole Christmas, and this comic: https://www.gocomics.com/foxtrotclassics/2013/12/04
It turns out I'm not even the first person to make the argument that LotR is a Christmas movie: https://dailyhive.com/vancouver/opinion-lord-of-the-rings-christmas

This post is the first of the new year (and decade) and marks the first entry of a semi-formal contest I'm having with the friend who encouraged me to start this blog in the first place. We're each going to make one creative work per month, one worthy of being read or seen or heard by other people, and then at the end of the year we're going to get a bunch of people around and have them judge the works. It's very much not competitive, just a fun activity to push the creative habit.

Edit: I know, the Watcher is on the other side of Moria from Mirrormere, but it fits the scansion better, and you can't not mention the Watcher. So sue me.

Friday, March 29, 2019


The antiquated air conditioner made an unpleasant ticking sound as it belched cold air into the cramped white room. The inconsistent gusts made the intricate batik cloths hanging on the wall ripple slightly, the effect hypnotic. Neither the doctor rifling through boxes on the floor nor the patient standing inside the doorway took any notice of either the cold or the shifting designs.
"I tell you, I have them here somewhere, had them ordered from Taipei because I hoped a special customer would come sometime who knew what he wanted." Junk and packing material littered the space around the doctor's feet as he rummaged. A blister pack containing an "EZ-Mekka-Pancreas" bounced onto the floor, followed by bubble wrap and a box of artificial fingernail implants.
The man in the doorway shifted uneasily from foot to foot. "Just hurry up, over and done with. The Sundanese won't like it if they learn I was here."
"Aha! Bingo." The doctor held up a matte black box the size of two fists held together. Shiny black characters covered its faces, catching the light and making odd reflections. "I told you I had them, last year's flagship model before Taiwan Biokinetic hired that tightfisted idiot CEO." He motioned to a dentist's chair in the center of the room, its upholstery leaking out at the exploding seams. "Sit down, be comfortable, equipment takes some time to get ready."
The other man shuffled furtively to the chair, glancing over his shoulder as if the Sundanese were right behind him.
"I tell you to relax, Atang," the doctor repeated. He walked over to a touchscreen on the wall and started tapping icons, causing various electromechanical noises to start in various of the room. "The Sundanese don't own me, I won't tell them you were here if you don't want me to. They can't do nothing to me, because they know I'm the best micro-surgeon in all of Jakarta. Oh, they growl and show a little muscle, and I pay my percentage like everyone, but they know who it is who's going to perform their upgrades when Toshiba comes out with the new spinal actuators." He paused for a minute. "How much trouble are you in with them, anyway?"
Atang coughed. "They got a big crate of immunobots stolen by this tough new gang from Sumatra. Word is someone tipped them off that it was going to be moved, and people started pointing fingers, and…well."
"And of course you did not do this thing, sasa?" The doctor's words were clipped and precise, his eyes still focused on the screen. "I have known you since you were five years old, and I know my old friend Atang would not do something so stupid and then come to me and ask for help."
"Of course not, Dr. Guret! Ibrahim doesn't like me, and he just started some rumors. Those Sumatrans scare me. I don't want anything to do with them."
"Hmm." The doctor's expression softened slightly. "If you say you did not do this thing I'll believe you and won't push the matter." Dr. Guret swiped his hand over the control panel, and a grid of interconnected lines lit up superimposed on Atang's body like an external nervous system. "Hokay, I don't see anything that's going to cause any problems. Do you have any implants I should know about that might do anything strange?"
Atang shook his head. "I don't have anything fancy. Liver plugs and stomach lining plus skin weave. This is my first big mod."
"I can see." Guret smiled encouragingly. "I am honored you chose me for the big plunge. Are you really sure you want to go through with it, though? I'm okay backing out now if you think you might have second thoughts later. A lot of people, they can't cope with looking in the mirror and seeing new eyes looking back."
"Yeah, I'm sure." Atang shrugged. "My brother in law got new eyes two year back after someone glassed him in the face, and I think I can take it too. Just…are the Taiwanese really that good? I want to do the best there are."
Guret tapped the black box on the counter proudly. "Best I've ever found. Not just a camera and a computer, they have replacement optic nerve connection and patch directly into the visual cortex. Of course they do some processing too, but the brain does some, and it works better together like that. The controls are subvocal, so no need to keep another app on your phone to change settings. There's a sliding frequency spectrum from millimeter radar up to UV, crisp definition over all 210 by 150 degrees field of view, perfect motion detection, and extensible head up display. It is very fine piece of technology. I am a little curious, though," said Gurent, his expression become serious, "why you are willing to spend so much scrip on top of the line Taiwan Biokinetic ocular upgrades without knowing all about them already. These are not an impulse buy, sasa, like a tattoo you can change your mind about in the morning."
Atang shivered in the chair, and it was clear from his voice that it wasn't due to the cold. "You know the Sumatrans I talked about earlier, who got the Sundanese all angry? Well, I seen them fighting. One of them came into a bar I was in, just walked in off the street all normal, and killed a guy that was sitting having a drink. Motherfucker was so fast, couldn't nobody see him move, and in two seconds Solomon was bleeding out on the floor with a crushed ribcage. He had army training, too, and custom spinal work, and he didn't have any time to react. All the guys there were really shook up, but it just stayed with me for some reason. I can't shake the feeling that those Sumatrans are behind me, just where I can't see, moving fast right when I turn my head. And now the Sundanese are looking for a rat, and…and I just feel like I want to see what's happening before it happens. Maybe I'll get killed anyway, but just maybe I can see it coming just in time and run."
"I'm sure it was just some punk running overvolted nerve inducers with custom firmware-"
"No," insisted Atang. "It was more than that. I mean, who even just murders someone like that? And he just walked out after when everyone was still in shock."
"I understand," said Guret after a pause. "You are not buying eyes from me."
"What?" said Atang. He started to get up out of the chair, his face turning angry. "I told you I didn't tell anyone about the immun-"
"No," interrupted Guret. "You are buying peace of mind. I don't know if that is something I can give you, but I can try very hard."

The smell of sweet soy sauce and fried chicken permeated Guret's office, and he smiled warmly at the old woman who had brought the smell and the covered dish generating it into the room. "Mrs. Hatta, I am always delighted to see some of your cooking in front of me, but it is now six months after your operation. Your debt is long paid."
The old woman shook her head. "You gave me back my joy in food. I should have had you regrow my teeth years ago. Not a day goes by I don't marvel at being able to eat something besides rice and soup."
"Well," said Guret, motioning to a chair beside him, "please join me then. I was just going over some new catalogs, and company would be welcome."
Mrs. Hatta moved to sit down, but a crash from the operating room made them both jump. Guret opened his office door and peered in, trying to see if any of his equipment had fallen. Instead, he saw a huge figure standing in the wreckage of the door into the operating room. As soon as he peeked out, the figure crossed the floor quickly and had a hand around Guret's throat.
"Are you the doctor?" His assaulter's voice flat and expressionless.
Guret nodded feebly. The grip on his throat was making it hard to breathe.
"You will assist my brother. His implants have been compromised." Just behind his captor, Guret could see two more figures bringing a stretcher into the room carrying a bound, thrashing body. Guret was released, and he stumbled into the operating room, gasping for breath. He managed to turn on the lights, got a good look at the body on the stretcher, and nearly vomited. Sweat, pus, blood, and open sores mixed together on the man's skin, some of which was burned and some some of which was burned away entirely. Foam and vomit coated his front, and a rag stuck in his mouth and tied around the back of his head was all that kept the muffled noises he was making from turning into raw, howling screams.
Guret goggled. "What happened to him?"
"Irrelevant. Treat him," said the voice behind him.
 Guret looked around sharply. "I need some details so I can treat him properly, sasa? Was there an accident? Are his implants recent? Any chance a badly integrated system was pushed over the edge by a recent addition or a bad firmware upgrade?" He had already started rummaging through his drawers and taken out a syringe. "Any vat grown organs? Any allergies or drug patches on his liver?"
"Treat the damage. We will answer questions as you work." Guret shrugged and injected the syringe into the patient on the floor. Almost immediately the spasms stopped. "Cut the bonds and lift him onto the table. I'll clean up and let Mrs. Hatta know she can go home, and then I'll get to work."
He stood up and started walking towards his office before he noticed Mrs. Hatta's corpse lying on the floor, the top of her head smashed in. He spun around to face the hulking figures in the operating room, his face hot.
"What did you kill her for?" he shouted. "She's not a part of this, she's…she was just a harmless old woman!"
One of the stretcher carriers spoke this time. "This territory is controlled by Sundanese. She would have relayed information to others. They should not know these things."
Guret started. Even though only one of the stretcher carriers was talking, both of their mouths were moving, in close unison. And the way they moved, as if they know exactly where the other one would be…
Guret tried to push these thoughts to the back of his mind. Atang had been right. If these were the Sumatrans he had been talking about, they were a lot scarier than rooftop biochip modders.
Three flat expressions followed Guret as he moved around the operating room gathering equipment. Scalpels, a small hand scanner, medigel. He tried to focus on the task at hand, not thinking about Mrs. Hatta or how crazy and fanatical a gang would have to be to mess with distributed intelligence and hive minds. He had heard stories, of course, everyone had heard half crazed stories whispered in bars just as people were getting really drunk. Supposedly, the military had poured billions of rupiah into the technology under the rug; and there was also all the rumors about North Korea, which had supposedly infected their entire water supply with nanobots in an effort to turn their population into the Communist ideal; then there was also the one about the American government, which people said had torn itself to pieces in a ruthless mole hunt, rooting out a hive mind in its upper echelons…
Guret stripped the clothes off the body on his operating table and sponged off the various fluids. Now that the skin was clean he could make a guess as to what had happened. It look like this man had been exposed to a high voltage source; there was a big electrical burn along his torso, and some of the open sores looked like implants that had gotten fried and started cooking the surrounding tissue. These would all have to come out. To make sure he didn't miss any mods implanted deeper in the viscera, Guret turned on the overlay projector. Immediately, a network of superimposed lines and nodes lit upon the patient's body. Some of the nodes corresponded with wounds Guret had guessed were implants, and these were all pulsing in various shades of red. Others lit up along the spine and in the brain. These were pulsing, too.
Taking a moment to breathe deeply, Guret turned around to face the three upright Sumatrans. "I need to know the models for the cerebro-spinal implants. The others I have close replacements for, or I can pack with gel until they can be replaced, but I don't think I can remove the ones in his brain without knowing more."
A pause, during which Guret felt every beat of his heart. An idea that he couldn't dare think about directly had occurred to him, and he absolutely could not let any hint of it show. Then the Sumatran in the doorway to his office responded. "There is a bidirectional radio system, artificial pituitary, and a Nishiki bioprocessor. The amygdala and hippocampus have been rerouted through the central biocore."
"That's all I need to know," said Guret, thinking very fast. "I do not have a Nishiki, have not ever worked with any, but I can use a Tychore microprocessor net to fill the same function. The other components will need to be patched to integrate with the central core, though."
"That is not acceptable," said one of the Sumatrans in that same dead tone, lacking affect. "The firmware cannot be altered. It must retain integrity."
Guret could feel the sweat trickling down the side of his face. This was his big chance. "The alterations will be minimal but are necessary. Anything that directly connects with the central core or engages in a protocol with it will need to be updated to use new timing and voltage parameters. No other logic will be touched."
A pause, and then…"That is acceptable."
Guret tried not to let his relief show. He might just be able to pull this off. With a nod, he turned back to his patient and got to work.

"How did you do it?" demanded Atang. He and Guret were enjoying a cool beer on the roof, watching the lights of the city spread out in front of them like a glowing carpet of night.
"What makes you think I did anything?" asked Guret.
"Because I know you," insisted Atang. "When I come back to say thank you for the new eyes and you asked about the Sumatrans, you were not surprised to hear that the whole gang had collapsed. Three weeks after I tell you about them in the first place, and now it like they were never here. So, how you do it?"
"Well, a few nights after I gave you new eyes, they came to me, and they make me patch up one of their grunts. And when they do this, I figure out that they are not just scary and fanatical, they also make themselves a hive mind."
Atang whistled slowly. "No kidding. I told you, those fuckers were crazy."
Guret nodded and took a swig of his beer. "So this means, as I had one of their own on my table, I had a small opportunity." He wiped his mouth on his sleeve. "A hive mind is a distributed system, and a distributed system that's still up and available and interacting with the world has a weak spot."
"What?" Atang's brow furrowed. "How?"
"It's simple. You split it in half, and you have two pieces, and both think they're the real authority. The other one is now another system, and if it's trying to take over your turf, you must do something about that. So I tweaked the damaged Sumatran's radio to occasionally send out packets ordering even addressed listeners to change to a new channel. Once he got back to his brothers, he partitioned their network, and the two hive minds tore each other apart." Guret grinned evilly. "I wonder how many times they split before they finished killing each other. I made it a little random so they couldn't predict the next partition."
"Whew." Atang sat back. "I tell you this, the Sundanese don't know what happened, and they are both relieved and terrified."
"Good enough for me," said Guret. "Maybe this will make them think twice before leaning on a doctor."

Hello me, it's me again. This is a story that I did as a small competition with a friend of mine. We picked a theme, and each person wrote a short story on that theme. The theme for this particular piece was "owning a small business." It's something I've been wanting to write about for a while: in a lot of genre fiction, cyberpunk especially, there's this roiling grey economy that our heroes have to interact with in order to get equipment or surgery or services. For the most part this is just to give the story an urban feel and to flesh out some of the technology and world building, but I wanted to write a story from the other viewpoint. What happens to the micro-surgeon who gave Molly Millions her shades?

I've got some other story ideas in the queue, but other things suck up time, so it will probably be a while before I get to any of them. I like to do a lot of outlining before I put pen to paper, and none of these stories have gotten past the "idea with scaffolding" stage.