Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Review: The Natural Navigator

Photo from the author's website
Having read an interesting article about this book and author in Outside magazine a while back, I recently ordered and read The Natural Navigator: A Watchful Explorer's Guide to a Nearly Forgotten Skill, by Tristan Gooley. As the name implies, it is about using natural resources and phenomena as an aid in determining where you are and where you are headed. It was a quick and fun read, covering many topics and geographic regions.

The skills discussed in this book are not something that can be directly imparted to the reader. Neither does Gooley attempt to do so. Rather, he gives a starting point for the outdoors or traveling enthusiast to begin building and honing the skills needed to navigate without electronic devices, maps, or compasses. As such, I did not finish the book feeling like I was ready to start leaving my maps at home when I go snowshoeing, hiking, or touring. But I do feel much more aware of some details in nature - like I know a little more about how to pay attention to my location and bearing.

I love books that give a new perspective on the world around us. So even if you do most of your traveling on paved roads and blazed trails, this book is worth reading.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Home-grown kale

Earlier this year, I was talking to my friend Bun (pronounced "Boone") about container gardening. He suggested that I check out Earth Box planters. So I picked up a couple from a local garden center to put on the deck for kale, chard, and beets. Earth Box planters have a reservoir for water underneath a tray that holds the soil, keeping the soil more moist than a traditional planter box.

An annoying label that wouldn't peel off.
That was back in March, and the weather hadn't quite warmed up yet. Perhaps the cold temperature was the reason that, after leaving the new containers outside overnight, I had such an awful time removing the labels from the plastic on the soil tray. Ultimately I had to leave most of the label on there and just poke holes through it to allow for drainage.

Aside from a little bit of extra time and frustration, the label issue didn't hurt anything. Once you cover it with dirt, you can't even tell it's there.

Until the new seeds sprout,
these two kale plants will be lonely.
After planting our seeds, we used the provided plastic cover over the top to help the soil retain heat and moisture. Either we did it wrong, or the cover is a bad idea. Or maybe it was another effect of the cool weather. Whatever the case, we ended up losing almost all of the seedlings that sprouted. Only two Dinosaur Kale plants remained.

So in May, I reseeded the planters. By this time, it wasn't getting as cold at night. And I left off the plastic covers. It didn't take long before I began to see sprouts again. And this time, they took off, big time.

The beets and chard are still not ready for harvesting, but we've gotten some kale from the two older plants already. It tastes great on salads (especially along with the lettuce we have growing in the garden), and I'm looking forward to doing some roasting and sautéing when we get a bigger harvest.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Road-biking Denver's Northern Suburbs, Part 1: Adams County Loop

The Joy of Wide-open Spaces

The plains which surround the Denver area to the North and East are not touted as much as the foothills and mountains to the West as prime road-biking territory. But what the plains lack in steep grades, switchbacks, and majestic canyon walls they make up for in sweeping vistas, low-traffic roads, and the rural farming communities which I feel are quintessential of the American West.

For those of us who live in Denver's northern suburbs, these plains are our stomping ground for daily riding when schedules do not allow for an hour of driving just to get to a decent hill to climb. In this series of posts, I will present some of the routes I like to ride in this area, which generally strike out from Thornton and tour the back roads of this region.

Adams County Loop

This is a 20-mile loop that I discovered a few years ago which has become a staple on days that I just want to get out for a little while for a quick ride. Parts of the route also lend themselves to doing intervals, if you're looking to get more of a workout. There isn't much to recommend one direction over the other, but for some reason I usually go counter-clockwise.

View Adams County Loop in a larger map

This shows the ride beginning and ending (the bicycle icon) at a parking area near the Adams County Regional Park, but it is easily accessible by bike from most areas in Thornton, Brighton, and perhaps Northglenn. If you begin by heading east, there are a few stop signs and traffic lights early on. Once on Tower Road, the ride is uninterrupted until you get to 152nd/Bromley Lane.

168th Avenue features a little bit of a grade, going uphill for a short way before heading downhill toward US-85. At the intersection of 168th/Baseline and US-85, there are service stations, should you need to pick up additional drinks or snacks.

Riverdale Road is another good stretch without traffic lights or stop signs. I often use Riverdale as a convenient place to do intervals. There is a sand quarry midway along the road, so there are some big trucks going through there. But the traffic is still quite sparse and generally polite. I regularly see wild turkeys in the horse pastures along Riverdale, which always adds to the interest of the ride.

As will be seen in future installments, this route can easily be extended to increase the mileage.