Friday, February 26, 2010

On Utility and Boardshorts

This is an article comparing the relative utility of some of our purchases. It's pretty dry, so no ill feelings if you stop reading now.

What prompted this was an observation that the small-ticket items we buy either get quickly discarded or stubbornly used until they literally disintegrate. It's the big-ticket items we buy that we feel obligated to keep for a while, but end up getting replaced every so often because there's a bigger (or smaller), tougher (or lighter), shinier version that we just have to have.

We'll do ourselves a big favor and wholly exclude the black hole of fiscal hemorrhage that is camera gear.

I own one suit for dressy occasions. It fits me well, and I paid $250 for it, call it $300 with alterations. I wear it about twice a year, and I've owned it for 4 years. I'll probably replace it for no good reason after another year or two, which means I'll have worn it about a dozen times. Doing some extremely complicated math, that's $25 each time I wear it. I know that wearing a suit a dozen times is on the low end, but my circumstances don't compel me to wear it a few times a week. If I were wearing suits nearly every day, I'd also probably own more than one, and I'd probably buy nicer suits, so the end result of more use would be offset by these factors.

Moving on, the snowboard I have now cost me $250, but its actual price was $450, and most of the boards I've bought over the years have been in the $400-$500 range. Let's roll with $400. A snowboard, even if babied, does not last forever. The wood core wears out, the base stops holding wax, etc. A snowboard, not babied, is subject to damage from a variety of sources. I do not baby my snowboards, although I do all my own tuning, so the upkeep cost approaches zero. On average, I get about 40-50 days of riding before 1) catastrophic damage occurs, or 2) incremental damage and normal wear combine enough to warrant replacement. Actually, I've only ever retired one board. Three have experienced catastrophe, and another three are still in rotation. Again, complicated math, but that's $8-10 in snowboard cost alone every time I go ride, not even considering boots, bindings, helmet, gloves, pants, jacket, goggles, etc., all of which have discrete lifetimes.

Ambling further along, I've got a pretty nice bike that I train and race on. I bought it second-hand for $2000. We'll lump the daily upkeep, replacement tubes, tire wear, chains, cassettes, cables, etc. together and figure that I'll have spent another $2000 on it by the time I replace it. I got that bike 3 years ago, and with a broad-brush average, we'll say I ride it four days a week or 200 days a year. I'll probably get another year out of it, so that'll be a total of 800 rides over four years for $4000. $5/ride. Not bad for a big-ticket item.

At this point, these three examples serve to illustrate how considerable initial outlays of cash for gear or clothes work out over time, and they all seem to justify that outlay with reasonable per-use cost for what are high-quality products. Curiously, each of them cost more than the previous one in the list, but each of them also have a lower per-use cost than the one prior. You could draw a rudimentary graph and figger that cheaper stuff doesn't get used as much and ends up costing quite a bit more each time it gets used. Unfortunately, that's an egregiously wrong conclusion, and we'll use the Case of the Boardshorts to disprove it:

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Exhibit A

What you see here are some Patagonia boardshorts. They're not billed as running shorts, but I prefer to use them as such, because Running Shorts and Runners in General Look Silly, or I Would Prefer to Sandbag and Not Let People See How Crushingly Strong My Legs Are, depending on the audience. I've got other boardies for beach days and other uses, but this is a designated running pair. With the exception of races, during which more "appropriate" garments are worn, I have run in this exact pair of shorts for every run I've done since I've had them. I bought them in 2003. Six full years they've lasted, and across three continents. And with that same broad-brush average, three runs a week. 150 runs a year, six years, 900 runs. And I bought them for $19. Which means they've cost me just over two cents, a measly $.02, every time I've used them. [A designated casual pair, purchased the same day for the same price, was finally retired in Fiji after five years of hard use when the ass literally fell out, much to the chagrin of my travel partners and to the amusement of the locals.]

And, lest you think this is a eulogy, just because the shorts are on a hanger in this photo doesn't mean they've been hung up in the proverbial sense. Still goin' strong, and gettin' cheaper with every mile.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


After a week of positively springlike and beautiful weather, our local "meteorologists" got caught off guard and allowed us to wake up to over a foot of snow Sunday morning. Perish the thought. I gathered Riley from his cave and we walked around downtown and by the river for a while. Here's my haul.

From our patio, heavy trees

Copper door

Copper door, abstract

Newspaper man surveying the mayhem

Situational irony

It was a heavy snow, so we saw lots of downed tree branches and even some downed power lines.

Promptly went home and spent the rest of the day shoveling our driveway and some key parts of the cul-de-sac. Between this frivolity and the time moving big blocks of snow for our backcountry jumps, my arms are wrecked and I can barely tpye.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Quick Booter Sesh

I got invited to go along with some doods into the backcountry on Saturday for a day of building jumps. We cruised up to Mt. Rose Meadows and hiked up into the gullies high above Little Lake. We were greeted with less-than-optimal snow conditions as we'd had some sun and no snow, so we were backed into a corner as far as what exposure had any decent snow. This unfortunate fact greatly limited our available terrain.

On top of that, a storm was rolling in, so we just got right down to it and started shoveling. We ended up building a couple of jumps that took advantage of our available terrain and had some fun.

Justin airs over the Liver Splinter stump

Ben styles it

Justin bonks the Splinter

Corked out

Busting through

As the storm intensified, we packed up and rode down. During a moment when I was riding at the back, I unknowingly dropped a snowshoe off my pack. By the time I figured that out, I had a ways to hike back up...silly rookie move!

Good day, much snow moved, and mucho tired arms.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Little Miss Sunshine

Tromped around a bit this morning with my good friend Riley, who's spent his winter making amazing photos of many different subjects.

Anyhow, one could argue that the brilliance of an artist is roughly proportional to the chance that he or she will throw a tantrum at any given time.

Here's Riley in one of his finer moments.

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I'll post more photos from this morning in a day or two, but this one just couldn't wait.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Ed was kind enough to pack Riley, me, and our combined trough of camera gear into his rented Cessna 172 SP for a quick cross-country flight last weekend. We departed Reno under clear skies with the plane pointed along the east side of the Sierras. All photos except the first were taken through the plane's window, so there's some funkiness here and there.

Hittin' tha switches

Toward Virginia Lakes near Mono

Different perspective of Mono's tufas

Our ulterior motive beyond helping Ed tick away the hours towards his IFR rating was scoping rideable backcountry lines, and the Eastside is chock full of 'em...

Big ol' Dana Plateau

Near Mammoth...any takers?

Our original plan was to fly from Reno to Bishop for a touch'n'go, but we were a bit pinched on time so we cut our flight short and stopped in Mammoth for a few minutes before turning 'er back around for home.

On final to MMH; 395 alongside

A propped view of Mono Lake

Thanks to Ed for putting up with Riley's incessant bickering, thankfully cut short by a nap on the way home, and for taking me along on a beautiful flight along the Sierras' Eastside. [ed. note: I played no part in any bickering. Whatsoever.]

Monday, February 8, 2010

Crossing Pavement Occasionally

Murphy and I bailed outta Reno for a quick lap of some of Nevada's dirt roads and ghost towns. After spending Friday night in Tonopah, during which Ethel beefed up on spotting signs of methamphetamine use, we hit the road early Saturday morning.

Before sunrise near Belmont

In no hurry

Beautiful and unique snowflakes make all the trees look the same

Out of place in Manhattan

Middle of absolutely nowhere




Icthyosaur State Park, where big fish roamed the mountains

Berlin ruins

Fortunately, most of these dirt roads are quite well-maintained, and we were able to travel at a good clip. Actually, a lot of the dirt roads were in better shape than nearby asphalt. We had to turn back on one road that went over the mountains as it was snowbound and untraveled, but the lower road was all good.

Our itinerary was as follows: Reno-Tonopah-Belmont-Manhattan-Berlin-Ione-Austin-Middlegate-Reno. Not bad for 24 hours!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Plunder at Carson Pass

Ed and I headed down to Carson Pass for a couple laps on some tasty Sierra terrain. We never found Justin and Hannah at their snowcamp in Meiss Meadow, but we got to make turns on Red Lake Peak and an unnamed (?) peak to the west of Meiss.

Round Top, saving her lines for another day

Looking across Meiss Meadow to Red Lake Peak

Ed works the terrain

Ed works the camera

Monday, February 1, 2010

Wholesome Evening at the Cal-Neva

I've got Riley to thank for inviting Ethel and me along as his assistants. The Cal-Neva hosted an oil wrestling contest, prize $1000. Between the girls and the crowd, well, um, we'll let the photos tell the story.

Past Detritus