Antony and the Johnsons
Cabaret crooner Antony and all his Johnsons created quite a stir when they snatched Britain’s Mercury Prize from acts like Coldplay and Bloc Party. But Antony’s magnificent voice is entirely controversy-proof, whether on I Am a Bird Now or on these EPs culled from that album. It could turn almost anything to aural gold, particularly these delicate dirges. Frequently used adjectives: androgynous, angelic, effortless, haunting, honeyed, hypnotic, golden, Simone-meets-Buckley, siren-like, tender, velvet, wounded. With all due respect to Chris Martin, he never stood a chance.
Beautiful New Born Children
I can’t control how much I love this band. First, there’s the story: four musicians get together under an adventurous (creepy, cult-like) name, get their songs to Domino Records sans contact information, and lead the label running about the internet to learn more. Second, there’s the continuing mystery: Domino claims ignorance as to the details of the band and neglects to mention any of the artists’ names in their press release. And then there’s the sound: capturing the largeness of The Arcade Fire, while maintaining the sensibilities and unrefined crackle of early Strokes. Too good to be true? Not this time.
In the overpopulated world of the singer-songwriter, Blau looks to wind instruments for an evolutionary edge. Saxes and flutes hum and harmonize and add a hint of bigger things to his modest, shuffling pieces. At times sounding a little like Doug Martsch, Blau has plenty of tricks up his sleeve–tempo changes, vocal tics, elements of jazz. While all this attests to Blau’s fine and nuanced musical sensibilities, the jury is still out on whether Beneath Waves is anything more than “pleasant.”
One of Omaha’s resident music brains, Joel Petersen (The Faint, Beep Beep) proves with his third solo effort that, not only is he a pro with the new-wave side of life, he’s also quite proficient with the lyrical too. His contemplative mood and broken vocal delivery are the perfect accompaniment to Spindles’ mainstay, lo-fi electronica. I/A is the delightfully winning result of time on the road with his two other bands (last fall’s joint tour), and Petersen is a sure-fire bet if you’re looking for something a little less mainstream from the Saddle Creek catalogue.
Run Hide Retreat Surrender
(Loud and Clear)
Perhaps it’s the simplicity of the recording, perhaps it’s Gnade’s detached, yet personal, presence, perhaps it’s the words themselves–whatever it is, it works. By each of its pieces, Run can be too scarce for its own good, but Gnade’s sound revels in being captivatingly peculiar. Folk rock plays softly in the background as his words flow in the fore and the resulting disc is refreshingly honest, real and straightforward. If you can put your electro pop-flavored dance shoes aside for a beat or two, you’ll find Gnade a charming talent.
Head Wound City
Head Wound City
(Three One G)
“Super group” may be too ambitious a term for a band comprised of relative nobodys, but it is after experiencing Head Wound City’s musical make up that the words start to seem appropriate. Never before has a band comprised of other bands’ members made such a comprehensive mixture of their previous work. This has the ear-piercing but workable wail of The Blood Brothers (Cody Votolato and Jordan Blilie), the uneasy restlessness of The Locust (Gabe Serbian and Justin Pearson), and that frighteningly unrestrained complexity that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs pull off so well (Nick Zinner). This is music in full-on attack mode–and you just might like it.
Sounds of from the Suburbs
It was inevitable that something would bump Bright Eyes from its 8-week run in my discman, but I had no idea it would be some local yokel band from Spokane, WA who’d take its place. Sure enough though, this jazzy rock has somehow managed to conquer the Oberst! For those (like me) tired of hearing La Cha-Cha in loud, smoke-filled bars, Sounds will be a definite source of excitement. The best of the live show is here, paired with the delicacy of what you figured you couldn’t hear over the din of the crowd. Check out the shows, and be sure not to miss this debut.
The Long Winters
Just when it’s starting to feel like the world has gone to the dogs, a disc like The Long Winters’ new EP arrives in the mailbox and becomes one of the most welcome distractions in months. In its short running time the disc contains 6 tracks of sweet melodies that wrap you up like a warm blanket on a cold winter night. Singer John Roderick’s voice is a comfort through the sparse instrumentation and the two final tracks, both live, bring the whole experience just all the more closer to home. A full-length will arrive in early 2006, but in the meantime this stand-alone effort is plenty to keep you company.
Sliver: The Best of the Box
Perhaps “Milk It” would have been a more apt title for this release, as Geffen, Love and Co. seem to be still wringing the last marketable drops from the Nirvana sponge. Three “previously unreleased” tracks here are available in superior versions elsewhere. Many tracks have the sonic clarity of pea soup. Cobain’s solo outtakes form a sort of musical accompaniment to his Journals–a voyeuristic trip into personal material never meant to see the light of day. But there are also gems aplenty, a painful reminder of the scant studio material left us by Gen X’s best songwriter.
Sun Kil Moon
Tiny Cities is nominally an album of Modest Mouse covers, but the tracks are reworked until scarcely recognizable as such. Dramatic revisionings are eminently preferable to slavish rehashings, but Tiny Cities too often sounds like Modest Mouse lyrics being fed into a Sun Kil Moon song generator. Insert Mouse, watch generator spit out shuffling rhythms, finger-picked guitar and sleepy, double-tracked vocals. Pleasant, to be sure. But lost in the process is all the furious disgust and wild sonic textures that made the songs great in the first place.
Book of Sand
The vocal appearances of uber-talents Devendra Banhart and Sierra Casady (CocoRosie) are likely to be what draws listeners to this record, but it will guaranteed be Tarantula’s distinct ability to wield warrior-like stories with their instrumental prowess that keeps the attention on them. It’s an adventurous concept for an album, but the lads in Tarantula make the rise and the fall work wonders on the ears of their listeners. Who knew instrumental music could be this interesting?
The Soft and the Hardcore
Melanie Valera–the one-woman virtuoso who is Tender Forever–left the south of France to create this record in an Olympia studio. She woos listeners in English, with unaffectedly direct lyrics and sparsely elegant arrangements. Her sonic terrain is bordered by the skittish beats and winsome melodies of the Postal Service on one side, the lilting tones and private visions of Bjork on the other. But she is a place unto herself, and fills her briefly-sketched soundscapes with quirks and catches that demand repeated surveying.
Magazine Article, Music Reviews |
Northwest Bestsellers at Local Record Stores
- Death Cab for Cutie Plans (Atlantic)
- Decembrists Picaresque (Kill Rock Stars)
- Wolf Parade Apologies to the Queen Mary(SUB POP)
- MODEST MOUSE Lonesome Crowded West (UP)
- Seaweed Jack The Captain (self-released)
- Nirvana Sliver (Geffen)
- Five Foot Thick This Cold Life (self-released)
- Coretta Scott Scream And Shout (Rise)
- The Makers Everybody Rise (Kill Rock Stars)
- New Pornographers Twin Cinema (Matador)
This list of Northwest artists and Artists on Northwest labels is compiled from sales reports from 4000 Holes, Boo Radleys, The Long Ear, and Unified Groove Merchants..
Magazine Article |
On Saturday November 26 I opened the Spokesman-Review to find an amazing photo of two plainclothes police officers handcuffing and arresting, face down on the asphalt, two Critical Mass bike riders who had blocked traffic with their bikes. Critical Mass is a nationwide monthly demonstration of cyclists filling traffic lanes during rush hour to call attention to cycling rights and promote alternative transportation.
Say what you want about the Critical Mass folk’s agenda and methods (full disclosure; I have participated in a Critical mass rides in Spokane), do their actions really require the same sort of police treatment you might expect for a meth dealer?
Just three weeks earlier, Denny Bartlett, one of my best friends from high school, who lives in Seattle and commutes by bike to Kent everyday was rear-ended by a car, his bike was totaled, his helmet split open, and he broke his leg. He wasn’t doing anything wrong, the driver of the car that hit him just didn’t see him.
All of this makes me want to be a better cyclist and follow more of the riding tips we have on page 13. The Critical Mass folks, my friend Denny, and anyone who regularly hops on a bike for transportation is doing us all a favor by: helping reduce auto emissions, lessening dependence on foreign oil, and saving on healthcare costs by getting more exercise (broken leg not withstanding, biking from Queen Anne to Kent everyday like Denny makes you one healthy mofo).
Instead of making cyclists lives more difficult we should be trying to figure out ways to make them easier. We need better bike lines, more trails, more bike racks and more education. Who knows, if gas ever hits four bucks a gallon a lot more of us might be out there.
Editorial, Magazine Article |
DR. LUTZ’ COLD SURVIVAL GUIDE
The right clothes, food and water can make all the difference.
NOW THAT WE’RE FINALLY seeing some cold weather, don’t let it keep you indoors. There’s plenty to do out there, but as the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Although we’re physiologically better adapted to dealing with heat than cold, planning ahead can help you enjoy your forays into the cold and lessen the chances that you’ll have to deal with any of the potential health risks that occur with cold weather activities.
Appropriate clothing and nutrition are the keys to successful cold weather play.When you’re thinking of what to wear, consider not only protecting against the cold but wind and moisture as well. Plan on dressing for temperatures 5-10 degrees warmer than the air temperature as you’ll warm up quickly once you get moving. Loose layering is key as this will not only wick away moisture and provide insulation by trapping air between the layers, but it will also allow you to shed layers if necessary as you exercise. A thin inner layer of good wicking material that’s snug but nonconstricting, such as polypropylene, silk or wool, should be followed by a warmer layer that provides the bulk of your insulation (e.g. medium weight fleece or wool can provide warmth and still allow transfer of moisture). Your outer shell should be windproof, waterproof and breathable. Ventilation, such as zippers in the armpits, is a great feature to look for in your outer layer. Use the same principles when covering your feet and hands, and for those of us who can never find gloves warm enough, consider mittens. You lose 30-40% of your body heat from the top of your head, so top off your clothing with a good hat. In previous articles, we’ve talked about the importance of hydration and nutrition for exercise, and this is important in the cold. Energy needs are increased by moving through the snow in heavy clothing and equipment, and by maintaining body temperatures.
Hydration requirements need to factor in insensible heat losses from sweating and breathing dry cold air. Begin your activities with adequate fluids and calories. Carry a pack and maintain your hydration throughout by drinking at least 15-20 ounces per hour of water or energy replacement drink while stoking your furnace with high-energy snacks (e.g. dried fruits and nuts, trail mix or energy bars). Cold liquids and foods can drop your core temperature, so carry a thermos filled with warm fluids or soups. Save the alcohol for after you’ve finished—it may make you feel warm at first, but it causes blood vessels to dilate (think rosy cheeks) and can lead to increased heat loss.
Unsuccessful cold weather prevention can lead to the following problems. Non-freezing cold injuries, such as “chilblain” occur from exposure to cold and wet conditions. These areas are often painful and red, may paradoxically feel hot, are sensitive to touch and may become swollen. Treat by replacing wet/damp clothing with dry clothing and rewarm. Freezing cold injuries (e.g. frostnip and frostbite) occur when the temperature drops below freezing. From superficial discoloration (redness, mottling, or blanched), swelling and stinging, to blistering, discoloration and numbness, freezing injuries are more severe and often require medical care. In-the-field treatment should only be performed for minor injuries. Find shelter, replace cold and constricting clothing with loose, dry and warm wraps/clothing, elevate the affected area if appropriate, and rewarm thoroughly. Partial rewarming and subsequent re-exposure can lead to significant injury and is strongly discouraged. Avoid rubbing and placing the area next to a fire as this may cause further injury due to diminished sensation.
Hypothermia results from the body’s loss of heat. Shivering occurs in an attempt to generate sufficient heat to rewarm, but if unsuccessful, body temperature continues to drop and symptoms of mild hypothermia develop that include: Slurred speech, altered mental state & confusion, poor judgment, decreased coordination.
These may progress rapidly and become a medical emergency, and therefore immediate treatment is essential. Treat as per above, but also consider internal rewarming by eating/drinking warm liquids and if possible, use your cell phone to call for assistance. For more information visit the following websites: www.outdoorplaces.com/Features/Mountain/frostbite, www.windchill.ec.gc.ca; and www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/guide.asp
COLD WEATHER TIPS
- Dress for the occasion—several layers are better than a single heavy layer; think insulation as well as wicking.
- Eat & drink before, during and after your workout—high energy foods, adequate fluids (and warm).
- Avoid alcohol—best for socializing when the day’s done.
- Stay dry (don’t forget your feet)— choose appropriate materials and avoid exercising or hanging out in damp/wet clothing.
- Be aware of the signs of cold injury— avoid partial rewarming; you’re better off staying on the trail and getting help than going back into the cold after you’ve “warmed” up injured areas.
- Think ahead—check out the weather report and know what you’re heading into. Let others know where you’re going.
Magazine Article |
Do Bike Commuters Get The Support They Need?
Seventy-nine million Americans rode bicycles on a paved surface at least once in 2004, the most popular human-powered leisure activity according to the Outdoor Industry Association. That’s more than 25 percent of the nation’s population. Mirroring that trend, the number of commutes by bicyclists in the Spokane region has increased, for 2004 and 2005 months in which comparable data is available, anywhere from 39 to 134 percent. Despite this jump in bicycling commuters, barely one percent of the area’s commuters regularly bike to work. To keep this trend going, several private and public and advocacy groups are working to get commuters on their bikes.
With crowded roads and high gas prices that look to go higher, commuters can beat traffic and save money by bicycling. Spokane Bicycling Club member Eileen Hyatt says, “Bicycle commuting is fun and it makes you feel good. You feel invigorated when you get to work.” However, Spokane city and county roads are almost the exclusive domain of cars, trucks and SUV’s, putting bicyclists at a distinct disadvantage. Since most of those who would commute don’t because of safety concerns, getting comfortable on the road is crucial.
One approach to making bicycle commuting more safe and enjoyable is Spokane Bicycle Club’s “Bike Buddy” program. Program director Hyatt says that “commuters need to be well versed in commuting skills.” To help would-be bicycle commuters gain these skills, the program provides experienced commuting mentors so “bike buddies” can build skills and prepare both equipment and a route. According to Hyatt, about two dozen cyclists have taken advantage of the club’s program.
Some seek to accelerate the pace of improvements to the bicycling infrastructure and driver attitudes through the Critical Mass movement. Chase Davis, Sierra Club Representative for the Upper Columbia Region, is one force behind the area’s renewed CM movement. Fundamentally leaderless, CM rides usually occur on the last Friday of each month in nearly 300 cities worldwide as a bicycling celebration that pushes for greater awareness of cyclists within a multi-modal transportation system.
The politics of bicycle commuting go beyond pleasure and exercise for Davis. “At a time when we are at war, getting out and doing CM rides is a peaceful and legal way to show that alternative transportation is good for the environment, health and national security.” This is especially important, Davis says, because “many elected officials are not doing common sense things, not increasing how far cars and trucks go on a gallon of gas.” The October 28 Spokane Critical Mass ride drew about two dozen cyclists, but also resulted in citations from police. Cyclists ran red lights, meandered through intersections, and generally did what they could to slow rush hour traffic. Some drivers willingly yielded to cyclists who blocked downtown streets; others honked and yelled from their cars, clearly uninspired by the amorphous mini-mass.
Davis expressed disappointment with the riders who rode in an aggressive and often illegal manner.”That kind of riding doesn’t make people feel good about bicycles or get them on their bikes” he says. “We have to encourage others to be involved in a respectful way” while pushing the economic advantages to downtown business.
Sally Lodato, Chair of the City of Spokane Bicycle Advisory Board (BAB) also pushes the economic development angle. Lodato wants the focus to shift from the needs of commuters to the needs of all bicycling citizens. “We need to represent these folks,” she said. “We need to find out what it will take to get citizens on their bikes, to link neighborhoods and parks. We need to make it easy to ride a bike to downtown.” Lodato wants cycling needs looked at in a lifestyle sense. “We have a great opportunity to be a cycling community,” she say, “but cycling has not been embraced as an economic development activity; no matching funds or grants are sought [by the city] to supplement the budget.”
What grants are received are often due to help from the Spokane Regional Transportation Council. SRTC Senior Transportation Planner Eve Payne, a cyclist, considers herself one of the right people on the right project. She helps agencies served by the SRTC to submit grant applications for local bike and pedestrian pathways and planning projects. One long anticipated project is a new bike route map, which should be in draft stage by late December. The map will show signed routes, bike lanes, and key destinations while including safety tips and recreational routes. Although the map has not been updated since 1994, Payne hopes to see it updated every five years.
Another right person in the right place is Spokane County Engineer Ross Kelley. Like Payne, Kelley is a cyclist. Kelley says one of the greatest impediments to safe bicycle commuting is the location of many jobs in older parts of town and the county, areas often served by older and narrower streets. When repaving and restoring roads, engineers strive to provide outside lanes four to five feet wider than the older and/or inside lanes. Wider roads make cycling safer by providing more area for debris to be swept into, water to run off, and snow to accumulate. Whether for pedestrians, bicyclists, cars or buses, Kelley’s approach is to make roads multi-modal friendly. He expects this approach to be long lived as more communities, Liberty Lake among them, are building systems to support the needs of bicyclists and walkers while minimizing conflicts with vehicular traffic.
One entity lacking an experienced cyclist in a serendipitous position is the Spokane City Engineer’s office. BAB chair Lodato says bicycling concerns are generally given little credence by city planners, largely because there is no one with a personal stake in such projects. Rather than include BAB members in the process of drafting new street standards, she says volunteer Board members must track down city employees to seek information and give input. As Lodato put it, the BAB “looks good on the web, but in reality we’re nothing. We’ve got the talent, but we’re not consulted. We have no effective liaison with city planners, so we get nothing done.” The city’s liaison to the BAB, Jerry Sinclair, admitted as much. In a phone message, he said that “I’m more of a resource, a person who would ask the right questions to the right people and get back to the BAB. I’m not a BAB or a cycling supporter.” This is not to say Sinclair is antagonistic to the work of the BAB, but he brings no cycling insight to the position.
Steve Loveland, owner of Spokane bicycle shop Two Wheel Transit, says it all comes down to six words: Same roads. Same rules. Same rights. These words form a mantra for bicycle advocates who want to see more people ride for fun, fitness, errands, or to and from work. It’s building on this mantra to create safer and more enjoyable cycling experiences that requires politicking, an often frustrating process that doesn’t always yield timely or obvious results. There is a need for cyclists to overcome their hesitancy to politic, to stop expecting someone else to step up. Otherwise, the sense of danger, and the danger itself, that keeps many cyclists from being regular commuters will remain.
America Bikes: http://www.americabikes.org/
Bicycle Alliance of Washington: http://www.bicyclealliance.org/
Spokane Bicycle Club: http://www.spokanebicycleclub.org
Spokane County Commute Trip Reduction: http://www.spokanectr.org/ctr/
Outdoor Industry Association: http://www.outdoorindustry.org/
Safe Riding Tips
Spokane Bicycle Club’s Hyatt suggests riders become a “visible and predictable part of the traffic stream.” To do this, bicyclists should do the following:
- Obey the law; traffic laws work for both bicyclists and drivers.
- Make eye contact with drivers, particularly drivers behind you at stop lights and signs.
- Signed bike routes tend to be safer and make for more enjoyable cycling.
- Ride with the flow of traffic; signal turns well in advance when safe to do so.
- Be visible, wearing bright clothes, yellow triangles, and flashing lights, both front and rear.
- Don’t ride on sidewalks as drivers will be surprised should you pop off the curb and into the street.
- Don’t ride in the gutter as this is often taken as an invitation by drivers to squeeze by; instead, ride where the right-side tire of vehicular traffic would normally be.
- Don’t ride to the front at stop lights and signs. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Instead, stake your place in the right side of the travel lane.
Recent State Legislation
Each of the following bills was passed by the 2005 Washington State Legislature and recently enacted into law:
- HB 1108 “prohibits passing when bicyclists, pedestrians, law enforcement or farm equipment is in view and approaching from the opposite direction.”
- HB 1254, creates a “Share the Road” license plate available for purchase in late 2005 or early 2006 with the funds directed to bicycle and pedestrian education and safety programs.
- SB 5186 which calls for comprehensive plans to include an inventory of bicycle and pedestrian facilities with the goal of promoting “policy and planning efforts that increase access to inexpensive or free opportunities for regular exercise in all communities around the state.”
Recent Federal Legislation
The recently passed National Transportation Bill contains over $1.1 directed to bicycle related projects, nearly three times the $400 million allocated in 2004.
Some local/regional Projects in the works, funded by Transportation Enhancement Act, totaling nearly $1.36 million:
- Pedestrian Education and Safety Program ($250,000)
- Hazel Creek Pedestrian and Bicycle Pathway ($145,000)
- Ben Burr Pedestrian and Bicycle Pathway ($597,000)
- Midway Little Spokane Pathway ($349,000)
- City of Spokane Valley Planning ($16,000)
Magazine Article |
John Roskelley Reports Back From Guari Shankar And Talks About Global Warming And The Impact On Mountaineering
As if glaciers, avalanches, and ice fields weren’t enough, mountaineers have a new threat to worry about as they climb the world’s most technical and treacherous peaksglobal warming.
It doesn’t take a glaciologist to figure out that the planet’s glaciers are vanishing into thin air, from the flanks of Everest to Glacier National Park (where scientists predict the park could be glacier free by 2030). And it doesn’t take overwhelming scientific evidence (even though it’s out there) to convince most mountaineers that global warming is a human-aggravated problem that’s posing a real threat to their sport. On many of the world’s summits, no ice may mean no climbing, which is exactly what happened to local climbing legend John Roskelley and his son Jess this fall in their attempt at the unclimbed northeast face of Nepal’s 23,405 Gauri Shankar.
The ambitious climb would have made an impressive encore to their successful 2003 summit of Everest if they hadn’t been turned back by unruly and outright life threatening ice-free conditions. “I was surprised when I got over there how bare the face looked. How melting was taking place at 22,000 feet, because normally that doesn’t happen,” Roskelley explains.
Roskelley had scoped out the route fifteen years earlier on a successful summit of neighboring 23,559 foot Menlungtse. “It looked like this real reasonable route up this rib in the center,” Roskelley recalls. But the face bared little resemblance to the photo he took back in 1990. “I was surprised to look up at this face at 22,000 feet and see these huge icicles. And that meant to me that there was indeed quite a bit of melting going on up high.”
The unsettling conditions weren’t just an inconvenience for the climbers; the shortage of ice had unleashed an unexpected set of treacherous side effects that make crossing a crevasse sound like a game of hopscotch. “When I got up there,” Roskelley remembers, “the risk was exaggerated because of the amount of rockfall, little avalanches coming down, things like that, but mostly it was because of the change in conditions from my photo from 1990 of what the face looked like. It was just a tremendous difference in the amount of rock and snow that was exposed.”
As the upper ice and snow continues to melt, Roskelley explains, more and more rocks continue to be set free to rocket downhill at the heads and limbs of unsuspecting climbers. “The glacier below Gauri Shankar’s face is one big brown mess of rockfall. You can’t even see snow or ice on it. It’s obviously been melting back for years.”
Not ones to be turned back by mere flying boulders and the forces of global warming, the Roskelleys put in their time on the mountain, searching hard for a semi-sane way to the summit. “We were there for two weeks in base camp. We went up one ridge, went up another. We reconnoitered up to the base of the face. We watched it, looked at it, listened to it.” Grudgingly, they finally decided that the intended route was just too dangerous to justify.
“Then we tried a different route, and that just turned out to be a mess,” Roskelley recalls. “Up to the first two thousand feet, up to where our first camp was there was no water, no snow. So we ended up having to carry a five-gallon jug up there for water. That’s how bad it was, there just wasn’t any snow or ice.”
On their improvised ridge route attempt, melting ice and snow had left behind another set of extremely dangerous climbing conditions. “On the ridge it was the same deal. It wasn’t that the rocks were falling on you. The moment you touched something, something else would move and they were big things. They weren’t these little boulders that you could just kick over. These things were massivethey were car sized, and they were sitting on top of this ridge. I’m not kidding,” Roskelley exclaims, “it felt like these things were going to topple on you at any time.”
So what’s behind such dramatic changes? The invisible hand of global warming and the freeze and thaw magic of melting snow and ice are likely culprits according to Roskelley and a growing number of climbers world-wide. “I just feel that it has a great deal to do with the warming of the temperatures in the Himalayas,” explains Roskelley. “And I think the Sherpas have had that same feeling, but they didn’t know what it was.”
Despite the disappointment of having to abandon the summit attempt, Roskelley believes the northeast face could still be done in the winter or early spring. “You’ll have to change the routes you’re going to be doing, and then climb later in the fall or earlier in the spring. But rockfall is a major problem on any steep face, and you’re not going to avoid it.”
All of this may mean major changes for the future of mountaineering. “They’re going to have to revise all of the guidebooks,” Roskelley says, only half-joking. “This is a whole new deal for people like writers. I mean they can just make a mint going up to look at all these climbs up in the Canadian Rockies and saying hey, this is no longer an ice route.”
On the expedition’s web site, Roskelley ribs readers that “One would have to wear a flak jacket and a H3 Hummer for a helmet,” referring to climbing the northeast face, “but it can be done.” Seriously though, as the planet continues to warm, and the world’s highest peaks change forever, it might not be long before innovative climbers respond with new tools, gear, and techniques (like titanium climbing armor or rock loosening percussion grenades maybe?) that will become the next generation’s post-glacier mountaineering standards.
Over the next 100 years, as the Earth warms between 2 and 5 degrees as many scientists predict, the real tragedy is that whatever havoc global warming visits on the climbing world will pale in comparison to the potential impact on coastal communities, agricultural production, and entire native ecosystems. But despite such grave possibilities, and no matter how warm it gets, mountaineering will surely survive as long as there are mountains left to climb.
Magazine Article |
Bozeman Backpack Company Opts Not to Outsource
TALK TO THE FOLKS at Mystery Ranch Backpacks for a few minutes and you’ll know where their target market lies.
“Basically, we build tools as opposed to toys,” says Dana Gleason, who, along with Renee Sippel-Baker, founded Mystery Ranch in 2000. Headquartered in the sprawling outdoor hub of Bozeman,Montana,Mystery Ranch is one of the leading backpack companies that manufactures in the United States.
The company sells a fair amount of packs to your average weekend warrior, but their biggest buyers are those who need high-volume, technical packs that can handle heavy loads. Hunters (who often need to haul out 150 pound loads after kills), mountaineers and backcountry skiers all fit the bill. According to Andrew Crow, a Mystery Ranch employee, Gleason’s pack designs excel at keeping weight on the hips and off the back, largely due to the company’s patented straight-frame system (in contrast to shaped internal frames that distort with weight). Mystery Ranch is not on the ultralight bandwagon, a subtle criticism of which seems to run in the company’s blood. Performance and durability are a priority over ounces.
In 1985, Gleason and Sippel-Baker were coowners of Dana Design, the well-known predecessor of Mystery Ranch. The company was successful and sales reached $6 million a year, but the founders sold the name to K2 Corporation in 1995. With the K2 sale came more growth, but Gleason’s heart wasn’t completely in tune with the new direction that things went, and he parted ways with K2 after four years.
“The only thing I regret is not being more of a cast-iron son-of-a-bitch with K2 in the early years,” Gleason said. But a year later he was back in charge, starting up Mystery Ranch with Sippel-Baker. The young company had its growing pains, most notably the need to outsource production overseas, an event Gleason calls “a real pain in the ass, but an educational pain in the ass.” In 2002 the company received a great reason to terminate its outsourcing contracts and return production to Montana: a big U.S. military order. The Navy SEALS, who had experimented with a Dana Design pack in the early 1990′s, contacted Mystery Ranch and had Gleason design a prototype. The SEALS approved it and made a massive order for “Big D’s Special Blend” (complete with a coating that cannot be detected by infrared). Regulations require federal military gear to be manufactured in the U.S., something many American outdoor gear companies, such as Liberty Lake’s Intergral Designs, have benefitted from.
The SEALS order stands out in the minds of a crew that loves taking part in production. “Everyone that works here sits down at a sewing machine every day,” said Andrew Crow, a Mystery Ranch employee.
Gleason’s entrepreneurship was not inspired as much as a vision for huge profit but from a desire to build quality gear. Three decades ago, after one year of community college, he left Boston and hitchhiked to the Rockies, climbing and skiing along the way. One day he caught a lift from the owner of a chain of outdoor stores, and the ride became a job.
Somewhere along the way, his wife taught him to sew, and by 1975 Gleason had started Kletterwerks, his first company, in downtown Bozeman. Sippel-Baker joined him shortly thereafter, providing the “pragmatism and business management abilities” that Gleason lacked, according to Crow. Gleason’s Christian name still imprints packs in retails stores across the country, but he no longer feels connected to the company that has shrunk to be smaller than his up-and-coming Mystery Ranch. According to Crow, business is nearly doubling by the year, and the company faces the only half-bad problem of keeping up with demand without taking production overseas again.
Their solution is to stop selling to retail stores by the end of the year in favor of only selling directly to customers via phone, internet, and their Bozeman showroom, channels where their margins are roughly twice that of wholesale. By retreating from wholesaling their packs the company is taking a gamble that they can find a direct-sale home for every pack they have the capacity to make.
The packs are not selling well enough in retail stores, where specialized gear is not what customers are looking for, Crow said. Apparently folks in Spokane are a little different, however, as Mountain Goat is one of the top two retailers for Mystery Ranch in the country. The packs have sold well in Spokane because of a large population of backpackers and skiers who find the packs to be very “sport specific,” said Matt Cuseck, a clerk at Mountain Goat. Mountain Goats plans to replace the Mystery Ranch with a new line, that they are confident will please Mystery Ranch fans. Mystery Ranch’s direct-sale approach carries risks. They will have to market their product differently to compensate for their lack of presence in stores and they might find it dificult to ever go back to retail outlets after pulling their line, a move that’s likely to alienate some store owners. But if they pull it off they just might create a different business model for American outdoor gear makers.
For more information on Mystery Ranch Backpacks go to www.mysteryranch.com.
Magazine Article |
Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman
Yvon ChouinardPenguin Press HC,
October 2005, 272 pages.
I rarely recommend business books to people. But Yvon Chouinard’s new book, Let My People Go Surfing is different. Most business tomes tout a single process or strategy for success. Chouinard tells his story and rambles through a set of values that work for his company, Patagonia. He then leaves it to us the readers to take what we see as valuable to our companies and lives, and gives us insights into how to be a successful sustainable business. The book challenges us to come up with a set of values that keep business in sync with an environmental and social ethic.
Chouinard first takes us through the history of Chouinard equipment and Patagonia, in a series of well-written and entertaining segments. The stories of the good times at Patagonia are nice, but there is more insight to be gained from seeing how Chouinard and the company worked through the tough times. These set the stage for a discussion of the values and philosophies of Patagonia and its founders.
The book is compelling and an easy read. It is illustrated with a series of historical photographs of climbing and the outdoors that make it enjoyable for even the non-business reader. Much of the success of Let My People Go Surfing comes from Chouinard using the same Zen-based philosophy in writing it as he used in building Patagonia. He suggests that we forget about the goal and concentrate on the individual parts of a challenge. If we perfect all the elements then we will have success in the larger project.
Shoemaker Hoard, May 2005. 152 pages.
A lifelong farmer and proponent of Thoreauvian simplicity, Wendell Berry has published more than three dozen books. Much of his writing demands that we reevaluate our lives, that we ask hard questions about our definitions of community, our relationships to technology, and our exact attitudes toward commerce, nature and consumption.
Like all good writers, he will not permit imprecise language. His fine new book of poetry, Given, follows in the tradition of his earlier works. For example, after the opening lines of “Some Further Words”"Let me be plain with you, dear reader. / I am an old-fashioned man”he interrogates how language is frequently used to obscure intent and meaning:
The world is babbled to pieces after the divorce of things from their names. Ceaseless preparation for war is not peace. Health is not procured by sale of medication, or purity by the addition of poisons. Science at the bidding of corporations is knowledge reduced to merchandise.
Ezra Pound (borrowing from Confucious) asserts that “calling things by their right names” is the first step toward ethical living; Berry reminds us that using words imprecisely (over generalizing, misrepresenting, euphemizing) is something that everyone (eco-activists, politicians, corporations, normal folks living normal lives, us) needs to resist. Simply, by finding accurate words, we can help discover “a language that can make us whole.”
Berry is not just a gadfly. His didacticism is complemented by a tender lyric voice that sings praise for the people, places and things that he loves. Several sections of the book offer “Sabbaths,” poems of rest and worship. Attentive to nature, love, community, family and mortality, Berry’s meditative voice reveals someone at home in this world:
I dream of a quiet man who explains nothing and defends nothing, but only knows where the rarest wildflowers are blooming, and who goes, and finds that he is smiling not by his own will
The Meaning of Trees: Botany, History, Healing, Lore
“Trees and humankind have always had a symbiotic relationship,” writes Fred Hageneder. The Meaning of Trees is primarily an exploration of that symbiosis, approached from an anthropological perspective rather than a botanical one.
Hageneder presents over fifty types of trees, all lovingly photographed. While he does not shy from speaking of lanceolate leaves and glaucous cones, he lavishes far more time on trees in relation to humanityeach entry has sections on “practical uses,” “natural healing,” and “culture, myth and symbol.” He dips into any and all cultures and periods of history, even providing an Early History primer at the beginning of the book.
The photographs are spectacular, making The Meaning of Trees coffee-table worthy in and of itself. Hageneder enriches the pages with a wide-reaching variety of factoidsbotanical, historical, etymological and theological. Did you know, for example, that a large baobab tree can contain over 30,000 gallons of water in its trunk, enough for entire tribes to survive on? Or that Julius Caesar introduced the larch to Roman building after discovering its flame resistance (while trying to burn down a Gallic fort)?
Hageneder’s prose is lucid and restrained, and he draws upon a vast array of sources. However, the format starts to wear thin through repetition when sustained over a few hundred pages. Mild analgesics, leaf fodder and druidic ceremonies begin to blur together, and Hageneder rarely addresses the specific themes and ideas that tie the book together as more than a collection of separate entries.
Repetition is the mother of learning, however, and Hageneder ultimately paints a picture emphasizing the centrality of trees to the human experience (both in the everyday and the sublime). Hageneder promotes ecological awareness in the most effective way – not with heavy-handed rhetoric, but by showing his subject in such a way that it cannot fail to inspire admiration. The Meaning of Trees seems likely to woo even the most hardened dendrophobe or cold-blooded capitalist.
Book Reveiws, Magazine Article |