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The issue that I'm having...

I went to the supposed new Angeles National Monument on Sunday.

No monument signs. All just says national forest. I guess they're getting there.

The road is closed from the first Baden-Powell trailhead to I think Islip Saddle because of a rockfall. It would be really nice if the Caltrans website offered an estimated date when it will be fixed.

So instead of doing my planned hike which I couldn't get to I thought I would bird the upper Mine Gulch trail, which leaves from the Baden-Powell trailhead.

I had about 15 minutes to bird before the hordes showed up, and therein, my issue.

Especially in a world where some teabagger maniac is trying to pass a bill to destroy all the public lands in Nevada (including Great Basin National Park), I'm glad to see people out using their public lands. Those will hopefully be people who speak up when teabagger maniacs try to have them sold off.

But are there levels of common courtesy? Are there points where "hike your own hike" should become "unless it makes it impossible for someone else to hike theirs"? Are there some areas where it's OK to show up on the trail with a group of at least 20 people, yelling in loud voices, with dogs (I assume the dogs were not going to be taken off leash but who knows) and then are there some areas where that is not OK? Or is that just OK everywhere? What about parking in the parking lot for 10 minutes without even turning your loud, needs repair car engine off while shouting to each other over the noise?

I really resent that I had to leave. I could not hear the birds I was trying to listen for.

On the other hand, I went to Grassy Hollow and that was way better. I have the option of migrating to a more congenial habitat when I get crowded out of the first one I chose. Any wildlife that are disturbed into fleeing by loud voices or chased by dogs don't necessarily have that option.

And on the other hand again, I hadn't hiked into the middle of the wilderness. So are some areas just kind of sacrifice areas where we say "this is nature, but it isn't really wilderness, so any behavior is OK"? Or do we have any actual standards for behavior anywhere?

Then on the third hand, the loudmouths pay taxes too, and there isn't actually any way for them to know, in the absence of an accepted standard of behavior, that their shouting and their clogging the trail with crowds are annoying and have a negative effect on others' experience.

On the whole I think it's better to have the crowds than not have them, but I just wish people would be more mindful.

Two hikes around Santa Cruz

Burleigh Murray State Park. This has one trail, a nice walk through eucalyptus groves, which goes to a barn, which is apparently a special barn if you care about such things. No Barn Owls on the day. Probably not worth seeking out if you don't live nearby (Half Moon Bay).

Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve, on the other hand, is pretty cool. It's in the sandhills, a small and rare Santa Cruz Mountains ecosystem, and it's also had a recent fire, so the endemic shrubs are going crazy. There's basically a north and a south trail loop, with some side trails. At the far end (away from the road) some of the trails become poorly maintained and vanish into the darkness of the redwoods, but if you stay in the sandhill area the route is pretty easy to follow although the signage is rudimentary.

The best thing nature-wise over the holiday was waiting, waiting, while a male Black Scoter came slowly closer and closer to where I sat on the Westcliff rocks until finally he was right underneath me.

The Dark of the Sun is available to order!

This is the sequel to Stealing the Sun, and as befits the middle book of a trilogy, it's a little short, and a lot dark. It's available in print and Kindle. I've ordered some copies for anyone in my area who would like to buy one directly from me. It took me quite a while to get the cover right, because the original image I downloaded didn't turn out to work, but I like it a lot now.

And now some uncharacteristic and possibly annoying personal stuff:

Things have kind of sucked lately. I finally went to the doctor about my increasingly painful back problems, which caused me so much trouble on our backpacking trip last summer, and it's arthritis in my L4 and L5 (the lowest two vertebrae). So: degenerative, incurable, etc.. OK, it's a relief that it's not ankylosing spondylitis or some other disease, but it also leads me to realize just how badly it's been affecting me over the last 6 months, 8 months, year?? It's like that frog being boiled cliché -- I've had this for probably 20 years, and it's just gotten slowly worse, and until I found out what it was I never really took a step back and thought "wow, this really hurts a lot of the time now, and it's making it hard to do daily tasks, never mind hike with a 25-pound pack". So... ew. It can be treated, though. I got some dicey bloodwork results too. I have to take better care of myself.

There is also much more serious illness in my family, which is not my business to share on my blog. The prognosis is good but the situation is stressful.

Work is also stressful.

And to just add to everything, last night I was harassed. I think -- actually I kind of hope -- it was the 9? year old girl from next door with a friend or two. Because then it's just irritating brattiness and they can't do real harm. It started with ringing the doorbell then running away. Kids have been doing this for a million years, I'm glad I didn't also find a flaming bag of dog poo. But it wasn't just once, it was several times. And then they started throwing some kind of debris at the house, like trying to get it on the roof. And then someone snuck up to my front window, where Calamity was sitting, and tapped on the window -- OK, maybe just trying to get her to put her paw up to them -- but it scared her and she ran into another room. This took place over a couple of hours, with intervals, like they were waiting for me to calm down before starting again (yes this is probably paranoid). The first doorbell ring, I checked to see if UPS had been there. Weird noises, I went out with my flashlight, especially because it's been raining and I have a tree whose stability I'm a little worried about, so I thought at first the noises might be tree-related. Tapping on the window (which means they had to trample through my front yard plants to get there...) NOT OK, I got in my car, drove around the street with my brights on to see if I could identify any trespassers, which I could not. I just was not sure if this was kids or a psycho stalker or what. In retrospect, I'm pretty sure it was kids, which means they surely can't actually get into the house, they're just being brats, and a better course of action would have been to ignore it all. And I'm going to go and buy a bunch of cactus to plant in that area in front of the window. It just freaked me out to be harassed like that, after dark, alone in the house.

So with everything else, it's really nice to have actually created a book.


The Dark of the Sun

Sequel to Stealing the Sun, newly written, extra-dark, not for those who fear androgyny or grimth, should be available to purchase in the next day or so from CreateSpace and Amazon.

I am happy with it. I really like my main POV character and his sarcastic "voice". I'm fairly happy with the cover I designed. It's amazing to be writing again.

But I also have to say that I'm pretty frustrated that I wasn't able to succeed in getting my work professionally published (STS was seen by one lone editor, whose reject was so clueless that it was obvious she hadn't actually read enough of the work to understand what I was doing). It's also frustrating to have so few buyers, so few readers (I suspect a lot of my co-workers who have bought my other books have done so to be nice and haven't actually read them) and NO online reviews. I'm considering making a fake anonymous Amazon account just to write, "There are sword-fights and pretty elf-boys bumping nasties! There is darkness and drama! What's not to like!!" but that doesn't quite seem like the right thing to do.


Shared Belief gets a free pass...

To bite Bob Baffert next time he sees him.

OK, the Classic first, and then a couple of other notes:

I was tactful about what I thought of the Awesome Again, the local prep race for the BC Classic, in which Victor Espinoza on Sky Kingdom floated Shared Belief out really, really wide in what looked like an attempt to give Fed Biz a better shot at winning. Both SK and FB are trained by Bob Baffert, though they have different ownership and were not entered as a coupled entry (single betting interest). Espinoza got a short suspension, and that's all that happened. Shared Belief won the race anyway.

More should have happened. There should have been an investigation, involving the connections of both Baffert trainees, into a case of possible race-fixing. Sky Kingdom was not ridden to win. That is defrauding the betting public. Even though probably everyone would have just clammed up and nothing would have stuck, at least we would have seen that there was an attempt to look into a situation that appeared very fishy.

Fast forward to the Breeders' Cup Classic. Bayern, ridden by Martin Garcia and trained by Bob Baffert, swerved wildly at the break and body-slammed Shared Belief. The latter is a smallish horse and his head literally bounced off the shoulder of the horse to his left, Moreno, who also lost position, became agitated, and lost all chance. Of course, Shared Belief never really recovered and ran extremely well to finish fourth.

Whether Garcia hit Shared Belief on purpose is unknown, but you'd have to be really stupid and really crazy to deliberately collide two horses who are rapidly accelerating to 35 MPH, so I'd say no, Bayern just broke inward, but the HRTV commentators (who for once are actually expressing opinions about something controversial) showed the footage of the break where it appears that Garcia didn't make much of an effort to straighten his mount after the initial contact.

And, though there was an inquiry, Bayern was not disqualified. The stewards argued that the incident happened right at the start and so there was no way to tell how Shared Belief (and Moreno, who was Bayern's main pace rival and whose wipeout allowed Bayern to get the uncontested early lead he requires to win going a route) would have ended up running. I think that's their honest belief; I don't think they were unduly influenced in coming up with that decision.

But I think it was the wrong decision. If the rules don't say "if you body-slam a horse and cause him to stagger and totally lose momentum you are disqualified no matter when in the race it happens", then they should say that. It doesn't make sense to give a free pass at the break. When does the race start to count then? Is it just bumper cars until the far turn or what? Bayern should have been disqualified and put behind Shared Belief, i.e. fourth.

Because of this happening on the heels of what happened in the Awesome Again, there were a lot of boos, and there is a lot of conspiracy theorizing and social media anger, and while I've never been one of the anti-Baffert conspiracy theorists, I'm starting to get there. Not just once, but twice, Shared Belief has been interfered with by a Baffert trainee. It does look bad. More authoritative action on the stewards' part, and a rewriting of the rules if necessary, would go a ways towards helping.

And meanwhile, seriously, SB, if you get a chance to bite Baffert or kick him in the shins, I think you'd be perfectly justified.

Lost in the controversy was the fact that Bayern ran a game race. Yes, he needs the lead, but he gets brave when he has it. Toast of New York was an excellent second and California Chrome very much returned to form with a good third, which was great to see. I hope he doesn't get another layoff. I'd like to see him back in 5 weeks, and I don't think he really is best at 1 1/4th. I wonder if they're thinking about the Malibu at all.

So Horse of the Year? I think it's Untapable. Multiple GI winner, stepped out of her division to beat a good field of older mares decisively in the Distaff. Second choice probably Main Sequence, undefeated this year, including the Turf. Champion 3YO colt: I'd personally lean toward Chrome, since I think the SA Derby, KY Derby, Preakness, good third in the Classic, and being a good story add up to more than the Haskell and a controversial Classic win for Bayern. SB beat older in the Pacific Classic but HOY voters tend to devalue races on synthetic surfaces. He's a gelding and should be back next year.

Other notes:
Bobby's Kitten's Turf Sprint performance was incredibly impressive. I would love to know the time for his final furlong. I bet it was under 10 seconds. And yes, I bet on him.

Toronado, prettiest horse in the world, got a very strange ride in the Mile, and it probably wasn't his fault he tired late.

Goldencents was very impressive wiring the field in the Dirt Mile; Tapiture a good second.

Texas Red was also very impressive coming from way back to win the Juvenile by daylight. Behind him, Carpe Diem had a tough trip and still got second, and Upstart just keeps on trying. This might be one of the Juveniles that does produce good three-year-olds.

Had the trifecta in the Distaff, the exacta in the Turf (Main Sequence beat Flintshire), and the exacta in the F&M Turf (Dayatthespa wired the field, beating Stephanie's Kitten). Dayatthespa's win was a nice story. In a previous effort here, she, as a much younger filly, was down on the rail, horses surrounding her, and panicked, leaping in the air in obvious terror and crashing through the rail. On Saturday she came back triumphantly as a grown-up mare to dominate a strong field. She, and Sprint winner Work All Week, are both chestnuts with blazes by the excellent sire City Zip.

They managed to get rid of the track bias. Speed was strong, but not invincible. Overall, a great event. It's just too bad about the foul in the Classic.
The trouble with most of the trails on the Angeles Crest is they don't go anywhere. With a bit of planning, a series of loops could have been created; but they weren't. So on Sunday I did a hike from the Silver Moccasin trailhead near Chilao Visitor Center to "sort of the place where I turned around last time" when hiking in the other direction from the next trailhead north. The trail is a nice wooded path leading fairly steeply upward at first, and then across a ridge; then it starts going down into a burned area and there is poodle-dog bush. I saw Mountain Quail, a Prairie Falcon, and a pack burro following his people while the lead rope was looped around his saddlehorn; seemed to be an animal of considerable character. However, I wouldn't really recommend this route due to its somewhat random nature. There is another branch that makes a there-and-back-again to a local summit and that may be more rewarding.

Things about the Breeders' Cup:
Last year there was a huge main-track speed bias and I suspect there will be this year as well based on how the track has been playing.
I can rarely successfully handicap European entrants due to the lack of information on them compared to American horses.
BC races are usually won by: logical contenders; longshots who steal the race on the lead; longshots who clunk up to take advantage of an early pace duel. Most of the horses are in good form, good health, and fit where they have been entered, so those variables are less meaningful than in lesser races.
I'll be betting exacta boxes including around 2 to 4 horses in most of the races, so that when I lose one, I have the next to look forward to losing. So I'll have several picks in each race. They are listed in order of preference.


Friday ... The Las Vegas Marathon, replacing the lost BC Marathon: Big Kick is the best of the speed horses (though will not be favored among them); Sky Kingdom was not ridden to win last out and can improve.
BC Juvenile Turf: Luck of the Kitten, Imperia, Hootenanny
BC Dirt Mile: Goldencents, Fed Biz, Tapiture. Valid ended up not being entered in this race.
BC Juvenile Fillies Turf: My fantasy stable horse Partisan Politics has a chance to do better with a better trip, but unfortunately drew the rail. Sunset Glow and the ultra-determined Conquest Harlanate fill out my exacta box.
BC Distaff: Iotapa, Untapable, Don't Tell Sophia. I'm expecting a strong pace here. I think that if Iotapa gets back to her best, she's faster than the other speed horses, Belle Gallantey and Close Hatches, and better at the 1 1/8th distance. Cannot rule out that probable 3YO filly champion Untapable can improve. Should the pace get wild early, Don't Tell Sophia will be coming along.

BC Juvenile Fillies: Angela Renee one of the more likely winners on the card, Conquest Eclipse, By the Moon
BC Filly and Mare Turf: Just the Judge, Stephanie's Kitten, lone-speed Dayatthespa
BC Filly and Mare Sprint: Sweet Reason (looked incredible working out), Artemis Agrotera, Stonetastic
BC Turf Sprint: No Nay Never, Bobby's Kitten shortening in distance, Reneesgotzip (though stuck on the rail)
BC Juvenile: Sort of glad American Pharaoh was scratched, given that he'll be OK, since I didn't really like him, but thought he was a must-use. Now it's Carpe Diem, Daredevil, Upstart, and a horse both by and out of fantasy stable horses, Lucky Player.
BC Turf: Main Sequence, Telescope, Flintshire
BC Sprint: Rich Tapestry, Palace, Secret Circle
BC Mile: Toronado -- have rarely seen a better-looking horse; fantasy stable horse Summer Front; Trade Storm, Obviously who probably can't win but should get the lead therefore could hang on for a piece.
BC Classic: Shared Belief who is undefeated but had a hard race last out when cheating was unsuccessfully employed to try and defeat him, Tonalist who has outstanding quality but may be up against it if there's a speed bias. Toast of New York may or may not handle dirt. Moreno looks most likely of the speed horses to hang on for a piece. And then there's California Chrome. On recent form, and on his best both speed figures and raw time at 1 1/4th, he has something to find versus these. But he's 3, so he could take a step forward. I don't know that he will, but I hope he does, so I'll throw him in the box with the top two.
Do not do this hike unless you have been fully warned.

We started at Leavitt Lake, which despite being an ORV-er hangout is very pretty and not very trashed, and then climbed a very steep road to a lovely bare traverse with views of volcanic rock.

We then descended, and crossed debris flows, and descended, to a nice campsite by the South Walker River, full of rocks that look like sugar candy (very crystalline granite? quartzite?).

Then there is a pretty much flat walk to a campsite in a meadow.

Then it begins. UP to Dorothy Lake. DOWN into a Canyon. UP to Wilma Lake. DOWN down down to goblin town in Stubbefield Canyon. Up! to Seavey Pass. Down! on hot steep barely maintained switchbacks to the gorgeous beach at Benson Lake. Then a brutal UP to Smedberg Lake. UP and DOWN Benson Pass and a knee-torturing drop to Miller Lake. Long, long though more gradual up to a high point and then long long stony down to the tent-cabin shithole of Glen Aulin (the falls, and the hiker campsites, are nice). Then up beside lovely but mule-poop-contaminated rapids and long, long across, powdered poop and sand, to Tuolumne Meadows.

Those UP and DOWN are mostly at least a thousand feet each, steep and rough, in the low-altitude sticky muggy heat and hungry mosquitoes, with scarcely a glimpse of a mountain.

North Yosemite is beautiful country, full of birds, deer (spotted fawns! eight-point buck) and wildflowers. We saw an endangered Yosemite Toad (looks kind of like Hypnotoad from Futurama) at Leavitt Lake and tiny frogs with black bandit masks in the upper Tuolumne.

But don't hike it via this route with a 30-pound pack unless you are made of sterner stuff than I.


Should We Mess With the Triple Crown?

Everyone else has had their (not necessarily well-thought-through) say, so...

I say: Yes, we should mess with the Triple Crown.

Not by changing the spacing of the races, not!! by shortening the distances, and not by limiting entrants in the second two legs to Derby runners (under which rule Medal Count, by the way, would be the Belmont winner, and I would have had the exacta).

But by limiting entrants in the Derby to 14 maximum, and by doing it in such a way that a horse need not necessarily win his final prep to get in.

The Triple Crown winners in the past didn't beat 20-horse fields. This ridiculous field size ensures that every year there's a false pace and there are horses who get in trouble and can't run their race. It makes the race harder on all the horses. It's only a matter of time until there's a Grand National-style pileup. It needs to be revised.

Both the previous earnings system and the current points system to get in mean that horses pretty much have to win a major prep to run. This sounds reasonable at first. But it means that these young horses are asked to peak early, and stay at their peak for four or five, not three, races. California Chrome did win three Grade 1 races in a row -- the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, and Preakness. Leaving aside the issues of his injured hoof and iffy trip, he had every right to be tired by the time the Belmont came around.

If you take the winners and second-place finishers of the major preps -- the Santa Anita Derby, Bluegrass Stakes, Louisiana Derby, Florida Derby, Arkansas Derby and Wood Memorial -- voila, you get a field of 12, with two spots left over to be awarded by committee, perhaps to fillies who have won major Oaks preps but haven't raced against colts yet, or by graded stakes earnings over a mile.

My .02.

Stealing the Sun News

After extensive warfare with CreateSpace, I have now created TWO editions of STEALING THE SUN.

CreateSpace is basically a great thing. I mean, I can publish my books for free. They look pretty decent, and it's not that hard to do, especially once I learned to change margins. Every once in a while, though, you get what you pay for.

The new edition features a cover image which I downloaded from a stock photo site. I think it pretty well captures the idea of the Ilanarai flame... and happily the same site has other images in the same style which could work for the next two books!

Anyway, rather than deleting the Black Monolith Edition, I kept it around, although I did change the font and spacing, to make it look more professional inside.

The new edition is a more readable size, 6 by 9. For some reason, it's not all that much cheaper. The CreateSpace minimum prices are quite high, frankly. But I did price the Kindle edition pretty low, and I am going to get some print copies to try and sell (work meetings... Audubon field trips... solicit people under bridges... the possibilities are endless) at a discount.

I am almost done with the second book, THE DARK OF THE SUN (Or: In which my villain suddenly becomes my favorite, and most smart-mouthed, character ever, and promptly has horrible things happen to him), and am working on the draft of the third, THE REKINDLED SUN (Or: In which even more bad things happen to Possibly Still a Villain But I Like Him). The plan is for DOTS in fall, RS in winter 2014.


California Chrome wins the Preakness

here is California Chrome's grandsire Pulpit's grandsire Secretariat winning the Belmont

Secretariat Belmont

here is California Chrome winning the Preakness

Cali Preakness

fingers crossed