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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

better to reign
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

as you can see in my last entry ... I had all sorts of clever reasons why California Chrome could not win the Derby

Despite this, from the moment the gates opened, I had eyes for no one else... and he destroyed the Kentucky Derby field just as easily as he did the Santa Anita Derby field, million-dollar Kentucky bluebloods and all.

I did hit the Oaks-Derby double but had the wrong horses underneath in the tri and super... so no big payday for me.

I have to also mention the brave performance of Wise Dan, two-time Horse of the Year, winner of the Woodford Turf at a distance that is beyond his optimum.

And now on to Maryland!!

(Incidentally: I have decided that when I ride my Rodeo Rider Core Trainer during the race, it causes my horses to win.)

The Derby!

And now is that happy time of year when I try and fail to pick the winner of the Kentucky Derby.

Looks like we may have a fast track this year for once... fingers crossed.

My bets will include combinations of the following:

California Chrome. The adorable chestnut carousel horse, he's impossible not to like -- but he didn't get much of a workout in the stretch in his last two easy wins, and in the Derby, closers will be coming. Also, you have to go back to his grandsire Pulpit to get an obvious stamina influence in his pedigree.

Samraat. A tough customer who had every right to finish third in his last race, the Wood Memorial, but got up for second on sheer want-to. Samraat has been on my Derby list for a long time and he's my only live futures bet. (Why don't I like Wicked Strong, who won the Wood? I sort of do, but the Wood kind of came out of nowhere in terms of his form immediately before that, and I thought he looked awkward in the stretch, and now he's going to be starting from the 19 hole.)

Dance With Fate. Magnificent black stallion who destroyed the field in the Bluegrass from off the pace. Idiots commentators keep calling him a synthetic track specialist, but he was second in the GI Forerunner on the speed-favoring Santa Anita dirt track last year.

Candy Boy: I really hated his Santa Anita Derby, but he was one of my top Derby picks before then, and he seems to be coming around well on the Churchill track, so I'll keep him in the list.

Intense Holiday: Not a horse who was really on my radar initially, but handicapping the race, he looks like one with a shot.

I'm going to use combinations of those in some kind of giant trifecta and superfecta bets, and also in the Oaks-Derby double.

Now, the Oaks. I don't for a second think the favorite, Untapable, is worth the heavy favoritism she currently enjoys. I think she can win, but so can My Miss Sophia, who is actually proven at the 1 1/8th distance, and so can one I hope will be a big longshot, Thank You Marylou, who has never once so far gotten to do what she was bred for, i.e. run long on the dirt, and yet has a decent record anyway.

Stealing the Sun

better to reign
Also on Amazon. Kindle will be available shortly.

This one was born out of my watching (ages ago, obviously) the first Lord of the Rings movie and then going back to Tolkien's work, which I encountered at age 7 and was obsessed with.

Stealing the Sun started as a subversion of, a commentary on, some of Tolkien's themes. It is NOT, and never was, fanfic. It is completely my own.

As I wrote it, I found that my own ideas, my own visions, took over. The Sun Saga is anti-royalist and anti-war, but not anti- the characters whose circumstances place them, sometimes reluctantly and sometimes not, in the roles of kings, queens, and warriors. It is about a species who have no gender roles (homophobes.... just don't read this) and who at one time were able to shapechange, a skill which a few of them rediscover. It is about climate change and threatened species extinction. It's set in a landscape based on the wild ecosystems of California.


Pinnacles Spring Break

I spent spring break camping in Pinnacles National Park and it was idyllic...

firstly, the campground is huge, and well designed, with the RVs far away from the tent sites. Most of the sites have plenty of space and privacy and there are nice group sites available as well. I wouldn't have needed my reservation during the week, but over the weekend it definitely fills up. And it is full of birds! Lots of species (even last week when spring migration wasn't at its height yet), lots of numbers, and very tame -- California Thrashers and Dark-eyed Juncos and Golden-crowned Sparrows and California Towhees pretty much cluster around your feet. And California Condors soar over the campground in late afternoon. In the early morning, Great-horned Owls and Wild Turkeys were calling simultaneously, which was odd, and fun. It would be an extra-great experience for any birder who is not from California since so many of the birds are endemics.

The park is designed almost exclusively for hiking. You can't drive from the east to the west entrance. You have to walk, so, basically, I am the target audience for this park. You actually don't need to drive at all, since all of the trails can be reached from the campground, but of course it is possible to drive a little ways to different trailheads. Trails are well marked and well maintained for the most part. Most wind through dramatic volcanic rock formations, sometimes festooned with climbers.

I did a bunch of hikes. I thought the best one was the Balconies Cliff Trail, which leaves the Old Pinnacles Trailhead and climbs up to a view of huge (multi-pitch, anyway), colorful cliffs, eventually reaching the west side of the park. You can come back via dark, wet, scrambly caves, if you are not claustrophobic (I got down to where it started to get dark and I could hear water running, waited there for a couple of minutes while my lizard brain said NO NO NO NO NO, then fled...) and have a headlamp. Any of the trails out of the Bear Gulch area are also beautiful. I wasn't able to finish every single hike so I will have to go back...

Very cold (hard freeze) at night this time of year, quite hot in the daytime. I tended to hike early, hang out in the afternoon, then hike again near evening. I wouldn't recommend this park in the summer, but in March, it was really, really fun.

There is poodle-dog bush growing over the narrow trail.

Despite trying to avoid it, I have a silver-dollar-sized patch on my wrist. The internet tells me this could take a month to go away.

I recommend staying off this trail or any other Angeles Crest trail which is AT ALL overgrown and is in a burn area.


Tribulation's War

A long time ago, I started writing stories.

The stories became "a story" which became an odd, cross-genre novel. I did hours and hours of research on the exact locations of the Stonewall Brigade during battles, on the weapons, the weather, on Appalachian dialect. I also added some real folk beliefs and magical practices. And then there was the sort-of-Norse magic which I pretty much made up.

Trib's War had an agent at one point, and Picador was a little bit interested in the manuscript, but in the end it was too weird and unclassifiable. And in the end I don't really want to go through what it takes to be a commercially published author.

So here it is: Trib's War, the print-on-demand.

(Other works to follow.)