Monthly Archives: August 2014

Gear Shakedown: Misfit Activity Tracker

Misfit Shine

The Misfit Shine – like a hole in my heart…

Harpo and I have been having lots of conversations about quantification of a ‘walking as making’ practice. Post Appalachian Trail, my artistic methodology has taken another right turn away from making discreet objects and towards self validating activities – especially human powered traversal of topographies. Not that I ever had a particularly cogent (or profitable) way of making commodified art objects – I’ve always tried to make freely available images and events that present the lowest possible bar to inclusion, while still retaining critical integrity (read: not treating people like idiots because they don’t have an art school vocabulary). My work with Free Sheep Foundation and New Mystics points to these excursions, as do the number of murals I have either self funded or secured public funding for by partnering with public agencies.

This type of work almost always results in an object or event, and within this paradigm it is easy to ascribe meaning and assess value. With physical objects, the value is based on the rarity, difficulty and expense of production (as well as the accompanying certificate of authenticity). Events are measured by the community involved, and the social resonance produced – either through press, rumor, gossip, or fame (in the form of images, likes, tweets, etc.) So how does one measure the value meditative traversals, ambulation, and aimless wandering?

Enter Misfit Shine – a small black device made of machine aluminum that promised to tell me everything I wanted to know about how I moved, how often, and even how well I was sleeping. The Shine seemed to be a good choice – it digitally interfaced with my iPhone via a free app, was lightweight, operated on a single lithium watch battery (which meant it doesn’t need charging), was sleek, and got great review on every forum I checked. It’s true – the Shine did have good dialogue with my phone.. they exchanged numbers, as it were.

What these numbers meant was unclear. Having never owned a pedometer, and always borrowing Harpo’s watch when I went running, I though it would be novel actually record and quantify what had previously been a time of unmitigated, unmediated play. I thought I could create a data set to validate my peregrinations – but that proved a false god. While the data seemed accurate for walking and hiking, it was wildly inaccurate when recording cycling data. I don’t have much of a means of comparison for running, since it’s always been a durational, rather than distance based practice for me. But overall, I felt the algorithms were more geared towards creating incentives for looking at my phone, rather than actually exercising.

The problem was less with Shine though, and more with my mindset…

In looking for external validation for my abstract, emotionally driven movements I found using the Shine to be deeply problematic. In attempting record and concretize my activity I found myself trying to push further and faster, while being less engaged in enjoying the activity. My attention was half involved in representing my immediate experience, drawing me away from it. Not to mention the invitation of screen mediation into otherwise purely physical practices.

To be honest, many of these thoughts occurred because of a number of accidents that happened in procuring the Shine. Before I even received the Shine I broke my phone – which meant I was totally aware of how much I needed one device to activate the other – meaning I was tied to TWO devices. And, almost a week after fixing my phone and using the Shine, it fell off my sock when cycling (riding an oft travelled track of about 40 miles – so I already knew the duration and distance). Losing the Shine caused me deep anxiety for a moment – I realized I had lost it at about the halfway point in the ride, so was the second half of my ride pointless because I couldn’t record the data? Also, that’s an expensive little throwaway…

So, I vote against activity trackers. They further distance us from the inherently enjoyable acts of running, walking, hiking and cycling by inserting another mediating device between us and our immediate lives – reminding us alway we could be better, when actually we’re all great right fucking now, thank you.

The Shine meets or exceeds all of the advertised functions – including being lightweight, sleek, and easy to interface with a smartphone – but it’s still basically a voluntary ankle bracelet.


Snapshots of the PCT

DAY 01

My memory is not of the tidy camp tucked between the scrub pines on the ridge, just big enough to hold the tarp snugly, or the views east and west from the small natural knoll, or even the sunset and subsequent sunrise which split the horizon into a multitude of pinks, purples, muaves and salmon pastels drifting to a clear, super saturated azure blue striated by occasional high Cirrus clouds.

No, I remember in the middle of the open space, the absolute best spot to sit and watch the sunset over the low hills climbing up from the Colombia river gorge, two human shits – each with their own toilet paper wads. Which begs the question; who did this? And why?

DAY 02

I arrive at Blue Lake – it’s sudden appearance is surprising in the middle of a hot and dry day. Realizing I have this beautiful blue expanse to myself I immediately strip off all my clothes and leap naked into the icy clear water. There is a perfect rock ledge for jumping. As I dry off and pull on pants I hear the hoots of adolescent boys on the far shore. I feel grateful having this moment to myself…

DAY 03

Near sunset, hundreds of birds shoot out of the bushes like errant bottlerockets, angrily chirping from the low branches of fir trees as I pass their nests in the brush near the trail.

DAY 04

Into Goat Rocks Wilderness what should be an easy hour of night hiking becomes an obstacle course over hundreds of blowdowns – phantoms in the brief flashes of moonlight that appear, as if a light has been flipped on, when the clouds pass by in the quick moving wind. Never do you feel the sentience of plants until a traversal of a dark forest full of fallen giants – the ghosts of these trees seem close, not malicious but patient, making the night dense and the dark endless.

Finally arriving at the top of a ridge I cowboy camp under the bright moon, a day away from reaching super-fullness. I lay awake, counting shooting stars and satellites, filled with happiness as I discover a distant memory – a summer night as a child camping with my family on Orcas Island. Kept awake by my parents and dragged to another hilltop on another clear night, we watch the Pleiades meteor shower – hundreds of shooting stars descend in the rosy sky. I drift off and awake after the moon has set – the stars have multiplied and the Milky Way appears as a sprinkling of diamond dust deep in the center of the sky.


Hiking through Goat Rocks, the landscape vast and silent except for the distant murmur of waterfalls and the occasional moan of wind above the treeline, the scene is unbelievable bright because of the snow still on the ground in August. I traverse 50 feet from the top of one snowfield – the view down is dizzying, a thousand vertical feet ending in a field of sharp rocks and more snow. I steady myself and continue cutting steps across. Afterwards, I watch the wild goats inscribe unconcerned arabesques across snowfields steeper and icier on their way to graze the wild blueberries, shrub salaal and wildflowers.

Seeing a wilderness this vast and unspoiled, a whole landscape unblemished by clearcuts, smog, suburbs, McDonalds, and aimless roads gives hope – maybe as humans we haven’t fucked everything up yet. Maybe our hunger for profit hasn’t debased every last horizon…


Secret Springs will remain secret to me – after 3/4 mile off trail, and losing 600 feet of elevation I fail to find water. In anger I curse my way back to the PCT and continue up to Shoe Lake. A cold, late evening wind blows across the icy water, where I realize all of the trees in the lake basin are blighted – dead or dying. This is no place to camp safely, and I continue the climb up to the ridge top, finally finding a stealth spot high above White Pass. I pitch the tarp low to deflect the cold wind at 7000 feet and eat my cold miso ramen atop a mountain, gazing west into the sunset across endless hills robed in low lavender clouds. As the light fades I can see my breath – I’ll be in White Pass tomorrow morning, drinking hot coffee by 10 am…

Smoke Farm Symposium


Air balloons rising above Snohomish

A few weeks ago Harpo and I had the pleasure of attending the sixth Smoke Farm Symposium. Smoke Farm is a 300 acre former dairy farm at the end of a long road in Arlington, WA. Purchased by the Rubicon Foundation in 1993, Smoke Farm has evolved into an upstate New York for the Seattle art, political, foodie, pottery and Gurdjieff communities – the property functions to bring together diverse communities, and facilitate ideas and projects that need space to breath.

The Symposium itself is the intellectual event of the summer (other events are the installation art based LoFi Festival, and the foodie Burning Beast) featuring talks by speakers on various subjects, but usually dealing with political issues, human identity, and site specificity. This year my favorite lecture was by controversial UW plant neurobiologist Elizabeth Van Volkenburgh, who gave a thoughtful talk on plant intelligence. Humans exhibit arrogance when considering ‘consciousness’ and how it manifests in other animals – but what about plants, which exhibit many signs of what humans consider ‘intelligence’ if measured by an empirical observation and reaction to stimuli? As a vegan, I’ve thought a lot about animal consciousness and how it affects my interactions with other life on Earth, and Van Volkenburgh’s talk took my sneaking suspicions about plant sentience to a new level.

Stranger writer Charles Mudede also gave an excellent, funny talk/book review ostensibly dealing with Thomas Piketty’s newest book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, but also encompassing his views on Marxism and his childhood growing up in Zimbabwe in a Marxist family.

I also had the pleasure of riding bikes to get to Smoke Farm – which I had never done in all my visits there. The very kind Doug Neufer provided basic routing instructions, and DK Pan, Rachel Ravich and I spent the better part of a day and all of one night on the road – arriving just at dawn as the mist was thick over the field. The 60+ mile ride made the arrival at Smoke Farm and the subsequent lectures seem dreamlike – and make the later dip in the Stillaguamish even more rewarding. Harpo met us – having worked Friday – and we carpooled back with lots of new ideas to discuss…


The long road out – Maltby, WA


Smoke Farm at dawn

Symposium Handbill

The Symposium handbill, letter-pressed on site at Smoke Farm’s own print shop

Elk Lake Overnight

Elk Lake, WA – Overnight Backpacking Trip
Indian Heaven Trail to the PCT to the Cultus Creek Trail

Distance: 8+
Elevation Gain: 1800+ Feet
Date: August 2 – 3, 2014
Hikers: Groucho, Harpo, Kate, Ross, Charlie (the dog)
Duration: overnight 4pm – 11am

Harpo sez:

Last week, an intrepid crew (Groucho and I, Kate, Ross and Charlie the dog) sought a leisurely one-night backpacking trip somewhere nearish to Portland, Oregon. Kate conducted research and came up with the Bird Mountain Loop a beautiful section of Southern Cascades with abundant wild flowers, looping trails of varying difficulty, picturesque waterside campsites and many lakes named for various wildlife (Bear, Deer, Elk, etc).

While the trailhead was a good three hours drive from Portland, the ride along the Gorge provided stunning views of the Columbia River, and afforded us a leisurely lunch break in the charming town of Hood River.

We arrived at the Cultus Creek Campground around 3:30 p.m. A little later than we’d hoped but the blessed summer night meant we could hike at least 4 hours in good light if we wished, with many possible campsites along the way in case we grew tired. The first 1.5 miles up the Indian Heaven trail took us straight uphill. It turns out most of the elevation gain in this hike is in the first 45 minutes. Once we started hitting meadows and lakes the path leveled off and flowers triumphed. Kate identified paintbrush and columbine and lupin, among others. In this zone we also encountered our first mini-swarms of mosquitos. And the sense of dread that accompanies an army of mini-blood suckers chasing you down the path.

We intersected with the PCT after another mile or so, and headed South to seek out the nearby Elk Lake trail. There we found several lakes draped with shimmering mosquito mist, thousands of tiny wings sparkling in the waning summer sun. Groucho and I were reminded of our biblical plague of mosquitos in Maine last summer. Charlie the dog cowered. We found the next available campsite, donned our wind jackets and pants and head nets.  We started a very small but smokey fire. We sprayed on the 100% DEET. We tried to be civil and make conversation and not flee into our tents. We drank wine. We prayed.

Anarchy for Dinner

Anarchy for Dinner – mosquito-deterrant, dinner-cooker, political-statement, all in one

Necessity is the Mother of Invention, therefore, please welcome... Citra-net-a!!

Necessity is the Mother of Invention, therefore, please welcome… Citra-net-ta!!

Resilient Charlie battles mosquitos

Resilient Charlie battles mosquitos

After dinner we tried to stay out late enough to watch the clear skies for signs of stars but dozens of mosquitos buzzing in one’s ears kind of makes one feel insane. So we went to bed down in the safety of our Ray Way tarp tent and net enclosure. (Kate and Ross invited Charlie into their enclosed tent, so all were able to rest peacefully.) The next morning the blood suckers persisted, but a good night’s sleep made us more emotionally resilient and we enjoyed a lovely breakfast before heading out. Groucho tested his new gourmet, cook-free breakfast recipe – the Savory Oat Express.

We headed north on the PCT, stopping only briefly to snap flicks and refill water before the bugs swarmed. The morning was reasonably clear and we were able to spy small views as we began the steep decent back to the car, via the Cultus Creek Trail.

Happiest Dog

Happiest Dog


Mount Adams


Stopping for a quick water refill at Clear Lake on the PCT

Triumphant in the face of adversity

Savory Oat Express

Instant savory oatsOn a recent backpacking trip, Groucho tested out a new savory oat recipe. This one’s stove-less for those times you run out of fuel, or just don’t feel like carrying the extra weight of the stove and fuel on a journey. The coolest trick (ye olde backpacker standby) is to tear the top off the packet and pour your filtered water right into it. The packet is resilient enough to be your temporary bowl.

Mix together:
1 package plain or flax instant oats
1packet miso soup mix (we used savory soup with seaweed)
1/2 cup filtered or purified water

Let sit for a few minutes to hydrate the oats

Top with:
1 spoon nutritional yeast
A hearty sprinkle of Furikake rice seasoning


Groucho departs for PCT section

Last Sunday, August 3rd, Groucho began his 250-mile solo section hike of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT.) He will spend the next 13-15 days hiking north from Cascade Locks (OR/WA boarder) to Snoqualmie Pass. Good luck Groucho!

Groucho sets off for a 14 day section of the PCT - Cascade Locks to Snoqualmie Pass

Groucho sets off for a 14 day section of the PCT – Cascade Locks to Snoqualmie Pass

Bridge of the Gods - the threshold to Washington

Bridge of the Gods – the threshold to Washington