Discourse: the Cadence edit

Newsletter Challenge, v. 12

Quick note: I recently wrapped up a writing coach arrangement with Ari Lewis, host of the Mastering the Attention Economy podcast. We enjoyed working together (see Ari’s ROI here), and he proposed I take on a newsletter editing challenge. I’m building my list from the top paid newsletters at Substack, and toss in an odd find now and again to keep things fresh.

The challenge: Twenty edits by 22 September.

My primary goal: add clarity, concision, and cadence to the newsletters, and sharpen up my own editing process. After I wrap up the challenge, I’ll provide reflections on each edit and offer some lessons you can use on your own newsletter.

For details on my process, click here, a Google doc. Leave suggestions as you see fit. Thanks!

“I Guess It Was Just Our Turn to Burn,” Sept 9

@ https://discourseblog.substack.com/p/i-guess-it-was-just-our-turn-to-burn by Jack Crosbie / @jcros

–Grey typeface: Jack.

Normal typeface: me.

Key metrics (original -> edit)
–reading level: 9 -> 7.
–word count: 1720 -> 1555
–median sentence length: 16.5 -> 14 words.
–sentence length, standard deviation (basically, a measure of the variety of sentence lengths): 12.4 -> 10.
–% of sentences, hard or very hard to read: 40% -> 29%

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Photo: Huntington Lake Volunteer Fire Department.

A few years ago, I started to get the feeling that it was only a matter of time. Every year, in the late summer and fall, when California’s skies turned orange and enough smoke drifted toward the major cities that the relatively safe and comfortable people there got spooked, I’d field a handful of questions from friends who knew I was from a more rural, more flammable part of the state: “Oh yeah, how are your parents with all that? Is any of it near them?”

I usually had an easy answer. They’re fine, I’d say. The fires are mostly on the other side of the mountains — the Yosemite Valley and the northern Sierras get it bad sometimes, but their pocket mostly just gets a lot of smoke. A few years ago, my mom developed some pretty serious lung damage from inhaling smoke for months on end, but doctors said she’d be all right as long as they check her for cancer every now and then.

A few years ago, I realized it was simply a matter of time. In late summer and fall, the fires resume and turn California’s skies orange with smoke. When enough of that smoke drifts into the major cities and spooks their residents, I field questions from friends who know I hailed from a rural, more combustible part of the state: “How are your parents with all that? Is any of it near them?”

“They’re fine,” I reply. “The fires are mostly on the other side of the mountains — the Yosemite Valley and the northern Sierras get it bad sometimes, but the pocket where my parents live mostly just gets a lot of smoke.” A few years ago, after inhaling smoke-choked air for months, my mom suffered from some pretty serious lung damage. The doctors said she’d be all right, as long as she came in for cancer check-ups every now and then.

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It was always technically possible that one of the fires would pose a problem. That risk was always in the back of our minds. But for most of the mountain community outside of Fresno that I grew up in, a major fire was improbable — something to worry about now and then, but that would probably never happen to us.

What we know now is that the flames are going to come for all of us eventually. This weekend was just our turn.

The risk of fire was ever present, but only in the back of our minds. For the residents of my community, in the mountains  outside of Fresno, a major fire seemed improbable. It was something that would never happen to us. Probably.

Now we know otherwise. The flames are coming for all of us. This past weekend, it was just our turn.

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It’s hard to describe the area I grew up in. It is, for the most part, one contiguous community, spread over more than half a dozen towns nestled in different valleys and draws in the foothills and lower reaches of the Sierra Nevada mountains. For over a century, most of these towns have fed into Sierra High School. The high school occupies a sprawling campus tucked just at the bottom of what we call “the 4-Lanes,” a wide section of California Highway 168 that shoots 3,000 feet up into the alpine layer of the Sierras, where it reverts back to a two-lane highway just before Cressman’s General Store. Above Cressman’s are two lakes, Shaver and Huntington. Shaver has a year-round population clustered in a small village and a few sprawling subdivisions made up of back roads. Huntington is surrounded by mostly seasonal cabins — my parents own one of them — and a ski resort, China Peak. In the summer, these lakes are the center of the community, as a large part of the local economy depends on “flatlanders” from the Central Valley renting marina space, condos, and cabins. In the winter, the ski resort is the main draw. For locals, all of this is home. The lakes and slopes are a part of life; half of my friends worked seasonal jobs at either the marina, pizza place, or resort. I kissed one of my first crushes in a friend’s cabin near Shaver, and got drunk in the summer at keg parties thrown so deep in the mountains that they got broken up by the Forest Service.

My community included more than half a dozen towns nestled in valleys and draws in the foothills and lower reaches of the Sierra Nevadas. For over a century, most of the residents attended Sierra High School. Sierra High occupies a sprawling campus tucked near the bottom of “the 4-Lanes,” a wide section of State Highway 168 that quickly rises 3,000 feet into the alpine layer of the Sierras, and reverts back to a two-lane highway, just before Cressman’s General Store. Above Cressman’s sit two lakes, Shaver and Huntington. Shaver’s residents live year-round in a small village and a few subdivisions connected by back roads. Huntington is surrounded by mostly seasonal cabins — my parents own one of them — and a ski resort, China Peak. In the summer, these lakes become the center of the community. A large part of the local economy depends on “flatlanders” from the Central Valley renting marina space, condos, and cabins. In the winter, the ski resort is the main draw. For locals, it’s simply home. Half of my friends worked seasonal jobs at either the marina, pizza place, or resort. I kissed one of my first crushes in a friend’s cabin near Shaver. I got drunk at summer keg parties, so deep in the woods, that they only ended with the arrival of the Forest Service.

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The Creek Fire started at some point on Friday in a valley below the town of Big Creek, which is largely inhabited by Southern California Edison workers who maintain the massive hydroelectric power plant located there. On Friday night, a crowd of residents gathered at the overlook point, watching the fire spread through the valley below. On Saturday, my dad emailed me: “Fire at Camp Sierra,” referring to the kids and family summer camp a few miles downhill. At that point, it was 5,000 acres and spreading. “Still significantly downhill from the west end of Huntington,” he wrote. “Mum and I came down yesterday afternoon [from the cabin], and are home and safe. We ain’t going anywhere.”

By Saturday evening, the Creek Fire had burned 45,000 acres. By Sunday evening our cabin at Huntington was gone, as was half of Big Creek. Evacuees started filling up Foothill Elementary School. By Monday, the winds had shifted, and the fire was burning downhill, threatening homes in several more towns along the way. Cressman’s, the decades-old gas station that marks the top of the 4-Lanes, was now smoking rubble. My parents still weren’t going anywhere, but they’d packed both cars and moved family heirlooms like paintings and rugs to a friends’ vacant house in Fresno on the valley floor.

The Creek Fire started on Friday in a valley below the town of Big Creek, which is largely inhabited by Southern California Edison workers who maintain the local hydroelectric power plant. On Friday night, a crowd of residents gathered at the overlook point, watching the fire spread through the valley below. On Saturday, my dad emailed me: “Fire at Camp Sierra,” referring to the kids and family summer camp a few miles downhill. At that point, it was 5,000 acres and spreading. “Still significantly downhill from the west end of Huntington,” he wrote. “Mum and I came down yesterday afternoon [from the cabin], and are home and safe. We ain’t going anywhere.”

By Saturday evening, the Creek Fire had scorched 45,000 acres. By Sunday evening, our cabin at Huntington was gone. So was half of Big Creek. Evacuees made their way to the Foothill Elementary School. On Monday, the winds shifted, and the fire turned downhill, threatening homes in several more towns along the way. Cressman’s was now smoking rubble. My parents still weren’t going anywhere, but they’d packed both cars and moved family paintings and rugs to a friends’ vacant house in Fresno.

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The cabin was their retirement plan. They were going to spend the summers there fixing various quirks like the shower handle that delivered a mild electric shock when you changed the water temperature, and sailing on the lake in a tiny two-person Lido sailboat similar to the ones my mother learned to sail on at the same lake, 55 years before. This summer, they’ve been mostly spending weekdays there, to avoid the weekend crowds of boaters who seem largely unconcerned with social distancing guidelines.

But even with that loss, they’re incredibly lucky. It looks like my parent’s main house will probably survive. The winds have been more forgiving today, and the fuel load in their area of the foothills is much lower than it is above the timber line. Many others were not so lucky. My Facebook feed, over the past few days, has felt like a solid wall of friends with lost houses, lost pets, lost retirement plans or jobs or businesses.

The cabin was my parents’ retirement plan. They planned to spend the summers there fixing, for example, the shower handle that delivered a shock whenever you changed the water temperature. They planned to spend afternoons on their tiny Lido sailboat, which closely resembled the boat on which my mother learned to sail, on that lake, 55 years before. This summer, they spent time there on the weekdays, in order to avoid the weekend boaters who seemed largely unconcerned with social distance guidelines.

Still, they’re lucky. My parent’s main house will survive. For now. The winds have been more forgiving today, and the fuel load in their area of the foothills is much lower than it is above the timber line. I know people who weren’t so lucky. Over the past few days, my Facebook feed filled with pictures and reports from friends who lost houses, lost pets, lost retirement plans or jobs or businesses.

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What this leaves me with is a horrible feeling of futility. This is happening to so many people in so many places: There are currently at least 85 major wildfires burning in the country, across California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and other states. The causes of California’s wildfires are varied, and their enormous destructive power is kind of complicated to understand. The long and short of it is that there is far too much to burn, and far too little of it that actually burns. Perversely, the solution to California’s wildfires is more flames, not less — but keeping them from inflicting pain and undue destruction is a far more difficult task. From a ProPublica story last month:

This story is the same, with variations, for so many people in so many places: There are currently at least 85 major wildfires burning in the US. The causes of California’s wildfires are varied, and their enormous destructive power is difficult to picture. Basically, there is far too much land to burn, and far too little of it that actually burns. The solution to California’s wildfires is more flames, not less. From a ProPublica story last month:

“Academics believe that between 4.4 million and 11.8 million acres burned each year in prehistoric California. Between 1982 and 1998, California’s agency land managers burned, on average, about 30,000 acres a year. Between 1999 and 2017, that number dropped to an annual 13,000 acres. The state passed a few new laws in 2018 designed to facilitate more intentional burning. But few are optimistic this, alone, will lead to significant change. We live with a deathly backlog. In February 2020, Nature Sustainability published this terrifying conclusion: California would need to burn 20 million acres — an area about the size of Maine — to restabilize in terms of fire.”

ProPublica, August 28

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Making this fix would be complicated, of course, because it would require disrupting the big-business economy that fuels these fires. The corporate-conservative line taken by people like Donald Trump is to blame the fires on “poor forest management,” which is largely code for environmental restrictions on logging companies that prevent them from clear-cutting swathes of forested land. A clear-cut forest wouldn’t burn, it’s true — but it also wouldn’t grow back. California’s evergreens have evolved to deal with fire, not chainsaws.

Corporate interests also dominate the “fire-suppression” industry, as ProPublica notes, with big companies like Lockheed Martin adopting a “Halliburton model” toward the crises, just like they did toward the devastating wars in the Middle East. The more fires burn, the more government contracts they get for their suppression planes and jets. And while it may be a tired refrain, all of this is exacerbated by the fact that it is too abysmally hot. Global temperature averages are going up, and California is no different, while rainfall and water levels continue to decline — all casualties of the centuries-long crusade by the oil and gas industries to decimate the ozone layer.

This fix is complicated, of course. First, it would disrupt the big-business economy that fuels these fires. The corporate-conservative line taken by people like Donald Trump is to blame the fires on “poor forest management,” which is largely code for environmental restrictions on logging companies that prevent them from clear-cutting swathes of forested land. A clear-cut forest wouldn’t burn, it’s true — but it also wouldn’t grow back. California’s evergreens have evolved to deal with fire, not chainsaws.

Corporate interests also dominate the “fire-suppression” industry, as ProPublica notes, with big companies like Lockheed Martin adopting a “Halliburton model” toward the crises, just like they did in recent conflicts in the Middle East. The more fires burn, the more government contracts they get for their suppression planes and jets. Likewise, all of this is exacerbated by the fact that it is abysmally hot. Global temperature averages continue to rise. In California, rainfall and water levels continue to decline — all casualties of the centuries-long crusade by the oil and gas industries to decimate the ozone layer.

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Even the fires themselves can often be blamed on predatory capitalism: the Camp Fire, which killed 85 people in Northern California in 2018, was caused by dilapidated, out of date power lines that Pacific Gas and Electric skimped on maintaining to boost their bottom line. It’s clear that California needs to burn, but right now we’re letting all the wrong people spark the flames.

What this means is that towns like mine will keep paying the price. Controlled burns may blanket areas in spooky layers of smoke, but they can be planned around, mitigated, and lived with. I’m fine with San Francisco’s tech utopia turning orange a few times a year, as long as the smoke mixing with their fog doesn’t come from people like my friends’ homes, and as long as the fires are contained to areas that won’t snuff the life out of small rural communities. There is a way to preserve California’s natural beauty, combat climate change, and keep our homes from burning. But it requires a shift in priorities at multiple levels of government and a new era of public accountability for corporations that put profits over lives.

Even the fires themselves can often be blamed on predatory capitalism: the Camp Fire, which killed 85 people in Northern California in 2018, was caused by the dilapidated power lines of Pacific Gas and Electric, which opted against regular maintenance in order to boost their bottom line. It’s clear that California needs to burn. Right now, though, we’re letting all the wrong people spark the flames.

Meanwhile, towns like mine keep paying the price. Controlled burns may blanket areas in spooky layers of smoke, but they can be planned around, mitigated, and lived with. I’m fine with San Francisco’s tech utopia turning orange a few times a year, as long as the smoke mixing with their fog doesn’t come from the wood and wires of people’s homes, as long as the fires aren’t allowed to snuff the life out of rural communities. There is a way to preserve California’s natural beauty, combat climate change, and keep our homes from burning. But it requires a shift in priorities at multiple levels of government and a new era of public accountability for corporations that put profits over lives.

~~~~~~

The Creek Fire has thankfully been less devastating than some others. As far as I know, no one has died; we were small enough and spread out enough that everyone got out ok. But at a certain point, ash is ash. I don’t know what we’ll have left when this thing is out. Business at the marinas and lakes will be devastated. Families with burned-out homes may have to find rentals down in the flatlands. The high school, which has been struggling to find funding for its dwindling number of students for years, will likely lose even more kids. The community is strong, and much of it will surely be rebuilt. But we’ve burned now, and what everyone knows is that it could easily happen again. This week it was our turn; next week it will be someone else’s. Right now, the smoke is too thick to see any end in sight.

The Creek Fire has thankfully been less devastating than other fires. As far as I know, no one has died. The residents of our community were spread out enough and were able to flee to safety. But at a certain point, ash is ash. I don’t know what we’ll have left when this thing burns out. Business at the marinas and lakes will be devastated. Families with burned-out homes may have to find rentals in the flatlands. The high school, which has been struggling for years to find funding for its dwindling number of students, will likely lose even more kids. The community is strong, and much of it will surely be rebuilt. But we’ve burned now, and what everyone knows is that it could happen again. This week, it was our turn. Next week, it will be someone else’s turn. For now, the smoke is too thick to see any end in sight.

# # #

And that’s a wrap.

If you like what you see, drop me a line over here.

Thanks!

Happy writing!

Exponential View: the Cadence edit

Newsletter Challenge, v. 11

Quick note: I recently wrapped up a writing coach arrangement with Ari Lewis, host of the Mastering the Attention Economy podcast. We enjoyed working together (see Ari’s ROI here), and he proposed I take on a newsletter editing challenge.

The challenge: Twenty edits by 22 September.

My primary goal: add clarity, concision, and cadence to the newsletters, and sharpen up my own editing process. After I wrap up the challenge, I’ll provide reflections on each edit and offer some lessons you can use on your own newsletter.

For details on my process, click here, a Google doc. Leave suggestions as you see fit. Thanks!

“Preparing for 2030,” Jan 4

@ https://www.exponentialview.co/p/-preparing-for-2030-251 by Azeem Azhar / @azeem

–Grey typeface: Azeem.

Normal typeface: me.

Key metrics (original -> edit)
–reading level: 12 -> 9.
–word count: 1689 -> 1401
–median sentence length: 19 -> 14 words.
–sentence length, standard deviation (basically, a measure of the variety of sentence lengths): 8.5 -> 7.5.
–% of sentences, hard or very hard to read: 58% -> 40%

~~~~~~

Photo: Ishan @seefromthesky
What do the next ten years hold?

Making predictions is complicated once we understand that the system we are trying to predict is a complex one, of interwoven forces that affect each other, each layering one atop the next. And that we don’t have clarity of when certain technical breakthroughs will occur or how political forces will shape the implementation of technologies (or vice versa).

Then presenting predictions as a list, a set of steps, in this case one to ten, is necessarily a shallow representation of this dynamic system built up of feedback loops of uncertain gait.

Making predictions is a perilous practice. How might political forces shape new technologies — or vice versa?

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And then the prediction-maker is faced with the next challenge. At what level of abstraction should one make predictions? At the atomic level of technological progress (that chips will get faster, the cost of genome sequencing will decline), or at a highly macro level that describes population aggregates. I think the mezzanine layer that sits between the micro- and macro- is most relevant for understanding how our lives will change. This is where things get complicated and where our social institutions (like cities, firms, industries, communities) exist: where, in short, we spend most of our time.

Today, in the shadow of the climate threat, there is no guarantee of a naïve direction of aggregate progress, the sort of simple analysis which merely tracks longer lifespans, larger populations, wealthier societies. Wealth and health are undisputable markers. In the last century we did pretty well on that basis; we increased global GDP per capita on a purchasing-power-parity basis 5.7 times while increasing human population 4.1 times.

A climate catastrophe could unpick that simple teleology and reverse it sharply.

One of the key challenges is the question of scale. Are we interested in human genomes or population aggregates? Let’s keep things at the mezzanine layer (think: cities, firms, industries communities), which is where, after all, we spend most of our time.

With the specter of climate disaster, it’s less helpful today to track lifespans, population size, and wealth of different states. Sure, wealth and health are key markers and, in the last century, we did pretty well on those metrics. We increased global GDP per capita on a purchasing-power-parity basis 5.7 times while increasing human population 4.1 times.

Climate catastrophe, though, could unwind that teleology — or even reverse it sharply.

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And, of course, values and beliefs change. The wealthiest societies in the world now have fewer children, absolute population levels are no longer a marker of bounty and power. The richest nations have lower birth rates, many with declining populations.

One of the largest collective fictions we’ve engaged in, the nature and operation of the economy itself, is ripe to be unpicked. It will be clarified by new methods from science and social science that better help us understand the processes that underpin economic behaviour and outcomes. This rethinking of economics will happen, given urgency by our collective experience at the sharp end of neoliberal, financialised economic thinking.

And, of course, values and beliefs change. The richest nations have lower birth rates. Some even have shrinking populations. Absolute population levels are no longer a marker of bounty and power.

One of our favorite collective fictions, the nature and operation of the economy itself, is ready for rupture. National and global economics, with the help of new models in the sciences and social sciences, will articulate the processes that underpin economic behaviour and outcomes. Let’s hope we are near the end of neoliberal, financialised economic thinking.

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Many of these dynamics will result in the transfer of power from one group to another, some equitably, some less so. I can’t gauge accurately how willingly those transfers of power will occur.

We do have some clear choices, forks in the road, up ahead.

My suggestions for the shape of the next decade are based on what I consider a roughly optimistic reading of those choices. I’d welcome your comments, particularly from members, below.

Many of these dynamics will result in transfers of power: some equitably, some less so. I can’t gauge accurately how willingly those transfers of power will occur.

We do have some clear choices on the road ahead.

My predictions for the next decade are informed by my optimism. I welcome your comments below, and comments from members especially.

~~~~~~

1. Climate change will be the dominant narrative.

We will achieve global peak emissions this decade, as Michael Liebreich argues. I believe we can go further than. Renewables are cheaper than most forms of new fossil fuels and are getting progressively so, even when you add the costs of storage. Founders I meet are bringing the same entrepreneurial skill set that brought us Facebook, Google and Amazon to the climate change problem, including those hard-to-decarbonise sectors (like steel or chemicals). Governments, like the EU and the UK, have announced net zero targets to be enshrined in law. And the financial markets are under pressure to better price in carbon risks, which will increase the financing costs of climate-deleterious investments relative to clean ones. What we can’t be certain of is how rapidly our climate is changing (something we discuss in this briefing call with one of the lead authors of the IPCC 1.5 degrees report, Professor Myles Allen). The speed of this change will determine how we shape our investments into urgent mitigations and disaster relief against sustained investing in shifting our energy mix. We’ll probably need to do both. Addressing climate change will require a concerted effort of World War II scale, but a genuinely global one. During 2019, I had dozens of conversations in boardrooms, with public market investors, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists which lasered in on the imperative to achieve net zero. So perhaps we have a chance to launch a modern-day Manhattan Project to tackle climate breakdown.

1. Climate change will be the dominant narrative.

We will achieve global peak emissions this decade, according to Michael Liebreich. Let’s imagine we can do better than that. Renewables are cheaper than most fossil fuels, even when you add the costs of storage. Founders I meet possess the same entrepreneurial skill and spirit that brought us Facebook, Google and Amazon, and they’re using it to address climate change, even in hard-to-decarbonise sectors like steel and chemicals. The EU and the UK have enshrined net zero targets in law. And the financial markets are under pressure to better price carbon risks, which will increase the financial costs of climate-deleterious investments.

What we can’t be certain of is how rapidly our climate is changing. (It’s a topic we discuss in this briefing call with one of the lead authors of the IPCC 1.5 degrees report, Professor Myles Allen.) The speed of this change will determine how we shape our investments into urgent mitigations and disaster relief. Addressing climate change will require a concerted effort on the scale of World War II, with all parties on the same side. During 2019, I had dozens of conversations with public market investors, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists: all of them had a laser focus on the imperative to achieve net zero. So perhaps we have a chance to launch a modern-day Manhattan Project to prevent complete species collapse.

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2. Our geopolitics will continue to fragment and this will result in more conflict.

This is not merely a story about China’s growing economic power and global influence, exporting its political capitalism and authoritarian capabilities through its technologies and across the One Belt, One Road initiative. Global geopolitics will need to factor a broader rise of Asia, India becoming the world’s 3rd largest economy by 2030, closing in on a $10 trillion GDP. The world will comprise of three major blocs. The EU promotes a citizen-centric model, China a state-centred one. The US lacks an up-to-date cri de l’esprit: the American dream has got mired into the tar of social immobility & profit-at-all-costs companies, which puts off the young, the environmentally-minded, and even many financiers (see trend three.) An inconsistent and unilateral foreign policy chafes capitals around the globe. America’s status as the home of opportunity and world’s moral guardian is weaker than it was twenty years ago.

Outside of those major blocs, there will be significant players whose alignment will be somewhat unclear, including hypersonic Russia, brexit Britain, the major African and Pacific economies. Lurking, demanding a seat at the table, are the major technology platforms—how will they play their cards? Critically, we’ll need to ask where the forums for co-operation and mutual benefit will reside. Much of the benefit of the Internet derived from its widely available standards and global interoperability, as it starts to fragment into four, or more, Internets, will we lose those benefits associated with openness and the democratisation of technology?

2. Our geopolitics will continue to fragment.

More conflict will commence. This is not merely a story about China’s growing economic power, its exportation of technologies with authoritarian capabilities, and its One Belt, One Road initiative. Global geopolitics will need to account for a rising south Asia: by 2030, India will be the world’s third largest economy, with a $10 trillion GDP.

The world will comprise three major blocs. The EU promotes a citizen-centric model. China promotes a state-centric one. The US lacks an up-to-date cri de l’esprit, for the American dream has expired. The end of class mobility and the domination of profit-at-all-costs companies disenchants the young, the environmentally mindful, and even many financiers. (See trend three.) The current administration’s inconsistent and unilateral foreign policy chafes capitals (and capital) around the globe. America’s status as the home of opportunity and the world’s moral guardian is weaker now than anyone can remember.

Other key players and their affinities remain unclear: Russia, post-Brexit Britain, and the major African and Pacific economies. And then there’s the major technology platforms—how will they play their cards? Will forums for co-operation and mutual benefit emerge? Many of the key benefits of the Internet derived from its widely available standards, global interoperability, and spirit of democratisation. As it fragments into four (or more) Internets, will these benefits be lost?

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3. In what we have generally thought of as the West, we’ll rethink the shape and purpose of our economies.

We’ll ask hard questions about ‘rentier capitalism’, which is the end-state of the Fordist mass production model, the Friedman doctrine coupled with corporate capture, particularly of antitrust. Yes, neoliberalism will be put to bed. We may go as far as rethinking the purpose of our economies to sustainably deliver on the needs of its population, as some have suggested. We might break the simple linear division society encouraged by neoliberalism: markets which work and states which do the rest, each measured solely by their efficiency. Rather, we’ll recognise the value that responsive states provide in creating a secure, kind, purposive substrate in which we can live our lives. Many states will rethink the ‘social contract’ for a new world of work. They will also realise they need to take a more active role in directing investments in technology and shaping our societies. This will take the form of DARPA-like basic research, what economist Marianna Mazzucato calls the mission-driven state. Smart nations will figure out how to do this while facilitating basic science and accelerating the entrepreneurial urge.

3. In the so-called West, we’ll rethink the shape and purpose of our economies.

We’ll ask hard questions about ‘rentier capitalism’ — i.e., the end-state of the Fordist mass production model, along with the Friedman doctrine, coupled with corporate capture, particularly of antitrust. Put another way: neoliberalism will be put to bed. No longer will we maintain faith in the idea that markets work, states do the rest, and each is measured solely by their efficiency. Nation-states may even design their economies to sustainably fulfill the needs of their populations. Many states will rethink the ‘social contract’ for a new world of work. These actions will take the form of DARPA-like basic research, what economist Marianna Mazzucato calls “the mission-driven state.” Smart nations will figure out how to do this while facilitating basic science and accelerating entrepreneurial drive.

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4. We’ll see the rise of new digital commons, economic institutions that are neither public- nor private- sector.

Digital commons (such as data trusts) will be broadly fostered to ensure positive externalities and super-linear returns to aggregated resources are widely accessible to societies. A digital commons could hold aggregate health data for a population, such data being made available to researchers to develop novel treatments. Or cities could insist that private sector transport networks contribute transit data to a civic data commons for the broader benefit. We don’t have many great examples of digital commons working at scale, but during the next decade we’ll learn how to set them up, govern them and reap the rewards.

4. We’ll see the rise of digital commons.

Digital commons (such as data trusts) will foster positive externalities and super-linear returns. A digital commons will hold aggregate health data for a population, and that data will be made available to researchers to develop novel treatments. Cities will insist that private sector transportation networks contribute transit data to a civic commons for the broader benefit. We presently have few models of digital commons working at scale. During the next decade, we’ll learn how to set them up, govern them and reap the rewards.

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5. World trade will face a troika of headwinds.

Geotechnical pressure is one, encouraging data localisation or buying infrastructure from a native firm. Environmental concerns are another. The growing movement towards circularity, virtual working or local buying will strengthen. Finally, technologies such as 3-d printing, coupled with renewable energy, will reduce demand for ULCCs to criss-cross the globe. The falling trade-to-GDP ratio has already seen demand for larger cargo ships move into retrograde, as over-capacity beckons.

At the end of the coming decade, trade in raw materials and manufactures will be lower relative to GDP than it is now. How will a decreasing relative reliance on trade impact international relations?

5. World trade will face a troika of headwinds.

The pressure to buy local will expand, in lieu of environmental concerns. The growing movement towards circularity, virtual working or local buying will strengthen. Finally, technologies such as 3-d printing, coupled with renewable energy, will reduce demand for ultra large crude carriers to criss-cross the globe. The falling trade-to-GDP ratio has already seen demand for larger cargo ships move into retrograde. Over-capacity beckons.

At the end of the decade, trade in raw materials and manufactures will be lower relative to GDP. How will a decreasing relative reliance on trade impact international relations?

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6. Cities will become relatively more important.

They will lead the charge to build the affordances of more sustainable livelihoods and tackle climate change. As much of citizens’ well-being is determined at the city rather than national level. As cities continue to be the engines of national economies, city governments will engage in robust debates with national ones over who controls what. As the rural-urban divide has been the most apparent schism in much of the politics in Europe and the US in the past years, this will make for an interesting tension. As shopping malls and big-box retail fails, this land will be used for other purposes. In European-style cities with reasonably close suburbs, expect the development of more live-work neighbourhoods in downtown office and retail areas. This decade will also see even more strongly integrated megalopolises, or city-clusters, especially in China. Larger cities bring those super-linear benefits of greater innovation, but they also see non-linear increases in the incidence of public health problems. Growing cities in Africa and Asia may witness both health emergencies and resource, particularly water, shortages; the challenges of urbanisation might prove fertile environments for innovation at the edge.

6. Cities will lead.

As they become more important in power relations, city officials can build the affordances of more sustainable livelihoods and tackle climate change. For many citizens today, their well-being is determined at the city rather than national level. As cities continue to be the engines of national economies, city governments will engage in robust debates with national ones over who controls what. With the rural-urban divide as the primary political schism in Europe and the US in recent years, tensions over control will continue. As shopping malls and big-box retail fail, the land they occupy will be re-purposed. In European-style cities with reasonably close suburbs, expect the development of more live-work neighbourhoods in downtown office and retail areas. This decade will also see even more strongly integrated megalopolises, or city-clusters, especially in China. Larger cities bring those super-linear benefits of greater innovation, but they also see non-linear increases in the incidence of public health problems. Growing cities in Africa and Asia may witness health emergencies and shortages in water and other key resources. The challenges of urbanisation might prove fertile environments for innovation at the edge.

~~~~~~

7. We’ll eat far less meat.

Plant-based diets will become more popular. Artificially cultured meat will remain a novelty. The health benefits of plant-based diets together with their better energy footprint and cost-basis will give them an advantage over lab-grown meats. The health benefits of plant-based diets will become more widely known, and not just because of this Netflix documentary. In the UK, in the first half of 2019, 3.6m fewer animals were eaten by 800,000 people. Where younger eaters go, so too will entrepreneurs, restaurateurs, food retailers and governments.

7. We’ll eat far less meat.

Plant-based diets will become more popular. Artificially cultured meat will remain a novelty. The health benefits of plant-based diets, along with their smaller energy footprint and lower cost, will give them an advantage over lab-grown meats. The health benefits of plant-based diets will become more widely known, and not just because of the Netflix documentary The Game Changers. In the UK, in the first half of 2019, 3.6M fewer animals were eaten by 800,000 people. Where younger eaters go, so too will entrepreneurs, restaurateurs, food retailers and governments.

# # #

I hope you like Azeem’s analysis, and will head over to his page to catch points 8-10 — some of which have already come true!

And that’s a wrap.

If you like what you see, drop me a line over here.

Thanks!

Happy writing!

Cancer: blood biopsies and dogs’ noses

The 511

Back in the 20th century, we called 411 for information. Today, information’s aplenty, so you’re looking for something more. The 511 includes: 

  • ~5 short paragraphs about medtech, biotech, or another science-y thing
  • 1 sentence for reflection (and maybe a laugh), and 
  • 1 track I’ve currently got in heavy rotation.

Cancer touches all of us

Who among us has not lost a loved one from cancer? When I was six years old, my grandfather passed away from lung cancer. He smoked, worked with petro-chemicals, and raced cars on the short track. Cancer remains the no. 2 cause of death in the US (heart disease tops the charts), even though — since 2016 — “the cancer death rate for men and women combined had fallen 27% from its peak in 1991.” A good share of that decrease has to do with smoking cessation and early diagnosis and treatment.

The past couple of weeks brings more good news in terms of early diagnosis. In August, the FDA approved Foundation Medicine’s Liquid CDx test, a biopsy blood test that, as noted in Fierce Biotech, “returns reports on more than 300 alterations in cancer-related genes … to predict a person’s response to certain therapies.” There’s no need to remove tissue from a tumor, then, which for many cancer patients is prohibitive. The CDx test may also help illuminate how tumors evolve.

Biotech heavyweight Grail made two announcements last week: their IPO (“GRAL,” on NASDAQ), as well as a 2021 launch date for Galleri, their rival biopsy blood test. Grail’s clinical research indicates that Galleri can detect more than 50 types of cancer and, 93% of the time, identify the specific organ affected by the tumor. Grail’s fanboys include Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, and the company has 165,000 people enrolled in three large-scale studies. Other key players in this space include Guardant Health and Thrive.

Gender and racialized differences in the numbers

The progress on the numbers for new cancer cases is impressive, but differences persist. In terms of the decline in the cancer death rates from 2007-2016, men made larger strides than women (1.8% vs. 1.4%). Varying rates of decline have long been explained by rates of smoking. But that’s no longer the case. The varying rates between Blacks and whites, though, has a lot to do with smoking. Black smokers smoke fewer cigarettes than white smokers, but die at a higher rate. Menthol cigarettes are the likely culprit. Historically, manufacturers of menthol cigarettes have targeted their marketing campaigns to Black consumers. As a result, menthols are more popular among Black smokers, correlate closely with higher absorption rates of lethal chemicals, and may be more addictive than non-menthol cigarettes.

Let’s hope that the new blood biopsy tests promote equitable rates of diagnosis. Cancer prevention techniques may otherwise go to the dogs — but that’s okay, because select dogs can use their sensitive noses to detect cancerous fumes wafting from diseased cells. Seriously: see the long but incredible story here.

5(1)1 — On leading and niceness

“Many people think if you’re nice, you’re not tough. But Win/Win is nice … and tough. It’s twice as tough as Win/Lose.”

Stephen Covey, Daily Reflections, p. 260 (from the Sept. 16 entry)
51(1) — In rotation: Toots and the Maytals’ “Pressure Drop”

Last week, we lost Toots Hibbert, lead singer for Toots and the Maytals, at age 77. Ugh. A true ambassador for Jamaica and reggae, and he and his band really understood one of my favorite cross-genre connections in the history of popular music: punk and reggae.

Here ya go. Ooh, that bass line. And the “oh yeahs,” too.

If you like this stuff, and you know someone interested in health, leadership, and music, all mixed up with a dash of humor, please spread the word.

I’m also on this thing called Twitter (@randaldoane). While it may be a passing fad, drop me a note, if you like what you see.

If you want to talk about a project with words, drop me a line over here.

Cheers!

Sources

https://www.fiercebiotech.com/medtech/foundation-medicine-s-cancer-profiling-blood-test-approved-by-fda

https://www.fiercebiotech.com/medtech/cancer-blood-test-maker-grail-files-for-nasdaq-ipo-eyes-2021-commercial-launch

https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/facts-and-figures-2019.html

https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/disparities/african-americans/index.htm

https://www.livescience.com/61234-how-dogs-smell-cancer.html

Salsa Cycles: the Cadence edit

Newsletter Challenge, v. 10

Quick note: I recently wrapped up a writing coach arrangement with Ari Lewis, host of the Mastering the Attention Economy podcast. We enjoyed working together (see Ari’s ROI here), and he proposed I take on a newsletter editing challenge.

The challenge: Twenty edits by 22 September.

My primary goal: add clarity, concision, and cadence to the newsletters, and sharpen up my own editing process. After I wrap up the challenge, I’ll provide reflections on each edit and offer some lessons you can use on your own newsletter.

For details on my process, click here, a Google doc. Leave suggestions as you see fit. Thanks!

Llama Packing the San Juans,” May 29

@ https://salsacycles.com/stories/llama_packing_the_san_juans by Brett Davis / @salsacycles

–Grey typeface: Brett.

Normal typeface: me.

Key metrics (original -> edit)
–reading level: 11 -> 9.
–word count: 1350 -> 1180
–median sentence length: 21 -> 14 words.
–sentence length, standard deviation (basically, a measure of the variety of sentence lengths): 16 -> 9.3.
–% of sentences, hard or very hard to read: 57% -> 39%

~~~~~~

Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.

Erich Fromm

Some say that there is nothing new left to do, that those before us have done it all. Others state that this is the age of discovery, and that with our current state of technology and the availability of more leisure time, barriers and deep-rooted beliefs can be broken. Both camps are probably right in some aspect. I believe it really comes down to one’s attitude on the matter.

Is there anything new under the sun? Absolutely. In fact, I think we’re in the midst of another age of discovery: with the current state of technology and expansive leisure time, the world of adventure continues to grow. To find something new simply takes some creativity.

~~~~~~

Personally, I fall on the side that the “age of firsts” is not over, it just requires some creativity—thinking outside of the norm. In this golden age of bikepacking, I struggle with giving step-by-step directions to every route that I plan and attempt. I have a hard time following someone else’s GPX route, knowing that if I dig a little deeper and stare at a map for a little bit longer, an idea will come forth that will inspire me to look beyond the box that we inadvertently draw around ourselves when we follow in others’ footsteps. This past summer’s adventure was a prime example of what can be experienced when we think for ourselves and stray away from what has already been done and published.

For me, a key feature of creativity is risk, which is why I think we’re in the golden age of bikepacking: with reliable bikes and imperfect cellphone technology, there’s still room for serendipity. When I sit down to plan a trip, I resist the impulse to provide step-by-step directions to every section of the route. I’ll put up even more resistance if I have access to someone else’s GPX route. If I’m patient, though, and I simply stare at the map a little longer, I know that I’ll find the inspiration to look beyond the box we impose upon ourselves by following the footsteps of others. This past summer, my comrades on wheels and I decided to steer clear of what’s come before, rely on our own wits and, as a result, find a novel adventure under the (Colorado) sun.

~~~~~~

For years now, I have had an idea percolating in the deep recesses of my adventure mind. Living in the picturesque mountain town of Durango, Colorado, I am lucky to have access to one of the world’s most stunning mountain ranges, the San Juans. Encompassing more than 17,000 square miles, the range is a playground for all mountain enthusiasts. I have hiked, climbed, skied, kayaked, and biked much of the range. For most, an exploration of the range begins in the towns of Durango, Pagosa Springs, Telluride, Ouray, or Silverton. The scenic byways of 550 and 160 provide quick and easy access to high alpine lakes, trout streams, rocky summits, and deep gorges. Additionally, because of the bisection of the range from the Durango-Silverton railway and the presence of the famed Colorado Trail, a north-to-south (or vice versa) traverse of the area is common. Few ever think of crossing the range from the other cardinal points of east and west.

For years now, an idea has percolated deep in the recesses of my adventure mind. As a resident of Durango, Colorado, I am lucky to have immediate access to one of the world’s most stunning mountain ranges: the San Juans. It encompasses more than 17,000 square miles, and it’s a playground for a variety of mountain enthusiasts. I have hiked, climbed, skied, kayaked, and biked much of the range. You can start your own San Juan adventure in Durango, Pagosa Springs, Telluride, Ouray, or Silverton. The scenic byways of US Routes 550 and 160 provide easy access to high alpine lakes, trout streams, rocky summits, and deep gorges. With the bisection of the range by the Durango-Silverton railway and the famed Colorado Trail allow a north-south (or vice versa) traverse of the range. Few folks, though, ever cross the range heading east or west.

~~~~~~

The wall behind my office desk is covered by a map of the entire San Juan Mountain Range. Every day the first thing I see when I open the door is the San Juans sprawling across 64 square feet of space behind my chair. Throughout my workday I find myself swiveling my chair around to stare and dream. What is in that drainage? What is that trail like? Do I have the skill to climb that peak? From these mind wanderings, the idea embedded itself in my consciousness…what about traversing the range utilizing human-powered means from west to east, beginning with a climb of its western most prominent peak, Lone Cone (12,618’) and finishing with an ascent of Bennett Peak (13,209’), the tallest peak on the southeast side of the range? Between the two peaks lies 260 miles of some of the lower 48’s most beautiful and rugged terrain. What did those miles look like? What would I see? What would I experience?

A map of the entire San Juan Mountain Range covers the wall behind my office desk. The first thing I see when I open that door is a 64 sf representation of the San Juans. Throughout my workday, I pause, swivel my chair around, and wonder: what is in that drainage? What is that trail like? Do I have what it takes to climb that peak? From these daydreams a question arose: what about biking the range from west to east? Such a ride might begin with an ascent ofLone Cone (12,618’), its western most prominent peak, and finish with an ascent of Bennett Peak (13,209’), the tallest peak on the southeast side of the range. Between the two peaks lies 260 miles of some of the lower 48’s most beautiful and rugged terrain. What did those miles look like? What would I see? How might it change me?

The hand of Brett.

That is the charm of a map. It represents the other side of the horizon where everything is possible. It has the magic of anticipation without the toil and sweat of realization. The greatest romance ever written pales before the possibilities of adventure that lie in the faint blue trails from sea to sea. The perfect journey is never finished, the goal is always just across the next river, round the shoulder of the next mountain. There is always one more track to follow, one more mirage to explore. Achievement is the price which the wanderer pays for the right to venture.

Rosita Forbes

~~~~~~

Upon sharing my idea of the ramble with the usual suspects, Steve “Doom” Fassbinder and Jon Bailey, they both watched eagerly as my fingers traced a route from peak to peak across the entirety of the range. I could tell from their eyes and body language that they were both in—no hesitations or questions asked. This type of journey appealed to their adventure values of creativity, off the beaten path, human powered, some suffering, and relatively inexpensive. This trip would meet all criteria and would be extra affordable given that it would take place in our own backyard.

One evening, I brought comrades Steve “Doom” Fassbinder and Jon Bailey into my office and traced my finger across the route, from peak to peak. Their eyes bulged with glee — and that was it. They were both in, no questions asked. This journey appealed to their desires for creativity, to be on human-powered vehicles (and off the beaten path), affordability, and moderate suffering.

~~~~~~

Another draw for each of us in not following another’s footsteps, tire tracks, etc., is the planning process to create such adventures. Utilizing various maps of the region, Google Earth, and CalTopo.com, I spent hours looking at prospective four-wheel drive roads, trails, and waterways to build a compelling route—something that was plausible and inspiring without being contrived. After each session of following lines across a computer screen or paper map, my mind would drift off in a state of curiosity and wanting to immerse myself into the actual landscape depicted by the maps.

All three of us were also thrilled with the prospect of a maiden voyage. As far as I could tell, we would be following neither footsteps nor tire tracks on this adventure. With the help of various printed maps, Google Earth, and CalTopo.com, I spent hours assembling a plausible and inspiring route along four-wheel drive roads, trails, and waterways. When I wrapped up a session with the maps or online, my mind took flight, and I could imagine myself on my bike, deep in the actual landscape.

A map is not a journey.

Phyllis A. Whitney

~~~~~~

On a beautiful late-July afternoon, the three of us were shuttled with mountain bikes and other associated gear to the Devil’s Chair trailhead of Lone Cone to begin our journey. Standing as a sentry to the western flank of the San Juans, Lone Cone is probably one of the most-viewed peaks in the range. Those driving anywhere in the Four Corners region of the southwest can’t miss its volcano-like stature on the horizon. Despite its visible notoriety, few people aside from locals climb to its summit. During our shuttle drive, the peak was surrounded by the heavy blue clouds of the monsoon season. Given that the mountain was being hit by lightning from every angle, an early evening summit attempt didn’t seem to be in the cards for us. However, once we arrived at the deserted trailhead, the skies had lightened and the race was on to start our ramble. 

In late July, on sunny afternoon, the three of us — and all our gear — shuttled our way to the Devil’s Chair trailhead of Lone Cone to start our journey. Lone Cone serves as a sentry to the western flank of the San Juans, and it’s one of the most iconic peaks in the range. If you’ve ever explored the Four Corners region, you may recall its volcano-like stature on the horizon. Despite Lone Cone’s high profile, only the locals climb to its summit. During our shuttle drive, the heavy blue clouds of the monsoon season gathered around its peak. Given the lightning strikes piercing Lone Cone from every angle, an early evening summit attempt looked impossible. Once we arrived at the deserted trailhead, the skies brightened and our ramble commenced.

~~~~~~

The following morning, we found ourselves prepping for the first of two bike segments on the trip. Given the nature of the mountainous terrain, we decided to ride full-suspension bikes with minimal bikepacking gear. Our first three days of riding were almost entirely on singletrack with a few miles of gravel road connectors, so we didn’t want to be burdened by too much equipment or compromise the feel of the trail by riding a hardtail. I wanted to shred on my new Spearfish and enjoy all of its capabilities as an efficient and playful trail bike.

The next morning, we prepared for the first of the two bike segments of the trip. Our first three days of riding were almost entirely on single track, so we wanted to pack light and really feel the trail. We opted for full-suspension bikes and minimal bikepacking gear. I wanted to shred on my new Spearfish and savor its capacities as a responsive and playful trail bike.

~~~~~~

Soon after snapping the obligatory group shot, we found ourselves ripping down a ribbon of singletrack that none of us had ever ridden. Though it was late July, the forest was still lush from one of the whitest winters we had experienced in recent years. The normally dry creeks were still flowing from bank to bank, providing ample opportunities to cool off with mad high-speed crossings.

The first segment of riding flew by with the routines of our daily lives quickly falling by the wayside, replaced by the hypnotic metronome of a consistent pedal cadence; the pitter patter of afternoon rains falling on a jacket hood; and the laughter of three men enjoying each other’s company. Life was simple again, and its stresses melted away with each mile.

Soon after snapping the obligatory group shot, we went ripping down a ribbon of singletrack that none of us had ever ridden. The forest remained lushly green from one of the whitest winters in recent years. Creeks still flowed from bank to bank, and they delivered ample opportunities to cool off by way of our nearly unhinged, high-speed crossings.

In that first segment of the ride, the frictions of everyday life gave way to the hypnotic metronome of a consistent pedal cadence, the patter of the afternoon rain on the hoods of our jackets, and the episodic laughter of three men enjoying each other’s company. Life is always better on the trail.

~~~~~~

After nearly 100 miles in two and a half days, we descended down a high alpine talus field and into the bustling mountain town of Silverton, CO. We were quickly welcomed back into the front country by clouds of exhaust from every conceivable type of ATV and OHV zooming by us as we rode the town’s lone strip of pavement down main street. Though Silverton is one of my favorite towns during the winter months as a sleepy backcountry skier’s paradise, it is anything but that during the summer. The warmer months attract a more motorized crowd who flock from all across the country to utilize engine-powered transports to explore the trails snaking through the surrounding high peaks and long-abandoned mining communities. Needless to say, all three of us were hoping for a quick resupply and transition to the next segment of our journey.

After logging nearly 100 miles in two and a half days, we descended down a high alpine talus field and into the bustling town of Silverton, CO. Our exit from back country to front country was remarkably rude: clouds of exhaust from every conceivable type of ATV and OHV wrapped around us as we rode Main Street into town. Silverton is one of my favorite towns during the winter months. It’s a sleepy backcountry skier’s paradise. In the summer, though, it’s a combustible nightmare. The warmer months attract a well-motorized crowd from across the country to explore at maximum volume the trails snaking through the surrounding high peaks and abandoned mining outposts. We hastily re-upped our supplies and rode quickly into the next segment of our journey.

A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.

Howard Zahniser

~~~~~~

Those familiar with the San Juan Mountain Range know that in its heart lies a wilderness area of stunning beauty. The Weminuche Wilderness is the largest designated wilderness in the state of Colorado, encompassing nearly 500,000 acres. Within its boundaries you’ll find some of the state’s most rugged and steep terrain. As many may know, motorized or mechanical vehicles (i.e. a simple bicycle) are not permitted in a wilderness designated area. One can easily bypass the Weminuche by following four-wheel drive tracks to the north of Silverton or by pavement to the far south near Durango. 

At the heart of the San Juan Mountain Range lies a wilderness of stunning beauty. The Weminuche Wilderness covers nearly 500,000 acres. It’s the largest designated wilderness area in Colorado. Within its boundaries you’ll find some of the state’s most rugged terrain. As you may know, motorized or mechanical vehicles (i.e. a simple bicycle) are not permitted in a wilderness designated area. To bypass the Weminuche, then, you can follow either the four-wheel drive tracks to the north of Silverton or the pavement to the far south near Durango.

Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.

Erich Fromm

# # #

And that’s a wrap. If you like what you see, drop me a line over here.

Thanks!

Happy writing!