bits and pieces

Posted July 17, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

The most commented-on post on my old blog — more than one hundred comments before the blog died — featured the photo above and my chatter about the blue-tailed skinks that I see sometimes at my cabin. Many comments were about keeping them as pets — something I discouraged — but just as many asserted that based on my photo, there was no such creature on this earth, that I was making up the little beastie.


I repeated my epic 27-mile bike ride the length of the Indian Creek Trail-plus on Sunday. It was easier this time, in part because I knew what to expect and, perhaps, because my heart and lungs were a tiny bit more fit for the challenge. I managed to make it a continuous ride, conquering two of the hills that had defeated me before and skipping the third by using a bypass trail around it.

On my bike back from the shop and its annual tune up, I felt as though I was riding a different bike. So smooth and quiet (still not shifting into second gear too well).


I skedaddled to Roundrock on Friday afternoon for an overnight. The incessant rains had ceased and the incessant heat hadn’t, so it looked like a window of opportunity. Above you see the view I had from the cabin porch. This volume is actually uncharacteristic for this time of the summer. Usually by now enuf water has leaked out that it’s dropped much lower. More water for longer periods means better habitat for the fish in there.

I didn’t hike in the woods, partly due to the heat but mostly because I didn’t want to be scratching myself in embarrassing places this week from chigger bites. (This despite the poison I put on my clothes and tucking my pants into my socks.) So I stuck around the cabin and mostly slung more gravel around. I didn’t have a fire. Sunset right now at my latitude is around 8:30 p.m., and that’s close to bed time for me anyway, so I didn’t relish the idea of tending a slow-burning fire late into the night on the chance that I might hear a whippoorwill or a screech own. (No to both this visit, listening through the open windows as I lay in bed in the cabin.) I also didn’t swim, though I’m sure the water is plenty warm enuf.

Because my cabin is just above my lake, I don’t want to use any chemical herbicides in the gravel around it to keep down the weeds. Instead I use the old tarp that used to be our shelter before we had the cabin built. I lay it on an area where I want to kill off the weeds and then lay those boards* on it to keep it in place. In growing season, just a few weeks of this treatment will suffice, though the tarp stayed in its last place (west of the cabin) through the winter and spring, and did a fine job. I slung a bunch of gravel there on my recent visit, first laying down a landscaping fabric as an experiment to prevent the weeds from coming up. The photo above is where I moved the tarp over the weekend. This is behind the cabin, which is left of the photo.

For a nice discussion of this method of weed control — in the sub tropics and supplementing with palm fronds — you might consider this post on a blog that’s a long-time favorite of mine.


If all goes according to plan, my 7th grandchild will arrive today. If she had come (been scheduled) a day earlier, she would have shared a birthday with both my twin sons (one being her father) and my twin grandchildren in New York. As it is, she will share a birthday with her uncle in Indiana. Also, the hottest day of the year so far!

UPDATE: Alice Rose was born today and weighed 7 pounds, 1.9 ounces! Mom and baby are fine.


*Those boards came from a tree stand that stood near my pond for years. The tree died, the stand fell, and I harvested the wood for uses just like this.

thick-skinned report

Posted July 16, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: short stories

I received two rejections last week.

One was a long-shot, and I was only surprised by the swiftness of the response. I had sent in the story almost on impulse, and I’m not too disappointed.

The other was a bit harder on the ego, but it makes sense.

I had written a fictionalized story of a time my wife joined me on a 5K. It was a disaster with a hilarious finish, and the story pretty much wrote itself. I was pleased with it and decided to send it to a likely market right away (rather than let the story gestate a while, which generally helps).

The likely market is one that accepted a story of mine recently (though it’s not published yet), and I seem to have a good rapport with the editor. It turns out, though, the publication has a policy that they won’t publish stories from the same writer in back-to-back issues. I would have to wait until both the upcoming issue and the one after that are published to have my latest story considered.

The editor also suggested that the story could be developed further. This was something that was in the back of my mind as I rushed it out the door. So I will let it gestate a while and see what comes of it.

Order No. 11

Posted July 15, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic, Rants and ruminations

Tags: , , , , ,

I have a friend who, once or twice a year, sends me clippings from newspapers or magazines on topics that he thinks might interest me, or that he recalls I had expressed an interest in, or that he’s interested in and wants to share. (We also exchange postcards from wherever we travel.)

He’s meticulous about neatly trimming the articles from the mother documents, and if he happens to remove the information, he will write on the pages the name of the publication and the date of issue. He’ll also usually include a short note about what he has sent (though not always, which leaves me puzzling sometimes how he thought I’d be interested in whatever he’s sent).

Most recently he sent me clippings from two different newspapers about the George Caleb Bingham painting “Order No. 11.” The painting is being moved from one location to another in Jefferson City, the capital of Missouri.

If you read the link, Order No. 11 (1863) is about a misguided effort at ethnic cleansing in west central Missouri during the Civil War. It was eventually rescinded, though some have observed that the economic consequences to some communities affected then continue today.

And all of that is fascinating to me, but my friend got one detail wrong. There was another Order No. 11, which was attempted a year earlier, and which ordered the expulsion of Jews from parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. A man named Ulysses S. Grant issued this order. Prominent among these places affected was Paducah, Kentucky, where I had spent many summers of my youth (a hundred years later) and where my mother currently lives.

The accusation/assumption/assertion/rationale was that the Jews in these areas were profiteering from the inflated prices of cotton due to the war. (Never mind the non-Jewish cotton merchants who were also benefiting from the higher cotton prices.) Grant’s order was intended to affect only the Jewish cotton merchants, but it was worded poorly enuf that all Jewish people in the region were considered the target.

The Order lasted only a few weeks when the outcry against it reached President Lincoln’s ears and he ended it. It happens, though, that my mother’s condo is just down the street from Paducah’s synagogue, and I think of this dark bit of our history every time I visit her.

So when I respond to my friend’s latest letter with the clippings, I’ll thank him and gently point out that my interest was actually about the other Order No. 11

bits and pieces

Posted July 8, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic, Rants and ruminations

This is a not-so-random image from my massive photo inventory. I tell the interesting and perplexing tale of this book in an old post here.


I’ve been bike-less for the last few days. When I bought my bike last summer, the neighborhood bike shop — where we’d begun buying bikes for our kids when they were young — offered a free 30-day tune up and then another at one year. My riding on the Indian Creek Trail has not been kind to my bike. Mostly it’s covered with mud on the underside, but it also tends to shift poorly into second gear, it rattles a lot when I pedal, and now the rear wheel feels out of alignment (from, it turned out, several broken spokes). So, as I was fast-approaching my year anniversary, I thought I should get it into the shop for its free annual tune up.

Except the bike shop closed. It had been a family business for all of its decades, and the family decided to retire. I was told that another bike shop, deep in the urban core, would honor the one-year tune up, and so I hauled my bike down there last Friday. I expected to be disappointed or at least cross sold on gear or services I didn’t want/need. But nothing like that happened. They said that of course they would honor the tune up, and they’d get to it right away. Right away turned out to be Monday (today), and my hope is that I can pick it up this afternoon and begin punishing my legs and lungs again.


Not counting my initial (fumbling?) attempts at finding an agent for OMF, I currently have six stories in submission at ten publications. Seems a little low, and one of those has been out there since September, but most of my new writing has been stories with the OMF characters in the years after that story ended (in fact, some are actually in the future from today, but as long as no one looks too closely at the timing hints, no problem). These stories are in various stages of completeness, and when I think I have them all worked out and polished, another thought pushes into my head. But as one wise friend told me, they’ll never be good enuf in my mind, so there’s that.


I did not get out to Roundrock over the four-day weekend as I had hoped/planned/wished. The weather forecast was always iffy, with rain predicted until the day of the event, when it was removed. I could have gone down there after all, but I managed to fill my long weekend with other activities. This coming weekend, however, seems likely.


Unless something interferes. Grandchild #7 is expected in ten days (by C-section), but if the little girl, Alice will be her name, hurries things along, my weekend may no longer be my own.

all that and breakfast! ~ part two

Posted July 2, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic

Tags: ,

Continuing my thrilling account from yesterday, the point where I had failed a third time on a hill happened to be, ironically, beside milepost 3. So I had ridden 17 miles by then, and the intensely focused chaffing had been my companion for nearly that long, but I began to consider the possibility that I could do this thing and in fact nearly had.

So onward. About a mile ahead a massive water (sewage) treatment plant is being rebuilt, and because the trail passes close to it, that part of the trail is currently closed (in fact, gone altogether). This requires a detour, but it happens that a spur of the trail, in exactly the right place to do this, had been there for years. I knew the route; I’d run or ridden on it a few times. It added a half mile or so to my distance, but I still wasn’t feeling any serious fatigue. I was, however, feeling a little worry as I remembered that this detour connects with the end of the Tomahawk Creek Trail, at the point where it joins the Indian Creek Trail. And what is notable about this junction is that it is just below one of the serious hills along that part of the trail.

I had ridden up this hill before, and it’s not long, but near the top you pass under a busy road and for some reason, the trail is really bumpy just as you come out from the darkness, still ascending the last twenty feet of the hill. When I did this on Sunday, there were two runners there, which required me to steer to the outside (cliffside) of the trail, but that wasn’t bad because the pavement was actually smoother there.

And after this, another long downhill with gentle curves that were fun to lean into, followed by a trail bridge to cross. And then I was rejoining the part of the trail that the original trail would have taken me to had there been no detour. And there on my left was milepost 1. I had gone 19 miles that morning, and while I was beginning to feel the heat finally, I knew I had it in me to keep going.

This part of the trail goes through a nice park with lots of activities including fishing, a large pool, tennis, and various ball fields. It’s fun to watch the little ones chasing around after a soccer ball when I pass, but it was too early on a Sunday morning for that, and I zipped along. One other activity at this park is an off-leash area for dogs, which meant that for a while I was sharing the trail with humans who held dogs on leashes. Most are aware of the need to share the trail, and all of them held their dogs close as I passed, but it’s always a possibility that a dog will stray into my path or lunge at me. But I made it through without mishap, and soon I passed milepost .5.

This was part of my Sunday-morning route when I was running so much. I knew what was ahead, including passing under the interstate a third time, and then a slight rise onto a bridge at State Line Road, where I would pass into Missouri and pass milepost 0.0. Not far ahead.

And I did. I’d ridden 20 miles that morning!

But the trail didn’t stop there, and neither did I. The Indian Creek Trail continues in Missouri for about three miles, and since my goal was to ride the entire length of the trail, I continued into Missouri as well.

The nicest waterfall along the whole trail comes soon after this. It was the site of a watermill back in settlement days, and some of the structure of the mill is still visible right beside the bike trail. Because the rains had stopped a few days before, the waterfall was not as impressive as usual (or as frightening as recently), and I didn’t want to stop anyway, so I rode on.

The trail here is good and bad. There is one turn that is insanely bad, and while I’ve never had a mishap there, I suspect others have. You come down a steep hill to make a hard left turn. There are large rocks piled on each side of the trail, and the outside of this turn has a “curb” about four inches high. If you don’t turn tightly enuf (after coming down that hill) and hit that curb, you’re likely to get thrown from your bike and onto the rocks. I’m really surprised it’s allowed to remain in this dangerous shape.

But I survived the turn by squeezing my brakes and creeping along, and then it was back to mostly smooth, mostly level asphalt. The next mile or so passes under two major roads, and the recent floods along the creek had left lots of mud beneath the bridges. Most of that has been scraped away, but there are places where the mud, furrowed by bike tires, has dried, and if you hit these unaware (such as passing from intense light to sudden dark), you can get thrown into one of these furrows, whether you’re balanced for that or not.

Although I have ridden along here a couple of times, I had only run this far once, so I wasn’t as familiar with this part of the trail. There was a point where the trail was fenced off because the stream (ten feet below) had eroded the bank such that the asphalt seemed to be suspended in the air. Fortunately, other riders had made an obvious path in the grass beside this, a path I suspect the city will use when it redirects this part of the trail.

I was passing mileposts along here — it seems that Missouri wants to help you calculate your distance better because they have a post every two-tenths of a mile. I still wasn’t seeing a lot of people on the trail. In part because it was still relatively early in the morning but also, I think, because the heat was getting serious. At around mile 2.4 into Missouri, I first felt real fatigue. I had known for a long while that I was getting tired, but I always felt that I had the energy/drive/foolishness to press on. At this point, though, I began to question that. I think in part this was due to riding a long stretch in the sun. Most of the Missouri part of the trail to this point had no shade. But I was so close to reaching my goal, and I knew that cool(er) shade was ahead, so I didn’t relent (though the part of me that was trying to convince me it was my rational self was also trying to convince me to stop).

Things get a little confused here. Not in my head, but on the trail. While the maps all say that the Indian Creek Trail continues for about three miles into Missouri, the trailside mileposts had begun calling it the Blue River Trail. So had I ridden the entire distance of the Indian Creek Trail? Or did I have more to go despite what the trail signs said (every two-tenths of a mile)?

It didn’t matter because when I had decided to ride the entire distance of the ICT, I had also decided to ride the entire distance of the BRT (which from this point is only about four miles).

The Blue River Trail is a nice place to ride. It’s still new, and while runners with working lower joints don’t prefer it, it’s paved with concrete rather than asphalt, which makes cycling easier. Except for the half mile that isn’t paved at all but is still gravel. But while that was rough for a little while, I kept on, and soon my tires kissed concrete again. I passed twice (thrice?) under railroad tracks, and the approach from both directions had steel canopies over them. I suppose trains can rain down gravel, which wouldn’t be good to hit your head even if you were wearing a helmet. (I was wearing a helmet.) These canopied stretches were also fenced, which I suppose is somehow related to the safety requirements of the railroads.

But onward. Soon I passed under the interstate for the fourth time that morning and was in a large park with lakes and ball fields and an RC field and picnic shelters and one of two cricket pitches along the trail. (The other is near the beer school I attend.) A game (match?) was underway, with shouting and cheering in a language I did not know.

I was tired. I was nearly done, but I could feel what I had done. My legs were angry with me, and I found that standing on my pedals, while challenging my balance, actually felt very good in my legs. So in the last mile or so, I did that whenever I could (tugging down that faulty bit of wardrobe too).

When I saw the tennis courts ahead, I knew I had nearly reached the end of the trail. (Actually, no. The trail continues off the pavement through forest and field, but that’s not for me or for my bike.) I could see the parking lot that marked the terminus of the trail. I had ridden 27 miles that morning. And just as I approached the very end of the asphalt, the very end of the trail and the parking lot where I could finally stop and call my goal achieved, a park service vehicle pulled into the space and parked, directly blocking my way. I couldn’t ride to the physical the end of the trail.

Fortunately, as I looked to the left, I saw the Prolechariot parked in the shade nearby. I cut across the grass and rode over there. My wife emerged from the air conditioning as I stopped beside my truck, and then I just stood there for a long time. My legs were grateful to be fully extended again and the rest of me was too tired to do anything. I just stood in the shade and managed to make some semi-coherent conversation. Soon my wife asked me if I was ever going to dismount, and I guess I must have because I remember lifting my bike into the bed of my truck (with what strength?).

I didn’t make an exact note of the time I began or the time I finished, but approximately two and a half hours had passed. I don’t think the time lost to stopping three times (or the turn I missed that added maybe a quarter mile to my distance) added much to that time. And I don’t know if that time was respectable or not. I just know I did it.

My wife had a big glass of ice water waiting in the truck for me, and I sucked it down as we drove home. But in my running days, after I’d complete a half marathon, I would treat myself to blueberry pancakes. This seemed like a comparable accomplishment (or at least a credible excuse).

The problem was, I was a sweaty, stinking mess dressed in wet plastic clothing (including a large hole in an unfortunate place) with hair flying everywhere. That meant our usual breakfast retreats were out, so if this was going to happen, we needed to find an informal place with outdoor seating. Fortunately, there was one not far from our house, and while I suspect their typical demographic probably wears red caps with white acronyms written on them, we tried it.

I was disappointed. The pancakes tasted like biscuits, big biscuits. I couldn’t finish them. And they were not prompt with the iced tea (unsweetened, of course).

But then I was home. The bike was hung again from the garage ceiling (with what strength?) and the truck was parked below it. I was soon in the shower, stinging where the hot water found a certain chaffed place, then into loose-fitting, cotton clothes and a day of indolence. All this before many people have even gotten out of bed on a Sunday morning.

Later that day, I crashed hard. I very suddenly felt weak, and I began sweating all over, even on the top of my head. Unfortunately, I was at the grocery store when this happened. I managed to get home, but the rest of the afternoon and evening was lost. I sat around, too tired to do anything. The weakness and cold sweats eventually passed, but the absolute exhaustion stayed with me until my even-earlier-than-usual bedtime.

I’m glad I did it, and I want to do it again. But first I need to get my bike in the shop for a tune up. It doesn’t shift well from third to second, and the gears make far too much noise as I pedal (compared to everyone I pass or who passes me on the trail). And the front brake screams when I apply it. And I’m worth a good bike if I’m going to keep riding.*

*My bike is hardly top of the line, but it wasn’t cheap, and in my running days I could easily spend as much on new shoes in a single year as I spent on my bike.

all that and breakfast! ~ part one

Posted July 1, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Ramblings Off Topic


The incessant rain of recent weeks around here has been replaced with punishing heat. Cloudless skies rain down scorching heat as though some cosmic balancing mechanism has been turned off.

It’s not so bad on the biking trail, though. As long as I keep moving, the breeze evaporates my sweat and seems to keep me cool. I know where all of the (working) water fountains are on the trail, and the hills (for the most part) are manageable. There is a lot of shade and even relatively cool tunnels under major roads. And of late, my rides have taken me to a particular destination where I get to pursue the edifying effort of learning about the many kinds of beer in the world. I haven’t even once veered off the trail and into the creek from heat-induced delirium or clutched my chest after getting up (or not) a bad hill.

In my years I have run or ridden on every bit of the Indian Creek Trail, a riparian, asphalt quality-of-life “park” maintained by the various communities it passes through. And like the song says of Lake Shore Drive, it passes from rats on up to riches (and then more rats).* And I can say, very literally, that I have spent thousands of miles on this trail, running and riding.

So it came to pass in my little head that I should ride the entire trail in one continuous effort. The trail has mileposts on it, so I knew with pretty good accuracy the total distance, which is only a few miles greater than the longest ride I’d done to date. I thought I could do it.

The only trouble was the brutal heat. (Yes, by August a 90-degree day will feel pleasant, but in June that’s still a bit high.) As I said, as long as I keep moving, the breeze keeps me cool, but I suspect that’s a deceptive cool, especially if relied upon for a long-haul effort like the entire trail. And my solution was to get on the trail at first light, before the heat fell onto the asphalt trail. I’d been toying with this idea for a few weeks, and I realized that if I put it off much longer, the first-light heat of the morning might be worse, so yesterday became the day.

I had discussed my idea with my wife (my ground crew) before and suggested that yesterday would be the time to do it. When I woke that morning, I was ambivalent, but she seemed charged, so I slid into some plastic clothing (from my running days) and loaded my bike in the back of the Prolechariot. We drove out to the current terminus of the trail, at a place called Hampton Park in the suburban town of Olathe (which figures prominently in the settlement history in this part of the country). The mileposts on the Indian Creek Trail count up from State Line Road (thus from Missouri), and the nearest one to Hampton Park is mile 19, so I called the Park mile 20.

Just after 7:00 a.m. yesterday morning I strapped on my helmet, climbed on my bike, and rode the paved circle within the park to “ensure” that I could call it mile 20. Then it was onto the trail.

I had chosen to start there because the journey is a net downhill to the finish going east. There are a few hills that seem to make up for the loss in elevation as you go, but going the other way truly was uphill, and if not visually then certainly in muscle fatigue.

This part of the trail passes through neighborhoods and parks and is nicely paved. There are a few major streets to cross, but I timed it well and managed to reach them when there were breaks in the scant early morning traffic. There were also many people on the trail: on bikes, on foot, with strollers, with dogs. They had the same beat-the-heat idea I did, I guess.

I really wanted my ride to be continuous, that if the hills didn’t defeat me, I’d be astride my bike the whole way. And so, when I came to a boulevard stretch of the trail early on that was being watered with lawn sprinklers, all I could do was ride through them. I got a thorough soaking, which would have been better near the end of my ride than at the beginning, but aside from the spots on my glasses, I knew the water would evaporate soon.

After about four miles I was entering a stretch where I knew the pavement was in rough shape. Since much of it runs stream side, there are parts that are cracking and slowly sliding down the hill toward the water. And the recent big rains had washed out a few places where the trail was fenced off to prevent riders and runners from going over the edge. It’s also kind of trashy along this part because the stream brings down debris and leaves it when the high water recedes.

But it’s a familiar stretch that I’ve run and ridden many times, and just after mile post 15 is the establishment where my beer education classes are held, so despite the drawbacks, I liked being along there.

And I was doing fine. I felt no fatigue, and the heat of the morning hadn’t arrived yet. About the only complaint I had at this point was that in some spots I was riding directly into the rising sun, which made seeing hazards ahead of me difficult. This also made passing under roads through dark tunnels a challenge. Eyes adapted to bright light are suddenly thrust into comparative darkness, and the tunnels can hold their own hazards, like mud, collected trash, and even other trail users. I had no mishaps in the tunnels (and, sadly, the graffiti is being painted over), but in two cases, coming out of the tunnels back into the bright sunlight caused me some trouble.

I continued along the familiar path with no trouble. The short hills, to rise onto bridges to be crossed, for example, were all known to me, so I could build up enuf momentum to meet them well. But what I found along here, barely five miles into my adventure, was that if I didn’t think about how far I had to go, the present distance was not difficult at all. You could say I was “in the moment” or the “pleasant present,” but let’s not, okay?

When I say this part was familiar, I mean from the opposite direction. Most of my riding along here is to get to the beer education establishment (where a ride home always awaited me), which I had passed already. So I was gliding down hills that had always challenged me before and grinding up ones that I had breezed down in the past. That was refreshing in its way, which broke up some of the tedium of the trail.

I had not carried water, and I had passed the few water fountains on my route thus far because a) I wanted the ride to be continuous, and b) I wasn’t thirsty. I know from my running experience that thirst is not the best way to judge dehydration, and I probably should have at least sipped some water at the fountains, but I hadn’t.

The trail passes through my neighborhood, only 6/10 of a mile from my house. When I got there I would have traveled about a dozen miles, and I half expected my wife (and likely the dogs) to be waiting trailside to cheer me on (or to haul me back home if my ambition exceeded my ability). They weren’t though. She had stayed at Hampton Park after I had left to give the dogs a walk around the same circle I had ridden, and since my ride was continuous, without serious traffic or even stoplights I needed to obey (at that hour), I was actually making about the same progress to my neighborhood as she was. She calculated that when I had passed through our neighborhood, she was probably just arriving home. As it was, I was still feeling fine at that point and just rolled on through.

When I ride the trail, I tend to go west (the direction I was coming from on this ride) because if I go east any worthwhile distance, I face the two biggest hills on the trail. One is three-quarters of a mile long, and while not steep, it is more or less unrelenting. It takes constant peddling to keep moving forward. (There are some brief stretches along it that are flat, but you don’t want to be deceived into surrendering your momentum there.) So not long after I left my neighborhood, I passed under the interstate highway (for the first time) and then faced the bottom of that three-quarter mile hill. But I knew it was coming. I’d run up it many times, and I have ridden up it, so it was merely a matter of resolve. And I reached the top, making the turn that would quickly undo all of that elevation gain. But first I had to bump over a quarter mile of oddly rough trail. I think the drainage from the trailside apartment development there makes keeping the trail flat (-ish) a challenge. I’m no engineer, nor am I a city planner, but I can’t figure out why parts like this are left in such poor shape while other stretches seem to get repaved every couple of years.

But I bumped through it and soon came to a downhill piece with two blind curves thrown in. Once again, my early hour on the trail meant that I didn’t encounter anyone as I zipped down the hill. But after this point came the first of two bridges that really need some redesigning. They are over Indian Creek, and they’re road bridges with sidewalks on each side, but whoever designed them had never ridden on a bicycle. The sidewalks are probably standard width, but on one side is a high steel fence (to keep you from pitching into the creek below) and on the other side is a shin-high concrete barrier (apparently to keep wayward cars from pitching into you). The trouble is that if you’re on a bike, you have little margin for error. You have to stay focused on keeping in the middle of this sidewalk until you’re across. And compound this with the chance (likelihood) that you will face another cyclist coming at you from the other direction. I think, mathematically, there is enuf space for two cyclists, but one time as I was trying to leave enuf room for an oncoming wheeler, I managed to scrape a body part on the concrete barrier (at shin height). Anymore, I check to see if anyone is coming my way before I start across these bridges, and if there is, I stop and let them pass. Fortunately for my plan to be continuous, I didn’t have to stop either time.

Again I passed a chance to get a drink (in the park where I’ve recounted here a number of spooky experiences I’ve had) and kept peddling. But soon my continuous ride met its first stop.

The second of the two in-need-of-redesigning bridges was ahead of me, and before I could ride across it at peril to my shins, I first had to ride under it. That part was easy, but I knew that the turn to get up to street level was going to be a challenge. First, it’s blind. Second, you’re coming out of darkness into sunlight. Third, the trail under the bridge always has mud or dried mud on it, so it’s iffy about building momentum there. On this day, I went under the bridge and managed not to hit two people who were blithely walking down the center of the path. (They had sufficient line of sight to know I was coming!) Then, as I came out on the other side, with insufficient momentum, two more people were coming down the hill, not staying to the right as they should. I had to brake to avoid them, and then I came upon a woman who was running on the trail, just coming down the hill I had to climb. I tried. I cranked. But I just couldn’t get up this hill. It’s not all that long, maybe thirty feet from bottom to top, but it is steep. And without enuf momentum, it beat me.

Well, it happened. But I walked my bike up the remainder of the hill and then started peddling again, crossing the shin-endangering bridge I had just passed under, and beginning to think about the other very challenging hill on the trail that was about a mile ahead of me.

The next mile or so is a nice stretch of trail. It’s mostly flat, with rises that are easy to manage, and it’s well maintained. One particularly bumpy section was recently repaved. But after this point, it forks. A rider can go one way and, after a bit of riding on a neighborhood street, can get on a spur of the trail to rejoin the main trail ahead. The benefit of this route is that you can wholly avoid the monster hill the the other direction at the fork takes you.

My ambition was to face the trail as it came, and that meant facing that hill. But despite having a long, flat approach were I could build some serious momentum, I still couldn’t crank to the top of that hill. I could blame the condition of the pavement there, but that hardly made a difference to my climb. I was already stopping before I came to that point. I have never gotten up this hill under pedal power. (Hills are so much easier to manage running.) So I was not too disappointed when I had my second break of the morning. I walked to the top of the hill, mounted my bike again, and began sailing down the other side of the hill, leaning into the two blind curves along here and not running over anyone.

By this time I had ridden about 16 miles. I had passed milepost 4 as I was zooming down that hill. There were a few more bridges to get onto, but the hard hills were now behind me, and while I still didn’t recognize any fatigue in my muscles, I did begin to think it would be just delightful to stop riding for a while and sit on a bench.

Part of this was due to a wardrobe malfunction. Because of a torn piece of fabric, and the mechanics of a leg in continuous, repetitive movement, I was experiencing an intensely focused chafing in a place where a guy doesn’t want to experience chafing. (Subsequent investigation found that blood was drawn.) At first I didn’t realize what was happening and decided to ignore it. (This actually can work when running. A sore knee at the beginning of a run can become merely a question later: was it my right or left knee that hurt?) Because I didn’t want to stop, I poked around a little as discreetly as I could and soon discovered what was wrong. (It’s unclear to me whether a more thorough gear check earlier that morning would have identified the potential problem.) There was little I could do other than stand on my pedals and try to tug the offending garment down a little. This worked for a time, but I had to repeat it, and the damage was already done.

Not long after this, I came to and passed through a park where yet another water fountain was ignored and I had to pass under a road then circle up and make a hairpin turn to cross the bridge. I’m not the only one challenged by this poor design. The grass beside the paved trail here is being worn down by riders taking the turn more widely than what the pavement offers. That also makes the ascent less steep. And though there is most of an acre of open meadow here beside the trail, no one has redesigned the path to veer into it even a little bit to fix this. Which is all to say that I didn’t make this hill either. It’s not an especially steep or long hill, but you come at it after passing under a bridge and making a blind turn. I cranked up as far as I could and resigned myself to this third break in my continuity. Once I was to the top I started peddling again and threw my mind farther down the trail, trying to see if there were any other disappointments waiting.

But this narrative has gone on too long. I’ll finish my thrilling account tomorrow.

*I have never, ever seen a rat on the trail, though I have seen snakes and chipmunks and bunnies and squirrels and birds of prey as well as many varieties of humans. The reference is more economic than critter based, and even at that, the “rats” reference is extreme.

back to Roundrock, again

Posted June 24, 2019 by Paul Lamb
Categories: Roundrock

Tags: , ,

With so much rain lately, my visits to Roundrock are governed by whether or not the roads to it are passable. A decent couple of days, weatherwise, last weekend suggested I could have an overnight at my little cabin on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks. And so I snuck out of work a little early on Friday, threw some things in the Prolechariot, and took off for the woods.

My neighbor down there, with whom I maintain a texting friendship, reported that although the county road was no longer underwater, the weather was horrible, with hail and lightning and a sky that was green! I had seen the weather forecast, though, and told him I was still on my way and that I would bring some sunshine along with me.

The rain had stopped before I arrived, but the forest was still dripping when I left the paved road and drove the two graveled miles to my cabin. It was still standing, and the lake was still there (not washed away by a breach of the dam from all of the rain and high water). Branches were down here and there, but otherwise the forest and cabin endured.

When I’d last visited, two weekends before, the phoebe nest on the side of the cabin, under the protective porch roof, held four eggs. On this visit, I saw what you see below:

I count at least two chicks in the nest, and while momma phoebe perched on a branch nearby as I passed in and out of the cabin, scolding me the whole time, she grew a bit more comfortable with my presence in her realm and didn’t always fly off the nest when I appeared or even moved as I sat in the comfy chair overlooking the sparkling lake.

I had fully intended to swim in the lake this visit. The forecast called for 92 degrees, and I had even brought my swimming gear this time. But the storm had left behind cooler temperatures after it passed, and it never rose above 70 degrees that afternoon. I suppose swimming was still possible — the water temperature was likely warm enuf — but I chose not to.

I had also brought the chainsaw — with the chain on it properly this time — but I’m always reluctant to use it when I’m alone in the forest, on the wrong side of the ridge where we don’t get a cell signal. There was still that oak that defeated me before, and there are two closer to the cabin that I want to remove to have more parking space (for when you come to visit, natch!), but I didn’t fire up the machine.

The only chore I did undertake when I visited was to do something about the spillway that continues to wash out. I’ve mentioned here before that I have hired a man to fix it and even pave the top part of it to prevent further erosion, but the rain has kept him busy in other parts of the county, and he got himself elected mayor of the nearby town, so he has myriad responsibilities now, and a small job like mine probably isn’t high on his list.

The high water that rushes into the spillway has now cut a six-foot drop. It still carries the excess water away, but every high-water event erodes a little more of the spillway, and if that six-foot drop reaches the lake itself (at least fifteen more feet of linear distance) then the lake will begin pouring out. Short of carrying buckets of washed-out rock a hundred feet up from below the dam to the drop — hundreds of buckets — about the only other thing I figured I could do was cut a bunch of smallish cedars and throw them in the hole then throw some heavy rocks on top of them. And this is what I did.

My thought is that the presence of the cedars in the hole will blunt the force of any water pouring into it, thus preventing the hole from getting any deeper. Also, the fine needles and branching pattern of the cedars might collect some of the silt from the overflow, filling in the hole at least a little.

As I was doing this, standing in the bottom of the hole, I could see at head height some old cedars protruding from the ground. They were from my last attempt at slowing the erosion, and now they were above my head.

The boulder you see in the photo at the top of this post is the size of my truck. It sits farther down the spillway, and in a perfect world it would be under a few feet of soil, lush with grass that would prevent erosion.

Nature always wins. (That’s actually the title I would use for any sequel I write to One-Match Fire.) My little efforts will make not much difference at all, but sitting on the porch, wringing my hands, will make even less. Also, it’s something I can continue to do as I wait for the contractor to come and finish the job. (I texted him over the weekend and made things sound dire. He promised to get a crew out there this week. That would be dandy, but I don’t think there are any heavy rainstorms coming soon, and the lake level is slowing lowering anyway, so maybe the crisis will be over for this year.)

After doing what I could down in the spillway hole, I retreated to the cabin and began thinking about building a fire. It was the solstice, so the sun wasn’t going to set for several hours. I’m fussy about fires in my forest. Once I have them going, I feel that I should tend them carefully, keeping them safely within the ring of blocks and not rampaging through the forest. Thus I did not want to start the fire too soon and then be stuck before it for hours of daylight, waiting for darkness to fall (and the whippoorwills to sing).

The forest was wet from the recent rain, and my fears were not very substantive, but even so, I didn’t want to set match to tinder too soon. So I returned to the cabin (at momma phoebe’s dissatisfaction) and wrote in my visit journal and made notes for the stories I write that seem to come to me in waves when I’m at the cabin. (I am grateful for this.)

The hours passed. I watched as a fawn walked along the shoreline across the lake. Later, I saw a raccoon wading the shallows there, hunting, I suppose, for frogs or tadpoles or insects. I had seen four quail as I drove in from the paved road earlier, which is something I’ve wanted to see ever since my feet first touched the ground there. I think I’ve mentioned before the idyllic summers I had spent at my grandparent’s farm in Kentucky as a boy. That was when I had first heard the call of the bobwhite quail, and I had hoped that my own time in the woods and fields would deliver that call to me again. Not yet, but just seeing the quail was encouraging.

At around 7:00 p.m., an hour and a half before official sunset, I walked to the fire ring and began assembling my evening fire. I’d been collecting tinder for a long time. I prefer paper bags. They light easily and they seem to burn hot but not fast, giving the kindling a chance to ignite in its turn. (Also, going to the bagel store often results in a paper bag.)

My concern was that the kindling itself was wet from the rain. I don’t cover my wood pile, and the kindling I collect is from the forest floor nearby, so it faces all of the weather that comes. I have built fires with wet kindling that sputtered out, and I allowed myself more than one match to get this one going.

I built the fire, adding more than my normal amount of paper-bag tinder (also gas receipts, empty instant-oatmeal packets, and such) then mounted the kindling over it. When I judged that I had enuf, I drew a single match from the box and struck it, lighting the exposed paper bags where I could then dropping the match into the kindling when it had burned down too far to hold any longer.

My tinder burned robustly, but the kindling seemed reluctant. Once all of the paper was ash, I had only a few small flames licking in the top of the pyramid of kindling, which isn’t how the plan was supposed to go. (Normally, you want your fire to start at the bottom and consume the fuel above it.) But I fed those flames with small sticks and kind words and somehow, I managed to get a real fire going on that first match.

As this was happening, I was preparing the larger sticks as fuel for the long haul. I carefully added them to the fire — along with some scrap lumber I had brought from home as well as yet another picket from the rotting fence that surrounds my back yard — and watched as they joined the effort.

I had succeeded in building a one-match fire despite having wet kindling and fuel, and if it wasn’t the same as a Jack London story, it was still satisfying to me.

The fire carried me past sunset and into the night. I was not cooking my dinner over these flames, so all I really had to do was enjoy them. And I did.

Not the best photo, but here is the “mature” fire, filled with hot coals and warm flames, ready to accept and consume whatever else I would add to it.

I lingered before my fire well past my usual bedtime because I was waiting, as I always do, to hear a whippoorwill. Simple pleasures, right? I did hear some calling farther in the forest, but the randy frogs down the hill in the lake were croaking so lustily that it was hard to hear anything above their chorus. (I did hear a whippoorwill through the open cabin windows sometime in the night.)

In the morning I rose and thought once again about jumping in the lake to rinse off the grime of my chores and fire building and general sweating in the Ozark humidity. But I did not. My son and his wife had arrived in Kansas City the night before, and I felt obliged to return home sooner rather than later to spend time with them (and see if they had any news, which they didn’t). I slept two hours later than my normal time, and I didn’t rush as I prepared to leave. I straightened around the cabin site, putting fresh (bug-free) sheets on the bed I had slept in, taking extra time (at the phoebe’s consternation) to sweep the porch thoroughly, and pretty much satisfying myself that I had set thing aright as much as I could.

I’m entering the season when I feel daunted by my feeble attempts to maintain a small cabin in a small forest. The plants are growing so vigorously now that any idea of imposing human order in that space seems futile. But it’s only temporary. By August, when the heat of the summer asserts itself fully, all of the febrile growth begins to question itself. The plants begin to wither and fall back, and once again I feel that I can establish my presence in the forest.

And already, I’m looking at this coming weekend for another visit.