Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Climbing A Thousand High Boards

A few months after I met LC I told him that I was going for a bike ride at the base and he surprisingly told me that he wanted to ride as well.
He did not have a bike.
Had not ridden a bicycle since he was a kid.
Since I had a road bike and a mountain bike and two helmets, I took the bike with the skinny tires and he took the bike with the fat tires and we set out, staying on the roads.
Because LC had not ridden a bike in his adult life I fully expected that he would have a weak legged and gear grinding experience, and for a while that is exactly how his ride played out.
I smiled as this new man in my life slowly pulled his way up the rolling hills of the base, wholly appreciative of the fact that he wanted to ride with me.
And I silently cringed each time he ground the gears, hoping that he would not break my bike and cost me too much money in repairs.
Eventually we found our way onto jeep trails and since I was riding a road bike I predictably ended up getting a flat tire, and after changing it out we headed back to the parking lot via the paved roads again.
The following weekend LC came down to Tullahoma to visit me again and in the week leading up to that visit he had gone to Walmart and bought himself a BSO.
A Bicycle Shaped Object.
I smiled when I saw it because it was the lowest of the low cheap end mountain bikes, but I also smiled because LC had liked biking so much the previous week - had liked biking with me - that he wanted to do it again.
We took our mountain bikes out to the base and laughed and talked and joked as we began on easy jeep trails, he getting used to the feel and rhythm of the bike and the gears.
After a while we began to wander on the winding single track trails, with LC leading the way so that he could set his own pace and me pulling up the rear giving him pointers as he went.
As we continued to ride LC began to talk about all of the biking he had done as a kid, and he shared outrageous stories of things that boys outrageously do when they are very young and in a group and indestructible and have boundless energy with an endless world of wide-eyed adventures in front of them.
As I watched him bike I saw the years fall away from him and he was smiling and laughing like that young boy he had talked about.
Also as I watched him I realized that technically he could be a much better rider than I was.
I hadn't grown up on a bike.
I spent all of my youth training hard in a gym in judo and karate, did not get my first bike until I was 12 (which I rode only rarely), and until I began adventure racing had never ridden a bike with gears.
When we veered off single track again and picked up another road it dead ended into tall weeds and grass.
I assumed that we would turn back.
My Mountain Boy barreled right through the tall grass and we rode and bushwhacked through that mess until we again hit another road.
It was at the moment that I looked at him and thought for the first time "he could do an adventure race"................

I raised the topic the next weekend that I saw LC and surprisingly he smiled at me, and agreed to it.
I signed us up as a two person team for a six hour race in central GA in mid-August which was a couple of months away.
I did not usually race in mid-August because the heat and humidity at that time of year in the South sucks every ounce of energy and stamina that I had.
I had had a couple of heat exhaustion experiences early on in my adventure racing escapades and found (and still find) training outdoors to be a tough experience in the summer.
But this race was only six hours long, we would be moving at a slow pace, and I was excited to be able to share this part of my life with someone who I was still getting to know, but also someone who I was coming to like very much.
After he said yes to the race, I was also kicking myself for bringing the issue up in the first place because LC still had ongoing physical issues related to injuries he sustained in the line of duty when he was a cop.
We biked regularly (LC had bartered for a real mountain bike by that time) and without stress leading up to the race, and neither one of us had any goals beyond having fun and trying to finish the race.
But we both also went into the race with the pact that it was OK if we did not finish the race and we would pull out at any time.
The weekend of the race turned out to be the hottest weekend of the year, with a high that eventually reached a horrendous 102 degrees.
We alternated carrying the map, we hiked, we biked, we had no major mechanical or medical issues, we finished.
We actually finished mid-pack which was surprising and delightful.
LC made hills on bike that I could not top because of the heat, but as usual I had more endurance overall.
A couple of hours before the end of the race we were on foot in the middle of nowhere, and we stood on a hilltop acutely aware of the time and wondering how the heck we were going to make it back to the finish before the cutoff.
The race started in late afternoon so that teams could race into the evening (with race officials hoping to keep athletes away from the worst of the heat).
As we stood on the hilltop watching the sun slowly (and thankfully) begin to descend onto the horizon we debated whether to bushwhack across country or swim back.
LC's legs were shot.
We decided to swim.
We swam a mile back to the cove close to the race finish, in the dark and in water than was so warm it was like swimming in spit.
LC had a strong military background in the water.  I also had a strong background in the water, but not while wearing clothes and shoes and carrying a pack and at night. 
And during that section of the race I deferred to his experience.  I was uncomfortable in that unfamiliar setting and he talked me through it.
I lost an expensive headlamp when it (unnoticed by me until it was already rapidly sinking to the bottom of the lake) slid off my head.
I hated that.  I had no idea when I first started racing but over the years I turned into an outdoor gear junkie, and I hated losing my beloved new piece of equipment.
It was a hot, tiring, great race, and I never thought when I met LC that we would actually have the opportunity to race together.
But we did...............

I biked single track late yesterday afternoon and headed back to my truck close to 5pm.
The sun had already begun to drop lower in the sky and as I loaded my bike into the bed of the truck I looked at the sky and with satisfaction realized that the days were getting longer.
Spring is close.
To this point it is almost like we never really had a winter.  No ice storms.  One light snowfall that quickly melted away.  A few cold days, but mostly mild and sometimes sunny often times rainy days.
But regardless, Spring is close.
Instead of driving straight home I pulled a jacket on over my shirt and vest, climbed into the truck and headed for UTSI.
I wanted to walk along the shore briefly - take pictures of the water, maybe catch the sun setting.
I pulled into a spot in the quiet parking lot on the left side of the building, climbed out, walked down the grassy hill to the water and immediately saw these two geese across and on the other side of the cove................
A side view of UTSI..............
The water was quiet.
Not completely flat, but rippling against the slight wind that had developed as the sun was beginning to set............
Walking along the sandy and gravely shore I turned back to snap this picture of the back of the building.
This campus is amazingly beautiful.
It feels (and is) very isolated, nestled into a cove and overlooking the vast water of Woods Reservoir.
Just like the University of the South up in Sewanee, UTSI feels like it is in a different world from the rest of the area.
I love it simply because it is beautiful, always quiet, and provides me with an endless world of easy-to-access recreational opportunities.
My home away from home for many years...............
After spending a long time walking the shore adjacent to the campus I climbed back into my truck.
I drove back towards the mountain bike trails.
At the 4-way intersection I stopped for a brief moment.
The road to the right led to the bike trails.
The road straight in front of me was the usual route I drove to head for home.
I had just a little more daylight left, and on the spur of the moment turned left, half-heartedly intending to stop at one more cove before finally driving to the house.
As I reached the bridge and the parking area on the left though, I looked to my right and unexpectedly saw beautiful reflections in the water.
Momentarily indecisive as to where to park I found myself already driving over the bridge
I was tired and getting cold, and for a brief moment decided "to heck with it - I'll just go home".
And right after that I found myself pulling the truck off the road and parking it on the grass on the shoulder.
I climbed out and walked back to the bridge, looked to the left and right of me and saw these scenes in the rapidly dying sunshine.................
I was cold.  I was tired.  I was hungry.  I had had a great ride.
I made one more stop on the way home, veering down a side street close to the house so that I could stop at a convenience store.
Which I regretted quickly because on the way home I annoyingly got stuck at the railroad crossing.
Yes.  Getting tired and cranky.....
In the now darkness I watched as this long (they're always long) train slowly made its way past me but became more watchful when I finally read the signs that were located on a regular basis on the sides of the cars.
Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Baily Circus.
I was surprised to see the signs because usually the trains that pass this way are industrial and commercial transport trains.
As I continued to watch the train I smiled to myself, killing time by wondering if I would see the heads of elephants or giraffes sticking up through the top of the train cars like I used to see in Disney cartoons when I was a kid..................

Remember the high board at the swimming pool? After days of looking up at it you finally climbed the wet steps to the platform. From there, it was higher than ever. There were only two ways down: the steps to defeat or the dive to victory. You stood on the edge, shivering in the hot sun, deathly afraid. At last you leaned too far forward, it was too late for retreat, and you dived. The high board was conquered, and you spent the rest of the day diving. Climbing a thousand high boards, we demolish fear, and turn into human beings.....................Richard Bach A Gift of Wings

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Base Bathed In Sunshine - Part 2

After leaving LC's favorite fishing cove I rode up and down the rolling hills of the paved road in front of me, enjoying the effort and enjoying the views of Woods Reservoir that appeared on a regular and satisfying basis.
I remember the year I began adventure racing, happily telling my triathlon training partner at one point that I was now running the same distance that only the year before I had been biking.
Now I am biking the same distance that I used to be running.
As they are apt to do far too frequently, the realizations of how much has changed for me both physically and professionally over the past couple of years again violently and unexpectedly infiltrated my brain.
I quickly fought battle with the negative speak, knowing that it was both pointless and destructive.
I was on my bike at that moment.  Happily alone.  On a beautiful day and in a beautiful place.
I continued along rolling hills determined that my overactive brain would not throw a dark cloud over all that was good on this day.
At the top of one hill, across from the gate leading to military personnel family quarters is one of many entrances to the mountain bike trails.
This particular entrance was a wide open, gravel, sometimes even and sometimes rutted out, jeep trail.
I headed down the trail uncertain of where I wanted to go, alternately debating the merits of picking up single track vs staying on the multitude of jeep trail and horse trail and double track arteries that tie together the complex single track system.
In the end I did neither.
While still wandering I came to an intersection.
As I approached this large water hole - left over remnants from more days than not of rain over the past few weeks - I slowed down to listen to the sound of the bullfrogs.
They were loud and singing vigorously and I smiled because I had also heard the same singing while trail running the other day.
I liked the sound.  I liked them being here.
As I got to the water though the world instantly became silent.
They must have sensed that I was a danger to them. 
Stupidly, and like a little kid, I unclipped from my bike, stood it up against a tree, and walked over to the water.
There was only water.
No frogs or bugs or other little critters chirping and singing.
Just water and quiet.................
Scenes from the jeep trail.................
As I continued riding I bypassed one more jeep trail on my left, knowing that it was a long road that unexpectedly climbed its way onto grassy single track that eventually dead-ended deep into long grass.
Continuing on the same wide open trail that I had started on I soon found a gravel road veering to the right.
I knew where it led and took it, eventually popping out onto paved road again close to the ramp where LC and I put in the fishing boat.............
Since I have already taken many pictures at the boat ramp before (and will take many more in the future) I bypassed the ramp and pulled off the road once again when I saw this open place.
I really did have an unnamed need to be close to water on this day, and stood straddling my bike for a few moments while I snapped this picture.
Continuing on.................
As I approached a dead-end, I had planned on turning off the paved road and stopping at a bridge for a while, before turning right onto one more paved road and slowly beginning to work my way back towards UTSI.
When I first saw him he was a couple of hundred yards away from me, across the road, across a grassy field and standing on a walkway.
I thought at first that he was a dog and was only partially interested in his unexpected appearance.
As I continued slowly riding and slowly closing the gap between us though I paid him more attention.
And then finally, at the STOP sign, I stopped riding.
He was motionless and looking intently at me, still at least 100 yards away from me.
I climbed off my bike and unceremoniously dumped my bike into the grass, never taking my eyes off this animal that I had come to realize was a fox.
I zoomed my camera in as far as it would zoom in and began taking pictures.................
Leaving my bike in the grass I crossed the road, slowly so that I would not scare my new friend away.
I intrinsically knew that if I made any sudden moves he would be gone.
On the opposite side of the road I took a few steps onto the grass, stood in the shade of a very large tree, and again snapped a picture.
Entirely focused on the fox standing at the edge of the walkway I did not even see the two others in this picture until I downloaded these pictures.
I did not see the other two until they came running down the hill to meet up with the first, and when they did I smiled and was delighted.
They were perfectly wonderful.
And I think that the "he" was actually a "she"...................
I stood looking at this trio for a long time, certain that they would run away at any moment.
But they did not.
Rather, they seemed content to simply stand, sit, scratch, look over in my direction and remain on the walkway.
I continued to snap pictures and watch them, disappointed that I could not zoom my camera in any more but afraid to move closer to them and spook them.
After a long time I slowly walked back to my bike.
They were still on the sidewalk, and after I remounted I biked beyond the Dead End sign curious to see if there was a way to get closer to the side walk.
It was my only hope to get closer pictures.
There was!
But I got to it just in time to watch the last fox look at me and then turn and quickly run into the woods.
I was disappointed to realize that I had missed closer shots, but I had unexpectedly come across them on this day and that was a very good thing...............
Still smiling at my wonderful and completely unexpected encounter I headed back towards the lake.
I was having more fun than I could possibly express and my heart was light...................
I stood on the bridge (a place which is rapidly becoming a favorite of mine) and again, as I had done so many times on this day, looked out over the water.
A fisherman with hood pulled up tightly to protect from the wind on the water.
More leafless trees and some Christmas trees.
Endless blue water and blue sky.
The Cumberland Plateau.
I thought about the three foxes that I had photographed, and the four deer that I had seen near the base gate that quickly ran across a field and were gone into the woods before I could even think about digging my camera out from my jacket pocket.
Looking down into the water close to the bridge I wondered why there were three Christmas trees standing in the water and what was the deal with the plastic bottles?................
After showing the pictures to LC later, he believes that they were deliberately placed in the lake to draw in the fish.
The plastic bottles used to mark their location.
I guess that makes sense.
But how do they keep the trees standing upright?..............
Leaning my bike against a tree I stood on the bridge and looked over at the small point on the opposite side of the cove.
The water was glistening.
It was sparkling and every color, in this predominantly colorless time of year in Tennessee, was vivid and rich................
The gate to nowhere...............
The University of Tennessee Institute.
The campus is beautiful.
Surrounded by trees and grass and water and endless Tennessee sky.
The main educational building is a smoked glass filled, horseshoe shaped building.
As I approached the campus again after a long morning of quiet adventure I took the driveway to the left, wanting to once more head down to the water before heading back to my truck...............
Close to the water on the left side of the building are many wonderful small features that make the grounds a relaxing and picturesque place...............
I made one last stop on the way home.
All of the pull offs on the drive home lead to old flat abandoned roads that are used extensively by people such as hunters and people such as this bike rider and runner................
Nature is always lovely, invincible, glad, whatever is done and suffered by her creatures. All scars she heals, whether in rocks or water or sky or hearts...........John Muir