Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Bicycle Is Good Company

When I checked the weather forecast yesterday it promised 100% chance of rain today and even though it was downgraded slightly to a 90% chance when I checked the forecast again this morning, I felt pretty confident that at some point today it was going to rain.
With ominous looking skies early this morning I chanced a run on trails out at the base and even though I thought there was a good chance I might have to cut it short I happily made it off trail before the rain hit.
Right now this county and many other counties in the region are under a tornado watch.
It is raining heavily, thunder is booming, and my dog is hunkered down in the "bunker" under the desk.
Occasional rain, erratic winds, too warm temperatures, high humidity (yuk) all make for a crazy and sometimes dangerous mix in Tennessee.
Again I am reminded that this crazy weather cocktail is happening too early in the year.
This is April weather.  Not end of February weather.
A few days ago, when this region was still wrapped in endless blue sky and sunshine I biked at the base.
After concentrating hard on successfully navigating a few miles of winding, switchback filled, up and down, root filled and tree lined single track I came to a familiar jeep road that crosses over the single track, and stopped for a moment to catch my breath and take a quick drink.
Looking up and down the jeep road I debated for a few moments whether or not I should continue riding straight ahead (taking in more single track) or whether I should pull off the trail and wander on easier-to-ride and wide open dirt and gravel roads.
On the spur of the moment I decided to ride some jeep roads and quickly clipped back into my bike pedals, turned left and headed down a flat but rutted out road.
I had not ridden this way since arriving back in Tennessee a few months ago but knew this area very well, and was excited to be out in the open and in the sunshine and exploring familiar territory.
A mile later I came to an expected wide open area - trails veering off in different directions, huge swaths of gorgeous blue and cloudless sky, wide mowed-down power line trails filled with huge metal towers and brown grass.
I dropped my bike in the dirt and grass that were both the same color at this time of year, reached into a pocket of the light jacket I was wearing and dug out my ever-present camera.
LC has asked me a number of times if I want a better camera with big, fancy zoom lenses and I always tell him no.
I have already ruined one when I fell off my bike on BLM land in Cody Wyoming and got water and mud all over it.
Small digital cameras that I can dig out of jacket pockets and shorts pockets and vest pockets work for my life and my lifestyle. 
I dug the camera out and looked 360 degrees around me, and then began to slowly wander the area on foot while taking pictures.
Nothing outstandingly interesting or extraordinary to photograph but I loved the area anyway because it is wide open and always completely quiet..................
It is not visible in the picture but there is a long dirt and gravel road on the right side of the picture adjacent to the tree line.
The road gets very muddy at certain times of years and is very rutted out, but there is also a couple of unmaintained barely-bikeable but interesting side trails that veer off from the dirt road and that wind their way into the woods.
The rutted out dirt road eventually turns into teeth-jarring rocky road for the last half mile until it eventually opens up to the paved UTSI Road.
I made my way to this trail intersection from a jeep road located beyond the left side of this picture................
Yup.  This one....................
As I was walking back to my bike another mountain biker surprisingly came riding out of the trees and headed directly towards me.
I smiled as he approached because I knew this elderly man.
He is one of two old guys who built the single track system on base, and who spend a lot of their own time both riding and clearing the trails.
More often than not I will see their vehicles in the parking lot and never run into them.
They ride almost daily and as I travel the trails I see the tell-tale evidence that they have passed this way.
A tree that has fallen across the trail has been moved.
Gravel has been put down in a section of low lying trail that is almost always wet and muddy.
Larger downed trees have been chain sawed into chunks and moved off the trail.
In years past I would often ask them to tell me when they were clearing trail so that I could help but they never contacted me.
So then (and now) I simply move obstacles off the trail that I come across if I am able to, and simply leave obstacles where they stand if I cannot move them alone.
Both men are retired from the base and the trails and biking are their loves and their passion.
We talked for a few minutes today  before eventually heading off in different directions - he down single track close to the power line trail, and me down a rutted horse trail that is part of my run-loop.................
I headed down the horse trail that begins wide open and flat, gradually works its way down to a low place that has at times this winter turned into a fast moving stream and over-sized pond during periods of continuous rain, climbs gradually and then steeply up a long rise, and then flattens out again until you hit soft pine-needle filled single track..................
Once I hit another jeep road I spent the next hour veering all over the place, on trails and roads that I had not explored at all since before I left for Juneau.
I recognized places often as I wandered happily on bike, but because I did not know these places well I spent most of the hour not really knowing where I was, but unconcerned.
I knew that when the trails eventually opened up I would know exactly where I was and I did................
Finally tiring of wandering around in the woods, and wanting to spend some time beside the lake, I hit a paved road.
About a mile from the gravel parking lot where I had left my truck I pulled into a small campground that is available only to military personnel and their dependants.
In short I was not supposed to be there, but it was un-gated, it was winter and I knew that the place would be extremely quiet.
I pulled off black top and rode the gravel driveway leading down to the campsites and Woods Reservoir.
Truthfully I have been here many times and it is beautiful................
I parked my bike up against a tree, pulled my bike gloves and helmet off and propped them on top of my seat, and walked close to the water.
Looking out over Woods I spent a few minutes greatly enjoying the sheer blue of the day, and then thought back over the hundreds (maybe even thousands) of times I have stood beside the water and walked along shores in Alaska and Wyoming and now Tennessee.
It never gets old.
It will never get old....................
If you click on this picture to enlarge it you will see fishing line and a weight stuck in the tree.
That is incredibly common in Tennessee where so many fishermen cast close to shore from their boats.
I did not even notice them while I was out at the base the other day, and laughed in surprise when I downloaded the picture and saw them for the first time.
I originally took the picture simply to show that spring is beginning.
Trees, ever so slightly, are beginning to bud.
Soon there will be many flowering trees in this area..............
I snapped this picture of a clump of daffodils on the side of the road close to the parking lot where I had left my truck.
They are growing wild in large and small clumps all over the base along the sides of the roads.
They are also growing in yards all over Tullahoma...................
Looking across the road from the mountain bike parking entrance..............
I have written a couple of times before on this blog about my beloved, black, beaten, torn, worn bike shoes.
The black coating had worn completely off them, and they recently became more holes than shoes.
A couple of weeks ago I dug through storage containers and found my brand new still-in-the-box replacement black bike shoes that I had bought a few years ago when they were on sale, but which I still have never worn.
And then I dug out my old girlie blue ones.
They are in great shape and I wore them for the first time in a long time the other day when I went out to ride.
Good shoes.   Comfortable shoes. 
But I miss my old beater ones....................

The bicycle is just as good company as most husbands and, when it gets old and shabby, a woman can dispose of it and get a new one without shocking the entire community......................Ann Strong, Minneapolis Tribune, 1895

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Stone Door - Part 2

There is one more overlook adjacent to Stone Door and as LC and James and I approached it we debated briefly what to do first - overlook or the door.
I looked towards Stone Door and the very first thing I noticed was this very large tree.
Huge and growing out of the rock face and obscuring part of the stair way leading down to the trails lower in the gorge.
I regarded it in amazement for a few moments, looked over the rugged and unwelcoming environment that it was growing in, and smiled at such an extraordinary thing.
I greatly wanted to walk down the multitude of stairs and between the two high rock walls.
LC said that he would first stay with Jamie and just as I was about to head down, a whole slew of teenagers appeared from the trees beside the overlook and rushed down the stairs.
There was my answer to my indecision.
I would head to the overlook first, giving the noisy little urchins a chance to head down and move on.............
The wooden bridge spans a deep ravine, and also spans the distance between solid land and the rock outcropping of the overlook...................
As LC and I were walking up to Stone Door a couple of joggers had passed us on the trail.
By the time we had visited the first overlook and then made our way the short distance over to this second overlook, I found the couple sitting on a large boulder relaxed and visiting with others who were also at this place.
As I bypassed them my first thought was "what an outstanding place for a turnaround during a run!".
More hill, more rock, more small pine tree, more blue sky, more sun, more open world, more beautiful................
I looked at this leafless, gnarly, wind-contorted tree, hanging on tightly with roots spread out across the top of the rocks and it instantly reminded me of so many trees I had seen in the mountains in both Alaska and Wyoming.
Twisted branches at strange and almost unnatural angles, outer trunk twisted in ways that you never see in areas that are not constantly battered and beaten by strong, cold winds.
In this mostly higher altitude pine-tree filled world of rock bluffs, this wind-weary soldier stood alone.
Very beautiful in a way that was different from typically understood and appreciated natural beauty.
I liked it.
I liked it very much................
Wandering away from the cliffs' edge and moving across short rocky trails that led back to the bridge.............
After talking briefly with my Mountain Boy, who seemed content to stay with Jamie, I headed down the steep rock stairs..............
For the next 20 minutes I wandered into a totally different world than the one I had been a part of for the past couple of hours.
For centuries in the Tennessee past this place was used by Indians as a passageway from the upper ridge down into the gorges below.
 Stone Door is a 10 ft. wide by 100 ft. deep crack, forming from the top of the escarpment down into the gorge below. They say it looks like a giant door left ajar but truthfully I don't see that.
What I see are more than 100 rock steps leading steeply downwards.
Some of the steps are wide and easy to step down onto.  Some are very narrow and require you to turn your foot sideways in order to plant your weight.
Huge rock faces on both sides of me, close enough that I could almost touch them when I stretched my arms out to my sides.
I could see a crack of blue sky above me.
I could see a crack of daylight and trees at the opening hidden in the shadows down below me.
It a physically extraordinary place.
Something I have never seen in any other country or any other state.
It is magical, a little spooky, a little dangerous and requires attention when you move, and you find yourself almost compelled to stop constantly to look around you - up at the slice of visible sky, around you at the hugely interesting rock formations, down to monitor your steps, down to reassure yourself that the world does again open up and that the walls really will not close in and swallow you whole..................
A view of the wooden steps that lead from the bottom of Stone Door down further into the gorge.
There are multiple trail access points from here...............
The outer wall of one rock face of Stone Door..............
I did not spend a lot of time at the bottom of the rock stairs because man and dog were waiting patiently for me at the top.
After spending only a few minutes looking around me and greatly enjoying the fact that I was there, I turned back and began the long climb back up...................
After I got home later in the afternoon and downloaded the pictures I had taken I disappointed when I realized that they absolutely did not do the place justice.
Which gives me a ready excuse to visit again soon and try to picture take some more.
Stone Door is located in the small community of Beersheeba Springs..................
Back in full and wide open daylight again I looked up as I climbed the last few steps and saw this happy scene............

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order...............John Burroughs