Thursday, July 12, 2018

Enough With Leviticus Already!

This is a departure from my normal posts and I tried hard not to turn it into a rant, but I'm not sure how well I did.

A few morning's ago the local news had a piece on the Episcopal General Convention being held in Austin and protested against by members of the Westbound Baptist Church. (The same group that we have seen protesting at funerals of service men and women, not against the war but against the LGBT community) The one and only sound-bite from the protesters was some guy dragging out Leviticus 18:22 as proof that Episcopalians are all going to hell and he is not.

Leviticus 18:22 happens to be a hot button of mine.

Having been given the gift of self-awareness and free-will I feel it's incumbent on each of us to develop a personal moral code to be used to guide us through this life in a useful and respectful way. Ideally this moral code is the result of education and thoughtful consideration rather than just parroting what someone else said it should be. But regardless, it would be nice if those who's moral code makes it ethically acceptable to attempt to dismiss, disenfranchise, marginalize, criminalize and/or ostracize an entire segment of the population that is doing no more harm than any other group within that population, simply based on their sexuality, would stop trying to use Leviticus 18:22 to justify their position because it's getting beyond annoying to see that broken crutch trotted out so often in an attempt to prop up and rationalize such actions.

Out of some 31,100 verses in the Bible there are, depending on how you count them 4 to 8 so-called clobber verses. These are the verses some hold up (or bash us over the head with, hence ‘clobber’) as proof that homosexuality, and by extension in some cases, anything other than hetero relations within the context of a church-sanctioned marriage, is bad. (never mind that for 1500 years the church considered marriage a private matter, more of a business transaction since women were property, and didn’t ‘sanctify’ it until 1563 at one of the meetings of the Council of Trent by declaring the only valid marriage was one done before a priest and two witness.) Unfortunately, mostly because at first glance it looks like such easy pickings, low-hanging fruit as it were, Leviticus 18:22 is often the front-runner, the opening salvo in what has long been an unresolved issue. But sometimes low hanging fruit is insect-ridden and rotten.

There are over 4 dozen English language versions of the Bible with variations on the theme, but one of the more common versions of 18:22's is You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination, though a really popular 'clobber' version of 18:22 is one of the two 'translations' (And I use the word translation very loosely here for reasons you'll see in a moment) that specifically use the H word.

The Living Bible's  Homosexuality is absolutely forbidden, for it is an enormous sin, or the New Living Translation's Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin

The temptation to trot one or another of these versions of 18:22 out so regularly is easy to see since, on the surface anyway, it seems like a no-brainer, but there are several serious, well known, and easily discovered issues with Leviticus 18:22.

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Is Leviticus even credible today??

Leviticus was written about 3500 years ago and is basically a list of some 247 ‘laws’ that the members of the Israelite tribe were to follow.  In the roughly 3500 years since Leviticus was written people, their cultures, their societal norms, and by extension their laws, have continuously evolved and changed. In our grandparent's day there were no laws about texting while driving, and today the sometimes elaborately complex laws designed to keep horseless carriage drivers from spooking horses (Such as being required to have a 'flagman' walk ahead of the automobile anytime it was actually moving to warn people of its coming.) have been removed from the books.

If we are to properly stand by the laws of Leviticus today, as opposed to cherry-picking the ones we like, which seems disingenuous to me, then we would never eat shellfish or bacon, women would never cut their hair or be allowed active roles in church, men would never shave, we would never sacrifice anything less than a perfect lamb to God, Alter Guilds would never display mixed bouquets, we wouldn’t harvest the corners of our fields, we would never wear linen pants over cotton underwear, and so on and so on. In addition we would kill children that curse their parents (20:9) and slavery would be alright (25:44).

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Hasn’t Leviticus been rescinded anyway?

The Council of Jerusalem, which convened around 49 CE, (Or AD for those of us that are old school.) clearly excused Gentile converts from following the laws of Moses. (Which includes all of Leviticus.) In addition there are some 37 New Testament verses releasing Christians in general from the old laws. Everything ranging from a very gentle the laws are obsolete (Hebrews) to a pretty harsh the law brings wrath on those who follow it (Romans).
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The foibles of translation

Then there is the telling issue of Leviticus 18:22 as it was originally written.

What we tend to accept today as a translation of 18:22 from it's original Hebrew is, in fact, actually an interpretation, and arguably, a bad one at that.

Parsed word for word into English, the original Hebrew, V’et-zachar lo tishkav mishk’vei ishah, (Transliterated here from its original Proto-Sinaitic script using Israeli Sephardic pronunciation,) actually reads and with male no you shall lie down beds of woman.

As is often the case, the direct word for word translation is a bit awkward, so shuffling the negative or the no around into something closer to English syntax and adding a couple indefinite articles, which ancient Hebrew did not have, all the while being careful to stick to translation and avoid interpretation, the sentence comes out more like and with a male you shall not lie down in the beds of woman.

In Hebrew the t of tishkav  (you shall lie down) makes the you in this sentence the male form of the word so there’s no mistaking that this verse is being directed at men. And yes, mishk’vei is the plural construct of the noun bed, so the proper translation is in fact beds of woman, which has a telling impact on the interpretation which is coming up in point 4.

What isn't in the original Hebrew text is anything akin to the lay down with man as with a woman that we have been taught Leviticus says. If that was in fact the intent, building a sentence to say so is entirely within the capabilities of ancient Hebrew.

But that’s not the end of the translation issues with 18:22.

The act, whatever that act may actually be, is usually labeled in modern "translations" of the Bible as an abomination or a sin, but the original Hebrew word used in 18:22 is to’ebah, which translates more correctly as ritually unclean. What wasn’t used is one of the 6 ancient Hebrew nouns and 3 Hebrew verbs that mean sin to one degree or another and which, collectively, are used over 1500 times in the Old Testament; just not in Leviticus 18:22.

This is a well-known issue, but publishers of the Bible, still the bestselling book in the world, therefore the most profitable for them, admit that English language versions of the Bible that use less divisive wording than abomination in 18:22 just don’t sell well.

Oh, and as for those so-called translations of 18:22 that explicitly use the word homosexual; the modern Hebrew word for homosexual, הומוסקסואל, didn’t exist at the time Leviticus was written. In fact, as evidenced by the lack of defining words in any of the languages of those days, the entire concept of sexuality was unknown at the time so there couldn’t be a word for homosexual or lesbian or heterosexual or any other terms associated with, what we now know today, are the highly complex realities of sexuality. So, although the original Israelites were obviously acquainted with variations of the sex act, there was no awareness of the sexuality 18:22 is so often used against these days. In fact sexuality is a fairly recent concept with the first appearance of the word homosexual in an English language work not showing up until 1892, and the first time it turned up in an English language Bible was in 1946. It certainly wasn’t written in Leviticus.

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Interpretation is in the eye of the beholder

Translation can a tricky thing that often morphs into interpretation rather than pure translation, but interpretation without fully understanding the context of a 3500 year old culture is even trickier.

Although there's a lot we don't know about 3500 years ago, we do know that a woman’s standing, all women, not just Israelite's, was pretty low, just barely above that of slave or children, which was only a tick above the herd animals, but oddly enough, a woman's bed was considered her own private sanctuary and using that bed without her knowledge or permission was considered defilement. In addition, though women back then were under very tight restrictions when it came to sex, men not so much. Frequenting prostitutes, of any gender, and using slaves, as well as the young men they were in frequent one-on-one contact with through the mentoring system that stood in for the as yet non-existent formal learning institutes, for sex was a long standing and somewhat tolerated activity for males among many cultures of the day. 

Is it possible then that 18:22, as it was originally written, and with a male you shall not lie down in the beds of woman, (Not in the bed of a woman but rather in the beds of any woman.) is reminding men not to use a woman’s bed for their male-male activities??  After all, Leviticus does go to the trouble of spelling out something so basic as not only when, but how, to wash hands, so is it much of a stretch to imagine that it also reminds Israelite's not to be sullying their wife’s or daughters beds? This is an interpretation that seems to be supported by the fact that the act has been labeled as merely ritually unclean, similar to our current injunction to never let the US flag touch the ground.

But clearly, until and unless more archaeological evidence is uncovered, from 3500 years ago there is no way to positively substantiate this postulation, or any of the several other alternatives presented by scholars and theologians over the years, but it can't be refuted either. Which illustrate the challenges of interpretation without full context.


So; if we ignore the issue of the irrelevancy of a law written for a time and culture so far removed from ours that they had to be reminded not to sacrifice their children on the alter fires (Leviticus 18:21), and also ignore the fact that the law was rescinded some 2000 years ago; that leaves the question of interpretation of the ancient text. Though there is evidence through literal translation and some applied contextual interpretation that Leviticus 18:22 had nothing to do with forbidding  same-sex activities and was just stating where those activities should not take place, at this time there's not enough meat in that evidence to definitively prove this point, but, conversely, neither can 18:22 be held up as unassailable proof that those activities are explicitly forbidden either.

So please, can’t we all just retire this worn and uselessly circular argument and get on with more productive things, like maybe judge not lest and loving your neighbor as yourself??

Monday, July 9, 2018

Eagle Point Trail And a Few Frighting Moments

Another early start was called for because this afternoon wasn’t going to be any cooler than yesterday’s was, which was HOT. I know it was HOT because sometime around 1530 the thermometers in The Van, both indoor and outdoor, clicked over from 104 to H which stands for HOT!

With a good stiff breeze and the relative humidity hanging around the 12% mark it wasn’t intolerable, but still, best to get the activities underway while things are still relatively cool.

And today’s planned activity is to hike the Eagle Point Trail.

That greenish blob in the top left corner is Lake Theo, named for Theo Geisler, the last private landowner

I can’t say for sure because unfortunately this sort of history doesn’t very often make its way into brochures and info-plaques, but after studying the terrain and the trail I’m pretty sure that the Eagle Point Trail follows an old foot-trail used by the original inhabitants to get from the canyon rim down to the watersheds of what we now call the north and south prongs of the Little Red River. And that foot trail was probably loosely based on game trails cut by early bison traveling from the grasses on the rim to the spotty water in the rivers below. (Lake Theo up there on the rim didn't exists until recently) Most likely the foot-trail was later widened into a crude wagon-route by early ranchers of the area and today the trail is still about a wagon’s width across so it can be easily patrolled by a 4-wheeler and maintained by a small tractor with front-end-loader.

The lower end of the trail (the north end) is aimed at the terminus of a ridge, a spot now called Eagle Point.

Rounding the end of the ridge and turning west gives access to the canyon of the South Prong while continuing on north leads to the North Prong.

The trail traverses a mix of gentle mini-meadows

separated by decidedly more rugged terrain

in some places worn sharply away along the watersheds to expose the layers of gypsum laid down so long ago.

Once in a while the gypsum layers ‘bubble’, creating these miniature domes.

Despite being asked to stay off the fragile structures some people have the impulse control of a teenager in heat and no consideration for others, let alone Mother Earth, so can’t resist stomping on them, just because they can.

There were loads of these little plants out there with large yellow blossoms that look more like they belong on a garden squash rather than an arid, rocky-area plant.

Maybe it was my early start, but I kept interrupting these Dung Beatle orgies along the way.

As testament to the ruggedness of this trail, a bike-helmet visor had been ripped off in some, hopefully not too dire, event and left behind.

It was too big for the little ‘other people’s butts and power-bar wrappers’ pocket in the waist-band of my pack so I moved it to a more prominent place alongside the trail to be picked up on my return trip.

Looking back down the trail, with the South Prong Canyon behind Eagle Point and the North Prong there beyond Haynes Ridge, I can visualize the trail's original purpose of connecting the arid rim with the less arid canyons.

As a foot-trail it would have stayed up on top of the ground, but in order to avoid steep drops/climbs and get wagons up and down the trail more reliably, it was better to cut through this little ridge in the foreground.

I don't know how long ago the tractor was run down the trail, but in places the herring-bone tread-marks left by the large wheels are still etched through the overlying reddish dirt into the white gypsum just below the surface.

And here I can imagine struggling animals, drivers standing on the brake-lever, and skidding wheels as wagons dropped off the end of a little finger of a ridge extending from the rim out into the canyon.

If you go back to the Google Earth view you will notice that there are two red dashes in amongst the white dashes showing the route of the trail. This photo was taken from just below the second red dash from the top.

Why the red dash you ask??

Well because as I was trudging up this particular bit of trail, head down, arms pumping my hiking sticks, I looked up to see a pair of 1200 pound bison coming over the top and heading down the trail towards me. (No photo of that particular moment in time because I was too busy un-freshening my underwear.)

My first thought, as I scrambled over the side onto the most rugged bit of ground I could find without falling off the edge in the hopes that they would not want to follow me there, was of that pair of cow-calf bison I saw heading onto the upper end of the trail yesterday.

But these turned out to be a pair of bulls (Oh great. This is getting even better!) that paused along their plodding way, huffed and grunted, rattled a few cedar branches, and gave me the stink-eye.

Bison are experts at stink-eye. Even the steel cutouts of bison up by the interpretive center have the stink-eye down pat.

But apparently I wasn’t worth more than a few seconds (Was that all it was? Seemed a lot longer. . .) of stink-eye and a handful of final grunts and huffs before they grudgingly continued on down the trail to wherever they were going on to.

(I can just imagine bison shouldering their way through the doors into the visitor’s center, knocking over a kiosk or two on their way to the front desk in order to pick up the latest trail-map.)

But the adventure wasn’t over yet!

As it became apparent that the bulls were going to go on by without turning me into toe-jam and horn-adornment; just as I started to breathe again; I looked down to discover that I was practically standing on this snake.

OK, so even before my feet came back to earth again I realized it was a root and not a snake, but come-on! Was that necessary?

Keeping one eye over my shoulder just in case those bulls changed their minds and the other on the horizon where the trail disappeared there in front of me, I eventually make my way up to the top.

That gate there, right about where the top-most red dash is on the Google Earth image, is the end of the trail and beyond  that is Lake Theo.

Home free!

Except that you know there has to be a reason for this second red dash. . .

Oh crap!

OK, be nice little cows. No, no! You’re right. That was insulting. I meant nice little bison. Everybody just take it easy while I casually slip through the gate and go on my way

Good bison.

Except that it was a trap, a diversion for suckers like me, because not all of the bison were there hanging around by the fence.

As I was easing along the road, keeping well away from the bison-gathering at the fence and almost starting to believe that I had it made, this group ghosted out of the scrub to the left, where Lake Theo is, and chose to wander down the road towards me. (Reminded me of a scene in those city-movies where a gang is slowly approaching a solitary, wide-eyed, sweating innocent victim. Never did like those scenes!)) 

I guess this group hasn't read the Bison Encounters 101 pamphlet handed out at the visitor center. The one that says maintain at least a 50 yard distance.

The only way that was going to happen was if I turned around and ran, and I was pretty sure that wouldn’t be the best move for me to make at this point, besides, I’m not entirely sure my legs were even capable of turning around and running. . . and things like that are best not tested, lest I destroy any inflated self-delusion about my level of bravery and macho-coolness.

Once again I found myself the recipient of the bison stink-eye as all the big ones kept both eyes on me while the little ones bunched together over there behind them, as far away from me as they could get. And believe me, I can empathize with them on that maximum distance thing.

And you see that one walking on the grass on my side of the road two photos ago? The one staying closest to me the whole time? Number 163?

That sucker was another bull. And we all know the effect those dangly bits have on aggression levels, be it birds, bison or Buba's.

But once again I survived (Once again, thank you to whichever entity pulled my chestnuts out of the fire. In situations like that I tend to call on any deity I can think of so am never sure which one actually did the work.) and was soon sprawled on my back in the delightful breezes along Lake Theo, trying to ignore that nagging voice in my head that insisted on reminding me I still had to go back down the trail, you know, that one where there seemed to be a whole lot of bison hanging around looking for trouble.

But a few hours later the shifting sun forced me to my feet there along Lake Theo and, since, based on the ache-level in my legs, I couldn't guarantee that I would get up again if I laid back down, I figured that since I was up the smart thing to do was head back towards the spot where I left The Van.

As it turned out, I made it back down into the canyon without ever spotting the main herd. I did see the two bulls, the ones that jumped me on the trail, off in the distance, but now they were well away from where I wanted to go and seemed content with the available browse, so that was good.

The next morning I needed to head back to the house, and since it’s a long ways from here an early start was called for.

After two separate week-long visits there’s still bits of Caprock Canyons State Park, as well as most of the Caprock Trailway, I haven’t stuck my nose into yet, but those will have to wait for next time.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Critter Interference: X2

On my way back through Caprock State Park after surviving my ride on the Caprocks Trailway I had a hankerin’ to stop by the interpretive center there not too far from the Honey Flats campground.

The goal was to revisit the interpretive plaques, just visible there on the left wall, that talk about the Fort Worth and Denver South Plains Railway in order to refresh my memory. (Should have done it on my way to riding the trailway but it was still dark then.)

For a moment the neat, parallel berms of dried mud on the floor of the center confused me. What was this? Some kind of miniature dirt-bike track?

but the racket over my head soon cleared up any confusion.

I have been here before, but it was November and the Cliff Swallows weren’t nesting at the time.

This being early May, and the rafters overhead providing just the perfect spot, nesting was in full force and suddenly the air was full of a whole bunch of flitting and zipping and squawking  birds!

Rather than agitate the birds any more than I already had, I skipped the interpretive plaques.

Shortly after being run out of the interpretive center by a hoard of tiny little Cliff Swallows I noticed this mini-parade of two bison cows and two calves casually meandering up the road as it climbed out of the Lake Theo spillway.

I was on foot and the safe steel cocoon of The Van was a good 50 yards away, but the bison moms were more interested in getting where they were going than in me and the calves – well calves that age just go along with mom.

Eventually they turned off the road and wandered through this gate.


Oh wait! That gate is the upper end of the Eagle Point Trail which I’m planning on hiking in the morning!


Monday, July 2, 2018

Redundancy and Hope

Throughout much of the west goatheads can be a problem.

Though technically Goathead, also called Puncture Vine, is the common name of a broadleafed plant, when talking about goatheads most people are referring to the burrs the plant creates,  (Usually less than kindly!)which, as you can see, look a whole lot like a goat's head.

Unlike the round burrs with fragile, needle-like stickers produced by the imaginatively named burr-weed that many people are used to, especially non-westerners, goatheads have fewer stickers per pod but the ones they do have are shaped like rose-thorns and are just as tough.

While having a goathead in the padding of your pack’s waist-belt, (first photo!) is bad enough, the more serious issue comes about when mixing goatheads and bicycle tires.

Having a good slug of slime in the tube helps, but goathead thorns sometimes break off of the burr and stay in the tire, gnawing at the tube like an angry Tasmanian Devil. And slime really only works on small holes, the smaller the better.

Having used up too many patches and needing to replace at least one of my tubes anyway, I decided to do what security firms call 'layer the defenses'.

Rather than rely solely on new tubes and a fresh batch of slime I decided to add redundancy to the mix by throwing in an armored layer of tire-liner as well. Supposedly these laminated liners, in addition to a soft layer to “protect and cushion” the tube, also have a hard layer that resists sharp things poking through. One even claims to grind thorns into harmless dust.

The downside is that they add weight to the tire. But considering the 61 pound all-up weight of the Quad-B when loaded for serious trail mode, the minor weight of a pair of liners didn’t really concern me.

This time, rather than using the usual green slime, I picked up a couple bottles of stuff sold in a bike shop and “trusted by pro’s worldwide”. It cost about the same as the green stuff so why not. (The kid also tried to sell me a $1000 bike. It was sweet, and I’m sure it would beat the hell out of the Quad-B, but not going to happen. . .)

Despite a barn full of tools, as well as another bag of tools in The Van, I also figured now would be a good time to use nothing but the little tool-kit I carry under the seat of the Quad-B just to make sure I could. (The Schrader valve wrench that also goes in the tool kit didn’t make it into the photo because the photographer is crap at his craft. I guess that's what happens when you allow nepotism to run rampant.)

The first step was to grab a wad of cotton-balls and drag them through the interior of the tire. Any undiscovered thorns would snag the cotton then I could remove them with pliers (Oh crap. Not in the tool kit!)

The next step was to uncoil the tire liner and tuck it into the – well – tire. For my 29” 2.10 tires the purple liner is the right size.

Because the ends of the installed liner overlap and the instructions specifically say do not cut to length, I marked the center of the overlap so I could place the tube’s valve-stem on the opposite side in an attempt to somewhat balance the tire. Though at the sluggish speeds I get up to it really doesn’t make any difference.

The next step was to pull the valve-stem on one of my new tubes, shake the crap out of a bottle of Stan’s Tire Sealer (It says no-tube there but elsewhere on the bottle it says works great in tubes as well) and squeeze the whole bottle into the tube.

After replacing the valve-stem and shooting a couple pounds of air into the tube to give it shape, I tucked the tube into the tire then checked to make sure the tire-liner was sitting in the right place between tube and tire-tread all the way around.

Making sure the tire was facing in the proper direction,

 I finished mounting the tire to the rim and aired it up to 40 pounds. Though at my skill-level I pretty much doubt that I would notice if the slight difference in the directional tread was facing the wrong way

Done with the front tire all I had to do now was rinse and repeat on the rear tire, except that once I had it off the bike I realized that the axle wasn’t turning all that freely, (Is it supposed to make that crunchy noise?!) and I need every bit of help I can get when it comes to the Quad-B moving down the trail! (I also think the axle has a slight bend in it but I’ll just have to live with that.)

The one side, the left side, was easy. Just loosen things up, chase down the balls that fell out, flush the worst of the crap out of the race with a little solvent, tuck all the little balls back where they belong, gluing them in place with a dab of grease, and stuff in some more fresh grease.

Because I don’t have the tools to remove the gear-cluster, the other side was a little more difficult.

No balls fell out of that side but the only way I could get fresh grease in there after flushing the gunk out was to coax it in a little glob at a time with the end of a bamboo skewer.

After putting everything back together again (I briefly considered leaving the kick-stand off to counteract the added weight of the tire-liners but the thought of constantly laying down and picking back up the 36 pound bike with 25 pound pack strapped to the rack nixed that idea) I took a few laps around the property.

Nothing fell off so far, so that's good, and if it wasn't rolling a little more freely, at least it wasn't rolling any worse than before, but only time and a few trails will tell if this setup works any better against goadheads.


Thursday, June 28, 2018

Caprocks Trailway: Stompin' The Pedals - Dodgin' The Cows


A quick glance at this photo and you might think this is a pretty iffy day to be riding the Caprock Trailway, but it’s just an illusion created by shooting southwestward while the sun has not yet quite risen there behind my left shoulder. (you can just see the glow of dawn reflected in The Van's side window)

Given the projected high temp for the day and increasing afternoon winds, I made sure I was up and moving early enough to drive the 15 miles between campsite and Monk’s Crossing trailhead before sunrise.

My plan was to be in the Quad-B’s saddle as soon as there was enough light to see by because I had 17 miles of uphill slog to cover before I could turn around and start back towards The Van – if everything went to plan that is.

As a refresher, Caprock Canyons Trailway is a 64 mile stretch of the former Fort Worth and Denver South Plains Railway that has been turned into a trail that you can hike, bike, that's me, or ride (horses).

From the east end at Estillane to the west end at South Plains the Trailway climbs about 1360 feet. Almost half of this elevation gain, 623 feet, comes in the final 17 miles from Monk’s Crossing to South Plains as the railroad followed Quitaque Creek up through the escarpment separating the Rolling Plains to the east and the South Plains to the west.

(It's confusing but the town of South Plains sits on the South Plains)

This view gives an idea of how abrupt the demarcation is between the South Plains on the left and the Rolling Plains to the east. The Rolling Plains, as you might expect, roll, with a network of hills and creeks. The South Plains are flat. That’s all, just flat. And the boundary between the two is the escarpment.

This aerial view shows how Quitaque Creek reaches out beyond the escarpment, pushing far into the South Plains, which explains why the railroad engineers picked this route. Railroads don’t like to go up or downhill and when they have to the physics and economics of steel wheels on steel track dictate that the gentlest rather than the shortest route be taken.  With a gain of about 45 feet per mile this track has a 0.85% grade. In the railroading world anything more than 1 to 1.5% is pretty significant but 0.85% is still noticeable, on a train or a bike.

But this altitude gain also makes this, in my opinion, the most interesting section of the Trailway as it climbs up through the canyon.

The real climb starts about two miles from the Monk’s Crossing trailhead and this creates an optical illusion no matter which direction you are looking at it from.  The trail is straight along here as it hasn’t quite reached Quitaque Creek yet where it needs to start following the twists of the canyon. This means you can see a long ways down it.  

On my return trip I took the photo above about three miles from Monk’s Crossing, which is at the horizon out there. It looks like the long downhill I’ve been on since the headwaters of Quitaque Creek is about to end abruptly at a final, disheartening uphill, but in fact that part of the track out there is actually flat, as proven by the gear I’m able to ride it in.

From Monk’s Crossing the same illusion applies, with that first 2 miles looking like a good downhill run before coming up against that uphill section.  If you aren’t aware of the illusion it can be very disturbing just how difficult it is to pedal that initial “downhill” that’s not. I know. Been there done that!

But today I survived, up or downhill, and by the time I got to the first turn in the track, at a bridge over an un-named creek between Hackberry and Turkey Creeks about three miles from Monk’s Crossing the sun was about to break through the spotty overnight clouds and burn them off.

From here the climb up the canyon starts in earnest

Turkey Creek Bridge
Still Turkey Creek Bridge

I previously described the trailway, and its points of interest, from Monk’s Crossing to the John Ferris Station in this post so won’t repeat myself here.

Who? Me?!

On that previous ride I noted that there were bovine hoof tracks in the trail at several points. This time I not only saw the tracks, but the makers of those tracks too.

The trail is a narrow band bounded on either side by ranchland delineated by your standard barbed wire fence.

Oh Shit! We got caught. Let’s get out of here!

But as happens around our place too, sometimes cows end up on the wrong side of the fence.

Yah, that’s right. I’m on the wrong side of the fence. What a ya gona do about it?

Not all of them have a guilty conscience about it.

Of course leaving gates wide open just might have something to do with wandering cows.

About 4.5 miles from the trailhead I came to Clarity Tunnel. Now that there aren’t any trains running through it (Not since 1989) bats have taken up seasonal residence. Last time I was here was November and the bats had migrated far to the south by then. I thought that in May there might be some in residence, but if there were I couldn’t hear them. (Shining lights in bat habitats is not nice!)

When crossing through you are warned to wear long sleeves, a hat and to walk you bike. You are also told to try to keep the dust to a minimum.

Yah, right!

The 8 to 12 inches of guano covering the tunnel floor is very dry and powdery.  Even the most careful of footsteps raises a medicine-ball sized cloud of dust, and somehow it doesn’t matter which way you are going through the tunnel, the breeze will be at your back, drifting that ever-growing cloud right along with you. Unfortunately the tunnel is far too long to hold your breath the whole way, especially when trying to horse the Quad-B through the deep, powdery crap as well. I had forgotten about this and it wasn’t until I was passing through on the return trip that I remembered to tie the scrap of towel I carry across my nose and mouth before entering.

Beyond the tunnel the views of the canyon start to get impressive

Unfortunately the nice, smooth pea-gravel surface of the trail that I've been riding on since Monk’s crossing ends at the tunnel, leaving you riding on this coarse, cinder-like surface instead.

It might not look too bad in the photo but the pedaling is noticeably more difficult and the ride goes from a nice, smooth roll to a constant, rattling vibration that is hell on the hands, front suspension or not. It was two days before I could feel my little fingers again.

At the 11 mile point I reached the John Ferris Station with its landmark concrete phone-booth. (There is no actual station here anymore, just a pit toilet and a dry water-buck.)

This was as far as I made it in 2016 and the temptation to turn around here again was great, but I really wanted to make it all the way to the trail terminus at South Plains this time, so I bribed myself into covering that last 6 miles with the promise of a South Plains ice-cream, or if not that at least an iced drink of some sort. Oooh, I can already feel that liquid chill of the first sip slidding down my throat!

Onward I bravely soldiered; only to be apruptly stopped again.

It turns out that wayward cows are not limited to the other side of Clarity Tunnel.

This bunch eventually meandered on up the trail and out of sight, but as I was malingering there, straddling the Quad-B in the middle of the trail stealing a little extra rest, this straggler popped out of the brush and was in no particular hurry to catch up to the others.

You can tell you are nearing the top of the escarpment when the wind-turbines, a common feature of the pretty much featureless South Plains, start coming into view.

But if I’da known then what I do now, I would have turned around right there where the tracks leave Quitaque Creek and start the straight, flat, feature-scarce run across that last 4 miles to South Plains.

I finally made it to the trail’s end, but that last 4 miles was definitely more grueling than the other 13, even though it's flat, as in flat. As you can see in this photo looking back down the trail from the South Plains trailhead, this section is not so much a trail as a mowed bit of rough ground.

In fact it’s much rougher than it looks. When the rails were torn up along the rest of the trail, at least the sections I’ve been on, the ties were also removed and stacked off to the side.

From here to Quitaque Creek the rails were removed, but here I think the ties were left in place to start the slow process of melting back into the ground. That means under that thin covering of vegetation is a bone-rattling corduroy of ties and ballast. In some places I was able to ride off to the side where all I had to deal with was a few inches of thick, brittle vegetation, but because the rails were laid up on a raised berm that wasn't always possible.

I had it in my mind that South Plains was about the same size as Turkey, Quitaque, and Silver City, all surounding towns and all big enough for basic services. But to add insult to the injury of riding that last 4 miles of "trail", South Plains consists of nothing but a couple old grain terminals alongside the tracks, now serviced by truck, a few houses that have seen better days,

and across the highway from the trailhead, these two mismatched, self-service fuel pumps that make up the only retail business in sight. And believe me, up here on the South Plains you can see a long ways!

Needless to say, no ice-cream, no iced drink, not even a tap with tepid water. . .

So I didn't linger in South Plains very long.

By the time I made it back to the bliss of nerve-rattling cinders and a downhill track of Quitaque Canyon I was in no mode for games when bovine #440 appeared in front of me.

The bitch didn’t seem inclined to move, but I didn’t give a shit and called her bluff.

It wasn’t until after I left her in my dust that I had visions of the headlines “Damn fool bike-rider gets stomped by enraged cow”

My advice for others wanting to ride this trail is to not bother with that last bit into South Plains but instead turn around there at the head end of the Quiteque Creek Canyon. You will save yourself 8 rough, round-trip miles of riding with nothing much at the end of it, and a pretty much unchanging view the whole way.

It’s easy to spot this point as the track goes around a sweeping curve, changing direction from northwest to southwest, just before crossing the last bridge on the line. The fact that you can suddenly look around and see forever in all directions is a clear indicator that you are now on the South Plains and it doesn’t get any better from here on. All the good stuff is back the other way.