Monday, October 28, 2019

Caprock Trailway: It's Official - I'm an Idiot

One of the attractions of Caprock Canyons State Park, one of a couple of things that has me returning to this state park rather than the similar, better known, and reasonably close (About 85 road miles) Palo Duro Canyon State Park, is the proximity of the Caprock Canyons Trailway.

A 64 mile stretch of the former Fort Worth and Denver South Plains Railway now turned into a rails-to-trails route administered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

And my favorite (and also longest) segment of this trailway is the climb from the Monk's Crossing trailhead down on the rolling plains at the bottom of an escarpment, then up to South Plains which is up on the high plains a couple of miles beyond the top of the escarpment.

So the morning of my first full day at Caprock finds me pulling into the large, but always empty, at least when I've been there, parking area at Monk's Crossing.

After filling out the paperwork at the self-pay station (With a Texas Parks Pass there is no actual pay but the paperwork needs to be taken care of anyway) and sticking the cover-sheet in the windshield as proof that I have done so,

it was time to take the Quad-B (Big-Box-Beater-Bike) down off the rack, load her up with water, snacks, camera, and of course me, and take off.

So where does the Idiot part come in?

Well - the last time I even thought about throwing a leg over the Quad-B was way back on Memorial day weekend when I rode a few bits of the Tunnel Hill Trail in southern Illinois. Between then and now the Quad-B has been moldering in the barn with the air slowly seeping out of the tires while my time in the saddle has amounted to a big fat zero.

And here I was, with no pre-conditioning whatsoever, setting off on a 30 mile ride on a cheap bike that doesn't fit me well at all.

And it's not like there's spots to bail out if I find I've bitten off  too much. This is an isolated trail and the only way out is at either end.

Ahh yes, there's the Idiot!

And yes, I know, the map says this trail segment is 17 miles which is a 34 mile ride out and back, if my math is right, but the last time I rode this trail I learned that that last 2 miles into the virtually non-existent town of South Plains (A couple of worn-down houses and a single, unattended self-serve fuel pump.) was not at all worth the beating, (for some reason when the rails were pulled up on that final few miles into South Plains the ties were left in place making for an unpleasant riding experience!) so my plan is to turn around once I've made it all the way up the escarpment and onto the high plains, which is at about the 15 mile mark.

In the interest of not repeating myself, I'm not going to go into old details about the trail in this post. If you want more follow this link to an earlier post, which also includes a link to an even earlier post with additional info.

What if you build it and no one comes??

This miniature amphitheater is located on the uphill side of Clarity Tunnel where I imagine that a Park employee would give talks about, among other things, the bats that now seasonally live in the tunnel. But, like the watering stations along the trail that have been bone-dry for at least 4 years now, this venue also looks abandoned, and of the two info-plaques in the background, the one on the left is faded into near oblivion, and the other one is just blank.

Which brings up another abandonment point. There are a few pit-toilets along the trailway but bring your own Sears catalog, or toilet paper if you prefer.

Abandonment of amenities is the inevitable consequence of shrinking budgets, but that is, I think, in large part a result of flagging interest in nature over the ubiquitous electronic screen. After all, who wants to look at rocks and trees and listen to birds and the wind when you can be stalking former classmates on Facebook or wielding your blood-soaked sword in horrific battles from which you magically come back to screaming life over and over again?

Over the last 4 years I have now spent most of three separate days on this bit of trail and not once have I seen anyone else out there. Not that I'm complaining about having the place to myself mind you, but if we aren't going to use places like this how can we expect funds to be spent to create and maintain them??

This photo was taken in 2016 from almost the same spot

as this photo taken this month. (See the flat-topped mesa on the horizon above and to the right of the Quad-B in the previous photo, the right edge of which is showing on the far left of this photo.)

I'm not sure what went on in between these two shots, but it sure does look like a big-ass putting green has been plopped down out there in the middle of nowhere.

This lonely pole, out there between Clarity Tunnel and the John Ferris Station used to be a very important part of the communications link that helped fuel and facilitate commerce out here in the plains.

Back in the day hollow-bottomed glass insulators would be slipped over the tapered pegs to carry the wires that formed the information highway of the day. It's possible that this pole was fashioned and set in place by calloused hands 5 generations ago now, (the railroad was built in the 1920's) and though abandoned and neglected since at least 1989 when the railroad called it quits, it still stands, ready to do the job it was designed for.

After heaving myself up that fifteenth mile to the high plains I find a spot under the last bridge to shelter from the incessant wind (Hence the preponderance of wind-farms up here.) and eat lunch while trying to physic myself up for the return trip.

Lunch finished and the day rolling on, I swing my creaking body back onto the Quad-B, while desperately trying to ignore the fact that I am only at the halfway point of today's ride, and groan my way into those first of thousands of butt-grinding pedal-stomps back towards The Van.

When I get back to this cut on the return trip I can't remember if that rock, the size of a stove, was laying there on the way up or maybe fell down after I passed, and frankly I don't care. I don't even much care if another one falls down now and squishes me like a bug.

All I know for sure is that this cut is about a mile above Clarity Tunnel which means I'm still some 5 or 6 miles from the succor of The Van and my legs ache, my butt hurts, I can't feel my hands anymore - and so, yeah, I'm officially an Idiot!

Monday, October 21, 2019

AHhhh! - This is What Happens When You Don't Follow Procedures

What works for me, the key to living in small places, or just about anywhere, without going any more crazy than I already am, is organization.

Now I'm not saying this works for everyone.

Take The Wife for example. Give her a flat spot and within the hour she'll pile random crap up on it and sometimes a piece of that crap ends up going missing for months.

We have also lost important papers and Netflix mailers because when she needs to make a list, despite the stack of fresh little notebooks in her drawer, she grabs the nearest thing available instead and starts writing. Right-side up, upside down, sideways, whatever fits.

She tries to organize all these little scraps on the way, but when we get to the store it's not unusual for her to hand me a stack of crumpled bits and pieces of random papers, once including a check we were supposed to deposit and was now written all over, for me to sort through and try to organize so we aren't running from one side of a mega-mart to the other and back again as we work through the "list".

After nearly 40 years I've rubbed off on her a little and now keeping track of the car keys is only a part-time job, not the full-time, call-in-search-and-rescue job it used to be. But that has only gone just so far and certainly doesn't apply to her little flip-phone which tends to wander off into all sorts of strange nooks and crannies that often require me making multiple calls on my own phone while wandering around, inside and out, to ferret out the latest hiding place of hers.

Organization doesn't have to include logic.

Take the lowest shelf of the slide-out pantry in The Van for example.

On it you will find an eclectic, logical-less collection of stuff. Small jigsaw puzzles for those rainy days, (100 piece puzzles for waiting out a passing storm, 300 piece puzzles for a soggy afternoon.) a bag full of the dried soups I often use as part of lunch during hikes, and a couple of chemical cold-compresses because, as we are about to establish in the next two posts, I am an Idiot and sometimes Idiots end up getting hurt. (See here for a notable example)

So there doesn't have to be logic to organization, just as long as there is consistency which allows me to be able to quickly find each of these objects because they are always right where they belong.

Except when they're not. . .

On the first morning of this latest camping trip, as I was preparing to do some biking, I discovered an issue. An issue that was the direct result of me not following my own procedures for organization.

I have, as shone in the photo above, these clips by Peak Design. The one on the lower right pretty much permanently attached to the waistband of my pack and the other one to the water-bottle/sunscreen-bug juice carrier I sling on the handlebar of my bike.

There's a matching piece, a base, that attaches to my camera via the tripod socket, and the base then slips into the clip.

That way my camera is secure and out of the way as I'm hiking or biking, but with a quick, one-handed press of that little red button on the clip, the base, and camera, slides off and into my hand.

I can just as quickly slip the camera back into the clip when I'm done.

Except today that base wasn't were it belonged. - Because I didn't follow procedures.

When it's on the camera the base blocks the hatch to the battery and memory card, as well as preventing the camera from standing flat on it's bottom, so I don't leave the base attached to the camera all the time.

When not on the camera I slide the base into one of the clips. (Organization doesn't always have to follow logic, but sometimes it just makes sense.)

Well - most the time anyway - Every time except this one!

The instant I saw the base wasn't where it was supposed to be, I knew just where it was.

Can you see it there on my "computer desk" out in the barn?

The barn that's some 500 miles away. . .

Yep, right there where I put it last May when I got back from a trip to Michigan and went to extract the photos of said trip from the camera.

In the intervening months I looked at that base countless times and, for some reason I still don't understand, rather than simply walk it around the side of the barn to The Van and put it back where it belongs, I convinced myself that when I headed out on the next trip and picked up the camera, which lives there on the "desk" between trips so it's handy, I would also pick up the base.

Except that I didn't.

For the bike trip I was getting ready to take when I made this disappointing discovery, I just threw the camera in the small pack that goes on the rear-carrier, though instead of just stopping and unclipping the camera from where it hangs there on the handlebars when I wanted to take a shot, I had to stop, climb off, and zip open the carrier. Enough of a pain to remind me every time of my lapse in organization.

Fortunately I carry a couple of left-over neck straps in The Van and with one of them was also able to weave it through the straps of my pack and fashion a functional, though not near as convenient, way to carry the camera on my hikes.

The men in The Wife's family have an uncanny knack for shooting themselves in the foot.

No! Seriously! It goes back for generations, and I'm talking literally. It seems like a right of passage or something.

And now, after all these years, I guess a bit of her family genes rubbed off on me when I wasn't looking and I managed to shoot myself in the foot this time, figuratively anyway.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Nature, Not Nuggets!

Ahh, finally back on the road after a looonngggg hot summer (Hottest September every recorded in Central Texas!)

Sunday morning sunrise at a rest stop on US 287 a few miles east of Quanah, Texas.

Anybody else remember the 1975 release of Sunday Morning Sunrise (From the Matching Head and Feet album) by Kevin Coyne? No? Well perhaps if he had accepted when Electra Records founder Jak Holtzman asked him to replace Jim Morrison as the front-man for The Doors he might be a little better known.

 It's the coolest morning The Van has seen since April.

And by sundown I am parked at tent-site 49 in the far end of the South Prong Canyon of Caprock Canyons State Park (TX). A hole in the Caprock Escarpment which sits between the High Plains to the west and the Rolling Plains to the east. A spot where no cell signal, and not even the NOAA weather broadcasts, can reach.

OK, I know it doesn't look much like a campsite. In fact the actual campsite is about a 10 yard walk-in to the south, or left, and The Van is forced to sit right alongside the loop. But this loop is the end of the road, protected from the rest of the world by a park entrance fee and a couple of short but sharp 16% grades, and during the week sees little traffic, with virtually none after sundown.

Besides, the only other option in this day and age of can't-live-without-it $500 coffee makers and satellite TV is to camp up on the canyon rim in the cheek-by-jowl water-electric sites of the Honey Flats campground.

Not only is Honey Flats twice as expensive, (for stuff I don't need) but even during the week it is fully populated by rigs with outdoor entertainment centers, beer-drinking buddies, camp-fire addicts, and home-schooled kids running amok. In other words, the nuggets of society. Definitely not my scene.

(Nugget: A lump of questionable nutritious value with a half-life nearing that of spent Uranium, and just about as useful. - And, of course, I myself am one of those nuggets I'm trying to stay away from, but I can tolerate, just barely, my own company.)

No water? Pit toilets?

Well hell! Throw in a little shade, a snack, along with a magazine and a couple books, and what more could a guy ask for?

And no, I don't actually stay in the tent. I just put it up as a place-holder.

Nature not nuggets! 

Monday, October 7, 2019

2 Years, a few more Aches n Pains, and an Attitude Change

A while back I wrote a post about slowing down.

The age-related kind of slowing down.

In that post I talked about going around the long way to use the slope to gain gradual access to the RV pad rather than just taking the single 20 to 24 inch step from ground to concrete which would save me some steps but challenge the leg muscles.

At the time I wrote it, in addition to still having Elmer's travel-trailer on the property, (Elmer can't use it anymore so we have since gifted it as housing for a couple women displaced by Hurricane Harvey and it is down on the coast somewhere now.)  I concluded that since I was aging this change in my routine was inevitable and acceptable.

That was a little over two years ago.

Since then, in addition to a couple of birthdays and the receipt of that coveted medicare card, I have also had a change of attitude.  (Those of you that have employer-supplied medical coverage may not see that little red, white, and blue card as something to be coveted, but those that retired early or are self-employed will know what I'm talking about.)

Oh, I acknowledge the inevitability of slowing down as the years pack on. I can clearly see that happening first hand.

15 years ago I could flick the glasses off your nose with my front-kick, side-kick, and back-kick, though with my - shall we call it, less than perfect control, I would have probably also busted said nose in the process.

Today I can still snap a front-kick to the region of your head, but, despite working on my kicks 5 or 6 days a week, every week, to the tune of 15 reps per leg per kick,* the best I can manage with a back-kick anymore is to bruise your sternum. And as for my side-kick, well I hope you haven't just eaten because that's probably going to land right around your belly-button.

*No, I'm not a bad-ass. Never have been. In fact the last time I was in a "real" fight was back when I was 17 and after the promise of an opening combo that put the other guy on his ass - temporarily - spectators quickly lost interest and wandered away muttering very hurtful things like 'fights like a girl'.

I do the kicks because they are good for keeping balance-skills sharp, my hip-joints open and flexible, (Well, as open and flexible as they're going to get anyway.) and are a decent core work-out, which also helps with balance and, well - you know, not falling down. (Underneath this fluffy layer of cuddleliness wrapped around my gut like grandma's down comforter I have killer abbs!)

But, while I accept the inevitability of slowing down, I have come to the realization that I don't have to help it along.

Just because it's a bit more work to make that high step onto the RV pad is no excuse for bypassing it. In fact, if my goal is to remain active as long as possible, which it is, then when something becomes difficult that's all the more reason to do it.

So now, not only have I started going out of my way several times during the day to make that long step up, or down,

I've also added a set of twenty squats between my laps and my warm-down. (If you want to believe that's me in the photo above, who am I to disabuse you?!) Deep, butt to heels, belly to thighs, full-range squats.

(Click here to see why we should all be doing squats.)

At first I sounded like a walrus in heat when trying to knock those suckers out. God-awful sounds loud enough to set off sympathy groans from the cows on the next ranch over!

But in a couple weeks, at an average of 4 times a week, taking 90 seconds to knock off 20 squats immediately after 45 minutes and 2.6 miles of brisk laps, immediately after 15 minutes of stretching, three different kinds of kicks, and 50 push-ups,** got easier.

** I read somewhere a while back that the ability to do 40 consecutive push-ups is an indicator of reasonable physical health for the aged. Being an overachiever I do 50. My thinking is that I will slow down at some point, but now I can slow down for a while and still stay at or above that target of 40.

Notice I said easier and not easy. The only way that 20th squat is ever going to be easy is if I regularly knock off 40 at a time, and there has to be a limit somewhere. . . But now I take that step at the RV pad without groaning, yelping, or even really noticing it, which translates directly into the ability to get up and over those boulders along the trail, which translates into enjoying being out and about in the back-country.

By the way, here's a nugget that the medicos and personal trainers don't want you to know.

Carrying extra weight in the form of fat is actually beneficial for your physical conditioning!

No, really!

Think about it.

Doing a push-up is the equivalent of bench-pressing about 63% of your body weight. (But the push-up is better for you because it also works your core harder than a bench-press)

For a set of 40 push-ups a 210 pounder lifts 5092 pounds while that smug little 170 pounder parading around in his form-fitting Lycra has lifted a measly 4284 pounds

It takes the average person roughly 2000 steps to cover a mile, give or take a hundred either way. That's 1000 steps per leg. For a 210 pound person that's 210,000 pounds per leg per mile. At the end of that same mile that skinny-ass little 170 pounder has fallen behind by 40,000 pounds per leg.

Who's the bad-ass now, you kale-swilling, carrot-nibbling punk!