Saturday, August 31, 2013

chestnut ridge road cemetery

i was on my way to a geocache in chestnut ridge park. it's a back corner of the park, easiest reached by way of the cemetery.

and you already know how i am about cemeteries.

so i looked around at the stones.

there's this one, which you can't read anymore, but a few minutes of sleuthing will tell you that jacob saunders was 34 years old when he joined the 64th new york infantry.

SANDERS , JACOB. — Age, 31 years. Enlisted at Collins, to 
serve three years, and mustered i n as private, Co. A , December 
29, 1863; killed in action, May 10, 1861, at Po River, Va . 

he was killed in action on the evening of may 10 at the po river, in the spotsylvania courthouse campaign. he is buried here with his daughter, eliza.

you don't have to dig far to learn what base hospital 22 was. if it had been me, i'd have it on my headstone, too.

Friday, August 30, 2013


in this state there's a lot of talk about the aftermath of the irene floods two years on and i thought i was maybe going to go back in my pictures and show you the work from the bowling alley in wilmington where i spend a week doing cleanup and demolition, and i still will, but i went to open my video editor to show you some of my cleanup work and there was a video on it i'd just about finished from the very last days of glitch.

it's the street party at serguei's street, the teeny party.

glitch was an awesome world. it's been gone a lot of months now, and i still miss it powerful much.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

lamont cemetery

back in may i was passing through lamont, ny, which is barely a tiny dot on the map in the northern corner of the town of pike.

in the cemetery there you can find among the dead BENJAMIN F. ROWELL, company E 4th michigan volunteers.

i think his stone caught my eye because it is by far not the most ostentatious in the cemetery, you can tell a lot about how people perceived their own social importance by their headstones relative to those of their contemporaries.

this one is the only big red granite one in the place and i think it made me sad that his wife eleanor gets such a small afterthought of a marker. it matters less that she gets named on his headstone because many prominent men list their wives as property without giving much thought to these women as full persons, worthy of maybe the same headstone or the same kind of headstone and maybe the guy
wasn't so much of a pompous blowhard in life, but he made sure to have his military affiliation listed.

and it turns out that while he WAS with the 4th michigan volunteers, he wasn't with the original and famous 4th michigan volunteers, but rather with the reorganized unit that went out to the western theater once the war is pretty much over and while he entered the army a corporal, he left it a private.

it is common on gravestones of this era to list the exact lifespan of the deceased only in the especially old and the especially young. this young man (probably buried by his parents) has his full number of days on the headstone, but even though he has a GAR star, there is no mention of his service in the 2d ny mounted rifles.

his service record states:

HORNING , MILLARD F.—Age, 19 years. Enlisted, February 
13, 1864, at Pike; mustered in as private, unassigned, February 
13, 1864, to serve three years; no further record

because his date of death is given as 21 march 1864, he probably died of disease in camp. the 2d new york mounted rifles had their first battle at spotsylvania courthouse in may.

the fullers and the griffiths have very grand, expensive monuments. the griffiths even have an ornate fence to set themselves apart.

but here in this field,
doctor and dandy,
champion and child
you are all dead the same
under flowers pink and wild.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


i woke up yesterday with fall allergies in full swing. this is not a surprise to me. it has been going on for a couple of weeks now and thanks to behind-the-counter stuff i almost don't notice.

i wrote some stuff, sorted some photos, and looked up a civil war soldier whose grave i had found. i sent an email to some people in his state who are trying to maintain a database of where the civil war soldiers from that state are buried.

i read more news about syria and tried to decide if the president views government as paternalistic, if the president is wholly owned by businesses and being blackmailed by the NSA, or if he's simply pure evil.

i read that patrick leahy (senator, D-VT) has asked eric holder (attorney general) to appear before a senate committee and explain the obama administration's stupid and contradictory policies on the war on drugs with specific regard to states that have legalized pot. i wrote him an email saying thank you.

i read a thing in which justin amash (congressman, R-WI) keeps insisting that government can't go breaking its own laws and that the president really OUGHT to have a congressional vote to go heap war on anybody, because that's what's in the constitution. i tweeted him a thank you, because he does not accept emails from outside his district.

then i saw the news yesterday that entergy corporation will be shutting down the vermont yankee nuclear power plant. this is an aging unsafe plant that's already leaking and its operators and inspectors have already lied to the vermont legislature and when the legislature decided not to renew the plant's operating license the supreme court decided that a state has no right to close a nuclear plant over safety concerns and that it can't interfere in business.

so it maybe should be a victory there, but none of us gets to forget what mike hebert (R- windham 1) so nicely said on vermont public radio, which is that the people who work in the plant are our neighbors. they are our ambulance drivers and firemen and little league coaches and they are now going to be out of a job.

so no victory dances, ok?

then i went to the dermatologist for two little projects: to get a little actinic keratosis frozen offa my face, and to have an uncomfortably placed skin tag snipped off of my squishy bits.

just for the record, liquid nitrogen applied to the face is extremely uncomfortable.

and probably no surprise to anyone, having any little thing cut right off of your squishy bits you hardly even notice UNTIL THE LIDOCAINE WEARS OFF.

for me, there was the point at which the lidocaine wore off, and then there was the point at which THE LIDOCAINE WORE OFF. those two points were several hours apart. the second one happened just after i thought to myself "well, i won't really run a 5k. i'll just trot a few hundred yards and then have a nice walk."

reality set in very suddenly, and very firmly.

ok, i am done with crotch trauma for the summer. i am declaring my crotchly area to be free of breakings, tearings, bruising, burns, cuts, and abrasions for the duration of the summer.

and i went to bed thinking:


which i think would make a lovely bumpersticker.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

really? what?

ok, this afternoon i heard some senators and stuff being interviewed about the inevitability of military intervention in syria.

because the president apparently doesn't need congress's approval to start another war any more than the government needs warrants to spy on citizens.

and i heard either the president or a spokesman for the president (i don't remember which because i'm too batshit about it) say that whatever "response" we have (read: missile launches), it's "not about regime change."

DAFUQ???? WHAT?!?!

we're going to heave missiles into another country because apparently they don't have ENOUGH bombs and horror and we have NO INTENT OF ACTUALLY DOING ANYTHING?

we are going to heave bombs into another country's civil war and we are going to enter this war on the same side as al-qaeda and the only thing we intend to accomplish by it is to MAKE A STATEMENT ABOUT THE USE OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS AND BE SEEN HAVING A RESPONSE BUT IT'S NOT ABOUT REGIME CHANGE?

we're what? going to bomb the fuck out of the remaining syrians for no particular purpose and with no actual aims? because someone thinks that it's ok to drop bombs on people but it's somehow a moral outrage to use chemical weapons to accomplish the same end?

we're going to show the assad regime how wrong it is to kill civilians by going in there and killing a crapton of civilians?

but it's not about regime change?

so the only thing we hope to accomplish is to drop explosives on some people in another country in order to make the point to a guy we're going to leave in power - we're going to have to go kill some people with metal and fire just for the sake of demonstrating that killing people with chemical agents is bad?

but we're going to be careful not to change the balance of power?

i'm sorry, but that is fucked.


if you're going to sit on your hands and not do anything besides express displeasure, you don't need to rain fire and death on people to do it.

but just in case i haven't made myself clear: i think it is a bad idea to march into syria and support the al-qaeda allied rebels against the hezbollah-backed regime. either way you slice that one, that is not going to come out well. not for us, not for anybody.

if - and this is a big "if"- a thing is so monstrous that we're going to step into another war and kill people, there had better goddamn well be an actual goal and some things we can actually accomplish with that blood instead of making weak speeches about needing to make "some kind of appropriate response."

you want to make a statement? put up a poster.

you want to stop a war? STOP the monstrosity. don;t just dogpile on and add your bombs to the big pile of bombs because you don't want to look weak.

and at the risk of sounding crass, i'm going to say ow much is this going to cost in american lives? american tax dollars?

and how many american arms manufacturers and security contractors are going to get obscenely rich off of it?

and how long do you think it will distract the 'murican people from their increasingly impoverished state where health care and pensions and groceries are drying up while the CEOs of large corporations had an average sixteen percent increase of income last year alone?

the economy's just fine.

...if you are a death merchant.

you remember last week when it was ok to spy on american citizens because we had to do everything to fight al-qaeda and its allies?

but now we have to drop bombs on civilians in support of al-qaeda?

because reasons?


this is why we can't have nice things anymore.

hey, i have an idea.

hey, i have an idea.

let's go to war in syria, because we're not in enough wars right now. we are especially not in enough wars with us on the same side as those al-qaeda guys.

hey, why don't we do more stuff with them? maybe hang out? toss some missiles at hezbollah? like pals?

plus it would really distract people from the real issues be cool if we could just blow some stuff up because once the president said if assad crossed his red line he'd have to send troops and he wouldn't want to look all weak or anything in front of the oil companies other countries.

and it's really important to france. we love those guys. you remember the last time we wanted to bomb the crap outta some people and france was all, like, awesome, dude. we're going in, too.

so we owe it to france to bomb the crap outta some syrians because there's money at stake we know which guys are the bad guys. we're swell that way.

see, we have to enter the war in syria because it was US that set up that wacky iraq with all the chemical weapons because they were our oil business associates pals for ten minutes forever and then we had to go start a war over there defend freedom because they had chemical weapons we supported are shocked! shocked and surprised about!  abhor and that's just what we get to do WRONG.

stupid iran, thinking it should have its own government that doesn't have to do what US oil companies say stinking terrorists.

they spoil everything.

countries that give weapons to terrorist groups  need to be bombed back to the stone age.

oh, wait.


Monday, August 26, 2013

cleaning up

so i got an email from the race management over at GMARA asking me if i'd be willing to go retrieve some of the flags and buoys left over from the bitter pill.

and of course i was so pleased with their organization and their race that i said i'd be delighted to help before i really processed the whole request: flags and BUOYS.

flags? total fun. they are right near bike trails that i habitually ride for entertainment.

 the buoys? not so much. while they are, to be fair, right near bike trails that i habitually ride for entertainment, they are anchored out in some NASTY ponds.

i am accustomed to wading into water that's, um, richly organic in its smell, but stepping into this first pond was a stretch even for me. my plan was simply to whip off my shirt (who wants to ruin a good shirt?) and dash out past the weeds and then just swim on the surface to the buoy because one thing i learned as a kid is that if the bottom is really nasty, you can swim even in shallow water and stay clear of the unpleasantness.

but the bottom of this pond - which by the way is a man made pond built by the army corps of engineers to serve as wildlife habitat, a purpose which is fulfills really, really well- the bottom of this pond is so teeming with critters and egg masses and assorted plants that even if you try to be swimming in the top layer of it and not disturb the bottom, the bottom comes right up and messes with you anyway, so you're better off taking your chances with walking on the bottom.

you have less exposure that way.

and i had been told that the buoy was anchored with a ten pound dumbbell so i TOTALLY knew what to expect, but i have an extreme fear of invisible submerged objects. i used to call it an unexplained phobia, but then one day i was telling some friends about it and my mother was there and she said it's not unexplained after all; when i was two i happened to be at the public pool one day when a boy got his hand caught in a bottom drain and drowned.

so apparently it's not a phobia, because it is a fear reaction to an unremembered traumatic event and not an irrational fear. that's what a friend of mine who's in the business at teaching psychology at a prestigious university tells me.

when you get right down to it, it does not matter one bit in the moment if your fear is a true phobia or not.

and i pulled on the rope to collect the buoy and -it was attached to an unseen submerged thing!!!!! 

it did not matter one tiny bit that i KNEW what it was attached to, what the thing looked like, and who had put it there. panic still set in.

my internal detached observer noticed this happening and was vaguely amused, which is probably the only thing that allowed me to keep pulling the rope until the unseen submerged thing, covered in weeds, was pulled into sight and i could carry it to shore.

the worst part of it, though, was that the worst of the pond smell was now in my skin. even with the pond clothes removed, the nausea-inducing stink of it stayed with me.

and, like, it's totally ok with me to be near a stinky thing and maybe even IN a stinky thing, but when there's no respite from the stinky thing even out in clear air, THAT'S where it starts to bother me.

see? i learn stuff about myself every day.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

catching features

for all of you who are not land navigation (known to its friends as landnav) buffs, i will tell you that a catching feature is a thing on the map, something long, like a river or a wide cliff or even a fenceline and while you might be aiming at a big rock or a bridge or something, you can be off by a couple of degrees over some distance so it's often smart to aim off to one side of the thing you want to get to and then turn and follow your catching feature to it.

or maybe you'd prefer to go around the swamp instead of through it so you figure you'll just go that way until you catch the stream and then turn toward your objective.

last week when i was looking at landnav things on the web, i came across this cool little game called catching features. it only runs on windows machines (although it will run on a mac with bootcamp) and it crashes more often than i would like it to, but i am enjoying it.

it has a free demo version, which is what i've been playing.

it is hard to learn the controls but all in all it does a pretty good job of duplicating what it's like to be out in the woods with a topo map and a compass and not have much clue where you went wrong. you'll spend a lot of time hiking (and in the game you go MUCH slower on a steep uphill) up hills to see if you can get a view of the landscape and see if maybe there's a road or something you can follow to take you back to the area you want to be in.

you know, so you don't get lost.


anyway, if you like that sort of experience, you will enjoy this game.

the full version is only forty dollars (us) and includes the ability both to play in multiplayer mode and the ability to upload maps to the server and practice on those, as well as play on a number of different courses that others upload.

i may ask santa for one.

because i LOVE being lost in the woods.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

bitter pill: photo gallery

there are thousands of photos of the bitter pill on the GMARA website and if you like that sort of thing i'm going to suggest you go look at them.

and not just this race, either. that is one huge collection of photos of people being awesome.

i just want to show you the ones that illustrate our day.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
at registration. we look so clean. and we still smell good.

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
this is what it looks like getting on the busses.
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
this is what the people look like on the bus.
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
here we are, getting our last briefing before the maps are handed out.
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
after the maps are handed out
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
this is us with our map. it is an awesome map.
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
right out of the start the photographer can see a long train of headlamps.
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
this is the last time the race management will see us for eight hours.
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
here is the moment we arrive at the first transition.
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
all ready to take our boat
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
getting organized
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
and off we go!
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
here we come!
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
handing up the gear
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
barb gets the checkpoint on shore
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
we heave the boat up
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
and carry it across the road
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
we are now free to change gears, get refreshments, and pick up our bikes.
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
free! we're free!
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
heading out on the bikes
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
this is barb coming into the finish...
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
...and me right behind her
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
and we even win the cookies!
Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug
time to go home.

Friday, August 23, 2013

once in a blue moon

tuesday night was the full sturgeon moon, a blue moon by the definition of "second full moon in a season" and i was on my way home from my tuesday night running race and i saw the huge red moon just rising over the mountain and i was sad that i didn't have my camera with me but i live a good fifteen minutes east of where i was just seeing the moon come up, and closer to the west side of the mountain, so i figured that by the time i got home if i ran inside real quick and got my camera set up, i might catch the moonrise again.

well, actually i live so close to the western side of the mountian that i had to wait an hour for the moon to come up and then when it did i hadn't guessed correctly how far north it would be clearing the mountain with relation to my desk window so there was actaully a tree in the way until i went out to lie on the lawn.

also since by the time the moon has cleared MY horizon here at home it is high enough in the sky that it loses that spectacular red giant look that it has an hour earlier when it's low on the real horizon, and not the horizon of people on the dark side of a mountain.

still, it made a pretty picture.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

bitter pill: long rambling reflection

i've been looking at adventure races for a long time. i did a twelve-hour mountain bike race once, not signed up as part of a relay, but to do the whole thing myself.

because awesome.

century ride?


but i'm looking at a lot of these adventure races you see all over the place and a lot of them have the same tone as that time in college a bunch of the brothers of pi lambda chi for some reason jammed their bulky selves into sportcoats and ties and came to our spring recital and reception following and stood around uncomfortably making small talk and drinking punch so when they invited us to come to their toga party, we had to go.

it was the kind of party where they lay down plastic on the floors to catch the swamp of cheap warm beer. it's not so much that people were careless with the drinks, but actively flinging them around while dancing spastically.

and everybody is all kind of thinking they're hardcore crazy partiers but it just seemed kind of messy and unpleasant to me.

so when you look at a lot of the activities in a lot of these adventure races, a lot of what they call "challenges" is a lot like that. they'll hand you a dozen hot peppers to eat before you run up a hill, or throw your bike chain in a leech infested pond and let you dive for it before you can ride, or have you eat a pound of pierogies before you do a hill climb, or they'll apply electric current to you (an awesome way to find out who might have an undiagnosed heart condition), or a guy will jump out and try to hit you with a stick.

and everybody's all standing around congratulating themselves on being hardcore crazy people but really it's like watching japanese gameshows.

but i saw the posting for this race and i saw it was being run out of catamount, and i like to support events out of catamount.

and, um, i'm not going to lie to you: the poster had really excellent design. it was probably the poster that sucked me in.

so i went to the website and i read the descriptions and looked at the pictures and it seemed to me that while this race was going to have difficult challenges, they were going to be skills-based challenges and not how-much-goofy-stuff-are-you-willing-to-tolerate challenges.

additionally, the whole tone of the descriptive materials suggested to me that it is important to race management to get everybody to dinner on time, and not to show you how quickly you will be dropped if you're not fast.

but they don't mollycoddle you, either. they make you carry a lot of gear you totally won't need unless you have an emergency, in which case you will need that stuff. and they set up the course so that if you are an elite athlete, you will still have a challenging day. they don't tell you how much of the course you should cut to meet your ability level, but they let you know there's no shame in doing only as much of the course as you're going to be able to do in twelve hours.

it is a lovely and refreshing way to approach it: here's your map. here's the course. barring emergencies, we'll see you at the transitions. please try to be on time for dinner.

and then when you cross the finish line next to last in time and last in points they give you an ovation that they mean and they treat you, all of them, the race management and the other racers, they treat you as if you are every bit as epically tough and brave as the champions.

this is the important part: in their attitude they don't qualify your achievement in terms of "for you".  they don't say how well you did for dumpy little middle aged ladies in their first race. they know how hard it is out on the course. they know how many hours you spent on it and they treat you with the respect of those who meet shared challenges on equal footing.

you admire their strength and stamina. they admire your courage and perseverance. you all take in as much fluid and food as you can, you cheer for the winners, for the sponsors, for the organizers, and then all of you rush right home because it has been a long day and you need to sleep.

see you next time.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

bitter pill: lovely afternoon

so after all this we marched into the first transition area where the race staff were happy to see us.

we had a short wardrobe change and put all our gear in the dry bags. i had spent a LOT of time in the weeks previous configuring and reconfiguring my gear for the different activities (yes, i know. race organization calls them "disciplines".) and i am really glad i invested all that time in knowing exactly where to put all the things and how to organize them while i'm switching over because if it hadn't been automatic at that point, it would have been way too confusing.

so we got our boat and we got it in the water.

i am not sure why we were pointed in the direction of the hardest possible way to put the boat in at that access instead of the nice easy slope, unless teams who were coming from the previous controls (which we had prudently cut) were approaching from that way and they wanted to keep the traffic flow uncomplicated.

we were pretty happy about this paddle because during our course sleuthing and practice, last monday we just happened to have paddled from this canoe access down to the cochran road access, which means we'd seen nearly all of this segment of the course and knew where to find the channel.

we also had the opportunity to look at the banks and say "ugh. i hope they don't put a bag in there. they'll probably put a bag in there" and then once we had the map we could laugh and say "of course. they put a bag in there."

the nice people at the transition reminded us about the one checkpoint at which the teams might travel separately, the one up the huntington river, where one of you might stay with the boat and the other might wade upriver to the control.
by the time we got there, another team was already portaging their boat upriver, so of course all of that information evaporated from my head. it's not like they hadn't told both of us, and it's not like it wasn't in the printed "destructions" (as i kept calling them), but we missed that fine point entirely anyway.

so portage up the huntington river we did.

it's ok. it was one of the nicest parts of the day, and if barb had left me with the boat and gone herself, i only would have fallen asleep and then i'd have been all groggy and cranky.

this way, i was able to pause and have a little chat with some interested passers-by while barb got the bag. they were lovely people, and curious as to why we were so oddly outfitted and what we were carrying in our packs and i explained for them some of the other bizarre appearances they had seen as the day progressed.

they were still a little mystified as to why we would do such a thing.

"it's an adventure", i told them.

and it is, too. you can go up on a mountain and you can plan for yourself a stupid crazy day of bizarre tests of skill, but if you know where everything is going to be, it is more of a drill and less of an adventure.

there is a particular pleasure in answering the question "where are you going?" with "we don't know."

there was fog in the morning and sunshine in the afternoon and we saw a bald eagle perched in a tree.

it's an adventure.

a word about the boat: these are rental boats, which is nice, because it means we don't have to lug our own boats around with us, but the old adage applies:

if you're the rental company, you want the boats to be able to withstand the rigors of what joe public might do to them, and sustainable at a price joe public is willing to pay to use the boats.

short version: this is the heaviest boat i have ever carried.

we get to the second transition area where we reconfigure our gear for bike travel, which is the thing we're actually good at. we are happy to pay our dollar to get water and lemonade at the lemonade stand. we could have had cookies and other goodies, but i simply wasn't in the mood.

i just wanted to put on dry clean socks and ride my bike.

i am awkward and uncomfortable on foot but on a bike i feel strong and graceful. by this point in the day, though, we look at the clock and realize that all we have time for is to simply ride from the transition up to the finish. we have no time for checkpoint 14 or any of the other bike points, except for number 20, which we know ahead of time is right on that bridge where the geocache is.

geocache? how did that come into it?

oh. well, august 17 is international geocaching day, in the middle of international geocaching month and i am trying to meet the geocache challenge of a cache a day for the entire month and a twelve hour adventure race in which i am forbidden to have a GPS is no excuse NOT to find a cache, so i have busted my butt course sleuthing partly to figure out which geocaches might be right on the racecourse and which might be findable without a GPS and i have settled on this one particular cache that's on this one section of trail that i'm 90% certain is on the course.

if for some reason i get skunked on that, it's going to mean i have to leave the race venue when we're done and go find one of the backups.

but who wants to do that?

so actually one of the first things i check as soon as we get the maps is DOES THE COURSE GO OVER THIS CACHE?

why, yes. yes it does. checkpoint 20 is right on it.

so it is a double triumph for me. i have found my cache for the day, and i am on my bike, heading home on a trail and a road i know well and have ridden before.

we are too exhausted to even notice checkpoint 21 when we pass it, too intent on what we know is going to be a brutal, unpleasant climb up governor chittenden road.

we know it is going to hurt, but we also know we can do it, so it is a triumph.

we are the second to last team to finish, so there are a lot of people hanging around enjoying hors d'oeuvres and the ovation that rises up catches me quite by surprise and i am crying.

the guy in the tent, he asks me if i'm ok and i repeat that old sports saying: bleeding, sweating, crying: if you're not doing two of those, you're not trying hard enough.

and i point out that since i am not bleeding, it is fitting for me to cry.

in the tent we notice that nobody cares at this party how bad you smell. in the tent we learn that other, more experienced teams have made some of the same mistakes we made. we learn that one hardcore guy showed up to the race with broken toes. and we learned that while on the course one guy broke a finger and got it straightened by a teammate.

dinner is good and the company is good and it turns out that barb and i win a prize because (we learn suddenly) there is an unofficial contest at this race for the team name that laurie yager likes best.

dumpy little middle aged ladies.

that's us!

our prize is a big box of delicious cookies.

later on i will tell you about the awesomeness of this race and its culture, but for now i have cookies to eat.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

bad driving

yesterday on route two by conant farm i was behind one of their tractors turning left into one of their fields.

a giant tractor is not a fast mover, and it is even more not a fast mover when it is turning left.

but the car behind me REALLY NEEDED TO PASS. so that driver passed me on the left and then passed the tractor on the left, WHILE HE WAS ALREADY TURNING LEFT and in order to keep from slamming into the tractor, the driver of the car had to swerve out onto the lawn.

while accelerating crazily.

i did the only thing i know how to do, which was to follow that driver until i could get a good picture of the car, a dark blue nissan maxima 35 se with vermont license plate AMT 598.

i followed the car to the interstate and then went home and called the state police.

by that time, of course, the driver is long gone. the kid at conant farm said not to worry about it; if she'd smashed into the tractor, the tractor would have hardly had a scratch.

Monday, August 19, 2013

bitter pill: how we spent our morning

at 0400 they took our bikes and loaded them onto a truck. there were people with packs walking around with headlamps in the dark wearing the odd fashion of backcountry athletic clothing: tights, zip-off leg pants, bike shorts with leg warmers, removable sleeves, packs full of gear, and compasses and map bags dangling. everybody drinking up water or coffee or whatever calories and water they could take on in the last few minutes before the point of no return, the point at which everything you use or eat or drink is a thing you carry yourself.

food and drink in the parking area before the race starts are like free stuff. take as much on as you can NOW so you don't have to lug it, and you don't have to lug the containers.

at 0415 they loaded us onto schoolbusses to take us to the race start. they tell us that our first leg of the race will be travel by foot, and the ride to the start will be about 20 minutes. by the time we turn right in richmond, i know we are going up into camel's hump state forest somehow.

they let us off the busses at the parking area on the duxbury road and immediately a line of men forms along the edge of the lot in the bushes, shedding the extra water. the women probably drank as much and might have had to pee, but will wait, i think, until they can squat in the woods.

at that point i remember wishing i had refined enough the skill of peeing standing up to join that line, not so much because i need to pee, but because women who can join the line and pee standing up are badass.

at about ten minutes to five they give us the maps. the map each team gets is huge; it has all of the territory of the race on it and it covers portions of six regular quadrangle maps.

it's dark out. the ground is wet. i am overwhelmed by the hugeness of it, the newness of it.

i think of a thing i heard in a lecture on preparing for your first race, a youtube video for UCTV with larry nolan in which he says "no matter how prepared you think you are for your first race, you're not."

i think we'll just get out there and do our best with it. we have practiced hard, but no amount of practicing the skills actually matches up to being dumped in a parking lot at five in the morning with a huge map and 65 other people about to head up a mountain in the dark.

smile. it helps.
i should have taken more time to really orient myself to the map, to really match the detail on this map with the large amount of stuff i actually know about this area. i should have done it, but instead i only really oriented myself to the first point and even though we passed a map on the way up, i was too overwhelmed to do the thing i always do on the trail when i pass a map, which is TAKE A PICTURE OF THE MAP, especially if it is a map on which trails are marked, or a map that includes a "you are here" marker.

this map had both of those things but i did not think of it. people were going up! people who knew more than i did were just going by, or quickly checking the map and then heading up the mountain.

after the first checkpoint i looked at these other people. they were not sighting bearings; they appeared to be looking to follow a handrail, which seemed like a good plan to me.

a handrail in this case is a feature on the map that you can follow until it connects with another known feature on the map.

in this case the handrail was a road and a stream.

the plan was to follow the road to the stream and then take the stream up to the second bag.

and there were dozens of sets of footprints doing just that, so it seemed like a good plan.

...except the farther up the streambed we got, the fewer footprints we could see. at some point most of the racers had chosen a different way, and now the only thing we knew how to do was to follow that stream until we reached something we could recognize.

omniscient narrator from the future knows that there is a flat place where if you are on the right bank, you just keep following the stream to the second bag, but if you are on the left bank you might not see that you are now on a different fork of the stream, a fork that is seasonal and not on the map.

omniscient narrator from the future also knows that more than one team will make that same mistake and each of those teams will have a different story to tell about what comes next.

what came next for us was that we continued up that streambed until we were certain we were in the wrong place, and we had a choice: return to the last place where we KNEW where we were, or attempt  to head east and uphill and maybe catch a land feature that would tell us where we were exactly, or come to a place with enough of a view to perform a resection and find our place on the map.

an altimeter would have come in super handy. the only one i have is attached to my GPS, so i didn't have it.

so the best we could do without being able to sight any landmarks was to make guesses about where we were by way of terrain profile.

taking bearings from identifiable landmarks
we are either here, or here, or here, we reasoned. if we go uphill and east we will end up at the peak of this, this, or this. if we come out on the middle one, there will be a flat area. if we come out on the eastern one, there will be a checkpoint. if the thing we come out on doesn't have either of those two things, we will know that we are probably on this peak over here and although that is not near where we want to be,we will at least be able to make decisions about where to go next based on information instead of guesses.

the view from here.
we come up on the peak and we do not find a bag. we do not find a flat area. we know it is bad news, but at least now we have a good idea of where we are.

the point where the lines converge was our location.
 and then we see a light place ahead of us and we go there to see if there is some kind of lookout from which we can take compass readings on any two identifiable mountains.

it takes some doing, because it is hands-and-feet-climbing but we end up on a small rock just over a sharp drop and we cling to the least slippery spot and start sighting and measuring things.

hooray for having brought a map protractor! hooray for having made a little string thing to draw lines over distance! hooray for carrying a spotting scope!

because now we know where we are.

the tricky bit is that the terrain between where we are and where we want to be is so rough and we have lost SO much time that the sensible thing for us to do at this point is to go down the least steep part of the hill, where the terrain will be less likely to kill us, which then puts us in a place where the fastest way to ANYWHERE we want to go is simply to go back via the start to the first transition area, skipping a number of control points.

our new plan is to head by the easiest terrain roughly west and downhill until we run into the stream and then follow the stream back to the road.

and we're doing just that and i say to barb "hang on. i just want to look over this stream bank on the off chance there's going to be a bag" and there was CP2, just sitting there.

"really?!!?", barb says.
"i kid you dafuq not. we have found the second bag."

now, for the first time all morning, we know EXACTLY where we are and we can take a good bearing and we think maybe we can get CP3 on the way over to the transition, but we decide to have lunch before we really think too hard about it.

barb checks her phone to see if race management has sent us a text asking where we are.

they have not.

it is noon. we have spent seven hours on this. after we eat, we decide that we do not wish to spend any more time on this mountain and that we would just as well head down to the transition and pick up our boat.

the race officials cheer mightily when they see us come; they have begun to worry about us. one of them has run some trail looking for us. they have sent us a text (just after the last time we checked) and they are happy to know we are ok and happy
to send us on our way.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

while you're asleep

while you're asleep your body repairs itself in ways it does not when you are awake.

i'm going to be sleeping a lot today.


Saturday, August 17, 2013

while i'm out

yay. if everything went according to plan i left the house before 0400 this morning and am now in hour two of my race.

i won't be live blogging it.

in the meantime, you should go watch this incredible vimeo movie, and you should watch it in full screen.

you should also go to the guy's webpage, where he lists all the buildings and  shows the stills he used to make the movie and oh, my goodness, there is a MAP!

go on, scoot.

Friday, August 16, 2013

tomorrow is race day

tomorrow is race day and i am more frightened of it than ever. is is not possible now for me to get more in shape, or be more prepared.

all i can do is rest my joints so i go into it healed up as best i can and check and recheck my gear, practice with it, practice my basic trig, practice measuring map distance.

i am getting up now at four to be used to it, because tomorrow at the venue they will be announcing what the first discipline will be at 0415. at 0430 will be the team meeting. at 0445 they will hand out the maps.

at 0500 the race will start and we will find out where we are going and exactly how scary it will be.

today i will do the last of the food preparation. i will pack the foods in bags and such and portion them out so i can give barb her food to carry.

the last of the gear will be assembled and packed for tomorrow so all i'll have to do when i wake up is dash out the door.

in a twelve hour race you burn a insane amount of calories, so what i have made to bring with us (and that does not include barb's stash of  gels and such) is:

logan bread, a famously dense and nutritious bread invented for backpacking, baked as mini muffins for convenient race eating
banana bread, baked as mini muffins
savory oatmeal cookies
blueberry muffins, baked small

i have also made a batch of soy sauce eggs, which will provide some midday protein and salt, and the sandwiches i'm making for lunch are roasted sweet potatoes and mushrooms with caramelized onions and pesto in a spinach wrap.

i am also bringing (barb does not know this) two king size snickers bars, because friends of mine who have raced these big adventure races tell me that at some point in the race you are so drained and sad that you NEED a candy bar. you need the sugars and you want a TREAT, dammit.

i also have some little tablets to drop into water bottles for a replenishment drink. because electrolytes.

my dinner for tonight is already made, and bedtime is EARLY.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

open letter to the lady on the horse

dear lady riding a horse in rush hour traffic in williston village,

well done.

we all know that horses are permitted to be ridden on most roads (horses, bicycles, and pedestrians are forbidden from travel on restricted roads), and many of us know that in addition to the statute permitting horse traffic on the roads, many (but not all) of us are familiar with the additional requirement that the vehicle (car, bicycle, horse) be UNDER CONTROL.

yes, people who ride on governor chittenden road, i'm looking at you.

until yesterday afternoon i had never seen anyone actually ride a horse on the road in traffic, unless you count riding a back road, and while often these back road horsemen are totally fine, too often i encounter people riding out of control, skittish horses IN THE WRONG LANE  ON A PUBLIC ROAD.

people who ride on governor chittenden road, i am looking at you.


but there you were, lady riding a horse in rush hour traffic in williston village, sitting a calm animal waiting your turn patiently at the four way stop even with traffic backed up all the way to the police station.

and on the other side of the intersection i was behind you in traffic when you signaled left not just properly, but also in a way that indicated to me that both you and your horse knew what you were doing, and also that you both were making sure i was paying attention, because you looked me right in the eye before actually taking the whole lane and i'm pretty sure i got a good look from the horse, too.

he is neither stupid nor flighty.

anyway, well done.

see you on the road.

love, flask

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

the reasons why

i've had a lot of time recently to think really hard about WHY i am doing this race, the bitter pill.

you get a lot of time to think while you are out training, and a lot of time to consider it when you are practicing with all your gear.

i think i have written before about the feeling of mastery in this world, and how we all need to feel that. we all need to feel that we can manage in an emergency, that we are prepared for whatever comes, that we are resourceful and capable.

this is a fundamental need, but it manifests in us in different ways.

for me, it manifests in ways that echo survival skills. i like to forage wild foods and i like to do a lot of things old style and when i make jams with wild fruit old-style with no packaged pectin i think "this is how they used to do it." and wen my egg lady shows me her crock of "winter eggs" she says 'this is how they used to do it" and i am all full of admiration because i love my modern conveniences, but by golly i NEED to know that i could survive without them.

i need to be able to find my way outside. i need to be able to find things. i need to know what i can eat, where to find water, how to make shelter. i need to know that i can travel from place to place under stress and carrying gear.

so this race, a skills-based race, is a lovely recreational way to do that. we don't know what the course will be, or how long it will be. we only know that we will travel by land and water, on foot, on bike, and by boat. we know that sometimes there will be trails or roads we can use and sometimes not.

it is going into the unknown and meeting whatever challenges come.

so for me it's less a race and more just an opportunity to go out and meet surprise challenges. my favorite part when people see me training or preparing and ask about the race is not when they ask what activities are involved, but when they ask what distance will be covered.

because we don't know.

i have formed some guesses about where the race will go, but they are only guesses based on what terrain features i think the organizers are likely to use and how they might connect.

my guesses sound like well, first it'll go down the cross vermont trail into jonesville by bike and then up to gillett pond for the swim and then somehow to beaudry's store and across to honey hollow road and then down to the river to return to wiliston by boat and either bike or foot travel. or maybe it goes up the BVAR and over ricker and down cotton brook to the reservoir with a swim to the boats and a paddle down to little river state park.

go ahead. get out your map. i'm not showing you mine. if you want to play course sleuth, that's your lookout, but you get to do your own darn homework.

today is a light day for me.

it is wednesday of race week, and i am resting my knees.

today i will practice my basic trig, my map reading, some knot tying, and caramelize a mess of onions because i am the team provisioner. i have made the teams breads and cookies designed for nutrition and portability. i am making the team lunches.

my teammate is in charge of the gels and energy things and i'm in charge of the actual food.

later on i will tell you what's on the menu, because while we don't know how far this race will take us, we can be pretty sure it will take about twelve hours which means we will be burning insane amounts of calories and when you do that you have to stay topped up.

speaking of which, the sun is rising and it's time for snack because i've been up for two hours and i get like that.

maybe i will put on water for the eggs. maybe i will start cooking the onions.
the day is young and there are a lot of possibilities.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

in a jam

sometimes i'm a crappy friend. i never call or write to ask how you are and i often go months happily without talking to anyone outside of people i happen to see when i go out. i do not habitually remember birthdays or anniversaries and actively avoid party invitations, even though i enjoy most of the parties i go to.

but yesterday i woke up and after a while i decided that the perfect thing to do in preparation for saturday's race would be to get in my boat and paddle a section of the winooski river that i suspect is part of the course.

it's a lot easier to go do that if you have someone to go with so you can leave a chase vehicle at the takeout. and really the perfect person for me to bring along on this project is my friend barb who will be my teammate saturday, only she's at work by the time she reads the email i sent her at about  0615.

she thinks it would be an awesome idea, but of course her boat is at home and it will take her an hour and a half at least to go there and get her boat, so i just asked why don't *i* just go over to your house and load your boat on my car and she was doubtful i could do it myself but i'm a brute so i went there and got her boat and then i scouted the possible put ins and take outs and looked real hard at those rapids and then i came home and because barb will be coming straight from work without benefit of having eaten, i made sammidges.

i make good sammidges. today's secret ingredient is currant jelly.

the sammidge is turkey and swiss with mustard and currant jelly in a spinach wrap with carrots and wilted kale. it is kale from my egg lady, and currant jelly i made last week with currants from egg lady's garden.

and then because i was feeling ambitious, i made blueberry jam. i make small batch freezer jams, which is all of the goodness and none of the hassle of canning, plus a whole batch is only two to five of those teeny little jars, so you never have too much jam and you can keep a wide assortment of flavors.

i make mine a little on the sticky side, because i like to work old-style with only the naturally-occurring pectin, and if i need extra pectin i boil up some apple peels i have saved just for the purpose.

yes, really. i have a bag of apple peels in my freezer, and i can do that because i am using feral apples that never see a fertilizer or pesticide, so the skins are pretty decent, barring whatever crap just falls from the sky, but you get that everywhere.

anyway, you have to cook jams down to a little higher temperature if you want it to gel if you're trying to go for either naturally occurring pectin or reduced sugar, so your choices are usually either slightly runnier or slightly stickier, because that's how pectin and sugar work.

but it's jam, not a delicate panna cotta, so as long as i can spread it on toast or put it in thumbrint cookie, i'm happy. two ingredients: fruit and sugar.

i brought some for barb.

Monday, August 12, 2013

long live the king!

monarch butterflies are in trouble.

the biggest problem is roundup-ready crops in the midwest, followed by logging in the butterflies' winter grounds in mexico, but they have encountered rough weather this spring and summer and there are few of them to be seen.

last week on vermont public radio i heard a show where the vt center for ecostudies is asking people to report even single monarch sightings, so i am.

i have seen five of them this year.

do you remember when they were everywhere?

do you remember monsanto telling us that roundup ready crops were going to be good for everybody? and that they couldn't possible escape?

oh, wait. this wasn't supposed to be a post about a huge corporation trying to control the world's food supply for enormous profit; it was supposed to be about the dwindling monarch population but oddly the two concepts are linked.

anyway, the bad news is that monarchs are in more distress this year than biologists had anticipated. the good news, however, is that because they are insects, they have the capability of bouncing back very quickly if they get some lucky breaks.

they will need some good weather and good nutrition.

help 'em out if you can, and report 'em if you see 'em.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

a visit with my egg lady

king with one of the ducks
i have mentioned my egg lady before.

wednesday i made nice fresh bread and those awesome oatmeal cookies, so i had fresh to take my egg lady and i wanted to take it when it was fresh because that's when it's best.

i went thursday morning and she didn't have a full dozen eggs to spare, but she had a half dozen and sent me with some kale and two cucumbers fresh off the vine -and by fresh off the vine i mean we went to the greenhouse and she picked them.

homer and chicks
also i got a quart of blueberries which i picked myself, and egg lady and her husband were picking currants, so i helped with that and got some of those, too.

it was a pleasant way to spend an hour in a garden without having any actual responsibility for the garden.

while we were picking currants they found a caterpillar they couldn't identify and instead of just killing it on suspicion of being a pest, they went and offered it to a chicken.

while i was picking blueberries, i heard these little peeping noises and i looked over to see homer (a laying hen with kind of housepet status) wandering around with three new chicks that she adopted and hatched out when the guinea hen who laid them stepped off the nest and decided not to come back.

he's watching. and he doesn't approve.
so they're imprinted on homer and the hen who laid them wanders around the yard and doesn't particularly care.

king, on the other hand, observes you closely when you are there.

he's the gander.

he watches everything you do, and he does not really approve. it's ok if you walk on the paths, but if you touch anything he will hiss at you and peck at you, even if the thing you touch is your own bag you just set down for a minute.

i have a lovely cucumber salad and some nice fresh currant jelly. later on i will have blueberry jam and some blueberry muffins.

mmm, tasty.


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