Sunday, December 09, 2012

Lake Raymond Gary

It's official. I'm unemployed. In mid-November, I gave up a great job with wonderful people in Tulsa to pursue my dream of travel nursing. Turkey Mountain and I will share a mourning period as we grow accustomed to life without one another. Currently, I'm spending some down time in McCurtain County with friends and family, not in a big hurry to rush off to my first assignment. The life of a sloth suits me well.

Clinton was kind enough to lend me his fifth-wheel travel trailer to call home while I'm here.  I drove to Lake Raymond Gary park to survey the lay of the land.  The park was sparsely populated.  I paid for the week, and then arranged for Clinton to pull the camper up.

view from my front door

What followed was seven days of absolute leisure. My sister and niece stayed a couple of nights, replaced soon by Cayman and the Slademan.  We fished, played endless card games, and ate really bad food. I managed to get in one long bike ride, but otherwise fulfilled my quota of slothful activities such as reading, napping, stargazing, moon-gazing, and sometimes just staring absently into space, David Puddy style.

Slade, 11

Cayman, now six years old, graced me with his presence for only one night. He still likes to remain within clutching distance of Mom when the sun goes down. A few tears were shed during the night, but he was back to his usual self by morning. He accompanied Slade and I on a bike outing the next day around the park. We stopped at the playground, where I was forced to push the merry-go-round for an excruciating amount of time, while they screamed with delight and shouts of faster, faster! I was allowed to rest only after Slade was overcome with motion sickness. He decided to ride slowly back to the camper, while Cayman and I continued our bike tour together.
Cayman - never without gloves.

We stopped to climb rocks and find fossils (the ground is littered with them), then resumed our tour. As we pushed our bikes up a hill, Cayman shared his thoughts with me.
“I can't ride up a big hill like this yet, but Steve Peat could. He could just ride right up this hill like it was nothing. So could Cam McCaul. They can ride anything!”

You must understand that, between his father and me, this poor child is delusional and corrupted beyond reason. Since I like bikes and hoped to foster his interest in the same, I've plied him with mountain bike videos since he was a baby. His favorites are Seasons and Roam, in which Steve Peat, Cam McCaul, and other young men perform ridiculous feats on mountain bikes.

I had the opportunity to meet Steve Peat and Cam McCaul in person in Las Vegas one year. Of course I had my photo taken with them, Grandma groupie that I am. Those photos have spurred repeated requests from Cayman to “take me where those mountain bike guys are”.

Then his father presented him with a mountain bike video game where he is able to ride in virtual reality, performing great feats on the bike - jumping, flipping, and crashing to his heart's content without consequence. These events have proved a dangerous combination for a six-year-old. Now, when he sees a mound of dirt, he immediately begins planning ways he can jump it. I foresee many broken bones in this boy's future. Time with him is a far cry from time spent with Slade playing chess, reading books, and thinking up ways to get rich quick. Time with Cayman is pure movement. No time for discussions or the grass may grow underfoot.

So here I am with this child, on this hill, with the rocky ground sloping steeply away on the right, and he turns to me and says, “I'm going to ride down that!”

This is where the audio and visual input from the last few years collide. He's seen what Steve and Cam can do on bikes. He's done it on video games. Therefore, in his mind, he truly believes himself capable of the same. I felt it was now my duty to educate him.

“I don't think you're quite ready for that yet,” I told him.
“But I can. I can ride right through there and jump over that...,” he pointed for emphasis.
“Well, your bike is not really made for that kind of riding,” I advised.
He wasn't listening. He was too busy dragging his bike to the side of the road, pointing it downhill. There was a dangerously determined look in his eye.

I decided to limit the damage. I pointed out a good line, grabbed his seat, and we stumbled down the hill together. I managed to keep him from killing himself, without crippling myself in the process, and he seemed pleased enough with the result. A little esteem-building never hurt anyone, right?

I pushed his bike back up to the road and he immediately eyed the ground above us on the other side of the road.
“I could ride down that, too,” he exclaimed excitedly. I looked it over. It was much less steep and rocky. I guessed that I could let him actually ride down that one alone and learn his lesson without severe injury.

I helped him get in position and pointed out the line he needed to take. This slope went down into a shallow ditch, ending in a short upturn before letting out onto the road. I tried to give him hints and tips, such as remembering to keep his weight back and to use his brakes, which he has not quite conquered yet. He favored the Flintstone technique, applying both feet firmly to the ground until he either came to a bumpy standstill or crashed and burned.

“Now remember to use your brakes,” I urged. “Your brakes. Show me how you use your brakes.”
He made a cursory, disinterested, back-pedal braking motion with his feet and then torpedoed downhill. What followed was confusing display of bouncing feet, arms, wheels, and dust. The final result was Cayman being pitched unceremoniously onto the road. No true injuries were evident, but the six-year-old tears ensued for a short time.

Well, at least he learned his lesson without real injury. I considered the matter closed. He was soon back on his bike and we rode along, stopping occasionally to collect more rocks. Rock collecting is his forte. He is quite the rock connoisseur. His collection is vast, forcing his mother to require that all rocks be deposited in a special place outside the house, under the kitchen window. He stood now on a large rock, the size of a watermelon.
“Look at this rock, Tammy.”
“Yes, that's a really nice one,” I agreed.
He sighed. “I wish it would fit in my pocket,” he said sadly.
Yeah, your mother would love that one, I thought.
We picked up a few more as he surveyed the surrounding terrain.
Suddenly he cried out, “Hey, I think I could ride that!”

I quickly got him back on the bike and pointed him toward the camper before he could actually put his latest plan into action. This child will require close supervision in the years to come.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Turkey Day Solo

This morning, I woke up determined to catch up on housework, homework, laundry, mail, and basically everything I’ve been ignoring for days, maybe weeks.  By the way, if you haven’t received a reply regarding your Facebook message, email, text, or phone call, be assured that I have a sticky note on my desk with your name on it.
My good intentions took a nosedive as soon as I opened the front door to take out the trash.  What a beautiful day.  No, make that Capital Letter, Underlined, Beautiful Day!  The temperature was perfect, the sun shining, and a steady breeze carrying the faintest scent of autumn.  This was just too good to pass up.  I can do housework on rainy days, I argued with myself.  I didn’t have to argue long….myself didn’t put up much of a fight.
I grabbed my mountain bike, all my gear, tossed the trash in the dumpster as I passed by, and pedaled happily toward Turkey Mountain.
Riding alone at Turkey Mountain is not something I do very often anymore.  And I usually let everyone else map out the route.  To me, there are just too many choices.  I’m like a kid in a candy store.  I want to go here…no there…and I want that too, I can’t decide!  So on the way over today, I tried to mentally work out where I would ride.  By the time I reached TM, I still hadn’t come up with a plan.  So I decided to just see where I landed.
The first place I tackled was the newest trail with the tabletop jumps.  I had ridden this once with Sharon, and it was time to try again.  I locked out my rear suspension and dropped in.  The first couple of jumps are usually pretty sketchy, but as I get warmed up they get better.  I like the table tops because you have a sort of safety net.  And I need that safety net.  But on a 29’er, I feel like a Clydesdale in a steeplechase in that section.
I came out on the bike path, crossed over to ride Lo Chi, and then climbed to the top of Turkey.  I decided to ride Tree Hugger, since I needed to work on my cornering.  Tree Hugger is just the place to do it.  It’s a slightly downhill single-track, curving its way through turn after turn with trees hugging the trail all the way down.  The ride back up is an easy, gradual climb, making this the perfect place to practice my turns.  I am determined to put the Squid nickname behind me.  I want a nickname that signifies determination…perseverance…speed….recklessness.  Anything but Squid!
I rode Tree Hugger five or six times, getting braver and faster each time.  Deciding to stop while I was ahead, I moved on to Millennium, the North end of Hi Chi, then on to Jelly Legs.  I popped out on the Snake and made my way back toward the parking lot, looking for the trail that Sharon had told me about, a trail that bisects the Snake.  Sure enough, I found it and rode through.  I couldn’t believe I had never noticed this trail before.  Very sweet and fast.  This would be a great one for the Slademan to ride when he comes to visit, if I can pull him away from a book. 
Soon it was back to the parking lot and onto the paved path home.  Man, I felt so much better after getting out for the day!  Time for a shower!  While pedaling along on the ride back, I concluded that mountain biking is like taking a mental shower.  Forget the water, soap, and shampoo.  Rinse your mind in adrenaline, and scrub your worries away with a little fear and exhilaration!
Now to catch up on at least one or two things, and then get ready for my Swing Dance lesson tonight! Fun, Fun! 

Disappointment and Anticipation

I had to work on Sunday, so I didn't get to race.  But winter night rides are beginning soon and that should provide plenty of entertainment!  Headlamps, mountain bikes, rocks, and trees.  Roll the dice, baby!!
My friend, Sharon won the race so congratulations for her first win!!  She thanked me profusely for not showing up.  LOL!  She claimed her new glasses caused her to hit a tree.  And this photo is hilarious proof.  Yes, that's a tree branch hanging out of her bike shorts!

And congrats to her son, the Mac Attack, for his first win.  Look for him in the pros some day.  He is awesome.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Tuesday morning began like any normal day.  I did a pretty mean home weight workout, and then received a call from my #1 riding buddy Sharon.

        “Want to ride the race course at Keystone today?”  Since I was still pretty revved by my morning workout, I readily agreed.   “Sure!  Come pick me up on your way.”  Enthusiasm should always win out over common sense, in my opinion. 

A mountain bike race would be at Keystone this weekend and I had missed riding the course with the LunaChix earlier in the week, so pre-riding the course today wouldn’t be a bad idea.  I’m still not sure if I’ll be available on race day, but just in case…
        We loaded my bike in the van and drove out to Keystone trail.  After riding Turkey Mountain so often, this would be a welcome change, I thought.  Plus, Sharon informed me that they were omitting the “expert” loop from the race.  Sweeeeet!

We began the first lap with Sharon setting the pace.  The first sections were not too bad, although there were several tight turns.  Sharp, slow turns are my weakest point on the mountain bike.  I will volunteer to go over, up, or down almost anything, but don’t ask me to do a tight turn, especially if sand is anywhere in sight.  I made the unfortunate mistake of confessing my weakness to the guys at the Trek store recently.    Jeff immediately offered a little trivia on the subject of turning.
        “Do you know that squids can’t turn?  They can only go in straight lines,” he informed me.   I still don’t know if that’s true, but Devon jumped in immediately and officially declared that I would hereby be known as “Squid”.  Great!  Remind me never to confide in those guys again.

So the first section I could use some practice on.  But the best was yet to come.  One of the first of many hurdles we encountered was a dry creek crossing, followed immediately by a technical uphill climb.  Sharon was unsuccessful on the first attempt, as was I.  So we walked our bikes back, studying the possible lines for the next attempt.
Sharon and I have a tried-and-true system worked out for conquering obstacles.  She carefully studies the lay of the land, assesses the angles, and tries to figure out the best line that offers even a remote chance of success.
“I think if you went around this, then veered quickly to the right, and then up the middle, don’t fall off the cliff on that side, and make sure you get up enough speed to get your front tire over that….”  It’s brilliantly simple.  She maps it…I ride it.  So far it has worked out well. 

In fact, after once declaring a downhill section to be impossible, I noted that it had a slim possibility of success if only a certain, annoying little tree wasn't blocking my path.  She immediately wrestled the sapling to the ground and I rode the section successfully, hence our saying when faced with a difficult obstacle.  “If you’ll just hold back that tree, please….”

She mapped this one out perfectly and we were able to ride it successfully on the subsequent attempt.  Next up was a really tough one…a very narrow gap between two large boulders which would require unclipping at least one pedal to squeeze through.  Immediately following the rocks, we were faced with a rough creek crossing, then a very sharp right turn up a steep hill.   The difficulty we encountered was not being able to get clipped back in fast enough to be ready for the loose, rocky uphill climb on the other side.  After a lot of studying, I was finally able to ride it, but only by veering off the trail on the other side and sort of straightening out the turn a bit.

Obstacle three was even tougher…crossing a difficult rock garden, followed by a downhill U-turn to the right, then another rock obstacle where one really needed to be attached to one’s bike.  I finally conquered that one after several attempts by powering through the first rock garden with breath held, fingers mentally crossed, then unclipping my right foot and using it to maintain balance on the turn.  I had to get clipped back in quickly, though, to get over the next few rocks.  Whew!  This is the course without the ‘expert’ loop?  I do not want to see the expert loop anytime soon!

One more difficult spot awaited us…a long, technical climb that required what I call, “just gutting it out”.  Concentrate on turning the pedals, staying upright, moving forward, and letting the chips fall where they may.  There was only one rock on the climb that neither of us conquered, but we figured a little adrenaline on race day would probably provide the solution.

We arrived back at the parking lot and decided to do a second loop.  This time we knew where the most difficult spots were and would try to be better prepared mentally.  We joked that we should post warning signs before each tough section.  At the most challenging spot?  Maybe just a picture of praying hands.
So now my goal is to find a coworker willing to switch days with me.  And that may prove more challenging than any bike ride!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Warrior Dash 2011

Today was the day!  Warrior Dash had finally arrived.  My mountain biking buddy, Sharon, had talked me into yet another crazy event and now all those weeks days hours minutes of training were going to pay off.  After all, I had run at least one mile, maybe two, in preparation for this outrageous event.  I was ready!  Besides, who could stay indoors on a beautiful day like this?  Our friend Lisa had bailed on us for a real race, so it was just the two of us today.

Our attire was a result of a last minute trip to the Salvation Army store.  For a mere $17, we had all our disposable clothing and we were ready to go.  We met at my house and rode our bikes to Turkey Mountain, saving the $10 shuttle fee and a certain attack of motion sickness for me, I’m sure.
The Turkey Mountain parking lot had been transformed.  Live music, beer, and lots of sights to see.  Some were so wrong…

And some were just right!
We took our obligatory before photo, fresh and ready to run.  This was going
to be a blast!  We were in the 12:30 start wave, and took our places in the crowd.  After what seemed an eternity, a enormous plume of flames shot into the sky ahead of us, and we began to slowly move forward.   After following the paved bike for a bit, we turned into the woods and onto the mountain bike trail.

We decided early to drop to the back of the pack.  This would enable us to take pictures and goof around without holding anyone up.  At least, we said it was a conscious decision.  Maybe we decided as we dropped back.  Either way, getting to the back of this pack was almost impossible.  There were some seriously out-of-shape people in this fun crowd.  For the first mile, we listened to the extremely labored breathing of a woman directly behind us.  We tried moving ahead of her or dropping behind her, but somehow she kept turning up near us again, literally breathing down our necks.
Our first obstacle was the Road Rage, a collection of junk cars and old tires.  We grunted and groaned our way up and over the cars and through the tires, heart rates increasing with every step.  Wow.  This was a full body workout. 

Barricades & Barbed Wire
Next up were the barricades, alternating with barbed wire fences.  The race site had optimistically instructed that you hurdle the barricades and crawl under the fences.  I think “hurdle” was a bit too strong to describe my technique.  The first few might have had vague hints of a hurdle, but by the third one, it could better be described as a pathetic slither.  And if you haven’t crawled under a barbed-wire fence in a while, let me tell you, it’s not as easy as it once was.
Rubber Ricochet

The Rubber Ricochet wasn’t too bad since we didn’t have a lot of people swing the tires at us.  However, that didn’t seem to help Sharon stay on course.  Of course, nothing does…

The Cliffhanger was next.  Described as rappelling down a steep ravine on the website, a slight alteration in plan had developed. We were actually rappelling up the ravine.  Fortunately, it really couldn’t be described as steep.   That was an easy one.  No sweat.  We then turned left onto the Lo Chi trail.  Sharon and I are very familiar with this terrain from a mountain bike perspective.   But today it didn’t seem to flow quite like it did when you were attached to the pedals.
Chaotic Crossover

By now, we were back in sync with the gasping woman again.  I gained a little reassurance when I saw the medics up ahead.  At least help was nearby if she needed it.  Because up ahead was the first challenge with some real teeth to it—the Chaotic Crossover.  An elevated platform with cargo netting stretched across.  What made this an awkward crossing was that as you were stepping down, someone else nearby was also putting weight on the ropes, causing a seesaw motion that really threw you off balance. 

After a brief rest stop for water, we began to climb up.  There was no speed involved here at all, since it was now single file.  This was more like a very crowded hike.  A very crowded steep hike.  As we passed by, a guy was off to the side of the trail. He was trying to be unobtrusive as he lost his breakfast or lunch.  Or maybe he had one of those giant turkey legs and beer before the start.  Whatever it was, he helpfully called out advice to us as we passed by.  “Know your limitations!”

I had to laugh.  If we haven’t learned them by now, it probably wasn’t going to happen.  Next up was a girl, sitting down with a couple of medics tending to her with oxygen.   We continued to the top and gratefully some level ground.
The Deadweight Drifter awaited us next.   Thank goodness it had rained recently or this could have been really bad.  Not only would we have been choking on dust up to this point, but the pond would have been so stagnant and shallow we could have walked over it.  The water was cold, though, so I had to just hold my nose and go underwater all at once.  I am still not a cold water person and slowly wading in is just torture.  This obstacle was actually a blast once you acclimated to the water.  After a post swim photo, we were off to the Cargo Climb.

The Cargo Climb was just too much fun.  We lingered there to take a few more photos.  Next up were the Deadman’s Drop and the Giant Cliffhanger.  Neither of these lived up to their names, although I did see a girl take an amusing tumble from the Cliffhanger.  But she was OK, no damage done.

The route then took us down the trail known as the Lip Buster.  At the bottom, Muddy Mayhem!  A pit full of mud!  How much more fun can you get?  I managed to get in a great slide and then mimicked swimming across the rest.  Had I know this area was being broadcast on a giant screen in the parking lot, I might have taken a more ladylike approach.   I could have stayed here all day!  We emerged onto pavement again, with a huge crowd behind the ropes, watching the action.   They were all so clean!  And here I was, standing in an inch of slimy mud.  I stomped my foot down firmly and watched the mud splatter a few in the front.  That got such a response that I pretended to slide my foot to throw mud over everyone.  I didn’t, but judging by their cheers, I think they would have enjoyed it.

Finally, the Warrior Roast.  I attempted to snap a photo of Sharon jumping over the flames, but didn’t time it right.  By now my camera was so dirty that I couldn’t see the screen, it was point, shoot, and hope for the best.
After rinsing off, we picked up our belongings and made our way to the beer tent for our free beer.  I hate beer, but since I had officially earned this, I was required to drink it.  We milled about a bit longer, then grabbed our bikes and headed back.

This was a great event.   I would highly recommend it for the sheer fun factor.  But if you want to place better than we did, don’t stop to goof around and take pictures.  We placed 3049th and 3053rd out of about 7500 entrants.  Yes, while I was graciously entertaining the troops and taking photos, Sharon deviously passed me in the ranks.  No wonder she had that smirk on her face as she jumped the fire!

Making her break for the finish line

Monday, December 28, 2009

I'm Famous...sorta.

Today I received the following message from Nuno in Portugal.

Hi Tammy,

How was Xmas???

Remember that funny picture?? It's on 2010 A2Z - Adventures catalog.......

Check it out on this link!

Hope you have a great new years....



I clicked on the link and sure enough, page 15 of the A2Z Adventures brochure revealed me pulling Deanna on a 'historical bike trailer'. I had to laugh out loud when I saw it. I remember that day so well. And how that particular photo almost never came to be.

That trip to Portugal was wonderful in so many ways. Not only for the scenery and the challenging bike rides, but also because we had such a personal tour. Our guided tour was of the historical villages. Each day we rode from one ancient castle site to the next while our luggage was transported for us. A large group had also booked the week with us, but they canceled at the last minute. That left only me and Deanna, the only two clients for the entire week trip! Nuno would ride with us every day, pointing out the sites, while Felipa would transport our luggage and provide support along the way.

Nuno leads all sorts of tours all over the world. His quick smile, twinkling eyes, and devilish sense of humor makes him an intriguing companion. He educated us along the way on customs of the land, along with everything we encountered. There didn't seem to be anything of which he wasn't knowledgeable.

Felipa was more quiet, soft spoken, but just as quick. Her English was not quite as good as Nuno's, but we easily understood her. And she set the meanest picnic table in all of Portugal, I'm sure.

On that particular day, Nuno, Deanna, and I were riding along a quiet country lane when we came upon a quaint little cart sitting beside the road. I glanced at Deanna to find her glancing at me.

"Oh, we have to," I said. "It's our duty to take that picture!" We explained to Nuno that we wanted to stage a photo with the cart. But he wasn't too keen on the idea.

"If that cart is parked here, you can bet that the farmer is nearby," he explained. "I don't think he would be too happy if he caught us playing with his farm equipment."

We made a half-hearted attempt to talk him into it, but he remained reluctant. I was a bit disappointed, but willing to defer to his judgment. I could understand that he was responsible for us and, in part, for our actions on this trip. Cavorting through the countryside, trespassing and commandeering local farm equipment for his client's entertainment might not be the best image to project. So I just took a photo of the cart, remounted my bike and began pedaling away. I hadn't gone far when they called out.

"Tammy, come back!" Deanna shouted. Evidently Nuno had changed his mind. He was waging an inner battle between keeping his customers happy and not upsetting the locals. He stated that he would take the photo for us while keeping an eye out for the missing farmer. He urged us to be quick, so we took our places and he snapped this photo...

"One more," we begged. From a slightly different angle in order to include more of the rock fence. This is the one they used in the brochure...

"Ok, Tammy, but look like you're really pulling hard..." Nuno instructed. He was beginning to warm up to this idea...

"Ok, now Deanna, you get in front, and Tammy, you lie down, just taking it easy..." Nuno was really getting into his director's role. The mystery farmer was becoming a distant memory.

"Ok, now we'll do one with all of us," he decided. Now he was director and actor! He set the camera up, instructed us on proper form, and jumped into the photo. I was laughing so hard I could barely sit upright! I think this one should have been in the brochure! This is classic Nuno!!

If anyone is thinking of a tour anywhere in the world, I would check out A2Z Adventures before anyone else. And if you happen to end up with Nuno and Felipe, consider yourself very lucky indeed!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Wichita Weekend: Plan B

Last month, Teressa and I made plans to meet in the Wichita Mountains at Camp Doris for a relaxing weekend.  A meteor shower was approaching and we had hopes that, although we were early, we could still spot an occasional shooting star.

I had phoned my friend, Ed, to inform him that I was heading his way.  I wasn't sure if our schedules and interests would mesh, since Teressa was bringing friends with her, but he could always stop by for a visit.

I drove into the Refuge and soon came upon three riders...

It was Ed and two of his riding buddies, Tom and Mario! We stopped and chatted for a while. I told Ed that I would determine my schedule with Teressa and see what we could do. At the very least, we could go grab a bite to eat together.

I arrived at Camp Doris to find that Teressa had gone home already. Evidently, we had crossed our wires somewhere. And this time we were both blonde. I thought that she was staying a day longer. She thought I was coming a day earlier. So as I was driving in, she was driving out!
When I found that Teressa had already gone, I immediately phoned Ed and informed him that it was now his sole duty to entertain me for the next day or two.

"Well, we're sitting around drinking wine and eating peanuts," he told me. "We'll save you some peanuts. Come on over!"

Ed has a small cabin near Lake Lawtonka in Medicine Park. A carpenter by trade, he built the cabin himself. It is so cute! We sat around drinking wine from a box (my favorite), eating peanuts, and discussing everything under the sun. They were surprised to learn that I was inclined to lean toward a liberal view of things, particularly politics and religion. Everyone always seems to be amazed by this. Even Ed seemed surprised. "Considering where you're from..," they always add. I'm never quite sure what that phrase means.

So I asked, "What do you mean by that?"
"Well, I don't know," Ed stammered, "Idabel just seems like it wouldn't produce many liberals or open-minded people."
"We do have to keep a low profile," I told him. "But we exist quietly, in the shadows. And I don't think Idabel is quite what you imagine."
Tom looked around the room.
"Wait a minute.  That makes four liberals - in one small room - at the same time - in Oklahoma." he observed. "I expect the National Guard to break the door down any moment."
We all laughed, but I noticed several uneasy glances at the door.

"All right, time to make plans for tomorrow!" I decided.
We discussed possibilities. I didn't bring any bikes, thinking that I would be with Teressa and her gang, so biking was out. That left hiking...
"I still want to find that cave up on Elk Mountain," I told them.
"Oh, you like caves?" Tom asked. He went on to tell me of a cave that we could visit the next day. I learned that Tom is the foreman of a huge ranch in the area. A transplanted Englishman, he loves his Queen and tea. He's also quite a storyteller, one of those people who remember almost everything they read...facts, numbers, everything. And something about his voice, that was vaguely familiar...

"It was you! You left a message on my phone one time!" I said. "Something about 'polishing canoes' and 'fishing'!" I remembered now - I had spoken to him before while talking to Ed on the phone. I learned that this was when I received most of my phone calls from Ed, while they were sitting around in smelly bike clothes, drinking wine and eating peanuts.  Yes, that's when they thought of me! How endearing! I feel so loved!

In fact, they told me that they made many phone calls while drinking wine after bike rides. The most recent was to a televangelist.  Tom called to make inquiries about his upcoming fortune.
"I've sent you all me money," he had told them. "And now I'm just wonderin' when me fortune will start rolling in. The children are gettin' hungry..." Oh brother! I think they have the televangelist on speed dial and call him often. It seems to be their preferred form of entertainment.

The next day I arrived at Ed's and we drove over to Tom's place. He insisted that we have a cup 'o tea before we leave. This was the best tea I've ever had. It's called Builder's Tea and, according to Tom, it is the only tea to drink. It comes in strange little triangular bags and must be steeped an exact amount of time at an exact temperature. I can't remember all the rules, but the result was an excellent cup of tea!

I also learned that we would be doing chores before visiting the cave. First we had to feed and water the cows. Tom used a tractor to load a monstrous bale of hay onto the back of the truck, while his dogs watched closely. You could see that they were eager to go somewhere...anywhere.

"You should see how Tom has these dogs trained," Ed told me. Sure enough, if Tom told them to stay, they would lie down and not move a muscle. But those eyes would be watching his every move. When he gave the signal, they would jump up, happy to be moving again.

"He once put a piece of steak on that dog's nose and told him not to eat it," he said. "We went in the house and came out quite a while later and that dog was still sitting there with that steak on his nose!" I was impressed. I worked with Dumpster some and had him trained to sit, but I don't know if he would ever have done the steak thing. It was easy to see, though, that Tom loved his animals, even though they were obviously working dogs too. However, they would not be coming along on this trip.We made a short detour to one of the barns to look at Tom's airplane, a work in progress. It was beautiful indeed. I also drooled a bit over his time trial bike - very nice!

Soon we were on our way to feed the cows. According to Tom, these were heifers who had their first calf this year. He drove that truck across terrain that had me gritting my teeth. That is one tough truck! We finally arrived on top of a ridge looking down at the cows below. The sound of petulant mooing wafted up to us.

"Hang on, girls, I'm coming!" Tom yelled out to them. We drove down a seemingly impassable road to the watering trough below. Then I was put into the driver's seat to creep along while Tom and Ed threw the hay off the back. When the truck was empty, we stopped to admire our handiwork. A small group of cows and calves stood nearby, watching us warily.

Tom turned to me and grinned. "I also have these cows trained," he bragged, eyes twinkling. "They will kneel down on their front legs at my command."
Now this I would have to see to believe.
"I've never heard of anyone training cows," I said skeptically. Ed shrugged and raised his eyebrows as if to say "I have no idea". Tom turned slowly toward the group of wary cattle. Their eyes watched him closely, bodies tense.

"Okay, girls," he spoke to them softly, moving very slowly with hand raised. "We've been working on this. I want you to all kneel together. But only on the count of three. Just like we practiced. No premature knee-bending now, girls. I want to be proud of you...." He continued speakingsoftly to them, barely keeping a straight face or the laughter out of his voice. Their large cow eyes were studying him, transfixed. I was thinking that this guys spends waaay too much time with his cows when he suddenly threw his hands out and yelled sharply.

All the cows were so startled that their front legs went weak and buckled immediately! The effect looked like a chorus line of kneeling cows! It was the funniest thing I've seen in a long time. But then, I am easily amused!

Finally, we were off to the cave. This particular cave was on ranch property, nestled between the giant windmills that dominate the landscape north of the wildlife refuge. I've always wanted to see one of these windmills up close and this was my chance. These things are huge!

Ed and me by the windmill
We stood directly below the giant blades as they turned, listening to the eerie "whoosh" as they passed overhead. Awesome!

Tom turned the truck off the road and proceeded across the field toward a crease in the landscape. Again, the ability of this truck to navigate the rocks hidden in the tall grass was incredible. Any moment, I expected to hear a disastrous 'crunch' from under the truck, but it kept going. I just hoped we could make it out without high-centering on a boulder!

We stopped close to a barbed-wire fence, gathered all the gear, and followed Tom over to the entrance of the cave. We had been racing the clock to get here before nightfall. Hopefully, we would be able to get back out before too late. Getting out of here at night could be tricky.

Several metal rods were mounted across the opening of the cave. These were used to tie off to in order to lower yourself down. I looked over the edge into the abyss. A rock ledge protruded about 30 feet below, and beyond that, only darkness.

We could rappel down. Climbing out could be done in a pinch, but it would be difficult and dangerous. Tonight we would be winched out by Tom, who would stay above ground while Ed and I explored the cave below. Evidently, one of Tom's duties as ranch foreman was to provide guided tours to the cave.

"You guys gear up while I set up the winch," Tom instructed.
It had been a while since I had strapped myself into a climbing harness, but it quickly came back to me. As I finished, I looked up to see Ed above me, struggling to figure out where everything went. At that moment I learned that he had never rappelled before. It occurred to me that, with no prior experience, allowing your friends to tie you to a rope and drop you into a cave signifies the height of trust!

Soon enough, we were on our way! I lowered myself to the bottom, followed by Ed. Our equipment included lights and a walkie-talkie to communicate with Tom up above. We found one of the passageways that Tom had told us about earlier. It disappeared into the darkness below and I could see my light reflecting off the dark water at the bottom. According to Tom, you could dive under the water down there and come up into a secret room on the other side. It was far too cold tonight to test that theory, though.

We inspected some of the tiny bats clinging to the walls. I tried not to get too close or brush up against them, remembering that bats are frequent carriers of rabies. We also found a colorful frog, but I didn't have my camera. We slogged around for a while, and then it was time to go back up, hopefully before complete darkness. We tied back up to the ropes, one attached to the winch, the other tied to one of the iron bars above. While Tom ran the winch, we would need to keep the slack out of the rappelling rope for safety. If the winch rope failed, we would still have the rappelling rope for support.

I tied in and Ed radioed up to begin hoisting. Slowly, the rope began to tighten and I began to inch my way up the wall. I had gone about 5 feet when movement stalled. The bats were waking up and getting hungry. An occasional bat would fly past my ear, heading up into the night to feed. We had joked earlier that Tom, being English and absolutely rabid about tea times, would leave us dangling here while he went off for his evening tea.

After some radio communication, we learned this was not the case, that he was just having difficulty juggling the rope and the winch on uneven ground alone. We learned that he usually had two people performing this task. I eventually made my way back to the top, in fits and starts. I unclipped and set up to help Tom get Ed back up. It was definitely a two-man job. He explained that he had used both hands, one foot, and his teeth to get me out.

As we began pulling Ed out, Tom began telling me about riding bikes with Ed.
"We make plans to ride and I work my butt off to get finished working in time," he complained. "But if we plan to ride at 5 pm, and I arrive at 5:06, he is already gone. I have to ride like mad to catch him. He calls it tough love..."

The winch stalled and Tom's eyes were twinkling again.
"Tough love!" he called out to Ed below, who was now within hearing distance. I heard Ed yell back something about the tightness of the climbing harness and an inability to have children in the future.

Despite Tom's maniacal desire for payback, we did eventually haul Ed out of the darkness. By now, the sky had turned to dark purple, the wind had picked up, and the windmills were humming!

We quickly gathered the gear and headed back to the truck.
Driving out of the boulder-strewn field was quite an experience after dark. After several route changes, we made our way back onto the road next to the windmills. Then we made another stop at one of ranch houses on the property.

"You have to see the Spring House and see some of Ed's handiwork," Tom said. The site had once been a public swimming area in the 20's and 30's, I think. Ed had been hired to help turn the old concession stand into a vacation home for the ranch owners.

This place was fabulous. The original beams still crossed the ceiling and the effect was stunning. There are not many houses I am jealous of, but this one was beautiful. Not too big, and the back door opened onto a rock patio that overlooked the rebuilt swimming area. I could see that Ed is a talented carpenter! We hung around, drank a glass of wine, and then locked up and drove out.

Later, Tom handed me a huge bag of Builder's Tea as we were leaving his house. Free Tea is not technically free 'food', but it's close enough!

Ed offered to buy my dinner since I didn't allow Tom to inflict 'tough love' and leave him in the cave. Of course I accepted. More Free Food!  We went to a place in Medicine Park called The Old Plantation. It was built a hundred years ago as an Inn and is now a restaurant. I had Salmon and it was great.   I will certainly dine there again someday!

I returned to my tent at Camp Doris, well-fed and exhausted. After a good night's sleep, I arose to begin my drive home. Missing Teressa had been disappointing, but getting to spend the weekend with Tom and Ed was certainly a satisfying Plan B!!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Human Rule Machine

The Slademan came to visit recently, carrying a deck of cards in his hand.

"Hey, Tammy," he greeted me. "Want to play a game of cards with me?"

Cards!  I loved to play card games when I was a kid!   Slap Jack, Books, Crazy 8's. Those were some fun games.

"Sure, I'll play with you! I used to love card games," I bragged. "I was really good at Slap Jack. Do you want to shuffle or do you want me to?"
He gazed calmly at me, with something akin to pity in his eyes.
"Well," he explained patiently, palm upturned. "This is Pokemon. We don't shuffle a lot in Pokemon. Do you know how to play?"
Do I know how to play? It's a simple card game. And isn't Pokemon the name of a cartoon? How hard could it be?  I could hear the voice of Foghorn Leghorn in my head, "I say, I say, don't patronize me, son!"  I could handle this with one hand tied behind my back - especially with no shuffling!
"Let's play!" I said.

He whipped out a deck of cards, several inches tall. He gave a few, sparse instructions and doled out cards to each of us.
"OK," he offered politely. "I'll let you attack first."
"We're playing cards, right?" I inquired.
"Well, technically, we're playing Pokemon," he explained. "But it's played with cards."
I looked carefully at my cards. Each card was encrusted with instructions, facts, codes, symbols, and various numbers.
"How do I know which card to play?" I was truly puzzled. "And how do I play it?"
"Well, why don't you start by just laying down two cards, any cards."
I threw down two cards.
He studied his own pile of cards, poring over each one carefully.
"Well, since that attack doesn't do much to me, I'm going to call out one of my attacks." After more studying, he pushed my card back at me. "C shot. This one will have to retreat because my attacks are both two and three."
What the.....?
"OK, now choose two more cards," he instructed.
I chose two more and threw them down blindly.
He reached over and pushed one back at me.
"No, this one is an energy. Pick two Pokemons." He held up two fingers, like it was actually the number I was having trouble with. "Two," he repeated helpfully.
I tossed another card into the ring.
"OK, you have Ponita and Tuna." At least, it sounded like Tuna. It was far too early in the game for me to begin asking stupid questions.  
Slade looked up at me quizzically and asked, "Which one is going to be your base attacker?"

He continue to stare at me, as if he was truly expecting a reasonable answer. I stared back mutely. Finally, he took pity and pointed to the one on the left.
"This is the one that guards." Something in his voice said that guarding would be a good idea.
"Yeah, I choose this one, this guarding guy."
"OK. To make a move you can use two energies to use one jump or one energy to use sniff-out."
I closed my eyes and pointed at something.
"OK. So you use sniff-out. So flip a coin."
He magically produced a coin from his pocket, which I obediently flipped.
"OK, heads," he interpreted. "So you pick up two cards from your discard pile and you can keep one."
I put one card back into my line-up.
"Now it's my turn to attack," he informed me. He looked my cards over. "Sorry, but both your guys retreat again. All of them."
"All of these?" I asked incredulously.
"Yes, well, if your attack had two things, like lunge-out or guilty, I would have retreated, but you didn't use those attacks," he explained.
"OK, so what do I do?"
He pushed three of my cards across the table.
"All three of these have to retreat. Oh, and after you use an energy, you have to discard it too." He threw another of my cards on the discard pile. "So pick some more Pokemons."
I threw more cards on the table.
"Ok, so you have Electrode and that hard name. Mag..nem...di...con.. something..."
My cards seem to have no effect on him. He was indestructible. He played again. More retreating on my side.  Finally, it was my turn to attack again. According to him, I somehow managed to do 30-damage to his card. He whipped out pencil and paper and pushed it toward me.
"Write down minus 30 to D___clop. Do you need that spelled for you?"
I pushed the paper back. "Why don't you just keep score?"
After some furious scribbling, he played again.
What followed was a confusing, intricate array of swifts, power-ups, energies, pokebodies, low currents, coin-flips, power-damages, discards, attacks, and retreats. There was benching, evolving, and breath-freezing. Some cards were asleep, confused, paralyzed, or poisoned. I've never seen so many rules in one game!

What ever happened to Slap Jack? It was so simple: You see a Jack.  You slap it.

"How the heck did you learn all these rules?" I finally asked, exasperated.
His reply was simplicity at its finest.
"I read the rule book."

Oh, of course. The Sacred Rule Book! A light bulb went on in my head and I remembered something I had recently read in my Developmental Psychology textbook.
"Eight-year-olds are Human Rule Machines. Playing by the rules, doing things in a particular sequence, ranking things, rating and judging them-- this is a major preoccupation of most children this age, permeating practically everything they do…"

I realized that, at my advanced age, I had no chance of winning against this 8-year-old human rule machine. The only chance at a dignified exit lay in my own attack, using another 8-year-old developmental stage against him.
....The eight-year old also begins to have a big appetite....
"Hey, I know what!" I exclaimed. "Let’s go get something to eat!"

Oh yeah. I can still do eating!