Archive for the 'General' Category

Skywatch Friday ~ Ozark Blue

Friday, June 26th, 2015

Ozark sky

This was the vault overhead as we hiked about our little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks on the first day of summer. Within a couple of hours, they sky had filled with gray clouds and the temps had dropped, making our refreshing dip in the lake a little cool.

first day of summer

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

round rock 1

Yeah, I know, it was last Sunday. So I’m a little late with this post.

After more than a month away, Libby and I (and the dogs) took ourselves out to Roundrock on Sunday, which also happened to be Father’s Day, but with my children now flung to the four winds (and one in Europe at the moment), it was just the two of us (and the dogs). So off to the woods we went.

This is the time of the year that gets me glum when I visit the cabin. Nature is taking over again. The battle, that I think I’m winning in the winter to keep the weeds and scrub at bay and have some open, clear space around the cabin, takes a big turn against me in the early summer. With all of the rain we’ve been having, the scrub is growing vigorously in the gravel perimeter, and my attempts to pull it out are negligible. So I mostly didn’t bother after a while.

We had no agenda for the day (other than to swim in the full-pool lake), and we worked our non-agenda vigorously. Our biggest venture from the cabin was to cross the dam — the overflow drain was working as designed — and down the southern spillway. The photo you see above is from that part of my forest. That round rock is about the size of a tennis ball.

Here’s that same rock, shown using the flash on my camera:

round rock 2

We wandered around in the pecan plantation a little; they and the few cypress I’ve planted there are doing fine. Then we took ourselves back to the cabin for lunch.

Not long after that, we went for a swim. The temperature was over 90 degrees, and with the recent influx of rainwater, the lake was blessedly free of floating algae, so in the water we went.

And then the clouds began to gather and the temps to drop. I paddled around for maybe an hour, but the water was only warm for the first foot below the surface. Any kicks swirled up colder water from below. That will change in the weeks to come, of course.

Libby stayed in the water longer than I, but it wasn’t much longer before she was out and drying off.

We had a nice day in the woods and decided it was time to make the two-hour trek home. So we changed into dry, bug-free clothes, packed our things, and drove away.

We were about twenty minutes down the road when Libby realized she had left her iPad in the cabin. Well, life can’t go on without that, so we turned around and retrieved it then began our journey home a second time.

We got home without further incident, and now I’m looking toward our next visit.

still alive, still around

Monday, June 8th, 2015

blue eyed boy

Sorry I’ve been absent from the blogosphere lately. I haven’t been to Roundrock in weeks. I haven’t done any organized runs to tell you about. I’ve been the usual frenzied busy at work. And everything has been Kenneth lately.

Ken (and his parents and dog) came to Kansas City for the week of Memorial Day, and everything pretty much got put on hold for his visit. He stayed half of the time at our house and the other half at his other grandparents’ house nearby. There was a lot of back and forth between the households, lots of baby holding, lots of meals and smiles and photos.

smiling boy

The little guy (and his parents and dog) have returned to Brooklyn and is reported to miss his Grandpa greatly. Yet despite the lack of my direct, strong and positive influence in his life, his mother tells me he is thriving. At his latest pediatrician visit, he weighed a healthy 17 pounds. He’s off the charts in height (his daddy is six-foot-six), and while he’s certainly not emaciated, he is actually underweight for his height. So he’s slowly being started on solid foods (which his mom says is a great relief since she has been his whole source of food until now).

pensive boy

There is a good chance that we’ll get to see him in July. He’ll be traveling to Portland, Oregon to see his uncle and aunt (#2 son and his wife), and Libby and I will probably go as well to inflict ourselves on them all.

After that, we may see him in New York again for the New York Marathon. Ken is not running it (nor is his grandfather — who didn’t get in), but his mom and dad are, so Libby and I will care for Ken and make sure he’s at all of the appropriate places to cheer mom and dad on.

After that, I’m told he’ll be coming back here for the winter holidays. (I think I’ll finally get him out to Roundrock then!)

the view from the porch

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

tree down

About a month ago I posted about a dead tree that had snapped off near the cabin. The angle of my photo (seen in this post) suggested that it had nearly fallen on the cabin, but that was not the case.

This view from the porch shows how far away the fallen timber actually was. (I can’t look at this photo and not wish I was on that porch!)

This tree top had fallen into the crotch of the tree you see on the left above. It had thwarted my efforts to tug it free on my first visit. And it intended to do the same when I returned on this later visit. (Notice how green the forest grew in those few weeks.)

Rather than tug it free, I tried a different approach. I lifted the lower part of the tree and then let it fall to the ground. I did this several times, breaking off more of the branches at the top just from the impact. Soon I had enuf of those gone that I could yank the tree free from its neighbor’s embrace and get it to the ground, where it now waits to be transformed into firewood.

Watt’s Mill on the run

Monday, May 25th, 2015

waterfall 1
My usual Sunday long run — about 11 miles depending on motivation — ends very close to this waterfall on the Indian Creek. I have wended my way along the paved trail for 10-plus miles and crossed into Missouri shortly before this point. Most of that paved trail follows the creek (or one of the feeder creeks), so as I eat up the miles, I can watch the flow increase. I also get a pretty good view of the herons, ducks, and geese who enjoy the pools and riffles.

This is the site of the former Watt’s Mill, which, in its various incarnations, had stood on this spot for nearly 200 years (which is old for our part of the country). The old mill is long gone, though some of the foundation stones are still in place (as you can see in the photo above) and there is a oft-vandalized plaque trying to say too much in too small of a space. Just up the hill from this spot is an upscale restaurant with lots of windows so that patrons can gave out onto the waterfall.

waterfall 2
Often when I run on this part of the trail I must dodge the Canada geese who are loitering in the way. Sometimes they hiss at me, though I assure them I’m harmless.

Some Sundays the waterfall is barely a trickle. With the recent spring rains it has been more robust. On my run two weeks ago, when low parts of the trail were slick with mud or deep with puddled water, I came upon the waterfall as you see it below.

I had actually shot this video on the day after I had run the trail. We were headed to Roundrock and detoured over here to get cheaper gas (cheaper in Missouri than Kansas) when I spotted the flow. We turned around and took this video, then we went on to Roundrock. I had run this bit of the trail the day before when the flow was more like the photos above. That tree you see on the rocks to the left was not there then. But the overnight rains came and swelled the creek.

When my sons and I did some white-water rafting in Colorado back in their Scouting days, this kind of waterfall wouldn’t have merited any concern. We would have passed over it with ease, without a pause in our conversation. I’m not too eager to give that a try any longer.

good news ~ bad photos

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

chicks 1

Yes, possibly the worst photo I’ve ever posted on this humble blog (until you see the one below). You may recall that once again the phoebe has built her nest on the front of the cabin this year. I wrote about it lovingly in this post.

And I worried then (I’m always worrying, aren’t I, FC?) that our comings and goings on our last trip to the cabin would cause the phoebe to abandon her nest and the four eggs inside it. As it happened, most of a month went by between our visits (spring racing season), and that gave phoebe plenty of time to sit on her eggs to incubate them.

And it worked. What you see in the poor photo above are four phoebe chicks in the nest, not quite newly hatched, but from what I can tell, they don’t have their eyes open yet.

I had a terrible time getting even this good of a picture of the nestlings. I tried the macro function. I tried without the flash. With the flash. Repeated shots. If you go to that post I linked above, you will see the decent enuf photo I took of the four eggs. The only difference I can figure this time is that the little birds are bigger than the eggs and so too close to the camera for it to focus. As it was, I was pressing the camera to the ceiling of the porch, so I couldn’t have backed off any better.

Still, a bad photo of four silent, unmoving baby birds could suggest that they hatched but hadn’t survived. Mama phoebe was nearby and scolding us, so I was hopeful. And I understand it is the nature of baby wild animals to be silent until a parent is around. So maybe they were just being good babies.

After I took my series of poor photos, Libby and I went for a walk in the woods, wallowing (not literally) in all of the running water in the Central Valley and the ravines that feed into it.

By the time we returned, the gray clouds of the morning had left, and blue sky filled the dome overhead. I hoped that with more natural ambient light, I might get a better shot of the nestlings, so I tried again. (Note: While fine for sitting in, the comfy chairs on the shady porch overlooking the sparking lake are not well suited for standing on.)

I shot another series of photos, the best of which you see here:

chicks 2

 

It sure looks as though the nestlings are alive and thriving. They apparently thought I was their mother too since they wanted me to feed them. After I stepped down from the chair, we could hear them peeping.

We took off for faraway suburbia shortly after this, so I think mama phoebe was able to return to her nest and the hungry babies within. It’s possible that the nestlings will be fledglings by the time we return. And if the pattern repeats as last year, there may even be a new set of eggs in the nest by then.

Here is a little better photo of a baby for you:

17242430663_47dca10f7c_n

another turtle

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

turtle 1

We were rambling the woods at Roundrock last weekend and crossed one of the many ravines that feed into the Central Valley and then into the lake. It was fun to see these ravines with running water, and I even enjoyed the “trouble” of finding ways to get across them.

We had stopped at a particularly pretty spot at one of the ravines, looking for likely stepping stones, when I spotted an odd, smooth rock just a little bit downstream.

Rock it was not but this nice snapping turtle.

I realize it is hard to tell from these poorly contexted photos, but that turtle was much larger than a dinner plate. I’m not sure how old that would make it, but I’d guess at least several years. (I’ve read that they can live to be 100 years old, so my estimation may be low.)
turtle 2

I was initially surprised to find this turtle so far from the lake. This spot was a long way up the south-facing slop, and even though there was water rushing in the ravine on this day, most of the time this area is dry. My guess was that this beast had lived in the pond (at our northwest corner) but had heard about the bigger lake down the watershed and was making its way there.

But it’s possible that this is a female and that she was out looking for a likely place to lay her eggs. As far as I know, the only good place in my woods is in the pine plantation, but while that is good soil, it’s not very sandy, which I understand mama turtle prefers. Of course, my neighbor’s hundred-acre field to the north is also full of good soil (and conveniently fallow this year), so that may be where the turtle was coming from.

We didn’t disturb this turtle, and it seemed to disregard us. I suppose it is possible I’ll see it again. I hope I recognize it when I do.

 

prickly pear

Monday, May 18th, 2015

prickly pear

We made it down to Roundrock on Sunday, fearing that the dam might have washed away given all of the rain we’ve been having lately. Fortunately, nothing so terrible happened. In fact, the lake was up by maybe a couple of inches since our last visit even though there were several streams flowing into it from the ravines to enter the Central Valley. Another mystery.

But in our ramblings we came upon this happy little surprise. We have two robust prickly pear plants growing in plain sight that we’ve never noticed before. Libby found these growing beside the northern spillway. Conditions there seem to be about ideal. Rocky soil that stays mostly dry and gets a lot of sun. The plant you see above, and one beside it of about the same size, looked quite happy, and they are just about ready to flower. (Not sure we’ll be able to see that though.)

Most amazing is that yesterday was the first time either of us had ever noticed these. They must be several years old, and we certainly have hiked up and down that spillway enuf times over those years. Yet they can’t have predated the spillway. This area was scraped clean, down to bedrock and hardpan several years ago. (This is the same area where the bag experiment had been conducted.)

So right under our noses are a pair of plants we’d been eager to find in our woods for years. We did have one plant on the north-facing slope, but in the last two years when we looked for it, we couldn’t find it. Now we have these. Always a surprise waiting at Roundrock.

two turtles

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

turtle one

Through the winter months we won’t see a single turtle at Roundrock, which is as it should be. But starting in May and through the summer, it seems that we see them whenever we go for a walk in the woods.

We saw this fellow (judging by the red eyes, I think it’s a boy) on the south side of the lake. Impressive red color and a curious nature. Most turtles will retreat into their shells when we pick them up.

turtle two

This turtle was on the north side of the lake and was more shy. Judging from the chunk missing from the shell behind the head, I’d say this one had reason to be shy.

Wayne, over at Niches, takes photos of every turtle he’s had the pleasure to know. And he catalogs them by the markings on their shells, giving them names, and even encountering old friends over the years. The Florida Cracker, at Pure Florida, has gopher tortoises on his land, and he’s rightfully proud of them.

I have box turtles, and that’s all right with me, too.

Running with the Cows half marathon 2015 ~ recap

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

cows kit

The wheels fell off on this one.

I didn’t feel right about this half marathon for the week before and certainly the morning of. I can’t put my finger on why, but I suppose such a vague feeling can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I don’t know.

Running with the Cows was the third in the Heartland 39.3 Series that I had signed up for last summer. I expected this series of half marathons to be tough, and I was surprised when I managed the first two races, on consecutive weekends, with my legs and lungs still intact. I thought I would be destroyed by two such long runs so close together, yet I wasn’t.

As I reflect, I think Running with the Cows went so badly for me because of a perverse, oil-and-water mix of over confidence and lack of confidence.

I should tell you right now that I did finish the half marathon. In fact, of the eight half marathons I’ve now run, my time was better than three of them and very close to another. I found a kick at the end and ran across the finish line as fast as I could, but when I did, I was ready to be done with it, to walk away and not look back. Such was the mess I felt it to be.

I’ve said here several times that I’m trying to make the half marathon my distance. I want to get confident and competent with it. I want to feel assured that I can lace up and accomplish that distance, not without effort and concentration, but with a knowledge that it is in me. I also noted above that I had done surprisingly well on the two prior halfs in this series (Rock the Parkway and the Garmin Half). I think that’s where my over confidence came from. I think I believed I had reached my mastery point with the half marathon. I think I believed that Running with the Cows would be simple, especially since I got two weeks of rest before it. I trained, but maybe with too much confidence and not enuf doubt. Nor did I take my fueling seriously enuf. In the week before the other races, I was slamming a bottle of Gatorade each day, eating more carbs, rolling my leg muscles, and getting more rest. I didn’t do that with Cows. That was a mistake.

But I was also talking myself into a near panic about this run. I had driven the course two weeks prior and saw the long, rolling hills that were on the agenda. They aren’t steep, but they are long. (This is not in the flat part of Kansas that every thinks is the case statewide.) I dreaded those hills, and somewhere within me I “knew” I couldn’t run them, that I would have to walk at least part of them to get to the top. I don’t know if I would have run better if I hadn’t known those hills were coming. If I had gone out on the course as an innocent and just taken whatever came, maybe I would have done better because I wouldn’t have already excused myself from tackling them.

Running sure can be a road to self discovery. Or self doubt.

So all of that was swirling in what passes for my mind as I got to the race early Saturday morning. The forecast had called for thunderstorms then, with up to a half an inch of rain (“except higher amounts in thundershowers”) and I resigned myself to getting wet and perhaps cold. When I rose on Saturday (3:15 of course) and let the dogs out, it was 63 degrees, and though I knew that might drop some before race time, I was comfortable that at least I would not be cold. Parking was going to be iffy because we would be using farm fields, and they were already sodden from the week of storms before. We took my truck rather than the little red Honda just in case we needed the four-wheel drive. But it turned out that we were directed to park on the side of the road far from the start and then get bussed in. I didn’t like that at first, especially since Libby, who would be waiting as I ran, would be far from the car if she needed anything (like shelter from the storm). This arrangement didn’t turn out to be a problem however.

So we rode the school bus in and got off at the Catholic church that was hosting the runs. (There was also a 5K.) We passed through the school cafeteria, where they were already setting up for the big, well-regarded after party. I looked around for people I knew but didn’t see any. I used the portable toilet three times (always prudent and evidently very necessary this time). I wandered about more. I found Libby on a bench, passing the time with a runner from Iowa. (There were runners from 46 states and several countries. That’s pretty good for an event having only 1500 runners altogether.) I waited for the time to pass. The sun had risen but was behind the gray clouds. The latest forecast said the rain would likely hold off until 8:00, so I’d be at least a few miles into the run before that particular misery visited.

Eventually I got myself into the starting chute and waited. There were no waves or corrals. We would start as a mass and sort ourselves out later. I was far enuf back that I could not hear whatever announcements there were (or might have been). A drone flew over. (These are getting ubiquitous at races.) I did hear a countdown, but several minutes after that, our mass of humanity had not moved. Then I heard another countdown and realized the first must have been for some special runners. Generally wheelchair racers are let fly before the rest of us. But we were finally off, and I started my watch just as I crossed the mats. On my way.

We left the school parking lot and got on the two-lane blacktop road that a hundred blocks to the north (in my neighborhood) swells to eight lanes and is lousy with traffic. Out here in the rurals, it was just a country road. A country road with a mile and a half uphill incline. It wasn’t long before I found myself crowding against a thick pack of people who were taking up the entire width of the two lanes. It took me a while to realize that I was stuck behind a pace group. In part because of my negative self talk, I didn’t intend to run this race hard or fast, but this pace group was going more slowly than my legs and lungs wanted. Compounding this was the chatty nature of the lead pacer. Her job is to encourage those who have chosen to run with her group, to advise them on how to tackle the hills, how to get through the water stations, how to outsmart their fatigue. And she was doing this, keeping up a nearly constant patter of words to the people depending on her to get them across the finish line at a given time. And boy was it annoying to me!

I figured if I could get ahead of this group and put some distance between us, I could still fall back to their pace if necessary and yet not have to listen to the encouraging words. So that was my plan. To get around them, I had to run on the narrow gravel shoulder, and then when I was back on the road, I had to hustle to get that distance. Because annoying patter!

My plan worked. Soon I could only hear the pacer when she had her group shout out at each mile marker. This was the last time in the race when I felt like anything was working for me.

At mile 3 I took my first walking break. As much as I really did not want to do this, I didn’t see how I could keep running, not with the many long hills still to come. It’s possible that I had been running too fast. I wanted to leave that chatty pacer well behind, and regardless, I wanted to finish faster than her promised time, even with a slower run for me this time. So maybe running too fast to get ahead of her had caused me to walk too soon, which would allow her, ironically, to close the distance between us. Plus, walking revealed to me that I wasn’t (yet) a master of the half marathon, at least not on a challenging course.

This was not my only walking break for the remaining ten miles. There were plenty. And as the miles passed, the breaks came more frequently. Had I been on a flat course that morning, I think I still would have needed (or taken) walking breaks. My overconfidence blended with my lack of confidence was visiting me repeatedly.

I ate my GU every three miles. I took the water and Gatorade at each of the (well staged and staffed) water stations. I ran all of the flats and downhills, and I powered as far as I could up those long hills. But I was disappointed with myself. I was disappointed that I was exhausted and panting. I was not going to turn in a good time, and all I really wanted by the halfway point was to stay ahead of the chatty pacer.

The halfway point was a turnaround. We had climbed what seemed like a two-mile hill to get there, and I relished the thought of returning that distance going downhill. As I made the turn and saw the runners behind me still heading toward it, I was encouraged to see how many there still were. I guess I wasn’t as pathetic as I feared.

By this point, any goodwill or milk of human kindness was drained from me. I didn’t care about much except finding the flattest part of the road and sticking to it. Often this required me to run in the empty lane (we runners having thinned enuf that most were just using one lane). All along the run, service vehicles were zipping up and down the course, mostly staying on the shoulder (when there was one) but sometimes coming into the lanes that were supposed to be dedicated to us runners. I don’t know what it is that was so urgent, but plenty of ATVs and mules were going back and forth. Some were apparently delivering things to the aid stations. Some were, I guess, looking for runners who could not finish. Some seemed to have no other purpose than to cheer to us, but they were using the road that was supposed to be ours. So I got feisty and decided I wasn’t going to yield my empty lane to any of these vehicles. They could pull over and let me pass, or they could grind through the gravel shoulder to pass me. But I paid to use that road that day, and I was going to use it. I suppose you can guess what happened next. I heard a vehicle coming behind me, in my personal lane of blacktop, and I just stayed in the way, plodding along and letting it deal with this.

Fortunately, I happened to look back (thinking I might make a rude gesture) and learned that I was impeding the progress of an ambulance with its lights on. Um. Oops.

I was better behaved after that. Fortunately, we runners were well thinned by then, and I could find my flat part of the pavement in the other lane.

Somewhere around mile 11.5 I looked to the south and could see the steeple of the church that was our finish. Only a mile and a half to go, and yet it looked so very far away. There were no uphills left, and since we were returning on part of the same route that was at the start, we had mostly just gentle downhill before us. But so very far away. There was more walking in this last mile and a half. I didn’t care any longer. I hated the world by then. Sometime back I had caught up with the next faster pace group and even got ahead of them, but they passed me and left me behind within sight of the finish. Sigh.

I came toward the finish and made the turn into the school parking lot. What little energy I had left I poured into my legs. I think I made a decent enuf finish of my run, and I was still coherent enuf to hear the announcer mispronounce my name as I came hurtling across.

And that was that. I turned off my watch, waived away the proffered bottle of water, and only remembered that I needed to have the chip removed from my shoe when I saw a line of people having this done. I had to find the table where I was (unceremoniously) handed my medal (see below). The thing hanging from the cow’s neck is a copper bell with the number 6 on it, this being the sixth year of this run. (I understand the church makes something close to $100,000 from it. I’m not sure how since there weren’t that many runners times the race fee to reach that number. But I’m sure races are money-making rackets or they wouldn’t be held.)

cows bling

I staggered around for a while, hating the world and myself most of all. Somewhere ahead was another tent where I could collect my special medal for completing all of the races in the Heartland Series (see below). It was handed to me unceremoniously as well.

heartland bling

Then I made my way to the school cafeteria where the after party feed is legendary. The whole community apparently has a hand in it, and the church ladies are busy baking and cooking and fixing food a week in advance. I heard again and again about this spread, and I was eager to see it (even though I am not generally hungry after a hard run).

Every runner had a support crew, and since I imagine this event is the biggest thing to happen in Bucyrus, Kansas all year, every little kid in the community is there for the excitement and glamor of sweaty runners shouldering each other for free food. Thus the cafeteria was packed with people, most of whom I suspect weren’t actual runners. I stood in a long line just to stagger up to the table to see what was being served. Unfortunately, it was mostly nothing that I wanted to put on my stomach at that time. Burgers, pulled pork sandwiches, BBQ, potato chips, nachos, burritos, fajitas. There was a table dedicated to baked goods, but they were all so thickly sugar coated that I knew that wasn’t going to work for me either. About the only thing they had that I wanted was CHOCOLATE MILK, and I drank five or six cartons of it before I pulled myself from the throng and decided just to go home to a hot shower.

Remember that the Prolechariot was miles away, and I had to fold my weary, adult-sized legs into the seating of a school bus then drive most of a section of land to get off relatively close to my truck. But I managed. Libby drove us home, and I was about as cranky as I could be the entire way. It was not a good run for me, and that weighed on me.

But the rain never fell. There was a constant mild breeze throughout the run, and that relieved us of the oppressive humidity. The water stations were very well staged and well run, and I think every high school kid in the county had turned out to help and offer hydration, encouragement, and smiles. The course was challenging, and maybe if I had trained more intelligently and diligently, I would have welcomed the challenge rather than merely endured it. My knees did not give the slightest hint of complaint, and when my hips began to bark, I swallowed the Advil I had brought along. I didn’t see a single cow until the last half mile, but I guess they fulfilled that part of the deal, so no complaints there. I beat the chatty pacer in. I now have my eighth half marathon behind me as well as some lessons learned. And at least it wasn’t a really bad event like the Garmin half. (Ugh!)

There are only three things I would have done differently on the course had I been race director. I would not have allowed all of the back and forth of the support vehicles. And I would have not had us cross the path with faster/slower runners at mile 5. This was where we began the out-and-back stretch with the turnaround. The monitors on the corner needed merely to direct us to the left side of the road (after our left turn), and we would have come back on the right side of the road. As it was, this was switched, and though it didn’t affect me as far back as I was, many of the runners ahead of me had to find their way through a line of runners crossing directly in front of them. Finally, I would have asked the police and sheriff staff and other security people to turn off their engines as they stood at intersections. I realize it may be protocol to leave their engines running in case of sudden need, but there were several intersections I ran through where I sucked in nothing but exhaust. Did ALL of their vehicles need to be running? Did they ALL need to be parked immediately beside the course?

So I completed the Heartland Series and got the bling (plus the special shirt that shows I’m badass). But I don’t think I’ll sign up for it again next year. When two-thirds of the events are disappointing, that doesn’t encourage me to come back. Maybe I’ll Run with the Cows again someday to prove to myself that I can deal with long hills over long distances. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I have nothing on my dance card until the Plaza 10K in September. Yes, it’s likely that I’ll do some races between now and then, but I think my regular training runs will probably keep me happy for a while.