bug goes crunch

bug goes crunch

Sunday, November 14, 2010

la cloche silhouette trail

ordinarily i am not much for self-indulgent commemorative activities. however, i had had my eye on hiking the “la cloche silhouette” trail, in ontario’s killarney provincial park, for the past year or so, and it occurred to me that i could justify the unprecedented week-long personal vacation by linking it to my completion of the half-century mark, with respect to age, in 2010. during an especially dark, damp and chilly november trip to the porkies, i pledged to myself that my next backpacking trip would feature warm weather and long daylight hours, cementing the killarney trip for the following summer.

i studied maps over the winter and read online trip reports to plan my six-day, five-night trip. i would finish by staying overnight in the village of killarney, partaking of the legendary herbert’s fish and chips. i made my campsite reservations five months to the day before the start of my trip, which meant calling the reservation service at 7:00 AM on a sunday. i got all the sites i wanted, and then spent five months looking forward to going. what follows is a trip report.

day 1

after a pleasant, uneventful and mostly sunny drive up from the toronto area, i arrived at the george lake headquarters about noon. accustomed as i am to receiving detailed reviews of park regulations from rangers when picking up backpacking permits, i was expecting to hear about rugged cliffs, bears and other threats to my well-being. but the young woman merely asked if i needed an “extra” garbage bag, to which i replied (truthfully) “no, thank you”. and with that i was on my way.

after parking and putting everything together i headed off to the trailhead, where i made the obligatory “backpack at trailhead” photograph:

from there i bounced along quite pleasantly, dappled in sunlight and serenaded by cicadas. this was exactly what i had thinking about last november, in the porcupine mountains, huddled by my stove on cuyahoga peak as the wind hammered the pines and the fog condensed on my eyebrows: warm, shirtsleeves, arm-swinging hiking. the various lakes along the way were pleasant enough, but i began to get excited seeing the quartzite peaks in the distance, and thinking about the evening’s solitude at topaz lake. i was in for a little surprise, however.

near baie fine the trail led right to the edge of what looked like a trailer park, and i recalled from the map that this was near the park boundary. soon i was headed up “the pig”, a steep former logging road that was deeply rutted with atv tracks. i heard voices in the distance, and boats bumping into things, and i began to think that this spot might not be as peaceful as i had hoped. the interior still held its promise, however. partway up the pig i saw a couple of young women in foam flip-flops gingerly picking their way down the cobbled trail; one of them asked me if i was a doctor. that didn’t bode well. i reached the turnoff to topaz lake and when i got in view of it, i was greeted by someone urinating in the bush. down at the lake there were around twenty to thirty people in various groups, mostly white folks my age, laughing and shouting and jumping in the water. i was a little flustered by all this and missed the turn in the trail that led to the campsite, ending up down by the lake, hoping against hope that the actual site was a bit further away. the shore was rugged, so i dropped my pack and headed counterclockwise (away from the party) and found the spot. i went back around via the trail, past a few piles of human feces, fetched my pack, and set up camp while waiting for everyone to leave. as it turned out, there were open rocks to the south, with pleasant views, and the sounds didn’t carry. so i spent some time reading and relaxing up there. soon enough, the noisiest idiots left, and only a family or two remained. i certainly couldn’t begrudge these people a summer afternoon swimming in such a perfectly beautiful spot, and after a little dinner i took a swim myself, marveling at the clarity of the water, the almost absurdly deep teal color, the sun on the rocks, and the light breeze. by dark it was quiet, and all was well.

day 2

i awoke to the sound of light rain on the tent fly, which was in the forecast, so i wasn’t too bothered. i got up and had some breakfast and coffee, and got most everything packed before the deluge hit. there was lightning and thunder, which is always a little scary when you’re surrounded by tall trees, but i felt okay that i had my tent and sleeping bag stowed away completely dry. the pouring rain completely flooded the fire pit area, but again i was on my way out so i didn’t care too much. i did have brief thoughts of bailing, trying to rearrange my itinerary, but i realized that meant bailing on doing the whole trail, and i had been looking forward to this trip too long for that. i told myself that the rain would stop, i would dry my wet socks, and everything would be mellow again.

i set out to hike the rest of the way up and down the pig, and reached the outlet of three narrows lake shortly. there seemed to be opportunities for shortcuts here, crossing a concrete dam for example, but to avoid confusion i decided to just leg it out on the trail. i passed a couple of hikers going the other way, and the rain stopped by the time i got to the first opening that looked out onto three narrows. i stopped and wrung out my socks, and while studying the map and looking at the time i realized that i had set out quite a hike for myself this day, going from h7 to h21. among map, gps and wristwatch, i concluded that i would get to that evening’s campsite before dark, but i couldn’t do a whole lot of lollygagging.

generally the hiking was fairly easy, just roots and rocks, and as it warmed up i got a bit sweaty. i heard some people in canoes, and watched from up on the ridge as they glided past. i wondered a little why i was hauling all this on my back; it seemed like a lot of work. one thing i like about these backpacking trips is that they provide a lot of time for thorough contemplation, and at this point i began to contemplate the entire enterprise. was i having as much fun as i expected? i’ve had less energy recently, have been cycling fewer miles, just kind of sluggish. was this going to be drudgery? wet socks certainly didn’t help. but as the contemplation proceeded, the clouds broke up a bit, and the smell of pine resin started to edge out leaf mold, and everything sort of fell back into place. i stopped for a moment and heard a boatplane begin to wind its engine up; it shot past an opening across the lake, turned and flew right over me. i hitched up the pack and kept walking.

the rest of the day’s hike was pretty straightforward; i lost the trail briefly, when i missed a turn up onto a ridge. on the home stretch, heading east toward the turn for h21, the trail gained some elevation and the views across three narrows was inspiring. i got to the turnoff and made my way down to the campsite by about 6:30. it was quite nice, in full view of a cabin and dock (which i was expecting from looking at the map), but no one was staying there at the time. i was pretty beat; i took a quick look at the gps before turning it off for the evening, and saw that i had hiked about 16 miles. that was a bit farther than i usually go in a day on these trips, and i was in for a lot more. i knew the next days would be shorter, but they would also be a lot more vertical. i elected not to worry, at least not right then. i got camp set up, and took a brief and very refreshing swim. my feet were a little sore from all that wet sock plodding, but i felt okay overall. i slept like a rock (a rock that gets up in the middle of the night to pee, that is).

day 3

once it was light i got up to a fog-covered lake. i set everything out to dry as much as possible, noting that the fog was burning off fairly quickly. i was close to being packed up when i noticed a canoe heading toward the point. it turned out to have two park employees in it, a young woman and man, who cheerfully introduced themselves, saying they were there to do some maintenance and check permits and so on. fortunately my papers were in order, and we chatted a little. when i said i was heading for h33 that day, the woman said “oh you’ve got a ways to go” and i said “don’t say that! yesterday was a lot longer” and she said “well this day has a lot of hills”. i had my three liters of water, though, so i felt ready. it was about 8:30, a little late, but i was relaxed and headed off.

you gain a lot of elevation fairly soon out of h21. the views were stirring, although i was really getting up a sweat. i came to what i presumed to be moose pass, from reading various online trip reports, and it was as steep as everyone said; i took off my pack for part of it, very inelegant and clattering and clumsy, but safe and sound. later i read that there was supposed to be rope by the trail, but i didn’t recall seeing anything like that. i felt fine; the only discomfort i had was being drenched in sweat, almost the continuous drip off my chin, having to stop and take of the shirt and wring it out from time to time. but no knee pain, no twisting ankles, nothing like that.

i ran into a young couple and leapfrogged with them for a while. they had poles and were faster, of course; they said they were headed for h23 that evening. i figured i would see them again, tomorrow at least. at one point i lost the trail after crossing a couple of beaver dams. the blazes disappeared; there were a few rocks piled here and there, but no honest-to-goodness cairns. so i took out the gps, which i had never carried before but was borrowing from cicadashell jr. the elder (after investing in canadian topo expressly for this trip), and between it and the map i figured out quickly where i was in relation to the trail; in a couple of minutes i was back on it. cool!

there was another tough descent before the turnoff to h33, and the side trail seemed endless as i was tired and ready to stop for the day. the campsite was gorgeous, though, and i felt terrific, emotionally anyway, at having made it halfway around la cloche. while setting up my tent, though, i felt a little woozier than i expected, and that’s when i began to start thinking about dehydration. i had drank five liters of water that day, but it was all this ridiculously soft and acidic lake water, probably had a total alkalinity of 5 ppm CaCO3. i needed minerals, but i hadn’t packed any electrolyte tablets. why didn’t i think of that? i got a little concerned. i knew those dehydrated meals had boatloads of sodium, and so did the nut mix i was carrying, but i recalled that being hot and sweaty kind of killed my appetite and i really didn’t eat much while on the trail. i realized i would have to be careful here.

i filled the water bottles and took a beautiful swim, electing to not wear the bathing suit because i was really out there all by myself. i had a salty dinner and perked up a little. i spent a lot of time poring over the map and looking at all the ups and downs between here and h37, tomorrow night. i had been thinking of taking a side trip up silver peak, but i decided right there to skip it, because i was treading on the edge a little; i had a long way to go, longer than i had ever hiked before, and i was by myself, and i didn’t want to get in trouble. i knew there were other people out here, i was never scared, but at the same time i wanted to stay out of trouble. i thought about how i could do this again, making it easier: cooler weather and an extra day were the two things that came to mind. it got dark enough to go to bed, and i settled in with a new elizabeth george (after finishing that dreadful other book at h21; less weight in the form of paperbacks might be another thing to try next time).

it was a feature of this hot weather that wind was virtually nonexistent. i love the sound of a good breeze while lying in the tent (although those november gales on lake superior are a little wild). but the air didn’t move a lick. it was utterly silent, which can be a little disconcerting. i think i was still reading, and it was almost completely dark by then, when i suddenly heard a tremendous splash in the lake. i thought, okay, that was a piece of the rock i had been sitting on, weakened by frost four months ago, and it just busted loose right then. right. okay. a few minutes later, though, there was another splash, and another. looking back i don’t know why it took me so long to be convinced that it was just beavers, but it did occur to me. i had heard them do that tail trick before, but i didn’t think it was so loud, that it would be like a forty-pound stone tossed from up on the bank like that. i actually got out of the tent and shined my light around, like some fool blair witch hunter. yeah, beavers. i went back to sleep soon after that.

day 4

i tried to get up earlier, before 7:00, so i could get going earlier and get more miles in before it got too hot. pretty smart, eh? i was getting into the swing of it. i was close to leaving when a canoe yet again came up, two more park staff, both guys this time. “checking permits”, doing maintenance, rebuilding the privy, actually, which was timely; the lid had almost completely rotted off. so i had the honor of being the last person to use the old thunderbox. one of the guys said he had done the entire trail in seventeen hours once. crazy kids! he allowed as how it was a bit of a “waste”, but since he had done the trail a bunch of times before, he already appreciated all its beauty and was just testing himself. well, whatever, i thought; i’m going to take my time.

this day had its share of wicked climbs, and more than its share of incredible views. i had studied the topo and was prepared to pace myself accordingly, to take my time going up and give myself plenty of rest on top as well. i was on the trail by 8:00 but it was plenty hot, and once again i was continually drenched. just keep drinking, i thought, and have some food as well. i played leapfrog with that younger couple again, chatting a little more and being secretly pleased that the woman expressed a little exasperation at the ruggedness of the trail. mostly i was alone, though, with those awesome views. i had read about the occasional trickiness of following the rock cairns, but i didn’t have any trouble keeping them in sight; it was really quite easy.

near boundary lake i came across a group going the other way, the first since sunday morning. they were led by an impossibly fit-looking older man (40-ish), all tan and trim and hardly sweating in khakis and crocodile dundee hat. after him were a few younger women who were paler, and smelled of soap. bringing up the rear, though, was a guy around my age, no shirt, gut hanging out, shiny with sweat, and a big stupid grin on his face. that put a big stupid grin on my face as well, and i gave him a hearty hello. there was a man after my own heart, i thought, and it pretty much made my day.

from studying the map i was expecting to drop off the ridge and into a low stretch with a series of beaver dams, which told me i should be concerned about getting confused. not a problem, it turned out, and soon enough i was at the side trail to silver peak. i wanted to eat something, but i had enough trouble gagging down a clif bar. earlier, peanuts had me nearly vomiting. this was a bit worrisome, but i knew that the trail would be easier the rest of the day. i was pretty sure of which way to go, although the wound-up engineer in me was perturbed that one sign pointed to silver peak while the other pointed to bell lake. i didn’t want either of those, i wanted the la cloche silhouette trail. i mean i knew that the main trail headed to bell lake, but there also a turnoff the main trail to bell lake, and i just wanted some clarification. i heard some voices coming off the peak, though, so i asked them which way the trail went. they said, naturally, this way goes to bell lake. they had come from there as day trippers and didn’t know from any la cloche trail. so i let them go and trusted my intuition (along with the map and the gps). this was a nice, level road where i could swing my arms for 45 minutes.

i got to the turn where there was a cool-looking stream, and i refilled the bottles and drank for a while. the water was fairly cool, but it was still summer, and i was getting pretty drained. i didn’t have far to go to get to h37, so i set off again. it turned out to be harder than i expected, getting back into the rugged rocky stuff, but i made it without collapsing. this site was also very nice. i couldn’t remember from reading online whether this was the one with the incredibly steep access to water, or if that was h38 (where that couple was staying, as it turned out). i was lucky; i had the good access.

the site had a clothesline, made of an eye-catching yellow nylon that i suppose would have kept me from decapitating myself on it, had i been seven feet tall. more disturbing were the shirts and shorts that previous campers had left behind. amazing! a more thoughtful, or at least industrious, camper had built up a bed of pine needles in almost the exact shape of my tent’s footprint, so i set up on that and rather promptly lay myself down to rest for a minute. it turned into a nap, but i awoke with a start to raindrops. i got up to put on the fly, but it was really nothing; just an opportunistic group of thundershowers, but mostly missing the immediate area. i watched them for awhile, and then set about getting water and taking another wonderful swim. i felt just a tad guilty as i heard my neighbors scrambling up and down that sheer rock face to get water, but they seemed to be accepting their situation.

i had another salty meal and felt better. i had only a few minor blisters on my toes, and a bit of shininess on the heels. nothing judicious use of moleskin wouldn’t handle. my legs felt good. i studied the map more and felt pretty confident in being able to get to proulx lake tomorrow, and then to pick my way down the crack on thursday. what i wanted most was a cool drink; this too-soft, 25 °C epilimnion water was getting to me. i dreamt of icy-cold gatorade. but then it struck me: i must have some electrolyte tablets in that old first aid kit i’ve been carrying on all these trips. i looked around and sure enough, there were three little packets. “exp 1/97”, they said, a perfunctory designation for anything sold as medicine; it was salt, for pity’s sake. i planned on taking one pack tonight, one tomorrow morning and another wednesday night. things were looking up. i was awake for a while reading, but by dark the tiredness took over and i slept like a rock, again.

day 5

once again i tried to get going early, but given my overall state of relaxation it wasn’t until a little after 8:00 that i finally hit the trail. after another deathly still, dry night i had clothes and socks that were substantially dry, if not particularly fresh (i was alternating between two pairs of hiking socks, changing into lighter socks at camp). with fresh moleskin my feet felt great, and i had little in the way of leg soreness. a few days earlier i had gotten a pretty big twinge in a left quad after a quick slip-and-fall, but it never really got any worse. this segment of the trail was mostly level, and quite shaded; i was making good time.

before long i started seeing some hikers up ahead, which made me think i was going too fast. they turned out to be the couple from h38 last night, which was kind of a surprise as they had said they weren’t leaving until friday, another two days. somehow i thought they’d be hanging around silver peak. i decided to just stop for a while, and i never saw them again after that. soon i was getting back up on the ridges again, and the heat was starting to pile up as well. the views to the south were different than those in hansen township -- instead of picturesque lakes with more quartzite ridges up behind them, it was just straight bush, miles and miles of woods stretching off to the horizon, beyond which lay the populated parts of ontario. i felt as though i had really traveled somewhere.

i took a pretty lengthy break at h47, which i recall thinking was a pretty crappy site, just bare rock right off the trail and up against a shallow lake. at least there was a bit of shade. i had skipped using any sunblock the whole trip (although i had a good 9 ounces of it just waiting for a squeeze), figuring my constant perspiring would just wash it off, after running through my eyes first. i felt a little scorched, but not really burned; it made sense to keep out of the sun as much as i could. while sitting there i heard what sounded like a woman yelling, calling someone’s name, far in the distance. it didn’t sound panicky, there were no whistle blasts, and then it stopped, so i didn’t think much more of it after that. as i began to descend toward the portage to norway lake, i reached down for a handhold on a lichen-covered rock, something i had down about two hundred times in the last few days. this rock turned out to be cool and squishy, however, and i almost fell over recoiling from the surprise. it turned out to be this guy:

i hoped that he had been that flat before i rested my bulk on him. great camouflage, although it didn’t really serve him that well for this particular incident.

a few minutes later i rounded a bend and saw this canoe. i was nonplussed; i knew i was going to descend the ridge and pick up a portage, but this was too soon; there were still rocks everywhere. i kept walking and before i could completely make the connection between the stranded canoe and the yelling voice, a young woman came up the other way, followed closely by a young man. i asked her “did you lose a canoe” and she laughed, saying “yeah i missed the turn back there”, and kept on going. just past this point i saw a backpack on the ground, with the trail map unfolded, and i figured she had enlisted the strapping young fellow to help her. it was really pretty crazy -- we were quite a ways up the ridge, well above the portage. how on earth could someone miss the turn, and haul a canoe this far uphill? i had already noticed a tendency not to mark these things well; there were the little blazes for the trail, and nothing at all on the portages (unlike, say, algonquian, where they have those garish yellow plastic sheets, two feet high). but still -- the portages are generally, like, level, and wide? when there’s a fork, you stay on the part that’s level, and wide, and keeps going straight ahead. well, anyway, it was their problem. i found the portage easily enough, and there was no mistaking the wicked climb up the next ridge.

once i got up there i took the usual rest, taking a long look at shingwak lake, another deep teal beauty. i heard some voices from ahead, and after getting back up and starting to hike again i ran into four grownups, not hikers but paddlers who were staying down on norway lake and just taking a day hike. the more i heard about these kind of schemes the more sense they began to make. we had a nice chat, and then i made my way toward the night’s camp. i was looking forward to proulx lake after all the praise for it i had read in online trip reports.

it did not disappoint. the layout was a little less than perfect -- i would have liked easier access to the water, and not having to climb so much to get back to where i hung my food bag. but it was beautiful, absolutely beautiful. one nice feature was the honest-to-goodness tent pad. i hadn’t really thought about this, but everywhere else i was never really assured of a level place to put my tent. i would orient it so as to have my head uphill, and body pointed down gradient. but sometimes you get into a situation where you are sliding down all night. but here someone had set it up to be about as level as one can get without surveying equipment, and sure enough the difference was noticeable as soon as i laid myself down. this would be a restful night.

i took a nice swim, once again eschewing the bathing suit. these dips were life-saving, my only chance to get rinsed of all that sweat. super-soft, so slippery feeling, and not all that cool, but still: life-saving. i had my lemongrass-and-chili thai noodles, something like 1600 mg of sodium, which went down like honey. once again, a deathly still night, almost frighteningly silent, but i slept great. five nights on the ground, more than i had ever done before, and i felt pretty darn good. ready to finish the hike, ready to see the village of killarney and have some fish and chips, but in no way fed up with backpacking. it was going to be alright.

day 6

the morning was cloudy and almost cool, with a bit of breeze at times. because of this i decided to travel with just two liters of water, figuring i could get some more if i needed it. i was up and going, again probably not before 8:00 but not much after. it looked like a pretty straightforward day: a tough climb to start, some up-and-down along the ridge, and then a monster descent from “the crack”; after that, just a “walk in the park” as they say.

that was pretty much the story. everything went fine, although it did not remain cool as i had hoped; another hot dry day of sweating like a freaking pig. quickly i was up and over little superior lake: from there the trail gained the ridge and pretty much stayed there. again, the views to the south looked out on a great expanse of scrubby canadian shield. i knew that i was getting to the crack by sound: several conversations at once, people talking loudly to each other, and little toy dog running around and yapping. i knew right there the peaceful part was over. i was little unprepared, however, for just how tricky the descent was going to be.

at first i couldn’t find the way down. there were no blazes in sight, just a bunch of squeaky-clean day hikers. after a couple of dead ends, or rather death-defying precipices, i decided to go ahead and ask the group: so, which way did you come up? they would need to remember that, you’d think. so after some pointing and talking, this one guy says “oh look i hung my shirt on the trail marker! har-dee-har!” i wished i had found it that funny. anyway i made a little downward progress but got confused again; with all the day use there were a lot of little trails going off in different directions. and, oddly enough, not everyone had a clear recollection of how they got up there. with a little asking and poking around, though, i eventually saw “the crack” itself and it became clear enough from that point. i was a little exasperated, though, after all those miles without any trouble finding my way. and from there, it just got to be quite difficult, with the heat and the steep drops and the sharp rocks and my overall weariness from all those miles of no trouble. the descent just didn’t seem to stop; more than once i got into some tree cover only to have to get out on the scorched rock again. after what seemed like forever i was finally down, and resting, trying to eat but having that same cotton-mouthed, almost gagging response to the sesame nut mix, and just barely being able to get down a clif bar. i wished i had pumped that third liter of water, too. while sitting there an older fellow offered me an extra bottle, i said no thinks, i still have a 600 mL sigg bottle, and i could get more on the way. he said he didn’t really like the looks of the water on the trail, but then went on his way.

so it was an easy-enough hike along kakakise lake, and the creek, to where the trail split off to the day-use parking area. i stood there for a pretty long time, wondering if i should take the short way and cadge a ride from someone, or go the 6 kilometers back to george lake. i finally decided to go for it, but it was not the light walk-through-the-park i had been hoping for the previous days. i even relented to counting paces (actually every four paces), an old trick for when i need to slog a couple of miles when already pretty tired. that helped pass the time, but i was still staying thirsty, swatting at flies, and occasionally taking a bad step and turning an ankle just a little. i even stopped to get more water at wagon road lake, which was warm and off-tasting, but i was beginning to lose it. i got off in my hundreds (was it 600 already, or 800) but sure enough i got to that sign i was expecting, the big warning, and then the reassurance that i only had 600 meters to go. that felt heavenly, but even then the trail had some more grunting climbs; it was technically literally to the end, i could hear people snapping kindling at their car camping sites and still, i had to make a tricky descent. well tricky for wearing a big pack and being so worn out, anyway.

but boom, i was there. i had been studying the campground map for the last couple of days, and saw that there was a water station just after the trailhead. i figured it would be well water, so cooler than the surface layers of those lakes, and when i found it i filled a bottle and poured it over my head, a wasteful luxury. it was indeed cool, and tasted a little like chlorine. what a relief! when it began to appear that i still had a good slog through the campgrounds before i got to the parking lot, i dropped the pack and called home. i kind of dumped on ms. cicadashell, it being my first opportunity to admit my vulnerability. she was of course very reassuring, and we had a long chat, and at that point i had the energy again to walk back to the car. there, i went through the actions i had been mentally rehearsing for a couple of days: take off the boots and the socks, change into the dry clothes stashed in the car, then drive away. i stopped back at the office because i had been indulging this dim recollection of a vending machine with icy-cold refreshing beverages, but when i got there all i saw was a pepsi machine outside, baking a bit in the sun, so i thought no let’s hit the road and see what i find.

well, i found a tar and chipstone repaving project on highway 637, the air full of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons and choking dust. splendid! that kept the windows rolled up, no air conditioning in the car although i probably wouldn’t have had it on anyway, i kind of hate air conditioning. i got to killarney without seeing any cool drinks (the outfitters place just looked too scary from some reason), made a note of the fish and chips bus and then found the lodge. once inside (a slow barefoot walk on their crushed gravel entryway) i learned that ms. cicadashell had arranged for a glass of orange juice to greet me. it was though the world stood still for the 20 seconds it took me to drink it down; i think that was the most delicious glass of anything i had ever drank. i found my room, rustic, charming and ridiculously hot, but that didn’t bother me in the least; i knew that it was just sketchy insulation that let it get so hot in the first place, and that meant it would cool down quickly enough after dark. i took a very long, very hot shower, contemplated shaving, and then decided i was too comfortable with my week’s growth. it was only 4:30 but i was hungry and i headed for the fish wagon.

i got there, ordered dinner, and then took a long look at the vending machines. not my favorite colors of gatorade, but there it was nonetheless. while pouring the first down my throat i heard a voice say “well it looks like you got down okay”; it turned out to be the folks i saw up over shingwak lake, who had paddled out and were staying at george lake. they invited me to sit with them, which i was happy to do. two couples, from pennsylvania and virginia respectively, and the men had known each other since boyhood. they were actually having trouble with their truck and had gotten a ride into town for dinner. we talked for a while and their ride showed up, so we said “see you again somewhere” and i finished my chips, along with a second gatorade.

now i have to admit that i was not terrifically impressed with the fish. of the four pieces, only one was solid filet; the others seemed like end pieces, not really flaky enough. and the fries were okay but again, a lot of little “fry ends”. it was as though i got there too late or something. i looked up and saw that most people had left, and the place was closing down, which seemed a little odd. reflexively i looked at the time on my phone, not my watch, and..are you ready for the big surprise? it was almost 7:00; my watch was something like an hour and 40 minutes slow. it was almost as disorienting to discover this as those times when i think i know which way north is and then i turn out to be totally backwards. i had no idea when this happened, but after thinking about it i realized it had to have been the very first day. it did seem to be earlier than i thought, back at topaz lake, waiting for people to clear out and give me some peace. so: all those times i thought i was getting on the trail around 8:00 it was more like 9:30, sometimes not getting going until 10:00. when i rolled into h21 at 6:30 it was really 8:00, and so on. that kind of blew me away.

so i wandered back to the lodge, too late to visit the package store (sorry canada, you’re progressive in so many ways but the package store thing is a real head-scratcher to me). fortunately the bar provided plastic cups, so i enjoyed a few grain beverages in various adirondack chairs on the grounds. by dark, i returned to the porch for a bit more reading and then collapsed into bed, fan blowing furiously. i slept quite well, thank you very much.

day 7

not much to say about the return trip, other than that i decided to head up north past sudbury and cross into michigan at sault sainte marie. it wasn’t shorter, but it was different, and more importantly i figured it would take less time to get through homeland security at the soo, early afternoon, than at port huron at five o’clock on a friday. that turned out to be a good call; i was talking about this with a friend at work, who told me he had a visitor from toronto over the weekend who came through port huron fridat afternoon and spent three hours in line. three hours! for me it was only an hour, so with the extra 60 miles and the two-lane highways it was a wash, time-wise, but far more interesting and far less frustrating. i do not like to sit in my car waiting to go through customs.

when i got back to ann arbor it was the end of punk week, and there was a large contingent of grungy-looking people walking along north main from bandemer park (later i learned that there was trouble with the law that day). what i saw, that made me laugh, and i wish i had grabbed the camera, was this skinny kid with electric-red dreadlocks, the very picture of back-to-the-earth counterculturalism, and he was carrying a brand new chrome messenger bag. you know, the ones that cost $140. far out dude, way to keep it real. so it was good to be home again.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


i am writing today to express my disappointment and anger over your deceptive labeling practices. i refer to your product “brianna’s vinaigrette”, which i feel i was lured into purchasing by false promises. now, everyone who knows me knows i love artichokes. having grown up near castroville, artichokes have been a special part of my life for as long as i can remember. so naturally, i was delighted when i saw, in the salad dressing aisle of my local greengrocer, a bottle of your “brianna’s vinaigrette” with its attractive illustration of an artichoke on the label, luscious and inviting. my mouth began to water as soon as i thought of eating a delicious artichoke. i purchased a bottle and immediately went home, thinking all the way of how delicious artichokes are, and how much i would enjoy eating one. however, when i got home and went into the kitchen and began to pour out the contents of the bottle, i sensed something wrong almost instantly. imagine my disappointment when i saw that, in fact, there were no artichokes in the bottle, whole or in part. i quickly read the label, and my disappointment grew to anger when i discovered that there was not event the slightest trace of artichoke anywhere in the ingredients.

what could you have been thinking? am i to believe that the tempting depiction of my favorite food, the artichoke, on your product’s label was no more than a “serving suggestion”? either you have grossly underestimated the public’s passion for artichokes, and are oblivious to our responses, or, worse, you have cynically manipulated our enthusiasm and are actively “working” us for your financial gain. either way, something needs to change. in a perfect world, you would refrain from picturing ingredients that you do not actually use in your products. but perhaps a simple disclaimer would be satisfactory. for me, however, only a genuine artichoke will do.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

whole lotta pavement marking going on

over the past few days a number of crews have come around marking the pavement in front of the house. by now it appears they have gotten everything, including a 30-inch raw water line i didn't know was down there (thought it was over on ponoma, but apparently that's just the newer one). the detail is almost excessive.

so what i think is happening is that the purchasers of the house across the street, taking note of the age of construction and the history of the neighborhood in general, have determined that the service lateral is almost certainly the dreaded orangeburg, and that it is only a little less certain that it will collapse within the next couple of years, and that rather than end up with several inches of their own sewage in their basement, they will have it replaced now, before they have moved in. because we all know what a drag it is to have to get an excavator to come out in february and do it, while you are unable to flush your toilets and have to spit out your toothpaste into the backyard.

i can't think of any other good reason to tear up a perfectly nice residential street. and i'm grateful for the older, high-quality well-built raw water main under our street, unlike that other backup line they put under pomona a few years back that keeps popping seals and making holes and bulges in the pavement and has silty water pouring down the street and into the storm drain inlets. i tell you they don't build pressure lines like they used to.

Friday, April 20, 2007

it's been a book you read in reverse

so yesterday i downloaded the waterbody use designations for the muskingum river drainage basin (chapter 3745-1-24 of the ohio administrative code) and was quite surprised to see a stream named "nigger run", tributary to the mohican river upstream of its confluence with the kokosing river. i know those sort of names were common in the past, but i thought they had pretty much all been "revised" to something less offensive. i checked a usgs quad map online and saw that, as far as the federal government was concerned, the name of this particular stream was now "negro run". but then i looked in the index of all waterbodies and saw that there are in fact three "nigger run"s and one "nigger creek". the index was last revised on 4/2/2007, which sharp readers will quickly identify as the 21st century. perhaps OEPA staff are more concerned about finishing all those TMDLs, or maybe they are trying to teach us all something about the power of language, which we are stubbornly refusing to understand.

in case anyone is interested, the designated uses for this particular "nigger run" include aquatic life warmwater habitat, agricultural and industrial water supply, and primary contact recreation. it does not appear on the state's 303(d) list, however, so we may assume it is fully attaining these uses. maybe when the walhondling river gets its TMDL someone will take a closer look at nigger run.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

walking a bridge on weakening cables

so we were all excited about the first shop ride of the season, last sunday morning, the great lakes cycling crew getting together and hitting the road at 9:00 a.m. sharp to kick off a new season of sunday morning group rides. and while the weather had been nice up to that point, soon after we headed off a thunderstorm slipped in, big drops of rain pounding down at about 42 °F, and just like that we were spraying each other with grit-laden stream of water, soaked and chilly. but loving every minute of it. it was actually not easy for me to keep up with the carbon-fiber guys, bruised ribs and all, but it is never really a bad thing to be out riding a bicycle. i was a little sorry i had gone to so much trouble to clean and lube the izumi super toughness chain the night before, but hey - i got to do it all over again.

last night after uploading to flickr the pictures i took that afternoon along fleming creek (i let my class out a little early and had the brilliant idea of checking out the bot gardens, where i hadn't gone in quite some time) i poked around looking at other photos tagged with "ann arbor", sort of an exercise in vanity, and found myself somewhat disturbed by the description accompanying this picture

overbuildingannarbor?please.the loudest complaints i heard about this project were from the condo dwellers in one north main who didn't want their skyline views interrupted. and we didn't want that building built either, but somehow, here we are.

i was tempted to respond but thought the better of it. it just seemed so precious - or maybe parochial, or%20even chauvanistic. i am tired beyond lucid description of persons wanting ann arbor to be the small town that isn't really a small town, but is still like a small town, but isn't really like a small town, but is small anyway. what i grieve is the loss of open space and woodlands and waterways, which i have seen in my lifetime of living here. the only sensible answer is to develop the urban core, to build up instead of out. unless of course you believe you can somehow keep the people out, and impose restrictions on who moves in. and that would be one slippery slope.

part of the reason i don't even want to get started arguing with these people is that i would be compelled to bring up my lifelong residence in town, and i find that distasteful. my "native" status is a combination of accident, intent, coincidence and resignation, and ultimately adds up to something totally uninteresting. even so there are some people who always need to bring that sort of thing up. now and again i see these bumper stickers that say "ann arbor native- right from the start", and i just want to stop those cars, and drag those driver out ontothe street, and pour something corrosive all over their shoes while they wring their hands in apoplectic angst. i love this placeas much as anybody does, or even could, but guess what: the forces working on it are larger than me. i'm not powerless but i am only a part of the flow. are you happy that pfizer is leaving town and taking thousands of intelligent jobs with them? are you angry at google for opening their adwords office here instead of in scio township? do you ever just wish you could decide who stays and who goes?

anyway. i am ranting and it is late. go ride your bicycle. spring has come 'round again, and honor her by going 'round yourself.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

gluing tinsel to your crown

many are the county road maintenance supervisors vexed by michigan's infamous freeze-thaw cycles; this worm appears to have received the coldest end of this particular stick. but relief is in sight, as the equinox wraps around us.

a week ago sunday i rode the follis to fleming creek, to parker mill that is, to see if all that melting snow had flooded the portion of the hoyt post boardwalk that passes underneath the old michigan central railroad bridge. judging from the creek's stage in the park, the flooding was indeed taking place, but naturally i had to see for myself, so i walked the bicycle along the boardwalk because bicycles are not allowed, but i have walked the bicycle down the boardwalk before, on low-pedestrian-turnout days, and i feel that holds to the spirit of the rule, and anyway i have been coming down there for far too long to be kept away by the parks department. so along one stretch i got up and rolled along, and when i spied a couple of walkers ahead and through the trees i made to stop the bike and get off, but at that very moment came onto a wet patch and the bike slid out from under me, and while i caught myself fairly well with my hands i miscalculated the effect of the 4×4s along the edges of the boardwalk and hit one, squarely, with the lower part of my left rib cage. this was not something my rib cage was intended to do.

i got up right away, to act as though nothing had happened, and fortunately the couple of walkers did not engage me in conversation, because my gasping might have alarmed them. sure enough, the boardwalk was flooded, as this picture attests (note also the 4×4s along the edges):

so for the last week i have been in something of a cloud, intermittently pained. the injury was not serious, with no discoloration or swelling or anything ominous, so i have been simply taking it easy, or as easy as i can, which is never easy enough, but notably i haven't even ridden the bike since last wednesday, because i decided it was slowing down the healing process. i'm felling a lot better now (thank you), and yesterday i had a bit of a breaktrough: i actually sneezed. so i'm thinking thursday, back on the bike.

another aspect of that cloud has involved developing FORTRAN code for the numerical model we are developing to analyze surge issues in a large combined sewage storage tunnel that is being designed for a city somewhere. the model itself was developed at u-m as part of a doctoral thesis by a very hard-working young man from brazil, who is currently teaching at the university in brasilia but is also working with us to further develop his model and apply it to this very visible project. actually it is rather exciting for us to be doing this, because we had to convince the project owner to have us do this innovative thing rather than go with the "experts" who have done all this surge modeling in the past, with models that aren't really vetted and can't necessarily answer all the right questions. it has been something of a personal struggle for me to define a role in the project, but i have hung on and when it came up that the code could be ported from delphi-pascal to fortran, for speedier execution, i spoke up and was allowed to run with it.

so the cloud involved a problem with continuity, with volume disappearing throughout the trial runs. my recoding bascially ran, but somehow the volume of inflow was continuously vanishing even though the velocity and cross sectional areas were there, just going off into the ether or attaching itself to some string with a loop, or some parallel universe or similar science fiction. it was driving me crazy, until yesterday when i finally figured out the problem. i had mistakenly declared a vector of indices as floating point, which produced one of those classic moments in computer programming: give the computer ambiguous instructions, and you can never be sure what the result will be.

so that's fixed, but i am having other issues with stability associated with the flow regime transition, which of course is the hardest part of the problem. but if i can get this licked, we'll all be rich and famous. when my royalty check comes, i think i will buy a mustang. no, that's not what i will do. i think what i will do is buy a corvette. no...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

the people will tell you you're miles from your home

today was a cold ride in, a cold ride in. i should still lament the missing balaclava, but in fact i have been adjusting to it; today, to be sure, i wore a scarf and the ski goggles. but after tuesday's ride home, into that 30-mile-an-hour headwind with the snow falling and the air temperature low enough to begin with, i suppose i can handle just about anything. that ride was not altogether difficult, with the exception of the winds by the airport (which, to tell the truth, were probably the hardest thing i have ever dealt with on a bicycle). packed snow in the bike lanes on state got a little squishy, leading to the random-steering effect, which is unsettling. along packard i resorted to riding on the sidewalk rather than trying to cross the endless stream of crawling outbound traffic, and you know how much i hate riding on sidewalks. then i opted out of going up miller, again because of traffic, and insterad followed ashley down into the hollow and came up felch. there is a steep portion where i was standing up, mashing as hard as i could against my 44:17 gear, and the rear wheel began to slip a bit. this was potentially troublesome, but i did not go down. then riding up brooks, up the hill and into the wind and on top of scrunchy snow, also a test of endurance. but i prevailed.

last week i had an interesting trip to pittsburgh for a conference, where i presented a poster and waited in the wings, so to speak, as an alternate for a podium presentation. i wanted to write about this at the time but i had a jankity internet connection and chose to spend my spare time riding a stationary bicycle, or sleeping. but i did ride the duquesne incline with some other attendees, and enjoyed the view from the top. perhaps i will find a way to upload the poster, if i can get it in pdf form.