Winter mountain biking

Often, during our trips to the woods, Peggy has wanted to hike farther or stay out later than I considered safe. Last Sunday, we biked five miles up roads so steep that she had to walk in places, often in dense, frost-laden fog. We are new to winter biking—in the woods, I mean, our bikes being our primary transport in town—and despite our efforts to dress adequately, our hands and feet were slowly getting colder. In addition, we were in an area unknown to us; it was mid-afternoon; and our maps were woefully inadequate. We had planned to do a loop, but we still hadn’t come to our turn, and we probably wouldn’t be able to tell for sure when we did come to it (most of the logging roads being either unnumbered or numbered differently than on the map). What’s more, we would have no way of knowing whether our turn was passable.

The decision to turn back was a no-brainer as far as I was concerned, so I was surprised when Peggy wanted to continue. I told her of my reservations and, after much discussion, we turned back. As we re-entered the fog, the chill factor increased dramatically, and its effect was heightened by the fact that we were going downhill. Despite the bad roads and having to go at schnauzer speed, we reached the van in less than an hour. By then, Peggy was in tears from the cold.

I had told her during our discussion that I felt badly about always being the naysayer. She said I should take comfort in the fact that we have always made it home safely. I do. A young and fit math professor disappeared three weeks ago during a day hike on Olallie Mountain, an area that we love. He left his extra clothes in his car, probably because the day was fairly warm and the hike only six miles each way. The search-and-rescue effort was scaled back to a search-and-recovery after a week, but when his guidebook was found, a renewed effort was mounted. No other trace has been found.

Every winter brings such stories, and every winter I ponder the suffering that is taking place somewhere nearby, somewhere that I love. Being just a little bit cold and disoriented when darkness is falling is such a horrible experience that I cannot imagine what it would be like to multiply that horror many times over and continue it to death.

I assumed that mountain biking would be much like mountain hiking but have found that it imposes entirely new challenges. For example, we can’t carry as much. We initially thought to wear our daypacks, but discovered that the extra weight on our butts was torturous, and that the high center of gravity was a safety hazard. I purchased large bike bags, but they are far smaller than our packs, so we take both, placing heavier items in the bags and extra clothing in our packs. Still, we are obliged to leave most of our emergency gear at home in favor of tools and an air pump.

Despite having taken a class, I’m largely ignorant of bike mechanics. Also, my Reynaud’s Disease is sufficiently bad that my fingers often turn white just from taking food from the freezer. So where does this leave me? I have neither the knowledge nor the physical capacity to repair a bike of any but the simplest malfunctions, and my bad knee would make it difficult for me to hike out over steep terrain. If we were not on a gated road, one of us could go for the van, but we usually are on gated roads, and I don’t like the idea of separating anyway.

Peggy was so miserable on Sunday that she vowed to give up cold-weather biking. Perhaps, she will, but I think it more likely that we will carry even more “extra” clothing, and that I will learn more about bike mechanics. If the latter doesn’t help, at least it won’t hurt.

Problems with dog poop, hunting

As I mowed today for the last time this year, I observed that it is an unalterable law of the universe that no matter how fine a man a person a pet owner is or how thoroughly he searches his yard, he is still going to get poop on his shoes and in his lawnmower tires. This constitutes my chief argument against the existence of a benevolent deity.

Peggy and I took three bike rides last week on Weyerhaeuser roads, which we like because they are usually gated. It being hunting season, the gates were open, and we encountered several hunters. They were mostly young men, wearing camouflage, and driving pickups. We worried little about them running over the dogs, because they were barely moving. Presumably, they were looking for things to kill. I don’t know if hunters actually shoot their prey from inside their trucks, but I have only seen them outside on two occasions, and on those occasions they were leaning against the side panels. This raises the question of why hunters wear camouflage. All I can figure is that they want their prey to think their trucks are unoccupied.

The sport of hunting differs from human-against-human sports in two ways. The most obvious is that hunters kill things. The other is that human-against-human sports include rules that favor skill and fairplay. Even I could beat Tiger Woods at golf if I poked his eyes out, or I could knock Mike Tyson right out of the ring if I hit him from behind with a steel pipe. Such rules don’t apply in the world of hunting. If they did, hunters would attack grizzly bears with Bowie knives instead of shooting them from distant hillsides. Such considerations cause me to hold hunting in very low esteem, yet I know several people who hunt, and they all seem fair-minded and even kindly in their ordinary lives. I think of them this way …

Ken (a non-hunter) was my best friend in Mississippi. One day, Ken and I were at someone’s house, and this person’s little girl was flirting with us by “making eyes” as it is called in the South. After we left, Ken said, “That kid sure did want it, and someday somebody’s gonna give it to her.” I first tried to convince myself that I had heard wrong; then I felt dismayed and heartsick. All of the many little things I loved about Ken were still there, but I could never get past this one big thing.

Hunters say they hunt because they enjoy the outdoors, or the camaraderie, or the thrill of the chase, yet none of these things need end in the death of an animal. Some few say they hunt because they enjoy eating game. If you are going to eat meat anyway, I suppose you might as well kill it yourself, yet I find even this reason suspect due to the amount of money the meat costs. The price of trucks, guns, licenses, clothing, and, in some cases, trips to faraway places, make for some awfully expensive jerky.

I have no doubt that many hunters are among the finest people in the world except for this one thing that they do, but, as with pedophilia, it ranks as a very big thing in my eyes, and I can never get entirely past it. My life would be easier if I could. My best efforts involve a remembrance of my own sins, including that of hunting. From ages eight to eighteen, I hunted—nearly always alone even when I was eight. My reasoning was threefold. First, I was curious about death, and I thought I could better understand it by being near it. Second, I believed that hunting was what real men did, and I wanted to be a real man. Third, I hoped that the power of the animals I killed would pass into me. This sounded idiotic even at the time, but as with other magical thoughts, I later learned that it was both common and ancient. The best face I can put upon my years as a hunter is to say that what I wanted with animals was intimacy, even oneness. The problem with this is that I wanted them to be absorbed into me, and most definitely not me into them.

Marvin and the junior warden's station

Marvin is an eighty-year-old Masonic brother. He is popular, does more than his share to keep the lodge running, and knows Masonic ritual better than anyone else in our lodge. In fact, he knows it so well that I told myself that here was an example of what diligence and intelligence combined with decades of experience could accomplish. Then I learned that Brother Marvin only joined the lodge six years ago.

The Worshipful Master, Senior Warden, and Junior Warden comprise the hierarchy of the lodge. Under normal circumstances, the lower two officers progress to the Master’s position. Brother Marvin served as Senior Warden this year, and will therefore become Master in December. A month ago, he asked me if I would “stand” for election as Junior Warden. I told him that I would only consider it if I didn’t have to wear a tux (the Master dictates how his officers dress). He looked displeased, but said nothing. I didn’t hear anymore about it, and I hoped he had found someone else because I didn’t want the job anyway. This week, on the night of elections, he asked me again if I would take the post. “You already asked me once, and I said I wouldn’t wear a tuxedo.” “I know,” he said, “So, will you stand for the office?”

“No, I’ve decided against it because it would put me in line to be Master in two years, and I don’t want to do that.” Marvin chews gum, and you can gauge how fast his brain is working by how fast his jaws are moving. “Why not?” he demanded as he moved his face close to mine, chomping furiously. Thus challenged, I laid out each of several reservations. Marvin agreed with some, disagreed with some, and then said: “Lowell, when they made me Senior Warden, I told them I wouldn’t accept the Master’s post unless I could get a slate of officers I could trust.” This unexpected mixture of flattery combined with a personal appeal was probably the only way he could have won me over.

Later, I remembered that he has no say about who will become Senior Warden since that post is normally filled by the former Junior Warden. I also realized that most of the other positions were also predetermined. For example, treasurers and secretaries stay put for years, because few are willing to take the jobs. Other posts are occupied by old men who don’t want to move. We have a few younger brothers, but they are too new to become Junior Warden.

I realized that I had been had. Marvin knew he couldn’t browbeat or shame me into accepting the office, but he realized that he might be able to lure me with flattery coupled with an appeal to loyalty. Upon realizing this, I vowed to evermore be on guard against the manipulating bastard. Later, I just smiled, because I knew I had been outwitted fair and square. Marvin hadn’t hidden anything from me. He had simply acknowledged that I am good at the work I do, and that it would be a loss to him and the lodge if I refused to move up.

Scavenging, profanity

I just came home with a knit cap that I found in the street. It was dripping wet and contained an earthworm, a scorpion, and leaf litter; but it was a Carhartt’s and almost new. Peggy hates my scavenging, but I ask her not to deny me such a simple pleasure, for I value my finds even though I usually pass them on to other people. Today’s hat is not even a style that I like, but I cleaned it well, and it is now drying in the laundry room. My father also scavenged, but he never got rid of his finds, and he brought home a lot of truly worthless stuff like broken toys and machinery parts of unknown usage—things that even a junk dealer wouldn’t want.

Peggy also hates it when I scream profanities in the front yard, and I can see her point there, but I was brought up that way, so it comes naturally. Mostly, I curse the dogs (“What the f___ are you rolling in?!”), but I have cursed other people and even inanimate objects. My father screamed profanities not only in the yard, but on streets, out car windows, in stores, in other people’s houses (while he was working), and every other conceivable location except church, but then he only went to church when he was in one of his theistic phases.

Peggy’s father never even whispered profanities, although her mother let loose on rare occasions. Like my father, she was emotionally unstable, and I suppose people who scream profanities in public are more likely to be unstable than are people who refrain. Nowadays, I hear loud profanity in public all the time, even from girls who are barely old enough to have breasts. Maybe our whole society is becoming unstable.

Chronic pain, fasting as a possible remedy

My knee has hurt so much this week that I have limped at times. Peggy asked if I ever think about going ahead and having it replaced. Her question threw me because I am so profoundly opposed to that particular surgery. If I become consistently miserable and utterly bereft of other options, I will go through with it, but I am disgusted by the surgery itself, by having an artificial joint replace the joint I was born with, and by the risk of infection or joint failure for the rest of my life. I would have to take antibiotics every time I had my teeth cleaned, and the next replacement would have less chance of working than this one, because there would be less bone to attach it to. I would also have to avoid heavy lifting. I have often wondered what doctors do when an artificial joint fails, and can’t be replaced. This week, I looked it up—they fuse the bones together.

I weighed 157 this morning. When I lifted weights, I looked buff at 182, so 157 is on the skinny side. Yet, I am fasting today, and I plan to fast at least one day a week, because fasting has been a health boon during those periods when I did it, and because, aside from fasting, I literally don’t know how else I might help myself in the short term.

I slept on my back last night because my shoulders hurt too much to sleep on my sides, but since my sleep apnea is worse on my back, I awakened at 4:00 with a headache, and never got back to sleep. My wrists never stop tingling, and my knees never stop hurting. Being in pain is like having a second job in that it tires a person. My primary care doctor suggested an exercise instructor, but I hurt in so many places that I am convinced I would aggravate the pain, and maybe hurt myself in other places in the process. Besides, I have little confidence in the experts right now.

My joints are in the shape they are because (a) I unknowingly did work that was tough on them, (b) I had a lousy knee surgeon, and (c) my yoga instructor was inexperienced. Count them. Experts caused or contributed to two of my three joint problems. My impression is that whether I get better or worse is entirely in my own hands, if indeed it is in anyone’s. I don’t actually know how much good I can do. I just know that I have never suffered any ill effects from fasting, whereas it has seemed to help me appreciably.

True, the hunger and low energy are no fun, but fasting also makes me mellow while I am doing it, and distracts me from things that I might otherwise worry about. It also feels good to succeed at something that is hard to do, but that is good for me when I do it. Then too there is the spiritual element. When I am fasting, I feel pure, and as soon as I put food in my mouth, I lose that purity, because food is, after all, either DEAD (as with preserved food) or it is DYING (as with fresh food). Even the best of us must live by killing, and this eliminates the possibility of innocence.

There are actions that are just, and there are actions that are necessary, and they are often in opposition. The fox kills the rabbit, not because the rabbit deserves to die, but because the fox wants to eat, and so it is with us. The difference is that we know what we do.

An alarming discovery

I carry pepper spray, and if I see someone whose appearance disturbs me, I take note of which way the wind blows. I know that such security measures seem excessive to most people, but then theirs seem lax to me. Just yesterday, a woman’s garage door opener was stolen from her car while she was at church, and she arrived home to find her house burglarized. I’ve taken my garage door opener out of the van for years.

I now have an embarrassing confession to make about security. While I was on the patio last week, the back door locked itself. The latch was apparently part way down, and the bump of the door closing caused it to drop the rest of the way. I didn’t have my key, so I decided to try something that I have been meaning to try for years, but hadn’t gotten around to because I didn’t think it possible. I stuck my hand through the dog door, reached up, and unlocked all three deadbolts faster than with a key. If a thief had made this discovery, I would have been too embarrassed to show my face around my friends. The door in question is still protected by an outer door of steel mesh, a bar that slides across the inner door, and a cover that goes over the dog door. The problem is that I seldom use the last two barriers, so I am now shopping for double-keyed deadbolts.

A woodland encounter with two large dogs

Peggy and I have been taking advantage of breaks in the weather to go biking in the woods with the dogs. Yesterday, we saw a pygmy owl sitting on a low limb. Our presence did not disturb it in the least. I wondered that an owl’s light sensitive eyes could bear the afternoon sun, but later read that pygmy owls are diurnal.

Last week, we encountered two large, strong dogs that stayed with us for a disturbingly long distance, although I thought they seemed more curious than aggressive. Peggy—who was at the rear of our little procession—later said that one of them had growled at her, and forced her off her bike by pushing against it. When we passed them on our return, I encouraged Bonnie and Baxter to run so we could get past them quickly. This did not work, because the other dogs were upon us too fast. I nonetheless persisted with my approach until Peggy yelled from behind that they were becoming aggressive. “They’re okay,” I yelled back. “I don’t think so,” she said.

I did a U-turn, and found them on the verge of attacking Bonnie who was snapping furiously but unconvincingly at her powerful foes. I parked a few feet away, strode between her and them, and warned them sternly that they had damned well better back off. Their eyes met mine unflinchingly as they searched for some sign of weakness. Finding none, and without any apparent communication with one another, they turned in unison and walked away.
I marveled at their intelligence and perceptiveness, for the encounter would have ended badly for them had they been brainless brutes. I had in my pocket a can of Fox pepper spray, and I sorely wanted to see what it could do after being choked for several minutes last week when I sprayed barely a whiff of it on the patio floor.

With the marauders gone, I expected to find myself alone, Peggy and the dogs having had plenty of time to make their escape. Instead, there stood Bonnie right by my leg. I didn’t know whether she stayed to protect me or for me to protect her, although she invariably comes to me when she’s afraid. Baxter shows no preference, being as apt to run to a shrub as to a person.

I kidded Peggy about running out on me, but she knew that I handle dogs well—and that I had the spray. More than that, she wanted to get Baxter to safety, because he’s dumb enough to attack a passive wolf yet cowardly enough to be panicked by an aggressive Chihuahua.