Out of Place

I am the least conventional thinker I know. I’m willing to conform when appropriate, just sometimes clueless about where that proverbial box is.

I had a pre-calc professor who lectured on convention, how the quadrants were always numbered the same way, starting with “I” in the upper right, continuing counter clockwise with “II” in the upper left. He spent 5 minutes saying that we followed these standard conventions so that everyone would know what to expect and do. He continued that there was nothing wrong with being unconventional, unless you happened to meet an unconventional thinker (going against traffic) in a Mack Truck.

On the Trail

This past week, I’ve been riding like I did before we put the video project on hold. It felt good but tiring because I was also restricting calories to loose the extra pounds that are still, somehow, hanging on.

Tuesday, I started at Big Creek Park in Roswell. Just after I started, still in the Roswell section, there was a private car on the path.

This isn’t the first time I’ve known a car to be on this trail in Roswell. About 3 years ago, several excited walkers and cyclists warned me to be careful because there was a car on the trail. I never saw that one, but I did report the claim to the mountain bike (MTB) team manager, because sometimes they use the greenway to go between MTB trails, or for cardio.

I don’t think the team manager believed me. Days later, I asked an officer patrolling the trail if anyone had reported the car. He said “No. If there had been a car out here, we’d know it.” He was ultra-confident, but I had seen the faces of the people warning me. I didn’t push it.

I rarely put myself at risk of selfie suicide, but after that experience, the first thing I did when I saw this car was to whip out my phone and get the proof.

The car slowed to a near stop. I passed. No one was excited this time. Perhaps because this car was moving so slowly, or maybe because they had seen it happen before. It occurred to me that the driver actually could have mistaken the paved path, 12 feet wide in most places, for a place they were allowed to drive. Who knows?

There are a lot of boardwalks in Roswell, and they weren’t built for automobile traffic. Getting stuck out there could be a real mess.

A car on Big Creek Greenway in Roswell

Moments later I saw someone pushing an adult trike up one of the bridges that passes over the stream. These bridges create small, but relatively steep hills in the otherwise flat winding streambed trail. The person on the trike clearly had a degenerative disease and the person pushing was helping them to get their physical therapy.

Should the two of them have met the car, it would have been like meeting that unconventional thinker in the Mack Truck. Following convention and behaving predictably doesn’t matter in so many places where people get all hung up about it, but on the trail it does.

What should you do? I follow “If you see something say something” only so far as I think it could prevent harm.

We all have bad days, miscommunications, distracting thoughts, missed guesses as to the speed or intentions of others. We find ourselves in situations that are unfamiliar and have to stop to figure out what to do, where to go, how to adjust.

Children don’t always do what their grown-ups say. Grown-ups don’t always read signs or know trail etiquette. Some pets are perfectly trained and others lead their owners around and around. Some groups are trying to negotiate a perfect storm of these things, or not thinking outside the conversation they’re having.

You didn’t expect the trail to narrow without warning right after a 90 degree turn, where the kids (and adults) like to watch through the grates as cars pass overhead, just at the grassy shoulder turns to rip-rap made of 2 ft stones? (Haynes Bridge Overpass in Alpharetta). There are a few distracting things inside that pretty short distance. They sometimes cause people to crowd and linger in the space.

It isn’t reasonable to assume that all trail users can hear cyclists or other people with wheels call their pass, even when they don’t have their ears stuffed or covered with audio devices.

People turn around, or step into a piece of trash to pick it up without looking or warning just as cyclists or skaters come up beside them. Faster trail users can’t reliably guess the age or mobility of slower trail users in a split second as they pass, especially on a curve. At some point anyone with wheels is going to be closer and faster than some of those without are comfortable having them.

There are even wildlife surprises on the trail sometimes. Have you ever really wished that squirrel would just decide which way to go ad do it, so that you could too? There’s a doe. Where’s the fawn?

And that guy who does double the speed limit on his Onewheel (electric unicycle), his knees, shins, wrists and elbows are padded in motorcycle grade safety gear (but no one he might collide with is). I’ve even seen a guy on a manual unicycle going faster than I knew was possible. It surprised me that his speed and mass intimidated me.

For all these reasons and more, convention (trail etiquette and rules), intention (kindness) and attention (knowing what’s going on in shared multi-use space) makes all the difference.

Some trails have specific rules. It’s always a good idea to read any that are posted, even if you’re experienced.

Going to the trail during low traffic reduces the number of interactions, but it is never ok to assume you can break with safety protocols because no one else will be out there, not even when you’re three counties out in the country during the pandemic.

Anything can and does happen, and if you assumed you were the only person out there, it will catch you more off guard when it does.

And if you’re that road cyclist who’s been taught to take control of the lane, remember to leave that attitude on the road while you’re on the trail. You are the fast, heavy, thing with momentum when you’re here.

And those traffic grade head lights? Trails are closed when you need those. I’m not talking about the low intensity lights that you can’t switch off on bikes like the Synapse. I’m talking about the high intensity lights that are competing with car headlights to be seen. Those are too bright to shine in the eyes of people that close. There’s a little bit of time, just before the trails close when it’s just dark enough for people’s eye to be adjusting to the low level light for those lights to blind people. Blind people aren’t as good at staying out of your way.

Understanding the needs and capabilities of trail users unlike yourself makes trail mishaps so much less frequent.

It is the responsibility of everyone to follow the conventions that keep us all safe in the space, but it is especially the responsibility of the strongest, fastest, heaviest and ablest users to make sure that they don’t harm others.

I understand how hard it is to pay attention and be conventional sometimes, especially in a place you may have come to for escape and distraction. I make so many mistakes myself. But, I accept that safety is important for everyone on the trail. Conforming to general and local rules, regulations and etiquette, considering others and being predictable reduces pain and makes all the difference. I hope you’ll join me in giving it your best effort.

Keep it safe. Have a glorious day, and we’ll see you on the trail.

Pony Tail

My hair was getting shorter and shorter with every cut. Then Coronaplague came along and it started getting longer and longer. I didn’t know when I’d want to get it cut. Then one day I pulled it back to get it out of the way and there it was, enough length for most of it to go in a ponytail holder.

That made my decision. If I committed to growing my hair for the duration of the pandemic, I wouldn’t have to think about when to go to a salon again, I’d just stick with “let it grow” and make a ponytail donation at the end. This will be my second ponytail donation. My Son inspired me for the first. I figured if he was going to do it, then I could too.

I planned to put up a progress photo of my ponytail every week, thinking if anyone saw it they, might do the same. My photos got further and further apart and the pandemic lasted till my hair got scraggly. I decided to do the ponytail shag that a hairdresser friend taught me back in high school. It looked a little better. I did that 3 times before lopping it all off.

At the end, I looked up donation sites and found that everyone else had the same idea as me. There was more hair available than donation recipients can handle. That lifts my spirits. Give us a pandemic and we’ll make lemonade, or, you know, wigs. I cut it after omicron eased and hung on to the donation part. I’ll donate it when it’s needed again. And, here are the photos I did entered in reverse order, beginning with the final result. Maybe it’s enough to put bangs on a wig ?!?! :). My hair has been really quite thin since I had a high temperature in childhood.

My hair grayed a lot during the pandemic. I already had gray highlights about the face before. Russ likes them. One person thought I had them done at a salon. Most people didn’t even notice. There was a lot more gray noticeable when I cut all this off because the longer older hairs were gone, and the newer stressed hairs were more prominent. For some people, the color comes back after a bout of stress subsides, but I’m not holding my breath, or even particularly concerned. I do care about my overall health and know how important managing my stress response is. At the same time, I’m glad that some high profile people are conspicuously refusing to hide the expression that the passage of time has on their bodies. It makes the fact that I’m not going to alter my body or appearance as I age stand out less. I don’t know, maybe one day, when my hair is completely white, I’ll color it for the first time. Purple might suit me…

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Last Ponytail Photo
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T-shirt bought at America’s National Winston Churchill Museum in Fulton, MO

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This was a page (had a button in the black bar above) while I was growing my hair out and sharing progress regularly, but I’ve copied it into a post now, leaving the higher profile slot available to site redesign.

Ballooning: Lighter than Air

The inside of a balloon, flipped. It actually reads Woo Hoo as seen when flying outside above this balloon.

Ballooning is one of my fondest pursuits. We’ve had fun with so many people. We’ve shared wonderful experiences, as well as tragedies, with friends, family and strangers in balloons.

That English teacher who opened the world for me through literature was rumored to be writing a book. So, one day I asked her. She said “I think everyone has at least one book in them.” Mine would be centered around ballooning. Honestly, I have started the book. I’ve been writing it for years, but I need to get disciplined to finish it, to make it readable.

I haven’t actually had the chance to be in a balloon for years, but here are some highlights from when I was ballooning regularly. I took all of the photos that I’m not in. The others were probably taken by who ever was standing around with whatever camera I was using at the time.

Hot Air Ballooning (HAB)

The pretty colors and large events that many people think of are primarily in hot air balloons. That’s a Lighter Than Air (LTA) craft with and onboard heater (the burners). Pilots and Aircraft have to be certified by the FAA.

ABQ Fiesta 2001 when they had 1000 balloons. This Adams Pop Top, has a really unique deflation system.

There are all kinds of balloons and all kids of ballooning, from festivals and joy rides to serious international level competition and record breaking flights.

Continue reading

I Put On My Big Girl Pants and Got On the Ski Lift at Natural Bridge

Natural Bridge State Resort Park, Kentucky, near Lexington

Do you ever push your personal boundaries, try to blow past your hang-ups? Or, at least take baby steps? I, the person who would rarely turn down a hot air balloon ride, am afraid of heights. That sounds irrational. And partly, it is, but, not like the person who jumps out of an airplane to get over their fear of heights. I’ll jump out of an airplane right after the pilot hands me a ‘chute, and says they’re leaving because they can’t land the aircraft. Why am I okay in a balloon? There’s no “walking through the fire” element for me there. In the basket of a balloon, I can see the condition of all the working parts. I know which weather conditions are safe. I trust the physics (and most Lighter Than Air (LTA) pilots).

My fear is both rational and irrational. My mother is afraid of heights. She never told me that she was, until I was grown and said that I was. Her theory: I sensed her fear, picked up non-verbal cues, and got it from her. Brains do work that way, but still, that’s the irrational part.

The rational part is my fear of things built by the lowest bidder, or a skimping contractor, or that were inspected by someone with things other than safety on their minds. Physical objects fail, and they fail especially badly when they’re not built to code, or maintained to standards. That goes for buildings, bridges, and roller coasters and ski lifts. As an adult, I’ve stood in line for a roller coaster with friends or family and not known, until the very last minute, if I would get on, or wait for them below. Those rides that mimic a falling elevator? I don’t consider them. I don’t even look in the direction of the screams when they’re running.

Sometimes I Deal with My Fear Better than Others

Once, my then husband grabbed me at the edge of a scenic overlook, and pretended he was going to throw me over. I wasn’t dealing with the fear well back then. Go figure, right? Something in him needed to get a big reaction, or maybe it made him feel strong. I don’t really know. After 2+ decades, I stopped trying to understand, or wait it out, and I ended the relationship.

I’ve been better lately, even occasionally wondering if the fear evaporated. I found out the day after the eclipse.

When ever we drive a long way, I start looking for things to do so we can make the most of resources spent. While doing so, I found Kentucky’s Natural Bridge. It became part of our trip plan.

Then, immediately before the trip, I had a collision with a doe. (BTW, when a deer runs in front of your car, the thing to do is look for pals. I did that, but I thought the other one had decided to turn around. Instead, she leapt and hit the back end of my car).

So, I had 24 hours to report and deal with the incident, to remove the pre-packing we had done. Sort stuff that always stays in the car, reassess- If I don’t need it on a road trip, do I need to have it in the car at all? I had to get an estimate and switch to a rental car, then re-pack. Then, I spent the night before we left Georgia tossing cookies and thought I wasn’t even going to make the trip. Russ thought it was stress. So much of life goes to eleven. I decided he was right. The symptoms passed in less than 24 hours without fever. If I wasn’t contagious it was ok to go, but I started the trip wrung out, none the less.

We enjoyed the eclipse with family, played games, laughed a lot and it was good. It was overdue family communion. But, now, I had the edge of a migraine creeping in, and that week before the trip, the week we had earmarked for getting a lot done on the T-shirts, Russ got a diabetes diagnosis. We spent that week dealing with the news and figuring out a lifestyle change instead.

When the time came, we were iffy about the Natural Bridge side trip. It was only an extra 40 minutes drive, but the weather was damp and cool. That rarely puts us off, but did cause us to opt for a hotel instead of pitching the tent. The truth of it is that we were exhausted.

Natural Bridge day was also Russ’s birthday, so I told him to decide whether to go. All things considered, it was near a coin toss, but we don’t make many trips, and being in nature cures some ills, especially those related to stress. We went.

We climbed up to balance rock first. It was beautiful and inviting, but both of us had lead legs and body pains. We usually want the exercise, but the steep grade wasn’t being kind to my knee, which was tired of being in a car. Russ asked if I wanted to take the tram up to the Natural Bridge. I did. We went to that parking lot. I said “Oh, it’s a ski lift.” Russ asked me if I’d be ok, and I said I would.

It was a beautiful ride with spring ephemerals blooming, turkey pecking at patches of feed in the grass, and squirrels scampering about. My nerves started really talking to me when the steepness of the last section became apparent. If I’m going to do this ever again, I need to learn what keeps the the lift seat from slipping on the cable through steep inclines. When the fear starts, I analyze things like how far the fall is. Is it survivable? How far and rocky is the roll after the fall? Is that survivable? If survivable, would I ever be the same afterward? Then, I ask for conversation before I can go further down that road. Russ like most anyone else who is with me, starts to say soothing things about the safety of components to the ride, then I re-direct. “No, talk to me about anything else. It’s distraction I need.”

On Top of Things

As we reached the top, I noted the proximity of the landing ramp to the edge of terra firma and knew that on the way back down, I’ll have to be prepared for it to feel like the ground just dropped away immediately after my seat scoops me up.

The walk from the lift to the top of the bridge was fairly short and flat with trees on either side. Then the top of the bridge was wide and flat, easy to cross and very open. The wind was gusting on this side of the slope with a drop of rain here and there, and I was in residual fear mode. I told Russ to amuse himself at his own pace. I’d be along. His own pace, of course, is with a ready hand at my side. He’s a keeper.

We explored the bridge from different angles, went through “Fat Man’s Squeeze”, (maybe it’s time to rename that?) met another person challenging her own fears, and took pictures for strangers who reciprocated. People on the stairs and through the squeeze were all very respectful of each other. We had a good time, but didn’t stay long. The rain was picking up, and fears aside, we wanted to take the tram down. Hiking down slippery rocks when you don’t feel good could be its own can of worms.

I asked Russ to take this in front of the rocks behind the steeper incline, even though this is my white knuckle look. My arm is behind his because I’m holding tight to both sides so I don’t move in the seat.

On the way down, I settled pretty quickly after the steep section, but never let go of the death grip I had on the bars on either side of the lift seat, even though that grip was shoving my spine into the back of the chair uncomfortably. Wind on the tram side was much lighter, and it didn’t gust at all until we were pretty near the grassy bottom.

I do think I’ll read (or listen to) some books, watch some videos and do some meditations geared toward getting rid of this fear once and for all. After all, danger is real, but fear is in the brain, and it can motivate all kinds of bad choices.

Have a Glorious Day, and we’ll see you on the trail.