Hiking Little Frog

It’s Sunday morning and I am joining a group hike on the Benton MacKaye trail in Cherokee National Forest.  Pat is still out of town, so I will have to drive–this will be the 3rd time I’ve driven within the city limits of Chattanooga in the 2 1/2 months we’ve lived here.  I load minimal gear (camera with only one lens, daypack with water, money, snacks, and sunscreen) into the 1990 BMW that my husband loves so dearly and that I have eventually come to love as well.

When I get well out of Chattanooga and onto the two-lane highway that runs along the Cherokee National Forest boundary, I have a little fun going around the curves at speeds that aren’t exactly recommended.  But I am forced to slow down by a line of three slower-moving cars ahead of me.  At first, I am disappointed, but then I look right.  To my side is a river that flows into a lake.  It’s surrounded by mountains covered in brightly colored fall leaves.  Mist rises off the water, swirling around the trees and rising over the mountains.  In the distance, the sun rises over the mountain tops.  I have just missed the perfect place to pull over.  I contemplate the next pullout, but I’m nervous about being late and I am unlikely to get a good shot since I didn’t bring a tripod.   I decide to remember the scene instead of photographing it.  I look again and again as the road and traffic permits.  I feel the beauty of this scene so intensely that my eyes start to tear.  I cry like a man–a little moisture in the corner of one eye and then it’s over.

I make it to the Piggly Wiggly we’re meeting at early.  I’m not sure who thought it was hilarious to name a grocery store Piggly Wiggly enough to actually do it, but it makes me laugh every time I hear a reference to this huge chain in the South.

I am a little bummed that I’m so early–now I wish I would have stopped to shoot the mist even without the tripod.  However, it does give me time to go inside the Piggly Wiggly and use the restroom.  Unfortunately, instead of a public restroom, they just let customers use the employee restroom which is through the back room.  It’s not in particularly good shape and the lighting is so dim that I’m left to wonder if it’s clean or just dark enough I can’t tell it’s dirty.  I buy a bottle of Gatorade on the way out just because they let me use the restroom.

I return to the parking lot where the group is gathering.  As more people arrive, it appears I am the youngest.  We divide up between 2 cars and then head up a bumpy dirt road to get to the trail head.  It takes nearly 45 minutes to get there.  The trail is a 7 mile through-hike.  We will hike the full length of it and then take 2 other cars that were dropped off at the other end.  This seems like a lot of driving, but I’m not up for volunteering to walk back the 7 miles.

After we get to the trailhead and get organized, we start our walk along the ridge.  We are at a fairly high elevation, but only a small number of trees are really bright.  People keep commenting about the beautiful color in the leaves, yet they seem drab to me.  I am assured that the color change is just starting now and that it will get brighter.  I am also told trees need colder weather to get bright oranges, which have already happened at higher elevations.

It’s an incredible day.  The sky is every bit as blue as yesterday.  The sun is bright.  There’s not a cloud in the sky.  It’s a little cool, but a fleece is enough to stay warm.  As we walk along the ridge, we periodically get views of the mountains off in the distance.  Our hike leader, Dick, likes to hike up hills and then stop and catch his breath while we wait for the entire train of people to catch up.  There are only 12 people on the hike, so it doesn’t take long and we don’t have to worry about leaving anyone behind.

While we wait for the group, Dick explains that a National Forest is more about forest management as a resource (i.e., logging) unless an area is designated as a wilderness area.  Then, the area is supposed to be maintained as a pristine forest area that goes unharvested.  As we prepare to enter the Little Frog Wilderness, we learn that our group was limited to 12 because no more than that are allowed in a wilderness area.  We also learned that trails are not supposed to be blazed unless it’s absolutely necessary, and then only minimally.

As we start walking again, we periodically run into limbs that have fallen across the trail.  Dick pulls out a saw and he and another man on the hike clear fallen limbs from the trail in a mater of minutes.  The organization that Dick belongs to keeps the Benton-MacKaye trail in shape and different volunteers take ownership for different stretches of the trail.

The hike is lovely.  Just being out among the changing leaves was a treat, let alone the ridge views.  But, it comes to an end about an hour after lunchtime.  We all agree to go eat at a restaurant across the parking lot.  I decide to order pulled pork.  However, I’m not able to because the restaurant is out.  I order a Fried-Green Tomato BLT and am told they’re out of green tomatoes.  I getting pretty impatient by the time the waitress tells me they’re also out of cole slaw.  I go for a regular BLT and, finally, they have all the ingredients (although they fail to add mayo).

After filling our bellies, one of the hikers takes the two men who left cars at the trailhead back to get their cars.  I pay my check and walk the 1/4 mile back to the little BMW at the far side of the Piggly Wiggly parking lot.  I set down my camera on the daypack in the passenger seat and then turn the key in the ignition.  Nothing happens.  I try pushing a button that will prevent the car from starting.  Nothing happens still.  I am perplexed until a reach out and touch the headlight switch and realize that I left the headlights on all day.

I head back to the restaurant to wait with the wives of the guys who went to get their cars.  It will be an hour and 1/2 before they get back.  As it turns out, the time goes by quickly as we sit and chat.  When the men return, we all go to my car so they can give me a jumpstart.  However, I soon realize that I have never opened the hood of this car.  I cannot find a hood release.

The man who is an ER doctor for a living manages to find the release.  Dick, fortunately, is able to figure out how to open the hood (which is the reverse of any other hood I’ve ever opened).  Having spent several minutes trying to figure out how to open the hood, we stand there and gawk when we finally get it opened fully.  No battery.  We get out the manual to locate the battery.  As it turns out, the battery is tucked under a cover in the trunk.  I know how to open the trunk!

At last I am running again and I head on down the road.  However, there is construction and I have to stop in a long line of cars because the road is down to one lane.  About the time we’re going to start moving, I realize the car is no longer running.  I put the stick in neutral, jump out, and start pushing it with my shoulder against the door jam while steering with my right hand.  At this moment, I’m very happy that the guy behind me jumps out of his car and offers to help.  We get my car off the road and he pulls in behind me.  At least now I know exactly where the battery is and how to get to it!

He gives me my second jumpstart.  I hop out of the car to thank him and then get back in and discover I’ve stalled again.  I have to run to stop him before he gets back in his car, but he does jump the car one more time for me.  This time, I do not get out.  I keep my foot on the accelerator so it won’t stall again.  I thank him through the window and then drive off.

The need to keep the engine revving combined with the curving road causes me to drive harder than I might have otherwise.  The car has been lowered, converted to a 5-speed, given a sport suspension, performance computer chip, and performance wheels/tires.  It’s fun to drive.  Although, I confess that I refused to drive it until it also got a new paint job.  Now, humiliated by spending time on the road, it’s almost like I feel like I have to prove that this is not an old junker even though it is over 20 years old.

I apparently intimidated the man driving a Porsche Boxster in front of me.  He was driving like my grandmother and I was trying to back off, but it was a little tricky given the circumstances.  In any case, he finally decided to pull off the road and let me pass.  But then I get to a place where there is a traffic light and I have to stop.  I downshift one gear at a time, keeping the revs up and slowing the car.  But eventually, I have to use the brake.  I put the stick in neutral, brake just enough to get the car to a near stop, and then pull on the parking brake so I can put my foot back on the accelerator.  I manage to stop and keep the revs up.  Then I have to get started again.  I put the car in gear and rev higher than I would normally rev to start a car from a stop.  At the moment I’m about to engage the clutch, I release the parking brake and go.  Using this technique, I’m able to make it through the three stoplights between me and the freeway until at last I’m headed South on 75, back to Chattanooga.  I figure I’ll be good to go after nearly an hour drive on the freeway.

When at last I get off the highway, I stop at the end of the exit ramp and damn if the car doesn’t stall again!  Fortunately, there is enough charge in the battery to start it, but it doesn’t really fire up the way I expect, so I am now afraid the battery is not fully charged.  I have only one more stoplight to get through before I am home.  When I stop, I am not quite quick enough getting from the brake to the accelerator and it starts to die.  But, I manage to catch it just in time and get the engine revving enough to prevent a stall.  When the light changes, I make it through the intersection and into our parking lot with only one or two close calls.

Parked, I unload the car and pick up my gear.  I’ve lost my lens cap.  This is a major crisis.  A lens cap isn’t worth a whole lot, but what it protects is.  My camera has been sitting on my passenger seat for the past hour and a half; there is no visible damage.  I look under the seats and cannot find the cap.  I give up and carry everything inside.  I place a lens cleaning cloth over the lens and hold it in place with the sun shade for the lens.

What a day.  I wish I could reverse the morning and the afternoon–it started out so fantastically!  How is it that three annoyances can erase the glorious feeling of wonder that adventure inspires?  I met 11 new people today.  I witnessed the formation of clouds in the sunrise.  I hiked in a wilderness along the ridge of the mountain in the fall leaves.  I got to drive a little aggressively around some fun curves.  I smile to myself as I realize that the wonders will be what stay with me–the annoyances will be relegated to just another funny story.


Aquarium Revisited

After spending most of my day out on my bike, I return to the apartment and decide I am in desperate need of some restorative yoga.  Since I still have not bothered to find a yoga class, I get out my collection of yoga props and start practicing alone.  The lack of music reminds me that I still haven’t set up streaming to our receiver from iTunes–I’m pretty sure that’s not what I’m supposed to be thinking about during yoga.

I decide to do a couple of slow flows to warm up a bit.  This helps remind me to think about my breath instead of the infinite number of other things I tend to think about.  Then, I start into the long poses required for restoration.  Of course, I have no clock visible, so I have no idea if I stay in the poses long enough to get the full effect given that, in restorative, poses are often held for 10 minutes or more and it’s pretty darn hard to both breath and relax into your pose and mentally track time all at once.  So, I just hold them until it feels like my joints have space in them that they didn’t have before.

After about an hour of yoga poses, I feel far more relaxed and any tightness I had from riding is gone.  I decide that I cannot stay home another evening, doing nothing but sitting around on the couch.  I remember my aquarium membership and my desire to try to shoot in the aquarium and decide this evening is a good time to give it a try.

I jump into the shower and immediately, the memory of the man I met during the bike tour today asking me if I’m retired jumps to mind.  I like to tell myself that I fully accept the fact that I’m aging.  Yet, it’s moments like this that I have to face the fact that vanity has no concept of acceptance.  I may be OK with aging as a general fact of life, but I am not OK with other people thinking I look like I’m aging.

This spurns a sudden interest in appearance.  Instead of doing my usual routine of throwing on some sunscreen, scrunching my hair, and pulling on my most comfortable walking shoes, I suddenly decide to blow my hair out straight, put on some make-up, and locate a cute pair of flats.

After determining that I look as good as I can without professional assistance, I decide to take my camera with one lens so I don’t have to carry my backpack and tripod.  I decide to experiment with my fixed length 100mm lens.  I put the necessary cards and cash into my back pocket, grab my house key, and head out, choosing the fastest route since I am wearing less comfortable shoes than usual.

As I enter the bridge, two men are walking towards me.  One of them, who is probably close to 60, looks at me and says, “Ma’am, you’re looking f-i-i-i-i-ne today!”  Now how did he know I really needed to hear that?  I laugh and say thanks as I continue on my way without slowing down.  I laugh because not only does the timing strike me as funny given my vanity crisis, but also because what was sexual harassment in my 20’s is now rare and welcomed attention in my 40’s.

As I cross the bridge, I look across the water and see people that appear to be standing on the water.  There is a low-lying pier that blends with the surface of the water due to the reflecting light.  I turn around and look back at our building and see the back drop of the hills and the foreground of the park and decide I should stop and shoot for a moment before going to the aquarium.  When I turn on my camera, it gives me the message that no one who has just walked 1/2 a mile in less-than-comfortable shoes wants to see:  “No CF Card!”  I groan, turn off my camera and head back towards home.

I suck it up and get the card and then return to the aquarium, stopping briefly on the bridge for a few shots, but the light reflecting on the pier is not the same.  Oh well, another shot missed!  I enter the aquarium members reception and get my free ticket.  I head towards the penguins.

The glass in front of the penguins is smeared and there is a wall of children pressed against it, standing on the benches in front.  The penguins are racing back and forth, leaping fully out of the water as they fly by.  I make an attempt to capture this, but I have several issues.  First, 100mm is too close for the situation.   Second, even at f/2.8 (as wide as this lens will go), there is not enough light for fast enough shutter speeds to freeze the penguins in motion.  Third, reflections and smudges on the glass confuse the autofocus and make getting any kind of clear focus next to impossible, even when I try to shoot the penguins standing still.  Since I am coming back here for a photography workshop in a couple weeks and I don’t have a lot of time before the aquarium closes, I decide to move on to the jellyfish.

Turns out shooting jellyfish with the macro lens is fun, but also challenging.  Even though they don’t move fast, they move enough that a slow shutter speed causes blur.  And with a wide-open aperture and close focusing, the depth of field is so shallow that I can only get a small area of the jelly in focus.  I play with this a bit and end up with a couple of shots that are interesting, although not quite what I was hoping for.

I move on to look for the alligators, hoping to get some good shots over the top of the glass.  Unfortunately, the alligators are hiding this evening.  Not one appears for a shot.  I shoot some turtles that appear to be cuddling on a log and a couple of birds, but then move on again.

Next, I go up to the atrium on the top floor of the river building.  I find a place to sit and watch for birds.  There is a feeder near my seat, so I figure it’s a good spot.  Eventually, a yellowish bird I don’t recognize comes and perches where I can see it.  I get a couple shots, but even after looking at the signs listing what birds are in the atrium, I cannot identify it.  I make a note to look it up later (I feel quite foolish when I realize it’s a female Scarlet Tanager–something I should be able to recognize).

On my way out of the building, I take a few quick “drive-by” shots of a sea turtle.  I overhear a father and daughter talking about the fact that this turtle is supposed to be in the other building, but he is in timeout for hurting a shark.  He is a huge turtle and there are a lot of small sharks in the other building, so I can see how that would be a problem.

I decide to see if I can find the Macaws before I have to leave.  I’ve forgotten which exhibit they’re part of and it turns out that they’re on a floor in the other building that I skipped today.  Since it’s almost “kick out” time and my heels are now blistered from my cute flats, I decide to call it a shoot and find dinner.

Instead of heading home to fix myself something, I decide to find a bar I can eat at.  This is a habit I developed when traveling alone on business.  I like to be around people vs eating alone in my room, but it feels weird to sit at a table by myself in the middle of a restaurant.  Eating at the bar usually guarantees that you’ll at least have a TV to watch and often results in interesting conversations with complete strangers you’ll never see again.

Tonight, I end up sitting next to Clyde.  He is also alone and we end up talking.  He’s in his 50‘s, unsuccessful at finding a suitable partner in life, and tells me a lot about the differences between women from Wisconsin (where he’s originally from) and women in Chattanooga (which he has called home for more than 20 years).

In the meantime, a couple sits down on his right and the woman next to him keeps talking to him when he’s not talking to me.  Eventually, she leans in, looks back and forth between me and him, and asks, “Are you all married?”  Clyde laughs and says, “No.”  She looks at me and says, “Are you on a date?”  I laugh and say, “No.”  Her face becomes slightly puzzled, “Are you just friends then?”  I smile again and say, “Nope.”  She looks really puzzled and then says, “You all don’t know each other; you just met?”  I nod and say, “Yes.”  She pauses for a moment, looks at Clyde and says, “She just sat down next to you?”  He affirms.  She glances at me, then back to Clyde and says, “She’s real purty!”

If the woman seemed more sober, I might have felt more flattered by this compliment, but I will take it.  Once again, the universe has answered my vanity’s call for affirmation–if only I could get the universe to help me out with more important things (like maybe letting go of my vanity all together)!

After I eat, I say my good-byes and head back across the bridge.  I call Pat and we talk as I walk home.  This is supposedly a security measure, but I tend to think I’m safer when I’m not on the phone just because I’m more alert and, therefore, look less vulnerable.  But, I suppose Pat could call 911 if something happens.  In any case, I make it home safe and sound and it’s only 9:30PM.  Looks like I will still be spending some time on the couch tonight!

Riding to Georgia

For the first time in my life, I am about to ride my bike from one state to another.  This has a lot more to do with having lived most of my life in the middle of a state than with how far I’ll be riding.  I am going to the last bike tour of the Chickamauga Battlefields, a large memorial for the Civil War.

This will be my first time commuting by bike here and I’m a bit nervous about riding on the roads.  I got the route from Outdoor Chattanooga, the organization sponsoring the biking tour at the park.  They also gave me the lowdown on the difficulty of the climbs and the traffic situation.  Unfortunately, I didn’t think to ask about the neighborhoods I would be riding through and Pat is out of town this weekend, so I will be riding alone.  Now that I am almost out the door, I’m suddenly wondering if I’ll be going through any scary parts of town.

I decide that if it were really bad, Outdoor Chattanooga wouldn’t have sent me that way and finish gathering up my gear.  I pull on padded mountain biking shorts–after much time off and then riding yesterday, I need the padding today.  I love the fact that it’s the middle of October and I’m putting on shorts for a 7:30AM ride (not something I’ve ever done in Ohio).  I also love mountain biking shorts–they look like normal shorts so I don’t feel like an idiot walking around in them if I end up going into a store or something.

I snap on my helmet, velcro my riding gloves, zip up my high-visibility jacket, and snug-up my backpack.  Then, I mount up and take off.  Today, I head over the Market St bridge instead of taking the longer route over Walnut St.  It’s early Saturday morning and traffic is light so I figure it’s a good time to experience riding over Market St bridge.  There are actually fewer obstacles–no meandering tourists with small children to dodge–and there’s plenty of room for cars to pass me safely.  I continue through the familiar part of downtown that I’ve walked many times.  This doesn’t take long.  As I continue my ride through downtown, I realize how little of it I’ve actually seen.

The non-touristy downtown area is quiet.  Only a few people are out, mostly waiting on buses.  I quietly glide by, cranking at a steady pace.  My legs are still warming up and I’ve discovered a few bruises from my fall yesterday.  As I get outside the downtown area, I go through some neighborhoods that might not be areas where I would look for a home.  There are a surprising number of people out and about for early on a Saturday morning, but as I pedal past a flea market set up in a parking lot, I realize the draw.

I cross under the freeway that goes around Chattanooga’s South side and through a couple more intersections and discover I have now ridden the full length of Market St.  It is now called Alton Park Blvd.  Sounds nice, but it’s not.  The area is very industrial–hard surfaces with cracks seem to be the architectural theme here.  As I get to my first turn, I pass a convenience store.  A teenager crosses the street in front of me.  I catch myself staring–I’m amazed by how low he has managed to position his pants on his hips.  His rear end is actually completely above the waistband, although he’s wearing blue shorts underneath, so he is not indecently exposed.  He takes small, awkward steps, restricted by the low-hanging crotch in his jeans.  It’s nearly like having your legs tied together.  While I’ve seen this fashion statement many times and for many more years than any such style should remain popular, this is a new extreme.

Having made my turn, I continue down 38th St and ride through a new housing development that looks like it was intended to start a revival of the area probably right before the market crashed.  The small area of new houses looks well-maintained–everything still looks fresh and new–but it looks a little lonely, like it was deposited in the midst of an industrial wasteland from the sky.  The small trees draw attention to the newness of the community–I try to imagine what it will look like in 20 years when the trees are big enough to cast shadows on the roofs.

I make my way on over to Rossville Blvd think I must be getting close to the state line as Rossville is in Georgia.  The area remains depressed looking.  By “depressed looking” I mean:  there is a lot of trash along the roads and sidewalks, the buildings and their surrounding structures (like parking lots) are in a state of disrepair, the style of signage suggests no one has bothered to pass any zoning laws to make the area look less cluttered, the signs themselves are old and haven’t been updated for many years.  In short, there is no indication that anyone cares what the area looks like or invests in making it appealing.

I pass another flea market just before I see a sign indicating I am almost at the state line.  However, I miss any indication of the state line itself.  I am suddenly in Rossville and there, in front of me, is the Food Lion that we have looked up on Google maps.  As it turns out, one of the disadvantages of living in Tennessee is that there is a sales tax on food.  It’s slightly less than the tax on non-food items, but it’s roughly 6%.  Plus, the food seems like it’s already about 20% more expensive than in Columbus, which makes no sense (but it makes cents!).  So, we have toyed with the idea of going grocery shopping in Georgia, where there is no (or little) sales tax on food.  The Food Lion looks every bit as depressed as the surrounding area–I am not encouraged.

I continue on by and make it to the last turn before my destination.  There is a bit of a climb here–I’m going over a ridge.  But, I make it just fine.  As I get to the final mile or two before my destination, the Outdoor Chattanooga van and trailer pass me.  The woman who gave me directions is in the van and they honk and wave, but they are already passed me by the time I realize it’s them.  I make it safely to the visitor’s center and coast down the parking lot to where Outdoor Chattanooga is lining up loaner bikes for people who want to join the tour but don’t have a bike of their own.  The moon is still visible in the incredibly blue morning sky and the combination of colors inspires me to get my camera out.

By the time the tour starts, there are at least 50 bikes in the parking lot.  Everyone gathers around Chris, the interpretive ranger, who kicks off the tour by talking about the trail of tears and the forced evacuation of the Cherokee down the road we all just came in on.  He paints a picture for us of the loss of land, life, and homes as these people were forced to move.  Then, he paints a picture of the people that came after them, farming the land that we now stand on.  He tells us that he likes to focus on the people who were part of history and what the impact of history was on them.  Every part of Chris’ body participates in his story telling.  He is gifted with an almost magical ability to convey the feeling behind his words.  There is no doubt that this tour will be different.

After our introduction, we all mount up and ride to another part of the park where many regiments have erected memorials indicating how many were wounded and injured here.  Chris once again creates a vision for us of these men on the battle field, chasing each other and firing on one another.  He shares personal stories of men and women who were so interconnected across the Mason-Dixson line that questions of right and wrong are transcended.  If I had any fear that a lone yankee woman would feel out of place on this tour, it quickly abates.

Between this stop and the next, I end up talking with a man who tells me his wife is the superintendent of the park.  When we get around to how long I’ve been in Chattanooga and why we moved there, after I explain that we wanted to move and how we picked Chattanooga, he says, “Oh, are you retired?”  with a tone of voice that conveys certainty, not surprise.  I cannot help but feel like he thinks I am much older than I am.  In fact, I think he thinks I am his age and he looks to be in his sixties.  I decide not to ask.

The next stop allows us to look across large open fields that the soldiers had to run across while retreating.  Chris tells us harrowing stories of men being shot and honored, even by the enemy.  I find myself feeling intensely sad that these men will live through history because of war.  I look around me and see a bride posing in front of a bright orange tree.  She looks beautiful in her white dress against the green grass, orange tree, and blue, blue sky.  Her presence there seems  impossible in the context of the stories Chris weaves together for us.  But, I suppose it is the way the cycle works–one set of stories is replaced with the next.

For our final stop, we must ride up a steep but short hill.  I feel somewhat redeemed when I am able to ride up the hill without getting out of breath–many of our group have gotten off their bikes and are walking up.

After Chris intrigues us one last time and finishes up the tour, we all start heading back down the hill.  A woman in front of me has a completely flat rear tire.  I call out to her and we both pull over.  It turns out that she is also here alone.  I get out my portable pump, but it’s for presta valves; she’s never heard of a presta valve.  She tells me her husband is a firefighter and he usually takes care of the bikes.  I would make fun of her for that, but she seems like and amazingly nice person.  And, before anyone attributes her lack of knowledge to being a “Southern Belle,” she is from Ohio, too, so there goes another stereotype.

In any case, she doesn’t have presta valves and I can’t get any air into the tire.  Fortunately, Outdoor Chattanooga has provided a sag wagon in the form of a couple on a tandem who arrives to help out.  The man hands us a pump and we start pumping while he goes back to get some additional tools with his wife.  He returns alone and we have made no noticeable progress getting air into the tire–even after taking turns pumping because we’d worn ourselves out.  He takes the pump away from us, changes the position of the tire, and has the tire completely inflated in about 30 seconds.  So much for my independent woman status!

We ride back to the visitor’s center together, keeping an eye on the tire.  It clearly has a slow leak–we watch it deflate as we ride.  We make a stop at the halfway point to inflate it one more time (well, we watch the man inflate it one more time).  But, we all make it back to the parking lot just fine.  The woman with the flat drove there, so she has no issue with getting home.  In fact, surprisingly, I am the only one who rode their bike to the bike tour.  Given that we couldn’t have ridden more than 5 miles in the park during the tour, I’m surprised.

I head on back home after making one more pit stop at the visitor’s center.  The roads are busier on the way back and I enjoy the ride a little less than on the way in as a result, but it’s still such a beautiful day to be out biking that I can’t help smiling.  That is until I’m headed up 37th St and a truck drives past me dripping really smelly runoff that sprays me for what seems like a half an hour.  I hold my hand up to block the spray from hitting me in the face and slow down nearly to a stop just to let the spray dissipate ahead of me so I’m not continuing to ride into it.  As the truck pulls ahead, I read the back panel: “Industrial Waste Handling.”  I really wish I had a giant military weapon right at this moment so I could just eliminate that truck from the face of the earth.

I make it back alive–my skin hasn’t started peeling off my face, my eyes aren’t burning, and I only smell slightly like garbage.  This is handy for the final approach to home since the tourists are all out this Saturday afternoon.  I figure smelling like a homeless person might help alert them to get out of the way.  I can’t remember the last time I so looked forward to a shower!

Dams and Damns

Rainy weather has kept me off my bike since our return from Germany. But today, the weather is decent and I’m home alone so I can ride wherever and however I want. I am determined to get back on my bike after so many weeks off. As soon as I can pull myself away from work, I get my bike out and go.

I tell myself just to go slow and relax since I haven’t ridden in so long, but I can’t seem to stop from pushing myself. It feels good to crank up a hill. I remind myself again that it’s been a while since I’ve ridden and that I’m planning a bigger ride in the morning and don’t want to be too tired or sore. But, I push a little harder going up a hill anyway. I’m like a little kid who doesn’t know how to pace herself.

I settle down a bit as I get into slippery boardwalks with blind curves and pedestrians. Even so, I almost collide head on with another cyclist when we both take a blind turn wide at the same time going in opposite directions. We both jump, brake, and move back to our respective sides. I feel my mouth formed in a perfect “O”, still stuck in my surprise.

I continue on my way even more cautious of the blind turns. But, I have no more close calls as I go past the various landmarks that mark progress along the trail. I pass the riverside restaurant that I want to stop at “some time.” I get to the boat house for the local rowing club that I keep meaning to visit “when I have time.” I continue past the practice football field that I can’t figure out which team uses. I make it into the gate that marks the part of the trail that is supposed to be 3-5 MPH. I glide slowly around the pedestrians in this area, trying not to draw attention to the fact that I’m going more like 10 MPH. I brake to a crawl every time I approach someone walking and call out politely (I hope), “I’m on your left,” and say “Thank you!” if they step right to make room for me. I am a regular ambassador of cyclist, pedestrian relations.

Eventually, I make it to the Chickamauga Dam. Today, the water is calmer than last time. Less churn seems to correlate with fewer blue heron. A fisherman hunkers down on the rocks in a shape identical to a giant great blue heron. I wonder if assuming the shape allows him to also assume the patience–they are the most patient birds I’ve ever watched. Then, I wonder how many of the men fishing in these toxic waters are fishing to feed their families. The sign warning fishermen about eating more than 1 fish a month from these waters still looms large on the shore. I wonder, given the choice, how many people would choose starvation over toxic fish?

I ride out to the overlook of the dam. But I am not interested in the dam so much as counting heron. The collection on the shore blends into the rocks in a way that defies the size of a great blue heron. Were it not for the low sun casting long shadows, my eye would skip right over them. As it is, I am left to guess how many I don’t see. The men and heron scattered over the rocks create an image of survival. I feel certain that there is deeper meaning in this tableau, but I am at a loss to articulate it.

I make my way back towards home, riding at a quicker pace now that the pedestrians are mostly gone and my rear end is reminding me why cyclists should wear padded biking shorts. Fortunately, the ride seems shorter on the way back and I am soon approaching the last hill up to the Bluffview Art District.

As I exit the switchback from the pedestrian/bike bridge, I encounter a bit of a traffic jam. A wedding party seems to be having a rehearsal in the sculpture garden. Two cars are headed towards me, the first confused when faced with the cul-de-sac. The bridge I have just come across dumps me into this same cul-de-sac and I must cross it to continue on my way while the car must perform a U-turn. The second vehicle is a large SUV and the woman driving has stopped so that she is blocking the entire road exiting the cul-de-sac. Plus, she is looking at the wedding party instead of the road, oblivious to my presence. I hesitate, balancing on my pedals hoping she will move on before I have to stop. I have not snapped in my left foot just in case she doesn’t move. Unfortunately, even after 44 years of intimate knowledge of my ability to hurt myself, I have failed to predict that this time I will fall to the right. I cannot get my right foot unsnapped fast enough and I fall to the ground with a thud as a loud, “God Dammit!” escapes unedited.

To add insult to injury, both drivers, still completely unaware that they have each contributed to the circumstances that led to my fall, pull up and ask through their windows if I’m OK as I struggle to free my foot so I can stand. Then, as I regain my feet, a man suddenly appears at my side out of breath and apparently ready to perform triage, “Are you OK?” he asks anxiously. This strikes me as being ridiculous to the point of offensiveness. I try to be polite, but I really just want everyone to pretend like they didn’t see a thing and let me sulk in my embarrassment. As a result, my answers are short and tight, communicating my desire to be left alone a little too plainly. When the man walks away, he’s clearly the one offended.

In the category of “could this situation get any worse,” when I try to ride away, my rear wheel won’t roll. Now, I have a lot of experience troubleshooting software over the years, so you’d think I’d check the simplest possible problem first. But, no. I get out my allen wrenches and start trying to adjust my rear disk brake, assuming that’s the culprit. After my adjustments make no immediate difference (possibly because I actually have no idea how to adjust my disk brakes), I decide to take another look. I realize the problem is much simpler: the seatpost has a rack attached to it for my saddlebags. The seatpost turned in the fall and now the rack is pressing against the rear tire.

All I need to do is open the seatpost clamp, twist the seat back to straight, and close the clamp again. Unfortunately, I can’t get a good grip on the clamp release and it’s tight. I swing the bike around for a better angle and end up with the bike across the sidewalk, the lever in my right hand, and my right foot against the frame of the bike for leverage. As I struggle with the clamp, I suddenly realize that the entire wedding party is now flowing down the sidewalk towards me. In my peripheral vision, I can see that they are gathering just short of my bike and coming to a stop. I’m too irritable at this point to be social, so I keep working without looking up, but I expect someone to offer help at any moment.

Instead, when I sneak a quick sideways glance, I realize they are confounded by the obstacle. They just want to leave, but I am blocking their path. This irritates me further. Did they not see me on the sidewalk when they headed this direction? Were they too fearful of using the street that has 2 cars an hour on it and those 2 cars drove off after they ensured my fall? Someone in the group finds a space between a road sign and the curb and the group narrows and starts flowing past me, single file. It’s my first experience as a dam.

Then, the concerned man approaches. If I had any doubt that I offended him earlier, it was removed as he walked by me briskly without so much as a sideways glance even though I’m clearly struggling with the bike. I feel remorse, but it only intensifies my desire to leave. Fortunately, the clamp releases and I’m able to make the adjustment and get on with my life.

I crank up the hill through the district harder than I thought was possible. As I pass the remaining wedding party members getting into their cars or lingering on the sidewalks, all I can think is, “Damn it! Get me out of here!” I am sending all my angst to my pedals. I can only hope that none of these people will recognize me if they ever see me again.

Unfortunately, I have to get off the bike and walk across the glass bridge only 100 yards or so later with plenty of angst still throbbing in my temples. But I take a deep breath and re-group mentally before I mount up and ride across the Walnut St bridge. It’s a Friday night and the bridge is full of tourists with small children. If I fall again, I will likely throw my bike off the bridge, and the last thing I need is to run over a small child. I relax and take it slow as I maneuver through the crowd.

I am relieved to make it home safely–that is, I am safe and so is the public. I check my bike out to make sure it will be in shape to ride tomorrow and then I put it away and focus on making a good recovery dinner. Who says you can’t have adventure close to home?

Tripod Experiments

This morning, I am like a kid at Christmas–although I opened my “gifts” the night before.  I have finally invested in a good tripod and the pieces are now all here that will allow me to use it.  I am up before the sun (although that’s not saying a whole lot these days).  I have read all the directions (yes, I do that) and now I just need to screw the bullhead mount into the legs and attach the quick-release plate to the camera.  I’m too impatient to wait for the sunrise, so I contemplate which lens to use for long exposure experiments.  I decide on the 17-55mm lens, which will work equally well if I’m still shooting when the sun catches up with me.  I put the lens on the camera along with my other recent purchase, a wireless remote.

I put my head through the strap on the camera (a habit I’ve developed to prevent camera drops given my clumsiness) and pick up the tripod.  I walk out to the balcony and start setting up the tripod.  This is a challenge.  The balcony is not large and there are 2 chairs and a side table sitting on it.  Plus, it is set in an alcove of the building so that the opening is surrounded by brick and a large, wide “post” at the corner divides the view to the East from the view to the South, reducing the angles available.

I think about going up to the roof to shoot, but then I look at my watch.  It’s just now 6AM.  I imagine dragging all my gear down the hall and up the stairs and then walking across the roof to set up.  Now, this might not seem like a potential act of inconsideration to ones neighbors, but we happen to live under the corner of the roof where they installed a large deck with patio furniture and a grill.  Our next door neighbor lives under the deck as well.  Every night when neighbors who don’t live under the deck go up there to hang out, grill, or have a party, what we hear is a herd of elephants trumpeting and thumping across the roof.  We finally figured out that the trumpeting part is caused by dragging furniture across the deck (for some reason, no one seems to ever pick the furniture up).  The thumping is just walking.  I think about Pat still sound asleep in the bedroom and our next door neighbor (who may or may not be home) and decide that I will just stay on the balcony for this morning.

I find that with the two legs in front in a single plane, pressed against the railing, and the leg in back fully extended to brace the tripod in place, I achieve two things:  first, I reduce the floor space needed and, second, I get the camera lens out from behind the brick frame of the balcony opening.

Excited to start shooting and noticing there is plenty of traffic this morning, I decide to play with getting streaks of light from the traffic below.  I pick a composition and find that while getting the camera where I want it and getting it to stay there is far easier with my new equipment, I still feel restricted compared to not using a tripod.  But, I wouldn’t be able to get the shot I’m about to take at all without a tripod, so I figure I will learn to appreciate the increased flexibility in shutter speeds over the loss of speed in composition.

I’m all set and ready to shoot except for one thing–I forgot the radio control for my wireless remote.  Now I have a dilemma.  With the tripod set up the way it is, it’s possible that a strong wind could topple it over the balcony railing.  Plus, I have blocked myself in and will either have to climb over the one fully extended leg and a chair or move the tripod, which I just got set up.  I gently rock the tripod slightly to see how secure it is.  I stand still for a moment and just feel the wind to see how strong it is and if it’s steady or gusting.  You would think I was about to take flight vs run inside to get something.  I decide to shorten the fully extended leg without moving anything else.  This sets the tripod more firmly on the ground and gets the camera back away from certain disaster.  However, it still requires climbing over obstacles for me to get back inside to get the remote.  I manage this without bumping the tripod and without tripping–anyone who knows me would be proud.

Now, with remote in hand and tripod back in place, I discover a new challenge.  My camera won’t shoot if it’s not in focus.  And, because I’ve chosen a single-point focusing method (which I always use because I like to pick the one thing I really want to be in focus), it cannot focus with the current composition.  The single-point is off in the dark.  When I am not using a tripod, I just point at what I want to be in focus, press the button halfway down, and then compose my shot.  But I can’t easily use this process with the tripod.  I decide to set a different focusing mode.  However, it’s dark and the top of the camera is above eye-level, so I am standing on my tippy-toes trying to change controls I can’t see.  I decide to recompose so that the focus point has something it can focus on instead.  Now, finally, I start shooting.

Playing with the car lights is fun.  But, eventually, the sun does rise.  I try shooting clouds with just a hint of light catching their edges, but the wind is blowing them around too fast for my slow shutter speeds.  Then, as the sun makes it’s way above the horizon, the light turns gray.  As it turns out, the sky is so heavily overcast that not even the sun can make an impression.  There is no drama this morning–it’s just like someone turned up a dimmer switch.  Realizing that it’s time for me to move on with my day, I move my gear inside.  This is achieved far more easily than setting it up was–I just shorten the legs and bit and pull them together, walk through the door and stand the tripod back up on the floor.  There’s more space inside and I can leave the camera set up all the time if I like–it’s just one more thing for me to trip over.

While I can’t say that any of my photos turned out quite the way they looked in my head, I did get some good, long light trails.  It’s a fun effect to play with more in the future.  But for now, I must get to work.

Gaining Air

The alarm goes off at 5:45AM.  I groan.  It’s Sunday after all; shouldn’t I get to sleep in?  I roll out of bed and feel all the places that are kinked, sore, and bruised from yesterday’s hang gliding adventure.  My neck and shoulders are burning.  I remind myself that I am only going to feel worse tomorrow morning after doing this a second day, then I get moving.  Coffee, face wash, and a glass of water all wake me up.  Pat is up and in motion.

Once again, I run around gathering everything necessary for a morning on the training hills followed by tandem flights.  For someone who doesn’t own any hang gliding equipment, this is an amazing amount of stuff.  First, I pack my camera bag, then I pack a change of clothes and stuff it in my new tripod bag.  Next, I pack my laptop, Verizon MiFi, iPad, iPhone, and all required power cords along with my wallet, sunglasses, etc. into a laptop bag.  Now, you might wonder why I need an arsenal of electronics to go hang gliding.  The truth of the matter is, I don’t.  But, I need this bag for the same reason Pat is gathering up pillows while I’m packing my bags:  we are going to have 5 hours to kill between the morning hill flights and the 5PM tandem flight.  I might as well make it a productive 5 hours.  Next, I grab my bag with my five fingers shoes and our water bottles.  When at last we’re ready to roll, I hang such an assortment of goods off my appendages that it’s not clear I can fit through the door.  Pat relieves me of a couple of bags and go on our way.

Having learned from yesterday’s mistake, we stop at a gas station in Trenton, GA before we get to the country roads that lead back to the training hills.  They let us use their employee restroom and we buy a couple of granola bars.  When we get to the training hills, I, of course, have to go again.  Back to the nasty outhouse I go.  I wish I would have brought a nose plug, but I survive.

This time, I am not only on time to help put together the gliders, but I am required to put together my own.  Today, Pat and I will each have our own glider.  Assembling a glider is a little scary.  As you read the instructions and put each piece in, you think to yourself, “I’m going to fly in this thing and if I don’t do this right, I’m going to die.”  It’s a lot of pressure.  But, I manage to get the thing together and ask for some help when I’m not sure if I’ve got it right or not.  The thing that surprises me is that the ribs that make the wings rigid are rods that simply slide into pockets and rest loosely against the front bar that creates the leading edge of the wing.  Seems like they should be attached somehow.  The other thing that surprises me is the places where it’s OK for the glider to be severely bent.  For example, the bracket that attaches the wheels to the down tubes is completely askew, but I’m told that there’s no problem with that bracket.  However, bends in the wing ribs are bad.  Bends in the front tubes on the leading edge are especially bad.  While I understand why the wing needs to be a particular shape, I’d kind of like my landing gear to be just as straight.

I get my glider together faster than Pat (I had a little more help).  I load it up onto the trailer and hop on, holding the strap that keeps it from tipping backwards in one hand and bracing the front of the glider with the other to keep it down in the trailer.  We bump along over the grass and to the back hill, climbing to the top in no time.  I am the 3rd person to make it up the hill.  Dan, the instructor, arrives only minutes after I do and the first students start launching.  The air is calmer today and we hope for a good day with lots of flights.

My first flight is an improvement over the day before.  I am encouraged that I am able to get air right away, although I still fail to correct my direction and spin out when I land in the middle of an unplanned turn.  An interesting thing is happening as I gain confidence–I am starting to have one more conscious thought that I remember each flight.  I remember the feeling of running in the air.  I remember letting my hands loosen and slide down the bar.  I remember trying to turn the glider.  This is all a lot of improvement–earlier flights, I could not tell what I had or hadn’t done or if I’d had any actual thoughts at all.  Now, I am able to discuss my flight with the instructor and realize that I was not keeping my eyes on target.

My next flight, I realize when I am not looking at the target and correct a little earlier.  Each time, something new is achieved and remembered.  It’s interesting to observe myself learn.  While I wish I were one of those natural athletes who can take on any physical task and instantly conquer it, my slow learning process at least gives me the opportunity to understand how I learn.  I notice that there is a point in each flight where I go from experiencing the exhilaration of soaring to the fear of landing (I have an assortment of scrapes and bruises from yesterday).  When I shift from the feeling of flying to the fear of falling, I start to forget what to do.  But, each time, I get a little further before that panic sets in.  Even after a particularly painful landing the flight before.  In that flight, I am caught by a cross-wind and turned dramatically to the left.  I shift my weight but I don’t change direction.  I assume I’m shifting the wrong direction and shift the other way, which makes matters worse and then I fall to the ground, literally bouncing off the grass and getting completely airborne a second time before landing for good.  The entire flight from when I left the ground to the second time I landed lasted about 8 seconds (based on the times of photos Pat shot).  Both knees hit when I landed the first time; they are bruised and swell slightly.

But the next flight, I still get better.  Now I know that I was correcting in the right direction, I just didn’t have enough speed to be able to control the glider in the wind.  I work on moving the bar in and out.  When I push the bar away from me, I get more lift.  When I pull the bar in, I get more speed, but in a downward direction.  I realize I am moving the bar too much–I need to stay light in my hands while I adjust.  I realize this just as I come in for another landing after a 7 second flight.  I get in one last flight–8 today all together–before the wind starts to kick up.  Pat gets in his last flight right before me.  He pulls his hamstring as he launches himself from the hill.  He is done.  I’m already spent and am happy for the excuse to call it a day.  I get my last flight in.  It’s smooth and controlled, although the wind has died and I don’t get as much lift as I have on previous flights.  That’s OK.  I wanted to have a controlled landing and I did.  I am not breaking any learning records on the hill, but I’m OK with that.

With Pat hobbling badly, we decide to postpone our tandem flight again.  We make the drive back up to the pro shop at the top of the mountain.  Once again, a crowd of tourist has gathered around the launch ramp only to be disappointed that no gliders are launching today–the wind is from the wrong direction again.  However, a tandem flight is towed up from the landing strip below, so the tourists (us included) get to enjoy watching that flight soar by.  I go inside to get a book that we need to pass a test to graduate to the next training hill.  While I’m paying, I hear a girl screaming and many people laughing.  Pat tells me when I return outside that the glider buzzed the pro shop and scared the girl to death.  We were surprised–I wonder if this is a boyfriend taking his girlfriend for a tandem flight since none of the pilots we flew with in our previous tandem flight did anything to intentionally scare us.  In any case, we’re glad to see them land safely on the airstrip below.

Pat limps back to the car and I drive us home.  Once again, we are exhausted.  I find myself wondering if there is a workout we can do for hang gliding preparedness!

Hang Gliding Take 2

Still toying with the idea of getting our novice hang gliding certification (although also still not convinced I ever want to launch off the mountain), we signed up for a second round of hang gliding lessons.  We upgraded our introductory package to a weekend package, which gives us 15 more hill flights and 1 more tandem flight each.  Today is the kickoff of our weekend.  The alarm wakes us up early and we scramble to gather all the gear we’re taking with us.  We actually do not need anything other than a change of clothes and water, but I, of course, must take my camera.  And, the fact that we will be done on the hills by early afternoon but our tandem isn’t until 5PM means that we need things to do.  That means I’m taking two laptops, iPad, iPhone, and MiFi.  We also take air mattresses and pillows in case we want to take an afternoon nap.  We have more stuff than if we were traveling with an infant.

But, we get the car loaded and we make it out the door in plenty of time to fill up the gas tank and still get there early.  The entrance to the training hills is about 40 minutes from our place.  But once we get to that entrance point, there is a long dirt road full of pot holes, rocks, and ruts that we must make our way down.  It adds an extra 10 minutes, although it’s a little faster in the mini van that it was last time when we made the mistake of coming in Pat’s lowered BMW.

By the time we make it over all the bumps, I really need to use the restroom again.  Believing there are no facilities at the training hills, I start to head into the woods, but I see a man heading down a mown path and stop, thinking I don’t want to walk up on him if he’s headed into the woods for the same reason.  When he returns, I follow the same path he took to discover that there is an outhouse at the end of it.  Now, I have used many outhouses and, while none generally smell good, some are tolerable and some are really only appropriate for acts of desperation.  This outhouse appears to be occupied by mice.  I assume they have some rare disorder that causes a complete loss of smell.  The mice are not home right now, but their nesting and seed shells occupy the majority of one corner of the outhouse.  That is the most pleasant part.  I stand in front of the open door looking in and contemplate the pluses and minuses of just going in the woods anyway.  In the end, I opt to hold my breath and practice my balance inside the outhouse because I figure at least it’s private and I’m running out of time to find a good spot both because I have a very full bladder and because I’m supposed to be on the field by now.  Mental note:  make a pit stop at the nearest town tomorrow.

When I arrive at the field by the storage unit, I discover that I am supposed to be learning how to assemble my own glider and that Pat and the guy we will be sharing our glider with today, Craig, are already more than halfway through the process.  I get there in time to watch the final steps and perform the pre-flight check.  Pat tells me on the way to the hill that now that he’s seen how a glider goes together, he’s a little worried.  He was expecting it to have more parts that are fastened or something.  I decide not to think about it too much.

My first flight is not a flight at all.  It’s a run-and-crash.  I try to review what I did and didn’t do, but I have no conscious memory of what actions I took or didn’t take.  I assume that I stopped running too soon.  Pat, on the other hand, gets airborne like we were just hang gliding yesterday.  He seems to have retained what he learned last time.

My next turn, Gordy, the instructor, reminds me to loosen my grip and let the glider fly and to keep my eyes on my target.  I get a good start and launch well, but perhaps I loosened my grip a little too much because I am suddenly much higher than I expected.  I am also pointed towards the woods instead of my target and headed towards the 4-wheeler used to tow the hang gliders back to the top.  I confess:  I scream.  I know I did something to turn the glider back to straight, but my brain is not processing information at a conscious level, so I cannot say for sure what it was.  However, whether I did the wrong thing or just did too little, too late, I found myself diving towards earth, landing hard, and spinning out at the stop so that I ended up facing the hill.  The good news is that I landed before I hit the 4 wheeler.

Despite the crash landing, the feeling of flying stays with me.  The moment of lift off when my feet were running in air and the sudden realization that I am flying make me want to do this again.  I realize that I’ve been pushing myself into this.  This is the first time that it really felt fun.  Every run previously was more about “I can do this, too” than it was about wanting to be in the air.  I scraped my ankle on the first landing and it’s oozing blood.  My shoulders and upper arms are already bruised from carrying the glider.  My knees are bruised from landing too hard and too fast against the ground.  But now, I really want to get good at flying off this hill.

Unfortunately, there is a big crowd on the hill.  The wind is gusting and changing direction.  We need a calm, gentle headwind to safely launch and land.   There are 10 gliders up on the hill all vying for a turn at the precise moment the wind is right–we can launch only one at a time.  Plus, the morning ground school has now joined us on the hill to try to get their first flights in, adding 8 additional students and 3 more gliders.  But there are only short windows to launch in and everyone must launch into a headwind, so things slow way down as we take turns waiting for the wind to cooperate.

We stand-by as Gordy holds another trainee poised for take off, waiting for the wind to calm down.  When it does, it changes direction.  The student moves from one side of the hill to the other to try to catch a headwind.  Then the wind changes again.  This switching of direction slows the whole process down even more.  It’s not easy to move from one side of the hill to the other with a 90+ pound wing on your back in gusting winds.  Even more troublesome, the gliders start lifting off the ground on their own when the windspeed gets too high.  We start having trouble keeping gliders on the caddy coming up the hill.  First one flips in the wind, then another.

Between gusts of wind, Gordy manages to launch a few more students.  However, as I get on deck, I watch an experienced student in front of me get caught in a crosswind that causes one wingtip to catch the ground as she runs down the hill.  The glider goes airborne, spins, and then drops her on the ground hard.  She is OK.  She didn’t get high enough into the air to get seriously hurt, although I supposed she could have twisted an ankle or something easily enough given that she wasn’t launched yet.

Gordy announces that we’re going to call it a day and that we’ll try to fly down if the wind will let us, but we should take our gliders back after we land.  He looks at the windsock and looks at me and says, “I’m nervous about this wind.  Are you nervous?”  I say no.  I’m really not–I have confidence in my ability to heal.  He decides to walk me further down the hill so that I’m launching from a lower altitude.  The wind dies and I launch safely, but I get little lift because there is suddenly no wind at all.  It’s not quite the day on the hills we were hoping for, but we live close and walking away with only some bumps and bruises is far better than risking serious injury,

Pat and I discuss the odds that we’ll be able to take our tandem flight.  We decide to drive up to the pro shop at the mountain launch and reschedule since we don’t want to hang out all day only to have to reschedule anyway.  When we get up there, there is a crowd of disappointed tourists who were hoping to watch hang gliders launching from the mountain.  The wind is blowing the opposite direction needed for a safe launch, a tailwind, which we learn is called “over the back.”    The person in the pro shop thinks it’s a good idea for us to reschedule our tandem flights for tomorrow–apparently they have already moved people from Friday to Saturday and the schedule is over booked.

We head on home, tired and slightly disappointed, but still excited about the experience of flying and looking forward to returning tomorrow.

Back in Chattown

Having spent the night just outside of Lexington in a semi-frightening hotel, I am doubly surprised when the alarm jerks me out of a sound sleep.  First there is the expected surprise (sort of paradoxical, isn’t it?) of the alarm itself, but then I am also surprised to realize that I have slept through the night undisturbed.  I hop out of bed and get myself ready to roll quickly.  We have a 3 hour drive to home, today is a work day, and I have an important conference call this morning.  Fortunately, I was able to finish the presentation material last night and send it out for a quick review.  I check my mail to see if I have any responses.  Only one with no suggested changes.

We forgo the free breakfast that comes with the room (probably just cereal and bananas anyway) since it’s still a half an hour before the service starts.  We get in the car with me setting up to work from the car while Pat drives.  It’s early enough that nothing much urgent is happening and my cellular MiFi is getting sketchy reception as we get into the hills.  Deciding I’m as caught up as I’m going to get this morning, I put the work away and watch the sunrise over the mountains as we make our way from Kentucky to Tennessee.  It’s a gorgeous morning.

Pat starts nodding off at the wheel, so we stop for a break and to grab something to eat.  Then, we switch drivers.  I drive us the final stretch into Chattanooga.  It’s the first time I’ve been the one behind the wheel as we returned to our now hometown.  It’s only the 2nd time I’ve driven in Chattanooga since our move.  I get to experience some of the oddly banked curves of 27 as we round the city and cross the river to our exit.  I manage to drive us safely to our parking lot, but with the stop we made, it’s almost 9AM.  I grab all of my work related items and dash upstairs to get back online.

When I get online, nothing has happened.  My boss hasn’t sent me any comments on the slide deck.  No one in Australia responded to the replies I sent early this morning (already past their office hours).  I’ve still heard nothing from Singapore, Hong Kong, or China on any of the things I’m working on there.  And no one in any other part of the world sent me an email between 7:30AM and 9AM.  That hour and a half that I wasn’t able to check emails really wasn’t so critical after all.  I’m glad that I relieved Pat of driving rather than insisting I needed to be working.

During the day, fortunately during a break between conference calls (and after my most important call of the day was over), squealing tires and a big crash attract my attention.  Two cars have collided in the intersection below our balcony.  Since my camera is already set up, I indulge in a few quick shots from the window and then return to work.  I count the number of sirens required for this accident.  Both drivers are alone and both walk away with no apparent injuries, yet 3 fire trucks, 1 ambulance, and 6 police cars all come screaming to the scene.  This helps explain the ridiculous number of sirens that go by every day!  When I next look out the window, they are loading up one of the cars on a flatbed tow truck and sweeping the debris out of the street.  I get a few more quick shots and then forget all about the accident.

That evening, the sunset reminds me why I tolerate the sirens during the day for our view.  I talk Pat into going up on the roof with me so I can get a better shot of the sunset since there’s a building between us and the horizon to the West.  I watch the sun go down with deep breaths.  I slow down all of the anxiety-produced nervousness.  I settle into myself as I watch the sun settle into the landscape.

I think this is why I love to shoot–it creates stillness.  It stops the motion of time and pauses in a single moment.  While a photo stays in that moment forever, the photographer moves on to the next moment and repeats the process.  Between shots, I watch with an open mind and wide eyes.  I am eager to see what next will present itself.  All my senses feel alive and alert as I decide, “Is this the moment to shoot?  Is this?”  This is especially true during a sunset when I might shoot a hundred pictures of virtually the same thing–I watch for minute changes that make the scene worth shooting again.

Today, I am also working on some skills.  As much as I enjoy shooting, I am rarely really pleased with the end results.  Today I am practicing using a tripod and a remote shutter release in the hope of improving the sharpness of my images.  While I’m at it, I play with long exposures and car lights, which is always fun.  I also always try to improve composition.  Unfortunately, I’m finding the use of the tripod is making composition much more difficult.  In addition, my viewpoint makes getting the elements I want in the photo difficult to arrange around the rule-of-thirds.

Although I work on each of these things and take them into consideration as I set up for each shot, it is without anxiety.  After all, this is a low-risk activity.  If I don’t like the picture, I delete it.  Instead, I work with the tripod to figure out how to best position the camera for the composition I want.  I don’t worry so much about the rule-of-thirds for tonight.  I breathe into the sunset and push the button on my remote.  I feel calmness, serenity, and perhaps a little awe as I watch the light disappear.  This is why I shoot.

Embracing My Inner Jerk

After feeling like I’d walked into an abandoned office building following some massive nuclear holocaust or something yesterday, I’d thought about just working from my friend’s house today.  However, I do have a couple of face-to-face meetings scheduled, plus I have a lunch date that is closer to the office and closer to Pat’s daytime destination.  So, I have Pat drop me at the office again.  Now this is a bit of a sore subject.  I was supposed to have the car today so that I could get to my lunch date and a doctor’s appointment at the end of the day without having to worry about Pat driving back and forth to cart me around.  However, Pat did not come up with a plan that would allow him to get from my office to the workshop where he’s working today without a car.  So, I’m a little irritated that I am the one who is always stuck asking for rides.

But now, I get to the gym and am a little more cheerful.  I get to walk outside during the sunrise, something that always makes my morning, and then laugh a lot with the guys I workout with.  By the time I’m on my way up to my office, I have forgotten about not having a car.  When I get to my floor, there are actually people there!  Not a lot, but at least a handful in each quadrant of the floor.  I say hello at least 3x on the way to my office and even stop to chat for a minute with 1 person.  It’s a banner day!

When lunch comes, Pat picks me up and drops me at the restaurant where I’m meeting my friend.  My friend has a tight schedule, so I get there early and order for both of us so that she arrives about the same time the food comes out.  This works well–we’re not as anxious about getting our food and eating it fast enough to get her back in time for her next appointment so we can talk more leisurely.  Fortunately for me, she doesn’t need her car the rest of the afternoon, so I’m able to make arrangements to drop her at her office and take her car back to my office when we’re done.  Then, I drive back to her office after work, where Pat will pick me up.  That saves Pat from one round-trip at least.  But, I feel bad having to borrow someone’s car.  Especially since I get caught up in a crisis at the end of the day at work that prevents me from leaving the office until later than I needed to leave.  As a result, I don’t have time to put gas in her car before returning it.  I console myself that the needle hasn’t moved and that I’ve only driven about a 1/2 a gallon’s worth, but I still feel bad.

When Pat picks me up later, I am running late from my appointment, having gotten there late.  We are leaving to return to Chattanooga straight from the office, but now we will get a late start.  Plus, I have a couple things I need to drop off to someone in Grandview, so we have to take a slightly indirect route out of town.  We make the drop and then decide to get dinner before getting on the road.  We stop at Donatos and order subs to go.  However, they’re very busy and there’s a long wait for the food.  Since I’m still trying to wrap up the work situation, I go out to the car and get online for a while.  I get a start on the slides I need for a meeting tomorrow and then I decide to change into more comfortable attire.

Since we have a van with tinted windows, I’m able to do this without anyone noticing by sitting on the floor in the back.  Taking off my work shoes feels so good!  I think my feet are growing now that they’ve been set free in hiking sandals most days–shoving them back into heels feels like foot binding.  Now, taking off my heels has the opposite effect–my feet feel like they are exploding into their preferred size like compressed sponges dipped in water.

We finally get our food and head down the road.  Pat is tired, so I will drive the first stretch.  It’s after 7:00PM.  We accept that we will not make it home tonight. As I merge onto the highway, I’m stuck behind a slower vehicle in front of me.  There is a young guy in an SUV behind me who starts to get over and block me in.  This is one of my pet peeves.  I can understand that we all have moments when we lose patience, but if you’re going to block someone in, make it the person who’s causing the problem, not the innocent victim behind them.  I can’t say I snap.  I really feel totally calm about it.  I just don’t feel like being blocked in.  So, I move over in front of him.  Yes, he has to either swerve or slow down to avoid hitting me.  Yes, it’s a risky move on my part.  But, I just don’t feel up to taking any crap from this guy.

Then, a second merge approaches.  There we are, dejavu all over again.  And what do I do?  You guessed it, I cut him off again.  Only this time, he’s not content to just back off (accompanied by his horn and hand gestures).  Instead, he swerves into the shoulder and continues driving too close to me, holding down his horn.  Now this is what we call an “escalating situation.”

That is the problem with being a jerk–you trigger competitive jerkiness in others which turns into a game of chicken as to which one of you is going to back down first.  The problem is that once you’ve committed yourself to being a jerk, it’s hard to back down.  Fortunately for everyone on the road tonight, I take a deep breath and recognize that I’ve pushed too far and it’s time to back down.  Unfortunately for everyone on the road tonight, he is less forgiving.  He starts cutting in and out of traffic so that he can get in front of me and slam on his brakes.  I take another deep breath and let it go.  I remind myself that he probably doesn’t even know why I cut him off and thinks I’m the only jerk in this scenario.

As luck would have it, he continues out of town along with us.  I laugh to myself thinking, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if it turns out he’s our next door neighbor?”  He periodically appears in my rearview mirror gesturing at me and then next to me and then in front of me, still angry.  But, as the traffic makes such maneuvers more difficult, he either calms down or gives up.  Thankfully, he disappears near Grove City (aka, “Grove’tucky), which explains it all.  I make a mental note to not cut people off just because I think they’re rude in the future–I admit, it’s not the first time I’ve made this mental note.  At least it kept me wide awake for the first part of my drive.

We cross our fingers as we approach Cincinnati–tonight is not the night to have an hour delay trying to get out of Ohio.  Traffic flows smoothly into town and slows only briefly on the other side of the river as we get into highway construction.  I am starting to nod.  It’s only about 9:30PM, but I’m so mesmerized by the rhythm of the road that I can barely keep my eyes open.  We find a place to pull off to get gas, use the restroom, and switch drivers.  Now I am wide awake again, which is a good thing because I need to finish some slides for a call tomorrow morning.  I work on the deck for the next 2 hours while Pat drives.

Pat gets us to Lexington, KY, but then we are done.  It’s close enough to Chattanooga that we’ll make it back tomorrow morning, so we look for a motel.  However, Pat has stuff in the van that makes him want to stay in a motel where we can park outside the window.  Usually, the choices are limited and these types of motels are not so nice.  The one we find tonight is no exception.  But, we see no signs of bed bugs, so we throw down and tuck in for the night after setting the alarm for an early rise.

The Deserted Office, Desserts, and Death

Today is Wednesday.  No workout this morning.  No face-to-face meetings scheduled.  But my calendar is full of conference calls.  When Pat drops me off at the office, I go upstairs to discover an empty floor.  Those who were there the day before are all either off, working from home, or traveling today.  There is no one to say hello to, no one to catch up with, not even anyone to ignore.  I find this oddly distracting.  Given that I even have calls through lunch, I find myself wondering why I bothered to come in at all.  I do not rate a window office, so I sit in my empty office with no view and miss my home office with a fantastic view.

An interesting thing I have learned about myself in the age of ADD:  I need low-level distractions in order to focus.  It’s as if I need to give the “Squirrel!” part of my brain something to do so that it stops nagging at the rest of my brain when I’m trying to concentrate.  Background noise at the office helps.  Just knowing there are people outside my door helps.  When I work at home, I have an easier time remaining focused on an intense task when my husband is home doing something on his own than if I’m home alone.  I’ve found that listening to music helps in the absence of other distractions, but that’s not possible when on conference calls.  Within an hour, I am coming out of my skin.

I don’t know what exactly it is that I experience when there is not enough going on at once–is it anxiety, boredom, hyper-activeness?  I’m not sure.  All I know is that I begin to work on one thing, I think of something else and open that, then I think of something else and open that.  All while I’m on a conference call.  Before I know it, I have about 40 documents open, 8 instant message conversations going, I’m halfway through answering 9 emails, and I’m in a complete state of confusion as to whether I’ve actually accomplished anything or not.

Complicating this state of task-hopping (let’s face it, there’s no such thing as multi-tasking) is the memory factor.  Another thing I’ve learned about the scattered mind combined with a faulty memory is: when I start to do something, it often creates a memory of having done it.  Whatever the function is in my brain that checks of to-do items, starting a task can trigger that little check.  Once the item is mentally checked, I forget all about it.  So, the more task-hopping I do, the more items I’m at risk of believing I’ve completed when in fact, they are only partially done.  To combat this, before I close things, I carefully look at each window I’ve opened, figure out why I’ve opened it, and then determine if that item is complete or not.  When I have a day like today with back-to-back conference calls where I’m able to just listen for my name during the first one (giving me the opportunity to open a lot), but the rest of them I have to listen and participate (preventing me from finishing anything I opened during the first call), I will often get to the end of the day and not have time to do a graceful shutdown, so-to-speak.  Then, I put my laptop to sleep and hope it will wake up later and that I will remember where I was with all the stuff that’s still open.  Of course, the more stuff I leave open, the more likely my laptop will hang and require a reboot, which essentially reboots my memory right along with the laptop.

It’s the end of the day, we have dinner plans with friends we haven’t seen in two months, and, as predicted, I have too many things open and must put my laptop to sleep and clean up later.  Given that our friends are expecting a baby in about 2 weeks, I imagine we will not be out late and I will have time for this tonight.  But, I hate going to dinner with things hanging unfinished both on my laptop and in my mind.

After a day of isolation, getting together with friends is even more welcome.  Our friends include a little one who arrives in his mother’s arms half asleep.  I try to remember what it feels like to have to jerk yourself out of sleep, rouse yourself and be social.  He’s only 4–too young to have learned that skill set yet.  He wants to be held by his mother, tiny and nearly 9 months pregnant.  She holds him and I wonder how that’s possible.

Our small friend does come to life during dinner.  He makes it through his meal with the promise of ice cream dancing in his head.  There is a Graeter’s next door.  Even though we still have Graeter’s in the freezer at our hosts’ house, I am just as excited about going next door after dinner as the 4-year old.

Outside, there is an event for a dog rescue.  One woman has a tiny Chihuahua on a leash.  He poops toothpaste-consistency yellow poop on the patio without his owner noticing.  I think back to our Mastiffs and how I used to tell my friends that with Mastiff poop, you worry more about tripping over it than stepping in it.  The Chihuahua’s poop is about 1/40th the size, just like the dog.

I watch as first one dog steps in the soft pile, then another.  I tell a volunteer and she gets out a bag, but before she can clean it up, the Chihuahua owner steps on it, completely covering the mess with her Ugg boot.  Amazingly, when she takes another step, it’s as if the entire pile has desinegrated and been absorbed into her sole and the patio pavers, leaving only discoloration behind.  The volunteer looks at me and says, “Was it her dog who pooped?” I answer in the affirmative and she winks and says, “Retribution!”

After enjoying a scoop of pumpkin pie ice cream, watching the dogs, and watching our small friend attempt to play “Cone Hole” (Graeter’s humor–an ice cream place’s name for “Corn Hole”), we say our good-byes and head on home.  It’s barely 8:00PM.

When we arrive at our hosts’ house, we eat some more ice cream and talk about the news of Steve Jobs’ death.  Oddly, I feel more likely to buy an iPhone 4S because Steve Jobs died.  There is no logic to this and I cannot explain it.  We ponder what the impact will be on Apple and whether they can continue his legacy when he was so heavily involved in the details.

I find myself wondering what his personal life was like, if he was happy, if the legacy of Apple was worth whatever he sacrificed.  I wonder what was most important to him and if he believed, in the end, that he lived his life according to his values and his priorities or if he struggled with regrets over the things he didn’t do.  Then, I begin to wonder if building something like Apple is more or less important or valuable than building a family or anything else that someone dedicates their life to.  But, this is too deep for contemplation right before bed, so I let the thought drift away as we say our goodnights and head upstairs.