Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Summer yields to school year

School’s back in session. Always great to get back into the swing of it, but during the week before school starts, we want to take advantage of the last days of having that more open schedule. Last week, we went to Petoskey and Charlevoix, partly to see if we could find some peaches for canning and partly just to have a nice day trip. No peaches available in bulk, only by the pound and expensive due to the early warm and late frost this spring, but it made for a nice day trip regardless. 

We just kind of poked along, stopping at turnouts to Lake Michigan, at farm stands and at artsy/touristy shops. We also stopped at Petoskey State Park to look for Petoskey stones (found a few, as always).

At the park we also were entertained by the kite surfers, three guys on short boards holding kites. It was a breezy day, so they got some speed and just as we were leaving, one guy got some serious air. One of the kite surfers packed up to go just as we were. Looked to be an involved process of capturing the kite, deflating the kite, packing the kite. Not something to do single-handedly. By nature, kite surfers are avid in their sport.

One sees the avid sportspeople on the road, a cluster of expensive bikes or skis or kayaks on the rack, them driving off to some destination to pursue their sport. I like to see that. They’re probably adding to the economy of the areas they visit. They are enjoying the outdoors and maybe even advocate for conservation of the places they mountain bike, cross country ski or kayak in.

I don’t get out that much. My recreational pursuits tend to be closer to home or right at home or campus. Skiing, cycling, hiking, canoeing are things I can do casually during my usual day. That’s one of the big advantages of living here – the fact that we can do paddle sports, cross country skiing, cycling right in our immediate neighborhoods. It’s part of the lifestyle here, and we use that fact when recruiting people to come work at the university.

I have not always lived where one can canoe so casually or with reliable enough snow to XC so often. But one can always go cycling and running . All you need is roads (although one place I lived was miles from a paved road so not so good for cycling when all I had was a road bike). What about hiking? Is a long walk through town a hike or does one need to be in an interesting natural area to call it a hike? As a kid and as an adult, I’ve walked for transportation, often a couple of miles distance. I never considered it a hike, though.  Regardless of what it’s called, it can be a good way to get somewhere and enjoy the journey even if it’s just through town.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Nice ride, eh?

Talk about sense of place. Nothing says ‘cycling in the EUP’ better than drafting off a tractor pulling an empty hay wagon. Not that it happens often. I’ve been cycling just about my whole life in farm country and never had drafted behind a hay wagon until this morning.

I was on a ride I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. Everything fell in place for that ride this morning. It’s about 16 miles one way, so I needed a couple of hours in my schedule. Check. Nice weather. Check. The bonus today was that the breeze was SE, unusual for us, but making for the always desirable homeward tailwind. The destination: Dunbar Park, a place I visit often with class but have never biked to. I know several people who do and recommended the ride. There was a work aspect to the trip, too. Last year I saw a purple loosestrife plant there, so part of the motivation for the trip was to see whether it had spread.

A few miles into the trip, I heard a large vehicle coming up slowly from behind. A tractor pulling an empty haywagon passed me slowly, which gave me the chance to get into its draft. It was a nice break for about ½ mile until we got to a slight incline and I could no longer match the tractor’s speed.

Otherwise, the trip was uneventful but very pleasant. The familiar terrain rolled by with a few new sights. The _______’s are finally putting an entryway on the front door of their house 15 years after it was built. About time. Saw another house-in-the-country under construction on Riverside Rd. Saw some gardens hit by our hot dry weather and others that looked fine (probably had an irrigation system).

Traffic was practically non-existent. Lost count at 4 cars; the total could be as high as 8 or 10 passing in either direction for the whole ride.

Dunbar Park actually did look better from the bicycle than from a college van. Probably it was just the satisfaction of getting there under my own power. 

The purple loosestrife had spread. Where there was one plant, now there are several over 10s of meters. We’ll get the students on that project.

On the way home, I was feeling the old spin in the legs, a pleasant feeling I had not felt in a while. I don’t get that feeling on my more typical rides, which involve getting to and/or from school. The reminiscence of cycling past was soon replaced by the more recently familiar rubber in the legs, especially after the short, steep hill up out of the river valley onto the plain. Ride home was a bit faster with a few chances to get on the big chain ring.

Everything added up to a very nice way to spend a few hours in the EUP. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

UP Connections II

A UP Weekend II
by Thaddeus

The afternoon of Sunday, July 29

3:57 (Buddy): “Hey whatcha doing next weekend?”
3:59 (Me): “Nothing planned. Wanna go for a hike?”
4:01 – “No, I will be in Crystal Falls for Humungous Fungus.”
4:01 – “Cool man. Sounds like a blast.”
4:03 – “Yeah it’s a good time. You should come out.”
4:05 – “For sure, that’s a cool area. Why not? I will see you there.”
4:06 – “Awesome, that’s what I like to hear.”
4:18 – (Internal monologue) “Wait, where is Crystal Falls? Have I been there? Is that by Marquette? I need to google this...”

The morning of Saturday, August 4


10:38 – (External monologue) “THIS is Crystal Falls?”
10:39 – “HAVE I ever been here?”
10:40 – “Am I in the Central Time Zone?”
10:44 – “Did I just drive through Crystal Falls?”

As of the 2010 census, Crystal Falls has a population of 1,429. That number is much, much lower than estimates thrown around by my road trip partner “Bob” and I as we were sight-seeing through town, slowly making our way to a gas station. Bob could swear he was here once before, and tentatively recalled a bait shop and memories of the greatest submarine sandwich he ever tasted as the neural pathways of his brain were being fueled by blue Gatorade and McDonald’s breakfast.

Myself, on the other hand, never tasted an epic sub in this part of the state. Sure, I had been through Iron Mountain, Iron River and Covington, but somehow I never succumbed to the siren song of Crystal Falls.

I discovered what I had been missing. Ultimately, the Humungous Fungus Festival was what brought me to town, but proximally the UP Strongman Competition was scheduled to begin at high noon (yes, Central Time) and a mutual friend to Bob and I was competing in the heavyweight division.

Being of extremely slight build relative to the competitors, Bob and I felt more than a little out of place prior to the competition as the athletes were stretching muscle masses that were clearly the result of years of training and discipline. No disrespect intended, but the female competitors could have twisted me into a pretzel that would have sold at a premium at the concession stand. It was agreed upon that the only way to salvage – or mask – our self-respect was to partake in some 12 ounce curls of ice cold beverages as the emcee announced the start of the spectacle.

The event annihilated my concept of what human beings could achieve. Imagine the most physically demanding movement you have ever made, quadruple the intensity, and you have the first of five feats of strength. I’m lucky if my back doesn’t seize while doing dishes after lunch, but these men and women were moving weights best described as large fractions of blue whales. At regular intervals over four hours, the gamut of responses ran from nervous energy before the whistle blew, exhaustion after completion of a challenge, episodes of profuse perspiration, shouting, grunting, and physical and emotional strain. I can only imagine what the competitors were going through.

If I ever happen to meet any of the people who competed (other than my buddy, the 2012 heavyweight champion, by the way), I will look directly into their eyes, shake their hand, and give them my utmost respect. Immediately afterwards I will drive to the nearest hospital for an X-ray of the pulverized bones of my useless limb, suppressing tears and thinking of whom I will ask first to sign my cast.

To be honest, I didn’t attend any of the other scheduled events of the Festival; I didn’t think it was necessary. I had a blast in Crystal Falls, and as much fun as it would have been to hang out at the Teen Dance (Thursday @ 7) or the Senior’s Cribbage Match (Friday @ 1:30), nothing could trump the time I had at the UP Strongman during the weekend I spent in Crystal Falls this past Saturday afternoon.

If you happen to make it out next year, I will be the skinny guy at the concession stand nervously asking if there is any demand for pretzels to be on the menu – say hello.

personal connections to the UP

Sense of place is all about one's personal connections to a place and, better yet, the people one interacts with there. This edition of know-your-place features a guest blogger (a young scientist with whom I collaborate) writing about just such connections.
Part I is about Thaddeus' adventures in the territory around Marquette, Michigan.
A UP Weekend I
by Thaddeus

Perhaps the greatest irony of my life is that for a person who measures 6’4” tall, I am terrified of heights. Full disclosure: I am talking about a fear far beyond which is indicated by symptoms of wobbly-knees or dizziness. At the apex of my six inch vertical leap, I begin to get very angry with Sir Isaac Newton and question what possessed me to leave the surface of our most wonderful planet Earth. I have considered how self-secure I am to withstand to the public ridicule that would befall someone in my age range without a disability using walking canes, if for no other reason than to enter into a more pleasing consort with land.

One of my earliest memories is of my parents taking me to a public library. The library had two floors, and the children’s section was on the second level. If memory serves, the elevator was shrouded in the cobwebs of several generations (if not whole civilizations) of numerous species of spider with a dusty OUT OF ORDER sign that was placed in front of its entrance sometime in 1958. The staircase at this library consisted of large, rectangular marble slabs held together by approximately half the steel distributed from Pittsburgh. A very sturdy structure and a testament to the talent and skill of its designers to say the least. Problem was, there was a gap of about a hand’s width between each offset step that allowed for the necessary incline and the visitor to be able to see through the stairway as they made their way to the second floor. I was so paralyzed by this evil creation as a child that my current stage of literacy is a credit to the wonderful teachers on the ground floor of the elementary school I attended.

The simple truth is that the more of my surface area that is in contact with objects permanently affixed to the ground, the more comfortable I am. This is known by people who know me. “Bob” is one such person who knows me. He and I go back a few years and we have spent not an insignificant amount of time developing a friendship.

A quick note about Bob: he likes to have fun. He loves hiking, fishing, kayaking, biking, building beautiful log furniture…in other words someone who fits in perfectly in Marquette, Michigan.

Another quick note: Bob is absolutely crazy.

I visited Bob this past weekend in Marquette. We had dinner on Friday night at the Vierling restaurant on Front Street. If you have never been there, order a pint of a delicious hand crafted hoppy beverage and don’t be shy about looking through the large windows overlooking the bay or the old black-and-white photos on the walls before your food arrives. (The whitefish, by the way, is phenomenal.)

One picture shows Marquette harbor sometime after the turn of the century. The photo succeeds in representing how busy the port was in a time long since past as the viewer sees immense sepia toned tree trunks waiting to be shipped off to lumber yards. On the horizon, there is a promontory that reaches towards the sky, the tallest landmark of the area from that photo’s perspective. Naturally my eyes were led to this peak, and my throat started to constrict as sweaty hands tried to grasp a fork.

“What’s that hill there, in the back?” I ask, trying to allay burgeoning anxiety through dialogue.

“Oh yeah, I think that is Marquette Mountain,” Bob says. “Cool photo, huh?”

My voice squeaks as I attempt a response and the conversation eventually drifts elsewhere.

Later that evening we discuss plans for the weekend and a couple of ideas were tossed around. Things with Bob always seem to move fast and before I knew it the first suggestion of a crisp autumn-in-August Sunday morning was floating through the open window of my guest room.

“So we’ll head up to Jeffrey’s for breakfast and then hit the cliff?”

“Um, sure sounds like a good plan” I mumble, still in a sleepy haze without having consumed the several cups of coffee required to alert my senses every morning.

It wasn’t until the third cup that I became aware of myself seriously discussing climbing a rock face. Was this actually presented as an option on Friday for things to do over the weekend? What’s more, it seemed as though we were talking about climbing the same peak that I had seen in the photo at the restaurant two days before. I’m not one for hyperbole, but as the server dutifully refilled my bottomless cup of coffee, my mind recalled every detail of minutiae in the photo of the Mt. McKinley of Michigan, from the sherpas leading pack mules up narrow trails to the base camp with wind-tattered tents and spare oxygen tanks.

I won’t bore you with the details of how I managed to scramble up the side of that mountain; frankly, I have no recollection of anything that happened once I started climbing. However, I will say that I think I may be the first person in recorded history to have the ability to consciously decide against having multiple heart attacks, something I learned about myself while I was clutching a shrubby oak tree some 70 feet above where my feet last touched flat ground. Photographic evidence shows a rope knotted to a harness into which I was strapped leading through a pulley anchored by two trees at the top of the cliff to Bob’s own harness at the foot of the cliff. This technique, I was told later, is called “top anchoring” and once the nausea that still accompanies any association with Sunday, August 5th subsides in a week or so, I might read up on how exactly the physics behind it works.

It’s good to have friends, but it is better when crazy friends live a few hours away.