Sunday, February 27, 2011

Just A Cold Day At The Office

It's always something. I got a call a while ago to do a re-crew job instead of my regular point A to point B gig.  Sort of unusual but not unheard of and I didn't particularly mind.  Hey, a little variety once in a while is ok sometimes.

Turns out, a southbound crew had had a pack of trouble with their train along the way and had run out of time right on the main track.  They effectively become a cork in the bottle until somebody got there to take over and get the thing moving again.  We were nominated to hop in a van, chase them down and take the train on south.  Since we got about three different versions of where the train was parked, it took quite a while to actually find the crossing where they ended up but eventually, the cavalry came riding out of the sunset to the rescue.

Turns out there was a couple of railfans equipped with video already there waiting for something to move.  I've seen these same photogs out and about many times chasing us around the area but this time they got us starting out from a standstill instead of just rollling by.
Here's the results...

Thanks for the video me it's just a cold day at the 'office' but it's kinda nice to put on a show while we're at it.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Desperation Ride

I couldn't resist.  The thermometer cracked 40 yesterday and I went out on the mountain bike.  Yeah, I remember I groused a whole blog post about the cold and hating it so much but I'm also about done with being a houseplant.  So sue me...

The plan was to drag out one of my old battleships...a two-wheeled, double-sprung, much-abused steel monstrosity from a big-box that weighs almost as much as my truck.  Heavy, slow, expendable, this is the tool most suitable for a ride in the salt and slush; I knew I kept it around the shed for some reason.

In another winter, I destroyed a similar big lug (actually, dissolved is a better word) cruising on salty winter roads.  Everything on it rusted solid in one season and no amount of WD-40 could bring it back.  Even the freewheel developed a nasty little suprise once the rust reached inside the became common for it to lock up at random moments; a pesky inconvenience which made the bike into the worlds most dangerously unpredictable fixie.  You never knew when the ratchet would catch while coasting and at the very least, fling your feet off the pedals and bang your knees on the bars or at worst, toss your feet off and then jam the pedal against your calf.  This would lead to some 'epic' elephant skids and usually wad up the whole works in a roadside pile.  I'm really happy I hadn't discovered clipless pedals back then.  The idea of being locked onto cranks rotating like a washer on spin gives me visions of ambulance rides and knee replacements.  It was all thrilling for sure but not especially enjoyable.

I foresaw a similar fate for the current corrodable occupant of the garage.  A quick twist of the front derailleur shot down 'Plan A' though as the cable instantly parted at the bottom of the guide loop that 'Excitor' cleverly designed to retain any and all moisture where it can do the most damage.  That left the Trek up to bat.  I hated the idea of taking aluminum out in the crud but figured I'd stick to the trails if I could and avoid as much salt as possible.  Lucky for me, the snowmobiles have packed the paths as hard as a sidewalk and a couple of above-freezing days followed by clear, cold nights have iced everything solid on top.  Following the posted trails over the hill behind my house worked out pretty well except for an occasional drop into a soft spot that brought me down to a crawl.  Oh, how out of shape I am.  The climb up the hill damn near killed me and those stretches of softer snow just about buried me.  Who's idea was this anyway?
Eventually, I crested on the hilltop and stopped long enough for the fire to go out in my legs and my heart to quit pounding all the way up to the back of my eyeballs.  Whoever said it was cold out is a liar, I'm sweating like a galley slave.  As a side observation: You know, the world looks really strange when seen with a fuzzy purple fringe around the edge of your vision, the one you see right before you pass out from lack of oxygen.  No, I didn't pass out...yes, I wanted to.  Kids, I'm telling you true...I'm REALLY out of shape.

Once my breathing slowed a little and my heart settled to the point of no longer feeling like I needed a pacemaker, I collected myself, looked around and remembered one of the reasons why I started doing this in the first place...the view from the top:

I wound up in an open field on top of a hill with a view over the whole hometown valley.  Once again, I'd stumbled onto a place within a couple miles of home that I've never seen before.  If one thing hadn't led to another, I would have missed it again.  Makes me think I probably won't live long enough to see all the horizons, hidden little wonders and small mysteries to be found right in my own back yard...but it'll be worth a try.

A bit of R&R and now it's back down the other side of the hill.  This was all new to me but I know every marked trail has to come out somewhere so damn the torpedoes and down we go.  This piece of trail wisdom (or lack of) has led to some unplanned adventures before.  It is true that sooner or later, you'll pop out of the woods someplace so it's pretty hard to get lost, the catch is that you never know what might be lurking in between where you are and where you'll pop.  There's some really steep and deep places around here that are sucker traps for the unwary.  Routes that are designed for vehicles burning dead dinosaurs are particularly risky as the trail blazers don't worry too much about long, steep climbs when all they have to do is push a little harder with their right thumb to get out.  Wide, cleated tracks turned by big engines are one thing, I on the other hand have skinny, mostly worn out tires powered by very low octane old legs.  I've had to accept defeat and walk out more than once.
This time, I got lucky and no 'portage' was involved.  It was all descent...and steeper descent...and switchbacks...and ice...and soft snow...then a drop like a cliff followed by the sudden stop of the front wheel in a rut without proper notification to the rear.  I clearly remember watching Doc smacking himself in the back of the head with his own rear tire on a downhill once and now I know how it's done.  His classic endo tossed him in the pricker bushes though while I only fluffed to a landing upside down and half-unclipped in a Kama Sutra position, spitting dead leaves and tangled in bike, brush and a snowbank.  There's times like this when it's better to be riding alone as no one is there to laugh out loud while trying to sound sympathetic when you embarrass your silly self so blatantly.  Unless you happen to fracture your skull on the landing it's better.  Some things I'd rather not think about.
Unwinding from the contortions, I found no harm done but to pride so I got off easy.  I guess you have to pay somehow when you wander blindly around the woods in the dead of winter and this one was cheap.

Now being soaked from shoulders to chamois from rolling in wet snow, I concluded that that was about the end of trail riding for the day.  I tiptoed down the rest of the sled path and found myself on a familiar dirt road.  I decided against any more bushwhacking unless something presented itself that I couldn't refuse.  As things were warming up, the trails were getting more and more sloppy anyway and the burning legs weren't having anything to do with climbs in two inches of mush.  I say to myself, "Self, it's a mountain bike, not a snow machine stupid, you're ridiculously weak right now and the next crash-landing might not be so easy...ride the back roads home and stay out of the drifts. Duh."  I'll go with that.

Concluding that it'll be a couple more rides before I'm ready for the big time again, I tucked tail and headed up the frozen dirt trying not to hit the salty mud puddles any more than I had to.  Save the bike at least.

Yeah, it's still winter out there but there's at least hope for spring I think.  Doesn't look like it in my last shot of the afternoon taken somewhere along one of those half-frozen dirt roads but I have faith.
After one more go at a trail which failed spectacularly, I managed to slog back into my driveway with the light fading and the temp. dropping.  Only 12 miles and change for the outing so not really a prizewinner or record-setter by any means but with luck, yesterdays little soiree in the snow is only the start of a really good year in the hills.  I have faith.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Is It Spring Yet?

Like everyone except skiers, snowmobilers and other assorted 'hardy' types, I'm looking out the window, watching it snow, groping my way through winter and waiting for the first glimmer of spring.  They say every year in the lead-up to winter that "it's going to be a bad one" and this time the naysayers might just have been right. 

I know, I know; if you live in NY, you have to expect crummy weather about 2/3 of the time anyway but by this point in the year, I've had about enough of the cold.  Nothing against you winter sports people but there's something about volunteering to go out in the snow unless you really have to that doesn't make much sense to me any more.  To each his own I guess but I'd rather be just a tad warmer in my old age.  Wet feet, aching knees and numb fingers have very little appeal to me anymore even if I wanted to tempt the fates and go outside.  Snow shoveling is pretty much my limit and I believe I've also had about enough of that for the year as well.  The driveway will have to melt it's own self 'cause I don't think I'm scraping it by hand again.

I think of the days when I rode a motorcycle almost all year-round and wonder how in hell I ever managed it.  My face would get so cold I thought it would shatter and it took all my upper-body strength just to pull in the clutch.  My leathers froze solid more than once while out riding somewhere in December or January but I rarely surrendered until I couldn't get out of the driveway anymore because of the snowdrifts.  When it really got down there, the old scoot would sometimes give up to the almost-solidified 50 weight oil and refuse to start.  No problem.  I'd jump the thing off the car battery and force it back to life but would I drive the car?  Nope.  Just add more layers and saddle up.  Ahh, to be young and tough.  And stupid, really stupid.
I distinctly remember drafting trucks on the interstate to get out of the wind and sleet riding north from Florida in October once upon a time.  Or hunting desperately for a motel in a New England snowstorm after we got run out of Montpelier Vermont by the local cops (another good story for another day).  New Years day and 15 below was probably the dumbest of moments but getting smacked in the face by an early-spring robin when it was about 25 above hurt the worst.
There's a line between dedicated and idiotic that I crossed repeatedly up 'till about 15 years ago but as time went on, those kinds of escapades made my knees ache for days and bleeding windburn lost a lot of its appeal.  Most times lately I don't even feel like venturing out to my truck to go to work when the temperature is below 30.  I think that's why I put the old Hog on the cover for now...a reminder that shortly after the inevitable season of mud will come a season of warm and I won't feel so much like living under a rock.  We'll ride again but the frost will be out of the ground and the salt off the blacktop before it happens.

The one and only consolation of winter in my opinion is that once in a while, the sun does peek out on a fresh snow and the world actually becomes a postcard place. 

Trust me, it looks a whole lot prettier in the daylight photo than it did when I was trying to drive home at three in the morning.  The snow was much less impressive when it was pitch dark out, the snow was blowing sideways in the wind and even the plow guys hadn't ventured out of their lairs for time-and-a-half yet. The only tracks on the road for the last 15 miles of my commute were my own.
There has to be an end to this.  I get so I'd do anything to see green again and dump the winter gear out of my grip.  I'll hang up the Carhartts and put away the snow shovels soon enough but 'till then, it's still winter out there and the old guy is bundling up for another trip.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Busted Flat...Waitin' For a Train.

It's a Sunday again...or at least it was when I started this entry.  And it's another one of those days.  I'm reminded of that line from my old girl Janice.  She was in Baton Rouge but Pearl knew what it was like..."...feeling near as faded as my jeans."  She sang her throat raw on the blues and died young but she knew.  Waiting to go to work and watching the snow fall.  I'm sick of winter and cold and wet and dark.  I need some sunshine.  Yeah...I need some sunshine.