Wednesday, May 16, 2018

first fish

Here we are forty miles from the nearest navigable water, out at the edge of the Great American Desert, with a canoe in case of emergencies. We weren't the only ones confused - well away from Cheyenne in the bare green country, there sat a bald eagle perched on the telegraph pole. All the pronghorn were loafing contentedly in the fields, surrounded by forage. Usually they are either not visible at all, or wandering around looking for grazing. There will be lots of twins this wet spring. The pronghorn are like bears, fertilize the eggs in the winter then re-absorb them in case of a lean hard spring, or carry multiples to term in a good year.

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there

The wild plums are first to riot in flowers. The other fruit trees up here are just beginning. Fortunately the wild plum can pollinate the tame ones that will bear fruit. There were mostly honey bees but numbers of other small black wild bees busy at the harvest.

All the serious tractoring had been done last week, twenty some acres of barley and five of the health-giving legume sainfoin, for the blooms and for the deer. It's possible next year we may invest in some WY deer licenses, if they like it well enough. We just cleaned out the tractor and the barley seed bags, then toured the trees to see how they were getting along. The sandhill cranes are nesting again. They don't care for us on the farm and lift out to the neighboring cattle grazing, watching carefully in case we try to pull something.

Last week up on the hill there was a mixed flock of mallards and pheasants. This is unprecedented. Mallards belong on water and pheasants in the fields. Ken drove by and reported they all had the furtive slightly frantic teenagers-hiding-a-joint look, definitely up to something.

Storms gathered around the pond but never quite got there. I was all armoured up in full waders, rainjacket and hat, then quickly grew hot. Fish rising all over. Ken caught a few swiftly then opted for a nap. It took me a while to get rigged then the usual Adams #18 was not performing for me. This year so far has produced a long streak of fishless outings. I started to believe yet again I'd become obsolete.

Ken is napping on a rock somewhere over there. At one point there were three turkey buzzards wheeling in a spiral above him. Before I could get the pic, he twitched, and they spun off on long glides to look for something deader.

First fish of the year and most welcome. Caught a smattering of similar 10-12" holdovers, fat and happy, but never quite figured out what they wanted. On days like this it seems the fish are taking pity on my fumblings, or perhaps the fishing gods that live past all imploring grant a moment of unaccountable grace.

This was all very well and entirely satisfactory, but there was a possibility of truly enormous trout cruising the wall of an immense irrigation reservoir out on the plains. We went to check.

Wind, big skies, and several hundred coots. Occasionally a couple of Lesser Scaup would whistle overhead coming down the wind like a low-level strafing run. I ducked reflexively every time.

This is more like ocean fishing than anything else, hopefully plunking the fly into a giant mostly featureless puddle with the fish scattered through it like plums in a Christmas pudding. In the spring it's possible to cheat by fishing along the wall, where the trout cruise looking for spawning spots. This seems a little unfair but I have big-fish lust pounding in the brain, here in the spring after the long and unfished winter.

Ken observed, "sometimes they will roll along here", one rolled on cue, he cast to it and promptly landed a solid 22" rainbow. So far so good. In the dusky green water as the light came and went, dim submarine shapes passed quickly by on the edge of the dropoff. A big white streamer did nothing for me. Chironomids or egg patterns fished below a strike indicator (bobber) will often work but you might as well drown a worm under a bobber as flyfish that way. Next up, a substantial black nymph with an orange abdomen and some legs to wiggle at the passersby, five casts across 180 degrees to cover the water, changing up retrieves for each repeat of the cast pattern. Repeat until the zen kicks in, or a fish takes. A large solid presence made itself felt on a slow short strip retrieve.

The bow of that net is 15". Today I learned a 25" fish will fit into it in a pinch, though it do stick out a bit. That's the biggest trout I've caught in a decade or more and one of the fattest. Returned with thanks, to grow even more.

Some time later a slow hand-twist retrieve persuaded this handsome lad of 22" or so.

Ken was prowling the wall and saw three fish disporting themselves on a small flat just north of me. He guided my casts as I couldn't see them through the flat glare of late afternoon cloud light. 'Too far out' 'still too far out' 'Geez you bum did you forget how to cast over the winter ?' but finally got close enough and this deep coloured spawning male slammed the fly.

The night in Medicine Bow at the Virginian Hotel, as in the fall trip. Next morning out to the lake as on that trip too, a lake that wasn't there in the early 2000s. Somehow Game&Fish worked out a deal with the irrigation district to get water in the lake, much to our delight. The fish had grown an inch or two over the winter though the brook trout had vanished tracelessly. Again I fuddled and futzed my way through the day, picking up a fish here and there, never quite figuring it out. Chironomids below a bobber would have worked. The day was glorious.

This is a pure put-and-take fishery with no natural reproduction. The way to dusty death for these fish is me, pelicans, or old age. Today I decided it might as well be me and kept a handsome brace.

One fillet I fried up for myself on Monday night while the family was out at their Swallow Hill music classes - fry the skin side first in a little butter to brown it up, then flip and add some white wine, more butter, and lemon juice, simmer briefly. Delicious. The other three fillets got smoked in my Abu Roken box, one taken to a party with more lemon, the last two baked into a quiche for Mother's Day, since I'm just that kind of beta male. Perhaps actually catching the fish out there in the wailing Wyoming wilderness makes up for baking the quiche ?

Saturday, February 24, 2018

voting machines and elections

Computer scientists have been running around with their hair on fire about the US voting machines ever since they were first deployed. The charitable interpretation is that the voting machine companies have a touchingly naive faith in 'computers',

A just machine to make big decisions
Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision
We'll be clean when their work is done
Donald Fagen

But the companies clearly don't understand the first thing about security, chains of custody, or auditability.

From computer science Professor Alex Halderman testifying to the Senate intelligence committee - with footnotes, citations, eight-by-ten colour glossy photographs with circles And arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one,
Ten years ago, I was part of the first academic team to conduct a comprehensive
security analysis of a DRE voting machine. We examined what was at that time the
most widely used touch-screen DRE in the country, and spent several months probing
it for vulnerabilities. What we found was disturbing: we could reprogram the machine to
invisibly cause any candidate to win. We also created malicious software—vote-stealing
code—that could spread from machine-to-machine like a computer virus, and silently
change the election outcome.

Vulnerabilities like these are endemic throughout our election system. Cybersecurity
experts have studied a wide range of U.S. voting machines—including both DREs and
optical scanners—and in every single case, they’ve found severe vulnerabilities that
would allow attackers to sabotage machines and to alter votes. That’s why there is
overwhelming consensus in the cybersecurity and election integrity research
communities that our elections are at risk.
Princeton computer science professor Andrew Appel who can hack an election in seven minutes without breaking a sweat,
If this century has shifted our trust from away from our neighbors toward machines, it might be time to switch back again. Eight countries in Europe that once flirted with digital voting have seen six go back to paper; Britain counted its Brexit votes by hand. Even if the vote were never hacked—and it is an exceedingly implausible event—the remotest possibility is an albatross on democracy and a boon for mischief-makers, and not just the cyber attackers. Trump’s most recent jujitsu—pointing out that by virtue of the fact that the election is hackable, it could be rigged against him—illustrates this risk. Technology has amplified not only the threat of hacking, but the threat of a hack.

The Princeton alums can warn us—but they can’t protect us. “We are in a collision-course between the technology we use in election administration and the growing reality of politically motivated, statelevel cyberattacks,” Halderman tells me, arm propped on his red office chair, sunlight pouring through his westward window. “We sit around all day and write research papers. But these people are full-time exploiters. They’re the professionals. We’re the amateurs.”
recent article from the NYT covers much the same ground, though not as well.

There are Senate and House bills to fix this, with the remedies that are obvious,
- Replacing insecure paperless voting systems with new equipment that will generate a voter-verifiable paper ballot;
- Implementing post-election audits of paper ballots

However in this administration I think it unlikely either of these will pass.

Now, get your tin foil hat on. Responsible journalism would have covered these stories, but since we don't have that, they sound like conspiracy theories. The evidence is to my mind quite persuasive.

Voting machines in the 2016 election gave results that are not easily reconciled with polls and exit polls.
We use our data to explore the claim that counties with electronic voting exhibited different voting patterns than their paper peers. What we find is definitely troubling: in some of the swing states, and specifically in states that were projected to vote Democratic at the top of the ticket, those with electronic voting had a decrease in the percent of the total vote going for the Clinton-Kaine campaign, and an increase for the Trump-Pence campaign. We try to determine if this is spurious by checking for patterns in other places with electronic voting, as well as during the 2012 election. We only find this correlation for swing states during the 2016 election.
Craig Wright, a baseball statistician, found the election peculiar and came to a similar conclusion
Exit polls are no longer just polls of voters exiting polling places. Edison Research, which conducts the exit polling for the major news outlets, also polls voters by phone prior to election day, looking for feedback from the rising group of early voters to be added proportionally to their polling place data. 
The CNN exit polls — which were done by Edison Research — covered 28 states that accounted for 411 of the Electoral votes. Their exit polls correctly predicted the winner in the recorded vote in 24 of the 28 states. All four misses were swing states, and in all four cases the exit polls had indicated that [D] had won, but then the official vote count went to [R]. The four states were Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, a group that accounts for 74 Electoral votes. While the official vote count gave [R] a whopping 90 Electoral votes in the swing states, if the exit polls were translated into Electoral votes, that would have completely turned that result around with 93 Electoral votes of the swing states going to [D].
Among the seventeen states using voting machines with no audit trail so an effective paper audit cannot be done, only two are swing states. Unfortunately, they were the two swing states with the most Electoral votes, Florida and Pennsylvania.
This has a precedent, too - the Presidential Election of 2000 was the first time in 112 years that the result of the popular vote and the Electoral vote disagreed. The difference here was the votes in Florida were not counted, which was oddly enough a primary motivation for the voting machine debacle and its consequences.

In 2004 something very strange happened in Ohio,
Connell ran the private IT firm GovTech that created the controversial system that transferred Ohio's vote count late on election night 2004 to a partisan Republican server site in Chattanooga, Tennessee owned by SmarTech. That is when the vote shift happened, not predicted by the exit polls, that led to Bush's unexpected victory.
The Georgia special election last year was most likely hacked as well - but we can't know since the machine was wiped clean.
Georgia’s election system was sitting insecure on the internet for months and was easily accessible by hackers. The problem was discovered ahead of time and the state was taken to court in an effort to prevent them from using the unprotected system for the special election between Karen Handel and Jon Ossoff.  But the election was held anyway.
A computer server crucial to a lawsuit against Georgia election officials was quietly wiped clean by its custodians just after the suit was filed, The Associated Press has learned.

Trump can make allegations but I have not seen anywhere any evidence for his allegations. There is evidence for my conspiracy theories. Ha.
When there is no audit trail the only available check is the exit polls. There's no proof but the evidence is highly suggestive.

More generally, the elections are no longer representative of the people who vote.
Exit polls in the same election that produced this massive GOP triumph had this finding: 55% of the very same voters had an unfavorable opinion of the Republican party compared to 49% for the Democratic Party.   Conversely, 47% viewed the Democrats favorably vs. 40% for the Republicans.

In general through the last century, the party that has controlled the House also got the most votes. In the 2012 election, something unusual happened: Democrats won 50.59 percent of the two-party vote – but just 46% of the seats in the House of Representatives. The Republican candidate for President got 47% of the vote and his party controls at least 55% of the seats. The Democratic candidate got 48% of the vote, and yet the Democrats won 44.6% of the House seats.
The state of elections is well summarized in this letter to the London Review of Books,
Half of the American voting population doesn’t vote at all – namely, the poorer half. Some countries hold elections on weekends or ad hoc holidays; US elections are on a Tuesday, following a 19th-century farm schedule. Americans with no job security working multiple jobs with no breaks often have no time to vote. If Americans have been convicted of felonies, they are in many states disenfranchised for the rest of their lives.

Most of those who are entitled to vote in the US and who have the leisure to do so will take part in a primitive winner-takes-all system of electoral districts that the Republican Party has systematically manipulated. They will vote on electronic voting machines with minimal electronic security, purchased by Republican state governments from Republican-donor equipment suppliers, machines that routinely return Republican candidates to office even when polls show a wide lead for the other party – this may inform the Democrats’ ‘loss of nine hundred seats in state legislatures’.

This was the state of the system which nevertheless, as Bromwich says, ‘voted for Obama twice’. But then things got worse. In 2013, Chief Justice John Roberts effectively terminated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that had made it easier for black people to vote. Many states introduced racist voter-ID requirements that had been blocked for fifty years, and even in states that did not pass new laws, election officials were emboldened to invent purported requirements and refuse minority voters their rights.

Benjamin Letzler
Oberursel, Germany

Monday, November 27, 2017

Water Valley ranch Encampment

Another retreat to the Water Valley ranch, for reflection and some fishing, late September. We got some colors on the drive, though in Wyoming and Colorado most of our colors are green with a bit yellow in the fall. Later arrivals had an inch of snow to get through on the slick muddy road, we were early enough to just have rain.

Greg and I headed out to the pond under pouring rain. The ranch hand said, 'true outdoorsmen' to which I replied, 'truly foolish'. When you are a city slicker with a chance at some WY fishing, weather don't matter, at least until your lips turn blue.

This brown hit a small olive streamer fly. He ran out to the backing and then flourished on the surface, way out in the dappled water.

Father Ted and Father Lou arrived a bit later on the road by the pond and didn't believe in my fish, doubting Thomases all.

Next day we did retreat things until mid-afternoon then headed upriver. Five of us, the other four at least are decent to good flyfishermen, accounted for just two fish, a 5" rainbow and a 10" brown. I nearly caught a small brown out of the white froth here. He rolled up to take the Crackleback but my strike was too late, too early, too sideways, who knows. 

The 70s vintage rod and reel, Browning Silaflex 322975 perfectly delightful, and Martin 67.

Next day we went downriver to work back up. I took the lowest beat which began with a half-mile of shallow water and no holding pools. Sometimes there will be smaller fish in the pockets but not today. I was almost resigned to another skunk when a 3' deep pool arrived. It had not much of anything for cover with two main currents plunging in. The skunk-buster, handsomely spotted 11" bow, took a #16 beadhead zebra midge. See below for its appearance at the end of the day.

A small brown came out of the slack water between the currents. Usually by now I'd expect to have spooked the pool and would move on, today the dearth of holding water kept me fishing carefully and patiently. In the end there were six takers in the pool, landed five, including a strong handsome 16" bow. Every fish today took the zebra midge and ignored everything on the surface.

The view from the pool, more discouragingly thin water. Jeff sits on a rock disentangling his line. I tried to guide Jeff to a fish but did not succeed, partly because I'm a lousy guide and partly for other reasons. He's a very driven guy, likes to move fast and fix things. 'Fast' doesn't translate well to fishing, as I observed to him. This gave his wife a good laugh later, when Jeff mentioned to her that I thought him not well suited to become Piscator.

Way up around the bend there was a bit deeper water in shadow which yielded two medium 'bows and a pretty little brown.

nothing to say here, but it is such a pretty speckled fish..

Lunched contentedly on a rock in the sun.  Still life with no fish. I love the industrial look of these Martin reels, solid functional US engineering.

The ranch owner is planning to start a restaurant in Cheyenne and had the chef working at the ranch in the meantime. Juan is a graduate of Johnson&Wales culinary school who produced spectacular meals three times a day. It was difficult to refrain from licking my plate. For lunch the sandwich was on a ciabatta roll with at least ten different flavors going on, I ruminated upon each mouthful.

After lunch I saw a big brown movement upriver, at first thought otter, but then realized it was a wader leg. Jeff was taking a restless little nap among the yellow leaves. He'd fished down some good water without moving anyone. We rested a bit and went back up. I sent Jeff up to the good-looking pool and fished a little riffle below it. After twenty casts or so the Crackleback stopped and this big 'bow came thrashing up to the surface, then bolted downstream.

Usually in these situations I apply side strain to persuade the fish into an eddy on my side of the river, then run around to get below while holding a light pressure. Often enough the fish will pause in the eddy and let me do this. The side water was so thin the fish didn't hold anywhere and ran back into the current each time, took me about fifty yards to finally wear him down.

We humped back up to the trail and walked back toward the ranch and a very Wyoming, very River Runs Through It kind of scene.

The pond above them is where the brown came from.

Here's the remnant of a well-chewed zebra midge, ready for its honorable retirement. Actually I'll probably keep fishing it until they stop taking it.

At one point in all our adventuring Fr. Lou wandered off and didn't show up for the evening service. Jeff the ex-backpacking guide and I the trail-runner, rambled off on the darkening hills to look for our lost sheep. Two young men in the company left behind, looked at each other worriedly, and came after us in case the old guys ran into trouble. We took this gratefully as we came out with Fr Lou, who had lost track of the time a bit.

Friday, October 6, 2017

pummeling rain

We started out by doing some work at Ken's farm on the eastern plains of WY. On the neighbor field, three guys stood around a tractor, one opening the toolbox that took up most of the back of his pickup, another with his cap off scratching his head, neither a good sign. The pinto beans could not be harvested since the moist clay soil was clogging the harvester feeders, with more rain coming in the evening. Such is a farmer's life. Grandfather was sad and sorry when he lost his farm in the Great Depression though I suspect the family was secretly pleased. He found a salaried job with the bakery in town, where life was a little less hard scrabble and a little further from starvation.

Still life with 3 apples on a hail-damaged hood, against a field of alfalfa.

The apples are from a 100-year old (estimated) tree growing atop a nearby hill. The original homestead is long gone but the tree soldiers on, producing a decent crop of pie apples every fall for the neighbours. No-one knows what varietal it is but some samples are going in for DNA analysis this year. The apples were tart and crisp with a mild flavor, purely delicious. I think of the homesteader who planted it - a young couple, or a hopeful young man, in the good wet years of the early 1900s.

This is the old tree, with a small sickly companion out of sight behind it. The companion is its pollination partner without which fruiting cannot happen. Ken's off to poison some weeds around the companion.

Here are the flies I went fishing with. The backstory is that one of my imaginary internet friends on the fiberglassflyrodders forum, offered to send out some flies to us all, the payment being a fishing report.

First fishing stop at the pond. I can't find this pond on a map, probably a good thing since Ken is a veteran and could hunt us all down if I spilt any beans about locations. It's a strange spot since it has a thriving and varied set of bugs, scuds, damsels, etcetera, but the best fly is always a #18 or #16 Adams.

I started with a little green softhackle (not pictured) from the selection, which got one 9" and a series of bumps. Switching to one of the red softhackles produced an immediate gratification who took the fly as it sank.

I am usually a primitive savage when out fishing, counting the fish as, 1,2,3,4,many. We got to 'many' quickly this day, and even to 'enough'. 'Enough' is oddly harder to get to when not killing fish, as a pile of dead fish does rather dim the catching fever: but the thrill of the new hit persists through many fish. It's like drug addictions, the next hit is the only one that matters.

The weather moved in and it grew dim. The 70F at the farm 4299ft was only a warm remembrance in the rain of 38F at 6600ft. We declared it cold enough to head for a hotel, funky, cheap and clean in Medicine Bow, site of the first Western novel.

 Medicine Bow always cues up the Waterboys song for me,
"There's a black wind blowing
A typhoon on the rise
Pummelin' rain
Murderous skies!"
We had all that and more on the drive over, including a narrow miss of a black cow and calf in the black night on the muddy road, fishtailing between them by the grace of ABS, Ken's decades of WY backroad driving experience, and perhaps God.

This song evoked the American West and its bitter high prairie winters for me as a young man in Africa. It turns out Mike Scott didn't know the town existed when he wrote the song.
"I invented the place name "Medicine Bow", and discovered several years later that a real Medicine Bow exists in Wyoming, USA."
It surely was not an invention but a recollection of a memory forgotten.

There were some old books in my room, one of them "Step Right Up !" by Dan Mannix. That's a name I hadn't thought of in forty years. He was a freelancer of no fixed profession with independent means, wrote inter alia articles for Life and National Geographic about training and collecting animals for zoos. My brother and I were both going to be wildlife biologists when we grew up and read everything we could find by him, though Gerald Durrell was our real hero. Even as boys we could tell that the floating world of Mr Mannix required inherited wealth or some similar good fortune that we did not expect.

Next morning cold on the lake we prepared to try a canoe trip.

Tied on the big gaudy streamer, a Spruce fly with added bling, at a hazard. I decided this was as close as you could get to fishing a Mepps spinner on a fly rod. That worked, fishing it over the big black holes between weed reaching up to the surface.

The wind rose and drove us off the water. Fish rising between us and the shore were also a strong persuasion. I hooked a good rainbow on the Mepps fly but an unseen windknot terminated our connection. The closest thing left in my box was a Platte River Special, though my tie looks nothing like the fly in that link which is closer to the Mepps fly. Lashed that on and walked up the shore a bit, made a cast on a whim and found a teeming horde of 12-13" brookies, presumably attempting to spawn in the shallows.

The green life of the lake persists, in fish and weed, though the sedge is withered from the lake and no birds sing.

Further up the shore Ken caught 16-17" rainbows steadily, as I caught everything steadily except the larger rainbows. It seems the Wyoming Game & Fish threw everything from the kitchen sink in here, rainbows, brookies, Colorado R cutts, and even a fine-spotted Snake R cutt. No pictures of these as my fingers were too cold to operate the camera. The coots are always a good sign for me, if there are coots feeding then I'll hie over there to fish. 

The clouds lifted briefly to show us the early snows over the wind farm.

More weather, we had reached 'enough' and packed out just ahead of a blast of sideways rain.

We kept a couple of fish each, the first time in years that I've knowingly killed a trout. Sauteed with a lemon butter sauvignon blanc sauce, they passed muster and the family ate them right up.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Leadville 100 mile run - pacer report

Mauling John Fogerty's lyrics, I kept singing in my head,
          You got to hidey-hidey-hide
          You got to jump and run
          The old men.. go down the road
It was a new experience for me to confront an endurance event where I was not at all certain I could finish. That's just the last 25 miles of pacing too, the whole 100 is beyond imagination. Naturally I projected calm confidence at all times in the buildup to the race and during my pacing stint, though our wives were not fooled I can only hope runner Carl was.

Here he is on the top of Hope Pass, completely focused. It turns out old ski poles are entirely functional as running poles, cheap (free) and lighter than many of the adjustable running poles. Of course there  are carbon-fiber folding running poles for hundreds of dollars but we are pragmatical functionalist old guys, who like to use the stuff we already have.

When I signed up for pacing, only slightly inebriated, I had visions of running over the mountains in the sunlight. Instead the section from Outward Bound/Fish Hatchery to home went on from midnight until 8am, deep in the darkest moonless night. There were shooting stars for consolation, and we did get to see the morning come up over the Rockies like hope and glory.

Start happened at 4am but I did not attend, instead concentrating on sleeping late. That didn't work but at least there was time to think. Carl hit May Queen aid station, 13.5 miles of rocky trail at 10000ft plus, in 2:09. My current half-marathon best expected time is just slightly faster than that.

Here's a pic poached from Instagram of the runners heading out from Outward Bound aid station in the morning. That is a different year I think, we did not have so much snow on the peaks.

Six hundred-odd runners started, most of them only slightly odd, and headed up to Hope Pass. At 12600ft any kind of weather is possible. Carl reported flurries of sleet which turned the already treacherous scree slopes into a bit of a nightmare. The Denver Post had this picture of snow on the pass.

Down around the turnaround in Winfield construction added some 0.8 miles to the race distance, for extra credit. There isn't anywhere to modify the route to take away the added distance so this year's edition went long. The cut times at some of the aid stations were adjusted but the 30-hour finish cutoff was not. Brutal.

I showed up late but in earnest (sero sed serio, the motto of the Kerr clan, my Scots ancestors) at the Twin Lakes aid station on the inbound evening leg.

Parking went on for a couple of miles out from the aid station itself. There were shuttle buses, for which we were most grateful, lugging coolers and gear wasn't the warmup I was looking for. Carl and pacer David ran in like heroes. By this point the attrition had started with many runners behind the cutoff time, others puking and dropping out, yet more injured and limping into the hills with a desperate sort of hope. Our man looked tired yet strong and quite coherent after sixty miles. His feet were cold and wet from the last stream crossing so his family/crew took care of the disgusting task of rubbing Glide over his dirty cold toes - greater love hath no wife than this.

What I noticed about the women running through, and the women pacers, and the women crewing, is that they looked like anime characters - slim, bright eyes full of humor and intelligence. Really I was quite smitten. This is from Camille Heron's Instagram feed, just before she had to drop due to hip problems. This picture has not been photoshopped.

We went back to the hotel, ate, and lay down for a bit: while the runners ran on. Back to Outward Bound in dark midnight hours with bonfires at each end of the station and crews singing merrily to keep spirits up. Our indefatigable crew had a dusty blanket for my legs as we waited, since the fleece-lined tights adequate for running in the low 40 degrees were not enough for waiting in the cold. Runner lights stretched out over the inbound field to the limits of perception. The runners here appeared generally in better shape than at Twin Lakes - the cutoff times are mercilessly efficient, leaving only the runners with a real shot at finishing. Pacer David looked as if he'd just had a pleasant warmup after 25 miles of rough trails including some thousands of feet of climbing.

We shuffled off into the night, not feeling 22. Selfishly I was glad that the fantasy schedule of 25 hours for the big belt buckle, was out of the picture. The Army taught me I'm not much good at barking commands and dispensing tough love. Once I tried to pace brother Charles to a sub-4 Two Oceans finish and was afraid I was going to kill him in the later stages. We finished there in 4:00:48 most frustrating.

The first few miles here are on the road past the fish hatchery where it was possible to keep up a 13-minute mile pace. We had matching Garmin 205s. Carl's died later in the night, I had forgotten to turn off autostop which meant mine was wholly inaccurate. By the finish it was an hour off the actual running time and nearly five miles wrong. Oops. That day I learned. Luckily my runner was keeping track of the miles and knew where we were at all times, a deeply impressive feat.

The despair that takes hold in the wee hours of the night after sixteen hours of running did show up once we hit Powerline climb and dropped to 20-min miles.  There were comments to the effect of, "we'll be the last ones in", etc. I mentioned that I'd reviewed the board where the numbers of the incoming runners were written at Outward Bound and there were not more than a hundred of those, plus the Athlinks updates had consistently placed him around the 115 mark. This produced silence if not consent and we moved on to happier subjects, such as our kids' college swim careers. Powerline is a grim climb up a deeply rutted jeep track with poor footing. My 200-lumen headlamp was not enough to keep me from stumbling. Next time (may never happen) I'll invest in one of those ludicrously bright 500-lumen light-up-the-night portable searchlights. No pictures here since I was concentrating on moving on and feeding/watering my runner.

At the top of the climb there is a somewhat unofficial aid station sounding off a vuvuzela or similar air horn, a horrid noise but most welcome to climbing runners. They had cookies, gatorade, and 'sweet green buds !' which were sold hard. "If you're having stomach trouble, these sweet green buds are the best thing !" quite true but fortunately unnecessary. It is essential to eat and keep eating, though the stomach is not very willing to do its digestive tasks while the selfish legs are taking all the blood and oxygen. It burns about 16 000 calories to run for 100 miles. Carl was tired of EFS shots by now so I fed him whatever he would accept, ramen noodles and warm mashed potatoes at the aid stations, handfuls of bite-size Snickers and Kit-Kats on the run, cookies, Fig Newtons, etc. I'm not a forceful personality, preferring discussion and consensus to bold decisive proclamations, but stopped asking for his opinion about eating and drinking. "Here ! drink !" or "eat !"

A steep winding descent on a slightly better jeep road offered some opportunity for running. We tried a shuffle until Carl stumbled and fell. His headlamp was shining like a pair of anemic glowworms by this time, which I should have spotted but missed. We exchanged lights and I dug my spare out of the pack, plus a hand-held flashlight with a bike tube/duct tape handle, to give a better foreshadowing of the roots and rocks. On down the hill to a mile of actual dirt road, more run/walk, then plunge like fate into the blind Colorado Trail. This section is a kind of tunnel through the trees, black night and evergreens unrolling over grey rocks. The course was beautifully marked, glow sticks hung from the trees at regular intervals with streamers of pink tape in between. Thank you the organizers.

Out of the woods and onto the short road into May Queen campground and aid station. The crews waiting for their runners applauded and cheered our every step, fortunately it was dark to cover my few tears of emotion. The night skies opened up to a broad brilliant dome of stars, a line of lights snaking down from the 11 1600ft of Sugarloaf. This was proof visible that we were not in fact the last ones out there.

Turquoise Lake trail is mostly runnable if you have light and strength. We having neither kept up a stiff walk, 16-18min miles, Carl's poles clicking off the steps. Several young teams of runner and pacer passed us along this stretch, motoring along at 15min miles or better. I pointed out that even if you added the age of the runner to that of the pacer, it still wouldn't add up to even one of us: a century of life lived moving down the trail, ghosts driving meat-covered skeletons yet made of stardust.  It gets kooky out there in the bleak pre-dawn hours.

Light grew as we came off the dam wall and down the last steeps onto the dirt roads home. We began to suspect that we might even survive. Bright sun in our eyes as we moved up the Boulevard, a 3.5 mile climb to the finish. Two runner/pacer teams and a single runner passed us and we kicked up the pace to 16min miles. The family came down to the last mile to walk and run in. We were discussing how far it was and if it would be possible to get to the visible banner in the minutes left before 8am, when a bright-eyed spectator chimed in, "zero-point-three miles !"  Carl started to run, I ducked off to the sidewalk and watched his finish in 27:58, 121 (I told him so) of 287 survivors. Here we are, holding each other up.

Thank you Carl, for the opportunity to run with you into the night and through.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

now bid me run

On Saturday night I am pacing the last 25 miles of the Leadville 100, from Fish Hatchery/Outward Bound aid station to the finish. My expected start time is somewhere between 10pm and midnight, expected finish between 5am and noon, depending on how my runner Carl is doing. So I thought I'd better go run up a mountain to check the legs and lungs actually function at that altitude. Also wanted to test out another backpack as the one I'd tried last weekend was a bit bouncy. Check - legs and lungs function, though not as well as our friends would like.

Climbs on route: just one but it's a good pull.. 9% average gradient, says mapmyrun.
My topo map measurements said 4 miles, the trailhead marker said 5 miles, my GPS did not work, and mapmyrun says 4.5 miles. I'll take that as a good average.

We are going U-P, up, to those distant ridges..
The trail was extremely rugged, roots and rock (but no reggae) all the way. On the way down there was rain to make it slippery, for extra credit. One guy said, "I might as well be back in New Hampshire!"
Plenty of company on the trail, numbers of overnight backpackers, photographers, but only one other runner. She passed me as I walked one steep bit, must have taken a break later since I caught up. When the trail was runnable she pulled away, on the bits we had to walk for steepness or rock-hopping I'd slowly catch back up. An hour and a quarter to get up there with more walking than running.

Once at the lakes the crowds had thinned out well, only a few folks who had overnighted. Perfectly gorgeous as usual in the CO high country: whenever I actually get up there I regret not spending more time at altitude.

Not only that, but wildflowers too. The bluebells aren't visible in the pic but I could see them as I bent over gasping for air.

The Continental Divide is just a few hundred feet more climbing, chose to go fishing instead. A young man galloped down from the Divide trail and shot down the hill, probably doing one of the fine loop runs available here. The other trailhead is so busy, there is a shuttle bus to get there with a park-and-ride in the nearest town.

My orange fly line is on the right of the pic. Click on the pic to enlarge and there may be seen a little white fleck in the middle. This is a Royal Coachman fly bobbing in the wave over the deeps, as I hopefully wait for a cruising fish to spot it.

One showed up like a surfacing submarine, black in the green water, missed him entirely. The one in the picture above first rose in the shallows near me. Presented the caddis fly, which he took though we missed each other again. Another cast to the same place and he roared up to savage the fly. He seemed as annoyed to have missed out on a tasty morsel as I was to have missed the strike, though I didn't hear him cuss.

By now the hikers were showing up - lots of spectators now, dogs barking, people swimming. A small emerger fly was taken as it lit upon the water by a handsome 18" fish.

The wind would gust up to where a cast flyline would blow back to my feet. In the waves and murk as the clouds raced over the sun, there would be dark shapes of fish coming up in the waves then fading back. The water went from clear to green, then black as the clouds tore off the mountain.

A big fish patrolled by and doubled back. I put a Goddard caddis fly out 20ft ahead of him, he accelerated up instantly then the take was surprisingly gentle.

A fine handsome cutthroat trout pushing 20", returned to the water with thanks. I took a short nap in the shelter of some bushes after this, at 11 400ft it is still cold in August, the sun was most welcome. Thunder rolled in the distance and I chose discretion over valor, ran back down the hill. The way down was only 10min faster than going up, due to rocks roots and general slipperiness.
There was a half-hour before needing to meet my wife, as well as runner Carl and his wife, down in Boulder for the Shakespeare festival - we went to see the tragedy of Julius Caesar. So of course I stopped to have a look at the creek, clambering down from the trail. It is tiny but in good shape with small brook trout everywhere they could reasonably live. Back in N.Carolina there was trout fishing in tree tunnels, the streams overhung by rhododendrons and the wild variety of temperate rainforest growth. Here in CO we have tree canyons instead.

In this one eddy alone there were three different small fish that tried manfully (fishfully ?) to attack a dry fly too large to fit in their mouths.

The larger fish (relatively speaking) absolutely glowed with health.

Back down to the Shakespeare, pausing only to inhale a burrito.
Early in the first act, the line
now bid me run
and I will strive with things impossible
made me think of trying to pace Leadville on inadequate training.. oh well.

Then there is Cassius, my lean and hungry brother.

CAESAR (speaking so that only ANTONY can hear)
I want the men around me to be fat,
healthy-looking men who sleep at night.
That Cassius over there has a lean and hungry look.
He thinks too much.
Men like him are dangerous.
He reads much.
He is a great observer, and he looks
Quite through the deeds of men.
Seldom he smiles, and smiles in such a sort
As if he mocked himself and scorned his spirit
That could be moved to smile at anything.
Such men as he be never at heart’s ease.

It is true, we are not. On the other hand a good run up the hills, gives a certain pleasant fatigue and calm. I should do more of that.