The Undead

Like Cool Hand Luke rising from the ground each time Dragline knocked him on his ass or like the living dead from the George Romero movies, refuses to submit, popping up after each execution with an amnesiac’s disregard for its back story. See None of, Lives Yet, and–Is That All You’ve Got? This story reports that Russia caused the site to be shut down “to end criticism from the United States that Russia was failing to clamp down on music and video piracy.” By the time the press ran the story Media Services, the company behind, had opened a new site named that it claims is legal under Russian law. Since the arguments for the new site’s legality echo those used to support we can expect this saga to continue. Frustrating, I’m sure, for parties on both sides of the issues but a boon to a professor of Internet law, this story captures the nailing-a-blob-of-mercury nature of cross-border Internet regulation.

Gills Gone Wild

Last night after dinner I practiced fly casting from the dock. I say “practiced fly casting” instead “went fly fishing” because given the location, fly, and rough technique only the most desperate or misguided fish would have been induced to strike. A calm lake, still air, and setting sun made casting practice a satisfying end in itself. I stopped when I realized I’d lost the fly; I don’t know how many casts of flyless line I made. Breaking down the rod and walking off the dock I spotted a swarming of school of teeny fish seemingly drawn by one of the dock posts. Then my eyes were drawn to a large dark shape. Jaws–or perhaps Jaws VIII (like Super Bowls and Egyptian emperors, smallmouth bass playing the role of Jaws are numbered roman numerically)–swam lazily a few feet below the surface of the crystal water. Jaws may not be the cleverest name for a large freshwater fish, but she’s as regular a part of our Maine summer as mosquitoes, fresh tomatoes, and basil. (Judy’s mosquito bruschetta is delicious.) I wrote an email about her a few years ago, which I recycle below. It’s not plagiarism if you copy yourself.

Summer begins when I put in the dock and ends when I take it out. The second event bears little relationship to calendar norms. I’ve removed the dock as early as late September and as late as mid-November. There are two reasons not to leave the dock in the lake year-round. First is the state law requiring that docks be removed so they don’t become navigation hazards when winter ice crushes them. That ice would grind the dock to tiny flinders is the second. Docks are not hard to build, but that doesn’t mean I want to do so annually. Installing and removing the dock is a test I force upon myself. I do it alone; why a man with three grown sons does this alone is not today’s subject. Our Maine neighbors either enlist help from family and friends or they hire someone to do it. I’ve stubbornly refused to hire someone. That I can do it alone is the measure of whether I’ve passed the test. One of these years I won’t be able to move heavy dock sections or scramble over lakeside rocks or swing the sledge to drive galvanized pipe. There’s a trade-off between youth and wisdom. Each year I rely less on dumb strength and more on planning, technique, experience, and mechanical advantage. My proficiency is inversely proportional to how often and creatively I swear and how often I fall in the lake. In the early days F-bombs exploded around me like roman candles on the Fourth of July and dock sections gave way with sudden caprice to pitch me back-asswards into the cold water. This weekend past I swore only once, just for practice, and didn’t fall in at all. Close calls don’t count.

The work is always worth it. We–I–spend hours on the dock. Every morning I walk from bed to the dock, stretch, yawn, strip, dive in, and swim about 400 yards. We hang out there with guests, read, talk, throw for the dogs, fish, nap, watch the weather, watch the stars.* Others enjoy the dock, too. Swim under the dock on a hot mid-summer day and shaded from the sun’s glare you’ll find numerous small fish, crayfish, and the smallmouth bass I’ve named “Jaws.” Jaws is good-sized, 16-18 inches long and two-three pounds. You can swim up and look directly into Jaws’ face. If you get too close she’ll suddenly turn aside and swim a few feet away to resume her slow, rhythmic, gill-pulsing respiration. I call Jaws “her” and speak of her as if she’s the same fish I’ve seen every summer since 1999. She may be Jaws VI, and a he. I don’t know how to check. There may be 30 different smallmouth bass who swap turns under our dock. That’s the thing with fish (and birds and squirrels and spiders and most critters)–every adult member of a species looks the same upon casual inspection. It’s pleasing to think that there are new Jaws every year, following some hardwired fishbrain scheme to sit directly beneath me and stare at the water while I stare at the sky.

On Sunday I installed all of the dock sections and stepped back to survey the results. One of the legs close to shore was out of plumb. A large rock sat in the lake bed right where this leg wanted to go. I needed to raise the leg, pry this rock out of its way, and re-drive the leg into the bed. I rigged a pipe-and-winch to support the dock, raised the leg, grabbed a spare length of galvanized pipe to pry the rock, waded in, and tried to get purchase under this misplaced rock.* Wrestling with the awkwardness of the task I didn’t pay attention when I felt something bump my toes. After the third bump I looked into the waist-deep water. A few feet away from my legs Jaws was poised to attack. While I watched she burst forward, opened her mouth, and bit my toes. Water shoes masked the sensation. It didn’t hurt but it felt quite strange, disconcerting. My first exposure to bass attacks occurred a few years ago when I waded close to her spawning ground. Then she had at my bare thighs and calves. An angry three-pound smallmouth bass does not have serious teeth, at least if you aren’t a small fish or frog. They do have cold, hard lips. It’s akin to being gummed by an angry, wet, toothless Chihuahua. I wiggled my toes at her through the water shoes; she attacked them. I stepped back a pace; she attacked my calf. I stood still; she attacked my other calf. I banged the pipe off the rock; she attacked my shin. She circled me, probing different angles. Jaws has always spawned about forty feet south of the dock. I may have been in the neighborhood but I wasn’t messing directly with her turf. Maybe she didn’t like the metal clang of the pipe. Maybe she didn’t like the grinding sound of the rocks. Maybe she didn’t like the vibration in the lake bed. Maybe she was suffering from PMS.** I wasn’t sympathetic. She wasn’t hurting herself or me, I had to re-plumb this dock leg, and we both kept on task. Over the next few minutes she hit me, mouth agape, maybe thirty times.

Iraq is a mess, when they aren’t filled with poison Chinese products blow up in our faces, and the Bush administration’s craven self-regard has no boundaries but the Red Sox approach the All-Star Break with a doubl-digit lead and Jaws is back under the dock. You must take your pleasure where you can.

*Others have noted that I spend much of my Maine time moving rocks: digging them out of the vegetable garden, stacking them around the property, placing them in walls, building steps to the lake, piling them up along the lakefront. They ask “why are you moving those rocks?” My answer is always the same: “Because they’re in the wrong place.”

**Persecution Mania while Spawning

Everyone Loves a Parade

Every summer morning in Maine I swim immediately after waking. Toweling off following the swim on the 4th I saw nine ducks round South Point and paddle into the cove. I expected them to swim outside the dock. Instead, they swam past the moored boat between the dock and the bank into what I thought to be a dead-end. Undeterred four ducks swam alongside the bank and passed beneath the ramp between dock and shore. The other five swam in straight line to the edge of the dock. One hopped out of the water onto the dock and the rest followed, as I watched from five feet away. Ignoring me when I stepped towards them the five ducks waddled single file down the length of the dock, turned right, marched to the far edge, and hopped back into the lake to rejoin their companions swimming up the lake. Before re-entering the lake one duck looked at me, as if to say “what are you looking at? We do this every morning.”

After my swim and morning coffee I biked around the lake. Riding south on 121 toward Bolster’s Mill Road four vintage cars passed me, heading in the same direction. Approaching the fire station spectators lined both sides of the road, fire trucks from South Paris, Poland, Norway, and Casco assembled in lines, more vintage cars organized themselves, and I realized I was riding into parade staging preparatikons. I got stuck behind a long line of fire trucks, vintage cars, and locals waving, stopping, and starting, and joined the pre-parade parade. I kept my place, nodded and gave the two-finger cowboy wave (perfected while riding out west) to spectators, and then chatted with drivers as I passed them. “Nice day . . . great car! . . . enjoy the parade . . .” Past the staging area I was free of parade traffic and rode the rest of the way to Casco without seeing another car.

Three Bike Tales

An Urgin’ for a Virgin

We expected to ride from Rexburg (motto: “If you aren’t Mormon, what are you doing here?”) through the Craters of the Moon, a hot dry landscape unfriendly for biking. Instead our route passed north through high desert dotted with sagebrush and scrub pine. Arid, but not too severe. The wind pushed us along at 22-27 miles an hour for most of the ride. When, after Howe, the road ascended past the Idaho National Laboratory and the wind turned against us we didn’t complain. Most of our ride was done. First impressions were not favorable—the words “desolate,” “depressing,”, and “straight from The Last Picture Show” were used—but Arco taught us to withhold judgment. The D-K Motel provided five rooms in a stand-alone building with a covered walkway, thick green lawn, and Internet access (see previous post), despite the indifferent-leaning-towards-hostile reception from the counter gal lunch at the “deli” (we’d call it a sub shop) was welcome after three days of PB&J, turkey & cheese, granola bars, potato chips, and Nilla Wafers, the teenage girl intently text-messaging on her cell phone while sitting astride her horse outside the deli was delightfully incongruous, and Arco’s shopping district yielded excellent presents for Mike W.’s birthday: a can of tuna fish, a jar of mayo (not Hellman’s—this is Idaho), a t-shirt proclaiming Arco’s status as the first nuclear-powered city (sure to be popular on the Martha’s Vineyard beaches), brownies, candles that spelled out his age (a nuclear assist might have been helpbul), and a garlic press. Why a garlic press? Why, indeed. Mike F. thought he was grabbing a can opener. Why a can opener? You know, for the tuna fish. Why tuna fish? Mike W. likes tuna fish.

The Arco highlight was dinner at the Melody Steakhouse (the sign also spells it “Mello-Dee”), separated by a plain wooden door from the Melody Club Lounge. Our noisy nine, showered, rested, refreshed, not clothed in Spandex, increased the Steakhouse’s dining population to 13. Amy, our waitress, started with drink orders. Mike F. said “I’ll have a Margarita.” “Margarita!” echoed four more voices. Bored with four nights of club soda and cranberry juice I said “I’ll have a virgin Margarita.” Amy stopped writing, shifted her weight, and screwed up her face as if sorry to convey unwanted news. Tilting her head towards the bar on the other side of the closed door she said “I don’t think any of ‘em over there are virgins.” While everyone else rolled on the floor I explained that by “virgin” I meant “without alcohol.” Amy still looked dubious–why make a margarita without alcohol? It’s like making bread without wheat. “I want the margarita mix and ice in a glass rimmed with salt. Everything but the alcohol. “Oh!” she brightened. “They can do that.” Even without their virginity.

After dinner a curious young guy wandered out from the bar, a cold longneck in hand, and answered our questions about Number Hill. The Bureau of Land Management has cracked down on the annual painting. Too bad. If Native Americans painted these numbers a thousand years ago archeologists and sociologists would travel from the four corners to study them. A thousand years from now they’ll attempt to puzzle out the meaning of the faded numbers above this long-abandoned town. The Da Vinci Code meets American Graffiti.

Stuck Inside of Challis With the Arco Blues Again

The route to Challis climbed through a narrow valley between new jagged-topped mountains that were cloaked below their peaks in soft scrub growth. They looked soft enough to pet, like they were girded with mauve (or is it taupe?) moleskin. We passed a sign reporting on a 1983 earthquake that raised the mountains’ peaks six inches and dropped the valley nine feet. Nine feet! Incredible. The road climbed out of the taupe-swathed (or is it mauve?) valley to descend through a switchbacked canyon out of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Exiting the canyon we began a gradual descent into the Salmon River valley. It was a gorgeous ride topped by Challis–“Almost as nice as Ellis, but harder to spell!”–a small gem of a town nestled along the Salmon River in the gateway to the Sawtooth Mountains.

Or so we were told. Riding into town the words “desolate” and “depressing” again escaped our lips. The Village Inn Motel (motto: “Next Stop, Chapter 11!”) was tired, dark, and uncomfortable. The manager, affable and well-meaning, had arrived with his wife and daughter in Challis only a few days before. I asked if the rooms had Internet connections, not a crazy question when many small, inexpensive motels provide free wi-fi. “No, sorry, we don’t” he answered. “By the way, what is wi-fi? I’ve heard about it but don’t really know what it is.” After cleaning our bikes Mike F. and I reconnoitered for a dinner restaurant. The Village Inn’s manager himself said not to eat in the motel’s restaurant. The first open restaurant we passed had a “For Sale” sign. Another looked more suitable for a townies-versus-WYMPS bar fight. (In such event seven of us would hide behind either Bruce or Randy.) A drive hither and yon in Challis led to two entries on our list, a pizza place named Antonio’s and the Subway advertised on a dozen signs entering town. Unfortunately the Subway (a) is located inside the supermarket and (b) has not opened yet. I stopped an older couple in the supermarket aisle and asked if they could recommend a place for dinner. “Antonio’s” they said. As good as Zagats. We drove back to reserve a table for nine.

Antonio’s–salad bar lettuce floating in a bowl of brownish water notwithstanding–was surprisingly good. Last summer on my first WYMPS trip the first thing I learned—before learning never, never, ever to allow even a speck of jelly into the peanut butter jar—was that eating is as important as biking. The Mikes, Bruce, and Neal swap stories about bad meals they’ve eaten west to east and back again. Some of the stories I’ve heard so often I can recall how bad the meals were, even though I wasn’t there to eat them. We expected Antonio’s to enter the Annals of Bad Dining but it sucker-punched us with decent pastas and tasty pizzas. After dinner we drove to the dairy counter at the bowling alley for root beer floats, dipped cones, and shakes. No one bit on my half-hearted attempts to get us to bowl a few frames. We finished our desserts and returned to the motel.

Our advice: if you find yourself in Challis hit Antonio’s, hit the bowling alley, and then hit the road.

Ups and Downs

From Challis we drove to Sunbeam, unloaded the bikes from the vans, and began the beautiful ride along the Salmon River to Stanley and through the Sawtooths to Sun Valley. It’s hard to compare scenery, to rate the exotic drama of Yellowstone’s geyser basins and Firehole River against Idaho’s serene grass-swept valleys, lush farmland, impressive Warm River or Payette River canyons, or any other sight. We rode each day through spectacular, humbling beauty. One image to which I will return is the ranch land south of Stanley along the Salmon River to Galena Pass. I could have stayed there for weeks. I wanted to hike the foothills, fish the Salmon, explore Redfish Lake, and sit on my porch each morning to drink coffee and watch the sun rise and set over the Sawtooth Mountains.

Galena pass was a tough climb, ascending about 1,800 feet over five miles. We hit the climb about 12:30 PM in the heat of the day. Climbing it’s every man for himself, especially at altitude. You find a rhythm and stay with it, riding within your limits. It’s not a race. The goal is for everyone to make the ascent. We succeeded. Our reward was supposed to be about 30 miles downhill to Ketchum. Good in theory, not true in practice with a 15-20 mile (or greater?) wind in one’s face. The ride to Ketchum was a slog. We broke into multiple pace lines and traded riding lead, which means we all shared the misery. On one reasonably steep downhill I stopped pedaling, to see what would happen. I watched my speed drop from 15 miles per hour to 1.5, when I could no longer maintain balance and stopped. Wind stronger than the pull of gravity on a good downhill? That’s tough.

We slogged on, took our last driver changeover five miles out of Ketchum and, inspired by Peter’s intent to consume a frappe (a milk shake, to those not from the Northeast), we picked up the pace. Nearing Ketchum and the first cell-phone coverage in two days our mobiles woke with chirps, beeps, and rings. While riding Mike F. pulled the phone from his jersey pocket and spoke to his wife. After hanging up he rode next to me and said “Judy wants you to call. It’s not an emergency but you need to call as soon as you can.” This message translates as follows: It’s an emergency, but don’t make it worse by rushing and getting hurt. As soon as we hit Ketchum and located an ice-cream parlor (priorities are priorities) I listened to my messages: Uncle Ray, my father’s youngest brother, a sweet, wonderful man, had died after a long illness. I called Judy’s office number; no answer. I called her cell; no answer. I called home; Nate, my youngest, home after a month in North Carolina, answered. We chatted for a minute and I said I’d received the message about Raymond’s death. “That’s not why Mama was trying to call you” he said. “Grandma”–my mother–“died today. I’m sorry.”

My mother’s death was not a surprise but not expected this week, either. She was 91, in a nursing home, confined to a bed and wheelchair since breaking her hip three years ago, and seriously compromised by dementia. I visited her three days before this trip. She did not know who I was and could not speak. It’s painful to see one’s parent in that state. Driving home from that visit I called Judy and said “I don’t know how she is still alive.” In spite of everything her heart continued to beat. She seemed no closer or farther from death than on any other recent visit. Yet here it was. A life event at the tail end of the bike trip. You never know when reality will break into your reverie.