Cycling To Grand Canyon…er Almost

The temperature was up and the sky as blue as the Pacific the morning we drove into Williams, Arizona. After acquiring permission to leave our car parked at the visitor’s center we unloading the Burley Sama and attaching the Bike Friday Trailer. Our plan was to ignore the Grand Canyon Train that was waiting at the depot and begin the sixty plus miles to the South Rim. However, when we approached the gathering of anxious passengers a gunfight broke out. With no convenient place to take cover we sat on our tandem like two clay pigeons and watched two masked men make off with the strongbox. They hadn’t cleared the platform before the Williams Marshall appeared from nowhere and shot them both dead. Two young fellows came from the coffee shop and dragged the outlaws around behind the building.

Since our departure was already delayed we parked the bike and paused for coffee. While there, the marshall and his two dead men entered from the back and ordered coffee.

We were an hour behind schedule when we departed, but no worries. We’d go as far as we could and then make accommidations to suit the situation (this is what cycling is all about – keeping it fun).

Road repair was underway and we traveled between a windrow of red, volcanic ash and the shoulder. No worries. The windrow provided a welcome barrier between us and the speeding tour buses.

Some disance north of Williams we came upon a StarMart. Not knowing what may lie head, we wheeled in for coffee and donuts before proceeding, a welcome break, indeed.

We were about forty miles north of Williams when thunderheads appeared on the horizon. With them came gusty winds and a few rain drops the size of my thumb. Weather at this altitude can turn on a dime – more rain, hail, even snow. And there was no shelter available other than what we brought with us, bungied to the lid of our trailer. The tent.

Small, roadside stands of stunted trees offered a break from the wind. After choosing one large enough to accommodate our Burley and trailer we pitched our tent and settled in for the duration.

Morning brought no change, but with twenty more miles to go plus another sixty back to Williams we decided to turn back.

The undulating road was endless. The wind was relentless. At the crest of one hill our legs had turned to rubber. Leaning the bike against a tree we sat down beneath it to rest.

“We’re out of food, aren’t we?” I asked.

“Almost,” my bride replied, producing a very small jar of peanut butter from a pocket and a plastic spoon from another. The jar was half empty, only three servings each. But delicious, nontheless.

At the bottom of that hill we encountered the windrows of red ash which the tour buses had churned into rusty slurry. And soon we appeared one in the same.

We were exhausted by the time we reached our beloved StarMart. Inside, two ladies were folding Grand Canyon sweatshirts. The expressions on their faces told us how we must have looked as we pushed through the door. After drinking a full pot of coffee and  devouring a dozen donuts we resumed out trek toward Williams.

The comfort of the motel room we rented under the critical eye of the manager was delightful.

Would I make the trip again? In a heartbeat.

Advertisements

My Bucket List

Perhaps twenty years ago I reached the shores of Lake Superior – Albany, Wisconsin – an hour prior to dawn. I was early so I waited in silence and watched the birth of my new day. The creatures who greeting the morning with me were pronominal as each went about their routine. The experience was in a category of its own. Still is.

If I had a bucket list, repeating that experience would be very near the top.

A Raspberry Pi Adventure

 

The thing on the left is a Raspberry Pi Monitor.  On the right is the Raspberry Pi computer. It’s not very powerful compared to those we are used to these days. Even computing power of a cell phone exceeds the Pi many times over. So why mess with it in this day and age? Because it opens the field for experimentation, new things to learn, new challenges, new things to accomplish.

A few years back I acquired an interest in the Pi and attended a few group-meeting at the University of Texas, Dallas. A software engineer seeking new ideas headed the meetup and I took a lot of knowledge home with me.

Along the right-hand edge of the computer is a double row of small vertical pins. The monitor has a matching plug that mates like a sandwich. I bought the monitor. When I plugged it in and turned it on the display was hard against the right margin. That didn’t hurt anything, but it bugged me.  I wanted it centered. I began experimenting with the placement code and after a dozen times the monitor turned dark.

In my search for the cause I discovered the codec (the black square just below the raspberry symbol) was hot enough to cook my breakfast. Shucks! Disheartened, I stored it in an iPhone box and thought about it for a few years.

Today, I ordered another Pi and a terminal node controller. When everything is assembled and I better understand what I’m doing I’ll start sending amateur radio messages without the Internet, drawing power from a solar panel and eventually joining up with the emergency communications (EMCOMM) and strut my new toy.

I won’t be using my cool monitor. I’m not sure what took the codec out, my coding or something in the monitory bit the dust.

So, the saga begins.

 

Hospitality On the Katy

Everything was soaked

Several years have passed since Barb and I pedaled our Tandem Two’sDay on Missouri’s Katy Trail, a 255 mile long park that never exceeds the width of the old Katy Railroad right-of-way. Because it originally served as a railway nowhere is the grade steeper than two percent. That made it an easy ride until our legs turned to rubber. Our legs wouldn’t have given out so quickly had we not brought too much stuff which included McBark, our 35 pound dog who wanted to accompany us..

On our second evening menacing clouds seemed at treetop level. Rain was a certainty. And there wasn’t a motel we could reach before the sky opened up. However, a nearby sign indicated Clifton City lay to our left. It didn’t look too promising, with several abandoned building crowding against the gravel road. But there was also a large church. With nothing to lose, we left the Katy behind. However, at the crest of the hill we found a service station – Bill’s Place. Bill no longer sold gas. Instead, he provided passersby with beer, soda, coffee and sandwiches.

Bill, a retired navy man was full of questions. After a cool soda I asked if he knew where we could find the church pastor.

“Why? Are you wanting to get married?” he asked, smiling.

“We did that a few years back. We wanted permission to pitch our tent on the church lawn.”

“Well, you can pitch your tent here if you’d like.”

We agreed, and then when we saw he was making preparations to close we bought two sandwiches. He’d evidently been sizing us up with his questions, and with keys in his hand he said: “Why don’t you just stay in my store? There’s ham, cheese, lunch meat, sodas. Keep track of what you eat and drink and we’ll settle up in the morning. I’ll be back at six. If you’d start the coffee pot at half past five I’d appreciate it.

So we spent the night enjoying Clifton City hospitality.

Arnold’s Coffee Shop

When I arrived at Beale Air Force Base I met an individual who may have possessed a negative attitude that was the worst ever. Rumors stated he had earned an electrical engineering degree from Princeton. With such a high-powered education I wondered how he ended up as an aircraft maintainer, fixing the things he should have been designing.

His air force job was maintaining the fire control systems on B-52G aircraft – guns, optics, and radar systems that controlled them. His shop was haunted by an aircraft with an intermittent gun problem. Sometimes they fired. Sometimes they didn’t. The shop chief and his underlings were beginning their second day into this intermittent malfunction and the Wing Commander, a brigadier general, had sent the Deputy Commander of Maintenance around asking questions. Someone suggested it might be a fuse that looked serviceable, but was fractured and somehow the result of inflight vibration. Desperate for any solution the shop chief let his eyes drift around the shop. They settled on Arnold.

“Arnold!”

“Yeah?”

“Go out to aircraft 579 and bring me all the fuses.”

Arnold headed for the flightline. A half-hour later he returned and dumped what may have been a hundred, perhaps two-hundred fuses onto a work bench.

“What the hell have you done?” the shop chief hissed, the veins at his temples standing out.

“I pulled all the fuses like you said.”

“Get out of here. Take the rest of the day off. Get out of my sight.”

After Arnold was gone the shop chief contacted the 579 crew chief, the man responsible for the aircraft when it is on the ground, and asked him to come to the fire control shop ASAP.

There are always security measures described as “a need to know” and I didn’t need to know. So I left.

Aircraft 579 was out of commission for several days while the hydraulic, engine, instruments, radios, navigation, autopilot people sorted through the fuse pile, claiming what they thought came from their systems. It had become a serious situation of the type that often cost supervisors their careers.

Arnold’s security clearance was modified. He was no longer allowed on the flight line. His sole duty was the coffee shop.

The coffee cost only a nickel, so no one expected world-class brew. But this coffee became so strong it had a taste all its own. I watched him open a fresh three-pound can of coffee and dump the contents into a 30-cup urn and then start it perking.

Word got around and we stopped drinking it. However, one morning officers were heading for Commander’s Call to present progress reports to the squadron commander. A captain en route with his report paused a cup.

“What have you done to this?” he shouted after spewing his first sip onto the floor.

“Sir, if you don’t like our service you may take your business elsewhere,” Arnold stated with a poker face.

The following day someone else was making coffee and Arnold   was pushing a broom.

In the course of time I learned Arnold had summoned political influence from his Massachusetts Congressman, making virtually untouchable. His adventure does not end with the coffee shop.

The Tunnel – chapter 1

Army Special Forces Major, Joe Wilks, has received a phone message. It is the first of three. This one doesn’t provide any clues about the other two. But he knows when Mr. Smith inquires about the family he and his team should prepare for a mission. Within an hour the phone rings again. It’s a vacation package offered by Willamette Ski Lodge. A canned voice gives a long-winded pitch about how they are offering a packaged vacation. Since he stayed with them two years ago they are offering him a special discount. If he wishes to know more he should press numeral one. Following his instructions he learns there will be a shuttle leaving the Eugene airport at 1000 hours sharp tomorrow.

After hanging up the telephone, Joe calls the Portland airport and books an 0700 flight to Eugene. Then he packs clothing suitable for skiing and calls a cab and makes arrangements to be picked up at 0600 hours tomorrow.

The shuttle is actually a chartered Greyhound. It’s packed, mostly college kids from the university, but Joe manages to find a vacant place in the rear. With his bag stowed in the overhead he produces a paperback novel from a jacket pocket in order to pass the slow eighty mile bus ride.

The weather is atrocious – great skiing weather, snowing on glare ice. Apparently the sand truck has not yet visited the highway leading to the summit. They are hardly forty miles from Eugene when the first sign appears: Chains Required. The driver uses the first turnout to install tire chains. Joe heaves an impatient sigh and checks his watch. But the driver is obviously experienced because in less than ten minutes they are once again underway. Traveling at a reduced speed another hour passes before the driver brings the bus to a halt at the front door, using a space reserved for shuttles. The sudden chill of the high mountain summit greets Joe with an icy jolt.

Joe’s been here several times, but he is awed each time by the massive facade, the large native stonework surrounding the entryway. It’s the handiwork of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a remnant of the Great Depression and FDR’s New Deal.

Mounting the two dozen steps, he enters the cavernous room. In the center, a gigantic, blazing  fireplace that is open on all four sides, provides more show than heat. Clutching his bag, he backs up to the flames hoping they will drive the chill away while he decides what his next move should be.

He doesn’t know who Mr. Smith will be this time.

 

 

What If

The year was 1958, and Ben was serving in Military Air Transport Service (MATS),  stationed in Charleston, South Carolina. His folks lived in Medford, Oregon, a long haul from that historic town, but hadn’t seen them in two years.

Hitching a ride with a fellow airman got him somewhere near Atlanta. In order to save money he decided to thumb the rest of the way to Kansas City which was a huge mistake. It was already dark when he and his friend had that final cup of coffee and he headed for home. Ben spent hours at the roadside staying close enough to be seen in the headlights without being run down by some dozing motorist. That night and part of the next day were wasted before he reached Kansas City and purchased a ticket on Union Pacific’s Portland Rose.

Sure, he could have flown. But flying is about as exciting as a prolonged elevator ride.

The best part of three more days were behind him by the time Ben reached Portland. From there he took a cab to the Greyhound station and after a few hours wait he resumed his trek toward Medford.

The bus was loaded and Ben took a seat next to an attractive girl about his age who was  headed for a new job LA. She was Her perfume was light, unforgettable. Her silky, dark hair was shoulder length, her voice low and pleasant. Easy to know, the two struck a warm friendship right off the bat, bonded, you might say, talking all the way to his destination. When the bus wheeled into the station she fell silent and her pastel blue eyes grew serious, brooding. It was obvious she wasn’t ready for their friendship to end. Nor was he.

The urge to continue to LA was overwhelming, but his folks were expecting him. Disappointing them was out of the question.

For weeks, even after returning to Charleston, the scent of her perfume shadowed him and he couldn’t help but wonder – what if.

Watching the Trains

Zeke 8

Arrangements were made that Mr. Banner, Sally’s attorney, would arrive the following morning to draw up the papers and oversee an inventory. Zeke was admiring the Texas morning when an old Dodge pickup turned off the highway.

“I think you might have a visitor, Sally.”

She joined Zeke while drying her hands on her apron.

“That’s Mr. Banner.”

“I expecting him to arrive in a big Lincoln.”

“Dan asked him about that old pickup when we first started this business,” Sally explained. “He said he was finished impressing people.”

After rolling to a stop, he climbed out and fetched his cane and then headed inside.

“Morning Sally,” he drawled, reaching out to shake. “You must be Zeke,” he said grabbing Zeke’s hand. “I have two young men coming. I’m expecting them any moment,” he added, directing his statement to Sally.

“That must be them now,” she exclaimed, her eyes focused on a red convertible turning off the highway.

Mr. Banner sat up shop on the yellow Formica table, then issued preprinted forms along with detailed verbal instructions. And then everything was set into motion. By noon the inventory was finished and an asking price was established. Mr. Banner had already touched bases with the prospective buyer.

“These buyers wouldn’t share their plans with me. But I did some snooping and learned they use helicopters rather than fixed-wing aircraft. I suspect they won’t offer a fair price for these airplanes, so with your permission I have a second listing that excludes the planes and spare parts, just in case.

“What will I do with the Stearman?”

“That‘s a bargaining tool, my dear,” he said, smiling. “I’ll be in touch,” he added and then headed back to town.

Zeke continued on his inspection. Replacing a worn control cable took more time than he had figured. The shadows were lengthening by the time he was finished. Since it was late, she was preparing supper for him before heading back to the motel. He was closing the hangar doors when he noticed a bank of clouds moving in from the west. They were round and puffy. Orange lightning was playing through them, first lighting one, then another, in no special order. They reminded Zeke of gigantic Christmas balls.

“I don’t like the looks of that storm,” he told Sally when she came to fetch him for supper.

“I don’t either.”

He followed her to the yellow Formica table. After serving up two plates she turned on a white Arvin AM radio, a classic 5-tube superhetrodyne receiver that reached back into the years of Zeke‘s youth. After the filaments had warmed a local station issued a tornado watch advisory extending until 2 AM.

“What do you generally do when this sort of thing comes up? Do you have a shelter you go to?” he asked.

“No, I don’t have a shelter. I just stay here and stick it out. So far they’ve all missed me. I always keep a spare water jug, a propane camp stove, and a lantern in case the power goes out.”

“Dan wouldn’t want you being alone. I’ll stay here with you.”

She didn’t object. Instead, she fetched a fold-up cot from a storage closet and set it out for Zeke. And then they waited. In an hour the wall-to-wall static rendered the AM radio useless, so they turned it off and resumed waiting.

Eventually, the wind freshened and horizontal rain drops the size of quarters pelted the metal hanger like machine gun fire. Thunder made the Texas prairie sound like a giant bowling alley, rattling Sally’s dishes and cupboard doors.

In the midst of it they thought they heard the storm warning system sounding six miles away. Then lightning became continuous. Wind rattled the doors while testing every rivet and bolt holding the hangar together.

The severity of the storm lasted only twenty minutes or so before tapering off. Within the hour it was over, the only remainder being the sound of the storm growling its way in a northeasterly direction.

When he awoke the following morning he shoved a hangar door open and watched dawn usher in a new day.

Zeke 07

Sally took Zeke up on his offer for breakfast at the all-night café. As she got out from behind the wheel and started toward the entryway he noticed she had changed more attractive clothing. As he followed her to a booth he caught a whiff of her perfume. After they were seated he realized she had added a touch of eyeliner pale lipstick. A vast change from how he’d found her the day before. Again, however, he reminded himself he’d swung by to give her a hand, not stand around ogling.

“So what’s the plan?” she asked after the waitress had brought menus and coffee.

“We need to jump on that other inspection. If we don’t find any major problems we can knock it out before evening.”

“I thought about your suggestion of selling out.”

“And?“

“It’s worth exploring,“ she said.

“Do you have any possible interest?” he asked.

“Maybe. I’d forgotten about a visitor a couple of months back. A corporation that sent an attorney by. I wasn’t much interested in talking to him, so we never got around to offers or much of anything, for that matter. I dug through my desk last night and found his card. I thought I might call and see if there’s still any interest. What do you think?”

The waitress brought their breakfasts and warmed their coffee. Zeke waited until she headed back for the kitchen before he responded. “It doesn’t cost anything to see if there’s any interest.”

“What should I say?”

“Just ask if his client is still interested. Do you have an attorney?”
“Yes. He’s represented me a few times when farmers claimed the wind had carried my chemicals onto their property.”

“Then he understands the crop-dusting business?” Zeke asked.

“To some extent. At least from the legal aspect.“

“Would he represent you reach an agreement with this corporation?”

“I think so …I‘m sure he would.”

They both finished their meals in silence and enjoyed two more coffee refills before heading back to the hangar.

Zeke set in on the second aircraft inspection while Sally spent some time exploring the possibility of selling the business.

They were having lunch when the corporation attorney arrived. Sally started to leave her meal, but Zeke suggested she should let him wait. “Don’t appear as eager as you feel.”

“Is there a place we can talk privately?“ the attorney asked.

“It’s okay to say what you need to say right here. I won’t be committing to anything today. I have an attorney who will be handling the details. I was just making certain your client is still interested,“ she said.

“Well, the corporation is interested. Of course, we need to establish what’s for sale – land, aircraft, vehicles, and equipment, or only a portion.” he replied.

“My attorney will be contacting you,” Sally said.

“There’s been some rumors of foreclosure. Allowing that to happen would only complicate matters. That’s why I’m here today.”

“I’m sure the rumors are running, but there is still time. My attorney will contact you as soon as we are prepared to negotiate.”

The corporate attorney was slow to leave, but he finally handed her a second card and then headed back to town.

“Zeke, my attorney will be here this afternoon to start an inventory. Can you handle the entire inspection by yourself?”

“I’m on it.”