Archive for July, 2012

White River, again

July 30, 2012
You dream you are crossing,
The channel and tossing,
About in a steamer from Harwich,
Which is something between
A large bathing machine
And a very small second class carriage.
The night before the race I dreamed I had a thorn in my foot, and when I woke up the foot still ached from the memory. I dreamed I had misplaced one of my tentacles and kept trying to count them.
First your counterpane goes
And uncovers your toes
While your sheet slips demurely from under you.
I dreamed that John Loftus was about to start the race (in front of my childhood home) and I wasn’t dressed yet and couldn’t find my headband (I never even wear a headband). I dreamed that someone was lecturing me on the quality of my dreams and threatening to disqualify me from the race if they didn’t improve.
But the night has been long,
Ditto, ditto, my song,
and thank goodness they’re both of them over.
In other words, I didn’t sleep very well the night before. I got up before my alarms.

A race hotel is a strange place. Everything goes dead by about 10pm, and you start to hear people moving around at 4am. You’d think it would be easy to sleep early and get up early. But I couldn’t. Well the getting up early worked I guess.

I ran this race three years ago. I thought I’d made a couple mistakes in running strategy which I hoped to correct, and I hoped that I’d finally figured out how to eat and take electrolytes properly. That is, I hoped to do better.

On the other hand I didn’t think I was in very good shape. I didn’t feel that I’d ever fully recovered from Leona Divide back in April; I just felt tired all through training and couldn’t run very fast (not that speed is quite as important in a fifty mile trail race, still it is indicative of general fitness…). That is, I feared I’d do worse.

View of the White River, which is sort of white

The white river really is white (or at least grey).


I wrote the above before the race started, and that was about the last time I hoped to do well. Thirty seconds after the start I knew I wouldn’t.

The race starts with about three miles on the flat and people seemed to take it almost as a road race. Last time I went out too fast (my first mistake), got my heart rate up too high and had to slow down (relative to others) when we got to the first climb. This time I resolved not to make that mistake. I very deliberately kept my heart rate to ~80% — and people kept passing me. Far more people than I had expected. And then when the climb came, more people passed me.

Yes, they are probably going out too fast; yes, I will probably pass some of them later. But there are so many of them. I won’t pass enough.

Sigh. Oh well.

It’s still a beautiful course. The race starts in the valley of the white river. For about half a mile we run along a grassy airstrip (where there is plenty of room to pass people) and then dive into the forest and run on the river bank. The trees are massive and we are dancing around roots. Then we cross the river and continue on the other bank.

For some reason this side of the river is covered with wildflowers (and the other wasn’t). There are real buttercups here, willowherbs, and something that looks like a Clarkia (but which turned out to be another willowherb — though it doesn’t look like any willowherb I’ve seen before), lots of daisies (of course), some foamflowers… anyway it’s beautiful. (I went back the next day to get the picture)

Then we cross the big highway (WA 410, at this hour of the morning there’s no traffic) and head away from the river. Here in the deeper woods there are different wildflowers. Sasal, huckleberries. There’s a sweet little orchid that pops up now and then, and, there, under that bush, could that be a broomrape?

We have gentle rolling hills for another mile or so under the forest canopy, and then the first aid station, which I don’t bother with, so I pass a few people, but that’s irrelevant as they’ll pass me back all too soon. Then after another mile we begin to climb.

Last time I had to slow down and walk because I got my heart rate too high on the early part. This time I have to slow down and walk even though I kept my heartrate down. Does that mean that running fast early didn’t matter? Perhaps it wasn’t a mistake? Playing it safe doesn’t seem to have made things any better. Or maybe I’m just not in as good shape? Who knows.

As I trudge up the mountain, people keep passing me.

After a bit we come to an enormous rock face with water trickling down, and we head up beside it, then a switch-back and a real waterfall. It’s still too dark to take pictures, but I wish I could.

The hill just keeps going up.

After an hour we come to the first ridgeline. On a clearer morning (such as we had three years ago) you could see the mountains on the other side of the wilderness area, but today all I see is clouds. Rather nice clouds, but clouds.

Now we are running along the edge of this ridge, sometimes we get close enough to get a view, mostly we’re in the trees. As the race director puts it: “You are 3 feet away and 800 feet above a wilderness area.” There’s a sheer cliff to our right that drops down into a valley, and across the valley is Mt. Rainier. Only Rainier is hidden in clouds just now.

And then we run into fog ourselves.

It’s not dense enough to condense on my glasses, so I rather enjoy it. There’s something nice and — comforting? — about a blanket of fog (especially when you know there’s an 800ft drop just off to the right).

But we climb out of that and see some sunlight (not on us, but across the valley).

For the first time I pass someone. Of course this might just be one of the slower people who started early, still, it is encouraging.

Ah, but someone else passes me. A woman with a black pony tail comes up behind and I let her go ahead, but then a quarter mile later on a downhill stretch she lets me pass her. We leapfrog for a bit, and then she goes ahead. I don’t see her again until 7 miles from the finish.

And we’re back in the fog again. If you squint you can see the guy ahead of me.

We slow down to a walk on the steep climbs. And when we do that, we bunch up.

Here is the next aid station. I fill up with water (I’ve been trying to drink more water). This station has no food (and anyway I carry what I’m eating at this point); but it does have a fire. I realize my hands have gone numb and I can’t open my camelback (luckily the volunteer here can). A fire sounds nice, but I don’t have time.

Out of the aid station and then start running again when the slope levels out. We have been in and out of fog, and now we start to see bits of sunlight.

We have come into a new wildflower regime (we’re about 5000ft up now), and here are our first bunchberries. I like bunchberries. The idea of a dogwood flower on a tiny forb appeals to me. I know I can’t get a good picture of them without stopping, and I’m not willing to stop. So I take a bad picture instead.

Suddenly we are out of the fog and above the clouds. The view is spectacular.

But the guy ahead complains that he was hoping the fog would last longer so it would be cooler later. Oh. Yeah. That would be good. Still, there’s plenty of cloud cover, it’s just below us, we may get into it again.

Turning a corner we have our first view of Mt. Rainier

The woods look different in the sunlight.

And once again, different wildflowers. Hostas (Corn Lilies) and Indian Paintbrushes. The Hostas aren’t blooming yet, but their leaves are distinctive. A little further up are another species of Indian Paintbrushes, these with orange blooms.

And we start to see beargrass, a spectacular flower, on a stalk about 3 feet high.

Some cute little yellow violets, and small things I can’t make out as I go past.

Suddenly the first returning runner (this section is out and back). He’s a long way ahead of anyone else, but then we see a few more I count up to about 10, but then get back to my own concerns.

And then we move to the sunny side of the mountain again, and things get drier and the wildflowers go away.

Rainier again. It’s just spectacular, floating above the clouds like that.

I’m running behind a woman at the moment. She seems to be running slowly, but whenever I look at my watch my heartrate is about 80%. Sometimes higher. So I don’t pass her.

I guess I notice women more than men in these races, partly because there are fewer of them running at my pace, and partly because I just notice women more.

Graagh. I’ve got a small stone in my foot and it’s digging into my heel. Nothing I do seems to shift it. I’ll wait for the aid station and take my shoes off there.

Rainier again, the clouds below have mostly disappeared. I guess we won’t have much fog later.

I notice that my heartrate has calmed down a bit, and the woman ahead still seems to be running slowly. Then she mentions that she hasn’t had anything to eat since the start (why not?) and she’s running on empty. So I pass her.


Photo by Glenn Tachiyama

Finally the aid station. I hand my camelback to a volunteer to fill up while I undo my shoe and get the stone out. Drat, the heel still hurts even though the stone is gone. The volunteer comes back and tells me (sternly) that I haven’t been drinking enough. I hope she’s assuming that I haven’t filled up since the start… but… she’s right. I haven’t been paying attention to drinking since the last aid station. I should do more.

Three years ago it took me 3:09 to get here, this year 3:10. Hunh. Maybe I’m not going as slowly as I thought. Oh. but we have a slightly different course this year, and we’ve run a half mile less. This is roughly a third of the way — (at least, they say it’s 16.7 miles, my watch says 15.5).

Oh well, I’m out.

Three years ago we just turned around and went back, now we climb a small hill, do a loop and avoid about a mile of returning runners. So this bit of trail is new to me.

I’ve been seeing a bush, about 3 or 4 feet high with large white flowers. Could this be a Cascade Azalea? I don’t have time to look closely. Oh yes, and lots of lupines, I’ve been seeing them ever since we got into the drier area. And phlox, and yarrow too.

The trail is kind of bouncy here with occasional views of Rainier.

The new trail really does provide good views as it edges from looking at Rainier on the left and another valley on the right. It’s pretty bumpy as it goes along the ridgeline. I’m encouraged to see that there is still some fog off to the right… I hope that’s the valley of the white river, to which I’ll be returning in another hour or two.

Hmm. I’m basically alone now. Every now and then I can see someone ahead, and doubtless people aren’t too far behind, but no one is in talking range.

And then I trot down off the ridgeline and rejoin the old route, and meet runners coming the other way again. Only now I’m the one returning.

As someone from the south I’m obliged to get excited when I see snow in July. I remember that there were patches of snow here three years ago too.

And then back to the second aid station where I again fill up with water. Someone passes me before the station, and heads out down the trail faster than I… but after a bit I find him massaging his calf. Cramp.

Mmm. I’ve been getting minor cramps in my right abdominals, but they aren’t bad, and go away. So far.

After the aid station we head down a different route from the one we used to go up, and it also returns us to the start. It’s a shorter route back, and so steeper.

After half an hour I come to a branch in the trail. It isn’t marked. I look harder. It still isn’t marked. Being color-blind I worry that I missed something other people have seen. I run back a little way because there was a smaller trail back there and it is possible it was marked. Someone passes me. He has no doubt and goes straight down. I dither a little longer. Someone else passes me. Oh well. I follow them.

Later I stop to piss and two people catch up and pass me, so I run behind them for a bit. One of them slows, and then the other guy and I catch up with someone else who speeds up when we come up behind him. There’s a huge tree down across the trail here, and as I scramble over it I have to stretch my legs out wide and they don’t like that. Ouch.

I notice that my watch says we have run 25 miles in about 5 hours. Oh dear. That makes for a 10 hour run? I was hoping for 9 (well, I’d have loved 8, but that seemed unlikely).

We catch up with another runner, who seems to be a friend of the guy in front. They start chatting and the other guy and I pass them both.

We run beside a little stream for a bit, but then turn away from it. The stream brings its own group of wildflowers: twinflower, pipsissewa — I thought that only grew on the east coast, but when I go back the next day it really is pipsissewa.

When we pull away from the stream we start to hear the road instead (the stream was nicer). There’s more traffic now, and I worry a little about getting across it. But when we come out of the woods it turns out not to be bad. We do need to wait a few seconds, but nothing substantial.

We cross the road at the same place we did earlier, and then head back along the river. We’ve returned to the start, where there is now an aid station. I left myself some figbars here and some trail mix. First time I’ve ever used a drop bag. I get my bag while someone fills my water. And I grab a bit of cooked potato too. I found at Leona that they seemed to work well. I started the race eating gels, but after a couple of hours I switched to chewy blocks, and now I’m moving toward more solid foods. Or that’s the plan.

I move out of the aid station, eating some of my figbars, and pass several people. We come out briefly on the road again and as I look for trail markings I notice a woman ahead of me, so I follow her, and then I see the marks. The woman turns out to be Dana and she and I will pass and repass each other many times over the next 23 miles (or however far it is).

But now I don’t know who she is and she pulls away from me.

I’m climbing now. And in the sun. I remember I have no sunscreen. Damn. I decided not to bring any so that I could carry my stuff on the airplane, and assumed I could a) buy some in Eumenclaw (which I forgot to do), b) find some at the race start (which I didn’t) c) pick some up on the course (which they said would be available but which I have as yet seen no sign).

I think the trail mix is too sweet. It makes me slightly nauseous so I can only eat small bites. I probably should eat more frequently because of that, but I can’t bring myself too.

I’m walking now. Fast hiking. I ignore my heartrate when I’m walking even though it climbs above 80%. Is that ok? Anyway I pass people. Every now and then I see Dana’s back.

I saw this little flower on the other hill too, but didn’t try to photograph it. Now, I’m moving so slowly that I don’t mind pausing briefly to take its picture. I assume it’s a lily. That is, I assume it is something that was called a lily twenty years ago. But that family is in sadly reduced circumstances now, and many species have moved to other families (and even orders). A little research suggests that this one is a Queen’s Cup.

And is that a sedum? I didn’t even know they grew on this continent.

Finally we come out to the next aid station. Still no sign of sunblock. This one is 50K from the start. I fill up with water, eat a potato and leave the station before Dana.

Something is wrong. Water is pouring down my back. It stops when I stop running, and I think the problem is solved, but no— more comes out when I start up again. Have I sprung a leak in the camelback (god, I hope not)? I’ve still got another third of the course to go, and this is the sunniest bit. I need water. I pull the camelback off my back (while still walking) and discover the answer is much simpler. The volunteer simply didn’t screw the lid on tight, and whenever the water in the bladder splashed up as high as the lid it would come out. So I screw it tight and all seems fine now.

Except… my shorts are now sopping wet and they are chafing my thighs. Arrgh!

And I wonder whether I now have enough water to get to the next aid station, well it could have been worse. And after a bit my shorts dry and stop chafing.

The trail just keeps going up. Sometimes in shade, sometimes not. Finally I come out on a somewhat level ridgeline with more beargrass and some tiger lilies.

And then there is a bit of downhill and three people come thundering past me. One of whom is Dana. After they pass there isn’t much downhill left, and I catch up with them again and we all go together for a while. Then one decides let me pass, with the other goes on faster, so now I’m running behind Dana. I could pass her, but if I did I think I’d just slow down and she’d pass me back. So for now I go at her pace and we chat a bit.

Actually she may be making me move faster than I would otherwise.

A bit more up, and then the false summit. Now there is a nice shady downhill area and Dana pulls away again. And the guy who just let me pass catches up and passes me again.

And then the final climb up to Sun Top. Walking again. I pass a number of people (including Dana, I think). About four of us reach the aid station at the top together. Someone fills up my water. I eat some potatoes, and — yes! Dana is spraying herself with sunscreen. Finally. I get in line to use it. When I pick it up, it turns out to be hers, not from the aid station at all, but she graciously lets me use it. Oops.

Sun Top is three quarters of the way done, and I’ve been running for 7 hours, 45 minutes. That means I’m on track for a 10:20 race. Ug. Still, the fastest bit is up ahead, I should be able to make up some time now.

Again I am out of the aid station before Dana and onto Sun Top Rd. I like this bit. A nice level fire road. Much nicer running that any fireroad in SB.  I can just zoom down this. (That’s speaking relatively. If I push I can get an 8 minute pace:-) I’m a little tired.

Anyway, I’m off. There’s a guy just ahead. I pass him. My watch says I’m running at a 9:20 pace. A little further down there are 3 people, and I pass them. (I’m now averaging about 8:30). And then Dana comes zipping by me. I’m surprised, no one passed last time… anyway, we cheer each other on as she goes by. The road goes down steeply for about 5 and a half miles and in that time I pass 11 people, and my watch tells me I’m averaging 7:48. The last two I pass are the guy who was ahead of Dana before Sun Top, and black pony tail whom I haven’t seen since about mile 10.

Then the slope levels out a bit for another mile or so. Last time I made the mistake of trying to keep going at the same pace and my heartrate zoomed up and I had to walk for much of the last six miles. This time I slow down a bit. I can see three people spaced out on the road ahead, and it is tempting to speed up and try to pass them. But I don’t speed up, even so I manage to pass one of them.

At the final aid station I see Dana again (I suspect she was one of the two whom I saw but didn’t pass on the road). Once again I fill up my water and get out of there before she does (if she hadn’t taken so much time in aid stations she’d have beaten me, but maybe she needed that time).

The third mistake I made was to think that I could run at 80% for the last 6 miles. And the fourth was to get lost. I go out of this station intending to go at about 75% and doing my damnest not to get lost. I don’t get lost.

I pass some people and some pass me.

We are once again beside the river, running through massive trees. Every now and then there are views through the trees of the white river. It should be lovely, but mostly I’m thinking how tired I am and how much I’d like to be done. I don’t really hurt. I’m just tired. I look at my watch. I’m a mile out from the last aid station and I’m running at a 13:40 pace, I’ve been going now for 8:45 hours and I’ve got about 5 and a half miles to go. I don’t think I’m going to break 10 hours even. Bleah. That’s pathetic.

Someone comes up behind me, but decides to run with me. We chat a bit. I can’t remember what about. Then someone else joins our group. He seems to know the other guy. Then the first guy drops back and the other runs with me. I try to get him to pass me, and he just encourages me to keep going. Says we’ll break 10 hours at this pace, so don’t worry. I think he’s wrong. I keep going. I wish he’d pass me. If he passed me maybe I could slow down a bit. But he doesn’t pass. I keep going.

I look at my watch. There’s a large banner on it Battery low, press enter. If I press enter the message goes away for about 2 seconds and then pops back up (the battery is still low, you see). Unfortunately this message means I can’t see the rest of the display. I don’t know my HR now, nor what time it is, nor how far I’ve gone or anything. Stupid. I don’t care that the battery is low, I care about my heart rate and other stuff. Don’t show me irrelevant information.

I ask the cheerful guy what the time is and he tells me we’ve been going for 9:15. So another 45 minutes by his estimate, another hour or so by mine.

I’d really like to stop now. Not in an hour. Now.

Someone else comes up behind and this person does want to pass. So the cheerful guy decides he wants to stay ahead of her and passes me before she does. Now there is no one to push me, but even so I don’t slow down.

Someone else passes me.

A little later I find him working on a cramp and pass him. Then he passes me back. And 20 feet after that he turns a corner too quickly, slips, and falls. I pass him. He passes me.

I see him disappear up a hill and—

There’s the road!

Almost done. Up the bank, onto the road, turn left, left again and then 200 meters flat straightaway. I pound down it as fast as I can. The faster to the finish line, the sooner I’ll be able to rest.

A final turn, the clock reads 0:54~~. What does that mean? Maybe after 10 hours it doesn’t show hours any more? I can’t have taken 10:54 to do this; it’s somewhere around 10 hours. Maybe 10:05? Thoughts tumble through my head.

And I’m done. Whatever the time was. I click my watch off, but it’s no help, all it says is Battery low, press enter.

As usual, people seem to think I’m in bad shape and keep asking if I’m OK, but all I need is some rest.

I get some cold water to drink (I hate cold water, I think it made me vomit the last time I did this race, but I need water). And wander over to the results board. There are a lot of people ahead of me. I start looking for my age group. Not many people in their fifties though. The first is about 8:40 hours, the next is not until 9:42 (here I start to get excited, maybe, just maybe I’ll be in third place in spite of everything). But then, right before the end is the third place guy. My name gets added to the list. I see I ran in 9:54:51 and the third place guy was just 2 minutes ahead with only two people between us. Surely I could have found two minutes somewhere? When I was wandering around looking for the unmarked trail maybe? And then I count. Three people ahead of me. One is a woman. Oh. He was the guy who ran with me along the last bit by the river and kept encouraging me. Um. Yeah. He deserves to be ahead.

But how on earth could I have broken 10? When I finally got back to the hotel and convinced the watch to cooperate, I found that according to it the last 6.6 miles were only 5.97. So either the course is shorter than they claim, or my watch was underreporting distance (and my pace). Or both. Anyway either would explain the result.

Just as I finish thinking that I see Dana finish about three minutes after me. And shortly after her comes black pony tail (whose name I never learned).

I am tired. I hobble over to the port-a-potties, and then look for a place to rest, to sit. There’s not much in the way of furniture out here. But I spy some lawn chairs laid out that no one seems to be using. There’s a guy watching them but not sitting on them, so I wander over and ask if I can sit for a bit and he says sure. He also asks if I’m OK. (what on earth do people see in me? All I need is some rest). Then suggests that I lie down. Sure. Why not. Oh. It turns out this is the first aid tent, and he’s some sort of medic. No wonder he’s worried about me. The wind picks up and I start to get chilly so I grab a nearby blanket and pull it over me. A nurse wanders over and suggests I drink a little more water, so I do, but it’s difficult lying down. So I struggle to sit up again, feel nauseous, grab a plastic bag and vomit. After a bit I feel better.  The nurse takes my pulse and says it is weak and high. Gets me to take another salt tablet, and drink some more water. I see they have some bananas and ask for one. I lie there for almost an hour before deciding it is time to get up. The nurse checks to make sure that my pulse has calmed (it has, some anyway), tells me I look better, asks me a few questions to make sure I’m not a blithering idiot, and lets me go to my car.

I go back to the hotel, shower and change. I had intended to go back to the race where they were serving food, but I don’t have the energy. I had intended to go back and at least retrieve my unused drop bag from Sun Top, but I don’t have the energy. I had intended to run an extra three miles (to get up to my age in miles), but there is no way that will happen.

All in all, pretty disappointing. Half an hour slower than three years ago, and I still don’t seem to have figured out how to eat/drink on the course. Or maybe I have figured it out but just don’t do it. I wasn’t paying as much attention after Sun Top as I should have. Maybe I should have drunk more? But how can I make myself do that? My attention wanders at that point in the race, I’m just not thinking about it. That is — assuming that’s the problem.


What could I have done differently? Given myself more time to recover from Leona, obviously. But I’ve got to figure out how to eat and drink if I want to do this again. It can’t be healthy to disrupt my osmotic balance until I want to vomit. Maybe if I had a smaller camelback and knew I had to empty it between aid stations… The large one I use gives a cushion against emergencies, but I have no idea how much I drink because I never drain it. Trailmix didn’t work. What can I use instead? Potatoes seem perfect, but how to carry enough? Would bread work? or is that too dry? Biscuits?


Hillside gooseberries

July 24, 2012

Hillside gooseberries hang by the side of our trails. Indeed they’ve been hanging there for months, uneaten. While their congeners, the chaparral currants were snapped up as soon as they ripened. There’s nothing toxic about the gooseberries, why doesn’t anything eat them?

Admittedly the gooseberries have spines that are somewhat intimidating, but the plant wants (if you’ll excuse the teleology) for its fruit to be eaten, presumably something evolved to do so.

So one day I picked one, and brought it home. The spines are prickly and I didn’t want to put it in my mouth. To postpone the awful moment, I checked the toxic plant website to reassure myself that these were not on it. They weren’t. But the spines were still prickly.

So I stared at it some more. Eventually I took a knife to it, cut it open and squeezed the insides into my mouth (I know, you probably lose all the vitamins that way). The berry was overripe.

If the berry tasted overripe to me then I presume it would to other potential eaters. Which makes me think that whatever used to feed on it is locally extinct. Since the plant is about as common as its congeners, I presume the extinction was recent (and not the result of the loss of the megafauna ten thousand years ago) which suggests bears to me.

Which suggests that a goosebery bush in the backcountry would be less likely to have fruit than one in the frontcountry. I need to check.

Or there is the possibility that the plant makes (sorry) its fruits difficult to eat so that it’s the only thing available in August or September and somehow this uniqueness gives it an advantage… Though I would expect, if that were the case, that the fruit wouldn’t taste overripe.

Scanning the past

July 19, 2012

When I first started on my current project of entering old race results I was unaware of the tangle of problems I was leaping into. I expected that I would finish with it fairly quickly and move on to something else. I also did not expect that the scope of the project would expand as it has — first I was given more results to process than I anticipated, and now I am actively seeking out such results myself.

My intention was that I would scan each page of results, then use optical character recognition (OCR) software on that page and then process the textual output of the OCR and add it to my database.

Well, the first problem was with the OCR. When I bought my new scanner it came with OCR software. That made everything seem very simple. I’d just use it.

Only…

The software was very proud that it did multi-column processing. Great! I’ve got lots of columns.

Well… “multi-column” processing is designed for newspaper columns. Each column is processed as a separate entity. This plays havoc with tabular data, which is what I really had. I’d get a column of names, then a column of ages, then a column of cities… Worse, some column outputs had several things in them, while other columns seemed to be missing entirely. Unfortunately there did not seem any way to turn off multi-column processing.

So I had to search for some less sophisticated software. And I found some.

Now, sadly, a 50+ year old document is often smudged, coffee-stained, etc. This makes it difficult for even a human to read, to say nothing of OCR.

Sometimes text which seems perfectly legible to me (especially at the larger resolution you see when you click on the image)

just comes out as garbage after OCR
1 01 050100 0001 20 0005510 00 0v1c 0:53 05:02
So some races need to be entered manually.

Even at the best of times it can be hard to tell a capital O from a zero, a one from an eye or a lower-case ell, a five from an S, 8 and B, 7 and ?. But I was surprised to find that the software has its hardest time with “4” which gets variously rendered as 0, 5, 6, h, b, and a myriad of others. It also has a distinct aversion to “M” and “W”, preferring to render them as “H”.

So— I need to build up a list of people’s names, of city names and of team names and try to spell check them. I also need to check the times. Luckily times are entered in a steadily increasing pattern (fastest runners first, of course) so one simple check is to make sure they are in order. Bibs and ages are all higgledy-piggledy and there’s no way to recheck other than with my fallible eye.

And then there are more fundamental problems. Race results look quite different now than they did 50 years ago. Running is now (in the US) and individual sport while 50 years ago it was a team sport. Age and sex are very important now because it isn’t fair to compare a 70 year old runner against a 20 year old, while 50 years ago every one was a young male. This all means that data which now seem essential wasn’t collected back then, and data which mattered then is now irrelevant.

Old results do not include age/sex or city/state or divisions or age grading, while they do include teams. What do I do with teams? There is nowhere in the modern results display for them… Well, I’ll just add a new field to the database and figure out how to display it later.

I don’t really need the results to contain divisions and age-grading, I can generate those myself — or I could if I had the runners’ ages. And before 1979 I don’t.

Well, if a runner from 1960 is still running (in Santa Barbara) in 1980 then I can find his (only men were running in 1960) age in 1980 and fill in an age in 1960. But most of the early runners weren’t still running (here) in 1980.

Also… there’s the problem of names… There’s at least one father/son pair with the same name, John McManus. How do I know runners from different years are the same person?

And, greatest horror of all, I find another “George Williams” was running here in the late 70s.

And then there are the in-jokes of the time which I don’t understand now… What was the “Infamous Centipede” and what was it doing in our races in the mid-1980s?

Athletics at CalTech

July 15, 2012

CalTech has been fined by the NCAA for the way students register for classes. Technically this means that for the first 3 weeks of school some students aren’t (yet) taking a full course load and are therefore not eligible (under NCAA rules) to play on teams. Since CalTech always loses this hardly seems like a problem, but the new athletic director was worried and reported the school to the NCAA who punished ‘tech. The LA Times puts it best:

One of the country’s losingest athletic programs has chosen to vacate wins it doesn’t have, shut down the recruiting it doesn’t do and be ineligible for championships it never wins.

I’m kind of proud of my school.

Remembering times lost

July 5, 2012

We have family reunions every 5 years. The last one was in 2007 (Wow. I’ve been blogging for more than 5 years). The first was in 1922 and marked 100 years from the settlement of Nacoochee and Sautee valleys by my great-great-great-grandfather; the next was in 1972 (marking 150 years) and since then every 5 (except we had a reunion in ’76 instead of ’77 for the bicentennial).

This year’s reunion was (in my mind) overshadowed by a heat-wave. I arrived at 4am Thursday, and the temperature climbed to 99°F, Friday was 104°F, as was Saturday, Sunday was slightly cooler 102°F. The house was built by my great-grandfather to be cool with 14ft ceilings, and this works well with temperatures around 90°F, but by 3 in the afternoon on a 100° day the inside is almost as unpleasant as the outside. We hid. And waited for night.

One of the projects of the reunion was an oral history video. They interviewed my father (and many other people) and put together a very nice little sequence. Then the wife of my third cousin once removed asked me to say something. Me? But my father is both living and cogent; anything I could remember he would remember better. Besides I’m young.

Only I’m not any more am I?

So now I am having second thoughts. Perhaps there is a point in my memories. A different perspective at least, if nothing else.

So I thought I’d write them down. I guess that’s not exactly oral history, but it’s a start.

I remember…

Only I don’t. I have no memory of my first trip to the valley. It was just somewhere we always went. I was born in June, and I believe we visited later that summer. Or certainly the next. My mother says she boiled my diapers on the old wood stove we used to have in the kitchen — this, apparently unsettled my grandmother and the next year she bought a washer and dryer so my mother won’t have to do that for my brother.

We generally spent late August and early September in the valley but that was not set in stone. My grandfather and his three siblings shared the house and each got a month in the summer; the sibling with first pick rotated, so sometimes we’d end up with an unusual time.

When I was young the kitchen was dominated by an enormous iron wood-burning stove that was used for cooking. It must have been ferociously hot in the kitchen then. The wood stove was removed in 1967 to be replaced by a stove (and a fireplace opened in the kitchen). I have a vague recollection of a propane tank in the cold storage shed so perhaps it was a gas stove at first, but eventually we got electric.

There used to be a small wooden bridge over the Sautee creek on Lover’s Lane (now called Lynch Mountain Rd.) and we used to play Pooh-sticks on that bridge — dropping sticks into the water on the upstream side and running across to the downstream to see whose came out first. I guess there wasn’t much traffic.

In 1967 there was the great flood. It rained, and it rained, and it rained. The Sautee creek climbed up over its banks and into the fields and roads. Someone caught a trout in his fence. People had to rescue cows out of the flooded fields. And it kept on raining. The water rose. My father stuck sticks in the road to mark the high water line, and when each stick was flooded he would put in a new stick higher up.

We had guests staying with us, and they got excited by the flood. The lane was underwater. The river road (which no longer exists but which paralleled the creek down to highway 17) was underwater. They decided to leave by the back way, out Lynch Mountain Rd. to 255A. They made it too.

My parents also got excited but in a different way; they took out the old rowboat and dragged it down the driveway to the road and put in. They set off down the (flooded) road beside the swollen creek. I remember standing at the end of the driveway, with the cook, in the pouring rain and crying my head off as I watched my parents disappear around a bend in the road. I don’t think I’d have the courage to row down a flooded road. I’d worry the current would be too strong and pull the boat into the creek and into the Chattahoochee and off to the Gulf. But my parents survived. When the boat got to 17 they dragged it up into the woods and then bushwhacked home through the woods above the flood water.

The next day was bright and sunny — but there was no longer a bridge over the Sautee Creek. We could no longer play Pooh sticks; instead we went down to where it had been and played in the new piles of sand the flood had left, and while we were there some men drove up with a highway department truck (I guess they were checking the state of the former bridge) — and in of their truck they had our boat! We got it back, but for a long time after we joked about how the highway men had stolen our boat…

Each year when my grandmother came to the valley she brought her maid with her. This seemed very grand to me. But Sautee Manor was grand in itself as we always had a cook when we were there (we never had a cook at home). Mattie Sosbee. As I recall she lived in Spartanburg for most of the year but would come up for the summer and stay in the house with us (though sometimes she spent the night at her brother’s (John Sosbee) down the road.

John Sosbee was our caretaker; I have no clear idea of what this entailed save that he opened up the house for us in the spring and closed it down in the summer and I think he fixed things that broke. John was a farmer in his own right with his fields below the road and his house and kitchen garden above it. We would buy fresh produce from him, corn and beans and okra. One day I remember going there and finding his wife busy churning butter on the front porch.

Whenever we came to the valley we had to go visit a bunch of old cousins who lived there. I hated it. The most pleasant to visit were cousins Robbie and Roy who lived in the farm in the valley just below our house. They always knew when we had arrived in the valley because they could see our house and noticed when the lights were on at night. This was a great topic of conversation. Then they would give us raspberries. And Roy once took me out into the barn and taught me how to milk one of his cows. I’ve never milked a cow before or since, but I did it once. Roy was my second cousin twice removed I think. Then there was cousin Archy who lived down near the old Sautee store. He had a wife, and a little pug dog (who didn’t like me) and a big bell in the yard which I wasn’t allowed to ring. Next door lived two ancient maiden ladies one of whom ate a poison ivy leaf every spring to give her immunity to the plant. And since she didn’t die from a swollen throat perhaps the process worked.

Still there were some people I liked to visit. The Henry Williams house was off hwy 17. It was built by my great-great-uncle at about the time my great-grandfather built Sautee Manor and it was peopled by a changing pool of cousins, some of whom were actually my age. I never knew who’d be there in advance; the various branches of that family would come at different times on different years.

Oddly we rarely got to see our closer cousins, those who shared the house with us, because if we were in the house then they could not be. Rarely they would visit. One of my great aunts had only nine toes (one had been surgically removed) and whenever she came up we would ask to see the foot with only four toes, and she would take off her shoe and show us.

Not all of the people we visited were cousins, we made friends with the Kollock family who had children about our ages. They weren’t cousins, but the adult Kollocks did have a Charleston connection (which was almost as good). They had an extraordinary house. Every year it was different. It grew rooms, it grew wings. A second story. The rooms moved around. The kitchen sink was fixed (too hard to change the plumbing I guess) but everything else mutated. John Kollock is an artist, in those early days he did commercial art in Atlanta, and every year he had a commission to do a Christmas series called “Down Home Prints”, nostalgic black and white prints of the rural south of 1900. His family and ours and our friends became his models. Every August we would dress up and act out whatever scenes he was doing that year. I remember one very hot August day bundling up into coats and scarves and making snow angles in the grass as he did a winter scene. Another time we acted out a wedding ceremony while my father preached a sermon from “The Architecture of Antebellum Charleston” — funniest sermon I’ve ever heard.

When I was very young the Sautee store was a post office. I can remember going there to get the mail. But it turned into a Norwegian import store when I was still very young so I only have rather jumbled memories of letters mixed with sweaters.

After a bit my parents decided to get us out of the main house. My mother cleaned up the old sleeping porch (which entailed facing down wasps as well as cleaning dust) and relegated us children there. We all three (and any friends we might have visiting) slept on army cots up there. A bit later my mother cleaned up half of the old servants’ quarters (and that was probably an even bigger job, she has a lot of energy) and my brother and I were packed off there, while my sister was allowed back into the main house. There was no electricity in the servants’ quarters so we went up there with kerosene lanterns (left over from the days when there was no electricity in the main house either). Sometimes we were allowed a fire in the old fireplace and that was very exciting. The sleeping porch was returned to the wasps and we did not use it any more. Finally in 1994 we was feared it was rotting and the porch was removed and the house re-roofed.

But I still stay in the servants’ quarters…

There were other out-buildings buildings than the servants’ quarters; there were the old privies (my father dedicated one as his study for a while), the chicken house, the laundry and the barn. As children we had most fun in the barn. We played jail. One person was jailer and stayed in the open area, the others were prisoners and each was placed in a horse stall and locked in with a slide bar. The walls between the stalls weren’t high and one could climb over them into another stall, and (slowly) slide its lock open and run free into the outside. So the jailer was constantly running back and forth sliding the bars back into the locked state — it was easier to slide them from outside the cell than from inside but that was the jailer’s sole advantage.

When we grew older my parents had us clean out the old laundry and we’d use it for square dances. It was the right size for one square. I’d drag out a long extension cord and set up an overhead light, and plug in the record player (45s as I recall) and we’d invite the Kollock girls and whatever cousins might be on hand over to dance. I was very shy and refused to dance for many years, but eventually I joined in. I found I loved it.

Older still and my parents decided to fix up the laundry as a small house, adding a bathroom, porch, electricity and murphy bed, thus turning the single big room into a combination bedroom kitchen.

My great-grandfather also built two towers on Lynch mountain. One was a wooden tower on a ridgeline behind the house, when I was a child this tower still stood, though the stairs had been removed and it was unusable. As time went on it slowly collapsed getting shorter and shorter until there was just a heap of rotten beams, and now there is practically nothing there at all. I’ve often wondered what the view was like from this tower. It didn’t poke above the trees — well, it didn’t when I was a child. Of course in my great-grandfather’s day the trees had all been clear-cut so the tower did probably have a view… The other tower was made of rebar embedded into the rock at the top of Lynch. At least I assume so. Nothing was left when I was young save some rusty rebar stumps and now even they seem to have disappeared.

The view from the front porch has changed over the years. When my grand-mother first visited all the surrounding mountains had just been clear-cut (Helen was a logging camp originally) and she would complain later about how untidy the mountains looked now that they had trees on them. My father likes the trees, but thinks they should be shorter (as they used to be) so that more of the valley can be seen. I am rather glad that the trees have grown to the point where I can no longer see the lights from the post office across the valley. But it does mean that we can no longer see Robbie and Roy’s house (and can’t tell when Elizabeth is in residence).

Lynch mountain has always been important to us. Climbing to the summit is something of a rite of passage. When I was a child the only way up was the path that starts across from the Higginses’ and one day each visit we (and probably some random cousins) would assemble at the Higgins house and head up. As a child it seemed to take forever. One year at Thanksgiving my father decided to seek an alternate route and went up the old logging road behind the house until we reached its end, and then tried to continue up. Unfortunately we almost immediately ran into a laurel hell and made essentially no progress and had to give up. A decade or two later Arthur Jones set out to make a trail for his motorbike, and somehow he managed it. He went up from the swimming pool and simply skirted the hells until he reached the top. Now I go up and down that trail all the time and almost never use the old trail. The view from the top has not changed much though.

One year we decided to visit the valley at Thanksgiving. It’s hard to guess what lunacy possessed us. The house is built to be cool, not to stay warm. It has no insulation. The walls are a single layer of wood (in extreme cases it is possible to see the ground through the floorboards). There is no central heat, just old fireplaces. But there are lots of blankets, and a spot on the front porch where the sun beats down which can almost get warm, even on the coldest days. We had such fun that first year, that we tried again — oh, maybe five years later. And again. It became a tradition. We were not simply masochists we were sadists too and would invite friends to stay with us, and had all the family over for a big post-thanksgiving dinner. I can remember one year it got down to 17°F. The pipes all froze, many burst. We left water running in the kitchen sink all night in hopes that would keep the pipes unfrozen (I don’t think it did) and we woke to an ice sheet on the kitchen floor. We realized the inside of the refrigerator was the warmest place in the house. One year my maternal-grandfather visited. He found the warm spot on the porch and slowly moved his chair to stay in the sun as the shadows changed. My great-great-grandfather’s biographer came to visit for mid-day dinner one year — and we had to ask him to wait because the pipes were still frozen and we couldn’t cook. One year it snowed. The only time I’ve been snowed on in the valley.

When I was very young the water used in the bathrooms of the house (there was (and is) a well for drinking water) came down the hill from a spring in an open terra-cotta trough. Every facet in the house had a little paper sign pasted beside it warning that we should not drink the water as there were wild pigs on the mountain. Because it was open, things would fall in it (perhaps pigs), and sometimes the flow of water would drop and we would have to go up the trough to clear it out. This was especially an issue in autumn and we’d have to go up daily to clear out fallen leaves. Because the trough was terra-cotta it was not perfectly watertight and there was a constant, slight seepage from the trough into the surrounding area. This meant there were some marshy areas, but also meant a lot of ferns and wildflowers. Walking up the trough was beautiful. Unfortunately other things fell in the trough than just leaves. Trees would occasionally fall across it, and sometimes break it. Hauling replacement bits of terra-cotta up the hillside was hard. Eventually, in about 1967, my cousin Louis ran plastic piping down through the old trough. Much easier to maintain, but less sightly. Now there is little left of the old trough, and the plastic pipe has mostly been covered up with leaves and isn’t so obtrusive. But it no longer oozes water and the lush growth of ferns along the path has vanished.

The water we don’t take from the spring forms a small stream that I grew up calling John’s Branch (because it was on John Sosbee’s land) and my father calls Cason’s Branch (I’ve no idea who Cason was, I presume he owned the land before John). Just up from where the stream crossed the Lynch Mountain Road there was a little flat area where we would picnic. As a child it seemed a long walk on the road in the hot sun, and the woods around the branch provided a lovely cool shelter. Now it doesn’t seem far at all. My brother and sister and I would build our little water kingdoms on the branch. We would try to dam it up with dams made of rocks an sand — not, you will note, things that actually hold water very well, but we were happy in our failures. Until the adults would call us back to eat.

We used to take out our old rowboat and glide down the river. Lewis, of course, used to go by canoe and the old canoe from Deliverance was stored under the house for many years. But we preferred a flat bottomed craft that would seat the whole family. We would put in just below the lane bridge on the Sautee Creek and go down the Chattahoochee and beyond. There was an epinonimous place called “Big Rock” where we could remove the boat from the river and portage it back to 17. One time we started at the Nacoochee station and traveled down the Chattahoochee. In later years we discovered inner tubes and some of us would travel along in our own craft (much easier to portage). The water in the Sautee Creek, cold as it always seemed at first, was much warmer than that of the river, and entering the Chattahoochee was always a shock. So sometimes the inner tubers would get out of the creek at the hwy 17 bridge and walk back on the old road.

Now the river has been colonized with houses, and the old access points are gone. The old road along the creek has been blocked off too. And somehow we don’t use the river as we used…

My parents would also drive us around the mountains for picnic suppers. We’d go to places with wonderful names like Warwoman Dell, or Panther Creek, or Rice Cabin Falls. I don’t even know if the old dirt roads are there any more. Perhaps they still are, but we have changed and don’t visit them any more.