Sunday, October 23, 2016

Eclipse, Carhenge, Chimney Rock, and the Cowboy Trail: A Plan Takes Shape

Above is an interactive map showing my proposed 3200-mile route from Alexandria, Springfield, St Joseph, Lincoln, Grand Island, Ansley, and Broken Bow to Alliance, and then from Alliance to Chadron, Norfolk, Omaha, and South Bend to Alexandria.

In and around Alliance will include day-trips to:

    • Carhenge, County Road 59, Alliance, NE for the eclipse (we'll dress like Druids and act like we're at Burning Man or Lollapalooza)
    • Chimney Rock National Historic Site, Chimney Rock Trail, Bayard, NE 69334 
    • Chadron State Park and campgrounds, 9 miles south of the town of Chadron on Hwy 385
    Optional day-trips:
    • Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
    • Fort Robinson
    • Hudson-Meng Bison Bonebed
    • Toadstool Geo Park

    Links to maps and travel guides:

    • The Pioneers were moving west, and the name of the Bridges to Buttes Byway describes that westerly progress. But I'll be heading east, from the buttes to the bridges. Here is the story of another travelor who took the trail "backwards." 
    • The Bridges to Buttes Byway is rich with history and travelers can visit the sites of famous archaeological discoveries, pioneer and early trade museums, military outposts, and other treasures of the Old West
    • There is so much to see and experience in this stretch of US Route 20. Here are two short videos that highlight some of the beauty of the Nebraska’s Bridges to Buttes Byway.
    • This article stub on Less Beaten Paths appears to be waiting for someone to fill in the story...

    Additional reference:

    MLB 2016: Peerless Postseason Prognostications

    Near the end of the MLB regular season, after the Nats had locked up the NL East, I boldly predicted an I-495 "Beltway" World Series between the Nationals and the Baltimore Orioles. One of my W.I.S.H.* List items is to see my home team play in a World Series. So my prediction was mostly wishful thinking. But I did chart out a path by which the two teams playing for the MLB crown were close enough that I could drive (or even take a train) to every game.

    That prognostication is shown below--updated now that the Cubbies have won the National League pennant.

    There is still a chance that my once totally biased and unscientific prediction could still earn a 33% accuracy rating. If the Cubs win, it won't be the Nats but it'll at least be the NL Champ, so with follow-on credit (50%), I could see a third of my predictions borne out. I'll get a minimum score of 28% but let me just put this out there for the Universe and everyone:

    Go, Cubs!
    Go, Theo!
    Go, Joe!

    Bring the hardware to Chi-town!

    Positive Social Change and Diversity

    Creativity and innovation depend upon diversity of thought. Diversity of thought follows from diversity of experience. If one is never forced to look at a familiar situation from a radically different perspective, it's much harder to appreciate the valid aspects of opposing points of view.

    When there is no diversity, there is no change. no progress, no improvement. If you want to make the world a better place, you'd better embrace diversity. Whether you are looking to adapt through evolutionary change, or pursue a more radical, revolutionary change agenda, begin with your values, and then make your plans, and finally put your plans into action.

    “The place to improve the world is first in one's own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

    I value diversity and am committed to challenging my own deeply held beliefs on a frequent basis. This political season is giving me plenty of opportunities to test just how open-minded I truly am.

    Are you open-minded? Do you rigorously examine your own beliefs? I offer the following test. Visit the Facebook pages of each of the four presidential candidates. I have copied the links below. On each page, note how many of your friends have decided to follow each of them. My hypothesis is that the most open-minded people would have diversity in this measure, whereas the more closed-minded among us would tend to associate only with like-minded folks.

    Here are the pages in alphabetical order by last name


    In my case, only 13.7% of my Facebook friends had made such a declaration for a particular candidate. However, the distribution of those choices reflects something interesting about the diversity of my friends.

    Here are the results, in descending order:

    • Clinton 47%
    • Trump 31%
    • Johnson 19%
    • Stein 3%

    This post  has nothing to do with who I'll vote for, or who I think you should vote for. I believe you can search your heart and do your job on election day with no help from me. In fact, I am counting on it! Likewise, I am not in need of unsolicited partisan propaganda from others. I'll make up my own mind, thank you.

    Rather, this post is about the relationship between positive social change and diversity. Do you value diversity? How do you demonstrate this value in the world?

    “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”Jim Rohn

    2016 Great American Beer Festival

    The annual Great American Beer Festival has concluded and here at PhilosFX, we celebrate 14 medalists from the DMV (that's the District, Maryland, and Virginia). 

    Here's the tally:

    Gold:      4
    Silver:     6
    Bronze:  4
    And here are the details:

    Great job, brewers! We offer a special shout out to Alexandria's own Port City Brewing Co., for their phenomenal COLOSSAL FIVE.

    Sunday, October 16, 2016

    Biking the Cowboy Trail across Nebraska

    flickr/Ken Ratcliff

    The above photo hit my Facebook newsfeed and I was entranced. Memories of summers on the farm in central Nebraska flooded back into my awareness. I followed the supplied link to a story about a wonderful rails-to-trails project, which converted an abandoned rail line into a biking and hiking trail. As of this writing, the so-called Cowboy Trail is the longest rails-to-trails conversion in the country, covering 321 miles between Chadron and Norfolk.

    My initial Facebook reaction:

    "This would be a great 5 or 6 day ride, culminating in my hometown of Norfolk, NE. I think I'll check out the tent and hostel accommodations along the route, and see if an end-to-end ride feasible."

    As it happens, I already have plans to be near Chadron State Park in August, 2017, to observe the great solar eclipse. So naturally, I am thinking about taking a slightly longer route home, eastbound via the Cowboy Trail, with a stop in my hometown of Norfolk.

    First thing I did was search for detailed maps of the trail. I found this helpful website called Bike Cowboy Trail which covers the paved portion of the trail between Valentine and Norfolk. The section between Chadron and Valentine is gravel and has fewer services and amenities at this point. The western half of the trail is suitable for hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking, but not for touring bikes.

    The next thing I did was put the Cowboy Trail into context. The 321-mile trail cuts through the Sand Hills region of Nebraska, generally tracking Highway 20 between Chadron and Inman. Just south of Inman, Highway 20 splits off to Sioux City. At that juncture, the Cowboy Trail then follows along Highway 275 to Norfolk.
    Map showing the locations of Chadron and Norfolk in context of Nebraska and surrounding states

    Next I discovered an interesting tidbit about Highway 20--in particular, the portion from just east of Valentine and west past Chadron all the way to the Wyoming border. That stretch of road is known as the Buttes to Bridges Byway

    Extending from east of Valentine (junction of Highways 83 & 20) to the Wyoming border, the Bridges to Buttes Byway journeys through diverse topography and distinctive landscapes. From rolling Sandhills through the Pine Ridge and the Nebraska National Forest onto plateaus from which you can see the Black Hills and into neighboring states, you will experience the sites, solitude and vastness that early travelers and settlers felt as they first saw this region.
    That description and the photos accompanying it are compelling! So now I am looking forward to some more detailed planning, focusing on the logistics of this proposed adventure. And as I always do when I start a new project, I opened MS Excel. I copied table data from into Excel. I added rows for the towns west of Valentine. Then I used Google Maps to plot the distances between those towns. I noticed that if I selected the bicycle mode of travel in Google Maps, the elevation was provided--so I recorded elevations at all 31 towns on the trail between and including Chadron and Norfolk. The results are in the table below.

    Table of Mileage and Elevation for Eastbound

    There is still much more to do! I'd like to get locations and descriptions of the 221 bridges along the Cowboy Trail. I'd also like to catalog the other points of interest along the way. For example, I know that there are archaeological sites, Army outposts, pioneer homesteads, Native American sites, and of course old towns that dotted the prairie in the railroad's heyday.

    This will be a grand adventure! More to follow!

    Sunday, October 9, 2016

    Finisher! Army 10-Miler 2016

    The Army Ten-Miler (ATM) is an annual event hosted by the Association of the United Stated Army (AUSA) in conjunction with that organization's yearly symposium and exposition. Organizers say the race is the third largest ten-mile race in the world but it's certainly the largest race I've ever participated in. The field of 35,000 included at least one runner from every American state. 

    I love the ATM. I always see people I know, the entrance fee supports military charities, the statue- and monument- and museum-lined route is inspiring, the event attracts world-class competition, and the after-party is a blast. 

    Officially, this was my 8th year participating in the big race. If we count 2001 when I ran a shadow event because the main race was cancelled due to post-9/11 security concerns, then this was my 9th ATM. Either way, with all that experience, I certainly ought to know better than to do what I did this year....  

    For a variety of reasons, this was my slowest outing--by far. In fact, I was plodding along, listening to TED Talks, when I noticed a man with a stop watch and a clip board writing down my bib number. I thought that was odd, so I removed my earbuds and looked around. Someone else was sliding a barrier across the route right behind me. Turns out I was the last person allowed to remain on the course, and everyone behind me was diverted to a shortcut route back to the Pentagon. 

    I knew I was moving slowly. My pre-race exercise and diet had not been optimal and I was suffering the effects of those choices. I could feel the blisters on my feet--confirmed when I got home, removed my shoes, and saw my bloody socks. To avoid getting shin splints, I was exaggerating my ankle rotations and pausing frequently to stretch and flex my ankles and calves. At one point I had to wait in line for a porta-john. So yes, I was aware that I was way off my target pace, but I had no idea that I was so close to the maximum allowable pace of 15 minutes per mile. I crossed the 5-mile mark blissfully oblivious to the fact that I was just about to barely pass the pace count cut-off!  

    Seeing that barrier slide behind me at the pace check point bolted me into a heightened sense of awareness. Naturally, I had to pick up the pace for the remainder of the race, because the course closes at 11:30. or 2.5 hours after the last  heat starts at 9 AM. The only thing worse than getting shin splints and blisters is getting shin splints and blisters and having nothing to show for it! I did manage to complete the second half faster than the first half of the race, and I lived to tell the tale! 

    For me, "running" ten miles is a matter of falling slightly forward and just barely catching myself, 20,000 times. Having run the darn ATM a time or two, I certainly knew how to train and prepare--yet this year I seem to have relied on luck. Luck alone got me past the pace-count check-point with seconds to spare. I saved all my brilliance and wisdom for a little poem, which I have titled, "But If You Do." I composed most of it in my head as a distraction from the burning sensation in my feet, ankles, and shins. 

    But if you do...

    Don't get old, but if you do
    Don't slide yourself out of shape, but if you do
    Don't sign up for the Army Ten-Miler, but if you do
    Don't wait too late to train.

    But if you do, don't train all at once
    But if you do, don't give yourself blisters
    But if you do, don't rely on Epsom salts,
    But if you do, remember

    Only starters finish
    Only movers blister or chafe
    Only those who risk falling advance and
    Only the lucky get old

    Links to previous post-run photos:
    2012 did not run and I don't know why not
    2013 ran, but did not take a photo and I don't know why not
    2015 ran, but did not take a photo and I don't know why not

    And, for a post containing my ATM shirt collection, n = 10 (including the shirt we made for the 2001 shadow run fund-raiser for the ODCSPER Family Support Group), see HERE.