Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"I just had to hug her."

Billiards and Games
Originally uploaded by shubener
It's the Haywood Rd. Ingles on Tuesday night, where I stopped to replace my sour milk and replenish my supply of noodles for workday lunches. I like that Ingles, though it does have its shortcomings. I love the wide variety of people I see there. I guess it is just the diversity of the neighborhood the Ingles and I live in. There's mostly White, Black, and Latino shoppers, with all ages and economic levels represented. Every visit seems to be a slightly different clientele. One visit, it was every-single-woman-was-some-variety-of-hot night. There were the skinny young upscale fashionistas with their tight fitted skirts, high heels, and groovy glasses. And the punk torn jeans tats and piercings, with similar boyfriend attached at hip women. And the case of beer toting, untorn jeans and t-shirt women of various persuasions. Above you can see this Ingles in the background of this nice nighttime photo by Asheville photographer Scott Lessing.

Tonight it was pretty quiet, maybe because I got there earlier than usual. I was making my usual path through the store, picking up the staples. I was behind a quite older woman with nice lime sherbert colored pants. She was severely hunched over, from orthopedic challenges I imagine. She was moving slowly and in the middle of the aisle, so I got mildly frustrated a couple times. I got around her and went on my way, but somehow was behind her again in the baking aisle, which was more crowded. She stopped with her cart in the middle of the aisle and was reaching over toward the shelves when a woman came with her cart from the other direction. I was thinking it was kind of like stopping your car in the middle of the road when you got to your friend's house, getting out, and going to visit for a while. When green pants lady saw the other woman coming, she backed up to make room. But the other woman, who was handsome and appeared to be maybe 50 years old; as she approached, she left her cart behind and came toward us. She looked emotional. Part happy, part sad, part excited. Her arms were up in an almost hug position. She stopped directly in front of the woman and looked at her. The woman looked back, and I thought I was seeing a one-way recognition of an old friend. I expected to hear, "I'm so-and-so, from blah-blah-blah." But no. The younger woman was tentatively moving toward hugging the older and then retreating. Finally she said, "can I hug you, you look so much like my grandma." I was stunned and didn't watch the hug. I wish I had. I saw the disengagement, and the younger woman was crying tears and had that same look of part happy, part sad, part excited. She said, "thank you so much," and something again about her grandma. Green pants lady was not as hunched over now as the younger woman made her way past me and responded, "that did me as much good as you." I was now starting to move past her and getting pretty emotional myself. The older woman was smiling and said, "wasn't that sweet?" I said it was sweet, and she completed the encounter with, "you meet such sweet people."

Well yes you do meet sweet people, and this was a good reminder to me of that fact. My head swirled with thoughts of what the lives of these two women were like. The older, obviously having some health challenges, yet so positive and open to this unexpected encounter in the Ingles. Good for her. The younger, missing her grandma and seizing a moment to revisit her in some way. Good for her. And me being collateral damage in this random moment of connection.

I ran into the younger woman again in the toilet paper aisle and she was still teary and talking to some people she was shopping with. "The woman down there, she looked so much like grandma. Did you see her? Yes, 2 aisles down." Her shopping partners seemed confused or embarrassed. "I just had to hug her," she said.

So I completed my shopping on autopilot with much eye blinking, throat clearing, and thoughts of my place in life. I'm just lucky this happened after the cereal aisle, where difficult decisions have to be made.

One of my favorite blogs to read, The Hangover Journals, also occasionally deals with this Ingles, and here are some of those posts.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Young Lovers Loving the Rothkos

I was enjoying the Rothkos when I saw this young couple at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. I suppose I took it for granted when I lived an hour or so from there, but I now think the East Wing of the National Gallery is quite a special place with a significant collection of some of my favorite art.

Mark Rothko is a name that rolls off my tongue when I think of my all time favorite painters. And here I will ramble a bit about him. His paintings feel like atmospheres to me. Really, they just feel like feelings to me. I find their simplicity so powerful. I don't really think they are about feelings, though some would argue about that. I think they're about nothing and consider them non-representational where the arguers would call them abstract. I think he painted them about nothing, or just about themselves, and I project the idea of an atmosphere or a feeling onto them. And I think good art has a lot to do with that.

I was excited to find a show there at the National Gallery about some of his commissioned mural work. What I liked were some "studies" for the murals that showed a little insight into how he worked. The studies were sort of "sketches" testing out ideas for the murlas. These "sketches" were actually large paintings, bigger than the ones in this photo. But I don't really care for his mural work as much as his paintings meant to stand on their own. I made a pilgrimidge to the Rothko Chapel in Houston about 10 years ago, and was underwhelmed there too. It was nice to see the paintings so dominant in an environment designed for them, but the work itself just didn't inspire me. Maybe I should go back to Houston and look again.

The young lovers came through the nice room where I was relaxing and enjoying the Rothkos. They seemed to have a serious appreciation of the Rothkos that surprised me given their young age. I think they were puberty-cusp-riders.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Twelve Mile Road, the day after...

The day of Twelve Mile Road was a very exciting one in many respects. In addition to the "TMR" adventure, there was a bear, and a stand of virgin hemlocks, waterfalls, campfire cooking (interrupted by thunderstorm), intense rainbow, nice bike riding. All of that will come in future posts. Now we need to do a little follow up on the effects of the off road adventure on TMR.

The next day, I got up and took a nice shower and got going in the morning. First odd thing I notice while driving is that the shudder under braking had increased. I have mildly warped front brake rotors and that's the symptom. Brain goes into gear, what has changed that could cause that? A few miles later I hear a big bang like I ran over a stick and it hit the bottom of the van. I look in the rear view mirror to see if I can see a stick or a part that has fallen off the van. Nothing. Hmmm. More thinking. I implement a few mild test swerves. Hmmm. I decided to actually pull off and see if there is something serious wrong. Look at the right front wheel area and immediately notice the top of the shock absorber is missing. Yeah, that could cause a bang, and the increased shudder under braking. I grab one part that is still bouncing around in there and keep it for later. I grab and shake and kick the wheels to make sure nothing else is broken.

I drive on and confirm I have no shock absorbing on the right front wheel. I start taking turns to the left slower, since they load that wheel and I don't want to crash. I also started using a cruise speed of 55 instead of 60 because there was a vibration that started above 55. West Virginia has a lot of curves on its roads. Seriously. A LOT. They are labeled with signs advising how fast you can safely go around the curve. These signs are remarkably accurate and uniform. I developed a correction factor for how much you could safely add to the advisory speed. In the Vanagon, I came up with about +12mph, and this is assuming good sight lines. I hate coming around a curve to a surprise, and the van needs more room to deal with surprises, so I couldn't always add 12mph. I first discovered this phenomena back in the early 80's when I often drove across WV on US 50 to visit my GF Anne McQuary who was going to school in Ohio. That was in my '76 VW Scirocco, a much better handling car than the Vanagon. That car was +20mph, with less regard to sight lines.

Anyway, I stopped at a DIY car wash in Elkins and gave the underneath a good cleaning, and checked the suspension better to make sure there was no other damage. When I got home and started working on the shock absorber I was surprised to find it was completely intact and not even damaged. It appeared that the nut holding the top of it just came off. (Click the photo on the right to see the exploded view of the suspension if you want to follow along.) On further inspection, I found a few pieces missing. A metal spacer and a rubber bump stop. Both of these were in a place that they would have to slide off the top of the shaft of the shock, and it would have been hard for them to do that. The metal spacer is under compression when the missing nut was tightened. My theory is that during the bouncing and severe suspension travel on TMR, this spacer fell apart or got crushed. This took the tension off the nut and it just backed off and went bye-bye. Then the top of the shock fell down into the spring and sat there. I had spare parts from another van, swapped them in and now it's fine again.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Twelve Mile Road

One of the most exciting times of the Summer 2007 Vanagon trip was when I went down Twelve Mile Road. This proved to be an unwise choice. I love to drive on backroads as much as possible. I use a GPS navigation system to aid me in this preference. I tell it to find the shortest route and it does that, which almost always uses the smaller roads. Then it guides me so that I don't have to constantly look for the next turn, and read a map. I can enjoy the scenery and driving and know it will tell me when it's time to turn. It has a setting to avoid unpaved roads, and I usually leave that turned off because I don't mind unpaved roads. As long as they're actually roads.

I was toodling along enjoying the scenery, like you see above. It was a beautiful crisp summer day in northern West Virginia, with sun but not too hot. I continued from Snake Rd onto Twelve Mile Rd. at a place called Sell, and I think this photo is near that place. If you are that interested, you can click the little map below and see what it looks like. The road was quite good and smooth and level, with nice fresh looking gravel on it. One could actually go pretty fast on the open sections where there were no blind curves. Fast meaning about 30-35mph in the Vanagon on gravel. A few miles down the road, a few driveways turned off, with "Private" signs on them, and the nice fresh gravel disappeared as the road went into pretty deep woods.

There's kind of what it looked like in there. (This is about at point #1 on the map below.) The road was pretty straight, following a small stream, and descending with it through the woods. Also you see in this picture the first obstacle I came to: The Sippy Hole. At this point I figured, I was just going to turn around and get out of there. I got out to take this photo and got a stick and probed the big puddle, and found it to be very firm on the bottom and not very deep. So I figured what the heck and went on. No problem with the sippy hole, and the road continued descending. I made note of places where I could turn around as I passed them. The GPS showed it was not far to where this road started having other roads branch off of it. I knew that it would probably be in the worst condition where it was used the least, I would pass that point, then it would get better, and I'd be out the other side.

Then I made a few decisions about continuing that were not so smart. Stupid really. I went past some things I was pretty sure I would not be able to go back up. A steep rocky down hill section was one. At one point the little stream was basically running down the "road" I was driving on. Here's the story on the Vanagon's off road abilities from my experiences. They can be really bad to lose traction and get stuck. I've gotten stuck on wet grass several times on hills that weren't really very steep at all. The good things about taking the Vanagon off road are that they have quite a sturdy suspension capable of withstanding abuse. And they have good ground clearance and short ramp angles front and rear. This means they can go over tall things without those things hitting the bottom of the van and making it stop.

So that wet section with the stream running down the road seemed like I'd never be able to do that uphill. Here's another section where a small tree was down and I think just out of view in the foreground was the broken culvert pipe I drove over. I also got out here and moved a big branch off the "road" so that I could manoeuvre over that small tree in the easiest way possible. The thing that made me decide to keep going was that I had passed these obstacles I wouldn't be able to go back up or over, and the fact that I knew I was close to where the conditions would improve.

It got worse. There were stumps in the "road" soon. There were big holes and mounds where other vehicles had been stuck and dug out or spun their tires. The terrain got flatter, and soon it was just impossible to manoeuvre the van around the trees that were increasingly *in* the "road." There had been a fork in the road a ways back that I think was actually Twelve Mile Road, but involved a stream crossing that was really hairy looking.

I had been thinking about how I would get my stupid ass out of there. I had cell phone, I had my bike and could easily ride out a couple miles. I came to a stop and got out when it was clear I could go no further. I was quite anxious. Excess adrenaline pumping made me feel like I had drank a java chiller or 2. I walked ahead about 100 yards and found the place where the road was nice and level and gravel. I couldn't get to it though. I was at about point #2 on the map below.

So I took my anxiety and excess adrenaline and decided to at least try to get out of there. I scouted a place to turn around 20 yards back the way I came. It was difficult. I couldn't see where the rear wheels were and they would hit a rock or stump and stop moving. Trees were close on both sides which prevented easy jockeying to the sides to clear those rocks and stumps. The ground here was softer and more soil and vegetation. I got the spinning tires thing going a few times and had to use momentum to overcome the slick spots. A big branch threatened to rip off my newish side view mirror. But I got the thing turned around. Going forward is much better for traction in the van because the weight transfers rearward when you accelerate giving more traction and less spinning tires. I started back up the "road" thinking to stay calm and keep the momentum up. It turns out the "road" was pretty rocky, and it was a sandstone that had a lot of friction. Even the wet parts were not very slippery. That tree across the road presented a challenge though. The uphill approach to it made it a much larger "step" from the level of the road. First try, the right tire hopped over it, but the left one hit it and the whole van slid to the left as the tire slid along it. No trouble backing up off of it. I got out and built a little stairway of rocks for the left wheel to get over it. 2nd try and it was just up and over. The right wheel took quite a bounce there though {foreshadowing}. After that it was surprisingly easy. The steep part came and went with little trouble as the sandstone rocks provided a lot of grip for the tires. When I got to the Sippy Hole I couldn't believe it. I was out of there. I was really surprised that I made it.

I learned a lesson on Twelve Mile Road and got that lesson cheap compared to what it could have been. There I am kissing the beleaguered rear wheel, who so gallantly propelled me out of harm's way.

Here's the Map of Twelve Mile Road if you want to mark it off of your route.