Friday, September 21, 2007

French Creek Photos

I don't think these photos really do the canyon justice. It was difficult to photograph everything because the trail was narrow and I could never step back far enough to capture everything.

The first of many crossings of the creek.

French Creek.

Rocks rising out of the canyon.

It's supposed to be a natural area, but there's obviously been some development. Somewhere along French Creek is where gold was first discovered in the Hills, bringing in a rush of prospectors.

The leaves are beginning to turn.

The canyon went up pretty high on both sides.

The creek near where I camped.

My cocoon.

I climbed this in the morning to get warm (not the sheer part, obviously).

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Vision Quest

This weekend I headed out on a camping trip, solo for a change. I also had no tent, no sleeping bag, no map, no compass, and no flashlight, in a wilderness area with no marked trails. Although I had reasonable facsimiles of the most essential of those items, and the rest I was just dumb and forgot. And the trail, though unmarked, was pretty easy to follow. Because I didn't have much to do, I got some writing done, including this entry. So I'm presenting it here with minimal editing, along with some commentary about things I forgot.

Anyone who knows me knows that weekends are my salvation. On Wednesday night, I was playing the TFA Game (created by Jenny and Shannon)--basically I had to chose my favorite TFA concept out of a list. Unsurprisingly, my choice was W-3, the row on our all-important rubric that encourages "work-life balance." Of all the things TFA asks me to do, this is what I'm best at. I enjoy my weekends and my friends.

Which is why it was slightly unusual of me to head off on my own this weekend. Last weekend, I had a mild urge to head off on a miniature vision quest, venturing out into the wild uncharacteristically alone. Over the course of the week, that idea slipped y mind. But I still felt the need to do something new and refreshing: at this point last year I was roadtripping all over mid-America, and I felt as this year was starting out with a rut of the same old bars and Rez towns. So when I was unable to find anyone to adventure with me, I adventured alone.

I decided to head to French Creek Natural Area in Custer State Park. Ryan ha mentioned it last year--he wanted to go in the winter and build all kinds of elaborate snow shelters--and it seemed perfect. The Black Hills are always spiritually refreshing, but Custer often seems to loud and busy--motorcyclists cruise the park roads, families descend on the campgrounds for long weekends, and everyone sits around drinking beer. French Creek, in contrast, is entirely solitary. I hiked for three hours along a single-track trail, winding back and forth across the creek, and saw no one (I crossed the creek about 10 times. You will get wet, the signs warned. And I did once, but barely [I got wet 3 times on the hike back out. Shows me.]). The creek winds through a canyon, with rock cliffs rising up out of the water. I used my new digital camera that I won at a parent-staff restructuring meeting on Friday to take pictures, but I am afraid they're marred by its low quality. [They're not too bad. Hopefully I will get them up soon.]

I was nervous while driving to the park. Being alone doesn't always come easy for me. But while hiking, I was ecstatic. I reflected. I wrote. I settled down in a small clearing and unfurled my gear, and enjoyed a supper of three PB&J sandwiches and one Goose Island Oatmeal Stout beer.

For the purposes of this adventure, I decided to use an old one-man sleep sack that my dad gave me. It's not quite a tent, just a sack that goes around your sleeping bag. He says that he finds it claustrophobic. It's doubtful that it's been used--or washed--since about 1970. To supplement this, I had to, as I often do, borrow from Luke's extensive collection of camping gear. He gave me permission to do this once, and I've done it since then without really asking. I see it as a fair exchange: I've given him dibs on the garage and the big bedroom, so it's only fair I borrow his gear--and, I'll admit, eat his food--once in a while. As a bit of karmic payback, though, it seems that this weekend I grabbed a fleece sleeping bag liner instead of an actual bag. It was only supposed to get down into the 50s, but it was probably a little colder in the canyon. So it was a cold night.

[Around here it was starting to get pretty dark--almost too dark to write. Some owls were coming out and screeching. It sounded pretty close. Then I looked up and saw an owl perched on a stump, staring down on my campsite, screeching at me. Then it flew to another branch. Closer. Then it flew to another branch, even closer, still staring at me and screeching. I'm really a city boy at heart--this summer I was scared off a campsite by raccoons--so this was not a good sign. But when I stood up it flew away. I heard it screech a few more times but it didn't bother me again. Either way, I was pretty spooked by that, and probably a little loopy from being alone all day, so I ended my entry with this stream-of-consciousness list:]

Things I should have brought on this trip but did not:
A pocket knife (to spread my PB&Js)
A compass (I walked the wrong way for a bit at the beginning of the trail, where I hit a fork)
My Black Hills map (see previous)
A sleeping bag (see above)
A flashlight (it is now 7:35 and I have nothing to do but go to sleep, as it is quickly becoming too dark to read, write, or walk. At the very least I should have saved my Oatmeal Stout and savored that in the darkness for awhile before bed.)

At this point I did have to prepare for bed because I couldn't see a thing. I watched the stars come out for probably an hour and a half--something I've never really done before--and then drifted off into a rather restless sleep. I woke along throughout the night and had to curl myself into a ball to keep warm in the fleece liner, but it really wasn't too bad. Also just before drifting off I was freaked out by what sounded like small rodents scurrying their way into my pack to steal my food. At least there are no bears in the Black Hills (that I know of at least). Obviously, I survived. When I got up in the morning I was shivering pretty bad, though, so I climbed to the top of the cliff on the other side of the creek to get my blood pumping a little bit.
Out of Gas, Out of Road

On Friday night I was heading over to Kyle. After going for a run, watching an episode of Newport Harbor, and then calling home to wish my dad a Happy Birthday, I was already a good hour and a half behind the scheduled start of the grilling that was supposed to be going on, and Wes had already called me once to say that my burger was on hold and rapidly cooling off.

A couple miles after I left Wanblee, a white car went whizzing by me in the passing lane. Then about 10 miles outside of Kyle, I see a white car ahead of me again. It slows down, then stops in the middle of the road. I slow down to see what is going on (and not run into the car). The car shifts into reverse, but doesn't go anywhere. I'm now at a complete stop, but since no one is coming, I signal, go around the car, and head on.

As soon as I'm passed the car I start to feel bad. The car was, as they say, pretty "rezzed out": the windshield was shattered, the car was rusty; basically it wouldn't be legal to drive anywhere that those kinds of laws were really enforced. A lot could be wrong with the car. I always feel bad when I drive by hitchhikers out in the middle of nowhere, but not bad enough to actually stop. But helping out a stranded car seemed more reasonable. So I turned around, pulled up to the car (which was still sitting exactly where I had passed it) and asked the driver if everything was okay. He said that they seemed to have run out of gas. I told him I could call the gas station, but unfortunately I didn't have any gas on me. "What about the gas in your car?" he asked.

I didn't have a siphon. He did, though--two, actually. I guess it pays to be prepared. I pulled over and we spent a good 15 minutes trying to siphon the gas out of my tank. Unfortunately (at least in this circumstance), my tank seems pretty siphon-proof.

What was best about the whole situation was that the guy seemed entirely unfazed by anything. He just kind of giggled about the whole thing. When it became apparent that we would not be getting gas out of my car, he just shrugged and said that someone else would drive by before too long. So I went on to Kyle. (I didn't come back the same way, so I guess he could still be stranded out there).

Monday, September 10, 2007

Billy Mills

On Thursday during a staff meeting, our principal said that Billy Mills would be coming to present at school today. I must have reacted somehow, because he asked if that was a good thing. I said it was.

For those of you who don't know, Mills is one of the legends of U.S. distance running. In 1964, he became the first American to win an Olympic gold in the 10,000m--and he remains the only American to do so this day. Entering the race, Mills was an also-ran; his best time was nearly a minute off Australian Ron Clarke's world record, and he hadn't even won the U.S. Olympic trials. Stil, he ran with the leaders through the first 3 miles of the race, running just slower than his best-ever time at the distance--with more than 3 miles yet to run. With a lap left, only Mills, Clarke, and Tunisian Mohammed Gammoudi remained in contention. Clarke pushed Mills, and he fell off the pace, nearly defeated. But then he spied an opening, opened up his kick, and made it by Gammoudi and Clarke in one of the most thrilling last laps in Olympic history.

Mills was also born in Porcupine, South Dakota--about fifty miles from here. He is Oglala Lakota and an orphan--like many of my students. One of the stories he told was of a summer off from high school--he attended Haskell Institute, an Indian school in Kansas--when he was working for 12 hours a day building grain silos in Valentine, Nebraska, living in a junked car, and bathing in a creek--and running for an hour every day. It was already his goal to win the Olympics. I hoped that as someone who shared their background, and has since gone on to not only win the Olympics, but also raise over $5 million for the reservation, he would be someone my students would be attentive towards. Unfortunately, they weren't.

I brought my copy of "Running Brave"--the movie about Mills's life--with me to school to have him sign it. I was standing around just before the assembly was supposed to start, wondering where he was. Someone asked, "What have you got there?," and I looked up, and there he was. He signed the DVD and then we chatted for a couple minutes about last month's World Championships, the difficulties in fielding a cross country team at the school, and Mills's current life in California. He is going to be seventy at the end of the school year, but he hardly looks older than fifty. I was even going to get to read the bio before his talk, but then the principal did it instead.

At one point during the presentation, Mills talked about meeting Scottie Pippen and other members of the Dream Team during the 1992 Olympics. Noah leaned over and asked what I thought it might be like to meet the Dream Team. I said that for me it would be kind of like meeting Billy Mills.