Falling on leaves

Mountain top view at Jones Valley

There are places, times of the year, events, activities, family, friends, and a limitless array of life influences that can put a smile on your face. When all of those converge at a point in time a person knows that all is well with the world for the moment regardless of what else may happen. Continue reading “Falling on leaves”

Bikes, hikes and fishing

After the “full body workout” from the mountain-biking on Saturday, bro-in-law Bill and I decided a stroll in the woods would be a nice outing. We strategically picked the Little Missouri Trail because it had been one of the candidates for mountain-biking that had been passed up in favor of the Lake Ouachita Vistas Trail.

The Little Missouri River at the Albert Pike Recreation Area
Example of flood damage at Albert Pike

We had gone the previous day to the Albert Pike Recreation Area, the site of the devastatng flood on June 11, 2010. Our hike would be on the trail from the Little Missouri Falls to Albert Pike. That trek gave us a good understanding of how devastating the flood damage was, and why so many people were unable to escape the torrent of water that washed down the canyon in the wee hours of that morning.

High water mark
High water on the bulletin board

The photograph on the left is of a U.S. Geologic Survey high water mark on a sign post in the parking lot. The photo on the right is a high water placard on the bulletin board in the same lot.

Just 50 yards away is another parking lot overlooking the river in a way

River view

that allowed getting a perspective of how high the rise of the water really was. In this photo, the camera is being held level, even with the high-water placard, looking straight across the river.

I’m guessing it’s at least a 25 foot rise. The area across the river in this shot is typical of where people were camped and you can see how they would have been under many feet of water.

On Sunday we drove to the Little Missouri Falls to hike a small portion of a trail that is over 20 miles in total length. The trail in this section goes 6.3 miles to Albert Pike. Interestingly, by road it is eight miles. This section of the trail begins at the overlook at the Falls. It follows the river through the pine and hardwood forest that populates the river canyon.

That's Bill at the start of the Little Missouri Trail -- this view is typical of the trail environment.
Typical view of the river in this section.

We had a round trip planned because we had not dropped a car at the other end. So it would be about a three mile hike, or 12.6 if we did the full length and back. Hiking with a day pack (with 2 liters of water) a 3 mph average is the best pace likely for us old geezers. We decided to strike out and see how it went. We were in no hurry and wanted time to take pictures and soak up the delicious ambiance of the forest.

The trail occasionally opens up to allow a peek at the adjacent mountains that tower over the river canyon. In spite of the appearance of lush green, the area is actually as dry as we’ve been in Central Texas. Along the way we talked to a group of three young guys who were on their third day of hiking and who would finish that afternoon by completing the entire trail combined with two other trails for a total of about 26 miles. One of them had hiked in Colorado, Idaho and Alaska and said the upper section had 70 degree climbs and was harder than anything he had encountered before.

A gulley to the river
Boulders at one of the crossings

The photo at left doesn’t adequately demonstrate it, but it’s a steep drop to the river and indicative of some of the ups and downs of the trail. It also crosses the river at several places such as what you see at the right with giant boulders enabling a dry crossing. Dry if you don’t stumble, that is! Here is another example of the trail rising well above the river.

Gil on the trail well above the river

We stopped at about 3 miles, had lunch, and started back. Of course, it was generally uphill at that point since we were then traveling upstream. Back at the Falls parking area, we were treated with one of the more interesting ATVers. They come to the Little Missouri Falls parking area to rendezvous and recuperate.

We’ve challenged ourselves to do the full trail one day. That’s going to require a lot of additional conditioning and equipping. We’ll see.

And what does all of this have to do with fishing?  On Monday afternoon cousin Larry and I headed down to the Caddo River to see about finding some bass. We were determined to use plastic worms which I’ve used in Central Texas lakes a lot, but which we had not used in the Caddo. On about my 5th cast, which was just a little wrist flick near a downed tree which lay on top of a pile of limbs in about two feet of water, my green Wave worm was viciously attacked by a really (really!) nice “Brownie” bass that I’m guessing would weigh four pounds and was about 22 inches long. That’s a bass that’s built like a largemouth black bass but without the black stripe.  And would you know?  Me, the consummate photographer, without a camera. We were wading and I had been afraid of slipping and drowning my camera!  But Larry was there so at least I have a witness.  Larry has fished that river all his life and declared that to be the biggest fish he had ever seen taken from that river. That big dude is back in the river to be caught another day.

Adventure meets ability

I’ve always been adventuresome in spirit but rarely acted on it except in spurts. As a young boy I think I had the typical fantasies ranging from being a swash-buckling pirate to a “spaceman” (yes, that was before the term “astronaut” was coined), to a fireman and so on. Having originally been an electrical engineering major in college and later getting my degree in accounting, I was immersed in the more “stoic” part of our population.

Times gradually bent me toward outdoor interests more and more. While in the Navy another young officer and I took USO-supplied bicycles (3-speed touring bikes with fat tires) from Sasebo, Japan to the resort city of Karatsu. Upon embarking, we had no clue that there were seven mountains in between! Adventure met ability head-on that day, but that’s another story in itself.

The years from then to the current period have seen backpacking, running, motorcycle enduros, water and snow-skiing, instrument flying, long-distance motorcycle touring and camping, kayaking and more.

Having recently gotten serious about running and recently rediscovering the joy of cycling, it seemed an obvious transition to get my mountain bike (a classic, Trek 850 Antelope) fixed up and so when I headed to Arkansas to the Ouachita Mountains, taking the mountain bike was a no-brainer. After a brief warm-up the day before, Bill and I set out to explore the Lake Ouachita Vistas Trail which follows the shoreline of Lake Ouachita in Southwestern Arkansas, and promised not only a great outdoors experience but a “doable” mountain bike experience for a couple of novices.

The overview chart shows Denby Bay (trailhead P1B) to Tompkins Bend (trailhead P3) to be a mere 5 miles. Why we had ridden 4 miles just the day before so we would no doubt simply ride that portion, then on around the loop, meandering at will, for as many miles as we felt like. Cooler and more cautious heads did prevail and we dropped a car at the Homestead trailhead as a midpoint location which would be handy AFTER the extended loop we planned.

The trail started off with a gradual climb from the cove of Lake Ouachita and was quickly enveloped in a lush forest of pines and hardwoods. The trail was generally smooth with a few small rocks peeking above the leafy floor of the forest. There was little underbrush that might otherwise have been grazing our legs.

Gil at an overlook at Lake Ouachita

There were some nice vistas like this point overlooking the lake. There were several of these side trails that take the rider out near the lake. Lake Ouachita is quite large with a shoreline covered in the green of the forest, yielding only slightly to give a beach shoreline.

Then the trail began to dip a bit and then some gentle climbs appeared. This is great, I thought, and just knew Bill too was feeling like the 5 miles to Tompkins Bend would be largely uneventful.  Suddenly, without much time to think about it we were plunged into a gulley and pedaling up the other side I was surprised by how much effort it required. Oh, right, gears. Wrong gear. OK, next one would be a piece of cake. Down another — this time more of a ravine — with some speed and momentum to carry me at least part way up the other side. Pedaling again now, rapidly. Quite rapidly. Nothing happening as I’m too fast for the granny gear into which I had shifted. But not to worry as the momentum died off and my speed dropped, now my pedaling was very much needed — and moderately effective. Up the hill and back on more level terrain I was sure that I had now conquered mountain-biking (MTB). At least MTB101.

As the morning progressed we discovered faster downhill runs that were frankly a little scary and led me to test out the brakes. Now I know why the modern MTBs have disc brakes! The little calipers squeezing the wheel rim work, sort of.  And just as Newton’s Second Law says that what goes up must come down, we now have Bill’s First Law is that what goes down has to get back up again. Indeed it does!

There were downhills requiring a slight dodging of trees.  There were bridges to cross some of the creeks — bridges about 6 inches wide!  Well, they were about 3 feet wide but seemed unnecessarily narrow. Then there were the climbs that began (often immediately beyond one of those skinny bridges) with a quick 90 degree turn and loose rock coming up the hill. “Walk the bike” became a necessity in some spots when either the energy just wasn’t there, or traction was lost with a spinning rear wheel. It seems that technique is important as well as brute force.

It was becoming quite an adventure and we were doing our best to match some ability to it. Now keep in mind that I’ve been able to do 4 mile runs and just last weekend rode the Peugeot for 32 miles. For a 66 year old dude I think I’ve gotten into pretty darn good shape. But these ravines were beginning to look like the Grand Canyon and the climbs out of them were running my heart rate up to 155 or so. And I was getting winded. Really winded.

This trail was built with a lot of volunteer labor and donations for, among other things, benches placed strategically along the path.  It was amazing to me how those folks whom I don’t even know had divined the exact spots where the choice was between sitting down or falling down! Truly amazing.  We would rest a bit, sip some water, and strike out again.

I was getting discouraged with the slow progress we were making because the GPS on the handlebar kept reminding me of where we were, and were not. It was becoming indelibly clear that a 10 mile ride would not happen today.  At some point, without even discussing it Bill and I formulated different plans for the vehicle parked at the Homestead trailhead.

Bill gearing down at the Homestead trailhead

It would not be the end-point after the extended loop but would be the “save us from our folly” rescue point.

Adventure had met ability, and adventure won!

It was, nevertheless, a good adventure and an instructive one. I now knew, just as I had learned that bicycling muscle groups were somewhat different from running muscle groups, that mountain-biking called on some yet additional parts of the body.  We had made about 3 miles of the planned minimum of 5, and have vowed to learn how to do this better. One day, ability will yet overcome the adventure!

(as of the initial writing, there are photos and a video on Bill’s camera not yet available to me and this article will be updated later)