A Do-It-Yourself Perineum Relief Saddle: The TLRCP/PRS MkIV “Panzer”

About a year ago, The Logging Road Cyclist sustained serious damage to what he thinks is his pudendal nerve. While months of visits to various specialists failed to produce any definitive diagnosis, the fact of pain in the perineum, or colloquially the “taint”, remained. The damage happened while climbing up the steep Skillings side of McCulloch Peak, a road TLRC had ridden dozens of times before. Same ride, same bike, same seat. He had slid forward on the seat to keep the front wheel weighted as he had many times before.  This time, however, at the top, he felt an odd pair of filament-like things down there, like tendons or something, and that was all she wrote.

Three months later, he was able to walk without causing pain in the affected area. Another month or so and after lot of seat modifications he could paddle his kayak and ride his recumbent a bit. TLRC had pretty much given up on ever riding his upright bikes again.

By the Fall, TLRC was experimenting with taking his Gold Rush recumbent out  on the logging roads. With touring tires and fenders, he rode up McCulloch a couple of times. It took a lot of effort. He rode up Old Peak Road to the parking area at the North Ridge Trail and down Woods Cr. Rd. This was all encouraging, so he tried Prairie Mtn. This was not. About 5 miles up, a shooting pain in his right knee convinced TLRC that perhaps this superbly designed road machine was less than optimal for really steep logging roads and another debilitating injury lay ready to pounce should he persist.

Pudendal nerve injuries are a nightmare for the devoted cyclist. They are long-lasting, potentially career ending, and difficult to treat. As the Gnat put it, one of those things that might be the one that stops you. Based on TLRC’s experience, one must learn patience, Grasshopper, and try not to give up hope, find ways to adapt. Perhaps it is better not to identify one’s self totally with one’s pastime, e.g. not naming one’s self after it. On the other hand, since age will take it all away eventually, one might view it as a required “life experience”…

After this year of stoic suffering off of his bikes, TLRC felt healed enough to dip his toe into the water and try out some saddles designed to prevent or alleviate injuries like his.

That pudenal or perineal injuries are not uncommon is borne out by the number of bicycle saddles that purport to alleviate or prevent them.  There seem to be three main types:

Relief Channels. Typified by the Selle Italia Max Flow the large family of Selle SMP saddles, and any number of offerings from other manufacturers, these use a cutout or trench running for some length along the saddle or its nose to relieve pressure. TLRC tried a number of these, and while they might have helped prevent his problem, he is damaged enough that they didn’t feel safe for him.

“Noseless” Saddles. Adamo makes an array of saddles considered noseless, but they do not seem noseless to TLRC. A lot of people seem to like these saddles, especially the tri community, but TLRC could never figure out how to hang himself on one of these. Bi-Saddle makes an intriguing product that is not quite noseless, but is highly adjustable and has potential. The only truly noseless saddle that TLRC spent any time on is the Spongy Wonder. This saddle truly has no pressure in the perineum, is built to be used seriously (unlike some of the other “bench” type saddles that are meant for comfort or city bikes), and in spite of the whining one will encounter on various forums about how one can’t control a bike without a nose on the saddle, it is quite possible to ride the Spongy Wonder over pretty rough terrain. TLRC thought he had found his solution, but he was unable to get the Spongy Wonder adjusted so that it did not impinge on his sciatic nerve, which was quickly leading to additional problems he didn’t want.

“Rear Lift” Saddles. Versions made by Rido and SQ-Lab reduce perineal pressure by raising the rear part of the saddle where the sitbones go so that the nose of the saddle doesn’t press into the soft parts so much. These are a great idea, and the SQ-Lab saddle that TLRC tried was especially comfortable, but none of them quite did it for TLRC. To much padding on the nose, an arch in the forward part of the nose and not enough padding at the rear made them just not quite work.

Finally, TLRC just decided that his One Goal for the summer would be to make a saddle that he could ride. All the commercial options above were close, so he figured he could make something work.

What he came up with is a combination of all three types:

 

TLRC began with the shell of a Bontrager Yatra saddle. He chose this mainly because it provides a good, flat surface to glue foam to. Once the cover is pulled off the little channel that edges the shell needs to be cut off and the nose trimmed. Finding suitable foam was difficult. Most closed cell foam is too soft, and will remain compressed past a certain point (thanks to The Foam Man for pointing this out!). TLRC got an extra hard yoga block to use. This has a couple of drawbacks but has worked well so far. Because of the curvature of the saddle, the foam needs to be cut into roughly 1/4″ slabs (TLRC made a miter box to guide the cuts and uses a Japanese pull saw). The foam is applied in three layers with a very generous 1″ wide relief channel, then trimmed to follow the edge of the shell. One of the tricks is to extend the foam forward far enough for one’s pubic ramii to rest on them when tucked forward, yet not so far as to extend into the groin and perineum. The other trick is to sand the foam so that it is the full 3/4″ thickness in the front, but only 1/4″ thick at the rear. For this TLRC used a sandpaper rasp: a piece of 1×4 with 60 grit paper glued to one side and 36 grit on the other). This allows the saddle to be mounted in a strongly nose-down position while maintaining a flat seat. Thus the nose is pretty much out of the way of one’s delicates. Some custom sanding of a dip so that the saddle has a curved surface helps with comfort (TLRC used a piece of 60-grit disk sandpaper to a 2-gallon bucket to get the curvature). Finally, because the nose is wicked sharp, TLRC fashioned a foam cover for it.

This thing actually works! It took a couple of months to finally settle on this design, but TLRC has done 2 unshuttled Alpine Trail rides, the Middle Willamette Trail and a bazillion local rides with no ill affect. It takes a lot of fiddling and sanding while out on rides to get it dialed in (one can expect, for example, that the two sides of the saddle will not be of exactly equal height). The foam TLRC used is pretty hard, but not a lot more unyeilding than a lot of high-end saddles. It is pretty funky, but it works:

The Logging Road Cyclist’s Perineam/Pudendal Relief Saddle, MkIV “Panzer”

TLRC is riding again!

Rollerblade

The Logging Road Cyclist has had a couple of high-stress years. This included the inability to ride at all for nearly a year. TLRC aficionados will realize what this means. Another pair of external stressors that were right up there in the all-lifetime stress levels coupled with no riding brought back some nasty remnants from the past. TLRC is amazed at how similarly he responds now. It is, to loosely quote William Gibson, describing something else, “rather like having a Nazi tank buried in your back yard, grown over with grass and dandelions, but then you notice its engine is still idling.” Following is an example of one of the old events. TLRC is riding again (see other posts), and promises to pretty much drop the TLRC history lessons (especially the first person ones) and get back to the business of the site, which is after all, LRC, and happier.

The pager went of with its usual shriek and called us up to the old town of Placitas for a pedestrian hit by a car. It turned out to be a stupid guy rollerblading in the 50mph two-lane blacktop that ran through there. It was late at night, and given the lack of lighting, it would have been nearly impossible for the driver to have seen him before he dodged out into her path, got crumpled up over the front of her car and hammered face first through her windshield.

When we got onto the scene in our personal vehicle, the driver, an Hispanic woman of about 40, was still in the driver’s seat in hysterics. The windshield where his face had gone through was shattered in a circle a couple of feet across right in front of her. He was crawling around on the highway, on all fours, screaming like an animal. There was nothing human about it.

Our rescue rig arrived with some gear so that we could start doing some good, and soon after a county sheriff unit arrived and started to take control of the traffic. Everything was still out in the middle of the road and cars were stacking up in both directions. We got a backboard out of the rescue and took hold of the guy. This was a bit tricky. Given the mechanism of injury, i.e. face first through a high-speed windshield, we were by protocol required to immobilize him in case of spinal injury. On the other hand, he was combative and bloody, so we had to manhandle him onto the board without exacerbating his injuries and, at the same time maintain his airway with all that blood.

We got him down and rolled him over. His face was nightmarish. It looked like someone had spent 10 minutes slashing at him with a box cutter and every time he screamed, which was with each breath, the cuts lifted and moved around and bled. It was like some abstract rendition of a human face come to life through LSD. He screamed and fought us and bled and screamed some more. Finally there were four of us on him, one at the head, me at the right arm, one at the feet, another with the left arm. He pretty clearly wasn’t having any airway problems.

I held hard while my wife, an EMT-I, started a line in him. I am simply unable to watch IVs or blood draws, or even have my own blood drawn without getting the heebie-jeebies or fainting, but this time it didn’t bother me at all. I just watched all her prep and, pinning his arm against all of his contortions, closely watched her slide the catheter home.

By this time the Albuquerque Ambulance medics had arrived, so legally it was their scene, as we were all EMTs and outranked. One of them moved to the IV point with my wife, so I took over the feet from one of us who was having trouble dealing with this horror show. The medic in charge said he was calling medical control to get an order to paralyze the skater with versed, an anesthetic with amnesia-inducing properties, probably a good thing for him, and probably something we all could have used. He went back into the ambulance to make the call.

About this time the Sandoval County Sheriff deputy came up and looked to us to get the attention of someone. Since I was only holding feet and everyone else was either busy or in shock, he caught my eye and asked if he could take our rescue unit. He needed a second vehicle with emergency lights besides his own so that he could block off a section of the highway to make a landing zone for the helicopter that had been called. I looked around. It was Albuquerque’s scene; their ambulance had everything they needed and our rescue was pretty much just sitting there adding to the diesel atmosphere. I nodded and he gave a quick thanks and took off.

All this time the patient was screaming and kicking and bleeding and his face was fracturing and bleeding and this was all to be seen in the flashing of the emergency lights and the odd bright white light of someone’s heavy-duty flashlight or the ambulance’s spots and the diesel stank and the radios crackled and we could still hear the hysterics of the poor driver that this idiot had catapulted into hell when he went into her windshield.

The head medic came back with a syringe and pumped the versed into the line. Almost instantly the skater slumped peacefully. The wounds on his face settled neatly into place like a jigsaw puzzle and he looked human again, but as if someone had taken a red Sharpie and drawn several feet of lines all over his sleeping face. This remains one of the most graphic and vivid images of my life, not the screaming and the horror, but the falling into place on a quiet face of all that wounding.

This done, we packaged him up and carried him to the LZ a short distance away. The Life Flight medic climbed out, talked to the Abq guys, we loaded the patient and backed off to let the Aerospatial haul this poor stupid kid off to be fixed. I later heard that he got two hundred-odd stitches in his face.

We picked up a bit and got into my Volvo to head back to the station to clean all the blood out of the rescue. I was trying to compose myself after all I had just seen; not an easy thing to do. It was hard not to just curl up into a small ball and cry, which was really my inclination. After a few minutes, my wife, who was clearly stewing about something popped up: “Don’t you ever, EVER give away my ambulance like that. EVER!” I, a mere EMT-B (basic) was outranked by her EMT-I (intermediate) and was legally subordinate to her on emergency scenes. I explained to her what the cop had asked for, that it was Abq’s scene at that point, that Abq had no need for the rescue, that the LZ was the priority at that point and that I wasn’t in the habit of denying reasonable, if any, requests from the police. She would have none of it and started to lay into me again. I said, look, think what you want, but if you put me in that same situation 100 more times, I’d do the same thing every time, so just drop it, but she didn’t. I didn’t need this at that particular moment.

While we were in the station bay cleaning the shocking amount of blood that had gotten transferred into the rescue, the Sandoval deputy came in, looking for me particularly. He thanked me, in front of my wife, for giving him the rescue and said that without it there was no way he could have gotten a safe LZ and hence no way we could have flown the skater. She just looked on. I looked at her and said nothing. In retrospect, this event was the second- or third-to-last nail in the coffin of our marriage, demonstrating to me a growing and fundamental lack of respect. The last nail was firmly driven home a few weeks later during a similar incident, and I left soon after.

I often look back on the time I spent running with that fire department 20 years ago and wonder how I did it. In a period of about 18 months I responded to more than 12 calls, maybe 14, that involved death. There was a drug overdose. There was a multiple death car wreck on I-25 and the blood from the victims ran in rivulets across the banked asphalt into the median before we zipped the bodies into the bags. A guy in a small pickup towing another truck rear-ended someone on that same road and burned to death while his foot was trapped beneath the brake pedal and we had to extricate him which meant working in close proximity for an hour. (We really dropped the ball on this one: instead of doing it the way we were trained to do we let the coroner direct us. We should have told him to take a hike.) I honestly can’t even remember most of them; I just remember that when I stopped I counted and the number is what I know now. There was a lot of other stuff that didn’t involve death, but was gruesome too, like extricating a comatose drunk from a blood-soaked Caddy after a high-speed head-on with another drunk, or the story I just told.

There was a lot of feel-good to it too. For extended periods, since I worked at home, if you called 911 in our area, you got me. Medical calls were challenging and made me feel like I was really helping the community and usually didn’t have the emotional impact of serious trauma calls. But what really got us rockin’ were the 10-45’s: car crash with injuries. Not to say that I enjoyed them, for that implies that I found gratification from someone else’s disasters and that isn’t true. What 10-45’s did was to seep into my being, into my very living bones and expose all the flaws and weaknesses in me. Each one was a test of whether or not I could stand to see and deal with the worst. Each time I passed, I knew something about myself that changed me. I learned to drop a cloak of calm over myself, to detach from what was in front of me and focus on the task at hand. While I can still do this, and it is indeed an asset, eventually I paid a price. The accrual of all that trauma damaged me in a long-lasting way.

What sticks in my head is the nighttime nightmare stuff. Lit by the emergency bars, diesel in the air, something bad out in front of you, hoping you can hold it together if it’s as bad as you fear, that you won’t break. I never did, but I did take some long walks out into the desert and cry by myself sometimes. I know myself better now than I did then, and knowing what I know now, I would never have subjected myself to that kind of emotional loading. I’m picky about what books or movies I absorb and have to recognize that I have my limits. Recent situations have stretched those for me, and I found with that the same feelings that the lights and diesel and blood elicited all those years ago arise in me with a surprising freshness.

Bird

I brought Bridgette home on July 4th, 2004. Thirteen years and 10 days later, on Bastille Day, 2017, Bridgette died at the vet’s office.

It was a stupid thing, to have brought a new dog home on the 4th, since the new dog was, and remained, terrified of loud noises. Besides the 5 hours in a strange truck with a strange man and dog (my preexisting dog, Luna), soon after we got home, the fireworks started. But the 4th was what I had to go up to Port Orchard and check out this beautiful dog I had seen on the Pacific Northwest Border Collie Rescue web site.

Bridgette had an interesting story. She had been picked up as a stray in Elko and was slated for euthanasia. The day before the execution, the vet in charge of it called the BC rescue people in Idaho. He apparently couldn’t stand to put her down. The BCR folks took her to the Boise environs where she stayed for a while before Sally at PNWBCR in Granite Falls WA got her. Bridgette stayed there for a while before she was sent over to Bob at Port Orchard. They figured she was a year and a half to two years old by then.

In later years I got an inkling of why she might have “strayed”. She once killed a rat before my eyes in my kitchen, SNAP, dead, right out from under the cat’s nose. Bridgette took the dead rat out through the dog door, and when I went out side to tell her what a good dog she was, she hung her head and acted like she was about to be beaten. A few years later, she got loose on the driveway and killed an adolescent turkey the same way, SNAP, dead. Again, as she held the little turkey, head lolling out one side of her mouth, dangling feet out of the other, Bridgette hung her head and waited for her beating. Then it clicked: She’d been a chicken killer and someone had dumped her.

She was a magnificent dog. While larger than a real border collie, and probably mixed with German Shepard, Bridgette had beautiful stark black and white markings with some slight brown/gray around her eyes, like negative kohl. When I got her she weighed 45-50 pounds but after six years of mountain and cross biking she bulked up to 60, with no fat on her, and she stayed there for the rest of her days.

On the PNWBCR website there were two pictures that captured her perfectly. In one she is sitting, ears up and alert looking at the photographer. In the second, ears down, she is approaching an unseen person with her head tilted up towards them with an expression of happiness at seeing whoever it was. I saw those pictures and she stole my heart. “We can call her Bird” I said to The Girlfriend, who at that point, about a year into it, hadn’t suffered either too much nor too long yet.

Besides her smile, Bird’s ears were her most expressive feature. They’d go up and down time and again during the course of a conversation. Of course they were up for full alert and down for being petted and relaxing. There was a half-mast position for walking and running.

She was my biking dog. We’d do the trails and roads in Mac Forest time and again. We rode Waldo Lake and the North Umpqua trail. Lap upon lap of Mary’s Peak, where her ashes will go in a couple of days, beside whatever remains of Buffy and Luna.

She hated the driftboat, but liked river trips. She loved water and loved chasing tossed pebbles. She would wait, and wait, and wait for a pebble to be tossed. She once stood within ten feet of the same spot, chest deep in the John Day River for 8 hours while we sat in camp. Once in a while one of us would get up and toss her a rock, but mostly she stood there staring, moving just enough to keep one or the other of us in sight. When I broke her lower right canine with a rock, I put a stop to the rock tossing (until the last couple of days with her when it didn’t matter anymore). She responded by starting to dig rocks out of whatever riverbed she stood on, and carrying them up the bank. She’d hold her head under for as long as it took to dig one up. I once counted slowly to 40 while she groped the bottom of Oak Creek and came up snorting with a softball-sized rock.

Birdie was my third dog. The first, Buffy was a nondescript 40 pound brown mongrel stray from New Mexico and residual from my second marriage. We saw her at night on the side of the road near the Malpais outside of Grants and when we saw her again the next morning, we picked her up. She was a bad dog with a snaggle tooth and a torn ear who liked to pick fights. She was a terrific biking dog who also hated the driftboat and kept me alive, literally, through The Dark Time. When she had to be put down much before her time it traumatized me, mostly I think, because of that bond. On the rebound, ironically much like that second marriage, I took in another stray that a girl at Animal Crackers offered me, Luna. Luna was smaller, black and looked like a mix between a flat-coated retriever and some kind of spaniel. Someone had kept her tied to a tree in her own filth and fed her on scraps until poor Luna was tweaked. Luna could be a sweet girl, but would unpredictably turn on us. It started with growls, escalated to snaps and ended when she bit me in the face one day, and I just had to end her. It was like an execution. It helped when our crusty pragmatic vet said to me when it was done: “Thank you for doing that. Now we know she is where she can’t hurt anyone and no one can hurt her.” That helped. Some asshole, through either negligence or intention had ruined a perfectly good, sweet little dog. This had a strong influence my future interactions with my dogs.

In 2007, TG got her springer, Robbie. Robbie adored Bird, who mothered and bossed him around. Rob is pretty low-key, so he was happy to let his life be guided by Bird, who was in turn perfectly willing to take charge of his, teach him his place in the world, and keep things orderly. Tonight Robbie is off. He is lying back by Bird’s old place by the bed and won’t come out. He has been unusually clingy this last week.

Losing my last dogs had been very difficult for me. I was very close to Bird in a way I hadn’t been with the others. She had her problems. She, like Buff, wouldn’t back away from, nor was above starting, a fight. I got so that I could sweep her to the ground with my feet and put a foot on her neck in the blink of an eye. Didn’t hurt her, stopped the fight, but your usual Corvallisite tended to look askance at the procedure. But beyond that, there wasn’t much wrong. My life had stabilized too, so I didn’t have the neurotic connection that I had to Buffy. Bird was, well Bird, and I simply couldn’t imagine life without her. I was, to put it simply, afraid to lose her because of my pain. So I got a spare dog. It didn’t hurt that I had just broken my hip and gotten a laptop and thus with spare time and access found a litter of springers. Thus Breeze, spare dog.

Right now, I’m glad I did this. Five years ago when Breeze came on board, I wasn’t. I’m not sure why, but there was always tension and strife. Perhaps Breeze just wouldn’t accept Bridgette’s authority, which Bridgette was certainly not going to relinquish. Perhaps Bridgette and Robbie just terrorized poor little Breeze all the time and she fought and postured to save herself. At any rate, it could be tough, but as of last week, it all paid off. Breeze is turning into a new dog. She is learning to play with me, something that was simply not allowed under Bridgette’s regime.

Like the rest of being with Bridgette, her end was easier than the others. Three years ago she got cancer and was given 3-6 months to live, maybe 9-12 with an awful, toxic chemo regimen. I chose not to do the chemo on a 12-year old dog and hit the jackpot with another three years for free. I think this eased losing her. We “pre-grieved”. Getting the diagnosis was terrible for us, almost like losing her, and we knew that at any time she could be gone within a month.

In the end, she just sort of faded away. Over those three wonderful years she seemed to sink into a state of happy senility. She hadn’t been a barker before, but now would stand in the house or yard and methodically bark, bark, bark, bark until she got her way. She was pleased to sit around, panting heavilyand  looking happily at us, like a pothead dog. Slowly her back legs started to give out. One day she just sort of fell over and couldn’t get up, and she would struggle with her balance, one could see.

She became increasingly incontinent, and we knew that end was coming. We got in a couple more beach trips, and she could still make it up Mary’s Peak from the parking lot, barely, at a snail’s pace, but she was happy about it. Woodland Meadow Park was, as always, a haven, and near the end she even had a good digging session.

On Wednesday I decided it was time. They had an appointment on Friday afternoon. Normally this would have upset me a lot, to have had to wait. But this time, I used it. Breeze went to TG’s and I spent most of the three days with Bird, just us, parks, the river, coffee, just sitting, sleeping on the porch together.

I also started my dog-loss routine. I shopped for a small urn to keep a portion of her ashes in at home. I found a small Nalgene bottle I could use to give some ashes to TG who likes to set them at the base of a new plant or tree in her yard. I have some small plywood pieces and clamps I use to press some wildflowers that I will pick on the peak when I scatter her. I’ll pick up her ashes tomorrow, then go up the peak, open the ashes and bottle up enough for us to have, spread the rest among the others already there and pick flowers to press and frame so I can remember the day.

On Friday, we took one last loop around the park, hung at home for a while and then went to the river. We spent the last couple of hours with TG, Robbie and Breeze. At the vet, I hugged her as she went to sleep, breathing along with her, stroking the side of her face in the way she always loved. I cried and talked to her and petted her and breathed her breath and heard the tech crying behind me. The vet thanked me for sharing her with them over the years. On the way out I saw the crusty, pragmatic vet. Choking back my tears I told him I’d just lost Bridgette. He nodded and said, “I know. It’s a bad day.” Everyone who knew her loved her.

Actually, two and a half. Boys will be boys.

The Logging Road Cyclist went to run the Illinois River with The Bad Drunk and a couple of Kids, The Assailant and The Nice One. It was a beautiful warm spring day with 2500 cfs in the river. An idyllic run.

Down below Submarine Hole, they camped on the right bank in a cobbly little getaway. After dinner, the kids smoked some dope and ate the mushrooms they had brought, while The Bad Drunk swilled his way through the bottle of pinot he had decanted into an aluminum fuel bottle. The sober TLRC lounged in his sleeping bag, enjoying the glow of the canyon.

About half-way through his swill, The Bad Drunk started up a little game with TLRC. “You’re a black belt, TLRC,” he’d say, “see if you can stop me from getting you!”, and then he’d dart in and poke TLRC somewhere on the upper body.

This was pretty irritating, but TLRC was used to The Bad Drunk, so he took it for a while, quite a while, actually, and he asked The Bad Drunk a number of times, politely, please to stop. Finally, TLRC told The Bad Drunk to stop it, for real, or TLRC would. TLRC had been really, really, patient, but the continued unwanted poking by a bad drunk was getting to be a bit much.

The Bad Drunk, of course, as bad drunks are wont to do, did it again, because he thought it was pretty funny, what he was doing. The next time he poked TLRC and retreated, TLRC snatched The Bad Drunk’s ankle and chopped at the back of his knee. This laid out The Bad Drunk pretty well, aided, no doubt by his drunkenness. The Kids looked on. The Bad Drunk sat back and started chattering away about something else.

The next day, while driving to Gold Beach, The Bad Drunk was drinking the six-pack he had bought at Cougar Lane. The Kids were in the back smoking dope. TLRC was driving. The road there is generally one lane with patches and dips and bumps and occasional oncoming traffic. TLRC drove in his usual conservative way: slow.

The Bad Drunk started to badger TLRC: “Go faster, Jesus Christ are you a grandmother, come on, what’s wrong with you &c &c &c”. For some reason, TLRC tried to explain why he was driving the way he was and let this go on for some while before he realized he was arguing with a bad drunk about something stupid.

So he did something stupid in response. TLRC looked over at The Bad Drunk and said “Like this?” and stomped on the gas and drove as fast as he could for a mile or so. The Bad Drunk looked appropriately terrified. Looking around, TLRC saw that the potheads had gone white. TLRC stopped in the center of the road, turned to The Bad Drunk and asked “Enough?” The Bad Drunk nodded and TLRC drove on in what he considered was a safe manner.

The next day they went up to run the North Fork of the Smith. On the way in they stopped at a high spot to look at the view and The Bad Drunk and TLRC walked away from the car to look around. On their return The Kids were burning their way through a fatty with the shuttle driver. This discomfited The Bad Drunk, whose car it was, and pleased TLRC.

TLRC was futzing around with his boat at the put-in when his Combat Information Center (CIC) pinged him about the incoming bogey apparently trying to avoid the sensor arrays. TLRC gave a quick half-turn and saw The Assailant coming in low and fast with his arms extended. Clearly, The Assailant intended to grapple TLRC at least, and probably to take him down onto the gravel.

While the CIC brought the Target Acquisition and Fire Control algorithms online, TLRC pondered the situation. He knew The Assailant reasonably well, and they had always gotten along, and had just had a pretty good time together on the Illinois. The Assailant had always seemed like a peaceable and friendly sort of guy. TLRC could think of no earthly reason that he was suffering this sudden attack.

On the other hand, TLRC knew that The Assailant had been a wrestler, was a pretty beefy guy, and had at least twenty years on TLRC. If The Assailant was intent on pressing home a real attack, TLRC could be in for trouble.

TLRC had realized that one of the problems with Shotokan karate (if one chose to view it that way) was that there was no “flexible response” or “escalation ladder”, as the nuclear war theorists put it. Shotokan training relied heavily on parrying an attack and responding to it, emphasizing the defensive focus of the discipline. The responses were intended to put a stop to a fight in a very definitive way: performed correctly,  some pretty awful things should happen to the attacker. In real life, this limits the options available to a karate practitioner. It is sort of like carrying a .45 or a knife. You might well prevail, but save for the most dire situations one might end up being responsible for actions he would rather not be morally or legally associated with.Thus TLRC did not want to do anything he’d regret, and most certainly he did not want to hurt anyone at all, especially in such a vague and uncertain situation as this.

Target Acquisition had by now told TLRC that a nose was easily available for a strike, should he choose that option. TLRC decided that his best choice was to feint with a back-fist strike (uraken) to distract The Assailant, while he, TLRC, got out of Dodge and figured out what was going on. Uraken is a very fast strike, useful against weak body targets. One makes a tight fist and, keeping the wrist, elbow and shoulder very loose, pulls the fist up against the opposite shoulder and then uncoils it like a whip, as fast as possible. A wrist snap at the end gives a final burst of kinetic energy and the force of the strike can be concentrated on a very small area of knuckle.

TLRC asked Fire Control for a solution that would put the middle knuckle of his right hand about an inch in front of The Assailant’s nose, and pulled the trigger.

Unfortunately for The Assailant, TLRC had quit training a few years before due to serious shoulder problems that had required surgery. He had chosen between karate and boating and quite frankly was a bit rusty. Fire Control in particular was poorly calibrated. The uraken unloaded precisely on the bridge of The Assailant’s nose.

The Assailant diverted his charge and backed away, making loud pain-associated noises and with both hands covering his face. TLRC felt terrible, and completely forgetting that he had just been attacked, and still had no idea what The Assailant’s intentions were, ran over apologizing profusely. Fortunately, there was no real damage (intended as a feint, the uraken wasn’t really loaded). To TLRC’s surprise, The Assailant was apologizing too, and feeling pretty much like he deserved what he had just gotten. “There was all that stuff about your karate, and I wanted to see what you would do. I guess I know”.

For some reason no one present believed that TLRC had missed his true point of aim, which kind of hurt his feelings. The Nice One was disgusted with The Assailant and thought he’d gotten what he’d asked for. There was no bad blood between TLRC and The Assailant. The Bad Drunk just thought it was all pretty funny.

TLRC Really Used His Mad Ninja Skilz, Once, Out in the World

When The Logging Road Cyclist was training, there were two major schools of Shotokan Karate in existence. One was TLRC’s school, the Japanese Karate Association (JKA), at the time led by Sensei Nishiama, the other was the Shotokan Karate Association (SKA) led by Mr. Oshima. To an outsider, indeed to most insiders below the higher black belt ranks, there wasn’t much difference. They used mostly the same training forms (kata), techniques (there were minor things like stance width that got argued over incessantly, but that any other than an adept wouldn’t notice) &c, &c.

The most notable difference was in attitude. The JKA was not training fighters, the SKA was. We JKA students were told that the goal of karate was “the perfection of character”, and indeed at one point TLRC had it figured out that part of this was that if were trained enough to prevail in almost any fight you ran into, but arranged your life so that a) you never got even close to one, and b) that if you did, you just walked away, you had absorbed something about both yourself and how you should carry youself in the world. Training was like a trap you set for yourself only to avoid, and in doing that, one progressed to a better self. There are, TLRC realizes now, probably more efficient ways “to perfect one’s character”.

TLRC, who spent a couple of years training with SKA (he had moved, and that was what was there) after getting his black belt, came to the conclusion that those guys all figured that somewhere, sometime out there in front of them was going to be a battle to the death, and they were going to prevail. TLRC enjoyed their tough training regimen, and in a way their combative attitude appealed to a certain dark part of TLRC that he still doesn’t like to acknowledge.

There was a pretty big difference training with the two schools. In his home JKA dojos, TLRC went to class and worked hard. On the way to SKA classes, TLRC’s stomach would tighten and he would sit in the car before going in, getting ready to get pounded on (there was some resentment of him being an auslander from time to time). One thing for sure: in the JKA one did not talk about taking it out in the street. One fought in the dojo, there, and there only. Using karate on an untrained person was considered disgraceful. Had TLRC ever really gotten into a fight in the World, he would never had disclosed it to his instructors, unless it was a true and necessary matter of self defense. In the SKA dojo TLRC went to, one of the head instructors would occaisionally  brag to TLRC about how he had gotten into some civilian’s face over some trivial matter.  This was not trivial, as the instructor was actually a pretty scary individual. TLRC was also warned about lightly going in to train in other SKA dojos, the implication being clear that here, they were more tolerant than usual, and TLRC might actually get hurt. It set a much different tone. Eventually, TLRC just left after getting tired of having constantly bruised ribs, and also enduring the endless racist jokes and troglodyte politics that were particular to this dojo (NOT, TLRC will emphasize again, the SKA in general).

Eventually TLRC moved back home, took up training again in the dojos of Peace, Harmony, and Light, and took up mountain biking too.

Early on as an MTB, TLRC took a trip to California and did a long ride in the Sierras above Pinecrest. This was a real ordeal for TLRC; 30-40 miles with lots of climbing and chasing his brother-in-law, one of the Machine People.  Well into the ride on a narrow trail through a meadow, TLRC ran his front wheel smack into a rock or something, which brought him to a dead halt.

Fortunately, TLRC was inept enough that he wasn’t going very fast anyway. He was also inept enough that getting his feet out of the still unfamiliar clipless pedals was hard. The end result was a forward-stationary TLRC who slowly tilted over to the right.

Naturally, he looked into the fall. There, on the ground was a log, and sticking out of the log was a limb with about 1″ diameter tapering to a sharp point. The tip of the sharp point intersected the arc currently being traced out by TLRC’s right eye as it swung groundward.

Instantly, time slowed to a near stop. TLRC removed his right hand from the grip, and smoothly brought it up to his left ear. During this movement, he pressed his fingers tightly together and bent them slightly. He curled his thumb into his palm and arched his hand, which was now a rigid striking tool. Keeping his elbow close to his ribs he began an outward swing, shoulder loose, upper arm, lower arm, wrist and hand held as a single structure. When the lateral side of his hand hit the branch, TLRC compressed all the muscles from shoulder to waist and emitted a forceful grunt, expelling his air and completing the solidification of body and striking masses into one. The limb snapped, and TLRC found himself, eye intact, lying attached to his bike.

Time resumed it’s normal flow, and TLRC lay there and laughed and laughed after completing this thoughtless effort. It worked just like they said it would! He had done almost exactly this move thousands of times doing basics and kata, and sure enough, it was part of him, just lying in there ’til needed.

Middle-aged Mutant Ninja Turtle

Get there first with the most. Nathan Bedford Forrest

The Logging Road Cyclist stood with his dojo-mates and seniors watching the kumite (sparring) rings on the far side of the large gymnasium. It was mayhem. Typically, Japanese Karate Association (JKA) events eschewed any serious contact; in fact it was against the rules. But if a competitor could stand being docked a point, a real blow could be landed. These guys were firing off full speed yoko kekomis (side thrust kicks, the karate equivalent of a 16-inch naval gun) at each other’s knees, and missing by fractions of inches, ditto rib-breaking gyaku-zukis (reverse punches). It was terrifying to watch because TLRC was entered, and for some reason at this particular tournament, the wise men had decreed that all ranks green belt and above were to be in the same kumite pool. TLRC had drawn a sandan (third degree black belt). He, TLRC, was a mid-level green belt.

The difference between a sandan and a green belt of any type is similar to that between a Nimitz-class carrier and a driftboat. The JKA is a conservative institution and has 3-levels each of white, green and brown belts, followed by a first degree black belt, or shodan. It was typical for students to take five or more years to reach shodan, after which, it was said, “one was ready to begin training”. Given the testing schedules, if one avoided failing any test at all, he or she might get there in a minumum of two years, but this was rare. From shodan to nidan (second degree) was usually another two to five years, and to reach sandan often took more than an additional five years, with luck. The JKA was very serious about ranking and it was expected that students would fail many tests, especially for higher degree black belts. One was expected to accept failure and work harder in the aftermath.

TLRC’s sandan was a middle-sized, middle-aged man. TLRC was a pretty big middle-aged man. The sandan ran a dojo in Washington near where the tournament was being held. TLRC didn’t really know the man, who had seemed nice in the past, but today was one of the worst agressors.  Ignominy, at least, was off the table today, given the disparity in rank. Physical damage, on the other hand was definitely on the menu. TLRC was seriously afraid of getting hurt.

The more he watched his scheduled opponent, the more TLRC worried. He needed a plan. He could simply dance around and try to stay out of the way and not attempt to score any points at all; be a heavy bag with legs in other words. This felt unsafe given the level of testosterone being displayed. TLRC decided on another, hormone vs hormone approach. They had had it drilled into them never to display emotion while fighting, always to present a calm face to the opponent and keep the boiling inside, where it was of use. There are displays and displays however. TLRC vowed to project to the sandan the clear signal that if TLRC actually got hit, then the kumite was going to get very real, very quickly, and that TLRC would take at least a little piece of sandan down with him, even though on it’s face this was a preposterous notion. TLRC planned to enter the ring looking as crazed as possible, and strike recklessly at his opponent as fast as he could. In retrospect, he may have gotten this notion from his recent perusal of numerous texts detailing the big carrier battles of 1942, where the basic tactical doctrine of carrier operations, always strike first, was proven correct again and again. TLRC hoped his strike arrived before the sandan’s fighters launched and antiaircaft batteries unlimbered.

TLRC stood in the ring, hands at his sides, face drawn to project as much anger as possible withut actually snarling. He tilted his head forward and slightly raised his eyes so that the whites showed beneath the irises: senpaku. It is rare for normal people to display this way. The insane or battle crazy do. It can subconciously rattle an opponent.

The whistle blew and TLRC charged. He actually had very little hope of this working. The sandans in TLRC’s dojo would either have evaded this clumsly assault or simply stopped it dead without mussing their hair; indeed they had done it many times. Usually they just herded him around like a pathetic sheep or played with him like a cat with a mouse.

But this sandan, like the Japanese Navy at Midway, scorned his opponent and had expected timidity or at least hesitation. TLRC actually made it, and, arriving in a respectable fighting stance got a straight punch right into the sandan’s throat at the adam’s apple. Even though TLRC stopped the punch at the surface, this was completely illegal, and the judge rushed in to stop it and penalize TLRC. Just before the judge arrived, TLRC looked straight into the sandan’s eyes, leaned his fist into the sandan’s throat, bared his teeth, and growled. Involuntarily, the sandan’s eyes widened.

The sandan proceeded to beat TLRC in about thirty seconds, by the book, with nothing scary and no contact at all.

 

Into the Blue

Doomed enterprises divide lives forever into the then and the now. Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing

How long, wondered The Logging Road Cyclist, as he lay prone on the massage table with his face puckering through the face-hole, did it take for the indiscretions of youth to ramify into one’s elder life? He was being worked on by the physical therapist he had stumbled on a few years previously. TLRC was not one to buy into woo-woo theories of healing powers, shamanism, crystals &c, but he had to admit this woman made him tend to give some credence to stories about women who could simply lay hands upon one and effect a cure. She seemed to be engaged in exactly this.

TLRC had long been plagued by recurring bouts of back spasms, and had been diagnosed with a Grade I L5-S1spondylothesis that might be the culprit. The latest round of distress was by far the worst he’d had, forcing him to put hands on knees just to get out of a chair and really bringing him to the ultima thule of decrepitude. This had gone on for more than a month. He moved and acted like an old man.

PT poked around a bit, had TLRC move this way and that, and pronounced a deficit in the action of the multifidus muscles, which she relieved by a bit more poking, and a silly, small excercise for TLRC to do. One visit cut the misery in half, a few days set TLRC well on the road to recovery.

On visit two, TLRC asked PT why the multifidi weren’t behaving. She mulled it over and     said that trauma to the area could well be the cause…

At the end of his last summer in British Columbia, TLRC was a confirmed Squamish crag rat. He and his main partner JB were looking to move out and do something different, namely some peaks rather than the usual rock. The obvious objective for TLRC was Slesse Peak, a granite tower on the border southeast of Vancouver. He had done the easy west face with a moron from the University mountaineering club a number of years before and recalled looking down the magnificant NE Buttress and the intimidating east face. It didn’t take much work to talk JB into doing the long, classic NE Buttress Route.

Slesse Peak. The NE Buttress (center) divides light from shadow.

They figured it would be easiest to traverse the peak and descend down the west side. Since the road up that side was about six miles from the road up to the east of the Peak, they needed some sort of shuttle, in this case an old and very funky bike of JB’s. The plan was to drop the bike off at the end of the west road, drive up to the east road, traverse the Peak, have one of them ride back to the car, &c, &c.

They got to the end of the east road and saddled up. TLRC took the keys and went to a large cut bank at the edge of the road that had one large tree root exposed. He took the keys and hid them at the right end of this root and showed JB exactly where they were so that either of them could do the shuttle, and neither of them would have to worry about the keys on the climb.

They hiked in. On the way, turning a corner, a sudden view of the Peak emerged. It stood out against the sky like a huge dark flame. TLRC had done a bit of Grade IV and V in Yosemite, and some real alpine rock in the Tetons and Sierra. Squamish Chief isn’t little. Even so, this first view of the route was spectacular and intimidating.

They bivouacked with stupidly inadequate gear and got started at first light, mostly because of the cold. The first part of the climb was class 4ish and went pretty fast. A steeper section reared up on JB’s lead and he took off up what looked to TLRC like an unreasonable choice of route, as in a whole hell of a lot harder than what was pretty obviously a whole lot easer just off to the right. But it was JB’s lead…

Eventually, JB flamed out in an increasingly overhanging crack splitting a narrowing rib, the whole affair looking a lot more 5.11-like than anything they were supposed to encounter. TLRC started to try to talk JB out of his folly. JB persisted, until TLRC felt the alarms going off at the base of his skull as he pictured getting JB out if something really went wrong and he, TLRC, finally just made so much of a fuss, telling JB just to goddamn put in a friend (back then a new camming invention, and very expensive), and one of TLRC’s friends if it came to that and get down and back on route. So JB did this, and they got on their way…

JB redeemed himself a little further on as they hit the crux of their climb. At about half-height, the climbing is on mangy, dirty, low angle rock, not too hard, but not easy to protect, given a lack of cracks. Just about the time the route kept all of this but the low-angle part, a violent thunderstorm erupted over the Peak. JB was well out on his pitch with nothing in to stop a fall as the water ran an inch deep, turning the dirt into mud. Rockfall commenced and TLRC huddled in his cagoule. Eventually JB found a belay about a rope-length out and TLRC came up. Water ran over his hands and his EB’s slipped in the mud. Holds were rounded and the pitch was likely 5.7 or 5.8 even when dry. JB had pulled it off with aplomb, the sun came out, and TLRC swung into the lead.

They got to the base of the final third of the route where the Buttress rears back and reaches for the heavens.

Upper part of NE Buttress (left skyline)

The Buttress here is fearsomely exposed and looks out over the spooky East Face into which a prop airliner slammed back in 1956, killing all 62 souls on board (the worst airline disaster in the world at the time; TLRC had found a few shards of aluminum at the base of the route and felt a Presence). The climbing was superb and well within range for TLRC and JB. They were loving it.

They summited as the sun was going down, and pondered for a while descending back to the east, but they were tired and did not like the idea of crossing snowfields and rough terrain in running shoes in the dark, so they stuck with the traverse.

They got to the steep trail off the west side just before dark and headed down towards the road. In the dark with their one headlamp it seemed to take forever. They were both exhausted and by the time the got on the road TLRC (who had heard of this happening to marching soldiers, or Marines anyway), fell asleep while walking. Finally he could take no more and told JB he was going to lay down in the road and sleep. JB, made of sterner stuff said he’d keep going and get the car. After some time, TLRC stirred himself and stumbled down to the main road to sleep some more until JB got back in the car.

Curled up in the dirt, TLRC was awakened by the rhythmic squeak of JB’s poorly maintained bike (even then, TLRC was fastidious about bicycle maintenance). “JB, WTF”, spluttered TLRC, “ou se trouve la voiture?”, TLRC having learned un petit francaise while having lived in Canada. JB looked frantic, apologetic, crestfallen, embarrassed. He had been unable to find the keys to the car. Groaning, TLRC got on the miserable bike and ground his way the six miles to the car. There he found the cutbank pockmarked as if a gopher had been at it, evidence of poor JB’s futile search. TLRC directly laid hands on the keys, collected the snoozing JB and, well satisifed with themselves they set off for home.

“That went well”, said TLRC and JB a little while later, “let’s do some ice climbing!” Since neither had done any more than a bit of snow, but both (like many rockclimbers TLRC knew) owned crampons and tools, they had the wherewithal, if not the ability. Being cautious and sensible, they picked what they were assured was a reasonable objective: the Coleman Glacier on nearby Mt Baker, in the States, as we said back then.

Mt Baker, Coleman Face

TLRC remembers only the salient events of the day. They got to where they needed to be, worked their way up to steepness and crevasses and roped up. An historical note is appropriate here. While climbing harnesses were available at the time, no one in TLRC’s circle used them. Rather, they used swami belts, 2″ webbing wrapped three or four times around the waist and fastened with a water knot. One tied in by knotting the bight of climbing rope through the belt. TLRC preferred a double fisherman’s bend for this, a tidy, compact and secure-looking knot. For some reason the folks that TLRC hung around with didn’t like the idea of depending on stitching for the last line of defence. On the other hand, in the event of  fall, one took the enitire force on the waist, small of back and ribs.

All that TLRC remembers of the climb is being roped, traversing around some crevasses and taking a little jump over a little crack. When he landed, he tripped and fell flat on his face, not being used to the total stopping power of his unfamiliar crampons. He immediately began to slide, feet first, down the suddenly very steep slope.

In theory, this shouldn’t have been a problem. One of the few things TLRC actually DID know about real mountaineering, and had actually become proficient at, was  self-arresting with his ice-axe, which he was indeed holding at the ready when he jumped, because he was preparing himself for a similar eventuality. The problem is it didn’t work, or to state the matter with more precision, TLRC failed to self-arrest.

A couple of frantic seconds ensued, after which TLRC flipped over backwards as he cartwheeled over the lip of a huge crevasse. To this day, when recalling it, he can see clearly in his mind’s eye the flash of perfect alpine blue sky as the crevasse swallowed him.

After a number of hard blows, including at least one to his head, TLRC was brought to a hard stop, the full force on his belt. He hung, and looked past the toes of his boots into a spectacular blue space that went down and down and down…

His headband flew into the depths. The left lens of his sunglasses had been knocked out by the blow and fluid was dripping down from his face away to a place he could not see. He assessed his situation while JB, in a much more serious tone than their usual banter, was demanding to know TLRC’s “situation”, which amused TLRC. A bit.

What the “situation” was was something that could have been an order of magnitude or so worse. TLRC had fallen down a narrow, less than vertical gully at the edge of the crevasse, and had stopped, fortuitously, just before it debouched into the true ghastly blue netherworld. TLRC was bleeding from his head, but it seemed to be just the left supraorbital ridge. He hadn’t broken anything, nor (perish the thought) snagged a crampon point and snapped an ankle. JB had in fact been belaying TLRC, but amateurs that they were, they had way, way too much rope out, like a half a length, which is how far TLRC had fallen before he pulled JB off his stance. JB slid helplessy another 20-30 feet before the rope drag on the edge of the crevasse stopped them both from dying.

JB reestablished his stance. TLRC was shockingly OK with the whole situation. Once belayed, he got himself turned around and pulled the ice tool off of his pack. With that and the ice-axe, he climbed himself out, and enjoyed himself, actually thinking that this ice climbing was really pretty fun and that he and JB should do some more of it.

He got over the edge, and JB was all business. He ordered TLRC around! (They usually had a much different dynamic.)  He made TLRC march right over to a designated spot and sit down and be subjected to a thorough examination. At this point, TLRC burst into tears from a combination of adrenaline collapse and the realization that by being an idiot he had nearly killed JB. JB held him like a child until TLRC collected himself.

They made their way off towards the standard route. TLRC had taped up his glasses to avoid going blind and was feeling worse as time passed. By the time they got to the approach trail, he felt like he had a horrible case of flu and could hardly walk. Stumbling slowly down the trail, a voice from behind asked if “We can pass, honey, because we’re going a little faster than you?” Two rotund, middled aged women with curlers in their hair and pails of mushrooms squeezed past him on the trail and clucked in a comforting way about TLRC’s awful face.

Back in Glacier, TLRC went into the store for hydrogen peroxide, gauze, tape and beer. In the pizza parlor, we went to the sink with mirror that served both the men’s and women’s toilets and examined his face. Black left eye, other bruises, bad cut over the left eye. He set himself and began to scrub dried blood out of the gash, which began to leak again. A fastidious patron came out of the men’s room and automatically turned to the washing facility, now awash in TLRC’s blood. Patron took a look, glanced at TLRC and left, silent and unclean.

In Vancouver, TLRC, now solidly anesthetisized by beer, got his unsympathetic quasi-girlfriend to take him to the ER. “You look and smell like a drunk who got in a fight” she archly informed poor TLRC. The ER doc was a young and handsome jive-assed sort of guy who apparently knew something about climbing. He said there’d be 8-10 stitches on the eye and was pretty relaxed about the whole thing until he asked TLRC how far he had fallen. “Fifty, seventy feet maybe.” “Belt or harness?” “Belt.” “Lie back down.”

This knocked the stuffing out of TLRC’s climbing. Maybe it was all this event, or it and other things like grad school-girlfriend-marriage-job, but TLRC just never got it back together. He and JB did a couple of midwinter climbs on the West Lion and Blanchard’s Needle. TLRC moved like a stud on the sandstone walls at Stanford, did some of the Squamish-like face routes on Middle Rock and some other things, but he never got his mojo back. Oddly, this had no effect whatever on his kayaking, for in the year after The Fall, TLRC did by far the hardest boating of his life and was unshaken. Who can fathom the mind, or the multifidi for that matter?

TLRC Coins an aphorism

Once you have learned to self-moderate, you have become old. The Logging Road Cyclist

The Logging Road Cyclist is humbled and awestruck by the dozens, nay scores of faithful blog followers who have welcomed his return to posting. They often ask: “TLRC, why are you writing stories about your macho, not to say studly, youthful exploits as opposed to your usual lyrical descriptions of your more cerebral explorations of Oregon’s decimated forests?”

The simple answer is that TLRC has learned to self-moderate while trying to recover from pudendal nerve damage incurred about a year ago. He has been madly self-moderating in hopes that he might ride again, and in spite of a lot of negative indications over the last year, he may well.

In the meantime, between trying saddle after saddle and even a full-suspension recumbent, TLRC, who has missed his blog himself will follow the prescription of the master of the short story, Jorge Luis Borges:

I do not write for a select minority, which means nothing to me, nor for that adulated platonic entity known as ‘The Masses’. Both abstractions, so dear to the demagogue, I disbelieve in. I write for myself and for my friends, and I write to ease the passing of time.

Another Saturday, Another Beating…

The thing about beatings is you never get used to them. Except you sort of get used to them. Jesse Pinkman

The Logging Road Cyclist enjoyed the little regimen of biking along one of the rivers he used to paddle and letting that morph into a story from the glory days. Or the salad days (which, TLRC, ever anxious to increase his reader’s erudition, will point out is a saying taken from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra).

The Quartzville story got TLRC in mind of another beating that he took at around the same time. Since biking is still a bit dicey for TLRC, and the roads around Crabtree Creek pass though clearcuts that are horrific even by his standards, TLRC figured he’d cut to the chase, omit the ride, and just tell the story. He begs his readers to be tolerant; this blog will still be mainly aboout biking. Probably.

That winter, one of TLRC’s common boating partners was JC (a different one). JC was a grad student, father and as bad a drunk as TLRC was at the time. Another new generation boater, JC had cut his teeth in the Appalachians and was trying to fit in with the Willamette Valley boating scene. It irked him no end that the Upper Echelon was fine with a paddler from the Jurrasic like TLRC, but that he was having to prove himself. TLRC, still slipstreaming on his steadily diminishing rep from the Golden Era was happy to pull JC along with him, but he was getting tired of the whining. TLRC was especially put off when, while doing an Upper Echelon run of Canyon Cr. that was top-heavy with big-name locals, TLRC had brought JC along, and JC was steadily complaining to TLRC to hurry up lest he, JC, get blamed for slowing things down when in reality it was a pretty scared TLRC who was taking too long to scout, etc.

But in general, JC was an amiable enough partner. He was more than competent; safe; knowledgeable; and most importantly to TLRC, JC was loyal. If TLRC got jammed up somewhere he knew that JC would do whatever could be done to bring TLRC back home. And that is really at the bottom of the whole thing. They paddled together a lot for a couple of winters.

Early during the first of those winters, when TLRC was still feeling his way back into a kayak, and slowly realizing that he wasn’t ever going to be a very large dog anymore, he and JC went up to run Crabtree Cr. It had the reputation as one of the sort-of-standard class III runs coming out of the Cascade foothills. Perhaps they went up there because they knew it would be stomping after the big storm they had just had. This seems likely because they generally were after bigger game that winter.

They found their way through the maze in the clearcuts to the North Fork and put in. It was small and very high and very woody. In a little while they had picked their way down to the confluence with the South Fork, and things got really big for such a small stream. JC took off over towards river right and once he was clear, TLRC followed, but more out in the center.

TLRC has a vague memory of a large hump of water left of center in the river. At the time, he didn’t think much of it, mostly because it didn’t look like much and he was pretty solidly focused on all the wood that could be in the river.

Cresting the hump, TLRC instantly shifted his focus from theoretical wood to the horribly real reversal hidden behing the hump. This thing was  absolutely huge and tossed TLRC in a quick backwards flip as soon as he entered it. Pulling himself into a protective rolling posture, the next thing he new he was upright through no intention of his own. Taking what he could, TLRC grabbed a brace on his weak left side, hung on, and assessed his situation, which was very bad indeed.

The upstream face was higher than head-high. He could hang on with his left arm bent at about 90 degrees, which wasn’t awful, but then the hole was violent enough that his boat was bouncing up and down about a foot at a time. TLRC reached into the usual bag of tricks…

He worked his way forward to see about getting out of the right end of the hole. He got there and it was too high to climb out of. Sliding back from that, his upstream edge caught and he was down, somehow flipped forward end-for-end and then righted, this time on his right side. This being his strong side, he backed up, flailing carefully and took a run at the left end of the hole. Same result. He tried to foward end-for-end out. He tried to backward end-for-end out. Each time TLRC wound up inverted, then flipped up. Somewhere deep within his lizard brain, TLRC was congratulating himself for being able to pull all this out of his hat after all these years; that he was staying pretty calm and had a plan. But that was, to say the least, the upside. The downside was that TLRC was rapidly running out of strength and air, and that sometimes he was simply getting flipped over by this violent reversal just because. Swimming was unthinkable. Between all the wood, the lack of eddies, and the very fast but shallow and bouldery streambed, a swimmer would either get pinned or beaten to death in short order. TLRC decided: if he didn’t wash out the next time he flipped over, he’d roll up, pop his spraydeck and see what happened. Not really a decision per se so much an an acceptance.

Soon enough he was over again, and not through his own agency. The usual harsh wash cycle disoriented him and he tucked. A sudden calming gave him hope and up he went blinking like a mole trying to find where he was.

Just below the hole as it turned out, getting sucked back in for another go. TLRC backpaddled away and quickly turned to see what he was drifting into. This was hard, since, having just been pounded into hypoxia, TLRC was seeing very double.

His four eyes were draw to the right bank, where an oblivious JC was scouting the next riffle, just below. TLRC scrambled over and jammed his boat up on the bank and sat there trying to re-oxygenate. TLRC had gone through the usual time-warp that getting really, really stomped in a big hole induces, and as a result, was pretty miffed that JC, who had only gone through, like 30 seconds of real time, hadn’t noticed that TLRC had been hole-riding for a few days…

As it happened, JC was looking downstream because what was there was what typified the day’s outing: a river-spanning log about six inches above the water that was too shallow to roll in. Thre were no eddies. Had TLRC swum, he would at worst been toast, and at best bludgeoned.

After all this, the rest of the run was nerve wracking. Any riffle whose bottom was out of sight had to be scouted, and just to be sure they never got slack, most of them had killer, or at least wounding wood in them with no place to roll underneath and no place to to stop. It was truly wierd to be boating class V on a class III run.

For the next few days TLRC pondered how ironic it would have been had his ticket got punched on little, out of the way Crabtree, after everything else he’d managed to skate through.

Quartzville Creek

If you are ever talking to someone and you find out they have ever run a class V rapid, stop immediately because they are probably an asshole.– DC

Trying to get out of his usual grind yet remain within the confines of what his injuries allow, The Logging Road Cyclist headed off to Quartzville Creek for a relaxing and pretty ride. For anyone seeking a paved glide along a beautiful river, this is the ticket. One can either do an out-and-back along the whitewater runs, or, since Quartzville Road goes eventally to Hwy 22 way up high, it could be a piece of a longer route. This area gets a lot of use in the summer, so TLRC recommends bad weather riding up here. In the rain, with snow a few hundred feet up, Quartzville Canyon feels remote and isolated. The aesthetics are helped when mist covers some of the more savage cutting.

Head of Green Peter Reservoir

It’s hard to reconcile this…

 

with this….

but there is mostly a lot of pretty riverside…

Besides getting out and fiddling with the Spongy Wonder’s adjustment, TLRC simply wanted to see his old stomping grounds. He had spent many days paddling on Quartzville and still has a strong attachment to the river and it’s canyon.

TLRC first ran Quartzville 25 years ago on the day after Thanksgiving. He was half insane from grief and alcohol following the rapid disintegration of his marriage only a few weeks before. He thought that he would seek relief in two familiars: alienation and paddling. Thus he took his open boat up to Quartzville for a bout of solo open boating on a river he did not know.

In the event the boating was great. The alienation not so much. The day was the traditional go-to-the-Willamette-to-cut-a-Christmas-tree-day for what seemed to be most of Sweet Home and TLRC hitched a ride back to his Volvo in the back of a pickup with a bunch of happy kids. He was cheered up for a while, and Quartzville became sort of a healing spot for TLRC.

After a hiatus of about 5 years TLRC was back in a kayak and started to spend a lot of time on Quartzville. The lower run of 8-9 miles is generally easy with a few rapids that reach IVth class. In spite of the heavy logging there are many very pretty spots along the river. The water is generally clear, at least one doesn’t get the feel that the headwaters have been as heavily logged as doubtless they have been.

The upper run is more substantial, containing many class IV-IV+ rapids and one bona fide V, the Double Drop. Double Drop was where TLRC first had to face and deal with the fact that, as a middle aged kayaker, not only was he not the paddler he used to be, he pretty much didn’t want to try anymore to be that either.

Double Drop from above. It’s bigger than it looks here.

As the name suggests, Double Drop consists of a pair of sequential steep drops. They are  not all that big, and singly, followed by a pool, neither would be all that big a deal, although the lower one does have a pretty nasty reversal in a narrow slot. The sum, however, is much more than the parts. TLRC ran it for the first time and got away with a spectacular tail stand in the lower drop, having hit the upper one just right.

At this point TLRC was pretty happy with himself. Not knowing too many of the locals, he thought that, given his own success, Double Drop was something the upper echelons of the paddling community did as a matter of course. It wasn’t. When he found this out, and given that Double Drop is actually a pretty scary little thing to run, TLRC found himself agonizing every trip down over whether or not to run it. This consistently ruined his Upper Quartzville trips, as he was, in fact, scared to run it again, and, on the other hand, didn’t like feeling like a pussy if he didn’t. The alchemy of ego: happiness at getting through it once transformed into self-loating at later demurral.

The second time through was when he set himself up for disaster later on.

TLRC was paddling with a group that included the local suicide kid DC. At this stage of his career, DC was pretty good, but ran stuff that was way, way above his level and generally got away with it. Like all 25 year-old male class V boaters, DC had an attitude, to say the least. He treated TLRC with a certain amount of respect (given his rep from the California Golden Age days), but it was pretty clear that TLRC was an artifact.

Just above Double Drop, the other members of the group as a matter of course took out to portage. TLRC was feeling hot that day. He had been boating well, and had run Canyon Cr. the day before. He and DC sat in the eddy above together and DC asked if TLRC was going to run it. From the look in his eyes and the tone of his voice, TLRC KNEW that DC did not want to run it, but in the nature of things (TLRC: artifact; DC: young stud) TLRC also KNEW that if he, TLRC, ran it, that DC was bound to do so too. TLRC simply couldn’t help himself. “Yes.” “Aren’t you going to scout it?” said DC, rattled. “No” said TLRC, twisting the knife (one almost automatically scouts something like Double Drop), and  just took off. TLRC had a perfect run, DC did well too, and better, from the perspective of TLRC, DC knew he had been played.

Not long afterwards, TLRC paid for this.

Somehow TLRC had hooked up with a travelling boater from West Virginia (he said Sweet Home reminded him of home). They went up to Upper Quartzville together. This guy was young and a better and much more modern boater than TLRC. He’d bomb down stuff sight unseen and pretty much do alright. When they got to Double Drop, the visitor just took off, much as TLRC had done a few weeks before. TLRC was feeling a bit out of it that day for some reason, tired, hungover, whatever, not really focused. Regardless, he followed.

TLRC hit the top drop about as wrong as one can and got spun around backwards between the drops. There is sort of an eddy in there, and he thought that perhaps he could scramble into it and recover himself, but all this did was lead to the worst possible outcome. He dropped dead sideways with no downstream speed right into the reversal in the lower drop.

TLRC found himself riding a horrible reversal with about every bad trait it could have. Upstream, water was dropping vertically from 4 feet up strait into the reversal, like a weir. Downstream, the water was rushing straight upstream, like a weir. There was about 6 inches of clearance off either end of TLRC’s boat. There was absolutely nothing he could do but hang on and not escape. He held on. Finally, he got flipped and held under to the point where the only option was to swim out, at which point he got flushed way under water and popped up 20-30 feet downstream. His boat stayed in for a long, long time, doing end-for-end flips, spinning around the long axis, disappearing and reappearing….TLRC cowered on the rock until he eventually got his boat back.

Afterwards, TLRC loudly proclaimed to himself and anyone who would listen that he was, as a matter of principle, never going to run that damned thing again. He didn’t, and also enjoyed every Upper Quartzville trip after that. Except maybe the one at 5000cfs, for which “enjoy” doesn’t quite fit.