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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 58 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Justice, Mercy, and Grace: Defining Discipleship

Louis Zamperini, Olympic Champion
and Disciple of Jesus


Copyright © 2014 
by Ralph F. Couey

Then came Peter to him and said, "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?  Seven times?

Jesus saith unto him, "I say not unto thee until seven times, but until seventy times seven.  Therefore is the kingdom of Heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought before him which owed him ten thousand talents.  But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.

The servant therefore fell down and worshipped him, saying, "Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all!"

The lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.  But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellow servants which owed him a hundred pence, and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, "Pay me that thou owest!"

His fellow servant fell down at his feet and besought him, saying, "Have patience with me and I will pay thee all!"  But he would not and when and cast him into prison till he should pay the debt.

His fellow servants saw what was done, they were very sorry anc came and told their king all that was done.  Then his lord, after he called him, said, "Oh, thou wicked servant!  I forgave thee all that debt because you desired my mercy.  Shouldst thou not also have had compassion on they fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee?"

"The king had the servant delivered to the tormentors until he could pay all that was due unto him.  So likewise shall my Heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one their trespasses."

--Matthew 18:21-35

This scripture tells an interesting story.  A servant had somehow encumbered himself with a debt of 10,000 talents.  This was a sum of currency that would require at least a lifetime to repay, and actually may have been the kind of debt that was never meant to be paid back, only as a way to bind a servant to master. The modern equivalent might be called a student loan.  But the king called in the debt.  The servant, realizing he was facing an impossible burden, went to the king and begged for relief.  The King was moved by his plea and forgave the entire debt.

But this was not the only debt of this story.  As it happens, the servant held the debt of another servant, in the sum of 100 Denari, a much more humble sum, although it still represented about three months wages.  The forgiven servant then did something that qualified him to be on the list of the dumbest people in the Bible. He went to the servant, grabbed him by the throat and demanded full payment of the debt.  Of course, the second servant could not pay, so the forgiven servant had him thrown in prison.

But this was a secret that would not be kept.  Other servants who witnessed the incident, went to the King and told him what happened.  Angry, he summoned the servant.  When the man appeared in his presence, the King thundered, "Should not you have shown the same mercy to this man as I showed to you?"  The King turned the wicked servant over to be tortured until his debt was repayed.

Some might call this  by that familiar phrase, "poetic justice."  But there are two other concepts in play here:  Mercy and Grace.

In my day job, I work for the Department of Justice, the symbol of which is a set of scales.  In order for justice to be served, the scales must be balanced.  As long as one side hangs lower than the other, justice cannot exist.  The scales can only be balanced when force is applied.  In the literal sense, that means add weight to the higher side until the force of gravity evens the scales.  In practice, it means that when someone commits a crime, justice means they are arrested, arraigned, indicted, tried, convicted and either imprisoned or in the case of capitol crimes, put to death.  If someone has been wrongly accused and found not guilty, they are set free.  These days, the use of DNA evidence has helped to free people who were wrongly convicted.  More prosaically, when on the freeway we are victimized by a speeder weaving in and out of traffic, and we later see that same driver parked on the shoulder with a State Trooper behind, we like to say that justice was done.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Hiking, Part 10


Copyright © 2014
by Ralph F. Couey
Pictures and written content

In 1936 during the worst years of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt ordered that land be set aside for the purpose of giving inner city children and their families a place to go where they could discover nature outside the grim habitat of the city.  This area, originally called Chopawamsic Recreational Demonstration Area, was established as a summer camp, with the buildings and infrastructure constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps, part of the Works Progress Administration as a way of providing employment as well as teaching valuable skills to young men.  Using locally harvested materials, the CCC built camping cabins, trails, and bridges.  People started coming to the area in 1936, spending as many as 5 weeks in the woods.  When World War II broke out, public access was halted and the area turned over to the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA, as an area for training covert operatives for the war effort.  After the war, the land reverted to public use.  Today, the original area was split, with Quantico Marine Corps Base on the south and the now-named Prince William Forest Park on the north.  The park, operated by the National Park Service, occupies some 19,000 acres, the largest preserved forest tract in the DC area.  It is considered to be the finest example of Eastern Piedmont Forest existing.  It contains some 37 miles of hiking trails and tantalizing bits of history.  The park has the most original CCC building inventory in the U.S., some 153 buildings, all of which are still in use.  The park is located south of DC near the intersection of VA-234 and I-95.

This area had been on my "oughta-visit-there-sometime" list for awhile, but in planning my hiking ventures, I stayed to the west, thinking that anything closer to DC would be too urbanized for my taste.

Okay.  I admit it.  I was wrong.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Age and the Shifting of Circadian Rhythms

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

As long as I can remember, I've been a nightowl.  My perfect day was defined by a mid-morning wakeup and a bedtime that lay beyond the boundary between yesterday and tomorrow.  Of course, life has a way of not bending to one's druthers, hence every job I've had up to this one has forced me out of bed as early as 4 a.m. (still the middle of the night by any measure).   

A decade ago, the bosses at the factory where I was gainfully employed insisted on rotating us to an off-shift once a month. Usually because of staffing levels, that meant working third shift.  Having children at home, that was for me the shift from hell.  Circadian rhythms mandate that when it's dark outside, humans should sleep.  Daylight was a time to be up and active.  Our children were of the active type (if you hear silence, better go investigate) so it was nearly impossible for me to be able to sleep during the day.  So when I returned to work that night, I was already tired and ended up fighting sleep all night long.  When you're working around machinery, that's a dangerous state to be in.  As the week wore on, I got even more fatigued.  The last night I worked that schedule, I actually fell asleep driving a forklift with a one-ton load of steel.  I remember entering the drive lane at one end of the plant, and then suddenly I was at the other end.  I was  danger to myself, my co-workers, and the plant's equipment.  I parked the truck, shut down and cleaned the presses I was running and went home, leaving a note for the day supervisor.  Back on day shift the next week, I had a long talk with the leadership who agreed that it would be best for me to rotate to 2nd shift, which they were willing to do.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Changing Seasons



Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Pictures and written content

It's been an odd summer, at least here in Virginia.  While there have been some hot miserable days, most of the season has been comparatively temperate.  Not that anybody is complaining.  After the awful summer of 2012, this year was positively wonderful.  Two weeks ago, I read that in Western Pennsylvania that the summer has been so cool that leaves were beginning to turn in mid-August, the earliest anyone can remember that happening.

I enjoy the changing seasons.  Every three months, the world changes in so many remarkable ways.  As they cycle through their assigned three month span, they drive the clock of my life.

Each season has its charms, and we fill that time with the events that give them meaning for us.  But everyone has a favorite time of the year, and we are approaching the season that makes my year.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Hiking, Part 9

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

I had been looking forward to this day, since circumstance and responsibility kept me off the hiking trails for the last two weeks.  It has been a stressful period and I needed some time in the woods.

After perusing the maps, I chose an AT access along US 522 southeast of Front Royal.  A check of Google Maps Streetview confirmed the presence of a pullout there large enough to park a few cars.  As I left home early in the morning, I noted with satisfaction that it would be a spectacular late-summer day for Virginia.  Temps would stay in the low 80's with low humidity, a great day for hiking.

I found the pullout and after parking and gearing up, I headed south.  There was a lot of up- and down-hill to this section, but I had picked it because 4.2 miles in I would meet Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park.  During the initial ascent, I saw to my right a really nice overlook off a beautiful meadow, the view somewhat restricted by a tall chain link fence, which would accompany me for nearly the whole way.  I'm not sure who owns that property, but they sure wanted it protected.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Civil War: Events of November 1864

On November 4th and 5th, Rebel cavalry under Nathan Bedford Forrest along with two captured Union boats attacked the Union supply depot at Johnsonville, Tennessee, causing major damage.

Abraham Lincoln defeated his former commanding general of the Army of the Potomac and was awarded his second term as President of the United States.

William T. Sherman began his march to the sea on November 10th. Two days later, he sends a message to General Thomas at Nashville.  It would be the last communication from Sherman until December 13th.

On the 14th, Sherman divided his army into two columns of 30,000 men each, providing a left and right wing to his march.  By the 16th, he had marched almost 100 miles, destroying the cities of Rome, Cartersville, and Marietta.

At Griswoldville on the 22nd, a cavalry action took place, after which Sherman's troops pushed back two regiments of Georgia militia, continuing the Union march.

Another action took place at Buckhead Creek on the 28th when Federal cavalry defeated a Confederate attempt to halt Sherman's advance.

On November 30th, Confederate forces under General Hood attempted to assault the fixed fortifications at Franklin, Tennessee.  He had a brief success penetrating the center of the Federal line, but a heroic counterattack pushed his forces back.  Hood sent his army into the stout defenses repeatedly, essentially destroying his men in the effort.  The Union Commander, John Schofield, was able to extricate his soldiers and pull back to Nashville where he joined up with George Thomas.  Hood lost 14 of his generals either killed, wounded or captured in this battle.


Civil War: Events of October 1864

On the 2nd, Jefferson Davis gives P. G. T. Beauregard command of the Department of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.

On the 4th, Confederate General Hood moved north along the Western and Atlantic Railroad, attempting to sever Sherman's supply line, attacking blockhouses and encampments at Acworth and Moon's Station.

Confederate forces under Samuel French attacked Union troops in entrenched positions protecting the W & A Railroad in the Allatoona Pass on the 5th.  Despite fierce fighting, the Federals under John Corse held their ground.

In the Battle of Tom's Brook on October 9th, Sheridan ordered his cavalry to attack Fitzhugh Lee's cavalry which had been harassing his rear.  The Union troopers chased the Southerners for 10 miles, capturing 300 Confederates.  The battle was nicknamed "The Woodstock Races" for the speed of the Confederate withdrawal.  Having burned everything of value in the Valley all the way to Staunton, Virginia, Sheridan withdrew.

On October 13, Maryland voters ratified a new constitution abolishing slavery.

In what was undoubtedly delightful news for General Lee, his old warhorse General Longstreet returned to action after recovering from a friendly fire wound at The Wilderness.

Civil War: Events of September, 1864

On the 1st, Confederates, in the face of Sherman's advancing army, began evacuating the key city of Atlanta.  The next day, the city was surrendered by Mayor James Calhoun.

John Hunt Morgan, the Confederate General who in 1863 undertaken a highly successful raid into Indiana and Southern Ohio, was surprised and killed by Union cavalry on September 4th.

The state of Louisiana took a big step towards re-admittance to the Union when, on September 5th, voters who had taken the oath of loyalty to the United States, voted to ratify a new state constitution which abolished slavery.  On that same day, Unionists in Tennessee met in Nashville with the aim of re-starting the state government, as well as participating in the national elections in the fall.

On the 7th, the USS Wachusett captured the Confederate warship CSS Florida at Bahia, Brazil.

Confederate General Joe Wheeler completed his raid into North Georgia, returning to Southern lines on the 10th.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Has Enough Been Given?

Order of the Purple Heart
Photo from the United States Marine Corps

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Written content only

In recent months, yet another Middle Eastern crisis erupted when a band of Sunni militants calling themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria -- ISIS -- formed themselves an army and began taking back the nation of Iraq.  For a stateless group, they have been shockingly successful.  But they have proven themselves to be singularly sadistic conquerors.  So intractably brutal are they that even al-Qa'ida cut ties with them in February of this year.  ISIS is a hard-line jihadist group with the aim of establishing an Islamic Caliphate in Iraq and Syria, rigidly enforcing Sharia Law.  In the cities they have conquered, civilians have been brutally executed for no other reason than being Shia Muslims or Christians.  This murder has included the beheading of children, according to the United Nations.  What is just as shocking has been their treatment of women, kidnapping, torturing, raping, and killing them.

The United States expended the lives of over 4,000 soldiers removing a dictator from power and turning the country over to it's people.  Included in that effort was the training and equipping of some 65,000 Iraqi soldiers to defend their country, allowing US combat troops to be withdrawn by December 2011.  

ISIS, consisting of an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 soldiers should have been overwhelmed by the Iraqis armor, artillery, and soldiers.  But in what anyone in the west would consider an act of cowardly betrayal, the Iraqi Army melted away, the individual soldiers whispering "Insha'Allah", literally, "If Allah wills it" as they ran.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

My 500th Post

Copyright © 2014 By Ralph F. Couey

November 3, 2006.  That was the day I went to the Blogger website and officially opened "Race the Sunset" with a post about Ben Rothlesberger's motorcycle accident.  Tonight, some 7 years and 9 months later, I am penning the 500th post on this blog.

Writing was, in my youth, something I avoided with every trick of deception I could muster.  But as I grew older, I realized that in my life's experiences I had acquired a voice, and something to say.  We were living in Somerset, Pennsylvania at the time, a place where winter generally begins in mid-October and doesn't relinquish it's grip until mid-May, with an average of 100 inches of snow hitting the ground in between.  That leaves a lot of long winter evenings in which to explore the inner reaches of the mind and soul.  I began to write in fits and starts, learning a lot about content and how to construct a sentence along the way.  And how to self-edit.  Eventually, I acquired enough confidence to submit some pieces to the local newspaper.  The first thing published was an entire page devoted to the beginning of motorcycle season.  I still have the aluminum print plate, although it's faded quite a bit.  

My foray into becoming a columnist began with a strict ration of one piece per month.  Eventually that increased to once per week.  I remember with great joy and pride the day when the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat editor told me, "You were just too good to keep out of the paper."

A few months later, I began to submit to the other local paper in Somerset.  I was told that due to the close proximity of the two papers that I would have to write separate columns for each.  Now I had gone from writing one piece per month to writing two per week.  In addition, I picked up an occasional column in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and a few other smaller papers in the northeast.  I was having the time of my life. I was an honest-to-God newspaper columnist with a loyal following.  

But the only consistent thing in life is change. My day job, a small federal agency, was shut down, my co-workers scattered to the four winds.  I ended up in Virginia, after cutting my ties to the two Pennsylvania papers.  After all, I reasoned, how could I be a "local columnist" from 200 miles away?  I had, by this time also acquired a bit of an ego with regards to my writing and blithely assumed that I could pick up another columnist slot there.  Things however came crashing down to reality.  My submissions to the many local papers were completely ignored.  In a short period of time, I went from being a columnist to just another free lancer with a dream.

Hiking, Part 8

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Words and pictures

Watching the weather forecasts approaching my hiking day gave me some cause for concern.  After a couple of weeks of delightful October-in-July, summer came back.  It was going to sunny and H3 (Hot, Humid, and Hazy) with temps reaching into the low 90's.  I normally don't do well in this kind of weather, but I sucked it up and went ahead.

Today's target was a stretch of the AT (Appalachian Trail) from US 50 southward into two really interesting areas, Sky Meadows State Park and the and the G.R. Thompson Wildlife Management Area.  The designated place to park when tackling this stretch is a parking area which can be accessed via a kinda scary driveway off Blue Ridge Mountain Road.  I touched on this in an earlier post, remarking that the driveway drops off so suddenly that when you first pull off the road, you literally can't see where you're going.  Pulling back out is an adventure because you can't see the traffic coming south until your front end is well out onto the roadway.  Looking for an alternative, I spied, via Google Maps, Liberty Hill Lane, a gravel road that leads off into the woods.  There appeared to be room for one or two cars to park there, and it was in close proximity to where the trail picks up on the south side of the highway.  Arriving there, I found a sufficient space to park my vehicle (in the shade, no less) and was pleased to discover and access path leading to the AT.  I geared up and headed south.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hiking, Part 7

Jagged edges

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey


I've been saving this one for one of those rare days off when I actually had nearly the whole day available to me.  So after I dropped my granddaughter off at day camp, I turned northward and made the 90-minute drive to Gathland State Park near Burkittsville, Maryland.  

The park is named for George Alfred Townsend who was a Civil War press correspondent, one of the youngest to report on the war from the front lines.  He also covered the assassination of President Lincoln, and the subsequent pursuit of the killer, actor John Wilkes Booth.  He was a well-known and prodigious writer, at one point penning some 18,000 words per day.  In a time when inkpens had to be dipped in ink and written on foolscap, this was an amazing level of output.  After the war, he remained one of the most popular of Washington correspondents, having gathered a huge audience.  

When he was 47, he began building an estate on land he purchased in Crampton's Gap, a wind gap cutting through the otherwise contiguous South Mountain.  This land was also the site where the Battle of South Mountain was fought in September 1862.  Among the structures that he had built out the abundant native stone was an arch dedicated to war correspondents who were killed while covering wars.





The Memorial Arch.

What remains of his mansion.

After his death, the land was given to the state for a park, which is known not by Townsend's name, but his pen name, "Gath."

The AT (Appalachian Trail) passes right through this property, descending from the northern part of South Mountain, across the gap, and back up onto the southern ridge.  Last week, I hiked the southern ridge, part of it anyway, from Weverton, north of Harper's Ferry.  It was a brutal climb, and looking at the topo map I saw that the part starting from Gathland was a much gentler ascent, so I decided to give this one a try.

Traffic being what it is, it took me almost two hours to get there.  But upon arrival, I saw the beautiful property, and two parking lots.  I pulled in, geared up, and headed south.


There are two access points for the trail, one being a path that begins right off the upper driveway.  But if you want a bit of a ceremony (and don't mind the rocks) you can pass through an arch that was meant to be part of Townsend's mausoleum, although he didn't use it.   Once on the trail, the climbout is much gentler than it's southern counterpart.  Part of that is because the elevation at the gap is 400 feet higher that the point just off the Potomac River.  But the path is still strewn with rocks.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hiking, Part 6

The Potomac River Near Harper's Ferry from Weverton Cliff

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Pictures and written content

I managed to free up a few hours today and went to a location that has been on my anticipation list.

Harper's Ferry, West Virginia is one of those places where history rises from the dry pages of textbook into dazzling reality.  The town sits at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and was from its beginnings a busy location for river commerce and industry.  Today, the National Parks Service has preserved the historical part of the town in an interactive historic park.  The town would, by itself, be a very interesting visit, but the view of the two rivers from the point of land where they meet is breathtaking.

The AT (Appalachian Trail) passes through the town, in fact the Conservancy has an office there.  From there, you can trek southwards along the crest of Short Hill Mountain as it meanders towards Shenandoah National Park.  I chose to go northwards today.

I left my vehicle in the Park n' Ride lot near Weverton and was able to jump right on the trail, as it passes right behind the lot.  Having consulted the topo map, I knew I was in for a challenge.  South Mountain begins on the north bank of the Potomac and rises precipitately to nearly 1,200 feet.  The initial climb is a series of switchbacks as the trail ascends about 600 feet in the first half-mile.  It's not just the steep climb that makes this one so challenging.  The path is well strewn with rocks which requires careful consideration as to where to plant one's foot.  Fortunately, I remembered my trekking poles this time.  There were three occasions when I stumbled, slipped, and tripped on the rocks.  Only those poles kept me from executing an epic face-plant.


At about 900 feet elevation, the way began to flatten out, but the rocks were still there.  It seems as if that end of the mountain is slowly falling apart, dumping rocks down the slopes ranging from pocket-sized to house-sized.  I saw several places where the dedicated volunteers had cleared some good sized rock slides from the trail.  This climb took me awhile, about an hour and 15 minutes, but once I got to the 1,200 foot level, the trail became a lovely, soft springy loam that felt really great on the feet.  I encountered two other hikers, both male, who were fully geared up, their packs topped by foam bed pads.  I don't know if they were through hiking or just spending a night or two, but it was nice to see other people out doing the trail.

When you get near the top of the ridge, there is an overlook called Weverton Cliff that provides a lung-sucking panorama of the rivers and the town below.

 Yup.  I clumb it.


The day was very humid, but not extremely hot, so while I shed a couple of gallons of sweat, I never felt dangerously overheated.  I did take the opportunity to try out a couple of new items.  One was a belt-mounted device from the OFF company, which sprayed a fine mist of insect repellent into the air while I was walking.  It seemed to work pretty well.  The bugs would get close to my face, but never touch it, and I survived the day without a single insect bite, and it was a very buggy day.  The other thing was a huge floppy bucket hat that I found at Costco.  Kind of odd-looking, the brim was large and oval shaped, so it gave good coverage of my face and the back of my neck.  Partway uphill though, I had to flip the front brim up, as I found it difficult to see ahead of me.  The other think I liked was how well it kept the sweat out of my eyes.  Ballcaps (my usual choice) do a fairly good job, but this hat, as ugly as it looks was way more effective.  And had I been caught out in the rain, it would have kept my face and eyes clear.  

 Not quite Indiana Jones...

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Redskins in the Crosshairs -- Chiefs Next?


Copyright © 2014 by Ralph Couey
Written content only.

In 1988, the National Football League franchise located in Washington DC won Super Bowl XXII, thumping the Denver Broncos 42-10.  Washington was quarterbacked by Doug Williams, the first African-American QB to not only play in, but win the Big Game.  It was also the first of what would be countless public demonstrations and protests concerning the team's nickname, "Redskins."

The nickname, many believe, is a word born out of racism dating back to the first time white Europeans pushed into the tribal frontier.  The issue is rapidly coming to a head, with the National Patent Office stripping the team of their copyright on the name.  Across the country, two sets of voices are being raised, one which demands that this term be banned from not only the NFL, but all teams in all sports.  The other set of voices contends that in the modern context, the term is much more closely related to the team and not to that group of people who have come to be called "Native Americans."

Football aside, I have a bit of a problem with that term.  Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a native American because human life did not arise here spontaneously as it did in Africa some 200,000 years ago.  Over the millennia continents have drifted, and sea levels have fallen and risen.  This created pathways of migration.  Everyone here on these three continents (North, Central, and South America, respectively) came here from someplace else, mainly across the Bering land bridge beginning about 16,000 years ago, by the latest estimate.  I prefer the term "First Americans."  It is more accurate, plus it retains the honorific of them being the first to take possession of these lands.


 Team owner Dan Snyder has planted his foot firmly in the rich soil of tradition, vowing to never change the team's name.  But protests are gathering momentum and there seems little doubt that at some point in the near future a Waterloo -- or Little Big Horn -- will be reached when irrevocable action will be taken.

This is not the first time that politics has impacted a team name.  In the 1950's during the virulent anti-communist Joe McCarthy era, the Cincinnati Major League Baseball team, in trying to steer clear of any ideological taint changed their name from the "Reds" to the "Redlegs."  Apparently nobody knew that the original Redlegs referred to the roving bands of anti-slavery terrorists who roamed the border states before, during, and after the Civil War.

There are a lot of other teams closely monitoring this controversy, namely every team that carries a name even remotely associated with First Americans.  The likely next target will be the Kansas City Chiefs.

While the team and it's passionate fanbase have used the name in its First American context, the name actually refers to Kansas City Mayor H. Roe Bartle, whose nickname was "Chief", and the one primarily responsible for bringing the team from Dallas to KC.  The original team logo...




...portrayed a First American in ceremonial headdress racing across six midwestern states with a football in one hand and a tomahawk in the other.  This was a quick and dirty adaptation of the original Dallas Texans logo which showed a cowboy, complete with 6-guns, racing across the state of Texas.


After 1963, however, the First American logo disappeared from official team use and was replaced by the simple arrowhead...


...familiar to all football fans now.  The logo, interestingly enough, was an adaptation by Chief's owner Lamar Hunt of the San Francisco 49'er logo, with the interlocking letters inside an arrowhead instead of an oval.  The arrowhead itself, by the way, has been dated back to Europe, Africa, and Asia as much as 60,000 years ago, a part of the armory which included bone knives and stone axes.  So the current logo is more reflective of the legacy of homo sapiens in general and not a single iteration of it.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

An Island of Unity in a Sea of Discord

Soccer Madness
Americans celebrate in Kansas City's Power & Light District
© Kansas City Star

C 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Written content only.

Every once in awhile, it happens.  We argue, fight, divide ourselves over issues social and political to the point where you think that the whole thing's about to come apart.  The "United" part of the title "United States of America" becomes a dark joke.  The divide widens as people have seemingly lost the will to be one country.

Then, out of that darkness, a chant begins.  One or two voices at first, then more pick it up.  And suddenly, we are all standing shoulder to shoulder; arm in arm, our differences forgotten, shouting "USA!  USA!  USA!

For two weeks, that was us.  America was in the World Cup of Soccer, and winning.  We made it all the way to the round of 16 before losing a heartbreaker to Belgium despite a heroic superhuman effort by goaltender Tim Howard.

But for those two weeks, America was spellbound; entranced.  People gathered in public places all across the country, watching the matches on huge televisions.  Even people who were completely clueless about soccer (you mean we LOST and yet we STILL advance???) were drawn in and caught up.  In Washington, politicians continued to bicker endlessly.  But for two priceless weeks, none of us cared.  Team USA was our passion.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

New Life...And Hope


Copyright 2014 by Ralph Couey

"Babies are such a nice way to start people."
--Don Herold

There are so many wonderful things about the birth of a baby that it's difficult to sort through that blizzard of emotions.  But no matter how many births a person is a part of, somehow that sense of wonder is never lost.

She became our 10th grandchild, counting one given up for adoption and another who, after six difficult months, went to live with God.  It was the latter experience which has taught our entire family the most important lesson about the value and sanctity of life.

Sophie Kim, as her parents have named her, arrived on a hot and humid Friday evening, all 7 pounds and 19 inches of her.  Her appearance was the culmination of a fast-paced series of events, that began with the onset of contractions while she was at the pool with her first two kids.  About 5:00, she called our son, who against all odds was mere minutes from home.  A neighbor came over to watch the two kids, and Robbie and Yukyung jumped in the car -- all right, crawled in the car -- for a risky 35-mile drive to their assigned hospital in Fort Belvoir.  Being Friday, and at the beginning of the tourist season, and in the middle of the DC region rush hour, I did not give them good odds to complete the trip.  But complete it they did, arriving just before 7:00.  Less than an hour later, Sophie emerged into our world.

This morning, my wife and I drove to the hospital, albeit at a more sedate pace, bringing along the first two kids, 7-year-old Diana and 3-year-old Ian.  Once there, their sense of wonder at seeing their new baby sister was something to behold.  Ian's persistent question, "How did the baby come out?" went largely unanswered.  My cryptic response, "The same we she got in there" was far from a ray of light as far as he was concerned.

Cheryl, exercising the Grandma's Privilege, was the first of us to hold the baby.  As I watched, her eyes softened and her face was illuminated by a gentle smile.  She was in her element.  She was born for this moment.

I watched as she explored little Sophie, looking into her face, arms, legs, fingers, and toes, searching for, and finding those distinctive genetic markers identifying her as one of us.  Knowing how important this time was for her, I withheld my impatience until she finally looked up and with a big smile passed her over.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Saturday, Glorious Saturday!*

*Somerset, PA Daily American  April 30, 2010
as "There's Something About Saturdays"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

Like people, the days of the week each have their own reputation. Monday is most often the demon of the group, at least until football season, while Friday gets all the glory.

The origin of these names is intertwined with cultures dating back a thousand years. Sunday is “Day of the Sun,” and depending on the culture can be either the first or the last day of the week. Monday derives from “Day of the Moon.” Tuesday comes from Tiw, the Old English god of war. Wednesday, the one with the odd spelling, was named for the god Woden. Interestingly, in Germany this one morphed into Mittwok, or “mid-week.” (In Spanish, it is “miercoles,” for the god Mercury.) Thursday is named for the Old English god Thunor, and also the Norse god Thor. Friday became the day of the goddess Venus (Frige in Old English).

But of all the days of the week, none hold a special place equal to Saturday.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Miles and Milestones


Copyright ©2014 by Ralph F. Couey

Two years ago this month, I woke up one morning and decided that it was time to exercise.  I started walking on the treadmill that day, and in the time since, I've gotten to the point where I'm running 4 to 5 miles four to six days per week.  I long since have forsaken the treadmill for the great outdoors, except on those days when the weather is so bad as to make outside activities dangerous.  The benefits to my health are multitudinous, as the enthusiasm of my cardiologist attests.

The following February, I was out in California for a visit with our oldest daughter and her three boys.  She introduced me to a smart phone app called "Map My Run."  The app, using the GPS feature on the phone, tracks runs (and walks and hikes as well) for distance, time, and pace, uploading to a regular website at the end of each activity.  Also immortalized are maps of the routes I've run, a handy tool as well.

Even after two years of use, I still get surprised by the information stored therein.  Quite by accident, I stumbled on a page showing "lifetime stats."  I was startled to realize that sometime last week, I topped the milestone of 1,000 miles.

Now, I now that's not comprehensive, as there are several months of work that have gone unrecorded because I was laboring in software ignorance.  But it was interesting to realize that in the time since I got the app, I've spent some 245 hours so engaged, roughly the equivalent of a smidgen over 10 complete days.

Getting Slapped in the Face by Real Life

Copyright ©2014 by Ralph F. Couey

You know how it is.

Days get loaded up with the "have-to-dos" endemic to those whose responsibilities seem to squeeze out everything else.  Yes, it's better than sitting at home staring out of a window, wondering if you really could hear grass grow, but in the discharge of those duties, hours and days are lost.

My day job involves an unusual schedule, Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. until 9:30 p.m.  I used to not have to be there until 1:00 p.m., but a recent reappraisal of the incoming workflow resulted in the adjustment to the new schedule.  I like getting off earlier, but in the effort to keep my exercise schedule, I'm now on the road in the middle of the morning rush.  Along with several hundred thousand of my closest friends.  As a result, what was a 40 minute commute has become a creeping 90-minute ordeal.

Anyway, my days off run Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, which I am happy about because of two things.  Having Sunday and Monday free means I don't miss any pro football.  Plus, there's just something wonderful about sleeping in on Monday mornings...

My wife (with whom I just shared a 36th anniversary) works a similarly convoluted schedule, but we share Sundays and Mondays off, while I have Tuesdays and she has Thursdays to our respective selves.  Monday, though, becomes Honey Do day.  We run errands, do our shopping, work around the house, and make sure that we share a trip to the local Cineplex for a movie.  Today was no different.  I woke up first, going for a 4-mile run while she slept a little longer.  This was earned rest because she was on call last night and ended up spending 7 hours doing surgery.  I got back from my run, cleaned up, and when she arose, we went ahead and did our movie date, taking in the Disney flick "Maleficent."  I won't bore you with a review of the film.  Afterwards, we made our weekly pilgrimage to our friendly neighborhood CostCo.  We picked up the necessary items, paid for them, and headed for the parking lot.  We were loading our car, when I heard a woman's voice call, "Sir?  Sir?"  This directed towards three men who walked by, whether in ignorance, neglect, or indifference.  I turned towards the voice to see a 50-ish lady in one of those electric shopping carts who was trying to load groceries into her SUV.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Civil War: Events of August 1864

Union General Phil Sheridan was named to command the Army of the Shenandoah on August 1st.

August 3rd saw the start of one of the major naval actions of the Civil War at Mobile Bay.  With the loss of New Orleans and Vicksburg, Mobile Bay was one of the last ports available to the Confederacy.  Indeed, a regular parade of blockade runners had been sortieing out of the Bay bound for friendly ports of supply in the Caribbean.  Admiral David Farragut entered the bay with 18 ships on the 5th, far outnumbering the five representing the CSN.  The Union lost ironclad TECUMSEH to a mine (then called "torpedoes"), part of a large field laid by the South.  Despite the loss of that ship, Farragut pressed forward, gambling that the extended submergence would have rendered the mines inert.  It was here that one of the classic naval phrases was born "Damn the torpedoes!  Full speed ahead!"  The balance of the Union fleet entered the Bay successfully, engaging the Confederate ships and also the three heavily defended forts lining the bay.  In short order, the Southern ships were sunk.  The only one left was the ironclad TENNESSEE, which gave a good account for itself, inflicting heavy damage and standing her ground until she was literally pounded into scrap.  Without a fleet to defend them, the forts eventually were forced to surrender on August 23rd.  Shoal water and a lack of ground troops prevented the immediate capture of the city itself, but the loss of one of their last sources of supply followed shortly thereafter by the capture of Atlanta was the first of the final knells that would lead to the death of the Confederacy.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Civil War: Events of July 1864

On July 1st, the United States gets a new Treasury Secretary as William Pitt Fessenden is appointed by President Lincoln and immediately confirmed.  Fessenden, a Senator, replaced Salmon Chase who resigned following the failure of a loan offer to the government to receive any acceptable bids.  Without the ability to borrow money, the entire war effort was in jeopardy.

On that same day, the Senate approved the Wade-Davis Reconstruction Bill, which Lincoln subjected to a pocket veto.

In Georgia, Confederate Joe Johnston ordered his forces to fall back from the Kennesaw Mountain position to a new position along the Smyrna Line on July 2nd.  Also on the 2nd, the U.S. Senate granted a charter to the Northern Pacific Railroad.

July 4th saw Johnston retreat again, this time to the Chattahoochee Line.

Newspaper publisher Horace Greeley received a letter on July 5th containing a Confederate proposal for peace negotiations to be held in Canada.  Greeley forwarded the letter to President Lincoln.

On that same day, Confederate General Jubal Early crossed the Potomac River at Harper's Ferry and entered Maryland with his division.  He turned his force eastward towards Washington.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Hiking, Part 5

Crooked Run Valley from Sky Meadows State Park

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Words and images

Today's sojourn took me to Sky Meadows State Park near Delaplane, Virginia.  The Park, located south of the intersection of US 50 and US 17, was established when Paul Mellon, heir to the Mellon banking empire, donated 1,132 acres to the state of Virginia in 1975.  The park was expanded twice, once to encompass the section of the Appalachian Trail nearby, and again when Mellon donated an additional 248 acres.  The park now encompasses 1,862 acres beginning in Crooked Run Valley and ending along a ridge to the west.  The park property also includes an area on the east side of US 17, where you can find the challenging Lost Mountain Trail.  The park is wonderfully diverse in its ecology.  You hike through meadows, forests, and across streams, each section a visual treat.  In addition, the precipitous uplift from east to west provides wonderful views of the surrounding countryside.

I had known of this park for some time, as it lay alongside one of my regular motorcycle ride routes.  I actually rode in there once, but my untrained eye didn't see much of interest.  But since picking up this hiking bug, I look at places like this with an entirely different perspective.

Sky Meadows has about 19 miles of trails and after conferring with the Ranger, I decided on a route which more or less circled the park, including about 2.5 miles of the AT.

It was a hot day with humidity to match.  Thunderstorms were forecast for later in the afternoon, but I figured to be done by then.  My route would take me from the Visitors Center, up the Piedmont Overlook trail, the Ambassador Whitehouse Trail, the AT segment, and the North and South Ridge Trails, ending up on Boston Mill Road back to the start point.  The morning having been taken up with a doctor's appointment, I didn't actually hit the trails until 12:30.  The sun had come out and was definitely open for business, somewhat ameliorated by a persistent north breeze.  I started out on a flat grass-covered section that took me into the woods, onto Boston Mill Road.  A bit further on, a sign directed me onto the Piedmont Overlook trail.  The transition was actually a set of stone stairs, an indicator of what was to come.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Time Out Becomes Time Vanished

The Human Rhinovirus, from University of Wisconsin Virology

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

I hate getting sick.  Not only is it uncomfortable, it's a confounded nuisance, intruding on every aspect of the life I am trying to live.  Another annoying aspect is the impact of age.  It seems the older I get, the longer it takes to recover.  This one started as an incipient cough acquired during our stay in Las Vegas.  Gradually, other symptoms began to pile up, including the usual suspects of sinus trouble, a fever that comes and goes, fatigue, dizziness, green goo in my lungs, and a general fog that rolls into the brain, much like the similar clouds that fill San Francisco Bay, which slows my intellect, makes simple things hard to do, and turns me into something of a vegetable.  If it were possible to admire the rhinovirus, I would have to tip my hat begrudgingly for it's persistence.  I've been carrying this thing for a week now and it shows no signs of being aware that it has manifestly worn out its welcome.  

This condition, of course, renders operation of a motorcycle too dangerous to attempt, and the constant fatigue makes any kind of exercise impossible.  I hiked six miles last Tuesday at Manassas Battlefield on an exquisitely hot day and haven't hiked or ran a step since.  Worst of all, I lost an entire week of work, cutting deeply into my jealously guarded storehouse of sick leave.  I tried to go in one day, but after a few hours of listening to my hacking cough, I was politely told by one of my colleagues to go home.  I understood.  With the multiple scares of various types of flu, we have been told that if we're sick, stay home.  Don't infect the rest of the office.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Sands of Infinity



The Vegas everyone knows...

...And the stark beauty of the desert that I know.

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
pictures and written content,
except for quoted and cited portions.

Life, it seems becomes a series of patterns, some by design, others we just fall into.  For us, one of these patterns has become our trips to Las Vegas.

No, we're not gambling junkies.  The Vegas of today is so much more than slot machines and table games.  Entertainment is the best anywhere.  The hotels themselves, designed around specific themes, are spectacular to see and visit.  For us, there is the additional attraction that my wife's family visit there two to three times per year, and since flying there is way cheaper than flying to Honolulu, the opportunity to be with her family is priceless.  These visits usually occur in May or June, once the vise of tax season is loosened for these accountants, and again in October around her Mom's birthday.  These dates are usually when hotel rates are the least expensive.  The week we were there, rooms at the iconic, if brooding pyramid, the Luxor were going for the bargain basement rate of $58 per night.  But we always stay in Old Las Vegas, known as downtown, a cluster of hotel casinos flanking the now-roofed over Fremont Street.  These are the names that made Las Vegas in the early days.  The Fremont, The Golden Gate, Four Queens, and the Pioneer Club, with the trademark neon cowboy, known as Vegas Vic, mounted over the front doors.  The nice thing is that these hotels are close together, making it easy to walk from one to another.  On the strip, it can take 20 minutes just to walk next door.  At night, the neon blazes, self-explaining Fremont's acquired nickname of "Glitter Gulch."

And there's another reason.  While there this time, I clicked over my 59th birthday.  What that means, other than varicosity and arthritis, is that retirement is fast approaching, and it is important that we choose where to spend what remains of our lives.  The last thing we wanted was to live in a place where we'd sit around and wait to die.  Las Vegas is full of things to do.  We can be active and engaged in a variety of ways.  Plus it puts us closer to our adult children in Denver and L.A.  

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Hiking, Part 4


Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

Today my wishes lost out to various demands, and as a result, I spent a good portion of the day engaged in those duties to which adults are required to perform.  My intent was to head west to the AT segment near Ashby's Gap, but as I didn't get freed up until nearly 1:30, I decided to keep it local.

The Civil War Battle fought only 20 minutes from my home is known by two different names.  In the South, it was known as the first and second Battle(s) of Bull Run, referring to the stream which bisects the site.  The Union referred to it as Manassas, named for the town a few miles to the south.  Today, the battlefield is a well-preserved 4,500-acres of fields, forests, and streams.  There are also hiking trails.


The two major trails cover each side of Virginia Route 234, AKA Sudley Road.  The trail on the east side of that road, the side with the visitors center, is 5.5 miles.  The one on the west side of the road is 6.5 miles.  The trails are mostly easy, although there are a few steep hills to climb.  It is a picturesque place, mostly quiet except for wildlife and the well-muted sound of traffic from VA 234 and US 29.  It is a lovely place in the springtime, when the new growth is all greened up, especially so on a clear, sunny day.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Thinking About a Motorcycle?*


A wedge of Honda Pacifc Coasts
Photo taken by an unnamed IPCRC member

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat 3/28/2006

Copyright © 2006 by Ralph Couey

Gas prices have continued their volatile roller-coaster ride, and consumers seem to know instinctively that they could zoom once again, as dramatically as a climbing fighter jet. With that in mind, people are looking at two-wheeled conveyances with a far more speculative eye.

It’s tempting. Even big motorcycles can average better than 30 miles per gallon, while scooters can average better than 60 mpg. Practicality aside, motorcycles are just plain fun to ride.

I’ve ridden the better part of 20 years and well over 250,000 miles, the memories of which still bring plenty of smiles.  Knowing the benefits that riding has accrued to me, I encourage people to entertain the possibility of purchasing a motorcycle or scooter. However, it’s important that folks go into this purchase with their eyes wide open.

If you are a new rider, and even if you have some past experience, the rider safety courses offered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation are extremely valuable. Over the space of a few days, you will learn skills that would otherwise take years to acquire on the road.

I will never forget the reaction of one veteran biker. At the end of the course, when he was called up to accept his certificate and card, he said, “I thought this would be a waste of my time. In fact, I learned things here this weekend that the school of experience couldn't teach me in 25 years of riding.”

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Hiking, Part 3

Appalachian Trail

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

This week's sojourn took me to the grandaddy of all the eastern U.S. hikes, the Appalachian Scenic Trail.  This trail, known colloquially as "the A.T." stretches some 2,200 miles from Mount Katahdin in central Maine to Georgia's Springer Mountain in the north-central part of that state.  It started as an idea borne by a forester named Brenton MacKaye in 1921 and publicized by Raymond H. Torrey in the New York Evening Post.  The states along the intended route came onboard and one of the early trail activists, Myron Avery, was the first to "section hike" the trail (doing the entire length in sections, rather than one long hike) in 1936.  The first documented "thru-hike" (doing the trail in one continuous hike) was in 1948 by Earl Shaffer of York, PA.  Shaffer thru-hiked the trail in both directions, becoming the first to accomplish that feat.  By 1971, the trail's course was permanently established.  There is an international Appalachian trail that continues for an additional 1,900 miles into New Brunswick in Canada, although this leg is not officially considered part of the AT.  

Every year, hundreds start the long walk in Georgia in early March and April, usually finishing the trail in Maine by August and September.  The trail was created to be hiked, and as such has shelters along the trail spaced at a day's hiking distance, usually 15 to 20 miles.  

Virginia's part of the AT is about 550 miles long, running from Harper's Ferry to Damascus.  You can access the trail at a number of locations, although convenient places to park your car are a bit difficult to come by.

I ordered two section maps covering northern and central Virginia from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and after perusing both, I identified two places where I could climb aboard.  One is just off Virginia 7 and Blue Ridge Mountain Road near Bluemont, and the other at the south end of that road, just off of US50 as it passes through Ashby Gap, choosing the latter to start my hike today.  After a late start, spending some wonderful hours with my grandson while his Mom ran some errands, I headed west on US50 towards Ashby Gap.  This is one of my regular motorcycle runs, so I anticipated little trouble in locating the parking area off Blue Ridge Mountain Road

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Gathering and the Family Dinner

The Reagan family dinner
Publicity still from CBS Television

Our family dinner
 The Tavern

"You can't forget how important coming together is, whether it be a mom and a son, a dad and a daughter, whether the family be ten people, or twenty people, or a million people.  
Dinnertime is the perfect time for that.  Dinnertime is the perfect time when you can sit down, you can offer thanks to your kids for making you laugh, or to your parents for supporting you, 
or to a god for looking out for you.  
You can just close your eyes, and open them again 
and realize that you have the opportunity every day to change your life, 
or change someone else's.
Dinnertime is a great time to think about that."

--Dillon, age 22
From "Dinnertimes: Stories of American Life, 1912 to 2012

"Sitting down to a meal together draws a line around us.
It encloses us and strengthens the bonds that connect us
with other members of our self-defined clan,
shutting out the rest of the world"
--Miriam Weinstein

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Except quoted and cited passages.

This week we had as guests my wife's sister and her two daughters.  It's always a happy time to have family in for a few days, especially since my wife is always so homesick for Hawai'i

Yesterday, at their request, we drove up to Gettysburg and toured the battlefield and the visitor's center.  Today, we slept in a little and after I got back from my run, we drove to the quaint little village of Upperville, Virginia and broke bread at the Hunter's Head Tavern.  This delightful place is ensconced in a converted home, built around 1750.  It has a good-size patio and garden out back, the perfect backdrop to an evening meal.

From the moment we arrived, we chattered happily, sharing memories and anecdotes, those bits and pieces of life that so clearly define a family.  We sat at the table and enjoyed a delicious meal, as the food always is at the HH.  But the best part of the evening was the sheer joy at simply being together.

There were twelve of us altogether seated around the weathered old table sharing stories and gossip, reveling in the tales of travels to Asia and Europe shared by our two nieces.  It was a wonderful time, a precious all-too-fleeting time.

Civil War: Events of June 1864

On June 1st, Joseph E. Johnston continued his stubborn defense against William T. Sherman with a skirmish at Allatoona Pass.  On that same day, Union General Don Carlos Buell resigned his commission.  He had been shelved after his failure to defeat, and then pursue Braxton Bragg at the Battle of Perryville in October of 1862.  Grant had offered him a command, but Buell, a man of immense pride, declined on the grounds that it would be personally degrading for him to serve under William T. Sherman or Edward Canby because he outranked them both.  In Grant's opinion, it was "the worst excuse a soldier can make for declining service."

On June 2nd, Union General John Sturgis left Memphis leading a force of 8,100 with orders to pursue and destroy Confederate Cavalry General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

On June 4th, Joe Johnston continued his slow, stubborn defense of Georgia in actions from Dallas-New Hope, Lost Mountain, Pine Mountain, and Brushy Mountain.

June 5th and 6th saw a small series of skirmishes between Union troops under Joseph Mower and CSA's Colton Greene at the Battle of Old River Lake in deep southeast Arkansas.  the results were inconclusive, but both sides were able to claim victory.  The Union advance was delayed by the Southerners, but Union troops were able to advance toward Lake Village.

On June 8th, the Republican National Convention renominated Abraham Lincoln for his second term, with Andrew Johnson as his Vice Presidential nominee.

Civil War: Events of May 1864

Starting on May 1st, Federal troops returned to Alexandria, Louisiana where heavy skirmishing will persist for several days.

A broad spring offensive was undertaken by the North on May 4th as Union forces crossed the Rapidan River in Virginia, and three Federal Armies pushed deep in Georgia.

Also on May 4th, the controversial Reconstruction Act passed in the U.S. House.

From May 5th through the 7th, Union and Confederate forces clashed in the Battle of the Wilderness.  For three days, the two forces fought in the dense forest, sometimes setting fires that consumed wounded soldiers on both sides.  Casualties were heavy, the Union suffering some 17,000 dead and wounded, while the toll for the South was around 11,000.  In previous contexts, this would have constituted a Union defeat and would have sent the Army of the Potomac scurrying for the safety of Washington.  But Grant, instead of marching north, disengaged and moved south around Lee's flank towards Spotsylvania Courthouse, his goal being the interposition of his army between Lee and Richmond.  The movement surprised the Union troops who, when they realized that they were on the march instead of retreat, broke into song while marching.  It was the first glimpse of the brutal, grinding strategy of attrition which would, over time, result in the eventual destruction of the Army of Northern Virginia.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Hiking, Part 2A

Mather Gorge, Great Falls, Virginia
A long way to fall...

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Words and pictures

I decided to spend a little time talking about preparedness.  As I said, I'm new to this hiking thing and each time I go, a little more education is acquired.  On this last trek through Riverbend Park, I took a tumble backwards down a steep slope after banging my noggin into a low-hanging limb. I ended up with only a couple of gashes on my hands.  It could have been much worse.

I thought about that a lot today, and how important it was to remember my old Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared."  So I put together a small first aid kit which will accompany me on future trips. The contents consist of two types of bandages, a roll of gauze, a roll of medical tape, a bottle of anti-bacterial spray, a small bottle of iodine-based wound cleaner, a pair of scissors, and a small roll of duct tape.  The last might seem to be a bit odd, but I think with duct tape and a couple of sturdy sticks, I could make a serviceable splint, should the need arise.

Right now, I travel light, carrying only a Camelbak 2 liter reservoir, which is fine for safe trails in relatively populated areas.  But if my plans...or goals, if you will...come to fruition, then I will be tackling trails this summer in the Shenandoah and parts of the Appalachian Trail where it winds through Virginia.  A big part of the preparation involves gathering information on the character of those trails before I go, and selecting the appropriate equipment to take along.  Obviously, Virginia being a "buggy" locale, insect repellent, salve for bites and stings, and since I was at least at one time allergic to bee stings, probably an Epi pen as well.  This may be overkill, since I survived my last encounter with a bee when the little bugger flew inside my motorcycle helmet during a ride, and proceeded to take his errant navigation out on my head.  Other than the stinging pain, I suffered no anaphylactic emergency.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Hiking, Part 2

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey
Pictures and written content

Great Falls Park in McLean, Virginia is a great place to hike.  The scenery is terrific and you have your choice of trails from the ridiculously easy to the just plain ridiculous.  As I mentioned before, the trails through this park tie into a larger trail system that follows the Potomac River for about 45 miles.  Just north of Great Falls is another location, Riverbend Park.  While not as "traily" as Great Falls, there are still several paths to be explored.  I had to be back in town for a mid-afternoon doctor's appointment, and having lost a morning battle to my pillow, I got a later start than I intended.  Nevertheless, I parked in the northernmost parking lot at Great Falls and after stretching out, I headed north.  The day was overcast and cool, one of those days where you kinda need the sweatshirt, knowing you'll be sweating underneath.

The character of the river undergoes a rather startling transformation. North of Mather Gorge, the Potomac is very sedate.  There are a few rocks, but no rapids.  I don't know who the first riverman was to make this trip, but I'm sure he was real surprised.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Hiking: Good for the Heart, and the Soul

Great Falls Park, Virginia

Copyright © 2014 by Ralph F. Couey

Almost three years ago I woke up one humid June morning and decided to start exercising.  Since then what was a 1-mile walk has become a 4.5 mile run four to five days per week.  As odd as it sounds, it's been fun, once the muscles get warm and loose.  Along with the burst of endorphins, there is that special feeling of accomplishment.

I do most of this outdoors, even running on cold days, mainly because of my detestation for treadmills.  I love being outdoors.  The sun, the sky, the fresh air all combine to lift exercise into exhaltation.

My cardiologist has been ecstatic with the results.  He says my heart is far healthier than the average for my age, which is really good news for someone with five stents contained therein.  But over the winter, I read about the long-term results of that steady pounding on the joints.  I'll turn 59 this year and I'd like to keep my legs underneath me for as long as possible.  My GP Doc suggested that I take up hiking.  I rolled that around in my mind for a week or so, then went to the Internet in search of possible places to take this new activity.