About Me

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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 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

Monday, March 30, 2015

Hiking, Part 18

Copyright 2015
By Ralph F. Couey
Words and pictures

Today we were lured to Lake Accotink Park by the rumor of nesting eagles in the area.  Alas, we were disappointed by the absence of the great raptors, but had a great hike anyway.

Lake Accotink is a reservoir surrounded by a 500-acre piece of paradise plunked down amidst the urban bee hive of Fairfax County.  The park lies less than 2 miles (as the eagle flies) from one of the busiest freeway interchanges in the entire Washington DC area, I-495 and I-66.  Stitched through the hills and around the lake are a multitude of trails that branch off the main path which widely circles the lake itself.  Accotink Creek was dammed to create the lake and the area has been a government facility, a camp during World War I, an Army officers' retreat, and finally a county park.  The main trail follows parts of the old railbed for the Orange and Alexandria railroad, an important Union rail line.  Today, a massive concrete and steel Norfolk Southern bridge crosses the creek in the place where a log trestle stood during the Civil War, at least until Jeb Stuart and his cavalry burned it down.

This trail shares space with the Fairfax Cross-County Trail, a conglomeration of interconnected trails which runs some 40 miles from Occoquan Regional Park in the south all the way to Great Falls Park, where it joins with the Potomac Heritage Trail

The weather started out cool, but warmed pretty quickly, although the wind retained a bit of a bite.  This would be Cheryl's first time out on the trail, so I thought this might be a good way to start the season for her, especially as she's breaking in a new pair of Merrill hiking boots.

There are several ways to approach the park.  We chose the route through the Ravensworth Farm neighborhood off Braddock Road.  We parked in the first lot we came to and after gearing up, went down an asphalt path to the marina.  Here was a beach, a carousel, a couple of snack bars and several picnic shelters, from the looks of things a very busy place after Memorial Day.

The path leaving the marina was wide and in excellent shape.  It undulated a bit as we walked along, but nothing like the steep climbs we had experienced in other places.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Marketing and the Octane Myth



Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey

I admit it.  I fell for it.  I believed it, that myth that was promulgated by gasoline retailers about octane.  I thought that the higher the octane rating, the more power I'd get out of the engine, and when you're a teen-aged boy with a brain bathed in testosterone, power is everything.

Even as an adult, I persisted in my ignorance.  Now, age doesn't always make you smarter, but in my case the facts finally caught up with me.

In the 1950's and 1960's, gasoline retailers used to duel with each other in advertisements about the octane rating of their product.  The way the adverts were worded, it was easy for the consumer to misinterpret the meaning.  Also, since high octane gas was more costly, it did handsome things to the company's bottom line.  In the '70's, (especially after the oil embargo) smaller cars with smaller, less powerful engines began to hit the roads.  Now, the tune changed to miles per gallon, and eventually the value of detergent additives.  Even to this day, however, if you were to ask the average Joe/Josephine on the street what octane is for, you'd likely get the wrong answer 9 out of 10 times.

Octane is a chemical which is added to gasoline for specific reasons.  It's sole purpose is to raise the compression ratio, and therefore the ignition point (when it catches fire), of the fuel.  Car and truck engines are not the same.  The game little 4-banger in a Dodge Neon, for example, is vastly different than the 12-cylinder monster that Lamborghini drops into their cars.  One of the most basic differences is in compression.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Civil War: Events of May 1865

On May 3rd, Georgia Governor Joseph Brown called a meeting of the state legislature when word came through that Confederate General Joe Johnston had surrendered.

The next day, Confederate General Richard Taylor surrendered the remaining troops in Alabama and Mississippi.

A man named Phillip Henry Mulkey was arrested in Eugene, Oregon on May 6th after he publicly shouted "Hurrah for Jeff Davis!".  A pro-union mob stormed the jail, but Mulkey escaped.

After nearly a month of eluding U.S. soldiers, Jefferson Davis is captured near Irwinville, Georgia on May 10th.

Also on the 10th, the Confederate vessel CSS Imogene became the last known ship to successfully run the Union blockade.

Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens was arrested at his estate, Liberty Hall, in Crawfordville, Georgia by the 4th Iowa Cavalry.

May 12th and 13th was the last significant battle of the Civil War at Palmito Ranch along the Rio Grande river east of Brownsville, Texas.  Union Colonel Theodore Brown, perhaps grasping for one last shot at glory, attacked a Confederate camp near Fort Brown, despite the unofficial truce that had been observed between the two sides.  Confederate Colonel John Ford successfully resisted the attack and the battle is generally considered a Confederate victory.  Perhaps the most significant event to come of this battle was the recording of the death of Private John J. Williams of the 34th Indiana Regiment.  He was the last combat death of the war.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Civil War: Events of April 1865

On April 1st, a Union combined force under General Phil Sheridan met and defeated Confederate General George Pickett's combined force at the strategic Five Forks.  The Southern withdrawal left in jeopardy the Southside Railroad, one of the few remaining lifelines for the Army of Northern Virginia.

From April 2nd through the 9th, Union General Edward Canby led a successful attack on Fort Blakely in Baldwin County, Alabama.  The defeat opened the doors for the occupation of the vital port of Mobile on the 12th.

General Grant finally achieved his breakthrough at Petersburg on April 2nd.  The Confederate lines crumbled as Lee frantically sent the remnants of his Army of Northern Virginia in the direction of Appomattox.  Upon receiving word that Lee was abandoning his positions, President Jefferson Davis ordered the evacuation of the Confederate government.

Also on the 2nd, Selma, Alabama fell to Union forces under James H. Wilson, defeating Confederate legend Nathan Bedford Forrest.

Union troops occupied Petersburg and Richmond on April 3rd.  The next day, Union President Lincoln arrived in Richmond to the sounds of cheers from hundreds of freed slaves.  Lincoln went to the Southern White House and sat at the desk that had belonged to Jefferson Davis.

The Union army now in full pursuit of Lee's Army fought a series of engagements between the 4th and the 7th.  In the Battle of Saylor's Creek, 8,000 Confederate troops surrendered.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Hiking, Part 17


Copyright © 2015
by Ralph F. Couey
Pictures and written content.

The forecast called for sun and 70 degrees.  Of course, they lied.  Or guessed wrong.  At any rate, I squeezed a few hours out of my other duties to make my first official hike of the season.  I decided to jump in with both feet and tackle a section of the Appalachian Trail which runs between Virginia Route 7 on the north to US Route 50 to the south.  This section is familiarly known to local hikers as "The Roller Coaster."  For good reason, as the trail continually climbs and descends.  Rather than start at US 50, I decided to get on at a different place.  

I headed out about mid-morning bound for Ashby's Gap rolling down my window to luxuriate in air that seemed actually warm.  But about halfway out, the wind appeared with a vengeance.  I frowned, thinking I had not seen that in the forecast. I got to my turnoff, Blue Ridge Mountain Road, one of my favorite motorcycle rides, and headed north.

About halfway up Blue Ridge Mountain Road, their lies the infamous Mt. Weather FEMA facility, ensconced behind chain link, barbed wire, and an assumed host of sensors.  Directly across from the front gate is a dirt path carrying the grandiose name of Virginia Route 605.  About a mile or so down (and I do mean down) that road is where the AT crosses.  There is a shallow pullout on one side of the road, and on the other side an elevated sort of grassy road meant to service the power lines that snake alongside the road.