Saturday, October 31, 2009

Trails, Guns and ATV's

It all seemed like a pretty good idea. Establish a network of trails in a beautiful area of the Ouachita National Forest near Mena, Arkansas that would be primarily for All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) and Off-road Vehicle (ORV) use. There were very few trails in the Ouachita National Forest that were specifically designated for ATV and ORV use. I believed that having trails established specifically for ATV's would be good for ATV enthusiasts as well as the other users of the National Forest. I had been riding this area for a number of years on my mountain bike prior to it becoming an ATV Trails system and enjoyed riding the old logging roads and enjoyed the beautiful woods and the many clear creeks.

Although I did not ride ATV's, I had been involved with other similar projects, (establishing new trails) working as a volunteer to build mountain biking and hiking trails within the Ouachita National Forest. The grand opening was a great success with a large number of ATV's showing up to ride in the "Wolf Pen Gap ATV Recreation Area".

The first year for Wolf Pen Gap ATV Trails was going well with no problems, and looked to be a great success. But, as can often happen, not all issues had been thoroughly considered. Deer season was approaching and the Ranger District had not taken into consideration, the impact and the potential adverse interaction between the deer hunters and the ATV riders.

This area had been a very popular deer hunting area for decades. There were many primitive deer camps, along the creeks, and deer hunters would claim their camps days ahead of deer season. Now on this, the first day of the first year of dear season in the "Wolf Pen Gap ATV Recreation Area", there was unrest in the woods. Reports were coming into the Ranger District. ATV riders were complaining that while they were riding, they had some hunters aim their rifles at them. Deer hunters were complaining that there were ATV's buzzing all about their deer hunting area, and scaring the deer away.

After the deer season was over, the Ranger district invited deer hunters and ATV riders to attend a meeting to have an open discussion on how best to resolve this situation in the future. I did not want to miss this and as it was open to the public, I attended the meeting.

It went basically like this. The hunters made a very emotional plea, proclaiming very loudly that they have hunted in the this area all of their lives. Just like their daddy and like their daddy's daddy. The ATV riders proclaimed that there are hundreds of square miles of open forest for hunting and the Wolf Pen Gap Area represented only a fraction of a percent of the National Forest and that it should not be open for hunting. Of course the hunters felt they should have exclusive access during deer season, restricting the ATV's from this area during hunting season. My opinion at the time was that as this area had now been established as an ATV recreation area, that it should be that. In the same way that hunting is not allowed in other National Forest Recreation Areas and State Parks due to the heavy concentration of people, the same should be considered for the new ATV park.

So now it was time for the National Forest to make a decision as to how this would be handled in the future. They decided that the ATV's would be restricted during deer season. Following this ruling I took time to discuss this decision with the Ranger, and told him that I found it curious that ATV's (at that time) were allowed to ride anywhere in the National Forest unless it was specified otherwise, even during deer season. Now we have decided that the only place that the only place the ATV's cannot ride during deer season is within the "ATV Recreation Area". This seemed to be an odd decision... but his logic for this policy was that the hunters had guns. He just wanted to avoid any conflicts.

One last curiosity with this affair, was that after the hunters got their way in excluding ATV's from ATV Recreation Area, they then wished to be able to use their own ATV's in the area during deer hunting season. At least on this issue the Ranger District stood ground and stated their would be no ATV use by anyone in the Wolf Pen Gap Recreation Area during deer season.

This was many years ago, and the tensions between hunters and ATV riders have moderated.
The Wolf Pen Gap Recreation Area, now faces other challenges, but that will be discussed in a later blog.

Related Links Ouachita ATV Adventures Mena, Arkansas Ouachita National Forest Service Arkansas Game and Fish Ouachita ATV Riders Club

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Baby Sitting for my Daughter Inlaw.

My wife and I are yet to have any grandchildren. I am 56 years old and me and the little lady are getting a bit anxious to have a grand baby, but the boys do not seem to be in any kind of hurry. One aspect of grand parenting I look forward to, is serving as occasional baby sitter. But I sensed a little reservation on behalf of my daughter in law about me serving as a baby sitter in the future.

So, I thought to help build her confidence, I would volunteer to babysit her little Pomeranian Puppy as a means of gaining some trust. I figure if I can prove to be a good dog sitter, then that should build some confidence in my ability to be a good baby sitter. You see, she makes a few trips each year out to Southern California (work related), and is always in need of a puppy sitter. I volunteered my services. She was reluctant, but eventually caved in for one of her trips. I think she simply ran out of options.

So it would be me and the puppy (Maximus) alone for 10 hours a day for three days. What to do with all that spare time. Well he is a darling little pooch and you cannot help but loving him, but I do enjoy having a bit of fun. I could tell my daughter in law was a little concerned as she left her puppy with us, but I assured her I would take good care of him....

Now the best way to tell the story of those three days is to show the "video evidence" that I have submitted to YouTube. I will have to explain, that my life on a daily basis is lesson in multitasking. Watching the news, talking on the phone, taking care of my customers on-line, watching some videos, and one can become distracted. This to the peril of the little puppy Maximus.

Let the Antics Begin!
Click Below to See

No Puppies were harmed in the making of this video.

My First Hang Glider

I cannot remember which magazine it was that I saw the photo. It was probably Popular Science or Popular Mechanics. But the image had an immediate effect on me. I can remember the large triangular shaped craft hanging in the air with a guy hanging from the bottom. Well.... this certainly looks interesting. The article spoke about the new sport of Hang Gliding. You could buy these plans, and be flying in just a few days. Well that sounded pretty good, but I figured it may be best to find out as much info as I could before "jumping" in.

I was living in San Bernardino California, and after some research I located a company in Sylmar California called Free Flight Systems. They were not offering plans, but would sell instead, a kit with all the parts needed to build your own for $250.00, or they would sell a complete glider for $500.00. They also offered lessons!

They told me that if I could round up a half dozen people for lessons, that they would come up to San Bernardino and provide the equipment and lessons at $25.00 per person. A week later I and almost a dozen others were seeing our first hang glider. Our instructor, Rico Blair gave a demo flight off of the 500 ft. Little Mountain, located right in the middle of San Bernardino. We were all quite amazed at his 2 minute flight. Then it was off to find a training hill.

We gathered on a small hill on Kendal Drive. There was a 20 foot high slope and another hill at about 30 ft. Rico spent a good amount of time showing us how to assemble the gliders, gave a short explanation as to how these aircraft flew, and then taught us all that we would need to know to make our first efforts at trying to fly. One by one, a student would pick up the glider and with a million things running through their minds, they would run down the slope with hopes of flight. Some never got air born, and would run all the way down the hill like a giant Gooney Bird. Others would become air born for only a moment and then would stall, and thump to the ground skinning knees and elbows. Then it was my turn.

I pull on the harness and helmet, hook into the glider, pick it up and wait for instructions from Rico. I am watching some wind streamers on the hill and at the bottom that indicates from what direction the breeze is coming. Rico wants me to wait until the wind is straight in when I make my effort to launch.

After a few minutes of waiting, the light wind starts blowing in straight. Wings level... Rico tells me to lower the nose a bit... nose pointing into the wind... Rico says I am clear to launch and tells me to run hard.

I start running down the hill, and I feel the wind filling the billowing sailcloth, and then my feet leave the ground. Not wanting to experience the stall as I had observed others perform, I pulled in a little bit on the control bar, and I could immediately feel the speed of the glider pick up. And just a couple seconds later, it is time to land. Rico had told us that as our feet approach the ground we would need to flair the wing by pushing out on the control bar.

I pushed out and pulled off what was the first really successful flight of the day with a two step landing. I had several other flights that day, all with great success. The smile on my face could not be any larger. A few others caught on and I could tell that they too were hooked. The bulk of the students left that day probably electing NOT to become hang glider pilots.

That evening after helping to disassemble the training gliders, I and a couple others talked with Rico about purchasing gliders from Free Flight Systems. I chose to go with the kit, while the others could afford the fully assembled. We got to select our custom sail designs and colors and would be waiting a couple of weeks for our sails to be sewn and then the gliders would be ready for pickup.

The kit consisted of a number of large diameter aluminum tubes. These would have to be cut to length according to the plans. There was also a large collection of aircraft quality bolts and nuts, and a large spool of aircraft cable that would have to be cut to various lengths. There was also some copper tubing that would be used to make bushings. Also supplied were a couple of special tools. One tool was used to compress the nicos for securing the cables through thimbles and onto tangs. The tangs would be attached to the various points of the frame. Where the bolts passed through tubes, an over-sleeve of tubing would be secured in place with the copper bushing for extra strength. The bushing flange was made with the special flairing tool provided. Fortunately the sail was complete and would only need to have the tubes inserted and secured to the frame. It took me two days to build my first hang glider. It looked great!

The very next weekend my brother and I were out at the training hills. Within a week I was flying of the 500 ft. Little Mountain.

This was a very exciting decade in which to fly hang gliders. Manufactures sprung up everywhere, and every year there would be the need to buy the "Next Generation" of glider. These were also some very challenging days as well. Not all the designs were entirely sound, and the casualty rate was very high. Some pilots took unnecessary risks and would pay dearly for their lack of caution with injuries or death. Some just made mistakes and did not understand weather conditions and would find themselves in terrible predicaments. I am glad to have participated in the first decade, but am also simply glad that I survived. I credit Rico Blair for being an excellent instructor, and also a great mentor through the first few years.

Now close to 4 decades later, the hang gliders that we fly are amazing and provide soaring craft that are aerodynamically sound, with excellent performance. There are excellent training programs throughout the world. And now with the recent advent of the Paraglider, we now have another option for foot launching from the mountains.

Related Links

Ouachita Hang Gliding- Where I currently do most of my flying

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Where There Is Fire... There May Be A Smoker!

I was working the night shift at the small town hospital as the Director of Respiratory Therapy. The night shift only required one therapist, so I was performing the routine therapies for patients requiring therapy through the night. It was a slow night and we did not have many patients requiring therapy. This slow night would suddenly be broken up with an emergency situation that I had not encountered before. My pager sounded off, and I called the operator to be informed that there was a fire in the Emergency Room parking lot. I asked if they had already called the local Fire Department, and they stated that they had, so I headed for the Emergency Room parking lot.

Now I should explain that at the time in this small hospital, the respiratory therapist duties often included areas that were certainly outsider the normal duties of a respiratory therapist. At this time the night duty respiratory therapist would not only be responsible for the respiratory care of the patients, but would also be called for security issues, and in charge of monitoring the boiler room, and we were also to respond to fires.

As I headed for the sliding doors providing access to the parking lot, I grabbed the fire extinguisher from the wall. In the parking lot, I locate a vehicle that has smoke coming out of the hood. I check inside the car to confirm there was nobody in the vehicle. Now to deal with the fire. I peered into the grill of the vehicle and could see some small flames. It was an older vehicle and I would be able to pop the hood if it was not too hot. I released the hood and it popped up enough for me to be able to direct the fire extinguisher at the flames. A short blast from the extinguisher and the flames went out.... but seconds later re-ignited.

The fire did not look large and did not look to be spreading fast, so I just kept dousing the flames when they would re-ignite, trying to avoid depleting the extinguisher. I could hear the sirens of the local fire department on their way. As soon as they arrived they quickly took over and were able to completely extinguish the fire.

I headed back into the Hospital with the spent fire extinguisher. I needed to bring a new fire extinguisher in the Emergency Room, so I was off to maintenance to exchange the extinguisher. There was nobody on duty in maintenance, (curiously that was also a duty of respiratory therapy at night... checking the boiler room of all things) so I left a note on the spent fire extinguisher stating that I had used it on the car fire in the parking lot. But as I was leaving maintenance, the mischievous light went on in my head and thought I could write a better note than what I had left.

Now it would help if you understood that the hospital had just recently enacted a long needed "No Smoking" policy throughout the hospital. I had battled for this policy for many years, and had butted heads with a particular nurse, (I will call her Ethel) who battled for years for her right to smoke in the hospital. So, I felt it might be appropriate to have a bit of fun.

I wrote another note to be attached to the spent fire extinguisher for morning maintenance shift. "Maintenance- I caught Ethel smoking in one of the bathrooms and I used this on her." I signed my name and left to finish my shift figuring the director of maintenance would enjoy my little joke.

I was at home asleep when the phone rang. It was the respiratory therapist on duty, and she stated that I needed to come in right away to talk with the Hospital Administrator. She explained that the director of nursing was very upset about the incident last night and was seeking to have me fired. She continued, explaining that I needed to come in right away to speak with the Hospital Administrator about the incident last night. I looked at the clock. It was 11:00 in the morning and I had only been asleep for a few hours. What the heck! I put out a fire, and my job is being threatened?

So I am on my way to visit the Hospital Administrator and I am perplexed as to how my putting out a fire would be a problem. The Administrator's secretary tells me to go on in, and I am instructed to have a seat next to the director of nurses and the director of maintenance. The Hospital Administrator explains the reason for calling me in was about the incident last night.... going on he expressed deep regret that I would use a fire extinguisher on one of our personnel. I looked at him try to see any hint of a grin. He looked serious. Then I looked at the directors of nursing and maintenance and they were stone faced as well. The director of maintenance was holding "The Note" in his hand.

This had to be a joke! A grand plot to pay me back for my little joke. Were they serious? Apparently so. The directors of maintenance and nursing had spent most of the morning searching the bathrooms to find the room where this evil deed had been perpetrated. They could not find the evidence and they were upset about having to spend their morning looking in all the bathrooms. They were very upset. They were sure they should have been able to find the residue left by the fire extinguisher.

I asked them if they had spoken to Ethel. They had not. I asked them if they were aware of the fire that had occurred in the parking lot early in the morning. They stated that they were aware of that. Had they heard that I had put out the fire with a hospital fire extinguisher. They stated that they had. It was still obvious they were not seeing the connection.

So I started explaining to them that my note was placed in an effort to make what I thought would be a harmless but funny joke. I apologized and stated that I did not think that anyone would take it serious. They continued to not see the humor.

The Hospital Administrator dismissed the nursing and the maintenance directors, so that he could speak to me personally. Standing up, he stated that my note was not according to policy and highly recommended that I refrain from such practice. I stated that I would... He then leaned over his desk towards me, and remarked in a hushed voice... I did think that was pretty funny though, and gave me a wink.

My 25 years working in hospital settings has made it very clear. There is nothing like a long night shift in the hospital to elicit some high jinx and practical jokes. I guess it is what I would call the ultimate in "Gallows Humor". I have a number of other curious tales from the night shift that I will share in the future.

Related Links
National Board for Respiratory Care
Fire Safety
American Lung Association

Monday, October 12, 2009

Stranded after Hang Gliding

Yup.... I was stranded.... I had just landed my hang glider after a fairly short flight off of Mount Magazine in Arkansas. Now my situation was not all that desperate. I had opted to be what is referred to as the "wind dummy", by taking a shot at an early launch. Launching before the thermals are really abundant can sometimes end up with a short flight. If you do not find a good thermal, you might be looking at a quick flight to the landing zone. But if you get up, you get a head start on the rest of the pilots.

On this day I did not have a driver, thus my vehicle was left on top. Now usually I would either radio up to the top to one of the other pilots and plead for someone to bring my truck down, but this was an unusual day. In the launch set up area was a couple of experienced pilots with new gliders and they and the other pilots were very involved with making sure their set up and launches went well. I did not want to bother them. It could be a good while before another glider showed up in the landing zone where I was. It was the middle of July and the heat was starting to turn on. I decided that I would hitch hike back to the launch. I packed my glider away. Grabbed my radio so that I could listen to the guys up top, and also grabbed the water pouch out of my flight harness so that I could stay hydrated in case I had to walk a lot in the heat. For flying long flights, the water pouch slips into the harness and a 3 foot tube routes the tube to near my helmet for easy access to the water.

I draped the clear plastic water pouch over my shoulder letting the drinking tube dangle. I clip the radio onto my trousers and I am good to go. It is a quarter mile walk out to the highway. Once there, I find walking on the pavement shoulder to be quite a bit hotter. This is not a busy highway, so I figured I might as well do some walking rather than just standing there in the heat. It is 7 miles to the the turnoff to the State Park at the little town of Havana, Arkansas. There is a convenience store there where I would be able to get a snack if needed. As the heat pounded down on my head, I certainly hoped that I would not have to walk the entire distance.

This is not a heavily traveled highway and only a few cars had passed with many minutes in between. So I keep on walking, with my thumb out hoping for the next vehicle to stop. I am about a mile down the road when I hear a vehicle downshifting.... I may be in luck! A compact sedan rolls past me belching smoke from it's exhaust and pulls over to the side of the road. It looks like a Vega or Pinto from the 1970's. I trotted towards the vehicle and a man with long stringy hair stuck his head out the window as I approached and said, "Hey! You like dogs?" I assumed that this was not a random question, and figured I would be riding with a canine. Well, I had enough of the heat and figured I could put up with a dog, so yes... I like dogs!

I approach the passenger side and see his gal in the front passenger seat. "You will have to ride in the back seat with the dogs man" says the stringy haired fellow. His gal is sliding her seat forward to allow me access to the back seat of the little two door. "Don't worry man... they won't bite" he said. Well the "They" was three full grown German Shepherds! The driver could see the concern on my face but he reassured me that they were friendly.

So I start squeezing into the back seat area. Dog number one made it clear he was not going to give up his window seat. So I slowly lowered myself in between window seat dog and dog riding in the middle. After quite a bit of shifting and grunting by both the dogs and myself we somehow made room in the rear seat. Good to go, and we are heading for Havana.

Now it really gets fun. These dogs had obviously been riding in the back of the un-air conditioned car for a number of miles. They were panting hard and loud and all three were drooling profusely. As the vehicle got up to around 55 mph, the wind coming into the windows started tossing their drool about the rear passenger area. I am getting a canine slobber shower. Stringy haired dude is busy with small talk with the gal up front, while I battle the three heavy breathers in the back.

This short drive seemed an eternity, and as I exited the vehicle at my Havana destination, the Stringy Haired Dude is laughing and says, "Hey man... the only reason I stopped is I wanted to see if anyone was crazy enough to ride in the back with my dogs." I thanked him for the ride, and was indeed grateful, but also felt like I had just been punked. I looked around to see if Ashton Kutcher was running out with a camera.

I wash my face at the convenience store and slam down a Gatorade to get the dog slobber taste out of my mouth. It is another 6 miles up to the top of the mountain. Now the traffic would really be sparse. I had not walked very far when the very first vehicle that came by came to a skidding stop on the side of the road. I approached the pickup truck wondering what adventure would await me now. The gentleman stuck his head out the window of the pickup truck and said he could give me a ride to the top if I did not mind riding in the back. He already had another passenger in the front seat. I looked in the back of the truck and noted there were no dogs and no snakes. "No problem man..... I appreciate it!" And I climbed into the truck with a bit of a concern as to whether this guy was going to scare the heck out of me by driving too fast. He had surprised me with his skidding stop, to pick me up. The drive was uneventful and I enjoyed the fresh air and no dog slobber. He even delivered me right to the Hang Glider launch area.

As I hopped out of the truck bed, his wife got out of the truck and with a very concerned look on her face she asked if I was okay? That seemed on odd question. "Yes mam, I am okay." She paused and then stated, "we usually do not pick up hitch hikers, but when I saw you, I told my husband Harry to stop, that we have to pick him up.... he is on an I.V." She glanced at my water pouch draped over my shoulder. I tried not to laugh to hard while I explained it was simply a water dispensing device from my hang glider harness. She laughed with me and started asking questions about the hang gliding as we walked towards the launch.

This day did not produce a very memorable flight for me, but instead, I was presented with a bit of an adventure during my hitch hike back to my truck. Sometimes you just do not know where the adventure will come from.
Related Links
My Related Blogs

Monday, October 5, 2009

My short experience as a swimming instructor

It was in the late 1980's and early 1990's when I dabbled in triathlons in Arkansas. The triathlon racing event would consist of racing in three different modalities; swimming, bicycling and running. As I had very poor swimming skills I chose to enter a few of these events as a team effort and compete against other 3-person-teams. With my team and I would either run or bike, and I would let one of the other team mates take care of the swimming portion. We would usually place fairly well against the other team efforts.

So I have entered my team into the Lake Degray Triathlon in Arkansas. My team was all pumped up and ready for this, when I get a call and one of my team mates (our swimmer) would not be able to participate. So I go into panic mode as I only have a few weeks to find a replacement.

I ask around at work if anyone swims and would like to be on our team. None were very interested, but one did give me a lead. She told me about our local Psychiatrist (I will call him Dr. Haines) who would swim a couple hours a few times a week at the local public swimming pool.

Well I already had a developed a friendship with Dr. Haines, but had been unaware of his swimming activity. When I approached him about the possibility of him being on our team he showed interest, but let me know that he had never swam competitively. I explained to him that the distance of the swim would be pretty short compared to distances he has been swimming, and that he would probably be looking at only 30-40 minutes in the water. My concern was that he was primarily a distance swimmer, and this would be more of a sprint. So I encouraged him to concentrate on speed over the next few weeks. I also felt that he should try to do as much swimming as possible in natural water, allowing him to settle into a rhythm rather than all the laps in a short pool.

I came up with the idea, that we would meet a few days a week at a pool of water created by a damn at Charlton Campground near Hot Springs, Arkansas. He could drive there to swim the pool and I would ride my bike there to get some workout as well, and then he could bring me and my bike back home.

So we settle into a routine. I would ride to the Charlton Campground, watch Dr. Haines swim for and hour or so. On the second day, I notice that he is taking a breath on every stroke. I encourage him to do a number of strokes and then breath.... he tries that and finds a rhythm that will work for him. Each day he got faster. He would stop swimming and ask a question.... "Hey Mike.... is my left arm dragging a bit.... I would watch closely and tell, him that everything looked fine."

The weeks passed and we are finally ready for race day. The swimmers are first in the water. Dr. Haines positions himself in the middle of the field as I had encouraged him. I did not want him to start to far back or too far forward. He is nervous, but very excited about his first competitive event. And they are off!

It did not take long for me to loose sight of him in the flailing arms and kicking legs of the 150 other swimmers so I left the beach area. Besides, I had to make sure I was ready to ride when he came up out of the water. About 30 minutes later the first swimmers are out of the water and are heading for their bikes or are tagging a partner if they were on a team effort. And the swimmers keep coming and I wait and wait.... Eventually there looks to be only about 10 swimmers left in the water. Finally Dr. Haines drags himself out of the water.... Our team is now in very poor position, but at least he made it. He did not look very happy as he approached me, and his only comment was an "expletive deleted" as he tag me. I took off hoping to regain some of the time suffered by our poor swim effort. What the heck went wrong out there I kept thinking. He looked really good in practice.

I think we still ended up placing around third place when it was over. My bike effort was good as was our runners effort and we made up a lot of time. When all was over, Dr. Haines pulled me aside and asked me why the Hell I had not told him that it would be that way..... I did not know what he was talking about. He explained that he was dunked several times by other swimmers, he lost his goggles when he got kicked in the face. He swallowed large volumes of lake water, and even had his swim trunks pulled down to his knees. He was livid, and was making it very clear that I should have told him that it would be like this. All I could say was, "How was I to know... I have never swam in one of these... I do not even know how to swim. His face turning red, he then yelled at me asking why the Hell then I was acting like I was some kind of Swim Instructor. A very harsh "expletive deleted" came out of his mouth and he stormed away to his van....

Man.... I felt bad.... We had all shared a ride to the event in his van and started wondering if we would have a ride back home. He sat and steamed in his van and we finally sheepishly climbed in. It was a very quite and uncomfortable ride back home.

As the weeks passed I felt really bad. We used to occasionally have lunch together at the hospital, and seemed to share a lot of similar ideas and had some interesting and stimulating conversation. But now, he avoided me like the plague. I had lost a friend and did not know what to do....

Some months went by, and I am having lunch alone in the hospital cafeteria. when Dr. Haines sits down with a big smile on his face and gives me a friendly "how ya doin". Fine I say, how are you! He says he is fine but would like to ask me a big favor. He explaines that there was a Tae Kwon Do tournament that he would be participating, and was wondering if I would help coach him. He gave me a deadpan stare, waiting for a response... After a few seconds I said, "Dr. Haines... I know nothing about Tae Kwon Do". Dr. Haines states, "Hey, you didn't let that stop you from being a swimming coach!" He burst out in laughter, and I laughed as well.

Once the laughing stopped, he got a serious look on his face and explained that he really did want me to be his coach. There was some kind of rule that you had to have your coach present and he was without one. They would not ask for any credentials. It was just a formality or something. I said sure! This was great! Not only would I get to see the tournament for free, but would be adding "Tae Kwon Do Instructor" to my list of talents. And most important... and I had gained a friend back.

Anyone need Swimming Lessons or Tae Kwon Do lessons? Contact Me!

Related Links