All posts by Kendrick

The peace of wild Birds

In the midst of the fear and uncertainty of current events, I have found some solace in the everyday, carry-on-as-usual activity of Sialia sialis, i.e the Eastern Bluebird. I built a box last year and hung in on a tree close to our house, positioned so that I could lazily sit at my kitchen window and watch the activity. A pair of bluebirds made multiple trips in and out of the box but never made a nest. Suspecting they got spooked by the household activity and domestic pet presence I moved the box during the winter months to a more suitable location

Bluebirds prefer the edges of open fields with nearby branches for perching.

I started surveying the box at the beginning of March. We had a cool rainy start to the year which apparently can put off bluebirds from nesting. Nonetheless on 3/21 I was rewarded with this sight

The first egg

The next day there were two more eggs (not shown), the day after that four, and then the final total became five

She must have been exhausted

Apparently five eggs is the most common number. Each egg is 21 mm long on average, just under an inch. Nest is made entirely of grass. Though my observations were limited, I never saw an adult bird bring in nesting material. Though I didn’t check the box every day, the nest seemed to appear magically – one day the box was empty and the next time I checked there was a substantial collection of grass, perfectly formed in a cup like shape, crowned by the first egg. Also, I didn’t’ see a adult bird near the nest until after all five eggs were laid when I spotted a female bluebird perched nearby. Understandably she didn’t want to start sitting the eggs until they were all laid so as to have a uniform time of incubation. Sure enough, the day after the five eggs were present Mamma Bird was on the nest. As I approached I could see her head poking up in the slot entrance to espy intruders. When I pulled the door down, off she flew until I had inspected the clutch and then walked away. Bluebirds are very tolerant of inspection and handling of the nest by humans. I got Vikki to do one inspection, too:

And I even told her to be ready

So I will continue to watch and see the progress. MB started sitting the eggs either 3/25 or 3/26. I am eager to see if the male shows up–in my experience both birds usually help in feeding the nestlings.

I find watching the natural history of these birds surprisingly soothing. This ancient process, repeated billions of times, testifies to the eternal will to survive that fuels all of Nature. Our lives, even during a pandemic, have their own rhythm and fate as well. We often steal from our futures by trying to project our wants and fears onto a tapestry that we only faintly control. These little birds remind me to appreciate the beauty of simple pleasures and the grace of creation, mostly separate from all of humankind’s worries and scheming.

Wendell Berry speaks to these sentiments:

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives might be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. 

I come into the presence  of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light.

For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

From The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry (Counterpoint, 1999)

A hard day in the saddle (Part II)

The route and elevation profile
The route and elevation profile

Time to ride! After a decent breakfast, Vikki loaded me into the car and off we went. Sky was clear and temperature was 48 degrees with a mild westerly breeze.

Before the start
Before the start

There were about 1100 riders pushing off at 7:30 am. There’s something always invigorating about seeing so many other riders starting with you–it’s a psychological boost but one has to be careful not to cross wheels. In addition, it’s always tempting to go faster than you should just due to the atmosphere of a big group of riders, so I had to consciously dial back the pace in those early miles.  I had some thin layers on and glad of it with cold muscles and the early am chill combining against me, but I didn’t want to be burdened with a lot of extra clothing to peel off later in the day–I had to be self-sufficient for 100 miles.

IMG_3577 (1)
Best business slogan I’ve seen in awhile . . .

The first ten miles were flat–a good warmup. The first climb was pretty easy: 5.5 miles but the average gradient only 5-6 % . There were lots of cyclists going up the same hill at the same time, so it was a little tricky negotiating around them but I did pass many even though my exertion felt only mild. The downhill was glorious but chilly as it was in the shade. Then the first rest stop at about 22 miles–well-stocked with friendly people, good snacks, and lots of porta-potties (Some of us guys went out to the adjacent fencerow ).

During the next 15 miles or so I started to feel tired and thought “Oh, no, I can’t feel bad yet-I’m not even halfway”. But then I slowed down, relaxed and got back in with some different groups that helped break the wind and my legs came back.

Top of Sand Mountain climb looking back
Top of Sand Mountain climb looking back

I stopped at every rest stop (total five) for 10 minutes or so each, stretching, using the bathroom, eating, refilling my water bottles. After passing into Alabama, the second climb was steeper (average 8% for 2.5 miles) and moderate to hard exertion but I never feared not making it.

At the top were some lovely views off Sand Mountain looking west. Then we went across the plateau on top of with some rollers for the next 15-20 miles before a delicious descent down to the GA state line near Trenton. Crossing over I-59 we all knew what was approaching: the climb up Burkhalter Gap.

Right before Burkhalter  (starting at 82 miles) was a wonderful rest stop with dill pickles, PB&J sandwiches, a water hose, mechanical help, and shade (temperature now in low 80s with sunshine).  I knew I couldn’t linger, but I massaged my legs and tried some positive self-talk to prepare me for the ordeal ahead.

Burkhalter Gap goes up for 2.5 miles averaging 9% without undulation for the first 2 miles–just up. There’s a brief respite of 3-4% gradient, then the last 200 meters cants up to 13 % just to finish you off. Now remember-I had made it up once before and crapped out one other time trying it, so today was the tiebreaker. But I had never done it after two previous climbs and 80+ miles of riding–or so that little devil kept whispering.

I got into a rhythm and cranked along. I stayed seated for the first 50%, knowing I would need to conserve my standing leg strength for the last steeper part. During the first half of the climb, I was passing a few other cyclists during the ascent and thinking “you’re going to make it”.  During the second half, I started to have doubts. I got tired, the sun was hot, the mileage was taking its toll, and I alternated sitting and standing. The small respite in incline came and I tried to spin the legs a little to release the lactic acid. Then came the last stretch at 13%. Boy,  was I tempted to quit. The little devil kept whispering “you’ve made it 90%, it’s no shame to walk the rest, you don’t know anyone out here, no one will care . . .” Then my guardian angel appeared.

Some young man was running up and down the last 100 meters of the climb with a cowbell ringing it like he was calling the dead to life and screaming at each and every cyclist “You’re almost there, keep going, you’re going to make it, just a little more, you can do it . . .” I was too stressed to even look up at him, but that cowbell galvanized me and reversed my thinking. Now it was “Well, I can’t let him down, can I?” I stood up in the saddle the last 100 meters and went over the timing mat, turning left into the rest area at the top.  Hanging over the handlebars and gasping for breath, I was overcome with the emotion of the moment, thinking to myself: “you actually did it”   Then I saw a ten-year old boy come up right behind me–oh well.

The rest of the ride was anti-climactic, though my legs were starting to cramp up.

Actually just as I crossed the finish line my right quadriceps seized up and had to coast to the curb, almost falling off the bike. Vikki and Helen were there to greet me, and the beer trailer was a short walk away. The sense of relief was tremendous.

What did I learn?

  • Fitness is a spectrum-the same first hill I found to be a mild exertion would have been impossible for many others, just as the KOM cyclist up Burkhalter traveled at almost twice my speed during his ascent.
  • It’s so important to eat and drink a lot while riding these long distances: I probably consumed 80-100 oz. of sport drink and 800-1000 calories.
  • Intensity (hills or fast rides on the flats) is the key to increasing your fitness.
  • Long rides are essential to prepare for, well, long rides.
  • You can always do more than you think you can.
  • There are kind people everywhere and I am grateful for them (someone give that cowbell ringer a medal or a six-pack or a second cowbell, please!)
  • My wife and children kindly put up with my schedule disruptions, fatigue and sweaty clothes while training.

Mt. Ventoux, here I come!

A Hard Day in the Saddle (Part I).

From my first few months in Chattanooga, I wanted to complete the 3 State 3 Mountain Challenge century ride.  In 2013 I planned to ride it but injured my knee and had to quit training. At the beginning of 2016 I decided to try again.

There were several aspects to completing this ride. First, the training. The basics of completing a century ride (100 miles) on a bike are well-known: establish a base of riding miles, add some intensity with increased tempo, practice climbing, and do long rides of at least 75% of the distance before the big day. However, when it’s January, 30 degrees and dark outside, and the bed is warm, it’s not easy getting on the trainer and pounding out intervals before going to work. (Sufferfest videos plugged into the TV really help-great scenery, interesting trivia, inspiring music, and a little humor). After the daylight savings time change in the spring, there’s more daylight at end of day, but riding then interrupts family dinner time, interferes with school activities, and conflicts with on-call duties at the hospital.

Avoiding injuries is next. During one training ride, I outran or out maneuvered five dogs out of six but the last one was too old or too fat or too slow to get out of my way as I tried to vector away.  Fortunately it was at low speed as I scooted my thigh and knee across the asphalt producing a beautiful road rash abrasion that kept me from sleeping on that side for several weeks-but no broken bones. Then I developed a low back sprain. Several sessions with the physical therapist and a better post-ride stretching routine helped clear that up.

Finally, the mental aspect. My chosen route had three discrete climbs, each between 1000-1400 feet ascents over 2 to 5 miles. I rode each of them separately, but one day about three weeks before the big day I tried to do 75 miles over climbs #2 and #3 and had to quit halfway up the second hill. That was devastating to my confidence. Lots of negative self-talk ensued:

  • If you can’t do two hills in a day, how are you going to do three?
  • That last hill is a beast, you’ll probably have to walk up
  • Maybe I should just do the metric century
  • Why am I doing all this exactly?

I started losing sleep, had trouble concentrating, experienced some very anxiety-filled dreams, and I told myself: “it’s just a stupid bike ride, dummy”.  Basically I was afraid–afraid of failing, afraid of quitting, afraid of the pain. Then I did one intense club ride averaging 19 mph for 25 miles, a metric century in Louisville at 18 mph and those efforts encouraged me. Finally, the weather on ride day was projected to be near perfect, and I committed to the endeavor. I tapered off training for the last week, washed and polished my bicycle, and laid out all my gear.  Game on!

Sandy adventures

When you combine a sense of adventure, exploring the unknown, and a little bit of history, you get the makings of a good bike ride. Watch out for tricky dropoffs, though.


Topsail ramble

We were on vacation at the beach on the Florida Panhandle recently, and I decided to explore nearby Topsail Preserve State Park. Topsail has a lot of varied ecosystems, including ocean beach, dunes, coastal lakes, and conifer forests. There are multiple good bike trails, including one 3-4 mile paved path and lots of other tracks through the woods mostly with sandy terrain underwheel. I just went exploring, though my goal was to findJB-2-Missile-on-a-sled remnants of the old WW II training site where some of the first US missile program testing was performed.




Well, as it turns out I wasn’t in exactly the right spot, but I had fun riding through the woods anyway.

IMG_3070 As you might expect, once off the paved path I didn’t encounter a single other person on foot or bike. The day was cool but there was some extra work trolling across the sandy surface since moving sand around with your bike tires doesn’t translate to much forward momentum.

Speaking of momentum, the other thing about sand is that it absorbs momentum pretty efficiently. Especially when your front wheel is airborne after a drop off, the bike is pointed down, your incompetent cyclist’s weight is forward over the front bar, and you’ve never ridden this kind of trail before. In about 0.5 seconds I was launched over the handlebar and landed on my head. I was wearing a helmet, but the real saving grace was the sand pit I landed in–it cushioned my impact and I emerged with just a sore neck. Fortunately.

A couple ofIMG_3069 days later Vikki and I went back for a hike on some of the other trails that were too sandy for bike travel. Once there we saw some lovely coastal lakes, tide pools and tall dunes up to about 25 feet tall.

IMG_3082The day was quiet and warm. No one else was around. I wanted to find an alligator but never spotted one.

IMG_3084We also encountered some very old twisted wire in an oddly arranged pattern that resembled a long rectangular grid. I thought this might be some relic of the old WW II program but I couldn’t be sure.  In any case we were off the beaten path and enjoyed a great walk.


Love I have learned from dogs


Ok, I am not usually a fan of dogs. They bark too much, require daily attention, make travel out of town more complicated, chew up everything in sight  and generally just cost a lot of money. I am just not currently motivated to spend the time necessary to train a dog the obedience, respect, and cooperation needed for effective human companionship with me.

Having said all that, I was looking at our two dogs last night and reminded of the non-original thought that dogs can teach even us non-fans some things about love.  Dogs

Rarely ignore you (unless there’s a squirrel nearby)

Are eager to please

Give affection unreservedly

Forgive you seventy times seven (maybe they just don’t remember)

Stay with you until their last aliquot of strength

Are content with the basics: food, shelter, attentionStella and Vikki


Maybe I need to spend more time with dogs.

Emily gets a lick

Anna and Ruby

Cyclisme dangereux

Jack N Back photo2 copyWell after watching some of the Tour de France this month,  I wanted to relate one of my own cycling near-death experiences. A couple of  months ago I was eager to go out in the early evening for a quick bike ride. It was typical southern summer weather: hot, humid, with frequent afternoon thunderstorm cells popping up. I’ve come to rely on one of the popular weather apps for the iPhone which typically does an excellent job of predicting when it’s going to rain. When I checked the app, it didn’t describe any nearby storm cells by radar, so I clicked in and started off.

My route from home always involves some early stinger hills up which I trudged. When I got to the top of that ridge, I noticed the sky to the southwest was getting darker-not a good sign. I went on for a few more minutes, but then the color ahead changed to a deep purple blue and began to boil, with thunder booming to my right. Time to turn around . . .I started to book it home, but in a couple of minutes those telltale fat plops of rain began to splat and sizzle on the pavement.  Oh, so I’m going to get a little wet, I thought, no big deal. Only a little wet turned into a lot of wet very quickly. This was one of those quintessential gully-washing, cats and dogs, mad Englishman downpours that obliterated all vision.  I struggled on and came to the top of the ridge. There wasn’t really any place to take cover, so I decided to go on, heading down and back home.

As I frequently tell my overweight patients, you can’t violate the laws of physics (calories in > calories out = fat). Well, water + wheel rims = poor braking on a bike. And did I mention the 30 mph cross-wind?  So now I’m screaming down the hill at about 25 mph with the road awash in rain, my brake calipers crushed with all my grip strength, the wind howling, unable to control my speed as I approach the last turn at the bottom. “There’s no way I’m going to make this turn” I think to myself. Slowly I start to drift right, toward the edge of the road surface. A large ditch beckons with hazards unknown. The whole bike starts to chatter, and then I have a small flash of inspiration. I clamp the top tube between my legs, decreasing the vibration, which allows me to just barely maneuver around the turn and into a safer, straighter stretch of roadway.  Drivers approach me in the opposite lane and must think I’m loony–but they don’t stop, either. I limp home, grateful to have avoided road rash, fractured bones or worse.  I don’t tell anyone how close I came to a major accident. Until now.

A good story

In WWII around Christmas time a hospital ship was bringing wounded and maimed Allied soldiers home from Europe to the United States. Also on the ship, in the holds below, were German prisoners of war. The Red Cross had delivered Christmas packages to the Allied troops before departure. Enroute, the wounded soldiers opened their packages to discover a panoply of candy, crackers and other assorted goods. Although most were consumed quickly, there was a sizable surplus. Several of the Allied wounded got together and convinced their comrades to send the extra bounty down to the German POWs.

When the Germans received this gift, they were overwhelmed with gratitude. They began talking among themselves, asking “what can we do to show our thanks?” Being prisoners, they had little in the way of possessions to share. After discussion, they hit upon an idea. Practicing quietly among themselves, they prepared their gift.

Eventually the ship approached the shores of the United States. Early one starlit evening, facing an uncertain future as prisoners in a foreign land, the German soldiers began to sing. In beautiful harmony they raised voices to their benefactors on the decks above with a tender rendition of “Silent Night” in German. Many voices strong, they continued their serenade throughout the evening, repaying the kindness shown by their onetime foes.

A new talent

My oldest and youngest children have the most musical aptitude in the family. Andrew, for example,  has trained to be a studio sound engineer and understands how to set up, edit, and produce professional grade  audio recordings.

The latest musical talent to emerge, however, is from Helen. She heard a keyboard track from a web comic she follows and taught herself how to play the piano version. Then, for her birthday, she got a ukulele and again, by herself, learned several chords and a couple of tunes. She’s a bit shy so I haven’t captured the piano piece yet, but below is  a sample of her strumming. It’s amazing what children can do when they are motivated. It’s a mystery to discover what motivates them. It’s an adventure to be a parent.

The Hardest Hike

After a day of rest, Mark and I decided to take a day hike loop starting and ending at basecamp. Many of our fellow campers at the hot springs had traveled from Crested Butte through Triangle Pass. From looking at the map I had spotted nearby Copper Lake, reached through Triangle,  and I thought it might make a reasonable hiking goal. (See map at bottom of this post.) Mark was agreeable, so we set off.

Wildflower field on the way to  Triangle Pass.
Wildflower field on the way to Triangle Pass.

The first part of the hike was quickly steep, meandering through deep bushes and giving way to a pleasant green meadow full of wildflowers, reminiscent of the land below Electric Peak described earlier. We were steadily increasing in altitude, and our breathing picked up accordingly. As the green gave way above treeline to the red rocks above, we marveled at the patches of snow left on the ground, here in late July.  We approached the gap hunched over and shortened our stride, then gasped our way to Triangle Pass, where we were rewarded with a fine view of the valley beyond.

View west from Triangle Pass
View west from Triangle Pass

Next up was a gently sloping downhill leg into the woods adjacent to Copper Lake. We scrambled across a loose rock field where Mark slipped and cut his leg, but fortunately it was superficial so he soldiered on.

On the way to Copper Lake
On the way to Copper Lake

I was pretty sure of our path but still glad to see a confirmation on the trail as we entered the woods.  We stopped briefly for a snack but the mosquitoes descended so we moved on.  It was only a short walk to Copper Lake. When we arrived, we were surprised to find lots of company-apparently we had selected a popular lunchtime spot, even for a weekday. On a small peninsula sticking out into the lake we sat down, re-fueled and restocked our water supplies, before starting back to the trail leading to Maroon Pass-the second one of the day.

Our lunch spot was the small peninsula at the lower left
Copper Lake: our lunch spot was the small peninsula at the lower left

As we walked over Maroon Pass, we considered leaving the trail and striking out across east across the valley below which would have saved us some mileage, but also introduced some uncertainty about footing, terrain, and getting across the creek in the valley. So we kept on the trail as it descended gently into East Maroon Valley. There was a beautiful waterfallIMG_1649 on our right as we drew closer to the stream crossing.  After only getting slightly wet, we got on across and started going back uphill. At this point in the day we were starting to get tired and the incline was steadily up. The trail was in pretty good shape with some muddy spots. There was no one in this large area between the creek and Copper Pass as we headed back in a southerly direction. (See map at top of post).  There was nothing to do but put the head down and grind on uphill. Gorgeous views of the valley behind us helped sustain our sense of adventure  and determination.

Copper Pass beckons
Copper Pass beckons

We finally reached the top of Copper Pass (low notch in the ridgeline here) and paused to rest. Just below us was the remnants of what looked like an old mine shaft, now filled in with rocks and debris.Skeletons of old wooden support beams lay strewn around the opening. I wondered about the people who had worked here in years past-difficult, lonely work far from creature comforts. They were made of stern stuff.

Across the valley we could see our next destination which was Triangle Pass IMG_1656 (see photo right, now approaching from the west). After sliding down the slope we rejoined the trail and trudged across and up to the final apex of the day. Our legs were tired, so tired, but we knew it was downhill back to our base camp. We stumbled a bit but gravity was now our friend as we gratefully anticipated a hot meal and relaxing in the hot springs upon our return.

I estimate our total hike was around 10 miles. Total ascent was probably a few thousand feet but at altitude the  exertion seems doubled compared to sea level.  I have never done anything quite so hard in a single day of activity. Riding 100 miles on a bicycle was easy compared to this day’s hike. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything-there is no price to put on the feeling of wonder and accomplishment that resulted.

Day hike over four mountain passes from Conundrum Hot Springs.
Day hike over four mountain passes from Conundrum Hot Springs.

Hike in to Conundrum

After my hike to Electric Peak, I was feeling pretty good about my conditioning-though strenuous, the exertion had not been to the redline. However, I hadn’t been carrying a full pack. Although I had practiced packing everything at home before departure, I had picked up a few items in Denver at the REI store before going to Aspen. Now, the night before the hike in to the base camp location, I was re-assessing my gear: Should I take the extra rope ? (yes). Do I have enough clothing? (Probably). Do I need gloves?-after all, it’s high summer (but you’re in the mountains, so take the gloves). Even with creative packing, I barely got it all stuffed in my backpack, and I staggered a bit as I tried it on. I estimate I was carrying between 30 and 35 lbs. Savoring my last meal in civilization, I went to sleep tired but content, as the smell of marijuana wafted through the hotel (after all, we’re in Colorado)

Trail into Conundrum Valley
Trail into Conundrum Valley

Early the next morning I drove to the trailhead, parked the car, and as I read the signage at the trailhead I realized the Forest Service had not left any “poop bags” in the bin. I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad about that, but off I went up the trail. The sky was gray, unlike the day before, and only a handful of other hikers were present. I soon settled into a rhythm, adjusting my pack as I went to minimize the load on my shoulders. Once an hour I stopped to take a break and get the pack off my back, eating a snack and stretching. There were a few steep stretches and some muddy spots. About halfway to the camp I had to ford swiftly flowing Conundrum Creek but I managed to find a series of shallow beds and previously placed logs that granted me access to the other side.

The trail went steadily up. It sprinkled but there was no steady rain. I met a few hikers coming down the trail and I actually passed a few going in my direction as well-that made me feel good about my fitness. Toward the end of the eight mile walk, I was feeling the combined effects of the previous day’s hike, the extra weight on my back, and the steadily increasing altitude.  I was really happy to finally see the signs delineating the campsites:

A schematic of the campsites available
A schematic of the campsites available

due to heavy use I could only pitch camp in one of the designated sites. It was a first come, first served system but since I was arriving on a Monday I figured there would be some room after the weekend crowd left. However, the last part of the trek was the steepest, and I was really breathing hard when I arrived at the hot springs. Searching through multiple campsites I finally found one open at #12 and plopped down to appreciate my accomplishment. I didn’t tarry long, though, since the sky looked threatening and I knew I needed to get the tent set up before my last energy reserves were depleted.  Mine was a new tent but it went up quickly and easily. As I spread out my sleeping pad and bag, the thunder cracked and the rain pounded on the tent-I snuggled into my bag and slept like a man who had hiked 17 miles at elevation in the last two days-boy did that feel good . . .

When you're warm and dry, the world is good
When you’re warm and dry, the world is good