12 December 2014

What would Lura Do?

I'm not "in love" with my job, a statement of fact that bothers some when I tell it, but which seems to me an acceptable self-assessment of the work I do. That's not to say I hate my job. I don't hate it either.

Truth is, I'm just not sure "love" is a necessary emotion when it comes to actually being satisfied with one's work.

I am often pleased with the work I do.  In fact, at times I'm even proud of it.

But there are also times when I wish I could shut my office door, crawl beneath my desk, and hide.  Or not go in to the office at all on a given day and just stay home with the shades drawn and disappear into a good book.

But I can't.  Because I do important work.  And lots of people count on me to be ready to do it.  Every day.  Regardless of how I feel about it.

Lura Kinsey, principal
Marshall School
Up high on the wall behind my desk I keep a picture of a stoic, gray-haired old lady in wire-rimmed glasses and a smart blue suit.  I am greeted by her thoroughly humorless visage each morning as I unlock my office door and switch on the light.

Her name is Lura Kinsey.

Lura was the first principal at the school where I am now the principal.  She served in the front office at Marshall Elementary School for eight years, from 1953, when the school first opened its doors, until she retired in 1961.

Lura, a Flagstaff native, began her teaching career in 1914.

She got her first job at Flagstaff's Emerson School after graduating from the Northern Arizona Normal School.  She taught elementary and middle school grades there for several years and eventually became the school administrator, a post she held for 18 years.

In 1951 she became the principal at John Q. Thomas School (then just a "wing" at Flagstaff High School), before transferring in 1953 to become the first principal at the brand-new Eva Marshall Memorial School, a post she held until her retirement at the end of her 47th year in public education, in the spring of 1961.

Miss Lura Kinsey's obituary (did she never marry?) ran in the local paper in 1965, just four short years later.

Today, Flagstaff Unified School District's Kinsey Elementary School is named in her honor.

A few years ago, during the tenure of a school librarian who was eager to cull the dust-collecting "chaff" from our school library's shelves, I rescued from the discard-pile William H. Cummings authoritative text, A History Of The Flagstaff Public Schools 1883-1950.  The tattered volume (with its badly rendered cover-drawing of what must be Flagstaff's first schoolhouse, which would have been occupied by none-other than Flagstaff's first teacher, the aforementioned Eva Marshall) now resides on a bookshelf in my office.

Aside from finding Lura's name among several of the many chronologies within, there are few direct, personal references made by the author, or those he interviewed, about Lura Kinsey. 

The index lists only six references to her name in several hundred pages of history.  Of the few references to her at all, almost none make mention of her character or make statements that reveal anything of her personality or disposition.  Just one interview subject observes that "she had meticulous handwriting" and recollects that she was well-known as a stern task-master.  Neither implication is very revealing.

Nor are they very surprising.

Not to me.

I feel like I know Lura pretty well after some four years occupying her office.  And it doesn't surprise me at all to read that she was stern.  Her no-nonsense attitude is apparent to me each time I glance in her direction.

"Suck it up, sonny," That's what she tells me.

"Back to work.  No time for feeling sorry.  Your school's likely to run right off the rails if you don't get up and get going."

I look up at her a lot, especially when my days start feeling long, or worse, lonely.  And I imagine all that she must have seen and endured in the course of her 47-year career.

Lura's not smiling.  She doesn't strike me as someone "in love" with her job.  Not one bit.  But she doesn't look angry, or discouraged, or disappointed either.

To me, Lura looks like a woman who understood fully the scope of the important work she had to get done.  And I like to think, for 47 years, she probably got it done.   Well, too.

What would Lura do?  That's what I often wonder.

And then I go and do it.

08 December 2014

Just about a bike: Coconino Cycles Singlespeed [UPDATED]

2.9:1 gain ratio, 41.4 gear inches

Waited 21.5 months for my name to finally rise to the top of the build-queue at Coconino Cycles.

Took receipt of my new Signature model singlespeed on Saturday, the sale of which was completed with a high-five, a few beers, and a quick test-ride on the Coconino Cycles World Headquarters test-track just before sundown.

Still on the chilly side, trail conditions were double-plus good on our inaugural ride this past Sunday morning: tacky from the rain, even greasy in spots. Rode up to Newham for pics.

Rides so well.  Awesome.  Amazing, in fact.  A full day later, and I still haven't been able to let go of the sense of it...

Trouble staying focused at work.

Update -- August 2016

Never before has a bike made such beautiful music for me.

The Retrotec, my first-bike, has alway been special, and made me a better rider from day-one.  The Rock Lobster, my old-bike, was ground-breaking at its beginning and, to this day, is a bike that somehow always rides ahead of the curve.  The Pugsley, my always-fun bike, charges hard into every situation and never fails to entertain me.  The list goes on...

They're all good bikes, some of them are great bikes even.

But none compare to this one.  My Coconino singlespeed is truly special. Primarily because it is mine, and mine alone; I am reminded of that every time I ride it. But also because it somehow makes me feel better, in both my mind and body, just as soon as I start to ride it, every time I ride it.

It fits.  It flies.  It flows.

Never before has a bike made such beautiful music for me.

UPDATE -- September 2023

Stepped down the gearing to 32x22 and swapped on a set of hand-me-down 180mm cranks, dropping my effective gear-ratio to 2.9:1 on 41.4 gear inches.  Climbs like a fiend. No more dead-legs for this old man. Super rad! 

15 October 2014

Archival footage: That's right, I'm JohnCoe

The following post was originally published in BiOpic, a semi-regular publication of FlagstaffBiking.org's, in January 2007.

My old friend Chris studies fish in Canada. He is not fond of Atlantic salmon raised in Pacific hatcheries.

He's the reason I never buy farm-raised salmon anymore.

His name came up the other morning, while I was driving out to ice-skate with some friends at Lake Mary. We were talking about Navajo sandstone and riding bikes out on the reservation as we drove along through the pre-dawn twilight.

"The worst crash I ever saw happened out on rez slickrock," I recalled.

"We were riding near Chinle in the middle of winter on this section of rock that Wade, who was living out at Many Farms with his girlfriend who was a teacher, said the locals call Slickrock Right . All these big waves, bowls of rock, arches hidden in giant coves.

Wade, riding Vulture #1 on Slickrock Right
"It's neat out there; no one around, no trails to follow. Not like Moab. Totally empty of people. And on this trip, the rock was about half-covered with snow, too.  Super cool.  Sometimes we'd come across a sheep camp or a stock tank out there; but otherwise, there was no reason to believe that anyone was ever around.  No man's land.  For sure.

"We'd been riding all day, across miles and miles of bare rock and snow, when we stumbled upon the biggest bowl of slickrock we'd seen.  It was an absolutely massive 360-degree depression in the sandstone. Huge, probably 30-plus feet to the bottom, smooth steep sides, with a scary wall-like entry and exit. It was fast going in, and you had to be going fast if you were going to hope to get out.

"We're all riding into this thing, one at a time, Wade, Huge, Chris, and me, whooping and hollering at each other, shouting out 'Yeah! That was rad!' and stuff like that.

"At the bottom of this bowl there was this maybe 6-inch-tall little rock blip, like a long, low ripple running right across the bottom of the bowl, right in the middle of the thing.

"When you got to the base of this bowl, because of your speed and the steep angle of the bowl, there was quite a bit of compression as you bottomed out, and that little blip was right there, right in the way, at the very lowest point.

"So Chris, who's this super good, naturally skillful rider rides into the bowl again, for maybe the third time, and angles toward the bottom like he's on rails, crouched over his bike, he's flying! And right there, at the bottom, he just nails that ripple.

"Bam! It throws him over the front of his bike and he gets launched, like Superman, and augers into the far side of the bowl full-speed.

"He hits hard and crumples. His helmet completely explodes! Pieces fly in every direction. 

"And Chris is lying there and he's not getting up. He's just sorta quivering, twitching, his whole body is quietly spasming with his arms and legs splayed out randomly at all kinds of wrong angles.

"Everyone, all three of us around the rim bail into the bowl, sliding down on our feet, our knees, our butts, to get to Chris fast as we can. We get there in seconds and nothing's changed, he's still unconscious, twitching.

"We've all got our hands on him; saying, 'Chris! Chris!' But we don't have a clue what to do. We're all just kneeling around him, at the bottom of this bowl, isolated from the entire world by red stone walls, a clear blue sky, and silence, waiting for something to change, for one of us to get a clue what to do.

"Eventually, Chris begins to moan; he starts to come around. He opens his eyes groggily. 

"Wade says to him, 'What's your name?' Chris says, 'I don't know.' 

"Eugene asks him, 'What year is it?' Chris says, 'I don't know.' 

"Then I ask him, pointing at Eugene, 'What's his name?' Chris says, smiling, 'Huge.'

"After a while Chris seems a little better; he can't move his right arm at all, but he says he thinks he can walk. We pick him up, what's left of his helmet and his bike, and we carefully climb back out of the bowl, the four of us arm-in-arm, and together we begin to limp across the slickrock on foot, pushing our bikes beside us, toward the road. Along the way, we're asking Chris, 'What year is it? What's your name? Who's the president?' and slowly, one at a time, he gives more answers. 

He remembers Wade's name, his name, Bill Clinton's name, that it was 1990-something.

But not my name.

He has no idea who I am.

"We get to the road together, and I remind the group, 'I've got the keys to the truck.'  So I hop on my bike and ride back up the road a mile or two, throw my bike on top, and race back down the road to where I find them. We get Chris loaded in; he's all kinds of bloody, still can't move his right arm, says he has a headache. And we high-tail it down the hill to the Chinle hospital.

"The place is queued up for hours, people are even waiting outside in a line to see a doctor. 

"So we rush over to Wade's friend's house. He's a doctor. He comes out, gives Chris one glance, goes back into his house, brings us a small bottle of Tylenol, give Chris a pat on the back and says to me, 'Drive him to FMC,' which is hours away.

“We made record time across the rez. We take Chris straight to the hospital ER and wait around until his mom and his sister show up.

“The x-rays show that he's completely busted off the end of his elbow; and he's got a serious concussion.

“They kept him at the hospital overnight and scheduled a surgery for the next day.

“He's all healed up now. I don't think he's any the worse for wear today.

"But it was kinda funny. While we were speeding across the rez into the setting sun, with Chris sitting there holding his arm gingerly and asking for more Tylenols every 5 minutes, no one talked much, and there's no radio or CD player in my truck so it was quiet. It'd been a sobering day.

“We'd been on the road for hours: passed a few lonely outposts, some weather-beaten horses and homes, and we were getting close to Leupp just as the sun went in.

“And then I hear Chris' voice, hoarsely, out of the darkness say, 'JohnCoe,'

“'What?' I ask.

“'That's your name. JohnCoe.'

“'That's right, Chris. I'm JohnCoe.'”

03 September 2014

Ew, seriously, so gross!

There are times when you're just so proud of your kid.

Like when she first stands to walk, or speaks her first subject-verb sentence, or pedals her bike up the sidewalk all by herself.

And then there are other times when you just stand in awe.  Like when she belts out her first real solo audition for a role in the cast of the local community theater's upcoming production, or recites an entirely memorized long poem or Bible passage by heart with palpable expression, or stands up on her pedals and maneuvers her bike through a tricky rock-garden with natural finesse.

Or when, while out on an evening walk together, she chomps down on the last bite of her store-bought peach and observes, "Look, my pit has a hole in it."

And then, a moment later, says, so matter-of-factly, "Something's moving in there."

And then, with only the slightest elevation in tone, says, "I think it's a bug."

(Wherein your wife takes the peach from her hand and says, in a far more girly fashion, "Ew! That is so gross!  There is a bug in it!" and then crushes the remainder of the mostly eaten peach and pit in her hands to reveal this:

Not my picture, but a very accurate depiction of what we saw

Which, I have come to learn, is called a "split pit" and can sometimes become infested with earwigs, which are a common pest on peach trees.  They climb in through the stem and nest in the pit.

The whole thing is somewhat reminiscent of the storybook, James And The Giant Peach.)

And then, after watching the insects scurry away (her mother having thrown the peach-parts into the street with another emphatic, "Ew!"), she says, again quite matter-of-factly, "Yeah, that was gross."  And walks on.  Like it really wasn't that big a deal.

There are times when you're just so proud of your kid.

And then there are other times when you just stand in awe.

01 September 2014

Red Tank Draw

We hiked into Red Tank Draw east of I-17 at exit 298 today.

We'd set out with the intent to hike a few miles up the Bell Trail beside Beaver Creek this morning, but it was slammed, both the main parking lot and the overflow lot up the hill from the trailhead were full.  So we backtracked about a half-mile and parked the car in a turn-out near the one-lane bridge that passes over Red Tank Draw, which looked quite inviting beneath an ample canopy of cottonwoods and sycamores and was flowing a bit with monsoon runoff.

We'd not hiked Red Tank Draw before, nor do many it would seem (though I have since learned there are some nice 'glyphs in the vicinity).  We walked perhaps a mile downstream from the bridge and saw not another footprint, but we did find a lovely babbling stream and a few warm pools which the dog and kid enjoyed.

I brought along my new ski-pole mounted video camera (I've been watching a lot of ski videos lately and was inspired to fab one together out of bits and pieces I found in the garage the other night) and I let our kid run around with it much of the time while we were hiking today.

Below is the video we made after we got home, which I think is quite charming. YMMV, however.

25 July 2014

Slow ride with flowers

This morning I reattached the Surly Nice Rear rack to the Pugsley and loaded up one of our big JANDD trunk-bags with my tools and tubes so I could wear my Cotton Carrier camera vest and carry my D40 on my ride today instead of my Camelback hydration pack.

These days I always have my iPhone with me when I'm out.  And, because it takes such nice pictures, I hardly ever take my Nikon on rides any more.  The iPhone is undeniably a fine lightweight camera, especially with an Olloclip lens attached, but it will never compare to a DSLR with a 50mm f/1.8 lens.

Looking even dorkier than usual, I stuffed a full water bottle in the Pugsley's one cage, rode really slow, stopped a bunch and took a lot of pictures of flowers.

It was a beautiful morning for it. #BLE





















14 July 2014

Be not afraid

Yesterday, as we pulled the tandem off the trail at one of our well-established top-of-the-ride snack-stops, my daughter noticed a young horned lizard darting through the duff and detritus nearby.

"Look, daddy!  A lizard!" she shouted.

"Catch it!" I proposed.  And, after a brief chase, she did, cupping her hands gently over the tiny beast and bringing it back for me to admire.  I was pleased to see how confidently she pursued and caught it, and also with how tenderly she handled it while it was in her grasp.

She's a woods-kid, always has been.  She took her first steps there, long ago, and her first stumbles, too.  She has no qualms about being out in it far from home, riding its trails, climbing its rocks, naming its flowers, sleeping beneath its stars, and returning home badged in the blood it has let from her hands and knees, richly adorned with its dust and mud.

As she set the lizard back down in a tuft of gramma grass she asked, "Can we have a snack now?"  I always have a small bag of Panda black licorice chews in my pack, and as I opened the bag to pour a few pieces into her hand I said,  "Wipe your hands off on your shirt first."

"Why?" she asked, a little surprised.  We always eat our mid-ride snack with dirty bike-hands and gloves.

"Well, reptiles like lizards and snakes can sometimes carry infectious diseases.  Remember, last time we handled the snakes at the Arboretum?  We sanitized our hands right after.  Same reason."

"Can you die from them?"  she asked, a worried tone, which I've been hearing with increasing regularity lately, now evident in her voice.

"No, not really.  I guess they can make you pretty sick if you're not careful," I told her.  "But you don't need to worry; we just need to be smart and do what we can to minimize our risk.  So, in this case, we'll take off our gloves and wipe our hands really good on our shirts before we eat our snack.  No big deal."

She accepted my explanation, wiped her hands on her shirt, and I poured a few chews from the bag into her hand.  As we ate, we talked.

I think she's been on the periphery of too much tragedy for her nine years, and that it is this fact that is at the root of much of her burgeoning worry and concern about illness and death.  I was at least ten before I ever knew anyone who'd died, and when it happened it threw me for a pretty good loop.   Her case is quite different.  She's borne witness to a lot more tragedy than I had at her tender age.  In the past few years we've grieved together over the (unrelated but equally tragic deaths) of both a well-known mother (of hantavirus) and father (of drowning) among our community of friends and coworkers, as well as the unexpected death of a student at my school, and of two of our friends' teenaged sons (one due to texting-while-driving and the other, most recently, from an accidental mixture of drugs and alcohol).  And, just before the holiday season last year, we endured the more timely but nevertheless tearful passing of her awesome 97-year-old great-grandma, Lala.

That's a lot of sadness for anyone to witness in a short period of time.  When you're nine, I think it's probably overwhelming.

"I don't want you to grow up to be a worrier, like me," I told her.  "Bad stuff happens, like sickness and death, and you've seen a lot of that.  I'm sorry you've seen so much.  Even still, I want you to be bold and courageous, and not frightened or filled with worry as you grow up.  I want you to be wise, too... and also to be able to be cautious, when caution is necessary.  It's good to know what the risks are.  But just because there are risks, that doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't take the risk.  Remember what C.S. Lewis said: usually the best things we do in life scare us to death.

"Just don't be a worrier.  It's a handicap that you put on yourself; I know, I've always been that way.  But, I think if we can learn to be smart and careful when we need to be, then we won't need to be fearful and worry so often.  Ya know?"

She nodded and was quiet for a little while.

Then she changed the subject, "Can I have the tandem when I grow up, so that I can take my kids on rides like this?" she asked.

10 May 2014

Run What Ya Brung

Way back when, when I was just a kid, we did lots of cool stuff with my dad.

Before we were old enough to ride our own motorcycles, my dad would take all of us, me, my two little brothers and himself, all over the Prescott National Forest riding four-abreast on his putt-putt 1960-something Honda Trail 90, to see extinguished forest fires, explore abandoned rail-beds, count ladybugs at the Potato Patch, drop rocks down deep-dark mine-shafts, crawl cautiously into abandoned adits, and swim in lakes or secret deep pockets only we knew of along the Rich Gulch creek.  We didn't wear helmets in those days, heck no!  But the Honda wasn't geared to go over about 20 miles an hour.  

We sure had a great time!

On Saturdays when we weren't at our cabin near Prescott, he'd often take us out to the desert to shoot guns or launch model rockets.  Sometimes both!

Now and then, we'd drive out past the orange groves and the cotton fields on the Pima Indian reservation to the Beeline Dragway so we could watch Big Daddy Don Garlits race his dragster, or privateers race their Camaros and Corvettes in the Run What Ya Brung races 

Once we even got to watch Evel Knievel jump a bunch of cars and trucks.  And he made it, too, ramp to ramp, no terrible crash!  No kidding.  How many times did that happen?

Almost never, I think.  

I always marvel when I find a discarded pedal-reflector way out in the woods on some remote trail, like the one I rode past this afternoon up on the AZ Trail.  I can't help but imagine the person who was riding the bike that shed this small plastic piece... probably something super-heavy from Walmart or Target, seat too low; the guy riding it is wearing denim shorts and sneakers, no helmet or gloves, a sweaty T-shirt, grinning from ear-to-ear... up to the point when his pedal, the one he was dragging at the bottom of its stroke, came down hard enough on a rock to dislodge one of the plastic reflectors on his flat, nylon pedals and, likewise, at least momentarily, to displace his smile, replacing it with a look of confusion and panic.

You see these folks out in the woods now and then, they're always in way over their head on the wrong bike, nevertheless sometimes, somehow, they're still having a ball, loving both the woods and the ride.

I'm always stoked to see them, especially when they're smiling, despite my concern for their well-being and the liability they present.  Because I know, some of them are going to get bitten by the bug and they are going change, metamorphose, fledge one day soon into real mountain bikers.

I've seen it happen many times before.  That first ride on a big, awkward, major-turd of a Walmart bike is sometimes all it takes.  After that ride there can be no turning back.  No matter the crappy bike and the lack of gear.  Bam!  You get it.  You're a mountain biker.

Others, well, they aren't so fortunate, because this ride goes terribly wrong.  There are no epiphanies, no moments of revelation.  Just hatred.  And resentment.  A commitment to Never Again.

These will not become mountain bikers.

But for those who will, the bike did not matter.  Not at all.  They run what they brung.  And it made sense.  There was an audible click. It was good.  

Real good!

There's beauty in that.

27 April 2014

First Tracks

Saw not a soul on my ride today

The day after a cold, late-April storm

There was bright sun

There were first tracks

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. -- Ed Abbey