Friday, January 4, 2019

Guest Post: Stewart Dutfield's Final Thoughts of 2018

17 July. We took an anniversary bike ride down the river to Hudson, over Mount Merino and the Rip Van Winkle bridge to Catskill, and back on the other side of the river. Most of the roads we followed date back 200 years or more, but we returned abruptly to the present, riding amidst fast-moving heavy trucks by the Port of Coeymans. This former brickyard has become a deep water port, supplying raw materials to the neighbouring cement plant and constructing portions of the recently-opened new Tappan Zee bridge.

29 July. In July 1977, 22 runners set out on the first Escarpment Trail Run: 30Km along a wooded ridge, high above the Hudson River to the east, with three major climbs and no road crossings. Everyone learned something about this new venture, whether "never again" or the need to carry water next year. This was a good year for the archive, with frequent participants earning T-shirts for having completed 400 and 500 miles in the race over the years. There are runners who resolutely spurn the offer of a T-shirt for just one more completion, while others believe that this will be their last hurrah and have just fun enough to weaken their resolution.

More than 1,200 miles between the two of them
17 August. A creation myth of Thousand Island salad dressing holds that it originated on Grindstone Island, where fishing guides grilled the day's catch for their clients during the Gilded Age. Each summer I camp overnight with my son at Canoe Point; in the late 19th century the American Canoe Association held its annual camp and regatta here, and since then the island has changed little except that the ATV has supplanted the horse-drawn cart for getting around. Today I paddled to Canoe Point, and set off to run around the island: past farms and preserved lands, two one-room schoolhouses, the defunct cheese factory, a red truck with a tree growing through it—totem of rural America—and a field of Highland cattle, eventually to the Grindstone Island Winery and, with as many bottles as I could carry, back to the kayak.
Old road, supposedly closed but presumably only to ATVs

Canoe Point, 1885
10 September. How lovely to live in a community that values its open spaces and plans for their conservation amidst growing pressure for development. I used one of the planning maps to visit as many recreation areas and preserves as I could by bicycle, pausing at a trailhead or park entrance for every three miles or so of the 50-mile ride around town. 

27 September. Steve Chilton's "The Round" describes Chris Brasher's unsuccessful attempt at the Bob Graham round, his entourage joined at the start by a runner named Charlie. After 25 miles, Joss Naylor left the group in order to travel to London for dinner with Muhammad Ali. Brasher retired after another 16 miles or so, but Charlie ran on and finished the route in 22 hours, having told his wife the previous evening that he would be out for just an hour. This was before cellphones, but why she didn't call mountain rescue is not made clear.

View from the Wittenberg over the plain of Shokan
29 September. My head filled with stories of running 42 Lake District peaks, I started an eight-hour run of the Cat’s Tail marathon wondering how a mere four major Catskill summits would compare. The route scrambles along the ridge from Slide Mountain, almost a thousand feet higher than Scafell Pike: a classic Catskill trail, amidst the smell of balsam fir, over Cornell and Wittenberg Mountains. Joe reminded me, as we ran, that John Burroughs' 1885 "The Heart of the Southern Catskills" describes camping rough on the summit of "the Wittenberg"; from here is perhaps the best view from the ridge, over "the plain of Shokan": now the Ashokan Reservoir that gives water to New York City more than a hundred miles away.

5 October
. In the spirit of F. Scott Fitzgerald's holding "opposing ideas in mind at the same time", I read two contrasting books and emerged struck by their similar views of society's increasing dependence on large corporations. In The Company Citizen, Tom Levitt offers practical ways to align corporate self-interest with positive social outcomes. Peter Dauvergne's "Will Big Business Destroy Our Planet?" sees corporations as willing for selfish reasons to lie, degrade the environment, and break the law. Both books are optimistic: one that corporate interests can be aligned with human values, the other that this will never reliably happen but activism and regulation will save the day once a great deal more damage has been done. Any political fuss aside, at issue seems simply whether corporate inputs—mission and purpose—are adequate to embody human values: or must we also insist on assessing the full cost of business activity and requiring corporations to compensate for any net negative effects? And if we must insist, will we do so strongly enough before it is too late?

13 October. I left hours before dawn for the Trapp Family Lodge, an Austrian-flavoured outdoor resort started as a music camp established in Vermont's Green Mountains by the "Sound of Music" family. The marathon consists of two loops on hiking and mountain bike trails. At the finish was Viennese lager, brewed on the premises. Fortunately, no alphorn were in evidence.

25 October. Cycling to work, I encountered the remains of a deer on the rail trail. I imagined a jurisdictional battle between the County and the Town Departments of Public Works, but whichever drew the short straw had the eviscerated mess cleaned up by the afternoon.

28 October. Don Ritchie's autobiography "The Stubborn Scotsman" describes his struggle with health problems, which it is tempting to associate with his many hard years of training and racing. Current research into long-term health effects of endurance sports may one day yield more reliable guidance. Meanwhile, my son's painful knee has been diagnosed as "fast-growing boy" syndrome; he has been learning to do physiotherapy exercises and about the sports and level of involvement that bring him joy. Today's delight in his new mountain bike suggests that this is an activity that might keep him happy and healthy throughout his life: something that I have been fortunate to derive from running.

4 November. The Batona trail travels the length of the Pine Barrens: a forest wilderness of blueberry and cranberry bogs and deserted villages, quite apart from the rest of New Jersey. A low-key run along the trail, started in winter a few years ago, now takes place amidst muted late autumn colours. At 43 miles, with the next aid station several hours of running away, refreshments included a nip of Lagavulin which I can almost still taste. The following morning at Batsto village, Joe was delighted to find a pile of bog iron left over from the smelting that took place from the mid 1700s to the mid 1800s.

11 November. When Siegfried Sassoon wrote that "Everybody burst out singing...the singing will never be done.", did he have in mind the soldiers of his Welsh regiment or the general popular celebration of the signing of the Armistice? Perhaps both. I experienced neither the horror nor the delight that it was over, but for fifty years have wondered what being thrown into it all would have been like. What comfort in a humanity that can condone Verdun, Ypres, the Somme, Gallipoli or the Eastern Front? As the singing surely did end, the horror drifted back to haunt generations to follow.

17 November. Gravel Grinding, a term for cycling over dirt roads, has arrived in the Northeastern US. We returned from the "Gravel Gobbler" to the S&S Farm Brewery covered in mud, and with fewer working gears than when we we started. We look forward to more.

30 November. Rereading Will Hutton's 1995 The State We're In during the buildup to the postponed UK Parliamentary Brexit vote, I found this:
Unless Western Capitalism...can accept that they have responsibilities to the social and political world in which they are embedded, they are headed for perdition. Paradoxically, the most likely consequences will be the closure of the very open markets that business most needs as societies seek to protect themselves from the destructive forces that unregulated capital can release...
Alas, our pragmatic management of the social impacts of globalisation has failed to prevent "that kind of breakdown", which now draws so many countries toward a populism of fear and exclusion.

12 December. What we now refer to as the Christmas Truce came early for some; in a book of World War 1 letters a 20-year-old describes from his "palace in the trenches" a case on December 12th. Under a white flag and led by an officer, Germans crossed no man's land to shake hands and smoke cigarettes with the French. The letter's author was killed a few months later.