Monday, April 20, 2020

A sunny day in pandemic life

As we battened down the hatches for the coming crisis more than a month ago, the management recommended that I register with the employment security office. Things were looking grim. Research disclosed that I probably already qualified for partial compensation that would add up to an income exceeding my seasonal norm in a regular year. Given a government relief package -- already being discussed at that time -- I could be sitting pretty. Then the repair load surged. For now, my work load and income remain where they usually are at this time of year.

Never a big fan of unearned income, despite my unshakeable support for social safety nets and happy acceptance of the occasional windfall, I have never looked into gaming the system for my own gain. I figure that some people really need it, and it should be left for them. Are some of the recipients working a scam? Of course they are. Why should they be any different than the super wealthy who have been working a tremendously successful long con since 1980? Human nature is human nature, after all. This nature is destroying nature and will end our reign at the top of the evolutionary heap. All that can stop it is a sudden general enlightenment unprecedented in human history or prehistory. Sorry guys. It was nice knowing some of you.

All this would be true even if a plague wasn't stalking the land. We were talking about it up until the new disease took over the headlines. Under the cover of the pandemic news, the greedy destroyers redouble their efforts to throw off the last slim threads remaining of the chains of restraint lightly laid upon them by environmental initiatives dating back to the 1970s. Meanwhile, the multitude of amateur destroyers continue to play with their motorized toys and firearms, fully confident that they are doing no harm to anything worth their sympathy.

Yesterday, as I came out of Snow Road, after a trip to the transfer station, I had to stop and wait for a self-appointed parade of muddy Jeeps to run the stop sign en masse from the road opposite, to turn left onto Route 153 north. Not only did they defy the right of way of anyone else approaching the intersection from opposite them, they also pulled out into a somewhat blind curve on a state highway on which their frisky brethren like to speed. At least one of the Jeeps sported an enormous American flag. They're all about freedom, these guys. Freedom from traffic laws and good sense.

After morning chores and the cellist spending a few hours working from her computer to set up the coming week's online learning for her students, we headed out for her first short ride since she broke leg back in early March. It's actually been much longer than that since she rode, because she doesn't try to ride in the Baltimore area. She swims, mostly, and walks. Six weeks of greater idleness augmented the usual anxieties of an aging rider beginning a new season on the bike. We kept it flat, short, and free of hills.

The day was unusually pleasant. The cellist urged me to ride further after we delivered her back to the house. I had little enthusiasm, but agreed that I would benefit from more distance. I sketched a route that would not expose me to too much headwind or too many flags supporting the reelection of the current occupant of the Oval Office. I can only take so many reminders of human ugliness and impending destruction. Too many people equate freedom with destructive behavior and the tools of hostility. The flags are not numerous, but they're not rare, either.

As I got into the loop I had selected, I realized that it was not as long as I remembered. To the right, a dirt road beckoned. Wilkinson Swamp Road goes straight back through mostly wetlands and forest, eventually to cross the almost circular course of Wilkinson Brook and join Clough Road. From there I could go right and make my way to the road through the Pine River State Forest. The Cross Check is the ancestor of the gravel category. I'd ridden it on those roads quite a bit, although the last time through there I got a bad flat that destroyed a nearly new tire. I proceeded with trepidation. I'd never found an obvious cause for that flat tire, so I had to assume that it was an exceptionally sharp stone in the aggregate surfacing the road. I held my speed back on gravelly descents, and scanned the surface closely as I looked for the smoothest line.

Much of the Class VI section of the road, not maintained for year-round travel, had a better biking surface than the fluffed and graded parts. The surface was more like packed dirt. It was rutted and potholed, but without the sharp stones and loose surface.

I finally reached the scene of the tire disaster of 2015. Hard to believe that so much time had passed, but most of my riding is commuting, and I have many other options for training and fitness rides. I made it down to the brook without incident.

Back when mountain biking was more exploratory and less gymnastic, I would ride this road and the snow machine trails that crisscross the area, on long rambles. Sometimes the weekly ride group would come out here, when the evening light lasted long enough. Trails have been relocated or closed in places, but the general network has been maintained by the snowmobile clubs, so the intersections are in about the same places. The trails are gated to bar ATVs. ATVers being as they are, each gate has a well-worn trail bypassing it so that they can go in and do what they like. I could hear a couple of them ripping it up in there as I passed a junction on my way to Clough Road.

At Clough Road I laughed a little at how the locals have removed the street sign. It's just a dusty T junction in the woods with no hint for outlanders as to where you are or which way is out. I heard the ATVs coming up behind me. They went left as I went right. Good.



Clough Road traverses a generally sandier area. The surface is looser, with lots of stones. Most of the route was basically flat or climbing slightly, so it was easy to control speed and watch for hazards. This whole area was crushed flat by the ice sheet that only departed a little over 12,000 years ago. It's all humps and hummocks and wetlands, ground down to sand and gravel with random boulders. Topsoil varies from forest loam to basically nothing. The route to Effingham Road goes through one dip to a stream before climbing to the intersection. I turned right to close the loop back to Effingham.

Once in Effingham, the road name changes to Hutchins Pond Road. When I moved here, Effingham's part was called Granite Road, and the Ossipee end was called Effingham Road, because, from the point of view of each community, that was where the road went. Now a different road in Effingham is called Granite Road, and it doesn't go anywhere near the section of Ossipee called Granite. Granite Road in Ossipee continues the line of Route 171 eastward into Granite. Granite itself is an undistinguished crossroads. There should be a massive obelisk of the eponymous rock, or a tower, or a fortress.

I wasn't going to Granite. I was heading home. Whatever the road was called, the going was pretty good, with only brief slowdowns where the surface looked like it might hide daggers.

Deep in the Pine River State Forest, I saw a few of the Jeep crowd stopped in and beside the road. I approached slowly. From scraps of conversation I gathered that they would be stopped for a little while. Someone was either stuck or had a mechanical problem. I threaded the traffic jam and rode on. The surface was good. I worked the ridges and ruts. Occasionally, other vehicles came toward me from the Effingham end, mostly trucks.

The road drops down to the pond, and then climbs back up to pass between a couple of farm houses and out to the pavement at the junction of Drake Road and Jones Road. Shortly after I reached the pavement and accelerated with the slight descent and a tailwind, I heard the Jeeps behind me. They passed courteously.

At home I found a posting on an Effingham Facebook page, warning that Fish and Game was patrolling for off-road violators who had been reported in multiple places during the day. Commenters blamed "people from Massachusetts." I had to laugh at that, considering how well defined the bypass trails were at every single gate in the Pine River State Forest. Defiance is endemic. Destruction is a way of life. It lives here as well as visits. Some of it lives depressingly close to my home. It has ruined the peace of pleasant evenings, because I can hear the sound of motors, as the polluting, ground-gouging chariots of the unconcerned churn around on pointless lap after lap. They don't have to be raspingly loud to cut through with a dull grind of needless fuel use and air pollution. It makes a nice companion to the gunfire and occasional explosions. We're not getting better. We're just getting ready to be worse. And they're fine with that. Some are looking forward to it.

Against considerable odds, I can still look forward to a new and better normal when we finally work through the course of the current disease outbreak. Unlikely as it may be, perhaps we really are working up enough of a majority to start giving more of a crap about how we treat things and each other, instead of just how we get to use them and profit from them in the short term. You can't judge by only what you see along your normal ruts. I hesitate to call it hope, but I guess it is. Hope is sucker bait, but it does sustain people through tough times.


voyageoftheeye said...

Holed up in my garden I am enjoying the peace and quiet of the village as it was forty years ago when I first arrived. Then in the evening the lunatic motorcyclists with unbelievably loud exhausts show that it is possible to hit the rev limit and exceed motorway speed on village roads! An easy catch for our lazy police but they just cannot be bothered. Selfish lunatics cover the world.

Steve A said...

Around Ocean Shores, commenters don't blame "people from Massachusetts," they blame "people from Seattle," or, more simply "tourists."