Friday, April 28, 2006

Star-spangled Buffalo

You would think running and drinking with the Buffalo Warriors would have an influence on whether you should be considered an American citizen. After all, you're running with a herd representing what should be America's national animal (what's with the bald eagle?). But no, they made my buddy Gabriel Lopez-Walle take a test and an oath, so now he's a full-fledged American citizen. Anyway, Gabriel has to wear that cheesehead hat to keep his overgrown pet mouse Pedro near him to avoid frightening the public. Gabriel, I'm proud of you and happy for you.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Campfires and Cornmeal

As I read literature and visit stores for backpacking gear information in preparation for my Appalachian Trail trek this August, I think of the many letters and journals of Civil War soldiers I have read, and I am awed. I have a library of 500 Civil War books that I began purchasing during the Civil War Centennial of the early 1960s. When I read accounts of soldiers of the Civil War period, I marvel at their ability to withstand punishing weather, long marches, inadequate gear, and poor food.

Today's quest for the best high-tech gear reveals down sleeping bags, leakproof tents, taut backpacks, waterproof boots, clothing made of lightweight, breathable material, ultralight titanium cookware and prepackaged meals, and special filters for purifying water.

Civl War era soldiers, like this Confederate prisoner photographed at Gettysburg after the great battle there, often had only the clothes on their backs, which were filthy, patched-up, wool or cotton uniforms that reeked strongly of campfire smoke. Shoes and boots were plain leather, which wore out frequently on long marches and had to be taken off when fording a stream. Bedding consisted of a thin wool blanket and maybe a weatherproofed ground cover. Tents, when available, were made of canvas that usually leaked.

Food often consisted of greasy meat, hard crackers, moldy cornmeal, and maybe some berries or apples picked while on the march. No portable stoves for these guys; cooking was done over an open fire in heavy metal cookware blackened from flames and not thoroughly washed after the last use. Water from streams and rivers was often so contaminated that it caused disease, even death. Add to all this a heavy musket and a good load of paper-wrapped gunpowder and lead bullets for ammunition, and you have a picture of a sunbronzed, weathered veteran soldier, a truly hardcore individual who may not have seen his family for two years or more and who constantly faced combat and disease.

So, I'll continue acquiring my gear and looking forward to the Appalachian Trail. Bears, snakes, and insects will be threats, but I'll feel pampered compared to camping conditions endured by soldiers of yesteryear. But I'll have to put up with Cassandra.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Road Warriors

After the Buffalo Warriors finished the River to River Relay, we posed for the obligatory team photo at the Ohio river at Golconda, IL. Kenyan Kelby, who displays a gazelle-like gait to his run, hands off the baton to the Sarge. Eric Smith (aka Mr. Clean, also Pickles) is a mad bison on the highway while fellow buffaloes (from left) Tut-Tonka, Steve O'Connor, and Shea Nangle cheer him on. Of Eric's performance on the dreaded sixth leg and its tough hills, fellow buffalo Steve O'Connor says, "Standing at the transition watching him come up that hill you could see the buffalo horns shooting out of his head when he turned it on. Forget "eye of the tiger", it's now "horn of the buffalo".

And Steve summed up the River to River experience quite well with this observation: "It's controlled chaos with hard and fast running at its best. I am still hurting from head to toe and strained my voice from cheering on the herd. What a day - dust, sun, heat, hills, rain, cold, rainbows, sights, sounds, great company and eyewatering, sinus-clearing horse liniment applied liberally every leg. I think we need a new rule about asphyxiating your team with veterinary products in close quarters."

The Cajun Canasian and the Cops

What does an Asian-Canadian Buffalo from Louisiana have in common with Illinois Buffalo cops? Love of donuts. Cajun Wokman Tim Gill (top photo, center) shares the donut supply of policemen Chris "Tut-Tonka" Koerner (left) and Tom "Sarge" King. The three were part of the 8-man Buffalo Warriors relay team I was part of for the River to River Relay race in southern Illinois last weekend. Tim traveled all the way from Louisiana with "Freezy Girl" Karin Gibbs (above) for the event. With Freezy are Buffalo Warriors Shea Nangle (left) and "Kenyan" Kelby Trowbridge. I didn't know Sarge and Shea and Kenyan Kelby before last weekend, but after spending time at a buffalo watering hole, then traveling with them from the Mississippi to the Ohio River, I have new buffalo brothers.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Have You Herd?

The Buffalo Warriors continue their tradition, now in its eighth year, of running the Buffalo Trace Trail at Mahomet each week on "Holy" Thursday. The herd follows the run with a good dose of hops and barley. Grain-fed bison! Cheers!

Bison Buddies and the Newton Nazi

The McNaughton Park Trail ultra race (30, 50 , or 100 miles) in Pekin is always brutal but much fun. Next year they are dropping the 30-mile distance and adding a 150 miler. Insane, but I know a few of the bufaloes will do the 150. Here are photos of buffaloes from last Saturday's McNaughton:

Top photo, Laura Vossman (left) and Tracy Thomas. Tracy won the women's division and was fourth overall in the 100-mile race.

Eric Smith (Mr. Clean) and Marla Luckey (Wrong Way). Marla lived up to her nickname by taking a wrong turn on the race course and adding miles to the already tough race. She still had a good effort.

Danielle Rideout (Double D) and Tony Suttle (Scarface). In a dramatic contest on the Sunday morning ride home, Danielle was the winner for having a piece of peppermint candy in her mouth the longest before it completely melted. I came in last, but I didn't once chew on the candy.

Chris Migotsky (seated victim) is prodded during his effort to finish the 100-miler by Jeff Riddle (left) and Jim Konopak.

Bottom photo, the hands of the Newton Nazi (identity to be disclosed later), who insisted on having the Fig Newtons as well as the Peeps (hey, it was Easter weekend) and other food for the runners in disturbingly perfect order.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Fury: For Want of a Woman

Yeah, I'm obsessed with buffaloes and their behavior. Some guys get a little too violent for the hand (or hoof) of a woman. From Dale Lott's American Bison: A Natural History:
"Now an old bull bellows. His back arches, his belly lifts, his neck extends, and a sound that seems equal parts lion's roar and thunderclap booms across the grass. An eighteen-inch scar runs up his ribs. His horn tips, shattered in other battles, are blunted and worn. Fifty yards away his opponent, a six-year-old bull in his prime, bellows back . . . . headed toward the old bull in a menacing walk. His forefeet stamp with each step, making the hair pantaloons on his legs dance and exploding little puffs of dust from his coat. As each foot stamps, the bull snorts. His tail stands up like a living question mark. It's an impressive display . . . an intimidating one. But the old bull is not intimidated and now advances, matching stamp with stamp, snort with snort. As they grow closer their bellows intensify; they seem to signify pure fury. . . elongating their bulky bodies into animated battering rams as they launch themselves for the first blow. Their heads come together with a terrific shock. It ripples through their bodies in a visible wave. I once saw a bull somersaulted backward by such a charge: 2,000 pounds of bull flipped upside down like a lawn chair in a gust of wind."

Monday, April 17, 2006

Heaven's Gate and Hell's Bait

Saturday, 2:30 a.m. Out of bed. Ridiculously strong coffee, then on the road at 3:30 with Jay Palaniappan (Jay Pineapple to the Buffalo Nation) to help with the Heaven's Gate aid station at the McNaughton Park trail ultra race near Pekin. While driving, the Pineapple plays Johny Cash. "I like classic country and bluegrass," he says. Jay is from India, but southern India . . . a good old boy.

After feeding and watering a herd of tired, hot runners all day at McNaughton, I tried to nap (no real sleep) after dinner in preparation for running with Chris Migotsky, who was attempting 100 miles on the trail, a daunting task given the terrain, which includes a lot of steep hills, bait from hell for a long-distance runner. The photo above shows last year's McNaughton ultra and a section that requires a rope because it is so tough to get up. This year when I came to this section it was also muddy. By the time I started the trail with Chris around midnight, he had logged 65 miles and was in good spirits. But the body-pounding trail and lack of sleep were slowly taking their toll on Chris as we made our way in thunder, lightning, rain, and, mercifully toward the end, moonlight. The slippery slopes and stream crossings provided plenty of mud and soaked my shoes and socks. I wish I could have done something more for Chris to help him complete his 100 miles, but I knew he was really struggling when his pace slowed and then he sat down in the middle of the trail and said, "I'm whipped." But he went on and completed 75 miles. He didn't meet his goal, but he took the challenge and gave it his best. I was saddened as he sat at Heaven's Gate, dejected and weary. There will be other challenges and he will be there.

For me, the McNaughton trail was erie and melancholy and uplifting. Like at 3 a.m. in the darkness, with thunder and lightning, and the windswept trees making creaking noises and owls hooting and deer racing about in the forest, and Chris trudging along quietly. My thoughts would occasionally wander: being with my kids for Easter dinner the next day, about backpacking the Appalachian Trail with Cassandra (that could be a cakewalk compared to this, but then again I wouldn't have 30 pounds on my back), about just being out out here when I could have been in a cozy bed; but this is getting out and away from the usual, and that's why I embrace it. Running pavement in the city and sitting in my drywall and brick castle just don't make it.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Moon Over My Hammy

Double dip tonight at the Buffalo Trace Trail as the herd does a full moon run and remembers Danielle Rideout's one-eyed hamster, Hammy Hamsterton. Above is a photo of Hammy in his cage. Danielle found the little guy wandering in the street, all wet and depressed, and took him in. Later, Hammy unexpectedly passed away. Danielle stored the little guy in her freezer until he could be given a proper burial at the trail, which would include a tender tribute by buffaloes carrying flowers and beer. He was laid to rest by the parking lot, and a small plaque honors him at the site.

We'll be there tonight, Hammy. From Stephen Vincent Benet's "A Ballad of William Sycamore":

I sleep in my earth like a tired fox,

And my buffalo have found me.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Genesis of the Buffaloes

Ever wonder how the Buffaloes became the name for a herd of trail runners? Of course you have; sleeplesss nights wondering. While working on the Second Wind newsletter in 1999, I had to come up with a caption for a photo of Dave Ghent running in the Fourth of July race. The photo was to accompany an article Dave wrote about strength training for runners. I had taken the photo near the finish line as Dave was battling it out with another runner. I didn't see Dave's finish, but this duel reminded me of a Christie race when Dave came crashing through the finish line in a similar duel with another runner. I had heard someone say of Dave's finish at the Christie race, "Like a bull in a china shop." I didn't want to use that analogy (Dave is a sensitive guy), so I thought . . . buffalo. I stuck clip art of a buffalo behind Dave's photo with the caption "Reminiscent of the powerful buffalo of the American prairies, Dave Ghent (right) breaks away from the herd at the finish of the Fourth of July 5K Fredom Run in Champaign."

Gradually, other runners at the Mahomet trail and elsewhere began calling Dave "Buffalo Dave," and eventually the herd was formed as more and more runners came to the trail and ran with us, all being dubbed buffaloes.

Now you know the rest of the story.

There are many stories in the annals of the Buffalo Nation, and I have hundreds of photos, so I've decided to assemble a history of the herd. Photos of Chilly Chili, Riddle Runs, Freezy Girl's first run with the herd on a flooded Buffalo Trace trail, precious shots of Holy Thursday trail runs, and much much more.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Moonlight Madness

A bit too much going on these days. Much Buffalo activity as the herd enters a busy "field season." Hammy Hamsterton Memorial Run Thursday at the Buffalo Trace Trail, followed by a full moon run. Will have McNaughton ultra trail race in Pekin this weekend as I run a while with Chris Migotsky (he hopes to run 100 miles) and help with "Heaven's Gate," the Buffalo aid station at the race. Will camp out Saturday night for that. Then there's the River to River relay race in two weeks, something I'm ill prepared for right now (but how do you prepare for the hills of southern Illinois around here?). And, as usual, I'm late in getting the Second Wind Running Club directory to the printer, and my race director duties for the Buffalo Trace Trail Race in May are getting more intense. Meanwhile, planning for a backpack trip to the Appalachian trail in August is fun. After a few splashes of wine last night I put on the headlamp I will use for backpacking (we'll call this a field test) and collected pine cones under the moonlight in my back yard for fires on my patio (Cassandra, the Tikka Plus was sunlight in the night). Neighbors must have wondered about the meandering light in my yard, and my cat stared at me through the window, quite perplexed. I lead an exciting life.

Monday, April 10, 2006


A year ago I heard that Stephen McConkey was going to Iraq. I had not seen Stephen for many years, but had fond memories of him as a stocky, shy eight-year-old on a Little League team I coached, the Batting Bullets. I guess you could say he's been dodging bullets as an infantryman in the local National Guard unit that has been in Iraq for almost a year. The little Batting Bullet has certainly grown up, as this photo taken in Iraq testifies. The last I heard, Stephen is doing well. The unit is due home soon. An army general is quoted as saying the unit has pulled some of the most dangerous duty in Iraq. Stephen has rounded third base and is coming home.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Trail Trek

After a weeklong backpacking trek of the Appalachian Trail in November 2001, I knew I had to come back and do another section of the trail. For the photo above, taken on that trip, I propped a camera on a rock and took the shot with a self-timer. I was in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Northern Virginia, and the weather couldn't have been better. Looks like this next trip will be through Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, a 100-mile-long stretch of beautifully forested mountains that has black bears and copperheads (above photos), among many other delights. Bring 'em on. I went solo on the last trip; this time Cassandra, a co-worker and muh bud, will accompany me, sometime in August.


I love running through the slop of a watery, muddy trail, so last evening's tromp at the Buffalo Trace trail with three other Buffaloes was ideal. Devil Dawg, Cuz, Andrew and I gleefully squished through 5 miles of swollen creeks and small lakes. This is trail running at its best. Pathetic absence of the rest of the herd, though. After the run the ever-faithful Dawg fetched the bait, which was swallowed with great gusto by the waterlogged Buffaloes. I'm sure of a much better turnout next Thursday at the Hammy Hamsterton Memorial Run, our annual tribute to the homeless hamster brought in by Danielle a few years ago. A solemn event not to be missed.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Princess, Thunder, and the Little Buffalo

My daughter Angie (above), whom I call Princess, is the proud mama of a buffalo in training, Ethan Oliver Rice. The tiny bison recently celebrated his fourth birthday and visited Thunder, the nicely preserved buffalo in the lobby of my work building. With his buffalo hat on, Ethan entered the building in awe of the silent but mighty Thunder. Buffalo bonding ensued.

Grazin' With the Homies

Buffalo Gregg Rose joins the herd for a snack at Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky. Gregg was down there recently for a trail ultra race.

Buffalo down . . .

. . . but not out. It felt like a kick in the gut when my buddy Bruce Rodgers (above left, with me after a Chicago triathlon), my triathlon training partner and chief antagonist, as well as a fierce competitor and one of the nicest people you'll ever meet, informed me that he had a leg stress fracture and would not be able to run all summer. He was signed up to do a marathon this weekend as well as triathlons this summer. He will also miss the River to River Relay race on April 22, where he would have joined me and other bison on the Buffalo relay team that will run 80 miles across southern Illinois.
I gave Bruce his Buffalo nickname, the Iron Bison, because of his incredible fete of finishing 4 Ironman triathlons. He seems to put that same determination into everything he does, and many people have benefited from his good works.
Don't let it get you down, Bruce. Heal up, Bro' Bison! You'll be back tougher and stronger than ever.

Bear Brawl

Yogi and Teddy go at it.

Run the Mud, Take the Bait

In celebration of the season's first run of the Herd tonight at Buffalo Trace Trail in Mahomet, here's an item that appeared in the Second Wind Running Club newsletter a few years ago. That's Duane Frichtl, one of the founders of the trail-running Buffaloes. Duane was the first to bring beer (Buffalo bait) for post-run refreshment; bait is now a staple after every Holy Thursday run.
Could be a little hairy tonight out at the trail. Good and gooey.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Some Useless Information . . .

. . . supposed to fire my imagination:
Tomorrow, at two minutes and three seconds after 1:00 in the morning, the time and date will be 01:02:03 04/05/06.
This will never happen again.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Pale Hose Rule

In celebration of the White Sox winning their season opener last night.

Hyacinth Days

You are looking at Madeline Rose Rice, who nearly jumped out of her fur last evening when a stranger came to the door, followed a few minutes later by a fierce thunderstorm. Maddie returned hours later from hiding under a bed, still slinking slowly around the house. She eventually assumed her usual postion of curling up on my chest and sticking her face into my neck after visitor and storm had gone.

My plant collection, which consists only of an oak leaf acquired in Virginia during a backpacking trip to the Appalachian Trail in 2001, was enlarged this weekend with the addition of a bunch of hyacinth from the Washington Street wilds of Champaign. The hyacinth is in a vase, with hopes that Maddie will not eat it. The plant will be preserved as a reminder of a great day.