Thursday, April 30, 2020

Great Salt Lake bike tour

Brother Paul and I are starting to work on a series of blawg posts about the other, far cuter half of the Paul C and Virginia Diegel couple, but in the meantime I thought I'd throw up a quick post about the weekend bike tour that Ashley and I did, because we both love bike touring and think it deserves as much promotion as possible! 

Though we love doing bike tours in far flung places and appreciate the opportunity the bikes provide to really get immersed into different cultures, we also like the challenge and fun associated with creating fun new adventures that start within an hour's drive of SLC.  We've had great tours that have started in Heber City, Huntsville, Eden, Victor (???), and even home.   With that in mind, with perfect weather, we decided to do a lap around the northeastern arm of the Great Salt Lake.

The GSL seems to be an under appreciated resource for many Utahns, though our friend Lynn DeFreitas of the Friends of the Great Salt Lake has done a great job of defending it against development pressures.  It's one of the world's foremost migratory bird refuges, affects our weather (and thus skiing), is pretty beautiful in a raw, austere way, that austerity provides plenty of opportunities for remote adventures, and it has a pretty rich history. 

We started in Plain City, a western suburb of Ogden, and indeed, it's fairly Plain:
or is it on the GSL's plains?
Our first destination was the Lucin Cutoff.  I'd never heard of this but saw it on a map and it looked promising as a connector.  The Lucin Cutoff was an alternative to the famous Golden Spiked Transcontinental Railroad, which  - in order to get across northern Utah  - had to go through the mountains north of the Lake to avoid the Lake itself and as such was slow and problematic (it's a challenge to get full-loaded trains up grades of over 2% on rickety/twisty rails/trestles) so after 30 years of dealing with that a monumental effort was made to create a trestle-based "bridge" for 100 miles across the lake.  This account describes the magnitude of the endeavor, which was gigantic:  over 38,000 Oregon fir trees were hauled out here and used, 2 million board feet of California Redwood, 3000 men, 1000 rail cars and 80 engines, their own steamship, etc.  It started out as just a railway, but  - importantly, for cyclists - in the 50's  - after 50 years of hard use - they realized that creating an actual earthen causeway that included not only the tracks but also a gravel road next to it.  So the only traffic on it is the occasional train, and a new generation of gravel cyclists.  

We missed the turn of the main road to join the causeway and had to do a little cyclocrossing:
But soon enough found our way onto the causeway:
heading towards Promontory

Looking back towards the Wellsville mountains. 
Some water, some salt flats
The GSL is somewhat famous for it's bugs; at times they can be unbearable.  The Antelope Island state park update didn't mention that they were out (which they typically do) so we figured they were ok, but they were indeed out.  One kind of fly out there is so prevalent that they create loud clouds, and while they were  present on the causeway, they were tolerable.  However, when I had to fix a flat, we also realized that the smaller but more voracious gnats were also out.  

The Cutoff passes over the end of Promontory, and there's a weird little private farm/RV graveyard there to enable getting off the Cutoff and onto the gravel road that heads north along the Lake.  I wouldn't say that it wasn't private and that we weren't trespassing, but we didn't as permission nor did we linger there, and quickly enough were on another nice gravel road with a bit of a tailwind.  
who's happy that there are no cars for miles?!?  
Along this 20 or 30 mile section there are a handful of scrappy little farms:

it seems like a pretty tough go out there; I'm no farmer, but trying to do crops on a saline lake bed seems challenging.  

At the northern end of the lake is where the original railway went.  We did a short steep climb on a road to assume all the elevation that the original train track did over 11 miles:

Then found ourselves at the Golden Spike Visitors Center

Of course, the center is closed due to The Plague, but there's a fair bit of stuff to see outside, and you can get the gist.  
This guy is still working, and one of his (few?) jobs is raising and lowering the flag.  But the day before was broken up by answering questions on the phone by annoying wannabe cyclists who can't understand why there's  no camping there!
One website I saw said something to the effect of "Every American knows the story of the Golden Spike" but honestly I didn't beyond the simple fact that it was the meeting point between the East and West rail building efforts.  I didn't really fully understand the logistical challenges nor the huge significance that this effort represented.  Legislation and funding was created during the Civil War, and construction started right after the war's end even though worker numbers and raw materials were therefore in much shorter supply, which was why Italian, Irish, German, and Chinese workers were critical to the success.  I kinda figured that the reason that the meeting point was so far west was because the easterly section was so much easier to lay tracks than the mountainous West and this was mostly true, but also ALL of the materials for the western section had to be shipped around the tip of South America before being transported eastward across California and Nevada.  
Again, a lotta wood being used in an area that doesn't have a lotta wood....
Ash on the abutment at the same point, 150 years later
Despite the logistical challenges, however, there were two companies (Central Pacific and Union Pacific) literally doing side-by-side tracks:
Ashley is riding on one track bed, the other is below and to the left.  
It's hard to imagine how weird that must have felt to be working literally alongside another company doing the same thing, when it's so slow and challenging. 
Ironically, it was Congress that decided on the Promontory meeting point for the East and West efforts (it's difficult to imagine the Dems and GOP agreeing on that kind of thing today) and thus it was finished in May of 1869.   

The two guys shaking hands (one of them was Leland Stanford; future Gov of California and namesake for the university) both tried to drive in the Golden Spike, and both actually missed!  Might have been a good idea to have a bronze spike for them to practice on....

In addition to being able to transport people and goods across the country in days versus weeks, which was a huge deal, the railroad was also paralleled by a telegraph line, which of course enabled transcontinental communication that was faster than the nearby Pony Express route (that we rode a coupla years ago).  And when the Golden Spike was finally driven (by more-accurate assistants!) they sent a telegram to President Grant and the Associated Press, and there were huge celebrations both in the East and in San Francisco.  It was a big deal.  Here's an fun article on it that ran in the SL Tribune last year on the 150th anniversary.   

While there is "No Camping" within the park and it's surrounded by private lands (as the flag bearer had told me the day prior) and I'd never admit we were on private land, we were able to make something happen:
It's no pleasant Euro campground with showers, shitters, and a cafe, but it worked.  
And we were back on the road
This is the Chinese Arch, which was formed by ancient ocean waves?!!? 
The route I had originally cooked up goes through the mountains to the north of the Thiokol (rocket-making) facility, but given our history of being a bit overzealous early in the season we opted to cruise the flat highway back east to Brigham City, where there's some nice riding through orchards:
And were able to finish on a nice section of Rail Trail right into Plain City 
celebrating no traffic again!  
The Google won't acknowledge the Lucin Cutoff on the south end; there is another shorter causeway that I think also works. 
Yet another quick, easy, and nearby bicycle "adventure" on mostly-empty roads with some fun history lessons for dullards like us!  What's next?  

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Ginny's blog post...from 1946.

Having done the fun bio of our dear old dad, of course now the pressure is on to do the same for our equally-interesting mother Virginia Diegel (ginny), who fortunately is still around to keep me honest on my facts! And I do plan to do that, soon. 

However, in the meantime Brother Paul has recently stumbled upon a box that has been a veritable treasure trove of old family history, and in that box is a scrapbook that Ginny put together after the memorable summer she had in Yellowstone in nineteen hundred and forty six.  After her freshman year in college she decided  - like many before, and after her  -she wanted to leave the Mississippi River plains of Rock Island, Illinois and find her fortunes in The West.  And what better place to go than iconic Yellowstone?  And thus it came to pass:
Big news in Rock Island!
Ginny's parents Harry and Gertrude kindly drove her out and dropped her off:
and she immediately began making friends:
Feeding Yogi The Bear, as people did at that time:
Heyy BooBoo!  A pic-a-nic basket!  
Fell in with some strapping young lads:

this guy was going to have NO problems that summer....
and got a job:
$30/mo with a $7.50 bonus; that was....some money!  
as long as she abided by the code:
"Be sure your teeth are in good condition!"
She got a job as a waitress at the Old Faithful Lodge, and on her days off she would do what people do in Yellowstone:

and she and her friend would hitchhike around the park and even down to the Tetons:
Much to her mother's dismay, according to a card Gertie sent that was included in the scrapbook
Ginny later got a degree in journalism and became a writer, doing fun special interest stories for first the local Beaverton, Oregon paper and then the legacy Oregonian. 

On The Beat!
She even published a book:
That you can still buy, for only $4.25 (that's probably what it went for when it came out in 1978!). 

What I didn't realize until now, however, was that Ginny was already a bit of a prodigy writer, even at a young age.  She had a lot of experiences during her brief summer in Yellowstone (including a hilarious one that cost her a job!) but one as a waitress was good enough that she....created a blog post, probably 70 years before the term "blog post" even existed.  it's such a gem that I transcribed it, with just a couple of edits.  It's a gem; enjoy. 

One man who visited Yellowstone Park this summer probably doesn’t have very happy memories of Old Faithful Lodge and of a certain waitress at station number seven.  I was one of twenty college girls working in the big dining room out west for a vacation.  We didn’t pretend to be professionals, but relied on the fact that most vacationers were not in a hurry and were usually in the best of humor.  However, and then, there would be those who were in a hurry and lacked a sense of humor, and that’s where all my trouble started.

This particular day in July started peacefully enough.  Customers had been tipping ten percent, and we hadn’t been too busy to have fun, but neither did we have to stand around waiting for customers.  Everything was under control when the hostess seated a nice looking, middle-aged couple at my four-seater.  The man gave the orders and I wanted to congratulate him when he made fine choices all the way down through the dessert.  When he politely asked if I would please fill his thermos bottle with boiling hot water I politely said yes, put it on my big silver tray, and sailed off to the kitchen.  My two-seater had just finished and the big eight table hadn’t filled up yet, so I could easily fill the thermos between courses without getting mixed up. 

After the nice couple had finished their appetizers, I stopped in the kitchen to fill the bottle.  Quite unsuspecting, I let the boiling water run into the thermos and joked with the busboys as they sped by, balancing nine meals on one tray.  I turned off the spigot, picked up the cork, and calmly stuck it into the neck of the thermos and….POP.  I’d never taken chemistry or physics or whatever it is that teaches that compressed steam will exert pressure enough to blow the cork off a thermos bottle.  The cork shot up into the air and I tried to watch its flight, but it disappeared.  The coffee boy offered to look for it while I served the entrees .  The eight-seater filled up; I took their orders.  Someone sat down at my two-seater, and I got their orders, served their entrees, and got dessert for the thermos bottle couple, and in between each trip I frantically searched the kitchen for the missing cork.  The whole kitchen crew of cooks, dishwashers, salad girls, and pot washers got ladders to look on the rafters, got brooms to sweep under the cofffe urn, and crawled around under the tables to search for a suddenly-valuable piece of cork. 

Station number seven was by now waiting for their desserts, their bill, and their themos bottle, but their waitress was in the kitchen desperately trying to find another cork.  I finally got rid of the other ten people (at the other table) and avoided the eyes of the bottle man as I rushed through the swinging doors again. 

It was no use.  The cork had gone up, but it had not come down.  Cooky (the cook) said the night watchman would find it and that I should tell the man to return for breakfast.  So, reluctantly I approached my customers and told them the fate of their bottle stopper, trying to throw in the hope that it would be found that night.  If not, I told him that I would be glad to pay him for the cork and he could buy another one when they got to the nearest town, which was many miles away. 

He wasn’t angry, just annoyed and mildly grouchy.  His aristocratic wife looked bored with the whole affair. It was a comfort to me that she probably felt as I did that the matter did not demand more than a casual apology.  However, when I presented the bottle minus to stopper to her husband he said: “What good does this do me now?  I wanted it for tonight!”

Now I was mildly annoyed.

“I’m sure it will be found tonight, sir.  Will you be in for breakfast?”

Rather grumpily, he guessed that they would have to be, but their cabin was 291 in case it was found that night, because they had wanted to get an early start the next morning.  He probably would have gone up to the kitchen to look for himself had his wife not stood up to go.

“Tell the girl we’ll be in tomorrow morning”, she said, disdaining to speak directly to me. “You’ll just have to get along without it tonight.”  That seemed to definitely end the matter for the time being, at least, and she started down the aisle.  Her husband made a point of putting some money on the table, mumbled something about seeing me early the next day, and hurried after his wife. 

I was very surprised to find a 75-cent tip on the table and took it to mean that he was partially paying me for the ultimate return of his cork.  His great concern for such a seeming trifle puzzled me, and I guess I’ll always wonder what he wanted with that hot water.

The next morning at breakfast the affair had almost been forgotten until That Man appeared at my table again, this time alone. 

“Well?” he leered expectantly.  His intense dark eyes were almost hidden in a deeply furrowed squint.  I surmised that he wore a perpetually worried look to have such deep wrinkles.

I rushed into the kitchen again, but was told that the night janitor slept until 1pm and was not to be wakened.  It took courage that time to inform my irate customer that he would have to wait until noon if his cork meant that much to him.  I fervently hoped he would choose not to wait, but his long-controlled temper burst into display.   “I’ve seen that geyser blow up twenty times, and I’m tired of it! Can’t you do something about it?!” 

I barely contained myself from telling him to go jump in the geyser, but restrained myself and asked him to do the same, meanwhile praying that the janitor had found something more than dust under the tables.

He hadn’t.  At one o’clock sharp he strolled in, and when I pounced on him, he shook his head.  I knew what I had to do, but I was scared.  I wanted to ask the hostess to break the news, I thought of burning my finger, of spilling soup on my apron, fainting…anything so I wouldn’t have to face That Man again. 

But I fortified myself with the assurance that this was the last time I would ever behold his frightening countenance, took a deep breath, whizzed out of the swinging doors, up to the ogre, and said:
“That cork never came down!”

Even today, I am haunted by that man’s accusing face, his voice keeps ringing in my ears:  “Where’s my cork!?!”  I my dreams I hear that fatal POP and watch the cork sail on up and up, and I always wonder why the laws of gravity had to fail at such an inopportune time. 

Monday, April 13, 2020

An Ode to Paul Diegel - the final chapter

I mentioned in the first post that our dad was a good card player; good enough to come out of the navy with a fair bit of his friends' money.  Though he liked poker (and taught us to play, and the four of us played various versions as a family after dinner) his real love was for bridge, which represented far more strategy than the luck component of poker (not to say that there isn’t strategy to poker, but bridge – from what I understand – is all about strategy).  PC continued to play in the bridge leagues, and as the autocrossing faded a bit, he sort of redoubled his enthusiasm for bridge and started playing in tournaments, doing pretty well.  I think one of his biggest regrets about me (aside from me not being into cars, dogs, or hunting) was that I never learned bridge, though I do remember once telling him how great bike racing was with all the drafting and teammate strategies, and he said “it sounds a lot like bridge!”  That got me intrigued, but I guess not enough. 

One day he came home and said to my mom “You’ve got to start buying your groceries at Fred Meyer for a while.”  Huh?  Why? “They are having a contest and the more you buy the more chances you have at winning the contest.”  Well, ok, we aren’t big grocery store contest players, but…we’ll bite.  What’s the contest?  “There’s a big regional bridge tournament coming up, and the winner of this contest gets to play with this huge bridge grand master champion!”  My mom and I couldn’t believe it:  a grocery store contest for someone to be able to play a bridge tournament with some guy?!?  But to humor him, our mom indeed started buying groceries at Fred Meyer for the next month, and I’ll be damned (to use a favorite phrase of my dad’s):  we (he) won!  There literally was a drawing and we had a fair number of tickets in there and ours (his) was chosen!

The tourney was a few weeks hence and he started playing even more feverishly to get his full game on, and the finally the weekend arrived, and sure enough, PC was paired up with “Boris” (not his real name, which I can’t remember, but Ashley thought that the guy was Russian, which he wasn’t, but he was an imposing physical guy and it makes for a better story).  These tournaments were pretty intense and people played morning to night, and ol’ Boris and Paul kept on a’winnin’, and sure enough, on Sunday night the Grand Champeens were….Paul and Boris!  

After the spraying of champagne and the kisses from the podium girls and the medals being hung around their necks Paul said to Boris “wow, that was so amazing playing with you; I learned so much and it was so fun!” To which the very gracious Boris replied “Not so fast!  I could not have done that without you! You played as well as any partner I’ve ever had, and that’s the truth!”  (or something to that effect).  I think it was another highlight of my dad’s life, ironically again near it’s end. 

In addition to climbing when few were climbing, spaniel field trials, hobby farming, ping pong (we belonged to the “Ping Pong Palace" in downtown Portland), small cantankerous British sports cars  (and station wagons?  “hate vans, hate pickups…. love station wagons!”) our dad was also into….roses!   Not that I tried, but I couldn’t figure out that passion.  Certainly spending most of his life in the Rose City of Portland he knew that it was an ideal climate for roses, but as kind of a man’s man it seemed like a strange pastime, but he was into his roses, and again let his competitive juices flow and started entering his roses into the contests or races or shows or whatever they were called.  I don’t think he achieved the same level of success there that he did in his other endeavors, but he didn’t seem to care as much, and continued to futz with his rose gardens even as the rest of the hobby farm gradually deteriorated (with his cheap labor sons mostly gone and losing the energy/motivation to keep it up). 

I’ve talked a lot about what Paul C Diegel did, but not too much about who he was.  I have many times described him as an odd guy:  generally pretty taciturn, but loved telling stories and had a great sense of humor.  A bit standoffish:
A hilarious photo that can be captioned many different ways, but this early 80's family Christmas photo shows that PC's sorta off-to-the-side, not-quite-smiling was kind of his thing.  
Who poses for a picture with his wife standing that far apart?!? 
But tremendously loyal to his family and friends.  Quite a snob in some ways:  “Beer is for the common man, not for sophisticated men!” but happy to be a bit of a boor (Boones Farm Strawberry Hill!).  He had high standards and was pretty judgmental, but was respectful of other people’s decisions; when I took a semester off of college to be a ski bum at Snowbird, he was convinced I’d never go back to school, but he bought me a car to help enable that:
And when I graduated from college and didn’t want to get a job and just wanted to ride my bike around Europe, he thought it was a poor idea but gave me $500 the night before I left because “I’d need it”. 

He valued (having read) high literature, but loved trashy novels.  He liked being a father:
With Brother Paul
 I think – but he wasn’t a big supporter of my baseball, soccer, cross country, track, etc; they simply weren’t his thing.   He loved the outdoors, but I think this was his last hike, when I was about 13:

His last job was starting up a property management company called, appropriately enough: “Practical Property Management”, because “Practical” was pretty much a term that he lived by.   He never made a lot of money and was frugal to the point of always re-using paper towels, and put more stock in fun than money, yet he had a lot of financial acumen and we lived a comfortable life.

But more important than practicality to him was the concept of integrity.  I think that regardless of a bit of surliness that some people may have perceived in him, he made a huge point of being super committed to his bosses, his clients, his friends, and his family, doing what he said he’d do, treating everyone fairly, being honest to the point of bluntness, and being generous enough to be the guy who would “go to the bank for you;”  that is, if you needed help, you’d just say “I need help” and he’d take you to his bank and say “how much do you need?” An important characteristic in a spouse, friend, and dad. 

Our dad’s obsessions weren’t all healthy; he was a lifelong smoker that resulted in getting bladder cancer in his early 60’s, and while he tried to quit several times, he simply couldn’t even as he hated what smoking did to him and even after getting crushed by the surgery, which resulted in an ostomy (a plastic external bladder via a port in his abdomen). Eventually the smoking led to his demise at a too-young 73. We found out later that he wasn’t feeling very good so he went to the doc, who told him that he was riddled with cancer and the end was nigh, but – ever the stoic - instead of making a huge deal about it, he literally told no one else, spent a lot of the next period of time making sure everything was in order and our mom was going to do just fine after he was gone, and two months later he died, leaving behind a nice note to us.  I've never visited his grave in Portland, preferring to think of him as he was, not as he is. 

Twenty-seven years later I look back on his life and realize that I really admire him for the fact that he led a life that he sought.  After surviving World War II he realized that life is tenuous and short, so it’s best to get after it and do what you wanna do, “damn the torpedoes” (a phrase he liked).  One of his favorite things was to sit out on a dog box that was next to the barn with his favorite dog Willie to survey his domain of the little farm with the fields and woods spilling out on each side.  With a stout gin and tonic (complimented with a crushed sprig of mint) he'd quietly appreciate the life that he had created, before finally giving the ginned-up ice cubes to Willie and heading back into the farmhouse. 

Happy 100th Birthday PC