Tag Archives: Hiking

Memoir – The Train Tracks

These are the collected memories of my spent and misspent youth. Names have been changed to both protect the innocent and to subvert any statutes of limitations that may still apply. I don’t feel the need to be entirely truthful. I will take liberties as in who did what, or maybe combine a couple of stories together that really didn’t happen together. I am seeking to entertain, not write a documentary. Hope you enjoy.

The Train Tracks

Like many, many towns in the flatlands, we had a railroad track running by our neighborhood. It ran along the west side of Boulder Hill from the Fox River all the way south through Oswego. I can still hear the sound of the train and the whistle blowing on warm summer nights when I had my window open. That train and the sounds of motorcycles racing along the river and the cicadas are some the favorite sounds from my childhood.

Standing on train tracks and just looking is a different experience. IN the flatlands, it really does look like the track go on forever. They have a mythic quality, the promise of someone other than where you are and the chance that something will come along from somewhere else and change where you are. For us, the train tracks were both and more.

The Bridge – At the river, the train ran across a bridge to the other side. One day while we were down by the river we thought to have a look at the underside of the tracks. We climbed up one of the supports and found that there was a walkway under the bridge and it went all the way across the river. It was like a yellow brick road to some magical place, only that is was made from old rotted wood and led to a sewage treatment plant on the other side. It was late in the day, so we decided that we would make an adventure of it that weekend. Weekend came and we got to the tracks by about 10. We climbed up and started across. It was wobbily, it echoed our nervous voices, it smelled like diesel and dead fish. You had to set over the iron supports every six to eight feet, so the going was slow. It was also a big nerve wracking because we were 30 feet or so above the river, which we knew was less than 3 feet deep. A fall would break your legs, then you would drown. In total, the bridge was two hundred to two hundred and fifty feet long. About a third of the way across, there was a platform off to the side. Nice place to rest, except that it was occupied. Two guys a year older than us were standing there smoking…and holding guns. One was the Crossman BB/Pellet gun that had taught a generation of us that squirrels are quicker than they look and the nieghbor’s house is closer than it looked. The other gun was bigger, but not a hunting rifle. Looking back on it, it’s possible that it was a .22, but more likely it was a specialized pellet gun. At that time, it didn’t matter exactly what they were. What did matter was that we were essentially trapped with two guys with guns. We said our hello’s and continued on the wobbily bridge, threading through the trestles as we went. I heard a ‘tink” and saw a little spark off to my left. Then another and another. Hymie, who was bringing up the rear, yelled, “get moving, they’re shooting!” We ran the rest of the way, jumping through the trestles and bouncing on the old rotted boards.

The Stash
Another day, we decided to walk the tracks from the bridge and head south until we got to the Civic Center. We bought some donuts and pop at the bakery next to the Buy Rite and headed south. Early on the trip, just a bit behind the apartments, we found a cardboard box suspiciously stuffed in some rocks on the other side of the tracks. We opened up the box and found someone’s porn stash. It was ragged, water damaged, and otherwise mangled….but it had naked women so we took what we could stuff into our coats and headed on. We decided to stop around lunch, but we needed a private place to do our reading. We followed a little trail back into some woods and came across a little clearing with stumps for stools and a ring for a fire. There were empty pop cans, old vegetable cans and cigarette butts scattered around. We figured we found some type of hobo campground. Though we had no idea what a hobo really was. So for the next hour, we had an educational experience and donuts.

Herbie, the duck
One other walk on the tracks, we made it almost to Oswego, but we stopped where the train crosses Rt. 25 just outside of town. We climbed down the embankment and found ourselves right by a culvert that lead under the highway and it was big enough to walk in if you bent over a ways. We shuffled our way through the and found a very secluded little creek and forest area that we had no idea was there. The creek formed into a pond fifteen feet wide or so and maybe 4 feet deep. The pond emptied out into another creek and then the river about 50 years later. It was like some sylvan paradise, idyllic in a Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn kind of way. We sat down to rest , enjoying the quiet in between the passing of cars and trucks just 30 feet away but oblivious to our presence. In the quiet, we could hear a rustling now and then and a little peep. We searched until we found it, a little yellow baby duck. It would sit in our hand, follow us around, and otherwise be just a cute as a baby duck can be. We searched around, even went close to the house nearby, but we couldn’t find any sign of other ducks. We built him a nest of sorts where he could get to the water easily, but also be sheltered from the weather. We named him Herbie. We discussed what they ate and how we could take care of him. None of us were about to try to explain a baby duck to our parents, so when we left, we had to make sure he didn’t follow. We were awfully quiet going back home, knowing that a baby duck didn’t have much chance. When we spit up to go our separate ways home, we agreed that we would each talk to our parents about keeping him, then come back tomorrow with a way to carry him back. That night it stormed like it can only storm in the flatlands. High winds, heavy rain, and lots of lightning. We rode our bikes down there but we couldn’t get through he culvert because of the water. We crossed the highway and went down the hill to Herbie’s home. The idyllic little refuge was now a disaster zone. A lot of leaves and branches had washed through the culvert, along with a lot of water. The pond was gone, the shelter was gone, and Herbie was gone. The ride home was very, very quiet.

Memoir – My First Beer

 These are the collected memories of my spent and misspent youth. Names have been changed to both protect the innocent and to subvert any statutes of limitations that may still apply. I will also take liberties with the truth as in who did what, or maybe combine a couple of stories together that really didn’t happen together. Such is the nature of a memoir. I am seeking to entertain, not write a documentary. Hope you enjoy.

My First Beer

A person’s first beer isn’t always a memorable experience, mine was. An guess what, Cisco and Hymie were both there. It wasn’t their first beer. Go figure.

We were hiking along the Con-Ed land between Codorus and Circle Drive West on a cold spring morning. We were freshman and happy to be out after one of the cold, wet, windy winters that the flatlands are known for. As usual I was dragging on behind of the other two, being as it was morning and I am not a morning person. The long weeds were bent over with the cold dew, and the ground was soft and slick. Something clanged against boot. I reached down and pulled out a 6-pack of Miller High Life from under the weeds. “Hey, check this out”. Hymie and Cisco came running back. “Holy shit, we found someone’s stash! Is there any more?” We searched for any more beer, but stopped when we realized that we were probably within eyesight of the stash owner’s house. We divided up the cans, stuffed them into our coats and kept hiking. So, for the next three hours we hauled two beers in our pockets as we hiked down and back along the train tracks. Along the way we talked about the beers. They were golden chalices of the near ultimate forbidden fruit. They were where the party started, they were cool, they were the gateway to the high school experience. And we really didn’t know what to do with them. We didn’t think we could just crack them in broad daylight. We were worried about storing them in or around our homes. We were also not so sure what would happen when we drank them. Both Hymie and Cisco had had a beer, not just a sip, but a beer. Both had older siblings, that helps. But it is not like it was a regular occurance. What a beer did was still a bit of a mystery to us.

Cisco came up with a solution. He knew that there was a basketball game that night at the high school. Cisco would be the one to keep our social schedule for the next several years, keeping us abreast of the football/basketball games, the homecoming activities, and the parties. He was also the one that kept us meeting girls seeing as he was the first one to figure out how to talk to them. He had a gift. Cisco suggested that we keep the beers in our coats, leave them in the garages. Then, we would tell our parents that we were walking to the basketball game that night. On the way we would have plenty of time to drink and a good excuse to be gone for a few hours. We could actually go to the game if we wanted to, also. Cisco was worth his weight in gold.

It was starting to get dark when Hymie and Cisco showed up at my door. We had around and hour and a half to get to the game. We were all dressed in our hiking gear; Military surplus jackets, flannel shirts, old jeans and hiking boots. You could take us out but you couldn’t dress us up.

We walked behind the houses on my block along Circle Drive East. This lead us to the fields behind Thompson Jr. High.  Here is where we decided to crack the first beer. We decided to do one beer at a time and pass it back and forth. Hymie took a long slug and gave a bit of a shudder. Cisco took a drink and made a bit of show of choking it down. The Golden Cylinder of magic was in my palm next. “You have to just go for it, you cannot expect to sip it and like it” Cisco said. Just for the record, now if someone hands me something to drink and says “you cannot expect to like it” I don’t drink it. That was wisdom I lacked then. I raised it to my mouth and took a big gulp. Let me stop know and review. We found beer in some wet high weeds  and reasoned that walking the 4 miles at night to the high school was a good time to drink them. Now, let me stop a second time to talk about beer. Beer is good, but poorly cared for beer is awful. If you drink beer too warm, it sucks. If the beer has been frozen at any time, it sucks. If it is allowed to get really warm, then cooled, it also sucks. The beer we had was outside in the spring time, and we have no idea for how long. It had probably been frozen, thawed, heated, frozen and thawed multiple times. So for my first beer I was gulping down something that had been more abused than Keith Richard’s central nervous system. I had no idea what beer should taste like, and I just ingested what tastes like a big mouthful of fermented donkey piss. But, I am with my buddies and I am not going to look bad. So, despite the protestations of my pristine throat, over the mournful cries of my tender stomach and completely ignoring the extremely sound advice coming from my brain, I swallowed the beer. “Smooth” was all I managed to say.

We passed them back and forth with increasing speed as we walked. Again, we were walking through a ploughed farm field during a wet spring wearing hiking boots. With each step we added to the accumulated mud on our boots. We passed the can and walked, passed the can and walked and soon the six golden chalices were drained of their goodness.  Though beer might be skunky, rancid, or otherwise unfit for human consumption, it will still get a 15 year old legally drunk. By the time we got to the high school, the mud was up to our knees and the buzz was up to our brains.

We trudged into the school leaving a sloppy trail behind us. We walked up the bleachers, leaving footprints on every coat, jacket, and hat we found. The game was uneventful, and uninteresting. We couldn’t even find any girls we knew. At halftime we went to the bathroom and got a look at ourselves. We each had mud on our faces as well as all over our clothes. Our faces were bright red, and our eyes were little bloodshot slits. Several adults passed us by, giving us suspicious looks. We decided to leave before we got busted.

About half a mile from the school, a nice spring rain started. Nice if you were a young Blackberry Bush, Sugar Maple, or Day Lilly. Not so nice if you were coming down from a buzz and had three more miles to walk. The jovial talk that marked the trip there was replaced with a sour, hungover  silence. It was a long, surly walk home.

The epilog here is that when I finally had my next beer, one that had not been so abused, I thought it was pretty good stuff.

Memoir – Chomp Goes the Weasel


These are the collected memories of my spent and misspent youth. Names have been changed to both protect the innocent and to subvert any statutes of limitations that may still apply. I will also take liberties with the truth as in who did what, or maybe combine a couple of stories together that really didn’t happen together. Such is the nature of a memoir. I am seeking to entertain, not write a documentary. Hope you enjoy

Chomp goes the Weasel

Cisco’s dad grew up down around Marseilles and went down there now and then to attend to family business. One time we convinced him to take us with him so we could go hiking in the valleys and hills along the Illinois River. Where we lived it was primarily flat, flat farmland. The idea of a change in elevation more than 6 feet filled us with no end of excitement. We got down to Marseilles about 8am and Cisco’s dad let us run free.  Three 8th graders being set free on a sunny late fall day. Cicso’s dad told us to meet him around 2pm in town. Given that the town only had one intersection, that was enough direction.

We followed the river looking for whatever we could find. We found a few old garbage piles, long forgotten by families long gone from the land. We tracked deer, but failed to see any on that trip. We talked about school, girls, hunting, partying…any number of topics that we really didn’t have any experience with.  We were gone about two hours when we realized that the trip back was going to be a lot tougher since we had been going downhill  most of the time. This is when Hymie had his first great idea of the day. He reasoned that if we simply climbed up the steep, forested hill next to us, we would put ourselves at the right elevation and have an easy walk back. Never mind that it was probably one hundred to one hundred and fifty feet up. Never mind that it was covered in leaves and dense brush. Never mind that the October rain had been pretty heavy that year. I bring up all these reasons not to climb the hill now mainly because I did not think of them then. Way back then, in the fall of ’77, our answer to his plan was “sure, sounds reasonable.” This was one of the earliest examples of a principle that was to play out several times over the course of our teen years: Two teenaged boys are 60% as smart as a single teenaged boy. Three teenaged boys are a lot less smart than that. 5 or more are no brighter than a lab chimp after the experiment.

The climb was significantly harder than it looked. Under the foot of downed leaves was another foot of wet, slick leaves that provided surprisingly little traction. The few places without leaves were muddy eroded run offs, hardly any better than the leaves. We climbed, using trees for footholds and pulling of bushes like they were climbing ropes. About half the way up the hill we got much better at not grabbing the thorny berry bushes. Quick learners, that was us. While it was a cool day, the work climbing up the hill in fairly heavy clothes lead us to work up a sweat. After about 30 minutes we reached the summit and started the long walk back. We were each covered in mud from our frequent falls, dripping with sweat, and pulling stickers out of our sliced up hands. An hour and a half later we shuffled into town, caked with mud, blood and sweat. We had time to kill, so we headed for the old Dairy Queen.

Cisco and I got milkshakes while Hymie got a cup of Ice Cream. We sat down and relived our adventure, quickly planning where we would go next time we came to town. Two girls, about our age, came in got some ice cream and sat down at the table across from us. They were whispering, giggling…the exact things that cause a 14yr old boy’s higher brain functions to cease, but do serve to kick up the primate brain. Remember my earlier rule about how smart three teen boys are? If you modify that with the presence of giggly teenage girls you can effective reduce the intelligence to that of a doorknob. A horny doorknob to be exact.

We kept exchanging looks and they exchanged giggles and whispers. Hymie starts to play with the ice cream on his red plastic spoon. Slowly licking it while giving them his version of bedroom eyes. The girls giggled even more. Hymie gave Cisco and I a look, the one I knew meant trouble was imminent and I needed to make sure I had a clear path to the door and all my belongings were accounted for. Hymie dipped the spoon in his ice cream and stuck it in his mouth, all the time staring at these poor young girls. He swirled the spoon around his mouth and the girls erupted into the biggest giggles yet. This was his cue, the trigger for that contrary streak that was never far from the surface. He stopped swirling then bit down sharply. The spoon made a loud crack sound that caused the girls to cease their giggle. Hymie then swallowed and smiled at the girls, holding the snipped off spoon handle out for them to see. They sat silenced for a moment then grabbed their jackets and ran out of the Dairy Queen. Hymie smiled at us and spit the spoon pieces into his ice cream cup. “We can leave now” he said.

We never went back to the DQ in Marseilles. Go figure