Favorite Place

The subject of this week’s challenge  is an easy one for me to tackle, and obvious to folks who know me.  You will find me any free weekend exploring some section of the 184.5 mile long C&O Canal towpath.  Last weekend took us to a section near Point of Rocks for our Sunday walk.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe branches of the sycamore tree stand out in winter.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are the locks and lockhouses,

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Lockhouse for Landers Lock

the aqueducts,

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Catoctin Aqueduct

and the Potomac river (which looked especially blue that morning).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe mergansers come around only in winter.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe bridge at Point of Rocks looked stunning in the morning lightOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA and this almost looks like a piece of art when the endorphins are flowing on a lovely morning like the one we we had!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Railfanning

This word describes the actions of railfans, the people who are interested in trains and follow them as a hobby.

I was on my way back home from the park on the C&O Canal at Point of Rocks when I decided to take a diversion through the parking lot of the Point of Rocks railroad station just for the heck of it. The interesting thing about this commuter station is that a railroad line from the east, from Baltimore (ex-B&O Old Main Line from Baltimore, one of the oldest lines in the country), meets up with another line from the southeast, from Washington, DC (ex-B&O Metropolitan Branch from Washington DC), just beyond the platform for the station.  After the lines converge, a single line (double-tracked) continues onward to the west towards and beyond Burnswick, MD.  There is plenty of freight traffic to be seen at the station.  Trains going in opposite directions sometimes have to wait before entering the station because of tracks crossing each other.

I saw two people on the platform.  One of them had a camera in hand and the other had a backpack and a radio unit that would squawk every once in a while.  I suspected that they were railfans waiting for trains to come by.  After sitting for a while in the car in a parking spot waiting for a train or two to come by, I worked up the courage to go down to the platform with my camera and try to pick up a conversation with them.

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The two guys did not know each other but had already struck up a friendly conversation.  The one with the radio was monitoring the railroad communications to find out when a train would come by.  He seemed to understand the language of the railroad radio, including the identification of trains, recognition of locomotive sets used with the trains, and the language of track usage.

The guy with the radio told me that they were single tracking between Brunswick and Point of Rocks at that point.  This meant that trains going in opposite directions would have to share the single track between Point of Rocks and Brunswick.  Basically a train had to clear the entire stretch before another could be sent in the other direction. He told me that there were two CSX trains that were waiting to come out of Brunswick, one heading towards DC, and other towards Baltimore.

The first train we saw was one on the DC line, headed west, waiting outside the station for its signal to change.  The lights indicated that that it was waiting for a train coming in its direction from Point of Rocks.

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The first train that came by the station at about 11:30 am was an auto-train headed to DC.

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About fifteen minutes later this was followed by a coal train headed towards Baltimore.

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At this point the guy with the radio informed me that they had now also opened up the second track towards Brunswick.  Trains would now be able to go in both directions at the same time in the stretch between Point of Rocks and Brunswick.  Our westbound train from the Washington DC line began moving and approaching the station about 10 minutes later.

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By this time I felt that I needed to get going and back on my way home. I decided to head back to my car while the other guys continued to wait for the trains.  All of a sudden I heard one of them say something about the Capitol Limited and I rushed back to the platform to see the Amtrak train approaching.

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By this time, there was a westbound freight train from Baltimore approaching, waiting just outside of the station, before the intersection with Route 28, for the track to clear, and there was another westbound train heading towards Point of Rocks from the DC side.  At this point I left the station.

I saw the train from Baltimore at the railroad intersection as I was headed home on Route 28.  I parked the car and waited for a while for the train to get its signal to proceed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI could hear the train from the DC line going past the Point of Rocks station behind me as I was waiting.  I waited for a little  while longer for the Baltimore train to move but nothing seemed to be happening.  I finally gave up and headed home.   I guess I am not a real railfan!

 

The 2016 KVIITM75 Bike ride – Day 6, The Final Push

We made it!  I had to take some time away from the blog for the celebrations, to take care of my friends, and to also try to catch up on my sleep, but I am back to report that  WE MADE IT!

The last day of the ride was from Shepherdstown, WV, to Whites Ferry on the towpath in Maryland.  This was deliberately scheduled to be short ride, and we did in fact finally arrive at our rendezvous point with the support vehicle a little early.  It was a relaxed ride.

We left our hotel at at around 9:00 am.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were back on the trail in short order and proceeded without delay towards Harpers Ferry.  By this time we had established good riding patterns on the trail that all of us were comfortable with, a process that seemed to happen somewhat organically. No words needed to be spoken.  There was no competition to be up in front (or for that matter behind), and it did not matter who your riding companion was.  Conversations could involve all four people, three, two, or even one if you were happier riding in silence at that point, comfortably lost in your thoughts.

We stopped at the remains of Dam 3 just before we reached Harpers Ferry and hopped over exposed rocks in the river bed to chill out in the midst of the flowing water.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe parked our bikes on the towpath across the river from Harpers Ferry and crossed the bridge into town.  A significant amount of time had been allocated to this destination because there was a lot to see.

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We went up to Jefferson Rock on the hill behind the church. The second picture below shows the Potomac flowing south beyond the point where it meets  up with the Shenandoah river.

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We went back into town to get something for lunch.  The second picture shows the railroad bridges across the Potomac between West Virginia and Maryland. Most of the rail traffic is freight, but there is also a train station in town used by commuter trains and the Amtrak Capital Limited running between Chicago and Washington, DC.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter a lunch that resulted in more calories being consumed than had been expended thus far on the trail, we proceeded back to the towpath and resumed the ride.  In spite of some lethargy because of the lunch,  we were able to resume a good pace once we got back into the rhythm.  It seemed that by this time we had become comfortable with the riding experience.  There were less “butt breaks”.

Our next stop was the Catoctin Aqueduct.  This aqueduct actually collapsed completely in the 1970s (because of the design of the center arch) and was reconstructed in 2011.

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We took a short break at Point of Rocks.  We were making good time toward the final destination while riding at an easy pace.

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The next somewhat big stop was the Monocacy Aqueduct, the longest aqueduct on the C&O Canal.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile taking the previous picture we heard some loud conversation taking place on the aqueduct.  We looked up to see that some urgent matter being taken care of over the phone!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then it was time to leave for our final destination.  As the entered the last couple of miles of the ride the energy level actually shot up and there was some sprinting going on.  And then we were done!

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had to hang out at Whites Ferry for a little while because of a foul-up with the support van.  We watched the ferry in action, and then spent the time chilling out.  Ice cream was consumed in celebration.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe finally got home about an hour later than expected.  It was time to unwind.  Later in the evening we received some unexpected awards. (Thank you, Mrs. R!)

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen it was back to more conversation and singing Hindi songs before we finally went to bed, later in the evening than we ever did during the ride itself!

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This was an awesome experience.  I am still getting my head around the fact that we got on bikes in Pittsburgh, PA, and finally got off the bikes in the Washington, DC, area, about 300 miles later, after six days of biking, after experiencing America in a way that one would never have been able to if we had, as is customary, gotten in a car and driven the same distance (perhaps in three or four short hours).  There is so much of this land to see and experience outside of the hustle and bustle of the mainstream.  Its beauty, its history, its small towns with their changing ways of life and the struggles for survival, its peoples, all of these are worth knowing and understanding better.  Moreover, it is a lot of fun! As my friend Shankar would say, this is something everybody should try to do at least once in their lifetime!

 

Splattered Mud

The training for the bike ride in August continues.  This time I decided that I would do a focused ride where the objective would be to complete the distance I had set out to cover as efficiently and quickly as possible.  I traveled light. I did not take a camera.  Instead of sandwiches, I just took some breakfast bars and a couple of apples for sustenance in a backpack, along with a few bottles of water.  The day was promising to be hot and humid.  So I got an early start heading north from Pennyfield Lock.

The section between Riley’s Lock and White’s Ferry is considered by some to be the worst section of the C&O Canal to ride through after it has rained.  The problem lies in the numerous puddles that form on the trail. These are so frequent that you have to be continuously on your toes navigating from one to the other.  The puddles are formed and remain long after the rain has passed because the water does not dissipate through the clayey soil, and because there are depressions in the trail caused by its layout and by park vehicles that sometimes drive over it.

When you encounter an obstacle like this, you have to decide how best to try to tackle it.  Each puddle is unique.  If there is water all across the trail, you might just have to ride through it.  Sometimes you see bicycle tracks on the sides of the trail that are above the water because that section is a little elevated, and you head for them.  But you do need to be careful because there could be drop-offs on the side, and you are also leaning on your bike to make turns while doing this maneuver.  You have to recognize and respect that laws of physics.

If you see a path in the middle of the trail between the puddles where the water has either been absorbed into the soil or has evaporated to some extent, you head for it.  The problem you might encounter is that the soil is quite sticky and grabs at your wheels slowing you down significantly.

In any case, regardless of what strategy you employ, you end up with splattered mud all over the bike and on your legs, shoes, socks, and pants.

Anyway, I made it past the puddles up to Whites Ferry without any significant issues and slowdowns using a bunch of different strategies.

My incident happened closer to Point of Rocks, where I unexpectedly encountered a significant puddle of water across the trail.  I had some good momentum going riding towards this obstacle, and was quickly trying to evaluate the situation and figure out what strategy to apply to get across it.  I saw what looked like a track towards the right of the trail that was above water and headed in that direction.  I did not make it!

Next to the mud track I was headed for was a puddle of water.  I did not realize how deep it was (probably caused by the tires of vehicles digging into the trail).  My tires lost traction coming across the section on the edge of the mud track that was above water and slid into the puddle.  I lost control and the bike slid sideways out from under me before I could get my feet back on the trail and regain my balance.  I was going too fast. I decided to go with momentum of the fall rather than attempting to resist it.  I landed on my left thigh with the bike still under me.  My water bottles went flying.  There was mud all over my backpack and even on my helmet.

The bicycle was on its side but nothing seemed to have happened to it other than its gaining another layer of mud.  Even the handlebars remained aligned.  The muscles in my left thigh hurt where it had been in contact with the key chain and smart phone which were in my pocket.  I had landed on it.  I got to my feet and checked myself out.  I realized that everything was still intact and that I had come out of my first fall on the trail unscathed.  I could continue my ride, and I did just that.  I got back on the bike and kept riding to the point on the trail where I had intended to turn back, and then headed back for home.

The ride back was uneventful, but my strategy for dealing with the puddles had also changed because of my experience.  I was going to make it very simple when I got to these puddles and simply ride right through them, even if it meant that I would have to slow down significantly to limit the splattered mud.  Momentum and mud be damned!

My lower extremities, and even other parts of my body and clothing were caked in mud when I got back.   The bicycle got a thorough washing using the hose in the backyard.  My thigh is still a little sore, but it is not something that will stop me from riding!

Considering the amount of riding that I have been doing recently, it is inevitable that the probabilities are going to catch up with me, and that there will be some mishap or the other at some time.  I have had my first fall from a bike on the trail.  I would be surprised if it is my last. But I cannot afford to be a scaredy-cat. All I can do is hope that the experience will help reduce the chances of having similar incidents going forward.

Into The Morning

It was still dark when I left home at about 6:30am on Sunday morning to head out for the C&O Canal towpath trail at Brunswick, MD.  The morning star and the crescent moon were still visible above the darkened homes, while a faint glow was beginning to show up in the sky just above the  horizon.

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I was about to get back to doing something that I had not been able to do for over a year.   I was heading out to a distant location on the towpath all by myself for a very early morning run.  And I had not been to Brunswick specifically for a much longer time.  And at this point I was actually missing the experience.  The change from my older weekend routine was made so that others could come out with me for walks in the parks on Sunday mornings. It was all for a good cause and a greater good, and something that I was (and still am) happy to be able to do.

It was 29° Fahrenheit when, following my old habits, I drove out to the nearby Starbucks for a breakfast sandwich and coffee.  Surprisingly, they still served the spinach and egg white sandwich that had been my staple in the past.  I picked up my food and drink and headed back to the car.  It was a familiar routine.

In the distance, from the parking lot, one could see the faint outlines of the sunrise.  The colors were beginning to change on the horizon.  I got into my car and on the road to the highway as the diffused light from the sun began the process of gradually replacing the darkness with light.

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The sun was rising behind me as I headed north and west on Interstate 270 towards Frederick.  I had this strange feeling of familiarity, of going back to to an old place in my mind, and it felt good.   I first stopped at the scenic overlook outside of Frederick to observe the colorful sky over the still shaded valley as the sun attempted to climb above the hills behind me.

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Heading west out of Frederick, I continued to enjoy the experience of the sun rising into the heavens – as it lit up the sides of the houses with a golden light, a light that invited people to wake up and pay homage to a new day. I was lost in a pleasantly blissful state of mind when I made a mistake and took a wrong exit from the highway, and got on the road towards Point of Rocks, another location on the towpath.  Feeling quite unperturbed by this unexpected turn of events, I exited this new road at a random intersection with country road whose name I did not even attempt to read, and then proceeded west along this local byway.  After all, how lost could one get with the Potomac river to one side of me and the original highway that I had been traveling on to the other side.  The winding road took me up a hill from which I got an unexpectedly grand view of a broad valley below me partially lit up the sun.  This was the valley through which the Potomac flowed.  I could see a distant water tower, perhaps at Brunswick, my destination by car; and also a hint of my ultimate destination on the trail,  Harpers Ferry, the place where the Shenandoah river joins the Potomac to become a single flow, cutting though and creating a gap in the ridges of the Appalachian mountain range.  It was an unexpected treat, but I could not stop to take pictures on the narrow road.  Before I knew it the road descended the hill and I had found my way back to the road to Brunswick.

Crossing the railroad tracks at the train station at Brunswick the sun appeared to be struggling to rise above the treeline, but the railroad station was lit up in a weird shade of red.

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A coal train stood in the shadows, waiting for clearance to head onward towards Point of Rocks and perhaps the power generating plant at Dickerson.

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The view of the Potomac from the parking lot at the boat ramp below the bridge across the river was gorgeous.

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I made my way from the parking lot on to the towpath and headed west towards Harper’s Ferry.  The cold and brisk air, and the tall misshapen trunks of the leafless trees reaching for the skies all around me, triggered something in the brain.  I was once again in my happy place.

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Before long I heard the lonesome whistle of a freight train from further out west, probably miles away in the area of Harpers Ferry.  I was quite sure it was headed my way.  Within a few minutes the twin engines of the freight train appeared through the trees on my right as the sun lit up the trees beyond the railroad track.

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The sun began to light up the trail as it rose, while my body began to react to the exercise by building up a sweat in spite of the cold.  The numb feeling in the extremities began to vanish.

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After about 3 miles, the lock house at Weverton appeared to my right, still partially in the shadows.

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As I ran through this section of the trail, I peered through the trees on my left, the side of the trail where the river flowed, searching for the remains of the old town of Weverton  that had been washed away by floods in times past.  I did not see anything remarkable. I then passed through a section of the trail that was still completely shaded by the tall hills that rose across the river in Virginia.  The birds were still waiting for the sunrise.  I eventually broke out into an section of the trail lit up by bright sunshine.  The bridge for the highway across the Potomac appeared in front of me in the distance through the trees.

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Approaching Harper’s Ferry, I noticed that the steeple of St. Peters Catholic church was still in the shadows while other parts of the town were beginning to experience the direct rays of the sun.  The Shenandoah river still lay in the shadows of the hills on one side of the town, while the Potomac flowed on its other side in bright sunlight, reflecting the clear blue of the cloudless sky above it.

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As I turned to head back towards Brunswick, the sun had ascended high enough into the sky to be able to light up the entire area, including the trail.  While it was still cold, and I was occasionally passing people who were all bundled up for protection, I was not feeling any of it.  It was time now for me to focus on the “running” aspect of this outing. I needed to try to put my camera away into the backpack and set a more regular pace for the the trip back.

Having not run this kind of distance in quite a while, I was also beginning to feel the effects of the effort on the system.  My heart indicated that it was still fine with the pace I was setting (which for some reason was becoming faster and faster according to my GPS device), but the muscles in my legs were beginning to complain.  “Dude, we need some more oxygen, and why the heck did you leave the water behind in the car?!”  My tracksuit was soaked in sweat. But I was also getting into a rhythm as my feet beat a tattoo on the towpath. I picked up steam heading east.  I was in the zone!

I huffed and puffed my way back into Brunswick where the coal trail was still waiting to depart.

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The tiredness did not matter at this point as the mind was in a very different place from the sore muscles.  I got into my car and was soon heading back home after my Sunday morning visit to the Church of the C&O Canal.  Alleluia anybody?!

The Call of the Cardinal (1/15/2006)

No, I am not talking about a religious leader – I am talking about the bird!

It was bitterly cold this morning, in the low 20s (Fahrenheit, that is), and the wind was howling. I somehow managed to drive to the Monocacy Aqueduct.  The local road was covered with broken tree limbs, and I had to navigate around the bigger ones, listening to the thumping of the broken branches against the bottom of the car.  There was nobody around.  The wind hit me the moment I got out the car bringing tears to my eyes. Having navigated cold mornings in the past, I was determined to go on.  But this was different.  About a half mile down the trail, I began to lose sensation in my toes and fingers completely.  What little feeling of pleasure I had about getting back on the trail after more than a month of absence vanished.   I may push things to the limit, but I am not foolish.  I returned to the car and quickly turned on the heat.  My fingers hurt.

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I could have turned and returned home after this experience, but I still felt the urge to do something.  So I headed north.  I discovered the road to the parking lot at Nolands Ferry.  The road was in as bad a shape as that to the Monocacy Aqueduct.  The wind had done a number on the trees the previous night.  The cold front had come roaring through on Saturday, and in our part of the world this is usually accompanied by the icy Canadian winds from the north.  I stepped out of the car to think about running once again, but changed my mind quickly.  I then drove further north to Point of Rocks.

I had just parked the car beside the trail when the Cardinal landed on the side-view mirror on the passenger side and looked at me.  “What are you doing in there?” it seemed to be asking in a curious sort of manner. “Why don’t you join me out here?”  I was furiously trying to extract my camera from its cover while the bird was sitting there pecking at the mirror.  This one was sneaky.  The moment I got the camera in my hands, it flew away to a branch on a tree and I had to be content taking a picture from a distance.

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Anyway, this was my encouragement.  I stepped out onto the trail once again.  This time I made it a few 100 feet north before I was hit by a gust of icy wind that almost stopped me in my tracks.  The impact of the wind being channeled over the trail by the cliffs next to the river was tremendous.  I turned around and headed back on the trail, this time towards Nolands Ferry.  This I could do!  The space was more open and the wind did not seem to affect me too much, although I could still hear it howling through the branches up above me.  Gradually, I got back into my pace, remembering the way things were before I went on vacation.  It felt nice.

It was when I turned to head back towards Point of Rocks that I felt the effect of the wind once again. It was blowing into my face, but it was not as bad as before.  The sun had come up by now and its warming effect helped things.  In any case, I had no choice but to make it back to the car.  There had been a few other people in the park at Point of Rocks, but there was nobody to be seen on the trail at that point.  I think the wind had something to do with this.

So I completed the run, covering my normal distances, and got back into the comfort of the car.  I was disturbed by a banging on the back window as soon as I sat down in the driver’s seat.  It was the cardinal once again, furiously pecking at something on the back of the car!  Once again I tried to get my camera ready for a picture but the bird flew away.  As I settled into the seat to eat a donut, the creature performed its act once more, this time banging against the side window, looking at me all the time, and then flying away when I got my camera up.  I then decided to get out the car and back into the cold, and tried to follow the bird to get a close-up picture of it.  I managed to take a picture better than the one I had gotten during my previous visit to the trail, but it was certainly not as good as one I could have gotten if the bird were against the car itself.

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The bird would keep reappearing the moment I laid my camera down, and then it would fly away.  It was playing games!  So I decided to sit for a while with camera in hand, just waiting.  The bird came back, but this time it settled on the side-view mirror of another vehicle across the road.  It then started pecking at the mirror of that car.  I think what was happening was that it was seeing its reflection in the mirror and pecking at it.  (Does anybody have an explanation for this kind of a behavior?)  The bird never came back on to my car again. I had waited for about 10 minutes.  I then drove home.

I could have given up at the Monocacy Aqueduct and gone home when I first got started, but I am glad I persisted.  It felt good to do this once again, and I can thank my friend the cardinal for motivating me to get out there and brave the cold and the wind.  By the way, both the side-view mirrors on the car have scratch marks on them that do not look like they will come off. The cardinal must have a very sharp beak.

The country celebrates Martin Luther King Day tomorrow.  Lona Alias was playing excerpts from the “I’ve been to the Mountaintop” speech that Dr. King gave in Memphis on the radio.  This was the speech given just before he was murdered. He had a premonition about what was going to happen to him. What a great speaker!  His words moved people during his time, and they continue to be a source of inspiration.  Dr. King was not a perfect person, but he managed to influence the life of many people in a positive way.  We have to admit that we are also imperfect people ourselves.  If we find a way to leave a positive and lasting impact on people in spite of our weaknesses, then I think we have done well.

Enough preaching for today.