Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Conference diary day 2 (a wee bit late)

(This was drafted and completed somewhat out of sequence. I started it days ago then it got left when I became too busy with writing and the board. Now I have a little more time, plus I am stuck here while something downloads, so I may as well finish it.) (Except I didn't, and am now at Logan airport, with the flight not boarding for an hour, so here I go again ...) (.. and then I finally finished it in London after several more days' delay ... sheesh!) (Too many parentheses ..)

Monday 28th was rather a nice day. We (Michael, Gary and I) met up for breakfast not too early, chatted to a few other people, and went off for an outing in Gary's car. We drove up into the Berkshire hills heading for the small town of North Adams. On the way, Michael knew an interesting loop we could do as he'd already been trout fishing there. (He's plugged into an international trout fishing network and can find people who know the local places pretty much anywhere.) So we turned off the main road and onto a minor winding one, which was more fun. Eventually we stopped at a very interesting spot (map) near Florida, MA, where there's a railway crossing a trestle bridge over the Deerfield river. To an English eye, brought up on (inter alia) cowboy films, a railway trestle is just about as American as you can get. You just need a steam train with a cow catcher, perhaps pursued by a group of angry Native Americans, and the picture would be complete.

Anyway, this particular trestle was very nice and a great opportunity to walk over. It had been a two-track line and one is now gone, so the space where the other used to be is now safe(ish) to walk over. It's had timbers laid across it and little tarmac ramps at the ends, which offers the (terrifying) prospect that you could drive a vehicle across it. There are gaps down between all this wood but, while it's alarming, you couldn't actually fall through. I think.

Anyway. So we walked across this nice trestle, took some photos, and generally admired the river and the view and so on. Then came The Tunnel. Oh yes. There's a famous railway tunnel (the Hoosac Tunnel) right there, just a few hundred yards from the trestle, apparently of some huge length - five miles or something - through the mountains. Some nice people, who had a sort of little fishing camp (and a very nice Labrador) right by the trestle, told me there are only about eight trains a day so it is not too dangerous to go and look at. The fascinating thing was that as I looked up towards the tunnel mouth I could see a mist hovering, perhaps discoloured a little brown (or maybe that was just reflection) as if something had just gone past and stirred up dust, or something.

As you walk towards the tunnel mouth things become clearer, metaphorically anyway. There's a sort of microclimate at the tunnel mouth, presumably because of the interaction between the tunnel air and the much warmer air outside. You hit it like a wall - the temperature suddenly drops sharply and although you can still see it's a warm sunny day elsewhere, you are no longer in it. This starts maybe fifty yards before the tunnel mouth. It's weird and exciting and I don't recall having experienced anything quite like it before. If you don't mind a quick shower you can dash through a chilling downpour into the tunnel itself. It's pretty cold in there! Apparently people walk right through sometimes. You'd want to be sure of foot and also to be pretty confident in your torch, your backup torch, its backup and a big box of candles and matches. Maybe a specially trained Night Attack Panda. Whatever - you get the message, it would not be a trivial stroll.

I tried taking a couple of pictures inside the tunnel but since the air is mostly water all you get is bounced flash. Or at least it is on my camera. However I was a little more pleased with the picture of Gary and Michael just outside the tunnel, seen from inside it, and it is this which accompanies this paragraph. The two guys in the further distance are Two Guys who were very civil but are not as far as I know ITG members and they do not feature any more in this tale, unless I give one or both of them a bit part later, which I will probably not do.

Michael wanted me to climb up on the top of the tunnel portal and be photographed lording it over the scene. Someone was already doing this and looked pretty cool. Yeah, man! I went charging up it like a mere stripling of, say, 48, got three-quarters of the way up it and realised that as it steepened and got glossier and wetter my trainers were turning into skates (hmm sounds fishy) and I had a brief vision of what fun it would be spending time in hospital here, and thought better of it. No, man! So Mike didn't get his piccy and I am very sorry, but both my knees still work right now, which is a good thing. The guy came down eventually from on top and I was delighted to hear him mentioning how dangerous it was ... made me feel slightly less of a wimp. What we did do is explore up the side a bit where a busy mountain stream has been diverted in a sort of mill-race thing (but without the mill, natch) and that's quite pretty too.

Leaving this rather nice spot behind we pressed on further up into the hills, stopping to admire a superb view from a look-out point, then reaching the small and pleasant town of North Adams at a time conveniently known as Lunch. We had a bit of GPS-competitive hilarity trying to find the said lunch: Michael had brought Sophia and I had mine, which I am told is now called Betsy. Since most things were shut (it was Memorial Day, a public holiday) this was a bit of a challenge but eventually we found - not quite where either GPS had it! - the rather splendid Freight Yard Restaurant & Pub which is on some kind of heritage park site. We ate outside sitting in those amazing semi-rocking chairs with big springs underneath - if you lean back it feels like you'll fall right over but you never do. This was all very pleasant. These are actually two of my favourite people on the planet and it was nice to spend some unstressed, non-working time with them.

After lunch we drove a little further away from Amherst, and had quite an exciting near-offroad experience with help from Sophia. It never got really hairy but it was unsurfaced and a bit bumpier than you'd normally take a hire car onto! The drive back down was very pleasant and we were back in Amherst in good time for the start of the board meeting.

After that the account gets somewhat less exciting and anyway I've done odd jottings on the rest of the conference already (and see new photos in this story too), but I just thought it might be nice to get this rather fun day down on paper.

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