It was one of those days when boredom seems to come from every direction. Just hot enough to make laziness a virtue. Doug sat scrunched up on the love seat, remote in hand, glaring at the wasted effort of producers, directors and actors. He pressed the mute button and looked out the window. He could see the morning dew on the lawn, twinkling on the zinnias and petunias. It was going to be a hot summer day. As he stared out the window he could hear in the back of his head one of his Dad’s favorite musicians, Ella Fitzgerald, singing the Gershwin tune, Summertime: Fish are jumping and the cotton is high. Well, you could fish for trout in the creek, cotton, however, was down the mountain. The creek did give him a great idea. Several phone calls later he was still sitting on the love seat. Everyone he called had to work. The ones he didn’t call were on vacation. Still staring at the dew on the lawn, he thought about the trout swimming in the creek. What he wanted to do was play in the creek. But it was dangerous to play there alone. The rocks could be slippery and sometimes rather dangerous.
Switching to The Weather Channel he saw that rain was supposed to begin around noon. Well, he could go bike riding in the rain. But that was something that was more fun with friends. Still, it was better than mind-numbing TV.
Retreating to his bedroom, he dressed for playing in the rain. His favorite biking shirt was a yellow polyester tee shirt. The fabric was thick, providing good insulation when it was wet. Plus, the yellow color helped with safety on the highway. It was much too hot for jeans, so he donned some 501 cutoffs with a stout belt to keep them from sliding off if he did go swimming. Remembering that tomorrow he was biking with Scott, he selected a pair of skate shoes, so he could keep his Five-Ten bike shoes dry for the ride tomorrow. Since his feet might be wet for several hours he picked a pair of wool socks. Buckling his bike helmet and grabbing his water bladder backpack he headed out the door.
He reached Main Street shortly after ten o’clock. The heat, combined with the humidity, was stifling. Very few people were walking around. As he looked around his gaze kept returning to Watson’s Roost, the highest point in the valley. There was a narrow road that was called The Downhill Run which, from the center of the village, was the shortest way up. As he began to climb up the road to Watson’s Roost he prayed that it would be much cooler on top of the mountain. The heat made the climb worse than usual. He was drenched with sweat and exhausted when he reached the top. Fortunately, there was a breeze at the top, so it felt cooler.
From there he could see the village and much of the county. The valley they lived in was a long, moderately wide floodplain that had, since before the Civil War, been a farming community. Paydirt creek had, over the eons, carved this valley out of the hills. His eyes followed the meandering creek upstream. He just could see Beaver Falls but the dam with it’s swimming pool was easy to spot. Just over the ridge he could see The Cascade. PayDirt Creek merged with the little creek from Beaverdam Pond just above a stretch of water that cascaded across a section of rock about 250 feet in length. It was the waterfall. However, it could be very dangerous. No sane person would ever go swimming alone. Still, the temptation to head straight to the falls actually hurt. Yet he did not move. His promise to never go there alone was binding. He looked back at the Downhill Run he had just climbed. The ride down was always a great bit of fun. But today he did not want to end up in the village. So he looked at the only other option: the road to Harrison Hill was not so steep, but it was a downhill run. And he would be up on the ridge, where the breeze was nice and cool.
Doug rode across Harrison Hill without realizing where he was. Partly due to being tired after climbing the Downhill Run, partly from the heat, Doug had become hypnotized by his ride. He felt like he was one with the bike. Even though he knew the roads, he was not really aware of where he was. A misty drizzle of rain brought him out of his trance. He was near Beaverdam Pond. Soon it was raining just enough to keep him cool. He was actually enjoying this solitary excursion. The rain had removed the need to jump into the pond; but his water bladder was empty. Then he realized that his stomach felt empty too. Staley’s was just a few miles down Beaver Ridge Road. And as he started peddling, the bottom of the sky opened and a deluge fell upon him. His only worry was that a car might not see him riding. Fortunately, there were no vehicles of any sort on the road except for him. Beaver Ridge Road was a series of switchbacks up and then down the mountain. Even with the switchbacks, it was the closest route to Staley’s. But in this deluge it was a nightmare of a ride.
When Staley’s Store emerged from the mist he let out a long sigh. That’s when he realized that the last few miles had been extremely stressful. Riding downhill in driving rain, tired, hungry and thirsty, through all those switchbacks was some of the most difficult riding he had ever done. Fortunately, his brakes worked properly and the skate shoes gripped the pedals well enough; still, he hoped he would never have a ride like that again.
Staley’s was one of those old country stores that suburbia had surrounded. Many of the farms that had filled the valley over the years were now subdivisions. But there were still a good number of farms. And Staley’s had managed to adapt to the changes. Moon Pies were discretely merchandised next to the organic granola energy bars. The store, located on the west bank of PayDirt Creek, had been patronized by the farmers since the late 1800’s. The current building, dating from post World War II, had been remodeled during the Reagan era. That’s when they added the delicatessen and dining area, making the store more or less a diner. And that attracted the post-football crowd on Friday nights.
When Doug rode into the parking lot he laughed. The puddle that occasionally formed after heavy rain was more like a small pond. Usually it quickly drained away; however, the deluge had overrun the parking lot. The light pole he normally used to chain his bike was in the middle of the giant puddle, but he was soaked anyway. He swung around and rode through the puddle lengthwise, causing a small spray of water to rise up around him. After making sure the bike was secure he splashed toward the door. Looking around he saw four or five cars in the parking lot. The puddle was probably keeping people inside.
Inside the store the air conditioning hit him like an Arctic blast. It felt great. He found the sports beverages in a cooler and then headed to the deli counter. They made a fried bologna, egg and cheese sandwich that was near heaven. The sandwich, a tub of potato salad and the Gatorade made a nice lunch. There were two picnic tables in front of the store; normally high and dry, today they were islands in Staley’s pond. He waded over to the one with the better umbrella. As he ate he watched a small trickle of customers dash in and out of the store. Everyone parked on the high side of the parking lot until a little Ranger pickup pulled in.
Doug could see a nice mountain bike strapped in the truck bed. The truck sported numerous muddy splashes: it was obvious that the four wheel drive technology had been put to good use. It slowed to a stop and then rolled to the far side of the giant puddle. A guy got out and made a distinct effort to be nonchalant about splashing through the length of the big puddle. He was dressed much like Doug, except that he wore trail shoes. As he waded by the picnic table Doug grinned and said, “Great day ain’t it?”
The guy looked at him, smiled, and then glanced around the parking lot. “That’s your bike?” He nodded toward Doug’s bike chained to the light pole.
The guy grinned and went inside. A few minutes later he came out with his lunch. “Okay to join you?”
Doug grunted an okay and looked at the guy. His clothing was almost as wet as Doug’s. He had a small blond goatee, but otherwise looked like most of Doug’s friends, except that he was very tall and very skinny.
This skinny dude did not eat like most of Doug’s friends. His lunch was two tubs of hummus, veggie chips and orange juice. Doug grinned at the hippie meal, introduced himself, and learned that his new acquaintance was named Mike.
There was a seminary bumper sticker on the back of his truck and Mike crossed himself when he prayed. Doug wanted to ask about that, but decided against it.
“So,” Doug did ask, “where are you from?”
Mike grinned, “Well,” he said slowly, “I grew up in Greenville. Are you from this valley?”
Doug smiled, “Yeah,” he said. “My family’s been here for generations.”
It was obvious Doug wanted to say more, but Mike changed the subject. “My bike’s in the back of the truck,” he said, “I’m looking for a good place to ride.”
Doug nodded. “Well, there’s lots of trails in the forest. And a couple of good ones in the valley.” He said. Then he pointed to the far side of the parking lot. “PayDirt Creek Trail is right there. You can take it upstream to PayDirt Springs or downstream to the Cross-State Trail.”
Mike showed some interest. “I’m staying with some friends of my parents over in Rockborough. I parked at The Plaza and rode up to the top of that little mountain.” He pointed toward Watson’s Roost. “That downhill run into the town is really nice. But I don’t like riding paved roads and I don’t know where the trails go. It would be nice to find a swimming hole too.”
Doug happily told him about the creek with its cascade down the rocks. Kermit thought it would be great, so they finished their lunch and splashed through the puddle to retrieve their bikes.
They headed up PayDirt Trail into the national forest. It took well over an hour to ride up the muddy trail to The Cascade. By the time they got there the rain had swollen the creek to the point where climbing up the rocks was even more dangerous than normal. Fortunately, the little pool at the base of the cascade was now deep enough for swimming. They spent the next hour splashing, jumping and swimming in the pool.
The afternoon slipped by. They ended their swim and sat on some rocks just above The Cascade. “So,” Mike asked, “you’re family’s been around here for generations?”
Doug nodded, then said, “Yeah. Since the Civil War. You want to know something funny? This place was so isolated that the war was half over before anyone here knew about it. Story is that a couple of Union Soldiers got lost and followed Beaver Creek down from the ridge. They saw the Harrison’s place—that’s the old homestead on display in the forest—and found out they were still lost. But they made their way back here after the war. One was Bill McCoy and the other was my ancestor, William Douglas Smith. I’m number seven.”
Mike grinned. “Number seven. Well! Alright. Pleased to meet you, number seven. I’m Mike, Michael Rossini. Some of my friends call me Kermit.”
“Yeah. Once you get to know me, you’ll understand.”
Doug stared at him, then asked in a rather strained, weird voice, “You don’t have a foot long tongue do you?”
Mike, startled at the question, then doubled over in laughter. A minute or so later he had his laughter under control. “No one,” he said, still giggling, “No one has ever asked that!” He shook his head and pointed to the creek, “It’s because I love to play in the water. You know, like Kermit the Frog.”
Doug nodded, then laughed.
They took the long way back to Staley’s. Kermit did live up to the idea of being a frog. Even though the rain had relaxed into a spotty drizzle, Kermit found all sorts of nice puddles to splash through. When they reached Staley’s they were just as wet as when they left the creek. There was no one in the parking lot at Staley’s, so they hit the big puddle there at full speed, soaking each other with spray from their tires. It was a great way to end the ride.