Cousins Writing Challenge – Edition I – November 2016

If your cousin has a kid, what do you call that? Second cousin? First cousin once removed? Grand Cousin? Well whatever. His name is Joshua, he’s in seventh grade, he’s awesome, he likes to write and he’s pretty good at it. So, just to keep our pencils sharp, we decided to pick a scene from the FCFL once a month(ish) and each write 500 words(ish) about it.

Simple enough, right? Here we go:

Edition I – November 2016


Going the Extra Mile

By Joshua

Sue is running around the world, and as she does she comes across a small town. She sees a man. This man’s name is Philip. Sue is running on a road next to the train tracks. Sue sees Philip and Philip sees her. Her heart skips a beat as she runs toward him. He stops and looks at her. She opens her mouth to say something but nothing comes out. This is because under his coat she sees … running clothes.

Sue thinks to herself, oh well, better luck next time. Surprisingly Philip was thinking the exact same thing because he was also planning to say something to Sue.

The next day Philip is getting on the train to go to a far away place. In his wake is Sue hoping to catch him before he gets on the train. Sadly Sue isn’t able to catch him until he gets on the train.

Luckily Philip is in the caboose.

So Sue is running after the caboose and Philip sees her. So he starts going to the back of the caboose. Sue is running and she is running hard. The train is speeding up and as it is getting too fast for her, and she is slowing down.

Philip shouts from the caboose, “I’ll be back in a week.”

As the train disappears she whispers to herself, “I’ll wait for you.”

12-Minute Miles

By John

“I forgot my sunglasses Dad, I’ll catch up.”

Sure, he thinks. She didn’t forget anything and they both know it. But the head start is a kindness to her old man who’s not as prepared for this as he’d hoped.

It’s seven miles round trip to the river and back, along a former logging trail that is hugely popular among “trail runners,” which is what she is now, apparently.

They are on this last family vacation – to celebrate her degree – and she begged him, “Please daddy? I’ve read a ton about it and it’s supposed to be AMAZING. When are we going to be in Salvation Point again?”

He hopes later on today, but these hills look steep.

When she was 8 she ran her first 5K with him and he coasted along with her 12-minute miles (a loafing pace to him then, and to her now). He cherishes the image of her ponytail bobbing as she kept up the pace even when her legs hurt and it was hard to breathe, Mile 1, Mile 2, Mile 3, then “Just a little more now, Lacie! Finish strong!”

Running became their Thing to Do Together and he was grateful for it. Girls don’t necessarily fish or rebuild carburetors much past sixth grade – or at least they don’t want to tell their friends about it – but you can go for a run with your dad at any age as long as his shorts aren’t too short.

Three or four times a week they’d run. It was good for the body and the soul. She’d open up about school (a lot) and boys (a little) and he’d dispense clipped, winded fatherly advice – the best kind, not too wordy.

All these years he’s mostly kept up the exercise but the diet has been on a steady slide. At Christmas he’d allow himself a few extra cookies, keep five or ten extra pounds on for the winter. But he always recovered – the Monday after the Superbowl he’d reign it back in, go for the salad and skip dessert and by the Ides of March he’d reclaim that lost notch on the belt.

Then one year it was the Monday after the Monday after the Superbowl. The next year it was the Monday after that. Then it was after St. Pats, then after Easter, and now it is a perpetual year-long reset – after every bad decision he tells himself next Monday will be the day, and he means it, but …

Now that little girl, the one who still makes his chest swell with pride, has passed him up. A Bachelor’s in a field he doesn’t understand and off to grad school for a Master’s he understands less.

You want your kids to do better than you, but it’s still a shot to his pride.

Will she be as proud of him, puffing out his 12-minute miles in this heat? His gray hair already damp with perspiration and they’ve only gone 30 yards? Downhill?

He thinks not.


ModelStory: Cup of Joe

There’s a tiny coffee counter in a corner of the Salvation Point depot where, my wife says, they make the best skinny vanilla latte west of the Rockies, though I wouldn’t know, I never touch the stuff. I can’t tell the difference between “good coffee” and “crap.” It’s all crap to me but 50 million Elvis fan’s can’t be wrong.

Anyway, sitting on the platform at the depot this morning, sipping our drinks (mine’s a hot chocolate with caramel – room for whipped cream? Oh yes!) we overheard some drama brewing in small-town coffee.

joeHis name’s Daniel (NOT Dan – Daniel) and he just signed on with National Roast as a junior regional rep. Today he’s shadowing Joe (yup), who’s been schlepping beans throughout the Four Corners for thirty-three years. A good mentor to a kid new to the coffee game?

We’ll see.

(Yes, there are regional coffee reps. The family diners, the donut shops, the counter in the depot – they all buy their coffee from big conglomerates, and there has to be someone to sell it to them.)

Joe is two cups – black – from the Oster drip maker with the newspaper in the morning. Daniel is a half-caf-soy-macchiatto-165-degrees-no-whip while his free hand skates across his tablet on the train.

Daniel doesn’t see Joe as having much of a shadow and he plans to grow out of it swiftly.

Joe’s comfortable book of business is mostly sleepy lunch counters with three kinds of pie and one kind of customer: hardworking southwest folks with enormous bellies over enormous belt buckles. The proprietors count on Joe for caf and decaf, and to make sure it’s good, abundant, and the coffeemaker’s working.

To ease the new kid into the routine, Joe has planned visits today to his gentlest accounts.

But then Daniel unlocks his tablet and reads from his notes: “Do you track unused seasonal blends and what do those returns tell you about market opportunities?”

Joe blinks. “Track?”

“Something we should really be doing,” Daniel says authoritatively.

“You know, our customers aren’t usually that sophisticated,” Joe says, bemused. “Tracking their unused grounds goes like this: ‘Don’t give me that pumpkin spice crap again.'”

Daniel (NOT Dan – Daniel) nods patronizingly.

“Well that’s because they don’t know what they want,” Daniel says, thumbing the tablet again. “Here’s a study showing preferred hot beverages by region and demographic, relying on a survey of forty-six-hundred baristas. Your customers could optimize profits by focusing on drinks with a steamed-milk base.”

There’s a long pause.

“Steamed-milk base,” Joe repeats slowly, ignoring the glowing graphs on the tablet.

He imagines visiting Clark Vasallis at the Stop Here up on 191, where truckers can get chicken-fried steak, a shower, replacement taillights and black coffee twenty-four seven. He imagines discussing Daniel’s study over Clark’s cluttered desk, imagines Clark repeating “steamed-milk base,” then imagines ducking as Clark hurls a Peterbilt mug at Daniel (NOT Dan)’s forehead.

Joe smiles.

“Change of plans, Dan. There’s someone I want you to meet.”

(Preiser figures, Walther’s Pella Depot.)

ModelStory: Grade Separation

IMG_3040“You are shtopping? No no no, why are you shtopping?”

“I like ze view here, and I am carrying ze pack so I am a little tired.”

“But I said we are going to ze top! I want to get to ze top!”

“Why ze top? Here you see ze railway, ze river, it’s shady and cooler…”

“But ze top is ze best. From ze top we look down on ze railway, ze river, this, this shady schpott. Ze top. Ze top is always ze best.”

“Why look down on this shady shpott? I am comfortable in my shady schpott. No need to look down.”

“Well I always go to ze top. It is ze best.”

“Well I like it here and maybe I stay where I am.”

“Well maybe I go to ze top on my own.”





“So maybe we are not talking just about ze hiking.”

(Carved foam insulation and joint compound, hand-painted Model Power figures, Midwest Products Scale Lumber, natural sand from Horseshoe Bend, Page, AZ.)

ModelStory: The Alphabet

???????????????????????????????“You’ve got yourself a whole alphabet there, sir!” sang the cheery desk clerk as Al spelled his last name, checking in to Salvation Point’s luxurious Hotel Delsman. She recited it back to him as she keyed it into the computer, “A-B-D-E-R-K-O-W-I-T-C-S-Z.”

He forced a smile at the pretty blonde, but her comment sent his mind elsewhere. Fifty, sixty, was it seventy years ago?

He sat across the desk from Dr. Pickering at the Brighton School for Troubled Boys. The old shrink thumbed his file, sat forward.

“You’ve got yourself a whole alphabet there, son,” he said. “Maybe we’ll call you that.”

Al “The Alphabet” Abderkowitcsz has resisted the nickname since.

???????????????????????????????Lucky Luciano.

Bugsy Siegel.

Machine Gun Kelly.

Once they gave you a name, it was all over but the shouting. He didn’t stay on the outside, didn’t survive, didn’t play this game well into his eighties by making a name for himself.

He succeeded on anonymity.

Succeeded at what?

“Personal finance,” he would tell you, barely holding back the mischievous grin.

It was the usual stuff, the ABCs of organized crime – protection rackets, bank jobs, running a little booze way back when. He was one of those guys who worked harder keeping his shady schemes straight than he would have at a legitimate job, but the crooked money always spent sweeter.

The money, the power, the life – all sweet. Now, at eighty-seven, a great-grandfather four times over, the sun is setting on Al “The Alphabet” Abderkowitcsz.

???????????????????????????????Surveillance vans in poor disguise are appearing regularly outside his New York City apartment. Wherever he goes – even in Salvation Point – black SUVs whisper to a stop a block behind. The noose is tightening, but so what? It won’t be a grand jury, it won’t be the FBI or the DEA or some ladder-climbing prosecutor bent on putting both their names in the paper that will spell The End of The Alphabet.

They need another year, maybe two to take him down. The tumor on his thyroid will do the job in four months.

But there’s one loose end that needs tying up before he goes. He left an item of immense value high in the hills of Many Lost Ways, a legacy for those four great-grandchildren. He tucked it away when he was a younger man some fifty years ago, and if he can get it back before his time expires his great-grandchildren and their great-grandchildren will never answer to anybody, never lift a finger for their bread.

Of course it will mean the end of Many Lost Ways as we know it; Salvation Point and the FCFL will be changed forever. But he holds no special place in his heart for any of that. Him and his – nuts to anything else.

All he needs is a sturdy back that knows how to stay quiet.

Hey, you look up to it, pal. Whaddya say? Wanna score some quick cash?

(Preiser figures, Design Preservation Models Hilltowne Hotel, Atlas vehicle)

ModelStory: Idaho


For the better part of an hour, he more or less had the full attention of a very pretty girl from Idaho.


Staggeringly exotic to a boy from Cincinnati and now that she’s gone, here he sits with a swelling heartache and a kid sister to look after until Mom and Dad come to retrieve them.

Mom and Dad. So pedestrian now, so khaki shorts and white sneakers.

He won’t be able to look at them.

Her name was Belle and it started like all summer vacation romances must, with an errant volleyball.

“Hey, little help?” Belle said.

He scooped up the ball and lobbed it back.


She flashed smiling eyes as green as kelp.

“Sure,” he said, suddenly sheepish about kneeling in the sand holding a purple plastic shovel with flowers on the handle.

He gestured toward his sister.

“She, ahh,” he shrugged. “She likes to play in the sand.”

Belle’s smile widened, soft cheeks dusted with cinnamon freckles.

“It’s sweet of you to play with her.”

She held up the volleyball and nodded toward her brothers.

“You wanna?”

Ignoring his sister’s protests, he trotted into the water.

They worked through the formalities – both 14, both going into high school, both visiting Many Lost Ways with their parents. No, he’d never been here before. Yes, she had, almost every summer. Two older brothers for her. Him, just the little sister.

For a while they batted the volleyball, then sat in the sand with waves splashing their feet. She sat right next to him – touching him – her bronzed hips framed in black bikini bottoms, red sand clinging to her and highlighting adolescent curves that fascinated him.

He found it hard to speak, but remembered his uncle’s advice to always ask a girl about herself. (“Keep you out of it, they don’t care.”) So he asked flattering questions and made her laugh.

For an hour.

Once he had talked coherently, smoothly, to Kaylie Schupel for ten minutes at the spring dance but an hour? With a girl like this? From Idaho?

Belle leaned against him, rested her head on his shoulder, traced his arm with her fingertip. Tingling sensations rippled through him, something deep in his belly tightened.

Things like this did not happen in Cincinnati.

But then her dad arrived, by boat of course – no minivan, no car-top carrier – a sleek, modern boat gleaming with chrome, the bow marked with an Idaho registration number he’ll remember until he’s 30.

She stood, crouched gracefully in front of him, held his face in her hands, and kissed his lips.

“See you around.”

She didn’t look back as she waded to the boat and effortlessly boosted herself aboard.

His parents won’t understand his obsession with Idaho this winter. Why on Earth would he write a term paper about the Shoshone? And why does he want to go to Coeur D’Alene? Next summer is Disney – they’ve talked about it – it’s always been Disney.

(Preiser figure, EnviroTex Lite “water,” Woodland Scenics ground foam, natural sand.)

A Folk History of Many Lost Ways and Salvation Point

The National Park Service explains the phenomenon of Many Lost Ways with some blah blah blah about topography and watersheds and how people who can’t find their way instinctively follow water downhill, and so for 10,000 years those who are lost have been turning up here.

It makes sense – the hills above the Benjamin-Henry River do form something of a giant natural funnel – but that’s overly simple for what happens here. It doesn’t explain the spiritual wayfinding that gives the park its name.

native woman

“Young lovers who found each other along the river.”

The Native lore is rich with tales of great chiefs who found direction in these cliffs, young lovers who found each other along the river, fathers and sons who found understanding under these starry skies.

Many lost ways.

There’s something here – call it a True North of the Soul – that helps them get found.

It’s still happening today.


“Drag him around Many Lost Ways for a week and you’ll know.”

Not sure if you should marry him? Drag him around Many Lost Ways for a week and you’ll know.

Not sure what to do with your life? Come to Many Lost Ways and the answer will go home with you.

Year after year, new stories of people who arrived with a vexing problem and left with clarity and peace. The locals talk it up with the tourists:

“Did you hear about this couple?”

“Did you hear about that guy?”

“Did you hear about the family?”

Many lost ways. Found.

Of course the most famous lost people to get found here are Lieutenants Benjamin and Henry. They deserted John Wesley Powell just before he fell 1,800 feet down the Colorado River and landed fortuitously in the Grand Canyon. Had they stuck with him they might have survived to experience that glorious discovery, but instead they wandered around the Colorado Plateau for some weeks before instinctively following water downhill into what is now Many Lost Ways National Park.


“A fertile little valley on a navigable river.”

They washed up starving, broken and in despair on the bank of the river that now bears their names. They were taken in by the indigenous people and after a good meal and some rest realized they’d discovered a fertile little valley on a navigable river.

Stick that in your rapids and raft it, Powell.

The FCFL still follows the lucrative trade route they opened, anchored by Salvation Point.

Speaking of Salvation Point, no one’s sure if it was Benjamin or Henry who put quill to parchment, but the line from their log is famous here:

“We need not return as condemned deserters. We need not return as failed expeditioners. Today we have redeemed ourselves. Today we have reached our salvation point.”

So the name doesn’t have a particularly religious provenance, and that’s disappointing to some visitors. There are more bars than churches here.

Now you know.

On Consuming the Outdoors – Take a Hike!

The little SUV is fine I guess, for a rental, but he wishes it was bigger, more lumbering, more … omnipotent.IMG_3031

He doesn’t feel like he owns the road. He’s not consuming it and that’s what he does after all, isn’t it? Consume?

You should see the mighty vehicles in his garage outside Chicago. Three-story jet black behemoths you can really lean against while comparing the rest of your stuff with the neighbors. (“Go Cubbies” stickers in the rear windows? You bet.)

Passionate consumers like him don’t do well in places like Many Lost Ways National Park.

You encounter dozens of them on your way to the trailhead. They roar up, park haphazardly, and leap out – leaving the doors open so you wonder if they might be paramedics – but no, there’s Alpha Male with the camera stretched out in front of him directing the entourage into the frame. Two, maybe three clicks and back they go into the A/C and on down the road, tailgating at 25 mph to the next brown sign.

Consuming the place. Or trying to.

That was Chicago’s plan: Snap photos of the boys at all the scenic overlooks and when he got home he was going to have the guys over for beers and casually pass around the digital vacation.

“Oh is this the new iPad Air?”


“I didn’t think it was supposed to be out until next month.”

“It’s not.”

They’d be scrambling for weeks to catch up to that one.

But Chicago’s frustrated with his pictures. The colors look bland on the screen. The kids look bored. He frowns to himself – geez, his trophy wife isn’t such a trophy anymore.

What poor service, he thinks, to buy a park pass and not get what he paid for!

He needs to take a lesson from the Europeans.

I don’t like seeing men in capri pants any more than the next guy, but you have to hand it to them when it comes to enjoying our National Parks. Descend the South Kaibab Trail into the Grand Canyon much farther than Ooh Ahh Point and you realize English is no longer the primary language.

These people understand that to get the full benefit of a place like Glacier or Bryce Canyon or Many Lost Ways, you have to let it consume you.

When your socks are full of exotic-colored sand and the switchbacks zigzag up, up, up, painfully beyond where you can see, and you remember they weren’t kidding, all the signs about plenty of water – you lean against the rocks and close your eyes and melt into the place.

The sun is real on your face, the stone is real beneath your fingertips, the gravity is real under your feet. You feel infinitely small but also that you may be standing on the very hand of God. The trees, the bugs, the quiet, the Earth. There you are consumed by it, and that’s when it becomes yours.

Take a hike, Chicago.