Monday, January 30, 2012

Book: Rob Gifford's China Road

Since we'll be going to China this summer I decided to follow the Best Man's suggestion and read Rob Gifford's "China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power".  The book reminded me of another book I read a few years back, Colin Thubron's "Shadow of the Silk Road".  While Thubron concentrated on China's history and the role the silk road played, Gifford viewpoint is firmly planted in the modern China.

"China Road" follows Gifford's trip along route 312, a road stretching 3,000 miles from Shanghai to the Kazakhstan, often described as China's Route 66.  Gifford, an NPR correspondent who lived in China for over six years, traveled the road talking to people along the way for a series of radio segments.  The book is a compilation of the fleshed out radio reports.

I liked Gifford's perspective.  When I think of China I often catch myself thinking of the pre-communist China which barely exists anymore, decimated by Mao.  Gifford's view of the modern China struggling between the rather soulless communist world, one where history and ancient culture were frowned upon and actively destroyed, and modern capitalist China searching for a modern identity.

The one thing Gifford shies away from is predicting the future of China.  He waffles between China muddling through and China torn apart by violent revolution.  I don't fully blame him.  China is changing so rapidly, rushing into uncharted territory, that predicting it's future is probably an exercise in futility.

I like Gifford's views and his writing style and I would recommend the book to anyone interested in the modern China.  I can't wait to see China for myself, even if it's only a small sampling over a two weeks.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Route 66, California, Camino - A Pilgrim's Epilogue

The summer of 2011 was my summer of pilgrimage.  For ten weeks I walked and rode along roads, both old and ancient.  On pilgrimages like these, people are often looking for something.  I wasn't looking for anything in particular except adventure.  I found a desire to change.

The Camino de Santiago took me to a world of  of unstructured routine.  A world of few worries and carefree wandering.  A world of new places to explore and new friends (whom soon became old friends).  Time faded into the distance as one day became like all others.  It was surprisingly comfortable.  In Santiago de Compostela the feelings of friendship and camaraderie reached a crescendo as we celebrated our accomplishments and exchanged hugs and tearful goodbyes as we all scattered back to our homes, wherever they may be.  It was not the end for me - my pilgrimage didn't stop in Santiago de Compostela  - it just changed modes of transportation.

My pilgrimage continued along Route 66.  Few minutes passed by on the route where I didn't think about the Camino, it still so fresh in my mind.  Reminders of my Camino were everywhere.  I'd walk into a restaurant and there would be a sign welcoming the pilgrims of Route 66.  Everywhere I drove I saw the shell sign reminding me of the shell of Saint James.  The long quiet stretches of the route gave you time for your mind to wander just like the dusty roads of the Spanish Meseta.

California, all of the places we visited there, felt like Santiago de Compostela.  Both were the end of the road.  They were a place to visit with friends and to reminisce on the times we'd shared and the places we'd visited.  They marked the end of the journey ... and time to go home, to return to the real world.

These journeys will stay with me for a long time.  They will stay with me in many ways.  I'm still recovering from the aches and pains developed over 513 miles of walking with a pack and sitting in a car for a few thousand miles more.  My right leg ached all the way along Route 66.  I'm still recovering from the Topa Topa hike.  My knee makes noise and aches more than ever.  These things will persist for a while but with time, and physical therapy, they will fade.

The memories of the road, the way, the pilgrims, the people, the places, the monuments to our past, the yellow arrows and the route markers, they will persist for a while but they too will inevitably fade with time and age.

They say that the Camino changes you.  So does Route 66 to some extent.  I think any adventure, done properly with abandon, will alter your perception ... of the world around you, the people you interact with, and ultimately, of yourself.  I have changed or, more correctly, I have developed the desire to change.  A desire to improve myself, broaden my horizons, improve my self-image, and become more positive.

These desires aren't new - they have been there all along - they just have a new sense of urgency.  Peru, Jordan, Camino, Route 66 - Each adventure makes me thirst for more.  They make me relish that carefree, no worries world.  That world that, along with the aches, pains, people, places, and memories, persists for only so long.  I embrace them, keep them with me wanting to never let them go, until they too become immaterial and fade, slipping through my fingers ... leaving only the real world.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bruce ... Bruno ... Batman

The Wife and I often have weird conversations.  Especially at the end of the day.  Once it was a discussion on which were more real, Unicorns or Chiggers.  The Wife doesn't believe in Chiggers (or at least she claims she doesn't).  To prove there existence I pulled out a dictionary.  While Chiggers are in the dictionary the Wife pointed out that the entry for Unicorn has a picture while the entry for Chigger does not.

Another time our discussion was about the Gurkhas, Nepalese soldiers who fought with the British during the World Wars.  Needless to say, our discussions are ... eclectic.

Recently, the Wife told me one of her students had started calling me Batman.  This had mystified her until she finally asked why.  "His name is Bruce ... just like Batman ...  Bruce Wayne," he said.  This sparked a whole new discussion.  I jokingly suggested that maybe I should be called Bruno because in Spain Batman's alter ego is named Bruno Diaz.  I learned this while in Burgos recuperating from my tendinitis. One of the TV shows I watched while resting my ankle was an animated Batman movie.  Batman's alter ego was not Bruce Wayne but Bruno Diaz.  Her class, upon hearing about our discussion, and confirming the Bruce-Bruno connection, are more convinced than ever that we are weird.

While I like Bruno as an alter ego, I think I'll just stick with Batman.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Route 66 & California - The Way Home

We were going to spend three days in San Francisco but this vacation had gone on long enough.  I'd spent only three days home since 11 May and it was now 20 July.  We decided to head for home in the afternoon but first we had a date.

While I missed meeting with my old work friends I did manage to meet a friend from high school I hadn't seen in ... thirty years.  We met BB at the Broadway Grill in Buringame and had a delightful lunch talking about old times and Spain.  My 30th high school reunion was a week away.  I'd considered going but the idea of traveling more this summer, to Guatemala no less,  was just too much.  I asked  BB  to say hi to everyone as we said our goodbyes.  I had a nice time and the lunch was a nice end to our stay in California.

Back in the car, we headed east.  We had no more scheduled stops on our vacation.  We spent the night in Sparks, NV.  It was my birthday so we went to In-N-Out Burger for dinner and then went in search of a Dairy Queen.  We didn't find one but we did find a Cold Stone Creamery where I indulged in Birthday Cake ice cream with chocolate chip cookie dough mixin's.

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The next day we continued east and entered Utah.  I'd considered stopping in Salt Lake City for the night but my mind was changed.  After driving most of the day through salt flats and desert we were approaching Salt Lake.  I was passing a truck.  I saw a police car in my rear view mirror so I pulled in front of the truck as soon as I safely could to let the police pass me.  The police car pulls behind us and flashes his lights. *sigh*  We pull over and the officer comes over to the passenger window and I ask him why I was pulled over.  He said that I hadn't flashed my turn signal for more than two seconds before pulling in front of the truck.  WTF?!? I told him I had only moved over to let him go by and that if he hadn't been behind me I probably would have waited before I moved over.

Then he started asking weird questions.  "Are you married?"  "How long have you been married?"  When were you married?"  "How long have you been on the road?"  "Where have you been staying?"  Several of these questions he asked multiple times.    Then he asked me to get out of the car and to go with him.  I sat in the front seat of his cruiser as he filled out paperwork.  As he did he continued to ask weird questions.  "How long have you been away from home?"  "Where's your luggage?"  "Are you married?" (Again!?!)  On and on.

The officer then smiled, gave me a warning, and I was free.  WTF?!?  While I was in the cruiser, the Wife was in the car stewing.  The questions he's asked had pissed her off royally.  I'd remained relatively calm but I tend to talk fast when I'm nervous and I think I was talking a mile a minute in the cruiser. I got back in the car and we left.  I tried to calm the Wife who wanted to kill someone at that moment.  I think the officer was looking for drug runners.  While he didn't ask about drugs, surprising since he asked about everything else, I think he was seeing if my story would change ... which it didn't.  I was laughing and relieved, both because it was over with just a warning and that I'd fought the urge to ask the officer how many wives he had.  The Wife was fuming.  We decided not to spend our money in Utah that day and continued on to the first town we found in Wyoming.

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The next two days went without incident.  We stayed in North Platte, NE one night and were home the next.  I was happy to be home.

What a summer to remember.  The best either of us had had in a long, long time.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Stress ... Sleep ... Sponge Bob

I haven't made much progress in the two weeks since I announced my Optimism Resolution.  This isn't much of a surprise since it has only been two weeks and changing one's attitude is not an easy thing to do.  Having said this I have made progress in a couple areas - one where I have the control, the other a surprise side effect.

I am a news junky.  When the TV is on you'd be safe to bet it's on CNN, MSNBC, or, on occasion, CNBC (FOX is never on - too much stress).  I've come to realize that the more news I watch, especially if it has to do with the Republican primary or the upcoming election,  the more stressed I feel.  I've always known this, really.  Every time I've taken a vacation alone (in 1995 and on the Camino in 2011) the television stays off and, not only do I not miss it, but I feel happier.  When I'm home, though, I have always found it hard to keep the TV off.

So I am fighting my news addiction.  I can't kill my news habit completely - I like to be kept informed about the world around me - but I think I can minimize it and my stress along with it.  I will keep the TV off when I'm not watching it.  I know that sounds odd but the TV is often on for background noise.  When I do watch TV, I think I'll stick to cartoons and CSI reruns.  Hard to remain stressed when your watching Sponge Bob.

The other thing that's happened to reduce my stress was totally unexpected.  Starting late in December I started sleeping better.  Instead of waking two or four times a night I started sleeping through the night or waking only once.  After a couple weeks of great sleep I realized I was sleeping better and I started wondering why this was happening.  I've come to the conclusion it is a byproduct of my physical therapy (PT).

You all know I have a bad back.  I hurt it way back in college ('85 or '86).  This is one of the issues I'm working on at PT.    One of the results of my bad back is I can't sleep on my stomach.  When I'm on my stomach, I start getting uncomfortable in less than a minute.  I suspect, while I'm asleep, I get myself into a position that irritates my back and this wakes me up.  As I've done my PT exercises, I've strengthened my lower back to the point that it doesn't bother me as much.  I think this has resulted in me not waking up as much and me sleeping better.  One thing I've discovered is stress levels go down if you get a good night's sleep.

These are only a couple small things but they're moving me in the right direction.  I'm feeling happier so I must be doing something right.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Route 66 & California - San Francisco - Angel Island

Our second day in San Francisco started with us driving back down to the piers.  We had reservations for a ferry going out to Angel Island.

We parked, picked up our tickets and, being a little early, walked over to Johnny Rockets for breakfast.  The day started off cloudy but cleared up nicely as we took the ferry out to Angel Island.  The ferry ride out was comfortable like the Alcatraz Trip had been the night before giving us views of Alcatraz and the Golden Gate bridge.

Golden Gate Bridge from Angel Island.
We arrived a little late at the dock and looked for where our tour would leave from.  Being late had raised my anxiety level a bit but it turned out to not be a problem as the Wife and I were the only ones on the tour.  This was no ordinary tour.  It was a Segway tour.

The first fifteen minutes were spent familiarizing ourselves with the Segways.  I was pleasantly surprised how easy it is to learn ride these things.  Five minutes of explanation and five minutes apiece testing our knowledge - go forward, stop, go backward, stop, turn left, turn right, park it.  The one challenge, and I use that word loosely, was to drive the Segway down a steep boat ramp, turn around, and go back up.  I kept seeing myself driving into the water but it was incredibly easy.

The guy (he looked like your typical surfer duuude) led the way around the island stopping periodically to explain the island's history.  The island has a long history as a military outpost, anti-ballistic missile site, prisoner of war camp, hospital, and immigration station.  At one point he told a story about a prior tour group.  He was explaining that over a million years ago the water was shallow enough for animal life to walk across from the main land to the island.  One of the tourist spoke up and said "That's not possible.  The Earth is only 6,000 years old."  He let the comment slide ... what else could he do.

San Francisco skyline and Alcatraz Island from Angel Island.
The tour circumnavigated the island.  We stopped a few times to get off the Segways to rest and explore old buildings.  I learned that riding a Segway is not the relaxing activity it would suggest.  Your leg muscles tend to tense up a bit as you lean forward to make it go.  This can be tiring and my legs were still recuperating from my Topa Topa ordeal.  Another thing I found out is it is possible to run yourself over.  To get off a Segway you just step off the back quickly.  The problem is you want to pull back on the handle to steady yourself when you step backward - this causes the Segway to move backward running yourself over.  This happened to the Wife.  It didn't happen to me but I managed to have my Segway get away from me (I think I pushed the handle forward as I was getting off sending the Segway forward uncontrolled).

Doors behind doors behind doors ...
We got back to the main pier.  We had some time before the ferry would leave so we ate some lunch at the snack bar before going through a small gift shop.  I saw a really nice t-shirt and magnet but, since we were planning to do some more walking, I decided to buy the stuff after I got back.

We took a path up the hillside to the main road and walked back to the immigration station buildings.  The Wife had taken a teacher's workshop at Ellis Island and, since this Angel Island facility was referred to as the west coast's Ellis Island, she was interested  in checking it out.  Unfortunately the buildings were closed (we were there during the week and they are only open on the weekends when most people come to the island).  I took some pictures and we walked back to the pier.

The little gift shop ... was closed.  The guy with the keys was already off the island for the day.  poop.  No t-shirt for me.  We waited for the ferry and headed back to the city.

That evening we walked around Chinatown stopping at the City Lights bookstore (the Wife has an interest in the Beat poets) and decided to get dinner at this bar we'd stopped at the last time we were in San Francisco.  We walked in the San Francisco Brewing Company and we hardly recognized the place.  It'd changed a bit since we were there in 2008.  It was a little hipper and the menu was definitely more esoteric and upscale.  There was only one item on the menu that seemed even a little appetizing and ... they were out of it (that should tell them something when the most conservative item on the menu is sold out).  We paid for our drinks and left.

Old military building on Angel Island.
Wondering where to go we ended up in a small hole in the wall across the street from out hotel.  Sam's was a burger/pizza place.  The grill was in the front window.  There were a couple tables but the three people eating there were sitting at the bar.  We joined them at the bar and ordered a couple cheeseburgers from whom we assumed was Sam.  Turns out, the gentleman was Mike.  He'd bought the place from Sam back in the early '70s and had run it ever since.  We talked about the history of the place.  The history of the hotel (three original owners, only one still alive ... barely ... not sure what will happen when he passes).  We talked about the earthquake a few years ago.  He kept his grill working to cook all the meat in his freezer before it all went bad and fed the rescue crews until the police told him to shut down for safety reasons.  The cheeseburgers were some of the best we'd had on the trip.

Segways.  Angel Island.  Sam's.  Highlights of a great day.  The vacation was almost over and it was ending on a high note.

These pictures and more can be found in these Google Photos albums: 2011-07-19 Route 66 - California - Angel Island, 2011-07-18 Route 66 - California - Alcatraz, and 2008-2011 San Francisco, CA.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Route 66 & California - San Francisco - Alcatraz

The next morning we drove up the pacific coast highway (PCH), one of the most beautiful drives in all of the United States in my opinion.  The stretch from north of San Simeon up to Carmel is truly jaw dropping as you wind your way along shear ocean cliffs and through coastal forests.

Pacific Coast Highway View.
We made one stop along the way to see the elephant seals just north of San Simeon.  The best time to see these tubs of blubber is in December when they calve but there were quite a few there in July.  A few more pictures of the seals and the PCH can be found in my 2011-07-18 Route 66 - California - Pacific Coast Highway Google Photos album.

Elephant seals.  Looks like they're laughing or singing.
As we approached San Francisco I did as I've always done when I've gone to this city, I missed a turn.  I ended up downtown on streets I've never been on before but I managed to get some bearings (though I wasn't very sure of myself) and got to where I wanted to be.  We reached our hotel, the Royal Pacific Motor Inn, and checked in.  This is one of those hotels that we can not recommend to anyone really.  It's located on the border of Chinatown and the red light district.  It's a little scruffy around the edges ... and it's seen better day.  Having said this, we love this hotel.  Nothing fancy but we don't travel for the hotels.  While the location, at first blush, appears sub par, it turns out to be in a great location.  It's a couple blocks from the cable car line.  Chinatown is right there for those who like exotic smells and sights, which we do.  Getting to fisherman's wharf and the ferry terminals is easy-peasy.

The hotel is multifloor and the other two times we were here we were a few floors up.  This time we were on the ground floor and on the street side.  It was their last room and it turned out to be noisier than our past stays.  It was also a larger room than the other times.  They also improved their WI-FI which I'm finding to be indispensable when I roadtrip.

We'd been to San Francisco two times before ( in 1997 and 2008 - I've been there four times).  Each time we tried to go to Alcatraz but were thwarted either by bad planning (you need tickets ahead of time for Alcatraz) or family emergencies.  This time we had tickets for the night tour and our families were healthy so we had a good chance of success.

Sunset behind Alcatraz.
We reached the pier where the tours departed and found a place to park.  We got our tickets at the will call window and then went to the gift shop, which also served food, and ordered some burgers for dinner while we waited for out tour to start.  As the tour boat left the fog rolled in (San Francisco fog - shocker!!!).  The tour boat was comfortable and circled the island before pulling up to the dock.  We met a tour guide on the island who gave us a quick overview of Alcatraz before taking us inside.  At this point we picked up audio tour guides and did the self-guided tour.

Inside Alcatraz prison.
It was pretty cool.  The recording was made by ex-guards and ex-prisoners.  Their descriptions and stories added to the tour experience.  You were marched around the prison like you were a prisoner - in a nice way.  The prison was definitely worth the fourteen year (!?!) wait.  I took a few pictures of the prison and they can be found here in my 2011-07-18 Route 66 - California - Alcatraz Google Photos album.

Sun setting through the clouds.
The boat ride back was was shortly before sunset (it was July so the sun was setting late).  The ruddy sunset and the low clouds made for some gorgeous "pink moment" views.  It was interesting seeing the city lights slowly turn on as it got darker.  San Francisco lit up.  The fog obscured the tops of some buildings but it was still pretty cool.  I tend to prefer the beauty of nature but there are times the labors of humanity can be just as beautiful.

San Francisco skyline.
Tomorrow we would visit another island, Angel Island.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Anyone Up For An Artistic Challenge?

So, when you load Homer's Travels, up in the tab you see a little icon.  This icon, a white 'B' on an orange background is called a Favicon.

The rather dull default Blogger favicon.
I've been thinking about designing a custom one for Homer's Travels.  Unfortunately my artistic ability and creativity when it comes to things like this are limited.  For a while I thought about using this one:

Chinese characters for "Homer".
I'm just not sure how this favicon would fit with Homer's Travels.  I contemplated this dilemma and thought, I bet there are people out there, people who occasionally visit Homer's Travels, who have the skill and creativity to design a kick-ass Favicon.  I know at least one who is very talented at drawing and illustration.

So I submit to you, Homer's Travels readers, what should my new Favicon be?  Better yet, design one and email it to me.  It should be either JPG, PNG, or ICO format, less than 100KB in size, and square (preferably 31 x 31 pixels but it can be larger).  It should be relatively simple as it will be shrunken down to tiny size and I would imagine that simpler pictures would shrink better.

This is not a real contest.  The only prize will be to see your work displayed on the browser tab every time you visit Homer's Travels.  I'll also add a "Favicon designed by ..." blurb in the sidebar if you want.  Since my readership is rather limited , I suspect there will be very few, if any, submissions but, if there are more than one submitted, I will have the final say.  It is my Blog after all.

Most important, have fun with this.  Let the creative juices ... flow!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Route 66 & California - Cambria

We left the Oxnard - Ventura area and drove north.  Our goal for the day is one of our favorite towns, Cambria, CA.  We discovered this place way back in 1998 and we fell in love immediately.  Despite having loved Cambria, we'd never actually spent the night there.  Usually our visits were day trips.  The only overnight trip to the area was when we went to Hearst Castle but we ended up staying just north of Cambria in San Simeon.  This trip we would correct that oversight.

A couple hours north of Ventura, just south of Cambria, is the tiny town of Harmony, CA.  Every time we went to Cambria we would always take the time to stop here.  This little town, population 18, had lost its post office a while back, and for a while I thought the town was going to die, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the place was coming back.  Besides the pottery place that stubbornly refused to die, a glass place (artisanal glass, blown glass, that kind of stuff) had opened up.  The tiny wedding chapel was also open and available for weddings.  Other renovations were evident hinting at more galleries/stores being opened in the future.  The number of people we saw in Harmony was many times the usual number we see there.  I'm happy for the place.  It always had character.  It has character still.  A few pictures I've taken in Harmony this trip and on other trips can be found in my 2006-2011 Harmony, CA Google Photos album.

Candles hanging in a store, Harmony, California.
We pulled into town and had lunch at our favorite place, The Main Street Grill.  They have some of the best BBQ Tri-Tip sandwiches I've ever had.  We browsed the eclectic stores and enjoyed the warm summer day.

Every time we've visited Cambria we spent all our time in the main street area.  I've known there was a boardwalk running along the beach for a while, I learned about it while investigating Geocaches in the area, but we'd never actually seen it.  On this trip I'd made a reservation in a hotel along Moonstone Beach across the street from the boardwalk.

Moonstone Beach boardwalk.
After checking in and moving into our nice room, we crossed the street and walked along the boardwalk.  While it had been pleasant on main street, along the ocean it was a little windy so the walk along the ocean was a little chilly.  Despite this, I enjoyed the ocean views.  We took stairs down from the boardwalk to the beach and walked on the sand.  It was really beautiful and I took pictures of the surf, rocks, and fat squirrels.

I lived near the ocean for almost twenty-one years.  In those twenty-one years, you could count the times I actually entered the water on one hand.  I lived there for eight or nine years before I swam in the ocean.  You would think I don't like the ocean.  You would be wrong.  I like the ocean.  I miss the ocean.  This may sound odd.  It sounds odd to me as well.  To me it's less about swimming and more about the whole sensory experience.  The motion, the spray, the roar, the smell of the ocean.  Every time I see the ocean after a long time apart, I feel in awe.

We probably would have walked the beach longer but my knee was screaming, so we returned to the hotel and took a soak in the hot tub (which made my leg and knee feel great) before falling asleep in the sun.

Rocks and surf along Moonstone Beach, Cambria, CA.
That night we ate at the The Sow's Ear.  I sort of felt out of place.  Even Cambria casual is a little dressier than I like but the food was good and I enjoyed the meal.

We enjoyed our return to Cambria.  We managed to do things we should have done years before.  The day was relaxing and set the right vacation tone.  Next stop, San Francisco and Alcatraz.

Pictures of Moonstone Beach have been added to my 2008-2011 Cambria, CA Google Photos album.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Route 66 & California - Topa Topa Ridge

On our second day in Oxnard-Ventura area I did a hike.  When I was planning this trip I'd narrowed my hiking choices down to two: Potrero John or Topa Topa Ridge.  Potrero John is a relatively flat five miler while Topa Topa is a 15+ miles with 5,000 foot of elevation.  I figured I would decide after talking to GeekHiker.

As I discovered, and mentioned in my last Route 66 & California post, GeekHiker was not available so the choice of hikes was up to me.  I ended up choosing Topa Topa.

Now let's look at the rational for doing this hike, the hardest one day hike I'd ever done.  I'd just finished walking 510+ miles on the Camino.  I'd crossed the freakin' Pyrenees mountains with a pack on my back.  The Topa Topa hike wasn't very much different from the first day on the Camino.  On top of that, I'd already done this hike and I didn't remember it being too hard, - difficult yes, too hard no.  I felt like a superman, baby!  Bring it!  Heck, I figured it would be so easy I could do Potrero John the next day.  Yeah ... right.

Flowers on the way up Topa Topa Ridge.
So I drove up to the trailhead.  There are a couple parking spots one at the trailhead itself and another about a half mile down the dirt road.  The last time I was there they had just done maintenance on the road and you could take a regular car to the trailhead.  Apparently they haven't maintained it since I left California because there were ruts in the road big enough to swallow up the Honda Civic I was driving.  I ended up parking in the parking area about a half  mile from the actual trailhead.  PFFT!  a half mile is nothing.

I didn't have a pack.  I had a camelback full of water and a few snack bars in my pant's pockets.  I was back in my pilgrim garb (The first time in boots, long pants, and hat since I returned from Spain).  I had my hiking pole.  I confidently started up the trail.

The trail up to Topa Topa ridge.
It was mid-July and usually it can get quite hot but the weather this day was overcast and in the 70s.  The last time I did this hike it had also been cloudy and I wasn't able to get a clear picture of Topa Topa ridge.  Apparently Topa Topa is shy and she kept herself hidden from me once again.

I felt pretty good until I didn't, which is usually the case.  After the White Ledge Campground, following the arrow (white ... not yellow) the trails turns steep and the energy just drained out of me.  Several times as I plodded up that hill I asked myself "what was I thinking?"  My walking speed declined steadily.  I berated myself all the way up to the top to Nordhoff Ridge road.  I almost turned around twice.

I knew there was a picnic table just up the road and I figured I could rest there.  I turned a corner and there were a couple trucks and several people camping by the picnic table.  The table was full of stuff and I decided that I would just keep going.  One of the guys said hi and asked if I was okay.  I said yeah.  He said "You don't look it."  I should have taken that as a hint and quit there but I didn't.  I'd just walked across northern Spain Damn it!!

The sign says it all.
I reached the trail that took you to the top of Topa Topa ridge aptly named Last Chance trail.  At this point the trail really turns up and becomes a bit treacherous.  I stopped a lot on the way up this trail and when I finally reached the top I collapsed on a stone bench at the top.

I set the timer on my watch for thirty minutes and decided not to move until it went off.  I was wiped.  Totally wiped.  This was so much harder than the last time I did it.  It was harder than any day in Spain.  I guess sitting in the car for the last two weeks had erased any benefit I'd gained in Spain.  I was completely spent.  I had nothin'.

My alarm went off and I figured if I didn't get going I would never make it.  I took in the views - the ridge was above the clouds and the views were quire lovely - and headed back down the way I came. (I found a geocache on the way down ... the second one found without using my GPS on this trip - "Middle Switchback")

The view from Topa Topa Ridge.
Usually I find that going down is easier than going up.  At least it feels like it take less energy.  It is also hard on the knees.  By the time I made it down my legs and knees had taken some major punishment.  Even my walking stick hadn't helped much.  I cursed myself for not listening to my inner voice when I wanted to turn around.

The last mile or two ... or three or four ...  I was staggering.  I probably looked like an extra on the Walking Dead.  I was cursing myself all along the way down.  It didn't help that I'd run out of water three miles from the car.  This superman had met his kryptonite.  This hike was very humbling.  At the hotel I had the first ibuprofen since I'd returned from Spain.  Actually it might have been the only Ibuprofen I've had since I returned from Spain.  I also had three blisters on my feet, which were the least of my problems.

For the next five or six days my right knee hurt like heck.  I've learned since then, talking with my physical therapist, that the pain I felt was joint pain possibly caused by damage to the cartilage and/or meniscus.  My twisted pelvis, aggravated back injury, and my over-pronation probably conspired together to put extra stress on the right knee.  As of the writing of this post I still have issues with my right knee.  I've been wearing a sleeve on the knee when I walk which seems to help.

Oh ... and I didn't do Potrero John the next day.  Couldn't have done it if I wanted to.  Could hardly walk.

These pictures and more have been added to my 2008-2011 Topa Topa Ridge Hike Google Photos album.


Total Distance: 15.82 Miles (25.46 km)
Total Time: 8 Hours 31 Minutes
Total Elevation Up: 5,105 ft (1,556.00 m)
Total Elevation Down: 5,108 ft (1,556.92 m)

[Click on map for a larger version]
Note:  In the map, the bottom two plots show the elevation in red and the speed in the blue.  Each spike down is a rest stop.  That's why it took over eight hours to complete this hike.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Book: China Miéville's "The Scar"

I've been reading good things about China Miélville.  Many of his books have been on people's top ten lists for several years.  I decided to dip my toe in by reading China Miéville's "The Scar", the only Miéville book at the local library.  Miéville is considered a writer of fantasy though some people, including himself, have described his style as "New Weird."  "The Scar" is a fantasy book but it is unlike any I've ever read.

For me, the typical fantasy book involves magic, Kings/Queens, and, often, epic quests.  "The Scar" has none of these really.  This is both unsettling and intriguing.  It took me a while to get comfortable with the "world" Miéville was building.

The book follows the main character, Bellis Coldwine, as she is captured in a Pirate raid and assimilated into the pirate community of Armada, a huge floating city of captured ships.  Bellis is a strong willed, self controlled woman intent in not giving in to her captors while slowly letting her guard down and forming friendships.  As the story progresses she becomes entwined in intrigues wrapped in conspiracies.  She navigates these intrigues skillfully until, as the climax of the novel approaches, she realizes that she has never been in control and she has been used by all sides from the very start.

The book was okay.  It's well written.  The fantasy aspects of the book were subtle.  In fact the book had more of a science fiction feel to it.  I'm not sure how to feel about this book.  I didn't dislike it but it took me longer than normal to get through it.  The pace was slow at times and rushed at the end.  I may have to read more of his stuff to decide if I like Miéville's style or not.  His lates book, "Embassytown", is in fact science fiction.  I'll have to check it out.  I'll reserve recommendation until I've read more from China Miéville.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Route 66 & California - Oxnard & Ventura

The next three days were spent in the Oxnard-Ventura area where I'd spent almost twenty-one years of my life - more than any place else on this planet of ours.

Before I left to Spain I emailed three of the guys I'd worked with in an attempt to arrange a get together.  Since I'd made our Route 66 plans back in May I had a good idea when I would be available and figured there would be a good chance to get together sometime in the three day window.  I also emailed GeekHiker (GH) hoping to fit in a hike.  I figured wrong.

One guy was literally driving east as we were driving west - He would be driving through Omaha when we were nearing California.  Another guy was going on a vacation to visit with adult children.  The third said sure until about a week before we got to California when emergency business travel got in the way (emergency business travel is very common where I used to work).

Oh well at least I would hike with GH.  Oops.  Unknown to me at the time GH was going through a life changing event (being let go from his work, selling/storing all his worldly possessions, and getting ready to leave on a four month roadtrip to try to figure out where he was going next) and, on top of that, this was Carmageddon weekend in Los Angeles (They were shutting down the 405 freeway and everyone was predicting epochal gridlock but it turned out to be a non-event - typical media exaggeration) and he wasn't sure if he could make it to the trailhead in a timely fashion.

So it turned out that everyone I hoped to visit with in my old home town was not available.  Turns out some of the Wife's friends weren't available either.  Oh well.  What are you going to do?

We had to make the best of it so we got up and went to Mrs Olson's Coffee Hut for breakfast.  The food was just as good as we remembered it.  We went back to the car and ... the rear driver's side tire was low.  *sigh*  We had an appointment so we got in and drove the short distance to the Anna Day Spa & Salon.  By the time we got there the tire was completely flat.  I guess after driving so far we should have expected something like this to happen.  It could have been on some secluded desert road so we were lucky.

We went in and the Wife had a facial while I had my first ever Swedish massage.  I successfully put the flat tire out of my mind while I had an hour long relaxing massage which I enjoyed greatly.  For Christmas, the Wife bought me a gift certificate for a massage in Omaha which I will probably indulge in later this month.

I put the spare on the car, which was not fun as the masseuse had greased me up pretty good and the parking lot dirt kept sticking to my arms, and we went to a place to have it repaired.  Turned out the tire could not be repaired so a new tire had to be bought.

We took the repairs in stride and headed over to a World Market to shop (They closed the one in Omaha) and had lunch, and a Pizookie, at BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse.

After some afternoon shopping, we picked up our friend the "J" and headed to Winchester's to eat ... it was closed ... so we ate at the Anacapa Brewing Co. instead.  We also got to meet Molly, the "J"'s new dog roommate.  She was a cutie!

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Day two in the Oxnard area I did a hike up to Topa Topa.  I will discuss this eventful day in another post to follow shortly.

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Day three was our last day on the Oxnard Plain.  I woke up sore.  My right knee was killing me.  I must have been in a funk because I don't remember much about what I did this day.  I think we went to In - N - Out Burger for lunch and we walked along the beech and visited the Ventura Pier.  Other then that it's a little foggy.

The evening, on the other hand, was memorable.  We met the "J" at Winchester's and had some good grub before we walked down to the Ventura Improv Company and caught a funny performance.  It was my first improv experience and it was fun.  (Great idea "J"!).  We had a great evening with the "J" as always.

I would have liked to see my old friends but we still had a great time in my old stomping grounds.  We did drive passed the old house.  I had no feelings toward it.  Neither did the Wife.  Our time in California felt like ancient history.  I didn't take any pictures in Oxnard or Ventura.  There will be pictures from my hike on day 2.

Stay tuned for me being humbled by Topa Topa.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

For Want Of A Tool ...

From Dictionary.com:
op·ti·mism  [op-tuh-miz-uhm] noun
1.  a disposition or tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome.
2.  the belief that good ultimately predominates over evil in the world. 
3.  the belief that goodness pervades reality.
4.  the doctrine that the existing world is the best of all possible worlds.

So, a resolution I mentioned in my last post, though I didn't explicitly call it a resolution instead lumping it in with posting more regularly, is to become more optimistic.  While I think it's a worthy change, it's also hard to get my head and hands around how to do accomplish it.

For my resolution, definition 1. seems to be what I'm striving for.  It's a state of mind.  It's related to how your brain perceives and reacts to the world around you.  So how do you alter how your brain perceives and reacts?    How does one become more optimistic?

Many resolutions have tools a person can use to keep the resolution.  To lose weight you watch your diet and increase your exercise regimen.  To eat better you learn about nutrition and begin looking at  food labels.  What tools do you use to increase your optimism?

I have more questions than answers and I need some suggestions.  If anyone out there has any ideas of tools for increasing my optimism, please pass them along in the comments.  I'm sure I will find what I'm looking for.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

A New Year ... No Excuses.

We finished 2011 with a bang.  We had dinner at the Rock Bottom Cafe in downtown Omaha.  I had Chicken Lettuce Wraps, a 12oz New York Strip Steak, mashed potatoes, and a triple chocolate brownie ala mode for dessert.  The Wife had Firecracker Shrimp, 14oz Prime Rib, mashed potatoes, and her own triple chocolate brownie ala mode for dessert.  It was a great meal to end the year with (I was burping chocolate all night).

The weather was a little windy and, as we ate rain started to fall (rain on New Year's eve ... very odd weather we're having).  We worried that this might cancel the scheduled fireworks but, just before 7:00 PM the rain slowed to a light drizzle and the fireworks were set off.  Our table, that we'd reserved a week earlier, was by a window facing the fireworks so we didn't even have to brave the cold drizzle to watch the fireworks.  We invited four girls in a table with no window to join us as the fireworks lit up the night sky (our good karma move of the night).  We'd skipped the fireworks the past two years, not willing to brave the frigid temps.  Now that we know the secret of watching them from inside the restaurant, we will probably make this our annual ritual.  The rest of the eve was spent at home watching the celebration of the new year's arrival on television (and, after the Wife had gone to bed to read, the SyFy channel's Twilight Zone marathon).

So What's in store for 2012?  I won't even pretend to believe it will be as good as 2011.  Since I've been pretty bad at sticking to my plans and achieving my goals I will commit myself to only one major goal:
  • Enjoy our month long China/Tibet/Nepal/India vacation.  I hope to document it in pictures and I will write in the journal my Mom gave me for Christmas (and post on Homer's Travels when I get home of course).
This isn't my only goal but experience has taught me that if I put plans in writing, especially plans that require effort on my part, they will inevitably be followed by a post explaining why I couldn't meet my goals.  Therefore I am keeping these goals, three or four of them, to myself.  As I complete them, or at least come close, I will share them with you ... I promise.

One lesser goal that I will share with you, at the risk of having to explain next December why I couldn't meet it, is to post more regularly on Homer's Travels.  For the first three years of Homer's Travels I managed over 200 posts each year.  2010 and 2011 witnessed a decline in my posting.  Some of this may be a result of Facebook.  Some of this may be a result of my lack of creativity.  Some of this may be a result of my depressed mood (in 2010 at least).  Whatever it was I want to return to the long form posting that Facebook cannot accommodate.  I want to rekindle my creativity.  I want to strive for a an optimistic outlook conducive to a good mood.

No excuses.