Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Desperate Need To Get Out

The past few weekends have been fairly bland around here.  We haven't gone anywhere interesting and just stayed home.  It was relaxing but uninspiring.  This weekend The Wife said no more, we need to get out.  We consulted our list of places to go and the Wife said let's go to Villisca.  We haven't been to any weird places for a while - not since Route 66 last summer or our east Iowa trip last spring.  Villisca just so happens to have a level of weirdness.  Why?  It is the home of the 1912 Ax Murder House.

So on Saturday we left for the short ninety minute drive to Villisca, IA.  We stopped in the town square and had lunch at TJ's Cafe (formerly the D&D Bar & Grill) because, as everyone knows, you should never go to an alleged haunted house on an empty stomach.  The Wife had their famous pork tenderloin sandwich and [I] had a tasty double cheeseburger.  The food was very satisfying and after we finished we were ready for ax swinging mayhem.

The Ax Murder house is a typical small town Iowa house.  A kitchen, parlor, and little side room on the bottom floor and two bedrooms and a large storage/attic space on the second.  A tiny place compared to modern housing standards.  On the night of the murders, June 10, 1912, it was owned by the Moores - a married couple with four children.  On the night of the murders two friends of the children were sleeping over in the room off the parlor.  Sometime after midnight someone entered the house and, using the back side of an ax, bludgeoned all eight to death in their sleep.

The crime was never solved.  Soon after the crime was discovered by a neighbor just about everyone from the town paraded through the house.  By the time the crime investigators arrived any evidence that may have existed was destroyed.  There are all sorts of theories involving vagabonds, train engineers, angry parents, crazy preachers, and on and on.  No one was ever arrested for the crime.

We listened to the store and walked through the house.  The house is very popular with the pseudoscience ghost story shows like Ghost Hunters.  This popularity has turned into quite the money maker for the owner of the house who originally bought it to tear it down.  For $400.00 up to six people can spend the night in the house and experience the house for yourself.  They are usually booked solid up to six months in advance.  Crazy.

After touring the house, which only took a half hour or so, we decided to go to Walnut, IA to do some antiquing.  I guess all this talk about 1912 made us think of old things.  The Wife got some good deals on some treasures.  I left town with a bottle of diet pepsi.

After stopping at Lowe's to buy some plants for our backyard we got home in time for dinner and a relaxing evening.  It felt nice to go out and about.  The Ax Murder House was a little underwhelming, probably more exciting for the true believers, but getting out of the house hit the spot.  One more weird attraction checked off the list.

P.S. Forgot my camera at home but there wasn't much there worth photographing anyway.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Favicon ...Or Favican't

Back in January I tossed out a challenge for all those artistically gifted readers of my blog to submit a favicon for Homer's travels.  Not only did it go out on Homer's Travels but the Wife suggested it as a student art project to the art teachers at the school she works at. I had high hopes of receiving some cool favicon options.

Well, it's been over three months and there have been a grand total of 0 submissions.  Zip, zilch, zero, nada, none, not a single submission.  Can't say I'm not a teensy weensy bit disappointed.  What are you going to do? No one was up to the challenge.

So I'm going to use the scan of the Chinese stamp I bought in Chinatown in Los Angeles.  The stamp, done in red ink, means "Homer".  It's kind of cool ... it just isn't as cool as it could have been.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Book: Colin Thubron's "To A Mountain In Tibet"

Since we will be going to Tibet this summer, I thought I would read a book about Tibet. Having read Colin Thubron before, and liking what I read, I figured his new book,"To a Mountain in Tibet", would be a good choice.  It was not what I expected.

The book is about Thubron's trip from Kathmandu, Nepal across the border into Tibet on the way to Mount Kailas, the mountain in the title.  Mount Kailas is a sacred mountain for several religions including Buddhism and Hinduism.  As I learned the mountain is the destination of a pilgrimage called the Kora where pilgrims circumambulate the base of the mountain.  Climbing to the top of the mountain, supposed home to Shiva, is strictly forbidden and has officially never been attempted.  It figures that I would chose a random book about Tibet and end up with a book about a pilgrimage.

The Kora is done at a very high altitude.  By walking around the mountain your worldly sins are forgiven.  This is not a simple walk around the mountain.  It really isn't that long (32 miles - 52km) but the altitude is a killer ... literally.  Many Indians, coming from low lying areas of India lose their life during their Kora, not being able to handle the exertion at high altitude.  The Indian government requires a detailed health assessment to all Indian pilgrims before they are permitted to cross the border into China to do the Kora.

Soon after starting reading this book I realized that it was going to be different from his other China book.  The book was written about a trip taken shortly after the death of his mother, his last living parent.  It became obvious to me that this trip was just as much a personal journey of contemplation and mourning as it was a journey to a mountain in Tibet.

As Thubron and his guides approach the Mount Kailas, the writing becomes more muddled in describing the various religious pilgrims and how they saw the Kora.  How every stone had a meaning or a story behind it.  This stone represents this god.  That impression in the stone is the footprint of Buddha.  On and on.  It became less of a learning than of a monotonous litany.  It felt like the author was more lost in his thoughts than engaged with the world around him.  Then when he reaches the highest part of the Kora, instead of praying for his lost mother, he instead delivers prayers from some monks that he had briefly met earlier and who had asked him to take their prayers to the mountain.  It was like he was disconnected and somewhat above what was around him.

To add to this strange image he was portraying for himself, several things he does or doesn't do portrays him in a terrible light.  For example, when a horseman who was taking some of the load leaves, the load is distributed between the already loaded guide and cook.  There is no suggestion that Thubron is carrying anything.  I realize that Thubron is not acclimatized to the high altitudes they were in (the guide also has altitude problems) he could at least have tried to take some of the load.  Kind of sad.

While there were some interesting things in this book, there are not enough for me to give it a strong recommendation.  This is unfortunate as I loved his other book I'd read.  I guess they all can't be winners.

P.S.  Just for the record, I have no intention of doing the Kora.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Exercise: Phase I - One Hundred Pushups

Back in 2008 I started doing push-ups.  I was following a program that, if successful, would have me doing 100 push-ups in about six weeks.  I said that I started doing it.  Actually I started twice and failed twice.  I made it to sixty push-ups but I went no further.  Failing twice was enough.  Last year, after accomplishing something I'd never thought I could before, (the Camino, of course), I decided to try again and it became Phase I of my exercise program.

After I returned from the Camino and our Route 66 vacation I restarted the push-up program again.   I hoped that three years would have changed me.  Instead of using the Hundred Push-up program, I decided to build my own plan.  I figured I understood how I was motivated and discouraged better than some anonymous website.  In the past I would always start out too aggressive and over do it on the first day, feel all sore the next day, become discouraged, and quit.  I needed exercise portion control.   With this in mind, I started with one push-up.

Yep ... you read that right.  I did one - 1 - uno - push-up.  The next day I did two.  The day after that I did three.  I did none on the weekends, giving myself some rest.  When I got to five I started dividing the push-ups into sets with thirty seconds to a minute between sets.  I kept it up until I got to twenty-four.  Some of the muscles in my arms started to ache a little.  I changed my program a bit .  I played around with the rest days to allow my muscles to heal and get used to the effort.  (The muscle pain is caused by micro-tears in the muscle tissue and the muscle becomes larger as the tears heal.)  Finally, around forty push-ups, I settled on daily increases for a week and then maintain that level for a week to allow my body to adjust.  I changed it up one more time when I reach seventy-five.  The muscle soreness was increasing and lasting longer so I stopped doing push-ups on Wednesdays.  I would go up by two on Monday and by one on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.  I also increased the rest time between sets from one-two minutes up to a full three minutes.

I was able to maintain this from seventy-five until last Friday when I did one hundred (five sets of twenty).  It felt good and my muscles felt pretty good.  It took more than six weeks.  I'd reached my goal in 249 days or around thirty-five weeks.  I'd missed doing my push-ups on only one day (The day after Thanksgiving) - this may be a bigger accomplishment than actually reaching one hundred.  Now I have decide what to do now.


My current plan is to maintain one hundred push-ups but cut back to three days a week (M-W-F).  Eventually I may start going up some more by adding more sets.  We'll see.  I want to start Phase III on Tuesdays and Thursdays ... once I figure out what Phase III is.

At one point Phase III was going to be sit-ups but I have since read that sit-ups can be hard on the lower back and will irritate lower back pain.  The last thing I want to do is cause my back pain to get worse.  I will probably talk to my physical therapist about exercises specifically aimed at strengthening the lower back.

Now, at the risk of sounding vain, I have to admit that my upper body is starting to look more toned than it's ever been.  Combined with some of the tightening of some areas by my physical therapy exercises and I'm starting to look like a ... well, I look like a healthy 48 year old guy.  That's an improvement and I have to admit this is improving my self-image just like the Camino improved my self-confidence.

So the exercising program I've put myself on has helped my image and confidence which are components of mood and mood is an important part of my ultimate goal of optimism.  I still have a ways to go ... but I'm making progress and I can't ask for more.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Few Things On My Mind

It's mid April and I've been battling writer's block for nearly two months now.  Things have happened.  Ice fishing.  A trip to Galena, IL. Crane watching. Curling.  We haven't lacked for things to do but I can't shake the feeling that I haven't been doing enough - a probable side affect of the very active summer of 2011.

This feeling has translated into not writing very much.  I've filled some of the space with pictures but they came with few words.  Oh, I've had several ideas for posts but, usually, after ten minutes the ideas seem stale and not worth writing about.  In the old days of Homer's Travels I would often post about the trivial and I was just fine with that but now I ... now I seem to think my words have to be meaningful and moving and profound.  That's not me.  I am rarely meaningful, moving, and profound.

I do have ideas.  As I've done my bi-weekly walks my mind has wandered.  The themes, all travel related:

  • My 2011 Camino, reliving just about every mile I walked.  I've thought about posting more about my Camino but, frankly, I've already written enough about it and, lately, I've written about it even when I haven't been writing about it.  The Camino infused itself into every facet of my life but that doesn't mean it should dominate Homer's Travels.

  • Our China-Tibet-Nepal-India trip only two months away.  Despite it being so close, I really don't have much to write about.  We're in the process of getting our visas with help of the AAA travel agent.  We've learned the Chinese are sticklers for detail and the Indians prefer blue ink to black ink meaning we've had to sign the visa paperwork twice ... hopefully we won't have to sign it again.

    I'm also waiting for prescriptions for malaria medication (fort the India portion of the trip) and antibiotics (for the bathroom portion of the trip).  The travel medical center was supposed to call them in to our pharmacy but it's been a week and nothing has showed up yet so I'll have to figure out what the deal is.

    After we return will be a whole different story.  I'm hoping to get twenty to thirty posts, along with corresponding pictures, from this month long trip in south Asia.

  • My 2013 Camino, planning-anticipating-planning some more.  I actually put a preliminary itinerary together last November.  I did this despite the fact that it was almost two years away at the time.  Chances are I will have to redo the itinerary as albergues open and close and not all albergues are open in September and October when I'll be going back.

    I've even been trolling the travel sites looking at airline prices ... a year and a half before I'm actually traveling and at least a whole six months before I could actually make reservations.  I keep having to pull myself back from the ledge.

    The latest thing has been monitoring the Camino de Santiago Forum for useful information ... and sharing, hopefully, useful information.  It seems there are a lot of people out there as obsessed with the Camino as I seem to be.

    I've thought about posting about the plans but it's just way ... way ... too soon and I imagine that the few readers I have are sick of all the Camino talk.  With that in mind I have told myself that I won't post about the planning until 2013.  At least I'll try not to post about the planning until then.

  • RAGBRAI, wondering if my knee will heal enough for me to ever do it.  I intend to start riding my bike when I return from our China trip.  I'll start out slow.  Probably ride with a knee brace just like I do on my long walks.  We'll see if the custom orthotics and the physical therapy have done/are doing their job or not.

    I've decided to postpone any attempt at RAGBRAI until after my 2013 Camino.  I'm a little afraid of messing up my leg again only a couple months before going back on the Camino.  This means RAGBRAI would be in 2014 or 2015 at the earliest.

  • And then there is something that's been niggling me in the back of the head ever since I got back from the Camino.  I want to do the Appalachian Trail (AT).  I've thought about this for awhile actually and never took the idea seriously but the way I see myself has changed.

    When I was planning my 2011 Camino I was most concerned that I wouldn't make it past day three.  I left home convinced that I would give up shortly after starting and I would come home humiliated and ashamed.  That couldn't be further from the truth.  I had some tough days.  Quite a few actually.  But I made it and I came back proud of my accomplishment.

    So now I'm thinking of the Appalachian Trail and the thought of not making the 2,184 miles (3,515 km) just isn't crossing my mind.  The AT is only four and a quarter Caminos.  I estimate it should take me five to six months to do.  And you know what?  It doesn't feel daunting.  It's a wonderful feeling actually.  A feeling of self-confidence I've rarely felt.

    I've set a goal of my fifty-fifth birthday (2018) for doing the AT.  I have a few things to learn first.  Camping is one.  Never camped in my life.  I'll have to rethink my whole packing strategy.  The Camino emphasizes less weight but the AT is a whole other animal.  You have to carry enough food and water for extended periods.  You have to carry food preparation stuff.  You need a tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad.   Basically, everything an albergue provides on the Camino has to be in your pack.  Oh yeah ... and you have to poop in the woods.  Never done it.  Whoopee.

    So I have six years to learn quite a bit.  There are a a few interesting places within a couple hours drive to camp in.  Colorado is only a day's drive away and there's lots of cool places there for camping.  I look forward to camping under the stars.  
So I've got a few things on my mind.  Surprisingly - for me anyway - all of these things have a physical aspect to them.  It's surprising since I have spent most of my life avoiding things with physical aspects, notably sports.  I have always considered myself more cerebral ... nerdy.  It's kind of sad that it's taken me this long to figure this out, that I enjoy hiking and trekking.  But, as the old saying goes, better late than never.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Entering The Second Millenium

Yesterday, Friday the thirteenth of April, I reached a walking milestone:

2,000 Miles

It only took me five years to do it.  That's like walking from Los Angeles to Chicago, Grand Junction to New York, or almost the entire length of the Appalachian Trail.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Photograph: Missouri River Aftermath

Last summer's floods ... which I mostly missed while in Spain, on Route 66, and in California ... left a lot of silt behind. It's a real mess in places.

"Missouri River Aftermath"
by Bruce H.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Curling ... The Sequel

Last year at about this time we went to the first annual Sioux City Curling Classic.  Last weekend was the second annual Sioux City Curling Classic and, along with 15 other teams both new and returning, we curled our hearts out.

The Matron of Honor and Best Man who curled with us last year couldn't make it so we recruited the Brother-in-Law (Who had organized the event last year) and a spectator from the audience to fill out our team of six.  Our results this year were about the same as last year - we won one match, lost two, and ended pretty much dead last in the tournament but we had a great time.

A couple things were different this year.  The first has to do with injuries.  Last year the Wife had to go to the emergency room after falling and hitting her head on the ice.  This year she didn't fall.  Just in case, our theme was RAGBRAI so we all wore bike helmets (There is a costume contest with the curling tournament).  While the Wife didn't fall ... I did.  I was walking backwards on the ice (stupid) and ran into a stone.  I fell backwards but I was able to twist around so that I didn't land on the stone which would have been rather painful.  Instead I ended up with a pain in my right butt cheek (which is already getting better) and a very mild thumb sprain.  The twisting around to avoid the stone tweaked my back a bit as well but, again, not too bad.  I'll survive and no emergency room visit was needed.

The second thing was not as good.  As I said, last year the Brother-in-Law organized the event.  This time he started the ball rolling and tried his best to hand the event over to other people.  In the end the other people did it reluctantly and the way they ran it felt like they were doing it reluctantly.  Now, most of the players didn't care how organized they were but they were also in charge of scoring the matches and, frankly, they didn't do a great job at it.  They scored the matches differently than last year (last years matches were scored by amateur curlers who knew the scoring rules) and this really confused and, frankly, pissed off the groups that returned.  As an example, our first loss this year would have been a win if scored the same way as last year.

Before our semi final play we went to a restaurant next door to the ice arena and had some awesome food.  In fact, I think I had to roll myself back to the ice.  This may explain my rather dismal performance during or semi-final match - I was pretty pathetic.

So this years Curling adventure had it's ups and downs but despite this we really had a good time.  I hope the scoring issues doesn't discourage teams from returning.  I'm a little more worried about the people who organized the event.  I suspect if they aren't pushed, there won't be a third annual Sioux City Curling Classic.