Thursday, June 21, 2012

And Away We Go ...

We are off to to see the wonders of Asia ... or at least some of the wonders.  By the time you read this we will be somewhere between Omaha and Shanghai on our way to our most ambitious vacation yet.

We decided to take this trip almost a year ago and only a few days after returning from out Route 66 vacation (I posted about it here).  The original plan strung together three General Tours tours taking us to China, Tibet, Nepal, and India.  This plan was pretty solid until about three weeks ago when China changed one of it's rules.  China declared that all tours entering Tibet must be of at least five people.  The middle tour, the one that would have taken us overland from Lhasa, Tibet to Nepal via the Everest base camp, was affected by the rule change.  This portion of our trip was a private tour (just me, the Wife, a tour guide, and a driver) so we didn't meet the five person minimum.  There was a week of scrambling as we were offered options by the tour company and we made an offer of our own.  The tour company offered to add additional cities in China to our tour.  We suggested adding Bhutan to the tour.  In the end our Bhutanese addition worked out.

Here is the Itinerary ... with only a few of the things we will see and do:
  • China
    • Shanghai
    • Yangtze River Cruise (three days with shore visits along the way)
    • Lhasa, Tibet (Yes, we will still visit Lhasa with our larger China tour group)
    • Chengdu (Here we help feed the Pandas)
    • Xi'an (Terracotta Soldiers)
    • Beijing (Tienanmen Square, Forbidden City, Great Wall)

  • Nepal
    • Kathmandu (Four days here and in surrounding areas) 

  • Bhutan
    • Thimphu (Capital of Bhutan, Cultural places)
    • Paro (Tiger's Nest Monastery)

  • India
    • Delhi/New Delhi (Tour the Cities)
    • Agra (Taj Mahal)
    • Jaipur (Ride the Elephant up to the Amber Palace)

The whole trip from airport to airport is thirty-two days, the longest vacation we've ever done together.  The only question mark will be the weather as it's monsoon season.  Frankly, I don't care.  My new camera is waterproof.   I am ready to see wonders, rain or shine.  Turns out, right now it's cooler in Shanghai than in Omaha.  And, frankly, I can't do anything about the weather so we'll just have to work around it.

Another thing I was concerned about was altitude.  Turns out Kathmandu (4,600 ft - 1,400 m), Thimphu (7,656 ft - 2,320 m), and Paro (7,300 ft - 2,200 m) are all at lower elevations than most of the places we went to in Peru including Machu Picchu (8,040 ft - 2,450 m). Lhasa (11,450 ft - 3,490 m) will be up there close to the same altitude as Cuzco, Peru.  Since the only issue with altitude in Peru was a headache for a day and general tiredness, I am no longer concerned about altitude.  The hardest day will be the hike up to the Tiger's Nest which is on the last day of the high altitude portion of our trip.  This should give us plenty of time to acclimatize.  We just have to take things slow and I think we'll be fine.

This is going to be an awesome vacation.  I know it will be the unplanned, unexpected things that will make this vacation special.  I will not be posting while I'm traveling (here or on Facebook) - only the occasional email to the families.  I'll have a lot of pictures and stories to post about when we get home.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Pause For The Pain

I have always had problems maintaining an exercise regime.  The best I have done is six months or so before I come up with some excuse to quit.  None of my excuses before have had any real truth to them.  Once I ended a major treadmill walking regime when I caught the flu.  Sure, I needed to stop walking on the treadmill when I caught the flu and was pretty much bedridden for a week but, once I was better the walking never restart (This was before I knew what hiking was).

I am seeing a trend that started a month or so ago.  Around mid-May I reduced the numbers of miles walked because it was "too hot" - I posted about this here.  After feeling aches, pains, and weakness in my left tricep since January-February I decided at the end of May to stop doing all push-ups until it got better.  I also stopped doing one of my ab exercises because it also exercises the tricep.  It's been three weeks and my tricep is slowly ... slowly ... getting better.  It feels better in the morning but begins aching and feeling weak by the late evening.

I haven't quit all my exercises.  I am still walking ... just shorter distance.  I'm still doing my physical therapy exercises three days a week and I'm still doing the other two ab exercises twice a week.  This, though, will end as well when we leave on our vacation this week.  I have considered doing some of the exercises, the ones that do not require any special equipment like weights, but I am not sure if I will.  Walking, except for the normal, non-exercising walking, will also stop.  The only hike I expect to do while on this vacation is the one up to the Tiger Temple in Bhutan - a trial less of distance than of lack of oxygen.

So will this mean the end of my exercise regime?  No, I will restart after I get back from vacation.  If my tricep is better I will restart the push-up program.  I will definitely restart the walking adjusting for the heat in August.  The PT and abs exercises will also restart.  I also want to add a Phase IV to the the mix, this being bicycling.

I will have to restart everything from the beginning to let my body readjust.  I don't want to rehurt my tricep or hurt any other body part either.  I thought I was doing the push-up program slow enough to not hurt me but, when I got to about 70 push-ups something definitely went wrong.  I will have to rethink a few things to take my aging body into account.

So this will be a temporary thing.  My vacation will not be an excuse to stop all together.  It will simply be ... a pause.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Book: Iain M. Banks' "Matter"

My last read before I head out on vacation was Iain M. Bank's "Matter", another of his Culture books.  Banks weaves a complex story of intrigue which held my attention.  I read the 570 page book in less than two weeks, which, for me, is a good reading pace.

The story follows a prince from a shellworld (an ancient, artificial, multi-layered world) whose father, the king, was assassinated.  He leaves his steam-level technology to venture out into the hyper-advanced world of the Culture in search of his sister who joined the Culture years before.  We see the advanced from the perspective of the less advanced as he runs for his life and searches for help.

In the end we find that the intrigue on the primitive world is just one small piece of a much larger conspiracy among the advanced and the not so advanced.  How jealousy, lost legacies, and a society's need to be great once again, blinds them to the dangers they inadvertently release.

I liked the book.  The climax, like other of Banks' works, comes very close to the end of the book - in this case the last page of the book.  While it felt very abrupt, it worked.  It's another good Culture book.

P.S. It took the Library seven and a half weeks to get this book.  I may have to look at other options for getting books to read.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Hiking Nebraska: Lied Platte River Bridge And Schramm Park

Looking back at all my hikes There are two things that I like to see.  The first is water.  There is nothing better that a walk along a burbling brook or an undulating ocean.  The other thing I like on hikes are bridges. Not sure where my fascination with bridges came from but it may be related to my like of water since ... well ... bridges usually are connected with water.  My latest hike, last Tuesday, took be along a couple trails that featured both bridges and water.  I was a very happy hiker.

Lied Platte River Bridge seen from the Platte River State Park observation tower.
I decided to check out the Lied Platte River Bridge after seeing it from the Platte River State Park observation tower the week before.  I drove out to the small town of South Bend, NE and parked at the designated bridge parking area.  This turned out to be at a distance from the bridge itself - 0.69 miles.  The path was shaded and passed by a few horses and mulberry trees where I stopped to partake of a berry or three. 

The bridge is a converted Rock Island railroad bridge and stretches 1,714 ft (522.4 m) across the Platte River.  The Platte is a wide, shallow, slow moving river full of exposed sandbars and old sun bleached trees.  When I think of rivers I think of rivers like the Platte.  In central Nebraska the Platte attracts Sandhill Cranes during their migration.  When I watch the slow waters I get this urge to get a raft, kayak, or canoe and drift down this laid back river (I've never kayaked or canoed in my life but it looks so tempting).

The wide and shallow Platte River from the shore.
I walked across the bridge and watched the swifts zooming around the bridge, several turkey buzzards picking on something on a sandbar, and a sole heron or egret wading in the river.  At the other end the trail turns and follows the river a short distance until it reaches another parking lot (approximately 1.5 miles from parking lot to parking lot).

At this point I had a couple of options.  I could turn right and head towards the town of Louisville where another trail runs along NE-50.  There is a move to connect the MoPac East trail from Lincoln, via the Lied Platte River Bridge, through this Louisville Trail and connecting to Omaha trails.  This would allow you to ride from Lincoln to Omaha - approximately 50 miles (80.5 km).

Since my self imposed limit of 12-14 miles would not even get me half way to Louisville, I decided to turn left instead and follow NE-31, following the Platte River, a couple miles to Schramm Park State Recreational Area.  The road offers views of the river the entire way to the park but there is only a narrow shoulder to walk on so you have to watch for oncoming traffic.

I'd never been to Schramm Park.  It's a nice little park with picnic areas, an aquarium (which I didn't go to), and fish ponds.  This park was originally the oldest fish hatchery in Nebraska.  I walked around the ponds which are still full of fish.

The park has three miles of hiking trails that are divided into two mile and a half trails.  If you combine the loops, and skip a small part of the trail #1, you end up with a two mile loop that takes you through wooded hills and over small bridges including a really cool suspension bridge - something you rarely see on a trail.

Schramm Park Suspension Bridge.
After I completed the loop I returned to the car the way I came.  My total distance was 8.09 miles (13 km) with around 865 ft (263.6 m) of elevation - typical low Nebraska elevation.  Most of the elevation was on the trails in the park.  With the Platte river bridge, the suspension bridge, and the Platte River itself, it was a very satisfying hike on a warm summer's day.  These and other pictures can be found here.

[Click on Map To See A Larger Version]

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Encounters With Ray Bradbury

As many of you may have heard, Ray Bradbury, author of many books including "The Martian Chronicles" and "Fahrenheit 451", passed away a couple days ago.  It turns out our paths have directly or indirectly crossed a couple times.

The first was early in the 90s.  I was waiting for a flight from home from New York (Home at the time was Oxnard, California).  Flights had been cancelled and rescheduled all morning so when a flight finally opened up there was a mass of sweaty, tired travelers crowding to get on the flight.  As I waited among this crowd I noticed a man in a sparkling white polo shirt, sparkling white shorts, sparkling white sock and ... sparkly white tennis shoes.  All these sparkling white articles of clothing matched his sparkling white head of hair.  It looked like he'd just gotten off a tennis court.  It only took me a few seconds to realize it was Ray Bradbury.  I didn't take the time to talk to him.   Everyone, including me, just wanted to get on the plane.

My second encounter, a more indirect encounter, involves the Wife and the book "Fahrenheit 451".  At the time the Wife was teaching the book in her English class.  After they had gotten into the book she would pass out paper and pencils to her students.  She woulds ask them to hold the paper up to the light and look at the watermark.  It said Montag, the brand of the paper.  She would then ask them to look at the pencil.  It said Faber, the manufacturer of the pencil.  These names, Montag and Faber, are the names of the main characters of Fahrenheit 451.

The Wife was getting ready to do this with a new class and, while she had Montag paper she had run out of Faber pencils and was having trouble finding them.  I just so happened to be making a supply run to a stationary store for work so I looked for the Faber pencils.  When I couldn't find them I asked the owner of the store.  He said that Faber had been bought out by another company and was no longer available and he asked why I was looking for them.  I explained what the Wife did with her students and he said he knew a bookstore owner who knew Ray Bradbury personally.  He said Ray Bradbury often visited his bookstore and that I could probably get a book signed for the Wife.

Now, I have tried to surprise the Wife with gifts before and, for some reason, I have never been able to surprise her.  Circumstances always get in the way and the surprise is always spoiled.  This idea, an autographed version of "Fahrenheit 451" was perfect!  I was sure it would be a total surprise.  I got the contact information from the owner and I started to make some phone calls.  It turns out that Ray Bradbury was not going to be making any appearances to the bookstore but, if I wanted, the shop owner could get a signed copy the next time he saw the author.  Awesome!  I said yes, that would be great.  I told him what to write in the book and I picked which version of the book I would like signed.  It was not even the end of September and I had everything set up for an awesome surprise gift.  It wouldn't be ready until December but everything was in motion.  All I needed to do is keep quiet about it for a few months and I would finally surprise the Wife.

So ... a couple months go by.  I haven't thought about the book at all since I called to set it up.  I'm home from work in the backyard playing with Homer when the Wife gets home.  She comes into the backyard and says with a smile, "Ray Bradbury is going to be at a Barnes and Noble in Thousand Oaks!  I'm going to get my copy of Fahrenheit 451 signed!"  I tried to put a cheery smile on my face but I think a bit of my shocked disappointment got out before I could get the smile on my face.  The Wife stopped in her tracks and asked "What?"  I probably could have saved it ... no ... no I couldn't.  I spilled it.  Another surprise dashed.

A few weeks later we are at the Barnes and Noble and we listen to Ray Bradbury being interviewed by NPR and he answered questions from the audience, including some of the Wife's students.  After the questions people lined up to get their copies signed by the author.  The Wife had two copies signed - a new copy and her old, beat up, annotated copy that she taught from.  While we were in line we saw a parent of one of her students.  Damn if he didn't have the same face of shocked disappointment hidden behind a smile that I'd had a few weeks earlier.

So, Christmas came around.  The Wife already had two signed copies of "Fahrenheit 451".  She got another from me.  And she got a fourth from her student.  It took me a while to get over that before I tried to surprise her again ... which I did magnificently on her 40th birthday ... but that's another story.

Rest In Peace Ray Bradbury.


Tuesday, June 05, 2012

My Poppies Went Poof!

One of the nice surprises along the Camino last year were the blooming poppies along the trails.  They provided a nice splash of red color along the way.  When I reached Logroño last year I saw this at the municipal albergue:

Pilgrim Flower Pots in Logroño.
This gave me an idea.

This year I took my Camino boots, drilled some drainage holes in the sole of the shoes. filled them with dirt, and planted poppy seed in them.  One boot had California poppies, the other oriental poppies that looked similar to the red poppies I saw in Spain.

I think I planted them a little late doing the planting in late April.  The California poppies never came up but the oriental poppies sprouted six or seven plants.  They didn't grow much, seeming to stop growing entirely once they got to be an inch tall but they stayed green.

Once the weather turned warm I moved the boot with the oriental poppies out to our deck.  After a week or so of nothing, one of the little sprouts figured out what it was supposed to do and shot up a half inch nearly overnight.  It went from having one tiny leaf to three tiny leaves.  I had hope that I would eventually have a poppy to display on Homer's Travels.

I noticed this amazing growth twenty-four hours ago.  Now ... it's all gone.  Poof.  Not ... A ... Trace.  The one big poppy ... gone.  The other six little sprouts that really weren't doing much ... gone.  Not sure if it was bugs or birds but whatever it was they were thorough in their destruction of my Camino tribute.

My only hope now is to wait to see if anything else sprouts in the boot.  Oriental poppies are perennials and, who knows, next year some of the seeds that didn't sprout this year may make a go of it.  I can only hope.

Friday, June 01, 2012

How To Feel Stupid In Three Easy Steps

Step One: Watch the National History Bee.  This one actually isn't that bad.  The questions were relatively easy.  The hardest part was listening to Al Roker's lame puns.

Step Two: Watch the Scripps National Spelling Bee.  Not only have I never heard of most of the words but I can't for the life of me understand why they even exist.

Step Three:  Watch the National Geographic Bee.  After watching this competition I now doubt which planet I live on.

To feel completely and thoroughly stupid, watch all three in the same week.

And now I will sit in the corner, drool, and try to come to terms with the fact that I am totally ignorant.