Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Homer's Travels Look Back At 2014

I'm not sure how to describe 2014.  It wasn't a terrific year.  It wasn't the worst year either.  The year just had a fuzzy, nebulous feeling to me.

The high point of the year was our trip to Morocco, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zanzibar.  Zanzibar has become one of our favorite places in the world.  After returning I sunk into ... not a depression really ... but a severe lack of motivation.

Not long afterward there arose a family issue that I have not posted about at the request of the Wife.  I will say that it made the last third of 2014 more challenging.

I avoided political news as best I could.  The non-political news, news I did follow, was never very uplifting.  All the changes in the world around us are still ongoing and unresolved.  This made 2014 feel like an in between year.  A transition from what was to ... I'm not really sure what.

Let's look back at 2014, shall we:
  • January:  This month I continued to document my second Camino de Santiago, steeping myself in the memories.  I got a new pair of glasses - bifocals - which I'm still not sure I like as of this post.  I sold four pictures to a magazine - very proud of that.
  • February:  This month I finished my walk down memory lane and completed the documenting of my second Camino de Santiago.  I watched a couple of the rare sporting events that I actually pay attention to (the Olympics turned out better than I expected).  I sadly missed an opportunity to sell more pictures.  I went to see the Oscar nominated short films.
  • March:  The month started with a nice, relaxed week - a good way to start any month.  I wrapped up the Camino coverage with a summary and a couple of gear lessons I learned along the way.  I experienced a shift in mood with the reduction of news.  I grew a beard and promptly shaved it off again.  The Wife's student wins the state Poetry Out Loud competition.  I celebrated π day.  We went curling this month ... an activity that I am loosing interest in.
  • April:  An article about public pianos reminded me of one I saw.  I shared a couple more gear lessons I learned on the Camino.  I ranted about TurboTax tech support.  I noted a similarity between the Appalachian Trail logo and a childhood memory.  I started to get ready for my first camping trip ever.
  • May:  This month started out a bit quiet.  I put together a camping cooking system.  I went for my first camp up at Hitchcock - a success.  After a successful first camp I rethought my hydration system.  After a minor hiccup our African trip plans were finalized.
  • June:  During this month we traveled to Morocco, Kenya, and Tanzania (including Zanzibar).  It was an amazing trip.  (The trip is documented in July and August posts.)
  • July:  This month I started going through pictures and documenting our African Adventure.  I went for my second camp at Indian Cave and tested a way to pitch the tent without tent stakes.  I celebrated my birthday with ice cream cake and an apology.
  • August:  I finished documenting our African Adventure.  I finally managed to go to a Jenny Lewis concert after having failed five times before.  I went for my third camp in Preparation Canyon, had my first bad meal, and successfully tested a fire starting method.  I purged some of my eighty-seven t-shirts.  I realized that I live in a backcountry camping desert.
  • September:  I struggled with a First World Problem.  I returned to the location of my first camp for my fourth.  I ended the month quiet, unmotivated, and a bit heavier than I was before.
  • October:  I mourned the death of the Saturday morning cartoon block.  I voted early in a rather lackluster election.  I began experimenting with wearing toe socks on my long walks and ... so far ... they are working magnificently - no hot spots or blisters on my toes or anywhere else on my feet.  I wish I'd had these on my last Camino!  My last camp of the year was at another repeat location, under the starry skies of Preparation Canyon.  I padded this month with a couple picture posts.  Overall the month was pretty good with me increasing my exercising and shedding a few pounds along the way.
  • November:  The changing weather scuttled a bike ride.  By mid month the temperature would plummet and we would have our first snow.  My sixth camp that I'd hoped to fit in was not to be.  The bike moved from the garage to the basement where I put it on the trainer stand.  The Wife and I went to see a movie together ... more of a rarity these days with Netflix and our slightly different tastes in movies.  Thanksgiving arrived, the cactus bloomed, and the holiday season began.  The month went by in a flash but I reached several of my goals and was quite pleased with myself.
  • December:  I finished my reading goals early.  The favorite post of this month apparently was a reflection of reflections, a photographic post.  After arranging, rearranging, and reversing campsites, I came up with a preliminary plan for my five day camp in Rocky Mountain National Park Next summer.  The big balls went up in the oak tree once again.  I missed out on a white Christmas but I did get some good gifts as a consolation prize.
  • After a record year of walking in 2013, I cut back quite a bit during the first half of the year.  The distances did begin to pick up near the end of the year as I regained some of my walking enthusiasm. I ended up walking 352.87 miles (567.89 km). That's not too shabby.
  • Biking was a mixed bag.  On the one hand I biked 635.77 miles (1,023.17 km) , the most I've ever ridden in a year.  On the other this was not as much as I'd hoped I would ride.  I ended up skipping a lot of rides due to wind, rain, and plain lack of will.  I did do pretty well on my trainer.  I rode 1,375.4 miles (2,213.5 km) in two chunks - one in the first half of the year and the other in the later half.  I rode more in the first half but did shorter distances.  The later half had fewer rides but were longer.
  • I read twenty-four books this year as I mentioned in this post.  This was more books in one year than any since ...probably ... college.  I don't know for sure since I've only kept count since 2009.  Still, it was a good year for reading.  I'm hoping to bump that up to twenty-six next year.
  • I went to two concerts this year.  The first was Jenny Lewis With Apache Relay.  I'd wanted to see Jenny Lewis for years and finally did - enjoyed her concert very much.  The second was The New Pornographers With The Pain Of Being Pure At Heart.  This was another enjoyable concert.  Both of these concerts were at the Slowdown, an excellent small venue.
  • I posted 122 times this year.  A little better than last year but well below the two hundred plus from the first three full years of Homer's Travels.
I have a good feeling about 2015.  Several things are planned for at least the first half of the year.  In January we're going to a Fleetwood Mac concert.  In February I attempt to best my Trek Up The Tower record.  In June we are planning a vacation in New England.  In July I ride RAGBRAI.  In August I do a five day camp in Rocky Mountain National Park.  There will be other awesome things along the way.

So, let's join the solar Pope and wave goodbye to 2014 and hello to the new year, 2015.


Here's to a Happy and Prosperous New Year for all.
May all your dreams come true in 2015.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Was Santa Good To You?

With the in-Law's Christmas get together yesterday the Homer's Travels' Christmas celebrations are at an end.  It always feels good to get together with family and enjoy food, stories, and fun in general.  With the Christmas holiday there is also the added benefit of gifts.

I ended up buying myself my first gift.  On Black Friday weekend I purchased an Osprey Aether 60 Backpack.  I got a really good price.  This will be the pack for my Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) camp as well as my Appalachian trail hike.  It will go on other hikes in between too I hope.  I will provide my first take on the backpack in a future post.

On Christmas Eve the Wife and I celebrated Christmas at my Mom's house.  There I received my traditional bag of Pull-n-Peal Twizzlers (they were all gone withing twenty-four hours), a plant moisture meter (it has already told me that I'm over watering one of my plants), and some spending money that will go towards other camping/hiking gear.  I gave Mom a wooden carving I bought in Zanzibar and a gift card at one of her favorite restaurants.

After the celebration at Mom's, the Wife and I exchanged gifts which consisted mainly in gift cards to our favorite places (I got a card to Backwoods which will get me even more camping/hiking gear).  I bought the Wife a solar pope she was asking for (he gives a pageant wave when in the sun - a video may have to follow) and she gave me some lottery scratchers.

I received another gift on Christmas Day: A sunny, blue sky day which felt awesome!  Can't remember the last time we had a sunny day here - been awhile.

Yesterday we finished the festivities at the In-Laws.  We had pork loin and every form of potato you can think of - this is also a family tradition of sorts.  Before and after dinner I consumed enough sugary goodies to kill a herd of elephants.

After dinner we exchanged gifts.  The In-Laws passed out envelopes of money for Christmas and everyone's upcoming birthdays and anniversaries.  My share will go towards my RAGBRAI registration fee, more camping/hiking gear, and hotel rooms in Estes Park, CO (where I'll stay before and after my RMNP camp).

The Wife and I, along with my Brother-in Law and his Wife, gave the In-Laws a year of Netflix and two Roku boxes to allow them to stream movies.  I set up the Roku boxes at home so that all I needed to do is connect them up to their TVs and power and change the network setting to the In-Law's network and they would be ready to go.  Simply ... NOT.  Sure enough I could not get the Roku boxes to connect up to their network.  It took two simultaneous tech support phone calls to straighten it out.  I have to admit I didn't handle it well.  The stress of it not working right away, the waiting while listening to crappy repetitive music loops while on hold, and the high frequency buzz I had going from all the sugar did not go for a smooth tech support experience.  The tech support people were great - I was not.  In the end the Roku support guy walked me through a procedure (using a "secret screen") to get things up and running.  Turns out the In-Law's cable service has their wireless router security locked down pretty hard.

As soon as everything was up and running I said my goodbyes and drove home (The Wife is staying with her parents for a week to help them with the medical issues they are going through).  After a three hour drive I realized I was still buzzing at a few gigahertz and the adrenalin was still do-si-doing with the sugar in my bloodstream so I went to the basement and road my trainer for a couple hours.  While I road I watched "Particle Fever" ... a very interesting documentary about the discovery, by the Large Hadron Collider, of the Higgs Boson.  A good movie.

I finished my ride, rinsed off  the sweat, and went to bed a few minutes before midnight.  The biking worked and I fell asleep quickly.  Staying up til midnight also served as a successful dry run for New Years Eve coming up in a few days.

Hope everyone else had a good Christmas too!  Now onward to the next year.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas To All My Family And Friends ... Wherever You Are!

Merry Christmas to all my family and friends!

Feliz Navidad a toda mi familia y amigos!

Joyeux Noël à toute ma famille et les amis!

Frohe Weihnachten an alle meine Familie und Freunde!

Vrolijke Kerstmis aan al mijn familie en vrienden!

Nollaig Shona do gach mo theaghlach agus lena chairde!

Feliz Natal para toda a minha família e amigos!

Buon Natale a tutti la mia famiglia e gli amici!

私の家族や友人へのすべてのメリークリスマス!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

I Was Looking Forward To Shoveling Snow ...

I was really looking forward to shoveling snow this morning.  They were forecasting one to two inches which is enough to make things festive but not enough to make shoveling a real chore.

I woke up this morning and looked out to see the same drizzly, cold rain that we've have for the past couple days.  I am really getting tired of the weather.  this is not proper winter weather.  No snow.  Rain. Temperatures ten to fifteen degrees warmer than normal.  Dreary overcast skies.  Low lying, sun blocking, color sapping, mood crushing, fog.

I want to take some cool winter pictures so I have been waiting for snow.  I'm waiting for snow to lift my spirits and really put me in the Christmas mood.  I'm waiting to go snowshoeing.  I'm waiting to hear the crunch of snow underfoot.

I'm still waiting.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Decorated Once Again

I didn't do it last year but this year the big ornaments went back up into the front yard oak tree.  Once again our front yard looks festive.  Once again you can hardly pass our house without smiling.  Everything is right with the world.

Happy little balls in our happy little oak tree.
If you want to see ballsy trees from Christmases past, follow these links:

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cuba Libre

In 1994 I was working for the U.S. Navy.  I was aboard a ship off the coast of Florida.  One night I was in the Combat Information Center looking at the radar displays when one display caught my eye.  It was a large display that showed surface vessels.  The expanse of ocean between the tip of Florida and the island of Cuba was filled with hundreds of symbols.  Each symbol represented a small boat, raft, or makeshift, often barely seaworthy, vessel holding the lives of Cubans seeking freedom.  You could not see the shear numbers and not be moved.

Twenty years later I watched the President announce the first steps toward normalization of relations with Cuba.  It's about time!  When the embargo is finally rescinded, the Wife and I will be there.  We will celebrate the freedom of the Cuban people and explore their culture and history.  It will be a wonderful day.

Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, arguably the beginning of the end of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the last vestige of the Cold War is finally coming to an end.  Let's hope the people fixated on the past do not interfere with progress and the bones of the Cold War are finally allowed to rest in peace.


"The longer you live in the past, the less future you have to enjoy."  - Unknown

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

RMNP Planning: A Start

Last month I started planning my camping trip to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).  This will, more than likely, be my first multi-day camping trip as I have few options near home.  I am planning a five day - four night camp.  I will me hiking to a different campsite each night and covering a large chunk of the park.

I started with a good National Geographic topological map of the park with the trails and campsites marked.  After a preliminary look over the map I came up with a plan to start at the Moraine Park Visitor Center and hike five days ending at the Bear Lake Trailhead.  Both the start and end are on the free park shuttle routes which will make it easy to get to the start and back from the end.

Over the last month I have mulled the path over in my head and decided it would be better if I reversed the course of the original path.  I figured it might be better to put the toughest day on the first day (instead of the second day).  I would be fresh and well fed.  I hoped this would help compensate somewhat for the large change in altitude I would experience on that first day (an over 3,000 ft climb).

Last weekend I revisited my plan in detail including using Google Maps to measure the distances between camps (Google Maps have all the trails marked) and, using the terrain functions of Google Maps and Google Earth, looked at the altitude changes I would experience.  The hikes would be challenging.   The first day would have around 3,100 ft up and 3,000 ft down (944 m up and 914 m down) and it would be accomplished at altitude.

Further study and a bit of lucky wandering around the RMNP website led me to a list of campsites with lots of information.  This information included the fact that one of the campsites I was counting on to make day two easier was closed.   Day two will be a doosy stretching between ten and eleven miles.  Most of the elevation change would be down though and I figure (hope) that going down will use less energy so the extra distance I'll have to hike will be reasonable.

The big wildcard here is the altitude.  Omaha is sitting around 1,000 ft (304 m).  My hike will start over 9,000 ft (2743 m).  The peak of my hike which I reach the first day will be over 12,300 ft (3,749 m).  I will have to learn to pace myself - especially on that first day.

Next up will be filling out the reservation request and getting it in the mail.  I contacted the RMNP Backcountry office and found out there is no reason to mail anything before 15 February.  On March 1st they take all the applications, put them in a pile, and pick them out at random to enter into their scheduling computer so getting you letter there early doesn't increase your chances of getting the campsites your want.  That explains why for each day you have to request a primary and an alternate campsite.

I'll provide updates to my planning in future posts.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Photographic Reflections

"Dead Tree Explosion - Reflections"
by Bruce H.
A couple pictures I took last week during my walk around Walnut Creek Lake.  It was a foggy day and the air was still - ideal for reflections.  The foggy background, reflections, and naked branches just begged to be displayed in black and white ... so I did.

"Trees and Reflection"
by Bruce H.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Goodreads Reading Challenge 2014

The number of books I've read each year has been declining the past few years.  Back in 2009 when I started keeping track I read eighteen books.  The next year fifteen.  Then eight.  Eight again the next year.  Last year ... one.  At the end of last year I decided I needed to get back into reading and started looking around for things to read.  During my search I noticed the Goodreads Reading Challenge.

I decided, against my better judgement - I often miss goals that I publicize - to participate this year and I decided to go all in.  I looked at my record.  I looked at the number of pages I thought I could read in an hour or so a day.  I looked at the average length of books I tended to read.  I crunched the numbers and picked twenty-four as my goal.  I wasn't sure if I could reach that goal but it would give me an ambitious (for me) target to aim for.

To my surprise I met my goal by the end of November.  I ended up reading twenty-four books in ten months (I didn't read during our African vacation - the month of June).  I did much better than I ever expected.

So what are the stats?  I read 2.4 books per month.  The average book length was 344.33 pages.  The longest book was "The Ride and Fall of Ancient Egypt" at 514 pages and the shortest was "A Slow Regard of Silent Things" at 176.  Total number of pages: 8,264.  All of the books I read, except one, were eBooks checked out from the library.  The one "real" book was a loaner from a friend of the Wife's: "Just Passin' Thru".  This also happens to be my favorite book of the year (The only book I gave five stars to on goodreads this year).  Of the other twenty-three, I gave twelve four stars, ten three stars, and one two stars.  So the average book came it at around 3.54 stars - I'm good with this number.

Here is a shortcut to Homer's Travels' book review posts.

Why am I stopping at the end of November?  First, I'd reached my goal.  Second, while achieving said goal, I'd neglected the stack of magazines on my night stand and the fifty-something articles I'd saved to Pocket. So, you see, I'm still reading and if I manage to get through the magazines and internet articles, who knows, I may go for book number twenty-five.

P.S. Autumn: since you've already congratulated me for completing my challenge already, you don't have to congratulate me again. :-)

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Book: Arthur C. Clarke's "The Fountains Of Paradise"

My last book of 2014 ... probably ... was a piece of classic science fiction.  Originally published in 1979, Arthur C. Clarke's "The Fountains of Paradise" tells the story of the building of the first space elevator two hundred years in the future.  An interesting concept locked inside a rather dull book.

The conflict in the book centers around finding someone to fund the construction, finding a place to build it (which happened to be smack dab on top of a Buddhist temple), and several lives at risk during a construction accident.  Do these conflicts sound a bit mundane?  If you said yes then you would be right.

This was a huge concept looking for a story to showcase its magnificence and in the end the story does not rise up to the challenge.  I have read other books by Clarke and have found them interesting and often well written.  This one did not live up to his other works in my opinion.

Clarke is known for being prescient and bringing a realistic portrayal of the world of the future. Here he came up short again.  I can't really fault him here as few authors of the 50's, 60's, and 70's foretold the connected, computerized world of just a few decades in the future.  There is one scene where the main character runs down to the hotel lobby to use the general purpose terminal to look up information.  In another, characters exchange cards that are plugged into their phones to input their contact information.  Clarke apparently did not see wireless internet and tablet computers in the future.  The lack of foresight - remember the book is set in the twenty-second century - is a little jarring at times.

When I choose books to read I usually try to read current works.  This book reminded me why I do this - I'm not a fan of books whose 'future' has been surpassed by our present.