Homer's Travels: November 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009

Wild Weekend Of Wackiness

I'm still recovering from this weekend. Almost three days with the in-laws. The Haverhill Social Club. Uncle K and Aunt E's 50th anniversary party. Perkins after 11:00PM ... twice in a row. (Breakfast at midnight can be life threatening.) I'm not as young and resilient as I used to be.

Those people know how to have fun. Fortunately, I don't drink so I survived relatively unscathed but when I'm on the road my eating gets wacky and my body, a creature of habit, has difficulty adjusting to the changes. If I wasn't bloaty, I was tired. Too much fat. Too much sugar. Too much caffeine. Five pieces of French Toast. Three large pancakes. Two pieces of cake. One muffin (They're deadly, you know). This on top of the Lasagna, Brisket, and Jello. I think it will take a couple weeks for my cholesterol to return to normal.

The 50th anniversary party was fun. Not as wild as some past get-togethers, no drinking out of shoes, but it was a good celebration.

To top it off, I found a geocache in Haverhill, called "
Haverhill" of course (I tried to do this in the dark with my head lamp guiding the way but I got tired of the barking dog and didn't feel like being arrested so I found it the next day), went to a bar under the overpass (Turned out to be a little too 'hip' for us - the crowd was way too young), and found a Lincoln Highway marker on main street Marshalltown.

Beside and because of all this, I had a great time. How can you not have a great time with those people? Not possible.

In between the eating and drinking, I took a few pictures in
Haverhill and Marshalltown.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

I want to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, especially our troops overseas.

And now, to my Mom's house for feast and family.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hiking Iowa: Wabash Trace Nature Trail - Mineola to Silver City

After the last few hikes on the Wabash Trace and Oak Creek Trails, I decided to keep this week's hike to a more manageable length. Since I enjoyed the Wabash Trace so much last week, I decided to do another segment - this one stretching 4.3 miles between Mineola, IA (Pop: ~200) and Silver City, IA (Pop: 259).

The trailhead is located on the north side of town. There is a small parking lot, a picnic area, a couple of benches, and a trailhead marker. It was chilly this morning and the wind was blowing so I bundled up and headed east on the trail. Eight tenths of a mile later, near the outskirts of the town, the trail crosses Barrus Road and heads south-east.

This segment is similar to the one from Silver City to Malvern. There are fewer trees and fewer bridges but the trail is flat and straight. There are only three bridges on this segment - two in Mineola and one as you enter Silver City. I seem to have become a fan of bridges. There are more benches along this short segment than on the longer one. All benches and bridges that I've seen so far are either sponsored or dedicated to someone. Bridges have the sponsor's name carved on railing planks. Some are sponsors by the boy scouts. Others by local bike clubs, bike shops, or businesses. Some are dedicated to anniversaries or untimely passings. It adds interest to the hike.

Along the way I found a couple geocaches. One, "
NFL Cache", was about a third of a mile off the trail on 275th street. The other, "Quicksilver City", was not far from Silver city.

In Silver City I explored the
1911 jail some more before sitting on a bench in front of the small library and sucking down a soda.

The way back went pretty quick. I stopped and explored some box cars in Mineola, similar to the ones in the Silver Creek, keeping erosion at bay.

The total distance for this hike was 9.14 miles round trip. Elevation was about 360 feet. I didn't take too many pictures along the trail - they all looked like the ones I took last week - but I did add some more pictures to my
2009-2013 Wabash Trace Nature Trail Hike Google Photos album.

I think I have a new goal - walk each segment of the Wabash Trace. Some of the segments may have to be biked as they are a little too long to walk.
Note: Earmuffs are good.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Make Up Your Freakin' Mind!

We received our Jordan flight information yesterday. Suck. Suck. Suck. 7 hour layover in Frankfurt arriving on Monday morning at 1:35 AM. Suck. Suck. Suck.

So I checked flights on Kayak.com again. Prices dropped back down to where they were originally. What!?! I say What?!?

A call. An email. New reservations. Better flights. Thank you Jesus.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hiking Iowa: Wabash Trace Nature Trail - Silver City To Malvern

The Wabash Trace Nature Trail is another local rails-to-trails biking/hiking trail that stretches 62.3 miles from Council Bluffs, IA to Blanchard, IA, passing through six towns in between. I decided to pick a segment that would be close by and would offer me a challenge. The segment between the small town of Silver City (pop: 259) and Malvern (pop: 1,256), stretching eight miles, seemed to fit the bill.

Silver City is about an hour from Omaha. It is if you don't take a wrong turn on the way. Google Maps missed a whole segment in its directions which got me headed in the wrong direction. When I passed the Council Bluffs' Wabash Trace trailhead I knew I was on the wrong path. I stopped and pulled out a map and figured out my error and I made it to Silver City some 20 minutes later than I'd planned.

I parked near the labeled trailhead and, before starting, went cache hunting at the nearby restored 1911 Silver City Jail where I found "
The Big House". The jail is just a simple white box but the sign is kind of cool.

I fed the metal ranger and headed south-east. The trail crosses main street Silver City, passes behind a farm supply business (the smell on anhydrous ammonia was wafting in the morning air - nasty stuff), before leaving town. The trail parallels the gravel road for the first 1 and 1/3 miles before veering off through the farm fields. The trail is a one lane wide, crushed limestone path. A lot of the stone has washed away in some sections revealing the packed dirt underneath. I imagine it can't be easy to maintain a 62.3 mile trail on donations. Despite this, the trail is in excellent condition. Trees line the trail on both sides for most of the trail, branches from both sides arch inward to meet overhead. When the trees are leafed out parts of the trail would be like a long tunnel - a reason to revisit during the spring.

The trail was pretty quiet in the middle of the week - one guy letting his
dog relieve itself and a solitary biker. This doesn't mean there wasn't any sounds of civilization along the trail. The farmers were out in force harvesting and preparing their fields for winter.

I found three geocaches along the trace including "
Flat Tire", "Queen Anne's Corner", and "Train Wreck?".

The high point of this section in my opinion is the
Silver Creek Bridge. It is the largest bridge (and there are many) on this section, crosses Silver Creek, Silver City's namesake, and is about half way between the two towns. On the east bank of the creek are at least eight, probably more, old, rusty, half buried box cars. It looks like the aftermath of some decades old train wreck. In fact, according to one geocache description (Train Wreck?), the cars were dumped there to control erosion. Not as exciting as where my imagination took me. I will return to explore sometime - the little kid in me won't have it any other way.

Two miles from Malvern you begin seeing half mile markers, something the rest of this section lacked. At Malvern I decide to walk up to main street and look around. Malvern has a typical small town main street with a couple cafes, a grocery, a library (impressive size for the small town), a volunteer fire department, and a few little storefronts. Next to the library is an old log cabin built by one of the pioneers of the area. A plaque talked about Malvern being a stop on the underground railroad for slaves escaping from Missouri.

I decided not to stop for lunch. This probably wasn't the smartest thing. Instead I went into the grocery and bought a diet Code Red (caffeine) and a Milky Way Bar (sugar, carbs, and fat) and sat on a bench on the street corner and watched the traffic go by while I rested and consumed junk food.

On the way back I spooked some pheasant, chased some cardinals, and ran across a
group of deer grazing along the trail.

The return was a little bit tough on the legs and feet. This trail, unlike last week's
Oak Creek Trail has several benches along it but they were spaced out at weird intervals and the last four miles don't have any. Along the way back I downed two bottle of water and two snack bars.

At about the eleven mile mark my left knee started hurting. I've had surgery on both my knees and lately I've found my left knee to be a little cranky when I get past the eight mile point or so. I hope this will go away with more use and not get worse. The pain, while quite sharp and wince-inducing, comes and goes and rarely lasts very long.

The hike turned out to be a little longer than I expected: 17.4 miles. This is a personal best, a full 2.1 miles longer than my last record on the way to
Topa Topa Ridge. That hike had over 4,500 ft of vertical, this one only 331 ft. I liked this section of the Wabash Trace. Can't wait for my next, shorter, section.
Photographs are here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

It Will Ruin Your Eyes

Well, I can kiss my laptop goodbye now that the Wife has learned that they stream football games. Tonight she's watching her nephew play in the 4A championship.

As you can see, my laptop is connected to the big screen. Unfortunately the site won't let you go full screen so she has to sit up close. You would think for $4.99 (the webcast is not free) you could go full screen but noooo.

Note: To the left of the TV you will find the Notre Dame shrine which has had mixed results lately.

The Price Of Procrastination - Inflation

Eighteen days ago I went to AAA to set up our Jordan trip. The one decision I held off on was who would book the flights. General Tours offered $1,907 per person. AAA could get tickets for $2,053 per person. I went home and checked and found flights in the $1,300 to $1,600 range but they were terrible (24 hours + to get there). I decided a week and a half ago to go with General Tours' flight since, if there were changes or problems with the flights, they would take care of all of the hassle.

I then procrastinated.

What was the cost of procrastination? General Tours is now over $2,400 per person. AAA is now over $3,000 per person. When I check, $5,451 for the more convenient flight (15 1/2 hours to get there, 22 1/2 to get back). There are cheaper flights but I want to enjoy my vacation and long flight times close to a day long and connection times (i.e. time to run like heck through the crowded airport) of less than 40 minutes won't help me enjoy my vacation.

How did prices more than double in 18 days? Don't make no sense to me.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

New Confuser To Eat Up My Time

I finally replaced my seven and a half year old computer. I went the lazy route and ordered one from Dell. This is a departure from my last three computers that I built myself. I always liked knowing exactly what was under the hood and what software was running. My babies were rarely cheap as I usually bought near state of the art components - components that I rarely used 100%.

My Dell, a Studio 540, is pretty sweet.
  • Intel Core 2 Quad CPU Q9400 running at 2.66 GHz
  • 6 GB of DDR RAM
  • 640 GB Hard Drive - some would argue you need more but I have another 750GB on a NAS (Set up as a RAID 5 configuration) for storing pictures, music, and other stuff
  • 16x DVD+-R/W
  • Wireless Keyboard and Mouse (Logitech)
  • 20" Wide Format Monitor
I'm pretty happy with it so far. After about 24 hours I've got most of my software installed. Having the operating system already installed (Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit) made for a real easy setup. I had it up and running in about 60 minutes including the time to tear down the old system, clean up the desk's CPU cubby, and setting up the Dell.

The only driver I haven't been able to find yet is for the ancient USB-Serial adapter I use to connect my GPS. I'll have to use my laptop (running XP) to dump data to my GPS until I save up enough to buy a new GPS.

My inner geek is satiated ... for now.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hiking Nebraska: Oak Creek Trail - Valparaiso To Loma

Until now most of my hikes have been in parks. Now I have added a "Rails-To-Trails" hike to my repertoire. I've been meaning to do this since I moved to the Midwest. Nebraska and Iowa have a lot of these trails and I think they are similar to what I'll experience in Spain.

Oak Creek Trail [map], a former Union Pacific right-away, stretches thirteen miles from main street Valparaiso, NE to just south of Brainard, NE (I love that name!). Since I'm not ready for a twenty-six mile round trip hike yet, I studied the map and located a convenient turn around point at Loma, NE, located seven miles from the Valparaiso end of the trail. The trail is open year round except for deer hunting season (14-22 November this year). I never heard of a trail in California being closed because of hunting. Of course, I've never heard of a Nebraska trail being closed due to fire either.

I had some preconceptions of what I would find on a rails-to-trails trail. Turns out I was fairly right. Railroads don't like hills much and they try to route their trains where there are few hills so the trails are flat. Railroads don't like to twists and turns much so the trails tend to be straight and any curves tend to be long drawn out affairs. These trails, if they cross rivers and streams, have cool bridges. I also thought that hiking a straight, flat trail would be boring. At one point I was contemplating taking an MP3 player loaded with podcasts but I decided against it. The few reviews I could find on-line described the hike/bike ride as scenic and I didn't want to be distracted so I left the MP3 player at home. The reviews were right.

The trail starts west of main street Valparaiso. Near the start is a map of the trail, information about the local Bluebirds, and a metal ranger for voluntary trail upkeep donations. I payed double the suggested annual fee and headed out. The trail is a wide crushed limestone trail wide enough for a pickup to drive down. The trail is intended for hikers and bikers but is also used by the farmers to move their livestock and to get from one field to another. In the winter, the wide path would be perfect for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Running parallel to the main trail is a grassy equestrian trail that, at times, crosses the main trail and shares the bridges. The first bridge you cross, near the trailhead, is a
metal trestle, the rest are wooden and over-engineered. The trail then shoots west and north-west straight as an arrow. The trail crosses several gravel and dirt roads along its way. It also crosses a creek several times - not Oak Creek but the Bates Branch - branch of the Oak Creek I presume.

The trail turned out to be quite scenic. The trees were winter bare but they were still easy on the eyes. In the spring and summer, when the trees are leafed out, the trail would be a completely different hike.

Along the way there are trail markers. On the North side are markers sponsored by the "Kilometer Club." On the south side, the "Milepoint Club." The distanced are carved in the side of the railroad-tie posts. Either there are some posts missing or I missed a few of the dueling measurement system posts along the way. After the three mile post they are much more consistent.

The trail runs through farm land, passing cropland, cattle pastures, and wooded areas along creek beds and fence lines. On the way to Loma I saw nobody - the only things watching me
were the cows. I did see some farmers engaged in some late harvesting.

At mile seven you arrive to the village of Loma, NE. There is a bench on the trail, something I wish were more common on the long trail. I decided to skip the bench and walk into town - a distance of some 100 feet.

As much as I liked this trail, Loma was much more interesting to me. I have always had this interest in tiny towns. The Wife's family comes from the town of Haverhill, IA, population 170. One of my Grandmothers lived in the small town of Grant, IA, Population 102. I used to like taking pictures in the town of Harmony, CA, population 18. Loma, NE has a population of 54 but I have seen figures as low as 23.
The town looks a little more substantial in person since, with all the leaves off the trees, you can see more houses and farmsteads. It is still pretty desolate.

Loma has had some notoriety as it was a location for the movie "
To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar." It 'played' the town of Snyderville, NE and was chosen because they

"needed a town that looked completely isolated in the wide open spaces; one where the characters would truly feel stranded." (From Nebraska On Film)
I looked around, agreed that it fit the bill to a tee, and found the only open establishment, the Bar-M Corral, and went inside. It was a dark, dingy, comfortable feeling country bar. The elderly woman who ran the place was sitting at a table watching a small TV. I asked for a can of diet pop, and sat down at the bar. She served me and, without saying much, returned to her TV. Since conversation didn't seem likely, I enjoyed my barstool, cold drink, and watched the Price is Right with the proprietor. As I drank an ancient dog walked over to check me out. Its rear end practically creaked as it hobbled over to me. I reached down and gave it a good scritch. It must of liked it as it came back several times for more. It particularly liked its butt scratched - I think all dogs like their butts scratched.

I finished the pop, thanked the owner, and headed back out to the street. The dog followed me out and
did some barking. It looked like there had once been a couple more storefronts in town but they were now empty and in disuse. Except for the bar proprietor, I saw no one else. I walked down the middle of the unpaved main street. I took a few pictures. The best maintained building in town appeared to be the Czech Catholic Church at one end of town. The newest building I could see was the chemical toilet located next to the trail. I used the facilities - I wasn't prepared to used the bar's facilities - not brave enough.

I got back on the trail, stopped briefly at the bench to eat a snack bar, and started back. On the way back I ran into a few people - a couple on an ancient Ford Tractor and faded red pickup cutting trees down for firewood and a pair on bicycles. Other than these people and the cows, the only other signs of life were a fat squirrel and several red-tailed hawks.

I made it back to the car in about four and a half hours. I was surprised to find my average speed to be three miles an hour. I expected it to be much less. The total distance was 14.6 miles. There was about 540 feet of elevation difference from Valparaiso and Loma. Loma is on a plateau. I didn't feel this elevation at all as it was so gradual - 0.015 feet per foot.

Sometime next year I will try the full 26 mile round trip. I think it will be a nice hike in the spring or early fall. Can't wait to walk through Loma again.
Pictures can be found here.

Monday, November 09, 2009

One More Picture To Go On The Classroom Wall

One of the Wife's ex-students, who wanted to intern at This American Life, sent this to the Wife today. She was beside herself with giddiness. (The names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

Ira Glass autograph, anonymized.
Not really fair since I've listened to probably ten times as many episodes as she has but, hey, she knows the right people and I don't.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Book: Eric Weiner's "The Geography of Bliss"

When I think of happiness, I generally don't associate it with a place. True, a place can facilitate happiness but happiness, and unhappiness, can occur everywhere. With this preconception I read about NPR reporter Eric Weiner's search in his book "
The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World."

Weiner starts his search in the Netherlands where a professor has compiled a database of happiness and has
ranked nations by their level of happiness. The author proceeds to travel to different countries to ask the question "Are you happy?" He picks different countries based on their happiness level and the apparent reason for their happiness to illustrate the different things that make us happy. Freedom, drugs, orderliness, philosophy, religion, money - all things that contribute to the happiness of people but, as expected, all these things make it easier to be happy but doesn't really make us happy. In the end, happiness is home, family, and friends.

Each chapter covers a different country. The most interesting of the chapters was a contrary one - Moldova, a country near the bottom of the happiness scale. Weiner went there figuring that he would feel happier once he'd experienced the Moldova Gloom but Moldova just drug him down into a deeper pit of curmudgeoniness. After reading this chapter, I can safely remove Moldova from my list of places to go.

I like Weiner's style. He is a grump with a sense of humor and I was smiling through most of the book. I like curmudgeon humor. I can't say I learned much about happiness from this book but I was entertained and my happiness level, for a brief moment, was boosted.

Mildly recommended when in need of light reading.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Dance Of The Travel Magnets

We were getting a little tired of not being able to see our refrigerator. The fridge door and part of its side were covered in travel magnets. It wasn't very attractive but it was a conversation piece.

The Wife asked me to built some kind of display for all of them. I don't consider myself too handy. I can fix leaks and do simple repairs but decorative things ... I ain't so hot. I eventually relented and started working on a display. The Wife would say I whined, moaned, and complained the entire time ... and she would be absolutely right. Even after I completed the project I wasn't very happy with what I threw together but it does work.

To celebrate the completion, I put together this rather crude animation I call "The Dance of the Travel Magnets." Enjoy.

Our complaint now: The refrigerator looks so naked.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Will I Will Or Will I Won't?

Yesterday the Wife and I met with a lawyer and signed a bunch of papers - powers of attorney, and medical stuff in case one or both of us get hurt. The Wife also signed a will. I did not.

We'd been
talking about wills for quite a while. I've probably have been thinking about it for over a decade ... probably since we've been married 12 years ago. When it got time to decide how my estate would be spread around, I drew a blank ... a big zero ... total emptiness. Obviously, if I leave this world first I want my half to go to the Wife. I don't need a will for that. If the Wife goes first, her will covers her half. If we both go together, well, my half is kind of up in the air. It would go to my next of kin, many of whom I would never put on my list ... even the extended list. Besides a list of who I don't want to get my estate, I got nothing.

It's frustrating. On the one hand I'll be dead and won't give a damn what happens. On the other, should I care? The Wife thinks so. I know my indecision is irritating to her. Should I just pick some random charity and hope they don't waste it? Should I pick cousins I hardly know?

I don't know what do do.

Monday, November 02, 2009

And Away We Go ... To Jordan

Today I stopped by AAA and put a deposit down on a tour. Where are we going? Jordan. Next June we are taking an eight day tour of Jordan.

This trip will have several firsts for me. First flight across an ocean. First flight longer than six hours. First time in Asia. And on the way back, first time in Europe - a least for a few hours in an airport.

I'm really looking forward to this trip. I really need to get out of the country and experience something new ... really new. For awhile there I thought I'd picked the wrong name for my blog.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Travels, Day 27, On The Way To Guatemala

Mom's last entry:
Date: July 15, 1972 Saturday
Place: 3 AVE 6-77 zone 14
"We now have an address. Moved in today. [Dad] + I went to the house and cleaned cabinets and closets out. Workers are still working - furniture came. Boys + [Dad] unloaded the trailer + car while I put things away."
Mom's travel journal ends with us moving into our first Guatemalan home. It was a three bedroom duplex. The phone lines were a party line for the two houses and our duplex neighbors were Japanese. It was kind of fun to answer the phone and hear "Moshi Moshi". 

My nine years in Guatemala were a mix of good and bad. I think when I left in 1981, after graduating from High School, the bad stayed with me more than the good and in the vain attempt to forget the bad, the good faded as well. All I have left are little bits and pieces of good times mixed in with the shards of memories I long to forget. The sad thing is most of the bad was self induced. I could have had a wonderful adolescents full of friends and adventure but I chose an introverted, shy, anti-social, life style. I had friends, good friends, but I let those friendships end with the ringing of the last school bell.

Now some thirty-eight years later Facebook, of all things, has reintroduced me to some of those good friends. They remember me in a better light than I remember myself. Some, who I considered bullies at the time, want to reminisce about the good ol' days. Go figure. I guess we all mature as our memories fade.

So what do I do? I scramble to piece together the scraps of good memories that have survived in my muddled brain. I try to regain what I have so carelessly thrown away. In the end I shake my head at the futility of it all and mourn what I've lost.