Friday, December 31, 2010

A Homer's Travels Look Back At 2010

Some people are not fond of end of the year lists.  I find comfort in looking back and seeing where I've been and thinking about what is to come.  2010 has been a rough year for me.  I have felt like I've been in a rather continuous slump for most of the year but especially for the last six months.  This is reflected in the drastic reduction in my posting this year - 36% below what I posted last year.  I've been disappointed in both my photography and my writing.

Let's look back at 2010, shall we:
2010 had a nice ring to it but turned out to be disappointing. The bad economy (the Wife and I survived relatively unscathed), the dirty political election cycle (once again, the Wife and I not directly affected), and the passing of Homer (no way to not be affected by that) contributed to a rather gray year.   A major case of writers block was either a contributor to and/or a cause of my down mood.  The look back list is mighty thin compared to 2009.

But there is hope.  This last week of 2010 has felt more upbeat and my mood is lifting.   There is hope for 2011.  I have two big events to look forward to: the Camino de Santiago and our Route 66 roadtrip back to California to visit with friends.  We have concerts planned and I have hikes to do.  2010 has brought me down but I am not out by any measure.  2011, I can't wait to meet'cha.

Here's to a Happy and Prosperous New Year for all.
May all your dreams come true in 2011.*

*and this time I mean it.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wacky Weather

In southern California, Oxnard specifically (where we used to live), it is 54°F.

In Omaha, where we live now, it is 62°F ... on January December 30th ...  Something is seriously screwed up.

Later this evening things will get back to normal here with temperatures back in the teens and twenties with a freezing rain/sleet/snow mix and sub-zero wind chills.  whoopee.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Lack Of Reading Material

2010 has been a mixed reading year for me.  I finished 15 books this year, three fewer than 2009.  My average book was longer (413 pages vs 361 pages).  The number of pages read, 6,205, was about 5% less than in 2009.

2011 is going to be tougher.  My fun money is going to my Camino walk so I have no money to buy very many books.  This means  I have to find other sources.  The most obvious one is the library.

I got my library card and went online and scanned through their catalog.  I looked for the fifteen books I have on my Amazon wish list - I only found two (They were both checked out, of course).  I put in an interlibrary loan request for one of the books.  That was three and a half weeks ago.  Not sure if this is typical (two librarians gave me two different answers - 1 week and 2-3 weeks).  I am wondering if I'll have any offline reading material this year.

I suspect that I will be limited to magazines and online reading for most of the year ... at least until I get this library figured out.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A Dollar Store Christmas

This year I asked the Wife to allow me to set aside my Christmas gift budget for my Camino walk.  I was fine with not having anything to unwrap.  While she agreed, she was not willing to open presents alone.

After having facials and  a few beers with a friend, they went to a Dollar Store and went Christmas Shopping.  Selection at the Dollar Store is a little limited but, the Wife was able to come up with some ... interesting presents for me to open.

  • A brownie mix
  • A chocolate chip cookie mix
  • A bag of chocolate chips 
  • A package of Daddy Ray's Fig Bars
  • Chocolate Christmas bells (think chocolate kisses in the shape of a bell)
  • Banana Chips
  • A solid milk chocolate ballerina (from the Wife's friend)
  • and the pièce de résistance, three masked wrestler action figures
She topped off the gifts with a stop at a convenience store.
  • 20 scratchers ... which turned out to be worth $22.00
These presents went well with the twizzlers (a Christmas tradition) and bullet level I got from Mom, the Cabela's gift card from the Matron of Honor and Best Man, and Camino cash from the In-Laws and various other family members.

I have to say I had a very satisfying Christmas this year.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas To All

Hoping everyone has a very
Merry Christmas 2010.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I'm Dreaming Of A ....

There's very little snow on the ground around here right now but that may change tonight.  Two to Four inches of White Christmas is in the overnight forecast.  I hope they're right.

The neighbor, anticipating the snow, brought over their snow blower so we could use it.  They're heading south so we will be helping them by clearing the snow off their driveway and sidewalks.  She also left us with a box of chocolates.  Yum.

I'm ready for Christmas.  The Wife and I went skating on Wednesday ... well, the Wife skated and I stood on the sidelines taking her picture.  Me and coordination don't go together.  That got us in the mood.

Christmas Eve will be spent at my Mom's.  Christmas Day will be with the In-Laws.  I'm feeling pretty good.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Wandering Around Downtown

It's been a while since I walked around downtown Omaha.  I spent a couple days over the last two weeks walking around and catching up with the new art in the area.

Gene Leahy Slides (Not New But Very Cool)
After some lunch I walked over to the Gene Leahy Mall (think Washington Mall instead of shopping mall).  The main feature of the mall is a large waterfall fountain at the north end that feeds into a long and narrow pond that eventually joins an even bigger public pond.  This time of year the mall's fountains are turned off and the water is frozen.

I wasn't alone on my circumnavigation of the mall.  The mall provides a nice place to walk during people's lunch breaks.  I passed a couple getting their photos taken (an engagement perhaps), a father and young son yelling 'ECHO' as they walked under the 13th street bridge, and small crowds walking off their lunches and talking about office politics.

The latest addition to the mall, I discovered, were new benches around the Gene Leahy Mall .  Each bench is unique and each one has an artistic flair.  One my favorites is the screaming man below.  Pictures of some of the other benches can be found here.

Hold Your Hands Up And Say Hey!
I passed the father and son on the other side (we were walking in opposite directions).  The boy was going down the slide.  He was having fun.  I know because I've gone down the slide before.  It's fun.  Trust me.  They've improved the sliding experience by adding a fun bench nearby:

Blaaahhh!
I need to make it a point to visit the mall more often. The new public art keeps catching me by surprise and life needs a little pleasant surprise every now and then.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Book: Sonia Nazario's "Enrique's Journey"

JA, one of my sisters-in-law, gave me this book the last time we were at her place.  Sonia Nazario's "Enrique's Journey" tells the story of a Honduran boy traveling through Mexico to the United States in his attempt to reunite with his mother.

Enrique's mother had left home and come to the United States illegally to earn money to support Enrique and his sister.  The book describes the difficulty and life threatening conditions immigrants face when trying to enter the United States.  It talks about the hardship that results from split families torn apart by economics.  It talks about the strong family ties that drive children to reunite with their mothers.

The book is based on a Pulitzer Prize winning series originally published in the Los Angeles Times.  Unfortunately the book reads as a series of articles  loosely knit together.  When I should have been engrossed in Enrique's harrowing experience I was distracted by the rather shallow writing style.  In the end what should have been a moving book for me faded out with a whimper.

I'm not sure why this book didn't click for me.  This may simple be a matter of bad timing.  I am so burned out from all the crappy political news over the last six months that an issue book like this one irritated more than engrossed me.  I think I need to stick to fiction for a while

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sharing

We had two to three inches of snow with a lot of wind Saturday.  The wind whipped up a small drift on our driveway.  I went out and cleared it and then went over and cleared a smaller drift on our neighbors driveway.

I came in exhausted.  This really didn't make sense since the drifts were rather small.  Throughout the afternoon my energy was a no-show.  I laid down and napped but woke up weak and groggy.  I started thinking I may be coming down with what the Wife has been battling when the body aches started.

Ahhh, the things married people share.

Friday, December 10, 2010

I Miss The Geese

Where are the geese?  In 2008 we had flocks landing in the field behind the house each evening, munching on the leftover corn in the fields.  In 2009 there was no corn, the farmer had planted soybeans, but we still had geese flying overhead.  This year, until earlier this week, I hadn't seen nary a one.

2009 Geese Off Our Deck.
This week the geese have started to appear but they are two to three months late and their numbers, so far, are anemic.  I'm a little disappointed.  I hoped that the corn returning to the fields would signal the return of the geese.   I appear to be wrong.

Why???   Climate change ... wind turbines ... habitat destruction?  It's a mystery.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Potrero John Comes Through Once Again

Of all the trails I have hiked, a rather modest trail named Potrero John is the one that left the fondest memories.  I've posted about this trail twice already - once when I did the hike and once when I reminisced about doing it.

The trail is only 5.5 miles long.  There is very little elevation change.  The scenery is ... nice.  The trail turns around at a rather impressive falls, though when I was there only a little water was flowing.  Despite the low flow, the trail still manages to cross Potrero John creek over a dozen times.  I'm not sure why I felt so content on this trail but I did.

Potrero John has been good to me and, once again, it has come through.  I was contacted last week by an author who has published a book about California Waterfalls.  The fourth edition of her book is coming out in the spring and one of my Potrero John waterfall photos will grace its pages.  This will be my first real-world published picture (I've had a few published on-line).  Can't wait to get my copy next spring.

I'll have to return to the falls someday.  Give it my thanks for being so kind to me.  Maybe I'll do it next year.  We're planning a route 66 drive with a visit with our California friends (I'll send you an e-mail, GeekHiker, when I have some firm dates) and a Potrero John hike or a Topa Topa hike are on my short to-do list.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Balls ... Growth ... The Passage Of Time

It seems, as I get older, more and more things remind me of the passage of time.

Every Christmas since we moved back to Nebraska, we have decorated the oak tree in our front yard.  The first year we bought large Christmas balls and hung them from the leafless tree resulting in a tree reminiscent of the Charlie Brown Tree.  I managed to hang all twelve of the ornaments using a step ladder.

In 2009 I hung the ornaments using an eight foot extension poll while on snow shoes.  I had to buy more because the tree seemed larger and the balls just didn't fill the tree.  The tree ended up with thirty-eight big balls, though some were lost during a blizzard and one was obliterated by the snow blower.

Today I decorated the oak tree once more.  This time it took the eight foot extension poll and a step ladder to reach the tippy top of the tree.  Once I got all the balls hanging I realized that more balls would be needed.  The tree keeps getting bigger and taller.  Tomorrow the Wife and I are going Christmas decoration shopping to fill the gaps.

The oak tree has turned out to be a great sign of time's passage.  In a year or two I will no longer be able to decorate the tree.  I guess I could climb the tree to hang the ornaments but, as the tree gets older so will I, and I'm not sure I should be climbing in trees.   Come to think of it, it's been years, if not decades, since I last climbed a tree.  How time flies when you're having fun.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Where's The Fire ... Santa?!?

We were watching the Amazing Race when we heard sirens on the street.  Soon after a flashing light of a police car passed slowly by the window.  The police car lights were soon followed by fire truck lights.  Wondering what the heck was happening I stepped out our front door to see where they were going in such a flashy but slow manner.  As I step out I saw that the fire truck was being followed by a pickup.

The pickup was towing a trailer.

... The trailer was all lit up.

...... On the lit up trailer was a sleigh.

...... On the sleigh was a jolly old elf who waved at me and wished me a Merry Christmas.

... I waved back with a smile on my face and wished Santa a Merry Christmas.

Thank you, Santa, for making me and the Wife smile.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Wishing everyone a
Happy Stomach Stuffing Day Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Hiking Nebraska: MoPac East Trail - Lincoln to Eagle

Sunrise on the MoPac East Trail
The MoPac East trail started its life as a Missouri Pacific Railroad right-away.  The trail starts in east Lincoln, NE and extends some 26 miles to just east of Wabash, NE.  The long, straight, and flat trail passes through four small towns.  Someday, budget willing, this trail will connect with others and you will be able to bike/hike from Lincoln to Omaha.  This week I walked part of this trail turning around in the town of Eagle.

The trail reminded me a lot of the Wabash Trace in south-western Iowa (I walked it in sections earlier this year).  The trail passes by horse ranches, farm land, and restored prairie.  The trail surface is typical crushed limestone and is fairly well maintained.  This portion of the trail crosses a couple bridges, the Stevens Creek Bridge (also called the Walton Bridge) east of Walton is the most impressive.

The trail, tree lined along most of the way, passes through Walton, Eagle, Elmwood, and Wabash.  I decided to turn around at Eagle as it was ten miles from Lincoln and going any farther wouldn't have been a good idea.  At Eagle I stopped at a tiny little grocery store and bought something to drink with the lunch that I'd packed.  I sat at a picnic table in a large public park, siting in the sun to compensate for the temperatures in the 40s-50s, and ate my lunch, gaving my feet and legs a deserved rest.

Traffic picked up on the way back.  I was passed by several bikers enjoying the trail.  My favorite cyclist was an elderly woman on a pink bike with red and white hearts.  The MoPac East trail is a terrific bike trail and I will return with my bike when I start training for RAGBRAI.

There are at least seven geocaches along this portion of the MoPac East.  I managed to find four.  My geosenses seemed a little off on this hike.

My right big toe was sore during the hike.  Actually it was more the joint where the toe connects to the foot. Feels a little like tendonitis, which I have a history of.  I'm going to rest the foot for the next week or so to let it heal a bit.

This was a good long hike that would be an even better bike ride.  I managed to do 20.88 miles with 1,988 feet of ascent.  I didn't really take any interesting pictures except for the one at the top of this post of the sun coming up over the trail.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

First Snow Of 2010

We had our first snow of the 2010 - 2011 season last night.  It was a heavy, wet snow.  Enough to turn everything white but not enough to last long - it will be all gone by the end of the day.

Looking back at prior posts, it looks like this year's first snow was in the middle of 2008's Late November first snow and 2009 mid-October first snow.  The first real snow, snow that sticks around for more than 24 hours, came in mid-December 2008 and late November 2009 so I expect we'll see something shortly after Thanksgiving this year.

I'm still betting on a rather dry winter this season.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Art Walk

This week I walked around the city instead of hiking.  I decided to walk to a couple pieces of public art - one that I've seen from afar for a few weeks now and one that was unveiled this week.

A Journey Of A Thousand Miles ...
My path to the first piece of art took me past garbage with interesting stencils and an interesting Serbian Orthodox Church.  I walked past a suburban horse/donkey/goat ranch right in the middle of a residential neighborhood.  I passed a beef packing plant where I saw large bins heaped full of cow hides, still rather ... raw on one side.  What almost got me to pull my camera out was a dump truck with a big sign that said "Inedible. Not for Human consumption."  It was parked under the end of a conveyor belt sticking out the side of the building spewing all sorts of disgusting guts into the back of the truck.  There were people standing around and I was afraid if I took pictures I would look like some tree-hugger vegan taking incriminating pictures for some PETA publication and they might chase me down and beat the crap out of me.  Or I may just have a hyperactive paranoid imagination.

The first piece of public art on my itinerary were displayed on the side of a large abandoned grain elevator just off the interstate. Huge canvases have been draped on thirteen of the silos.  The canvases are part a project/contest called Stored Potential.  While most of my pictures came out, it is easier to see the pieces at the website's gallery found here.  They were all pretty cool but I particularly like the ones called "Bacon" (The small sign under the strip of bacon reads "Amen") and "Corn As Commodity".


One end of the Field Club Trail starts at the elevator.  The trail used to be a train right away which serviced the elevator among other places along the line.  The trail is tree lined cuts through the land - It feels like you're walking through a canyon.  Most of the trees had lost there leaves but there was still some color.  Leaves, dislodged by the wind, rained down on the trail.  The grass on either side of the trail was carpeted in leaves.  I resisted walking on the grass, shuffling my feet through the crunchy leaves, making the noises I associate with fall.  I should have just given myself up to the urge.  I suppress my inner fiver year old boy too much at times.

Me In 20 to 30 Years ?
After reaching the end of the Field House Trail, I turned west and made my way, via a stop at a fast food joint for some unhealthy 'food', to the next piece of public art.  I'd seen a segment on the local news the night before the walk talking about the statues and sculpture at the Children's Hospital and had added it to my walking itinerary.  On the corner of the building statues of children with umbrellas smile at all the cars passing by on Dodge.  The statues are very similar to the ones near the Quest Center which makes since since all these bronze statues were made by local Omaha artist, Matthew Placzek. The statues stand in front of a glass stairwell with suspended umbrellas that light up at night.

Girl with umbrella.
The rest of the walk took me through residential areas and eventually took me to the Big Papio Trail.  I followed this trail, fighting the wind blowing in my face, to 72nd street before turning south and heading back home.

I was pretty exhausted by the time I got home.  This walk wasn't as long as my last and didn't have as much elevation but, at 19.42 miles with 3,127 feet of total ascent, it was up there in length.  It was also a really warm day and I was a stinking ball of sweat by the time I got home.

I enjoyed this walk.  The Field Club Trail still had that fall feel and there is something about the fall that makes me feel content.  I guess it's my body telling me that it's time to start hunkering down in preparation for winter.

Strangely, the weather has not really been very fall like lately.  On the day of this walk the high temperature was 72°F, just one degree below the record, with a warm southerly breeze.  Three days later, the temperature is in the 40s and it's rainy.  Crazy weather this year.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Camino De Santiago: Getting There

Now that I've nailed down the length of my Camino walk to forty days, I can start making travel arrangements to get there and back.  There are two parts to this: Getting to Europe (Spain or France) and getting around within Spain and France).

Getting to Europe.  I don't like arranging air travel.  There is always too many options and most of these options are expensive.  My first thought was to look at the meager frequent flyer miles I had to see if I could wrangle a cheap ticket out of those.  I looked at my choices and found that flying into Madrid would need less points than Paris.  I figured if I combined my miles with the Wife's miles and then buy a few miles more I might be able to get a cheaper (not a cheap) ticket.  In the middle of doing this I realized that once you added all the point transfer fees, the cost of the extra miles, and all the surprise fees that you encounter in the booking process, it would be more convenient and practically the same cost just to buy a regular ticket ... so that's what I did.

I ended up getting good flights, window seats all the way, no unreasonable layovers, arriving in Madrid early in the morning.  The only downside is I fly through Chicago which I've never flown through without some delay.  Fortunately, Being a day late won't hurt my plans too much.  The tickets weren't the cheapest ... well, I mean they were but of all the things I could buy, these tickets weren't cheap.  When I buy airline tickets I'm alway paranoid that they're selling cheaper tickets to someone else.  I wonder, if I find tickets for the same flight on the same airline, would they refund the difference if I asked politely?  I do live in a dream world at times.

Actually I made these reservations almost a month ago.  Now I have a round trip ticket to Madrid leaving the 11th of May and returning the 28th of June.  This will give me forty days for the Camino walk and nine days for the getting there and back bit.

Getting Around.  Once I arrive in Madrid I will be catching a train to St. Jean Pied de Port, France.  I haven't arranged train tickets yet because it's a little too soon and I would like to talk to the Matron of Honor and Best Man, who are returning from a trip to Spain as I compose this post, and they may be able to give me more information about train travel in Spain.  The snooping around I've done so far suggests I should expect the train trip to last eight to twelve hours.  A second train trip, from Santiago de Campostela to Madrid will have to be arranged once I arrive in Santiago.

Once I arrive at St. Jean Pied de Port, I will check into a hotel and spend a day there getting my body adjusted to European time and spending time visiting the Pilgrims Office.  The Pilgrims Office has the latest information about albergues and maps of the route.

Based on all this guess work, I expect that it will take about three days to get there and get ready.  Assuming two days to get back to Madrid from Santiago de Campostela, that leaves me with four 'extra' days.  These extra days may be needed either during the Camino for days of rest, or at the end when I would like to take a bus ride to Finisterre, a common trip taken after completing the Camino.  It is said to be the western most point of continental Europe, hence the name's translation 'Land's End' (In fact, the western most point is actually in Portugal.)

Next: The Packing List.

Friday, November 05, 2010

It's Back ...

If you haven't noticed, the weather widget is back in the sidebar.  The manufacturer replaced it with a new/refurbished unit and it seems to be working fine.

I'm sorry if Homer's Travels loads slowly because of the widget but the needs of The Wife out weigh the needs of the GeekHiker.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Book: Paolo Bacigalupi's "The Windup Girl"

Paolo Bacigalupi's "The Windup Girl" is a novel that has a new take on a dystopian world in some indistinct future.  The novel takes place in the kingdom of Thailand in a world of rising sea levels.  In a world of big agricultural corporations who control the new world currency of the calorie through bio-terrorism and genetically modified crop diseases, the Thai government struggles to maintain its independence.

The title character, the Windup Girl, is an artificial person created my the Japanese to replace their aging workforce.  The name comes from their stuttering movements that distinguishes them from real people.  Surprisingly, while she is the main pivot point of the plot that results in the capitulation of the Thais, the book really isn't about her.  She is just one of many characters followed by the narrative.  The book is more about corruption, coming from both within and without, that insidiously infiltrates and, in the end, strangles the Thai Kingdom, handing it over to the "calorie men".

While I as intrigued by the dark world Bacigalupi constructs, I found that there really wasn't a story there.  It was more like a snapshot of future history.  I kept waiting for a story to coalesce from the threads of the narrative and, in the end, I was a little confused.

Should I recommend this Nebula Award winning novel?  Well written.  Interesting world.  Colorful characters.  No narrative climax.  Frankly, I don't know.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Hiking Iowa: Five Ridge Prairie State Preserve

While the electorate went to the polls I went to the Five Ridge Prairie state preserve to do some hiking.   The preserve is located north of Sioux City in the northern Loess Hills, a recurring theme to my hiking lately.

Rutted trail.
Five Ridge Prairie is a 800 acre park where tree filled valleys are squeezed in between prairie covered ridges.  The Plymouth County Conservation Board is working to return the park to a pre-European settler state using prescribed burns and careful control of grazing.  When I pulled into the parking area I talked to a couple who were getting ready to do some prescribed burns.  I asked if the park was open and they said it was and that there were some bow hunters already in the park.  This made me a little wary about hiking but they assured me that deer don't usually wear blue jackets like the one I had on.

I entered the park on the main trail.  The road-width trails extend out between marked junctions and trails.  At key points along the trails, metal sign posts either indicate a ridge (R1-R5) or valley (V1-4) along with directional arrows pointing towards the nearest junctions.  These trails are clearly mark on the maps found in a box at the first junction labeled V1.  This actually was a pleasant surprise as these trailhead map boxes are rarely stocked and the maps that can be found have been soaked by rain ... multiple times.  Besides showing the trails, the map also shows mowed fire breaks that run around the border of the preserve and intersects the main trails at several points.

I planned out a route that used both the trails and the fire breaks.  I started by heading for ridge R1.  This trail climbs the first ridge and, eventually, ends at the north fence.  From there I turned west and followed the mowed fire break.  I was doing fine until the fire break ended abruptly at a narrow wash of a seasonal creek (There was some water in it but not much. October was a dry month for us this year).  I found a place to cross by following game trails.  On the other side there was no fire break so I followed the fence up the ridge until I ran into another fire break and I was once again on the right track.

Fall had swept through this area and, with the winds we experienced last week, most of the trees were bare.  From the nearby ridge R4-F you have a sweeping view to the west  (I took a picture which you can see in the blog title banner).  The landscape, being so dry and dead looking, reminded me of some of my California hikes.

I turned south and headed towards ridge trail R5.  This took me past a pair of bow hunting perches.  The trail ends at a fire break that follows the south fence of the preserve.

Prairie Ridge.
Turning east I followed the fire break expecting it to turn north eventually.  The fire break passed a ridge before fading into nothing.  At this point I realized that the fire breaks were not mapped well and that I could not rely of the map.  In hindsight I should have continued following the fence.  Instead I turned north and hiked through the hip deep grass up the ridge.  Near the top I saw a power line.  I had crossed under it when I was on ridge R5.   I decided at this point to turn east and roughly follow the power line expecting it to take me to another fire break that would get me back on track.  Unfortunately the power line led me into forest filled with thorn bushes.  As I weaved through the thorns, thanking myself for wearing long pants, the thorn bushes got thicker and thicker.  I soon was cursing under my breath.  The thorns were short but they still managed to poke through my pants every now and then.  I kept going east until I came out right by the V4 sign post.  I would credit my awesome navigational skills but it was just dumb luck.

I followed the trail to ridge R4-C and turned south-east towards R4-B.  This trail lasted about thirty feet before it disappeared in hip deep grass.  After being lost once I wasn't sure I wanted to get lost again but I persevered.  I hiked through the grass walking as straight a line as I could.  My choice was vindicated when I found the R4-B sign post  which was soon followed by signs for R4-A and V3-B.  After V3-B the trail became much clearer and easier to follow.

Cow Grazing An Idyllic Location.
On the way to the next ridge I ran into a bow hunter.  He was camo head to toe with only his eyes showing.  We exchanged a little small talk and continued on our ways.

After a few more junctions, I was on the way to the car.  In the end the hike totaled 6.31 miles with about 1,522 feet elevation.  Getting out in the fresh air was exactly what I needed.  No politics out there on the prairie and in the Loess Hills.  A map of the hike can be found here.  Pictures can be found here.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Do It! Just Do It!

Tomorrow is election day.  I don't give a hoot who you support or what party you are affiliated with.  All I care about is that you get out and vote.

If you don't vote, you can't complain.

As I've already voted, while all you good citizens are out voting, I will be on a trail in Five Ridge Prairie state preserve avoiding the last minute political punditry.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Suicidal Camel

Sitting next to our computer, on opposite corners of our corner desk, sit two speakers.  On the speakers sit two little plush camels.  One is all brown.  The other white and brown.  They were gifts from a friendly shop keeper in Jordan.

The all brown camel is content to watch me as I compose posts ... or, more likely, play Facebook Scrabble.  The white and brown camel is ... suicidal.   It has made several attempts.  Jumping off the speaker, off the desk, and onto the floor.

WHY!?!?!?


P.S. I know this post is strange. I blame the non-stop political commercials.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

It Irritates Me

I catch it out of the corner of my eye as I type.  It irritates me.  It's the letter 'E'.  Not just any ol' 'E'.  It's the one on my keyboard.  It's less than a year old.  The top horizontal bar of the letter has worn away.   It looks like an 'L' with a ... never mind.  It irritates me.

Damn 'E'

Thursday, October 28, 2010

This And That

The week is drawing down and the weekend is in sight.  I don't think we're doing anything special this weekend but, despite being retired, weekends still feel like ... weekends.

This Week's First Light.
This week started, as all weeks should, with laughter.  Now, if you've been reading Homer's Travels for a while you may know that I'm a fan of This American Life.  You should know this because I mention it ad nauseum.  I've seen a live recording.  I've watched it on a movie screen.  I've rented the DVD.  I listen to the podcasts.  One of the recurring contributors of the show came through Omaha on Monday promoting his new book, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary.  David Sedaris, a humorist and writer of funny stuff gave a great show at the Holland Center.

The Wife and I didn't really know what to expect from Sedaris.  I've never read any of his books.  I'd only heard his voice on the radio.  Based on his voice I always imagined him looking like Neal Sedaka (OK, this really dates me as most of you yung'uns are scratching your head wondering who Neal Sedaka is).  I have to say he looks nothing like Sedaka.  Listening on the radio also did not prepare me for the ... saltiness ... of his material..  This American Life is a pretty clean show so listening to it did not prepare me for how little 'clean' was involved with Sedaris' material.  He was hilarious.  Hearing that language come from the mouth of that man just enhanced the funnitude.  He had both of us laughing out loud.  I would quote some of his material but this is a clean blog.  If he comes through your town, do yourself a favor and go see him.

The only way I could think to follow an evening of funny was to take a long walk.  On Tuesday I walked to Elmwood park, through the new midtown crossing development, and stopped for lunch in the Old Market.  The wind was crazy and there was a late fall - early winter crisp in the air.  Nothing says winter's coming than watching the fallen leaves swirling in the wind.  21.22 miles with a 3,450 feet of ascent (No, not one big hill but an amalgamation of several smaller ones, GH).  This distance happens to be a personal best.  No blisters.  I think I've picked the shoes for my Camino walk.

Today I brought all our outside stuff inside.  Tonight we are expecting our first real freeze of this winter.  I'm kind of looking forward to our first snow (It's not in the forecast ... yet).  I'm sure it won't take long to totally flip that around into me wishing winter was over but, for now, bring on the snow, I'm ready.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Up And Down And ...

For those who have the crazy idea that Omaha is a flat city, I walked a 14.5 mile loop with 3,228 feet total assent on Thursday.  My calves are still feeling it two days after the walk.

One odd happening.  As I was walking I had my GPS in my right hand pants pocket.  Every so often I would check it and I would find that it had lost reception.  Finally after loosing reception a couple times, I switched it to my left pocket.  It never lost reception for the remaining seven or eight miles.  The only thing I can think of is that my keys, also in my right pocket, may have interfered with the GPS signal.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Camino De Santiago: Planning The Stages

I've started planning for my walk on the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James).  The first thing I had to do is nail down the length of the walk.  The length of the walk will determine transportation which will nail down when I will be doing the pilgrimage.

To plan the length and the number of stages (days) that It would take, I used an excellent website: www.godesalco.com.  The site is in Spanish but, if you click on "Planificador" on the left, you will be taken to a wonderful English Camino planner.  This planner will let you plan your stages and produces some incredibly helpful outputs.

The first thing you do is select the path you will be taking.  There are several popular Camino routes and I have chosen to take the most popular one, The French Way.  Once you select your route, you select the start and end of your pilgrimage.  I will be starting from the French town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and ending in Santiago de Campostela in Spain.

After selecting you beginning and end, you choose the individual stages, i.e where you are going to stop for the night.  As you click off the stops, the planner adds up the distance between stops.  The planner also lists what type of lodging (Hotels, Hostels, Albergues, etc) is available at each stop.  This makes it really easy to plan.

Most books I have read suggest that you should walk the Camino in 35 stages.  After playing around with the stages I decided to complete the walk in 40 stages.  This would lower the average distance a bit and make it a little easier.  My total walk will be 481 miles (774 km) and I will be doing, on average, 12 miles (19 km) per day.

Once you have picked your stages, the site generates a list of stages in HTML, PDF, or spreadsheet formats as well as Elevation plots and GPS GPX files.  I have taken the HTML output and the elevation plots and cobbled together a page showing my planned walk along the Camino.  You can access the page by clicking on the Camino de Santiago tab that I've added below the header image above (Or you can click here).

They say the first five days are the toughest.  If you get past the first five to seven days, then you'll have a good chance of making it the rest of the way.  The first stage is the hardest.  It is the longest at 16 miles (26 km).  It also has the largest elevation change, rising 4,120 ft (1,256 m).  This is very similar to the 4,581 ft, 15.1 miles (round trip), Topa Topa ridge hike I did in 2008.  The rate of climb for the Camino stage is 258 ft/mile vs 607 ft/mile for the Topa Topa hike.  I'm not sure the rate of climb is significant.  If it is, then the first stage of the Camino may be easier than my Topa Topa hike ... or not.

If I maintain my usual 3 MPH walking speed, the average day will consist of four hours of walking.  Add in some time to eat and rest and I should arrive at end of each stage in the middle of the afternoon.  This should allow myself time to enjoy the sights along the way.

Next: Getting There.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

100K

One thing I didn't mention in my last post is that during all my hiking/leaf peeping excursions, the ol' Honda Accord rolled passed 100,000 miles.  This is my third car and the first I've managed to get passed the 100K mark.

When we bought the accord and the Wife's civic we assumed that we would replace them at the ten year mark.  Last month was the ten year anniversary and we've decided to drive these cars into the ground before buying a new car.  It just seems to make more sense economically.

I'm curious to see which happens first: the accord dieing or me giving in and buying a plug-in hybrid.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Last Peeping Trip Of The Season

Thursday I took what I believe will be my last leaf peeping trip of the season.  Frankly, I'm tired of all the driving.  This last trip took me back to Indian Cave State Park, one of my favorite local parks.

Indian Cave State Park is located about two hours south.  I would spend more time there if it weren't so far away.  The park has a lot going for it.  Hills.  Forests.  Over twenty miles worth of trails.  A River.  A historic ghost town, St. Deroin.  A couple cemeteries.  Lots of history.  Lots of nature.  It would be a perfect leaf peeping park but this year, the colors are muted.  Last year I was too late.  This year I think I may have been too early.  Can't win them all I guess.

I took quite a few pictures but few really wowed me.  Only two pictures made me look twice.

A little bit of color by the Missouri River

St Deroin Cemetery Gate.
If I had the motivation I would go back down in a week or two to see if more color makes an appearance.  I don't feel any motivation coming.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Odds, Ends, And Updates

Happy 10-10-10 everybody!!!  101010 in binary translates to 42 which happens to be the answer to everything.

Today was also the brother-in-law's birthday which resulted in a trip up to Sioux City for food, drink, and cake (Happy Birthday T!!!).

A year ago today, we were marveling at the inch or more of snow we'd received.  Today the high was 82°F so there was no chance of a repeat.  I'm predicting a rather dry winter this year.  Let's see if I'm right again.

Finally, an update on my itching.  I stopped taking the niacin my doctor had prescribed to raise my good cholesterol (HDL) and the itch slowly went away.  After talking to my doctor on the phone, I'll give it a week or two to calm down and then get back on the niacin to see if my body reacts the same.  If it does then I may have to live with low HDL.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Driving The Loess Hills Scenic Byway - From Akron To Council Bluffs

Loess Hills Scenic Byway.
On Friday I decided to go for a drive.  I wanted to see more fall color so I executed one of my options and drove a large part of the Loess Hills Scenic Byway.  With an excellent map in hand, I set out.

As I drove I listened to NPR.  On one show they were talking about the fall colors in Iowa and suggested that the leaves would not be very impressive this year.  I ended up seeing a lot of color on this drive despite it still being a tad early.

The byway starts up north in Akron, IA which is in north-west Iowa, about two and a half hour drive from where I live.  From Akron you head south.  It seems odd at first as there are no Loess Hills near Akron but as you drive south the small rolling hills start to appear and before you know it you are in the hills.

Along the main byway there are several scenic loops you can take.  I decided to take as many of these alternative routes as possible.  I'm glad I did as these off the highway, gravel country roads often went through the most beautiful and interesting scenery.  These excursion loops take you into the hills, not just along the hills, and you really see what makes the hills special.  As I drove by idyllic farmsteads I wondered what it would have been like growing up surrounded my these hills and forests.  Many of the homes were tucked back in hollows and small valleys surrounded by trees turning all colors of the rainbow it seemed.  If I win the lotto, a cabin in these hills might be on my short list.

Loess Hill Tractor.
One of the loops takes you through Stone State Park.  The park was beautiful this time of year and I will have to add it to my list of places to return to as there are eight miles of hiking trails in this park

Stone State Park.
The road winds through the hills passing through several towns.  The smallest, I sadly don't recall the name, had a population of 11.  This time of year most of the farmers were harvesting and you often passed combines in the fields.  There are also a couple overlooks.  I mentioned one that I went to after hiking Preparation Canyon.  The other is the Murray Hill  Scenic Overlook (The picture of the road in the post is from Murray Hill).

The Loess Hills.
I ended up driving for eight hours.  Near the end I was running low on gas (both the car's and my own).  I stopped along the way to take pictures and to check out interesting stuff along the way.  Pictures can be found here.  I'll have to finish the drive sometime.  I enjoyed the drive so much that it may become an annual event for me.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Book: Richard Holmes' "The Age Of Wonder"

I occasionally forget that I know a lot about science history.  I guess, since I don't use it regularly, I forget that I've read about it.  That is apparently the reason I read Richard Holmes' "The Age of Wonder".  The book chronicles the history of Science during the Romance period.  The book reminded me that science history, at times, can be uninteresting.

The chapters are arranged roughly chronologically and each chapter follows one important figure of romance science.  Sadly this somewhat limits the breadth of the book.  This is especially true as two of the scientist each have two chapters apiece.  Of the ten chapters covering scientists and explorers such as Davy and Herschel (who seem to dominate most of the book), the first chapter on Joseph Banks and the fifth chapter covering Mungo Park peaked my interest the most.  I guess it's telling that both of these chapters concentrated in exploration while most of the other chapters concentrated in the more mundane scientific pursuits of astronomy and chemistry.  Actually the other chapters concentrated less on the scientific pursuits than on the mundane personal lives of astronomers, chemists, and other scientists.

Joseph Banks went along with Captain Cook and explore the south seas and Tahiti.  Mungo Park was one of the African explorers looking for the source of the Niger river.  These chapters reminded me of my last non-fiction book that I enjoyed.  Reading this book, and these chapters especially, reinforced my interest in travelogue genre.  Unfortunately these chapters are too short.

The remainder of the book felt more like a biography of the scientists than a history of science.  Mixed in with the science was poetry, poetry that I started skipping altogether about half way through the book.  I appreciate the art of poetry but I do not find it pleasurable and find that it often makes my head hurt.  The one non-scientific chapter, at least not directly scientific, is the chapter about Mary Shelley and Frankenstein.  Unfortunately this chapter, despite being named "Dr.Frankenstein and the Soul", is predominantly about medical science during the romance period and only cursorily discusses Shelley's masterwork.

Did I learn something from reading this book?  Certainly.  That doesn't mean I enjoyed it though.  I wish it had covered more of this vibrant time for science.  By limiting it to a handful of British scientist and only barely touching on continental European scientists, it came up short in my opinion.  This is probably why it took me a month and a half to read 469 pages.

I cannot recommend this book despite the fact that it had pictures.

Monday, October 04, 2010

That Unscratchable Itch

I've got an itch.  No really.  I itch ... all over.  It started Saturday with a itchy feeling all over.  Some places itched more than others.  My ankles ... especially my right ankle.  My wrists.  My knuckles.  Yes, my knuckles.  Weird.

On Sunday the itch was still there but now ... my right eye itched and teared up constantly.  Just my right eye.  Bloodshot.  I dug through our medicine drawer and came up with some Visine.  It had expired ... seven years ago.  Yes, when we moved from California to Nebraska, we'd moved a bottle of Visine that was five years past its expiration date.  I tossed the Visine and took one of my allergy pills instead.  It helped a little bit.

Today, Monday, the itch is still there despite the allergy medicine but the eye is better ... somewhat.  Still red, not as watery.

Something had to be done so I called ... my oral surgeon.  Yeah, you read that right.  My oral surgeon.  See, last Thursday before this all began, I went to the oral surgeon to have a biopsy done on a lesion on the bottom of my tongue.  I now have two stitches on my tongue.  Not as bad as it sounds.  I even went out to eat the same night as the biopsy.  All I needed was one ibuprofen.  I called the oral surgeon because I thought he might know of some reaction to the local anesthetic.  It was a long shot, and still is, but I got no answer as he wasn't available until Wednesday.

I then called my general practitioner.  He put me on Vitamin D and prescription Niacin after my last blood test.  I don't think either of these things is causing me to itch as I've been on them for almost three weeks and I would think I would have reacted a lot sooner.  He's not available ... until Friday.  *sigh*

Next came the call to the allergist.  Next Monday.  Are you serious!?!

So I suffer.  I may call my G.P. again and see if I can talk to another doctor in the office.  Or it can go away by itself.  Yeah, by itself.  That would be great.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Hiking Nebraska: Ponca State Park

This week I made it back to Ponca State Park in north-east Nebraska.  Unlike my first attempt, the weather was perfect for a hike through the forested loess hills.

My plan was to hike three loops connecting the Old Oak Trail (1.9 miles), Bloodroot Trail (1.6 miles), and the Corps of Discovery Trail (1.4 miles) to make a respectable 4.9 mile trail.  As usual, things didn't quite work that way.  Thanks to my bad map to trail correlation skills I managed to shorten it by over a mile.

I parked near the top of the the loess hills that dominate a large part of the park at one of the several trailheads for the Old Oak Trail.  This particular trailhead was the closest to the old oak tree that lends its name to the trail.  The tree is estimated to be 366 years old.  A sign describes the tree.

The tree marked my first junction and I decided to go right.  This turned out to be a wrong decision.  It wasn't a terrible decision but it would result in me missing most of the old oak trail.

I walked along the narrow packed dirt trail admiring the sunlight filtering through the leaves.  Last month most of the leaves were green.  This time the there was a yellow/golden tinge of fall colors.  Smaller trees sported bright red foliage.

The trail came out on a road, something I didn't expect, and I realized my error.  I decided to just go with it, crossed the road, and followed the trail until it connected to the bloodroot trail.

The Bloodroot Trail is named after a plant that grows in the area.  I followed the trail up and down the hills.  It was very relaxing and yet tiring as a hike should be.  I reached another junction and took a connector trail up to the camping area of the park.  Following a road I made my way to another short connector trail that took me to the Corps of Discovery Trail.

Fall Foliage along the trail.
The Corps of discovery trail is named for the Civilian Conservation Corp who cut the trail and built some of the facilities.  This trail is described as moderate to difficult and I would agree that it has some of the more difficult grades of the three trails I have hiked in the park.  The connector joins the trail at it's highest point.  From here you have views of the Missouri River.  This section of the river is part of the Missouri National Recreational River.  This part of the river is wilder and much wider than the one near Omaha.  It's how I imagine the Missouri River should look like.

Fall Colors and the Wild Missouri River.
After taking in the sights from the top I followed the trail down the hill.  Sections of the trail hugged the hillside and had a fairly sharp drop off along one side.  You could see the river through the trees most of the way down.  The trail eventually came out in a camping area along the river bank.  I walked along the road until I hit the main trailhead and took it back up to the top.  This part of the trail climbed very sharply up the hill climbing 210 feet in under a half mile - the most strenuous of the trail..

From there I hiked back to the road and followed it down to another trailhead for the old oak trail.  I followed this trail back up to the car.  When I arrived I'd hiked 3.48 miles with 893 feet of elevation.  Another short but satisfying trail.  A map of my hike can be found here (The section in red is where the GPS lost track in a deep ravine) and some pictures I took in Ponca State park can be found here.

"Towers of Time" - A sculpture at the park entrance.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Technical Difficulty

Some of you may have noticed that my weather gadget hasn't been working.  It appears that the network interface of my weather station has taken a dump.  I have sent an e-mail to the maker to see how much it will cost to repair.  A new one would cost $240+ so replacing it isn't an option.

Sorry for any inconvenience this may cause.  I know it's the Wife's only link with the outside world when she's at school (her room has no windows).  She was a little distraught when she found out I couldn't fix it.

Until it's fixed, I am removing the gadget.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Return To The Wife's Alma Mater

This weekend we went to Notre Dame for the Stanford-ND football game.  We left Omaha on Thursday night, spent the night at the in-law's house, and drove into South Bend, IN on Friday.  The drive was long and uneventful but I did snag an awesome, vintage looking, I ♥ Bacon t-shirt at a restaurant near Walcott, IA.

Notre Dame - Basilica, War Memorial, and Golden Dome.
Friday evening we went to the pep rally before heading to our hotel.  After the long day in the car eating crap, we thought we'd go down to the hotel bar to get a snack before we went to bed.  We sat, ordered some food and drink.  While we waited for our orders, the music was turned off and some guy stood up and welcomed everyone to a meeting of his Libertarian group and thanked the local Tea Party Patriot group for joining them this evening.  The Wife and I rolled our eyes and wondered what we'd gotten ourselves into.  At one point we scootched our chairs around so our backs were to them.  I wanted to say soooo much but I knew they were all packing heat so I kept my mouth shut and tried not to attract any attention.  I didn't even finish what I ordered - lost my appetite.

Golden Dome ... Illuminated.
Saturday was game day.  We walked around campus taking pictures.  (I added the pictures to my Notre Dame album and can be found here.)  As we entered campus I noticed the cheering squad leaving a building.  With them was the Leprechaun.  I asked the wife if she wanted her picture taken with him and he was nice enough to oblige.  Made the Wife smile.  (The picture has circulated around the family for a few days now.)  We waited by the basilica to greet the players as they entered.  The Wife got a hug from one of her former students, one of Notre Dame's tailbacks.  Made her smile again.

The custom is to follow the band into the stadium.  This time the Alumni Band led us in.  The oldest was 91!  Not sure what he/she played but I bet it wasn't the tuba.  They played pretty good and they joined the regular band on the field during half-time - 1,000 members strong.

The game was ... disappointing but the weather held out and we stayed dry but chilled.  We left the game early and got a good pew in the basilica for Mass.  We went back to the hotel ... and stayed away from the bar and the wackos.

It was a good weekend getaway despite the loss.  I ate entirely too much junk food and I'm sure my arteries were screaming by the time I got home.  I'm trying to get back to eating healthy.  My arteries will thank me once they get out of their coma.