Homer's Travels: April 2010

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Hiking Iowa: Wabash Trace Nature Trail - Imogene To Shenandoah

On Tuesday I completed one more segment of the Wabash Trace Nature Trail. This segment, from Imogene to Shenandoah, was the longest one that I've done. At 8.7 miles one way, plus another 1.42 miles in the town of Shenandoah, I turned this hike into my personal best of 20.24 miles.

The hike takes you through wooded areas and across several bridges. I'd mentioned in some of my previous posts that I thought part of the trail would look like a tunnel once the trees had leafed out.  It turns out I was right.  The sun was out for the first time in a while and the shade from the trees kept me from sweating too much.

Since I knew this hike would be over twenty miles I instituted a 30 minutes on - 5 minutes off walking schedule.  I would walk for thirty minutes before sitting down, usually on a log as there were no benches, and rest for five minutes.  I'd used this method with some success during my 1995 vacation.  While it felt nice to get off my feet, it really didn't do much for my feet and legs.  As soon as I started walking again I felt the soreness and weakness return.  Maybe I need more than five minutes rest per stop.  Or maybe I need to shave fifteen years off my age.

When you enter Shenandoah, after crossing the second large river on the trace - the East Nishnabotna River, you pass a mural depicting the Wabash Trace along with a few facts about the trail.  I knew there were a lot of bridges but I didn't realize there were 73!

After arriving to the town I walked along a train track to Subway to stop for some lunch and rest.  I walked in with my backpack, camera bag, walking stick, and tilley hat and nobody even batted an eye.  Not even a "Walking the Wabash, huh?"

I searched for a couple geocaches along the way but only found one ("The Lutt Family Cache").  It was not far from the Walnut Creek Bridge.  I would have called it Walnut River as it seemed a little large for a creek.

I made it back to Imogene in just under eight hours (that includes the rest stops, geocache hunting, and lunch).  I managed to average 3.4 MPH while I was moving.  I am always surprised when I get back to the car and look at my average speed.  I'm always expecting it to drop on the longer hikes but it hasn't yet.  Maybe if I slowed down my feet and legs wouldn't ache so much but if I did slow down it wouldn't feel right - I've always had a fast walking pace.

I added some pictures to my 2009-2013 Wabash Trace Nature Trail Hike Google Photos album.

Only two more segments to go before I finish the whole thing.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Question For The Hikers: Hydration

Okay people, I have another question.  How do you carry your water?  I know it's a simple question and I can guess what at least one of you will answer, but I'm having an issue and I hope you can offer a solution.

  1. Bottles.  Two one liter bottles would fit in the bottle holders on my backpack nicely.  Bottles have the advantage that you know how much water you have left.  Bottles are a little heavier than bladder-type reservoir (Miss McCracken ... behave yourself) but the difference is minimal (5 ounces or less).
  2. Water Bladder Reservoir.  My backpack has a pocket for holding a water reservoir along with an exit port for the drinking tube.  The reservoir is lighter but there is no easy way to check to see how much water you have left.  You can buy inline water meters but I'm not sure how well they work and that seems a little geeky.
My personal preference so far has been the water reservoir.  I've used it for the last three hikes.  I am having a problem though.  When I get back from my hikes, on the inside of my backpack near the bottom, there is moisture.  For now I'm only carrying weights so there isn't a problem but If I were carrying clothes, they would be soaked.  Yes, it's that wet.

At first I thought I had a leaky bladder that the reservoir was leaking.  After the first hike I filled the reservoir and left it on the kitchen counter over night.  It did not leak but the bottom of my pack was wet after the second hike.  Next I filled the reservoir and left it hanging in the vertical position similar to when it is in the backpack.  Again, no leak.

I am now convinced that my issue is condensation even though the water is at ambient temperature and it hasn't really been humid on my hikes so far this year.  There was no evidence of condensation when the reservoirs were on the counter or hanging.  Not sure what I should do.  Maybe a pack liner?  A plastic bag around the reservoir?  Would either of these things help?

So, what do you think?  Bottles or reservoir?  What should I do about the the moisture in the pack?  I'm stumped.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Book: Richard Morgan's "The Steel Remains"

I've reviewed a few books on Homer's Travels and, generally, I've been able to recommend them all ... some more than others, of course, but they were all readable.  I'm finding it hard to recommend my latest read.

I read Richard Morgan's "The Steel Remains" because of three of the author's other books that I've read.  The Takeshi Novacs books were gritty, post-singularity, noir, science fiction with punch.  These books were violent and often quite graphic.  They also felt fresh and interesting as Morgan pushed the boundaries.  In "The Steel Remains" he jumps to another genre and pushes the boundaries once more ... this time too far.

"The Steel Remains" is a fantasy book.  Fantasy as in swords and sorcery, elves and dragons, quests and adventures.  Morgan, unfortunately, thinks that the fantasy genre also means sex.  Here I have to say I am uncomfortable.  The main character of the book is gay.  This is not a problem as long as sex is not the primary mover of the story.  Making the main character gay simply gives him a different back story than most fantasy novels.  A good story can overcome many excesses.  I can ignore the explicit gay sex as long as it does not interfere with the progress of the story.  Then came chapter 23.

In a prior chapter our hero, better described as an anti-hero, battles an evil being called a dwenda.  At the end the dwenda hovers over the hero preparing to take the mortal blow.  Then came chapter 23.  The dwenda transports our hero to an alternate dimension and, essentially, falls in love with our hero and proceeds to make love to him.  Gee, the dwenda is gay too.  It reads like a bad porno plot.  Man battles monster, monster defeats man, man is spared when monster falls in lust, man and monster screw each other.  It reads like some bad pool boy scene.  Chapter 23 killed the book for me.

The rest of the book gathers the heroes together (All fantasy books have a band of do-gooders who come together to fight evil) so they can stop the dwenda invasion - a battle that lasts a chapter or two.  A battle that is so anti-climactic I almost missed it.

In my lifetime I have failed to finish some three or four books.  I came close to not finishing this one.

If you have to read Morgan, read his Takeshi Kovacs books (I reviewed one here).  If you want good fantasy read early David Eddings (The Belgariad) or Patrick Rothfuss' "The Name Of The Wind".  Whatever you do, avoid "The Steel Remains".

Friday, April 23, 2010

Hiking Iowa: Wabash Trace Nature Trail - Strahan To Imogene

On this year's Earth Day I celebrated on another segment of the Wabash Trace Nature Trail.  Like last week I hiked with a backpack.  This time I carried my new camera, lens, and bag (4.4 lb vs 1.9 lb of my old camera).  I also added five pounds of weight in the bag (I used weights from my adjustable ankle weights).  My load was about about 17.4 lbs total which is about what I was hoping to carry on my Spain pilgrimage.

I started in the town of Imogene, a small town of 66 described as 'Historic' by my Garmin GPS.  It turns out the town is rather substantial for a small town.  They only have a couple businesses including the obligatory bar-lounge and a fairly large catholic church.  The town appears to have an Irish heritage as there were shamrocks all over the place and the bar was named the Emerald Isle.

I put on my backpack and, initially, was concerned how heavy it felt (I can be a wimp at times) but after starting to walk the sensation of weight faded away and didn't bother me at all.

I was amazed how everything had greened up since last week.  Spring is arriving at full speed.  I took pictures along the walk with my new camera and really liked how it felt.  Unfortunately the Wabash Trace looks fairly identical from beginning to end - at least on the segments I've completed so far.  I've found I have been taking pictures that I've already taken before.  Photographically I feel I've been in a slump lately and the rather monotonous but beautiful spring scenery along the trace has not been that inspiring.  After reading GeekHiker's post about wildflowers, I was reminded about hiking trails lined with poppies in California.  Here in Nebraska it's more likely that the trails are lined with dandelions. 

There was one bright spot on this hike, lots of wildlife including a couple firsts.  Most of the wildlife was trying, and succeeding, in scaring the bejeezus out of me as they jumped out of the underbrush or trees.  Lots of birds including wild turkey, pheasant, red wing blackbirds, and a first for me, an owl.  I didn't get a picture as I was a little startled when the thing flew past me.  I saw a few deer and, another first, a coyote on the trail.  I've heard coyote before and I saw one from the car in Yellowstone back in '95 but this was my first on a trail I was hiking.  While I got his picture he didn't bother to pose so it's a little blurry.

At my turn around spot, the town of Straham, I decided to see if there was anything along the main road.  Last week I stayed on the trace and didn't actually enter the town.  I didn't really miss much.  There is a small United Methodist church and a closed business that may have been a mechanics shop way back when.  I stopped at the church and sat down on a short block wall (The church was too small to have steps to sit on).  I rested there for a bit and admired the gravestone-like markers showing the location of two time capsules buried in 1984 to mark the centennial of the town (or possibly of the church).  One capsule is to be opened in 50 years, the other in 100 years.

I started on the way back and I watched for two things I'd missed on the way out.  The first is the town of Solomon.  Solomon is similar to last week's White Cloud - there ain't anything there.  The only thing marking the location was an overpass where the road went over the trace.  The second thing was a geocache ("Wabash Geocache #1") which I found about a mile north of Imogene.

I got back to the car and dumped my gear in the trunk.  I drove up the hill and took a couple pictures of Saint Patrick's Catholic Church before heading home.  My hike was 13.8 miles.  Pictures taken with my new camera have been added to my 2009-2013 Wabash Trace Nature Trail Hike Google Photos album.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Question For The Hikers: Rain Gear

I have a question for the hikers, however few there are, who read Homer's Travels.  When hiking a long trail with a backpack, what do you carry for rain protection?  I know you have an opinion GeekHiker since you like hiking in the rain.

I've thought about this a bit and I see about three options:
  1. Jacket for the hiker and pack cover for the backpack.  The advantage to this method would be, when I'm at my destination (an hostel or hotel as I'm not a camper), I can leave my pack in the room and go out in comfort with a jacket.  The disadvantage, as far as I can tell, there is nothing stopping the rain from going between the hiker and the pack which, I would think, would soak the pack.
  2. Backpack Poncho (also known as poncho with extensions).  This is a poncho that covers both the hiker and the backpack.  This would seem to provide more coverage.  When not wearing the pack the extra poncho material can be snapped to make a regular poncho.  The only problem is, would a poncho work when out and about the town?
  3. An umbrella.  This doesn't seem like a realistic option to me but apparently some people use them while hiking.  They attach the umbrella to their pack or, sometimes, one of their pack's strap so it can be used hands free.  I would think this would be a heavy option not suitable for long hikes.
So, what do you think?  Is there another option I didn't think of?  I think I'm leaning towards the poncho option but I'd like to hear some opinions before I pull the trigger.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Hiking Iowa: Wabash Trace Nature Trail - Malvern To Strahan

On Friday I returned to the Wabash Trace Nature Trail and walked between Malvern, IA and Strahan, IA.  I picked Strahan as a turnaround point as it was about half way between Malvern and Imogene, the usual endpoint of this segment of the trace.  The segment to too long for me to hike so I cut it in two.

In preparation for my Spain pilgrimage next year, and the Steamboat and Cowboy Trails this year, I decided to hike with a backpack.  Now, this is a first for me.  I've always been a day hiker and I've never needed anything more than a large fanny pack or small day pack.  For these longer hikes I'll have to carry changes of clothes and stuff so a larger backpack will be required.  The Wife bought me one a few Christmases ago and I finally managed to use it.  I started easy with, essentially, an empty backpack.  I carried my camera (and bag), GPS, and a two liter water bladder (full of water ... of course).  All told, the pack weighed about 9.6 lbs.  I think I may have actually hiked with more before.  I carried a smaller day pack with a three liter water bladder, camera, and GPS back on my Jalama beach hike.  I remember my back aching on that hike but on this hike, with a proper backpack that carries most of the weight on you hips, my back felt fine.

I started walking the Wabash Trace back in November.  Until Friday, I'd never seen the trail with leaves on the trees.  While only about half of the trees have leafed out, the added green really improved the scenery on this hike.  Adding to the green was the color and the fragrance of blooming trees and flowers.  I'm not sure what type of trees they are (I suspect they are dogwood) but they have just a hint of fragrance that carries on the wind.

The trail alternates between low wooded hills and flat farmland.  I passed several farmsteads along this section of the Trace.  The trace crosses several screams (oops ... silly type-o) streams, creeks, washes, and drainage ditches along its route.  There are few I would call a river.  On this section of the trace, you do cross a rather impressive river spanned by an impressive bridge.  The river is the West Nishnabotna River (Native American for Canoe-Making River).  There is something about bridges that fascinate me.

My first milestone which I approached after crossing the river was the town of White Cloud.  When I looked it up on my GPS the town was labeled "historical".  Historical is Garmin GPS lingo for "there ain't no town here anymore."  Sure enough, when I arrived to the coordinates of the town I found myself on a dirt road, near a creek, surrounded by empty farm fields.  Not even a marker.  It looks like White Cloud didn't survive the shutdown of the railroad.

I continued on to my turnaround point, another historical town called Strahan.  Strahan is still around.  There are four or five farm houses and associated barns, sheds, and equipment buildings.  The town is also home of the Strahan United Methodist Church but that's about it.

At this point I turned around and headed back where I'd come from.  The wind picked up and it turned a little burly on the way back.  The total hike was 13.9 miles.  The backpack felt fine as did my back.  I think I tend to lean forward as I walk which stresses my back on long hikes.  Maybe the weight of a backpack will help straighten my posture.  Pictures of this section have been added to my 2009-2013 Wabash Trace Nature Trail Hike Google Photos album.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Converting Prize To Toy In One Quick Step

"Last week, after returning from our most excellent Easter visit, I went to a nearby shopping center to dispose of a few gift cards.  Two of the gift cards were the prize money from the Nebraska Geopicting contest and the other was a card given to us by our neighbor for blowing their snow all winter.

Now I need to clarify something.  After I won the contest they asked me if, instead of sending me a laptop, I would mind getting gift cards from either Dell or Best Buy instead.  I said sure, Best Buy would be fine, and, at their request, I promised to buy a laptop with the $1,000 worth of gift cards.  After thinking it over for a few months I decided to buy a very specialized form of laptop.  Specifically it is optimized for capturing and processing images and it's small enough to fit on my lap.  I bought this:

A Canon EOS Rebel T1i DSLR.  I know it isn't exactly what they had in mind but it seems an appropriate prize for a photography contest.

My first grown-up camera.  While I've had it for a week now, I really haven't played around too much with it. The main reason is that it didn't come with a data card so I ordered one and had to wait for it to arrive.  I did have a 32 MB card lying around but it only could hold two to three pictures before filling up and I couldn't even take one picture in RAW mode.  I now have a 32 GB card that will allow me to take over 1,300 pictures in RAW so I'm set.  Today I received a second battery pack (It uses a rechargeable battery pack - I would have preferred AAs but whatcha going to do).  Now the only thing stopping me from taking it out of the house is the lack of a camera bag.

That brings up a problem that I'll have to get over.  The camera and the telephoto lens together cost $1,177 (including tax).  While I only paid $127 out of pocket (89% off!!!), I'm still a little afraid to take it out into the real world.  Add the card ($59.99) and the extra battery ($16) and it starts being real money.  Once I've got a case I'll feel more comfortable and I'm sure it will start going on hikes with me.

As I've already suggested, I will be taking my pictures in RAW.  The instructor for the photography class I took last year really pushed the use of RAW vs JPG.  RAW makes it harder to share pictures when you are on a strange computer without the necessary software to convert stuff to JPG but it does mean you have much more power to manipulate the pictures you take.  JPGs always lose a little in the compression.  Having said this, the software I use the most, Picasa and GeoSetter, along with the software that came with the camera, all handle RAW just fine.

I still have a whole lot to learn to really get the use out of it.  For one, I'll have to get used to switching lenses.  But I think I'll enjoy it once I've got the hang of it.  Here's my first picture using the new camera and card:

One more thing.  A few quotes from the letter that came with the 32 GB card.
"For All Our Memory Cards We Using The Drop Ship Option..."
"Please If For Some Reason You Unhappy With Your Item ..." 
"If You Wise To Make Money On Ebay And Amazon And Sale Our Products ... Its Guaranty You Will Make More Then $500 ..."
She seems to have problems with her 'ares'.  Attached to her letter are two business cards.  One is for an Electronic Product wholesaler.  The other is for a free hair styling and hair straightener trial.  Odd business combination you have there, Jessica.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Book: Nick Harkaway's "The Gone-Away World"

I often say that I like the weird and unusual.  Nick Harkaway's "The Gone-Away World" fits the bill nicely.

The book tells the story of a future war and it's aftermath.  A new weapon that makes thing 'go away' is used and the world is torn asunder and the lives of our protagonist are turned upside done ... or perhaps it's inside out.  The story is told by an unusual character, one I cannot elaborate about without ruining the experience for a potential reader.  As I read the book and learned more about the narrator I suspected something was up.  Something didn't feel right.

About two thirds through the book the secret is revealed and then the book, already wandering around the odd side of life, transcends into the surrealistic.  What do I mean by this?  One word: Ninjas.  Freakin' Ninjas.

The book is a fascinating, unconventional romp that dares to take a hard left turn way too early.  The last third or so is too long and mind blowing.  Moving the great revelation later in the book might have helped but it might not have worked either.

I struggled with my feeling when I put this review together.  Did I like it or not? [I did.]  Did the revelation come too early? [Probably ... probably not.]   Did Harkaway go too far?  [What is too far?  More questions]  In the end I would have to say that I liked it and would recommend it for anyone with an off beat sense of reality.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Summer Concerts Nirvana

Every summer, Omaha hosts a free concert in Memorial Park.  I've attended the ones in 2008 and 2009 and had a good time.  The concerts are around the fourth of July which often means hot, muggy, and buggy, but this only lasts until the sun drops low.

This year the concert is scheduled for the 2nd of July.  Last week they announced who was coming this year: Kansas, Styx, and Foreigner.  All I have to say is that Kansas got me through the last few years of high school and my freshman year of college and Styx and Foreigner both assisted.  I nearly wore out the Kansas cassette I recorded of my LPs (records for you young'uns). I wouldn't miss it for the world and I think I may even be able to get the Wife to join me this year.  She wasn't too keen on the heat, humidity, and mosquitoes.  I don't blame her as the mosquitoes seem to like her more than they like me.  This year the selection of bands might do the trick.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Easter In Minnesota

I'm a little slow in posting.  I've felt slow since we returned from a family gathering in Minneapolis with the Best Man (BM) and Matron of Honor (MoH).  Frankly I think it was all the jelly beans that I inhaled on Saturday and Sunday.  Now that I've come out of my sugar coma, it's time to throw a post together.

We drove up Friday for a needed getaway.  Things are churning here at the Homer-Dog household and a visit with the MoH and BM always injects some sanity back into our lives, this weekend was no different.  Friday was spent with comfort food (grilled cheese and soup) and our usual (we should patent it) friendly, even when heated, discussions on all the topics of the day including the family.  We went to bed relatively early, 1:00 AM, early for our usual discussion sessions that is.

Saturday was jam packed with cool stuff.  We piled into the car and drove around Minnesota and Wisconsin.  Our first stops were some antique stores in the towns of Chisago and Center City.  The Wife found a couple items and I, who usually leaves antique stores empty handed, came away with a framed copy of a Minnesota & Saint Louis Railroad Oil Viscosity - Dilution Chart.  It appears hand drawn on blueprint material (white lines on a blue background) and has been exposed to water or oil sometime in its history.  Very cool in an antique geek way.

Our next stop was the Franconia Sculpture Park.  I was in one of my wandering moods and as soon as we got out of the car I wandered off in the opposite direction as the others.  Not exactly sure why I did as I'm sure I missed some interesting banter.  Anyway, I meandered around taking pictures of the cool sculptures and mostly wondering what the heck the sculptor was thinking.  Pictures of the sculptures are here.

We then moved on to Osceola, WI for more antiquing and a visit to the Cascade Falls.  The falls were at the bottom of a long staircase.  Due to a brain fart of epic proportions I left the camera in the car so I didn't take any pictures.  It's times like this that I wonder about my judgment.

Our last stop of the day was the town of Redwing, MN.  We stopped for lunch at the Stagheed restaurant (it's actually the Staghead restaurant but the BM's handwriting was a little sketchy).  The food was very good.  I had this chicken-penne-marinara-baked concoction that was really good.  On the way out of town we stopped at the famous Redwing Crock factory so the Wife could buy a crock.

Sunday was spent celebrating Easter with Mass, a great Easter Dinner, and the first annual Peep Jousting tournament.  I won two matches before loosing after two draws - frankly I think I was robbed.

The weekend hit the spot and really recharged our batteries.  I always feel so comfortable at their place.  The only bad thing was self-induced: I ate way, way too much sugar.  What is it about driving and eating crap?  No self control.

Can't wait til we get together again.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Hiking Iowa: Wabash Trace Nature Trail - Mineola to Dumfries

A Map!  I finally put together a map of the Wabash Trace Nature Trail.  The Blue parts are sections I have completed, the red I have not completed, and the green is the section I completed today.  Only five more doable sections to go.

Last February I'd tried to hike between Council Bluffs to Mineola.  I was less than successful due to snow and possibly the onset of a cold/flu.  Today I decided to complete that section starting in Mineola and hiking back to the, now extinct but always historical, town of Dumfries.

I stayed on the main path going north-west. The day was pleasant if not a little windy.  I stopped at a small cemetery and looked at the stones.  Many of them were in German and dated back to the late 1800s and early 1900s.  These families had a rough time as many of the stones marked the graves of children.

I reached my turnaround point, an historical marker giving the history of Dumfries, and sat down to eat a snack bar and rest.

On the way back I decided to change things up a little bit and follow what I think was the remnants of a horse trail that parallels the main trail. Horses were once permitted between Council Bluffs and Mineola but the signs along the trail seems to indicate that it's no longer allowed.   This side trail is narrow and feels more like a real hiking path in contrast to the wide country road feel of the actual trace.  It was easy to follow and I suspect that it's kept active by the wildlife of the area - Deer and coyotes mostly.  I also saw that sign of the changing seasons, the snake.

I liked this side trail.  You could still see the main trail but it felt more distant as this side trail went through trees, passed old telephone/telegraph poles,  and along the fence lines of farms.  If I hadn't taken it I would have missed the rotting raccoon carcass, only the head and skeleton remained, and the tattered "Pink Love" panties hanging from a tree.  Don't ask, I have no idea either.  I also didn't take any pictures of either of these things, sorry.

The few pictures I did take I added to my 2009-2013 Wabash Trace Nature Trail Hike Google Photos album.

It ended up being a very nice hike.  My blisters didn't bother me.  I'd kept it short, 7.88 miles, just in case.  The weather was very summer-like with highs getting up into the 80s later in the day. While the lack of pain and the weather were great and all, the most uplifting thing of this hike was this:

Spring is here.