Homer's Travels: October 2010

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.


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


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.