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

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.