Homer's Travels: January 2011

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Camino De Santiago: The Packing List

I've been thinking about the packing list for my Camino walk for ... probably since 2007 when I first heard of the Camino.  As a matter of fact I think I started a list in Google Docs before I retired.  I've added and subtracted from it over the years since then.  The current draft, and that's what it is, a draft, is available here.  You can also reach it by the Camino de Santiago tab at the top of Homer's travels.

When I first put the list together it was much longer.  I put together a list of everything that I might find useful on a long walk like the Camino.  After I'd made the list I went through and marked each item as either Mandatory or Optional.  I ruminated on these classifications for a while taking into account things I'd read about the Camino experience.  One thing you hear about is the shedding of stuff as people go along the trail.  I even heard of people ripping the pages out of books as they read them so that they could lighten their load.  Being a person who doesn't like to throw away his stuff, or destroy books, I have to pare the list as best I can before I fly to Spain.

So, let's go over the basics of the current list:
  • Clothes.  I'll be carrying a minimum of clothes.  Two pairs of pants, three shirts (or two shirts and a base layer), three pairs of socks, and three pairs of underwear.  I will be doing laundry along the way.  Possibly every night.  Very likely by hand.  The shirts and pants I'm taking are quick drying.  One short cut I have heard about is simple walking in the shower with you dirty clothes on and washing them as you shower.  
    • I'll be wearing the same pants I took to Jordan - cargo pants with zip off legs.  This way, if it's warm I have shorts.  I'm still a little up in the air about the shirts.  I'll be taking long sleeve shirts like I wore in Jordan.  The shirts I have have lots of pockets and are vented so you don't overheat. One issue is just how cool it will be.  I have heard that it can be quite chilly, especially in the morning, so I am thinking about substituting a base layer for one of the shirts.  The base layer can be worn by itself or under another shirt giving me a few options.
    • I'll be taking three brand new pairs of OmniWool Merino Wool socks.  OmniWool is similar to SmartWool but is slightly cheaper and has a slightly higher wool content.  They are thick, durable, moisture wicking, warm, and wear well.  I've worn them for over two years now and I like them very much.
    • A light rain/wind breaker jacket will add one more layer of protection against cold and rain.
    • My Tilley hat ... naturally.
  • Shoes.  Possibly the most important piece of equipment for walking the Camino are your shoes.  I'm currently walking in New Balance MW977 shoes.  These shoes are amazing.  Lighter than you typical boot.  Waterproof.  They hug your feet and my orthotics fit them snuggly and comfortably.   I've walked a lot in these shoes and have yet to get a blister.  I am considering buying a new pair a month or so before the Camino (a month before to give me time to break them in, of course).  Unfortunately I can't find the 977s on the New Balance website but they appear to have been replaced with the MW978.  If I just wear my current shoes, I would be worried that they may wear out before I make it to Santiago de Campostela and shoes are just too important for this adventure.
    • I'll also have a pair of flip flops/shower shoes to wear in the shower, of course, and at the end of the day when my feet need to air out a bit.  This particular pair are actually described as post-exercise shoes with added arch support that my feet seem to like.
  • Back Pack.  My Go-Lite Lite-Speed pack is compact and light.  I wore it on my steamboat trace hike and found that the weight rested comfortably on my hips as a pack should.  It has a pocket for a water bladder.  It's small at 49.13 liters (3,000in3) but large enough for what I'll be carrying.  I expect rain so I have a pack cover.
  • Hydration.  I thought about this one for a while.  I even asked about it in a post.  I decided to go with a two liter bladder.  I don't like the fact there isn't an easy way to tell how much water you have left but experience has shown me that two liters is enough for the 12 mile hike, the length of the average Camino stage.  I will supplement the bladder with water bottles purchased/filled along the way.  Not knowing the quality of the water along the way, I will probably also pack water purification tablets.
  • Gadgets and gadget food.  I'm taking two gadgets that, as a geek, I do not consider to be optional.
    • I can not go to Spain without a camera.  To keep the size down I will be taking my old Canon Powershot S5 is.  It's still a great camera and the camera plus the bag is less than half the weight of my new T1i.  I will take two 16 GByte memory cards which should give me some 8,000+ pictures or about 200 a day.  I hope that will be enough.  The camera also runs on standard AA batteries which is a plus in my book.
    • I will be carrying my GPS with a chip loaded with Spanish maps.  The site that helped me generate my stages also provides a GPS GPX file, loaded with the trail, albergues, and points of interest, that will be loaded in the GPS as well.  The GPS will allow me to geotag my pictures when I get back and will allow me to record all the distance traveled, average speed, and elevation numbers that makes the number geek in me happy.
    • I will be carrying 22 pieces of gadget food (i.e. Batteries).  I'l be carrying Lithium batteries as they are lighter and have a longer runtime in my GPS and camera.  I have considered just buying batteries along the way but I am not sure how common lithium batteries will be and I don't really want to deal with the much shorter run time of regular alkaline batteries.  The number is based on the distance (481 miles), my average speed (3 MPH), and the maximum runtime of my GPS (23 hours on a set of two lithium batteries).   So fourteen batteries will be needed for the GPS and another eight to cover the camera.  The one good thing is the weight of the batteries will decline as I shed the spent batteries along the way.
  • Journal and pen.  I expect to find internet access along the way at internet cafes and similar places but I have no desire to post during my walk (except for the occasional e-mail to the Wife and maybe a Facebook status update if I feel like it).  My plan is to keep notes about what I experience, how far I walk, the people I meet, the sights I see along the way in a notebook.  I'm looking at buying one of these Rite in the Rain Spiral Notebook.  I just need to decide on a size and page count.
  • Multitool.  I'll be taking a Leatherman Skeletool with me.  I kind of hemmed and hawed about this for a while.  It never hurts to have a knife, with tools attached, along ... except if you want to carry your bag on the airplane.  I'm not convinced that my backpack could be acceptable as carry-on (it's a little bigger than the size limits).  Wanting a knife in that bag makes the carry-on vs check it decision a little easier.  Of course, if there's a time that lost luggage would be disastrous, this would be it.
  • Miscellaneous Necessities. This covers a lot of stuff.
    • A headlamp for those days that I start out before sunrise ... or arrive after sunset.
    • A small first aid kit augmented with extra ibuprofen/acetaminophen, moleskin, and band aids.
    • A camp towel for drying off.
    • A light weight, fleece sleeping bag.  The one I'm looking at is not much more than a fleece blanket with zippers.  It's rated down to 50°F which isn't that cold but I should be sleeping indoors and I can always sleep in my clothes for extra warmth.  I've heard this is a must as some albergues do not have linen for the beds.
    • Toiletries and medicine.  We all should shave and brush our teeth, even after walking half way across Spain.  I'll be taking a compact toothbrush, toothpaste, a bar of soap (I can buy more along the way), shampoo, a couple disposable razors, shaving cream, laundry soap of some type, and my triglyceride/cholesterol medicines.
So that's my tentative list.  I still have to make some purchases and I will debate the multitool probably up until the time I go to the airport.  Let me know in the comments if you think I forgot anything, if you think I don't need something, or you just want to express your welcome opinion.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Something To Read

For the past few weeks I've been tormenting the wife.  In the evening, after watching the weather, we get in bed and read.  For the past five or six weeks I have had nothing to read so I've just turned off the light.  This has driven the Wife crazy as she prefers not to read alone (I actually understand this - it bothers me too).  To make things worse, when the book I requested hadn't arrived for over three weeks, I decided that I would see if I could go the entire year without reading a book.  I looked at this as being similar to "The Year of Living Biblically" or "The Know-It-All", though my task was much simpler and less enlightening.

So I told the Wife I would not be reading any books this year and that she would have to be satisfied with the smattering of magazines, namely National Geographic and Wired, that I subscribe to.  She didn't like this but was ecstatic when both of my magazines arrived this week.

My plan was doing fine until I received an e-mail yesterday:
"This message is to inform you that the item you requested is now available:
 Inversions by Banks, Iain, (1954-) 
 The reserved item will be held until 1/29.  After that time, the item will no longer be held for you."
 I considered not going to pick it up and to just stick with my no reading plan but, to tell the truth, the idea of not reading a book all year just didn't seem like a very desirable undertaking.  The arrival of the e-mail gave me an out.  How could I ignore the e-mail?  That would be a waste of library funds and labor.

So I went to pick up the book today.  I went to the reference section where you pick up interlibrary loan material.  The nice lady at the desk looked at me and said no ... no book had come in.  After looking around it turns out that the book was not ordered through interlibrary loan.  The library had gone out and bought their own copy of the book.  Now I'm rally glad that I didn't ignore the e-mail.  I would have felt bad if I'd found out that they had gone out and bought a book just for me.

I felt good this afternoon as I started reading the book.  Now if I can just shake the pressure of having to return the book in just two weeks.

P.S. I know.  I can renew the book but ... The Pressure !!!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Snowshoeing Nebraska: Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge 2011

Over a year has passed since the last time I snowshoed.  Yesterday I finally got out.  I went to the site of my last snowshoeing outing, Boyer Chute.  Things were a bit different from last year.  The temperature was a balmy 19°F, up from the -5°F I experienced last year.  The warmer temperatures actually took away from the experience a bit, as I expected it would.  Last year the trees were covered in rime that gave everything a black and white winter wonderland feel.  This year white and brown were the colors.

Sunrise Over Boyer Chute
When I arrived, the sun was just rising over the trees to the south east.  I put on my new snowshoes and headed out.  There was plenty of snow, about 10-12 inches in most places.  It was a fluffy, powdery snow which made it a little challenging.  Snowshoes work better on packed snow, I think.  From the main trail that divides the refuge into North and South Island trails I turned North.  The snow was pristine except for a cross-country ski trail predating this weekend's snow and lots of deer tracks.  Along with the deer tracks were goose and some small, hoppy tracks which I would guess are some small bird.

The trail split, one branch going straight to meet with the North Island trail, the other curving around a grove of trees in a more circuitous path to another part of the North Island trail.  I turned and followed the path around the trees, following the cross-country trail (you can see it in the picture along the left side of the trail).

This trail eventually merged in with the North Island Trail, but not after paralleling it for awhile.  I ended up cutting a little off the length of the trail by, accidentally, following a game trail to the North Island trail.

I turned east at this point and followed the the trail along the bank of the icy Missouri river.  I stopped to rest a bit and watched the swift moving river carry chunks of ice south.  By this time I was getting pretty tired and I still had a ways to go.

I plodded my way along the trail, my snowshoes sinking four to six inches down in the powder.  It was soon obvious that snowshoeing uses some muscles that regular hiking does not.  The snowshoes (and the boots that I'd last worn last winter) felt awfully heavy as I lifted them up through the snow.

Trees along my wavering path.
I caught myself staring down at my feet more than at the nature around me.  I felt I was walking a straight line but, looking back on occasion, I was surprised to see how wavering and random my path looked.

At about the four mile mark I reached the trail that I started on (the one that bisects the refuge).  I looked around for a place to sit but only found a mound of dirt, covered in snow, left by last year's construction equipment.  It was enough.  I sat down in the snow, ate a rock hard snack bar and drank some cold water.  Last year they were dredging out part of a smaller chute in the area and the place had been full of idle equipment.  The main bisecting trail was also cleared of snow so the workers could get in and out.  With the dredging complete, the equipment was gone and the trail was covered in snow.

The last mile and a half or so was psychologically easier as I could see my destination.  The refuge is mostly flat grassland with a few scattered groves of trees.  On the central trail you can see a green shelter roof near the start and you can easily gauge your progress.  Progress went well except when, after I took a picture, I reached down for my trekking pole that I'd let fall into the snow, lost balance, and ended up flat on my back in the snow laughing.

I got back to the car, put my equipment in the trunk and then struggled a bit to get out of the parking lot.  The snow didn't want to let the Honda go.  It took me three or four tries before I could back out and get back on the snowless road.  When I got home I stripped off my coat and sweatshirt to uncover a completely soaked long sleeve t-shirt.  My socks were soaked through.  I had a blister on my right heal.  What a workout.  I felt great!!!

This was my longest snowshoe at 5.35 miles.  I added a few pictures to my 2008-2013 Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge Google Photos album that can be found here.

P.S.  We are expected to have temperatures in the upper 30s and low 40s later this week so a lot of the snow will be gone soon.  I hope this isn't my last chance to snowshoe this year.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Camino De Santiago: January Update

I'm slowly getting ready for my Camino walk in May/June.  I still haven't finished my packing list yet but I should have something posted by the end of the month.

Taking some advice from the Best Man and Matron of Honor, I applied for a Capital One VISA.  This credit card has the advantage of not charging a foreign transaction fee.  My everyday card charges 3%.  The card also gives me an added layer of security.  If the card is lost or stolen, my everyday card will be safe at home.  I have so many bills and automatic payments tied up to the everyday card that, if I every lost it or it got stolen, it would be a real pain to replace it.

I have been thinking about the train reservations and the hotel in Saint Jean Pied de Port.  I think, instead of struggling through the Spanish train website (I've heard some pretty sad stories about it) and learning French, I'll see if I can get my money's worth out of our AAA travel agent.  She seemed pretty good when I worked with her on our Jordan vacation.

I am ... trying ... to continue walking in preparation for the Camino.  Last week I didn't manage to do anything except some snow shoveling.  Today I did more of that - we had some seven inches overnight.  Thank God for out neighbor's snow blower we are using while they are vacationing in Arizona.  This week, with the extra snow we had, I should finally get some snowshoeing done.  Have to keep those legs strong and the endurance up in preparation for the walk of my life.

Friday, January 21, 2011


I got up this morning and looked outside and watched the snow fall sideways.  That was enough to convince me not to go snowshoeing as I planned.

So, instead of walking around while snow is blown in my face and up my nose, I plopped down like a lump on the couch and watched the last five episodes of Caprica recorded on the DVR.  (A show with potential, killed in the cradle.)

The snowshoeing plans haven't been cancelled, only postponed.  We got about an inch of snow today.  This weekend another two to four are on the way.  Maybe I'll make it out sometime next week.

I was hoping to get some cool pictures to post at Boyer Chute but, since I didn't go today, I leave you with this, the last blossom this season from our Christmas cactus:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Last Christmas Present

With the pan of brownies gone there was only one thing to do ... bake the cookie mix I got for Christmas.  Unlike the the brownies that lasted a whole three days, the cookies lasted a more typical two days with the last five cookies being consumed before 9:00 AM this morning.  Actually, now that I do the math in my head and on my fingers, the eighteen cookies that I managed to make lasted eighteen hours.  Since the Wife and I were asleep for about seven hours, that would work out to about 1.6 cookies per waking hour.

Anyway, I hope to work these calories off by going snowshoeing tomorrow up at Boyer Chute.  I had my most satisfying snowshoe excursion at Boyer Chute last year.  I doubt it will be a repeat as we have had less snow this year and the conditions were perfect last year.  We had some snow last night but it was a disappointing one inch.  Since the majority of the snow was south of us and Boyer Chute is north of us, my expectations are not really that high.  I'm hoping that there is enough snow from last week to allow me to snowshoe.  This may/will be my first snowshoe with my new snowshoes.  I'll let you know how it goes ... or doesn't.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Good Week ... With A Wince

This week was fairly upbeat.  The positive attitude that I've had since after Christmas continues.

After the good blood tests on Monday, along with the two snow days for the Wife, I decided to bake the brownies I received for Christmas.  I deliberately baked them about an hour before the Wife got home so the house would smell yummy.  It turned out she'd just had a great day at school and the brownies just made the day better.  Surprisingly the 8" by 8" pan lasted three days, a day longer than I expected.

Since I was eating brownies, I had to find a way to work them off so I went for a city walk on Thursday.  I walked 10.1 miles through Creighton University's compact but attractive campus, found a geocache in Bemis park, found another one in Prospect Hill Cemetery, and cursed all the people who hadn't shoveled their sidewalks on my way back to the car.

We had about eleven inches of snow earlier in the week.  Looking for the geocache in the cemetery was not easy as none of the cemetery access roads had been cleared.  I kind of wished I'd brought my snowshoes.  By the time I walked to the middle of the pioneer cemetery I was sweating.  Nothing like high-stepping your way through snow to burn off brownie residue.  I found the cache easy enough but then I had to slog back through the snow.  On top of that, I would say only about half of the people had cleared the snow from their sidewalks.  This meant either more slogging or walking in the street.  While I was in residential areas walking in the street was fine but, once I got to a major thoroughfare, I realized my life was in danger.  I had to keep jumping back off the road into the snow to avoid oblivious drivers.  I felt like reporting everyone to the city so they could all be fined (you are required to clear the snow off your sidewalks within 48 hours of the snow fall) but I suppressed this urge because I was feeling positive, damn it.

I have yet to figure how to dress on these winter walks.  It was around 6°F when I started so I was all bundled up in thick layers.  By the time I got to the car I was sweating and, taking off a layer resulted in me being cold.  I guess I need many thinner layers instead of a few thick ones.

While most of my walking experience was positive, despite the unshoveled sidewalks, there was one thing that made me wince.  On a power box I found some graffiti that said "Aim at the head."  The A of Aim was an anarchist symbol (a messy A in a circle).  I don't know if this was written before or after Tucson.  Either way, it's disturbing.

P.S.  I accidentally published the "Aim at the head" quote over RSS Thursday.  I had typed it to remind myself to include it in my post and then accidentally hit Post instead of saving it as a draft.  I hope I didn't freak anyone out.  Sorry if I did.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Two Down, One To Go

This seems to be the season for medical checkups. Last week was the eye doctor (I ordered my reading glasses today ... $76 at Sam's Club, the cheapest prescription glasses I've ever bought.) This week it was my general practitioner and my annual ... exam.

Why is a blood test, blood pressure test, pulse measurement, and a weighing considered an exam?  A medical exam, to me , should be a little more hands on but that may be a little old fashion, I guess.  Test seems like a more appropriate word.  I know, I'm talking semantics.

My exam went well.  All my numbers, except my HDL (so called good cholesterol), were in the normal range.  The Niaspan, or prescription Niacin,  that I've been on for the last three months to improve my HDL levels did very little.  My HDL numbers only went up a couple points and, despite the medication, were still below normal. Since it didn't do much, I won't be taking it any more.  I'm kind of thankful as they were not that cheap and, more importantly, I will no longer itch.  Prescription niacin has a lot of disagreeable side effects that I will not miss.

My next checkup will be with the dentist next month.  I can't wait to see how the legions on my tongue have progressed.   The legions, by the way, are the result of an autoimmune reaction.  Apparently my body is trying to eat my tongue.  Should be an interesting dentist visit.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

First Week Of 2011 ... So Far, So Good

The first week of 2011 is behind us and things are looking pretty good.  The Wife is back at work after Christmas break and she had a smooth start to the new quarter.  I got back into my routine which, for me, is always a little comforting.

On Wednesday I went for an 8.9 mile walk downtown.  I'd already walked these areas before - down Dodge, up Saddle Creek, back on Cuming, a loop around Heartland of America Park - but it felt fresh somehow.  I guess the good feelings I acquired during the holiday season have stuck around for another week.  The sunny day helped a bit as well (The sunrise banner was taken the morning of my walk).

On Thursday I went to the eye doctor for a check up.  Everything checked out.  I've noticed that the words on the pages are starting to blur so I got a prescription for readers.  I guess I've reached that age.  Unfortunately my eyes are changing at different rates so cheap, over the counter reading glasses wouldn't work well.   Six years ago I had lasik done and have had clear vision, and no glasses to worry about, ever since, but I knew there would come a day when glasses would be back in my world.  That day has arrived sooner than I hoped.

We have 24-48 hours worth of light snow coming later this weekend and temps in the single digits following closely after that.  Despite the snow and cold, I am planning to get a walk in.  Let's see if the optimistic feelings continue.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

An Embarrassing Number Of Hours

Last post I mentioned that I'd played on online game "an embarrassingly large number of hours." The game that I was playing was called Epic Battle Fantasy 3.

EBF 3 is a rather cheesy adventure game where you collect treasures, medals, magic weapons, and use the stuff you find to fight monsters and solve puzzles.  Every so often you run into a 'Boss' monster that you have to defeat before you can continue on.  In other words, it's your typical adventure/RPG.  The graphics are a very cutesy, anime style which doesn't help the game quality much.

The game was pretty lame which doesn't explains why, over a three day period, I played it for 19 hours and 37 minutes.  In case you're wondering, when you save the game it lists the number of hours and minutes played, otherwise I would have never kept track despite my love of enumerating.  I probably would have played longer but, frankly, our computer desk chair sucks and my butt was getting numb.

In the end I surprised myself.  After defeating five boss monsters, I reached the end and only had to defeat the Über-Boss.  I fought one battle against him ... lost miserably ... and then totally lost interest.  It's like running a marathon and deciding to quit a half mile from the finish line.

I don't remember ever leaving a computer game unfinished.  They've always bugged me until I finished.  What surprises me most is I'm perfectly content to let it hang there.  It feels oddly good.

Now, back to that intellectual pursuit that is Facebook Scrabble.

Monday, January 03, 2011

The Rest ... I Want To Be A Surprise

2010 left in just about the same way that 2009 did, quiet and calmly at home in front of the television.  We didn't feel like fighting the crowds and cold to see the fireworks, something we skipped last year as well.

The first weekend of 2011 was filled with football for the Wife and some crappy Kongregate.com adventure game, one I played an embarrassingly large number of hours, for me (thank you GeekHiker for introducing me to that time suck).  Between games we managed to put away all the Christmas decorations.  Once again we were amazed how bright our family room is without the tree.

So, what's up for 2011?  Last year I set goals and this is what I said::
"I don't make resolutions. I do make plans that I often stray from though.
  • I plan to read more.
  • I plan to try to watch less day-time television.
  • I plan to push my hiking/walking out past the twenty mile point.
  • I plan on walking the Steamboat Trace.
  • I plan to walk the Cowboy Trace if other things work out.
  • I plan to finally convince myself that I can do the Pilgrimage in Spain.
  • I plan to enjoy our Jordan vacation."
Looking back I was not totally successful.  I read less, not more.  I did try to watch less day-time TV but I utterly failed.  I did not walk the Cowboy Trace.  But I did push my hiking/walking out past twenty miles (21.22 miles in October).  I did complete the Steamboat Trace from one end to the other - twice.  Despite camera issues, I enjoyed our Jordan vacation.  Most importantly, I am confident enough to have booked an airline ticket to Spain for my pilgrimage.  Four out of seven isn't half bad ... well, it sort of is, but it could have been worse.

I don't think I'll set many goals this year.  Two goals will be enough:
  • Finish the Camino de Santiago.  A really big one for me.  The hardest physical challenge I've every attempted.
  • Drive Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica and visit our friends in California.  We have this planned for after I get back from Spain.  It will be our most ambitious roadtrips ever.  On the way out I hope to visit the town where I grew up before my family moved to Guatemala (haven't been there since college).  On the way home we will visit San Francisco to make a third attempt to visit Alcatraz (we have failed twice before).

The rest ... I want to be a surprise.

P.S. Happy Anniversary to Just A Girl and the Boy!  One down, a lifetime to go.