Homer's Travels: May 2012

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day And Remembering Uncle Tom

This year, for Memorial Day weekend, the Wife and I went to the In-Laws lake house on Lake Cornelia to remember the Wife's Uncle Tom who passed earlier this year after a short battle with cancer.  Luminaries were handed out and people wrote their favorite memories about Uncle Tom.  Luminaries were also passed around to other residents of the lake who knew Uncle Tom.  At 9:30 PM everyone lit the candles and remember a great man.

Luminaries for Uncle Tom.
My memories of Uncle Tom match those of the Wife.  He was a master storyteller who could weave the tallest of tales.  As he told his stories you wouldn't know if what he said was true or not until, at the very end, he would crack a little smile and give you a wink.

The Wife's, and My, Memory of Uncle Tom.
On this day of remembrance, we remember Uncle Tom and all the Men and Women who have given their lives for our country.

Their stories will live on in our memories.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Heat And A Summer Of Short Hikes

Here in Nebraska it's already starting to feel like summer.  For the past few weeks the temps have been in the 80s (>26°C), above normal for this time of year.

The increase in temps is starting to impact my walks.  As I age I think I am becoming more sensitive to heat.  The first sign was last week when I attempted a twelve mile hike in Indian Cave State Park.  It was a warm and slightly humid day and, despite the trail being under the shade of trees, I felt like I was overheating.  Not having enough water also made the decision to cut the hike a little short easier. I ended up doing only 9.85 miles.  I like to tell myself that the real issue was the amount of elevation (2,447 ft - 745 m) but I think the issue was primarily me not handling the heat well.

The trend continued last Friday when I ended up shortening my urban walk from the twelve miles intended to 9.95 miles.  I had enough to drink this time but I still cut it short.  I just felt too hot.  I usually hike in long pants but I was stripped down to a t-shirt and shorts on this walk.  Fewer clothes and I would have been sited for indecent exposure.

For my hike this Tuesday I surrendered to the fact that it would be too hot and I went to Hitchcock Nature Center.  I knew that the longest hike I could do here was about seven or eight miles.  Combining the usual trail that I do there with a few newer trails that have been added in the last few years I managed only 6.89.  This was more a limitation of the trails than of the heat.  While it was warm I managed it well and I finished the hike before the heat of the day reached its peak.  It turned out to be a nice hike as the butterflies were out in force and escorted me along the trails.  The Mulberries were ripening (I ate a few) though it was a little early for the raspberries.

A pair of butterflies on a thistle.
I suspect the temps are going to continue to range upward.  If it's in the 80s in May then July and August could easily be in the 90°F - 100°F+ range (32°C - 38°C+) with a lot more humidity.  I have never suffered from heatstroke though I've witnessed it in the Wife three times before.  I think the closest I've come was during my Steamboat Trace hike back in 2010.  I don't intend to let it go that far.

So, based on my experience of the last couple weeks, I think I will have to temporarily change my walking goals.  Instead of working up to fifteen miles per hike I will cut back on the mileage while the temps are high.  This means a long summer of "short" hikes of no more than ten miles apiece.  Since most of the parks in the area tend to have shorter hiking trails, shortening my hikes will give me a chance to explore more parks in eastern Nebraska/Western Iowa.

Who knows, maybe I'll get used to the heat and I'll be able to work my way back up to fifteen miles before the end of the summer.  Or the weather could continue to be weird and be cooler than normal most of the summer.  I think the key word here is Flexibility ... and keep on walking.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Hiking Nebraska: Oak Creek Trail - Brainard To Loma

It feels like forever since I wrote a Hiking Nebraska/Iowa post.   It really hasn't been that long - Sept 2011 - when I wrote about a revisit of a hike in Hitchcock Nature Center.  The last Hiking post about a new trail (for me anyway) was back in November 2010 when I did part of the MoPac East trail.  Last Tuesday, for one of my biweekly walks, I decided to complete the Oak Creek Trail.  I'd done over half of the trail in November 2009.  It took me a while to go back and finish it but I finally did.

Oak Creek Trail is A Rails-to-Trails trail.
Last time I'd started from the Valparaiso, NE end of the trail.  This time I started from the other end in Brainard, NE.  There is a small parking area, a covered picnic area, and a steel ranger for the $1.00 trail fee near the southeastern end of the small town of 354.  My turnaround point would be near Loma, NE where I'd turned around last time.

It was a nice day to hike - a slight chill in the air, partly cloudy, and a bit windy.  It felt good to get out of the city.  All my walks since last November, when I started Phase II of my exercises, have been urban walks.  The fresh air and the lack of civilization noise was welcome.

The hike was fairly uneventful.  The north half of the Oak Creek trail is a little less interesting than the southern end.  The south crosses a few creeks/rivers over converted railroad trestles.  The north end doesn't cross any creeks.  The highlight of the hike was, once again, the tiny town of Loma.

Like towns on the Camino, the first indication of Loma is a church steeple.
I turned around after passing Loma.  I wanted to walk at least twelve miles and Loma was less than six miles from Brainard.  At my turnaround point I left the trail and followed the road into town.  The road parallels the trail closely.  No new businesses had opened since I'd last been there.  The bar was closed when I walked through this time.  I didn't see a soul as I walked down the middle of the road.

Being a rails-to-trails trail, the Oak Creek Trail is straight, flat, and passes through farmland.  It reminded me strongly of the Meseta in Spain.

This hike was 12.57 miles long with about 1,050 feet of vertical spread out over the trail.  It's hard to tell that you are going up or down on this trail.  I still want to try some day to do the entire trail in one go.  It would be a challenge - a full marathon distance - a full four and a half miles longer than my current record of 21.4 that I set in Spain.

I've added a few pictures to my 2009-2012 Oak Creek Trail Hike Google Photos album.

[Click on map for a larger version]

Friday, May 11, 2012


Hard to believe that one year ago I was about to lose my luggage on my way to Madrid.  It was a rough start to a wonderful adventure.

My Camino feels like it was ten years ago ... and yesterday - a strange feeling indeed.  Can't wait for my next adventure.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Exercise - Phase III: Lower Back And Abs

Just over a week ago I visited my physical therapist and asked for recommendations for lower back and abdominal exercises.  He said that many of the PT exercises I was already doing were helping with the lower back, which I agreed with.  He said I should concentrate on the abdominal muscles and, by doing so, I would further strengthen my lower back muscles.  With that, he left me with three exercises that would concentrate on the abs.  These three exercises have become Phase III of my exercise program.
  1. The first is a Three Point Stance which exercises the abductors, obliques, trapezius, glutes, and triceps.  There are two variations of this exercise that exercise different muscle groups - mostly on the sides of the abdomen.  These two variations are by far the hardest for me so far.  The exercise is explained here (Page one of the PDF file).
  2. The second is Straight Leg Raise Crossovers which exercises the abdominal muscles.  This is a pretty straight forward exercise though I have to work on keeping my lower back flat on the floor to reduce lower back stress.  (See page two of the PDF file.)
  3. The last exercise is the All Four Swiss Ball Belly Lift which also exercises the abdominal muscles.  Not sure if I'm doing this one correctly as I don't feel much abdominal muscle engagement.  I'll have to play around with this one until it feels right. (See page three of the PDF file).
I'm doing these exercises twice a week (Tuesday and Thursday).  I've noticed some sore muscles that I didn't know I had so I think I'm doing something right.  Fortunately the aches are not in my lower back so I don't think I'm doing any damage.

As I added a new phase to my exercise regimen, I modified what I was already doing.  I reduced my PT exercises (I kind of think of these as Phase 0) from five days a week down to three (M - W - F).  I have also reduced my push ups to three days a week (M - W - F also).


Speaking of aching and push ups, I have been feeling an aching and a weak feeling in my left arm that I think is a result of the push ups.  I was hoping it would go away when I reduced the push ups from four to three days.  It really hasn't so I'm taking a week off from doing push ups to see if it gets better.  After skipping just one day my arm feels much better.  I must be pushing this old body a little too much.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Photograph: Fish And Tentacles

A picture of a couple kites at the La Vista Spring Kite Festival held just down the street from where I live.  A few more pictures can be found here.

"Fish And Tentacles"
by Bruce H.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Food For Thought

It seems that when I sit down and think about my upcoming trips, my quest for optimism, or just about anything else in my life lately, the subject of food is there, a shadowy presence, just below the surface.

It goes back a long way.  As long as I can remember actually.  I was a finicky eater.  I refused to eat meat of any kind.  Vegetables were not to touch my lips.  The only thing I would eat was fruit, bread, and some dairy.  I drove my parents nuts.  They tried to get me to eat "normal" food but I steadfastly refused.  Mom often slipped stuff into my oatmeal to add extra protein.  I ate the oatmeal but didn't really like it.  They thought this was just a phase I was going through but I took it to a whole new level I think.

I can't really say why I refused to eat normally.  It may have been a fear of the new or unknown.  I would often say that I didn't like the taste.  Thinking back, I wonder, did the food taste the same for me as it did for others?  Did I taste things differently?  I imagine we all wonder about that sometime in our lives.

How I ate, or didn't eat, changed how I associated with people.  I felt ashamed.  I felt embarrassed.  I ate by myself if I could.  I didn't want to go to people's parties because I may have to explain why I wouldn't eat the food.  To a scrawny pre-teen, being different, and I felt very different, took it's toll.  My natural shyness became anti-social behavior.  So when people were learning how to socialize, I was avoiding people.

When I was around twelve - thirteen years old I'd had enough.  I decided to change how I ate - I guess I out grew my phase.  Over time I expanded what I would eat and I found I liked most things I tried.  Despite this progress, I still had a limited food vocabulary.  Sadly, I think it was a too late for me socially.  The damage was done.  I was socially stunted ... all because of an irrational fear of food.

Over the next thirty-six years I have slowly overcome many of my social issues.  I am still a bit anti-social but college, and then work, forced me to learn how to fake it.  I  put a hard separation between work-social and home-anti-social.  That is how I spent a lot of my adult life.  Meeting the Wife has done a lot to bring me out of my shell ... but the shell remains.  The shell is still comfortable to me.

So ... what does all of this have to do with anything?  People who know me, and know my past eating habits, wonder how I will do in China, Nepal, and India.

These are legitimate questions. My palate is still very limited.  I recently came across a "Food List Challenge" on Facebook. Of the one hundred foods any foodie should try - food ranging from Caviar to Hostess fruit pies, Kobe Beef to Chicken and Waffles - I have eaten eight ... and this is after thirty plus years of eating normal food.

And then there is the connection between food and mood.  One of the podcasts I listen to, Radio Lab, had a segment recently about how the bacterial flora in your gut affects you mood.  It seems if you have a healthy and robust bacterial flora, you will be more positive.  Now I wonder if how I ate as I grew up, and my limited diet today, has any relationship with my pessimism.  I've been eating yogurt every day since 2005 and, since December, I've been taking a pro-biotic in the hope of having a strong intestinal biota when I go to China.  I haven't noticed any improvement in mood but it probably would be gradual change and hard to notice.

Food is connected to a large part of our lives.  It touches my travels.  It touches my quest for optimism.  Just about everything that preoccupies my time these days is in some way, directly or indirectly, related to food, my life-long nemesis.  But I have to say ... when someone asks me if I'm worried about eating in China, Nepal, and India, my first answer is "No".  I am not worried.  That shadow, drifting in the depths of my thoughts, is finally beginning to fade with age.  Maybe that pro-biotic is helping after all.