Homer's Travels: January 2013

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Ice Fishin'

This weekend was going to be a couple days at the lake with the In-Laws doing some ice fishing.  Well, the Wife would be doing some ice fishing with her Dad, Brother, Cousin, and Uncle.  I prefer a warm lake house ... with WiFi ... and my tablet ... and good people to talk too.  The lake house was a bit crowded with the Wife and I, the MiL and FiL, the BiL, two of the Nieces, the Uncle and corresponding Aunt, The Matron of Honor and the Best Man, and Iago.

Lake Cornelia Ice at sunset.
The ice fishing reminds me of something the Wife and I saw on our China vacation.  One of the channels we watched in the evenings was the international version of the Discovery Channel.  One of the shows advertised was Hillbilly Hand Fishin'.  Now, imagine if you will, the announcer, speaking with a British accent, saying "Hillbilly Hand Fishin'"  We thought it was hilarious.  It became a running joke during our vacation and my imitation of the announcer resurfaced on this trip.  It was funny.  Trust me.  Maybe you had to be there.  We are so easily entertained.

Our weekend was cut a bit short when the weather forecast started predicting freezing rain on Sunday, right when we were driving back home.  We decided it would be best to not stay the night and drove back late Saturday night.  We enjoyed our abbreviated visit, swapped vacation stories with the Matron of Honor and Best Man, and took the opportunity to introduce Iago to the in-laws.  He was awesome in the car and did well amongst the family.

The result of the first, and only day, was the Wife not catching anything and me eating too many cookie bars.   I kind of made up for not eating any cookies at the Camino conversation.  In a way it was very similar to last year's ice fishing soiree except I don't seem to have a cookie hangover like I had last year.

Next weekend the fun will continue.  We'll be going to Minnesota to dog sled with the Matron of Honor and the Best Man.  It's going to be a hoot!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Conversations And The Spinning Of Camino Tales

On Tuesday the local Backwoods, an outdoor outfitter, held what they called a Camino Conversation.  Backwoods set up the meeting after hearing people talk about the Camino - I mentioned it at least twice in that store.  It sounded like something I should participate in ... so I did.

At least thirty people showed which was a pleasant surprise - I'd expected fewer.  Of those thirty, five of us had actually walked the Camino including DK, a Camino veteran, who Backwoods had asked to be the conversation facilitator   The rest of the group were either scheduled to go, planning to go, or wanted to learn more about the Camino after seeing "The Way".

The next two hours flew by as the planners asked questions and the veterans answered.  How much did it cost?  What was it like?  Rain gear?  Shoes?  The albergue experience?  How to train for it?  I know that many questions went unasked or unanswered because of time constraints.

It was nice to know that other pilgrims saw the Camino as I did.  They all enjoyed it.  They all could talk about it endlessly, almost always with a smile on their faces.  They all agreed that the people around them were tired of hearing all their stories.  Being surrounded by a group of people who were honestly interested in every word you had to say was a nice change.  I think I talked a little too much, letting out all the pent up story telling.    I caught myself a few times and had to let other people talk and I abbreviated most of my stories so that I wouldn't hog the limited time we had.  I could have continued all night.

I had a great time.  Backwoods organizes talks and hikes in local parks.  I will have to check out other events.  I also hope Backwoods organizes another Camino conversation sometime.  I would love to go again.  How much did I enjoy it?  When the tray of cookies and snacks was passed around, I skipped the cookies - I was too busy spinning Camino tales.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Walking With Poles At Indian Cave State Park

One thing I did not do on my last Camino was walk with trekking poles.  When I hike at home I usually carry a single pole.  That pole, a long, straight tree cutting I picked up on the way to the punch bowls in 2003 or 2004 (before Homer's Travels) has been carried on every nature hike since then.  When I decided to do the Camino I seriously considered taking it with me but I decided is would be a hassle to ship, and I would've hated to lose it, so it stayed behind and I walked the Camino pole-less.  I think my knees and ankles have never forgiven me.

For Camino 2013 I will be taking my trekking poles.  I originally bought a cheap pair of SwissGear poles (made buy the Swiss Army Knife people) for snowshoeing.  They haven't had much use but that will change.

Why use trekking poles?  That's a question I asked myself for a while.  After walking the Camino pole-less I now realize that they have a place in my hiking inventory.  Here's why:

  • Increased stability.  When you use trekking poles they turn your arms into a third and fourth leg.  I discovered this early on with my wooden hiking pole.  I used it to help me balance as I crossed a river and was amazed how much more stable and easy it was to step from stone to stone.  This not only adds stability while crossing streams but also over rough, uneven terrain.  There were a few places along the Camino when you go down steep, gravel covered inclines where some poles would have been a godsend.
  • Decreased stress on the legs.  When used properly, poles can reduce the strain you put on your legs, specifically the knees and ankles, by taking some of the weight off your legs and transferring it to your arms and upper body.  This is what your legs will thank you for.
  • Upper body participation.  When hiking what are your arms doing?  Usually they are swinging at your side and bloating up from the blood settling into your hands and fingers.  In other words, they are not contributing anything to your hike.  When you use poles your arms and upper body take some of the weight off your legs and participate in the hike.  They also don't bloat up and get stiff.  A fully participating body is a happy body.
As I hinted above, there is a proper way to use trekking poles and, after watching a few YouTube tutorials, I went out to train with my poles.  I adjusted the length of the poles per the tutorials (your elbows should be bent at a 90° angle).  To train properly I needed some elevation change so I went to the nearest park with both distance and elevation, Indian Cave State Park.

I've been to Indian Cave quite a few times - at least once a year since I moved back to Nebraska (You can check out my mentions of Indian Cave here).   The past few times I have tried to do a twelve mile loop but I have never been successful.  I wasn't successful this time either but I did manage to make it to a trail that I've kept missing on my prior attempts.  (I didn't take pictures on this hike but you can see pictures of Indian Cake State Park from my other hikes here.)

It was a cold morning when I reached the start of the trail #5.  Temperatures were around 9°F (-13°C). I started down the trail using the poles as the tutorials instructed. Then I took a wrong turn.  The park map has gotten less and less accurate as time has gone by.  Every time I go hiking there I run into a new, unmarked, unmapped junction.  Usually I have figured out the right way but this time I made a mistake and ended up bypassing a mile or two of trail.

Missing this trail turned out to be a good and bad thing.  The bad was that the trail I bypassed passes by a campsite that I plan to camp in someday and I wanted to check it out.  No real biggy since I will have many chances to check it out before I start my camping training.  The good was I had enough energy to add another small loop at the end.  I'd wanted to do this loop for a while but was usually too wiped to do it and the loop had always been sacrificed.   This time I felt up to it and my legs felt great (thank you poles).

The loop (stating at the junction of trails #2, #3, #6, and #8, heading up trail #2 before circling back to the junction on trail #3) passes by the "Half-Breed" cemetery.  The park once housed a trading post/fort.  Land in the area was set aside to house the homeless offspring of the French traders and their Native American wives.  The now defunct town of St. Deroin was established there in 1853.  There are two cemeteries in Indian Cave State Park.  The larger, well maintained one is surround by grass and farm land.  The other cemetery, the half-breed cemetery is overgrown and located on the top of a ridge surrounded by forest with an awesome view of the Missouri River.  There is only evidence of two stones (one broken in three pieces and repaired by the park service, the other only the base remaining) but I assume that vandalism and theft did away with many others.  If I had to be buried in the park, I would pick the half-breed cemetery for the beautiful location.

I followed the trail past the cemetery to some reconstructed buildings of old St. Deroin.  I looked for another trail marked on the map but couldn't find it so I followed a road instead to a lookout platform and trailhead #3.  Trail #3 took me back to the junction and I took trail #6 back to the car.  After I-don't-know-how-many-tries I finally finished that loop.

The poles performed as advertised   My knees and ankles felt a bit better (and still do a couple days later).  My arms are a little rough but they are not as bad as I expected. I was able to get in the proper rhythm very easily.  It felt natural.  The only adjustment I had to make was to shorten the poles slightly.  The hike was a good test of the poles.  I ended up doing 10.59 miles (17 km) with 3,193 feet of vertical (973 m).  This vertical, of course, was not a continuous climb but a series of ups and downs totaling 3,193 ft.  It was still a good test.

I'll be doing more training hikes with my poles ... but I don't think I'll walk in the city with them.  I think walking with poles in the city would get too many weird stares.

Now I just need to figure out how to get the poles to France.  They can not be take as carry-on (unless you are invalid and need them to walk - not sure I meet that criteria).  How I get them there will have to wait for a future post ... when I figure out how it will be done.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Nineteen Days In ...

Another week has gone by and things are moving slowly forward.  I did a couple walks around Omaha this week - a total of about twenty-one miles.  The weather was wonderful and my feet feel back to normal.  Overall, I'm feeling pretty good body-wise.

Iago is calming down and his routine is starting to mesh with ours.  I think I've mentioned that he used to be a farm dog but he ran into trouble when he would get out and kill the neighbor's chickens.  I thought it was funny when the Matron of Honor and Best Man gave him a chicken toy for Christmas.  I also mentioned that he didn't play with toys much.  A week or so ago I managed to get him to play with the chicken.  He just needed to get over his fear of the squeak.  Well, the Wife saw first hand how Iago handles chickens: He pins them down and, as you can see, tears their heads off.  The chicken is now in the trash.

I want to touch on some Comments I received on Homer's Travels over the past week.  First I want to say that the reaction I got from my Fallen Star picture took me by surprise.  I didn't mean to bum everyone out.  It just caught my eye while I was out for a walk.  I have to be frank and say that most of the things that catch my eye, especially during the winter, can be a little depressing but I find beauty in those images.  I will try to post some more uplifting pictures but you all have to be prepared for less uplifting pictures as well.  Sorry.

The other comment was posted by my blog friend GeekHiker.  He commented about my lack of plans.  I do have things planned but they are all short term things.  I'm going to a "Camino de Santiago Conversation" at our local Backwoods outdoors store where I will share my experience with other Camino walkers and people planning to do their own Caminos.  The Wife and I are going ice fishing with family at Lake Cornelia. We are joining the Matron of Honor and the Best Man up in Minnesota for some dog sledding (!!!).  I'm going to do the Trek up the Tower for the second time.  We are going curling for the third time ... maybe we won't be in last place this time.   And there is roller derby to watch.

Lot's of little things.  The only project I am working on is preparing for the Camino (I just figured out how I'm getting from Santiago de Compostela to Madrid in time to catch my plane home).  I still have things to buy and all the walking I'm doing is preparing me for the Camino.  But that's it so far.

I am not much of a volunteer type of guy like GeekHiker who helped build houses in Fiji.  We have no vacations planned this year ... though there is one domestic one that may materialize this summer.  I am still sorting through the pictures I downloaded from Flickr which I work on here and there - I guess you could call that a project but it's not much of one.

I'm just letting this year take me by the hand and lead me around.  Time will fly or it will crawl.  In the mean time, I have chores to do.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Getting Photographs To My Nexus 7 And My OTG Cable Rant

One of the things I want to do with my Nexus 7 is edit photos while on the road and upload them to Flickr or Facebook.  The one thing the Nexus is missing is an SD card slot.  What to do?

What to do turns out to be quite simple.  I even learned how to do it before I even bought my Nexus 7.  You need three things to get your pictures from the camera to the tablet.
  1. An USB card reader capable of reading your camera's card.  In my case I needed an SDHC reader which I already had.  Bought it a while back so I could read my camera's card while I was on the road.  I even used it in Jordan for that exact purpose.
  2. An On-The-Go (OTG) USB cable.  This five and a half inch cable (see the accompanying picture) allows you to connect a standard USB connector to a mini-USB connector.  The OTG USB cable is rather easy to find.  I found mine on Amazon.  It's cheap.  I have more to say about this later in the post.
  3. The Nexus Media Importer app.  This $2.99 app allows you to import files (pictures, videos, and documents) from a card reader via an attached OTG USB cable.
That's all you need.  Now I can import pictures while I'm on the go.  I found a free app called Pixlr Express that does a great job at editing photos.  With an available WiFi connection I can send the edited pictures to Flickr, Facebook, or just about anywhere I want.
On-The-Go USB Cable
Now more about the OTG cable.  This is going to be a minor rant.  More of a slap you forehead "What are they thinking?" type moment.

When I bought my new backup drives (after my NAS crash), I bought them at Best Buy.  I did this because I was more in a hurry, and less price conscious, than usual.  When I bought them I received a $10.00 gift card  - a promotion from Western Digital, the makers of the drives.  I've wandered around Best Buy looking for something to buy with this gift card and have come away empty handed.  I just couldn't find anything I wanted.  Once I bought my tablet I thought about the OTG cable.  My local store didn't have one but I did find it at BestBuy.com (strangely enough I can't seem to find it there anymore).  They were selling the cable for $5.00 and change plus tax with free in store pickup.  I would have bought it but I lost my gift card (long story short I found it later in the snow next to our garbage can).

Not having any free money I searched for another source.  I found it on Amazon (they have everything in the world) ... for $0.82 ... no tax ... free shipping ... from Hong Kong.  That's right.  Over $5.40 from the local store or $0.82 from a store half way around the world.  Same cable, same manufacturer.

Now I know why Best Buy is slowly dying and why the world economy is in such a mess - Everything just doesn't make any sense at all.

Now I just need to find something at Best Buy to spend my free money on before it takes its last breath.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Twelve Days In ...

So.  Has anything happened in the last week?

It was a too cold and icy for riding bike but I did manage to get a couple long walks in.  I even managed not to fall down on the ice on the second walk, something I cannot say about the other three walks I've taken in 2013.

The same walk was also my first walk in a new pair of shoes.  I probably should have broken them in on a shorter walk but I ended up taking an 11 mile walk in them.  I now have a blister, though a very small one, on one of my toes.  Since the rest of my feet feel pretty good I regard the new shoes a success.

When I bought these shoes, New Balance 956s, I did something different: I bought two pair.  This is the same type of shoe I've been wearing for almost a year now and these are the shoes I will be walking my second Camino in.  I know that the pair I started walking in this week will be worn out by the time I head to Spain so buying a second pair means I will have a fresh pair ready when I walk across Spain again.  Just for reference, In the first seven months of 2012 I walked over 427 miles and that despite not walking much in China/Nepal/Bhutan/India.  I tend to put quite a bit of mileage on my shoes.

I also got an interesting email from an editor of a small town newspaper this week.  The newspaper is putting together a tourism magazine and he wanted to do an email interview about one of the Iowa state parks I posted about a few years ago.  The questions were simple and covered why I went to Lake of Three Fires, what I did there, and what I liked about the park.  He was even going to use some of the pictures I took but they were too small for publication (The full size versions were lost in the NAS debacle).  This will be a first for me ... assuming he actually publishes any of my answers.  Writing about the park has got me thinking about going back there sometime this spring.  It would be a good place to train with a backpack and trekking poles.

That was pretty much it for me this week.  Things are going well with Iago.  I've had to add a second vacuuming day to my chores list to keep up with the dog hair ... or at least try to keep up.  There are a few things coming in the next couple months that will be fun to write about.  For now my life is going well ... not much excitement ... but nothing bad either.  So far so good.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Five Days In

2013 is five days old.  This year has started on a busy note.  Nothing really exciting, just house work and chores - catching up on the paperwork that fills up our lives.

The Wife's brother called this morning.  He suffered a minor heart attack and is in the hospital.  Seems like the health issues that have plagued our families since last August are continuing.  Hopefully he will do well once the doctor's have a chance to thoroughly look him over.

Iago is doing well.  He's adjusting to his new surroundings quite well. Many people, myself included, were concerned that changing his name would be confusing for him but, after being in our house for a week he already answers to his new name.

He sleeps on a dog bed on my side of the bedroom.  He's been having trouble sleeping through the night.  He gets up a few times each night just to make sure we are still in bed.  He walks over to check on the Wife first then he checks to see I'm there before getting back into his bed.

One strange thing about Iago is that he doesn't know how to play.  He will run after a thrown ball, bring it back, and drop it at your feet (Homer never learned to drop things) but he grows tired of it quickly.  The Matron of Honor and Best man gave him this chicken toy.  Iago will hardly touch it.  He thinks about picking it up but then it squeaks and he walks away.  He behaves the same with all of Homer's old toys.  He doesn't even like chewing on his nylabone.  Iago is his own dog.

As for me, I started the year right with a couple of nine mile walks.  My feet are feeling pretty good.  I'm walking with some new custom insoles and they feel pretty good so far.

I really don't have any major projects besides keeping the house clean ... or trying to now that we have a shedding dog living with us.  I've started buying things for my next Camino.  Little things that I'll talk about later.  I'm still recovering from losing the backup drive.  I now have three or four copies of everything (computer, external USB drive, NAS, and online backup service) - a little overkill maybe but something I should have done a long time ago.  I'm using the loss to reorganize my files into a more logical system.  I downloaded all the pictures I'd uploaded to Flickr, all 6,640+, and I'm slowly sorting them into folders and renaming all the files.  Fortunately I had copies of my best pictures up on Flickr.  Sadly most of the pictures of the Wife and I were not on Flickr and many good pictures of ourselves,  friends, and family are gone now.

That's enough rambling for now.  Ready for week number two.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

A New Year ... I'm Not Insane ... Really!

New Years eve was a quiet night here at Homer's Travels.  We didn't go out like last year.  We went to bed at our normal time, read until the new year arrived, wished each other a happy new year, and turned out the lights.

Iago woke me up at five til seven so I got up, fed him and took him out, and did my morning exercises.  The highlight of my first day of 2013 was a 9.29 mile walk around the city.  That for my New year's day.

I usually start each year with some post about plans, resolutions, and goals for the year ahead.  As a matter of fact my first two posts at the beginning of last year ( here and here) talked about my plans, goals, and resolutions for the new year.  I only had two: I would write more posts and I would become more optimistic.   (A third, actually a goal, was to enjoy our Asian Adventure which I accomplished.)  After all of the failed plans, missed goals, and forgotten resolutions you would think I would've known better than to make resolutions.  Neither of these resolutions came even close to being achieved.  I had the lowest post count in the six years I've been writing Homer's Travels.  And when it comes to being more optimistic and positive ... let's just say that I spent the entire month of December being snippy, irritable, rude, surly and downright negative for no apparent reason.

I ended my first post of 2012 with the words: "No excuses."  I don't have any excuses.  I just didn't manage to do what I'd set out for myself.  I can't say I really tried.  So what to do?  Do I get back on the hamster wheel and make more resolutions that I can not meet?  What did Albert Einstein say? He said insanity was doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  I'm not insane ... most of the time.
xkcd "Resolution" by Randall Munroe
So this year I make no resolutions, no goals, and very few plans.  The only thing I will be working towards is my second Camino in September-October - it's the one thing I'm enthusiastic about.  Other things will come along and they will will be avoided, handled, planned for, or enjoyed, whatever is appropriate.

Bring it on, 2013, show me what you've got.  I'm hoping for the best.