Homer's Travels: February 2013

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Tests Over - Time To Let Loose

I went to get my annual blood test this morning. I was pleasantly surprised to see, despite my local Subway's Free Cookie Fridays, that my numbers were all in the normal range (not including my HDL which exists to disappoint me).

I was surprised since I didn't think I was being that careful.  I had a few ... quite a few ... weak moments over the past few months as my sweet tooth kicked into overdrive and I splurged with a candy bar here, some ice cream there, a cookie here ... well you get the idea.

The only thing I can think of is that I'm more active and have kept the weight down.  I guess walking twenty plus miles a week has it's benefits.

So I'm done with blood tests for another year.  I know I can't let my guard down.  I still have to watch what I eat and keep being active, but, for the next week or so, I will probably let loose a bit. Not sure how I will let loose but I can say that the pan of brownies I baked this afternoon will be a good start.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Up, Up ... And Away ... For Nine Minutes And Eight Seconds

I only did one long walk this week because I had something planned for today that would need some extra energy: The annual Trek Up The Tower.  For those interested in the details of the "race" up the tower, I explained it a little more thoroughly the first time I posted about the Trek in 2010.

Last time I started up the stairs too fast, taking two steps at a time in the beginning before slowing down. I told myself that if I did it again I would start off slower and maintain a good pace.  That plan went out the window.  The guy said go, I scanned my chip, and up I went two steps at a time.  I think I went farther at the two steps at a time pace this time and I eventually slowed down once I caught up with a slower group of people near the fourth floor.  I passed the group on a corner and then maintained a slower one step at a time pace for the rest of the climb.

Somewhere around the tenth floor I started to hurt.  Not really a physical pain but a burning in the lungs and a general weariness.  Not a good thing to feel when you still have thirty flights of stairs to climb.

I reached the first water station and went right passed it.  This was another thing I'd told myself after last time: stopping for water slows you down.   My mouth was parched but I kept going.  This time I stuck to my plan and skipped all four of the water stations.

Above the tenth floor, after realizing I was hurting, I set up a slow but steady rhythm that I pretty much maintained for the remaining floors.  Near the top I even passed a few people.  I don't remember much after the thirty-fifth floor.  I was a bit dizzy.  I wasn't stumbling - a good thing on stairs - but I could tell if I stopped I would be wobbly.  Not sure if I was totally conscious on those last five floors.  I'm sure my brain was oxygen starved by the time I crossed the finish, scanned my chip, and grabbed the towel, medal, and bottle of water they hand you at the top.

I did not feel as good as I felt last time.  I pushed myself much harder this time.  Not stopping for water probably helped improve my time and probably was the reason I didn't feel as good.  Instead of looking out the window while I drank my water as I did last time I joined the people circling the observation deck letting my body cool down and my brain re-oxygenate.

The swag this year was mixed.  Free food but the food was limited to a banana, a bottle of flavored water, and a banana pudding (which I skipped - probably shouldn't have done that).  There was no swag bag like last time but there were a few booths set up by running organizations with pens, shoelaces, and race entry forms.  Didn't see anything that interested me so I went over to the free t-shirt table.  The t-shirt this year was much better than the cotton long sleeve I got last time.  This year's shirt was a long sleeve synthetic in a bright red color.  They also give you a nice magnet.  I like what I got.

Now for what you've been waiting for: My results.
Time:   9:08    -    1:31 faster than last time!

Overall Place:   587 of 1584

Place in Gender:   405 of 739

Place in Age Division (40-49):   92 of 173
I'm much more satisfied with my place this time.  I was aiming for the 9's and I nearly got into the 8's.  My overall, gender, and age division places were all much better than last time.  My overall place alone went from being in the top 60% to being in the top 37%.  I really like that improvement.

Not sure I will be doing the Trek next year.  It all depends on how my body feels after my Camino.  Last year my knee would not have been able to handle it.  If I do trek up the tower next year, my numbers may get even better because I'll be going from being the oldest in my age bracket to the youngest in my age bracket (The big 5-0).  This old body can use any advantage it can get.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Snacking My Way Through The Internet

What does it mean to read?  I usually have defined it by the number of books I've read.  "Do you read? Yes, I read ten books last year."  Things changed a bit in 2011.  I stopped buying books.

Part of it was I was trying to save money for my 2011 Camino.  I switched from buying books to checking them out from the library.  This didn't work out so well because most of the books I wanted to read were not at my local library so I had to request them and then wait, often for three or four weeks, for the books to come in.  The number of books I read dropped 30% from the previous year

Things have changed again.  I haven't read a book since the first of the year.  Not a one.  That does not mean I haven't read anything though.  I read both magazines and online articles.  I used to save articles that I came across on the internet to services like Instapaper and Pocket.  Both of these services allow you to save articles so you can read them later.  The only problem was I didn't read the stuff I saved because it was awkward to read the articles on the desktop or the laptop.   This year, now that I've been using my Nexus 7 tablet and the Pocket app, I can read the saved articles anytime I want (even without an internet connection).  It's quite comfortable to read articles on my tablet and it's small enough to hold while lounging on the couch or in bed.

So I am reading things but, being the quantifying type of guy, I can't figure out how to measure if I'm reading more or less than I have in the past.  Magazine articles and online articles are not paginated the same as books so it really isn't possible to just add up the pages read like I've done in the past.

And what about quality?  Are National Geographic magazine articles or online articles of the same quality as a good book?  They are definitely shorter.  I wonder if the same amount of thought was put into the articles as was put into a well researched and edited book.  I seriously doubt it.

And then there is fiction.  My magazines and online articles are all non-fiction.  My only source of fiction in the past has been books and apparently it still is.  I could include television shows but is watching a show on the boob-tube the same as reading a book?  I think not.

So I'm in an odd place.  I feel like I'm reading more but it is all magazine and internet articles.  I feel I should be reading books (real or eBook ... they are the same to me) but the shorter forms are easier to fit in my schedule.  I guess you could say that reading is like food: I should eat a few well balanced meals (books) but I usually end up eating many small snacks (online articles) throughout the day instead.

Maybe it's time for me to reevaluate my reading habits ... and my need to quantify everything.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Late President's Day Observance

I went out for a walk today, my only one this week, and it turned out to have a connection with yesterday's President's Day holiday.  The connection is even stronger with Lincoln's birthday a week ago.

Old Lincoln Highway Marker showing the President Lincoln Medallion.
I put together a twelve mile loop in west Omaha, a part of Omaha that I don't walk very often.  A short but significant part of my route was along the old Lincoln Highway.  The stretch was in a relatively rural area of west Omaha, was marked with the standard Lincoln Highway markers (including the red, white, and blue painted electric poles), and was paved with red brick instead of the usual asphalt.  The markers have the profile of President Lincoln and blue arrows that reminded me of the yellow arrows of the Camino.  I watched a train go by as I walked along.  Here are all the pictures I took along this section of the Lincoln Highway.

The brick surface of the Old Lincoln Highway.
After walking part of the Lincoln Highway, I made my way to the West Papio trail that would take be back south to the car.  I'd wondered where this bike trail started and this walk gave me the opportunity to find out.  When I saw the zero mile maker I felt like I'd found the source of the Nile or something.  I know it wasn't a real accomplishment - I could have just looked at the city bike path map - but sometimes you just have to enjoy a little self-delusion.

Hope you all had a good President's Day!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Forty Eight Days In ... And Another Mediocre Post

Another week has gone by and things are doing well.  It seems I've been doing a lot of these lists of small events lately.  If I didn't do this type of post, Homer's Travels would be a bit empty.  Well, it is a little empty I guess but it would be worse.  I suppose I could have been breaking these posts into two or three shorter posts but I'm finding this an easier way to package my life.  If I broke it up into more posts, those posts would probably never be written.  So let's just get on with what I did this week.

I hiked in Fontenelle Forest this week using my poles.  Like the hike the prior week at Hitchcock, the trails were muddy.  This time I managed to stay upright.  I also managed to bend one of my poles.  I'm not sure where I did it or how it happened.  I stopped at a bird blind for a scheduled rest stop and I used the railing to help bend the lower section (of the three section pole) back into line.  It isn't perfect but it was usable again.  I ended up squeezing out over nine miles on the hike.

Later in the week I did a city walk around northeast Omaha.  I decided to walk in an area that I'd never walked before so chose a road that wraps around the east side of the Eppley Airfield, Omaha's main airport.  The road around the airfield is probably the most boring 5.1 miles in the state.  I was hoping to see at least some airplanes flying in and out of the airport but there were only three in the hour and a half that I spent walking the road.  The only notable thing along this road is the other side of the swing bridge but, because they are fixing and reinforcing the flood control levies around the airport, which were damages during the 2011 Missouri river flooding, you are not allowed to get very close to the bridge itself.

There was a first on this walk for me.  I'd been waiting for it to happen for quite awhile. While I was walking around the airport a police car slowed down and asked if I was okay.  There have been several times when I have waked along country roads and out of the way places and I've always wondered why no one, not even the police, had stopped to ask if I needed help.  I suppose if I'd really been in trouble I would have actively flagged down a passer by.   I suppose this time was different since I was walking around the airport, not a normal occurrence in this day and age.  It's nice to see that the police were doing their job.

We had some light snow Friday night.  On Saturday I went out with the leaf blower and cleared the driveway and sidewalk of our house and the neighbors.  Yes, I said leaf blower.  I'd seen a guy doing it the last time we had snow and, if the amounts are small and if the snow is of the light and dry variety, the leaf blower does a great job at clearing the snow.  In addition you don't have to bend over so much so my back is happy.

The only special event this week was going to the regional Poetry Out Loud competition.  The Wife's student had already qualified for State at another regional competition so we were there to scope out the competition and to listen to another of her students recite.  The student, winner of the Wife's school competition, could not compete because she was not a US citizen (she's an exchange student from China).  The second place school winner will be competing in the state finals in early March.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

NaNa NaNa NaNa NaNa Batman!

Saw this the other day.  Reminded me of one of my posts about my name and its connection with Batman.  The graph is a plot of the popularity of the name Bruce over the years.  The shape looks familiar ...

Seen on io9.com.  Originally posted on Reddit.com by TheIndieArmy

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Forty Days In ...

The dog sledding weekend gave this week a good start.  It wasn't really a busy week but it did have a couple good hikes, a few good movies, and a nice lunch.

On Tuesday I went hiking in Hitchcock Nature Center (I've been here many times before).  This was my second hike using trekking poles.  It was also one of my messiest hikes.  We'd had four inches of snow the week before followed by temperatures in the 40s so the snow turned to slush and the dirt trails of Hitchcock Nature Center turned into mud.

I started my hike early enough that the ground was still frozen.  The first hill, a steep downhill, still had a few inches of snow.  What I didn't know until it was too late was the snow covered a smooth sheet of ice.  I landed firmly on my butt.  I was a bit more careful from that point on.  As I continued on my hike I kept to either the center line of the path which usually had a covering of grass (most of the trails were two track dirt roads) or the grass covered edges of the trail.  This served me well.  I connected several trails together as I wound my way through forest and prairie.  I climbed up to the Westridge trail where I paused to rest at a campsite that will probably be my first camping location in 2014.  The campsite has a nice sand pad for your tent and a fire ring surrounded by logs to sit on.  It's located near the high point of the ridge and offers an near 270° view of the surrounding landscape.

After resting I started down a rather steep connector trail heading for Wildwood trail.  The wide path was a solid sheet of mud.  Hitchcock Nature Center is located in the Loess Hills which are made up of glacier carried and wind blown silt deposits.  The fine soil, almost like flour, is very clay-like.  When it gets wet, the surface takes on a greasy consistency.   I slowly crept down this trail along the grass and dead leaf covered edge.  As I continued down this edge got thinner and steeper.  I stopped near the bottom to figure out where I should step next.  At least I thought I'd stopped.  Before I could do much my feet continued down the trail.  I flailed a bit trying to use my poles to stop my sliding before flopping down into the slimy mud on my butt.  The good thing was the mud softened the blow.  The bad was it was all over my pants and coat (that was wrapped around my waist).  My poles and hands were also covered in mud as I'd tried to catch my fall and the mud had squished through my fingers.

I stood up, slipped and slid onto a flatter part of the trail and tried, unsuccessfully, to wipe the mud off my hands onto the snow.  Looking back it was kind of funny.  I made it back to the car without another incident.  I thought about going into the visitor's center to clean up but I decided not to mess up their floor and bathroom.  Instead, I stripped off the muddy coat and covered my car seat with plastic so I wouldn't get mud on it.  The mud was pretty much dry by the time I got to the car so I just flaked off the dry mud on my hands and went home.  My clothes went straight into the washing machine.

On Thursday I woke up with aching arms, a result of the trekking pole work I'm sure, but nothing else.  I'd tweaked my back on a couple falls earlier in January (damn ice!) but the two falls on Tuesday didn't hurt my back.  I guess I'm learning how to properly take a fall.  Now I just have to learn how not to fall.  The aching in my arms didn't last long and I went for a quick and uneventful hike around Big Lake Park and Council Bluffs, IA.  The afternoon was spent at the Ruth Sokolof theater watching the Oscar Nominated short live-action and animated films.  I usually prefer the animation but this year the live-action shorts were better.

On Friday I went out to lunch with my Mom followed by the obligatory stop at Dairy Queen for ice cream.  A perfect finish to a rather nice week.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Minnesota Mushing

Dog Sledding.  We tried to do it last year but there was not enough snow.  Last year was the year without a winter in some places.  This year we had enough snow so off to northern Minnesota we went.

Last Saturday, after driving up the night before, we joined the Matron of Honor (MoH) and the Best Man (BM) and drove up to Duluth, MN to Positive Energy Outdoors, a non-profit organization that organizes outdoor activities including dog sledding.

We arrived at their rural location and proceeded to add layer upon layer of clothes.  It was cold.  The forecast was for a high of 8°F (-13°C) and a low of -16°F (-27°C).  Add the artificial wind chill of riding a moving dog sled and it was going to be frigid to say the least.  Fortunately there was no wind and it was sunny.

We were introduced to some of the dogs.  They have 50+ dogs, all rescued from racing teams when they either did not make the team or when the team was being disbanded.  The dogs are amazingly small.  They are a mixture of all breeds (i.e. mutts).  They are all referred to as Alaskan huskies (not a real breed of dog) despite their mixed breeding.  After a few introductions we helped put harnesses on the dogs and connect them up into teams.  We learned how the dogs are paired to balance their pulling force and their dispositions.

Yapping dog ready to do some running.
Four teams were assembled - ten, eight, and two six dog teams - Each of us climbed into a sled and off we went.  While we were hooking up the dogs they were a cacophony of yapping, yipping, and barking but when they started running it was dead quiet.  The dogs were all business.  The mushers took us through a frozen bog and along wooded trails used for dogs, horses, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and hiking.  We left the trails when we emerged onto the frozen surface of Island Lake Reservoir.

On Island Lake Reservoir.
I took most of my pictures and videos on this first part.  At that point my hands started to hurt so I put the camera away and pulled on some mittens over my gloves.  I'd started out in the second sled (we were forming a sort of a dog sledding convoy).  Some point along this part my musher hurt his arm (He said he tore a tricep muscle).  The first and second mushers switched sleds and I ended up in the head sled.  My musher told me how he could steer the dogs with voice commands and he pointed out features of the reservoir.

As you can see in the video, the dogs move fast.  We were going between 12 and 15 MPH (19 and 25 km per hour).  The dogs did slow down after a few miles of running full bore.
About half way through we stopped to stretch our legs and to give the dogs a break.  By the sound of their yapping, they did not want a break.  As the other sleds caught up with us I realized that the BM was mushing his sled (He ended up doing it for almost seven miles we estimate).  I took some pictures of the sleds and dogs and of the wide, white expanse of the lake.

We switched up sleds before we started again.  My new musher asked if I wanted to drive and I was hesitant.  Thankfully a little while later we had another opportunity and she asked again.  I'd been thinking how I would feel if I did not take this opportunity so I said yes.  She gave me a basic rundown of the breaking systems (there are three) and off we went.  I have to say it felt very easy to me.  I wasn't really doing much.  The dogs knew where they were going (i.e. following the sled ahead of us).  The only thing I really had to do was apply the break when we went downhill so the sled wouldn't run over the dogs and to help push the sled on the up hill sections (On my first hill the dogs actually looked back at me like they were asking "Why aren't you pushing back there?").  It might have been easy for me since the dogs were all getting tired and were not as rambunctious.  The MoH had mushed a little bit too but she was overwhelmed by the energy of the dogs - I think she mushed too soon and her musher should have let the dogs burn off some of their energy first before offering the sled to the MoH.

Heading through the forest.
We returned to the start, the dogs were given a treat of frozen poultry fat, and we helped unhook and unharness the dogs.  We all swapped notes and agreed that it was AWESOME!  Sadly the Wife did not mush her dogs (long story).  This will be corrected next time, and yes, there will be a next time.  We had such a good time that we are going to do it again next year (snow willing).

As we started to shed layers and we talked to the Positive Energy folks about all the other activities they offer.  We are now looking into coming back to do some kayaking on the reservoir the summer.

We ended the day with dinner, and brew, at a brewpub in Duluth.  We kept saying "Wow! We just dog sledded!"  It felt kind of like a dream and that is how this kind of experience should feel.  It should be dreamy and full of awesome memories.  Dog sledding in Duluth was all that.

I took a few pictures but they had quite a bit of redundancy so I picked seven pictures and two videos to illustrate the experience.  Pictures can be found in my 2012-02-02 Dog Sledding Google Photos album.  Videos can be found on YouTube Here and Here.