Homer's Travels: March 2013

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Photograph: Evil Easter Bunny

Is is just me or does this chocolate Easter bunny have a crazy look in its eyes?

"Evil Easter Bunny"
By Bruce H.
Happy Easter Everybody!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Spring Day's Exploration

I went for a hike yesterday.  It was the second of the week and it was awesome.  I'd kept my first hike of the week relatively short (10.5 miles - 16.9 km) since I was still recovering from a cold and from some of the aching muscles I got from curling.  I felt pretty good after that hike so on Friday I decided to push it a bit more.

My plan was to do a 12.5 miles (20.1 km) walk through Council Bluffs, IA.  I would start from the Nebraska end of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge and walk to Fairmount Park located on a hill overlooking the city.  The day was perfect for a hike with temperatures nearly reaching 68°F (20°C), the lightest of breezes, and without a cloud in the sky.

Fairmount park is a nice little park tucked up on the top a section of the loess hills that pass through Council Bluffs.  There are areas for picnickers and a lookout point.  I entered the park and headed over to the lookout. As I got there a car pulled up.  I looked over to see who was joining me when I saw the driver of the car lean over to whisper in the passenger's ear ... or maybe she was kissing him ... or maybe it was going a bit farther.  I decided that I would let the lovebirds have some privacy and I turned and walked away instead of enjoying the view.  This didn't bother me much as the view from the lookout is not the most impressive, overlooking a mostly industrial and commercial part of Council Bluffs.

I decided to explore more of the little park.  I followed a trail that appeared to lead out of the park.  The trail took me to a trailhead that I'd seen on other walks and had always wondered where it went.  I use the term trailhead loosely as I don't think these trails are official but they do appear to be well traveled.  I'll have to go back someday and explore a few more of the trails that wind around the park.

As I was nearing the park exit I saw a sign for the Fairmount Lodge.  I turned and followed the sign up a road I'd seen a few times before but never followed.  The road climbs a short hill, the only type of hill we have in these parts, and arrive to the "lodge".  The lodge was a half buried affair, the roof being a railed in patio.  Under the patio was a room that would have been used for either a food stand or tables for indoor parties.  At one end of the room were bathrooms.  At least, that is what it once was.  Three of the four doors were barred.  The last may have been sealed at some point but was now open.  I went in and found graffiti covered ruins

Revolutionary Graffiti ... In Ruins.
I have always been a bit fond of ruins.  There is always an aura of mystery.  What surprised me most, really, was the type of graffiti. Beside the usual anarchy symbol was an hammer and sickle, kind of unexpected in such a conservative part of the country.  Other slogans talked about "Red Revolution" and "Worker Power". None of the graffiti was particularly artistic.  Pictures of the "lodge" can be found here.

Red Revolution ... On Yellow.
I headed back out of the park and made my way back to the car, stopping first for an unhealthy, but yummy, lunch at Arby's.  I ended up walking more than I had planned.  I think the gorgeous spring weather encouraged me to wander a little more than I usually do.  I ended up doing 14.2 miles (22.8 km).  The important thing is I felt pretty good after the walk.  I think I can call this cold ... and Winter ... officially over.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Camino 2013 - New Trails, New Stages, New Planning

The month of March is almost over and I think I need to start planning for my upcoming Camino.  Who am I kidding?  I've been planning for my second Camino since I got back from my first.  My planning started with deciding on a route.  I've already mentioned the new route in other posts a few times now but I have always been a bit repetitive.  Instead of starting in Saint Jean Pied de Port the "traditional" start of the Camino Frances as I did last time I will be starting in Oloron Sainte Marie, France a bit further south on a route known as the Arles route.  The Arles goes from Arles, France (naturally) to the Spanish border near Somport.  From there the route changes name to the Aragónes route named after the Aragón river it follows.

There are nine walking stages between Oloron Sainte Marie and Obanos close to where the Aragónes merges with the Frances route.  This stretch is said to be beautiful and rather solitary as few pilgrims take this route.  I will be walking with GV, who I met on my last Camino, so I won't be totally alone.  I think this will be a good start for my Camino giving me some quiet time on the trails before joining the throngs that walk the Frances every year.  Included on this section will be a detour to the San Juan de la Peña monastery.  We will be taking a bus, probably, from the city of Jaca to the monastery and then walking from the monastery back to the Camino.  This will give us time to explore the monastery and get some walking in.

The Aragónes route joins the Frances near the town of Obanos.  The way from Obanos to Santiago de Compostela is the same one that I walked last time.  Planning the stages on this part of the Camino has been challenging.  I am trying to satisfy a few criteria that GV and I have both agreed on:
  • First, avoid the larger cities.
  • Second, avoid as many of the places we stopped at last time.
  • Third, include some of our favorite stops as well as add a few we missed on the first Camino (places like Grañon and the monastery at Samos).
I started to put together a plan in November 2011.  It took me four versions before I had a set of stages that would meet most of the criteria.  This process was complicated by the fact that some albergues close for the winter and this had to be taken into account.

Late last year, a whole year after I'd put together version 4.0,  I took another look at the stages and generated version 5.0.  Last month I looked at the stages again and realized that my plans were too aggressive.  I had the opposite problem than last time when my planned stages were too conservative.  Back then I planned roughly thirty-five stages from Obanos to Santiago de Compostela.  In actuality I walked it in thirty (I actually bused two stages - this is included in the thirty).  Version 5.0 had me doing it in twenty-six.  I went back to the drawing board.

I am now on version 9.0.  The plan has twenty-eight stages between Obanos and Santiago de Compostela.  I'm stumbling my way to a more realistic plan. Twelve of the forty-one stages will be repeat stops (including Santiago de Compostela and a few stops on the way to Fisterra).  Two of the repeats are cities (León and Astorga).  Version 9.0 includes walking to Fisterra (three days) and continuing on to Muxia (one day) and includes all the "must stops" that we wanted.  I haven't met all the criteria but I think I did a pretty good job.  All plans are subject to change so there are a four days of padding to play with.   In an emergency we can bus to Fisterra and Muxia freeing up two more days.

One thing I found, while planning the stages, was if I stopped at everyplace with fond memories from last time, I would pretty much walk the same Camino as last time.  Sometimes you have to let go of some good memories to allow the creation of new good memories.

You can find the proposed list of stages on the Camino de Santiago tab at the top of the page or you can just click here.

So what am I getting myself into this time?  Last time I walked 513.61 miles (826.58 km). This time I will be doing 626.96 miles (1,009 km).  Substantially more.  I will be walking it in forty-one days, five days more than in 2011.  I will be averaging about one mile more per day than I did last time.  I will also have the longest hiking day I've ever had between La Faba and Samos (22 miles - 35.5 km).

The only thing that is guaranteed about this plan is that it will not be the final plan.  Last time I never predicted I would stop in Burgos for two days to let my tendinitis heal.  Who knows what will happen this time.  The only thing that is certain is that there will be changes along the way.  That is the way of the Camino.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Photograph: Princess

When I go hiking I have a couple of choices to make.  One is to find a park and hike in the wilderness.  The other is to do a walk around the city.  The first choice usually has a lot of beauty associated with it.  The other can be a bit sterile ... unless you take the graffiti into account.  I'm not a fan of tagging (the act of writing your signature or sign on a surface) but I am a fan of artfully done graffiti such as the one I saw on an electrical box in downtown Omaha:

By Bruce H.
Note: The artwork was not signed and I took the liberty of naming it.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Curling ...Once Again

Saturday was the third annual Sioux City Curling Classic (A news video) and like the last two, the Wife and I went up to participate.

Friday night was introduction to the game and practice on the ice.  There were nearly double the teams this year over last and the curling classic is becoming a popular even in Sioux City.  This round of curling classic, being organized by the Brother-in-Law (BiL), was much better organized than the last one where the scoring had been chaotic and a bit infuriating.

After practice we all went out for a late dinner where I ate a complete plate of Garlic - Parmesan bread sticks followed by a french dip sandwich.  By the end of the night I was feeling a bit disgusted with myself.  The next morning, having to get up early for our first match, I continued to feel bloaty and generally crappy from the night before.  I'm thankful that I don't drink because if I did I probably would have been totally incapacitated.  I can be such a lightweight at times.

Our team was a bit smaller than last time.  ST, who had played the last two times was not available this time so we played with a team of five.  The BiL was one of our five and he was a bit torn between his organization/scoring/playing duties.

We lost our first match (3-1).  We tied our second match (1-1) so we had a shoot out.  I threw for our team (the PRESSURE!).  My throw was terrible but the opposing team's thrower was worse so we won the second match.  We won our third match ... when the other team forfeited.  Not the best performance but it was enough to get us into the semi-finals.

The last match was at 3:00.  One of our team members, one of the Wife's nieces, became sick and dropped out after the second match, so the BiL and I ended up throwing twice as much as we would have had we had a full team.  I'd been relatively fresh for the first three matches but as time went by I felt my energy flow out of me.  I was getting tired.  My performance in the fourth match showed it too.  My aim has always been fairly decent.  My main problem has been throwing the stone too hard.  During my fourth match I would say that half of my stones didn't even make it to the opposite hog line (the stone must cross the opposite hog line to remain in play).  Another quarter of my throws were way off the mark.  The game ended with a 1-4 loss and me being totally exhausted.

I was so tired I let the Wife drive home - those who know me know that I usually do all the driving.  I think my issue was a combination of still not being over my cold, eating too much junk after the practice session, and having to throw more than I have in the past.  I woke up this morning and my thighs are screaming.  I don't remember that happening last year.  I don't think it's old age creeping in.  Must be the cold.

Despite all this we had fun and we are all looking forward to the Sioux City Curling Classic IV ... where I hopefully won't be fighting a cold and we will have a full team.  Next time ... Victory will be ours!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Cold First Day Of Spring

Today is the first day of Spring and I was planning to commemorate this day with a 12.5 mile walk around Council Bluffs.  I got up, did my stretching and strength exercises I do each weekday to prevent the plantar fasciitis that I successfully battled late last year and to keep my pelvis on the straight and narrow, and then felt totally exhausted.  I guess the cold that I thought I was getting over is hanging around for one more day.

So today, the first day of Spring, a very chilly, below average, Spring day, will be spent resting and recuperating.  No walking for me today.  I have to recover since I will be curling this weekend and need all the energy I can get to finish last again this year.

I'd been hoping for an early spring, as were the flowers in our back yard, but the snow in the forecast for this weekend is saying otherwise.  Oh well, it will be here soon enough ... we just have to be patient.

Happy First Day Of Spring Everybody!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Photograph: Spring Preview

From our backyard. a little preview of what is to come ... soon.
"Spring Preview"
By Bruce H.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Goodbye Google Reader ... Time To Move On To The Next Shiny Object

I am a news junky.  I get news mostly from RSS feeds and Facebook.  This week a very useful tool for keeping up with the happening around me began a three month process that will end in its demise.

For years now I've been been among the thousands ... millions (???) ... of people who used Google Reader (GR) as their RSS feed reader.  GR brought me my daily news,  my morning funnies, my tech news, and, most importantly, my blog posts from my Internet friends.  When I learned Wednesday that Google, in it's attempt to clean up its portfolio of services, will be killing GR, I went into mourning.  It was like I was losing an old friend.

By coincidence, a few days earlier ... I can't remember when ... has it been a week? .... more?  ... anyway, I decided to dip my little toe into the Twitter puddle.  I'd thought of doing it for a while.  What had stopped me before was I didn't know what I would get from Twitter that I already didn't get from my RSS feeds.  I finally took the plunge when I realized that I'd better stake a claim to my Twitter handle before someone else got it (yeah, I'm a bit late but I was lucky as it was still available).  My Twitter handle is @HomersTravels.  I haven't tweeted anything yet but I plan to tweet my Homer's Travels posts just like I auto-post them to Facebook.  As a matter of fact this post should be my first official Tweet (apologies to everyone who is both my Facebook friend and my Twitter follower for the redundancy).

What does Google Reader and Twitter have to do with each other?  Turns out a lot of my RSS feeds (like Engadget, Gizmodo, Boing Boing, etc.) are also tweeted.  Following a sites twitter feed does the same as subscribing to their RSS feed.  Twitter is not a complete replacement for GR though.  Many of the blogs I follow do not have a twitter account so I will still have to find an RSS reading solution.

That's where FlipBoard comes in.  My relationship with Flipboard has been a bit rocky.  The app allows you to combine multiple social networks/aggregators (Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, Flickr, YouTube  among others) into one slick, magazine style, user experience.  At first I found it confusing and difficult to use, especially when using it to read GR RSS feeds.  The app seems to have a limit to the number of RSS articles it would download at a time.  It took a little snooping to realize this and, after you've read your feeds, you had to reload to get more articles.  I was so frustrated that I uninstalled it ... and reinstalled it ... at least three times before I decided to buckle down and just learn it.  My experience with FlipBoard changed when I used it to read my Twitter feed.  The Best Man had said he used FlipBoard to read Twitter and I can see why he likes it - it can be pretty slick.  As I have added twitter feeds, I have deleted RSS feeds and this, in turn, makes GR work better with FlipBoard because there are fewer RSS feed articles and you don't bump up against the limit as often.

So, how does FlipBoard help with the whole GR is going away issue?  This FlipBoard blog post says it all.  It appears that if you link your GR account with FlipBoard, they will copy all of your feeds over.  It also explains that you can add any RSS feeds to FlipBoard.

So, it seems that a combination of Twitter and FlipBoard will solve my problem while giving the added benefit of aggregating all my updates into one app.  No more checking GR then checking Facebook then checking Twitter then back to the beginning ... ad nauseum.  With the addition of Twitter to my news repertoire I will never be starved for news.  If anything my news obsession will go into overdrive.  The only issue I have now is that FlipBoard is a mobile app only and there is no desktop interface.  Since I am finding I'm using my Nexus 7 much more than my desktop for casual browsing, I don't imagine this will be a problem.

A side benefit of all this Google Reader brewhaha (on Twitter the shut down of Google Reader trended higher than the new pope for a while) is that I'm taking the time to trim out the chaff in my RSS feeds and doing a little housecleaning.  Turns out I have a lot of feeds that I rarely read or rarely update.  All this cleaning ... and just in time for Spring.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Preparation Not Prepared

Today the weather was perfect for a hike.  There was a light breeze, much lighter than on Tuesday, and the temps were going to be in the upper 40s to low 50s.  I decided to go to a state park I haven't been too for a long time.  As a matter of fact I've only been there once back in 2010.  The park: Preparation Canyon.

I got in the car and just under an hour and a half later I rolled up to a padlocked gate.  Yeah, the park was closed.  No sign of explanation anywhere.  This was a bit disappointing since I'd visited the park's web page a few days earlier to print out a trail map and had seen nothing about the park being closed.

Not wanting this to be a total waste I headed to the nearby Loess Hills Overlook, a nice viewing platform in the Loess Hills State Forest.  From the observation platform you can take a short trail along a ridge line.  The  trail was muddy (Loess Hills mud is thick and sticky - the worst kind) so I walked along the edge on the grass.  The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) must be working on the trail as several evergreen trees along the trail had been cut and the trees were left on the trail.  I assume they will be returning to cut them up and remove them from the trail.  I stepped over or walked around several trees until I reached a fence.  I turned around and took a spur along a side ridge until I hit another fence. From there I returned to the observation platform.  All in all I walked a whopping 1.24 miles.  Not very satisfying.

The trail runs along the ridge.  (This is what it looks like in late summer.)
While I was walking this path along the ridge I remembered that Preparation Canyon has a "back" entrance to give campers easy access to the back country campsites.  After my little ridge walk I drove to the back entrance.  The back road, like many roads in the Loess Hills, is a dirt road.  Just as the trail I had been on was muddy, the dirt road I turned on was also muddy.  It didn't take long before my ol' Honda was sliding around.  I decided to turn around before I ended up in a ditch and headed home, my hiking itch unscratched.

UPDATE:  While I was drafting this post I sent an e-mail to the Iowa DNR and got a very quick response.  I could have parked outside the gate and hiked in (I actually considered this but I tend to respect locked gates).  He said the park us usually closed between Dec and Apr but that he would go up there soon to unlock the gate.  He apologized about not updating the web page and was nice enough to attach a new updated trail map (there are more trails now).  Looks like I'll have to go up there again ... when it's drier.

Updated Map of Preparation Canyon
{Click on it to see a bigger version}

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Pole Position

A while back I mentioned that I had to figure out how to get my trekking poles to Spain for my next Camino.     The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) frowns upon taking trekking poles into the airplane cabin and, since I was going to carry on my pack and all its contents, I had to figure out how to get my trekking poles and a small pocket knife/scissors, whose inch and a half blade would also be considered a deadly weapon, to the start of my Camino.

Earlier this week the Camino must have whispered in the TSA's ear when they announced both small knives and poles would be allowed in carry on bags.  This fixes all my problems.  I should be able to pack my poles and pocket knife into my pack and carry them on the plane.  I just hope the flight attendants and the sky marshals don't get their way and get the TSA to reverse their decision.

There is another trekking pole issue I have to tackle.  It's not that big of an issue but I am notoriously indecisive.   During my Fontenelle Forest hike a few weeks ago I bent one of my poles.  While I managed to straighten it, the third section will no longer collapse (trekking poles collapse to make them easy to pack/transport).  Not being able to collapse one of my poles means I need to buy new poles.  Should I buy my poles in the US before I go or should I buy them in Oloron-Sainte Marie, France where I will be starting my Camino?  Should I buy good ones (i.e. expensive ones) or buy cheap ones for the Camino and buy better ones when I get back to use on the Appalachian Trail?  Decisions, decisions.

Buying the poles in France would make it easier - one last thing to pack - but it would also mean a late start on the first day because I would have to go to an outfitter and buy a set of poles.  And what about the quality of the poles?  My first instinct would be to buy a nice set of (probably) expensive poles but expensive poles have been known to walk off on their own along the Camino.

Any suggestions or thoughts (including suggestions on brands you would recommend) are welcome in the comments.  I have some time to think about these minor conundrum.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Blown Away

I think I must have been a little crazy when I went walking today.  The temps were in the 20s-30s, not really that cold, but these temps were accompanied by some wicked northwest winds.  Half of the walk was fine because I was heading to the east or south and the wind was at my back.  The other half was pure heck frozen over.

I must have looked pretty bad as I walked west along Cornhusker road.  This stretch of busy road borders a river (the Papio) and flat farmland that provided no obstruction to the wind.  You know how I posted about no one ever stopping to ask if I needed help (I talk about it here)?  Well, I must have really looked pathetic today because three ... count them, three ... cars slowed down and asked if I was okay and asked if I needed a lift.  It's really nice to know that people care but it's not nice to know that I looked so bad.  I told all three of the drivers that I was fine and thanked them for stopping with a smile.

I managed to complete the walk though it turned out to be a half mile shorter than Google Maps had said it would be.  I was hoping for around twelve and a quarter miles and ended up with a less satisfying 11.85 miles.  I guess Google doesn't take the wind into consideration when it measures distance.   That sounds a lot better than saying it was user error.  At least that's what I think.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

In Search Of A Group

When I returned from the Camino I looked for Camino groups in Omaha.  I'd heard of various groups where  pilgrims and pilgrims-to-be got together to swap stores and advice.  I was disappointed when I couldn't find any close to home.  A week or so ago, while perusing the Camino Forum, I came upon a post about the first meeting of the Camino de Nebraska.  That meeting was last night.  I was excited.

The meeting was held at the Holy Family Shrine in Gretna, NE.  The organizer  who was planning her own Camino in a few years, invited a guest speaker who had walked the Camino twice (Spring 2009 & Fall 2011).  I looked forward to sharing stories and learning from the guest speaker's experience.

My expectations turned out to be off the mark.  I'd had a very good experience at the Backwoods Camino Conversation last January and I'd expected that this would be something like that - a gathering of future and past pilgrims exchanging stories and ideas.   It really wasn't anything like that.  The speaker, instead of facilitating a conversation, lectured.  The lecture was more about the speaker's experiences than how you should go about planning your own Camino.  The group of people in the group, maybe a dozen, really were more curious than really interested in doing the Camino - there were a few of course including the organizer and her daughter who were planning to do it.  I did enjoy the speakers pictures as they took me back to my Camino.

The organizer is also trying to put together several mini-pilgrimages to and from several religious shrines/churches in Nebraska (hence the name Camino de Nebraska).  Joining in on one or more of these hikes is tempting but I haven't decided if I'll participate or not.

I'm not sure if this groups is right for me.  The guest speaker's lecture fit the group well I think but I didn't feel like I fit in.  There was a religious undertone that really doesn't appeal to me.  Maybe it was just the setting of the first meeting and how the hikes were being described as pilgrimages to churches and shrines.  Maybe I'm reading too much into it.  Not really sure why that even bothers me since the Camino is a religious pilgrimage ... a pilgrimage that has become very secular.

I'll be keeping my eye on the Camino de Nebraska group.  Wait and see how it progresses.  Who knows, I may discover that my first impressions were wrong.  But, when I mentioned I'd been looking for a local Camino group, I was told twice that I should start my own, a clear indication to me that the Camino de Nebraska is not the group that I'm searching for.