Homer's Travels: April 2013

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Four Days Of Walking

This week has been dominated by a lot of walking.  I ended up walking four times this week, the most in one week since my Camino.

The first walk was my usually scheduled urban walk on Tuesday.  This week I walked around Bellevue, NE, a suburb of Omaha.  It was a nice pack-less and pole-less walk.  It was windy but the temps were warming up as spring finally start asserting itself this week.  The walk took me through some nicer neighborhoods up in the hills near Fontenelle Forest.  At one point I was admiring the houses when I saw two concrete deer in a house's backyard.  I thought this was a bit cheesy for the nice neighborhood until I noticed the ear of one of the deer twitch.  They weren't concrete.  They were real and were watching me attentively.  Not so cheesy after all.  The hike ended up being 12.42 miles (20 km).

The second hike was the Hawk Walk charity event for the Wife's school on Wednesday.  You donate money for tuition assistance and get to walk with 700+ students from the school to lake Zorinsky, around the lake, and back to the school.  This was the second time I've done the Hawk Walk, the first time being the last hike before I left for my 2011 Camino.  I'd used that one to be sort of a dress rehearsal for my Camino and I walked it with a full pack.  This time I walked pack-less and pole-less (Last time I got some strange looks).  The weather couldn't have been much better - sunny with a cool breeze.  I ended up walking it in just a sweatshirt and jeans.  Spring is definitely here.  The distance ended up being 5.27 miles (8.5 km).  This was the first time I've done back-to-back hikes since the Camino.

The third hike was my normally scheduled Friday hike.  This year it fell on Arbor Day, a holiday that was first observed in Nebraska, and the tree lined Wabash Trace was the perfect place to celebrate.  I started in Silver City and headed south with a full pack and poles.  I also used an hydration bladder instead of a bottle this time.  I'd been using a one liter bottle on the last few pack hikes but I found it a bit difficult getting it in and out of the side pack pocket.  The one liter bottle was a bit too big for easy access I think.  The bladder, with it's attached drinking tube, is much easier to access while walking.  The hike was a bit tougher than I expected but I was able to counter the tiredness of my legs with more frequent rest stops.  I tend to not stop for rests or I keep them limited to one or two.  This hike I rested at the 4, 6, 8, and 11 mile marks or about twice as many times as normal.  The distance ended up being 12.18 miles (19.6 km) despite the internal debate about shortening the hike to 10 miles.  I guess that extra five miles I did on the Hawk Walk took its toll.  Surprisingly my legs felt better than usual after the hike with the strength recovering in a few hours.

The fourth, and last hike, was a Backwoods hosted/guided hike in Indian Cave State Park.  I'd been trying to attend one of these Backwoods' hikes since the beginning of the year but the last two have fallen on the same days as Trek Up The Tower and Curling.  I hoped to meet some like minded hikers and, perhaps, discover some new hiking trails in the area.  We met at the trailhead shortly after 9:00 AM and the ten or so of us (including the two Backwoods people) hiked trails 10, 11, and 9, stopping to rest at the Indian Cave.  I would say a third to a half of the people were new to hiking.  The remainder had same experience.  I'd walked most of these trails before but we did follow an alternate steep descending trail from an overlook to trailhead 11 that I'd never done before.  It was one of those trails that if you tripped you would have had a hard time stopping.  Fortunately we all made it down without incident.  The final distance turned out to be 4.18 miles (6.7 km).  It was also the first hike I've done with both a pack and elevation.  It went well.  I like to hike alone but I enjoyed having people, including two interested in doing the Camino, with me this time.

All four hikes this week were very satisfying and I like how my body is recuperating after the hikes.  I've been experimenting with a few things to reduce the stress on my feet but these will be shared in another post.  I will say that my feet feel pretty good after 34.05 miles (54.8 km) this week which, I hope, will translate into a more comfortable 2013 Camino.


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Wandering Around The Near Future

When I hike my mind wanders.  Usually to the past.  I've re-walked the Camino countless times since I got back.  Sometimes, when I am preoccupied by something, I wander in the present.  Last week, during my two hikes, I wandered around the near future.  Back in January, the first post of the year as a matter of fact, I implied that I would not make any plans for the new year.  During my wandering last week I threw that idea into the trash bin and I made plans.  Actually they are less plans than a framework that someday may become a plan.

My change of heart came when I realized without something to work towards, something more concrete than some vague notions of what I would be doing in the future, I would never achieve any of those vague notions.  None of these goals are new.  I have mentioned some many times before but, for the first time, I have attached a date ... or at least a year to each one.  Here is the framework I put together:
  • 2013:  A week or two in and around New Orleans in June.  My second Camino in September - October.
  • 2014:  The Wife and I are going to Africa.  Most likely Kenya, Tanzania, Zanzibar, and one other country.  The other country will likely be Egypt but, if the political situation changes to the worse then we will have to find an alternate and we have a handful of options..
  • 2015:  I will finally do RAGBRAI.  I've talked about doing it for years and now I am setting a date.  I will have a year and a half to train for it after I return from My Camino which should be plenty.
  • 2016: The Wife and I are tentatively going back to South America for an Amazon cruise, Patagonia, Chile, and Easter Island.  Plans for this trip are still a bit vague which is to be expected at this early stage.
  • 2017:  This is the year of the big one.  The Appalachian Trail (AT).  I've said that I wanted to do this before I turned 55 - in 2017 I will turn 54.  I will be attempting a through-hike.  Thousands try to through-hike the AT every year.  Only one in four succeed.  Training for this one will start after my return from the Camino, training that will include learning how to camp and hiking with more weight.  Hopefully three years is enough time to prepare.  Camping skills will also be useful for RAGBRAI.
So there you have it.  An ambitious plan with actual years attached to events.  I am ready to step up to the challenge ... or should I say challenges.  I just hope my body is up to the challenge.

Whatever happens, I should be able to get a few good posts out of  my efforts.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Photograph: Autoco-Wrong

A sign I saw on my walk today. Gave me a chuckle.

by Bruce H.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Tale Of Two Hikes

This week was dreary, drizzly, and a bit of a downer.  The light snow on Wednesday and Thursday didn't nelp.  Gloomy weather always dampens my mood.  I sometimes wonder how I survived California's June Gloom.  I countered the gloomy cloudscape with a couple of hikes.  The first was an urban/urban park walk through Council Bluffs, IA.  The second was a nature hike along the Wabash Trace Nature Trail.  Would you like to guess which walk had more wildlife?  If you guesses the Nature Trail you would be ... wrong.


The first hike was on Tuesday.  I expected this to be a rainy and wet hike.  It turned out to be a drizzly wet one but, fortunately for me, it never got above a heavy mist.  The umbrella I carried hardly was used but my rain jacket was and, surprisingly, I did not overheat like I usually do when I wear it.

The urban hike took me across the John Kerrey pedestrian bridge into Council Bluffs and up into the Loess Hills.  My original route would have taken be through a cemetery on top of the hill and would have been about two miles longer than what I eventually did.  Google maps let me down when an intersection turned out not to exist ... or once again I missed it.  When I hike my mind tends to be a million miles away and missing a turn would not be a surprise.

I'd never really walking up into the hills in Council Bluffs before.  One thing I discovered was, as you get closer to the hills and start climbing, the property values and the size of the homes climb as well.  On the top of the ridge the houses appeared to be a bit out of my price range.  Along with the expensive homes I saw wild turkeys - the first wildlife of the hike.

I went down the other side of the hill (and watched the home values decline as well) and went to the nearby Big Lake Park passing a curious deer along the way.  Big Lake Park actually has four lakes or, more correctly in my opinion, ponds.  One of the smaller ponds is open to fishermen though this cold, drizzly day kept the fishermen away.  The others serve as habitat for all sorts of birds and animals.  This time through the park I saw two types of birds that I usually don't associate with land-locked Iowa: Pelicans and seagulls.  At first I thought I was seeing snow geese, more common in these parts this time of year,  but the long bills gave the pelicans away.

Pelicans ... in Iowa.
From the park I walked back to the car. The wildlife filled urban hike turned out to be 11.32 miles (18.2 km), two miles shorter than what I'd planned.  Despite this It was a satisfying hike and my spirits were lifted.


The second hike was a bit more substantial.  While the urban hike was just a simple walk, the walk I did on Friday was a full blown training hike.  I had my poles and, more importantly, I carried a full pack on my back.  This was the first time I'd carried a pack since my last walking day of my Camino (23 June 2011).

My backpack was packed with essentially the same gear I'll be taking in September.  I ended up over packing.  Instead of using a water bladder I used a one liter bottle and, thinking it would unbalance the pack, I put extra weight on the other side of the pack to balance out the bottle.  I thought the extra weight would be roughly the same as some of the stuff I had not yet purchased.  The final pack weight was 17.6 lb (8 kg).  I think this weight was about one or two pounds heavier than my pack will actually be.  I overcompensated for things I hadn't bought yet.

The hike was along the Wabash Trace Nature Trail (The three pictures in the slide show on their home page are mine - others can be seen here).  I started from the Council Bluffs end and headed in a roughly southern direction down the flat, straight trail.  I started out pretty good.  The pack did feel heavier than I expected and I will have to rethink how I pack things in the backpack.  The smaller pack size carries a bit differently from how my older pack did.  The older pack seemed a bit more forgiving.  The new one will require some thought.  I ended up shifting a few things around in the pack part way through the hike which made the pack ride more comfortably.  Carrying water in a hydration bladder will also shift some weight closer to my body and show help it ride better.  Next time I wear the pack I will use a bladder.

View from a bench along the a Wabash Trace.
Despite being overcast and gloomy, Friday was probably the best day of the week.  At least it wasn't raining.  The trees were leafless and, frankly, the Wabash Trace can be boring in spots - too straight and flat.  Having said this, there were still nice views from the trail and the new bench they added on the trail looked very welcoming.  I'd seen a similar bench in another part of the Wabash back in 2010.  I didn't try it out because I was afraid I would never want to get up.

A welcoming bench along the Wabash Trace.
When I planned this hike I didn't take the pack weight into account.  I planned for a 14 mile hike which would have been fine without a load but with a pack, especially when you take into account that it had been a couple years since I walked with a pack, I should have shortened the hike.  Around the six mile mark my legs started feel a little achy.  I turned around at mile seven.  My legs complained quite a bit the seven miles back to the car.  They're still complaining today.  It's been awhile since I've had aches and pains the day after walking.  In the end I hiked 14.09 miles (22.7 km).

Friday, April 12, 2013

Photograph: Officer Big Mac

At the risk of Homer's Travels becoming one of those Facebook "Like if you know what this is" statuses, here is a picture I took the other day while on a walk through Council Bluffs Iowa.

"Officer Big Mac"
by Bruce H.
Makes me a little happy and sad ... and hungry.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Passings And Changes

I figured I should put a post together so I looked to see if there was a theme to my week gone by.   The only thing that I could see is death.

The week started with Easter which has, as one of its components, death.  Of course Easter is about much more, specifically everlasting life and change.

Later in the week Iain M. Banks, the author of the Culture series (of which I have read eight of the nine books), announced that he had been given a prognosis of only months to live.  Makes you wonder what you would do if you found out you would not live out the year.  Would I go out and travel the world and live my last time on this Earth to its fullest or would I crawl up into a ball in some dark corner and wallow in a pool of self-pity?  I think that's a question nobody really knows how to answer until it actually happens to you.

Next came the death of Roger Ebert.  In the days when I was still a fan of going to the movies I remember watching Siskel and Ebert every weekend to see what movie(s) I should go to watch the following weekend.  When he left the show after his cancer diagnosis I stopped watching and sometime later I lost interest in movies (at least going to the movies at a theater).  Strange how the death of a celebrity can bring on the  feeling of sadness I experienced when I heard the news.

The week ended with me going to the funeral of my Uncle (my Dad's brother).  Over the past ... decades ... yes, decades!  When did years become decades? ... Over the past decades I have drifted away from my father's side of the family.  Some of that was distance - moving to California took me far away from most of them.  Some of it was deliberate on my part.  After my Dad's death I found I had little in common with that side of my family, just as I had little in common with my Dad, and I took another direction away from them.  I went to the funeral to pay respect to my Uncle.  I felt an obligation as he had taken the time to attend my wedding ... and he was a good man.

In the past I would have not handled this week well.  Especially my Uncle's death.  But I'm ending this week unhindered and fairly content.  I have been changing over the past year or two.  I'd thought that my attempt at becoming more positive had been an utter failure but I realise now I was just impatient.  The move is slow, steady, plodding at times but progressing.  I am sad for my Uncle ...and even a bit sad for Roger Ebert and Iain M. Banks ...  but I am handling it better and looking ahead instead of dwelling in the past - a most positive thing to do.