Homer's Travels: May 2013

Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Few Thoughts On Borborosophobia* And Ombrophobia**

I'd looked forward to Saturday for nearly a month.  Not only was there going to be a Backwoods sponsored hike at Neale Woods Nature Center, a park I'd never hiked before, but there was also a free Beach Boy concert Saturday evening on the Iowa side of the pedestrian bridge.

I woke up Saturday morning to the sound of thunder and the flash of lightning.  The forecast was for an early light drizzle but we had a third of an inch by 8:00 AM.  As I was feeding Iago at 6:00 AM, listening to the sound of the rain, I turned off my alarm and decided not to do the hike.  I slept in until 9:00 AM when the hike was supposed to start.  It turned out that the hike was not cancelled.  The rain had pretty much stopped by the start time of the hike, but the idea of trudging through the mud turned me off.

Canceling my hiking plans put me in a funk the rest of the day.  The forecast for the time of the concert was even more rain than in the morning.  Throughout the afternoon I convinced myself that I really wasn't that interested in going to see the Beach Boys.  I did such a good job of convincing myself  that, when the rain disappeared from the forecast in plenty of time for me to get to the concert, I decided not to go.

So, my hesitancy for doing things in the rain cheated me out of two events that I probably would have enjoyed.  A little mud on the trail shouldn't have stopped me.  The risk of a few sprinkles while I listened to live music shouldn't have stopped me.  But, in the end, an apparent aversion to rain and mud did get in the way and stopped all my Saturday plans in their tracks.

This really got me thinking.  How will I feel after days of rain on the Camino?  Would I stop and return home because of the rain and mud?   I know I wouldn't.  I walked the last Camino in the rain on at least three days.  The advantage of the Camino, though, is after the end of a rainy day you end up in a warm albergue with a dry bed and, probably, a dryer to dry your rain soaked clothes.

The Appalachian trail (AT) is a whole different story.  At times you may be a week away from a warm motel room.  I will be camping in a tent that I may have to put up in the rain.  The length of the AT requires that you start in the spring when rain and stormy weather are common.  How will I feel after a weeks worth of rain?  How will I feel when I am out of dry clothes?  Am I ready to handle trench foot?  The answer to all these question is:  I will swear, I will curse, I will ask what the hell am I doing, and then I will do what I need to do and keep on slogging ahead.  I'm stubborn that way.

What I'm saying is that it's easy to decide not to do something.  It is harder to stop doing something once you've started it.  This Saturday ... was just a lapse in judgement.  It is hard to start something when you know there will be times of misery but start I will because, with the misery, there will be awesome and awesome makes everything worth it.

*   Borborosophobia: The fear of mud and mud puddles.
** Ombrophobia: The fear of rain or of  being rained on.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Trekking Into Darkness ... Or Is It Into The Light?

I don't go to the movies often but there is one franchise that pulls me to the theater:  Star Trek.  I have been a Star Trek fan for decades.  The first book I ever read, outside of my school required reading, was a Star Trek novel.  I wasn't old enough to watch the original series live (though I remember asking my Mom to describe the episodes to me) but in the 70s I managed to see most of the episodes and, after I finished all of those, I continued my obsession with more and more novels and things like Enterprise Blueprints and Technical Manuals, and a whole bunch of official and unofficial Star Trek stuff.

I practically memorized the "Star Trek Concordance" - a compilation of summaries of all the episodes, including the animated series, and an encyclopedic glossary that covered every aspect of the fictional Star Trek Universe and it's fascinating fictional history.  It was written by Bjo Trimble who kept Start Trek alive after it got cancelled long enough for the movies to be made.

I even managed to get to a Star Trek convention.  It was a total accident.  I was in Hawaii doing work for the Navy.  It turned out the convention was just a couple blocks away from my hotel.  It was a freaky experience.

My fandom continued through several movies and several incarnations of Star Trek: Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space, and Star Trek: Voyager (ST:V).  Each of these lasted seven seasons each.  They were followed by Enterprise.  Enterprise was a prequel which had many ups and downs but by the fourth season they were catching their stride, delving into, and fleshing out, early Star Trek history.  As Enterprise really started to take off, it was canceled.

The cancellation of Enterprise not only ended Star Trek's run on television, it also ended my Star Trek infatuation.  From my high school years in the 70s through my college years in the 80s to the end of Enterprise I'd managed to watch every episode (often more than once), every movie (good and bad) and had read countless Star Trek novels.  Upon cancellation of Enterprise I stopped cold turkey.  I stopped so abruptly that I left three or four Star Trek books unread on my shelf.

When Star Trek was rebooted in 2009 I went to see it.  I was not that excited to see it.  Not like I had been for many of the earlier movies and series.  I went more out of habit than anything else.  Maybe out of hope as well.  I left the theater disappointed and a bit sad.  I think part of me wanted to rekindle the excitement I once had.  It did not rekindle anything.

I told myself after the reboot that I would not do that again but I was unable to keep that promise.  I went to see Star Trek Into Darkness on Thursday.  I was entertained but it wasn't Star Trek.  It tried hard to appeal to the trekker deep inside me by throwing little tidbits of Trek history throughout the movie but it wasn't quite enough.

As the movie ended there was applause in the theater.  I didn't feel it.  A guy behind me said to no one in particular, with an excitement in his voice, that this was his second viewing and it was just as good as his first.  I didn't care.  There was a time when I would have applauded.  There was a time when I would have been that fanboy happy to see the movie for a second time.  I am not that person anymore.  I left the theater a bit sad and disappointed ... again.

There will be, inevitably, a third rebooted Star trek movie and I will, inevitably, go see it.  The hope of reviving a piece of my youth is still there.  But after this second movie, a pretty good summer action movie, I think I know deep down that I will never regain what I had.  It may be time to turn around and let some things fade into the dark and move ahead into the light.

Note: For a more in depth review of the new movie, a review I wholeheartedly agree with, check out my friend GeekHiker's post: Modern Trekking.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

"Only A Blister" By Sara Zaleski

After I posted Sara's last poem, GeekHiker suggested in a comment that she write one that mentions the walker's nemesis: the blister.  She went to work and this week she provided a poem that includes mention of a blister.  This was very appropriate since on Friday, after a 13.83 mile (22.26 km) hike, I returned home with a new blister on the ball of my right foot, a result of not wearing the cushions I mentioned a few posts ago.

So, without further ado, I present to you "Only a Blister":

Only a Blister

by Sara Zaleski

My heart thrives on the crisp morning breeze,
The starless sky that stretches 
Between the setting moon and awakening sun.

With each step I am further entranced
As my feet crackle over the ground
Hidden under miles of botanical life.
Yet, my stride lengthens as my mind tries to forget
The pain that has left me stricken,
Sent a shockwave through my veins.

Every moment of shifting weight,
This unmerciful dagger shoots further in
Just as a pin seems to thrust from within me.
It is as if the world herself is plotting my destruction.

I can no longer contain my vengeance
I am prepared to take down this raging nemesis,
This enemy that seems to seek my demise.

But when I gather my breath to fight,
To bring upon the earth peril unlike any other,
I look down and realize
That it is only a blister.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mite It Be A Tick? No.

I took a picture of this red fellow the other day at Hitchcock Nature Center.  I thought it might be a tick but I'd never seen a red one before.  Turns out it is not a tick.  It is a mite.  Wouldn't it be nice if ticks were this easy to see?

Not a tick but a mite.
While I was investigating this guy, I learned what these were:

Possibly gall mites.
I think these are gall mites.  The things you learn while on the trail and flicking off ticks.

Now if I could just get rid of this paranoid feeling every time I feel an itch or a tickle.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A New Set Of Poles

I finally make a decision about poles.  I decided to buy them before I go and I decided to keep them inexpensive.  With that decided, last week I ordered Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles.

The poles arrived yesterday (only four days after I ordered them).  They are very inexpensive at $39.99 including shipping.  Being carbon fiber, they are very light at only 420g (14.8oz) for the pair.  They come with a complete assortment of rubber tips (rubber and boot) and baskets (mud and snow).  They have cork (or faux cork) lined extended handles with comfortable neoprene straps.  They have built in shock absorbers that can be turned off.

I took them out to Hitchcock Nature Reserve on Tuesday to try them out.  I chose this location because the elevation changes and steep grades that would give the poles, and myself, a good workout.  To make it more challenging I wore a full pack.  To make it even more interesting I did this hike in 80°- 90° F (26.7° - 32.2° C) temps.  The poles performed well.  The one thing I had to get used to is how light the poles are.  At first this made them feel "cheap" but after putting a lot of weight on them on some steep hills I have to say they performed remarkably well.  The cork felt good on my hands and helped wick away sweat.  The straps were a lot more comfortable than the narrow straps on my old poles.

There were a few not so great things about the poles which is to be expected for inexpensive poles.  The section locking method is the twist lock type (same as my old poles).  I think I would prefer the flip-lock type even though I've never used them before.  Some of the reviews of my new poles have warned about slippage.  I did not experience any slippage but I really tightened the twist locks just in case.

The anti-shock feature, which I have turned off for now, can make the poles a bit noisy.  The anti-shock mechanism is a spring in one the the pole sections.  Even with the feature turned off the spring still sproings each time the pole hits the ground.  This isn't much of a problem really but I wish it were a little quieter.

The rubber tips are push on instead of the threaded type that my older poles had.  I'm a bit concerned that the tips may fall off.  GV, who carried poles on the Camino last time, says she never had any problem with her press-on rubber tips.  That is good news ... though I saw more than one sad, lonely rubber tip alongside the Camino last time.

The one thing about carbon fiber poles is how they fail.  Aluminum poles, like my old ones, bend.  When this happens you can straighten them back out and make the poles usable (though my old poles will not collapse after they got bent).  Carbon fiber poles do not bend.  They flex ... until they break.  If a section breaks, they can not be repaired except by ordering a new pole section, therefore no field repairs.  Hopefully this will not happen to me any time soon.

All of these issues are minor and I'm happy with my new poles.  And I was happy with my rather short, 4.53 mile (7.3 km) hike.  Sadly my new poles could do nothing about ticks.  I found seven on me before I got back to the car and another two in the car on the way home.  I wore shorts this time, something I rarely do when I hike.  Next time it will be long pants, no matter how hot ... and lots of DEET.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

In Search Of Happy Feet

The Camino was hard on my body, especially the feet.  Everyone seems to have different issues.  Tendinitis. Toes blisters.  Heal blisters.  Blisters on the ball of your foot.  My issues have been tendinitis in my ankles, toe blisters, and pain/blisters on the balls of my feet.  I have been trying a few things since I got back to correct some of these issues before I go back for my second Camino.

The first thing I've tried to tackle is the tendinitis issue.  When I walked my 2011 Camino I wore a high-top walking shoe.  In Mansillas de las Mulas I was schooled my LA on how to tie my shoes.  It turned out that when I was walking on a flat  trail I was not supposed to use the top two hooks/holes of my shoes.  When I followed LA's advise, my ankle issues went away.

For my 2013 Camino I will be wearing a low-top version of the walking shoe I wore last time.  I hope that the low-top will be the same as not tying the top two hooks/holes and will reduce the chances of tendinitis.  I've also noticed the manufacturer, New Balance, has moved the top shoelace holes out a little bit so when you tie the shoe it feels less tight across the top of the shoe.  I think this will also reduce the tendinitis issues by reducing the pressure across the top/front of the ankle.  The one downside of this, I believe, is that the laces will loosen so I will have to stop to retie my shoes more often - a minor inconvenience if it prevents tendinitis.  Having said this, I've been wearing the shoes for over 300 miles now and shoelace loosening has not been a problem.

The second issue I'm working are toe blisters and a soft corn I have on my right foot (On the second toe facing the pinky).  The corn first developed during the last week or two on the 2011 Camino.  It became quite painful.  After I got home the corn didn't bother me because I didn't wear shoes all summer while driving Route 66.  Once I started wearing shoes and started walking again  it came back with a vengeance.  I treated the corn with over the counter corn remover that killed the skin and fixed the problem ... temporarily.  After a month or two the corn would return.

At the first Camino Conversation, the host suggested toe bandages as a way to fight toe blisters.  The toe bandages are foam tubes that you cut to length and slip over your toe.  At this point I'd tried other types of corn cushions with little or only temporary success.  I decided to give the tube bandages a chance.  So far after a couple of months they have worked very well.  The corn shows no evidence of returning.  I have also used them to protect and prevent blisters on other toes with mixed results.  I think my issue is that I'm cutting the tubes too short.  Over time they scrunch down a bit and leave the ends of the toe exposed to blisters and, in some cases, the edge of the bandage has rubbed on the adjacent toe causing irritation.  I think if I cut them longer, this will be less of a problem.  Either way, I have gotten some good results from the toe bandages and I will be packing them as part of my first aid kit.

The last issue was pain in the ball of my foot.  While the pain feels similar to a hot spot (the precursor to a blister) I think it may be caused by the pounding the balls of my feet receive when I walk.  At the end of the day when I take off my shoes the balls of my feet are so tender it is hard to walk.  After seeing a commercial for Dr. Scholl's foot products I looked to see if they had anything that I could add to cushion the front half of my feet.  I found Dr. Scholl's Pain Relief Orthotics for Ball of Foot.

Before I tried them I went to my Physical Therapist (PT) and asked him if the cushions would affect the correction of my custom orthotics.  After looking at them he said he didn't think so.  He looked a bit skeptical about the effectiveness of them and, frankly, I didn't expect much from them either.  I put them in and I went for a hike.  At first they felt like I had a rock in my shoes and they felt a bit uncomfortable but after a few miles the sensation went away.  I got home, took off my shoes, and to my surprise I had no pain in the ball of my feet whatsoever. The hot spot feeling I used to get was totally gone.  I was a little flabbergasted.  It's been three or four weeks since I've been wearing them (wearing them only when I hike)  and the results have been the same - no more pain.  That is, no more foot pain but I have developed knee pain.  I'm not sure if the two things are connected.  I know that it doesn't take much of a change in gait to change the entire dynamics of the leg but I am thinking it's just a coincidence.  Thinking back, I can't really remember if the knee pain started before or after I started using the cushions.

These Dr Scholl's cushions  are not the perfect solution.  They can be hard to place correctly in the shoe and have to be repositioned every time I put on my shoes since they will slip over time.   I am looking into other options.  My PT guy suggested it may be possible to modify my orthotics to add additional cushioning near the ball of my feet.  This sounds like a better solution and I hope it pans out.  I will keep you all posted.

So I have three potential solutions to the three big issues I had on the Camino.  The testing I have been doing doesn't come close to matching the real conditions of walking everyday on the Camino but, even if they only fix or diminish some of the problems I had, it will be an improvement.  At the risk of being overconfident  I think my next Camino will be better, foot-wise, and happy feet means a happy hiker.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

We Suck ...Biocce!

On Saturday the Wife and I went to Sioux City to participate in a charity bocce tournament.  Last year the Brother-in-Law (BiL) and the Niece came in second.  This year we joined them to see if we could give them a run for their money.

The weather was perfect ... crappy.  It was in the 40s, drizzly, and windy.  Fortunately for everyone the beer tent was enclosed and there were gas heaters spread around.

The Wife and I were in the first round which made us the first team to enter the loser's bracket.  We lost 15-2.  Pretty sad but we were the quickest losers there.

Our second match was much better.  We lost 15-9 and we were the third team to be kicked out of the loser's bracket.

Unfortunately, our awesome bad luck rubbed off on the BiL and Niece.  They won their first match but lost the next two.

Despite our rather poor showing, it was fun.  There were lots of reasons for not winning:  It was cold, it was drizzly, it was windy, and, my favorite excuse, we were too young to play bocce.  Yep, give us a few more years and we'll be old enough to kick some bocce butt.

In between matches we spent time in the beer tent trying to stay warm, drinking, eating the excellent pulled pork sandwiches, and standing close to the propane heaters.  I was in the process of drying my gloves when someone asked if something was burning.  We didn't see anything right away but a few minutes later I noticed a 3 1/2 inch hole melted in one of my rain jacket sleeves.  I hadn't noticed it because of the other two layers under my rain jacket.  I liked that rain jacket.  I bought is especially for my next Camino.  I guess I'll have to buy a new one.  *sigh*

The Wife teased me a lot.  She got a good laugh about it ... until this morning.  She was putting on her rain jacket to go out for breakfast when she found two scorch marks on her jacket.  I won't be the only one to get a new jacket ... and she won't be making fun of me any more.

Friday, May 03, 2013

"There Is A Freedom In Walking" By Sara Zaleski

The wife knows me.  She has seen how the Camino has changed me and how important walking has become to my life.  She brought home the Steven Wright quote that's in the sidebar of Homer's Travels - it's sort of my motto.

This week she brought home a poem written by one of her students.  It captures a lot of how I feel when I hike.  So on this day when I walked 14.09 miles (22.7 km), with the permission of the student, I'm posting the poem:

There is a freedom in walking

by Sara Zaleski

There is a freedom in walking

A freedom not shown to those who wait

A freedom that allows life to be lived

That gives meaning to this world.

It is a freedom to learn life lessons

To experience breathing as never before

And accept love and seeing as new,

It is a freedom to find peace where it lies

and to take in the mystery of existence.

There is a freedom in walking.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Yep ... Another Walking Post ... Sort Of.

It seems like a lot of my posts lately have been about walking.  When I think about topics I can post about, all I seem to come up with is walking, walking related, or tangentially, Camino related.  That seems to be what's been on my mind lately.  Which is why I'm a bit surprised that I didn't go for a walk yesterday like I'd originally planned.

I usually walk on Tuesdays and Fridays.  This week there was a Camino Conversation (a sequel to the first)  scheduled at Backwoods for Tuesday.  I knew I wanted to attend and I knew that walking always tires me out so I rescheduled my walking for Wednesday.

The second Camino Conversation was a bit more structured than the first.  I told myself to keep quiet this time and let the host, DK, to stick to his script.  Last time I kind of turned into a chatty cathy and took over a lot of the conversation.  DK spent the first half talking about the history of the Camino.  I knew most of the history but I did learn a few new things and a few alternative stories - the Camino, like most historical events, is full of alternate explanations of customs and history.  The second half of the night was a talk of the spiritual experiences on the Camino.  One of the Pilgrims at the meeting, soon to be a repeat pilgrim, told a wonderful story of singing and Camino coincidence.  (I would tell the story but it's not my story to share.)  Suffice it to say, I discovered the things I saw, heard, and experienced on the Camino were, with a few personalized tweaks, also seen, heard, and experienced by others.

On the way home from the Camino Conversation I thought about my walking plans for the next day.  I had no plans.  I decided before I got home that I really didn't want to walk the next day.  So I didn't.  I still wonder why I changed my mind.  I would have thought that the Camino Conversation would have given me an extra little push.  Wednesday turned out to be ugly.  30°F (16.7°C) colder than the day before.  Windy. Drizzly.  Part of me thinks I need to be walking in this type of weather to prepare myself for those ugly days on the Camino but a bigger part of me is relieved that I didn't go walking.

It is rare that I have a completely unscheduled day.  Yesterday was such a day.  I watched the new episode of Warehouse 13 and followed that with more SyFy fair with the first three episodes of Defiance.  (If you want my opinion, Warehouse 13 is awesome and Defiance is ... meh ... it's okay.)  I topped off my day of inactivity by baking a pan of brownies using one of my Christmas brownie mixes.

I woke up today to white.  Snow.  Yes, we had a small accumulation of snow on the ground.  It's amazing how depressing snow can look on May 2. Fortunately, the snow was gone by the afternoon.

Snow on May 2, 2013 ... Crazy!
This post is turning into a ramble I think.  Despite wanting to stay away from the topic of walking, it is turning out to be a lot about walking ... or not walking.  I will be walking tomorrow ... rain or shine.  It will be an Urban, pack-less, pole-less, walk around Omaha.

I still have some more walking posts ideas that are jumping around and trying to get my attention.  I think I will have to surrender to the fact that I will be posting a lot about walking in the near future.  I can think of worse things to be obsessed about.