Homer's Travels: June 2013

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Music: Billy Idol

My second concert of the year, this time shared with the Wife, was Billy Idol.  Actually, I think the Wife shared the concert with me instead.  She is a big Idol fan and this was the second time she's seen him live.

The evening was perfect for a concert.  Comfortable temperatures, low humidity, and a warm breeze made for a perfect outdoors concert.  Looking around the open air venue, you could see who the fans were.  I looked around the crowded Stir Cove and saw a sea of fifty-somethings all remembering their college years.  If I'd had a mirror I would have seen one more.  I would have been a bit happier if the crowd had been a bit more diverse but that's the risk you take when you go see a classic rock performance.  Yes ... the music I grew up with is Classic Rock.  I guess that makes me a Classic too.

This has been the second concert I've gone to that didn't have a warm up act (the other being John Cougar Mellencamp in 2011).  Billy Idol got on stage and rocked it for two straight hours with only small breaks along the way, often filled by awesome guitar riffs supplied by Steve Stevens.  He hit all the favorites and even did a few new songs along the way.  A very satisfying concert.

The amazing thing is the guy is fifty seven years old but still has his singing voice and has the chest and abs of a much younger man.  The only place the age is showing much is in his face.

The only sour notes came during his performance of Rebel Yell when he was seriously out of tune.  Not sure I would blame this on his age or in bad feedback to his earpieces.

He ended the concert with a very interesting rendition of White Wedding followed by a rocking performance of Mony Mony.  An awesome concert.

Pictures can be found in my 2013-06-28 Billy Idol Concert Google Photos album.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I'm Back!

The Wife and I had an awesome vacation over the last twelve days.  Our main destination was New Orleans with a few smaller places on the way there and back.  It was one of the shortest of our recent vacations but it was jam packed and very satisfying.  I plan to start posting about it early next week.

For now ... here's a picture.


Friday, June 14, 2013

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

[Insert Who Joke Here]

I've been a who fan since the 80s.  By Who, I do not speak of the band.  I speak of Doctor Who.  Doctor Who is a british science fiction show that is quirky, thought provoking, cheesy, fun.  The special effects of the early Who (the show started in 1963) were so hokey they were bad in a very good way, if you know what I mean.  Through the 80s and 90s I caught bits and pieces on NPR mostly.  I watched mostly reruns as the show ended its run in 1989.

In the 2000s the BBC started to make new Doctor Who episodes.  I watched all the new ones on the SYFY network.  A few years later, looking for places we could save money, we dropped several tiers of channels from our cable subscription.  We dropped tiers right after the end of season four.  Would you know it, right at that time the BBC decided to stop selling it to SYFY and aired it on BBC America instead, a channel in a tier we no longer subscribed to.  So for the last three years I have been Who-less.

But times are changing.  People don't always watch television on television anymore.  People are starting to binge watch whole shows by, first renting VCR tapes, then DVD, and now by streaming over the web.  I've done this a couple times before.  I watched the first season of lost on DVD so that I could start watching it normally at the beginning of season two.  I watch the first season of '24' on DVD.  So, when I got a Google Play gift card for Christmas, one of the first things I thought of strangely enough ... or maybe not so strangely ... was catching up with The Doctor.  Google play only has season seven so I purchased seasons five and six from Amazon.

The Wife isn't a science fiction fan and I wouldn't want to deprive her of her television while I binge watched so I waited for the perfect opportunity to totally veg out on Who which was this week.  The first half of this week the Wife and her niece are at Notre Dame Football 101 camp (a breast cancer fundraiser).  While they are having a ball at camp, I've been plopped on the couch with the old laptop plugged into the flat screen working my way through seasons five and six.

I made it through the entirety of season five (thirteen episodes) and another eight episodes of season six.  I did this while managing to do all my other chores.  Having said this, would I recommend binge watching?  I'm not sure.  It has it's upside and downside.  The upside is you see more.  Some shows, like Doctor Who, have story arcs that spread over multiple episode, hiding clues in earlier episodes that are critical several episodes later.  It's harder to remember those clues when there are several weeks between the episodes.  When you binge watch the clues may only be a few hours before.  The downside is information overload.  Sometimes it's nice to have time for storylines and plot elements to sink in.  There is also the downside of being a bloodshot eyed lump after a couple days of nearly constant television watching.

I still have five episodes of season six to go and there is the whole season seven to look forward to.  I think I will save these ... at least season seven ... until the Wife goes to her summer workshop later this summer.   Should be enough time for my eyes to recover.  Until then I will surely think about Doctor Who while I hike and, naturally, while I visit New Orleans.  I wonder if the Doctor has ever been there ...

Sunday, June 09, 2013

My Return To A Changed Boyer Chute

After seeing all the sand and silt at the entrance of Boyer Chute National Wildlife Reserve on Wednesday, I decided to go back on Friday and see what it was like in the reserve itself.  I drove out to the park and parked at the main parking lot.  Most of the parking lot still showed evidence of sand and silt.

I put on my pack, grabbed my poles, and headed toward the trail that would take you over a bridge onto the island (the island has the Missouri River on three sides and the chute on the other).  I found the trailhead but the trail was totally obliterated.  Instead, I walked the road the trail once paralleled to the bridge that crosses the chute.  From the bridge you can see the condition of the chute.  A chute, by the way, is a channel of the river that runs parallel to the river and connects to the river at both ends.  The chute was in terrible condition.  The water level was very low, even as the Missouri River is fairly high right now, and the chute was full of sand and silt (This is what the chute used to look like).

I crossed the bridge and tried to find the Meadowlark Trail.  This is the only paved, handicap accessible trail in the park.  All the other trails are simply mowed paths through the grassland that dominate the park.  The Meadowlark Trail was half buried in the sand.  A shelter close to the trailhead was totally demolished.  I followed the trail the best I could looking for where a mowed trail branched off from it.  That search was futile as there was no more grass on the north-west side of the island.  It was just a great expanse of sand and silt.  I did find some old tire tracks in the sand that appeared to be following the old trail.  I followed them for a while and then decided the best way to circle the island was to get within sight of the chute and follow it around to the river.

A bench along the Meadowlark trail buried in sand and silt from the 2011 Missouri river floods.
If you could see my path it would zig zag around a bit as I picked my way around mud, fallen trees, dead brush, and new growth.  Where there had been pools of water and mud, there were now dried areas where the ground had cracked making really cool patterns on the ground.

Patterns in the dried mud - my foot in the picture for perspective.
The sun was starting to come out so I decided to walk through the trees that, before the 2011 floods, circled the island and separated the trails from the water.  That turned out to be a mistake.  The number of fallen trees, low branches, and new undergrowth made it nearly impossible to walk ten feet in a straight line in any direction.  I changed direction again and headed back to the waters edge and walked in the sand.  It was a bit like walking along a beach but the sand didn't compact as much so it was a bit easier.

Life is returning after the 2011 Missouri river floods.
Part way around I came across a large pile of fallen, sun bleached trees.  In my youth I would have had a great time climbing around on those trees.  I would have run along their trunks and jumped from one to the other.  In my nearly fifty year old body I found myself gingerly stepping among the trees afraid of falling ... for no real reason ... and taking my own sweet time to cross the pile of trees.  When I got across I looked back and wondered what I'd lost.  Was it the dexterity and balance of a young body or was it the carefree, no fears spirit of youth?

I once described Boyer Chute as looking like the African Savanna.  Now it is the Sahara.
After the pile of trees I was able to find one of the original trails.  It was a bit overgrown but it was easier to follow than walking through the thick new growth.  Most of the island had been grassland and prairie before 2011 floods.  I was surprised to see how many new trees were growing.  Most of them, between knee and shoulder height, appeared to be cottonwood - there was cottonwood fluff floating around the island. In a few years there will be a lot more trees on the island and the grassland will have shrunk a little.  It will be a whole new ecosystem.  Boyer Chute had changed a lot since the last time I was there.  It almost appeared post-apocalyptic in a way.  It will be interesting to see how it recovers and changes.  To see how much it has changed go view my 2008-2013 Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge Google Photos album which has both before and after, winter and summer, pictures of Boyer Chute.

The high water mark (the light colored band) on a Lewis & Clarke monument by main parking lot.
For comparison, my trekking poles is four feet tall.
I reached halfway around the island and I reached a decision point - I could continue around the island like I'd originally intended or I could take a right and follow a trail that cut across the island back to the bridge.  I was feeling a bit rundown.  My energy levels were not up to snuff.  The sand and the bushwhacking were taking their toll.  I turned right and cut across the island.  The deer I saw on the trail didn't criticize me for my decision.  The hike was about 5.66 miles (9.1 km) and was practically flat with only 475 feet (144.8 m) of elevation gain.  I'd walked it almost a mile per hour slower than my usual hiking speed.

I kept thinking they really needed to get the trails in order.  Thinking a bit more I realized that the first priority would be to dredge and restore the chute.  It may be a while before the trails are back to fully usable condition.

This may be the last hike for a while.  We'll be going to New Orleans (among other places) pretty soon and a two to three week break will probably do me good.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

I Just Want To Sleep In

I wanted to sleep in today.  Nothing extreme really.  9AM would be fine.

I was doing great until I woke up to the sound of a howling coyote.  This was a fist ... or maybe a second for me.  It's been so pleasant at night lately that we've been sleeping with the bedroom window open.  The coyote must not have been very far away because he came in loud and clear.  Iago, being the strange dog he can be, barely showed any interest.

A few hours later it was Iago's turn.  He gets fed at 6AM every morning and, if I don't wake up on time, he will get up, stare me in the face, and smack the bed with his tail which makes a very loud thumping sound.  If that's not enough, he's also learned he can make a racket by shaking his tags ... which he does when he wants attention.  Unfortunately he isn't the most accurate at telling time so sometimes he wakes me up at 4:30AM ... or 5:00AM ... or 5:30AM ... or all of the above.  Today it was only at 5:30 AM and 6AM.

I fed Iago and let him do his business and went back to bed just to wake up soon after when the neighbor decided to use his weed whacker at 8AM.  From that point on Iago kept getting up and staring at me like "Are you going to get up or what?"

I gave up at 8:30 AM which isn't far from 9AM but my sleep wasn't very restful after 5:30 AM.  I went out and made breakfast.  Iago, who had seemed very interested in me getting up , promptly fell asleep on the floor.

Maybe I'll have better luck sleeping in tomorrow ... yeah ... right ...

OK, my Saturday whine is over.  Please carry on.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Hiking Nebraska: The Missouri River Trail - Third Times A Charm

I've been trying to do this hike for a four years.  I've tried to do this hike before it was even officially named the Missouri River Trail.

The Missouri River Trail starts in NP Dodge park in north Omaha (north of the Florence area) and heads north, ending at the entrance of the Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge.  This seems like a strange name for a trail where you never see the Missouri River but the trail does parallel the river from a distance.  Until recently the trail was incomplete.  The trail ended less than a mile north of NP Dodge park and then started up again once you left Douglas county.  A year or so ago the missing section was completed allowing you to bike/hike the entire 7.5 mile (12 km) trail without having to ride/walk on the road.

I'd tried to do this walk twice before - both before the last section of trail was completed.  My first attempt was in November 2009.  I got stuck when I passed Hummel Park and realized there were several geocaches in the park.  After passing the park and walking another mile or two I decided to save the entire walk for another day and went back to the park and found nine geocaches.  The second attempt was in April 2011.  I walked until I was about two miles from Boyer Chute and decided to not make the right turn and went straight instead.  This way took me on a loop through farms and horse ranches and, if I remember right, was a very nice spring walk.  Yesterday (Wednesday) I decided to try doing it one more time.  To make it a little more challenging I hiked with my pack and poles.

I parked in the NP Dodge parking lot which is very close to the start of the trail.  The trail is predominantly a biking path so it is a wide concrete/asphalt trail.  The first half mile or so winds through a forested marsh area.  You can hear the croaking of frogs as you walk past the more swampy parts.  The trail then leaves NP Dodge park and follows the road - first John J. Pershing drive, then N River drive then Country Road P51 and finally Country Road 34.  These roads are usually not very busy so the traffic didn't bother me much.  This part of the trail passes Hummel Park (a fairly large public park) and Neale Woods Nature Center (a conservation park affiliated with Fontenelle Forest).  I've been thinking about hiking Neale Woods for a while but haven't managed to do it yet for some unknown reason.  This area covering these two parks has the most elevation along this trail with one part having a 9% grade.

Flower lined trail.
After you pass by Neale Woods the trail runs past farmland, forested hills, and wetlands.  This part of the trail is pretty much flat.  This time of the year parts of the trail were bordered in purple, yellow, white, and fuchsia wildflowers.

Past the wetlands you return to farmland.  The trail turns right following a turn in Country Road P51 and heads straight north.  When I reached about a mile away from Boyer Chute the landscape changed dramatically.  The land changed from cultivated farmland to a rolling desert of low dunes - a result of the 2011 Missouri River floods.

Farmland turned to desert by the Missouri River floods of 2011.
This caught me by surprise.  I knew that Boyer Chute had been temporarily closed due to the floods but I never expected to see sand this far from the river.  The trail  soon disappeared under the sand.  In spots I would say there was more than a foot of sand on the trail.  It had rained a day or so earlier so the sand was still wet.  Walking on it reminded me of walking along Hueneme Beach in California.  The only thing missing was the sound of crashing surf.  It was a bit surreal.

The trail takes a hard right turn and follows Country Road 34 ... or at least I think it does.  The trail was completely covered in a thick layer of sand.  I followed what I thought was the trail until its end at the entrance of Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge.

I stopped for a brief rest stop here before turning around and retracing my steps back to the car.  The total distance turned out to be 15.47 miles (24.9 km).  I was tired when I got back to the car but I felt good - better than I'd anticipated.  I did have a new blister on one of my toes but my feet felt pretty good.  This was the longest hike with a pack since returning from the Camino. It didn't feel like the pack had added much extra stress to my legs.  Definitely a morale booster.

Box Painted Turtle.
There was an animal theme for this hike.  A reptile theme.  Along the way I saw two snakes (one alive, one not), a snapping turtle, and a box painted turtle.  While I did poke the snake with one of my poles I resisted the urge to taunt the snapping turtle.  The Wife says I'm such a little boy.  When I hike, I can't say that I disagree.

UPDATE:  I incorrectly labeled the turtle a box turtle when is should have been labeled a painted turtle.  Thank you Brian for correcting my error.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Music: Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros With The Giving Tree Band

On Tuesday I went to my first concert since U2 in Chicago in 2011.  It's been awhile since I went that long between concerts.

The headliner was Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.  The Wife, having never heard of them, decided not to join me.  I have to admit that I'd only heard three of their tracks but I wanted to try something new and I did like what I'd heard.

The concert was at the Stir Cove, an outside venue attached to a casino/hotel.  The venue is relatively small and is B.Y.O.C. (Bring Your Own Chair).  I arrived an hour early having misread the start time.  This gave me a wide choice as to where to sit.  I found a spot next to the sound booth facing the center of the stage and about a third of the way back.  I bought a pulled pork sandwich, homemade chips, and a soda and sat down waiting for the show to start.

The warm-up band was The Giving Tree Band, a band I'd never heard of before.  They turned out to be pretty good.  Their sound was country rock and the combination of fiddle, banjo, and mandolin hit the spot.
The Giving Tree Band
Near the end of the Giving Tree Band's set, I was sitting back and listening to the music and staring up at the hotel tower behind the stage.  Six or seven floors up I saw three ... full moons ... pressed against the window.  It didn't take long before a few others around me noticed the mooners.  I think this was the first real mooning I have ever witnessed live.  It was mildly entertaining.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros came on and they started with two tracks I recognized (40 Day Dream, and Janglin).  Over the next hour and a half they played some very cheerful, happy music that put in me a good place ending with the third song that I knew (Home).  I loved the trumpet and trombone ... both nice touches you don't usually hear in a pop band.

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.
About ten feet in front of me there was another solo concert goer.  He appeared to be a typical hipster with the hipster moustache, and the hipster plaid shirt, and he bought the hipster souvenir vinyl.  He stood up most of the concert and danced.  Now, I'm not much of a dancer but I know it when I see it.  This guy's bottom half pretty much moved to the rhythm of the music.  His top half, on the other hand, looked like he was pulling out his best power ranger moves swinging his arms, punching the air, and attempting some sort of mixed martial arts karate chops.  He was in his own happy little world.  If the music didn't make me smile, watching this guy "dance" definitely did.

It was a fun evening.  I really enjoyed the music I heard.  The only downside was the chill in the air - I hadn't dressed warm enough.  But the chill, and the breeze that brought  it, did nothing to dampen my long overdue evening of music.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Iago: Bird Dog

I was looking out the window into our backyard this afternoon.  The Wife was coming in from doing some gardening.  Iago was following her up the stairs to the back deck.  I noticed he was carrying something in his mouth.  I intercepted him at the slider and told him to put it down.  Being a very obedient, when he's not being a box of rocks, Iago opened his mouth and dropped ... a baby bird.  Homer had caught a bird when he was a puppy too but wouldn't release it until we bribed him with a treat.

At first I thought the bird was dead but then it started moving around and flapping its immature little wings.  I picked it up and was going to drop it over the fence when it got away and fluttered down to the lawn.  Iago ran down and picked it up again.  I yelled "No!" and he dropped it again and actually came back up on the deck.

I managed to pick it up again and dropped it over the fence.  Then I went over to a fir tree we have and picked up the other baby bird - they appear to be baby doves - that was sitting in the grass under the tree and I dropped it over the fense with its brother/sister before Iago found it too.

Our back yard is full of bird nests.  We have two or three robins under the deck that should be coming out soon.  We also have wrens in a tin bird house.  We'll have to keep our eyes open and protect them from Iago the bird dog.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

More than One Hundred Forty Characters

I read recently, on the Godson's twitter feed (he linked to the What Ed Said blog), that "The less frequently [you] write, the more difficult it is to get going again."  That is what I have been running into lately.  The culprit, besides the dreary, overcast we've had lately, is social media.

I've been thinking about this for a while.  I used to peruse random blogs and I started noticing that, since the popularization of Facebook and Twitter, the number of post have gone down for a lot of people.  I think it has become easier to post 140 characters or less on a social media site than it would to put together a more substantial post.  It is easier to post a picture from your phone to Instagram than to post it to a blog.

I have fallen into that trap.  I dismiss ideas as not blogworthy and they end up on Facebook.  I joined Facebook in February 2009, the last year that I posted over 200 posts.  My posting has declined since then with the only exception being 2011 when I posted all my Camino, Route 66, and California vacation posts.  It's strange how, since having what I think of as the most interesting summer ever back in 2011, my life has become routine.  I think of things to write about but, as I think about them more, they start seeming unimportant, something to put up on Facebook or Twitter rather than on Homer's Travels.  If I weren't on Facebook and Twitter I probably wouldn't hesitate to throw together a little throwaway post that would at least keep me writing.

It hit me the other day when I posted the picture of an eagle that was flying over the house.  I posted it on Facebook, not Homer's Travels.  In my head that was so ... so wrong.  This really doesn't make sense.  I have it set up to automagically post links to my Homer's Travels' posts to Facebook and Twitter.  Any idea or picture, however insignificant, should just be put on Homer's Travels and it will end up everywhere else with no effort on my part.

So that's what I am going to do.  I will predominantly post on Homer's Travels.  Maybe putting together shorter posts will inspire me to write longer, more significant posts.  Maybe I'll think of more things to write about than just feet and walking, the themes that seem to be coming to mind lately.  Maybe I'll move past the summer of 2011 and I will see what is around me and make the best of what I have.