Homer's Travels: March 2015

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Book: Anthony Doerr's "All The Light We Cannot See"

Once again my reading selection has deviated from the usual Science Fiction.  This time I chose a piece of historical fiction on many top twenty books lists last year.  Anthony Doerr's "All the Light We Cannot See" predominantly takes place in Europe between 1934 and 1944 (with a few chapters in 1974 and 2014) in the years leading up to World War II and through to its end in 1945.

The book follows two major characters - a blind six year old French girl and an eight year old German radio prodigy - as they experience the war from opposite sides and, in the end, how their lives touch.  A bit of drama centers around a precious diamond, similar to the Hope Diamond, said to be cursed.

The stories told are compelling and keep the reader engaged.  I developed a genuine interest in the fate of the two main characters.  The end, while a bit anticlimactic, checked all the boxes.

I gave this book five stars on Goodreads.  I almost gave it four but how it engaged me with the characters pushed the rating to a weak five.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spring Renewal

For the past two weeks I've battled a bug.  The battle lasted a week and a half ending last Thursday, the day before the first day of Spring.  I couldn't have asked for more perfect timing.

During this epic battle I have not exercised at all.  The idea of cycling on my training stand just made me want to curl up in bed and sleep until the urge went away.  Fortunately the bug is gone and I got back on my bike this afternoon and did forty trainer miles.  Despite the two week cycling hiatus, I felt pretty good.  I think I'll be ready to leave my trainer and re-enter the real world next week.

The unusual warm weather we're having is also making me think about going camping in April.  The weather will tell.

Now, to celebrate the beginning of spring and my recovery, here is a picture of the first orchid bloom of the Spring:

The first orchid bloom of the Spring.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

New England Vacation: The Planning Begins

Our summer vacation this year will be a domestic one to New England.  We plan to spend two weeks exploring New York and states farther north.  We've been planning our itinerary off and on for the past few months but, at least for me, I wasn't really serious about the planning.  The Wife has been doing a much better job of making lists of places she wants to visit and things she wants to do.  The only thing I have on my list is the 9-11 memorial, a day hike in Acadia National Park, and Niagara Falls.  I have some work to do.

What's lighting the fire under my butt is this week we finally nailed down the dates and the length of time we were interested in vacationing.  With this info in my hand  I've made the airline reservations (used some frequent flyer miles and got a good deal).  Now comes the hotel reservations, train tickets (from/to New York to/from Boston) and the rental car (we will be leaving Boston by car).  Along the way we will be hitting a lot of literary and historical landmarks on the Wife's list.  I need to start adding my things to the itinerary.

If anyone reading this has any ideas of places to see or things to do during the last two weeks of June, leave a comment on Homer's Travels, Facebook, or Twitter.  You can even send an email if that trips your trigger.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

RMNP: The Planned Routes

Now that I've received confirmations for the campsites I will be staying at, I can finalize the routes I will hike.  Here is the plan:

I will be driving up to Estes Park, CO on Sunday and spending the night in town.  The next morning I will drive into the park and park my car in the Bear Lake Park & Ride lot.  From here I will catch the free shuttle to the trailhead at Bear Lake.

(Click on any of the following maps to see a larger version.)

Day One - Bear Lake Trailhead to North Inlet Falls campsite.
I think Day One will be, by far, the hardest day.  Both the trailhead and my first campsite, North Inlet Falls, are around 9,500 ft (2,895 m) in elevation (my house is around 1,000 ft).  In between I climb to the top of Flattop Mountain which is around 12,307 ft (3,751 m).  The total length of this hike is around 8.9 miles (14.3 km).

When I reach the top of Flattop Mountain I will be joining a section of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT).  The CDT, along with the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, make up the big three American hiking trails.

Day Two - North Inlet Falls campsite to Paint Brush campsite.
On Day Two will potentially be my longest hiking day.   Potentially because I'm not sure exactly how long it actually will be.  The maps I have do not agree on where the Paint Brush campsite is.  They agree on which trail it's on but not where along the trail.  I will have to ask for clarification at the backcountry office before I start.  I estimate it is a manageable 9.8 miles (15.8km) but it could be a mile or two longer.

The question is how the altitude will affect my endurance.  The first half of this day I will be walking down saving the up for the later half of the day.  Not exactly ideal   It's less than 1,000 ft of elevation climb though so it should be OK if I just pace myself.

Where my route turns north I will temporarily leave the CDT.

Day Three - Paint Brush campsite to Renegade campsite.
Rejoining the CDT, Day Three will be my recuperation day because it is also the shortest hiking day at 5.8 miles (9.3 km).  (This distance may also be wrong depending on where exactly Paint Brush campsite is located.)  I was going to divide Day Two and Three more evenly but the perfect campsite for Day Two was closed forcing me to lengthen Day Two and shorten Day Three.
While it is a shorter hike, it does climb more in elevation.  There is a small side trail near Renegade campsite that I may hike if I feel up to it.  This side trail passes a llama camp.  Llamas are used by rangers as pack animals.  Might be interesting to visit the camp.

Day Four - Renegade campsite to Sourdough campsite.
Day Four I return to Flattop Mountain and head back down the same trail I climbed up on Day One.  I come within a mile of the trailhead that I started on before turning back west and north to end my day at the Sourdough campsite.  This day is a combination of up and down and is roughly 8.5 miles (13.7 km) long.  I should be acclimatized by the Day Four.

Day Five - Sourdough campsite to Bear Lake Park & Ride.
Day Five - my last day in the park - I will take a roundabout course passing by five lakes (at varying distances) until I come out at the Bear Lake Park & Ride where my car will hopefully be waiting for me.  The last hike will be 8.8 miles (14.2 km) with most of the elevation change being the down kind.

A night in Estes Park to wash off the stink and fill the stomach before I head home on Saturday.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Poetry Out WOW!!!

Yesterday were the Nebraska Poetry Out Loud state finals.

The returning student poet
Statewide reciters compete for D.C. Nationals
The Wife and her poet - Triumphant Again!

Congratulations to the Wife and her hard working student poet!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Bug Update With An RMNP Update Thrown In

Since my last post spring has sprung even more but the bug I felt churning on Saturday has kept me from enjoying it.  It's been a rollercoaster so far this week.  I felt crappy on Saturday and Sunday but felt better on Monday just to feel crappy again on Tuesday.  Wednesday was a little bit better but today ... another setback.  Boo Hoo for me.  I don't like getting my butt kicked.  Who does?

The bad bug was balanced somewhat by a bit of good news.  This week I received a campsite reservation confirmation letter from Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).  I now have reservations for my five day camping trip this August.  I even received my primary selections (i.e. no backup selections were needed).  Now I can start my preparation in earnest.  Next week I will try to post my proposed hiking routes for the trip.  Really looking forward to this trip.

And Now I need to get some more rest.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

I Feel It Coming!

Not Sure I believe the sign ... HA!
The past couple of days have been in the 60s and it's starting to feel like spring is just around the corner.  The forecasts say we will flirt with the 70s later this week.  I think I'm ready for this weird winter of ours to be over.

On a day like today I should have been out and enjoying the sunny day but the Wife, who has been battling a bug all week, shared her bug with me and this morning it took all my effort just to get off the couch.  It may also explain why I was only able to walk fifteen miles yesterday instead of the intended eighteen.  I've felt better this evening but it may be that the Ibuprofen and caffeine is keeping my corpse reanimated.

Hopefully this bug will pass and the temperatures continue to be springlike and not just some short term anomaly to lull us into putting all out winter gear away just before the cold returns.  If the temperatures continue for a couple weeks, the bicycle comes off the training stand and I will be able to return to cycling the real world.

It's amazing how a little warm weather and sunny skies can pick a person up.  Bring on the Spring!

Friday, March 06, 2015

Old Feelings And A New World To Explore

Photo Credit:  NASA/JPL
Today, assuming everything goes well, NASA's Dawn spacecraft will enter orbit of the asteroid dwarf planet Ceres.  For most of my life I knew Ceres as the largest asteroid in the asteroid belt.  When Pluto was downgraded from planet to dwarf planet, Ceres was upgraded from asteroid to dwarf planet.  Today, Ceres will be the first dwarf planet ever visited by an Earth probe.

For a long time I was very interested in our spare exploration activities.  Since I was in elementary school I would follow the exploration missions closely.  I watched as we walked on the Moon for the first time on my birthday.  I watched Viking 1 land on Mars ... also on my birthday.  On August 25, 1989 I took a sick day so I could watch Voyager 2 have the first close encounter with Neptune ... live on PBS.

In the 90s my interest waned.  Humanity's push out into space was soooo slow.  Space exploration became more routine and less interesting.  The Mars rovers sparked my interest briefly but never at the level I'd had when I was younger.  A part of my youth had faded.

I'm not sure what it was but something changed last year.  Maybe the landing of Rosetta probe on a comet.  My interest in space was sparked again.  I felt a resurgence of interest that I haven't felt for close to twenty-five years.  Turns out this would be a good time for my renewed interest.  There are two missions happening this year.  By coincidence they are both to dwarf planets.  The first, which I mentioned above, is the Dawn mission to Ceres.  The second, which will take place in July 14th, is the Pluto flyby mission, New Horizons.

I hope my renewed interest continues.  I like how it makes me feel - full of hope, wonder, and young again.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Book: Jamie Zeppa's "Beyond The Sky And The Earth"

For my next book I chose a travelogue with a hint of biography.  Jamie Zeppa's "Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan" tells the story of a inexperienced young Canadian woman, fresh out of school traveling on a lark halfway around the world to teach English in the himalayan nation of Bhutan.  The book follows the transformation from someone who had hardly ever left her home in Toronto to someone in love with the newly emerging buddhist country.

The book takes place in 1989 before Bhutan had fully opened it's doors to the outside world.  The author doesn't really know what she is getting into as she travels to a tiny town in eastern Bhutan to teach elementary school.  She questions her sanity for making this jump into the unknown and longs to return home to her family and fiance.

Time moves on and she begins noticing the world around her.  For the first time she interacts with the Bhutanese people and before long she falls in love with the mountains, country, and the people.  Along the way she converts to Buddhism.  By Christmas, when she returns to Toronto on winter break, her marriage is off, her entire world view has shifted, and she longs to return back to her home in Bhutan.

I really enjoyed most of the book.  I was most intrigued by the north-south conflict between the Bhutanese and the Nepali-born Bhutanese of the south.  The author experiences this first hand when her job moves her to a college and she encounters students from the north and the south.  In the 90s Bhutan expelled many of the Bhutanese of Nepali ancestry.  There is a large population of Nepali Bhutanese refugees in Omaha.

The last section of the book was the least interesting to me.  The author falls in love with one of her students and a romance starts.  Student-teacher romances have always had an unsavory feel to me.  It doesn't really matter that there wasn't much of an age difference.  It doesn't matter that they eventually marry (after having a child).  It always feels like an abuse of authority to me.

Despite this potential ethical lapse, I still gave the book four stars on Goodreads.  I like reading about Bhutan.  It took me back to our brief  four day visit there back in 2012.  I can understand her feelings toward the country.  On the surface it seems so peaceful and beautiful.  It's a true Shangri-La ... as long as you don't look too closely.