Homer's Travels: May 2015

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Music: Decemberists With Dan Mangan & Blacksmith

On Friday night the Wife and I went to see the Decemberists at the Sumtur Amphitheater.  This was my second time seeing the band, the Wife's first time, and the first time either of us went to a concert at the venue.

Decemberist Concert at Sumtur Amphitheater.
We went out to eat before the concert.  It started to rain soon after we left the restaurant and by the time we got to the venue, only a few miles away, it was pouring.  We parked and sat in the car for awhile waiting for the rain to subside.  Fortunately it died down to a light drizzle long before the start of the concert.  We'd arrived a bit late to the venue ... late for us anyway ... and still got a fairly good place to put our chairs.  Sumtur Amphitheater is open air but there are some fixed seats near the stage.  Those were all full by the time we arrived.

The drizzle stopped and the wind picked up.  It was chilly to say the least.  Temps were in the low 60s and winds were around 15-20 mph.  I underdressed a bit and had my rain jacket hood up most of the night to stay warm.  Despite this I really enjoyed the concert.

The warm up band, Dan Mangan & Blacksmith were your average band.  Nothing special but not bad either.

A view of the whole stage and band.
The Decemberists, which I'd last seen back in 2011, were just as good outside in the cold wind as they had been inside the concert hall last time.  They played a really good set of songs finishing with an awesome rendition of the Mariner's Revenge Song.  Once again, the accordion stole the show.

I took a few pictures, four of which you can see in my 2015-05-29 Decemberist Concert Google Photos album.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Toy Buying Spree

I went on a little toy buying spree the last couple of weeks.  Nearly all the items have been camping and/or cycling related.  I have to say that every time I clicked the buy button I felt a little rush ... shopping can sometimes do that to me.

The most expensive item I bought was a Garmin Oregon 600t GPS.  This is a replacement for my Oregon 400t that has been by my side since 2010.  My 400t has traveled all around the world and on my first Camino but, while quite rugged, I finally dropped it one too many times.  After the last drop the elevation reading have been completely haywire.  My new 600t has a few more bells and whistles and will be a worthy successor I think.  It's already gone on a few bike rides and it will record my progress on RAGBRAI, Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), and the Appalachian Trail (AT) among other places.

The next item was a RAVPower 16000mAh External Battery Pack for charging my tablet.  I'm still debating if I should take my tablet with me on my hikes.  I have taken it with me on my overnight camps - mainly for reading material.  On my longer hikes its main functions would be for note taking, blog post drafting, photo editing, and internet/email access when I'm ion town.  A regular notebook and pen would be sufficient (and much lighter than the tablet and battery pack) for the first two functions but would not allow me to edit photos or access the internet.  I intend to take it with me on RAGBRAI, RMNP, and most likely the AT.  The external battery pack will give me about three full charges which should be plenty for the five to seven days I expect to be without electricity.

Next on my list was a replacement for my Petzl Tikka XP headlamp.  The Wife gave me this for Christmas many moons ago ... a couple years before my first Camino I think.  I'd picked it out and it's a good headlamp but there are a couple limitations.  It doesn't have a red light setting, it is hard to switch modes (dim, bright, flashing), and it weighs 3.28 oz (93 gm).  The replacement, the Petzl e+LITE has a red light mode, is easy to select the modes, and weighs in at 0.95 oz (27 gm).  The e+Lite has a retractable head band (more a head string) and runs on lithium button batteries.  It is not as bright as my Tikka XP but I don't like hiking in the dark anyway and it should be perfect for around camp.

For the past seven camps I've used mini-lighters to light campfires.  On my next camp I will try out my next purchase: a Gerber Bear Grylls Survival Series Fire Starter.  Gerber is a good brand whose specialty is knives.  Sadly they had decided to associate themselves with Bear Grylls, a television survival putz.  It's not the lightest flint and steel fire starter and I may look out for a smaller and lighter one, but for now this should be a good one to use while learning how to light a fire. Sadly, I will not be able to practice at RMNP as they do not permit campfires.

I also did some work on my hydration system.  Hydration bladders are great when hiking but suck at the campsite.  Bottles are great at campsites but suck when hiking.  To fix this I bought a Platypus Drinking Tube Kit that converts a platypus bottle into a water bladder.  I punched holes near the base of the platypus bottle, reinforced the holes with metal grommets, and attached tie wraps through them so the bottle can be easily suspended upside down in my backpack hydration sleeve.  Now the bottle will be a bladder when hiking and a bottle at the campsite.  I used the grommets because a hole I made previously so the bottle could be hung began to tear after several camps.

The cheapest thing I bought was one of these: a Coghlan's Backpackers Trowel.  It's for digging catholes.  Enough said about that.

I sweat a lot and the sweat tends to run in my eyes.  I usually use a rolled up handkerchief as a headband.  I decided to go more stylish and bought myself a Buff.  Specifically I purchased an Original Buff® TC Appalachian with a map of the Appalachian Trail on it - COOL!  I've already worn it while cycling and it does the job.

Speaking of cycling, I also made a few purchases for RAGBRAI.  A new Bell Explorer Helmet and a pair of Bell half finger biking gloves (in blue).  A pair of official RAGBRAI biking shorts.  New tires, chain, and rear sprocket for the bike.  Finally, I replaced my old rickety bike rack with the Saris Bones 805 Trunk Mount Rack.  It seems a bit more stable than the one I had been using.  Now I'll be less worried as I whizz down the freeway with my bike hanging from the back of my car.

I have to thank the Parents-in-Law for the Christmas and Birthday money that paid for most of this stuff.  I've got most of what I need ... for now.  I'm sure I'll think of something else between now and then.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Cycling Update ... Making Progress In Fits And Starts

A couple of weeks ago I set a goal for myself.  I wanted to push my personal best from 40 miles up to 45 miles (72.4 km) in two weeks.  Last friday I pushed my range up to 41.3 miles but in the process I noticed a problem with my bike.

When I coasted the chain would go slack to the point that the chain was resting on the bike frame.  This is not a good situation.  The chain could easily jump gears.  After finishing my ride I drove straight to the Trek cycling store and had them look at it.  They said the chain was stretched and the gears on the rear wheel were showing a lot of wear.  They recommended a medium level overhaul of the bike.  I'd hope to wait until I went on vacation in June to get the bike overhauled, thus not missing any of my training rides, but, since I was already there, I asked them to go ahead with the overhaul and to replace the tires while they were at it.

I ended up missing one ride, which wasn't too bad.  I picked up the bike and started out on a ride on Tuesday.  It didn't take long to realize that the problem was still there.  *sigh*  I'd planned to do a 43 mile ride but cut is short and did only 25 miles so I could get it to the Trek shop before it closed.  This time they replaced the mechanism in the wheel hub that allows it to freewheel - i.e. what should have been done the first time.

So I ended up missing one and a half rides because of all this mess.  Not much really but each training ride feels precious to me.  We've had a rainy May so far and trying to fit in rides has been a challenge.  The bike feels great now.  It's never shifted so smoothly.

When I went for a ride yesterday, I was thinking about going up to 43 miles but I changed my mind just before and pushed it out past 45 miles.  I ended up doing 45.9 miles (73.9 km).  It would have been easier if I'd had those one and a half rides before I did this.  I was really hurting when I got home - even a banana-nut muffin didn't fix it.  But I met my goal and I'm ready to set my next.

My new goal is 50 miles (80.5 km) by the start of our New England vacation in the middle of June.  I'm giving myself a little more time since I will also have a camp in there somewhere and will probably miss another training ride.  I hope to fit in a ride tomorrow morning ... but it will be a short one, I think.  The good thing is, a 32 miles ride now seems like a short one and that feels like progress.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Caminoversary Plus One

I'm a day late in posting this but I was waiting for something to arrive.  Four years ago, on May 15, 2011, I started my first Camino.  It was the start of a truly life changing event in my life.  I learned the limits I'd placed on myself were a manifestation of self-doubt.  Completing my first Camino shattered those limits and diminished - but never totally eliminated - my self-doubt.  I came back a more self-confident man eager to replace old limits with new goals.

A Shell from Fisterra for my backpack.
The symbol of the Camino is a shell.  All the pilgrims have one hanging from their backpacks.  I have a bad history with my shells.  During my last Camino I carried a shell I'd picked up in Fisterra, a seaside town at the end of the Camino.  I dropped it and broke it along the way.  A Frenchman I befriended early on gave me a shell he had picked up on an earlier Camino.  I accidentally broke that one too at the end of a particularly hard day for me.  A third shell was given to me by other friends met along the way.  I lost it before reaching the end ... though I was able to recover it after I got home.  It hangs from my desk lamp.

I picked up another shell from the beach near Fisterra on my second Camino.  I intend to hang it from my backpack as a reminder of what I can do.  To ensure it doesn't get broken, I had it encased in acrylic (it arrived this morning ... a day late).  It will not break but it will get beat up along the trail.  Like me it will gain character as it collects scratches and scuffs, each telling a story - stories that will make me smile.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Lucky Camp #7 At Indian Cave State Park

Spring flowers near my campsite.
I went on my seventh camp on Tuesday night at Indian Cave State park.  This was the location of my second camp back in July of last year.  Indian Cave has two types of back country campsites: ones with shelters and ones without.  I'd intended to camp at a shelterless campsite last year but had trouble finding one and settled on camping in one of the adirondack shelters instead.  For this camp I was going shelterless.

The hike to the campsite location, on Rock Bluff Run trail, was short - just over a half mile.  I had an idea where it was as I'd hiked past it several years ago.  When I reached a bench with great views towards the East, I thought I'd passed the campsite. As I contemplated this I noticed what looked like a game trail heading into the trees behind the bench.  I followed the trail and, about twenty feet in, I found the campsite fire ring.  It's strange that most of the sheltered campsites have signs but none of the shelterless campsites are marked.

My campsite looking upslope. The bench is in the upper right corner.
The campsite was a bit slanted.  The only level ground was around the fire ring.  Putting you tent up next to the fire is not a great idea so I ended up putting my tent up on the trail leading to the campsite.  It wasn't flat but the slant appeared manageable.  I guess practice makes perfect as the tent went up in record time and looked more like the pictures than on any of my other camps.

At this point I usually take out my tablet and read.  I've found that solo camping can be a bit boring.  Reading seems like the easiest way to fill the time.  I am sure I will not have this problem on the Appalachian Trail as there will always be people to talk to at the shelters/campsites.  I'm not as sure about my Rocky Mountain Trip later this summer.

I sat on the bench on the main trail and pulled up the book on my kindle app: Jim Jackson's "Camping and Cooking for Beginners: Tools and Tips to Living in the Great Outdoors".  I'd heard about it on Section Hiker, a blog that I read.   The blog pointed out that the book was free for the day and he described it as a "Kindle Bestseller".  I opened the book and realized it was only fifty-eight pages long.  More an ePamphlet than an eBook (which is why I'm not including in my list of books read).  As I read it I realized that there was very little real information in the book.  As a matter of fact, the whole book felt like the introductory chapter to a longer book ... but it wasn't.  For example, in the chapter on sleeping bags, materials are not mentioned (i.e. down vs synthetic) and while the different shapes are listed (mummy, barrel, and rectangle) there are no descriptions of the different shapes and no mention of advantages or disadvantages of each shape.  The book just has the three types ... period.

The book is aimed at all types of camps from hiking campers to car campers but the recipes listed in the book, which all sound yummy, were obviously geared toward the car camper.  The recipes required things like eggs, and chilled items that no hiking camper would ever carry.  A nicer mix of recipes would have been helpful.

I ended up reading the whole thing in less than an hour and a half which left me with several hours of 'uh ... what do I do now?'.  I ate dinner - a single serving of chicken and rice.  All my other camp meals have all been two serving bags so this meal seemed a bit small.  Then again, this single serving provided 31% of the daily requirement of salt!  Crazy. For desert I had my first freeze dried ice cream sandwich.  It looked exactly like an ice cream sandwich but ate more like a cookie.  The 'ice cream' was hard and crunchy, melted in your mouth, and tasted like the cheap store brand vanilla ice cream.  Not bad but not good either.

I built and tended my fire.  I kept it fairly small.  I didn't expect to be up late and I didn't want to have to wait for it to burn out before I went to bed.  I did light it in record time - thanks to the best tinder ever: cotton balls and vaseline.

I ended up going to bed early.  I was in my sleeping bag by 8:30pm.  I didn't think I was tired but I fell asleep fast.  I think it was the 32.7 mile (52.6 km) bike ride I'd done that morning finally catching up with me.  I woke up twice in the night.  The first time was a loud noise that wasn't canine or feline but sounded a bit bovine.  I didn't look to see but I think it was a male deer.  I think it must have come down the game trail and was surprised by my tent.  I listened while it made its hoot-honk-bray sound (sort of like this but not so extreme) until it slowly faded in the distance.

The second time was at 4:44am or at my normal seven to eight hour sleep length.  I fell right back asleep and woke up after the sun started peeking up.  That was probably the best sleep I've had during my camping trips.  Being tired from the bike ride and properly inflating my sleeping pad (i.e. not fully inflating it so it conforms to your body better) was probably what helped me sleep so well.  I did slide down a bit over night because of the slope but it wasn't an issue.

Next camp will be in early June, weather permitting, before the Wife and I go on our New England vacation.  I purchased a steel and flint firestarter and I want to play with it on my next camp.

A few pictures taken during this camp have been added to my 2009-2016 Indian Cave State Park Google Photos album.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Book: Mark McClusky's "Faster, Higher, Stronger"

My sixteenth book was an interesting read about the present and future of sport.  Mark McClusky's "Faster, Higher, Stronger: How Sports Science Is Creating a New Generation of Superathletes--and What We Can Learn from Them" examines how athletes train, compete, recover, and sometimes cheat using bleeding edge science.

The book is divided into chapters, each covering a different aspect of the science of sport.  It covers training methods, nutrition, recovery methods, and equipment.  The book, while short, feels like a comprehensive treatment of the subject.  The author has a comfortable writing style (he writes for Wired magazine) and the book flows well.

While I am not a big participant in sports and my fandom is very limited, I found this book to be very interesting.  I guess it was the science and technology aspects of modern sport that grabbed me.

I gave the book four stars on Goodreads because even a sport-o-phobe like me enjoyed it.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Return To The Zoo With My Mom

A week and a half ago I took my Mom for lunch at the zoo (Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo) and we walked around looking at all the animals.  I was worried that I would not like the zoo after having been on safari and seeing the animals in the wild but I enjoyed it just as much I think.  So, for Mother's Day, here are a few pictures I took while at the zoo with my wonderful Mom.

Jellyfish - Love them.
Another Jellyfish.
Weird eel/fish sticking out of the ground.
An alligator reflected from below - a double toothy grin.
I added these pictures to others I took in 2009 in my 2009 - 2015 Henry Doorly Zoo, Omaha, NE Google Photos album.

Friday, May 08, 2015

The Ups And Downs Of Cycling

Today I pushed my personal best cycling distance up over forty miles - 40.93 miles at a slower than normal 12.9 mph.  That was today's cycling 'up'.

Along my forty mile route the bike trail passes under several streets.  These underpasses can be a place where rain water, and the accompanying mud, settle.  This is why I don't ride much in the winter because this water turns to ice making the underpasses treacherous.  It turns out that good ol' Nebraska mud has a surprising similarity to ice ... or more correctly, a similarity to axle grease.  The mud that had accumulated under the underpasses after the past few days of rain were incredibly slick.

I managed to go through three mud slick underpasses with only minor scares but the last one, a forty to fifty foot mud slick under Dodge street, was too much.  Usually I just coast through the mud.  It's hard to coast through forty feet of mud.  As friction slowed the bike, I tried to maintain my momentum by pedaling slowly but the various forces related to the physics of spinning wheels slid my rear wheel to the left and before you can say 'splat' the bike, with me on it, tipped over on its right side and slid through the mud.  That would be today's cycling 'down'.

Road rash and dried mud.
I got up and, slipping and sliding around, I walked the bike over to the grass.  The bike was intact but caked in mud as was most of my right side.  The fabric of my long sleeve shirt had tried valiantly to protect my arm but came up a bit short.  Beside the small patch of road rash near my elbow (not far from my alpine slide scars) and a long six inch scratch starting at the bottom of my bike shorts and going to the top of my calf, I came out of it relatively unscathed.

I decided to complete the ride.  I ended up walking my bike through the underpasses including those I'd managed on the way out.  Didn't want to risk another fall.  I almost fell a time or two while walking the bike.  That stuff is slick!

The fall slowed down my ride but I'm proud that I did make my goal of forty miles.  I hosed off my bike once I got home - there was a lot of mud on that bike.  I removed the layer of mud off myself in the shower.

I had been planning to do a shorter ride tomorrow afternoon.  I will have to reevaluate tomorrow once the expected soreness manifests itself ... and there will be soreness.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Book: Suki Kim's "Without You, There Is No Us"

My latest book was a fascinating look at North Korea.  Last year I read "Nothing to Envy", a view of North Korea as seen through the eyes of defectors.  Most of these people were from the lower castes of society.  In Suki Kim's "Without You, There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite" North Korea is seen through the perspective of the sons of the elite.

Suki Kim, an atheist, South Korean born, journalist from New York enters North Korea pretending to be a missionary who is pretending to be a teacher.  She gets a job at a missionary run college where she teaches English while collecting notes about everything she sees and experiences.   The result is a fascinating picture of national delusion, self-deception, and a fluid idea of what is the truth.

I really enjoyed this book.  I had expected the elite to have some idea about the outside world but, in fact, they are as isolated and naive about the outside world as the lowly peasants of the hermit kingdom.  It was interesting to see how the author tries to introduce them to western technology only to find that they really weren't interested in what she was saying ... at least not interested in public.

The author sometimes contrasts the dogmatic beliefs of her students with those of the christian missionaries.  At times it is hard to tell the difference between them.

I gave this book four star on Goodreads.  The only negative was her mentioning her dating relationships back home that really do not add anything to this book.

Note:  After I suggested that I need to be a bit pickier with my book selection, it turns out that two of the books I've read this year, "All the Light We Cannot See" and "The Sixth Extinction", won the 2015 Pulitzer prizes for fiction and nonfiction respectively.  I guess I'm not so bad at picking books after all.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Bicycle ... Bicycle ... I Want To Ride My ...

Well ... it's real now.  I got my notification this morning that I won the RAGBRAI lottery and will get all the support services that are provided.  I will have luggage transportation, roadside assistance, rides if needed, and places to camp along the way.  Deep breath.

I have to start taking my cycling training seriously now.  Not that I've not been serious so far - I biked 36.6 miles yesterday which is personal best - but I still have a ways to go.  My personal best is only 55% of the average daily RAGBRAI distance.  I have to double my distance by the middle of June.

"Middle of June?" you ask.  "Isn't RAGBRAI during the last half of July" you ask.  It is but the Wife and I are going on vacation during the end of June.  I will not be able to train for two whole weeks.  This sucks.  I will have roughly a week to train once I get back (this is allowing a week of rest before starting RAGBRAI).  What I really need is for the weather to cooperate ... which it isn't.   There is rain in the forecast for most of next week so I may end up missing two training rides.  I could train in the rain but ... no.  Not a fan of riding in the rain.

Anyway ... I am very excited to ride across Iowa.  I'm looking forward to pushing myself.  My Brother-in-Law, who has ridden RAGBRAI before, also won the lottery so I will have someone I know with me.  I just need to get my mindset on the right track and train like the pessimistic loon that I am.