Thursday, December 31, 2009


Last Thursday, Christmas Eve, I went cycling. I didn't have much of anything specific in mind, so as I was riding north on Lamar I decided to see a movie. I decided to see Avatar. I had been planning on skipping it since the reviews that looked past the spectacle have said it wasn't a very good movie, but of the movies that were playing I decided that was what I most wanted to see, even though it cost an extra $2 for the 3-D experience. It may have been due in part to it being the first of the new generation of 3-D movies I've seen, but to me the spectacle was enough to make it an enjoyable experience and worth the $8. After the movie, I went to the bicycle shop down the street. I had been looking around at different places about buying a new road bike, and I was pretty much decided on buying it from this shop and that was good of a day as any other. I test rode a few around their parking lot, and decided to go with the Specialized Secteur. There was one I liked a little bit better, mainly because it came with 105 components instead of Sora, but it was more than I really wanted to spend. The Secteur frame is slightly stretched compared with a traditional road bike, which is supposed to make it more comfortable for long rides. I don't have any immediate plans for anything close to a long ride, but around the parking lot it handled more like what I'm used to, not as twitchy as the lower end bike I tested. Since it was getting kind of late in the day and the store was going to close before too long, I decided to lock up my Roma to their bike rack and ride the Secteur home. It was immediate trial by fire, riding a brand new bicycle on the side of a busy street. I had to figure out the gears, handling, and even where I wanted to put my hands since there are three different possible positions. One of the biggest things, though, was getting used to toe clips. It's been many years since I've ridden a bike with toe clips, and to try to remember/figure out how to get my foot back in them after stopping. I've gotten a little more used to it now, but I was not having an easy time with them then. For probably many reasons I was having trouble setting and keeping a good pace. I was fitted for the bike, and it seems like the proper seat height is lower than what I was used to. The gearing is quite different, and with the compact 2-ring front derailleur there's a really big difference between the two. I wound up over-exerting myself and a couple of times had to throttle back to keep from getting a cramp. At least I made it home without wrecking or getting hit or anything.

I woke up around 7 Christmas morning and had enough time to open the few gifts from my parents before heading to the Dallas area for dinner with my aunt, uncle, grandmother, cousin and her family. The day before the Dallas area had gotten a rare snowstorm that actually stuck. On the interstate, all it amounted to when I got there was a little bit of water on the road and occasional patches of snow in the median. Once I got of the highway, though, the road hadn't been cleared as well and there was some slush left in the middle of the road. That (and the expected 50 degree high) made me glad I hadn't decided to ride my motorcycle. We had a really nice home cooked dinner around 1 and a little later exchanged gifts. My cousin's kids (7 and 10) and I played with the little nerf guns she had given each of us for a good while until they went home. I spent the night there at my aunt and uncle's after a rather subdued evening.

Saturday morning after breakfast I left for Colorado Bend State Park, just outside of the tiny town of Bend. I got to the headquarters (all the way into the park) around 1:30 and decided I would take the 2 o'clock guided tour of Gorman Falls. I also signed up for the cave tour the next morning as well as paying to camp for the night. I walked around that area for a bit before meeting the guide, Kevin, and following him in my car to the falls area. At the gate, since I was the only one taking the tour, I hopped in his truck for the last mile past the gate to an old hunting lodge. The falls are actually quite impressive, a stream over 60 feet of travertine. It formed in essentially the same way that cave formations do, where the limestone is dissolved upstream, flows in the creek and then deposits the minerals forming, essentially, a big dripping wall. Kevin gave me all kinds of information about the falls as well as the park in general. He said that there was more water flowing than he had ever seen, so it was nice to see it so full. In some sections the water fell almost like mist, and in a couple of places was a full stream. Another interesting thing nearby was an old car buried in the bank of the river. On the ride back to my car in the truck, there were calls over the radio about shots fired, directly across the river from where I had planned to camp. When I got back to headquarters, they told me they wouldn't let me camp in that area and I could pick any of the regular campsites, that are usually a few dollars more, for the same price. Since there was nobody else camping, I could pick literally any of the sites. After a quick survey, I decided to take site #7. The plus side of camping in that area was that I could have a fire, so I bought some wood. I had planned on waiting to light it until after dark, but as soon as the sun started going down the temperature dropped rapidly from the beautiful 50-degree day it had been. After I got the fire going I made dinner and read the newspaper. I sat in front of the fire reading (my book after I finished the paper) until around 10, at which point it was quite cool. Around 6 o'clock, I saw a car pull in. Since the headquarters had already closed, they must not have had much of an idea of where to camp, because out of literally any site they could have chosen, they set up in the one next to mine. It's not like it was a big deal, he didn't bother me or anything, it was just kind of funny.

I don't know exactly how cold it got overnight, but it was cold enough that when I went to get some water to make oatmeal, the spigot was frozen solid. I ate a couple of granola bars instead, which were so cold I warmed them up in the rekindled fire. I managed to stay warm overnight in my down sleeping bag with two layers of clothes on. I packed up and doused the fire and after scraping off some of the ice on the car, went to join a couple to wait for the 9:15 cave tour. Kevin was the guide again, and we caravaned to a parking area for the somewhat secretive trail leading to the cave. The park has 350 known caves, but the one we were going to, Gorman Cave, is, if I remember correctly, the largest by volume (but not the longest). The trail Kevin led us on to the cave was really nice, especially on such a beautiful morning. We stopped at the top of a box canyon, and then continued along its rim before dropping down to the river bank. We followed the trail along the river for a little bit before we got the entrance to the cave. The cave was pretty nice, but since it was private property until only about 30 years ago, so it wasn't protected and subsequently was filled with a lot of graffiti and a lot of formations were broken. One kind of neat graffito, though, was one dated 1883 that has been authenticated as actually being that old. Since it is a wild cave and the area has gotten some flooding recently, there were several places we had to cross through water. It was never deeper than my boots, but the boots seem to be a bit less waterproof than they should be. I didn't have puddles at my feet, but my socks were damp. We took our time going through the cave- even though we only went about 1000 feet in, we took two hours doing it. We stopped at a gate, after which point the oxygen levels are low and it goes underwater. We didn't take much time retracing our steps to the entrance. We decided to go out a different natural entrance near the one we had come in, which required a little bit of a scramble up a talus slope. On our hike back to our vehicles we took a different route, which took us past an old abandoned gold mine. I chatted with Kevin most of the way back to the car. I drove back to the headquarters and set out for a hike. The first two miles were nothing too special. I took a break at 2 when I got to the road, then crossed over and headed for Spicewood Springs. It was all going just fine until the first time I crossed the creek. Due to two big recent floods, a lot of their trail markers were lost, as well as the trail itself being damaged. Since the park doesn't get that many visitors, and the trails have only been built in the past few years, it wasn't exactly a major, obvious trail to begin with. The markers that they had replaced they only set up for people coming from the opposite direction as I was going. I lost the trail several times, but I knew I couldn't get too lost, I just had to follow the creek. The stream itself was really nice, it had clear water, and there were numerous small waterfalls along the way. It was frustrating trying to follow the trail, and my pace was pretty slow. Finally around 3 I came to a swimming hole that seemed to be more popular with visitors. The path from there back to headquarters was wide enough to drive a vehicle down, so I made quick time that last half a mile. I stopped in and bought a Dr Pepper and complained about the trail. I left the park and got home just before dark.

I had the day off Monday as well, but wound up having to do a good bit of work anyway, but at least I didn't have to go in to the office. In the afternoon I was able to get away and go for a second ride on the new bicycle. I went for a pretty basic ride over to the veloway. I was already feeling fatigued when I got there, so I only did one lap, then rode home. I had originally wanted to take the whole week off, but had too much work to do. I was able to take New Year's Eve off, and around 11 I went for the third ride, which went better than the previous two. I think I managed to find a better pace and what gearing I wanted. I again rode to the veloway and did three laps. I stopped for lunch on my way home, and called it a pretty good ride.

At the end of 2009, the Fat Boy's odometer reads 101921, and the Night Train's reads 7285. That only adds up to just over 11,000, which I'm pretty sure is the least number of miles ridden since at least 2002. I was going to take the Night Train for a little ride today since I haven't ridden it in a while, but the battery was dead. I tried hooking up the charger for just 25 minutes, but it wasn't enough to get it started. Unfortunately Harley batteries don't last very long, so it may be due for a replacement.
As for my bicycles, I don't think I rode my mountain bike at all (and it's been sitting over at Jimmy's for months); the Roma's odometer reads 1362, most of which is from this year since I got the computer last December; the Secteur's mileage is approximately 45, but I haven't rigged it up with a computer yet. I looked into getting a second cradle for the computer I have (since it can do two bicycles), but that would cost only slightly less than getting another one like I already have, so I haven't decided what I'm going to do yet.

And finally, rather than make New Year's resolutions, I thought I would make some goals for 2010:

  • Complete riding in all of Texas' 254 counties
  • At least five state highpoints (this can include revisiting ones)
  • At least five state capitols (can include touring ones I only photographed)
  • Enter some sort of athletic competition

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Costa Rica

On Thursday, November 19th, I flew to Costa Rica for a week of vacation with my parents. I got a call from them before I left for my afternoon flight that there were airport delays because of a computer problem or something, but my flights were still listed as on-time. I had a short layover in Dallas and then a four hour flight arriving in San Jose around 9. While waiting to go through immigration, I picked up some free wi-fi and found a email from my dad saying that they had missed their connection in Miami and had to spend the night there and would arrive in Costa Rica the next day. Fortunately we had planned for this possibility, so I had the hotel information. It was soon apparent that, as promised, a lot of people spoke English fairly well and that US dollars are an accepted currency (in addition to the native colones). I paid $3 to a taxi dispatcher, and got in a cab. The hotel was only about a mile from the airport, so we got there quickly and that's all the fare was. It took a few minutes for the driver and security guy to negotiate that I was in fact a guest for the evening and let me in. The guard showed me to my room and tried to ask what time I wanted to have breakfast, but we couldn't understand each other, so another employee who speaks English called to ask. I had trouble getting to sleep since it was kind of warm and pretty humid, and no air conditioning. I couldn't quite figure out the overhead fan to get it to go fast or at least not hum so much, either.

Friday morning, in what would be a recurrent theme, I woke up with the sun and the many birds around 5:30. I tried to go back to sleep, but couldn't, and read my book until around 7. The hotel served a traditional breakfast- delicious fresh fruit, eggs, and rice and black beans. I would have gone for a walk or something, but the neighborhood didn't look very good when I got in, so I just went back and read in the room. By the time I thought that maybe I should take a taxi to see the downtown area, it was too close to when my parents were due in. I wound up finishing my book, Jon Krakauer's new one, Where Men Win Glory, by noon. I checked out and waited on the porch reading a magazine until my parents arrived at 1. After saying hello, we threw my stuff in the car and headed toward our destination for the next two nights near Arenal Volcano. Initially we were driving on what passes for a major highway in Costa Rica- four narrow lanes, the outer ones looking more like a shoulder in the states- we got off on a smaller road that seemed more typical of the roads in the country. It was paved, but there were numerous one-lane bridges and spots where the road had washed out and the road department just put up warning signs. In some cases, the road surface was torn up and there wasn't even a warning. Also there were lots of tight turns as the roads wound along the steep water-formed valleys in the lush hills. It was kind of sad to see how much of the land near the road had been cleared for farming, which couldn't be easy with the steep slopes. Fortunately the deforestation hasn't been anywhere near as extensive in Costa Rica as in many other tropical countries. Costa Rica seems to have realized that the rainforests are its chief asset, and tourism (especially "eco-tourism") is its major industry. When we got to our hotel and our room we found it was very nice and that it would have an excellent view of the volcano, if only the clouds would clear up. After getting settled a bit, my mom and I soaked in the hot tub for a little while. Later we had a pretty good dinner in the hotel's restaurant.

Arenal VolcanoSaturday morning, the volcano was still hiding behind the clouds. After breakfast we went to Arenal Volcano National Park. We weren't far when it started to rain. We all had rain jackets, but my mom's was old and worn out and didn't really offer any protection. She decided to turn back toward the car, and my dad went with her. They let me go on hiking while they kept themselves busy. On my own, I went at my pace, which is of course much faster. I left the hard-packed main trail for a muddy side trail through dense forest. It was my first taste of a real tropical rainforest. The rain came down in varying levels- never too heavy, but never quite letting up. At one point I thought I must have been near a river, but realized it was just that the rain on the leaves was particularly loud at that point. By the time I got back to the main trail, I was pretty muddy from the waist down. I was thinking I'd just head back, but realized I was pretty much at the end of the trail, so I climbed up onto field of large volcanic rocks. If it hadn't been for the clouds, it probably would have been an excellent view of the volcano. In the other direction I could just see Lake Arenal through the clouds. On the way back to the car it was quite evident that a lot more people had shown up since we arrived, and there were a few tour buses as further evidence in the parking lot. From the park, we drove on to what was supposed to be one of the finest craft shops in the country, except that it was closed. At a shop further down the road run by American expats, we found out that it had recently closed, and another place my mom was interested in had closed several years ago- proof that our supposedly recent guide book was out of date. When we got back to the hotel the rain had stopped and it looked like the sky might actually clear. I wanted to go for a hike or something in the afternoon, but there was nowhere I could walk to from the hotel, and driving around it didn't seem like there was much of any place else to go hiking, at least not without some charge. I wandered around the property and found they had something of a nature walk, although it seemed to not have been completed. I sat on the porch of our room for a while, watching for the clouds to clear from the volcano while my dad was painting. The clouds started to lift and seemed like we might actually see the volcano, then another cloud came along and obscured it again. It went on like that a few times until the sun started to set, and more of a layer of clouds rolled in. We went into the small nearby town to look around and ostensibly to have dinner. We went into a couple of shops that had some interesting wood stuff, and that was about the only thing that seemed all that interesting. We were going to have dinner at a place there, but it didn't have anything we were particularly interested in eating and seemed a little expensive, so we just went back to the hotel and shared a pizza.

Sunday we got up, had breakfast, checked out and headed on to our destination for the next two nights- the town of Monteverde at a higher elevation in the "cloud forest." Monteverde is not very far, as the crow flies, from Arenal, but it takes a while to get there over narrow winding dirt roads. Along the road we stopped at a place with waterfalls we had picked up a brochure for. The place was called Viento Fresco Waterfalls, and it lived up to its windy moniker. The poorly translated brochure might have been a warning, but the guy selling tickets only spoke a little more English than any of us spoke Spanish. After his pidgin description my mom correctly surmised that it would be more walking than she cared for. The dirt road we had already come across from Arenal was enough to convince us that we had made the right choice in upgrading the rental car to a 4x4, but the tiny single-lane "road" down to the parking area for the waterfalls really required it. Either my dad and I or the people in charge of the place (or both) are not the best judges of distance in meters, and it seemed as though we should have already come to the trail when we saw a trail heading up. We thought it must be a trail to the first waterfall, even though it wasn't marked. We hiked up and found that it only led back to the narrow road we had been coming down. We did get a close-up view of a few vultures taking off, so it wasn't a total waste of energy. We got back to the car and drove just a little further to the actual parking area, where there were signs pointing to the waterfalls. The trail wasn't great- fairly steep concrete steps that were a little slippery and a "railing" that was more like irrigation tubing. The first of the four falls of one small stream was the most accessible, and the others descended from there probably about 500 vertical feet to the lowest one. The first one was nice and they had added a small dam for people to be able to swim. The second was nice, with the water dropping from around a big boulder, and with miniature caverns behind the falls. Third Falls, Viento FrescoThe third one, however, was the most dramatic at over 200 feet. It looked as though it was set up to allow people to get into the water or even stand under the falls, but it seemed to me like it would not be fun to have water falling that far and pounding on a person. It seemed as though the place was set up to have plenty of visitors, but we didn't see anybody else while we were there, and in fact according to the visitors book we were the first since Thursday. We decided not to go down to the fourth falls, which was more like a slide than a straight shot like the others. I had some water and a snack before we started making our way back up to the parking area. The drive back up to the "main road" was challenging, but fortunately our car was up to it, and it didn't prove to be a problem. We continued along the dirt road through the beautiful lush green valleys through the small tourist town of Santa Elena (ah, paved roads) to the even smaller "town" of Monteverde and to our hotel. Before we got to the hotel, though, we toured a butterfly garden with four enclosures meant to represent different areas of Costa Rica. Also on that tour was a colony of leaf cutter ants in a glass enclosure to see their fascinating lives. It turns out they don't actually eat the leaves, they bring them in to feed a fungus, and the ants eat the fungus (or a byproduct of it, I'm not certain which). Right near our hotel we stopped at a cheese factory. It wasn't in operation, but we did buy some cheese, which turned out to be quite tasty. Once we got settled in our room we made arrangements for a guided tour of the nearby National Park in the morning, then headed into town. We wound up having a delicious dinner at a small tapas restaurant owned by an American expat.

Monday morning we had breakfast early, then met up with our guide and another couple staying at the hotel for a tour of Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve, a short distance up a muddy road from where we were staying. The reason we decided to hire a guide rather than just find our own way was in hopes of seeing the famous but hard to find quetzal, a colorful bird with a long tail. Our guide was from the area and spoke excellent English, and knew the flora and fauna of Costa Rica in general and specifically in this park. It was also nice to have the guide because none of us had thought to bring binoculars and the guide had a spotting scope on a tripod so we could see things we'd never be able to see with our naked eyes. There were a number of birds flying around, but most of them jumped around too quickly to get a real good look at. We walked to one area where the quetzal had been seen, I believe it was near a nest. The guide pointed out lots of the plants along the way, including numerous orchids, most of them very tiny. Most of the trees were alive with epiphytes that live off of nutrients and water in the clouds that pass through pretty much every day of the year. We waited around in that first spot for a little while, all of us with our eyes peeled for any possible sighting. After not seeing anything there, we moved on to see if maybe we would spot it elsewhere. Whenever we passed other groups, the guides would confer as to whether they had seen a quetzal or if they had heard anything, which was nice to see the cooperation. After coming up empty in that area of the park, we went back to the entrance for a quick break and then went into another area. We went pretty much straight to a large tree bearing small avocados, a favorite food of the quetzal. In all likelihood a bird would be at that tree sometime in that next day or two, but since we didn't have that kind of time, we headed back having seen a lot of and learned a lot about the cloud forest. In addition to all the stuff about plants and wildlife, he said he had climbed Cerro ChirripĆ³, the highest mountain in Costa Rica three times, which is something I would have liked to be able to do but didn't have time for this trip. We ended the tour at a shop near the entrance with several hummingbird feeders and lots of hummingbirds, in at least six or eight species, but probably a lot more than that visit them. We went back to the hotel and had a simple lunch. Later my dad dropped my off back at the entrance to the park, where I got a trail map and the woman gave me some information about the trails. I started out on the trail up to the continental divide. The first stretch of trail was pretty nice and hard packed, but then it connected to a muddy dirt road. It was pretty cloudy up at the continental divide. I could see maybe 100 yards or so toward the Atlantic, and could just make out the Gulf of Nicoya, but not the Pacific proper. Nonetheless, it was a really nice view. From there, I would have taken this other trail, but it was closed off. I headed back down the 'Camino' (road) trail until I got to another trail that led upwards. I took that until it intersected another trail that went even further uphill. When I was near the crest of that trail, I came to another trail. The woman at the entrance had marked on my map that this trail was closed, but there wasn't any barricade or anything on the trail itself marking it as closed. Figuring that it led to some overlook or something of interest, or perhaps that it was some other trail entirely, I headed up it. Not far from that intersection, the trail turned from easy-going concrete blocks to slippery tree slices. The slices had, at some time, had wire mesh on them to provide traction, but almost all of it was gone. I hadn't seen anything particularly interesting when the trail started downhill. At that point I was sure that I was on the trail that I had been told was closed, but I figured that I had come this far and there were no warnings or anything, I would continue on. The trail heading downhill looked more like a dry stream bed than a proper trail. It was slippery and had big steps. Most of the way down I was just hoping that I wouldn't have to turn around and go back that way. When I came to the end of that trail at a 'T' junction with another trail, it was blocked off to the left. I started to the right, which I was pretty sure was the same trail that was blocked off near the divide. I soon saw why it had been blocked- a boardwalk through a swampy section had been heaved up when a tree that had been standing next to it fell. The boardwalk ahead was up about waist high and canted precariously to the right. It seemed far too dangerous to proceed, and I headed back to the rough trail I had taken down. I certainly didn't mind the hiking itself, and in fact I felt much better than I had when I woke up congested that morning, but I was a little ticked off. I cut a piece of the caution tape blocking the trail that our guide said was closed because of a landslide, and made my way back up. At the top I tied the tape around some vegetation across the path, hoping at least to warn the next person who might come along. When I got back almost to within sight of the entrance station, I took another trail heading away to go to a "sky bridge." The bridge across a narrow valley was metal with a grate for a deck and shook noticeably when anyone walked on it, but it gave an incredible up-close view of the canopy of the trees. The bromeliads, orchids and other stuff that normally lives way up high was almost literally within reach. After taking some photos and enjoying the view, I hiked back to the entrance station. I was pleasantly surprised to see my parents were sitting there. After cleaning myself off a little bit, we went back to the hotel and I more fully cleaned up. We went to town and had dinner at the sister restaurant of the the place we had eaten the night before, with "nuevo latino" cuisine. It was also delicious.

We had breakfast early again Tuesday, and the around 7 I was picked up for the "canopy tour," really just a series of zip lines (not meant to be educational), that I had signed up for, but my parents had no interest in. Apparently the Monteverde area is the origin of the canopy tour, and it has several choices. The woman at the hotel had suggested this one, eXtremo, since it's newer and has longer runs than some of the other places. Since I was the farthest from the place, I was the first picked up by their van. We picked up more people in Santa Elena at a few different places. First was a couple who I never quite figured out where they were from, possible Spain or Italy. Also in town were two guys from Israel and two guys from Montreal. At our last stop we picked up a couple from Colorado that had actually been at the restaurant we were at the night before, and an Indian couple from San Francisco. We all payed up and got outfitted with the safety gear- a climbing harness, helmet, and a pair of gloves with a thick patch of leather. We got a quick lesson in what we needed to know and do, and learned that the leather on the gloves is to steady and slow oneself on the line. With that, we climbed up a staircase to the first line. The first two lines were pretty short and since they went quickly required quite a few guides, more than I realized at first, in order to have one at each end of each line. Those two were pretty quick and easy, after the initial instruction to sit down, hold rope with one hand and put the other on the line. When we got to that third line, however, it was a lot longer and more unnerving. The woman from Colorado balked at first when she looked out, but calmed enough pretty quickly and went across. I don't remember the exact sequence of the, I believe, 14 different lines we did, but the longer ones crossed a picturesque valley that might have been some sort of farm. We crossed this valley four times in total, with other shorter lines on each side. One of the short ones was the fastest, with a simple arresting system at the end. The second fastest, however, didn't have the arrester and they told us we had to start braking ourselves in the middle of the line, and to stop using both hands. I was pretty unsure of changing up anything about the traverses and moving my left hand from the safety lines to the zip line. I managed to do it, well enough that I didn't have enough momentum at the end and had to "crawl" along the wire, running over my glove with the pulley a couple of times. The last thing we did before the final wire was the "Tarzan swing," jumping from a high platform, swinging out into the trees and being caught on a lower platform. I say jump, but really the guides pushed everybody off the platform. It's one thing to intellectually know that everything should be fine, but it's not easy to take that step off of a fairly secure platform into nothing. For me the scariest part of it, other than the first step, was the initial couple of feet of freefall before the ropes tighten and take the weight. The swinging part was pretty cool, and it almost seemed like we would hit a big tree at the far side. Not everybody opted to do the swing. The two Israeli guys were first, and the second one balked after his friend went and he saw what it was like. That made me second, and I got to watch the other people from the lower platform. Only one of the three women opted to jump, and all the other guys did. There was a fair bit of hiking involved, seeing as how gravity only works in one direction, and we wound up exactly where we started. Of course I don't mind, but for most of the time I was following the much younger Canadians and it definitely got my heart going keeping on their heels. Possibly the longest hike was from the Tarzan swing to the last cable, which is nearly 1km long. Most of the clients made it to the launch point before the last people and guides arrived, so we had a good chance to stare it down. The last line was where the "Superman option" kicked in. I hadn't chosen to pay the extra $5 for the privilege of going down head first, and with a second single pulley to hold up my legs behind me. The six people who had chosen to go Superman style went first, then the rest were sent as couples to have enough weight to get a good speed. Since I didn't have a partner, I went with one of the guides, who was in charge of any braking. We had some time after we turned in our gear before the van got back with the 10:30 patrons and to take us back. We mostly talked about our respective Costa Rica trips, most of which were a lot longer than mine. I was dropped off at my hotel at 11:30, as promised, showered, then we checked out and headed for the Pacific. As seems to be the Costa Rican way, we weren't going very far but it still was going to take several hours. We arrived in Manuel Antonio mid-afternoon and checked in to our hotel. Our bungalow didn't have a view of much of anything other than vegetation, but the nearby pavilion had an excellent view of the Pacific. The place we stayed was spread out over quite a bit of ground, and had a variety of rooms, the most unusual being one converted from an actual passenger plane. The hotel also owns a restaurant across the street with a military plane inside of it.

On Wednesday morning, after waking up to the sound of howler monkeys, we went down the street just a short ways from our hotel to Manuel Antonio National Park. The main draw of the park is its beaches and relatively pristine jungle. Because it was a little unclear where the official entrance was, we first went to the "new" entrance station (still under construction), which is farther from the beaches than the "old" entrance. We got our tickets, and my parents drove to the old entrance while I made my way from the new entrance. It started out as a sturdy trail, really more of a primitive road, through the jungle. Since it was early and there was nobody else, I did see some wildlife- several Morpho butterflies, birds, and possibly a sloth or two, but it was hard to tell since they didn't move and they were kind of high up in a tree. A little later, on the narrow foot path to a viewpoint, I passed under several howler monkeys who seemed to be sharing the morning gossip. The viewpoint itself wasn't really all that impressive, just looking over a small bay. I hiked back down to the trail leading to the more secluded beaches of the park. I went past the "fourth beach" toward the fifth. The trail pretty steep and slippery as I got closer to sea level, and it was a good thing there were ropes to keep from slipping since I was just wearing my sneakers. When I got to the "beach," I first found a family of raccoons, then saw that the concrete stairs that used to lead to the water were destroyed, and finally that the beach itself was pretty much gone too, there was more of a patch of debris. I made my way back up the slope and back toward the beaches, sweating in the sultry jungle. I met a couple going toward the end of the trail and kind of tried to tell them there was nothing there, but they weren't native English speakers and probably, like me, felt like they had come too far not to at least see what's there. At beach four I sat down on a log to take my shoes off and get my feet wet. Third Falls, Iguana, Manuel Antonio The beach was pretty small, but there were only two people there. I wandered around a bit, but not too far since I hadn't bothered to put on my sandals and the rocks were pretty sharp. I foolishly was lulled by the placid waves to get closer to the water, just as a bigger wave came along and half soaked my shorts. While I was there hanging out for about a half hour, I saw this cool iguana hanging out on the rocks. I knocked off a layer of sand and put my shoes back on to go find my parents on one of the larger more accessible beaches. When I met up with them around 9, the beach was sparsely populated. It started filling up pretty steadily, and by the time we left around 11 there more people than any of us really cared for. While we were there, I went walking on some rocks, the surf splashing over me with every wave. I also went for a little swim, figuring that being in the lee of a small peninsula it would be the calmest ocean water I'd likely ever find. I could definitely feel the rip tide, but overcame it easily enough to go out a fair ways from shore. I'm really not that great of a swimmer, and I headed back when I started to feel the slightest bit tired. My dad painted most of the time, but he and I did the little hike around the peninsula. As we packed ourselves up to head out, a "gang" of white-faced monkeys had moved in looking for unsecured food. They managed to get some cookies or something from some people's stuff near ours. The one thing I hadn't contended with by going through the new entrance was that the old entrance requires fording a small tidal stream. The tide had gone out since my parents had crossed earlier, but it still required getting wet (or crossing the land sharks' boats). I just plowed straight through the waist-deep, kind of icky, water. We went back to the hotel and cleaned up, then went for a bit of a drive and lunch. We ate a Tex-Mex place with an amazing view overlooking the Pacific. I had been thinking of walking back to the beach after lunch, but I was so full and it it was already almost 2 when we got back to the hotel, I just laid down for a little while. I went in search of something I had seen earlier for the first time since arriving in Costa Rica- Dr Pepper. When I got to where I had seen it chained against its will, I was horrified to find its entire environs had been spirited away. I asked at the desk, and the guy told me they had moved the fridge (which had been sitting outside their closed cafe below), but assured me that Dr Pepper was available in the local grocery store. I had looked when we had been earlier and certainly I would have found one had it been there. I actually didn't have much caffeine while I was in Costa Rica, Dr Pepper being my main delivery system. I naively thought maybe this was actually what I needed to kick the habit and I would lose some weight (from the lessened sugar intake), but it wasn't long after returning home that I was back to my 2-a-day habit. Later I walked down to the pool and sat drinking a beer and enjoying another magnificent view until it started to rain a little. I went back to the room and my mom and I went to the pavilion to watch the sunset. We had a simple dinner in our room, which had a kitchenette.

We packed up and headed out Thursday morning, taking the same road along the coast we had come in on. We stopped at Carara National Park, known for its macaws. We paid the entrance fee and the guy gave us the locations of a couple of known nests. The first section of trail was wide and hard packed, with informational signs along the way. As we got to connecting trails, they got smaller and more primitive. In one section, about as far from the entrance as we went, the trail was almost obliterated by a fallen tree. Midway we crossed a bridge over a stream and came to a small hut. It was somewhere in this area that the guide told us there was a macaw nest, but not quite following his explanation, it took us quite a few minutes to finally see it, way up in a big tall tree.Third Falls, Iguana, Manuel Antonio It was far enough away that I could barely get a decent photo (as is evident here). We just stood watching as another one came out of the nest. They're magnificently beautiful and it would have been really nice to see them closer, but that's probably not possible outside of a zoo or something. We went for another loop of trail, and as we were getting back to the hut my dad spotted another macaw overhead. When we were almost back to the entrance, some people told us there was a toucan spotted near there. Luckily it was still hanging around when we got there, but again it was hard to get a good look or photo of it. Another thing we saw a few places along the trail were "highways" of leaf-cutter ants with a constant back-and forth between the nest and the tree whose leaves they were harvesting. From the coast we headed back toward San Jose, with enough time to do something else for the afternoon, but not really enough to see any of the other National Parks. My mom wanted to go to one of the numerous botanic gardens in the area, but left it up to me as to which one. I made what would turn out to be a fairly unfortunate choice of one east of San Jose, Lankester Botanic Garden in Cartago, mainly because the guide book showed a nice church in that town. The gardens were actually really nice and diverse. They even had a Japanese style garden and a cactus area. One of the things my mother really liked, and even I thought was pretty neat, was their orchid house. They had more of the large style of orchids that most people are used to seeing than the tiny ones we had seen in the forests, but they had those as well. We drove back into the town and parked to have a look around the church. There was some kind of service going on, so we quietly checked out the interior. It would certainly not make it very high on my list of the most spectacular churches I've been in (if I even had such a list), but it was still a nice place and more impressive of a building than anything else we'd seen. It didn't take that long after leaving the town that the unfortunate side of its location kicked in. Since we were east of town and we were staying by the airport (on the west side of town), we had to cross through San Jose, and it was around 5 o'clock. Traffic was horrendous, and if there was anything akin to an American superhighway around the city, the GPS didn't guide us that way. At one roundabout, the GPS gave misleading information which led us the wrong direction, and getting back took several minutes. There was one place that was under construction where traffic barely moved. Throughout all of this traffic were tons of small motorcycles and scooters that, to me, seemed like they had to be crazy zipping in and out of all the cars and trucks with barely inches to spare in some cases. We finally made it to the hotel, the same place I had spent the first night, around 6:30. We had dinner there, which wasn't bad, but hardly in keeping with a traditional Thanksgiving. I did have a pork chop that was more like ham, which is something we usually have around the holidays, so there is that at least.

My flight Friday was about an hour and half before my parents', but around 9 we just checked out and all went to turn in the car, then just hang out at the airport. My carry on bag was flagged going through security. It turns out that the small first aid kit I usually carry in it includes a pair of scissors, something I don't think I'd ever even realized. I'm fairly sure I'd brought it with me on a plane in the past (not to mention flying to Costa Rica), and never had an issue. For some reason the security person insisted on taking a roll of bandage tape from the kit as well. Curiously, I later realized there was another roll of bandage tape in my bag that I had bought in Seattle. I bought myself a tshirt with the logo for Imperial, the Costa Rican beer I had enjoyed. I was going to buy a bottle of Costa Rican rum as well, but by the time I decided on it, they said it was too late to get it to me on the plane (I couldn't just take it with me). While I was milling around one of the shops, I sampled a chocolate covered coffee bean. I didn't love it at first, not surprising considering I like the smell of coffee but not the drink itself, but it had a sort of addictive property to it. I almost bought a bag, but didn't think I'd really like that much of it. However, it stuck in my mind and I picked up a small bag of them at my local market (origin of the beans unknown). My flight back to Dallas was problem-free, I cleared immigration and customs quickly, so I had a little time to kill. I sat a bar for some beer and college football. The woman sitting next to me works at Taos Ski Valley, which re-ignited my desire to finally go skiing again, and also brought back memories of climbing Wheeler Peak, New Mexico's highest point. Depending on everything else, I'm hoping to make a trip out there this season (or somewhere else, for that matter).

Saturday, after participating in the Chuy's Parade with the HOG chapter, I went to Threadgill's and had myself a nice turkey dinner with dressing and cranberries, and took home a slice of pumpkin pie for later.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Hit By A Car

Hola, amigos. How's it going? I know it's been a long time since I rapped at ya, but I've been hella busy with work lately. I can't blame work entirely, but I haven't been up to much of anything interesting lately. The few times I have done something, I was too busy at work (my primary writing spot) to write about it. The one thing I have written was a short piece for the newspaper about my Rainier climb that will hopefully be printed in the next month or so. It was hard to condense it into 300 words for the Sunday travel section and still convey some sense of the actual experience. I think my writeup here is a lot better, but hopefully people read it and like it.

Most of what I've been doing the past two months (other than work) has been riding- more on the bicycle than the motorcycles- mixed in with some skating and yard work and other stuff. Now that the heat has broken and the high temperature is only in the 70s and occasionally the low 80s, it's a lot more pleasant to be outside, although an abundance of mosquitoes has made yard work more unpleasant than necessary. A few weeks back I went on a 400-mile motorcycle ride to get some final ABCs pictures. There were a lot of butterflies out. I felt bad smashing so many of them, and I had to clean my windshield a couple of times. Halloween was pretty lame. I went to Uncle Billy's thinking it would be a good place to watch the UT game, and it would be close enough to downtown to have some people in costume (and be far enough away to avoid that chaos). It turned out to be not much of either. Right before the game started, there were exactly two people at the bar. More people came later, but other than a few servers there were only a few people wearing costumes.

Up until the time changed last weekend I had still been riding my bicycle to work twice a week, without incident. Wednesday was the first time I rode in since it started getting dark around 6. In the morning there was no problem. In fact, it was warmer than the same time of day the week before. In the evening I absolutely wanted to get home before it got dark, so I left the office as early as I could manage. Unfortunately I couldn't get away until around 5:30, and the sun was already low enough to cast shadows on the road. I attached my front light (but didn't turn it on, in retrospect I wish I had) and turned on my back blinker. Traffic was pretty heavy, which allowed for my favorite part of bicycle commuting- passing long lines of cars waiting at the lights. It was going fine and still pretty light out, although the sun had probably already set. I was riding along the wide shoulder, moving pretty fast (over 20 mph) coming down a small hill through a flat section, passing cars stopped/moving slowly when I suddenly saw a pickup truck and knew we were about to collide. I don't think I even had a chance to grab the brakes before he hit me. It was quite fortunate he was moving slowly to make a right turn, but our relative masses ensured that I was much worse off than the truck. While going down to the ground, I remember having enough time to think about how I wanted to land. My first instinct was to tuck and roll, but I decided that that would likely result in road rash, so I just stuck my hands out and landed on them. The driver stopped and got out and seemed really sorry and concerned about me. A woman who is a nurse also stopped and wanted to make sure I was alright. Another woman stopped to see if everything was okay and to offer to be a witness. I felt like I might have come through unscathed at first, but I soon started feeling/finding injuries. The first one I noticed was a minor abrasion (it didn't break the skin, I felt it more than saw it) on my left arm from where the truck hit me. A little bit later I noticed that somehow my chain ring had caught the back of my left leg just above the ankle. The only other thing I could tell at that time was that my left knee had hit something and pulled up a little bit of skin. The next day, however the main injuries I felt were a bruise on my ribs and that my left shoulder was hurting. I also had a bruise on "the fleshy part of the thigh" and a bruise just above my right knee. The bike also seemed unscathed at first, that "fortunately" (for it) my body had taken most of the impact, but today I took it to a bike shop and found that the frame is bent somewhere, and the rear axle mounting points aren't quite lined up properly. We all exchanged information and the nurse offered to give me a ride home. I was going to refuse at first, since it was only a mile further to the house, but I thought it was probably a good idea. However, the driver wanted to give me a ride, saying he'd feel better that way. On the way to my house he admitted that it was his fault and that he hadn't really looked when he decided at the last second to make that turn.

I'm not going to let it keep me from riding my bicycle, I'm just not going to be riding to work until the days get longer again, or leave really early if I do ride in. Today I went riding to the Alamo (stopping at the bike shop along the way) to see Ong Bak 2, and then stopping in at a new bar to watch college football. I left at halftime in order to get home well before dark.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


I rode my bicycle to work again on Friday. I didn't leave until after 6, and went home and vegetated all night. I went to sleep at more or less my usual time, around 11, but for no apparent reason woke up at 6 Saturday morning. I lazed about for a while, then around 10 I went to try and give blood at the new donation center near my house. I hadn't donated since I got my tattoo, because they said the convention wasn't a "licensed tattoo facility." About a month ago I finally got an email from a tattoo convention organizer saying that yes, they definitely were covered by a temporary license. Having never been there, it took me a bit of driving around the sprawling shopping development to find the place. When they looked me up in their computer, they saw the deferral. Unfortunately they couldn't just take my word that the place was, in fact, licensed, and they couldn't remove the deferral even after I showed them the email. They let me print out the email, then they faxed it over to the person who can clear me, but it apparently can take a few days and I haven't heard anything yet. Hopefully they'll get it sorted out and I can donate again soon. Since this changed my plans for the day, I decided to go home and go for a bicycle ride. I rode to the downtown area and ate lunch at Home Slice. I was pretty hungry and ate three slices of their delicious pizza. I headed into the heart of downtown from there, passing through the Batfest that was being set up on the Congress bridge. I went to the Alamo and bought a ticket for the 3 o'clock (their earliest) showing of Inglorious Basterds. Since it was only 12:30 and I had a bunch of time to kill, I rode to the art museum. I hadn't been in a while, but other than their temporary exhibition space, it was pretty much the same. I pretty much wandered around the downtown area until around 2:15 when I went to the theater and waited for the show. I really liked the movie, even though it wasn't what I was expecting. I was expecting something more like The Dirty Dozen, where Basterds's main character was more an SS colonel than the Basterds. Since it was almost 6 when I got out of the theater, I thought about going somewhere for dinner, but couldn't think of anything I particularly wanted. I stopped in at Doc's on Congress, mainly because I really had to pee, but also because there were some threatening looking clouds in the sky. I drank a beer and it still wasn't raining (and the forecast wasn't calling for it to rain on me), so I started to leave, only to find that it was now raining. I decided it was probably isolated and started home anyway. I was soon out of the rain and didn't get any more on the rest of the way home. I took a shower and went and had a nice steak dinner at the roadhouse. I fell asleep on the couch watching TV around 10.

I slept a lot later on Sunday, waking up around 8. After breakfast I drove to the veloway for a skate. I did three full laps, taking a break between each one. There were more people there than I've seen in a long time. Either I haven't been in the morning in a long time, or people are finally getting used to the heat. I showered and then went out for lunch. I decided I would try out the Carl's Jr. that went in a few months back. It was maybe a little better than most fast food places, but wasn't nearly as good as Dan's. I went to a sporting goods store to get some sale items and take advantage of tax-free weekend. At home in the afternoon I did a little bit of housework, but mostly laid on the couch. I even dozed off for a little while.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Saturday morning I went on my first HOG chapter ride in about two months. We took a mix of highway and back roads to get to Marble Falls for breakfast at the Bluebonnet Cafe. It was nice to visit with some old friends, and a new couple who moved to Austin from Alaska not that long ago. After I finished stuffing my face, we took some back roads I've ridden countless times back to the Harley shop, where they were having their monthly lot party, which was also a "post ROT party." I paid the bill on my Fat Boy, and while I was in the service area I got talked into entering the Night Train into the dyno shoot-out. It pulled just under 80 horsepower and just over 92 foot-pounds of torque, which ultimately was good enough to win second place in the softail division, against pretty meager competition. The only problem was that I had to stick around until 4 in order to claim my prize of a t-shirt and a printed certificate in a cheap plastic frame. I killed some of the time I was there by having the Coyote Ugly girls give the Night Train a quick cleaning. Also, I left for a little while to ride the Fat Boy home, where Jimmy gave me a ride back to the shop, by way of his house where I helped him fix something on his daughter's car. Once I finally received my fabulous certificate, I rode home and chilled out for a while, then went back over to Jimmy's and we had steak for dinner.

I slept pretty late on Sunday, until 9, and then still had trouble waking up and getting out of bed. I had a little bit of breakfast and headed off on my bicycle to Alamo Lamar at 10. I couldn't decided if I wanted to see District 9 or In The Loop, so I flipped a coin when I got to the theater. It came up heads for In The Loop, and when I got inside I was pretty glad that's the way it landed when I saw the line of people waiting for District 9. I really liked the movie, I thought it was very funny- a good political satire. From there, I decided that since I'd never actually been inside the Capitol, that's what I would do. I stopped in to Patagonia along the way, but didn't find anything on sale I wanted. I was kind of pissed off that I couldn't find a bicycle rack anywhere on the Capitol grounds, and had to lock my bike to a street sign just outside the fence. I wandered around and looked at stuff for a while, then started to make my way home. I was waylaid pretty quickly, however, when I decided while waiting for a light to go to the Gingerman. I had one beer, and when I couldn't think of where I wanted to stop on the way home for some food, I just got an empanada there and another beer or two. It was around 5 when I finally left and started home. My legs were starting to get tired, seeing as this was pretty much the first time I'd exercised since Rainier, so I stopped into a market for some Dr Pepper and Twizzlers. When I got home I watched TV for the rest of the evening.

I got a call from Jimmy Monday afternoon to let me know he'd finished working on my car. I called him later once I got home, expecting him to come over and give me a ride to his shop. When I heard a car pulling up to the house, it was definitely not his truck, but was instead my car. I drove over to his house and we hung out on the deck and ate the rest of the steaks from the other night.

It was good to finally drive to work Tuesday so I could finally take my backpack home, since it had been sitting in my cubicle for a week after getting it back from Sean.

Today I rode my bicycle in, since the shower room in the building is open now. The new place is about two miles closer to my house, and cuts out a big hill, but to avoid making a big loop under the highway, I have to ride head on into traffic with no shoulder. Fortunately there was nobody using the turn lane I was riding in, but I doubt that will always be the case.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Seattle/Rainier Trip: Seattle

Sunday, 8/1, I got on a plane at the absurdly early hour of 6 am, which of course meant that I woke up at 4. I took a cab, to leave my car so that Jimmy could pick it up to do some overdue maintenance. I had a brief layover in San Francisco, which mainly consisted of rushing to the next gate, which seemed to be miles from my arrival gate. I got into Seattle on time, around 10:30. I got my checked bag and went out to wait for the shuttle to my hotel. It took a while for the shuttle to arrive. If I had been going to Dollar, I could have gone 10 times. When the shuttle finally did arrive, it turned out that its first stop was a different hotel, and up the street the other direction from my hotel. If I had known where it was beforehand, I could have been at my hotel long before I walked there taking the shuttle. I was glad my room was available when I got there, because I was ready for a nap, having only slept a little bit on the plane. After I woke up I took a city bus to downtown, and got off at the Pioneer Square neighborhood. On a recommendation from a friend, I took the Seattle Underground Tour. The tour did actually offer quite a bit about the history of Seattle, but the tour guide probably thought she was a lot funnier than I thought she was. Most of her terrible jokes were tortured puns I could see coming from a mile away. I did find the information very interesting, but to me the delivery was horrible. After the tour finished, I headed to the sound and started walking north. Since I didn't want to stop in any more obvious tourist traps, I kept going and eventually found myself at Pike Place Market. Since it was already after 6 pm, everything was closed, so I didn't get to see it in action then. However, the brewpub there was open. I sampled several of their beers, but none were exceptional. I got a gyro for dinner from a Greek place nearby, then started back toward Pioneer Square for lack of any other ideas. I went to the Smith Tower, which was the tallest building in the city when it was built in 1914. I got up to the top just before sunset, and the man working there was very informative and did not try to rush me out at all. I took a whole bunch of picture of the skyline, and attempted to photograph Mt. Rainier, but it was almost the exact same color as the sky, so only a couple of pictures came out at all. I took a bus back to the hotel, where I had a couple more beers at the bar. If I had known how much they charged for the first one, I probably wouldn't have ordered a second, but oh well. I went back to the room around 10:30 and quickly fell asleep reading my book until Stefan arrived and woke me up.

Around 8, Stef and I went off in search of breakfast. We had a pretty leisurely breakfast, I ate far too much, then we walked back to the hotel and waited for Sean and Marisa to pick us up. When they arrived, our climbing odyssey began.

On Thursday, 8/6, after a few scenic stops, Sean and Marisa dropped us off at the Greyhound station in Yakima. We locked up our big bags and went off for some lunch, which included a couple pints of beer. Once again, google failed me, pointing me to a long-closed brewpub. The restaurant that had taken over the place was okay, though. It was a converted railroad station, and they had a railroad DVD playing on one TV. We went back to the station and waited for the bus, which was running a little late. I hadn't even thought of the possibility, but the bus was fairly full when it showed up, and Stef and I weren't able to sit together. Having spent almost every minute of the previous four plus days with him, this really wasn't a problem. I did manage to finish reading my book, Nathan Rabin's The Big Rewind, his memoirs, which I enjoyed immensely. When we got in to Seattle, Stef was not too keen on walking, with his knees in pain, but it was only about 5 blocks to my hotel. I checked in, we dropped our stuff, and then went to a beer bar a block away. The bar claimed 160 beers on tap, but several of the beers I asked for (most not on their list) they didn't have. They did have some pretty good dinner, though. We just stayed there until almost midnight, then back to the hotel. Stef then left, taking a taxi to the airport to just sleep there until his 6 am flight back to Austin. I was barely awake at that point to begin with, and just went to sleep.

On Friday I was still really feeling the after effects of the climb. My quads were sore, and I still had the one minor blister on my right foot. Around 8 or so I started wandering toward Pike Place in search of breakfast. I saw the world-famous fish market, then found a deli and got a bagel with lox that I ate by the water. I picked up some tape from a drug store and headed back to my hotel, where I wrapped up my two little toes on my right foot to avoid bothering the blister. Not having a particularly strong conviction as to what I wanted to do for the day, I set off toward the REI flagship store, about a mile away. I stopped in another outdoor store nearby first, one really geared toward serious mountaineering. They had on display a down suit that had been to the summits of Vinson Massif and Everest many times. The REI store was pretty nice. The coolest part, to me at least, was their giant indoor climbing structure. If it hadn't been for my core legs and the 2-hour wait, I probably would have given it a shot. I had some lunch at a wrap place in the store, then started the ~1 mile walk to the Seattle Center, home of the Space Needle and other stuff. After wandering around and taking some pictures, I was lured into the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum by an exhibit on Jim Henson. I took a pretty quick tour of both. The Henson exhibit was fairly small, and the whole space wasn't really that big. The SciFi stuff was pretty scattershot, more of an overview of the whole of SciFi than really getting too into things. The EMP seemed more geared toward musicians, with numerous recording areas. It also had sort of a local musicians hall-of-fame, which was interesting enough, but not that exciting to me. I had no interest in spending $16 to wait in a long line to go up the Space Needle, so I walked on toward the water and the Seattle Art Museum's Olympic Sculpture Park. There were some nice pieces, but nothing that blew me away. I headed south from there along the water, then headed to the SAM proper. Their collection is pretty diverse, also with quite a few nice pieces. They had a special exhibit up of Andrew Wyeth works, but it really wasn't that big. There were a few Helga paintings. I went back to my hotel, but it was pretty late in the afternoon, so I didn't take a nap or anything. I went to the hotel restaurant and had happy hour beers and a rather filling appetizer for dinner. I went out walking again, so I could take a look and some pictures of the library. I then went to a fairly "corporate" brewpub for a couple of pints. When I got back to my hotel I decided to check out the pub that was more or less in the basement. They had one of my favorite English beers on tap that I've never been able to find in the US. I was really tired by that point and should have just had one, but I figured since it was a rare occurrence I'd order a second. I didn't even drink half of it before my eyelids started getting pretty heavy. It was only just past 10, but I paid and went up to my room and crashed out.

Saturday I woke up on the early side and caught a bus to the airport around 7 for my 9 am flight. I wound up having a bunch of time to kill in the airport, but I'd rather be early than late. Thankfully, the flight home was direct, non-stop, since Alaska Airlines had- during that week- started direct flights between Austin and Seattle. I got back in to Austin around 3:30, and Jimmy picked me up and gave me a ride home. Since my house was 90 degrees, I just dropped my stuff and went to hang out with him. That evening he had a bunch of friends over for grilled fish they had caught on their vacation the week prior.

Unfortunately, due to an unexpected tire problem and wanting to get it fixed properly, by finally fixing the alignment, Jimmy still had my car at his shop all week. Since my Fat Boy was in the shop as well for its 100,000 mile service, I drove the Night Train to work all week. I would have ridden my bicycle one or more days, but since we just moved into a brand new building and the showers haven't been completed yet, I figured for everyone else's sake I wouldn't. It wasn't too big of a problem, other than the fact that it was somewhere around 100 degrees every afternoon- with the exception of Wednesday when I got rained on.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Seattle/Rainier Trip: Climbing Rainier

Sunday morning, 8/2, Sean (a co-worker) and Marisa (his wife) picked Stef (another co-worker) and me up from the hotel we spent the night in by the airport. It quickly became apparent that there was a little too much stuff in the car already to add to people in any sort of comfort. Adding in that we each had a big and small bag, it became a perfect problem for a bunch of engineers to solve. After pulling a bunch of stuff out, throwing away any garbage, we managed to stuff everything back in with just enough room for everyone to sit down. It would have to to for the two-hour ride to the motel in Ashford. The car was so full, I could only see Sean directly in front of me. However, I was fortunate to be on the side of the car that did have occasional views of Mt. Rainier as we approached it. As if we didn't have enough stuff, we stopped at a grocery store for provisions. We arrived at base camp, which includes a motel, a coffee shop, a snack stand, and a climbing store in addition to the headquarters of the guide service we had hired, Rainier Mountaineering Inc. We arrived around noon and got some food from the snack stand, but their service was so slow that day that even though I ordered right after he did, Sean was finished with his burger by the time I got mine (and he was not eating particularly fast). We looked around the store for a while, and then fortunately our room was ready earlier than promised and we had a chance to unpack the car and gather our gear for orientation. At 3, we met our head guide, Billy, and one of the other parties we would be climbing with- Mark and Kyle, co-workers from Michigan. The other party- Robert, his brother Loren and his wife Juan arrived later. We started by introducing ourselves, then Billy gave us a slide show introducing us to the mountain and the route we would be taking. Then came the gear check, going over everything from head to toe and all safety gear. The only thing I was missing was a second upper insulation layer. After we went through everything, we went back to the store, where I bought a soft shell jacket that was on sale for a good price. Unfortunately, it was too good of a bargain for Stef to pass up, and they only had it in one color. Oh well. It turned out to be a pretty good purchase, I wore it the entire second day of the climb, to the exclusion of the fleece shirt I had brought. We drove to a nearby town to get some more groceries, after having re-evaluated our stocks, and Subway sandwiches for dinner/lunch the next day. I had trouble sleeping that night. The area was just coming down from a record heat wave, and we were in an attic-like space without much ventilation.

I got some breakfast from the coffee shop Monday morning. We all packed up our gear for the day and met up at 8:15 to go to the park for mountaineering class. We changed into our plastic mountaineering boots on the bus, forcing us to get used to them a little bit on the ~2 mile hike up to the training area. The class started pretty basic- to take deep breaths, how to walk on snow, how to hold the ice axe, and how to come straight down a snow slope. Then we learned arrests, what to do in case we or anyone we're tied on to falls. In the afternoon we learned about walking with crampons, and then walked to the top of a fairly steep slope roped in two teams. The last new thing was walking on rock with crampons. This proved to be the worst for me. After hiking all day in the plastic boots, my ankle was pretty tender. Any rolling that put pressure on the inside of my left ankle caused pain, and on the rock it was much worse than the snow. Having pretty much learned everything we needed to know, the last test was to hike up another steep snow bank on our way out. As a test, the assistant guide, Elias, grabbed the rope right near Marisa to simulate a team arrest. Quite unfortunately, this twisted her previously injured knee which she had spent a lot of time to rehabilitate. She made the hike back to Paradise alright, but she dropped out of doing the actual climb. Back at base camp, we iced our various painful joints, and had pizza from the snack stand for dinner.

I slept better Monday night, but still woke up at 6. I went and sat outside for a while, and because I got a little chilly in the 52 degree air, I made the regrettable decision to hike in my fleece pants instead of my shorts. We started out of Paradise around 9:30 and it wasn't long before I was sweating profusely. I didn't let that slow me down, though, and after the first break I was hiking immediately behind our third guide, Gabriel, an Argentinian whom Sean and Stef had climbed Aconcagua with. I talked with him about climbing and various other things. Our second stop was on the Muir Snowfield. By that point, we had gained enough elevation that the breeze was pretty cool, so I put on my base layer shirt over my t-shirt. It was at that stop that we changed from our casual footwear (flip-flops in Billy's case) into our mountaineering boots. I was pretty quickly sweating profusely again. The next two stops I put on my jacket while we were stopped, but put it away before we started hiking again, which was much better as far as regulating my body temperature. The fourth and final "maintenance break" of the day was within sight of Camp Muir. Being sweaty and a bit tired, it was tantalizingly close, but agonizingly still a half hour away. It was good, then, that I was behind several people for the last leg, and I couldn't really see it when I looked up from the footsteps of the person in front of me. It was about 2:30 when we arrived at our night's accommodations, RMI's private hut. It was not much to look at, 2x4s and plywood, and consisted mainly of the closest thing to a rack I've ever seen outside of a ship. We were actually quite fortunate, in that we didn't have to bring tents or sleeping mats, and that we were their only summit team that day. Normally there would have been twice as many people that time of year, but what would have been the B summit team went a different route. We had some room to spread out our stuff on the three-level wooden bunk. I took the middle of the middle bunk laid my stuff out to prepare for the summit. Billy came in to give us a talk around 3:30, then we had time for dinner before we our appointed 6pm rest time. I barely slept the whole night. My ipod as a noise suppressor maybe wasn't the ideal choice, as it seemed there were several times where I was just about to drift off and the music woke me up again. Also not helping matters was that everything seemed to be very connected. So, while I couldn't hear people moving around or whatever, I could feel the bunk moving. I did get some sleep, but at 11 o'clock, the start of the window in which Billy said he would wake us up, I was awake. I stayed in my sleeping bag, but there was a parade of people going to the bathroom or whatever. It was about 12:15am when Billy did come in to wake us up. They brought hot water for breakfast, which I used for some oatmeal.

It was about 1:15 when we were geared up and roped together in teams ready to leave camp. In the night, Loren had gotten an upset stomach and decided not to join us, as did his wife. This required re-balancing the rope teams, and I moved from Stef and Sean's team with Gabriel to what was then Robert and Elias's team. Billy, Kyle and Mark led us out of camp onto the Cowlitz Glacier. It was a beautiful night, the moon was almost full, and really not that cold. I was wearing long johns and fleece on my legs; and my t-shirt, base layer, and soft shell jacket on top. Of course we were wearing our full phalanx of safety gear: helmet, climbing harness, avalanche transceiver, crampons, ice axe, and all. We crossed the Cowlitz, and then went up the Cumberland Gap, a loose rocky lump leading to the Ingraham Glacier. Our first stop was on the Ingraham, just past what daylight would later reveal to be an active rock fall area. I had left my iPhone on in my parka pocket, and when I put it on, it got phone service for the first time since Sunday and informed me I had a voicemail. I thought about it, but did not retrieve it nor post to facebook. The second stretch was definitely the most physically grueling. We had to cross the glacier quickly to avoid ice fall hazard, while snaking around gigantic crevasses. It was fortunate that it was dark the first time across the Ingraham. In the dark, we only knew that we were stepping over crevasses, the largest step being a full long stride. Coming back through in the light, it was clear the potential danger from seemingly infinitely deep crevasses, the giant seracs looming above, and a few narrow ledges- one which dropped off the mountain on one side, the other side dropping into a crevasse. And that was, physically, the easy part of that stretch. Then we had to climb up the Disappointment Cleaver. It was a mix of loose rock and hard rock requiring big steps up. It was not very kind to my ankle, but it hurt less than I had feared it might. Robert and I started lagging behind the other teams on the Cleaver, which actually turned out to be to our benefit. Because the route wasn't marked properly, the first two teams had to turn around and downclimb to where we were, then take a different route up. By the time we got to the top of the Cleaver, I was beyond ready for a break. I was tired, but was confident a little break would rejuvenate me. Robert, however, wasn't feeling as confident and felt like he was slowing us down. It must have been disappointing to have to turn around, but he made it a lot further than most people on Earth ever will. He and Elias climbed down to Muir while I joined Stef, Sean and Gabriel on the way up. Climbing the Emmons Glacier was not easy, it was quite steep, even following switchbacks dug into the snow, but it was definitely easier, physically. That was when the mental aspect started to become more prominent. I was feeling tired, and had to push myself for almost every step, especially after almost an hour of climbing. I was definitely feeling the effects of altitude, as well. It wasn't anything severe, I didn't even have a headache at that point, but it felt like I got less out of each breath, and I had a major loss of appetite. They all but forced us to eat and drink at each stop. At the first stop on the Emmons, I was still able to eat a Clif bar and drink water, but it just seemed to sit there in my stomach. At the next stop, the last before the summit, I all but had to force a granola bar down my throat. At the summit I only had half of a Clif bar. The Emmons was solid snow most of the way, until we got near the top and there were a few crevasses. I was pretty exhausted when we finally made it to the summit crater around 7:15. I had already scrapped my plan to continue up to the very tippy-top, about 100 feet vertically above where we came in and dropped our bags. Sean and Gabriel were the only ones who went up, while the rest of us laid down on our packs. I actually started dozing off. We were quite fortunate to have really good weather, so it afforded us some time to relax. It was pretty cold and windy, but there were only wisps of clouds blowing around. When we went to leave we had been sitting in the cold long enough that even with our down parkas on, most of us were shivering. Billy kindly allowed for a quick stop on the descent so we could keep our parkas on for a few more minutes. Very shortly into the descent, Stef's knees started giving him serious trouble. We distributed the gear he was carrying among the other three of us, which seemed to help him. We still had to go more slowly, and there were a few times that since I was in front of him, I almost pulled him over. I, on the other hand, started feeling much better on the descent. The air was getting thicker and my energy and appetite were returning. My problem then was hydration. I had, as recommended, only brought two liters of water for the summit push. I was really thirsty coming down and I had to ration what water I did have. After our first maintenance break of the descent, I was down to less than half a liter. As we kept going, I was thirsty enough that a couple of times I chipped off and ate a bit of snow. The trip down the Disappointment Cleaver was not really any easier than the trip up. It was actually kind of nice that Billy was marking a different route, because it meant we had to pause several times, long enough to catch my breath. Traversing the Ingraham Glacier again was not physically particularly difficult, it was just, as mentioned, really being able to see the man-eating hazards, plus seeing and hearing rock falls. Fortunately I'm not particularly afraid of heights, so it was actually really cool to look down into the crevasses. They really are quite beautiful. I certainly didn't dawdle while crossing them, however. Even the narrow crevasses with a good snow bridge can be dangerous, so I hurried across all of them. Our final stop before returning to Muir was the same as our first on the way out of Muir. I downed the last of my water and a little of Gabriel's. When we got back to the Gap, we had the luxury of taking off our crampons for the rest of the way. When we got back into camp around noon, it was quite a relief. But it wasn't long before the reality that we still had to hike down to Paradise set in. I rested a bit and drank lots of water before packing everything up, somewhat haphazardly. Trying to dress lightly, and really regretting not bringing shorts, I wore just my long johns for the rest of the way down, thinking it would be cooler than the fleece pants. And who cares what the tourists think. The Snowfield was really soft and loose in the afternoon sun, and we pretty much boot skied our way down. It was hardly effortless, but it was a lot easier than going up. Stef was lagging pretty far behind, even with help from Gabriel and Elias, so it offered several opportunities for me to catch my breath and take a little drink of water. We took a break at Pebble Creek and changed into everyday footwear. I barely managed to shove all my gear into my bag for the rest of the way down to the bus. Near Paradise we encountered one of the worst surfaces: asphalt. My knees weren't hurting at all until we got to the asphalt. Fortunately, that meant we were really close to the bus at that point. I drank about a liter of water between the time we got to the bus and got back to base camp. Most of us gathered for pizza, beer, and wine at the snack shop as something of a celebration. After some much-needed showers we were all asleep by 10.

Thursday morning we got up and started packing up to leave. I ate my leftover cheese and salami for breakfast. I would have drank the beers I had left in the fridge, but they had frozen. Somehow Sean managed to pack the car a bit more compactly, and although I still couldn't see Stef, at least neither of us had anything in our laps. Sean and Marisa dropped us off at the Greyhound station in Yakima and started their long drive back to Austin. We killed the time until our bus having lunch and drinking beer.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Barton Creek Torture Test

After work on Friday I went for a little bit of a run along the hike-and-bike trail. That lasted all of 12 minutes, and then I walked to Chuy's for dinner. The run wasn't bad, but as a form of exercise it's really not for me. It's hard on the joints, which are what give me trouble anyway. The only real upside I see to running is that a lot of good looking women run. I had a "lighter" dish for dinner, meaning that it didn't come with rice or beans, so I gorged on chips and ate all of the guacamole that came with my meal. So, as ever, it was far from a healthy meal. I would have run a little bit more on the way back to my car, but I was far too full.

I woke up early Saturday for no reason, but dallied enough that I didn't get to the Barton Creek Greenbelt until after 9. There were a whole bunch of cars, probably a lot of them from a group of people running together that were finishing up as I was starting, so I had to park a fair ways up Barton Skyway. I shouldered my 48 pound pack and started hiking. It went fine on the way out, albeit at a bit of a slow pace, only going about 2 miles an hour over fairly flat terrain. Around 11 I stopped for a snack in the dry creek bed, but that was the only stop along the roughly 6 miles to the hill of life, other than slowing down to gawk at rock climbers. I stopped once going up the hill, then again at the top before turning around. I went to the creek where I had swam a few weeks ago, hoping to jump in again, but the water was so low that it was barely flowing and looked pretty stagnant and gross. I did take my boots off and dip my feet in, since those were the most in need of some refreshment. I sat in the shade by the water for a while eating my lunch. I packed up and started back around 1. I was feeling tired at that point, but not bad and still in good spirits. While trudging along, I started fantasizing about hitching a ride from MoPac back to my car. I was getting more an more tired; my knees, feet and ankle were hurting; if I had been randomly offered a ride, I probably would have taken it. However, when the trail split, I stuck to the creek and did not go up to the road to beg for a ride. The hike from there was a complete trudge. I stopped several times and took my pack off for a rest. I thought about dumping my two 1-liter water bottles I carry as "extra" water or just ballast, but as I was worried might happen, I wound up needing them when I sucked my main reservoir dry. Around 3 o'clock, I started thinking I must be pretty close. I hadn't seen the Gus Fruh access point, which was one mile from my car, but I was thinking I must have passed it on the other bank or something. When I did get to the access point a little bit later, it was terribly dispiriting. I wanted to give up then, but it probably would have taken ages to hitch a ride or whatever. I sat down for one more break, had a snack, and fantasized about the ice cream bar and Dr Pepper I would have once I got to the convenience store near where I parked. I finally made it back to the access point, and then had to climb up a hill to the road. Then my heart sank again when I saw how far I still had to go up the hill to get to my car, since I was forced to park farther away. I wrestled my pack into my car, switched to sandals and drove to the convenience store, where I got a 1-liter Dr Pepper and an ice cream bar. They didn't have the one I was craving, but I got one that was a reasonable substitute. I drove home, showered, then vegetated but didn't fall asleep. Jimmy called and I went over to his house for beers and some darned good grilled chicken.

Sunday was a supremely lazy day. I didn't get enough sleep overnight, but I did have a good nap in the afternoon. I went and saw Harry Potter, which I enjoyed. The theater was pretty crowded, but not completely full. I was thinking about doing something afterward, but was feeling tired and I went home for that nap. In the evening, I managed a few minutes of productivity doing some weeding and watering in my backyard, and for my efforts I got about a dozen ant bites on my ankles.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Pedernales

I woke up on the late side Saturday morning, around 8:30, after somewhat of a late night on Jimmy's deck Friday. Mainly because I didn't have any bread in the house to make PBJs for lunch, I decided to swap my original plan of hiking Saturday and biking Sunday. I had some trouble motivating myself, and barely made it out of the house by 10 for a noon showing of Bruno at the Alamo Ritz. It turns out I didn't have to be in quite as big of a rush as I was, the theater wasn't open yet when I got there at 11, and there wasn't as big of a crowd as I thought there might be. There were about 20 people waiting when the doors opened at 11:20, and more filtered in until the theater was about half full at showtime. I enjoyed the movie, I liked that it had a little bit more of a plot than Borat, but some of the magic is gone, in that I was thinking about how much of it was pre-arranged versus being spontaneous. I thought about doing something after the movie, but just headed home after a spin along the hike-and-bike trail. My legs were already kind of tired at the beginning of the day from riding to work on Friday, so the ride home was pretty rough. I stopped in to 7-11 for a free mini slurpee to try to beat the heat, then stopped again a little further down the road to get some groceries. I didn't really want to be carrying more weight, but I really needed milk and bread and wasn't sure I would go to the store once I got home. When I got home I took a shower and vegetated for a while. I called Jimmy to see if he was going to our mutual friends' last-minute party and wound up going to hang out over there for a little while. He didn't go, but I went to the party around 8. It was a good party, lots of old friends I don't see that often any more. It wasn't nearly as crazy as some of their other parties have been, despite having a beer pong setup, which I performed disappointingly terribly at. I stayed until way past my bedtime and didn't get home until 3.

I woke up at 9:30 Sunday and set about getting ready for a hike. I didn't get to Pedernales Falls State Park until just past noon, and of course it was blazing hot. I set off on a 4-mile hike, which other than getting down to, crossing, and then climbing the far bank of the river was fairly level. There were a few places with some enough elevation change to get my hard moving a little faster. Not surprisingly, the trail was deserted and the only person I saw was a guy on a bicycle. When I got back to the river I was plenty ready to jump in and cool off. I found a spot to set my stuff down, and then tried to find a decent place to swim. However, the river was down so low I didn't find any place that was more than waist deep. Plus the water was kind of cloudy to begin with, and then so full of algae that moving around stirred up big brown plumes. It wasn't great, but it was refreshing despite the water being fairly warm. I had some lunch under a tree, then headed back up to my car and drove home. I chilled out for a while, then ate some wings at Pluckers and watched TV for the rest of the evening.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Independence Day Weekend

Friday was a pretty darned lazy day off from work. I was originally planning on going for a bicycle ride, but somehow I got sucked in by my computer and before I knew it, it was already 11am and pretty warm outside. I had lunch at home, and other than picking a few things up off of the floor, didn't do anything productive all day. Finally around 6 I went to the veloway for a skate. There were only two cars in the lot when I got there, probably the fewest I've ever seen, most likely since it was still about 100 degrees out. After one lap, I started feeling a pain at the top of my right boot. I figured it was a burr or some other bit of debris that had come from a tree or some such thing. I was going to wait until I got back to the start, but a wheel was getting so loose I was afraid it was going to fall off, so I stopped on the track to tighten it and address the pain. When I loosened my right boot to get to the offending material, I realized it was the boot itself rubbing my skin raw because I was wearing shorter socks than I normally do. I tightened my wheels and skated back to the start in pain, and called it a day. I took a shower and had dinner at TX Roadhouse, then went to check out a brand new (opened that day) sports bar in the shopping complex. It was a nice enough place, but nothing amazing.

I was mostly awake but trying to go back to sleep at 7 when, because of a problem with his holder, my dad's cell phone called me. I tried to go back to sleep, but it didn't seem like it was going to happen. I called my parents to wish them a happy Independence Day, then had breakfast and headed out on my bicycle. I got to the downtown area around 10 and started doing laps around the hike-and-bike trail to kill time. There were as many people out as I've ever seen, and had my work cut out dodging them. Eventually, I sat down on a shaded section of wall near the confluence of Barton Creek and Lady Bird Lake and read the paper. Around 11 I went to Uncle Billy's, which seemed to just be opening, for beer and lunch. After lunch I rode over to Barton Springs pool, for my first time ever. There were tons of people there, but at least it's a big place. I crossed over the pool and found a place to set my stuff under a tree, then went for a swim. Most people were congregated around the shallower areas, with very few in the deep sections, so that's where I went. After swimming for a while in the fairly bracing 68 degree water I decided to wait in line to try out the diving board. Not being a diver, I just did a cannonball. I floated around for a while longer, then went back to my towel to sit and read for a bit. While I was sitting there a group seemingly quite consistent with the pool's demographic- underage teen girls in bikinis- set their stuff down and went to the water. After a while, I was drying off and starting to feel the 100 degree heat, so I went for another dip. After another cycle of swimming, then reading/drip-drying, I packed up and headed out around 2. I thought the 15-person line to get in was bad when I got there, but the line as I was leaving wrapped around the building and went on further than I could see. If it had been like that when I got there, I still would have never been in the pool. I was actually feeling hungry again, so I went to Shady Grove for some sustenance. I was pretty pissed when, at one point, I went to the bathroom for two minutes and came back to find some jerk had just shoved all my stuff over one stool so he could sit with his group rather than stand for one minute and wait to ask me to move over, or just stood the two minutes they were even at the bar. I hung out at the outside bar trying to keep cool, reading the paper, until about 4. I took another lap on the hike-and-bike, then went to Book People and chilled out until I got hungry. I didn't have much of a plan as to what I was going to eat, and pretty much just found myself at Hooters. It wasn't very crowded when I got there, but it gradually filled up to the brim, as did every bit of grass in the park across the street, as people gathered for the fireworks. When it started to get dark around 8:30 I left to find a place to watch. I stopped along Riverside where I could see the symphony, but I faced the other direction, toward the fireworks. It was a pretty good show, as it usually is (barring uncooperative weather). It wasn't all that easy, even on a bicycle, negotiating the throngs of revelers and all the cars to get headed home. For a while, I was moving faster than the cars were, there was so much traffic. When I got home I pretty much went straight to bed.

Sunday was another pretty lazy day, but I did manage to do a little yard work in the morning and some light housework. I finally hung up an elk horn I've had sitting in my living room for months, but I didn't hang a painting that's been sitting on the floor for about as long.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Rock Climbing

After work on Tuesday I went with a coworker to see Drag Me to Hell, Sam Raimi's new movie. Other than that Mac guy, it was pretty awesome genre fare. There were a lot of gross-out gags that had me cringing. At one point early on, I was really sorry to be eating at that moment.

I went rollerblading Monday, rode the bicycle Wednesday and Friday and hiked the hill of life 3 times on Thursday.

I slept a lot later on Saturday than I have in a long time, until 8:45. I puttered about for a while, then I went to the South Austin Rock Gym for the first time. I had a bit of trouble finding the place at first, since it's in an industrial complex with very few signs to tell you what's inside. When I got there around 10:30 I found it was a generous space, but not huge, with the walls covered in rock climbing holds. I signed a release and put on rental climbing shoes, then got a quick lesson in belaying. I didn't know they didn't have an auto-belay system, so without a partner I couldn't do the walls that require ropes. I did get some pretty good use out of the bouldering walls, starting out with a few easy routes. I was a little uneasy with the height at first, being about 10 feet off the ground with only some padding to break my fall. I felt a little more confident after I completed a route or two and made it back to the ground safely. I tried some of the harder routes, but didn't make it very far, so I just played around, using whatever holds I wanted. By noon my arms were getting pretty tired and I was losing grip strength, but I didn't want to leave, I wanted to get my money's worth. Since there was nobody on the high roped walls, I did some climbing and traversing staying within ~8 feet of the floor. I finally threw in the towel around 1 when I could barely grip the easiest holds. Overall, it was pretty fun, and a pretty good workout- in addition to the burning forearms I was sweating despite the A/C. It was kind of expensive, and not really applicable to the Rainier climb, so I won't be in a rush to go back. I went and had lunch at Home Slice, then went home and took a nap. Once I finally woke up and dusted off the cobwebs, I had some dinner and went to check out the sale at REI. I bought a few things, then went and parked along the hike-and-bike trail. I set out on a jog and actually did better than I thought I might. I maintained a jogging pace all the way from MoPac to Lamar, about a mile and a half. I got into a decent pace, keeping my heart rate around 175. I took something of a breather on the Pfluger bridge and stretched a bit, then started jogging on the other side of the river. I didn't make it nearly as far, I slowed down to a walk when I got to the Barton Creek bridge, then started to jog again at town lake. I barely made it any distance before my legs started hurting and I slowed back to a walk for the rest of the way back to the car.

I woke up close to 9 again on Sunday, but had a hard time getting out of bed since I'd stayed up until 2:30 for no reason Saturday night. After breakfast I packed up the big bag and went to the greenbelt to do the hill of life. I was sweating pretty good the first time up the hill, and was soaked the second time up. I went down a third time and went all the way down to the water. I took off my boots and went in. The water wasn't all that cold, but it was refreshing. We've been in a drought for so long, the creek is barely flowing- I was at the only falls with water. That made it a little popular, but it was such a hot day there weren't many people in the greenbelt. There were four people there when I got there, then two more showed up, chatted with two that were already there, then those two left. I had a bit of lunch while I drip-dried. When I was mostly dry I put my boots back on for one last trip up the hill. I thought about doing a little bit extra, but it was hot and I was tired, so I just went home and took a nap. After an overly long ~2 hour nap I took a shower and had dinner at Doc's, then watched the drag race for a while.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Lost Maples Sweatfest

My bicycle problems on Monday got even worse. When I went to change the inner tube, I realized the only replacements I had were actually a size smaller than the tire, so it looked under inflated even with it blown up as much as my miniature pump could manage. After a couple of miles, the little plastic tab holding my lock on sheared almost completely off, so it was flopping back in forth and getting in the way of my legs. When I stopped to take it off of the bike and put it in my backpack, I found a cut in the sidewall of my back tire. Either it happened during the short distance I rode on the rim in the morning, or it was from some other incident I hadn't even noticed. Fortunately the tire held together long enough to get home, but I had to replace it.

At lunch on Tuesday I went to the bicycle shop and tried to replace that one tire, but they didn't stock that type any more, so I wound up getting two new tires of the same size but different tread pattern. As I went to leave, I discovered my car's battery was dead all of a sudden. I figured that rather than try to get a jump, I would replace the battery, figuring it was probably time anyway. The good thing is that I was on Lamar, where there are lots of car repair shops and at least one auto parts store. The problem was that the store was on the other side of the busy street. I ran across, bought the battery, and ran back. Then I realized I didn't have any tools in the car, so I went to the bicycle shop to borrow an adjustable wrench. It was really dirty, but I replaced the battery pretty quickly, and the car started right up. I returned the wrench, drove across to the auto parts store to get my core charge back, and went back to work. My stereo has a security feature where it requires a code to reactivate after power is lost, so I had to go digging in my glove compartment to find the code.

On Wednesday after work I went up and down the "hill of life" two-plus times with my big backpack weighing about 32 pounds. I rode the bicycle in to work again on Thursday, this time without incident. On Friday I did the stairs with the big backpack.

Saturday morning I repacked the big backpack and amazingly had enough gear that it was full to overflowing, leaving my small stool to be strapped on the outside. Including 5 liters of water the pack weighed about 40 pounds. It was about 9 by the time I got out of Austin. I skirted San Antonio, then to Bandera where I stopped at a gas station for a drink and something resembling a lunch. I probably shouldn't have been trying to eat it while driving 60 miles an hour on a narrow winding road, but it worked out okay and I got to the park around 11:30. I checked in and drove to the parking area. I ate the rest of my "lunch," changed my shorts and traded my sandals for hiking boots, then started down the trail. The trail to the ponds is pretty flat and despite the heavy pack I made good time. After 15 minutes, I was thinking I must have covered at least half the one mile distance, when I realized I was almost there. I set up camp along the water at the far end of the camping area, trying to be as far away from traffic as possible. When I left to do some more hiking with about half my gear, there was one tent and a few people along the shore. When I got back around 2, there was nobody- even the tent was down and gone. That afternoon made me want to start some sort of "quiet in the backcountry" campaign- while I was at camp I could hear people yakking on the trail above me, and on a ridge overlooking the ponds I could hear people practically yelling to each other, even though they were right next to each other. I was a little sweaty when I got back to camp, but it wasn't really that hot out and there was a nice breeze, so I cooled off pretty quickly. I decided to go for a swim anyway, at least to rinse myself and my clothes off a little bit. I swam across to the limestone cliffs, undercut by the water, and chilled out on a big rock that was at the perfect depth to stand on. The water was really nice and refreshing, but I didn't stay in for too long. I got out and dried off sitting on a bench reading, then went back to my tent and continued reading. After a while I actually started feeling bored and I thought about going in to Utopia for dinner and (even though it's against park rules) getting a six-pack to bring back. Kind of hoping it was after 5, I checked my watch thinking that if it was after 5 I would just stay. Since it was only 4:45, I put my boots on and hiked out to my car. The irony was that people were just starting to show up again, so maybe it wouldn't have been boring. I had a burger at the Lost Maples Cafe and then, since Utopia is apparently dry, I drove 15 miles west to Leakey. I got gas and some beer and drove back to the park. I sat at camp reading and drinking the beer (in a water bottle to be less conspicuous) until the bugs started eating me up. It was kind of hot in my tent, but my little battery operated fan helped a lot. By the time I went to sleep it seemed like everybody else had already turned in- the couple with their two children and I'm guessing the grandfather; and the group of boyscouts I'd seen a couple of times during the day.

I didn't sleep well, I woke up a few times and eventually it was cool enough that I got into my sleeping bag. I did ultimately sleep until 7, however. It was an overcast and muggy morning. After breakfast and packing up I was already starting to sweat it was so humid. I started along the West Trail at 8:30, and after about a mile and a half I decided to take the West Loop Trail, a two and a half spur off of the main trail. There weren't many people in the park in the first place, but that corner is certainly the least visited, so it was particularly quiet. I was sweating so much at that point that when I started going up a hill, my hat started sweating- it had gotten so saturated that the bill was dripping. Just as the trail started back downhill, I stopped for a snack and to rest. When I got up to leave I noticed that the rock I had been sitting on was wet from my sweat. When I got back to the main trail a a boy and girl, roughly in their early teens, went by in the direction I was headed. I was starting to feel tired already at that point, and to my disappointment, I never quite caught up with either of them. After a while, their father caught up with me, and passed me when we got to the uphill portion. I fell further behind them when I had to stop a couple of times to catch my breath. I saw them again sitting on the bench I had been fantasizing about resting on. They got up and continued on their hike as I approached and I had the whole plateau to myself. I had a real proper rest- I took my boots off, had a snack, and laid back to read a chapter of my book. As is usually the case, however, I was feeling stiff and sore when I had to get up, put my boots back on, and reshoulder my pack. When I finally got back to the car around noon, I changed out of my sweat-soaked, gamey synthetic clothes into my much less so cotton clothes and sandals, and started home with the A/C blasting. It was a good ways down the road, in Kerrville, before I was feeling cooled off and stopped to get a Dr Pepper. I got home at 3, took a shower, and laid down to take a nap. I didn't fall asleep, just read a magazine, then played on the computer before deciding to go out for dinner. Having just read an article on steak, I headed to the roadhouse, but just as I was pulling in to the parking lot, Jimmy called and said they were heading to the Texican, so I went there instead. After eating too much at dinner, I went over to his place and drank beer on the deck until too late, then went home and straight to bed.