Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ill but recovering

Last week I went through various phases of a cold. Sunday through Tuesday I had a sore throat that was bad enough that I went to the doctor's office on Tuesday to get checked for Strep throat. The test was negative and the PA just recommended taking decongestants. On Wednesday my throat was feeling better, but that's when I really started coughing. It wasn't too bad during the day, but at night I kept waking up with coughing fits. Last night was the best night's sleep I've had in more than a week, after a coughing jag just after drifting off to sleep I managed to sleep until 6am. I haven't been coughing nearly as much today, although strangely my voice has been a lot weaker the last couple of days. Hopefully I'm almost over this thing, whatever it may have been. At least at this point I can be pretty sure it's not swine flu or pertussis.

Friday night I met up with Jimmy and family and friends to have dinner for his daughter's birthday at Hula Hut. It was rather crowded when we got there at 8, and it was after 9:30 before we sat down at a strange gathering of tables to accommodate all 16 of us. Since it was close to 11 by the time we were done and my coughing was getting worse, I went straight home and to bed.

It was pretty cloudy Saturday morning, and on my way to the meeting spot for my ride to Enchanted Rock I ran into a few raindrops. I figured nobody would show up and we would cancel the ride once I talked with the sweep RC. Three people showed up, undeterred by the threat of rain, and were willing to risk a few drops of rain to go on the ride. After we waited out what proved to be an isolated shower under an awning, the five of us set out on the ride. The ride went just fine, we didn't encounter any more rain, and even had some sun in a few spots. Just before we got to the park entrance, I pulled over and bid the group adieu, since none of them were interested in hiking. I parked and got ready to hike, changing into shorts and strapping on my backpack. I managed to pace myself enough going up the rock that I only had to stop to rest briefly two or three times, and I still made it to the top in just over 15 minutes. Probably helping this time versus the previous trip was waiting until I got to the top to have my lunch. This time I decided to descend the rock to the north. I went over a good section of bare rock before I found a small trail headed in the direction I wanted to go. This eventually led to a loose rocky stream bed, which made for much slower going. I followed the stream for a while, until I got past one of the smaller granite outcroppings and I wanted to start back around the back side. There wasn't a trail, but I decided to follow a small valley over to the other side. I wandered around the back side of the rocks, following what might have been game trails until eventually I met up with an actual trail. I was a pretty good distance from the enchanted rock at that point, and it took me a while to get all the way around it and back to the parking area. Since I wasn't following a trail, it's hard to know exactly how far I went, but I would guess that in the two hours I was there I covered about 4 miles. I rode home and vegetated briefly before getting cleaned up and going to a coworker's house for a BBQ. It was a pretty good time, there were several other coworkers and non-coworkers. Two people had brought their own home-brewed IPAs, one an American style and one a British style. They were both quite good. I stayed until around 10 and then went straight home, despite having thoughts about stopping downtown since I was passing through.

I woke up at 6:30 Sunday morning, but didn't do anything useful all morning. I didn't even have breakfast until 10. Just past noon I rode over to the Harley shop to meet up for a chapter 'road rally,' which turned out to be a lot of fun. One guy had set up a route to the chapter picnic, but didn't tell anybody what it was. He set up pie plates to indicate that there might be a turn ahead, but no indication of which direction. If you guessed correctly, there was a check mark to indicate so, otherwise you had to back track. The winner was the one with the closest mileage to the proper route without going under. At least a dozen bikes participated and I think everyone enjoyed themselves. The picnic was pretty nice. They changed some of the games around and I wound up winning the jigsaw puzzle contest (handily, naturally) and the trivia contest, but that was only because it was multiple choice and other people guessed wrong and I got the remaining answer. I won a 500-piece Harley puzzle and a Harley Monopoly game. Later in the evening I watched a DVD for the first time in about a month.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


After a long, relaxing train ride that included a lot of reading but unfortunately little sleep, no thanks to the guys who got on in Philadelphia, sat right behind me, and yammered away the entire time. It was kind of curious that after being right on time for every stop, we somehow arrived in Pittsburgh a half hour early. It must be a way for Amtrak to have a better on-time record. I had to wait around for a little while until Mike and Doug came and picked me up and took me to dinner at a favorite place of theirs in the South Side. I ate most of an enormous sandwich and a bunch of homemade potato chips, and my plate still looked full when I was done. We didn't stay too late, since they both had work in the morning. They dropped me off at my hotel, where I did a little reading before going to bed around 11.

Thursday morning I ate breakfast in the cafe in the hotel building and then walked the roughly mile and a half to CMU's campus. It was pretty early by college standards, around 8, so it was pretty lifeless. I wandered around for a while, checking out new construction and other things that might have changed since that last time I visited. Then, at long last, began the start of competition of what is, in my opinion at least, the most prestigious and highly anticipated event of the school year, and CMU's most unique event, as well. It's probably been since I was an undergrad that I was in town for the Design Competition portion of the Sweepstakes races (better known as Buggy). I was and, like many alumni, remain, a rabid buggy fan, which has only been fueled recently by the rise of a great forum site sponsored by the recently created Buggy Alumni Association. From about 10am to noon I was in a gymnasium, checking out new buggies (and being amazed by how many were built while or even before I was in school), and chatting with other buggy-mad alumni, and even a few people less informed but interested in buggy. I left design for a while to grab lunch and attend a talk by a buggy alum about how buggy relates to/prepared him for projects in the real world. After design comp, I swung by my old fraternity house, but since they're on probation and aren't allowed to have any alcohol in the house, it was pretty empty. I decided to head toward my hotel to drop off the shirts I'd bought and possibly get a little nap. I first took a swing through "Midway," the other competition held during Carnival, where organizations build elaborate booths based on an individual theme that ties in to an overall theme. It was shortly before the midway officially opened, so I wasn't able to get a real good look at any of them. After hoofing it back to my hotel, I laid down, read a little, but didn't feel sleepy, so about 4:30 I headed back to campus. Instead of going all the way to campus, I stopped in at the bar closest to it, to see if there was anyone I knew inside. There were in fact several people I knew, so I stuck around and had a few drinks before going to dinner with a few of them. After dinner I went back through Midway, even though many of them were still not completed (since judging isn't until later), and, since it was on my way back to my hotel, I stopped back into the bar. There were some people I knew, so I stuck around for a while. I finally left after 11, but the problem was that at that point it was pretty cool out, and I had left my jacket at the hotel. I started off jogging to keep warm in my t-shirt, but that didn't last long and I went the rest of the way at my usual quick walking pace.

I set my alarm to wake me up at 6am on Friday, so I wouldn't miss a minute of racing, which started at 8. I grabbed a breakfast sandwich to go from the cafe, then got a Dr Pepper from the drugstore around the corner, and ate the sandwich on my way to the buggy course. When I got there at 7, there was almost nobody there, which probably shouldn't have been particularly surprising on a big drinking weekend. I kind of wandered for a while until I ran into a fraternity brother I hadn't seen in a while, so we chatted until it got closer to race time and more alumni showed up. There was still not a big crowd when women's races started at 8, but by 9 when it started warming up and the more competitive men's races started, there was a good crowd. The racing action was really good, and the coverage was excellent, with a jumbotron set up at the top of "hill 2." I moved around some, watching a number of heats from hill 2, which is close to the finish line as well; and from the "chute," the high-speed 90-degree turn where most accidents occur. While I was down in the chute, one of the top organizations' B team buggy had a complete wheel failure and crashed pretty hard into the hay bales lining the road. There were a couple of other spins in the chute, but I didn't see them. As long as the tiny girl inside isn't hurt, the spins are pretty cool to see, just like NASCAR. After races finished around noon, I met up with the BAA folks for pizza and, of course, to talk about the races. At 1, I went over to the History of Buggy presentation given by an alum who is even more into buggy than myself, or almost anyone else for that matter. It was really interesting historical information, but I was tired enough that I managed to fall asleep for a few minutes. I headed back to my hotel not long after that, where I relaxed for a while, but didn't fall asleep. All the walking and standing was making me think I hadn't fully recovered from the Marcy climb, my knees were getting sore and stiff, as were my feet. At 5 I called up a friend about possibly getting dinner, but I pretty much just missed him as he was already on his way to another fraternity brother's house and was too far to pick me up. I went and had dinner at an old favorite sandwich shop that serves everything with fries and coleslaw in the sandwich. I pretty much just wandered around for the next several hours, stopping in at the campus bar, but it was packed wall-to-wall and I didn't know anybody; strolling through Midway; stopping by the nearly empty fraternity house; until I decided to go back to a different bar, where I'd had dinner the night before. It wasn't particularly interesting there, the hockey game was on, but they do have a decent beer selection. Frankly, I was kind of bored at that point, until finally I got a call that someone was going to give me a ride to the party at a bar owned by some fraternity alumni. That turned out to be a pretty good time, but quite a few of the people were pretty drunk by the time I got there around 10. I got a chance to meet and hang out with some of the younger alumni, who weren't even students when I graduated, as well as some old friends. I got a ride back to my hotel about 2, and I immediately went to bed.

I actually didn't have too much trouble waking up at 7am on Saturday and getting to the buggy course just after 8. I was surprised, however, to find that buggies were already rolling on the course, since I thought races started at 9. It turns out they were just exhibition races, done just for fun and not competitive. The races went pretty smoothly, and I spent most of the time at hill 2, until the final race by a team that had numerous spins during practices, when I went to the chute. They didn't wind up spinning, and in fact set a new course record (after having reset the women's record earlier). The problem was that as the day went on, it was becoming clear that what had started as "maybe I'm coming down with something" in the morning was definitely turning into "something," and I was not feeling well. Not having anything with me, I picked up some drugs at the campus store, then met people back at the house. I went to lunch with three other alums, and at least I had an appetite, but I was not feeling well and just wanted to go to sleep. After lunch I wanted a nap more than anything, but when the others decided to stop in at the bar, I said goodbye and took a bus back to my hotel. As we parted, one guy said "I'm sure I'll see you again," and I gave sort of a "maybe, but don't count on it" hand gesture. I laid in bed under the covers as the full brunt of a fever hit me. I slept from 4 to 6, but I was probably in worse shape when I woke up, feeling freezing cold, but my skin burning up. I put a moist washcloth on my forehead while I shivered under the covers. Finally around 9 the fever subsided enough that I now felt warm and came out from under the covers. I was a little hungry, but in no shape to even leave the room, so I ate all that was left of my mom's cookies.

Sunday morning I was feeling slightly better. I gathered my things and took an 8am bus to the airport. It was pretty sparse when I got on, but was packed from downtown to Robinson. The first flight was pretty terrible. Not only was it only a small regional jet, I had a window seat, and there was a very annoying baby sitting right behind me. This little girl was kicking the seat, making the tray table drop, and possibly worst was the screaming as we were making our descent. I was so exhausted that I did manage to sleep, but it was very fitful. The second short leg home was relatively uneventful except for leaving late due to some sort of medical emergency. I finally made it all the way back to my own home around 4, and watched TV (sometimes through the backs of my eyelids) until I got up and went to bed.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Mt. Marcy

On Friday, April 10, I flew to NY to see my family for Easter. I wasn't expecting food on either flight, so I brought my own, but they did serve what seemed like a decent lunch on the Houston to NY flight. My dad picked me up at LaGuardia and not that long after we got to my parents' house, they hosted a dinner party for our whole family- including my sister, her husband and their daughter- plus the whole clan of longtime friends, including two more young girls. It was a nice, informal meal, and it was good to catch up with an old friend I hadn't seen in several years.

Saturday we drove up to our friends' place upstate where we usually go for Thanksgiving. After lunch and my sister and niece showed up, they went into town to do some shopping while I went for a little hike up a hill that makes a valley in which the house sits. I first waded across the cold stream in borrowed waders, getting ever so slightly wet, then started up a marked trail. Once I got to the top of that trail and to a clearing, I continued straight up the rest of the hill toward the crest. There was no marked trail, and I had to go through a lot of brambles. I didn't go as far as the absolute crest, just to where it leveled off and there was a rock wall. I made my way down pretty haphazardly, with a vague bearing of the other side of the property. Once I hacked my way back through the brambles I made it back to the meadows and then back to the creek. Later on, just for a little more exercise, I ran up the hill on the other side of the house up to an outbuilding and back.

Sunday my mother and I "hid" Easter eggs in plain sight for my niece to find. After she finally got up and had breakfast, we all bundled up against the sub-freezing morning to help her find and collect them all. We had a delicious ham dinner with all the fixings at noontime, and then by 2 pm we all headed off in different directions. My parents and sister went back to their homes, while I drove north to Lake Placid, where I had made arrangements for the evening to be near the base of Mt. Marcy for an early ascent on Monday. After checking in, I went to one of the two brewpubs in town, the one in town with the fancier menu. Because I didn't feel like spending more than $20 for a dish, I only had an appetizer and two of their beers while watching the end of the Masters tournament with some actual golf fans. I went from there to the other brewpub, sampled some of their beer and ate a bit of their much cheaper food. Somewhat fortunately, that place closed at 9, so it all but forced me to go back to my hotel and turn in early.

When I woke up at 6 am Monday I kind of regretted having even as many beers as I had consumed. I got some breakfast at McDonald's and headed to the trailhead. By the time I ate my breakfast, got all my layers on, and strapped my trekking poles and the snowshoes I'd rented the previous evening to my pack, it was about 7:30. It only took a few steps to regret the way I'd very loosely strapped the snowshoes on, as they were swinging about and being a nuisance. Even though it was only about 18 degrees out, after 15 minutes I was already starting to sweat, so I stopped to relash the snowshoes and take off my hat. I trudged on over the frozen ground until I got to Marcy Dam and stopped to eat a couple of my mom's cookies. It was still cold enough out that when I lowered my hood, my sweaty hair would freeze. I signed in at the second register, then started up toward Marcy, the peak still more than 3000' vertically above. There started to be patches of snow and ice at that point, but crunchy and not very slick, so I didn't need the snowshoes. I was kind of concerned when I came to a stream crossing without a bridge. When I was halfway across but unsure of how to cross the second half, I saw what almost seemed an apparition of three young women on the far bank. As I later found out, there was a "high water" bridge downstream I'd unwittingly passed. It was about then that I remembered my poles, and used them to stabilize me as I crossed the icy rocks. I slid just before getting to the far bank, but fortunately didn't get my socks wet thanks to the gaiters built into my shell pants. I passed the women when they stopped for whatever reason, but it wasn't long before they were right on my heels and I stepped aside to let them pass, and I didn't see them again until above tree line. When it was starting to get more snowy than rocky, I took another break near where the Phelps trail splits off and put on the snowshoes. After I got a little further, the trail was solid snow, no rocks poking out any more. When I got to a steep section, I used the ascender feature of the snowshoes to help out, keeping my foot from having to go all the way down to the plane of the shoe/slope. The only problem was that for a while the trail couldn't make up its mind whether it wanted to be steep or flattish, so I had to keep taking down and putting up the ascenders, since they make walking weird on flat or vaguely downhill portions. I did, however, manage to get pretty good at doing so. The sun was really nice and bright all day, a welcome change from the snow showers I arrived in the area to. The main problem that caused, however, was that since I forgot to bring sun screen with me, I wound up sunburned at the end of the day. The other problem was my eyes. My limited use of my "glacier glasses" had shown them to a) fog up very easily and b) get uncomfortable after long use. I didn't really need them until I started getting pretty high in elevation and the trees started thinning out. I finally put the glasses on near tree line, and sure enough they fogged up immediately and pretty much stayed fogged up until above tree line where the howling winds kept them mostly fog-free. I had brought along my mountaineering boots, expecting to change into them when I put on the snowshoes, but didn't since my feet were quite warm at that point. Above tree line, I wished I had changed at some point, but it was too late by then. My feet weren't really that cold, but they were a bit wet from having been covered in snow for hours and with the wind I could definitely feel the cold. The good part was that only about the last 300' vertical was completely above tree level, so the exposure time was not that severe. I don't know if it was because they were using crampons, but the women I had seen earlier slowed way down above tree line and I caught up to them as they were standing at the summit, which was perfect timing. I took a couple of pictures of them, and they took a couple of pictures of me, then I took a few of the view and such, then started heading back down, at about 12:30. At that point I was feeling a bit tired, but definitely like I had accomplished something, and was feeling pretty good. Well below tree line, I plopped down on the side of the trail to have some lunch. I ate a few cookies and a quarter of a ham sandwich before I got up and got moving again. It wasn't very long after that, however, that I started feeling spent. My knees were getting sore and it was taking a lot longer to descend than I had anticipated. I met a guy on his way up, on skis, which seemed completely insane. By the time I got back down to Marcy Dam, only about halfway, I felt totally spent and took my pack off for a longer break. I had some more cookies and ham sandwich, changed my socks, took off my fleece shirt, and reluctantly trudged on. From that point the ground that had been frozen in the morning was now mud, which I dislike on the best of days. After a couple of miles I was whimpering and whining to myself with practically every step. I was hoping for some motorized vehicle to miraculously pick me up and deliver me to my car. No such thing happened, of course, and I slowly ground on, being passed by several other people who had obviously not been to the summit. Finally, finally, just past 6pm, I arrived at the trailhead and dumped and disrobed my gear. The rental guy was just about to lock up and leave, but I was glad he came out and took the snowshoes from me. Then began the next ordeal, driving four hours back to my parents' house. I stopped just down the road in Keene for some much needed quick human fuel of peanut M&Ms and the Dr Pepper I'd been craving all day. At 8 I was starting to fade pretty badly, so I pulled over to a rest stop, but as soon as I closed my eyes my mind started up, so I got another Dr Pepper and kept on down the road. At 9 I was fading again, and pulled into another rest area, and what seemed like seconds after closing my eyes, it was past 10 and I was sufficiently refreshed to make it the rest of the way. I got in about 11:30 and went straight to bed, despite really needing a shower after sweating out 6,000 calories.

Tuesday I went with my mom in the morning to a beautiful private garden where she did some weeding with fellow Master Gardeners while I walked around. After a little snack and a chance to meet the 93 year old woman who lives there, we went back to the house to do some more gardening. I did some touch up work on rocks and then some cleanup in the thyme, before going inside to look at their deathly slow computer. For dinner, we went to a nice seafood restaurant in town.

Wednesday, I gathered my things and got on a commuter train to Grand Central Station, then a subway to Penn Station, then a 9-hour train ride to Pittsburgh.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Hiking the Rock

Saturday I did a pre-ride for a chapter ride later this month to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. I had to find a new sweep road captain during the week, after the original one had to drop out. He and I met about 9 am and went for a really pleasant ride. It was a nice and sunny day, it started off cool but I was getting warm under my jacket as the day warmed up. I wasn't particularly surprised at the lack of wildflowers in the Hill Country, considering how dry it's been the last several months, but I was hoping it would be better than it was. I don't think I saw any bluebonnets along the Willow City Loop, and it was probably the only time I've ridden it without going through any low water crossings. When we got to the park, Bruce went back home and I parked to go for a hike. There were a lot of people there already and still streaming in by the carload. I bought a Dr Pepper from a concession stand and sat down at a picnic table and ate the PBJs I'd brought with me. After lunch I started hiking up the rock, initially at much too quick of a pace. After 10 minutes I was panting and sweating and had to stop and take a drink of water. I continued up to the summit pretty quickly again and had to stop a couple more times before I got to the top. I finally slowed down near the top and enjoyed the view, even though it was full of people. I wandered toward the back side, being careful not to fall off the more sheer side popular with rock climbers. I found a hard-to-get-to shaded spot and sat down for a little while and read the paper. From there I made my way down the side of the rock, having to deviate from the direct route to avoid potentially bone-snapping boulder fields. I got down to the valley and headed further back into the park, pretty much wandering among the many trails attempting to circumnavigate Enchanted Rock. It got pretty hot in the afternoon, especially since I was still wearing jeans. I dunked my head in a stream I came across for some relief. When I got back near the road, I cooled off again from a faucet that had water colder than my water bottle. When I got moving again on the bike, I cooled off pretty quickly and had a pleasant ride back into town. Back home, I watched some TV before going over to hang out with Jimmy around 7. We went over to his son's place for some BBQ and to see his various project vehicles. A bunch of his friends were over so of course there was a lot of beer drinking and lie telling.

I had ambitions of actually doing something Sunday morning, but wound up lazing about until about 10:30 when I went into the garage to try to adjust the shifter rod on my Night Train and found that it was already as short as it gets. I rode over to the Harley shop to stage up for the Peace, Love and Happiness ride. It was a lot cooler than Saturday and very windy, which probably limited the turnout. There were over 100 bikes nonetheless, and it made for a pretty impressive stretch of motorcycles going down the road once we got started. Police escorted rides like that are fun to do mainly for being able to blow through intersections, though they tend to go on the slow side. I barely got above third gear for the first half and only got into fifth for a few short stretches on the second half. When we got parked at the Backyard, most people went in to see the concert, but I went with a couple of road captains to lunch elsewhere. I finally managed to do something productive after loafing a bit after getting home from lunch, and mowed my front lawn. Since I don't have much of any real grass at the moment, I just used my weed whacker to knock down the crabgrass and other weedy crap. I watched TV and started packing for my trip back east in the evening.