Looking East

On this day about a year ago, I was getting ready to head to Martha’s Vineyard and Viable Paradise.  This mostly consisted of taking care of last minute details and kicking the cat out of my already packed bags (repeatedly).  Since VP starts on Sunday, the memories have been quite strong the past few days and I’m really missing it and jealous of those who are going this year.

For those about to make the journey, there isn’t much I can say.  Go back and check my old blog entries.  Read up on the Viable Paradise Index – it’s got a lot of good stuff.  Fellow VP XIII’ers, Cath and Lisa Morton wrote up some good essays lately so check those out as well.  Most importantly – Have fun.  Learn.   It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity so go after everything you want and make a lot of friends.

And while others are preparing to head a little east of us, here at the Hughes household, we’re looking a bit farther than that.

Sweden, to be specific.

Steph leaves on Saturday for her business trip which will take her from Rochester to Copenhagen and finally to Sweden.  She’ll be there for a week before she comes back (including a passage through JFK *shiver*).  Right now she’s going through exactly what I went through a year ago.  Packing, worrying about last minute details, and kicking the cat out of her bags.  She’s a little stressed and nervous.

Not that I blame her.  Heck, I’m stressing out a little bit myself.  I keep asking myself :

Is Steph going to be safe?

Is she going to make all of her flights and get through Customs on time?

Will her luggage make it?

Is the International Power Adapter I got her the right one?

Am I going to forget something while she’s gone?

Can I go a full week without shaving?

Can I survive a full week on chocolate chip cookies and, if not, what the hell am I going to eat?

Will I remember Steph’s return flight?  (I’d better add that to the Google Calendar right now).

Will the Cat and I bond like we did when Steph was in Australia or will he simply murder me and replace me with a heat lamp?

Trekking Up & Down (A Whole Lotta Ups & Downs)

The Birkie Trail Half Marathon.  This race takes place on the Birkie trail in Wisconsin which runs from Hayward to Telemark.  It’s home to an incredibly popular 55km cross country ski race (9,000+ participants), mountain biking, hiking, and running.

Steph found this race for us a few months back.  I’m not sure how, but I have a feeling she was browsing through the ‘Masochists Guide to Hell‘ catalog she gets in the mail.  Isn’t that usually how these things start?

We’ve both run half-marathons so doing a trail one seemed like a logical next step.  Prior to the race, we were looking at temperatures that we thought would be in the low 40s and rain.   On the plus side, the course wasn’t going to be dusty.  Race morning turned out to be perfect – 50s, little wind, clear skies.   Everything perfect.  All that was left was to deal with the course itself.

Yeah, about that … here is the course elevation from my Forerunner 405 :

Birkie Elevation - Click to enlarge (it's the only way to really see it)

Elevation Grade - Click to enlarge (for all the nitty gritty details)

That’s +1,967 feet up, -2,103 feet down.  4,070 feet of elevation change with a max incline of 45 degrees and decline around 30.  Anything within 2.5 degrees either way is considered flat and you’ll see that there are almost no places where that happens.

This course is hard.  Two days before we showed up, the area received 4+ inches of rain in a 24 hour period plus a smattering afterward which made the all grass route (not even a trace of gravel or beaten down dirt) slick and treacherous.

It’s also a hell of a lot of fun.

I was well prepared for this race and to be honest, the distance didn’t bother me. The hills, on the other hand, that’s another story. Whatever screwball injury I did this past week to my Achilles tendon made  it very difficult to push off with my left foot.  On flats and downhills, not a problem.  Uphill … well, that’s another story.  Usually that technique requires both feet.  The end result was that I slowed down dramatically on every uphill.  Kind of sucked.

I made up the time on the downhills.  This technique involved just letting go and not caring if I made it down on my feet or just fell and rolled.  Heck, if that happened, I’d get to the bottom without using nearly as much energy.  The ground was wet and soft enough that it wouldn’t hurt.  Too much.  I got a second wind in the last three miles and was able to really push it to the finish line.

I finished in 1:43:45, a full seven minutes under my goal of 1:50.  Overall, I ended up 33rd and 13th in my age group.   Steph came in at 2:01:39, 85th overall and 13th in her age group.  Pretty respectable, I’d say.

The only thing I can ding them on was the lack of water at the finish line.  We had to go up another hill (fer chrissakes people, enough with the hills!) and hunt it down.  But all in all, a really fun race with incredible scenery.  Yeah, I think we’ll probably do it again.  Though next time maybe I’ll wear some spikes or something.

But for now, I relax … and try not to climb up any hills.

Over the Hills and Through the Woods (Click to Enlarge)

With Great Shape, Comes Great … Something

By any and all measures, I am in great shape for being 36 years old.

For starters, I’m a runner and a fairly competitive one at that.  I can run a sub 5:30 mile, though I prefer the longer distance races such as the Birkie Trail 1/2 Marathon that Steph and I are planning on running this weekend.  I practice martial-arts and self-defense several times a week.   I haven’t driven a car to work in almost seven years – biking when possible, walking in the winter.  My diet is mostly vegetarian with a healthy dose of local, organic meats.

So, by all accounts I’m in fantastic shape.

That is, if being and staying in great shape doesn’t kill me first.

Saturday – 7 mile run : I do something to tweak my ankle.   It now takes ten or so steps before I can walk normally.  Otherwise I look like Frankenstein’s monster.  This may come in handy if it keeps up til Halloween.

Sunday – Ultimate Frisbee : While going up for a pass, I get bumped and land on my left side without any preparation or bracing.  The leg is bruised along with the IT Band.  This makes bending the leg rather painful.

Tuesday – Flag Football : Someone steps on my hand while I’m on the ground.  With cleats.  It takes two days until I can grip anything.

Thursday – Dinner : I bit through my tongue.  Yes, through.  Blood and bits all over.  To make matters worse, dinner includes salsa.

I can’t wait to see what happens at the race this Saturday.  Personally, I’m putting my money on being mauled by a bear or struck by a meteorite.

The Moose Says Hello

Image Courtesy of Stephan Pastis and Pearls Before Swine
Hi There.

Welcome to the new place.

You’ll notice that the place doesn’t look all that different from the old one.  Well, that’s because I liked the old layout and figured if it was working, why change?  The links off to the right are a bit sparse but I do plan on adding authors and some of my other favorite sites.

If you notice something broken, let me know.  I’ll fix it right up.  Thanks and enjoy.


Once again, its the time of year for Applefest.

Yup, this is when Steph and I head up to La Crescent, Minnesota to partake in the Run to the Edge 5K road race.  This is easily one of our favorite races (as I noted last year).  Steph has run it 13 years, I’ve run it 12 years.*

This year I placed 23rd overall with a time of 21:18.  Respectable.  The course is insanely hilly and considering I did next to no speed work this summer (essential for short distance races), finishing only 21 seconds off last years time isn’t bad.  Last year I got 2nd in my age group.   No such luck this year.  The top 3 in my age group finished in the top 10.  I ended up with 6th place.  I’m still happy.  My goal was a top 25 finish and I got it.

Steph, on the other hand, finished with her best Applefest time (26:03) despite having a serious injury to her foot. First time ever she’s finished within five minutes of me.  She’s all perky like today.  I’m not sure how I’ll be able to stand it.

Every person who finishes gets a 3 pound bag of apples, some cider, treats, and since this was the 15th year they’ve done the race, we got a couple of nice bags out of it.  After the race we headed over to Leidel’s Apples to pick up our traditional post-race Caramel Apple, some Apple Syrup, raspberries, and a couple of bags of apples.   Nice haul, excellent race.

I hear there are easier ways to get apples, but they're not nearly as much fun.

* This should be 14 and 13 years respectively and in a row had someone not gone and gotten married on this weekend five years ago.  Yes, I’m looking at you, Jon.  *glare*

Dear Thief …

I will find you.

Oh yes, I will.

You may be anonymous now but that cannot last for long.  Sooner or later, I shall find out how you penetrated my defenses and once I have, look over your shoulder.  Once the hunt has begun, I am relentless.  I do not give up.

That shadow?  Was it really a shadow?  Or was it me, lying in wait?  Is the phone call coming from inside the house?  Did you really ‘just forget to close that door’?  That stranger you’ve seen while going to lunch.  Pay heed to that sense of déjà vu.

Years may pass.  The day may come when you think ‘At last!  I am free!’

That will be the day that I strike.

When you lie down on your bed, will I be beneath?  When you go out for a drive, will I be in the backseat?  Hide in a closet?  Infect a computer with a virus that erases all your data?  Will I ruin you first or make it quick?  Will it be subtle?  Will it be outlandish?

Only I know the answer to those questions.  But there is one answer you should know …

No one steals my cookie and gets away with it!

Probably not a suspect.

Karts : Go Fast

Everyone’s driven a go-kart before, right?

I’m talking those small things commonly found at an amusement park and watched over by a bored teenager who has just as much concern for your safety as he does the geo-political policies of Burma. These are the things that have the stickiness of cotton candy and the smell of sweat.  If you stomp on the accelerator, you might be able to outrun an old lady in a walker.

The track, almost without exception, is flat and simple with gradual curves but at least one sharp corner to add ‘excitement’.  The ‘crashes’ are bumping into one another.  This experience is enhanced by A – a large group of rowdy friends, B – copious amounts of alcohol, or C – both of the previous.

Yeah, loads of fun.

This is the Rock Island Grand Prix.

Courtesy Ryan Stringfield
Courtesy Ryan Stringfield

These are not amusement park go-karts.  Some of the machines that run at the Rock cost over $4,000 and have their own pit crew.  Some are cheaper, maybe as low as $500 but every one of them will put the hurt on anything you pull out of the carnival.

The Course

The Start/Finish line about 3/4ths of the way up on the street to the left.  Down in the lower right is Corner 2.  By the time karts hit there, they’ll be going over 100mph.  Right in the middle of the S-curve is Corner 4 (there’s a red object right under it).  They can go through that as fast as 70 and often do it 2 or 3 wide.  Crashes here are usually more than just bumps.

In the past, I’ve worked Corner 2.  With it’s high speeds and sharp turn, it sees its share of spectacular accidents.  This year I got moved over to Corner 4 which was a nice change of scenery and action.   This is the place where a lot of people try to make their move before the final two corners and the checkers.  So obviously there is potential for heroes and potential for some serious wrecks as karts have a very annoying tendency of bouncing back out into traffic.

Being a Corner Worker (aka Safety Worker) lets you see a lot of things.  For instance, you get to see Karts go airborne.  This happens when they come up on lapped traffic and the faster driver isn’t able to react in time and drives over (yes, OVER) the driver in front, resulting in a very nasty three kart wreck.  Another kart lost a side pod  which skittered across the track into the path of another kart which hit it, blew its front tire, and went into our barrier at full speed.  Took ten minutes to repair that damage.

Add to that the usual ‘ran out of talent’ or ‘took the corner too wide/sharp’, blown tires, thrown chains, and you’ve got yourself a pretty eventful day.   Below, me and Dave flip a kart upright after a crash.  The driver was thrown after flipping twice but didn’t have a scratch on him.

Hey, it was flipped when I got there!
Hey, it was flipped when I got there!

Despite the wrecks, the ambulance was called out only once and that was as a precaution (the driver ended up fine, maybe a bit sore).  Karting is, in general, a safe sport and Rock Island goes above and beyond.   The Quad City Times quoted the race director as saying ‘when other venues are looking to be insured, he said the insurers tell clients that they must meet “Rock Island levels of safety.”  There are about 1,500 bales of hay plus barriers, safety pillows, and other measures put into place between 6pm and midnight on Friday.  Plus the scores of volunteers and corner workers.  It’s a pretty safe gig.

Of course, getting the drivers to listen to us corner workers … well, that’s a whole different matter.  I use those times to practice my drill Sergent voice.

Best race of the day?  Easily the TaG Jrs.  (TaG stands for Touch-and-Go, the method of starting the kart).  Juniors is limited to I think 11 – 15 year olds.  The top three were nose to tail the entire way, swapping the lead frequently.  It was awesome and the crowd was jumping to their feet each time they came by.  The final two laps were insane and intense.

Now let’s get one thing straight – I am not a gear head.  I drive a Prius.  I don’t know the difference between a spark plug and a carburetor.  This race though, it’s addictive and draws you in.  It was five years ago when Greg invited me down to check it out.  Four of those years I’ve helped set up the course.  I’ve gotten to met lots of new people.  Shook the hands of a former Formula One driver, and learned things I never would have imagined learning about.

So let others sit back and relax all weekend.  This is how I want to spend my Labor Day weekend.


(Video courtesy Barry Schonberg)

An Angry Rant, If I May : Helicopter Parents

Dear Parent Whose Child Has Gone to College :

This is a very stressful time in life – your Precious Child is moving out of the house, sometimes out of the state, sometimes even out of the country.  To cope with this, I would like to provide some very valuable advice, starting with …

  • It is time to let go.  You can’t be there for them every minute.  Don’t try.  If anything, they will resent you for it … or become so hopelessly addicted that they will Fail as a functioning human being.
  • You are not your Child’s Friend.  You are not your Child’s BFF.  You are their Parent.  Act like it.
  • Your Child will Fail.  They will make mistakes and pay consequences.  They will have to figure things out for themselves.  This is Good.  This is Important.  This is how one learns to live and adapt in life.
  • Never use the phrase ‘Considering the cost of tuition’ or ‘My tuition pays your salary’.  We have all heard it before.  It doesn’t impress us or make us shake in our boots.  There is no one in academia who is not aware of the importance of students and the tuition they pay.  Do not assume otherwise.
  • Do not Copy the President’s office or the Dean’s office in e-mail when complaining that not everything is perfect for your Child.  Guess what?  They’ve heard it before too.
  • Do not assume you know both sides of the story.  You are often hundreds of miles away.  Your Child’s word is not Gospel.
  • In continuance of the above – Sometimes, your Child’s phone is not broken.  Sometimes their e-mail is working just fine.  Sometimes, just sometimes, they want to be on their own.  Didn’t you?
  • So help me, if you show up at your Child’s Interview or attempt to influence your Child’s Interview, the resume will be dumped in the trash faster than you can blink.  I want to hire someone who is independent and self-motivated.
  • Your Child survived the first day of kindergarten.  They survived the first day of school (repeatedly).  They will survive this.