A very special holiday

Over the years, I’ve had a few extraordinary holidays. I don’t mean extraordinary in that they were exceptional, but simply that they went beyond the ordinary.

There’s nothing wrong with my ordinary winter holiday—I get the opportunity to visit with family and get the chance to get away from it all and just enjoy life. But those occasional years that involve more are pretty special.

This year was a wedding. At 37, I don’t attend many weddings any more—my friends are for the most part already wedded. When Scott and Annie invited me, there was absolutely no way I was going to miss it.

As a result, I found myself sitting on a Horizon turboprop, drinking Portland Brewing’s Holiday Porter at 4 PM on December 18th, flying south to Boise.

No bad luck here One of the great things about second weddings is the informality of them. The ceremony itself is often low-key, with a focus on the personal connection between the bride, the groom, and the friends and family that surround them. I love that.

I wrote the morning after:

This was without a doubt the most stress free wedding I’ve ever attended.

Even when reality didn’t quite go to plan, it was fine. There was a mixup on timing, so the room wasn’t ready. We just had a beer and let it go. No fuss. No stress.



That was just the ceremony. The after-party just kicked it up a notch. Thirteeen of us wandered the wet streets of Boise in full wedding regalia. Every “dive bar” Annie used to frequent was a target. As the night wore on, the size of the party shrunk, so by 1 AM, the 13 had been reduced to 5. Not that it was an issue, when happiness rules, time doesn’t really matter.

Though… it did make for a rather long next day, which started early with breakfast, but contained two naps between 10 and 4, two strong coffees. I can’t party like I’m 29 any more. Or perhaps I can, but the next day is pretty costly.

Thank you Annie. Thank you Scott. Thank you Boise.

On Migration

Elevation 2753I got my first interchangeable lens camera in 2009, at the advice of a good friend. It was a Nikon. The D40 served me well and continues to serve my sister-in-law equally well. It’s a very friendly DSLR, but it has it’s limitations—not in picture quality, but rather in advanced functionality. Once you master the D40, it’s a great little camera… but when you discover its limitations, they can be really limiting.

So it wasn’t long after I got the D40 that I moved to the D7000. The 7K was a delight. It was fast. It took lots and lots of pictures on a single battery. The pictures it took were crisp, vibrant, had little noise, and the camera was a lot of fun to use.

For a few years.

However, for the past two years, I’ve found myself leaving the trusty Nikon in the closet. I wanted to have the camera, but it was just too bulky. Too heavy. Too inconvenient. It was time for a change.

So once again, Steve pushed me in the right direction. For the past few weeks, I’ve been carrying a camera again. It doesn’t have the Nikon name on the front of it. The lenses are not Nikkor either.

I’m now carrying an Olympus. It’s not as easy to handle as the Nikon was. It doesn’t have quite the capacity of the Nikon. There’s some really nice features of the Nikon that I miss.

On the other hand, I’m taking pictures. The camera isn’t too heavy to carry around. The lenses are small and fit in pockets. I have yet to master the quirks of the OM-D EM-5, but I was comfortable taking photos at a wedding this past weekend. I was never comfortable doing that with my Nikon; the sheer bulk of it made me feel like a photographer—an outsider. The diminutive Olympus is much more personal.

The noise is a little higher and the focus isn’t as steady. But the images are nice and my workflow hasn’t really changed despite the new equipment.

And I have a whole new world of lenses to desire. It’s different. Not simply better, nor is it really worse. Just different.

  • The Olympus is harder to manipulate (the controls are not as easy to fiddle), and yet is easier to manipulate (the advanced control panel and Electronic View Finder make less common changes trivial)
  • I miss my 70-200f/2.8 VR Nikkor, but the the M.Zuiko 12-40mm (equivalent to a Nikkor 18-60 f/2.8 on the D7000) has been rather a lot of fun too.
  • I don’t miss the shoulder aches at all. And I love that all my lenses fit in pockets.
  • The photos seem to be a little noisier, just a little. The color is great and over time I think I’ll learn how to get more out of the RAW photos I’m taking.
  • I find myself a little nervous about taking many photos without transferring them off the SD card. I’ve never had a card failure, but I loved having the redundant cards in the Nikon and miss that. Similarly, I haven’t run the battery dead mid-shoot, but have a fear that I will; I never worried about the life of my Nikon battery, even in the highlands of Scotland.
  • I don’t really miss the extremely good focus performance of the Nikon. The Olympus seems to be “good enough” for what I do. That said, I’m not trying to photograph moving birds or sports.

Mockingjay (part 1)

I saw a movie tonight. I haven’t been going to the movies a lot in recent months—this is the third movie that I’ve watched this year.

Until last Wednesday, I had forgotten that it was even due to arrive, but fortunately during the weekly gathering that is beer chasers, the subject came up and I found myself sitting in a dark room with a half dozen or so friends watching the silver screen.

Visually it was excellent. The CG was never clearly CG and stayed true to life (something that I cannot say is true of The Hobbit). The movies actually improve  on the books because they are not told in the same first person perspective—something that I’ve read in multiple reviews and was mentioned by Stacie and I wholeheartedly agree with.

I am not one that normally appreciates a single book being split into multiple movies—it reeks of crass commercialism and often poor execution of film. It didn’t work in Harry Potter, it absolutely isn’t working for the Hobbit, and my concern was that it also wouldn’t work here. That fear is unfounded. The movie found a natural break in the plotline of Mockingjay and used it masterfully. I never felt as if the movie was dragging along and I can’t say there’s a scene that I ever felt was in place for use as “filler.” The cruel world portrayed in the book is very much alive in film, and the closing scenes make it clear that a year from now, the end of the series will end with a bang.

The Hunger Games are more about character than action. Jennifer Lawrence leads a cast that portray a set character just as strong and just as flawed as I imagined when I read the books a few years ago. This one is worth seeing, no question.

It’s calling me

IA summer's day spent less than a day in the Glen Coe, as part of the long and grueling West Highland Way Race. At times I was the driver, but when Scott arrived at the Glencoe Ski Area, it was clear that my services would be required for other, more important needs. I was to join him on the Way itself.

I didn’t carry my Nikon, so the pictures I have are of the upper part of the valley, not the stunning lower valley that is unique in the world.

Even so, the place has utterly imprinted on my mind. Each and every time I see it on the silver screen, I think to myself “Glencoe. A82.” and my heart yearns to return. Each time I see it, I just know it is Glencoe. I haven’t been mistaken yet—there’s something truly special about that valley and that tiny strip of tarmac at the bottom that bisects it.

My experience was cold and wet, with low hanging clouds sputtering rain and drizzle for many hours. It was 9°C at 3 in the afternoon. And yet, I desperately want to spend more time staring at those hills in awe. I desperately want to again climb the Devils’ staircase and look back to the southeast.

But for now I wait. The next trip will come when it comes. Like all good things, there’s no sense in rushing it.

Seriously Safeway, What the Fuck?

Aside from temperature, I’m a big fan of the metric system. Not because it uses units “based in science” (the units are just as arbitrary as the Imperial System), but because there is effectively only one unit for each type of measurement. The unit of measurement for weight is the gram. Distance is measured in meters. Volume is a measure of liters.

I like this because when you are doing comparison shopping, even when the grocery store would intentionally try to hide the true comparison prices, converting say milliliters to liters is a simple matter of multiplying one price by 1000. I like being able to do that kind of math in my head. Quick, which is cheaper, $0.49/cup or $7.50/gallon?

Safeway plays these games all the fucking time and I hate it. I wish they would stop.

But today… today takes the cake.

Actual unit cost: $0.2068/oz or $6.99/L

Actual unit cost: $0.1965/oz or $6.64/L

Seriously Safeway, What The Fuck? It’s the same fucking product in a different bottle. In both cases, it is a product sold in as a liquid, using liquid volumes. In what world is it ok to use a per pound price?

What’s next Safeway, are you going to measure two similar products using liquid ounces in one case and dry weight ounces in another?

Update: It’s been pointed out that the units in the quantity are different (FZ vs OZ), while the units on the actual product are in Fluid Ounces in both cases. So this might be a case of incompetence rather than malice. Yet another advantage of metric, we don’t use the same name to describe a completely different unit.


John and Darcie. Regan and Carl. Jennifer and David. Buzz. Dan and Nicole. Kerry and Jason. Scott and Annie. Stefanie.

I’m not one that easily makes friends. It’s really hard for me. But over the years, I’ve made a few. And then a few more. One or two at a time, built up over the years. And a few have left town. A trickle in. A trickle out.

Except this year. This summer, the trickle became a flood. Some expected, some not so much. None are easy to lose. I only hope that those that stay with me here in this little college town will be available to help me through the transition. I suspect I’m going to need it.

After Three, it’s tradition

Jason first talked me into being part of a 24 hour relay team for the Round and Round race over Memorial day weekend in 2011. In 2012, I had a large trip to Scotland and wasn’t a rider (but was a volunteer). I returned in 2013 and again this year.

And each year, it is really hard to keep going after the third lap. But this year, while it was hard to start, once I was going, it felt good to be on the bike. All told, I spent just over 5 hours riding 60 miles in great bumpy circles.

Great company. Great trail. Great energy. I have always felt great relief at noon Sunday morning, but also a bit of anguish. It’ll be another year before Memorial Day is again looming on the calendar. Another year before I can ride round and round with 700 great friends. This race is like Bloomsday. I can’t really explain just why I enjoy it so much without looks of puzzlement. Why would I want to do this? Because I can. Because it’s there. Because why notI?

Last year’s race was marred by injury. While the wound didn’t really bother me by race day, at that point the antibiotics had kicked in and their side effects were. I suffered terribly slow laps, especially at night. This year I was healthy. I wasn’t as fast as I wanted; I ranged from 1:14 to 1:25, but I was having fun. I never wanted to stop while I was on course.

20140524-DSC_5986-17911That said, my personal times are not the reasons why I do this. I do it because I was talked into it that first time and recognize just how fun it is to spend a weekend with like-minded individuals who what to go have fun. Have fun while going fast, yes. But fun is really important to mountain biking, so we make sure that the fun stays around. The campsite is full of friends you know well, or friends you know well soon. Food is abundant and excellent. Conversation is entertaining and enlightened.

It’s not just the race, it’s the people that are racing. I’m really happy that my brother was able to join this year, he doesn’t get to spend a lot of time with the friends I’ve met in Pullman and I was glad to have to opportunity to join those two worlds.

And next year, as Wendy Zupan rightly fears, the Roaming Gnomes will grow some more. After all, getting bigger every year is tradition too, at least for a little while.

The First Sunday of May

Finish line cameras always capture the worst of a runner. We're tired and just want to finish. I still don't know why my tongue is doing there. Image courtesy Bloomsday run and Chronotrack, who gracefully have allowed us to freely access and share high-quality images for repost.
Finish line cameras always capture the worst of a runner. We’re tired and just want to finish. I still don’t know why my tongue is doing there.
Image courtesy Bloomsday run and Chronotrack, who gracefully have allowed us to freely access and share high-quality images for repost.

In 2009, I completed my first Bloomsday. It took me an hour and 24 minutes. I steadily improved my time in 2010 and 2011. But then the improvements stalled. In 2011, running from green, I finished the race in 1:11:27. The following years weren’t really any better, 1:11:55 and 1:11:25, respectively.

This year, I wasn’t sure I would be able to keep the streak alive. I woke up with a raging sinus headache and had trouble breathing. Several minutes in a hot shower helped, but the headache didn’t really go away until I used the marvels of modern medicine. OK, Sudafed and Tylenol aren’t all that modern, but still. In the end, I decided that even if my time was terrible it was better to try and fail than to not try at all.

Needless to say, I had low expectations. When I was asked “What do you want to do?” by a very capable runner (she finished in under 54 minutes), my response was a simple “I want to finish.” I was frustrated and down on myself.

I didn’t really feel any more confident until about 5 minutes before the gun. My headache was gone, I could breathe clearly, and I had no pressure. I just had to finish. So at 9:05, off we go. I didn’t try to pass anybody, I just hung in the crowd and let it pull me along. It was moving at about a 9 minute pace, a little faster than I would prefer, but doable. I figured I’d just keep going as long as I could hold it up. My good friend Jim Ekins was keeping with me, with his own excuses (“I drank too much yesterday”). It was great encouragement to run with somebody you know along with 46000 of your best friends for a day. At mile 3, I’m still going. Mile 4. Still going. Doomsday. “I’ll walk this,” I told Jim, and he wished me luck and headed up the hill ahead. But I didn’t walk. I was slow, but I never stopped “running.”

Top of Doomsday and I’m still going! Well hell, I’ve only got 2 and a half to go. Let’s see what happens. Hrm. There’s the Darth Vader corner. I’m ok! Mile 6… and the penultimate corner on to Broadway shortly after. I can see the courthouse in the distance, I just have to keep going.

And so I do, at a slow and steady 9 minute pace. I’ve got this! The Mile 7 marker appears near Maple Street and I start to really relax. At Jefferson Street, I accelerate, turning the corner on to Monroe just as Eye of the Tiger starts to play from Milford’s Fish House.


And after a day that started with such low expectations? A new PR of 1:08:16. I wasn’t happy. I was ecstatic. I had given up on the artificial 1:10 barrier last year. Sure, when many of my friends are finishing in well under an hour, a 1:08 time isn’t special. But it’s special to me and that’s all that matters to me. For now.

Next year, we’ll see what happens.

Yer out!

In today’s dream memory, I played wiffleball as an adult. I hated baseball growing up because my bat coordination was terrible, that has not changed.

So being the first guy up to bat for me team due to a late change was comically nightmarish. It didn’t help that my college roommate was the catcher and first baseman on the opposing team. Ted always was good at heckling.

Returning to form

Dropping down Pinkham Trail
Me, dropping down Pickham Trail from the Ridge above Asotin Creek. Photo courtesy Scott McMurtrey.

The plan was simple enough. I would ride a bike, while two friends ran. We would travel to the gate that blocks the Asotin Creek Trail parking lot, park there and head on our way. When we arrived above Lewiston, the hills looked clean enough, so we decided to go for the loop.

On arrival, the two runners became four. The plan was simple enough: leave the car, head up Lick Creek along Lickfork road to Sourdough Gulch, then climb up to the ridge line by using the jeep trail that Google amusingly calls a road on their maps. Once we reach the ridge, we’d travel west along the top until we reach the second of two Pinkham trails. From there, we just have to drop down the far side of the ridge to Asotin Creek, then take Asotin Creek Trail back to the car. Nice, simple 21 mile loop.

If only.

The ride started well enough—it’s hard to go wrong on a road. But the fire road was severely rutted and water logged. The ruts eventually went away, but the waterlogged trail never did. It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I’m used to very slick conditions in mud; this wasn’t. The best description I would have is “gooey”. Every pedal stroke took terrible amounts of energy. By the time I got to the meadow at the top, I was completely worn out. So of course, that’s the perfect time to ride into headwinds.

I was ready to just give up and turn around more than once. But I was alone—the runners were far faster and lighter than I and they disappeared. I couldn’t turn around without letting them know. Fortunately, Buzz waited for me at the ridge, so I let him know that I was planning on dropping down the first of the Pinkham trails, not the second. I’m glad I did, for I did not see him again for quite a while.

The picture above is me descending down the beginning of that first Pinkham trail. Scott, along with Spencer and Alan, had forged ahead and Buzz had run along to follow. When I reached the intersection, confronted with a very steep trail, I quit. I remember saying to myself “I’m fucking done with this climbing shit.” Knowing that I had already told Buzz my plans, I dropped in. The first 200 yards are so are a narrow, but relatively shallow and smooth trail. I had noticed movement on the ridge line behind me as I was dropping down, and just before the first switchback where the trail gets more rocky and steeper, Eddy (the border collie cross in the picture above) caught me. Buzz did so shortly after that as I bravely, but briskly jogged my bike further down trail. The rest caught me just before we hit the trees.

It turns out that the second Pinkham trail is still under snow; after post-holing for a half mile, the lead runners turned back, met Buzz, and the whole group caught me just after I dropped in. Fortunate timing.

Pinkham is a very steep, very fast, but mostly ridable descent with the standard hazards (boulders, trees, encroaching plant life). It’s actually quite a lot of fun, even as it tears your legs up as you rush down. Later in the year, I would want to do a thorough tick check post-ride, but in early March it’s still pretty safe. And at the bottom is Asotin Creek. While I don’t often ride it, it’s a great location, with good scenery and interesting wildlife. The trail is gentle as it parallels the creek, so the ride up isn’t overly demanding, but the ride down isn’t a free lunch. Still, I had little trouble keeping up with at least Scott, even when I had to stop to cross trees he simply leaped over.

Every little hill ached. I was tired. I was angry with myself for not being able to ride it out.

But in the end, I logged 16 miles of activities, at least 10 of which was on the bike. Aside from some cuts and a pair of soaked socks, I returned home safe. Not a bad outing, though I’ll probably go back to my previous stance of “no high elevation rides before April”. The soggy ground made what could have been an amazingly good ride into something that was merely OK (and downright scary when I was alone on a chilly, windy, swampy ridge).

Of course, if I had the legs to power through it, the ground conditions wouldn’t have mattered. Next time will be better.