Friday, December 26, 2008

Holiday Season Thoughts

On Barnes & Noble

Back in the day, my favorite bookstores had a comfy couch or chair where I could kick back and browse through a collection of books I was thinking about buying. When the big chains like Borders and Barnes & Noble took over, they brought in a larger collection of books and sold them at discount. To close the deal, they furnished their stores with cushy sofas and chairs and offered poetry readings and "Staff Recommendations" sections. They acted as if they cared about books.

Have you noticed the "Staff Recommendations" sections are gone? I have. Have you noticed that as a store gets older, the furniture sections get taken away? I have.

I'm starting to rethink my fierce loyalty to Barnes & Noble.

On Leavenworth

A few decades ago, leaders from a struggling mountain town got together and decided they wanted to reinvent the town. So they created a little Bavarian village, even though no one from the town was from Germany, or even Europe. The towne centre is full of curio shops, pretzel stores, and biergartens. It's the kind of tourist trap that's easy to make fun of, but I dig it.

For one thing, it's nestled in the mountains. That's a good thing. I miss mountains. For another thing, there's a great hotel with cozy rooms with fireplaces, indoor and outdoor pools and hot spots, and a daily honking of one of those 15-foot-long horns played by an old American guy clad in lederhosen. Oh, and there are great hiking trails along the river that runs right through town.

Here's a clip of Luke and Max sledding near the downtown area:

I haven't been skiing or snowboarding in years, so I couldn't resist the temptation to hop on Luke's sled and test my downhilling skills. I still got it.

On Christmas

Luke and Max believe that Santa has a special license -- I call it the Santa clause -- that allows him to slide through the vents in our gas fireplace and deliver the boys a whole bunch of presents using the same gift wrap their parents used. Max had mixed feelings upon seeing that most of the cookies the boys had decorated and left near the fireplace had been eaten. On the one hand, Santa came! On the other hand, why didn't he eat the whole cookie?

It goes against my instincts to lie to the boys about Santa Claus. I don't like it. I'm setting the boys up for disillusionment. With their belief in Santa Claus and bucolic Christmas in Leavenworth, aren't I just leading the boys into a crushing Rosebud moment later in life? They even have the snow globes to let slip from their fingers.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Snowy in Seattle

Once every two or three years in Seattle, snow sticks to the ground enough to build a snowman and go sledding. It snowed about three inches Saturday night, and it stayed cold enough for the snow to stick to the roads and sidewalks. When this happens, the whole city practically shuts down -- only buses, trucks, and SUVs test the unsalted roads.

Luke badly wanted to have a snowball fight. Whenever he saw anyone come out, like the girl next door or Neighbor Henry (who is different from Little Henry and New Henry), he packed a snowball and threw it at someone's chest. Andy and Minette got the same treatment when they came over for waffles.

After brunch, we went sledding down the sidewalk on our street. In this video, Wendy was watching out for cars at the bottom of the hill, Minette was womaning the video camera, and Andy was helping Luke up the hill after a wipeout. The sleds weren't easy to control, but that's part of the fun. As you can see, Max nearly took out his mother, but I was there to save the day.

Good times.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Yuletide Cheer

I'm depressed. Have no fear -- it's not serious. I get blue every winter, only it usually hits me in January or February. December is usually too frantic. Besides, Christmas season makes me happy.

At least it used to. I like buying presents for people I love, and I like the anticipation of opening presents. I don't even care if the gift is goofy. It's free! I'm delighted to open a Pink Panther DVD starring a hit-or-miss Steve Martin in one of his worst misses. Extra large snow mittens? My hands might still grow.

This year, I haven't gotten into the Christmas spirit. For the most part, it seems like a hassle. I used to buy books for everyone in my family, but I've forgetten which books I've bought, and I don't want to give one of my sisters The Life of Pi for the third year in a row. Besides, if I go by my "Do unto others" credo, I don't want anyone to buy me a book because I already have three different stacks of unread books in three different rooms. So this year -- gift certificates! Merry Christmas, shoppers!

I do enjoy putting up the Christmas lights. My overly helpful neighbor, a guy who lights up his own house as if he wants to outdo Clark Griswold, comes over every Thanksgiving weekend when he sees me standing on the very top of my wobbly 8-foot ladder trying to hang lights on the gutter. He drags over his super long ladder, which means I have no choice but to string lights on the upper story as well.

Wendy and the boys get excited about Christmas. Wendy decorates every nook of the house, and I help with the Christmas village and tree. When we finished trimming the tree, Max shouted, "This is the best Christmas ever!"

Question: So why am I glum?

Answer A: I may just be glum. Not every emotion has to be attached to something going on in your life. Sometimes you're just glum, or happy, or horny, or angry. No reason.

Answer B: No dangling carrots. No Leadville to train for. No fascinating elections to obsess over. No interesting blog to write (I too have noticed that this blog is nearly dead). No Friday stories. No upcoming work projects. No big trips planned. No chance of the Colts playing in the Super Bowl. Not with those banged-up lines.

Answer C: The economy. I lost more than half of my savings. Suppose I had worked hard to save $350 for my retirement. In two months, that $350 has turned into $185. And let's say I bought a house for $600. That house is now worth $575, and dropping. Even though I made it through yet another round of layoffs (that's the seventh one since I've been here), the slumping housing market and depressing job market gives me a sense of being stuck. I need to stick it out at Adobe, and I need to stay put in my house. Forget about the fact that my job is good and I really like my house. No one said emotions have to be rational.

Answer D: Donuts.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Fatty's Livestrong Challenge

As many of you know, Elden and Susan have been dealing with a gut-wrenching ordeal. Susan is slowly dying of cancer. As they've gone through this horrible experience, the Livestrong Foundation has helped them in a number of different ways, from providing medical information to negotiating with insurance companies.

Elden wants to give back, so he set up an ambitious fund drive. Actually, a better way of saying it is that Elden wants other people to give back for him. I suppose he thinks he's a little too important for doing any actual fundraising himself anymore. Despite the fact that I think Elden's getting a little too big for his britches, I agreed to be one of his minions.

If any of you would like to contribute to the noble cause, click here to go to my Livestrong Challenge page.

I don't know how my sister found out about my Challenge page, but she was the first person to contribute. Speaking of Lisa, her chemo treatments have been successful. Although her cancer is technically in remission, it's a nasty form of cancer, so she's currently preparing for a grueling bone-marrow transplant that requires at least a three-week stay in a hospital. If all goes well, she'll be well on her way to a full recovery in January. That's what I'm hoping for.

Oh, and by the way, the kind people in the Livestrong organization contacted both me and Lisa several times to offer support and assistance. I'm telling you, they're something else. It's a worthy cause.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Greatest Word in the World

One of the conversations we had during our drive down to Fall Moab addressed the ugliest words in the English language. Dug can't stand any word with "moist" in it -- "moisture," "moisturizer," "moisturizing ointment." He got such a sick look on his face when he said these words that I very nearly asked him if he needed a vomit bag.

I mulled over words that I dislike -- "phlegm" and "caucus" immediately came to mind -- and then I decided I was being too negative. Let's turn it around. What is the best word in the English language? You'll be surprised at the answer:


It makes you smile, doesn't it? Who doesn't like a tugboat? First, unlike a word like "spendthrift," you don't have to unpack its meaning. A tugboat is a boat that tugs another boat. It seems simple enough to name a thing right, but our nomenclatative skills are often found wanting. In the nautical industry alone, we have "yacht" and "ferry" and "cruiser." On land, we must deal with "hangnails" and "inflammable" items.

Person 1: "Is that moist tugboat flammable?"

Person 2: "Yes, it's inflammable."

Person 1: "That seems incongruous."

Person 2: "No, it's congruous."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Not-So-Prompt Awards Ceremony for Fall Moab 2008

After every Fall Moab, I have a tradition of handing out imaginary awards based on movie quotes. Ergo, it should come as no surprise that I'm doing the same thing this year, as you will discover if you continue to read. And I do, in fact, command you to read.

Warning: This blog entry may not be suitable for children, Mormons, and certain wives of certain gentlemen.

Anton Chigurh: What's the most you ever lost on a coin toss.
Gas Station Proprietor: Sir?
Anton Chigurh: The most. You ever lost. On a coin toss.

This goes to ... Fatty, whose luck has not been kind of late. Hang in there. We missed you on the trip.

Carla Jean Moss: You don't have to do this.
Anton Chigurh: [smiles] People always say the same thing.

This award goes to ... Ricky, who always says the same things. And I love it. He always asks Gary about one of his old bosses from back in the Novell days. The first dozen times Ricky brought it up, the question evoked a Tourette's-style outburst from Gary. Unfortunately, it's more difficult to get Gary to bite nowadays.

And Ricky asks me the same question every time there is a campfire and alcohol. He wants me to belly dance. That's because back in the 90s, I learned how to belly dance. True story. It was Plan F in my attempt to recover from chronic fatigue syndrome. For all I know, it ended up being the cure, or maybe it was Ambien, sun meditation, or the quack scientist from Reno who claimed he had a cure for CFS and cancer (which is cause by evil spirits). I'll say the same thing to Ricky now that I've said since: "I am tired. From where the sun stands, I shall belly dance no more forever."

Anton Chigurh: That's foolish. You pick the one right tool.

This award goes to . . . the singlespeed bicycle. In Moab, it's the right tool. Since the other guys started riding singlespeeds a few years, I held out until last year, and fell in love. As a result, riding is different, maybe better. Instead of stopping every few minutes to test our skills on uphill moves, we now try moves less often, and we try more downhill moves. I like it.

I especially enjoyed the Sunday ride on the Slickrock Trail. Being on a singlespeed meant that I wasn't able to do some of my favorite moves -- like the Z move or hairlip hill -- but the overall feeling of cruising along the trail was one I hadn't enjoyed that much since I first started going to Moab. The singlespeed offers a flowing feeling that reminds me of the old "rhythm of the road" adage that roadies used to talk about. With a singlespeed, it's the Rhythm of the Trail. I can dig that.

Llewelyn Moss: What's this guy supposed to be, the ultimate badass?

The ultimate badass award goes to . . . Jeremy. Sorry, Kenny and Brad, when Jeremy shows up to ride, he's still the king -- even though he rides only a couple times a year. My favorite move was when he appeared to be struggling up hairlip hill. When he reached the top, where the "hard" line is to the right, he stayed straight and rode over the ledge, which I had never seen done before. When he caught his breath, he popped a cigarette into his mouth and smoked. Seriously. He kept stopping to take cigarette breaks.

That was nothing compared to the show he put on Saturday night, when Dug and Paul and I were out looking for Lost Tom Burch. I can't relay the nature of his report in full. Wait, why not? He said his ex-wife used to smack him around. That's hilarious. And a girl had a crush on Jeremy back in the day. Jeremy wasn't into her, so he told her he'd provide service to her only if she brought a friend along. And that's all I can say about that. This is a family blog! By the way, what's a short 'n tall stack?

Llewelyn Moss: Yeah, well, I been immobile.

I don't know who to give this award to. In years past, this award would have gone to Paul, who rode his bike only once a year -- at Fall Moab. Since he's been riding to and from the courthouse, he was on fire. The award could go to Tom because he's badly out of shape, but frankly, he already has too much hardware. Maybe I'll come back to this.

Loretta Bell: How'd you sleep?
Ed Tom Bell: I don't know. Had dreams

This award goes to . . . two gentlemen I cannot name. Let's call them Jared and the Brother of Jared. They decided to sleep better by taking Ambien. The thing is, you need to go to sleep right away if you take Ambien, or you end up in a weird, sex-crazed sleepwalking state. Or so I've heard.

The Brother of Jared headed into the trailer to go to bed, while Jared remained around the campfire. When Jared stood up to go to bed in this condition, he could barely stand up. Dug had to escort dizzy Jared into the trailer. As he did so, Dug's phone buzzed. He read the text message, which was from the Brother of Jared: "Wanna have sex?" Dug turned and looked at the Brother of Jared, who stared up at him with bedroom eyes. When Dug turned back around to help Jared into bed, he noticed that Jared was "dibs-ing" the stove with his genitals.

If you're tempted to take Ambien, just say maybe.

Ellis: Whatcha got ain't nothin new. This country's hard on people, you can't stop what's coming, it ain't all waiting on you. That's vanity.

This goes to . . . Tom. We ain't all waiting on you. We'd rather have to call search and rescue than watch you futz around with your shoes. Oh, and Barack Obama is not a Muslim socialist who supports terrorists. He just wants to take all your extra cash and give it to poor people so they can buy malt liquor.

Ed Tom Bell: Well, age will flatten a man.

No one gets this award. For a bunch of middle-aged guys, most of us ride as well as we've ever ridden, even after leaving a long line of empties around the campsite.

On a side note, I watched this movie again, and I don't care what anyone says, the movie falls apart after the woman invites Llewelyn to drink beer by the pool. For goofballs, not showing that scene is a brave choice made by a superior artist. For people like me who enjoy good stories, it's a left turn into a drainage ditch. The rest of the movie is folk-wisdom babble. That could have been a great movie.

Wendell: It's a mess, ain't it, sheriff?
Ed Tom Bell: If it ain't, it'll do till the mess gets here.

This award goes to ... the sheriff who busted Dug's chops for having left Tom behind. Don't worry, Dug. That would have been the right move four out of five times.

Gas Station Proprietor: Is somethin' wrong?
Anton Chigurh: With what?
Gas Station Proprietor: With anything?
Anton Chigurh: Is that what you're asking me? Is there something wrong with anything?

This goes to ... Sleepy and his friend, who thought it was too cold to camp, so they slept the first night in the cab of a running truck and the next night in a comfy hotel room. Oh, was something wrong with 25-degree weather?

By the way, when I showed the boys Nick's videos (Part I and Part IA), one of them asked who made a nice move up a steep ledge. When I told them who it was, they laughed so hard they were shaking. "Sleepy! Is that his real name? Sleepy? Sleepy!"

Every time Sleepy came back into view, both boys yelled, "Sleepy!"

Anton Chigurh: You know how this is going to turn out, don't you?
Llewelyn Moss: Nope.

No award. It just wanted to include this quote because that phone call was my favorite scene in the movie.

Llewelyn Moss: Yeah, I'm going to bring you something, alright. I decided to make you a special project of mine. You ain't going have to come looking for me at all.

This award goes to ... L. Tom! Nice try, letting us get ahead of you so that you could surprise us. It would have worked if you had the ability to pedal your bicycle faster.

Carla Jean Moss: And what are you going to do?
Llewelyn Moss: I'm fixin' to do something dumber than hell, but I'm going anyways.

This award goes to ... Cori. Whenever he rode down a section of trail that would give a mountain goat pause, he let out a whoop. His luck held out better than Llewelyn's.

Boy on Bike #2: Mister? You got a bone stickin' out of your arm.
Anton Chigurh: Let me just sit here a minute.

This award goes to ... Dan, who gashed his leg with a chain saw a couple months ago, nearly died, and thought seriously about coming along anyway. Then I assume he just sat there a minute and decided against it.

Llewelyn Moss: You keep runnin' that mouth I'm gonna' take you in the back and screw ya'.
Carla Jean Moss: Big talk.
Llewelyn Moss: Keep it up.

This award goes to ... Brad. What do you want from me? Does there have to be a reason for every award? Brad gets this award because he deserves it, end of story. Got it? Sheesh.

Carla Jean Moss: Fine. I don't wanna' know. I don't even wanna' know where you been all day.
Llewelyn Moss: That'll work.

This award goes to all the guys who, upon hearing that Tom was lost up on the mesa, ate dinner at Moab Brewery, headed over to Woody's Tavern, and then drank and told stories around the campfire. That'll work.

(And yes, I'm jealous that I missed most of the campfire stories.)

Loretta Bell: Be careful.
Ed Tom Bell: I always am.
Loretta Bell: Don't get hurt.
Ed Tom Bell: I never do.

This Lifetime Achievement Award goes to ... Dug, who probably has this conversation every time he goes on a ride. I'm not saying he's an uxorious mollycoddle. What gave you that idea?

Llewelyn Moss: Where's the last guy? Ultimo hombre. Last man standing, must've been one.

This goes to Kenny, who rode his heart out all weekend. Kenny, you're the ultimo hombre. Yo tengo un cuaderno rojo en mi pupitre.

Carla Jean Moss: I got a bad feeling, Llewelyn.
Llewelyn Moss: Well I got a good feeling, so that should even out.

This goes to ... all the women back home who watched the kids while we were gone. As we sit in chairs around the campfire and boast of our sexual prowess, we often don't give you enough credit.

Carla Jean Moss: Sheriff, was that a true story about Charlie Walser?
Ed Tom Bell: Who's Charlie Walser? Oh! Well... uh... a true story? I couldn't swear to every detail but it's certainly true that it is a story.

No one gets this award, because all the stories that were told, including Jeremy's, were absolutely, 100% true.

Carson Wells: I was wondering...
Man who hires Wells: Yes?
Carson Wells: Could you validate my parking ticket?
Man who hires Wells: An attempt at humor, I suppose.

This award goes to ... Rick S. who is quietly one of the funniest people I know. An example or two would be a nice touch, but you're just going to have to believe me. In other words, you should have been there.

Ed Tom Bell: Yea. Got some hard bark on him.

This award goes to ... Nick, our mate from Australia had never ridden on slickrock before, nor had he dealt with a bizarre bunch of Utahns. Not only did he make it through the weekend, he seemed to enjoy himself. He must got some hard bark on him.

Anton Chigurh: Would you hold still, please, sir?

This award goes to ... you, the faithful reader, who made it all the way to the end of this entry oh so obediently.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fall Moab 2008 Report

In previous years, I looked forward to Fall Moab like a 7-year-old looks forward to Christmas. I get to hang out with a bunch of life-long friends, some of whom I've known since childhood, and I get to ride my bike in one of my favorite places on earth. Since earth is my favorite place in the universe, it means I get to ride my bike in my favorite place in the whole entire solar system.

This year, I thought seriously about canceling. I blame it on Elden. He selfishly put his own needs above the needs of the group by staying home and nursing his ailing wife.

Seriously, the thought of going to Moab while Elden dealt with the heartbreaking situation at home just didn't seem fun. We bucked up and did three rides over the weekend -- Porcupine Rim, Gold Bar Rim, and Slickrock. At least 23 guys rode along. Before I give out awards based on movie quotes, I'll describe the three rides.

Porcupine Rim

The plan was to arrive in Moab early enough to ride the extended version of Porcupine Rim. According to Dug, that meant riding "two miles" further up Sand Flats Road and then dropping down onto new singletrack. I know now that when Dug says "two miles," he really means SIX miles. He used the old bait-and-switch technique on us.

Not that I'm complaining. I wanted to ride six miles up a fire road. In fact, I prayed aloud that morning, "Dear Zeus and/or any other available Gods, thank you for my singlespeed bike, and bless me that I may ride it along a fire road until my legs are weary with joy, Amen."

When we finally reached the new section of trail above Porcupine, any sarcastic feelings I had were swept away as we weaved our way down between juniper trees and ledges. You'd think it would be hard to find a great new trail in Moab for someone who's been there more than forty times, but great new trails somehow keep popping up.

Unfortunately, Nick -- who had never been to Moab -- paid too much attention to us when we told him to ride soft tires on Slickrock, so he let some air out of his tires to do Porcupine Rim. To clarify, soft tires work great on the Slickrock trail, but not necessarily on all slickrock terrain. And especially not on Porcupine Rim, which probably pops more tires per capita than any other trail. Nick flatted once, replaced the tube, and then flatted again.

Since Nick was the only rider on 26" wheels, and since you can't use 29" tubes in 26" tires, Nick was out of luck. We split up. The faster guys rode down Porcupine Rim, while the Paul and Nick and I took a spur back down to Paul's car. Paul and I rode up and down the technical sections of the trail, while Nick walked his bike.

How do you like Moab so far, Nick?

Gold Bar Rim

While this was a great ride providing plentiful tales of heroic moves and splendid crashes, the real story was the fact that L. Tom Burch got separated from the group, remained up on the mesa well after dark, and was finally located by the Search & Rescue team. Here's how it happened.

L. Tom is a notorious tinkerer. When most guys get to the trailhead, they put on their gear, make a few last-minute adjustments to their bikes, and off they go. With L. Tom, it's a much different story. It's not that he rebuilds his bike. I don't even know if he does more work on his bike than anyone else. I think he just stares a lot, stumbles around, and indulges in methodical nonsense.

Our group of 15 met another Utah group at the trailhead, so there were 21 guys doing the ride. (That's because there were 6 guys in the other group. Sorry I didn't make that clear.) The plan was to ride the singletrack portion of the trail, which is marked with blue paint instead of white paint. The white trail is wider and more obvious -- it's where jeeps go -- while the blue trail is for hikers and bikers. The blue trail is especially difficult to follow after the first overlook, where we traditionally meet and take a big group picture. Only Kenny had followed the blue trail after the overlook.

L. Tom was riding slow, bringing up the rear. Like me, L. Tom does not live in Utah. He lives in Iowa. I don't think it's a coincidence that we're the two pudgiest guys. A couple of guys from Lee's group seemed to be struggling, and Paul doesn't like doing long rides. There was talk of riding to the overlook and then making a decision. Anyone who didn't want to do the long blue trail could head back down and be back at the parking lot within an hour or two.

After we all posed for the annual picture, we geared up and got ready to ride. It's not like we burst into action. Most of us are in our 40s, and we move slow after getting pounded all day (see the 9:00 mark for evidence here). Paul told me he was going to keep riding. At this point, I should have asked L. Tom what he was going to do, since I had in my mind that Paul and L. Tom were heading back down. Instead, I rode on with Paul and Nick.

Dug saw that L. Tom had his shoes and helment off. "Are you coming?"

L. Tom shrugged.

Dug assumed L. Tom wasn't coming along. When Dug told us this later, I assumed that L. Tom wanted to save face. Hey, where did everybody go? I wanted to come along, but now I guess I better ride back down. We rode slowly for about ten minutes, and then we stopped and waited another five minutes or so to make sure no one got lost. Here's the thing. Even with fifteen riders ahead of me, I still had a difficult time finding the right way to go in some places. The blue trail just isn't marked well, and the terrain is gnarly.

What we didn't know is that L. Tom decided to come along. Only instead of riding the blue trail, he stuck to the traditional white trail used by the jeeps. As he rode up and down the white trail, he could see us from below as we picked our way along the edge of the rim.


L. Tom told us later that he saw us gathered at the top of the mesa where four trails converge -- the two Gold Bar trails, Poison Spider, and the Portal Trail. According to his story, he shouted to us that he was coming up, and someone from our group shouted, "You're on the wrong trail!"

Must have been someone from the other group, because we were speculating about whether L. Tom really followed us. Paul even joked about using our comments during the forthcoming deposition in a criminal trial. And this was before we realized Lost Tom Burch was on his own.

From this point, we could have gone down the Portal Trail, which is an exposed two-mile section of trail that cuts along the side of the mesa. Every few years, a cyclist falls and dies. This time, we decided to go down Poison Spider Mesa instead of the Portal Trail.

On our way down, we took a spur to the little arch and hung out a bit. I had ridden across this arch back in the day, and I secretly hoped to show off and ride across it again. In my memory, it wasn't a big deal, but when I took one look at the arch I decided against it, not with a wife and five kids at home who might have to explain that their husband/father died while showing off. "We have video footage, but frankly, it's difficult to watch."

After goofing around at the arch, we meandered down Poison Spider Mesa. Whenever someone had a mechanical (yes, the adjective works as a noun, kind of like when sports reporters say a player is "out with a knee") -- I broke a chain, and Sleepy and Gary flatted -- a small group stopped and helped out.

We got to the parking lot at dusk. A group of drivers hopped in the shuttle car while the rest of us hiked up to see the dinosaur tracks and Native American drawings. When the other drivers got back, they broke the bad news. Tom's car was still there.

Dug felt horrible, since he took responsibility for Tom. The rest of the guys drove into town and ate dinner while Paul and Dug and I drove back and forth looking for signs of Tom. It was dark.

We didn't know at the time that Tom had a lighter, warm clothes, matches, and a flashlight -- everything but a cell phone, which was in his truck. Had I known that, I would have gone into town with the boys and gotten drunk. Instead, I cycled through the emotions of guilt, frustration, and anger. Did he try to follow us along the blue trail? Did he clunk his head somewhere? Why didn't he tell us what he was doing?

Dug called the county sheriff and met up with the guys who were to go out and search for Tom. I wasn't there, so I'll have to let Dug tell the story about one or two of the guys scolding Dug for leaving a man behind. The plan was to send a hiker up the Portal Trail and several four-wheelers along the other routes.

According to L. Tom, he was hot on our trail. He barely missed us at the little arch, and then he had a mechanical. When it got dark, he realized he couldn't find his way down Poison Spider Mesa, so he walked his bike down the Portal Trail. It was the right decision. In fact, he did everything right, except for tinkering. And riding too slow. And failure to communicate.

The Portal Trail hiker found Tom near the bottom, and radioed the news to the rest of the team. As L. Tom ate dinner with Paul and Dug and me, he felt sheepish and grateful.


The next day we did Slickrock. It was the first time I'd ever done it on a singlespeed. More on that tomorrow, when I give out awards based on quotes from the movie, No Country for Old Men.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

McCabe & Mrs. Miller

McCabe & Mrs. Miller isn't a popular movie, and it doesn't seem that critically acclaimed. Sure, a few critics rave about it, but you don't see it listed on the great films lists. Or maybe it's just me. Before seeing it, I thought it was one of the inferior Robert Altman movies that has appeal only because it was an Altman film. I finally broke down and watched it.

It's one of the greatest movies I've ever seen.

I still can't get over why this movie isn't better known, other than the fact that it's bleak. Maybe it's the fact that people looking at it as western would be disappointed in its lack of western qualities, and people who look for an arty movies end up seeing a western.

The movie reminds me of Deadwood. In fact, Deadwood seems closer in spirit to McCabe & Mrs. Miller than M*A*S*H is in spirit to Altman's original movie.

If you have any poetry in you, go see it.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The McCain States

I've been trying to pinpoint what the states that voted for John McCain have in common with each other, but I just can't pinpoint it. What is it about the people in Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, North Dakota, Tennessee, and South Carolina who insist on voting for the likes of George W. Bush and John McCain?

Are they all hot weather states? Land-locked states? Is it the shared ideology of trickle-down economics and free market deregulation? The love of Jeffersonian small government? If you have any theories, feel free to spout off. I'm stumped.

UPDATE: I know this post is unfair. In the immortal words of the current President of the United States, "I know that. Don't you think I know that?" As I mentioned in comments, a lot of smart, well-informed had their reasons for voting for Bush and McCain; and a lot of dumb, uninformed people voted for Obama. Most of all, I'm delighted that the Bush Era is nearly over, and I'm still mad at anyone who helped him take office. The way the Republican party used the religious right to get votes while putting policies in place to help big corporations was deeply cynical and short-lived. Despite McCain's gracious speech, he still tried to win using these same Rovian techniques.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Ultimate Election Thoughts

Even though work has slowed down for me, I haven't been updating my web log because I've been obsessed with politics. I'm going to go through a serious withdrawal next week.

I'm not alone. The guy in the office next to mine is taking the whole week off next week. When his boss asked him to reconsider, he said no way -- he's not going to get anything done anyway. It's nice to know I have company. I wonder if I'm still going to spend a significant amount of my leisure time tuning in to political discussion. Before the 2000 primaries, I wasn't all that interested in politics. When Dubya hit the scene, I tuned in. I've spent eight years trolling political web sites, often in horror.

My favorite new web site is FiveThirtyEight, which offers statistical probabilities based on recent polls. According to this site, McCain has a 6.3% chance of becoming President. Barack Obama has a 93.7% chance of becoming President. Robert Raleigh has a 0.00% chance. America just isn't ready for a Native American in the White House.

The two states to watch closely in the early polling are Virginia and Pennsylvania. If Obama wins both, it's over.

In both states, the Republicans are pinning their hopes on the fact that a lot of working class white people -- many of them union guys -- are going to refuse to vote for a black man. The Bradley Effect is their greatest hope. So for you right-wingers out there reading this blog, buck up -- there's hope in racism.

By the way, it really bugs me that Jack Murtha was derided by the media and slipped in the polls because he said a lot of rednecks in Western Pennsylvania were too racist to vote for a black man. Anyone who spends any time in rural areas anywhere in the U.S. will hear lots of examples of racist rednecks who refuse to vote for Obama because he's black. Isn't this criticism an example of the political correctness that torments conservatives?

Back in 2004, after Bush defeated Kerry and the Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate, right-wing pundits shared their expertise by giving advice to the DNC. They argued that Democrats need to drop the moon-bat element (, DailyKOS, Michael Moore, etc.), and move further to the right. They said this as if the likes of Howard Dean were looking to The Corner for how to proceed. In reality, the best advice should have been, "Just sit tight and watch what happens when Republicans like George Bush and Tom DeLay run the country without opposition."

Now it looks like the Democrats have a 93% chance of having the same advantage. This has the likes of Rush and Sean terrified. What's going to happen to the country when Democrats take over? They'll politicize the Supreme Court! They'll run up huge budget deficits! They'll make us less safe! You'd think these guys would be more concerned about what just happened to our country than what might happen.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Penultimate 2008 Election Thoughts

With a week and a half to go before the election, I realized that there isn't enough political media coverage. So I guess I'll have to put on my pundit hat and make up for the slackers who should be doing their jobs.

Poll Vaults

Nearly every poll shows Obama with a fairly comfortable lead, anywhere from 52%-39% to 49%-45%. And then out of nowhere the AP came out with a poll that showed Obama and McCain in a statistical tie, 44%-43%. I thought this had to be fishy. Sure enough, the number of evangelical Christians included in the poll was double the amount of those who voted in the previous election (46% to 23%). Unless there's been a rash of baptisms down by the river, I think it's safe to ignore that AP poll. But if you're a right-wing radio host, you should breathlessly claim that, unlike what the liberal media wants you to believe, the race is a dead heat.

Joe the Plumber

To hear McCain and his cronies speak of it, Joe the Plumber would benefit under McCain's plan. Have you seen the interview between Barack Obama and Joe the Plumber? Joe the Plumber said he was thinking about buying a business, and if his business is successful enough to earn (and report) more than $250K, why would Obama want to single him out to pay higher taxes? Obama then went on to explain his plan in excruciating detail. Joe the Plumber seemed impressed and deferential. In reality, Joe the Plumber will likely continue to earn less than $250K, in which case he'll be better off financially under Obama's plan. And if he does happen to earn (and report) more than $250K, would his tax increase really have a significant enough to affect his business? Why all the Joe the Plumber fuss?

I would say, "I don't get it," but that's not true. I get it. McCain has nothing. Except Ayers! Obama associated with Ayers! Oh, and Obama's a socialist because he believes in the same progressive tax system that's been in place since Woodrow Wilson was president.

Biased Reporting

The mainstream media has been biased against Republicans. Check out the following AP news release:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Freddie Mac secretly paid a Republican consulting firm $2 million to kill legislation that would have regulated and trimmed the mortgage finance giant and its sister company, Fannie Mae, three years before the government took control to prevent their collapse.

Looks bad for Republicans, right? However, if you keep reading the article, you'll realize that Chuck Hagel and Republicans were on the right side of regulating Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and the Democrats opposed it. The controversy is that the Republican lobbyist firm got involved and convinced a few Republicans to be on the wrong side -- the Democrats' side.

AM Radio

During the last week, as I've been shuttling the boys to various activities, I tune in to the Seattle station that plays right-wing radio. I've gotten to hear what the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Michael Medved have to say about the political landscape.

Limbaugh's not quite as effective as he was when he was addicted to drugs. He's mailing it in. With Hannity, I get a feeling that after the show, he gets on the phone and berates RNC pols for McCain's lame campaign. "I make $20 million a year! I deserve better than this!" With Medved, I feel like I'm listening to an overly sincere impersonation of Ned Flanders.

By the way, did you know that Freddy and Fanny are the primary cause of our economic woes? It's true! Too many black people were allowed to buy houses, and now they're getting foreclosed on, and it's driving the banks into ruin. No mention of bundled loans or the ideology of deregulation in support of the free market.

Throwing Bush under the Bus

I'm surprised McCain's assessment of Bush hasn't gotten more press:

"We just let things get completely out of hand," McCain said of his own party's rule in the past eight years.

"Spending, the conduct of the war in Iraq for years, growth in the size of government, larger than any time since the Great Society, laying a $10 trillion debt on future generations of America, owing $500 billion to China, obviously, failure to both enforce and modernize the [financial] regulatory agencies...failure to address the issue of climate change seriously," McCain told the Washington Times aboard his campaign plane en route from New Hampshire to Ohio.

Yep, that'll rally the base. Now if he can just explain why he bragged about helping Bush get elected and re-elected, and why he bragged about voting with Bush more than 90% of the time, and how his economic plans and foreign policies are fundamentally different from Bush's, he may gain some traction.

And did you know that Barack Obama pals around with terrorists?


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Back to the Future

So I've finally gotten around to watching Mad Men, which presents life in the early 60s from a contemporary point of view. Uncomfortable racist and sexist scenes are predictable, but it's the small touches -- along with genuinely interesting plot lines -- that have sucked me in.

In one scene, a young child walks into the kitchen covered head to toe in a plastic bag. Of course, I immediately grabbed the couch cushions and expected the mother to yell, "Don't EVER put plastic over your head!" Instead, she bristles and tells the girl to go clean up her room. I'm waiting for the scene when kids pile into a station wagon without seat belts, and maybe the father throws a bag of McDonald's trash out the window.

Watching this retrospective has got me thinking about how our lives might be viewed if our grandchildren put together a similar series fifty years from now. What do we take for granted now that will seem absurd in 2060? Of course, it all depends on what happens between now and then, but I'll make my best guesses anyway.

Treatment of animals

Only a small percentage of people are concerned about how we treat cows and pigs and chickens to mass produce our meat and dairy. I would imagine that future generations will look at our mistreatment of animals in the same way we look back on separate water fountains for colored people.

Treatment of the environment

I imagine a scene where someone buys a new big-screen television and throws the old 36-inch television in the trash bin. Then a mother gets in one car, a father gets in another, and they both drive to the same place, with smoke belching from the exhaust pipes. There's a bumper sticker on one of the cars that says, "ECO FRIENDLY CAR" That's assuming, of course, that globally warmed people of the future still enjoy irony.


"Do you remember when people used to go to different places? You know, before the Holodeck was invented?"

Excessive political correctness

I imagine a scene in which a husband agrees to stay home with the children while his wife goes on a business trip. This will seem very funny to men and women of the future, when men return to spitting and grabbing their crotches and dominating, while women assume the role of domestic underlings. By the way, have fun in Boston, Wendy. Hurry home!

Got any other ideas?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Of Military Brats

I now subscribe to three -- and only three -- podcasts: Bill Simmons' B.S. Report, NPR's This American Life, and the New Yorker fiction podcast. A recent New Yorker podcast is particularly interesting to me, which is why I'm bringing it up. Tobias Wolff reads Stephanie Vaughn’s short story “Dog Heaven.”

This story itself is interesting -- Tobias Wolff has a keen eye for good fiction -- but what most intrigued me is that the author derives so much of her identity from having been raised on military bases. It struck me as odd that I had many of the same experiences in the military subculture, yet I haven't thought much about how military life shaped me. For me, having grown up Mormon seems far more influential than having grown up as a military brat.

So, for the purposes of this web log entry, I'm going to view my upbringing with a different lens.

Moving Around

We moved every three years. Idaho, Sacramento, Riverside, Omaha, Colorado Springs, Upper Peninsula, then Riverside again, where my Dad retired from the military. My parents, brothers, and sisters all still live near Riverside, while I continue the nomadic lifestyle. Provo, Seattle, Indiana, back to Seattle. I'm always restless, planning the next move. That's why this housing bubble is so difficult for me. After living in a place for three years, I at least need the freedom of knowing I can move on when I start feeling restless.

Growing up, we lived both on base and off base. In Colorado Springs, the fact that we were military caused the locals to keep their distance, as if we were renters in an established neighborhood. That's probably for the best, since people in Colorado Springs are assholes. And don't give me any of that I-knew-a-person-from-Colorado-Springs-who-wasn't-an-asshole nonsense. That's just the exception that proves the rule.

In Michigan, the situation was much different. There were basically three groups of kids in our high school. Locals, NCO kids, and officers' kids. The locals were mostly people of Finnish descent whose ancestors worked in ore mines, eh. The NCO kids and the officers' kids took different buses to school. It's not like we wore colors and had gang fights. For the most part, the school was divided in the typical categories of any American school in the late 70s -- jocks, freaks, and nerds. I suppose some of the officers' kids could have been considered preppies.

When I was in high school, I was a good Mormon boy -- I didn't drink or smoke or carry on -- but I probably had my rights read to me five or six times. In nearly every case, we broke curfew and someone in the car mouthed off to the patrol guard at the gate. Now that I think about it, the guards were most likely bored 20-year-old kids looking to bust someone's balls. You have the right to remain silent...


When I grew up, we shopped primarily at two stores -- the BX and the Commissary. The BX is a cross between a Wall-mart and a Ye Olde General store. The Commissary is a grocery store. At both places, the prices are cheap and there are no taxes. Whenever we had to buy groceries off base, where the rabble tried to make do in their civilian lives, it always seemed like a big rip-off, the equivalent of buying groceries at a 7-11. (Speaking of 7-11, I remember when those stores were open from 7 am to 11 pm. And I remember shopping at an 8-11 store.)

The government coddled us. Living in base housing was cheap, and utilities were included. If a military man wanted his family to live off base, the government provided a stipend for helping with the rent or mortgage. When we needed medical care, we just went to the base hospital at no charge.

After having grown up with all these benefits, I thought it would be crazy to do anything but join the military. So before my freshman year at BYU, I enrolled in ROTC. My plan was to be in the military and let the government take care of me. When I went to the ROTC class early on the morning of the first day of school, something felt wrong. Nearly 30 years later, I still remember what that drab yellow classroom looked like. We were packed into that little white building in the parking lot of the Law school. After about 20 minutes of listening to the ROTC guy, something felt wrong. Military life was at cross-purposes with the university atmosphere. I stood up and walked out of the class.

In that moment, I gave up military life. No BX, no Commissary, no I.D. cards, no government coddling. I was alone in the world. Walking out of that ROTC class was nearly the equivalent of Ben Franklin walking into Philadelphia carrying only a dollar coin and a loaf of bread to make his way in the world. Of course, Ben Franklin and I are different people. For one thing, he is dead, while I, myself, am alive. That's huge.

Family Sacrifices

This thought may or may not have occurred to you, but some military personnel must participate in wars. My father did several tours in Vietnam. He'd be gone for months at a time, leaving my mother to watch us five kids. She got some help from a bitter wretch named Mrs. Storm. If I weren't such a kind-hearted person, I'd hunt her down for having sneered at us. She was a walking caricature, with a long nose and cat rim glasses.

The one benefit of my father's tours was that when he'd come back from Asia, he'd bring cool gifts. I still remember a red phonograph with AM/FM radio. I bought my first album -- Don McClean's American Pie -- and played it on that phonograph over and over. I also played two 45s: George Harrison's "What Is Life" and Vicki Lawrence's "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia": Slapped the sheriff on the back with a smile, said "Supper is waitin' at home, and I gotta get to it."

I loved that little red phonograph.

Some men died. Bobby Alley's father was declared Missing in Action when his B-52 was shot down. I also remember being in the old Buick station wagon with my father when he told us that several of his friends were shot down in B-52s during a two-week stretch, because the Vietnamese acquired Soviet technology that zeroed in on the high-flying bombers. God, I hated the Russians! It was bad enough that we had to duck and cover under their nuclear threats.


An odd thing about military bases is that all the buildings seem intentionally ugly. From the outside, there is little difference between an airplane hangar, the gym, the movie theater, the library, or any of the office buildings. It wasn't even a matter of function over form. It was more like a macho disregard for taste. Or maybe it goes back to the notion that everything was temporary. The building isn't going to be here for long, and neither are we, so why put effort into it?

Friday, October 10, 2008

California Vacation Summary

After writing a compelling title like that, I'm concerned that I can't possibly live up to it. I'll do my best.

Legoland vs. Disneyland

We borrowed my parents' car to drive to Legoland. Their car includes a Garmin GPS system they call Gertrude. It's basically like having someone read MapQuest instructions to you. "In one mile, turn right on Legoland Drive." The only problem is that she doesn't quite pronounce street names right. She told us to turn on "leGOland" drive, not "LEGoland" drive, which isn't a big deal, but "leGOland" sticks in your head. I kept asking the boys if they were having fun at leGOland and asking them which leGO toy they wanted to purchase. It caused confusion.

Legoland isn't as well-maintained as Disneyland, nor does it have the same weighty history. But Legoland does have a little water park. It was 100 degrees on the day we went, so the mini water park was a welcome relief. You can change into your swim suits and run around a big water structure. At Legoland, there are water slides and mounted water guns and spray fountains and huge buckets that fill up with water and then tip over, creating a huge loud splash every few minutes.

Legoland also isn't as crowded as Disneyland. The longest we stood in line at Legoland was ten minutes. Disneyland felt like it was one big line. I still prefer Disneyland. The music is more soothing.


In her glass-half-empty moments, Wendy sometimes refers to ways in which we're not doing our jobs as parents. For one thing, our boys didn't know how to swim. Wendy wanted to keep putting them in swim lessons, but I thought swim lessons were a waste of time until the boys learned how to swim. This made no sense to Wendy, and I'll admit that it doesn't seem logical on the surface, but Wendy didn't take the boys to swim class -- I did. Max was so miserable that he refused to get in the water, despite my best threats and bribes.

Luke was game, but he spent most of the time shivering on the side of the pool. When it was his turn, he kicked his feet or whatever, but it wasn't doing any good. In the final lesson, the instructor -- a useless dope with an upturned nose -- took the kids for a spin around the pool in a boat. I guess she wanted to teach them how to fall out of a boat, only she didn't tell them that. As she turned the boat over, one terrified kid let go, but Luke hung on and got trapped under the boat. Little Miss Pigface then struggled to turn the boat over, and I debated whether to jump in and help Luke get out from under the boat. Luke finally came out terrified and bawling. Ugh.

Fortunately, both my parents and my sister Shari have pools, so the boys learned how to swim. Max was the first one to swim across the pool. Luke wasn't able to make it, so he got discouraged. I tried to buck him up by explaining that different children learn at different rates, etc., but it was all just words to him. He was sad. Then he figured out out how to jump off the side of the hot tub into the deep end and swim across the pool by himself. Then it was Max's turn to be sad. Both boys can dog paddle across the length of a backyard swimming pool and pick up rings on the bottom of the hot tub. Now it's time for swim lessons.


One of the main reasons we went to California again this year was to spend time with Lisa and Hannah, who celebrated her 2nd birthday last week. Lisa's particular form of lymphoma appeared to be life threatening. Fortunately, she's responding really well to chemotherapy. My father and brother and I went over to Lisa's house to plant bushes that she'd bought for her already plush back yard, which she's transformed into a mini wonderland with a tiki hut. My Dad planted one bush, I planted five, and Mark planted none. Now you see what it was like growing up in our house. Sometimes I wonder how my family survives in California without me.

The Great Depression II?

While the family was on vacation, we lost a good chunk of our life savings. The college funds for the boys, our retirement accounts, and any extra money we squirreled away in mutual funds are nearly half gone. I keep thinking we've hit bottom and it's too late to sell, but obviously others disagree and keep selling off.

I know that Democrats and Republicans both encouraged the housing bubble to continue, and that Wall Street lobbyists donate heavily to legislatures of both parties. Given that Republicans are hell-bent on deregulating the financial industry and that the Bush administration was in power during this time, the objective part of me would put 2/3rds of the blame on Republicans. But deep down, I blame it all on George W. Bush. How come no one calls him the Disaster President? I'm starting. He's The Disaster President. Think about it. Bin Laden Determined to Attack in the United States. We'll Be Greeted in Iraq As Liberators. Brownie's Doing a Hell of a Job. The Underlying Strength of Our Economy Is Strong.

Is my venom comparable to that of the Clinton haters? Am I being as irrational? I doubt it. Clinton left the country in good shape, but even moderates were talking about "restoring dignity to the White House." Call me a partisan hack, but I'd rather have a president lying about blow jobs from interns than a president who runs the country so far into debt that we're financing botched wars with money from China, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil. We ran a surplus under Clinton for the last two years! Ugh.

Sarah Palin

If Obama wins this election, I'll look back at Sarah Palin with some fondness. If McCain can somehow pull it out, I will become a religious man again -- a deeply religious man -- and I will pray to every God for McCain's health. I will even get elk antlers like the cook in Deadwood and bow before a mounted animal. "Please, please, please, let McCain live." If that doesn't work, I can make a run for the border and pick fruit in Mexico.

Question: What's the rule with referring to a woman as "Ms." instead of "Mrs."? Specifically, I'm thinking of Sarah Palin. She took her husband's last name, so shouldn't she be "Mrs. Palin"? Is "Ms." used for professional women and "Mrs." for homemakers? Can a homemaker who took her husband's last name ask to be called "Ms."? If it's a matter of preference, does calling Sarah Palin "Ms." put off conservative voters?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

RIP, Paul Newman

Paul Newman died at the age of 83. Here's one of my favorite scenes in one of my favorite movies, when Cool Hand Luke sings a ridiculous song after hearing his mother died.

Paul Newman movies that I'll watch over and over:

Cool Hand Luke
The Sting
The Verdict
Absence of Malice
Slap Shot
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Leave Sarah Palin Alone!

Many people are suggesting that John McCain bailed on an interview with David Letterman so that he could do an interview with Katie Couric, and then maybe people would ignore an interview she did with Sarah Palin earlier that day. That's a lie! And many people are suggesting that Sarah Palin may be breaking new ground as the first mentally challenged individual to become the Vice President. Another lie! Look at this interview:

She knows the meaning of most of the words she's saying. She doesn't always put them in the right fungible place, but it's kind of like a tossed salad language of. You don't need to make sure one word next another is to. You just scramble it up and take a big bite. No, she's definitely not mentally retarded. I'd say Sarah Barracuda knows more about politics and things than most 10th graders in her home town.

Monday, September 22, 2008

How the Republican Party Improves My Parenting Skills

These new Republicans are great at politics and lousy at governing, but they deserve credit. They've given me a lot of good parenting tips.

Spin the Truth

I took Luke and Max to the car show festival on Sunday, and there was a booth set up for building cars out of zucchini and racing them pinewood derby style. The boys picked out their zucchini and stuck in their toothpick decorations, and I tacked on the wheels.

When it was their turn to race, I knew one of the boys was going to have hurt feelings. What I didn't know was how to handle the situation. I thought about going with the old "you win some, you lose some" theme.

The starter lifted the bar, and down flew Luke's car in first place, well ahead of the other vegetables. In contrast, Max's car was still stuck against a wall near the top of his lane. The race official redirected the car, but it kept turning into the same wall. He turned the car backwards. Same pathetic result. Finally, he just took Max's zucchini car off the track and handed it to me.

Luke was joyous. Max was near tears. What now? What would Karl Rove do?

"Luke, your car is the fastest in a straight line. And Max, your car is the fastest in a circle. But this isn't a very good track for fast-circle cars."

"My car is the fastest in a circle!" proclaimed Max.

If You Can't Spin, Lie!

After the Leadville race a few weeks ago, Max and Luke were having a difficult time understanding how I had managed to win a medal and a belt buckle without winning the entire race. I didn't have a good answer for 4-year-olds. While I trained hard, raced well, and pushed myself so much during the race that I ended up in the emergency room, I managed to finish in 504th place. I'm number Five-Oh-Four! That's not what they want to hear.

"Yes! I won the whole race!" I declared. After all, they weren't there.

"No, he didn't win," said Wendy, playing the role of an elitist blogger who wanted to make the situation needlessly complex with icky nuance. "He just won a buckle for finishing in under 12 hours."

"No, I won the whole race!" I said in my best John McCain impersonation.

Use Ironic Labels Unironically

In the spirit of the Clean Air Act, which made industrial pollution restrictions more lax, I came up with a great idea for feeding the boys lunch. I put a bunch of healthy food they don't like in a bowl and called it a Fun Bowl.

"Hey, do you guys want a Fun Bowl for lunch?"


A word of warning. A Fun Bowl needs to have more than carrots, broccoli, and the like. You need to throw in a few marshmallows or gummy fruit. There has to be some truth in the label, or it won't work.

Friday, September 19, 2008


We took the boys "camping." I put camping in quotation marks because we went to Camp Long, which is a 1.8-mile drive from our house. Camp Long is about the size of a golf course. In fact, it looks very similar to a golf course, only imagine that the fairways and greens are filled in with trees, and a few cabins appear where the clubhouse should be.

Mark drove his truck up from California to go bow hunting on the peninsula, so he stayed in the cabin with us. He and I built a fire as soon as we possibly could. I can't speak for Mark, but I know the first thing I want to do whenever I camp is build a fire. And when two guys build a fire, there's usually an unspoken debate whether to go with the log cabin approach, the tepee approach, or some combination. I prefer starting with a tepee and making the transition to a log cabin, but this only works if I'm solely responsible for the fire.

I'm not picky about the style of fire because the mere act of building a fire masks all wounds. Along with floating down a river and one or two things I can't mention on a family blog, it's a perfect activity.

In a thrilling dog bites man turn of events, Luke and Max loved the fire. Either Wendy or Aunt Kim taught them rules about fires, or they had some instinctive rules about fire safety, because they grew quite alarmed at my actions. I wasn't supposed to step over the fire, even in its early stages. I wasn't supposed to get my face close to the fire and blow on it. And most of all, I wasn't supposed to allow a flame to lick my hand when I placed a piece of wood in the fire. I was chastised regularly.

The boys and their fire rules reminded me of a time I went camping with Robert.

I had just "left" the Mormon church for what turned out to be the last time, barring unforeseen future events. I had tried leaving the church several times in the years before that, but each time I vowed I was done, I backslid, and ended up back in the pews again, a sinner kneeling before God. At the time, Robert and I were sharing an office, and I tried to explain to him in my best CS Lewis language why I was still trying to be a Christian Mormon, even though I didn't believe a lick of the Joseph Smith story -- or the Bible stories for that matter.

That experience deserves a blog entry of its own. Suffice it to say that I decided to leave the church once and for all, so I wanted to make it official somehow through ritual. One such ritual was to go out in the woods and get drunk off my ass.

I know several people who left the church around the same time in their lives as I did, and we all had similar experiences to tell. In our late 20s, we did things that a lot of teenagers would have thought immature. Again, this is a family blog, so I can't tell certain stories. But I can tell this one.

I hadn't been drinking since I was a sophomore in high school. I asked around to get some advice, and ended up going with Fuzzy Navels -- a mix of peach schnapps and orange juice. Robert went with a more manly rum and Coke, although his frequent vomiting later that night wasn't terribly manly.

We lay our sleeping bags on a tarp near a stream in Diamond Fork canyon. Then we lit a fire, roasted some processed meat, and started drinking. I shook off the willies with every swig of my first Fuzzy Navel, but an hour or so later, I was drinking my Fuzzy Navel as if I were Ernest Hemingway. After the third or fourth drink, I manfully smashed the little purple umbrella that adorned my drink.

The act of getting drunk was a sin against my Holy Residual God, which is a fearful thing. At the time, I called it the Raskolnikov Factor. An individual can't make up his own set of rules; he's still morally bound by unseen social forces. As Robert and I drunkenly discussed ideas like this, we rebelled against our newfound freedom by establishing three rules:

1) Do not step over, close to, or into the fire.
2) Do not swim in or near the river.
3) Do not drive the truck, nor any similar vehicle, nor operate heavy machinery.

These rules were comforting to fledgling atheists. We made sure we got the language just right. As we continued to drink, these rules became shackles, obstacles to true living. One of us would move very close to the fire and revel in the other's scolding. Then we took turns jumping over the fire. I wanted to go for a little swim. Robert wanted the keys to go for a quick drive in my pickup truck.

No! No! That's against the rules!

Good times.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Various and Sundry Effluvia

I am going bald

I knew my hair was thinning, but it wasn't until Elden buzzed my head before Leadville that I realized that I'm headed the way of the billiard ball. Earlier in my life, going bald would have stressed me out. In fact, when my hairline changed at age 18, I purchased an expensive special shampoo and oil combination that fought the effects of male pattern baldness. And it worked!

Now, at the age of 46, I have a much more tempered world view. I understand that chicks will dig me even if I am bald.

Lance Armstrong to race the Tour de France

Here's why he wants to race again:

Then Leadville, this kind of obscure bike race, totally kick-started my engine. For me it's always been about the process.... The process of getting there is the best part. You start the season a little out of shape, a little heavy. You get in better shape. You lose some weight.

I mean you're just crafting this perfect program. For several weeks I [had] trained [for Leadville] and went riding by myself. Obviously beautiful territory and fresh air, just feeling fit, losing weight, getting strong-living a very healthy lifestyle. I thought, 'This might be fun to try again.'

Who does he think he is? How dare he call the Leadville 100 a "kind of obscure bike race"? I am so angry right now that I could snap a pencil in half. A mechanical pencil.

John McCain Might Be Our Next President

Because, you know, this Republican administration has messed things up, so it's time to replace them with a new Republican administration, a Republican for change! If we can just cut taxes and drill, drill, drill, we'll be back in the catbird seat in no time.

If you want to hit the moon, aim for the stars

When he grows up, Luke no longer wants to drive a cement mixer for a living. He wants to be a street sweeper.

Star Wars

When the boys and I watch shows, we all declare ourselves to be different characters. If The Backyardigans is on, I get to be Austen, Max is Uniqua, and Luke is Tyrone. If we watch Star Wars, Luke gets to be Luke Skywalker for obvious reasons, and Max -- this is not a joke -- gets to be Chewbacca. No, I don't know why.

Any fondness I had for the 1977 Star Wars is long gone. The dialogue is painful, Darth Vader is no longer compelling, and Luke Skywalker snivels. Still, the boys like it for the same reasons we did.

While the first Star Wars movie (excuse me, Episode IV) plummets in my estimation, the fourth movie (excuse me, Episode I) is much better than I recall. Since it's already a given that Jar Jar Binks is awful and the kid who plays the child Darth Vader is a terrible actor, the good scenes can stand out. And that fight scene between Darth Maul and the two Jedis is one of the best fight scenes in any movie.

I'd have to get my Top 5 staff back together to pinpoint its exact location in the hierarchy of fight scenes, but a preliminary stab goes like this:

1. Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed
2. Darth Maul vs. Obi Wan and, um, Leam Neeson
3. Indiana Jones vs. The Shirtless Nazi
4. Danny LaRusso vs. Johnny Lawrence
5. Inigo Montoya vs. The Man in Black

Even though it doesn't qualify as a movie, Deadwood has one of my favorite fight scenes. When Dan Dority and Captain Turner square off, well, oh dear. Oh my. The showdown between King Arthur and the Black Knight also deserves special mention, along with the school hallway scene in Gross Pointe Blank and Boromir's death. A nod to Borat is also in order.


There is light at the end of the tunnel. There is blood in the water. I may soon begin updating this blog more than once a week.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Farewell to Arms

As a triathlete, I am appalled by my sluggish performance in the pool. I've swum laps several times now, and I'm still not ready for the Fast Lane group. My weak arms have taken me by surprise.

Also, my Speedo suit has shrunk. It now covers only the middle portion of my behind. It looks like I either need to purchase a larger Speedo or lose some weight.

The thought occurred to me that declaring myself a triathlete was premature. It would have been much easier to declare myself a golf enthusiast.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Election '08 Thoughts

* Obama's speech was wonderful in many ways. Most of all, it was genuinely inspiring. I respect this guy. And it was an effective rebuttal to the various McCain attacks. Obama was clearly not a Paris Hilton-type celebrity. He was unpatriotic only to the frightened wingnuts who forward all those ALL CAPS messages. His foreign policy ideas are a refreshing counterpoint to Bush's global failures.

* Anyone who watched that speech should have no fear that Obama would be a wise, forceful leader. He looked presidential. The more people see of Obama, the more impressed they should be.

* I wonder how many swing voters saw the speech itself, as opposed to taking in only the commentary. For those who actually saw the speech, Obama makes Democrats look like the party of strength. McCain makes Republicans look like the party of pettiness and fear. Or the party of garden gnomes.

* McCain still has a very good chance of winning the election. If Palin proves to be capable on the big stage, McCain's choice of veep will be an effective counter to Obama. And McCain doesn't need to prove that he'll be a good president. He just needs to make the election a referendum on Obama, and let the Republican smear machine take it from there.

* I'm going to enjoy the Republican convention to see how McCain balances supporting Bush and presenting himself as the candidate of change.

* I want to get back to the point of both Democrats and Republicans offering offsetting strengths and weaknesses. While the Democratic party has its problems, the Republican party brings nothing to the table. They've abandoned previous core principles like small government and fiscal responsibility. I want to see the Republicans smashed and humiliated so they can reinvent themselves into the party that I can at least partially support.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Luke Comes to Grips with Mortality

Luke's fish died.

Just before I was going to put the boys down for the evening, Wendy came upstairs and mentioned to me in a somber whisper, "Luke's fish died. Should we tell him now, or should we wait till the morning?"

I couldn't stand the idea of my son sleeping peacefully while his fish was belly up in the tank, so I said she better go tell him right away. Plus, I was indexing a user guide, and I needed the extra time.

A minute or so later, I heard loud crying. Weeping. Wailing.


I would have laughed, but the poor kid was genuinely distraught. Should I tell him about Fish Heaven? In Fish Heaven, the most obedient fish attain the highest kingdom. Should I tell him that a fish dies like any animal? When we die, our consciousness ceases, our body rots, and that's the end of the miracle we call life. I suppose I could always go the vague reincarnation route. When we die, we become something different, but no one knows what.

I didn't tell him anything, because anything I said would have meant nothing. Luke had his own cross to bear.

It was a sad day for him. I wasn't particularly fond of Karen. He was a violent fish who ate his own feces. But Luke loved him. Or he loved having him.

R.I.P. Karen

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Olympic Disappointment

I have Olympic fever. When the boys get settled, I turn on my laptop and the television, switching between the NBC channels and the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Channel).

I prefer the CBC for two reasons. First, NBC claims to broadcast some events "live," but they don't happen to mention that it's live only on the East coast. They still think they can get away with that when anyone can look up the "live" results three hours before they're broadcast by surfing the web or flipping channels. Second, I prefer Canada's coverage. High on sports, low on interviews and heart-warming bios of underdog Americans.

Wendy and I were holding hands on the couch when the following conversation took place:

Wendy: "Oh, you're turning the channel."

Me: "Yeah, I don't like watching women play basketball. The players look clumsy and frumpy."

Wendy: [Releases my hand and slides away from me.]

Me: "Did something I say upset you?"

Wendy: "Yes. Blah blah blah patriarchal society blah blah blah hegemony blah blah blah disenfranchisment blah blah blah marginalization of blah blah blah." (I'm paraphrasing here.)

Me: "For me it's a matter of preference. Men look good playing basketball or football or rugby. Women look good when doing gymnastics or diving or doing anything that brings our their grace. Both men and women look great playing volleyball. Neither look good playing field hockey. I don't want to see women play basketball, and I don't want to see men figure skating. But I'll watch anything if the USA has a chance at gold."

Wendy: "Blah blah blah sexist blah."

Me: "It's possible that I need to reevaluate my preferences and undo sexist programming. I'll work on that during football season, which is only three weeks away!"

Note: It's possible that I have not captured the nuanced nature of Wendy's arguments. And I may have embellished some of my own.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

2008 Leadville Race Report

Disclaimer: My flight was delayed, so I have time to write. I'm going to ramble and babble.

The Leadville 100 is an out-and-back race that starts at 10,200 feet, tops out at 12,600 feet at Columbine Mine, and returns to Leadville. It includes 14,000 feet of climbing, most of which takes place in five big climbs -- St. Kevin's in, Powerline in, Columbine Mine, Powerline out, and st. Kevin's out.

After finishing last year's race in 12:26, I signed up for Leadville, started training hard during the summer, stressed and obsessed, and reduced my pastry intake by 12%.

The Start

Organizers line up everyone according to projected finish. At the front of the pack were a dozen or so of the pro racers, including Lance Armstrong and Dave Wiens. Behind them were the top 100 returners from last year's race. They were given special wrist bands. You'll have to trust me when I tell you that Elden was thrilled to be in this special group, cordoned off from the rest of us chattel.

Behind them, riders were grouped in Sub-9, 9-10, 10-11, 11-12, and 12+ sections. I knew I belonged in the 11-12 group, but these categories are flawed. Some of the riders -- many of them roadies -- are fast cyclists with mediocre technical skills. When they get to the first climb at St. Kevin's, a lot of these strong endurance athletes flail and have to get off their bikes, jamming up traffic with their antics. Knowing I'd do fine on the first climb, I jumped in the back of the 9-10 group next to "Gary," who dressed just like Dug, complete with plaid shorts, knee socks, and a handlebar basket containing a stuffed monkey. In fact, I'll go ahead and just call him "Dug."

I thought I'd be more nervous. After last year's race, when I got down on myself, I wanted to avoid emotional highs and lows and just ride hard and steady. I didn't bring a watch and I wasn't going to ask anyone how I was doing.


When the gun goes off at Leadville, most riders have to wait anywhere between a few seconds and a few minutes to start riding. A police car and television crew (LANCE ARMSTRONG IS RACING!!!) set the pace going downhill out of town. During these few miles, riders aren't supposed to pass. Unfortunately, some goober refused to respect Elden's top 100 wristband and knocked him over while passing him.

Elden scrambled back on his bike undamaged and was noticeably upset when I went by him. I was too busy yelling to talk to him. Most of the riders have the sense to hold their lines and avoid overreacting, but it's the few spastics I want to frighten away. So I yelled things like "TURNING" or "SLOWING" or "CORNISH GAME HENS" -- whatever came to mind. Once we turned off on the dirt road, I clammed up and settled into a rhythm.

Over St. Kevin's and Sugarloaf

The ride up St. Kevin's is always interesting. There are the agro dudes who burn energy to pass in crazy places, gaining precious seconds. And there are people who just ride weird. One guy threw it in granny gear on a gradual climb and spun his legs three times as fast as anyone around him.

I borrowed a Superfly from Racer's wife, and I want to say right now that it's far and away the best racing bike I've ever ridden. At this same place the previous year, my legs felt dead and any serious effort made me dizzy. This year I felt solid. Dug and Elden passed me at some point, but I wasn't going to try to hang with anyone, especially singlespeed riders.

The descent down the paved road on St. Kevin's was a blast. No cars are allowed, so I put my belly on my seat and flew down in a tuck, yelling, "ON YOUR LEFT!!!"

The second climb of the day is up Haberman's pass to the top of Sugarloaf. You climb up a mile or so of paved road, and then you go up a long, gradual dirt road that wraps around Turquoise Lake. I was still feeling strong, but my legs were twitching now and then, as if they were going to start cramping. I tried to put it out of my mind.

The four-mile descent down Powerline on the other side of Sugarloaf is nerve-wracking. There are slow riders and fast riders and crazy riders. About every quarter mile, someone is changing a flat tire. My plan was to ride this stretch cautiously because I didn't want to wreck or flat. It turned out I didn't need to be cautious. The Superfly was steady. In biking terms, it "tracks well." It's the opposite of squirrelly.

I jumped behind a guy who was going fast and followed his line until he screwed up, and then I passed him. When I was near the bottom, where the course was lined with spectators to watch the carnage, I slowed down to ride behind a guy who was going a little too fast to pass easily. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a guy on the other side of the trail taking a random line. He made no effort to dodge rocks or trenches. In fact, it almost looked like he was going out of his way to hit obstacles.

He took a terrible line to pass the guy in front of me, and then he paid for it, tumbling over his handlebars right in front of the other guy. That guy slammed on his brakes and then tumbled exactly the same way. It was like an act out of circ de soleil. Synchronized endos.

As I scooted around them, asked if they were OK. One of the guys said, "It's too early to tell." Take your time! I think he ended up breaking his collarbone. That's what the nurse in the emergency room told me.

At the bottom of the downhill, there's a fun little stream crossing where you can go left to ride over a 12-foot plank to keep from getting your feet wet. After riding a few miles in pace lines on paved and dirt roads, the tents from the first aid station appear. I didn't know how fast I was going, but I looked it up later:

2007 Bob - 2:41
2008 Bob - 2:32

To Twin Lakes Dam

I stopped at the 26-mile aid station to grab something quick to eat and fill up my bottle with a sports drink. I knew I was going to feel lousy later in the race, but I had a plan. I was going to take a cocktail of ibuprofen and Tums. The race organizers warned everyone about the dangers (KIDNEY FAILURE!!!) of taking ibuprofen at altitude when you're dehydrated, so my plan was to stay good and hydrated. I drank constantly from my Camelbak.

We had a nice tailwind that carried us down the flattish road. After a few dips into a little valley, we headed over a ridge and dropped down the road that crosses the dam. That road is lined for miles with cars and support tents.

Because I was slow guy in the group, I didn't ask anyone to crew for me. Instead, I left drop bags and depended on the volunteers. The volunteers were fantastic as usual. One person grabbed my Camelback while another person brought me my drop bag. I ate a couple of banana slices to stave off cramps, restocked my jersey pockets with sugary food, drank a pop-top can of soup, and took off for the big climb.

2007 Bob - 3:37
2008 Bob - 3:26


Before you get to Columbine, there's a ridge with a sketchy uphill portion. I rode up it while others walked it. I got to thinking -- would a no-dab Leadville be possible? Up to this point, I'd taken my foot out of the pedals twice, each time at aid stations. If I were in better shape, I think I'd try it.

We rode through a valley before taking a sharp right turn that marks the beginning of the 9-mile climb. I remembered this turn well because it was there where Floyd Landis and Dave Wiens passed me the year before. So this year, assuming that the leaders were going roughly the same speed, I figured that each minute I climbed from there put me a minute ahead of last year's pace. I climbed for a good ten or fifteen minutes before I felt the buzz up ahead.


Lance Armstrong was flashing down the mountain with Dave Wiens ridely calmly off his back wheel. I know Lance retired from the sport years ago and is a shell of his former cycling self, but it was thrilling to see him coming down the mountain like that. Those guys were pedaling fast down a section where I would have been feathering my brakes.

The climb up Columbine consists of two parts -- the long road climb and the steep, rocky double-track where most riders walk. Last year, the altitude got to me on the road climb, and I had to shift down to granny gear and eventually walk my bike where I should have been riding. This year, I rode up the whole way in the middle ring, eating a Powergel every twenty minutes or so.

The only drawback was that my legs were twitching and cramping, which worried me more than anything. When we got to the hike-a-bike section, I jumped in line and hiked with everyone else.

One misleading thing about a race report like this is that it's difficult to convey a sense of time. I suppose I could say I pushed my bike up the mountain for 45 minutes, feeling weak and sick from the altitude, but that doesn't get at the feeling of hopelessness as you see a line of hike-a-bikers way up the mountain, tiny ant figures all the way up, and each step is painful. Whenever I got on or off my bike, various legs muscles cramped up. I figured it was only a matter of time before they locked up and I wouldn't be able to use my legs.

Eventually, I made it to the top of the climb and rode down into a knoll where the aid station was. I stopped, jammed a whole banana in my mouth, and hurried to drop out of that altitude as fast as I could.

2007 Bob - 6:10
2008 Bob - 5:42

Down, Down, Down

Have I mentioned that the Superfly tracks well? It does. I rode down the mountain and back into the Twin Lakes aid station, where the volunteers once again swarmed to my aid as if I were the John Belushi character in 1941.

I downed a can of soup, jammed another banana in my mouth, and set off again. By the way, I'm enjoying this comparison of my current self to my former self, also known as The Bad Guy. Failure can be a beautiful thing when there's hope of redemption.

2007 Bob - 6:59
2008 Bob - 6:25

Across the Flats

Next, the 14-mile "flat" section to the next aid station. All four times I've done Leadville, this section is where I started to fall apart. There are two nasty hike-a-bikes up small but steep hills, and the miles have gotten to me at this point. It's also signifantly more uphill going back than coming out. My legs were wobbly, my stomach was churning, I wanted to quit the race.

I tried not to think about anything. Just stay on the bike and take the pain. In the back of my mind, I hoped that the magic cocktail would work when it was time to take it. Otherwise, I'd be in serious trouble. The aid station appeared more quickly than I expected.

2007 Bob - 8:33
2008 Bob - 7:46

The Final Climbs

I didn't know how well I was doing and I didn't want to ask. As I said, I wanted to turn my brain off to avoid emotion, which is always excessive when you're worn down like that. The volunteers grabbed my drop bag. I drank another can of soup, ate more banana pieces, and then braced myself. I took a Red Bull out of the drop bag and used it to gulp down my cocktail. I wanted to rest longer in the aid station, but I forced myself back on the bike. If the cocktail didn't work, I wanted to still have a chance at a sub-12.

The cocktail worked. And how.

Along the few miles of road before the nastiest climb, I started feeling better. No headaches, no leg cramps, no nausea. After crossing the stream and starting the climb, I toyed with the idea of riding of the first steep pitch. Instead, I pushed up it quickly, passing several people along the way.

The Powerline is infamous for its false summits. After hiking about a mile up to what appears to be the top, you're really only about a third of the way up. After the first pitch, there's a little flat section, and then it goes up again. Unlike last year, when I walked up the whole thing and sat down to rest several times, I rode.

And I kept riding. After the initial pitch, I didn't get off my bike once. Emboldened by ibuprofen and taurine, I chatted with a few people who wanted to talk about the Fat Cyclist and zipped up Powerline as if it were a training ride. The rain sizzled on the wires above us.

When I got to the rolling section at the top, I allowed myself to think for the first time that I might actually make it. Naturally, my reaction to this thought was to get all choked up. I didn't want to cry, so I ended up making strange noises that probably sounded like "guh" or "gollem."

During the descent, I kept trying to get power gels or shot blocks or anything from my pocket, but I kept dropping my food because my hands were shaky. So I just gave up and waited for the St. Kevin's climb to eat.

St. Kevin's is a fairly steep 4-mile climb, but it's on pavement. That means it actually feels good after getting bounced around all day. The only problem was that I ran out of water right at the start of the climb. A guy who works in Racer's shop (Arthur?) was kind enough to give me a sip of water about halfway up.

I pulled into the last aid station, refilled my Camelbak, and drank more soup. Someone mentioned that we were not only on track for sub-12, but we had 15 minutes to spare. I thought I was further ahead than that (I was). I hopped on my bike and pedaled hard.

The Final Stretch

My legs were strong but I felt dizzy. Then I started having blurred vision. I'm not sure what was going on. Part of me felt strong enough to sprint while another part of me was sick and exhausted.

I was more careful than usual during the downhill stretches because I didn't think I had the mental agility to change a flat in my condition. When we came out of the woods into the outskirts of Leadville, I started making my guh and gollem sounds again.

As I crossed the dirt road where I'd taken the Superfly on its maiden voyage two days before, people were ringing cowbells and shouting encouragement. One guy looked just like Lance Armstrong, but I figured my blurred vision was playing tricks on me.

After I turned up what's known as the Boulevard, which is the final climb into town, another rider asked me if I'd seen Lance. Lance who? "Yeah," the guy said. "Lance Armstrong was back there drinking beer and telling us to keep going."

Then the final right turn onto 6th street.

Guh. Gollem.

As I rode toward the finish line, people were cheering and clapping and ringing cowbells, and I wasn't in any kind of condition to reject their endorsement of my magnificence.

Thank you. Thank you.

2007 Bob - 12:26:12
2008 Bob - 11:22:44

At the finish line, someone put a medal around my neck, and I looked around for my friends. No one was there. Even though 11:22:44 is a great number that's nearly Fibonacciesque, my friends were all finishing their showers and expecting me to arrive a little before (or after) 12 hours.

Finally, Nick and Sarah came over and helped me find a place to sit in dizzy stupor. I would write about feeling so nauseous and dizzy that I asked Elden to take me to the emergency room, but I don't want to.

I finished Leadville. I am now a triathlete.