Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Alaska Trip: The Final Preview of Many

Our long awaited drive to Alaska - which I may have mentioned that a time or two - begins tomorrow. This has always been a life-long goal of mine, so it's safe to say I'm a wee bit excited.

For those of you who wish to live vicariously through our vacation over the next two weeks, here's everything you need to know. I will be "live tweeting" the trip, and even if you don't have Twitter, you can follow along here. (Twitter updates will also be fed to Facebook.) Of course, this is subject to the availability of cell phone reception, of which there apparently is none anywhere in the Yukon (according to the T-Mobile Coverage Map). So, it's possible you won't hear from me for a few days at a time. But regardless of how that goes, I'll provide a full blog recap after we get back, including lots of nice pictures taken with Amber's fancy new camera.

Finally, so you can easily follow along at home, here's a quick run-through of our day-to-day itinerary. I've already gone through the details (part one, part two), and they haven't changed much since then, so I'll keep it short and sweet here.

View Actual trip to Alaska in a larger map
(Blue = northbound, red = southbound; push pins = overnight stops; specific locations of routes and overnight stops are approximate because Google Maps can be kind of a pain sometimes)

Day #1 (Thu 6/24): Durham, NC to Chillicothe, OH*
- Driving: 427 miles, 7 hours
Route: I-40, US-52, I-74, I-77, I-64, US-35 (I'll provide daily route maps in the recaps)
- Activities: Driving only.
- Sunrise to sunset: 15 hr, 3 min (6:00a EDT to 9:03p EDT)
(* - We don't have a reservation the first night, so we may end up staying somewhere else in southern Ohio.)

Day #2 (Fri 6/25): Chillicothe, OH to Plymouth, MN
- Driving: 877 miles, 14 hours
Route: US-35, I-75, I-70, I-74, I-80, I-380, US-218, US-18, I-35, I-494
- Activities: Driving only.
- Sunrise to sunset: 15 hr, 59 min (6:06a EDT to 9:05p CDT)

Day #3 (Sat 6/26): Plymouth, MN to Regina, SK
- Driving: 737 miles, 12 hours
Route: I-494, I-94, US-52, SK-39, SK-6
- Activities: Driving only. (Sensing a theme?)
- Sunrise to sunset: 16 hr, 45 min (5:29a CDT to 9:14p CST)

Day #4 (Sun 6/27): Regina, SK to Grande Prairie, AB
- Driving: 768 miles, 12½ hours
Route: SK-11, TCH-16, AB-43 (TCH = Trans-Canada Highway)
- Activities: Driving only.
- Sunrise to sunset: 17 hr, 50 min (4:49 CST to 10:30p MDT)

Day #5 (Mon 6/28): Grande Prairie, AB to Watson Lake, YT
- Driving: 682 miles, 12½ hours
Route: AB-43/BC-2, Alaska Highway
- Activities: Driving only, until we get to Watson Lake.
- Sunrise to sunset: 18 hr, 55 min (5:18a MDT to 11:13p PDT)

Day #6 (Tue 6/29): Watson Lake, YT to Skagway, AK
- Driving: 323 miles, 6 hours
Route: Alaska Highway, Tagish Road (Yukon 8), Klondike Highway (Yukon 2/AK-98)
- Activities: Train ride in Skagway.
- Sunrise to sunset: 19 hr, 16 min (4:06a PDT to 10:22p ADT)

Day #7 (Wed 6/30): Skagway, AK to Haines Junction, YT
- Driving: 205 miles, 4½ hours
Route: Klondike Highway to Alaska Highway
- Activities: Either Whitehorse, Kluane National Park, or both.
- Sunrise to sunset: 19 hr, 0 min (3:48a ADT to 11:48p PDT)

Day #8 (Thu 7/1): Haines Junction, YT to Seward, AK
- Driving: 734 miles, 13½ hours
Route: Alaska Highway (Yukon 1 / AK-2), then AK-1 (Tok Cut-Off Hwy / Glenn Hwy / Seward Hwy).
- Activities: Driving only.
- Sunrise to sunset: 19 hr, 41 min (4:43a PDT to 11:24p ADT)

Day #9 (Fri 7/2): Seward, AK
- Driving: 23 miles, 45 minutes
- Activities: Kenai Fjords National Park.
- Sunrise to sunset: 18 hr, 43 min (4:40a ADT to 11:23p ADT)

Day #10 (Sat 7/3): Seward, AK to Anchorage, AK
- Driving: 133 miles, 3 hours
Route: AK-1 (Seward Highway).
- Activities: Sea kayaking, then anything interesting on the way to Anchorage.
- Sunrise to sunset: 18 hr, 56 min (4:41a ADT to 11:37p ADT)

Day #11 (Sun 7/4): Anchorage, AK to Denali Nat'l Park, AK
- Driving: 235 miles, 4½ hours
Route: AK-1 (Glenn Hwy) to AK-3 (Parks Hwy).
- Activities: Bicycling, to be determined, then driving.
- Sunrise to sunset: 19 hr, 33 min (4:31 ADT to 12:04a ADT)

Day #12 (Mon 7/5): Denali Nat'l Park, AK
- Driving: 15 miles, 30 minutes
- Activities: Denali National Park.
- Sunrise to sunset: 20 hr, 5 min (3:57a ADT to 12:02a ADT)

Day #13 (Tue 7/6): Denali Nat'l Park, AK to Fairbanks, AK
- Driving: 129 miles, 2½ hours, plus up to 160 miles, 5 hours additional
Route: AK-3 (Parks Hwy).
- Activities: Driving, oil change, then either the Museum of the North, Chena Hot Springs, or a scenic drive.
- Sunrise to sunset: 20 hr, 25 min (3:59a ADT to 12:24a ADT)

Day #14 (Wed 7/7): Fairbanks, AK to Whitehorse, YT
- Driving: 589 miles, 11 hours
Route: Richardson Hwy (AK-2), then Alaska Hwy (AK-2 / Yukon 1).
- Activities: Possible brief Whitehorse visit after the drive.
- Sunrise to sunset: 18 hr, 59 min (3:28a ADT to 11:27p PDT)

Day #15 (Thu 7/8): Whitehorse, YT to Fort St. John, BC
- Driving: 830 miles, 15 hours
Route: Alaska Highway.
- Activities: Driving only the rest of the way.
- Sunrise to sunset: 17 hr, 5 min (4:44a PDT to 9:49p MST)

Day #16 (Fri 7/9): Fort St. John, BC to Yorkton, SK
- Driving: 939 miles, 16 hours
Route: BC-97, BC-2, AB-43, TCH-16.
- Activities: Driving only.
- Sunrise to sunset: 15 hr, 32 min (4:28a MST to 9:04p CST)

Day #17 (Sat 7/10): Yorkton, SK to Madison, WI
- Driving: 1,000 miles, 16 hours
Route: TCH-16, TCH-1, MB-75, I-29, I-94
- Activities: Driving only...and probably the occasional nap while our spouse drives.
- Sunrise to sunset: 14 hr, 52 min (4:46a CST to 8:38p CDT)

Day #18 (Sun 7/11): Madison, WI to Durham, NC
- Driving: 961 miles, 15½ hours
Route: I-39, I-88, I-355, I-80, I-65, I-70, I-75, US-35, I-77, I-74, US-52, I-40
- Activities: Driving only.
- Sunrise to sunset: 14 hr, 6 min (5:28a CDT to 8:34p EDT)

The trip begins at approximately 1:30 PM tomorrow after a 3/4-day of work. Bye!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Full Size Spare Tire

Only two more days until our great Alaskan adventure begins. Yeah! We finished planning the trip weeks ago (full finalized itinerary coming tomorrow), but there were still some final preparations to take care of over the last week involving my car. There was the oil change, the state safety inspection (my car was due for one anyway), and finally, acquisition of a full size spare tire.

A full size spare tire is highly recommended for Alaska Highway travel. Our odds of actually needing it at some point during the trip are probably fairly low - maybe 10%, if I were to guess. Alaska Highway road conditions aren't always great, though, so flat tires do happen. And what if we get a flat tire 150 miles from the nearest service station? Do we really want to put that many miles on a donut, then wait for a few hours at the nearest service station? This way, a flat tire is not a serious inconvenience. We can just swap it out with the spare and move on with the rest of our trip.

A full spare tire isn't cheap. We had to get a new rim for the tire as well, and that brought the total cost to $230. We're chalking that up to the cost of the vacation.

Carrying a full size spare in the trunk means less trunk space:

This might be an issue if we were bringing camping gear with us, but we're not, so we should still have plenty of room for all of our stuff. If we don't, then...we'll have to get creative.

Now...for folks planning on traveling the Dalton Highway up to Deadhorse, they actually recommend you bring two spare tires with you. Yeah...we're not doing that drive. About 9,790 of the trip's 9,800 miles will be on paved roads. This spare tire thing might be overkill for us, but at least we'll feel better.

Painted Yellow Lines

It's only natural to think that in places as desolate as Alaska and northwestern Canada, that road conditions probably aren't going to be all that great. On the other hand, they say that you should be fine taking pretty much any kind of car you want up to Alaska. So, I'm not really sure what to expect with the roads when we make this Alaska trip.

Google Street View to the rescue!

View Larger Map

This is the Alaska Highway, somewhere in Yukon. Looks like fun, eh?

Actually, from what I've seen on Google Street View and read in publications such as "The Milepost", most of the Alaska Highway - and the other roads we'll be taking on our trip - are in pretty good shape, all things considered. The stretch of road pictured above is actually one of the few sections of road without painted yellow lines.

Painted yellow lines don't sound like a big deal at first, but actually, they're quite nice.

This is rural Virginia (picture taken during Saturday's day trip), where many roads are quite narrow and do not have painted yellow lines. So when another car is coming in the opposite direction, you kind of have to hold your breath. As it turns out, yellow lines are indeed a luxury.

It's hard to get perspective from Google Street View regarding how wide these roads are, but here's hoping these roads are a little wider than all of those 600-series roads in Virginia are. The flow of traffic will be a bit faster on the Alaska Highway than in Nottoway County, Virginia, and I don't want to end up in that pretty blue lake.

I'm also expecting to see a lot of this on our drive up north:

We saw a lot of this on our last major trip through Canada, and given that it's construction season, I expect much more on this trip. I read somewhere (probably in "The Milepost") that for some construction zones, the delays are so long, they provide portable toilets on either end of the construction zone so that the drivers can pee while they wait. Sounds like fun!

This drive to Alaska will definitely have an adventure feel to it. That's why Amber and I are doing it now, while we still have it in us.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The War of Northern Aggression

Amber and I made a day trip to see the family in Virginia on Saturday, and while were there we went to a Civil War battlefield. And that got me thinking.

Why is the South so much more obsessed over the Civil War than the North? The North doesn't really care all that much about Civil War history, but in places like Virginia and South Carolina (I don't sense it as much in North Carolina), Civil War stuff is everywhere. Given that the North actually won the war, wouldn't you think it would be the other way around? Why does the South want to dwell on its defeat so much?

Ah, but this is how human nature works. Yes, it's convenient that there are all of these battlefields all over the South. But more than anything else, people just tend to think more about their defeats than their victories, especially when death and destruction is involved. Just look at World War II. What do most Americans remember most about World War II? Chances are, it's not the United States' ultimate victories; it's the attack on Pearl Harbor. Until Michael Bay makes a movie about D-Day or the Hiroshima/Nagasaki nuclear bomb attacks, I won't be convinced otherwise.

Tragedy and defeat tend to stick with us and envoke strong emotions, and this leads us to create all kinds of memorials, holidays, "ceremonies", and so forth. Seems kind of silly, really. Why do we torture ourselves this way? Why not dwell on the positives in life? Is it because people think doing so would disrespect those who died as a result of World War II, September 11th, etc.? People are afraid that if they don't do enough to honor those who have died in Iraq, for example, that they'll be looked upon as "bad people". Certainly that's part of it, but I think there's more.

Here's another question. Why do we erect memorials and devote NFL halftime shows to innocent September 11th victims, but not (at least to the same degree) to innocent victims of hurricanes, earthquakes, and other natural disasters? Here's what I think: people want revenge. You can't enact revenge on Mother Nature, but you can enact revenge on Al-Qaeda. Going overboard in our memorialization of war or terrorist victims is kind of a way to spur feelings of "Let's go kill those bastards!" among Americans. I guess this is how humans deal with defeat: we want justice.

Of course, it is not my intent to trivialize the events of Pearl Harbor or September 11th, or those who died on both those days and the wars that followed. I'm just using those examples to illustrate my point. Now we can get back to talking about the Civil War: the reason the South cares more about the Civil War - or as they sometimes call it, the "War of Northern Aggression" - is because they lost. Loss makes people more proud of who they are, and I guess that's why you still see Confederate flags everywhere in the South. "We may have lost, but we're still proud to be Southern! The South will rise again!"

As a native Southerner (sort of - does Florida count?), here's my take on all this:
- Civil War history can be interesting in doses and makes for a good History Channel show or two, but I don't consider myself a "history buff". That goes for all kinds of human history, not just wars. I'm more interested in physical history than human history.
- I have no hard feelings toward Northerners. But I still don't care for the Yankees or the Red Sox.
- Confederate flags are often interpreted as racist symbols due to their association with slavery, so I think we should come up with a better symbol of Southern Pride. Instead of flying a Confederate flag, how about flying a checkered flag instead?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sports Saturday: 6/19/10

I'm saving all of the Alaska trip preview stuff (6 more days!) for next week,'s a "bonus" Friday version of Sports Saturday!

Soccer - I've watched quite a bit of World Cup "action" (I use the term loosely) this week, and after a few matches, I came to a realization. You know, soccer is kind of boring to watch. Every now and then, it's good to be reminded of that fact, just so I'm not tempted to watch a lame MLS game or something. All I have to say is, thank goodness for the Univision announcers.

There's been a lot of buzz (pun intended) about those ever-present vuvuzelas. My take? The vuvuzelas are so unpopular (outside Africa) and so annoying, I think that actually makes them kind of cool. Yes, they have crossed the imaginary line between "just plain annoying" and "hilariously annoying". Blow away, I say!

Finally, if you're looking for my thoughts on today's USA v. Slovenia game (which I recorded and watched when I got home)...I don't like complaining about officiating, so I'm going to go a different route. Exciting game, hmm? It's not the USA's fault that soccer is boring. It's Europe's fault.

Sat 7:30a - Netherlands v. Japan, ESPN / Univision
Sat 10:00a - Ghana v. Australia, ESPN / Univision
Sat 2:30p - Cameroon v. Denmark, ABC / Univision
Sun 7:30a - Slovakia v. Paraguay, ESPN / Univision
Sun 10:00a - Italy v. New Zealand, ESPN / Univision
Sun 2:30p - Brazil v. Côte d'Ivoire (a.k.a. Ivory Coast), ABC / Univision

College baseball - The College World Series starts today. Florida State is in it, so that gives me a reason to watch. Let's go Noles!

Since this comes up every year an ACC team makes it to the College World Series, I think it's inevitable that during both the FSU and Clemson games, ESPN will mention - at least once - that the ACC has won the College World Series only once, ever (Wake Forest in the 1950s). It is also inevitable that ESPN will clarify that while Miami (FL) has won the CWS multiple times, all of its victories came before they joined the ACC. How many times will ESPN mention those facts this weekend? I really hope the ACC can win one of these so that ESPN can find something else to talk about during their broadcasts. Unfortunately, Florida State and Clemson aren't among the best teams in this year's field, so I don't like the ACC's chances. But on the other hand, didn't Fresno State win the College World Series recently? If they can do it, surely an ACC team can.

Sat 2:00p - TCU v. Florida State, ESPN
Sat 7:00p - Florida v. UCLA, ESPN
Sun 2:00p - Oklahoma v. South Carolina, ESPN
Sun 7:00p - Arizona State v. Clemson, ESPN

Auto racing - Here we go again...a "debris caution" comes out a few laps from the end of a NASCAR race, prompting the usual discussion of "was that caution flag for safety, or for entertainment"? I've gone through this before, so no need to do it again.

But that nonsense actually won't make me want to watch this week's races any less, because both Sprint Cup and Nationwide are on road courses this week. So, that's cool. I'll be rooting for Ron Fellows (Canadian) in Nationwide and Marcos Ambrose (Australian) in Sprint Cup. Yeah, Marcos Ambrose!

Sat 3:30p - NASCAR Nationwide at Road America, ESPN2
Sun 1:30p - IndyCar at Iowa, Versus
Sun 3:00p - NASCAR Sprint Cup at Infineon, TNT

MLB - So...I think it's time we - including me - dialed down the Stephen Strasburg hype a little bit. There are a lot of good pitchers in the major leagues. No need to go nuts every time one of them takes the mound. His debut was fun, but now he's just another good major league pitcher, so...meh.

Incidentally, he's also the only good major league pitcher the Nationals seem to have. The Nats lost their last five non-Strasburg games. That begs the soon before they can bring up this year's #1 draft pick?

Sat 1:00p - LA Angels at Chicago Cubs, WGN America
Sat 4:00p - LA Dodgers at Boston, FOX
Sat 8:30p - Baltimore at San Diego, MASN
Sun 1:00p - NY Mets at NY Yankees, TBS
Sun 1:30p - Chicago White Sox at Washington, MASN
Sun 2:00p - LA Angels at Chicago Cubs, WGN America
Sun 4:00p - Baltimore at San Diego, MASN2
Sun 8:00p - LA Dodgers at Boston, ESPN

Golf - Oh, right...the U.S. Open is this weekend, too. Might be an option if I need something to watch Sunday night. (Pebble Beach = West Coast = primetime finish in the East.)

Sat 4:30p - U.S. Open, NBC
Sun 3:00p - U.S. Open, NBC

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Honda Civic Sun Visors: Not So Good

The warranty on my 2008 Honda Civic ran out about 7,000 miles ago. Knowing how this sort of thing usually goes, I figured it was only a matter of time before something broke...

It's kind of hard to see thanks to the lighting, but that's my driver's side sun visor, split open at the top. A slightly fractured sun visor wouldn't be that big a deal by itself, except that it no longer stays upright against the ceiling. The visor hangs down whether I like it or not.

So what's going on here? I did an extensive amount of online research, and found a lot of interesting information on this topic:
- When it gets really, really hot inside the car, it causes plastic inside the sun visor to melt, and eventually fail, causing the visor to break.
- This is a VERY COMMON problem with "8th generation" Civics (2006-), particularly in the South and Southwest where it gets hot in the summer. Many people who live in places like Arizona have had to get theirs replaced multiple times, and I saw many pictures posted online that looked almost exactly like mine. Well, on the bright side, at least it's not my fault.
- This problem is specific to the Civic, not other Honda models such as the Fit.
- If your car is out of warranty (as mine is), some dealerships will provide free "goodwill" replacement. But most Honda dealers, including the three Triangle area dealers, will charge full price for replacement ($72).

Now...about that last point. It's pretty clear that Honda Civic sun visors are defective. Surely, they've known about this for a while now. And yet, the 2008 Civic - the third year of the "8th generation" model - was still equipped with a defective visor. I would have thought this would have been fixed by the time we got around to the 3rd year, wouldn't you? Apparently not. And, there's no safety recall, either, nor will there ever be one, because Honda does not consider this to be a "safety issue". Make your own judgment on that one.

Personally, I think fitting new cars with visors they know are defective is a scam to make money. When I called one local Honda dealer to see if I could get free (or even discounted) replacement, the representative knew off the top of his head how much it would cost to replace a broken sun visor. That's a pretty good sign that a) this is in fact a very widespread problem, and b) Honda and its dealers are making decent coin off of their crappy sun visors. I would think that sun visors are such an inexpensive product (relative to most car parts) that Honda would just go ahead and replace them for free in order to keep customer satisfaction. I guess they decided customer satisfaction wasn't worth it.

Well, is it worth it? We'll have to see on that one, at least for me. This incident does make me a little less likely to buy another Honda. On the other hand, this is a pretty minor car problem to have, in the grand scheme of things. It isn't a broken transmission, or "unintended acceleration". If my car makes it to 150,000 miles and beyond without too much trouble, I will probably buy another Honda. If the sun visor is the first problem of many to come, then I'll be shopping around. So...we'll see.

What's done is done, so...what do I do about it? Do I pay up and have the visor replaced, even though the new visor could just as easily break too? Instead of going through that procedure, I decided to try my own solution. The visor is still functional; the only problem with it is that it doesn't stay flush to the ceiling by itself. Here's our (potential) solution:

Those are velcro strips, glued to the visor and the ceiling. I don't yet know if this will work, though. We're supposed to wait 48-72 hours for the glue to dry (this wasn't exactly Elmer's glue we used), and so far it's only been 42 hours, so I haven't tested it yet. And, I certainly don't know what the long term prospects of this "solution" are. Either way, I'll try to park in the shade as much as possible so that the passenger side visor doesn't break too.

On a related note: In terms of keeping your car interior cool while it's parked in the sun, studies have shown - confirmed by personal experience - that cracking the windows doesn't help much. Personal experience also shows that those little silver reflector thingies that go on the inside of the front windshield (also known as sunshades) don't help either. Parking in the shade is really your only recourse if you want to keep your car's temperature below 130°F on a hot summer day.

(Yes, I keep a thermometer in my car. This is how I know sunshades aren't effective.)

Here's the biggest mystery about all this, though. I've had my car since November 2007, and my sun visor made it through each of the last two summers just fine. There have been plenty of hot days over that time, and my car has been parked in direct sunlight on many of those days. Sunday - the day the visor broke - was hot (96°F high), but not record-breaking. So why is it that the sun visor breaks now, after the warranty runs out? Figures.

UPDATE 8/18/10: The velcro only lasted six weeks, so I ended up getting a new sun visor anyway.

UPDATE 6/29/11: As first reported to me by an anonymous commenter, Honda was sued, and a settlement was reached, regarding their defective sun visors.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Wireless Routers

Recall that when I got my Xbox 360, I decided I needed a way to hook it up to the internet. My solution was wireless internet, which required getting a wireless router, of course. And that brings us to the classic question of price v. quality as it applies to wireless routers. You can get a wireless router for $30, or you can spend well over $100 on one. How much should one pay for one of these things?

Admittedly...I should have done a little more research first. I figured cheap - but not too cheap - was good enough for my purposes. (I don't have a high-end internet connection - 1.5 Mbps - so there's no need for me to get a wireless router that can support anything faster than that.)

My first attempt was a Belkin Basic N150 Wireless Router. Look at all of those awesome customer reviews! Needless to say, I did not read the customer reviews before purchasing. I also did not find a Consumer Reports article on wireless routers. Yes, I kind of rushed into this. I was in a hurry.

The Belkin router worked fine for a while, but the connection was very inconsistent, sometimes just didn't work at all, and the route went "bat s*** crazy" (as they say) when I tried logging into the EPA intranet in order to work from home. In short, it's a piece of crap wireless router. I don't think all Belkin products are rubbish based on this one experience, but the low end ones most assuredly are.

Okay, so, lesson learned. Wireless routers are among the items where it is NOT okay to go cheap. This is probably true about technology in general. We're not talking about corn flakes here; we're talking about some pretty advanced stuff. Better get the good stuff. And in the case of wireless routers, that meant upgrading to a Linksys router, with which I have had no problems whatsoever to date. Sometimes, you just have to pay up.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Curling Recap: 6/12/10

Our beloved Triangle Curling Club held a one-day "mini-spiel" over the weekend. Eight teams plays two games each, apply a points system (awarding points for points scored, ends won, and games won), and declare a couple of winners for the day. A curling doubleheader when it's 94°F outside? You bet!

While every other team was a makeshift team that was only playing together for the day, our team was the same exact team from the Sunday League that went 4-1 and finished 2nd. So, I think we kind of had an advantage. (No, I was not responsible for making up the teams. We did request it, though.) I wouldn't call us the favorites, though, because I still don't think I can skip with the "big boys" yet. On the other hand, Amber, Justin, and Tabby are pretty good, so...maybe, just maybe, we have a shot.

Game #1

End......... 12345678 |TTL
Macartney... 00101000 | 02
Allen....... 11030431 | 13

(Disclaimer: I'm not 100% positive regarding my memory of the end-by-end score. Take it for what it's worth.)

We definitely had the advantage here. Opposing skip Dick is a good curler, but he lives way out at the beach, so he doesn't come out all that often anymore. And, this game was on notoriously tilted Sheet 1, which is probably the toughest sheet for a skip to come in off the bench and do well on. It's not the most fun sheet, but I actually think my teams do better on Sheet 1 than on other sheets. That's not something I've kept track of, unfortunately.

Not only did we win big (that's the third time in six games that I've won by 10 or more points - am I a jerk or what?), but thanks to a draw to the button by Amber in the 7th end, we also took home "The Box", a container full of goodies. (The rules for "The Box" are explained in this post.) We really cleaned up, didn't we?

For the second half of the doubleheader, winners played winners and losers played losers. So, I figured this second game would be a little more difficult.

Game #2

End........ 12345678S |TTL
Collins.... 000015011 | 08
Allen...... 122100100 | 07

By the time we were up 6-0, folks on other sheets were giving us crap. Yes, it was well deserved at the time, considering that our cumulative score up to that point was 19-2. Did I let it get to my head? Did I take my foot off the gas pedal? Maybe a little bit...but I'm not sure what happened in that 6th end, to be honest. Not giving up the big number is supposed to be a point of emphasis for me. So, I wish I had a better memory of that end than I do, so I know what not to do next time. Perhaps when you have only one rock in the house versus five, you're better off throwing another rock in the house to cut them down a few points, rather than trying to guard it - and ultimately misplacing the guard, leading to the inevitable take-out. Or, sometimes, you just get beat.

At that point, we had a game - a refreshing change of pace! The last couple of ends were very well played. By this time, everyone had figured it out on both teams. It came down to a skip rock shootout, which I lost, because my draw weight isn't as good as it needs to be. Opposing skip Rich's draw weight was excellent throughout the game - especially in the second half - and that can get you out of a lot of sticky situations, rather than having to rely on complicated angle shots.

Speaking of complicated angle was the approximate situation in front of me before my last shot of the 7th end: (our team = yellow)

Perhaps the obvious play was to draw around the right side into the rings. Plenty of room, right? Thing is, though, I tried that with my first shot (rock #7), and it overcurled and was light. about this: throw decent weight (not too much), and hit #3 into #2 into #1, leaving #2 as shot rock. Yeah! Sounds crazy, but that was actually the shot that gave our team one point.

Anyway, here's my observation. During the Olympics, I noticed that many of the younger skips - including Sweden's Niclas Edin and Scotland's Eve Muirhead - often prefered the crazy angle hitting shots over simple draws to the button. Why? Those shots are more fun, yes, but I think the main reason is because being young curlers, they weren't confident in their draw weight. I think that's where I am right now in my career as skip. I'm not confident in my draw weight, so the crazy shots often look more appealing to me. (I'm better at them, too.) Draw weight feel will come to be eventually, but only after years of experience, I think.

So, to recap: the top two teams received prizes at the end of the day, there were two 2-0 teams, and we went 1-1. Surely, this meant we'd go home empty handed, right? Nope! The way the points system worked, our relentless running up of the score in the first game, was rewarded by a tie for first place with the other 2-0 team (not the one that just beat us). One more skip rock shootout later (after losing the first shootout I had sort of figured it out), we finished in first place overall for the day. Wooo! But what kind of an example does that set for the kids? Is the moral of the story that it pays to run up the score? (You decide.)

By the way, I'm not all that ashamed about losing a game we led 6-0, either, because the other team had to skip-quality curlers on it, and I consider opposing skip Rich to be one of the top two or three skips in the club. A shootout loss to a good team isn't a bad result. Moral victory?

I'm only three games away from playing in my 100th career curling match (career record 57-40), but it'll be a while before I get #100. Our next curling match isn't until July 30th, so I guess the next seven weeks qualifies as our "offseason". Our curling muscles could use the break.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Sports Saturday: 6/12/10

On tap for today...
Soccer: World Cup mania!
MLB: Stephen Strasburg mania!
College sports: Conference expansion mania!
NHL: Stanley Cup mania!
College baseball: Super Regional mania!
Auto racing: Umm...

Soccer - It's World Cup time! Not only do I like sports (even if it is soccer), I'm also a geography nerd - when I was a 5th grader, I memorized every national capital in the world* - so I think the World Cup is awesome. (* - I don't think I memorized the capitals of all those obscure island nations in the Caribbean and the Pacific, but those don't count.)

The last World Cup left a bitter taste in my mouth, but that was 47 months ago, so I'm over it. Besides, that wasn't until the final. Group play is usually the most enjoyable part of the World Cup (for me), because we get to see all of those obscure countries play, and not just the traditional powers (Brazil and the top European teams). And considering that a game between two European powers - say, Spain and Italy - can be rather boring, I guess it's not all that bad that the entire knockout stage takes place during our upcoming Alaska vacation. Who needs Spain v. Italy? Boring - give me Algeria v. Slovenia! I actually am looking forward to that one, believe it or not. (Side comment: Slovenia's capital is Ljubljana, which I am proud to say I still know by heart. I wasn't able to spell it from memory, though - I spelled it "Ljubjlana". Close enough.)

Now...normally, by the time the USA is out and we're down to Brazil + Europe, I start rooting for France. But France played a rather dull 0-0 game against Uruguay yesterday, so I'm not really feeling that. Instead, I'll focus my energy on anyone not among the traditional European powers. Let's go, Australia! Come on, South Korea! Three cheers for Cameroon!

As for this weekend...we're going curling this afternoon, so I have to DVR the United States v. England match. Can I make it home afterwards without overhearing the result of the game? That's going to be quite a challenge, because I'm sure the result of the game will be a topic of discussion at the annual club meeting afterwards. But that's okay, because the USA still has games against Algeria and Slovenia, and both of those games happen before our vacation. Yeah!

Finally, here's another post from four years ago about why the World Cup is more enjoyable on Univision than on ESPN. I haven't changed my opinion since then, and it's true even more so now that ESPN has hired a bunch of boring British announcers to call the games. And best of all, I now get Univision HD (DirecTV added it in April). This means I'll be watching most of my World Cup action in Spanish. Goooooooooooool!

Sat 7:30a - South Korea v. Greece, ESPN / Univision
Sat 10:00a - Argentina v. Nigeria, ESPN / Univision
Sat 2:30p - England v. United States, ABC / Univision
Sun 7:30a - Algeria v. Slovenia, ESPN / Univision
Sun 10:00a - Serbia v. Ghana, ESPN / Univision
Sun 2:30p - Germany v. Australia, ABC / Univision


If you follow baseball, surely you already know that Strasburg's first career Major League start Tuesday night was pretty good: 7 IP, 2 ER, 14 K (Nationals team record), 0 BB, Win. The Strasburg hype has been kind of hard to avoid in the baseball world, and I think it's officially gone overboard. And in an effort to not contribute to the problem, I'm going to just leave it there.

Actually...that's no fun. I'm tired of hearing you all talk about Tim Tebow, etc. Now, it's my turn to annoy the crap out of you with obsession over an overhyped athlete. STEPHEN STRASBURG MANIA!!! AAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!

I have to admit, Tuesday's game was really, really fun to watch. Strasburg mania has gone so far that TBS is dropping its planned Sunday broadcast of Phillies/Red Sox so that it can air Strasburg's second start against Cleveland. I think it is AWESOME that a Red Sox game got bumped in favor of the Nationals. But unfortunately for some of you, the TBS broadcast of Nationals/Indians will be blacked out in Nationals home territory, which includes Raleigh. So just like with Tuesday's game, if you are a Time Warner Cable customer living in Raleigh, no Strasburg for you.

Sat 4:00p - Philadelphia at Boston, FOX (regional)
Sat 7:00p - NY Mets at Baltimore, MASN
Sat 7:00p - Washington at Cleveland, MASN2
Sun 1:00p - Washington at Cleveland, MASN2 / TBS*
Sun 1:30p - NY Mets at Baltimore, MASN
Sun 8:00p - Chicago White Sox at Chicago Cubs, ESPN

(* - National broadcast on TBS subject to blackout.)

College sports - There have been all kinds of rumors flying around about conference expansion the last couple of weeks. Nebraska to the Big Ten! Colorado to the Pac-10! Texas A&M to the SEC! No more Big 12! Aaaaaahhhh!

Personally...I'm trying not to get too worked up about any of this, especially all of the rumors. To me, these rumors have a similar feel to those ultimately false reports that "NCAA Basketball Tournament expansion to 96 teams is a DONE DEAL". So, until something is actually FINAL - like Colorado to the Pac-10 and Nebraska to the Big Ten appear to be, for example - I don't really believe anything I read.

I think all the hysteria does prove one thing, though: college football fans get bored playing the same teams every single year. A complete overhaul of the college conference landscape would be viewed as "fresh" and "exciting", because it would create some matchups that otherwise would never happen in football outside of a bowl game. As long as you keep traditional intraconference rivalries intact, I'd agree with that. Hell, let's just scrap ALL the conferences and start over from scratch, fantasy draft style! ... Actually, Florida State being a member of the ACC is great for me personally, given how much attention and television coverage the ACC gets around here. So, I'm fine with the way things are, at least in terms of the ACC. As for the rest of you? Go nuts!

NHL - Hockey season is over, and to the Chicago Blackhawks go the spoils. A couple of quick closing thoughts on hockey...

I wasn't sure a Stanley Cup-winning overtime goal could possibly be anti-climactic, but that's what this one was. Hard to get excited when nobody knows the goal actually happened. That was a little disappointing.

Hockey season actually isn't over: the AHL Calder Cup finals are still going on. Am I the only one who thinks it's dumb for the minor league season to end after the major league season?

Well, whatever...I've more than had my fill of hockey over the last eight months, and I'm ready for the off-season. See you in four months.

College baseball - Normally, I'm really excited when Florida State advances to the college baseball "Super Regionals" - eight best-of-3 series to decide who goes to the College World Series in Omaha - but this year, I'm not really feeling it. I only have so much brain capacity and DVR input wires, I guess.

On the other hand, if you like college baseball, this could be the best weekend of the year. Unlike last weekend, EVERY GAME is televised this weekend, although many will have regional coverage only. I think all of the regional coverage games will be broadcast on DirecTV alternate channels, though.

Sat 12:00p - South Carolina at Coastal Carolina (Game 1), ESPNU
Sat 1:00p - Vanderbilt at Florida State (Game 2), ESPN*
Sat 1:00p - TCU at Texas (Game 2), ESPN*
Sat 3:00p - Oklahoma at Virginia (Game 1), ESPNU
Sat 6:00p - Alabama at Clemson (Game 1), ESPNU
Sat 7:00p - Miami (FL) at Florida (Game 2), ESPN2*
Sat 7:00p - Cal State Fullerton at UCLA (Game 2), ESPN2*
Sat 9:00p - Arkansas at Arizona State (Game 1), ESPNU
Sun 1:00p - Vanderbilt at Florida State (Game 3 - if nec.), ESPN*
Sun 1:00p - South Carolina at Coastal Carolina (Game 2), ESPN*
Sun 4:00p - TCU at Texas (Game 3 - if nec.), ESPN*
Sun 4:00p - Oklahoma at Virginia (Game 2), ESPN*
Sun 7:00p - Miami (FL) at Florida (Game 3 - if nec.), ESPN2*
Sun 7:00p - Alabama at Clemson (Game 2), ESPN2*
Sun 10:00p - Arkansas at Arizona State (Game 2), ESPN2*
Sun 10:00p - Cal State Fullerton at UCLA (Game 3 - if nec.), ESPN2*

(* - Regional coverage)

Auto racing - I just realized that this post is really, really long, so I'm going to make this short:

NASCAR: I think Kevin Harvick wrecked Joey Logano on purpose.

Formula One (going back to the Turkish Grand Prix from two weeks ago): Why can't these guys pass each other without wrecking?

Sat 2:00p - NASCAR Camping World Trucks at Michigan, SPEED
Sat 8:00p - NASCAR Nationwide at Kentucky, ESPN
Sun 12:00p - Formula One Canadian Grand Prix, FOX
Sun 1:00p - NASCAR Sprint Cup at Michigan, TNT

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Airport Lead Time

This post has nothing to do with anything that's happened recently. It just happens to be a slow week. I believe the Catholics call this Ordinary Time.

So,'s a random question. Let's say you have a flight to catch. How early do you need to get to the airport?

The guideline I've always heard is that you should get to the airport two hours before your flight leaves. Is that overkill? Based on Amber's experiences - she's flown much more than I have, especially over the last two years - I'd say...depends. There are a lot of factors to consider:

- How big is the airport? I've never been to the State College airport (a.k.a. University Park airport), for example, but I would think you could walk through the front door of the airport 30 minutes before your flight and still have plenty of time to spare. Atlanta, on the other hand...two hours minimum, regardless of the circumstances. The Raleigh-Durham airport (RDU) falls somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. Starting from two hours, subtract 20 to 30 minutes for a medium-sized airport such as RDU. Subtract one hour for a small airport such as State College.

- Are you checking luggage? If not, you may be able to check in online before you even get to the airport, in which case, that's one less line to stand in. In this situation, the security line is your only impediment. (I've never done online check-in combined with checked baggage, but I think that's possible, too.) Subtract 30 minutes if you've already checked in and are not checking any luggage.

- Is it a busy travel day? If it's Saturday morning, no need for concern. But if it's Thanksgiving Wednesday, better get there early. Add 30 minutes to one hour if it's a busy travel day.

I think that's pretty much it. Based on my numbers, that means that if you're flying out of RDU on a normal travel day and aren't checking any luggage, one hour prior to take-off is a good time to get there. Is that reasonable?

Disclaimer: I've made exactly three flights - one round-trip and one one-way - in the last six years, and no flights in the last two years, so I'm probably the last person who should be having this discussion. But like I said, it's been a slow week.

I should also clarify that me bringing up this topic does not imply that we have any flights on the horizon. We're still planning on driving to Alaska in two weeks, not flying. This is pretty much a random topic.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Andersons

Giant Eagle wasn't the only strange and new place we went shopping during our trip to Toledo a couple of weekends ago. We also went to this place called "The Andersons".

I had never heard of it before - they have six locations, all in Ohio. Amber had a hard time describing to me exactly what kind of store it is. And after visiting the store, I'm still not sure how I would describe it.

That's the produce section...right next to the washing machines. Huh? Who, exactly, goes to buy fruit and appliances in one trip? Then, on the other side of the washer and dryer section...

Beer and laundry? The possibilities are endless.

So, yeah, that was interesting. Anyway, here's my take on "The Andersons." The store is actually a hardware store at heart. It's nowhere as big as a Lowe's or Home Depot, but it has the same kinds of stuff. But here's the problem with being a smaller-scale Lowe's or Home Depot: for the most part, people are just going to go straight to Lowe's or Home Depot. The bigger stores have better selection, and most of the time, better prices. Smaller hardware stores have had a really difficult time competing with the "big two" over the last couple of decades - case in point, Scotty's* - and I'm sure the same would be true for "The Andersons"...except that they also have a medium-sized food section (more than a non-Supercenter Walmart or Target but not as extensive as a regular grocery store), fresh produce, and even a pet shop. Take that, Lowe's!

Actually, the thing that impressed me the most about "The Andersons" was that they had NO-AD brand sunscreen. I cannot find this stuff anywhere. Way to go, The Andersons!

And yes, those are beds and recliners in the background. What can't you get here?

The Andersons appears to do a pretty good business. The store was quite packed when we were there, especially the produce section. So, I think the moral of the story is that if you're a hardware store, and you're not as big as Lowe's or Home Depot (or I guess Menards, which I've never been to), then you had better branch out a little.

(* - I'll always remember Scotty's for their radio jingle: "Gotta go to Scotty's 'cause Scotty's got a lot of what you gotta go to Scotty's for!")

Monday, June 07, 2010

The World's Largest Frying Pan

A few months ago, on a scenic (sort of) drive through eastern North Carolina, I drove through the town of Rose Hill, North Carolina, the self-proclaimed home of the World's Largest Frying Pan. I was just driving through, though, and didn't actually stop and see the frying pan itself. I figured we'd be back.

Sure enough, three months we are!

We stopped by on our way back from the beach on Sunday. It's only a mile or two from I-40 Exit 380, so why not? big is the World's Largest Frying Pan, exactly?

15 feet in diameter, which apparently is big enough to cook 365 chickens at once.

I have to be honest, I actually expected something bigger. Considering that this is supposed to be the WORLD'S LARGEST, 15 feet in diameter isn't all that big, I don't think. I'm surprised this hasn't been outdone yet. I guess among other "world's largest" competitions, where the title of "world's largest" frequently changes hands, the title of "World's Largest Frying Pan" isn't very hotly contested. Or, maybe Rose Hill actually has been outdone. The town of Rose Hill doesn't have much else going for it - if the signs leading into town are any indication, they are very, VERY proud of their frying pan - so maybe they just don't want you to know. Whatever the case may be...meh. Not impressed.

Oh, and one more thing: they won't even let you see the damn thing.

Not only is it fenced off, it's covered up! Lame. Thanks for nothing. We were much more impressed with the World's Largest Ball of Twine (Cawker City, Kansas - we were there in March 2008).

They do actually use the pan, though, so they've got that going for them. Better to have a world's largest something that's actually practical, as opposed to something that just sits there. I mean, can you cook 365 chickens at once?

But still...this stop was pretty much a waste of time. As if that should come as any surprise to anyone.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Sports Saturday: 6/5/10

From now on with these Sports Saturday posts, I'll be proving "skip to" links at the top, like so:

MLB: Umpires make mistakes. Get over it.
NHL: The obligatory Stanley Cup Final commentary.
Auto racing: The Indy 500 was really boring.
College baseball: That "other" NCAA tournament starts this weekend.

MLB - For the first time all year, I'm going to talk about something baseball-related, but not Washington Nationals-related. (I'll get to them. Don't worry.) Yes, there are probably 10,000 blog posts already on the internet talking about Wednesday's perfect game that wasn't, when Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galaragga should have had a perfect game, except that umpire Jim Joyce incorrectly ruled that the 27th guy was safe, and so on and so forth. If you follow sports, surely you've heard this discussed ad nauseum since it happened, and I doubt I'm going to provide much of a "fresh perspective" here. But I can't help myself. That, and I figured talking about something that people actually care about (for once) might help my web traffic a little.

So, I think there are two questions at hand here:

Should Bud Selig reverse the bad call and award Galaragga an official "perfect game?" My opinion is, no. What's done is done, umpires make mistakes, and it's time to move on. I've never liked the idea of changing the outcomes of sporting events after they've happened. Even though it could be argued that this is a "special case", I still am not in favor of going back and changing it. Where do you draw the line between something that's worthy of being changed, and something that's not worthy of being changed?

Should Major League Baseball give instant replay a bigger role in the game? My opinion is, again, no. Baseball is already slow enough as it is. Do we really want to make the game even slower?

So, anyway, moving on...Washington Nationals #1 draft pick Stephen Strasburg makes his highly anticipated Major League debut next Tuesday at 7:00p. (Actually, they're playing the Pirates, so...does this really count as his "Major League" debut?) There has been so much hype surrounding Strasburg, his final minor league start was televised live on Versus, and again on tape-delay that evening on four different networks: Versus, MASN, SNY, and CSN Mid-Atlantic. (Yes, three of those are regional networks, but still. This is a minor league baseball game we're talking about.) The hype surrounding this guy is almost reminiscent of the hype surrounding LeBron James coming out of high school. The Nationals could use the help, too, because they haven't been playing all that well as of late.

I think that Strasburg's debut is must-see TV if you're a baseball fan, and I'll definitely be watching. MLB Network will broadcast the game nationally; however, I'm about 95% sure that Raleigh-area Time Warner Cable customers won't be able to watch. The MLB Network broadcast will (I'm pretty sure) be blacked out in Nationals and Pirates home territory because the team's regional broadcasters (MASN and FSN Pittsburgh, respectively) have exclusive broadcast rights within their home territories for this game. And, of course, Time Warner doesn't carry MASN in North Carolina, so...if you live in Raleigh and have Time Warner Cable, you're "SOL" (as they say). You're welcome to come over and watch the game at my place, though.*

(* - Offer only applies if I actually know you. Complete strangers are not welcome.)

Sat 4:00p - Florida at NY Mets, FOX (regional)
Sat 7:00p - Boston at Baltimore, MASN
Sat 7:00p - Cincinnati at Washington, MASN2
Sat 7:00p - Cleveland at Chicago White Sox, WGN America
Sun 1:00p - NY Yankees at Toronto, TBS
Sun 1:30p - Boston at Baltimore, MASN
Sun 1:30p - Cincinnati at Washington, MASN2
Sun 2:00p - Chicago Cubs at Houston, WGN America
Sun 8:00p - Milwaukee at St. Louis, ESPN

NHL - I think the Stanley Cup Final (the NHL prefers the singular "Final" over plural "Finals") has been pretty good so far. We've had a 6-5 game and an overtime game, and television ratings have been good (by NHL standards). So what's the problem?

The problem is, I don't really care who wins, so I'm having a hard time getting into it. I've think I've just grown weary of "popular northeastern US team plays popular midwestern US team for the Stanley Cup", as it's been for the last three years. I realize that neither the Blackhawks nor Flyers have won a Stanley Cup in quite some time, but "Chicago v. Philadelphia" just sounds so generic, doesn't it?

Sun 8:00p - Philadelphia at Chicago (Game 5), NBC

Auto racing - I know I've been doing a lot of complaining so far in this post - it's what I do best! - but I'm not done yet. Did you watch the Indianapolis 500 last Sunday? Hopefully for your sake, you didn't. It was one of the most boring races I have ever seen, and I watch a lot of racing. There was almost no passing to speak of. There may have even been more on-track passing in the Formula One race earlier that day than there was in the Indy 500.

"But Chris! There is NEVER passing in Formula One. How can you like Formula One but not the Indy 500?" Well, even though the cars kind of look the same, the two forms of racing are totally different. I think there is more to appreciate in Formula One: international flavor, technology, team ingenuity, and the road courses. Yes, the racing is boring most of the time, but it's just different. It's hard to explain.

Regardless...I think the Indy 500 is in need of a complete reset. Racing where all the cars are the same an oval that's hard to pass on is boring. I'd rather they make the Indy 500 a stand-alone event - no support series - that's more science-project oriented. A bunch of independent teams from around the country put together what they think is a fast car (within a set of rules, of course), hire a driver from some other series (say, NASCAR), and go at it. I think that would be far more interesting than what this is now, which is just another dumb IndyCar race.

Finally, switching to NASCAR...a couple of quick notes about Kyle Busch. I don't root for the guy, but I can't deny that he makes the sport more interesting. Especially when he doesn't win. When he loses, it makes for great television, doesn't it? His sore loser interviews and how-dare-you-run-me-into-the-wall-Denny-Hamlin tantrums are fun to watch and listen to, aren't they? I guess what I'm saying is, I like watching Kyle Busch lose.

Sat 8:00p - NASCAR Nationwide from Nashville, ESPN2
Sat 8:00p - IndyCar at Texas, Versus
Sun 1:00p - NASCAR Sprint Cup at Pocono, TNT
(TNT is my favorite of the three NASCAR broadcasters, so I'm happy to have them back. No fluff, no nonsense, just racing. Yay!)

College baseball - I haven't watched a single college baseball game all year, but I'd like to at least acknowledge the fact that college baseball's NCAA Tournament starts this weekend. Wooo!

I'll follow the brackets and scores throughout the weekend to see how Florida State and the rest of the ACC do, but I don't plan on actually watching any college baseball games this weekend. My brain can only handle so much sports. Besides, only a handful of the games are on TV anyway:

Sat 12:00p - Coral Gables regional, Game 3, ESPNU
Sat 4:00p - Coral Gables regional, Game 4, ESPNU
Sat 7:00p - Fullerton regional, Game 3, ESPNU
Sat 11:00p - Fullerton regional, Game 4, ESPNU
Sun 12:00p - Coral Gables regional, Game 5, ESPNU
Sun 4:00p - Coral Gables regional, Game 6, ESPNU
Sun 7:00p - Fullerton regional, Game 5, ESPNU
Sun 11:00p - Fullerton regional, Game 6, ESPNU

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The AAA TripTik

Poor AAA. Given the amount of travel information you can get on the internet for free these days, and as popular as GPS navigation is now, there doesn't seem to be much of a place for travel-agent-assisted travel anymore. Same goes for paper maps. Who needs a fold-out map and detailed driving directions when your GPS can do all that for you? Best of all, you don't have to fold up the GPS when you're done!

Yeah, well, I'm a map geek, so I still like my paper maps. Even though we'll have Jill (our GPS) with us on our Alaska trip, and detailed driving directions to go along with it (it's good to have a backup), we'll still have paper maps with us. And, we'll have a AAA TripTik, too.

For those who don't know what a TripTik is, it's a series of maps that a AAA travel agent puts together that diagrams your route from point A to point B. Sections of major routes all over the United States and Canada each have their own "strip map". For example, here's the "strip map" for I-74 between Indianapolis and Bloomington, IL:

The travel agent binds together the strip maps appropriate for your route, in order, so that all you have to do when you're driving is flip to the next map. (Usually the agent will choose the best route, but instead I diagrammed the route we wanted to take for her.) Then, the agent highlights the specific roads on each strip map that you should take and stamps "construction" a bunch of times, and there's your TripTik! In addition to singling out your route, TripTiks also provide other information, such as which interstate exits have gas/food/lodging, detailed mileage information, and narratives about the roads and towns you'll pass through. (For example: did you know that Herbert Hoover was born in West Branch, Iowa? I didn't!) TripTiks are prepared free of charge for AAA members, and, well, they're just cool.

We don't get a TripTik for every long drive we take, though. Only major routes (all interstates and a few U.S. roads, mostly) have their own TripTik strip maps. That means if you're going to take the "scenic route" - as we often do on our vacations - a TripTik won't do you much good. Most of US-50 is not covered by TripTik strip maps, for example. But we'll be taking through roads all the way to Alaska and back, so a TripTik was perfect for this trip. There are a few roads on our itinerary without TripTik coverage, but for the most part, we were covered. The only question was this: can you get a TripTik that goes all the way to Alaska and back, or do they stop at the Canadian border, or maybe in some arbitrary location between here and Alaska (say, Edmonton)? Luckily for us, yes, the Alaska Highway is entirely within the TripTik domain. The only catch is that the entire trip wouldn't fit in one binder, so they had to split up our TripTik into two separate binders.

How often do AAA offices get a request for such a massive TripTik? I have to wonder, because this actually isn't the longest TripTik I've ever had. When I was a kid - I was just as much of a map geek back then - my mom got me a really huge TripTik - also split up into two sections - that went all over the country, just for fun. I don't remember where all it went - I think it went all the way across the country and back, and to Canada, and maybe criss-crossed and doubled back a few times - but I thought it was the coolest thing ever. That TripTik was a little longer than this one. By the way, I found it amusing that they put the total trip mileage and drive time on the cover: 9,368 miles, and 157:31. Aww yeah. That's not even the entire drive, either - it doesn't include the side trip to Skagway, or any other side trips we will make.

I don't know how popular AAA's TripTiks are anymore, or even paper maps in general, but we're happy to have them.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Toledo Trip #12: Recap

Hmm. How do I make another routine trip to see Amber's side of the family in Toledo sound exciting? I can't, really. But I don't have much else to write about today (blog activity will probably be fairly light all week), so I'm going to give it my best shot.

This post goes all over the place, so I'm going to provide some quick links, in case you don't feel like reading the whole thing:
Bob Evans #1: Revisited
Disc golfing in Bowling Green
Giant Eagle
Driving notes, including US-35

Friday, May 28th

I'll save the route discussion for the end. First, I'll talk about where we stopped for dinner: the original Bob Evans restaurant in Rio Grande, Ohio. ... Oh, right, we've been there before, and I've already blogged about it. See why I have such a hard time writing these Toledo trip recaps? Just about everything we do on these trips, we've already done.

But that doesn't mean I don't have anything to say about our second visit to Bob Evans #1. For one, we recently learned from fellow curler and Ohio native (I think?) Brian S. that the city of Rio Grande, Ohio, is pronounced RYE-oh (rhymes with "Ohio"), not REE-oh like the river. As dumb as that is, it's not as dumb as how Bellefontaine, Ohio pronounces its name: "Bell Fountain". If you're going to anglicize the pronounciation, why even bother keeping the French spelling?

Anyway, after our second visit to Bob Evans #1, I don't think we're going back. As I said in November 2007, despite being the original, this particular location isn't anything special. In fact, it might even be worse than your typical Bob Evans. In terms of restaurant serving time, it certainly is worse than average. The all-time Bob Evans average serving time is 13:37; Bob Evans #1's average time in two visits is 19:00. It wasn't just that, though: the waitress messed up various aspects of our order multiple times, and our food was ready for probably 8 minutes before our waitress actually brought it to us. I only gave a 12% tip, and I never leave a tip that low. And, unlike last time, I wasn't overly impressed with the food. Maybe this is where future Bob Evans employees go to train? Either way, we probably won't make another visit to Bob Evans #1. And now that we've finally used all of our Bob Evans gift cards, I don't think we'll be going back to any Bob Evans any time soon. I'm kind of sick of it, to be honest. (I guess what I'm saying is, no more Bob Evans gift cards. Thanks, thanks.)

While service was relatively slow at Bob Evans - 21 minutes isn't bad, but it should have been faster - service was very fast at Scrambler Marie's, a breakfast joint we visited the next morning. At 6 minutes, 33 seconds, Scrambler Marie's is the best of far. Will it last?

Saturday, May 29th

Our basic plan for the weekend was to get the family together on Sunday for a generic Memorial Day cookout. But what do we do on Saturday?

Well, we started by playing disc golf in Bowling Green. The main reason I don't play disc golf much anymore is because I'd rather go bicycling, but I didn't have my bike with me, of course, so...let's go disc golfing!

The Bowling Green course is easy, and - perhaps not coincidentally - it's also one of my favorites. I've played over 100 holes there now.

We then went grocery shopping. (Isn't this an exciting trip???) Normally, when we go shopping in Toledo, we go to Meijer. Meijer is one of my favorites, and I wish we had them in North Carolina. This time, though, we decided to go somewhere new: Giant Eagle. I've seen Giant Eagle before, most prominently in Western Pennsylvania (it's based in the Pittsburgh area), but I've never actually been to one. Now is as good a time as any, right?

Now...I don't know if all Giant Eagle grocery stores are like this one, but the one we went to in Perrysburg, Ohio was very large and really nice. This particular Giant Eagle looked very new, so I'm guessing this one was probably nicer than your average Giant Eagle. Prices? Meh...hard to say. Wasn't really looking at the prices too much. Hard to say what I think about Giant Eagle, really. I think I still like Meijer better. Low Walmart prices without the awful Walmart experience!

One final note about Giant Eagle: according to my brother James (I think?), Pittsburgh residents pronounce it "Giant Iggle".

We also went shopping at a store called "The Andersons" while we were up there, but I'll save that for another day.

Sunday, May 30th

So, while it was nice to see the family again, family cookouts don't make for very good blog material. Besides, I've already blogged about the Horse Balls game, which made another appearance this weekend.

In case you're wondering who won...the girls won. Both times. The Horse Balls game isn't my thing, apparently.

Monday, May 31st

I was a little concerned about holiday traffic, so we left kind of early (7:45 AM). But aside from the occasional thunderstorm, we had no traffic problems whatsoever.

Meanwhile, according to Google Maps traffic and some first-hand accounts, I-40 east of Raleigh was a mess on Monday. I think we can thank returning beach traffic for that. I-95 in South Carolina was bad, too, as was I-95 between Richmond and Washington, and many other roads coming back from the beaches. It appears Memorial Day weekend is a great time to go to Toledo. Everyone else is going to the beach! Only for Thanksgiving and Christmas do people drive en masse to boring places like Ohio.

Finally, there's the question I posed on Friday. Does the new four-lane stretch of US-35 in West Virginia make that route the fastest route to and from Toledo, surpassing the US-33 via Athens route? The answer: almost, but not quite. Before this trip, the difference between the two routes was 6 minutes. Now, the difference is...2 minutes. So close.

US-35 construction isn't done, though, so I'm not giving up this route yet. At the very least, we have a viable alternative route that we can take for variety's sake. But next time we go to Toledo (probably for Christmas), we'll take US-33 via Athens, just like always.

And yes, we are making an equivalent trip to Jacksonville this summer, most likely in mid-August.