Friday, May 31, 2013

Pikes Peak

Of all of Colorado's mountains - and there are a lot of them - Pikes Peak might be the most famous. Why is that?

Is it because it's the highest point in Colorado? Nope. It's actually only the 20th highest mountain in Colorado. And, it isn't even the highest mountain you can drive to the top of. So, that's not it.

Is it marketing? Perhaps...there are a couple of things working in its favor. You can drive up it, which is unusual for a 14,000-foot mountain. They have an annual time trial car race up the mountain. And, the mountain has a fantastically alliterative name. "Pikes Peak" just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?

I honestly think the name has a lot to do with the mountain's fame, but as I learned on our way down there (an hour-plus south of Denver, and just west of Colorado Springs), the mountain is very distinctive. Pretty much as soon as we left Denver, still over an hour from even the start of the Pikes Peak Highway, we could see it, and we already knew what we were looking at.

So while other Colorado mountains have to share the spotlight with That Other Big Mountain Located Right Next To It, Pikes Peak stands alone, for the most part. Let's go drive up it!

We've driven up a mountain or two in our day, so, we know the drill. Stop at a booth and pay some money, start driving, get to the top, take a picture or two of your young daughter next to the altitude marker, drive back down. It hasn't gotten old yet!

Actually, the road was in pretty good shape. The entire thing was paved, and plenty wide. The drive wasn't as hairy as the Mount Washington drive was, even if the dropoffs are a little more dramatic here.

And, the road is plowed! There is still plenty of snow near the top, so, that's important. It may seem silly to keep this road plowed, but I bet it makes financial sense to keep the road open as frequently as possible - maybe not so much in Winter, but definitely in Spring. (The temperature at the top was probably in the 30s when we were there; not all that crazy, really.)

The biggest challenge with this drive was dealing with the altitude. This was (I think) my first time above 14,000 feet, and yeah, I could feel it. I definitely felt a little dizzy and light-headed at the top. I can't remember ever feeling that way strictly because of altitude. I would say how well Marla handled the altitude, but I honestly don't remember. ... Hey, maybe I actually have been above 14,000 feet before, and I just don't remember! The altitude has a way of messing with you.

But, yeah, I don't remember that much from the top, except that it was crowded due to a train having just arrived. But that's okay, because I think the best views are not from the tippy top of the mountain, but along the road. I really like the ones that show the road twisting off in the distance. (Most of these pictures were Amber's, because I handled the driving, and she has a better camera than I do anyway.)

So, yeah. That was fun!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Hiking in Colorado With Marla (Or Not)

The last 18 months of my blog can probably be summarized thusly:
1) We have a daughter named Marla. 2) I like curling.
3) How does having a young child affect a couple's road tripping and recreational activities?

Hey, let's talk more about topic #3! Since we've had Marla, our hiking expeditions have consisted of the following. (This doesn't include anything where strollers were involved, because if strollers are involved, it's not really hiking. That's just walking.)
1) At three months old, a walk up Clingmans Dome with a standard baby carrier.
2) At six months old, a walk up Hanging Rock with a larger baby carrier that we borrowed from someone. (Apparently we like going "up".)
3) At 14 months old, a few hikes in Vermont and New Hampshire with an even larger baby/toddler backpack that we bought on the cheap from Craigslist.
4) At 20 months old (two months ago), a hike in a nearby recreation area, as a test to see if we can still use that baby/toddler backpack.
5) At 22 months old, a hike in Deer Creek Canyon Park in suburban Denver, Colorado.

So, apparently, the age limit for that baby/toddler carrier - at least in Marla's case - falls somewhere between 20 and 22 months. She was pretty uncomfortable, and we called the hike short as a result, and decided that was that for the backpack. Off to the Children's Museum!

It's interesting, because when we see other families with young children along for the ride on these hikes, the kids are always doing fine. Never whiny. Is that just because the only parents who bring their young children on these hikes are the ones with cooperative kids? That makes sense, but how does anyone know until they try it? Surely there is some trial and error involved. For us, every hike is trial and error, because we only do this three or four times a year, and Marla grows and changes so much between each of those.

We could research this a little more and find an effective way to take a two-year-old on a hike, but, meh. We don't hike enough to make it worthwhile, and we won't be going on another "big vacation" until next year, so in the meantime we'll just stick with stollerable trails. And children's museums, of course.

(Disclaimer: If I sound disappointed when I say "Off to the Children's Museum!", that's not my intent. Generally on our trips, when Marla is happy, we're happy, even if we're doing something that Amber and I wouldn't particularly enjoy on our own. The idea behind these trips is, out of the universe of things that Marla will enjoy or tolerate, to find the things that we enjoy the most. I think we do a pretty good job of that, although there is always a healthy amount of trial and error.)

Now...a few words about Deer Creek Canyon Park. For our first morning in Colorado, I figured, "Hey, mountains are mountains! Let's just find the closest mountain trail to our Denver hotel and go there. And, hey, a 'canyon' sounds neat!

View Larger Map

Well...two problems. One: Deer Creek Canyon is barely the mountains, and it's still in the exurbs, pretty much. So, the scenery on your hike will include the occasional house. Not ideal, considering how much of a difference another 30 minutes west would make. Two: when they meant "canyon", did they really mean "mountain pass"? I haven't figured that out. Let's just assume we didn't hike far enough to see an actual canyon.

Despite all that, this still beat the pants off of anything in Raleigh or Durham. Sorry, folks, it's true.

By Colorado standards, this was a below average hike. It's no wonder Coloradans - and by the way, it's "Coloradans", not "Coloradoans" - spend so much time outside.

So, bascially, the moral of the story is this: Deer Creek Canyon - and this is true for pretty much any hike within shouting distance of Denver's 470 beltline - is a great hike if you live in the area, but if you're in the area on vacation, go a little farther into the mountains. Unless you have a toddler and want to keep reasonably close to the city, perhaps, in which case you're probably destined for the Children's Museum anyway.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bicycling Trip in Asia: Part 1

I ride my bicycle a lot. It's good exercise, and so to help motivate me to keep doing that, I track my bicycling distance and plot it on a map, as if I were on a long cross-continent journey. I've been doing this since October 2009, during which time I've "ridden" from my front door to Homer, Alaska (28½ months), and across Australia, Sydney to Perth (14 months). But those trips (4,628.5 and 2,472 miles, respectively) are pretty short in comparison to what's next.

All this is part of a lifelong goal of mine to ride my bicycle "around the world", in a manner of speaking. North America was first, Australia was second; continuing east-to-west, Asia is third. And Asia is a big one. (In fact, it's the biggest!)

Given that the last trip ended in Perth, Australia, I thought it made the most sense to start the Asia trip in Singapore. (I also considered the southern tip of India, but starting in India wouldn't really be "cross-continent".) And starting from Singapore, you could theoretically drive or bike all the way across South Asia to Istanbul and continue into Europe...I think. I'm a little unsure whether there is an actual road between Myanmar and India, and even if there is a road there, it's almost certainly unpaved, and probably in pretty bad shape. But hey, Google Maps says it's there, and that's good enough for me! "Realism" is not the goal here; it would be too difficult to actually simulate a cross-Asia bicycling journey. I would need to borrow Amber's mountain bike for that. (But only for certain sections. Almost all of the route is paved, and some of it is even on Google Street View. The Myanmar-to-India stretch is really the only questionable part.)

Such a journey would also be a logistical nightmare, and probably not all that safe, given that I'll be passing through Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. By the way, even though Pakistan and India share a pretty long border, did you know there is only ONE public port of entry between the two countries? My route actually does pass through that single port of entry, which has to count for something.

Well, anyway, since the Singapore-to-Istanbul journey is so long - at 7,488 miles, it's longer than the Alaska and Australia bicycling trips combined - I'm splitting it into two halves, with the first half ending in New Delhi. At my current pace, I'll get to New Delhi in around two years (May 2015), and Istanbul in another 21 months after that (February 2017). Oh, and once I get to Istanbul, I'm going to keep going across Europe all the way to Gibraltar; that'll take another 16 months (June 2018).

(UPDATE: I made it to New Delhi in January 2015, a full four months ahead of schedule. I've been riding a lot lately.)

LAST UPDATE: 3 Jan 2015 - Part 1 complete

This Google Map shows my progress. Each placemark indicates one week. Blue route = completed route. The routes shown on the map may not be exact, but are close enough for my purposes. (With the new Google Maps, I haven't figured out how to have driving directions appear in different colors, so I'm not showing the remaining route anymore. And, it won't let you customize an embedded map, either, so you'll have to click to zoom in yourself.)

Part 1 statistics:
Total distance: 3,902.0 miles
Started 21 May 2013, completed 3 Jan 2015
Trip length: 592 days (1 year, 7 months, 13 days)
Average weekly distance: 46.1 miles/week

Time spent in each country:
Singapore: 4 days (19 miles, 33 miles/week)
Malaysia: 77 days (510 miles, 46 miles/week)
Thailand: 156 days (920 miles, 41 miles/week)
Myanmar: 129 days (852 miles, 46 miles/week)
India: 226 days (1,602 miles, 50 miles/week)

Weekly trip distances: (does not include 31 Dec 2014 - 3 Jan 2015)
0 miles: 1 week
1 - 9 miles: 0 weeks
10 - 19 miles: 9 weeks
20 - 29 miles: 9 weeks
30 - 39 miles: 7 weeks
40 - 49 miles: 16 weeks
50 - 59 miles: 23 weeks
60 - 69 miles: 15 weeks (up from 2 weeks during the Australia trip)
70 - 79 miles: 2 weeks
80 - 89 miles: 1 week
100+ miles: 1 week (includes my 83-mile ride on 18 Dec 2014)

Trip log
(Only showing country and state lines, and major cities, to make this log shorter)

21 May 2013: Start of trip - Marina South Pier, Singapore
21 May 2013: City - Singapore city center
25 May 2013: Country - Malaysia (State - Johor)
25 May 2013: City - Johor Bahru, Malaysia
11 Jun 2013: State - Malacca, Malaysia
15 Jun 2013: State - Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia
17 Jun 2013: City - Seremban, Malaysia
23 Jun 2013: State - Selangor, Malaysia
27 Jun 2013: National Capital - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
1 Jul 2013: State - Perak, Malaysia
18 Jul 2013: City - Ipoh, Malaysia
27 Jul 2013: State - Kedah, Malaysia
27 Jul 2013: State - Penang, Malaysia
27 Jul 2013: City - Butterworth, Malaysia
29 Jul 2013: State - Kedah, Malaysia
8 Aug 2013: City - Alor Setar, Malaysia
10 Aug 2013: Country - Thailand (Province - Songkhla)
22 Aug 2013: City - Hat Yai, Thailand
24 Aug 2013: Province - Phatthalung, Thailand
5 Sep 2013: Province - Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand
14 Sep 2013: Province - Surat Thani, Thailand
22 Sep 2013: City - Surat Thani, Thailand
28 Sep 2013: Province - Chumphon, Thailand
6 Oct 2013: City - Chumphon, Thailand
19 Oct 2013: Province - Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand
27 Oct 2013: City - Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand
9 Nov 2013: Province - Phetchaburi, Thailand
16 Nov 2013: Province - Ratchaburi, Thailand
16 Nov 2013: Province - Samut Songkhram, Thailand
16 Nov 2013: Province - Samut Sakhon, Thailand
21 Nov 2013: Province - Bangkok, Thailand
23 Nov 2013: National Capital - Bangkok, Thailand
23 Nov 2013: Province - Nonthaburi, Thailand
23 Nov 2013: Province - Pathum Thani, Thailand
1 Dec 2013: Province - Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, Thailand
1 Dec 2013: City - Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, Thailand
5 Dec 2013: Province - Ang Thong, Thailand
7 Dec 2013: Province - Sing Buri, Thailand
7 Dec 2013: Province - Chainat, Thailand
15 Dec 2013: Province - Nakhon Sawan, Thailand
15 Dec 2013: City - Nakhon Sawan, Thailand
19 Dec 2013: Province - Kamphaeng Phet, Thailand
1 Jan 2014: City - Kamphaeng Phet, Thailand
4 Jan 2014: Province - Tak, Thailand
12 Jan 2014: City - Mae Sot, Thailand
13 Jan 2013: Country - Myanmar (State - Kayin)
25 Jan 2014: City - Hpa-An, Myanmar
30 Jan 2014: State - Mon, Myanmar
1 Feb 2014: City - Thaton, Myanmar
9 Feb 2014: Region - Bago, Myanmar
20 Feb 2014: City - Daik-u, Myanmar
1 Mar 2014: City - Taungoo, Myanmar
6 Mar 2014: Region - Mandalay, Myanmar
8 Mar 2014: National Capital - Naypyidaw, Myanmar
24 Mar 2014: City - Meiktila, Myanmar
30 Mar 2014: Halfway point - Singapore to New Delhi
5 Apr 2014: City - Mandalay, Myanmar
5 Apr 2014: Region - Sagaing, Myanmar
12 Apr 2014: City - Shwebo, Myanmar
11 May 2014: City - Kalaymyo, Myanmar
14 May 2014: State - Chin, Myanmar
17 May 2014: Region - Sagaing, Myanmar
22 May 2014: Country - India (State - Manipur)
1 Jun 2014: City - Imphal, India
8 Jun 2014: State - Nagaland, India
16 Jun 2014: City - Dimapur, India
19 Jun 2014: State - Assam, India
4 Jul 2014: City - Nagaon, India
13 Jul 2014: State - Meghalaya, India
13 Jul 2014: State - Assam, India
13 Jul 2014: City - Guwahati, India
25 Jul 2014: City - Bongaigaon, India
2 Aug 2014: State - West Bengal, India
4 Aug 2014: City - Alipurduar, India
16 Aug 2014: City - Siliguri, India
30 Aug 2014: State - Bihar, India
1 Sep 2014: State - West Bengal, India
2 Sep 2014: State - Bihar, India
4 Sep 2014: City - Purnia, India
20 Sep 2014: City - Begusarai, India
7 Oct 2014: City - Patna, India
26 Oct 2014: State - Uttar Pradesh, India
30 Oct 2014: City - Varanasi, India
10 Nov 2014: City - Allahabad, India
29 Nov 2014: City - Kanpur, India
13 Dec 2014: City - Etawah, India
18 Dec 2014: Halfway point - Singapore to Istanbul
18 Dec 2014: City - Agra, India
28 Dec 2014: City - Mathura, India
28 Dec 2014: State - Haryana, India
3 Jan 2015: State - National Capital Territory of Delhi, India
3 Jan 2015: City - New Delhi, India (completed Part 1)

Fake bicycling trip history:
1) Bicycling Trip to Alaska
10/8/09 - 2/21/12, 4,628.5 miles, 37.4 miles/week
2) Bicycling Trip in Australia
2/23/12 - 4/27/13, 2,472.5 miles, 40.3 miles/week
3) Bicycling Trip in Asia, Part 1
5/22/13 - 1/3/15, 3,902.0 miles, 46.1 miles/week
4) Bicycling Trip in Asia, Part 2
1/3/15 - ???, 3,586.0 miles
5) Bicycling Trip in Europe
??? - ???, 2,575.6 miles
6) Bicycling Trip in Africa
??? - ???, ??? miles
7) Bicycling Trip in Latin America
??? - ???, ??? miles

The "Mid-South"

(I'll get to Colorado eventually. Turns out I actually had quite a lot to write about from our one day in Memphis.)

Lots of businesses throughout the Memphis area use the term "Mid-South". As in, "Mid-South Plumbing", the "Mid-South Coliseum", the "Mid-South Ice House" (home to, one would assume, the "Mid-South Curling Club"), or via their slogans, e.g. "Best [whatever] in the Mid-South!"

So, that begs the question...what is the Mid-South? Is it like the "Midwest", which no fewer than 12 states (to varying degrees) claim to be part of? Not even close. From what I can gather, only Memphis claims the term "Mid-South". So, basically, "Mid-South" means "the Memphis metropolitan area". And, in the same way that nobody outside of Northeast Florida ever uses the term "First Coast", nobody outside Memphis ever uses the term "Mid-South".

Why not just call it "Greater Memphis", "Metro Memphis", or something else that wouldn't imply a much larger area than just one city plus its suburbs? Well, I think Memphis just wants to feel like it's in the middle of something. Memphis is kind of its own thing. While nearby Jackson, Tennessee says that it's in "West Tennessee", you don't see the term "West Tennessee" floated around in Memphis. "Jackson? No, we're not like them. We're not West Tennessee. We're Memphis." Memphis may like to think that the "Mid-South" is a large area which they are at the center of - and it's questionable whether Memphis really is in the "middle" of the "South" - but, nope, it's just you guys. You made it up. Sorry.

Memphis isn't alone. This need to be in the "middle" of something big is pretty widespread, and "Mid-South" is only the start. As we drove from Memphis to Wichita, the names of local businesses changed from Mid-South, to Mid-America, to Mid-Continent. Does Middle Earth come next?

But hey, at least they don't call the Memphis area the "Tri-State".

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Pink Palace Museum

Once upon a time, a man named Clarence Saunders revolutionized grocery shopping by founding a self-service grocery store called "Piggly Wiggly". (Used to be, you would give a clerk your list, and he would get the items for you; in Saunders's Piggly Wiggly, you'd get the items yourself, just like in modern grocery stores.) Saunders got rich, and started building a fancy pink mansion in his hometown of Memphis. But, some financial missteps on his part + the Great Depression = Saunders going bankrupt. At that point, his unfinished mansion ended up in the hands of the city of Memphis, who turned it into the "Pink Palace Museum".

Because of the Piggly Wiggly connection, I felt we just had to go here during our stop in Memphis. So, we did!

Let's lead off with the museum's replica of the original Piggly Wiggly, the first self-service grocery store ever.

Two things stuck out to me about the replica: 1) You can't just go up and down aisles as you choose like in today's stores. Instead, it's a one-way path through each aisle. Forget something? Too bad, it's one-way! Don't need anything on aisle 2? Too bad, you're going down aisle 2 anyway! Well, it was a start. 2) A lot of the old-timey grocery items on the shelves had name brands that are still recognizable today, such as Campbell's Soup.

This was one part of the Museum that Marla really enjoyed, walking up and down the aisles (although she didn't always adhere to the "one way" rule) and playing peek-a-boo with whichever parent was waiting for her around the next corner. Marla also enjoyed looking at this model circus, which sadly was under repair: (It looked pretty old.)

The rest of the museum? History and science exhibits. So, standard museum fare, and not particularly Marla-friendly.

To keep up with technology, today's museums really need to trend more towards visual and/or interactive stuff and artifacts that you can see, and away from "information overload" where you're just reading everything. Anything I can read in a museum, I can more easily read on Wikipedia without paying the admission fee. Many science and history museums are keeping up and staying relevant in the "information age". The Pink Palace is doing an okay job of that, but the information-to-physical-stuff ratio was still a little high for today's times, and the "physical stuff" they did have seemed kind of generic. For example, here's what a one-bedroom house might have looked like in the 19th century! Kind of interesting, I guess, but, meh.

(This is where my picture of the 19th century bedroom would go, if I actually took one.)

That said, the most interesting things I saw in the rest of the museum were:

- Anything specific to the history of Memphis, because I didn't know much about that. Sure, I could read a lot of the same information on the internet, but I don't think I was ever going to seek out Wikipedia's "History of Memphis" article.

- The section on the New Madrid Fault. Earthquakes in Missouri and Arkansas? You betcha! I was already kind of familiar with the New Madrid earthquake of 1812, but it's still interesting. (By the way, unlike the name of the Spanish capital, this one is pronounced MAD-rid. Seriously, why do we do this?)

- The museum's statement on evolution. Why does the museum have a section on evolution, and not intelligent design? It's hard to read in the picture, so in short: "This is a science museum. Evolution is science. Intelligent design is not science." BOOM.

Going in, I thought the museum was actually in the Pink Palace, but it was actually in another building built adjacent to the palace. The palace has its own newer exhibits in it, which were less interesting, aside from the fact that they were actually in the original Pink Palace. I also thought more of the palace would be open to visitors, but, nope. They didn't have the second floor open at all.

Now, regarding Piggly Wiggly's presence in Memphis...surely you would think that since this is where the chain was founded, that Piggly Wiggly would still have a presence in Memphis, right? Well, it appears that changed a year or two ago, at which point all Memphis-area Piggly Wiggly stores were converted to "Cash Saver" stores. Neither my Garmin, Google Maps, nor Foursquare have reflected the name change yet, which led to a lot of "looking around town for the Piggly Wiggly that all of my map guidance says is right there at this address, but isn't".

On the other hand - and this is true - our grocery purchase at Cash Saver appeared on my bank statement as "PIGGLY WIGGLY". I guess that'll have to do, but as far as I'm concerned, we did not visit an actual Piggly Wiggly during our stay in Memphis. Only a replica of one.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Memphis Zoo

It's more important than ever to schedule things into our road trips that Marla would at least tolerate, and maybe even enjoy. So, let's go to the zoo!

(So, apparently my phone camera lens is a bit blurry on the left side, and I didn't notice until I looked at my pictures when I got home. Whoops.)

Marla has now been to three zoos - Toledo, Jacksonville, and Memphis. Not the North Carolina Zoo, yet. I guess this is the sort of thing we do when we're out on the road, as opposed to at home, where there are plenty of other things we could do.

One reason the Memphis Zoo stood out, as opposed to the Denver Zoo (which I actually think I've been to before, some 20 years ago), is because they have pandas. Woo! So, let's just get the panda pictures out of the way.

Yeah, they're kind of cute. Can't lie. As I talked about in the panda blog post, the Memphis Zoo's contract with China just ran out, and I haven't been able to find how the contract extension talks are going.

Other than the pandas, it's your typical zoo, although I don't think every zoo we've been to as wolves. Marla wanted to hug them. She also thought they were dogs, probably.

We got a pretty good view of some bears playing by the Marla-proof glass.

Marla was somewhat interested in some of the animals, but even more interested in climbing things. That's her thing.

So, we visited the zoo on a Monday morning. If you think that the zoo is far less crowded on a Monday morning than on a weekend, then you're right! ... Until about 10:30 AM, when all the elementary school kids show up on their field trips and such. By 11:30 (when we left), the place was, well, a zoo. I would suspect that a lot more schools take zoo field trips towards the end of the school year as opposed to the beginning or middle, so if you're going to take your kid to the zoo on a Monday, try, say, November.

So, that was a fun morning. When you're on the road with a kid, and need something to do, you can't go wrong with a zoo.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Memphis BBQ

On our way out to Colorado, we spent one day and two nights in Memphis. I'm going to split up my Memphis recap into four parts, starting with Memphis barbecue.

Barbecue is pretty much the only genre of food in which I feel adventurous, and actively go out of my way to seek out new restaurants. That's because everyone does barbecue differently, but not significantly so, because in the end it's all just meat and sauce. (Hopefully. I don't need your cole slaw, thanks.) Memphis is known for their BBQ, so, let's do this!

First, I asked around before the trip, and also the hotel clerk, where to find the "best barbecue in Memphis". Well...ask five different people, and get five different answers. So, without a whole lot else to go on, we just picked a place that was sort of close to the hotel, called "Central BBQ".

What did I order? The pulled pork, obviously.

I enjoyed my meal very much, as I almost always do. But compared to other barbecue...I'd say it was a little bit spicy for my taste. Not too spicy, and not as spicy as a lot of the North Carolina barbecue I've had, but a little more spicy than what I would consider to be "ideal". The barbecue turkey that Amber ordered, on the other hand...yikes. Very spicy. It wasn't the sauce that was spicy; they spiced up the meat itself. She couldn't eat it.

Of course, that was just one restaurant. Maybe some of the others in Memphis do things slightly differently, and perhaps that's why there is nothing even resembling a consensus regarding what the "best barbecue in town" is. In fact, I'm willing to go so far as to say, there may not even be such a thing as "Memphis style barbecue", like there is "Eastern North Carolina style". Instead, maybe it's just that there are just a lot of good barbecue restaurants in the Memphis area. It's not the Memphis "style" that's supreme, necessarily; there is just an intense amount of local competition, and that is what makes Memphis a barbecue hot spot. Maybe?

Of course, this is all based on my sample size of one, so who knows? Next time I'm in Memphis, I'll try a different barbecue joint, and see if it's similar to Central BBQ, completely different, or somewhere in between. Just one meal isn't enough to give me an idea of what "Memphis barbecue" really is.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Colorado Trip: Recap #1 of Many

We had a great trip to Colorado! It was great to see some old friends for a day or two, to see Jared and Karen get married, and to spend some time in the beautiful state of Colorado while we were at it. I'm going to fill in the details and add pictures later; for now, I'm just going to do a general recap:

Day 1: Durham to Memphis. Throughout the trip, Marla did pretty well in the car, although it must be said that it takes quite a bit of effort to keep her entertained and happy throughout the trip. The Durham-Memphis drive actually ended up being an hour longer than the Durham-Toledo drives we often do, but we did gain an hour on the time zone change, so there.

Day 2: Memphis Zoo and the Pink Palace Museum. Pictures and details coming later, but Marla seemed to really enjoy the zoo, even if she wasn't as interested in the animals as she was climbing things. The museum? Not as much. Despite the Piggly Wiggly connection, even I thought the Pink Palace was a bit "meh".

Days 3 and 4: Memphis to Wichita to Denver. Both shorter driving days than Durham to Memphis. And as well as Marla did behaved in the car all three days, I'm glad Amber and Marla flew back home after the trip, rather than have us subject Marla to another three days of driving.

Day 5: Deer Creek Canyon hike + Children's Museum.: The Deer Creek Canyon hike attempt wasn't a complete fail, but...well, I'll expand on this later. Marla really enjoyed the Children's Museum, though, as we figured she would.

Day 6: Pikes Peak and the Garden of the Gods.: From a "nature-y" standpoint, the highlights of the trip, and both were pretty Marla-friendly, too. I'm really looking forward to blogging about these two places.

Day 7: Jared's wedding day. This is why we came in the first place, after all. Back when we would attend two or three weddings a year, I'd "live tweet" the events and give full recaps of them, but I didn't "live tweet" this one. Not only that, but I realized upon coming home that neither Amber or me took any pictures at all at the wedding or the reception. Whoops! Hopefully some of our friends picked up the slack. But, regardless of our failure at documenting the event, we had a great time at the wedding, and we enjoyed seeing some old Penn Staters again whom we hadn't seen in several years.

Days 8, 9, and 10: The journey home. Sunday morning, I dropped Amber and Marla off at the airport, and then I started driving for a while via a circuitous route specifically designed to visit as many new counties as possible. Amber/Marla arrived back home 8 hours after arriving at the airport, without incident. It took me a wee bit longer than that: including overnight stops, 53½ hours from Denver Int'l Airport to home. Flying doesn't save a whole lot of time, if any, if you're only going two hundred miles...but if you're going two thousand miles, then, well, yes. Although I could have probably done it in 36 hours if I wanted to.

So in a 10-day trip to Colorado, we only spent one and a half days "enjoying nature". That wasn't all that fulfilling, and the fact that I just used up nearly half of my vacation time for the entire year is a little discouraging, but here's the thing:

1) The primary purpose of the trip was, of course, Jared's wedding; anything else we got to do while we were out there was a bonus.

2) Once we had Marla, I didn't think we'd make it out to a place like Colorado again for another ten years, at least. One and a half days in the Rockies is better than zero days!

3) I insisted on taking the six days to drive there and back, because driving is fun. And, I mean, look at all the new counties I visited! (Everything in dark yellow on this map.) If all three of us had flown both ways and taken the same amount of time off, we obviously would have gotten to spend a lot more time in Colorado. Although we wouldn't have necessarily gotten to do a whole lot more nature-y stuff, as I'll expand upon in my next point...

4) When Marla's happy, we're happy...and vice versa. So, that's why we spent the morning of wedding day at a city playground instead of in the woods somewhere, and why we went to a Children's Museum rather than make the four hour round trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, for example. If she's going to sit in the car for hours upon end with us, it's the least we can do. And while the hiking backpack worked out well for us in Vermont/New Hampshire and on a test run two months ago, we think she's since outgrown it, which limited what we could do out there. (That's the biggest reason why the Deer Creek Canyon hike attempt was a partial fail.) It also changes our priorities a little bit. Seeing a happy Marla have fun in a Children's Museum is far more rewarding to us than going on a hike in which Marla isn't particularly happy. And, I can say that Marla and I developed much more of a bond during the trip, to the point where going back and dropping her off at day care for 9+ hours a day is a little sad and weird.

So, in all, it was a great trip, albeit not long enough! And since I've been having more trouble coming up with topics to write about lately, you can look forward to lots and lots of trip recaps.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Colorado Trip: Bye!

Our week-long road trip to Colorado - previewed in some form here, here, and here - starts this Sunday.

This is our "big road trip of the year", and perhaps the only time all year in which I take an entire week straight off from work. We're looking forward to seeing some old friends and some nice scenery while we're at it. So, yay! It should be fun.

I'll post the usual updates/pictures on Twitter along the way. (That is, depending on how good T-Mobile's coverage is in places like Wichita. You may not hear a whole lot from me on the Wichita-to-Denver day.)

See you later!

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Co-ed Kickball: Season 7 Recap

So...let me lead off with this: kickball is fun. I've enjoyed it, because it's a) social (at least within our own team), b) good exercise, and c) at least somewhat competitive. (Those are the three reasons I play, roughly in that order.) I've been playing for the last three and a half years now, and it's been great.

That said, our latest kickball season kind of ended with a whimper, to the point where, I think now may be a good time to hang it up, or at least take a break. To summarize the last four weeks of the season: (We normally play Mondays and Wednesdays, which is why those specific dates are listed.)

April 15: I missed the game to attend this; we lost.
April 17: No game scheduled.
April 22: Our scheduled opponent forfeits ahead of time, we win.
April 24: We lose 9-0 in the regular season finale, but still get the #2 seed. (We had no shot at the #1 seed.)
April 29: No game scheduled.
May 1: We lose the league semifinal by forfeit, because we all thought the game was at 8 PM, when in fact it was at 7 PM.
May 6: 3rd place game delayed by rain.
May 8: We win the 3rd place game by forfeit because the other team didn't show up.

Basically, out of our last five nights in which we were scheduled to have a kickball game, we only actually played...once. Forfeits near the end of these seasons are nothing new - sometimes, teams basically just quit. But I've been doing this long enough now, I'm starting to think that, well, it's been a good run. It was fun and different, I figured out how to game the system with bunts and curvy pitching, and eventually we got really good and even won the league championship once. But now I'm kind of getting bored with it. And yeah, when you adjust your entire weekday schedule around kickball, only to end up not playing anyway...that's kind of a letdown. I only actually played in 6 games all season, which doesn't really seem worth the trouble. It would have been nice to get a couple more games in. And, there was that fight between two of the other teams - that was a big turnoff, even if we weren't involved in it.

"Whatever, Chris - don't go all Brett Favre on us. You'll be back. In another three months, you'll be excited about kickball again. Besides, there may not even be curling in the Fall, so if you sit out kickball, then you may not have either kickball OR curling this Fall. Then what?" Well, then I'll get a few extra nights at home with the family. Hooray! Besides, before we know it, it'll be time to transition away from "weekly activities for us" and towards "weekly activities for our kids". Because a few years from now, it'll be all about the proverbial "picking up our kids from soccer practice".

But to fill the social/exercise/competitive void - and with some of our friends, if not for kickball, we'd only see them once every couple of months, if that - maybe we should switch to the softball league or something. Softball (theoretically) has more interest than kickball, and hopefully fewer forfeits.

"But Chris! You suck at softball." Yep. It's true. I can run fast, bunt a kickball with precision (most of the time), and pitch a kickball effectively. But only the running part carries over to softball. I have very weak arms, which means swinging a bat and throwing a ball - or, most of what makes you a good softball player - are not my strong suits. Can I throw a ball with accuracy? No. Can I throw a ball with strength? Definitely no. or accuracy? No, and no. Can I hit a ball to the outfield? Sometimes, if you count "a few feet past where the infield stops" as the outfield. (Seriously, I did a "home run derby" one time in college, and a few feet past the outfield was my best hit.)

None of that mattered with kickball. Kickball allowed me to capitalize on what physical abilities I do have. It was great! But, everything must come to an end eventually. This may not be the end, but I doubt I'll play next Fall. (If the Knightdale league even still keeps going, that is.)

Well, if this is the end, then that makes these my career-ending statistics:

Career batting (62 games): 166 H in 237 AB (.700), 9 RBI, 61 R, 9 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 3 BB, 0 K
Career pitching (60 starts): 25-33-2 record, 4.99 ERA (273 ER in 492.2 IP), 54 K, 28 BB (17 IBB)

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Seafood Restaurants

I probably go to a seafood restaurant, maybe, once a year. Seafood isn't my favorite, but I'll eat it, and it's a nice change of pace every once in a while. I almost always order the fried shrimp.

So, I think I can separate seafood restaurants from one of three categories. From "best" to "worst":

Independent restaurants located near the water. These types of seafood restaurants have a unique look to them. They all look old (probably because they are), have similar decorations, a similar smell (it is seafood, after all), and if the building is planned well, have a nice view of the water. Because if you're a seafood restaurant near the water, I mean, you have got to flaunt that. That is part of the experience!

There's something about being near the ocean, or near a large lake, that makes people want to eat seafood, even if the food is actually coming from thousands of miles away. Sure, they might feature local specialties (e.g. lobster in New England, perch in northern Ohio), but I imagine most of the menu at a seafood restaurant did not come from right outside the window, no matter where you are. I think it's all about the experience more than anything else. Seafood just seems better when you're near an ocean/lake, regardless of where the food is actually coming from.

Independent restaurants not located near the water. I'm not a seafood connoisseur, but my guess is that the quality of the seafood at a restaurant within 10 miles of the ocean isn't that much different than the quality of the seafood at a restaurant in, say, Tallahassee. (I do remember Tallahassee having several seafood restaurants, despite being a good 40 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. And I think they were quite good. Not that I would know, just from having the fried shrimp or whatever.)

And, finally, there's Red Lobster. The Wal-Mart of seafood restaurants. Now...I like Olive Garden, but I know a few people who despite it because it's not "real Italian". It's made-for-mass-American-consumption Italian. Do seafood lovers feel the same way about Red Lobster?

Seafood lover: "Let's get seafood!"
His friend: "Okay, let's go to Red Lobster!"
Seafood lover: "@#$% YOU!!!"

I ranked Red Lobster as "worst", but I don't have anything against them, really. When there is no local seafood option, the "big box" option, Red Lobster, is fine. And I think Red Lobster knows better than to compete with local seafood. Or, maybe they tried once, and inevitably failed. Because when you're near the water, you want local seafood...or at least the illusion of it.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Beach-ish Trip

We leave for Colorado this coming Sunday, but first, some of our friends invited us out to their beach-ish house for the weekend. By "beach-ish", I mean it's not on the beach, or even within walking distance of the beach. But it is on the water, at least, and within a short drive of what I would consider to be "the beach":

This sort of "get a bunch of friends together in a beach house and party all weekend" type of thing isn't something we normally do. In fact, I think the closest thing I've ever done to it is a Spring Break week-long skiing trip ten years ago. But given that we're all getting older, and that some of us have kids, now, it wasn't really a "party" as much as it was just hanging out in a different location than usual. I think Marla appreciated the change in venue, too. All kinds of new cabinets to get into!

This had been on the calendar since January. Everyone is busy, so this is the kind of thing that needed to be scheduled at least three months in advance. Pretty much anything on a weekend involving more than four people needs to be scheduled three months in advance in order to guarantee full participation.

The original plan was to actually go to Topsail Beach (maybe a 15 minute drive from the house?) while we were out there, but that never happened. The weather was cloudy and cool, and that may have had something to do with it. But mostly, when you have three children all Marla's age or younger together, it's tough for everyone to get up and go do something all at the same time. Every baby is on a different sleep schedule (if they're on a schedule at all), so coordination among multiple babies is difficult. We run into this when we get invited out to dinner, because our usual dinner time is much earlier than everyone else's (5:00 instead of 7 or 8). Either way, we'll hit the beach when we go to Jacksonville this summer. (That's Jacksonville, Florida, of course; I say that only because the beach-ish house is near Jacksonville, NC.)

Well, anyway, we had a great time! And Marla can still handle the road trip thing reasonably well, which is good, because we have 1,800 miles in four days ahead of us next week.

Just for documentation purposes, here are the routes we took to get there and back, including a previously untraveled segment of US-258. With any luck, US-258 won't require its own trip in order for me to finish it. (Only 31 miles left to go in the state!) Also, this trip gave Marla six new counties, giving her a total of 64 out of 100 in North Carolina.

View Larger Map

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Food Package Recipes

Whether it be a box of crackers, cereal, this bag of shredded cheese, or something else entirely, occasionally the packaging for a food product will feature a recipe for some random food dish featuring the food contained within.

Does anyone ever actually use these recipes? I'm just curious. I never have, because I don't really cook. Amber probably hasn't either, because there are a million other places, and almost certainly better places, to get recipes. For instance, I've never heard the following exchange:

"This is great! Where did you find the recipe?"
"On the back of a box of Cheez-Its!"

I guess someone who a) likes to cook, and b) has a lot of spare time, might try some of these things. It might be kind of fun to see how these cereal box recipes turn out. But, that's not us.