Friday, December 27, 2013

We had Henry pretty pumped on Christmas Eve for Santa. Who's coming tonight? "Santa." How is he getting here? "Reindeer!"

After presenting Henry with the dish of cookies, he gingerly walked them over to the television stand. Becky took the milk over in tow. Once situated safely on the stand Henry declared that the reindeer needed an orange, and quickly went running for the fridge. Soon an orange was brought to the party and all was well. We explained that for Santa to come, good little boys needed to now head for bed. With Santa and his reindeer rationed up, Henry proudly marched upstairs holding his rag, eager to read a few stories before hitting the sack.

Unlike previous years, Henry tore through any and all wrapping paper quite easily. The only hiccup we kept hitting was a need to crack open the toy at hand rather than unwrap everything first. With mommy and daddy's steady hand, the gifts were unwrapped steadily and the trucks were the immediate hit. Within an hour the train set was in heavy use and the workbench was getting pounded on. Home runs at every corner.

Henry seemed to really enjoy all the evidence of Santa's visit.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The annual cookie marathon occurred just before Christmas and unlike years past, it happened on a Saturday rather than a Friday. With a Saturday the baking can begin around lunchtime leaving the evening for decorating the cookies. Having an entire day greatly cuts down on decorating fatigue (in the past there have been quite a few plain, single color cookies as the operation struggled to find the finish line). In this case everyone had enough spring in their step to give it a 100% through those final moments. The team played like champions.

During the first part of the day I watched Henry very closely as his curiosity was not to be trusted with an oven opening every 12 minutes for a few more trays to zip in and out. After naptime the oven sat cool and he safely cruised around the first floor, finding himself entertained and tickled by all the bakers. As the chatter and work drifted into the night, supervision decreased.

Henry is free to open the fridge at anytime to get his milk, and he safely does. The door opening is not a cause for concern, especially in a busy room. However, after a few minutes some chocolate was detected on his lips and after a short investigation, the evidence was quite clear.

We do make a priority of good nutrition around here, but on cookie day it's like herding cats, so we let it go a bit. The culprit below just worked so hard you have to applaud his tenacity. If he carries this vigor into his schoolwork, it will be easy sailing.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The holiday spirit is in full swing here. Henry and I stomped around the deck on Sunday, shoveled off a foot of new powder, and finally hung some icicle lights. I started a nail every so often, wound the wires around it, and then stepped back to check on my helper. He was very interested in using the broom rather than the shovel, mostly because the shovel is a bit cumbersome for his gloved hands. When they were all hung as best could be, I held up the supervisor and he tapped each nail a few times with my hammer (he refused to use his plastic hammer -- he knows the real stuff when he sees it). We experimented with the blinking frequencies on the lights and decided to just have them on and simply avoid the seizure inducing settings.

It's all about songs lately. "Daddy, sing 'Who wouldn't know." "Sing 'Jingle Bells." I always comply. I usually know the refrains just fine, but the verses are tough. What I forget, I just make up and keep going. Henry seems to enjoy it, but more importantly he obviously recognizes my little tricks. "Daddy, sing about "Jeep/Snowplow/Dump Truck/etc." Over and over again the requests come, and each time Daddy's song is different, even if the vehicle is the same.

IMG_3466 (Large)

The floor in the master bath is getting the boot and like all projects, Hank is involved. He gathered his toolbox, hard hat, carhartt's, and came on up. I gave him a dull scraper and off he went. His enthusiasm lasted about 15 minutes, but for that quarter hour, he was a machine.

IMG_3484 (Large)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

For some reason December 7th was stuck in my mind as St Nick's day, but thanks to a few posts on facebook, we were quickly reminded that it was the 6th. St Nick already had his presents prepared so we were not taken aback. We told Henry how he had to leave his boots out for St Nick and he quickly complied, placing them on the steps so St Nick wouldn't be able to miss them. Henry is enjoying (read: occasionally breaking) the Christmas decorations around our home and is definitely getting a sense of the season. He is able to clearly say Santa and if his excitement for St Nick was any evidence, he's going to be pretty pumped for Christmas Eve.

IMG_3433 (Large)

Henry and I sat down to build a small toolbox (thanks, Home Depot). He really seemed to enjoy the sanding and hammering portions, though in the end he only wanted to find a way to use his drill. Life is always exciting when you begin a project with the sentence "Go get your tools!"

IMG_3450 (Large)

Monday, December 2, 2013

Last year's visit with Santa was an experiment in terror, so we crossed our fingers and let bygones be bygones. That was 17 month old Henry. We're now living in the age of 29 month old Hank.

We prepped him in the days leading up, "Santa is coming soon! What are you going to ask him for?"

The answers were clear -- "Presents" and "Delimber." A succinct desire.

IMG_3392 (Large)

Aside from talking up Santa, we knew props would be necessary. If you look closely in the picture you'll see that Henry is not about to let go of those trucks. It all worked out very well. Santa talked with him a bit and asked him several times what he would like for Christmas. Henry sat politely and happily, but would not offer a single word. A few smirks, no tears, so off we went to the museum.

The museum is always fun, but it seemed an especially wise choice on a day that started at -11. It may have warmed up to 0 by the time Henry was running around the exhibits, which only confirmed that we had a good Saturday plan.

IMG_3400 (Large)

Thanksgiving was a great time as always. Henry and Bella played very well with each other and there was way too much delicious food. Life is pretty good.

IMG_3370 (Large)

Monday, November 18, 2013

The snow is here as are the nights below zero and Henry loves it as long as the sled is part of the equation. And if dump truck and excavator are in the mix, well that is always a cause for happiness. I'd like it if we could get another snow dump or two to get the nordic ski trails ready to go. We are making ice every day, so the hockey skates will be in motion within a week.

On Saturday the sun had long set and the temps plunged quickly into the low teens, yet Henry only wanted to keep sledding down the hill at Baxter elementary. As chilly as that was, the truth is that he was geared up just fine. The cheeks never became fullly blown red and the smiles continued, so we kept sledding away. I did wisely text ahead to Becky for some hot (eh, more so warm) chocolate for the big guy.  After an hour at 12 degrees he happily chugged down his treat.

IMG_3264 (Large)

Monday, November 11, 2013

We all piled in the 4Runner for a Sunday field trip to Costco. Henry's buckles were snapped in and Becky turned the key.

Groan, click, click, click.

We sighed. "Try it again."

Click, click, click. "Well, time for a new battery."

The day before it started but needed to crank really hard. The battery is 12 years old, so we quickly decided to buy a new one. The field trip rolled back into the house and Henry ran for the fridge, opened it, grab something, and shut the door. Very quickly he walked to where I stood and placed a package of AAA batteries in front of me. Problem solved.

When I returned with a new battery I was told that all of the cars had been placed uniformly on the kitchen floor. When Becky asked what was happening to the cars she was given a simple answer. "Car needs a battery."

IMG_3244 (Large)

Friday, November 8, 2013

IMG_3185 (Large) 

Sometimes you see the wheels spinning clearly in Henry's eyes and for a brief moment you know precisely the assumptions and choices that led him to his present conclusion. If you blink you'll miss your chance and the revealing moment will scurry back into the ether (like Bigfoot into the deep woods). I cherish these moments when I catch them.

Whenever Henry sprouts a new 1/4 inch in height, he drifts around and tries to touch everything he couldn't the week before. Call it doing rounds. He's still unable to flick on our gas fireplace, but is close enough to call my attention to the switch. He stretched his arm up as much as he could and showed deep desire in his eyes.

"That switch isn't safe. We can't turn the fire on." I waved my hands in a "no" sign.

He processes it for a few moments, then almost turned white.

"The fire isn't safe."

He seriously looked around the room and keyed in on the baseboards. He then began slowly touching the baseboards, looking up at the switch, meeting my eyes, and then repeated himself -- all with deep intensity.

The conclusion was clear -- that switch made fire shoot out of our baseboards. If he wants to believe that and stay away from the switch, I think that's great.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Now that the dust has settled on Halloween we can confirm that Henry collected a ton of candy thanks to two Trunk-or-Treats and a single lap through a Chugiak subdivision.

The odd thing is that we had zero visitors at our home. Knowing we would be away, we turned on the porch light and placed a basket of candy on the salt bucket, clear and obvious. Because I'm wired up this way, I counted 15 kit-kats to lay on top of the plethora of suckers. There was plenty of candy for all visitors, but knowing how many kit-kats were in play would allow us to reverse engineer the happenings. All 15 remained. What a dud. I can't think they pushed them aside to get at the suckers.

IMG_3213 (Large)

After many years unscathed in the hands of cousins Cody and Nick, Henry has become the one to defeat the forklift. To be clear, lately it has been declared a Feller Buncher and has spent its time lifting and cutting plastic trees. Maybe those trees were just too big (probably redwoods).


Friday, November 1, 2013

I hadn't anticipated putting on a few bits of a costume, but my foreman below seemed to encourage it. (Also, it seemed wise given the dark streets in Chugiak). Whether Henry was Bob the Builder, a regular construction guy, or Uncle Randy, the important fact is that he was on the job and ready to drive a Feller Buncher.

Off we walked holding Henry's hands, his bag, and wearing a few blinking lights. Thanks to the warmer (38 degrees) weather this year and Henry's longer legs, we added a few more homes and cul-de-sacs to our route. He was up for all of it and his "trick or treat" and "thankyou" only grew in volume and confidence as the night wore on. We only assisted in carrying him up some staircases (to speed things up) and politely pulling his hand away as he began to grab for repeat handfuls. He was in a groove.


Unlike times past, he's Randy's buddy all day long.


Monday, October 28, 2013

We headed off to St Elizabeth's Trunk or Treat on Friday night not knowing completely what to expect. We had a sense of the concept, but were not sure what to make of the requirement to decorate your vehicle. We were unsure if this meant you could only participate if you decorated your car, which made us wonder if we would be out of place with our plain 4Runner. So, we brought candy anyway in case our trunk ended up being in the mix. It all ended up being too much thinking about a simple thing. 90% of the vehicles merely brought kids to the party, while a minority tricked out their trunks and handed out candy. We happily walked Henry through the circuit in the lot where he whispered "Trick or Treat" and "Thankyou" to each person.

IMG_3169 (Large)

Even better, he happily kept his costume on with zero fidgeting. People waved at "Bob the Builder" all night long, but I must confess that we only intended Henry to be a construction worker. He wore work boots, Carhartts, a helmet, and sported a hammer and a mustache. We often reminded him that he was "on the job."

We met up with Casey and spent a little time walking around the Halloween party. We even took another pass through the Trunk or Treat parking lot with Casey (no, we didn't double dip). The party inside was filled with kids of all ages, though it seemed that 3rd and 4th graders were the majority. I did enjoy a table littered with scary stories the 4th grade class had written for any one's perusal -- lots of "Haunted Castles" and "Spooky Graveyards". My favorite was "The Zombie in the Dark" -- I love that the zombie had to be in the dark to get it done. Great people, great event, and fun stories.

IMG_3177 (Large)

Come Saturday afternoon I needed my construction helper to fix the cabinet under the sink, so Henry was dispatched to find his tools and help Daddy. We know he never misses a chance to use his drill. After a few laps through the living room a deep sadness crept across his face, followed by a trembling lip, and a growing wail. It was a deeper sadness that the usual terrible twos occurrences we usually find ourselves in.

Becky identified it immediately."Oh no! We'll find your drill!" And it was soon found. The poor guy was facing a future without a drill to help Daddy. Close call.

The one thing to be sure of was that he would be digging in immediately, as you can see in the video below. The only question that remains is if properly bonded workmen are allowed to report for jobs without any pants.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The odd weather continues and our daytime temps remain in the 40s, so we keep heading back to the playground with Casey as often as possible. Our bodies are shifting to winter as the crock pot is on more often and Henry is enjoying more indoor activities (like the musical instruments now in the rotation). Henry always loves the drums shown in the above video, though much of the time they are declared "alternators" and inserted underneath the big plastic fire truck. Hank is always on the job when it comes to fixing trucks.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Nothing lasts forever, especially alternators. On the drive home Monday my battery light kicked on and after some multimeter tests the diagnosis was final. Hank and I hit Auto Zone for a rebuilt alternator and we planned for Randy to come by and help within the next few days.

Randy arrived, headed to the bathroom to change into some work clothes, and left standing his orange bucket filled with sockets, pry bar, and a light. Henry was excited in a 100 different ways so I decided to give him a clean socket wrench for him to click away. Daylight was burning so off we hurried. Henry was told to stay inside, finish his dinner, and wave goodbye to the guys that were going to fix Daddy's truck.

Becky reported that he made it halfway through dinner before running around the living room, collecting up his plastic hammer and drill, and heading for the door. Soon Randy and I were welcomed by the curious foreman. Henry spent some time staring at us, the dusty engine, and our filthy hands.

It all worked out and after a jump the engine roared while the multimeter read thumbs up. Randy and I did not speak it out loud at the time out of fear of invoking a curse, but it was way too easy -- 40 minutes with the jump.

IMG_3158 (Large)

It's all sled dogs, butterflies, crackers and fruit chewies up here.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

I really wonder what zips through Henry's mind all night long. What makes him bolt out of bed upon waking up and declare that he needs his boots? Once he made it downstairs he dragged them out immediately, ignoring the usual milk and breakfast. Hunger can wait. Boots cannot.


One theory I have heard is that aside from the needing to let their bodies grow and recover, toddlers need lots of sleep to develop their brains. Adults have their routines and experiences programmed deeply in. For example, we do not even think about how to handle our morning commute. Toddlers are still building those grooves and need a long night of dreams to relive the day and parse through the experiences and memories. They're filling up their changing brains.

I have no clue how accurate that is, but it doesn't sound too bananas. And it doesn't sound like there is any harm in believing it.

I have noticed that like my 5 cd changer, I can occasionally program his dreams to a degree. On Friday nights I often tell Henry upon bedtime that tomorrow morning he'll see Maggie at Saturdays with Daddy, so he needs to get a good night of sleep. It's not odd to hear him stirring to life on the monitor at 8am uttering, "Maggie. Maggie."

This is all very charming, but where the boots come from is beyond me. I know that a smiling Henry is never more than 1 or 2 random sentences away from graders, excavators, or trains. The guy loves the construction site more than anything else, so my money is that he anticipates hitting the job site as soon as he wakes. I'll try to remember this zeal in 15 years when he's sleeping till noon at every opportunity.

Friday, October 11, 2013

IMG_3143 (Large)

"Do again. Throw up in air."

Henry's sentences are getting longer, more specific, and even more demanding. Thankfully the game of chucking the toddler into the sky is easier on my back than running around with monkeybear. The problem with the new game as you can see is that Henry loves kicking his legs at the height of his toss. I have to navigate the scissors as they tumble towards my face. So far I've been nimble enough.


It's getting chillier each day, but the snow on the mountains is unable to accumulate thanks to the rainy days. With a little luck we'll get the bike trailer out in the next week or two for some final trips. It's just been hard to dodge the rain showers here and there.

Henry's costume is largely ready; a tribute to his first love these days -- construction worker. We already have the carhartts, plastic hammer, fake mustache makeup, and boots. After buying a yellow helmet, we only need to perform some modifications on my freebie hunting vest to create a vest for our excavator driver. As long as the weather holds up, we have a chance at actually walking around in a visible costume, rather than one under 2 layers of clothing.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Our brief snowfall came and went in a blink and the regular Alaskan fall of crisp mornings and yellowing leaves is back in full force. Almost all of the leaves are now on the ground and the snow on the mountains is leaking down a bit more every few days. The days have been more dry than wet so we've found ourselves at the playground a fair amount. Henry's windbreaker has been mothballed and he now hears "Go get your barn jacket" when it's time to head out.

When people say toddlers have a challenged attention span, they clearly have not made caramel apples. Henry tuned out the world and intensely unwrapped each piece of candy before dropping them into the saucepan. He wasn't as interested in the caramel dipping process, which was fine by the two safety minded parents. As an even better bonus, his love of apples has renewed. He gobbles up granny smiths as quickly as I can slice them up.

IMG_3134 (Large)

Last week we checked out the middle school cross country championships at Kincaid park to watch Hailey give it her best. The pack of 8th grade girls huddled up at the starting line, high-fived each other, rubbed their hands up and down their chilly arms, and took off at the sound of the gun. I placed Henry on my shoulders and while be did enjoy it for a few moments, he quickly became wiggly. He usually runs his fingers through my hair and checks for ticks, but this time he sprinted directly for my glasses. Fair enough, down you go.

IMG_3119 (Large)

Hailey finished with a strong kick and a very red face. Volleyball practice is calling her name next week, and Henry can't wait to get the sled out for October's inevitable snow.

IMG_3128 (Large)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

While the people in charge of measuring things up here assert that there has not been a measurable snowfall yet, Henry knows they are bald faced liars. I pedaled off to work at 6:30 am in the 33 degree sleet wondering if we would make that little turn towards snow. I assumed not given that the temperatures would only rise from that moment on.

IMG_3099 (Large)

I was very wrong. My ride to work was in the sleet, but soon after settling into my cubicle I noticed the snow beginning outside. Becky followed quickly with a text and a snapshot of the snow accumulating on our garage. Henry was pumped and soon had his barn jacket on for a short survey mission (his hat and gloves were buried away).

It would all melt by the afternoon, but the message was clear -- party is over. It's Alaska and even if the leaves are still tenuously hanging on those limbs, it will snow if it feels like it. It wouldn't be the first winter that found our leaves accumulating on a 4 inch base of snow.

IMG_3095 (Large)

MonkeyBear lives!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Randy and I headed up the Yentna river in hopes of harvesting a moose while Becky and Henry remained in Anchorage. All enjoyed the beautiful blue skies and break in the rain across Southcentral Alaska. Our hunt had moderate bugs, beautiful weather, a wolf, but sadly no moose. We knew that an un-scouted 36 hour hunt does not have a phenomenal success rate, but we also know that there are plenty of moose in that region. It was not to be, but a few nights under the stars are never a bad idea.

IMG_3049 (Large)

Becky, Henry, and Lesley headed to Kincaid Park, one of the larger parks in Anchorage. Aside from a fun walk on a beautiful day, they found the legal bull I had been hoping to encounter.

IMG_3036 (Large)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Thanks to some perfect timing and Alaska Airlines miles, Becky headed off for 4 days in San Jose with her high school friend Robin. Henry and I received plenty of texts and a few calls that proved they were having an excellent time. Aside from some traffic annoyances, they enjoyed Alcatraz, San Francisco, and all the sunshine in between.

IMG_2766 (Large)

Henry and I did out best to get outside when the rain abated, enjoyed Saturdays with Daddy as always, and assembled elaborate train configurations over and over again. We survived just fine without Mommy, but it was certainly great to pick her up at the airport on Sunday.


Full set of pictures here.

Monday, September 9, 2013

"Do again." That is the phrase that pays around here.

If we wrestle a bit, generate some giggles, read a good book, play MonkeyBear, or just run around the room in a certain way that brings smiles, Henry will ask to do it immediately again.

It can run a little thin at times, but the truth is that it only happens when we stumble onto moments of complete joy. I visualize it as a record needle sticking in a groove, slowly etching a memory. It may be an opportunity to chuckle and hopefully recreate a fun moment Henry will store deep into his long term memory, but at the very least it brings laughs.


Becky held Henry as I measured, drilled, and mounted his new coat rack. Once the job was finished I smiled and instructed, "Go get your drill!" Becky followed, "Daddy needs your help!"

He enjoyed moving the stud finder all over the wall, but using his drill was beyond exciting. As the days tick by since helping Daddy, we witness the memory growing and burrowing. At random moments and upon waking from naps we hear, "Help Daddy drill."

IMG_3010 (Large)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

There is no shortage to the silliness and fun around our home, but recently we discovered a game for the ages -- MonkeyBear. It all starts with the train set being dumped onto the floor from its plastic bin. After a long while of enjoying the train, Henry will realize that the plastic bin sits empty and unused. He will soon grab my hand, smile, and utter, "Monkey Bear."

My job is to find the plush monkey and bear, place them in the plastic tub, help a giggling Henry into the tub, and then cover the whole operation with a fleece blanket. Henry then sits down before yelping and laughing for me to begin. I then become a stevedore, carrying Henry around the room in random directions, moving the tub up and down quickly, and swinging the tub erratically from side to side, all of which ends in some unique place. Henry then tears off the blanket, gathers his bearings, and quickly plops back down. This cycle repeats as long as Daddy's back can handle it, though the joyous cries of "Monkey Bear!" from below the blanket could handle it for hours.

IMG_2663 (Large)

Monday, August 26, 2013

The weather forecast for Sunday's trip to the state fair was excellent -- a welcome end to our seemingly endless week of rain. We rightly anticipated a packed crowd there, which was no worry due to our standard nap schedule dictating a plan that hinged on getting there right when it opened. We arrived when the gates opened, cruised right past the folks that did not purchase tickets beforehand, and found ourselves hiking through a half full thoroughfare. Henry usually naps at 1pm, so we planned on enjoying the fair from 10 - 1 before snoozing out in car seat on the drive back to Anchorage. Three hours is a decent bite to take out of the fun for Henry, though we secretly hoped that the excitement would get him pumped enough to tack on a little extra time.

IMG_2671 (Large)

Rather that take the easy route and bring the stroller, we loaded up him in the backpack and gave Henry a bird's eye view. Therein was the home run. He loved pointing at the spinning rides, ferris wheel, and booming horn of the Alaskan train as it clanked into the station hourly. After a quick sweep of the food, Hank walked for an hour or so while tearing through the petting zoo, tractor exhibit, construction equipment, and APD car. The only moment where his joy abated occurred when the sheep in the petting zoo bleated towards him, sending him gripping my pants for dear life.

IMG_2695 (Large)

By 12:30 Henry was still full of energy so we decided to execute our overtime strategy -- the 1pm Lumberjack Show. We've seen the show a few times over the years and the jokes and events remain unchanged, which is part of the fun. The lumberjacks are all announced along with their Wisconsin hometowns (Hayward), and their accents bring a definite joy to the event. By 1:45 we were back in the car, whereupon Henry grabbed his rag and promptly hit the snooze button, never having fussed in the slightest at the fair.

As we drove north the inbound traffic was backed up for close to 5 miles just to get in the parking lot. We had timed it all perfectly.

All State Fair photos here.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The state fair is a week away which means it's raining nonstop. Folks even refer to August spells of rain as "Fair Weather." After a beautiful and dry summer, the party is over. Not to worry, as we have trains on top of trains to dig into. They really never get old.

IMG_2646 (Large)

I was able to squeeze in an overnight trip into the Chugach State Park last Saturday and it was a bit soggy in the end, though a sunny Saturday made it all worthwhile. The snow will be here sooner than we expect, so a little rain is fine.

IMG_4090 (Large)

After a very busy summer, our household is just as quiet as could be. No complaints about that. We're happy to just enjoy our trucks, trains, and cars.

IMG_2651 (Large)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Here is one final tidbit from our Wisconsin visit back in late June, courtesy of the Waushara Argus.

I'd like to believe they published the photo because Henry is cute, or just because we are visiting from very far away. The true reason is because they knew we'd end up buying 6+ copies of the Argus to spread around and enjoy. Well played.


Friday, August 9, 2013

Henry just turned 2, which means we have yet to experience a full bore, out of a cannon Christmas morning. He loves toys, has a mild desire to tear apart wrapping paper, and while he loves certain items, he has yet to solder his love to a specific toy. He drifts around and has favorites for weeks at a crack, but they are mild affairs.

That may have all changed. Our new neighbor kindly gave us a very age appropriate fisher price train set that her grandson had aged out of. Specifically, it's an enormous tub filled with tracks, cars, trucks, and about a half dozen structures. If you were anywhere within a 1/4 mile of our townhouse this week during dinner time, you would have called child services upon hearing the howls. It was pure child abuse that we made him leave the train for 30 minutes and stare at a dinner plate through his tears. Thankfully the horror has abated and we now are able to eat, secure in the knowledge that the train abides -- the good times will resume.

We have not even attempted to replace the batteries and give the train a real zip around the tracks. Henry LOVES pushing the cars around just fine. In a while, when the new car smell starts to wane, I'll get out the screwdriver  and some batteries and cast some black magic over the set and probably give him a heart attack.

As I prepared for the Fireweed 200 mile solo ride across some gorgeous Alaskan scenery, my mind was scattered uneasily across various concerns. Thanks to my excellent coach Jason Boynton, I knew my physical preparation was more than adequate - I had faith in my legs.

But what about my nutrition? Would my preparation and testing of foods during longer rides translate to what my body needed on those last 100 miles? My training had pushed me to peak for this 200 miles, as it's just not practical to train doing 200 mile rides over and over with an eye towards speed. This isn't training for a fast 60 miler, therefore the nutrition remains a bit of a question mark for that second 100 miles.

Where would my mind go? I had originally thought about loading up an ipod and zoning out, but decided against it. With all the scenery, riders from across the world, and solitude available, it seemed wise to just embrace what was given. Don't box it out and also enjoy the fact that it's one fewer thing to carry. So I decided on letting my mind drift into any rabbit hole of thought it desired. Find the bottom, remember that distant past, think about that guy from grade school on facebook I ought to email, compose the email, and then drift to the next idea. I had over 12 hours of pedaling to swallow. Let the mind run free.

Picture 967 (Large)

What about the weather? 13 hours of Alaskan weather means anything is on the table. Coupled with the fact that I would be starting at 6 am, I needed to dress for a crisp morning, a potentially hot afternoon, and random rain whenever Alaska feels like it. What to choose to wear, and where to pack it?

As the ride approached people would ask me if I was excited. "Not really, though I know I'll enjoy it when I get going." The nerves and stakes were high. What about a crazy mechanical in the middle? What about the mental defeat if I had to withdraw? As in everything in life, just worry about what you can control and do your best.


I awoke in my tent at Sheep Mountain at 5 am, greeted the blaring sunlight that was there at midnight when I closed my book, and began swallowing my PBJ on wheat. Nutrition plan #1 was to have easy, good food that would have some time to digest before my legs started spinning. Very few riders were stirring across the sea of tents, bikes, and vehicles that littered the gravel airstrip. I had elected (almost embraced) the option of leaving in the first wave at 6 am rather than the slated 8 am start. Better to just wake and get it on. I slowly took my time dressing, filling water bottles, checking the bike again, and making final choices about what to wear. The sunny 50 degree blue skies made it easy -- arm warmers, knee warmers, short sleeve wool jersey, and a balled up rain jacked in my jersey pockets. I crammed some gel packs, a second spare tube, and a few cliff bars into the other pockets and shoved my dew glistened tent into my truck bed to dry. With each of my three jersey pockets bursting I walked over to the starting line happy that I was not rushed. I mingled with the 30 other early birds, readjusted the velcro on my shoes a few more times, and pedaled off at 6:02 under a waving Alaskan flag.

Thankfully the hills began by simply rolling and the wind was at my back, giving me the chance to set a smooth, swift pace which found me whispering a mantra inside my mind. "I'm doing it. I prepared properly and I am doing it. Exhale." I soon relaxed, began digesting the mountains, tundra, and glaciers, and realized that most of the people on the course doing the 200 mile ride were members of a team. I watched them swap riders every 2 miles or so and quickly embraced the fact that they would be passing me with their multiple, fresh legs. I was in the minority -- 200 miles solo without a support car. The food stations every 30 miles would be enough. I am ready.

The nutrition concerns ended up being moot. I ate conservatively, drank HEED, and never took more than a few minutes break at each rest stop. My body was ready to roar and I gave it no opportunities to take any detours.

We were instructed that at the 80 mile point there was a 17 mile stretch of intermittent construction, concluding with a 2 mile stretch of severe construction. We were also told that because 24 hours earlier a rider on the 400 mile solo (what!?) ride had taken a header on a bridge within that 17 mile stretch, we were allowed and encouraged to simply load into our support cars and drive that 17 miles. A wise choice to be sure by the ride officials, but in my case it was not an option. If a ride was not available, we were told to keep it safe and pedal up to those final 2 miles where we could throw our bikes in the construction crew's pilot car, which is what happened for me. So I added 15 miles of pedaling to my time that many folks did not, chatted with the Palmer girl that was driving the truck for the road crew, and swallowed the fact that my legs were ready for a longer ride than everyone else. I did the work and could happily handle doing it the longer way.

This ended up being the sunniest and hottest day on record for this ride, and by noon I had rolled off my arm warmers. My legs felt great, 100 miles were down, and it felt like a hot Wisconsin ride. My mental game plan ended up being foolish though. I spent my thoughts planning the next time I should drink, the next time to have a gel shot, monitoring my heart rate, and marking how many miles away the next food stop was. I realized a few times I was drinking too often or not enough, so a schedule seemed wise. Fixating my mind of the next 3 tasks within the next 20 minutes was more than enough to chip away at this long day.

Upon mile 125 or so I realized that I was quickly running out of water, the sun was high and hot, and the next rest stop was 14 miles away. This was the kind of nutritional blunder that could derail the next 6 hours. Thankfully there are random support cars every 10 minutes on the road awaiting their riders so I picked a friendly looking one and stopped with  a request for water. Out came a smile and 2 chilled water bottles from a large cooler in the back of his Subaru. I thanked him again and again, and he told me he knows exactly how it goes some days. It was all my body needed as I made it over the hump and soon hit that rest stop 14 miles later.

While scarfing down watermelon slices at the support tent at mile 140 a rider asked the staff if they could sell him a tube. They told him they had none. He had used his spare and while running fine now, he was nervous without an extra tube.

I reached into my jersey. "Here you go, take this one."

"Are you sure? I don't want to take your spare."

"No problem. This is my second spare," as I motioned to the small bag under my seat.

This event is filled with nothing but great folks with great attitudes, and I hope I did a little to keep that going.

As the miles ticked over 150 and the slow climb to Thompson Pass began, the wind shifted into an endless punch in the face. Information at support stops told of clouds drifting across the surface of the road at the top of the pass along with the still present snow drifts. Becky, Lesley, and Henry gave me a quick, happy rest and water stop before I hit that final 50 miles.

Picture 962 (Large)

The climb was a beast, I wished I had a triple for a 60 minute window, and all the rumors were true. The pass had blotches of snow across the landscape, clouds nipped across my grinding legs, and Worthington Glacier was out in all of its glory. I pulled out my rain jacket for the first time of the day in anticipation of the wind on the descent, and quickly zipped down the mountain. The jacket fluttered in the 42 mph speeds and it sank in that I would be finishing this ride and that my nutrition and mind were everything they needed to be today.

Picture 974 (Large)

One hour later I arrived in Valdez, inhaled a Caribou sausage and Silver Salmon fillet, and took the greatest shower I have had in long time. In the end I pedaled for 12 hours and 45 minutes, had no mechanical problems, and realized a sense of accomplishment that you just can't explain until you are standing in it.

Picture 992 (Large)

(Full photo set here)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

We have always loved all of our trips to Homer, and Homer has always responded with beautiful weather. We have heard tell of rainy, overcast days, yet have never seen one. For all we know, Homer is eternally sunny, 70, and blue skied. A few weeks ago we headed down with Shane and Melissa for a weekend of fishing and hanging out.

Picture 1030 (Large)

Due to nasty seas our fishing trip was relegated to Kachemak Bay, which put us at a severe disadvantage at finding halibut. The fishermen on the boat all voted to give it a shot anyway. Why not? Well, needless to say we did poorly. It was a beautiful day and the crew gave it all they had, but the fish just didn't want to bite our lines. The less said the better.

Picture 1055 (Large)

Our memories of big fish, great dinners, and exceptional nordic skiing used to be what was conjured when we heard the word Homer, but that has all changed. Homer is now the place with the brand new, enormous playground. It is really something beyond words -- Anchorage has nothing that even comes close. All you need to know is that after each long session on the equipment, Henry needed to be picked up and carried to the car kicking and crying. We'll be back to the playground city someday (and may find time to fish in our off hours).

Picture 1042 (Large)
(Full photo set here)

Friday, August 2, 2013

Having had all the fun we could handle in Wisconsin, we headed to Indiana to visit Grammy and Grandpa Turek for the week of July 4th. Rural Indiana is no different than any other quiet area when it comes to the wonderful tradition of small town Independence Day parades. Even if there was no Henry, we would have targeted Hebron for their parade, but given that there is a giggling Hank running around our lives, we circled it on the calendar with a sharpie. Hebron always delivers a charming parade -- one heavy on fire engines (I know where Henry's bread is buttered).

After meeting up with Greg, Paula, and Sophia, we quickly staked out our spot and caught up a bit. As if celebrating the Rites of Spring, Sophia and Henry danced and laughed amidst blown bubbles while awaiting the start. I wondered what would happen when the parade began and the invariable gaggle of fire engines and ambulances led the march. Certain Henry would love it, I was also uncertain whether he would hustle over to each machine in the hopes of climbing it, or remain stoic as an oak in view of the glory rolling by. Would the plethora of tootsie rolls lure him into the street and tease his courage? How much running into the road would I have to do every 60 seconds?

IMG_2332 (Large)

It was a mixed bag in the end. When prodded and not staring down a red truck with flashing lights, he'd happily scoot out and bring back some tootsie rolls for our bag. When an enormous fire engine crawled by a mere 15 feet away, Henry remained anchored to my side, pointing up with joy and wonder. Those toys all over our carpeting do exist, and they exist in great numbers, and that make lots of noise, and they flash, and they are in front of me right now! For about ten minutes he studied the machines, pointed at everything, and remained rooted to his piece of the pavement. After the trucks finished, we moved into a more casual candy grabbing plan (along with a new found love of dum-dums thanks to Greg's unwrapping service).

By 11 am we were heading home, a mere 3 hours ahead of our appointed nap time. Henry promptly fell asleep and even snoozed another hour while parked in the garage at home. The boy had been to the top of the mountain and was just plain worn out.

He had a great time that afternoon at the barbeque, but one has to assume that it was all an undeniable second act after the glory of the trucks and persistent pointing. More 4th of July photos here.

IMG_2340 (Large)

Friday, July 26, 2013

Our drive north to Marshfield for the Barnes Family Reunion started under some overcast skies and random drizzle. The tour of the Marshfield firehouse was our first stop, so there was plenty of time to hope for the clouds to pass. Brian's tour was well worth the early morning start in Coloma, the facility was beautiful, and Henry could barely contain himself-- run, run and touch everything.

For the adults the highlight may have been their 9/11 memorial, which consisted of the largest piece of the twin towers currently on display. For Hank the cherry on top of he tour came 5 minutes into the event.

IMG_2134 (Large)

As we were chatting in the lobby and waiting for a few stragglers before beginning, the intercom clicked on and a call was announced. Brian pitched his ear towards the ceiling, digested the codes and address that were rambled off, and then quickly told us to walk outside as the machinery would be making a hard left to yield us a perfect view. We scooted outside and I elbowed my way towards the front of the Barnes group and held up Henry. He smiled, squealed, and I had all I could do to keep him from leaping towards the screaming, blinking, groaning, red machines of joy.

Thankfully the sun burned off the clouds and sent us digging into our bag for Henry's sunscreen by the time we found ourselves in Hewitt, WI for the reunion. As always, it was great to see everyone and our only regrets were in not visiting enough with the many good folks. Plenty of photos here.

IMG_2164 (Large)

Wisconsin with family is always a great time, as Henry is learning.

IMG_2064 (Large)