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)