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Day of the Battered Shins

5 min read

I'd like to think that I was getting better at this mountain biking stuff but, as it turns out, I'd just be lying to myself if I thought that. If yesterday's effort is any indication I am actually getting worse. However, instead of accepting that harsh reality I'm going to blame my poor performance on the conditions and my nagging hunger; yeah, that's the ticket.

P1020732.JPGLast week I told you that it was muddy and that biking in the mud was pretty dumb. Well, I still hold that position after doing it again this week. I didn't really think the mud caused me a ton of problems last week but it definitely did this week. My tires were pretty clogged with mud so I don't think I had much traction in general and my feet continuously slipped off my pedals. The muddy tires and the lack of traction probably didn't cause me much trouble beyond what I would normally have but my feet slipping off was a pain in the ass (and in my left shin). On at least three occasions my left foot slipped off the pedal just as my right foot slipped and slammed the pedal around in a full circle ending in my shin. It hurt more than falling off the damn bike. So now I have some ugly gashes on my left shin. I think I can honestly say my future career as a leg model has been cut short.

We actually traversed the hill that sent me flying a couple weeks ago. However, I really wasn't feeling like I had my "A" game with me this week so rather than risk a repeat (especially with Sean at the bottom taking photos) I just walked my bike down this time. I did make it down a few hills that were a bit tougher than I normally do so I was happy with that and I was doing better getting up some of the steep hills so the day wasn't a total bust. However, aside from those small bright spots I had a bunch of dark ones. Nearly every rock that could reroute me did, nearly every fallen tree that could stop me did, and nearly every time I could fade off the path you could consider me faded. It was not pretty.

The brightest part of my day was actually the end result of a huge mistake. We were going down a semi-steep hill that did a semi-switchback to the left about 3/4 of the way down - right about when you have maximum speed really. I was cruising down trying to control my speed when I hit that turn and I just couldn't turn enough so I basically just went straight. Now, there is a reason the turn is there and that's because the next 20 feet of the hill, going straight, are very very steep. I cruised over the ridge, gripped my handle bars with a death grip, sat way back in my stance and got as low as I could over my back tire, and hoped for good luck. Now, since I told you this was a bright spot the drama is kind of lost becuase you already know I made it down the hill safely. Amazingly I didn't lose control hitting a hidden rock or fallen tree, I didn't fly over my handlebars, I didn't even tip over at the bottom when I would have relaxed thinking all was safe. I just slowed down, took a sharp left turn, and bunny hopped over and obstacle and got right back on the trail. I was amazed and disappointed that none of the others had the chance to witness my skills since they were well ahead of me.

I think I'll try to just focus on the positives and build on these small victories and try to forget about the pain in my shin and my shoulder. However, to help avoid the shin pain I'll probably start wearing my soccer shin guards. I'm already wearing the soccer socks so now I'll look the part of crazed Mt. Biker. Mark my words some time next year it will be fashionable to wear long songs while mt. biking.

Tomorrow I am going to try to align my rear wheel so I can avoid the $12 it costs to have the bike shop do it. After next payday I think I'm going to buy some new wheels and tires in a progressive step towards upgrading my brakes. Next month some time I'll probably buy new brakes and a support bar so my frame can handle the increased breaking power. I also want to start going out a little on the weekends, maybe at Ritter Park with my other coworker Jason so I can get a bit more practice in (and thus more comfort "in the saddle").

Mud spelled backwards equals Dum

6 min read

Last night provided me with the opportunity for my fourth mountain biking excursion. My left shoulder recovered remarkably well and my right knee and hip weren't bothering me at all so I decided to join up with the three amigos of Ed, Mike, and Sean for another outing in the park. It had rained a bit Wednesday night and Thursday morning so the trails were kind of sodden on the lower parts of the hills. The upper third was in pretty good shape but once we switched hills the downward slope was a muddy mess; more on that later.

This week we decided to go up the hill the way we have come down it in the past. It turns out most people take this opposite route and that we were oddballs for going the way we were. We hadn't actually climbed one of the mountains via a real trail before instead we had gone up small dirt/gravel roads or actual paved streets. It's a lot harder to go up a single track path that is wet and muddy. I don't think I have ever found myself breathing so hard or had my heart thumping so hard as I did when we were trying to climb the hill. Now, don't panic mom - I'm ok and I took breaks; plenty of them! But, when we were moving and working it was a hell of a work out. Every break was a little slice of paradise.

On the way up Ed and Sean stayed out front (Sean is a beast at climbing hills) while I trailed in third and Mike took up the rear. Mike started off the ride not feeling so well becuase his hamburger from lunch just didn't like all the exertion so he was uncharacteristically slow. Thankfully, about 1/2 way through our day he seemed to bounce back and was riding strong again.

This week we rode for almost 7 miles which is a little less than we normally do but it was the hardest ride we have had by a lot (even harder for me than that first one). It wasn't technically harder it was just more physically exhausting. There were a couple really technical spots (to me) where I opted to walk my bike down the hill as opposed to pushing myself too hard - I really didn't want a repeat of last week. This cautious approach worked pretty well though once I was cautious only to find out the hill I was being careful about had changed quite a bit since last week and it was easy to ride down so that involved me getting off my bike, walking four feet, and then getting back on once I realized what had happened. Thankfully nobody gave me too much crap about it.

Once we switched hills we still had to ride up a gravel road but it wasn't too horrid - exhausting but not too much street (boring) at least. Then we hit the trail for the downhill and it was a thick, sloggy, mess. The mud was 4 inches deep at least and there were piles of nasty wet leaves all over the place to help drag your bike this way and that. The path down was about 8 feet wide so it wasn't too bad until my front tire got stuck in a rut and I was drug toward the left edge which consisted of a good 50' dropoff. I hit my brakes and kept on sliding through the mud towards my impending doom but saved myself at the last minute by putting my feet down and grabbing a nearby tree. Granted, I was only moving about 1 mile per hour at that point but even then it was hard to stop due to all the mud. If necessary I would have jumped off my bike and let it take the fall alone but I'm glad it didn't come to that. Once I got straightened out the rest of the downhill was smooth sailing.

After the downhill we had a little cross country and then we were back to the trail around the lake. That is my favorite part - it is narrow but generally flat or with small swells that you can really cruise through. You still have to pay attention so you don't clip a tree (the path is very narrow) and so your feet don't hit upthrust rocks and roots but overall it is really just fun. There are even places where Ed jumps as we go through. I tried to jump on one of them but only managed to get my front wheel about 2" into the air. Thankfully Sean and Mike were both far enough behind me to not see that lame effort. Even better I didnt' crash and then have to admit I crashed while jumping 2" into the air. That would have sucked.

The worst part of the ride was that whatever was bugging Mike's stomach at the beginning was bothering mine the last 1/4 of the ride. I felt like utter crap when we were done though I'm sure that's due in part to me not drinking enough on the trail. I need to make a more focused effort to drinking while we roll and not just when we take breaks; perhaps I will end up getting a camelback. I did just order a new water bottle but perhaps a single bottle just isn't sufficient? I dunno. Either way I felt like totally crud when we were done so I just chilled at my car for about 45 minutes before I tried to drive home.

We also got a Wii Fit earlier in the week. Each day we use it and it weighs us and does some other tests before we do any of the exercises. Last night I just did the weigh-in/test and it said I had lost over 4 pounds in the prior 24 hours. I'm thinking I lost a lot of fluid on that bike ride; but hey, my BMI was looking great! I only need to lose 5 more pounds to get to the ideal BMI for my height. Sweet - bring me dehydration and a better BMI. Oh, well, maybe that's the wrong way to go about it.

Mayhem on the Mountain

10 min read

Some say three times the charm to suggest that the third time you try something you'll "get it" and everything will be much smoother. In general I can say that held true for me on the mountain yesterday though I'm not sure I would use smooth as the correct adjective to describe my evening of mountain biking. Just like last week there were four of us hitting the trails; Ed, Sean, Mike, and myself. Somehow, even though I left the office last, I was actually the first one at the park. I unloaded my bike (which had some service done on it at the local bike shop over the week) and stretched out my stiff legs (I had played about 3 hours of Ultimate Frisbee on Wednesday night) and then waited on the others. Ed showed up shortly there after but Sean and Mike were both delayed so we got off to a bit of a late start.

This week we decided to do a totally different line through the parks trails. We would circle around the lake then come up through some big field before ascending the mountain via a rough track. Once at the top we descended a gravel/paved road (it alternated surface types) before crossing the main road onto the first trail I rode in week 1. It sounded like a great plan because the lake trail is pretty easy and would give us all a great way to warm up before we had to climb the mountain and then face the descent. We headed down a dried riverbed to the lake trail and, before we even hit the trail I made a mistake. The dried river was fairly gouged. While trying to cross a large crevice I hopped my front tire nicely over it but my back tire hit really hard. My tire pressure was a little low and just like that I had gotten a "pinch flat" - of course I didn't notice it until i had made it down the lake trail a bit and by that time Ed was well ahead of me. Sean and Mike were actually behind me so they said they would go get Ed. They took off and I started walking my bike. Shortly thereafter a nice older guy (in his 50's) came down the trail in the opposite direction on his bike. I asked him if he had a pump and not only did he but he had a tool to take my tire apart with and a patch kit containing a "super patch" which is a self-adhesive rubber patch. By the time the other guys got back to me my bike was repaired. I don't know who the guy was but it was very, very cool of him to stop and help me and I really appreciated it. He wasn't sure I should try to ride on the super patch for long but we decided to risk it anyway and it held up marvelously throughout the ride.

The ride down the lake trail was a blast. Overall it is pretty flat with just some little whoopsie-do type risers; nothing to fancy. The trail gets narrow at times and there were plenty of little slalom type areas where you had to turn quickly between trees and rocks. On one of those there were three trees then a large rock so you had to go left, right, left, right really fast. I went left, right, left but couldn't make the right. Fortunately I wasn't moving very fast. A better cyclist probably could have popped their wheel up and rode over the large rock. I, on the other hand, came to an abrupt stop and went slowly over my handle bars. I was going slowly enough where it didn't hurt at all and my bike didn't suffer any damage either. I hopped back up and resumed my trek through the woods; at this point I was third in line behind Ed and Sean. At one point the lake trail actually encounters a desolate construction area where the park board is working in some new facilities. The ground was very uneven and generally uncomfortable to ride on. At one point my left peddle hit a upthrust stump that caused the tail end of my bike to kick to the right and the pointy part of the seat to get far too friendly with my booty. Fortunately I was able to keep my balance and carry on with nothing worse than a sense of violation.

By the end of the lake trail I was pretty tired - we had ridden pretty hard and fast I thought and we took very few breaks. However we had a nice casual ride across the field immediately after so we were all refreshed before having to climb the mountain. The mountain climb was a bitch. Mostly because I'm just not in that good of cardiovascular shape yet. My legs were actually doing pretty good but once I lost my momentum it was really hard to get rolling again so I had to walk up big chunks of the hill. By the time we all reached the top we were pretty winded and in need of a good rest. While we were up there Ed told us about a guy called The Fat Biker who loves climbing hills becuase he can climb hills nobody else manages to complete in one go and he rolls past them all; he views it as his own super power. After climbing the hill I and failing to do it in one sweep I kind of view it as his super power too.

The ride down to the next trail was cool and relaxing. We passed a couple beautiful overlooks so sometime I'll have to take a camera out there with me so I can share them with everyone who reads my tales.

The next leg was the downhill forest trail I had done in week 1 and I did phenomenally better than I did last week. It was really pretty amazing. I was hopping over trees and rocks and all sorts of other debris like I actually knew what I was doing. I was amazed. I was keeping up with the rest of the group (though I chose to go last in line down the hill so I wouldn't be a danger to anyone else). Being in last but keeping up actually caused me some new problems becuase some of the obstacles required some momentum to complete but if one of the guys in front of me had a problem I had to stop while they cleared. At one point my lack of momentum had me walking my bike through an obstacle and then I had to let some other trail rider go by. After that I tried to get my balance and get going again but I had trouble making a turn, my handle bar hit a tree, and back over my handle bars I went. Again, I was going really slow so it didn't hurt at all but it was frustrating because everything had been going really well.

I got my groove going again and caught up with the group before too long and we kept on cruising. Eventually we were almost done and Ed asked if we wanted to finish on the long, medium, or short trail. I called for medium becuase my arms were really tired. It turns out medium is also really, really steep. We hit that part of the trail and I discovered new levels of speed through the woods. I gripped my back break as hard as I could but the tire spun unimpeded and my speed kept picking up. I pulsed my front break and it had no effect. I started bouncing, and before I knew it my weight was too far forward on the bike and BAM I flew over my handle bars. This time I was going fast. I ducked my head and landed hard on the back of my left shoulder, rolled across my back, saw my bike fly over my body, slammed my right hip and knee into the earth and then popped up onto my feet. My bike was about 20 feet further down the hill. I walked down and got it, hopped on to finish the trek, and my shoulder shot with pain when I pulled up on the handle bars a little. Fortunately the parking lot was only a few hundred feet away by this point so I was able to casually ride with just my right arm holding the bars.

Ed helped me out and put my bike in the back of the car and then I drove home. My shoulder was still sending some sharp pains through me off and on as I drove and my finger tips were occasionally sparked with a shooting pain. Once I got home I saw the lawn was well past need of being mowed so I hauled out the mower and mowed the lawn. Suprisingly my shoulder didn't bother me at all while I did that though most of the time I tried to take it easy on my left arm. Once I got in the house I iced it up and told Lisa about the events. She gave me a pain killer and a medicated patch to put on my shoulder and my right hip (which, by this point, hurt quite a bit). I was not looking forward to going to sleep where I couldn't sleep on either my stomach (my back always hurts if I sleep on my stomach on our current mattress), my left side (painful shoulder), or my right side (painful hip). Thankfully, while I was trying to sleep the pain killer kicked in and I was able to sleep pretty well.

This morning I took a hot shower and, honestly, my shoulder feels pretty good. The spot that bore the brunt of the impact is very sensitive but it doesn't hurt to move my arm around at all and I seem to have full range of motion. My fingers haven't had any sharp pains today at all. My hip still hurts quite a bit so I imagine I bruised it pretty badly but overall I think it is OK too; I'm a little battered but no worse for the wear.

I may end up taking off next week if my shoulder doesn't feel better by then. However, I definitely will go back out. It was a lot of fun and I have progressed a lot in a small amount of time; plus now I know to put my weight way to the back of the bike (well behind my seat) while going down a steep hill! Ed offered that advice after my crash. Before I go back out though I need to get a small kit of bike maintenance supplies such as patches, a pump, a spare tube, and some allen wrenches. I really look forward to getting back out there and continuing to improve. Overall it is a lot of fun and some great exercise; I just need to stay on the damn bike!

Sporting Madness

6 min read

This past week was busy busy busy. To start with on Monday Lisa asked me to clear out some crazy weeds we had growing around our gardens. Truth be told I hate pulling weeds but these were big weeds so it seemed fitting that I attack the job. On top of the weeds being big one corner of the yard was getting over grown with poison ivy and, since I've not been allergic to poison ivy and Lisa has, it was safer for me to dig it out. You'll might notice that I used the past tense to describe my allergic relationship with poison ivy. It turns out I am now officially allergic to that shit; my arms and legs are a living pus laden testament to how nasty that stuff can be. I'll talk a bit more about this later.

Wednesday we had our first official company golf scramble. Technically we had another one a few years ago as a marketing deal where we invited customers and others but this one was just employees of the company and our friends/family. It was a very cool gesture by the owners to give us an afternoon of careless fun. If you have been following my golf history you will know I'm not very good. So far this year my average has been around 114 or so. Granted, last year I did shoot in the 90's two or three times, but in general, my average over the past two seasons is closer to a 105. As pitiful as that is somehow I was deemed by my boss to have the fourth best average in the company's golfers and thus I was the "A" grade player on my team. My teammates were Sean (whom I share an office with and who thinks his average is around 110), Mike (who hasn't golfed in 8 years and thought his average was up near 110 when he did play), and Adam (a 6' 10" guy who also shoots about a 110). Knowing that each of the other teams had a player who averages in the low to mid eighties I figured we were in trouble.

It turns out, however, that a balanced team actually means something as we finished second out of the four teams. Each player contributed a lot throughout the day. I was, for me, on fire on the front nine while the other guys were finding their swing then, on the back nine, when my drives started finding houses more frequently than fairways, the other guys started to heat up. Our entire team was putting well on the back nine too and thanks to that we saved a bunch of pars and bogeys that could have killed us. When all was said and done we ended up at five over par - a 77 - only four strokes behind the team that won (Ed in the 80's, Ryan in the 90-110 range, Brandon in the 130's, and Tracy who had never golfed before).

My teams goal for the day was to shoot bogey or better golf on every hole and we nailed it. We had six bogeys, a birdie(!), and 11 pars. I was pretty stoked. Everyone on the team had a good time and I think we would all be happy to go out and golf as a team again.

On Thursday I got to go mountain biking for the second time. You would have thought that I had learned my lesson last week and boycotted the sport but oh no, not I. By this point my poison ivy was really kicking into itch mode as well and I had some big swollen red areas on my lower calves. You may not know this but you can actually get rid of those by scraping them off with a sharp object like, oh, I dunno, a bike pedal! That's right, I've found the cure for poison ivy just rip it off your body. It hurts and burns like hell but that area won't itch anymore. Woo hoo!

On this biking trip we took a different route to start with - a much more technically challenging route for me with much steeper downhills but I think it helped me gain some confidence when we started the second half of the route which was the same path we took last week. I managed to stay on the trail nearly the entire time and even picked up speed going down some hills. However, about 1/2 way through last weeks path we took a detour to another hard trail that I am not really qualified to walk on let alone ride a bike over. Needless to say I saw my imminent death a few times! At one point I got off my bike to walk it down a particularly treacherous path and, about halfway down it I though; "Oh, this doesn't look to bad, I'll ride now" only to hear Ed yell back up "Bill, Walk on this part! Sean just went over his handlebars!" I was not too proud to heed his advice and thankfully I wasn't becuase the path got really ugly with a steep hairpin turn and some big branches, rocks, and trees obscuring the way. After that portion of the trail the difficultly dropped back to an easy blue or a difficult green slope and I felt much more comfortable again. I rode pretty hard from there on out and really picked up some speed only to encounter a really narrow trail area. Amazingly I managed to navigate through the entire thing without pausing. At the end I pulled over to catch my breath and a group of skilled riders passed me in the opposite direction. I was very grateful that I didn't cross their path when I was going faster or I might have killed one or two of them in my death throes.

Next week Ed has a cool sounding path for us to follow and I'm pretty stoked about it. If I survive I'll blog again!

Mountain Biking Maniac

4 min read

Yesterday, at work, two of my buddies told me they were going mountain biking after work. They have actually gone a couple times over the last two weeks and their chatter about it has had me thinking about joining them so, yesterday, I did. I've actually owned a decent entry level mountain bike for about 7 years now; it was a fathers day gift after Shannon was born. However, I have never ridden it on anything other than the streets of Huntington between work and home. In fact, I've never really ridden any bike of any kind off road at all. Needless to say I had no idea what I was really getting myself into.

Once I was off work I headed up, grabbed my bike and helmet, and then headed up to the Barboursville park where there exists many miles of mountain biking/hiking trails. Ed and Sean had gotten there about an hour and forty minutes before me so they had already hit one trail, broken a spoke on Ed's bike, and repaired it by the time I had gotten there. Ed has been doing this for a long time (and seems to flow across the trails) but Sean just started a few weeks ago yet is already quite a bit better at it than I am. I, on the bottom of the skill spectrum, suck. I was fully unprepared for both how difficult and how heart poundingly nerve wracking mountain biking can be. We went on a trail that I imagine most skilled riders would think is very easy. Ed, for instance, was cruising along and hitting jumps to add a little excitement to his ride. Sean was managing the trail OK but wasn't adding any additional thrills and got off his bike when it was necessary to avoid a spot that was dangerously tricky for his skill level. I got off my bike when it was necessary and, once, when I wasn't planning on it. I also spent a lot, and I mean A LOT, of time off the trail blazing my own path through the undergrowth and trees. It turns out I'm not very good at steering my bike when on a narrow track of dirt that is regularly decorated with large rocks, fallen trees, and branches. Quite frankly saying I'm not very good at it is being generous. By the end of the run I had slammed my left ankle into my bike frame three times, flown through the air once (trees don't move for bikes), and cut my cheek sufficiently enough to have blood all over it (the cut looked worse than it was and I didn't even know I was bleeding until Ed saw it).

I think we rode about 3 miles over the course of an hour. It didn't really feel like we had traveled that far when all was said and done but I was thoroughly exhausted. My legs were weak and my breath was coming in deep gasps. After we had finished cruising out of the woods we actually had a big hill climb on a road to get back to our vehicles. Unlike Ed and Sean I had to stop twice to get my legs to stop burning and to be able to breath. My past 8 months have not been good for my overall conditioning and mountain biking, it turns out, is a hell of a work out.

Ed and Sean both were cool about the whole experience. They waited for me when I fell too far behind (which was fairly frequent) and they seemed pretty encouraging about the whole experience. I'm not sure they are nearly as concerned with self preservation as I am on the trail though - or else I've just turned into a coward. I think the biggest thing I need to gain at the moment is a level of comfort with riding my bike off road. I was often unsure of whether or not my bike was going to just stop and throw me and I almost always felt like I was going too fast down hill (even though I was the slowest). Overall it is actually kind of amazing how much crap those bikes can just roll over without much problem; I just need to learn to trust that my bike will actually do most of that stuff. As uncomfortable as I felt all day yesterday I still had a blast. I liked the rush that came with the danger but also the fact that I was constantly having to work hard and think about what I was doing. It was the most challenging sport I've ever participated in. I'm definitely going to do it again.

Baseball Star

2 min read

My nephew Danny has recently been featured in his local towns paper for his baseball skills. It's pretty cool to see him getting press like this because he became a good 2 sport athlete at his school without following the normal path through youth sports.

As a kid he (and his also skilled brother) didn't play in youth sports leagues - they just played ball in the back yard. I'm not sure when Danny started playing in organized sports but, comparable to most kids these days, it was pretty late in his youth. So it is a little extra cool that he is doing so well now because, to me, it is a sign of his pure athleticism.

Unfortunately for me he lives way down south near Atlanta so I can't actually go and see him play. However, who knows, maybe he will play college ball too and I will get to see a game or two that way. I know if he does, wherever he ends up going, will be my new favorite team. Then, who knows, in a couple years when his younger brother graduates from high school, maybe I'll get to start following another school.

In the end though Danny is not only a good athlete he is a good student and, based on what I know about him, his education will be his priority in school regardless of the sport he plays (or doesn't). I wish him the best.

This Joe Was A Pro

8 min read

Last Friday I was presented with an unusual opportunity - I could go to the Troy Brown Fantasy Football Camp for free. Someone had paid but couldn't attend so I got to fill his slot. The camp spanned Friday night and Saturday and normally would have cost me $1000 to participate in as a player. Normally, I could never afford to go to such an event so this was a real once-in-a-lifetime type deal for me. I was, as you might imagine, very excited.

Friday night's event consisted of a reception in the Big Green room at Marshall University's Football Stadium. My wife, my kids, and I all went. We didn't know anyone there so it was a little awkward going to a party as a stranger; especially when it was apparent everyone else there knew each other (or at least most of them did). However, the food was good and the music was nice and the girls had a lot of fun. My eldest daughter particularly liked going to the bar and ordering her Sierra Mist.

Saturday morning started bright and early. I had to be at the team breakfast at 7am which was served at the local culinary school. After breakfast we were chauffeured via stretch Hummer limo to the football stadium where we took part in a mock NFL combine. The combine consisted of five different events; vertical leap, broad jump, 40 yard dash, 20 yard shuttle, and the bench press. My performance was pretty ordinary and I didn't particularly excel at anything. My vertical leap was 21" which is about what I did a few weeks ago when I was starting the P90X. My broad jump was 7' 4" (which I was actually pretty happy with). My 40 time was a pitiful 5.5 sec while my 20 yard shuttle matched it at 5.5 seconds. Finally, I managed to eek out 6 or 7 bench presses of 135 pounds each. On most of the events I was pretty average though I think most of the people there did better than me on the bench press (not too surprising really).

During the combine I did manage to pick up a nickname - "Socks" - because I was wearing tall soccer socks. I had thought we would be outside all morning and it was cold so I wore the long songs to stay warm. However, all of the combine took place inside so I was on the receiving end of some good natured ribbing.

After the combine we went outside and watched the Marshall team participate in their first pads practice of the spring and their annual "Hoot and Holler" event. The "Hoot and Holler" is basically a scenario in which the offense needs to try to move the ball down a 15 yard long alley (about 10 yards wide) and the defense tries to stop them. In reality it is an exhibition of the two sides of the team hitting each other as hard as they can and a whole lot of yelling and screaming. It was pretty cool. After the "Hoot and Holler" we had lunch and then a "draft".

P1020449.JPG.jpgThe draft was really just an announcement of what players were on what team. The two teams were coached by Troy Brown (green team) and Chad Pennington (white team). I was on the green team. After the draft the officials came in and reviewed the rules (there were a lot) and then we headed outside for about 2 hours of practice. In the practice session I learned some new names for some passing routes I had already known of by different names and we came up with a collection of offensive plays. At this point I was feeling more than a little awkward as I was moved to a offensive guard position (even though I was running my routes well and not dropping any passes). However, I think, because I was an unknown - and most of the other players knew each other - it was sort of like showing up on a new playground as a kid - I was unproven and thus not reliable yet. Next we started defensive practice and I was put on the defensive line (2 of us) and charged with blitzing the QB. In this game there are really no blockers and, in order to blitz, you need to start 7yards off the line of scrimmage. I had a lot of fun rushing the QB and trying to disrupt the plays. Likewise, I was able to drop back in coverage at times as well and break up a few passes.

Finally, the game started, and I was happy to see my dad and my youngest brother, Chris, were able to show up along with Lisa and the girls. During the first quarter I played solely on the defensive side of the ball. However, in the second quarter I was put on offense as well (as the fifth receiver) and I played pretty much the rest of the game going both ways (though I did take a few small defensive rests). However, being the fifth option the QB really didn't have many opportunities to find me behind the secondary; particularly in the second quarter. During the half time break I took a couple passes from one of our two QB's in an effort to reassure him I could, in fact, catch the football. He rewarded that effort by trying to get the ball to me twice. The first time was a beautiful deep ball (he throws a really nice spiral) into the corner of the endzone but it was a bit too wide and landed about 5-6 yards out of bounds. It was a tough throw considering he had to throw down the field, and across it, about 40 yards in the air. The second throw to me was in overtime and was also in the endzone but was too low for me to get to (hitting the turf about a yard short of me). Again, he had to make a tough throw across his body and I doubt anyone who was playing could have made a better effort at it.

P1020459.JPG.jpgOn the defensive side of the ball I was involved in a handful of tackles, I had a solo sack, and I broke up 2-3 passes plus hurried the opposing QB into making some bad passes a few times. I was really happy with my overall performance and, even better, we won the game 20-14.

Our whole team played pretty well I thought. We were up 8-0 at the end of the first half but even so we barely forced the game into overtime thanks to a last second stop on the 1 yard line when they were driving for the win. In overtime they had the ball first but an errant pass by their QB was tipped and then intercepted by our team. We then drove the ball down the field where one of the oldest players on the field caught the game winning TD (he is in his 60's). It was a great moment and a really fun game.

That night we had a formal dinner banquet and awards ceremony. Each of the guys who did the best in the combine were given a trophy and our game winning receiver was awarded the game's MVP award. I was also able to get Troy and Chad to sign a football I had previously gotten signed for my eldest daughter by Byron Leftwich. The dinner was really good and the company at our table was very friendly. By the end of the event I felt like I at least knew the majority of the guys I played with well enough to greet them on the street. Chad, Troy, and Mike Bartrum (another of the green teams coaches) were all really friendly and seemed to be genuinely nice guys.

Also during the ceremony when each player was given their certificate for participating Troy or Chad said something about each players performance. I felt pretty good about how I played and, based on most of the comments, I felt like I did a decent job (of course it could have just been my socks; he got another jab in on those as well).

One of the organizers of the event asked me to come back next year - I told him only if I could get in the same way I did this time. I just don't have $1000 to donate to any charity, even one as deserving as the Child Development Academy at Marshall University I'm keeping my fingers crossed for another fluke opportunity!

There are additional photos in this album.

Skiing Fools and a Bunny

4 min read

A couple weeks ago a bunch of us went skiing. A few months ago Lisa and I had bid on a condo package at Snowshoe Mountain here in WV at the March of Dimes Chefs Auction. The condo accommodates 6-8 but I think we had 11 of us stuffed in there. The floorplan had a second floor loft bedroom with a double bed and a set of bunk beds. Lisa, Shannon, Emily, and I slept up there. The first floor had a bedroom in the back and Dad and Patty slept back there. The Joe, his girlfriend, Chris, Justin, and his fiancee' Jules slept in the common area. The quarters were pretty tight for sleeping but overall they were still pretty nice.

P1020420.JPGJoe, his girlfriend, Justin and I didn't spend much time in the condo as we tried to get a lot of skiing in. Dad and Chris didn't show up until late Friday night (we had arrived Wednesday night). Jules tried to have Justin teach her to snowboard but that didn't work out too well so she ended up taking lessons which was much more successful. Joe really didn't know much about snowboarding when he started on Thursday but he got substantially better over the four days we were out. Dad is, sadly, out of shape (or old) and couldn't ski too much on Saturday or Sunday. Chris, it turns out, doesn't really know how to ski as well I was led to believe and he almost killed himself when I took the crew of people who claimed they could ski to a black diamond run called "Cup". Cup is one of my favorite runs and I held off on going to it until I knew Joe could handle it. Sadly, however, neither Chris or Dad told me Chris couldn't ski (well, he can ski he just can't turn or stop). Cup is a pretty easy black diamond but the surface was very icy and he just barreled down the mountain scaring the shit out of me. He eventually crashed (when he had to turn) and left his skis and poles way behind. He slid across the slope and crashed into the woods. Fortunately he was OK. A little shaken and sore but luckily alive and unharmed. I helped guide him down the rest of the mountain and then we left Cup behind for safer pastures. I went back to Cup alone on Sunday and Joe and his girlfriend also went there a bit.

P1020423.JPGOn Friday Shannon took some ski lessons and then on Saturday I took her out on "Cub" run. Cub is a pretty short green (easy) slope. However, on that day it felt incredibly long. I skied backwards and watched her. She would slide about ten feet and start to pick up speed and then start chanting "Oh My Goodness! Oh My Goodness" before catching up with me and holding on for dear life. She had a blast. My knees and feet however were taking a pounding from the way I was digging in to keep my speed down. We did one run down the hill and by then my body was so sore we headed back to the cabin for lunch. Then, on Sunday I took her back out. This time we went to the same hill she had taken her lessons on and instead of skiing in front of her I skied beside her and let her hold the handle of my ski pole while I held the other end to help control her speed. We did about 10 runs and had a blast. She gained more confidence on each run and she loved going up the chair lift. On the first run she was holding the pole with a death grip but by the fifth or sixth run she was barely holding it at all. It was awesome to see her improve and enjoy it so much. That morning was my favorite part of the trip. My knees were still really sore by lunch time but nothing like they had been when we went to "Cub" run (Cub is much longer than the hill we went on on Sunday).

Good Times, Good People, and Good Hockey

7 min read

P1020310.JPGWell, I'm running behind a bit on this post so not only is it late but it will probably be a little short. Near the end of January Lisa and I traveled down to Atlanta for the NHL All-Star game and skills competition. We left on the Thursday before the weekend began because we mistakenly thought we would be able to go to some of the special events surrounding the weekend such as a concert on both Thursday and Friday night. Even though we couldn't attend the concerts we still found plenty to do to fill the time and, in the end, to have a wonderful trip.

We arrived in Atlanta near rush hour on Thursday and made a mad dash for the hotel that you had to go to in order to get your tickets. We were in a rush because we thought we could go to the nights concert. Lisa begged and pleaded to get the tickets from the office (it was closed by the time we go there) and her pleas worked! Once we had the tickets though we were informed that they didn't include tickets to the concerts. So, that night we walked around a bit, found our hotel, and then went to Ted's Montana Grill which was a pretty cool restaurant that featured a bunch of different Buffalo meat entrees. The coolest part of the joint to me was their insistence on being "green". For instance the table-cloth was a big sheet of recycled brown paper and the straws were paper coated in wax. We actually arrived pretty late so the restaurant was fairly empty so service was really speedy and the food was pretty good too!

On Friday we went downtown again and walked around a bunch. We went to the Centennial Olympic Park and then the World of Coca Cola. At the park we checked out a bunch of the engraved bricks and even found one from Huntington, WV. At the Coke place we did everything; watched a 3-D movie, toured a mini bottling plant, watched a ton of commercials, saw a bunch of old collectibles, and tasted around 70 different soda flavors from around the world. We drank a little bit too much soda but we still had a good time.

In the afternoon we headed up to the Lenox Mall near the Buckhead portion of town for lunch and shopping. We ate at the California Pizza Kitchen which we have seen a bunch of times before but had never eat at. It was good (I had a spicy chicken pizza). I also bought a nice coat while we were there, a badger hair shaving brush and Lisa got a pair of boots and some neat Lush products (soap, bath salts, and stuff). Eventually we left the mall (when it was closing) and headed back to the hotel and then a casual dinner at Gorden Biersch (a brewpub restaurant).

Two ice hockey goalies facing each otherSaturday and Sunday were dedicated to the All Star events. We headed up to Phillips Arena for the Skills Competition on Saturday but we arrived pretty early and took part, sort of, in the card-trading/memorabilia show (we just walked around and checked things out) and then we took a tour of the CNN headquarters (not worth the money) which is attached to the Phillips Arena. Eventually we got into the Arena and had a great time watching the Skills Competition. Our Seats were AMAZING - we are on the blue line about 10 rows behind the players. It was great. We are also surrounded by a lot of people who all seemed to know each other - and a bunch of them all kept stopping by to talk to the guy sitting behind us. We were intrigued.

P1020359.JPGAs the night wore on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corp.) stopped by to interview the guy behind me. So I looked behind me and saw that he was short and kind of old but he was wearing a huge Carolina Hurricanes championship ring. It turns out the guy is Jim Rutherford the GM and part owner of the Hurricanes. He is also an ex-NHL goalie who played most of his career with the Red Wings. We spoke with him and his wife (they were both really nice) and another couple they were with (from Cleveland and loved ribbing me about the Bruins).

On Sunday we didn't really do anything special before the game except go back to the memorabilia show. While we were there we got Patrick Kane's autograph (#1 draft pick last year), and Todd McFarlane's autograph (creator of a bunch of figurines and comic book artist) on a figurine of Marian Hossa. I also bought an old fact book for the Red Wings from 1976 that had a full page spread on none other than Jim Rutherford.

Patrick KaneThe All Star game was really cool. It had a bunch of extra stuff around it like a performance by The Hives before hand and Ne-Yo during an intermission. I also managed to get Jim's autograph on his page of the Fact Book and I had my photo taken with him. They four of them kept giving me a hard time about the Bruins, especially when Tim Thomas was in goal because he let up a bunch. However I had the last laugh because ex-Atlanta Thrasher and current Bruin Marc Savard scored the game winning goal. A neat bit of trivia I gleaned from Jim was that he actually coached Tim Thomas when Tim was a kid and came to Jim's goalie camp. Needless to say I ribbed Jim a little after Tim gave up his 3rd goal and the group kept harassing me - they only had Jim to blame for Tim's skills. Overall it was a lot of fun and the end of the game actually gave Lisa the highlight of her night when she finally recognized a guy sitting in the section next to us.

Lisa used to watch a lot of Soap Operas, especially when we had the Soap Opera channel and it turns out the guy in the section near us is a Soap Opera star named Thorston Kaye. He has been a doctor on General Hospital and, once his character was killed, he came back as his dead characters brother on a spin off show called Port Charles. It turns out Lisa is a big fan of this guy (basically she thinks he is hot) and so she wanted me to take his photo. I did but some friend of his spotted me acting like a paparazzi and pointed it out to Thorston. Now, Thorston isn't some weak little actor boy - instead he is about my height but has been a collegiate decathalete and a professional rugby player. So I smiled at him and asked if it would be cool for Lisa to have her picture taken with him (I still didn't know who he was, I thought maybe he was an ex Penguins player she knew). He agreed and was really cool about it. He waded through the departing crowd, gave her a big hug, and then gave the camera a real smoky gaze. It was hilarious and Lisa loved it.


How to Stop The Patriots

1 min read

My friend Ryan has attacked the Patriots again - except this time he is being more brutal. Sure, this video is just wrong, but it's still kind of funny (in a sick way). Enjoy!