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A settled nomad living on the edge of Appalachia. I love to listen to music, spend time with my family, and play sports. I'm lucky enough to write code for a living. I'm often accused of having no "filter" as I tend to overshare. I make beer on occasion and try to sample new beers whenever I can.$BillRawlinson

Birdmen of Norway

1 min read

My boss, Mark, saw this on CBS 60 minutes and shared it with me. I had seen an older video but this CBS one is a higher quality. Check them both (CBS and older)
Watch CBS News Videos Online AND

My New Bike

7 min read

A couple of weeks ago Lisa came across a really nice bike on eBay that she thought I should bid on. I debated about it until the auction was almost closed becuase, quite frankly, I wasn't sure if I wanted to invest any serious money into a sport that I am so obviously bad at. Eventually the deal proved too tempting to pass up and I made an offer and won the auction. However, it seemed I was not going to get the bike becuase my offer was less than the sellers "reserve" price. Undeterred I emailed the seller directly and asked him to inform me if the bike was relisted as I would consider re-bidding. He responded and told me I could buy it for what my max bid was (well, that + $14 to round the numbers out). I accepted and within a week the bike was delivered to my office by our UPS driver.

The bike features an '08 Santa Cruz Superlight frame, an '08 Rock Shox Reba front fork, all sorts of Shimano XTR parts including hubs, shifters, Hyrdaulic disk brakes, and derailleurs, a Chris King headset, a Fox Float RP 23 rear shock, a Thomson seat post, Kenda navagel rear tire (running tubeless) and Mavic DT Swiss rims. Honestly, I barely know what all of that means so if, at this point, you are lost don't worry you aren't alone. The basics are this is all pretty high end stuff that passed the muster of my more knowledgeable and skilled friends.

my bike in my office

The bike arrived last Wednesday but we weren't going for our normal mid-week ride due to the bad weather so I had to wait until Saturday. Over the course of the next couple of days I managed to transfer my crappy nylon pedal's onto my highly tuned racing machine. It's was sort of like putting a Yugo Emblem on a Ferarr and I caught some nice crap from my friends for it - but I just don't have the necessary confidence for clip in peddals (more on those later).

On Saturday we hit up our normal trail but we went about it a little backwards and climbed the hill we normally ride down. Almost immediately I noticed some differences in the overall ride of the bike. The front shock, during the first 400 yards of the ride, saved me from going over my handle bars and the efficient shifters and gears that actually stay in gear made the climbs much, much, much easier. I also noticed I was able to make a turn I usually have trouble with thanks to the improved stopping power of my vastly superior brakes. I was feeling great. In fact I felt so great I was riding a bit more aggressively than I normally do which, when looking back with hindsight, may not have been the best idea.

One area I always walk through is a tricky rock garden and the surrounding trail that occurs about half way up to the top of the mountain. This time I decided I would try to ride through the surrounding trail and that I would just walk the garden. Unfortunately when going over a decently sized rock (about 12-18" tall) I steered poorly between the second two rocks and my front tire lodged into one of the neighboring large rocks. If you've ever ridden a bike or a skateboard before you can imagine what this did to me - I flew right over the handlebars. Fortunately I'm actually pretty adept at landing after that particular dismount so I didn't really get banged up at all and I was quickly back in the saddle and riding.

Later we approached a section of the trail that has been dubbed "Bills new Nemisis" becuase I typically won't even try to ride down it. I have ridden down it successfully once but most of the time I don't even bother. However, it was the first real bit of downhill for the day and I wanted to see what this full suspension bike was made of so I just dropped in and rode. Intially I did ok but I started to build up some speed which made me nervous so I used my rear brake to slow down. Then my back tire started to skid and I was hitting some big rocks kind of hard so I released the brake because, in my limited experience, it is easier to go over most of these things with a bit of speed. Unfortunately it can also be hard to steer when you're going over rocks and ruts while picking up speed and you don't have much confidence. One larger rock kicked my front tire to the left and started to point me off the trail towards a tree so I applied my back brake again so I could correct. Almost immediately the loose soil and my rear tire started to slide so I released and then tried to steer back to the right. However, the slipping I was already doing proved to be too much and my bike just slipped out from under me and I slid down the hill while still sitting in a normal riding position (just lying down).

My legs both hurt a little from the fall and slide but overall I felt OK considering I had avoided hitting the tree and I wasn't really hurt so I hopped back on the bike and finished the trail out to the road where we found Ed fixing a flat. When I passed up Ed to stop and help he noticed that my back tire looked a little funny so we investigated and quickly discovered that my rear rim was pretty badly bent. My ride for the day was officially over after 1.5 miles. It was pretty disheartening that I had just bought this expensive bike and immediately had to take it to the shop for repairs - I had never had to get my much cheaper bike fixed. My bike was still ride-able down the street to our car but not safe for trail riding so we headed to the car and then I went to the local bike shop to drop mine off for repairs. At this point I had been in possession of the bike for less than 3 days - that was on Saturday afternoon.

I just got the bike back from the shop (today is Friday). So, at this point, the repair shop has had nearly twice as much possession of my bike as I have. I can't afford to keep that trend alive so hopefully I don't break it again.

The only thing left to upgrade on the bike are the pedals. They really do suck. Even though they are textured because they are nylon they get pretty slick when they are muddy and I have a lot of trouble keeping my feet on the bike. Most mountain bikers use clip in pedals (STB, Egg-Beaters, or Time ATAC's) becuase they give you a better base on the bike, improve pedaling efficiency, and help you when you need to hop up the hill a bit. However, I'm a little nervous about the idea because you are locking your foot into the bike just like you do with your boots and ski bindings (practically the exact same mechanism really except it locks in at the ball of your foot instead of the heel and toe). I know that I need to overcome my fear on this issue so I have bought a pair of shoes and some Time ATAC Alium pedals that I will be installing on my old bike for a week so that I can practice getting started and locked in and, just as importantly, releasing when i need to. I figure after about a week I can transfer them to my new bike and I'll go out and try just the river trail and some other easy bits of up and down so that I can get comfortable enough with them that I can ride without being worried about my knee being destroyed when I crash.

I'll let you know how that goes.

Upside Down You're Turning Me

6 min read

This past weekend was a long planned Mountain Biking trip to Mount Wood State Park in northern West Virginia (near Parkersburgh). Typically we just ride some local trails so it was pretty exciting to be going about 2 hours out to hit some totally new single track. I woke up pretty early (7am) on Saturday because I couldn't remember what time I was picking Ed up at (9am). Since I was up so early I went to Walmart to get a spare tube and then came back home and had some oatmeal, loaded up the car, and then drove over to Eds. I was still there half an hour early.

At Eds house we filled up our water packs (my house was under a water boil advisory due to a water main break). And then we headed to route 2 to meet up with the other car for the drive up at around 9:30. The drive took 2 hours and then, once everyone was ready to go it was just about noon. At this point I really should have had a snack of some sort but I wasn't hungry and nor was I thinking about food. This was my first mistake of the day.

We started the ride from Mike's mom's house which is in an awesome location about 200 feet from the trail head. We jumped in and started a great ride of short descents and short climbs. The one constant of the days ride is there would be no time spent on flat terrain. Mike has a cool GPS unit and he uploaded the course we rode so you can see all the cool details. The bottom of the page has four tabs (they are really faded so its hard to tell they do anything) but the elevation tab does work and it will show you how the course bounced up and down. It was a ton of fun to ride though I'm not sure I was fully ready for 16 miles of it.

At about the seven mile marker we came out into a place called the Savannah and a really cool, but slightly overgrown, obstacle course was waiting for us. It had neat rails you could try to ride on, a teeter totter, and a long ramped jump. The approaches to many of the parts was really overgrown but we still managed to try a few of the things. I successfully rode onto one of the small rails but had to bail before reaching the second. Ed conquered the teeter-totter and then we each took a try at the jump.

Ed Jumping

This first photo is of Ed making the jump look pretty easy. None of us got very much air but I think Ed may have gotten the most. He also rode down the jump very slowly and amazed me by nothing flipping his bike in the process.

Mike Jumping

Mike made the jump too. He didn't get as much air as I expected but he still did a good job. He also rode slowly over the jump and surprised himself by not flipping his bike.

Gilbert followed and landed a nice jump as well.

Gilbert Jumping

This photo of Gilbert is great. I like this head on angle becuase it makes the jump look a bit more impressive. Though, honestly, I'm not sure anyone's jump was as impressive as mine.

Bill Crashing

I had neither sufficient speed to make the jump nor sufficient upper-body strength to save it at the last minute. Nor did I have the technical skills necessary to ride slowly over the jump without flipping so I flipped. Hard. I landed pretty squarely on my head and broke my helmet in three places. I also bruised my face, shoulder, and knee a bit. Thankfully, that was all. The rest of me was OK - my bike wasn't even damaged. Needless to say I think I'll leave off jumping for a while. (This was my second mistake of the day for those counting.)

After this tumble the other three played around a little more then we resumed our trek around the park.

At the 9 mile marker I was starting to feel pretty worn out and Mike offered me a chance to bail and return to his house. I declined (mistake #3) and kept on riding. By the 11 mile marker I was exhausted. My legs were like jelly and I was hiking my bike more and more often. Steering becomes pretty difficult as you fatigue but amazingly I didn't crash again that day but I sure did come close a few times. At one point I was going so slow I just told the others to keep riding and to put stick arrows at any intersection that I might need directions at.

Near the very end of the ride I was getting a bit of a twentieth wind and I managed to ride for the last mile or so without having to hike but boy was I tired at the end!

Once at Mike's house we all cleaned up and then headed out for some grub at Wendy's. I knocked back a half-pound burger and a chili and Dr. Pepper. I also finished off my big Gatorade bottle that I had started before the ride. My total dietary intake for the day was 2077 calories. It wasn't enough - not by a long shot. If you noticed on Mike's Garmin page his computer estimated we burned exactly 2077 calories during the ride. I was at a net of 0 by the time I had eaten at Wendy's - after the ride. Next time I will not only eat a small snack before we start but I'll bring some granola bars or something to eat on the trail.

Even with my crash and my exhaustion I had a great time. The trails were great and the other three guys were pretty patient with my slow pace. I'd definitely return to Mt Wood for another ride.

Kickball Kickoff

5 min read

Baseball diamonds for some harkens back to halcyon days of baseball glory; bats cracking, star spangled singing, and crowds roaring. For others, however, for others, the diamond is the home for an oft overlooked sport - Kickball.

I have gathered around me 21 teammates to craft the Strictly Business Kickball team of the Jewel City Division of the World Adult Kickball Association. That's right - WORLD. Who knew Kickball was so organized but, as they say, 30 is the new 8.

Our team is one of four in the division. Interestingly enough our division is the only one in the region and thus we are one of four teams in the region as well. I'll explain why that is interesting later but keep Las Vegas in mind.

The opening pitch of the Summer 2009 season were rolled out today and my team played in the second game of a non-traditional double-header. The first game featured the BoneCrushers-vs-Cabell Comprehensive Kickballers. The Kickballers are manned by a hodgepodge of serious kickers who have been studying technique and game video on YouTube while the BoneCrushers aren't nearly as fearsome as their name might suggest. In fact the only thing crushed today were the spirits of the Crushers who lost 5-0.

Our game pitted Strictly Business -vs- The CHAMPs. The first inning seemed to bode poorly for our neophyte team as we went 3-up 3-down. In the bottom of the first the CHAMPs got a runner on base after a booming double and then he was driven in by league president Cara after our first baseman seemed to fall asleep with the ball as a pillow.
There are 11 fielders including the pitcher and catcher and no matter how big your leg is you just can't kick a kickball as far as you think. So, with 11 fielders crowded around it can be tough to find a place to put the ball that will enable you to get on base.

At the end of 1 we were down 1 and things didn't look too promising for us. Lisa, our manager, made the call and I came in from the bullpen to provide 3 scoreless innings of masterful pitching on 2 kicks.

The subsequent innings for our offense went a little better as we peppered kicks throughout the game but by the time the fifth and final inning came around we were still losing 1-0. We were up first and if we didn't score the game would end in an embarrassing shutout.

Our first kicker, Brad, stepped up to the plate and drilled a solid single. He was followed by the top of our lineup - Mike, Joe, Megan, and Me. Mike waited patiently for his pitch and then drilled a deep fly ball to center field. The defense bobbled it and before you know it Brad was rounding third and scored easily. Meanwhile Mike was chugging in for a stand up triple! Just like that we had tied the game and we had a man in scoring position with no outs!

Next up was Joe. He saw a opening and he boomed another kick into center field it dropped in the gap between center and right and he too had a stand up triple. Suddenly we were up 2-1. Megan followed up with a short fly ball that was caught for an out. Then I was up and I kicked a nifty single just over the second baseman driving Joe in and giving us a 2 run lead. It turned out to be all we would score but it was enough.

Our reliever was called in and Tim "Soriano" stepped in and pitched a perfect 3-up 3-down inning sealing the deal for Strictly Business's first win of the season.

My entire team seemed to really enjoy themselves and overall it was an afternoon of great fun and comraderie. Next week we face off against the Bone Crushers and we will totally shift our field positions to make sure everyone is getting as much action as they want. Then, in week 3 we will be playing the only other currently undefeated team - Cabell Comprehensive Kickballers. The sports media is in a frenzy of anticipation for this battle of the titans.

I have to take the next two weeks off so I hope to return to the field with us enjoying a 3-0 season record. If we do start off that well we will be well on our way to being the number one seed in the playoffs - which, admittedly, doesn't mean much with only four teams - but if we can finish the playoffs in one of the top 2 positions we will qualify for the regional championships.

The funny thing is there is only one division (ours) in the region and the top two regional teams automatically qualify for nationals in Las Vegas in October. Thus if we can win our division we also earn a spot in Nationals. I don' know how many of our team would actually want to spend money to compete nationally in Kickball but at least we will have the option.

Running Workout

8 min read

I was asked today to define a workout regimen for a high school student interested in playing on the soccer team. They had a long list of things they have to be good at by next semester and a bunch dealt with distance running and endurance. Some of the others dealt with soccer skills and speed drills. I'm useless at defining soccer skill and speed drill exercises but I told them I could help with some distance running things. It's been a long time since I actively did any distance running but here it is the advice I offered based on my Cross Country running days.

Everyday: warmup:

make sure you stretch your legs, back, and arms out well each day.  I can't really define stretches very well but make sure you stretch (without bouncing at all) do each stretch at least 10 times and hold each stretch for at least 20 seconds.  Stretching should take at least 5-10 minutes

Everyday: Ab exercises

I basically suggest two exercises.. The first is the elbow hold crunch and the second is the flutter kick.

Elbow Hold Crunch - lay on your back with your legs bent at a 45 degree angle (just like if you are going to do situps)  cross your arms behind your head so that you are holding your elbows with your opposite hands.  Do a half sit up and flex your abs and focus on them.  Hold that position for a count of 10 Mississippi.    You should end up feeling a good burn in your abs; make sure you keep breathing.  After the count of 10 lay back down and rest for no more than 2 seconds before doing the next.  Do at least 10 reps. If you can't do each rep for 10 seconds just do each for as long as you can.  Your whole body should be shaking as you do the last few.  Once you can do ten without a problem increase the count to 15 and so forth so that the last few are always really hard.  This will really work your upper abs and your lower back
Flutter Kick - you may hate me after this one and you have't even started running yet.  lay flat on your back with your legs fully extended.  Put your hands palm down under you butt.  It will seem a little strange.  Then lift your feet, without bending your knees, no more than 12 inches.  Flutter your feet, as if you were swimming, up and down at a nice rhythm just as if you were counting 1,2,3,4  per second.  Do this for one minute.. you will feel serious burn as you go you need to fight through the burn and keep doing it.  Make sure you keep breathing and ignore the burn.  Once you can do a minute without too much difficultly raise it by 15 seconds.. keep increasing the time as you improve up to no more than 3 minutes.  This will really work your lower abs.
If you are eating a good diet of high fiber, complex carbs, and protein with low fat your abs and lower back will be amazing after 2 months.  This is you're core and is the most important part of your body to have in good shape for any sport.
400 yard/meter dashes - get a stop watch for this one.. Now go to a high school track and get ready to run as hard and fast as you can for a while.  I don't know how fast to expect so run one 400 as fast as you can.. Don't worry about pacing or anything just run your heart out and see how fast you go.  That's your baseline, write it down, remember it.  After you run that lap walk a lap, just a  normal walking pace.  You'll feel like crap but you can't lollygag around the track on the walk; but hold your hands over your head and walk (no lying down!) You might want to throw up.. go ahead and then walk around the track.  If you threw up drink a little water then add ten seconds to the time you ran and run again, ten seconds is a huge boost and you should be able to do this if you pace yourself.  Walk another lap.  Now add five seconds to the second runs time and run again.  Walk a lap then add five seconds and run again.  Repeat that process until you have run 6 laps and walked six laps.   At this point you will have run 1.5 miles and walked the same and you'll be worn out.  Now just cool down (five minutes of stretching) and you'll be done.  Drink some water.
Run for distance - no watches needed just go out and run at a casual pace (not trying to set any marathon records here) it's best to run with others if you can.  Stay on non-busy streets (i prefer streets to the park but this is up to you).  Run at least 3 miles (40 minutes?) but the more the better.  After the first 2 weeks should be running at least 5 miles (still 40 minutes); remember this is a light jog so you should never be breathing too heavy.  If you are you're running too fast; with one exception.  If you're running with someone else at least once every half mile you should challenge another person in your group to a quick sprint race of about 50-100 feet (say, "I'll race you to that blue car parked ahead on the right") and you both run your butt off as hard as you can.  Then you start jogging again, slower than normal pace if you need to let the others in your group catch up.  If you have a group of five or more then you should just call out a random member of the group for a sprint whenever you feel like it - its ok to get the same person twice in a row but never do it to the same person three times in a row during the same half mile.  Ideally the run will bring you back to where you started.  Again do five minutes of warm down and then you're done.  Each time you do this try to add more distance; you'll be amazed at how much further you are able to run in the same amount of time.
2 mile run - go back to your track and get ready to run eight consecutive laps; that's two miles.  Try to run it as fast as you can.  You need to learn to pace yourself so that you don't use up all your energy on the first mile.  This might take around 20-25 minutes, I don't know.. If it's faster great.. It will get faster each week so long as you pace yourself properly.  Try to minimize the amount of up-and-down motion in your run, try to extend your stride to a max comfort amount and relax your hands to avoid shoulder cramping.  When you're done running walk a lap to cool down then do five minutes of stretching.
Hills - Find a good sized steep hill.  Ideally it will be over 100 yards long.  Here you will start by running up the hill as fast as you can.  Time it.  It will be exhausting but push yourself up the hill and keep on breathing.  When you get to the top don't stop, just turn around and walk back down.  Do that four times (each subsequent climb should take no more than 3 seconds longer than the previous) then walk back up the hill.  Now you need to run down the hill and walk up it.  Run down it four times (timing the first and then adding 3 seconds at most for each subsequent descent).  You want to continue to extend your stride on the way down the hill but don't lose control of yourself, don't go faster than your comfortable with.  You work your legs in an entirely different way going down hill than you do going up.   Don't do downhills if it is raining; just do 2 more uphills.  When you're done stretch for five minutes.
Ideally when you have to go to a hill or the track you'll jog there (instead of driving) don't take a day off just because it's raining.  You get the weekends off.  After the first day you will end up pretty sore and that soreness will get worse during the first week.  It will go away and you'll notice you are getting better at everything.. If you can keep this up for the entire summer you will not only be able to play soccer without getting tired but you'll be able to run cross country and do pretty darn well at it.

Back in the Frozen Saddle

6 min read

This past weekend I finally got back out on the trails after a more than four month hiatus from mountain biking. It seems crazy that it has been that long but the last time I was out was a couple weeks before my London trip. WTF?

I received some new tires for Christmas from Lisa's parents that, based on the reviews, were pretty good all-weather tires and it turns out they lived up to their reputation in regards to muddy slopes. It rained ceaseless Saturday and we went out riding on Sunday so the trails were all pretty wet, slick, or boggy and the tread remained mud free all day. My old tires would have been filled with mud almost immediately because some parts of the trail caused the bike to sink in to the spokes.

I had sort of hoped that it wouldn't be so muddy because it was so damn cold out, in the mid 20's, but the mud and rain mixed stayed wet and soggy instead of firm and icy. I'm not sure which would have been better. I do know that the mud was exhausting to peddle through and my legs were dead like they've never been dead before. We went to Beachfork State Park; a park I'd only rode at once before, and I was dreading a huge hill about halfway through the ride. The hill is about 2 miles in length and sure enough by the time we reached it's base my legs were useless. There was no way I was going to be able to peddle up it; heck, I wasn't even sure I'd be able to walk up it.

This left me with a bit of a dilemma because we were about 5 miles away from the car so I could either try an unknown shortcut up the hill, take the main hill path, or backtrack. I really didn't want to backtrack because I would have had to ride through a small river 3 more times and risk getting totally soaked on a freezing day. I also didn't want to go up that monster hill especially considering I remembered the downhill part being pretty tricky and I was in no condition for a really tricky descent. With all that considered I decided to take the questionable shortcut while the other three headed up the long trail.

The shortcut wasn't too bad initially though it was much, much steeper than the long way. However, the trail on the shortcut disappeared a few times. Clearly it isn't a frequented trail by either bikers or hikers. However, I persevered and blazed my own trail a few times until I found a path that looked promising. We had suspected that the short cut and the long trail would meet up at the top of the mountain but I didn't see where the trail I was on would merge with their trail. I had talked to the others before the ascent and we had agreed that if I couldn't find my way I would backtrack so I figured they would know that I would be heading to the car if they didn't find me at the top of the hill. Thus I followed the trail I had found in the general direction of the car.

By this point my legs were feeling a little refreshed and most of the terrain was flat or sloping down so I was riding again. The downhill section I had to actually descend was pretty nice though there were a couple places that would have been much more fun if the weather were better (all of the wet leaves on the trails made traction very questionable). Eventually I found myself on a path that overlooked the trail we had taken out from the cars in the first place so I took another short cut down to it (another fun descent) and then started to backtrack from there. My circuitous route helped me avoid the three river crossings so all I had to do was one small stream crossing and then make it the 4 miles or so back to the car.

Along the trail I encountered a few hikers and 2 beautiful white tail deer. In general it was a nice ride except for the unusual pains I had been experiencing. The first was on the way out. I had tried to cross a large boulder and my bike didn't want to go and ended up crimping my pelvic bone between the bike frame and the handlebar post. That hurt like hell. Then, when I was about 2 miles from finishing my ass started to hurt. Beachfork's trails are criss crossed by a lot of roots and this constant bumping on a very frozen seat ended up really bruising my backside. It still hurts quite a bit today. Finally, by the end of the ride, my legs were pretty damn tight. The cold weather combined with my overall exertion caused my thighs to start to cramp up. However, I stretched out pretty good and I felt much better afterwards.

Overall it was a fun ride even though it was cold (I remained comfortably warm through the ride) and I'm glad I got back out there. My new tires are really nice and I have been reminded that I can't be taking four months off again. All of the gains I had made in leg strength and endurance were lost during my hiatus. Ed, on the other hand, has been riding non-stop and he has gotten a lot faster and stronger. I feel bad that I am holding the group back when we go out.

Speaking of holding the group back when the other three reached the top of their trail and I wasn't there they became worried and decided to split up and look for me. They sent Gilbert back to see if he could find me while Ed and Mike tried to find the trail I might have taken and they tried to follow it. I think they crossed behind me on my path a few times but we clearly took different routes because they saw some landmarks (such as large piles of coal) that I did not. Needless to say their hunt for me extended their ride by quite a bit and I was actually back at the car about 40 minutes before Ed and Mike (Gilbert rolled in about 10 minutes before them). I appreciate their effort on my behalf but hopefully they will just head to the car first in the future and then worry about me if I don't show up :O)

December Catch-up

9 min read

So much was going on in December I wasn't able to blog at all. Now that the new year is here, Happy New Year by the way, I figure I should catch everyone up on what kept us so busy. Technically this story is going to start in late November but hopefully you won't hold that addendum against me.

Emily turned 5 on Nov 26 amidst great fanfare and even greater parties. I'm not sure how many she had but trust me, there were a bunch. Lisa's parents drove down when all the hoopla had pretty much died down and we had one last gasp (well not really the last but I'll get to that later). While they were here we decorated the yule time tree and stood in a circle singing carols. Ok, so we didn't actually stand in a circle or sing carols but it was a nice rockwellian image wasn't it? (unless you have heard me sing then perhaps it was a scary image).

I had to work for the first couple of days of December (making sure to call my mother on the 2nd for her hundredth birthday or some huge number like that; it was also my friend Mike's birthday). On around the 5th we loaded up the family cruiser for a trip to Disney World. Fortunately we only had to drive the cruiser about 1 hour to the airport where we then flew to Orlando by way of Atlanta. We stay at the cheapest hotel at Disney, the All-Star Sports/Music/Movies. Our room was at the All Star Music. If you paid attention 2 years ago you might remember that we stay in a family suite which is really just two hotel rooms merged into one with a small kitchenette. It's perfect for the four of us because it basically has two bedrooms but we don't have to pay for two full hotel rooms.

The last time we were at Disney Emily was sick with some kind of flu. This time she was healthy the whole time and, I think, old enough to really get into everything. Earlier I mentioned the last bash for Emily well it came at Disney this year. We had pre-ordered a cake with dumbo on it saying Happy Birthday Emily and some balloons (free with the cake, sweet!). I had to pick the cake up from the hotel restaurant our first night there. However, I had to wait a while so I sent the girls ahead to the park to get some early rides in. Finally I got the cake and brought it back to the room with five balloons. Then I hustled back to the hotels bus stop so I could get to the magic kingdom and find the rest of mi familia.

Sadly, the cake wasn't really seen that night because, by the time we got back to the hotel, Emily had fallen asleep. It was understandable considering the drive, the flight, the bus ride to the hotel, the ride to the magic kingdom, the rides, the fireworks, and then the bus ride back to the hotel; she is only five afterall.

I'm reluctant to describe our entire week at Disney so I'll spare you most of the details and I'll just stick with the highlights for the girls; the biggest of which was their trip to the Bibby Bobbidi Boutique which is kind of like a beauty parlor for kids. The girls both had their hair done in a Cinderella hairstyle, they had makeup applied, and "pixie dust" liberally coating them. They both seemed to really dig the whole experience and they both looked cool when it was all done. It was weird seeing Emily with makeup on. Shannon has had to have heavy makeup applied before for dance recitals but Emily hasn't; it was really really strange to see her all dolled up. You can see a bunch of photos from Disney if you'd like

Overall, the weather while were there was cold but dry except for the Thursday of our week when it rained hard. We had gone to the Animal Kingdom and we were soaked and cold by the time we got back to the hotel so we spent Thursday afternoon at downtown Disney checking out the shops. We did that all backwards because Thursday afternoon turned out to be really nice. The best thing about the rain in the morning was that the Animals were all out on the safari ride and all of the characters were in one building (which was mostly devoid of guests) so the girls were able to meet 7 or 8 characters without having to wait in line at all. We also got to see a monkey going through dental surgery which was kind of cool. They had just brought in a local dental surgeon come in to do it since the procedure was pretty much the same for the monkey as for a human.

After we got back from Disney I had to work for one week before starting my 2 weeks of holiday vacation. It was the first time since 2009 (our honeymoon) that I had taken 2 weeks off in a row. With weekends that equated to 16 days off! Sweet. For the first four days I called it "Billcation" and I mostly just sat around and read some books. At the end of the four days Lisa was then off work and we celebrated our own little Festivus on Dec 24 where I gave Lisa her big gift, a trip to the Grand Canyon this summer. I went to the canyon while I was in the Army and it was amazing. Lisa hasn't seen it so I think she will really dig it. We will actually be staying in Vegas and my brother and his wife will be joining us which will make it extra cool.

After our little celebration we loaded up the car for a trip to Cleveland where we spent about 7 days with Lisa's family. It is always nice to see them. My nephews are all basically young men now which is a little strange but cool. One night my three nephews and I went to a local university to play some pickup basketball. It turns out I still suck but now I am in such bad cardio shape that I couldn't even make up for my lack of skill with effort. Danny and Chris both tried hard and Pete was doing really well from three point land. We played 3 games of 2-on-2 with Pete and I winning the series. Then we switched to a four on four game where Chris (the youngest and shortest) played much better. He had to guard a really big guy (wide, but not really tall) who was pushing Chris all over the place. Chris didn't back down and even swatted a few of the other guys shots. It was great. Danny ended up getting some seriously nasty looking blisters so he and I sat out after the first game of 4-on-4 so that the teams would be even still.

Danny, Chris, and I along with the girls went bowling one day where I dominated with an avg of 146. We all went again another day with Lisa, her sister Jane, and her dad as well and, while I had the best average (146 again) Lisa had the high score of the week with a 178. She had been using a 10 pound ball and was struggling, she moved up to a 12 pound ball and never looked back. It was really cool to see her do so well. I think she and I need to go bowling more often. We both enjoy it and it isn't too expensive (though for the 17 games our group played plus shoe rental it was over $100!)

The only truly negative part of out time in Cleveland, for me, was that I am now officially burnt out on Hand and Foot. We were playing with 7 people in each hand and that is just too many. We really should have broken out into 2 groups because each game just took way too long.

Once we returned from Cleveland my Dad, Patty, and my brother Chris, swung by and we had a nice dinner and they gave me a really nice Scarf for Christmas. I already had a Liverpool Football Club scarf but it isn't very long and its very red so doesn't go that well with my work clothes. It has been fairly cold and windy here lately so a nice scarf fit the bill pretty well. This one is green and gray striped and is very long so I can tie it on like I saw everyone in London doing so now I'm not only warm but fashionable!

Ted sent us a digital picture frame with about 500 photos of his part of the family on it. That was cool because we tend to harass him about getting some photos. My mom sent me three books I've been wanting to read and I've already finished 2 of them. In fact, over the past month I've knocked out 11 books. I have some serious reviewing to get to over on my book blog. Lisa's parents gave me some new rubber for my mountain bike tires that should help improve my grip. I haven't been out riding in a while but I am hoping to hit the hills this weekend with Ed and Mike (and maybe Gilbert).

Finally, we had a small party for my dad's 63rd birthday the night before his actual birthday. We had paella and apple pie. It was great. Plus my dad had put together a prototype for a secret project we are working on and the prototype was perfect. We agreed to work on the final version sometime in the next couple of weeks and I'm really excited about it coming to fruition. I suppose I'll probably let the cat out of the bag when it is done just because I will be so excited about it and want to show it to everyone! Stay tuned.

Pheasant For Thanksgiving

9 min read

Thanksgiving, in my house, has always been involved chilling out, watching the parade and some football, snacking on nuts and veggies all day, and then, around 4pm, eating a big old turkey dinner. I imagine this isn't much different from most other peoples general experience. However, this year, we flipped the script a bit and did everything a bit differently. First off I was sick - as sick as the proverbial dog. My head was stuffed like the thanksgiving turkey and my throat felt like it had been attacked by the windshield ice scraper on a frosty morning. Instead of letting this bit of illness interfere with my plans I tried my best to ignore it by drowning the symptoms in cold medicines.

We normally celebrate Thanksgiving in our own home but this year we had coordinated with my dad to head to his house. He had been remodeling his kitchen over the past few weeks and my step-mother, Patty, was eager to show off his handy work and her design ideas. My dad also had a new Thanksgiving activity to add to my daily itinerary - pheasant hunting. I've never hunted game birds before. Well, technically, I've never really hunted anything before. When I was a kid I accompanied my dad on a couple hunting trips but I never carried a weapon or shot at anything. I was just there to hang out at the camp ground and do my own thing. This year, however, I was being invited on the hunt. The closest I'd ever been to hunting was hunting people during training exercises in the Army while I was a light engineer or an OP-4 (opposing force) in El Paso.

We went to my dads house on the evening before Thanksgiving (Wednesday) and had a light dinner and then chatted for a bit before I attempted to hit the hay early since I was sick and we were getting up to hunt at around 4:30am. However, I couldn't sleep at all. Sure, I might have snoozed for a little bit but, overall, I didn't feel rested at all in the morning. Lisa was cool enough to wake up and make my dad and I breakfast before we headed out so at least I had a nice full belly with some good warm food. I also had plenty of clothes on including two knit caps. It was freezing out (18° F) so I was wearing about 6 layers of clothes on my torso. We went hunting with my dad's friend Shannon (a guy), Shannon's nephew, and my dad's other friends Pharral, Matt, and John; so there were seven of us in all. We drove about an hour to just outside Chillecothe, OH where there was some state owned property. The state of OH department of natural resources had released a collection of pheasant on the land the night before. We got there, found a place to park amongst the masses of trucks laden with other hunters, and then waited until around 7:30 for official sun rise. At that point we started to march through the brush.

I had no idea the brush would be so incredibly thick or thorny. I was wearing some of my old winter weight Army BDU's (Battle Dress Uniform - Camoflage) pants and my dad tried to get me to wear some chaps to help protect my legs from the brambles. I declined (plus I wasn't wearing a belt) and fortunately my pants held up admirably. Throughout the 4 hours of hunting I only felt one thorn in my legs. We crossed a few different fields throughout the day. In the first field a group off to our right managed to flush two birds but their entire group failed to hit either one. A little later Shannon's dog flushed a bird but Shannon missed it; however Matt was quick to follow up and get our first bird of the day. We then circled back around on that field through some woods into another field before heading back towards the main road we had parked on, crossing it, and then entering the biggest field on the upper level of the land.

As we trudged through that field another bird was flushed out of the woods to our far right and flew straight at the end of our line that was manned by Matt. The bird was only about 10-15 feet in the air and it turned about 12 feet away from Matt giving him a perfect profile to shoot at. He missed. I was second in line and I readied my weapon, took it off safe, and began to raise it to my shoulder while waiting for it to clear Matt completely so i wouldn't hit him with any spray. Suddenly, a second boom from Matt and the bird was down. It all happened in about 1 second. I hadn't expected him to get a second shot off so quickly because my weapon was a pump action shotgun. It turns out his is an automatic and thus he was able to squeeze off a second round almost instantly. While hunting these birds I can see how useful an automatic shotgun would be! Matt put the bird in my coat's game pouch so that we could keep hunting with him. I think it was OK to do so long as we took the bird against my limit of 2 for the day and in the end it wouldn't have mattered really considering I didn't shot a single bird. In fact, the pheasant that Matt put in my pouch was a close as I got to even shooting (I took off the safety).

After we patrolled that field to completion we headed down to the lower level of the land to traverse two more fields. As we finished the first field we had to go through some incredibly thick growth to get to the second field so I offered to take my Dad's spot in the line so he could go through some substantially less thick stuff. While I fought through nearly impassable growth the pouch the pheasant had been put in was revealed to be not a pouch but instead some kind of waterproof seat that folds off the coat so you can sit on it. The growth had grabbed the material and folded it down and the dead pheasant got away. So, not only did I not shoot a bird I lost a dead one. Of course I didn't notice the loss of the bird until we all regrouped at the far end of the next field so backtracking and finding the bird was nearly impossible (I tried and failed to find the bird).

As we turned around after the regroup another bird was flushed and started to fly away behind us. Shannon shot, Pharrell shot, Shannon's nephew shot, and the bird kept rising and flying away. It was nearly 70 yards away and Matt shot, the bird flew about 10 more feet and then, suddenly, it fell from the sky. It was over 70 yards away from Matt, Shannon, Pharrell, my dad and the nephew. John and I were quite a bit further away so we kept heading back across the field but the others went in search of the bird. They had to traverse a wood line and then entered some really thick overgrowth. Shannon wasn't even sure the bird would have been able to fall to the ground there was so much growth. They search for about 10 minutes then decided to give up. Just as they did Matt's dog, a Brittany Spaniel, pointed on the bird. It had managed to fall to earth and work its way through the growth into a cave of brush. Eventually they caught back up with us; then we headed back up to the top level to get back to our trucks. However, Matt's dog had gotten sidetracked somewhere down below so Matt had to go back down to find Cooper.

The out of state permit for hunting cost me $40 for a 3 day permit. However, for me it was really just a half day permit. While I had a lot of fun just being out there with my dad, and I'm really appreciative of him inviting me, I'm not sure I could afford to do it very often. $40 a pop is a pretty steep price tag. However, had I brought home some birds to eat maybe my opinion of the price would be a bit different.
Once he found Cooper we headed out and drove back to Dad's. Once at Dad's I was supposed to take a nap but I wasn't sleepy. So I just chilled out (didn't watch any parades or football). Dad took a little nap then setup the grill to rotisserie the turkey. Joe had made an apple pie, Lisa a pumpkin, and Patty a tiny mincemeat. They had also made some cheesecake, some veggies, salad, and stuffing. Overall, though I wasn't very hungry, dinner was pretty good and obviously, filling.

A bit after dinner we piled into the family cruiser and headed home. Why? Well we had to get some sleep so we could wake up bright and early to witness Black Friday first hand. Joe stayed at our house to watch the girls so Lisa and I could head out at 6am. The stores actually opened at 4am but as tired as I was there was no chance that was going to happen. The mall parking lot seemed pretty full but the mall itself didn't really seem that crowded. It felt no different than a normal Saturday afternoon. I imagine the lack of crowd was a sign of the economic times. If so it was magnified by the pending closing of many stores in our mall. We are losing a Linens-n-Things, a B. Moss, a Circuit City, a Value City, Steve and Barry's, and maybe an Old Navy. Our mall isn't all that impressive in the first place so losing all of these stores is not a good sign.

Back to the Trails

4 min read

Last night we hit the trails at the Barboursville park again and, I think, we had the best ride yet. We started out at the same point we usually do, a small gravel parking lot about halfway up the mountain, then crossed the street and hit a powerline path. However, instead of going all the way to the top of the powerline we cut off to the left about 3/4 of the way up. This gave us some cool down and up hill areas to cover on the way to the summit. Just after getting on the trail I nearly ran over a small turtle that was crossing the path but fortunately I just avoided him. Had I encountered the turtle just a couple weeks ago I probably wouldn't have been able to avoid it.

Yesterday was really hot plus I was breathing really hard so my throat was drying out fast. I was chugging my water much faster than I usually do so I had to suggest a different route that would bring us down near the lake so we could stop at the bathrooms and refill our water bottles. The downhill to the bathroom was a blast. I was feeling much, much more confident on the trail and really felt like I was doing almost everything much better. While I am still not very good it is nice to see my technical skills improving.

From the bathroom we took the river trail, at a pretty good pace, for about 3 miles before heading cross country to go up another mountain. The river trail is so much fun - it is the one time I feel like I'm doing really well the whole time. I am much more confident turning on it and I am willing to really attack some of the obstacles (in an effort to jump). At one point we reached a small rock garden that, previously, only one of us would ever successfully cross in a day; however, on this trek all four of us navigated it successfully. Sure, better bikers wouldn't even call it a rock garden but, for us, it is a pretty good obstacle.

The climb up the second mountain pretty much killed me; I had heartburn and my cardio just isn't that great yet. I recently bought some small Cliff brand energy gels - chocolate flavored - and decided to follow their instructions yesterday by taking one a little before we started out for the day and then another about half way through. It is these gels that gave me heartburn and it was nasty painful so I'll not be using my chocolate gels again. Even with my lungs struggling to find air, and my legs burning from exertion, I did much better going up the mountain yesterday than I have in the past. I only stopped to rest a few times and I rode my bike, as opposed to pushing it, far more - in fact I only pushed it twice on very steep parts where I couldn't ride.

I was still noticeably slower than the other guys but I felt like I really gave it my all and I will only get stronger because of it. I'm actually kind of surprised at how much I'm enjoying the sport. When we first started I was skeptical because it was so hard and, frankly, kind of scary. But now I'm much more comfortable and I have a better understanding on how to approach most of the obstacles we deal with so I can really enjoy the downhill portions of the ride.

Hopefully I'll get to go out again this Sunday morning. It is supposed to rain tomorrow so the trails will be slick and I'm still not really digging mud riding (yesterday was perfect and dry). But I figure the only way I'll get better at mudding is if I keep at it.

Two For One - Biking Fun

9 min read

I failed to post an update on my mountain biking activities last week so this is going to be a summation of the two weeks rolled up into one.

Typically we have been riding at Barboursville Park which is a city park with 20+ miles of trails that wrap around the main park area. Last week we decided to mix it up a bit though and instead headed to Beachfork State Park. It is just a little south of Huntington and is laden with trails; most of which seem more like the river trail I like so much at Barboursville. These trails don't go up or down hill too much they just roll with small dips and rises. I like these kind of trails because I can focus on steering and just going. When we are going up hills I'm wondering when my lungs became so poor and when we are going down them I'm focused on not flying off the side of the trail or, worse, over the front of my bike.

Not all of Beachfork is rolling flat trails though. Eventually we came up on the Mary Davis trail which features a 1/2 mile climb at one point. I honestly don't think the people who knew Mary Davis cared much for her if they named that trail after her - it was a bitch. Somehow Ed, Sean, and Mike rolled up it without pausing. I, on the other hand, stopped, gasped, wheezed, and stumbled to the top of the hill. When I was younger I was always the guy who tried to push ahead to the top of the hill (when hiking, running, marching) and I was a bit disgusted with the people who couldn't keep up. Now I'm just disgusted with myself. It's not a pleasant feeling. I really need to get in better cardio shape (and my legs could use a bit more strength too).

Though it might be hard to tell I had a blast at Beachfork. After the painful climb we had a lot of downhill to look forward too and, unlike prior weeks, I didn't worry about the hills. I just rolled. I think it helped that I didn't really know what I was getting into. Instead I just focused on using the appropriate techniques for the terrain and I managed to get down every hill without incident. That isn't to say that my day was perfect. Almost right off the start I discovered that no matter how slow you are moving up a hill that if you don't avoid even a thin tree it will stop you and throw you and your bike back down the hill. I didn't fall off but my chain did. Overall we rode 7 miles and that was my only real problem with execution of the day so I was pretty happy with the ride.

Mike and Ed over the past couple weeks have really been talking up the use of energy bars/gels. Considering we are going biking at around 5pm and we haven't eaten anything since 11:30am it seemed like a good idea so I packed up a Cliff Bar (Chocolate Brownie flavored) and figured if I got really tired or hungry I'd eat it for a bit of refreshment. I generally like most of the Cliff Bar flavors I have had but the I was disappointed to find out on the trail that the Chocolate Brownie is nasty. I only ate 1/2 of it before tossing it into a bin.

This week we returned to Barboursville park but we followed a totally new path through the first half of it and it was a blast. We started off going up a short but steep hill and then we flew through the woods and attacked a fairly steep downhill. I think it was at least as steep as where I flew over the handle bars a few weeks ago - but I went at it with more confidence this time around (as well as proper positioning on my bike) and I made it down without a problem. Then we headed on some cross country riding before coming to a set of train tracks. On the other side of the tracks we had to backtrack about 50 feet through the thick gravel along the side of the track. That is some hard pedaling. The ground shifts constantly under your bike, your wheels sink into the the loose stone, and you really have to fight to keep your balance. I had to put my foot down once but I was happy to make it through. After the tracks we hit the river trail. At this point I'm not sure what happened. I went into the trail last and pedaled hard the entire time. I Shifted my gears into a faster configuration (2,3) and I didn't have any problems with the obstacles - yet somehow I fell behind the others. I pushed myself pretty hard trying to keep up but still they all got far enough ahead of me that I couldn't see them. It was really strange.

I finally did catch up with them at a "rock garden" formation. A rock garden is basically an obstacle in the path that is made out of large rocks or small boulders that you have to navigate on your bike. We took a rest just before entering the garden when the local mountain biking group came flying up the trail. We all moved over and they just flew through the garden. The leaders of the group even took a more difficult line. Once they were past we mounted up and attempted a similar feat. Ed, our best rider, rolled right through, and then, for some reason I decided to go second. I actually did OK though I had to put my right foot down once to maintain my line. Sean's pedal bottomed out on a rock (really easy to do) and Mike made it look pretty easy. Overall it was the best the four of us have done on that part of the trail before. We then pushed our way over the remained of the river trail where we found the big group finishing up a rest. We took another short rest while they headed out toward our main climb of the day.

At that point I really should have stopped. We were back at the main parking lot (which isn't anywhere near where we parked) and I was really tired. Granted, had I stopped there I still would have had to climb the big hills on the road to get back to my car so I was pretty much stuck. We headed up the mountain trail though and I struggled with all of the climbs. I struggled with the flats, oddly enough the only part I didn't struggle with too much was the downhills. At one point we were going up a worn smear of dirt on the side of the mountain - it wasn't even a cut so the angle was oddly slippery since we were climbing against the grain - my arms were exhausted and I couldn't steer well when suddenly I was pointed about 50 degrees to far to the right. That means I was pointed straight down hill. A very, very steep and hill with no trail. Fortunately I didn't really have any momentum when I turned (which is part of the reason I turned I think). I managed to jump forward off my seat and put my feet down, I clenched on both brakes so the bike wouldn't roll too much, and I tried to stop myself from sliding down the hill. It was really steep so I failed. I started to stumble down waddling with the bike between my legs. After about 15 feet I just fell over onto my side and the bike seat drove into the back of my thigh (that could've have been MUCH worse). Eventually I extracted myself from the bike and fought it back up to the "trail" where I resumed my ride.

We kept on riding and riding and riding. My left arm was getting really really tired. However, I found a second wind and really pedaled hard on the last mile or so. Up hills and across flats I was attacking and getting more and more tired until eventually we reached a pretty steep downhill with some nasty rocks jutting out. I thought about riding down it but I could barely hold my body up on the handle bars so I decided to walk that part. It is actually a tough little hill to ride and I haven't done it yet. We used to ride in the opposite direction on that hill and we always had to walk our bikes up it. I didn't recognize it for the hill it was until I was halfway down it then I was happy I had decided to walk. At the bottom I hopped back on my bike and rolled to the end of the trail which spits out where we parked. I was drenched in sweat, my arms were like rubber, and I could barely catch a breath but I felt pretty good.

We rode about 8 miles in all though I'd guess that with some of the uphills I had to walk I probably rode closer to 7. It was my best performance so far in terms of navigating obstacles but was also my most tiring. I was so tired at the end that when I changed my socks I couldn't pinch my sock tightly enough with my left hand to pull it over my ankle. I really need to ride more than once a week if I want to get in better shape so I think I'm going to try and ride with Ed on Sunday as well. I probably won't post for each day individually if I do - instead I'll try to keep my mountain biking posts to no more than one a week.