Road Trips

During last year’s big Colorado adventure, I decided this year’s big adventure would be backpacking in Colorado. As of June, running buddy, Sandy Krum, aka Krumy, was to join me for the big adventure. We did a local test run, a weekend backpacking trip, to make sure she knew what she was getting into. But the backpacking part of the big adventure got canned just five days before we were to leave for Colorado when I dislocated my knee on a trail run. Grrr. So we left the backpacking stuff at home and only packed the car camping stuff….uh….that’s PRIMITIVE car camping. I still wasn’t convinced she knew what she was in for:

- 24 hr/day outside in the elements, which happened to be highs in the 60′s and lows in the 30′s, mostly sunny with an occasional spritzing of rain.
- No showers. Getting cleaned up would consist of sponge baths from a cold stream.
- No flush toilets. It we were lucky, we’d have pit toilets.

And I wasn’t sure if I knew what I was in for. 24/7 with another human being??? Last time I tried that I was miserable after the 2nd day and it was lucky both of us got out of the woods alive. I do these adventures alone for a reason. I’d be letting someone be part of something very personal to me. We’d either come back best of friends or one of us would be duct taped to the roof of the car. Time would tell.

The Drive Out to Colorado – August 20-22
So, Krumy, me, and three dogs started off the adventure on Friday at 12:01 PM when I picked Krumy up from work with the car packed. We immediately established two rules:

1.) The driver determines the temperature of the car to her comfort and the passenger adjusts.
2.) The driver picks what she wants to listen to. The passenger either listens, blocks it out, or uses headphones.

Cooper and Cassie in the car and ready to hit the road

Cooper and Cassie in the car and ready to hit the road

Not far into the drive the comic relief started. Following rule #1, I had the air going full blast. My mind works overtime and I generate a lot of heat when I drive (that’s my theory anyway) so I like it cold. Krumy pulled her sweatshirt out of her bag and put it on….OVER her seatbelt. Bwaaahaaahaa! Remove sweatshirt, unclick, put sweatshirt back on, reclick.

Adding to the comic relief, Krumy soon fell asleep with a pillow on her lap ( to keep warm!) and Charlie (my little 10lb Pomeranian pooch) asleep on the pillow. When she woke, she shifted positions and poor sleeping Charlie went flying to the floor.

This was going to be a fun trip.

Chuck and Diane

Chuck and Diane

We made it to Normal, IL by midnight where friends, Chuck and Diane, put us up for the night and would be keeping Charlie for the rest of August. I backed into their driveway tentatively. Two months before I had put a nice hole in the bumper of Chuck’s brand new car with my hitch. I didn’t want to damage it again so I tried to keep my distance. I ended up parked partly in their perfectly manicured yard. Chuck just rolled his eyes and told me to bring the dogs into the back yard with his – Duncan, the best, most incredible dog in the world, and Oreo, Duncan’s shadow. This was going to be an interesting night. Five dogs in one small house. I wanted to apologize profusely to Diane for the chaos about to ensue. But they all got along, except for Charlie who just hid the entire time so he didn’t get stepped on. We had stellar accommodations complete with a personal wakeup call – kisses from Duncan.

Chuck and Diane treated us to breakfast, then sent us on our way…probably wondering how we were ever going to make it to Colorado when we were having problems finding the exit of the McDonalds. But we managed and continued across the midwest, relatively uneventfully until….[tinkle, tinkle, tinkle].

Me: Did you hear that? Did Cassie just pee? (my 27lb Shiba Inu mix)
Krumy: I dunno

I wasn’t sure I wanted to find out when there was nothing I could do about it so we waited till we got to the next gas stop. Nope. The plastic mat they were on in the back was dry as a bone. Hmmmm. Mystery. We continued on until…

Me: [horrified] I just ran over a turtle!!!
Krumy: I didn’t feel anything
Me: I felt a little squish. Think how long it took him to get that far. Poor little guy…
Krumy: He won’t have that problem anymore…..I can’t believe you squished Vern!!! ["Over the Hedge" reference]


Krumy: Oh!!!
Me: [half asleep] What?
Krumy: You can add a bird to that list. I just heard a thump under the car.
Me: [ROTFL] Awww!!!

Death toll: 2


Slowing down coming into a town (as opposed to earlier in the day when I didn’t slow down and got a speeding ticket. ack!), I applied the breaks and we heard a waterfall. Sandy looked back and saw water flowing from the valve at the bottom of the cooler. Apparently, I forgot to shut it when I filled it. The case of the peeing dog was solved.

We finally arrived at the campground in Colorado and set up camp – home base for the week at 9,500 ft of elevation. First order of business – get a fire going and roast some HUGE marshmallows.

S'mores.  Yum!

S'mores. Yum!

Monday – August 23
Let the exploring begin!!! We headed out on a dirt road intending to drive into the trailhead for the Starvation Pass trail. But my wannabe SUV only got us about halfway. The road got to be a little rougher than I was willing to subject my KIA to. We needed it to get us back to PA eventually. So we turned around and decided to hike the Ute trail. We hiked in a few hundred feet and there in front of us was a knee deep river with the trail continuing on the other side. We looked at each other. Normally it wouldn’t have been a problem to cross. But I didn’t have any shoes along on the hike other than the sneakers on my feet and didn’t fancy crossing the river in bare feet because those rocks at the bottom:

#1. HURT!!!
#2. are slippery. AND that’s how I injured my knee the week before – slipping on a wet rock and twisting my knee.

Crossing the river - ouch, ouch, ouch!

Crossing the river - ouch, ouch, ouch!

Sandy started taking her shoes off. Looked like we were crossing. Damn adventurous spirit. I left my pack and the dogs with her and returned to the car for my knee brace. The dogs romped while she crossed swiftly in her new Vibram Fivefingers shoes. I followed slowly cussing at the slippery, painful rocks the whole time. Once across, we took the dogs off leash and let them run through the open meadows. They deserved it after being cooped up in the car for three days.

Hiking the Ute trail

Hiking the Ute trail

Cassie started her quest to sniff every crevice of Colorado in search of anything that moves. Cooper bounded along behind her just happy to be free. This was heaven…one of my favorite things in life. Watching the dogs roam freely, running full out, hopping through the high grass like a rabbit, pouncing at field mice, sitting frozen at the bottom of a tree staring at a squirrel she just scared up into the branches. Basically, just being a dog.

Bear foot print

Bear foot print

The trail was tame and my knee was glad we were breaking Sandy in gently to Colorado. Didn’t want to immediately scare her off with the limited oxygen and steep ascents. But I was disappointed. I came to Colorado for the mountains. I wanted to see VIEWS!!! Then we rounded a corner, Sandy about 20 feet ahead and the dogs off running into the meadow the trail opened into.

Me: Holy *^&%!!!!!!!
Krumy: What? [Looks to her left]. OHMIGAWD!!!!
Moose: [snort][looks at Sandy]

Cooper, Cassie, and the MOOSE!

Cooper, Cassie, and the MOOSE!

I fumbled with my video camera, turning it off by mistake trying to get the ultimate shot. Cassie and Cooper suddenly realized this huge playmate was just ahead of them and they took off in chase. The moose dropped its gaze from Sandy and loped through the clearing across the trail ahead of us, and disappeared into the woods on the other side, Cassie just behind. Sandy and I emerged from our daze and started whistling and calling for Cassie. I had visions of the moose running along, dragging Cassie, her jaws sunk into one of the moose’s rear ankles. Cassie returned quickly and we sighed in relief. (Thank you Linda for an obedient dog!!!)

The rest of the hike was boring by comparison…only a little excitement when Cassie rolled in bear pooh. I had to wash her down in the stream at the end of the hike.

Cooper scrambling up the mountain

Cooper scrambling up the mountain

Cassie after running through wet underbrush and rolling in bear pooh.  Gross!

Cassie after running through wet underbrush and rolling in bear pooh. Gross!

Cassie after her bath in the stream

Cassie after her bath in the stream

We headed back to the camp for supper and S’mores by the campfire.

Tuesday, August 24
I woke at midnight last night freeeeeezing and not able to turn my brain off. Frustrated with myself, I got up and went for a hike….in the dark. I’ve wanted to do some night hiking for a long time but have never had either the occasion or the energy to do it. Last night was the night. The campground manager said there were some waterfalls at the top of the mountain so I set out to find them. I followed a dirt road up the mountain by the light of the moon. I rounded the last switchback and shadows of surrounding mountains came into view. I saw the crest of the highest hill in the area just ahead and scrambled up it. By the light of the nearly full moon, I was treated to the most gorgeous view of mountains and clouds. I stood there energized. Then I started to worry. I’d been gone for two hours. What if Sandy woke up, found me gone, and started freaking? AND I wanted her to see this. So I ran back down to the campground. She was still sleeping when I got back and I didn’t want to disturb her sleep so I crawled into my sleeping bag wondering how I was ever going to get back to sleep. Then she stirred….

Me: You wanna go see something?
Sandy: What?
Me: You wanna go see something?
Sandy: WHAT?!?
Me: I can’t tell you.
Sandy: Can I take my sleeping bag along?
Me: Sure.

The view by day

The view by day

We packed the dogs in the car and drove up to the top and the gorgeous view, now slightly darker with the moon lower in the sky. It was fun seeing her reaction – the sleeping bag pulled tight around her, she turned around in a circle taking it all it. I was glad I woke her.

Lake Cristobal - on the way into Lake City

Lake Cristobal - on the way into Lake City

We went back to sleep and got up at a more reasonable hour for some more exploring. We drove the 45 minutes up to Lake City over a couple of passes and some great views. Then I got the brainy idea that we should head over to Ouray, a quaint little town nestled in the mountains and my favorite place in Colorado so far. And secretly I wanted to get some Copper Gulch earrings. I had gotten two pair in Ouray a couple years ago. I broke one pair and lost one earring of the other pair and hadn’t been able to find them online. Krumy google-mapped it. 30 miles. 1 hour, 47 minutes. Pshaw. Something’s hosed up on Google. We headed out on a dirt road. Made it halfway in about 30 minutes. Shoot. We’d make it in about an hour. Seriously Google?

Then the road started getting a bit…uh…rockier…and rockier…until we were crawling along at about 3mph and we’d reached the limits of my KIA. Darn. Made it about 2/3 of the way. 1 hr and 47 minutes indeed! But with a REAL 4-wheel drive vehicle, not MY car.

Cooper listens to the woodchuck chirp

Cooper listens to the woodchuck chirp

We turned around and tried a side road which became just as rough, although not as nerve wracking because it ran through a valley and not on the side of a cliff. We turned around again and parked beside a meadow where we had a relaxing picnic by a stream while watching the dogs play and Cassie do the Mexican Mouse Dance.

Then it was back into the car for them and we went back into Lake City to check out the local shops, buy maps, and reserve a Jeep for an adventure on Thursday. Then back to the campground to get cleaned up and relax by the fire.

Wednesday, August 25
Another cooooold night! I had two pairs of socks on (one pair was wool), sweat pants, a long sleeve tshirt, a turtle neck, a heavy hoodie sweatshirt (with hood up!), my heavy winter jacket, was inside a permanently borrowed sleeping bag from my uncle, and had three layers of blankets on top of that and was still chilly! Temperature was in the mid 30′s. Apparently this sleeping bag, although seemingly heavy duty, was NOT the 15 degree sleeping bag of mine that Krumy was using. Something had to change.

On the Colorado Trail.

On the Colorado Trail. (No idea why WordPress keeps cutting off my head. :-(

It was Colorado Trail day today. We started out at the trailhead parking lot with a death march – the phrase we used when visiting a pit toilet, so dubbed because of their odor strong enough to gag a moose or straighten the antlers on an elk. This one got the prize for horrendous smell.

Sandy and Cooper at a rock cairn on the Colorado Trail.

Sandy and Cooper at a rock cairn on the Colorado Trail.

Then on to the more pleasant march. We set out on the Colorado Trail with no real plan or destination, just enjoying the beautiful day and views and excited to actually be on the trail. We ascended steeply through aspens and evergreen and mushroom-filled fields until the trail leveled out at a meadow with great views. We took a break and let the dogs run, sitting at the base of a person-sized cairn that marked the path of the trail across the open meadow. I daydreamed of hiking the remaining 480 miles of the trail. Forget the Appalachian Trail!

We hiked back out to the car, squatting while we were still in the privacy of the woods so we wouldn’t have to use the pit toilets. Then it was off to some waterfall sightseeing. There were several in the area including the one I never actually made it to on my midnight stroll.

There were some amazing waterfalls

There were some amazing waterfalls

And, of course, then another campfire and S’mores.

Thursday, August 26
Another largely sleepless night….partially due to the altitude and partially due to the fact that I was FREEEEEZING!!!!!!!! I ended up pulling Cassie out of the cage she and Cooper shared in the tent and putting her in my sleeping bag with me. If this little 27lb furnace didn’t produce enough BTU’s, Cooper was next. She did the trick and I got a few hours of sleep before we headed into Lake City to pick up our Jeep rental.

Plan for the day: Drive the Alpine Loop – a 60 mile 4-wheel drive loop that reportedly took 5 hours to drive – and hike up to a summit of a 14,000 footer. Ambitious. We drove into the trailhead, both a little nervous. Neither of us had ever driven roads like this and we weren’t confident of the abilities of the Jeep Wrangler.

Krumy drove. I sat white-knuckled in the passenger seat. Not because of her driving but because of the road. That 500 ft cliff two feet to the left of the jeep made me a little tense, especially when we leaned hard to the left going over boulders in the road, not to mention that the road was barely wide enough for one car, much less two. If another vehicle came from the opposite direction, one of use was going to be backing up over this stuff for who knows how long. Just slightly tense!

Cassie hanging out the Jeep

Cassie hanging out the Jeep

As we drove straight up over a particularly large boulder, Krumy declared, “I hate when the road disappears like that!” The dogs didn’t seem to mind though. Cooper just laid down in the back while Cassie was in heaven, getting to ride with half her body hanging out the side of the open Jeep, the leash tied securely to the floor.

We got to the trailhead about 20 miles in with me clinging to my breakfast from motion sickness. I’d be driving on the way back thank you very much.

Starting at 11,000 ft, we had 3,000 ft to ascend in just over two miles with only 70% of the oxygen we were using to having. This wasn’t going to be easy. We signed in at the register a few hundred feet up the trail so they’d know where to recover our bodies from when we didn’t turn up with the Jeep in the evening.

Krumy took off practically skipping up the mountain, able to breathe better than she had in years because of the lack of humidity. I sucked in every oxygen molecule I could get and lagged behind, offering to take Cooper who tended to surge ahead on the leash so he could drag my butt up the mountain.

The first 3/4 of the hike was easy going in comparison to the last 1/4 which was straight up to the peak AND on scree. We took a break at the last plateau debating on whether to continue. We were wearing shoes without any speakable tread, had no more water, clouds were rolling in, and coming back down was going to be dangerous enough without the dogs. All it would take is for one of them to pull and we’d have a lot of scree embedded in our butts before we’d be able to get ourselves stopped. Dangerous even by my standards (who downhill mountain biked in the mountains of CO just a couple months before). So, being the two “innies” we are, we went for it. Worst came to worse, we could just take the dogs off leash, do a controlled slide down the scree, and meet them at the switchbacks.

Just before the scree scramble

Just before the scree scramble

We made the final shuffle to the summit, stopping about every 50 ft to double over and catch our breath. 45 minutes laster I was at the summit, mesmerized by the view. I called down to Krumy about 20 ft below. “It’s worth it!!!” She calls back breathlessly, “I haven’t given up yet.”

Just as she starts coming over the crest of the peak, I yell, telling her to stay there. She keeps moving. I yell louder over the wind, telling her again to stay, figuring she didn’t hear me. I wanted some video of her coming up over the hill and didn’t want to make her have to do it again. She still kept going. “STAY!!!!” She looks up at me. “I thought you were talking to the dogs!” Woops! ROTFL.

She made it and joined me in the 360 degree view from the top of the world. It was indescribable. Even pictures and video don’t do it justice, although we took a ton of them.

Standing on the top of the world!

Standing on the top of the world!

360 degrees of this view!

360 degrees of this view!

We soaked in the view for a while then started the descent, with dogs on leash, both perfect angels. Not a hint of pulling. Somehow they understood. Once off the steep section and past the switchbacks, we let them off leash. And Krumy told me of her determination to “get some steak for supper tonight.” Sounded good. Almost back to the car a rain cloud stopped directly overhead (although it was sunny about 200 meters away) and it started sprinkling – the typical 12 drops of rain Colorado gets every afternoon.

Me: OUCH!!! [Raising hand to ear]
Krumy: What?
Me: What was THAT?
Krumy: What?
Me: Something stung me. [looking around for a flying insect that didn't buzz]

More rain drops fell.

Me: That was rain! It hit my ear and it hurt! They have some pointy rain drops out here!

I felt my ear and the blistered skin. Apparently, I’d gotten really sunburned and didn’t realize it. I noticed the sunburn on Sandy’s face and neck. In the excitement of climbing the mountain, I forgot about one of the effects of the thinner air – stronger UV rays. You don’t tan out here. No matter how tan you already are, you still burn. Perhaps we should pick up some sun screen.

We got back to the car mid afternoon, not enough time to drive the rest of the Alpine Loop. So we headed back out the way we came in….with ME at the wheel…gunning it through the huge mud puddles. :-)

Back in town, we went hunting for steak. Little did we know how difficult it would be. The bar tender told us of a high class place that had steak on the menu but you needed reservations. We doubted they’d welcome our smelly, muddy selves.

Bartender: Nowhere else has steak in town. There’s a BBQ place down the street though.
Krumy: What? Seriously? There are cattle all over the fields out here. Just go shoot one!!

We had seafood and pasta for supper.

Friday, August 27
Our last day. How could we make the most of it? Let’s take a drive over to the Silverton area (southwest part of the state) and see what that has to offer. It was a 3-hour drive. We wouldn’t have much time to explore. We’d need to be back by mid afternoon to clean up and start packing so we could get an early start home in the morning.

Most of the drive was pretty unspectacular except for one thing. I found my earrings!!! We stopped at a “Colorado Made” store about halfway there. At every other store we’d been in that week, I’d asked if they carried Copper Gulch Jewelry. Nobody had ever heard of them. Since their website was down and their phone was disconnected, and apparently no one in Colorado had ever heard of them, I’d resigned myself this week to the idea that they’d gone out of business. So I didn’t even ask when we entered the store. After browsing around, I reached the last corner. And there on the wall was a display of Copper Gulch earrings. WOOT!! Also got a picture and a couple neat frames to put some pictures from this trip in – the first things to be hung on the walls in my house. :-)

We continued on through Durango and almost to Silverton stopping at some overlooks with great views. I found my spot for next year – backpacking in the Silverton area. Yippee!!! Unless I am able to take a couple months and do the entire Colorado Trail, that is. [big grin]

We turned around to trace our path back to the campground stopping at a cute honey making place near Durango. I started getting a little antsy as we meandered around, tasting all the different flavors of spreads made from honey. We still needed to get our baths and pack and I didn’t fancy doing that in the cold or dark. We left there and entered Durango. Krumy immediately spotted a brewery and gave me her best puppy eyes. She’s a beer connoisseur. Ok. Let’s stop. I didn’t mention the time. She was the one that had to be back by Monday night for work on Tuesday. If it were up to me, we’d have stayed for a few weeks.

We stopped in and she ordered a beer. Then another beer. Then…

Krumy: Wanna grab supper here?
Me: Sure
Bartender: Grill’s not open yet. Cook should be here in 20 minutes or so.

An hour and another beer later I was munching my way through a burnt chicken sandwich and Krumy, a juicy cheeseburger. We finished and Krumy ordered YET ANOTHER beer and we went to the outside seating where the dogs are tied. By this time it was 5pm. We still had a 3 hour drive ahead of us, baths, and packing to do. Apparently Krumy’s mind had been working during those beers.

Krumy: What do you think about staying another day?
Me: Really? Can you get off of work?
Krumy: I can try.

A few phone calls later and it was settled. We had another day. Woot!!! And we had another Jeep rented.

While sitting with the dogs, we noticed a laundromat across the street . In front was a big sign reading, “SHOWERS”. That would solve the freezing-cold-bath-this-evening situation (which I was determined to get, not having bathed in a couple days! Ack!).

I headed across town to Walmart for shower necessities while Krumy stayed with the dogs and beer. Showered and feeling human again, we headed out of town, first stop at Wendy’s for a non-burned sandwich and then back to Walmart for supplies for tomorrow’s adventure. A word of warning….never, ever take Krumy into a Walmart when she’s buzzed. Normally on the far end of the spectrum of introversion (WHICH IS NOT THE SAME AS BEING SHY!!!), she moved a few notches towards the extroversion side. I had to babysit what she was throwing into the cart so there were no embarrassing surprises at the checkout counter.

Then it was back on the road campground-ward bound with Krumy snoring in the passenger seat.

Saturday, August 28
Excellent night of sleep. We switched sleeping bags and I was as warm as a bug in a rug. And Krumy was still warm in the borrowed sleeping bag even without all the extra layers that I had needed.

Up early and on the road for the 45 minute ride to Lake City. Loaded up the Jeep with the day’s supplies and the dogs. Krumy drove like a bat out of hell on the bumpy road to the trailhead for two 14,000 ft peaks. Just as we pulled into the parking area, Cassie spotted a squirrel. She made a jump for it. Expecting her to slip her collar and take off after it, I looked over to the squirrel. Nothing. I looked back to see Cassie dangling over the side of the Jeep, one toenail barely scraping the ground. I wrestled with my seat belt and bolted out the door to the rescue, queasiness forgotten. I hoisted her back over the side and climbed back in myself.

Not my wannabe SUV.

Not my wannabe SUV.

We sat there debating. Did we really want to do these two peaks? It was going to be even more difficult than the climb on Thursday with another mile and another 1000 ft of elevation gain. Although we had picked up sunscreen…which we probably wouldn’t need with storm clouds rolling in already. That settled it. Not crazy about getting caught in a lightning storm on a rocky mountain, we decided to just drive the 60 mile Alpine Loop….with ME driving.

We crawled our way over boulders, through streams, and beside cliffs, and gunned it through mud puddles. We saw a group of bikers (as in bicyclers) with specialized bikes geared low for steep climbs making their way from Ouray to Lake City. We saw an old mining town. We saw a shepherd moving his flock of hundreds of sheep through the mountain with the help of his four dogs. We saw an abandoned little cabin beside a stream in a valley – my idea of the perfect homestead – where we stopped and ate lunch and let the dogs run. We saw more incredible views at Engineer Pass. It was definitely a good choice of activity for the day.

Engineer Pass

Engineer Pass

Engineer Pass

Engineer Pass

A cabin by a stream on the way down from Engineer Pass

A cabin by a stream on the way down from Engineer Pass

The sheep herding dogs moving their flock of sheep through the mountains

The sheep herding dogs moving their flock of sheep through the mountains

First snow of the season for the area falling on a nearby August!

First snow of the season for the area falling on a nearby August!

Biker with specialized bike for steep hill riding

Biker with specialized bike for steep hill riding

Gorgeous rainbow

Gorgeous rainbow

Tired and excited from the day (but bummed that the week was ending), we headed back into Lake City for some last minute shopping, supper, and then back to the campground to pack what we could, then enjoy our last campfire. As we were working, the famous 12 drops of rain started spitting down. Sandy called me out of the tent to come look at something. There in the sky was the most vibrant, full, double rainbow I had ever seen. What an ending to the trip. We got pictures and video and continued working when Sandy suddenly stopped what she was doing, stood up, looked at me and said:

Sandy: I can’t believe it.
Me: What?
Sandy: I’m not sick of you yet.

Apparently she had had the same concerns I had about the trip. ROTFL. Ok, I wasn’t sick of her either so I decided I could safely pack the duct tape away.

Sunday, August 29
Got up, tore down camp, and finished packing…an exercise in frustration for me so I turned the operation over to Krumy. We were on the road by 11am. We drove across Colorado and Kansas with occasional spontaneous laughter when one of us would remember something funny from the past week.

Monday, August 30
Drove to Springfield, Missouri where we stopped to visit with friends at the Votaw Tool Company for a few hours. Carl treated us to lunch then updated me on his latest equipment in the machine shop. We left Springfield, both of us feeling more and more drained, the longer we drove. I swear it’s the effects of coming back down to near sea level as I felt the same way last year and both of us were feeling it this year. We trudged into Illinois where we stopped for the night.

Tuesday, August 31
Neither of us having any more energy than the day before, we dragged ourselves through the midwest, taking longer and longer rest stops – for the dogs, of course. By 10 PM, with both of us feeling nauseous, and with three more hours of driving to go, giving us a 1am ETA, we threw in the towel and got another hotel.

Wednesday, September 1
Still feeling drained, as I would for another week, we made it home, unpacked, and attempted to get back into the swing of things….not very successfully on my part. My heart and mind were still in Colorado.

Till next year’s adventure…

Breakfast anyone?

Breakfast anyone?

Cooper and Cassie never complained about dish duty

Cooper and Cassie never complained about dish duty

Had to take a second glance at this information station.  Geez.

Had to take a second glance at this information station. Geez.

SQUIRREL!!!  Cassie sat there frozen like this for several minutes

SQUIRREL!!! Cassie sat there frozen like this for several minutes

A tent complete with wood stove.  I could make do!

A tent complete with wood stove. I could make do!


Way back in January I committed to running the God’s Country Marathon in Coudersport, PA on June 5 along with a few others from our HARD group. Well, we did it. We made it through the training in the cold, snow, rain, wind, and a few hot ones….despite injuries, lack of motivation, and getting a bit sidetracked when Kathy J wasn’t there cracking the whip. We had some awesome road trips to the beach and upstate PA for our long runs. We had some great evenings joking at the Batdorf, a cool movie night, birthday celebrations and…well, you’ll have to wait for the video to be released for the rest of the details. :-)

Krumy, Me, Kathy J (KJ), Michelle-Blue Eyes (BE)

Krumy, Me, Kathy J (KJ), Michelle-Blue Eyes (BE)

H.A.R.D., you rock my world! Thanks for the great memories and the incredible friendships. Can’t wait for Steamtown marathon in the fall. Who’s in? [snicker]

Friday, June 26

Finally got out of bed at 4:15am to make it to a HARD workout….and after only a few hours of sleep. (I still had to unpack from my last Colorado trip last night before I could pack for this one.) Went to circuit training with the HARD group. Holy cow. I’m gone for a few weeks and they up the ante on me. Got my butt kicked. It’s going to be a mighty painful next few days when the full soreness kicks in…especially after sitting all curled up on planes all day.

Made it to Denver at 5pm after only 1 delay. There was bad weather around Denver and we were put in a holding pattern for a while. Got a few glimpses of the mountains around Steamboat Springs when the clouds broke for a few minutes. Also saw another rainbow from the plane. Woohoo!

Saturday, June 27

“Do what you like, Like what you do” – That’s the slogan for the Life is Good brand and the theme for this weekend. I’m attending a Drupal conference in *gasp* Colorado. Yup. Back in Colorado in less than 2 weeks and this time with the added bonus of a Drupalfest. It don’t get no better. I’m in my element. With my people. Geeking out with fellow developers. Planning world domination with Drupal. Solving life’s problems with jQuery and pre-processing functions. Although, I’ve discovered you’re not a true geek unless you have a Mac OSX laptop and an iPhone. The iPhone is tempting but I’m not willing to go with AT&T to get it. Verizon’s been too reliable. The Macbook would be tempting if it didn’t require shelling out another $3K for a laptop and then another $4K to buy all my software all over again. That ain’t a-happening! I’m not THAT anti-Microsoft.

There is one aspect of this trip that sucks….the hotel. I was this close – | | – to walking out around midnight tonight and heading to another hotel. For starters, the toilet was stopped up when I got here. And no, Dave, I didn’t do it. I complained 3 times till they finally unclogged it. The bathroom sink drips constantly, the light in the bathroom doesn’t work and it’s party central outside at the pool. Oh and the air conditioning doesn’t work. I was expecting low budget but dang, it ought to be a little better than this for the price. But the bed is comfy and the shower’s hot and the kids stopped screaming shortly after midnight.

On a brighter note, I’m glad I was woken up ’cause Kathy J pinged me. She got to Frankfurt at midnight (2am eastern time and prolly around 8 or 9am in Germany – can’t remember if they do daylight savings time). She’ s safe and sound and didn’t barf on the plane. She said they flew at 40,000 feet at 600mph and could track the flight the whole time. Wild! Can’t wait till she starts posting pictures.

Met some neat people. Went out to lunch to an Argentinian pizza place (who knew?) with some interesting people from a Boulder-based Drupal company. Learned what Sangria was. Mmmmmmm!!! I normally don’t like the taste of anything with alcohol. But this was gooood. I could get used to it for lunch every day! Had so much fun we forgot to watch the time and didn’t make it back for the 2pm sessions. Woops!

Also met some Drupalers from PA. Go figure. Fly to Colorado to meet people from PA. We talked about setting up a Drupal usergroup for central PA. That may be a project for the fall. We’ll see.

And darnit…I’m sucking air AGAIN! Geez. So much for acclimating. It started all over again with the breathing-stale-air feeling. Walked back from the conference center SLOWLY while trying to talk on the phone…probably sounded like I was running. I was so out of breath.

Sunday, June 28
A few months ago I attended DrupalCon in Washington D.C. At the conference, one of the sponsors, Lullabot, introduced their new Drupal training DVD’s. I went home and immediately bought the videos. When I watched them, I was mesmerized by the eyebrows of one of the trainers. He had the most expressive eyebrows I have ever seen. The first time through, all I did was watch his eyebrows. It took a second time through the video to actually pay attention to the content.

Yesterday morning I ran into this guy that looked familiar. I thought maybe I had run into him at DrupalCon D.C. It turned out to be eyebrow-guy from the video. We ended up at the same table for lunch today. He was hilarious…and super knowledgeable about Drupal. It was interesting listening to him talk about the little Colorado town of 800 people that he lives in that has no cell phone service and about Lullabot and Drupal…and of course, I was once again captivated by his eyebrows.

Nate explaining Drupalese by writing on a napkin

Nate explaining Drupalese by writing on a napkin

Monday, June 29
Time to fly home. Bummer. I enjoyed DrupalCamp Colorado even more than DrupalCon in D.C. because it was smaller. You actually started recognizing people by the end of the conference so it was easier to meet people. And yet most of the sessions were still high caliber. So I really wasn’t ready to leave. I could have hung out a few more days with these people. But real life was calling.

So boarded the plane for 3 uneventful flights back to Harrisburg. Finished another Drupal book – Drupal 6 Javascript and JQuery – and then napped the rest of the way. I need a vacation from my vacations!

Colorado Adventure #1 – (1 of 3 in summer 2009)

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Sunday, June 7

Made it to Colorado on Saturday early afternoon after a LONG but uneventful drive across country. And realized too late (forget who jokingly mentioned it) that I could have totally broadcast the entire drive live over the internet, complete with webcam and chat. I had all the equipment to do it but nothing set up in advanced. That would have definately taken some of the boredom out of the drive.

Set up camp Sunday afternoon. And to those of you who think I’m roughing it…hah…I’m living it up compared to backpacking. Take a look at my home sweet home:

Home Sweet Home
view from campsite

Charlie’s been really good in the car and at the campground. Didn’t find out till I got here though that dogs aren’t allowed on trails in the Rocky Mountain National Park. :-(

So far I’ve spent most of my time sleeping, reading, and eating. I’m hoping to get some hiking in once I can start breathing again. Tomorrow morning if the weather’s good. Just took a drive through the Rocky Mountain National Park today:

Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park

Monday, June 8

Took a 6.5 mile hike this morning that turned into a 10 mile hike….missed a crucial turn. It rained most of the time but that’s cool for a trail hike. Running in the rain sucks and backpacking in the rain sucks but a short hike in rain…woohoo…bring on the mud. Here are some pictures:

Elk-chewed Aspen trees
Elk-chewed Aspen trees
Roaring creek. Fortunately, I didn’t have to cross it.
A fort in the middle of nowhere?
Which way do I go?
My wrong turn took me another 1000 ft up in altitude and into the snow. What I wouldn’t have done for a topo map!
There are some nice peaks in the background.

Alternated between reading and napping all afternoon. And discovered something interesting. There is no cell phone reception up here at the campground. In fact, I have to drive 5 miles into town before I get reception. HOWEVER, there is literally a 2X2 foot square in the center of my tent where I get 1 or 2 bars. No joke. That’s not enough to hold a phone conversation but it lets me get email and chat on the Blackberry instant messenger. Oh and I can also tether my Blackberry to my laptop and get internet access for it. Blackberries ROCK!

Went into town in the evening and t-shirt shopped. Found some great ones. Then went to dinner and got this awesome vegetarian pasta meal. I’m not a vegetarian. (The best I could do is be an aspiring vegetarian. I’m just not committed in that area.) But this dish was incredible. I think it’s going to be my pre-race meal on Saturday night. The restaurant was fairly empty, thankfully, because I was chatting with Kathy J. and had a few LOL’s. I’m sure people were wondering.

Oh and BTW, Chuck, the shop is all yours and Kris, you get my house. Sell it or make the payments on it. I’m staying in Colorado.

Tuesday, June 9

Went for a trail run this morning…on the trail I hiked yesterday. I’m definitely making some progress in the acclimating area. Saturday and Sunday I was lightheaded and I felt like I was constantly breathing stale air. Monday was ok during normal activity, but I was sucking some serious air on a fairly easy hike. Today’s run was pretty good except for the uphills. At home I could have run the moderate uphills but here, I was huffing and puffing just hiking them. Level ground was doable and downhill was good. So I guess if the race were tomorrow, I’d kick butt on the level and downhills but die on the uphills. That means I’d have roughly half of the marathon licked. Thank goodness I still have 4 more days to acclimate.

I think my sleeping has finally leveled off (hopefully). I’d been sleeping 10-12 hours a night every night since Friday night plus a 2 hour nap in the afternoon. Only got 8 hours last night though. And didn’t nap today despite reading all day long. Maybe it was my body’s rebelling at the lack of oxygen.

Went on a very short hike into Bear Lake. Views sucked because all the peaks were behind rain clouds. And then there was the couple that insisted on making out two feet from me. Get a room!

Charlie’s been a real gentleman. I didn’t know he had it in him. He’s been friendly and QUIET! I can leave him in the tent or tied outside and walk away and he doesn’t wine or bark. Just waits for me to come back. And he’s been friendly…ok, maybe just tolerant… with other dogs. And best of all, he’s gotten some serious snuggling in.

And lastly, finished reading one of the many Drupal books I brought along. Drupal (or Gerbil as they call it at work) is a framework that I build websites on. I’m on a quest to become an absolute expert in the framework and have bought every book on the market for it. See?

Drupal books

I just finished one of the more important ones on Drupal security. While I knew of many of the security aspects of coding, I learned a lot about ways to find bugs from contributed modules. Guess what I’ll be doing first thing next Wednesday morning when I get back to work. Oh, and my favorite quote from the book, “A big part of finding bugs is simply being paranoid…”. LOL. Love it!

I’ve also decided on next year’s adventure. I’m really digging Colorado but the amount of hiking and exploring I’m able to do is limited by the marathon on Sunday. I’d like to actually survive it so I’m holding back and not doing some of the longer hikes I’d really like to do. So next year…screw the running…I’m going to do a 2 week backpacking trip either on the Colorado Trail or the Continental Divide Trail.

Oh yeah, and I forgot to include a house picture…it’s a very important piece:

The furnace

Wednesday, June 10

Slow news day here at Micksville. It rained most of the night and rained on and off all morning. Not gonna be getting any great views today. So I stayed in and vegged out, read, and spent some time in my “happy place”. That’s what Kathy J calls my 2 square feet of Blackberry reception I get in my tent:

My Happy Place

Also finished the Drupal Multimedia book and started the Drupal Social Networking book. Then watched a Netflix video I brought along. Real party animal, I know. Sorry to disappoint.

The only other news…and this is actually BIG news…
I found a cap!!! HARD, you no longer have to listen to me whine about my favorite 8-year old Yamaha baseball cap that fell apart on that cold, WINDY 11-mile Mt. Pleasant-322 loop. Take a look:

Life is Good hat

Back to reading. Hopefully the weather will be better tomorrow. I have a hike planned that should give me the mother of all views. Cross your fingers.

Thursday, June 11

Wow, if yesterday was a slow news day, I’m not sure what to call today. It rained all day so I stayed in the tent and read. I think the boredom may have gotten to me. Or could I possibly still blame it on the altitude? You decide:

charlie-hat.jpg charlie-shoes.jpg

Friday, June 12

It FINALLY cleared up this morning (after torrential downpours half the night. Holy cow. There were several tents at the campground that were demolished. My Walmart tent stood the test with only a few minor leaks. All excited about the clear skies, I got up at 5:30 and headed over to the Rocky Mountain National Park to take in the views. I got about 1/4 of the way through the park and was stopped by a gate. Road closed. Ugh. Apparently all that rain that we got at 8,000 feet was snow up at the 11,000 and 12,000 feet. *sigh* Back down to the teenage brats that have taken up residence across from my site. They bicker constantly…and loudly. Fortunately, they are leaving tomorrow morning. I can stand to continue to wear my headphones till then.

So I read and played on the computer all morning. Got a good start on a video I’m making of this trip. Just need some footage from the marathon and the way home and I’m set. About 1pm I couldn’t take the brats anymore. I packed Charlie in his crate and headed back to the park to see if the road was open yet. Yup! Headed on up….straight for the Alpine visitor center, the high point on the road. You park at the visitor’s center and then hike up some steps for a few more hundred feet of elevation, topping out at over 12,000 feet. There were two buses of German speaking people there. Really cool! I felt like I was back in the Swiss Alps again. I even tested out my German with some woman when I asked her to take a picture for me. Boy am I rusty speaking it! But I can still understand most of it. Here some pics of the journey:

dsc02744.jpg dsc02743.jpg dsc02741.jpg dsc02739.jpg dsc02738.jpg dsc02734.jpg dsc027351.jpg dsc02736.jpg

Saturday, June 13

Preparations for tomorrow’s marathon are complete:

Pick up race packet checkmark.gif
Painstakingly pin bib number
on shirt (Al would be so proud)
Configure Blackberry for easy
texting and video taping
while running
Headphones to listen to the
same 13 songs for 4+ hours
Gatorade checkmark.gif
Electrolyte gummies checkmark.gif
Lay clothes out checkmark.gif
Clip toenails checkmark.gif
Hydrate checkmark.gif
Carb up checkmark.gif
Set alarm checkmark.gif
Acclimate to elevation checkmark.gif
Confirm insanity checkmark.gif

Tomorrow’s the big day. I’m as ready for it as I’m going to get. I feel better prepared physically than for the last marathon although the altitude may cure that. Mentally, I’m not sure what to expect. The last marathon was an absolute life-changing experience. I spent 3 days afterwards on a euphoric endorphin high and then the next 3 weeks bawling followed by a couple months of a roller coaster ride. Hopefully this marathon isn’t quite so…uh…eventful. We’ll see.

Sunday, June 14 – A Good Butt-Kickin’

A marathon at high altitude? No problem. I’ll just get there a week early and acclimate. Hah. Showed up at the start along with about 75 others. Beside me are Grandma and Grandpa. So cute:

Grandpa and Grandma
Grandpa and Grandma

An account of the marathon, Sandy-style:

Mile 1-3: Hey, this isn’t TOOO bad. Could be worse. I feel the altitude but I’ll just take it easy here on the inclines.

Miles 3-6: Hmmm…this 3 mile hill didn’t seem this steep when I drove it. Reduced to run/walk till the top of the hill.

Miles 6-9: Woohoo! What goes up must come down. Flying along losing the altitude we just gained.

View from the top of the hill

Mile 10: Oh…not feeling so great. I’ll lay off the Gatorade and grab water at the next aid station

Mile 12: Lookin’ at a 5:20 finish. I’ll take it.

View of mountains from park in Estes Park

Mile 13: Mmmm…really not feelin’ so good. Better walk before I barf. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 14: Try to run the downhill….ohhh…lightheaded….better walk or I’ll pass out. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 15: Trying to decide whether to barf or pass out. Not sure I’ll have a choice in the matter. Emotions getting raw. I’m seeing months of preparation going down the drain. If I have to finish this at this speed, I may not make the cutoff. Tears well up and spill over. Quick, wipe tears, there’s an aid station. Don’t want to be pulled for what is clearly altitude sickness. And more importantly, don’t want to look like a wuss. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 16: SOS to friends on chat…thinking of dropping out… can’t continue another 10 miles feeling like this. HELP! Friends text back, getting my mind off feeling green. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 17: I really should just barf and get it over with. NO! I have this rule about barfing. It goes something like this: Avoid barfing at all cost. I went for over 20 years without barfing (except for once because of anesthesia). That’s my claim to fame. No barfing if I can prevent it. Carry on. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 18: Still walking and holding chat conversations up long 3 mile hill. This one didn’t seem as steep in the car either. Rethinking next year’s backpacking trip. Why do I need to backpack in Colorado. I think Indiana or Illinois or Iowa would be great places to backpack. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 19: Ahhh…aid station and porta-potty. I really should try to go. Ohhh….watch it…almost lost car keys in porta-potty slurry. That was close. Aid station volunteers were the local high school track team all decked out with costumes and a nice spread of fruits and beverages. Don’t barf on them. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.


Mile 20: Try to run a downhill. Stomach sends warning. Forgive me HARD for I have sinned. I am wasting a downhill. Don’t barf. Don’t pass out. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 21: Haven’t been able to get anything in my stomach since mile 13. Chewed some ice earlier but had to spit it out. Wouldn’t go down. I’m getting dehydrated. Take orange slice at aid station. Either the orange juice is going down or everything’s coming up. Juice goes down. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 22: Inhibitions gone. Start singing aloud to The Climb by Miley Cyrus. Chat on Blackberry.

Mile 23: Feeling a little better. Starting to run/walk again on the downhills. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 23.5: Grandma passes me. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 24: I go off course. Apparently missed a turn. End up in downtown Estes with all the tourists. I am clearly lost. I tell them, “I’m the first, the rest are coming soon.” Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 24.5: Police officers stop traffic for me to cross busy highway. Back on course. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 25: Run/Walk. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 25.5: Donna posts on Facebook, asking how Colorado is and if I’ve run the race yet. I tell her .5 to go.

Mile 26.2: DONE! Get finishers medal. Talk with Grandma. This is her 40th marathon. She and her husband are doing a marathon in all 50 states. Her husband is on round 2 of this. All the marathons of round 2 have been completed since he turned 70.

Head back to campground. I wasn’t sure what shape I would be in after the marathon…didn’t know if I’d be up to driving. So I made tentative arrangements for another night at the campsite. Felt fine though. Actually, my legs were good. I could have run another 5 or 8 miles no problem if it weren’t for the altitude. So I started packing up…but none too quickly. Still lightheaded from the race. Bending over and standing up again had some negative effects. Took a couple breaks but finally got the tent down and everything packed into the car. Took Charlie for a short walk and headed downtown to grab a pizza before I left. It was almost 5:00, I had run a marathon in the morning, and I STILL hadn’t eaten anything all day. I was famished. But my stomach said “fat chance”. Nibbled on a couple slices of pizza for a few hundred miles until I got to Colby, Kansas and turned in for the night.

So…moral of the story: No more races at altitude until I’m LIVING at altitude. Made for a great story though, didn’t it? :-D

Monday-Tuesday, June 15-16 – The Perfect Ending to the Perfect Vacation

My Rescuers!

The drive back slowly went downhill. Literally and figuratively. Got down to a lower elevation and the lightheadedness disappeared. Stomach queasiness persisted though. Plus a couple other things cropped up. Made it through travel day 2 to just inside Illinois. Exhausted, I stopped for the night and slept 10 hours which should have rejuvenated me but didn’t. I was just drained. But I continued on, chatting occasionally with friends to keep me focused. When I talked with Carol and Sally they suggested they come meet me and drive me in. I brushed it off jokingly. No person in their right mind would consider doing that. I was barely in Ohio. They’d be driving a good 250 miles till we met. I was right. They weren’t in their right minds. They were completely insane! They called me back half an hour later and said they were on their way. OMG!!! This was too good to be true. I stopped at a gas station to walk Charlie and grab some high test caffeine for the last push of the day – to meet Carol and Sally on the eastern border of Ohio. What a wonderful sight for my sore, blurry, tired eyes. We met in the pouring down rain, grabbed some soup at Bob Evans and then headed back with Carol at the wheel of my car, following Sally in hers. What an absolute relief! I was really dragging and I don’t mess around with driving tired so probably would have had another night out on the road if it weren’t for their rescue mission. Carol and I talked and laughed our heads off the rest of the way back. Got home around 1:30am till I went and picked up my other dog. Whew! What an adventure every second of the past week and a half has been – even more than I bargained for. You two rock, Carol and Sally!!! Thanks for making my trip that much more special!

Just returned from DrupalCon D.C. – a conference for web developers held in Washington D.C. – basically a geek fest of 1400 web developers from around the world. It was a beautiful thing!

We attended 3 intense days of sessions related to developing web sites using a content management system called Drupal. I’ve used Drupal for several websites over the past couple years and consider myself an intermediate developer and themer. The conference allowed me to fill some gaps in my Drupal education and determine areas I need to concentrate on to become an advanced Drupal developer and hopefully (someday) an expert. And most important, it’s given me my niche back.

I’ve got decent web developer skills – HTML, CSS, SEO, standards compliance, accessibility, yada, yada, yada. Big deal. So do half of the 6th graders nowadays. I also have decent ASP development chops (a coding language…sort of). Unfortunately, Microsoft pulled the plug on ASP a while ago. So my advanced ASP skills suddenly became worthless except for maintaining old sites. Lovely. All that hard work down the drain. So, I’ve been floundering, bouncing back and forth between PHP and .NET (languages used instead of ASP), not really settling on either. Meanwhile, I’d been messing around with various content management systems, and liking WordPress for simpler sites and Drupal for more complex sites but figured this was just to use in the interim until I got a better handle on .net. Surely there was no serious future for a Drupal developer. Wrong!

Drupal has exploded in the past year or so. It’s a solid piece of software and the community is strong. I’m confident in Drupal’s future and that it’s the perfect area to invest my time and energy to continue my web dev career. I’ve found my niche again!!!

Off to read a Drupal book….

Got a letter from my alma mater (Mansfield University in PA) a couple weeks ago inviting me to a wind ensemble reunion concert. It would be a full day of rehearsal on Saturday, a rehearsal Sunday morning, and then a concert Sunday afternoon. I debated. I had been planning to attend ASP.NET Code Camp (geeky computer stuff) in Harrisburg on Saturday. Hmmm. But wait. Mansfield was bringing Mr. Stanley back to direct the band. Done deal. I was going to the wind ensemble reunion.

Seventeen years ago (eek!) I arrived at Mansfield as a freshman music major and tried out on saxophone for the wind ensemble. I made it…4th in the line up. That meant I played bari sax – 2 on alto, one on tenor, and me on bari. I had never played bari before. I got my own mouthpiece and reeds and used the school’s horn. I sat down in the first rehearsal for wind ensemble and couldn’t get a note out of the beast. I faked it through the entire rehearsal. Next rehearsal I got a few notes out. Three weeks into it I was playing most of the time but still not sounding great. That week my roommate was thrown out of rehearsal by Mr. Stanley for not being able to play her third clarinet part. I locked myself in the practice room that weekend and came to terms with the bari.

Mr. Stanley made it clear from the beginning what he expected – your absolute best playing, utmost attention, total preparation. Don’t even think of yawning during wind ensemble. You could get thrown out for that too. That meant you were bored and not giving your best. As a freshman struggling with playing a horn for the first time, it was all pretty intimidating. And yet, Mr. Stanley was one of the four reasons I decided to attend Mansfield. He was demanding and I liked that. While many directors are thrilled when the band gets the correct notes and rhythms, Mr. Stanley rarely even touched on those. You were expected to work out that basic stuff yourself. In his rehearsals we learned to blend and bring out the nuances and subtleties in the music. I was totally bummed when he retired at the end of my freshman year.

View from Butler Music building on Mansfield University campus
One of the reasons I chose to go to college at Mansfield – the location

Fortunately, the other 3 reasons I went to Mansfield remained. First was the location…in the middle of nowhere! I’ve never been a city person. I don’t like crowds or lots of commotion. Mansfield was perfect. There were only 3,000 students at Mansfield. And when school was in session, the town population doubled.

Mr. Stanley and Dr. Galloway
Mr. Stanley and Dr. Galloway

The other two reasons were Dr. Galloway, the trumpet and jazz band professor, and Dr. Murphy, the sax professor. I had gotten a taste of their teaching when I attended summer music camp at Mansfield. And they were a good fit with my style of learning. Little did I know what lay in store for the next four years. A lot of it came back to me this past weekend.

I arrived on Friday early evening, checked into the hotel and headed over to Wellsboro where I spent a lot of my time during and after college. I stopped in to see the family I lived with for some of my college days – Mimi and Derek and their 6 kids. Only two of the youngest are still at home. Ahhhh! When I was there, the oldest was 12 and the youngest was 3. Now the oldest is in graduate school and the youngest is in 10th grade and barely remembers me. :-( I spent the evening chatting with Mimi and Derek. Derek tried hard to make me a risk management specialist in the local county government. Had he offered 2 years ago I probably would have jumped at the chance to move back up there.

Back to the hotel Friday night and up Saturday morning to play…bari…in a band that…Mr. Stanley…would be conducting. Oh my. Deja vu. I had no idea what shape the school bari was in. I’m not one who can just blow past leaks in a horn like some people. I need it to be in good condition to sound decent. But then again, I haven’t played hardly at all in the past year so what difference would it make. I just prayed I didn’t get thrown out of rehearsal. :-D

Mr. Stanley took it easy on us. He understood that many of us don’t play on a daily basis any more. He even had some pretty good lines:

“Musical maturity makes up for a lot of physical deficiencies.” Yeah, I was understanding that one pretty well. Took me half the morning to get my embouchure back. It was like riding a bike though. By concert time I was doing wheelies.

Dave and Sharon
Dave and Sharon

There were only 3 of us there that were at Mansfield in the 90′s. Dave (another sax major) and I graduated in ’95 and Sharon (flute major who married Dave) graduated in ’97. Dave and I reminisced about some of the great times we had as a part of the sax studio:

Going on a sax quartet tour using Dr. Murphy’s car and driving down a highway the wrong way (not sure we ever told Dr. Murphy about that!) and then finding out why we were having problems seeing once it got dark – the headlights barely shined through all the dirt and salt caked over them.

The jazz band tour where we were snowed in on the first day of the tour. And that’s all I’m saying about that!

The jazz band performance during Halloween at the coffee house on campus. Classic. Dr. Galloway showed up in this Fruit of the Loom style costume – he was a bunch of grapes. He used purple balloons for the grapes, wore green tights, and had a big ol’ green leaf draped over his head. It’s not easy playing saxophone while you’re trying not to laugh. I still can’t look at him 15 years later without at least cracking a smile.

So we rehearsed all Saturday and then went to an alumni dinner. Chatted with the people at our table about some of the more memorable professors. Mr. Rusk with orchestration and piano classes, the Wunderlichs {shudder}, Mr. Hill in eurythmics class (scarey, scarey class!), Hector (the violin teacher. I don’t even remember his real name. We just called him Hector), Mr. Owens, and darned if any of us could remember what the heck the music therapy prof’s name was.

Sunday morning I got up early and went for a run on one of my old favorite routes. It was here at Mansfield that I started running…an effort to take off the freshman 15lbs. I just ran a marathon a few weeks ago but running in Mansfield took me back to when I was thrilled that I had made it 5 times around the recreation center basketball court without stopping, then running outside for the first time and making it 10 minutes. Then the 2 mile routes. And the 3 miles routes. I was elated the first time I actually ran 5 miles without walking. I still have the 2 tapes I played in my Walkman to keep me pumped up – Mr. Marks’ trumpet and vocal tape he made with his wife and Glad’s Symphony Project. And the hills….I was in heaven. I loved running the back dirt roads, over the hills around Mansfield. They don’t make hills like that down here in Annville and Grantville.

Then on to a short rehearsal and the concert in the afternoon. It was great playing in a good sounding band again. While you’re in college, you don’t realize how spoiled you are getting to play with good players. Or that once you leave the confines of college where you have to audition to get into the groups, playing with good groups may be few and far between. I didn’t realize I missed that. I’d pretty much given up playing in the community bands lately because it gets frustrating going over the same mistakes every week for the same players. It was so nice playing in a group where the right notes and rhythms are taken for granted and the focus is on making music….even if just briefly.

Drove back home thinking of the weekend, of college days, where I’m at now, and wondering where I’m going. I’ve got my 5 year plan but who knows how it will really turn out. Hopefully, it’ll continue to unfold right here on this blog.

Podcamp Philly 2008I spent the weekend at Temple University in Philly attending a 2-day conference called Podcamp/Searchcamp Philly. Topics included using social media, search uses, blogging, usability, creating podcasts, social bookmarking, and a bunch of other stuff. I learned quite a bit and got a few ideas for incorporating and tracking results from social media. Also made a few contacts, my favorite one being Kim Krause Berg of and She had some good information in her sessions and I plan on picking her brain some more.

I think what impressed me most about the conference was the atmosphere. Not only was it a geek town (I was in heaven!) but the entire conference was built on Creative Commons licensing – share and share alike. The presenters offered a lot but many of the participants added their 2 cents (where’s that cents key again?) too. The cost was negligible ($20) so it was really only the cost of the travel and lodging but would have been well worth a $400 admission price. There were about 230 participants.

Jen M.
Jen M.

Also had a good time hanging out with Jen M. We spent most of Saturday soaked. In the morning we were soaked from sweating to death on the 2 mile walk from the hotel to Temple in the warm, humid air. Jen had a high tolerance for my whining! By the time we dried off, we got soaked again on the way back to the hotel from hurricane Hannah dumping down on Philly. Thank goodness H.A.R.D. gave me the tip about putting newspaper in your sneakers to draw the moisture out or I’d have had soaked shoes all day Sunday too.

And probably the biggest thing to come out of this weekend is that I’ve finally decided to close my band instrument repair shop…sort of. It’s this geek stuff that I want to do. My heart is not in repair anymore and hasn’t been for a long time. In fact, back in March, I turned my web dev stuff into a full time gig at PCAR/NSVRC and the repair stuff into a part time business. I still enjoy doing the challenging repairs and messing with machining but that’s few and far between. I want to get back to doing the Probirt website that I’ve been neglecting for the past year and a half because of being too busy with repairs. So, while I’ll be closing the shop (hopefully within 2 weeks – when I get the customer instruments finished), it’ll still stay where it is at the Washington band hall because it’s needed for Probirt.

Anyone want to buy a website that ranks high for the key phrases of “band instrument repair,” “clarinet repair,” and “saxophone repair”? You can have the site, rankings, and content! You gotta get your own webcams though!

dsc00124-sm.jpgHad a fantastic day today in Lancaster, PA making my way through a corn maze with some friends. It was Carol’s birthdayfest and this was one leg of the celebration that kicked off last evening at Color-Me-Mine and will end with kayaking on the Susquehanna River on Sunday.

dsc00126-sm.jpgI had been to a corn maze in Reading last year and was expecting this to be the same – get a card with the maze printed on it and find your way through it to different points where you get your map punched to show you’d reached each station. This one had a twist to it. You had to find your way through the 5-acre maze to get a little 1/15 piece of the map to stick on your paper. The more pieces of the map you could find, the easier it was to navigate to the other pieces.

Since there were six of us in the group, we split up into 2 groups – the speedsters (Carol, Neal, and me) and the saunterers (Dayna, Sally, and Dayna’s daughter). The three of us headed out and started wandering around….taking all left turns. Having no idea where we were going, we devised a system. We’d get to a place with multiple intersections and then go on a reconnaissance mission. One of us would stay put as the anchor and then the other two would venture out as far as we dared go without getting lost. If we found one of the mailboxes where the map pieces were hidden, we’d make a ruckus and the other two would find their way over. If not, we’d meet back at the anchor point. We were pretty proud of our system and the speed that we were making our way through the maze. We had 6 or 7 pieces when we bumped into the other group. They were sauntering around aimlessly and they had collected 9 pieces!!!!!!!! Ahhhh! :-\

The three of us regrouped with renewed purpose. We put Neal in charge of the map and deciding where he thought the pieces would be. I swear he could sniff them out because he took us right to several of them. Along the way we also took time to play on the various obstacles. A short zipline, a bike hooked up to spray water when you peddled it, a tightrope walk, a winding slide, etc.

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We collected all our pieces and made our way out of the maze in an hour and 40 minutes. About 45 minutes later, the other group surrendered and requested a search and rescue from the maze staff. We headed back to the cars tired and hungry, comparing maze stories. We chowed down at Applebee’s with some lively discussions. :-)

It was a great day with great company and great weather.

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To me, the phrase “going ultralight” had always meant going backpacking without my stove, water filter, half my tent, etc….just taking the absolute bare minimum and keeping my pack weight under 16 pounds. That was last week. Now I’ve got a new meaning to the phrase.

Gene and his UltralightI just got back from a working vacation – spent a week and a half working and hanging out in a shop gleaning some machining info and repair tips. While I was there, one of the employees invited me for a ride in his ultralight…a little go-cart type contraption with a parachute attached. I politely declined but then was later talked into it. I was having serious second thoughts about going up when one of the other guys called the guy over that I would be flying with and told him to stay away from a certain house in the area. Apparently, some nut case in the community threatened to shoot the ultralights down if they came within firing range.The parachute laid out on the ground, untangled


But it was awesome….after I got over the initial panic of seeing the ground get farther and farther away and realized we weren’t going to plummet to our deaths, anyway.

We cruised at about 600 ft, going about 25 miles per hour. We were able to talk back and forth over the system in our helmets so I got a tour of the area as we soared across the country side. The views were absolutely beautiful.

I’m not about to go out and buy my own ultralight but it was a great experience I’m glad I didn’t pass up.

Ultralight from opposite side Ultralight from front Where we’d be sitting Another ultralight going up just after us That pile of material was going to keep us in the air??? The parachute laid out on the ground, untangled Our shadow as we take off Still climbing A quarry in the distance A reflection of me taking a picture of the back of Gene’s helmet Some hay bales all lined up Nice view…look at how small the scattered hay bales are here Some swimming cattle Gorgeous view Flying over Gene’s house. The other ultralight that took off after us A closer shot A view of Springfield on the horizon Parachute is still there - whew! The other side too Landing

I’ve finally gotten around to adding a slide show of the pictures I took on this trip. Only took 3 months!


Caveat: This is a LONG post that covers a 2.5 week vacation. It’s here for two reasons:
1. For me to remember my trip and
2. For my family to keep tabs on me.
I don’t expect anyone to actually read this entire thing…well…except for my dad. So I’ll post the pictures as a slideshow at the top as they’re a little more interesting to most. If you’re retired and have absolutely nothing better to do, feel free to read on.

Steamboat Lake State Park, Steamboat Springs, CO

Absolutely AWESOME town nestled in the Rockies. Arrived on Friday, June 1st, after 2 long days of driving, a day earlier than my scheduled reservation at the state park, in hopes that the extra day would help me acclimate to the altitude for the half marathon I was supposed to run on Sunday. After some convoluted shuffling on the part of the park office to allow me to check in a day earlier (thank goodness hotels don’t use the reservation system of CO state parks!), I picked out a campsite with a great view of Streamboat Lake and the surrounding mountains, set up camp, made supper, and made a roaring fire to roast S’mores by. Woohoo! I was in the Colorado Rockies!

I went for a short walk around part of the lake and discovered the affects of the 8,000 ft of altitude. This half marathon wasn’t going to be pretty.

Saturday, June 2

I went for a drive around the area. When I stopped along the road to take a picture, I saw something leaking out from under the car. Popped the hood and antifreeze was boiling out of the reservoir. Sure enough, the car was overheating. I turned it off and waited for it to cool. Then I drove the 30 miles into town searching for a mechanic working on a Saturday morning. Found one. When I got there he immediately looked at it and started hooking up gages. I grabbed my laptop out of the car and headed to the McDonald’s up the street for the wi-fi.

As I was walking to McD’s in my jeans and t-shirt with my laptop bag slung over my shoulder, I watched tons of people riding their bikes down the main highway through town. They all had their moisture-wicking dry-fit shirts and their cargo pocket shorts on. Two out of three cars were SUV’s and half had bike or ski racks on them. This was a town full of people that were serious about their sports. Normally, I feel out of place because I’m the only one of my family and friends that is a hiker/backpacker/runner. Here I was among the athletic people feeling out of place for being a computer geek.

I got my email, checked to make sure my server and websites were still running fine, and then popped into the newsgroups. Two members of a web developer’s group I’m on were getting married at 2pm that day and they would be broadcasting the wedding live through my Flash server account. They had everything set up, tested, and ready to go. T minus 1.5 hours.

I headed back to get the news on my car. $50 and a new cap for the antifreeze reservoir and it was good as new.

Headed the 26 miles back to the campground, which, btw, was the marathon course for the next day so I was getting to know it well. Got back at 1:35ish and saw I had a voice mail on my cell phone. Pete (the groom from the web dev group) was concerned…the streaming video app he was using for the wedding wasn’t working. CRAP!!! Twenty-five minutes till the wedding, I had no internet access to reboot the app or server and didn’t have any of the information to get to it if I did. I called Pete back on his cell phone. Got a message that the number is out of service. He’s from the U.K…just moved here to the U.S. and was still using his U.K cell phone. Apparently, I don’t have international calling on my cell phone. Ack! I had no way of getting in touch with him!

Starting to panic, I remembered I jotted down the cell numbers of a couple U.S. people from the newsgroup. Called Bonnie and got her voice mail. Called Michael. Bingo! He answered but was outside digging in the dirt. He ran home, washed his hands, and got in front of the computer, poised to be my internet connection. He sent SOS emails to my streaming video host, emailed the web group telling them the situation, and tried to contact Pete. At 1:58 the video app came back up. Pete needed to refresh his admin page in order to start the video stream. Michael called Pete again and swore he heard someone pick up with noise in the background. At the time of this writing, I don’t know if the video was ever streamed or not. If not, hopefully we’ll get to watch the recording of the lovebirds getting married and watch Pete scramble to turn his cell phone off in the beginning of the ceremony. :-D

(Editing note: They did indeed record the wedding so I have the videos posted – complete with Pete’s cell phone going off in the beginning of the service!!!. Email Kat and Pete for the link)

After THAT crisis I headed off on a hike. Spent 2 hours attempting to get to the top of Hahn’s peak. Got to the top of a neighboring peak and it looked like I still had another couple hours to go. With the looming run the next day, I headed back down to the campground.

Made a gourmet mac & cheese with tuna dish on my camp stove, and then some S’mores over another camp fire and hit the hay early for the 7:30 am marathon start the next morning.

Sunday, June 3

Woke up at 5:30, forced down a granola bar with Gatorade, and got ready for the race. I was feeling good about the altitude after the hike from the day before although my legs were a little sore. Got to the starting line, made my last port-a-potty stop, took my place near the back of the pack and we were off….along with two other races starting at the same time. The full marathon started just outside the entrance to the campground where I was living in style. The half marathon (my race) started 13 miles later at the marathon half way point. And a 10k was taking place in town.

The Steamboat marathon was voted one of the most scenic marathons by Runner’s World magazine and after driving back and forth on it to and from town, I was disappointed I wasn’t in good enough shape to run the full marathon.

Steamboat Springs Half MarathonAs it turned out, I didn’t pay much attention to the scenery after the first couple miles. I ended up running most of the race with a woman from Colorado who ran my perfect pace. We chatted about running, hiking, trail running, and backpacking with interruptions from a couple themed water stands, one of which had volunteers wearing togas.

I made it to the end 10 minutes faster than I had anticipated. Not long afterwards the first finisher of the full marathon came in. While milling around the finish area, I heard horror stories about some of the half marathon runnners. One guy was seen puking his guts out along the side of the road in the last 1/2 mile. (I have to admit, I walked half of the last mile to keep from puking myself!) Another guy passed out just before the finish line. Two fellow runners picked him up and carried him to the finisher chute. One girl just ahead of me took a spill and ended up with 2 bloody knees. And there were at least 2 people picked up by ambulance. Never heard what happened to them.

Over all it was a great race – awesome courses and extremely organized – the freezing cold wet towel we were handed as we finished was the absolute best!!! This half marathon was world’s apart from the absolutely brutal half marathon trail run I ran the weekend before.

Bummed around the rest of the day, did wash, went to a killer BBQ ribs place and then back to the campground for another roaring fire.

Monday, June 4

Left Steamboat with only a general destination of a campground somewhere in south central to south western CO. Stopped at a Pizza Hut in Leadville, CO at 10,200 ft. After looking at the area brochures, it dawned on me that this was the home of the famous Leadville 100 mile ultramarathon trail run. I had read several books about this race and was amazed that a person could run 100 miles. Now I find out that those 100 miles are run at altitudes of over 10,000 ft. Insane! If I ever even hint at wanting to run this race, please slap the shit out of me!

Continued on from Leadville over the Continental Divide at Monarch Pass (11,312 ft) and through some hair-rasing turns. Ended up in Gunnison, CO, home of everything that “shuts” by 6pm. Campground was nice (at least I had hot water in the shower!) but the area was nothing to write home about after being spoiled in Steamboat Springs.

Tuesday, June 5

Mostly non-eventful in Gunnison. Went running and felt like crap afterwards. Kept coming up short of breath with every move. Odd since Gunnison was a little lower (7700 ft) than Steamboat. So I took it easy and bummed around. Took a drive into the mountains north of Gunnison. On the way back, I saw a baby alpaca being born in a field right next to the road. The mother seemed totally unconcerned. She didn’t even stop eating during the event.

Took a nap, played with the campground dog, and made an awesome BBQ rib supper on the grill. Spent some time online looking for a next stop.

Wednesday, June 6

Headed out early. Gunnison just wasn’t a happening place. Decided to head down route 550 through Montrose, Ouray, Silverton, and Durango to see what I could find. Never quite made it to Durango. When I got to Ouray, I was so enthralled by the area that after I reached Silverton, I turned around and came back to Ouray. The drive between Ouray and Silverton is almost as hair-raising as the drive over Monarch Pass. I immediately gave up the notion of heading to Utah’s Zion and Bryce National Parks on this trip and reserved a campsite through Saturday. The campground was right in town but up against one of the mountains that surrounds the town.

I debated about getting a hotel room instead of campsite for the night after hearing the weather forecast. They were calling for up to 2 ft of snow at elevations over 6,000 ft. Ouray was at 8,000. I decided to chance it and got the campsite.
Checked out the specialty shops in town and made reservations for a few tours over the next few days, bought a hiking guide of the area and chose a hike for the next morning.

Thursday, June 7

There was no snow overnight at the campgound but you could see a heavier snow cover in the upper elevations. So, I headed out early in the chilly air (below 30 degrees) for a “moderate” hike to the top of a waterfall and some old mines. I realized half way up that I forgot my camera. Derrrr. :-\

Saw some beautiful views of the valley and neighboring peaks. But Colorado definitely has some different concepts of “moderate”. What they consider moderate is considered steep on a PA hike. My poor legs and lungs were screaming so loud I had to rest every 100 yards or so on the last couple miles of switchbacks on the ascent. I’d hate to have been out of shape!

Got back from the hike, heated up a couple hot dogs on the grill and headed off to a tour of the Bachelor-Syracuse mine. A group of us were taken 1800 ft into an old mine and given a history of mining in general and that mine in particular. It’s much different than the coal mining we have here in PA. They don’t have a problem with explosive gases building up, and because the rock they’re digging through is so hard, they only have to support the entrance of the mine. Really interesting stuff.

Cooked some spaghetti on my backpacking stove for supper and gave the leftovers to the campground dog (his name was “D.O.G”!) along with some treats. Made a roaring fire at the campsite to sit by.

Friday, June 8

Absolutely beautiful day! Up until today, it always started out clear, and then by noon, puffy clouds would roll in and hide the sun on and off. Occasionally a rain cloud would go through and spit 100 rain drops out before disappearing. But today, the sky remained completely clear the entire day. Absolutely awesome since I was headed out on a Jeef tour (in a Chevy 3500! What’s up with that?) up into the mountains south of Ouray. It was a small group but we had a blast. The guide was very knowledgeable about the area and it’s history, flowers, birds, rock types, etc. Got plenty of photos.

In the afternoon I dusted off my bathing suit and hit the community hot springs. First time I’ve been swimming in probably 10 years. The water in the pool comes from the 150 degree local hot springs and cooled to the various temps for the different sections of the pool with municipal water. Stayed mostly in the bath tub temp water but braved the colder section and 60 degree air temp to go down the slides a few times. Stayed out of the sauna temp section. Too warm for me! I was only in the pool for an hour but got a bit of a sunburn.

Splurged for dinner and got a nice filet mignon at the Outlaw Restraurant in town. Then made another roaring fire for the evening and had (can you guess….?) S’mores for dessert.

Saturday, June 9

My last day in Ouray. :-( *sob* Decided to end it with a hike. Heard the hike up to Baldy was great and the trailhead was accessible via a non-4WD or non-high-clearance car. NOT! The hike was great but my Saturn was NOT going over some of those rocks or through the 2 streams to reach the trailhead. So my original 7 mile hike suddenly became a 10+ mile hike with the extra walk to and from the car. Hoofed it up the mountain and along a ridge to what I thought was Baldy. Woops…went one peak too far. The one I just went around was the one I was supposed to bush-whack up. Guidebook directions weren’t exactly the best on this hike. This wasn’t the first time it was unclear, nor the last. Climbed up the correct peak and continued down the trail. I was supposed to go .8 miles and turn right onto a trail that led back to the trailhead. Either the trail wasn’t marked or I missed it through all the blow downs because .8 miles came and went and I was still looking. 45 minutes later I was positive I’d missed it but by that time I was closer to the next trail that was supposed to link up with the trail I’d missed. Resigned to adding another 1.5 miles to my already extended hike, I continued on. After some mild panic I found the connecting trail and followed it off the ridgeline…with a bit of difficulty. There was still snow on the ground in spots which hid where the trail actually went. I followed a run-off area where I thought the trail should go and it turned out right. A topo map would have done wonders for my nerves! The rest of the way out was uneventful. Made it back to the car in good time for the 7-mile turned 11+ mile hike. Hopped into the car and headed to a state park in Green River, UT for the night.

Sunday, June 10

Spent the night at a really crappy state campground. Actually, the campground was nice, it was all the little rugrats running around playing tag and screaming until midnight. I made no attempt to be quiet for their parents when packing up at 6am.

Headed into Las Vegas and immediately formed a hate-hate relationship with the place. Dropped in at the conference hotel to register for a web deveoper’s conference I would be attending for the next three days. Didn’t see any signs about it so I went to the desk to ask about the location. I received a blank stare:

“What conference? Well, if it’s a conference, it would be on the third floor.”
“Great. Can you point me toward the elevators?”
She points in a general direction. I look over and only see a bunch of slot machines.
“Um…could you be a little more specific on those elevators?”
*sigh* “Over there on the opposite wall.”
“Oh yea, thanks” *rolling eyes*

Made my way through the lines of slot machines and their cobweb covered players and found the elevators. Reached the third floor and immediately saw a couple familiar faces…some of the CMX members (the group that was putting on the conference). Went to the table to register and got some funny looks. “Uh…we’re still putting the books together. You can register tomorrow morning. It’ll start between 7:30 and 8. First session is at 8:30″. Ok…this ought to be interesting. Registering 300+ people in half an hour. (As it later turned out, there were only about 100 people attending. Apparently a big Adobe conference was scheduled for the same weekend.)

So, here I am in Las Vegas, hating the place with nothing to do for several hours. I can either brave going out into Las Vegas again or I can crash the CMX clique and offer to help put the books together. I crashed the party. We finished the books and I procrastinated leaving as long as I could. I think they were getting a little nervous that I might try to invite myself to their dinner because the leader of the group asked me where the No-Nephs group was meeting for dinner and when I had to meet them. I took the hint and headed down to the meeting area. When the rest of the group (10 of us) showed up, we headed over to a Mexican restaurant. Having never eaten any food more Mexican than Taco Bell, I was dubbed the Mexican virgin and Bonnie explained the menu items to me. When the waiter came, I just pointed to something on the menu and hoped it would be edible.

Murray jumped in on the dinner a few hours late due to plane problems. I had a good time until the check arrived. Apparently, they do things different out west. Instead of paying for your own meal, you just divide up the check total by the number of people so people like me who had one of the lesser expensive meals with water for the drink, no alcohol, and no dessert get to help pay for the people who order $50 meals and dessert. Fortunately, they took off the alcohol for me and my meal was only twice as expensive as it should have been. It wasn’t the money that pissed me off, it was the principle. So I grabbed dinners with a small group after that.

Monday, June 11
Showed up to register the next morning. No one seemed to be giving directions on what to do so I rooted through and grabbed my name tag and a schedule off the piles. Then I saw a couple of boxes of t-shirts with a cartoon about the conference on them. Surely they were for us, so I grabbed one. And then there were the books on the tables. Were we supposed to take one or were they for door prizes…? I checked them over and grabbed one. If they weren’t for the taking, they’d say something when I walked away with it. No one said anything.

Went through the first couple of clinics and became increasingly disappointed. Spent half the morning trying to connect my laptop to the wireless. Surely it was my computer with the problem. There had to be reliable internet access at this…it was a computer conference for crying out loud! Nope…the connection remained spotty throughout the three days. Apparently, it’s a “known issue” with the conference. What made it really annoying though was that several of the clinicians’ presentations depended on having a working internet connection. Spent the lunch time in my car with my disappointment in the conference and disdain for Las Vegas, willing myself to return and at least finish out the day instead of heading back to Colorado for the rest of my vacation.

Went back in and attended an excellent clinic. Finally. Things started going uphill after that. Overall the clinics were so-so. Murray’s were well presented and I learned a few tips, Neil’s business topics were absolutely awesome – excellent content and great presentation, and David Stiller gave a very good informative clinic, Stephanie’s was good, and I didn’t get to see Steve’s. Was it worth the money for these few? No, my money and time would have been better spent on books. Perhaps I just assumed too much. I saw the logos of the companies I assumed were supporting the conference on the conference website and assumed there would be vendors there to talk to. I heard from past members that you get a boatload of free stuff – books, extensions, etc – that also make it worthwhile to attend. I got two books, neither of which I will probably ever read.

I should mention that I do realize it IS a big project to put on a convention like this. I’ve even helped put a couple together. Getting a hotel lined up, getting speakers lined up…heck, just prying the pictures and writeups out of the speakers is a major ordeal. But it was the little things that were missing – such as a name tag that you could read at a distance or how about adding where the person is from, or having someone greet you at the registration table and ask you who you are and dig out your name tag and hand it to you. It was the lack of these little details that gave an impression of “good enough” and made the whole attitude of the conference to be, “Hi, Look at us. We put this awesome conference together for you. Aren’t we great for doing that?”

So, now that I’ve pissed people off, I should mention that perhaps the other conferences I’ve attended were just exceptional and I was expecting too much. Oh well. Live and learn.

Wednesday, June 13

The conference ended at 3pm. At 3:01 I was out the door and headed down the road out of Las Vegas, giving the town the finger as I left. I understand now why LV has the slogan of “What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas.” It’s because it’s not worth repeating.

Spent the next 3 days heading back to PA with a stop in Springfield, MO to visit with the cool people from Votaw Tool Co.

Things I forgot to mention along the way:

Got a couple nicks in the front windshield of the car from a truck that passed me and threw stones up. Had to have them treated at Cindy Rowe when I got back

When driving from Ouray to Silverton, about a dozen Hummers zoomed past when I was pulled off the road taking pictures. They were all full of mud and all had Michigan license plates. According to the locals, Hummer sends them out here for testing in the mountains.

Never mentioned how incredibly dry the air is out there. Wow, I couldn’t figure out why I was so thirsty the first few days until someone mentioned to make sure to drink a lot and stay hydrated to help acclimate to the altitude.

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