Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Reading list, 2008

I read about 45 books in 2008. I've listed them below but I'll write about a few of my favorites

Plum Wine by Angela Davis-Gardner

Touching. Beautifully written. This is a journey of discovery that takes place in Japan during the late 1960s. The author did an excellent job with the English dialogue of the native Japanese speakers. There is a romance, a little bit about Vietnam but more about World War II and a lot about mother-daughter relationships. In some ways it reminds me of The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, I think more because of the use of language than the subject matter however both books have are journey's of discovery and mother-daughter relationships

From your lips
I came to understand
The language of plum wine

Rashi's Daughters: Book I Joheved by Maggie Anton

This is book one of a trilogy about the three daughters of Rabbi Saolomon ben Isaac, also known as Rashi. 

Rashi's Daughters takes places in Troyes France during the 11th Century.   Joheved is the eldest of Rashi's three children.  In addition to running a yeshiva, Rashi and his family have a winemaking business which provides and interesting backdrop for the book.

Despite the widely held view that women should not learn Talmud, Rashi begins secretly teaching Talmud to his daughters.  For me, the books is about life in medieval France and women's education.  The characters were memoriable and the time period was well-researched. 

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Namesake is the story of a first generation Indian-American and how he relates to his heritage and family. The Ganguli family emgrated from Calcutta to Massechuesettes where their son Gogol is born.  The story is about how Gogol's parents adjust to America and now Gogol and his sister feel about being American and making trips to see their extended family in Calcutta.

The book is beautifully written and it is certainly one of the best books that I read this year.

Chosen by a Horse by Susan Richards

This book begins when Susan responds to a call to help the local SPCA rehabilitate an abused horse.  This horse, Lay Me Down, joins Susan's other two horses.  This bittersweet book is a memoir of the journey of Susan's self-discovery.  Susan and Lay Me Down are soul mates and they both open up a lot.  As someone who has adopted a rescue dog, I attest to the fact that you can learn a lot from a rescued animal, be it a dog or a horse.

One thing about the book that others might not find as compelling is that it takes place in  Dutchess county New York.  Since I lived in Wappinger Falls for a few years, I kept on recognizing place names in the book and I thought that was kind of fun.

Chosen by a Horse is a can’t-put-it-down book.

Queen of Babble by Meg Cabot

This books was just fun.  Maybe not the best written book that I read in 2008 or  the most literary but is extremely entertaining and fun and I'm glad that I read it.

This modern-day fairy tale involves a post-graduation -- well, other than that pesky thesis -- trip to London to see a love interest:

Oh my God, that can't be him, can it? No, of course it's not. Why would he be wearing a jacket like that? Why would ANYONE be wearing a jacket like that? Unless they're being ironic. Or Michael Jackson, of course. He is the only man I could think of who would wear red leather with epaulets. Who isn't a professional breakdancer. That CAN'T be him. 

Oh, please God, don't let that be him....

... and a detour to the south of France.

The List
  1. Second Glance by Jodi Picoult
  2. Plum Wine by Angela Davis-Gardner
  3. The Seamstress by Sara Tuvel Bernstein
  4. Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult
  5. Secrets of a Shoe Addict by Beth Harbison
  6. Queen of Babble Gets Hitched by Meg Cabot
  7. Such a Pretty Fat by Jen Lancasater
  8. Notting Hell by Rachel Johnson
  9. The Forbidden Daughter by Shobhan Bantwal
  10. The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory
  11. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
  12. August by Gerard Woodward
  13. Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult
  14. She Went All The Way? by Meg Cabot
  15. The Best Day of Someone Else's Life by Kerry Reichs
  16. Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky
  17. Un-Bridaled by Eileen Rendahl
  18. Big Boned by Meg Cabot
  19. Shopaholic and Baby by Sophie Kinsella
  20. Shopaholic and Sister by Sophie Kinsella
  21. This Charming Man by Marian Keyes
  22. Size 14 is Not Fat Either by Meg Cabot
  23. Bollywood Confidential by Sonia Singh
  24. Queen of Babble in the Big City by Meg Cabot
  25. Queen of Babble by Meg Cabot
  26. The Gatecrasher by Madeleine Wickham
  27. The Pact by Jodi Piclout
  28. Shoe Addicts Anonymous by Beth Harbison
  29. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
  30. No Angel by Penny Vincenzi
  31. Harvesting the Heart by Jodi Picoult
  32. Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian
  33. Rashi's Daughers: Book I Joheved by Maggie Anton
  34. Size 12 is Not Fat by Meg Cabot
  35. The Dowry Bride by Shobhan Bantwal
  36. Picture Perfect by Jodi Picoult
  37. The Liar's Diary by Patry Francis
  38. The Queen's Fool by Philippa Gregory
  39. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
  40. Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir
  41. The Last Time They Met by Anita Shreve
  42. The Boleyn Inheritance by Philippa Gregory
  43. Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande
  44. The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult
  45. Chosen by a Horse by Susan Richards

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Treats for holiday helpers

Hannah and Emma have provided a lot of assistance this holiday season. They have been very patient and they have dealt with human oddities such as bringing a tree into the house and dancing to Last Christmas by Wham! (see player below) They deserved their own special treats and today I baked some treats for our holiday helpers.

Above: The final product. A selection of treats on a plate after baking.

Apple-Oatmeal-Honey treats

1 apple, cored and diced (small dice)
1/2 cup applesauce
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon carob powder
1 cup rolled oats
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour, divided
1/4 cup carob powder

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Combine apple, apple sauce, honey, water, cinnamon, carob and rolled oats in a large bowl. Gradually sift in 1 1/2 cups of the flour until dough becomes very stiff.

Place the remaining 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup carob powder in a pie plate and combine. Shape the dough into walnut-size balls and roll in the flour/carob mixture to coat. Place on a baking sheet and flatten with the flat bottom of a measuring cup or spatula. If the dough sticks a little as you lift off, dip the bottom in the flour/carob mixture before pressing the next treat into a flattened disk.
Above: After flattening the treats out into disks, before baking.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven, flip treats over and return to the oven for another 30 minutes.

Turn oven off and let treats remain in oven for 2 or overnight.

Hannah and Emma both thought that these treats were delicious. They give the recipe two paws up!

Yield: About 40 treats

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Grinchy Grinching

Every family has one -- a Grinch -- someone who puts a damper on the holidays. Dr. Seuss' famous poem, first published in 1957, starts:

Every Who
Down in Who-ville
Liked Christmas a lot...

But the Grinch,
Who lived just North of Who-ville,
Did NOT!

The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

I completely understand that everyone is not the same and that some people find the holidays to be overwhelming. For other people the holidays bring back unwanted memories.

Our family Grinch hates the holidays, does not want a tree, complains, pouts, says that he will not participate and yet shows up every year around Thanksgiving and stays until New Years. Like Dr. Seuss' Grinch, our soupuss only shows up in Who-ville on holidays. Dr. Seuss' Grinch appears on Halloween in Halloween is Grinch Night. Like the storybook Grinch, our Grinch treats loyal companions like Max as an irritation that must be tolerated.

Some think that the storybook Grinch is envious of the Who's happiness.

Seuss saw the Grinch as a hero, though, saying, "Can't they understand that the Grinch in my story is the Hero of Christmas? Sure... he starts out as a villain, but it's not how you start out that counts. It's what you are at the finish."

The jury is still out on the heroism of our family Grinch.

As the Whos say in Welcome Christmas:

Welcome Christmas
While we stand
Heart to heart
And hand in hand

Grinchly links:

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Santa, No longer a Secret

Hannah and Emma say, "Thank you Santa Paws!"

Hannah would like to say a special thank to our canine-l Secret Santa for the Crunchy Peanut Butter Maple NuHemp Munchies. She was somewhat distracted by the yummy smell and attempted to have an unauthorized pre-dinner snack but was unable to open the box before it was moved it to safety for later distribution. She also loves her Dr. Noys Squirrel toy, immediately recoginizing it as hers! Hannah has also discovered the wooly green Frisbee. It is prefect for her!

Emma says thank you for the Greenies treats and salmon treats. She is busy testing the new tennis balls. DH and I love the purse and think that it is very Legally Blonde and Emma appropriate. If you recall, Emma is an Elle Woods wannabe at times.

Santa Paws also brought some gifts for the humans in residence here -- a golden retriever ornament, a Labrador retriever ornament and a retriever themed car coaster. Santa must have been paying attention to my Starbucks addiction!

Secret Santa is a canine-l tradition.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008


For the past several years, DH and I have gone a little bit crazy with gift baskets of homemade candy.  DH likes to bring these treats into work and give them to his friends.

When discussing plans for this year's annual sugarfest, DH selected this weekend. We went over the recipes of what was needed for the baskets and DH said that we needed to have spice cookies and spritz cookies too. I won't even discuss how much sugar we went through this weekend.  Please note that these cookies were made with the understanding that I am not serving two week old cookies for Christmas. 

I got the recipe from my mom who I think got if from a Wisconsin Electric Company recipe book in about 1970.

Cream Cheese Spritz
2 1/2
cream cheese
egg yolk

Sift flour, salt and cinnamon onto baking parchment. Cream cream cheese and butter. Beat in 1 cup sugar. Blend well. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla. Stir in sifted ingredients a little at a time. Chill dough until firm. Put in press and mold on cold, ungreased cookie sheet. Sprinkle with colored sugars.

Bake at 335F for 12-13 minutes or until edges are brown.

First Turkeys, then Reindeer

After participating in a turkey trot 8k on Thanksgiving, I decided to run in a Reindeer Romp 5k this weekend. It was a Girls on the Run event with close to 1,200 participants.

Girls on the Run, or GOTR, is program that uses running to teach 8-12 year old girls about self esteem and healthy lifestyles. The event consisted of both regular runners and girls participating in the GOTR program running with their mentors.

All of the fast people must have been somewhere else. I was surprised to finish 3rd in my age group. I'm not fast. I was tickled to finish third -- and yes, there were more than three entrants in my age group!

This event was well done and I had a nice time. I would do it again.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Coffeehouse Coffee Cake

About once a month I have a baking night where I make something nice for DH. I really enjoy baking so this is a treat for me too. I love the way it makes the house smell and licking the bowl isn't too tough to handle either!

This month's selection was coffee cake with a generous amount of crumb topping. We settled on Enlightened Starbucks Coffeecake. I followed the recipe as published with the exception of making the crumb topping in the food processor and making it in an 8x8 pan since I don't have an 9x9 pan.

I am happy to report that DH gave this recipe his seal of approval.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thankgsiving turkey trot

This Thanksgiving, we decided to have a new tradition. My aunt, my mom, DH and I all participated in the Ridgewood Turkey Trot 8k. Aunt Pat and I ran, DH and mom walked. We paired off and stayed together. Dad and Walter stayed home and guarded the turkey this year.

This morning Mom, Pat, DH and I met up at the Ridgewood shopping center along with about 1996 other people. We saw someone with a Cat in the Hat hat and another person dressed up like a turkey We watched the kids one mile fun run and then we were took off down Ridge Road for about two miles before looping through a neighborhood and then going back on Ridge Road to the finish. All four of us were smiling at the end.

The four participants have decided that this should be an annual event and the pressure is on for my dad to participate. He has 364 days to train for it!

After heading home to clean up and relax for a bit, DH and I went to my parents house for dinner -- too much food as always turkey and stuffing and baked sweet potatoes and... followed up by apple pie and maple cream pie. Yikes!

This is also the first holiday since my grandmother passed away. She was definitely missed and remembered today. I think that is one reason we were kind of looking for a new tradition.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Poinsettia redux

This weekend we went to the annual Poinsettia Open House at Homewood Nursery. DH and I attend this event most years. It's an stunning site -- entire greenhouses full of blooming poinsettias. Each year they host an open house on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. There is music and hot cider and tons and tons of poinsettias -- the nursery said that they have over 30,000 poinsettias. People can tour the greenhouse that has the National Poinsettia Cultivar Trials and vote on their favorites. It's incredible to see the variety of colors and shapes that these plants have been bred to take.

We ended up buying three different varieties for our house. It was hard to narrow it down!

Hurricane Hat Trick

On Friday night DH and I went to see the Carolina Hurricanes play the Phoenix Coyotes.  Friday morning we had snow flurries, which is somewhat unusual for Raleigh and quite unusual for Raleigh on November 21. With tickets to a hockey game in the evening, it certainly felt like winter is coming in a big way.

We arrived early and I took some pictures during the pre-game skate when both teams come out to warm up.  I got a few good shots including one of Eric Staal (number 12, upper right) and one of Tuomo Ruutu (number 15, lower left) As usual for a weeknight, it was a late arriving crowd and I got right up against the glass.

The Hurricanes haven't been playing great and Eric Staal, one of our star forwards, was in a slump going into the game. I am happy to report that he had a hat trick -- scoring three goals during the first two periods. That was really nice to see. The Hurricanes won the game 5-2 on the strength of the Staal's hat trick despite getting clogged up in the neutral zone by the Coyotes' defense.

DH have been mini-season ticket holders for the Hurricanes for several years now and this was not the first hat trick that we've seen but it's always fun to see people fling their hats on the ice in celebration.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bear Island Camping

In mid October, I went a group of guys on a sea kayaking and camping trip on the coast of North Carolina. We planned to go Hammocks Beach State park near Swansboro, North Carolina. The main feature of the park is a barrier inland called Bear Island. It was originally spelled "Bare" island since it doesn't have much on it but sand dunes and sea oats (there have never been any bears as far as anyone knows). You can only access the island by boat: either the park's passenger ferry or by kayak.

Most of us met at Scott's house and we planned to take one vehicle (gas was around $4/gallon at the time). But could we fit ALL of that gear and people in/on one vehicle even with a trailer for the kayaks? The only way to take everything was to put a car carrier on top of Scott's mini van. We fumbled in the dark trying to figure out how to get the roof rack cross bars on (there's a front and back, but they weren't labeled or were labeled and we couldn't see the labels in the dark) and then had to move the bars around to accommodate the car carrier.

In our group that morning we had Scott and his son Alex, Luis, Ed, and myself. Brad and his son Troy would be joining us on the island later in the day (bad plan since we were going there at high tide, they would be arriving at LOW tide).

It's about a 2.75 hour drive to Swansboro. On our way there we passed numerous turkey farms. The turkeys were packed in so tightly in the barns, they couldn't move. I said, "HEY, that looks like a staff meeting." From the back, someone says, "NO, it's an all manager's meeting!".

We went into the park office to get our camp sites. Camp sites at North Carolina state parks are first come, first serve (a reservation system is supposed to be in place in 2009). We got the park rules and safety information from two very grumpy park employees. However, it was important to know that there's a $100,000 fine for disturbing sea turtles and to NOT use white lights at night since white light confuses nesting turtles. And don't use the emergency phone on the island to call for help unless there IS an actual emergency. False reports result in another huge fine.

We unloaded all of the gear. You need to bring everything you need to the island except water: tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, sleeping bag liner, pillow, clothes, food, etc. I never had my sea kayak loaded up with with so much stuff. Everything was in dry bags and either in the boat's holds or strapped on top. The gear was in dry bags, but dry bags don't float. Therefore the gear had better not fall off or I'd better not roll the boat over. The kayak was low in the water, but handled fine.

We paddled the four miles to the island, following the ferry route. The salt marsh can be very shallow, but we were going out close to high tide. Alex was in the lead a lot of the time (follow the channel markers Alex!). The trip took a little over an hour, but we weren't in a hurry. Once we arrived at the island, we had to go a half mile or so into a lagoon. Even at high tide, it was very shallow in spots and I had to push myself forward at times.

We found our camp sites, which were right behind the dunes on the beach. There were heated bathrooms and water, but over a half mile away down the beach. We walked down to the facilities for lunch since there are also gazebos with picnic tables. While walking down the beach, we saw numerous porpoises jumping out of the water.

Then we set up camp. Luis advised us to bring plastic shopping bags to load with sand to hold down the corners of the tents. There's no dirt to drive the tent stakes into, and wind would blow your tent away if it isn't staked down. We got three camp sites, but we easily could have fit on one site. It wasn't a big deal since each site was $9/night (Scott did grumble though).

Luis wanted to go geocaching in the afternoon since there was a cache on a nearby island ( geocaching is a sport in which you use a GPS to find hidden caches, which usually contain a notebook where you can log that you found it). We paddled over to the island. As soon as we got off the beach and into the trees, we were swarmed by mosquitoes. Ed found the cache in a tree and everyone quickly went back to the beach.

At this point we split up. Ed and Luis were going to meet up with Brad and Troy, who called and were at the put in in the park. Brad decided to get a tandem kayak (otherwise known as a divorce boat). Scott, Alex, and I were going to play in the ocean surf with the kayaks.

The tide was going down and huge sand flats were exposed. Brad and Troy were going to have a tough time getting to the camp sites.

Scott, Alex and I played in the ocean surf. I had a spray skirt on my boat. Alex had one but didn't know how to use it. Scott didn't have a spray skirt, and didn't configure his boat to fit him properly. So, I was able to ride some big waves (I haven't tried to roll the big 15' long boat, and didn't want to try now). Scott got his boat filled with water and it nearly sank to the bottom.

Hours went by. Brad and Troy finally showed up. I still don't know what took them so long to go the four miles.

We all set up for dinner. I had a Jet Boil, a small stove that can be used boil water, as did Scott. I didn't want to haul a bunch of cooking gear, so I had organic mac and cheese in a pouch from REI. I added boiling water to the bag, mixed it up, waited a few minutes, and it was dinner. The weather that day was beautiful, but rain was in the forecast. When it started to sprinkle, we all ran for cover.

It poured throughout the night. It was pitch black from the storm and from the fact that there were few lights on the island. You could see the lights from Swansboro and on Emerald Isle across the Bogue Inlet.

We woke up to a gray day, but it wasn't raining yet. Ed walked by and said that there's a 100% chance of rain. We packed up as quickly as possible to get the gear into the dry bags before the skies opened up. We loaded gear onto the kayaks. Then we waited. And we waited. And we waited. Scott and Alex hadn't broken down camp yet. Scott asked if we were going to have breakfast. I already did, I had an oatmeal to go bar and an apple. I was ready to go.

We were finally on our way and the tide was rising. When we were coming out of lagoon, we had to go against the rising tide and a strong headwind. It started to rain on and off. I was very thankful for the waterproof/windproof paddling jacket I had on AND for the spray skirt on the kayak. Once we got out of the lagoon, it was easier going since the we were riding the rising tide towards shore.

We all made it back to the parking lot, loaded up the gear, then the rain really started coming down.

We went to the next campground (Cedar Point, which is in the Croatan National Forest) and had to set up camp in the rain. This time we picked a site directly across from the bathrooms/showers. The showers did have warmish water, but they were navy showers apparently. You only got water for 20 seconds or so, then had to press the button to get another 20 seconds. It was pretty cold out, so I kept pressing the button to keep the water flowing (bam bam bam bam bam ...).

Now what could do for a few hours in the pouring rain? That evening we were going to a shrimp boil dinner, but we had to find something to do for a few hours.

We needed lunch, so we went into Swansboro. Luis had recommended a local restaurant, but they had a 45+ minute wait. We could wait in a knick knack shop (oh, the kitsch) since there was no room in the restaurant. The building the shop occupied predated the Civil War. I got to overhear the owner explain how the Union troops tried to burn down the building because they were looking for liquor and were upset when they couldn't find any (and you could still see the char marks). I led a small group over to a coffee house nearby and waited there with a latte. Troy got a hot chocolate, so he was happy. It was a COLD rainy day, so hot beverages and heat were wonderful. For lunch I had a great clam chowder as well as a huge burger. We all shared onion rings and fries.

The dinner that evening was a BYOB affair, so we went to a grocery store for malted beverages. We still had hours to kill and it was still raining. Luis suggested that we could go bowling. But where's a bowling alley? Scott gets out his Blackberry (crack berry). There's a bowling alley right behind the store! I said a sports bar would be better, but they don't allow kids. Brad loved the idea and said: yes they do. Scott does another search on the crack berry. The place that is a bowling alley is also a sports bar AND an arcade. We were going to Mac Daddy's.

When we got to Mac Daddy's, Brad, Luis, and Ed plopped onto a couch in front of a large screen TV with a football game on. I played pool with Scott, Alex, and Troy. We also played a game of bowling (I do better with Wii bowling). While bowling, I saw a teenage girl yapping on her cell phone WHILE throwing the ball. They also had bumpers on their bowling lane. Seems like cheating to me.

We then went off to dinner. Dinner was held at home of one of the Raleigh Sail and Power Squadron members (Luis is a member of the Raleigh Sail and Power Squadron, a boating club). It was a very nice home on the White Oak River. It has a large dock, and a large boat of course. Dinner consisted of boiled shrimp (with Old Bay seasoning and I assume local shrimp), potatoes, corn, key lime pie, and brownies.

Troy, who claims that sushi is his favorite food says, "Ewww...aren't shrimp SEA BUGS?" I said, "So are lobsters, and both are DELICIOUS".

We then had another night of camping in the rain. In the morning, the sky was clear since the front moved through. It was cooler and a bit windy. We loaded up the gear and planned to kayak on the White Oak River for awhile before heading home.

The White Oak River is very wide and tidal near Swansboro (but shallow due to sand that built up behind the Swansboro bridge). It has salt marshes, which we explored. It's not easy to navigate around in the marsh since may channels dead end. Several times we had to turn around, and other times the channels would only be as wide as your boat or would be so shallow you had to push yourself through the mud. We finally got through and headed back into the main channel of the river. Brad and Troy had a bigger an heavier tandem kayak, so they had turned around and met back up with us later.

By now the wind is really creating whitecaps on the river and making large waves. It was a lot of fun bouncing in the waves. Somehow I missed seeing the porpoise that was in the river.

We loaded up one last time and headed home.

Click here for more pictures from the trip.

One of the funny things from the weekend is that it seemed that every time Scott used his Jet Boil, it would rain. So we asked him to NOT use it any more.

This is an annual trip that Luis organizes and my second year on the trip. I'll try to fit it into my calendar for next fall. We'll want to move it back to September so that the weather isn't as variable (unless there's a hurricane), but September tends to be a very busy month.

Friday, November 7, 2008

No singing required

My mother joined the iPod contingent in July with a nano phatty. Since then, she has enjoyed it but complained about singing. As it turns out, she sings a lot when she is listening to music and she was concerned about getting strange looks while singing with headphones on. In fact, on a recent flight, she had to switch a podcast because she was singing on the plane -- not a good thing.

This morning, I was listening to my iPod in the car and it selected three songs in a row that required singing.
(links to iTunes store if you want to listen to a preview)

This is odd since I don't seem to have inherited the singing with music gene but it did make me think of her! Maybe I was singing because it's sunny out. Maybe I was singing because it's Friday. Maybe I was singing because I'm my mother's daughter.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

You're Cool...For an Old Guy

Late in October, I went on a whitewater kayak trip with other Carolina Canoe Club members: Russ, Chris, Brian, and Dana. We ran the Pound and the Russell Fork, which only have dam releases in October and we wanted to catch the last release of the year.

We all took a half day of vacation Friday, met up at REI in Durham, loaded all of the gear in and on Russ' big diesel truck, and headed up to a remote corner of Appalachia. It is an area on the Virginia and Kentucky state line, which is coal country. We passed numerous coal mines and you could see coal seams in the rock where roads are cut into the hillsides.

Our destination was an "interstate" park that is in Virginia and Kentucky, the Breaks Interstate Park. The Russell Fork forms a gorge that is known as the "Grand Canyon of the South". The gorge itself contains class IV and V+ rapids, which are much too advanced for me right now. We were going to do a couple of sections before the gorge that go up to class III+, the Pound and the Russell Fork BEFORE the gorge. We met up with the Smith River Valley Canoe Club (SRVCC) from Virginia.

We camped in the park, which has very nice facilities. It has hot showers, clothes washers and dryers, and a lodge with a restaurant where you can get a hearty breakfast.

The forecast called for hard rain Friday night. It rained quite hard on our drive up to the campground, but let up when we arrived. Brian called the lodge, and it had rooms available. It would be $12 each to camp per night, $25 each to share a room. We choose poorly. We choose to camp. As soon as we paid for the campsite (the camp office had a sign "No checks or refunds"), the sky opened up. We had to pitch camp in the pouring rain. I had my tent up the fastest, the tent was pitched and I was in my sleeping bad in well under 10 minutes. I had the tent and sleeping gear in a dry bag. First I pulled my rain jacket from the top of the bag and put it on (I knew rain was in the forecast), I pulled out the tent from the dry bag, closed the bag, pitched the tent, and threw the bag inside the tent. One quick run to the truck, and I got the other two bags of stuff. It poured throughout the night. I tend to overpack for trips, but I was VERY glad to have brought a spare pare of jeans. Everything I had on then was soaked.

We got up in the morning and headed down to the lodge for breakfast. The lodge sits on the edge of the gorge, but was enveloped in fog. The fog was thick, but it was supposed to clear up later in the day. I had a hearty breakfast of biscuits, scrambled eggs, bacon, coffee. No gravy for me thanks, I may regret that later (especially if I am upside down in the water). I managed to pour half the coffee on the table and got some on Russ. I wasn't allowed to pour my own coffee after that. The top of the pot was stuck, and I put too much angle on it. The top popped open and coffee was everywhere.

We figured out the shuttles for the day, changed into paddling gear, and headed to the put in, which is right below the Flannagan Dam. We started a little further downstream to avoid the outflow from the dam. A couple of guys from Lexington, Kentucky joined our group: Sean and Zack (Zack hardly said a thing all day, so I may not have the name correct). In all we had 17 people, most of whom were in kayaks, but some were in whitewater canoes.

Dana had been on the river before, so we tried to follow her lines.

I got my first combat roll of the day in the Pound. I scraped the bottom of the river with my right arm and shoulder before rolling up.

We then entered the Russell Fork itself. We needed to go under a bridge, which has an old dam below it. You can only safely go one way, between the right most pylons of the bridge. When you go between the right most pylons, you go over a tongue of water, and you have to angle left. We all went single file and I was through fine.

We then came to the 20 Stitches rapid. We got out of our boats to scout the rapid. It looked easier on the left side since the right side had lots of boiling water. The plan was to eddy hop a couple of eddies before hitting the main part of the rapid on the left side.

I blew past the eddies (I need to work on catching eddies in faster water), waved to Russ on my way by (who was sitting in the second eddy), and went for it. According to witnesses, at the bottom of the rapid, I was airborne a few seconds, then flipped. But I rolled right back up and received kudos for my rolling timing and technique. That was combat roll two for the day.

A little later, I flipped and rolled in a section that goes below a bridge. I'm not sure if it was here or at 20 Stitches, but we were very surprised to see that Russ was swimming. Russ is a very experienced kayaker and teaches the whitewater safety clinic for the club. I wasn't a big deal since it happens to everyone at some point, there were plenty of people to help, and Russ didn't have to swim far.

Next came a rapid Dana called "Eddy Land". It is best to hop from eddy to eddy to the bottom. Towards the end of the run there's a no named rapid that also requires you to negotiate around rocks.

We all made it to the take out. You have to be sure to stop at the Garden Hole takeout, otherwise you're in the gorge. The takeout was a zoo. There was a race through the gorge that day (which sounds crazy to me). There were lots of different kinds of boats, including longer race boats. You could also could see some of the different subcultures of the kayaking world. There was some loud music blaring and we joked that many there probably smoke herbage. Of course, that's probably why they can paddle the gorge.

We had a long wait for the shuttles back to the campground. Sean didn't have anything warm or dry to wear, so Bill (a SRVCC member) loaned him a Polartec top. Sean commented on the relative ages of people there and says to me, "you're like what, 28?" I replied, "No. Try again. A lot higher than that". He was shocked when I said I was 40. I said something like "yup, I'm old". Justin pipes up, "You ARE old. But you're cool...for an old guy". Sean had to get on the road so I ended up with the Polartec. We knew the SRVCC folks were in the same campground and I was able to hand it back to Bill as we drove by his campsite.

While waiting, we watched kayakers slide in their kayaks down the hill into the water. Some did a little flip or twist before hitting the water.

The road out of the Garden Hole takeout was interesting. It is a single lane dirt road, steep, has sharp switch backs, and we had to get up that in a big truck loaded with people and gear.

We stopped at the campground office and bought firewood. We asked the ranger if they had beer. He said that it's a state park and alcohol isn't allowed, but wink, if you behave, it's ok. The closest place is three miles up the road towards Elkhorn City. We headed to camp and got the fire going and hung up the gear.

Now what to do for dinner? There weren't many options. There's the buffet of fried foods at the lodge, the "Rusty Fork" and "La Mesa Grande" (allegedly a Mexican restaurant), both of which are in Elkhorn City. We were told to NOT do the buffet by someone who suffered through it the night before, so it was off to Elkhorn City.

We picked the Mexican restaurant. When we ordered, we asked what beers they had. None since we were now in a dry county in Kentucky. The Mexican restaurant was a bad choice overall. The service was slow. The mole sauce on Dana's Pollo Loco was 'like Chef Boy-R-De'. But this is where the chicken dance meme started. When Dana said her dinner wasn't that good, I said "so you're not going to do the chicken dance then". Then everyone started doing the chicken dance song. It gets worse. There was a toy chicken in the restaurant that did the chicken dance if you pressed a button. Russ, of course, presses it. The chicken dance starts blaring, and everyone in the restaurant looks. From that point on in the trip, people would spontaneously do the chicken dance.

Saturday night turned out to be quite cold. I was thankful for the sleeping bag liner I had that adds 15 degrees of warmth to the sleeping bag and for the thermal underwear. Chris heated up a rock by the fire and brought it into his tent, and that worked great for him.

In the morning, I had to put on damp, cold neoprene. An extra neoprene top and pants are on my Christmas list now!

We then had a repeat of Saturday: breakfast at the lodge, figure out the shuttles, put on paddling gear, head to the put in. We were able to arrange for Russ' truck to be at the takeout so we could get on the road sooner. One odd conversation happened while we were waiting. Several SRVCC folks said to me, "You sound JUST like that guy on "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me". Peter Sagel? "YES, HIM!". huh.

On Sunday we had 13 people in our group. Sean and his friend had to head back to Lexington, and some SRVCC people headed home. We also picked up a couple of new people.

We went through the same sections of the Pound and the Russell Fork. However, the weather was much better. The sun came out and we had blue skies.

Chris managed to swim below the dam. This was after saying he hadn't ever swam in that boat (he now has multiple whitewater kayaks). He provoked the river gods.

I flipped and rolled in 20 Stitches. But overall, I was feeling more comfortable on day two. On Saturday, I hadn't been in my boat on a river for a couple of weeks and I didn't know the river. On Sunday, we knew what to expect and the weather was much better. I also got great advice from the SRVCC folks, which helped a lot. They noted that I needed to lean forward more, paddle more aggressively, and use my hips less to steer the boat.

Dana had a swim on Sunday as well. In the end, we had three swim team members: Russ, Chris, and Dana. Brian and I didn't join the swim team that weekend.

Chris then told me that Bill, from the SRVCC, was out to get Brian and I. He thought we should ALL be on the swim team. I came up to the last big rapid of the day, the one where you have to negotiate around rocks. I see Bill sitting there behind a rock. I THOUGHT he was out to get me. No, he was trying to show me the route. I flipped and was heading for a big rock. I rolled before hitting it, but now I was going backwards down the rapid. I didn't get myself stabilized, and flipped again. I rolled up, and was now heading for another rock. I flipped for a third time, and beaned my beanie when I rolled back up. Rocks are hard, which is why helmets are good. But I made it through without swimming.

We knew what the takeout looked like and headed right for it. We loaded up the gear, got into dry clothes, then broke down camp.

On our way home, we stopped at one of the gorge overlooks. You could see the water far below and could hear the water. We watched a group of kayakers go though one of the large rapids. A couple of kayakers did flip and roll, but the size of the rapids compared to the kayakers is amazing. If you look at the pictures I took, the last couple are from the overlook. You can barely make out the tiny kayaks on the water.

Click here to see photos I took. The pictures were assigned locations, so you can see on a map where they were taken (a couple locations are best guesses).

There were professional photographers taking pictures:
It was a great trip and I plan to have the Russell Fork on my calendar next October. I would like to catch an earlier release though.

In the map below, A is the put in at the dam. You can see the road to the take out at the bottom of the Breaks Interstate Park. Bartlick Road is where we crossed under a bridge and over an old dam.

View Larger Map


video coming soon

Russell Fork 2008 video via http://www.betweenswims.com/
I am at 2:45 in the video.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

North Carolina, you have embarrassed me

The residents of North Carolina have embarrassed me.
What the heck is going on here? What would you say if this this was happening in somewhere like, say, Iraq? Would you say that we need to keep our forces there because clearly they cannot govern themselves or would you say that they are running their election well? This is not acceptable behavior and should not be tolerated.

Come on people, express yourself at the polls. Early voting has begun in North Carolina. Get thee to the polls and stop the violence. These are clearly attempts at voter intimidation. Don't let these thugs stop you from voting.

Real Americans set a good example of how well representative democracy works by expressing themselves at the polls.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Cycle North Carolina Wrap Up

  • Tim's rear wheel. I saw a lot of it!
  • Gary in his tri jersey, no matter what the temperature was!
  • Brian who was a 17-year-old high school senior traveling with his family. Brian's dad was riding a tandem with Brian's younger siblings. For the first three days, Brian's 7 -year-old sister was on the back of the tandem and for the final four days, his 8-year-old brother was on the back. The night in Concord, both of them were a part of the indoor camping sleepover. I cannot imagine doing those climbs on a tandem -- especially with virtually no help from the rear.
  • The soap opera in the indoor camping area and the comment afterward. "I'm with my new friends. Dudes. They're safer."
  • Les saying that there was a cock roach sighting at Laurel Hill. Fortunately, he told me this after we were already in White Lake. In retrospect, I suspect termites. The floor at the front of the gym was kind of sketchy.
  • The look on peoples' faces when they realized that they could have whatever they wanted in the Wingate University cafeteria.
  • Lake James is really beautiful and a lot larger than I thought it was.
  • The Reed Gold Mine rest stop where there was someone with a nugget of gold. The first memory is that they said that in it's heyday the Reed Gold Mine was worth more that Wall Street. Someone said that it was true again! The second memory is a few rest stops later someone -- Jon or Tim -- said we could have taken the guy with the gold nugget, what would he have said, someone in tight black shorts with a really colorful top who was on a bike robbed him?
A typical day

Several people have asked me what a typical day for me was on Cycle North Carolina.

5:55 am - Alarm goes off, beat the 6 am crowd to the rest room. Put on sports bra, brush hair, wash face.
6:00 lights on
6:00 Pack sleeping bag and sleeping pad.
6:00 - 6:45 - breakfast
6:45-7:15 - change into riding gear, pack sleeping gear and other items, bring bags to luggage truck
7:15-7:30 - pump tires, head to designated meeting place
7:45 - 12:30 ride bike

12:30-1:30 - locate bags, save a space for sleeping, shower and change
1:30-4:00 - find food, explore the town, talk to the area representatives, talk to my friends
4:00 - Doug usually showed up from his hotel about then. We would talk, see anything interesting
5:00 - Dinner
6:00 - 7:30 explore the town, hang out with Doug and other cyclists
7:30-9:00 social time
9:00-10:00 head back to the gym if not already there, hang out and talk. A big sleepover
10:00 lights out

If I do CNC again
  • Buy coffee by the day instead of getting a mug for the week
  • No Bubba towels - use camp towels to dry off and bring one regular towel for modesty
  • Consider bringing a power strip to ease recharging congestion
  • Less/almost no first aid stuff. Mostly bring band aids, Benadryl, etc.
  • Packing bike gear in individual bags, a one gallon bag per day, was a good idea!
  • Consider bringing instant oatmeal, bowl and spoon as a backup breakfast. I'm glad that I had the food plan though.
  • Set up a core group to ride with before signing up. The group that I was with was great but I got lucky this year. Next time, do some more coordination up front.
  • Bring every charger known to man. I had car chargers and wall chargers for everything and I was happy about that
  • The iPod with marshmallow earbuds was great for white noise. I used the iPod and an audiobook from LibriVox if I needed to block out camp noise to sleep.
  • Beware of the October sun -- I got a bit more sun than I expected and I should have use more sun screen
The stats
  • 480.76 miles
  • 14,930 feet of climbing
  • 24 hours 17 minutes of ride time

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Cycle North Carolina - Day 7

CNC Day 7
White Lake to Oak Island
21.0 mph average speed
26.5 mph maximum speed
3:39:59total ride time
77.09 miles

The day was fun and relatively uneventful. The sunrise over the lake was gorgeous.

We left White Lake at about 7:45. We started as a group of six -- Doug, Tim, Jon, Tracy, and Judith. Gary left a little bit ahead of us. He wanted to get to Oak Island early so that he could start his journey back to Michigan. Judith stayed with us for a little while and Tracy found another group to ride with before the second rest stop. There was not a whole lot to look at along the route. Our biggest events occurred between rest stops 2 and 3. First, rest stop 3 was relocated and we only found out when it wasn't at mile 47 where we were expecting it. Several miles later, there was some chalk lettering on the road telling us that it was in two miles. Over three miles after that, we found it at mile 52. That's a big difference on the final day of a 7 day ride. We were not happy. Also, between rest stops 2 and 3, Doug broke a spoke. Fortunately, the REI mechanics had a spare wheel to loan him so that he could finish the ride. It would have been awful to ride for six days and have a mechanical problem prevent you from finishing the final 25 miles!

At the final rest stop, we had a someone take a group photo and we headed to Oak Island.

DH met me in Oak Island, along with the Girls. After a final good-bye to the shower truck and a finish line lunch, we took Hannah and Emma down to the beach to cool off.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Cycle North Carolina - Day 6

CNC Day 6
Laurel Hill to White Lake
21.1 mph average speed
29.4 mph maximum speed
3:38.46 total ride time
77.14 miles
less than 500 feet of climbing

Doug (in blue) and Tim (in white) at a rest stop on en route to White Lake

The century loop, solo at a "touring pace"
17.1 mph average speed
21.7 mph maximum speed
1:27:18total ride time
24.93 miles

Several cyclists commented that all of the stop overs should have been like White Lake. At White Lake there were food vendors, a wine vendor, free beer, aerial demonstrations, a bluegrass band, dancing, ice cream, canoes (not many takers after six days of riding). The indoor camping at the FFA Center was in 15 person cabins. My indoor camping buddies and I were able to vet everyone to create a no snoring cabin.

The best part of the route was a stop at Lu Mil vineyard. They had a tasting at the rest stop there but I stuck with the jams and jellies. I am not a big fan of Muscadine wines.

The route was 77 miles with a rest stop at the FFA Center and then another 25 mile loop if you wanted to do the century option. Most people stopped after the first 77 miles because, after all, we were there. I felt funny about stopping because the century was a goal of mine. I went to the luggage truck and claimed a spot in our No Snoring cabin. Then Doug asked if I was doing the century. I said no but then I put my bike shoes back on and did it. Earlier in the day I told Doug that I might do the century at a taking it easy touring type pace and I went ahead and did that. One of the volunteers at a rest stop told us how beautiful the century route was and how much we would like it. I beg to differ.

The century route was a little bit unnerving. It started out with signs that said "100" and after three or four of these signs, the "100" was not on them anymore. I saw almost no cyclists and I never saw a SAG vehicle. After a while I started to worry that I was on the Day 7 route. I was in a very rural wooded area with no cars or cyclists. I decided that at mile 20 of the century route, I needed to find a way to call if I did not feel like I was headed back towards White Lake. By this time, my hands were getting numb because the road was rough and I was getting a lot of vibration. By mile 21, I felt like I was headed in the right direction and I did make it back to camp. For those who did not do the century, the photo below shows what you missed.

When I got back, there were at least half a dozen food vendors set up so I had a snack from one of the Relay for Life tables. After cleaning up, I enjoyed the DJ and visited with CNC friends. We watched the aerial show and had a Carolina BBQ dinner. Then a bluegrass group -- The Boys from Carolina -- played and several people started to dance. Judith wanted to go out on the pontoon boat and I went with her. It was good timing too, since we were on the lake as the sun set.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Cycle North Carolina - Day 5

CNC Day 5
Wingate to Laurel Hill
18.4 mph average speed
38.2 mph maximum speed
3:56:25 total ride time
72.57 miles
2650 feet of climbing

When we were in Wingate, there were signs saying to watch out for fire ants. After all, it would be a bad thing to set up your tent on top of hill of fire ants. One of the people that I was indoor camping near was Brian, a 17-year-old from the Charlotte area. Tim asked Brian to ride with us and Brian backed out -- because an ant bit him. He claimed to have swelling but we could not see it. He laughed when Tim said, "I'm three times your age." Tim's efforts to goad Brian into riding with us were fruitless though. I can just imagine the headline: Ant Bite Stops Cyclist.

The route from Wingate to Laurel Hill was still quite hilly. I kind of knew that but I was still hoping that the route profile was wrong. Tim took good care of me and saw me into Laurel Hill. I just had no legs for hills at all and Tim held up for me so that I didn't have to go it alone. I spent a lot of time looking at Tim's wheel. Jon rode with us from the rest stop on mile 49 to the end of the day's route.

I'm not quite sure about doing the century tomorrow. It's a goal and all but 100 miles is a long way and the route has us stopping at White Lake and then continuing for 25 miles only to circle back to White Lake. In other words, we could be done -- or continue on for another 25 miles. Ack.

Our final rest stop of the day was in Hamlet. I had not really been looking forward to it because all I knew of Hamlet was the fire but Hamlet is really a cute town with a really neat train station. Apparently it is the only Victorian Queen Anne train station in North Carolina.

After a long day on the bike, we arrive in Laurel Hill. The businesses in downtown Laurel Hill consist of Family Dollar, Pate's grocery, Pate's furniture, Pate's appliance along with a post office and a bank. Then, along US 74, is what we called The Strip BP, Citgo that sells pizza, used car place, home cooking type restaurant.

I am happy to report that despite the fact that the accommodations in Laurel Hill were less than luxurious, the caterer did a great job. We had hickory smoked chicken for dinner and the best biscuits of the trip for breakfast. They also found a nice band to play beach music on site. That helped the atmosphere a lot.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Cycle North Carolina - Day 4

CNC Day 4
Concord to Wingate
19.2 mph average speed
38.6 mph maximum speed
3:15:32 total ride time
62.35 miles

The photo above was taken at a rest stop along the route.  No, my bike is not in the picture.

When I got in I wrote the following in my notebook, "Tired. Hilly. Hard to paceline due to hills. Hope tomorrow is flatter."

That was a few hours ago and I am feeling much better now. Wingate is a very small town with not a whole lot going on other than the university which is where we are staying. After setting up "camp" in the gym and cleaning up (and getting a latte and the university library!), I walked around a bit.

I headed toward what looked like town and I stopped in the town hall and asked what there was to see in town. A woman with no eyebrows -- none, she had plucked them all and then penciled them in -- said, "Well, there's the university." pause "Oh, the Jesse Helms Center." pause "And we have a park by the elementary school!" I picked up pamphlet there and apparently there are 39 businesses in town (including home day care centers). I think that I saw them all!

One of many gas stations without gas. This one is on US74 in Wingate. I thought that it was ironic since we were biking across the state

Wingate University has a nice campus and everyone has been extremely friendly and helpful. Other than the somewhat clueless town hall employee, everyone has been so accomodating, I cannot even put it into words. After Concord last night, this was a welcome change.

Dinner was in the campus cafeteria. All you can eat. Like Golden Corral but with better food. You should have seen people's faces light up when they realized that they could get more food. They were in heaven!

At dinner, which Tim asked one of the students if their administration had warned them about our arrival. The students kind of laughed and said no. One of them spoke up and said that an e-mail was sent out this morning. Tim was serious. Wingate has just over 2000 students and 1000 cyclists arrived on their doorstep. Jon said that it looked like a group of angry wildebeests had been to the cafeteria and Tim kept on saying locusts. 1000 people coming would eat a lot. 1000 cyclists who have been riding for four days -- 1000 stinky, hungry cyclists that have been riding for four days -- that may be another thing altogether.  We pretty much ran Lincolnton out of food too.  One of the three restaruants downtown closed due to lack of food!

We are about halfway through with the mileage and we have three more days of riding. Tomorrow, the mileage starts to increase as the route flattens. Hopefully the extra food helps everyone ride well.