Archive for September, 2008

Swim—bike—run—eat ice cream

September 29, 2008

It was 5:30 a.m., too early to be awake, let alone dressed head to toe in spandex. But there I was, walking in the dark toward a field of bicycles, wearing more skin-tight elastic than a cheap hooker.

I participated in the 2008 all-women SheROX triathlon a couple weekends ago at the Latta Plantation Park, a 19th Century cotton plantation near Charlotte, North Carolina that’s now a living history farm and 1,343-acre nature preserve. The sprint-distance event included a 700-meter swim, a 17-mile bike ride and a 3.1-mile run.

I’d competed in three triathlons before this one: one in North Georgia and two along the waterfront in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I love swimming and cycling and can tolerate running well enough, and the three sports back-to-back make for an exciting challenge.

The sun began to rise during the second half of my there-and-back swim through Mountain Island Lake. With every right-side breath, I could see the pinkish glow of the sky reflecting off the calm, dark water, and I would think to myself, “Am I there yet?”

Just over 14 minutes later, when the answer to that question was finally ‘yes,’ I ripped off my swim cap and ran barefoot up to the grassy transition area, where my bicycle awaited among 400 look-alikes. Fortunately, I had memorized its position and managed to locate it without too much trouble.

After clipping the strap on my helmet, fastening the velcro on my cycling shoes and wheeling my bike out the wrong exit, back into the transition area and out the right exit, I was off, pedaling the country roads at speeds not too hard to fathom.

At the end of the bike ride, my legs and my lungs (which tend toward asthmatic when heavily taxed) were ready to take a break in a chaise lounge by the lake. But I forced them to push through the run.

Ow. Legs.

It took me just over an hour and 37 minutes to finish, placing me third in my age group and 15th overall. I came home with the first trophy I’ve received since my high school swim banquet nine years ago — and celebrated it all with a tremendous waffle cone of Moose Tracks ice cream.

Glad to be sitting

Butt sweat art

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White water wafting the White Salmon

September 17, 2008

Q: What do you get when you put three dental equipment salesmen from Kansas City together in a river raft?

A: Knock-knock jokes!

I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say, I learned quite a few one-liners during a recent rafting trip in Washington State.

My friend Jonathan guides rafting trips on Washington’s White Salmon River for a company called Wet Planet. He took Helen and me — and the three salesmen — down the river on a recent Saturday morning.

Within seconds of shoving off shore, we were negotiating churning Class III and IV rapids (out of V navigable types) that didn’t relent until we pulled the raft off the water at the end of the run. This took a well-coordinated digging of paddles, an every-man-for-the-team mentality — and some skilled steering from the back.

The White Salmon River starts on the glaciers on Mount Adams, ends at the Columbia River near the town of Hood River, Oregon is protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The clear, frigid water was on its way through a narrow, steep-walled canyon of volcanic rock during the eight miles we followed it. The setting has a pristine beauty about it; flowers and ferns grow from cracks in the canyon walls, needly trees arch out over the water, and osprey circle overhead.

We abandoned our raft upstream of the first waterfall, BZ Falls, and while the empty vessel floated over the 24-foot drop by itself, we walked around. Then we jumped off a cliff and met it at the bottom.

“Make sure you land in the dead center of the river,” our trip leader had said before we hurled ourselves off the edge. “Land too close and you’ll hit the rock ledge on this shore. Land too far away, and you’ll hit the rock wall on the other side.” Instructions like that make for an exhilarating free fall. No really, it was fun.

The trip concluded at the base of the 10-foot Husum Falls. We stayed in the raft for that one, and practiced a stay-in-the-raft tactic as we approached. When Jonathan said “Get down!” we swung our paddles along the outside of the raft (being careful not to remove each other’s teeth in the process), scooted our butts onto the floor and grabbed a safety cord.

Here we are in action:

CRAFT IDEA: Why not print out these photos and staple them together to create your very own Husum Falls flip book?!!

Notice our calm composure as we approach the drop. That’s me, back right. Helen is directly in front of me.

OK, not as much composure here. This one has more of a “HOLY SHIT!” feeling to it.

That’s Jonathan, our guide.

You can still see his arm.

Aaaaaand, we’re back. And all accounted for!

Oh, to be alive!!!

I’d say that was a bonding experience

After Helen and I dried off, we drove to Giffort Pinchot National Forest to hike the Sleeping Beauty Trail. The 1.4-mile path ascended through a forest of firs and hemlocks draped in lichen.

It ended at a 4,900-foot rock outcropping that overlooked Mount Adams (pictured above), Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier.

Helen and me, windswept, at the top

And, a shot from the way down, some lichen in the sunlight:

Rafting photos courtesy of Wet Planet.

Portland, Oregon: Quite a catch

September 11, 2008

Portland wears graphic tees and skinny jeans and slings a courier bag over its shoulder whenever it goes anywhere. Its favorite color, by far, is green.

The city defies traditional categorization in many ways. But it also has some definite preferences. And here they are, in no order whatsoever:

  • Likes: Riding bikes, listening to indie rock, brunching, biodiesel, light drizzle, green space, sketching things in notebooks, brewpubs, organic stuff, reusable grocery bags, hanging out at coffee shops, tending vegetable gardens, feeding the chickens in the front-yard hutch
  • Dislikes: The Man, 9 to 5 desk jobs, strip malls, carbon footprints, categories, automobiles

I visited Portland, Oregon last week to scope it out as a potential next home base. I stayed with my friend Helen who moved from Birmingham in April. She lives in a newly-renovated, two-bedroom apartment in the hip Southeast part of town and started work last week as a teacher at a preschool where the students sing songs to Mother Earth and are allowed to take off their clothes whenever they want, provided they keep their undies on.

Helen lives with four cats who are constantly plotting against each other. This one LOOKS cute and harmless…

Here are a few things I really liked about Portland:

Everyone rides bikes
I felt very Portland as I rolled up my right pant leg, swung a leg over my bike and started peddling across town for a lunch date. In the west coast port city, the majority of the population, it seems, moves about on two wheels, and the question “Wanna ride bikes?” is as common among adults as second graders. Just my style.

A guy riding his bike in the park downtown along the Willamette River, taken with my old-fashioned camera. OK, not true. iPhoto is fun.

Voodoo Doughnuts
I have never tried a doughnut coated in Tang. Or Fruit Loops. Or Butterfinger crumbles.
All these toppings were options, though, at Portland’s Voodoo Doughnuts, located downtown on SW Third Avenue. I opted for the doughnut smothered in chocolate, peanut butter and Rice Krispies — and mmmm, was it good.

The doughnut shop, located in a small brick hole-in-the-wall near the river, offers such specialties as:

  • The Memphis Mafia — A large doughnut covered with glaze, chocolate chips, banana and peanut butter
  • The Arnold Palmer — A cake doughnut covered with lemon and tea powder
  • Triple Chocolate Penetration — A chocolate doughnut smothered in chocolate glaze and cocoa-puffs
  • And, get this: The Cock-n-Balls — A doughnut shaped like… well, you know… and filled with triple crème (ewwwww!)

BTW, the folks at Voodoo are also licensed to wed, so if you’re feelin’ the love, here are your nuptial options:

  • Intentional commitment: $25
  • Legal commitment: $175 (includes the wedding, with doughnuts and coffee for 10)
  • The Whole Shebang: $5,000 (includes airline tickets, a hotel room, sightseeing in Portland and the wedding package)

Powell’s Books

The flagship Powell’s Books is three stories tall and a city block wide. As such, it’s a good idea to have trail mix, water and a few Band Aids with you as you enter, and it’s also smart to leave your itinerary and expected departure time with a trusted friend.

The Portland institution — which operates seven stores in the Portland area and a nationally successful Web site www.powells.com — is the largest independent bookstore in the world. Despite its size, Powell’s maintains personal touches, like handwritten reviews below especially noteworthy books.

Food carts
I tasted the best cupcake in the world — and I do not kid about things like this — from a food cart on Alder Street called The Sugar Cube. The so-scrumptious piece of heaven, called the ‘Amy Winehouse,’ was described on the chalkboard as “boozy yellow cake with a hint of orange zest dipped in sexy chocolate ganache. DAMN!”

Damn is right. (I returned the next day for ‘Highway to Heaven’ — a “chocolate buttermilk cupcake filled with salted caramel, topped with chocolate ganache.” And, damn again.)

Owner Kirsten Jensen in her cart

The Sugar Cube is one of many food carts lining the sidewalk at 9th and Alder. The mobile restaurants, which have popped up all over Portland in recent years, serve short-order cuisine from all over the world — everything from falafel to Polish sausages to vegetable pakoras to beef burritos. The options can overwhelm, but the food is tasty, quick and generally a good bargain. Plus, the sidewalk tables offer a premium vantage point for people watching.

Cheap bowling
Got a quarter? Then get yer bowlin’ shoes on! We could hear the rumble of balls rolling and pins falling as we walked through the parking garage at AMF Pro 300 Lanes, which is located directly under the alley.
The start to my game was rough. I knocked down maybe two pins during the first three frames (faulty ball, right?). My luck turned around during the second game, however, when I scored three strikes in a row and dominated the rest of the game.

I felt oddly tempted by the awesome socks in the vending machine.

Public Art
Been looking for a place to ditch the My Little Pony you no longer play with? Free-range dioramas are pretty common to run across on sidewalks and street corners. Anyone can contribute.

Take this telephone pole, for instance

Stumptown Coffee Roasters
This Portland coffee roaster, which operates several cafes throughout the city, serves super high-quality espresso coffees, many of which have delicate designs swirled in the foam on top. Stumptown owner Duane Sorenson flies all over the world — to Africa, Central and South America and Indonesia — to develop personal relationships with coffee bean farmers. He pays them more than fair trade price to help them sustain themselves and their communities.
The coffeehouses are hipster centrals and usually packed with folks socializing or tapping away on their MacBooks.

Noble Rot
The Noble Rot wine bar serves ever-rotating “flights” of wine — or three two-ounce pours with a common thread. We opted for the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir flight to get an idea of what’s produced in the area. Apparently, Oregon produces some of the finest Pinot in the world. We sampled:

  • J. Daan, 2006
  • St. Innocent, 2006, White Rose Vineyard
  • Belle Pente, 2005 Estate Reserve, Yamhill-Carlton District

And our favorite? Numero tres.

Backyard fun

The Portlanders I met were smart, creative, laid back and fun. Makes for stimulating cookout conversation.

Obama all the way
In Portland, even sea creatures have the sense to support Obama!!!