A Traveler and his Cat exploring America.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Made in U.S.A.

I have been patiently waiting for the trails in Annadel to dry out enough so that I can try running on them instead of the street. I know the soft dirt trail will be much better for this old body than the hard street is. Yet just when conditions just begin to get dry, it rains. I really do not want to make a muddy mess of my running shoes so I continue to wait. Yesterday I came up with the idea of getting a pair of running shoes devoted entirely to trail running. I looked online, read reviews and found what I thought would suit me, a pair of New Balance MT572. Reading what people wrote about New Balance shoes though, there was an issue with sizing. Most stated they ran smaller than your size, “so buy a half or full size larger”. Should I follow this advice or what? I then got the bright idea of going out and try on New Balance at local stores to find the correct size and then order online at the reduced price. It was then I discovered that I could get these shoes for nearly the same low price at…J.C. Penny of all places!

This morning, all prepared to go and be there when the doors open at 10 am, I checked once again and found that Kohls carried them also and they opened at 8. At Kohls I discovered it is like a self-serve store in the shoe department. In fact no one was around anywhere on the second floor. Beside the obnoxious music blaring out of the ceiling speakers directly overhead, this was a pleasant shopping experience. I searched the shelves and finally found a box of New Balance MT572’s. In fact it was the only box. Size? One half larger than my normal size. I tried them on with my orthotics and the fit was perfect. Sometimes there are those days that all is right in the world. At the register downstairs I was given $10 off for a on sale price. Wow! The lady then said if I fill out an application for a Kohls card she could knock off another 20% = $12. Double wow! So this was a major score - far cheaper than any online price. It wasn’t till I got home and cut off the tag that was harpooned to the shoe did I read it. “Committed to American Workers”. Could it be? I checked inside the shoe. Sure enough there it was “Made in U.S.A.”. A rare commodity these days indeed and I felt even better with my purchase. To celebrate my good fortune, I went out for a 3 mile run, in the rain, with my regular running shoes, on the streets. The trails and the new shoes will have to wait a bit longer.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

This is My Office

Finally a break in the weather today which I took advantage of. It would be much too sloppy for a mountain bike ride so I elected for a hike in the park. A mile into the trail I was met by a short Mexican fellow wearing a bright yellow raincoat, dark rain pants and rubber boots. His name was Vicente, probably in his 50’s and he worked for the park service. He was returning from Lake Ilsanjo after checking its water level. “We don’t want to let happen what did last year when it got too low. Someone left the valve open.” When I asked about driving the truck I saw parked at the trail head on the fire road to the lake he said “We don’t drive on the road during the rains. Too much damage.” I told him how nice it was to have a job where he can go for a 4 mile hike and get paid for it. He rattled off a long list of parks he had worked at around the Bay Area and in Marin and Sonoma Counties saying he felt Annadel was the best of them all. “I’ll stay here.” I inquired to if he had been affected by the cut-backs by the State. “We took a 14% pay cut, have more work assigned to do and must take furlough days each month.” After awhile we parted ways and I said to him “Well, have a nice day in the office.” He paused, realized what I meant, looked around and said with a smile, “This is my office”.
First of the wildflowers.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Long Slow Come-back Road

For my 30th birthday I gave myself the present of getting into shape. I was the heaviest in my life and most any effort would put me into oxygen debt. The jogging craze was just beginning and I got onboard. Each evening after work I would go over to the high school track and stumble around. Over time I improved being able to not only actually run, but do so for some distance. After about 6 months I entered a foot race and was hooked from then on. For the next ten years I raced most every weekend. I got faster and faster, set personal records for myself and usually placed in my age group. But those ten years took their toll on my knees. My last race was a half marathon (my favorite distance) in San Francisco just before my 40th birthday. I quit running hoping to heal up but was never able to run again and knew I never would again.

When I retired I began walking a couple miles at a time a few days a week, but never got out of it what I did running 6 to 10 miles a day. After we moved, our new neighborhood proved to be much more enjoyable to walk in. I began walking with more enthusiasm and dedication. Soon followed hikes in Annadel at longer distances. I was slowly getting more into shape and my knees held up by using supports. The thought began to germinate in my little mind “Maybe I could at least jog some.” For my 61st birthday present to myself, I had my orthotics reconditioned, bought some new running shoes and penciled out a training plan for myself with the most important part being to not over-do it. Taking it slow and easy, even more so than when I first began 31 years ago, has been the hardest part for me to do.

Now here I am three months into this and at a point I would never had dreamed was possible for me again. I can jog for 3 miles with relative ease and the knees are doing well. My pace is a couple minutes a mile slower than my normal training pace was long ago but I can live with that. In fact I am better off this way and will not attempt to increase it any. I’d only be asking for trouble. Once believing of running a race was out of the question, I am slowly re-thinking that and making it a dream to strive for. I don’t need to run in the front anymore. It will be just as much fun if not more so, to run with the crowd. I look forward to it and believe I can do it…some day.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Buick Meadow

Explored a different part of Annadel today on the mountain bike via the South Burma Trail to Buick Meadow. This was a nice 6.5 mile ride from home.

While there I met a gentleman hiking. He had hiked in from his home outside of the park. He figured he would hike around 14 miles for the day, taking 5 hours to do so not counting an hour lunch stop. This would be longer in mileage and time than I would do on the bicycle for the day. He was 65 years old.

The motorcycles, just one of my many pleasures in life

While many parts of the country are enduring snow and freezing temperatures, here in Sonoma County the weather is wonderful in comparison. The last few days the thermometer is nudging against the 70 degree mark which makes for great days to take a motorcycle ride. Yesterday I went for an 80 mile ride up north and back. The 1986 450 Honda I ride the most, especially for longer rides. It is a nice riding bike, smooth and comfortable. Not a Cadillac ride, but more like the family car.
The 1980 Yamaha 250 is the fun ride. Quick, lightweight and nimble. Fun on curvy windy roads, especially in the mountains. This is the sports car equivalent. Both motorcycles I've changed many components on where they now bare little resemblance to how they came from the factory. More interesting is the fact that I paid more for the mountain bike than I did for these two motorcycles combined.

Lastly is my little 1979 Honda Trail 90. I picked up this little scooter with the intent to carry around on the back of the motorhome. The last road trip I took it along for it's first trip out and never took it down from the rack. Now I wonder if I will bother to take it again as I'd rather spend my time hiking or riding a bicycle. Still it does serve a good purpose around home enabling me to get to the various trail heads for hikes in Annadel.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Walk in the Park

Annadel State Park is over 5000 acres of hills, meadows, woodlands and streams. It has more than 40 miles of trails used by hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders. I try to do a hike and one bike ride a week and still haven't explored all the trails yet. The best time to go is during the week when you seem to have the entire place all to yourself.

I am never dissappointed in seeing any of the wildlife that inhabit the park. They are use to the prescence of people which provides for good viewing and photo opportunites. Wild turkeys and deer are usually always about. Just wish I knew what animal it is that craps on the top of the rocks. It looks like dog poop and there is a lot of it. My best guess would be coyote, but why on top of boulders?
Two and a half miles into the hike is 26-acre Lake Ilsanjo, a nice spot to have lunch.
From there I can loop back via a different trail to my start point. By then I've walked 5.2 miles and my dogs are barking. Hopefully in time I'll be able go further and last longer, but for now I am quite happy with what I do and feel very fortunate to have such a great resource as Annadel State Park in my own back yard, just 2 miles from home.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Rain, Consumerism & China

When you are homebound due to constant day to day rain there isn’t much else to do but read, watch TV and be on the computer. Reading is the greatest but I get logy after awhile and fall asleep. That seems such a waste to sleep during the day. Plus it messes up my entire sleep-wake pattern. It goes without saying, watching TV is simply a waste for the most part. All’s left is the computer and after time you wind up buying things through eBay, Amazon.com and the like. This is what happened to me. It was raining and I was missing out on walks and hikes. “Now if I had some decent rain gear” I thought, “I would be out in it”. So I researched, read reviews and ordered a set from a golf supply warehouse through Amazon. But now what about my feet? They get wet wearing regular running shoes, and as for hiking in the mud and slop of Annadel, my desert shoes were getting messed up. Gore-Tex seemed to be the answer. I researched, read reviews and ordered a pair of Merrell Gore-Tex hiking boots. My around-the-house-Birkenstocks were close to 30 years old and I’d get comments all the time from the wife about their state of disrepair. “Perhaps I should replace them.” I looked about online, did the research, read more reviews and selected a clog type pair of Keens. Days passed and the rain continued. I dreamed of long hikes in the park this spring. “If go on longer hikes I ought to pack a sandwich.” I don’t care to wear backpacks and I carry enough already in my shoulder bag, so much so, that a sandwich would get smashed. I thought a fanny pack might work to carry some of the bulky gear like my camera. I found one I liked on eBay even if it was only available in camo. My efforts in trying to come up with some way to pack along a tripod wasn’t working out. “Maybe there might be something on eBay.” After some searching I found a nice soft case with shoulder strap that should be ideal. Why am writing about all of this? Because it all arrived last week and every single item was made in China! The quality all looks good (by Chinese standards) as I didn’t buy cheap, but the fact remains, you are hard pressed these days to purchase anything not made in China.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Mountain Bike

I bought a mountain bike way back in the early 80’s when they first came onto the biking scene. I still have that bike which is prehistoric by today’s standards. I’ve been told more than once that being a Specialized Stumpjumper model “That’s a collector’s item. You could get a lot of money for it.” Perhaps so if I had not painted and made several modifications to it over the years. Now that I live with Annadel State park (filled with over 40 miles of hiking and biking trails) right in my backyard, I thought this warranted getting a new mountain bike. I went to several bike shops kicking tires and all but wound up going back to the first one I saw – a Gary Fisher. It was one of those ‘love at first sight’ things and being hospital white cinched it for me. This bike has suspension forks (the Stumperjumper is ridged), smooth positive shifting between gears, and hydraulic disc brakes just to name a few of the improvements. None of this was even dreamed of back in the 80’s. Mountain bikes have always had 27” wheels but now there is a trend for 29” wheels as they theoretically provide for faster descents smoothing out the lumpy bumpy stuff. The downside is it is a bit trickier to ride through tight rock-bound technical areas. My Fisher Paragon has the 29” wheels and I’ve since proven the downside effect, more than once. The first two times out on the trail on my brand new bike, I went over the handle bars. I wasn’t going fast either. In fact I was almost at a complete stop trying to negotiate steep rocky sections. After determining I had not scratched up my new bike, I then quickly checked to see if anyone saw me, and lastly was myself for any broken bones. Just scrapes and bruises. Days followed with deep concerns of “What was I thinking buying this thing?” and the money spent on it. What was needed was a serious realignment of my thinking. 1. I am not 30 anymore so don’t try to ride like I did when I was and 2. I haven’t ridden on trials in over 25 years so stay off the advanced stuff. I’ve since restricted myself to fire roads. I really love my new bike and enjoy exploring new parts of the park each time out. I’ve not fallen anymore and seem to be improving upon my long lost biking skills plus getting stronger ever so slowly. Now if only there was something I could do about the chest pains on the long steep climbs.