Monthly Archives: July 2012

Five Things from: July

1. A note to my sons, nephews and their buddies – DO NOT  under any circumstances date Mrs. Collier’s daughter.

2. On the same day as the scientific community announced this, there was this.

Which, perhaps, explains why some people still refuse to believe this.

3. The continued development of certain flavors of ice cream will greatly help me with weight loss.

4. Yet one more thing to keep me awake at night.

5. Lastly, it’s Olympic time again. The pomp and circumstance of the opening ceremony, the “Dream Team”, Phelps v. Lochte. They are but distractions. It takes a swimmer from Turkmenestan and the crowd’s reaction to her to remind us what the event is about. (Listen to the crowd as she touches the wall.)

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Eight Days With No Bars.

Each year I try to get away for at least a week or two and find some place where I can disconnect. A place where I can’t interact with anything electronic or digital. Twenty years ago it was a desolate spot in the Sierras or, perhaps, a road trip through Turkey with some buddies. These days it’s proving much more challenging to find.

Regardless of the location or activity, I always experience the same feelings. The first three days are jarring as I am forced into rapid decompression. It’s the psychological equivalent of this as I am ripped from my Twitter feed, radio news programs, video streaming, blogs, iPod and never ceasing emails.

But then something special happens.

This year eight of us, including me, my son, four friends and two guides* (who are now friends as well), decided to explore a 75 mile stretch of Alaska by kayak.  For eight days we paddled between the islands and inlets of Prince Williams Sound completely removed from the “real world.” As expected, the first few days were less than pleasant. Everything felt uncomfortable and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something, that I should be somewhere else.

Then everything changed as I relaxed and my focus widened. I found myself laughing as I watched fat bellied guillemots bouncing across the water as they tried to get airborne. I delighted in the sight of  cartoonish puffins diving across the bow of my kayak.  And, I discovered that spending time skipping rocks with my son was one of the most important activities in my life – even if he always won.

Near Mears Glacier we camped less than a 1/2 mile from the epicenter of the 1964 earthquake – one of the worst earthquakes in recorded history with a magnitude of 9.2 that shook the western U.S. for over four minutes.  Across the inlet from our campsite we could see a grove of grey, skeletal trees, an almost fifty year old reminder of when the quake caused the ground to suddenly drop 6-8 feet and their roots became exposed to the salt water.

As we travelled over the course of the week we were accosted by hundreds of sea lions swimming so close you could smell their breath (seriously fishy) and watched dozens of sea otters questioning our presence. We witnessed a bald eagle repeatedly attempting to grab a chick from a colony of kittiwakes; tried to follow a humpback and it’s calf, but settled for floating quietly in our kayaks and listening to their haunting calls; and regenerated our spirits in days of endless light.

On our approach to Columbia Glacier, we lunched on the glacier’s terminal moraine –the outer edge of where the glacier had once reached. It was an inspiring view until one of our guides informed us that our location was where the glacier rested  – in 1982. It has since receded ten miles. Then the view became sobering.

We also had plenty of interactions with Alaska’s state bird. Way too many. But even they could not diminish the warm glow that I felt. It was if I was tuning my spirit to something in the evolutionary past.

When we finally returned to Valdez I reluctantly pulled out my mobile phone and turned it on. After the screen powered up, I let out a long, deep sigh.

I once again had five bars.

* A special note of thanks to Zak and Barrett from the team at Pangaea who kept us from getting lost (one of my personal specialties as friends will attest) and extremely well fed.  Who knew you could make a cheesecake using a glacier stream for refrigeration? They were quite simply – amazing. And, you know you are going to like a guide when within five minutes of meeting him he tells you this joke: “Why do mermaids wear seashells? Because they outgrew their “B” shells.” (Insert your laugher here.)

(And a special thanks to “B” for the photos.)


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The things we fear…

It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon. For a change, no chores, no places to visit, no distractions. The perfect time to crack open a book and just relax and read.

Piercing my blissful mood, I hear an adrenaline spiked yell from downstairs:

“Ack! There is a GINORMOUS spider down here! Oh, my God! It’s heading toward me!! Ahhhhhhhh!”

(This from my younger son, who, by the way, is built like an 185 pound side of beef – a side of beef from a cow that has won a gold medal in a bovine Olympic weightlifting competiton.)

My son sprints up the wooden stairs and intercepts his older brother in the hallway yelling: “I caught it. I caught it in a plastic cup. Look at the size of this sucker!”

A moment of silence and then I hear my older son exclaim: “Holy crap! Holy crap! Holy crap!” (I know, his college level eloquence can be stunning at times.)

Next, I hear the two of them jumping up and down in unison and squealing like a couple of 11 year old girls at their first Justin Bieber concert.

Then from the older son: “We gotta flush it!”

“Yeah” says his brother in a breathless tone that conveys that this is one of mankind’s greatest thoughts on par with Aristotle’s logic and the invention of screw top wine.

There are loud shuffling noises as I hear these two strapping young men crowd into our small guest bathroom. Then loud chants of “flush it, flush it flush it” like a group of crazed villagers from the Salem witch trials.

The toilet flushes. The water goes down the drain.

And, then, wait for it…wait for it….

“Oh, crap. The plastic cup is stuck in the toilet.”

“You dork, you weren’t supposed to flush the cup.”

“Quick go get some tools to get it out before the toilet backs up.”

And, at about this point I quietly take my book and walk outside, stopping along the way for a cold Lagunitas.


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Another Day at the Office

I’m a passionate fan of professional cycling. It’s my favorite sport to watch. Why? Because it’s so eminently relatable. I’ll never know what it’s like to take a hack at a Tim Lincecum curveball.  Or, to dunk like LeBron. Blocking a Ronaldo kick? I’ve got no idea.

But, I do know what it’s like to ride a bike for a long distance.

That’s why each July I kind of lose my mind as I watch the Tour de France.  After I ride 100 miles, I’m toast. Everything aches and it takes me days to recuperate (and also some medicinal Lagunitas). To the riders on the Tour, however, this is just a “normal day at the office” to quote Tour rider Chris Horner.

The cyclists of the Tour circle France covering 2,200 miles over three weeks. During this time, they ride at speeds averaging 24-26 mph.  Now, if this doesn’t impress you, hop on your bicycle and try to reach a speed of 26 mph on a flat road. Then try to do it for  2,200 miles in all types of terrain and weather conditions.

This average speed includes days  with massive hill climbs through the Alps and Pyrenees. These climbs became part of the Tour in 1910, when the Tour organizers decided to make the event more “challenging”. They were successful. During a mountain top finish that year,  a leading rider, Octave Lapize, struggled across the finish line and yelled at the officials: “You are murderers! Yes, murderers!”

And, then there are the accidents and crashes.  If you’ve ever fallen off a bike, it’s painful. Scrapes, cuts, contusions and broken bones are common. When this happens, it’s a trip to the ER, ice packs and bed rest.

Things are a bit different for Tour riders.

Imagine, for example, you’re Andre Greipel, a well-known German rider for the Lotto-Belisol team. Greipel specializes in flat, sprint finishes. This year, he has been successful, winning two of the first seven stages in the Tour.  Twenty miles into yesterday’s 130 mile ride, he was involved in a nasty crash and took a hard fall on the asphalt, resulting in a dislocated shoulder and swollen wrist.

It’s at this point, that I’m asking for “Mommy”. Griepel, however, gets back on his bike, bruised and bleeding and catches up with the peloton. Then with 30 miles to the finish, he’s involved in still another crash involving dozens of riders. Personally, if it was me, I would be thinking: “ice curling, that’s a nice sport. Maybe I should give it a try.” Instead, Griepel again mounts his bike. With the help of his teammates, he not only catches up with the peloton, but competes in the final sprint and finishes second.

And, now he only has to ride another two weeks and 1,400 miles until the Tour ends.

Yep, just another day at the office.


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The Tradition

I awoke this morning in the quiet dawn before the rest of the family. After feeding Lucy, our dog, and making the coffee, I retrieved the NY Times from the driveway, sat down at the kitchen table and read it cover to cover.

I finished with the Declaration of Independence, which the Times reprints each year on this date. It’s something they’ve been doing since the 1870s and re-reading it once a year has become a tradition for me.

Each time I do I come away with a new and different appreciation for the document. This morning, I was struck by the prose – “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people” – and also the sheer ballsiness of our Founding Fathers.

In the current vernacular, those gentleman had “game”. Big time game.

I’ve tried to coax my children to enjoy this annual tradition, with limited success. One’s appreciation for this thing we call “America” only develops with an awareness of the alternatives, not something top of mind when your focus is on summer vacation and social networking. So for the kids, here’s something to get you started. For everyone else, enjoy your version of the tradition.


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