Wizards of Oz

"Life is fraughtless ... when you're thoughtless."


A Tale of Two Boots

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ..."
SnoFest 2010, the annual snow festival hosted at Keystone Resort for Front Range military installations, took place this weekend. The weather was perfect, the snow was perfect, the equipment was... well.... not so much.

Never mind that my Koflach ski boots would have been more at home in a museum than on a black diamond run in Colorado. After all, I purchased them 19 years ago on consignment in Banff, Alberta (i.e., used, putting their age around 20-25 years) for CAN$90 -- about US$60 at the 1991 exchange rates. And never mind that, upon buckling up for my first run on Friday morning, one of the upper buckles snapped off. Big deal, I thought, I have three more buckles!

" ... it was the age of foolishness ..."

All was well, truly the best of times, until I ventured onto North Peak's Geronimo: the run in the top photo of this post, which is accessible only from a narrow roped-off gate, with a sign warning of "hidden obstacles" and "variable terrain". So I pointed my 195cm Olin 870s (no, not parabolics) into a nice fall line, made a turn, made another turn, then bounced off one mogul into a trough in a puff of powder. When I looked down, one chunk of my boot was next to my skis and another (from the other boot) was uphill. That red you see on the back of my foot on the photo below should have been covered by rigid white plastic....

This is the chunk from my left boot (the right boot piece is still somewhere on Geronimo):

So what is one to do when barely one-quarter of the way down the most remote run in a massive resort like Keystone? Why, keep skiing!

That lasted all of four more turns. When your ankle is free to move independently of your feet, your skis will go whichever way they want, and the red plastic digs into your achilles....

By the time I actually reached the bottom of the run, I had perfected the fine art of "butt sledding" -- carrying my poles in one hand, my skis in the other, braking with my boots, and crab-walking over moguls when my momentum slowed.

Once I made it down to Silver Mill Village (after riding the flat, non-mogul portion of the run on the skis; taking the chair lift to the summit; then riding the gondola down), I stopped by Christy's Sports. I asked the folks in their rental shop (who put a nice belt wax on my Olins that morning for my 27-second NASTAR race time, and who found a reasonably close facsimile to replace the lost basket on my boss's poles that I borrowed since my poles were left in Colorado Springs) about one-day boot rentals. When they said boots cost $20/day (i.e., 1/3 the price I paid for my boots 19 years ago!), plus $10 to adjust my bindings, oh and the caveat that they can't touch bindings that are out of warranty (which I guarantee my 20-year-old Tyrolias are), that made my decision for Saturday's gear trivial:

Shred on!

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Goin' Up!

Today is the 87th running of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb - the second oldest motor sports race in the nation, second only to the Indy 500. Two years ago, Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima (in the photo above) set a world record time with his 10:01.41 ascent of the 12-1/2 mile, 5,000 vertical foot course. Maybe today someone will break the "10 minute" mark....

UPDATE: "Monster" Tajima did win the day -- but his 10:15.37 time means that the 10-minute threshold will stand for another year.



Falcon Trail

Falcon Trail is a 13-mile single-track loop on the grounds of the U.S. Air Force Academy with some nice climbs, even nicer descents, and spectacular scenery.

Colleagues Bob and Bob joined me for the ride. After the biggest ascent (past the Stanley Canyon trailhead), we passed through a high meadow in front of the Rampart Range.

But before we could get here, we had to navigate some switchbacks and loose-gravel ascents. Some we navigated by simply downshifting; others, well....

Somewhere along the way (I think when we tried to ride three-abreast as a "collision avoidance" strategy on one of the steeper "baby head" rock field descents) some of the local flora decided to come along for the ride:

Overall, an excellent ride -- even on an old school "hard tail"! Now to build up to where I can manage the 1,924' of vertical without having to stop and walk.



Shelf Road Ride

Fellow MDA'er Bob Prouhet clued me in to the Air Force Academy's excellent "Outdoor Adventure Program". This weekend's outing was a 27-mile ride from Cripple Creek (in the Colorado high country, one of the biggest gold rush boom towns in the west) down to Cañon City -- an elevation decrease of more than 3,600' (from nearly 9,500' above sea level to about 6,800').

The Outdoor Rec crew (led by Bill Coble, an excellent guide and triathlete, along with Smitty and Millie -- celebrating their 50th anniversary!) tuned our bikes before loading them onto the roof of the 15-pax van. My Moab really needed that, with Bill counseling me to avoid any serious air on account of my 10-year-old back rim....

The scenery was stunning -- as were the precipices on our left.... Cripple Creek ultimately flows into the Arkansas River, then into the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico.

The bighorn sheep thought we were nuts, since they knew a spell o' weather was comin' in....

So we paused regularly on the ride -- but only took shelter in the van when lightning was spotted on two sides of our group.

Cripple Creek in summer, with wild roses on the bank.

After reaching Cañon City, we shared a six-pack of Breckenridge Brewing Company's Avalanche Ale. Bob also introduced me to "Geo-Caching" earlier in the ride, with my first discovery in a pile of boulders not far off our trail:

Next month, I may join Bill and the crew for the Pikes Peak Descent. 7,000 vertical feet of momentum!



PAC-10 Wins Bowl Challenge Cup

With USC's drubbing of a rather lackadaisical Penn State in the Rose Bowl yesterday, the PAC-10 completed a perfect 5-for-5 sweep of its Bowl Games -- and claimed its first-ever "Bowl Challenge Cup" (an ESPN-invented acknowledgment of the NCAA Division I conference with the highest winning percentage [minimum three bowl games]).

However, I think the best gauge of a conference's strength is the number of teams that qualify for bowl games -- rather than just the winning percentage. After all, my beloved Golden Bears of Cal played a hapless Miami team comprised almost entirely of underclassmen and sporting an SI "Power Ranking" of 47th out of 119. The SEC, by contrast, has EIGHT (yep, 8) of their 12 teams playing in the college post-season; even Vanderbilt won their first bowl game in more than 50 years. And the Big-12, in addition to sending seven to the postseason, came within a play of putting the Broken Computer System into a tailspin with two teams warranting a BCS Title Game berth.

BTW: 50 years is significant for Cal too, since yesterday (New Years Day) was the 50th anniversary of Cal's most-recent trip to the Granddaddy of Them All, the Rose Bowl. Jan. 1st, 1959, PAC-10 champion Cal lost to a bigger, faster, stronger Iowa team, beginning a drought reminiscent of baseball's Chicago Cubs. Hopefully Cal won't have to wait another 50 years before returning to the Rose Bowl....

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Boneheaded NFL

No, I'm not referring to the knee-jerk reflexive firing of Denver Broncos Head Coach Mike Shanahan (who averaged more than 10-1/2 wins per season during his 14 year stint in the Mile-High City, including two Lombardi Trophies).

Rather, I am referring to the NFL's boneheaded plan to move the 2010 Pro Bowl in both space (from O'ahu to Miami) and in time (to the week prior to the Super Bowl).

Changing the city isn't so bad (though we truly enjoyed the two winters we lived in Ewa Beach, HI, just a short drive from the Ihilani at Ko Olina where the NFL players would spend the week; daughter Shelby got to meet some legendary players.)

But have they REALLY thought about the consequences of putting the Pro Bowl on the week between the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl? Like, oh, say... the risk of injury to a Super Bowl-bound player? Or will they allow Conference champion players the option of foregoing the Pro Bowl (thereby eliminating some of the best players from the Pro Bowl).

I predict the rationale given ("raise the profile of the Pro Bowl") will soon give way to a more-reasoned view -- and by 2011, the game will be relegated back to the sporting abyss between the Super Bowl and the Major League Baseball opener.



[Moblog] Desert Foursome

After wrapping up the TapRooT® Summit earlier this afternoon, we've headed south into the canyons of south Vegas for 18 holes on The Revere Golf Club's "Concord Course".

With a total distance of more than 7,000 yards, and temps around 104° F., I expect to be a raisin by the time we're done....

Update: We ended up scoring a 68 (thanks to the "Captain's Choice" best-ball scramble format). Thankfully, Richard (a Navy civilian from Bethesda Naval Hospital -- far right in the top photo) has a single-digit handicap and a monster drive. Suzie (also a Navy civilian from Bethesda) made some clutch shots, which really helped when the silver (women's) tees were sometimes 100 yards ahead of the black (championship) tees we were using. And Dan (far left in the photo), Software Program Manager for System Improvements -- the makers of TapRooT -- was on with his short-range game. Alas, the Canucks stole the Cup for the third consecutive year with a score of 61....

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Dogwood 5k

On a rainy Patriots' Day, the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce hosted the inaugural "Dogwood 5k" road race in the Briarcliff neighborhood of Oak Ridge. The relatively flat course wound through the neighborhood before entering the Emory Valley Greenway to loop back toward the start.

Despite the rainy conditions, Man-Cub had enough stamina near the end of the race to sprint the last 100m (leaving me in the proverbial dust!).

This was more than enough for him to earn a "3rd place" finish in the "14-and-under" age category -- a solid showing for a 7-year-old! :-)

After the award ceremony, the rain stopped and the clouds broke. So we decided to end our "Dogwood 5k" morning with a drive along Oak Ridge's "Dogwood Trail" on the crest of Blackoak Ridge -- the only officially sanctioned "Dogwood Trail" outside of Knox County. Since the dogwoods tend to bloom shortly after Washington DC's cherry blossoms, and hold their flowers for a longer period, this is one of my favorite months to live in the Secret City!



A Tale of Two Mannings

Perfection lasted for 18.990 games -- until just 35 seconds remained in Super Bowl XLII, and Eli Manning's pump-fake-corner toss to Plaxico Burress salvaged the perfect legacy of the 1972 Dolphins.

The highlight for me (other than the brilliant Audi commercial in the first quarter, and the Terminator T-800 model beating up the annoying Fox Sports robot) was seeing Eli's big brother Peyton leap up in pure joy when the Giants took the lead in the closing seconds. Now THAT is a role model worth emulating!

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Zoo Run

Man-cub took 3rd place overall in the second wave of yesterday's "Cariten Kids Run" at the Knoxville Zoo, completing his mile run in 9:21 (more than a minute better than his 2007 time). He ran a very good race, especially considering that (a) it was in the mid-30s, (b) it's a very hilly and narrow course, and (c) there is a mandatory "walk zone" by the zebra habitat.

Covenant Health, sponsors of the springtime Knoxville Marathon, have developed a great program to encourage kids to "run a marathon": starting with yesterday's one-mile run at the Zoo, kids receive log books to record their physical activities (running, biking, jumping rope, etc.) for the next eight weeks. 30 minutes of "free play" counts as a mile, and their goal is to reach "25 miles" before the morning of the marathon on March 30th.

On marathon morning, the kids will have a special 1.2 mile course (from the official start by the Sunsphere to the finish line on the 50-yard-line inside Univ. of Tennessee's Neyland Stadium) to complete their two-month "marathon". Those that complete enough activities for the full marathon distance in that time will receive a special certificate. (Last year Jarrett proved to be an "ultramarathoner", completing more than 60 miles worth of activities between the Zoo Run and the marathon....).




With LSU's 38-24 victory over Ohio State in the Bowl Championship Series "National Championship Game", we have a fitting end to a crazy football season. For the first time ever, a team with two losses is the undisputed "National Champion" (though some fans in Kansas may believe their Jayhawks deserved a chance to play for the crystal football).

LSU's victory in front of an ostensibly "hometown" crowd in the Superdome of New Orleans, Louisiana, also gave fans of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) bragging rights with the most Bowl Game wins this year. The final Bowl Game standings (in order of wins):
  • Southeastern Conference (7 wins, 2 losses)
  • Big-12 Conference (5-3)
  • Mountain West (4-1)
  • PAC-10 Conference (4-2)
  • Big East Conference (3-2)
  • Big-10 Conference (3-5)
  • Conference USA (2-4)
  • Atlantic Coast Conference (2-6)
  • SunBelt Conference (1-0)
  • Western Athletic Conference (1-3)
  • Independents/Div I-A (0-1)
  • Mid-American Conference (0-3)
Just what we need -- another excuse for SEC fans to declare their "greatness"... :-)

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Armed Forces Bowl

Shortly after noon today (Eastern time), the Golden Bears of Cal will grudgingly face the Falcons of the U.S. Air Force Academy in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. Cal, once on the brink of a national #1 ranking, lost six of their last seven to barely scrape by the six-win threshold for bowl eligibility (and needed the Univ. of Arizona to lose their final game to secure the sixth seed on the PAC-10 bowl card).

Cal has a history of "going through the motions" in what it considers sub-par bowl games -- e.g., the trouncing they took in the 2004 Holiday Bowl when they thought they deserved a Rose Bowl berth. So I am expecting the 9-3 Air Force to win big.

[Update: Though Air Force took a quick 21-0 lead, two things helped Cal stage a 42-36 comeback victory: Coach Jeff Tedford benched longtime QB Nate Longshore in favor of redshirt freshman Kevin Riley, and Air Force senior QB Shaun Carney suffered a severe knee injury. Best wishes for a quick recovery for Cadet Carney!]

The Armed Forces Bowl, in its fifth year, will feature much pageantry of the U.S. military, including fly-overs of several different varieties of aircraft, "Thank You's" to veterans, and a "service spotlight" on each of the DoD armed services during each quarter. However, in what I consider a poignant statement of the future direction of military transformation, the parachutists who skydive into Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas, won't be the Golden Knights of the U.S. Army.

Instead, the parachutists who land on the turf at TCU's stadium will be contractors from Blackwater USA's Parachute Team -- proving that just about anything can be outsourced....

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Cal Collapse & Other Lessons

For the first time since 2001 (and the first time ever in Jeff Tedford's reign as Cal's football coach), The Stanfurd Axe is returning to Palo Alto. And Cal's utter implosion since being on the brink of #1 in the nation two months ago came to a bitter end with today's 20-13 loss in The Big Game. All that's needed to put Cal out of its misery (and dissipate any hope of a Bowl bid) is for Arizona to overcome a 10-point deficit against #13 Arizona State in the final two minutes of that game. [Update at 23:44 EST: Arizona narrowed the gap to 3-points with 0:40 left, but ASU recovered the onside kick to secure the win. Looks like Cal will get an Armed Forces Bowl berth....]

In the spirit of Stewart Mandel at SI.com, I offer "Five Things We Learned This Weekend":

1. Cal lacks the discipline to be a great college football team. Way too many penalties (nine for 103 yards against Stanfurd), folding in "substandard" postseason games (e.g., the lackluster performance in the 2004 Holiday Bowl when they felt they deserved a Rose Bowl berth), and Jeff Tedford's "loyalty to a fault" (keeping underperforming Nate Longshore in the game too many times). Coach Tedford has brought a sense of pride to Cal football unseen since the storied Rose Bowl teams of the 1950s, but he has not yet figured how to motivate his team when their own unrealistic expectations are dashed.

2. Being ranked #2 stinks. The #2 ranked team has been upset seven (yes, 7!) times this season, including Pitt winning the 100th Backyard Brawl at West Virginia earlier today. Good teams should pray for a #3 ranking....

3. Official-initiated "instant replay reviews" are worthless wastes of time. It seldom changes the call on the field, even with apparent evidence to the contrary, due to the standard of "unambiguous" proof. To wit, Cal's final drive in today's Big Game showed an apparent incompletion (ruled an interception, and not overturned) -- followed by a Stanfurd sideline pass with the tip of the receiver's foot clearly on the sideline. Ditch the rule as written now, give it some credibility, then give the coaches more than their one challenge per game.

4. BCS is a mess. Why can't Hawai'i (the lone undefeated team in Division I football) play in the National Championship Game? Oh, yeah: "strength of schedule". Which, if applied to the NFL, means that nobody from the anemic AFC West would be allowed to play in the Super Bowl.

5. Parity is here to stay. Bottom line: there is a LOT of talent in college football today -- even without the megasalaries guys like Nick Saben can command. Add in better training methods and more complex play-calling, and you have a lot of depth in the college ranks.

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Birthday Race Day

Man-cub turned 7 today, and decided it was fitting that the state-champ Oak Ridge Cross Country team also hosted their annual "Elementary School Turkey Trot" today as well. Jarrett has shown to be quite a runner, completing a 1.2 mile run (the last 2k of the Knoxville Marathon) back in March and taking 2nd place in a local 1/2 mile race this past summer. So he entered the 1st Grade heat of the Turkey Trot with a lot of confidence -- and, as the photo above shows, blazed into the home stretch with only the ORCC wingman ahead of him.

Despite an errant turn on the final approach, he quickly corrected his course and rounded the last turn with a strong kick to take first place. Final time for the 3/4 mile (1200m) course: 6:37. The photo to the right is Jarrett (and trophy) with legendary coach Allen Etheridge, himself an accomplished distance runner with a 15:05 record 3-miler and a 2nd place finish in the 2006 Knoxville Marathon. Coach Etheridge led this year's Oak Ridge High School teams (both boys and girls) to state titles, and later this week will fly with his team to Portland, Oregon for the Nike Team National Championships! GO WILDCATS!

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"The Play" + 25

One of the greatest comebacks in the history of college football took place 25 years ago, on November 20th 1982, at California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley. While Trinity's recent 15-lateral, 62-second play in the final seconds to defeat Millsaps was impressive, as was Boise State's improbable comeback against powerhouse Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, neither can compare with the magnitude of The Play.

Rivalries like the one between the Golden Bears of the University of California and the "cardinal" (like the, uh, color) of leland stanfurd junior university are rare. Add in the irony of a future NFL Hall of Famer (John Elway) being denied his last shot at a college bowl game (and perhaps the Heisman Trophy), the always-entertaining antics of the stanfurd band, and the drama of stanfurd's "devastated program", and you have a recipe for a legend.

For an in-depth review of The Play -- as well as John Elway's impressive drive in the final minute to temporarily take the lead, and Joe Starkey's emotional play-calling from KGO 810AM's live broadcast, check out this seven-minute clip at YouTube:

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[Moblog] Marathon post mortem

We completed the race! Mike is no longer a "46-year old virgin" in marathoning, and we had *perfect* weather: mid-50s, mostly sunny, with light wind. New Yorkers are wonderful hosts, too, with cheering spectators along virtually every mile handing out essentials like Kleenex and oh-so-tasty-and-salty pretzels. (The tastiest pretzels in the world are found at mile 21 on a marathon course... :-)

Only celebrity sighting was marathon-running Katie Holmes, who finished right behind us with her double-bodyguard escort.

Final time: about 5:43, with lots of fun along the way. Congrats, Mike, for successfully completing your first marathon!!

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Marathon Weekend

I'll be offline for most of the weekend. In a few hours my bride and I will be flying to NYC for a 40 hour visit, during which time we'll eat, drink and help our friend Mike finish his first-ever marathon!

Now if only "Noel" will keep moving toward Nova Scotia -- and away from NYC!

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Sweep, Reprise

A month ago, only one team in Major League Baseball history had ever won seven consecutive post-season games: the 1976 Cincinnati Reds. This month, two teams achieved that feat: the out-of-nowhere Colorado Rockies (who won 21 of 22 games to clinch their first-ever National League pennant and a trip to the World Series), and now the 2007 World Champion Boston Red Sox.

The Red Sox played an awesome series! After falling behind the Cleveland Indians three games to one in the American League Championship series, they mounted a comeback reminiscent of their legendary 2004 comeback against the hated New York Yankees to win the pennant. They kept their momentum into the World Series: their pitching was superb, and their batting simply unreal. The team averaged .333 at the plate (even counting those two games in Colorado where there was no Designated Hitter and the pitchers had to bat). Not just one player, but the entire TEAM!

Congratulations to the Red Sox and to Terry Francona, who in just four years as the Red Sox manager has not only broken the "Curse of the Bambino" but delivered an encore as well. Given the organizational collapse now ongoing in the Bronx, it looks like there's a new dynasty in town!

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Cal Collapse

15 days ago, the Golden Bears of the Univ. of California at Berkeley were just one play away from a national #1 ranking. Now they are sixth place (yes, SIXTH) in the PAC-10. Despite leading undefeated Arizona State by 13 points in the first half, Cal ran out of gas -- while ASU hit their stride. End result: Cal's third straight loss, and ASU's eighth win this season.

The PAC-10 is starting to look just like the SEC, with strong teams up and down the ranks that spend the college football season pummeling each other. Even usual bottom-dweller leland stanfurd junior univ. has knocked off a top-ten team (then-#2 USC), just like SEC's bottom-dwelling Vanderbilt beat that "other" USC (then-#6 ranked Univ. of South Carolina) last week.

Definitely a crazy year, with defending champion Florida sporting three losses (one more than riches-to-rags South Florida), USC has two losses, and Notre Dame has just one lone win come All Saints Day.

And Cal, who had visions of Roses, now needs to recalibrate its expectations come Bowl Season. My guess is, at this pace (and with USC still looming on their schedule), they'll be lucky to get a berth in the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

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PAC-10 Football

What a difference a couple of weeks can make.... I suspect my SEC brethren are quietly snickering as many of the pundits who proclaimed "PAC-10 dominance" a month ago are now recanting. (All due apologies to Dan of tdaxp for Stew Mandel's disrespect of Nebraska in that article -- especially since there are only 119 "Div. I-A" teams, so it's mathematically impossible to be ranked "120th".)

After back-to-back losses against non-ranked teams, Cal finds itself once again right behind USC -- but with both teams squarely in the middle of the PAC-10 standings. The Bruins of UCLA (the only team to lose to Notre Dame so far this season) and the Sun Devils of Arizona State (who have yet to face a ranked opponent) are atop the PAC-10 standings with 4-0 conference records.

Six PAC-10 teams are in the BCS "Top 40", and three PAC-10 teams are still ranked in the AP Poll "Top Ten". Other than the inclusion of Boston College, the top rankings are starting to look like a regular season of college ball (with traditional powerhouses Ohio State, Oklahoma, LSU in the hunt). Maybe it won't be such a startling National Championship Game after all... (Though BC vs. USF would have been a hoot!)

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How 'Sweep' It Is!

This morning, at about 1:30am EDT, the Colorado Rockies of Major League Baseball's National League continued their improbable season. A month ago the Rockies were on the brink of mathematical elimination, trailing the San Diego Padres by five games for the "Wild Card" berth in the playoffs with just two weeks remaining in the season.

By winning 13 of their final 14 games, and helped by six Padres losses, the Rockies forced a one-game playoff on Oct. 1st. A daring sacrifice off a line drive to shallow right in the bottom of the 13th inning, and Rockies right fielder Brian Giles's chin-cutting headfirst slide into home, sealed the playoff berth for a team that didn't exist before the 1993 expansion of the league.

One would think they'd be satisfied with their improbable run into the National League Division Series, but their determination continued with successive sweeps of the Philadelphia Phillies and, just a few hours ago, the Arizona Diamondbacks for their first-ever pennant -- and a trip to the World Series. They have won their last ten games, and 21 of their last 22.

The Rockies are only the second team in baseball history to win seven consecutive playoff games (the only other team being the 1976 Cincinnati Reds of the "Big Red Machine", when you only needed seven wins to claim the pennant and the World Series title). And they have only lost once in the past month -- on Sept. 28th to the same Arizona Diamondbacks they swept today. That loss gave the D'backs -- the winningest team in the 2007 National League -- their own playoff berth (and a team celebratory scrum on the diamond of the Rockies' Coors Field).

Next week the "Rox" will continue their Cinderella season, facing either the Cleveland Indians or the Boston Red Sox in the lower elevations of the Eastern Time Zone.

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Race Day

I was not a runner until I was sitting for a job interview with Col. Max Barth, USMC, the Asst. Chief of Staff for Intelligence at the First Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) in Camp Pendleton, California about 12 years ago. I was 28 years old, interviewing for an I.T. system administrator position. He asked, "You look like a runner -- are you?" My response ("Oh, yes sir!") did not include my mental note: 'Better buy some running shoes...'

Three years later, while we lived in Hawaii, a friend suggested I sign up for a 5k race. Then a 10k race. Then a "mini-triathlon" (the Mountain Man Tri), where I learned that I'm an O.K. runner and cyclist -- but a really lousy swimmer. As I rounded the last buoy (in the calm windward waters near Chinaman's Hat by Kailua town), I took some solace that there was someone behind me -- until he started picking up the buoys and clearing the race markers!

Our move to Virginia in 1999 saw my interest grow in longer races. Encouraged by colleagues at U.S. Joint Forces Command (like then-CPT Rich Greene, one of the finest soldiers I have ever known), I joined the USJFCOM J9 team for the 2000 Army Ten Miler. Then, as the photo above shows, I ran my first marathon -- the 25th Marine Corps Marathon -- that same month.

Mind you, I am not nearly as accomplished in athletics as Überbloggers Matt at MountainRunner (who casually runs marathon distances at night in the mountains of Southern California) and Mark at ZenPundit (a powerlifter who can bench press twice my steadily-increasing body weight). I'm pleased with my 4-hour-plus marathon pace, hope to someday ride a "Century" (100 miles), and am even more pleased to encourage friends like Mike Vegh who are setting new distance records for themselves.

As soon as I post this, I will be on my way to the Atomic Duathlon -- a 5k run, 30k ride, 5k run race from the Melton Lake Reservoir, across Bethel Valley (of Oak Ridge National Lab fame) and Bear Creek Valley (home to the Y-12 National Nuclear Security Complex), then back to the lake. The fun part will be cresting Haw Ridge and Chestnut Ridge (a topographic map is here).

I hope to finish in 2:15:00 -- I'll post later on my results (as well as a postmortem of Cal's homecoming loss to Oregon State and the parity of college football programs nationwide).

Addendum (posted at 5:00pm EDT): I finished about ten minutes later than my target, with an official final time of 2:25:06. My first 5k run was right on target (25:40), my bike ride close to target (1:17:00), and my transitions faster than expected (both under 80 seconds, which included a shoe change). Where the wheels came off was on the second run -- my legs were reluctant to shift from "bike mode" to "run mode", so my pace slipped to about 11:00/mi. Then, at the turn-around, I met another "Clydesdale" (the 200+ lb. class I signed up for) -- a retired Marine with bad knees. So we walked (and occasionally ran) and talked about the Corps for the last mile and a half. Since I was well out of "medal contention" (the 3rd place Clydesdale clocked in just under two hours, as did the top 40-45 males), no worry. I stuck to my hydration and nutrition strategies (with two Gu vanilla bean energy gels before the start, two more during the ride, and about 60 oz. of Gatorade Fierce Grape cut with 1/2 part water) and feel great. Now if only I could swim better and get serious about triathlons....

College Football: Cal-OSU Post-Mortem

OSU (in this case, the Beavers of Oregon State) came to Berkeley's Memorial Stadium yesterday, bringing with them one of the top rushing defenses in the nation (allowing just 43 yards rushing per game). Their lightning-fast defensive line and linebackers threatened to thwart a big part of Cal's offense -- and, when coupled with the ankle injury suffered by starting QB Nate Longshore two weeks ago in Oregon, made this a very good match-up.

Both QBs stepped up to their respective challenges: Sophomore Sean Canfield (Beavers) looked more poised and capable than he has at any time in his collegiate career, and red-shirt freshman Kevin Riley (Golden Bears) demonstrated superb mobility and tactical decision-making in rallying Cal from a 10-point deficit in the closing minutes. Great decision-making, that is, until the final play of the game. Down by three, in easy field goal range on the OSU 15 yard line, with just 0:14 on the clock and no time-outs, Riley decided to scramble instead of throw the ball away (and stop the clock). The quick OSU defense tackled him inbounds short of a first down, and the final seconds ticked away before the ball could be set for a snap. So much for a shot at overtime and a #1 ranking....

With LSU falling to #17 Kentucky, we have a curious state of affairs in the season's first Bowl Championship Series (BCS) rankings -- with the Bulls of the Univ. of South Florida laying claim to the #2 spot. The good news is that it's a toss-up in the PAC-10 (which has demonstrated an SEC-like "bludgeon each other" mentality this season) for the coveted Rose Bowl berth. One of the commentators on Versus last night (which has had the good fortune of televising some of the best upsets this season) said "Cal is the Chicago Cubs of the PAC-10." I couldn't agree more -- Cal has the longest "Rose Bowl Drought" of all teams, with their last appearance in 1959. (And though the Univ. of Arizona Wildcats have never gone, they only joined the conference 30 years ago.) Just another reason to malign the "Broken Computer System" BCS, which has the option of putting non-PAC-10 teams in the Rose Bowl.

Cal has a tough month coming up, with away games at UCLA (always a fierce rivalry) and #12 Arizona State, then a homestand against the Washing State Cougars and the Trojans of 'SC. Roll on you Bears!!

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Game of the (20th) Century

As a kid, I enjoyed reading "The Guinness Book of World Records." One of the records that always stood out was the "highest scoring college football game": Georgia Tech's 222-0 victory over Cumberland College in Tennessee.

In the 2007 "Year of the Upset", it is fitting today, October 7th, to recognize the most lopsided victory ever in any sport -- a game that took place 91 years ago today, on October 7th 1916.

While there is very little in terms of "color commentary" available on this game (the photo above, courtesy of Mrs. Lena Dugat via the Cumberland University website on the game, being the only picture available), there are some notable facts:
  1. Georgia Tech was coached by the legendary John Heisman (yes, of the trophy), and was a veritable scoring machine that won 33 straight.
  2. Cumberland had embarassed Georgia Tech the previous spring 22-0 in baseball -- allegedly using professional ringers.
  3. The Cumberland football team had been disestablished and reestablished several times during the previous years -- and the squad that faced powerhouse Georgia Tech was a newly-created team that had only played four or five games together.
Perhaps our 2007 "Season of the Upset" (replete with a proposed classification system for upset victories) is evidence of greater parity across diverse programs. It used to be that you had to go to a big Southeast or Texas school to get notoriety in college football; now even humble Appalachian State in tiny Boone, NC, has gotten a boost to its recruiting program.

What a crazy season...

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Cal #1!?

OK, maybe... not.

leland stanfurd junior university (archnemesis of the University of California Golden Bears) has just stunned the trojans of 'sc with a 24-23 victory in the L.A. Coliseum. Not bad for a team whose mascot is a color. With the Gators of Florida leading #1 LSU in the 3rd quarter at the Bayou, a loss by the Tigers would mean #3 Cal (with a bye this weekend) would become the #1 team in college football.

What a crazy season...

Addendum: LSU shut down Florida's final four drives (including two turnovers) and took a 28-24 lead with barely a minute to play. Good, tough football in Death Valley.

Looks like the SEC gets to hang on to the top spot in the AP Polls.

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Cub Scout Campout

The Cub Scouts of Oak Ridge (Pack 226) braved the wilds of Tennessee's rustic "Frozen Head State Park" this weekend. Since our Tiger Den (1st graders) were the largest den present, they got to be the "Honor Guard" for the presentation of the colors.

With nighttime temps in the high 30s F. (single digits C.), it's a good thing we loaded these boys up with Calories during evening s'mores around the campfire!

Fearless Pack Leader Keith Jeter taught the boys knife safety, while other parents provided stories and knot-tying lessons. After a breakfast of pancakes, bacon and sausage (plus a few shots of espresso for the adults from my hand-pumped portable espresso machine), we hiked to the nearly-dry DeBald Falls.

After breaking camp and getting back into T-Mobile coverage, I was happily surprised to see fully half of the NCAA "Top Ten" football teams lose -- allowing unbeaten Cal (who narrowly defeated #11 Oregon in what SI's Stewart Mandel calls "... easily the season's most compelling game to date ...") to nip at USC's heels in the #3 spot in the nation. Hmmm.... Two PAC-10 teams in the Top 3, while five teams in the top 18 hail from west of the Continental Divide.... Wonder what that says about the SEC? :-) BTW, casual observers who check the AP Poll "Top 25" should note that #6 is not the defending champ Florida Gators, but rather the Bulls of South Florida. The Gators have dropped to #9.

(Congrats to Dan at tdaxp's 'Huskers, who have moved into the Top 25 rankings and hold the top spot in the Big-12 North.)

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Rollin' on the River

Man-cub Jarrett (aka "Wind Runner" to the Indian Guides Tribe in Oak Ridge) and dad (aka "Eagle Claw") joined the Tribe for a rafting trip down the Hiwassee River in southeast Tennessee this weekend. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was running both generators upstream at the Apalachia Reservoir's hydroelectric plant, so we had good flow on the river.

However, the lack of rain this past summer meant the water levels were particularly low -- so many of the lips and crests in the river meant a lot of abrupt halts for our raft. That, and the fact that Chief Big Trout and I were among two of the heaviest guys in the tribe (and therefore had the deepest draft of all the rafts...).

On the return trip home, my truck's new Optima battery began to fail. Since it was less than 24 hours old, I began to suspect my old battery (which was running just 9.6V after I exchanged it last night) was not the only problem... So, after tapping this new one out entirely (so that not even the spark plugs had enough current) and stalling a few miles south of the town of Etowah, we needed a short tow truck ride to the Advance Auto Parts in town to (a) buy a new alternator, (b) install a new alternator (a feat I haven't done in nearly 20 years), and (c) replace the now-dead less-than-24-hour old Optima battery. At least that battery was still under warranty....

I arrived home in time to watch the final three minutes of Cal's 45-27 victory over Arizona. ROLL ON YOU BEARS!

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College Football Update

As the NCAA's PAC-10 conference winds up the pre-conference phase of its football season, the dust has settled and the verdict is PAC-10: 20, Everyone Else: 6.

What's particularly funny about those six losses to non-conference teams is: not one is from the SEC, Big-12 or ACC. One loss to the Big East, two to the Big-10 (ranked Ohio State and ranked Wisconsin beat PAC-10 teams), and three losses to the mighty Mountain West. Of course, two of those three losses were by the same PAC-10 team (Arizona, Cal's opponent this coming weekend). But the Utah Utes looked impressive against formerly #11 UCLA last weekend.

There are still a few non-conference games tucked into the PAC-10 "round robin" (where most of the PAC-10 teams will face all nine of the others). For instance, hapless Notre Dame (who has scored just one touchdown in three games this season while allowing over 100 points) has three games against PAC-10 schools, and Washington State will travel to Hawaii in December.

Whomever wins the PAC-10 will certainly be deserving of that Bowl Championship Series (BCS) berth. And one can argue that the PAC-10 runner-up also deserves a berth in a BCS bowl as well. Otherwise we'll renew our grievances against the "Broken Computer System". I suspect even MountainRunner would agree with that!

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Marathon Anniversary

Today is the conventionally-accepted anniversary of the Battle of Marathon (490 B.C., nearly 2,500 years ago). As the legend goes, a professional long-distance runner named Phidippides was dispatched from the field at Marathon, running the 42km over rocky and mountainous terrain to Athens to announce the Greeks' victory over the invading Persians. (The Battle of Thermopylae, recounted in historic fantasy in the movie 300, took place ten years later).

The irony of Phidippides's tale is that it probably never took place. The original historian Herodotus notes that Phidippides ran from Athens to Sparta (about 250km, or 150 miles) in two days to request their help. On the way, Herodotus says, he encountered the god Pan in the mountains who asked why the Athenians had forgotten him. Upon Phidippides's return to Athens, the Athenians built a shrine to Pan under the Acropolis -- and Pan fought alongside the Athenians to hold off the Persians until the Spartans arrived after the full moon a couple weeks later.

The inspiration for the modern Olympic "marathon" is a 19th-cent. poem by Robert Browning:

So, when Persia was dust, all cried, "To Acropolis!

Run, Pheidippides, one race more! the meed is thy due!

Athens is saved, thank Pan, go shout!" He flung down his shield

Ran like fire once more: and the space 'twixt the fennel-field

And Athens was stubble again, a field which a fire runs through,

Till in he broke: "Rejoice, we conquer!" Like wine through clay,

Joy in his blood bursting his heart, - the bliss!

The Spartathlon, a 152-mile ultramarathon between Athens and Sparta that has been held annually since 1983, will be held later this month.

Today, September 12th 2007, also marks (at sundown) the beginning of both the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah (starting the Ten Days of Repentance that end on Yom Kippur), and also the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

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PAC-10 Tough!

Long maligned as a pushover conference in college football, the PAC-10 is storming into the 2007 season with a vengeance. Cal improved its record to 2-0 today with a win against scrappy Colorado State (who kept it interesting, scoring two TDs a minute apart with 3:00 minutes to play to close within 6), Washington broke Fiesta Bowl champ Boise State's 14-game winning streak, and Oregon has continued the dogpile in Ann Arbor started by Appalachian State last week.

Bottom line: PAC-10 teams are 10-3 in non-conference games so far -- including several victories against supposedly "storied" programs -- and has three teams in the top 13. Given the PAC-10's "round robin" schedule (meaning each team will face the other nine in regular season play), USC has a much tougher schedule than LSU, West Virginia, or even Florida.

Take that, SEC! :-)

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Roll on you Bears!

One year ago my son and I were sitting in Neyland Stadium at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, watching my alma mater Cal take on the Volunteers of the Orange Nation. Just two weeks earlier I had accepted a job offer from Enterra Solutions -- along with a relocation from southeast Virginia to east Tennessee. While Household-6 and eldest daughter looked at houses that afternoon, man-cub and I watched Cal get blown away by UT.

While I was among some 2,000 Blue-and-Gold Cal fans in Neyland Stadium last year (about 1.9% of the stadium's 106,000 capacity), today there were more than 20,000 Orange-clad Volunteer fans in Berkeley's Memorial Stadium (capacity 72,000 + a few hundred more on Tightwad Hill). I watched the game on our big-screen DLP at home in the Orange Nation, wearing the same Cal t-shirt and Cal ballcap as last year.

ESPN gave the game a lot of buzz, since this was the only matchup between ranked teams (UT #15 at Cal #12) this opening weekend. And though Appalachian State (from nearby Boone,NC) knocked off Big Blue Michigan at Ann Arbor, the Blue and Gold of California looked strong all night.

It wasn't the game the pundits expected, though. With UT starting quarterback Erik Ainge sporting a broken finger on his throwing hand and three green receivers on the flanks, it was expected they'd run the ball; instead Ainge completed 32 (including his first ten passes) and threw for nearly 300 yards with zero interceptions. Cal, expected to exploit the long-ball and Tennessee's inexperienced secondary, instead saw Head Coach Jeff Tedford do the play-calling -- with a ground attack amassing 240 yards.

Cal's defense and special teams stepped up (including DeSean Jackson's freaky prowess as a punt returner: this guy, in his senior year, has run more than 22% of his career punt returns for touchdowns!!), and both teams showed a lot of perseverance.

Hat tip to Tennessee's phenomenal offensive line -- the one mar to Cal's performance is that they failed to get more pressure on Ainge (other than in the first series and last series of the game). And say a prayer for UT defensive end Xavier Mitchell (#93), who had to be carted off the field on a back board late in the game after a collision with another Vol near the Cal goal line.

Final score: Cal 45, Tennessee 31.

Cal has two more non-PAC-10 games (at Colorado State next week, then hosting Louisiana Tech) before they begin a nine-week PAC-10 "round robin". One of the ABC commentators told Brent Musberger he predicted Cal's contest against USC (at Cal on the Marine Corps Birthday: November 10th) would feature two undefeated teams. Since Cal has more Marines than USC (defensive end Rulon Davis, #94, is a USMC reservist who did a tour in Iraq), I like our odds....

ADDENDUM: The last time Tennessee lost its opener was 13 years ago. Away. At UCLA. (Bet it will be a while before this SEC team decides to start another season in the PAC-10!)

SECOND ADDENDUM: Xavier Mitchell (Tennessee #93) was released from the hospital in time to make the team plane back to Knoxville. His neck and head scans came back negative, and he was diagnosed with having suffered a concussion. He'll likely miss Saturday's game against Southern Miss., but at least there is no permanent damage.

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