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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Road Trippin'

Earlier today we posted some cell phone pix from within the Capulin National Volcano Monument -- perhaps the best-preserved shield-style volcano in North America. Above is a photo from US-64; the groove on the right slope is the paved road leading to the rim. Of course, guard rails are sparse -- so watch that first step:

This map shows the road up to the rim, as well as the three trails in the park:

Following our volcano adventure, and a quick drive to Texline, Texas, for gas and snacks, we followed Shamburger Road to the survey marker denoting the intersection of the Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas state lines:

My improvised "short cut" back home (basically, following any road that headed "north") led us into the depths of the Comanche National Grassland. After about an hour on gravel roads and some rather spectacular scenery, we reached the east-west thoroughfare of U.S. Hwy 160.

Tuesday marks Peanut's 1st birthday, but she's proven to be quite a traveler at her young age! While the tdaxp metric of "visiting" a state (i.e., conducting an "economic transaction") was not met in Oklahoma on this particular trip, I'm still choosing to log it for all three kids -- who had to endure my driving on gravel roads no less.

(Memo to tdaxp: While you've certainly out-traveled my baby girl internationally, I think she has you beat in "electoral votes".... :-)

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Stanley Canyon

With Peanut in the backpack, plenty of water in a second pack plus J-man's new CamelBak, and three walking sticks from various states (AZ, VA & OH), we braved the Stanley Canyon Trail on the grounds of the U.S. Air Force Academy. The skies were crystal clear, light breeze, temps in the low 70s -- a perfect day to hike! (Unless, that is, you're a Twilight-obsessed 12-year-old girl who just started reading Eclipse for the second time....)

Sure, the trail is easy enough.... (at least if you don't tell your fellow hikers that the reservoir is behind that ridge in the background!)

"C'mon! We're almost to the top!"

Our car is somewhere down there....

After about 1-1/2 miles of the 2 mile trail, and a vertical gain of 400m / 1,300', we decided to head back down to the car. Next time I'll remember to pack the diaper bag and baby food as well as I packed for bigger kids!

Nonetheless, Peanut enjoyed her new backback. (Thanks, Angie in Oak Ridge! :-)



Pikes Summit

We ascended the Pikes Peak Highway today, with all three kids in tow. Sophie was asleep as we reached the summit, so our photo by the elevation marker only shows her big brother and big sister.

The Pikes Peak Highway is a 19-mile road, mostly paved, but with few guard rails. This road, built in the 1880s as a carriage road to serve the U.S. Army Signal Corps weather station at the summit, was improved in 1915 at a cost of $500,000. The following year, 1916, the Pikes Peak Hill Climb race was established -- the second oldest auto race in the U.S. (only the Indy 500 is older). The road was operated privately for 20 years, charging $2 per person, but never realized a profit due to the tremendous cost of snow removal.

Shelby's planned mode of ascent (and descent) the next time she visits the summit:

(She did not enjoy the drive as much as I did....)

From the summit, we had a compelling view of Garden of the Gods:

We did not see much wildlife, perhaps due to the dense snowpack still covering much of the summit. However, the Gatehouse signs said there had been a fox sighted between mile markers 10 and 13. Sure enough, just before mile marker 13 (and next to the parking lot for the Glen Cove Inn, where descending motorists have their brake temperature checked to ensure they can safely proceed), we saw the fox laying beside the road. His demeanor was more akin to a friendly dog than a fox.

Of course, no visit to the Pike National Forest is complete without a picnic by the shore of Crystal Creek Reservoir!

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On the Move

Elvis has left the building -- and the Great State of Tennessee!

We spent our final day in Oak Ridge packing, painting, cleaning and packing some more. Shelby had a final performance in ORCBA's Cinderella, and Shane had to learn the hard way that Home Depot's paint computer is not terribly accurate when matching samples....

Our house was left in beautiful condition -- truly "move-in ready" for our still-to-be-found buyer -- and our pets (2 cats & 4 chinchillas) plus a half-ton of stuff the movers couldn't fit or wouldn't take were loaded into our Montero & 4' x 8' U-Haul trailer.

Rather than leaving around noon as planned, we did not pull out of our driveway until 4:40pm EDT yesterday (Monday). The good news is that "45mph Speed Limit" emblazoned on the U-Haul trailer's fender is only "recommended" (the brochure even says this) and we made it to St. Louis before midnight CDT. The view from our room (at the pet-friendly, car-plus-trailer-accommodating, Drury Plaza Hotel at the Arch):

Today, we'll hang out for the morning -- swim a bit in the 8th floor pool, get breakfast, go to the top of the Gateway Arch (a Facebook "Bucket List" item), and stop by the original Cupcakery to replicate a previous blog post. Then we drive across Missouri and most of Kansas -- with a planned arrival in Colorado Springs by lunchtime tomorrow!



Civil War: Western Theater

We spent our St. Patrick's Day driving from Hammond, Louisiana (north shore of Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans) to Nashville. Along the way we stopped at two historic sites: the Vicksburg National Military Park on the east bank of the Mississippi River, and Shiloh National Military Park in southwestern Tennessee.

Vicksburg is significant because it was the culmination of then-Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's campaign in the Western Theater. On July 4th, 1863 (the day after the Battle of Gettysburg a thousand miles to the northeast ended), CSA Lt. Gen. Pemberton surrendered to Grant's Army of the Tennessee -- thereby freeing the Mississippi River for Union commerce and splitting the Confederacy in half. It's important to note that, though the Union had an impenetrable naval blockade of the CSA during the war, the CSA's command of the Mississippi prevented many Union goods from reaching their European markets -- a riverine blockade.

Vicksburg also features the raised timbers of the USS CAIRO, one of seven City-class ironclads that was sunk by what would today be called an IED: an electrically-switched, command-activated floating mine. The port bow in the above photo shows the damage to her hull; she sunk in less than 12 minutes.

Finally, shortly before sunset, we reached Shiloh in southwestern Tennessee. This battle marked the beginning of Grant's ascendancy in the Union Army, where his Army of Western Tennessee became simply known as the Army of the Tennessee. Pinned against the Tennessee River and Owl Creek Swamp, Confederate General Johnston sought to push Grant's forces into the swamps. But fierce fighting in the "Hornet's Nest" (the far side of Duncan's Field in the photo above, across the Sunken Road at the far edge of the field -- we're looking from the Confederate lines near Ruggle's Batteries) slowed the Confederate advance to allow Grant to reform his lines.

After Johnston fell in the first day's fighting, his second-in-command, Maj. Gen. Beauregard, halted the advance at dark -- content to finish Grant off the following April morning (note that this was in 1862, full year before the seige at Vicksburg). However, Union General Buell's Army of the Ohio linked up to reinforce Grant's position -- and allowed the Union to stage a counterattack at dawn, forcing a haphazard retreat by the CSA forces back into Mississippi.

So many end results are the consequence of narrowly-decided actions at the razor's edge. Had Johnston not fallen, had Beauregard kept his advance, had Stonewall Jackson not fallen to friendly fire at Chancellorsville a year later, had Longstreet heeded Hood's advice at Gettysburg to flank Meade's lines at Gettysburg -- had any of these events occurred, and we could still be a nation divided.

Addenda: With this trip, Renee has tied me with 49 states visited. So I need to see North Dakota before she gets to Maine.... Shelby is at 46, Jarrett at 44, and Sophie (after our move to CO at the end of this month) will be at 15. Our "electoral maps" (h/t to tdaxp) follow:

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Blogtinis for Three

Oz is graced this weekend with a visit by Überbloggers ZenPundit and Interact with their families. Martinis up!

Happy Independence Day!

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San Francisco Travelog

We're spending the weekend in the San Francisco Bay Area. Posterity of Oz (who too-quickly adapted to Pacific Daylight Time, which will make returning to school on Tuesday morning quite problematic) enjoyed visiting the Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39. The photo above is in one of the "tubes" beneath a school of anchovies, and at right they are petting a skate.

We also paid a visit to the USS HORNET (CV-12) Museum at Alameda Point (the former Naval Air Station), but were deterred by their preparations for a conference of more than 3,000 machinists in the hangar deck. On our way off post, we saw the French maxi-catamaran GITANA 13 -- the sailboat that is shattering records around the globe. The crew of 11 had just set a new record for the Route de l'Or (New York to San Francisco via Cape Horn), breaking the old record by more than 14 days. (Yes, *days*.) They should embark for Japan later this week, where they hope to add the trans-Pacific sailing record to their growing list of accolades.

No visit to the Bay Area is complete without a stop by the alma mater -- and, this time, a trek up Strawberry Canyon to the Lawrence Hall of Science. Their special exhibit this month is "SPEED", with throttle-driven drag racers that risk stalling due to slipping wheels, a side-by-side ski slalom simulator, and a build-it-yourself Lego derby track.

But the main purpose of this weekend was to honor (and thoroughly roast) my mom, who retired last Friday after more than 32 years of service to the Alameda County Health Services Agency. More than 140 colleagues, friends and family came to honor her, while I had the privilege of co-MC'ing -- and laying the blame for the soon-to-be-bankrupt Social Security Trust Fund squarely on her shoulders for leaving the workforce. Truly an enjoyable trip.

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TDAXP's Reception

Today was Dan "tdaxp" & Fei's wedding reception in lovely Brandon, SD. I sat with some undergrad friends of Dan's from Dakota State U. Sitting with an Air Force pilot, a flight surgeon to be, a teacher and a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science made for great conversation.

The Three 'Blogsketeers (Oz, tdaxp and interact) decided to brave the -10° F. (-23° C.) wind chill for a photo op:

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Coldest Day

It's colder now than it was a sunrise -- with a Weather.com "RealFeel" of -10 degrees F., and a projected low (RealFeel) tonight of -37. Yes, that's a negative sign in front of the "37". Nice of Dan and Fei to have their wedding reception on the coldest day of the year... :-)

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Winter Wonderland

Rollin' with Sean Meade to South Dakota and Dan & Fei Abbot's wedding reception. The white sandy beaches of Tiffin, Iowa were a little chilly on the toes....

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Crossing the Rubicon

To "Cross the Rubicon" is to pass a point of no return -- to commit yourself to something. In late 50 B.C., the Roman senate ordered Julius Caesar (then Governor of Gaul, a military hero whom the Senate feared) to disband his army and return to Rome. Since his term as Proconsul had ended, and the Senate forbade Caesar from running for a second term in absentia, Caesar knew he would be politically marginalized -- and possibly imprisoned -- if he returned to Rome without the immunity of a Consul.

So, on the 10th of January in 49 B.C. (converted to the Gregorian calendar), Caesar crossed the southern border of Cisalpine Gaul and entered Italy with one legion, Legio XIII Gemina. Since armies were forbidden by Roman law to enter Italy proper (primarily to defend against internal military threats), Caesar's actions marked the beginning of the Roman civil war. He is reported to have said "Alea iacta est" ("The die is cast"), hence our modern association of "Crossing the Rubicon" with passing a point of no return.

What's ironic is you can learn far more about "Fiume Rubicone" (literally "River Rubicon") from Webster's Dictionary and Wikipedia than you can from Rand-McNally. On a March 1994 trip to Europe with my then-girlfriend, I harbored a plot to "pop the question" on the bank of the Rubicon -- after crossing it in our rental car while driving from Venice to Assisi. (If there had been 'blogs in 1994, the dawn of the old NCSA Mosaic web browser, I would have probably done like Dan at tdaxp.... :-)

Only by consulting some large maps at the Navy lab where I worked was I able to find the river. And when we saw it in person, I had a brief pang of regret that I didn't ask Renee to marry me while we were on a gondola floating on the Canale Grande in Venice the night before. But since I had a plan, I stuck to it -- the arrow below shows the spot, and the "scenic grandeur" of what was simply an archaic border between Roman provinces (or a ditch by modern standards):

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Tagged: Christmas Meme

Local friend Citizen Netmom has been tagged by LissaKay to provide a "Christmas Meme" profile, so I'm following her lead. Here are the rules:

1. Link to the person that tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.
2. Share Christmas facts about yourself.
3. Tag seven random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.
4. Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Welcome to the Christmas edition of "Getting to Know Your Friends."

1. Wrapping or gift bags?
Gift bags - the ultimate convenience in gift-giving!

2. Real or artificial tree?
Artificial pre-lit. (See comment on "convenience" in 1. above.)

3. When do you put up the tree?
Me? Never. My bride? Usually just after Thanksgiving.

4. When do you take the tree down?
After our annual Epiphany Party in early January.

5. Do you like egg nog?
Not as much as what you can put *in* the eggnog.

6. Favorite gift received as a child?
A BMX bike when I was 12 years old.

7. Do you have a nativity scene?
Yes (a small porcelain one).

8. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?
At an office "gag gift exchange", I ended up with a plastic hand pedestal that was supposed to be a remote control holder. We kept it in the closet until the follow year's gift exchange.

9. Mail or email Christmas cards?
Despite my comments on "convenience" above, this is one area where we go all out -- mail is the only way for us. Our family photo is planned months in advance (this year's card was from a February trip to Mexico, complete with Santa hats in the luggage), cards are ordered shortly after Halloween, and labels printed the week before Thanksgiving. We have made a habit (perhaps bordering on Obsessive-Compulsive :-) of mailing them the day before Thanksgiving -- sort of a green flag for friends and family of the start of the holiday season.

10. Favorite Christmas Movie?
Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas.

11. When do you start shopping for Christmas?
Black Friday. My lovely bride, however, starts the day *after* Christmas for the next year.

12. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?
My bride's crockpot turkey (never dry!). And my Grandmother's & Aunt Peggy's Secret Toffee.

13. Clear lights or colored on the tree?

14. Favorite Christmas song(s)?
Sarajevo 12/24 by Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

15. Travel at Christmas or stay home?
We usually travel -- we have family and friends scattered throughout the country.

16. Can you name all of Santa’s reindeer?
Yes (though it might take me a while). Don't forget Olive! (As in "Olive, the other reindeer..." :-)

17. Angel on the tree top or a star?

18. Open the presents Christmas Eve or Christmas Morning?
One selected gift on Christmas Eve, the rest on Christmas morning.

19. Most annoying thing about this time of year?
Some people let themselves get too stressed out -- so courtesy seems to be too rare this time of year, ESPECIALLY on the roads and parking lots.

20. Do you decorate your tree in any specific theme or color?
Classic white lights, gold trimmed ribbon, with lots of sentimental-value ornaments.

21. What do you leave for Santa?
Milk and cookies, of course. And some carrots on the lawn for his reindeer.

22. Least favorite holiday song?
Anything with "singing" animals.

23. Favorite ornament?
Our Macy's-New York City "Curious George" ornament (showing George climbing the Empire State Building in a clear glass globe) from their 75th Anniversary Parade.

24. Family tradition?
Besides what's already been described here (decorations, cards, gifts), we have an emerging tradition of performances. Both kids play in holiday piano recitals, and Renee always performs with the church choir in their Christmas performances. Also, Shelby has performed in The Nutcracker three of the past four years now -- and Jarrett has said he wants to be a "party boy / mouse soldier" in next year's Nutcracker.

25. Ever been to Midnight Mass or late-night Christmas Eve services?
Yes, a couple times (once in San Diego, when my mother-in-law visited us there; and another time in Minnesota at her church).

I will be passing this "tag" on to the following blogfriends (updated to link to their replies):

Sean Meade

Can't wait to see what they post... Merry Christmas to all!

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[Moblog] Zen and Me

I am having authentic pierogies and brewskis (plus some excellent split pea soup) in west Chicago's Franklin Park / Mannheim Road with Überblogger ZenPundit. My flight back to Tennessee leaves in another two hours, so Zen was kind enough to pick me up at O'Hare (amidst weather reports of freezing rain) and bring me out for a great dinner.

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[Moblog] New 'Polar Bear 6'

LTC Richard G. Greene Jr, USA, received the colors of 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, at a change of command this morning at Fort Drum, New York.

If leadership is "the liberation of talent," the 'Polar Bears' are gaining a commander who can inspire them to achieve more than they knew they could.

I was not a distance runner until Rich Greene picked me to join his team for the 1999 Army Ten-Miler - and have run six marathons since. We seldom did family road trips until we drove over 1,000 miles to Rich's wedding in Aledo, Illinois 7-1/2 years ago - and braved the Alaska Highway in 2004 to visit him in Fairbanks, Alaska on the "Mother of All Road Trips".

And my appreciation for the liberties we enjoy, the elegant strength of our Constitution, and the urgent importance of our operations overseas, are stronger for knowing Rich.


UPDATE: See 4-31 singing "The 10th Mountain Division Song"
(45-second .AVI file, 17MB).

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[Moblog] Johnny Walker Blue

I'm in Ft Drum, New York for a change of command ceremony tomorrow. My good friend Rich Greene - a man who has inspired me in many aspects of life - is taking command of the Polar Bears: the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment of 10th Mountain Division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team. HOOah!

Rich's bride Michelle (the Deputy Staff Judge Advocate for the Division) graced Rich with a rare bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label in honor of this event. And, as a Tennessee Squire (who brought a bottle of Jack's Single Barrel for Rich), I can say unequivocally that JW's Blue is the *finest* whiskey I have ever tasted.

More pix tomorrow from Fort Drum, the snow capital of the U.S.

Pro Patria!



[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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