Thursday, December 17, 2009

Ornament Statistics

4 -- number of ornaments that have fallen off Aiken tree
100 -- percentage of fallen orns. knocked down by Aiken animals
1 -- number of ornaments destroyed by Aiken animals (so far)
12 -- hours after initial hanging that ornament was destroyed.
0 -- number of ornaments knocked down by Scout the cat

Note: the ornament pictured above is not the one that was destroyed; it was constructed by Mark Aiken himself circa 1975. He displayed his artistic talent even back then.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


One thing that is nice about seasonal work is the opportunity to shift gears and get involved in something new. This is what happens for me every spring and every fall. It keeps life interesting.

Two weeks ago, I re-started my job at Stowe. A small group of us have been working to get our areas cleaned, organized, set up, and ready for business. Now all we need is one thing: snow.

Which has been our only problem -- and it has some people feeling concerned, worried, befuddled, apprehensive, scared, confused... you name it, people are feeling it. It is November in Vermont, the ground is green and brown, and the temperature is 51! Very unseasonal.

But you don't have to worry. Everyone I know is doing snow dances. A snow dance, in case you don't know, is the same as a rain dance, only you shake your hips twice and drop the left shoulder in the middle. It's a subtle, but important, difference. Also, Lucie Keene resonated her crystal bowl for snow earlier this week. Which is to say, she cut out paper snowflakes, handed them out for people to write their wishes (everyone wished for some type of "freshies," "blizzards," or, simply, "snow, please!"). Then, she tossed the snowflake-wishes into this giant white bowl, rubbed it with her resonator, and it made this wild sound that made you feel like you were trekking near some Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas. If this doesn't make it snow, I don't know what will.

If you're still not convinced, listen to this. Snow Wakeman, long-time instructor at Stowe, recently visited her psychic. There, she learned that there will be a storm of historic proportions on December 31st of this year. "Stock up on food stuffs and propane," Wakeman advises. "Make sure your vehicles are outfitted with snow tires and, if possible, chains." The New Year's Eve blizzard of '09 is going to leave Vermont buried in mounds of white.

I can't wait.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Quality of Life Improvements

In recent months, I have implemented two additions to my routine, and I feel that they have made significant positive impacts to my quality of life.

The first new addition -- and this one affects my daily regimen -- has been the use of "couzies" when I consume a beverage from an aluminum can. I have prior experience with couzies, but their use was limited mostly to fishing trips. Now, I rarely drink a cold beverage without one, and it has been a really nice change. No cold fingers from holding a soda or beer, no search for a coaster every time I want to set my beverage down... this has been a very positive development in my life.

The other new addition -- and this one is still in the early implementation stages -- is my new food processor. I say "new" because I only knew we had it for the last two months. I have been informed, however, that it has been part of the household gear pack for much longer. So far, all I know how to make in it is butternut squash/sweet potato soup. And boy is it good. One note about the processor from a QOL perspective: I don't love washing it. But when autumn hits in the Northeast, it sure is nice to settle into your chair with a big bowl of piping hot soup.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Festival 8

Hands down, it was one of the 8 best Phish festivals of all time. Pictures say 1000 words, so I will take advantage of images in this post, since I there's no way I could possibly write it all. (Note: click on any photo to enlarge.)
Once we got the kitten out of the suitcase and our stuff packed, we flew to Las Vegas where Lisa Aiken -- equipped with camping equipment, food, and drinks for 3 people over 5 days -- picked us up and brought us to the concert site in Indio, California. We arrived at 4am. Of the three of us, Alison grabbed the most shut-eye -- about two hours. That first day, therefore, was a real marathon, but the evening's two sets of music were fabulous.

The next day was Halloween. The band upheld its Oct. 31st tradition of donning a "musical costume" which, this time, was the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street -- complete with a horn section and backup singers. The musical highlight of the whole weekend for me was "Lovin' Cup," which Phish has covered thousands of times so that its place is solidly established in the band's canon. But "Lovin' Cup" is also on Exile, so it came up during the Halloween set -- and the place, the band, and, most especially, the guest performers, just went crazy. Out of this world. Also out of this world were 30,000 costume-wearing Phishheads. I camped with a 1920s flapper and a hockey-playing pirate. I also met Jim Morrison, the entire gang from Scooby-Doo, the 1969 championship-winning Boston Celtics, Eve (from Adam and Eve), and about 15 Jon Fishmans. What a night!

In terms of the Festival, Phish took care of everything. Foremost, holding it in southern California enabled the band to provide a rain-free weekend -- very nearly a Phish first. Festival 8 also included a traffic-free entry, soft grass to camp on, clean Porta-Potties, clean and spacious showers (that's right -- Phishheads showered!), and a certified organic Farmer's Market (we enjoyed fresh strawberries and mandarins, and we made breakfast burritos from fresh eggs and peppers). Keeping with another festival tradition started at 2003's IT festival, Alison and I began each morning by running around the campgrounds. And in addition to the Halloween set, there was another Phish first: Sunday's noon-time Acoustic Set complete with free coffee and "8-shaped" donuts. Unfortunately, the line for the morning snacks was too long. Fortunately, the line where they were giving out free Phish Food Ben & Jerry's scoops was not long, so we went there instead.

I'm not going to lie. There were times leading up to the weekend that I wondered if I'm getting a little old to be taking off across the country to follow my favorite jamband. Well, I have to tell you: I had a great time. Since 1991 they have been my favorite for a reason. They put on the best show of any band out there... and they took care of every person who made the trip. Everything was perfect. Trey, Mike, Page, and Fish: thanks. Lisa, great driving and packing. Heather, thanks for looking after our house and animals while we were away. And in answer to the original question: I'd do it again in a second.

See you at "Festival 9"!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Music Update

The sign below was sighted this week at the Lutheran Church in Indio, California near the site of next week's Festival 8 -- the most recent Phish festival. In case anyone was wondering about the band's status with "the higher ups." Meanwhile, the residents of Indio, who have grown accustomed to the "Phish people" already in town readying the site of 8 for the legions of phans who will be arriving this week, have taken to referring to the site as "Little Vermont." I'm sure everyone will be talking about 8 for years to come...

Thursday, October 22, 2009


I have had the same email address on AOL since Al Gore first invented the Internet. And there are advantages to never having changed your address: for example, people all know your address. There are also disadvantages, like my Inbox is full of spam. Also, if you are an AOL user, you know that, unless you are diligent about saving messages, you lose them after a few weeks. Also, AOL's address book is really not user-friendly.

So I'm looking to change my address. But here's the other disadvantage: all the cool new email names are taken! Like, is long-gone. I am looking for a new address that is simple and that people will remember.

So I'm taking a poll. Please leave your new email name suggestion in the "Comments" section of this post. If I use your suggestion, you will be recognized in a soon-to-be-posted segment of "AikenAction"!!! There's incentive if I've ever seen it. Now, get thinking!

Victoria Running Report

In the words of Perry White, editor of the Daily Planet, a good photographer eats, drinks, and sleeps with his camera. They are never separated! Which, folks, is why I am not a good photographer, and it is why I have no real race-day photographs of October 11's Royal Victoria Marathon. I just never remember the camera! (The photo, incidentally, is of Ali and me at the ferry dock near Vancouver on our way to the marathon. We're so bad, we didn't even take any shots on the ferry!)

The marathon was the culmination of a summer of training. I can't speak for Ali, but it was the most focused marathon training I have ever done. I have always thought it would be nice to qualify for Boston even though I didn't really think it was a particularly realistic goal. But in my last marathon, I missed the qualifying time by 2 minutes. So I thought about what I could do to cut 2 minutes off my time. The answer: focus on pace. I trained just 3 days per week this summer: a long day, a tempo day, and a speed day. Alison ran with me every time, and, I'll say that without her, I definitely would have blown off some of the speed days at the Burlington High School track when it was 85 degrees. Also, she always ran with Oscar on the tempo days when I needed to run at a consistent pace. In short, I just couldn't have done it without her.

Ali also set the Boston qualifying time as her goal -- pretty ambitious, since it meant cutting 8 minutes off her personal best time. In the end, she just missed, but she ran her fastest marathon ever (her 5th PR in a row) by over 5 minutes -- nearly 40 minutes faster than her first marathon 7 years ago. I have a fast wife!

Victoria was billed as a flat course. I' wouldn't call it "hilly," but it was way more rolling than I expected. The course was beautiful -- 12 or so miles went along the Pacific with views of Washington's Mount Baker and the Olympic Mountains -- but it was crowded. A half-marathon and all marathoners who planned to run in over 5 hours went ahead of the rest of the marathoners. I found I had to constantly weave through people. Alison had trouble negotiating the water stops. Otherwise, it was a beautiful day. My race day strategy was to go out fast to build a cushion. I did this and, with 7 miles to go, realized that all I had to do to qualify was run 8-minute miles the rest of the way. Which I did, and I came in 3 minutes under my goal. I'm a little annoyed with myself now for not continuing at the fast pace I started with; but try to explain that to someone at mile 19 when the goal he set for the day is in reach by coasting. Oh well. I'll try for 3:10 next time.

John Gallagher was our host and trip planner -- and he also ran a great marathon, finishing in 3:45. He did a fabulous job choosing restaurants over the next five days in Victoria and Vancouver; despite running 26.2 miles, I gained 7 pounds on my vacation. Also present was Chris Gallagher, who didn't run because of a sore leg. But he provided plenty of moral support; in fact, he was the first one to join me at the bar after the race to watch the Patriots game.

We had a fabulous trip, and we really accomplished something while we were at it. It feels good to work at something all summer and to see results at the end. Now that we're home, we can officially call summer a wrap. It's time to tape up the hockey sticks and get out the ski equipment!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Friendship on Hold

All is fair in love and football.

For three hours this Sunday, Mark Aiken will be forced to put on hold any friendships he has with fans of the Denver Broncos. Between the hours of 4pm and approximately 7pm, and wearing throwback uniforms from the Sixties (the Broncos duds are seriously ugly), the Broncos will play host to the New England Patriots.

Aiken's friendships aren't the only ones being placed on timeout Sunday. Denver head coach Josh McDaniel is a protege of Patriots coaching legend Bill Belichick, but don't expect to see Coach B getting all choked up when the Patriot defense stifles McDaniels' new offense. Sure, McDaniels learned alot from Bill -- who wouldn't? -- but let's not forget who's the master around here.

As soon as the game ends, all friends can return to amicability... depending on the outcome of the game. If Denver wins, I may not be able to be friends again until I feel better.

Go New England!

(And may the best team win.)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Death Racers Tackle Aiken Woodpile

The Death Race, an extremely unappealing event (unless you find crawling under razor wire, digging up tree stumps, and running while carrying a bike frame appealing), is held in Pittsfield, Vermont in June. It's not an event I'm interested in; they don't even tell you what the events are until you arrive at the start. How would you even know how to train?

Two Death Racers, Neil and Andy, have answers to these training questions. And they involve wood-splitting, one of the events from last year's Death Race. When Neil and Andy heard I had a woodpile to split, they arrived pronto (see picture above, courtesy of Ruth Penfield). They tested various axes, mauls, wedges, and splitting tools, timed each other, and generally chopped and chopped and chopped and chopped. (Please don't anyone remind them they they don't even know if wood-splitting will even be one of the events this year...). On the other hand, it might not matter; at one point, Andy looked at their progress.

"It's incredibly satisfying," he said.

He thinks it's satisfying? He should try standing there watching two Death Racers chop their way through your woodpile. Now that's satisfaction.

The only problem with the experience was that, once I had splitters, I wound up doing all the stacking. As my dad will attest (and he would know; I stacked wood for him for like 12 years!), I have never liked stacking. I much prefer to split. Still, the Death Racers saved my back and lots of time. And if there's anyone else looking for "training" opportunities, please give me a call. I have the tools you need to train for your next Death Race.

(Photo below: getting there...)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Downtown 10K

Mark Aiken high-fives an adoring fan
Photo by Jan Leja

I am pleased to report that Oscar has returned to the world of competitive racing. After a couple of bad experiences in organized race events -- after which he decided to limit his running to non-organized events -- he ran in Sunday's Downtown 10K and recorded a personal record of 47 minutes.

Here's the deal. I have been training pretty seriously for my upcoming marathon. I have trained for all prior marathons simply by going out and running with Oscar. It was a regimen that he loved, but that didn't do much for my chances at improving my marathon times. The fact that I have improved my times with almost every race is just dumb luck. However, when I missed the Boston Marathon qualifying time at last spring's VCM by 2 minutes, I decided I had to get serious. I took out my stopwatch and started doing speedwork and tempo runs this summer with Alison. The problem with timed runs is that they don't really make room for chasing squirrels, peeing on bushes, and sniffing the smells -- all pursuits that my prior training regimens DID allow for. The result: Oscar was not allowed to run with me as much this summer.

He already hates the fact that we don't take him when we run 13 or more miles on Sundays. So, knowing that Sunday was a 12-mile day, I knew we had to bring him even though we had registered for Susan Criscuolo's fundraising event. I figured if anyone gave us a hard time, I'd just sit out the race and run on my own with Oscar. We registered for the 9am race at 745. We asked Susan if she had a problem with Oscar running, which she did not. We ran 6 miles (we're marathon-training, remember?), and pulled up to the starting line with almost perfect timing.

Ali lined up with her usual people, but Oscar and I went all the way to the back; we didn't want to run the risk of getting tangled in the mass start. The gun sounded (actually some guy yelled "Ready, set, go!"), and Oscar and I waited for everyone -- and I mean everyone -- to get out of the way. Then we started.

Oscar, who usually runs at an 8-to-9-minute mile pace, was not waiting around this day. He charged along the entire way. Despite running prior to the 10K and stopping to sniff 2 dogs, drink from 3 puddles, and pee once, we passed about 80 people and ran the whole think in almost 7.5-minute miles. Now if Oscar had shown that he could keep up that sort of pace earlier, he could have come along for some of the tempo runs! I think his desire to stop and be distracted was superseded by his desire to lead. Oscar is not fond of being behind people when he runs.

Sunday's Downtown 10K replaced the popular Smokejack's 10K race that used to take runners up and down the streets of Burlington, but that disappeared when the restaurant closed its business a couple years ago. Sunday's event, organized by Susan Criscuolo and sponsored by Green Mountain Rehab and other local businesses, was a huge success as over 100 runners participated. The event raised over $3000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

And I should also mention that, should I qualify for Boston, I intend to return to the more slackerly and dog-friendly training regimen of non-timed slow and easy runs.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Team PBR enters Fantasy Football 2009

That's right, folks! In addition to my world domination of table tennis and cribbage, add Fantasy Football to the mix. I have joined Marty Courcelle's league -- an organization full of heavy hitters like Marty himself and the much-feared Lori Hennessey, just to name two. I have no idea how Fantasy Football works, what players are what, how games are scored, or -- except for a few members of the New England Patriots -- who even still plays in the National Football League.

Which, in my opinion, makes me one of the favorites to win the League. I know these Fantasy players. Watching 10 games at once every Sunday on the Directv Football Package. Keeping copious notes on all the players. Watching SportsCenter late at night to stay ahead of the curve. Subscribing to Chris Berman's Tweets to receive up-to-the-minute updates.

By contrast, I have no idea what I'm doing. And I like my chances. Go Team PBR!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tomato Update

At last report, the Aiken tomato patch had been ravaged by tomato blight. Sadly, this situation is still the case; we have had to throw away over 100 tomatoes and many plants. Still, we have salvaged enough tomatoes to make 2009 our best year yet for the juicy red vegetable/fruits.

We are disappointed, of course, to have to let go of our earlier visions of the canned tomatoes and sauces that we had planned to open up later this winter. Still, I have always felt -- and continue to feel -- that there is not much that can beat a garden-fresh tomato. The little orange "Sun Gold" cherry-sized tomatoes have been our cash crop this year -- just two plants yielded hundreds of these things, and they have livened up our salads (and I've eaten lots of them like grapes!). The medium-sized prudens variety -- which proved to be especially susceptible to the blight -- are a good all-purpose tomato. The black krims are a weird-looking tomato, but super juicy, and my favorite are the gigantic brandywines, which are simply made to be sliced up and put on a sandwich with turkey, Vermont cheddar, and cucumber slices. Yummm!

I'm glad I got to enjoy tomatoes from the garden this summer, but I'll look forward to next year. Hopefully then we'll get the tomato-landslide we were hoping for this year.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

State Inspection

I have reason to believe that my mechanic would have failed my vehicle had I brought it to him for my 2010 Vermont Vehicle Inspection. Obviously, I didn't wait around for the big "F" on the test; I went somewhere else. Where, I will add, I passed with flying colors.

Here's what happened. I mentioned a minor -- very minor -- issue I have been having with the car. Rather than deal with it by making a big repair now, I would rather wait until after the winter season. So I asked him to jury-rig it. Not only would they not jury-rig it, he said my car would fail the inspection unless I resolved the issue now. In other words, paid the big dollars now.

Half joking, I said, "I guess I shouldn't have told you about the problem before the inspection."

Not joking, he said, "Our diagnostician would have found it."

I bring three cars to this guy for all my repairs and for regular maintenance and oil changes. I didn't realize we were adversaries now!

"I'll call you back," I said.

When I picked my phone up again, my fingers somehow didn't dial the number of my mechanic. They instead dialed the number of the place where I bought my Honda used. Of course, I didn't mention the issue, and of course they didn't discover it. It was a minor issue! At an inspection, you make sure the thing is registered and insured, you check the lights, the horn, the brakes... you don't scour the vehicle and then fail it unless the owner fixes every tiny issue! In addition to my nice blue inspection sticker, the new guy also gave me the thanks-for-buying-your-car-from-us discount on an oil change.

And you won't believe what else. The owner of the dealership noticed my broken radio antenna. To be honest, I don't know if it came that way when I bought it or if it was snapped off afterwards. It didn't matter. The owner himself came out with a drill and drilled out the broken antenna. He re-threaded it and found an old antenna lying around the shop. "I hate not being able to get stations," he said. And the best part of the story? He did this free of charge.

Previously, I could only get two channels on my road. On my way to work each morning, I listened to the radio halfway, then had to switch to a CD or my iPod the rest of the way. Now, I get all the local stations no matter where I am. Thanks, new guys. My quality of life has just improved.

An Investment

I'm here to tell you about the best investment I ever made: my Triple A membership. Specifically, the emergency roadside towing service. I am currently driving a 2002 Honda -- an extremely nice car, by my standards. But, let me tell you, when you have a history of driving the kind of quality cars I have driven in my life -- starting with Old Betsy, the 1978 Jeep Wagoneer on through to the Stealth (1986 Chevy Cavalier, hatchback, black, undetectable by modern radar methods, that is, if by "modern" you mean circa 1890), to the run of Subarus I drove, right up through my old plow truck -- you need free towing!

One time, my roommate got stuck in my driveway in Bolton (note: everyone I know got stuck in that driveway at one time or another...except for me). I borrowed my dad's pickup, but that didn't help. We couldn't just yank him, because on the downhill side was a giant boulder that would scratch the stuck vehicle. I called Triple A. A tow truck came within the hour, wrapped a cable around a big maple tree uphill from the vehicle (protecting the fragile tree with a section of garden hose) and pulled him up the hill where he could then drive out. Later that day, on my way to return the pickup, I locked the key in the truck. For the second time in one day, Triple A bailed me out. They broke into the truck in 94 seconds.

The latest towing was last Saturday when the fuel pump went on our plow truck. We were in town picking up a load of pallets. Fortunately, the spot where the truck died was 100 feet from the Fedex building, and next to their dumpster was another pile of pallets. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves while we waited for the wrecker, we talked to a guy in the warehouse and got permission. Then we loaded up a few more good ones. Stay tuned to AikenAction for an update on what we're doing with pallets.

Anyway, my advice to you: get Triple A. I have been towed and rescued so many times, I'm thinking about opening my own towing service -- I've watched these guys operate theirs so many times, I already know how the things work. Problem with this idea is, what happens if one of my tow trucks breaks down?

Haha...not a problem. I'll just call Triple A.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Aliens Attack Aiken Tomato Patch!

They came down in space ships and shot their little laser guns at all our tomato plants, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. Well, I'm not exactly sure if they were aliens, but they sure were destructive. In 24 hours, hundreds of leaves on our tomato plants, tens of unripe tomatoes, and at least one whole plant (probably 5 feet tall) were blighted.

It's known as "tomato blight," and apparently the unusually wet weather has caused it. It is some sort of fungus that gets in the soil and infects your plants. And once it does, it's wildly contagious, and it moves fast. The idea is to clip the infected areas and get rid of them as soon as possible. And then, because the spores already live in the soil, we're not supposed to plant tomatoes in exactly that spot next year either. Our plants had done so well up till then, it killed us to cut them up and throw parts away. What was heading towards being an epic year for tomatoes will still be our best ever, but it was sad. We have already harvested close to 100 sun gold small tomatoes, and a few black krims. The plant that was lost was a prudens variety (I believe our only prudens). We still have lots of green tomatoes on the vines, and hopefully they mature before the blight gets them too.

I'll be honest; I don't fully understand how the blight works. The UFO explanation works as well as any for me. So aliens, be warned. Come into our garden, and I'll be shooting to kill. Go spread your germy disease someplace else!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I have to ask why. It's 84 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity is 94 percent. So why -- why -- as I look across my field do I see a guy jogging down my road? It is 2:08pm, the sun is glaring down from the height of its trajectory in the sky, and the guy looks like he is having no fun at all.

My hat goes off to him. I couldn't run right now.

Alison, Oscar, and I ran early this morning. Back then, it was only like 72-degrees with high humidity. Alison's hamstring was sore (which could have only been worse in the humidity), Oscar submerged himself up to his lips in Johnnie Brook when we got there, and I was covered in sticky, uncomfortable sweat. Why do we do it?

Well, it certainly felt good when it was over. And I certainly enjoy having an entire burrito at Mexicali Bar and Grill -- and not feeling guilty when I clean my plate. It will be a great feeling when we have great races in our next marathons. It will feel good when hockey starts back up in the fall and I'm not exhausted at the end of the first session. And it will be great next fall when we go out on some 45-degree day, hike out to cut up some firewood for the woodstove, and the work doesn't kill us.

Come to think of it, the run wasn't actually all that bad, and I've been feeling pretty good all day. Maybe this is that one really hot, really humid week Vermont gets every summer. If it is, we can be thankful it's not in the 90s this year. If it's really overwhelming, go sit by the lake or take a walk in the mountains -- it's always cooler there.

And in the meantime, maybe I'll grab my bike and ride up the road to check on that runner. He didn't look so good.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Bumper Stickers

"Imagine Whirled Peas." "Not all Who Wander are Lost." "My Other Car is a Tractor."

I'm a big fan of stickers. One of life's blessings is pulling up to a red light when you're in traffic to find that you're behind one of those cars with 50 stickers crammed on its rear end. They make for nice reading. I hate to generalize, but I have noticed that most cars that have this are too small for all the stickers, and they are usually driven by hippies. Whatever... I like it.

I can't say I clutter my car with stickers. Water bottles, maybe. Notebooks, sure. But my car usually remains relatively sticker-free.

My plow truck is a different story. When I first got it, one simple sticker decorated its bumper: "Independents for Tarrant." Rich Tarrant was the former basketball player who ran as a Republican for Vermont's junior senate seat, but got demolished by incumbent Bernie Sanders. I guess there just weren't enough Independents supporting him. Anyway, the sticker was disintegrating from the weather and peeling, and one day the green sticker pictured above appeared over the Tarrant sticker: "Practice Random Acts of Gardening." (I'm not sure who put it there, but I suspect it was either my wife Alison, my dog Oscar, or Scout the cat.) Wherever it came from, I'm okay with it, as I'm a gardener now.

Today, a new sticker joins the Gardening one on the bumper. There was a time in my life when I looked down at country music. "I'll never listen to that... that country!" I said. Then, 5 years ago, Phish broke up. What's a Phishhead to do when his band stops playing? It was an evolution; nothing happened overnight. But in my search to fill the Phishy void, I started listening to WOKO, the local country channel. There's some good stuff on that station! So, when Phish got back together this year, I couldn't get tickets, because every show was selling out in minutes. Fine, I said. I bought 20th row seats to Brad Paisley's show at the Champlain Valley Fair. "Who needs Phish?" I said.

Well, WOKO is holding a contest. Listeners send a picture of their WOKO bumper sticker and their license plate number to the radio station. On August 25 and 26, the station reads off license plate numbers. Listeners then have 9 minutes to call the station to receive front row seats to Brad's concert.

I picked up my sticker and it's on the truck for everyone to see when I make my weekly dump run. I emailed it to the station. So please everyone, tune into WOKO 98.9 on your radios on August 26 and 27. If you hear my license plate read, call me. I only have 9 minutes to respond and collect my tickets. No offense to Phish, but I am looking forward to seeing Brad at the Fair. And I want those front row spots.

And of course, I have 20th row seats for anyone who tips me off that they just read my number. I hear they're great seats.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

How To Talk To Cops

This is not a political blog, but I can't help but add my comments to the many editorial remarks that have been made following President Obama's reaction to the arrest of Harvard professor and historian Henry Louis Gates.

I feel that those who have discussed this issue (if you can really call it an "issue"), have really missed the boat. It's all about how you talk to people -- how Professor Gates talked to the cops that came to his door, and how the Press treated the President's reaction.

1) Some guidance for Professor Gates: Rule Number One, Professor, is don't antagonize them... unless you already know you're getting ticketed/arrested/written up. All reports about the Gates incident -- including Gates' own account -- indicate that Gates began talking back and being rude before they cuffed him. In my older and wiser years, I have found that being nice gets much better results. Like, for example, one time I got pulled over for running a red light. (For the record, it was definitely yellow... and I was in a rush.) However, I didn't get into that discussion. Instead, I apologized, promised I would be more careful, and was completely polite and respectful. The officer let me off with a warning. See, Professor? Don't be a jerk! Of course they dragged you in.

2) A president of the United States told the people what he thought. Then we roasted him for it. Thanks a lot, Media and Press types! Don't expect him to ever give us a straight answer again. And that's what it was: "Sounds stupid to me," was basically Obama's remark. But I'm sure he's learned his lesson; long-winded, circular answers get much better results from our Press than straight answers. It's a bummer. Regardless what you think of his policies, he was a straight-shooter. Mr. President, if you're out there reading this, take note. I appreciated your honesty. Sorry you got dragged through the ringer because of it. There was a recent comment on a radio show that asked a question. "If the President and Sgt Crowley (the policeman who arrested Gates) have made up and moved on -- and they seem to have -- can our Press?" Get on with your lives, people! Please!

Monday, July 27, 2009

25th Colchester Triathlon

I am sure that everyone made note of this weekend's significant event in sports history: it was the 25th running of the Colchester Triathlon.
I have lost count of how many Colchesters I have run. I did not participate during the event's inaugural year (I had never heard of a triathlon at that point), but I was there for the 2nd year as a 13-year-old ironman (that's what we called people who did the entire half-mile swim, 12.6-mile bike, and 3.5-mile run). I crashed my bike at Mile 1 that year, got up, and finished, covered in blood. With a first experience like that, it's surprising that I returned the following year.

But I did, and I'm thinking that I have run about 16 Colchesters. Some years I trained more than others (and some I didn't train at all). One year I participated on a team. One year, my gear bag got caught in my bike spokes (a bike on loan from Leigh Mallory) and I crashed on the way to the start. I got up from that crash too, but my helmet was cracked and the bike broke, so I never raced. I did, however, do the entire course later that day with a very sore shoulder and a wicked headache. Most years, however, things went -- thankfully -- uneventfully, like Sunday: a fast swim, a solid bike, and a quick 5K to finish feeling good with a respectable time.

I saw some familiar faces Sunday: Leighmo, as always, directing the whole event, Anita Dayvies, serving as head timer for the 25th year, Dave Bahrenburg, heckling runners -- I mean, doing the announcing -- Diane B. timing, Mr. Pecor all over the course doing everything, and, of course, Kathy Baumann, Amy Baumann, and Judy Robinson running the refreshment table as they have every year of the 25 year-old event.

Another face that is becoming familiar to the Colchester crowd is Alison Aiken, who returned for this 25th anniversary year after putting in some serious training in the off-season, particlularly in the water. I was worried that the heat and a little chop in the lake could conspire against her, but no. She kicked booty! No "leisurely finish" this year, was there Dave?

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Sunday's Colchester Triathlon was every bit as exciting as ever. It's a great community event, run by the best organizers ever. Can't wait to do it again next year!

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Call For Help!

You may notice a new feature at the lower right-hand corner of "AikenAction" -- my new hit counter. It's designed to tell me how many visits this site receives. But since its installation, it seems to be stuck at one hit. I guess I'm the only person who ever checked out this site, and, apparently, I only ever visited once.

I need your help! When you next visit AikenAction (ie now), please click the "Comment" button at the bottom of this post. Enter the date and time of your visit. Hypothetically, the counter will register your visit. If it doesn't, I will have your comment and I'll know my shiny new counter is stuck -- or worse, defective.

Or worse than that, I don't know how to turn it on.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Deadline and a Visit

Nothing gets things done like a deadline.

On another, however closely related note, our house in Richmond was in disarray last Saturday. We had just stayed at the Aiken Camp in North Hero for 8 days, and the lawn -- as a result -- was a hayfield and the gardens weedbeds. All of our stuff was strewn haphazardly around the house in heaps -- duffel bags, laundry baskets, water jugs, bike gear, cat carriers, a round carpet from the camp that Jill had replaced with an ungrade, and a cooler.

And we were expecting company at 10:45am. There's your deadline.

Let me tell you, Alison and I sprang into action. By 10:44am, the grass was cut, the gardens tidied up, and the house organized. I even went out to Richmond's On the Rise Bakery to pick up bagels and other assorted morning goodies. When our company arrived, we acted like the house and grounds always looked this way and nothing out of the ordinary had transpired that morning. I'm pretty sure we had them fooled.

The company, incidentally, was my grandmother Caroline G. Aiken, my Uncle Dave Robinson, and my Aunt Judy Robinson. The Robinsons were visiting from Atlanta, Georgia, and they were on a tight social calendar with a schedule not unlike the US President's recent visits to Russia, Africa, and the Middle East. We were very excited that they could fit Richmond in.

We snacked for awhile in the front room admiring the view and catching up. Then we walked around and checked out the gardens (see photo above, provided by Aunt Judy). I received some very positive feedback about the vegetable garden: my grandmother -- a prolific vegetable gardener from Springfield, Vermont -- called it "perfect." My Aunt Judy, an expert in all matters of plants and flowers, informed me as to what flowers we have in the flowerbeds (I have no idea what's in there as I can't even tell the difference between a flower and a weed). The problem, however, was that she rattled off the names and types so quickly, all I remember was "primroses" and, unfortunately, didn't retain which ones those were. And before I was able to ask for clarification, my Uncle Dave -- like the Secret Service -- whisked them both into the car and onto their next stop (which, I believe, was lunch at cousin Suzie Shattuck's). Now I know how the smaller nations of the world feel.

It was a really nice visit. Next time, though, I'm going to have a notebook and pencil ready. And I may just skip the snacks and bring my aunt right out to the flowerbed. I need to know what I'm supposed to keep and what needs to be thrown away.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Article in Livin' Magazine

Pick up the latest issue of Livin' the Vermont Way magazine in order to see my most recent article about the effect that college students have on local economies. Or read it online here at Livin's website.

After the article's deadline, one of my sources, Amy McGlashan, director of the Vermont Campus Compact, who had been on vacation, came back with some interesting data. Check it out: according to a survey by the National Campus Compact, 46% of Vermont college students volunteer an average of 96 hours in their schools' communities. That comes to over 2 million volunteer hours -- valued by the organization at $46.6 million. Those hard numbers indicate quite a contribution! Bummer that we couldn't get that info into the article.

But cool that Livin' continues to print a wide range of articles spanning a broad political spectrum. Keep it up Livin'!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Brief Word About Saving the Earth

As Independence Day nears, I think everyone should be thinking about what they can do to make the world a better place. Like riding your bike, bringing your own grocery bag to the store, eating food out of your own garden or local farmstand, and so forth.

As for me, I am drying my laundry on my brand new retractable clothesline. No dryer, no hassles. (Except that I still have to fold it.)

Have a great 4th of July!

Latest Article About a Wild Ride

You want crazy? I'll give you crazy. How about riding 100 miles through Vermont forestland -- much of it under cover of darkness -- on horseback? That is the topic of my latest article in Woodstock Magazine (once there, click on "Featured Story"). Check it out!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Cape Cod

photo by Brian McMorrow

I am back from Cape Cod, where I stayed with friends Jay and John -- the world's most generous and gracious hosts (and, while I'm on the subject, awesome cooks) -- while attending a writing workshop at the Fine Arts Work Center. The workshop was led by bestselling novelist and short story writer Pam Houston.

And it was fabulous. We brought stories to workshop, wrote great stuff while we were there, attended readings by the faculty, and generally got inspired.

Alison and Oscar came down for the weekend, and that was an additional bonus -- to be on vacation with a gorgeous redhead and a very well-behaved yellow dog. All in all, a great week.

On the last night of the week, there is a reading by attendees of the workshop. We got to share one page of work that was produced during the week. Given the length constraint, I was forced to take drastic measures in the crafting of my piece, which you can read below:

The Telltale Shoes

I dismounted my Schwinn Silver Shadow and locked it to the rack. I was dripping wet – my bike shoes squishing like sponges. It has rained biblically this week, but my plan was to ride. Don’t get me wrong; three or four people have offered me rides in cars. Kind, generous people. But I stuck to the plan, changing my clothes upon arrival, wrapping the wet stuff in a plastic bag, and attending my workshop.

Hours later, Pam Houston stands at the podium, reading from her next novel. I’m sitting front row center – I’m not sure why. Ordinarily, I never go for the front row unless it’s a Phish concert. Pam is reading about a unibrowed masseur performing some sort of exorcism to expel her father’s spirit from her lower extremity when I catch the first whiff. I’m not sure what it is. It’s not good.

Pam moves on to a beach in California somewhere, where she is petitioned by a sign-carrying dachsund who wants to play. I catch another whiff of the same something – I’m not sure what. I wonder if anyone else smells it.

I assess the situation. I have Pam on the podium reading to a full room, a person on my left, a person on my right, and my two bags under my seat. The doors are shut and the rain still falls. None of the other doors in the Work Center shut the way the ones in this common room do. And the body heat of the 40 or so people is as good as any heater. I’m warm for the first time all week. In the backpack is my notebook, assigned books, and computer. And in the plastic bag my bike pants, windbreaker, tech shirt, and shoes.

Another waft of putrid haze drifts past. It smells like a men’s locker room. Wait a minute. Those shoes were full of sweat and water this morning. In the cool damp of the classroom where I stashed them all day, all was well. Now, in this warm and stagnant air, I’m suddenly in a code red situation.

I smell it again. It’s the shoes; it’s the shoes; it’s the shoes.

There’s no escape. I look left and then right. All eyes are on Pam reading – something about love, the meaning of life, and the soup of the day. She reads, “Rick looks me in the eyes. He says…” She stops. She inhales, furrows her brow, and cocks her head slightly to the left. “…He says…” She stops again. The pollution from the bag has reached the front of the room. She grabs the podium with both hands, but it’s too late. Pam Houston’s body crumples to the floor in a lifeless heap.

I stand. I pick up the bag with my shoes and tuck it under my arm. I make for the door. I disappear into the night.

This piece is dedicated to the participants of my workshop and Pam Houston.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Here In Hanover Article Available Online

Mark Aiken's latest article -- a piece about a huge landscaping undertaking in a neighborhood near Dartmouth College -- is available to read online at the Here In Hanover magazine website. Enjoy!

The Trophy Has Arrived

You have no doubt heard about the Stanley Cup tradition. After winning the Stanley Cup, each triumphant member of the winning team gets to take the Cup for a few days. Some people bring it to their hometowns or old schools. Others hold fund-raisers. Still others that we happen to know, bring Lord Stanley's trophy to dive apartments in downtown Burlington where they drink Coors Light from the Cup before abandoning it on the coffee table with the door ajar and heading to the bars. (This last event may be the reason why there is now a guy whose full-time job is to take care of the Cup.)

The men's league team from Flagstaff, Arizona, it seems, has a similar tradition. A few years ago I joined the 'Staffers' team in a big old man's tournament in Las Vegas. Our team did pretty well.

...At the blackjack table, that is. And I don't say well in terms of dollars won; I refer instead to sheer hours spent drinking and playing. Our team had great supporters, and these supporters also did well at the tables (same definition of "well" as above). In fact, it is unclear whether our supporters actually went to the rink because they knew we were playing hockey or because the cooler temperatures felt better for their headaches.

The Flagstaff team, when all was said and done, came in second place. And the tournament organizers awarded each team member with a Second Place trophy. ( I have to wonder who came up with the idea to give out individual trophies for second place, but that is a topic for another post.) I "mistakenly" left mine at Rob French's house, but I guess my day with the trophy has arrived. Just yesterday, it came by mail: wrapped up with a bag of beef jerky and a few other items. Please make your appointment to see -- and even have your photo taken with -- the trophy which is currently on display on my mantelpiece ("You're putting it there?" Alison asked me). It will remain there for all to see until the time comes (and, make no mistake Frenchy, it will come) for the illustrious second place award to move on to the next team member.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

First Cutting

Now that's a mower (see below).

Anyone who thought they had a manly lawn mowing machine hasn't seen the apparatus our local farmer uses to cut the hayfield in front of our house or the alfalfa fields down the road. He took out his mega-mower for the first time this season, so the smell of cut grass is filling the air. You'd think you were in Nebraska or Kansas when you see this thing come, but, no, we're still here in Richmond, Vermont. Amount of time it takes them to mow 1-2 acres: 30 minutes (maybe less).

In other mowing news, our Neuton electric cordless hand mower is the finest push mower I have ever operated. Quiet and clean, I never have to check or change the oil -- because it doesn't take oil! It goes for about 2 hours, and then you plug the battery back in to recharge. We use it to mow the dog's fenced yard and the hill in front of the house.

Lately, however, it's been the primary mower since our old, used ride-on mower has been unpredictable at best. It runs okay, but the blades sometimes choose not to turn. The Neuton is not really made to do the whole lawn, but it's been performing above and beyond the call of duty this season. Meanwhile, the ride-on has been a real under-achiever. I saw an electric and cordless ride-on mower advertised recently for just $6500. I guess I'll check the classifieds for a used one in a few years.

During that time, however, I'd like to see a little better performance out of our ride-on.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Phish Rocks Fenway Park

Sunday evening started like any other evening game at Boston’s Fenway Park. The sold-out crowd respectfully removed hats as four musicians clad in Red Sox jerseys approached the pitcher’s mound to sing the “Star Spangled Banner.” That’s where the similarities end. The Boston Red Sox – away on a three-game road trip – were nowhere to be found. And the four singers – Trey Anastasio, Jon Fishman, Mike Gordon, and Page McConnell, better known as Phish – made their way to a giant stage in the outfield before the storied Green Monster for their first-ever performance at Fenway.

The May 31st show was historic not just because it was the band’s first visit to Fenway; other than three reunion concerts this March in Hampton, Virginia, it was the first night of Phish’s first tour since their “final” show in Coventry, Vermont in August 2004. The air was full of anticipation as concert-goers filed past posters of Ted Williams and David Ortiz. Would fans receive them well after nearly five years off? Would the concert be characterized by long sets and extended jams like pre-Coventry Phish shows? And, simply, would the performance live up to legendary Phish spectacles of yore?

The answers: yes, yes, and yes. From the first words of the national anthem and the first set opener “Sample In a Jar,” the crowd cheered appreciatively and enthusiastically. Meanwhile, if it was long jams you came for, you found them in the second set when the band played 7 songs – averaging 12 minutes per song. As to whether the show lived up to the good ol’ days, well, according to this writer, it did. Both the band and the audience were dancing, smiling, and engaged. The band played for nearly 4 hours, taking a short break halfway through. They introduced three never-played-before numbers, including “Time Turns Elastic” from Anastasio’s new solo album. They dusted off old classics like “You Enjoy Myself” and “David Bowie” – but, on the other hand, having toured unflaggingly for over 20 years and playing all of their songs hundreds of times, it didn’t really seem like there was much dust or rust to wipe off despite the hiatus.

There were some noticeable differences between Sunday’s performance and past Phish shows. One was in the appearance of the crowd. You didn’t need quilted pants and dreadlocks to fit in with Sunday’s crowd. Clean T-shirts, khaki shorts, and Red Sox caps seemed the attire of the day, and the clean-cut, clean-shaven – the operative word here seems to be “clean” – appearances weren’t really reminiscent of Phish days gone past. Also, the band didn’t say any words addressing the audience – no thanks for coming, or we’ll be back after a short break. Band members did take moments to share words and grins with each other, but didn’t openly address the crowd.

Still, the interaction between performer and audience that makes a Phish show a Phish show were evident. Members of the audience knew every word to every song except for the very newest and sang along enthusiastically. And take, for example, a moment early in the show when the sun came out and a rainbow replaced the rain that had doused the crowd just moments before showtime. Looking around at the crowd gathered at one of America’s most storied ballparks, Anastasio flashed a giant grin and played the first few notes to “Take Me Out the Ballgame.” Phish fans, take note: the boys of summer are back.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Phish at Phenway

It's been a long time since the five of us have been together in one place -- since August 15, 2004, in fact. I am speaking, of course, of Trey, Page, Mike, Fish -- the four members of Phish -- and me. That's right, this Sunday, Phish performs at Boston's Fenway Park, and I will be there.

In the words of the latest issue of Relix magazine, they're back -- older, wiser, and geekier. And I am excited, to say the least. It will be my first visit to Fenway, and I can't think of four better hosts to show me around. I'm sure the Phab Phour, in the opening night of their summer-long tour, will not disappoint.

PS If you don't hear from me for a few months, you can just assume I joined the Phish road crew and went on tour for the rest of the summer. Cheers!

Aiken's Latest in Best of Burlington

Check out my latest article in Best of Burlington magazine put out by Coffee Table Publishing. It's about everyone's favorite interest... Doorknobs! Okay, okay, maybe, on their own, doorknobs don't capture all readers, so I'll tell you the piece is actually about a local business owner, Frank DeAngelis, who sells doorknobs (lots of 'em), bath fixtures, and decorative hardware. I must say he was a very interesting fellow, and it was a highly entertaining interview!

You can check out Best of Burlington online by clicking here, but they don't have the current issue on their website quite yet (cut them some slack... publishing magazines is hard work, sheesh!). So you'll have to pick it up someplace -- probably at a Burlington-area bookstore or newsrack -- unless you live in Burlington, Charlotte, Jericho, Mallett's Bay, Shelburne, South Burlington, South Hero, Underhill, or Williston. Those lucky communities get Best of Burlington mailed for free.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Vermont City Marathon 2009

Another Vermont City Marathon has come and gone. It's my 5th consecutive hometown race (the second longest such streak in the Aiken household... Alison has run the last 6), and it was a good one. Here are some notes from this year's event.

The Weather. Pretty much perfect from a running perspective. It was nice and cool -- like 50s and low-60s with a slight drizzle. The drizzle, however, did turn into fairly steady rain during some parts of the race, which weighed down clothing -- particularly socks. My feet felt heavy, and I could feel my toes rubbing starting around mile 6. By the time it was over, I had a nasty crimson-colored blood blister on my second toe. It hurt, but it didn't slow me down.

The Crowd. This year's VCM crowd was the best ever. Maybe people like rainy cool weather for cheering -- I don't know. But where the crowds were huge, people were loud. And there were not many places where there were no spectators. People were out, and they were cheering us on. My personal supporters were just as good as always. Knowing there are going to be people cheering you on up ahead is a major motivator to keep going (at least for me). And every now and then, you'll see people you know that you didn't expect. Those are big lifts. One of them happened at mile 19.5, when I really needed it. Thanks!

Personal Records. Both Ali and I recorded personal best times at this marathon. This is becoming a regular occurrance -- we've improved on our personal bests in each of our last 3 marathons. I'm sure one of these days one of us will have a bad race, but it feels good to have your best race. For me, I don't think I could have run much faster on Sunday. However, I intend to run faster next marathon!

What it all means. The Vermont City Marathon is just a great event. And, for me, it means summer is here. The VCM is something that motivates me all year round. I don't really care how I finish. But just knowing there's a marathon on the horizon keeps me active, eating right, and staying fit all year round. Now I'm ready to enjoy summer and get ready for the next big event!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Hitting the Links

Let me tell you about today’s golf outing. First off, don’t mistake me for someone who is good at golf. I admit it; I’m terrible.

I met my dad at the course a little early so we could hit a few shots at the range and at the practice green -- a great idea for me. I’ve played once in the last 8 months. My dad and his golfing cronies at “the club,” by contrast, have been playing 6 days a week since the place reopened 3 weeks ago.

My dad is about to turn 66 this month, but he has the physical conditioning of a 50 year-old (a statement which, I’m sure, will offend him, but may I remind him that I’m only 12 years away from 50 myself, so it’s a compliment, really). You should have seen the other two members of our foursome, though. My dad and I walked the course. The other two guys rode in a cart – which, at their age, I have no problem with. But the first thing I noticed when they came driving up to meet us was that they displayed a handicapped flag on their golf cart. Was it a joke? I’m not sure; I just hoped nobody keeled over during our round. (Note: I know that when it turns out that there's a health reason for the flag, everyone'll think I'm a big jerk; hey, I'm just telling the story as I saw it.)

Apparently, however, there was nothing to fear. Although the two partners did seem to struggle a bit climbing in and out of their cart. One guy didn’t use golf tees because it hurt his back too much to bend over and pick them up after his tee shots. Their swings were more cutting motions than golf swings, and they shuffled as much as walked.

Again, make no mistake. They kicked my ass up and down that golf course. All three of them consistently out-drove, outplayed, and out-putted me all day long. One of them even started giving me advice after I’d lost a few balls. “You’re rushing your backswing,” he told me. And “swing down on the ball – you’re not swinging down on the ball!” What does that mean, I wonder? As a non-avid golfer, by the way, I’m not really receptive to golfing advice (it’s part of the reason I stink, but I don’t care) -- especially this early in the season and especially before my first beer (note: my erratic play did settle down a bit after a beverage). Besides, in my frequent forays into the tall grass and the woods, I found way more balls than I lost. Nice ones too – members at this place use the best.

I can run a marathon, and I can outskate kids half my age in a hockey game. I can climb 5.10, and I can make hop turns in tele-gear on a 50-degree slope. But I couldn’t even come close to beating three little 60 and 70-plus year-olds in golf. As they limped and shuffled to and from their cart and hacked their ways around the course (and, although their shots may not have gone far, they went straight every time), I can tell you, I felt pretty pathetic. On the other hand, the weather was beautiful and, after awhile, even I hit a good shot here and there. My golfing partners were very patient and very nice (and, every once in a great while, they flubbed shots too, which made me feel better). They’re probably glad they don’t have to wait around for me every day though.

All in all, it was a pretty good day on the golf course.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Article in Vermont Sports Mag

Check out my latest article -- about running a marathon in a foreign country -- in the May issue of Vermont Sports Magazine. Also, be sure to pick up your copy of Vermont Sports at SkiRack, PetraCliffs, or any Vermont sports shop. Enjoy!

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Canyon

When I lived in the West, every ski season was followed by an almost obligatory trip to the desert. The trip would serve as a symbol for the warm weather to come and for the imminent change of the seasons. Skiers spend three seasons waiting for winter to come. But each year there is one brief period in time -- the end of ski season -- when, not without some bittersweet feelings, we long for the sunny days of summer.

I have been an East Coaster for 10 years now. Several of those years I still made it to the desert. But not since 2006. This year, however, Ali and I returned loaded our packs, met the Frenches, and hiked 20-some miles over 4 days and 3 nights in the Grand Canyon.

I will mention that I personally covered 24 miles. I handled the car shuttle, which is to say that I dropped my partners at the trailhead, drove back to drop the vehicle at the terminus of the trip, and then ran the 4 miles back to the trailhead. The trip wasn't overly physical, but it covered plenty of rough terrain and through a variety of zones. We camped one night on the trail, one next to the Colorado, and one on the Tonto plateau. We got water from the river, from a side stream, and from a beautiful spring -- and otherwise encountered nothing for water sources. Above all, we found ourselves amazed and confounded by the vastness and beauty of the place. No matter how often you visit, you'll never fully grasp the magic of the Canyon. You just learn to accept that it's beyond human comprehension.

(Although this doesn't necessarily mean I have skied my last run of 08-09), now that we've made this year's foray to the desert, I officially deem the ski season closed.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Busy Weekend

It's been a busy weekend.
Friday. After spending the whole day packing gear for 5 separate (and exhausting) athletic activities, Michelle, Ali, Oscar, and I drove out to North Conway, NH for the 70th running of the Tuckerman's Inferno.

Saturday. I ran the Inferno. Which is to say I ran, paddled, biked, hiked, climbed, and skied the Inferno. Because that's what the Inferno is: an extreme pentathlon. The only event that didn't include steep pitches was the kayak portion... and the kayak portion presented its own set of challenges because the water was so slow that many teams didn't reach the ski portion by the cut-off time. I made it narrowly, so I was allowed to cramp-on my way up the crusty, icy Left Gully at Tuckerman's into a foggy cloudbank, then ski down over the same crust and ice. As for the event as a whole: incredible. And, I have to mention my crew. As far as I am concerned, the Inferno is not possible without a top-rate crew. And Ali, Michelle, and Oscar were amazing. Special note to Oscar: thanks for sharing that donut with me at the boat/bike transition. I didn't really want the whole thing anyway. (Picture #1: Ali's facial expression shows how she feels about peeling bananas -- a crucial energy fuel for "Tuckermen." Picture #2: getting ready to climb the mountain.) When the Inferno, which ends at the bottom of Tuckerman Ravine, is over, it's not really over. After 6 hours of constant physical activity, I still had to ski/hike off the mountain, and then we drove to Hartford, Connecticut for...

Sunday. The Baptism of my niece Abbey Grace McKain (see Picture #3 below). A shifting of gears from the mud, sweat, snow, and fog of Saturday to Sunday clothes and church. But it was great friends and family event. We enjoyed the sermon about -- appropriately -- Earth Day and the gathering afterwards. But we had to keep the socializing brief because we had to get Michelle to...

Monday. The Boston Marathon! Michelle qualified for Boston at the St George Marathon last fall, but that was in perfect weather and with no illnesses or injuries. She clawed her way to the finish Monday in a gritty race full of hills, cold wind, a sore leg, and a severely upset stomach. (Picture #4: Michelle at the Finish.) Meanwhile, Alison ran 20 miles of the course as a training run for her upcoming Vermont City Marathon. Boston is known for its "Bandits," but let it be known that Ali carried her own water the whole way and didn't take any from the water stations positioned along the course -- except when Michelle asked her to pick up some Gatorade. Even then, Ali missed the Gatorade and instead gave Michelle water. We stayed the night before with Jessie and Tom and their 14-month-old twins Nate and Zach. Here's what I learned from that experience: If you are considering having twins, you should first speak with Jessie so that you don't enter into the situation uninformed.