Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ultra Runner

Alison Aiken has upped the ante! On Sunday, September 24, Ali joined the ranks of ultra-runners by completing the Vermont 50K. An ultra, as many fans of this blog know, is any race farther than the marathon distance of 26.2 miles. This year's Vermont 50K, in addition to being mostly on trails up and down steep mountains and bottomless valleys, wasn't 50 kilometers at all... organizers admitted in the pre-race meeting that trail changes and diversions caused the race to be more like 32 miles.

Alison didn't just finish the race. She was the 6th placing female and 3rd in her age group. Rumor has it that top finishers in each age group received a prize. We wouldn't know; as Ali wanted to get home to see her beloved New England Patriots on TV, we missed the awards ceremony. Once we get confirmation on the prize situation, I may be heading out to the store to buy her my own prize.

I'm that proud of her.

Update: Newly released official race results tell us that Alison actually placed SECOND in her age group. Wow! And her 6th place finish is out of 70 women. Dang, girl, when did you get so fast? Also, to clarify, we left before the awards because it was too hot.

Friday, September 23, 2011


Dogs do not like cleaning tools.

I know, because -- more often than some might think (or believe) -- I use the broom and vacuum around here. Items that I sweep and vacuum up are (by volume) dog hair and dirt. Before we got Gladys, the swept-up dog hair was yellowish-white in color, but with her introduction to the household, it has taken on a greyish hue. The dirt has always been -- and remains -- brown.

Anyway, as soon as I start sweeping, our dogs are nervous. Oscar lays down, but he does not rest; his eyes just follow the broom. Gladys has a horror-fascination. She's afraid, but the broom just keeps drawing her in. Often it almost comes in contact (due to her habit of standing right where I need to sweep); when that happens, she panics and leaps aside.

The vacuum is even more traumatic. Oscar knows I only use the vacuum on the blanket, yet he lays on the blanket until I have to get under his spot. Then he'll move to a spot very close in proximity to the newly vacated place. Gladys, meanwhile, is scared to death of the thing, but she can't look -- or move -- away.

Here's my take. I don't like brooms or vacuums either. But if you're that scared, why not steer clear?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Mosquito Update

They are not getting better; if anything, they're getting more vicious.

The word around the neighborhood -- and this comes from people who aren't necessarily in love with the cold -- is that if this is how it's going to be, they'd rather just get on with winter.

Whatever happens, we definitely need the temperatures to drop to "below acceptable" mosquito levels. This is just out of control.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Mosquitos Like Tie Fighters

I don't hear Alison swear very often. But I can't repeat the words she uttered after standing outside with me for 2 minutes this evening.

Not on this blog anyway.

Hurricane Irene has caused great havoc here in northern Vermont. But one effect that nobody anticipated was hoards of blood-thirsty mosquitos breeding and rising in the damp muck left by receding floodwaters.

Today I spent the afternoon moving wood. It was a beautiful warm September day. Ordinarily, preparing my woodpile in September evokes warm and toasty thoughts and images. Usually, while I work, I'll think of warm fires, slow-cooking stews, and chili in front of a Sunday football game. Not today. Today was all about swarming mosquitos in my eyes and ears and biting me through two shirts. They were vicious, and it was intense out there.

Let me be clear: I am putting this out to all mosquitos, friend or foe. Don't come near me or suffer the consequences. Any buzzing mosquito within my reach -- whatever your intentions -- I will swat. And I swat to kill.

Consider yourselves warned, bugs.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Phish Plays Hometown Benefit

Vermont's Phab Phour played a benefit concert last night at the Champlain Valley Fairground to raise money for flood victims after Tropical Storm Irene trashed everyone's homes and wrecked all our covered bridges.

The show was spectacular, but who would have expected anything less from the band's first Vermont gig since Coventry -- the one Phish show everyone would rather forget?

We have seen the various members of the band play locally (even, in some cases, at the Fairground), but this was certainly special. A feeling of homecoming filled the air -- and of people doing good. It's nice to live in a place that produced the single best band in the history of music -- and that's my unbiased opinion.

Keep up the good work, Phish!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Great Pumpkin -- Race Report

Halloween and Autumn came early this year in South Berwick, Maine in the form of the PumpkinMan Half-Ironman. Despite the fall theme, and although triathlon organizers -- who ran a perfectly tight ship (all present agreed that it was one of the best organized races) -- decorated the race site with pumpkins, corn stalks, and fall colors, the entire weekend sure felt like summer.

For me, the whole PumpkinMan experience began on a run in June when prolific triathletes Marty and Kristen Courcelle (pronounced "Core-selly" by the Finish line announcer at the Pumpkin) talked me into signing up. Never have I trained in three sports like this year, so it felt good to taper all week long and then head up to Maine where our group of 5 Pumpkin-Mates (Lauren Cady and Alison Aiken -- two more elite triathletes -- rounded out the team) rented a beach house in nearby York Beach. We arrived a couple days prior to race day and found the coast of Maine to be in off-season mode. Still -- with Kristen serving as tour-guide (since she knows the area) -- these lead-up days were all about lobster, soft-serve ice cream, sitting on the beach, and catching rays.

But wait, you say. You thought this was a Race Report. Well, I guess you found me out: I just use these race events as excuses to take mini-vacations. And with summer lingering this year in coastal Maine, we were definitely in summer vacation mode... until Sunday morning. We got up at 3:45 -- yes, that's three-four-five A.M. -- and arrived at the race site before 6 to pick up timing chips, set up our transition areas (known to triathletes as "T-Zones"), and stretch out. After a concise pre-race meeting (did I mention that the organizers did everything right?), there was a moment of silence honoring those who lost their lives in the 9-11 attacks ten years ago and the national anthem. Everyone was ready... except Mother Nature.

It has been a long summer, and Ma Nature had a little trouble waking up; Knight's Pond, where our 1.2-mile swim was to be held, was blanketed by thick fog, so we couldn't see the swim buoys. There was a half-hour delay, before they finally fired off the start cannon. Alison and Kristen started in the same wave, but the rest of us started separately. After the swim was an unofficial "fourth" leg -- the PumpkinMan Hill Climb. Between the pond and the T-zone was a 200-meter hill that was timed as if it were another leg. The winner of the hill climb won a special prize (not sure what the prize was, but anyway...). On the course I got to see Howard and Jill several times (thanks for the critiques of my transitions, Dad) and Heather and her mom. It was great to have fan support at a faraway event. I've ridden 56 miles before once and 50 miles several times, but never in a race setting (to give you an idea of the "settings" in which I trained, during one of my long training rides I stopped for a Rueben; on another, I had an ice cream and cookie sandwich). I enjoyed getting in packs with coneheads riding $5000 bikes and leap-frogging with them. Also, I will add that, despite being a half-ironman neophyte, the little camp-stool I brought for my transitions was the envy of the entire T-zone.

By the time the race was over, our Pumpkin-Mates had amazing results. 5 Mates, 5 Personal Records (I can claim this since it was my first half). Kristen made the podium in her age group -- amazing. It was just a spectacular race for all. Heather brought gluten-free brownies for Alison at the finish -- a gesture that Alison can't stop talking about. The weekend was so perfect, that Alison and I stayed an extra night and watched the New England Patriots post an excellent first week victory for the 2011 NFL season. Then we arrived home to find that I won a raffle for Phish tickets at the Fairgrounds Tuesday night.

I have often heard about the results of hard work and training paying off. I didn't realize that hard training affected professional football, rock and roll, and weather. If I had known, I would have trained for a half-ironman a long time ago.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Irene Strands Old Friend in Richmond

Craig Leach, who I have known since about age 4, was in the neighborhood over the weekend. He seemed very relieved that Hurricane Irene was leaving his home and family in South Carolina well enough alone while we hiked Camel's Hump (photo above left) and had a cookout with more old friends the Bensons.

It wasn't until Sunday that the reality of the situation began to set in: Irene was going to hit Craig dead-on while he was visiting Vermont. First, his flight was canceled on Sunday. Then, on Monday, he couldn't even get out of my road (photo above right). The longer he stayed in Vermont, the more stuck he became!

We made the most of the situation. In keeping with the recommendations of local, state, and federal agencies, we stocked up on alcohol prior to the storm. Craig also helped us split and stack half of our winter firewood supply (photo below) -- and, by all indications, seemed to enjoy doing it. He finally made it home to his family on Tuesday, but not before we enjoyed the much-needed opportunity to catch up!

Before I sign off on this post about hurricanes and best friends, I do want to say two things. One, I wish the best to those people who are still struggling to clean up and dig themselves out after this unbelievable storm. Everyone is contributing in their own ways, and this is very good to see. Second, I want to mention Craig's brother Shane, who passed away this spring. I am thinking of Shane's family, and we will all miss him.

For more Irene photos, check out Ask Oscar