Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ski Buddy Turns Six

Oscar our yellow lab turned six years-old yesterday. You might not think a dog's birthday is a blog-worthy event, but I beg to differ: the anniversary is noteworthy for three reasons.

1) I -- not Oscar -- personally received several birthday tidings yesterday both on-line and in person -- unusual, considering my birthday is in March. Why were well-wishers seeking me out on Oscar's birthday, you ask? The answer: Facebook. Oscar has had his own Facebook account for several years now -- with over 100 friends. Yes, my lab! But I recently took the account over. A social media neophyte, I never updated the profile. Therefore, everyone thinks my birthday is November 26th, that I'm single, and that, for my education, I attended April Frost's Holistic Center for Animals and People (Think Like a Dog Levels 1 and 2). Eventually, I'll learn to change the profile. For now, however, I'm expecting the same birthday greetings in 5 months!

2) Oscar's birthday is the anniversary of my acceptance of the "C-word." No -- the other C-word; get your mind out of the gutter! I'm referring, of course, to "commitment" and I was certainly a commit-a-phobe. But while I thought moving in with Alison was a big commitment, onlookers didn't make a big stink until we got a dog. "Whoa, this is serious!" they said. I was already serious, but I guess it took getting a dog together to show this to the world.

3) Not that I was (or am) too concerned with what the world thinks. In fact, I don't even celebrate Oscar's birthday in November. We got him when he was four months old -- in late March. For me, his birthday (like mine) is in March. Good boy, Oscar... I'll get you a chew toy once you've been living here for 6 years. Until then... happy birthday buddy!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Let Them Stand

One positive factor affecting the quality of life in Burlington, Vemont is music. As in lots of great music talent stops in Burlington.

The problem is that sometimes you have periods like the one we're currently in: there are simply too many acts coming through for me to see them all. Take, for example, October 2nd. We had Ben Harper at the Flynn and Los Lonely Boys at Spruce Peak Performing Arts. Hello people... can we not coordinate our efforts? I can only be in one place at a time!

Then this week, we have Brandi Carlile at the Flynn, two Yonder Mountain String Band shows at Higher Ground, and a new kid named Eric Hutchinson at the small room at Higher Ground. Not to mention the Vermont singer/songwriter contest held at various clubs, and the Richmond Bakery's own Bluegrass Night. Can we not spread these out a bit?

The two shows I did manage were Brandi and Ben -- both at the Flynn. First, a brief word about these two performers. Don't confuse Brandi Carlile with Belinda Carlisle, the heavily necklaced and braceletted (that is, "wearer of many bracelets") lead singer of former 80s band the Bangles -- oh no. Brandi is up-and-coming, and she's the real deal -- fun, funny, gritty, and, trust me, the chick rocks. Buy her records. Ben Harper, of course, is simply one of the all-time greats. I've seen him 5 or so times, and each time has been significantly different (all of them awesome) -- especially this latest solo acoustic show. He brought onstage no fewer than 16 guitars (actually some of them weren't guitars; rather they were stringed instruments with names unknown to me and with outrageously wild sounds), a piano, and a xylophone.  He sang, told stories, laughed, and mesmorized the audience for over 3 hours without a break. Quality.

But I have a gripe. (That's the thing about having a blog... I get to air my gripes. Nothing anyone can do about it!) The gripe is with the Flynn people. You're hosting rock-n-roll acts. So what's with the "No Standing" rule? Audiences at the Flynn (excepting Ben's) are confused, uncomfortable, and restless because of this dumb rule. If you're bringing in a foot-stomping, body-wiggling, arm-waving act, then -- for crying out loud -- let the people dance! We're not going to stand on your new chairs!

I only go to the Flynn when it's an act I have to see -- because of this rule. After all, the room and acoustics are amazing, and it's just a great place to see a show. But if the music's rocking, then so should be the audience. Don't try to stop it.

Photos (top): Brandi unplugged at the Flynn. (Bottom): Ben's guitars

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Pregnant Woman Wins Marathon

This blog Post should probably be titled "Race Report: Zagreb Marathon." So I offer my apologies if the title ("Pregger Wins") is slightly deceiving, but it did get your attention, didn't it? Alison Aiken is, in fact, four-and-a-half months pregnant. And, okay, I admit that she didn't actually run the full marathon -- that part may have been inaccurate (she ran the half). And while she didn't "win," she did run it in an amazing 2 hours 10 minutes. So as far as I'm concerned, it was a highly impressive display -- and, on second thought, I therefore revoke my apology! She really made everyone proud -- especially me... and little J.K. (or whatever the kid's name ends up being), who I'm sure will grow up to be proud its mom ran 13.1 miles at an international race event when it was just a 16-ounce extra-terrestrial-looking thing in her belly.

As far as the full marathon went, I was shooting for a PR... but came up a bit short. Maybe it was the miles of walking to see all the sights in Zagreb and Vienna each of the three days leading up to the event. Or maybe I missed out on some training as I worked out an intense tendonitis (left shin) for the last four weeks. Either way, I ran a 3:16 (or so) -- the result of 5 bad miles as we ran against the wind. Each of the other 21 miles I ran at a 7:11 pace or less.

A sort of mile-by-mile report, the Race Start was in a square in the middle of beautiful Zagreb. Miles 0-10 were a very boring out-and-back. 10 to 13 were another out-and-back in the middle of the city -- a little more interesting. At that point, the 900 half-marathoners finished, and the "full-ers" did the exact same thing again. At Mile 15 I peed in a park. At mile 19 we turned to head back into town and I bonked. 8:15, 8:30: 8:45, 9:00, 8:30 in miles 19-24. Knowing my PR was out of reach, I did find some motivation: my friend Kristen Courcelle ran a 3:14 at Hampton last week. I ran a 7:23 in Mile 25 trying to catch her, but came up short. I'll get you next time, Kristen!

All in all, a great race. Several Croat spectators gave me a good "Go USA" cheer (see my USA singlet in photo) to which I always responded "Thank you Croatia!" We had amazing support on the course -- our hosts David and Diane Bahrenburg biked all over the course carrying post-race shirts and water for us. And they were simply amazing hosts and tour guides -- we had a fabulous time. For anyone thinking about building an international marathon into their next vacation, take my advice: do it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Family Info

My sister Lisa believes that there should be more family information on this site.

Prospective Name List:
Boy                               Girl
1. Trey                           1. Gladys, Jr.
2. Brady Tom                 2. J.K.
3. Larry                          3. Larry

(Note: If you disagree with the content, don't ask for it!)

Changes in the Air

I'm not saying I've put the shorts away or that we're no longer getting strawberries from the garden. But the signs are there.

This weekend, Ali and I engaged in some activities that, for sure, signify that changes are afoot. For one, the overarching theme for me was "get the woodpile done." We're getting there: we have 3.75 cords split and stacked -- out of the 5 that we usually go through each winter.

We also -- and yes, I realize it's only September -- had our first fire in the woodstove. Usually, Alison doesn't let me do this till November... and even then not till it's freezing -- maybe even snowing -- outside.  But this was her idea. And boy was it nice. In addition to being nice and cozy in here on Saturday night, the laundry dried right out, and that wet-dog smell that has pervaded the Aiken home for most of the summer... Gone! Amazing what a woodstove fire can do!

The fall signs continued Sunday. Ali wanted to go for a hike, but she didn't want to do one of the same old hikes that we always do. So I found myself following her, Oscar, and Gladys up a route that none of us had hiked before: White Rock Mountain to Hunger Mountain from the Middlesex side. The weather was fickle -- one minute it was sprinkling, the next it was sunny; and I went from sweating and hot to wearing my sweatshirt and raincoat. Like autumn, it was all over the place.

The route, too, was varied. At times it was flat and smooth; other times we were scrambling up sheer rock walls. Gladys loved it; she went up and down the worst Class 4 pitch five times. The summits were deserted, and it was a beautiful hike. On the way home, we followed the backroads through Middlesex to visit Steve and Marisa's new place -- a totally perfect spot in the woods of Middlesex. (I still think they should find a way to use the garage as a woodshop AND carport and not just wood shop -- just me though!)

Finally, the last sure sign of fall: everything went on hold Sunday as I watched the New England Patriots play their home opener at Gillette Stadium. Staying about 30 minutes shy of live-time, I used my DVR capabilities to fast-forward all commercials. They didn't play their best football, but as usual, they still put themselves in position to win. Somehow, however, their kicker missed the last-second field goal that would have given them the victory.

And that's fall. Sometimes it sneaks up on you, and you never know just what to expect... except that somewhere on its heels will be a long, cold winter.

Better get that wood stacked.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Race Report: PumkinMan Half-Ironman

For last year's PumpkinMan Triathlon, my first Half-iron, I stayed in a beach house in York, Maine with great friends (and better triathletes) Kristen and Marty Courcelle, Lauren Cady, and my wife Alison. We had perfect weather, lots of seafood, and great races at the South Berwick event.  So how do you top an experience like that?

The answer: you don’t.  But what is possible is to have an equally awesome – although completely different – experience the second time around.

The main difference – and probably the only bummer – of this year’s Pumpkin was that Alison did not race.  Believe me, she wanted to.  But it wasn’t in the cards for her, and although she made the best of it (and was a superfan on the course cheering everyone on), I know it was highly difficult to be in a house full of triathletes excited for their event.  I look forward to cheering her in her next big event, which will come before we know it.

Our pool of talent (and support) grew this year. Triathletes Alex Jasinowski and Jacqueline Hubbard (to be referred to as “J-Hubbs” heretofore) and superfans Mike, Tyler, and Ally Cady joined us as we rented two beach houses instead of just one.

Another difference was my conditioning.  I was physically prepared for last year’s race, but I didn’t really know what to expect at my first race at this distance.  Last year went well as I finished in 5:01. This year, however, I’ve been improving at every race I’ve done, whether it’s the Vermont City, a sprint tri, or an Olympic.  I had some goals for this year’s race.

Which brings me to the main difference in this year’s race. As athletes, you learn great lessons about goal-setting. You learn what it takes to achieve goals, and, perhaps even more valuable (although sometimes not the lesson you want at the time) you learn how to regroup when you don’t achieve what you want.

I experienced the latter when I didn’t qualify for the Age Group Nationals in Burlington – a main focus for me this summer. Part of the reason was because the status of the race in which I had planned to qualify (the Branbury Classic) changed from Special Qualifier to regular qualifier without notifying registrants. However it happened, only one person is ultimately responsible (me), and it was a big disappointment to watch that event from the sidelines.

The point is, PumpkinMan was my opportunity to rebound from a missed goal. So much so that I made two sets of goals: public and private. Publicly, I announced that I hoped to have a good race and that I hoped to come in under 5 hours. Privately, I was a little more determined; I wanted to shatter 5 hours, and I wanted to come in the top ten percent and therefore qualify for the 2013 Nationals (which I doubt I’ll participate in since they won’t be in B-town). In short, I wanted to prove to my own self that I belonged in that Burlington race.

One more difference this year: I was nursing an injury. Some pretty serious tendonitis forced me to skip my training for a week leading up to the event, and had me wondering whether I could even finish.

So those were the underlying themes as we pulled into Spring Hill resort in South Berwick in the dark on Sunday morning under the watchful eyes of the pumpkin-headed scarecrows set up by race organizers. Everything seemed to take too long as I got my kit together and set up my transition area, and I found myself barely getting to the Start on time.  In fact, in the first critical decision of my day, I ended up peeing in the woods after the elite racers started (just 2 minutes before my wave).  Thank goodness I did… and I still have yet to pee in my wetsuit after over a year of use.

When you come out of the water, you have no idea where you stand in your age group, but I apparently finished 2nd of the 38 40 to 44-year-olds. I jogged up the 300-yard-long hill between the pond and the T-area (the kid that won the PumpkinMan Hill Challenge did this in 36 seconds… it took most mortals over a minute… and I’ll also note that most mortals actually beat that kid in the overall race), and made my first improvement over last year – I had better transitions.  Probably the most important piece of this gain was the fact that I left my fold-up stool at home.  Making sure to pop a few Tylenols for my shin, I hopped on my bike and headed out.

The bike was my favorite part of this year's race. I got in a pack of 5 or 6 super fast riders and we traded the lead for 45 miles, during which time I only saw one other rider from my age group (who passed my pack like we were going backwards). Using my new bike computer (which, incidentally, came from Marty -- thanks! -- who had upgraded), I was able to push more consistently than I ever had. (Another digression: also from Marty came my tri top, my number belt, and my shoelaces; not much of my kit, come to think of it, didn't come from Marty. But anyway, back to the race report...) I would have kept biking, but unfortunately about 2 and a half hours later I was at the transition again for the run.

The run was a challenge. My shin was so painful when I pulled out of the T-area (after 2 more Tylenol), I was sure I was going to drop out. But I had goals I wanted to reach, so I decided to run a mile to assess. I adjusted my gait and ran that mile in 8:22 (with a minute-long pee stop in the woods), and ran the rest of the half-marathon in under 7:30 minute miles. Towards the end, I became aware of a sharp rock in my left shoe, so the first thing I wanted to do at the Finish was get it out – it felt like a size 1 fish hook digging into my foot.  I pulled off my shoe, and, to my dad’s great amusement, there was nothing in there. What I did have was a fat blister from running differently to compensate for my shin. (Note: it’s 5 days later, and the shin is still all swollen and I haven’t run yet; otherwise I feel great!)

The results from the group of triathletes staying at our houses were impressive. Six athletes. Six PRs. Three podium finishes in age groups (Kristen won hers, Alex came in second in hers, and I took home bronze in mine). In terms of my goals, I finished in 4:46 and did crack the top ten percent. It is simply a great experience to come up as a group, share great camaraderie, run fantastic races, and have tremendous support on the course (in addition to Ali, my dad, and Team Cady, Doug, Ruth, Jill, Sheila, Heather, and Team McGovern were cheering all over the place). Vermont (and Beverly, Mass -- there you go, J-Hubbs) was well-represented at PumpkinMan.

That night, our group went out for seafood (I had the twin lobsters) and ice cream. Although I don’t usually branch out in terms of flavors, I got two scoops. On the bottom, I ordered chocolate -- my usual.  But on top, in honor of a great team, awesome supporters, a wonderful weekend, and all the athletes who ran kick-ass races, I ordered -- of course -- Pumpkin.

Photos: (top) Coming down the shoot to the finish, and make sure to notice superfan Alison in a pink shirt racing me in the background. (bottom) The team sharing ice cream, and be sure to notice J-Hubbs' cone which held 1.78 pints of ice cream -- every ounce of which she earned!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Paul Ryan's Sub-3HR Marathon Claim

1) How many marathons have you run? 

2) How fast did you run? 

Seemingly straight-forward questions, right?

Last week Paul Ryan's answers, until a bunch of running geeks at Runner's World magazine sought to verify them, were 1) one and 2) in the 2:50 range. ("Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty something," was his specific answer.) Wow, said RW, those are pretty fast times! Problem was, none of the runner-geeks could find a record of the candidate's marathons.

Later this week, Ryan offered the following explanation: it was a long time ago, and, not remembering the exact time, he made up what he thought would be an ordinary time.

There's alot to be learned here. Namely, lie about policy, tax returns, the economy, etc. But don't make up running times! Runners, as it turns out, are almost as geeky as baseball fans when it comes to stats.

Ryan, it was discovered, did run one marathon in a time of 4:01. Still an accomplishment, but definitely not a 2:50! And he's not the first candidate to run a marathon: George W. Bush (3:44), Sarah Palin (3:59), and Al Gore (4:58) all ran 26.2 too.

Click here to determine your running times using the Paul Ryan Marathon Calculator.

And, finally, since this is a learning process for all of us, here are some clues (courtesy of MarathonPW, a commenter on one of the Runner'sWorld blogs) for Mr. Ryan and anyone else who is confused and wondering if they are running sub 3-hour marathons.

"You might not be running a sub-3-hour marathon if..."

10) The awards ceremony is wrapping up when you get in.
9) You carry a waist-pack carrying extra food
8) If friends who come to watch you have time to go out for breakfast and lunch before you finish
7) You find yourself running next to a woman pushing her two grandchildren in a baby jogger
6) If the aid station volunteers ask you "how many behind you?"
5) The temperature rises 20 degrees while you're on the course
4) There are only two bagels and half a Gatorade left when you arrive at the finishers' food tent
3) You cross the finish line and head straight to the nearest bar for happy hour
2) You finish with anyone named "Oprah"
1) You're on a first-name basis with the cone truck driver. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Injured Reserve

Big triathlon coming up.  

But big problem.

Usually I am good about not over-doing my training.  Which is why I have remained (knock on wood) relatively injury-free.  Seriously, who wants to over-train anyway?  I'd much rather over-eat or over-drink.

But that's another story.  With a half-iron and a marathon looming in the coming weeks, the two training programs sort of overlapped in the last couple of weeks, and I probably ran a bit too much. The result: some wicked left shin pain!  

And so, I am resting.  I actually (you won't believe this) handed over Oscar's leash to Ali last Sunday and called it quits after running .92 miles.  (That's point-nine-two for you blog-skimmers.)  And, even more shocking, I skipped the first early morning hockey session of the season this morning.  That's right: the shin really hurt!  And I knew nothing good would come of playing.  

Triathlons are hard enough without having to play hurt.  But I'm hopeful it will feel good come race-day.  Because I have some serious goals (and they're not just to beat Ironwoman Kristin Courcelle).  I want to go out there and have a good race, so the result: you probably won't see me beating the pavement until after the race actually starts.

Chillin' By the Lake

This is the view I enjoyed all weekend.

Oldtimers are saying this has been the best summer in Vermont history, weather-wise.  Of course, some of these oldtimers can't remember that far back, but everyone is in agreement: it's been a fantastic summer.

And, I'm sure everyone will also agree (at least everyone that matters in regard to making such statements on this blog) that this past weekend -- Labor Day weekend -- was the best weekend of all.

Alison and I spent the holiday in the finest vacation spot in Vermont -- the Aiken camp in North Hero.  We paddle-boarded, swam, biked, ran, ate, slept, drank (some of us alcoholic bevvies, and some that looked like alcoholic bevvies), picked apples, hung with family and friends, and relaxed.  Oscar and Gladys did all of the above (including one alcoholic bevvie that Oscar knocked over with his nose and lapped up), and had a great time.

At the end, nobody wanted to leave.  But it's okay. Just because it's Labor Day doesn't mean summer has to end.  I'm looking forward to a few more weeks of perfect Vermont weather.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Do Not Drink List

Thirst. That's what I remember about the last time I drank iced tea. I was about 9 years-old, and I was coming in from hours of outdoor time at our camp in North Hero. I was parched and needed something to drink. In the refrigerator was a pitcher of something that looked like apple juice. A big fan of apple juice, I put the pitcher directly to my lips and tilted.

It was at least 4 huge gulps before I realized that whatever I was drinking was not apple juice. I gagged, choked, and got iced tea up my nose. I never touched iced tea since (and haven't had much apple juice either).

Until this week. On a visit to the McKains in New Haven, Ruth offered me something that looked like iced tea. When I declined, she said it was just "mint water" -- water that had had been steeped with mint leaves. I -- because I am so open-minded -- said I'd give it a try. Pretty good -- and very refreshing! We got to talking, and I realized that this is basically what iced tea is: water with a few tea leaves steeping in it for awhile. I wondered if I had been missing out?

Yesterday morning, I put 4 or 5 bags of my green "energy" tea (yes, it's caffeinated) in a quart of water and left it on the windowsill. When I came home from work, I put it in the refrigerator. This morning, I gave it a try. Pretty good -- and refreshing too.

I'm not sure, but I may be ready to remove iced tea from the "Do not drink" list.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

State Slogan Envy

It's never good to envy your neighbor. But I admit it... as a Vermonter, I've always been a bit jealous of New Hampshire. Not because of their mountains (although they are higher...). Or because I think they're a better state (I don't -- after all, what's New Hampshire but Vermont upside-down?).

Rather, I have always secretly envied their state slogan -- Live Free or Die. The truth is, Vermont's slogan -- Freedom and Unity -- has always seemed just a bit... tame... in comparison to our neighbor's more in-your-face mantra.

That is, until some college kids came to our town and started a new farm. "Have you been to the F.U.?" everyone kept asking.

Once I realized I wasn't being flipped off, I always answered the same: "What's the F.U.?"

It's the "Freedom and Unity Farm" located on Bridge Street in Richmond -- otherwise known as the F.U. The emergence of Richmond's F.U. has given me a whole new perspective on Vermont's motto -- which I now love.

The motto originally appeared on the official seal of the Republic of Vermont (above) in 1788. Ira Allen drew the seal and is generally credited with the motto too. Ethan Allen, founder of the Green Mountain Boys, had appealed repeatedly to the Continental Congress for admission into the union, but they shot him down. So I enjoy picturing the Allen brothers settling upon this motto as a little wave to the rest of the neighborhood. And kudos to Tom Chittenden and the rest of the 14th state's founding fathers for holding onto the slogan.

So F.U., New Hampshire. Who needs your tired old slogan anyway?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Dear Tim Thomas (Part 2)

I really wish I could rewind the clock. Let's say we go back to when you pushed the Conn Smythe aside so you could instead hoist Lord Stanley's cup. In other words, to when you weren't being so damn annoying.

Because I'll be honest: since winning the Cup, you haven't really been that impressive.

It would be one thing if you had beaten Washington in the first round (I'm not saying it was your fault; we needed "brick wall" and you brought "pretty good"). And I don't mind you taking the year off (even though you are technically under contract). But instead of quietly skipping the hockey season (by the way, at 38 years old, should we just be calling it retiring?) you're using the time off to support the Chick-Fil-A guy's anti-gay crusade?

(In a sing-songy voice:) Annoyyyyinnnnggggg....

Here's what I know about Chick-Fil-A: One,the CEO/owner says that his god is sending the United States to the "H-place" because we are redefining the biblical family (one can also assume he doesn't believe in the separation of church and state). And two, he (the CEO/owner) is suing the "Eat More Kale" guy, because he believes "Eat More Kale" rips off Chick-Fil-A's "Eat-Mor-Chikin" slogan.

You may wonder what kale has to do with chicken -- or "chikin." I'm pretty sure nothing. (I have, however, gathered that the Eat-Mor-Chikin thing is a sort of "Save the Cows" campaign -- the logic being that you can save cows by killing more chickens.) I'm not a kale-eater, but I do love that the "Eat More Kale" guy has gotten more media attention than he ever dreamed because of the Chick-Fil-A lawsuit. I may just order one of his T-shirts to stick it to Chick-Fil-A. And if Mr. Kale does lose the suit, I strongly advise him to go immediately into the "Eat Kale" shirt business; I have a sense that there's potential for him to do just fine there too.

Timmy, you've been distracting me from the game ever since winning the Cup. Don't think I don't appreciate your good efforts up till then -- seriously, thanks! And have a good year off. But moving forward, I'm pretty much all set.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Dream Team

We all got a great laugh last week when Kobe Bryant was asked how this year's 2012 USA Olympic basketball team would fare against 1992's Dream Team -- you know, the team with Bird, Magic, and Jordan. Kobe responded that 2012 would kill 1992.

Obviously a delusional comment. On the other hand, what's he going to do, say his team would lose? The fact is, 2012's team wouldn't even beat 1992's bench players (one must wonder how it's possible that the second team in '92 consisted of Hall of Famers Stockton, Malone, Robinson, Drexler, and Mullin?).

While it's a fun discussion, whatever happened to amateurs playing in the Olympics? And I wonder if Kobe will be staying in the Olympic Village? Either way, we're all looking forward to the 2012 Games!

Friday, July 13, 2012

What's SUP?

Stand-up paddleboarding -- the summertime sport that has been sweeping the globe -- has found its way to the Aiken camp in North Hero, Vermont. I've been out twice and didn't even fall the second time after four tumbles the first time out. (In my defense, there was like a 30 mph wind blowing straight out of the West that first time. Took 20 minutes to paddle out; 30 seconds to come back in.).

The popularity of the new sport comes as no surprise, really. Look at the mystery boarder in the photo. Complete serenity; the boarder is at ease in the water environment. Not a tense bone, muscle, or cell in his body; he's like a Buddhist monk at peace with the natural world.

It's a new chapter in camp history that will go down in the annals as the "SUP era."

Monday, July 2, 2012

Gotta Love a Good Hoe

It all started last week when Lucie Laporte Keene surveyed the gardens on the Aiken homestead. She took one look at my vegetable garden and came out with two observations:

1) "Dude," she said. "Your plants are getting suffocated by these weeds."

Followed by 2) "Dude! You need to get in there with a hoe!"

And that, as it turns out, was the problem: I've been weeding this thing by hand! Give me a hoe... a-ha! Now we have a level playing field! "Die!" I found myself muttering as I chopped and hacked at the green invaders with my new favorite garden tool. Seriously, I reminded myself of Bill Murray's groundskeeper character in Caddyshack. Except that at least his adversary had a brain, eyes, and ears. Mine were plants.

Anyway, after hacking a circle around every plant in the garden (along with removing every unwanted plant from a row of carrots and our raised beds), I really went after it -- with my weed wacker. Yes, I weed-wacked my vegetable garden. Which is to say, I cut the walking rows between beds down so we could at least get around. And then, with Ali's help, I did some fine tuning -- we were really able to get around the tomatoes, strawberries and squash plants.

When I first looked at the garden Saturday, I thought it was a lost cause. But I declared war in there this weekend, and it paid off. Yes, there were some casualties (there are in every war): I mistakenly pulled my last surviving pea plant and a strawberry, and I stepped on a squash plant. But in 48 hours our garden went from "lost" to "not bad" -- and that's a turn-around I can live with.

Update (July 8, 2012): Last weekend's efforts have made all the difference; the tomatoes, squashes, peppers, and carrots are so much more relaxed and happy. And the strawberries, which were slouchy and depressed, are standing tall, just drinking in sunlight. Great garden developments!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Roberts and Snape (Spoiler Alert)

Between the years of 1998 and 2007, I never would have fathomed that the words displayed to the left would be posted on this blog. "Snape" and "trust"? No way. I admit it: I was a Snape doubter all the way. Only one person had less faith in Sevvie than me, and that was Harry himself.

Which is why I took note of Erin Gloria Ryan's June 28th tweet. Ryan, reacting to the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the President's healthcare plan, tweeted: "Roberts is the Severus Snape of the Supreme Court."

I realize I live in a cave in Richmond, Vermont (and I may barely know what a tweet is... something about 140 characters, right?). No, I don't follow Erin Gloria Ryan's twitter activity, nor am I familiar with Jezebel, the gossipy on-line magazine she writes for. But sooner or later, your Harry Potter tweets will come to my attention, and you'll have to answer to me. So what was she getting at? Did she realize that (again, SPOILER ALERT!) in Book 7 Snape saves the day, sacrifices his life for good over evil, and -- in the epilogue -- Harry actually names his child after the former Potions-Master-turned-Defense-Against-the-Dark-Arts-teacher-turned-Headmaster?

Kudos to Ryan -- apparently she is aware. Years after Book 7, I have to admit the idea of Snape the Good Guy still feels... weird. Ryan, however, is more confortable with the concept, and she clarified in a follow-up tweet:

"How am I saying that like it's bad? Severus Snape is awesome. Everybody knows that."

I just wouldn't want to see any uneducated Potter references coming up in regard to current events. And, for anyone who is unclear, this post is about Severus Snape -- and not about current events.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Welcome to Colorado

Okay, this isn't exactly a welcome sign, but we aren't asking everyone to act differently just on our account; just be yourselves. Therefore, whether they took shots at us or not, our latest visit to the Wild West was just perfect.

The trip's objective was simple: to meet our new friend Harper French -- newly arrived on the scene on October 30, 2011. This didn't take long to accomplish; Amy met us at the airline gate, announced she needed to use the ladies room, thrust baby Harper in my arms, and left him with us. We've pretty much been buds ever since.

The visit was awesome. It was great to connect with old friends, to visit Marble, Colorado for a weekend, and to see the Chrystal Mill (see photo). From our base at the Chateau Frenchy, we biked the Rio Grande Trail, hiked a 14er, ran Red Hill and Mushroom Rock, and rock climbed across from a hot spring. I should also mention we ate like kings -- especially the last night at Six89 in Carbondale. Get the coconut-curry soup (we all did).

Vacations are great for recharging and shifting gears, and by the time the trip was over, we had done both; we are now ready for summer in Vermont. And it's a good thing; if we'd stayed away any longer, the lawn would have overgrown the house! Thanks to the Frenches for having us and to Heather for watching our pets and home. We can't wait till the next recharge-slash-gearshift.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Taper? What Taper?

My wife Alison says she has forgotten how to taper. We spend our lives training for events -- marathons, triathlons, ultras (that's her, not me) -- and in between training, we're at jobs, practicing yoga, playing hockey, rock climbing, hiking mountains with our dogs... The point here is we keep busy.

Then you hit us with a week like this. In 4 days, we run the Vermont City Marathon (Ali's 15th marathon, my 13th). And anyone who's ever run a marathon will tell you not to overdo it the week -- probably even two weeks -- prior to Race Day. Only that has been a problem. What are you supposed to do? Sit around all day?

I think Alison figured it out today; instead of running her usual 8 miles, she did 4. Good thinking. And instead of a run, bike, swim, or some combination of the above, last night we found a rocky crag in Bolton and climbed a few pitches. Nice and relaxing.

We're looking forward to a great race, but we can't wait for it to be over. We want life to get back to normal.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Thirteen Year Anniversary

Tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo, and I warn everyone: be careful. Tomorrow's holiday marks the 13-year anniversary... of the worst hangover of my life.

I'll spare you the details of the the cab ride home (I made the wise decision not to drive... even though my mode of transportation that night was a bicycle) or the morning after. For Cinco neophytes (and for non-Spanish speakers), I will pass along a translation so that you will better understand this very important holiday. As the guys on WOKO's Morning Roundup reported this morning, "Cinco" means "five" and "de Mayo" means "shots of tequila."

So be careful out there tomorrow! And happy Cinco de Mayo!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cracking the Top Ten

Last time I did the Tuckerman Inferno, I said I was done. Hanging up the sneaks, paddle, bike, boots, and skis.

But in the back of my mind, I probably thought I could do better.

Give me credit: those two other Infernos were done under adverse conditions. The first one, Left Gully was so hard, I used cramp-ons to climb up. And the second one was postponed for a day due to 20-plus inches of snow. I was just glad to finish, and thrilled to have gotten out alive. Plus, the top finishers were animals. No way I could come close to them. Right?

Somehow, despite my decision to never do it again, I found myself registering for this year's race after a one year hiatus during which I ran Boston instead of the Inferno -- much easier, by the way (except that there are more places to go to the bathroom at the Inferno). I think it was that voice in the back of my head telling me that this year was the year to improve. I had better equipment, a little more knowledge, and -- after a milder winter -- I'm in better shape.

The race was easier, to be sure. I kept up a 7:10 pace over the 8-mile run -- and it didn't feel that hard. The kayak was relaxing and comfortable (the result of a scouting mission I took 2 weeks ago). The bike was great (no kickstand or newspaper rack). The hike was quick (only the essentials on my back: skis, boots, helmet, pants, Gu, and a small water). And -- due to some half decent weather -- the hike up to the very top of Left Gully was fun... and the snow nice.

And my crew was perfect.

All in all, it was a great race on a great day. So now I can say it and mean it (for now): that's the last one.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


The Tuckerman Inferno is just one week away, and it's decision time. What equipment should I use? This will be my third Inferno, and already I have upgraded over my first two Infernos. For those two -- run in 2010 and 2009 -- I rode a 25-year-old bike that weighed 40-plus pounds and had a newspaper rack and a kickstand up the 18-mile hill climb. Besides that, I used a too-tight, mouse-chewed, 20-plus year-old wetsuit for the kayak portion. When I bought a bike last year, I said, boy, I really ought to give the Inferno another go now that I have a half-decent ride. When I received an NRS drysuit for Christmas, the decision was made. "That's it," I said. "I'm doing it!"

But what about the rest of my kit? What boat should I paddle? What skis should I carry? And how much stuff should I haul up to Tuckerman Ravine? One thing that will be different this year will be the transitions. Alot of time can be lost or gained (mostly lost) in these transitions. I should know; you're talking to the guy who took 8 minutes at the bike/run tranny at last year's Pumpkinman Triathlon! (Note: for those that don't know a triathlon tranny from a Ford tranny, most real triathletes take like 2 minutes in transition areas.) Anyway, for me, just running, kayaking, and biking in the same triathlon shorts is going to make a huge difference -- all possible because of the drysuit. As for what boat to use, I will also point out another difference-maker for this year: I actually trained (!!) for the 2012 event. I've been running all winter, I have been out several times on my bike, I ferried skis up Mount Mansfield last week to see how they felt on my pack (I usually much prefer skinning!), I've been skiing of course all winter (including yesterday), and -- biggest of all -- I boated the kayak stretch two days ago.

What an advantage that will be! For one, I won't boat the entire 6 miles stressing that I'm going to die during the race. Instead, I did that already on Tuesday! And I tried a new boat -- Ali's flatwater boat. Terrible for a whitewater stretch, this stretch of the Saco is mostly flat. And the water level is so low right now, that any whitewater areas are more like rockgardens. If I can pick my way through a handful of tricky sections, I should be fine. So if the water level stays mostly the same throughout the week, I plan to use this flatwater boat that cuts through water and goes straight.

The last big question is backpack and ski equipment. In 2009, a team of Sherpas could have divvied up all the gear I had in my backpack. I was ready for any and all weather that Mount Washington could have possibly thrown at me. And I carried my telemark gear. This year, I'm carrying skis, boots, and that's it. How bad can hypothermia be? In 2010, I carried less stuff but still tele-ed. I skied well in 2010, but I would have been way faster on alpine gear. And hiking up Left Gully is way more stable in stiff plastic Langes than in my softer telemark boots. Where I lose is in weight going up: Black Diamond tele boots: 8 pounds. Big, heavy Langes: 11.5. Black Diamond Kilawatt skis with lightweight telemark bindings: 13 pounds. Dynastar Outland Pros with alpine bindings: 17. Seventeen pounds, are you serious???

As you can see, I have some big decisions facing me. But considering that I never even thought about these things until I was actually in the race, obviously I'm way ahead this year. And one more advantage. After this year, I'll never have to worry about doing this insane event again.

[Note: The Tuckerman Inferno is an 8-mile run (hilly), a 6.2 mile paddle (that's 10K), a straight-uphill 18-mile bike to Pinkham Notch from North Conway, a hike carrying ski equipment up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, and a ski down Left Gully at Tuck's. Not something you want to do without some prepwork!]

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

News Flash: Snow!

You wouldn't know unless you were really paying attention: it snowed in the mountains... a LOT. Oscar, Gladys, and I loaded our ski stuff (which for me includes, skis, poles, boots, goggles, and backpack and for the dogs means themselves) into the car and headed to Stowe this morning. The mountains have been completely socked in clouds for two days, and they didn't become anymore visible as we drove up Route 108. Making matters worse, it started raining as we passed the Matterhorn. By the Tollhouse, it was pouring.

But then as we gained elevation, the rain stopped, and snow began to fall. The first thing I realized putting my foot in my telemark boots was that I had removed the footbeds and put them in my biking shoes -- drat! We began climbing, and it became apparent that the storm had been major. Oscar and Gladys, having -- along with the rest of the world (ie Vermont) -- been thinking spring was here, were beside themselves with excitement. We passed 8 people (6 guys, 2 girls) on the way up -- all in touring gear (7 skiers, one snowboarder) -- and four dogs.

At the top we removed skins and turned down the steep favorite Hayride. The run was a tale of 3 elevations. The first more-than-a-third of the way down was like skiing in whipping cream. The snow was dense, but compact enough that I didn't sink. Beautiful -- some of my season's best tele-turns. Oscar plowed through behind me while Gladys bounded above the snow. The second stretch, beginning on the Waterfall section of Hayride, became heavy, but still fabulous -- about 18 inches deep. The coverage was amazing, considering Hayride had been completely grassed over a week ago. The last stretch was mashed potatoes -- still fun, but certainly tough skiing.

It was the second largest accumulation of the season -- and (like the largest, when it only snowed 3 inches in the Valley but 36 in the mountains) no one's the wiser! Even I went kayaking and bicycling yesterday. All I can say is don't ever put your skis away in Vermont in April. You just never know what may happen.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Road Report

With two big events in my future (the Tuckerman Inferno and the Vermont City Marathon) and the coinciding ending of the Vermont ski season, I have been out on the roads. The Inferno is in three weeks; I need to get in shape fast!

So I've been faithfully hitting the roads of northern Vermont on foot and on my bike. When one travels the roads using non-motorized modes of transport, one tends to notice more. And every spring I am always moved by the amount of litter on our roadways. And what does the litter tell us about our population?

So far this year, I am pleased to report that I have seen not a single McDonald's take-out bag. Nice job, Mickey! Usually, they are far and away, the litter champions. No, the champs this year -- unfortunately, since this is a demographic that I generally align myself with -- are the beer drinkers. Lots of empty bottles and cans. I now take this opportunity to ask my fellow boozers: don't you guys know you get a nickel for every bottle and can? Or are you such lightweights you don't drink enough for it to add up?

Of the empties I see on the side of the road, Bud Light seems to be the most frequently discarded; in fact, Bud Light drinkers tend to toss all their empties at once -- including the case box. In a distant second, Labatt's. Okay Bud Light and Labatt drinkers: time to clean up your act! (Note: I have yet to see a PBR can on the roadside this season; I guess the PBR drinkers have a use for their nickels.)

On the subject of road behavior, I have so far noticed a significant increase in a "share the road" attitude from motorists this year. I've had cars slow down and even stop to let me and oncoming traffic pass. It's really been nice; however, I wonder if it's just because it's early in the season and motorists are just happy about the early spring. Give it a couple of months, and they'll probably be sick of us runners and cyclists again. They'll be running us down every chance they get.

Happy Spring!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Transition Time

Well, it went fast -- and I suddenly find myself making the transition from skier to writer.

When one skis all winter and writes all summer, there's nothing unusual about transitions happening at the shoulder seasons. And, since I actually keep writing throughout the winter these days, it's not even a complete changeover.

This year's shift, however, is more pronounced than usual. Because -- without warning -- winter just stopped this year. No warning; that was just it. There we were enjoying great snow and weather, when all of a sudden 7 consecutive days of temperatures in the 70s ended everything. I'm not saying we didn't enjoy skiing in t-shirts for a week, but I am pretty sure there isn't an eastern skier who wouldn't trade last week for another month of turns.

Still, it was a great winter. Despite a lower-than-average snowfall, the skiing was pretty darn good. Then we had that epic 3-foot dump in late February that set us up through March, opened the backcountry, and provided an exclamation mark on 2011-2012. My winter had several other highlights: attending PSIA's race camp at Whiteface (the Olympic mountain!), the opportunity to improve my skiing with video at Stowe, and my successful DCL team tryout at Mount Snow definitely make the list.

No doubt, however, when we think back on this winter, we'll remember the big storm and the quick ending. And I will be shifting just as quickly from my ski gear to my writing desk. Editors... feel free to start calling!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Meet My Town

Ali and I have had a problem lately; we were out of maple syrup. It happened about two weeks ago when I made French toast for breakfast. I had some good bakery bread, and I soaked the heck out of it in eggs and milk. I wanted -- understandably, I'm sure you will agree -- to drown it in real Vermont maple syrup, but there really wasn't much syrup in the house.

I did find some; I used some syrup from a tiny container that nobody has wanted to throw away because it came as a favor from Nick and Michelle at their wedding 5 years ago and has therefore been sitting on the refrigerator shelf among the various salad dressings. There was a little leftover syrup from our "serving container," and there were the dregs of the gallon-sized "storage" container. I dribbled the remainder of those and then went out to the living room where I knew we had plenty more.

It was the container Alison received as the prize for finishing 2nd in her age group at the Vermont 50K trail race. This prize was well-earned, but she didn't even know she had placed at the time, so she skipped the awards ceremony. It wasn't until later that someone informed her of her podium finish, and she decided to write the race organizers to see if she could claim her prize. It has since rested in a prominent location in the living room for all to admire. Was that a syrup stash I could really tap into?

I decided no, and I have been on the lookout for roadside maple syrup stands for the last two weeks. Finally today, I was driving past the Cochran's Family Ski Area. I had heard they were making syrup, so I pulled in. Not much going on a Cochran's with the recent warm weather, I'm sorry to report. There was nobody around, and their slopes looked pretty bleak. Through the woods, however, I could see their sugar shack -- with smoke coming out.

I exited the parking area and drove back up Cochran Road to the sugar house. Inside were several people -- among them Marilyn Cochran, Doug Cochran, and Tim Cochran. They said their cousin was in Europe, racing in what hopefully wouldn't be his final World Cup ski race (I guess he hasn't had the best racing season this year) and their other cousin was in Montana racing for UVM in the NCAA championships. Meanwhile, yes, they were boiling sap in the boiler (they let me sample today's syrup) and they sold me some that was made last week.

On my way home, I passed the Richmond's Round Church and the Bakery where they hold open mikes and other musical events. It's a nice town, Richmond. You should come visit sometime.

Photo below: Every day is like Christmas in Richmond, with our half-painted Bridge Street bridge.

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Never doubt Alison Aiken when it comes to figuring out which direction to go on a backcountry expedition. Last week we went out for a backcountry ski to an undisclosed location in Vermont where I skied many, many times last winter -- and where Alison joined me a couple times. I must say, things looked slightly different with this season's meager snowpack compared with last year's onslaught of snowstorms.

Regardless of what things looked like, at a certain point, the trail bends sharply to the left and backcountry skiers will continue straight up a a skin track to the where the good skiing is. Ali and I have done both in the past -- sometimes we've gone to the skiing spot and other times we've stayed on the path for what basically amounted to a walk in the woods on skis and skins.

This time, however, we got to the bend (or should a say, "a" bend, and I said I thought we should go straight. She said, no, the trail bends left here. We had a brief discussion, and went my way -- which led us all over the place... and at the same time nowhere. We did some skiing, but it just wasn't like last year.

When the trip was mostly over, we found ourselves back on the trail -- farther up from where I had led us off-trail. THIS was clearly where I had always ventured off in the past. "You didn't know that?" Ali asked. Turns out, she did now, but she was just letting the know-it-all have his way.

In the future, I will defer on all route-finding decisions.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Back in the Country

It's never a good commentary on a winter when posts are going up in February about the first foray into the backcountry. But that's the state of affairs around here... but what the heck: we're only a month behind schedule. Last year -- a record-breaker -- we got out there on January 1st, and we couldn't believe it. I'm not saying today was quite like January 1, 2011, but it was nice to get out.

One person who was happy to be out there wasn't a person at all. Our yellow lab Oscar has been dying for this moment. Yes, he's been getting his exercise -- I have been running with him more than ever before. And while he does enjoy running, above all, he is a ski-dog. You want to see a dog having the time of his life? Check out Oscar in the woods in wintertime.

Speaking of dogs, snow, and winter, today was full of firsts: it was Gladys' first backcountry ski trip. Don't get me wrong; we didn't ski anything steep, nor did we go far. There wasn't much snow on the ground, and it hadn't snowed in a week. But it was a good introduction, and she shows all the signs of taking to our favorite (behind hockey, of course) winter pastime.

Meanwhile, we were joined by Alison, who also showed signs of loving being on skis out in the woods of Vermont. It was a beautiful day out there, there's snow in the forecast, and we are all geared up and warmed up for the remainder of winter. Bring it on, Old Man!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Post Super Bowl

Congrats on an incredible season. I'm proud to be a Patriots fan. That's right... give them the game-winning score so that we have time to be in a position to win.

Can't wait till next season. Go Pats!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Dear Tim Thomas,

As a Bruins fan, let me help clear up some confusion for you: this is ice hockey, not politics.

Next time, go to the flippin' White House with your teammates.

Now let's get back to playing hockey. Sheesh!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Championship December

There's only one thing better than ushering in a new year with a championship... and that's ushering it in with TWO championships!

Championship #1: Team in Training Fantasy Football League. This year, when the Green Bay Packers went public and sold shares of their team, I didn't even consider buying. Why not? Because I already own a football team -- a fantasy team. Although I have never made the playoffs before, this year felt different. In the middle of the season, my team (known as Team PBR) went on a torrid 6-game winning streak, propelling me into the playoffs. The playoffs weren't easy, as I had to face Team Victorious Secret and Team Nino, our league's two-time defending champion. When the dust settled, however, Team PBR defied all the odds to emerge as champion.

Championship #2: Annual Bahrenburg Boot League. Three times in the last 20, our annual boot hockey game on the Bahrenburg pond in Colchester faced extreme adversity: even in Vermont the pond did not freeze. Did that hold us back? Not in the least; we simply rented the patch ice at Leddy Park and held our tournament there. Location wasn't the only adversity my team faced. Playing against the old guys (starring David and Buck Bahrenburg... I know, tough times when those are your team's stars) and the up-and-coming young guys (featuring the three-brother-combo of Pete, Drew, and Karl), our team lost our first 3 games. Still, our rag-tag team came back to earn the honor of sipping from the silver cup. Victory, I will add, tasted strikingly similar to Pabst Blue Ribbon -- not surprising, given the empty PBR cans seen scattered on the ground around the trophy.

2011 was a great year -- made even better with two hard-earned victories. And what a way to bring in 2012 -- I know this year is going to be great.