Thursday, December 15, 2011

Last Minute Gift Ideas

A lack of blog posting means I've missed my opportunity to comment on the whole occupy Wall Street movement while it was still relevant, leaving me to make my observations now that everyone has moved on to the European financial crisis and looming collapse of the Euro, the Golden Globe nominations, and Christmas shopping.  While I may have missed the boat here entirely, I still found the following graphic pretty interesting:

To those who have no interest in clicking through link, it breaks down the average annual income (and ranges of income) earned within the break down of American families.  While presented with way more flourish and extra information, the gist is as follows:

Top 0.01%: average annual income of $31 million; range from $11 million to some presumably staggering amount
99.90 - 99.99%: average income of $3.9 million; range from $2 million to $11 million
99.0 - 99.9 %:  average income of $717,000; range from $386,000 to $2 million
90 - 99%: average income of $167,000; range from $108,000 to $386,000
0 - 90%; average income of $36,000; range from $0 to $108,000

An interesting spread of wealth that begs a number of questions.  Like, how the hell do I claw my way into the top 0.01%?  Forget the one-percenters that got so much attention from the press and the protesters.  The one-hundredth-of-one-percenters looks like where the action is.  And wasn't that the whole point of the occupy movement?  To give us a target to aim for?

I'm certainly glad that one enterprising individual has found his path to the one-hundredth-of-one-percenters club, and that appears to be selling small jars of trash for incredible sums of money:

How much would you pay for a jar of grocery bag clips?  How about $125?  Don't believe me?  See  The guy just needs to sell 96,000 of these this year to make it the coveted top step of the money mega-mid.

I'm taking a different path.  Really, ask yourself, where is the real money earned in this world?  The answer is obvious: romance novels self-published under an assumed name.  Just in time for the gift giving Christmas season, I'm pleased to announce the pending completion of my first bodice ripper: May it Please the Court.  It is the story of Lascivious Jones, a judge in Omaha Nebraska, and her complicated trysts will Ripples McGee and Thadeous DuPont, respectively the local prosecutor and defense attorney handling a high-profile murder case in Judge Jones' court room.  Here is an excerpt:

Ripples took a moment for himself, walked back to the People's table, and sipped slowly from the plastic cup of water supplied by the good tax payers of Omaha.  He scanned the packed court room, caught Lola's eye, and winked.  He then undid another button in his bespoke tailored shirt, exposing a sculpted pectoral and the margins of a Virgin Mary tattooed across his abdomen.  Having composed himself and now nearly topless, Ripples turned to begin the dance.

"Ms. Waters, do you know who killed Little Tim?" he asked the witness, tossing his golden hair into the waning rays of daylight filtering through the court house windows.

"Sure.  Jimmy Westing did it."

"And what makes you say that, Ms. Waters?"

"Why my neighbor saw him do it.  He told me so."

Thadeous launched from his seat, crying "Objection your honor!  That is rank hearsay!  Ms. Water's has no personal knowledge about this case at all.  Mr. McGee is just wasting our time."

Judge Jones paused for a moment.  ''Would counsel approach the bench."  Both men ambled slowly to the front of the room and leaned in hear what the Judge had to say.  "Gentlemen, this appears to be a complicated objection, and I'm going to request briefing on the question.  I want you both to provide your arguments and support, in my chambers, at 10:00 tonight.  I want the briefs delivered in person.  Mr. McGee, I want you to bring some wine.  Mr. DuPont, bring massage oils.  I think the three of us will consider the arguments for and against late into the night..."

The way I see it, a story like that pretty well sells itself.  If you need a last minute Christmas gift, I can not recommend my book highly enough.  I considered pricing it at $125, figuring I would only need to sell 96,000 copies to finally make the top 0.01% of earners, but after finding out you could sell bag clips for $125 decided I was selling myself short.  Frankly, I'm also not so sure I can sell 96,000 copies before Christmas.  So instead I have priced the book at $11,000,001.  That way I only need to sell one copy to reach the upper echelons (albeit the very bottom of the upper echelons).  If you want to buy a copy, let me know.  Call day or night.

And in Cancer news, I had a CT scan earlier this month and was given the all clear by the man with the stethoscope.  No changes, lymph nodes acting like lymph nodes.  Next scan will be in a year or year and a half.  So there is that.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Catching Up

I remember my days as a wide-eyed recreational blogger, new to the genre and perhaps a bit naive in thinking I would, at a bare minimum, manage a single post a month.  Well, a mere glance below indicates a solid three plus months since I last bothered to log in, put finger tips to laptop, and bore the lot of you with my incessant yammering.  Clearly, this drought must end.  And so it has.  And so much to catch up on.

London:  Unexpectedly, my job took me to London last October.  With one ticket and a hotel paid for, C tagged along for the ride.  The work was for a client that pays for business class travel on any trip over three hours, and the flight to London easily qualified.  C's personal travel was, of course, not subject to reimbursement, meaning she was stuck in coach.  We parted ways boarding our trans-Atlantic flight, settled into our respective seats, pulled out our phones, and sent the following messages to one another:

C: "All settled in, and such luck!  The guy next to me moved into an empty seat and I have a whole row to myself!"

Me: "I was just given my first glass of champagne and my chair is massaging me!"

Anyway, the trip pretty much ruined coach flying for me, which is really too bad for two reasons: 1) we can't afford to fly business class; and 2) we live in Alaska and have to fly if we want to get anywhere outside the state in less than a week.

The work part of the trip was interesting, but stressful.  The tourist part of the trip was great.  London had never crossed either of our minds as an actual travel destination, and I don't know that we would have ever opted to go there, but we really enjoyed it and would go back on our own dime (in coach).  We saw some sights and did a lot of walking, but for purposes of this blog post I will focus on a single morning.  We left our hotel intending to meander through Mayfair and angle towards the London Museum to partake of some of England's cultural riches.  Our route required crossing Oxford Street, which I have since learned is London's (and perhaps Europe's) consumer heart.  Department stores and retailers lined the road, and the crowds flocked to spend hard earned pounds.

Crowds on Oxford.

C caught scent of opportunities to spend, and dove head long into the chaos.  I valiantly tried to keep pace, and found myself outside of multiple changing rooms trying to regain my strength.  However, I wasn't alone:

These two gentleman look like they lost battle.  Regrettably, their napping occupied the only two seats available.

The crowds and sales having sapped our strength, it was time for lunch.  Having suffered the inequities of sheepishly following C around stores with an increasing load of tailored goods draped about my shoulders, I at least got to pick the location.  This being England, then, we headed for the pub:

Appropriately fortified, the afternoon's shopping was almost pleasing in comparison.  We never made it to the London Museum.

Fairbanks:  My in-laws, long residents of Fairbanks, had the idea of changing scenery.  And what better way to force the issue than selling your home in one state and buying a new home in Nevada?  Fair warning, though; such a decision has consequences, chiefly that selling a house requires you to move.  C's folks have been rooted for approximately 40 years, so this was no task to take lightly.  C took several trips to Fairbanks to help out as she could, and the both of us went north for the final weekend.  Anytime you start to dig through 40 years of accumulation, you are bound to discover forgotten treasures.  Imagine all of our surprise when we unearthed the Servicemaster First Aid Kit.

Note how the dutiful house wife sits upon the lush shag like a mountain-lamb, prepared to do what is necessary such that her husband will never, ever, have to lay his eyes upon a shameful carpet stain.  In case you are wondering, the First Aid Kit included a helpful dial.  Tune in the type of stain, and you got specific instructions on how to address it.

I'm frankly not sure what to make of the fact that the dial was set at "Urine (fresh)" when it was last stored.

The back of the box was equally interesting:

At first I assumed this was the formerly unseen husband, returned from a hard day at the office and inspecting his old lady's accomplishments.  But the clip board suggests this may actually be a Servicemaster representative, sent to critique his customer's work and presumably offer helpful tips for better stain management.  In either case, something about the photo makes me think the woman is about one minute away from offering to mix a pitcher of martinis.

Florida:  We just got back from a few days in southern Florida, including Thanksgiving in Miami, a short jaunt to the Everglades, and a trip out to Key West.  Much like London, I had never previously considered Florida as a travel destination.  But here it is winter in Anchorage, and it just sounded so... warm.  We rented and borrowed cruiser bikes to explore in both Miami and Key West.  The day we piled back into the rental car to head back to the airport, we learned that Key West had the dubious honor of having the highest number of serious accidents involving bicyclists and pedestrians of any town in Florida.  Not a surprising revelation, really, but it all worked out OK for us.  If we ever live somewhere warm and relaxing, we'll probably need to get a couple of cruiser bikes in the stable.  But I'm adding hand breaks and a free wheel to mine.

The Daily Grind:  All of the above leaves us plum center back in the daily grind.  As of today, the annual December warm up has turned the snow to slush, fated to be ice as the temperatures drop back below freezing.  Previously beautiful ski conditions have faded like our Florida tans.  So nothing to do now but sit back and wait for more cold and more snow... and if you really have patience to wait for the next blog post.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Elvis has re-entered the building

Your life is marked by firsts.  Some of these milestones occur while young, and you may know about them solely because you've heard the stories from those who were there and old enough to remember: your first steps, your first words, the first time you made it through a dinner party without taking off your pants and running around naked.  Some happen much later in life and are lodged safely in your own memories, albeit perhaps with details fading on the margins: your first time driving a car alone, a first kiss, the first time you made it through a dinner party without taking off your pants and running around naked (for some people, that particular milestone comes a little later).  But for all of us, there is one moment greater than all the rest.  An event we each expect and anticipate with quickened pulse, but can never predict.  For me, that day came last Sunday.  Of course, I'm talking about my first Elvis impersonator.

And where else, but the Alaska State Fair?  The faux-King appeared before us, karaoke machine in tow, with the glory of the Chugach range rising behind and a sixty (?) year old woman in a poodle skirt just losing her head as she twisted, turned, and flat rocked to the three or so songs we managed to sit through.  Then it was time to go home.

(Not the Elvis impersonator)

Who knew there would be an Elvis impersonator?  In comparison, Garrison Keillor was predictable.  After all, we had tickets in advance for that.  He and his cast of many made an appearance at our fair Fair and we dutifully went to see the action.  However, thanks largely to the failings of general admission seating at the Alaska State Fair Grounds Borealis Theater, we weren't actually able to see any action at all.  The show was entertaining, but as an event it was kind of disappointing.  It was no different than hearing him on the radio, except we were uncomfortably sitting on the ground, cheek to jowl with neighbors, and there was no way to turn up the sound like you would on a home radio.  Ah well.  Interestingly enough, the parts we could hear were quite a bit more racy than the radio show.  (This was part of the "Summer of Love" tour and is not scheduled for broadcast.)

Comfort and sight-lines notwithstanding, it turned into the kind of day I thought was gone for the year.  Sunny and hot.  Real t-shirt weather.  Farmer tans.  Just like you read about in books.  Good books about happy people.  And I was happiest looking at the baby pigs.  All fairs have them, I am sure.  But Alaska's are probably cuter.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Touchy Throttle

Clearly, August has arrived.  Gray, rainy, and wet.  The rain was preceded by a large red salmon run in the Kenai River.  As part of my office's annual summer fishing trip, we went down to try and catch some with fly rods from a position thigh deep in the current, shoulder to shoulder with other wanna-bes trying to push in to the good spot.  Four of us (two co-workers, C, and myself) loaded into a boat to reach our spot with a caricature of an Alaska  fishing guide.  He looked like hard living: hooked nose, stringy hair pouring from beneath a hat that was more seam-grip than hat, long beard, and plenty of arrest stories.

Of course, any commercial guiding operation takes safety very seriously.  Caricature Guide ("CG") was no exception.  A quarter mile up river, he looked up.  "You guys know how to work this motor, don't you?"

"Uh, not really..."

"Alright.  We'll the throttle is pretty touchy.  If I go over board, just be careful."

So briefed, we all settled in for the ride.  Once at the fishing hole, we went about casting and hooking fish.  We hauled in much fewer than we hooked.  This led to lots of subtle coaching by CG.

"You've got to let the fish run!  Let it run!"

"What are you doing?  Why'd you let the fish run?  Reel it in, man, reel it in!"

We went on like this for the whole day.  If I let the fish run, I was supposed to reel.  If I reeled, I was supposed to let the fish run.  I suppose you find the art of fishing somewhere in the middle.

Coaching aside, it was a hot day on the river and we had a good time.  Heading back to Copper Landing, though, the day took a turn.  Two fatal crashes on the Sterling Highway shut the road down.  Four of us and CG are sitting in CG's van when a state trooper walks up to pass on the news: the highway is closed until tomorrow morning.  We're trapped on the wrong side of Copper Landing, feet in hip waders, no wallet, no food, and no particular idea of how or when we're getting home.  Long story short, and some seven hours later, we did make it as far as Copper Landing and the cars (and shoes).  Tragic accidents and long day.  As CG pulled into the guide's lot he was on the phone to a friend who was sitting in the only bar in Copper Landing, yelling, "You tell him he better stay open at least until I get a beer, or I'm going to tear the fucking door off the place."  I guess he had earned it by that time.

Follow up to the McCarthy post, a few pictures:

Saturday, July 9, 2011


The Fourth of July.  The day each year when Americans, by which I do not mean residents of the Americas but residents of the United States, celebrate our freedom to not go to work on a summer day.  As a product of American public schools, by which I mean the public schools of the United States and not the public schools of Chile, Canada, or El Salvador, I of course have no idea what the Fourth of July is supposed to be celebrating.  I imagine it is a holiday invented by someone who was jealous of school teachers and students who were spending the warm summer months free from responsibility, traipsing about the world like lazy afternoons caught on a breeze.  What ever the basis, C and I took advantage of a three day weekend to point the car east and drive to (or rather very near) McCarthy.

The McCarthy Road
We had been intending this trip for many years, and had gone so far to make tentative plans as far back as 2005.  Yet we were always deterred by stories of the road.  The road is a former rail bed, narrow and reportedly rough.  The road devours tires, using rail spikes like teeth.  The road destroys oil pans, using large and sharp rocks like hammer drills.  The road will crumble beneath your wheels and send you and your car tumbling to certain doom at the bottom of a lovely, but deadly, canyon.  We took it all to heart and time and time again shook our heads and said, "No, not this time.  Not until we buy a truck."  Well, we didn't buy a truck, but apparently got tired of waiting, because this time we said, "How bad could it be?"  The answer?  Not bad at all.  The road did not live up to its reputation.  A little research indicates that the State has done a lot of maintenance over the last five years.  The road was in great shape, and an absolutely gorgeous drive.

The town of McCarthy sits in the heart of Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, just across the Kennicott River from road's end.  After following the Chitina River up stream for 60 miles, the road gives its last gasp in a collection of parking spots crudely marked out with chalk in a gravel bar.  There, a nice gentleman will gladly charge you $5 a day to leave your car.  As we quickly learned, if they can sell it in McCarthy, they will.  This may be the middle of nowhere Alaska, but don't expect to park for free.

After settling your account with the parking attendant, a foot bridge leads across the silt laden and churning flow of a glacially sourced river.  The foot bridge is actually a relatively recent addition to the town, circa 1997.  Prior to that time, you had to wait until winter and freeze up to walk across or pull yourself across in an incredibly exposed hand tram.  C, who visited McCarthy in the hand tram era some 20 years ago on a family trip with her grandmother, recalls the family tale of the river crossing.  Her grandma, a fine and proper lady familiar with the urban jungle but a stranger to mountain wilderness, set foot on the far side and declared, "Just wait until I tell the ladies back home."

"No kidding, Grandma," C replied.  "Pretty impressive to pull yourself across this raging froth."

"The river?  Goodness no.  Wait until I tell them I used an outhouse!"

I guess you can never tell what will make an impression.

Once across, whether now by foot or then by tram, it is a half mile walk up to the town proper.  And these days it really does appear proper.  You can stay in a hotel (we did), eat at one of three dining establishments (we hit two), or go to a museum (we did that too).  You can also drink at the bar, although I have a distinct feeling that that particular amenity has been available for some time.

The Fourth of July is the biggest weekend of the year in McCarthy.  People come funneling in from near and far.  We missed the parade and litany of events on Monday in favor of beating traffic home, but were there for the Saturday night "block" party.  The town shut down main street to traffic, which is easy to do in a town with no road access, trucked in a band (at least as far as the pay lot), and invited representatives of the Alaskan Brewing Company to come and, in true McCarthy spirit, charge an arm and a leg for a couple of their rough draft beers that are not available in bottles or taps elsewhere.  The band was good and the party went on much later than we did.  Of course, as the distance of our hotel room from the party could be measured in feet, we still got to listen to the crowd and the band from beneath the comfort of a comforter until the wee hours.

As you might imagine, in any rough and tumble wilderness out post, some folks are going to spend more time in the beer line than attentively listening to the music.  We talked the next day to another guy from Anchorage who told the story of spotting an acquaintance talking to one such character.  The girl acquaintance motioned Anchorage over, "Come join us!"  Anchorage, wearing a hat with a big "TC" for the Twin Cities, turns that way.  The drunk guy bellows, "No one from Texas is welcomed over here."

"Texas?" puzzled Anchorage.  "What makes you think I'm from Texas?"

"Your Texas Christian hat, that's what."

"Texas Christian?  No, man, that's the Twin Cities.  I'm a Twins fan."

"I know my hats!"

The drunk guy started to huff and puff, let out a "Oh, we're going to do this," and was ready to wield the ancient might-makes-right rule of law to establish that he did, in fact, know his hats.  His wife calmed him down, but I don't think Anchorage joined their social circle.

Just up the hill from McCarthy, the former mining town of Kennicott sits in ruined glory.  It turns out that the mountains in these parts contained very high grade copper-ore that brought in a large scale mining operation in the early 1900s, financed by the likes of the Guggenheims.  Ore was drug out of the earth from the 70+ miles of tunnels veining the upper ridges above McCarthy and shuttled down in tram buckets to an immense copper mill in the town of Kennicott at the margins of the Root and Kennicott glaciers.  Bringing the ore to market required putting in a rail line from the coastal town of Cordova to the mine, across some incredibly rugged terrain.  One day the accountants back east ran the numbers and decided that after a number of years of wealth generation, the mine was no longer going to turn a profit.  The owners sent word to the mine workers: "The last train leaves in two days.  Unless you want to stay, you ought to be on it."  The whole operation was basically abandoned.  Despite a few attempts over the years to rework some of the mine tailings, the buildings are still largely in tact.

A few years ago, the Park Service bought some of the old mining buildings.  Others are still in private hands.  Some of the buildings have been completely renovated and house modern businesses: a lodge, guiding services, the Park Service offices.  Some have more or less fallen into rubble.  Some were filled with gravel during a couple of different flood events along National Creek.  And some, including the massive 14-story mill building, are standing in a state of suspended animation.  We took a tour of the site, and while we balked initially at the cost ("$25 to walk around?"), it turned out to be well worth it.  The history was interesting, and the tour granted us access the the mill, which was otherwise locked and could not be visited.

We brought bikes and were able to bike between McCarthy and Kennicott, a distance of about 5 up hill miles.  Our first night in town was sunny, so we took advantage of the clear weather to take a quick look at the old mining town, and biked up what is called the Old Wagon Trail, a rocky path off of the main road littered with bear scat.  The lighting was great, but building thunder storms chased us back to McCarthy.  We returned the next day under heavy low clouds and rain.  The downhill return saturated bike, bodies, and bone with creamy mud.  It was that moment that we were most glad we had spent the money on lodging, with showers.  If you didn't want to walk or bike the 5-miles to and from Kennicott, a shuttle service would be glad to charge you $5 each way.  Bringing bikes saved us $40 in shuttle fees.

Surprisingly, the McCarthy lodge brought in a chef with palmares, having worked for stints with Thomas Keller in California (Bouchon, not the French Laundry) and at WD-50 in Manhattan.  He was making a go at a high concept dining room in a dusty frontier town.  The food was good, but not great.  The service was top notch.  The wines were very good.  All in all, recommended.  We also ate pizza from a bus up at Kennicott, and agreed that pizza in an unexpected location -- in this case sitting at the margins of the Kennicott glacier as the crowds filtered away for the day -- always tastes good.

I'm working through the photos and will post a few up once the cull is complete.

In the meantime, a public "hang tough, whether in the Mid-West or in Houston" to K-Dawg, a frequent contributor to the comments to this blog.  I don't know if you'll have web access or be wasting time with my long winded diatribe above, but if you do we are thinking of you here in Alaska!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Savoring the heat.

I suppose it is time to update the mechanics of chemotherapy.  That was the purpose behind this blog in the first instance.  As you may recall, I once openly declared that treatment was done, my doctor had cut the ties that bind, and I was let loose into the world to sink of swim on my own.  But I probably also mentioned that I would have the pleasure of biannual maintenance sessions where I returned to the chemo den for infusions of one of the drugs called Rituxin that makes up the R-CHOP cocktail.  C and I were told with confidence, "Twice a year!  No problem!"  What wasn't clear at the time is that "twice" means "two treatment blocks" or "eight."  So we are operating in a world governed by alternate laws of mathematics in which 2 = 8 is a true statement.  The long and the short is that the Rituxin sessions consists of infusions once a week for four weeks every six months.

The first of those months and four week sessions came and went last May.  C and I trooped back to the little room with the leather chairs and pulled up a seat.  Rituxin causes allergic reactions in some people, which means the infusion happens slowly and only after administering a large dose of Benadryl.  I once again had the pleasure of sitting for five hours while feeling drowsy and loopy.  The good news is that Rituxin has no side effects that I can identify.  Other than the time burden, it is a non-event.

My oncologist did not see any reason to redo the PET scan yet, and is waiting until we are a year or so out from remission.  Reasoning: "We don't want to scan you to death."  OK, I can accept those grounds.  My next appointment is... later?  Who knows.  I calendered it at work, so hopefully I'll get a reminder.

In the meantime, summer has fully arrived in Anchorage in all of its 50 to 60 degree fury.  To escape the oppressive heat, we spent last weekend further north in Fairbanks.  We figured that much closer to the arctic circle, sea ice, and the north pole we would find reasonable temperatures designed for human habitation, something like 35.  But to our horror, it was up in the high 80s.  I collapsed in a heap while C tried to fan me back to awareness with a well tanned moose hide.  So revived, we set about finding ways to occupy our time.

Luckily, friends S and S decided to hold a wedding.  It was a gorgeous sunny day, perfect for an outdoor ceremony.  Later in the afternoon, thunderstorms reared up, seemingly simultaneously in the four cardinal compass directions.  They added drama and beauty, but spared the wedding entirely, at least for our stay.  I cannot speak to drenchings that may or may not have occurred after we left.  The wedding had the three hallmarks of a classic Alaska ceremony: 1) It was held on an airstrip; 2) Towards the end of the actual ceremony, the groom called out for a leatherman; and 3) One of the guests performed hasty repairs on sun umbrellas placed strategically around the dining tables with a roll of duct tape.  If you want to avoid the dregs of the typical catered wedding dinner (another overcooked piece of Atlantic salmon and pasta primavera for the vegetarians?), I can heartily recommend that you attend the wedding of a chef.  It is the only wedding I've been to where the closest thing to a greeting line that ever formed was standing in line waiting for the groom to carve you up a chunk of pig.  Really, if all greeting lines ended that way I would probably try to stand in more of them.

I also got to head out for a 7 mile race hosted by the Running Club North on the trails around UAF.  They are some gorgeous trails for running.  If nothing else, the day taught me that I should be working in more hills on a regular basis.  The course was hilly, nothing big, but lots of ups and downs.  It amounted to only about 500 feet of total climbing, but still took it out of my legs.  Earlier last week, I went out for a six mile run on our local, flat, paved trail, and was able to truck along at about a 7:40 pace feeling good.  I was hoping to knock that down to 7:30 for the race last weekend, but instead came in at 58 minutes (8:22 pace).    Long time blog readers may recall that pre-chemo I had been hoping to do a fast (for me) half marathon last summer.  Of course, that plan was derailed.  I'll have to see if I can get there this year or not.  I'd say I still have some work to do.

In other events, C and I returned to the Chugach for some hiking and learned an important lesson: C doesn't like hikes that march upward, upward, ever upward for, say, hypothetically, 3,600 feet.  She announced as much part way up Wolverine Peak, but had likely been thinking it for some time prior.  Possibly since last September when we hiked part way up Wolverine.  It didn't keep her from smiling at the top though!

Some other shots from the way up and surveying neighboring valleys:

As noted, we had warm weather in Fairbanks.  We also had clear views on the drive up, which let us capture a picture of what has to be the most photographed spruce tree in all of Alaska:

Somewhere behind that spruce tree was a mountain:

And finally, in every sunny summer day, a little thunderhead must form:

More summer coming!  

Friday, May 27, 2011

Lame Post

The sole purpose of today's post is to make sure that the navigation bar that appears automatically to the right of this blog shows at least one blog post for the month of May.  I like to think I have been lazy about updating because we have been busy with living life.  Anchorage is greening up, summer is upon us, the days are long, the summer deck flowers are ready and eager to be potted, and we've been eating dinner most nights at 8:30 or later because the evenings were made for running and biking.

We also spent a nice week in New Mexico.  I've been meaning to go through the post processing of the trip photos, but that task has also fallen by the wayside (see explanation above).  A few pictures, though:

The Organ Mountains, outside of Las Cruces, NM.  Pretty rugged and, as it turned out, pretty starved for water and prone to flame.  A fire on the opposite side of the range had effectively closed the entire mountains for the duration of our visit.

Characteristic wildlife, gorging itself on sugars.

Because the Organs were closed, we got out and about in some of the neighboring mountains.  Here, hiking in the Robledos Mountains, with a view into the Rio Grande valley.

Just a pair of evening pictures from Mesilla.  I can't predict whether or not I'll follow up with a full trip report, with thrilling tails of hiking in the Gila, touring remote back country byways, chasing wild turkeys, and sampling steaks from New Mexico's only beef ageing room.  If you are interested in the full slide show, send me an e-mail.

Otherwise, note that lovely wife C completed the Gold Nugget Triathlon for the second time this year, and improved her times in every category (swim, bike, run, and transitions between the three).  The Gold Nugget is the oldest all women's triathlon in the country, and is a pretty cool event.  It is a very welcoming scene.  Because the swimming takes place in a pool, there is no mass start, and participants begin their days at staggered times based on a randomly selected start time.  You end up with women on high end Cervelo time trial bikes passing women on luxury cruisers, with every imaginable bike in between.  Some are very competitive, others effectively walk the swim in the shallow end, take their time on the bike, and walk the run.  The focus for a lot of participants is simply completing the course, and the event seems to have done a great job of pulling people off of the couch and giving them a fitness goal.  Because of time constraints imposed by doing the swim in a pool and the logistics of moving wave after wave of women through a limited number of pool lanes, registration for the Gold Nugget is capped somewhere around 1,400.  Nevertheless, the event has sold out in tens of minutes the last two years, and continues to attract new competitors every year.  Of course, being a women's only event, I got to spend the day sitting on my duff, just the way I like it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


I see from the date of my last blog post that I have not been actively updating.  But that was not entirely unexpected.  To bring you up to speed: I slept eight hours last night; I entered my first foot race of the year, a very short 5k that only lasted two miles; I went to Phoenix; and I ate some cake.  Now we’re all on the same page.

C and I also sat down and paged through the file of medical bills and insurance benefit statements from the last year.  Anyone wondering how much cancer costs?  My treatment through the end of last year was about $130,000.  That is probably cheap on some yard sticks.  More intense treatments?  More frequent and more complex surgical procedures?  Longer treatment regimes?  All will sky rocket the costs. 

Of course, to be clear, we did not pay the $130,000 out of pocket.  That is what insurance is for.  Which brings me to today’s topic for conversation.  Awhile back, I ran across the following NYTimes editorial:  It struck a chord.  The piece summarizes one families attempt to secure health insurance on the private market, concluding that the system is broken when a family of means is unable to do so as a result of pre-existing conditions.  I suspect I may be uninsurable on the private market as well.  After all, the editorialist was plagued with conditions like a corn on her toe and a husband with a slow growing cataract.  Wonder what insurers think about uncurable (but treatable at substantial cost) cancers?  I’m going to guess they are not so keen to accept those risks.

It is a little depressing to think about.  I haven’t had to purchase health insurance on the private market for many years now, being safely insured on employer plans.  But I have toyed with day dreams that include radical concepts like self-employment, or substantial breaks between jobs to travel widely and by many and disparate modes of transportation.  Neither comes packaged with an employer health plan, and either would require acquisition of private coverage that may no longer exist.  Suddenly I have a vested interest in so called Obama-care, or any other plan offering more and greater health care reform.  I’m able to accept that financial decisions moving forward will need to accommodate the costs of health insurance, but hate to think that my options have been limited from hence forth to toeing the line with employers of size sufficient to absorb the increasing costs of employee health plans.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tour Results

A Saturday morning, characterized as all Saturday mornings should by a carne adovada burrito.  We are a week past the Tour of Anchorage, which went well for Team Cobra.  To those unfamiliar with the event, the Tour is the second largest ski marathon in the United States, held each March at three different distances: 25k, 40k, and 50k.  I signed up for the 25k, C threw her hat into the 40k ring.  At the end of the day, I crossed the finish line in the top third overall and C cruised in to a top fifth overall finish.  I took home a bronze age group medal (third fastest 35-39 year old) and C took gold in her age group race.  So, no complaints.

I think my bronze is the first race award of any kind I’ve won, so we dutifully went to the award ceremony to collect our medals.  And given my skiing attempts last November and December, I’m pretty pleased.  I rather expected this ski season to be a wash from the start.  But while I am thrilled to be back into shape and able to ski a respectable 25k a few months after finishing chemo, I think it is worth putting this bronze into perspective.  The 25k is by far the least competitive of the three Tour races.  Assuming an even pace and extrapolating my finish time to the 50k, my top third finish would have turned into a bottom quarter 50k result overall, or 27 out of 31 in my age group.  It also turns out that the 35-39 age group is one of the least competitive age groups to ski in.  While my finish time was good enough for a third place age group placing, it would not have won the girls 1 to 11 age group.  In fact, I skied with the winner of the 11 year old girls for most of my race, but she ended up putting a good two minutes into me over the last 2k.  So much acceleration!  Just for the fun of it, let’s see just where I would have placed in each of the gazillion age groups:

·         Female, 1 -11: Second place
·         Male, 1 – 11: third place
·         Female, 12 – 14: third place
·         Male, 12- 14: eighteenth place (lose the podium!)
·         Female, 15 – 17: fifth place
·         Male, 15 – 17: nineteenth place
·         Female, 18 – 24: third place (back on the podium!)
·         Male, 18 – 24: eighth place
·         Female, 25 – 29: sixth place
·         Male, 25 – 29: seventh place
·         Female, 30 – 34: fourth place
·         Male, 30 – 34: fifth place
·         Female, 35 – 39: second place
·         Male, 35 – 39: third place (actual placing)
·         Female, 40 – 44: sixth place
·         Male 40 – 44: third place
·         Female 45 – 49: sixth place
·         Male 45 – 49: tenth place
·         Female 50 – 54: sixth place
·         Male 50 – 54: tenth place
·         Female 55 – 59: fifth place
·         Male 55 – 59: tenth place
·         Female 60 – 64: first place (top step!)
·         Male 60 – 64: second place
·         Female 65 – 69: first place
·         Male 65 – 69: first place
·         Female 70 - 74: first place
·         Male 70 – 74: first place
·         Female 75 – 99: first place
·         Male 75 – 79: first place

I admit, that was an incredibly anal exercise, but what else am I supposed to do while eating a burrito?  And look at all that we learned!  The kids are fast!  The fifty year olds are fast!  But the 35 – 44 range is the sweet spot for age group podiums!    I guess they were all either skiing the longer distances or raising kids and unable to ski for themselves.

Before the race:

Prepping the skis:

Post-race glow of satisfaction:

Showing off the hardware:

And, wholly unrelated to the ski race at all, out for a trail run:

Saturday, February 19, 2011


I think sometime last week marked the moment in 2011 when I passed the psychological threshold past which I am done with winter.  It happens every year.  Winter turns from exciting to a burden.  Feel like scraping frost off the car?  Waking up in the dark?  Worrying over clothing layers?  Thinking that you really do need to pull on the wind briefs or risk... well, consequences?  Yeah, me neither.  My mind has turned to dry trails in the mountains, bike wheels spinning on pavement, running with shorts and bare legs, mornings sitting on the porch, bathed in sunlight, drinking coffee and watching the thermometer start its steady climb to hot.  I know, that last one is a pipe dream in Anchorage even in the thick of summer.  Try sitting out on our porch in July and you'll find your coffee quickly cooling as you swat at mosquitoes thriving in the cool and steady shade.  Such are the affects of well treed lots, northern latitudes, and coastal moderation.  Maybe that is why C and I booked tickets to southern New Mexico, departing in a few months.  If our timing is right, we should have plenty of sunny and warm mornings.  If our timing is bad, we'll be sand blasted by spring winds.  Either way, there will be chile to eat, so we win.

It is interesting that I can pass this threshold while still enjoying all that winter brings.  Last weekend, C and I ran a great 10k loop on snowy single track, packed solid by fat bikers.  It included trails we probably wouldn't spend much time on in the summer, either because they turn to swamps or are closed to accommodate feeding bears.  Being February, the sun was out and high enough to make a difference.  Light poured through spruce and birch, branches bending under the weight of snow.  We've been skiing regularly, making the most of the groomed trails.  Indeed, I'll be sad to see the skiing go.  But then, it still being February, we've actually got a lot of winter left.  So those particular tears can go unshed for some time yet.

And speaking of skiing for awhile yet, anyone want to join our 24-hour ski race team?  (

Long time readers may remember that this blog started as something of an online chemotherapy journal.  I believe I last said I was going to do my best here to simply forget all about that particular chapter of my life.  Nevertheless, in case anyone is interested, and particularly in case anyone diagnosed with NHL or otherwise facing his or her own chemo regime finds these pages as a result of a well crafted Google search, I though I would go on and provide an update anyway.  We are about 3 1/2 months out from my last treatment.  That was on November 3, 2010.  It was probably the end of December before my system had purged and I started to feel like the drugs were no longer an anchor.  It was actually pretty nice to feel like I was just out of shape and not that I was being smothered with giant wool blankets, as was usually the case before.  I replaced my lost weight within a few weeks and have been getting stronger since.  Remember how I said C and I have been getting out for frequent skis?  Last December, I pretty much thought that was an impossibility and had written off the 2010/11 ski season entirely.  Other than right now, sitting to type this update, I no longer think about chemo at all and have in fact largely forgotten its impacts.  It is a good place to be.  One threshold I'm glad to leave behind.

So, picture of last spring's flowers in anticipation of this spring:

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Hawaii (Not the Teaser: The Real Thing)

So if you just want to see pretty pictures of sand and surf, feel free to skip the words and scroll immediately to the images.  For the rest of you, I've got some business to dispense of first, and when I say business, I mean the business of promoting independently produced music from Switzerland.  Long time readers (hi Mom!) may remember that while I was in the depths of chemotherapy, a friend in France sent us what was described as a "pre-pre-production" copy of a CD his brother's band was working on.  It turns out that there may have been one too many pres attached to that descriptor.  We were just sent a copy of the full release, replete with paperback book printed in French with photos of, among other things, the unique instrumentation.  After about ten seconds of intense internet research, I discovered the band has a website.  In an effort to build an immense North American audience for La Puce Qui R'nifle, I am proud to be the self-proclaimed (and wholly unverified) first U.S. blogger to provide you, the reading public, with a link to that site:

Much like the CD packaging itself, the website is all in French.  But by using a popular search engine interpreter tool, I can provide some of the following information to you.  For example, how does La Puce Qui R'nifle describe its own CD?  Thusly:  "The album of the chip?  It's 64 pages of crafts, surprises and happiness.  If you buy it, you'll almost need to come see us.  And that we know very well that it makes you think most of you healthy."  The website has previews of some tracks, although it seems possible that they will not work in all countries.  The band has this to say about it:  "By switching at the border between elegance (for us) and annoying (to you), some of the tracks on which you will click with your mouse will not be producing any music.  This is not the fault of your manicured mammal, do not hold it against him: only basely commercial.  If you want to listen with delight, buy our album which will be yours."  I was actually glad to read this, because I was about to rain unholy hell down upon my manicured mammal.  As near as I can tell, if you want to buy a copy you can e-mail the band (link provided on the website) and they will be happy to supply you directly.  The cost is 30 chf (which is about $30).  While this seems pretty clear to the non-French speaker, the translator does suggest you may be purchasing "Your slippers." You may want to verify that you are buying a CD and not paying for the rights to continue wearing your house shoes.  I also suspect that if you read French, it will all make more sense.

As alluded to in the last post, C and I took a five day trip to the North Shore of Oahu.  I had never really given that much thought to Hawaii, but it turns out it is easy to get to from Anchorage.  And in January, you are pretty much ready to go somewhere where the sun shines.  We flew into Honolulu, picked up a rental car, and drove up to a condo north of Haleiwa.  Honestly, the trip was pretty uneventful, and does not lend itself to interesting prose.  We went for some runs, we went for some walks, we did a little snorkeling, we ate pie.  And we saw a sad looking hispanic man, presumed to be from Mexico.  He was wearing the national uniform: blue jeans, long sleeve button shirt, work boots.  He was sitting in a beach park with a small radio, tape, or CD player that was blasting out banda tunes (a regional music from Sinaloa).  At his feet, a brown paper bag held two rapidly warming tall boys.  He stared out to sea.  On a beach that millions (or at least many thousands) pay good money to come and visit, he looked home sick and very much like he would have rather been many miles further east with friends and family.

We sought out wild life.  The final count included a few sea turtles (all out in the water), humpback whales (well off the coast, but breaching impressively even from a distance), one cockroach (small), one cockroach (large), chickens (feral), birds (white), reef fish (colorful), and a rat (dead).

And, being on the North Shore, we watched surfers ply the waters.  The surf was impressive.  My experience on the beach is pretty limited.  Growing up, I can remember one beach vacation to North Carolina, and a trip or two to the ocean in Los Angeles.  As an adult, there haven't been that many more trips to salt water.  The point being, I do not have much of a frame of reference for waves and surf.  But this stuff was big, it roared, and it pounded.  Given the chance, I suppose I would be happy to spend a year in Hawaii trying to learn how to safely play in it.

But now, to let the pictures do the talking:

This isn't that great a picture, but I include it now as a hair reference.  To anyone who is wondering if my hair has grown back out, it has--a little.  I spent most of the photographed hours of the trip with a hat on, so for hair this is about as good a picture as you'll get.  The picture was taken while out on a walk down the shore.

I wasn't there alone.  C agreed to come!  Another day, another walk.

When we weren't out walking or eating pie, we would sometimes sit in the sand and watch the sunset.  Here was a picture of us in the lovely low light of evening.  Of course, as you can tell by looking over C's shoulder, we weren't the only couple out at the end of the day:

It is not really clear whether we captured a moment of romance or if we should be providing this picture to the local police as evidence of broad shoulder aliens that have come to earth to engulf and subsume petite blondes.

Of course, you do not sit on the beach to watch the sunset without actually seeing a sunset, made all the more fun by the crashing surf.  And speaking of surf, the locals don't waste their time on their duffs admiring it.  They get out and play with it:

Not to be outdone, C and I did make our way out into the water too.  Here is C waiting for the next set to roll in:

And here I am, making it look easy:

Now that wave may not look as impressive as those shown further above, but a close look at my face shows unequivocally that these are hardcore conditions:

Yup, that face screams "epic"!  Or is it just the face of a desert raised kid who is trying not to drown in the equivalent of the kiddie pool?  Let's not over analyze it.