Friday, September 30, 2011


Cincinnati turned out to be a surprisingly delightful city. There were bike paths around the two big universities, Cincinnati and Xavier, as well as a good park for running, and a great multi-use trail called the Little Miami Rail Trail which follows on old railroad path that had been paved over (a good place for access is next to the Kings Island Amusement Park and head north). And right across the river in Kentucky is another delightful city known as Newport, which has the first Hofbrauhaus in the US! For those that don't know, Hofbrauhaus is one of the original famous breweries from Munich, Germany, and is well known for its food, beer and cheery atmosphere supported by fun, live German drinking music. The time to visit, however, has to be mid September when the Cincinnati Oktoberfest is going on. From all I hear, it is second only to the original due to the large amount of German settlers and influence in the city. Unfortunately for Newport, its Oktoberfest which falls right after the Cincy one does not measure up. At all. In fact, it is quite dead. However it does offer an excellent across the river view of Cincinatti as seen below.

Cincinnati as seen from across the river in Newport.

View of Cincinnati from Echo Park, one of the many parks in the area offering great hilltop views.

View from the top of Carew Tower dowtown, Cincinnati's tallest building and built in 1931.

One of the picturesque statues downtown. This square had a jumbotron displaying ESPN complete with audio and a nice microbrew pub called Rock Bottom, which has a great happy hour.

Special thanks to my cousin Cathy for showing me around town and buying me dinners! The meals and the company was much enjoyed and highly appreciated!

Michigan vs. Ohio State

While traveling back down to visit my cousin in Cincinnati, I came across the perfect timing of a post gameday Saturday in the town of Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan. It did not disappoint. All about students were walking to and fro, some drunk, some about to be, and some busy with schoolwork for some odd reason. One thing was immediately clear, this was not a dry campus. As seen below where enthusiastic and very stereotypical frat boys play an interesting twist on a beer pong game where the object is to throw the ping pong ball at the other team's beer and if it hits, you can drink your beer until the other team places the ping pong ball back on the table. First team to finish their beer wins.

Not only was Ann Arbor a great place for drinking, it was also a great place for exercising. Out of all the places I have been so far, I have yet to see so many people out running! Now this could have simply been because the semester was still young, the weather was good, and all the freshman were still trying desperately not to gain that "15" that undoubtedly happens for some as soon as the warm weather disappears and their self control and motivation along with it. However as beautiful a place as the campus was for running, I found the hidden gem for outdoors exercise to be the Nichols Arboretum, an incredible system of trails, park, nature and wildlife, right within jogging distance. And with scarcely anyone using it! Combine that with a bustling downtown nightlife with a good mix of young professionals and graduate students and this town was not just a great college party town but one that was also easy to escape the immaturity of the college scene. Best of all, traffic and parking did not seem to be a problem around anywhere I went.

After really enjoying the University of Michigan, I was now expecting great things from Ohio State University as well, seeing as they are such a huge rivalry. And upon arriving in Columbus and running on their excellent trail system downtown by the river I was liking the possibilities. However, besides this running and biking trail, which did go through the University and stretched for a very long way, there was nothing about the University itself that I could find to be either picturesque, captivating, or inspiring. Though it was so big I'm not certain there wasn't something I missed as I ran around as much of it as I could stand in the cold weather and the impossibly far away parking spot that I had found after a lifetime of searching. The city of Columbus, itself, though, was quite the city. It had a very nice downtown with not too much traffic, though free parking was certainly not easy to find anywhere even remotely close to it. This was not a problem for me though, as the Scioto Audubon Metro Park was quite close and connected directly to the river trail system that runs right by downtown. This metro park was noticeably lacking in off-road trails, but it made up for it in containing the (according to the locals I climbed with) world's biggest free climbing rock wall, among being a veritable mecca for birdwatching (according to the signs that were posted).

The view of Columbus from the Scioto River Trail. Beautiful place to run.

These wires were not visible from far away and quickly ended my off-roading cyclocross adventure for the day. I was very fortunate to get my bike slowed enough (and skidding sideways...) to come away from this collision so relatively unscathed, despite ending up on the other side of the fence...

The amazingly excellent free climbing wall, seen here as a downpour has just started. Big thanks to the two Ohio State students that lent their gear and expertise so that I could go up it!

So all in all, which one wins? Well in my very brief time spent in each city, my preference was most certainly Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan. Though Columbus itself was a very cool city for it's size, the ease of accessibility in the smaller town of Ann Arbor and the proximity of excellent trails in the arboretum made it much more visitor and outdoor lover friendly while still containing all the elements of college town and bustling nightlife. The people in both cities were of course fantastic, save for a couple drunken, rowdy frat boys in Michigan. However for the person who prefers to be lost in the bustle of the big city and to disappear into the crowd, they might very well prefer the ginormous campus that is Ohio State.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Taste of the Midwest

After leaving Branson, my first stop was to St. Louis and the famous Gateway Arch. I was able to snap this picture by getting off the trail a bit.

On this side sits East St. Louis which I hear is a glorious place. However I decided to save it for another adventure...

Ended up in a quaint little town called Zionsville as I missed a turn on my way to visit my buddie Bob in Kokomo, IN.

Zionsville is located just on the northside of Indianapolis and has a lot of cool, little boutique shops.

This one in particular was quite cool. It had an excellent and very large selection of wine and other goodies, with all of the scores from places like Wine Advocate listed by the name. They only choose the top wines based on these reviews to sell, and based on the one I bought and tried, it seems to be an excellent business model.

The beautiful view from my buddie's backyard. I couldn't believe in all the miles of cornfields and soybeans, there were huge tall trees like this here! Pretty certain they were imported. But nonetheless, very beautiful.

Notre Dame was close and on the way to my next destination so a stop was required.

Overall it was a pretty neat campus with cool features like this one to stop and admire. The most awesome part of the campus though was on the north side by two lakes which had an excellent mostly off road jogging trail that circled both.

The beach in South Haven, MI, is a nice place to stop for a nap. At this time of year, it seemed you had the town to yourself and the weather was still quite nice.

Following a tip from Emily in Grand Rapids (yep, same one from Seattle and Yellowstone) I decided to make the drive to the tip of Michigan where Mackinac Island lies.

This feature was called Cave of the Woods. Along with Crack in the Island and the other "caves" on the Island, it was obviously quite lame. However, that just made the amazing journey through the trees, along beautifully serene and secluded paths, that much sweeter. After all, it's not all about the destination. For me, the journey is much more important. And it was one that was much needed at this particular time when I had really started to miss the solitary, calming beauty of nature that was so much more prevalent on my Northwest trip. What better relief from the city than an Island with no cars allowed on it?

My timing turned out perfect for taking the ferry back from the Island at sunset. With an empty bottle of excellent red wine (tip: do not try to hike and drink red wine at the same time if you do not want it spilt on your clothing) and a great day of hiking behind me and a beautiful sunset in front of me, it was certainly a trip for the records.

On The Road Again

After almost 5 weeks at home with the parents, it definitely felt like it was time to be moving again. Not to get away from family, because I was certainly enjoying the company, free delicious food, and nightly showers, but because being in that environment made it much more difficult to work on getting things done and moving forward. The rest was quite nice. So was the TV. But it was becoming too much rest as my motivation started to slide and laziness crept in. However, once on the road, the motivation returned as a sense of adventure came back and once again any lingering stresses were wiped away. It's a hard feeling to describe, but I liken it to one of complete freedom with wild adventure looming.

While at home, however, all was not rest and relaxation. I, of course kept up my normal racing as I prepped for two big race weekends, one in Tulsa and the other in Branson. At TriTulsa, I came back from being down almost a minute and a half to my friend Toby after the first day's sprint triathlon and a 2nd place finish to catching him on the bike and putting enough time on the run to make up the time lost and claim the Overall Combined title and a 3rd place finish for the Olympic distance race on the second day. It was a very satisfying race as I claimed the fastest time between the swim and run on a very difficult and tough bike course. Considering my slightly unorthodox training regimen consisting of hiking, running, some swimming, and mostly just being active while throwing in some bike intervals when I felt like it, I was extremely pleased.

Here is a pic of me with the plaque and the Zoot Triathlon Bag that I won!

During the weekend trips up to Tulsa, I also was able to redeem massage vouchers I had previously purchased, and to visit my Little a couple of times at his new school. He is in 9th grade now and I'm excited to see him continue to progress into a fine young man as he gets older. One of the massage therapists wasn't great, but the other was gold. She was able to loosen up my hamstrings, which I don't think anyone has ever been able to do, by stretching them while massaging them at the same time. A fairly unique concept to me that worked wonders in recovering for my two big weekends of racing.

The other big weekend of racing? That would be my first stop on the road in Branson, MO, with rain pouring down and things looking very, very bad for race day. Luckily, I had found some other fellow triathletes at TriTulsa who were up here as well for some good old masochistic fun! Staying in an RV with them definitely made prepping for the race much easier and more comfortable than it would have been otherwise. Despite the threat of rain and bad weather, I was itching for a chance at redemption and maybe a little revenge. Last year this course kicked my butt on the bike course and left me to die on the run course. This year, I had different plans. That is, if the weather would play nice and open up a little hole for us to race in. We were in luck! For a little while at least. The course was still wet which slowed the bike down considerably and caused more flats than I've ever seen at a race and the swim went off without a hitch; however, halfway through the run it decided to show up like a beast hunting its prey. Thunder cracked and all of a sudden it was a downpour with puddles of water turning into small ponds and lakes and shoes into nice, cold sponges to cool the body as the temp dropped well below comfortable for someone who just recently was forcibly adjusted to Oklahoma heat. But I was having the run of my life. After surviving the insanely tough and painful bike and riding a slowly leaking tire for several miles, I had steadily been speeding up throughout the run, testing myself with a harder and faster pace each couple of miles. And I hadn't stopped. At any of the aid stations. Except for that bathroom break. That was important though. I had never ran a half marathon off the bike straight through before. Even in Portland I had stopped at every aid station to ensure that I got all my nutrition in. And now this. The cold, hard rain along with the fear that I might be struck by lightning at any second considering I was running through bodies of water that stretched from here to who knows where. So I sped up. I wanted it to be done. Over. Finished. So I sped up some more. And some more. Until I was so close I could feel it. And before my legs could seize up or my stomach could eat itself out of hunger, I was there! Cold and shivering with a medal around my neck trying to force some chocolate milk down. And that's when I felt bad. Very bad. And cold. I went inside of a restaurant to warm up. It didn't work. Outside again, it only got worse. I was now whimpering like a dog as I stumbled from the finish line to the med tent without a clue what was wrong with me. I usually felt bad after a race of this distance, but not this bad. I finally made it in, bewildered and shivering without a clue what was wrong with me. Turns out it was simple. I had hypothermia and thus that was why I didn't really feel all that cold, but I did feel very, very bad. Half an hour later though I was warmed back up and ready to see how I finished. Final results were 6th in a very tough 25-29 age group and 34th overall.

Splits were:
Swim- 35:35
T1- 1:55
Bike- 2:54:34
T2- 1:12
Run- 1:35:30
Overall- 5:08:46

By far my best finish yet! And with the probability of the top guys passing on their spots to either turn pro or for lack of finances, a very good chance to qualify for the world championships. Which is exactly what happened. I got the roll down and wrote the check right away. I had in fact qualified for the Ironman 70.3 world championships. I got my revenge. I beat the course and the weather, despite the punishment they had dished out. And, most importantly, I'm going to Vegas!