Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Where the wind comes sweeping down the plains.

Jill & I took off last Friday morning for a brief trip back to Oklahoma, for the first time in nearly a year. We had a lot of people to see, lots of things to do and seemingly not enough time to do it all. Of course our vacations/trips are always like this so I'm not sure why I would expect something different.

Friday starts with a quick flight into Oklahoma City from Denver. Yack picked us up from the airport and we hit Charleston's (first stop on our food tour of Oklahoma) for some lunch with Martha & Georgia. Choke down some food and off we went again.

Next destination would be Bartlesville to see Jill's parents and Grandma. We stopped over in Tulsa long enough to see a couple of the Solarcers. In BVille, we were treated to some mighty lasagna, as we continued our assault on our waistlines.

Saturday had us spending 1/2 day in BVille then heading to Stillwater to catch the OState/Texas A&M homecoming game. Duke had hooked us up with some ridiculously good tickets, so we'll be enjoying super views of the game. On our way to the game, we snagged some Eskimo Joe's pasta salads, which we snarfed down as we walked to the stadium.

I won't go into details on the game, as the wounds are still fresh. Two missed extra points and a OT loss is enough details. I've found its much easier for me to be an OState fan from a distance. The game was a great game, entertaining and kept you interested, but the outcome pretty much sucked. Oh the life of a Pokes fan...

After the game we took off, grabbing a bed at Shorty's in Yukon before arising and spending the better part of the day with my parents around Oklahoma City. We hit another food destination, Abuelos, to round out the trifecta of restaurants on our trip. Sunday night we settled for some Chilis as we were all still too stuffed from lunch, but we were joined by two more extended pseudo-family members Tony & Denise Baustert.

After dinner we gathered at Shorty's place for a bit, before turning in. We had a flight at 7am the next morning, which meant we'd need to be on the road at 5:30 CST which would be equivalent to 4:30 for us Mountain Time Zoners. We made the flight, Jill went to work, and I ran some errands.

Great to get back, even if it was a whirlwind tour. I started my new job at MarkWest the following day, so I've been a bit behind but trying to get caught up. The new job hasn't been the typical slow start, its been a "hit the ground running" experience thus far, which is great as my days literally fly by.

More on the new job and all that later.

Stepping out on the town.

For Jill's birthday, we had purchased tickets to go see The Lion King musical that is currently running in Denver. I had no expectations, but it was a story I was familiar with and figured would be more my style than something like Les Mis or the like.

So we pulled out the fancy duds from the closet, and got spruced up for a night out. I broke out the suit and tie, and it only took me 2 or 3 tries to get it tied correctly. It was a nice change to get dressed up for a change, especially when you've got a great looking date.

We arrived at the show, and made our way to our seats, which were about 3 rows back, just to the left side of the stage. Soon after we got settled, the lights dimmed and the show started. The opening scene was a booming visual and auditory experience, with characters literally appearing from every direction. The costumes were remarkable and the music impressive.

Words, pictures, descriptions really wouldn't describe the incredibly innovative costumes. The storyline follows the movie pretty closely, but takes on an entirely new life with the actors and their elaborate costumes. So I'll not ramble on too much, but tell you that if you get the chance to see this show you should definitely go see it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Turn out the lights, the party is over...

And so the 2+ year experiment at Outlaw draws to a close at 3:59p.m. MST today, leaving Michael with his new self chosen Dwight (I picture myself as more of a Jim or Ryan character). It was a great opportunity that slowly started to close into a place where I had nowhere left to go. The great news is that with every finished opportunity is a new opportunity, and I'm very excited about the new job (start Tuesday).

The great part about it was how many "You won't believe this" stories that I'll take with me. I truly believe that I would never have appreciated NBC's series The Office (my favorite show on television) without this experience.

Yep I have worked for Michael Scott, but now I'm off to a new office.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Signs of winter

Its as reliable as the sun, this time of the year I start to get an unexplainable seasonal depression. This syndrome has lessened considerably since moving to Colorado, due to ski season, but its inevitable that it will happen. Today marks the first real signs that it is 6 months till consistent warm temps.

The signs:
1. Snow falling on the Front Range
2. Big snows (8-16 inches) headed for the mountains
3. High country epic mountain bike trails accumulating snow that won't be gone till June 07
4. My bike on the trainer
5. My Winter Park/Copper Mtn season pass paid for but not used

Yeah I know that this "slack time" really is only about a month, as the ski resorts are opening in rapid succession right now, but I'm so spoiled here that I can't handle a month going by without instant outdoor gratification. In the spring/summer months we have "mud season" where you can't ski anymore, but some bike trails aren't dried out but that coordinates with warming temps and longer days. Jill & I have been driving to work in total darkness for several weeks now, and the sun rays after work are getting harder to catch.

But hope is there. Fresh powder, a new job and a renewed determination to build a fitness base over the winter (even if it means a lot of time on the bike trainer) have me already primed for skiing and mountain biking next summer. Now its time for me to hibernate for a month and start mapping/graphing/researching all the places I'm going to go next spring....

Friday, October 13, 2006

I should quit my job more often

Its increasingly common knowledge that I'm a short-timer at Outlaw, and by this time next week I'll be unemployed (for a couple days). While playing out the final two weeks of my time here, my duties took me to Pittsburgh with the boss/owner. Two years have passed since I started, and I think its been a good two year run for both myself and the company.

So the boss decided to give me a "last supper" while on the trip, which I took the opportunity to select Morton's Steakhouse. What a tremendous selection it turned out to be.

We sit down and they immediately bring a huge loaf of sourdough bread, which happens to be my favorite. This was a no expense to be spared meal, so we start perusing the menu for pretty much one of everything. The waitress tells us about their specialty desserts that take 30+ minutes to prepare and need to be ordered with dinner. Knowing fully we'd be too full to even think about dessert, we throw caution to the wind and order a couple of these special chocolate cake fudge filled over ice cream concoctions.

Now its time to get serious about selecting a steak. Morton's is a big time steak place. I settle on a NY Strip, which commands $40 something dollars ala carte, add on a caesar salad and some mashed potatoes. Not thinking that would be enough to kill us, Nowell adds some broccoli and sauteed mushrooms.

By the time that my salad arrives, I've already eaten about half the loaf of bread. As I get about half way through my salad, which thankfully showed up with no fries on it, I think to myself "I'm already getting full". Uh oh...

Before I can regroup from the salad, the biggest NY Strip I've ever seen shows up on my table. I take one look at this steak and realize its probably not reasonable for one person to eat this steak, but I'm going to give it the old college try. The steak is cooked absolutely perfect medium-rare, and its as tender as melted butter. Before I know it, I've killed about 3/4ths of it and then I realize there is no stopping with that little left.

Joel 1, Steak 0.

Belly 110% full.

Then dessert arrives. I'm not a big dessert fan, and I really don't like chocolate at all, but despite being chocolate with a warm fudge center, this dish was pretty incredible. I do my best to eat the cake with a minimal amount of the uber-rich fudge, but alas I throw in the white towel with about 1/3rd of it left.

As we stand to leave, I think to myself that I've ever been this full, which says quite a bit since I am a considerable eater. The pain doesn't subside on the short walk back to our hotel, and it only gets worse as I lay around. As I lay on my hotel bed feeling like Takeru_Kobayashi on July 4th, I realized after only 4 days in Pittsburgh I had been assimilated.

Time to get back to Boulder and get on that bike, I've got some work to do.....

I'll take a salad, hold the fries please.

While in Pittsburgh working at the Univ. of Pittsburgh Medical Center, I was told multiple times about Pittsburgh having an alarmingly large percentage of obese people. Coming from the Boulder area where there are more world-class athletes than obese people, the large number of large people in Pittsburgh. After doing some extensive research, I may have found the answer.

Wednesday at lunch Nowell & I set out looking for a place to grab a quick sandwich. Somewhere along the way Nowell tells me he was told of a great Greek restaurant in the area, so we set out to find it. Greek food isn't really my bag, but I can find something to eat there I'm sure.

Wednesday marked day 3 of our 4 day food bender in Pittsburgh, so as we approached Zorba's Greek Restaurant I was pleased to see "Home of our famous Grilled Chicken Salad" painted on the window. A sensible, grilled chicken salad for lunch sounds pretty good so I place my order and grab a table.

I am literally jaw dropped as my salad arrives. I've never seen anything like it before. Nestled directly between my layer of grilled chicken and lettuce is a pile of french fries. ON A SALAD.

I've been on the East Coast, all over the West Coast and lots of places in between but I have never in my years seen a salad with a big layer of french fries on it. Stunned but hungry, I proceed to just scrape the fries off and have a non-Pittsburgh grilled chicken salad.

Out of morbid curiosity, when I got back to the office I had to ask about this salad. I was then even more shocked as they told me that wasn't a fluke, in fact they were surprised that I had never had a fry-salad before. I guess when you think about it, being as the Heinz name is all over the city of Pittsburgh, that fries are probably pretty much standard on everything.

I'll have the fettuccine alfredo, fries on the side please.
Two scoops of Strawberry, hold the fries please.
The possibilities are endless....

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

How did people travel without Ipods? Random Thoughts from the road...

Did people actually travel before Ipods? Seems rather barbaric to me. My Ipod is my savior when I am on the road. Even with that screaming kid up front, the two 6 ft 4" 255lb guys in my row with me, and that freaking jerk in front of me that can't even let the wheels get off the ground before smashing his seat into my knees are all forgotten, temporarily at least, with the soothing sounds of the Ipod.

Yeah sure you're supposed to turn all electronic devices off blah blah blah. Try and turn my Ipod off will be prying it from my cold dead heads (in my best Chuck Heston voice). If I felt that in anyway shape or form that my matchbox sized Ipod with a rechargeable battery and flash memory had even a .000001% chance to interfere with the normal operation of the airplane, I wouldn't think of it but my Ipod just isn't a threat to the safety of an airplane.

So I begin life in the Steel City, land of the Super Bowl Champion Steelers. The Penguins arena is across the street from my hotel, but of course they are out of town until Friday. We've had some good food, but even business expense account free cuisine at the best restaurants in town doesn't taste quite the same when you're eating across from a bald man instead of tremendous brunette with big brown eyes.

So for now I'll try and just get through another day before being able to get back home...

Friday, October 06, 2006

Vacation Adventure - Grand Teton Finale

Morning breaks. Two words that were more welcome than any other words in my vocabulary. The night was cold. The gear did an admirable job, and we were actually somewhat comfortable. We had survived, but as we lay in the tent, we could feel how cold it was outside our small little 35sq ft paradise.

We each ventured out briefly, but quickly returned to the tent and the warmth of the sleeping bags. It was very evident that we were just going to have to wait it out, desperately needing the warmth of the sun to be able to get moving again. Being in the canyon, the sun would be several hours behind schedule, but blue skies were above and we were happy to be right there, right then.

Our first obstacle would be our shoes, notably Jills. Her shoes had gotten wet through the hiking and snow trekking, and they had become so frozen in the sub 20 degree temps that they were too rigid for her to even get her feet into. Of course, they were also so cold that she wouldn't have had them on for a minute before her feet would have started to freeze.

I fired up the trusty JetBoil stove and proceeded to "cook" her shoes. Hovering the shoe about 6 inches above the stove, I was able to quickly dethaw her shoes. It worked so well with hers that I proceeded to "cook" mine as well. My shoes were fine to wear, but Jills still needed to dry some, so we put them on a rock and waited patiently for the sun to help the cause.

I can't say enough good things about our gear, as it was impeccable. The North Face tent, although not spacious, kept us warm and very dry through some nasty conditions and packed up super small. The camp stove fired up easily and boiled countless liters of water, and the Thermarests kept us insulated from the icy cold ground at night. Good gear doesn't come cheap, but sometimes you get what you pay for. I had survived sub 20 degree temps in a 20 degree rated bag that was at least 6 or 7 years old.

In the meantime, our tent had started to build up enough heat inside that the condensation was getting annoying. We would need to wait until the tent dried out enough to pack up anyway, so we suited up with our clothes for the day and put the rain fly out to dry as we did camp duties.

Soon the sun crested the peaks, and all was right with the world. Our original plan was to stay 2 nights up in Cascade Canyon, with our return doing a loop past Lake Solitude over the Paintbrush Divide (10,500 feet) and returning down Paintbrush Canyon to Jenny Lake. As we sat there, we discussed our plan of action. The ranger had told me "no one has gone over the divide, meaning the trail may be hard to find" the day before, which certainly made that trek more daunting knowing the snow pack would do nothing but get deeper with 1500 feet of elevation gain.

We thought about doing a day hike to the South Fork of Cascade, and keeping our campsite in the North Fork. Trudging through the snow to the South side didn't seem like a great idea either, as frozen shoes weren't much fun. So we made the executive decision to just retrace our 5.5 mile path back down. It was hard to argue with the logic of having a bed and a shower, two things that had eluded us for the last 3 or 4 days.

Jill starts the trek back down

One last glance back towards our homestead, vowing to retun

The sun was out, the skies were blue and the temps were rising rapidly. We neared the fork that would send us back to Jenny Lake, when we ran into another young couple decked out with overnight packs. We talked with them briefly and they told us how they too had their plans changed by the weather, and they were thinking about going over the Paintbrush Divide today if possible. We gave them an update on what to expect, wished them luck and continued on taking in more and more views at every corner.

We passed lots of people, many who were impressed/bewildered that we had taken on the overnight challenge. I quickly realized that people really weren't stopping to talk with me, as the guys we passed were pretty much only interested in talking with Jill. One commented on how good she looked especially considering we had been in the backcountry, while another told her how much she looked like his niece who is a lawyer in Houston. I received no complements strangely enough.

The views on the way down, even though we had seen them on the way up, did not disappoint. The Tetons are really a magnificent range, and the blue skies, changing colors and rushing water only added to the beauty of this setting.

As we continued our rapid descent, the people become more numerous which always signifies you are nearing the trail head. At higher elevations especially, most people don't make it more than 1 mile from the trail head, so we were sure we were getting close to the boat which would take us back to our car. We just missed a boat as we walked up, but thankfully another was shortly behind and before we knew it we were back in the parking lot and done. One last quick pic of us sporing our heavy packs then we were off to see the rest of the park.

Blue skies and 60 degrees greeted us in the parking lot. While it would have been ideal to have these conditions the entire trip, we were just overjoyed to get good weather at all. We drove around in the park stopping many times to take in views and snap a couple pics. We were close to peak on the leaves changing, but maybe 3-4 days too early.

Does it get any better?

Other horses must be jealous

Leaves a'blazing

We set sail from Grand Teton, stopping briefly in Jackson to grab some dinner before knocking out a couple hours of driving and grabbing a hotel in Rock Springs, WY. The next day would be a pretty easy drive into Cheyenne, arriving there around lunch time. We grabbed some food in Cheyenne, checked out the Sierra Trading Post store and then blazed the remaining hour back to our home where two anxious puppies awaited our return.

We unloaded the rental car, which in turn made our entry way in our front room like a tornado had just destroyed an REI store. Thankfully we had taken the next day off from work as a potential extra day of vacations or a recovery day. It was clear when we got up the previous morning in the icy, cold conditions that it would be a recovery day. A great trip, albeit with mostly crappy weather, that we will definitely be doing again. We're already planning our assault on the Cascade Canyon/Paintbrush Divide loop for next summer under hopefully better weather.