I Ate A Barnacle

Two barnacles if I'm being totally honest. It happened while I was on a business trip in Portugal, struggling to adjust to the time zone, and someone said "Here try a barnacle."

Apparently a little jet lag is all it takes to break down my defenses. That and Portugal is a sweet place.

Prior to my great barnacle eating event of 2013 I did some sight seeing. The group I was with took a tour of a The Castle of the Moors which is a hilltop fortress that gives an entirely new meaning to the word hilltop. I've climbed mountains that seemed a lot flatter than this hill. The view from the top was both spectacular and terrifying at the same time.

The castle is on the left. The "outside" is on the right.

The combination of the wind and rain made walking the castle walls fairly scary. I started climbing up a set of steps and realized that the clouds were so thick I couldn't see the top.

It keeps going for quite a while after the clouds take over the view.

The weather was harsh and there weren't any great places to escape it in the castle. It gave me a new appreciation for how hated the Moors must have felt that they'd build and hang out in a place like this. 

Later that day the weather cleared up and we visited the Pena National Palace. Nice place. A little big for my taste, but I'm sure most people that don't own one of these say things like that.

Fairly enormous panorama of the Pena National Palace 

Every time I look at this picture I think Naboo...

Seriously, doesn't this look like Naboo?

Before we left one of my teammates took a picture of me at the Palace. I blend right in like I own the place don't I?

Eventually we got hungry and made our way off to dinner. That's when I ate the barnacle.  For the record, they taste like oil and garlic and they're tasty. Honestly, everything I ate in Portugal was delicious. It really says something about a place when they can make a plate that looks like this taste good.

Barnacles. Yum.

Alex's First Time Playing Drums With A Live Band!

Last week we took the family to a party at Leo's barn. There's always live music at Leo's and it's always a great time.  This time something magical happened.

Alex sat down at the drums while the band was taking a break. He started playing the drum part to ACDC's Back in Black and musicians came running from all over the house to get in on some 80's hair band action. The result was, and this is a scientific term, totally wicked awesome.

Christine managed to capture part of it on video.

Alex (10 years old) and I have been working on the drums for a few months and he's soaking it up like a sponge. Even so, I was blown away by how easily he went from lessons to playing live.

The band was made up of two guitar players, John on keyboard, me on bass, and Alex rockin' the drums. Every musical experience I've had pales in comparison to the thrill of playing in a band with my son. What a rush.

Conner's Class Trip - Hike Up Mt. Wachusett

Back in October I took a day off to hike up Mt. Wachusett with Conner's class. We took a more direct route than we did when Alex and I did the hike with his class. On the way up Conner was thrilled to discover a white spotted caterpillar. He took care of it for a while before finding a nice tree for it to live on.

The top of the mountain has a new tower which is surprisingly large. The ladders to the top were missing so we weren't able to get higher than the stone base. Even so it provided an impressive view.

Conner and his friend at the top of Mount Wachusett

Conner and me at the top of Mount Wachusett

After lunch and some running around on the top of the mountain we headed down. Fast. I mean really fast. Going up the mountain I was in my element. We climbed fast and rested when the kids needed it. Coming down was an an entirely different story. I don't usually feel at a physical disadvantage around the kids, but the way Conner flew down the mountain has me thinking that I'm either getting old, or gravity works differently for kids. For the record, I'm pretty sure it was a gravity issue.

Either way, we had a great time. I'm looking forward to doing this trip with Allison next year.

Spit Take - The Game

Christine was out last thursday night. Unencumbered by a responsible adult, the kids came up with a game called Spit Take. 
A spit-take is a comic technique in which someone spits a beverage out of his or her mouth when he or she reacts to a statement. - Wikipedia
Their version of the game was pretty simple.
  1. Person A takes a big swig of water. 
  2. Person B then says something gross such as "I peed in that glass."
  3. Person A spits the water out in making as much noise and spray as possible.
  4. Person C (That was me) is instructed to take pictures.

These are some of our pictures.
Alex gets a masterful spray.

Conner working on his chundering technique. He is quite fond of that word.

Allison goes for distance.

Dexter enjoying some time with the kids  next to our sad, sad garden. As you can see,  we were masterful in our gardening incompetence this year. It was so bad we almost kept the weeds from growing. 

Alex demonstrating alternative swig techniques.

Alex wrapping up a successful evening of Spit Take.

Allison's Repartee

Allison: Daddy, can you cut up an apple for me?

Me: Yes dear.

Allison: Daddy, I'm sweetie! Mommy is dear.

Chords to "My Nemesis" from Phineas and Ferb

Phineas and Ferb Soundtrack Cover
There's been a lot of music in our house lately with Alex, Conner, and Allison learning drums, guitar and piano respectively.

Alex asked me to play along with him on the song "My Nemesis" from the Phineas and Ferb soundtrack. To my shock the song has more than three chords and I couldn't find them on the Internet. What is this world coming to‽

Earlier tonight I sat down and figured out the chords. At least I think I did. For a while I thought the bridge was going to be my nemesis. Ultimately I found the chords hiding under a semi-aquatic egg laying mammal of action. Here they are for future parents who want to rock out to Phineas and Ferb's "My Nemesis".

      My Nemesis by Danny Jacob
Chaotically transcribed by Paul Russell

A        D     G                D
My neme, neme, oooo... my neme, neme, neme. 

A        D     G                D
My neme, neme, oooo... my neme, neme, neme. 

A             D           G        D
I used to sit alone doin' evil all day, 

A                       D             G         D
But now I think there's someone gonna get in my way, yeah, 

D                     G         C            G
There's someone in my life that doesn't want me to exist, 

A        D     G                D
My neme, neme, oooo... my neme, neme, neme 

G                     D
And I feel fine cause I've got a nemesis. 

A        D     G                D
My neme, neme, oooo... my neme, neme, neme. 

A        D     G                D
My neme, neme, oooo... my neme, neme, neme. 

C# minor            F# minor 
And I hate him, and he hates me, 

       D            D7  
What a wonderful animosity. 

C# minor           F# minor
Besides his hat he wears no clothes, 

    D              E
Now I have someone to oppose... 

Cause I've got a nemesis!
A        D     G                D
My neme, neme, oooo... my neme, neme, neme. 

A        D     G                D      A
My neme, neme, oooo... my neme, neme...sis...

Chords in this song

A       [0 0 2 2 2 0]

D       [x x 0 2 3 2]

G       [3 2 0 0 3 3]

D7      [x 0 0 2 1 2]

C# min  [x 4 6 6 5 4]

F# min  [2 4 4 2 2 2] 

Princess Allison at Lego Land

Last winter we headed down to Florida to see Memere and Pepere. They took us to Lego Land which was a blast. The models there are spectacular. Allison was in rare form posing with the models. 

Too cute for Darth Vader

Allison and R2-D2
Allison hasn't seen the movie, but she still knows this guy is a clown

Alex and I got a little over excited and Allison straightened us out.

Little Miss In-Charge

The kids in front of a massive Lego NASA complex

There was also a Star Wars exhibit with enormous models. I couldn't leave without getting some pictures. Alex was kind enough to jump in a few shots to provide a frame of reference.

The Lego Millenium Falcon

Hoth Battle Scene. All models were custom and about 2x the size you buy in the store

I'd be freaked out too if the Empire were that close.

Lego Land is worth seeing. While not required, I recommended bringing a child with you to provide a sense of scale in photographs of the models. 

Life, The Universe and Cycling

The early morning yell of horror was the sound of yours truely waking up and suddenly remembering where I was. It wasn't just that the gym was hot, it wasn't just that it was damp and smelly. It was the fact that the gym was a rest stop in the middle of a 180 mile bicycle ride and there wasn't a bus due for another eighty miles.

One Day Earlier

Twenty Two hundred riders at the starting line
Saturday morning I started riding in the ludicrously named Bike MS: Cape Cod Getaway, a fundraiser to fight multiple sclerosis. Neither the cause nor the National MS Society are ludicrous. Quite the contrary. MS is a horrible disease and the National MS Society is doing great work to find treatments and a cure.

It is the name "Cape Cod Getaway" that I take issue with. "Getaway" sounds like a nice 2 day vacation, right? That's how they lure you in. Here's the description from the ride's website:
The Cape Cod Getaway is the largest MS ride in New England. Beginning on the morning of Saturday June 29, over 2000 riders will pedal from UMass Boston through the coastal towns of Massachusetts' South Shore to the beginning of Cape Cod. 
Some quick Google mapping will tell you that it's 150 miles at best, but that assumes you're not a crazy person like me and my teammates. We signed up for the long route. One hundred and eighty miles on a bike! That's not a "Getaway."

Signing up for the long route makes no difference in your fundraising capacity. It's the sort of thing that happens in a planning session at the pub when you've had one too many. In my case that turned out to be just one.

I was talked into the MS ride by my friend Arthur Dent (not his real name) who was in turn talked into it by one of his friends. There's a certain degree of history repeating itself as this is basically how I ended up doing my first century.

So there I was, standing in a brief but formidable monsoon on the campus of Umass Boston Bayside this past Saturday morning getting ready to head out on the first leg of the Bike MS: Cape Cod Getaway.

The first day was the long bit. 100 miles.

RunKeeper recording of my day 1 ride 

That's me
I got separated from my teammates about 20 miles in and spent the rest of the day following my training. Eat, drink, pedal, repeat. The biggest lesson from previous rides is not to spend more than 14 minutes at a rest stop. Get in and get out. At minute 15 your legs start to cool down and it makes starting back up much harder.

RunKeeper and my cycle computer differ slightly on the distance. The cycle computer had me at 103.26 miles and a 14.96 mph average pace. Not too shabby considering I was riding alone most of the day. Two thousand+ riders spread out very quickly over 100 miles.

Still a solid day of riding. I was thankful that a constant cloud cover managed to keep the cursed day moon away.

At the end of day one we lined up our 2200+ bikes in a field under a wind turbine and headed off to bed.

2200 bikes lined up for a night's rest

That night I slept in a gymnasium on a foam mattress. Maybe it was the exhaustion, but I have never been so pleased to see a mattress of any kind as I was that night.

Arguably the most comfortable mattress on the planet. 

Sunday morning I got a late start. I was woken at 4:30 am by the sounds of the person next to me packing up his sleeping bag. We were supposed to wake up at 4am, but either the wake up call we were promised didn't happen or we slept through it. My first paragraph homage to Douglas Adams aside, I actually felt very good Sunday morning. We were back on the road for our second day by 5:36am.

The second day was also the long bit.

RunKeeper recording of my day 2 ride 

My cycle computer had this ride at 81 miles with a 15.54 mph pace. I attribute the increase in speed to drafting off my teammates and something I heard at the 40 mile rest stop.

Warning: This next bit uses some terminology that may offend sensitive readers. 

There's something they don't tell you about the second day of a ride like this. You go in thinking your body will be exhausted and your legs won't work, but that's not really a problem. Proper training, eating and a few hours rest and I was eager to go. The real issue is with friction. My butt was killing me and I wasn't the only one.

Sitting on a bike seat for 100 miles is uncomfortable. Getting back on the bike seat the next day is downright painful. I know this from both experience and from the numerous people around me that developed cycling induced Tourettes on day two.

As I was riding out of the 40 mile rest stop and preparing for the jolt as I got back in the saddle I heard something that changed my perspective on the day. Perhaps an inspiring story about someone with MS powering through the ride? Nope. Something that hit home even more. A man stepped out of a porta potty and announced to everyone within 50 feet "Man do my balls hurt!"

Instantly my perspective on the day was improved. Sure my butt hurt in ways I'd not previously imagined it could, but my balls felt fine. Green lights across the board. My spirits went through the roof.   "At least my balls don't hurt!" I thought. "How lucky am I?!"

I shared the man's comments with other uncomfortable looking male cyclists and it consistently cheered them up. One minute they are swearing like a sailor and the next minute they're smiling, riding faster and rejoicing in the news that their balls didn't hurt either.  Men can disagree on just about anything: politics, beer, the right direction for installing toilet paper, but the one thing they all agree with is a day your balls don't hurt is a good day.

While Douglas Adams had it at 42, I'm keen to think that it's this sort of perspective that is probably the answer to Life, The Universe and Everything.

Warning Ends

The ride came to an end after a particularly long hill leading into P-Town. A quick shower and a bite to eat later we hopped on a bus back to Boston.

The bus ride home. Hills are so much easier this way.
Friends and family sponsored me to the tune of $755 and the team I joined, Dottie's Pettlers, raised a whopping $4,195! Thanks to everyone that contributed! You are all awesome!

Having had some time to reflect on this experience I've come to a few conclusions:

  1. I'm glad I did it. 180 miles feels like an accomplishment. Even better that we raised some money to fight MS. 
  2. Training, eating, rest and perspective are the secret to finishing a ride like this. 
  3. I think I'm going to stick to shorter rides in the future. 60 miles seems to be a good distance. Going further than that, the time commitment to training takes away from seeing my family too much.
  4. That said, the rush you get after a ride like that is amazing. I feel like a duck floating on a cloud. I wonder if I can get that out of a shorter ride?
  5. Spandex still isn't flattering.

Ride info links:

Dexter The Not So Mighty

From the day our pets met there's been a clear pecking order. I just assumed as Dexter grew he'd assert some dominance over the cats. Dexter is now pushing 50 pounds and is quite capable of eating a cat should the thought occur to him.

Alas, I heard whimpering coming from the kitchen last night. I walked in to discover Tom calmly guarding the water bowl. A fearful Dexter wouldn't get any closer. 

Dexter continues to try to befriend Tom. It's slow going, but Dexter remains hopeful, if a little thirsty.