December 2010 Archives

More snowshoeing

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I'm really digging the new snowshoes.

So much in fact, that I find myself wishing for more snow - just the opposite of what I wished for last year. There's just something about being outside, walking "on" the snow, and the serene nature/feel/vibe of it all that is really appealing and enjoyable. The workout doesn't hurt, either. :-)

I decided to take a trip to the Aztalan State Park last weekend, and I'm glad I did. I had visited the park as a kid, but haven't been back to it for many, many years. It's a pretty cool place, not only for the landscape and scenery but for the story and background.

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I parked the Prius at the "main gate" area of the park; there are two large parking areas - one near the highway's main gate, and one closer to the Crawfish river (deeper into the park). It was about 3:00pm, the sun was setting, the air temperature was in the low teens, and I was the only person at the park. Perfect!

Aztalan is believed to have been a small community with ties back to the Aztec indians; it was inhabited around 1000AD and now serves as an "important archeological site" for Wisconsin. It supposedly contains some burial grounds and may have hosted sacrificial ceremonies back in the day... creepy. :-)

I made my way up-and-down several small hills and then trekked into a small wooded area that bordered the the Crawfish river. The snow was still "painted" to the trees, and I thought it made for a cool picture (although the phone doesn't do it justice):

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You can see the tracks from cross-country skiers and snowshoers - I guess a lot of other folks like to enjoy the hilly terrain here, too. The wooded area afforded several options for exploring - I walked around back there for a bit and then made my way out toward the river, which was just beginning to freeze over:

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I could actually hear the ice "moving" or forming in the water - there was this grumbling noise every so often, and at first it was a bit unsettling, but ultimately pretty cool. I could see tracks from where people had walked out onto the ice, which seemed completely crazy to me; it couldn't have been more than an inch or two thick...

I kept making my way along the river and eventually hit a turnaround point - there was a small stream that branched from the main river and prevented me from traveling any farther south. I turned around and made my way back to one of the large "forts" that exist on the park's property. There are remnants of a perimeter of sorts around many sections of the park; they're large wooden poles that are laid-out with complete precision:

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It's even more impressive when you consider those things were cut, positioned, and hoisted into place more than 1000 years ago!

I completed two "laps" of the park, which was good for about 3.5 miles or so. The sun was quickly setting after my second lap so I decided to call it a day. I managed to burn a cool 700 calories or so while out and about, which definitely helped, as I joined Dan and Tara for dinner and the Packers game later on that night. Here's my summary of the trip to Aztalan:

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The funny thing about snowshoeing is that despite the cold temperatures (the car showed 14F when I was done), I found myself being too warm even though I only had on a wool baselayer (fairly thin), a windproof mid-layer, a lightweight fleece, and my Columbia "shell" (no insulation). I was actually sweating pretty heavily, and normally I freeze. My cheeks were a bit cold, but everything else was too warm - go figure.

Upon returning home from my little adventure, I hit the couch and Shiloh joined me... he seemed to be pretty relaxed:

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Fish Fry Review: Crawfish Junction

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Try as I might, I couldn't resist the temptation to join my friends Dan & Tara for a fish fry this past Friday. So, I fired-up the car and made the short drive to Milford, WI to check out what has been reported by others as an excellent fish fry, compliments of Crawfish Junction.

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A couple of important things to note right up front:


  1. Technically speaking, Crawfish Junction is located in Milford, WI - not sure why they show Johnson Creek as the address... it's in Milford, which is a small town that's located about 3 miles north of Lake Mills on Highway A.

  2. They only accept cash or checks - no credit or debit cards are accepted. They do have an ATM onsite.

  3. They stop serving food at 9:00pm on Friday nights, so be sure to get there early.

With those important notices out of the way, let's talk a bit about the actual visit. It started with me arriving to Dan and Tara's home at around 7:45pm. They were just wrapping-up things at the garage, and I was starting to feel pretty hungry. Dan had to run a few errands first; a quick stop at the local Walgreens and a subsequent visit at the local grocery store, and we were almost ready to head out for some fish.

Quite often when dealing with a small town establishment, it's not uncommon for the kitchen to close early, so I suggested we check with the Crawfish Junction to confirm that they would be serving food beyond 9:00pm. A quick call confirmed my fears: "Kitchen closes at 9:00pm," was the reply, and my watch showed 8:30pm. We put in our name and assured them we'd be there before 9:00pm.

We rolled-in to the Crawfish Junction at about 8:50pm and were pleased to find a largely empty establishment. The Crawfish Junction is a fairly large place; there are two distinct bar areas with plenty of seating (at the bar or at high-top tables with barstools), along with a separate dining area with traditional tables and chairs. When we strolled-in, there were perhaps 12-15 other folks in the place; country music played in the background while a handful of very large flatscreen televisions played ESPN programming.

The greeter showed us to a table in one of the bar areas and we were presented with menus. A quick perusing of the menu definitely piqued my interest - it looked like Crawfish Junction had some pretty interesting food options; a burger actually sounded really fine, but the waitress who introduced herself while I was skimming the menu kindly told us that on Friday nights the menu is limited to "the back page" options only, most of which involved fish.

And there were plenty of fish options: broasted cod, baked cod, fried lake perch, fried bluegills, fried walleye, shrimp, scallops, alligator (yes, you read that right!), and (gross) frogs legs. There were also a slew of appetizers and a few other fried items (chicken tenders) available, but we were there for the fish.

Dan and Tara both opted for the broasted cod with sweet potato fries; I opted for the combo option and chose the baked cod and the lake perch. We also ordered a few beverages (Fat Tire for Dan, Tyranena for me, and a bloody mary for Tara). Our waitress left, order in hand, and we chatted about the events of the past week.

After about 5 minutes, our waitress returned with our drinks and to assure us that the food was "on the way." No problem - we weren't in any hurry, and only five minutes (at most) had elapsed since we placed our orders. Speed is apparently a proud point for the Crawfish Junction crew.

With only a few sips of the frosty beverages under our belt, our food arrived. The broasted cod looked absolutely fantastic:

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For those not familiar with the act of broasting, it's fairly similar to deep frying, but it involves frying the food under pressure (think pressure cooker + fryer) to create an incredibly crispy (yet light) batter and an insanely moist main star (the fish (or chicken, as is the more traditional broasting subject)). The fish fry also included your standard cole slaw, rye bread, and potato option.

I was lucky enough to sample the broasted cod and I was absolutely impressed by it. The batter was crispy, light, and slightly "bubbly" and featured a delicious salt and pepper taste that really complimented the super moist cod. It was expertly applied and clung perfectly to every cut of the fish - even when cut with a fork. The actual fish was extremely flavorful, and there was nary a sign of grease to be found anywhere. Top notch cod, and an excellent application of broasting. The sweet potato fries were decent as well, but appeared to be "from the bag."

Up next was my combo plate, which included this massive piece of baked cod:

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That monster had to be a full 12-ounces, and let me assure you that it offered more than just quantity - like its broasted brother, the baked cod was fantastic. It was flaky and flavorful, moist and meaty, and simply delicious. It had a little hint of butter hanging around on it, but it wasn't terrible - the fish tasted clean and fresh... my guess is they bake it in some type of butter/wine combination. Dan and Tara confirmed that the baked cod was "totally excellent."

The second half of my combo plate included the fried lake perch:

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As you can see, the Crawfish Junction doesn't skimp on portions; that's a pile of lake perch (I counted 6 full-sized pieces in total) next to my baked potato, and true to the rest of the fish that we sampled, the lake perch was nothing to scoff at - it was fantastic. Slightly more fishy tasting than the cod and boasting a wonderfully meaty texture, I really enjoyed the perch. Dan's reaction was a simple, "Oh wow," after he tried it. The breading was light and crumbly and had a similar salt/pepper seasoning to the cod's batter.

The baked potato was, well, a baked potato. It's hard to get excited about a baked potato, but I like 'em, especially with a little ketchup (try it!).

Factor in the value price of just $14.95 for that monster platter and you've got one heckuva bargain. Dan and Tara's 3-piece cod dinners were $9.95; a 5-piece option exists for an additional $2.

With two rounds of drinks and three excellent fish entrees, our total bill was just a few cents over $50. That's A-OK by my balance sheet. We stayed a bit longer and chatted with our waitress (she was a bit "absent" throughout the meal, but we were never left for wanting for too long), paid the bill and headed back home.

Crawfish Junction = WIN

Food = 4.5 stars
Service = 2.75 stars
Value = 4.5 stars
MISC = 4 stars (big, airy, comfy, decent parking options, average brew selection with a few surprises)

Summary: This is a top-10 fish fry that warrants a drive to the small metropolis of Milford. If broasting cod is a genius maneuver, let's call the Crawfish Junction "Einstein." Service is average at best, but the fish and the excellent value easily catapult this place over the top. I can't wait to go back and sample the bluegills, walleye, and some of their burgers (which Dan confesses are "incredible" as well).

...er, or how about, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade?" Nope, still not quite right... let's try, "A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water." (quote by Carl Reiner)

So what's with all of the cheesy sayings and quotes? Well, if you haven't yet heard, good 'ole Wisconsin got a semi-decent helping of the white stuff today. While the weather-guessers were calling for 8-12" in our area, I think we'll only end up with around 4-5" when it's all said and done. Areas north of here have reportedly gotten closer to the 10-12" amount.

Rather than fear and dread the snow, I decided to embrace it in a number of ways. I started by running in a 10K race called the Jingle Bell Run/Walk. The race was held this morning at the Vilas Park Zoo, and basically consisted of a lap around the Arboretum. The race went fairly well; I finished it in 49:26, which was good for 60th place out of 318 finishers. I was 11th in my age group (I think there were 57 people in my age group).

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The weather was actually quite nice for the race; if not a bit warm. There wasn't any wind to really speak of, and the temperatures were hovering in the mid-30s. It was so warm, in fact, that I had to partially disrobe at about the 4-mile mark... I took off my "outer" gloves (some wind/waterproof/insulated Pearl Izumis) and my fleece sweatshirt (a super lightweight but ridiculously warm "One More Mile" shirt). I also rolled-up my hat to let some heat escape from the 'ole bean.

After the race was done, I headed back to the apartment and cranked out a few hours on the trainer. I discovered a really cool training program called Turbo Crank, and it's actually helped take away some of the dread that I associate with the trainer. The developer of the program posted a link to it on a triathlon site, along with a discount code that dropped the price to around $10; I figured it was worth a shot. It actually makes the indoor sessions tolerable!

With my running and riding done for the day, I was looking forward (sort of) to helping a rescue group transport a German Shepherd by driving the dog from Madison to Black River Falls this afternoon. But apparently the dog was scared to death of men, so the rescue group called me at the last minute to say they didn't think it would be a good "fit" for me to transport her. Combine the man-fear with the bad weather, and it was unlikely that the transport would've been a fun experience.

So, with nothing on the radar for the rest of the day, I decided to go check out the new Johnny Depp movie, The Tourist. I was partially disappointed with it; it wasn't nearly as action-packed as I thought it would be, and it was incredibly predictable. If you're contemplating it, I'd probably save it for a rental.

The movie ended at around 6:00pm, and when I left the theater, I was greeted with a few inches worth of really dense, wet, and heavy snow covering the car (along with everything else). I had my doubts about how well the Prius would handle the snowy conditions, but it did shockingly well and was very stable; almost "confidence-inspiring."

After leaving the movie, I swung over to Fontana Sports where I scored some snow shoes. A few people from work had been talking quite regularly about snow shoeing and how fun it was, so when I heard we were due for a massive snow storm (earlier in the week), I did a some research about snowshoeing online and decided to give it a shot. Thanks to a very helpful (and patient) employee at Fontana, I wound-up with a set of Atlas 925 snow shoes:

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Pretty cool, eh? So much for the old "tennis-racket-style" snow shoes that I pictured whenever I heard people talk about them. I guess technology reaches even the most primitive of activities. :-)

I also bought a pair of "gaiters" and a pair of trekking poles. The gaiters are guards that go over your shoes/boots and run up to your knee to help prevent snow from filling your shoes/boots as you walk. The trekking poles are basically like ski poles, but not as robust (or lightweight) and aid with stability when you're covering uneven terrain. Here's a shot of the whole enchilada:

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I didn't dare put the actual snowshoes on while indoors because they have these pretty wicked "crampons" to aid with traction. The crampons are basically steel "teeth" that bite into the snow/surface as you walk so that you don't slip and slide. Here's a closer look at the bitey little things:

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With the snow falling at a steady pace, my new gear was just itching to go on a maiden voyage, so I headed out into the "blizzard" (the news stations were referring to the storm as a blizzard), eager to see how the new kicks would perform.

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And the survey says: "Fun. Cool. Interesting. Different. Effective." I walked in them for about an hour and a half and really enjoyed the experience. I can vouch for their effectiveness - they easily got me through some deep snow with minimal "sinking" and they provided an awesome amount of stability and sure-footedness. They're sort of like 4-wheel drive for your feet. They also provided a pretty stellar workout; despite it being just 20F outside and with a super strong wind, I worked-up a bit of a sweat during my hike. It didn't help that I was wearing two layers of wool shirts, an alpaca/fleece 1/4-zip pullover, an Arcteryx jacket, and a Northface shell... (I like to layer, if you didn't yet notice)

I enjoyed being out in the falling snow - it was both peaceful and beautiful, thanks to the extra wet nature of this particular snow fall. Trees were "frosted" with snow, and with a very heavy cloud cover, nearly everything appeared to be glowing. I walked through a neighborhood and saw this neat looking house, along with some holiday decorations:

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After the walk, I returned to the apartment, where I discovered my door lock had frozen solid. I couldn't insert the key more than 1/8-inch before it hit solid ice. UGH!!! So, I took off the snow shoes and walked over to a local bar to see if they had a book of matches. My plan was to heat the key with the matches and hope that it would melt the ice in the lock. I took off the snowshoes and walked the block to the bar; walking in the snow without the snowshoes was definitely a much slower prospect.

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I returned with a book of matches only to discover that my idea was virtually worthless. It was so windy that the matches burned-out instantly; all that resulted was a smokey/charred looking key and 20+ expired matches littering the area in front of my door. UGH #2.

I knew there was a small gas station not too far from the apartment, so I put on the snowshoes once again and trekked my way (another mile) to the PDQ. Thankfully it was open (it was around 12:00am), and just as thankfully they had lock de-icer. I bought a container of it along with a Bic wind-proof lighter (for back-up) and trekked back to the apartment.

I'm happy to report the de-icer worked perfectly, and after 3-shots of the stuff, I was able to get into the apartment. Win!

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Unfortunately, I'm wide awake, and it's about 1:45am... so, I decided to fire-up this blog entry. I'm also enjoying a glass of hot tea (decaf) and a water. I can hear the snow plows tearing around outside - my guess is those folks will be up all night and well into the morning... At least I've got company, eh?

And so begins the drudgery.

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It snowed on Friday night - not a ton - but enough to put a complete end to outdoor bike riding season here in Wisco. And that means all of my riding for the next 4-5 months will take place on the dreaded trainer. UGH!

I appreciate having the trainer because it does allow me to keep "riding" throughout the winter months, but I can't tell you how dreadful it is. Even with the television to help keep me company while cranking out the miles I loathe the thought of spending time on that thing.

And even though we got between three and four inches of snow, I went running outside - there's no way I'll use a treadmill unless I absolutely have to. :-)

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To be perfectly honest, I sort of enjoy running in the snow. Everything is quiet - the cars, my foot steps, the surroundings... it's sort of peaceful to be chugging along with the snow cushioning my steps as it compacts and "crunches" ever so lightly under my feet. The only downside is the lack of footing - my run felt twice as long, partly because of the slipping and wasted motion associated with the snow "giving" under my feet.

And, yesterday, the temperature wasn't bad at all - it was in the low 30s, without much wind. The snow was light, which made for easy shoveling (I had to clear a small patch of cement in front of my garage; the plowing service handles everything else) and it doesn't hurt that my garage faces to the north, which resulted in very little snow accumulation, as you can see here... This picture is from my garage door, looking "out" (I have no idea who that person walking in the background is):

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Today, however, is another story. It's much cooler outside - struggling to hit 20F - and it's much windier. I can hear the wind blowing against the windows... I'm not looking forward to lacing up the shoes and hitting the road as much as I did yesterday. I'll probably have to break out a scarf and a warmer pair of gloves to help combat the wind. At least it's sunny-ish...

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Other than the usual workout routine, there are no major plans for today - I'll watch the Packers game, go for my run later in the afternoon, eat some chicken for dinner, and watch the usual Sunday evening TV shows. I'll probably do some reading as well - pretty exciting day, eh? :-D I can't wait for next weekend - there are a few new movies coming out that I'm looking forward to, so it'll be good to get out and see them.

Your lyin' heart... (or gas gauge)

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My car is a liar. A big, fat, mean liar.

Well, sort of. A very important component of it lies, or at the very least, is extremely paranoid, overly conservative, and misleading. What part? Well, as the title suggests, it's the gas gauge.

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One of my primary motivators for the Prius purchase was the mileage benefit. I liked the idea of getting 40+ mpg while utilizing, capturing and regenerating electricity during in-town and shorter-jaunt trips.

Like any good OCD person would, I made sure to study-up on the "hard facts" about the Prius, and I discovered that it featured an 11.9-gallon fuel tank. Rounding down to 11-gallons and multiplying by a conservative 40.0 mpg (I'm getting over 47 most times), I determined that I should be able to easily travel 440 miles before filling-up.

Imagine my dismay when with just over 320-ish miles on my first tank of fuel, the fuel gauge showed "empty" and the display began to blink and chime at me. What?! So, I raced to the nearest gas station and promptly "filled" the tank with exactly 6.5 gallons of gas... A total cost of $15.

Now hold on - this thing has an 11.9-gallon tank, so why was it screaming like Chicken Little with just about 1/2 a tank of fuel left?! I continued this "I need gas now!" game for months - getting to the 350-ish mile mark and having the gauge guilt and fear me into filling it with no more than 7 or 8 gallons of fuel each time.

So while planning my trip to Arkanas, I vowed to go at least 440 miles on a tank of fuel come hell or high water. There was no way I was going to stop every 300 miles to put in 6 gallons of gas, especially when I had a 1500-mile roundtrip journey to contend with. My plan included filling the tank as full as I could get it immediately before leaving Madison, resetting my trip meter, confirming my fuel mileage logs, and heading out onto the interstate. I'd waste no extra mileage along the way.

I left the gas station at the beginning of my trip (around 2:00am in Madison), and sure enough, just outside of St. Louis the fuel gauge started to flash and chime, claiming that the car was nearly out of fuel. I looked at the mileage - 343 miles covered. I looked at the fuel economy computer - averaging 47.9 mpg. Both of which were consistent with past experience and info. I chuckled out loud as I shook my head and said, "Not this time my friend - we're going to hit at least 400 miles before we even think about fuel."

I motored my way through St. Louis.

Once through St. Louis, with 385 miles showing on the trip meter, the fuel gauge was flashing constantly. I ran the numbers again - we were "good" to keep going. There was no way I had less than a gallon of fuel remaining.

I proceeded south on I-44, passing exit after exit. Pacifc, MO? Gone. St. Clair, MO? Adios. At Sullivan, MO, I started to get nervous. I was second guessing my math, falling influence to the car and it's incessant nagging about needing fuel. I wondered about the traffic in St. Louis. I worried about the headwinds... But I confirmed the numbers - I was just approaching 425 miles on the tank. "Maybe 10 gallons burned, worst case," I reassured myself.

Cuba, MO was just ahead - maybe a few miles down the road. St. James, MO just a few more down the road. I'd stop at Cuba. No - it would be St. James. Yep, St. James would be where I stop. I checked my speed (73 mph - the speed limit in MO is 70), relaxed my grip on the steering wheel and smiled.

The smile instantly turned to a gasp when the car promptly shut off and an ominous, bright yellow warning triangle appeared with the message "no fuel." WHAT?!!!

I hit the "Start" button again - nothing. I shifted into neutral, my speed falling rapidly. I could see the off-ramp for Cuba just ahead. My eyes raced to the trip meter - 441 miles. "WHAT?! How in the heck is this possible??" I said out loud. I pulled to the shoulder, riding on the rumble strips, with my emergency flashers on, hoping that the Prius would be aerodynamic enough to coast to the gas station at the top of the exit ramp in Cuba.

And it did. I literally rolled-in to the gas station at 10 mph, hazards flashing, heart racing, blood pressure boiling. I stormed out of the car and jammed the fuel nozzle into the car, as if to "stab" it. "I hate this car!" I said to myself, "and it had better take 11.91 gallons of fuel!!!"

After 3-4 minutes the gas pump clunked to a stop and I checked the display. 10.647 gallons. You had to be kidding me. I tried to force an additional gallon into the car, but no such luck. It took exactly 10.688 gallons. I had gone 442.3 miles on 10.688 gallons of fuel - 41.38 mpg average, and not quite what I had experienced in the past. It also conflicted with what the computer showed for economy, but I chalked it up to the extremely hilly terrain and the headwind that I was battling through most of southern Illinois.

But why wouldn't it take 11 gallons of fuel? I checked the owners manual again - there it was, in black and white - 11.9 gallons capacity. I went online via my phone and was shocked to learn that the Prius doesn't usually "hold" a full fill of fuel because it doesn't have a traditional "formed" gas tank. It has a fuel bladder, which is sort of like a hot water bottle... and when cold, it won't hold a full 11.9 gallons because it can't fully expand to accept the full fill. The cold causes the bladder to shrink and become stiff.

When I had filled-up in Madison earlier that night, the temperature was around 25F. And in Cuba, the temperature was struggling to hit 30F (it was only about 7:45am). Curse you, stupid Prius! Curse you!

The good news is that I know the Prius is good for a solid 400-miles per tank, and will require 9-ish gallons at that time. No slouch by any means. But that stupid gas gauge continues to mock me... I have a sneaking suspicion that I won't be keeping this soul-less, paranoid, lying vehicle too long. :-)

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This page is an archive of entries from December 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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