Recently in Vacations Category

It's official: I'm clearly insane

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"Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results" - Albert Einstein

Yep. I must be insane. Why? Because I did something I swore I'd never likely do... I returned to Puerto Rico (willingly) for a vacation. Some of you might recall the tome I penned after my last trip to good 'ole PR.

To make a long blog entry short(er): I strongly disliked the 2011 trip because: (a) the food was terrible, and (b) the locals weren't exactly friendly or accommodating.

To spare you the trouble of reading this entire entry, not much has changed from 2011. Puerto Rico is "still an experience" and the food is "still island food (fried and crummy)" and the locals are "still stand-offish."

For those who want to share my painful experience, read on...

My coworker, Marty (whom I went on a camping/NASCAR trip with in 2013), suggested that we take a little tropical vacation.

The idea was intriguing and interesting. It became even more enticing when he offered to pay for the housing and rental vehicle, meaning all I'd need to do was find my airfare for the trip. We kicked-around some ideas before he offered up Puerto Rico as an option. I reminded him of my past experience, and he countered with the low cost, proximity, and warm weather benefits.

I eventually agreed to give PR another try. Marty picked-out a gorgeous, 21st floor condominium which was situated directly on the ocean. We found a really good deal on a rental car, and, to seal the deal, our airfare from Chicago to San Juan was only about $300 round-trip. By January 14th of 2015, we had everything locked-in. All that remained was "the wait."

Well, October 19 arrived, and we found ourselves en route to O'Hare. At 3:00 in the morning... We had booked early flights out of O'Hare so as to maximize our beach time in Puerto Rico.

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That's Marty's head in the background; upon arrival to O'Hare, we were confronted with one of the world's longest security lines. Luckily, we made our flight, and were soon airborne. Marty, Jenny and I managed to score seats together, and by an incredible stroke of luck, we were moved to an exit row. The seats were quite welcome during the four-and-a-half-hour flight, although you'd never know it by looking at Marty's expression as I snapped this photo.

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By 2:00pm, we were on the ground in San Juan, and making our way to the car rental office. Things were going great, up until this point. And that's when we got PR'd for the first (of many) times.

I had offered to pay for the rental car, in exchange for Marty covering the condo rental. We *had* booked a full-sized car at a rate of about $275, which we were told included insurance. You may recall how poorly the locals drove, and how I regretted not getting insurance the first time around.

When we went to pay for the rental, the actual cost was $494. Apparently, the insurance quote as originally provided only covered theft of personal items, and did not include collision or accidental damage. Ugh. Only in Puerto Rico... oh, and there were "additional local fees" to the tune of nearly $90 to boot.

More comically (or should I say "typically for PR"), when we arrived at the garage to get our car, we couldn't find an attendant to help us. After a brief wait, someone appeared and asked us what kind of car we had reserved. We told him it was supposed to be a Ford Fusion. He looked around and said, "Yeah - we're out of those. Just take whatever you want."

HA! Our options consisted of a Dodge mini van or a Toyota Rav4. We picked the Toyota and were on our way, no questions asked.

So we were on the road to Luquillo (the location of our condo), and before long, arrived at the 21st floor of Playa Azul #1. We opened the door to the place and were instantly relieved. It was gorgeous.

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The views were spectacular from this 3-bedroom, 2-bathroom condo. And, it was in excellent shape - insanely clean, recently updated, and very comfortable. Talk about a win. Marty picked his room, and we decided to go with the ocean view master room. This picture doesn't do the room justice; our room had a nice master bathroom, a huge walk-in closet, and an absolutely amazing view of the ocean.

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The views from our deck were also quite impressive. Here's what we could see when looking in either direction:

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After unpacking, we decided some food and drink would be quite welcomed, so we hoofed it over to a familiar haunt from my last trip: Board Riders. I'm happy to report that nothing has changed with the place - it's still nothing too look at from the outside:

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But, the service is still decent, the food is solid, and the drinks were cold, tasty and cheap. We had some hummus and an order of grilled tuna bites - both of which were great.

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After a few drinks at Board Riders, Marty had a hankering to check out the infamous "Kioskos" (or, as I remember them: a dirty, run-down, poorly serviced, deep-fried-hell of food court shame). So, we obliged, and before long were strolling along the Kioskos. Most of them were closed because it was a Monday night, but we did manage to stop-in to a few. We had drinks at one of the Kioskos, and "food" at another.

Marty sampled his first (and only) round of Mofongo. He reported it as "good, not great" and "greasy." ...welcome to Puerto Rico, my friend. Jenny had a salad and I had a burger, which mysteriously arrived to the table about 20 minutes after the other food, and was a poor excuse for a $18 burger.

After choking down grub in the Kioskos, we returned to the condo and hit the hay. It had been quite a long day, and we wanted to get up early so as to enjoy the beach the next day.

Tuesday morning arrived, and I went for a nice run. Because it was so warm there (mid-to-high 90s during the day, with a lot of humidity), I woke up extremely early and was running by 6:00am.

And that's when I got PR'd again.

The condo building and surrounding facilities were completely secured. A guard shack, complete with metal gates, monitored the entry and egress of each and every vehicle. Special keys granted access to-and-from the beach area, as well as the amenities within the complex (there were pools, basketball and tennis courts, playgrounds, handball, and more).

When we had checked-in on Monday, we were told there were two types of keys: a "Master key" (with a white dot) and "Regular keys" (no dot). Conventional logic would suggest that the "Master key" would get you everywhere within the complex. So, that's what I took with me, as I planned to exit the complex while running.

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As soon as I left our condo unit, I made my way down 21-flights of stairs (by choice), used the key to exit the building, used the key to exit one of the gated areas, and then tried to use the key to exit to the beach area.

Only, the key didn't work. So, I tried a different gate. No luck. I tried a third gate. No luck. So, I back-tracked my way back to the condo office and told them my issue.

"The master key only works for the front gate by the guard shack," said the attendant. "It doesn't work anywhere else."

I responded, "So, the master key isn't truly a master key? It only works on one gate?"

"Si, senior," was the response. Oye... so, I made my way up to the 21st floor, exchanged the "master key" for a "regular key" and within minutes was running along the beach.

I finished my run by 7:00am, showered, and changed into beach wear. Marty, Jenny, and I took the "non-Master key" and went down to the beach for some much-needed sun and relaxation. The condo owner provided us with coolers, beach chairs, beach towels, boogie boards, and... a football!

Marty and I decided to frolic on the beach and toss the football around for a bit. Jenny snapped this great action photo of us:

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After playing catch for a bit, I decided it was time for a drink. We had the foresight to hit the local "Amigo" (aka "Wal-Mart") for some brews and snacks, and boy, how I had forgotten how great the local Medalla Light was. It truly was refreshing, light, and very tasty. It was also very low in alcohol - 4.1%, which made for a great beach beer.

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We spent the majority of the day on the beach, relaxing, and trying not to interact much with locals. Why? They're not really fond of Americans. According to a guy that we ran into at one point, they're distrustful of us and they see the US as being oppressive while abusing Puerto Rico's natural resources and not returning many benefits. Hmm. Ok, I guess. The local also shared that Luquillo's government is incredibly corrupt. Great.

Jenny and I decided to take a stroll along the beach; we walked for a total of about an hour or so. The location of our condo was perfect - we could walk about 20-30 minutes in either direction (east or west) and always be in view of the condo. Here's a photo of us; you can see our condos in the background (the big, tall buildings). Ours was the one to the right.

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Upon returning from the stroll, we decided it was time for lunch. We had recalled seeing a sign for a "BBQ" place, so we hopped in the car and made our way to "El Verde BBQ" (The Green BBQ). The place was jumping, so we figured it had to be solid.

After determining how to actually place an order for food (talk about a cluster-bomb of confusion), we found a small picnic table and waited for the grub. Before long, the food emerged:

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A whole chicken (deep fried), a portion of pork shoulder (deep fried), and a small chunk of blood sausage (Jenny's request, also fried).

Now... call me crazy, but when I hear or see the term "BBQ" I think "grilled" or "smoked" or "wood-fired." I don't think deep fried.

PR'd again.

With our bellies thoroughly coated in grease, we headed back to the beach for some more relaxation. After a few hours, we decided to visit another infamous landmark -The Brass Cactus - for an early-evening cocktail or two. The Cactus reminds me of a TGI-Fridays, only PR'd. Here we are, posing for a selfie, just before heading back to the condo.

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Dinner that night was made at home - some chicken breast, zucchini, mushrooms, and onion. Ahhhhh. Nice, normal food (Marty had Subway).

On Wednesday, after my early morning run was complete, we decided to visit the El Yunque Rain Forest. But first, we needed some breakfast, and a Yelp search revealed an incredible-sounding breakfast place near the forest. So, we hopped in the car and made our way to the small town of Palmer, where this great place was supposed to be.

Upon arrival to Palmer, we discovered a massive amount of road construction, and, as a result, the restaurant was closed. Ugh. While we were standing there, the owner of the restaurant popped-out and suggested that we try another place, "just down the road" called "Puerto Rico Bakery." He said it was decent, and that he hoped to open his place again on the weekend.

We ventured over to the Puerto Rico Bakery, and were promptly PR'd. I'll spare you the details, but...

They had a menu posted behind a large pastry counter that had entrees listed in both Spanish and English. The clerk behind the counter seemed to have selective understanding of both Spanish and English. We tried to order the "vegetable omelet" - he didn't understand. So, we said it in Spanish, "Huevos revolutos con vegetales." Again - no comprendo. So, we pointed at the entree. Nothing. We broke it down for him: "Huevos" (eggs). Yep, got it. "Revolutos" (scrambled). Yep, got it. "Con vegetales" (vegetables). Yep, got it.

Good. Now, how about some coffee? Again - no comprendo. Ok... how about some "cafe"? Yep, got it. Sweet.

We grabbed our table, and what arrived were: Lattes instead of coffee, and the eggs were covered in cheese, and filled with bacon and ham. UGHHHHHH!!!! Damn you, Puerto Rico!!!!

When we went to pay, the jerk that took our order said (in perfect English), "How was your breakfast today?" I said, "It was terrible - you gave us the wrong thing." He then claimed to not speak any English.

I wish I was kidding or exaggerating, but I'm not. I had two other witnesses. Marty found it hilarious, but I was ready to burn the place to the ground. Morons. Just complete, passive aggressive, dip-sh**t morons.

We got in the car and ventured up to El Yunque, where the rain forest was as great as always. As we made our way up the mountain, we stopped at the old guard tower:

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We climbed our way to the top and took in some of the awesome views of the surrounding area.

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After enjoying the views, we made our way to the trail-head that would eventually take us to the infamous waterfall. We hiked for about 30 minutes and arrived to the waterfall, which was as cool as ever.

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Even Marty seemed to enjoy the waterfall, so it was a good hike, and a good way to put the breakfast memory behind me. We spent a total of about 3 hours in El Yunque before returning to our condo for some more beach time.

For dinner that night, we drove to Fajardo with the hope of grabbing some fresh seafood. We decided to check out a little place called "El Pescador" (the fisherman), which was situated directly on the ocean. The place was tiny, completely outdoors, and very quaint.

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Our meal was good, but not great. Service was excellent, which helped, but... again, call me crazy; when I order "grilled fish" I don't expect for it to arrive drowning in oil. Marty ordered "deshelled grilled lobster" and it arrived swimming in some type of sweet-and-sour sauce. I'm not sure why these places have to kill everything with oil or some crummy sauce. I'm even more baffled as to why they don't include that info in the description of their dishes. Alas, what do I know...

Our $28 appetizer was quite good - it featured steak, octopus, conch, lobster, and shrimp.

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And, while I already shared details about the entree, here's a photo of our grilled hogfish. The fish is on the right, under that pile of greasy vegetables and on top of the oily sauce. A fried plantain topped the $45 dish. Yay.

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We drove back to the condo, and spent the night chilling inside. Speaking of the condo... I forgot to mention that it had quite a large population of stray cats. During the day, the cats would sit under cars or in shady areas, trying to stay cool.

Marty found this quite peculiar. And, during one of the previous nights, as Marty strolled over to Subway for a bite, he sent me this text.

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Apparently the cats changed places at sundown. Smart, if you ask me. But oddly hilarious. We snapped a photo of one of the car cats as we returned from Fajardo.

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We spent Thursday on the beach and traveling to San Juan, where we picked-up Marty's other friend, Jamie. He flew in from Madison on Thursday to spend the remainder of the trip with us. After picking him up from the airport, we returned to Fajardo, where we grabbed dinner at my absolute favorite restaurant: La Estacion.

You may recall that I really enjoyed this place during the last trip, because they actually grilled fresh food, and didn't ruin it with sauces, oils, and whatnot. I'm thrilled to report that they are alive and doing quite well.

Their drinks: outstanding. The appetizers: delicious. The entrees: well, see for yourself.

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If it looks familiar, it should. I had nearly the same thing last time... fresh-caught (we had to wait to order until the fisherman arrived with his day's catches) yellow-tail snapper, with a fresh papaya relish and a fresh, organic salad. Oh so good.

Here we all are, enjoying our dinners. The photo is dark, but it'll give you an idea of the place.

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The dinner was truly outstanding. Such a highlight and welcomed relief from all of the other fried, crappy food in Puerto Rico.

Friday was rather uneventful - we spent the majority of the day on the beach. Although we did witness the locals harvesting coconuts from the palm trees that lined the beach. It was crazy to watch them climb the trees with nothing more than a strap, hack down some coconuts, and then cart them off.

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Now... for those not familiar with coconut harvesting, they apparently knock down unripened coconuts and let them lie on the ground for a few weeks until ripe. You may not also be aware of this, but young/fresh coconuts are encased in a very thick, very fibrous, very resilient green shell, as seen here.

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Maybe it was the Medalla that coaxed me into this, but I somehow got the idea that I'd open and process my own fresh coconut. So, I went about trying to open that green monster, without any tools.

After 30-40 minutes of attempting to open it by banging it on the sharp edge of a sidewalk, slamming it against a fence post, hitting it on a fire hydrant, and trying to pry it open with my fingers, I gave up. The things are tough!!!

One of the local harvester guys must have seen my futile attempts because he shouted out to me in Spanish (slang that I didn't understand), and then approached me with a machete.

I was a little nervous... but, he took the machete and used it to crack open a ripe (non-green) coconut, remove the outer shell, and then proceeded to break open the familiar looking brown, husky coconut and remove the snow white flesh. He gave it to me, along with another coconut that he hacked-open and told us to drink from.

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The coconut water was *delicious* and the raw coconut flesh was even more tasty. What a treat, and what a kind gesture (about the only one we experienced on the trip). If you can ever try it, I urge you to sample fresh coconut water and fresh coconut.

After sipping the coconut water, Jenny and I decided to stroll westward on the beach. It was clouding over, which was probably for the best. We each had seen more than our fair share of sun that day. As we walked, we stumbled across a bunch of lava rock, some of which was sticking out of the ocean. Other bits of it were sitting on the beach.

When I say lava rock, I mean "boulders" - they were huge. We stopped to sit on one, and snapped a picture of the ocean behind us. If you look closely, you can see the water splashing over one of the rocks in the ocean.

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(I told you we both had a fair amount of sun that day)

Saturday morning arrived and we decided to explore San Juan. And, since Palmer was on the way to San Juan, we pressed our luck and returned with the hope of checking out the "good" breakfast place (the one that was closed on Tuesday, due to construction).

We were thrilled to find that it was open. The owner remembered us, and thanked us for returning. And boy, am I glad we gave it a try. The place was gorgeous inside - very modern, very chic - it could've easily been in downtown Chicago. That's how cool it was. If you ever find yourself in the vicinity, be sure to check out LLuvia Deli and Cafe.

Our server was fantastic. The coffee was excellent, and the omelet was quite honestly one of (if not the) best I've ever had. Man, it was great.

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Bellies full, we drove the 20-ish minutes to San Juan, where we parked and then explored the city by foot. We did the usual activities: visited the forts, shopped around, and had a few beverages. Here are some photos from our adventures:

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Ok... that was enough San Juan. We hopped in the car and drove back to the condo, where Marty and Jamie enjoyed cigars and a stroll over to Board Riders for more drinks. Jenny and I stayed at the condo and did some crossword puzzles while unwinding on the deck.

The skies clouded over, and we could see a monster storm forming over the ocean. And then I saw something truly odd and incredible - a massive tornado, right in the middle of the ocean.

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It was surreal, because it didn't appear to move. Instead, it just sat there, spewing a huge spray of water that had to go 100-yards high (or more). The funnel lasted for about 45-minutes, before disappearing back into the clouds. It was so crazy.

When Marty and Jamie returned, we decided to go back to Fajardo for dinner. We found a place fairly near to El Pescador, and while the venue wasn't quite as nice, the food was better than El Pescador, although only by a hair. My steak arrived, and do you care to guess how it was?

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That shiny finish on the oil and the rice? Oil. Yay.

On Sunday, we woke-up and decided to visit a small coffee shop in Luquillo, and it turned out to be quite tasty. Marty, Jenny, and Jamie all went with sandwiches ("tortas" in Spanish), and I went with the Huevos Rancheros. In this pic, you can see my eggs, and Jenny's Cubano sandwich in the background (it was *massive*):

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We spent the rest of the day on the beach, which was really enjoyable. A cute little dog was romping around on the beach and decided to make her way over to me. What a little charmer!

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The rest of Sunday was relatively quiet and uneventful, save for one last "PR" experience... I was in line at the local Amigo (Wal-Mart), attempting to purchase some beer and a few snacks. Mind you, I didn't have a cart stuffed full of groceries and knick-knacks, but rather a small handful of items.

There were two people in line in front of me, and the cashier wasn't in any hurry (as stated before, no one in Puerto Rico is in any hurry, unless they're behind the wheel of an automobile). The first person in line (checking out) was a woman, and as soon as the cashier showed her the total amount due, the woman decided she needed to purchase a holiday CD from a nearby rack.

Problem: the CDs were locked-up in some type of contraption that required the cashier to unlock.

Problem #2: the cashier couldn't figure out how to unlock the contraption, so, she summoned a second cashier, and the two of them spent several minutes trying to figure out how to unlock the contraption.

Eventually, a Christmas CD emerged from the rack and was presented to the woman. She took the CD, and then declared that she wanted another CD, so we repeated the entire process of fighting with the contraption.

That single transaction took more than 10-minutes to complete.

The gentleman in front of me checked out with his items, and I began to place my things on the conveyor belt. That's when the cashier waved me off and motioned for the two people in line behind me to check out. They passed by me and proceeded to check out, while I stood there with a 12-pack of Medalla, some mixed nuts, and an 8-pack of Diet Coke.

When the others were done checking out, the cashier rang up my items and stared off into the distance. These folks are just so friggin' friendly! Ugh. Oddly, this wasn't the only bad experience with Amigo, but it's a prime example of what things are like in this area.

After our day on the beach, we decided it was time for one last meal at La Estacion in Fajardo, so we piled into the car and made the 10-mile drive to this little oasis. Once again, service was excellent and the food was outstanding.

We deviated slightly from the grilled fish and decided to try the "combo plate" - ribs, chicken, and shrimp, all grilled.

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While the BBQ was excellent, I couldn't help but think the fish would've been just slightly better. One thing that was beyond excellent were the drinks that night. La Estacion offered us a "Cucumber margarita" and a "Pineapple Mojito," both of which were superb. They were so good, in fact, that upon returning to the States, we made our own versions.

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On our way home, Jenny noticed an interesting "store" of sorts. When she told us what the sign said, we had no option other than to turn around and verify it ourselves. Talk about a classic end to the trip...

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Monday morning arrived; we packed our things, closed-up the condo, and made our way to the airport. A 5-hour flight saw us back to Chicago, and before long we were on familiar roads, with sane(r) drivers and better food/drink awaiting. As we had been traveling all day, we decided to stop for a quick bite and a familiar brew. I'd argue this was perhaps the best part of the trip...

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So... I'm super grateful and appreciative of Marty's generosity - the condo truly was excellent, and really enjoyable. Overall, the trip wasn't awful, but I don't think I'll be in any hurry to return to this part of Puerto Rico.

That said, Marty was/is a great travel companion - he enjoys watching my misery, and we enjoy his company. "Hey buddy!"


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Here are a few random photos that didn't really fit into the story. Enjoy.

The *brand new* sunglasses that I bought upon arrival to Puerto Rico that broke in half while I was wearing them. I literally heard and saw them crack for no apparent reason. They broke within the first hour of my wearing them. PR'd.

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The seaweed art that Marty created to say "hello" to our coworkers back in Madison (a gang later defaced it that night... PR'd):

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An abandoned Honda CRX that looks like it hadn't moved from our condo parking lot in 5+ years. It was still sporting a "Se Vende sign (for sale)":

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The breakfast of champions, while waiting at the airport (McDonald's coffee and radishes - don't ask...):

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The pictures you find on your phone after asking Marty to snap a few of you...

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...and that seems like an appropriate place for us to end this tale.

So Excellent

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Wow.

I just returned from a 5-day trip to Palm Beach, Florida, compliments of my company, and man am I a lucky dude. I've seen my company do a lot of great things, but this trip was over-the-top. I'm so honored, grateful, and flattered to have been nominated for our "Inspiring Excellence" award, and I'm even more floored that I was one of the lucky folks to win the award. If anyone from TDS is reading this, I have to say it again: thank you so very much for everything. I'm truly happy here and enjoy nearly everything about my job, career path, coworkers, and opportunities. Thank you!

Ok... enough gushing. On to the good stuff.

Every year, one of our sister companies (I work for the corporate HQ, and as such, work with our sister companies depending upon the project I'm assigned to) accepts nominations from leadership for the Inspiring Excellence award. There are around 120-150 nominees (from a pool of around 2500), and around 40-50 winners selected.

My data center migration project team was nominated, and we were lucky enough to win. It was quite a shocker, to say the least. We received packages with the trip details and man, they know how to put-on a good trip. No detail was left untouched. Nothing was left for wanting or improvement. It was truly a 5-star, Class-A trip in every regard. 100% of the trip was taken care of; all we had to do was pack a bag and be ready to go on Wednesday morning.

Carrie, Lynette, and the TDS executive leadership team really did think of everything, and did a great job of keeping us prepared and informed, as evidenced by this information packet with itineraries and details (this was the revised version as supplied at the hotel, but you get the idea):

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We were allowed to take a guest with us, so I asked my girlfriend if she'd like to attend with me. She was able to get away from work (she's an in-patient nurse at the UW hospital), so it was cool that she joined and enjoyed the trip as well.

We flew from Madison to Detroit, and then from Detroit to West Palm Beach. The flights were uneventful, and we arrived at our destination at around 1:00pm on Wednesday. There was a really nice tour bus waiting for us, and it promptly whisked us over to the Four Seasons Palm Beach hotel.

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TDS had reserved certain areas of the hotel for us; there was a main meeting area called "the living room," which was this huge, ornate, incredibly decorated meeting area with several large fireplaces, bars, tons of couches and seating, and a private patio. It was here that we got checked-in to the hotel (no waiting at the front desk), grabbed our name tags and informational packets/agendas, and had some cocktails and appetizers. We also had a chance to mingle with others from TDS as they arrived from the airport.

After a few beverages, we were informed that our room was ready, so we went up to check it out.

Wow (I'm going to say that a lot here). The room was insanely great. Massive bathroom with a soaking tub and a 4-person (huge) shower, incredible marble, a separate water closet (toilet area), super comfy bed, nice couch and chairs, and a great view of the ocean.

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It was difficult to get decent pictures of the room, due to the lighting from outside. My best example is this view as seen from the balcony, looking in. Hopefully you get a little idea of what it was like.

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We took a few minutes to unpack and relax on our patio before heading down to the first organized event of the trip. There were only a handful of group activities to attend; otherwise, we were left to enjoy the environment on our own, which was really nice.

We all met down at one of the cabana areas, where there were more drinks and socializing. Everything was complimentary and included at no charge, thanks to TDS. There were multiple bars near the pool; we stopped by this one for a couple of beverages.

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After a bit, we were escorted to the beach, where there were even more drinks waiting, and a bunch of buckets, brushes, and garden tools. Our CEO, Dave, welcomed us, thanked us, congratulated us, and then told us about the sand sculpture contest we'd all be participating in.

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We had been organized into 12 random groups. We had to select a team captain (I was chosen by my group), and together, had to come-up with an inventive sand sculpture that represented TDS, Florida, and team excellence. Jenny (my girlfriend) noticed that there were sea turtle nests near us (they were roped off to protect them), so our group decided to sculpt a turtle. Little did we know that nearly every other group was doing the same thing... so, after an hour of sculpting, we landed on this final design - a mother turtle, talking on a telephone, surrounded by smaller turtles (to represent our sister companies). I thought it was great; unfortunately, we didn't win. :-(

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Here were a few other examples of sculptures. The winning sculpture was of a mermaid. It was nice, but it got wiped-out by the tide before I could get a good photo.

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The theme for our entire trip was "Life's a Beach" - and it was impressive that the team from above was able to carve that into the sand.

We had a few minutes to kill before dinner, so we took a quick stroll down the beach. It was absolutely gorgeous.

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After the stroll, we made our way up to the pool area, where a great meal was waiting for us. We were assigned to a table, where we met and conversed with another new group of people. As we chatted, we enjoyed an appetizer of fresh seafood. I had an oyster, a mussel, some ceviche and some shrimp. All of it was amazingly fresh and wonderful.

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From there, we made our way up to various serving stations, all of which were situated around the pool. The choices were limitless - paella, a salad station, roasted turkey, fresh grilled snapper, prime rib, roasted vegetables... you name it, you could've had it. I took a little bit of most everything, and wound-up with two plates. :-)

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Dessert options were equally great. Some fresh strawberry short cakes, and some mason jars that were filled with things like brownies and fresh raspberries with ice cream, or a deconstructed s'mores-type thingy. Here's a quick shot of the dessert table, to give you an idea of what it was like.

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With our bellies stuffed, we made our way over to another area near the pool where a musical duo had set-up and were beginning to play some tunes for our group. They were really, really good, but it was so dark by that time, I couldn't get a decent photo. The group was called "Chemradery" - if you have a chance to check them out, I believe they're on Pandora and iTunes. They're worth a listen.

We called it a night at around 10:00pm, and made our way to the room, where another surprise was waiting. Not only did we get this great, all-expenses paid trip, we also had gifts every night. The first night included this "beach care kit" - bag, towels, sunscreen, after-sun lotion, lip balm, snacks, towel clips, and a small first aid kit. Too amazing.

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Between the drinks, food, heavenly bed, and tomb-quiet nature of a 5-star resort room, I slept like an absolute rock. I also overslept a bit... and then decided to hit Ocean Blvd for a morning run. I hit the road around 8:30am, and it was already 80-degrees and sunny. Thankfully the roads were flat (and scenic), so my run went by quickly.

Upon returning, I realized that I had made a major mistake with respect to timing and scheduling... we had signed-up to take a group tour of the Everglades via fan boat. I thought the tour left at 10:15am, when in fact, it left at 9:15am. I watched the bus leave as I returned from my run. Whoops!

Oh well. We made the most of it, and did a little sight-seeing of our own. It started with breakfast at a place called Mulligan's, which was just down the road from the hotel, and was situated *on* the ocean. It was quite nice, and the breakfast was stellar. Egg whites and fresh fruit never tasted better.

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We decided to take advantage of the ocean's proximity, and walked along a little path on the beach. They had these helpful signs posted at various beaches along the way. Take a look at the temperatures!!

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While walking and exploring, it dawned on me that I had forgotten to bring sunglasses. Whoops (number 2). The Four Seasons offered a complimentary car service to nearly anywhere in Palm Beach, so we got chauffeured over to a cool little shopping/eating area in the city, by way of a brand new Mercedes Benz SUV. Not too shabby, especially for free!

I bought a pair of sunglasses (and a cheesy tourist hat), and then we made our way to The Key Lime House for a quick beverage at their bar. The bar area was excellent, and once again, sat right on the ocean, so how could it be anything but great?

World, here's Jenny and me. It's not the best photo, but no photo is good whenever I'm in it... ;-)

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Surprise, again - I shaved before the trip. The beard was great, and everyone liked it, but the novelty was wearing thin. I realize that as an east-side resident in Madison, a beard is required for entry into most watering holes, but I'll see what I can do... it feels pretty good to be clean-shorn, but man, I forgot how much I hate shaving.

As we were leaving Key Lime, Jenny spied a rather unique bar stool. I'm a bit upset that I didn't sit at this seat... would've seemed appropriate.

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We called the Four Seasons for a return ride, and they promptly whisked us back to the luxury of our resort. We spent the rest of the afternoon poolside, enjoying complimentary beverages, snacks, fresh fruit, and service from the attendants. I could get used to this lifestyle rather quickly. They were always at our beck-and-call, and nothing was too much to ask for.

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Thursday evening was an "on your own" evening, and Jenny had noticed that there was an outdoor music event at a park called "Clematis By Night." It sounded interesting, so we asked if the hotel car service could drive us there. They happily took us to Clematis street, despite being 30+ minutes from our hotel. I'm telling you - the service there was *unreal*. Everyone was so professional, helpful, courteous, and great. If I had the means, I'd say nowhere else.

We arrived and discovered an awesome park, situated between the ocean and Clematis Street. Clematis is sort of like State Street here in Madison - lots of shops, bars, restaurants, and places to hang out. The park was absolutely beautiful, and the music stage was really well done.

Here's a photo of us enjoying a beverage ($3 for a large beer - what a bargain!!!) while listening to a really good rock band.

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As we listened to the band, we noticed an older couple that seemed to really be enjoying themselves. The husband was dancing in a seductive manner for his wife, and she was loving every minute of it. I snuck a quick picture, because it was so cute (yet a bit troubling)... if you look closely near the stage, you can see him dancing for her, along with her reaction.

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We eventually grew hungry, so we made our way up Clematis Street and discovered a little tequila and taco bar called "Rocco's Tacos." We snagged seats at the bar and enjoyed a trio of tacos (fish, pastor, and steak for me; shrimp, chicken, and steak for Jenny). We also sampled a few tequilas, including an interesting one called "Romance" by Milagro. It combined both anejo and reposado tequilas, and came in a really cool bottle. You can sort of see it in the background, behind my tacos.

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Rocco's was great. The food was good, the drinks were solid, the vibe was cool, and the bartenders were great. Even the bathrooms were cool - they were showing the movie Napoleon Dynamite.

We decided to return to the music festival for a bit, and did so just in time to participate in this little dance "thing" - I can't describe it, other than they had these pressure sensitive pads in the ground that would change color when you danced on them. It was super cool, and sort of interesting that they'd have these permanently mounted in the park ground.

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I have to say that Palm Beach is a cool area. The people are friendly, the weather is insanely gorgeous, the views are incredible, and there was always something fun going on. People seemed to really enjoy themselves down there, and it's easy to see why. As the night was growing long, we called for a car and were taken back to the hotel. I snapped a quick photo of the Clematis area as we left.

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When we arrived back to the hotel, we found yet another gift in the room. This time it was a coffee-table book about life and walking on the beach. It was signed (with notes) from our executive leadership, and was extremely thoughtful and nice.

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On Friday morning, I got up and went for a run, while Jenny used the fitness center (which was incredibly nice). It was a little cooler on Friday morning (high 70s) and a touch overcast, so the run was super great. I also saw a ton of incredible cars while running... Lamborghini Aventador ($500k), several Bentleys ($300k), several Aston Martins ($250k), a McLaren 650S ($300k), and a ton of really nice Audis and Mercedes. Ugh. So, when I returned to the hotel and saw this gorgeous Aston Martin DB9 convertible, I just had to snap a quick photo.

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Friday night was our awards ceremony, so we once again had the day to ourselves. Jenny and I decided to hang out in the pool area, where TDS had several cabanas set-up with various foods, snacks, and free drinks. We sat by the pool for a while, and then figured it would be wise to seek some shade in one of the cabanas. Looks like Jenny got her fair share of sun... ;-)

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The cabanas were cool, both literally and figuratively... they all had ceiling fans built-in, as seen in this photo of one of the snack cabanas (it had pizzas in it, if I recall).

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After hanging around near the pool, we decided to head down the beach to a place called Benny's and scrounge up some lunch. Benny's is located on this massive pier that extends into the ocean. The pier has to be about half a mile long.

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The food at Benny's was excellent. I had some "blackened" fish tacos and a PBR. Jenny had a salad with avocado, chicken, and this crazy "scorpion hot sauce" which was incredibly hot.

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Full again, we walked back to the hotel. I liked how most of the beaches had nice paved walkways, so that if you didn't feel like shuffling through the sand, you could walk along a sidewalk, yet still see the ocean.

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Upon returning to the hotel, I was pleased to find that they had shined my dress shoes for me. The attention to detail there was like nothing else. Not only did they shine the shoes, they wrapped them in Four Seasons paper, so as not to scuff them. Are you kidding me?

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We got cleaned-up and changed, and then headed down to the living room area for a group photo, followed by making our way to one of the ballrooms. We were seated at a table with yet another unique group of folks; TDS did a great job of making sure you didn't end-up sitting by the same group of people at each event.

Here was the menu for the evening's meal:

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The first course consisted of a wonderful Caesar salad. I'm not normally a fan of dressing, but that dressing was just divine. Light, fresh, and perfectly applied. Man, was it good.

The main course consisted of a tenderloin steak, a diver scallop, a lobster medallion, heirloom cauliflower, and a potato croquet. The picture doesn't do it justice - it was just insanely good.

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And for dessert, there was a deconstructed chocolate/creme brulee/tart-like thing. Even after re-reading the description a few times, I can't tell you exactly what it was, other than delicious.

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Even the center pieces were insane. They had to be 3-feet tall, and filled with fresh flowers. Everything about that night was so perfect - the wine was wonderful, the food was great, the atmosphere was unreal. I've said it a lot, but I'll say it again... TDS and The Four Seasons know how to do an event and make it truly special.

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With dinner under our belts, it was time to have the awards ceremony. There were nine distinct categories for the awards, and anywhere from 1 - 4 people/groups in each category. The program identified who won in each of the categories, but you had to listen to the presentation (as done by the VP/president of our HR group) to hear why you (or others) actually won.

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My team was called-up and we received lapel pins, a certificate, and a cool glass sculpture/trophy. We were each thanked directly and personally by our CEO and other members of our executive leadership team. It was really quite humbling and flattering.

After the awards were done, I grabbed my team and had someone snap a photo of us. Here's the crew that I owe a huge round of thanks to - if it weren't for their expertise, dedication, and hard work, I wouldn't have been able to enjoy this trip. Thank you, guys!!!

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I also asked one of my team members to snap a photo of Jenny and me. It's not often that I end-up in a suit, so I wanted to get a photo to prove that I actually have one, and that I can clean-up fairly nicely when necessary. Sorry if I'm showing off, but I'm super proud to have been there, and even more proud that I was able to share the experience with Jenny. We've been dating since late last summer, and I'm grateful to have her as a great friend and companion.

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The ceremony ended with a live band, and I have to say, they were really good. I even managed to dance a bit (thanks probably to all of the free drinks). They played a great mix of rock, new music, country, pop, and classics. Everything from Abba to Katie Perry to Kid Rock.

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We called it a night at around 11:00pm, and when we returned to the room, there was yet another gift. This time it was a hand-made glass sculpture of a tidal wave. I didn't snap a photo, but it was really cool.

(Oh, and rumor has it that a bunch of folks got on stage later that night to sing along with the band, and that the party continued well past 2:00am... I hear there was some drinking in the billiards room at 3:00am... I'm sad we missed the antics, but glad I got some sleep that night!)

On Saturday morning, we woke-up and took a walk on the beach. We had heard there were more sea turtles making nests, and hoped to see that, but missed out. Instead, we had to settle for some of these mediocre views... :-D

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TDS had breakfast available for us each day, but Saturday was the first day we were actually able to take advantage of it. The breakfast was great, and they even had Neuske's bacon!! Neuske's is from Wittenburg, Wisconsin of all places, and is critically acclaimed. The New York Times has even written articles about how amazing it is.

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I arranged for us to get some spa services later on Saturday morning. The Four Seasons has this incredible spa area, and is known for their massages, wraps, and whatnot. Jenny had a "Palm Beach Detox Wrap" and I got a standard massage, along with some foot reflexology massage.

If you've never been to a nice spa, you're missing out. Holy cats, this place was great. The spa was located within the hotel, on one of the lower levels, so it was super calming and peaceful. Here's the main entrance:

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Once inside, there's a locker room, where you change into a robe and some sandals. The robes were so luxurious - super heavy and super comfy. I had to snap a quick photo of it...

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After changing, you head down this hallway, where there are a number of shower rooms on either side, along with relaxation rooms, a whirlpool area, a steam room, and eventually a little waiting room area. Here are a bunch of photos from those places.

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(you can't really tell from the dark photo, but that shower was *amazing* - it had dual rain heads above, and body sprayers on the sides (3 heads each). Holy cats was it a cool shower.)

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After stepping out of the steam room, I was told to use these iced and scented towels on my face. I'm doing this at my house... nothing like an icy cold towel that smells divine to cool your freshly steamed pores.

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The little waiting room area was filled with snacks and this awesome black tea. After spending time in our respective areas (men's spa/women's spa), it was nice to meet-up here before going in for our individual services.

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After a few hours of relaxation and pampering, we were off to our final group event - shopping at an outdoor promenade called "City Place." Think of it as a big outdoor mall, filled with mostly national chain retailers. TDS once again hired a really nice touring bus and shuffled us out to the venue. I tried to take two good selfies; both attempts were thwarted... once by this death stare from someone on the bus:

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And once by someone's (who shall remain nameless) finger...

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After being dropped off at City Place, we quickly discovered that the notion of visiting stores like Best Buy, Macy's, Panera, and whatnot, wasn't exactly enticing. So, we ventured around a bit, and found that City Place is only about 3 blocks from Clematis Street. Excellent!

So we had a second chance to visit some shops and restaurants on Clematis. After a bit, we stopped by a place for a drink and a few bites. There was a cool looking place called "The Alchemist" so we grabbed a seat outside and enjoyed a beer and some salad. The food and service were awful - truly awful - but the venue was good.

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As we made our way back to the bus pick-up area, Jenny took a minute to play in this little water park...

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The bus took us back to the hotel, and we called it a night, but not before opening the final gift from the trip...

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Inside the gift bag was a hand-written thank you note from the CEO, and another glass sculpture-like thing (a globe, filled with sand and sea shells).

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Sunday morning arrived far too soon. It meant the end of the trip, so we packed-up, had one last cup of coffee from our room's vexing coffee maker... (the coffee was great, but the machine was impossible to figure out)

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Snapped a few last photos of the ocean...

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And headed down to the living room area for a light breakfast and to wait for our shuttle bus to the airport.

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The return flight took us home by way of Detroit; we were in Madison at around 6:30pm on Sunday. Here's a final shot of Palm Beach, as seen from our plane upon departure.

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So, there you have it. A truly incredible, once-in-a-lifetime trip, thanks to the great work of my team and the extreme generosity of my employer. Thank you everyone!

And huge thanks to Amy for watching Flea while I was away - she's always in good hands, and I never have to worry about anything while I'm gone. Muchos gracias!

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If you ever have the chance to visit Palm Beach and to stay at the Four Seasons, do it. You won't regret the decision!

So, until next time...

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Off the Florida Keys
There's a place called Kokomo
That's where you wanna go

Ok, so it wasn't Kokomo, but I did just get back from an awesome trip to the Florida Keys. A week spent in the tropical goodness that is mid-80s with a gentle breeze was just what the doctor ordered to help cure these wintertime blues.

Some friends invited me to stay at a rental house with them in the Florida Keys, on the island of "Islamorada." Islamorada is located about 90-miles west of Miami and about 45-miles east of Key West. It's a sleepy little town, known primarily for sport fishing, but even though I didn't fish, it was quite enjoyable.

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The house was nice - it was situated at the end of a cul de sac, and featured 3-bedrooms, 2-bathrooms, and a really nice wrap-around deck that overlooked the channels. If I had to venture a guess, I'd say it was around 2000-square feet in size. I'm not sure what it cost to rent, but a quick peek of local real estate prices showed that most of the houses in the area were around $800k or so in price.

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Prior to my arrival at the house, my friends had chartered a fishing boat and went out on the ocean for the day. They managed to score quite a haul - nearly 80-pounds of fresh, yellow tail snapper. The charter took care of cleaning the fish for them, and once back to the house, we spent a few hours vacuum sealing it and preparing it for storage and transportation.

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I mentioned transportation because one of the cool things about Islamorada is that most of the restaurants will allow you to carry-in your own fresh catch and will then prepare it for you at the restaurant. It was interesting to pack a cooler full of ice and fill it with fish prior to going out for lunch. Most evenings were spent at the house, where we'd cook that same fish along with a bunch of fresh veggies and whatnot. I have to admit that I definitely ate really well on the trip.

Here's an example of some of their fresh-caught snapper as prepared by a local restaurant called "Lazy Days":

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And here's an example of some of what we prepared while back at the house:

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So, with all of the eating and drinking that was taking place, a daily run was all but required so as to keep my waistline from expanding more than it already has. Thankfully there were a series of awesome trails and pathways to run on. Most followed along the ocean shores, which made for really enjoyable runs. It also helped that there were quirky things like self-serve coconut stands and beautiful views.

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We managed to take a few small excursions during the trip, including a quick visit to a State Park. The State Park was pretty cool - the campsites were elevated on wooden decks:

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I'm guessing they were raised for a number of reasons: (a) you're literally at sea-level, and I could imagine the tide rising and making things rather damp, and (b) there were tons of little critters running around everywhere, including these sand crabs (look very closely in the center of the picture):

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There were also a ton of lizards and chiggers... which we discovered the hard way. We returned from the park and woke-up the next morning to find millions of itchy, bright-red welts on our legs the next day. Fun...

We also ventured over to Key West, which I must say was probably the highlight of the trip for me. I really enjoyed that area. It was noticeably nicer down there in terms of weather, and there was a lot more fun and interesting stuff to do.

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Key West really was a blast. We spent about 5 hours or so there; I could've spent 5 days in the area. Maybe next time.

Back on Islamorada, we found a few other fun things to do, like feeding Tarpon. Tarpon are these massive fish - they're about 4-5 feet long and weigh about 150-pounds. There was a restaurant/bar/observatory place where you could grab a bite and a drink and then go feed the Tarpon.

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The final evening was a beautiful one. We decided to stop-in to one of our more favorite hangouts so that we could enjoy the sunset and the nice weather while sipping on a few brews. It was absolutely gorgeous.

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So, if you ever get the opportunity to visit the Keys, I'd say "Go. Go now." But I'd strongly encourage you to stay in the Key West area. Islamorada was nice, as were the other keys (we stopped on several along the way), but Key West was really superb.

Many thanks to my co-hosts for their hospitality and generosity. I really enjoyed the trip and enjoyed getting to know everyone better. Thanks!!

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Boston... Howdya' like them apples?

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I love my job. I truly do. I'm so fortunate to work at a place with people that I really enjoy both as co-workers and as friends, that I have a strong support group of magnificent leaders, and that I get the opportunity to head-up some really amazing projects.

The benefits are unreal - we are encouraged to go to training, seminars, and conferences as much as possible. I've been dinged a bit on my annual reviews for not attending enough training or events; I've had so many projects going on that time hasn't been available for things like that. My boss strongly encouraged me to take some classes this year, so I scheduled one in Boston.

I'd never been to Boston before, and it's been a place that I've always wanted to check out. So, I registered for a class, bought my plane ticket, found a cool hotel, and made my way to the land of chowda.

I arrived sometime in the late afternoon on Sunday, took a short cab-ride to the center of the city (my hotel and class were in the Back Bay neighborhood), and got settled-in.

My hotel was insanely awesome. I stayed at the very elegant and historic Eliot Hotel.

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Built in the 19th century and recently restored, every single room is a luxury suite. Upon entering the room, there was a short hallway that lead to a little landing area. Go straight, and you'd enter the bedroom:

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Turn right, and down another hall you'd find a wet bar area, with a nice marble counter, refrigerator, coffee and tea maker, and some basic kitchen utensils.

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Take a turn from the hall near the bar area, and you'd find yourself in the massive living room. The living room also connected to the bedroom via French doors.

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The bathroom was equally nice - black and white subway tile, a big, open walk-in shower (no door), and cool vanity. The only downside to the hotel? None. ;-) It was perfect. Quiet and very awesome, all the way around. The staff were unreal as well.

The location was absolutely perfect - it's situated about a block from major streets like Newburry and Boylston, and was less than 10 minutes walk from places like Harvard, MIT, and Fenway Park.

After getting settled-in, it was time for a drink, and my fellow Yelp Elite community members from Boston suggested the first stop should be a dive bar called Bukowski's. So, it was over to the little corner bar for a beverage and a light bite. You know you're in Boston when this is what's on the menu at the favored local tavern (apologies in advance for the crudeness, but I didn't type-up their menu):

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The little tavern was outstanding. The bartender was extremely helpful and friendly and the braised Brussels sprouts with Thai chili paste were outstanding. From there, it was over to a sub-terrainian bar for some more substantial food. The bartender at that joint suggested the dry-rubbed BBQ chicken wings, and I must say, they were divine.

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On the way back to the hotel, there was one final stop at an Irish pub, where a local suggested a ton of great places to check-out during the rest of the stay. Copious notes were taken and a sincere round of thanks was given for all of the assistance. And that was truly one of the more surprising things about Boston - the attitudes of the people there were really positive, friendly, and helpful. Everyone was more than willing to share tips, ideas, and strike-up casual conversation. It was really enjoyable.

Class started at 8:00am on Monday and ran until 5:00pm, at which point it was time for some dinner. Many people had suggested the Atlantic Fish Company as a hot place to check-out, so after a short walk down Boylston, I found myself seated at the bar of the AFC and chatting with the bartender, who suggested the half-platter of chilled seafood.

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The platter featured 100% local seafood - all from within 5 miles or less of the area. There was lump crab (meh), lobster (delicious), littleneck clams (icky), shrimp (ok), and oysters (quite good). With the belly full, it was time to wander the area a bit; stopped-in to several joints along the way back to the hotel, and then landed on this super high-end, very swanky place called "Clio."

Clio is the kind of place where you'd take Gordon Gekko or Gisele Bundchen... truly impressive; the place to see and be seen. A cocktail started at around $15, and went up from there. I spied something called "Iberico Jamon" on the appetizer menu and had to give it a shot. It was basically very thinly shaved cured meat - salty and good. Not sure if it was worth $35...

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After paying a $145 tab at Clio, it was time for bed. Class would start at 8:30am the next day and run until 5:00pm. Tuesday night consisted of a walk over to Fenway Park:

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Followed by more awesome oysters from the Island Creek Oyster Bar. Truthfully, I liked ICOB so much better than AFC - there was no comparison between the two, in my mind. The service and the oysters from ICOB were truly wonderful - each was twice as delicious as the next.

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Wednesday allowed some time to wander the city, of which I took full advantage. Here are a few random shots of things between the hotel and the day's first full meal, Flour.

I love the sunken patios along the streets:

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And the old churches:

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And the cool buildings (in general):

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After scarfing down a delectable salad of grilled chicken and avocado, it was time to keep walking east; there were some parks, The Freedom Trail, the harbor, and a brewery to check out. More cool photos as captured from along the journey:

Awesome architecture:

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A classic old fire station near Boston's Little Italy:

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More cool entryways - I have a thing for red doors:

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Stopped by a very historic location:

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It's interesting how these historic places exist between modern skyscrapers and the like:

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Getting closer to the harbor:

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The Boston Tea Party took place just beyond this little marina's gazebo:

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After about 10 more blocks or so of walking, the holy grail was reached:

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Harpoon's IPA was the first beer I had while in Boston, and it was quite honestly the best one of the entire visit. What a great local brewery! They started in 1986 and now have two locations - the original spot in Boston and a second brewery in Vermont. The tour was super fun and only cost $5. Everyone at the brewery was really fun, helpful, and engaging.

Here I am about to go on the tour:

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And some obligatory Lauderton and Brewery workings photos:

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As stated, the tour was great, but the beer was even better. Got to sample several of their offerings, and all were fantastic. I wish we could get Harpoon's goods out here in Wisconsin.

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After sampling some brews, it was time for food, and all of the locals emphatically recommended a place nearby called "No Name Seafood Place." Apparently their chowder was unreal... not a fan of chowder, I gave it a try, along with another rarity - broiled smelt.

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Belly completely stuffed, it was time to walk back into the city. A few more cool photos from the walk back:

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Dogs truly barking after walking around 10-miles or so, it was time to cry uncle and to take the "T" (also known as a subway) from the center of town back to the hotel. Probably not the best idea to ride the subway in the dead-center of rush hour... it was a little full.

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Back at the hotel by 5:30pm, it was time for a quick nap. There was a band playing in Cambridge (about a 30 minute walk from the hotel) that I wanted to check out. They were called "Vapors of Morphine" and consisted primarily of the original members from a fairly well-known band called Morphine. Their show was scheduled to start at 10:00pm, so a two-hour nap hit the spot.

Morphine plays this smooth, sultry, seductive music that consists of a baritone saxophone, a slide bass guitar, and a drum set. The singer has this melodic, trance-inducing voice; the entire sound is really enjoyable. And to catch them at a club that sat at most 50 people was a real treat.

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For those of you with access to You Tube, I took a short video of one of their songs - it'll give you an idea of what they were like.

The show ended around 1:30am, and it was back to the hotel for some shut-eye. But not before taking notice of how cool of an area that Cambridge is. The club where Vapors of Morphine played was located smack-dab in the middle of the MIT campus. It was a really enjoyable place.

I'm not sure why, but I liked this building and I liked the way the photo turned-out - it's from along the walk to Cambridge:

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The next morning arrived and it was time to back the bags and think about hitting the airport. Ugh. But not before one last trip over the bridge to Cambridge for some breakfast. While walking the bridge, I stumbled across this graffiti - it was pointing toward MIT... not sure if the Harvard lads painted this or what, but it made me chuckle.

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Breakfast consisted of a super yummy omelet from a little cafe called "Veggie Galaxy." It had roasted portobellos, grilled Brussels sprouts, caramelized onion, and a tomato pesto. It was divine.

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Satiated, it was back to the hotel, where a cab ride to the airport was waiting. Getting through Boston Logan was a breeze, the flight was uneventful (thanks, Southwest!), and before I knew it, my feet were back on terra firma in good 'ole Milwaukee.

To say it was a great trip would be an understatement. I would go back to visit Boston in a second, even if it is an insanely expensive city.

Before I go - I have to share two items I scored while out there. The first is a neodymium bracelet that was custom made. Neodymium is a rare-earth metal that is utilized in high-end speakers and microphones. I felt it was appropriate, given my sound engineering work that I do for fun:

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And the second is this hand-made stoneware mug/tumbler with a gnarly skull on it. I absolutely love it - and I love my Chemex coffee pot as well (located to the right).

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If you ever have the chance to visit Boston, but haven't - go. Just go. You'll love it.

Oh, and the title for this entry? Bonus points if you know where it came from...

And the award for...

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"Laziest Blog Updater In The World" goes to (drumroll) - ME!!

Folks, I apologize for not keeping things current around here. It wasn't until my friend Steve Wright swung through Madison last week and commented, "You need to blog more often," that I realized just how lax I've been. No excuse for it, other than being busy and not being home very often as of late. Excuses aside, let's catch-up, shall we?

October was a busy month. I'll share the highlights here - hope you enjoy them!

Early October: Packers vs Browns

Have I mentioned how awesome my boss is? Well, he is. And I'm not just saying that because I think he reads this (I don't think he does). His name is also Steve, and he's been the most supportive, generous, skill-building boss I've ever had. He's so good at building strong teams, challenging us to stretch ourselves and to learn as much as we can, and just generally developing strong leaders/professionals. He's been our boss for 2 years now, and it's been absolutely superb.

Aside from him being my immediate boss, he's also become a very good friend. Steve is the guy that I went to Austin with in 2011, he's the guy who generously hosted my 40th birthday party at his house, and has done countless other things for and with me.

He's a huge fan of the Green Bay Packers, so I was pleasantly surprised when he asked if I'd be interested in attending a game with him, his treat.

"Let me think about that for a sec- DUH, of COURSE I'd love to go!" was my response... (I'm so smooth and reserved)

The Packers were playing the Browns, and Steve scored seats in the north end zone, just 5 rows from the field. It was a late afternoon game, which meant we didn't have to wake up terribly early. Steve picked me up at around 11:30; we had an easy drive to the game, and we saw a great Packers victory.

The weather wasn't super great; it was coolish, rainy, and a little windy, but it was still a great time. Because of the weather, we didn't imbibe too much - I think we each had one adult beverage, and then I had a coffee at half time. We're party animals, eh?

Here are some random photos from the game, starting with this awesome tailgating set-up that the Browns fans had. It was an old school bus that had been extended to include a smoker/grilling station on the back. The front featured a PVC-made full face mask. There was a HUGE sound system cranking tunes, and nearly everyone seemed to be really enjoying the set-up. It was truly impressive.

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Here are some action shots from the game. Keep in mind that these were all shot with my iPhone, which is a great point-and-shoot, but it's no full-frame dSLR with nice glass.

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And while I said I don't think he reads my blog, I'll say it again, just in case - thank you, Steve for the great time and for being a great friend and awesome boss.


Mid October: The Big Apple - Revisited

I had the opportunity to visit New York for a training class; the class was held at the same location/venue as the class I attended last year, which was awesome because I had complete familiarity with the area.

I spent 5 days in New York, and man, I honestly love that city. I love staying in the Financial District ("FiDi") - it's at the very southern tip of Manhattan and is where you'll find Battery Park, Ellis Island, Wall Street, and a whole bunch of cool parks/businesses. I ran every single day - if I lived in NYC, I'd run 3x per day. Just look at the view from the running trail within Battery Park:

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Residents of NYC aren't as fond of living in the FiDi as they are other areas because the area largely shuts down after 6:00pm. All of the stock market folks, analysts, and financial folks leave at quitting time and don't return until the next day. That was A-OK by me because it made for very quiet nights in my hotel room (no horns or sirens). Residents also complain about the lack of "good food options," which is something I don't get... I found tons of great food in the area, including this awesome breakfast bagel:

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FiDi is about 40 blocks south of Times Square; I made my way up there a few times because where else will you see things like this?

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Aside from Times Square, I enjoyed the Midtown area because it's also home to a neighborhood known as Hell's Kitchen. Hell's Kitchen is a super gorgeous, happening part of town that's filled with incredible shops, restaurants, and innovative businesses. It's also where Parmilla lives, and I had a chance to visit with her on a few occasions.

Parmilla is my "cousin" - she's originally from Malaysia, but moved to NYC a few years ago. I know her through my Aunt Linda, Uncle Warren, and cousin Leanne (and hubby, Jeff). They hosted Parmilla when she was a foreign exchange student back in the 1990s; they've stayed close, and when she returned to the US a while back, they kept in even closer contact.

Parmilla works for a game company; she designs the user interfaces and graphics for a bunch of popular online games and mobile applications. She knew I was in town and invited me to stop by her apartment for dinner and to catch-up. I took her up on the offer. We started with a view from the top floor of her building - it overlooks the Hudson River; you can see the Empire State Building in the background as well.

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Her apartment is really cute, although it's a bit small at just over 425 square feet! Talk about having to be a master of efficiency and layout. I think she's done a good job - take a look for yourself:

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She made an excellent dinner that included a combination of Malaysian and Thai (I think?!) dishes. There were tuna cakes, a fish dish, omelette, and a chicken curry dish. Everything was absolutely divine - some of the best asian food I've ever had!

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We also got together later in the week for a few drinks in the Hell's Kitchen area. We stopped at a little pub that she was familiar with; a bartender snapped a photo of us, so here we are having a few beverages.

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It was great getting to catch-up with Parmilla and to hang out. If you have a mobile device and enjoy playing fun, challenging games, be sure to check out the offerings from her company, PuzzleSocial. They're great games, and they're FREE!

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While I was in New York, my boss happened to swing through town while on his way to a Pearl Jam concert in Hartford, Connecticut. He, along with his wife and kids, invited me to join them for dinner at the world famous Peter Luger Steakhouse in Brooklyn. It's been around for 125 years and is quite legendary.

We had an awesome meal; steak for four (a huge Porterhouse), potatoes with onions, house cured bacon, wedge salads, and some quality dessert. It was definitely an experience; I won't post a ton of pictures, but here's one of the steak plate, just after it was delivered to us:

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Talk about a good night! I don't think I would've otherwise had a chance to visit that place, let alone get reservations and pony-up the $200 for that steak all on my own. :-)

Before I knew it, my time in New York came to an all-too-soon end. I left on Saturday afternoon, but not before taking one more stroll through some of the awesome neighborhoods and grabbing some pizza from Lombardi's Pizza.

Lombardi's is located in the Nolita neighborhood and is considered to be one of the country's first pizza places. Nolita is a gorgeous neighborhood; here's a little alcove that I stumbled across while walking to Lombardi's:

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Lombardi's didn't open until 11:30am on Saturday, so I had some time to kill as I had arrived closer to 11:00am. I did a little shopping and returned to find a huge line, filled with hungry tourists, all hoping to grab some of that legendary pizza. Despite the line, I was immediately seated and promptly ordered a Margherita pizza - classic tomato, basil, and mozzarella.

They only sell whole pies, but I didn't care. I'd had Lombardi's a few years back, and I've been dreaming about it ever since. Here's the pizza, fresh out of their coal-fired brick oven:

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Belly full of pizza, back-pack stuffed full with some new clothes, I made my way to the subway, where I rode into Queens, transferred to a bus, and was dropped off at LaGuardia. A good trip, indeed.


End of October: Happy Halloween

A couple of years ago, I went all out for Halloween. Well, the bug hit me to do so again this year, so I set about plans for what I hoped would be an excellent costume.

I'm a huge fan of the (now retired) show, Breaking Bad. It's been a while since I've been so engrossed in a series... it was truly a great story with awesome actors.

So... I decided that I would be Walter White, the primary character. For those not familiar with the show, Walter White is (by day) a high school science teacher who contracted lung cancer and was forced to come up with an alternate method to pay for his treatment. So, he did what any upstanding citizen would do: started cooking crystal meth. Only, his was the best meth ever - 97.8% pure, and highly sought after. The show takes a ton of twists and turns; if you haven't seen it - you need to.

Walt went through several phases in the show. He started as a mild mannered, semi-bumbling, unassuming guy who wore bad clothes and had a dorky aura about him. Later, he turned into a ruthless drug king pin that was sitting on an empire and 80+ million dollars. He shaved his head, grew a goatee, and looked like a hardened criminal. Here he is, in a sort-of "before and after," from the television show:

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My plan was simple: attend a halloween party at the MidTown Pub, dressed as "pre-cancer" Walter White, and then halfway through the night, go into the bathroom, shave my head and change into the meth cooking Walter White badass.

Here I am at the pub, dressed as "normal" Walt. Members Only jacket (compliments of my good friend Marty B), tan khakis, plaid shirt, glasses, tan loafers, looking unassuming.

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I went to the party with a bunch of friends from work - Elden, Becky, Jen, Wendy, and Tamara. We had a great time. Here we are, all dressed up. That's (left-to-right): Elden, Becky, Jen, and me.

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Elden and Becky were the devil couple; their make-up was unreal. Becky did a great job with applying the horns and painting their faces - it looked really great, even up close. Here they are, a little closer:

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Jen went as Lara Croft from Tomb Raider. Her costume was super impressive - she made the entire thing from scratch, including the leg holsters, and she looks nearly exactly like Lara Croft. Talk about a great costume - here she is, inside MidTown:

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Wendy and Tamara didn't dress-up, but they did take a ton of photos for me/us. So, about 2 hours into the evening, I went into the bathroom, found an open stall, and shaved my head over the toilet. I then changed into my meth cooking uniform, which was completely accurate, even down to the 3M full face mask with methylamine filter cartridges, and emerged as the evil Walter White. I had a Pyrex dish full of blue rock candy, meant to look like Walt's infamous "Crystal Blue Persuasion."

I don't think I need to state the obvious, but I won the costume contest. Here I am with my prize (cash):

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Here are a few side-by-side photo comparisons:

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A great night, for certain - good friends, good food, and my second MTP costume party victory.

Having a shaved head is odd. It's very cold - I had no idea how much having hair on the 'ole noggin' helps to keep someone warm. Oh well... it's only hair - it'll grow back in a month or so. :-)

...and that's it, folks. Thanks for reading, and let's hope I don't wait another 35 days before the next update!

Let's go racing!

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Waaaaaay back in January or February of this year, one of my coworkers (and friends), Marty, suggested that a small group of us take a vacation to Bristol, TN, so that we could watch one of the NASCAR circuit's most infamous night races - the Bristol 500.

At the time, it sounded like a great idea. I mean, the weather was likely bordering between awful and unbearable, so the thought of spending a balmy August weekend deep in the heart of Tennessee sounded heavenly.

Think about it - 43 cars racing 500 laps on a half-mile track, at night, surrounded by 160,000 fans (many of whom were likely kin to this family):

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I couldn't sign-up fast enough. I was in. Our group was assembled, and ultimately consisted of Marty (head organizer, PMP, HOF (Hall Of Famer)), Brian (another coworker and friend, also a PMP), and Jamie (Marty and Brian's friend, who also quickly became my friend).

Marty did a masterful job of handling the logistics for the trip. From securing the campsite, to acquiring excellent tickets, to purchasing rations, to facilitating our project vacation meetings - he was on top of it. Some might argue it's the hardest he's worked in quite some time, but I'm not here to pass judgement.


Thursday, August 22, 2013
Agenda: load-up and drive to Knoxville, TN

Before we knew it, August was upon us, and we were ready to drive down to Bristol, TN. The four of us met at precisely 5:45am at Brian's house; he had the van (which we lovingly referred to as "Butane Blue" or "Ole Blue") packed and set to go.

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Here's the crew, just seconds before we were "AIS" (@ss in seat) at 5:57am. Marty's schedule had us departing from Madison by no later than 6:00am. So far, so good.

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Pictured from left to right: Steve, Brian, Marty, Jamie

We hit the road and immediately encountered our first glitch. 'Ole Blue's air conditioning had given up the ghost a few weeks prior. Despite attempts by Brian to revive the A/C, it just wasn't meant to be. Oh well, it's not like it was 100F outside... no sir, it was only 95F.

Marty's plans called for us to drive approximately 10 hours to Knoxville, Tennessee, where we would spend the night at a Holiday Inn Express, rest comfortably, and shower prior to the weekend's events. It was a call of sheer genius. The ride was uneventful, but after 10 hours spent marinading in the van, the offer of a good shower and comfy bed was quite pleasing.

Thank's to Jamie's good fortune and generosity (he recently sold an old motorcycle), he offered to cover our hotel and gas expenses. Huge thanks to him for the offer and for the pleasant surprise. It really cut down on our total trip expense!

Upon arrival to the Holiday Inn, we partook in the first of what would be many adult beverages. Marty and Brian have a thing for "nostalgic" beers... I'd prefer a good micro brew, but when in Rome...

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After a quick clean-up, we ventured into town in search of dinner. We eventually made our way to an area of town known as "Gay Street," which traverses the center of town and was originally established in the 1790s. It's surrounded by huge office buildings, boutique shops, and really nice restaurants.

Here's the crew standing in the middle of the street; you can see the Tennessee sign in the background if you look closely.

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We eventually found a brew pub that served primarily Mexican food; we enjoyed a solid dinner and some decent micro brews. It felt good to sit in the A/C while conversing and imbibing with my friends. After dinner, we made our way back to the hotel, but not before (literally) stumbling on this vintage Mini Cooper.

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The thing was pristine, but oh so tiny. Those wheels couldn't have been much bigger than lawnmower wheels... and with a 10" rim, they probably weren't. We would later see it driving around downtown - the steering wheel was even on the wrong (right) side of the car!

Having seen our fair share of Knoxville, we headed back to the hotel where we took the opportunity to enjoy a few more vintage brews while sitting on an outdoor picnic table near the pool. We also took advantage of the hotel's ice machine; we filled our 5-foot long cooler full of free ice... Unfortunately, the cooler was a bit burried in the van, so here's a photo of Brian doing his part to "Tetris" all of our goods back into the van.

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We called it a night, and I slept like the dead. Holy cats... I think my eyes were shut before my head hit the pillow. The next morning came, and Marty's schedule called for us to assemble in the lobby at 7:00am for breakfast, followed by AIS for Bristol by 8:00am.


Friday, August 23, 2013: Knoxville, TN to Bristol, TN
Agenda: drive to campsite, set-up, watch practice, watch the Nationwide 250 race

Not only is Marty a fan of vintage brews, he's also quite fond of powered eggs, instant gravy, and freezer biscuits. :-) He insisted we try the complimentary breakfast.

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In all honesty, the breakfast wasn't bad, even if we did witness an employee adding water to the eggs and microwaving everything before setting it out in the case. Marty paid our hotel tab and before we knew it, we were on the way to Bristol, baby!

After a few short hours in 'ole Blue, we started to catch hints that we were nearing the race. Ok... so, maybe they weren't hints - the route to the track was well-marked.

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Prior to reaching the campsite, we decided to make one last pit-stop at a local gas station. While there, Brian and I made small-talk with the attendant, who asked if we were heading to the race, to which we responded, "Indeed!"

As we were chatting, Brian spied a mini-poster of his favorite driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr and asked if he could take one. The attendant said, "Sure can! Oh, and if you like that one, we've got some over here that are exactly the same, except different."

Brian and I looked at each other, puzzled by the "exactly the same, but different" comment and then followed her over to find these:

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(For you non-racing fans, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr fans aren't really anywhere near "the same" - in fact, they're not really even compatible with one another...)

Here's Brian sporting his prized "Junior" poster (and creepy mustache):

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Posters in hand, fuel in the tank, and a few last minute sodas/Gatorades later, we were back on the road, heading for our campsite. Marty had superb directions - we had no trouble finding "the promised land" (or as it's more commonly known as, Mickey Baker's Hilltop Campsite).

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The check-in process was interesting to say the least. I'll spare you the gory details, but we were eventually told to pick any spot we liked. After some careful consideration, we opted for the only spot that had shade trees. While our chosen spot wasn't exactly level, we felt the shade would be more beneficial than a level camping site.

Brian fired-up 'ole Blue and made his way over to our site.

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With our site picked-out and the van in place, it was time for our first official Bristol beverage. Vintage brews would once again be the course du jour.

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From left to right: Steve, Brian, Marty, Jamie

With cold ones cracked, it was time to go about setting-up the site. Brian and Jamie brought tents; I only had to bring my own personal items. Here's Brian setting-up his monster tent (it had two rooms!); you can see Marty and Jamie setting-up their meager tent in the background:

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It didn't take too long for us to get the site set-up, and once ready, it was quite palatial. Mickey didn't really care how much space people consumed, so we took full advantage. Here's a view of our completed site, as seen from lower in the campground.

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We had a little bit of time to kill, so we sat around the camp site and pondered the weekend's events. One of our camp neighbors came over and introduced himself as Joe. Joe was a long-haul trucker who made his home in Indianapolis. He also told us not to worry if we found him passed-out and lying in his truck bed - apparently it was normal, and we shouldn't be alarmed. I guess when you walk around 24/7 with a 32oz glass of pure rum in hand, odd things are bound to happen (rum was Joe's drink of choice).

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Joe was actually a super friendly guy, and it was nice chatting with him and his family. They made us feel welcomed and comfortable; in fact, the entire campground was filled with genuine and wonderful people. Random folks would regularly swing by, usually on golf carts, to say hi and to make small talk with us. If the NASCAR community is anything, they're definitely friendly and personable. Here's a crew on their golf carts as they stopped-by to chat.

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One of the guys who made very frequent stops to our site was known as "The Mayor" - apparently he owned part of the campgrounds (along with Mickey Baker). He was obviously a retired gentleman; he'd stop by and say, "Just checking in, you boys need anything?" and then wouldn't say much else. We tried to make conversation with him, but he usually didn't answer, or when he did, he'd just give us a one-word reply. Odd fellow, but hey, these were his grounds, so I guess he can do whatever he'd like to do.

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We decided to take a stroll over to the track so that we could get an idea/feel for the lay of the land, as well as to pick-up our headsets (we rented headsets so that we could listen-in to the pit-to-driver chatter as well as the track officials and the radio broadcast).

The Sprint Cup drivers were nearing the end of their practice; not many people were watching, but these photos should give you an idea for the size of the facility. Keep in mind the track is only a half-mile in circumference... that's the same size as the local Madison International Speedway track. Only this track seats 160,000 people.

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Look at how steep the seating is; the seats are nearly vertical in alignment.

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Practice ended, and we set about roaming the track grounds. There were tons of vendors set-up; everyone from Jack Daniel's to local Moonshine companies (some of which had some wickedly awesome show cars set-up) to team sponsors to food carts to general vendors - you name it, they probably had it there.

The Jack Daniel's booth was impressive, because it had a huge music stage, tons of merchandising, a full bar, and a custom barrel shop, where you could purchase your very own barrel of JD and have it branded accordingly.

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As we continued to stroll the grounds, we spied an Ingersoll Rand booth that offered a pit crew challenge. They had the front-half of a race car set-up and the challenge required you to use one of their pneumatic impact wrenches to remove and install 5 lug nuts as fast as possible (essentially simulating a tire change during a pit stop).

Having been a real-life pit crew member for my friend Dan, and having worked as a mechanic for a number of years, I just had to give this a try.

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I completed the challenge in 2.81 seconds. The record was 2.65 seconds. Not bad, but definitely not good enough for me to quit my job as a project manager and tour the NASCAR circuit.

Before heading back to camp, we stopped to grab a bite to eat. Healthy options were far and few between... here are a few of the options we considered:

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After consulting with our cardiologists, Marty, Brian, and I opted for pork sandwiches:

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Jamie, who's arteries are in much better condition than ours, went with "butt fries" - french fries, covered in shredded pork, nacho cheese, scallions, bacon, and sour cream. He looks happy with his decision:

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We made our way back to camp to rest and relax for a bit before the Nationwide 250. The Nationwide series is the "junior" league to the Sprint Cup. It's composed primarily of the same drivers, however the cars a bit less powerful and a bit more restricted in terms of what they can and can't do to them. It's still good racing; it's just not as "big" as the Sprint Cup series is.

I had brought along my hammock and decided to take a quick break, while enjoying the views of the campground.

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As I sat in my hammock, the rest of the group enjoyed their camp chairs and our site. I'm telling you, we had the best set-up of any of the tent campers there. We were definitely "a big deal."

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Before we knew it, it was time to load-up and make our way to the Nationwide race. Perhaps the most baffling part of this entire NASCAR business model is that they allow you to carry-in anything you'd like for food and drink, provided it fits into a cooler that meets certain size requirements. Can you imagine an NFL event allowing you to carry-in beer, wine, and food? It's crazy.

Here I am, loaded up and ready to hit the track. Can you believe I didn't get my butt kicked at this event? Not really sure I "looked the part" of a true fan.

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I mentioned we were about a mile from the track; the facility is absolutely huge despite the small size of the actual track. Here are Jamie and Marty looking at the facility; Marty is wearing his infamous "Creepy Darryl (Waltrip)" t-shirt to commemorate the evening.

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We had our headsets, our cooler, and some premium seats - Marty scored us a great spot, near the start/finish line, in the "Allison Terrace" with seats that included seat backs. It was really quite nice to have the reserved seats, seat backs, and cup holders. Here's our vantage point; you can tell there weren't nearly as many people at the Nationwide race. Look at all of those haulers, perfectly lined-up and serving as garages for each of the teams.

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The actual race was quite uneventful. I believe there was one crash near the end of the race. Kyle Busch lead most of the race and won it quite handily, much to the displeasure of nearly all of the fans (he's not very well liked). With the race over, we made our way back to the campground, where we discovered Mickey had hired someone do produce karaoke for the campers.

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Karaoke stage in the foreground; the track is lit-up in the background and would stay lit-up all night.

We were more-or-less settled-in to our campsite; we had a nice fire going and were comfy in our chairs, as seen here:

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However, we couldn't help but notice one particular character who seemed to be having a really good time... he had this ridiculous Dr. Seuss-style hat, LED glasses, a flashing drink cup, and a crazy t-shirt, and he kept singing fun karaoke songs... so, we made our way down to the crowd. Here's the guy up on stage (to the right), singing "Can't Touch This" by MC Hammer.

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For reasons that remain a mystery to me, Brian and Jamie started chatting with the aforementioned character, only to discover that he and his wife were from Pine Bluff, Wisconsin, and they were there with their friends who were from Verona, WI. What a small world!

We wound-up talking and drinking with them for a bit; they invited us to their campsite, which they had configured as a mini compound... all of them had camp trailers, which were aligned in a circle to form their own little community. Before we knew it, we were friends with everyone, and we were getting so friendly that one couple (from Pawlick, Kentucky) broke out their homemade moonshine and offered us all a sip.

Here's Brian (on the right) with Ben (on the left), and Ben's moonshine (in genuine Mason jar). This was just after a sip of that 'shine.

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We had a good time with those folks, but had to call it an early night. I believe they were still going strong well after 2:00am... we made our way back to the camp site, tucked ourselves in, and semi-slept until sunrise.


Saturday, August 24, 2013
Agenda: eat, shower, venture, watch the Sprint Cup race

Morning arrived far too early; everything was covered in dew. We peeled ourselves out of our sleeping bags and set about making some breakfast. First up was a quick check on Joe (he wasn't sleeping in his truck bed, but was otherwise OK), followed by making some coffee... I had brought along my camp stove and portable French press. Marty previously poked fun at me for bringing a French press, but after a hot cup of fresh coffee, all ribbing stopped.

With coffees in hand, I fired-up some breakfast - thick cut bacon, scrambled eggs, and potatoes O'Brien.

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With our bellies full, it was time for a quick shower. Marty had purchased four showers on our behalf; the campground had a shower trailer, which was quite possibly the most ingenious thing I've ever seen.

Picture a portable semi-trailer, with two doors on either side (one for men, one for women). Each "side" of the trailer had five full-sized (just like you'd use at home) showers, with plenty of hot water and really good water pressure. Here's the outside of the shower trailer:

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The showers were so awesome; it was nice to rinse away the film of sweat, racing fuel fumes, tire dust, and camp fire smoke. Definitely worth the $5 cost of admission, and in hindsight, I should've sprung for a few extras. I'll make note for next year.

Brian, Jamie and I decided to venture back down to the track area to browse the various vendors. Marty opted to stay at the campsite. Upon our return, we learned that he had made good friends with another camp neighbor, but more on that in a bit.

The vendor area was huge, diverse, and entertaining. We could've purchased any number of things... here's a brief photo overview of a few of the things we encountered along the way:

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I bought a sleeveless t-shirt from a Moonshine vendor. I figured it wouldn't be right to leave Tennessee without at least one sleeveless t-shirt in my possession. I also couldn't pass-up an opportunity to take a picture with the vendor - I mean, she was only slightly cute. :-) And as cute as he is, I'm baffled as to how Brian eeked his way into my photo...

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Brian and I sampled the caramel moonshine; while extremely strong, it wasn't bad. Not sure that I'd seek it out in the future, but it was worth a free taste.

Semi-sunburned and slightly weary, we made our way back to the campsite, where Jamie fired-up his gas-powered blender and fixed us some margaritas. Jamie made the blender from an old weed whacker.

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As previously mentioned, while we were out on our adventures, Marty was becoming fast-friends with one of our neighbors. While we never did catch his real name, we did discover that he was a huge fan of NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick. So, we referred to him simply as "Harvick."

Harvick hailed from Virginia and was a died-in-the-wool NASCAR fan. He chain-smoked Marlboro reds, while drinking a never-ending supply of Budweiser. He earned his living installing septic and residential sewer systems. He was extremely nice, a bit quirky, and definitely "set in his beliefs" about the current presidential administration, gun ownership rights, patriotism, and NASCAR. Here's Harvick with our group.

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Shocker #1: yep, I've got me some tattoos. Long story.
Shocker #2: yep, that's a can of Bud in Harvick's hand.

In honor of the race, Marty broke out his finest pair of jorts, along with his best Jeff Gordon AARP t-shirt (Marty is nearing that age). Here he is, modeling the outfit while pointing out the excellent fray on near his knee.

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We headed out for the race a bit early; Harvick, along with his friend and his "old lady" were making a fine dinner that consisted of a can of Beanie Weenies and ring bologna. Quite honestly, it looked and smelled rather fantastic. Our crew had some beer brats, for comparison.

As we neared the track, it became more evident that the crowd for this race would be much larger than it was for the Nationwide race. Here's one of the parking lots as we approached:

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We made our way to our seats and watched the pre-race ceremonies, which included a flyover with about 10 P-51 fighter planes, as well as a couple of parachuters who flew in with flags attached to them. It was super cool to watch.

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We had our same seats from the previous race, so our vantage point was perfect. Here's the group, headsets in place, about to watch the race.

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Those radios were worth their weight in gold. We could scan all of the driver's frequencies and listen to whichever team we wanted to. We could also listen to the NASCAR officials or the radio broadcast of the race. I feel bad for anyone who attends one of these races and doesn't rent a headset - it really adds to the experience.

The race was largely uneventful; there weren't too many wrecks. Only one team really struggled, and it was entertaining to listen to the crew chief yell at his team to get their act together. We could see the team's pit stall quite clearly from our seats, so we had a front-row view of all of the goings on.

We also got to see a bit of a confrontation in the pits. Two drivers had collided, and one of them decided to pay a visit to the other's pit stall during the race. Here are the two teams engaging in what certainly had to be some spirited conversation.

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Matt Kenseth (from Cambridge, Wisconsin) managed to hold off a very hard-charging Kasey Kahne and win the race, which made me quite happy, as I had picked him to win. I pocketed $60 from Jamie, Brian, and Marty thanks to Mr. Kenseth's efforts.

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Picture courtesy of Twitter

As soon as the race ended, there were fireworks on display - the track lit-off fireworks for a few minutes, and we watched them while allowing the crowd to clear out. The fireworks weren't particularly impressive, but it was a nice finishing touch.

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Here's the sea of people as we left the track:

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On our way back to the camp site, we returned our headsets to the Racing Electronics trailer; we also purchased a $10 Papa Johns pizza from a roadside vendor. That pizza hit the spot after a full evening of racing excitement.

Once back at the campsite, we attempted to sleep... however, a rogue group of campers had decided to conduct their own karaoke performance - only this one was terrible and continued well past 3:00am. We didn't get much sleep that night... thankfully, we'd be leaving the next morning.


Sunday, August 25, 2013
Agenda: pack-up camp, drive to home

We woke-up quite early and began tearing down our beloved camp site. Tear down went very smoothly.

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Jamie and Marty donated the gas powered blender to one of our fellow campers. We figured they could make better use of it than we would. As they carried away the blender, we encountered our only snag of the weekend - 'ole Blue wouldn't start. He had a dead battery, despite our starting him and charging the battery at various times throughout the weekend.

Marty and Jamie set out on foot to find someone with jumper cables and a vehicle; what better place to find those things than at a NASCAR campground, right? Well, apparently Marty spotted a gentleman stirring about at one of the campsites, and parked in close proximity was a large Dodge truck. Marty approached and asked, "Hey buddy - can you give us a hand? Our van has a dead battery and we're hoping you might have some jumper cables?"

The guy turned around and said, "Sure thing, friend! Just a second," and that's when Marty's jaw dropped. The guy only had one arm. Marty later said that he bit his tongue and didn't say, "Whoops, saw you already did."

The guy was super helpful; he was over to our site in a matter of minutes, and I set about getting the jumper cables connected.

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With 'Ole Blue up and running, we hit the road for our return trip. Thanks to a hot tip from one of our seat mates at the Sprint Cup race, we took a shortcut through Kentucky. The shortcut would shave more than an hour from our return trip. It also provided an endless source of entertainment and bewilderment. Along the way, we quite honestly saw the following things:

- An impromptu, roadside sale for fighting roosters (several vehicles parked alongside the highway, with roosters in cages, and signs indicating they were for sale)

- Freshly fabricated and painted Sambo statues being offered for sale. Sad, but true story.

- A place called "Sammy's Implement and Farm Equipment Sales & Service" that had a vinyl banner hanging from the awning that read, "Now renting bridal gowns and tuxedos"

Oh, Kentucky... you never disappoint.

We made the return trip of 800-miles in just a tad over 12-hours. We marinaded in the non-air conditioned van the entire way. ;-)

Our entire weekend netted us 1,641 miles of seat time, as evidenced by the trip meter on 'Ole Blue:

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With the crew safely back in Madison, we unpacked the van, posed for a final photo, and bid each other farewell for the weekend. It was definitely an excellent trip - one that I'll never forget, one that I'll fondly remember, and one that I'll look forward to repeating in the future.

Special thanks to Marty for coordinating and planning, to Brian for supplying the vehicle, and to Jamie for donating the hotel rooms and fuel. You guys are great!

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A little weary from the road, but none the worse for wear.


For the full photo album (no captions), click here.

Additional thanks to Brian and Jamie for sharing their photos with me, many of which you see in this post and in the album.

It just froze over.

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Does it feel cold in here? Yeah, I thought so.

Why's that? Well, friends, I did something I swore I'd never do under any circumstances - I went camping.

In a tent, nonetheless.

I'd been toying with the idea of going bicycle camping - taking my bike trailer, loading it up with some supplies, riding down to New Glarus, and spending a weekend visiting the city while camping from the bike - but I'd never done much more than ponder the possibility. I bought several publications about backpack camping, studied them, read several websites, and asked around. Sounded like I could make a go of it.

A few friends suggested that I try "car camping" first. That's where you load-up your vehicle with camping gear, drive to an established campground, and give things a try. Sounded more reasonable, so I began shopping around for camping gear. Good gear would be critical to the success or failure of this venture.

I've been an REI member for years, although never really bought much from them. Until a few months ago when I started to buy-up all sorts of goodies. First up? A tent. I chose the Big Agnes Jack Rabbit SL3. Lightweight (just over 3-pounds), waterproof, breathable, room for three people, quick-to-set-up, yet packs down to the size of a large Thermos. Score.

After that came the sleeping bags. Once again, I went with Big Agnes. Gunn Creek 30-degree bags. Warm down to around 40F, lightweight (just over 1-pound each), and they pack down to the size of a 1-liter bottle. Score again.

The bags are so compact because they don't have insulation on their underside. Big Agnes discovered that as soon as you compress insulation (be it down or synthetic), the insulation loses all of its insulating properties. So, they designed their bags to be used with an air-mattress. I bought two inflatable Big Agnes mattresses; they fold down to the size of a deck of cards when not in use, and inflate in about 15-18 deep breaths of air. The bags have head-to-toe-length-pockets on the underside to securely hold the mattress in place, so that you don't slide off while asleep. Pure genius.

Accessories came next. LED camplights (small, compact, lightweight (2-ounces each), yet bright (90-lumens each & dimmable)), a MSR WhisperLite camp stove (10-ounces), cooking gear (titanium and aluminum items), collapsible water bags (for drinking/cleaning), and some ultra-light and compact folding camp chairs (about the same size/dimension as the sleeping bags), and things were all set.

I bought a few compression bags to hold all of the gear (compression bags are waterproof, collapsible bags that you put your gear into whilst in transit), loaded up the car, and headed north to Mirror Lake.

Mirror Lake is located about 5-minutes southwest of the Wisconsin Dells; there's a State Park there that offered availability over the 4th of July weekend. The rate was reasonable at $15/night, and I figured it was close enough to civilization that if anything went wrong, I'd have options.

After an hour or so in the car, my small group arrived to the campground. We checked-in with the rangers, found out where our campsite would be, and set about finding our way to the site.

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The sites were set-up really, really well. They were nearly completely private - each site was separated by a ton of foliage, and they were configured to promote privacy. Parking was genius as well; we only had to walk about 50 yards from our parking stall to the campsite.

Here's the site before we began to set-up:

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The picnic table was huge; the fire pit was nice, and the inclusion of a trash hook (elevated) was a great touch. To make things even better, we had a fresh water source located about 200 yards from the site, and a bathroom about 600-700 yards away.

If this next photo doesn't look impressive, it's not meant to be. The firewood (which we bought at the campsite) and cooler take up more space than all of the camping gear did...

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With 2 trips to the car, we had everything unloaded and ready to set-up. Here's what one of those compression sacks looks like, with the opening unwrapped. You'd normally roll the top over onto itself and clip it closed to make it waterproof. Inside of this bag is all of our gear, with the exception of the tent and sleeping bags. It's crazy how small today's camping gear compresses down to!!

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First order of business was to set-up the tent. We put down the "footprint" first; the footprint was a secondary item that I bought to help protect the tent. It's a super lightweight "liner" that goes under the tent to protect against dirt and moisture. The tent connects to it via clips, so that nothing slides around. It's so ingenious.

The tent took all of 5-minutes to set-up. There were two poles which formed an "X" over the tent. They assembled together via slip-joints and polymer connectors. Another brilliant design.

After the tent was set-up, we inflated the air mattresses. Here's one of them fully inflated and ready to go.

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The mattresses slipped right into the bags, secured nicely, and were set to go in a matter of minutes.

We then assembled the chairs, set-out our "welcome mat" (a huge, water resistant, stain resistant picnic mat), folding table, and cooler. The site was officially set-up in less than an hour.

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Mirror Lake had a bunch of trails, so we decided to do some hiking and exploring before settling into the site. If I had to guess, I'd say we hiked about 3-4 miles. The trails were well shaded and really well maintained. Here's part of one of the trails:

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As we hiked, we made our way over to one of the lake inlets. The campgrounds offered rentals for Kayaks, Canoes, Stand-up Paddle Boards, and other watercraft. If we would've had more time, I would've liked to have tried the Stand-up Paddle Board. I hear it's a great workout. Regardless, the lake was gorgeous.

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We made our way back to the site, where we split some of the firewood and set-up a fire. Thank goodness for those fire blocks; all of the campground's firewood was really damp, so it was incredibly difficult to keep a fire going. I had to split-up an entire bundle of wood into small pieces, just to keep the fire going. At one point, we could literally see and hear the wood "steaming" as it burned.

With the fire stable, it was time to make some grub. Here I am roasting some brussels sprouts over the fire.

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If you look at the cooking grate, you can see some ears of corn. We prepared a great feast for the night - corn on the cob, brussels sprouts, chicken brats, and a quinoa salad.

Here are two of the plates after the cooking was complete:

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We ate with polymer sporks; the food was fantastic. Oh so tasty. Grilled anything always tastes great, and everyone knows that eating outside makes everything all the better. So, we were destined to win with this combo.

Spent the rest of the evening listening to music, enjoying some ice cold brews, and relaxing under the stars. The weather was perfect, and we kept the bugs at bay thanks to our clip-on Off thingies. I slept absolutely great on the air mattress - I'd argue it was more comfy than my "Dreams by Steinhaffels" bed.

Morning arrived, and I made a breakfast with Neuske's bacon, eggs, roasted jalapenos, and "toast" (from hot dog buns). Yummo. The only thing we were missing was some coffee... but, I've since purchased a camping/backpacking French Press. ;-)

I spent Saturday at Mount Olympus park in the Dells. Our friend's roller derby teammates had a friends-and-family get together there, so we hung out with them and had a good time. I'd venture a guess that there were around 20-25 people with us.

In other news, one of my friend's dad lives in Chicago, so we drove down to visit him and to take in a game from one of the rooftop venues located just outside of Wrigley Field.

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Our seats included access to an all-inclusive rooftop venue. It featured free food and free drink, and was a great way to watch the game. Unfortunately, the venue didn't open until 45-minutes prior to game time, so we killed some time by walking around the stadium and taking in some of the sights and pre-game fanfare. Here's the infamous statue of Harry Caray:

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The shenanigans that take place between Cubs and Sox fans are hilarious, as demonstrated by the sign this water vendor had made:

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The venue opened, and we made our way to the top of the building. The seats were quite good - we had a full view of the field, and were able to see everything, with the exception of deep left field.

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The venue was great; we were about the only people there, so we almost had the place entirely to ourselves. We feasted on pork nachos, chicken skewers, brats, and fresh fruit. We also enjoyed a few beverages. The Cubs won after extra-innings, so that was the icing on the proverbial cake.

So... the million dollar question remains - would I go camping again? And the answer is, ABSOLUTELY. I loved it. I can't wait to go again!


A trip to the Bay

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Greetings, friends! I realize I've been extremely lax with updating the blog over the past few months, but things truly have been incredibly busy. It's not a good excuse, but it's the plain truth; there just hasn't been any time to kickback and draft a good blog entry.

Despite the hectic schedule, I did find time to travel out to my 'ole stomping grounds - San Francisco.

I arrived into San Francisco early in the afternoon on Saturday, and after a short ride on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), found myself smack-dab in the heart of the city - at the intersection of Market and 3rd Street. The hotel was phenomenal on so many levels... the rooms were nice, clean, quiet, and featured real balconies that you could sit comfortably on. It was centrally located - in the Union Square neighborhood, which is almost in the middle of everything.

After unpacking, I headed out to the infamous pier/wharf area.

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The weather was nice; much nicer than I recall it being when I was working in San Francisco... it was a tad windy on Saturday, which is normal, but it was sunny and warm. I walked along the pier, passing huge docks and watching the various ships and barges navigate their way around the bay.

After walking for a bit, I sat down for a quick beverage at the Pier 23 bar and restaurant. They offered outdoor seating, so I snagged a seat and enjoyed the views.

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For those not familiar with the area, the piers are all numbered. I started at Pier #1, which is located at the end of Market Street. The piers run north and south along Embarcadero Street; there are actually two "Pier 1", two "Pier 2" and so on (one north of Market, one south of Market). I was walking north toward the infamous Fisherman's Wharf (Pier 39). For reference, AT&T park (the ballpark that's home to the San Francisco Giants) is south of Market, at around Pier #40.

After enjoying the fine beverage and the views, I continued walking north along the bay. I reached a point where you could easily see Alcatraz island. Thanks to the clear skies, it was easy to see. A sailboat photobombed my picture, but it still turned out OK...

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Kept walking toward Pier 39, which is home to several interesting attractions; primarily the large packs of sea lions that feed and sun on small floating docks, and the Fisherman's Wharf food court/market place.

Here are a bunch of the sea lions, hanging out and enjoying the nice weather:

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My stomach was starting to rumble, and with the smell of freshly cooked and steamed seafood wafting through the air, decided to head over to the food court/market area.

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There were quite literally dozens of options for places to eat, and each offered live, fresh lobster, crab, mussels, and plenty of other tasty seafood. I settled on a vendor and browsed our options... lobster?

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Or Dungeness Crab?

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Ultimately decided to go with the crab; the monger steamed it and cracked the shells, and I found a little perch to stand at and enjoy the awesome crab. Also had some fried calamari, which was excellent.

Belly full, I walked up Hyde Street. Hyde Street is one of the steepest hills in San Francisco - it averages a 31% incline grade; at the mid-point of Hyde Street is where the infamous Lombard Street begins (Lombard is the windy road that's often featured in movies).

The next day, I woke-up and went for a run. I decided to run the same route that I walked the night before; it was about 5-miles round-trip. The un-fun part? Running up Hyde Street... here's the view from near the bottom:

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About midway-up:

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And near the top; it's a little less steep near the top, but you can still appreciate the grade:

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Truth be told, I didn't run all the way up Hyde; I simply couldn't. I stopped a few times and snapped pictures, let my legs and heart recover, and then chugged my way on through.

After a well-deserved shower, I hit the streets, looking for some breakfast. I found a great little cafe called "Little Griddle" and ordered the "Bits & Pieces" scrambler. It featured maple smoked bacon chicken sausage, crimini mushrooms, sliced yellow onions, diced stake tomatoes, cheese, and a boatload of hashbrowns. It hit the spot after the run.

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Nourished and content, I wandered around San Francisco, making my way down Hayes Street (great shopping and cafes), over to Market, down Market toward the Mission/Hayes neighborhood, where my old apartment was. I was truly shocked to see that it looked exactly the same as it did in 2001/2002 - paint color and all. Here it is:

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Talk about a blast from the past.

From there, I swung into a small cafe for a brioche donut (filled with white chocolate macha) and a coffee. I took a break, surfed the internet, and enjoyed the awesome little courtyard.

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I had a rather long walk back to the hotel; I had to cover about 3 miles by foot, and in doing so saw some interesting things. From tame to obscure:

Farmer's Market - looked nice; lots of good offerings.

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Dog dressed as Superman:

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Godzilla and a princess walking on the sidewalk (I followed them for about 1.5 miles).

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And this store. Odd combinations anyone?

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Man, if only Madison had a place where I could do my laundry while drinking espresso, eating some sausage, and enjoying an ice cream cone... I'd never leave!

For dinner that night, I decided to do some small plates at a really cool tavern called "Burritt Room & Tavern." It was close to the hotel, and came highly recommended. I wandered-in, ordered some phenomenal cocktails and browsed the menu. The choices landed me on:

Charcuterie (duck prosciutto, traditional prosciutto, and salami, with grilled sourdough)

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Chicken liver with shiitake mushrooms:

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And some baked macaroni and cheese, of which I forgot to photograph because it wasn't quite as good as the first two plates. With two more cocktails, I received the check... $99 for three plates and a few drinks! EEEEEEK - definitely wasn't in Madison...

On the way back to the hotel, I snapped a semi-cool photo of a cable car operating at night. The cable cars are awesome, but based on the mass quantity of calories I'd been consuming, walking was a better option.

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The next day, I made my way over to Chinatown for some Dim Sum. Dim Sum is sort of like a buffet of chinese food, only you won't find stir-fry or fried rice. It's primarily finger food, and let me tell you, it's delicious.

Here's Chinatown:

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I love those hanging lights; if you look closely in the background, you can see a banner that reads "Chinatown."

After passing by countless Dim Sum joints, none of which had any english signage, I decided to eat at "Great Eastern." Heck, if President Obama ate there just a few weeks prior, it had to be good, right?

Boy howdy, was it good. First round of Dim Sum included steamed pork buns, salt prawns, and some type of spiced pork.

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Round two consisted of fried fish rolls (basically large, deep fried sushi roll):

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Round three consisted of baked pork buns, mushrooms, and a few other items I'm forgetting about... it was all superb!

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Later that day, I made my way over to Oakland, where I visited several really cool boutique stores, including this one where I saw an awesome hanging garden idea in the back; I snapped a photo for future reference.

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I met some cool folks along the way who told me to visit an old bar called "The Homestead" which was a super cool place. I believe they said it was built in the mid-1800s and has been a bar ever since then. It was such an awesome old bar. If I lived in San Francisco, this would be my hang-out...

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After enjoying a few drinks with new friends, I headed back to the hotel, where I did some shopping at some great stores in the area. I swung into AG (Adriano Goldschmeid) and bought a pair of blue jeans. I also hit Macy's, Nordstroms, and a few other places. I miss good shopping places like this!

With the clock pointing at nearly 8:00pm, I ventured over to an amazing sushi place called "Sanraku." It was recommended by friends and wow - was it great.

Seaweed salad and edamame to begin with:

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Followed by two rolls (dragon and 49er) and nigri (fatty tuna and mackerel):

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The next day arrived, and I walked to a Dotty's - a breakfast place that is infamous for its unique take on comfort breakfast dishes. Upon my arrival, there was a line out the door; I waited for about 35 minutes before beign seated at the bar area.

My options were many, but I decided to go with the "house made whiskey smoked fennel sausage scrambler, with spinach, mushrooms, and house cured cheddar cheese". It was accompanied by a plate of rosemary/sage homefries and a thick slice of house made jalapeno cheddar cornbread.

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Phenomenal. Oh so superb. With not much else to do during the day, I ventured back to the little cafe that had the brioche donuts, grabbed a seat, and did some work via remote connection. After a few hours, my gut said, "Hey, why don't we eat again?"

I decided to walk over toward Mission Street, and along the way found a pizza place called "Little Star Pizza" - they were offering personal pizzas with a drink for $10. Sounded like a bargain, so I stopped-in.

At the recommendation of my server, I ordered a roasted egg plant with chicken, basil, and garlic pizza. I'm not sure what their idea of personal is, but when the pizza arrived, it was much larger than I had envisioned - I'd say it was at least a 12" pie...

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The pizza was delicious, but I only ate 1.5 pieces, as I didn't want to stuff myself too much. To help settle my gut (and guilty conscience for eating so much) I wandered around the city some more and spied this odd little store; yes, that's a bare-breasted pattern on the fabrics... hmm.

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On the way back, I stopped at Yerba Buena Park - a little oasis located in the middle of the city.

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The next morning, I decided to venture to the north end of the piers, grab breakfast, and then rent a bike so that I could ride across the Golden Gate Bridge. I took the cable car from the hotel to an infamous bar/restaurant called "Buena Vista."

Buena Vista is known for its Irish Coffee and for being one of the older establishments that's still in business in the city. I skipped the Irish Coffee, but did order an awesome crab and tomato omelette with sourdough toast.

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I walked from Buena Vista to the bike rental place, picked-up my bike, went through a hasty fitting, and then hit the trails toward the Golden Gate Bridge.

There were a few steep hills to climb, but thankfully the route was nearly 100% via trail, so there wasn't much (if any) automotive traffic to contend with. I stopped near the Presidio to snap a picture - you can see the bridge in the distance.

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Also passed by some incredibly nice houses along the way... the houses in this neighborhood had an average price of $8.7-million, according to Zillow.com...

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The houses were located right along the bay (there was water directly opposite of them), and very close to one of the cooler pieces of architecture I can recall seeing - the Palace of Fine Arts.

Apparently, the Palace has fallen on tough times because it's slowly sinking into the ground. They've closed it and have relocated most of the attractions to new locations. It's such a shame, because the place was absolutely gorgeous.

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After the quick pitstop at the Palace, I continued on toward the Golden Gate. Here's a nice shot of the rental bike as I neared the bridge. Can you believe the weather? It was quite honestly 75-80F and sunny every single day.

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Eventually wound my way up and across the bridge, where I stopped at a large park for a quick break, a drink of water, and to take-in the views of San Francisco. My photos didn't turn out as well for two reasons - one, the photos were facing into the sun, so the lighting was terrible; and, two, the bridge itself is 1.75-miles long and when you calculate in the distances for the park and greenspace around the bridge, the city photographed a lot like a speck on the horizon. So, no photos "from the otherside." Sorry.

I rode back into San Francisco, and as I did, I snapped this selfie photo.

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With time left on the rental, I decided to ride along the pier area, only this time I rode well into the south side of the piers - when I hit AT&T park, I stopped and turned around.

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I returned the bike and then walked back to the hotel, where I got ready to take the BART over to Oakland for a dinner with some old friends. After some quick calculating, I figured I rode nearly 22-miles on the rental bike - not a bad ride! And, it would make the evening's dinner feel a little less heavy.

Once in Oakland, my friends picked me up from the BART station and drove me to a "park" as they called it. Imagine the slight bit of surprise when we arrived to a cemetery. Apparently it's quite the norm for people to hang out at the cemetery. I can see why - the place afforded gorgeous views of both Oakland and San Francisco, and it really was configured like a large park. There were huge areas of green space where people could picnic and enjoy the awesome weather.

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While we were there, I snapped a few pictures of some of the cooler, more interesting mosoleums. Here's where the Ghiradelli family (yes, of the chocolate fame) rests:

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And here's the mosoleum for Samuel Merritt - it's the square unit to the right in the photo below. He's a bit of an Oakland legend - he was a physisican for a number of years (in the early 1800s), the 13th mayor of Oakland, and he founded a very popular nursing college. He also built a large lake in the middle of the city.

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The attention to detail on some of the mosoleums is phenomenal - look at the custom-made lock on the Merritt facility:

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After spending some time at the Mountain View Cemetery, we headed into town for some Korean BBQ. I'd never had it before, so I was both excited and nervous... Imagine my relief when I learned it was primarily fried and/or grilled chicken.

My friend Jonathan did all of the ordering for us - he knew his way around the place, so we put the steering wheel firmly in his hands. He kicked things off with a Korean lager called "OB." It came in a comically large bottle - there's a pitcher of water behind the bottle for reference...

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For an appetizer, we had something called "cheese corn." It's exactly what it sounds like, only better. They take a cast iron hot place and load it up with fresh kernels of sweet corn, scallions, and peppers, then cover it in cheese and heat it to molten-hot temperatures. Everything sort of boils and binds and chars together to form an unbelievably delicious plate of goodness.

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To help cleanse the pallete (and our arteries), a noodle salad was ordered next. It consisted of cold noodles with a pile of vegetables, hard boiled egg, and an awesome sauce that was both sweet and spicy. It was excellent!

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For the main entrees, we ordered two versions of chicken. One was fried and featured an allspice flavor; the other was a super spicy grilled version. Both were beyond excellent. Everything was so fresh, flavorful, and delightful. I wish Madison had a Korean BBQ place.

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The restaurant was a load of fun; they were playing cheesy 80s, 90s, and 00s pop music (quite loudly). The staff were fantastic - super helpful and friendly, and they even gave us a complimentary pot of soup (very similar to egg drop) and a corn-fritata-like dish. We spent a few hours there, yet the time seemed to fly by.

After a nightcap at a local pub, I headed back to San Francisco on the BART. I managed to fall asleep during the ride; I guess all that food induced a bit of a coma.

The following day I went for a morning run, where I stopped by San Francisco's other famous bridge - the Bay Bridge - the snap this photo.

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I spent the rest of the day taking it easy. I stayed primarily in the hotel lobby, where I did some work and did some work on a side project I'm doing for the Capital Brewery Bike Club (I set-up their website and manage some of the content for it. It's still rough, but it's a new site so that's to be expected).

As I had a super early flight the next morning (it departed SFO at 6:00am), I decided to take it easy on the final night in town. That 3:45am alarm clock would be buzzing far too soon... Decided to walk a block or so to a local microbrewery called "Thirsty Bear Brewing Company."

It's an interesting brewery concept because they serve Spanish-style tapas as their primary food option. I started off with some salmon tartare with pintxos (one-bite skewers):

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The tartare was superb; so fresh and tasty. The pintxos were excellent as well - one featured a fig with spiced goat cheese; the other consisted of marinated manchego with membrillo (it's similar to a pear).

Up next was some grilled asparagus with Meyer lemon and some Setas Al Ajillo, which are mixed wild mushrooms, garlic, madeira, butter, and chili flakes. The asparagus was excellent; the setas were a tad too buttery for my liking, but still good.

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And finally, because I'm a total pig, I decided to order a pulled pork flatbread. I was quite shocked when it was delivered, as it was much larger than I had anticipated, and it was more doughy than I thought it would be. But, it paired well with the brews I was enjoying...

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I settled the tab ($109... gotta' love San Francisco!), and turned-in early. Before I knew it, the alarm clock was yelling at me to wake-up and head to the airport. After a short (and very easy) cab ride to SFO (the BART doesn't run before 5:00am), I was standing in line waiting to board the flight back to Wisconsin.

What a great trip. Perfect weather, great adventures, and just a fun experience. I got to try some new foods, meet some new people, and visit some old familiar places.

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Road trips

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Howdy folks.

Yep, it's been a while since I've provided any entertainment (?) or updates - sorry about that. I can only offer the usual excuses - busy with work, running around catching-up on things over the weekend, and so on.

I did spend the last five weeks or so eating totally bad, barely running, and barely riding... so, that means I've gained about 20-pounds... it's funny (not really) how I can go from 170-ish to a solid 190 in just over a month. Ugh. I guess it's time to get back into some sort of routine so that I can shed some of those awesome pounds. Or, maybe I should just throw-in the towel with this fitness crap and "enjoy" myself. Torment...

But enough about my woes. Aside from eating poorly and not exercising, I've actually been having a fun time. I was invited to hang out at a car show with my cousin a few weeks ago, and that was a blast, even if it was 100F outside. :-)

I snapped a bunch of pictures; I won't really take time to explain them here - most of the cars I photographed appealed to me because I had some sort of familiar relationship to them from my days while working at the Auto Museum or from my days as a technician at the Ford dealership.

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Apparently the show has become so popular that they had to limit the number of cars/entries for judging to 350. I guess when you see the trophies they award, it's not so difficult to figure out why so many people are eager to participate in the show:

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I also took a road trip on the motorcycle to visit a friend of mine from Arkansas. You may recall that my friend Nat came to Wisconsin to visit me a few years ago - there's a lengthy entry about it here.

Well, ever since the bank was closed in 2008, Nat and I have kept in touch. Nat launched his own marketing/brand partner business and did really well at it. With each visit to Arkansas, I'd make sure to spend time with Nat; I learned that he was considering a life change - getting away from the rat race and focusing on something that was important to him.

Imagine my surprise when I received a text from him a few weeks ago that showed a shopping cart full of New Glarus Brewing Company products. I immediately responded with, "you're either in WI, or you're a bootlegger." New Glarus doesn't sell their products to anyone outside of Wisconsin proper.

He responded that he was in Wisconsin; sort of. He had taken a short trip "over the border" from Iowa and was stocking-up on supplies. After some prodding and interrogating I learned that he had moved to Dubuque. Dubuque is only about 1.5 hours from Madison, so we made plans to hang out for a day.

I packed my saddle bags, suited-up, and hopped on the Harley for an enjoyable cruise down highway 18/151 to Dubuque. I let Nat know that I was in town and he swung by to pick me up so that we could head to Dyersville, IA - home of the "Field of Dreams" movie site.

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While I've only seen the movie once, it was cool to check out the field and the house. The house has an interesting story - it's been family owned for quite some time; when the movie producers were searching for a site for their film, they stumbled across this farm and decided to select it for "home base."

They modified the house by enlarging rooms, adding windows, and extending the white picket fence. They installed a special irrigation and fertilization system so the corn would be tall enough by early June (when filming was taking place).

Here's the house -

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It looks bigger than it is, and it also looks like it's farther from the baseball field than it is. It's interesting how the camera can distort depth of field/distance. I walked just a bit to the left of the house and snapped a picture of the baseball field and that infamous corn:

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There were people playing baseball on the field; I didn't think to bring a glove, although it was probably for the better - it was over 100F out there and I didn't feel like shagging any fly balls. We walked around the field, checked out the corn, and then decided to seek out some food.

We drove into Dyersville and stumbled across a little place called "The English Pub." Dyersville isn't too big of a place, so our options were limited, and to be honest, we were a little nervous about the place before we stepped in.

Once inside, we quickly discovered the pub was a gem. Great atmosphere, a few friendly locals, and a sign that immediately caught our attention. It read, "Pub Pizza: 126,357 sold"

Hmm. We were starving, so we ordered a 'za. We watched as the bartender flipped the dough, added fresh ingredients, and snuck the assembly into a pizza oven just behind the bar. The result was fantastic:

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We scarfed that pizza down in no time - it was truly delicious.

From Dyersville, we made our way back to Dubuque, where Nat gave me a tour of his new digs. These are pictures from the school he'll be attending for the next 3-4 years:

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After strolling around the campus grounds, we took a little tour of the downtown area. Dubuque is a pretty cool place - much better than I would've ever thought it was. There's a great little museum that had this larger than life statue - it'll probably look familiar to a painting you may have seen:

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From the downtown area, we meandered over to Nat's favorite watering hole - Paul's Sportsman's Club. This tiny little bar was straight out of the 1950s and even had this awesome antique hamburger cooker. I can't do justice trying to describe it, but we did learn that it was manufactured in 1932 and that Paul acquired it in 1949. It's been in use every day since. The burgers looked really good, but we didn't partake.

We did have a brew - I opted for an old classic, the PBR.

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After a beverage and some popcorn from Paul's, we made our way over to the banks of the Mississippi, where an old brewery (Dubuque Star Brewing Company) had been converted into a restaurant called "D-Star." Before we walked into the restaurant, I snapped a picture of this iconic landmark:

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That's the "shot tower," and it was used to form molten lead into perfectly round balls of lead that were used as bullets and cannon balls. They'd pour the hot lead from the top of the tower into tubes of various sizes. By the time the lead worked its way to the bottom of the tower, it formed into a perfectly round ball of shot.

We walked over to the D-Star, which was filled with memorabilia from the days when the building brewed, bottled, and produced Dubuque's finest beer.

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We scored some seats on the second level, enjoyed a Potosi beer (from just across the river), and a couple of burgers. The burgers weren't anything to write home about, but the atmosphere and conversation were definitely stellar.

After dinner, we took a quick stroll through the downtown area, where I snapped one final picture for the trip - this is the clock tower in Dubuque.

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Nat graciously dropped me off at my hotel where I was able to grab a solid evening's sleep before hitting the road the following morning. On the way back to Wisconsin, I decided to take some back roads and wound-up in Monroe. It was a nice diversion, and it reminded me that Cheese Days are coming up soon! :-)

I wound-up putting on 250-ish miles on my little road trip - the most miles I've ridden in a single trip since acquiring the Hog. It rode like a dream.

And finally - a few pet updates. I bought a cat tree for Mack and Shiloh. It's actually made from tree branches, and they seem to love it.

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And last but not least, my friend Chris from work went to the EAA show a few weeks ago and sent me a picture of this B-29 flying superfortress. It's ironically named, wouldn't you say?

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It's ironic when you consider the B-29 was capable of carrying 20,000 pounds worth of bombs in a single run. The B-29 also delivered the atomic bombs that landed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One wouldn't expect such a beast to share the same name as this creature...

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If I can make it there...

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...I'll make it anywhere... it's up to you, New York, New York!

Oh, New York. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways: the vibe of the city, the hustle and the bustle, the awesome pizza, the even better bagels, the infamous landmarks, the great public transit system, the beautiful parks, the eclectic mix of people... It's such a great city. If I only could make $500,000+ per year, I'd probably really enjoy living there.

But, since I don't make anywhere near half-a-mil per year, I have to make do with a company-sponsored visit. I was in New York for a training class last week; I got to spend a full five days in the city, and I did my best to take as much of it in as possible. Allow me to share the story.

My adventure began at the Milwaukee airport, where I boarded a direct flight to LaGuardia. While waiting for the plane, I couldn't help but notice how dumb our society has become... case in point:

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Seriously - who tries to cram a water bottle into a newspaper recycling slot? While my camera's lens wasn't quite wide enough to show it, there was a plastic bottle recycling bin directly next to the newspaper bin shown above. Ugh.

The flight to New York was uneventful - we arrived a full 25 minutes early, which was nice, because the less time one has to spend on an airplane crammed full of east coasters, the better. At times it felt as if I was trapped in a casting call for the next season of Jersey Shore... nearly everyone was loud, self-absorbed, and obnoxious. Thankfully, I had an entire row to myself, so I was able to don the headphones and immerse myself in an Adam Carolla podcast.

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I purposely packed light - a backpack only - so after exiting the tarmac, I was able to make my way to the ground transportation area, where I purchased an unlimited MTA MetroCard. The card would allow me unlimited use of the bus and subway system.

Thanks to the wonderful folks at Google, I was able to chart a public transit route from LaGuardia to Wall Street; I took the M60 busline to 125th and 3rd, then hopped the 5 train south to the Bowling Green stop. Total time to destination: 50 minutes. Total cost: included in my $29 unlimited ride card. Compare that to a 1.5 hour taxi ride at $60... not bad.

I checked-in to my hotel, and made my way to the 44th floor, where my room was located. I opened the window shades and enjoyed this view -

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My hotel was on the southern tip of Manhattan, directly next to Battery Park. That's the Statue of Liberty in the background - if you look closely, you'll see it (it's near the top left-center of the photo).

The southern end of Manhattan is known as the "FiDi" area (Financial District). There are brokerage firms, the NYSE, and tons of bank headquarters. It's also just a few blocks south of the new World Trade Center. While on a walk that I took later in the day, I snapped this photo of a church, with the new World Trade Center in the background. You can see that they're making great progress on it:

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After settling in, I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and went for a run. I started my run in Battery Park, then worked my way up the Espalande trail. The Espalande trail follows the Hudson river and is absolutely spectacular. It'll take you from Battery Park all the way north to about mid-town. The trail is completely closed-off from traffic, so it's a haven for walkers, runners, bikers, and skaters.

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After a 4-mile jaunt, I went back to the room, showered, and then set-out on foot to find some authentic New York pizza.

I worked my way up Broadway until I hit Canal Street, where I turned east and wandered through the infamous Canal Street shops. If you're in the market for a fake Louis Vuitton purse or a fake Rolex, this is the place for you. There are countless shops full of counterfeit goods. Here's a photo that I snapped while inside one of the shops - no idea who the people next to me were, but note the return policy that's written on the piece of cardboard under one of the purses:

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I kept walking down Canal Street until I hit Allen; Allen is where Chinatown and Little Italy meet. I turned north onto Allen and walked another mile or so until I was deep in the heart of Little Italy. The smell of pizza, lasagna, ravioli, basil, and other Italian goodness filled the air. My olfactory senses were overwhelmed... each restaurant smelled better than the next; I eventually settled on a place called "Lil' Frankie's" - it looked authentic and there wasn't much of a wait for a table.

Lil' Frankie's didn't sell pizza by the slice, so I was forced to order an entire pizza. But the great thing about most New York pizza places is that their pizzas come in a reasonable size - I'd say they average around 12", so as long as you don't scarf down the entire pie, you're not too glutinous by enjoying half-a-pie by your lonesome.

I browsed the menu and decided to try the classic pizza - a Margherita. Topped with fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, and tomato slices, it's the yardstick by which all pizza is measured. In went my order, and within 10 minutes, this piping-hot beauty arrived.

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It was extremely dark inside of Frankie's, so the photo is a bit dark... apologies for that. Alas, the pizza was superb. The crust was perfectly crispy yet chewy. The toppings were fresh and tasty. Along with two Brookyln Brewing Company beers, the meal was a hit, and it only cost $25. With my belly full, I hit the sidewalk for the 3-mile walk back to my hotel.

I took the Allen/Canal/Broadway route once again, and was tempted to buy a fake Rolex, but resisted. These guys didn't look quite as trustworthy as the small shop owners.

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Once back at the hotel, I crawled into bed and slept like a king. The room was surprisingly quiet, thanks largely to the $350 fine for anyone caught honking a car horn in the FiDi area.

The next morning arrived and I woke up early to run before walking over to One New York Plaza, where my class was being hosted on the 31st floor of the building. 1NYP was built in 1969 and hosts a ton of businesses and educational facilities. As you can see, the day was absolutely perfect - not a cloud in the sky.

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I made my way up to the 31st floor, checked-in for my class, and took a seat in the classroom. The school was offering a free "breakfast" with class, although it wasn't much of a breakfast... Eggo waffles, donuts, bagels, and granola cereal... not too healthy, to say the least. I opted for a cup of coffee and browsed around before the class started.

I spotted a heli-pad on the bay - apparently, this is a "commuter heli-pad" - executives and power-types fly-in to work on their own helicopters... during peak commuter times (7:45am and 3:30pm), the heli-pad is completely full, with other helicopters hovering nearby waiting for an opportunity to land. It must be nice to be able to take a helicopter to work each day...

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The first day of class went really well - we had a group of about 11 in our class, and the subject matter was interesting and engaging. Class wrapped-up promptly at 5:00pm, which left me plenty of time to wander the city.

It turns out that Parmilla, a family friend from Malaysia, recently moved to New York, and she contacted me to see if I'd like to join her and her husband for dinner at an infamous Fish-n-Chips joint in the Greenwich neighborhood. Not one to dismiss an opportunity for Fish, I jumped at the chance, and made the 3-mile trek north to Greenwich village.

I love the neighborhoods in New York - this was taken just south of Greenwich:

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And for some reason, this intersection reminded me of the Abbey Road album cover for the Beatles...

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I arrived to A Salt & Battery, the little fish-n-chips place that Parmilla and Daniel had agreed to meet me at. The place was t-i-n-y small... literally standing room only with 5-6 barstools against the window.

Everyone in the place spoke with a thick British accent, further lending to the authenticity of the place. The menu options were limited - 4 types of fish, chips, and British beverages only. I placed an order for haddock with chips and a Moorehouse Witches Brew beer.

I chatted with Parmilla and Daniel, and caught-up with them and their NYC adventures. As luck would have it, their apartment was near the corner of 125th and 3rd; if you'll recall, that's where the M60 bus dropped me off so that I could take the 5 train south to Wall Street... how crazy?!

Our fish was soon ready, and it looked spectacular:

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I'm pleased to say that the taste matched the looks. And for good reason - the fine folks at A Salt & Battery recently beat Iron Chef Bobby Flay in a food challenge competition for fish and chips. The fish was absolutely divine - flaky, fresh, and clean, with an expertly applied batter that was almost to die for. It was so good, in fact, that I bought a t-shirt from the proprietors. I can't wait to wear this to my next Wisconsin-based fish fry adventure...

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After inhaling our fish, we walked over to a small pub called "Fiddlesticks," where we had an after dinner drink and a small dessert. The dessert looked awesome - a flourless chocolate cake with a tres-leches ice cream. While I didn't partake, it looked fantastic.

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After the fish and drinks, I walked back to the hotel - nothing like a 3-mile walk back to the hotel to help work-off the greasy goodness of a fish fry. :-) Along the way, I passed Maserati of Manhattan, where I spied my next car:

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Yummy.

Parmilla made a collage of photos from our visit to A Salt & Battery and sent it to me the next day; she used her iPhone to take the photos, edit them, and assemble them into this neat presentation. I've since downloaded the photo applications as well - I can't wait to start using them.

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Thursday arrived, and it was one again time for class. Only this time, rather than suffering through the "breakfast" at the class, I stopped by Leo's for a breakfast bagel. Check out this monster - it's an everything bagel with an egg, turkey bacon, and Vermont cheddar. It was darned good, if not too big to eat... I had to remove one half of the bagel so that I could eat it.

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Just like A Salt & Battery, Leo's was a tiny little place that was packed with people. I was able to make my way through the line in almost no time, and was shocked that my breakfast, along with a 1-liter of water only cost $7. And here I thought New York was pricey... I guess so long as you know where the good "local places" are, you'll be OK.

For lunch, I wandered over to Crumbs Bakeshop... I'd heard of Crumbs while listening to the Howard Stern show on Sirius, and had wanted to sample their cupcakes for quite some time... the case of goodies looked promising:

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I selected a small lemon cupcake (only 300 calories!!) and then walked over to another local pizza joint called Underground Pizza. A few locals had tipped me off to this place, and am I grateful for the suggestion. The pies looked amazing:

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(Thank goodness I was running each morning and walking everywhere)

I ordered a slice of sausage pizza and enjoyed it, along with my cupcake from Crumbs Bakeshop.

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Talk about tasty. I think the Underground Pizza was better than the pizza from Lil' Frankie's - it seemed more authentic and true to the NYC style of slice. I folded it like a pro and enjoyed every bite before returning to class.

After class was done for the day, I returned to the streets, where I wandered around a bit. I walked past the infamous Wall Street Bull...

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And then I worked my way up to the SoHo district, where I stumbled across the headquarters for my favorite cologne/perfume shop - Bond No. 9.

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I was excited to sample their latest fragrances, but didn't purchase anything - there weren't any intriguing new scents, and I've been pleased with my current collection, so I saved my sheckles and kept on walking. Many thanks, however, to the friendly and helpful folks at the Bond No. 9 store - I appreciated their time and patience as I sniffed and sampled countless fragrances. :-)

By around 8pm, the 'ole food pit was grumbling, so I started investigating food options. After a few misses, I landed at the Fraunces Tavern and Restaurant. The place looked good, and the Yelp reviews were favorable, so I wandered in and requested a table for one. I was promptly seated and presented with a massive beer menu.... I decided on a porter, and also requested a side of "bourbon-ginger roasted mixed nuts."

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The porter was good, but the mixed nuts were extremely ordinary. They didn't taste any different than what you'd find in a regular can of Planters mixed nuts... my server returned and asked what I'd like for dinner, and based on her recommendation, I went with the fish-n-chips.

And boy, am I glad that I did - they were stellar - perhaps even better than the stuff from A Salt & Battery... the fish featured a crispy Guinness batter that was as flavorful as it was plentiful. Wow, was it good. I only wish that I hadn't been sitting directly beneath a huge red neon sign, because I wasn't able to capture a good photo... this is the best of the bunch...

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After dinner, I returned to my room, watched some television, and called it an early night. My final day of class was on Friday... I had planned to skip the last half so that I could browse around Manhattan, but the class was so good that I decided to stay until the very end.

At the end of the day, I received a text from Parmilla, who invited me to join Daniel and her at a little pizza place near mid-town. Once again, I laced-up the walking shoes and trekked the 4.1 miles north to 53rd street, where I met them at Don Antonio's for pizza.

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Along the way, I passed several cool places, including this doggy day care:

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And the infamous New York Times headquarters:

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But enough about that, let's get back to dinner... :-)

Don Antonio's features some interesting pizza options, including a pizza that is partially deep-fried before being finished in a wood-fired brick oven. Parmilla, Daniel, and I ordered like kings - we started with caprese, which featured house-made mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, and fresh basil. It was divine:

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Before long, our first pizza arrived - it was the aforementioned specialty pie... by par-frying the crust before baking, the dough puffs up and becomes slightly pastry-like. It was topped with smoked bison mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. It was delicious.

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To follow-up the specialty pizza, we ordered a sausage pizza and a margherita pizza. Both arrived, and both were spectacular, although I think the sausage pie stole the show.

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With our gullets full of pizza, we took a walk toward Times Square; the crowds were unreal.

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We also walked past several infamous landmarks, including the Ed Sullivan theater, which hosts the Late Show with David Letterman. As it was a Friday night, the show wasn't active, but that didn't prevent me from snapping a photo of the marquee.

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While walking around the Times Square area, we spotted this little beauty - a Lamborghini Gallardo convertible. Nothing like seeing a $200,000 car casually rolling around the busy streets of downtown Manhattan... on a Friday night, nonetheless.

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Seemed like such a shame to have a 550-horsepower, all wheel drive, clutchless manual transmissioned beast like that in the city. I'm guessing it spends the majority of its time idling around, stuck in traffic. If the owner of that fine automobile is reading this, I'd be happy to help it stretch its legs out here in Wisconsin.

We kept walking around midtown - the area is almost surreal. There are so many signs, lights, businesses, and people...

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Parmilla led us to the "2-month store" on 42nd Street; this store changes every two months, based largely on current events. As luck would have it, the store was set-up for the pending NFL draft day - the draft would be held at this store in New York. They had tons of NFL gear, including all of the new jerseys/uniforms on display:

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More interestingly than the jerseys were the game shoes that were on display - these were actually worn by folks like Tom Brady, Cam Newton, and so on. Here are Cam's kicks:

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Upstairs there was an interactive exhibit; the fine folks from Wilson were on-hand to demonstrate how they manufacture footballs. Wilson is the exclusive supplier of all footballs to the NFL, and they brought actual employees and equipment to demonstrate how footballs are assembled. It was pretty interesting watching them cut the leather blanks, sew them together, insert a bladder, lace the ball, and then inflate and test it. Here are a few pictures from the process:

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The lady in that last photo (lacing the ball) has been lacing footballs for Wilson for 35 years. That's unreal!

And finally, we got to see the actual Lombardi trophy. This wasn't the copy that each team receives after winning a Superbowl, but instead, was the original trophy. It weighs 15-pounds as is crafted from solid silver. This is the trophy that you'll see on TV right after a team wins the Superbowl; after the game it returns to NFL headquarters.

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After wrapping things up at the NFL Draft Store, we continued walking south toward Union Square. We stopped-in to Mario Batali's Eataly, which is like a self-contained food court, grocery, and wine store. Inside, we found four different restaurants, a massive grocery store, dessert retailers, a pasta counter, a butcher shop, and more. To say it was impressive would be an understatement. Here are some photos from inside the place:

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Those are imported olive oils - there were several rows of shelving like that full of olive oils.

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That's one of the common eating areas... after you grab your gelato, desserts, wine, and sandwich (or pizza, or lasagna, etc) you can assemble in the common area and enjoy your bounty. As mentioned, there are also 4 "sit down" restaurants inside as well.

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A row of scrumptious looking desserts...

We left the crowded Eataly venue and continued over toward Union Square, where the Occupy Wall Street group was in full effect. It was amazing how busy the area was, especially considering that it was nearly 10:00pm...

We took a peek at the national debt clock and quickly became depressed...

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Having walked nearly 8.5 miles, I decided to call it a night. Parmilla, Daniel and I all bid each other a farewell, and then I boarded a train for the FiDi. It felt good to sit down and relax for a bit; between the running and walking, I managed to log nearly 13 miles that day... not bad.

Before I knew it, the train had me back near the hotel.

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I made sure to pack my bag that night - I had to be awake and on the train by 7:30am the following morning so that I could make my 10:05am flight from LaGuardia back to Milwaukee. My poor backpack didn't know what hit it - to say it was stuffed full would be an understatement:

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Saturday morning arrived far too quickly; I took a shower, grabbed my things, paid my hotel bill ($1672 for 4 nights!!!), and hit the street. I made one last stop at Leo's for a final breakfast bagel:

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I shared my bagel with a flock of birds while sitting on a bench near Battery Park. I think they were grateful for my generosity; there was no way I could eat the entire bagel, so I gave them the half that I couldn't fit into my trap. :-) There's something so great about sitting in downtown New York on a Saturday morning... it's eerily quiet and relaxing.

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With breakfast in my belly, I walked over to my local train station, where I planned to take the 5 train north to Spanish Harlem, where I would pick-up the bus to LaGuardia.

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There was only one problem with my plan: the lower Manhattan trains were all closed for maintenance work... yikes!! I quickly consulted with my Google maps and found that I could catch a northbound subway from Canal Street... some 1.25 miles north. I hoofed it up to Canal Street, got on the 2, and after 45 minutes arrived near 125th street. I hoofed it some more and found the M60 bus near Lexington, boarded and breathed a sigh of relief.

The relief was short-lived; I had less than 1 hour to get my plane ticket and make it through security. Thankfully, everything went smoothly - I made it to my gate just as they were calling for "last chance" to board the plane. I'm so glad I didn't have a suitcase to worry about!

I hopped on-board, took my seat, put in my earphones, listened to some more Adam Carolla, and enjoyed the return flight.

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Back in Wisconsin, I drove to Watertown to pick up the love of my life - Flea. It was good to see her, and I'm guessing she was happy to see me as well... she wouldn't leave my lap during the drive home:

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I also made a detour while heading home so that I could enjoy a dinner with Dan & Tara - we ventured over to Crawfish Junction to catch-up with one another. It was a stellar dinner, although it wasn't real good for my waistline... here's the "burger" that Dan and I split:

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That beast was called "The Hangover Burger" and featured a deep-fried 1/2-lb patty of beef, along with onion strings, bacon, a fried egg, "funeral potatoes" (cheesy hashbrowns) and barbeque sauce... I'm not sure if it's meant to help cure a hangover or if it's supposed to induce a food hangover... I definitely felt a food hangover after eating half of it.

We called it a night, and I called the whole week "great." I can't wait to get back to New York - I absolutely love it, and was thrilled to have had the opportunity to visit again. If you've never been to New York, you must go. I'd recommend staying in the Financial District - I've stayed uptown, midtown, and downtown... I like the FiDi best - it's reasonably priced and thanks to the subway, you can get anywhere quite easily. The walking isn't bad either - just bring comfy shoes.

LiveStrong Challenge - Austin 2011

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Our author approaches a dusty, soot-covered blog, takes a deep breath, blows away the superficial layer of debris, and with a broad, sweeping motion, clears the remaining dust from his beloved blog...

...cough, cough... ...sneeze... ...cough...

Ahh. There we go. Holy cats, people - I have been quite neglectful of my blog. Can you believe it's been nearly a month since the last entry? Wow. What's the excuse?

None, really - yeah, I've been a little busy, but I've mostly been lazy with respect to paying attention to the computer. I've barely been checking my home e-mail, let alone thinking of witty and interesting blog entries. :-)

So... you may recall from a previous entry that my boss and friend Steve had put together a team to participate in the LiveStrong Austin Challenge. He did an amazing job of building an excellent team, and together, our team raised more than $9,000 for the event. That number put us in the top 35 teams in terms of money raised for the event!

Each of us ponied-up the money to book our own hotel rooms, fly to Austin, and participate in the Challenge. With 20 people on our team, this was quite a commitment, and a testament to Steve's charismatic style - he was able to recruit 20 truly excellent people and get them to train, fundraise, and travel for the event. Kudos to everyone!

With the money raised, our flights and hotels booked, and our legs conditioned, there was only one thing remaining - participating in the actual event. The Livestrong organization sponsors 13 challenge events, from 5K races to bike rides to marathons to ski events; they're held at various cities around the country. Steve targeted the October 15th Austin event, as it was his wife's goal to participate in this challenge before she passed. We raced the event in her honor.

Steve, his mom (Judy), his daughter (Claire), his son (Will), and I drove to Milwaukee on Thursday night so that we could catch a semi-decent night's sleep prior to flying to Austin early on Friday morning. We booked rooms at the lovely Super 8 near the airport and hunkered-in for the evening.

I'm not much for hotels... They feel dirty to me, I worry about bedbugs, I can hear all of the activity taking place in adjacent rooms, and I don't generally sleep well because I'm afraid I'll oversleep and miss a flight/meeting/commitment. And Thursday night was no different... I was in my room by 8:30pm, wiped-down the entire room with Lysol wipes, scoured the bed for bugs, and proceeded to lie wide awake until 3:45am.

The alarm went off at 4:30am, so I scored a solid 45 minutes of "sleep." Ahhh.

We made our way to the airport, where we met Dan (Steve's trainer and friend) before heading to our departure gate. We flew to Kansas City, where we picked-up Steve's mother-in-law (Jeanette) and her two friends (Lea and Ariel). The nine of us boarded a flight in KC and flew to Austin, where we landed at around 11:30am.

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We picked-up rental cars (a Dodge Grand Caravan and a Chevrolet Traverse) and then set about finding a lunch spot. We were all starving, as none of us had eaten since well before sunrise. Unfortunately, there was a slight miscommunication, and one group went to the hotel, while Steve, Judy, Claire, Will and I went to Whole Foods for lunch.

The Austin Whole Foods is amazing - it's massive, and it has a ton of unique food offerings, all of which are made to order. I opted for my old-time favorite, grilled chicken tacos on corn tortillas:

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With our bellies full, we made our way back to the hotel. We checked-in, and then walked down to the LiveStrong village. The LiveStrong village served as "ground zero" for the Challenge weekend.

We picked-up our race packets, and here's where the story gets really interesting. :-)

The LiveStrong Challenge weekend consists of two primary events - a 5K run/walk on Saturday, and an optional bike ride on Sunday. The bike ride offered 4 distances: 20-mile, 45-mile, 65-mile, and 90-mile options. To participate in the bike ride, you had to pay an additional entry fee ($125) and raise at least $250 for the event. You also had to supply your own bike.

If you were able to meet those criteria, you were afforded the opportunity to ride with Lance Armstrong, provided you were up for the 45-, 65-, or 90-mile routes (the 20-mile ride took a different route from the longer rides).

I paid the entry fee and raised enough money (I think my total raised was about $1875, thanks to the MidTown Pub fundraiser event), but at the last minute, decided to not pack and fly any of my bikes down for fear of having them damaged in transit. It was a bit of a let-down, but I really didn't want to have anything get damaged by either the TSA or the airline.

I mentioned that Steve is charismatic and resourceful... It turns out that he was contacted just prior to our event by the CEO of LiveStrong.

The CEO (Doug) mentioned that he (Doug) was looking forward to meeting Steve and his family and asked if there was anything he could do to help us out. Steve casually mentioned that I wasn't going to ride as I didn't want to travel with my bike. Doug said he would try to find a bike for me to use.

A day before we were due to arrive in Austin, Doug told Steve that he found a bike for me to use; all I had to do was walk over to Mellow Johnny's Bike Shop and tell them that there was a bike waiting for me to use for the Challenge. Please note that Mellow Johnny's is Lance Armstrong's bike shop, and nearly everyone that works at the shop is involved in one way or another with Team Radio Shack/Trek/Lance Armstrong.

So imagine my shock when I walked into Mellow Johnny's and said, "Hi, I'm here to pick up a bike for the Challenge," and their response was, "We don't have a bike listed for you here."

Again... no big deal. I figured it wasn't meant to be, and I would enjoy the weekend no matter what. As I browsed around the shop looking at t-shirts, jerseys, and cool gadgets, the head mechanic for the shop came up and asked if I was "Doug's friend, Steve." I said that I was. He said, "We have a bike for you - it's in our VIP vault and it will be up here in a minute."

I wasn't sure what that meant, but anytime someone uses the words "VIP" and "vault," you know it's going to be good. And sure enough, within 5-10 minutes, a bike was presented to me by one of the mechanics.

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That, my friends, is a 2011 Trek Madone 6.9 that belongs to Andreas Kloden. Andreas rode THIS ACTUAL BIKE in the 2011 Tour de France. No lie.

I became light-headed and faint; I was going to be riding a hand-built, custom-spec'd, uber-bike that was used in the Tour de France by a pro-rider for Team Trek. Holy cats - Steve, you are THE MAN. I pinched myself about 300 times as the mechanics did their best to set-up the bike to my needs. Here it is on the work stand as one of the mechanics swaps out the stem for a slightly shorter one:

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I chatted with the mechanic as he worked on the bike, and asked him, "Is this seriously Kloden's bike? I mean, it's a replica, right? Not the actual Tour bike - it can't be."

The mechanic said, "I was on the 2011 Tour team; I did support and set-up for the team this year, and I can tell you that I worked on this very bike for the entire Tour. It is the real deal - it's Klodie's bike - chips, scars, and all."

WOW.

"Any idea what this bike is worth?" I asked.

"In tour form, with aero wheels and carbon bars, probably around $20,000. As it sits now? Probably around $15,000, give or take. Did you need aero wheels?"

"No, I think I'll be OK with these," I said, my mouth dry. This bike cost more than my car, and it weighed half of what a bag of kitty litter does... in full race form, it tips the scales at 14-pounds. My Cervelo R3, for comparison, weighs-in at 16-pounds. A 2-lb difference is huge when it comes to biking - it's nearly impossible to shed 2-lbs from a race bike... I can't imagine what tricks and goodies Kloden's bike featured.

After about 20 minutes, the bike was "ready" for me. I wasn't picky - they offered to do a proper fitting, but I was so floored with the scenario that I said everything would be fine as was. Beaming from ear-to-ear, I met-up with Steve and we walked back to the hotel.

Once back at the hotel, I took a few more photos of the ride - here you can see Kloden's name affixed to the frame:

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And here's one more side-view of it. What an amazing marvel of engineering and fabrication - pure carbon fiber with the best-of-the-best components. Wow.

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I took the bike up to my room, salivated over it for a few more minutes, and then laced-up my running shoes and went for a pre-dinner run. It was so great to be back in familiar territory - I ran just over 6-miles on some of the world's greatest running trails compliments of Barton Springs Trail. This is where I spent every single morning while I lived in Austin; 6 miles each morning alongside the gorgeous Lady Bird Lake. The miles flew by, and before I knew it, it was time for dinner.

Our group assembled in the lobby, and we walked down to an awesome little Tex-Mex restaurant, where we enjoyed a wide variety of Austin specialities. From table-made guacamole to street tacos to enchiladas, we feasted like kings and queens. Steve generously picked-up the tab for our entire group - I can't imagine what it cost, but thank you again. The sun was fully set, and most of us went back to the hotel to get some sleep.

Dan (Steve's trainer and friend) and I went carousing around the town for a bit - we had a drink at a roof-top bar, and then wandered down 6th Street, watching people and listening to bands along the way. At around midnight we decided to call it an evening - the race would start at 8:00am, and neither of us had slept more than an hour the night before.

Race morning came, and our team quickly took control of the hotel lobby.

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Our plan was to meet in the lobby by 7:15, at which point we would make the short walk to the starting line as a group. The event organizers requested that we all be ready to go by 7:45am - the race would start at 8:00am from the 1st Street bridge.

Claire, Steve's daughter, was up-and-at-em - here she is in her team shirt with race number proudly affixed:

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And here are Lea and Ariel (with Wendy in the background) getting ready to make their way to the starting line. We all looked pretty good, considering it was 7:15 am and most of us were operating on little sleep.

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Someone had a great idea to ask the hotel staff to take a picture of our group; I'm glad they did, because this is the only picture I could find of our entire team. We're all in our team t-shirts and ready to run (or walk):

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Our team made its way to the starting line; the weather was phenomenal. Here you can see the sun just rising over Lady Bird Lake. Any questions as to why I so enjoyed running in this area?

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We arrived in perfect time; the organizers were sharing details about the race, thanking sponsors, and providing information about the event. There were more than 2500 runners and walkers, all of whom raised more than $2.3 million for the event.

Steve, Dan, and I posed for a pre-race photo - you can see the Four Seasons behind us, and you can see my "new look" - yep, that's a full-fledged beard on my mug.

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I started growing the beard on a whim, and then decided that I would stick with it until I had a full Brian Wilson beard (from the San Francisco Giants)... for those not familiar with Brian Wilson, he's a reliever for the Giants. He helped them win the 2010 World Series, but he's best known for his crazy beard and antics. Here he is at the 2011 ESPY awards:

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And here he is, on the mound during a game:

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Truth be told, I hate the beard. It's bothersome, it makes my face look fat (although that may have more to do with my steady diet of donuts, cookies, and other bad foods), and it's just plain ugly. But, I'm sticking with it until at least Halloween... we'll see what happens from there. Back to the race...

At 8:00am, they sung the national anthem, and after shedding a few tears (it was a moving moment - remembering why we were there, what we were doing, and all of those who have battled with, lost to, and/or continue to battle cancer), I snapped two last pre-race photos. You can see the number of folks that were in attendance:

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Seconds after snapping the photos, we were off.

The race wasn't "staged" by pace, so we had to navigate our way through the crowds of people in an effort to find some open running room. For the first 5-6 minutes, we struggled to average a 12-minute mile; there was a lot of stopping/starting/weaving as we weaved in-and-out of people. We also ran into Doug (the CEO of Livestrong) and talked to him for a minute or two. I thanked him profusely for his help with the bike...

And then we were truly off-and-running. I snapped a photo as we ran our way up Congress Avenue:

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And someone in our group took this awesome photo "down" Congress - I'm not sure who took the photo, but it turned out really great (it may have been Wendy?). You can see the runners and the capital of Texas in the background. With the morning light, it's a really cool photo:

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Steve, Dan, and I ran our way to the finish line with a finishing time of 27-minutes on the dot. Factor in the 5-6 minutes we lost during the beginning, and our pace was very respectable. It was Steve's first 5K, and any sub-30 minute time is truly impressive. After crossing the finish line, we turned around and ran the course backward in an attempt to find the rest of our team.

We found the crew and joined them for a return to the finish line. Here's Steve's mom (Judy), his niece (McKenzie), and his sister-in-law (Julie):

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Julie and McKenzie ran the race as well - they finished in 25-minutes, which is totally awesome. They also ran back to find the group, and I happened to snap this picture as they were returning to the finish with our group. Great race, you two!

With about half-a-mile to the finish, Claire decided she wanted Steve to put her on his shoulders and run to the finish. Steve hoisted her onto his shoulders and with some help from Martha (a friend of Steve's family), Steve, Claire, Will, and Martha all made a speedy b-line to the finish:

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Here's Steve and his kids after the race:

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What a great event. Everyone did a wonderful job of finishing the race; we were slightly hungry, so we decided to make our way back to the LiveStrong village with the hope of scoring some breakfast grub.

Here's our group as we made the trek back to the village:

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We arrived to the village, only to discover they didn't have any food. While there was a post-race meal, the meal was on Sunday (after the bike ride). D'OH!

We debated about where to go, and finally settled on another round of Whole Foods. I enjoyed some scrambled eggs with spinach and mushrooms, a small piece of pork sausage, a biscuit, and some cookies. I'm telling you, the Austin Whole Foods is simply awesome. I love that place!

Bellies full and legs well-run, we made our way back to the hotel, where thanks to another one of Steve's connections, we had plenty of ice cold beverages and snacks waiting for us. We settled-in at the hotel's pool, where we snacked and drank while watching the Badger football game and socializing with one another.

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After enjoying more than our fair share of beverages (and Cheetos), we decided to head over to the infamous Allens Boots. Allens is where I purchased my very own pair of cowboy boots a few years ago - it's the Mecca of boots and western wear, and is a must-see place when in Austin.

Here's a peek inside of Allens... this is a row of boots - men's size 12. Yep, every boot in that row is size 12.

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A few people bought boots; Steve bought some boots, some shirts, and cowboy hats for us. Here we are leaving Allens; I've got Will (Steve's son) with me. Yes, he got a hat but wasn't wearing it at the time of this picture:

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Man, that beard is hideous. :-D

We stopped at Sugar Mama's for some cupcakes, and then made our way back to the hotel, where we prepped for dinner. I hit the trail for a quick run, hopped in the shower, and then led our group to the infamous Rudy's Country Store and Bar-B-Que for some traditional Texas barbeque.

The line was huge - the place was absolutely packed (I think it took us 30-45 minutes to get through the line to place our orders):

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But the wait was well worth it. I had some brisket, some pork tenderloin, and a jalapeno sausage link. Yum - just look at the smoke ring on that pork!

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After eating at Rudy's, we returned to the hotel, and then hit Austin's 6th Street to celebrate the events of the day. For those not familiar, 6th Street is essentially one big party - it's 10-12 blocks worth of bars and bistros, all with tons of live music. Without exaggerating, nearly every single bar has a live band, and between every bar is a small food stand, with offerings that include pizza, bbq, brats, fish-n-chips, tacos, and more.

We wandered-in to Camino el Casino, where we enjoyed a few beverages - primarily PBR and scotch (Steve's favorites). Here's part of our group raising a toast to the great weekend:

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From left to right, it's: Steve, me, Dan, Tamara, and Wendy.

From Casino, we wandered down 6th Street, encountering Ferraris, Bentleys, Jaguars, Aston Martins, and a few Audi R8s along the way. Austin loves its exotic cars!

The crowds became heavier and heavier, and at 9:00pm, Austin closes 6th street to cars. Here's what the streets looked like as we made our way down to Molotov, another one of 6th Street's clubs:

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I'm not sure what was more crowded and difficult to navigate - the 5K or this bar-scene-turned-street-party?

We shimmied our way into Molotov, scored a booth, and did our fair share of people watching (and commentating). Wendy and Tamara bought us a round of drinks; a kind waitress took another group photo for us. Here we are, about to call it a night - we were all tired and ready to call it an evening:

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From left-to-right, it's: Dan, Julie, Steve, Tamara, Wendy, me.

Shortly after that photo, we walked the 1.2 miles back to our hotel, where I found a little friend waiting for us. Apparently our hotel had a "house dog" that served as an ambassador to the place. He was a super nice, extremely mellow yellow lab. I never caught his name, but I liked him nonetheless.

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Sunday morning arrived, and I was up, dressed, and ready to roll by 6:00am. The bike ride was scheduled to start at 7:00am, but thanks to the large number of participants (4300), the event was moved (literally at the last minute) to a location about 30-miles west of Austin.

I hopped-in the van and made my way west. With about 5 miles to go until I reached the destination, traffic came to an abrupt halt. After not moving more than 200 yards in 15 minutes, I started to get nervous - it was 6:45am, and I was still at least 4.5 miles from the start of the ride. Judging from the traffic around me, I could tell that everyone was heading to the same place - the start of the ride...

I waited in traffic for another 5-10 minutes before making an executive decision. There was no way I would make it to the start, and the idea of riding an unknown course (without a map), on an expensive bike, with 4000 other people sounded worse and worse. So, I pulled a U-turn and headed back to Austin.

I figured I would park near my old Trigger Point office and ride my familiar roads. I wouldn't be "riding with Lance," but at least I'd get to ride this amazing bike in a familiar and comfortable environment.

I parked the van, unloaded my bike and hit the roads of what is known as "Austin Hill Country." The views are amazing:

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I rode the beast of a bike for a solid 40 miles, and it was awesome. The bike was so stiff, so fast, so silent, and yet so smooth. It was absolutely effortless to ride it - the shifting was seamless, and it accelerated like nothing else. I had a "loop" that I had ridden countless times on my Cervelo and knew that it would take approximately 48 minutes to complete. With the Trek, I finished it in 44 (and some change). I'm sure some of it was due to excitement, but I think a lot of it had to do with how efficient that bike was.

After the loop, I rode through some familiar neighborhoods and on some back roads. I stopped and took a picture along the way, just so that I would never forget this incredible experience:

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Tour. de. France. Actual. Team. Bike. Oh. My. God.

After nearly 3-hours in the saddle, I returned back to the van and drove back to Mellow Johnny's, where I reluctantly returned the bike to its rightful owners. They removed my pedals; I thanked them again, and then went back to the hotel.

We watched the Packers beat the Rams, and then went out for dinner at Z Tejas, another Austin mainstay for upscale tex-mex cuisine. Most of our group opted for enchiladas, tacos, or burritos. I went with the daily special - sea scallops with chimichurri sauce and asparagus:

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Sunday night was rather quiet; we were all quite tired from the previous night, and I was tired from my long ride. Monday morning came along, and it was time to pack and head to the airport.

Here's Judy (Steve's mom) and Claire - notice the pink cowboy boots:

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Our return flights were uneventful, although they did run behind... we got delayed in KC for over an hour, and then had to take an alternate route from KC to Milwaukee because of some weather concerns. But, we landed safely. Back in Wisconsin, we stopped at Rocky Rococo's for some pizza, and then parted ways.

Back home, I unpacked my things and remembered that I scored a few goodies from the event. Because I raised more than $1,800, my goodie bag included a few extra items like this Nike LiveStrong backpack and Team LiveStrong hat:

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Because Steve raised more than $4,000, he received a backpack, hat, and a LiveStrong team cycling jersey - talk about cool!

And there you have it. It was a great weekend spent for a great cause and honoring an even greater person. I truly enjoyed meeting everyone that was at the event, and I can't thank Steve, Doug, and the Mellow Johnny's people enough for the bike. I owe everyone a huge debt of gratitude!!

There's talk of making this an annual event, and that's an idea I would fully support. I can't imagine the good things we could do if we focused on this for an entire year - let's get after it!

Before I sign-off, here are a few miscellaneous photos and comments/quotes from the weekend:

Claire, in her cowboy hat (can you guess her favorite color?):

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Our small group running to the finish line for a second time:

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Steve and his family out on the course (shady):

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Our team t-shirt design (front):

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The pictures were created by Steve's nieces and nephews, all of whom ranged in age from 2 to 13. They were asked to draw pictures of a tree bending toward the sun (it represents the lyrics from Pearl Jam's song, "Present Tense"). What you see above are their drawings, and those made-up the front of our shirts.

On the back of our shirt were the lyrics to Pearl Jam's Present Tense (Jody's favorite song, and the inspiration for the team's name), along with some sponsor logos:

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I did the layout/design for the t-shirts, and Steve bought them for us. Thanks again for the wonderful weekend and inspiration, Steve. I was proud to be a part of the team and would love to do it again.


And finally, some memorable quotes:

"I now regret eating an IHOP omelette for breakfast."
- Steve C., at mile 2.5 of the 5K race

"Are those flip-flops?"
- Steve L., at mile 2.75 of the 5K race as we got passed by a woman running/sprinting in true flip-flops

"Hey buddy"
- Voice of Marty, who was there in spirit, but not in body.

"Hey Steve.... doin?"
- Will, Steve's 2-year old son, asking his favorite question (aka "whatchya' doing?")

"Why?"
- Will's follow-up question

And there you have it. Until the next entry...

Jed e-mailed me earlier this week to say that we had been PR'd again - even after we left Puerto Rico. It turns out the local paper ran a story/travel report about Luquillo, Puerto Rico, a few days after we had returned from Puerto Rico.

Here's a link to the story: Wisconsin State Journal Article about Luquillo, PR

The story focuses primarily on the El Yunque rainforest, but if you read it carefully, you'll probably see that the author has similar experiences and thoughts about the area as we did, although the author is a bit more "diplomatic" with his descriptions and accounts.


In other news, I spent the better part of this week catching-up on work activities, cleaning-up my diet (argh - I'm so sick of training, eating healthy, and busting my butt... I may quit, seriously), and getting things back in-order here at the apartment.

I did another dog transport yesterday - drove a greyhound and a cat from Madison to Eau Claire - it took about 8 hours when it was all said and done, so that more or less ate-up my entire Saturday (I left Madison around 1pm and returned around 9pm). I did some late night grocery shopping (I find that Woodmans, Whole Foods, and Willy Street Co-Op are best visited after 9pm), finally got home around 10:30, and called it a night.

Today's agenda includes the usual: I'll hit the road for a run in about an hour, then will ride (hopefully outside, as the weather should be decent), will do some lifting, and then make meals for the rest of the week. Exciting, eh?

Luuuuuuuuuucy - I'm hoooooooooome!

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Holy Mofongo my friends - long time, no update!

And for good reason; I just spent a solid week vacationing in Puerto Rico, and you can bet your sweet bambulance that there are some good stories to share, so read on... :-)

The trip started way back during the summer of 2010, when I mentioned to my friends Jed and Jamie that I had a coworker who owned a nice condo in Puerto Rico. The coworker rents the condo from time to time, and as luck would have it, we could rent it for a reasonable rate. They expressed some interest, and we kicked-off a little (emphasis on the word "little") research into Puerto Rico. I believe much of that research was conducted while drinking, or at least within close earshot of a drinking establishment, because before I knew it, we had purchased roundtrip airfare and plunked down a modest deposit on the condo.

And so began our adventure. I extended the invitation to Amy; she accepted, and before we could say "tripleta," we were fully committed to a vacation in sunny Puerto Rico.

Note: Because of the size of this entry, it's broken into two pieces.

To continue reading this article (part one), click the link below.

To jump to part two of the article, click here.

To view the photo album (with 200+ pictures), click here.

Click below to continue reading Part One of the story...

Apparently my blog software doesn't like long entries; it wouldn't allow me to enter any more text, so I had to break this entry into two parts. Sorry about that.

To read Part One of the entry, click here.

To view the picture album (200+ photos), click here.

...or continue reading Part Two by clicking the link below.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries in the Vacations category.

Trigger Point is the previous category.

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