Category: Road Trips

So Patrick and his girlfriend Nicole pulled out this morning for the last leg of what will be a nearly two week trip after arriving at our place Monday evening.  We worked around Cindy’s class teaching schedule to do things together.  Pat and Nico tried desperately to earn Elsa’s trust while we were home and were only mildly successful.  At one point Elsa licked Pat’s hand and let him pat her head but for the most part she would keep wide circles around both of them.

On Tuesday morning I introduced Pat and Nico to the Minipros.  Within the hour both of them were out in the driveway and street zipping around on the Segways having a bunch of fun.  That mutated later into Pat trying his hand on the cheap EUC to see how it would feel.  He struggled for a little bit but by the end of the day he was rolling around the back yard on my Msuper somewhat competently.  It seems pretty much every person I have assisted in learning to ride an EUC has picked it up quicker than I have.  Maybe that means I am a great teacher, however I think the more likely scenario is I am just a slow learner.

We wound up going over to the Greenway to ride around which Pat and Nico both seemed to really enjoy.  The sensation of riding a Minipro or an EUC is a little bit like flying which Nico really thought was cool.  Cindy had a class Tuesday evening so the remaining three of us just hung out more at home with more EUC practice, hanging at the pool, and flying my Mavic.  I gave both Nico and Pat time behind the sticks.

On Wednesday morning Cindy had another class to teach.  I called the nearby Tuffy to see if they would be able to align my Tacoma, which is a requirement after installing the lift/leveling kit.  I was happy to hear they could squeeze me in.  I decided this was a good opportunity to get a more extensive test ride in on the Monster.  I threw the humongous wheel in the truck and used it to ride the roughly 10 miles back to the house.  Right now the wheel feels awkward to control doing tight turning but for open road commuting it is fantastic.  The 22 inch diameter wheel just eats up bumps like nothing and it is extremely comfortable cruising at 20+ mph for as long as you need it to. Be sure to watch the video to hear my experience with the inept woman at the drive thru ATM.

When Cindy got back we piled in the Prius to head to Bowman Beach in Sanibel.  Nico is an avid sheller and Sanibel is one of the best beaches in Florida to collect shells.  The drive up there is long, easily taking 90 minutes, but it is worth it.  The natural beauty of Sanibel is hard to beat.

We walked a stretch of beach for over an hour and half enjoying the refreshing water and amazing assortment of shells in the sand, free for the picking.  Nico grabbed an amazing assortment of beautiful shells.  Cindy snagged a bunch of cool ones as well.  Even though the sun was melt your skin hot, the simple beauty of the beach made hanging out there a very enjoyable experience. The custard ice cream we grabbed on the way home added to the enjoyment.

On the way home we swung by Tuffy so I could pick up my truck.  I was somewhat worried that I would get the truck back in worse shape than I dropped it off.  When I had Tuffy install tires and align my 99 Tacoma a couple years back the steering wheel was slightly off center which annoyed me but not enough for me to take it back.  I was glad when I saw the wheel on the Tacoma was still dead center as I left it. The truck felt no different after the alignment and I didn’t expect it to.    The ride of the truck has felt pretty much identical to pre-lift which is exactly what I hoped for.  The only difference is now I see eye to eye with most full size trucks on the road instead of slightly below them.

Cindy made a nice spaghetti dinner for all of us that we enjoyed while watching The Accountant.  The movie was interesting as it didn’t have the plot I expected.  I enjoyed it enough to push it into A- category.

This morning Pat and Nico were up early with us to prepare for shoving out for a long drive up to the Florida panhandle.  They are going to be camping the next two nights up there before rolling into New Orleans for the weekend for a crazy conclusion to their trip.  Cindy and I really enjoyed their visit and hope it won’t be long before they come down again.  Both Patrick and Nico are such good people, it just makes you feel better about the world spending time with them.

I now get to dig back into what is going to be a very hectic couple weeks where we are tasked with transplanting the majority of our staff from one building to another without losing functionality.  As in most things I just will keep my head down and keep plowing ahead.

Before I get started I neglected to mention that when I got back from my PA trip Cindy had a very big present waiting for me, she repainted the master bathroom a very peaceful gray color.  We had talked about repainting the bathroom for awhile.  I thought it was very nice of her to take the initiative to take it on while I was in PA.  It really looks good.

Ok so on Friday I had a heavy EUC day.  In the morning I took the wheel to North Collier Regional Park.  While I was in PA I had the idea pop in my head that I wanted to make an EUC tips video where I put a number of tips that helped me during my learning process in one video.  I thought it really turned out well and so far others seem to agree.

I also did an EUC experiment I had been curious about, a pedal swap between my Msuper and MCM4.  One of the primary things I like about my Msuper and dislike about the MCM4 are the foot pedals.  The MCM4 pedals are too small and cause me a lot of foot pain while the MSuper has some of the biggest pedals around and feel much better.  The mounting brackets for the pedals on both wheels looked identical so I was curious if the pedals themselves were swappable.  Well I was happy to find out the answer was YES.  The big pedals do fit on the MCM4 so I ordered an extra set from the same guy in the UK I got my Msuper from.  In addition I did a pedal calibration on the MCM4 which seemed to help the overall riding characteristics of the wheel.

On Friday I also got around to finally installing a replacement security camera out in the coop so we now have a full set of 8 cameras once again monitoring the chicken stomping grounds.  I should sleep better at night now.

We were leaving for Miami in the early afternoon to attend Cindy’s brother’s wedding.  Ali and her boyfriend were nice enough to agree to watch Elsa for the night.  We figured having Sadie there would help ease whatever nervousness Elsa would have from being away from us.  We spent the morning getting everything ready for our brief getaway.

When we dropped Elsa off at Ali’s it was funny.  You could tell she was excited and scared at the same time.  We brought her crate along so she would have a safe haven to retreat to if necessary.  Cindy of course was nervous about being away from Elsa for the first night ever but Ali assured her they would take good care of Elsa which I had no doubt about.

Katie was hitching a ride with us to Miami.  When we got back from dropping off Elsa we did a quick car load  and were pretty much ready to roll.  The trunk of the car also had two electric unicycles in it and one Minipro.  We hoped to get out to ride on Sunday morning somewhere.

During the roughly two hour drive to the hotel I noticed I wasn’t feeling quite right.   I had some weird soreness in my throat setting in and I just felt off.  I hoped it was just me feeling the effect of drinking two large coffees in the span of three hours.  Unfortunately the feeling kept ramping up throughout the day.

Cindy reserved a room at the Aloft in Dadeland, the same chain we stayed at for the Tampa Comic Con so I already knew to expect a hipster experience.  Katie was staying in the room with us.  I was not excited when I found out the two beds were doubles instead of queen size.  Over the years I have had some very bad sleeping experiences trying to fit my dimensions in a double with another person.  Other than that the room was very nice.

All three of us did our prep for the wedding which was around 5PM.  We arrived at the church with about 15 minutes to spare, saying hi to the familiar faces of Cindy’s family and friends.  We got premium family seating the the third row for the ceremony.  The “I do’s” probably took maybe 20-25 minutes to complete.  There was a cute and touching part where Cindy’s brothers two kids read a passage.  Owen, the little shy boy was especially cute as he read his verse out of sight behind the lectern.

This church was a one stop shop which was very cool.  After the ceremony they had drinks and snacks out on a patio and then at the other end of the complex was a large hall that was being used for the reception.  Cindy and I were summoned to be in the official wedding photos of family that were taken in a scenic area outside.

The reception hall was very nicely decorated.  Each table had a beautiful floral centerpiece.  I had started a pretty steady stream of beer during the cocktail hour and continued it into the reception.  I somehow hoped the alcohol would make the incoming illness feel less shitty.  Instead I just sort of felt shitty and drunk.

JP and Amber front loaded the reception with all the formalities to get them out of the way.  In the first 20 minutes the garter was removed, the bouquet was tossed and the cake was cut.  This was the first time I ever saw it done this way but I understood the logic.  They wanted to make the reception just about everyone having a good time.  I would say they were successful in that goal.

As the night went on the sillyness amplified.  I eventually had enough alcohol that I made a brief appearance on the dance floor.  Towards the end of the party things got really silly when we decided we would go get out the wheels that were stored in the trunk and ride them around in our formal wear.  It looked pretty damn silly I am sure but we had a lot of fun doing it.  I totally forget about feeling shitty during those few minutes.

So the reception ended around 10.  Cindy drove us back to the hotel.  I took another shower hoping it would somehow wash the illness from me.  At that point I had soreness and blockage in my right sinus that did not want to clear even with high effort nose blowing.  After cleaning up I crawled into bed hoping for at least a half decent nights sleep.  Instead I had one of my most indecent nights of sleep ever.

I honestly think I did not actually fall asleep at all the entire night, instead laying there with my eyes closed.  There was a combination of factors contributing to my insomnia.  The clogged nostril and restricted breathing was the first sleep obstacle.  I got up to blow my nose a couple times and it didn’t help at all.  The double bed with two people made it just impossible for me to find a position of long term comfort.  I was constantly adjusting myself while trying to not impose on Cindy so she could at least sleep.  Finally there was a lack of consistent white noise which is something I normally require to sleep.  Total silence strangely is an awful sleeping condition for me.  The AC was cycling on and off creating temporary white noise.  I normally set it to keep the fan on but forgot to do so before going to bed this time.  At one point I even briefly tried to sleep in a chair in the room, I was that desperate.

So anyway as you can imagine, I awoke feeling absolutely terrible.  The lack of sleep, illness, and slight hangover left me feeling like a pile of dirt.  We packed up the room and checked out.  Right across the street was a place called Don Pan, a cuban bakery/breakfast place that Cindy loved from her days of living in Miami.  My “cuban breakfast” was good even though I had very minimal appetite at that point.

Even though I felt terrible I wanted to still get our ride in.  We drove back near the area the church was located as it seemed scenic and a good place for one wheeling.  We had a nice maybe hour long ride taking in scenery we normally don’t get the opportunity to see.  Katie was scanning values of the houses as we rode by them.  They were very, very expensive.  Katie also showed off some her new wheel riding skills.  She can now ride one legged quite well, at one point holding the position for a good 30 seconds.  She is officially better than me now.  That didn’t take long.

After the ride we headed to Amber’s house.  We were picking up Cindy’s niece to give her a ride back to Naples.  They were also having a day after wedding party at the house.  Since we had the chickens to care for and Elsa to pick up we only stayed for a short period of time before heading out.  I was not feeling up to eating or drinking at that point.  I spent most of the time helping Cindy’s nephew work on his activity book that had stuff like word searches, connect the dots and other fun kid stuff in it.

Cindy drove home, not wanting a sleep deprived person behind the wheel.  Taylor and Katie were in the back seat acting silly most of the drive home making me smile and laugh a few times despite feeling progressively worse.  When we got home we unloaded the car and I stayed there while Cindy took Taylor home and picked up Elsa.  While she was gone I went out and cleaned the coop.  It is always more labor intensive cleaning the coop later in the day as the piles of excrement has had more time to harden and dry, requiring more scrubbing instead of just being able to hose it off, fun times.

Outside of the coop cleaning and unpacking luggage I went into vegetable mode mostly for the rest of the day.  I spent nearly three hours watching Batman vs Superman for a second time.  No it didn’t get any better the second time around but it didn’t get any worse either.  I still love that Batman does Crossfit to toughen up to fight Superman.

I caught the end of the Cowboys/Packers game and was very happy with the outcome.  Must suck to lose as the number one seed in your first playoff game.  Poor, poor Cowboys….

I took Nyquil to knock myself out last night and am happy to say it worked.  I still feel lousy today but at least I got some sleep to help balance things out.  Today is my last day off officially although if I still am in the meaty part of this illness tomorrow I don’t have any pressing things I have to rush back to work for.  It certainly has been a full twelve days of vacation.  I wouldn’t mind another twelve.

I finished up the blog entry in the rental car just as Patrick walked home from work which worked out well. Sixer the cat was happy to see I returned and wasted little time reestablishing my lap as a hang out spot.  I filled Patrick in on my last couple days of adventures in Marienville since he and his girlfriend left.  We were waiting for Nicole to show up so we could all go out to dinner to celebrate my last evening in Pennsylvania.

The place we were going was in easy walking distance, a perk of living in an urban area like Patrick does.  The restaurant was called Scratch.  They had a very modern menu with more vegetarian entrees on it than the meat variety which worked out well for me.  I decided to complement my vegetarian tacos with a couple Iron City beers which seemed appropriate considering my location.

We had a very enjoyable dinner.  Nicole has had a very interesting background which complements Patrick’s world traveling adventures quite well.  She seems to be a really cool person and dinner just reenforced my already positive opinion of her from our first meeting.

I thought it was funny that one of the guys that worked there was familiar with Naples.  Evidently he was down there for one snowbird season.  It felt odd sitting there being able to say Immokalee Road and have a guy in Pittsburgh know exactly where/what it was. We listened in to the first part of trivia night which evidently is an every Tuesday night thing at Scratch.  As usual my knowledge of random trivia was less than impressive.

I wanted to pay for the diner bill but was thwarted when Chase shut down my card, assuming it was being used in PA for nefarious purposes.  I appreciate the caution but it was a bit annoying that I had to call when I got back to get it unlocked.  I have seen ads where other CC companies simply send a text if an additional confirmation is needed.  I need to see if I am able to turn that on for my card.

Since I was rolling out relatively early in the morning we didn’t stay that late.  When we got back to Pat’s we caught the very tail end of Obama’s farewell address which I heard from Cindy was very emotional.  Before heading up to bed Pat introduced me to a ridiculous but very funny animated series on HBO called Animals.  I need to check it out more in depth when I get home, you should too.

This time I made sure to pull my bedroom door closed until it clicked to prevent a noisy, middle of the night luggage licking session by Sixer.  I wanted to make sure I got a half decent night of sleep under my belt.  I still struggled somewhat sleeping, just because of the ambient noise associated with living in a city neighborhood but it was better overall.

When I got up I headed straight to the shower and then packed up my stuff to head downstairs.  As soon as I sat on the sofa Sixer immediately jumped on my lap and parked himself there.  I guess he missed me last night.  Pat came down from his shower and was ready to start his daily walk to work so I loaded up the car to leave.  I thanked him again for his hospitality and encouraged him and Nico to come down and visit Florida with us, the door is always open.

I had plenty of slack in my travel time to the airport.  I stopped at a Dunkin Donuts to grab some breakfast and a coffee and then stopped one more time to fill up the Journey. Oh, the rental car was a Dodge Journey SXT by the way.  Yea I never heard of it either.

Getting to the airport required dealing with rush hour traffic but with my GPS having my back it was no big deal getting back to the airport in an expedient manner.  Dropping off the rental car was a 30 second process and I was back inside the terminal 5 minutes later.  I used the self service Delta kiosk to check myself in.  The machine spit out the credit card receipt for my annoying $25 checked bag charge but for some reason did not print out the boarding passes I need to board the plane.  I wound up having the desk clerk repeat the process for me.

When I went through the security check point the woman running the x-ray pulled out my cheap Dollar General Store gym bag that is housing my glued together skull.  As she rocked the bag back and forth she said to me, “Is that a skull???”.  I told her yes, but it ws a ceramic, decorative skull.  She said she was concerned it was a real skull which evidently is not allowed in carry on baggage, imagine that.

So I have now found my way to the departure gate in plenty of time to allow me to punch this out.  My flight probably won’t even begin boarding for another hour.  The trip has come and gone quickly.  It was very nice to get another taste of the world I used to know and to see friends and family that I usually only interact with via the internet or the phone.  I of course look forward to getting home to Cindy, Elsa, the chickens, and even Tuki.  Not having to plan to avoid hypothermia will be a great thing too.

Today was my last full day in Pennsylvania and it also happened to be my dad’s actual birthday, even though we celebrated it in a grand fashion on Saturday night.  I once again woke up relatively early.  It’s deceiving in PA because it gets light and gets dark signficiantly later and earlier than in Naples.  I was happy to see it was actually “warm” today with the outside thermometer reading 23 degrees.  It was snowing pretty steadily.  I still bundled up before heading out to the shop to restart the fire to warm things up for the animals.

I also intended to do the sheep’s food and water since I watched Teresa do it all the day before but she came out just as I finished getting the fire started so I only assisted in the chore, scooping hay out of their water while refilling it with the hose they have inside.  It’s so funny watching the sheep line up to chow down on their pellets followed by hay.  The funniest thing of all to witness was when the llama laid down amongst the sheep while eating.  His long neck still put his head well above the rest of the flock and he used it to lean over and grab hay from his casual position.

After dad got back from his coffee and paper run he was almost immediately back out the door to go get an oil change done on the Subaru.  He said it shouldn’t take long at all.  Well not long at all turned out to be almost the entire morning.  He was so late getting back that Teresa and I were getting a bit concerned.

Well a little after 11 we hear the door open.  Dad had returned and we immediately asked what was up.  Dad started on a somewhat awkward explanation about why he was delayed.  Evidently during his trip to the vet Monday evening with Clara he clipped a deer with the car.  He was late because he was getting an estimate to repair the damage.

The damage however was secondary.  Dad share’s my love of animals and he was really upset about the incident.  The way he described it was one deer darted in front of the car which he missed.  As he was hitting the brakes hard a second deer followed and got clipped by the driver side corner bumper.  He said the deer was dazed in the road but on the return trip the deer was no longer there.  I have heard sometimes of deers getting dazed but then recovering.  Both my dad and I hoped that was the case.  The damage to the bumper wasn’t huge with a few cracks but it will need to be replaced.  The total estimate for the repair was less than 1k. Dad and Teresa said they try to avoid driving the roads near them at night for this exact reason.  Deers dart out all the time and depending on their timing the end result can be disasterous.

So anyway I wished dad happy birthday officially this time.  I felt bad he had to have his day darkened by the deer strike but I could totally relate, I would have felt terrible about it as well.  Since it was approaching lunch time dad suggested we go out for one last meal together at the Bucktail Hotel in Marienville.  I have never eaten there before.  Teresa didn’t seem that thrilled with the idea because of past experience but I said I was fine with it, even if it was less than stellar.  Marienville is sort of all about experiences that are less than stellar.

The hotel restaurant reminded me of a common theme in town, it was once much more active and populated than it is now.  The hotel had a huge amount of space in their two dining rooms yet only two tables were occupied, if you include our own.  The laminated menu looked like it was created in Wordpad but had enough variety to fulfill most pallets.  I ordered something with my fish sandwich I may not have had for a decade or more, potato soup.

The food was not spectacular but I didn’t expect it to be.  I still enjoyed just sitting in the old building adorned with old decorations and old furnishings.  A trip to Marienville is much cheaper than renting a time machine.  The waitress who my dad and step mom knew by first name suggested we go into the main dining room to check out the Xmas decorations that were still up.  Evidently our waitress was part of decoration team.  The empty room did look beautiful indeed, too bad it doesn’t seem like many people get to see the fruits of their labor.

So as we headed back to the house we noticed school busses dropping kids off which was odd since it was only mid-day.  A lady at the restaurant said they closed school early because of the potential for freezing rain and ice.  We saw that potential realized on the drive home.  The rain was dropping from the sky with an air temp that read 28 degrees, not a great thing since I planned to make the 80 mile drive to Pittsburgh in an hour or two.

Things at the house were looking pretty shady.  It did not take long for the vehicles and the ground to have a crunchy coating of ice on them.  I did not panic as I knew the forecast was for the temps to keep rising and I knew closer to Pittsburgh it was much warmer.  I took a shower at dads and then turned on the rental car to let it warm up for quite awhile, the windshield was encased in ice at that point.

The last minutes before a visit with my dad, stepmom, and the dogs is always somewhat sad, whether they are down with us or vice versa.  I know they enjoy having family visit and the circumstances this time around with it being dads 70th birthday made it more special than normal.  We sat by the fire and just chatted for awhile, most of the time I was reaching down and petting Clara who was laying in the dog bed next to me.

After taking a group picture with my phone timer I loaded up the luggage and said my farewells.  It was a whirlwind trip in some ways but in others it was relaxing.  I got to read tons of my Warcraft novel, blog, and just enjoy and appreciate the stark differences between where I was and where I normally am.  Sure the cold was awful but even that didn’t cause as much of an issue as I thought it could.  After handing out hugs and belly rubs I was out the door.  I tapped the horn as I pulled out the crunchy driveway, unsure of the next time I will be back in the Marienville magic.

The first part of the drive was indeed hairy.  I consistently stayed 10 mph under the speed limit even though I did not sense any slipping of the tires.  The temperature reading 28 degrees kept me on my toes at all times.  As time passed my white knuckle grip on the wheel relaxed.  Soon it became clear the roads were just wet.  I made one pit stop along the way at a Dunkin Donuts to help keep me alert. By the time I pulled up to Patricks place it was a balmy 46 degrees.

Pat is not home quite yet so I decided to put the time to good use punching out this entry, in the dark, parked in front of his house.  Leaving for my 11 AM flight tomorrow will be logisitically much simpler from this closer vantage point as opposed to if I tried to make it all happenfrom Marienville in the wee hours of the morning.  I look forward to a hassle free trip home tomorrow, like that was even a possibility….

I had my best night of sleep on the trip so far which was welcomed.  The loft I have been sleeping in was extremly toasty thanks to the wood stove that had been burning all day.  When I crawled into bed I was just in my shorts and a t-shirt.  However once the fire burned out overnight I found myself reaching for extra covers to compensate.  The temperature when I awoke this morning was a balmy 7 degrees.

Everybody seemed to still be in bed when I got up. I decided I would bundle up and go out to the shop which is connected to the barn where the sheep stay to restart the fire in the stove out there that helps keep the out buildings somewhat warm for the animals.  As I was setting up the fire I could hear a few of the sheep “talking” to me, wondering what was going on.  I walked over there briefly to say hello, unsure what the morning sheep related chores were.  They stared at me confused but at least didn’t run away like they did yesterday.

I got the fire cranking and then headed back inside.  In the time I was out in the shop dad had woken up and taken the dogs with him in the truck to go grab his daily paper and cup of coffee.  While he was gone I went back outside with Teresa to see what she does with the animals.

She feeds them which consists of giving them grain which looks identical to chicken feed and then layering hay on top of it.  The sound of 20 sheep eating grain simultaneously was unique.  I told Teresa it sounded like rain on a tin roof.  She then would clean and refill their huge water barrel and do a brief cleaning of the stall which supplements the weekly full cleaning they have to do.

The one ram named Frasier was one of the babies that was born when Cindy and I visited two years ago.  He is unique in that he has no fear of people since my step mom basically raised him, he was rejected by his mother.   He let me stroke his face without fear and when Teresa started petting him he wagged his tail in approval.  It was so cute.

So Frank and Dee stayed over last night.  After we ate something for breakfast they pulled out to return to eastern PA, leaving me as the lone guest in the house.  It felt weird since a scarce 24 hours earlier there were close to 20 people inside the walls.

Dad suggested a plan where we take the dogs for a walk followed by visiting a relatively nearby landmark, the Kinzua Bridge.  I told him it was fine with me as long as we could stop at the Dollar General Store and the post office for me to try to secure stuff ot help me protect the glued skull for the trip back to Florida.  We hit the store first and I was surprised at the selection.  I scored a roll of bubble wrap and a cheap gym bag that was just the right size to hold the box I hoped to find at the post office.

At the post office I thought I had struck out, not seeing at first the square box I envisioned for the skull in the collection of flat rate boxes they had on display.  However my dad noticed a square holiday themed box on the wall that they evidently sell.  It looked to be the perfect size to hold the skull with some room for padding yet still fit in my cheap gym bag.  I felt fortunate to find everything I needed within a few mile radius.

We did the walk part of the trip first, taking the dogs on around a two mile trek on a snow covered trail.  By that time it had “warmed” up to 12 or 13 degrees.  I felt like I have adjusted somewhat to the frigid air.  The only thing super painful was my exposed face.  Everything else felt tolerable.

The drive up to the bridge took some time.  Dad described the bridge to me but I didn’t get a real appreciation of it until we got there.  This bridge was constructed in the late 1800’s and was meant to cross a huge valley in order to expedite rail traffic to Buffalo.  It’s supports were originally made from iron but were replaced around 1900 with steel to greater support the tremendous weight of fully loaded trains passing over it.  The maximum speed a train crossed the bridge at was 5 mph.

The bridge was used for decades as an important part of the supply route until it was eventually repurposed as a part of the route recreational trains would use on rail tours.  In 2003 there was a F1 tornado that ripped some of the pilings free, collapsing a large section of the bridge which would never be reopened to serve the purpose it had held for over a century.  Instead in 2011, the standing, repaired portion of the bridge was opened up as a tourist attraction.

Just last year an amazing visitor center was opened which is filled with all sorts of interesting interactive displays that tell you about the very long history of the bridge and how it came to be what it was today.  After checking out the visitor center dad and I walked out onto the bridge itself which at it’s highest is some 250 feet off the ground below.  The span you can walk is roughly 600 feet long, at the end of which is a square covered in clear panels that you can walk on, allowing you a rather disconcerting but very cool look straight down.  As you look out over the collapse area you still see all of the bent and mangled trusses scattered in the valley as well as the other standing portion of the structure several hundred yards away.  It was really a wierd visual to take in.

The walk back from the end was pretty brutal as a serious wind smacked us head on, knifing into our exposed skin like little icy daggers.  That 600 feet felt twice as long on the way back.  Even so I really appreciated dad making the suggestion to go there, it was a unique experience I just never would have sought out on my own.

We stopped at a quaint little establishment on the way back in Mount Jewett.  Evidently my dad and step mom like to go there a lot in warmer weather to have breakfast since the dogs can join them at the outdoor tables.  The place had a for sale sign on it that dad said has been there for more than a year.  The woman that runs it was quite friendly and pleasant.  Dad grabbed a side order of bacon and eggs that Maggie and Clara split when we got back out to the truck.

Since arriving back at the house I have been trying to get through a few more chapters in my book as well as punch out this entry.  I also carefully packed the purple skull in it’s new protective barriers.  It all fit together pretty much perfectly.  I was very skeptical before today that I would be able to get the skull back home intact.  I now think I have a good fighting chance.

Tonight will be a chill night enjoying more of my stepmoms delicious cooking while watching some Netflix rental they have on the counter.  Tomorrow I am thinking I will pull out mid-afternoon to head back to Pittsburgh so I can avoid driving the twisting, snowy roads at night.  It’s been a good few days thus far and I have no reason to think the conclusion of the trip won’t follow the same template.

As I expected today was  slower paced. My step mom, dad and Paul made a big breakfast that fed a total of a dozen people.  In the past my ATT phone service here was very, very poor.  Evidently in the two years since I last visited they beefed up their towers, I now have LTE service with two bars most of the time.  It was actually solid enough speed to allow me to upload the pictures I have taken so far from the trip.

After breakfast I bundled up and headed outside with the dogs after bundling up thoroughly.  I even used the insulated long johns Cindy picked up for me before the trip.  I certainly wasn’t warm but it was tolerable, even with the thermometer reading 5 or 6 degrees.  Dad added a number of additions to the out buildings since my last visit and I wanted to check them out in daylight.  Everything looked great and added even more functional space and storage to their ever expanding estate.

While I was out playing ball with the dogs the sheep and llama came out to see what was going on.  However as soon as I acknowledged their presence and started walking towards them they all backed away in fear.   I let them be and just walked around the property some more taking in the frigid but beautiful snow covered landscape.

I then heard the back door of the garage open followed by Patrick pushing his motorcycle out the door.  He has an enduro style 200 CC Yamaha motorcycle that he used to use as a commuter vehicle in Pittsburgh.  He has since bought a real road bike so he has been leaving the Yamaha at my dad’s place to ride around there.

He was worried that the bike wouldn’t start since it had not been run in many months.  Surprisingly even with the time passed and freezing subzero temperatures the bike fired right up.  After letting it warm up a little bit Pat made his first off road snow riding attempt.  There were a couple inches of snow covering everything.

Pat was very unsure and rightfully so about how the bike would do in the snow.  He kept his feet off the pedals as emergency training wheels at first.  It seemed like as long as you kept the speed reasonable and absolutley did not touch the front brake the bike was pretty controllable.  Pat did a couple laps around the backyard.  He then asked if I wanted to give it a shot.

I have not ridden a motorcycle in a number of years and the fact it was below 10 degrees with snow on the ground did not make for a good scenario to reacclimate myself to riding.  So of course this meant I got right on.  Just like Patrick I was very cautious during my first few minutes.  I soon learned to trust it enough that I pulled up my feet and was able to keep the bike upright.  The slippery surface was only one part of the problem, the other was the icy wind blowing on my face, making it feel instantly numb.  The freezing ride was a source of unexpected fun.

My brother Todd and his family were over as well as both of the couples from dinner last night.  Everyone went out to the barn to meet the sheep and llama.  The sheep were scared until dad bribed them with grain.  The girls really liked feeding the sheep but especially the llama.  They spent a lot of time interacting with the animals and loving it.  It was the first time my brother came out to my dad’s place.  Hopefully they get a chance to come out more often so the girls get a chance to experience a part of life much different than they are accustomed to.

We had a lot of Steeler fans in the house so of course we had to watch the wildcard game they had against the Dolphins.  The Steelers jumped out to a big lead early.  The Dolphins actually had a few opportunities that they squandered by turning over the ball.  In the end the Steelers won pretty easily by 13 points.

We followed up by watching the Green Bay/Giants game that is winding down now, which seems to be firmly in the Packer’s control.  My dad and Frank went on a pizza hunting mission for dinner. The first two places they planned to go to wound up being closed.  In Marienville there aren’t alot of options so luckily their last option was open for business.  Even with being a third choice the pizza was good to me.

Patrick and his girlfriend shoved off for Pittsburgh a short time ago.  Most of the afternoon there has been steady llight snow so hopefully their trip is uneventful.  I told Pat I would see him Tuesday evening.  His girlfriend Nicole, who really seems great said she might be there as well.  You can tell from their interactions they each seem to get each other and both seem very happy in each other’s presence.

Tomorrow I don’t have any big goals although I would like to hopefully be able to venture out to find a box and packing materials that will be able to adequately protect the skull that Patrick and I worked so hard to rebuild.  Other than that I still have a good chunk of my Warcraft novel to complete and I can backfill any other free time just enjoying my interactions with my dad, step mom, their animals and the harsh winter conditions.  The cold has been tough as expected but thanks to my additional protective clothing I have been able to deal with it better than I thought I would.

So Cindy and I have decided we are going to be postponing our planned short road trip that was supposed to happen next week.  There are a few reasons for the cancellation.  The last race I am timing is at the end of the month, a few days after we were scheduled to get back.  I would feel better being around the week leading up to the event to make sure everything gets handled smoothly.  With Cindy’s daughter sort of living with us there are more potential unsettled waters ahead the next few weeks.  I would feel better being around to handle whatever comes up.  Finally, my dad and step mom are supposed to be coming down for a week in early October so that will be a lot of fun by itself.

Sure it’s a bit of a bummer not having a road trip on the docket for 2016 after the monster 6600 mile journey last year followed by the holiday visit to NYC.  Seeing all the blog posts from last year’s road trip popping up on the YEAR AGO sidebar of the blog has made me feel further nostalgia. We have logged a couple weekend ComicCon trips this year but we have not crossed any state borders as of now.  If we don’t hit the road this year it won’t be the end of the world but we definitely will be hitting it next year, hopefully executing the northeast route I was thinking about originally.

I still plan to take those days off, using some of that time and money on a staycation which will include getting some stuff around the homestead knocked out.  We might mix a fun daytrip into the mix as well. It’s all good.

13920640_10154739398662841_7812405071871701098_nTonight if it’s not raining I have an interesting/long ride on the Ninebot One planned.  I want to do a one way ride to the gym Cindy works at, somewhere around a 9 mile hike.  She is teaching a class from 6-7 so I figure I will ride there and hitch a ride home afterward.  I am hoping I can avoid the low power tiltback problems that dumped me off the bot a couple weeks ago.  I shouldn’t be riding into a stiff headwind this time so I expect things to go smoother.

13076711_10154468811402841_2376137100947329191_nEven though I have only been off for four days it feels like longer due to just how jammed pack those days have been.  On Wednesday night we did some prep for the arrival of the appliances that was scheduled for Thursday.  We got the microwave off the wall after a lot of hassle.  My brief internet research said the wall bracket for the microwave is basically just a lip the back end sits on.  Once the top two bolts are removed it should lift off easily.

Well after removing the bolts I was able to get the microwave to tip down but not pull free from the bracket.  Evidently Maytag for some reason has some additional thin side arms that slide into the microwave that were preventing me from pulling it free.  After a lot of grunting and awkwardly holding the unit by both Cindy and myself I finally got it off the wall. After that frustrating episode we deemed our appliance removal as good enough for the night.

The appliance installers had an install window between 9:30 and 1:30, a wide window.  We were hoping they would arrive early which would allow us to be able to still drive to the east coast in the evening to pick up the new Tacoma.  Cindy left early for her middle school track coaching gig so I got busy doing more appliance removal.  Our purchase at Home Depot supposedly included free installation of the stove and fridge.  The dishwasher and microwave had an extra charge.  I paid to have the dishwasher installed but not for the microwave.  Regardless the delivery/installer services should include pulling the old appliances out.  Well to expedite things I wanted to get the removal out of the way ahead of time.

13076683_10154468811407841_8822783767542809817_nI was able to get the old stove and dishwasher out to the garage with the help of my handtruck.  I removed the front handles on the fridge but waited for Cindy to get home to get it moved outside due to it’s heavy weight and tight clearance with the front door.  I had already put all of the freezer items in our coolers.  All of the fridge stuff was on the counter.  Once we got the fridge back in the garage we plugged it right back in and put the food back in there for safekeeping until the new Samsung refrigerator was in place.

Just as we were finishing up moving the food to the garage the installers showed, close to the start of their installation window which was awesome.  Both of the guys were very nice and surprised we did the prep work that normally falls on their shoulders.  They wasted no time getting busy.

The install went smoothly.  It was my time to be pleasantly surprised that they installed the new microwave as well, despite me not paying the extra money for the installation.  When we pulled the fridge out it revealed the plastic outlet cover was broken from overly aggressive fridge pushing over the years.  I ran out to the nearby hardware store and got a metal replacement.  By the time I got back home everything but the new fridge was in place.

13072848_10154469140927841_1658563873648871359_oThe installers said in order to get the new fridge in it would be best to pop the hinges on the front door which was easier said than done.  The top two pins came out easily but the bottom pin was tough for them since you can’t get a good swing of a hammer on it.  Some determination and WD-40 eventually broke it loose.  I helped the one guy cart the new fridge although he did most of the grunt work.  My primary role was to make sure the doors stay closed.  Before long they had the fridge up and running.  Both of the guys were really friendly, helpful, and professional.  We gave them whatever cash we had as a tip.

After they left Cindy and I spent a lot of time just admiring our new kitchen hardware.  We liked the contrast with the white cabinets as well as the way it complemented the granite which has a lot of black.  The fridge was especially cool.  Over the weekend Cindy did several reworks of the layout trying to figure out the best way to utilize the large amount of additional space it has.  I had a big pile of manuals on the counter to look through so I had a basic understanding of how all the bells and whistles work.

So I contacted the Delray Toyota dealer and let them know that I indeed would be able to pick up the new truck that evening.  We set a tentative time of 6PM, plenty of time for them to get it all prepped and ready to go.  However before we left Cindy had a dentist appointment in the afternoon.  The plan was for me to take her there so we could leave immediately afterward to save time.  While Cindy was in the chair I ran to the credit union to pull some cash and stopped at Walmart to grab some safety pins for the race I was timing Saturday.

When we left Naples I figured we had plenty of time to get to Delray which according to the GPS should take about 2 hours.  What I didn’t give any thought to was the time of day we were making the trip.  We got onto I-95 right in the heart of rush hour which was miserable.  We had no choice but to sit in stop and go traffic for long periods of time which made the drive 30-45 minutes longer than expected.

Our GPS got us right to the door of the dealership which was visually impressive and huge.  We walked inside the massive showroom and soon met up with Owen, the sales guy assigned to delivering the vehicle.  Up until that point I had dealt with a guy named Tony on the phone and via email as he is the guy assigned to all internet/Costco leads.  Owen was an older, relaxed man with a pleasant demeanor, certainly not the prototypical car salesman template.

13043320_1178028805543705_6487252264930395765_nAfter a much needed bathroom break I asked Owen if we could first take the truck for a test drive.  Despite the foregone conclusion I was buying a new Tacoma I had not actually sat behind the wheel of one, I just assumed I would like it.  Owen walked us out the side door where the truck was waiting for us.  It looked awesome in it’s Inferno Orange color scheme.  Cindy had to jump in the back of the access cab which isn’t too bad for someone of her dimensions while Owen rode shotgun.

As I slid into the driver seat for the first time I could not believe how big the truck felt.  It felt tons bigger than my 99 Tacoma, almost as big as a full size truck thanks to the large and in charge hood design.  It feels bigger because it actually is bigger in every dimension.  It’s longer, wider, and sits higher.

I immediately loved the interior complete with the high tech info center that was equipped.  It had all the bells and whistles.  This was a pretty big thing for me.  Yea I had bought a total of 4 new vehicles in my lifetime but the only other time I bought one 100% based on what I wanted was my Pontiac Sunfire GT after my first divorce.  It felt sort of surreal.

The big size of the truck felt a bit disorienting.  Plus I found myself distracted checking out all of the feedback the truck gives you through the two screens, one in the radio position and another integrated into the instrument cluster.  The test drive was a couple miles at most but it was enough to convince me I made a good choice.  Cindy shared my enthusiasm for the truck, she thought it was awesome in pretty much every way.

So when we got back it was time to run some numbers.  This deal was unconventional in several ways.  Not only did I have to drive to the other side of the state to find a Costco affiliated dealer, I had no idea exactly what the truck would cost me since they will not pull out the Costco pricing book until you are inside the dealership.  So Owen brings out the book and we begin the negotiation process which again happens in reverse to what is normal.

Normally you start at the marked up price a dealer has on a vehicle which usually includes their addendum sticker and work down from there.  In our case we started down way low at the Costco member price which according to the book was 1100 under INVOICE, not MSRP, INVOICE.  So I had all of my internet pricing info with me so I immediately knew the invoice pricing they were listing was a little inflated but not much.  However from that number there were additions for stuff like floor mats, nitro filling the tires, and title/tag work which of course were dramatically inflated in pricing.  In addition there was a $799 dealer fee that Owen said was added to every vehicle they sell.  When I asked him what exactly that was for he said prep but admitted that of course there was additional profit taking in there.

So even with this subtraction followed by addition, the out the door pricing was much, much better than any number any other Toyota dealer offered.  They started their pricing at MSRP plus since the Tacomas have been selling very well with the new redesign of the truck this model year.  When I started doing my research I assumed I would be lucky to just get the truck for MSRP.  Even with the overpriced add ons I was still well under MSRP and able to very easily swing into my financial wheelhouse.  Even so I asked Owen if he could do a little better for me.  When he came back with a price 250 bucks less that was good enough, we agreed to the deal and moved on to stage 2.

So I had all my financing in place so I hoped our visit to the F&I guys office would be brief.  Even with my own financing and turning down all the extended warranties and other profit padding options we were in there for a while.  There seems to be a lot more paperwork involved than when I sold cars.  I was signing and initialing for quite a long time.  After we were done it took awhile to track down Owen so we could head out.  He had already attached the license plate and gave me a brief run down of the vehicle although I probably knew as much as he did based on my extensive internet research ahead of time.

When we left the dealership we were both starving and hit a nearby Chipotle to fuel up.  By the time we left the east coast it was quite late.  At least the traffic situation was much better.  The disorientation with the new truck continued on the way home.  It’s bigger dimensions made me feel unsure of my position in a lane.  Once we got back out onto Alligator Alley things were fine.  We didn’t pull back in the driveway until after 11PM, much later than I was expecting.  The garage was in no shape to house the new Tacoma with the old appliances residing there.  Cindy and I planned on working on alternatives over the weekend.  As we were laying in bed we could hardly believe that we got new appliances and a new vehicle, on the east coast no less, the same day.

On Friday I kept busy around the house for a good portion of the day.  Cindy had a fitness class to teach.  I told her to take the new Tacoma since she hadn’t had a chance to drive it yet.  She gave the truck a glowing report card as well.  One of the things I did was list the old appliances on Craigslist, hoping to quickly sell them to reclaim garage space.  I had exactly zero responses from the ad.  Used appliances on CL are a dime a dozen.  I followed up later on in the weekend posting on a local FB yard sale group and at least got some possible interest but as of now all of the appliances are out there.  Although I would like to get a little bit of money to offset the expense if we don’t move them within the next week I have no problem donating them as well.

I also needed to do prep for the race I was timing Saturday.  During the day I met up with John to pick up one of his generators.  The race finish line location had no nearby power available.  I also picked up Sadie for an extended visit while Ali and her boyfriend are up in PA.  I chose to do both of these things in the old Tacoma.  I figured I may as well try to keep the 2016 Tacoma as pristine as possible while I can.

On Saturday morning Cindy and I awoke to the 4:30 alarm clock.  Cindy actually had a track meet she had to attend but she agreed to follow me to the race to help me get as much equipment set up as she could.  The inflatable arch is particularly difficult to get set up solo.  I punched in the address for the race that was on the entry form which took us into the Immokalee Airport access road.  We saw noone around so I called the race director.  He said he was 5 minutes behind me and would be there soon.  We sat for another 10 minutes without seeing him so I called again.  He said he was now there but did not see us.  He described a park where the race was held which was nowhere in sight.  We came back out of the park and used his verbal guidance to get to the right spot.

So the location confusion cost us valuable time since Cindy had to leave asap.  We hustled and got the arch up and running off the generator and most of the other finish line equipment in place before Cindy had to head out.  The morning had a hectic start and it only escalated from there.  The location of the finish line was not good.  It was staged on the main road used for vehicles to park.  I had cars coming back and forth the entire time before the race.

At one point while I was setting more equipment up I heard the generator start to sputter.  Just as I thought to myself, “it better not die”, it of course did, sending the arch quickly to the ground as yet another vehicle was approaching.  I ran over to the generator and realized I did not have the vent on the gas cap turned to the ON position which caused it to shut down.  After opening the vent the generator fired back up on the first pull and was fine the rest of the event. The registration area was at least a couple hundred yards from the finish line which was problematic as well.  I had to go back and forth several times to do data entry while trying to finish the equipment set up at the same time.   I definitely wished I had Cindy there to help me.

So with the vehicle traffic constantly going through the finish line before the race I wasn’t going to put the timing mats in place for a chip start.  The field of runners was small so using just gun time wasn’t a big deal.  As the race was getting ready to start the race director came up and made some announcements on my bullhorn.  He then asked me if I had a starters gun we could use to start the race.  I told him no but the bullhorn had a siren we could use.  I showed him how to start it, assuming he would start the event.  Instead he asked me if I could start the race since he was going to run the race as well. Um ok.  Of course he didn’t realize that I already had a clipboard, my atomic watch, and a stopwatch I utilize when starting a race.  Trying to awkwardly work the siren was not going to be a good thing.  I managed to get the race started in a rather clumsy manner.

So once the runners cleared I had to quickly get the timing mats in place but I had to get the race clock set first.  I had some issues getting it set just right but eventually got it working. I then jumped on the laptop where I have to do stuff like set the time on the timing box.  I was getting no response.  A quick diagnosis revealed that the USB ethernet adapter seemed to not be working.  My only option was to power off the laptop and bring it back up.  By the time I got it back up I getting close to crunch time time-wise.  I quickly set the time on the Ipico box and got everything up and running literally seconds before the first young kid crossed.

So as I started looking at my finish line time reports I noticed something was wrong.  The times on the report were almost a minute more than they should be??  WTF…   So I started to try to figure out the problem.  This was my first timing with the Ipico equipment in roughly a year so I wondered if I missed a step.  Part of the process is setting the time on the laptop to match the time on my atomic synched watch.  The laptop time is then used to set the time on the timing box.  I had set the time on the laptop to match my watch before the race.  Well somehow my shutting off the laptop had caused the time to fall out of synch by almost a minute so I set the time on the box with the incorrect time, causing the problem.  I was luckily able to apply an offset to the finish times to correct the problem.  I was glad I had my new security dvr there to allow me review the time the race winner crossed the line so I could determine exactly how much offset I needed.

13096276_521020428081583_8933300977165395601_nThe security dvr system also came in handy for environmental conditions.  The way I was facing the rising sun was directly in my face.  The large 27 inch monitor I have attached to the DVR served as a sunvisor.  I spent much of the race ducked down behind it so I could see.

So in the end all of the race results worked out without anyone realizing just how much scrambling I was doing behind the scenes to make it happen.  It also revealed some weak links in my GMT race equipment.  My $149 Asus laptop is going to need to be swapped with something more substantial and I need to get more adept at setting the race clock.  Clean up from the event took FOREVER with me doing it solo.  I bet I spent damn close to an hour just tearing down and putting everything back in the truck.  I pulled off site mentally and physically tired.  Just as a final exclamation point on the morning, I had a hell of a time getting back on Immokalee Road due to a farmers parade going down Main Street.  I probably spent 15 minutes finding a route around it.

By the time Cindy got home I had already finished unloading all of the equipment and had started on post race work like posting results and ripping finish line video.  After we ate lunch turned our attention to the garage.  At first I had given up hope on keeping the new Tacoma housed in the garage.  It’s bigger dimensions would not allow it to fit where the SSR resided.  Initially Cindy’s suggestion of changing the layout of the shelves in there, which meant removing them, was not appealing to me since I hate losing storage options.  However the more I thought about it the more open I was to it.

13096208_10154475664692841_4085845741064209385_nWe first had to get the old appliances moved to the opposite wall as they were sitting where the Tacoma would go.   We then started pulling stuff out of the garage.  Of course this was also an opportunity to purge some shit.  I had a bunch of maintenance items like transmission fluid, air/oil filters, oil and other stuff that were needed for the maintenance of the old Tacoma and the SSR.  Obviously I had no need for these anymore so we deposited them by the curb for someone else to use.  Like I said almost everything was unopened.  We moved some shelves around and completely removed others.  The non-Tacoma side of the garage looked like a mess.

After we got done we did a test park with me backing into the space.  I fit fine but it was tedious backing in there.  We discovered that I could pull in forward and still have enough room to get out of the door once I raised an adjustable shelf on the wall, awesome.  Cindy came up with the good idea to utilize the wall space where the shelf use to reside for extra pegboard space, something I have been in dire need of for many years.  We stopped at that point since we were going to a sweet 16 birthday party for Cindy’s niece.

Even though I knew sweet 16 parties existed I never attended one and I never knew anybody that had one.  I was surprised at the size and scope of it all.  It almost seemed like a mini-wedding reception.  It was held at a cool little marina that I never knew existed.  Of course we cruised there in the new Tacoma.  By Saturday I was finally feeling adjusted to the different driving dimensions and was comfortable on the road.

The party was very cute.  Cindy’s niece is a terrific young lady with a bight future in front of her for sure.  Cindy’s daughter and mom were there as well so we got to hang with them to varying degrees.  We also got to meet Cindy’s brother’s girlfriend who was very nice as well.  I chilled out with four beers to take the edge off.  After the prior three days of go go go it felt good to just sit and chill for a bit.

Despite our high activity level up to that point, Sunday morning Cindy and I decided to get out and run, something that just has not happened on a consistent level for a long time.  We put in a little over 3 miles at the track.  With my lack of running of course I never felt comfortable the entire time but at least I got it done.

When we got home we loaded up Sadie for a ride.  I needed to stop at Home Depot to get stuff to expand the pegboard and a few other things.  Going there when we have Sadie is so much more fun now that we found out she is allowed to shop with us.  The 4×8 piece of pegboard hung out over the edge of the old Tacoma but was held in place by the weight of three bags of mulch pretty securely. We took the old Tacoma, trying to spare the 2016 from unnecessary dirt and labor until necessary.

13055680_10154477002917841_4738166062505067485_oMost of the remaining daylight hours of Sunday were spent out in the garage getting the new pegboard up.  I had some challenges along the way due to inconsistent stud placement on that wall but I worked around it.  In addition we built a small shelf/table to get back some of the storage capability we lost.  We also hung a tennis ball on a string parking aid we found at HD to make pulling the new Tacoma in far enough a no brainer.  We were both quite pooped when our day’s labor came to an end.  We now are quite anxious to get the old appliances out of there so we can again welcome the Prius back into the garage as well.

Like I mentioned earlier, we had a bunch of stuff by the road to give away.  Late in the day Cindy noticed like it looked like it was scattered.  We walked down there and saw a big freaking mess.  Some idiot ran off the side of the road and into the various bottles of automotive products.  In particular it looked like he squarely ran over one of the full bottles of tranny fluid, causing it to spray all over the other items, ruining them.  The only good news I could see was the spray pattern included a good portion of the road as well so I hope the asshole has transmission fluid dissolving his paint as we speak.

Of course I would be remiss to not mention the celebrity deaths over the weekend.  Chyna, one of the first big name female WWE stars died at the young age of 45.  Her death was quickly overshadowed by the shocking death of Prince who was 57, far outside of normal dying range.  It sounds like there are some odd circumstances in the week or two leading up to his death which I am sure will be beaten to death in the media.  Regardless of how it happened he was an extremely talented performer and musician that in my book gave Michael Jackson a run for his money.  I hate being old enough that famous people I grew up with that aren’t that much than older me are dying off. RIP Prince (and Chyna).

I also have forgot to mention my thoughts about the Eagles big move, trading what many (including myself) think was too much to move from the number 8 position to number two in the upcoming NFL draft.  The team is presumably going to pick one of the top two projected QB ‘s in the draft and at this point it seems it will be the kid from North Dakota, Carson Wentz.  This move concerns me on several levels.

If the Eagles were already holding the number 2 pick and wanted to draft the kid I guess I would be ok with it.  To be successful every team needs a franchise QB eventually and the Eagles don’t think they have one currently on their roster.  I agree with them.  However to trade 5 picks to move down 6 spots to get this kid seems really, really stupid.  How often do early pick QB’s fall on their face?  The answer is all the time.  More of them fail than succeed.  To compound that, they are giving this up for a QB that played at a small school that faces a competition level far less than bigger programs go up against.  Expecting him to jump from that scenario to play in the NFL where the talent level is magnified many times over seems like a stretch to me.  When you factor in giving up all those picks it all just makes little sense to me.

Last year when Chip Kelly made all of those questionable moves, I said I thought they were bad decisions (which they obviously were), but I hoped he would prove me wrong.  Once again I am hoping Howie Roseman turns out to be some sort of super genius and Carson Wentz proves to be the Eagles franchise QB for the next decade or more but I have a bad feeling it’s not going to be the case and cost us dearly in future draft talent to boot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

12888527_10154425814682841_8028867623433436176_oOn Saturday morning Cindy was coaching at her first track meet, leaving me alone to run wild at the house.  I did a number of chores around the house including having all four of my cleaning robots running simultaneously scrubbing/vacuuming all of the flooring.  I then decided I was going to head out to Home Depot.

Cindy and I decided we were going to add an extra level of castle stone to the landscaped border around the pool.  We are both sick and tired of the chickens going into the area and kicking the rubber mulch out into the grass.  It has become a constant see saw of work.  So our thought was adding the second layer of stone would be enough of a wall to deflect their shrapnel back into the bed where it belongs.

Cindy had counted and we needed a little more than 90 of the 12 inch stones to do the second layer (we already had bought a few).  I had bought these stones in bulk once before and just had them bring them out on a pallet which I requested once again.  The immense weight immediately bottomed out the Tacoma’s suspension.  I am sure I was well over the posted maximum payload of 1700 pounds.  I drove very conservatively on the way home.

On the drive home my cell phone rang from an Oregon number.  It was a guy named Al that was calling about the SSR.  He had not seen the ad on Craigslist.  In fact he didn’t see any ads at all.  He was called about it from one of the main guys from SSR Fanatics.  On Friday I decided to also post my truck on their forum for sale.  I didn’t expect a lot from the posting but obviously I was wrong.  Al was called because the SSRF guy (Dick) knew he was looking for a 6 speed truck.    So anyway Al said he could leave Cape Coral right away to come see the truck so I told him to come on down.

When he showed up I was a bit shocked to see ANOTHER SSR parked in the driveway.  I had no idea he already had an SSR, a 2004 with a slick custom paint job.  He actually has owned his truck for 4 or 5 years but he was interested in a 6 speed.  Since Dick has met me and worked on my truck at a few of the meet ups he personally vouched for my truck, letting Al know it was nice.

Al was like the vast majority of SSR owners I have met, of retirement age and very nice.  Of course I didn’t have to give him a walk through of the truck like I did last week since he was already very familiar with the vehicles obviously.  When I told him some of the upgrades I had done like the LS7 Corvette clutch swap he knew exactly what it was and why it was a good thing.  We went on a decent test drive and he confirmed he liked the truck, just like Dick said he would.  Unlike last week where the buyer was all about lowballing, Al was fine paying my asking price, his background as a SSR owner made my price fair to him when compared to other trucks out there.

After the test drive Al hung at the house for quite awhile talking with Cindy and I.  Most of the conversation was not SSR related at all, just exchanging snippets of our background.  Al has been retired since he was 55 and spends 3 months out of the year living on his boat in Oregon.  It sounded like he was very fortunate the way things fell in place for him when retirement came around and he was grateful for it.  So we got around to making plans for the sale.  He left me a check for a deposit and said to call him Sunday after he checked his calendar to see when we could do the sale.

We worked it out that I am leaving work early today to get it all done.  I brought the SSR to work and will be driving it to Al’s house with Cindy following me in the Tacoma.  We will then leave the truck there and head to the bank and DMV office to finalize the paperwork.  It will feel weird for sure to walk away from the R but it is offset by getting much more money for it than I was willing to accept a few days prior.  It’s funny how things work out.  It’s also funny that Al will have two SSR’s in his driveway until he manages to sell his 2004. 🙂

After Al left I wasted little time heading outside to work on the 2nd level of our castle stone border.  Cindy and I first unloaded all of the stones, putting them in place on the wall where they would go.  It was only temporary as I needed to go stone by stone and reset both the first and second layer.  When I originally put the castle stone in place I just used the sandy soil as the base under the wall.  Over time areas of the wall have shifted as a result.  A good number of the stones had a slight downward facing angle which looked shitty.

981143_10154428582032841_2101537614128663790_oAlong with the pallet of stone I also bought 6 bags of substrate normally used under a paver installation.  The substance was basically very small stones, designed to give a firm base to support the blocks.  I began a very arduous process of pulling up each and every stone and re-leveling it, using the stone base to provide support.  It was not enjoyable as you can imagine.  Most of the work required me to be on my knees which gets painful very quickly.  I just kept my blinders on and focused on getting done.  Before I called it quits for the day I had about 75% of the wall complete which was cool.

We cleaned up and headed out to Germain arena for an Everblades game.  We had not gone to see the local minor league hockey team for a couple years.  I saw it was Star Wars night so I thought it would be fun to go.  When we got there the parking lot was pretty full, something we arent used to with the sparsely attended Tarpons games we are used to.

12888577_1165347933478459_1069596121842306345_oAs we walked up to the ticket window I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw signs on the window saying SOLD OUT. WTF?  Germain seats between 5000-6000 people I could hardly believe the game would be sold out.  Cindy and I looked at each other and shrugged our shoulders.

Just as we were ready to start walking back to the parking lot a couple behind us stopped us.  The man said he had spare tickets and we could have a couple of them.  I told him I would gladly pay for them.  He said to not worry about it they were already paid for by his business.  Cindy and I could hardly believe our good fortune.  When we got inside I tried to repay their kindness to at least a small degree by buying the guy a beer.  It’s always nice to confirm that not all people are assholes.

Now I am the farthest thing from a hockey fan you can get but it was still fun to be at a live game.  I downed a couple large Shocktop drafts to help up the fun level.  We also enjoyed chowing down on our standard arena menu of pizza, a soft pretzel and roasted nuts.  At the end of the second period Cindy wasn’t feeling great after downing her alcoholic cider.  The home team was down 2-0 at that point.  I told Cindy I was fine heading out and although she didn’t want to be the impetus to leave I could tell she liked the idea.  After thanking the couple once again for their generosity we headed out.  I saw later the Everblades wound up losing 2-1.

On Sunday morning there was no way I felt like running/riding after the block work Saturday afternoon.  Plus I wanted to take advantage of the cooler morning temperatures to finish up the wall.  Of course I was just a little short of what I needed to finish so Cindy and headed out for yet another Home Depot trip.  We grabbed more castle stone as well as 12 more border stones that looked like smaller cousins of castle stone.  We wanted to lay them down as a test in the rock border area to see how they look.  Unfortunately the chickens have no problems kicking small river rock out of a landscape bed either.  Cindy has been putting the displaced stones back in place several times a week.  Surprisingly the chickens don’t listen when we ask them to stop scratching in those areas. 🙂

When we got back I finished up the main wall.  Both Cindy and I liked the finished product and we have not seen any projectile mulch clear the wall since it was extended.  We laid down the smaller stone border on a small section of the river rock bed and it looked good.  Although it is significantly smaller than castle stone in height we are thinking it should be high enough to block the stones since they won’t fly as far as mulch.

I was pooped from the labor that covered portions of both days of the weekend.  Late in the afternoon I decided to finally get to making a video that told the story regarding my drone prosecution.  Although I kept the video pretty in the middle, not trash talking the NPS tactics as much as I could have, I wanted to get a video out there shining a light on what happened.  Perhaps the same ranger that thought it was fair game to ruin my Xmas holiday will stumble across this video as well.  Hopefully it makes him sleep better at night.

The video is about 15 minutes long.  I don’t believe I have ever talked at that length on film at one shot.  As expected there are some stumbles along the way but all in all I give a pretty clear outline of what went down and why I feel it was handled poorly.

 

 

 

 

1377617_10154188773362841_3348002565097222380_nIt gets dark earlier significantly earlier in NYC than it does in Naples, meaning heading over to the Empire State building around 5:15 meant we had complete darkness to view the NYC nighttime skyline.  We were glad that 5:15 on a Tuesday is apparently a good time to go, we had very minimal lines to deal with.  This was the first attraction on our “Explorer Pass” that didn’t work smoothly.  You were supposed to just scan it at the turnstile and walk in.  Instead we had to get walked over to the regular ticket window to get conventional tickets.

The view up top was cold, windy and awesome.  I was glad that we did the Top of the Rock tour during the day to contrast what we saw at night.  Even though the daytime view gives a better scope of the immensity of the greater NYC area, the nighttime view is definitely visually more interesting.  A number of the buildings, including Empire State were lit up in a holiday appropriate way which was very cool to see.

There are two observation decks in the building, one at floor 86 and another at 110.  After seeing all of the stuff at 86 we figured we would hop on the elevator to go up to 110.  I was a bit annoyed to find out that the 30 bucks plus per head you pay does not include a ride up to 110, that costs extra.  I thought it was sort of bullshit. It is also something that is not well communicated.  I saw numerous people like us, assuming their ticket got them all the way to top, only to be told they would need to open their wallets again to get there.  Cindy and I agreed we saw what we wanted to see and headed back downstairs.

They had a lot of displays regarding the recent retrofitting they did to the building to make it dramatically more energy efficient.  They actually removed every single window in the structure and replaced the glass with a variety that is 4 x more energy efficient.  They made a ton of other changes that add up to energy savings of over a million dollars a year, impressive. The entire building is impressive.  Everywhere you look there are expensive surfaces and intricate attention to detail.  There was much more marble on the walls than paint.

12369039_10154188773492841_371846110469116937_nI got the idea to head up to the Bryant Park area which was only 4 blocks north of us.  I recalled they transformed the park for Christmas the last time I was there and it was very cool.  I was happy to see the transformation was once again in place.

They fill the park with a bunch of temporary structures that are filled with unique food and crafts vendors.  They also construct a giant ice skating rink in the middle of the park that is heavily utilized, even when the temps are up in the 50’s.

Cindy and grabbed some very tasty veggie burgers from one of the stands for dinner.  I also showed Cindy the two outdoor ping pong tables that I found so intriguing in my past trips to NYC.  We were sitting there watching a game when a nice black guy came over named David who filled us in on how it works.  He said after a certain point in the calendar they don’t have free paddles available for people to borrow to play with, you have to bring your own.  Cindy and I were both surprised when he offered to let Cindy borrow one of his to play with.

1935096_10154188773987841_2794031755369100645_nI told Cindy I was in no shape to play with my painful, swollen knees but she should play anyway.  David and her got to play once the in progress game finished up.

The outdoor tables are funny with a metal “net” that is suitable to outdoor conditions.  The lighting also is not fantastic so I imagine it makes play a bit tougher.  David was surely a very good player but Cindy did well once she adjusted a little bit to the conditions.  She lost but they had a lot of good rallies that were entertaining to watch.

10330323_10154188774242841_8603562186722481491_nWe thanked David for his generosity and for playing a game with Cindy.  He was just one of the examples of the bizarre dichotomy I find in New York.  When you are on the subway or walking the congested sidewalks it seems like the city is filled with nothing but stoic sour pusses.  However when you actually open up a line of communication with most people they are actually some of the friendliest and interesting you can find anywhere.

I also commented to Cindy how the obesity rate in NYC has to be incredibly below the national average.  Nearly everyone you see appears to be walking around at a healthy weight.  I can only assume the hustle and bustle of New York which requires copious amounts of walking is the major factor in this healthy trend.  It is really a dramatic difference from most places I have been.

I stumbled across an impromptu juggling lesson they also had at the park.  There was a decent rectangular plot of grass filled with juggling balls and clubs along with lots of people juggling them.  I did a couple quick standard juggling sessions while Cindy recorded it.  It was totally random, totally unexpected, and totally cool. We walked around Bryant park some more before calling it a night.  Cindy and I still were feeling  pretty beat up from the Sunday workout compiled with all the walking we had done the last few days.

This morning we grabbed breakfast at a different cafe on the other side of the street.  Just like every dining experience we had during the trip, it was great.  When we got back to the room we worked on getting all of our luggage consolidated and ready to go.  We had a couple hours to kill so I thought it would be neat to take Cindy to the southern end of Central Park, we only saw a small portion of the northern section the other day.

1936643_1100424896637430_1546046829976088422_nThe temperature was very pleasant for walking, right around the mid-50’s.  We saw just a small portion of the numerous awesome treasures housed inside the park.  The coolest was the the Bethesda Fountain and Terrace. Wow.

The ornate architecture in every square inch of this area is amazing.  Cindy was open mouthed at just how beautiful it all was.  I never saw this area myself.  I felt quite lucky that we just happened to stumble across it as we walked along, what luck.  You could easily spend an entire day doing nothing but exploring the park, there is just so much beauty in there.

It was also cool seeing all the runners and bikers snaking through the park.  We actually packed stuff to run but there was just no way I could do it with the swelling going on in both of my knees.  I felt bad because I know Cindy would have loved to get a couple miles in around the park.

We kept an eye on the clock, making sure we got back to the room before the noon checkout time. We made it with time to spare since at this point we were more adept at utilizing the subway system effectively.  After checking out we took advantage of the hotels bag hold service where they will keep an eye on your bags until you are actually ready to leave.

We walked up 35th street in a different direction than we had so far.  We wound up eating lunch at a very cool chain called Pret A Manger.  The staff there was incredibly nice and the place does an incredible thing.  Each and every night they use any of their left over food to provide free meals for others instead of reusing it or throwing it out.  They even gave Cindy a free desert, just because they felt like giving it to her.

1933805_1100455279967725_7381580120472789837_nWe decided to make one more trip up to Bryant Park to see whatever we missed the night before.  Despite the constant light rain we circled around checking stuff out.  We watched the people skating for a little while.  Cindy and I both zoomed in on an older guy in a full suit that was circling the ice with ease.  Cindy said she bet the guy used to be a hockey player.

About 15 minutes later we decided to head back.  Who did we happen to run into but the old guy in the suit with his skates in a bag.  Cindy told him he was a great skater and asked if he played hockey.  The guy smiled and said he did indeed play hockey.  He was quite appreciative that we noticed his skill out on the ice.

When we got back it was time to start the long haul back to the airport.  My large, soft sided duffel bag with wheels is great for stuffing shit into but a royal pain in the ass to pull for long distances.  I had to switch arms repeatedly on our way to the Herald Square station.  To get back to the JFK airport required two subway rides and a trip on the Airtrain.  The contrast in difficulty level to make this commute between when we arrived and when we left was dramatic.  Unlike the first time, we had no confusion or anxiety at all, we knew exactly how to get there.

When we got off our last subway ride Cindy offered our unlimited 7 day MTA passes to another couple that was headed into the city.  The passes still were good for unlimited subway rides until Christmas day so we figured somebody could get use out of them.

We got to the airport super early which is fine.  It is allowing mt to do stuff like get this blog entry completed.  Cindy had an embarrassing incident where she accidentally walked into the toilet stall side of the MENS room while no other men were in the area.  She only realized her mistake after coming out of the stall and seeing a man looking at her awkwardly.  Oops.

Our flight takes off  in an hour, returning us to our comfortable and familiar south Florida home base.  As always it will be great to get back home but Cindy and I both really enjoyed putting a distinctly different spin on our holiday season this year, giving ourselves a truly meaningful gift.   Clothing wears out, electronics break, and alcohol is consumed, memories like this last forever.

Adios NYC, we will be back.