Category: Road Trips

So we dropped off Elsa Saturday morning at Ali’s place.  Ali was nice enough to agree to dogsit her for the night while we were gone.  Elsa stayed with them once before and it worked out really well.  We wound up talking to them longer than expected and subsequently pulled out for the east coast later than I hoped.  Originally I had ideas of leaving around 8, instead we didn’t hit the highway until 9:45.

So I tried to go with the flow.  If we left early enough I had ideas that we could go to the convention first without our costumes on and then go back to the room, gear up and head back later.  I figured with our delayed departure we would have to just go to the hotel, change, and then head over.  I had no idea that leaving late was going to also carry a VERY severe penalty, in traffic.

The highway portion of the drive was without incident however once we entered the city limit of Fort Lauderdale we hit incredible grid lock.  This was not traffic, this was a parking lot.  If these sort of situations aren’t annoying enough, they are exasperated by people being idiots, thinking they are going to somehow get a few feet ahead of the poor schlub behind them.  Non-stop Cindy and I saw people being assholes and it catching on in typical lemming behavior.  “Hey if that guy can be an asshole, I will be too” The most egregious idiot was tractor trailer that decided to do a U-turn into the stopped traffic.

So believe it or not, we sat in this hell for nearly 90 minutes.  We assumed all along that there had to be an accident on 17th street where both our hotel and the convention center was located.  When we finally bypassed the quagmire we realized the problem was just HORRIBLE logistics.  For whatever reason, the people managing parking at the convention center must have been absolutely awful at their job.  The traffic was entirely caused by cars waiting to get into the convention parking garage.  Even though we were not going to the convention quite yet we were stuck because the hotel was a mile beyond Supercon. Imagine my joy when we drove by the building and saw a line of people at least a 1/4 mile long snaking around the building in the sweltering heat, waiting to get in.

By the time we got in the room I was sort of done, I didn’t want to think about Supercon, I was just glad to be out of the damn car and out of the stationary traffic.  After we grabbed an overpriced lunch on the hotel grounds, Cindy began her prep work which was extremely extensive.  I knew I had a lot of time to wait based on past cons.  I almost fell asleep on the bed as I just chilled out.  Finally it was my time to get ready.  My prep was pretty simple.  I put on long pants, my thick, way too hot for Florida Soldier 76 coat, and had Cindy spray some gray shit in my hair and paint some black shit around my eyes. I bet her prep took nearly two hours.

We originally were going to take one the hotel shuttles but with all of our props we decided to Uber it over there.  We were most worried about Cindy’s meticulously crafted sniper rifle getting damaged.  We did catch our first break of the day when we saw the line to get in was no longer snaked around the building.  I carried in my coat and mask as I didn’t want to broil wearing it outside.

So we finally got inside and had to go through “prop check” where they verify your guns can’t fire any ammunition.  After that we probably were supposed to go stand in another line where they convert your QR code paper to a badge you wear around your neck.  Somehow instead we got directed to a security guard that just waved us in.  Since we were both fully decked out at that point I guess he figured entrance was a formality.

So it only took me a minute or two in my full costume to know it was going to be rough.  Despite a ton of effort by Cindy, there was only so much that could be done to assist in comfort.  She padded the mask well and added a bunch of holes to assist in breathing.  Even so the temperature and humidity levels in the mask rose very quickly.  Before very long I had condensation forming on the red lens inside.  The heavy fake leather coat had sweat forming on my back in no time.  I just sucked it up and dealt with it.  I knew I was going to be hot going into it.

It took no time at all for the picture requests to start up.  Cindy’s costume was especially amazing.  The fact that she was painted bluish/purple with a deep, plunging neckline didn’t hurt either. It seemed like a chain reaction, once one person asked for a picture, another half dozen would ask as well, there are evidently a LOT of Overwatch players at Supercon.  Cindy and I patiently posed for every picture request.  If you are going to dress up like we did and not expect to be photographed a lot you are delusional. Besides being hot, the mask had the unfortunate side effect of making it almost impossible for Cindy to hear me with all the ambient noise.  I had to practically scream six inches from her ear if I wanted to get her attention.

The crowd inside the hall was maddening most of the time, there was just far too much humanity jammed into too small of a space for me.  It was just crazy.  We were worried about someone damaging Cindy’s rifle with it being so crowded but she did a good job of keeping it in a protected position most of the time.  Periodically we would just steer ourselves towards spots where there were less people to catch a breather, figuratively and literally.  I would take my mask off randomly just to try to cool down a bit.

Cindy had some funny interactions with some of the celebrities there.  She met and talked to the guy that plays Abraham on Walking Dead, well he used to until his character got his head beat in.  She also talked to the guy that plays Eugene, Cindy said he seemed like he was high as a kite.  They also had cast from the Karate Kid, the bad kid, the bad kid’s evil sensei and Ralph Macchio himself. There was a very funny interaction between Cindy and Ralph when he asked her what time the con ran until.  When she told him 8PM he said “Great, two more fcking hours…” as he laughed.  I am sure it has to get exhausting acting like you give a damn about all the people that come up to you asking you to wax on and wax off all day long.

The other celebrities there did not seem quite as mainstream as we have seen at other cons but we did catch a glimpse of Lee Majors right before he skipped out to take a break.  Of course 75% of the people there probably had no idea who he was at this point.  The 6 Million Dollar Man was one of my favorite series growing up.

One of the downsides of attending in costume is you really do not get to take in very much at all.  Between picture requests and just getting moved along by human rivers it was really hard to spend a lot of time looking at stuff.  Again, we knew that was just the way it was if you dress up so I can’t complain about it.  I felt happy that all the work Cindy put into the costumes was being recognized by all of the attention she was getting.  The detail she went into was nuts when putting the stuff together.

We had fun meeting other people dressed up as Overwatch characters and took a lot of pictures as groups.  Unfortunately again, when you are the picture subject matter, you don’t get too many pictures yourself.  A few times we handed my phone to a nice bystander that took some shots for us.

They also had some cool sets that you could take your picture on.  We got pictures on a Star Wars, Star Trek, and a military set, they turned out cool.

So we walked around, mostly in character up until 7:30, a half hour before the main area closed.  Cindy and I were both beat so we decided to call an Uber to shuttle us back.  Ironically just as we were about to catch the car, a young girl we met in our hotel lobby was outside as well, looking to get back to the hotel.  Cindy said she could hop in the Uber with us if she wanted.  After verifying with her dad it was ok she accepted the offer which worked out well for her.

I was not very happy with this Uber driver.  For some reason he felt like late July in Florida did not require AC.  Instead he had his window down all the way.  Since the drive was only roughly a mile it wasn’t worth making a stink about but I thought it was odd.  My annoyance with the guy clicked up a few more notches when I realized today that he charged us a 27 cent “waiting” surcharge.  The thing is he was only waiting because he didn’t come to where we were, we had to walk 75 yards to him, so he charged us for it. Idiot.

When we got to the room we were beat, really beat.  We shot a brief video summarizing the experience before we began the clean up process.

So I let Cindy shower first as she obviously had more work to do than me.  When it was my turn I grabbed a wash cloth, soaped it up and started trying to scrub around my eyes to get the black gunk off.  Well all of a sudden I got a severe burning sensation in my right eye, I couldn’t open it from the pain but I immediately tried to flush the eye with the shower water.  It hurt really, really bad.  It took awhile  until I could keep the eye open and when I did, the eye was bright red.  I am not exactly sure what happened but I think I either got some of the black make up or the stuff  that was in my hair into my eye.  All I do know for sure was it felt like battery acid.  I stopped the eye cleaning process and still have black marks around both eyes which I hope will come off with normal cleaning cycles.

It was approaching 9PM by the time we got all cleaned up but we hadn’t eaten dinner yet.  We decided to check out a place on the hotel campus called Pelican Landing which overlooked the water that goes under the 17th street drawbridge.  We sat along the rail so we got to watch the boats traveling back and forth.  It was cool.  We had a waitress originally from Russia, named Olga.  The food was good but pricey, a theme repeated during our stay, more on that soon.

On the way back from eating we found our car in the parking lot and pulled out the two EUC’s.  We thought it would be safer to keep them in the room with us.  We rode them around the parking lot a little bit before riding them up to the door of the room.  It was fun.  It wasn’t fun trying to get into the room.

The keycards or more accurately the door lock they are used on was very glitchy.  You could not simply insert the card and remove it to get the door to open.  It required a very specific angle and speed of insertion and removal.  It took us no less than a dozen tries until we were successful.  There were other things about the room that were not up to what I would expect by Hilton standards like a toilet seat that was half broken, a towel bar that would fall to the ground when you pulled a towel off of it, a box of tissues that were drenched, and a bathroom fan that sounded like an airplane motor with a spun bearing.  It didn’t take me long to pass out Saturday night, I was exhausted.  I didn’t sleep as soundly as I would hope but it wasn’t terrible.

Randall made arrangements to come meet us for breakfast Saturday morning.  Originally we hoped he would bring his EUC to ride but his tire was out of air and he misplaced the valve extender that is needed to inflate it.  We caught up and had a nice breakfast at another in house restaurant although again, the dramatic premium pricing was pretty disgusting.  $80 for three people to have breakfast is just stupid in my opinion.

We walked around the grounds a bit and showed Randall our room.  We then walked out to the Prius to get out the wheels.  While Cindy was putting on her safety gear I told Randall he can jump on the Msuper to give it a try.  He was a bit wobbly but was able to stay on it.  We bid Randall farewell as Cindy and I headed out for a quick ride back and forth over the bridge.

The ride wasn’t very tough, the hills we faced in Marco Island were much steeper.  The views on top of the bridge were very scenic of course.  Cindy was feeling beat up from Supercon so we were done riding in 20 minutes or less.  She did agree to ride down on the dock with me by the multi-million dollar boats which was a cool way to finish up the ride.

So the checkout at the hotel put an exclamation point on the overcharging fiasco.  The quoted $125 per night rate mutated into a bill of nearly $300 after the overblown food charges and annoying add ons like $30 for parking.  I am not sure how some hotels think that parking is an ala carte add on option but it’s fcking ridiculous. But the bottom line is people keep paying it so they keep charging it.

The drive back to the west coast felt long.  We drove through multiple periods of severe rain but also had blue sky periods as well.  Elsa was very happy to see us of course.  She got a stellar report card from Shugs.  It made Cindy and I happy to know Elsa can stay with them and adjust so well since she will be doing it again for over a week soon.

When we got home we dug into unpacking and attending to the chickens since we just had the coop closed last night and opened this morning.  All the chicken chores had to still be done.  I was happy to see that almost ALL the water behind the coop has dried up at this point.  Sure there is plenty of black muck left behind but if we get lucky enough to have some more dry weather that will eventually turn back into dirt again I hope.

I took tomorrow off as well to do more house chores and change the oil in Cindy’s Ioniq, readying it for the upcoming road trip.

So this was the third “con” Cindy and I have attended.  As I was sweating my ass off in the costume posing for picture after picture I tried to evaluate if the effort, time, and expense was worth the experience.  My answer to that is conditional.  Would I do it by myself? Hell no.  However Cindy is PASSIONATE about costume creation, she absolutely loves it.  If you saw how much thought and time she put into her costume and mine it would be hard to believe.  I think she also likes that people at the conventions recognize/appreciate her effort as the picture requests would indicate.  Because I know she gets so much out of it I am happy to support her by agreeing to go to these events. But I did learn a hard lesson that above all, comfort needs to be a primary consideration when choosing costume options.  If you are uncomfortable wearing something pretty much the entire time it just isn’t worth it in my opinion, no matter how cool it looks.

 

 

 

 

It seems like there has been a steady stream of famous entertainers dying unexpectedly over the last few years but none have saddened me as much as the news that Chester Bennington from Linkin Park, killed himself yesterday via hanging.

Without a doubt, Linkin Park has been my favorite musical group of the last twenty years.  Their mostly dark, angry music connected to me in a way that few others have.  Despite the the downer vibe in a lot of their music I found it’s effect on me to be just the opposite, it pumped me up.

It is sobering to know the voice that brought me all of that energy over the years has now been silenced forever.  The fact that he willingly turned off his own lights gives a sense to just how dark a person’s life can be, even when seemingly surrounded by light.

A lot of YouTubers are talking about Logan and Jake Paul, brothers who each have YouTube channels that are exploding in popularity.  I was familiar with Logan from my days on Vine, the 6 second video service that is no longer around.  Logan was very popular on there.  So anyway I was curious what all the fuss was about so I went to his channel and watched one of his daily vlogs.

Wow, if there ever was a YouTube channel encapsulating everything disturbing about the state of youth in America, this is it. (Logan is 22)  The videos are a perfect fit for the constantly distracted, ADD riddled, smartphone addicted young people of today.  It seems that Logan leans heavily on his Vine background in his video style.  No segment goes more than 10 seconds without a jump cut and the video was filled mostly with loud, idiotic, or ridiculous behavior. His brother’s channel is basically more of the same.

Evidently being a moron/maniac is a very lucrative field.  By conservative estimates, each brother is likely pulling in between 1 and 2 MILLION dollars per MONTH from their channels.  That is incredible.  I can only hope the persona he puts out there on video is not who he really is.  To me, as a rapidly approaching half centenarian, the idea that this sort of entertainment is wildly popular just makes me shake my head, lean back on my rocking chair, take a drag on my pipe and profess how kids today just don’t have a clue….

This weekend will be the last “standard” weekend for awhile.  Next week Cindy and I are going to the Supercon in Ft Lauderdale and the next two weekends we will be rolling through our northeastern road trip.  I look forward to stuff like this but also have trepidation at the same time.

This morning I dropped off my Tacoma at the dealer to get the official recall work done on my rear differential that is seeping fluid slightly.  The official fix is the same thing I read when they wanted to confiscate my truck a few weeks back, replace the gasket and re-torque the bolts.  I guess they just got the parts in to do the work.  I was given a loaner Rav4 so I hope the entire thing is a non-issue.

Now that the gun parts are 3D printed I have been printing some more cool/useful things.  The Iphone 6 phone stand took FOREVER to print, something like 18-19 hours.  The reason it took so long was it utilized a .1 millimeter resolution height (gun was printed at .3 mil) and 100% infill (gun was 30%).  These settings make the files huge and the prints slow but it results in a VERY strong end product.  The stand will work perfectly to keep my phone ideally placed and angled at the office.

The other object was a 3D lampshade that was my first ever Fusion 360 project that I made from scratch.  Now of course I made it from following a YouTube video step by step but I hope sometime soon I can get comfortable enough in the software to bang out my own custom objects to a degree.

So after a one year road trip hiatus Cindy and I officially are heading back on the road in early August.  We are doing something rare in my road trip history, an entirely east cost route that will take us as far north as Portland, Maine.  Hugging the east coast during summer is less than ideal because of the summer vacationers but we wanted to try it at least once. One of the stops we have planned along the way is Rehoboth Beach where we plan to finally spread my mom’s ashes at the place we all enjoyed many fond memories.

The trip is on the short side as my work schedule the next several months sort of sucks with many weeks requiring my attendance, this was literally the only week I could sneak in before December.  It looks like the mileage each way is roughly 1600 miles so the distance compared to our 6500 mile western trips is not bad. However the fact that we are covering 3200 miles in nine total days while trying to allow ample time to sight see and explore via one wheel is going to make for some very full days.

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.