Monday, March 30, 2009


I meant to note earlier the continuation of my string of traffic stops in New Hampshire. This time, I had H, sweet B, and Jasper the Wonderdog in the car, and I was guilty, guilty, guilty.

We were heading back to New Hampshire from a weekend at home in Connecticut, along the dark and nearly deserted Route 9 between Keene and Concord. It was late, we were tired, and we just wanted to be there.

Sailing along well above the posted limit at a steady 70 (113 kph), on a rare wide and straight stretch, I saw a car pull out onto the road ahead of us and turn in our direction. He passed, and in my rear view mirror, I saw the flashing lights go on and the cruiser do a quick 180 to chase. No question who he was after. I pulled over immediately.

A very polite young man materialized at my window, introduced himself as Sergeant X of the Hillsboro PD, and asked me if I knew why he had pulled me over. “Yes,” I said as I proffered license and registration, “I do.”

“Where are you headed?” he asked, and peered in to see H sitting next to me. “Home,” I said pitifully, conveying the fact: “We just want to get home.”

He took my papers and started back for his car. H called, “Mind if I get out to check on the baby in the back seat?” Sergeant X did a little double-take, and allowed that would be fine.

When he returned, no doubt this time noticing the seemingly moribund dog in the rear, he handed back my docs, and said, “Well, you weren’t going super-fast, but, you know, the limit here is 55. Just take it easy. Get home safe.” I thanked him for his kindness, and he said, “I’ll just sit here behind you with my lights on while she takes care of the baby so no one runs up your backside.” And he did.

Protect and serve. Perfect, Sergeant X. We drove at 55 all the way home.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Mammut Stratus

Posting the picture of the Paramo Velez reminded me that I wanted to report on the outstanding performance of this jacket over this past, very cold, winter.

This is not the “Hybrid Stratus” I see more often in on-line catalogues. It has no hood, no softshell shoulders, none of that.

The plain old Stratus weighs a light 500 g., (17-18 oz.). It has a light shell; synthetic fill; a high, adjustable collar; zippered handwarmer pockets; a big napoleon pocket; two good-sized internal mesh pockets (the jacket easily stuffs into either one); a two-way zip (left-handed—is this some Mitteleuropa thing, or is it just a fluke weirdness?); a hem with adjustments at either side; and thumb loops (really helpful when you’re wearing mitts with gauntlets).

The Stratus wouldn’t be good for long in a downpour, and I wouldn't want to use it for sitting around a winter campsite, but on the move and worn over a baselayer and a 200-weight fleece, it performed extremely well in temps down to 0° F. It’s proof against wind, and the high collar lets you tuck your chin. The biggish pockets are good for gloves, buff, and ski hat. It’s the opposite of bulky and can quickly stuff it into the closest nook or cranny when necessary. I love the thumb loops

It’s not, to my mind, especially attractive, but, boy, did it fill the bill this winter on those frigid pre-dawn and after-dark walks on the wild side with Jasper the Wonderdog. It also works well in the merely cool, and because of its light weight and stuffability is a good jacket to take along “just in case” in shoulder seasons or the higher hills.

And it often turns up on sale.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Beauty contests

Congratulations (I think) to Baz Carter, corkscrew commenter on this blog a few posts back, and proprietor of his own, somewhat more riveting site, for being named Outdoors Hunk, ’09 in a hotly contest vote sponsored by Darren.

Congrats likewise to Rose Cartwright, co-proprietor of the web’s best lightweight backpacking shop, who won as Outdoors Hero.

Is there a prize? A statuette in the form of a stove, perhaps? A large chunk of Lucite of the kind the Cartwrights are getting used to? Or must the glory suffice?

And, Darren, Darren, how come no transatlantic contestants? For next year, I nominate American Hunks Daryl May and Lou LaBorwit.

Pumping iron...and antibacterial fluid

I headed up to the health club this noontime for the first time since Jim the personal trainer walked me through the machines Monday, trying to understand my inept descriptions of the exercises I need to do and translate them to the available apparatus. He did a good job, and when I arrived today I was able to do the key back exercises I need, along with the ones I want for my jiggly belly and stick-like arms.

I’ve never worked out in a place like this before, even though they are ubiquitous. It’s a little overwhelming until you get on with your own sweaty grunting. Rank upon rank of cardio machines—treadmills, stair-steppers (is this the right term?), and weird machines that seem like the awkward spawn of the other two. There’s a whole room full of stationary bikes, a smaller room with free weights, a pool, an aerobics room, and a tanning room (I suppose this isn’t a bad idea in Minnesota, where people are as fair (and as sun-starved) as those red Englishman one finds on the Costa del Sol. There’s also a little teeny track that circles the weight machines (19 laps to the mile—no thanks).

One thing really threw me. A number of the ... what? ... patrons? workers-out? ... were carrying around squirt bottles (not water bottles, but the kind counter- and window-cleaners come in, with the little lever pump on the side). They’d walk up to a machine, squirt the seat and pads, wipe them down with a paper towel, and then carry on with their exercise. I’d never seen anything like this before. I assume they were trying to remove the sweat and other grunge the last person had left on the apparatus. Some of them wiped down the machines as they finished with them, too. This all seems rather prissy to me, but what do I know? Is it standard etiquette? Should I bring my own little bottle? Or should I just grunt and spit disdainfully while scratching myself?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


I’ve always loved running in the rain. Summer evening, nothing but shorts and shoes, cruising along warm and cool at the same time, feeling like superman. Or so I seem to recall.

Yesterday evening, at the end of a drizzly day, the four of us (H, J the W, sweet B in her rolling pod, and I), headed out for a little shuffle, and just as we left home the clouds burst above us. This was no summer superman rain, however. This was more of a Scottish rain, huge drops of some bitter cold heavy substance with that little extra propulsive force a good wind can provide. If it were in Scotland, and you were walking rather than running, you might say it was a Paramo rain.

But it was also a rain I was sharing with H, my favorite running companion, and we both knew B was wheeling along warm and dry. Jasper? I think he prefers it this way. So we had a fine time regardless. The only real drawback, not discovered until this morning, was that both H and I forgot to take the usual steps to make sure our shoes dried overnight. A wet and cold start for our tootsies today.

It’s not the blade, it’s the corkscrew

The mailman arrived yesterday morning with a little package for me. It was a new Swiss Army Knife, the Climber model. (Can anyone tell me what that little hook is for?)

I needed it because, after over 20 years and an increasing number of close calls, I finally lost my old faithful. Airport security got it when I forgot to pack it in my checked luggage coming out to Minneapolis. The last time I traveled, I left it in my hand luggage by mistake, but they missed it. (Gives you a lot of confidence in the system, doesn’t it?) And once before when I’d forgotten about it, I’d been able to get out of line and mail it ahead. This time, though, they got me.

The confiscated blade had replaced one I’d lost on the trail in the mid-80s, when H was a little girl and we’d stopped for a picnic walking out from Galehead Hut in the Whites, after the long traverse the previous day from Greenleaf (my least favorite walk in the Whites). Oddly, I feel little sentimental sorrow over this most recent loss. The knife did its job, and I relied on it, but that was it.

I actually lost another SAK on my way to Scotland last spring for the TGO Challenge. I’d mistakenly packed in my hand baggage (a pattern with me, obviously) a picnic-style version, with a longer blade that was good for slicing bread, summer sausage, etc. I still feel really bad about losing that one, because it had been given to me by a close friend.

I remember reading through a thread on one of the US outdoor sites about knives. The basic question was: “Which features do you require in a pocket knife?” The lightweight people, of course, said a tiny blade was all they needed. Others plumped for bottle or can openers, scissors, or a screwdriver. I was astonished that almost no one grasped the essential point, the primary requirement of every Swiss Army Knife I’ve ever owned: a way to get that wine bottle open.

[Tenuously related story. When I was at college, the whole campus would decamp once every fall to head for Boston to watch our football team play Harvard. (We runners were there for a cross-country meet with them, but no one ever bothered with that.) One year, I fixed a teammate up with a very attractive girl I’d gone to high school with. She, in turn, got me a date with a college friend. On Saturday, in the few hours between our race and the game, we took the girls along the Charles for a picnic. We spread out a blanket, pulled out whatever it was we had brought for lunch (I shudder to think), and then David reached into the bag for the wine I had bought earlier. As he did, I slapped my head and exclaimed, “Oh, no! We forgot the corkscrew!” My former classmate took a look at the bottle, noted the price jotted on it in grease pencil, and with the cool and withering disdain that reminded me why I’d never tried to date her myself, said, “Mark, for seventy-nine cents, you don’t get a cork.”]

Monday, March 23, 2009

AT in a Day

How cool is this?

To celebrate its centennial, the Dartmouth Outing Club (DOC) is planning to cover every foot of the 2,160-mile Appalachian Trail on October 10th.

We’ll all be back East by then, close to the trail, including sweet B (class of 2030), and no doubt we’ll be out walking our appointed rounds that Saturday.

“So, what did you do over the weekend?”

“We went hiking with a group from Dartmouth. We did the AT.”

“What section?”

“All of it.”

Great idea.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Sitting civilized and solo in a Dunn Bros coffee house following over the internet the last few minutes of the Dartmouth women’s valiant loss to powerhouse Maryland in the NCAA basketball tournament.

H and A have taken sweet B off to be introduced to a school friend who hadn’t had a chance to meet her yet, and I decided that a pleasant walk to and from a comfortable venue would be just the ticket. It’s unutterably lovely to have all this nice walking essentially from the door, and decent weather to boot. Alas, I had to leave Jasper the Wonderdog in his roost under the coffee table at home. Don’t worry, J, we’ll go out later...maybe even a good shuffle with H, and sweet B in her Chariot.

Moan and groan

I thought this morning, as I lowered myself stiffly into my chair, about the massive difference between my fitness last year at this time and now.

In March, 2008, I was preparing for the TGOC, feeling strong and...fluid might be a good word. Moving well. And, of course, feeling rather smug about it all. Hubris gets me every time.

I had my Challenge experience, came home, ran over the summer and fall, and kept walking, but stupidly largely ignored the Total Gym and Reverse Hyper. These two bits of apparatus, used in combination three times a week, keep my chronic lower back problems in check, and also enhance my fast-disappearing flexibility and general strength. Since November, I’ve also been away from my 3-mile morning walks and virtually any running at all. So now I’m a pathetic, moaning, creaky old man.’s getting better and H and I have been out shuffling three times in the last three days. We’ve also had some lovely strolls with sweet B and Jasper the Wonderdog. I’m reasonably sure there’s a lot more of this to come.

Friday, I also signed up at the local health club ($80 through the middle of May to use any of the equipment, any time, 24/7. Good deal, I think). I have an appointment tomorrow with somebody who will walk me through their machines so I can set up an appropriate rotation for myself. And then it’s walk, run, and hit the apparatus three times a week until H’s graduation day in mid-May. My goal is to be moderately fit and a lot more comfortable by then. Which also happens to be right in the middle of the 2009 TGOC.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Snip, snip

It’s been a lovely week back in Rochester. H and A are reunited after being mostly apart since the beginning of January; I’m happily ensconced in my semi-permanent guest room; it’s staying light longer in the evening; and the weather has been mostly good.

Today it was downright fine. H and A, haberdashers to the canine elite, took the opportunity to dress Jasper the Wonderdog in his springtime threads.

This created enough shearings to spin and knit sweet B a sweater for next winter.

Speaking of B, she really enjoyed St. Patrick’s day.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Al Pacino, take note

Easing back into this by borrowing someone else’s work....

I’m reading Garrison Keillor’s book, Liberty. In the early pages, an older man—one of Keillor’s Minnesota Lutherans, a mechanic who would rather be sybaritically surfing in Santa Barbara—is comically and touchingly obsessed by a young woman. “She smelled,” we are told, “like young corn, buttered.”

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Still no blogging spirit

Fortunately, I believe the world will survive my silence.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Welcome back, Jasper!

The blogging spirit has not been visiting me lately. (Translation: I have nothing remotely interesting to say, about anything, to anyone.) But this morning I had a wonderful short walk with Jasper the Wonderdog. J the W has had a rough few weeks. An injury; treatment and meds that fixed him up but also gave him gastric problems; a resulting light and odd diet; general desuetude; and over the weekend, hours—16 in all—riding in the back of the car. But now he’s back.

Overnight we’ve had an impressive (and continuing) snowfall, and the streets are still unplowed. Jasper frisked and gamboled his way around the block, undulating his way through the deeper drifts, occasionally performing his amazing levitation trick, and, with lightness and wonderful doggy grace, leaping re-covered old piles of snow. When we got home, he escaped my grip in the kitchen and dove deeper into the apartment, where I’m sure (I don’t really want to look before I have my tea) he shook himself thoroughly all over the floor. He’s definitely back. Perhaps the blogging spirit (how appropriate that the initials of this vital essence are B.S.) will return as well.