Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Brian Versus the Volcano, Part II

Previously on Brian Versus the Volcano....

(insert video montage here: some girls get the rose, others don't...crying...."but, but, but I'm pretty." Then a preview of fantastical princess fantasy dates - oh wait, that's ABC's The Bachelor)

Ok, I left off with describing the last ditch effort to ride on the day we were leaving the islands and heading back to warm sunny Iowa. If it worked I would be riding down from the 10,000 ft summit, descending about 7,000 ft in 17 miles or so.

The Summit Team was up again at 3:30 a.m. to meet our guide, Aa’Ron, at a gas station…we wait but he’s not there. I call him, no answer. We start to get worried, but suddenly beater truck rumbles in outta nowhere. He’s got everything but the bike rack for our rental car...he thought I had it ....couple of phone calls, he screeches off. I think a rusty part flew off his truck. It looked a little like this one, except it wasn't a tow truck and did not appear to be alive.

Then he’s back again, gotta rack this time. “Oh crap” he says, thinks he didn’t turn off alarm at the shop, screeches off again. It was like watching a circus clown car show, only we were in it (and I had gotten us into it). Me and 5 sleepy ladies in a Lahaina BP station, just watchin’ the most unexcellent adventure unfold.

Finally he got everything squared away and we were off. Me and Bodie were in one car and the Ladies were following us. For the next hour and a half I was immersed in the World According to Aa’Ron. I couldn’t possibly relate all the sage surfer hippy wisdom I absorbed on that drive, but suffice to say I’m waaay cooler now than I used to be. In an ironic twist he was telling me he wanted to be more like me; find “one girl to settle down with” and “start a family” and “keep a regular job”. It blew me away a little. Here he is also telling me about how he spends part of the year being a guide and support crew for a wilderness outfitter in Montana, another part of the year surfing in Hawaii and occasionally “jets to Indo” (which I later surmised to be Indonesia) to “hang and surf”.

I was all-like, “Yeah, one time when I was writing this grant the page numbers got all screwed up and I didn’t know why because I had formatted the header and footer field correctly…..and so I just said @#$% it and jetted for Indo too.”

I knew Jackie wasn’t exactly thrilled with the idea of me even doing this ride. God-love-her, she is a self-appointed Safety Officer and Danger Expert.

My adventure was redlining every single of one of her Caution Indicators.

I didn’t know she was white knuckling the drive up the twisty road to the summit as well. She later told me that she’s not really into that whole plummeting-off-the-side-of-the-road-to-your-death thing.
Aw, a rainbow

Her experience just driving up there would be important later because meanwhile....

Aa’Ron was splainin' to me that the access road to Skyline was actually a Federal road while Skyline was State property (or was it vice versa?). The National Park Rangers would sometimes close the paved access road, which would mean to get to the start of our ride we might have to wait out the Rangers and “make a break for it.” You know, that didn’t sound too good for the ole’ marriage, but I was still onboard with Bodie. Then he said something about having Jackie drive our car, with the bikes on the back, up the access road. He would jump out and move the closed barrier aside and then she could drop us off halfway up the road. This would shorten the distance we’d have to “break” for, but would make her an accomplice in our “trespass”. Uhm, hold up Bodie, I don’t think she’s gonna go for that. “This is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity Bro, she’ll do it, she loves you man.” Damn if he isn’t persuasive.

We get to the summit in time. The sun is just starting to come up. They tell you to be prepared for cold, but they didn’t tell you to be prepared for COLD. Unfortunately there was too much cloud cover and the sun didn’t break through for the spectacular light display, but you could definitely tell that it would be amazing when conditions are right.
The crater was cool though.

The whole Ranger/closed access road scene played out just like Aa'Ron said. We played it cool, super chill man. I don’t know how, but somehow I obtained the necessary clearance from Safety Officer Jackie. She, like the trooper she is, drove up there just as Aa’Ron described it and dropped us off. She got out of the car to give me a goodbye kiss. Her eyes were a little misty when she told me to be careful. I felt like a real selfish shalub. Then, off I went down the paved road just below one of the most powerful space observatories on the planet....

Oh, I'm sorry, that's all the time (or reader's attention span) we have for this episode. Please join us next time when we see what happens on "The Ride".

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Brian Versus the Volcano, Part I

Winter is stoopid.

Since there’s nothing else going on I might as well recount my ride down Haleakala last winter. WARNING: this is a long story, but that is because of it’s epicness. I know a lot of you have short attention spans and a low tolerance for "lots of words" so I decided to split this tale into 2 or 3 installments.

Our family-sized tropical escape was planned almost a year in advance. Jackie painstakingly researched and forensically analyzed every micron of information about the enchanted islands of Hawaii. We settled on going to Maui during the first week or so of the off season, in December. Neither of us had been to Hawaii so the anticipation of scenes like this was quite high:

Early in the planning process I began researching mountain bike rides. I came across surprisingly little information. Everything I found tried to steer me toward a group tour: beach cruiser, yellow jumpsuit ride down the paved highway from the Haleakala summit (which they don’t even do anymore because of all the injuries that have occurred). This ride didn’t appeal to me at all.

Then I found some information about the Skyline and Mamane Trails as well as some trail in Poli Poli Park. This route would start at the summit and essentially take me down the “backside” of the volcano. Skyline is a 4x4 fireroad leading down from the summit, through some crazy topography that looks more like Mars than Earth. Mamane is more classic singletrack through dense forest about halfway down. I was looking forward to this section the most. From there it was onto the twisty Waipoli Road and maybe some hidden singletrack and stunts along the way. The best blog I found on the subject is here.

I planned to rent a XC bike from a local shop and do the ride solo. I called a couple of shops to reserve a bike. At each shop I called a very surfer dude tried to steer me toward a downhill bike. For those of you not familiar with downhill, these bikes are really more like motorcycles – huge tires, long suspension forks and HEAVY. They are built for going down – fast. I didn’t want to die on the mountain so I backed out of the offer and decided I would just deal with it when I got to the island.

The Master Plan involved having the whole clan (me + wife + 2 kids + mother-in-law + aunt) go to the summit for the famous Haleakala sunrise and afterward I would ride down. The travel books recommended doing this the first day of your visit since your internal clock is already screwed up and you must leave for the summit by 4:00 a.m. to be there by sunrise. Ah plans, they’re fun to have aren’t they?

We arrived on the Valley Isle to find this:

A Kona Low, which is a cyclone (ah, irony) that interferes with flow of the Trade Winds (this one actually reversed the direction of the winds) was camped off shore. It created this neverending swirl of rain and wind that swept the islands over and over…..and over.

To say this was a disappointing start to our vacation doesn’t quite capture the deflation. I’ve never watched so much Weather Channel in my life. The hotel flooded, but many areas were far worse off than us, some places losing power for significant time.

Houses were washed off their foundations. There were blizzard conditions on the Mauna Loa summit. That’s right, the volcano on the Big Island gets snow, so there was a blizzard – in Hawaii. We had arrived just in time for the 100 year storm. Uhm, so yeah, we went to Hawaii for the 100 year storm, then later that same year were back in Iowa for the 2nd 100 year flood in the last 15 years.


Our first two days on the isle, and part of a third, was a complete deluge. Occasionally we’d duck out into glorious sun only to get thoroughly soaked moments later. My kids swam defiantly in the frigid pool swearing it wasn’t, “that bad” (shiver, shiver, shiver).

We’d dart back inside the hotel when the wind blew sheets of rain in out of nowhere. It was like being in a movie. We mostly huddled inside, the murderous rage (uhm, I mean frustration) building. The kids disparately wanted to play at the hotel’s minigolf course – it was flooded.

The beach was closed, the roaring surf rolling in large brown waves of sand and silt. I watched a Hogan Knows Best marathon slightly worried about the internal bleeding from all the seething I was doing. By the way, Brooke Hogan really needs to listen to Hulk, he really does know best.

As the week moved on the weather improved, this meant my dreamride was rekindled. I made some more calls to bike shops, and this is when I met Aa’Ron. Hawaiians pronounce both a sounds in word with double a’s. This means Aaron (like Hank Aaron) is pronounced Aa’ Ron (like hay, hay there’s Ron). I don’t want to be stereotypical but Aa’Ron was about as Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure as you get.

He told me, “Nah, Bro, You want a downhill bike for that ride. Skyline is mucho gnarly Bro, super fast, super fun.” In my coolest suburban Midwestern jive I said something that must have sounded like, “Uhm, yeah, cooldude, ‘cept I’m a fat, middle-aged nerdlynerd and I would prefer the girly bike. Oh, and please be sure to affix the training wheels so I don’t ruin my touristy shell necklace.”

Aa’Ron was persistent, he said he knew the mountain and would take me down personally. He would rent me his DH rig, a Canfield, a supa bad monster of a cycle.

It was like Bodie, from Point Break, was challenging me to “live life man”.

How could I resist the wisdom of Bodie Zen Master? We settled on a deal. That morning the Summit Team (that’s all of us) woke up at 3:30 a.m. preparing for a 1.5 hour drive to the summit. Checking the Weather Channel the Kona Low was unexpectedly still kicking and the summit was blanketed with rain and high wind. Aa’Ron said it was probably closed, he called a couple of his contacts who all said things were not good. We pulled the plug and went back to bed.

I tried to make arrangements with Aa’Ron over the next few days, but things never came together. The weather had condensed a lot of other things the whole group wanted to do like a trip to Pearl Harbor

and a luau

so planning was getting tougher all the time. When a third attempt was aborted last minute by Aa’Ron I gave up hope. Jackie was a little peeved that I wanted to return the Haleakala mountain bike shirt I had bought earlier in the trip. She didn’t get the anti-poser sentiment. If I didn’t ride it I certainly wasn’t going to wear a shirt like I did. I maybe a nerdlynerd, but I least know that much.

So, the last day before we were to leave we made a last ditch attempt, but that's a story for another day...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Protect This Driveway

Oh, Good and Noble Snow Tiki - protect this driveway from those that would plow in its entrance; denying entry to the poor, innocent family that lives here (or, at least, somewhat inconveniencing them).

After our last big snow we got plowed (and not in a good way). This was unfortunate because I had JUST conquered the massive ice dam from the previous plowing and this time it came right before the arctic wind blast. Its like it knew - spooky.

So, we've been rolling our SUV's over the snow for awhile in a game of mini mountaineering. All that pressure packed the snow down so it came up in big chunks. When I saw what was transpiring I did what any reasonable person would do. I stacked them.

Like many artists, I don't think this piece will be fully 'preciated 'til after I'm gone. That's ok because its value is not aesthetic alone. While beautiful, this sculpture also has utility. The mighty Snow Tiki will ward off evil plows. A word of warning: you have to be careful when constructing your own because if you build it wrong it will actually attract snow plows - and that's no good for anybody.

True beauty is fleeting and with warmer temps and sun forecast for the next several days our Tiki surely won't last, but that's ok too because once it falls over the spell of protection is complete.

This driveway is clear.

At least I think that's how it works.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The 39th Chapter in the Book of Brian

Thirty nine years ago, this handsome little devil decided it was time to make an appearance on this chunk of granite that we like to call a planet (full credit to Blues Traveler for the rhyme).

Early on he showed an affinity for his sandbox, peanut butter and the Floppy Show.

Naturally, he was quite a ladies man and always seemed to have a gaggle of young lovelies congregated around the homestead. I mean, could you blame them? The shirt really says it all.

Later in life he met his mechanical soulmate - also known mah bike. Check out the Mongoose badness. Yes, I still have it. Don't judge me.

By the time Jr. High was on the radar it was clear this Mr. Man had himself a talent for halfassing school and fullassing (the more intellectually stimulating) mischief. Man, am I glad they didn't have Ritalin or diagnoses like Oppositional Defiant and Conduct Disorder back then.

About midway through his high school years (otherwise known as Brian's attempt at a remake of the Ferris Bulleur movie) he encountered this girl. Apparently she had a plan, a vision, a long range strategy. It involved him. She said knew what was best. He wasn't so sure. One time he tried to breakup with her, she said "no".

As it turns out she was right (please don't tell her I said that).

The morning of his 39th birthday that handsome little devil got up to 6-8 inches of snow drifting in his driveway. He set to the unenviable task of shoveling it (no mechanical snowblowing assistance for this bad boy). About midway through his youngest daughter, Allie, came out to "help".

Soon, plans for a camouflaged snowfort took shape. The doorway is snugged up to the garage door and isn't visible from the street.

The incognito nature is necessary because of the pack of ruffian young boys that roam our neighborhood. They are under heavy suspicion for the early demise of the Vampire Penguin Snowman.

Ruffians, we are watching you.

Katie came out just in time to curl her nose up at the juvenile idea of a snowfort and take a quick sledding pass on the freshly Dad-plowed driveway. Thanks for all the help Katie.

I piled the snowfort high and packed it tight, carved a door and then it occurred to me: That handsome little devil did a lot of tripping, fumbling, bumbling and falling along the way, but somehow still wound up to be one lucky little devil. I hope the next 39 are as good as the first.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

With all the Guitar Hero Excitement...

I almost forgot that I went on a chilly ride last weekend. By the way, if you play Guitar Hero too long you will see those green, yellow and red blobs coming down the guitar fret at you all night - in your dreams. No rest for the aspiring rock star, I guess.

Starting at Birdland we rode the Neil Smith Trail north until running into mucho ice. We then turned around and headed back downtown. Crossing the tressle by Principal Park we came across two of Des Moines finest young minds doing - uhm, river ice research, or something. I believe that children are the future, just maybe not these two.

The trail connecting Waterworks and Greenwood Park has been ice plowed, pretty cool.

A lost soul, alas I think its too late for him.

There's a trail here, its just under a couple feet (at least) of ice.

We did about 23 miles. Cappy and I did a 4 mile jog around Grey's Lake the day before so I was pretty gassed by the end of the ride.

Corey informed me that he has ordered some studded tires for his mountain bike. So now Squirrel has trick bike chains, Rick and Corey have studs and I've got -- nuthin'. So, what's a guy to do? Poke along on an ice sheet while your buds plow right through? Oh, I don't think so.

So, in a literal case of keeping up with the Joneses I have ordered my own studs, some Nokian Extremes. They're 'spensive but I got a nice price on them with free shipping from Speedgoat

They probably won't help much, but at least I won't have any excuses - or concussions (hopefully).

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Gutterhelmet Rocks the House

Deep down in Louisiana, close to New Orleans.
Way back up in the woods among the evergreens,
there stood a log cabin made of earth and wood,
where lived a country boy named Johnny B. Good
He never learned to read or write so well, but
he could play the guitar just like ringing a bell

Go! Go!

Okay, so my name is not Johnny (and I read and rite purdy gude, thank you vury mush). I don't live in a log cabin either, but I DO have dreams of rock and roll glory.

So, after much contemplation and careful research I've decided.....

I'm going to be a rock star.

I'm pretty excited, I think this career change will suit me well. The first phase of my rock star plan? Buy Guitar Hero of course (duh.)

The game lets you customize your rocker and pick a band name. My band is Gutterhelmet, look for us at a raucous venue near you. I hope I don't have copyright infringement problems with these people. Ever since I saw their advertisement I wanted a band named a Gutterhelmet. I think they should consider it an homage.

In case you couldn't pick it up just from the name, we're pretty heavy metal. Yep, we're angry about stuff. We wear flannel shirts even though we're not cold. Even our new clothes are ripped. We have lots of leather bits with buckles and straps 'cuz everyone knows that makes you pretty tough and stuff.

Our amps go to 11.

Don't provoke us or you just might end up getting dissed in one of our jams.

If you are not familiar with the game. It goes something like this.

My game came bundled with a front man that has alcohol/drug problems and a horde of skanky groupies. I'm well on my rehab.

What could be more rock and roll than that?

Clearly, I already rock, now I just need the star part.