Sunday, December 30, 2007

Tennessee Trip - Knoxville and Home

On our last day in Tennessee we drove to Knoxville, home of Big Jean, my life-long friend and mentor. My parents were, of course, most responsible for my childhood development and raising me with honorable values and work ethic. But Big Jean has had a different type of influence on my life in the 38 years I've known her. I was her daughter's boyfriend in my teenage years, a time when nothing my parents had to say meant a thing to me. She was a worldly and wise figure to me, and though I was not to pursue a college education until much later, she recognized my curiosity and potential and steered and encouraged me to better things. The opportunities I have had in my life are largely due to "going through open doors" she pointed me toward.

We drove the interstate from Chattanooga north and I was amazed at the never ending suburbs approaching Knoxville. I'm really sick of the urban sprawl around my home in Mississippi, and I have to remind myself that my neighborhood was built in the 70's in a pristine forest by the water, I'm sure to someone's angry dismay.

We arrived at Big Jean's shortly after noon. Big Jean seems to always be in great spirits, in spite of current health challenges. We enjoyed a burger at the famous Litton's Market & Restaraunt, shared a short but wonderful visit and headed back south towards Chattanooga. We decided to try to make it all the way home, and arrived at around 9 that evening.

It was a great trip, and I'm glad I do this blog so we'll have a means of enjoying the memories.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Tennessee Trip - Chickamauga Run

Even on a holiday weekend vacation there is no escape from the half-marathon training plan. I needed to do an eleven mile run while we were in Chattanooga. So, before our trip I Googled the Chattanooga Running Club and found that a marathon had just been held at the Chickamauga Battlefield nearby. Then I found the blog, Georgia Runs, and was assured by Brian's description that it would be a great place to run.

After our Rock City/Ruby Falls adventure we drove to the park and asked at the visitor center for maps and distances and found there are numerous possibilities for running and hiking. The park is full of trails and narrow roads, including a well-marked tour of the battlefield monuments and features. The tour is about 7 miles, so we used the truckster's odometer to measure along the route and continued another 4 on our own. It worked splendidly. Wifeunit had her map with my water stops marked and approximate times and distances.

Early the next morning the weather was great - 35 degrees and clear - and I started my run. Wifeunit listened to a book on the car CD player and drove off through the park, lying in ambush to snap pictures of me and the other creatures. The deer in the park are remarkably tame, surely aware of their relative safety from hunters. We sometimes saw herds of 20 or more in the open areas of the park, grazing calmly like cattle on a farm.

I found this to be my most satisfying run so far. There was almost no traffic to deal with, while the curves of the roads, the deer and historic monuments took my mind off the work of running. I don't use an Ipod, so any distraction from the grind is great. The park has only one bothersome short steep climb, a beautiful spot known as Snodgrass Hill, but the rest of the road is mostly flat and easy.

After the run we retreated to the hotel, ate a quick lunch and took nice nap. The remainder of the day we spent at the Chattanooga Aquariums. That night we ate at a fabulous restaurant near the hotel called Niko's Southside Grill. If you're staying in downtown Chattanooga, give it a try.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Tennessee Trip - Tourists in Chattanooga

Our drive continued from Iuka, Mississippi to Chattanooga, Tennessee via the Natchez Trace and Highway 64. I avoid the interstate highways whenever possible. I hate the big trucks and traffic, and it just seems less stressful to take a back road. Hwy. 64 isn't exactly a back road, but it's the way I chose to go. As we left Mississippi we encountered patches of heavy and moderate rain all the way to Chattanooga. I had planned to take a back road into the city, but because of the weather and darkness, I thought it safer to take I-24 for the last 20 or so miles into the city. Ten miles from town the traffic on the interstate came to a complete stop. We spent the last hour of our day-long drive in gridlock, within sight distance of our destination.

The Chattanoogan Hotel is a nice place in the middle of downtown. Since it was a holiday, there was hardly any traffic, and nobody at the bar. What a great end to a long day - chatting with the bartender while sampling microbrewery draft beer and appetizers.

The next day was spent doing what tourists do, seeing the cheesy attractions. Unless you're like us, children of the 50's and 60's with more curiosity and spending money than good sense, you will avoid Ruby Falls and Rock City. In the South during the 1960's, a traveler on the old highways could count on finding "See Rock City" painted on the side or roof of a barn along the way. (Follow this link if you'd like to know more ).

Neither of us had ever seen these legendary wonders, but we both had vivid memories of the roadside advertising. Now that mission is behind us, and we have a "See Rock City" birdhouse on the basketball goal post in the front of our home.

We had a great time, though. I was surprised at the number of Asian tourists, particularly Japanese. They seemed to be enjoying themselves. Pictured below is Wifeunit capturing a rare moment - a Rock City Gnome, carelessly vulnerable to keen-eyed tourist photographers.

Here's a look at one of the breath-taking dioramas depicting one of the industrious "3 Little Pigs". There were lots of these Mother Goose/Fairy Tale characters around. It took us minutes to appreciate the beauty of it all.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Tennessee Trip - Toenail Cemetery

Another branch of Wifeunit's family has inhabited the northeast corner of Mississippi around Pontotoc, Biggersville, and our next stop, Iuka. We were in search of the elusive Toenail Cemetery, where we hoped to find the gravesite of great-grandmother Akers. There was some doubt whether "Toenail Cemetery" actually existed. Well, it does. It has since been renamed Mt. Evergreen, and it's full of old markers from the 1800's, many too weathered to read. We learned there are Confederate soldiers buried there who were killed at the Battle of Corinth nearby. We didn't find the Akers gravesite but it may be there, just not identifiable.
The word "Toenail" is barely legible in the photo above, just below the cross in the wrought iron arch. We hope someday to find out the significance of the name.

Tennessee Trip - Birmingham Ridge

We loaded up the family truckster and hit the road again for the Thanksgiving weekend. Chattanooga was our destination, but on our way up the beautiful Natchez Trace we stopped at Birmingham Ridge north of Tupelo. Wifeunit has stayed in touch with family living there but has never visited. Those family members have been part of the land for several generations. We had intended to call and announce our visit, but couldn't catch up with anyone. So driving in a light rain we decided to just go down what we thought was the correct road, just to get a look at the area. I said to Wifeunit, "That might be their house up ahead. We won't stop unless we see someone outside." There on the front porch, staring at the falling rain were the relatives we had sort of hoped to see, but now we were caught staring at them. I could do nothing but turn around and go back. We had a nice visit for an hour or so, while other relatives from around the ridge must have noticed our presence and dropped by to look at us. If you're guessing this was a rural area, you are correct.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Chattanooga Thanksgiving Trip

Coming soon will be photos and commentary from our Thanksgiving road trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee and points beyond, but for now I will just say we had a great time. I want to break up my report into topics with pics, and that will take some time.

To my Tri friends: I was able to work in my 11 mile training run for the January half-marathon while we were away, running at Chickamauga Battlefield National Military Park. Thanks to Wifeunit and some great weather, it was the best run ever!

More on everything to follow.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

November Already

I can't help it. I hate cliches, but time really flies when you're having fun. Fun has been had, like on the first November weekend when we drove again to the Mississippi Gulf Coast for the Peter Anderson Festival. It was the best we've been to. It was a super nice day, the crowds were big but not so big that you couldn't navigate freely. Best of all there were more food and beer vendors than ever before. Food and beverages are essential in my role as pack mule during these events. We met up with ML, Harry and Mike using cell phone technology, browsed the hundreds of booths, ate tasty food and didn't spend much money!

Yesterday and last weekend, my friend Paul and I were back riding the Natchez Trace south of Clinton. We rode 52 miles last week and 60 something yesterday, beginning just south of I-20 to Rocky Springs and back. The weather was a little cool at first but warmed up to perfect later. At the Rocky Springs stop I noticed a small, thin man with binoculars hanging from his neck, gazing around and up in the trees. I knew he had to be a birder, so I leaned my bike against a tree, walked over and introduced myself. He was camping in the park in a converted van and had been travelling the Trace for a couple of days. He was from Joshua Tree, California and had hoped to see some eastern birds on his trip through the South. We discussed Red Headed Woodpeckers and Black Vultures, and he was surprised to learn that we nearly always see wild turkeys on our rides. He was really impressed when I told him we had seen a Red Fox only an hour earlier.

My half-marathon training is still on schedule. November 9th I ran 9.6 miles without too much difficulty. I did get pretty hot - the old "Pink Barney" look - and was chafed at all the usual spots. I had to go to work for a while after my run, and I felt pretty worn out for the day. I'm scheduled for 11 miles next Friday, but we'll be on Thanksgiving vacation in Chattanooga and Knoxville. I guess I'll take my running stuff just in case there's an opportunity, but I may have to take the next Monday morning off work to get the run accomplished.

A swim meet in New Orleans and a business trip to New York are on the December calendar, along with visits from family for the holidays. Time marches on...quickly.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Bear Affair

After a quick discussion on what we should do for our Saturday entertainment, Wifeunit and I decided to get up early and drive the 90 miles to Rolling Fork for the Great Delta Bear Affair. There would be arts and crafts for her to browse and a choice of a 5k run, 30 mile bike or 60 mile bike for me.

I opted for the shorter bike ride in case my legs were still tired from Friday's run, and 4 hours of arts and crafts would test even the Wifeunit's legendary browsing endurance.

There were about 30 riders, some from Jackson Metro Cyclists and from Greenville and other Delta towns. I fell in behind the main group to see if I was able to hang with them. We were out in the flat countyrside, no hills and light traffic, turned south at Grace, cruising at a 20-22 mph pace. I was keeping up well until we made a turn onto Hwy 1 and the pack strung out into 3 or 4 smaller groups, including my group of 1 in the rear. I guess the strongest riders in front decided to test the rest of us on that stretch of highway through Mayersville. I caught up at the rest stop, which was also the turn-off for those doing the 30-mile leg. The 60 mile riders continued ahead to Fitler and Onward, then back north through Cary and back to Rolling Fork. I was the lone rider to choose the 30-mile, or at least any others were still far behind.

It was a new experience riding completely alone on a narrow road in Issaquena County. I had directions and a map, so there was no danger of getting lost, but I had no idea what the road ahead of me would be like. Well, if you're from that area you would guess what was ahead - cotton fields and an occasional farm house. Fortunately, I was able to sneak past a few large sleeping dogs, my only real concern. When I got to Hwy 14 to turn east back to Rolling Fork, a Sharkey County Sheriff's deputy was waiting at the intersection and asked if I was the last rider. I told him I was actually the first of the 30 mile group, but maybe last, too. I guess he couldn't decide what that meant, but he escorted me in his patrol car the remaining 4-5 miles into town. That was great not having to worry about the traffic blasting by from behind.

By the time I arrived back at the car, Wifeunit had already become bored with the festivities and had been reading at the nearby library. So we loaded up and were back home before 1 pm, napping the afternoon away.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Crucial Test

I used my Friday off (it seems I only use about half of them) to move into uncharted territory of my half-marathon training plan. In case you weren't aware, I've committed to the Mississippi Blues Marathon, January 5th, 2008. I'll only do the half. I've never run more than the 10K, or 6.2 mile distance required for the Heatwave Triathlon, and only that distance a dozen or so times. Now I'm up to 8 miles.

Last weekend at the PPP, I struggled in the 80+ degree heat to do 5 miles. Yesterday morning at 8:30 the weather was 49 degrees and clear, no wind. I mapped an out and back course of 8 miles that started at my driveway and conveniently made the turn at the tip of the boat ramp parking lot 4 miles later. I thought I could do it, but decided if I struggled badly I would give up on the long distance running.

I made it easily. My legs began to falter a little with less than a mile left to go. Now I'm even looking forward to next Friday's 9.5 miles!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

October Report

The Mitchell-Pittman team was once again on the awards podium (the clearing by the dirt road at Wolf River Canoes) to receive their first place trophy for Men's Team - Open Division at the Paddle - Pant - Pedal Triathlon in Long Beach, MS. The Gulf Coast Running Club has put on the race now for 28 years. It's fun and tough, and attended by seemingly the same small crowd every year. I know I'm going back as long as I'm able. There should be some photos from this year's race posted on the GCRC site pretty soon. Who doesn't love a post-race snack of cold beer and boiled jumbo shrimp !?

As I wrote a year ago, this is a busy season for us. Every weekend is booked with some sort of activity.

(Vickie D. King/The Clarion-Ledger)

WellsFest was nice and brought family up from the Coast.

A fish fry the next weekend with some neighborhood friends included fried bream and catfish and grilled trout. I hope we get invited back again.

Our Fall canoe trip was wonderful again, and I added some spice by assuming the trip was for one overnight camp while everyone else was prepared for two nights. A huge stroke of luck and great family enabled me to get back in time for an important Monday meeting at work.

I wish I had photos of all the images in my mind of these wonderful things -scenes of my friends and family fly fishing on Black Creek, a glistening armada of kayaks slinging arcs of water in the early sunlight on the river at the PPP Triathlon, the fall wildflowers along the roads we travel on our weekend adventures.

Life is good.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Summer Winding Down

Fall has arrived on the calendar, but in Mississippi it's still summer for a while. We had a nice cool spell last weekend, which was great timing for the my second Delta State Triathlon. Cool weather allows me to run a little faster and not overheat.

I actually won 3rd place in my age group, and there were 6 of us. Jeff Skinner of Memphis won the overall male masters and he's in my age group, so there were really 5 competing for the 3 places. I think maybe someone was racing with his 13-year-old daughter, so maybe I only beat one guy. Whatever.

Something I discovered while looking at the pictures Wifeunit took of me at the race has got me puzzled. This triathlon included a 500 yard pool swim with a person counting the laps signalling with a red card when the swimmer made the final turn, or 19 laps. I am a faster swimmer than the person who shared a lane with me, and he was behind me each lap. But when I saw my red card and finished the swim, he was already out of the pool, and his bike was gone from the rack in transition. I wouldn't have noticed but for the pictures. Who knows what might have happened, but I'm thinking the girl counting our laps gave me my red card on lap 21. I was looking for it when I thought I was on 19, but it's easy to get confused in a race.
It's easy to get confused in a race and do stupid things, like the time I put my bike helmet on backwards. Fortunately, a transition worker saw me and I got it turned around before I mounted. At this last race I did one even better. I took off on the bike and started getting comfortable when I felt that my helmet was too tight. I checked for the pointy end being in the back, and it was. There was no way to take the helmet off without stopping, so I just tried to forget about it. When I finished the bike leg and pulled my helmet off I discovered I still had my swim goggles on. Fortunately, the red rings on my forehead went away after 10 or 15 minutes.
Wifeunit and I had a great time getting out of town for a change. We stayed in Cleveland Friday night, did the triathlon Saturday morning and drove to Rosedale, Greenville, Leland, Indianola and Greenwood. We stopped at the Greenwood airport to visit an old friend I worked with for 20 years in Jackson. We took the back roads, as usual, and wondered what it would be like to live way out in the country. Where do you go for groceries? Twenty miles away?

Monday, August 13, 2007

It's Been Really Hot!

I left home Saturday morning at 4 am, on my way to the Cotton States Triathlon in Lake Providence, Louisiana. Even with a 10 minute train delay in Tallulah, I was racking my bike in the transition area by 6:20.

I finished the swim leg 1 second slower than last year. The bike leg was a minute and a few seconds faster. The run was awful. It was hot. I carried a water bottle to pour on my head and had to have it filled at the water stops. I've been training as usual, trying to push myself faster, but any gains I recognize on the home trail at 5:30 am temps are lost when I have to run in the sun after 8:00. My 5k time in a November race is nearly 5 minutes faster than in the heat.

Anyway, the Cotton States Tri is a fun race. The small town's Junior Auxiliary does a super job with what they have, and the local law enforcement is everywhere on the bike course. The turnout for the race was lower than usual, and I'm betting it was because of the heat forecast of 102 degrees for race day. I sure felt it.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Heatwave Classic Triathlon 2007

The 1st wave of swimmers in the 2007 Heatwave Tri is about to start their 1/2 mile swim in the picture above. I was soon to follow in the 3rd wave. This was my second appearance at this event, the hometown race I consider the high point of my triathlon season. I'll do a few more but this is the big deal for me.

The swim leg was a great improvement for me over last year. I shaved about 4 minutes off my time, thanks to smoother water, a better strategy, and an additional 125,000 yards of swim training.

At right, 3 Legends of Swimming: myself, Niece of the South Woods, and Flowood Fighting Flounders Masters Swim Team Founder, K.E.. Of course we appear calm and relaxed, but what is really going on under that facade is what makes me love this stuff. A mixture of fear, excitement, determination and a strong desire to pee or throw up even though you don't need to. Swim finish times, respectively: 16:02, 13:35 and 13:47. Not bad at all.

My trusty bike awaits on the rack in the transition area. It's not fancy - an early 1990s vintage Dave Scott Ironman Centurion. I found it on EBay for $150, and then had Gary at Pro Bike go over it completely. He changed the handlebars, added aerobars and moved the shift levers, gave it a new paint job, new front ring gears, a new seat, cables and I bought a new set of tires. I am told the frame is still one of the best steel frames ever made. Not as light as the high-tech carbon and aluminum, but smooth and comfortable.

This year's bike leg was a little strange, in that we were mixing with stopped traffic while the inbound and outbound racers from the bike and run intersected. My friend KayVee's blog describes her experience with her usual entertaining skill at Tri 3X Fun. She adds that there was a timing and distance problem with the course also.

I was able to finish in 2:50:04, a 3 minute
improvement over last year. With an adjustment for the bike leg maybe I did even better. It was much hotter than 2005, so my run training only earned me a few seconds improvement. Running is my weak link, but I will continue to work at it. I have so much fun doing this stuff... I can't quit now.

Red Creek May 2007

Our annual Memorial Day Weekend Canoe Trip was another great one. It was Red Creek again, this time from Ramsey Springs to Highway 57. This trip was two nights camping on the sand bars and some great water for a leisurely float. The only thing that kept this trip from being one of the best ever was the Saturday afternoon encounter with dozens of ATVs.

I consider ATVs, more commonly called 4-Wheelers, a scourge and a nuisance. Fun to ride, I'm sure, but the noise and damage they cause in the wild, peaceful outdoors is enough to make you wish they were never invented. They are an obnoxious vehicle whose primary purpose was to make the mighty deer hunter less inconvenienced by having to walk in and out of the woods with his equipment and kill. So what do you do with this expensive toy when deer season ends? Ride it for fun wherever you're allowed, and unfortunately for Red Creek canoeists, it is at an off-road park adjacent to one of the nicest scenic waterways in the South.
The ATV has two cousins, the Jet Ski and the Snowmobile. Both are very popular recreational vehicles and both bring the same obnoxious noise and disturbance wherever they are ridden. I believe there's a common thread connecting folks who love this kind of entertainment - ATVs, Jet Skis, Snowmobiles, loud exhaust pipes on pickup trucks, guns, killing animals for pleasure - all involve noise and mechanical devices anyone can purchase. No special skill or intelligence required. Dedication, discipline, hard work, study, practice, and talent bring rewards of personal achievement, as does a respect for nature and the knowledge gained by enjoying it as unobtrusively as possible. Not so a machine that abuses the environment and disturbs everyone but the operator.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Training Heats Up

It's the peak of my training season. I train all year, but October through December are usually more relaxed and poor weather begins in January. February, March, April and May are devoted to my goal: finish the Heatwave Classic 5 minutes under last year's time. I have my first year of triathlon experience behind me and much more confidence. Last year I doubted whether I would finish at all.

Yesterday I tried a "brick workout" that taught me something. Paul and I rode 36 or so miles at a decent 18 mph pace, considering the wind. Immediately afterward, I ran through the woods to Rice Road and on to the trail which is the Heatwave course. It was 10 am, so the 90 degree heat was not far off. I ran the outbound leg up the hills to the Crafts Center nearly all the way, but the heat and my tired legs caused me to walk up the final hill. Coming back down was no problem at a good pace, but the hills and flats in the direct sunlight slowed me to a walk. I discovered that my time was as good or better than when I refuse to walk and struggle along at a tiny-stepped jog.

Four weeks from now will be the test.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Catching Up Winter

I've been neglecting my blog again, having more fun reading other blogs that are way better than mine.

Pictures are always a good way to get this thing moving.

The scene above is from what younger folk would consider a pathetic excuse for a New Year's Eve party. And they would be right, but age has its rewards and among them is the enjoyment of family and friends with a little food and beverage, stupid hats and party favors.

Speaking of age, Wifeunit's illustrious mother passed away in January. She was highly regarded in many circles and lived a full and colorful life of 89 years. On one occasion following her funeral I was the recipient of some sage observations by one of her surviving friends. He leaned toward me and grabbed my shoulder, "Being this old does have its compensations - there are no ugly women when you're 91." Wifeunit had just mentioned how well he looked, and he replied, "You are more kind than you are accurate. For me, it's more important to feel good than to look good."

Moving on to February and Mardi Gras fun...

It's been many years since I stood on Canal Street with the crowds of revelers at the New Orleans Mardi Gras parades. I remember some of those experiences fondly, but with some amazement that I was not killed, maimed or jailed at some point. On one occasion I caught a young man with his hand in my back pocket after my money, and on others, men expressing a different interest in the front of my pants.

The Pascagoula, Mississippi Mardi Gras Parade is a much different event. The fun is still there without the hassles. There is a sense of Gulf Coast community at this parade and the many others across the area. The parades are smaller in scale and less elaborate, but lots of fun.

There are still the bead throwers on the floats, and the bead catchers.
Each year, our crew of semi-revelers gathers at an old-home-turned-office along the parade route. This choice property belongs to our great host and friend, and the gathering is a reunion of sorts for many.
You may choose to kick back and watch...

...or be wild like these hell-raisers.

Pets are welcome, though they don't all seem to grasp the spirit of celebration.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

January is Warm

This is what I think of when I'm suffering through the last long hour of work, or driving home in the bad weather and heavy traffic - Wifeunit and Dogunit curled up in their nest, awaiting my arrival. A cozy picture.

The weekend has been very warm and rain will arrive tonight or tomorrow, followed Tuesday by some colder weather. We may have temperatures below freezing, so I laid in enough wood for 2 or 3 evening fires to add to the cozy factor.