Aug 29, 2006

"Chug chug chug chug chug"

Since the video test below seems to be a roaring success, here are a couple more to look at.

This video was taken from the steepest part of the Mt. Washington Cog Railway. At one point, I stick the camera out the window and you can get an idea of the 37% pitch.

The steam coming up from the locomotive provided lots of entertainment to easily-amused 2-year-olds.

"I have the ticket"

Aug 28, 2006

New Hampshire, state highpoint #24

In To the Top, Reachin for America's 50 State Summits, Joe Glickman writes, "Like all self-respecting highpointers, [the photographer] and I had planned to hike to the summit", and then he goes into the reasons why he didn't. I had planned on hiking up myself, and here is my reason for not: everyone I was going with cancelled on me, and I didn't want to hike alone.

Here were the plans: me and a few friends were going to hike to the summit via the Tuckerman Ravine Trail. Meanwhile, my wife and son were going to drive around to the other side of the mountain and take the Mt. Washington Cog Railway up. We were to meet at the top, and then take one of several options down. But when each & every individual who had planned to come on the hike had cancelled, I had a choice - either hike alone, or don't go at all. Hiking alone would have been dumb, so I almost cancelled the trip when I remembered that Joey would hate to miss the cog railway. So I decided to go after all, allowing joey to do the cog railway, and my I would ride up with them.

Allowing for breakfast, it was just over a three-hour one way drive from our friend's place in Ludlow, VT to The Base of the Cog railway. We had been driving from about 8 to 11, and our reservation was for a 12pm train. In the Last few miles of drive, however, I noticed a large amount of smoke coming off the side of the mountain. It took me a few minutes to realize that this wasn't a brush fire that could potentially ruin our plans for a state highpoint and blow a 3-hour drive, but the smoke coming out of the coal-powered boiler. It was a preview of things to come.

The Mt. Washington Cog Railway is an interesting thing. Opened in 1868, it is the oldest cog railway in the world. Because conventional railway tracks don't provide enough friction to allow a train to ascend steep hills, a special toothed rack rail is added so that tains fitted with special cog wheels will climb it. The average pitch of the track at Mt. Washington is 25%, maximizing at about 37%. The steam locomotive must be modified to work in this environment - the boiler, which requires water to cover to boiler tubes and firebox sheets at all times, must be kept fairly level at all times. Failure to do so could melt the boiler wall. As a result, the boiler is tilted forward relative to the wheels so that they are more or less level on the steep railway. The disadvantage of this is that the entire line, including maintenance shops, must be laid on a gradient. As a result, almost every cog railway in the world is now electrified, with Mt. Washington being the most notable exception.

Because of its rich history and uniqueness, the Mt. Washington Cog Railway is something that many people want to do at some point in their lives. I was that way. Now that I've done it, I can't imagine why anyone would want to do it twice in their lives. The ride is loud, bumpy, and painfully slow. If the windows are open, particals of coal, some as large as pebbles, fall into your hair and clothes. If you're not careful where you put your hands, you can end up with coal-blackened fingers. And, at $57 a ticket for adults, you're going to want to bring some KY for when they bend you over at the ticket booth. You spend a mere 20 minutes at the top to negotiate the large crowds before you have to go down. Really, the only value the railway had is that my kid loves trains. Too bad that he was the only young child on the thing. My wife commented (with a straight face) that it was like riding a jackhammer for an hour. For my part, I felt like I was being teased - some of the most beautiful hiking trails I've ever seen, especially near the great gulf, were less than 100 feet away, and I was sitting in a loud bumpy train.

The railway is very steep. There is a feature called Jacob's Ladder, which has a 37.41% pitch. A pitch this steep would be a black or double-black diamond trail at a ski area. WHen you're skiing it, you realize just how steep it is. But in the train, it doesn't feel as steep as it really is, and because of the disorientation, it took about 10 attempts to get a picture that was level with the ground, even with a view of the horizon. The front of the coach was 15 feet above the back of the coach, but you wouldn't know it by sitting inside.

The summit was a frenzy. It was crowded and we only had 20 minutes. It was beautiful up there in the clouds, and I spent most of it waiting in line to get a picture at the summit sign. It didn't help that joey wouldn't cooperate on a solo shot. I had planned on hiking up the other side of the mountain from the cog railroad on the Tuckerman Ravine trail, so I walked over in that direction to get a picture or two. The Clouds obstucted my view on this side, though, so it was hard to even identify where the ravine was. By now, the train was signaling that we had to get back down, so I had to scurry off. I wasn't too happy. I took a picture of the Vans that give rides down to hikers for $12, and got back on the train.

The 3-mile ride down takes less time (40 minutes) than the ride up (well over an hour), and we spent a few minutes at the museum at the bottom. They have a couple of cool exhibits, including a replica boiler that the kids can play on. Of particular interest is the original locomotive out in the yard. Called Peppersass, because its vertical boiler resembles a pepper-sauce bottle, it was used to build the railway. After being lost for many years as it moved about the country and placed on display at exibitions, the ownders of the railway at the time decided to resotre it and make a commemorative trip for the railway's 60th anniversary. From wikipedia:

"During the ascent, the locomotive's front axle broke and the locomotive began descending the mountain at high speed. All but one of its crew jumped to safety (though some suffered broken bones) but one man did not escape and died. Although the locomotive broke into pieces, the boiler did not rupture, and the pieces were later reassembled to reconstruct the locomotive for static display."

We got in the car and drove back to Ludlow, had dinner, and were asleep by 10pm.

google video test


This is a test of google video.
If it works, you can expect to see more of these embedded on my site.

The Mount Washington Cog Railway
New Hampshire

Aug 25, 2006

6 miles monday, 9 miles thursday

well, as the title implies, I ran 15 miles so far this week. They were a tough 15 miles. monday's 6-mile run had my legs begging to quit at mile 3 - I pushed through another lap. Thursday's nine-miler also was tough - the last two miles were really long and painful. temperatures on both days were in the upper 80s, with moderate humidity. I'm starting to show a few symptoms of overtraining - my resting heart rate has gone up about 6 beats/minute, plus I'm getting a little moderate joint pain. I am going to assume that the joint pain is being caused by the cushining on my shoes wearing out (I've logged 100 miles on them), so I picked up a new pair of runners yesterday - but there's no explanation for the heightened RHR except overtraining. Next week I'm going to hold back a little - probably run about 12-15 miles total with no long runs - just to allow my body to recover a little. Convenient that joey will be out of school next week, so I can't really run during the day anyway. I am still ahead of my training schedule, but next week will allow the schedule to catch up a bit.

We're going to Vermont tonight, and to New Hampshire tomorrow morning. The Mt. Washington Hike has been postponed, but that doesn't mean joey can't ride the cog railroad up the hill. So instead of hiking, I'll just ride up with them. It'll be my 24th state highpoint. Conveniently, the vaseline I use to prevent chafing when running will come in handy when they bend me over at the ticket counter - $57 for adults to ride the silly thing.

Photos will be posted early next week.


Aug 21, 2006

Joey, me, and mike the donkey

It's a shame that the catskill game farm is closing after this year..

Aug 20, 2006

4.5 miles yesterday. 3 miles the day before.

this is what i look like after running 3 miles in 31:15 (picture taken august 8)

I was in Hazlet, NJ yesterday for a block party at my cousin's place, and yeah. There was a lot of food there and I was quite the glutton. Oh well. I sneaked out of the party and ran 4.5 miles though - it's great when someone stops their car on a busy street to ask a runner with headphones for directions - especially when the runner is 60 miles from home and not even 100% sure he's going in the right direction. And I swear - some cum dumpster jersey high-school chick in a stereotypical jersey white-trash american convertible car sounds just like screeching tires when screaming out the window when driving up to a jogger from behind - but I digress. I was supposed to take the weekend off, but my run from friday, which was planned to be 6 miles, was only 3. boo hoo, I had to run.

It did bring my total for the week up above 20 miles (20.5, to be exact).

Oh, friday...

Friday's run SUCKED. I don't know why. I took it easy because I was planning on running 6 miles, yet even at the 12 minute per mile pace I was cooked at three miles. Like I said, I'm not sure why, but I did know that I had to make up those miles. It was pretty hot, but not too hot. It was kind of humid, but not oppressively.

This is what three italian guys from brooklyn look like when standing next to an italian guy from queens:

(for scale, I am in the yellow shirt, and weight 320 lbs at 6'6". I'm from queens.)

So according to my training schedule, mileage this week was supposed to be 18 with no long run - next week would have a 10-mile long run. I did the 10-mile long run this week and 20.5 miles - so I'm ahead of schedule. In two weeks, I'm not supposed to have any long run again, but I would have a 13-miler in three weeks. Hopefully, I'll pull off a 12-mile long run this week, to stay ahead of schedule.

Gotta improve my nutrition now. No more Hazlett block party hamburgers, sausage and cupcakes, and more monster cantalope filled with lowfat cottage cheese..

Aug 15, 2006

10 miles today. 3 miles yesterday.

Yesterday, I set out to run 6 miles. I don't know why, but at an 11:30 pace, I was cooked at the first lap and had to bail out at three miles. Temps weren't bad, nutrition wasn't bad, water was ok.. it just sucked.

So today, I made up for it. I was scheduled to run 6 miles, so I added the three missing from yesterday, with interest - 10 miles total. Two normal laps of Rockland Lake followed by a 4-mile variation. 10 miles total, and I feel like I've been hit by a truck.

I just had an antioxidant cocktail.. smoothie with wild blueberries, with a blueberry yogurt base. I also added my normal mess of powder to the thing - metamucil, greens, etc., and took some antioxidant pills as well as salmon oil on the side.

Ok, the run - Like I said, it was ten miles. Temps were about 86º, and due to a rainstorm this morning, humidity was higher than it had been. Conditions weren't exactly ideal. It didn't matter- I read this book this morning:

Which is chock full of quotes like "It's supposed to hurt - If it didn't hurt, you didn't work hard enough", "Instead of avoiding the pain, relish the pain", and "Pain is just weakness leaving the body." My favorite quote, however, is this one:
The highest form of competition is self-competition, and I was proving to be the cruelest of opponents, ruthlessly demanding more of myself, relentlessly doing battle with the road, with my own body, with my mind. Pain was my weapon of choice.
And the very next paragraph:
Yet even in the midst of the tremendous punishment being dealt to my body, I absolutely thrived on the raw intensity of this moment. Beneath the feelings of hopelessness and despair, never have I felt so alive, despite - or perhaps because of - the pain."

I finished that book and just wanted to go out and run farther than I ever have.. which was 9 miles last week. So 10 miles this week seemed appropriate. Maybe next week I'll do 12. Who knows?

All I know is that I was pissed off yesterday when I wussed out half-way through my run because it was too tough (b4 I started the book, by the way) - and elated after today's run despite not being able to move.

Aug 14, 2006

kicking cancer's ass charity auction

A good friend of mine is undergoing chemotherapy treatments right now, and I'm hosting a charity auction for him on my brother's message board. Over 100 items were donated (mostly but not all ski-related.)

You should go check it out, and if you want to buy something, go right ahead.

The URL is


2.5 miles on trail, 6 miles, 3 miles, 3 trails miles, 9 miles, 3 miles

Haven't updated in a couple of weeks, so here are all my runs for that period (I do update my paper logbook)

I didn't run for three days because of an epic heatwave..

On August 4, I did something new - trail running. I've never run on trails before, and let me tell you, it's a lot of fun. It is quite intense - you have to watch out for rocks, roots, and wildlife. You have to duck under branches and avoid deep puddles and mud. I am going to add hills soon, too. It will be great. The heat was still on, but it was starting to break a little. Still, the humidity was stifling.

On Aug 5, I did 6 miles - two laps around Rockland Lake. It was very hot outside and I ended up pretty severely dehydrated. Time was 79 minutes - slower than 13 minutes/mile, which really is a testament to how exhausted I was.

The heat and lack of water taught me that I'd better stash some water at the car when I'm doing runs longer than 4 miles or so, and take a drink when I pass. I also bought a case of gatorade at costco and I'm using that during runs to help with the energy and also to aid in recovery. I used to wait a couple of hours after a run before eating to help with weight loss, but that's a controversial position - some physiologists argue that when you wait after a run before refilling with carbs, you hijack recovery to the point that you can't work out with as much intensity on the next run. So I tried it - gatorade provides water, electrolytes, and high-glycemic carbs, all of which set me up for quick recovery. Now that I've run a few times with this, I'm finding that it really helps - both during the longer runs and with runs the next day. As you'll see, my times are also improving quite rapidly - which may be a result of this strategy.

On Aug 8, I did 3 miles at Rockland Lake. Time was 31:15. Humidity was low and temp was just 78º. It was a great run. I started out slow, because of tight muscles, but from miles .5 to 2.5, I really had a great kick. Ran out of energy towards the end though, so the last half-mile was the same speed as the first half-mile.

On Aug 10, I did about 3 miles of trail running at Ramapo Reservation. The run was immediately after a rainstorm that was quite intense, and it didn't help that I ate half of a hamburger immediately before the run. The run was therefore harder than it should have been. There was a low mist in the air, and a lot of puddles, particularly on the single-track trails that I ran on. I ran for 40 minutes, but took it really slow, so I estimate 3 miles.

On Aug 11, I ran three laps around rockland lake - 9 miles. 1 hr, 52 minutes (just shy of 12.5 minutes/mile). Conditions were perfect. 71º at the beginning of the run, 79º at the end. Humidity non-existent. Unlimited visibility. Light breeze. Swans on the lake. Deer (which already have small antlers - winter is coming!) by the path. My training schedule this week called for an 8-mile run, (3, 3, 8, 3 - 17 total), and I do have a 4 mile variation of the rockland lake loop that I could have run two laps of, but I didn't feel like doing that route - I just wanted to stay on the 3-mile path. So I did an extra mile - 9.9 miles is now the longest distance I've ever continually run without walking. On this run, I pass the car twice, which allows me to stash some gatorade every three miles, which I took advantage of. It really helped, and I was never seriously uncomfortable during the run (although when I finally got to the car, it was all I can do not to lean over and fall asleep right there.) All in all, a great run. I'm very happy with it.

I also passed 100 miles total on this run. Yes, since I started keeping track two months ago, I've run 100 miles. That's nothing, however - my training schedule calls for 200 miles in 6 weeks - but that's still a few months away. (:

On Aug 13 (yesterday as I write this), I did 3 miles around Rockland Lake. For those of you who don't know, I've had a goal for over a year now to run this course in under 30 minutes. It was after church, so alex was in the car with the (sleeping) baby, and I didn't want to keep them waiting too long. So it occurred to me tha this was a perfect opportunity to see if I can finally reach my goal. I hauled ass. I passed the first mile in 9½ minutes! But I knew I couldn't maintain that intensity for two more miles - I was already pretty tired. So I slowed down to what I thought was about a 10-min/mile pace and kept that going for about then next mile and a half. At that point, just a half-mile away from the goal, I was exhausted. I had to slow down, and for a few hundred meters, I did. I picked it up a little bit towards the end, but I knew it wasn't a 10-minute pace. When I finished, I calculated my time to be 30:20. Just 20 seconds away! If I were able to maintain the intensity a little longer, I would have reached the goal!!

Oh well.

This week my training schedule calls for 4-4-6-4. (4 miles, 4 miles, etc.) For logistical simplicity, I am going to do 6-6-6 instead.. The following week, I have a couple of 3 milers - and I'll see if I finally can reach my goal then.

Aug 4, 2006

Cabinet disaster

When we moved into this place back in February, we noticed that the left side of the kitchen cabinets were sagging about an inch. Writing it off to normal settling, I didn't think much about it. However, last week, Alexandria noticed that the thing seemd to be sagging a little more. I couldn't tell, and since there were no cracks in the fresh paint I didn't think much about it. On Wednesday, when she told me that it was definitely sagging, I noticed for the first time that "fault cracks" had started to form in the paint. Fascinated, I made marks on the cabinet to see how fast it was sagging.

I made the mark on Wednesday.

On Thursday night, while doing the dishes, I opened my cabinet, and something was definitely wrong.

As you can tell from this photo, in just 24 hours, the cabinets had sagged OVER 1 INCH! Whatever was happening was accelerating.

Total sag was about 3 inches - probably 2" total since I moved in March, of which 1" in the last 24 hours.

Ideally, the bottom of these cabinets would be just under 19" from the countertop. Conveniently, I had a couple of pieces of wood that were 18" long, and about 12" wide. I also had a 3/4" plank of wood that's 12" wide and about 4' long. I was lucky.

I went to Home Depot and rented a jack for $14 (I didn't realize until later that I could use the jack in my car, but whatever), and placed the long board directly underneath the cabinet, and started jacking it up.

By the time I was finished, the marks I had made on Wednesday were now about an inch apart in the other direction.

And the cabinet went almost all the way to the ceiling.

I set the two pieces of wood underneath the cabinet, and stabilized it.

Of course, this is about as stable as a house of cards, because the only thing holding those boards in place is friction and gravity. I picked up a few corner brackets to hold things in place, but I'm not sure how effective that's going to be against an accidental knock. But at least, with a little prudence, the cabinets won't fall on us now.


Aug 1, 2006

3 miles

3-mile tempo run (right at the lactate threshold) last night at Rockland Lake.
It'll forever be known to me as the "fireflies and deer" run - saw three deer, one of them less than 10 feet away. I guess so many people visit rockland lake that the deer aren't spooked by people anymore. I started the run after 8pm.. and it was a shade before dark when I finished in 33 minutes - 11 minute miles.

After the run I met with a few friends at a rib joint 1 mile from the lake. THey were just leaving when I got there, so we chatted in the parking lot for ten minutes and went home.

Good workout.


Mt. Mansfield - July 29, 2006

A friend, who has a house in Ludlow VT, was having a party there and my family had been planning for months to go. As much time as I spend in the mountains of Vermont, I have never been to the highpoint, which is a mere ½ mile from the top of Stowe ski area's gondola. I have skied at Stowe, and have ridden the Gondola, but never bothered going to "The Chin" of Mt. Mansfield, which at 4393 feet, is the highest point in Vermont. Somewhere along the line, I got the bright idea that the party would be a good time to pick up a state highpoint. Paul, a skiing buddy, wanted to come with, and the plans were set.

because of a last-minute family emergency, Alexandria couldn't come to VT, so I hitched a ride up with Paulie, and we arrived Friday afternoon. By friday night, because the weather was so oppressive even in VT, we had almost decided to cancel the trip to Stowe, which is 2 hours from Ludlow. Figured the hike would be miserably hot. Going to bed, we decided to "play it by ear", and, thankfully, come Saturday morning the weather seemed comfortable and Paul wanted to hit the road before it got hot, which we did at 8am. We made a couple of stops and arrived at 10:20am.

Paulie at the trailhead

By the time we put on our hiking socks and were all geared up, it was 10:40, and I started one of the steepest hikes of my life. The trail gains 2700' in less than 2½ miles, and while it wasn't too hot, the humidity above about 3000' was 100% (the summit was socked in with clouds.) I decided to take it very slow - even though my running has reduced my resting heart rate to just 58, I still weigh well over 300 lbs and moving that much weight 3000 feet takes a lot of energy. Paulie weighs a lot less - about right for his height, but is not conditioned like I am - plus he smokes about a pack a day. So we chugged along at about 1 mile per hour, which for most people would be excruciatingly slow. For us it was just fine. The ground and rocks were wet, but there was no rain below 4000'.

Covered in sweat after climbing about 1800 feet

The route we took was the "Long to Profanity" trail. Here is Summitpost's description of the route. The Long Trail is one of America's classic hiking trails, extending a couple of hundred miles in Vermont north to south from the Canadian border to the Massachusettes border, following the Appalacian trail from Killington Peak south. The profanity trail is a ½-mile long spur trail that leaves the Long trail about 800' below the summit and rejoins the trail on the ridge on the other side. The total hiking length was about 2.4 miles. We chose to do the Profanity trail because it wasn't as technical, and I wasn't interested in climbing class 3 and 4 exposed rock in wet conditions after climbing 2600 feet. Summitpost describes the Profanity Trail as a "high-stepping, slight scramble for .5 miles and a gain of 850'. The route is narrow and can be slick, however never requires anything more than class 2 scrambling." I call it a "God-damned death march" because I'm gaining 850' in a ½ mile. Steps were as high as about 4½ feet. Oh, and it started raining.

It tops out right at treeline.

"Welcome to the Alpine Zone of Mt. Mansfield"

Happy, at the end of the death march.

Once we were on the ridge, it was relatively easy hiking to the summit of Mansfield, where we arrived at about 1pm.

Summit photo

My official highpointing web page Vermont thumbnail.

We had great views of everything within 100' of the summit

At the summit, there were a couple of people hanging out who worked for some agency or non-profit or something (I don't remember exactly), and apparently, it was their job to be on the Chin at the time. One of them was a woman who provided some extremely helpful information - the Stowe Gondola was running, and for a fee they would give us a ride down. The trail to the Gondi was sketchy, but not too long.

The helpful woman is on the right.

It took exactly 0 seconds of discussion to decide that we would rather save our knees from the steep hike back down, and since the "Cliff Trail" was further down the ridge, I was excited to spend that much more time above treeline.

We probably spent about 30 minutes on the summit before getting the hell of out dodge. Conditions on the summit were... refreshing. Temps were about 60º, wind was about 50MPH, and there was light rain that the wind drove into you like bullets. In my infinite wisdom, I had no extra clothes, but I was really comfortable - it cooled me off after a tough hike.

Hunkering down behind a rock, drinking some water.

The Cliff Trail to the Stowe Gondola was difficult. It involed class 4 rock, and the wet conditions weren't helping. I did not take any photographs. I was too worried about falling into one of the 15-foot deep rock crevasses that would have swallowed me whole. Fortunately, it was short - 800 feet of elevation loss total (probably half of it was between the summit and the top of the Cliff Trail), and maybe ½ mile total. We took about 45 minutes to get to the gondi because it was so damned technical. WHere it wasn't technical, the sloping rock was slippery enough that we got on our butts and slid down. Stowe wanted $12 for a one-way trip down the gondi (nobody rides for free at Stowe) and it was a ¼-mile walk back to the car.

Relaxing after a hard hike. (compare to the trailhead photo)

We were back at the party at 5:30, and we showered and relaxed. The rest of the night was characterized by a fascinating combination of alchohol, fireworks and bonfires, but that's a story for another time.