Sunday, November 30, 2008

Beer Mile

OK, I'll need to see everybody's ID.

What better fun for a frigid Friday night than to expand our athletic horizons by running a beer mile?

Galloway was in town for Thanksgiving, Chase was able to round up his brother Evan and uberbiker Aaron, Joe and Amanda were timekeepers, Ethel ran the still camera, Willi took some video with my non-nightworthy cam (so no video), and Lauren would show up at the end to help survey the damage. A killer crew by all accounts.

A beer mile is the confluence of athletic prowess and competitive drinking. One beer is consumed before each of 4 laps around the track. The clock runs the whole time, so this is truly a multidiscipline event.

Venue? Um, Reno High. Notice Galloway rocking the old school Huskies gloves.

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We're still sober. Except for Aaron, who got a head start.

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Steely determination from a uniformed member of the Lesbian Ferrari bike gang

We reviewed the rules, set up our beers in the transition zone, and took a good moment to fully embrace our stupidity.

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This is really going to happen

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Underway. This is a race and nobody's taken a step yet.

Joe counted us down and when he said GO, the still night air was filled with the sound of 5 beers simultaneously opening. Aaron took the early lead out of the transition zone, Galloway and Evan exited more or less together, and Chase and I brought up the rear.

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Evan, on point, first beer down

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Dutifully waiting for their runner

I was firmly in last after the first lap but rallied and left in first for the second lap. Chase wasn't far behind and quickly passed me in the first 100m. I've never been able to hang with his top-end speed, and I started doubting my chances of maintaining any sort of a lead on him.

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Yes, Aaron chose Steel Reserve. Stud.

Chase was in the lead after lap 2, and I wasn't too far behind. Galloway, Aaron, and Evan, sprightly on the first lap, were still in contention behind me. Our stomachs were starting to feel the toll of plentiful carbonated liquid, but it was still manageable.

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Chase and I, gulp for gulp

The same pattern was repeated on lap 3. I left first, Chase soon passed, and Galloway and Aaron kept their pace up, too. This lap really started to hurt, as running speed and gastric discomfort proved to be directly related. We got back to transition and Evan was still there, about to head out on lap 3.

My task was obvious: I had to build a huge lead in the consumption category if I wanted any chance of nicking the win from Chase. Seems silly, since I'm really not much of a drinker. But I drank that beer like the night depended on it and charged out of transition, ready for the hurt.

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Every second gained on the 4th beer is crucial

I ran hard, and it hurt, bad. But we only had 400m to go, and I just had to keep from puking until I crossed the line. I could hear Chase, not far behind, and I buried the throttle out of primal fear. Coming around the last turn, 100m to go, I lapped Evan, and the sound of his footsteps mixed in with Chase's, making the margin between us indeterminate.

I managed to hold Chase off, but just barely. We came across as Galloway and Aaron were finishing their 4th beer. Safely complete, I staggered onto the grass and donated about half of that 4th beer.

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Comparing discomfort

Within a couple more minutes, everyone else had made it through, and Galloway offered a bit more of his beer to the sacred football field.

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Official timekeepers

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This is how the times worked out:
Eliot 7:48
Chase 7:50
Galloway 10:50ish
Aaron 11:25
Evan 11:27

World Record is 5:09. Think about that for a second.

Aaron unanimously won the People's Choice Award for manning up with 8.1% Steel Reserve. No other awards were given.

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Same crew, 12 minutes later

Never gotten quite that drunk in 8 minutes. All that was left was to stagger to our respective designated drivers and retreat to Ceol for a celebratory nightcap.

Is this something you should do at least once in your life? Yes. More than once? Questionable.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Woody in the back yard

Not the crispest wildlife shots you've ever seen, but he was a quick little bugger, skipping around to all sides of the Russian Olive. Heard him while I was on the back porch last weekend, studying for the GRE. Yeah. Any excuse to take a break!

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Bonus points for anyone who can tell me what kind of woodpecker it is.

A few pics from the Wynn

Just because it was an awesome (and free) mini-vacation...

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Great attention to detail and finish

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The Wynn golf course

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The pool, 55 floors below. Huge.

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Mmm, chocolate

Friday, November 14, 2008

No blimps or tires here

Forgive me while I wax nostalgic for a spell.

The preceding (give or take) 365 days, it turns out, have collaborated to form the best year of my life. Let’s get something straight right out of the blocks, though. This is not about race results, although it's got a bit to do with triathlon. It happens that those 365 days have been book ended by two fantastic races, but those days are just two of 365.

Why all the commotion? It’s simply a realization that my life has taken turns for the better in the last year and inevitable ruminations about what’s next. What was special about the year? I don’t want this to be any sort of highlight reel. It should suffice to say that the places I’ve explored and people I’ve met are enough to provide a lifetime of memories. Living in New Zealand? Um, yes.

Beyond that, forgoing the status quo of the standard career path model, leaving familiar surroundings, and pursuing some other goals did a lot to set up the state of mind that has made it a good year. There’s no doubt that the triathlon-related shenanigans I’ve gotten up to have made for lots of goodness, both through races and training and whatnot. And Ethel is certainly a huge contributor to this best year, despite all the trouble that comes along with the Irish. :)

Where it gets interesting is when money gets factored into all of this. This year has represented by far my lowest income since I entered the workforce. I do truly enjoy engineering as it keeps the mind ticking over, but engineering work usually involves being at work 8+ hours a day for 5 days a week, and it’s become abundantly clear that such a lifestyle isn’t that desirable to me. Not so much the work, but the associated American model of 2 Glorious Weeks of Vacation, which contributes to the old trap of having the money, but no time to spend it. Money can’t buy happiness, but I never knew that they were inversely proportional.

So where do we go from here? One thing I’m sure about is that I shouldn’t accept that I just had the best year of my life and that I won’t ever top it. Another thing I’m sure about is that I need to refill the ol’ bank account, because the current way of doing things isn’t really working. I’m fantastically happy but in an unsustainable mode of operation.

I’m also fully aware that there’s more to life than triathlon. It’s contributed greatly to this amazing year, but I’ve got a suspicion that largely committing my time and energy to other pursuits would have resulted in a similarly splendid year. I’ve got lots of other goals in my life. Also, after 3 ironmans in 365 days, I feel like I’m at the pinnacle of health, although a touch worn out. I’ll admit to being a bit incredulous at considering easing back on aspects of my life that have been so positive, and also to being a tiny bit scared that this last year won’t ever be topped.

This is an appropriate time to mention my unconditional admiration for those who compete in time-intensive sports while successfully balancing careers, family, relationships, and friends. I always told myself that if I were going to train for an ironman, it would have to be on my terms. I’ve been lucky enough to be in that situation, but other aspects of my life have suffered as a result. Hell, I’m broke and I haven’t been on a snowboard in nearly two years! So, to those out there who succeed in this sport while keeping everything else together: I tip my hat to you.

So, once more, where do we go from here? I don’t quite know. More goodyears would be a start.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Silverman 2008

This is a story about my second trip to the Silverman iron-distance triathlon. In case you didn’t know, Silverman is actually a word with Latin origins, with sil meaning “bringer” and verman meaning “of pain.”

Last year, this race was my first encounter with a full-distance race, and it was an unforgettable experience. I survived the race last year, and while the pain in my body lingered for weeks, my heart and mind instantly wanted to return. The lengths that Frank and Meghann Lowery go to in order to put on a first-class race are extraordinary and are a lot of what sets this race apart from any others I’ve ever done.

A lot has happened in the last year, but the last several months have been intently focused on preparing for this race; not preparing for any particular time or placing, but preparing for a more abstract metric of enjoying the race, its participants, its organization, and its beautiful desert vistas. It should go without saying that being fit enough to make it through the race is a prerequisite to any further enjoyment! Long story short, I wanted to come back to Silverman to have fun.

A lot of the logistics were the same from last year to this year. Drive down from Reno with my dad on Friday. Register. Stay at our friend Larry’s house (thanks again Larry!). Pasta dinner Friday. Meet cool people. Drop gear off Saturday. Collective anticipation and trepidation build. Eat dinner early Saturday. Fall asleep by 8:30pm.

And a few things were different this year, too. Much calmer mentally. Much worse weather forecast (talk of rain and snow and wind on race day, with windless sunny days on either side). A trip Saturday into Vegas to pick up my girlfriend Ethel at the airport. And a super-fun crew from Colorado for that early Saturday dinner- Kim and her friends Ralph, John, and Scott, all of them racing too.

I only woke up once Saturday night, and I could hear the wind outside. Saturday had been 75 degrees with no clouds and only the lightest of breezes, but that weather was long gone. After a 3:30am wakeup for breakfast and shower and bathroom time, I grabbed my bike bottles out of the fridge, dropped them into the appropriate bags, and stepped outside to toss a few things into the car. Windy. Really windy. Especially for 4:30am. Especially for race day. It was still warm, though: mid-60s and holding. We piled into the car and pulled into Hemenway Harbor at Lake Mead at 5:30am, and the wind was still strong as the sky lightened to the southeast.

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First light over T1

In spite of the wind, the volunteers were still cheerful as special needs bags were whisked away and goosebumped flesh was marked with race numbers. I caught up with a few familiar faces in the transition area as last-minute gear decisions were made and tires were filled with air. I improved my bike pump karma too: for all the races I’ve flown to and borrowed other people’s pumps on race morning, it was nice to have driven to a race and be able to return the favor!

Even though it was windy and we were likely going to see some rain, it was still really warm out and I opted to keep any bad weather gear out of my race kit. My decision to keep arm warmers off when I put my wetsuit on was final; no way I’d be screwing around getting those things on over wet arms in T1!

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Only calm water in the lake

As we got into the water to warm up, the wind was steady but everything else seemed manageable. Everyone was cheerful. A few of the relay swimmers didn’t have wetsuits on. And after some collective well-wishing, we watched as Dave Scott shoved a finger in his ear and fired off the air horn with his other hand. We were underway. Silverman 2008 was a reality, and a daylong celebration of the hard work, commitment, and sacrifice everyone had made to get to the start line began with a shriek of compressed air.

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And we're off

Without 2000 people jockeying for position like in a normal Ironman swim, there was far less danger of getting a foot to the face. My goal for the swim was to get out in a good time but without wearing myself out. Little did we know that the latter was about to become an impossibility. The moderate chop persisted for both of the out legs and the most of the first leg coming back.

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On the first leg

And then the storm hit. The wind picked up and the waves did, too. Sighting the buoys became more difficult by the minute. When we made the final turn to come back to the boat ramp, the waves were big enough that it became difficult to even see other racers, much less the buoys. I was getting knocked off-course up to 20 degrees every couple of strokes, and the bigger waves were starting to push my goggles around. I was instantly glad for every time I swam open water when it was rough out (which was de rigueur in New Zealand, that blustery rock out in the South Pacific). Sighting for the boat ramp every few strokes without ingesting Lake Mead was taxing, but I finally made it back to the relatively calm water by the somewhat sheltered dock. I knew that 1:11 was a few minutes slower than I was capable of for 2.4 miles, but considering how many people got battered about by the storm and swam half an hour longer than they expected to, I don’t have much to complain about.

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That guy is clearly excited to be out of the water.

T1 was quick. Friendly volunteers got my wetsuit off in a flash, another feller emptied out my bag in the tent and loaded all the wet gear back in, and I trotted out to the bike. The exit of T1 is up the boat ramp, and while running alongside the bike, I had ample opportunity to stare at the rainstorm approaching at 40 miles an hour.

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Storm above T1

So this 112-mile bike course has 9700 feet of climbing. And T2 is 1000 feet higher than T1, which slows us down even more. That’s enough to give this course its reputation as a monster, but today we’d have some weather thrown into the mix too. My strategy was to ride in such a way that I would step off the bike well-fed, well-hydrated, and ready to run.

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First raindrops start to fall early on the bike

The first 11 or so miles of the bike would prove to be the toughest part of the day. I crawled up to the main road at about 7 mph. After turning out of the harbor, the struggle to handle the bike in 40 mph headwinds and crosswinds was further enhanced by those deep race wheels. I’m not sure how the few people who chose to ride a disc wheel are still alive. Within a couple of miles, the rain started falling and the temperature started dropping. Any time my rear wheel bounced over a seam in the pavement, the wind would throw it sideways before it would land, sliding, on the wet pavement. I could see riders ahead with their bikes leaned substantially sideways into the wind, and at many points, aerobars were simply not safe.

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Keeping the bike upright

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Just onto Northshore Road, 100 miles left to ride

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Same bridge, different angle

Fortunately, when we turned onto the road that is the main part of the bike course, that wind mostly became a tailwind. As the road winds through the arroyos and mountains, the exposure to the wind changes a bit, but it was rarely a full headwind. It did keep raining, however, and the temperature kept dropping. It was 66 degrees when I left T1, and it would eventually cool off to 52 degrees with a steady rain. In the early part of the ride, there was even a brief spell of hail. Mmm, hail. Yeah, no arm warmers. Bare legs. Mmm. There was a period when I could feel my upper back tightening up from shivering, but I focused on keeping it relaxed and loose and that seemed to help.

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Cooling off but moving along

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More rain ahead

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This is why we race here

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Keeping the pace up

I chased down a few people on the way out and got passed by a few, too. It rained most of the way out to the turnaround, but it was short-lived after that. I approached the turnaround on a slight uphill at 37 mph, thinking about just how fun it would be to head back. Sure enough, 12 mph on the slight downhill. That was frustrating, but shortly thereafter, the constant rain eventually got the better of my bike computer, so I at least wouldn’t know how slow I was going.

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Still raining

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Desert hillside

Not too long after the turnaround, the weather perked up a little bit. The clouds started to break to the west and the wind calmed down a notch or two. Most of the climbs on the way back were sheltered from the wind, but just as I would crest the hill, I’d be faced with a headwind on the way down. All in all, not that bad, especially since it started to warm up to over 60 degrees. At this point in the race, the field had stretched out pretty far, and I went as long as an hour without seeing anyone in front of or behind me. Tired of drafting in your Ironman races? Come to Silverman.

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Climbing past Lake Las Vegas, just over 90 miles in

About 33 miles from the end of the bike is the turnaround for the half. We didn’t know it at the time, but the bad weather pushed the start of the half-distance race back about an hour. It makes sense now, as there were a lot of those racers on the course much earlier into their ride than I expected them to be. By the time I made it to the Three Sisters, the sun was shining high in the sky and I was ready to be off the bike. Up and over those three beastly 18% grades I went and continued up the Bike Path to Nowhere.

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The first Sister

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Strange sight for all involved parties

Last year, this steady climb was directly into the wind and seemed interminable. This year, it was only a crosswind and seemed to pass by in a flash. Or maybe I was just ready to get off the bike. The course leaves the bike path around mile 100, and the last 12 miles are a mix of medium and fast sections on city streets, Henderson police officers doing a splendid job of directing traffic. There’s nothing quite like blowing through a red light at 40+ mph and telling a cop “thanks” halfway through the intersection!

I finished the ride in 6:03. I really wanted to go under 6, but given the conditions, that’s quite alright. Dantley Young, who raced pro and is very familiar with the course, mentioned at the awards breakfast that he thought he’d be able to go about 5 hours flat on the bike. 5:25ish was all he could do, if that’s any indication of what the weather had done to us. It’s worth noting that with the exception of a rough stretch of road that we cover twice, the racing surface was nearly impeccably smooth and clean. A good road is a huge contributor to comfort on the bike, so that’s a nice bonus. Nutrition was simple; 2200 calories of Infinit premixed, and only water from the aid stations.

Another cheerful volunteer took my bike from me at the dismount line and sent me trotting towards the changing tent. Socks and shoes and race belt went on and out the door I went.

This run course has another 1800 feet of climbing. What’s worse is that very little of it is flat – maybe a mile over the whole marathon. Running uphill a lot will make ya tired, but running downhill a lot will wreck yer legs. I wasn’t prepared for that last year, but this year I spent a lot of training miles running downhill fast on pavement to condition my legs to the brutal treatment this course would dole out. Run strategy? Well, in the past, I’ve always found myself able to cruise along at a decent pace with capacity to spare, and I’ve never found myself out of juice at the end of a run. For this race, I wanted to find out what I could get away with.

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Scooting out of T2

The first mile of this two-loop affair is slightly downhill, so that’s a good opportunity to shake the cobwebs out and sort oneself out. My feet were still pretty cold from the bike, and my lower back was a bit tight, but I could tell that they would do the right thing eventually. I focused on keeping a smooth stride, and the miles ticked away. I saw Frank, our devilish race director, out on the course at about mile 3 and told him that we loved him, but I don’t think he could hear what I muttered under my breath (just kidding, Frank!). By about mile 7 or 8, my feet and back had awakened and I was in full swing. I came through the half marathon in 1:38. Right on! Let’s keep that up!

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Only 13 miles left and the day is done

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Photo op

I had gotten past a couple of full-distance guys on the first lap, too, and hopefully wouldn’t have anyone chasing me down. I stuck to water and gels from the aid stations on the first lap, but the second lap would see me branch out to water, gels, Gatorade, Coke, chips, and cookies. And that Red Bull in my special needs bag…tasty.

At around mile 17 or 18, I noticed that my calves were pretty tired from pushing my fat ass up the hills. Shortly thereafter, the pain in my calves was eclipsed by the realization that my quads were completely blown out - all that downhill pounding was really taking its toll. I focused intently on maintaining a good stride and staying loose, but the damage was done. Miles 19-23 were excruciating. I suppose that’s what “hitting the wall” is. After mile 23, I knew it was in the bag, blown quads be damned, and regained some semblance of dignity for a 3:35 run. It’s clear that this was not a course (or a day) on which I was able to open up with a 1:40ish half and get away with it, but at least now I know! So the whole thing was an affair of 10:54 and change, not a “fast Ironman time” in conversation, but then again, nobody comes to Silverman to put up a low number. This is a race to be proud of no matter the finishing time; as such, huge congrats to everyone who knocked it out.

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Wrecked, shattered, smashed, knackered, etc.

I took my time in the finish chute since there was nobody behind me, then repeated the post-race ritual of fluids, massage (plentiful massage therapists in the tent; spent probably 20 minutes in there), food, beer, food, congratulating other racers, and food. Only lost 3 pounds during the race this year, as the cool temperatures and cloudy skies made it easier to keep hydrated (lost 9 last year…yikes).

We stuck around the finish line until about 10pm for some familiar faces to come across, then retreated to Larry’s house for a restless night of sleep. The breakfast at the Henderson Convention Center Monday morning was fun, although the food was a lot better last year at the casino. The race announcers, Jerry and Brad, continued cracking jokes at everyone’s expense; truly funny blokes, those two.

What really topped the trip off was yet to come. At last year’s race, I managed to swing a two-night stay with dinner and a show at the Wynn Las Vegas, and Ethel and I eagerly cashed that in. Wow. What an incredible hotel. We were treated to top-notch service, thoroughly enjoyed ourselves at La Reve, the aquatic acrobatic show, and got spoiled rotten at Stratta for dinner just last night. I even shook some of the cobwebs out of my legs floating around in the gigantic hotel pool.

It was great to meet tons of people and to put names with faces, too, so thanks to everyone who came and introduced themselves. And of course, thanks to Frank for making this race a reality and to Meghann for finding such a huge group of friendly volunteers.

So with another Silverman in the books, the impression I would most like to convey is that of the camaraderie created among a group of athletes who gather to challenge themselves at a race with world-class attention to detail and unmatched enthusiasm from the volunteers. We all suffered out there together, but it was somehow inexplicably fun, especially now that my legs kinda work again.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Taper Madness

So Silverman is one week away.

I'm not good at tapering.

The idea of a taper is for the body to absorb fitness from previous hard workouts and to reach peak fitness. This is all supposed to happen in a period of days or weeks before the particular race one is tapering for.

I remember tapering back in the club swimming world; we'd have progressively shorter workouts over the course of the last week before the meet, but we were always doing speedwork anyway in normal workouts.

In the long distance triathlon world, most of our time is spent doing low- to moderate-intensity workouts to compensate for the huge volume of exercise. Simply put, if you're swimming and biking and running 30 hours a week, you can't be going hard all the time.

So we go slower, and over time, we kinda forget how to work at higher intensities. A taper in this long course triathlon world can be used to drop the volume way down but also to get some speedwork back in. And that feels great. The body is absolutely itching to race since it's got all this extra time (more on this in a sec.) each day that it's not exercising, so the shorter sessions we go out for are really fun for blowing the carbon out and going fast. Well, fast for a triathlete, which isn't necessarily fast. It's all relative.

Back to "all the extra time..."

So instead of something fun like a 6-hour bike ride, I'm firmly planted on the couch today. And today, like other days with only a couple hours of exercise throughout, the mind wanders.

"What's the 10-day forecast for the race look like?"

"Am I losing fitness at this very moment? How about now?"

"Did I do enough long runs?"

"Why am I hungry again?"

"Why isn't it dark out yet?"

"Should I feel guilty for watching the Formula 1 race again?"

"I'm hungry."

Fortunately, I don't seem to get affected too much by the taper cabin fever; the above monologue is embellished quite a bit.

Anyhow, let's shift gears (ooooh, foreshadowing).

In an effort to fill this blustery Sunday afternoon, I've no choice but to dig into the hard drive and share some pics from a recent nighttime photography session. I'm pretty new to the nighttime shutterbug scene, so instead of actually being good at it, I searched high and low for a subject intriguing enough to distract the eye from my lack of skill.

A car, a camera, and a steep learning curve follow:

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Very happy with a coupe of these. And maybe one day I'll get to own a cool car like that, too! ;)

It was either these photos or the funny story about how a new pair of bike shorts nearly wrecked my Achilles tendon a couple weeks ago, but eye candy is always better than dumb stories about spandex.

Past Detritus