Dogs Working

Our destination was Tin Cup.

Just three people live in Tin Cup. It’s a sort of ghost town making a comeback up in the mountains near Gunnison, Colorado. In summer temporary residents show up for the glorious mountain scenery and remote trails through Gunnison National Forest. But the three permanent residents mean that in winter the county plows the road just enough so they can get in and out on snowmobiles or four-wheel drives. If it snows.

It’s snowed. Snowed enough for our transportation to be happy about it. To be, in fact, ecstatic about it. Of course, snowmobiles and four-wheel drives don’t get ecstatic about much of anything, but our transportation would be a runnered sled and a team made of equal parts enthusiasm and fur coats.

Our transportation would be led by Pilgrim, running loose up the road, ranging side to side, exploring and okaying everything ahead, checking out the woods from time to time, and the whole time running. Running like only a happy dog runs, a dog doing everything possible to make the trip a success. Pilgrim is eleven years old.

One other dog ran loose as well, Lily, who functioned as a sort of dignitary. Lily’s job was mostly self-defined, but it seemed to consist of checking in with the passengers from time to time. She would run for long stretches until occasionally bumping alongside the passenger area, hopping aboard right on top of everything else, and checking things out. Five to six minutes allowed her to catch her breath, and then she’d jump off and run again.

The other eight dogs made up the team. The team is harnessed in pairs, two in lead up front, two in wheel nearest the sled, and two more matched pairs as in-betweeners. The strongest pair pulled just behind lead. They were the younger dogs, just over a year old, their speed and endurance a given.

The two passengers, seated on the sled tucked into what amounted to a tent zipped open to the breeze had a down sleeping bag for additional warmth, on top of winter coats, snow-pants, wool socks, boots, oversized mittens, scarves, you-name-it. It was breezy for the passengers, but not frigid.

Behind the passengers our driver, Becky, stood on thin rails gripping the driver’s bow in her experienced, seriously-mittened hands. Becky is owner-operator of Lucky Cat Dog Farm out of Gunnison, her operation centered around training and running sled dogs. Becky doesn’t race the dogs, and she doesn’t breed the dogs. She selects them through adoption or purchase and makes sure they have what they need to work for a living. In the morning they get dry dog food, a technical mix assuring 28% protein and 35% fat, the fat being the essential. Their evening meal is either meat or bone served in their individual living quarters which are outdoor doghouses lined with fresh straw.

All the meat and bone are processed by Becky herself. A bandsaw and cutting table create individual portion-controlled hunks of deer and elk. It’s served raw, the meat thawed, the bone frozen. The meat and bone portions are all processed during fall hunting seasons, the castoffs and extras after dressing out the game. Becky processes enough for all the dogs for the entire year, packages it all in five-gallon buckets, and freezes it. She recently had to purchase a walk-in freezer, though until last year’s warmer-than-ever winter she could keep everything preserved merely by freezing it hard in winter and housing it carefully in a shaded shed. She keeps fifteen dogs, but sometimes boards a couple for other owners.

Becky brought ten dogs for our outing, so she kidded that the others left behind would be jealous this afternoon when everybody else got back home. And the five left back would have scrounged through all the doghouses and scattered last night’s elk bones all around their enclosure, but they would all find one again. Tonight would be meat night.

For us the trip wasn’t very much work. We first bundled into the sled interior for the trip out to Tin Cup, but later spouse and I both got a chance to “drive.” I went first, standing up in the sled while it was still in motion, turning around to grab one hand onto the driver’s bow and then maneuvering one boot onto the nearest runner. Becky moved a foot and my second boot came around as we shared duties in back. There really wasn’t anything to actually do, as the dogs see the route clearly and were following Pilgrim racing along ahead. We didn’t even have to shout, “Mush.”

At one point Becky mentioned that she had spotted a lost GPS from a previous trip laying along the roadside and wanted to retrieve it on the way back before it disappeared under fresh snow. Carol volunteered to jump out of the sled and grab it while Becky and I both stood on the snow brake. The plan sounded like it might turn into some kind of desperate maneuver, but in the end the team were agreeable enough to wait a few seconds. Just a few though. Once they saw her turn back to the sled they started pulling even against both of us on the brake, and Carol had to trot and jump into the moving vehicle. She had fun, and the GPS looked OK though the batteries were out. Carol eventually tried her hand at driving, just before the dogs returned us to our vehicles parked roadside where we’d left them two hours previous.

We got a chance to meet all the dogs and help remove their pulling harnesses. They like the entire process, because it includes petting. Rico & Isaac had wheel. Smokey & Shiva pull just ahead of them. Granger & Salmon (Sammy) are brother and sister pulling second. Sisters Xotil & Dulce pull lead. Shiva back farther is their third sister. They had just run 14 miles pulling a sled that weighed, loaded, over 600 pounds. Even divided eight ways it’s a substantial task.

After a short break and some water each dog was helped into their individual riding cubbies mounted atop their pickup. Except for Rico– he takes a running start and just jumps up and in all by himself. Last we assisted in getting the big sled itself up to the top of the roofmount. When everything was stowed we said our good-byes and thank yous.

If you’ve never had an opportunity to try dog-sledding I highly recommend the experience. Even to a rookie it was obvious how wonderfully happy these dogs are just to pull. Their rambunctious enthusiasm to get started included loud barking and a lot of jumping in place.

Just dress as warm as you can, because the main idea is that you’re traveling over snow. Pulled by eight small engines in warm coats.



Five keys

This is me earlier in the month on a fitness walk in Florida. I was going pretty slow, but it was the longest walk I’d done in several weeks.

There’s that old joke where a guy says he doesn’t drink anymore, doesn’t smoke anymore, and only eats foods that are good for him. “So, are you living longer?” asks his friend.

“Not sure, but it certainly seems longer!”

And you can’t take all the good advice with a grain of salt, either. Not if you’re watching your sodium. But the American Heart Association is plugging away at it anyway. Their list:

  • Not smoking
  • Eating healthy
  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining a normal weight
  • Drinking alcohol only in moderation

If you do those five, then your life expectancy is increased. But Dr. Frank Hu at the Harvard School of Public Health is quoted as saying that only about 8% of American adults stick to all five. Of course, four of the five items contain wiggle words: “healthy” eating– “regular” exercise– “normal” weight– “moderate” drinking. They all need definitions before we really see what is involved.

I do a pretty decent job with all five. However, I figure I smoked maybe a half pack a day up until the time I left home for college at 17, not on purpose, but family members smoked in the home. I eat pretty well, if you don’t count pizza, and I exercise a lot, including cardio, weight training, and trying to touch my toes. I’m getting close.

The weight thing fluctuates a bit, not because I’m a yo-yo dieter but just because of varying activity levels– right now I’m up a couple pounds and having just a bit of trouble buttoning the jeans. I’m all right though if you don’t expect me to talk. Or sit down.

The trouble is that I injured my foot in January. It’s now been three months, and I’m still in the healing process, with one of those orthotics in place helping take pressure off the arch. It helps my foot to keep the weight down, but with an injured foot it’s hard to walk distances and running is out of the question. It’s the vicious circle.

For cardio I’m sticking to indoor biking, or rowing on a machine. Rowing is really good for you, but it’s strenuous so even 15-20 minutes is quite a challenge. And I have to go to the club instead of walking or jogging from home.

On the other hand (actually both hands) the push-ups are going well. I’m shooting for 100,000 pushups by the end of the year– that’s about 275 each day. It’s a lot, but I do them in sets of 25 or 30 at a time & just try to fit them in sometime during the day. Right now it’s 10:45 in the morning and I’ve already done a total of: 0.

OK, typing that number motivated me to get down and get started. The first set is always the hardest of the whole day. It’s the last day of April and my total to date 32,600. That’s pretty good, but a little math tells me that I’ll only reach 99,000 unless I pick up the pace a bit. Good old math.




Getting your kicks with a nature fix 

I am deep into The Nature Fix. This 2017 book by Outside Magazine contributor Florence Williams provides a breezy way to kick yourself into higher gear: get outside. No, really, just get outside!

Her book is twelve chapters and an epilogue all about experiences in nature that make people better: calmer, happier, more resilient, and maybe more human.

Her writing style is clear and energetic, and she does a good job interspersing her own experiences into what she is reporting about. Things I’ve learned so far:

  • The affinity of people toward nature has a name, biophilia, or love of life. It’s why we like to walk among trees, and why children want to hold teddy bears.
  • There are on-going research efforts in several countries designed to study and quantify the specific impact of natural experiences on human physiology. Lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, less anxiety, and many more effects turn natural experiences in the woods or waters into legitimate treatment options for many people suffering in various ways even from deep depression and thoughts of self-harm.
  • Japan has the third highest rate of suicide of all nations. 65% of Japan is forested, yet the population, so highly urban, must make special effort to visit.
  • The single-most suicidal nation? South Korea, where one of the most extensive nature reserves may turn out to be the DMZ. It’s two-and-a-half miles wide and runs the entire width of their country, yet has been off-limits to exploration for half a century.
  • According to one researcher (Ian Alcock) the three steps to human happiness boil down to, “get married, get a job, and live near the coast.” He isn’t talking about being wealthy enough for a beachfront villa as his studies controlled for differences in income. Simple proximity to water seems to have a protective effect against the slings and arrows of modern life.

Worlds 2018

Last week in Netherlands we watched World Championships in Track Cycling. Team USA had some great results, and Eric and teammies performed in awesome fashion.

There were six guys and eight women for Team USA racing over dozens of events for five day in Apeldoorn.

In starting position

Eric’s first race was Team Pursuit– four guys blasting around the 250m track as fast as possible. Their team of four own the American record time, just over 4 min. to cover 16 laps or 4 Km. They start together, fall into line, and take turns on the front sharing the hardest position.

Waiting for times

You race against the clock in the qualifying round, then in the championship round the four fastest teams face off for Gold, Silver, or Bronze. One team loses out.

Team USA Eric on left with beard, arms crossed

How did they do? Their time of 4:04 was third best when they finished but many of the fastest European squads hadn’t gone yet. They finished out of the qualifying teams– so no medal chance– but it was a kind of victory just to qualify for Worlds in the first place. The USA track cycling program is improving and ready for the world stage.

And the women’s team did better than the men’s. A lot better.

Brugge: say it “BREW-ka”

We are in Bruges, Belgium. In their own spelling, Brugge, (meaning bridges)  is pronounced pretty close to “Brew-ka.” It’s about as scenic a European city as you can find, all cobblestone roads and gabled architecture. Everything to eat is delicious, so it’s a challenge to avoid stopping into every single brasserie, bistro, cafe, bar and restaurant we pass.

For lunch I had Croque Monsiuer, usually translated from French as “Mr. Crispy.” Basically it’s French for a grilled cheese sandwich with ham. His spouse Mrs. Crispy has an egg added. Both are delicious, but Mr. C costs 10 E, and Mrs. C 12.50 E. Who pays 2.50E for an egg?

Yes. Mr. Crispy was delicious, and came with a small salad.

Belgium is more famous for four other edibles: the fries served with mayonnaise (delicious), the waffles with whipped cream on top (doubly delicious), the fine chocolates (to die for), and the Belgian beers (OMG).

Last trip — yes, we’ve dined here before & should have known better than to tempt fate — we met an American couple after they’d done a chocolate tasting in Belgium. A mom and adult daughter, they were contemplating moving. But doubted they would find work in the chocolate industry, because it would have been impossible to visualize selling slices of paradise. Something like that, anyway. On their tour they visited five Belgian chocolatiers, in increasing order of taste & expense. Their first stop was Godiva. So that represented the bottom rung apparently. From there the ladder ascended straight to heaven.

We have not done the chocolate tour, preferring instead to tour Belgium through a liquid route. That liquid is golden and has a foamy head.

70,000 . . . pushups?

Last year I did 70,161 pushups.

WHAT?! (That’s a common reaction)


WHY? (That one comes up sometimes too)

The pushup thing started simply enough in 2013 when son Eric (he’s a pro cyclist) mentioned that a former coach was advocating a fitness goal he called the Pushup Challenge: you start with one pushup on Jan. 1, two on Jan. 2, three on Jan. 3, and so forth all year long. You gradually improve your strength and endurance until you end the year with 365 pushups on Dec. 31. Simple, right?

That simplicity appealed to me, and I started right away, however “right away” was on May 1, because I didn’t hear about it until April. I kept at it all the way, but with the late start I knew I wasn’t going to hit any stratospheric totals. I got to 200 in a day which was a lot for me, but nothing amazing. There are guys who can do 200 in a set.

The rules are simple: you can do the pushups at any time in any combination of sets that works for you, but by the end of the day you have to have logged your total. The next day you start over with one more pushup than the day before. The problem is, what happens if you miss a day? Or fall short? Then you have to play catch-up. It’s easy enough to do during the first couple months when the daily requirement is less than 60 to begin with, but in later months when you get above 200 missing a day propels your next day above 400. It’s tiring. It’s time consuming as well, and that became one of the biggest hurdles.

“Drop and give me 25!” OK, 25 pushups can be done in 30 seconds if you’re in shape.

“Drop and give me 400!” Not so much. So I became strategic about breaking everything into manageable sets.

That created the next hurdle. Above 200 or so it becomes a challenge just to keep track of how many sets you’ve done. You have to actually create some kind of simple record-keeping system. I logged my daily totals on my phone (just using the notepad), but even during each day it became necessary to keep track! The simple idea was becoming complex.

In 2014 I started over on January 1. One pushup. That year I got above 250 & sometime in September I knocked off for the year. My shoulders were starting to give me trouble and at my age (I was 59) I don’t want joint problems. I called it a year somewhere around 40,000 or so, and did a few every other day just to keep in shape, biding my time for January.

In 2015 I got further into the calendar, but I still had to quit (shoulder pain again). I think I made it to my birthday (November 1), so I had crossed the threshold of 300 per day before dialing it back once again.

But I was psyched for 2016, a leap year– 366 days, the maximum load! In January I did all my required plus I built a small savings bank of extra pushups so that later in the year (we’re talking November or December where weekly totals surpass 2,500) I could fall back on them if necessary. (I never used any from the “savings bank” but it was huge to have them as a psychological boost to not giving up.)

On Dec. 31, 2016 I completed 366 pushups. The monthly total came to 10,881 just for December, and for the year it added up to 67,161 daily pushups. I added in my savings bank of an extra 3,000 mostly from January and February when the livin’ is easy and that brought my GRAND TOTAL FOR 2016 to 70,161 pushups!

I didn’t do anything special to celebrate, except we went out for New Year’s Eve to a fav restaurant, but we do that anyway. It did make it feel extra sweet, though. Now, it’s 2017, and today I did 225.

Hey, it’s just a thing I do.

2016 Pushup Totals by month

Jan  (31 days)      496 pushups     Total = 496

Feb (29 days)   1,334  pushups  Total = 1,830

Mar (31 days)   2,356 pushups  Total = 4,186

Apr (30 days)    3,195 pushups  Total = 7,381

May (31 days)   4,247 pushups  Total = 11,628

June (30 days)  5,025 pushups  Total = 16,653

July (31 days)    6,138 pushups  Total = 22,791

Aug (31 days)   7,099 pushups  Total = 29,890

Sept (30 days)   7,785 pushups  Total = 37,675

Oct  (31 days)   8,990 pushups  Total = 46,665

Nov (30 days)   9,615 pushups  Total = 56,280

Dec (31 days)  10,881 pushups  Total = 67,161


You might run into Bob out there

Here is a link to a 30-sec. video:

OK, maybe you didn’t watch it (but you should– it only lasts 30 seconds). The sound track is only the silence of a road bike being pedaled in Minnesota by 92-year-old Bob Powers. He is inspiring.

Love this video from Rally Cycling– but I hope when not being filmed he has some lights and rides to the right and pretends he is invisible. Because no one sees cyclists anymore.

My Cycle-Logical Difficulties Explained

  • Despite not actually learning how to ride until 12 years old
  • I was an early adopter of what is now known as a “road bike,”
  • Because I bought my first one, a Peugeot PX-10, in 1973.
  • Like a fine wine,
  • It was imported from France.
  • It cost almost $300.
  • No one I knew shared my enthusiasm.
  • I was 18, and didn’t have a car
  • Or a driver’s license.
  • The Peugot had a high-end, lightweight lugged-steel frame of Reynold’s 531 double-butted tubing and all French components, i.e., no Campagnola parts, because
  • It was from France.
  • In America? It became “a ten-speed.”
  • I didn’t know that Americans could race bikes.
  • I rode it around the Chicago suburbs, on streets
  • And Forest Preserve trails,
  • Carefully crafted of unpaved dirt and mud.
  • I wasn’t real sure how wide those Mavic rims were
  • Because they were measured in “centimeters,”
  • Which was French for “skinny,”
  • And took “sew-ups” which are tires glued to the rim and have the lightweight tube sewn inside the tire.
  • When I got my first flat I had to buy a book about bicycle maintenance.
  • I do remember that my original chainwheels (the front gears attached to your pedal cranks)
  • Were 48 & 52 teeth, i.e. two gear choices translated as “High” and “Higher,”
  • So, a week after picking up my bike I had it back to the shop and a smaller 40-tooth chainwheel swapped in for the 48.
  • I looked up how to translate the possible gear combinations into Ratios, so I could
  • Attempt pedaling uphill.
  • All this in the Chicago area where anything more than a 1% grade gets called “pretty hilly,”
  • And where the general public does not differentiate between, “Go up this street to the first corner . . . ” & “Go down this street to the first corner . . .”
  • In fact, a lot of Chicagoans simply use the word up when they mean north.
  • My bike-handling skills were “adequate,”
  • In the sense that I rarely crashed
  • Unless there was a good reason.
  • At 13 I had once collided with a tree that suddenly veered into my path
  • Consequently I never learned to ride No Hands.
  • Still, I loved riding.
  • At the end of that summer I hung my bike somewhere at home and returned to university for my sophomore year,
  • Where I switched back to my old bike, a fire-engine red coaster-brake one-speed with plastic grips on the handlebar ends.
  • Because I figured it wouldn’t get stolen on campus, and I didn’t mind if it developed one more layer of rust.
  • By junior year I was ready to take my Peugot to England for my semester away at a small college near Bristol,
  • An area known to Brits as “The West Country,” a land of scenic roadways, hard cider, and
  • “Real Ale,” the original craft-beer movement that in 1975 had already started in the UK.
  • Real ale literally meant that the handle of a pub’s draught (British for “draft”) actually had to be pulled with enough force to draw beer up from the cellar, because it wasn’t artificially pressurized with extra carbonation,
  • To fill a pint glass (a 20-oz. Imperial-pint glass, not the 16-oz. American version).
  • This glass contained approximately 135 times the alcohol content of a Michelob, then considered a high-quality American beer. (Your other choice for quality was Lowenbrau.)
  • IMG_9020
  • My Peugot in May, 1975: Looking pleased with my high-tech rack system. That pump- the French supplied one when the bike was new, but not this one. I still have the soft handlebar bag & the saddle, an Ideale.
  • Cycling in the UK involved narrow roads, numerous hills, small cars, busy intersections, tons of pedestrians, and
  • Everybody going the wrong way.
  • Fortunately my little college was out in the countryside, so I had time to get used to pedaling under the influence of the roads, the traffic, and the Imperial-size pint.
  • Back then the cheapest meal was always the “Ploughman’s Lunch” consisting of bread, butter, English cheddar, good mustard,
  • And a pint. You could get the lunch and the pint for under 30p. This was about 50 cents.
  • I rode most weekends if the weather was OK,
  • So, about twice a month.
  • And explored the area, visiting such landmarks as Salisbury, Stonehenge, Castle Combe, Norton St. Phillip, and Bath which was only four miles away.
  • Spring break was three weeks long and allowed me my first opportunity to ride back to London, about 80 miles that I split into three days so I could see some sights,
  • Including Winchester where the youth hostel was a historic mill several centuries old, and the men’s shower consisted of a bucket system allowing guys (OK, blokes) to access the mill race through a trapdoor
  • To dump the startlingly cold water into a small reservoir that fed the sinks and shower.
  • I do not recall showering.
  • In London I stayed with my best friend until subtle hints allowed me to grasp the fact that his parents had desired a guest for only one weekend.
  • And I spent the remaining couple weeks hiking and seeing sights further afield in the English Lake District and all the way to Scotland by hitchhiking, perfectly legal as long as you are not on the M-roads (Brit interstates).
  • By May my college experience ended, but I took advantage of my plane ticket home (London – Amsterdam – Chicago) to see a bit of Holland and Germany all along the Rhine.
  • I got as far as Koln (Cologne), where I made friends with a college-age English couple who turned out to be brother & sister not BF & GF which explained how friendly she’d been,
  • And I had one of the most unusual travel experiences of my life, still never duplicated, of trying to help a guy at the German hostel who turned out to be both French and totally deaf and only wanted some simple questions answered.
  • I also remember paying for breakfast at a Dutch youth hostel in the countryside, getting up the next morning and finding an all-you-can-eat sandwich buffet laid out for 70 school children who all preferred the Nutella.
  • A guy on a cycling vacation can eat a lot of sandwiches.
  • When it was time to fly home I made my way with bike and luggage to Sciphol Airport from Amsterdam by bus with “plenty of time to spare.” All Dutch buses will transport bicycles for free.
  • Except the one to the airport. The driver refused to allow me to board with a bike.
  • I considered riding the ten miles but was doubtful with the luggage, but I was lucky because the next driver was no problem.
  • I had developed my technique of getting my Peugot ready for airplane travel (unscrew pedals & reverse them toward the frame—loosen handlebars & turn 90 degrees so they don’t stick out—release front wheel & use leather toeclip straps to attach it alongside rear wheel thus padding the derailleur —remove saddle) into a routine I could execute in six minutes.
  • This worked. I arrived home an international cycling veteran. I was 20 years old.

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