Over the New Year's holiday, Trisha's grandma Joyce was gracious enough to take her entire family on a 7-day cruise to the Caribbean, and I was lucky enough to get to tag along.  (Thanks Joyce :-) It was a VERY cool--and in many ways, awe-inspiring--week.  Anyway, I felt compelled to put together a list of my top 10 insights, observations, and pieces of advice for traveling in the Caribbean....
  1. In Puerto Rico, if you're VERY lucky, you'll run into Francisco, a weathered Puerto Rican gentleman with a very old soul, who will teach you the fine art of hunting for sea glass on the beaches around Old San Juan.
  2. When in Nassau, avoid the angry, dread-locked Rastafarian cab drivers. Despite living in paradise, they don't enjoy their jobs much.
  3. On a cruise ship, bikinis and speedos are appropriate for anyone under age 80, who weighs less than 300 pounds.
  4. Despite being one of the Virgin Islands, parts of St. Thomas are definitely screwed.
  5. On St. Thomas, be sure to drop by Gladys' Cafe for peas and rice, and plantains--not to mention some of the best hot sauces on the planet.
  6. On pretty much any given Caribbean island, if you are less than three miles from your destination, you will almost certainly get there quicker by walking than by taking a cab.
  7. The only way that spending 7 days on a cruise ship could be more surreal is if Stanley Kubrick were the cruise director.
  8. In Nassau, a pint of the local rum is cheaper than a bottle of water.
  9. If you're a cat, life in San Juan is much better than life on St. Thomas.
  10. People who work on cruise ships (1) are generally Asian, (2) wear a variety of hats, (3) are apparently required by cruise ship law to smile and say hello to everyone they see, and (4) put in 14 to 16 hour days, seven days a week, for months on end. (Word has it that, at the end of their contract periods, cruise ship personnel are given psychological evaluations before their contracts are renewed.... I totally get it.)

P.S. On an unrelated topic, my cycling goal for 2010 was to bike 3,000 miles.  I met my goal on December 31, on an exercise bike on the M.S. Noordam, somewhere between Ft. Lauderdale and Nassau.
 
 
I haven't written in a while, and my only excuse is that it's a lot easier to write about successes than failures. I mean, I have had what I consider to be some successes over the past several months, the most impressive of which, to me anyway, was actually completing the MS 150 in Topeka (I wasn't at all sure I could pull it off.... but that's a story for another post).  However, the biggest disappointment has been with my weight loss efforts.  I had a solid 15-month run, making slow but steady progress.  I lost 30 pounds between March 2009 and September 2009, gained about five of it back during the holidays, and then lost another 23 to 25 by July, for a net loss of about 50 pound.  Then things didn't just abruptly screech to a halt; they did a complete 180. 
 
 
I recently joined the Big Poppi Pedalers cycling team in Manhattan, to ride in the MS 150 in Topeka at the end of September.  The MS 150 is a two-day, 150-mile ride to raise awareness for multiple sclerosis, and to raise money for the National MS Society.

Now, I'm actually pretty introverted (when beer isn't involved anyway) and not much of a social activist or "joiner," but several years ago, my good friend and former college roommate, Jared John Patrick Savage, was diagnosed with MS and eventually died with the disease.  At the time of his death, he was in constant pain, taking doses of Oxycontin that would kill anyone not conditioned to it, and he could barely walk with a cane -- a devastating and cruel turn of fate for a guy with whom I used to spend untold hours weight training at the KSU Rec Complex.

So anyway, Jared, this one's for you dude....

Anyone who would like to contribute to this cause and support me  as I try my hand at two back-to-back 75 mile days of cycling in northeastern Kansas will be rewarded with my undying admiration and gratitude.  Feel free to make your online contribution here.
 
 
There have been many times in my life (as recently as a few weeks ago) when I was fed up with Kansas and vowed to eventually leave it far behind.  However, I never have and probably never will. There is no getting around the fact that I'm a Native and, despite my regular frustrations, central Kansas is home. This fact is never more apparent than when I go hiking, mountain biking, or kayaking along the Smoky Hill River or in Kanopolis State Park.

A few years back, my parents bought a cabin at Kanopolis Lake, and Trish and I have been truly grateful beneficiaries of this purchase. Not only has the cabin allowed us to spend a lot more time with my folks, but it has gotten me back in touch with a part of the world, and a part of myself, I had forgotten I loved so much.
 
 
On Saturday, I was out paddling my kayak in the Buffalo Track Canyon area at Kanopolis State Park, and I ran across this bog below a beaver dam. It was teeming with all sorts of little critters.  Anyway, I took a picture of an elusive frog, and when I was looking back through my pics, I had a hard time finding him or her at first.  Let me know if you have better luck. :-)
Waldo the Frog... Can you find him?
 
 
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My favorite bike route is a 26.5-mile loop around western Dickinson County, between Solomon and Abilene.  I like it for many reasons -- bucolic scenery, good roads, rolling hills, sparse traffic (except for a brief treacherous stretch on K-15).  There's even a strong sense of history; the Chisholm Trail crosses my route in two places.  

But without question, my favorite part is the greyhounds.

Abilene, Kansas is the self-proclaimed Greyhound Capital of the World and is home to the Greyhound Hall of Fame and the National Greyhound Association, which is the sole registry for racing greyhounds in North America.  Consequently, greyhound breeding farms are littered throughout Dickinson County, and there are three along my bike route.

In order to let the dogs stretch their legs, these farms typically have several 100-yard-long dog runs.  Now, I don't really care all that much about dog racing (and I care even less about dog breeding), but I do like greyhounds.  And there is absolutely nothing cooler than riding your bike along Country Club Road and having 50 greyhounds sprint from one end of their runs to the other to greet you at the road.  Granted, they probably just view me as a gigantic rabbit, but what the hell…. I still enjoy the attention.
 
 
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I have tried to take up running time and again in the past decade or so, and my efforts have always been rewarded not just with failure, but also with overuse injuries, achy knees, and stress fractures.  A normal person would probably give up, but I am blessed and cursed with this Pollyanna sense of optimism about my physical abilities.  I'm sort of the opposite of a hypochondriac, possessed by the notion that every ache and ailment is no big deal and can be fixed by hard work and better living. (It's a sickness really... just ask my friends and family and co-workers.)  So, in my most recent bid to overcome gravity, inertia, and my obvious physical limitations and transform myself into a runner, I decided to start totally from scratch, by walking barefoot-ish a couple days a week in my Vibram FiveFingers.  Forgive me if this starts to sound a bit like an infomercial, but I think I'm onto something.  My knees, hips, ankles and feet feel better than they have in years.

 
 
As I mentioned in my first post, I have lost 45 to 50 pounds in the past year and half. It's been hard work, and I consider it a big accomplishment.  Yet while I don't mind writing about it, I cringe when people start asking questions, because the discussions almost always take an uncomfortable turn. Between the deer-in-the-headlights stares, the gasps of disbelief, the "are you sick?" questions, and the backhanded compliments, I just want to tell people to shove a cheeseburger in it.  (My favorite un-compliment so far has been "Well, my my Chris, aren't you just a shadow of your former self." Umm, okay, yeah, thanks.)
 
 
A lot of people are plenty content to take their bikes to the local shop every time they need maintenance and tweaking done.  However, maybe it's because I grew up with a gear-head body shop owner for a dad or possibly because I was unduly influenced by Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but I at least like to live under the illusion that I'm DYI.  While I'm still a relative newb, I try to do my own wrench work whenever possible.  More often than not, this means derailleur adjustment.  (Now that my new bikes are quickly turning into an old ones, one of these days I'll get the courage and ambition to learn how to true up a wheel, change the bottom bracket, pack hubs, etc.  But for now, I'm content with the basics.)

Being a visual learner, the first place I turn when I need to learn anything about anything is YouTube.  Here are the two best videos I have found on derailleur adjustment.  
 
 
The other day, one of my Facebook peeps commented that, as of July 1, Kansas now has scores of new laws, curtailing individual liberties -- mandatory seatbelts, no smoking in public places, etc., all topped off with an additional 1% tacked onto the sales tax, to add insult to injury.  And yet (to paraphrase), some jackass bicyclist she encountered on the way to work can get away with blowing through a stop sign and crossing four lanes of traffic.  She laments, when is someone going to "crack down on these jokers"?

I was irritated to read it and reflexively posted my own status update about being proud to be a bicyclist, and if people don't like it, then "tough tittay." (Yeah, I have no couth.)

However, she does have a valid point, and her post highlights a truism about the love-hate relationship between cyclists and motorists.  Most motorists are fine with--or if nothing else, pay grudging respectful to--cyclists.  However, there are plenty of haters out there, and the fact that there are also plenty of nimrod bikers who blow through stop signs does nothing to make the lot of the cycling enthusiast easier.