Tuesday, August 9, 2011

We're moving...

The editor of (namely, me) would like to announce on behalf of the staff and interns at craicmonkey's delight (again, me) that we are relocating to http://craicmonkeysdelight.wordpress.com/. While it may take some time to work out the bugs, we do not anticipate any decline in the quality of postings (take that as you will).

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Erratum, in which I expose myself as an arse and apologize

If you read my latest post yesterday (07/26/2011) you may have been sharp enough, as indeed my wife was, to notice an odd phrase at the beginning.

For those of you who missed it, including myself, did you catch it this time? Here, take another look:

Ugh! First, not "fist." First! Shit. Paging Dr. Freud...

This mistake was brought to my attention last night as my wife and I were relaxing; me watching the evening news, my wife surfing the Internets on her laptop. At one point my wife said to me, "I just made a funny comment on your blog post. You wrote 'This fist appeared as an email' so I said, 'Which one; your right or your left' ha ha!"

My response to this lighthearted jab was typical, "What? No. Goddammit. Stupid. Argh, I hate it when I do that." Of course, a better response would have been, "Ha ha! Go ahead. I'll write a comment about Freudian slips or something." Instead I covertly edited the post, hoping that no one else would have realized the mistake. It was only after I had done so that I noticed my wife had chosen not to post the comment after all, most likely due to my reaction the night before. I am a colossal dick. 

I hate making mistakes. Those who know me, know this all too well; but to have something as insignificant as this upset me; well that's just asinine. The irony in this is that I had asked my sister if I could edit her email for spelling before I posted it. Shit, I appreciate irony and I missed the opportunity to run with it. Therefore I am taking this opportunity to first, apologize to my wife for being an overly sensitive moron, and second, to pledge to myself and others to accept my mistakes with good humour and proper humility, because it is though our mistakes that we truly grow, something, something, opportunity, insight, et cetera.

Oh, and to answer my wife's question, the right one.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

"Turn around where possible," in which my sisters and parents go on a vacation, Chinery style.

By guest columnist, 
Carmen Chinery

This first appeared as an email. Some minor editing was done. No names have been changed, because I'm keepin' it real. Word.

Well, I'm back after another round in the States with the family.  Last year's adventure with lost passports, missed shuttles and wrong turns fell nicely into the long list of vacation mishaps experienced by the Chinery's in their travels, and some of this year's events lengthened the list further.  Here's a not-so-brief recap:

Day 1

Left Calgary while raining.  Managed to direct Dad out of the city through the south in rush hour traffic.  The sun finally came out by the time we hit Okatoks.  Got to see the Big Rock, have morning coffee at Ian Tyson's cafe in Longview (by Mom's request, of course).  Had lunch at Buffalo Paddock outlook near Waterton, and discovered how crafty buffalo were at disguising themselves as long grass and small clusters of trees as we drove around the paddock.  I figured by the end that they must only work weekends.  Once in Waterton park, we headed for the road to take us to Red Rock Canyon.  On this small, winding mountain road, we managed to be stuck behind a car of two older ladies who felt it necessary to break on every downhill section, every turn and also every uphill sections too.  For some reason the idea of using one of the dozens of pullouts and letting the train of vehicles behind them pass was foreign.  Driving 15 km took over 20 minutes.  Dad's swear count was up to about 30 by this time.  The greatest irony was that after we were at the parking lot to the canyon, we saw the car take a turn about the lot and go straight back up the road...didn't even stop to look at the canyon!!!

After a few other small hikes, we got to our campsite.  By now the beautiful sunny day was regressing into a cloudy evening.  Laura and I managed to set up the tent just in time for it to start raining.  The next couple of hours were spent in the motor home listening to the rain get heavier and soon joined by thunder and lightning.  Finally during a momentary slowing of the storm, we made a run for it to the tent to settle in for the night.  Even with my earphones in, the constant flashes of lightning and thunder roars (including one crash right above our heads, that shook the ground!) getting to sleep was not easy. When I did I was later awoken by the sound of Laura shifting her sleeping bag and air mattress towards the centre of the tent as the wind howled outside.  The reasoning was soon made abundantly clear as the next thing I noticed was that the centre of the tent roof, where the poles met was now sitting over my side of the tent, and only a foot from my head (this is a 6 foot tall tent!!!).  The wind was attempting to literally blow us over.  We stood on our knees (because if we had stood up all the way, the push of the wind on the tent would have knocked us right off our feet, and held the wall of the tent back.  There was finally a moment where the poles buckled and we were convinced the storm had snapped them.  Being in such a rush to get to the tent from the motor home earlier, neither of us had a real flashlight with them, so we made do with the flashlight app on my iPhone.  When it was relatively calmer (and not by much),  Laura made a dash to the outside to check the frame of the tent, while I held my phone up to the side of the tent to give her some light to work by.  Miraculously nothing had broken on the tent.  In trying to get back into the tent the zipper on the tent got stuck, and she was stuck out in the rain for a further couple of minutes while I tried to repair the damage and actually open the door.  About a half hour later, the wind finally died down enough that we could stand down our defenses.  Over the next hour I could hear emergency checks and repairs by fellow tenters and neighboring campsites.  Not much sleep was had in the end, and weather and tent had resulted in wet sleeping bags, pillows and air mattresses by the morning.  As I opened the back door to the vehicle to put my stuff into storage I noticed that some of the rain had even seeped its way into the back of the van and had gotten the bottom of the inside of the door damp.

Day 2

Having kept a daily watch on the conditions of the Going-to-the-Sun road in Glacier Park, we were very excited that the day we were going to be traveling it was the first day of the year it was completely open.  We packed up our damp tent and drove across the border.  At Logan Pass, the ten foot high snow walls that had been carved to find the stairs and sidewalks of the visitor centre were an obvious reminder of why the road was so late in opening this year.  Despite some road construction, and dealing with a shuttle system what was in it's first day of operation for the year, we made many successful stops along the highway to see the sights and walk some of the trails.  At the end, due to injuries and stamina, I was left to do the last hike by myself, while the rest of the family were to catch the next shuttle back to the Pass, where I would meet them later.

It was a little over an hour by the time I returned, and when I first went to the motor home, it was still locked.  I figured that perhaps the rest had gone into the visitor centre to kill some time while they waited, so I went in, looked around and returned to the motor home without finding them.  I then went out to the boardwalk hike at the back of the centre that took you to the edge of the glacier and onto Hidden Lake - only the boardwalk was nowhere to be seen, and the only evidence a trail existed was the very top of the trail guide box (which stands about 3.5 feet high) was just peeking over the top of the snow covering the ground.  Still unable find them, I returned to the front of the visitor centre and sat on the stair railing to keep watch on the entire parking lot to look for them.  By now another hour had gone by.  Finally after another half hour of branching off to various places to look, and returning to my central perch, I found them just coming off a shuttle bus.  Apparently the one they took stopped at the end of the route near St. Mart's gate, and sat there for an exorbitant amount of time before starting it's route back to the pass.  That was the last of the shuttles taken that day.

Our campsite in the evening was a welcome site after the long day of hiking, and after Dad (who's swear count was now over 50) hooked up the power and the water supplies, he left to scout out the conditions of the bathrooms and showers, while the rest of us began supper.  About five minutes later, the normal sounds of the motor home were interrupted by a sudden new sound that caught our attention.  We could not pinpoint it until Mom noticed that the carpet under the table was starting to become sopping wet.  She figured it was the hot water heater and I was sent outside immediately to turn it off.  Just as I had jumped out Dad came back and I told him what was happening.  He went to the back door of the van, and upon opening it a literal cascade of water came pouring out of the back.  All water connections were immediately shut off, and the search for what happened began.  I pulled all the items stored in the back out, which were our lawn chairs, my duffel bag, my sleeping bag, our air mattresses and some boxes of pop cans (which fell apart as I was pulling them out.  Everything was immediately put on the picnic table, out of the way, just in time for it to start raining again.  Laura took over in dealing with the soaked items, while I got the wonderful job of being Dad's assistant while he went searching in the hose connections in the motor home (swear count was probably near 100 now).  After several tightening of connections, whenever the water source was turned back on, water would still leak, so we had to give up on having a water connection that night, and just use what we carried in our vehicle tank.  The rest of the evening was devoted to sopping up the watery mess.

Day 3

Before starting out, various rearrangements of items were made to accommodate the now soaked storage area at the back.  The tent was packed up again...still wet from the evening's rain, and we headed south, with constant musing as to what went wrong with the water connection.  The theme of the day was Dad attempting to figure out his TomTom while driving - something I had to finally put to a stop because the divided attention between the GPS and the road was freaking the rest of us out.  We were to make it to see the Lewis and Clark caverns that day, and camp at the park containing them.  The drive through Montana however, is deceivingly long and the last tour of the caverns leaves at 6:30pm with us arriving at 6:35pm.  Although disappointed, we looked at our scheduled route, and saw that on our way back the next week, we would pass fairly close to the park again and would have time to stop then and visit.

It was also a stock up day, resulting in a stop over at a Target and Alberson's.  Within ten minutes it was made very clear that defined meeting points in case of splitting up of the group were required before any more errands as a 15 minute trip through the Target turned into almost 45 minutes by the time everyone was located again.  One of these days I'm going to have to make up some of those Lost Kid's stickers that you get at Capital Ex or Stampede to put on om and Dad's backs when we go out, because they are the worst offenders in this matter.

The sky was dry when we set up that night (Finally!), and there was enough of a breeze out to finally dry the tent and other contents of our soggy trip.  Laura and I decided to purchase some firewood that night to entertain ourselves with a campfire, as we had no power hookups at this location, and the owly mood of Dad when he has no TV countered by the overly optimistic comments by Mom about the situation and life can only be handled so long before one is sent screaming for the hills.  Another look at the back of the van was done as we unpacked for the night, and despite all our dabbing and squeegeeing of water, the carpet was still soaked in the storage area, and small amounts were dampening the carpet inside.  Clean up actions continued, as did the musing on the problem.  Though no rain fell that night, the condensation at that altitude was high, and in the morning, the tent was still damp :(

Day 4

A wonderful day, all things considered.  We were at Craters of the Moon for the entire afternoon and walked/hiked a large majority of the sites.  I even managed to drag my ass up to the top of the Inferno Cone Caldera.  The weather was beautiful for once - sunny and high 20s.  I got to go through caves for the first time, exploring Indian Tunnel, Boy Scout Cave, Beauty Cave and Dew Drop Cave - all the remains of giant lava tubes.  Indian tunnel was massive, and Laura and I went through.  We left mom and Dad at the entrance, where they were to rest, then go back.  After that, Laura went back and I continued on to the other caves.  I didn't get far into Boy Scout cave, as it wasn't long before the height of the cave was down to about a foot, and I was going to have to go snaking on my stomach through.  Beauty cave was the best though!  When I got back I was surprised to learn that Mom and Dad had actually made it all the way through Indian tunnel, which was quiet the accomplishment for the terrain they had to maneuver.  I told Mom that she could now brag to all her church friends about the hard core hiking she was now doing at the age of  69.  The biggest relief of the day, was that we were to spend the night in a hotel in Jackpot, Nevada.  I'm a big fan of camping, but after the first three days, a hotel room was a godsend.  After the long day of hiking, the evening in a air conditioned casino was a treat (FYI, I broke even at the slots for the trip).

We had hoped that the dry night and the removal of all items out of the van, plus the parking of the van on an up-slope would finally clear out the rest of the water from the back, but though it was now lessened, the sogginess stayed.

Day 5

Not a whole lot of things to do by drive this day.  We did stop at the salt flats outside of Wendover, where they have the speed record trials.  The salt flats of Death Valley were pretty amazing last year, but the shear size of these ones were mind boggling.  Our end of day destination was a recreation area just east of Park City, Utah (film festival country!).  It was one these places on a lake that was heavily populated on the weekends (we were there on Saturday) by local boaters.  By chance, we happened to be there on the day that an annual festival was being held.  The evening's entertainment was some live music, a boat light parade, where locals dress up their boats in Christmas lights, and are judged, and a firework's display.  It was pretty awesome, and a lot of fun.

Before we went to the festival, we did another check on the water problem, as it looked like it was leaking out of several places under the vehicle.  This time it involved me with my headlamp, crawling under the vehicle and inspecting the seams of the tanks.  Dripping points were found, but no structural damage was indicated.  Our tent finally dried out that night as we didn't need to put up the fly for once, so we laid it out on the ground for the evening, and a tent pad on the site meant no tenting on grass, which kept the moisture away all together.

Day 6

Unable to let anything go, the water problem was being looked at, yet again, in the morning.  With limited options left, Dad went and opened the tank filler spout, and upon doing so, masses of water came out.  Apparently when the tank had been hooked up the first night in Waterton, it had overfilled, and subsequent hook ups compounded the problem.  Mom insisted on the tank being emptied completely at that point, and would not allow it to be hooked up again for the rest of the trip, resulting in me being given the task of filling pots of water from the taps at campsites instead (what joy was mine).  However, I am happy to say that from this point on, the back of the van finally dried out, and our storage returned to normal.

Finally feeling on track for once, we made our way to Flaming Gorge on the Utah/Wyoming border.  There were a few scenic and geology drives to do there, which we partook in, but our GPS was not happy with any of them, constantly showing us flying through space as it didn't recognize any roads we were on and the constant badgering of "Turn around when possible" resulted in having to turn the damn thing off.  It should be mentioned that by far that was the most repeated statement by the GPS during the whole trip...probably because the TomTom GPS was in conflict with the MomMom GPS sitting at the back of the van most times.  It was actually another gorgeous day - in fact all the actual days had been nice...it's just the evenings that were sometimes dodgy.  Our campsite for the night was called Firehole Canyon, at the north end of the park.  The spot was lovely, being on part of the reservoir lake formed in the area, and very, very quiet and peaceful.  There were a few clouds in the sky, but nothing of consequence, and that evening produced the most beautiful sunset (pictures to follow).  But as the evening wore on, the clouds got thicker and before long another rain storm was upon us.  This one I think followed us from Waterton because it was a very bright, noisy one.  I likened it to being at a Peter Frampton concert, minus the giant inflatable pig.

Like before Laura and I waited until there was a small reprieve from the rain before heading out to the tent.  We dealt with the noise, eventually blocking it out and the breeze that was accompanying it.  Eventually everything was quiet.  The next thing I remember I was literally flipped over from my stomach to my back, on top of Laura, as the most ferocious blast of wind came by out of nowhere and picked up the corner of the tent.  The lightning, rain and thunder had begun again, and it was like Waterton park all over.  Once again we went into battle stance, holding the tent back as well as we could, but there was no hope.  The winds were whipping by at what had to be over 100km an hour and the shear force snapped the tent poles, and the whole thing collapsed.  The next fifteen minutes were ones of emergency actions as we shoved everything to the middle of the tent, grabbed our flashlights (which we had remembered to take to the tent every night since the first!), and crawled out into the storm to uproot whatever pegs were left holding the tent down.  Taking the tent fly off was rather dangerous, and at one point I was the only one holding it and I was nearly lifted off the ground as began to take flight like a kite.  Remaining poles were haphazardly removed and the fly shoved into a side storage space on the van.  I once more had to crawl into the tent while Laura held it down as best she could and open all the screens on it, to lessen the kite effect it was beginning to suffer because of the wind, which would not let up at all!  Finally we grabbed the tent, mangled fame and all and dragged it to the other side of the van, where there was a wall set up for the picnic table at the site.  We shoved the tent under the table to keep it from flying away, and then threw our sleeping bags and pillows into the van and climbed in.  At this point, it was only 12:30 in the morning :(  The rest of the night was spent with Laura sleeping on the make-shift third bed in the front, and me on the kitchen/bathroom floor.  Between the howling wind and thunder outside, and the snoring inside, hours of total sleep came to about 1.5 that night.

Day 7

The damage was surveyed in the morning.  The tent was a twisted mess, but we had to get an early start that day, so we stuffed the mangled remains into the storage compartment, and vowed to try and fix it the next night, despite the bent and snapped frame.  The loss of her favorite tent and lack of sleep put Laura in a bad mood for the next few days, and with Dad being Dad, I was left to seek Mom for any sort of positive enjoyment for the rest of the trip.

Leaving the horror of Flaming Gorge behind us, we continued north to the Grand Tetons that day.  Though a very pretty and spectacular mountain range, Mom made a very good point that unlike Banff and Jasper, you only get to drive by the mountains as opposed to drive right between them.  Regardless there were a couple of hikes I took that brought me closer.  When we stopped at the visitor centre upon arrival, as customary on our trip, the first task was to go to the gift shop where Laura would get her souvenir pen, and I would get my patch.  Today brought a new addition to the trip though.  Mom managed to find a bird call alarm clock that would chime each hour with a different bird call.  This clock became her fascination, and the bane of the rest of us for the remainder of the trip.  This day also began a run of three straight where every road seemed to be (and in some cases was) travelled three times.  The GPS was driven crazy by this, and I was desperately wanting to change the vocals on it from the Australian lady to the lady who spewed out everything in an angry tone of German.  Dad wouldn't let me though.  I was occasionally entertained by his own yelling at the GPS every time it told him to "turn around when possible" now.

Our camping location for the night was also the second in the row with no power hook ups.  The fact that it was two days now with no evening TV was trying Dad's patience and the entire thing was made worse by us turning on the lights in the evening and them only operating at very low power.  A check of the battery level, which constantly charges itself while the van is driving, showed the power to be empty.  Now our demon-possessed van was throwing out a new curve-ball, and Dad didn't care for it one bit.  The tent on the other hand, was battered, but with some duct tape and removal of the tent fly we were able to Frankenstein it together well enough that so long as there was no wind or rain in the evening it would hold...luckily for us that evening, such was the case.  With no power for anything,  everyone was in bed by 9:00pm (though I was able to read my book off my Kobo app on my iPhone for awhile because it had a lit screen!  God Bless the iPhone.)

Day 8

Another early start as there was one hike I wanted to do at the north end of the Grand Tetons before heading into Yellowstone.  The days had been so sunny, that despite my application of sunscreen I was still getting a bit red.  When I got out to do the hike (the others dropped me off at the trail head, then drove down to the end point and had breakfast while they waited for me to hike the trail), I was extra diligent in putting the sunscreen on.  Sadly, ten minutes into my hike that took me through long alpine meadows, wet from due, I realized that I shouldn't have worried so much about sunscreen as I should have about bug repellent.  The damn mosquitoes had themselves an hour-long feast on me.  The Tetons and Yellowstone were having high alerts for bears at this time, so though I had my bear-bell with me, every time I came across some evidence of bear activity I had to make some more noise - so I broke into song...and I sang the bear song at that!  I had no worries as the sound of my singing would send anyone running.

Onwards to Yellowstone we continued.  As we were to be there for two days, we had vaguely planned to do the bottom loop of the figure-8 road that ran through the park the first day, and the top loop the second.  By the end of the first day though, we had only made it to the Grant-Village and Old Faithful locations.  Not that we didn't see anything good.  I did some hikes that brought me to some awesome geysers that day (the sawmill geyser being my favourite!).  That night we were to spend at fishing bridge.  Fort those unfamiliar with the layout of the park, Grant Village is the southern most tip of the loop, and heading clockwise, old-faithful in the next.  To get to fishing bridge,  you need to go counter clockwise from Grant Village - so the road from old faithful to grant village was driven twice.  The disclaimer of the fishing bridge campground was that because of proximity to bears, no tents were allowed, so we were going to have to set up as we did in Firehole canyon for the night, but there were power hookups at the sites which pleased Dad, so anything else could be tolerated.  We reached the campsite, and I went with Dad to the site office.  We gave them our last name to check our reservation, and the response we had was, "you are registered at the Grant-Village campground, not fishing bridge".  Well in our task of setting up campsite reservations at Easter, apparently Laura and I had the conversation about the bear proximity issue, and decided against fishing bridge...we just both happened to forget that.  So we travelled the road between fishing bridge and grant-village a second time, and got to where our reservation was.  The unfortunate things was these sites had no power hookups, and that ruined Dad's good mood, which was already going downhill after finding out that we went to the wrong place originally.

We set up again forgoing the tent as it was raining, yet again!  The battery had still not charged, and a result was that now the CO detector in the van was beginning to beep because it was running out of power.  Through many curses and swears (I had long since lost track of the swear count), Dad tried to shut the thing off, but was only successful when he unhooked the thing from the wall.  By now I was having to let him wear my headlamp to do anything for there were no lights.  While Mom went to sleep, Laura (with Kleenex in her ears to block the sound) read by her lantern light, Dad used my headlamp to read his book, and I read off my iPhone again before we all shut down for another night.  By this point we were all laughing to keep from crying, I think.

Day 9

Because of the early starts, cramped quarters and frustrating evenings, we had given up making our own breakfasts by this day.  We stopped back at the grant village centre (for a third time now), got stuff to eat, then headed out of the rest of Yellowstone.  First we traveled the road between grant village and fishing bridge a third time to actually see the fishing bridge area, then headed north on the loop.  The Canyons area brought the mud volcano, sulphur cauldron, picturesque Upper and Lower falls, as well as the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, the Norris Basin had its geysers, the Artists Paint Pots, Steamboat Geyser and the monument Geyser basin.  We travelled back down part of the way to north of the old faithful area to see the Fountain Paint Pot, the Great Fountain Geyser, and the grand prismatic spring, then back up the road we hit the north loop towards Mammoth hot springs.  After completing the upper terrace drive, we were (as usual) running out of time to do stuff.  We made the decision that rather than rush through the lower terraces of the mammoth falls, we'd come back first thing in the morning on the next day.  Our campsite was in the town of Gardiner, on the north edge of the park.  After getting lost a couple of times trying to find the place, we headed down a gravel slope to the river edge where the sites were.  Hidden on this gravel road were some speed bumps that we didn't anticipate.  Mom, sitting in the back, actually caught air on one, and landed hard on her tailbone, which she had to contend with the pain of for the remainder of the trip.

Finally, a site with power!  Dad had TV, we had lights to see by and a microwave to help cook in.  What a grand day for all!!!  And a bonus for me, was that there was a laundry facility on site, which meant clean shirts!  Since our site was right on the river, occasionally the breeze would bring us some spray on us.  Paranoid now of any weather, I had convinced myself there was rain starting, even though there were no clouds in the sky (stupid traumatic weather!).  Everyone went to bed in good spirits, though I kept waking up in the night as the sound of the river rushing by, played tricks on my mind, thinking it was an incoming wind storm.

Day 10

Back to Yellowstone we went, after having breakfast in the Two-Bit Saloon (a quirky place, but damn good food!).  Within 20 minutes we had all agreed that the right decision was made to save lower terrace for this morning, as the lighting was great on the falls, and I had time to explore the entire trail system for it.  Our goal location for the day was Shelby Montana, but with our small side trip back to Lewis and Clark Caverns on the way.  We got there by 1:45, but had to wait until 2:40 to go on the next available tour.  Mom in her feather brained ways sometimes, was calculating how many hours it would take to get home from where we were, should we wanted to get home that night, instead of camping one more night.  The idea was quickly shot down by the other three members of the party, not because we were all having too much fun or anything...it just meant we would be reaching Calgary about 3:00am, and Edmonton 3 hours later.  With that decided, Mom and Dad chose to sit this one hike out (which Dad used the time to ponder his battery query, that had still not charged even after being plugged in at a site overnight) and Laura came with me to tour the caves.  Laura had been a trooper (though a crabby one at times) on the trip when it came to her foot pain, and I worried about the first leg of the tour which was a 300ft up-slope climb in only a 1/3 mile distance.  I could tell towards the very end that she was desperately willing herself to keep going, but on the verge of turning back.  She made it up though, and was well rewarded for her efforts.  The caves were magnificent.  A totally awesome experience to end the trip on.  Over the next 90 minutes we wove our way back down 300ft through the limestone cave system, descending Pakan belfry grade stairs, duck walking down slopes and in a couple places crawling through low ceilinged passages.  I lost one battle with a ceiling along the way, and my head paid the price, but nothing major.

After the caverns, it was a test of how far we could drive before we had to stop for the night.  We figured we wouldn't hit Shelby, but tried to get as close as we could.  With the annoying bird calls counting out the hours we drove, and conveniently hitting the worst construction delays of the trip, we did manage to get to Great Falls. At 8:00pm, the idea of cooking anything was out of the question, so we drove to a nearby casino (because in Montana, every single place has a casino attached to it...and when I say casino, I mean a dozen or so VLTs).  The pizza place there managed to have the most amazing pizza ever!!!  It was ridiculously good.  After dinner Mom wanted to play a little bit of the "slots", and we went with her to keep an eye on her.  After about 15 minutes, she was down on the Jacks or Better game, but couldn't sit anymore because of her tailbone, so I had to sit at the machine and win back all the money she lost, which took another ten minutes.

The campground we were at was one of these places where each site has a wonderful patch of green grass attached to it, but you cannot set up tents on that grass, so for one last time we all piled into the van to sleep.  Miraculously just as we were about to plug in the electricity we checked the battery, and wouldn't you know it, the damn thing was fully charged.

Day 11

Well, a rather uneventful day of driving brought us back to Canada all carrying the maximum amount of alcohol allowed at the Duty Free shop.  I pause to remember a few more "minor" incidents along the way:  Dad taking a tumble into the gravel coming back from the fireworks display on day 5.  My hitting my head twice on the icon of St. Nicholas over the front seats in the van.  The loss of the front and rear running board rubber grips on the passenger side of the van somewhere in Idaho.  Dad on the last night getting ready for bed, having no success getting TV channels lamenting, so that I asked him if he wanted his book to read.  He said no, then thirty seconds later he said "you know what I should do?  I should read my book".  Mom having me check the hose connections and reattach the CO monitor while Dad was away from the vehicle.  Me and Laura trying to quickly get the tent fly up one evening, and unable to do it because I accidentally poked her in the face with a tent pole.  Dad getting to a trail sign too early in the morning and reading "Dangerous Ground" to be "Dragon's Gorge" (which was really funny until a minute later when Dad dropped and broke his camera).  All in all, this one gets chalked up to another typical Chinery vacation.



Carmen is my younger sister; she lives in Calgary, Alberta.
Carmen is a Chinery.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Confessions of a reluctant runner. Part 6, Common sense be damned! Full speed ahead!

Well, I did it. After much delay I finally signed up for this year's Intact Canadian Derby Marathon. This was, and still is, a difficult decision for me. To begin with, last year's result was nothing short of a soul crushing personal defeat. Of the three marathons I have run, last year's was my worst. They had just changed the route from the year before so that it was now a flatter course and I thought for sure that I would be able to reach my goal of 4:00:00. I started out in good spirits and ready to go! As usual, my cardio was fine and I wasn't experiencing any laboured breathing or unusual fatigue. Then at the 21km mark (almost exactly) something happened; something terribly wrong was occurring in my calf muscle. Now I've had a history of calf muscles seizing. From swimming, to kickboxing, to simply reaching for something on my tip-toes. Nothing, however, was to prepare me for the hell I was about to trod through. As I passed the halfway mark I started to notice a twinge in my right calf; nothing earth shattering, but enough to cause one of my hallmark eye twitches. It wasn't long before that little twinge progressed into a familiar sharp spike of pain, soon accompanied by something that was even more troublesome than I had first projected from the first stirrings of pain. As far as my memory can serve, if I were to have a muscle spasm in my calf it would be on the right side. I'm not exactly sure why this has been the case, although I am aware that seem to have greater flexibility in my left leg. The year before I had to complete the last quarter of the marathon limping along as my right calf had seized after I had stopped to take a piss at one of the aid stations. That was one of the most painful, not to mention demoralizing tasks I've ever had to perform. On this particular day, on this particular run, as I was recalling the fiasco of the previous year, a new horror had presented itself to me.

As I was running, nay, skipping, clearly favouring my right leg I started to notice a similar progression from twinge to taser in my left leg. At that moment, when I ceased to be able to successfully take two meaningful steps it hit me; I'm fucked. What can I tell you about the following 21km? There I was, a shuffling, swearing characterture of pain, humiliation, and disappointment. Every so often I would stop to stretch out my legs, slowly resume and convince myself that I could now muster a gentle jog. Every time my body would rebuke me with renewed pain. I remember a number of times reaching an uneasy acceptance with my situation, feeling some sense of pride in the fact that I was still going, determined to finish; no more so than two specific places along my slow, gibbled march through hell.

First, there was the moment when I looked down at my watch to see the time 4:00:00 pass by most unceremoniously. Up to this point I had cursed, I had winced in pain, I had clinched my fists in rage; but now I had tears in my eyes. When I had started out I was quite confident that I would make 4 hours, or at least something very close to it. Instead I was crushed by the realization that not only was I supposed to be finishing the race at this point in time, but I had another 12km to go! Compounding this was the thought that I had my family waiting for me at the finish line. How long would they have to wait for me to drag my arse home?

Second, there was the the incident at the 41km mark. That's right, one kilometer to go before I could put all of this behind me. At this point I could not do more than a shuffle, maybe with a bit of a hop to potentially propel me an extra few centimeters forward. Suddenly, as I was eyeing the distance marker, both my calves seized violently and I came crashing to the ground. I can only remember one time in my life when my muscles had seized this badly, that was back in swimming lessons; they had to haul me out of the pool and massage my leg till the demon within relinquished its vice-like grip. I had managed to pull myself onto the curb, trying to focus all my mental abilities on keeping my legs perfectly still as any small movement would cause another jolt of pain to explode through them. One of the race stewards came by and asked if I wanted him to get medical to check me out. I thanked him, but told him that I would be fine; I just needed to rest a bit. The steward insisted and radioed out position in. That did it! I was not going to be carted off the course! I slowly got to my feet and very gingerly started to take steps. By the time the first aid cart pulled up I assured the medical staff that I was fine and would be able to continue; and continue I did. The last kilometer was slow, but by the time I turned the last corner and could see the finish area and my spirits finally picked up. At least, I thought, this is coming to an end. Normally I try to end all my runs with a final sprint; a final triumphant burst of speed and pride that, if nothing else, looks good for the photos. On this occasion my finishing photos had me stumbling across the finish line like some zombie decked out a cool t-shirt with a running refrigerator on it. Brilliant.

From clever dick...
... to zombie chic.

This year's marathon has all this emotional baggage, plus more! as I have to also deal with my current physical predicament, plantar faciitis (see Confessions of a reluctant runner. Part 5). While my foot has gotten better, it is still far from 100%. Add to this the fact that I haven't been able to do much running as of late, and I will definitely need to step things up in terms of conditioning while at the same time preventing myself from aggravating my foot too much.

Last year I took it for granted that because the course had changed, I would have an easier time of it; I should have known better than that, being generally cynical in nature, and at best pessimistically optimistic. This time I will try to approach the marathon in the same way I did my half-marathon this past February (see Confessions of a reluctant runner. Part 3 and Part 3 [addendum]). I'm out to challenge myself, not kill myself. I need to step back and realize that I'm running for myself and nobody else. There's no prize on the line; no lives are hanging in the balance; this is not my profession. I'm going to do my best to get some more training in; I'm going to tinker with my playlist and make it the best I can; I'm going to show up on race day and give it a shot, because, when all is said and done, in my heart I know this -- no matter how painful it gets; no matter how hard it may become to continue on; there's no way in hell they'll be ferrying me over the finish line in the back of a golf cart, because, goddammit, I paid money to do this!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Damn it, Spock! I'm the Prince of Darkness not a physician!

And now for something completely different. I came across this by way of  Rebecca Watson:

Note the shifty eyes at the end. Yes, my friends. That is the sign of evil.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Something that never really could have been produces things that never really were, or something to that effect

Way back in elementary, I had this wonderful dream of becoming a commercial artist. There were a couple of things that fed into this dream of mine. First, the school I attended happened to have an arts core programme. Second, my best friend was an amazing artist. You will notice that not included was any mention of my own artistic ability. Sadly to say, in spite of attending an arts core programme and having a close friend with natural ability, I wasn't able to gleam much talent from my environment. Although I held out some hope throughout junior high and into high school, by the time I reached grade 11, I was pretty sure that the jig was up. The reality of my self-delusion was driven home when, at the end of my grade 11 school year, I asked my art teacher if I had a chance to get into the art programme for grade 12; it was a resounding (to my ears anyway), no. I should have seen it coming as those enrolled in the senior level art programme seemed to spend all day in the art room; and with good reason, for they were very talented, very accomplished artists. I remember feeling like a complete fake through most of my grade 11 art class, as I saw the works being produced, not just of the senior class, but of my own classmates as well. So when I was advised not to continue in the programme, although crushed, I can't say that I was at all surprised.

Over the years, I've never lost my appreciation for art and design. I've dabbled a little, mostly with Adobe Illustrator, trying to come up with my own posters, CD covers, etc. A little while ago I had a rush of inspiration and turned out a series of mock gig posters for myself as a DJ. I thought it'd be fun (interesting? amusing? tedious?) to dredge them up and showcase them.

This was my first poster. At the time I was reading George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, hence the use of the Newspeak term, doubleplusgood in small print and water-marked on the image. The name of the opening act was taken from an album put out by Gomez entitled, Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline. The name of the venue was, well, kind of stupid. I wanted to come up with a name of a club and I thought about some spot in an old industrial warehouse, and there you have it.

My second poster was inspired by Halloween, or more specifically, the days following Halloween and the Mexican celebration of Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead (I may or may not have been listening to Concrete Blonde's Mexican Moon at the time). The opening band is in reference to a dubbed spoof of the old G.I. Joe public service announcements in which the Joe (Footloose) calls a kid, blanco niño, white boy. The venue is Calavera's Barra, calavera being the Spanish word for skull, and a central motif in the celebrations of Dia de los Muertos, and barra is simply, bar.

From Orwell to Burgess, my next poster was inspired by A Clockwork Orange. The venue is the famous/infamous Korova Milk Bar where moloko plus (milk laced with drugs) is served. While quite a few actual establishments by the same name exist, I chose to locate mine at Tavy Bridge Centre, Thamesmead South, the filming location of Alex's flat in the film version of A Clockwork Orange. At this point, I'd like to say that I was damned impressed with the logo I designed for the Korova.

Who's up for some electronica? I was listening to Kraftwerk when I came up with this one. The programming in the top right was my best attempt to recall from the nether regions of my memory the Basic I learned in high school. The venue's name and logo are, of course, in reference to the 1956 sci-fi classic, Forbidden Plant starring Leslie Nielsen and featuring Robby the Robot. The address is a nod to Binary; it means absolutely nothing; well almost nothing. If you ignore the hyphen, 1001110 converts to 78 in base 10, or "n" in text. So there.

I was listening to a lot of ambient, downtempo, and other assorted chillout music when I came up with this one. The image is a statue of Guanyin (Kuan Yin, Avalokiteśvara) the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Once again, the venue is the Korova Milkbar.

Back to Nineteen Eighty-Four and Orwell's Newspeak. The idea of having the title fade into oblivion came from what happens in the story to unpersons (i.e., individuals who are executed and removed from all history by the state so that not only do they not exist anymore, but they, by all accounts, never did). The running ticker contains news stories from the Times in Newspeak. The venue is a place called Airstrip One, which is what London, or what used to be London is called in Nineteen Eighty-Four. The address is 84 (pretty much self-explanatory by this point) Ingsoc Place; Ingsoc being the Newspeak word for English Socialism, the prevailing ideology of the Party. The four (plus one) circles refers to the interrogation of the protagonist, Winston Smith, who is forced to embrace doublethink, the act of believing two contradictory statements simultaneously, all the while recognizing that they are contradictory, yet     asserting to oneself that no conflict exists between the two. His interrogator, O'Brian holds up four fingers and asks repeatedly for the correct number. Winston can only see four, no matter how hard he tries to convince himself of the false statement, 2+2=5. Finally, after repeated torture there arises a single moment when Winston believes that he can see five fingers. This results in no reprieve, however, as O'Brian coldly admits that the answer is ultimately irrelevant as dictated by the Party. Seems like a lot of effort for four little circles. I mean, five; five little circles.

Helvetica is my favourite typeface. I'm not really sure what "clean, functional music" is, but whatever it might be, Helvetica is the font to promote it. I had intentionally messed with the text wrapping, just 'cause. We are now onto our third round of moloko(plus). You felling it? I sure am...

Back to '84 and the dreaded Room 101. This is where especially difficult prisoners are taken to live out their own worst nightmares in an attempt (always successful) to coerce information and/or completely break down any remaining ability to commit thoughtcrime (thinking contrary to the Party). Just thinking about it now, Room 101 could also be an upstairs room for private functions at the Korova, where we find ourselves yet again. The text on the side refers to a dream of Winston Smith in which he finds himself in a "place where there is no darkness," presumably a time when Party is no longer in control (or is it?). The eye represents the universal monitoring of the Party, including the omnipresent gaze of Big Brother that all citizens of Oceania must endure.

Finally, we have this gem. This was a poster for a album put out by a fictitious band. The name, Nellie's Tit Ninjas basically grew out of a in-joke; you know who you are, and you know what this is about. The title of the album, This Is an Anagram, also came about from a collaboration with others. We were simply tossing around meaningless album titles. Avon Records does not exist, it was part of the original joke. Although it's not mentioned, I'm pretty sure the release party would have been at the Korova.

Oh, and that friend of mine from elementary? He's a successful illustrator and graphic designer. Live the dream, my friend. Live the dream.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Monday's going to be weird.

It's the end of an era. After fifteen years working together, a good friend of mine is leaving for another job. Got to say, I'm kind of bummed. Don't get me wrong, I am exceedingly glad for the guy. He's starting a new chapter in his life, and he deserves the opportunity that's been presented. Nevertheless, I remain behind. I really have no excuse to wallow in self-pity. It's not like he's leaving the country or anything. We'll still be able to get together; in fact, maybe more so than now. For all the years we've worked together, we've seen each other outside of work only a very small fraction of the time. I guess when you see someone day in and day out, week after week, month after month, it doesn't really seem all that necessary to get together outside of work. Now that we won't have that daily contact, I wager I'll be looking forward to meeting up with him on some weekend here and there.

As our office got together to say farewell, I couldn't help but reminisce about some of the old times. There were the years when we were still working part-time hours. We would often work evening shifts and on the weekends. There were many trips to the pub after work. I remember the agonizing time spent working whilst the building underwent renovations. I think I can speak for my friend (as well as my fellow workers at the time) that those painful years, as it turned out to be, were undoubtedly formative for us. We all emerged from the renovations a little more jaded; a little more cynical; and little more bonded. I remember the years working with the public, especially the regulars, as we called them; those individuals who would test our patience and resolve, and who, like the renovations, would become pieces of who we are today. Those were the days in the trenches. Even after we both ascended to the upper floors to fill positions away from the general public, and here I hope I speak truthfully of my friend as of myself, we never did seem able to shake a mentality that tasted of cynicism and disappointment. I know that even here, away from people and history of the past, new disappointments always seemed to arise; new opportunities to lament at a work environment bogged down in the mire of arcane policies and irrationality. I recall something said at one of my workshops: a cynic is a disappointed optimist. Looking back at all the days leading up to now, I can see some truth to that statement.

Now he's on to other opportunities, and while the industry is the same, the environment is surely to be something very different. I hope he can use this chance to start of fresh; to shake off the dust of the renovations and leave the regulars behind. I hope he can find in this new place, a group of people who have a slightly brighter outlook on the job and the life it can lead to. I hope that he can find in this new place a chance to become more optimistic in finding less disappointment.

Meanwhile, I'll still be here; getting by, but making the most of it. When all is said and done, no matter where his new position takes him, we'll still have stories of floods and gas leaks; stories of DRA vs. Unicorn; stories of Doug, Jamie, and "Three fresh ones for today!"; and we'll always have the patio of the pub where we buggered off that one summer day and enjoyed a pint on company time. Cheers!