The Falls

My body still on Central Daylight Time, I woke up early last Sunday morning in Portland. My flight back to Champaign (by way of Chicago O’Hare) didn’t leave until 1 p.m. so I had a few hours to do some touristy things. My first thought was to check out downtown Portland. I found some brochures in the hotel lobby, but unfortunately most places opened late on Sundays. Instead I packed up and checked out of the hotel at 7:30 am not really knowing what was going to come next. Sometimes this makes for great adventure, and other times it’s a big let down.

At first I did head to downtown Portland just to look around a little. I got caught up in quite a lot of traffic, both auto and pedestrian. I quickly realized everyone was headed to the Portland Race for the Cure. I pressed on a few blocks when I started thinking to myself, I should run the race. I was a little bit tired from the previous day’s triathlon, but it was only a 5K run and I can do that in my sleep (I think I actually did do that in my sleep a few times during college when we had 6:30 am practices). Then came the minutia of finding a place to park, finding the race start, dealing with registration (if it was even possible on race day), changing clothes, flying home sweaty and gross, etc. I quickly lost interest.

My next plan was to head out east of town on I-84 to the Columbia River Gorge and maybe Mt. Hood. It was drizzly and foggy all morning, so I never did see Mt. Hood. The river was nice though. The trip got interesting once I turned off the interstate onto a “scenic highway.”

I came to a waterfall along the side of the road and decided to go take a look at it. I didn’t really take anything with me other than my camera, because I thought I would get right back into the car. Then I realized there was a short trail up to the base of the waterfall.

Wahkeena Falls

Once I got there I realized there was another trail to the top of the waterfall.

There were 11 switchbacks on the way to the top

The view near the top of Wahkeena Falls

Once I got there I realized the trail kept going and going.

I hiked about 1.5 miles uphill before turning around and hiking another 1.5 miles back down to my car. The forest was very beautiful.

Thinking my adventure was probably done for the day I continued down the scenic highway just a scant half mile before coming across another waterfall and accompanying trail system. This waterfall was even more impressive (and correspondingly more touristy) than the first.

Multnomah Falls actually reminded me quite a lot of the waterfall in San Ramon on Ometepe island in Nicaragua.

Multnomah Falls is the second highest waterfall in the U.S.

Again I hiked up to the base of the waterfall for a closer view. Again I continued on to the top. There were a number of unprepared tourists hiking the “1 mile” trail up to the top, quite a few of whom I passed on the way up but not on the way down (i.e. they turned around). Hiking 1 mile isn’t very challenging. Hiking 1 mile that gains 600 ft of elevation is.

By this point I was running short on time so I was really moving up the hill. My legs weren’t really sore from the previous day’s triathlon, but the next day my legs would be quite sore from this hike.

The view from the top was spectacular. There was a little platform that went right out over the water and you could watch it falling off the cliff.


On the way out I noticed several other tourists at the falls wearing their USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship finisher’s jacket, just as I was. We smiled, nodded, and continued on our way.

I made my way back towards Portland. Along the way I stopped for a veggie burger at Burger King. My bike was still assembled so I packed it up into the suitcase in the BK parking lot. I arrived at the airport 90 minutes before my departure to find half of the airport wearing the race finisher’s jacket. What an adventure.

The Elite National Championships

After last Saturday’s Age Group National Championship race were the Women’s & Men’s Elite National Championship races. I stuck around to watch because I had never seen triathletes of that caliber (i.e. professionals) compete live (and also because the road back to the parking lot blocked off).

It was fascinating to watch, even though I didn’t know much about the competitors. All I knew is that most of the U.S. 2008 Olympic Triathlon team would be racing. The highest placed U.S. triathlete in Beijing was Laura Bennett, who finished fourth. Apparently my mother-in-law knows her mother. Neat.

Nearly all age group competitors wore wetsuits for the swim, whereas none of the elites wore wetsuits. Their transitions were just so ridiculously fast they would lose major time taking a wetsuit off. They’re all so good at swimming that they don’t really need them anyway.

The biggest difference is that the bike portion of the elite race is draft legal. This means the elite triathletes can work together on the bike, but the Age Group triathletes have to ride alone. This totally changes the dynamic of the race. The race leaders at the start of the bike have a huge advantage over those who are a little bit behind. Both the winners of Women’s & Men’s races were in the first group out of the water and the first group onto the bike. They both worked together with other competitors to stay in front of the chasers on the bike.

The bike & run courses for the Elite race were different. Instead of two long loops on the bike or a long out and back on the run, they did shorter loops (8 on the bike, 5 on the run) and came back through the transition area every few minutes. This made the race much more spectator friendly. We could stay in the same place and see the competitors a dozen times.

The women went first. I watched the race unfold from the top of the hill coming out of the transition area. On the bike one woman was chasing the leaders all by herself (and making up big time) when she crashed right in front of me. She took the corner a little too fast and slid out. She was able to get back up and finish the race. It was sad, but the crowd really cheered her on after she started riding again. Here is some of the video footage I took during the race.

The men started as soon as the women finished. The interesting thing about this race was there were two leaders on the bike and a chase group of around ten. Conventional cycling wisdom says ten working together are always faster than two. However, in this race the ten chasers were not very well organized and the two leaders pulled farther away every lap. One of these two eventually won. As a person who has ridden in a few cycling races (and watched a hundred on TV) the apparent lack of tactical knowledge by the ten chasers was painful to watch.

After the men’s race ended the road was reopened and I rode the Pocket Rocket back to the parking lot. Of course, I couldn’t find my car when I got there. I was driving a rental and it was completely dark when I parked. After a few minutes of walking in circles I realized I had already walked past it. I ate dinner at Pizza in Paradise before heading back to my hotel and falling asleep rather quickly.

The Masters Swim Team

Today was the first day of practice of the (school) year for the UIUC Masters Swim Team. The term masters generally means old people. In running this means age 40 and older. In cycling it’s 30 and older. In swimming it’s generally any adult (18 and older).

I began swimming with the masters team in the summer of 2002, shortly before my first triathlon. I had only started swimming a couple months earlier and I was looking to improve with some sort of coaching and training regimen. It worked. Even in my very first triathlon I was near the front of the pack out of the water.

I enjoy swimming, but not to the extent I enjoy running & bicycling. If it weren’t for triathlon I probably wouldn’t swim at all. There, I said it. It was really helpful for my motivation to have a coach, a schedule, and training partners waiting for me four times per week. That’s why I stuck with the masters team for the next couple years. When my knee injury sidelined my running, triathlon went along with it. I continued to swim for maybe a year or so, but as my knee continued to cause problems I eventually lost interest in swimming.

In the mean time, IMPE underwent renovations, closing both the indoor and outdoor pools. There was another pool on campus but it was much smaller and now had much more traffic, so it was pretty crowded.

After about four years off I started running again and it went well. Triathlon was the next natural progression for me, and that meant swimming. The pool situation was still less than ideal. I swam at the other pool on campus a couple times in the spring. In the summer I swam twice per week at the Crystal Lake Pool. By the end of August the renovations were completed at IMPE (now named ARC) and the outdoor pool was reopened.

Now it’s time for masters swimming again. The team meets for 90 minute practices 5 times per week (all optional). Some people train for actual races (swim meets, or in some cases triathlons), others train for fitness, others are there to socialize, and others are there simply to learn how to swim better.

Every once in a while the team organizes practice meets where the team members race each other (for time) at various distances. I participated in one of these meets about five years ago and targeted the 1000 yard race. Most swimmers are terrified of racing that far. I kind of wanted something longer. Interestingly I also participated in a 4×50 yard relay because pretty much everyone else did it. That was an experience.

time lapse video of Rob racing 1000 yards & Joe racing 1600 yards at a practice meet in 2003

The Twike

The Twike on the local news

The local news just ran a segment about a local man who drives a Twike, a bike/electric vehicle hybrid. I’ve seen this vehicle several times around town, generally on campus or traveling down Kirby outside my office window.

The New Shoes

A friend from the local running club sent out a link to an online store which had a good pair of trail racing flats (running shoes) on clearance for a bargain. What the hell, I’ll always need shoes. So I bought some on impulse. Now I have new shoes.

When the shoes arrived I was reminded of Grandad Freeman’s New Shoes song (from the animated TV show The Boondocks). It’s catchy. Melissa was singing it the rest of the day. It was such a hit that he reprised it as the Soul Plane song in a later episode.

Grandad Freeman’s New Shoes song

Grandad Freeman’s Soul Plane song

I wore the new shoes for a short run last week and also did some walking in them. Next it was time for the Habitat for Humanity 5k race at Crystal Lake Park last Sunday.

This was the same venue and course (though backwards) as the last 5k two weeks prior. It must have been the new shoes, because I ran over a minute faster for a time of 18:12. Again, I finished 3rd place, but I was very pleased with my time. This was probably the second fastest 5k race I’ve run since college.

Most 5k races have age group awards split up into 5 year or 10 year intervals (e.g. 20-24, 25-29, 30-34, etc, or 20-29, 30-39). Interestingly this race had three age groups: 25 & under, 26-40, 41 & over. This translated roughly to: college students, townies, parents of college students (it was Mom’s weekend at UIUC). I won first place in the townie division, for which I was awarded a sweatshirt. It would have been nice to have been wearing the sweatshirt during the 30 minutes between the race in 36˚ weather and the awards. Oh well.

The Reunion

Last weekend in Washington D.C. there was a reunion of former ASP summer staff members. I worked for the Appalachia Service Project during the summers of 1997-2000 while I was in college. Around 75 former staffers descended upon the nation’s capital (well, a number of them already live there) for festivities.

ASP Summer Staff 1998 (I’m the one in the bright yellow shirt)

After a 12 hour drive (and a one hour bike ride) I arrived at the Potter’s House bookstore and cafe for some live bluegrass music. As soon as I walked in I recognized four or five familiar friendly faces… and about 30 very unfamiliar ones. Has it been that long?

I scanned the store and noticed my former staffer Jill on the other side of the room. The way ASP works is there is a separate center in each of 20 or 25 counties throughout central Appalachia. Each center is run by four staffers. Jill & I worked together at the same center in the summer of 1999. Great, I thought, I’ll go say hello.

Jill & Rob in 1999

As I walked about half way across the room I took another look, then I stopped in my tracks. Wait a minute… that’s not Jill… is it? She looks like she hasn’t aged at all. My confusion was further compounded when she made eye contact with me and showed absolutely no sign of recognition. This was a person I worked with very closely for several months, what’s going on???

While I was standing there, not knowing what to do, Phoebe walked by and I asked her if that was Jill. No. It was Jill’s younger sister, who looks exactly like Jill, and who apparently also worked for ASP. Well, that solves that mystery. The real Jill was present at the banquet on Saturday night. We had a good chance to catch up a little. She is finishing up with medical school and getting married soon. ¡Felicitaciones!

After the long drive and a few hours in the coffee house I was really ready for bed. Will works in D.C. for CEDC, a nonprofit that has dormitories, and he arranged for me (and a few others) to stay there fairly inexpensively. It was nice, and the price couldn’t be beat. I slept in a little Saturday morning before heading downtown to see the monuments.

In the afternoon, the event organizers planned a service project at the Capital Area Food Bank. Around 20 or so of us from ASP helped unbox bulk canned foods and reorganize and repackage them for distribution to individuals and food kitchens. It was a good time. I used the opportunity to get to know some of the younger people who were on staff in the years following me. Interestingly, a few of them already knew who I was. You get bonus points if you can guess how — The Rob Song.

After finishing up at the food bank I got ready and headed over to the banquet on the other side of town. During my cross town trip I encountered four roundabouts (traffic circles). Fantastic. Anyone who knows me knows that I love roundabouts. I believe they are the greatest traffic control device in existence. The problem is that D.C. has the worst roundabouts I’ve ever seen (in the U.S., Nicaragua, France, or Belgium). Typically, traffic entering the roundabout has to yield to traffic already in the roundabout, but traffic in the roundabout should keep moving. Not only did these D.C. roundabouts have stop lights (rather than yield signs) upon entering the circle, they also had stoplights inside the circle itself. ¡Que terrible! So instead of none of the traffic stopping ever, all of the traffic stopped multiple times. This is how the first three roundabouts were. When I reached the fourth roundabout, it was normal (no stop lights, no stopping). Traffic moved so much more smoothly and safely through the fourth roundabout. I cannot possibly fathom why the first three were so messed up.

Once I got to the reunion banquet I saw many more familiar faces. There were a couple dozen people whose employment with ASP overlapped mine. One of the first people I saw was Ben, who immediately asked me “were you ever on stage during a Steve Jobs keynote?” That came out of nowhere. Yes, I was on stage during Steve Jobs’ 2005 WWDC keynote presentation. My boss (Theo) & I demonstrated Mathematica running on the just announced Intel based Mac computers. Ben watched the video of the keynote (here’s the relevant clip), recognized me, and remembered to ask me about it the next time he saw me (three years later). Funny.

Besides Jill, my only other former staffer (with whom I worked closely) at the reunion was Meryl (a.k.a. Marl, who was recently married). We too had a good chance to catch up with each other (though we didn’t get the chance to reenact our infamous, no holds barred wrestling matches).

Rob stuffs Meryl into a trash can in 2000

Meryl gets her revenge

Some poor, innocent bystander gets caught in the middle

The banquet was a really good time.

  • We ate Appalachian food (whatever that is).
  • We viewed a wonderful slideshow of old ASP photos.
  • A preselected representative of each decade (70’s, 80’s, 90’s, 00’s) shared some of their fondest ASP memories. Michelle K. (from my decade, the 90’s) did an exceptional job.
  • We sang a few of the songs we used to sing on a daily basis while working for ASP. It was a little emotional.
  • There was an auction of memorabilia to benefit ASP. I ended up with a really neat framed photograph of a curvy mountain road. I like mountains.
  • There was a contest to guess the number of skittles in a jar. Michelle R. & I both guessed 1200, which was the closest to the actual count of 1106. For this we won the skittles, which she yielded to me. Fortunately, the rest of the group helped pare that number down a little before we left.

After the official reunion ended, the unofficial reunion moved to some bar in an extremely busy area of D.C. I should have planned a little better, but I didn’t, and I ended up driving there. I searched for 25 minutes to find a parking place and I ended up in the tightest spot in which I’ve ever parked (and remember Iris is a very small car).

We all got a little carried away chatting it up with old friends. I ended up getting back to my quarters at 3:30 am. I haven’t stayed up that late in many a year. Juech was planning to run the Cherry Blossom 10 mile race at 7:30 am on Sunday. I since found out that he did indeed finish… barely. It was still probably before I even woke up.

The Local News

Good friend Aimee and her mother were on local television this morning to discuss the website they created called What Friends Do.  A goal of the site is to help friends and family members organize in the midst of a life changing event.