Thursday, October 4, 2012

Weightlifting and distance running in one event? Yep, it exists.

Road races and weightlifting usually aren't compatible as one activity. You typically choose to do one or the other.

As an athlete in high school, weightlifting was a pretty significant part of my routine. We lifted after practice on most days and had a summer incentive program dedicated to improving our basic weightlifting numbers (bench press, squats, cleans, ect.). While my lifting numbers never reached the lofty heights of some of my classmates, I was thrilled nonetheless when they showed progress and validated the work I put in. It was also gratifying to see my previously doughy physique fill out with some muscle.

Road races have become more of a focus for me in adulthood. It's not that I don't like weightlifting or don't see the value in it. In fact, I still put in a fair amount of time in the weight room. I just feel that a cardio focus is better for my overall health than obsessing about pumping iron, something most medical journals agree with as well. I think it's better to strike a balance between strength and endurance than emphasize one or the other.

That mindset doesn't always translate to success in a competition setting. There aren't a lot of body builders who train for weightlifting contests by running 30+ miles a week. Likewise, you won't see too many elite marathon runners maxing out on bench press and packing on muscle before a race.

However, that well-balanced approach might come in handy for me this weekend as I will be competing in the Pump & Run 5K on Saturday in Osakis, Minn. Unlike regular road races, this event adds in a weightlifting element. Participants will get a 30-second reduction off their race time based on the number of times they can bench press a percentage of their body weight before the race.

My friend Jessica first informed me about the race a few weeks back and I was almost immediately intrigued by it. As mentioned with the Warrior Dash and Ragnar previously, I tend to gravitate toward events that are unique and different from the norm. The Pump & Run certainly fits that billing, plus it appears to be a rare competition that rewards my balanced approach to lifting and running. On top of that, I'll get to hang out with a friend I don't see very often and the race takes place in a town that's 30 minutes away from my parent's cabin and also pretty close to my hometown, meaning I'll get to visit family as well.

I'm not really sure how the race will pan out. I don't bench press nearly as much as I once did and my running routine has been off-and-on since Ragnar last month. Still, I like my chances in the race and I'm looking forward to what should be a fun weekend.

And since writing this made me think of a classic SNL skit about "pumping up," here it is for my readers to enjoy.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

When weekend reporter duties are fun

During my eight months of working at the Faribault Daily News, one of the duties I've come to look forward to is that of being the weekend reporter.

As you can probably guess, it was a
good idea to wear swim trunks
while taking photos of this.
Because we're a relatively small daily paper, the task of weekend reporting rotates around the news room from week to week, with my turn coming about every six weeks. When that happens, my jobs is typically to cover some sort of live event on Saturday, write a story for Sunday's paper and be prepared for any spot news that might come up.

Most of my co workers approach weekend reporter duties with the same enthusiasm one would have with doing their taxes. So very little, if at all.

It's not that they hate the work (that wouldn't bode well for the career choice). It's more so because it involves having to do that work on a day where they'd rather be relaxing away from the office. After a hard week of work, it's nice to enjoy some R&R for the weekend.

While I agree with that mindset, it doesn't stop me from anxiously scanning the daily budgets to see what my assignment will be when my turn comes up for weekend reporter. Even if it's something as mundane as taking weather photos for unseasonably warm temperatures -- yes, that actually happened once -- I usually get pretty excited about it.

As a copy editor and page designer, my job is mostly confined to the office. I get the stories from reporters, I place them on the page and I try to make the newspaper look as appealing (and error free) as possible. It's enjoyable work because I get to utilize my creativity and knack for design, but it gets to be a little monotonous at times.

Weekend reporter assignments represent a break from that monotony. Instead of being cooped up in the office, it gets me out "in the field" and gives me a chance to work on skills -- writing, photography, interviewing, etc. -- that normally don't get a lot of practice. I went to college for print journalism with the intent of being a writer and though I think I made the right career choice, I still miss writing on a regular basis (as the 200+ entries on this blog would indicate).

Most of the reporter assignments are relatively forgettable. However, every once in awhile you get to cover something that's pretty cool. Last Saturday was a perfect example of that, as my editor Jaci Smith sent me to report on a group of kayakers known as the River Ramblers who were doing a paddle down the Cannon River from Faribault to Dundas.

Now, even to the average reporter, kayaking would be a fun thing to cover. Water sports in general are pretty photogenic, plus groups like the River Ramblers are usually more than happy to give a few quotes.

For me though, the event took on an added level of enthusiasm. As mentioned in a previous post, I recently bought a kayak and have been making regular trips to Faribault-area lakes to break in my new toy. It's turned into a multi-faceted activity of sorts for me. I get some fresh air, I do a little exploring, I get a good workout and if I bring my fishing rod with, I can get a few casts in as well. I've always been a fan of kayaking, but owning one has helped take that interest to another level.

The one hindrance so far has been the lack of a second vehicle to make river trips possible. There aren't any established kayaking clubs in Faribault and I don't know anybody in the area who's into the sport, plus I feel it would be rude to ask a coworker or friend to pick me -- and my kayak -- up at the end point of a trip when they didn't get to enjoy the trip themselves.

Kayaking isn't like cycling where you can do long trips by yourself without any assistance. There's a dependency aspect of it you need to adjust to, a difficult task when you're used to being self-reliant like I am. My hope is to do a multi-day trip down the Cannon River this fall, but unless I get to know a few other kayak enthusiasts in the area, it'll be difficult to pull that off.

Getting a chance to interview the River Ramblers was at least a slight step forward in that regard. None of the group members kayaking on Saturday were from the Faribault area (killing my local angle) and the River Ramblers only kayaks the Faribault portion of the Cannon River once a year (their schedule can be seen here). Still, it was nice to meet other enthusiasts of the sport and it gave me further encouragement that a trip down the Cannon River would be both very possible and very scenic (they do a second trip on the river near Welch as well).

The reporting assignment might also be a precursor to future kayak trips. I had to resist the urge to join the River Ramblers on their trip to Dundas on Saturday (I was on the hook for copy editing duties that night as well), but if I have a weekend available in the near future, I will definitely look into doing a trip with them. It solves my transportation dilemma and gives me a chance to explore other rivers, plus it makes kayaking a shared experience, which is always more enjoyable.

So in summary, my weekend reporter duties resulted in a decent story in last Sunday's paper and a possible connection to a group that will help me get more enjoyment out of a new hobby of mine. I call that a fun assignment.


Important note to my coworkers: Please do not perceive this as an open invitation to dump your weekend assignments on me. I enjoy reporting from time to time, but not as much as I enjoy sleeping in on Saturdays.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Bike trip to see a bike movie

Does anybody else find it weird that there's a general lack of cycling movies in our culture?

It doesn't really make sense. Cycling -- whether it be road bikes, mountain bikes or BMX racing -- is one of the most popular activities in the world and a hobby that's relatively easy for just about anyone to pick up. It doesn't require an insane amount of physical ability, nor does it require a lot of money to get started. Bike shops -- even the small-town ones -- are kept busy year-round and I'm sure motorists can attest to the regular sighting of cyclists on back country roads and city streets alike.

Yet despite all that, biking has flown relatively under the radar in cinematic culture. Runners have "Chariots of Fire" and TWO Steve Prefontaine biopics to enjoy. Swimmers have Rodney Dangerfield pulling off the Triple Lindy dive in "Back to School." Heck, dodgeball even has its own movie.

What do cyclists have? We have a small library worth of Lance Armstrong documentaries (wouldn't his story make an excellent biopic?), a Kevin Bacon movie from the 80's (side note: I didn't know about this movie until a friend of mine mentioned it, might have to track it down on Netflix now), and according to this list on, we have "Pee Wee's Big Adventure."

Given this general lack of cycling cinema, when I first heard about "Premium Rush" coming to theaters, I was naturally intrigued. A movie centered around the fast-paced, borderline reckless lifestyle of New York City bike messengers? Could that work? Would they be able to make it realistic without putting the actors in danger? I had to see for myself.

So with a day off last week, I hopped on my bike and headed down to Owatonna to catch the matinee showing. The back-country pedal might not be as action-packed as traversing the busy streets of New York, but I figured it was the best way to get in the mood to see a film about cycling. Plus I really just wanted to get a good ride in.

My expectations for the movie were relatively modest. I figured the plot line would likely be cheesy -- as it often is in action movies -- and that the characters would probably be a little over-the-top. However, I was optimistic that the biking sequences would be well done and that Joseph Gordon-Levitt would give a quality performance as the lead.

Gordon-Levitt has quickly become one of my favorite actors to watch because of his versatility -- in this year alone, he will have portrayed a hero-worshiping cop, a bike messenger, a futuristic assassin and the son of Abraham Lincoln --  and general willingness to take on challenging roles. He's not in the same class as Daniel Day-Lewis or Philip Seymour Hoffman for being a chameleon in roles, but he's certainly established himself as something more than the little alien kid from "3rd Rock from the Sun" (one of my favorite shows growing up, but that's beside the point).

"Premium Rush" follows a pretty predictable storyline for anybody who saw the trailer ahead of time. In centers around Gordon-Levitt's Wilee, a law school graduate who decided to be a thrill-seeking bike messenger instead of a button-down lawyer after college. Unlike his more cautious bike messaging compatriots, he rides a fixed gear bike -- meaning the pedals are always turning and there's no coasting -- with no breaks. He relies on instinct and split-second reactions to avoid crashes instead of obeying traffic laws and slowing down once in awhile...a notion he seems to fully embrace.

Wilee's character reminds me a lot of Tom Cruise's Maverick from "Top Gun," only with bikes instead of planes. He has the same cockiness and recklessness, plus he has little interest in following the rules and advice of others, including his on-and-off fling and fellow bike messenger Vanessa (Dania Ramirez). Vanessa's character is more grounded in reality and doesn't intend to be a bike messenger for long, but she has slight thirst for danger as well and that wild side is what draws her to Wilee.

Extending the "Top Gun" analogy further, Wilee's rival bike messenger Manny (Wole Parks) would be Rick Rossovich's Slider: Just pure, over-the-top testosterone (though I'm fairly certain Slider never referred to himself in the third person or said anything as remotely weird as "Seriously, have you seen my thighs?").

Despite his recklessness, Wilee is good at what he does, and his talent as a bike messenger is what gets him sucked into the main conflict of the movie. Vanessa's former roommate needs a package delivered to the city's shipping yard by 7 p.m. and because of Wilee's esteemed reputation, he is the one summoned for this task.

The only problem is there's another interested party looking for the package: an in-over-his-head compulsive gambler who happens to be a police detective (played with appropriate sleaziness by Michael Shannon). Detective Monday needs that package to square his debt with the mob and asks Wilee to hand it over. However, because that would be a violation of company policy (package security seems to be the one rule Wilee abides by), he disagrees, calls the cop a mean word and escapes from his grasp. From there, the chase is on.

Director David Koepp attempts to keep the audience engaged by telling the story in non-chronological order. The opening scene of the movie is Wilee crashing his bike into a car, where time is immediately turned back to the point where he his first given the delivery assignment. From there, the film is told  with the occasional flashbacks to help establish the characters (particularly Detective Monday's gambling problems).

Considering the relatively short timeline this movie is operating on, this was definitely a smart move on Koepp's part. Instead of dragging down the early parts of the movie with character development, audiences are thrown right into the action and become immediately interested in what's going on.

Well, at least MOSTLY interested, because the movie is certainly not without it's flaws.

From a realism standpoint, my biggest critique of "Premium Rush" is the leniency audiences have to have to adopt its storyline. We are led to believe that Wilee gets his delivery order, fends off numerous pursuits and confrontations with Detective Monday, Manny and an angry bike cop, gets bandaged up at a hospital, escapes a police impound lot and bikes lord knows how many miles to still make his delivery in less than two hours. I know it's just a movie and I know Hollywood takes liberties with reality all the time, but it would've been nice if the story were at least somewhat believable.

The general lack of character depth also made it tough to become invested with anyone in the movie. We're never really shown why Wilee decided to not pursue a real career after law school (side note: Wouldn't his parents be furious at him for wasting his degree?), nor do we ever get to see much of the dynamic of his relationship with Vanessa.

I also have a hard time believing characters like Detective Monday and Manny could exist in real life. Wouldn't Detective Monday's gambling habits and generally bumbling nature prevent him from ever making the police force? And wouldn't Manny's overwhelming machismo get him beat up at some point? Also, what self-respecting woman -- Vanessa included -- would ever find that attractive?

I could dwell on these points further, but I knew going in that this movie wasn't going to be Shakespeare in the park or even "50/50" -- another Gordon-Levitt movie -- for that matter. It's an action movie, and you don't watch action movies because of the believable plot line or emotionally-deep characters. You watch them for the action, and "Premium Rush" delivers (no pun intended) in this respect.

The bike sequences are extremely well shot, filmed at angles and perspectives that make the audience feel like they're right on top of the action and choreographed with impeccably-chosen music. The impound lot scene is probably the best example of this, as it features a variety of near-impossible BMX tricks to the thrashing tune of "Salute Your Solution" by the Raconteurs. Two other features also made the biking sequences stand out: the GPS mapping of the routes and how Koepp will occasionally freeze time at intersections so Gordon-Levitt can scan all available options to avoid accidents. Both are elements other cyclists can relate to, though most don't do it at the same break-neck speed -- or in as heavy of traffic -- as Wilee's character.

Moreover, I thought the movie did a great job capturing the subculture and communal aspects of biking. The majority of cyclists -- myself included -- aren't bike messengers, but we all relate to each other in some way and *most* of us have a mutual respect for one another while we're on the road. It's that bond of a similar interest and lifestyle that brings so many people together for events like RAGBRAI every year, and it's also what plays a key role in the movie's climax. As Gordon-Levitt's character puts it: "We stick together."

As far as performances go, the most impressive aspect of "Premium Rush" is the believability of the actors as bike messengers. Gordon-Levitt, Ramirez and Parks look completely legitimate as cyclists and all three underwent several weeks of rigorous training to prepare for their roles. Apparently, they did a lot of their own stunts as well, with Gordon-Levitt needing 31 stitches after crashing into a New York City cab while filming.

Aside from that, the acting is about as over-the-top as you'd expect in an action movie. Nobody really stood out as "stealing the show" from Gordon-Levitt and I didn't walk out of the theater thinking he put on an acting clinic of any kind (if you want to see a full display of his ability, go rent "50/50" or "Brick"). The antagonist of the movie was also pretty forgettable, as Michael Shannon's bad guy wasn't charismatic like Hans Gruber in "Die Hard," nor was he entertainingly menacing like Dennis Hopper's bomber in "Speed."

However, despite its shortcomings, "Premium Rush" kept me sufficiently riveted through its brisk running time of 90 minutes. Considering the general lack of bike movies out there, it was also nice to see cycling finally get some love on the big screen.

Friday, August 31, 2012

That's a paddlin': Musings from a proud kayak owner

There's always a feeling of excitement that comes with buying a new toy, whether it be an e-reader, a bicycle or a paintball gun.

My new kayak. We're going
to have some fun.
When you take that toy out of the box for the first time, all the trouble you went through to get it -- saving money, doing research, convincing a significant other that you need it -- becomes totally worth it. Instead of thinking about all the fun you could have with that toy, it turns into thinking about all the fun you WILL have with said item.

If the new toy is an e-reader or a Playstation, you're loading your favorite books on it and picking out your favorite games. If it's a fishing boat or a motorcycle, you're planning trips and figuring out how to customize it as your very own. Whatever the case, you can't wait to try it out and you're excited for the enrichment it will bring to your life.

That excitement pretty much sums up the last couple weeks for me, as I have finally made a purchase that has long been on my list of things to get: I bought a kayak. Or more specifically -- after all, I've written not one, but two blog entries about its inflatable counterpart -- I bought a REAL kayak.

The price was definitely right. A friend of my brothers was looking to unload one of the kayaks he owned and didn't want to go through the effort of selling it on eBay. My brother thought about snatching it up for himself, but after hearing how much use I got out of his inflatable kayak, he generously informed me of his friend's intent and asked me if i wanted it for the cool price of $40. I said "yes" about as quickly as the time it took John Belushi's "Animal House" character to polish off a bottle of Jack Daniels.

Paddle sports in general have always appealed to me. I had the good fortune of both growing up near a river and having a father who enjoyed making wood-strip canoes in his free time. Canoe trips were a regular occurrence in my youth, whether they be multi-day trips up to the Boundary Waters, or short day paddles on Elk River in our backyard. I loved the feeling of being of being on the enjoyed and welcomed the serenity of the setting.

In my adult life, kayaking always seemed like it would be an ideal activity for me. It offers the same serenity as canoeing, only without as much hassle. The boats are smaller, they're a little easier to carry and they don't require a second person to use -- a key point with an odd schedule like mine. If you live close to water and you're so inclined, you can squeeze in a quick kayaking session even in the busiest of days.

It really ties the room together
Now that I finally have a kayak to call my own -- and found the perfect hanging spot for it above the dinner table in my apartment, see second photo -- I've been getting plenty of use out of it. I've taken it out a few times on Cannon and Roberds lakes near Faribault and I'm already plotting a few ambitious trips with it. Among them include:

  • Doing a two-day float on the Cannon River from Faribault to Red Wing and hopefully bribing my friend, a recent sportswriter hire at the Red Wing Republic, into driving me back to Faribault (I can pay handsomely in home-brewed beer, Joe)
  • Attempting a Boundary Waters trip with my brothers
  • Taking it out for a day on the Chain of Lakes area in the Twin Cities, a beautiful area of the metro that strikes a seemingly impossible balance between nature and urban
  • Doing the row-ride-run triathlon in Winona, a race that I'm convinced was tailor-made for people like me (translation: people who aren't good at swimming)
  • Trying it out on some real rapids, either in Wisconsin (for an easier trip) or Colorado (once I get good at it)

I'm sure other ideas will come to mind as well. That's usually the way it goes when you have an exciting new toy to play with.

This is going to be fun.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My abbreviated -- and awesome -- Ragnar experience

Road races can be memorable for a variety of ways.

If you trained hard and ran a good race, you might remember it for a personal best running time. If it's something like a costumed Halloween run or one of the increasingly-popular mud runs, maybe you'll remember it for the unique atmosphere and fun activities surrounding the race. If you ran it with a group of friends and made a day out of hanging out afterward, maybe the camaraderie is the first thing you'll think of.
You've got to love a race where the medal
doubles as a bottle opener.

Or if it's something like Ragnar Relays, maybe you'll remember it for being a whirlwind experience; a flurry of activity packed into a few short hours that left you both mentally and physically exhausted.

Ragnar is the first race I've ever done that can be described in that way. The rollicking relay run from Winona to St. Paul finished up a few days ago and the residual aches and pains from the running I did for it have long since subsided. However, the race still hangs prominently in my thoughts as I try to sort through everything that happened during it.

Most other running events are pretty straightforward: you show up, you race, you go home. That's not the case with Ragnar. There's long van rides, lack of sleep and excruciating waits between runs to endure. And strangely enough, it's all enjoyable. REALLY enjoyable, in fact.

My first Ragnar was actually an abbreviated experience. I didn't ask off work enough in advance to get the full weekend off and was stuck in the office Friday evening while my Ragnar teammates covered for my first run. My plan was to finish designing the Saturday edition of the Northfield News, drive over to Ellsworth, WI and meet up with my team -- dubbed the Shady Characters -- in time to run my last two relay legs.

It certainly wasn't an ideal situation to be in. I signed up for Ragnar intending to run the full race and hated the thought of someone filling in for me. I also hated the fact that I was relying on accurate race pacing and decent cell phone coverage -- neither a sure thing -- to locate my team.

However, it was the hand I was dealt and I intended to play it.

The situation also set the table for a pretty hectic 24 hours. From 11:45 p.m. on Friday to 11:45 p.m. on Saturday, I:

--drove from Faribault to Ellsworth and back, a three hour round trip

--spent roughly 10 hours riding in a van with five relative strangers, the majority of which was accented with the smell of sweat on body odor typically associated with running

--ran 14 miles collectively between two relay legs

--indulged in a post-race scene that included quirky costumes, free pizza and a chance to finally utilize the free beer tickets that were attached to our racing bibs

--sent out about 30 tweets encapsulating my Ragnar experience (follow me @AGVoigt if you wish)

--hitched a ride from one of my teammates to go get my car in Ellsworth after our team van got back to Faribault

--got about 80 minutes of sleep on a hardwood gym floor in Stillwater, MN

Now, that's a lot of activity -- and not a lot of sleep -- packaged into one day. And as you can probably guess, I slept like a rock once I finally got back to my apartment late Saturday night.

My particular situation had the added awkwardness of not knowing anyone on the team prior to race day. My coworker Stacy approached me about joining a Ragnar team in March and would eventually be unable to participate in it herself due to injury. Thanks to a evening-centric work schedule, I also didn't get a chance to do any training runs with teammates ahead of time.

A lot of people might question the wisdom of going through all that for one road race. It's a lot of effort and time commitment, to be sure, and the experience left me sleeping off the effects of it for most of Sunday. In all honesty, I still don't think I'm completely caught up on sleep from it.

So what makes Ragnar so enjoyable? Why do so many people -- including numerous teams in the Faribault and Owatonna areas -- sign up for it every year?

Part of the answer is a slight twist on an old saying: Misery loves company. Arduous runs with hot temps and steep inclines are a lot more bearable when you have teammates supporting you and cheering you on. Likewise, it's an awesome feeling to hand the baton off after giving it your all for your part of the race.

Beyond that, the race just has a fun atmosphere. Team names like Nine Inch Snails and Pothole Surfers bring a smile to the face of anyone checking the race results and many groups put as much effort into their costumes and van decorations as they do into their training. One man ran the entire race dressed like a bear, another wore a can-can dress with a corset for his final relay leg.

Running is a sport that can get pretty intense at times, but aside from a few elite relay teams, Ragnar never takes itself too seriously. Thanks in part to that laid back atmosphere, I had a blast running in the race and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the other people on my team as the day progressed.

It might have been a whirlwind experience, but it's one I'll look back on fondly for years to come.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ready for Ragnar: A different kind of preparation

Preparation for road races is usually pretty straightforward.

You get your training runs in, carb up with pasta and get a good night's rest before the big day. Items to bring for the race are also simple: shorts, running shoes, socks and a favorite running shirt for the basics; mp3 player, energy bars and Vaseline if you're feeling ambitious.

I still get nervous before races from time to time, particularly if it's a challenging distance or a type of race I've never done before. But for the most part, the preparation aspect of it is second nature to me. After running in a decent variety of them, I know what to expect on race day and I know how to prepare for it.

Well, at least I USUALLY know what to expect. Ragnar Relays, which kicks off its Minnesota race tomorrow morning, is the exception to that predictability. 

As mentioned in previous post, I'll be running in a relay team that I was directed to through a coworker. I know what time we're leaving for Winona, which legs of the relay I'll be running, which van I'm in and roughly what times I'll be running at thanks to a handy spreadsheet put together by our team captain. Thanks to a checklist on the Ragnar's website, I also know what kind of equipment to bring (never had to pack reflective vests and head lamps for a race before).

Beyond that, I really don't know what's going to happen. To be honest, aside from my first marathon, this is probably the most nervous I've been before a race.

Strangely enough, the nervousness has nothing to do with the actual running. I feel like I'm pretty well prepared for my relay legs. I haven't logged the same kind of training miles I've done in the past, but I've been in a pretty consistent running routine for about  2 months now, averaging 20-25 miles a week, doing a lot of hill workouts and getting in weekly long runs of 7-9 miles.

No, most of my anxiousness is rooted in the non-running aspects of Ragnar. I've never done a relay race of any kind before, so I'm curious to see how the exchange point works between two legs of the relay. Is it like the hand off of a relay run for track? Is there a specific point where the hand off needs to be made? 

I've also never been in a race that requires me to run on multiple occasions, so it'll be interesting to see what myself and other people on the team do with their down time between the runs. Since the race is about 36 hours long, I assume we'll be sleeping at some point, but when? And for how long? And how many of us at a time?

Speaking of the team, I haven't really had time to get acquainted with the other runners in my group. I've only met my team members once...and it was for about 20 minutes during my dinner break from work. Aside from that, I don't really know anybody on the team aside from the occasional correspondence on Facebook. 

Much of the unfamiliarity is due to the solitary nature of running. Unlike the other teams I've been a part of (basketball, football, rowing, etc.), running isn't really a sport that requires a set practice time with other teammates. 

You don't need to run through plays like you do for football, and you don't have to work on rhythm and timing with others like you do for rowing. Heck, you don't even need a partner to play catch with like you do for baseball or someone to return your serve like you do in tennis.

If you're inclined to do so, you can train for a road race entirely on your own time. And when you have an odd work schedule like me, the majority of your training runs end up being solo affairs.

Consequently, it'll feel a little weird at first riding in a van with a bunch of complete strangers. I'm not sure where everyone else is at for preparation and I'm also uncertain as to how seriously everyone else is taking the run. To be perfectly honest, I probably wouldn't even be able to put a name on the faces of everyone riding in my van.

However, the nervousness tends to subside when I remember one simple fact: Most of the other people in the van are probably thinking the same thing.

Nobody on the team really knows me at all either. And aside from a couple Ragnar veterans in the bunch, most of us are participating in the event for the first time. It's going to be a new experience for all parties involved; not just me.

With that in mind, I'm ridiculously excited for the race to get underway. My van likely won't have the same initial rapport of some team van rides, but I'm sure we'll have fun.

And since our team is apparently wearing pink wigs for the race, I'm sure we'll look ridiculous as well.


Since I've finally gotten around to syncing Twitter up to my phone, I plan on tweeting updates throughout the race. Be sure to check in on it!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Cross-country encounter on a small-town ride

For cycling-obsessed people like myself, the only thing better than a good bike ride is a good bike ride with company.

The social context of a group ride is one that almost always lends itself to good conversation. Even if it's a group of complete strangers, the common ground of biking and the shared appreciation for exercise helps immensely in breaking down the social walls that may have existed otherwise.

I've always enjoyed the conversations I have with other cyclists on the road. Some were casual riders just looking to get out of the house for awhile; others were serious racers working on a specific training ride. Whatever the case, all of them were interesting in their own way.

Or, in the case of Delicia Jernigan, they were just plain interesting.

Delicia Jernigan biked all the way from
Portland, Or. to ride in the Tour de Nick
Saturday in Northfield.
I came across Jernigan yesterday at the Tour de Nick ride in Northfield. The Hawthorne, Nev. native was passing through Southern Minnesota in the midst of cross-country bike trip from Portland, Or. to Portland, MA to raise money for Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), a nonprofit organization based in Minneapolis that the Tour de Nick raises money for as well.

Both Jernigan and the Tour de Nick's philanthropic efforts come as a result of personal tragedy. The annual Northfield ride started in 2003 to honor Nick Sansome, a local cyclist who took his own life earlier that year. Jernigan likewise lost her younger brother Anthony to a similar fate in 2010.

Ride organizer Bill Metz pointed Jernigan out to me early on, but I didn't really get a chance to talk with her before the ride, mostly due to the photos and video I attempted to take of the event for the Northfield News. However, I caught up with her on the road and spent the last several miles of the ride conversing with "D" -- as she likes to be called -- about her trip.

Admittedly, it was a pretty cool experience for me. Given the troubles I've had with simple day trips on a bike, the people who are brave enough to try cross-country travel have my respect and admiration. It takes a lot of ambition to do something like that. With Jernigan, the loss of her brother helped spark that ambition.

"I always wanted to bike across the U.S., but I never really thought I could do it," Jernigan said. "After my brother died though, everything changed for me. I started asking myself, 'Why am I not doing this?'"

Eventually, Jernigan resolved to make the bike trip a ride of remembrance, both for her brother and the lives of others that have been lost to suicide. In addition to taking donations and writing about her trip, Jernigan's ride website includes a memorial wall where people can submit the name of a loved one who has taken their own life.

"I'm not just doing this for me," Jernigan said. "I'm doing this for everyone who's ever had their life affected by suicide. It's about raising awareness of the problem and understanding what we can do to help."

Jernigan heard about the Tour de Nick through the SAVE organization and though the rest of her trip has followed a relatively relaxed schedule, the Northfield group ride was always at the top of her list of priorities.

"I had this date circled on my calendar from the very beginning," Jernigan said of Tour de Nick. "It's going toward a great cause and it seemed like it'd be a cool event to be a part of."

The trip for Jernigan hasn't been without the occasional struggles. She estimates having encountered roughly 20 flat tires on the road and since this is her first time doing multi-day bike traveling of any kind, the contents of her gear has been a work in progress.

"I started off with way too much stuff on my bike," Jernigan said. "It's a constant process to figure out what you need and what you can do without. I've gotten rid of a lot of stuff since the start of the trip."

Still, Jernigan is more than happy with how her trip has gone thus far, particularly with the interactions she's had with others.

"I've yet to have a bad encounter with anyone," Jernigan said. "Everyone has been so supportive and helpful on the road. Some of the people have been absolutely amazing to talk to."

After spending spent Saturday night with the Metz family following the Tour de Nick, Jernigan departed from Northfield earlier today and is hoping to get to Portland, Ma. by mid-to-late September. Although she is looking forward to reaching her destination, Jernigan is equally excited for the journey it will take to get there.

"It's been awesome so far, so we'll just see where it goes from here," Jernigan said.

And though I won't be joining Jernigan for the rest of her trip -- pretty sure I don't have enough vacation time built up for that -- it was fun getting to know her for that brief stretch of road and I look forward to reading more about her journey in the future.

Godspeed D, and ride safe.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Let the games begin: 11 reasons why I love the Olympics

Once every four summers, sports fans get a welcome reprieve from the big business aspects of major sports, instead getting treated to two-plus weeks of athletic competition in its purest form.

The Olympics have never been multi-million dollar contracts and free agency; it's about a collection of world-class athletes facing off with national pride and a shot at the medal podium on the line. Most Olympians aren't wealthy and very few have posters of themselves plastered on the walls of idolizing youth. They train year-round and have to make a countless number of sacrifices to get where they're at.

But when the time comes to compete on the world's greatest stage, they know that their dedication was worth it. And for the select group that earn a gold medal, those few moments of glory are enough to last a lifetime.

This year's edition of Olympics officially kicks off today with the opening (complete schedule of the Olympics here). In honor of the summer games starting, here are 11 reasons why I love the Olympics, in no particular order:

1. The 1992 Dream Team -- I'm JUST old enough to remember this, and along with watching Michael Jordan highlights, it's what first got me into basketball. The glitz and glamour of the Dream Team may not have been in keeping with the spirit of the Olympics, but it was still something to admire. A team comprised of 11 future Hall of Famers (and Christian Laettner) that throttled opponents by an average of 44 points a game. Will we ever see a team dominate to that level in international play again? Probably not -- regardless of what Kobe Bryant thinks -- but we can at least hope to see a team that captivates us in the same way.

2. The decathlon -- U.S. decathlete Ashton Eaton described the decathlon as being "The SATs of athletics." I couldn't agree more. It's always been one of my favorite events to watch just because of the sheer athleticism required in it. Most people can't leap over hurdles without tripping on them; try doing that, pole vault, javelin and a 1,500 meter run on the same day. The guys and gals competing in this hardly fall into the "Jack of all trades, master of none" category either. Most decathlon event records are within mere fractions of what the world records are in those events individually.

3. The 1996 U.S. women's gymnastics team doing the Macarena after winning the gold medal -- Kerri Strung memorably came up big for the U.S. in the vault competition, but this is what always comes to mind for me when I think about that team. What would be the equivalency of this today? The men's gymnastics team doing the dubstep after winning gold?

4. Olympic rowing -- Maybe it's just because I attempted the sport in college, but I have a deep appreciation for the ridiculous amount of athleticism and commitment needed to even be good rowing; much less compete at an Olympic level. It's a test of balance, strength, rhythm and cardiovascular endurance on the open water. If you're racing in an 8 or a 4, there's also the added challenge of resisting the urge to not throw your shrieking coxswain overboard. And as far as Olympic underdog stories go, it doesn't get much better than this.

5. Michael Phelps, past and present -- Admittedly, I'm not all that into competitive swimming. I'd rather dive for pennies at the deep end of a swimming pool than watch a 200M butterfly race. Still, you have to respect and admire the incredible career Phelps has had in the summer games. An incredible 14 gold medals over two Olympics and it's looking like he'll add a few more to the collection this year. If that weren't enough to make you intrigued, his diet during the Olympics is enough to make Marlon Brando blush.*

6. Table tennis and badminton at an Olympic level -- It's hard to believe that games you can play in your basement or backyard without breaking a sweat can turn into riveting international competition, but when you watch the pros do it, it's easier to believe. I keep hoping for them to add hammerschlagen as an event, but I don't think it's happening.

7. Jesse Owens walking into Nazi Germany and leaving with four gold medals -- When you consider the racial climate of the time and Adolph Hitler assuring Aryan dominance before the games, this has to be considered one of the most incredible feats in Olympic history. I can only imagine what Owens had to go through to get to that point. An African American sprinter who was treated like a second-class citizen in his own country traveled over to Nazi Germany to compete for that same country in front of a crowd that looked down on him as a primitive and un-advanced human being. And despite all that, he kept his head held high and came away with a performance that went unmatched for almost 50 years (Carl Lewis equaled his track & field gold medal count in 1984). I could write at length about Owens' Olympic triumph, but for the sake of my readers, I'll keep it short. For additional insight about Owens, you can watch this or read this.

8. The U.S. women's basketball team -- Three Minnesota Lynx players (Maya Moore, Lindsey Whalen and Seimone Augustus) are on a squad that's favored to win gold in London. Call it a ray of sunshine for an otherwise bleak summer for Minnesota sports.**

9. Usain Bolt sprinting to three world records in Beijing -- His medal haul of three golds was impressive (though not unprecedented), but the lanky Jamaican gets extra credit for reviving the popularity of a sport that had previously been riddled with doping controversy. Plus, has there ever been a better last name for a sprinter than Bolt? That's like an archer having their last name be Bullseye. Needless to say, I had fun writing headlines for the Mankato sports section that summer.

10. Bob Beamon's leap -- World records get broken all the time in the Olympics. That's just how it works as athletes evolve and training regimes become more developed. But how often is that a record gets completely obliterated like this? Beamon broke Jesse Owens' record in the long jump -- a record that stood for more than 30 years -- by almost 2 feet in the 1968 Olympics. It took 23 years for his record to finally fall (Mike Powell surpassed it by 2 inches in 1991).

11. The triathlon -- If the decathlon is the SATs of athletics, perhaps the triathlon is the ACT.  Coming from a guy who competed is several triathlons without being able to swim competently, I can tell you that it's REALLY difficult to be good at all three events. Like all other Olympic events, the athletes competing in this put in an unfathomable amount of work to get to this level, and that alone is something to appreciate.


*I've often wondered who would win in a swimming race: Michael Phelps or Kevin Costner's half-man, half-fish character from "Waterworld." Phelps is basically genetically engineered to be a swimmer (long arms, giant feet, long legs and flexible ankles), but Costner's character had webbed feet and hands AND had gills. I'd like to think it would at least be close.

**I'm waiting on celebrating the Wild's signing of Parise and Suter until they actually play together. It was a much-needed injection of energy for the franchise (and possibly one of the greatest free agent hauls in NHL history), but it's still unproven.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Movie metamorphosis: A look at actors who changed their bodies for roles

Tom Hardy is no stranger to packing on the muscle for a movie.

The British actor bulked up to an almost-unrecognizable mass to portray Charles Bronson in 2008's "Bronson." Likewise, he reportedly added 30 pounds of muscle and studied numerous fighting styles (according to to play the intimidating Batman villain Bane in this year's hotly-anticipated "The Dark Knight Rises," which opens in general theaters at midnight tonight. If the various trailers from "Rises" are any indication, Hardy's workout regime definitely paid off. He's hulking, he's scary and he'll undoubtedly be a better Bane than the campy, mindless henchman in the ridiculous, nipple suit-laden "Batman & Robin."

The practice of actors gaining or losing a significant amount of weight for a role is fairly common in today's movie industry. For certain roles, it's a big part of their process of getting into character. Would anyone have accepted Will Smith as a convincing Muhammad Ali if he still looked like the skinny, cocky kid from "Fresh Prince of Bel Air"?

As a self-proclaimed (and borderline obsessive) movie buff, I've seen my fair share of actor transformations. It always amazes me how actors can dedicate themselves to a role in this way. Most people struggle to lose/gain weight just to live healthy; these actors are doing it for the sake of art (and presumably a sizable paycheck). It's an exercise in discipline and dedication that many desire, but only few possess.

In honor of "Dark Knight Rises" coming out today -- and since it's been a relatively uneventful week for me on the health & fitness front -- here's a few of the more memorable roles I've seen for weight gain/loss. Feel free to chime in with other examples if you're so inclined. Unless noted otherwise, all weight loss/gain information is courtesy of IMDB, a movie website that I likely need an intervention from in the near future:

Christian Bale -- The Machinist (2004)
Speaking of Batman, Bale looked more like a third-world refugee than the Caped Crusader in this movie about an emotionally-damaged insomniac. Bale dropped more than 60 pounds -- weighing in at sickly 110 pounds --  for the role by eating nothing more than a can of tuna and an apple each day. Supposedly, Bale felt so weak during filming that he could barely do a push-up. It was hard to watch this movie without wanting to reach into the screen and give his character a cheeseburger. His next role after this? You guessed it: Batman. He put on close to 100 pounds(mostly muscle) in less than a year to play the Dark Knight, and was reportedly able to do much more than one push-up.

Natalie Portman -- Black Swan (2010)
Portman isn't a plus-sized woman to begin with, but her petite figure looked downright anorexic in this psycho-sexual ballet thriller. To prepare for her role, Portman dropped roughly 20 pounds and started a training regime a year before filming began that included rigorous ballet practice and swimming a mile a day. She definitely earned her Oscar in this movie. (Random side note: If you'd have told me five years ago that I'd thoroughly enjoy seeing a movie about ballet, I would have made a disgusted face and called you a liar)

Robert De Niro -- Raging Bull (1980)
My favorite boxing movie also featured one of the all-time great actor transformations. To portray Jake La Motta, De Niro not only trained extensively as a boxer (even entering into a few amateur boxing matches), he also packed on 60 pounds to portray the older, fatter La Motta in later scenes. Just watch this clip; you can hardly recognize him. Also, it's incredibly hard to find a clip for this movie that isn't full of profanity.

Matt Damon -- Courage Under Fire (1996)
Before he ever asked Scott William Winters if he liked apples, Damon turned heads by losing 40 pounds  -- supposedly by smoking and running 5-10 miles a day, according to an interview with the Screen Actors Guild -- for his role as a soldier in this movie. Interestingly enough, Damon's weight loss almost cost him the role in "Saving Private Ryan" the following year, as director Steven Speilberg previously thought that Damon was "too skinny" for the part. Also interesting, Damon went the other direction weight-wise years later, packing on 30 pounds with a "diet" of junk food and dark beer to play a pathological liar in 2009's "The Informant!"

Vincent D'Onofrio -- Full Metal Jacket (1987)
The normally-lanky D'Onofrio was barely recognizable in this Vietnam war epic, as he put on 70 pounds to play the bumbling Pvt. Leonard Lawrence (also known as Pvt. Pyle by R. Lee Ermey). Supposedly, the extra weight led to him tearing a ligament in his knee while filming the obstacle course scene. Also, I'm guessing he needed a therapy session or two after getting yelled at so much by R. Lee Ermey. (note: I couldn't find a clip of Pvt. Pyle that wouldn't get me in trouble at work, LOTS of profanity in this movie)

Charlize Theron -- Monster (2003)
I remember seeing this movie on cable and being utterly shocked to find out later that the gorgeous Charlize Theron portrayed the grisly prostitute-turned-serial killer. Theron certainly wasn't gorgeous here, packing on 30 pounds, wearing ghastly makeup and letting obscenities fly at a rapid-fire rate. Her hard work paid off though, as she took home the Oscar and became known for something other than being the sexy safe cracker in "The Italian Job."

Tom Hanks -- Cast Away (2000)
Hanks gains and loses weight for roles so often, people barely even notice it anymore. However, everyone noticed it in this one. Hanks stopped working out and allowed himself to grow pudgy in order to play the working-class version of Chuck Noland. Production of the movie was then halted for a year so Hanks could lose 50 pounds to play the stranded-on-an-island Noland. The weight loss appeared to affect Hanks' social skills, as he clearly overreacts to a minor argument with Wilson the volleyball.

Edward Norton -- American History X (1998)
Norton didn't need the CGI from "Hulk" to look buff. He put on a reported 35 pounds of muscle to pull off a neo-Nazi in this movie. The added bulk didn't stay on him for long though, as he starred as the scrawny insomniac in  "Fight Club" later that year.

Hilary Swank -- Million Dollar Baby (2004)
Another boxing movie with a memorable actor transformation! Swank went all out for this role, packing on 20 pounds of muscle and training extensively to make herself into a convincing boxer. Like De Niro's boxing turn, she also took home a best acting Oscar for her efforts. She also gets bonus points for being the subject of a spirited argument in "The Office" over whether or not she's hot.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ragnar Relays, here I come!

I think it's a pretty universal concept that the best experiences are shared experiences.

Almost all people -- myself included -- strive for companionship in some way, whether it be hanging out with friends or striking up conversation with complete strangers. Life can get pretty lonely by yourself and daily occurrences, both good and bad, become more bearable when you have someone there experiencing them with you.

Above all else, that's the biggest reason why I've always been interested in Ragnar Relays. Unlike the solo road races I've done in the past, it's the ultimate team effort. In the Minnesota version of Ragnar, the race takes place between Winona and St. Paul, where relay teams of 6 or 12 people take turns running segments of the 190-mile course over a period of two days.

Relay races have always had an appeal to me. I love the competitiveness, I love the gradually-building drama, but most of all, I love the teamwork and the camaraderie that comes with a group of people working toward a common goal. 

Needless to say, when a friend of mine described Ragnar as being "a slumber party without sleep...or showers,"  I was immediately hooked and sought out to put my own team together for it. Some of my regular readers may even recall a blog entry I did last year on the topic. I wasn't looking for the challenge of triathlon or the accomplishment of running a marathon; I was looking for a race I could enjoy with others.

However, for a variety for a reasons, the team never materialized. Schedules were too hard to coordinate and many of my friends were uneasy about committing to a race several months in advance. The logistics of Ragnar -- van rentals, ride arrangements, drivers -- was also a lot more to consider than I was used to. Most of the events I've signed up for only require you to show up on time, bring proper equipment and wear some sort of clothes (though that isn't ALWAYS required).

I put my Ragnar ambitions on the back-burner for awhile, declaring it to be one of those races that would be fun to do but might not actually come to fruition. However, out of the blue a couple months back, my coworker Stacy -- someone I had only met in passing at that point -- asked if I was still into running and if I wanted in on a Ragnar team this summer.

My response was a semi-hysterical "yes" and the exuberance I displayed about finally getting on a Ragnar team probably looked something like this.

Admittedly, this isn't exactly how I envisioned getting to do Ragnar. I don't know any of the people on my team (Stacy recently had to drop out due to a toe injury) and with my opposite-from-normal-life work schedule, I likely won't get to know too many of them before the race rolls around on August 17. It would've been nice to have friends on the team to hang out with and possibly do some training runs with.

Despite all that though, I am excited for the race and look forward to getting to know my "Shady Character" teammates over the course of the next few weeks. Besides, I figure if they're doing Ragnar they must be cool, right?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Hello Target Field, it's nice to finally meet you

When it comes to upcoming events or activities, anticipation has a way of sabotaging our enjoyment of them.

Quick example: The summer before my junior year of college, a few friends and I went to go see "Snakes on a Plane" in theater. Yes, that would be the Samuel Jackson action movie where he does battle against -- you guessed it -- snakes on a plane. Obviously, we weren't seeing it because we thought it would be an epic drama with captivating dialogue; it was because we wanted see Samuel Jackson beat up snakes and spout off his signature line of the movie (just for fun, here's the edited version of it). Because of that (and the fact that we went to a cheaper matinee show), we all thought it was an enjoyable movie.

Conversely, I went to see "J. Edgar" last winter fully expecting it to be an Oscar-caliber film. Critics were panning it at the time, but I figured it had an award-winning director (Clint Eastwood) and one of Hollywood's finest actors (Leo DiCaprio) behind it. On top of that, it was a biopic about one of the most controversial and polarizing figures in American history. How could that miss?

However, after suffering through more than two hours of convoluted storytelling, unexplored plot points and ghastly old person makeup, I began to understand exactly how it could miss. Considering the hype surrounding "J. Edgar" leading up to its release (some thought it would lead to DiCaprio's first Oscar), it was an extreme letdown. I remember leaving the theater frantically texting friends not to see it and debated on whether or not I should ask the cashier for my money back. After thinking about it, I determined that "J. Edgar" was the most disappointing movie I ever saw in theater, a strong statement seeing as how I saw "Batman & Robin" (click here for the gory details).

Now, taking away all the hype and buzz surrounding the two movies, most critics would say "J. Edgar" is a superior movie to "Snakes on a Plane." The acting is better, it's less campy and the main characters have considerably more depth. However, because of the separate expectations I had for the two movies, I enjoyed seeing Samuel Jackson beat up snakes and look cool for 90 minutes more than I did watching a biopic about J. Edgar Hoover -- a weird thing to say when you were a history major in college.

It took two years to finally catch a
game here, but it was worth the wait.
So what does all of this have to do with a blog post about Target Field? Well, as I was getting ready to leave for my much-anticipated bike trip to the Twins' ballpark, I worried that I was setting myself for a "J. Edgar"-esque letdown.

Admittedly, I was pretty pumped for this trip, probably more than I'd been for any other bike trip aside from RAGBRAI. Seeing my first game at Target Field was exciting enough by itself; the fact that I was making a bike trip out of it was just the icing on the cake. I must have packed and re-packed my gear five times the day before leaving and had trouble falling asleep Friday night because I so excited thinking "This is it, I'm FINALLY doing it."

The next morning, the anticipation got replaced -- at least somewhat -- by nervousness, as I woke up and started running through my head all the things that could go wrong.

What if I got lost on an unfamiliar road? What if I got a broken spoke or some other kind of bike malfunction I couldn't readily fix? What if I ran out of water in the middle of nowhere? What if the weather forecasts were wrong and I wound up having to pedal through head winds for 60+ miles? What if it started downpouring and caused the game to get cancelled? What if I couldn't find my parents (who had the tickets) and missed the game because of it?

The video of myself I took of
myself while biking turned out badly,
but I think the photo looks cool.
Some of those issues are things I've encountered on other trips, but this wasn't a regular bike adventure; this was a pilgrimage to see a Twins game. I couldn't go at a leisurely pace and shrug it off if something went wrong. If I got a flat tire or took a wrong turn, I could miss the start of the game or miss it altogether.

I embarked from Faribault bracing myself for anything, but as the ride began to unfold, it soon became clear that my worries were all for nothing. My bike was handling as well as ever, the wind was indeed in my favor and, because of my early departure, the hot temperatures predicted for that day hadn't come to fruition yet. The meticulous route planning also paid off, as I was able to navigate the back roads between Northfield and Farmington and readjust my route when I came across an unexpected dirt road.

Simply put, the ride went splendidly. I made it to Minneapolis with enough extra time to take a quick shower at the Anytime Fitness near Target Field and went to grab a drink with my parents at a nearby pub before the game. I even had enough time the play around with my camera and try to take pictures/videos of myself while biking (the video did not turn out so well, all you see is chin).

My dad and I have been to
a lot of Twins games
together, but this was our
first at Target Field.
The occurrences after the bike ride were equally wonderful. The game was an enjoyable one to watch, with our seats being comfortably in the shade and the Twins trouncing the lowly Chicago Cubs 11-3. Target Field also lived up to the hype I'd been hearing about it since it opened. It's a beautiful stadium to walk through and bask in, complete with breathtaking views of downtown Minneapolis, a bevy of concession options and a number of other quirks that make it unique to Minnesota (the Kasota stone exterior, for example).

Walking around the ballpark, it almost didn't feel like I was watching the same team after spending so many years going to Twins games at the lowly Metrodome. The fact that I got to experience it for the first time with my dad -- the man who introduced me to baseball in the first place -- made it all the more special.

The trip's fun didn't stop once the game was over either. Post-game activities included an outdoors blues festival, a trip to Fulton Brewery and my introduction -- and immediate infatuation -- with Russian Imperial Stout.

While biking over to St. Paul that evening, my friend Nick and I also came across the psychedelic Northern Spark arts festival on the Stone Arch Bridge. Neither of us had any idea what the festival was or why it was clogging bike traffic on the bridge, but considering it featured booming music, puppet shows, eclectic works of art and bikes decked out with everything from Christmas lights to paper- mâché dragon heads, we were at least intrigued.

Yep, the Stone Arch Bridge was
quite a scene on Saturday night.
Once we finally got to Nick's place to crash for the evening (thanks again for the hospitality), I once again found myself laying awake, this time on Nick's futon mattress. Instead of the anticipation and nervousness of the night before, my mind was awash with disbelief:

"Did this day really just happen? Did I actually pull this off and did I EVER expect it to be this cool?"

It is a rare -- and welcome -- occurrence to have something you've built up so much in your head turn out exactly the way you wanted it to. The trip wasn't entirely picture-perfect -- I opted to have Nick drive me back to Faribault the next day instead of biking it due to EXTREMELY ominous weather conditions -- but considering the concerns I had at the start of it, I couldn't be happier.

After all the buildup and anticipation, it was nice to finally say "hello" to Target Field.

I was planning on concluding this post with a video of my trip, but since I haven't perfected the art of filming myself while biking, here's a clip of Charlie Parr performing at that blues festival instead. I figure my readership will enjoy hearing his guitar more than they'd enjoy hearing my voice anyway:

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Target-ing a bike trip to a Twins game (get it?)

Well, I'm finally doing it. I'm finally going on the bike trip I've been wanting to do for almost two years. A day ride that mixes city trails with country roads, goes past a waterfall and ends with catching a Twins game.

That's right. This coming Saturday (two days from now), I'm hopping on my bike and going to my first game at Target Field.

I mentioned my intent to do this in a post a couple of months ago. Really, it's something I've wanted to do ever since I biked past the Twins' newest baseball cathedral for the first time two summers ago. I love biking and I love baseball, so it only makes sense to combine the two into one glorious ride.

Given my long-standing desire to pursue this trip, one would think that this specific date has been in the works for some time. However, that's definitely not the case. I didn't know I had the weekend off until recently and even then, I wasn't aware that the Twins were in town until I looked up their schedule after being apprised of the unexpected days off.

Even after learning all of that, I still wasn't totally sure I wanted to pull the trigger on the trip. The game is an interleague matchup against the Cubs, and since interleague bouts are considered "premium games," the tickets are more expensive than regular games. Plus the game starts at 1:10 p.m., meaning I'll have to leave my apartment no later than 7 a.m. if I want any chance of biking the 64 miles (bike route here) I need to cover to make it Target Field on time (definitely not a morning person, so that'll suck). On top of all that, Saturday's weather forecast calls for clear skies and high temps, meaning I get to look forward to 90 degree heat and sun bearing down on me for most of the ride.

Those were all drawbacks I had to consider when deciding what to do with the weekend. But after thinking about it, I decided to dismiss them on the basis of something I've come to realize about myself: That I've been too caught up in making excuses not to do the trip instead of just shutting up and doing it. That's why I've been wanting to do the trip for so long but never got around to it; I kept talking myself out of it.

I think that's something a lot of people struggle with when it comes to doing something adventurous or challenging. It's easy to go the "safe route" with things and stay within the comfort of regular routine. It's familiar and you know you have reasonable control over what happens to you.

But if you're anything like me, there's always a small part of you wondering "What else is out there?" or "I want to challenge myself." It's the reason why so many people have a bucket of things they'd like to do and places they'd like to see before they die.

We crave adventure and yearn for challenge, but most of the time, the vast majority of us do little about it. Either we get too caught up in everyday life or we get scared and start making excuses. Or some combination of both.

Sometimes, all it takes to get past that is telling yourself "Screw it, I'm going to go for it," which is exactly what happened to me. It might not be the most planned-out-in-advance trip ever, but sometimes, you have to be spontaneous to break through that wall of self-doubt. (note: The spontaneity is also why this post is being written a mere two days before the trip. I wanted to write about it in advance, but it's hard to do things "in advance" when the decision is spur of the moment)

As an added bonus, I spoke to my dad earlier this week and convinced him and my step mom to join me for the game. Topping that off, my dad told me that the Famous Dave's in uptown Minneapolis has an all-day blues festival going on, essentially planning out my post-game activities for me.

For my regular readers, I'll be packing my laptop and -- internet permitting -- doing Twitter updates throughout the day. If there's some downtime during the day, I'll also try to hammer out a blog entry and possibly post photos/video.

Just typing out this blog entry made me more excited for the trip. Here's hoping for some glorious tail wind.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Rollerblading to work? Yep, it happened

“The first time Dad tried Rollerblades he had a bad wipeout on the sidewalk in front of our house- his feet went flying out from under him and he bruised his tailbone. "If God had ment us to have wheels on our feet he would have put them there," he said a few minutes later, searching the linen closet for the heating pad." -- Evan Kuhlman, The Last Invisible Boy

Sometimes, the best way to keep life interesting is to make normally simple actions as difficult as possible.

I know that sounds weird, but bear with me for a second.  Anyone who's ever had a regular job with regular hours knows what it's like to get stuck in the rut of routine. Days blend together, activities seem bland and life gets boring. After awhile, you find yourself drifting through life and possibly having this conversation with a therapist.

Weekend getaways and the occasional vacation can help remedy this, but I've found that an easier way to deal with it on a day-to-day basis is to add little quirks to your routine, even if it means adding a slight degree of difficulty. That way, even the most trivial of activities can seem like an accomplishment or adventure.

It's the reason why I wrote a column last year about my experience of grocery shopping on a bike. It's also the reason why, on a recent sunny day, I decided to put away my car keys AND leave my bike at home when it came to go to work. Instead, I resorted to another form of wheeled transportation: rollerblades.

I have a confession: Despite growing up in the "State of Hockey," I've never really been big on skating, whether it be on wheels or blades. As a matter of fact, until recently, the quote at the top of this post would have summed up thoughts on rollerblading pretty well. 

This is probably how I looked
rollerblading as a kid.
I took a few too many falls at the local roller rink as a kid, got frustrated and eventually decided that activities without skates were less embarrassing. Consequently, whenever my school did field trips to the rink, while other classmates skated around to bad 90's music, I kept myself busy playing air hockey and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" in the adjacent arcade area (beating that game was one of my highlights of fifth grade, even if it took 2 weeks of allowance money to do so).

I only really got into rollerblading this year. I bought a pair of used rollerblades after college (the classic "I'm bored and need more hobbies" purchase), but after a few initial uses, they pretty much never came out of my closet. Rollerblading became the odd-man-out for my exercise-oriented activities. It didn't come naturally to me like running, nor did it offer the camaraderie of team sports or the traveling/adventure aspects of cycling. I couldn't blade more than a couple miles without my feet and hips getting sore and it always felt like more of a chore to use them than it was enjoyable, never a good sign.

In the last couple of months though, I've had a change of heart. I bought new wheels, watched a few YouTube videos on proper form (paying extra close attention on how to stop) and started doing regular blade sessions around the neighborhood.

So where did this new-found rollerblade ambition come from? It might have been my desire to reverse the embarrassing memories of rollerblading as a child. Or it could have been an attempt to validate my ownership of the skates and turn them into something more that dust-collecting wall decor.

More than likely though, it can be attributed to the aforementioned boredom. Ever since finishing the Falls Duathlon last month, life's been a bit mundane. I'm not really training for any event at present (taking some of the incentive out of doing hard workouts) and the days seem to be following routine around work, bike rides and the occasional trips to the gym. Even weekends started to feel formulaic: Visiting family, visiting friends and embarking on the occasional downtown night life excursion. Those activities are all fine and good, but when done in repetition, life can start to get a little bland.

I needed a new challenge to spice things up, eventually deciding that rollerblading to work would be cool to try. So after getting comfortable with rollerblading on residential roads, I decided to give the work commute a shot. I already knew a low-traffic route to work via biking, so I figured as long as I took it slow and watched for cars, I would be fine.

I won't lie and say it was a glorious triumph. Crossing the railroad tracks on the way to work was an challenge, as was trying to come to a complete stop on a downward slope. I also came to find out that the roads around town have a lot more cracks and potholes in them than anyone could ever notice in a car (you pretty much feeling EVERYTHING in rollerblades). 

The rollerblading home from the office was even more of an adventure. I couldn't get my work done before dark, so in an effort to keep my clumsy rollerblading as far away from nighttime traffic as possible, I changed my return route to use the city recreational path that follows the Straight River downtown and eventually winds around the southern edge of town by the middle school. The path crosses with Prairie Avenue after the middle school, a road that runs right past my apartment. It's a much better route for avoiding traffic, but it adds an extra couple of miles to the trip (my complete rollerblade route can be viewed here).

As I would come to find out on the trail, cars not being able to see me wasn't the only thing I had to worry about. Even with my headlamp, I had trouble seeing objects in front of me (rocks, small branches, dirt/sand) that I normally would've been able to avoid. Consequently, I took a couple of stumbles along the way and ended up with an all-too-familiar scrape on my knee (it's like being 11 years old all over again).

A few blocks from home, I also had the added excitement of having to speed away from a barking dog that was chasing me. It wasn't a huge dog by any means, but considering the fact that the it was unleashed at 10:30 at night, I was pretty terrified (this movie scene comes to mind). Note to whoever owns a dog near the corner of Mitchell of Prairie: Please keep a more watchful eye on your pet.

However, once I got past the angry dog and finally made it to my apartment. That old feeling of gratification and accomplishment came back to me. Even though my day only consisted of going to work, watching a movie and reading a few chapters out of a book, it felt exciting.

Maybe the next time I go to a roller rink (Do those still exist, or am I too old?), I'll do some actual rollerblading. Unless they still have the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" arcade. Then all bets are off.