Mouse In The House II

Dateline  Chicago North Shore.  Friday 11/11 1 AM.

Sleep interrupted by small cat running on the bed, crying and then jumping off. Repeatedly. Clearly doing her best Lassie imitation.

I get up, look around. Nothing. Or is there? This happened once before in her 7 years. Last time she dropped a mouse she had caught on our bed.

Turn on more lights. Sure enough she is standing over a mouse in one of our bedrooms. Mouse is still but clearly alive.


Get plastic container to trap mouse. We humans are sooo smart. Then try to slip a cover underneath the container to seal mouse in, to  complete the trap. Mouse struggles to get out. Can’t get cover and bowl completely closed. Get plastic bag and through partially closed container and top in. Run to alley and through mouse filled bag/container in garbage. Disaster averted.

Write blog entry. Try not to think why there would be only ONE mouse in the house. Attempt to sleep.

Dateline Chicago. 1:26 AM

Cold Day To Ride

The day began cold. At the time I hopped on my bike to go meet Ed it was 33 degrees (F).  I am certain that I have never ridden in colder weather. Why was I doing this now?

Actually the why part is easy. That was the day Ed was available, I like riding with Ed and Ed did one of those “are you a man” things to me. How could I resist?

It was really freakin’ cold. Other than the fahrenheit it was a beautiful autumn day. Sunny sky and hardly any wind. Except that the act of riding creates wind. It felt cold.

I reminded myself that there was a time when I would run in temps as low as 20 F as long as the wind was not too strong and it was not snowing at the time. Then I remembered that I was 25 years younger in those days.

Ok. How to dress. Leave as little uncovered skin as possible. Since the legs would be moving focus on keeping warm from the waist up.

Five layers from waist to neck. Light “wicking” long sleeve shirt as a base. Covered by a heavier base layer, a biking shirt (not much for heat but in honor of the event), a hooded sweatshirt (don’t use the hood but this helps provide next coverage, and a windbreaker. Running tights and bike shorts. Left the nylon windbreaking pants at home. Turned out to be the right call but only barely. Heavy pair of bike socks, full finger bike gloves, head covering that looks like a large yarmulke but also covers my ears under the helmet.

 Not sure at the start if this is enough but it was time to go. I bike 9 miles to where I meet Ed and I did not want him standing around in the cold. Initially I am chilled but it is manageable. By the 45 minutes it takes to meet Ed most of me is tolerably comfortable. The index fingers in both hands are truly cold. Can’t seem to warm them up. I wish I had mittens instead of gloves.

11 miles later we are in Lake Forest at our turning around point. Normally I do not like to take long breaks during rides but I insist on heading to Starbucks. By now my entire right hand feels like an ice-cube. It hurts.

A round of hot tea for all — all being Ed and me. There are other bikers in the place. Lake Forest is a wealthy north suburb of Chicago surrounded by other wealthy suburbs. I could not afford a house in that town. Maybe 1/3 of a house. The point being that while Ed and I have a hodgepodge of clothes on, these other bikers have hi-tech winter riding gear. From the fancy jackets to outsized riding shoes, (probably with electric, computer controlled warming devices inside — just a guess) they look ready for any weather.

As we warm up I suppress the urge to scream as my right hand thaws. The pain is intense. But the warm of the room and the tea does its magic. I am ready for the 20 miles back home. As a pleasant surprise, the temp has risen by several  degrees and the cold is not a problem for the remainder of the ride. The fact that I am out of shape and my leg muscles ache is another story for another post.

Of course, as I pen this post the next day, it has been a beautiful day with a high of sixty. Much better riding weather. But not as good of a story.

Real Men Change Tires

The counter is that is why motor club service was invented.

I had not had a flat in years. Only once before with my VW and that was actually my son a few days after getting his driver’s license.

I left work that night at 9 with a 45 minutes trip home. On the usual highway when I hear a noise and then a constant thudding. It sounded more like I had rolled over something that stuck to the car than it sounded like a flat. I probably waited too long to exit. No, I definitely waited too long.

I pulled off into the parking lot of a small fruit store that was right off the exit. It was closed for the night.

History has taught me that you never know how long it will take for the motor club to send someone. It was late. I was tired. I had done this before.

Lesson One. Keep a working flashlight in your car. The lights from the store were of only modest assistance. After emptying the trunk enough to get to the spare  I struggled to find the tool kit and the jack. 15-20 minutes at least. The lack of light hampered the process several times.

My wife and I are all over our teenage son when he rattles off a litany of obscenities at the slightest provocation. My son could have learned a thing or two about spewing obscenities if he had been with me that night.

Lesson Two. Periodically check to make sure the spare has enough air. I got lucky, mine did. I have not checked in years.

I figure that the tire should have been changed in no more than 30 minutes. The whole thing took well over an hour. The lack of light and search time for tools contributed. So did the fact that VW includes one of the worst jacks possible.

I am accustomed to having the longest, widest part of the jack be on the ground. Such a design leads to stability as a couple of thousand pounds is lifted off of the ground. When after several minutes this clearly was not working, I checked the owner’s manual. Stupid me, I should have realized that the 2 sq. inch piece of metal at one end of the jack  would be what will ground the force of the two thousand pound car from slipping and crushing me. Of course.

The icing on the cake. I had the car up on the jack, the old tire off, the spare on the frame but could not get the lug nuts to screw in. I tried six times. By then I was sure that I was missing some crucial piece. Fortunately my brother had spent most of his adult working like as an auto mechanic. I called.

What he told me to do was exactly what I had been doing. Yet with him om the phone it worked. All I can figure is that his mechanic aura had come through the cell phone towers to my phone and made magic happen. Yes at 10:30 at night after a long work day and more than an hour struggling with the damn tire, it as MAGIC!

Admittedly at the end of it all  I felt a sense of satisfaction for taking care of something myself. I would not have felt this way if I had called the motor club. But I might have gotten home sooner.

Green City Slickers Acres

Our first activity on a week long vacation Costa Rica reminded me of both the mid-1960s TV show and the 1991 Billy Crystal movie.

We are at a lovely resort in the cloud forest, the first of three stops. The day before was a typical travel day, long hours on planes and a long drive to the resort. But today the adventure begins. Up for breakfast and then some time before our guided tour through the cloud forest. So what was the morning activity sponsored by the resort? Cow milking lessons!

We watched as they made the cow safe for touristas. They tied her hind legs together and then stuck the tail in as well. The experienced hand demonstrated the technique. As we observed the hand to udder motion we noticed two things. First there was a young calf in the field nearby. The calf reminded me of Norman from City Slickers.

Second we kept hearing what seemed to be an animal sound. As true city slickers we at first thought the sad sounds were from the cow who may not be enjoying the experience. But the cow was too busy constantly eating to be the source. Being a natural detective I carefully walked past the cow. I found 6 hens in a pen eating and clucking away. I am guessing that anyone who had spent more that 24 hours on a farm would have recognized the difference between sound of hens and cows immediately. Hence the Green Acres reference.

To finalize our Green Acres experience, we milked the cow. Not as obvious as it seems. Or maybe it was just us. The topper came as I sat on the stool for a turn. Three good squeezes and I get whapped in the face by a tail that had escaped from its bondage.

I think I will keep my day job.

Beating Your Fears Part II, Enough Already

This seems to be the week for testing my  fear of heights. I just got done feeling good about rappelling. Within 24 hours I am walking across  “bridges” that are suspended from cables above (known as hanging bridges). We are at treetop level and these suckers sway. I cross all 6 and even look down on occassion…while clutching the sides of the bridge with all my might. And of course hanging bridges are not enough of a test.

The next morning we travel above the treetops in order to go zip lining. What is a zip line? It is you attached to a harness holding onto a metal device that zips you along a cable from treetop to treetop. In our case this was all done hundreds of feet above the ground. Speeds can get as high as 40 -50 mph. It is you flying through the air being buffeted by the wind moving you side to side. If you were to let go, maybe the harness would stop you from e crashing to the ground and being broken into thousands of pieces or skewered on a branch like a human shish kebab, or not.

I had done this once before several years ago and had no problems. However, the zip lines here were longer and higher. One was a quarter-mile long and one was just short of one half mile. The wind blew and twisted me around as  I careened through the atmosphere trying not to look down. I once again completed the task and even enjoyed about half of the runs.

I am now done. No more heights to conquer. Not this week anyway. I have done enough.

Beating Your Fears Like The Neighborhood Bully

We are on vacation doing what my wife refers to as soft adventure. That means we are doing fun things with some risk but under the watchful eyes of trained guides.

I had read the preliminary itinerary a month ago. When I came to rappelling down waterfalls, I hesitated. No not hesitated, I started to hyper-ventilate.  I have an extreme fear of heights. Technically it is a fear of being on the edge of something where I could fall to my death. If we are hiking in the mountains, I need a path that is either not on the edge or extremely wide so I can hug the inside lane. Some situations appear to affect me more than others. From what I can tell it has to do with whether I can see the edge and the nothingness beyond. If there are protections to my vision, say a line of trees blocking the nothingness that I would fall through on my voyage top death, then I my be OK.

So here I am, a man who does not like to be on the edge (literally or figuratively) reading about how my family will be purposely be leaping off a cliff with nothing but a string to hold onto. OK, it’s a rope but the difference is really not that much.

I am also a man who wants to demonstrate to his son that fears can be overcome. At least sometimes. So I said yes a month ago and now a month later was this morning.

A I am getting my gear on I still do not know if I will be able to go through with this. The problem is that a truck has left us in the middle of a jungle and has driven away. I am not sure what the small team of guides will do if someone in the group does not go forward. Back is not an option. I take comfort in the fact that these adventure tour places get lousy press when someone dies and so it must be safe. Right?

We will be rappelling 5 walls. The first is the highest at 165 feet. The cliff wall is a shear drop. It is my turn. Left hand loose on the rope as a guide. Right hand is your brake. You hold it straight down at your side. Lean all the way back. Push with your legs. Fall.

I hate the overuse of the word “amazing”. Not everything is amazing. This was. At first I was hesitant at first to let myself drop very far at a time.  But down I went. At one point I let go. It was a gas. Four rappels later and I was ready to sign up for more. Now that I sort of knew what I was doing I wanted the highest one again. I would drop like a stone  for 150 feet and love it.

The adrenaline was flowing so strong that my senses were on overdrive. I had the sights of the waterfalls, the jungle around us and the ground below as I descended. I could feel the subtleness of the of warmth in the air combining with the coollness from my wet clothes into a refreshing touch on my skin.

I still do not know how real people climb up mountains or rappel down them when they are not with guides doing most of the work to keep you safe. That is real adventure not soft adventure and I am will to leave that to the adventurous.

All I know is that I lept into the abyss against all of my instincts. I beat those fears back. And I am ready to do it again.

Ps. I will post pictures and a short video on my Facebook page in a week or so.

Suburban Wildlife Run Amock

The near north suburbs of Chicago have little in common with the deep woods. And yet we have our own slice of wildlife. For example, there is a family of raccoons living in a tree in our backyard. The mother raccoon is huge and can be found outside our back door from time to time in the early evening. She looks mean and I would not want to accidentally surprise her as I walk from our garage to the house. Nothing good could come of that.

I have witnessed deer and a coyote  within a few miles north of our house. However right in my backyard except for the aforementioned raccoon, the creatures tend to be small. Squirrels dominate followed by birds and for the first time in the 15 years we have lived here, a chipmunk has recently appeared.

It all came to a head during the adventure hike I refer to as “the walk between my garage and the back door.” So here is what happened.

I take the first careful steps outside the sanctity of the garage. We have taken to making noises just like the park rangers tell you to as you hike through bear country. In our case, it is to avoid the mama raccoon.

Immediately I see a couple of squirrels on the ground 2 feet to the left of the back door. They seem to be agitatedly chattering. I stealth-fully, slowly moved ahead. Big Mistake. By focusing on the squirrels on the left I almost stepped on 3 other squirrel guys (or gals) directly in my path. That seemed to set off the fireworks.

Squirrels running at mach speed in all directions. There are three trees in the immediate area and the squirrels scattered to all. Quickly another 5 or six appeared and the next thing I knew for 3 solid minutes about a dozen squirrels were wildly chasing each other. It is hard to describe without video footage the mayhem that ensued. The motion, the noise level and the chaos were unbelievable!

To my right half way up one tree I thought I saw two squirrels mating. One was behind the other with his (I am assuming gender) paws holding fast to the middle of the body of the squirrel in front. The front squirrel however seemed to be pulling away as hard as it could with no success initially. Finally a third squirrel ran at the other two giving the front squirrel the break she needed. She escapes only to be chases by both of the other two squirrels down the tree, through some bushes and back up the tree. My best guess is that this was a squirrely menage-a-trois gone wrong.

Then as fast as the mayhem ensued, it was over. I stood for a moment stunned. I looked to see the chipmunk sitting on top of the gas meter on the south end of the house. Four feet higher was the robin sitting in the nest she had made in the curve of one of our drain pipes.

Sure why not nest there. It was a lot quieter than in the trees.

Difference Between Depression And Jubilation II

On the last day of vacation, clearing standby a non-stop flight home half an hour after being told that the time for your original one stop flight had been moved up 25 minutes, you were late, all the flights home that night were sold out and you should start looking for a hotel.

Two aisle seats across from each other and a good movie on the plane are just icing on the cake. (OK.OK.OK. The movie was The Blind Side and it was heart warming. I said good, not best film ever good).

Life: Quality Vs. Quantity

John Bachar

This is/was the story of  John Bachar, the world’s greatest free climber. He was this amazing (and I do not use this word to describe EVERYTHING that is above ordinary as so many do today)  man who attacked life by engaging in one of  the riskiest endeavors and died doing it at an age just younger than my own. His is a fascinating story of integrating extreme training, style and grace and even mathematical principles to what on the surface looks to be intuitive movements by a born athlete.

I admire people who excel at physically dangerous endeavors because they do what I will not. I do not excel at physical endeavors and I am hugely risk adverse.  As documented previously in this blog I am scared of heights. And yet in this case I not only admire what John Bachar did but how he went about it.

Here are excepts from an article in The Economist:

John Bachar climbed slowly, like a spider—or, as he preferred to say, a starfish. He seemed to move in slow motion, swinging his legs out in parallel to seek a ledge, pulling to a crouch, raising one graceful arm to grab a hold. Nothing was hurried; all was smooth and unforced.  His only equipment, apart from rubber-soled boots, was a bag of chalk slung at the back of his belt, into which he dipped his hands to dry the sweat and improve his grip. He had no ropes, bolts or pitons, and preferably no knowledge of the ascent except what he had gleaned from the ground.

Wouldn’t he fall? He seemed to be catching on nothing: propping his boot on a pimple, gripping a “smear” or a hairline crack, freeing both arms from the rock to make a lunge. More than 50 feet up one mistake meant death, and he was often on faces of 200 feet or more. He was, he admitted, terrified of heights. But he had got over it.  Did he ever dare look down? “Of course. It’s beautiful up there.” Besides, “just looking down isn’t going to kill you.”

To become the world’s best free-climber, he was, took years of training. At 14 he was a weakling who could do only two pull-ups; at 16, when he made his first free ascent at Joshua Tree, he could do 27. By his mid-20s he had mastered doing pull-ups with one arm, or with 140lb of weights. Tightrope-walking helped his balance. 

He concentrate until all he saw was the “little circle of rock” ahead of him, and all he was thinking of was the fluidity and perfection of his moves. If he needed a surge of strength, he imagined throwing an electric switch to flood his muscles with power. He pictured his fingers as steel hooks, himself as a dancer.

Craziness was also necessary. Mr Bachar’s fellow-climbers often thought him mad—mad to free-climb on faces such as the 400-foot New Dimensions in Yosemite. He found it as cool and addictive as “being on another planet”. And it was the only professional sport with no coaches or rule-books, where each climber planned his tactics himself.

He was a mathematician  majoring in math at UCLA until he dropped out to climb rocks. Each venture up a rock face was, for him, an act of analysis. His mental state he divided into three zones. Zone one, no harm if he fell; zone two, hospital, but he’d survive; zone three, death if he made a mistake.

Unlike mountaineers, he felt no urge to conquer the rock-face. Getting to the top didn’t matter. All that counted was the grace, control and style of how he got there. The rock was his superior and, he felt, should remain as if he had never climbed it.  He was offended to come across rusty bolts, or so-called free-climbers setting advance protection for themselves. The effect of all this was to “lower the rock to your level”, removing its capacity to challenge and surprise.

By the same token, if he escaped after making a mistake, the rock had merely let him get away with it. He got away many times; a bruised back was the worst injury he suffered until, on July 5th, he fell from Dike Wall in the eastern Sierra.

He was 52 when he died. He probably could have lived a longer life but I am not sure at all that he could have lived a fuller one. Many people survive to a far greater age and never live as long as he lived. The combination of hard work, grace,  math, and  purity he brought to his art make him special even among those who achieve much in their lives.

Makes me want to go rock climbing…with the key part of that phrase being “want”.

North By North Pole

At the beginning of March, I shared the story of John Huston and Tyler Fish. These two wanted to be the first Americans to ski unassisted to the North Pole. They did it on April 25th, the 55th day of the mission. By not without some drama. Here is an excerpt from a press release less than two days earlier:

Minneapolis, Minn. (8 a.m. April 24, 2009) – Forward Expeditions LLC announced today that John Huston and Tyler Fish will now have to ski, snowshoe and possibly swim 28 nautical miles in approximately 50 hours to reach the North Pole by Sunday morning, April 26. Huston and Fish are on Day 53 of their historic Victorinox® North Pole ’09 Expedition, and the Russian base that has agreed to fly them out from the Pole is closing on Sunday due to deteriorating sea ice conditions. If they have not reached the Pole by that deadline, the flight will pick them up where they are – even though that might be just a few miles from their goal.

They were leaving one way or the other but after many months of preparation and 50+ days of travel in brutal conditions they were not to be denied. They traveled for 16 hours and 15 minutes on their last day! That was after working shifts of traveling for 12 hours and resting for three  for the three days before that. Pushing themselves to the limit on a  475-mile trek to the North Pole from Canada’s Ellesmere Island.


 John is a local, Chicago area boy. 32 years old. Graduated from Northwestern University in 1999. He had already led an exhibition to the South Pole. Not bad for 32. Too bad he is a White Sox fan. No accounting for taste.



Tyler Fish is an old man of 35. According to his bio on the expedition website, According to Tyler, there has never been a day too cold to strap on some sort of ski.  He spends his winters skiing at a competitive level in long distance cross-country ski marathons and also coaching a local ski team in Ely, Minnesota. 

Since I heard they made it I have been considering adjectives to describe what they did. Heroic? Maybe. They did not save lives but they meet this definition of Hero (from “a man of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities”. Amazing? Certainly but not particularly descriptive or illuminating. Courageous. Definitely. I am open to reader suggestions.

One point of trivia. They consumed 8,000 calories a day. Think 320 candy bars. They say with all they worked off it could have been more. Now there is a diet. The North Pole Diet. Copyrighted. Next $1 million idea.

Check out the Expedition website here.