Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmas was different this year. Jennifer and I spent the weekend just hanging out together, kickin' it Christmas-in-Philly. The weather here was balmy, a whopping 55 on Saturday, so Jennifer and I went for a bike ride. Yay, bikes on Christmas Eve! After the bike ride was the inaugural Egg Nog Taste Off.

As some of you may know, the best commercially produced Egg Nog is made by Anderson Erickson creameries and is available primarily in Iowan supermarkets. I don't know what sort of chemical additives, natural flavors or un-nameable substances are mixed together with the standard egg, cream and nutmeg, but I know this: AE Egg Nog is the real thing. Not to be tendentious, but nothing comes close to the truth, the apotheosis of Egg Nog that is available for each and every one of us, should we choose to shop at Hy-Vee, Fairway or Kum and Go markets. For those of you who remember, "Ya Come, Ya Go, Ya Come Ya Come Ya GO!"
At the risk of becoming mawkish, I'll quit this expiation on AE Egg Nog and get down to the meat and potatoes of the matter: I needed an egg nog fix, and I needed one bad! I enlisted the help of my temerous and plucky life-partner Jennifer to procure the needed surrogate-noggs and to assist in the taste-test. Up for examination were four of the finest that the East Coast could bring to bear; Land of Lakes "Traditional Ultra Pasteurized Egg Nog", Lucerne "Holiday Egg Nog", Shop Rite "Gourmet Egg Nog", and Southern Comfort "Traditional Egg Nog".
In the picture you'll notice a number of nutmegs sitting in front of each quart, the rankings are from one to five, five being solely reserved for the AE. A summary:

Land of Lakes can be summed up by an alternate meaning of it's own acronym, LOL. Please, we would hope to find at least a creamy mouthfeel or a spicy taste, but LOL is a gloppy yellow. Two of five.

Southern Comfort was indeed a comfort. Sadly non-alcoholic, but with a creamy texture and cinnamon overtones. A personal favorite though not the grail. Four and a half out of 5.

Gourmet Egg Nog was Jennifer's personal favorite. With good creamy-ness, it clings to the tongue and slithers on down the alimentary like it should. Without the certain something (possibly the addictive compounds) of AE, a good second. Four and a half out of five.

Lucerne Holiday nog, well let me see. A fatuous beverage, no mouthfeel, slimy and resinous tasting. Had I not known better, I would have assumed that I'd drunk slightly sweetened latex. Not recommended, in fact, consider yourself warned. It garnered 1 nutmeg because it wasn't poison and actually tasted alright when put into pancake batter.

A contender not now in the picture below was the Garelick Farms Egg Nog. It was gross. Refer to the Lucerne description for a general idea.

Testing went well, but the final hurdle was, of course, the extremely disturbing hallucinations caused by over-ingestion of fats, proteins and nutmeg. I'll not write more but will include an actual photo of what was visible to me in my stupor; the effulgent aura of our Christmas tree bursting in incandescent sparks before my very eyes. An event truly horrifying until the euphoria set in.

Incidentally, studying for the GRE is going as well as my inchohate mind is capable.
The contenders. May they rest in peace.
The horror of egg nog poisoning.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

So, as has been previously suspected, I am an Idiot. Yesterday morning I drove the 30 miles to the GRE testing site in the northern suburbs of Philadelphia. The Testing site was in the King of Prussia area (I'm not kidding, there are some weird-ass names in PA)and it took me about 45 minutes to get there. After an uneventful drive, I showed up with all my required materials, some scratch paper, three writing utensils, my driver's license and even Jelly Belly beans with electrolytes, in case I was having a melt down.

I pulled out my ID, walked to the sign-in desk and smiled confidently. Then the woman behind the desk told me that I wasn't actually registered. Though I had gone through the automated process of signing up, I didn't actually receive a confirmation number indicating that the process was successful. Therefore, there would be no way for me to take the test.

Dammit, I had been studying for the past 48 hours, almost nonstop. I took a short break to go to the bathroom once, but that was all. Now my new GRE date is the 29th of December. The up-shot is that I have more time to study, the downside is that I have to study more. Like I said, I'm an idiot.

Friday, December 16, 2005

So, earlier this fall, when I had nothing to do, I set myself with the goal of taking the GREs. I checked out the library books, I took the performance enhancing drugs, everything but actually study for the test. So, when time rolled around to register for the damn things, I demurred. Idiot. Now that I'm thinking of going to Penn next fall to get a masters in City Planning, I've got to scramble to get everything in order. I guess that's not a change from my normal reality. I'm a goddam procrastinator, and there's little to be done about it. I gotta get some recommendation letters, I gotta take the GREs and I gotta get my act together by Feb 1st. While that's still a while from now, it takes a number of weeks for the GREs to come back and therefore, I've signed up for them next wednesday. I guess i'll be studying this weekend.


Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Urban youth are a surprisingly sheltered bunch. Why, just yesterday I had an experience that made me quite aware of the perilous degree to which many of today's inner city children have been kept from the wider world.

As it happened, I had gone for my first run in Philadelphia, a week after our arrival. Initially I ran westward toward the Cobbs Creek Parkway system that I had seen on the map. It proved to be a nice run, similar to the run along minnehaha creek in Minneapolis. As I headed back up Baltimore avenue I realized that it was 3:15, a time that schoolchildren everywhere long for. My route back home happened to be directly along the main thouroughfare for the Junior High students as they walked home or waited for the bus.

As I passed by, it occurred to me, "By golly, these youth have probably never seen a skinny white man running past their school in tights!" Indeed, I can only presume they never had, for their cries led me to believe that they were shocked to their very cores! So shocked in fact, were some of the youth that they in fact were taken with fits of what I assume was laughter, but seemed to me more like screaming or jeering! A number of the young boys, tried their best to pelt me with chunks of snow and ice, while others took it upon themselves to run along beside me. Being not as fleet of foot as I, they were soon outstripped however. At this point I came across a brace of young girls, one of which screamed again at me, while her companion took the courage to utter a greeting to me as I rushed past. While the greeting itself was unfamiliar to me, I can only assume it to be a local saying in this region, the meaning was nonetheless clear and pleasant to me. If I remember correctly, the utterance was, "I can see yer Gibbleys!"

At any rate, the brush with the native youth invigorated me to a degree that I was soon panting for breath as I sped home to the relative quiet of our abode. All in all, it was a good day and a good run, I shal have to duplicate it by and by.

Until next we meet, dear reader.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Here's the lovely house. It's actually half of a duplex, known here as "half houses", that was previously torn down.
the lovely living room as you enter the house.
The bathroom
the guest bedroom/tv room (thanks Chad for the tube)
Der sleepenzimmer.
The kitchen, more spatious than most porta-pottys.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

What better to do when you're trying to get a job than to SURF THE INTERNET. I read an interesting interview with Lance Armstrong on the velonews.com website, I found out about bouldering opportunities in Philly, checked out Jennifer's work website and eventually ended up slapping out a cover letter and sending off a resume to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Authority. Since I'm feeling utterly under-qualified for any really good jobs, I'm sticking my neck out for an internship as a transportation planner. Please god, let them pick me and re-affirm my self worth!!!

Melodrama galore, but it's me and I'm out of my comofort zone in this whole job hunt/living in Philadelphia thing. Philly is cool, but it's a big damn city and I don't know much about it or anyone in it. Who the hell thought it was a good idea to be an adventurer, crazy people, that's who.
As to our abode, a little briefin is in order. Our new address is 5036 Cedar Ave, Philadelphia PA 19143. Our new neighborhood is in the University City area of Philadelphia, about a mile west of the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University. Our building is right on the edge of the real "university" part and likewise is in the transitional zone to the west of us which is overwhelmingly African American and somewhat more run-down. To get some more info, check out the Census bureau and and google earth.
Our apartment house is owned by a Jamaican guy and his American wife. They bought the building a year ago and have been rehabbing the thing to make it presentable enough to rent out to people who pay real money. The house is a typical Philadelphia style brick row house and as such is very narrow, very old and, in this case, very crapped out. Toney, Patrick and Luther, our rastafarian DIYers however are doing their best to refurb the place. They have been plugging away at it for some time and have made some big improvements(?) The main issue is that not a one of them really has much business doing home repair. These guys are just not into quality control. "If it works a little, it's perfect," is kind of the motto around here. Don't get me wrong, the guys are great, super nice, just super bad at carpentry, wiring, plastering, plumbing, cabinetry, grouting, painting and flooring. They do a nice job with drywall however. The best thing about moving into a place with sub-perfect workmanship is knowing, "Damn, I could do this better!" which gives a pretty good boost to the ego. Pictures of the abode soon to follow.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Philadelphia, what can I say; Getting here's a bitch, IKEA has everything my life requires, and I'm a housewife.

Jennifer and I took off for Philly last Thursday night about 8. We were gonna do the all nighter and get here the next afternoon after 20 hours of straight driving. The bitch of it was gonna be that both of us would be driving 100% of the way because we had both the moving truck and the car. It may have worked, but I wasn't really all caught up on sleep from the previous week and we ran into difficulties. The problems started about midnight. Jennifer and I had been in contact via walkie talkie and it was all good, yet as usual, I started getting sleepy. Since we all know that caffine does a great job of keeping a feller awake, I started hitting the Vivarins, hard. Between midnight and 8 A.M. Friday morning I had 7. And I had a crappucino from a convenience store along the way. It would have been 8 pills, but I have one to Jennifer. Well, let me tell you here folks, 7 Vivarins in 8 hours is too much. Each pill contains about 2.5 cups of coffee worth of caffine so do the math, unpleasantness ensued. At one point I thought I was going to freak out. Jittering hands, eyes that twitched and a nervous tick in my left cheek and neck meant that I was tripping dear readers, tripping like a speed freak. As tired as I became I couldn't relax,even for the two hours we spent trying to nap and freezing at rest stops.

The long and short of it is, we had to take a break in Bedford PA, coincidentally, the town where Cannondale bicycles are made. WE stayed in a sleaze-ball hotel and watched about 5 episodes of "That 70's Show" to keep us awake until 8 P.M. when we could fall asleep at a normal hour.

We finally got to our apartment about 1:30 on Saturday afternoon. Then the lovely process of unpacking began. More on the details of that process tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Watching my brother Asa wrestle in his first meet was painful. Not that painful, because I wasn't actually wrestling, but painful to watch the little guy get turned into a pretzel. He joined wrestling to get in shape for soccer, a goal that Ian has said is honorable and stupid. Those of you who may not have seen Asa since he was but a little kid should imagine someone built like me, a little shorter and a bit skinnier. He wrestles 125 lbs and should really be wrestling at a lower weight, the thing is, there is no mass for him to lose. At the same time that he's wrestling, I'm watching all the other kids out there, the ones with muscles particularly. Dad and I were thinking of ways to bulk Asa up, maybe strap some muscle somewhere on his upper body. I don't know. It reminds me of getting thrashed in 7th grade when I wrestled. It sucked. At least with two pins (that's being pinned, not pinning) under his belt, there's no place for him to go but up.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Thanksgiving. A time for family, a time for fattening. I've been hanging out with the family this past week/weekend. Ian and Leah came back from Mac on Wednesday and we have been feasting for the past 72 hours. Fat, fatty fatty fat fat. Sooooo good.

I've been starving for vertical excitement in Ames, so I took it to a new level yesterday. Alpine tree climbing! Taking Chad's ice axes, I used them to scale up the side of a large cottonwood tree. It's tree climbing, just as we all used to enjoy, but EXTREME! It was going well for the first five minutes and then while executing a sweet cross over move with my left axe, I yanked it out of the tree and smashed my head. To explain the situation better, imagine watching someone smash a hammer into the center of his forehead while stuck on the side of a huge cottonwood
Yesterday Ian and I went rock climbing in Ames, outdoors. What's this you say??? No rocks in Ames you say? Well you're right, excepting the railroad bridge there are no rocks. So, we climb the railroad bridge. Yee haw! I'm UNSTOPPABLE!!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

WEll, Living History Farms was a good damn race. I had so much fun that I thought that I'd take up running seriously again. Boy was I wrong. It just sucks to run without the motivation of a team or near term goals. It's like summer miles for no good reason. Anyway, the race was run, creeks were crossed, mud was slopped, thongs were worn, and chili was eaten. A hell of a day in November. Today I'm hoping to get out on two wheels and enjoy the cycling weather while it's still decent out. It's supposed to get shitty for tomorrow so i'll save running for the colder crappier days when cycling is just a no go.

Cheers to all. Happy thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Well, I went for my first winter run yesterday. The temperatures weren't so cold, but the wind, she was a howlin'. To the uninitiated, it might seem like a damn fool idea to go outside in a blizzard, but the grizzled veteran of the Midwestern freeze-fest that is winter running knows it to be a walk in the park. Besides, I'm training for the potentially adverse conditions for the Living History Farms Race.

The forecast for today has the high temperature at 25 and the low tonight should be about 5. Hmm, it makes me ponder exactly how dedicated I am at this point. I guess it will give me a crack at my first frosty beard of the season.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Well, most of my gloom and doom have passed. Jennifer and I have already signed a lease on an apartment in Philly. It's (supposedly) in a nice neighborhood near the University of Pennsylvania. The selling features were: nice wood floor, two big bedrooms, cool landlord and proximity to Ethiopian restaurants and farmers market. We'll see all of this for ourselves when we get there however.

"Living History Farms; The Race" is coming soon to a town near me. So far I've got Tim Pavlish and Bo Rydze. The fun will only increase with more members! The race date is November 19th and the food is on me. Additionally, we are provided with T-shirts featuring the living history farms logo and then we get to eat as many donuts as we can stomach!

Come on down!!!

If you want more info, just call me! Also, I'm lonely so, just call me!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

All good things must come to an end. I was riding high on the super-duper MIAC Meet-up with the ol' Cross Country Boys. Alf was back from China, Pete flew in from the west coast and the usual suspects, Paul, Ben and Derek were around for the fun. Many beers were consumed and then some frolicking, if we can call it that, ensued. Pete decided that there had not been enough "dog piling" going on recently. We quckly remediated the situation. Oh yeah, Mac did a good job at the meet. Roscoe and Dylan ran fast as hell and I was inspired, almost, to make a comeback onto the running scene.

Then, the very next day, after helping set up a halloween display in my parents front lawn, I decided to go for a run. It was halloween night and the kids were out. I was feeling genki so I decided to cruise. My parents' neighbor, Chad, was heading out of the house and I offered to take his dog on a run with me. As it turned out it would be the dog's last run. Tensing, named after the legendary Sherpa, was a really good dog, a Visla obsessively dedicated to his owner. Tensing was attentive enough to be taken for walks without a lead, or so I thought. When once I had taken my parents dog, Rudy, for a walk, Chad had told me that Tensing was so good as to not require a lead for running. True enough, he stuck right by Chad's side when they went walking in the mornings. Unfortunately, I didn't have the same sort of magnetism and while running homeward along a relatively quiet street Tensing, who was following me a few yards back, veered into the street to avoid some trick-or-treaters and was hit by two cars. The first car shocked him and caused him to yelp, at which point I saw turned around to see him laid out by a second truck. The people who hit him in the second car were very kind and drove us back home at which point it became clear that he was no longer breathing, nor was his heart beating. I tried CPR, but because of a dog's large mouth, you have to blow through the nose and seal the mouth completely. It didn't work out.

So, from a pretty good week, it has turned into a funky, shitty one. I gotta get out for another run, but it's gonna be difficult.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Life has slowed down a bit since coming back to Ames. Jennifer and I hare started making preliminary plans for moving to Philadelphia, but nothing super concrete yet. The plan is to move out there after Thanksgiving. We haven't been home for Thanksgiving for 2 years, and that is far to long to be without my dad's barbecued turkey and my mom's pies. Damn, I haven't eaten much today and this stuff sounds awesome!

I went rock climbing yesterday with Chad, my parents' neighbor, my brothers' soccer coach and my de-facto older brother. He eats at my house more than I do. We went out to Blue Mounds state park in Minnesota. It's a hell of a drive, 4 hours, but we made it more bearable by staying at Jennifer's family's cabin on Spirit Lake. Spirit Lake is one of the Iowa Great Lakes, as designated by the local tourist board. It neighbors the more resorty Lake Okiboji and was a popular tourist destination much the same way Minnetonka and Calhoun were in the Twin Cities. Now it's just lined with lake homes. I guess that the trememdous drive is just part of being a rock climber in Iowa. Shit. It was a great day, though the snow was a bit of a pain. Now, back safe in Ames, I would kill for another day on the rocks.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Ok, so we totally "did" the East. Philly was good, we liked it so much that we're thinking of moving there. Really though, "liking it so much" involves merely being able to see myself living there. Additionally, there are jobs, not shitloads but jobs nonetheless. Cheese steak is good as well. Man, I could go for a good cheese steak right now.

After philly we drove through lovely Gettysburg PA, home of the famous address was given by our great leader, Abraham Lincoln. From Gettysburg we drove on to Bedford Pennsylvania where Cannondale bicycles are manufactured. Cannondale is the only major manufacturer of bicycles to still make all of its frames in the US (with the exception of 1 model) and I met the guy who made the machines that make the bikes. It was COOL! We saw the process from raw aluminum tubes all the way to finished bicycles. SWEET!! After the lovely tour of Cannondale, we drove our way to Niagra Falls. It's amazing how the awesome splendor of nature can spur such shitty tourist development as in Niagra Falls NY and Canada.

Next on the tour was me going climbing in the Shawangunk Mountains in upstate NY. I sucked here, very badly and was rewarded by getting my ass stuck on the cliff face for 4.5 hours, 2 of which were in the dark. Yay climbing!

After the disappointment of sucking badly, we drove north to Lake Placid and hiked up Mt. Marcy, the highest of the adirondac peaks, it was nice, but surprisingly sweaty work and we spent a clammy night in the tent before hiking back the next morning under cloudy skies.

Next stop was the Ben and Jerry's factory for some awesome ice cream goodness, and then north to Montreal to see Lara and Shane. Montreal is good, but it's only awesome if you're french (I think) though it might be good after establishing oneself there.

Last, after an all-night driving binge, we arrived in the Twin Cities. Ahh, the Midwest, how I love thee. It was great to see people, and it really made me think that, had I not all ready lived there for 4 years, I would definitely be moving up to that Paris of the North. Anyway, I'm sure I'll catch some people up there for the MIAC conference meet in two weeks, but until then, I'll be at home, chillin like only the jobless know how.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

J and I have been having a capital time in the Capitol. DC is a pretty cool city and I really can't say anything bad about it. We went to the museums, "did" some monuments and touristed the place up for two days. Yesterday I went for a long run with Meghan in preparation for her upcoming Marine Corps marathon. She was scheduled for 20 miles, of which I did 14. Fortunately I'd prepared by running 6 the previous Wednesday. No injury yet, but I'm working on that.

Next to Philly. Philadelphia should be good, but what I'm psyched about is the tour of the Cannondale bicycle factory next Friday. With luck we'll get to see a 3D lazer cutting tool in action. Totally sweet!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Well, the road trip has begun. Living the American dream in the passenger and occasionally the driver's seat of a compact automobile. We headed out from Iowa last Thursday evening and arrived twelve hours later at Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. For those of you interested in spelunking, I'd recommend the trip highly, but as far as caves go, it really wasn't the most spectacular. There are relatively few stalagmites and stalactites or any of the other features that one associates with caves. The water formed lots of horizontal channels joined by vertical shafts making it more of an "I never want to get stuck here with the lights off" place than a "magical underground kingdom" place.

Next up on the tour we drove to the Red River Gorge national river in eastern Kentucky for some R and R. Relaxation and Rock climbing. The relaxation part worked out well, but the rock climbing while potentially spectacular, was limited by my limited abilities. I fell a lot and my toes hurt from the terribly small shoes I use.

Now, 8 hours of driving later, we're in Chapel Hill NC visiting my friend Claire Lutgendorf, whom I met while cycling in the Twin Cities. Chapel hill is nice, if hot and humid. Next up is our fair city, Washingon DC. where we'll hang out with our esteemed friends Meghan and Brendan. From there, Philadelphia, and from there, the WORLD!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Ok, so this is my trip to China, abbreviated of course. It would behoove the viewer to start from the bottom of the stack and go upwards chronologically. But really, since each shot in and of itself could win a Pulitzer, don't hesitate to skip around and feast on the glorious digital images.
Then onto the ferry for our 40 hour ride to Osaka. This trip was exciting, initially because I ate a dragonfruit, pictured here, and next because the boat sailed through a typhoon. It was my first experience with sea sickness. I can tell you truthfully, if you're gonna puke, green tea isn't so bad.
We met up again with Alf, for 3 hours, and ate scorpions. Then we went to a lovely little cafe and drank scorpion liquor. What a great trip.
Then to the Wall. As Nixon said upon his visit, "It sure is a great wall." True that Dick, true that.
There were hundreds of people selling kites, watches, guide books, post cards and the like, and occasionally, a really cute kid would show up.
After another couple of days in transit, we ended up in Beijing, on Tienanmen square, where everybody and his brother wanted a picture taken with foreigners.
We saw yaks, and the edge of the Himalayan plateau, in front of which we are posed so lovingly.
Next, after the 20 hour train ride from hell and the grottoes of Dunhuang, I, for my part, spent the time there going to the toilet and wishing I were dead, but we followed it up with a great spot, Xiahue- Little Tibet.
But the scenery was cool. Especially if you're into desert waste-lands.
Next came the 20 hour diarreah ridden train ride from hell.
This mountain overlooked the lake with the Yurts and is the main reason why it ranks up there on the beauty scale.
The next day we slept in a Yurt on the back side of one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. The scenery was great and the hospitality first rate, but this was to be the last day of my good health.
Organ meats? Grill 'em up and serve 'em hot. I ate sheep heart and spine, but couldn't bring myself to eat stomach. I couldn't get over my gripe with tripe.
The fabulous Terra Cotta Warriors, the only real reason to visit Xian. They were cool. Thousands and thousands of them standing in rows for two milennia. What the hell was that emperor thinking?
Guys sitting on a street in Xian. Everybody in China sits on the street, drinking tea and playing chess or some similar game with big wooden tablets on the ground. This goes on until maybe 1 am, takes a 5 hour haitus and resumes at 6.
Here's a Uyghur dude making some noodles by hand. First it's a dough ball and suddenly, it's a big fist full of noodles. Boggles the mind, delights the stomach.
We next went to Alf's new home town of Hangzhou. This is the lovely West Lake, and a fabulous sunset there. Shane's in the foreground sweating and taking pictures.
Shanghai at night. It's like Las Vegas, so I've heard. Lots of people, lots of humidity. Lots of people trying to sell you crap.
This is the Shanghai "Tourist Tunnel" it's purely a tourist trap that takes you from one side of the Yellow River to the other. It played weird music and said things like "Space Ray" in English and Chinese.
Well, now that i've been back from china for a few weeks, I suppose it's time to finally post some of the stuff from that trip. I'll start with the beginning, as it seems fit.

Monday, September 12, 2005

In preparation for the impending road trip/fact finding mission that Jennifer and I are embarking on, we took the car in for service at the local "Freedom Tire" outlet. THe CV joint boots are both cracked which means that the innards of said joints are crapped out. This assesment agrees with the clunking noise present in the left front wheel. Unfortunately, "Freedom Tire" really is an code, really they want to free the money from my wallet. $650 was their estimate for two half shafts, which, I have learned, are the drive units for all front wheel drive cars. This seemingly exorbitant price prompted me to think that, since I know how to fix bicycles, how much harder could cars really be, I mean really. It was going to be a big adventure, buy the parts, jack up the car, get reeeeally dirty and fix it in about 12 hours. Well, after looking at the repair manual, this dream turned to be not super fun looking after all. After calling around to less "free" establishments, we discovered a place that would do the job for $350. What a bargain. It's hard to imagine that one place would be so much more expensive than another. Is there a big difference in the quality of service or what? Number of cigarettes smoked by both places seems about even.

I mentioned fact finding mission before. Yes, this is a mission to find out the facts. The facts pertaining to the case of "Where the hell should I live next?" We're travelling out east to check out places with good stats in the following categories:
Jobs (interesting ones that pay me money)
Housing (cool old ones that just need a little loving)
Outdoor recreation opportunities (including cycling, climbing, running and skeet shooting)
Cool restaurants (Variety of cheap and delicious ethnic quisines, and steak)
Schooling opportunities (Some university where it's easy to get into the grad programs and it costs about $50)
Arts and crap (stuff like theaters and guys on the sidewalk drawing cariactures of passerbys, celebrities and bible heroes)

So, what it boils down to is this; we're going to tour all around the country, East and West, and then move back to the Twin Cities.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

In other news, I'm heading up to the twin cities this weekend to watch one of Ian's soccer games. My youngest sister Leah is also at Mac starting this fall, also playing soccer, but she's probably not going to suit up for varsity games until a bit later. I think that I have unwittingly started a dynasty of Ritzes at the school. Leah's in Turck, and to her delight is next door to a "Hottie German skydiver".
I'll be in St. Paul probably just for Saturday night and Sunday morning, since the game is at 3pm at Gustavus. I don't know how many people I'll be able to catch up with, but rest assured I'll be travelling back up to the 'Cities sometime in the near future.

IF anyone wants to hang out, just email me or comment on this post.
Being back is good, but I have a couple of thoughts about it.
First off, Americans are fat. Not just a little fat, really damn fat. Why is this? Are we just a lazy bunch of slackers? No, not really, Americans are about as lazy as the inhabitants of any other country I've been to. The real problem is that our food is ridiculiciously tasty! I've been in nothing short of food heaven since returning home; Chicago style stuffed pizza, burritos the size of my face, Totino's party pizzas, French silk pie, home made hamburgers, fries, brownies, ice cream, delicous beer, strawberry daquaris, the list continues!

This leads me to contemplate; how can I prevent myself from porking-out with all the delicious food available? I've been cycling a bit, I'd love to go rock climbing but there are no rocks in Iowa and I've even thought of running again. I'm always hesitant to start running again however, because I'm rather injury prone and I tend not to last too long once my feet start to implode. THis led me to search the internet for injury prevention stuff and i found this interesting idea, POSE Technique running. I hadn't heard of it before but it kind of makes sense. During my convalascense from my achilles tendinitis I had contemplated a similar idea, our high tech shoes are really killing our feet. The idea with this kind of running is to use the natural cushioning properties of our foot musculature and not depend so much on the cushy sweetness of 100 dollar shoes. It makes sense, humans have been running for millions of years, and surely we would have all been eaten by lions and carnivorous mammoths and sloths by this time if we'd been suffering from such injuries all along. I think I might give this new technique a try, see if I can't regain my former glory a bit.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Ok loyal fans, and everybodeee. It seems as though I've made it back to the US in one piece after a good long 3 weeks in China. China was good, though it could have been better, what with the super-shits I had and all. It's just not as easy to enjoy a place if you're paranoid about the food and always looking for a bathroom. I understand why Alf likes it; there is cheap food always available on the streets, any time of day or night, there are plenty of girls who would just love to have a foreign boyfriend, and the cost of living is low enough for him to skip work for months at a time. Oh yeah, you can also get a pint and a half of beer for 25 cents.

I'll be posting pictures of the rampage acros Middle Kingdom sometime soon, I'm going to put together an AWESOME slide show for all 10 of my readers. Incidentally, the name of my blog is rather outdated, so any ideas for a new one would be much appreciated.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Well, holy shit. This will be the last post from the Land of the Rising Sun. Jennifer and I are off to China to see Alf, and of course all of the wonderful things that the Middle Kingdom has to offer. We head by bus tonight to Osaka, and then from Osaka tomorrow we will go by seafaring ship to Shanghai to meet up with Alfie. We still have a fair bit of cleaning to do today and unfortunately, I decided to take it upon myself to clean out the liquor cabinet last night. It's just a shame to see good gin go to waste isn't it? Now it's just a shanme that I'm a useless hungover idiot on my last day in Nagano, EVER!

Since China blocks Blogger, I may not be able to post anything until I get back to the US. I suppose a name change for this blog is in order, "aaronsinjapan" will probably not seem so suitable when at last aaronsnotinjapan.

Thanks Japan, it's been and interesting two years, but I can't say I'm all that I'm not ready to leave. It's been real.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Here are some nice ones. Unfortunately, I really can't put faces to names, I never made that effort, plus there were 90 of them, and I met them once a week. Oh well, the plaid one is from probably the best English speaker in the class.
This is the only student I ever have wanted to throw out the window. Stupid and annoying, but hey, her favorite band is called "Bump of Chicken".
This is one of my favorites. When I finally figured out what she was trying to say, I got a little misty eyed.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

I got some pretty good thank you notes from the girl's highschool students at Nagano Jyoshi-ko. You can see how much of an influence I was on them.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Sorry about the scarcity of my posts recently. I've been waaaay to busy listening to Le Tour by using the power of the internet. My biggest gripe about this year is that Lance is a goddam juggernaut when it comes to this race. He doesn't focus on anything else, and while that is the same approach favored by so many other riderss, he swats them all down like flies. My main hope is in Ivan Basso, the youngish Italian who really showed up to race this year. Basso is the only guy to really stick with Lance in the mountains, that, plus Basso also raced in the Giro, where he was the odds on favorite until he suffered from stomach flu and lost 44 minutes on a single stage. My bet is that next year, Basso is going to be the guy to beat, but the race will be much more interesting without Big Tex in the mix.

Friday, July 15, 2005

I am almost through with the week from hell, but hey it was great while it lasted. I've begun to bid farewell to my classes, students and friends, a sad process but one that is easily accepted in light of my impending return to the world of the unemployed and homeward bound. Jennifer is due back on Sunday, which means that a good scrubbing is in order, primarily for me, and the apartment could do with a bit of tidying as well. My days of batchelordom are nearing an end, to my delight. With luck customs won't bust out the sniffing dogs to confiscate the kangaroo jerkey that I requested upon Jennifer's return.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

This week coming up is my last full week of teaching. I've got a pretty whopping schedule coming up but I guess I'll just deal with it, as it's the LAST ONE I'LL EVER HAVE TO DO! I'm working from about 10 to 9 for four out of the five days this week and in addition, I'll be teaching 5 kids classes this week. You can imagine how excited I am for that. Loving the kids classes, loving them. Jennifer's still in Australia, cruising the outback or something, chucking shrimp and the barbie and kicking it Southern Hemisphere style. The apartment is in a current state of "not so clean" because without anyone to see it, is it really messy? By anyone in this case, I mean Jennifer, she tends to not like it when I leave the kitchen covered with dough and crumbs.
In other news I spent about 24 of the past 48 hours rock climbing, a pretty stellar ratio if you ask me, and one that has caused me to feel pretty sweet about myself. I am now officially a 5.11 climber after completing not just one but two climbs of the 5.11a grade. If you know what I'm talking about, you'll understand why I'm happy, but if not, consider it in the way you'd think of a 5:30 mile or winning a Cat. 4 criterium. Many people can do it, but it takes a lot of work. Yay me.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

I've been trying to think of ways to get my digs in at the "System" while I'm still in Japan. I think that as an outsider, I have a better vantage point from which to see the terrible morass which is the Japanese Way. Why for example, is it necessary to have jump suited men at standing in places where a simple traffic cone would do the job? When I ask this question to my students, I can't seem to make it sound like anything other than an attack on a ridiculous waste of time and energy (which it is). While I want to let rip at the nightmare of futility and wasted energy which is the Japanese education system, I can't bring myself to do so for fear of alienating all of the people who grew up with the system and knew no other way. When your student is the owner of your company, you can't exactly bitch about the manager he hired, even if the guy spends his time mastering solitaire and watching us work. I guess that's where the ol blog comes in handy, letting off steam so that I don't flip out on the co-workers.

Monday, July 04, 2005

So, Jennifer's in Australia and I've got like 2 weeks of work left. What am I thinking about most? You guessed right! The Tour de France!!! I dreamt last night that I was riding in the peloton and Lance Armstrong was bitching at me because I was punching the tempo up some alpine pass. So I told him, "Listen, you're not my team captain, I don't have to do what you say." How cool was that! Usually my dreams involve me failing at something, or more commonly trying to kill something that just will not die. Approximately every week in my dreams I'm trying to fend off attackers, zombies or aliens and the damn things just won't die. I am forever hacking at necks and cutting off arms that just won't sever from the bodies of my assailants. So, this confrontation with Lance was a welcome change of pace, afterall, I was making him sweat, not trying to hack him to pieces.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Made it. The tori at the top has coins stuck into it, it's kind of an odd piece of wood. I had a juice-box-sized cup of sake at 4:50am to congratulate myself, what a way to wake up.
Here's an unhappy camper on the way down. Don't ask how she did it, she's just tougher than the average bear. For me, I puke, I stop.
Hiking down the from the ash hole of Fuji-san.
Well, Fuji proved a worthy adversary. Let's just say that it was a hell of a hike. I guess we were asking for it though. We left Nagano at about 11:30 on Saturday morning and drove the 3 hours to Yamanashi prefecture where Fuji, or at least half of it, resides. It's a big damn mountain. While the air was ridiculously hazy and we couldn't see the thing from 20 kilometers away, at sunset, it cleared off a little and we were able to see the super cone. It's pretty super. Did I mention that we had hiked about an hour up a small neighboring mountain to go rock climbing? Well, that's where I first saw the Fuj-ster. We only climbed a little, primarily because there were hideous amounts of gnats at the base of the climb and secondarily because we were 'saving our energy' for the 8 hour climb ahead of us.

After sweating copiously on the rock climbing hill we drove down to the resorty area surrounding the most climbed mountain in the world and pounded down some ramen, and not the little cup-noodle type either, big fat greasy ramen from a restaurant. Following this gustatory masochism, we spent the better part of the next hour trying to find the entrance to one of the 4 Fuji trails. The hike up Fuji is broken up by "stations" 1-9 with most hikes actually starting at the 5th station, and since there are 4 routes up Fuji, there are 4 5th stations. We started at one about 2000 meters up the side of the 3700 meter volcano. This meant that we had a little more than a mile to go, straight up that is. Fuji is not so impressive for it's height, there are hundreds of peaks in North America that top it, but it's amazing because it's a giant mountain that sticks up out of seemingly nowhere.

Our general plan was to climb until sunrise, this being about 11:00pm. It sounds a little crazy but with the trail so well marked and travelled, it was a simple matter to follow it, even at night. We each had headlamps and there was a waning gibbous moon overhead so most of the time we were able to climb without help from the lamps. Things were fine, a slog to be sure, but more or less fine for much of the trip, until about 3000 meters when Jennifer started to feel a little dizzy and sick. Altitude sickness is a bitch and she puked about 3 times on the way up. I realize now that she probably should have stayed at one of the stations along the way and rested, but eventually the 4 of us made it to the top at about 4:45 in time for a sunrise that we never saw due to the cloudbank in the way. Damn. Coming down was pretty easy because the top of the mountain is actually a giant cinder cone and we were able to bound down the sandy trail in about 2.5 hours where the trip to the top had taken something like 6 hours. Overall, it's something that I'm glad to have done, and am not sorry to never do again. Check out the photos and you'll see what I mean.

Friday, June 24, 2005

So, in doing what one ought to do in Japan, we will climb Mt. Fuji tomorrow. It'll be a bloody slog up a giant mountain for sure. I can't wait. Apparently, being as it's a giant cinder cone, it's not much to look at on the way up. That's ok however, we're going to climb it tomorrow night. That's the general way, climb at night, watch the sunrise and then descend by 10 the next day. Sunrise is supposed to be the only time when there is actually any visibility to speak of. I'm hoping to snap some good pictures, and with the wonders of Photoshop, you'll really be able to see the UFOs in the pictures.
If we're feeling ridiculously genki (energetic that is) we may stop at the Fuji-kyu Highland, home of the worlds fastest or tallest rollercoaster, I can't remember which. Somehow, I doubt that will actually occurr.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

So the latest plan is that Jennifer and I along with our trusty companions, Lara and Shane, are going to go to China for the month of August. Originally we had planned on driving around the northern part of Japan for a month, but then Alf emailed me and this led to that...

Anyway, tickets in August are pretty expensive between China and Japan, the prices are as hot as the anti-Japanese rhetoric in Chinese chat rooms. So, in the hope of cooling off and taking life slow, we're hoping to go by ferry, all the way from Osaka to Shanghai. We'll see how that goes. I always feel a little nervous when I'm plying the open sea, something about not having any land in sight kind of freaks me out. Anyway, I think that the 48 hours or so that I'll be cooped up on a ship will be a good psychological transition period for me. Usually I'm too busy freaking out about getting all my stuff in order to actually think about what I'm doing. I ended up in Japan before I was even really aware of what was happening. It may be just better for me to take life a little slower. Who needs speed anyway?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

News from my homefront.

Ian's back from the southern hemisphere, and indeed he's already tired enough of home to be heading back up to the Twin Cities today. I called home last night and talked with him for about an hour, it was good to catch up on such brotherly topics as nuggies and wedgies as well as the finer points of Chilean politics. He weathered his time away well and had only one major bout of diarreah. I feel vindicated in sending him off with the appropriate warning and medication. It's really interesting as the older brother to look back on conversations with my family members over the years. I remember when I became old enough to actually talk to my parents as an adult. I recall talking with Ian after his higschool graduation and thinking that he was cool for the first time, not the silly little kid I had punched a lot. Leah, well she still whines, but at least she's easy to talk to. Asa, always the odd one out is extremely intriguing, but you wouldn't know it because he never speaks.

Speaking of developments; Leah has opted to join the Macalester hordes, as I may have mentioned before, but she also has disavowed cars for a while. She crashed the little white Toyota that my parents bought when she destroyed the big grey van known as Sparky. Apparently there was a disturbing bug in the car and as she drove on an empty street, she tried to shoo it out the window. This in effect shooed the steering wheel into a perfect trajectory with a parked car. Idiot. Asa is pissed because with her off to college he would have taken the reigns to the car over on his 16th birthday, which is coming up this August.

Shit, you leave a country for 2 fricking years and you come back with a baby brother who drives cars. At least I'll be able to see some of the Macalester soccer games. I have missed all of Ian's previous 3 seasons because I've been out of the country. Idiot again!

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Last week marked the reopening of Watahan, the nearest department store to us. They sold primarily hardware and plants but they also had a good selection of tropical fish and some puppies in little glass boxes, as well as kitchen goods and the like. Now, they've reopened and added a refrigerated foods section. Jennifer and I showed up to check things out and were shocked by several things.

1. There was a lineup out the door to get into the place.
2. Once inside people were unable to move because the store was too crowded.
3. Jennifer shoved an old lady who was blocking the aisle.
4. People were again in a fifteen minute line up to get a box of tissues.

I guess this just shows everyone how boring life in Japan can be. This was like the cultural event of the century.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

According to the word on the street, my brother gets back from Chile today. Techically, I suppose that he's already back in the US, but Miami is not a civilized place and therefore doesn't really count. He's flying into MSP sometime today and my mom will pick him up at the airport. He was in various parts of the only country actually shaped like its namesake vegetable, but primarily in Valparaiso on an SIT program. Three months the boy was gone, it seems like no time at all for me, the lonely expatriate, but I guess that the three months seemed like a while to be traveling in Europe, or living in Chicago as I did. Anyway, bienvenidos Ian!

Monday, June 06, 2005

What do you do when there is only one cookie left and you and your brother both want it?
What do you do when it seems like there is no way to break the tie?
What do you do when there are three of you going for the same fish in the supermarket?
What do you do to determine who has to speak to the English teacher?
What do you do if the election is too close to call?

THAT'S RIGHT! ROCK PAPER SCISSORS!!!! Rock, paper, scissors, or "janken" as they call it here is like a national past time. In a culture that prides itself on harmony, being a greedy pig is just not an option. In comes "janken" a foolproof and harmonious way of deciding who gets what. Recently it seems that the contest of wits and skill may take off overseas. Check out what may have been the most expensive game of rock-paper-scissors ever, "Rock paper scissors settles auction house battle"

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Until last week, I was unsure whether or not there was poison ivy in Japan. Now I know the answer is yes. As a child I once thought myself immune to poison ivy when after running through a forest full of it, I was totally without blemish. Then something happened, maybe it was the strange brew of hormones brought on by puberty, maybe it was a hex by the local gypsy, but now, now I am a sufferer of the scourge of the three leafed demon. The rash first starts as an itch, then moves to full blown blisters by the next day. From this point it takes about a week for me to recover my sanity as the tremendous itching simply will not go away. The last stage is where my skin looks like the inner flesh of a pomagranate. Squeezing the skin is like pinching a grapefruit, it'll shoot juice several inches.

Just thought I'd let the world know a little more about my allergic reactions.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

I called my parents today to chat and what did I find? THEY WERE OUT OF TOWN...PARTYING!! They are up at the lake house of one of their friends with a few of their friends for the Memorial Day holiday. Apparently the end of the world is nigh as this behaviour is unprecedented. Except for going to visit my grandmother and travelling to view soccer games and cross country meets my parents never go ANYWHERE! Vacations have always been family vacations, and they have always been accompanied by children, willing or not. Now it seems that my folks have passed some sort of generational barrier, after twenty six odd years of child raising they are phasing into the "empty nest" phenomenon. When my younger sister Leah leaves for Macalester (yes, a third in the Dynasty) this fall Asa will be left as the sole child in my parents home. They'll either have to adopt someone, or get used to the new lifestyle. Fortunately, their neighbor Chad is a needy fellow, and can keep them feeling loved while the rest of us are away.
Anway, fear not parents! I'll be back in August to mooch again!!!

Friday, May 27, 2005

Damn, i've got like 2 more months left in this country. I must admit it's pretty sweet to think of. Finally getting to eat as many pizzas as I want, shoes that will fit, everything written in English, getting fat...getting a "real" job. It'll be good to get back.
Then of course, I'll be left to ponder, "What the hell was I doing with my life in Japan?" Hmm an interesting question. Learning Japanese? No, not really. While I can speak enough to get through random interactions in the supermarket and some day to day conversation, I can't actually say that I speak Japanese. Building job skills? Well, since I know I don't really want to teach english any more, i guess you could call it part of a "job elimination process" whereby I try everything and nix the ones I don't like. Maybe it was the joy of cultural exchange. Maybe not since I have only just begun to develop Japanese friends outside of my workplace. Ahhh yes, I know, it was to escape reality for 22 odd months. Damn, this was a perfect place, as far from reality as I could ever wish for! Japan is the place where "What you see is NOT what you get," in a big way. Don't ask me why, move here and find out for yourselves. The Japanese will love you as long as you are white and speak English! They pay well for doing so too! The only place more removed from reality would possibly be North Korea, but since North Korea pays their English teachers in beatings and brainwashing, I don't think I'll be going there.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

So, the tokyo trip was a success. The morning was spent in the Tsukiji fish market, the largest fish market in the world, both by volume of fish sold daily and number of workers in a single market. I had been told that it was the 11th wonder of the world and well, it lived up to my expectations.
After that it was a trip to SUMO land to get tickets for the day's matches. After aquiring the tickets and checking out the amateur rounds, we went to visit Yasukuni Shrine. Had you been keeping up on your Japan/China/Korea/Taiwan politics you would know that this is the shrine dedicated to Japan's war dead. Prime Minister Koizumi has made yearly visits to the shrine in order to pay respects to the Japanese killed in foreign conflict. The problem with this is that the shrine is not only dedicated to the victims of the war, but also to a couple dozen Class-A war criminals. Why a country would think to dedicate a shrine to war criminals, I don't know.

After seeing the infamous but visually unremarkable shrine, we returned to the sumo arena for the real action. We were not able to see the Yokozuna, Asashoryu, but we saw some of the somewhat lower ranked Maegashira wrestlers pushing eachother around.

In the evening we went out to a lovely dinner at a restaurant headed by some guy from New York. I would rate the meal as one of the top five that I've ever eaten in my life. Everything was perfect. The scallops were seared to perfection. The grilled pepper crusted tuna was perfect. The beer was perfect. The creme brulee was perfect. If you're ever in Tokyo and you are looking for a romantic dinner on the water's edge and you are not worried about a $50 per person tab (but really, let's face it, if you're looking for budget travel you're not going to be in Japan in the first place) I recommend the T.Y. Harbor Brewing Co.

Oh yeah, and we got to ride the bullet train twice in a day. Sweeeeeet!
Here are some of the big dogs, I can't remember who exactly, but they're big dudes eh? My favorite is Takamisakari, a popular wrestler because of his pre-match routine which involves much face slapping and salt throwing.
Sumo at 10 in the morning, Yes, don't mind if I do! This is the Dohyo, the sacred arena where the rikishi (as the wrestlers are rightly called) push and shove eachother like overweight bighorn sheep out of the ring. Ten is too early to see the big names, like Asashoryu, Takamisakari, Kaio and don't forget Kokkai the Russian's great white hope. This is merely the amateurs getting their practice rounds in.
This guy could gut and fillet a foot long eel in about 15 seconds. I saw him do about 8 before Jennifer dragged me away. I could watch eels being gutted all day. Slice, squeeze, flip, chop, chop.. and do it all over again.
When tuna comes off the boat at approximately the size of a full grown human, what else would you cut it with than a samurai sword? The blade on that baby is about 4 feet long.
This is one of those things that you just don't see in Iowa very often, a giant tuna being cut in quarters on a bandsaw. This isn't even a big one.

Monday, May 23, 2005

I saw what has become my favorite spectator sport last saturday. Sumo. Now before you all go thinking of blubbery men charging at eachother in a small ring, let's get one thing straight, they're athletes. I respect them because they do an activity that I could never do. They're like, EXTREME!! I'll post some pictures shortly so you can see what I'm talking about.

Friday, May 20, 2005

This article has inspired me. I think that I'll protest my incarceration in business attire and show up to work in a Tee shirt and shorts. The fact that it would get me fired (a first in any of the jobs that I've held) shows you what kind of country I live in. Seriously though, neckties are more akin to nooses than necklaces.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Shane, keeping a close eye on me. Notice the attentiveness.
Some Japanese climbers across the way. What kind of crazy sport is this?
The crew, Lara, Shane, Jennfere and I, Have become somewhat the experts on night travel here in Japan. First it was our trip to Shikoku, covered almost entirely in the hours of the night, then last Friday saw us driving down south again to one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen, namely the Yosemite of Japan, Ogawa-Yama. The name literally means "little river mountain" but the main feature you'll notice is the gigantic granite spires poking out of the mountains. This, combined with the industriousness of the Japanese rock climbing community has led to the establishment of over 600 routes, most of them out of my league, but others tantalizingly do-able. The shock of the weekend came as Jennifer and I began setting up the tent, only to discover that her sleeping bag had been left behind. OOPS! This meant two things. 1. I was an idiot for forgetting it when I walked out the door, and 2. one of us was sleeping in the car. Jennifer got that honor and had a lovely night's sleep on 4 feet of back seat.

Overall though, it was a successful weekend, and I in particular, didn't want to leave. Oh well, we'll be back, we'll be back.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Alf is totally correct. Asian taste in pop music is probably the worst in the world. While shopping for protein powder yesterday at various sporting goods stores, I was assailed by reject music from the US, shitty store theme music, "Sponsored by Super Sports Xebio!" and a host of unspeakable rot from crappy Japanese Karaoke stars and rejects alike. There's something about the Japanese aesthetic that loves the sappy and inane, particularly in music and on TV. I can't quite explain it, but things like the lyric, "Good love from me to you," pop up constantly amid the most un-original melodies and skill-less singing I've ever heard recorded. My only good fortune is that I don't get lyrics stuck in my head very often because they're in Japanese.

I can't wait to get back to the US to find the same thing, in a language that I fully understand.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

As I mentioned in the moustache post, we took a trip to Shikoku last week. It was a driving marathon rather than the money marathon which was our trip last year. Shikoku is a pretty rugged place and you can almost imagine that you're not in Japan when there. There's a different attitude on the other islands, one that's not quite so concerned with the social graces of Honshu. Anyway, I had a great trip, though my back is only just now forgiving me for my time spent in the car. I've posted the main events of the trip in a more or less chronological order, and I'm planning on uploading a lot more of them to an internet photo album. When you get a digital camera, the only thing that stops you from taking pictures is battery life, and we've got enough battery to last us about 200 pictures worth. Yee-haw!
Believe it or not, this is the most famous part of Shikoku. Not the bridge particularly, but the narrow straights below it. The town is Naruto and the area is a tourist attraction because of the tide, which is the 3rd most beautiful in Japan, according to our guidebook. This being the exit from the Inland Sea to the Pacific, when the tide changes water currents water flows through at up to 20kph and can create whirlpools. To me, it looked like a river, a big river.
Typhoons really tore the countryside up last year as a record 10 of them pasted the island. With typhoons you get strong winds and what's more torrents of rain soaking the moderately stable hillsides which eventually sluff off in gargantuan landslides like this one which demolished the only road from where we were, to where we were going. This necessitated a back-track of about 4 hours. Radical.
Did I mention it was hard to get around in Shikoku, here's a "highway" through the mountains. This tunnel was just a crude blast hole through the rock, yet it was listed as a major road, maybe that's because it was the only road to where we were going, and it just happened to be out.
Shikoku is a rugged country with natural beauty seemingly around every corner. Admittedly, we only went to two of the four prefectures, but that's mostly because travel was excruciatingly slow. This waterfall was carved out of the whitest rock I've seen in Japan and set in a lush green valley. A perfect picnic spot if ever there was one.
We had ourselves a merry little backpacking expedition from hell as well. It started with an easy hour and a half hike up to the weather station where we camped for the night. The next day then was this one which we spent hiking for about 9 hours and 20K. It wouldn't have been quite as bad had it not been the inagural voyage for Jennifer and my new boots. The first 10K were pretty much ok, painful but whatever, and then we began approaching deathmarch territory. The last 5K were the most painful of my life, including running races. Ouch.
I've rarely seen more spectacular sunsets than here in Japan. It may be the humididty, or the smog or whatever, maybe I just appreciate them more, but in the mountains or on the beach you are assured of some ultra-beauty once in a while. This shot was taken from our campsite on the top of the final leg of our epic day. Happily for my feet the last segment took only about 2.5 hours to hike down. At the trailhead we hitch-hiked our way back to the car, a convenient, and in Japan, safe way to travel.

One of the touristy things to do in Shikoku is to see the vine bridges over one of the river valleys. In the feudal era the local samurai clans would construct these vine bridges over river gorges and when persued, would escape across them and with a couple of swift hacks, eliminate the possibility of pursuit. I felt a little cheated as the modern version is covertly supported by cables, still pretty freaky to cross though.
Testing out the ol' rocket arm as the tide comes in. The beach was strewn with small abalone shells left by a group of nearby picnicers. What is considered endangered in the west is merely another delicacy here. It's a shame though, abalone at best tastes like nothing and has the texture of munching on someone's nose cartilage.
On kind of our last stop before the rain drove us home we stopped at some giant rocks sticking out of the sea coast in Kochi Prefecture. They were totally sweet, as in completely awesome. About 50 meters high from sea level they were made of this awesome pocketed sandstone that looked just like an alien beehive or something, the string that you see in the background was somehow strung between the two pinnacles and is a symbol of residence by some Shinto spirit. After this we parked ourselves on a beach up the coast a bit but were evetually persuaded to leave by 18 hours of straight rain. Nothing quite like camping in the rain to change a person's mind.