Monday, August 31, 2009

Tour De Maine: What Day Is It?

On Saturday we were still camped at Camden Hills State Park, and that night it rained. And rained until midnight. And huge gusts of wind from another hurricane blew until about 3AM. But I have to say our Hilleberg tent is friggin' awesome. You could use this thing at the South Pole. I have to admit I was a little uneasy and had a hard time sleeping with the noise, but we were warm and dry.

On Sunday we only rode about 20 miles and stayed at Moody's Diner & Motel. This place is great in a weird, rustic, old-timey kind of way. The motel consists of little cabins that have had running water and electricity put in them, and the diner is full of locals that enjoy cheap and good eats. The place is still family-run.

We are getting pretty close to Portland and we don't want to be too early, so today we stopped in Wiscasset, which is another in a long line of charming little coastal towns. We are in another little hotel that is run by a woman who runs back and forth between the office and the Chinese restaurant in front.

My body is holding up pretty well, except for my hands, which are still a little worse for wear. I'm not going to return to CA any lighter, being too tempted by lobster rolls, fried fisherman's dinners, and whoopie pies. A whoopie pie is two chocolate cake-type cookies with a frosting between them:

Tomorrow we are off to Freeport, I think, where we might spend two days before riding to Portland. Southward ho!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Tour de Maine: The difference Between Fearless and Courageous

I'm not fearless. I'm afraid of a lot of things. I'm afraid of going downhill too fast, of riding too far on the right side of the road, getting off balance with loaded panniers. But one doesn't have to be fearless to have courage; you just have to face your fears. I'm giving myself credit for being courageous enough to ride on despite my fears. It's been worth it.

After the hostel, we rode and camped on Mount Desert Island the next two days. The weather and scenery were great. I had a problem with my brakes, so we spent one day walking around Southwest Harbor while the nice guys at the bike shop fixed them. They adjusted my gears a bit as well.

On Wednesday, we rode off the island 30 miles and got a hotel room in Ellsworth. Did all our laundry, took long showers, etc. The hotel was a bit depressing. A lot of people with not much going on in their lives. Ellsworth is a place to get to other places.

On Thursday we rode 40 miles to Searsport and found a great private campsite next to the water. 40 miles was tough. With our bikes loaded, we do an average of 10 miles per hour, so it took us four hours riding time. The campsite had hot showers and laundry, however, which made us much more comfortable.

Yesterday we rode about 25 miles to Camden. After the hard day the day before, we were pretty tired. We knew there was a storm coming, so we rode into town for something to eat, bought some food and a couple of books, and hunkered down for the night in the tent at the state park. The rain started at about 3:30 in the AM, and still pours as I write at 1:30 PM the next day.

The tent held up fantastically, and we were warm and dry all night; but the thought of spending a whole day in the tent was too much, so we took a taxi in to town for breakfast, and are now at the public library catching up with the world.

My bike handling is getting much better. I still need to go downhill slowly so that I don't get off-balance. Rob usually ends up way ahead of me going downhill since he is carrying most of the load, and I catch up going uphill. We've each had our moments of getting frustrated at ourselves and each other, but we've had a lot of laughs as well. I'm glad to have a day off of riding, and I think Rob is, too. The last two days were tough.

Mainers are friendly, taciturn, and sporty. Lots of boots and ball caps. I don't see a lot of women dolled up unless they are rich. People here are tough. You have to be to survive the winters. The land and the weather are very important. People live on the lobster, blueberry, and forest industries. They are laid back as well. We haven't been honked at once. People in cars just slow down and calmly drive around us.

I hope the rain will stop soon. One more night at the state park, and tomorrow we keep heading south.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Tour De Maine: The Blueberry Adventure Day 3

It rained all night lst night. Good thing we were in the hostel. Hostels are weird places. Rob stayed up talking to someone really interesting, but he said the funniest quote was, "Wait! I haven't shown you all my knives yet!"

The day started not so well. We dropped off the rental car and started back to the island on our bikes fully loaded, but I was not very good at keeping my bike balanced. I think my bags were unevenly packed, and my front end would waver as I went downhill. So I got all panicky and didn't have a very good time. I felt a bit discouraged, the way I felt when I first started riding and found that bike handling is difficult for me. After we got to camp and set up, we rode a little without the panniers, which went a little better.

Our campsite is just off a fjord- I can't recall the name just now- but the view from the waterline is gorgeous. We went out onto the dock at the end of the day and just "wasted time" in the sun with our feet in the water, surrounded by puffy clouds and a pine-lined shore. It made the day more bearable, and despite thinking that bicycle touring might be a failure, I feel like I am able to persevere tomorrow.

Right now we just finished eating a dinner of canned chili, and Rob is building a fire. There is an open wireless network, so we are checking our email and the news of the day a bit before we wind down and go to sleep.

Tomorrow will be better. The only thing I regret right now is forgetting to pack soap. :(

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Tour De Maine: The Blueberry Adventure Day 2

The shack where Rob used to work as a teenager

Portland to Bar Harbor (Bah-ha-bah)

Today we took the rental car and drove up to Bar Harbor. On the way, we stopped at Bucksport and Rob reminisced about some of his childhood memories. Just outside the town we stopped at the shack where he used to work as a teenager cutting up frozen chickens and deep frying seafood for a little over $2.00 an hour.

The drive was gorgeous and relaxing- everyone drives so slowly there is nothing to get stressed out about- and we spent the day looking at trees and water.

We continued up to Bar Harbor, and walked around the little town. We thought the weather would be terrible due to the hurricane off the coast, but it was beautiful. However, there were some very high waves in the afternoon that swept some people into the ocean, which was the talk of Bar Harbor today everywhere we went. We had a lobster dinner (of course) and are staying the night in the Bar Harbor Hostel. As I speak, the rain just started, so it's a good thing we are spending the night inside. We thought we would use the tent platforms behind the hostel, but they are too small for our tent, so perhaps that was fortuitous.

The hostel suits our needs- it's halfway between "roughing it" and staying in a hotel. We are not the oldest ones here, as we feared. There is a couple in their 30's (perhaps we are older than them, but I'm not sure) and there is only one weird guy who seems off-kilter. The rest of the guests are travelers from all over the globe in their 20's. The Swiss girls are getting flirted with.

We thought we would spend four nights in Bar Harbor before moving on, but the town was so crowded and touristy, we are anxious to get on the bikes and into nature, so tomorrow we will bike back onto the island from returning the rental car and go to a campsite, weather permitting. If it's pouring down rain tomorrow, our plans might change.

So tonight maybe we will venture out for a nightcap and try to get a good night's sleep in separate dorms. Then onward into the wilderness.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Tour de Maine: The Blueberry Adventure Day 1

The first thing I said as I saw the Maine countryside through the window of the plane was, "It's full of trees!" I've never seen so many trees, but the lush surroundings come with a price: humidity. It's humid, bit not hot enough to be too uncomfortable, about 85 degrees. The hurricane is off the coast a little further south, but we didn't see any sign of it today. It was lovely.

From the airport, we dropped of our wheels at a bike shop to be trued (straightened and the spokes adjusted) and checked into the hotel. The bike shop called us and said they were done earlier than we thought, so I drove back to pick them up. And got lost. I found the bike shop all right, but it took me about an hour to get back to the hotel. The roads in this town are crazy! Half of them don't have street signs! I even stopped and asked for directions and still was completely clueless.The bright side is I got to see a lot of Portland, which is an old, quaint, hip, laid back town. We didn't think we needed a GPS on this trip, but now I'm reconsidering.

We went out to dinner at a French restaurant called Evangeline-- the last nice dinner we will have for a couple of weeks. We had duck prepared in a duck press. If you have never heard of it, google it. Prettty bizarre. Of course, we took video, so we will post it soon. Our busboy was from Sudan and this was his last night working. He's starting at the University of Maine on the 28th to study medicine.

So far, no big problems. The bikes got through the flight all right, and seem to be in working order. Rob put them together while I was driving around lost. We will know more when we start riding.

Tomorrow, we drive to Bar Harbor and check into the hostel for the night. We won't start riding in earnest until Monday. Rob spent a lot of his childhood in Bar Harbor, so it should be nostalgic for him.

Now, for a good night's sleep.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Maine Tour: Countdown

We leave tomorrow evening for Maine, where we will be bicycle touring for two weeks. We fly into Portland, drive up to Bar Harbor, stay there for four days, and then bike back to Portland. I think preparations are going well:

  • Fitness: when we were visiting my brother, we took a 3-hour ride and did 40 miles on the flats, so I feel pretty good about that. The third hour was tough on my arms, neck, and back, but my legs were fine. Yesterday we did a 70-minute ride in the hills that took 90 minutes when I first started training, so I am definitely stronger. There should be some hills on our route, but I'm not sure how many or how steep they will be. I think CA hills should prepare me for just about anything, though. Rob's fitness is not a problem. He can blow by me up hills with his bike loaded with gear. I'm the slow link.

  • Bike Gear: We have broken down and put the bikes back together (they are Ritchie Breakaway frames), and everything has been fine. We did a one-night camping trip at the beach and our tent worked fine as well. My gears are slipping a little bit, so we need to adjust that. We will get the wheels trued in Portland before we drive to Bar Harbor.

  • Weather: I need to buy a couple of warm, thin layers for the cold mornings and we need some rain jackets for showers. We already have rain protectors to go on the outside of our panniers, and Rob is buying a dry bag for our electronics, so we should be able to handle a few showers. What we can't ride in, however, is the HURRICANE that is expected to blow by when we get there! The hurricane looks like it might blow through while we are in Bar Harbor though, so the worst case is that we have to hunker down for a couple of days and read instead of cycling around the island. At least I hope that is the worst scenario- here is the projected path:
It should make things a little more unpredictable, so we'll see what happens.

  • Electronic Gear: We will have a little netbook so we can check email, download maps, etc. We will also have a camera and a Flip video camera, so I hope to update pictures either during the trip or shortly afterwards. It would be nice if I can blog day by day.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Digital Guidebook: Telecommuting Challenges

I have a new post on the Digital Guidebook about the challenge of over-reaching while telecommuting.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Personality and Love

I've been thinking a lot about personality lately. Rob and I have totally different personalities: He is high-strung, impatient, and passionate. I am mellow, slow-but-steady, and shy. This leads to fights sometimes, but they don't matter that much. They usually have to do with me being too timid to send back a dish I don't like at a restaurant, or his spouting off his political opinions at inappropriate times. We are together a lot- we both work from home, and we are going bike touring together- so these little flare-ups happen quite a bit.

But one's personality is quite separate from their values, and these Rob and I are totally aligned on. All the major decisions in our lives have been made together, harmoniously, from moving to Argentina to choosing bicycle touring as a hobby to keep us fit. Keeping this perspective helps me through the times when I get mad at him- he might talk too much or eat what I had saved for myself in the fridge, but he also has offered to live with my mother when she is too frail to take care of herself.

Personality has little to do with friendships, either. Often, I will make friends with someone new because their personality is charming and bubbly (I am shy, so making friends with another shy person doesn't happen as often). But one's personality has little to do with whether we become close friends or not. Choosing friends has more to do with values. A bubbly charming person who thinks that lying or stealing is acceptable is not going to be my close friend. There are people whom I enjoy having lunch with, but lose respect for when I find out they believe in a Jewish conspiracy to take over the world (seriously, this has happened).

I was very saddened when an acquaintance going through a divorce told me that she loved her husband, but he was "too critical" all the time. Granted, there might be more to the relationship than I will ever know, but I hope she is not tearing apart her life for a personality conflict.

Too often we admire those who "get along with people." We hold this up in school and in corporate life. But getting along with people is really as superficial as whether someone is well-groomed. It matters, but less than we think. It's important to see past the personality to the real person- and this has to do with what one values, the decisions based on those values, and the actions based on the decisions.

So the next time Rob annoys me by yelling at the AM radio station or makes me cringe by asking sensitive questions at a dinner party, I remember that he has also encouraged me to quit my job if I want to write full-time, helped lift my father from the bed to the toilet when he was ill, and just finished a road trip with my mother in the back seat to visit my family.

That's Love.


Mom, Rob, and I are staying at the Stockton Hilton while visiting my brother and family. The Hilton is one of the better hotels in town, and we splurged a little on the hotel because we drove all the way up here and didn't buy any plane tickets.

So far the hotel has been great, with the exception of one night.

There was a wedding the night before last, and unfortunately, the hotel has one of those designs where rooms look out onto an open courtyard. The room with the wedding reception also opens into the courtyard, so we could hear the music all night. I don't really care too much- it's a wedding after all. I'm not going to complain about someone's big day. Turn the TV up and stay in the room- normally.

But. There was also as softball tournament somewhere close by, and some of the players were staying down the hall from us. Twenty-somethings, getting drunk after the game and ordering pizza. They were also hanging out in the hallway and looking over the balcony at the wedding reception. I was in my room when this happened, but apparently, they eventually made some rude remarks to the wedding party.

I came out of my room when I heard some wedding guests yelling at the softball dorks about being insulted by racial comments and threatening to come upstairs and start a fight. To cut a long story short, police came, the jocks moved to the bar across the street, so did some of the wedding guests, police came again, then the police came a third time and escorted the wedding party out of the hotel after the reception (Can you imagine this happening at your wedding?).

Some of the wedding guests were pretty drunk and rowdy I guess, but I suppose I give them a little slack since they were provoked. They were all pretty young as well, probably all in their twenties.

Here is what really bothers me: Who gets drunk and has the nerve to make nasty comments to people at a wedding? Comments that provoke violence (or the threat of)? RACIAL comments?

Young testosterone-filled binge-drinkers who apparently have no sense of common decency. This is not the first time I have seen jerks like these, and I'm sure it's not the last. I haven't seen any in Argentina, except for American or European tourists. These guys are scary. They are big, strong, drunk, and dumb. A toxic combination.

Part of it is a group mentality, like a pack of wild dogs. I bet if I were to meet any one of them individually, they wouldn't seem so bad. But put them together, and they all convince each other that what they are doing is macho. This is how rapes happen.

Where did these guys come from? How did they turn out this way? Who raised them, and how did they devolve into the cretins they are?

Very, very disturbing.

Eating Healthy in Buenos Aires

I've been back in the States now for three months, and my health is definitely improving from all the cycling I've been doing, but my eating has not been as healthy as it could be. I'm not putting myself under a lot of pressure about it, but I'm definitely trying to plan how I can eat better when I get back to Buenos Aires.

I try to stick to a paleo-ish diet at least 80% of the time (No grains, little dairy- a diet of mostly lean meats, fish, eggs, fruits, and vegetables). Lately, this percent has probably gone down to about 50 or 60%, because my family eats different things and it's hard not to eat grains when they are in the house.

But it is possible to eat a paleo diet in Argentina, especially in the city, because meat markets and vegetable markets are all within walking distance. I just have to take the time to walk to them. And now that my Spanish is good enough to actually speak with the vendors, it should
be easier. Here is a list of things I am going to shoot for, and things I'm going to try to avoid:

The good list:

Image via

1. Meat, of course. Argentine beef is grass-fed, so it is pretty lean. I eat a lot of red meat and my digestion is fine, and my cholesterol is fine. I can order a variety of meat at a parrilla along with a salad and skip the bread. It is easy to get organ meats in Argentina, as well. I love the sweetbreads.

2. Fish- Argentines don't eat a lot of fish, typically, but there are fish markets, and I need to learn a few more types of fish in Spanish so I can pick out some good fish for a quick dinner. Most restaurants have at least one fish on the menu, typically merluza.

3. Salads- when eating out at a cafe, salads usually consist of a list of vegetables you can have cut up and put in a bowl, served with oil and vinegar. You choose from a list- beets, carrots, and lettuce, for example. I definitely need to take advantage of this more often.

4. Nuts. I don't eat enough of these. It's a great way to get some good fat, and make me feel full. They are generally pretty pricey compared to other things in the grocery store, so I tend to avoid them.

The bad list:


1. Pizza. Cheese and bread do not a healthy person make. Carbs, + fat + salt. Avoid when possible.

2. Empanadas. Hard to avoid. They are everywhere, cheap, and fast. Meat and/or cheese filled savory pastry. Some are fried. Ham and cheese is popular.

3. Pasta. There are a lot of home-made pasta shops, so I have to try hard to avoid these as well. Once in a while I will splurge on a special occasion. But a pasta meal makes me feel bad the next day if I am not used to eating it.

4. Pastries. Croissants, facturas, etc. In shop windows everywhere, and popular for breakfast. Not as evil as Krispy-Kreme, but almost.

The once-in-a-while list:

Image of a picada via

1. Tarts. These are very popular, and although they are made with a dough crust on the bottom, they are usually filled with eggs, and various different kind of vegetables. Squash is popular, as is acelga, which I believe is similar to chard.

2. Milanesa Napolitana. Breaded chicken or beef cutlet, fried, and topped with tomato sauce and cheese. There is usually too much cheese to be healthy, but it is so good, I gotta have it once in a while. And other than the breading, there is not much grain. They usually use safflower oil for frying.

3. Picada. This is a platter of meats and cheeses for snacking. Many come with nuts as well. I try to avoid meats that are processed with salt and nitrates. But it is an adequate choice once in a while, when shopping or walking around on a hot day, with a beer. Since there is so much fat, they are very filling, so a little goes a long way.

4. Yogurt. Argentines love their yogurt, but it's hard to get natural yogurt that doesn't have a lot of stuff added. I can find sugar-free yogurt, but that has aspartame, which I don't think is great on a daily basis. But it helps the digestion, and you can't buy the digestive supplements in pill form like you can in the states.

Like I said, I'm not a diet nazi, but I try to keep myself within the 80% range of a paleo-type diet. I do have ice cream occasionally, or pasta. But the healthier I eat, the worse I feel when I go off the pattern, so I can keep it pretty steady when I am on a roll. With a little will-power, it is possible to eat paleo in Argentina.

This post was written, in part, for where Julia writes about her expat adventures, as well as on this blog. You can follow her in both places.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bike Fitness

It's my fourth week training for bicycle touring, and my fitness is definitely improving: both my cardiovascular fitness, and my muscle strength. Before I started this "program" I wondered whether I could get a Crossfit-style workout on the bike: variation, big movements, intensity. the answer in general, is yes. Especially if you live in the hills.
  • Riding up hills gives intervals of very high intensity with periods of rest. If I push a big enough gear, it's a great leg workout. It's as intense as running sprints.
  • I work all the big muscle groups in the lower half of my body. Even when trying to keep a high pace on the flats, I work my abs and lower back in order to keep stabilized.
  • You can do intervals on the flats if you push the pace high enough.
  • We change our route every time we go out so we will get a different type of workout: Long and flat one day, hilly and short another, working skills in the park another.
  • We take days off in between where we do nothing.
Of course, the obvious muscle group that is missing is arms. Eventually, I will work in some arm exercises after a ride when I can handle it. But you'd be surprised at the level of arm strength needed for descending, so the arms don't stay completely unused.

Bicycle touring does not equal fitness necessarily. One can ride from town to town at a leisurely pace, and drink a bottle of wine and a huge pasta dinner each night. But if you keep the intensity up, vary the route so that you work in some hills, and watch the diet, it can be a great way to keep in shape, and see some of the country besides.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Being Healthy vs. Being Thin

It's now the third week of training for bicycle touring, and I am already feeling a lot fitter. The first two weeks were very difficult to get through- I felt tired all the time. But now I am recovering faster, and starting to feel a boost in my energy. My bike handling skills have gotten better as well--I am clipping in and out, climbing quite well (relatively), and rode three hours out to the beach with panniers (of course Rob takes the heavy stuff on his bike). Yay, me!

I haven't lost much weight, though. I thought I would be down about five pounds at this point. I was discouraged at first, but it has made me reflect on why I am doing this in the first place, and how important the weight loss is.

First of all, you have to ride intensely to get fit and start losing weight. In order to ride intensely, you have to build up your capacity to do so. Noodling around at 10 miles an hour isn't going to help you burn calories. So I need a few weeks to be fit enough to handle the intensity that will lead to weight loss.

Second, and more importantly, I need to keep in mind that being thin and being healthy are not the same thing. I want to be healthy. That means have a healthy heart, good lungs, some strength, and good energy throughout the day. I can be 15 lb.s overweight and have all this.

Losing 15lbs. is vanity. I don't want dimply thighs or a fat ass. I want clothes to look good on me. There is nothing wrong with this, it's just important to keep it in perspective. Judging one's health by weight alone is like judging the health of the economy by the stock market, and we all know how that goes. I've seen plenty of skinny people who drink too much, smoke too much, eat poorly, and have a high body fat percentage because they don't have any muscle. You can be skinny and unhealthy.

Of course I have some health issues that make staying thin a good idea, like type II diabetes in the family. But these health issues usually come at the border of obesity, and I am not there.

So I'm not discouraged by the scale. The weight loss will come. (My vanity cannot be shaken.) But more importantly, I have energy today! And after the months (years?) of suffering fatigue from being hypothyroid, this is heavenly. Dimply thighs or not.