Pockets of Blue

musings of my mind

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 4)

How to get in shape without being miserable

Let’s face it: Exercising usually sucks. Lifting weights in a gym is annoying. Running is downright boring. Swimming is about as fun as getting sprayed by a fire hose.

That’s the bad news. The good news is, there are unlimited other ways to stay in shape, some of which don’t suck! I, of course, climb a lot of rocks, so I might be a tad biased here, but I still think that climbing is the single best path toward an excellent all-over physique. Muscles you never knew existed will get stressed for the first time. I guarantee, after your first day climbing, you’ll be sore all over, and in places you didn’t expect. (“Why are my thighs sore? Isn’t climbing all upper body?” Hell, no!) Like any good workout, you’ll be sore for 3-5 days afterwards. Get over that first plateau and you’ll have already made major gains in strength and physique.

Little Cottonwood Canyon


Fall in Little Cottonwood Canyon, UT

“OK, so climbing sounds fun, but I live in Iowa! The nearest cliffs are three hundred miles away!” That’s OK, just go to one of the hundreds of climbing gyms nationwide. They’ll (hopefully) be friendly and accepting of newcomers, and unlike normal gyms, you won’t be surrounded by meatheads. If you’re lucky enough to have rocks or mountains nearby, find a guide and get after it!

If climbing isn’t your cup of tea, there are lots of other ways to get in shape and trim fat, that don’t suck! Find a yoga or pilates studio — both are excellent ways to build core strength — and often you can sit in on a class for free. Take your bike to work in the mornings — you might find the cool morning air to be quite invigorating, not to mention the extra boost of energy to start the day! Go cross-country skiing, hiking, or canoeing some weekend. Downhill skiing is actually a pretty poor workout, as it doesn’t do anything for you aerobically, and really only builds a couple large muscles in your upper legs. Now if you hike to the top instead of taking a lift, that’s a different story!

It’s not all easy and fun, though. If an activity isn’t at least a little difficult, it’s probably not doing much for you physically. Athletes swear by the maxim “no pain, no gain,” which is unfortunately often the case for upper-level workouts. But would you rather be a little sore from hiking in the hills when the leaves are changing, or dodging traffic running the local park loop? It’s all about the experience, and if you can find something that you enjoy enough to not even notice the difficulties involved, you’re set. So get out there!

Five Days in Deso

It’s been about a month since my last post, and, coincidentally, about the same time since we’ve seen the sun. Well, ok, it hasn’t been quite that bad, but the weather has been decidedly atrocious. We’ve had thunderstorms and/or rain pretty much every day for the past three weeks. It all began Memorial Day weekend, when Cam invited me to join him on a river trip down the Green River…

At eight PM or so, friday, May 29, nine of us arrived at Sand Wash, the put-in for a five-day trip floating the Green River in east-central Utah. Cam, his stepmom, and a collection of rather experienced river-runners and I all set up our tents and rendezvoused for beers and some pre-trip storytelling. It drizzled most of the night, an ominous sign for the days to come.

Day one: May 23

We didn’t shove off the next morning until eleven or so — nine of us on three rafts — a 14, 15, and 16-footer. It was drizzling and rather miserable, but we were in high spirits, cruising down the rather swollen, 5mph-flowing river for most of the day. Around six or so we found our first camp — a nice, shady flat area nestled in an inner curve of the river. Martinis and mexican food were consumed en masse and soon it turned dark. After some drunken conversing and guitar-playing another torrential downpour effectively scattered everyone to their respective tents for the evening.

Day two: May 24

The next morning was quite beautiful. The sun peeked out and illuminated the sandstone walls of Desolation Canyon just in time for breakfast:

Sunrise

As would become customary for the rest of the trip, we shoved off at around ten. It was also the day for the first decent-sized rapid of the trip. We pulled off to the side sometime around noon and scouted it from shore. Ominous clouds billowed downstream and we ran the rapids without incident. That is, if you don’t call my punching the front of the boat and getting absolutely drenched an incident. Right after that it started to get colder and rained a bit, and a couple miles downstream we pulled off for lunch.

I should comment that every single meal on the river was delicious — these aren’t meals you can put together on a backpacking trip — we feasted on Spaghetti, Sausages, and Burritos w/ everything, and that was just the beginning. French Toast and Eggs w/ Biscuits greeted the mornings, and lunch consisted of fantastic sandwiches w/ hummus, sprouts and the works; it was ridiculous. I’ve never been so spoiled in the backcountry.

Not having put enough warm clothes in my drybag, I was quite miserable for the rest of the day until we made our second camp at an aesthetic, open spot at a bend in the river. Soon after unloading, I set up my tent and took a gander at some of the boulders in the vicinity. They looked promising, so I retrieved my climbing shoes and climbed some fantastic problems on excellent sandstone, all around V0-V2 or so. Then a vicious storm rolled in, and most of us took shelter and napped to wait it out. Later we set up a system of tarps to protect the kitchen area so the day’s chefs could prepare dinner, and the evening was dry and quite fun.

Day three: May 25

I don’t remember much about this day except that it was finally sunny for most of it. We set up the best campsite of the trip on a beautiful sandy beach which rose up twenty feet or so from the river. Cam and I cooked up burritos w/ Chipotle-marinated pork which turned out to be a big hit, and we spent the rest of the evening drinking Margs and tossing around a frisbee. Not a bad life. The sunset on the sandstone walls was spectacular, and Cam and I stayed up late chatting until another rainstorm cut it short. It would be the last of the trip.

Sunrise

Day four: May 26

The morning dawned bright and cloudless — we were in for a spectacular day. Spirits were high and we hit the Tecate hard throughout the day — something like four beers before lunch. Right around mid-morning we pulled off to scout what was supposed to be the biggest rapid of the trip, a seven on the ten-point scale. It formed last summer during an especially violent flash flood out of a side canyon, scattering huge boulders everywhere and creating a nice, big, frothy rapid to navigate. Cam ran it like a pro. It turned out to be rather mild for us two twenty-somethings but provided some much-needed excitement for the group. Afterwards we went back to the beer, hitting it pretty hard until we set up the last camp of the trip. It was probably the least aesthetic of the campsites (no boulders to climb!) and it was a pretty subdued evening. The night was clear and stars infinite, and by this time I was in full-on river mode, enjoying the utter disconnect. It’s times like those that I live for…

Day five: May 27

The last morning was a bit bittersweet as we all knew it was all coming to the end. The group had meshed admirably and we were all getting along great. It’s amazing how big a difference the right personalities make on a long trip like this — there were no drill sergeants and no slackers, everybody pitched in and things just got done smoothly every time. I was proud to be part of such a cohesive group.

It was another cloudless, warm day; I went swimming off the boat and we had a few water fights. By three or so, though, we were coming to the last of the rapids and soon were taking out and unloading. It didn’t quite hit me until I turned on my cellphone (only Verizon customers got decent service) and made a few phone calls. I was connected again, back on the grid. Back to society, back to the grind.

Epilogue

Though most of you probably won’t read this, I’d like to thank everyone for such a great trip — Laurie, Kerry, Paul, Kelli, Ridge, Anita, Joelle, and especially Cam for the invite and putting up with my occasional surliness over those five days. It was fantastic — let’s make it a tradition!

Photos from the trip

Buy Buy Buy Sell Sell Sell

As you all probably know, I recently bought a house here in Salt Lake. Home ownership has been a mixed bag thus far, but overall I’d say it trends toward the positive. One of the nice things was the $7500 tax credit from Uncle Sam for purchasing a house in 2008. Not quite the free $8k plus $6k from Utah, but it’s still a nice chunk of change. The caveat is that I have to pay it back in taxes over the next 15 years in $500 installments.

At first I was reluctant to take the money and accompanying debt, but in reality, you can’t go wrong with no-interest loans. It’s basically free money to play around with, so naturally, I decided to invest it. My father recommended Fidelity as an excellent source of quality mutual funds and other lower-risk investments, and I already have an online checking account through them, so I figured I’d give em a shot. After a bit of research and market analysis, I decided that it was a good time to start investing, and put $5k in two Fidelity mutual funds.

That was on April 15, and the markets have gained about 5% since. So far, it’s looking pretty good. It’s been pretty interesting following the spikes and troughs, and the more closely I follow the markets, the more I realized how emotional the whole thing is. Every single daily market report contains words like “leery,” “optimistic,” “fear,” and “enthusiasm.” So we’re all throwing trillions of dollars into this intractably complex system governed by….fears? Mood swings? Predicting the market seems impossible from such a perspective. How much of an impact does the media play on this system? Does the government time their labor reports to coincide with large market spikes? It seems like investors are the worried suburban mothers being barraged by hyped news of flus, predators, and everything else scary under the sun.

Thus I’m trying to break through the noise and only listen to longer-term market news and historical perspectives. My investments (minus the 401k of course) are short-term, and I can cash out whenever I want, so the goal is to play on market trends. If I can gain $500 a year, the money becomes mine. It’s only been a month and I’m almost there already, however, these are atypical times for investors. I’m just trying to ride the bull and keep the emotions at bay…

No Denying it Now

For quite some time I’ve been in blissful denial about the ailing state of our economy. In Nepal I remember (rarely) hearing snippets of news from the outside world, economy this, America that. Yadda yadda. When i got back in late October I caught up a bit, hearing how the stock market had tanked 30%. So what did I do? Start looking for a house to buy. Obviously the news hadn’t had much of an impact. I was still receiving a paycheck every two months, after all, and had even recently received a (modest) raise. What’s the worry?

As you know, I went ahead and purchased my wonderful home in early December. I figured interest rates were pretty low and the market had tanked so it was a great time to buy. Or at least everyone told me that. Time will tell how the investment will pay off.

Anyway, today our downward-spiraling economy manifested itself directly: layoffs at my company. This morning we cut 15% of our workforce due to a lack of new customer engagements (who are retailers, remember, and hurting). It seems the cuts were pretty far-reaching, impacting every team at the company — except, interestingly, mine.

As you can imagine, it was a pretty heavy day at the office. I don’t envy the executives who had to make the personnel decisions, but understand the need for it — and from what I’ve heard thus far their decisions seem to have been spot on. Luckily, all of my friends at work have been proving their talents all along so I can’t say I’m really close to anyone who got the axe, so to speak. But at a company of our size, everybody feels it.

Perhaps we as a society can learn from the excesses of the housing bubble: delusional financial optimism, credit dependencies, short-sighted investing. Maybe we can learn how to save again, and plan, and think about the future for once. It’s tough love, as my father would say, but effective. Keep it simple.

Home Sweet Home

We now take a break from our regularly scheduled broadcast to announce:

I bought a house.

Goodbye, rent. Hello, debt. Yes, it’s a pretty nice place, at least it will be after I’ve made some necessary improvements. The location is awesome: half a block from the best brewpub in Salt Lake, two blocks from the grocery store, and ten blocks from work. I can walk or bike just about everywhere (except the mountains of course). It’s 1400 square feet, which is more than ample for myself.

So over the past couple weeks I’ve been almost entirely consumed by small projects around the place making it more livable. Well, perhaps that’s hyperbole, as I’ve gone climbing at least a half dozen times since then, as well as a day skiing and a weekend in San Francisco. But more on that later.

On Wednesday I head home for a long holiday weekend… see ya when I get back!

Kicking Ass

I have been fortunate today to stumble across a few fantastic articles today concerning a variety of subjects. All were inspiring, but none to the extent of Kathy Sierra’s blog post on how to become an expert in anything.

The first graph really sums it up nicely, and while I’m definitely not the drop-out type I seem to always stagnate in the amateur zone. While there are many things I am quite good at, very few of them I would call myself an expert in.

Two personal hobbies came to mind immediately while absorbing the article: Programming and playing guitar. Constantly working on the small things really is the key to becoming kick-ass, and all it takes is dedication. I have always been motivated to play guitar, but ‘practicing’ for me is usually just learning someone else’s song or improvising along with something. I could sit down and learn scales, memorize chord positions up and down the neck, and practice double-picking to be able to play 14 notes a second, but I don’t, because it’s boring. However, I know exactly what I need to work on to reach that next level, it’s just a matter of enduring some struggling to get there.

You already know your strengths and weaknesses. Change your course of action to become awesome.

Phone, Meet Train

A rather unfortunate yet hilarious thing happened to me yesterday evening. It was a typical Monday night; I was walking from work to the TRAX station at Gallivan plaza to take the light rail home. I have gotten into the habit of calling people after work to make the half-hour wait/ride/walk a little less painful, and was this time chatting with an old buddy from college. It just happened that I was a few minutes late for the 6:21 train and saw it approach the station as I turned the corner. Figuring I had missed it, I kept strolling along to the station. When I got closer the train wasn’t moving yet, so I jogged over to try and jump on before it took off.

Mind you, I’m still a gimp, and had one arm snugly tucked in a sling beneath my coat while the other held my phone. As I’ve done many times before, I went to cradle the phone with my (good) shoulder while I pushed the button on the train to open the door. This time, though, I was a bit hasty; my phone careened off my shoulder, bounced off the curb of the train platform, and skidded to a rest directly beneath the train’s wheel. Wtf? I thought, peering down at my still open phone lying benignly on the rail. A dude about my age happened to be standing there laughing, “Oh man you couldn’t have dropped that in a worse place! Don’t reach under there bro!” This was immediately after considering reaching under there quickly and nabbing it, or at least moving it from the rail. Then I pictured the train taking off with my arm attached and thought better of it. “Get a stick or something, dude!” Already I was chuckling at the sheer absurdity of the situation, but decided that the only safe option was to try and hold up the train. So I took off in a sprint towards the front of the train to try and wave the conductor down. Of course, right when I approached the cab the thousand-ton electronics compactor begin to move, barreling down the street leaving a trail of dust and transistors.

Immediately I knew my phone was toast and pictured in my mind the mangled piece of silicon and plastic I had recently been using to have a pleasant conversation. I walked back sheepishly to where the dude had been watching the whole debacle and saw him standing there holding it.

“I used to work at a cell phone retail store, and there’s no fixing that!” he managed to get out in between fits of laughter. I accepted my $250 communications device-turned-paperweight with a chuckle.

“Yyyeaaa,” I agreed without inflection.

“Hahaha, sorry man it’s not that funny!”

“Actually, it’s pretty funny,” I remarked frankly before turning around to catch a train going the other direction to the nearest Verizon store.


Luckily, my old phone is still intact and seems to work fine. The only issues were the battery, which I replaced today, and some missing contacts, which were re-synced using Verizon’s excellent Backup Assistant program.

Like all my deceased personal electronics, the freak show of a phone has made its way to the wall of my bedroom. Oh well.

Injury Update

Well it’s been over three weeks since my accident. How am I doing? Alright I guess, my life has taken a turn for the boring but it isn’t really all that different. Let’s go through the upsides and downsides:

I broke my collarbone! Yeeeeeeee-haaa!!!

  • Plenty of time to watch movies. I’m catching up on about three years of movies I’ve been wanting to see. Blockbuster has never loved me more.
  • I’ve been doing tons of cooking, and discovered some awesome recipes. It’s a bit of a struggle but at least I’m eating well.
  • Finishing old projects. As I’m writing this I’m converting all my old typepad photos over to my new photos site. It’s kind of boring but needs to be done.
  • Booze! I’ve been buying a ton of wine to complement my cooking, and because I love it!
  • Getting back in aerobic shape. I’ve been snowshoeing every weekend and my legs are really feeling it.

Alec, what the hell did you do?

  • A near-useless right arm. I can type with it, but that’s about it. I won’t get into details (there are soooo many), but life sucks when you have one arm.
  • Not climbing, skiing, or playing guitar. These activities took up just about all of my leisure time, and they’re all wicked fun. Unfortunately this trumps every bullet point combined in the other section. Bleh.
  • Driving is a pain in the ass. Shifting with your left hand sucks. However, this is forcing me to take TRAX to work, which is cool.

So yeah, that’s what I’ve been up to. I will be making a few changes to the blog in the near future, so stay tuned…

Revitalization

I’m baaaaaack! It’s been a few months, but things have started to slow down a bit and I’m feeling the urge to start ranting again. Woohoo!

This is the premiere of my new weblog at my personal domain, aleclalonde.com. My old weblog at alec.typepad.com will still exist for a little while, but all new content will be posted here. I still need to move all the old photo albums to my new photos site at photos.aleclalonde.com.

To those way out of the loop, I packed my bags at the end of May and moved across the country to Salt Lake City, UT. Yes, it was a drastic change. No, I didn’t move to be nearer to friends and family. I moved out of a growing urge for adventure that has been painting my daily activities for the past couple of years. I have discovered a mecca of outdoor activities here in Utah, of which I’ve merely scratched the surface.

To make up for my lack of postings, I’ve decided to create a post with a map of my travels and activities over the past four months. Each trip has a little blurb, and you can find photos from most trips on the photos page.

Look out for it soon.

Italy Bound

Tomorrow night I’ll be somewhere over the Atlantic on my way to London.  Soon afterwards I’ll be with my family enjoying succulent Italian cuisine (fresh seafood and homemade pasta ohhh baby) and wine in the heart of Tuscany.  I can taste it already…

A few weeks ago we realized we’d be in Rome during the largest Catholic holiday there is: Easter Sunday.  Not to mention Good Friday before that.  The best part: None of us are Catholic.  Should be interesting…

We return on the 9th of April. 

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