Monday, November 30, 2015

Travels and wanderings

Some randomness from recent ramblings...

More "fun times!" pictures from New Orleans, including several group get-togethers and light carousing:

Next, an elusive David sculpture on Royal Street, something we couldn't find in 2013!  Side note - check out John's hair in this link:

We wonder if the antiques shops were like "we should get a David statue, it seems there is a sudden interest in these" after we went door-to-door asking after one during the Super Dare.

Anyway, here's David:

I made it to the wax museum to check it out, happy to get there before it closes in a couple months.  It's unique, not quite Madame Tussauds, more odd-looking and also focused on local history.

An image that will not leave me: Napoleon in his bathtub talking with his brothers about how he approved the Louisiana Purchase without approval of the French Assembly (he wasn't Emperor yet).  Quite a scene, and now immortalized in wax!

Pirate Jean Lafitte and Andrew Jackson planning for the Battle of New Orleans at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, along with Governor Claiborne and Dominique You.  The actual history probably doesn't match this scene, but it's fun to think about:

On to a more recent figure, hanging out with Channing Tatum at his restaurant called Saints and Sinners:

Group shot before the start of the Challenge Nation race:

Break between races for some food and chatting:

I included this photo in the previous post, but I like it a lot, so here it is again:

Post-race celebration at Saints and Sinners:

Everyone likes to hang with Channing:

We played around in an escape room on Sunday, lots of fun!  We really liked the format at Clue Carre.  We also got close to escaping, probably within a minute or two.  With our current trend, maybe next time will be the ticket.  Lots of fun, y'all!

Paying homage to Allen Toussaint who recently passed away:

From there, John and I drove back to TX and then started a road trip out to California.  With a requisite stop to check in on Buc-ee, our favorite beaver:

We chose the route in order to visit the Very Large Array (VLA) out in the middle of nowhere.  Very large, and very cool!  Enjoyed checking it out and listening to the film narrated by Jodie Foster.

Each antenna sits on a track and can be moved to change the overall size of the array.  Currently they are all close together, but they can be moved up to 13 miles away.  Moving day would be something to see.

Nice sculpture in the visitor center yard:

Fun bug/camper conversion we spotted in New Mexico:

And to finish off an "odd and different" blog post, I give you this:

Friday, November 27, 2015

New Orleans Challenge Nation championship

Yay for an urban race national championship!  Also - yay for racing in New Orleans!  Double the fun, wouldn't miss this one.  Even better, we got to spend the weekend with friends and fellow racers.  All-around awesome and super cool.

And that was before we even started racing.

Challenge Nation champs format is a longer morning race and then a shorter/faster finals.  We started the morning with a small jigsaw puzzle, fun!  We carefully laid out the pieces on the uneven cobblestone, getting a "close enough" from Doug the race director.  He handed us our clue sheet and we started off down Bourbon Street.  I noticed something that could be Mardi Gras World?  Sheila, on the phone with me, did some quick Googling and confirmed my guess.  Off to the races.

Humming our way along the street near the Convention Center, I suddenly realized I heard my name.  Stop, John, stop!  It was Dave and Kip coming up behind us and yelling for me.  Dave had solved another checkpoint, recognizing this sculpture as the Katrina memorial across from the "shelter of last resort":

Nice one, thanks Dave!  The Superdome is another spot that comes up when searching for a "shelter of last resort," and we could have easily ended up searching over there with other teams that took that line.

On to Mardi Gras World, where we found King Kong who Sheila figured out was the "actor" in movies in 1933, 1976, and 2005.  When I asked John if the photo looked good, he replied, "Yep, got all 4 monkeys."  I didn't figure out what he meant until later:

It seemed like many of the remaining CP's were back in the French Quarter, but we didn't want to strand anything to the west of us by running back there already.  We took a couple minutes with Sheila reviewing what was still unsolved.  There were several of concern, but we took a gamble and started back east anyway.  Sheila and I started working on the one related to a couple SCOTUS guys with the same last name.

She also mentioned we needed to find a live butterfly and take a video with it.  Ah, well, I can help with that!  I had recently walked into the Insectarium to check it out, and I was mesmerized by the butterflies floating around in the window.  Pretty!

So that was our next stop.  John hadn't quite got the video setting turned on yet when he snapped this:

OK, this is more like it:

John's explanation of why he has a hand on his head: The instruction was to mimic the butterfly, and in this case the butterflies were just sitting on a piece of fruit, eating.  So John actually looks more like them than I do with my arm flapping.  Anyhoo...

We exited the Insectarium and started toward the river.  I wasn't paying quite enough attention to my surroundings, because just then a fire hydrant appeared at exactly the right height that I managed to whack it with my left hand.  Ouch!

That hurt a bit, but more importantly, the clue sheet went flying.  Stop, John, stop!  My abrupt halt created some tension in the stretched-out tow line, and John was soon stopped via physics.  Physics was also responsible for his starting to move backwards at an increasing rate.  Apparently he came almost all the way back to me but I was too busy collecting the loose clue sheet off the sidewalk to notice.  Priorities!

Reassessment: Clue sheet = collected.  John = stopped.  Hand = slightly bloody and a bit misshapen.  Hmm, that knuckle doesn't look so normal.  Oh well, I could still hold onto things, so I curled my hand into a fist and we continued onward.  Deal with it later!

Down to the waterfront and oodles of bricks with names on them.  We joined Phil and Pete here looking for a specific one.  We started in section 3B but didn't find it right away, so Sheila and I started working the problem.  The newspaper front-page story (our hint from the pre-race gathering the night before).  Which businesses, of the 6 that were closed, were "not family friendly"?

We fanned out beyond 3B.  I started on the other "3" blocks, but it was Pete over in 4B that located the target brick.  Nice job Pete!

Obviously my hand can't be too bad off, as I'm holding the pen and water bottle here:

We sped back up Canal Street, avoiding dangerous fire hydrants, and into the Roosevelt Hotel.  Callback to Urban Challenge days!  Good times in 2003.

We located the "deduct box" referenced in the clue, then started looking for some kind of "French superlative."  Kip and Dave were also roaming around trying to figure out what that meant.  John paced out the ~24 yards from the deduct box and we found this lovely clock.  Further inspection of its plaque showed it was crafted by French artisans and was the largest conical clock known to exist.

Works for me!

Time to head back into the French Quarter.  Sheila directed us toward the courthouse, and even though she specifically told us we needed to get a photo at K-Paul's restaurant, as soon as I saw the statue of Supreme Court Justice Edward Douglass White my brain said "hey, that's the answer you were working on earlier."  Sometimes a little information is too much information, especially when I'm oxygen deficient.

So here we are, taking our picture in front of the SCOTUS while spelling out Paul Prudhomme's wife's name Lori with our fingers.  This doesn't make a lot of sense, I know, but John did frame the photo quite well:

Maybe I just need a little snack to get my brain working again.  On to Aunt Sally's for a praline sample, yum!

Back on track, a quick jaunt to the Joan of Arc statue for a photo with a hand-drawn French flag in front of a "gift from France," in honor of the tragic events in Paris that week:

Next Sheila told us to go to the Mint to look for a mitt.  A mitt in the Mint?  Sheila tried to explain it to me, and I wasn't sure I was hearing her right.  Not a mint in the Mint?  No, a mitt.  Something using in the minting process.  John said, "What?" and I was like "Not sure, but I think we're looking for a mitt at the Mint.  Maybe it will be more clear when we get there."

We went inside the US Mint and happily John immediately located this mitt in the back corner, an artifact that shares its name with a Republican presidential nominee (Mitt Romney):

Our crew had been working hard on the anagram of "BACK RAIN RIP," coming up with the correct answer of Cabrini Park.  We ran up to it, John found the entrance and the Little Free Library there.

Here's John trying to get a photo of us with the little library, except he didn't quite catch me in the background.  No matter, we needed more instructions on this one before getting our actual CP answer.

We initially weren't sure what to do, guessing maybe we needed to pretend we were swapping out one book for another?  As soon as we opened the door on the box we saw a URL that would provide further race instructions.  Oh cool!

Sheila started working on that, finding pretty quickly that it would involve a different location, somewhere on Bourbon Street.  OK then, we would move on to Armstrong Park for another CP first.

The Creole Gumbo Festival, yes!  I was already talking about coming back downtown the next day for lunch there (and yes, yummy it was).  No time to stop for food today, though.  Our quest was to get a photo with a live brass band on the grounds of the park.

Great music, y'all, thanks!  Did I mention I love racing in New Orleans?

One final CP to tackle.  We were given a street intersection and told to get a screenshot of us on the EarthCam.  We searched for the camera while Sheila got the webcam working and figured out how to capture a screenshot.  Very cool!

Apparently watching the webcam kept our crew entertained for the rest of the first race.  Including seeing a fleet of Segway's rolling by and yelling through the computer screen at racers to turn around and look at the camera.  Funny!

In the meantime, we ran up Bourbon Street to the finish line at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop.  The race director wasn't there when we arrived.  Well, that's a new one!  I started a timer and we sat down to go through the photos we had taken.  He showed up 7+ minutes later, explaining he hadn't expected anyone so early, so he had been checking on the EarthCam.

Time for the photo check, and as you probably already guessed, we had one wrong.  Back out to K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen to resolve that problem... dang it, my bad.

At least it wasn't super far away, and we were allowed to go fix it.  Here we are trying again to spell Lori with our fingers, finally at the right location:

Back to the finish - still the only ones there.  Doug told us he was looking for the answer of "Kay" for the wife's name, which as it turns out was Paul's ex-wife.  I don't know anyone who would consider their ex to be their "wife."  At least "K" would be easier to spell out with your arms.

Alright then, officially qualified for race #2, sweet!  Time for a short break while waiting to see who else would make the top 5.  Kip and Dave were next, and our friends Phil and Peter and Richard and Gayla also made it.  Awesome y'all!

We got some ice in a baggie for my hand, Richard inspected it and didn't find anything urgently wrong, and I took off my wedding ring to keep from getting it swollen to my finger.  I still managed to get the next clue sheet a bit bloody, but otherwise no major issues.  And my knuckle magically reappeared a few days later from wherever it was hiding, yay.

Race #2 in a Challenge Nation championship was definitely going to be more challenging for us.  In the past we have had problems with the shorter/faster format (compared to the longer morning race).  Time to give it another go, attempting to balance taking risks to get back quickly while still trying to be careful to do everything right.

Let's see how that would work out for us...

We got a couple minute head start, so that was something.  Everyone received their clue sheets at the same time and then were allowed to depart based on their finish time in the first race (compressed at a 5:1 ratio, so a 10 minute delta in race 1 yielded a 2 minute difference in the race 2 start time).

7 checkpoints and one skip, everything probably pretty close together, go!

Reading through the clue sheet, nothing jumped out at me immediately.  We started slowly jogging west, asking Sheila to Google "Gator on a stick" for CP6 and aiming for Pirate's Alley based on the word "alley" in CP7.  A couple blocks later Sheila had an answer for the gator question so we turned and took off for the French Market.

Here ya go, the Famous Gator on a Stick!

We headed north a couple blocks, looking for someone playing a clarinet for CP3 (to avoid the longer run over to the giant clarinet mural in the business district).  We heard music across from the Ursuline Convent, but no clarinet players in that particular band.  Ah, here's a lady on Royal Street!  She got up and posed with us, so my double chin is me trying to smile while also digging out a tip.  Thanks for an excellent photo!

A short way up to the Moon Wok restaurant.  Our friend Tim was there, pointing out a couple discrepancies.  The address didn't seem to match exactly with what our crew had solved, but the restaurant name matched the "funny play on words" from the clue sheet.  More oddly (and more importantly), there was no plaque around.  Hmm, strange.  Well, let's get a video with 3 other people moonwalking anyway.

On this, we completely failed.  We did gather three helpful guys, one who was really into the whole "moonwalk" thing.  We started the video on the camera and handed it to their friend.  Who immediately hit the button to stop the video by mistake.  So - no video.  More on this one later, but I did get a photo of the location so you can see where we were, with Phil in the background chatting with Tim:

I failed to mention the plaque problem to Sheila and then completely forgot the whole thing, as we suddenly needed to get to Canal Street at a particular time (when the big hand of a clock was pointing to a number) and we thought we had 2 minutes to get there.  Run, John, run!

We found this clock and got our photo with our arms in the same position as the clock arms.  Kip and Dave hit this one the same time we did.  None of us thought to mention that the clock wasn't showing the right time, probably wasn't even working, and maybe it wasn't the right one?  No time for that, gotta keep moving!

Another run down Canal Street, hi to the fire hydrant that mashed my hand (to be fair it was me doing the mashing, but that didn't stop me from giving it the evil eye as we ran by).

A quick bit of direction from Sheila (go to the right at the end of Canal, not left like John and I were guessing), another bit of direction from me (no John, we should absolutely NOT climb the stairs toward the ferry), finding the walkway across the streetcar tracks and then there was the Spanish Plaza.  It has been 12 years since our last urban race photo here!  This time our target was Guadalajara, the province with 5 A's in its name:

Finally, or at least what we thought was our last one...  time for the "alley" checkpoint.  It was indeed near Pirate's Alley, so we started there, except it actually was more the other side of the Cathedral which is called Pere Antoine Alley.  We were looking for a "vessel" of some sort and a hand-written note.

We searched around along with Kip and Dave, locating the Jesus statue (who had apparently been missing some digits, maybe he whacked his hand on a fire hydrant too).  He was on the north side of the Cathedral so we were definitely in the right area.

We finally went around to the front of the Presbytere and saw this sign that listed the number of lives saved by the Coast Guard, another reference in the long crazy clue:

Still no sign of a hand-written note, ah but there's the "vessel," the speedboat in the background of the above photo.  We checked all around it for a hand-written note, finally coming up with this on the plaque next to it, I guess?

One more sprint!  We ran hard on tow back up to Lafitte's, I was breathing so hard I could barely say to myself "I sure hope we don't have to go back out again!"

Urgh, we were the first ones back, but we had a couple wrong.  Ouch.  Not only did we lack a video at the Moon Wok, it was the wrong location.  As soon as Doug said that I knew exactly what he was talking about.  Of course, the Moon Walk at the riverfront, dedicated to Moon Landrieu!  I have only walked by that place a million times.

Also - our clock was wrong.  Well then, we need to fix 2 things, setting a new low bar for % of correct photos (4 out of 6).  Yikes, so much for being careful.  On the bright side, we had made a pretty quick tour the first time around.  And our speedboat was apparently good.

OK, more running then.  Sheila was ready for this and told us that CP1 was pretty close.  Except somehow we were initially directed 5 blocks to the east of the entrance to Armstrong Park.  Ouch again.  We didn't find anything there, and upon further questioning we realized where we needed to go.  Not the best time to be running a few blocks out of the way, to be sure.  Resignation was starting to set in, but we were still running hard because every place mattered in the prize money scheme.

How have we never seen this one before??

Should we redo the clock or fix the Moonwalk checkpoint?  We decided on the Moonwalk, the distance being a toss-up, plus with the question of getting strangers to help vs. being at the clock at an exact time.  I chose the "asking strangers for help" option, really?

This actually worked out really well, as we ran into a group of ladies who enjoyed being part of our video:

Back to Bourbon Street, yet another run past the Washing Well laundry place (I was getting tired of seeing that sign, even though it meant "only one more block to go").

Still the first ones back, really!?!?  Holy cannoli.  Catching and then holding our breath - this time everything was good - we won.  We won!!  Our first championship win in 6 years, finally breaking the semi-streak of coming in 2nd place.  Big hug, John!

It was also our mob's first championship win outside of Great Urban Race (besides the very first Urban Challenge).  Not for a lack of trying.  Congrats to all our teams, with Kip and Dave coming in 2nd, Phil and Peter in 4th, and Richard and Gayla in 6th.  Special mention to team "Vin-Yet" who landed in 3rd, it was fun to meet them (the 2 on the right side of this photo):

What a fun, incredible, awesome weekend, between the races and everything we did with our friends.  Huge props to our support crew for working through all the challenges and figuring things out.  Without you we'd be wandering the streets totally clueless  :)

To all my friends and family - love you all!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Missouri and Arkansas, a quick tour

One last post to catch up to "real time" - soon my virtual self will rejoin my real self in Texas, then we're ready for more fun  :)

I absolutely could not resist detouring us to two more highpoints on the way back.  It has been a whirlwind tour, a total of 8 highpoints and one new state of racing in 3 weeks.  After working quite hard just to reach highpoint #30 (out of 50, of course), we breezed through #31 to 39.  I guarantee the 40's will take quite a bit longer.

Anyhoo, here we are at the start of a two-highpoint day, yay!  Also, we got to sleep overnight at a highpoint (the Taum Sauk campground at the top of Missouri) which is a first for us.

An early morning stroll, admiring more pretty foliage - we sure have gotten our share of that this trip, so lucky.

John might not be quite awake yet... hope the tree doesn't fall over like the ones in the background:

A rather poor attempt at downward dog, I think my muscles aren't awake yet either:

Good morning sunshine!  It's a beautiful day:

Hooray for highpoint #38!

Top of Missouri:

Register cards, a new way to show you were there:

Another page in our highpoint quest:

It was an excellent morning for a run/walk around the 3-mile loop to Mina Sauk Falls, more amazing scenery:

The falls were pretty much not flowing, maybe springtime would be better for that:

Oh wait, a little trickle...

Spending a few minutes on the Ozark Trail, another long-distance trail to briefly touch and ponder exploring more later:

Down to the "main road" and out the bottom of Missouri, time for a few miles in Arkansas.  Walnut Ridge was a fun stop.  The Beatles flew in here once without most anyone knowing they were coming (they were trying to keep it a secret so they could take a little vacation), and the town is all Beatles-crazy to this day, which is very cool:

Yellow submarine on Abbey Road:

The "imagine" store, which hopefully does open up sometime:

Wonderful silhouettes and some history:

Over by the Amtrak station there's a large guitar outline and a bunch of signboards describing all the famous artists who grew up and/or performed in this area of Arkansas along route 67 (if you push the buttons you can even hear them sing, although I think the whole town can listen in anytime someone does that):

The Man in Black, he walks the line:

One last bit of fun - the top of Arkansas in the Ouachita Mountains.  We drove up into another cloud for this one, happily it wasn't raining at least.  There's a nice path leading up to the top and an excellent set of displays:

Welcome to Signal Hill!  Also, "Sealevel Sucks," at least that's what it says:

We didn't notice at first, but there's a stone outline on the ground in the shape of the state of Arkansas, which is really neat.  It even has a small bump where the highpoint is located, right about where I'm reverse warrior-ing:

John's excellent attempt at planking on the highpoint bump:

John channeling Dr. Evil while simultaneously pointing out his lip boo boo (don't worry, it's much better already):

And... that's #39!

The map might hold here for a while, but we did some serious coloring-in this year so I'm quite pleased.  The exploration and adventure as always has been a blast!

One last image to leave you with (for now).  The bears are apparently much smaller here than out west:

Thank you to my travel buddy John, you make every trip delightful!