Monday, December 31, 2007

Riding off into the sunset - theoretically

Saturday, December 29th marked the end of the Holiday retail season for ACO and me. ACO actually did pretty well through the holidays, hitting it's sales projections and significantly reducing stock without running into shortages (aside from UGG boots). Racks that had been bursting full when I left on the Saturday before Xmass were now half empty. Somehow management had played the season correctly.

I had managed the season without getting the dreaded Mall Leg, and more importantly had stayed in pretty good spirits toward the human race, especially the ACO crew. There is no deeper bonding experience than surviving a disaster together, and holiday retail can be pretty close. Through it all everyone worked hard, and played nicely. Thanks everyone, you're a great crew. It would be hard to leave - again.

But there was still one last shift - today I was at the register dealing with returns. Because of my belief that it would be better to break my fall off the bike with my leg as opposed to my deraillier, I hadn't walked much since Christmas Eve and had also begged out of working the day after - so while I had missed the serious returns, this Saturday still had them coming in the door. As the new year progresses the daily returns will lessen, dwindling by the end of the of the month to normal, inventory will be taken and soon spring gear will begin to arrive. In the Mall itself, Santa and his workshop have already disappeared as if they packed up that very night he was busy flying around the globe, the seasonal stalls will also disappear, but more slowly. First the calendar store will mark everything half off, the next week Hickory Farms will follow. A week later Hickory Farms will sell their remaining inventory at 70% off (if you ever wanted a beef stick, or cheese product that is the weekend), and pack up. By mid February the calendar store will follow suite. The space will be replaced by a stage hosting events mall management hopes will bring shoppers out in the cold of winter and remind me of the Mall Sequence in "Stop Making Sense." the Talking Heads movie.

--and I will begin another adventure.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

On the 4th day of Christmas

Reading the reports on Holiday sales this morning I'm beginning to understand that it (the reporting of the numbers) works just like the stock market reports. Someone gets one figure and then picks an explanation out of the air to explain that figure. When the real numbers arrive in about a month, the whole system has moved on and no one cares.

For instance today's economic headlines report that "Weekend Shopping Surge Fails to Salvage U.S. Holiday Sales". Most of which they blame on the rise in gas prices. (Forget the fact that U.S. household income hasn't really grown and a good number of home owners have lost a great deal of value in the last years.)

What is interesting this season however has been the cash sales. All these early figures are based on credit card sales. Retailers haven't reported their numbers, and while I've been sitting on my butt for the last 2 days, I do know that prior to that ACO was taking in a lot of cash. Which is just plain wierd considering the other issues. One fellow worker felt that the Christmas account had been popular this year. Which would be an amazing development. I'm not so sure what it means - except that maybe some Americans are kicking the credit habit.


Meanwhile I have been literally sitting on my butt, or laying on my back. Pulling ones hamstring is a bit worse than it sounds. My right leg doesn't bend very well, and putting on and taking off cloths and shoes is a nightmare which is just as well as I don't have pants that have the right leg twice the size as the left. All and all a lovely situation.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone!

It's been a great year. It was another great Christmas, and Christmas season. I wish everyone joy and peace, happiness and friendship, love and good will.

Monday, December 24, 2007

and while sitting on the couch web surfing

I found out that The Video is out...

For those of you who wonder what I do at my real job, click on the video link.

On the second day of Christmas...

Amy opened her Birthday presents. Then I took the K2 Enemy to Bluff Point, where 1 mile from the parking lot I skidded on the ice, seriously tore my right hamstring, and tried not to pass out while limping back to Angela.

I'm home on the couch now. Wondering how stupid and lucky I really was, watching CNN's coverage of "critical Christmas-eve shopping", and wondering when did shopping become "critical?" I mean sure, it's critical to Jr. Is he, or is he not getting the Red Ryder Bee Bee Gun, but when did it become critical to the news, to America? And more importantly - should it be? Can't we base our economy on something else?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

On the first day of Christmas we decorated our tree

While fellow ACO workers returned to the front this morning I started wrapping presents.

Once the sleepy heads woke up we pulled out the boxes and decorated the tree.

After lunch, the girls started getting ready to do out.
"So where are you guys off to now?" I asked.
"Oh, we're going to the mall. Want to come?"

...I don't think so. But I'll be thinking of you, and all the folks at ACO

Christmas magic

Yesterday was my last pre-Christmas day at ACO...and wow, was it busy. For 8 solid hours 2 of us rang out purchases while the others restocked and assisted customers. There were some problems, one pretty obnoxious, but when the day was done it was something else altogether that stood out.

Just outside the store is a bank of candy machines. Since the machines take only quarters we often have children in asking for change. That's what Jill thought the little girl, who's head barely reached over the counter wanted. Then ahe noticed that she had change, quite a bit actually. Looking around the store quickly, she put all the change on the counter with one hand, and with the other she put down a pair of gloves. "Do I have enough?" she whispered.

Later in the day an 11ish girl walked up to the counter with two wallets and asked which was better? As I was explaining differences she suddenly pushed them both straight at me so hard they fell onto the floor behind the counter. "Hi Daddy" she said to the man walking up behind her. "Did you find out where the snowshoes are?" He asked her. "Yes, there at the front of the store," she answered (I've no idea how she knew that.) As her Dad walked away she whispered, "I'll take the blue one."

Then there was the little boy with his father. Both grinning. The little boy had on one of our beanies. As the father paid for the hat, the little boy filled me in on the details. "It's a beanie" he told me. "For my mom. I picked it out, and I'm going to wrap it, and put it under the tree, and mommie will open it, and wear it, and love it." How could she resist.

...and that's what Christmas is all about.

My personal moment in Christmas magic however arrived at 3 am that night. My little Amy walked through the door. According to the United Airlines website, her airplane was still sitting on the ground in Chicago as a snow storm blew in. What the website didn't say was that while waiting, a very nice ticket lady had called her up to the desk and switched her to one of the last flights out for the night. She'd had to run from one end of O'Hare to the other but she'd made it. And she was home!

...and so begin the 3 days of Christmas.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Staying happy during the Holidays (while working in retail) is all about attitude. It's how you step over the store threshold, how you handle bumps in the road with fellow workers, ways of dealing with holiday complainers (even those who return gifts before Christmas and throw the coupons that came with them in your face), steadfastly enjoying those ever repeating Holiday songs, and happily counting down the final days.

I'm doing okay as I head into my third day of the day and night job. This morning however, it was a bit of black humor that gave me a lift. Read this article and you'll understand some of my bigger issues with Christmas. Laugh along with, and you'll understand some of the joys too.

Monday, December 17, 2007

and meanwhile, out at the farm (land)

Little Amy's having her own adventure.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Socks, socks, socks

BTW - when in doubt, and even when not, don't forget to get the socks! Christmas without socks is like Christmas without Claus, without snow, without eggnog, without - well you get the picture.

There's nothing quite like opening that small, soft package of new special socks on that special morning. It's not just that fresh new smell, or the way they cradle your foot for the first time, or the centuries old tradition, it's also the knowledge that they were picked out special just for you....

So if you need assistance picking out just the right socks keep these facts in mind:
  • The word "sock" is derived from the Latin soccus, the Old English socc and the Middle English word socke.
  • ACO sells over 50 kinds of them there socks. (Buy 3 get 1 free - until Wednesday)
  • 8th Century Barbarians wore brightly colored socks.
  • ACO sells some really colorful Smartwool socks
  • Reverend William Lee of Nottinghamshire, England invented a sock-knitting machine in l589, and started to make hosiery out of cotton, wool and silk.
  • Cotton socks are evil - they retain moisture and loose their shape, creating bagginess in your shoe. Silk is nice for office work.
  • It was the Victorians in the late 19th century who insisted than men should wear dark socks especially after the death of Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband in 1861
  • Did you know the Victorians also over-painted portraits of our ancestors so their clothes were more presentable?
  • Synthetic fibers were presented to the public at the World's Fair in New York in 1939.
  • ACO's socks are primarily synthetic, lately we've even begun selling socks partially made from corn. (Come to think of that, does that make it synthetic - it's real corn.
My favorite socks?
Well, since you ask...they're the EMS Women's Fast Mountain Socks

Christmas Superheroes

It was a busy Saturday. Sunday's forecast for "100% chance of ice pellets" seemed to be bringing all the shoppers in. The majority were in good moods.

The crew was in a generally good mood too. We were in the home stretch, John had brought in pizza, Crystal was organizing an expedition to summit the giant snow piles in the parking lot (does anyone know where the EMS flag is stored?), Johnny had been appointed the "Holiday Complaint Department" and was handling the stressed out shoppers with ease,I'd mastered the inverse juggle, and most importantly we were solving patrons shopping quandaries left and right. "

"What kind of gift should I get for my secret santa?"
"My son-in-law likes hiking, would he like this shirt?"
"Do you have the pink nalgene?"
"Is this fleece as good as that fleece?"
"We need a waterproof, windproof, superlite jacket, do you have it?"
"Is that woman's dry suit still on sale" (oops that was my question}
"Could you put that last Thule box on hold for me"

Ah - it was like being a superhero - well kinda.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Enemy is in the house (or garage as the case may be)

So yeah, I picked up my touring/cyclocross bike last weekend. And I love it. Yes, I realize I've gotten lots of toys this year...but you know...I've never had toys before. Even as a child I had to play with kitchen utensils, and use left-over newspapers for drawing. So - now it's playtime.

In yesterday's typical Southeastern New England snow/sleet event I went riding. You know the sound snow makes when it crunches under your feet? The sounds of snow slurping under your bike tire is even better. And it's black (the bike) and looked so cool in the snow. Before yesterday I couldn't imagine why K2 called it the "Enemy". They make a ski called the "Public Enemy" and somehow when you picture a skiier bombing down the mountain plowing over innocent, and slower skiiers it makes sense. But now that I've raced though sleet covered streets while shaky drivers stared nervously at me over tightly gripped steering wheels, I can see how the bike's name just might fit. Hopefully we'll be just as aggressive while sharing shoulder-less roads with logging trucks. But I kinda doubt it.

The November Economic Report

The Commerce Department released its report on November retail sales yesterday. They rose by the largest amount in six months. Despite loss of home value, and a 3.2% increase in wholesale prices, along with increasing gas, heating oil, and food prices, American's keep spending.

While economists seemed mystified, we at ACO know the answer. Addiction.

Yup. Americans are addicted to spending money. Its the country's number one recreational activity, and Christmas is the Olympics!

Expecting them to stop now is like...well...impossible. At this point in the Christmas cycle we're getting those folks who, when you ask them, say they have their shopping done...but don't want to miss anyone, or a good deal. We suspect its the missed good deal that haunts them most. For instance, just last weekend a gentleman purchased one of those previously mentioned Denali Jackets and announced that he was done. We congratulated him and told him that he'd finished up just in time, stores were starting to run out of things. Boris then related how during a lunch time mission out in the mall he'd run across a fight over a pair of UGG boots.
The gentleman was unfamiliar with the boots, but after we told him that we had one pair left, he bought them. And was noticeably happy. Did he picture himself crossing the line with the boots raised high overhead?

And if shopping is an addiction, I guess that puts us at ACO in the enabler corner...but have I mentioned there is now a K2 Enemy in the house? It went on sale two weeks ago and I couldn't resist. My name is Kelly and I too am a shopper.

Hitting the wall

You know that moment that comes to every adventure. That moment when the initial newness of the situation has worn off, exhaustion has begun to set in, and you wonder (under your breath) what the heck you're doing. That moment for this adventure, came Wednesday night. It was in the last half hour of what was a two day, 15 hour a day, work session. I'd worked solid that night, recovered the store, vacuumed the floor, and closed the store gate. All I wanted was to go home as soon as possible and sleep. Every moment of delay was...well not good. And I wondered what the heck was I doing? I'm too old for this stuff. What kind of adventure is working in a mall for Christmas anyway? Oh I know the answer, and have discussed it here a few times, but that night, at that time...I was ready to throw my bike to the side of the road and flag down the broom wagon.

BTW. The awesome picture, which is from the 1943 Tour de France, is from The Horton Collection website. Great old cycling stuff!

Sunday, December 09, 2007


There are many events in life for which focused training is required. Riding a decent Century requires weeks of carefully increasing distance and saddle time. A triathlete must carefully balance three separate disciplines. Even childbirth, while it is not widely known, benefits from a carefully planned exercise routine that increases as the date of the big event comes closer. So too it is with retail.

Last night the schedule for the week before Christmas arrived. In addition to working 40 hours at my real job I'll be putting in a minimum of 20 additional hours at ACO. Unlike 1 day events, this training must take into account the fact that the 'event' actually lasts for several days and is both physically and mentally taxing. And so it is with only a week to go I'll be increasing my aerobic activities (the better to grab stock from the back on a moments notice), ramping up the number of daily push ups (to facilitate climbing the 30ft high shoe storage racks which were designed for 6 foot rock climbers), switching to high protein meals, adding more flows to the morning yoga practice (to combat the increased risk of mall leg and develop inner peace) and digging up every funny video I can get my hands on ( for humor is the only true defense against the angry Christmas shopper).

Saturday, December 01, 2007

It's the Great Christmas Pumpkin Charlie Brown!

Yesterday between my real job and a night at ACO I stopped with some friends to pick up a beer and a pumpkin.

I know what you're thinking - -"it's the wrong season for a pumpkin." But through the magic of ACO, some mixed metaphors from the Peanuts series, and Dr. Suess, the "true meaning of Christmas" will be revealed.

After crowning the front register with said pumpkin, the gang (ACO not Peanuts) dug in for a busy night of unpacking shipment, greeting customers, suggesting gifts for "outdoorsie" relatives, and catching up on the week's activities. Things settled down around 8:30 and our attention turned to the pumpkin. Before we knew how it happened Boris Stewart, the store manager, was explaining how Martha (a distant cousin) carved pumpkins - correctly - from the bottom. It's an excellent idea that we had to try. Still being on the clock, and being the conscientious employees we are, it was determined that the attempt had to represent the store. And so it was that Boris expertly wielded his knife, demonstrated the Stewart homemaking and carving skills and prepared the great ACO pumpkin.

Rolf considered it carefully for size, scale and light trajectory, and selected the appropriate light, the Petzl e+LITE (great for the traveler/adventurer who has it all but needs just a little something, something).

Viola, The Great ACO Christmas Pumpkin was born!

And still you, like Charlie Brown, ask "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?"

Maybe just maybe , it 'doesn't come from a store.'
'Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.'*

Yeah - it's about being a kid. About having fun. About carving pumpkins in December. Presents aren't about getting things, they're about the excitement of getting and giving things. The fun is in guessing what those gifts might be, guessing what will bring the biggest smile to someone specials face. It's about playing games, decorating, poking holes in the day to day, and sharing it all with friends.

And so it is that on this first day of December the Adventure takes a serious turn - to remind everyone what the Holiday is really all about. Kick back, let it go, and enjoy that kid!

*Grinch, The

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Seasons Greetings

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Hazards

So far I've mostly described the joys and benny's of working of ACO, but least you think it's all fun and games I must now post on the hazards.

I have far too many shoes, way too many jackets, and there is a dry suit on sale that calls my name.

"Kelly" it says. "Have you been thinking about me?"
"Yeah" I sigh.
"You'll rarely get the chance to purchase a suit so good at such a good price."
"I know. But do I really even need a dry suit?"
"Of course!! Someday you'll be wanting to kayak through the ice in the winter. Even now, it wouldn't hurt for you to wear one."
"But I think a wet suit would be more practical, and much cheaper."
"Water temperature is dropping. You've only got 10 seconds to live once you hit the water. And it's a ghastly way to go."
"It's not like I'm sea kayaking right now. I'm mostly in the river and a wet suit would give me time to get shore, IF i fell out."
Realizing he's making little headway using logic, the suit switches tactics, "But wet suits are dull. Blues and blacks. I'm a bright, happy, cheerie mango and radish."
"You mean, yellow and blue? Yeah, I'd look like a bouy. Now, wet suits, they're hot."
It's the suit's turn to sigh knowing it can't win that one.
"And besides" I add while walking away, "I've really got to put my money and my time into the bike trip right now."

But still, every time I walk by I hear it, low, and soft, but still audible, still seductive..."You'll never get a chance like this again.

Buy me now.
Buy me now.
B u y m e n o w."

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Hey! I think I'm working in the wrong part of the company

This guy is an Eastern Mountain Sports Climbing Guide in the Adirondack Mountains of New York.

Monday, November 26, 2007

How not to shop


"Hi, looking for something specific?"

"No. I'm looking for something for my girlfriend."

"Oh? Well...what would she like...?"

"I don't know"

"Umm, does she do any outdoor sports?"

"No. Not really."

"How about a jacket? We've got some nice winter coats."

"Yeah, that might work."

"What size would she be?"

"Don't know....hmm...about your size...but not as fat."

"Be sure to have her come in so I can help her pick out a present for you."

The priceless value of good gear

After leaving work on Saturday I headed straight home. It was cold. It was dark. I was tired. But driving down RT 27 along the Mystic River I couldn't help but notice the decorated boats in the harbor. Looked like about 10 or more, their rigging strung with bright Christmas lights. The night was clear and calm so the reflection of the lights off the river was even more brilliant.

Pulling into my driveway I noticed a fair number of people walking toward downtown. Then, walking into the kitchen, which over looks the river, I noticed another decorated boat out in the channel. Hmmm. I didn't turn on the overhead light and a light went off in my head. It's the boat parade!

Oh, I so wanted to just curl up on the couch with my book (Deception on his mind, by Elizabeth George)...but it looked so cool out and I could imagine everyone gathering downtown near the bridge, watching the boats glide by, feeling all Christmassie. But I was tired...and it was looked like so much fun.

I changed out of my T-shirt and into a thermal techwich. Pulled on my Divergence Fleece and headed downtown. Gosh it was neat. There were lots of people lined along the dock everyone cheering their favorites and friends, and applauding for all the others. While watching the boats float by I also couldn't help notice what people were wearing. It's a serious side effect of working at ACO but you do tend to note jackets, and shoes too. So there among TNF Denalis, the puffy jackets, the wool sweaters I stood there warm and cozy and reflected on numerous conversation I'd had today on temperature ratings for jackets and "long underwear." We don't temperature rate our clothes. It's impossible. People run at their own set points, wind greatly effects temperature, as does activity level. Maybe we should switch to a common sense rating instead, with an added provision that no matter what you get, make sure its the good stuff. But for the moment I shrugged and joined in the fun of the parade and officially started the holiday season.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Lets do the numbers

Market Watch reports that Black Friday and weekend sales were up 8.3% over last year, "despite rising oil prices and other economic pressures." CNN is also reporting steady sales. While ACO offered none of the electronics that seemed to drawn the more intense shoppers we did have a 20% everything in the store (except Merrills) sale. By the time I left ACO at 6 pm on Saturday our bottom line was even with last year, traffic was consistent, and the shoppers still in relatively good moods. My own personal observation is that they stuck to clothes more than usual and were there for the discounts.

The staff was flagging a bit. I'd just finished working 16 of the last 26 hours and could feel a case of mall leg coming on. During the course of those 16 hours the ACO staff had removed 750 sizing collars from 750 hangers, stocked out 900 assorted jackets, pants, sweaters, fleeces, etc, consumed two carry out boxes of mini donuts, not sold 145 pairs of UGG boots (we were out of stock), turned away 15 people for the women's small black denali fleeces (we ran out on Saturday at 4:13), visited with 3 ACO alumni, advised 245 people on the use of the various weights of long underwear, spoke on why we don't temperature rate our clothing, and listened to more Christmas songs than is natural.

All in all much the same as previous years. But you've got to wonder...with the cost of living going up, home values going down, and the economy looking for a slowdown...where's the money coming from...or...are the early discount shoppers going to be the highlight of the season.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The North Face Denali - An Expose

One day when business in the store was slow, the shelves stocked, the shoes aligned and the magazine rack in need of support, a few of us gathered toward the front of the store. We watched the shoppers passing by and bet on whether or not those that did enter were here to buy The North Face Denali.

The Denali, as it is more commonly know, is a "Polartec® 300-weight fleece with nylon overlays to reduce wind effects". It retails for $165.00. It's an decent fleece jacket, but more than that, it's a trendy status symbol of today's youth. Male and female alike, those people most drawn to fashion, and least likely to ascend the 20,320 ft mountain for which it is named, insist on owning one. They're not ACO's usual customer, and they rarely, nalgene bottles aside, buy anything else, so its interesting to watch them stand just inside the front door and scan the racks for the required jacket.

Advice to those folks is to buy yours now! Especially if you want the black one, and especially if you want it for Christmas. For Santa's sake don't wait for it to go on sale. It won't. Think of it this way, it's the cabbage patch, elmo doll of the trend-setting-faux-outdoors fashion world. Well, actually we've never had people line up to buy them, we did get to witness some interesting scenes. Last year two women did get into a serious fight over who would get the last small black one, a teenager daughter resorted to tears in front of her sticker shocked mother, and a 5:00, December 24th shopper, informed us that ACO was doomed to failure since we were completely sold out (and had been for a week). Ah the joys of Christmas retail. The wonder of the consumer culture.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Evolution of Holiday Spending

Yesterday a woman bought a jacket and two sweaters. Not a notable purchase in itself, what was unusual is that she paid the $235.00 in this time of the year. In the month or so in the run up to Christmas almost all purchases are done on the credit card. Oh sure, some customers say it's a debit card, but toward the end most don't even pretend. It's Christmas and you know you're going to be sucked into the vortex of inevitable debt. Personally, I rely upon my tax refund to bail me out of the Holiday magic. By having more money than I'll owe taken out of my paycheck I accomplish 3 things - I support my government by allowing them to borrow my cash for a brief time, I have a direct deposit Christmas fund, and I have a really, really, really good incentive to file my taxes on January 31st. But I digress....

How people pay for Holiday purchases generally progresses in three distinct phases.

  • Phase 1. Credit Cards - From just a little before Thanksgiving up until the Big Day - credit rules.
  • Phase 2. The Barter System - (my least favorite) Starting immediately after Christmas and dwindling out day by day until late January, people turn to the barter system. These shoppers arrive in the store with ACO bags, and boxes full of loving selected presents that have been rejected and that they want to trade for something better. Often they also want to trade up since the big after Christmas sales are already running. During this shopping phase the store will be very busy, but the sales won't be so impressive. We also have a lot of garbage - for some reason, people think we want the gift boxes, and wrapping paper back.
  • Phase 3. The Cash Days- starting about 15 days after Christmas and increasing over the following 30, more and more people start paying in cash. It seems they've received their credit card statements and have now decided its budget time.
I'm not a money manager - and I don't play one on the internet but my advice, that of real money managers, and the woman who paid with cash yesterday, is to go to the cash system from the start.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Schedule Is In

So looks like I'm working Black Friday, as well as the day after. Ah the stories we could tell. Last year was my first. The first time I'd even been in a mall on the day after Thanksgiving. Generally the shoppers were nice, but insistent that we should be having better sales. The serious ones, the professionals, were showing serious signs of battle fatigue by 2:00. I'm working from 3:00 to close so we'll see how they're holding out this year. According to Bloomberg, we are facing one of the weakest' holiday shopping periods in years.

Personally, aside from ACO gear, I've been an online shopper (and proud) for over 10 years now. If you're into online shopping too check out Wired's "How to Hack the Holidays".


People often ask, "Hey Kelly, why do you work at ACO?" (at the advice of my attorney I'm no longer using the real name but have instead invented "Atlantic Coast Outfitters", the East coast's best source for eastern mountain sports gear. )

I work there for a number of reasons. First the people who work there are great - real outdoors, honest, active people. Secondly - I often think of it as a live, in person study of the American consumer culture - something I watch with the same fascination that one watches a car wreck. And thirdly - the gear! Not only do you get to play with all the latest backpacks, kayaks, GPSs, cook stoves, shoes, boots, socks (oooh, love the socks), but you get to take them home...they even arrive in the mail. Such was the big bennie today. When I came home a little package from Smith was waiting for me. My new polyunchromalatedbifurnicatinginterchangablelenses Factors! Even better than the ones committed to the Watch Hill waves. Which is also the reason why the package also included eyewear retainers. Yup, I can be taught.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Happy Day!

As most of you know, I was holding out to get a cell phone until it could do it all. September I bought an LG8700 that, theoretically was a phone, a camera and a music player. (Yes, an iphone would have been better but for various reasons I had to go with Verizon). Taking pictures was easy, movies too! Music sounded good, but downloads were $2.99/each. Verizon sells a cable and disk for $49.00 that allows one to sync your computer with the phone so you can buy pass this but hey, I'm cheap or maybe we should call it technically inclined. After messing around with some free cables and driver downloads I can now post those pictures online, while listening to my music on my phone.

This is a picture of Noel's visit to Watch Hill last weekend.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Adventures in Retail

As there are no travel plans until February and I've gone back to work at EMS for the holidays I thought perhaps I'd start writing a bit on the exciting and dangerous events that are everyday occurrences in the average, declining American mall.

Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental or believe me, they should be.

To tell you the truth, I'm not sure how this adventure will turn out. Last season, while I still wore my favorite Santa Hat and little lights necklace, I didn't really have the holiday spirit. Working in retail, the front line of the Christmas commercial battleground, is not conducive to the Holiday Spirit, even for someone who loves being a kid as much as me. And then there is the physical aspect. Sure I'm still riding for about an hour everyday but I may not be in good enough shape to work a four, or even 7 hours shift standing on concrete. I can hike for 8 hours, no problem, but standing, shuffling, etc. is really hard. Last year I developed a crippling disease I called "Mall Leg" a condition that results from standing, and sort of leaning on one leg, leading to an extremely sore hip joint. Guess it's time to find out if it's a reoccurring disease.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

And the next big adventure is....

Today the maps arrived. 5 shiny, waterproof maps of the Pacific Coast from Vancouver to San Diego that show the route and also campgrounds, hotels, stores, libraries and bike shops. Bike shops? yup...cause we're biking the Coast!!!

There are some cool trips between now and then but this is the next Big One. Time to go riding!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Back in the Paddle Again

Yeeeah. I know its been awhile since I posted. Certainly left the Utah/Colorado trip story without a nice end. Well, sometimes you don't get closure. Needless to say, I'm home, back at work...ya da, ya da, ya da.

Tonight however, I finally got back together with Eliza (my kayak). It was so beautiful as the sun set. A little cold...and I'm thinking about getting those funny-puppet-paddling mits after all. Also thinking about going for a paddle some night in December...after all the Christmas lights are out. Anyone interested?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Road Warrior of the Hairpin Turns

In the last 36 hours I have probably been through over 18000 ft of elevation changes. Most on single lane roads without shoulders and guard rails. By the time it was over, the ride down from Monarch Pass and the Continental Divide was a piece of cake.

But back to Mesa Verde. It's a place far cooler than any picture or blog post could ever tell. I spent yesterday morning there. Walked around the Far View Terrace area, which few people visit, but which contains a few of the mesa top farming sites that were built and occupied before the cliff dwellings. Certainly an easier if not as impressive place to live. After that I drove down to Spruce Tree House which is like Cliff Palace, a little smaller, but with more Kivas, and one you can go down in. As mentioned previously, that was an amazing experience. Then I walked out to Petroglyph point, a really nice hike that gives you an idea of just how many other cliff dwellings are in the area as well as the typography.

Back on the road, Durango was the next stop. It's a very cute town. Very nice and the people are great too. Colorado seems to have the nicest most genuine people. They're not just talking to you because you're a potential customer or because you're from out of town. When they talk to you, you get the impression they're interested in you and what you're up to. In the last two days I've had some really great conversations with people about life, theories for living it, the desire of weathermen to exaggerate the forecast, the pros and cons of mining, shoplifting, and the highest use of ones talents.

Heading North from Durango I headed up the "Million Dollar Highway", for me a white-knuckle, no-shoulder, n0-guardrail, drive-while-meditating drive up over some pass or other. I think it peaked out at 11,000 ft. Then down to Silverton, where I had intended to stay but thought better of after walking down the dirt streets. Sure, it's a real live mining town, but hey - it's a real live mining town. So back in the car and up over the next pass to Ouray.

Ouray is definitely in the running for cutest mountain town, it certainly had the cutest houses, and the best historical society. The Ouray Motel, located downtown in a 1890's Victorian Motel is a great, reasonably prices place to stay. An early evening walk to Box Canyon was a nice end to the day - but wait - what were these pvc pipes running around the rim of the canyon? Oh! It's the plumbing for the Ouray Ice Park. Every winter they spray water all over one of the canyons so Ice Climbers can play!


By morning I realize this half of the vacation has taken a different feel, now it's that of a traveler, the Road Warrior is back. It's been awhile since I woke early and hit the road (usually roads much different than this - and I'd take Mountain passes over NYC rush hour any day) but the feeling is still there. So this morning I continued North and down the valley to Montrose, then East to Salida. On the way I stopped at Gunnison Canyon National Park - oops another 3000 ft. drop in and out of a canyon, the up and over the Continental Divide to Salida.

Salida is a unique blend of artist community/outdoor enthusiast/Denver escapist/miner/farmer hangout. The people are all great. Downtown is an historic district that is in various states of renovation located along the Arkansas River. I walked the shops for a while, bought two rugs and headed back to the hotel. Have to confess...I'm tired. Just so many new places, new things, etc. It's funny, I'm not the least bit tired of traveling. Having this connection, and now the 'cell' have made it so I can keep in touch so there's no need to get back for others, and I'm feeling pretty comfortable with this routine, and there is no end of places I want to go! I just need a little break. Tomorrow the plan is to head for Colorado Springs, hike out to some waterfall and then the art museum to see some original Georgia O'Keefe's. Then North to Denver to complete the Grand Circle! Of course, who knows what will really happen.

Kivas at Mesa Verde

Wow! Climbing into and out of one of those is an experience you'll never forget.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Best of Both Worlds

Tonight I’m writing from the big fluffy bed I’d dreamed of…and I’m as close to out-of-doors and someone in a big fluffy bed can get.

But back to last night…after closing up the laptop I climbed the giant rock behind the tent to read and watch the sunset. There is nothing like a sunset in the red rocks desert. First you look East as the sunlight slides up the red rocks, that special evening color firing each and every stone. Then, when the sun sets, there is a brief intermission before the colors in the Western Sky begin. As red and fiery as the rocks were but softer. And then the stars come out, and when you’re in the middle of nowhere, the stars are right there above you. The Milky Way was so clear, and there were just millions of stars.

Morning came bright and clear and I packed up as soon as it was light. Something told me if I didn’t leave then, I might not ever go. So up the Canyon, then over the mountain I went. There were lots of mule deer, hundreds of wild turkeys and lots of cows. The Aspen had just changed and patches of the mountain were brilliant. Back down in the desert I headed East for the first time in a week.

Hovenweep is an early Pueblo settlement of stone houses set within, and on the rim of a small canyon. There is a short 2 mile hike around it that makes for a nice walk, and gives you just enough time to wonder who lived there and what it would have been like. I think the guy who designed Arco Santi just went too far. His ideas are just like those of there early Pueblo builders, but he just wants too much more, Hovenweep is all you need. A few structures built into the side of the canyon, with a tower or two on the rim.

Next I went to see the world’s largest ball of twine. Oh, no, I mean the 4 Corners. Located on Ute Reservation land the spot where Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico meet is accessible only after paying a $3.00/person fee and fighting your way through Native American Craft stalls. I got a picture though.

Further East I drove by Shiprock, NM. The rock is very cool, the town sad, the fact that there is one more state on my list…awesome.

And then I returned to Colorado on the way to Mesa Verde and began to start thinking of finding a place to spend the night. As faithful readers will have noted…I was in need of a shower and a bed. Driving through Cortez, looking at the strip hotels was not thrilling. I’d spent the night before out under the Milky Way, would I now have to sleep beside a flashing neon light? Stopping at the Visitor Center I inquired about ‘quiet’ places to stay and the helpful lady there informed me that there was a hotel at Mesa Verde. It was primitive she warned…no tv. I asked if they had electricity and showers. Which she must have thought was a joke question – but she has no idea how primitive its been. I then hopped in the car, sped East to the Park and then drove some more. Hey! Is this some kind of conspiracy? Mesa Verde is on top of a mountain. Well yes, that is what Mesa means but its 2000 feet up. So was the hotel where I happily booked a room!

Then off down the road some more to take the 5:00 tour of Clift Palace. The pueblo ruin you associate with Mesa Verde. And it is cool, but it is only one of over 300 in the park. Tomorrow I’m going to check out some of the others and do some hiking. Now. After a great dinner at the restaurant here, a nice talk with a newlywed couple from Philadelphia (he’s a tattoo artist, she’s a professional photographer), and a loooong shower I’m going to go to sleep in bed that is in a room in the middle of a National Park!

Sweet and Sour or Cashew Chicken?

This morning I headed South intending to go to Monument Valley via Canyonlands – Needles District. Rt 191 is pretty uneventful, the radio stations non-existent, and the traffic flows right along so fast that I almost missed the turn to the Park. Thinking this was another of those parks where you drove until the road stopped at some lookout or other I didn’t figure it would take to long to drive the 60 miles round trip. But after stopping to look at Newspaper Rock things began to change. The valley opened up into a wide plain bounded by high red cliffs. Both beautiful. It was the kind of country I’d pictured in Westerns. A big plain with a lazy cottonwood creek running through the middle. Cows grazing everywhere. Like many of the places I go I began to wonder what it would be like to live in a place like this. Wide open, sunny, clear…not like a stuffy hotel room where I’d probably be spending the night. Truth be told I had been looking forward to throwing myself down on a big bed and taking a looong hot shower, but at the same time, I wanted to stay outside…out of doors. And that’s when I drove through the Park entranced and saw the campsites available sign.

I had a tent, a sleeping bag, a pad….2 bananas, 2 apples, ½ a bag of sunflower seeds. Hmmm. Not quite enough for a day and night…but wait…I had also thrown two backpacker pantry ‘meals’ in my bag. Technically I had no way to cook them but all they need is hot water, and you can get hot water in the desert…right? And it’s an amazingly beautiful campsite.

After setting up I packed up the bananas, the sunflower seeds and water and headed up a long 4 mile canyon to the Needles. Could help but think this is one National Forest that Edward Abbey just might like. The road doesn’t take you to all the cutely named scenic rocks. Nope. It just goes down the middle of the park. If you want to see anything, or heck, even experience the desert, you have to walk. And nothing is named that I could see. I did however not get to see it all as at the end of the canyon I was walking up you had to scale up the canyon wall to get to the next canyon. I made it about ½ way until I got to the part where you had to swing out just a little bit – and I couldn’t do it. But the hike back was just as nice as the hike up. I love these canyon streams and cottonwoods.

I’ve settled on the Sweet and Sour Chicken which is – hopefully – cooking on the hood of the black volkswagon jetta. Bon appetite!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Lazy, lazy, lazy

I'm sitting in the Mondo Cafe (highly recommended if you're ever in Moab) and I don't think I'm ever leaving. They have couches, great coffee, and wireless. Also real nice people. Funny how that really makes all the difference.

The idea for today however, is to pack up and head south for Monument Valley.

Here are a few other tips for those traveling to Moab.

1. Be sure to buy juice to flavor your water.
2. Don't expect great food
3. Don't expect the people to be all that friendly - especially in the Information Center!
4. Go to Delicate Arch early in the morning
5. Plan to shop at night - stores are open to 10:00!
6. Spend some time on the Colorado River
7. If you're a camper, try and stay at the wilderness sites. They are in the best locations. If you have to camp in town - Up the Creek is a good place.

Moab, Day 2

Gosh, another busy day. Right now I’m taking care of the little things, doing laundry and charging the cell, but earlier I was hiking, driving and thinking. (Or perhaps I should say, hiking and thinking, and driving and thinking, but then again, sometimes I didn’t think either.)

So the hiking. First climbed the Moab Rim trail for a full view of the Moab Valley. I saw the tire tracks but really find it hard to believe mountain bikes and jeeps make this climb. Looks like one jeep must have ripped a hole in its gas, or oil tank because right after this really steep part there was oil all over the rock. But none of that while I was there. Just a nice early morning 2000ft rise over the Colorado River.

After that headed North to Canyonlands National Park. Which is basically (once you’re at the park) a 21 mile drive out a mesa that gets progressively narrow until at some points it is only as wide as the two lane highway. Swerve and you do a Thelma and Louise down a few thousand feet. (Being here you can’t imagine how they decided which cliff to have them drive off, the options are endless.) I took a couple of side hikes and some great photos, although the camera will never do the scale of this place justice. At the overlook there was a short 1 mile jaunt further out on the point which was amazing. Speaking of the camera, there is something here, something that just defies my sense of time, distance and scale. Looking back along the distance covered in that 1 mile hike, it seems so much further…but the time taken is right, and then yesterday the hike up the Canyon seemed so long, but really wasn’t. And over all things just seem too darn big, but really you can get from here to there without much trouble. While on the point I looked south to the Needles, where I’ll be tomorrow. It looked a hundred miles away, but the sign said 15.

You really got to wonder what Powell was thinking.

After Canyonlands I took a leisurely drive along the Colorado River and accidentally discovered what I call “Rock Climber Alley”. The road runs between the river and a shear red stone cliff that has people hanging all over it. Okay, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration but there were several climbers there. I tried to get a few in the photo, but again scale, etc…

And now I’m doing laundry.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Good friends don't let good friend...drink Starbucks

This morning I'm writing and sipping good coffee from Mondo: Espresso Cafe in Moab. Good coffee is a blessing - and the egg sandwich isn't bad either. I highly recommend the place. (free wireless too!)

Hiking again!

After a day of driving I was so anxious to get hiking that I woke up at 5:30. Okay, actually it was so darn cold that I woke up as soon as I knew a diner would be open so I could get some hot coffee and warmth. Luckily I didn’t want food so much as it was awful. Just like the guide books said, good food in Moab is hard to come by.

But the people were nice and service was fast and I was driving into Arches National Park at 8 am. Arrived at Delicate Arch at 9ish. Pictures just never do the real thing justice. Not only that it wasn’t so much the arch that touched me it was more the feeling of the place. From the pictures I’d always thought the land around the arch was relatively flat. No so. The arch itself stands on a large fin that is pretty far up in the air and pretty far out in the middle of nothing. Walking up to it one goes along a cliff face then turns a corner and…there it is. I sat there, just around the corner, high up above the desert and finally, for the first time since leaving Denver, or maybe even much longer, relaxed. Just me, the sandstone, the arch, the La Sal Mountains and a few sparrows.

Eventually the place began to fill and I felt it was time to move on so after walking back to the car and driving further North I took the hike out to Landscape Arch, Navaho and Partition Arch. Had to turn back from Double O, it was O so narrow on that trail. After that I went to Window Arch where I sat awhile and enjoyed more of the Arches Scenery.

Feeling a bit parched, the temperature having risen to 69, I headed down to the Colorado River to hike up Negro Bill Canyon to Morning Glory Bridge. (and yes some Moabians are not happy with the name of the Canyon, but that’s what the guy who settled there was called. And if I’d a had my druthers, I’d a settled there with him! I love these Canyons, there are like oaisiss. Tall red walls soothed by the sound of running brooks. Oaks, and willows, sage, and this one had poison ivy too. At the end of the Canyon some people were repelling off the bridge and hopefully you can pick that up in the photos.

Now I’m back at the campsite, typing by the light of the laptop. It’s 7:30, dark and the cold is settling back in. I’ve got a great book to read, and I’m a bit tired. Good night.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Back in Red Rock Country

...and it feels good.

Heading for the hills...and the desert

This morning I leave the land of fluffy king sized beds, room service, and free wireless for ... 39 degrees, and my hubba hubba. I am so excited! Oh and there is a chance of snow while crossing the mountains.

Last night was fun too. A bunch of us went to dinner at Lime, a Mexican restaurant that served good food, fine Margaretta's and plenty of entertainment. Walking home the streets were full. The more serious baseball fans were at the game, but those who couldn't make it were still enjoying the atmosphere and waiting for the after game fun to begin. As our waiter informed us, that's when things really started happening. It was pretty cool. Lots of good people and good energy. Looking at the building and all the events and arts, etc you know Denver is a city, but it sure feels like a town.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Thought Provoking

Today was/is primarily a session-intense day. I think there are 6 in all, of which I'm only 2/3's of the way through. Still, it has gotten interesting as the sessions are getting more and more focused on different systems and means of working with, presenting and gathering data and stuff.

Over lunch I had a fascinating discussion on the purpose of Libraries. If Libraries were originally created to collect, preserve and share knowledge, (think Alexandria), what is our purpose now when the big challenge is that there is too much information? I mean think about it...

Meanwhile in Denver...rumor has it the streets are filling with Denver Rocky fans. The game is tonight, less than a mile from here.

Friday, October 05, 2007


Ranny's here!!!

I was sitting in the orientation session and in walked one of my bestest, funniest classmates from Syracuse. We caught up during lunch and then attended a really interesting session on Global Warming. (Strange topic for Library and Information Technology but very interesting.)

Pueblo Pottery

Last night I went to hear Stephen Trimble's talk on his book, "Talking with the Clay: The Art of Pueblo Pottery in the 21st Century" at Tattered Covers bookstore. First off, he is an amazingly engaging speaker and a fascinating person. While the subject is fascinating, his presentation was warm, thought-provoking and concise.

Aside from discussing and showing slides of how the Pueblo Indians gather clay, and construct, decorate, fire and then sell their pottery he talked about the traditions involved in the making. How, distinctive decorating and vase styles evolved among Pueblos but that recently as the potters have continued to grow their traditions the styles have become more individualistic. The potters have also branched off into sculpture with amazing results.

And then I went to bed.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Denver - land of many things

So I'm here. Have been for about 4 hours now. Immediately after checking in I dropped off my stuff and headed North through the 16th St. Mall. I have never seen so many restaurants offering wheatgrass. I tasted it once (somewhere else not here). They also have a lot of Starbucks (so the burnt coffee can offset the wheatgrass?).

At the very end of the 16th Street Mall, and over the river is Mecca, aka the REI flagship store. Ahhhh, built in the old, but significantly expanded trolley station this REI features and 3 story climbing wall, lots of boulders and is nicely located at the Confluence of two rivers which have been constructed into a whitewater kayaking run. Sweet. There is also a Starbucks (no wheatgrass). I looked at everything. Lots of fuuur this year. Also checked out REI's touring bike which is a possibility for the West Coast trip.

After drooling there for awhile I head back South and stopped at the famous "Tattered Covers Bookstore". Cool books, lots and lots of cool books. Funny how I left Borders the other day thinking there were no good books, and here, well here it was so hard no to buy them all. Tonight there is even an author lecture on 20th century South American Pottery.

So now I'm back at the hotel for a little rest.

Oh, and I can see there beautiful mountains from my window and they are calling me.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

On again

It's been a week now since my buddy passed on. Don't think I've walked into the house once without expecting him to greet me at the door. Except for the occasional uncontrollable sobbing, I'm doing okay.

The Denver/Utah trip is on again. Not sure of the exact route but playing it by ear might be a good thing for me. At the very least the initial book selection has been made and is as follows:

The Whistling Season, Ivan Doig
The World is Flat, Thomas L. Friedman
Hitching Rides with Buddha, Will Ferguson.

There are lots of other books I'm reading and would rather read, but these popped to the top of the list because they're paperbacks. The "Hitching" book is about travel so that's good, the writer seems to have a good adventurous attitude so while he's traveling through Japan and I'll be in the desert we'll still be traveling. Ivan Doig is a great writer so that should be a good read. And so many people have recommended the World is Flat and a peek through the covers has been rewarding.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Last night on ebay

I highly recommend not going shopping or surfing ebay when one is in a funk. As it is, it appears I am the owner of a new bike.

I have been looking for a while. I mean the panasonic is 20 years old, and while it does qualify me to ride in the invitation-only-shift-on-the-down-tube annual races, and I can pass many a fully suited, high-tech rider, still...I covet the new bikes. So I agreed that if a good deal came up on ebay, a really good deal, I could buy a new bike. What is funny is that since I started looking several $600.00 Specialized Dolces have sold for $600 and $700. Its just weird.

So Friday night I noticed a Specialized Vita for auction. This is an alumunium frame, triathlon bike which retails for $1200.00. The bidding was at $550.00, so what the heck I figure. This will go for around $1300.00. I bid $560.00, and it was the winning bid.

She is a beauty.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


Isaiah, my best buddy left today. I miss him so much already.

He certainly hasn't been up for all the recent adventures but he was always happy to wake me every morning and settle down beside me every night.

Amongst my pagan friends he was known as my familiar and he was. We were. There are so many parts of us that communicated wordlessly...and I'm beginning to notice, still do.

But I will greatly miss his physical presence. His joy in every new day, his alertness, his unending loyalty, his love, quiet affection, his fluffy fur.

To some he was known as Sandcastle's Ima Piston. He did earn his herding title, but the show thing, neither of us enjoyed...especially on beautiful sunny days. Many on the AT knew him as Little Bear. That was the trail name he earned after scaring more than a few hikers into thinking he was a black bear cub. He did enjoy his hiking days but I think it was herding he loved most. Working the way he was bred to. I am glad we did that. Glad he came to live with me and be my friend, my buddy and enjoy life to the fullest.

Oh how I will miss him.

Monday, September 24, 2007

In honor of Brandon's trip

Song of the Open Road - Walt Whitman

AFOOT and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.

The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Denver/Utah Trip Canceled


(and that's all I have to say about that)

Sunday, September 09, 2007

New Moon Kayak

Last night we went kayaking up the Mystic River at night. There was no moon. Lots of light from the houses and streets, but past the railroad bridge it was very dark and very cool. Oh, and the little fish were everywhere. Some even thought they should just jump into Eliza.

The pictures were taken at the Isham Street launch.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


I've been reading a great book lately, Dreaming in Code. It's the story of the attempted development of PIM software. Ohhh, you say, "that sounds so interesting." But seriously it is. Finally all the pieces are coming together and the history of software, short but complex, is made clear. Funny, I'm getting more identified and invested in the different codes than in the people.

Peoplewise, I'm dreaming about kayaking. Last night after work a few of us went to Bluff Point to work on things. I'm still working on the roll. Getting closer. Then last night I dreamed about it. Practicing it. Hmmm. Maybe if I can dream a complete roll, then I can do it.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Curiosity and the Kayaker

Happy Day-of-No-Labor everyone!
None of my kayaking friends were up or free for a paddle today, but it being soooo beautiful I decided to at least take a little trip out on the Mystic River. Heading South, into a pretty good wind I passed under the drawbridge and railroad bridge then decided to see if there really was a passage under the Mason's Island Bridge. There was. Through that, looking South to the Sound I wondered if there really was passage under the Enders Island bridge. There is. Then I was out in the Sound. Hmmm. Why not just go around the point and then head down river and home. The waves were a bit high, the current confused, and I wished I had my spray skirt. But the ride home was great. All in all, my little trip turned into a gorgeous 2/5 hour paddle.

Friday, August 31, 2007