A weekend in Chicago

This past weekend I got to take a trip with my youngest son to the Windy City. This was the first time he and I have done a vacation together, and with kids getting older, who knows how may more trips will be in our future. When I asked him where he wanted to go for Spring Break he chose Chicago, and so I booked a trip for the weekend.

We headed out early Friday, with our primary goal being to get to the first stop of the trip, Galloping Ghost arcade. This is a video game arcade that he heard about online, that is filled with hundreds of retro video game cabinets. The drive down was uneventful, and we arrived around 2pm. Just as promised, the arcade delivered with huge doses of nostalgia. On the drive down I was telling my son about a particular game that I remember playing in the 80’s. All I could remember about the name was that it had ‘xeno’ in it somewhere. It was a side scrolling alien shooting game, and was unique because three people could play simultaneously on three slices of the screen. I remembered playing the game a bunch as a kid, but never saw it, or heard about it, after that.

img_4204We walked into Galloping Ghost and bought our all-day pass (games are free to play after you pay the entry fee). Within walking 10 feet, my son says, “Is that the game you were talking about?” Sure enough, there is was: Xenophobe. We walked over and played a few rounds, and sure enough, it was just like I remember it. The rest of the visit passed in a haze of pixelated nostalgia. This arcade was huge, and in the few hours that we spent there we only scratched the surface of everything we could play. Soon enough though it was time to go get dinner and get checked in to our hotel.

We hit a ramen place in LaGrange and then drove into the heart of the city to stay at the Congress Hotel, right by Grant Park. The hotel was old and historic, and had an amazing view of the park and the lake. We kicked around the hotel for the night and relaxed after a long day of travel. The next morning I got up early to get in a short run, witnessing an amazing sunrise over the lake. After 5 miles I headed back up to the hotel room to get cleaned up and figure out the plan for the day.

img_4208We decided to walk over to Millennium Park for a bit and then head to the Field Museum. There’s lots of museums on the shore, but it costs a lot of money to do them all, so we picked one. The field museum ended up being a ton of fun, and my boy actually really enjoyed himself, seeing all the cool exhibits. We capped off the morning with late lunch at Lou Malnati’s to introduce him to Chicago style deep dish pizza. I hit a taproom for a quick drink and then we headed back to the hotel to chill for a bit.

IMG_4235.jpgLater that evening I would be participating in the Ten Junk Miles podcast, but we still had some time to kill. So after a bit of Pokemon Go playing during the Community Day event, we hit up a candy store, and then picked out a souvenir to bring home from a local tourist shop. I then headed out with my friends to do dinner and the podcast, and it turned into a really late night, not crawling into bed until after 11. Originally, I had planned a long Sunday run with Scott Kummer, but I spent the night fitfully sleeping with a stomach full of too much greasy pizza and beer. After waking up yet again at 4am I decided to bail on the run and just relax for the morning.

DSC09199.jpgOur plan for Sunday was to hit the Museum of Science and Industry before heading out of town. This is a great museum, and has one of my favorite train displays of anywhere I’ve been. We spent a couple hours there, taking in the sights, and then grabbed some lunch for the start of our journey back. We had decided to break the trip home up a bit, by first stopping in Madison, WI to hit up another game arcade. Geeks Mania was nowhere near the size of Galloping Ghost, but it had a few things that Galloping Ghost didn’t have. It also had some pinball machines, so I got to play a bit of that instead of just video games. Overall, the video game nostalgia was pretty awesome this weekend, and I can see a few more trips like this in my future.

DSC09205.jpgAfter this we headed up to Eau Claire for one more night in a hotel. We decided to stop early since we weren’t in a rush, and it meant that we didn’t need to do the final couple of hours in the dark. Since we were on vacation I wanted it to feel like it, and so one more night in a hotel bed seemed just fine. We took it easy and I got to watch some Food Network, before hitting the sack. The final push home was nice and easy, and now we have all day to clean up and get ready for the rest of the week.

DSC09185.jpgThis trip ended up being an amazing experience, as it allowed my son and I to connect and hang out with each other on an adult level. It was the first vacation we had done like this, and it ended up being really fun for both of us. Since my son is still figuring out what it is he likes/doesn’t like in a vacation, this was a great way for me to help him discover that. We kept our schedule pretty open and only had a few things penciled in throughout the entire weekend. It allowed us to shift plans and change direction quickly, which helped make the entire trip a lot more fun.

As a parent it’s fun to spend time with your adult-ish kids, and get to know the people they’re becoming. I’m hoping for other opportunities like this in the future, but despite that, this weekend is a fond memory that I’ll cherish for a long time.

Gear Review: Curt Clamp-On Bike Rack

Every since getting my pop-up trailer, I’ve had one niggling issue. I have no where to attach my bikes for traveling. My primary bike rack is a Yakima HoldUp, which is a great way to transport bikes. However, with the secondary receiver hitch that I purchased, it sticks out too far, and would impact the turning radius of the trailer. I needed something that would hold the bikes closer to the car.

A simple hanging bike rack might be a good option, but I wanted to avoid spending many hundreds of dollars for something I would only be using a few times a year. In my search I found the Curt Clamp-On Bike Rack. This is a really unique trailer bike rack that clamps on to the actual hitch, and then acts like a standard hanging rack. It clamps on close to the vehicle, which keeps the bikes close and away from the turning radius of the camper. To top it off, I got it for less than $80.

img_2929What I liked

The rack is light, and super easy to assemble. It’s easy to store on a shelf in my garage when not in use. Sliding my bike on to it was very easy, once you realized how to rotate the mounting points to the side first, and then rotating them into place. The rubber straps that attach the bike seem sturdy, and are relatively easy to attach.

The general construction of the rack is solid, and nothing felt “cheap” in any way. The straps that attach from the sides to the car, felt strong and they secured the rack solidly. The addition of little reflective ends to the bike mounting arms is a nice touch. In general the rack is what it says it is, and feels durable.

img_2928What I didn’t like

There are a couple of issues with this rack, which may actually prevent you from being able to use it. First, in order to extend the rack and secure the clamp, you have to press down in the locking mechanism. I can’t overstate this enough; this requires a great deal of downward pressure and strength. Every time I had to do this, it took all my upper body ‘oomph’ to get it to attach and click in to place. I feel like some form of screw, similar to a scissor jack, would be a lot easier to work with.

Along the same lines, removing the rack is downright scary. To release the crossbar, you need to pull out the pin securing it in place, and then pull up on a release handle. When you do, the stored energy causes the rack to slam closed, like a bear trap. It’s truly frightening and feels dangerous. Again, I feel like this is a design aspect that should be re-thought. I’ve seen pics online of people who have been scratched or poked by the slamming components.

Finally, the biggest issue with this rack is that, even without bikes on it, you had to give up access to your trunk. To get into the trunk of your car requires removing the rack completely. With how difficult and scary it is to do this, it means that you do it as infrequently as possible. This past weekend I found myself using the seat fold-down feature from inside my car to get access to gear. It was just a lot easier than having the mess with the rack.

Final thoughts

My feelings on this rack are somewhat mixed. I love the concept, and it allows me to use it with my trailer easily. It accomplishes what it says it will, despite being imperfect. I think with a couple small design tweaks, this could be a really cool rack. However, it does serve my purposes, and at less than $80, it’s what I was willing to invest in. I feel like it’s probably a good buy for situations like mine, but I wouldn’t want to use it as my only bike rack. It’s just not easy enough to work around for day-to-day use.

An impromptu weekend in Decorah, IA, part 1

This past week a running podcast that I enjoy called Ten Junk Miles, released a long interview with two ladies that I know who completed a double Arrowhead 135. They started at the finish line, 4 days before the start, and did the race backwards on their own. Then they started the race with everyone else and headed back 135 miles to be the first women ever to complete a double on foot. It’s an amazing story, and the interview clocked in at 5 hours.

I pinged my wife and the conversation went like this:

Me: TJM posted the Kate and Kari interview. It’s 5 hours long lol. Do you want to listen to the podcast together over the weekend or just on our own?

Wife: We can listen together. We should pick a road trip 😁 LOL
Where has good food?

And so, our weekend plans were born. I have been wanting to visit Decorah, IA for a while, since they have a couple great breweries that I’ve heard good things about. On top of that there were breweries along the route that I had never been to either. Decorah is 2.5 hours away, which means it’s perfect for a 5 hour podcast.

I was scheduled for a ~22 mile run on Saturday morning, and my wife needed to get some car work done, but we decided that by lunchtime we’d hit the road. I had a great run, and was feeling excited to hear a long podcast about other runners doing amazing things. We headed out around lunchtime and enjoyed a lovely drive through southern Minnesota.

IMG_2458.jpgOur first stop of the trip actually came before we hit Iowa. We stopped in Fountain, MN at the tiny brewery (612 sq ft!), Karst Brewing. This is a delightful little place with a handful of beers on tap. I got a few samples and then a half-pour of their cream ale. Their beers were all decently done, and I enjoyed getting some well made beer in small-town Minnesota. With our short stop out of the way my wife took the wheel and we continued our trip.

The rest of the drive was uneventful, and after dropping off our bags at the hotel, we headed to the famous Toppling Goliath brewery. They’ve made a name for themselves with their Morning Delight beer. You have to enter a lottery to buy it, and then you only get four bottles for $100. However, it’s an AMAZING beer. Unfortunately, our experience at their brand new taproom wasn’t nearly as amazing.

IMG_2460.jpgThey recently relocated to brand new digs about 5 miles outside of town. We found a parking space in a busy lot and proceeded to see what they had to offer. When we got inside there was a sign that said to “Seat Yourself”. The bar was full, and I didn’t see an obvious beer line, so we grabbed a table. I went to the bar and asked if people were service tables or if we order from the bar. I was told that we could just take a table and someone would be around. Then we waited… and waited… and waited.

IMG_2459.jpgFinally, I went to an area of the bar that looked like it was for growler sales and stood in line. It appeared that it was also for pints, and after a much longer wait than I should have had I finally had a flight of beers in front of me. It’s obvious that they have no idea what they’re doing in their brand new space yet, and hopefully their taproom manager will get things straightened out. From what I could see they need at least twice the number of servers that they had, as well as some clear signage about how to actually acquire beer.

On the bright side, my beers were all great, and especially a sour called Dragon Fandango. It was like a tart kool-aid and was amazing. Absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, they didn’t have it in ready-to-go bombers, and I didn’t feel like wading through the line again for a growler.

From there we headed in to downtown Decorah for some yummy Mexican food at Don Jose. Every college town has a great Mexican place like this, and soon my gut was filled with enchiladas and tamales. We still had one more stop for the evening, Pulpit Rock Brewing company.

IMG_2462.jpgPulpit Rock is built in what appears to be an old car dealership, or garage of some type. It’s a quaint little building, and there are multiple rooms you can hang out in with your beer. I got a nice flight of english style brew and started in. Although the Heavy Lifter Lager left me a little disappointed, the Clarion ESB was great. All in all, a wonderful way to finish off the brewery tour for the night.

More in part two…

Post-race/travel blues

I feel like I’ve written about this before, but I couldn’t find anything in my blog searching. One of the things that hits me (and my wife) hard after (out-of-town) races or long trips is the depression of returning to real-life again. Within a day or so of returning home we both get the blues, bad. It’s so hard to come back from a great trip, or a great race (participating or volunteering), and come face to face with needing to get back into our routine.

Before anyone worries, I’m fully aware of it, and I know what it is when I feel it, so it’s not something that I feel is dangerous, or that I’m a risk to myself. However, that doesn’t change how much it basically sucks. The incredible highs that we experience when we travel, especially when doing races, just can’t compare with the day-to-day routine of regular life. Granted, I often need a full day of rest after returning from a trip, because of how much we’ve been doing, but it still feels like it’s more exciting than being at home.

It’s the type of thing that sometimes makes me want to just sell everything and get an RV and spend my life traveling from place to place. I know that’s not feasible or realistic, but it’s the feeling that I get when I return home sometimes. I know a part of it is a general dissatisfaction with my career right now, and feeling like I want to do something different than what I’m doing (but stuck for various reasons, including financial). But for the time being it’s what I need to do to get by.

In the meantime, we’ve already been planning our travel for the rest of the year. We’ve got plans to hit some new State Parks, and give our trailer a workout with multiple camping trips. Most of our trips are just for a weekend, or a slightly extended 3-day weekend, but that means it’s easier to squeeze more of them in. I’m excited for more of our trips this year, as well as some of the races we’re going to be at. I just need to remember that coming home is a part of the process, and that soon it will all be OK again. We’re doing things that make us happy, even if that comes with a bit of a cost when we return.

Anxiety can suck it

Later today I will be boarding a plane and heading west to visit family on our annual winter trip to the desert (don’t worry the house is being house-sat and not vacant). It’s almost always a nice relaxing time, with explorations of an ecosystem that is totally foreign to me. However, because I’m flying it also means I get my special bonus. Anxiety.

As someone who deals with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, things like flying are absolutely brutal for me. The biggest issue is that it starts days ahead of time. My worst anxiety is often 2-3 days before a flight. All of my symptoms will explode and I’ll spend a good solid day feeling miserable, tense, and suffering. There’s little that I can do about the symptoms, except acknowledge that they exist and that they don’t control me. I know that I’m not dying, and that everything I’m feeling is just my body being unreasonable.

Because it doesn’t happen very often, taking any type of regular medication is pointless. I do have some pills for situations where it gets really bad, but I obviously need to treat those with care, as they’ll make it hard for me to drive and function. So I often will try and just relax with a beer and wait for the tension to, eventually, release. What is even dumber is that my anxiety on the day of the flight is often less than 2-3 days before. That anticipation episode is often the worst of it. I just need to get through it, and get to my destination, and everything ends up being good.

So for all of you that suffer from GAD, know that you’re not alone. Remember your body is dumb sometimes, and that no matter what you’re feeling, it’ll be OK. I’m sure there’s plenty of folks out there reading this who will join me in raising a glass and declaring that anxiety can suck it!