1.31.2010

I learn something new every day!

Major DUH moment...I am apparently NOT as slow on the indoor bike trainer as I had thought. I noticed that even though the current speed on my Garmin (Forerunner 305) usually shows in the 14-16mph range at cruising speed, my average never is more than 13-13.5mph.

I also notice that that average speed will frequently drop to the 2-5mph range for several seconds, quite frequently, even though the cadence remains consistently in the 90-100rpm range on the middle ring.

I did some Google sleuthing and discovered that there is a way to shut-off the GPS sensor for indoor workouts. Apparently my Garmin was grabbing a satellite connection here-and-there and it was cancelling-out the cadence/speed/distance sensor from the rear wheel and messing with my average distance and speed--not in my favor. Ahhh...

The way to prevent this is to turn on the Garmin, hold down the mode button until it shows choices of workout (run, bike, other) and select indoor. Now the trick is to remember to set this back to outdoor and running when I do my next outdoor running workout.

Hope this helps someone else. I wish Garmin units shipped with an actual paper manual to reference in a pinch (I'm finding this criticism applies to a LOT of things, nowadays--I'm old skool).

So today's 20 mile trainer ride was likely closer to 21-22 miles. Huh. I look forward to accurate data in future rides. This will be important as I start training for my first duathlon in a week. At least the first month of my training will be indoors...and probably closer to 6 weeks. I can expect half of my 11 weeks of training to be on the indoor trainer. Thank goodness for DVDs and a massive flatscreen TV. That reminds me...I need to go pick up Zombieland!

1.30.2010

Sweatsicles

Those of you who run or bike in cold climates know this phenomenon. Even though it may be bitterly cold, we still work up a sweat. These sweatsicles tend to collect on earbuds cords, earrings, and hair. By the end of today's chilly 8-miler I had developed quite a sweatsicle, but mostly only on my left side. I have no explanation for the lack of symmetry. In the future I should make note of this...perhaps I am sweatier on one side than the other...? The dude in the photo at left is also exhibiting a substantial left-side sweatsicle. Perhaps I am not the only person afflicted by this strangeness.

I think Urban Dictionary needs a new definition. It is apparent that the individual who submitted the existing one is a wuss, opting for gym when the weather is cold. REAL sweatsicles come from exercising OUTDOORS when it is COLD. Not throwing sweaty workout gear in the freezer. Any pansy can do that, heh. Sweatsicles are one of the many badges of being tougher than Mother Nature (and Old Man Winter).

My friend and I had a nice run. 8 chilly miles. We both felt pretty tired, but it could be the cold wiping us out a bit. I felt really stiff for the first few miles and alternated between feeling overdressed and feeling chilled. I'm very ready for Spring. I notice that when it's especially cold my shoes feel hard and inflexible. Both of us found that our feet were really tired by the end of the run.

3 more days until Groundhog's Day. This means the end of Winter is in sight, regardless whether or not he sees his shadow (which requires sun. He rarely sees it around here).

Towards the end of our run we reassured one-another that we really can expect weather to improve in a month. Usually by the time March hits we're having warmer (longer) days and a mix of rain and snow. Running in that stuff isn't so bad. An end to icy, snow-covered roads will be welcome. This also brings us closer to getting our bikes outside for many months...ahhh...

Until then I'll continue to pedal the "nowhere bike" and keep my Yaktrax next to the front door.

Goodnight, Moon

Tonight is technically the full moon, but last night (technically, this morning) I was WIDE awake. Full moon seems to bother me even when it's overcast, but last night it was clear and like daylight with the moon reflecting off the snow. Very pretty, but made it tough sleeping. Coffee was EXTRA welcome this AM!

I didn't end up doing my planned bike trainer ride yesterday. The original plan was to run 4-5 miles outdoors, then come in and change into my cycling shorts and ride for an hour. Plans changed. DS forgot his gym shoes and rather than be mean mom I bailed him out by running, showering, then driving 35 minutes each way to his school. I figured DH and I would get our ride in later...but later never happened.

My new Photoshop CS4 software arrived, so I installed that and then decided that it was the ideal opportunity to calibrate my monitor, which didn't go as smoothly as planned. It took a lot of nudging and tweaking to get things back where they belong.

After that I got a bug up my butt to renovate my blog design (to match the colors on my bicycle, of course), so that took up the rest of the night. But I did stumble upon a fabulous background tile generator. I was so impressed that I Paypal'd the guy $5 to help cover his hosting fees. I'm always happy to help support Art.

It's just as well that I didn't get the ride in...it's probably not a good idea at this point for me to be significantly increasing my bike mileage for more than 3 consecutive weeks.

Today I'm heading out for a relaxing 8 miler with a local friend. Runs with friends always fly by. Runs alone with my iPod can sometimes drag. Running with others is fun multi-tasking...we get our workouts in while having some social time. There are definitely weeks where we wouldn't have the opportunity or time to do both separately.

1.28.2010

No wonder I'm tired...

2010 at a glance...

Running:
1/24/2010 — 1/30/2010: 10.1 Mi (+ ~13 more planned miles for the week)
1/17/2010 — 1/23/2010: 25.3 Mi
1/10/2010 — 1/16/2010: 32.1 Mi
1/3/2010 — 1/9/2010: 30.2 Mi

Cycling:
1/24/2010 — 1/30/2010: 28.9 Mi (+ ~12-13 before the end of the week)
1/17/2010 — 1/23/2010: 33.7 Mi
1/10/2010 — 1/16/2010: 21.0 Mi
1/3/2010 — 1/9/2010: 18.5 Mi

As you can see my running mileage is pretty much holding steady, with even a bit of a decrease since I decided to scale back on my miles for this year.

But the cycling...I'm starting to "crank things up." Even though I dropped the resistance on the trainer a hair this week I think it would be in my best interest to let myself plateau for a bit. No sense breaking myself before I even officially begin duathlon training. When I started running I couldn't increase increase increase for weeks on end without letting my fitness catch-up. Guess this is just as true with cycling. Today is my weekly rest day and I really feel pretty much good-fer-nuthin'.

Today I am thankful that I have no running on the schedule. It is cold and nasty out there...windy, snowy, -3 windchill. Gross. Tomorrow will be similar, but with less wind. 4-5 miles shouldn't be too miserable. I also hope to get an hour on the bike trainer in the evening with my hubby. Perhaps we should consider a Netflix subscription for all of these indoor rides.

Saturday I'm hoping to do maybe 8 miles...no "long" double-digit run this week, since I have done a long run every week this year. This week is a bit of a scale-back. Saturday is predicted to have a high of 22 with light winds...it's a heat wave!

1.27.2010

No turning back, now...

Last night I registered for my first sprint duathlon (5k run, 30k bike, 5k run), on 4/25. Prior to doing this I looked at last year's results. I am anticipating bringing up the rear, but not being absolutely last...I hope.

My biggest concern is navigating around 100+ other participants (last year there were ~110). In running races the risk of collision is minimal...and even if 2 runners bump into one another, the damage is generally not even bruise-inducing. The potential for great bodily harm during a cycling event, however...ack! And I am already a klutz. My only hope is that should I crash that I don't take any innocents out with me.

My 11 week training cycle starts on 2/7. I'm really looking forward to better weather for increasingly long bike workouts. Thankfully this Winter has not been bad for outdoor running workouts (unlike last year).

Yesterday I also registered for the Ultimate Cycle Challenge on Feb. 20. I will be pedaling for 2 hours, as will my hubby. Click on JDRF West Michigan to donate in support of our team.

1.24.2010

Change of Plans

I'm starting to rethink my race plans and goals for the year, a bit. First thing I think I'm going to axe from my schedule is the race in a couple of weekends...the 5k trail race. Not because I don't love it--I had a blast last year--but because we are going to be out late at a yearly wine party with friends (having it a week or two later than normal) and the day of the race is DS's birthday.

I'm also thinking I will nix the second sprint triathlon I had been eyeballing for late August. It is expensive (and this year is already going to be really $$ with Vega$ in early Dec.), the distance is sorta odd (first running leg is 2 miles, instead of 5k and the cycling leg is 20k, instead of 30), and it would fall right in the thick of training for my target half-marathon...the one I really want to PR and finally finish under 2 hours (Vegas in December is really going to be more of a long run with 30-some friends than an actual race).

But the biggest change is in how I am approaching my training this year. I had previously been shooting to run 1500 miles this year and then supplement with cycling. But after looking at the duathlon training plan (from Training Plans for Multisport Athletes) and talking to my hubby about century rides I realize that I need to put just as much emphasis on cycling as I do on running. So I am cutting back my running miles by about 250 miles for the year...instead of averaging 29/week I will be averaging 24. Not a huge difference, but it means actually being able to take a needed rest day each week, instead of taking a short run.

I will be running 3x/week and biking 3x. My runs will essentially be 2 mid-length runs (1 with some speedwork) and 1 long. Cycling will be where I recover, a bit. My rides will be 1 shorter, easier ride, 1 mid-length ride with speed work of some sort, and one long, steady-state ride.

I am not following the 11 week training plan in the above book to the letter...even the more advanced plan is WAY light on the running mileage and geared for someone used to training for and casually running only 5-10k races. I will be following the cycling training from that plan and adding a fair amount to the running portion, as I have a 25k race 2 weeks after the duathlon. My running mileage will still be about half of what I was doing in marathon training, so as long as the cycling doesn't kick my butt (don't expect that it will, as I am already ahead of the game where the training plan starts) I should be OK.

Next year I may consider skipping the 25k so that I can really focus on training specifically for the duathlon. I have a feeling I am really going to enjoy participating in multisport events, as long as I can avoid falling off the bike or crashing!

After the duathlon and 25k I start targeting my trail relay and first century ride and starting to train for my September half-marathon.

It's also becoming painfully obvious that my core needs strengthening. My lower back has been been tight, weak, and sore. When the back is weak and in pain everything else falls apart. So at least 2 days/week I will be doing some sort of abs/back work, even just something quick will be better for me than what I have done for the past 4-5 months, which is pretty much nothing.

I just need to figure out what approach to take with the back. I have always been really pleased with Cathe Friedrich's DVDs and she has one that targets the core and uses nothing more than a stability ball, medicine ball, and mat--all things I already have. The DVD has 3 20 minute workouts, so I could easily rotate those with a couple of 15 minute ab workouts I have and be able to do 2 weeks without repeating a workout--keeping those muscles challenged.

Now, if I can just drop these last 20#s with their death-grip on my frame...

1.21.2010

'Tis better to give than to receive...

I have been involved with the fundraising end of Girls on the Run (SoleMates/Team Tiara) for several years as a complement to my running, but now that I am adding cycling to the mix I have an opportunity to raise money for the Livestrong®/Lance Armstrong Foundation via the Ultimate Cycle Challenge on Feb. 19-20. The UCC is a 24 hour team event. Each rider chooses the length of time he/she feels able to complete in order to have a rider from each team pedaling for the duration. My hubby has taken part in this event a couple of times. This year I plan to join the team and take over a 1-2 hour block.

Information re: where/how to make donations will be available soon. My goal is to kick my hubby's butt on the fundraising end of things, since I can't do that on the bike. He's kind of a cycling freak of nature. It takes me 25% more time to cover the same distance.

Speaking of Girls on the Run and fundraising, just a few days ago my efforts were acknowledged in a press release in our local paper from our county's GOTR chapter.

We don't even receive the local paper...but I have Google set to alert me any time my name shows up on the 'net. That was a pretty pleasant surprise. Mostly I am happy to see a local publication giving some well-deserved publicity to the Sole Mates fundraising program connected to GOTR. In the past they have had a difficult time convincing the larger regional newspaper to publish their press releases. Unfortunate, given all the drivel that paper has been known to print.

1.16.2010

You can say you knew me back when...

Yes, I am enjoying my 15 minutes of fame.

Back this Summer I was on a late afternoon 6 miler and saw the Google Street-Level cam car 3x. I was reasonably certain that the car was photographing during 2 of those passes. I was playing with Google Earth on my new computer (my old computer was too old to handle this program) and remembered that historical day and thought to scan the photos of the area where I suspected the car was shooting. Turns out my suspicions were correct.

I love all the green grass, blue skies, sunshine, and dry roads. It gives me hope that Winter will come to an end.

I don't love the fact that my gut looks 6 months preggers...huh. Yeah, I am toting a few extra pounds, but not all in my belly. Trust me, my boobs usually project further than my gut.

Today I had a shiteous run. It was at least 5 degrees colder than predicted, no sun (as predicted), and it was clammy. Plus the thawing from the previous few days led to some extensive areas of black ice. I'm also starting to think that maybe I am overdoing it on running miles + cycling miles. I think relatively low running miles (I've been in the 30 mile/week neighborhood for a while) are giving me a warped view of what I am really doing. I may have run 20+ fewer miles than I did at the peak of marathon training, but I am still working out nearly 8 hours/week when the cycling on the "nowhere bike" is figured-in. And that's an activity that my body is still acclimating to, so it's likely putting more strain on me than I realize, even though it's such a low-impact activity.

I am still a few miles behind the 1500 mile Pace Bunny (thanks to being sick for the first couple days of the year), but I have to remind myself that during my 2 half-marathon training cycles I will be logging probably 40-45 mile weeks at my peak, so I will make up for any reduced mileage weeks now. I really want to be ready to hit the road on the bike when weather improves, so spending more time on the trainer and less running in the cold, nasty muck doesn't sound like a bad plan, anyhow.

Right now my biggest training targets are my first duathlon in late April and the Riverbank Run 25k 2 weeks later. This isn't the worst time of the year to be indoors on the bike trainer to prepare my legs for higher miles on the road. I can get more running miles in once the roads are less treacherous, too.

1.15.2010

Zip...zoom...pow!

That's how my new computer feels...so superfast! I knew my old one was bogging-down, but the difference between the 2 machines that look virtually identical on the outside is amazing. Everything moves in lightning-speed on the new Mini with Mac OS 10.6 (aka OS X 6).

The only gripe...I will probably have to recalibrate the monitor. Maybe not. We still have to transfer stuff from the old machine onto this one, so maybe the calibration settings will move, too. right now everything is sorta pink-ish. Not that the average person would notice, but years spent in the color darkroom and futzing with Photoshop have rendered me really anal retentive about the color balance on my monitor--even if I'm not doing work that needs to be sent to the lab and requires a perfectly calibrated screen. Thank goodness for my Pantone Colorvision Spyder device.

The new keyboard is lovely. So sleek and quiet (except for the space bar, for some reason). And the Magic Mouse...ahhh...I think I am in <3. I love the touch surface. I am quickly learning that it's so much more efficient than scrolling by clicking and dragging or clicking arrows. I've had mice with the scroll wheels before, but the wheels were never placed in such a way that they were comfortable for the shape/size of my hand. This mouse is nifty, since I can drag up and down wherever my index finger is comfortable.

I'm happy to be able to use Safari, again. I don't care for Firefox. Maybe it was because my machine was old (and the latest version of Safari no longer would work well on that, either), but it was flaky. I had issues getting things to post and would have to stop and hit submit a few times. I'm also looking forward to trying Google Chrome. That browser only works with Intel Macs running 10.5 or 10.6, I believe. I had 10.4 on an old Power PC machine. My hubby and best friend both happily use Chrome almost exclusively on their PCs, so I am eager to give it a whirl.

My new coat arrived today, too...just in time for unseasonably warm temps--ha! So all of you folks in the Upper Midwest enjoying the "warm" weather, thank me! It fits very well, is flattering, and seems like it will be plenty warm. And it weighs about half as much as the Burton coat with the FUBARd zipper.

I also just received a Smartwool base layer top that I found for half price. Wore it today for nearly 6 miles and was amazed by the level of warmth from a lightweight top. It was 32º and that was all the shirt I needed. It didn't seem to wick as well as most synthetic fabric tops I wear, but even the areas that were most damp (like the insides of my arms, opposite my elbows) were still warm. No itching, either. I could live in Smartwool from head-to-toe.

2 days ago I did my longest ride on the bike trainer--15 miles. It was really not so bad. More pleasant than 5 miles on a treadmill. Really helps that I can be in the comfort of my own home and watching whatever I want on TV (I mean, whatever I want as long as DH is not riding with me...then we watch things like Predator. *sigh*).

1.12.2010

Winter Doldrums

Meh. It's January. I have no motivation to do much more than hit the bare minimum mileage to meet 1500 running miles for the year. Biking I'm not to worried about...I know those miles (also shooting for 1500 in the saddle) will be easy to rack-up come warmer weather and clear roads. Days on end of snow and ice-covered roads and cold temps have not helped the lack of Mojo. I'm starting to feel the physical effects of those slippery miles, too. My knees always grumble from all of the extra twisting on loose snow.

I gotta keep at it, though. A friend has sorta talked me into a duathlon in late April. I may live to regret this, but since I will likely not be going to Green Bay for the half and don't really have my heart set on a hilly out-and-back 10 mile race that month, either. So I can sorta justify it, at least timing-wise. I will have almost 2 weeks after the du to recover for the Fifth-Third Riverbank Run 25k, which I sat out last year while tapering for the Bayshore Marathon.

I'm also eagerly looking forward to the return of Team HTFU! to the North Country Trail Relay in June and my return to Las Vegas in December--this time to run the half marathon with 30+ of my online and in-real-life running girlfriends...Diva, Las Vegas! A few of the women are planning to run the full, but most of us still want something left in our legs to go clubbing later that night. Those two races will be the exciting running highlights of the year. 2 duathlons and a century ride or two represent my goals on the bike.

January has not been all depressing dreariness, though. Over the past weekend we went and saw Avatar at the nearest 3D IMAX theater. Wowsers! The story was fairly cheesy, but the visuals more than made up for the flaws in script. I think I want to live on Pandora. I want one of those bad-ass giant cat-like things for a pet, too. What a great running partner...

After seeing Avatar we went to the Apple store near the theater to upgrade my system (still in boxes, but we're hoping to do the switch this weekend when we have time to transfer stuff over to the new machine). We picked-up a second Mini. My current is closing in on 5 years of age and is one of the original G4 models running 10.4.11.

New Mini will be running the latest version of OS X, 10.6. I'm really looking forward to streaming video working properly. Maybe 6 months ago a lot of newer YouTube stuff stopped playing well--virtually overnight. I thought maybe there was something I could tweak on my end, but after doing some Google research it appears that this is something affecting a lot of older computers--they were never designed to handle these higher quality video streams.

I'm also looking forward to playing with my new touch-sensitive Magic Mouse and using the new, sleek Mac Keyboard. I've been using a clunky Microsoft one for a while and the letters on the home-row keys are long gone.

I also have a new Winter coat on order. This part was not enjoyable. While entering the theater to see Avatar I attempted to zip my coat and the teeth did not line up properly. The result was that I couldn't move the zipper without destroying it and had to take my coat off by pulling it over my head. Luckily I purchased the coat through Backcountry.com and they have a fabulous warranty, so they are taking it back. Also lucky is the warmer weather coming through for a few days (by "warmer" I mean relative to what we've been experiencing. It will still mostly be in the 30s).

I really loved the current coat, style-wise, but found that it had nearly non-existent insulation (really, Burton...in a snowboarding jacket?). The replacement coat (Marker Ruby) has some similar styling, but should be better insulated. And the zipper pulls have Swarovski crystals on them--ha, blingy! I scored it for half of full retail, which was nice. It's unreal how much a warm, good quality Winter coat can cost. While doing some online shopping I nearly choked on some 4-digit price tags...for a jacket?!

1.02.2010

Viva, Las Vegas!

OMG, when can I go back?! Oh, yeah...in just over 11 months. I am counting down the days to Dec. 5, the 2010 Las Vegas Rock & Roll Marathon--I will be doing the half. I don't have any expectations of a PR performance, simply looking forward to 13+ miles with a bunch of girlfriends on the Vegas Strip (and then some) and cheering at the finish line for my friends running the full.

Hubby and I had a fabulous time. It wasn't even particularly warm or sunny (2 of our days in Vegas were overcast and temps were in the 40s--lower than their typical temps this time of year, in the mid-50s), but it was nice to be away from snow and see some new sights (well, new for me, at least). I'm like a crow...I like shiny things. Vegas fit the bill.

Our flight into Chicago was a bit delayed, but our flight from Chicago to Vegas was around 90 minutes behind schedule, so we weren't at any risk of missing our connecting flight. The weather when we left was very cold and snowy, so planes were delayed, then had to be de-iced before each leg. We arrived at the airport in Vegas at around 4pm, made it to our hotel (New York, New York) a short time later, enjoyed the darkening sky and view from our window, then headed down to wander the Strip a bit.

We found an excellent Mexican restaurant (best damned wet burrito I have EVER had with a green cilantro sauce) in the Planet Hollywood shops where we ordered those tasty tall margaritas (those drinks in the plastic collectable glasses are available at nearly every restaurant with less than 4 stars). Mine was "upgraded" with Patron...damn, that was tasty.

After eating we wandered the strip a while longer...a day of traveling + jet lag + strong/massive magarita = giggly Kirsten. I think we made it down as far as the Venetian before we turned back toward the hotel.

And, boy, my husband was not kidding when he talked about the scale of the Strip. In photos it appears compact, but in reality it takes an hour to walk from one hotel to another one 3-4 down. All those stairs and walkways over the intersections add a lot of time (and exhaustion).

On our first full day we headed 3 hotels south (which took about 45 minutes) to Mandalay Bay for a trek through their aquarium. Sharks are the main attraction, but there were also some freshwater predators, colorful reef fish, and an ugly Komodo Dragon. Very cool.

That evening we went out for our "fanciest" dinner while in Las Vegas -- a meal at the Firefly* Tapas Kitchen & Bar right at the end of Fremont Street (downtown "old" Vegas) in the Plaza Hotel. At left is the view of "The Fremont Street Experience" from our table.

Our meal was simply fabulous. We had about 6 appetizer-sized entrees to share, including Firefly* Fries. Wow...best. french fries. ever. Seriously. Who would think that shoestring fries with some melted cheese could be so decadent? No tapas items on their menu are priced higher than $10. Our entire meal, including our entrees, pitcher of mojitos, and dessert martinis was $100 and change. On a scale of 1-10 taking into account food, price, and atmosphere...I would give Firefly* a solid 11. I hope I can talk my runner friends into going there for an evening meal when we are in Vegas for the race.

On our second full day in Nevada we rented a car (our rental car curse seems to have followed us from our honeymoon 12.5 years ago--that car had a broken parking brake and this nearly new Ford Focus had 2 map lights that would not shut-off...no biggie during daylight, but a dangerous inconvenience after dark) and took off for California, and Death Valley, specifically.

Our trip out of Vegas was beautiful and uneventful. We left around 8am and returned back to our hotel sometime after dark. Over the course of the day we covered about 350 gorgeous miles of nature. We had lunch at a cafe in the Furnace Creek Ranch complex, where DH has stayed twice during JDRF Ride For The Cure events.

Here is the stubborn little barrel cactus we found right near Jubilee Pass. Kind of reminds me of some stubborn cyclist friends I know.... Amazing to find resilient plant-life in such a harsh, dry place.

On the way home the increasing darkness made the defective map lights increasingly annoying. At a gas station in Pahrump we stopped at a gas station for snacks and tape. In the future we will ALWAYS bring duct tape on trips. All the gas station had was really crappy masking tape. We attempted to furnish an opaque cover for the lights with cardboard from a cracker box and tape...but it wouldn't stick. For about 2 hours I held the makeshift cover over the light. We even tried removing the appropriate fuse, but the fusebox on the Ford Focus is buried. We were never able to actually locate the cover, even though we knew which fuse (#9) to remove.

Day 3 I like to call "Chihuly Day." This was one of my only requirements of the trip--that we see the Chihuly ceiling at the Bellagio. Imagine my surprise when we find a BRAND NEW Chihuly gallery in the new City Center complex! Dale Chihuly is my favorite artist...ever (though I found a photographer's gallery in the Planet Hollywood shops who could be a contender--he shoots everything in wide-frame medium format using transparency film. God...sometimes I really miss film. Digital can't touch that intense color reproduction). I have been a fan ever since visiting a small installation of his at the Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids when Dane was a toddler. Had we been in Vegas a couple of weeks ago we could have met the artist, which is a bummer. Chihuly seems like a fun guy from everything I have read and seen. How can anyone who creates such colorful art not be happy and loving life?

After making my eyes happy looking at colorful blown glass (in the gallery, the Bellagio lobby, and the Chihuly store at the Bellagio...yes, the store with the tiny $12k piece that I would have bought in a heartbeat if I had that kind of coin just lying around) we did a little souvenir shopping.

That night was our "Vegas Show" night. We got a really good deal on tickets to see Zumanity in our hotel (less than half of what we would have paid had we been staying in a different establishment). The show is perhaps the most risqué show on the Vegas Strip. It's a Cirque de Soleil prodution reserved only for those 18 and older. It was excellent, funny, visually gorgeous (and not a little naughty) and we had great 4th row seats.

After the show we again enjoyed Mexican at a little place right in the hotel, though it was not nearly as good as the first Mexican meal we had on the night we arrived. Once we paid our bill we headed over to the slot machines where I played and lost $2. That took about 15 seconds. We then redeemed our 2 free drink coupons (both had mediocre Sin City Brewing Company beers) we received upon arrival...so we weren't really out $2. Then I took this one last photo of us enjoying our vacation before we headed back up to the room to pack for our return flight in the AM (yes, Derek is checking out my cleavage, ha!).

The next morning we had a quick breakfast (in part because DH thought our flight was out around 2:30 when it was actually scheduled just before 1pm) at a restaurant in the hotel and had a quick taxi ride to the airport. Getting through security was easy and it wasn't long before we were back in the sky headed to cold and clouds, but not before viewing the Hoover Dam (at right) and the Grand Canyon from the sky--that was pretty cool. Our connection was in rainy Dallas...our gate assignment changed at least 6 times in an hour. Even our pilot was annoyed. The flight from Dallas was pretty uncomfortable on a tiny commuter plane with the heat cranked. I came down with the beginnings of a head cold the night before we left (too little sleep, too many viruses) and the pressure in my eustachian tubes was unreal and caused the worst ear pain I have ever experienced while flying. My right ear finally cleared about 4 hours after we landed...in the meantime I was pretty much deaf in that ear.

We arrived back in Grand Rapids just a bit behind schedule, got our bags, left the airport in our dirty car (damn, cars in Vegas are all so clean--even the old beaters. Helps not to have snow and road salt), and headed over to friends' house for a slightly belated New Year's Eve toast. As fun and exciting as Vegas was, I am glad we were not there to witness the year turn-over. Each day the Strip became more crowded and difficult to navigate (and full of families with small kids...seriously, who brings kids to Sin City? Even though there were a lot of kid-friendly activities, I would not ever consider taking a child to such an adult place with some pretty raunchy elements in massive technicolor detail). Plus our room rate would have been about double on the 31st.

Surprises:
• food...wow, I had no idea there was so much good eating in Vegas. The Strip smells of so much meat. Really reminded me of the Tandoori smells in London.
• smoke in the casinos. Seriously, my lungs still hurt. I have to wonder about the rates of lung cancer among non-smokers who work in the casinos.
• the lack of humidity is kind of uncomfortable. I drank a ton of water and still felt thirsty...which probably has a lot to do with how relatively little alcohol we drank.
• what an amazing feat of Human ingenuity Vegas is...grass, trees, flowers, a thriving city--all in the middle of the desert.
• how much I really hate Midwest Winters (OK, this wasn't really a surprise--running has pretty much turned me into an enemy of this season). Returning to cold, snow, and complete absence of sun for weeks on end has really been difficult. I completely understand why so many retire to sunny climates. I would join them in an instant.
• the relative smallness of "Old Vegas" (Fremont St.) vs. "New Vegas" (The Strip). Old Vegas felt a little sad, but it has history. The Strip feels less honest, if that makes any sense.

Going back to Vegas at the end of the year is really something I look forward to. While I wouldn't want to live there (I wouldn't really want to live in any major city), it would be fun to live an hour or so outside of the city. It's a really amazing place to visit and there are so many gorgeous destinations within a reasonable drive...Hoover Dam, Death Valley, and the Grand Canyon, to name a few. Here is a parting shot of the moon rising over Death Valley: