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Portland Dragon Boat Race 2012

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Portland Dragon Boat races are a big event; like Victoria, it’s a two-day affair.  The first day is a random grab-bag of races; teams will compete against teams of entirely different calibers, just to determine which division they should race in for the semi-finals.

My team, Bridge City Paddling Club, had FIVE boats in these races!  We had a blue and gold women’s team, a blue and gold mixed team, and we finally got to fully debut the Bridge City Men.  Where we filled half the boat with guest paddlers up in Victoria, we had almost our entire compliment of men for our Open Division race…. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The day started early. For Bridge City Paddling, we arrive as a team.  So even though my first race wasn’t until well after 9:00 AM, because the women had an early race (in theory) we all showed up at 7:00 AM.  Then we got to wait, because it wasn’t terribly organized and they hadn’t finished placing the starting and finishing buoys – and they wouldn’t finish setting up until almost an hour and a half after the race was supposed to start!

But finally the races started.   We cheered on our women’s teams.  Bridge City Blitz Blue, our fast boat, on which I was paddling, was up early.  We paddled out and easily dominated the race with a time of 2:03.42, though we were up against at least one team that we’d competed against in the Salem Dragon Boat Race finals.

Then, just after lunch, it was game time.  It was the Open Division semi-finals, and I was nervous.  Any confidence I had was tempered by knowing the heat we were up against.  Men from the strongest teams in the Pacific Northwest had teamed up to field boats; could we compete with that?

Well, we were able to.  Partially due to favorable seeding, we were able to take second in our semi-final with a time of 1:48.90, and only the top two teams advanced.  It was a mad, furious race, full of splashing and energy, and we barely finished with second, but we'd made it..

Afternoon came, and we dominated another mixed race with a time of 1:58.75.  Good times.

I joked several times that night that I was tired, and yet I couldn’t account for more than about 12 minutes of exercise.  (Each race lasted about two minutes, plus two minutes or so of paddling to get to the start line and back from the finish.)

The next day came too early, but the whole club again showed up to cheer our women’s teams.  Then, in the late morning, we lined up for the mixed semi-final, from which the top two teams would advanced to the division championship and the bottom two would join the fight for the division consolation prize.  We won, and I say that because it was unremarkable and, at least for the 12 guys on the boat, all our minds were on the open division race yet to come.  A time of 1:56.98 is nothing to sneeze at, and yet I could barely recall the race.

So then it was time to line up for the open division championship.  As men, we were all quiet.  None of the light joviality was there, as we sometimes had before other races.  We all, as a group, wanted to win.  This was what we’d been training for all year, and we were up against stiff competition – the favorite in this race with the combination of the Kai Ikaika men and the Portland Fire Dragons’ men, by far the two top teams in Portland.

We paddled out and lined up, knowing that we had only coming in second in our race, but determined to make this race count.  The announcer lined us up – and we were off!

It felt like the longest race, and yet it was a blur.  I could see, out of the corner of my eye, only one other boat, but it was definitely ahead of us.  I kept seeing flashes of color, though I was focused ahead and only on timing and technique, that suggested that other boats weren’t far off.  The team did exactly what we’d hoped to do.  We had good timing, we had great power, and our technique was there.  We knew we didn’t come in first – but had we placed?  Had we earned a medal?

We had.  We came in a solid second, which I will accept since we made the team that came in first work for it.  We made them work hard, and they earned it, but third place was as far behind us as we were to first.  We made a solid showing of it, and we held our heads high, with a remarkable time of 1:46.27.

The rest of the race was lining up to be a disappointment in the face of that excitement.   And yet it managed not to be.  Despite racing in the B division (of A through E), Bridge City Blitz Blue was right where we needed to be.  In the face of tough competition, we just weren’t a A division team, yet.  So we went out for one more race, the B division final.  We got lined up, and we were off!  Once again, as in Victoria, we seemed to fall behind early.

But then something magical happened.  We hit our stride.  We hit our pace.  We hit our power.  And we worked, one stroke at a time, to recover our ground.  We went from fourth pace to third, third place to second, and we felt good, we felt strong… and the race was over.  We didn’t know where we’d ended up, only that we’d put everything into it that we could.

We got back to the dock and met up with our coach, still unsure of how we placed.  He started by thanking us for the year of practice, for trying our hardest, for being a team.  He told us that, no matter what, he was proud of what we’d accomplished.  But then… then he told us that he was even more proud that we’d taken first!  With a time of 1:59.08, we'd edged our way into the lead and won by less than 3/10ths of a second!

The cheer that went through our huddle was the most heartfelt I’d heard in a long time.  We’d worked for it, we wanted it, we did everything – and we got it.  Winning with those conditions felt GOOD.

One side effect of winning the division championship was that it meant our day wasn’t over.  We, as a team, qualified for the end-of-the-day Guts to Glory race.  While all the races thus far were 500 meters, the Guts to Glory was a 2000 meter race around the Marquam and Hawthorne bridges. At the end of the day, after racing and racing, our Women’s Blue team qualified and our Mixed Blue team qualified.

And it started with the ladies. They piled into the boat, lined up, and, TEN MINUTES later, took second in that race.  What no other team realized, though, is that, for the mixed race, all our ladies came from the Women’s Blue boat.  That meant that eight of those strong women knocked an endurance race out of the park, pulled up to the dock, and got on the boat to do it again.

We were less successful.  What hurt us was that there was confusion among the eight boats participating as to the coarse, so the first two teams cut a corner.  The third boat through almost did, then swung around, and, in the fourth position, we started to, but then we realized we needed to swing around as well and that just killed our velocity.  The boat died in the water as we suddenly changed course, and our line around the bridge pilings was extremely wide.  We got passed by several boats.  We started to make up ground, but it was getting crowded on the water.  We pulled, and strained, and paddled hard, but we ended up in sixth place.  But you know what?  At the end of the race, we were all energized.  I think if we’d run the same race everyone else had, we’d have made a better showing of it.  But this race was for fun, and fun was had, and 9:27:27 is not a bad time for 2000 meters!

After putting the boats away we distributed medals. I ended up with a gold and a silver, the best showing yet from any race.  But more importantly, I’d scrubbed the memory of the race from last year.

Water Voyage

Friday, August 31, 2012
This is a story of luck, technology, and a little bit of planning.

This past Wednesday, as I do most Wednesdays, I took an outrigger canoe (OC-6) out with a team of people. I've been steering the boat, so I sit in the bench in the very back. Since I'm steering, I'm more or less responsible for the boat and the paddlers, so I've been taking my iPhone with me, just in case I need to call for help.

Of course, there's a good change of a huli (flipping the boat over) on the outrigger, so I purchased a waterproof phone bag in which to put my phone, so that if I got dunked, it would survive. Despite the fact that the bag color option was only "camoflauge", I liked it because it also claimed to be buoyant. Fast forward to Wendesday night. I put my phone in the case, put the case in my pocket, and I remember thinking "boy, that doesn't feel very secure in there, I hope it doesn't fall out", but, last time I felt that way, I just managed to adjust the bag such that it was below the level of the side of the boat, and all was fine. Of note, the boat is narrow in the back; the bench I sit on is only a half-inch wider than my hips.

phone in the dry bag

We left the Riverplace Marina, just south of the Hawthorne Bridge, and headed south to go around Ross Island. We took a break just south of the Ross Island Bridge, then paddled hard down the Holgate Channel to the houseboats on the south side of the island, where we prepared to turn around and return along the main channel. It was then that I noticed that my phone was no longer in my pocket - it had fallen out sometime in the past 45 minutes!


An iPhone 4S isn't inexpensive, and trying to replace one would be prohibitively expensive. I was trying not to freak out, but I let the other five paddlers know what was going on and asked if they wouldn't mind heading back the way we came, in case we could find it. I asked if anybody else happend to have a smartphone, and, thankfully, a fellow paddler had his iPhone with him in a dry-bag. We paddled back, pulled up next to a houseboat so we wouldn't drift, and I started using his phone.

I had long ago enabled the "Find My iPhone" feature on my phone, which would force it to check in, give me the location, and allow me to force it to make a sound. However, I was a long way from a computer. Fortunately, I was able to download the Find My iPhone app and sign in with my iCloud account. I held my breath as I clicked on my phone.

 ... and it checked in! I could see that, only seconds ago, my phone gave its location as a small area just south of the Ross Island Bridge (about a mile and a half downstream), close to the east bank of the river. We immediately paddled back north along the Holgate Channel.

The minutes seemed like hours, but I did my best to keep up centered in the current, paddling hard to get the boat downstream as quickly as possible. I envisioned my phone continuing to float past the bridge, into the construction area where the new Caruthers Bridge is being built. Perhaps it would get lodged against or even sucked under a barge? I was trying not to panic, and steeling myself for having to jump in the river to try to fetch my phone - assuming we could find it!

Finally we approached the Ross Island Bridge. I fished my friend's phone back out of his dry-bag and checked for my phone's location again. It hadn't moved much! It was still just south of the bridge, and looked like it was very close to the shore. We approached, and I saw a few people hanging out on the rocky shore - not normally a place that's terribly accessible. We steered the boat slowly toward the bank and I started looking for my phone.

One slight issue with the Find My iPhone app is that it's very good at telling you where your phone is, but it's not as great at telling you where you are in relation to it - you don't show up on the map, just the phone. The app told me - within about 5 feet - where my phone was, but it took my a second to realize we were floating about 20 feet past where it was supposed to be. We backed up the boat - and I spotted it, bobbing gently against the rocks!

We pulled the boat close, being careful not to ground it. I was all set to jump out, when a gentleman happened past where we were looking, only 10 feet away. We got his attention, and pointed him to my phone (which, with the camoflauge, he didn't immediately spot, even though it was nearly at his feet.) He picked it up - and started draining some water out of it. My face fell - the phone was active, but had it gotten soaked? Would it be permanently damaged?

He was kind enough to toss it to us in the boat, so we didn't have to get out. We thanked him as the phone was passed back to me. I quickly opened it up, and found that, while damp on the inside, the phone wasn't soaking wet. It was as if it had been in my pocked in a rainstorm. Still, I quickly powered it off, intending to dry it out.

After we got back and celebrated retrieving my phone, I took it home. I put it in a bag of rice to help dry it out. Then the 36-hour wait began, as I didn't want to risk turning it on early.

This morning, I finally pulled it out of the bag. I plugged it into my computer, keeping my fingers crossed. It started up... and connected, synced, and started to charge! I quickly ran through a battery of tests: phone call, text, GPS, phone - they all worked! The thrill was a natural high.

In the end, it was a great deal of luck, but had I not purchase a buoyant dry-bag, the phone wouldn't have succcessfully floated on the Willamette for an hour or so. Had I not thought ahead to enable Find My iPhone, the amazing technology wouldn't have enabled us to track it. But had my friend not brought HIS iPhone, we wouldn't have found it... and that doesn't count all the other terrible things that could have happened to it. Like I said, planning, technology, and a whole lot of luck!

Update: after writing this, I looked up Evans' Branch, the company that made the dry bag.  It appears they're no longer in business.  Their website goes to a default Apache web server page, and the phone numbers are not answered by anyone who's ever heard of them.  Tragic, 'cause I was going to call and thank them.

Trek In The Park: Journey to Babel

Tuesday, August 28, 2012
This year's Trek In The Park presentation was "Journey To Babel". While I've attended in years past at Woodlawn Park in NE Portland, this year the venue changed to Cathedral Park, a much more beautiful, open, and generally quieter park with a larger audience area.  Where once we'd be in a small amphitheater with no real stage and with half the audience sitting behind the show, this new location had a nice stage, no opportunity for behind-the-stage sitting, and room for over twice as many people to watch!

Trek In The Park!

I arrived at the show over 3 hours early, and was rewarded with a comfortable spot close to the stage. With the hectic schedule I'd been keeping, it was nice to just sit in the park and relax, watching it fill in with an unbelievable number of people.  I've always maintained that, at the Trek in the Park shows, you'll never see as many sandals-worn-with-socks and so few biceps in one place, yet, in the end, these are my people.  Familes gathered to enjoy this presentation of a classic Star Trek episode - the one where we first meet Spock's parents, Sarek and Amanda - and enjoy the wry humor that a live presentation can really bring out.

Technically, this presentation was superior to previous ones as there was better sound, more room for props, amazing costumes, and more.  From an acting standpoint, as it's the same troop that's presented in years past, it has little room for growth as everyone was excellent.

I can't say enough good things about this, except that I'll definitely be there next year.  They hinted, at the end, that a fifth year (I missed the first one, but have caught the following three) might be the last.  If so, that would be a loss for all of us.

Victoria Dragonboat Festival 2012

Sunday, August 26, 2012

This past weekend, I traveled up to the Victoria Dragonboat Festival. We headed up to Port Angeles, leaving at a  leisurely 11 AM. My friend drove, and we chatted and laughed at the comedians whose recordings we'd brought with us. We left his car in Port Angeles, bought tickets, and boarded the MV Coho for a 90 minute journey to Victoria, BC, where I was looking forward to my first international dragonboat race.

I've only been on a ferry once before, that I remember. In 2005, I think, I took a motorcycle trip up I-5 to US-101 (the same path we took today) except I took the ferry back over from some other town back, essentially, to I-5, just south of the Canadian border. This trip was pleasant, although, despite reaching 100 degrees in Portland, it was mid-60s in Port Angeles and even cooler in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

My friend and I stayed in a hostel, the HI-Victoria, in downtown Victoria.  That night we set out to see the city's waterfront, we met up with some friends, we all had a fun time hanging out in this beautiful city.

After a night of fitful sleep with the room, for some reason, stiflingly hot, it was time to stumble out of bed and head down to the festival. We got there and found that the team, Bridge City Blitz Blue, had our first race in the 10th heat.

After stretching out, we stood in the sun and watches a race come in, finish, park, then unload. We loaded and paddled out into the busy harbor. We got lined up... and then we were off.

These boats were different that the ones we use in Portland. They felt as big as the ones we normally paddle on, but without a center brace. Also, the foot bar was really close, and I was having trouble bracing myself. Still, in the first race, we posted 2:05.20, a respectable time, beat only by a sub-2:00.00 team. For reference, we were the seventh fasted team (out of roughly sixty) in the first half of the day.

After an obnoxiously long break in which we sat for three and a half hours instead of racing and I gorged myself on mixed dried fruit medley, it was time for our second race.

We marshaled down to the boats and loaded up. I found a better place for my foot to be, though the boat felt slightly different and, honestly, it could have been the same spot on a different boat. Still, we paddled out... and immediately had to pull into a cove so the MV Coho could depart with a load of passengers bound for America.

When the next race started, we felt good. Still, the top-seeded team that they placed against us shot ahead. Try as we might, and sucking down as much air as I could, we were unable to catch them. At the end of the race, we were once again second with a time of 2:04.71, beat by another sub-2:00.00 team.

Then came the open division, aka "Man Boat" (with a lady or two on board and with our ranks supplemented by an excellent fellow team).  We  got our first chance to compete for a medal that night.  After a terrible start in which the announcer said "go" immediately after we were backing up the boat on her command, we took off, powering down the coarse.  We took second, and it was good, with a time of 1:55.80. We were the second fastest boat to race all day!  That's the first time I've ever been on a boat with a sub-2:00.00 time!

That night I went for a run along the waterfront, ate dinner, and went to bed early very, very sore. I did sleep better than the previous night, since it was notably cooler in the room.

Sunday morning, after packing up and checking out of the hostel, the team gathered early. We warmed up, stretched out, and then watched two of our boats race in their respective semifinals on a chilly morning that the announcer, from Victoria, compared to a morning in Portland.

Then it was time for Bridge City Blitz Blue to show our stuff in the Diamond division (second only to the Platinun division.)  We loaded up, paddled out... And had to wait for the MV Coho to leave the harbor. We moved some more... Then had to wait aboard the boat while the little water taxis did some dance that I couldn't see. Finally, race time. We had a terrible start, this time of our own making, and 200 meters into a 500 meter race, we were reportedly in third. Then we hit our power. Our boat jumped ahead, stroke by stoke, easily overtaking the boats ahead of us to post a finish time of 2:05.84 in first place. We gave everything we had, and we secured the best spot for the finals.

Then it was time to wait, and, almost 5 hours later, it was finally time for the Diamond mixed championship, with five boats already racing for that division's consolation prize. We'd secured the best spot (lane 3 of 5) and we had the best time of any team going into the race. After waiting, again, for the MV Coho to take off, we launched. We paddled hard. In my peripheral vision, I could see the boats next to us; the race was on. We paddled as hard as we could. I was constantly checking to make sure I was in sync with the paddler ahead of me.  I put everything I had into the race, and so did my teammates. But at the end, we only came in a close 3rd with a heartbreaking time of 2:09.56. It was the bronze medal for us, and my promise to myself to buy a nicer paddle if we took home the gold didn't need to be filled.

Some folks had the attitude of "hey, at least we got the medal". Sure, it's nice. But coming in third in a race we that was ours to lose? Disappointing, to say the least. Nothing feels worse than knowing that a race is yours to lose... and losing it.

But the team rallied in the beer garden, which I'd swear was filled more with Portlanders than folks from anywhere else.  'Twas good times, as we celebrated Team Velocity (they're the women's boat from Bridge City Paddling Club) and their platinum-division championship win.

My friend and I took the ferry back that night and chatted about how much fun the whole trip was.  And, during the long drive back, my thoughts kept drifting toward the upcoming Portland race...

A Classy Citizen

Thursday, August 02, 2012
It was a nice, sunny, summer afternoon when my friend and I took a walk through northeast Portland. On a quiet street, we spotted a bucket of sidewalk chalk, which a child had obviously used to draw a hopscotch game (or three) on the sidewalk in the shaky hand that only children and the elderly have. As we passed, we noted the presence of the chalk, but the definite absence of the child. It wasn't unusual; it was nearing the dinner hour.

However, what drew my eye was, in large, confidently written letters, the word "poop" inscribed in chalk the middle of the hopscotch field. I rolled my eyes, amused at this mostly-harmless and childishly funny bit of humor. Someone of questionable maturity had obviously borrowed the chalk and thought it would be funny to write. They weren't too far off the mark.

A little further past the hopscotch, on the block's corner, someone had written, in even larger letters, the word "ASS". The culprit was definitely treading the edge of taste in their vandalism.

The word 'ASS' written in chalk on the sidewalk...

My friend and I pondered this as we passed. Acknowledging the existence of the chalk and the wonton scrawling of profanity on the sidewalk, we felt it was our civic duty to correct it. But how should we do it? Then, as we were walking back past it later, it hit us.

Borrowing the chalk, we updated the message to something less troublesome. That's right, "Stay clASSy, Portland!" was our contribution toward cleaning up that street.

...becomes 'Stay Classy, Portland!'

We didn't quite get the color of the chalk to match. I'm sure no one will notice.

The Fence Post

Wednesday, July 11, 2012
The astute reader might recall that I bought a house about two-and-a-half years ago. When I bought the house I knew that the fence would need replacing. Despite, at the time, being only 4 years old, it was obviously in terrible condition. In a decision with far-reaching, expensive, and often painful repercussions, I resolved to rebuild it at some point in the future. I planned on the summer of 2011 for the project. Since it's the summer of 2012 and I'm just now writing this, it's a safe assumption that it didn't happen then. No, after patching together a couple parts of the fence that fell down over the winter, I finally started this project in May of this year. My plan was to take a week off of work to build a retaining wall and a fence. I'd worked out a schedule and a rough budget ahead of time; I'd arranged for friends and family to help with a guideline on what I'd need, and when I'd need it.
Hofstadter's Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.
It started a week before my "vacation", when my brother and I took down the existing fence. It took a matter of minutes to knock the old fence down; most of the 4x4 posts had rotted, even being pressure treated, and broke off easily enough. (I'm pretty sure pressure treated wood will still rot, especially when it's buried under a foot of soil that's almost always moist.) What took the most time was disassembling the fence; we took off the existing boards, rotted though many of them were, and set them aside.

Then came trench time. I'd allocated a few days to dig a trench and build a retaining wall. I'd planned on a 12" wall running the length of the property, with a small trench filled with gravel on which this could sit. This is where the plan fell apart.

First, I couldn't rent an appropriate trencher. The ones I saw wouldn't dig wide enough and there was a one-foot elevation difference between the two sides of the trench. Second, and perhaps more importantly, we ended up having to take out all the existing concrete that had been used to build the old fence, and there was more of it than I'd thought. It turns out that, for a fence that had been built in 2006, it had already rotted and been repaired in a couple places. Rather than learning from their mistakes, whoever repaired it simply left the concrete in place and dug another hole next to it, using longer 2x4s on one side of the new post and shorter 2x4s on the other. We ended up taking out over 15 blocks of concrete that had been used.

At this point I really figured out that there are several reasons the fence was falling down. I'd initially attributed it to people bumping it with their cars and just being a cheap fence, but neither of those were accurate. I realized, after taking it down, that the builders had been using the fence as a surrogate retaining wall. In soil that practically never sees the light of day, I found that the fence had slid out from the house somewhere between six inches and a foot at various times as the extremely moist soil slid away from my house. The only phrase I can come up with for such bone-headed thinking and execution is "malicious incompetence". The people who built this fence not only did a terrible, ineffective job, but in doing so they made it harder to do right later.

The trench wasn't finished in a day. It wasn't even finished in three days. As I got futher into it, I realized that I needed an 18" wall instead of a 12" one (effectively adding 50% to just the cost of the wall.) Then, not only did I have to line the trench with gravel (which I purchased from the excellent Oregon Decorative Rock store), I needed to rent a compacter in order to really flatten it. (Kudos to my adventure buddy for helping me with both the realization and execution of this.)

A trench, freshly dug (by hand)

After digging a trench that was at least 14" wide, 6-7" deep (on the short side, 20" deep on the tall side), and 110' long (the lenght of the property, plus wrapping around in the front yard a little), and then lining it with gravel, the time came to put in the retaining wall stones. This, I might add, happened Thursday, which my original schedule labeled as "the day to build a fence."

I had four pallets of retaining wall stones delivered. Each pallet had 45 stones; each stone was 16" long, 12" deep, 6" tall, and weighed 60 pounds. My buddy, my dad, and I started building the wall. It became quickly apparent that I'd ordered far too few stones; we'd need at least another pallet's worth. After putting the initial 180 into place, we ran to Home Depot, rented their truck, and took another pallet home... then went and returned the truck, driving home with 16 more blocks. In the end, we put down over 14,400 pounds of retaining wall that day. That was a very, very hard day, but, in the end, the wall looked amazing.

The best-looking retaining wall you've ever seen.

While digging the trench, I'd also measured out where I was going to put the fence posts and pre-dug those holes (much easier to do when most of the soil was already out of the way. With the wall finished, it was time to attend to the fence posts. While the original posts were simply a 4x4 embedded in concrete, I went a different direction. My dad recommended steel brackets embedded in concrete, to which I would bolt a 4x4. It sounded like a lot more work, but I took his advice. Why? Because he built a fence that way 25 years ago, and, as of last year, it was still standing. (Update: I checked on it while I was writing this post. There was a new fence in place, but it looked to be built using the original brackets that he'd embedded in concrete so many years ago. That longevity, combined with the fact that the rebuild was undoubtedly easier, was why I took his advice.) 

So I spent the next two weeks after building the retaining wall pouring concrete. I used cardboard tubes 10" in diameter and 2' deep to hold the concrete where I wanted it. I poured about 150-160 pounds of concrete into each hole, and I had 11 holes to fill. Yes, that's over 1500 lbs of concrete, all mixed and poured by hand. This phase of the project I did alone. I did try one shortcut - on one post, I tries using quick-setting concrete, as someone had recommended to me. I was not happy with the results and didn't use it again; more on that later. It was a brutal project; the bags of concrete, at 80 pounds, were ungainly to move around and a lot of work to mix and put in place; on the last day I was able to put 9 solid hours of work into the project and filled the last 5 holes, embedding and leveling the brackets as I went, making sure, on the advice of my neighbor, to check and re-check and make sure I had no more than 8' between each bracket.

The concrete wasn't easy.

While the concrete dried and set I took a week off and only spent a few hours moving dirt from the piles around my yard to start filling in behind the wall and around the concrete. It was nice, light work - at least, it felt that way compared to the previous weeks. 

Then the vacation was over. I had to start building the actual bones of the fence. I started with the 4x4s. Portland city code allows me to build a fence 6' tall at my property line without a permit. Since it's based on the elevation of my property, and the retaining wall merely retained earth (versus adding elevation), I only needed 6' posts. I ended up purchasing 6 12' pressure-treated 4x4s, and Home Depot was kind enough to cut them in half for me. A few days later, I rented another Home Depot truck and got the 2x4s I thought I'd need. 

It was a sunny 4th of July, almost a month after I started my project, that the time came to put the 4x4s in place. My coworker, her husband, and my brother all came to help me out. We were able to put the wood in place faster than I'd thought we'd be able to. It was only when we were trying to mount the 2x4s that I ran into a problem. Although the brackets were 8' apart and the 4x4s were level and vertical, somehow I ended up with an 8'2" gap between posts 3 and 4. I was NOT pleased. Ultimately, however, we were able to finish the bones that day.

The bones of the fence being built.

The weekend following the fourth, I put up the boards on the fence. Partially due to re-using the old boards, partially out of concern based on the pressures of the wind and the loose soil, I decided to build (for now) a "good neighbor" fence, which would allow wind to pass through with little obstruction. It took merely hours (maybe eight, total) to put the boards up and then be able to call my fence project, for now, "done".

The finished fence.  It looks so much better!

Of course, there's more to do. I plan to extend the retaining wall in the front yard, do more landscaping, put down barkdust, install a plant or two, and perhaps replace the used, half-rotted boards with something newer and nicer-looking. But, for now, I was able to close this project out, over a month behind schedule and more than $1,000 over budget (roughly another 50% of the original budget.) 

Here's a before-and-after picture. The "before" comes from February 2010, when I was buying the house. You can't see the further decay that happened over the following two years, but you can see, in the "after" picture, how nice it looks now.

Old fence vs. new fence

Final stats: 
  • Retaining wall length: 110 feet 
  • Retaining wall blocks used: 241 
  • Retaining wall weight: 14,460 pounds 
  • Tons of gravel in the trench: 2.75 
  • Concrete mix used: 1545 pounds 
  • Fence boards re-used: 174 
  • Man-hours: in excess of 96 
  • Total calendar days start-to-finish: 42 
  • Total Project cost: in excess of $2,288.30

Motorcycle Cornering Clinic

Monday, July 02, 2012

After an amazing weekend, how do I cap it off?  I take Monday morning off of work, hop on my motorcycle, and go to a Team Oregon cornering clinic at Pat's Acres Racing Complex in Canby.  The goal was to work on making turns smoother (and thus safer) while being, at the same time, faster and more precise.  It was an amazing class!

This was actually my second attempt at taking the class.  The first attempt was during the week I took off to build a fence (or, as it turned out, build a retaining wall.)  That class got rained out.  Today's weather was sunny and warm, almost perfect conditions for motorcycling comfortably!  I got there at 9:10 AM, unfortunately a few minutes late, but was able to jump right in.  The first time around was a chance to learn the turns and the best lines to take.  We were going counter-clockwise, or, as my boss - who used to race go-karts there informed me - "the proper way".  We weren't allowed to pass, but it really wasn't necessary.  Then we went out to try it again, with higher speeds.  We could pass along the straight if we needed (and I both passed and was passed) and there were instructors out there at some of the turns, coaching us on timing.  It was like the classes I teach, but instead of 5-15 miles per hour in a parking lot, we were doing 10-50 miles per hour on a race track.  The feedback was good, and I worked on my timing, making sure I was on the throttle before the turn, and making sure the bike was positioned properly.  I won't say I was necessarily very good at any of those things, but I was improving quickly.  It was fun braking hard and feeling the anti-lock brakes on my back tire barely kick in before I was ready to get on the throttle and turn.

Then we took a break, which I needed.  I was already dehydrated - yesterday's racing does that to you - and this gave me an opportunity to down some fluids quickly.  The lead instructor gave us some feedback, "the turns are okay, you're all braking too late, but your head turns are generally excellent - as I would expect from a group of instructors."  We all chuckled.  

Upon resuming, we did the exact same exercises in the opposite direction.  This shouldn't have come as a surprise to me, since we do it in the classes I teach, but it did.  That realization made me laugh, as my students are always surprised when we reverse an exercise.  Starting out, I was again terrible - my lines were all botched, my speeds were all wrong, and I felt like I didn't know how to ride a motorcycle.  Still, a few laps in, things smoothed out.  

The final task was to have an instructor follow us around the track for a couple laps, then give us feedback.  The feedback I received was "Burton, your apexes aren't great.  For two turns in the same direction, try to have an early apex; for two turns in the opposite direction, try to have a late apex.  Now go play."  That direction, "go play", isn't something I expected to hear, but I definitely went out and try my turns differently.  I could feel when I was closer to getting it right, and was frustrated when I could tell it was wrong.  Still, it was exciting!

In all, I put 95 miles on my motorcycle this morning, and the round trip was about 66 miles.  That means that I put almost 29 miles on my bike and, considering the track is only about half a mile long, that means I went around over 55 times!  This was one of the most fun things I've done on my motorcycle in years.  I learned a lot, got great advice and feedback, and will hopefully use this to improve my riding even more!  I hope the advanced rider training class, of which the cornering clinic is a portion of and which was in the classroom while we were on the track, learns as much.

Salem Dragon Boat Race 2012

Yesterday was the Salem World Beat Festival Dragon Boat Races.  

The first two races for each team were going to be 2-boat heats to determine the division and lane placement for the final race.  With 24 mixed teams represented, there were going to be 6 different divisions.  Our goal was to have the gold boat and the blue boat racing each other in the final. 

Blue boat, the fast boat, on which I was a last-minute substitute paddler, was up first for the mixed races.   We boarded the boats and paddled to the starting line.  The boat buzzed with energy and nerves as we all focused.  The officials lined up both boats, and off we went.  Our timing was spot-on, our power was excellent - it all flowed together.  The race was over quickly, it seemed, and we handily beat our competition, posting a time of 2.19.00, the third fastest time of that qualifying heat and less than a second off the fastest time.

As we unloaded, everyone but me gathered up for the post-race feedback.  I hopped in line with the gold boat crew, the crew I was officially on, who were already being marshaled into staging.  My benchmate was kind and let me paddle on the opposite side that I was on for the blue boat, so I wouldn't over-stress myself.  We boarded the boat, paddled to the lineup, and were off!  Much like the blue boat's race, we easily beat the other boat, posting a time of 2:21.55, the fourth fastest time of that heat.  I was gasping for air at the end, definitely feeling the rush and the exertion.  Our timing wasn't quite as good as the blue boat's, and our rate was higher, but we made a good showing for ourselves.

thanks to NWPaddler for this picture

Then time passed.  There were 8 boats for the women's-only division that had to race, plus plenty of other mixed races.  On top of that, the races had started a little late and the lunch break ended up coming a little early.  So I hung out with the team, trying not to snack too much (and to snack in a healthy fashion when I did.)  

Eventually, it was time for the second heat.  Again, I lined up with the blue boat and we went down for the race.  Again, we crushed the competing boat (the word was that we were ahead by 6 boat-lengths) and posted a time of 2:15.39.  It was still the third best, but it was just about a half-second off the best time for that heat.  Again, I had to jump in the gold boat immediately after the race, and by the time that race was completed with a winning time of 2:20.90, I felt completely spent.  I was leaving everything I could muster out on the water.  

After the second heats came the finals.  I watched our women's teams compete in the A and B divisions; they were both super-strong.  Many of those women were also on the mixed crews, so I knew I couldn't complain about the paddling on two boats.  In fact, I was having fun; the exertion was exhilarating and made me feel useful.  Watching the ladies race was intense; they had incredible power and timing.  The women's team (aka "Velocity") posted a 2nd place finish for the B division and a 1st place finish for the A division.  They were the fastest women at the race!

Then came game-time for the mixed crews.  There was a logistical issue because, with all four boats racing in the finals, there wasn't time to get marshaled for the second team.  Since they loaded and unleaded two boats at a time, there was a strong possibility that I'd be on the water when the boat I was supposed to be on was loading.  It was decided that, though I was only subbing on the blue team, I would end up racing in the blue final.  Strangely, I wasn't as thrilled as I thought I'd be.  I felt like I was letting the gold team down.  Our coach found a paddler to replace me on the boat, but I still felt like I should have been there.  As the blue boat stood on the dock, the B division race was coming to a finish, and I watched the gold boat participate in the closest finish I'd ever seen.  I couldn't tell who was first and who was fourth!

Our time came.  We loaded up for the A division final race.  The three teams ahead of us were all within a half-second of our time.  What made it fun was that one guy who steered for our women's boat was paddling for a competing team, and another boat had a bunch of people I've been on the outrigger with, so there was honest meaning when we said "good luck" to each other.  Our boat was the closest to the shore as we lined up... and we were off!  Our team had an amazing start.  Everything just felt right.  Our timing felt perfect, our power was incredible... it was working!  Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the boat next to us drift further away.  I remember thinking "that's odd, there's a boat in lane 3".  Suddenly I heard the sound of wood slapping.  I could tell, though I was highly focused on MY boat, that the two boats had come close enough for the paddler's paddles to hit each other.  I remember thinking "that'll slow them down", when all of a sudden I heard "let it run!", our command to stop paddling.  We stopped and sat up, confused.  Apparently, boats two and three had collided, then run into the bridge.  The race was going to have to be re-run.  I could barely hold back my frustration; would we be able to do such a perfect start again?

We slowly circled back to the start position and lined up.  We all knew that in this race, whichever team had the right start was likely to win.  The officials had us moving backward and forward as they lined us up - and our boat ended up moving backward when they called the start.  The boat in lane 3, however, was moving forward - and they jumped out of the water, taking a boat-length lead in front of everyone else.  We paddled hard, though.  Our timing bobbled halfway through the race, but we got it in check.  We were pulling as we put everything into the water... and then the race was over.  We took 2nd place, the second-fasted boat on the water that day, with a 2:20.19, merely hundredths of a second ahead of third place.  Being second was a rough emotion; we were genuinely happy for the winning team, yet we knew we didn't do as well the second time around as we did the first.  We could have won!

But the race was over.  Second place would have to do.  



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