Friday, August 22, 2014

All Good Things Must Go Out With A Bang

This past Monday and Tuesday was my last work weekend before my last semester of school starts up. Naturally, with it being a weekend, I avoided mediocrity. Monday was my work week Saturday, and I spent pretty much the whole time trying to fix Robert, my mountain bike. Yes, I named my mountain bike. Judge away. I'd like to note that I recently acquired a friend named Robert, and they have nothing to do with each other. I did, however, let it slip one time that I was "gonna go ride Robert" and have since then gotten a barrage of jokes about myself and the human Robert. The bike Robert's rear brake has been broken for a while. Last time I tried to ride it, the brake locked up and wouldn't release, then the handle wouldn't return to it's original position. I took it to the shop that usually does my repairs (I'm not the most mechanically inclined person, but for the most part, I'm just too lazy to do repairs myself) and they told me the brakes just need to be bled. Despite my skepticism, I paid them to bleed the brakes. Which they didn't. They told me they did, but they didn't, and when I argued, the guy just argued back. I decided to get a second opinion, and not take my bike back there ever again. The consensus is that 1) the brakes I have (Avid Juicy 3s) are kinda crap in the first place 2) they have lasted me 7 years, even if they were good brakes to begin with, it's time to retire them 3) at the very least, the handle needed to be rebuilt, but more than likely, they just need to be replaced. The rebuild kit I found was only $10, so I bought it and gave it a shot.
This is Robert

This is the bike stand I rigged

About the time I gave up

 Needless to say, I failed miserably. I rebuilt the handle successfully, but I still couldn't get the brakes to bleed. My friend Dave had just bought his first mountain bike that day and was determined to ride. He is also an aircraft mechanic, and decided to try and fix my brakes for me so we could go ride. He also gave up. I hadn't ridden Robert in all too long though, so we went riding anyway. Him with a fully functioning mountain bike fresh off craigslist, and me with an older bike completely lacking a rear brake. I never use my front brake when I ride. How I survived that ride is beyond me. I have ordered a new rear brake. Trying to install it will likely be an adventure in and of itself.

Tuesday was my last "Adventure Tuesday" with my friend Lacy (we both have Tuesdays off, so we go do something adventurous and call it Adventure Tuesday). She is switching days off and I have to start school back up - shoot me now. Lacy and I decided our last Adventure Tuesday would be well spent trying and discover this neat swimming hole along the Ozark Highlands Trail. For those of you interested, this is supposed to be 5 miles west of the Haw Creek Falls campground (along highway 123) on the Ozark Highlands Trail near Cedar Creek Campground.
Swimming hole off the Ozark Highland Trail near Cedar Creek
Unfortunately, about a mile into our hike, Lacy got really sick and we had to turn back. Like, puked everywhere and my dog Xena wanted to eat it sick. Honestly though, that was probably for the best. Despite our efforts with bug spray, we are both completely ate up with chiggers and seed ticks. The day wasn't a complete loss though. The Haw Creek Falls Campground where you start the hike is actually pretty nice. Apparently, it's a lot nicer when it rains though.
What Haw Creek Falls usually looks like

What Haw Creek Falls looked like when we were there

Haw Creek when we were there

As pitiful as the falls were, the water still felt awesome, and I still jumped in after we got back from our short hike. I might have drug Xena in with me. She hates swimming. And heights. I drag her in the water and to the edge of cliffs with me all the time. I don't know why that dog still puts up with me. That just goes to show you how loyal dogs are, even when their owners are ass holes.

After I got home, I immediately left. My friend Dave has a couple 50cc dirt bikes (yes, the ones built for 5 year olds), and we've been meaning to take them out for a while. Near where he lives there's a huge spider web of dirt roads and back roads that don't even look like roads that are perfect for exploring. I had survived riding a mountain bike without rear brakes the day before, surely a 50cc dirt bike on actual roads wouldn't be that bad. I wrecked. But only once. I would just like to say, a dirt bike that's smaller than you is pretty squirly. Especially when you've got it all the way out, your center of gravity is way higher than it should be, and you hit a death cookie (a large, loose rock in the middle of the road). I really only got a scratch, but it made me realize, I haven't had a good wreck or even so much as a scratch since I cut my elbow to the bone during my last triathlon in 2011. I'm not sure if that means I'm much better at not getting hurt, or if I haven't been pushing it hard enough.
My injury from my scrap with the death cookie

Later, during our ride on the 50's, Dave and I stumbled across this gem. A graveyard. In the middle of the woods off some back country road that hasn't even been traveled enough to keep the weeds down. Creepy, right? Someone has been keeping up with it though. Two of the headstones had been replaced or updated, but everyone died before WW1. This poor couple had two sons who both died very young. The second photo is of one of their headstones. The date of death is 19 Aug 1912. We found the graveyard on 19 Aug 2014, 102 years later. Creepy. We quickly decided this is how horror movies started and we needed to leave before we found ourselves face to face with an axe murderer or ghost child.
The two updated headstones

Check out the date of death
Redneck target practice area
 The next thing we stumbled upon was apparently a redneck shooting ground. While this find was less creepy than the first, it was more likely that we would wind up face to face with a dangerous character in this spot. Surprisingly, neither of us were packing heat. Honestly not sure how that happened. So when we started hearing gunfire coming from about 150-200 meters away, we jumped back on the bikes and hauled ass out of there.

Unfortunately, that pretty well brings an end to my last real weekend of the year. Considering that my summer more or less ended with gunshots and no injuries, I'm calling it a pretty good ending. That's not, however, the end of the years adventures. There will be several more to come.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

"Well, there goes that antibiotic.."

While driving home from Houston Monday, I came across this view. I could hear the river and I was so tired I was desperate for nap near it. Alas, I felt I couldn't drive off the cliff, nor climb into the ravine if I wanted to make it home that night. So I did the next best thing. I texted my friends Lacy and Shelby and told them we would be camping Tuesday night. Apparently, it was a wonderful idea, because they both agreed.
The view that inspired our camping trip
So after I got home Monday night, I unpacked, and repacked. We met up, and headed to Devils Den State Park. After we got there, I suggested we start on the booze early and wait to put up our tents until we were thoroughly intoxicated. Thankfully, we decided against that. It was eventful enough sober.
Me putting up my hammock and Shelby watching in amazement

This is me trying to put my hammock up. That's right, I don't sleep in a tent. I sleep in a hammock when I camp. And yes, I am standing on the side of the tree. There was a tiny knob there that provided me with just enough traction to stand on.
My idea of a tent
Here's the finished product, self included. It's actually quite comfortable and I'll probably never sleep on the ground again if I can help it. Of course, I put my sleeping bag and pillow in there later.

Once we got everything set up, we decided it was time for margaritas. Unfortunately, we forgot to bring cups. Lacy and Shelby both chugged bottles of water to pour theirs in. I'm a little more sophisticated. I like my margarita dressed. Actually, I need it dressed. I have an unhealthy obsession with salt. We had eaten at Sonic on our way there, and I still had my sonic cup. Lacy came up with the most genius idea ever for the salt.
An idea worth patenting

Here it is. Salt in the lid of a sonic cup. Best idea ever. Especially since you can never get enough salt on the rim of a glass to do justice for the margarita within.

Once we had our drinks ready, we headed for a trail up the side of the mountain. Wise choice? Yes. Unfortunately, we didn't take nearly enough margaritas for our 3 mile hike. I was finished long before we got to the top of the mountain and tried to steal Shelby's from her. She tried to stab me, so I gave it back.

About 3/4 of the way up, we came to a small bluff, and I have a thing for sitting on the edge of cliffs, so I had to sit for a minute. I dropped the only water bottle we brought with us, and Lacy and Shelby started harassing me for littering the forest, even though there were several other things down there. So I did the only thing I could. I jumped off the 30 foot bluff.. To a tree which I shimmied down.
Me taking a selfie before I shimmied down the tree
Here's me, on the tree. But before I shimmied down it, I had to take a selfie. I think this is the closest Xena (my dog in the pic) has ever come to a bluff willingly. She's scared of heights. The entire time I was down there, they said she cried and whined, trying to find me. How sweet.

After finding the litter I so carelessly scattered to the forest floor below, I tried to throw it back up on the bluff. And failed. Miserably. I hit the side of the bluff and the water bottle busted. No more water. In case we were planning on sobering up or staying hydrated on this hike (which we weren't), our chances were now ruined. Thus, I started my venture to get back up the bluff. The tree I had shimmied down was too far away from the bluff for me to jump back from the tree to the bluff, so I had to find another way. My movie education saved me once again. Thankfully, Lacy and Shelby had seen the same movie. Mulan.
Climbing the tree like Mulan
They sat on the edge of the bluff and sang to me the whole time. They didn't know the words, but "Did they send me daughters?! .... Something about sons!" came up several times. I couldn't stop laughing, greatly hindering my ability to make it up that tree, which is a lot harder than it looks. I had bark and a dog leash. How Mulan did it with her strip of cloth and a telephone pole is beyond me. She's seriously my hero.

We made it to the top and back down without further incident. Aside from me continuously trying to steal Lacy and Shelby's margaritas. Which didn't work. We got back to the camp and I promptly poured more margarita for myself and left them to fend for themselves. Shelby brought some kind of fire starter, which I completely consider cheating when building a camp fire. But the slight intoxication made me more compliant. The fire was supposed to be Shelby's job, but once it got dark, Shelby and Lacy were both too scared to go into the woods. So I did. And I'll note that I had several more margaritas. Xena stayed at the camp, but every time she whined or barked I figured there was a mountain lion about to pounce on me and I was saved only by my drunken stumbles. How I ever made it back with enough wood to keep the fire going is beyond me, but I kept it pretty large.

The usual camping followed. Lots of margaritas, fire, hot dogs, and wildly inappropriate stories which I shouldn't share here. The next morning I woke feeling rather refreshed and decided a good jog was in order. It was freezing and I needed some way to warm up. So, I grabbed Xena and the leftover hotdogs and jogged up the mountain to the first bluff with sunlight on it to warm me up while we had breakfast. I'll admit, the view wasn't bad either.
My view for breakfast
This is where Xena and I had our breakfast. Not bad, right? Shortly after I descended the mountain we had to start packing up our campsite. Again, Lacy and Shelby had to convince me that sobriety was probably best for this endeavor. We were almost out of margaritas anyway. I took home all the leftovers, making me quite the happy camper.


Houston, we have a Loewer.

I love vacations. I wish I could always be on vacation. And be rich. I need to win the lottery.. I would have to spend money on it in the first place though, so that's never going to happen.

Friday, I left right after I got off work at 5AM to drive to Houston to see Sean and Weaver, who just moved there. It took entirely too long to get there. But I got to drive under overpasses in Dallas. Quite possibly one of my most favorite things. Yes, I am easily entertained.

After I got there, we went to the zoo and deliberately disobeyed the signs to not climb on statues.
Saturday we drove down to Galveston. We had initially planned to get surfing lessons, but everywhere we found that did them wanted 24-48 hours notice. We don't plan that far in advance. So instead, I rented a surfboard the size of a house, and we made a go at it ourselves. No lessons, no youtube videos to teach us. Just what we once saw on TV several years ago. It took me all day to figure it out. And by figure it out I mean some guy who knew what he was doing eventually came out and I watched him for about 20 minutes to figure out what I was doing wrong. To be completely honest, I only had to watch him stand up once to figure out what I was doing wrong (not paddling with the wave first), but he was some kind of fine. I thought any longer than 20 minutes and he would get the feeling that I was going to kidnap him and make a skin suit out of him. So I went about my merry way. I did eventually teach myself to ride a wave. I'm super skilled like that. Again though, the board was the size of a house.
If ever I go back to the beach.. or anywhere else the sun shines for all hours of the day, remind me to take extra sunscreen. And lip balm with sunscreen in it. My lips are burnt and blistered to hell. Honestly, drinking out of a straw is about to be impossible. Side note - yes, I do realize those sunglasses are the same ridiculous shades all the frat boys and sowhores wear. They're my wanker shades.

Sunday we left Houston again to go to Six Flags Fiesta. I love roller coasters. I also get motion sickness. I was car sick the whole way there, then we started riding rides. Needless to say, I was pretty much sick the whole day. It was still a blast though!
This is myself, Sean, and Weaver on one of the rides. Sean didn't get the memo to smile. Don't tell anyone we had our phones out taking pictures on the ride, they'll probably sue for copyright infringement or something.

After we got back, I packed up all my crap and left early the next morning. I took a different route so I could stop and see an old friend. Sadly, there weren't any overpasses, but this was somewhere in Oklahoma.
I had to stop. One, because it was beautiful. Two, because I was stuck behind an 18-wheeler going 30 MPH and if I didn't get out from behind him for a little while, I was going to go postal. I could hear the river entirely too well and all I wanted to do was climb down to the river and take a nap. This inspired the camping trip I decided to take the next day. It was rather interesting. I'll save it for next time though. Until then..

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Credit cards in Europe?

As you all may know, I'm planning a 2 month hostel-to-hostel trip to Europe. It's going to be my first trip abroad, so I'm trying to make sure I cover all my bases to make sure nothing insane goes wrong and I get stuck somewhere, however wonderful that might be. So I've talked to a few of my globe-trotting friends.

My friend Thomas, who has been all over Europe, had a good piece of advice for me. He said to make sure I got a credit card with $0 foreign transaction fees, otherwise they would rack up pretty quick and I would end up owing a fortune. Simple, right? Not so much. I spent a good two days looking for the right credit card. One with good rewards, no yearly fee, and no transaction fees is easy to find (I don't worry about the APR since I always pay mine off every month) if you have great credit and are some kind of big spender. Let's be clear. My credit is awesome. When I bought my car last year it was around 780 and I've been building since then. I am not, however, a big spender. I limit the things I buy with my credit card to make sure I never go over what I can actually afford. And I don't afford a lot. At least, not from that account. Well, eventually I got the bright idea to look at my current credit card benefits. BOOM. There it was. My current credit card has no transaction fees. I thought the search was over. I was wrong.

Apparently, in order to travel around Europe with a credit card, you need more than a magnetic strip. In addition to your magnetic strip you need an EMV chip in your credit card (An EMV chip is much harder to duplicate than a simple magnetic strip, making it much safer to use. Especially abroad).  Well, since the US hasn't caught on to this technology yet (the EU started all of this in 1994. That's TWENTY years ago, y'all), we don't have them on a lot of cards. Mine certainly doesn't. So, I'm back on the search. I think I've found a couple that would suit my needs, I just need to quit being lazy and pick one.

Really though, America, why are we 20 years behind this EMV curve? We have tons of companies selling anti-identity theft stuff all over the place. All the hoops you have to jump through if someone steals your card is ridiculous. If this simple little EMV chip can help prevent a lot of that... WHERE YA AT, AMERICA?! 


I suppose I'm starting this thing back up. Not that it ever got off the ground in the first place, but we'll see where it goes this time. The purpose of this blog is mostly going to be more of a journal for me, I think. I've decided that since I'm going to be going on tons of adventures in the future, I should have something other than just pictures to remember them by. I'd like to go back and read what kinds of awesome, stupid, or strange things I did. If anyone else wants to read along, then all the better.

So let's start off. My first and second adventure of this blog are kind of starting at the same time. I'm headed to see some friends in Houston this weekend (woot woot!), and I've finally decided that I'm going to Europe. I'm not just talking about it anymore (like I have for years). I have dates, I put in for a leave of absence from work (which has been tentatively granted), I know which rail pass to get, I have my list of destinations, and I've started buying stuff. This is happening. For two months. It's gonna be awesome, y'all.

Anyway, there's my intro. Perhaps you can learn from the mistakes I'll most certainly make along the way, and I might even realize those mistakes and have some pointers for future travelers. Read along if you wish. Live vicariously through me. Laugh at me. Laugh with me. Be bored with me. Forget this exists (because I probably will). Let's just do it.