Arizona Destinations for Aviation Geeks

Between airplane boneyards and museums, there's a lot for the aviation geeks in Arizona.

Four Air and Space Museums in Arizona
For a sparsely populated state, Arizona has a lot to offer when it comes to air and space museums. The Pima Air Museum is the best-known of the bunch, but there are others that are worth a visit. Here’s a look at them from north to south.
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Why Phoenix Councilman’s Stance on City Parks is Bogus

Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio has come out adamantly against a $2 a day parking fee for about 700 of 5,000 parking spaces at city trailhead parking lots. Here’s what he has to say in the latest newsletter he sent out (including to people like me who never signed up for it).

Let’s parse the massaged public relations quacking and uncover the truth, which will prove that DiCiccio’s stance is nothing more than a bush-league politician’s PR ploy:

1. The voice and presence of people who showed up, who contacted the council members, who passed out fliers and who talked with their friends and neighbors – that at least temporarily stopped the city from adding the $2 parking fee.

Right. So far, every single one of the opposition’s attempts to unite have been an abject failure. The "protest hike" in August fizzled – according to its own Facebook photos, all of five people showed up. Its Twitter feed is followed by an avalanche of 12 people. And The Arizona Republic is reporting that "residents who spoke at the last parks board meeting Aug. 26 were 3-1 in favor of the fee."

2. First the Parks Board was convinced that if it didn’t produce revenue to kick into the general fund that pays normal city operating costs, cuts even harsher than the deep ones imposed in the current budget could be forthcoming. It considered a parking fee as high as $5 a day on hikers

Even at $5, the day fee is still less than the $6 day-use fees at Maricopa County Regional Parks. And I have yet to hear anyone who doesn’t consider that a bargain for excellent trail systems. Phoenix and its parks lag behind – they’re good, but they simply don’t equal the county’s offerings. A day-use fee for Phoenix might lessen the gap. Quality costs.

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Sword Training – A Look at Ryu Iaido

iaido student arizona
Craig has practiced for about 8 years, making him one of the senior students.

My visit to a sword training class studying Araki Mujinsai Ryu Iaido was a great introduction to something new for me. I know – it’s not really the sort of thing you hear about every day.

Here’s what brought me there:

A few weeks ago, I was hanging out at Mama Java’s and overheard some guys talking about visiting Japan. Naturally, I had to horn in on this conversation. Hey, it’s travel!

What I learned was 10 times more interesting than I expected. They weren’t just traveling to see the sights, but planning to visit the home dojo of Araki Mujinsai Ryu Iaido. They are members of the Phoenix dojo, where they study the art Japanese sword training.

Their sensei, David Overby, invited me to a sword training session. I showed up with my camera and snapped the photos in this post. The lighting conditions were a bit tough, especially with the speed of their movements. But it gives you some idea of what a sword training session looks like.

Moving through a kata.

I also got a great sense of the people involved. They’re very welcoming to people interested in learning about their art. It’s a much more collegial atmosphere than the typical martial arts class, with students of all levels freely sharing ideas and tips. There’s some formality, but it’s balanced with a very easygoing vibe.

David even showed me the basic movement overhead cut and let me use his sword to get a feel for it. It’s just one building block of Araki Mujinsai Ryu Iaido, yet so many subtle, interlinked movements comprise it. Just trying that one basic part of the art illustrated the dedication of becoming even remotely proficient at Araki Mujinsai Ryu Iaido, which encompasses more than 60 sequences of movement with the Japanse sword (each called a kata, a term familiar to people who have studied a martial art).

David shows the intricate skate-leather handle of his sword.

As for find the right publication for a story about Araki Mujinsai Ryu Iaido, David suggested Black Belt. That would make an interesting entry into my clip book. I think that’s a great idea, but I also want to expose non-martial artists to this Japanese sword form.

See, what really made this so enjoyable is discovering people who are united in their dedication to something out-of-the-ordinary. They sought something unusual  (and sword training is hardly run of the mill!). They found it. They bonded over it.

The Phoenix dojo Iaido students also scuttle the notion that there is no culture in Phoenix. Maybe it’s not laid at our feet – we have to work to go and find it. But it’s there for those willing to seek – whether it’s Araki Mujinsai Ryu Iaido, kung fu or metal working.

That’s what I want people to take away from this blog post – and whatever story I write for a mainstream publication about Iaido: Get out of your house. Seek something. Try different things. Find the right one, dedicate yourself and reap the benefits.

A close look at a blade
Dustin draws his Japanese sword as he begins a seated kata.
Greg, Craig and David check each other’s forms and techniques.

An American Runs Iceland – Reykjavik Midnight Run 10K

One of these days, I'll be photogenic in a racing photo.
One of these days, I'll be photogenic in a racing photo.

I can now say that I’m officially a world-class athlete: I was the first American finisher in a race abroad.

I admit it’s a stretch of the definition, but here’s why: Back in June, I was the first American finisher in the MiÄ‘næturhlaup. That’s a 10K race in Reykjavik, Iceland, that starts at 10 p.m. The word means “Midnight Run.”

My time was less-than-spectacular at just a touch more than 54 minutes. I guess the previous 10 days of stomping around Iceland with a backpack and logging an average of six miles a day took their toll on my legs.

But still! I owe it all to the fact that:

  • There were few Americans. My wife and I might’ve been the only Americans racing. I checked the results carefully and came up blank.
  • The race was too short for my wife to warm up. I can usually take her in a 10K, but I am no match in a half-marathon. Had this race been another two miles longer, she would’ve just been stretching into full power and would’ve blown past me like she was on roller skates. Yay, short races!

This is one of the coolest things I’ve done while traveling abroad. The course included two three-mile loops that took us past a sports complex, the Reykjavik Zoo and a botanical area. It was incredibly pleasant, with a perfect running temperature.

It was also a great way to mingle with Icelanders and other Europeans – including a wonderfully friendly (and fast!) couple from England. They were kind enough to say that us being from Arizona actually sounds “glamourous.” And yes, they used the extra u!

The race also started and ended at the Laugardalslaug swimming pool Sarah and I came to love so much on our first day. So it was back into the hot tubs to hang with the other racers.

And I now have a shiny medal with some really cool Icelandic characters on it hanging in the dining room.

I should also add that our entry into the race is a testament to the innate friendliness of Icelanders. Sarah wanted to find us a race, so she got on the Web to find us one. Few sites were in English, so she took a shot in the dark at e-mailing a running club. A club member by the name of Torfi wrote her back and helped us find the Midnight Run and get all registered. He also gave us some travel tips.