Scenes from Arizona – White Tank Whirlwind

2011 White Tank Whirlwind
Ryan Waldron is stoked to be racing (Men Cat 1, 30-39)

I had a good excuse for not racing the White Tank Whirlwind – the previous weekend, I suffered through a rainy, windy Kona Bikes 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo.

Yeah, yeah … I know some people did both. But hey, they were probably all pro racers. And someone has to take pictures, right? So here are some of my favorites from the race. I have a bunch of others, too – I showed up kind of late (10:30 a.m.), so if you’re a Cat 2 or 3 woman, you’re probably out of luck. But feel free to drop me a line if you’re hoping I snapped a shot of you.

You can also read my race recap at Examiner.com.

Framed by the cactus.
Railing the corner
Grinding up a short climb.
2011 White Tank Whirlwind
The fast guys duke it out in the pro class.
2011 White Tank Whirlwind
Watch for the competition.
2011 White Tank Whirlwind
Jane Pearson rides to victory - women's marathon category.
2011 White Tank Whirlwind
Pro Rider Rebecca Gross
2011 White Tank Whirlwind
Look out, Gene Simmons - Nathan Lentz (Cat 3, 30-39) is coming to take your job.
2011 White Tank Whirlwind
Channing Morrison of Adventure Bicycle Company races to victory (Men's Cat 2, 19-29)
2011 White Tank Whirlwind
A men's marathon racer on a very slick handmade bike from Form Cycles in Sedona.
2011 White Tank Whirlwind
Need an attitude adjustment? Women's Cat 2 (40+) racer Krista Gibson says handlebar streamers will do the trick.

Racing is a Gas at Old Pueblo

Here’s a little funny from the Kona Bikes 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo:

I’m riding along on my first lap of Sunday morning. A guy passes me and gives me a friendly hello. A few moments later, he’s pulled over digging in his pack. He pulls something out, opens it, and starts munching.

"Snack time!" I yell at him.

He catches back up to me a moment later, and he launches into a Ricky Bobby-esque spiel (aided by a very Texan accent) about his snack: Honey Stinger waffles.

"They’re like two crispy waffles with a bit of honey between ‘em," he says (further reminding me of Ricky Bobby talking about a crepe suzette). "They’re delish. Know what I’m talkin’ about?"

I tell him I do indeed know what he is talkin’ about, though I haven’t yet tried them – but I do know and love Honey Stinger gels and protein bars.

Here’s the kicker: He passes me again. When he’s about 75 feet away, he lets out a sonorous, cheek-slapping fart that nearly blows the chamois out of of his shorts. You know it’s a monster when you can hear it over the hum of fat tires on hardpack and the whistle of the wind.

This, of course, makes me start laughing. He issues a sheepish "sorry," not realizing that I consider flatus the height of humor.

Definitely my best on-the-trail encounter during the race. I have to wonder if his team was sponsored by Honey Stinger -- or should I say Honey Stinker?

Scenes from Arizona: 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo

My friend Danielle (L) and her quad team The Go-Go Girls - happy before the wind and rain.

There are lots of lessons on my mind now that it’s the day after the 2011 Kona Bikes 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo.

For example, desert plants can rip the ratcheting buckles clean off your right shoe. And that a fire can and will melt your left shoe while you’re drying it out. (I have to thank the guys at Tucson-based Fairwheel Bikes for extricating me from the clutches of my shoe – even though they’re a Trek dealer, the crew put in some after-hours time removing the offending shoe: Well, some of them did. The others laughed and took photos.)

The indignities heaped on my poor Specialized shoes were just the beginning. It was an event complete with tent-destroying winds, person-soaking rains, teeth-chattering temperatures – all a perfect concoction to make people flee the event.

Our camp started with eight people on four duo teams. We ended with two teams and four people.

My bike is ready to go. And Ryan Zilka (R) is ready for a lap, too.

It was really the wind that started breaking us all. It made everything harder – steering, picking a line, even the simple act of breathing. And slap on at least 5-10 minutes of extra time per 16-mile lap to deal with it. And extra depletion of the energy in your legs, lungs and mind.

The rain started just as I was returning to hand the baton to my teammate, Harry. He got soaked and frozen during his lap. He expected to be back before he’d need lights. The clouds made night show up early, and he had to walk the final downhill into the infamous 24-Hour Town.

Harry’s misfortunes were pretty epic. The storm destroyed his EZ-Up tent, plus bent and broke several poles of his REI tent. He wound up sleeping in his CRV, while I was holed up in my Subaru Forester – and yes, a 6’2

Arizona sunset over 24-Hour Town.

guy can stretch out fully and comfortably in a Forester (as if that car doesn’t already have enough superpowers). Many cars and even RVs left before sunrise.

Yes, this post reeks of woe, sorrow, misfortune. But in some twisted way, it was still fun: eating freeze-dried Chili Mac, shivering my way through Sunday’s first lap, dogfighting through the starting pack, shotgunning 16-ounce cans of coconut water. Speaking of that dogfighting, one woman was unfortunate enough to get pitched into the cholla cactuses within 30 minutes. I felt so bad for her – nothing like that needs to happen. All I can wonder is if someone with too much aggression made a dangerous pass and caused that accident. Who in the world can think endangering another rider is worth a few extra seconds?

24-Hour Town ... you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

That first Sunday lap was actually a thing of beauty, despite the cold. The wind abated, and the previous rain made the trail beautiful and grippy. My wheels stuck to it like glue. By my final lap, though, the wind was back. It wasn’t quite as Book-of-Revelation-awful as the previous night’s wind, but is was no picnic.

Harry and fellow duo rider Ryan Zilka (possibly one of the most relentlessly upbeat people I’ve ever met) met me at the finish with a can of Guinness to celebrate our second year camping and racing together. It was just a nice gesture that really underscored what 24-hour racing is all about to the pack fodder – solidarity, spending time with good people and going home safe.

You can also read my 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo recap at Examiner.com.

Awesome helmet decoration
The dudes from Mountain Flyer make a visit.
Humor goes a long way.
Ruined camp sites - a sign that the weather hit hard.
The expo area before it got storm-squashed.
Our happy 24 Hours of Bromance camp before the storm hit.

Kaffitar Stands Out as Reykavik’s Best Espresso

I’m in Iceland.But I feel more like it’s high noon on Main Street in a dusty Old West outpost. The barista looks friendly, but I know I’m being sized up.

"What can I get you?" she asks – the shot-puller’s equivalent of "your move, pardner."

"A cappuccino, please," I reply – the espresso lover’s equivalent of "draw"

Ah, the cappuccino. It will quickly reveal with this Kaffitar place on the Laugavegur in Reykjavik is all about. There’s no sugar or syrup or fancy ingredients to hide behind. This is no double-mocha-latte-pumpkin-spiced frappe with sprinkles and extra whipped cream. Just espresso shots, milk and a bit of steam. And every smart barista knows it.

It took a few minutes for my cappuccino to emerge. Between the crowd and the care, that’s a good sign. Then I took a look: It was a wet cappuccino, which I prefer to the "dry" variety capped by about two inches of airy foam. Here, I saw a nice, dense microfoam.

I took a careful sip. The temperature? Perfect. Hot, but ready to drink right then and there. No trace of bitterness from over-roasted beans or nuclear-hot water.

There’s more to a cafe than just even the espresso drink, though. Kaffitar was filled to the gills, locals, travelers and tourists alike. Some pecked on laptops. Some  read. Some talked to a friend. Others struck up conversations they didn’t know a few minutes ago.

Perfect.

We spent several days in Reykjavik, and we had to explore the other cafes. There’s no excuse for marching back to the same place. But Kaffitar set the standard. Some espresso drinks came close – but they couldn’t quite match the barista skills on display at Kaffitar. Some actually bested it in atmosphere: Cafe Rot is about as friendly as it gets, especially when the World Cup is being shown on a big-screen TV in the basement. The desserts at Sufistinn were spectacular.

But overall, Kaffitar is the one I’d bring home with me if I could magically transplant it walking distance from my house.

Around the World in 48 Hours – Flying Standby

The World Race starts and ends right here in Phoenix.

Marc Jorgensen and a group of four friends from the Phoenix area will soon fly around the world in 48 hours, all on standby.

Yes, some people might call this hell. But Marc and his crew are calling it the 2011 World Race. And to any airplane geek, it’s a plan sure to provoke some envy. Marc and his buddies (all self-described "airline analyst nerds") will fly different directions, departing on Feb. 25. They’re also adding scavenger hunt elements such as snapping a photo of the cutest flight attendant and the greatest, biggest, bushiest beard – which may or may not be on a flight attendant.

Marc, who works for US Airways, gave me the scoop on his grand plans below. If you are intrigued as I am, the group has a 2011 World Race Facebook page and a Twitter account. Like, ‘em, follow ‘em, cheer ‘em on! In the meantime, enjoy Marc’s answers!

1. What do you do for US Airways?

I am an analyst in Revenue Management. I work with yield management which is primarily adjusting the fare levels to maximize revenue on each flight.

2. There are lots of people who don’t like air travel. How do you explain this trip to people who just don’t understand the appeal?

We will be using some airlines with fantastic inflight entertainment. Flying is a luxury for many people in the world (especially the past couple of years) and getting to circle the globe in just 48 hours is something very few people have ever done. It’s a unique opportunity and meeting new people on a plane and seeing new places can be so fascinating.

If you look like a member of ZZ Top, Marc and his friends might be snapping a photo of you. (Photo by Alberto Cabello)

3. What’s the longest flight you’ve done to date?

The longest flight is LAX to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific (which has the best inflight TV and movie options for coach of any airline, in my opinion). It was about 15 hours, the staff were so nice and the movie selection so large it didn’t feel half that long …

4. What are the logistics? Are you flying standby? How planned is each stage?

All flights must be flown as standby. Each team will research out the possible routes, looking at connection times and backups (fly into ORD instead of JFK from FRA etc.)
Also, rock-paper-scissor will determine which direction each team has to go, day of departure … which should add an element of chance and excitement.

5. What are your top methods of staying sane on this misadventure?

The scavenger hunt ideas like finding the person with biggest beard should make it fun along the way. Also having good entertainment and food options on the flight (Korean airlines, Lufthansa) along with adrenaline should carry us through 48 hours.

6. Are you flying any unfamiliar airlines? (I know I’d love to fly Aeroflot!)

It’s a possibility. However the fastest way to circle the globe in this manner involves hitting the key hubs where the big carriers fly (British Airways, Lufthansa, Korean Airlines, All Nippon Airlines) since it fastest to stay far in the northern hemisphere.  However, it is possible we could use El Etihad or Qatar Airlines if circumstances make it the better option.

Aeroloft does have a Moscow to JFK flight that could work …

7. What’s your biggest challenge or fear about being able to pull this off?

Getting stranded in an airport for several days due to weather lockdown.

8. I understand you’re doing this with/against some other people, each flying different directions. What’s the prize for being the first one back?

Initially, we were going to have the losing team pickup the tab for the standby passes (about $300). However, we feel it’s better to have the losing team pick up the tab for dinner for the winning team, and focus more on small prizes for each scavenging hunt item found (ie, picture with the cutest flight attendant).

9. What’s your route/plan look like so far?

Right now. it looks like PHX-LAX, LAX-ICN, ICN-FRA, FRA-JFK, JFK-PHX. (Wandering Justin’s note – for those not so versed in airport codes, that’s Phoenix, Los Angeles, Incheon, Frankfurt, John F. Kennedy).

The reverse route is PHX-LHR, LHR-ICN, ICN-LAX, LAX-PHX. (WJ here again – that would by Phoenix, London Heathrow, Inche – aw, heck, you know the others by now).

10. Are you a bit of an airplane geek? What’s your favorite plane to fly in?

I am a bit one, and the other flyers are as well. I like the Airbus A321 and the A330.  Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to fly the 800-passengers jumbos yet, but I hear they are fantastic to fly in.

11. What else are you doing to prepare?

Exercising, looking at schedules. Make sure I have a currency exchange and language apps on my iPhone.

12. What surprises have you found so far in your planning? Anything about visas, vaccinations or unstable governments?!

That is another issue, because some places require visas. And to maximize time, we need to get through each airport fast, which means getting through each security checkpoint quickly. As you can imagine, if they start asking questions about where we came from and how long we will be there … things could get a bit delayed.

13. What’s your favorite destination? (not related so much to the upcoming mayhem … just a way to gauge what sort of travel character you are).

I really like Asia. As an American, Korea or China are very interesting experiences because the language and culture is so different, and the food is so good! I really like Seoul and Nanjing. I also really enjoy Brazil to relax. To have fun, I wish I was able to spend more time in Berlin and Copenhagen.

The Awesome Australian Crocodile Hotel of Jabiru

An aerial view of the Gagudju Holiday Inn of Jabiru, Australia. Photo courtesy of Tourism NT

You can count on seeing all sorts of crazy things in Australia – termite mounds, bizarre rock formations, sharp-beaked and cantankerous cassowaries, just to name a few.

But it might be a hotel that leaves you scratching your head most.

I’d have to rank the Gagudju Crocodile Holiday Inn as one of the craziest hotels in Australia. Just being in the deep Outback town of Jabiru in the famous Northern Territory puts it on the list. Being built in the shape of a salt-water crocodile takes it into the upper echelon of wacky. And it surely has to be the most unusual Holiday Inn ever.

So is it kitschy or cool? I can’t say first-hand since I only drove through Jabiru with Wilderness Adventures guide Amy and a crew of other loons. We stopped long enough for wallaby meat pies and some oil for The Possum before heading back out. While images of kachinas, cowboys and Kokopelli statues raise the hackles of Arizonans like me, Aussies are more laid-back about embracing the touristy elements of their area. So they probably get a few laughs out of it.

As for you -- if you’re staying in Jabiru, I say go for it. The Gagudju Crocodile could be a really fun departure from the usual bland hotel experience. It’s also owned by indigenous people, so you may get some insights from the staff.

While you’re in the Top End, think about adventuring into the Kakadu National Park, which is 60 by 120 miles of rugged territory filled with wildlife. It’s definitely one of the Northern Territory’s main attractions. I don’t recommend renting your own car and going off into the Kakadu, though. It’s best to grab a knowledgeable guide to navigate the trails – and to know where the crocs are lurking!

Images from Avondale, Ariz. – 2011 Hedgehog Hustle

mbaa2-9, Hedgehog Hustle 2011, Mountain Bike, Arizona
Getting aero on the downhill at the 2011 Hedgehog Hustle.

UPDATE: See my report on Examiner.com for a race recap.

Today, I made a trip out to Estrella Mountain Regional Park in Avondale, Ariz., to check out the 2011 Hedgehog Hustle. My erstwhile Adventure Bicycle Company stooge-turned-real estate mogul Matt Long was out there lining up for the Cat 2 race with the infamous Phoenix International Raceway in the background. There was definitely a chill in the air, but it warmed into a nice day for some racing.

I’ll have a full report later one. For now, you can enjoy this here slideshow I’m about to unfold. But I done introduced it enough. (NOTE: I have many other photos. If you don’t see yourself, send a note including your race number to wanderingjustin@hotmail.com)

"Hell Walking" and Tramping – How to Hike Abroad

Iceland, hiking, Wandering Justin, Landmannalaugar
Right, mates ... who's up for some hell walkin'?

When Sarah and I were in Australia, we met a traveler from Ireland. She was single, in her late 20s, active.

She told us about all the trouble she was having getting other lone travelers to hike with her.

Well, she didn’t actually say "hike." That’s not the Irish vernacular for "stomping around in the dirt in big boots." For our Irish buddy, that’s known as "hill walkin‘."

Wandering Justin shows us how to tramp.
But, you pair this with an Irish accent, and you get -- "hell walkin’."

So she was probably scaring everyone away with the threat of walking into Beelzebub’s own nature preserve.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to witness any such mix-ups in New Zealand. There, "hiking"/"hillwalking" is known as -- wait for it -- tramping! Yes, you and your best friend can spend weeks tramping around New Zealand.

You can make what you will of the phrase Australians use -- bushwalking!

"Trekking" is another word that’s common for long-distance hiking. But really, it’s nowhere near as fun as these others.

10 Years Later, Still No Trace of Suspected Killer

I usually keep it light here. You get some nice stories about Arizona or travel or mountain biking stories. But now and then, something comes into my mind and I have to share it. So I’m taking us back nearly 10 years to April 10, 2001.

Back in those days, I’d roll into the Scottsdale bureau of the East Valley Tribune around 9 a.m. There, I’d cover a crime beat encompassing Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Fountain and bits of Phoenix.

Yeah, it was hardly East L.A. But we’d just had a freaky spate of violence. I was riding herd on investigations for an execution-style home-invasion murder and a murder-suicide. That’s in addition to the usual relatively goofy stuff.

That morning, I stepped outside my door and saw helicopters, swirling air beneath their main rotors, jockeying for the best shot of a scene. They weren’t far away. I don’t even remember whether I called the newsroom. Probably did, because "ya got art?" is the first question editors ask about breaking stories.

I drove my truck just about a mile away to the scene of a house blown to shreds. A sturdy 1960s tract home blasted into splinters, shattered block, smoldering metal. I started taking notes, tracking down neighbors who were willing to talk, working my way through a thicket of police and fire spokespeople.

The night before, Robert Fisher had lived there with his wife, Mary, and their children.

What I learned over the next few days is summarized (somewhat sloppily, but well enough) on Wikipedia:

On the morning of April 10, 2001, Mary Fisher was shot in the back of the head and her children’s throats were slashed from ear to ear in the hours before their home exploded.

Firefighters were immediately alerted due to a natural gas explosion and fire in a Scottsdale house. The explosion ripped through the ranch-style house in the 2000 block of North 74th Place at 8:42 a.m. The blast appeared to be centered in the living room, and the subsequent fire burned the house into rubble. The initial explosion was strong enough to collapse the front brick wall and rattle the frames of neighboring houses for a half-mile in all directions.

Rural/Metro Fire Department firefighters were on the scene within minutes and kept the 20-foot-high blaze from spreading to neighboring houses. A series of smaller secondary explosions, believed to be either rifle ammunition or paint cans going up, forced firefighters to keep their distance. One firefighter suffered minor injuries to his leg when he lost his balance and fell near the burning house.

Evidence of the homicide had allegedly been tried to be concealed by pulling out the gas line from the back of the home’s furnace. The accumulating gas was later ignited by an ignition source, possibly the pilot light on the water heater. Burned bodies of a woman and two children were found lying in bed in the remains of the house. The victims were identified as Mary Fisher (aged 38), and her two children, Brittney Fisher (aged 12) and Robert “Bobby” William Fisher, Jr. (aged 10). Investigators have considered that Robert Fisher murdered his family because he felt threatened with his wife’s intent to divorce. Despite their marital difficulties, he vowed that his marriage would never dissolve.

On April 20, the last physical evidence of Fisher’s whereabouts surfaced, when police found his Toyota 4Runner and dog “Blue” in Tonto National Forest, a hundred miles north of Scottsdale.

Fisher is considered armed and extremely dangerous and has ties to Florida and New Mexico. He has been speculated to have committed suicide or started a new life under an assumed identity. Fisher has been described as a loner and is thought to live alone in an isolated area.

Obviously, not a great guy. The Wikipedia story links to many articles from The Arizona Republic (The Tribune was even more stubborn and turgid in failing to harness the Internet than other newspapers, thus making its competitor the de facto paper-of-record. Today, it’s a shadow of its former scrappy self.). Read the entry and those links for a portrait of a truly vile person.

Every time I see a reference to a captured Arizona fugitive, I feel hope that it’s Robert Fisher – finally! But here we are 10 years later.

And still I’m waiting to see him get hauled in.

Iceland Diaries – Day 6 (Skaftafell, Vik)

Kristínartindar
This is one of the coolest mountains I've ever seen.

There’s a magnificent mountain in the distance. I can see spires and steep slopes. It looks like the ruined castle of an evil wizard.

It’s mezmerizing. I want to go to it. It’s called Kristínartindar. It’s spectacular. But it’s too far away – soon, a bus will pull up in Skaftafell to haul us off to Vik. We’re a bit low on food and water. If we were fully loaded, I’d head straight there.

When we return to Iceland, this will be a major point of the trip. We’ll come back with our camp stove and enough food for a few more days hanging out in Skaftafell. And we’ll go to Kristínartindar. Oh, yes. But as it was, we just finished a loop of about six miles.

Skaftafell Campground
The cheery Skaftafell campground.

Before Kristinartindar came into view, we stopped at the famous Svartifoss waterfall (foss = waterfall). Its basalt columns inspired the architecture of the Hallgrimskirkja (kirkja = church, and klaustur = convent) that’s such a landmark in Reykjavik. It’s pretty and picturesque, and relatively empty for a place that’s in every guidebook.

We folded the tent, repacked and boarded the bus to Vik (which means bay).

Us!
Us at Svartifoss.

It’s a fairly quick shot to Vik, which is home to about 300 people. We have a room at the Hotel Lundi (lundi = puffin). It’s here that I accomplished another major goal of my trip: eating hákarl! This word means "shark," and it’s pronounced "howker." I have an entire post dedicated just to the next five minutes of my trip, and you should read about it and watch it.

Vik
The cliffs and church near Vik.

We walk the town a bit, and have a fairly greasy roadside meal. Vik is a small town, after all! The black sand beach is a site to see, along with rocky spires in the ocean a few miles away. The sun often pokes out of the clouds, but it’s very windy. And the mountains are ridiculously beautiful.

We return to the hotel. I fall asleep while reading, and Sarah slips out to poke around a bit.

She rousts me at about 9 p.m. with the sun shining brightly, promising puffins and some sort of hobbit house.

We gamely trudge up the side of a mountain. It’s steep, and it’s about to get windy. But first, the hobbit house. You could easily miss it. It looks like a mound of grass-covered dirt with a door lying on it. And a smokestack popping out. Unfortunately, it’s locked and nobody’s home. I’d love to see inside!

Hobbit House
It's a hobbit house!

We get to the top of the mountain, which is completely flat. There are trails everywhere, including one to the other side. The wind was absolutely howling up there, effortlessly blowing us around and making it hard to even walk like a normal human.

The daylight would last, but our energy was on the wane. So we headed back down for a good stretch of sleep (my watch said it was night, but I wasn’t buying a word of it).

Tomorrow -- back to Reykjavik.

Cliffs near Vik
10 p.m. in Vik. No, that's not a typo.
Three Sisters
Three sisters in Vik.