CategoriesTravel

Rogue Columnist, German Tourists, Direct Flights and Jan’s Junket

More intercontinental flights to Phoenix Sky Harbor would be nice, but they're not the only way Germans come to Arizona. (Darren Koch via Wikimedia Commons)

Rogue Columnist, one of my favorite bloggers, has a post about Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s junket to Germany. Local media have only been able to get a partial list of the manifest for Jan’s Germany Junketsm, and she has not disclosed a budget for the two-week trip.

As usual, Jon Talton (the Rogue’s real name) accurately skewers the silliness and waste. But he misses his mark on the impact of German tourists on Arizona:

"As for tourism — forget it. Germans who want American sun go to Miami. Unless the state could lure or underwrite direct flights to Germany and France, it will never be a big player in this field."

I pointed out to him, as a first-generation German-American, that German loves Arizona. They love Old West kitsch, Cruise America camper vans, the Grand Canyon.

Jon concedes that Germans do love the Old West, but stays put on his assumptions that no direct flights from Germany equals little tourism.

Not so.

Germans don’t travel like Americans. They don’t don’t come only to visit Arizona. Lufthansa had a daily flight here at one point – but a single daily flight means you only have one departure and arrival time, versus multiple departures and arrivals at other intercontinental hubs like Los Angeles or New York. And Germans want to see a big slice of the country using their much heftier slice of vacation time. So why take a direct flight into an overgrown regional airport like Phoenix Sky Harbor when they could hit an intercontinental hub city and then drive into Arizona?

And German tourists love driving. If you see a Cruise America camper, I’d bet there’s a 1 in 5 chance there’s a German at the wheel.

The direct flights just don’t matter as much as Jon thinks. Germans come to Arizona. They spend money. They enjoy themselves. The direct flights are a separate issue – I think they’d benefit Arizona travelers more than visitors from Germany.

CategoriesFitness

Night Mountain Biking – McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Darkness settles on the land …

Mountain biking in the moonlight is back: McDowell Mountain Regional Park once again has its night mountain bike rides going for the summer. The May 25 ride was the second of the season, and the first of the year for me. As always, it was a treat to be out there at this excellent park with other mountain bikers after sunset.

I had a few things occur to me as I rode. I pass these along as some food for thought. Make of them what you will.

1. I saw plenty of riders with their lights fired up even before the sun dropped below the horizon. Don’t do that – save your batteries for when you need them.

2. My budget light system is adequate for night mountain biking. But I basked in the glow of people laying out 1,500 lumens. I stayed behind slower riders a few times just to light-swipe them.

3. Speaking of that budget system – two of my three batteries conked out prematurely. Fortunately, I got an early start and finished before the last light flamed out. I considered tagging along with other mountain bikers in case I lost it.

Getting some lean into a corner.

4. You’ll run into all sorts of cool people at the trail. And I don’t mean me! I bumped into Bill from Adventure Bicycle Company, the very same awesome shop where I once sold bikes and spun wrenches. He solved my lighting woes with a shiny new NiteRider system.

5. I didn’t spot many creatures -- just a few bunnies and mice. No tarantulas this time! At McDowell Mountain Regional Park, you can sometimes even spot desert tortoises or snakes. Fun!

6. There was a stiff wind coming out of the west, which made for a slow slog on the climbs On the back side, though, a body my size is like having a sail!

7. The mountain biking community has one awesome advocate in Rand Hubbell, the supervisor of McDowell Mountain Regional Park. Mountain bikers talked him into being the first government park to offer an organized night ride – and he’s never looked back. He always looks for new features to add, and he drops good words for mountain bikers to other government officials so they’ll recognize s for the awesome economic boon that we are.

Saguaros in the sunset.

8. The Pemberton Trail at McDowell Mountain Regional Park is perfect for night mountain biking – rippin’ fast fun, not too technical, a good length for some exercise. Mountain bikers of any caliber will have fun … especially at night.

9. A big thank-you to Fountain Hills Bikes for the brats and hot dogs.

10. I don’t know who was responsible for the huge TV screen that played Adam Sandler’s Oscar-winner "The Waterboy," but thanks! That added some post-ride fun.

11. I lost one of my new gloves. But sometimes, you have to look on the bright side … it gave me a chance to tweet this funny:

Justin Schmid ‏@wandering_j

@MCParks That ride was a Thriller, and I got Bad about keeping track of the gloves and Beat It before I knew what happened.

CategoriesAdventures

Inside the Volcano: Thrihnukagigur Tour

The Thrihnukagigur volcano in Iceland just gave me another reason to visit again: a tour company that takes people down a 400-foot descent into a volcano’s intact magma chamber.

The Thrihnukagigur volcano is 20 minutes from Reykjavik. It last erupted 4,000 years ago, one of the staggering number of volcanoes you can see in Iceland. But this one is just a bit different: A company called 3H Travel is set to begin tours into the magma chamber of Thrihnukagigur.

Inside the Volcano: One of a Kind Experience

Into the magma chamber -- this is incredibly rare. No other volcano I’ve seen has an intact magma chamber. Instead, they just have a bowl-like crater; I imagine the magma chamber’s remains are below, buried after a collapse of the lava above. To see this wonder, visitors hike the volcano; at the vent, a mechanical lift brings handfuls of people in at a time. (See the video at the bottom.)

The Inside the Volcano tour group claims Thrihnukagigur is unique in every sense of the word. I’m inclined to believe them since I’ve never seen or heard of any other volcano like this – much less one with a tour into the magma chamber.

thrihnukagigur
Inside the magma chamber

The season for this tour is short: June 15-July 31. Future plans call for 3H Travel to bore a hole in the side of Thrihnukagigur; that will spare the squeamish a ride in a lift, and the less fit a trip up the volcano’s slopes.

Go See it and Tell Me About It!

I can’t emphasize this enough: The Thrihnukagigur Inside the Volcano tour is the most amazing opportunity I’ve ever heard about, and I am completely deflated that I missed out on it. I was just too quick to get to Iceland, I guess!

And now that Denver has seasonal service from IcelandAir, it’s an even better time to get out there. The Denver flights are great for the Southwest and Rockies – no more slog to JFK or Boston, nor a backtrack to Seattle.

So there you have it: a one-of-a-kind attraction and an easy way to get there. Could you ask for a better time to go to Iceland and go inside the volcano? Nope. You can also borrow some other ideas from my Quick Iceland Travel Guide.

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CategoriesFitness

The Warrior Dash – Everything You NEED to Know

The Warrior Dash brings a lot of people here to WanderingJustin.com. Or more accurately, questions about it. I’ve looked through your search terms and written something from the most-popular questions about the Warrior Dash. This expands on my earlier post and tells you what you need to know based on my own experience:

What Should I Wear to the Warrior Dash?

If you splashed out big bucks for some Lululemon gear, you’ll hate yourself for wearing it during a Warrior Dash. The mud and other obstacles will do some damage. Wear something old and ratty, but still functional. If you have a pair of running shoes that are on their last leg, send ‘em to Valhalla with one last mission in the Warrior Dash.

warrior dash
You’ll be nice and clean before you start the Warrior Dash …

Now, you can also choose the costume route – which some people love for adventure racing. The mud and various other obstacles will place it in serious danger. I’ve seen everything from dresses to unitards to Greco-Roman getups. I’d love to find some photos of people who have done something really original, so speak up if you know of anyone.

What’s a Good Time?

It depends. The fastest dudes finish in about 26 minutes, give or take. If you finish in 35 or less, I think you’re doing pretty well by any measure. Don’t get caught up too much in comparing yourself to others. Know where you stand, and just try to leave it all out on the course. It all depends on your lifestyle and any changes you may have made to it.

warrior dash
… and absolutely sloppy with the mud after. Dress accordingly

Can I Skip Obstacles?

I didn’t see anyone monitoring obstacles, so probably. But obstacles are the point of the Warrior Dash and just about any adventure race! Any able-bodied people who contemplate this option are lame-ass, 17 corndog-eating wheelbarrows of sadness. They’ll get horns and t-shirts, and will deserve neither.

Am I fit enough for the Warrior Dash?

If you can finish 5K race in about 35 minutes, I think you’re fit enough to run – not walk! – a Warrior Dash. Now, I get irate when people walk a Warrior Dash three abreast. If you can’t run the whole thing, at least be considerate and get to the right so faster people can pass you. I think organizers should get hardcore: Have a cutoff time to each obstacle. If you don’t make it, you get disqualified.

What to Bring

A towel. A travel bag (those soccer bags with the drawstrings are about perfect). A complete change of clothes. Some spending cash. A snack and a decent drink. You’re done. The Arizona edition had a bag check, which means others probably do, too. That’s where you should drop your bagful of gear while you race.

 

CategoriesTravelUncategorized

American Airlines and US Airways Merger – One Traveler’s Wish List

Coming soon to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport?

American Airlines and US Airways are destined to merge, if you believe the many airline industry talking heads. If the merger is inevitable, it opens many questions and concerns. But I don’t want to go there. Instead, I offer my wish list for an American Airline and US Airways merger. Are my suggestions practical or workable? I have no idea. But they’re food for thought. What would you add?

Follow US Airways into the Star Alliance
When I fly US Airways, I earn miles that I could use on Asiana Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Air New Zealand or even United Airlines. That gets me to a lot of great destinations on highly rated airlines (well, except for United). On American’s OneWorld side, Qantas and Cathay Pacific are the best offerings. Star Alliance just has a bigger, better footprint.

More intercontinental flights from Phoenix
The nation’s seventh-largest metro area has some of the most meager, provincial airline service in the country. It has just one not-even-daily intercontinental flight to London Heathrow. London is a great gateway to the rest of Europe, and there are plenty of London hotels and other attractions. But for other intercontinental hubs, I have to fly to LAX, Houston, New York or Chicago first. That’s intolerable, and the American Airlines – US Airways merger could be a game changer for a metro area of 4.2 million people. More intercontinental flights would take a bite out of a major obstacle for leisure travel: time and stops.

Turn it into a true US flag carrier
When an American flies a national carrier like Qantas, Air New Zealand or Asiana, we get our very first taste of the countries they represent. And next to U.S.-based airlines, they’re a revelation. Look at what our domestic carriers offer visitors from abroad: a bunch of airlines rated at three stars by Skytrax. A merged American Airlines and US Airways should make it their mandate to represent the U.S. around the globe – and they need to aim for airlines that people enjoy flying.

Bring back the 747
The 747 represents American innovation and longevity. Its latest iteration, the 747-8i, is a magnificent piece of technology. Is it not strange that two airlines that name-drop the country’s name don’t have the 747 in their fleets? Bring it back and, along with the 787, the merged US Airways and American Airlines will represent some of the best ideas in commercial aviation.

Re-Brand with a vengeance
Make this a new beginning. Think of this as using existing assets to create a new entity with no bad baggage. Make it destroy pre-conceived notions. New logos, new liveries, new attitudes, new destinations, new mission, new culture. Make this opportunity more than another bland merger.

This post is sponsored by expedia.co.uk, part of the world’s largest online travel company. It features millions of published and discounted fares from more than 450 airlines. You’ll also find comprehensive online destination guides, maps and more and expedia.uk.com.

CategoriesFitnessUncategorized

Arizona Mountain Bike Racer’s Hanoi Bike Tour

hanoi bike tour
Rich Maines tackles the hills and rainy weather. (Courtesy of Rich Maines)

Rich Maines is one of the faster mountain bike racers in Arizona. The guy absolutely flies on a singlespeed.

Even better, Rich makes a strong case for me to label him The Most Interesting Mountain Bike Racer in the World (stay hydrated, my friends). Why? Well, he combines cycling with travel. He blogged in-depth about a four-day cycling tour of the mountains west of Hanoi, Vietnam – Hanoi, Son La Province, Phú Yên Province, Tam Đảo – in March. I really admire this since Rich is a local rider, not a superstar in the Hans Rey sort of mold. He’s a regular guy who went out on his own to craft a cool Hanoi bike tour adventure – and he succeeded by any measure. Rich logged 27 hours of total ride time, 370 miles and 22,913 feet of elevation gain during his tour. He also encountered buckets of rain since March is the rainy season.

Rich got his share of awesome views – sugar cane fields, rice paddies, banana treas and enough fields of tea leaves to keep America awake until the next ice age.

Hanoi Bike Tour
Rich gets some carbs and electrolytes during his Hanoi bike tour. (Courtesy of Rich Maines)

The route had more hills than Rich expected … which led to some challenges on a singlespeed, fixed-gear road bike. Judging from some of the photos, a mountain bike would’ve been at home.

“I just figured I’d walk what I couldn’t ride. If I couldn’t hit all the planned destinations, no worries, I was there to see the beautiful surroundings and enjoy the experience," Rich says.

Rich’s trip proves the power of the bicycle: Local kids were eager to greet the strange Westerner pedaling through the mountains. He had no shortage of offers for food and invitations to stay and visit.

"The people of Vietnam were very gracious and hospitable, even in the tiny, remote mountain villages,” Rich says. “Getting the opportunity to pedal there was an incredible thrill."

You can – and should – read more about Rich’s racing and riding adventures at his Rich Maines – Endurance Mountain Bike Athlete blog. Just prepared to be jealous since he’s sponsored by cool companies like Ergon, Stan’s No Tubes and Hammer Nutrition. 

CategoriesFitnessUncategorized

Scottsdale Night Run 2012: Quick Race Review

UPDATE (May 13): According to the Scottsdale Night Run Facebook page, someone stole the first water station. I’m still confused about why someone thinks it’s a good idea to just drop a bunch of stuff off for a race and leave it unattended. That’s still on the race organizers. Take care of your equipment and your venue. People count on you. The race results page also seems weird – I started about three minutes late, and my chip time and my clock time are the same. How does that work?

The 2012 Scottsdale Night Run managed to get one of the most important elements of running a race dead wrong: water.

It’s May in Arizona. That means every water station should be in place before the starting gun ever goes off. I ran past the site of the first station, and volunteers were still carrying the table and water into place. It wasn’t until nearly 5 miles into the race that I saw my first water station.

And there? I got myself two cups of air-temperature water. And, again, it’s May in Arizona. Failure. And potentially dangerous for the people who struggle to complete the distance. I’m not exactly a fast runner, and I started the race a good two minutes late. Yet the water station wasn’t ready to go. Some people behind me were able to get some water, though.

More notable problems: There were no mile markers, and there were long stretches of the course that were completely dark … and over bad pavement. And I still can’t believe any race organizer thinks it’s a good idea to route a running race through Scottsdale’s club district … which is generally full of idling, exhaust-spewing taxis.

The water, though, is the biggest problem with the Scottsdale Night Run. If organizers had gotten everything wrong but the water, I could be somewhat forgiving. But I can’t see signing up for the Scottsdale Night Run again. Not without some guaranteed changes. First, water. Then, course.

I feel bad for the Scottsdale Night Run volunteers who probably endured the wrath of people who needed to vent. The paid folks deserve the blame, not the kind people who did their best and donated their time.

 

CategoriesFitnessUncategorized

Hi Seoul 10K Race – A Running Adventure Abroad

Seoul - a really cool place for a good marathon, half-marathon or 10K.

Being a large Caucasian guy in South Korea is a weird experience. As I warm up for the Hi Seoul 10K run, a TV news crew fixates on me. The camera sweeps over me. Records every move. Captures every lunge, backbend, hamstring stretch.

It’s been like this since I stepped off the bus from Incheon to Seoul. I’ve caught so many glances from the corner of someone’s eye. The Koreans have been discrete. And no look has been hostile. Just -- curious.

The 10k race (and the marathon and half-marathon) brings out the few other Caucasian types – ex-pats who make their living as a English teachers. They stick together in their own cluster before the race.

I’m by myself, though. Sarah went to line up with the half-marathon crew. At 6’2 with a long mop of hair, it’s no wonder the camera hovers inches from a lone white guy like me.

If the TV crew expected me to be fast, they were mistaken. The gun goes off to start the 10K race. I thread my way through the crowd. As the theme from Star Trek Voyager plays, I’m penned into the pack. After about a mile, I can finally reach a natural stride.

The 6-mile route takes me to parts of workaday Seoul. I move to pass someone -- and discover that I’m about to plow over a lad who comes up to my solar plexus. His dad notices that I’ve revved up to pass, and pulls him out of the way.

"Who is this long-haired guy, and what is he doing here?"

Soon, I’m at the finish line. I paw through my race goodie bag -- I find canned spicy chicken and chopsticks. My sweat and the morning breeze make me shiver.

I wait for Sarah to finish her 13.1 miles – and just enjoy being an oddity in Seoul.

CategoriesAdventuresFitness

Phoenix Mountain Biking : Grading the Trails

phoenix mountain biking
Cruising the red rocks at Papago Park. (Photo by N. Scott Trimble)

[January 2021: This post about Phoenix mountain biking is pretty old. We’ve had a lot going on trail-wise since this was published 9 years ago. Expect an update soon!]

Phoenix mountain biking offers any rider some hard choices. There’s no shortage of great mountain bike trails. A few years ago, I published a list of my favorite trails. Now it’s time to refresh it with some new info. Things change – so my old list may not be as much help anymore.

I’ll list all the Phoenix mountain biking spots I ride regularly and give them a grade. The letter grade reflects trail quality, amenities, traffic and all that good stuff. I’ll make extra notes about location – it’s a bit unfair for some great trails to get dinged for being a bit further away.

This list is NOT complete. If I don’t mention your favorite Phoenix mountain biking, I welcome you to add it in the comments. Click the links in each section for a more in-depth look at the trails.

Black Canyon Trail

Barely close enough to the Valley for this Phoenix mountain biking list. But I can’t let a nationally recognized mountain bike trail go ignored. The southern reaches start off flat and firm. Go north, and the action gets steep. All told, this is supposed to stretch way far north. I’ve heard Prescott and beyond. Far northwest of Phoenix. Grade: B+

Phoenix mountain biking
I have a long history with Trail 100 and the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.

Deem Hills

A new bit of mountain biking fun out in the West Side, right in view of the I-17 freeway. Your ride will start with a hard slog to the top of a mesa. That’s where the fun singletrack lives. Great flow up there once you get up that grunt of a climb. Grade: B-

Fantasy Island North Singletrack

Named for the famous bit of State Trust Land in Tucson. This was built on private land a few years ago – miraculously, the land owners haven’t closed it. Tight, twisty and turny. Only one really long climb, but lots of rolling terrain. Far out to the southwest, but still right for a Phoenix mountain biking list. Grade: A

Gold Canyon

Just did my first ride here in May 2012 since it’s a new addition to Phoenix mountain biking. Well-designed singletrack – tight turns, steep chutes, quite a few technical bits. Some of the best scenery around since it’s right near the foot of the Superstition Mountains. Far to the southeast. Grade: B+

Mountain biking near phoenix
The sort of riding you’ll find at McDowell Mountain Regional Park.

Hawes Loop

An East Valley favorite. There’s quite a bit of road riding involved. But the downhill sections have great flow. You’ll need to check your speed. If you head a bit north, the terrain will get steeper and more technical. Dead east of Phoenix. Grade: B

McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Pack lunch: You’ll find more than 50 miles of singletrack mountain biking. There’s the Competitive Track, the Pemberton Loop and numerous off-shoots – plus a pump track! Home to some of the best races. Northeast of the Valley, north of Fountain Hills. To me, it’s the gold standard in Phoenix mountain biking. Grade: A

Papago Park

Lots going on here, all just moments for Sky Harbor International Airport. Fast groovy singletrack; gets more technical as you head south. Some short power climbs to get your heart going. Home to the informal STP races. Grade: B

Mountain biking near phoenix
A little Pima and Dynamite fun.

Phoenix Mountain Preserve

Well more than 30 miles of mountain biking near Phoenix. Trail 100 is the out-and-back backbone of this mountain bike trail system. Lots of off-shoots. The far east and west portions are the most fun, with the middle third fairly bleak and rocky without much flow. Great Phoenix mountain biking 15 minutes north of Sky Harbor. Grade: B

Pima and Dynamite

A nearly-uncountable amount of singletrack, most of it on State Trust Land. Wild and wooly undulations, with a high likelihood of wildlife encounters. Gets more technical the further northeast you ride. North Scottsdale. Grade: A

South Mountain

The Desert Classic gets a lot of love, but the really technical mountain biking is up on the Mormon and National loops. Plenty of offshoots no matter where you go. Lots of rattlesnakes in the spring. These trails get a lot of use – check yourself. Grade: B+