Ride Notes for August 7th, 2014

Today was one of my “Short Days,” meaning that I would ride my usual 17-mile trek from my house through Saguaro National Park and home again. That being said, I did something different today – I have always ridden solo, but today I rode with David, who is an old friend of mine from high school.


I have to mention that the idea of riding with someone else had me worried for two primary reasons:

  • What if he rides faster than I do and I can’t keep up with him?
  • What if he rides slower than I do and he can’t keep up with me?

The second concern seemed less-likely, but I didn’t want to hold up someone who was way outside my range as a cyclist. As it turns out, my concerns appeared to have been for naught, as we seemed to ride at a similar pace.

There was one great advantage to having someone else with whom to ride: as we rode up the “Widow Maker” hill on the back side of the park, we talked about guitars for a lot of our journey, which helped to take my mind off my normal thoughts for that part of the ride. (Note: I am typically thinking something like, “I hate this!!! Why am I doing this to myself???”)

That being said, as we stopped at the hydration station near the entrance to the park, we met up with several other cyclists who were all lamenting about the infamous hill on the back side of the park. With that in mind, David needed to take a couple of breaks during our ride around the park, which I completely understood; this can be a very taxing course, and I needed to take a few breaks during several of my earlier attempts.

Ride Stats:

  • Distance: 17.0 miles    
  • Duration: 1:40:00
  • Average Speed: 10.2 mph
  • Peak Speed: 31.9 mph
  • Altitude Gain: 919 feet
  • Calories Burned: 909 kcal

Ride Notes for August 5th, 2014

Today was one of my "Short Days" for cycling - I've been trying to get into a regular riding schedule where I take it easy on Tuesdays and Thursdays and ride just 17 miles. (4.5 miles from my house out to Saguaro National Park, around the 8-mile loop, and 4.5 miles back home.) This has slowly become my "default ride," and I ride around the park often enough for the gate guards recognize me when I arrive. There were a few more cyclists on the road today, which was a nice change. Usually I seem to be riding alone, and that is due to the fact that I will start a ride when the temperature is well over 100 degrees, when most cyclists won't dare to ride. (Or maybe they're simply smart enough not to leave the house. Hmm.) That being said, the temperature was hovering around 100 degrees when I left home, so it was something of a surprise to see other cyclists on the road.

Today was my first day back on the bicycle after my 100K ride this past Saturday, which had depleted almost all of my energy for the rest of that day. With that in mind, I was a little nervous about how my legs would hold up during today's outing, and surprisingly I didn't seem to be suffering any lingering ill-effects from my self-imposed abuse the other day. That being said, as I was making my way around the park, I could tell that my pace was a little better than usual, so I decided to press a little harder when possible, and as a result I completed the 8-mile loop in 34:47, which beat my previous personal best by a little over 2 minutes. This also bumped me up to 4th place (out of 107 riders) on MapMyFitness for the Saguaro National Park loop. Of course, that statistic only accounts for the riders who bother to upload their times to MapMyFitness; I'm sure that there are plenty of better riders who don't upload their times. Still, it's nice to know that I'm riding faster than somebody, because I usually think that I'm riding pretty slowly as I slog my way up some of the bigger hills around the park.

But that being said, I always cycle around Saguaro National Park in the middle of my ride, whereas many cyclists drive to the park and simply ride around the 8-mile loop. I'd like to think that the people who are riding faster than me are also riding a few miles before and after their ride around the park, but I can never be sure. Still, my overall time for today's ride was 20 minutes faster than I did a month ago, so that's something for me to be happy about.

Ride Stats:

  • Distance: 17.0 miles
  • Duration: 1:10:30
  • Average Speed: 14.5 mph
  • Altitude Gain: 1,243 feet
  • Calories Burned: 964 kcal

Ride Notes for August 2nd, 2014

I rode a metric century (100 Km) today, although that wasn't my original intention. I had planned to ride 50 miles (twice from my house to Colossal Caves and back). That being said, when I looked at the weather reports yesterday, they all predicted that thunderstorms would descend on Tucson at 10am, which meant that I should leave the house around 6am in order to have plenty of time to complete the ride and get home. Anyone who is familiar with me knows how much I hate mornings, but I'm pretty good with late nights, so I hatched an odd plan - stay up all night, and then go on the ride. That probably wasn't the brightest idea, but it's what I decided to do.

I managed to get on the road by 6:15am, and by the time I had finished 50 miles several hours later, the storms hadn't started, and I hadn't reached the point of muscle failure, so I decided to tack another 10 miles onto the ride. Once again, this may not have been the brightest idea, but once I started around Saguaro National Park, I was committed to the endeavor. In the end, my cell phone died, which I used for a GPS, so I'm not exactly sure how many miles I went over 60, but I'm certain that I hit my 100 km goal. Just the same, when I finally arrived home after four-and-a-half hours of riding and no sleep in 26 hours or so, I was more exhausted than you can imagine. Even so, today's ride pales in comparison to my friends who just finished the RAMROD (Ride Around Mount Rainier in One Day).

I usually ride in the afternoon and evenings when there are few cyclists on the road, so it was pretty cool to share the road with dozens of other riders. If I didn't hate mornings so much, I might actually enjoy riding at that time of day. Apparently I wasn't the only one making mutiple round-trips to Colossal Caves; a few of us passed each other a few times. (Note: some of the better riders are still passing me on the bigger hills, which reinforces my need to work on my climbing skills.)

There was one major annoyance on my first trip to Colossal Caves: bugs. Millions of them. No exaggeration - there were millions of bugs (which looked like flying ants) in huge swarms along the 10-mile trek from Saguaro National Park to Colossal Caves. They were hitting me everywhere: they stung as they hit the exposed skin on my arms and legs, they were sticking to my clothes, they kept hitting me in the face, etc. I could see that the bugs were affecting the other cyclists on the road based on their erratic swerving to avoid the bigger swarms. Thankfully the bugs were mostly gone by the time I started my second 20-mile run out to Colossal Caves, so the second trip was considerably better than the first.

Ride Stats:

  • Distance: 62.24 miles
  • Duration: 4:33:00
  • Average Speed: 16.7 mph
  • Calories Burned: 3684 kcal

How Much is that Lizard in the Window?

I was sitting at the desk in my office when I heard scratching on my window, so I opened my blinds and I saw this guy trying to get in.

For those of you who have never seen one before, this is a Desert Spiny Lizard, and apparently he was confused by the window glass. Based on the fact that the slats in my window blinds are 1.75 inches apart, that places the length of this big guy at somewhere between 10 and 11 inches in size.

I am reminded daily that living in the desert is kind of an adventure... Smile

Building a Faux Fireplace for the Christmas Season

My wife and I moved back to Arizona this past summer, and fireplaces are pretty scare here because it's generally warm for most of the winter. For example, this is the week of Christmas, and the temperatures are still in the high-60s Fahrenheit. Even though we're well into December and the rest of the country is contending with winter snow, I'm walking around in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. So it's pretty easy to see why a fireplace isn't a selling feature for most homes in Arizona; in fact, it's often more of a nuisance.

But that being said, a lack of a fireplace has a few drawbacks during the Christmas season - and a primary downside was voiced by my wife when she recently asked, "Where are we going to hang our Christmas stockings this year?"

I have to admit - I hadn't given much thought to that question before, and I certainly wouldn't have bought a house with a fireplace just to have a place to hang stockings for a few weeks each year. Just the same, I started thinking about a way to rectify our miniscule first-world problem. My wife had travel plans which would have her out of the house for the first weekend in December, and that provided me with ample opportunity to hatch a scheme where I could do something about our stocking situation and surprise my spouse.

In case you were wondering, you read that correctly - my wife left me alone for the weekend and I spent it building a faux fireplace for her. Some guys would relish the opportunity to watch non-stop sports or action movies without having to fight for the remote, while other guys would head off to the mountains for some quality fishing or hunting. But as for me - I chose to spend my weekend wandering the aisles of my local Home Depot, Lowes, and Ace Hardware stores while picking out various parts to build something that was kind of geeky. Yup, that's just the kind of guy I am - deal with it.

Why Build a Fireplace?

First of all - why not? It's fun to build something every once in a while. ;-]

That being said, there are many different kinds of artificial fireplaces that are available on the market, but none of those met the requirements that I wanted to address:

  • I didn't want the fireplace to generate any actual heat. Sure, most heat-producing artificial fireplaces will allow you to turn off the heat and simply enjoy the fake fire, but that would have denied me the opportunity to build something - and where's the fun in buying something when you can give up your weekend to build it? (Okay, I'll admit it - perhaps buying something occasionally works into your schedule a little better.)
  • I wanted a fireplace that would be four-feet wide by four-feet tall, yet shallow enough to easily allow pedestrian traffic to walk past it. Several store-bought artificial fireplaces were close to those dimensions, but I usually didn't like something or other about them.
  • I wanted a fireplace that could be disassembled at the end of the Christmas season so I could store it easily until next year. This was the clincher - none of the fireplaces that I looked at seemed to have a way to do this; all of the models that I looked at were designed to stay assembled forever. If a fake fireplace was on wheels, (and some were), I could push it into the garage for the next 11 months, but that would take up too much room.

In the end, building my own fireplace seemed to make the most sense to me. And if I ever decide that I'm done with it, I'm sure that I can donate to some high school's Drama Department. ;-]

Designing and Building the Fireplace

Once I had decided to build my own fireplace, the first thing that I had to do was get some fake fireplace logs. There are dozens of variations available, so that step was pretty easy - I just had to pick a set that seemed reasonable. Once I had purchased the fake logs for the fireplace, that gave me the dimensions that I would need to build the fireplace.

The next thing that I needed to do was to come up with a construction plan - which I didn't actually do. I had a general idea of what I wanted the end result to be, but it certainly wasn't a fully-formed proposal. I figured that I would wander into my local Home Depot or Lowes and wander aimless through the aisles until something a little more solid popped into my head, and that's pretty much what I did - with one exception: I called my dad and asked if he wanted to come along for what was undoubtedly going to be a weird construction project, and he agreed. ;-]

When we arrived at the hardware store, we headed to the lumber section, where I proceeded to explain the general concept that I had been pondering for the past few days. Between the two of us, we looked at all of our options based on the wood that was available, and we came up with a design that somewhat resembled what I had been thinking - albeit with some cool revisions.

The general design that we came up with was to create four rectangular boxes that stacked to create a square frame:

  • One horizontal base box: 48-inch wide x 16-inch deep x 5-inch tall
  • Two vertical left and right boxes: 9.25-inch wide x 12-inch deep x 34-inch tall
  • One horizontal crown box: 48-inch wide x 12-inch deep x 9-inch tall

Since we were basically making this up as we went along, there were a few "aha" moments where we realized that our plan wasn't going to work for some reason or other, so we changed the design several times during construction. One of the great ideas that my dad came up with was to use a single 48-inch  x 48-inch  x 0.5-inch  board as the backing for the entire project, and that worked out great; it gave support to the whole structure, and it allowed me to use textured paint it so that it looked the inside of a fireplace.

The construction was pretty straightforward - my dad and I hauled all of the raw materials to his house, where we measured the wood and we used his table saw to cut everything to size. We started by creating the base, and once we had that built, we created the left and right sides, and we followed that by creating the crown. After we put the boxes together to see what the general idea would look like, we came up with the idea of adding the facade around the crown to give it a more finished look, and we decided to add a single piece of horizontal wood as mantle, which would extend beyond the edges of the crown. Once we had all of the boxes created, I took all of the parts home where I painted everything before the final construction.

With that in mind, here are a few photographs from the latter part of the construction process:

These first few images are obviously from the painting process, and if you look closely you'll notice my ingenious use of my lead-pellet scuba diving weights to hold down the tarp. (I have no other use for those scuba diving weights since I can no longer bring those on dive trips due to TSA-induced weight restrictions, but that's another story for another day.)

This next photo is a close-up of the front and back views for the left and right vertical boxes.

These next two photos are before-and-after shots of the partially-constructed fireplace, as seen from the back. After I had the pieces stacked correctly, I drilled holes between the different parts and secured them together with lag bolts and wing nuts.

Parts List for the Fireplace

I used several two-by-fours  in this construction because the wood for the siding was fairly thin, so using two-by-fours inside the pieces allowed me to drill deeper holes and use 1.5-inch wood screws to bolt together the pieces. That being said, remember that a two-by-four is actually a 3.5-inch  by 1.5-inch piece of wood, so you need to take that into account when you are measuring for wood projects. ;-]

  • Backing Board:
    • One 48-inch  x 48-inch  x 0.5-inch board (plywood is fine)
  • Base Box:
    • Two 48-inch  x 16-inch  x 0.75-inch boards (Top & Bottom)
    • One 48-inch  x 3.5-inch  x 0.75-inch board (Front Facade)
    • Two 15.25-inch  x 3.5-inch  x 0.75-inch boards (Left & Right Sides)
    • Two 46.25-inch  x 3.5-inch  x 1.5-inch boards (Front Inside [behind Facade] and Back Inside); these are "two-by-fours" that are used for support
  • Left-Side Box:
    • One 34-inch  x 9.25-inch  x 0.75-inch board (Front Facade)
    • Two 34-inch  x 11.25-inch  x 0.75-inch boards (Left & Right Sides)
    • Four 7.75-inch  x 3.5-inch  x 1.5-inch boards (Top & Bottom Inside Front [behind Facade] and Top & Bottom Inside Back); these are "two-by-fours" that are used for support
  • Right-Side Box:
    • One 34-inch  x 9.25-inch  x 0.75-inch board (Front Facade)
    • Two 34-inch  x 11.25-inch  x 0.75-inch boards (Left & Right Sides)
    • Four 7.75-inch  x 3.5-inch  x 1.5-inch boards (Top & Bottom Inside Front [behind Facade] and Top & Bottom Inside Back); these are "two-by-fours" that are used for support
  • Crown Box:
    • Two 48-inch  x 12-inch  x 0.75-inch boards (Top & Bottom)
    • Four 7.5-inch  x 3.5-inch  x 1.5-inch boards (Top & Bottom Inside Front [behind Facade] and Top & Bottom Inside Back); these are "two-by-fours" that are used for support
    • One 43.5-inch  x 3.5-inch  x 1.5-inch board (Top Inside Back); this is a "two-by-four" that is used for additional support
    • Crown Box Facade:
      • One 48-inch  x 12-inch  x 0.75-inch board (Front)
      • Two 12-inch  x 12.5-inch  x 0.75-inch boards (Left & Right Sides)
  • Mantle:
    • One 55-inch  x 16-inch  x 0.75-inch board (secured to the top of the Crown Box)
  • Miscellaneous:
    • 8 x plastic feet (for the bottom of the base box)
    • 1 gallon of white semi-gloss paint (for the boxes and mantel)
    • 1 can of flat gray spray primer (for the backing board)
    • 1 can of rough-textured gray spray paint (for the backing board)

Creating the Grate

I could have bought an actual fireplace grate upon which to rest the fake fireplace logs, but those are usually made from wrought iron because they need to stand up to the heat of an actual fire. Using a real grate would also add a bunch of unnecessary weight to the overall project, and storing the grate would be a pain. With that in mind, I decided to create my own out of PVC pipe because it would be considerably lighter, and it afforded me the option to disassemble grate for storage later.

I chose to use 1.5-inch  PVC pipe to construct the grate, and here is the list of parts for that part of the project:

  • Lots of measured PVC cuts:
    • 36 x 1.5-inch  (for joining crosses/elbows and caps)
    • 7 x 4.5-inch  (between the front and back halves)
    • 8 x 4-inch  (for the legs)
  • PVC connectors:
    • 18 x 90-degree elbows
    • 14 x crosses
    • 10 x caps (three on the front and back, two on the right and left sides)
  • Miscellaneous:
    • PVC cement
    • 8 x 1.5-inch  rubber feet (for the bottom of the legs)
    • I can of flat black spray paint

It took me a long time to cut all of the PVC pipe, and I had enough materials for me to cut a few different lengths for the legs in order to see what the grate looked like at a few different heights. In the end I decided on a 4-inch height for the legs - this seemed to look the best to me. Once I had everything cut, I assembled it just to make sure that everything was going to fit together, then I disassembled it and used the PVC cement to secure the parts of the construction that I didn't want slipping over time (like the legs). Once I reassembled the grate and painted it, I could still disassemble several parts of the grate if I wanted to do so, but I'll probably store the grate intact just to keep the parts together.

Official Unveiling

Despite having worked the entire construction weekend, I still wasn't quite done when Kathleen was due home, so I assembled what I had without bolting everything together. (I still had some final painting to do, and I had some decorative trim that I was still considering for the project.) Just the same, it was far enough along that I could put all of the pieces together and surprise Kathleen when she arrived. She unwittingly gave me a great compliment when asked where I had bought the fireplace. ;-]

Still, I had some work left to do and some changes that I wanted to make - so after leaving the fireplace set up for a week or so, I disassembled it, changed out some of the wood, repainted everything with several additional coats of paint, and I reassembled it.

Here's what the completed project looks like:

This was a great project to build, and it's always fun to work on a project with my dad. But the most important result was - of course - that Kathleen now has a place to hang her Christmas stockings. ;-]

Higher Learning

Many years ago - more years than I care to admit - I worked in the IT department for a local community college in Tucson, AZ. I worked with a great bunch of people during my time at that institution, and now that I have returned to Tucson, it's fun to get reacquainted with my old colleagues and catch up on what's been happening in everyone's lives.

With that in mind, I recently had the opportunity to meet one of my old coworkers for lunch. Our destination was near the University of Arizona, so I parked my car in one of the university's parking garages and set out across the university campus on foot. As I was walking past the mathematics buildings, I happened to overhear one side of an exasperated conversation that a young twenty-something was having on her cell phone. The main source of her consternation appeared to be: "My class has a test in it every day, and the professor never teaches us what's on the test!"

My immediate thought was: "That's good; you're supposed to study and learn the material, then you'll already know what's on the test." This made me laugh first, but after further analysis of the situation, I don't think that it's all that funny. I think that this twenty-something's expectations are a byproduct of today's standardized testing - she expects to be taught what's on the test instead of actually learning the material.

If that's the case, then it's a pretty bad testimony about the state of education in America today.

You Know You're From Arizona When...

Note: A friend had reposted the following list on the Internet... I love these kinds of lists, because they always provide you with a chance to laugh at your surroundings in a way that only someone with intimate knowledge of the area can appreciate.

You Know You're From Arizona When...

  1. You can say "Hohokam" and no one thinks you're making it up.
  2. You no longer associate rivers or bridges with water.
  3. You know that a "swamp cooler" is not a happy hour drink.
  4. You can contemplate a high temperature of 120 degrees as "not all that bad, after all it's a dry heat."
  5. You have learned to expertly maneuver your vehicle under any traffic conditions using only two fingers; a skill usually learned initially in July.
  6. You know that you can make sun tea outside faster than instant tea in your microwave.
  7. You have to run your air conditioner in the middle of winter so that you can use your fireplace.
  8. The water coming from the "cold" tap is hotter than that from the hot" tap.
  9. You can correctly pronounce the following words: "Saguaro", "Tempe", "Gila Bend", "San Xavier del Bac", "Canyon de Chelly", "Mogollon Rim", "Cholla", and "Tlaquepacque", "Ajo".
  10. It's noon on a weekday in July, kids are on summer vacation, and not one single person is moving on the streets.
  11. Hot air balloons can't fly because the air outside is hotter than the air inside.
  12. You buy salsa by the gallon.
  13. Your Christmas decorations include a half a yard of sand and 100 paper bags.
  14. You think a red light is merely a suggestion.
  15. All of your out-of-state friends start to visit after October but clear out come the end of April.
  16. You think someone driving while wearing oven mitts is clever.
  17. Most of the restaurants in your town have the first name "El" or "Los."
  18. You think six tons of crushed rock makes a beautiful yard.
  19. You can say 115 degrees without fainting.
  20. Vehicles with open windows have the right-of-way in the summer.
  21. People break out coats when the temperature drops below 70.
  22. The pool can be warmer than you are.
  23. Most people will not drink tap water unless they are under dire conditions.
  24. Monday Night Football starts at 7:00 instead of 9:00.
  25. You realize Valley Fever isn't a disco dance.
  26. People with black cars or have black upholstery in their car are automatically assumed to be from out-of-state or nuts.
  27. You know better than to get into a car/truck with leather seats if you're wearing shorts.
  28. Announcements for Fourth of July events always end with "in case of monsoon..."
  29. You have to explain to out-of-staters why there is no daylight savings time.
  30. When someone asks how far you live from a location, it's always in terms of minutes/hours, not miles.
  31. Your biggest bicycle wreck fear is, "What if I get knocked out and end up lying on the pavement and cook to death?"
  32. You can say "haboob" without giggling.
  33. You realize that asphalt has a liquid state.

Ah, so true, so true... ;-)