Stan’s Obligatory Blog


Visiting Seattle for the Big Climb

Filed under: — stan @ 9:00 pm

Back in November, when we were on our way to Chicago to climb the Sears Willis Tower, we got word that registration was opening for the Big Climb in Seattle. Everyone said it’s a good event and a fun time, so we signed up for it. Months came and went, and in the meantime, my back when to hell. But the trip is all arranged and paid for, so we decided to go on it anyway. I’d never been to Seattle before, and I’ve got both friends and family there, plus it’s a chance to play tourist.

On the way there, when we were flying over (I think) about Reno, I saw a little black wisp rising out of the clouds. It looked like a Dementor from Harry Potter. I got out the big lens for my camera, and close up, it looks like it was probably a military jet. It just looked strange, since it was going almost straight up out of the clouds.

A bit farther, I started to see the stratovolcanoes of the Cascades. I was trying to spot Mt Lassen, since that’s the one Cascades volcano I’ve climbed and seen up close, but I couldn’t locate it. I did see Mt Hood, with Portland right next to it. And that told me that we were near Mt St. Helens. And within a minute or two, we were flying right over it. I managed to get a pretty good picture of the crater.

When we got to Seattle, we made our way to our hotel, which turned out to be right downtown, and only two blocks from the Columbia Center tower, which we could see out the window. That night, we met up with my cousin Irene for dinner.

Saturday was our day to play tourist. In the morning, I took a little walk while Kathleen was getting ready. The “Field Trip” app on my iPhone told me about the Arctic Building, which was around the corner from our hotel. It said that the tusks on the walrus heads were originally made with real ivory. Yikes. I also poked my head into the downtown Transit Tunnel. It was odd seeing buses and trains sharing the same tunnel, but it seems to work, and we had occasion to ride the train later that day.

Our one real outing of the day was to Lake View Cemetery to visit the graves of Bruce and Brandon Lee. No trip is complete without a celebrity grave tour. We also played tourist a bit, going on an underground tour that’s not the original one, but a spinoff located nearby. It was pretty entertaining. (I’d link to them here, but their web site crashes my browser. Hey, guys! Getter a better web developer!) We also visited the Gum Wall and rode the Seattle Monorail, both of which we found through Field Trip.

Finally, we met up with my old friend K.D. for dinner. She and her partner Amy were among the first to get married after Referendum 74 passed in 2012.

On Sunday morning, it was time to climb. We walked up to the building and found our group. I took it easy going up. My plan was to do my regular easy pace of 4 1/2 floors per minute, which would get me to the 73rd floor in about 15 minutes. But it ended up taking only about 13:45. I was a little surprised by that, but when I went up a second time with PJ to do a survey of the staircase, the reason became clear quickly. The floors in Columbia Center are only about 11.4 feet each, where most office buildings are 13 – 13.5 feet. So I was doing my regular easy pace of 1 vertical foot per second, and that translated into more floors per minute than it would have in another building. And of course, I made a chart for future reference. We also found that once again, the published step count and climb height for the event were incorrect, and it was actually higher and more steps than the event had claimed.

After doing the stairs, we got cleaned up and met up with Irene for lunch before heading back to the airport. All told, it was a fun trip.


Last time before the Big Climb

Filed under: — stan @ 9:30 pm

Back in November, Kathleen and I both signed up for The Big Climb. This is an event this coming Sunday in Seattle, climbing 69 stories up Columbia Center. Since I’m not planning on trying to go particularly fast there, I figured there was no harm in going downtown for stair practice tonight.

I did my usual four climbs. I could have done five, but I just wasn’t feeling up to it. Still, it was a fun evening.


Turning it up

Filed under: — stan @ 9:29 pm

I had an MRI on my back yesterday. It’s been a bit better over the past few days, but today it’s regressing again. I suppose the overall trend is up, but it still varies a lot from day to day. Still, I went downtown to do the stairs. I’ve found that doing a few sets of stairs, like 150-250 floors or so, will relieve the pain in my back for about two hours. So what’s not to like.

I’m still experimenting with going a little bit faster. Still nowhere near going all-out, but just turning up the pace a little bit. Unlike Nigel Tufnel and Spinal Tap, I’m not turning up to eleven. More like turning it up to seven-and-a-half. Still, I was able to shave five seconds off last week’s time, and I didn’t hurt my back in the process.

I was a bit worn out from the first time up, so I only did it three more times, and I was pretty weary the last time. But I got to see and socialize with the other nutball stair climbers, so it was a fun time.


The Ice-Age Beach

Filed under: — stan @ 1:34 pm

There was an article in the L.A. Times this week about a pit that Metro is digging along Wilshire Blvd to prepare for the Fairfax station on the extension of the Purple Line subway. The location is right across the street from Hancock Park and the La Brea Tar Pits, and the article talked about all the fossils they were finding there, on what had been a beach during the last Ice Age. So of course, I thought this might be interesting to go see, although I thought that there was a good chance we wouldn’t actually get to see into the pit. Still, it’s just another interesting bit of local color, even if that color is all black from the tar.

We rode out by way of downtown Los Angeles, and then out on 9th St and 4th St to get out to Park La Brea. Along the way, we saw one old brick apartment building that looks like it’s been reinforced for earthquakes. It’s not often that one sees a building with such obvious reinforcement on it. And a little farther down the road, we saw another building with some odd windows. We were wondering where they get blinds for windows that are built at odd angles like that. When we got to the Park La Brea gates, a quick turn south took us to the corner of Ogden Dr and Wilshire Blvd, and there it was. They had a high wall around the site, so we really couldn’t see in. But I was able to reach in through the gate with my camera to get some pictures. Probably about the most interesting thing to see in there was the backhoe that was completely black from digging through the tar that apparently must be everywhere in the ground around there. I wonder what it’s like for people who live in that neighborhood. What happens if you try to grow a garden in the back yard?

Since we were there, we went next door to the lawn in front of the Variety building, where they have a section of the Berlin Wall. We’d come out to see this once before. Then we went across Wilshire to LACMA to see the Big Rock. And after that, we headed back east to Larchmont Village and our snack stop at Noah’s Bagels. And then we rode home, taking York Blvd across Highland Park for a change. They put in a bike lane, and that street isn’t so bad any more.

45 miles.


Helter Skelter

Filed under: — stan @ 5:46 pm

Since I took Lucinda to the Museum of Death last year, I got us tickets to go on the Dearly Departed Helter Skelter tour. I’ve gone on their regular Tragical History Tour many times, as far back as 1990, when it was still called the Grave Line Tour.

We rode around in the van for the whole morning, and we got to see most of the locations associated with the Manson Family murders in 1969. It’s a multimedia tour, too, featuring movie and TV clips from the time with people involved in the case, as well as songs written by Charles Manson. There was even a song he wrote that was recorded by The Beach Boys. It was all very interesting, at times horrifying, and very entertaining tour. A very good father-daughter bonding activity.


A quick Thursday evening

Filed under: — stan @ 9:59 pm

It’s Thursday, so it’s stair night, but again, I didn’t get there until about 6:00. So I knew I had time for two climbs, and possibly three. Because of this, I thought this might be a good time to do an experiment and see if I could turn up the pace a bit. My plan was to aim for 5 floors per minute on the first climb. That’s a ‘brisk, but modest’ pace for me in normal times, but with the problems I’ve been having, I really didn’t know what would happen. But I figured that if I could do it, it would get me to the top in about 10:15 or so.

I started out up the stairs, still not using the handrail for anything but guidance and balance. At the end of the first five floors, I was a few seconds ahead of schedule. And I didn’t feel too bad. So I kept going, and I managed to stay on schedule pretty much all the way up. When I got to the 50th floor, I had a quick look at the watch, and I knew that if I hit it the last five floors, I had a chance to get under 10 minutes. So I grabbed the rail and started pulling a little bit, just to pick up the pace and see if I could do it. And I heaved up onto the 55th floor landing at 9:49. That works out to 5.2 floors per minute average for the 51-floor climb.

The second time up, I turned the pace down a lot. I was aiming for four floors per minute, but that only lasted for about the first 25 floors. So I slowed down and walked up the rest of the way. I was going to quit after two climbs, but when I got to the bottom, we still had 20 minutes left in the session, and Nathan was getting ready to go up for his fifth time. So I went along. We just walked up at a relaxed pace and talked. It was a pleasant time.


My Vertical Kilometer

Filed under: — stan @ 9:43 pm

Since I’ve found that stair climbing doesn’t aggravate my back problems, I thought I’d try an experiment tonight and do a vertical kilometer. I did this last year as part of my preparations for the vertical mile climb. My friend Morgan did this a few weeks ago, so I thought I’d give it a try.

I was trying for a modest, but consistent pace, like I did last year. When I did the vertical kilometer last year, I only had a spread of 42 seconds between my fastest and slowest climbs. Looking at my times this time around, you can see that I’m just not in the condition I was in last year. And with my back problems, I’m not pulling on the railing, since I don’t want to do anything that twists my spine. Still, I was able to make the vertical kilometer pretty easily. It’s only five times up. 255 floors, 5,630 steps. Easy.


The Crappiest Place on Earth

Filed under: — stan @ 8:22 pm

This morning, Kathleen and I took a tour of the Hyperion sewage treatment plant on the beach just south of LAX. This outing was organized by the Obscura Society. We’d been on their “Field Trip Day” last fall, as well as trips to Pinball Forever and the Bunny Museum. So when we got the notice about a trip to “The Disneyland of Poop“, well, we just had to sign up.

The tour began in their visitor center, where they issued us hairnets and hard hats. Then, we got on a tram, just like at Disneyland, for the ride around the plant. We saw the big settling tanks, and the tall digesters, all of which were mercifully covered. We stopped in to the building where they load the sludge on trucks to be taken to the farm that DWP owns in the Central Valley. They said it’s used to fertilize the crops there, which are then sold for animal feed.

Next, we went to see Headworks. This is the first stage of processing, where the raw sewage is passed through coarse screens to filter out large solid objects. They said they get a lot of candy wrappers, and also a fair amount of money. And indeed, we saw a dollar bill that was raked up by the automated screen-scrapers. They told us the money is sanitized and ends up back in circulation. And here, I always thought “flushing money down the toilet” was just a figure of speech. But it’s a real thing. Mostly, though, the rakes were just continuously pulling up a foul-looking and smelling glop of toilet paper and such. Yick.

The final stage of treatment is the clarifying tanks. By now, the water is clean enough that the tanks can be open, and there were ducks and seagulls in them. At the end of the tour, we came back to the visitor center, and we went upstairs to see their little museum. They had a piece of 12-foot sewer pipe to stand in, just to get an idea of just how much sewage they process every day.

Lastly, we got a tour of one of the labs with a marine biologist who works there. She showed us a fish tank with specimens of the sorts of fish and other creatures that live in Santa Monica Bay. It is the biologist’s job to be sure that the outflow from the plant doesn’t damage the undersea habitat.

So, after all that was done, it was only about noon. Since we had taken the whole day off, we thought that going to the real Disneyland might be a fun way to round out the day. So we went from “The Crappiest Place on Earth” to “The Happiest Place on Earth”. This adventure sort of bookends the whole human experience in a way.


204 Floors

Filed under: — stan @ 9:25 pm

Tonight was yet another stair practice session at the Aon building in downtown Los Angeles. I still think it’s a bit odd that, even though just walking is still painful for me due to my back going to hell and all, climbing stairs doesn’t hurt. And I’ve noticed that when I’m done, walking is better for about two hours before the pain returns. I can’t explain it, but I’m not complaining. Most people might think that climbing 204 floors of stairs to get two hours of back pain relief was not a good trade-off, but as I always say, “how hard could it be?”

There was a good crowd there tonight. Everyone was back from last weekend’s race at the Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas. I skipped that one this year, since a trip to Las Vegas always involves a good bit of walking, and I thought that would just be too painful. But I got to hear everyone’s stories about the weekend, and Lisa was wearing wings on her shoes.

I paid a little more attention to the signs on the doors in the stairwell tonight. It looks like they let out into the utility hallway on most, but not all floors. Since floor 55 is empty, and it lets out on to that floor, that’s where we climb to.

I went up four times. The first two were at my vertical mile pace from last year. The last two were social climbs. I timed them, but nobody was trying to go fast. Still, it was a fun time.


The Metro Rail Tour

Filed under: — stan @ 3:28 pm

Some years ago, the Sunday bike club ride was rained out. This happens from time to time, but that time, it happened when we were in West Hollywood, which is about 20 miles from home. We managed to make it two miles or so back into Hollywood, and then take Metro Rail home to Pasadena. After that, I made up a route for us to ride on days when the weather is questionable. I called it the “Metro Rail Tour”, and it’s a route from Pasadena and through Los Angeles that manages to never be more than a mile or two from the nearest Metro Rail station. That way, we have an exit strategy in case it starts raining. We’ve done this route a number of times over the last few years, but today was the first time we had to actually use the exit strategy.

It was overcast, and the skies looked like rain. We headed south, down Sierra Madre Blvd to Huntington Drive (Near the Metro South Pasadena station). We took that into downtown Los Angeles (Chinatown Station and Union Station). In downtown, we took a short detour to see the site of the new Wilshire Grand Hotel (Next to the 7th St/Metro Center station). This was in the news last week, when they poured something like 2,000 truckloads of concrete in 20 hours to make the foundation for the new 70+ story building.

When we got down by USC (Expo Line 23rd St Station), we felt a few raindrops, but that stopped after a few minutes. So we continued on. We turned north up Harvard Blvd (and the Metro Wilshire/Normandy Station), and then west to Larchmont Village, which is between the Metro Wilshire/Western and Hollywood/Vine stations. We had some snacks and then headed for home. The route back was along 4th St and 7th St, which parallels Wilshire Blvd and the Purple Line subway. Then we turned north into Echo Park. At that point, we were about as far from a Metro station as we would get on this route. And, of course, that’s when it started to rain. We pulled over for a quick conference under an overhang. I had a look at the map, and I saw that we were only about 1 mile from the Metro Chinatown station. So we worked out how to go, and we rode there through the rain. It was miserable riding in the rain, but knowing it was just a short distance helped a lot. Once we got there, we got on the train and headed for home.

Even though I hate getting rained on when I’m riding, I was glad that my route with the built-in escape worked well. And once the Metro Gold Line Extension is finished, we’ll be able to make a Metro Rail tour heading east for days when it might rain.

32 miles. Would have been 44, but that’s how it goes.

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