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Adventure Travel

In my last two major vacations, I’ve experienced the extremes in adventure travel. I had a dream for many years of going to Canada to see white Kermode bears, aka Spirit bears, after which my dog – and this blog – are named. But I started off with an adventure to Yellowstone National Park. I like bears and I like wilderness, and both travel itineraries seemed to offer them.

Before my first trip to Yellowstone, I’d gone backpacking in Glacier National Park. In doing my research, I found lots of NPS tips indicating that backpacking groups in Yellowstone need to be 3-4 people strong – at a minimum. That didn’t bode well for my husband and I, so we looked at alternatives. I learned about equitrekking, which is a long, multi-day trail ride and camping experience with a guide in a group. Mules carry much of the cargo. When we found an itinerary to take us into what’s advertised as the most remote place in the Continental United States (meaning the furthest from roads in all directions), we were sold. Safety in numbers and deep backcountry access could be attained simultaneously.

We looked at other itineraries, and some seemed boring by comparison. The day of the trip, we had to await our guide who was hours late due to a sudden meeting that he had to attend with NPS rangers. A winter storm was coming in. Once he arrived, he spent a long period of time assessing the range of guests and our gear to make sure we were prepared. We later learned he was deciding whether or not to cancel the trip.

Well, in most ways, I wish he had. We rode about 8 miles the first day, then 18 the next. That was in the original plan. But that’s when we bailed on the planned itinerary and instead did the one I thought was most boring during my research.

Reality was worse. We endured a rain-snow mix right at freezing temps, for which we were prepared. However, the horses couldn’t be ridden in slick conditions. I understand that the itinerary had to change from the canyon ride we’d planned to do, because if a horse or mule slipped, they – and we – could die. But standing around a campfire in rain for two days, unable to even go off on a hike because we weren’t allowed to take our own bear spray, was dreary to say the least. Somehow, the weather didn’t make the return 18 miles and then the final 8 problematic.

We didn’t see any wildlife and we didn’t have a great time. What we learned from that experience, though, is that the right attitude to take when scheduling this sort of trip is to merely decide you’re going on an adventure. Don’t get tied to the animals that might be seen or even the itinerary to be followed. Our fellow travelers who thought camping and horseback riding was enough were OK, but our memories were tainted. That said, our entire trip wasn’t ruined – just the expensive portion of it. We spent the week before that on our own exploring Yellowstone, and that week was magnificent!

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But the top of our bucket list still managed to be seeing a Kermode bear in the wild. These are a sub-species of black bear, where 10% of the population is all white (but not albino). They’ve fascinated me since I learned about them around 15 years ago. So we tried as hard as we could to moderate our expectations when we booked this trip.

The experience was so much the opposite of our Yellowstone adventure. It was an enormous success! Despite my best efforts, I allowed my hopes to creep up kind of high in expectations of seeing bears, and hoping desperately that one would be white. My dreams and expectations were shattered – in amazingly wonderful ways! I hope you’ll join me in my upcoming series of posts about this absolutely phenomenal trip to the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, Canada!

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Last night I went to see a production of Irish music: singing, dancing, and instruments. It was my first trip to Parker’s new events center, PACE. All I can ask now is why this was my first show there! It’s a reasonably sized theater – not huge like some of the theaters in Denver, but not too small.

The show itself is called “Celtic Nights – Spirit of Freedom“. It celebrates Ireland’s version of our 4th of July. I listen to a lot of Celtic music, and recognized some but not all of the music. While I thought there’d be more information about the history of Irish independence, especially the Easter Rising, there were a few vignettes. One of them explained a song I’m familiar with called “Grace“. It’s about a freedom fighter who gets married moments before his execution. While it’s a sad story and number in the production, I thought it was nice to get some context for the song that I’ve known for many years.

There’s also a section where all the musicians take the stage and invite the audience to sing along – and I loved it! My guess is it’s more fun for those of us who already know the songs, but it was a great way to engage and liven up the audience. I think I’m used to a different type of audience – one that gets a bit rowdier with Celtic music. This audience was a bit tame, especially in the first half.

Unlike most theaters, which ban all concessions from entering the theater, the audience can take their drinks (even alcoholic ones) to enjoy during the show. Overall, I loved the experience of this theater – and a fair bit of it was due to proximity. I didn’t have to leave two hours before the show just to get there! It was such a short drive to and from home. We even got to go out to eat as part of the evening. While that doesn’t sound like a big deal, it is when you consider that our dog needs medicine every four hours, so we have to be home for his schedule, limiting our evening events.

The theater was mostly full, though there were plenty of available seats at the back. The show happens again tonight – so if you don’t have plans and want a very reasonably priced theater event to attend, this is it!

Star Wars at the Symphony

Doors Open Denver is an annual Spring event where places of architectural interest open their doors for tours to the public. It’s something I enjoy I each year and intend to post about, but you know what the road to hell is paved with…

This year, one of the places I toured is Boettcher Concert Hall, home to the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. I was impressed by the hall and immediately wanted to start buying tickets for evenings at the symphony! Unfortunately, that was right around the time my elder dog started having cardiac problems and was put on medications four times a day. That makes afternoon and evening events difficult to attend. So we postponed all plans for events in Denver.

Then I saw a Facebook post from someone willing to give away a free ticket to an evening of Star Wars movie music at Boettcher Hall, and I decided I needed to make that work.

While I like classical music and going to the symphony, Mr. Bruin is quite in tune with orchestral compositions for movies. Frequently, he correctly guesses the composer for a movie before seeing the credits. I know the names of maybe three composers – and only because I’ve heard him talk about them enough to recognize their names. But I can’t identify the composer from listening to a score. He, like many, many, many men his age, grew up a Star Wars fan. So putting those together meant date night and a happy husband!

This was not your formal, elegant affair. Several concert goers were dressed in Star Wars costumes, though fewer than I expected. It was fun to see that some of the musicians were fans, as there were a few Jedi, a couple of stormtroopers, and even a slave Princess Leia – a male slave Princess Leia. Kudos to the man who can wear that one on stage – or for that matter, any woman! The conductor got in on the action as well, dressing as Jedi (Padawan!) for the first half, and Darth Vader for the second half. He even used a light saber at times while conducting!

I enjoyed the event, even though I recognized only the most well known scores. Mr. Bruin enjoyed it immensely! I remembered a couple a notes from the architectural tour: high seat backs, parabolic glass on the ceiling, and seating in-the-round all leant to the acoustical experience. Sure enough, I turned my head from side to side and up and down, and the sound was the same! That’s not the case for Temple Buell Theatre next door, and I had fun thinking back to the tour.

I enjoyed looking at all the instruments, as I’d forgotten the names of many and needed Mr. Bruin’s help identifying a few. Some of the songs have the sound of bells – or at least, that’s what I thought they’d be. Instead, those sounds came from a metal xylophone. There were four xylophones total (I haven’t played one since third grade!) – certainly more than I expected to see. Usually, the percussion section is difficult to see, but that wasn’t a problem from my vantage point. I got to watch the conductor’s face, and I think it was a great perspective on the entire orchestra! There was even an anvil, though I didn’t see where that was used. I didn’t know an anvil was ever used as a musical instrument!

Thanks to the slave Leia bassist, I had another unusual and unanticipated perspective: anatomy and physiology. Symphony musicians almost always were solid black and long sleeves. This man’s costume left his arms and back bare (legs too, but those didn’t matter as much), and I was fascinated with watching his arm, shoulder, and back muscles as he played. It made me wonder what muscles are visibly engaged by other instruments. I’m sure a trombonist would have more muscular movement than a trumpet player. Many of the woodwinds wouldn’t show a lot of muscular development. But I think it’d be interesting to see the differences in physique based on the size of the string instrument. The bass players’ bow arms are almost fully extended at all times, but violinist use their elbow a lot more and hold their wrists differently. Perhaps that’s an odd observation after an evening at the symphony, but musicians’ physiques are just not something I’ve thought about before, and I found it interesting! But then, I never stuck with a single instrument for more than a couple of years, and completely gave up playing as a teenager, so personal experience is something I lack.

One other thing I learned is that the Colorado Symphony Orchestra is military friendly! I wish I’d known years ago that tickets for active duty personnel are only $5, and veterans (not just retirees) get a 20% discount. I see a lot of symphony in my future. Hope to see you there!

Getting to know RVing

New Year’s resolution: blog more.  Blah blah blah.

OK, so I’ve been meaning to post something for quite a while. Now’s the time. It concerns the lack of getting to know CO – at least, not at the rate I expected.

When I moved here, I had moving sagas. And pet medical sagas. I thought that my black cat, Mintaka, with his medicine needs at 12 hour intervals, was the sticking point. He was, to a point – but dog bladders don’t last a whole lot past that point either.

We lost Mintaka almost 2 years ago. A few months after that, we realized the inability to travel with our large dogs – or at least the inconvenience of it – meant we weren’t managing to get out a whole lot. Friends told us about some RVs they’d seen at a show that made them think of us and our dogs. And then our imaginations wandered.

I grew up RVing with my parents. It was just camping in a more convenient way, but it was also cheap – a necessity. And I always assumed I’d be able to afford hotels – even if they weren’t at the 5-star level. Problem is, my dogs are big – and so are their vocal chords. As guardians, they like to growl and bark at noises where they can’t see the source. So leaving the dogs in a hotel room while I explore isn’t great. Glacier’s getting older and can’t hike as far as he used to, so that’s another limit. The last time we put them in a kennel, he limped for a week after coming home. Enough = enough.

So we started talking about getting a trailer. Looking into it, we found one in particular that we liked. The problem with the RV industry is the prevailing attitude of “jump right in – the water’s fine!” Great – but those waters can have sharks and jellyfish and rip tides and – well, you get the picture. We’re engineers. We understand mechanical limitations. After learning that a lot of people fail to consider the cargo load inside their tow vehicle, we weighed our vehicle, accounted for human, feline, and canine weights, and were left with a small allowable value for hitch weight on our vehicle. That value is too small for a large enough trailer to fit our floorspace requirements. You see, I don’t want to stumble over my dogs while moving around in the trailer.

That realization led us to the idea of a pickup and a 5th wheel. After many more perturbations of RVs we liked, weights and tow capabilities, and our basic need to NOT have to calculate every little addition, we settled on a 5th wheel. We’re still awaiting delivery. We already have the pickup.

So what’s new for 2015 for the Bruin family? We’re going RVing! As such, I’ll blog about RV trips and events.

First on that note is the 2015 RV show at the Denver Convention Center, 7-10 January, 2015. Will I see you there?

Go here for my Week 1 review.

Week two was a little rougher on the schedule: too many activities got in the way, so I didn’t do all 6 workouts this week quite as intended. But I did do them all, in order, no more than one per day (I’m about half a week behind the intended schedule at this point). That was actually the hard part: it was tempting to catch up. Since the neural reboot section of the program is the same every day for 3 weeks, it would have been simple to work out one day, then fast forward through the next day’s program until I got past the reboot portion. Thus far, I haven’t given in to temptation. No promises going forward though.

Camping weekends and regimens with only 1 day off don’t mesh well. I may try uploading a DVD onto my notebook next time, but with no power except when driving, that may not be particularly successful.

As for the program itself, it’s OK. It is slow, which is useful for getting the form down correctly. There’s a lot to remind yourself of every time you move. Hips forward? Breathing through belly? Shoulders straight and even? Hips square? Ears in the right place?

But here’s what I’m noticing: I’m chomping at the bit to get into harder workouts. I have 3 more of Beachbody’s programs. I’ve watched the basic/fundamental instructional (Day 1) videos for two of the programs. In each, the same concept of hips forward to engage the core is presented. Every workout video I’ve used until Beachbody may have said “engage your core” – but I thought that meant just tighten my abs. That worked OK for some positions – but not all. Instead of focusing on just tightening my abs, the answer really lies in the basic stance taught in Tai Cheng. It works for PiYo (or more generally yoga and pilates) as well as for weightlifting. 

So week 2, in conjunction with preparing to begin another program, is my Eureka moment for how to properly hold my body. It’s taught in Tai Cheng, practiced and improved, but used in the other programs.

As for injury: my wrist is no longer hurting. Use of the push up bars strains my arms, so I only use them for a little bit. Perhaps yoga blocks would be a better solution. I still have to completely modify the foam rolling for the sides of my legs. I don’t yet get what foam rolling is really supposed to do for me, but I expect I’ll figure it out once I advance to the later neural reboot stages.

I did have a new injury issue arise: my knee. I’ve occasionally had a knee with issues since high school, but it’s never stopped me from doing anything, because it felt weak rather than sore. A knee brace supported in and I continued in activities, including alpine skiing (even jumping off cliffs). This time felt a little different though – pain set in, but only with certain movements, and not until later each day. I was fine in the mornings. At first I thought it was a sore muscle and kept exercising with Tai Cheng. Certain movements would hurt at times, but it was not a constant pain. Working out in the morning alleviated the pain, so I adjusted my workout time. That worked because it’s likely an ACL issue from going up and down stairs all day long. Working out after waking up meant the knee was rested, and it didn’t hurt. Once I realized it wasn’t just a tired muscle, I rested the knee a little more. Now I feel a rare twinge but that’s it. I’m trying to listen to my body – and that, I think, is what tai chi is really all about.

Days 1-6 complete! As promised here, I’m reporting on my first week of experience with the Tai Cheng program. I took 7 days to complete the first 6 days, because I was ill on what would have been De moay 4. No worries: unlikst workout programs, where a rest day is built in for recovery, I’m not concerned about giving my body a day of rest according to a specified progression. So instead of taking a break between days 6 and 7, I’ll just continue the program.

I’m pleased to report that I’m already noticing some improvement. One of the benefits of the program usually elicits complaints: the first portion of the program is the same day to day for the first 3 weeks. I’m not whining about the repetition: instead, I’m already able to detect some improvements in my balance while performing some of the simple exercises such as swinging my leg. For the first 4 days, I could do 3 kicks, then I’d lose my balance and have to catch myself before doing the last 2 repetitions. On days 5 & 6, I did all five repetitions without wobbling.

I was worried about my shoulder and wrist on one side. I think it was more due to my timing than the program itself, but I have not reinjured myself, and I’m already out of pain in the shoulder. I don’t have consistent pain in my wrist, but I have had to modify a few things to accommodate it.

Background necessary for this explanation: I am not blessed with a proportionate body. I have short legs and a long torso, with average length arms. I’ve found over the years that many people are confused by this and require some further explanation. In the first part of the workouts each day, I need to sit on the floor and then push myself up with my arms. When I sit on the floor, my palms barely touch the floor: I cannot lift myself up the floor. My husband tried the Day 6 workout with me: he is proportionally built and had no issues with this. So my modifications for the first few days were pretty extreme: in order to use the foam roller, I had to go as far as holding myself on one arm and keeping my torso sideways. Then I read a review of someone with wrist issues doing the Insanity program, also by BeachBody. He uses push up bars to alleviate his wrist issues. So I got some for less than $10, and suddenly I could lift my body high enough to use the roller as intended. While this is better on my wrist, I am definitely going to have to build more arm strength. When using my palms, I can lock out my arms and support myself with my skeleton. Using the push up bars requires me to use arm muscles to hold my body weight. I have to improve my strength? That sounds like a good thing, but it does make this activity a little more difficult. More room to improve? I’m OK with that.

I also found that despite admonitions to relax my face during foam rolling, I couldn’t for the first few days. By Day 5, I could finally start to comply. It may be a little thing, but it is noticeable improvement, and it’s only discernible because the same movements are accomplished daily for a while.

Tai Cheng requires constant self assessment: are my hips forward, my knees out, my shoulders and arms relaxed, and my head straight (even though I have to look downward at the TV to follow along)? That’s not something one can get down pat after one day, one week, or even after completing Tai Cheng in its entirety. Indeed, the trainer still has to evaluate himself, as do his assistants (who had trained with him for 8 years prior to the taping of the videos). I even have to remind myself constantly to breathe with my belly and not my chest. That may be easier since I like to sing, and it’s the same.

My husband decided to start the program as well. He’ll be a week behind me, so in future weekly reviews I can pass on any nuggets of wisdom from him. His body is very different: he likes to run but does little else. He’s not at all flexible. I develop muscle very easily and am much more flexible. But is it easier to touch my toes because my legs are short and torso long? I hadn’t thought of that before – I always thought I was flexible, but maybe that’s more due to my proportions. Either way, I’m fully confident we will both be more flexible in 90 days!

The main reason I chose to begin this program is because I want to participate in a HIIT (high intensity interval training) style exercise program, but I’m concerned I’ll just end up hurting my shoulder and joints. Again. And be derailed. And never finish the program. After just one week, I’m gambling this Tai Cheng program is going to help – and I ordered other programs today! Fingers crossed, hope and expectations high!

I retired! OK, so I’m a bit young for a traditional retirement, but my job was boring and the management was dead set on repeating mistakes…i.e., failure. I wan’t up for that, so I quit working. Instead, I’m focusing on Getting to Know Colorado once again, but I’m also setting aside a large chunk of each day for me – in the way of getting fit.

I used to be very athletic, and I even have a rotator cuff injury that flares up from time to time. It doesn’t just take out my shoulder though – it takes out the rest of my arm while I compensate for the pain. But nowadays, I’m not so athletic. I’m naturally muscular, but I’m not fit. And it’s time to change that.

Some of the people I worked with talked about popular fitness programs that are the “it” thing to do. Apparently I’m out of the loop because I don’t spend time watching infomercials. None of these people talked about these programs in terms of real programs, just occasional workouts, but somewhere along the line I figure out that wasn’t how these things were intended.

So I got my act together, although I’m on the rebound from a shoulder flare up – more significant than usual because of all the tasks I’m getting done at home (now that I have both the time and inclination)! I tried various weekly goals utilizing home machines (elliptical, rower, and treadmill) and workout videos. I didn’t really find a good rhythm. While I lost a few pounds, I also ended up hurting my shoulder and even started experiencing joint pain. All in all, it felt like I would be better off with a real program.

I’m not interested in burning fuel by going to the gym every day. Most gyms are warmer than my house – so working out at home suits me best. I remembered those coworkers’ comments and started researching programs that I could do at home without breaking the bank. I have some room in my basement where I do other workouts, and I don’t have room to add more exercise equipment.

I started to get jazzed about programs such as Insanity and the P90X series, but reviews from other people with injuries didn’t instill me with solid expectations that I could complete those programs. Then my shoulder flared up. The timing was probably good, because I kept looking at video exercise programs and found Tai Cheng. It’s not so much about really working out, at least not in the traditional sense, but it’s based on Tai Chi. The instructor is a Ph.D. in the sports medicine field, and several reviews indicated people reducing or eliminating their pain using this program. So I considered it to be my first program.

I started today. Day 1 requires a bit of time to watch an introductory video prior to the Day 1 program. I watched most of it, but not all as I was getting antsy to check off some other tasks on my to-do list. I will watch that part tomorrow before the Day 2 exercises. The intro is important as it shows you how to set up a grid needed for the program. I read reviews that the tape that came with the set is more destructive than advertised, and I didn’t want to do any permanent damage to my floor. So I found an old, thin blanket (rough, not smooth) that doesn’t slide much on the carpet. I wouldn’t use this blanket for any cardio moves, jumping, etc. but it was OK for Day 1 anyway. I’m prepared to find an alternative if this doesn’t work.

As part of the intro, there’s a unique mobility test. Some things I scored the max on – others I scored a zero due to pain, mostly due to the shoulder pain that is subsiding put not gone. The test is to be repeated on Day 90, at the conclusion of the program. I expect I’ll improve my score – that’s sort of a no-brainer. I didn’t do the weight or body measurements because I did them a month or two ago and I know they haven’t changed much, if at all.

Day 1 was short, as the first week or so is reported to be, but I was surprised. I actually sweated a little bit. My basement was about 69 degrees Fahrenheit, and there were no fast movements. I had a hard time with some of the exercises where I had to put a fair amount of body weight on my wrists, since one wrist is still healing. I modified the massage exercises (who knew I was so tight in my calves?) but toughed it out through the plank exercises.

My hope is that I don’t re-injure myself and have to wait a while and restart the program, but I want to get through the first week and see how things go. I don’t intend to blog about every day’s workout, because the reviews I’ve seen like that are tedious. However, I didn’t find (in an admittedly non-thorough search) a review from someone with an injury, certainly not a should injury. I did see reviews for people who felt joint pain or unspecified pain in other workouts. Feel free to follow along to see what I experience in my hope to become pain free and ready to tackle P90 or Insanity in a few weeks/months!