Thursday, August 31, 2006

My Trip To Dillon

Hey, y'all!

Seems like I've been tripping all over the place, but have been landing in some places worthy of my writing (and your reading). This time, let me take you to Dillon, Colorado.

Nestled in Summit County, at an altitude of over 9,000 feet, Dillon is where my father resides during the summer months. And that idea is a no-brainer considering he lives in Waco, Texas the rest of the year... (In case you forgot, Waco in the summer time is the equivalent of sitting in your car with all the windows rolled up in the middle of July... practically anywhere... like... Waco... this is going nowhere)

ANYWAY, I went there to visit him and to do lots of cool outdoorsy type activities, mostly hiking, golfing, and one 35 mile bike ride.

As for the golfing, it was fun... even though I only golf about once or twice a year. Good news is because of the altitude, the air is thinner. Thinner air means there is less resistance to your ball in flight, and if you can get your ball off of the ground (I have a 50-60% chance of that) it'll fly about 15-20% farther! Unfortunately the thinness of air does nothing for your putting game, so I found that putting towards the closest sand trap was a more reasonable goal. Still, it's embarrassing when you can't putt your ball into a 250 square foot pit of sand.
Here is some of the Keystone Ranch course, one that I attempted to play. At least you can take solace in the beautiful mountains and scenery as you continuously strike the ball 30 feet at a time, all the while pretending not to hear the heartless laughter of all the woodland creatures.
Here I am about to send the ball hurtling into orbit... and by hurtling to orbit I mean probably running it into the grass to the point where it fails to pass the ladies' tee box. Then I have to crawl with my pants down around my ankles to retrieve the ball while my father and his friends put out their cigarettes on my butt...

Just kidding, usually they just poke me with sticks and call me "Nancy." I love hangin' with the guys.

Okay, enough about golf... How about something more exciting? Like walking... er... hiking! I've always been a fan of hiking. Something about walking up hill for a long time just makes me giddy. Usually, at the top of your hike, you are rewarded with a fantastic view of stuff way down below you. You find a rock, sit on it, and eat some trail mix (suspiciously anytime you mix M & M's with peanuts, you get trail mix. Why? Neither of these things are indigenous to any trail I've been on...) Anyway, you sit on a rock eating candy and nuts and say "Yep, sure is a long way up." You breathe it in for awhile... then continue your torture and walk back down. And it's always a surprise when you get to the top... to see the sweeping landscape before you. This is kinda ironic, as it's been there the entire trip up, but since 95% of a hike is spent looking down at your feet while you're walking, you never see it. Think about it... next time your hiking and you happen to look up... You've basically seen "it" and can now walk back down.

In any case, I sure do love me some hiking, and my father and I went on a few this trip. Rather than waste words and words and words here, I've created a fancy little video for you to enjoy. So, sit back and watch my hikes of Dillon, Colorado... Or, if your chair doesn't have a back, and you're on a bar stool, then I suggest you not lean, unless you have strong abs. In any case, I trust you'll make the right decision concerning your equilibrium and the type of furniture you're using.... Now, the video:

Pretty neat, huh? Now for some pictures that did not make it into the video...
This tree is bendy... Yep... Really don't have much else to say about it... Bendy bendy...
Here is a picture of some type of flower I took while on a nature hike. I think I'll call it "Pom Pom Plant" or "P Cubed." Whatever it is, this photo just might get put on the fridge... makes me think I'm a real-life photographer!

Here I am about ready to start that Nature Hike I have mentioned... Notice how my back is friggin' huge (friggin' is a medical term... er... medical adjective that doctors use to describe something that is... uh, medical in nature. For example "In order to operate, Dr. Granstonen asked the nurse, Ms. Maryweathertonston, to 'bring me my friggin' forceps.' Now that you know that, you're probably wondering why I would use a medical adjective, clearly when it's out of context. Answer? I have no idea...

Anyway, under my jacket (with a hood, 'cause you never know) I had a camel pack on. For those of you unaware, a camel back is a backpack with a built in canteen, or bladder, inside of it. It also has a long plastic tube that comes out the top, so when your hiking, cycling, or tailgating, you just reach around, grab the hose, and hydrate. Sounds like a smart idea, no?

Sort of... See, the Nature Hike was something my step mother Trudi does with a group of people every week. She has become quite adept at naming high altitude flora, such as the Geranium sanguineum, or the Erigeron concinnus... where I tend to name the same plants "Henry Kissinger" and "Wanda Sikes." In any case, you'd never think you'd run into Henry and Wanda together, let alone in full bloom. Wait, I was talking about the camel pack, wasn't I? Right...

So, this Nature Hike was the last one of the season, and everyone had brought a snack to share. The plan was to hike for a bit, then find a spot and eat snacks. So, we did... And, believe me, there were good snacks (although, there was no trail mix... Interesting). So, what did yours truly bring? Well, Trudi decided to bring wine. So we filled up the camel pack with 3 liters of white wine. Then we stuck a tupperware container full of Kahula soaked brownies in the zipper portion of the camel pack. Although it seems heavy, it really wasn't since the pack is designed to fit snugly against your back. Anyway, once we sat down, Trudi whipped out some cups (Oh, I was carrying cups too...) and started pouring wine. So, here we were, at the top of our hike eating liquor soaked brownies and washing them down with a jug of white wine. Don't remember the hike back down... say... where'd this tattoo come from?

So, my father and I decide to go on a bike ride from Dillon to Breckenridge. One way was about 17 miles, and about a 500 foot elevation change (up going towards Breck). I decided to go on Google Earth to see just how long of a bike ride it was... I give you Illustration A:
After we got there, a burger was certainly in order (sorry, no pictures of food this trip). Funny thing was that after riding up hill for about 2 and a half hours, my legs felt fine. I wasn't huffin' and puffin'. No, all in all I felt fine... except that my butt was killing me! Holy cow let me tell you, I have always been aware that I don't have a lot of junk in my trunk know what I'm sayin'? Still, my butt hurt... a lot. Ha ha, jokes on me, cause now we are going to ride back to Dillon! At least the first leg was nothing but down hill (That long straight-ish line that goes south of the lake along the Snake River) so I could stand up a bit and coast. Still, by the time I got back to the house, my legs hurt a little, and my butt (which I took off and wore as a helmet) was throbbing... Yeah, that's a word picture isn't it? Throbbing butt... say it with me... throbbing butt... good...

Along the way back, I did stop and take one picture... I feel it was worth taking... Ever see those life sized bronze statues?
No caption needed...

Oh, and I did stop and take a picture along the way up too...

I mean, how often do you get to see that many bear carvings? Only once in a lifetime, my friend.

So, after a day long bike ride you'd figure the smart thing to do would be to rest the next day... Not me, nor my father... Because the next day we hiked Mt. Quandary. You saw some of it in the video, but let me remind you that the trail head started at 11,000ish feet and ended well over 14,300 feet. The trail was a little over 3 miles long each way, and since most of it was above the treeline (somewhere around 12,000 feet where the trees cannot grow) there wasn't anything to hike on but huge boulders and closer to the top, smaller rocks.
This picture was taken on our descent, probably just under 14,000 feet. Blow up the picture, and you can really gauge how high we are (see this hiker ahead?) Wanna know where the trail head is? Blow up the picture and spot the hiker in blue? Draw your mouse above him and just to the right you'll see a clearing with what looks like a lake. See the road to the left of the lake, and where it makes a left into the trees? About a quarter mile from there was the trail head.

Oh, and of course, when one plans ahead for a six mile hike, at least this one... you'd think part of the planning would be that camel pack (filled with water...) wouldn't you? Well, you should have told me, and we would have brought it. Did bring some Trail Mix though!

And that pretty much encompasses my trip to Dillon... to close, here are some pictures...

I know, it's juvenile, which is why I like it... Still, if I were a business owner, I would consider a few things here:
  • Who would eat donkey balls? Soaked in chocolate or not... they're balls.
  • Speaking of chocolate, if we are being literal about the balls, are we being metaphorical about the chocolate?
  • Look how happy the donkey in the picture is... He has conquered gravity by standing on his hine legs and seems to have mastered the art of snowboarding... but at what cost?
  • While you're there, try sucking on a "Donkey Ball" cigar... a big, brown cigar...

Poor guy... If only he had been drawn with toes that matched is tentacle like fingers, he'd probably have never slipped in the first place!

That's all I got... Y'all keep in touch!

Your pal,

Michael Lamendola

Sunday, August 06, 2006

My Trip To Waco... Part Two

When we last left our hero, we had

Witnessed the crazed child who kicks ducks in the butt.
Explored the seedy underbelly of a ring of children's amusement parks, complete with anti-missile defense systems.
Spelunked-ed the trophy room of a rocker turn bow hunter, complete with stuffed animals not too appropriate for your children's playroom.

So, it would seem that after my gracious insider's tour of Waco there'd be little left to discuss... right?


Notice how the words got bigger just then? That was to emphasize the importance of what's in store for you in this little ditty. So, what's more important than dead animals and Dr. Pepper? How about all the great food Texas has to offer? I offer you Exhibit A.

Like a beacon in the night (or a really high road sign in the day) Pancho's Mexican Buffet calls to me like... like what I said before. This location happens to be in Temple, Texas, which is about 40 minutes South of Waco, and just outside of Killeen, where Ft. Hood is located. There was a Pancho's in Waco, but sadly they lost their lease in 2003... Rest in Peace Pancho's of Waco... Rest in Peace.

Still, this one is close enough for me... Ah... Pancho's. Nothing quite like it, quite literally, since most buffets make you get up to get more... but not my amigo Pancho, no sir.

Instead, you walk through the line and get your taquitos, chile rellenos, flautas, enchiladas (chicken, beef, cheese, southwest), beans, rice, menudo (not the group, although that'd be cool I guess), freshly made tacos and burritos, tamales... I could go on. Anyway, take all that to your table. Waitress comes and brings you the prerequisite chips and salsa, even though you don't have to wait for your meal, along with fresh guacamole and tortillas. After all of that, when you want more, instead of getting up, you raise a little Mexican flag located on your table.

This is where Pancho's has it all over other buffets, Including Jimmy... I can't imagine he'd taste all that good... kinda old and stringy I'd bet. You see, once you raise the flag, back comes your waitress to bring you whatever you want. Two tamales? No problem. a couple of chicken enchiladas and a taco? No sweat. Four chalupas, a taco, three cheese enchiladas, some churros, a bowl of guac, some corn tortillas and another Dr. Pepper? Awesome. Seriously, you just can't get better... Matter of fact, if I were to look in my pictures, I could probably find more of me at Pancho's...

Yes, lets...

Here I am sometime in January of 2000, with my good buddy John, in the historic Pancho's of Waco, Texas. Shown here is the Mexican Flag that was integral in getting your fill of Tex-Mex. Oh, Tex-Mex is like Mexican food, only a little less authentic and more spicy (and to me... better). The flag can also be untied and placed on your cars antenna, if you are so inclined.
Here I am back in July. Nothing really has changed in six years. Man, I coulda sworn I had more pictures... guess you get too busy eating and all.

So, what else did I eat in while back in Waco? How about some ham, a mess o' collard and turnip greens with some good ol' cornbread...

Shown here is the afore mentioned meal, with a glass of sweet tea. Bet you thought you'd never see a picture of collards on the internet... Honestly, neither did I. Funny thing, your reading about stuff that I ate, with accompanying photos... you loser. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone...

Other things I ate, but do not have the pictures of, include:

Real Texas BBQ... complete with Beef Brisket and Sausage.
Fried Chicken... need I say more?
Steak... Because I haven't had enough meat.
Chicken Fried Steak... Not to be confused with Fried Chicken, Chicken Fried Steak is a tougher cut of beef pounded with a cleaver, breaded (ala fried chicken) and deep fried. Served under a gallon of white gravy, the kind you find when you order biscuits and gravy... the kind that usually kills a person by itself, let alone the fact I just ate over a pound of meat underneath it.

Hot damn I love my Southern Food. Moving on...

Oh, as promised... another picture of the Boy Who Kicks Ducks.

This one shows the innocent duck right at the second where he realizes that the child is not holding a loaf of bread, and instead about to kick him into the water. Some days, it's not so great being a duck... Still I suppose the alternatives could be worse.

Now for the Main Event!

On Friday, my mother and I drove out to Bellmead (just north of Waco) to watch the races at the Heart O Texas Speedway!

Brought to you by Dr. Pepper (or so it would seem, since the sign for the Speedway gets second billing) the HOT Speedway is a place to watch car races, and as you shall soon see, demolition derbies. By the way, HOT is the way we in Central Texas save time by not saying Heart O Texas... and no, no one ever says Of... just O. For example, when I was a kid I played soccer at the HOT Soccer Fields. Boring, I know... moving on.

So, as to not be one of those high falutin' Speedways, nothing here is really paved. I mean, if the racetrack is dirt, why would they pave the parking lot? So, you park your car in the field outside the grandstands (okay... bleachers... old wooden bleachers), buy your ticket and walk inside. And from the minute you get out of your car, you are greeted with the sweet smell of gasoline and dirt, and the sound of big cars runnin' straight pipe.

There are fifteen races or so in a usual evening, all comprising a different class of car. Usually the races are 12-15 laps, have 10-20 cars, and there is at least one instance a race where the yellow flag comes out (due to the fact there was a spin out, stalled car, or something that could be not so safe for all the drivers). During any given race, this is what you see:

I tried taking lots of pictures... but the cars are moving pretty fast, and its kinda dark... Most of the cars bodies have reinforced steel welded to them, since most of the cars are clunker bodies to begin with. Still, you also have your special modified variety....

These cars move a litter faster, as you could imagine. Now, when the yellow flag is waved, the cars just kind of cruise around the track while a tow truck gets the car out of the way. It takes a few minutes... as they'll just push the car off of the track. During one instance, I guess the tow truck was busy, so instead...

Kinda looks like the tractor is breaking some speed barriers... doesn't it?

They also have a race that is just for the jr. racers. The cars are limited to a certain engine size, and are usually old civics and other small hatch backs. The age range for this race is 12-16! Basically, if you have a driver's license, you're probably too old. Gotta love it.

Now when a race is over, the winning car pulls into the winner's circle, and anyone associated with the racer goes down there for a picture. This always includes a bunch of kids who have nothing to do with the racer or the pit crew, but just want to be on the track with the cars.

As the evening wears on, the number of kids slowly grow with each race, to the point where the last picture contains a million kids, and... where'd the car go? Notice that in all these pictures there's a protective layer of wire fence protecting me from 2,000 pound cars hurling around a track made of dirt. Aside from that dirt being thrown in your face by the cars, somehow... you feel safe.

But hey, you don't care about some stupid cars going around a track, do you? No... all you care about are some stupid cars driving into each other over and over again! Well, I don't blame you. Now, I had only been to the race track once before, and on that occasion there was no Demolition Derby. Seems that tonight was a treat for all in attendance. I believe there were seven cars competing in that night's derby.

Now, for those of you unfamiliar with a Demolition Derby, the object is to be the last car still able to move. That's it. Strategy is basically comprised of backing your car into the other cars, specifically the front. You see, your car is less likely to move if your radiator is cracked. You can tell when a car's radiator is leaking when you start to see white smoke coming out of the hood. Yes, it's just like the movies and video games depict. Also, for those of you wondering, the gas tank which is almost alayes located in the rear of the car is not used. Instead they put a gas can in the back seat (or where the back seats were), bolted down to the floor. That way there aren't any gas leaks or explosions. Gotta keep this as safe as possible.

I could show you a bunch of photos, but instead, I think I'll show you a movie... Yeah, I'm high tech like that...

Pretty cool huh? After the carnage, (and after finishing my Dr. Pepper and huge Dill Pickle), I went down on the track to take pictures...

This car didn't do so well...

This car used his rear a lot. The side used to read "Allen Samuels."

This station wagon will not be taking the kids to soccer practice (at the HOT Soccer Fields, or anywhere else for that matter)

This Dad gets my vote for "Coolest Take Your Son To Work Day EVER"

And now for your winner:
Seriously, this car looks tough... Chains holding up the fender and everything. The trophy doesn't quite fit on the hood though. Maybe something like a chain with a wrench hanging off of the rear view mirror... wait, there isn't one. Well, in any case if I smoked, I'd be lightin' up next to that dude there and sayin' something like "Shoo', that thare car shore tore it up dammit." Actually I did say that, without lighting a cigarette. See kids, you can be whatever you want without tobacco products. If you do use them, though, make sure the car isn't leaking any kind of caustic fluids...

And that brings this little journey of mine to a close. I'm glad you took the time to learn about all that Waco has to offer (mostly meat, dead animals, car racing, and Dr. Pepper), and I hope you leave knowing a bit more about the town that shaped the way...

Okay, I got nothin'.