Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Ultra Trail Mont Blanc - I Just Can't Get Enough

There’ve been no updates in a while and it’s because I really haven’t had any interesting trips or races. Until recently.

Since taking most of the last two years off from running (and completing CFA Levels I and II), I’ve slowly gotten back into running shape. Last winter, I signed up for UTMB, which is now a week away. I’m not really in “ultrarunning shape", but I do intend to start and give it my best. It would be my 4th finish there.

I really enjoy UTMB and the atmosphere of the Alps. Tiff will be with me, but the kids start school on Monday and won’t be going. Their school district is notoriously punitive for “unexcused absences”, despite there really not being much going on in the first week of school anyway and the great experience missed by not going to Europe.

Training has been predictably tough here in Dallas with the summer heat. My normal training route on the trails around Lake Lewisville has been submerged all summer after we had historic rainfall in the spring. As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time on my treadmill in a 100+ fahrenheit garage. I’m so used to the heat, in the nonexistent chance there’re 100 degree temperatures in the Alps next week, I predict I’ll win (but in the slowest time ever recorded).

My flights lately have taken me to Hong Kong. We operate what is reported to be the 8th longest

Mui Lo and Discovery Bay (distant)
from Sunset Peak, Lantau Island
flight in the world to get there. Hong Kong airport sits on Lantau Island, which is adjacent to Hong Kong and about a 30 minute drive away. After 5 trips there in the past several months, I haven’t actually been into Hong Kong. The reason - Lantau Island is a trail runner's paradise.

I’ll blog more on this later, but there’re are over 100 miles of trail on the island and some insanely steep climbs. The jungle is replete with giant spiders, cobras, and other interesting critters (as well as Disneyland, I've heard). It’s non-stop excitement and sweating in the subtropical humidity out there, but it has begun to  get me back into trail running shape.
Golden Orb - they love climbing on
me after I walk through their webs

Monday, August 11, 2014

Espresso at 35,000 Feet

Unless you’re a working crew member, I don’t know why you’d want to get caffeinated on a flight. Maybe before landing to get ready for a meeting or something important, but the flight attendants are much too busy then to mess with the time-consuming task of making an individual espresso.

Nespresso Hi-Fly

Anyway, since I’m a pilot and espresso lover*, I’m thankful that my airline’s new Boeing 777-300ER’s come equipped with a dual station espresso machine. Sorry, but they're in 1st Class only.

The machine is a Nespresso Hi-Fly HFE9520 Series, model HFE2005-01, if you care to know. It’s a pod machine and the airline uses Illy E.S.E. espresso pods. Oh yeah, they have decaffeinated, too.

Apparently, the flight attendants received no training on how to use the machines and the only FA’s making espresso are the ones curious enough to have figured out on their own how to use it. So, on a recent international flight, the espresso machine sat turned off, cold and neglected, until I came around after a mid-flight crew break in the upstairs bunk above 1st Class.

The reaction from the FA’s when I said I’d like an espresso was, “we don’t know how to use that.” I told them I’d do it since pilots are taught this in training. The plane knows how to fly itself and we needed to learn something. They seriously pondered that for a moment.

I had a small group gathered around me as I went through the technical process of pressing the On button and waiting for the machine’s green Ready light to come on. Once on, I placed the pod in the holder and moved the locking lever down.

Then it occurred to me, why don’t I steam the milk first and have that ready for my fresh espresso shot? I poured several ounces of ultra-pasteruzed (UHT) milk from a small box into a pitcher and began the sputtering and weak steaming process. It was unbelievably slow up until the very end, when out from the steaming nozzle came a burst which sprayed milk everywhere, but barely missing me.

The crowd of FA onlookers were beginning to doubt my prowess at making cappuccino or whether I’d actually been trained at all. Comments were made.

Then, I pressed the brewing button. There are 2 different measurements for the draw of espresso which are denoted on the machine by a large and small cup. Since the coffee pod itself only contains 7 grams of ground coffee beans, I opted for the more concentrated smaller serving size. This is the recommended procedure to avoid over-extraction.

Before adding milk
A stream of espresso poured into the cup, forming a paper-thin layer of crema on top. A thick head of crema is the hallmark of good aribica espresso, which this is not.

I added about an ounce of steamed milk and a dollop of foam and set about returning to work in the cockpit. But not before some degree of positive recognition by the FA’s, who began making espressos for themselves with their newly learned skills.

Flight Attendant admiring my work
The cappuccino was weak and bitter, but where else could you get espresso at 35,000 feet? I wondered if those on the international space station above were doing any better.

* Espresso lover, snob, home roaster, owner of several high-end espresso machines, and grower of a coffee tree in my backyard.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Paris when it Sizzles

Ah, Paris. It's hard to take a bad picture there.

Four days in the city of light, or rather heat. Another hot July - it's starting to rival Dallas with the summer temperatures. I'd promised Camille a trip to Paris after she crushed her French AP exam, so I made good. Versailles, d'Orsay, and lots of walking.

Champ de Mars at Sunset

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Off the Hardrock Wait List and Off the Sofa

I recently got news that I'm off the Hardrock 100 wait list and am officially entered to run the race in two weeks (7/11/14). In the lottery to enter the race held last December, I'd been drawn last and occupied the bottom of the "veterans" wait list with little chance of getting in this year. Or, so I thought.

I've done almost no running since last October when I finished the Grand Slam of the World. Work, family commitments and other projects have taken up my time. Hardrock is one of the toughest athletic events in the world and it's a crazy decision to run the race at this point, but I'll try it. Lots of hiking planned this year and if I make it 100 miles and "kiss the rock" at the finish, it'll be a miracle.

Just got back from Buenos Aires this morning.

"Motor Bike" in San Telmo, Buenos Aires

Well, that wasn’t pretty. I got about 44 miles into the Hardrock Hundred before I dropped.

As posted above, I was way undertrained this year. I unexpectedly got off the wait-list and officially entered into the race about two weeks prior. However, I’ve run enough 100’s and run Hardrock enough (6 times) to know how to get it done. It didn’t work this year.

First, I went out with too hard an effort for my fitness level. Later, when descending in the rain into Telluride at 28 miles, I took a bad fall on a rocky trail. My knee was banged and bloodied as I limped into the Telluride aid station and met my family. I then pressed on another 16 miles until Ouray before I dropped.

My plan going into 2014 was to take the year off from running ultra's. It's going to be hard, but I need to stick with that plan and recover from the past 10 years of a lot of hard racing.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Downhill Running for Flatlanders- Update

Updated my earlier post with a video of treadmill downhill running. Scroll to bottom of page:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Falafels in Paris

Now, let’s get down to the serious business of falafels. In Paris, that means going to the 4th Arrondissement to Rue des Rosiers in the Jewish section of the Marais. Here in the Pletzl, you’ll find a number of walk-up (and sit down) restaurants serving kosher middle eastern food from from nearly identical sets of menus.

Rue des Rosiers on a busy Sunday afternoon.
 Ground zero for Parisian falafel.
To the uninitiated, the collection of falafel joints here all seem pretty much the same. Once you’ve tried the falafel sandwiches from various places, however, you realize that even though the they all use the same ingredients (houmous, salade turque, crudites-boulettes, aubergines and creme de sesame) arranged in a pita in more or less the same way, there are subtle differences in the taste with indescribable qualities that clearly make some falafel better than others. The whole phenomenon of the Rue des Rosiers falafel boom seemed to occur just over ten years ago when a local Parisian restaurant review of Chez Hanna (54 Rue des Rosiers), at the eastern end of Rosiers, placed it among the 10 best in Paris. Not among the 10 best middle eastern restaurants, but among the best of any type of restaurant in Paris. Significant praise, especially since their falafel sandwich sold for the equivalent of about $2 US.

Chez Hanna - After I bought a falafel here, a small
group of curious tourists gathered.
Afterwards, the lines at Hanna’s street-side pick-up window would be 100’s deep. Their prices began to grow as well. The other Jewish restaurant along Rosiers also enjoyed the popularity, but it was Hanna that was king of the street at that time.

That’s changed over the years and Hanna has lost its mojo. There’s really no discernible difference when looking at their sandwich now, but one taste tells you they just don’t have IT anymore. It’s sad because you can now walk right up to their window and there’re no lines, even at the busiest times of the day. They’ll eagerly serve you when back in their heyday, they copped a haughty attitude, seemingly doing you a favor to serve you. Probably added to the mystique.

L'As du Fallafel  - Reigning Supreme
That was then and the undisputed king of the street now is L'As du Fallafel with 2 ‘l’s (32 Rue des Rosiers). Translation: the Ace of Falafel. They’ve reigned supreme for at least several years with their slightly spicy falafel, tangy, with a drizzling of tahini and harissa, savory eggplant and crisp vegetables. They open two serving windows during the busiest periods and have waiters working the lines in the street to take preorders. It’s quite an operation and they’re obviously capitalizing on their popularity to the max.

Right across the street from L'As du’ is mi-va-mi, the self-proclaimed “Best Of The Street.” They’re my slight favorite over L'A du’ and, judging from the lines there (not quite as long as L'As du’), rank as 2nd favorite of the falafel crowds. Their actual falafel is formed slightly smaller than their competitors and has a spicy and slightly more ‘middle-eastern’ flavor to it.

mi-va-mi Falafel - Superbe!
On a recent taste testing expedition to Rosiers, I asked a man waiting in line at mi-va-mi why he preferred it over the others. He happened to be a long-time falafel aficionado and explained that after years of trying the different restaurants, mi-va-mi really had it. Like my experience, it’s a mostly indescribable magic that you know when you taste it. Some have it, some had it and lost it, and some never had it at all. He agreed that Hanna wasn't as good as it used to be, but was at a loss to explain why. I understood.

My taste testing on that day involved first getting a sandwich at L'As du’, then going 20 feet to the other side of the street to get an identical one at mi-va-mi. It was the slow time of the day and neither restaurant had a line at that point. When the preparer at mi-va-mi saw me coming straight over from his competitor L'As du’, he commented to the effect that I must be performing a comparison and he seemed to take it as a challenge. A falafel sandwich can normally be thrown together in under 30 seconds, but he was intent on tweaking the preparation and spent nearly 3 minutes carefully layering the ingredients. I was becoming impatient and slightly suspicious at this point. However, when I later tasted this falafel, it was probably the best I’d ever eaten. Tiff had some and agreed. In falafel gastronomy, I suppose it can now only go downhill from there.

There are several other notable sources for falafel on the street. There’s King Falafel Palace - strictly entry level falafel. There’s also Chez Marianne, which is more a sit-down, family oriented place that’s often open on certain Sundays when the other restaurants are closed.
mi-va-mi - accepting the falafel challenge
with competitor L'As du.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Diagonale des Fous

The World Slam is in the books! My Diagonale des Fous race report is posted on the ultrarunning site

Now, it's back to the grind. And with no training, doing a little more relaxing on trips.

B777-200 at Sunset