Snow monkeys & nude dudes

Nude dudes, really ? Yep, keep reading ... The day is packed with plans as we head out early from the… [more]

Snow monkeys & nude dudes Snow monkeys & nude dudes

A dose of Mother Nature

Now that the title got your attention, I thought I would take a few minutes and fill you in on the past… [more]

A dose of Mother Nature A dose of Mother Nature

Back to Japan …

30 straight hours of travel; consisting of 2 car rides, 2 plane rides, and 2 train rides and I finally… [more]

Back to Japan … Back to Japan …

A Mucking Good Time !

It seems impossible that it has been nearly a year since my last update on this site. I guess I use Facebook… [more]

A Mucking Good Time ! A Mucking Good Time !

Joys of home brewing

After watching a few episodes of a new TV program called "Brewmasters", my passion for home brewing has… [more]

Joys of home brewing Joys of home brewing

Travelling Around Ireland !

I recently returned home from one heck of a 10 day trip to the Emerald Isle ! The "reason" for the trip… [more]

Travelling Around Ireland ! Travelling Around Ireland !

Finishing Strong …

I did not get a chance to update you with a new post because the last couple days have been a blur. I… [more]

Finishing Strong … Finishing Strong …

Fish Market & More …

Today was another early start ! Now, everyone who knows me, knows I love to go to markets, but this one… [more]

Fish Market & More … Fish Market & More …

2 Years Later !

They say that hindsight is always 20-20 ... and I would be inclined to agree ! It was 2 years ago this… [more]

2 Years Later ! 2 Years Later !
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Snow monkeys & nude dudes

Posted on : 27-02-2013 | By : Nathan | In : Travelogue | Comments

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Snow MonkeysNude dudes, really ? Yep, keep reading … The day is packed with plans as we head out early from the Hotel. Our primary objective is to head north to visit the Jigokudani Snow Monkeys. Closely followed by a traditional Japanese onsen (hot spring water spa), a relaxing massage, and some dinner at a local Izakaya. Here is the skinny:

All week Derek, Miwa, and I have been looking forward to going to visit the snow monkeys. It is hard not to when it seems like every sign post and billboard we pass has been littered with advertisements. After a train ride, followed by a bus ride, then 30 minute snowy trek deep into the forest, we finally arrived at Jigokudani. Jigokudani translates to “Hell Valley” because of the boiling water that reaches the earth’s surface, causing steam to rise out of the valley.

The forest and valley open up to quite a site. However, we did not enter a zoo or enclosure of some kind. There were no walls or bars present to separate the monkeys from us. We were truly among them, watching them how nature intended. A few young monkeys were running by our feet wrestling with each other, others were carrying snow balls. Older ones were perched up on the hand rail having a nap, literally inches from us. As we continued further, the area opened up to 20-30 more monkeys playing tag or foraging for food in the snow. Some exchange glances as we passed, others are too focused on the task at hand.

The central location for viewing was a natural onsen, which is a hot spring water spa. The monkeys would just climb in and go to sleep, as if to relax from the day’s previous activities. Some would have smaller monkeys grooming them as they napped and enjoyed the heated water. Others would be the center of attention for eager tourists (like ourselves) to snap once in a life time photos. Across the river you could see even more monkeys playing on the side of an embankment or perched at a peak, as if they were a lookout.

None were aggressive. None tried to rob your pockets or backpacks. They did not seem to mind the company of humans in their natural habitat. It was as if there was an understanding that we were curious of how they spent their time, so they obliged by letting us watch. In total, there is said to be around 200 Japanese Macaque. I later found out that they do not even live at the onsen, they simply commute for a chance to warm up.

Spending time among the monkeys was one of the most surreal experiences I have ever had. I realize my words do not do this experience justice, so I was able to locate a live feed for you to check out. I also created a new image gallery specifically for the Snow Monkeys. There are some awesome shots, so please check them out when you get a sec.

After being outside all day watching the monkeys warming up in a warm pool of water, it was time for us to do the same. After some home made, hand cut, Buckwheat Soba noodles and freshly picked tempura mushrooms for lunch, we made it back to the train station. Lucky for us it is centrally located to numerous local onsens. Derek and Miwa attempted to give me some basic protocol regarding how these things work …

Chicks and dudes are separate, no exceptions. Everyone is nude, no exceptions, though you do get a tiny towel to keep with you. There is typically an indoor and outdoor facility, along with a community bathing area. The natural spring water is freaking hot, nearly too hot for me. The outdoor area was by far my favorite. There is something about being outside in the freezing weather, but still sweating from the hot water. I will spare you all further details and mental imagery that accompanies the thought of me being naked with a bunch of 80 year old Japanese dudes though. After a quick shower sitting on an 8 inch stool, we headed back to our hotel in Nagano.

A quick massage and a tasty dinner at a well-decorated Izakaya and we called it a night.

Unordinary: Coca Cola machines that sells beer? Yep, check that off the list! Show Me!

A dose of Mother Nature

Posted on : 26-02-2013 | By : Nathan | In : Travelogue | Comments

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Japan 2013Now that the title got your attention, I thought I would take a few minutes and fill you in on the past 2 day’s happenings. I lumped them together mostly because the activities of each were very similar. Summary: Both days started with a bus journey into the mountains, snowboarding, lunch, more snowboarding, a bus journey back to the hotel, then traditional Japanese dinners. High points are as follows:

Weather conditions were unbelievable, consisting of constant 40+ mph wind and minimal visibility. Hardly anyone would brave the trip up the mountain in these conditions, except us ! Fortunately, we had ample gear to protect us from the wind, though temperatures dropped well below 0 with the windchill factor. It felt like the wind was literally going to blow you right off of the mountain. At nearly 200 pounds, Derek and I were OK. However, poor Miwa only weighs about 90 pounds, so we were a bit nervous with her. Any trail marked “closed”, large signs marked “Danger”, and straight up trail blazing through the wooded areas were all fair game. (no sheep here) The resort ended up shutting down nearly every lift because it simply became too dangerous.

Something about braving/enduring conditions like this makes things an adventure … Sitting on the side of a mountain with nearly eight thousand vertical feet to descend in a matter of minutes. The wind hurling at your back, forcing you closer to the edge with every gust. You prepare to do battle with the toughest runs the mountain has to throw at you. As you make your line choice and commit, danger surrounds your every move. Extreme focus and critical decisions made in an instant tax your brain, the ever-changing terrain taxes your body. Simply reaching the bottom is considered a victory. Memories like this wont be soon forgotten, and truly serve as life affirming experiences ! Filed under surreal.

On the bus ride home, though I was deep in an audio book, I heard about 30 cell phones go off at the same time. Oddly, they each had the same ring tone. Not like anything I have heard before though, more of a strange warning pattern of some sort. I looked over at Derek and Miwa to glean any additional info. They promptly informed me that this was an earthquake alert, and it was happening live. They quickly looked it up and it actually occurred in our current area. Since we were on the bus, we did not actually feel it. Once I arrived back to the the hotel, I did a bit more recon. Here are a couple articles: Fox News & CNN. Monday was a day Mother Nature was not to be trifled with !

One of the dinners we went out for is called Yakiniku. You basically order small amounts of the meat and grill them on a little mini grill in the middle of the table. Various cuts of 1-2oz portions of the cow are available, so you can compare/contrast each. The meat is all locally sourced and exceptionally flavorful. This dinner solved the age old question of quantity vs. quality, period.

After dinner, we headed to an Izakaya, a Japanese bar with local finger food & drink. The staff was very friendly and were interacting with us throughout. I was able to try Burdock root, fried in tempura batter & a spicy mayo. Wow, no need to have french fries with this stuff around ! Towards the end, one of the servers admitted that they rarely have foreigners (gaijin, somewhat derogatory) in the establishment. They asked if they could pose for a picture with us, so we obliged. A little strange to be honest. However, they did provide us with hand warmers upon leaving to ensure we were warm for our walk home. The little things make all the difference.

I finally got a most of the technical issues sorted out with the camera and web site. Please take a look at the gallery section to see some of the recent photos. Lots more to come, so keep an eye out.

Unordinary: For some reason music video parody’s are all the rage right now. Current entry: The Harlem Shake

Back to Japan …

Posted on : 24-02-2013 | By : Nathan | In : Travelogue | Comments

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Japan 201330 straight hours of travel; consisting of 2 car rides, 2 plane rides, and 2 train rides and I finally arrived in Nagano Japan. My best buddy Derek & his wife Miwa greeted me at the airport and we were ready to roll.

This time I did not let myself fall victim to the jet lag and opposite sleep timing associated with arriving somewhere that has 12+ hours time difference. How you ask ? Don’t sleep the entire way there ! It is brutal, but when you arrive, and it is nearly midnight, you have not choice but to go straight to sleep. You then wake up 8 hours later magically aligned to the new time zone. Lesson learned from the last trip … write that down.

So today’s plan was simple: Snowboarding. After a sampling of numerous Japanese paleo-friendly breakfast delicacies at the buffet, we were off. Another hour long bus ride up into the mountains got us to Hakuba Happo One, the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics. There was snow early on, and it only picked up steadily throughout the day. Some of the black diamond runs had over 2 feet of fresh powder and an 8-10 foot base. Toward the end of the outing, the conditions were near white-out offering a mere 5 feet of visibility.

Derek had some hellacious high speed flips (we called them kabuki rolls) but remained unphased, as he miraculously transitioned from his head to his feet several times. In a classic “tortoise and the hare” scenario, Miwa was able to conquer the runs without issue, much more in control and significantly slower. Around 4 pm most of the lifts had stopped running due to inclement weather, so we took that as a our queue to pull the rip cord.

I can’t remember much about the bus ride back because I was napping to a marginal audiobook. However, I think Japanese buses are made for people considerably smaller then me. IE: I had no feeling from the waste down due to near fetal positioning in the tiny bench seats.

A well deserved dinner immediately followed our arrival back to Nagano. We went for Yakitori We sampled everything from chicken, liver, beef, duck, and more. The restaurant was a very intimate setting, holding maybe 15 people max. We were lucky enough to get a table and enjoyed course after course of the mini skewers as the ever-attentive service staff kept the very traditional Japanese dinner progressing. One particular highlight was a Beer called “Yebisu Stout – Creamy Top” which reminded me of Guinness, but only available here. Was a great dining experience, and highly recommended !

So, where are the pics ? A few technical difficulties are currently plaguing my digital upload situation. Namely: Did not bring a card reader for the Sony memory stick, camera battery died, permissions issue on the web site that I am just too tired to troubleshoot. I will work on these when I get time …

Already missing Niamh and Sco bigtime … Gonna hit the sack … Up in another 7 hours for round 2 at the mountain !

Unordinary: Sweet Brown, I ain’t got time for that: Link

A Mucking Good Time !

Posted on : 07-12-2011 | By : Nathan | In : General | Comments

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Adventure Racing It seems impossible that it has been nearly a year since my last update on this site. I guess I use Facebook for frequent small updates, typically via phone pics and whatnot. Well, I guess it is time to give a proper update …

Late last year I started dabbling in 5K’s for fun. I ran a few, but to be honest running down a straight road for miles makes me feel a bit like a lemming. I then saw an ad that would forever change my view of what a 5K actually could be. The ad was for an “offroad 5K” that has military grade obstacles, fire, mud, barbed wire, and more thrown in to make things a bit more interesting. Aptly dubbed “The Warrior Dash” you are greeted with a medal and a huge beer at the finish line. What more could you ask for ?

After talking one of my best buddies into attending the event with me and putting in a solid top 20% effort, I was hooked. I began looking for other similar events that were within driving distance that would test me both mentally and physically and be something more then the vanilla weekend 5k  I was growing accustomed to. Below is my complete run down from 2011:

5K’s:

- Blues Fest
- Bellbrook HS
- UD River Run

Adventure Races:

- Warrior Dash – 1st ever adventure race. Great pre/after party with live music and turkey legs. Coarse and obstacles were epic ! Highly recommended – 5 stars

- Mud Athlon – Most obstacles of any adventure race I have done. Tough to pace due to tons of natural terrain variations. A really good time overall and great finishers medal. Highly recommended – 5 stars

- Rebel Race – Small race in Indiana. A lot of corn field running. Obstacles were run by military, so that was cool. Overpriced and not sure if I would go back. Crap medal and t-shirt – 3 stars

- Swamp Stomp – Was it’s inaugural event, with minimal turn out. Some great obstacles but could be greatly improved for next year. The final mile was all corn field. Was freezing and tough though – 3 stars

Dirt Bike:

- Ironman GNCC – My 5th year running this race. Always a blast !

- Muddobbers National Enduro – My 1st finish out of 4 attempts for a Natl Enduro. Very proud of this accomplishment. Previous ones cost me an ACL/Meniscus and some bike repairs.

- Peace Pipe Enduro – 120+ miles of pristine singe track w/ some great weather.

Other:

- Urban Athlon – A 10 mile race throughout Chicago. Every mile or so is another mini-obstacle course to complete. This was a huge event put on by Mens Health Magazine & Gatoraid. It included Navy Peer and 1 mile of stairs inside Soldier Field. This is the furthest I have ever run and one of the most memorable events I have ever competed in. My buddies and I will be running this annually, so you are invited to come with !

In short, it was one heck of a year getting out there and competing in all of these events. The days of wrestling and martial arts may be long gone, but it is still nice to get out and test yourself. Even more important then competition is spending time with friends and family and creating new memories along the way. I am already looking forward to what 2012 holds, so if you are interested just let me know. Thanks for reading !

Unordinary: A 24 hour death race … Check this: Link

Joys of home brewing

Posted on : 23-01-2011 | By : Nathan | In : General | Comments

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Home Brew - India Black AleAfter watching a few episodes of a new TV program called “Brewmasters“, my passion for home brewing has been seriously reinvigorated. I have been reading up and even attending the odd brewing class to brush up on my skills. I currently have a batch of Scottish Red Ale in the secondary fermentor, and a batch of India Black Ale in the primary fermentor.

In addition to brewing my own beer (with the help of a few friends) I am getting much more adventurous in trying new craft and micro brewed beers as well. I read Sam Calagione’s book where he explains the basics of tasting, and also pairing of beer with certain foods. Great read, and highly recommended for anyone interested in getting started brewing.

I have to admit that finding Dogfish Head, Sam Calagione’s craft brewery, has given me a new view regarding what “real American beer” actually is. It’s not Anheuser-Busch (now owned by a Belgian company) brewing up urine colored,  tasteless, boring, beers for the masses … It is the small breweries who are pushing the limits of what a beer can actually be. I challenge you to try one of Dogfish Head’s 90 Minute IPA’s, Chicory Stout, or Raison D’etre and see if you don’t agree with me.  Your taste buds will certainly thank !

I just might have a little idea “brewing”. About this time I bet you are thinking “oh no, here we go again” … Well, to all the naysayers, you will just have to wait and see. Stay tuned, more on that to come.

Unordinary: Want to know how jacked up the beer business really is ? Click Here