The Heroes Journey

My son Elliott (5) dictated this story to me tonight. The words are his. He was extremely excited throughout the process. He stood in front of me and jumped up and down with delight as he spun his yarn for 30 minutes.

This was part of a writing class he participates in through our homeschooling cooperative. It is a role playing game that requires the students to write in order to advance in the game. This exercise was for learning the literary components of the "The Heroes Journey". I loved going through this exercise with him and I could tell he delighted in the attention.

The Heroic Journey of Harry Potter

A very important guy named Bill was giving out newspapers and came to me one day. He gave me a newspaper and he asked me if I could free the queen from the castle. I had met her once before. I knew that castle because I had been there once before. I was really really really really really worried about the queen. I was so scared that I started vibrating and my teeth chattered.

I was at home when this happened, at the front door. When I found all this out, I got my gorilla and wand. I got on my megaclothes – a checkered white shirt, jeans, and yellow shoes. I was scared for both me and for the queen. There is this place called the haunted woods. There is one thing you have to avoid. The trees are like humans. They stay in the ground but they can bend down and whack at you. That is why they call it the haunted woods. But my gorilla was in front and he just kept snapping them.

After the haunted woods we got to the castle. There are these big ax choppers that go ker-klunk ching. These hit an opponent and they immediately die. There are big spinning axes on wheels. And there are also big dropping anvils. There was a person who tried to kill me while I was on the spinning ax. I did my fireball spell right at his chest. He fell to the ground. I zipped on a vine across a pit of tigers. Big gates shut in front of me. But before one closed I got through.

I found two crystals. The crystals were magical and they helped my pet gorilla. I fed my gorilla lots of fruit outside and then gave him the yellow banana shaped crystal and the red apple shaped crystal and this gave him giga-strength. The gorilla held open the castle entry as they were trying to close it and we got in. My gorilla walked in while holding the gate open, it was the kind that closes from the top, and we entered the castle.

I’m in a castle made out of stone with a floor covered in bones. Torches on the sides light the place – it is a very spooky place. I got to the queen, a castle queen, with a wand and wings. She is looking at me very surprised. She is glad I am here. They trapped her here for a punishment and they tried to kill her. But they hadn’t killed her yet. They were trying to kill her by giving her no food. It is a bad guy’s castle.

I have my pet gorilla with me. I use his muscle and strength to break the bars on the cage that the queen is in. The queen says ‘thank you’.

I take the queen back through the castle and I take her to my campsite.

I get a big reward for doing all this spooky krooky stuff and saving the queen – the beautiful one.

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Symmetry Redux

The Sail Robotics team is rebuilding last year's award winning robot, Symmetry. This little robot will be used for community demonstration and recruitment purposes. We will be sharing the enthusiasm of our young engineers as they participate in the The Collin County BEST robotics competition.

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Family Glasses

Rach was talking to Friend Joy and decided we could improve our kitchen efficiency if every person in the family had their very own glass. We loaded into the car and each of us selected a glass. Each person is responsible for cleaning the glass each time they need it. I find the choices revealing.

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Ruta del Norte

I participated in another 6 hour endurance race this past weekend. You can see the results here

I finished 16th in the Men's 40+ division. That felt pretty good compared to 23rd a month ago. I came in 'standing up' and was able to turn 7 laps totalling about 60 miles. The first lap was the slowest and the last lap was as fast as the third. Starting slow seemed to work pretty well.

This was the same course as the Ultracentric 12-hour relay competition (at Erwin Park in McKinney, TX) where Kirk and I almost froze to death. The course was setup for a complete loop and included the ‘Expert’ section – this is the segment containing the big dips, elevated bridges and off-camber roller-coaster single track.

The weather was cold with the high at 40 degrees and a constant 20-30mph wind. the sun was out part of the day and that made it much more comfortable than the Ultracentric competition. Comfortable probably isn’t the right word for such conditions. I'm looking forward to doing one of these with windchills above freezing.

I learned that tight shoes make for a very efficient peddling platform. It is a terrible way to treat feet though. My feet were blocks of ice until I loosened them up and gave them a little blood.

The fastest lap of the day appears to be 36 minutes. This compares to my fastest lap of 52 minutes. I don't know how you would run that pace on 400cc two-stroke, much less on a bike. I think I'll keep my day job as soon as I get one.

One guy completely broke his foot off - you can see the carnage here: (check it out, it is safe for work and not gruesome - this guy is awesome)

About 160 people show up for the competition. The race is started using a "LaMans" start where everyone lines up and races on foot to their bicycles. This helps spread everyone out so the serious people can get on the trail first.

Here are the bikes:

Here are the people:

The trail has a lot of technical challenges. This means you can crash if you aren't paying attention. One section of the trail is called 'Screaming Drop'. I don't think the photos really capture how steep the drop is. From the top it looks like a cliff. You have to get well behind the saddle of the bike to keep from going over the handle bars. This can be difficult after 50 miles of riding.

Here is the Screaming Drop from a different angle:

Another feature of the trail is the Bank Shot. This is a roller coaster-like feature of smooth off-camber single track with deep steep drops through a creek bed. Its about as much fun as I can have for free.

Here is a section of 'Bank Shot'.


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The Rattler

Check out this diamondback rattler encountered during the trip to Enchanted Rock last October. It was between 3 and 10 ft long and in the middle of the trail.

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Cooper Cycling Completes 6 Hour Race

Cooper Cycling completed the Los Aguantes de Seise winter race put on by the Dallas Off-Road Bicycling Associations (DORBA) As the name translates, this was a six hour endurance race. Kirk and I finished 12th and 21st in the 40+ category. We had a lot of fun. Unlike the Ultracentric race we entered individually so we could get our 6 hours of exercise in one continuous effort.

The 35 mph winds were not a factor because the trail is wooded and temperatures were in the 50's. I completed about 50 miles and Kirk completed about 60 miles of single track sweetness.

The Boulder Park Trail in South Dallas is a gem with fast flowing lines, intense short climbs, technical descents, ladders, bridges, creek crossings, and tight twisting turns in dense woods. The trail doesn't permit the rider to maintain a static position to crank the pedals. You are continuously out of the saddle and moving on the bike to negotiate the technical features of the trail. It is a blast covering an 11 mile loop.

Hydration and feeding all happened on the bike with short breaks in the pits to top-off the hydration pack. There were some fantastic competitors present. The leMans start required us (about 150 of us) to sprint about 60 yards to the staging area, leap onto our bikes and race on the road for about a mile before entering the trail at a mid-point.

I was home at 5pm just in time for my eldest son's 12th birthday party.

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Cooper Cycling 1st Place

The UltraCentric race series is for Ultra-endurance athletes competing in 12/24/48 hour running and riding competitions. Twin brother Kirk and I won the 12-Hour 2-Person Team competition on Saturday November 15, 2008. We completed 124 miles on a tight twisting single track loop. The conditions were rather appalling for North Texas in mid-November. We faced a constant 15 mph wind with 30 mph gusts at sub-40 degree temperatures. The race is essentially a relay where we pass an RFID chip between the teammates. Riding at night was especially cool with special headlight equipment on the helmet and bike. Special thanks to Joe Clay for making the night-time adventure possible.

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Enchanted Rock

I recently climbed the 5.8 Dome Driver route at Enchanted Rock in the Texas Hill Country. This was my first face climb and first climb over 30ft. It is a 400ft. face on the Enchanted Rock batholisque.

From the bottom it looked like this:

I'm the person/fool in the green helmet. The half way point looks like this from the top:

The photo below offers more perspective. You can see me standing in the middle of the photo. (You can click on the photo to enlarge it)

The top looks something like this:

It is an exhilarating experience.

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Berryman Trail Epic

The Berryman Trail Epic (BT Epic) was on October 25th and 26th. It was 100K of off-road bicycling madness. I completed the course in about 8 hours which is about double the time required for this guy to complete it. My six hour Saturday morning training rides on the DORBA trails didn't quite prepare me for 5,800 feet of climbing in the Ozarks. I'll be a little smarter next time on my preparation. Speaking of preparation, Scott Davis and team at Springfield Cycles put on a great first year event. I'd definitely drive 8 hours to do it again. The Ozarks had their fall colors ready for us. The trail was almost all single track with insane but 'cleanable' climbs and awesome downhill.

The two day event is divided into a 'Tour' on Saturday and a 'Race' on Sunday. The Tour is for normal guys who really want to ride their bike for a long time and test themselves. The Race is for super-human freaks of nature competing for cash prizes. The Tour offered some really great lottery items including three single speed bikes and a lot of gear.

I got 16 hours in the car with my brother, a cool t-shirt, one photo, and a destroyed suspension linkage.

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Robot Fabrication

The photo below is Emerson and Mike using a dremel to finish bolt ends for smooth operation of the robot arm. This particular arm did not make it to competition because it didn't meet the driving team's drivability requirements. This was one of many important and hard lessons - the users/customers' opinions really do matter.

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The Robots

The picture below is representative of the robots in the Collin County BEST robotics competition this year. It is a pleasure to see the creative talents of high school and middle school aged kids unleashed.

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The Field of Competition

The BEST engineering program was developed to encourage engineering. This year, the students were given a large selection of raw materials, 6 weeks, and a very demanding task. They had to maneuver their robot to 1) throw the switch to open the warehouse doors, remove ground obstructions, remove airplane parts, assemble the airplane onto the airplane base, and then hang the airplane 4ft in the air. This competition was properly named 'Just Plane Crazy'.

Below you can see the field of competition. It is divided into 4 quadrants. Each quadrant is divided into a warehouse and assembly area. Once assembled, the robot is hung on the poles in the center.

The robot is in the starting position next to the driver. A spotter stands between the warehouse and assembly area. Points are awarded for exiting the starting square, opening the warehouse switch, removing parts from the warehouse, assembling the aircraft, hanging the aircraft and removing foreign/obstructing objects.

The overall effect of walking into this gym is much like walking into a rock concert. It is loud and full of youthful energy.

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Zen Assemblies - Vice President of Engineering

This is Emerson. He is the Vice President of Engineering for Zen Assemblies.

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The fine little robot below was the product of six weeks of planning and testing. It was produced by Zen Assemblies, our make believe robot manufacturing company, a division of the SAIL homeschool group. Our team of kids ranged from 5th grade to 11th grade. This was their second year to compete. They were amazing. Last year they won the 'Blood, Sweat and Duct Tape' award. This year they won Most Robut Robot, Third in overall competition, and 4th in the robot competition.

I'm very proud of the whole team. They produced amazing ideas and exhibited a lot of courage to see them through. Everyone found a role where they could contribute their unique gifts to the team effort. We had specialized teams for marketers, chasis, arm, and gripper designers, fabrication specialists, microcontroller programmers and drivers.

Thank you to all of the homeschool parents for supporting their childrens' drive. A special thanks to the Tharps who lead the effort and let us take over their home and garage for six weeks.

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Flagstaff, Arizona - Post Ride Nutrition

I piled up a lot of miles in the saddle. Getting older has made my post ride nutrition critical to recovery. This trip it was especially important. After Dakota Ride/Red Rocks in Denver, Slick Rock and Moab Rim trails in Moab, I rode the Ft. Valley trails in Flagstaff. I'm getting ready for the 100K Berryman Classic in Missouri in October. All this 'four corners' riding was more than a little challenging for this North Texan.

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Slick Rock - Campsite

I camped out the night after my first whole day in Moab. My iPhone doesn't do the garish scenerey justice.

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Slick Rock - Scenic Overlook II

they call it the bad lands but I guess that depends what you are trying to do with it. Its fantastic for mountain biking.

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Slick Rock, Scenic Overlook

The scenic overlook was a wonderful payoff for a couple of hours of relentless ascents and behind the saddle descents.

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Slick Rock Trail, Moab, Utah

Slick Rock is one of the preeminent mountain biking trails in North America. I've wanted to experience it since I took up the sport a decade ago. Despite all the hype, it surpassed my expectations. It is an extremely demanding trail from a cardiovascular and technical riding skills standpoint. The scenerey is surreal. The exposure is unsettling at first as you peer several hundred feet into the canyons. But the positive traction with the rock surfaces shores up confidence. This 12 mile loop can be ridden either direction. I chose the 'hard' direction and got all I bargained for.

The available literature speak to death on the trail - mostly this is due to heat exhaustion. Its difficult to imagine riding in the summer. it would take me at least 3 gallons of water to survive the loop.

For perspective in the photo below, note the rider in the lower left pushing her bike up the trail.

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Northeast New Mexico II

Looking south.

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