Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Skiing - best of times, worst of times

My first weekend of teaching children was incredible, ending with a powder day on Sunday.  This past weekend was a stark reminder of the realities of skiing in the northeast.  A huge swath of the country was hit by the storm that his us this past weekend.  Sugarbush even managed to avoid the worst of the storm.  Areas to the north were hit with significant amounts of ice.  Regretfully, we did have to deal with a lot of rain and warm temperatures through the weekend.

Frequently, the weekend before Christmas can be somewhat slow in the seasonal ski school programs.  The kids have the entire year to ski, and the weekend before Christmas, the trail count is often low and everyone is preparing for Christmas at home.  The weekend after Christmas, on the other hand, is zoo-like, with huge crowds, often on limited terrain.

The forecast for this past weekend was ominous.  Lots of rain and warm temperatures were the main worries, plus potential periods of icing.  As my wife and I headed home from work on Friday night, the car thermometer read 23F and it was raining.  It was a slow drive home, but the roads weren't too bad.  Well, I also have brand new studded snow tires on a Subaru, which helped a lot.  We saw a handful of accidents in the northbound lane, but southbound remained accident-free the whole way home.

When I got up on Saturday morning (extra early - fearing a bad drive to the mountain), it was 37F and drizzling.  On my way to the mountain, I drop from 1110' (where my house is) to about 690' as I go through our little town.  The temperature in town was 33F, but I didn't encounter any ice.  On the way to the mountain, I cross a ridge-line on a dirt road.  The temperature climbed as I climbed to the ridge, and peaked at 47F.  On the way down from the peak, it dropped to 37F and then returned to 47F at the parking lot at the mountain.

I was very early, picked up my skis from the shop, where they'd been getting a new edge and a wax, and headed to the locker room.  I was supposed to lead a clinic about tree skiing safety, but none of the people who were expected to be there showed up.  We had a number of experienced instructors ready to go by 8:00, but the snow was not fun at all.  Things were firm and un-groomed, and it seemed like a challenging day was ahead of us.  But, the rain had stopped.  And, bit by bit, the warmer temperatures began to soften the snow.  The skiing was really fun as the snow softened, although the trail count had dropped tremendously due to warmer temps.  All of the natural snow trails we'd loved in the powder last week were gone, and we only had snowmaking trails to use.

By 11:00 or so, light rain had returned.  I only had one student for the day and we took an early lunch break.  But after lunch, the rain picked up in intensity and my one student was soaked and cold by 1:30.  She called her dad and ended her day at 1:30.  I headed home, taking every piece of wet gear with me, so I could dry my uniform and gloves and boots overnight.

Rain continued overnight, but unlike the northern tier of Vermont, our temperatures remained a bit warmer, bottoming out at 31F.  My ride to the mountain on Sunday morning was slower than the day before, but there wasn't much ice on the road.  At the mountain, the conditions were again firm and un-groomed, and it was raining.  We did one warm-up run and headed inside for some coffee.  Slowly, the rain dissipated and the temperature started to climb.  I used the varying snow conditions to do some teaching related to pressuring movements - deciding whether to make turns with a dominant outside leg if that allowed the ski to bite into the snow, vs. using two-footed movements on firmer snow where the ski wouldn't grip.  Later in the day, my two students wanted to do some backwards skiing and some single-legged skiing.  I let them do that, but turned both exercises into lessons about how to do those things correctly.  After they realized that even the game they wanted to play was going to be a lesson, they agreed to head back up the mountain for a bit.  We managed to ski right up until the end of the day this day.

The temperatures on Sunday were all over the place.  We would be in fog and cold air on a chair ride, and suddenly get hit by a blast of warm air.  Moments later, the cold air would return.  On my way home from the mountain, I saw temperatures from 30F to 55F - quite a range, and the elevation didn't even seem to be a factor.  It seemed completely random.

So, after a great first teaching weekend, we got a very mediocre weekend for our second week.  Welcome to December skiing in New England.  But, I met some new students, I got paid to go skiing, and I had a lot of fun.  There is no snow in the forecast right now, but the snow-making guns are running at the mountain again.  Hopefully, we will have enough quality terrain for the hordes of skiers expected this coming weekend.

Merry Christmas to everyone!

Monday, December 16, 2013

First weekend of ski instruction

This is my 13th season as a ski instructor, and my 12th teaching in the seasonal children's program at Sugarbush.  Essentially, I teach the same students every Saturday and Sunday for 15 consecutive weeks.  When I started this job, I had very young students.  As they got older, I stayed with a core group.  There were always additions and deletions, but the core of the group remained the same.  Six years ago, I had a near complete turnover, keeping only a couple girls from the previous season.  That led to me having an all-girl group for a few years.  Also, as the students got older, our skiing levels advanced more and more.  Two years ago, I officially moved from the standard program to the "Adventure" program.  At this level, students are expected to be solid skiers.  Our focus in the standard program is teaching skiing skills and movements.

In the Adventure program, we focus on terrain-based tactics.  We deliberately seek out advanced and challenging terrain, in all kinds of snow and weather conditions.  This is a really fun program, but at times, it can be very demanding for the instructor.  You must be a solid skier and in very good shape to safely lead advanced skiers through the skiing we do.

Last winter, I struggled a bit.  My boots were pretty much worn out.  I really disliked my skis.  And, I struggled with my skiing.  This year, with new high end race boots and new skis, I feel like I've been re-born.  I am skiing better than ever, and feeling a level of control that I've never felt before.  It is exhilarating to be moving fast on difficult terrain, with a feeling of complete control and a calm focus to what I'm doing.

My group this year is all girls again, at least for now.  We invariably have some changes during the year, but I'm likely to stay with an all-girl group for the season.  Saturday, four of them showed up for a very cold day of skiing.  For one of my students, it was her first time skiing this season, so I needed to give her time to get used to skiing again.  It didn't help that she was on inappropriate skis.  She really needed longer skis, and by the end of the weekend, her father had agreed that a change was needed.  Next time I see her, I hope she is on different skis.

The focus on Saturday was light.  Get used to being on skis.  Reinforce a few basic movement patterns.  Keep the upper body quiet and facing in the general direction of travel, while actively steering the legs under the upper body.  And, stay warm.

We had a major storm on Saturday night, and Sunday morning was amazing.  There were people in line at the chairlift incredibly early.  By the time the first chair opened at 8:00 a.m., there were hundreds of people in line.  I managed to get two runs in before work, but just barely.  The new snow got hit hard, but we found some un-tracked lines to ski on those first two runs.  My first few turns were tenuous, but then I was able to relax and focus, and everything changed.

By the time I had my group, I had everything dialed in.  At one point, I was skiing an intermediate bump line and I skied past a former supervisor.  I got a very loud "attaboy" greeting from him as I went past.  I don't think he'd ever seen me skiing so dynamically and in control before.  I felt like I had the ability to independently pick up and place each ski exactly where I wanted it to be on every single turn.  It felt like time had slowed down and I was in absolute control, regardless of the terrain.  Now, a lot of fresh new snow does make everything easier to ski, but this was simply a new feeling for me.  To many long term skiers, this may be second nature.  But, despite the number of years I've been teaching, I got a late start in life in this sport, and I'm still improving.  This was truly an epiphany for me.

I'm sure my time at CrossFit makes a big difference.  My recent focus on mobility before and after CrossFit workouts has made a difference.  My new boots have made a huge difference.  And, the new skis are a huge improvement over the skis I used last year.

But, the sum of all those parts had me grinning from ear to ear yesterday.  I even has me dreaming about taking my level 3 PSIA skiing exam in the near future.

We will see what happens the first time I try to ski huge moguls in steep icy conditions.  I want to see how I perform then.  Or, how will I perform off-piste, in steep, tight tree lines?  But for now, I feel on top of my game and I can't wait to get back out there.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

More on Insurance and the PPACA Exchange in VT - this one is political

My current insurance has completely denied the consultation in Boston, which is the same situation I mentioned last week.  The insurance company offered to "help", after I complained.  Basically, they said that a second provider that I've seen locally could appeal the decision and they would get around to processing that appeal as soon as possible.  But, by the time that happened and I got another appointment could easily be a month into the future.  So, I opted for a more local teaching hospital and I have an appointment next week.  This isn't a bad option, but it wasn't my first choice.

The prescription I was fighting for has been completely denied, so I'm buying an expensive medication out of pocket.  Apparently, there is a loophole that could potentially be exploited.  My doctor could give me another medication for a period of up to three months.  If I then claim that the other medication doesn't work, I might be able to get coverage for my preferred medication.  I told the nurse at the doctor's office that I don't want to buy that other medication and I don't want to use it.  Even if I bought it, I wouldn't use it.  If I never used it, I guess I could claim it did nothing for me.  But, that would mean buying medication, throwing it away, and essentially lying to the insurance company.  While I'm not a fan of the games they are playing with me, I'm not willing to play games and waste money to skirt their rules.

And, my wife's employer has refused to budge from her current stance on coverage for us for next year.  In reality, she has doubled down, making things even worse.  My wife's employer originally agreed to allow us to purchase a platinum plan that would limit our out of pocket expenses for the next year.  The policy would have cost more than our current policy, but the net cost would have been a reduction.  But, the same company that has built the troubled national exchange was also hired to implement the VT exchange.  My wife works for a benefits management company, and her company has been helping other companies to get signed onto the exchange.  Yet, my wife's company has declined to do that for their own employees until 4/1.  And last week, they decided that the current policies will continue through all of 2014, not just through the first three months.

We currently, quite honestly, have the worst health care coverage we have ever had.  The policy is expensive and the out of pocket expenses are high.  By forcing us to stay on this policy for the entire year, we will be taking a large hit - possibly as much as $10,000 (or more) for next year, and only some of that will be pre-tax.

So, I've been teased by what's available in VT under the PPACA.  And, due to poor performance by the state and a contractor, I can't have it.  And that will cost me a lot of money.  So, when you hear people complaining that the ACA plans are expensive, I'm a case where the provisions to allow people to keep poor policies will have a significant negative effect.  I didn't want my old policy.  I wanted the exchange policy.  And I can only have it if I pay for it completely out of pocket.  I've thought about that option, to be honest, and it's a crapshoot.  It might make sense to do that, in some ways, if my wife's boss would add her policy contributions to my wife's paycheck for one year.  But even then, the tax ramifications are highly complex and it's hard to know how things would work out.

Under the exchange policy, I could see the doctor in Boston that I want to see.  I could receive treatment in Boston if I chose that.  Instead, I'm stuck for another year on the worst insurance policy I've ever had.

Regretfully, someone else in my family is also dealing with a significant illness right now, so the high deductibles of the old policy, at the family level rather than personal level, will continue to cost us money.

So, by allowing certain poor policies to continue through the next year, I'm being very negatively affected.  If the PPACA had been fully implemented as defined, my situation would be much better.

But, I'm sure the insurance company is happy.  I just hope I don't end up bankrupt in the next year due to this situation.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Ski season to date

For the first time in many years, I bought new boots and new skis in the same season.  I have usually tried to alternate these purchase, so I don't have to adapt to both new boots and new skis at the same time.  But, I hated the skis I bought last year, and I simply refused to use them for another season.  Luckily, through Craigslist, I found them a new home with a skier who skis the terrain where those skis performed the best.  And, my old boots were four years old, and truly shot.  Plus, I really needed a higher level of performance in my boot, if I'm ever going to get ready to take the PSIA (Professional Ski Instructors of America) Level 3 skiing exam.

I ended up buying a very high performance Salomon Race boot.  I probably tried on at least 15 boots over 3 hours, before settling on this boot.  Then, I returned to the shop for a second visit, where I simply wore the boot for two hours and talked to the boot fitter, just to confirm it was the right boot choice.  Finally, I returned to the shop for a third time, to have the external shell heat molded to my foot shape.  In the end, I have a boot that fits exceptionally well and the performance is fantastic.  My only complaint is that the high performance race liner in the boot has allowed my feet to get cold fairly often this season.

For skis, I had been on Rossignol skis for years - at least four different models.  Last year, I switched to a highly rated Volkl ski, but I chose the wrong length, and I found the ski to be a one trick pony.  On groomed terrain, no matter how steep, the skis performed as advertised.  But, in bumps, mixed snow conditions, and in the trees, I simply hated them.  They were too stiff, too long, didn't float well in powder, and I simply lost my confidence on the ski.  But, there are some very good things about the Volkl brand, especially for east coast skiing.  So, this year, I bought the Volkl Kendo, an all-mountain ski designed for a variety of snow conditions.

My first day out this year was before Sugarbush opened.  I really wanted to ski on the new gear, and I found a half-price ticket to Killington online, so my wife and I skied there with some friends on 11/17.  This was one of my earliest first days ever, although I have skied Killington earlier than that at least once - in 1986, I believe.  I don't recall the last time Sugarbush opened by that date - certainly not since I've been an employee.

It was foggy and damp and Killington on our first day, but we were surprised by the amount of open terrain.  We even got to ski the headwall of Superstar - steep bumps in dense fog on our first day out.  I felt a bit unsteady on the new gear early on that first day.  The boots were fine, but the slightly fatter Kendos (89 mm under foot vs 84 mm last year) and the longer turning radius of the ski required me to make some adaptations vs. last year's skis.

One of the nice things about that first day is that I had no pain at all in my feet - either while skiing, later that night, or the next day.  This is a rarity with a new high performance boot.

By the weekend before Thanksgiving, Sugarbush had opened.  I skied my first day of the season with some of my instructor buddies that Saturday.  To stay out of the worst of the crowds, we skied just the afternoon that first day.  We had limited terrain - basically a chair ride to an intermediate run, which then took us to the summit chair.  From the summit, we had one intermediate and one advanced trail back down.  We stuck mostly to the advanced run, and I was struggling a bit with the new skies on that terrain.

The next day was "Train the Trainers" day.  We have about 15-20 people on the ski school staff who are responsible for training the rest of the ski staff before the season and during the season.  We try to get together each season to ski together for a day, and define our approach for training the rest of the staff.  This is always an intimidating day for me.  I've been a trainer in the segment of the ski school where I work for a few years.  But, I've only been a trainer for other parts of the ski school for two years, and this day of skiing with our best skiers and instructors is a bit nerve-wracking.  I feel like I spend that entire day trying to prove that I belong.  We didn't ski much difficult terrain, but we covered some complex topics that day.  Also, it was a bitterly cold day and I was visibly shivering for a lot of the day - something that rarely happens to me.  The day was improved by about 4" of new snow on top of the firm conditions from the day before.

The following weekend was the weekend after Thanksgiving.  On Saturday afternoon, I met some other instructors and we skied hard on firm, fast conditions.  By this point in time, I was feeling really comfortable on my new gear, and I was really letting things go.  I was able to keep up with some other skiers all day long - people who I normally trail down the mountain in any conditions.  I felt like I skied as well or better this day than any other day in my life.  I'm really liking the new boots and skis.

The next day was more "Train the Trainer" training, but this time, it was just the trainers for our seasonal programs, which is where I work.  In the seasonal programs, one coach skis with the same group for the entire season.  These programs cover beginning skiers from age 4 all the way up to highly advanced adult skiers.  I personally teach the advanced kids.  The last few years, I've had mostly 12 and 13 year old students, although this year I will be skiing with 9 and 10 year old students.  We wrapped up the training early and then started doing laps on Organ Grinder - a single black diamond run that had snow guns blowing.  The guns were blowing variable snow and the skiing was tricky compared to the day before.  By the end of the day, the guns were off and some natural snow was falling, leading to a few really nice runs at the end of the day.

This past Saturday, training day had finally arrived.  I had a group of 7 instructors - many of them new to teaching, new to Sugarbush or both.I followed our agenda to the letter and I think we got a lot done.  One of the tough things to explain to new instructors is how little they actually know.  I often train people who are better skiers than I am, but they don't know why they are better skiers and they don't know how to improve other skiers.  It is very eye opening when you initially realize just how little you know, and you accept that you have a long educational journey ahead of you.  I'm heading into my 13th season as an instructor, and each year, I'm overwhelmed by how much I feel I still need to learn.  Except for a final indoor segment to end the day (not led by me), I felt like we had a really good day.

On Sunday, I expected to take a creative teaching clinic.  Even though I am a trainer, I still want to take other clinics to improve my own teaching and skiing.  Regretfully, a limited number of trainers showed up on Sunday morning, and I ended up teaching the clinic in which I'd hoped to be a student.  But, I was prepared to teach this clinic if necessary and I think it went really well.  I got all 8 of my group heavily involved in doing some teaching to the rest of the group.  This is much more interesting than listening to me talk all day.  In the end, I think it was the best clinic I've ever presented.  I got great feedback from our more experienced pros.

In the afternoon, we had even fewer students, so I went along as a second coach with the person who has been my mentor for years.  He got off to a slow start, but finally pulled things together in the last hour to finish on a high note.  And then, we went to Ripcord, for my first double-black diamond run of the year, to wrap up the day.

After that run, my buddy and I enjoyed a beer, and as always, we spent the time dissecting our own skiing and teaching.  Sometimes, I think we learn the most in these post-skiing sessions, where everyone is brutally honest with each other - good things and bad things.  I'm very glad to work with a number of pros who are never complacent and are always trying to get better.  It keeps me on my toes.

So, training is now done.  This coming Saturday we start teaching our paying students.  After last year, where equipment issues took a lot of the fun out of skiing and teaching for me, and into my 13th season, I have to say I'm more ready and more excited for this part of the season to start than ever in the past.  I've never had the luxury of so many ski days and so much training before I started my teaching work for the year.

Now, all we need is lots and lots of snow.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Health Care Thoughts - Not Political

Just a few thoughts as I've been navigating the health care system recently.  OK, it's really a long rant, if I'm going to be honest.

Insurance companies are fine with the everyday things.  They might push you to a generic medication or move you from one brand name to another, but it seems that they won't hassle you for basic care most of the time.

For example, I had a small basal cell carcinoma removed from my arm earlier this year.  I paid out of pocket (hadn't hit my deductible for the year yet), but the forms were processed and it counted towards my deductible just fine.

For the past year and a half, I've been paying out of pocket to an out-of-state provider for some care that my insurance doesn't cover.  But, I knew that going in, and while I'm not happy, I'm OK with that one.

But, when things get a little rougher, insurance is all about one thing - the bottom line of the insurance company.  Your personal health decisions will be dictated by a bureaucrat, rather than what you think is best for your care.

For example, I had a significant health diagnosis recently (people who actually know me are welcome to send me an e-mail and I'll be glad to elaborate).  The specialist I am seeing wants me to have a second opinion.  I consulted with a friend who is an MD in the Boston area, and he recommended a particular provider and hospital.  I went through a lot of work with that organization and got my appointment.  The specialist's office spent a long time getting info to that hospital and information about the referral to my insurance company.

I kept checking my account online with the insurance company, waiting for the approval of the referral request.  After more than a week with nothing at all showing up, I called the insurance company.  They managed to "find" the referral, and insisted they would expedite its processing.

Five days later, the referral request showed up online, with a letter to me stating that they were asking the doctor for more information.  There was also a copy of the letter to the provider, demanding that he justify why this hospital could offer something that another local hospital could not.  At this point in time, I was three days away from my appointment in Boston, and it was clear the insurance company did not want to cover that visit.  I forwarded the information to the provider (the letter to the provider was going by USPS, so it probably isn't there yet), and they followed up with the insurance company.  The insurance company demanded to know why another hospital that is closer would not be sufficient.  And, the closer hospital has a solid program as well, but this is my life that I'm talking about.  Yet, a bureaucrat has decided what treatment is appropriate.  It's not what is best; it's what they deem good enough.

Both specialists I've seen so far have expressed nothing but admiration for the provider I'd chosen in Boston.  It was a great choice for a second opinion, they'd told me.  "Give her my regards when you see her", they'd said.  But, when it was time to fight the insurance company, they caved instantly.  I'm sure they deal with this all the time, and they know it's a losing battle.

When the nurse informed me yesterday that the specialist wasn't even going to submit the form and try to get the approval, I was livid.  I basically told her that if the doc wouldn't fight for me now, I wasn't sure I wanted any more to do with the provider and his hospital system.

Today, I cancelled the Boston appointment.  The people there were very nice, and made it clear that it's a common occurrence.  Many insurance companies refuse to allow patients to go to a non-preferred provider, because they don't have sweetheart financial deals worked out with them.  That last sentence is my interpretation.  I also understand that insurance costs and medical costs need to be contained.  Yet, when insurance is suddenly needed for a significant diagnosis, I'm spending more time fighting the insurance company than I am dealing with doctors.

Today, I tried to make an appointment with the alternate provider that my insurance will allegedly let me see.  This is a major teaching hospital.  They wouldn't even let me get close to making an appointment.  I got all kinds of instructions about having my doctor send information to them, and after reviewing that, they will get back to me (apparently, at their convenience) to set up an appointment.  This is how large health care institutions work these days.  They see themselves as scarce commodities that don't need to provide customer service.  The sick people should consider themselves lucky to be getting care at all.  When I finally get to providers, I'm fine.  But the firewalls around the providers are outrageous, in my opinion.

So, I had to make another request to the specialist to send all of my information to a new hospital.  Who knows how long that will take.  And, I'll need a new referral form for the insurance company.  That will probably be slow-rolled as well, and I'll probably find out that even in-network, preferred providers aren't allowed to offer second opinions.  Overall, I'm frustrated and I'm furious.

On a similar tangent, I had a procedure done a month ago that led to my current diagnosis.  That procedure has had some side effects, and there are multiple medications on the market to alleviate those side effects.  I asked my doc for a prescription for one.  I went to the pharmacy to pick it up.  "Your insurance doesn't cover that medication", I was told.  I contacted the provider for a different medication after researching allowable drugs on my insurance company's page.  The doc agreed to write the script.  I went to the pharmacy to pick it up.  "Oh, that drug requires pre-approval", I was told.  Eight days later, the doctor's office and insurance company are still fighting over that approval.

I'm left in limbo.  I'm furious.  I've complained to the insurance company and to the state.  Not one person has acknowledged the issue from either organization.

The "system" has zero humanity.  Period.

I would guess that there are a few other factors in play here.  First, I have met all of my plan deductibles for this year.  If the insurance company can slow things down and push this into next year, I'm sure they are hoping I'll have to pay more of the costs (medication and referrals) as deductibles.  They are probably hoping I'll be on a different insurance company's plan by then.  However, this company pretty much owns the market where I live, so that's an unlikely scenario.  But, at least I would pay more.  Right now, I would cost them money (aka profit).

Regretfully, my home state hired the same people for our local health care exchange that did the federal exchange.  Even before this diagnosis, my wife and I had planned to pay the extra money to move from a high deductible plan to a higher end plan.  It would cost us more up front, but our total costs would be more predictable.  After this all went down, my wife talked to her employer - the source of our insurance.  Her employer was still fine with us "buying up" in the exchange.  And then, last week, her employer decided that we will be staying on our current plan until 4/1.  Essentially, that means that any costs we incur from 1/1/2014 until 3/31/2014 will have a high deductible amount.  This will amount to many thousands of dollars of cash out of pocket that would not happen with the new plan.

When we switch to the premium plan on 4/1, we will get credit towards the new deductible amount, but no refunds of overpaid amounts.  So, our state's failure to get an exchange working properly will cost my family thousands of dollars.  And, because we are going to start with a high deductible plan and move to a more fixed cost plan, we are limited by how much of our first quarter costs can be paid pre-tax, through an HSA.

This last part isn't an insurance company issue.  It's a failure of our state government and a failure to follow through on a promise from an employer.  The employer could still make this happen before the end of the year, but has chosen not to do that because it's easier.  They've done this despite knowing exactly how it will affect my wife and her family.  And, this is a small employer, who insures only a few people. It's not a huge corporate entity that can more easily justify a decision that only affects a small percentage of employees.

Of course, the company I work for isn't exempt here either.  For years, my employer has provided no health care coverage at all.  Well, if you wanted, they would reduce your salary and then contribute that amount pre-tax towards an individual open-market plan.  So, you could save a few tax dollars.  I've spent many years working for this company, with very limited benefits because I really believe in what the company is doing.  But now, I'm left with no recourse in my health care insurance because of that.  At any other employer I've worked for since college, this would not have been an issue.  Suddenly, I'm questioning if my loyalty to the company (really, my loyalty is towards the founders of the company and my co-workers more than the corporate side of the entity) has been stupid.  I could make just as much money with real benefits somewhere else.  And, perhaps I should.

It's odd to wake up in the middle of the night, and find yourself trying to figure out if it was all just a bad dream.  And then realizing that it's all real.  And then, trying to figure out which is worse - the medical diagnosis and impending treatment, or the never-ending fight with bureaucrats.  This week, the bureaucracy seems way worse than the diagnosis.

Lastly, this is not at all about the ACA.  While I would have much preferred a single payer option from our government, and I hope we get there some day, I still think the ACA is better than where we were.  If anyone wants to disagree with that, send me an e-mail.  I will delete any political comments related to the ACA.

In reality, this is about our current health care system, and how navigating the doctors and the insurance companies is so overwhelming that you can't imagine how bad it is until you are truly sick.  With a single payer option, this might have still been an issue.  But, I wouldn't be fighting a profit-driven company to get the care that I would like to have - care that they have denied because because something else is good enough, in their estimation.

I've told my wife multiple times that I'm just going to quit the system and let my diagnosis run its course.  And then, I realize, that's just what the bureaucrats want, so they can make more money in the end.  So, I will fight on.  But, I feel like I've learned a good lesson so far.  In this crazy world of ours, where corporations are people, none of them are your friends.  You're on your own.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

CrossFit Total

CrossFit Total is one of my favorite workouts at CrossFit.  First of all, it's a test with very tangible results.  And, everyone is doing movements they can handle with no scaling.  Comparisons are easy.

Many CF workouts are scaled, at least by me.  I can't do lots of unassisted pull-ups or push-ups.  So, I alter those movements.  I can't do muscle-ups or unassisted ring dips or handstand push-ups.  But, with CrossFit total, the workout is simple, and there is only one real place where you can cheat - by not doing squats to full depth.  Well, you could introduce some illegal movement into the strict press, but that's easy to feel and for others to see.

Also, I'm stronger than most people my age, and I'm not a skinny guy.  So, my CF Total tends to be pretty solid with respect to other people in the gym.  Yeah, my competitive past as a runner is not gone, only transferred to a new sport. The workout itself is simple:

Build to a 1 rep max back squat
Build to a 1 rep max strict press
Build to a 1 rep max deadlift

Add the three numbers together for your final score.

We just completed a 12 week cycle at the gym focusing on squats.  One of my major weaknesses in the squat is my lack of mobility, especially ankle dorsiflexion.  I have done a back squat as heavy as 375 pounds in the past, but I know that my depth was not good.  I did not reach the point where my femurs were parallel to the floor.  It's legal to go lower than that, but with limited mobility, I've struggled to get that deep.

For the past 12 weeks, I changed my approach to squats.  Each workout used weights based on your current 1-rep max weight.  Instead of using 375 as my max weight, I pretended that 315 was my max.  That meant I would lift lighter each workout.  I also bought Olympic lifting shoes, which help with depth and the ankle dorsiflexion issue.  And, I spent a lot more of my warm-up time on mobility issues.

All of this allowed me to go through the 12 weeks working on my form and squat depth.  If I had used higher weights, my form would have degraded as I was at my strength limits.  By using lower weights, I was able to focus much more on form.  And, it helped a lot.  Last week, another member of the gym commented that my front squats were much improved.  A number of coaches noticed better form at depth on my back and front squats.

So, last night was a chance to put it to the test.

I warmed up for the squat at 45 pounds, then 135, 185, 225 and 275.  After that, it was time to do single reps at higher weights.  I did one rep at 305, focusing on form, and it was hard but I got it.  From there I moved to 325 and then 335.  That 10 pound increase was difficult, but I was pretty sure I had one more rep in me.  I moved to 350 - a nice "round" number and hit the rep.  I was a bit worried about my depth, but before I could even think much about it, one of our coaches complimented me on the lift and my depth.  So, that might be my legitimate PR - highest weight lifted to full depth.

From there, I moved to the strict press.  This is a major weakness of mine.  Years of running and skiing, plus a shoulder injury that I fought in the past year haven't helped much with my upper body strength.  I've lifted 140 a couple times, but never higher.  Yesterday, I warmed up at 45 and 95, and then moved to 115.  That went fairly easy, so I moved to 125 and 135.  The latter was a struggle, but I was sure I hadn't maxed out.  From there, I decided to go for a minimal PR - 142.5.  And, I nailed it.  I later failed at 145, but I had a new PR.

Next was the deadlift.  I had lifted 435 in June and 440 in July, but I've done very little deadlifting since then.  I had no idea what to expect, but I knew I needed to get a little beyond 400 to get to a total of 900.  And, I needed 427.5 to equal my previous CF total of 920.  I warmed up at 135, 185, 225, 275, and 325.  From there, I jumped to 375 for my first working rep and that was a struggle.  I then moved up to 405.  I was able to lift this weight, but it was incredibly hard.  I knew I was done at that point.

So, I got to a total of 897.5, which was 22.5 pounds less than last time.

But, given the craziness of my life over the past few months, I'm not really unhappy with that effort.  My 920 last time was probably based on a bogus 365 in the squat.  I have a new "legit" best there.  And a new strict press PR.  And, I hope to get back over 900 the next time we do this.

Also, my wife managed to beat her previous best by a single pound for this workout, so we each went home happy.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Last Day of Trout Season in Vermont

I wish I could get out fishing today to celebrate the last day of the season.  Regretfully, I'm swamped at work and the weather is a bit iffy anyway.

My last few fishing days this year were either cold or wet or both, and I only got one fish in total my last three days out.  But, with my new fancy rod and reel this season, I easily had my most successful fly fishing season I've ever had in Vermont.  My first couple days out were very cold and didn't produce anything.  On the first of May, I finally caught my first fish on the season - a very nice brown trout from perhaps the single most popular fishing spot on the New Haven River near Middlebury, Vermont.

A week or two later, the New Haven was stocked, and my son had a memorable evening fishing for the non-native fish.  I think I caught 13 fish that night, mostly stocked, and my son caught 7 more.  After that day, we only caught a few more stocked fish all season.

Shortly after that day, water levels started to rise as we got lots of rain for weeks.  Some of the bigger rivers remained tough to fish for weeks.  At one of my favorite spots on the White, I took a spill while wading alone, which was somewhat scary.  But, I also managed to catch a couple trout and my only smallmouth bass of the season that day:

From there, the fishing started to improve just about everywhere.  I had a productive Sunday evening on the upper part of the main branch of the White River.  I had an OK day way downstream the day before.  My son, who has only been fly fishing for a few years, started to do better.

When I lived in CA, I fished dry flies a lot.  I've seen someone estimate on the web that fly fishermen from the Rockies and west spend 50% of their time with dry flies, 40% with nymphs and 10% with streamers.  Here in VT, I probably do 70% with nymphs, 10% with dry flies, and 20% with streamers.  Regretfully, for the less experienced fisherman, fishing with nymphs is the most difficult of the three.  The strikes from the fish are often subtle and easily missed completely.  Or, they might be detectable, but the fisherman reacts too late to hook the fish.  My son is getting better, but there is still a huge experience gap between him and me.  Even I would say that it's only been the past few years that I have considered myself a decent nymph fisherman.  And that's from someone with over 30 years of fly fishing history.

I had some days through July and August where I didn't catch any fish, but there weren't many.  It seemed like the fishing just got better and better as the season progressed.  By the time my son and I got to a week of vacation in September, fishing was as good as it had been all season.

On the first fishing day of our vacation, we hit some weird weather.  Intermittent clouds led to intermittent insect hatches, which led to fishing that would be good one minute and terrible the next.  Fishing was tough that day, although I did manage a few fish, including one on a dry fly.  I think I only caught 3 or 4 fish on dries in VT this year, so that last one was a treat.

The next day, we fished the same river a few miles downstream.  It was a sunny day and fishing was generally slow, but I did manage to catch my "fish of the year" that day - a wild rainbow about 20" in length (I use the size of my net to get a quick size estimate before releasing the fish as quickly as possible.)

The next day, we fished Otter Creek and the Middlebury Rivers.  It was my son's day to shine as he picked up a few browns on the Otter and lost a few more.  I managed one brown on the Otter and later caught my first ever rainbow on the Middlebury - an amazing subtle strike on a tiny nymph that I managed to detect.

The next day, we got skunked on the Upper Lamoille River.  Those kinds of days happen.  But, the following day made up for that, when I had an amazing day on the Black River.  I was into rainbows upstream and later, browns downstream.  Regretfully, for my son, this was a day that really highlighted the difference in our experience levels.  I was following him downstream, giving him first access to every spot.  At one point, he walked past a spot that looked somewhat promising, opting for a bigger hole downstream.  I hooked 4 fish in fewer than 10 minutes in the spot he skipped.  Later, I walked in right behind him in two different spots and caught a fish on my first cast in a spot he'd just abandoned.  But, he managed some fish as well, and we'd had a good week.  We tried to get out the next day, but it didn't work out.  Here is a photo of my son landing one of his fish for the week.

A few days later in PA, I caught four wild browns in a stream I'd fished as a teenager.  A few days later, we were back in Vermont, and I asked my son if he wanted to sneak out on a Thursday evening for some fishing.  He declined, and later regretted that.  I had one fish after another hitting nymphs really hard.  I caught my second biggest fish of the season (18"), and had three other nice fish snap me off.

The following weekend, I got out with a friend from my gym while my son worked.  He is a very talented and experienced fly fishermen, and perhaps I shouldn't have shown him one of my favorite "secret" spots.  I got skunked that day, but he picked up two very nice rainbows.  One was very similar to the 20" fish I'd caught in that same spot a few weeks earlier - lots of bright red colors.  That fish was close to 18".  The second fish was much like the photo above - much more silvery in color, and about 16" in length.  It was a tough day for me, as we were fishing in a raw, cold rain, and going fish-less in conditions like that wasn't a lot of fun.  We also lost some fishing time that day when I accidentally locked my keys in my car, necessitating a rescue by my wife.

A few days later, I got out midweek for an hour or so.  I went back to where I caught the fish shown above, and it was as if the lights had been turned out.  The blue winged olives were gone.  The isonychia were gone.  The caddis flies were gone.  And the fish weren't very interested.  I did manage one rainbow - what would turn out to be my last fish of the season.  It was caught within 20 yards of where I caught my last fish of the previous season.

My son and I got out one more time - late in the day and we only had an hour to fish.  He hooked two fish and landed one.  I missed one strike.  That was on October 16th.  And then, I had two really busy weekends.  I went to a college football game with friends.  I traveled out of state on Sunday.  I spent two days prepping for ski season.  And suddenly, it's over.

I'm still in search of my first ever truly big brown trout in Vermont.  I caught a brown about 19" in 1997, while visiting on vacation (we lived in Alaska at the time).  My biggest browns ever have been caught in CA and PA.  I caught a brown of 16" this year in VT.  But, a brown of greater than 20" or maybe even greater than 24" is still one of my primary motivations for getting out there.  I know guys who get to fish more than I do (some of them are guides) and they catch multiple fish like that every single year.

This year was an interesting contrast to last season.  I caught at least 80% rainbows this year after catching at least 80% browns last year.  I didn't catch a single brook trout this season - Vermont's state fish.  Part of that has to do with the best quality river that is closest to my house.  The White is primarily a rainbow river.  The New Haven and Otter and Dog hold more browns, and I fish them all, but less frequently than I fish the White.

But I caught more and bigger trout in Vermont this season than I've ever done before.  I really enjoyed the new high end rod and reel I bought before the season.  And, while I'm looking forward to ski season right now, I'm already thinking ahead to trout fishing next spring.  Between now and then, I hope to spend a number of winter evenings tying flies and dreaming of big brown trout.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Six weeks of not posting

Wow, life can really spin out of control at times.

When I last posted, I was going to write a review about a magnificent meal at L'Espalier in Boston.  I was going to write a review of an Adam Ant concert.

I was in the process of hiring a new employee at work.  Hoping to take some vacation in September to do some fly fishing. My new employee started the day after Labor Day, which gave me 14 work days to get him trained to cover for me while I was gone.  So far, I have to thank IBM for laying off such a smart and energetic developer.  If you think your company is better off without him, I'm really confused.

He picked things up really quickly.  I did a lot of last minute work so things would hopefully be fine while I was gone.  And then, one hour before my vacation started, I got a phone call from the nursing home where my mom lived.  She had died that afternoon.

My sister was on the other side of the country for a wedding.  My brother was on the other side of the world for business.  Logistically, everything was a nightmare.

We finally decided we would wait until 11 days after her death to have the funeral.  That gave everyone a chance to get from where they were to Pennsylvania.

I even managed to get in a week of fishing with my son.  We fished the Mad River, the Winooski River, Otter Creek, the Middlebury River, the upper Lamoille River and the Black River.  We caught fish at every spot except one.  I caught the biggest rainbow trout I've ever caught outside of Alaska on the Winooski.  It was a big fat pig of a fish.

Then, on to PA to visit with family and deal with the funeral.  It's a long drive to southern PA from Vermont.  One day was dedicated to just driving.  The next day, I managed to get to a CrossFit gym and work out with my wife.  I got to fly fish my favorite stream from when I was a teenager.  I met up with an old high school classmate for a while.  My wife and I made it to CF again the next day.  We had the funeral.  A small event with a small family gathering afterward.  My uncle pulled out four big boxes of memories of our family - some of the records he had from the 1800s were amazing.  I saw pictures of my grandparents and my great-grandparents when they were infants and teens.  There were more recent items too.  Someone had saved a newspaper article from kindergarten, when my picture had been in the paper.  Photos of my mom in high school.  She looked so happy then - completely unaware of the difficult life she would face in just a few short years.

And then, we drove home yesterday.  We took a detour to deliver my niece back to her home in Boston.  We got home really late.  I'm supposedly still on vacation until tomorrow, but I've been working most of the day so far.

And tomorrow, it's back to work full time.  Somehow, almost two weeks just didn't seem like enough.  It probably doesn't help that I worked more than half of my vacation days.  I'd rather be fishing.  And, later this afternoon, I may very well sneak out for a couple hours of fishing.  My son is off work today, and a little fly fishing may help my brain to unwind a bit.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

I need to catch up, but...

My (previously injured) back is fine.  I had some good workouts late last week.

Then, I went to Boston for a few days with my wife and we met up with some college friends for part of the trip.

We had a nice lunch with my niece and her fiance.

We ate a world class meal at L'Espalier, which I'll detail later.  We found a couple little gems in Boston - food and drinks - and I'll mention them later as well.

We saw a really good concert (Adam Ant) that I'll write about later.

We had some waiters in Boston's Chinatown deliberately try to rip us off, which was infuriating.  I won't bother to write about that unpleasant experience.  The food sucked there anyway, to be honest.

And, we had a really nice lunch by the ocean in Gloucester, MA before we came home.

Regretfully, that meal, which included a variety of raw and cooked seafood, seems to have led to a bout of food poisoning.  I haven't been able to eat much for the past two days and going to the gym is out of the question.  I feel better today than yesterday, but that's not saying a whole lot.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Injury Follow-up

I made it to CF on Monday and took it mostly easy.  Tuesday, I made it again and we had some more complex movements (Olympic lifting).  I barely made it through the workout, and I was not standing or walking straight after the workout.

So, Wednesday became a rest day.  I was afraid it might be the first of many rest days.  But, yesterday morning, I felt just fine when I woke up.  I went to CrossFit.  Within an hour, I'd done some running, some push-ups, rope jumping, rowing, wall balls and kettlebell swings.  And the SI joint was just fine: absolutely no problems.

I finally got around to donating blood today.  It's been a busy week.  And right now, I'm feeling a little sleepy.  I shouldn't get within 10 miles of the gym tonight, but I'm thinking of going for the sole purpose of doing some stretching and mobility work.

My wife is running in a 100 mile relay race tomorrow, and I don't have much planned.  Maybe I'll get to fish if I'm lucky.  After the weekend, I'm taking a few days off work, primarily to see a concert with some college friends.  This will be my third time seeing Adam Ant.  I never saw the very original band (before the Bow Wow Wow spin-off) and I never saw the version of Adam and the Ants that released Kings of the Wild Frontier.  But, this will be my third time seeing Adam Ant, and the last time was over 25 years ago.  His set lists on the tour have been pretty impressive, so I'm excited to see him.

And, today, at our weekly company meeting, I scheduled a 12 day vacation for the end of next month.  It looks like we are about to hire someone else here, which will free me to finally take a real vacation.

Well, back to work if I can just stay awake.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A bizarre and hopefully minor injury

Saturday, I was mowing my lawn.  Using my lawn tractor.  I hit a minor bump and suddenly felt a pop in my right hip and lower back area.  It hurt immediately.  I was shocked.  How could I get hurt riding a lawn mower?  Yeah, bad things can happen with lawn tractors, but this isn't one of them.  At least not normally.

I felt a little bit better as the day wore on, but I was glad it was a planned rest day.  Sunday, I went out for an easy four miles of running with the dogs.  I could feel the issue in the hip/back, but it didn't really bother me too much.  Sunday evening, my son and I went fly fishing and it was really bothering me.  Simply bending over to pick up something from the ground was difficult.

Monday morning, when I got out of the car after driving to work, it was really bugging me.  I instantly sent an e-mail to the chiropractor I see when needed.  He works at our gym on Monday afternoons, and I was hoping he could at least give me an evaluation about what I'd done, and whether or not it was safe to train.

I didn't hear from the chiropractor all day, so I assumed he was busy.  Last night was a squatting night at CrossFit, so after my warm-up, I started my squats, although with a lower weight than I would have used otherwise.  After my warm-up sets and my first working set, the chiropractor showed up by my side.  He's just read my message and he was free right then.  So, I abandoned the squats and went to his office.

I explained what had happened, and laughed that with all of the training I've done over the years, I never expected a mowing injury to be the one to end my career (I was joking, of course).  He did a couple tests and basically said it was the right sacroiliac joint.  He did an exam and noted an extreme difference between the right and left sides.  I've always had some sort of muscular imbalance between the left and the right - the muscle right at the joint is considerably larger on the right side.  He said this was probably caused by many years of distance running with things not quite in balance.

He did some Graston work on the area, which was fairly uncomfortable.  Then, he did one adjustment and I felt a lot better.  I returned to the workout, and completed three rounds of running (400 meters), front squats (7 light reps at 95#), and 14 burpee pull-ups.  I kept the intensity low and the workout didn't bother me at all.

Today, I'm sore, but I think it's mostly from the Graston work.  I'll try the workout again tonight, although we are starting with Olympic lifts.  Between my recent shoulder issues and this SI joint issue, I think I'll keep the weight really light tonight.

Tomorrow, I'm donating blood, so I'll have a good excuse for a rest day after the donation.

By Thursday, hopefully this issue will be mostly or completely resolved.  But, if not, I guess it will be a good reason for another couple visits with the chiropractor.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Busy beyond belief

I'm not even really sure why I'm posting right now.  I don't have much to say that isn't in every other post.

I made it to CrossFit 18 times in July - the most days ever in a month.  That was in the month immediately after the PRP treatment for my shoulder, so it was very encouraging.  I am still keep weights very low on anything overhead.  And certain lifts I'm simply not doing.

The 18 days was the most times I've done CF in a month.  Coincidentally (or not), I dropped 12 pounds in July, dropped 2" off my waist, and dropped a shirt size.  My wife and I also made a very concerted effort to eat well for the entire month, and it paid off nicely.  Now, I just have to find a way to sustain that into the future.

I've also started doing some jogging or hiking on the weekends again.  For so long, it seemed like every weekend was a monsoon, but the weather has been better recently.  I did get rained on a bit while running this past Sunday, but it was fairly minor.

Work is still crazy, which is part of why I don't have time to post much any more.  I am letting a test run right now, which gives me a few minutes to spare.  Luckily, our business prospects have been improving and my CEO has given me permission to look for someone new to help out.  I interviewed three people this week and I liked them all.  A year ago at this time, I was looking for a new employee for about six weeks.  I talked to very few people last year who matched the caliber of the people I met this week.  Next week, I hope to interview all three again and then hire someone to start work by the end of the month.

Maybe in September, I'll finally be able to take some vacation time.  By then, the temperatures will be dropping and hopefully, trout fishing will be improving.  My last two times out fly fishing have not been very productive.  Actually, my last four trips have resulted in exactly one small (tiny!) rainbow.  I need to catch some fish before another season has passed me by.

And, I'm starting to think about ski season.  The skis I bought last season are currently for sale on Craigslist.  While I like some things about these skis, they simply weren't versatile enough in off-piste terrain and I need to get a more versatile ski for this coming season.  I also need new boots, so I'm starting to look around at prices on ski gear.

And, after spending over $2K for car repairs in July, and then trading in one of our Subaru WRXs on a Subaru CrossTrek, it seems like money for ski equipment might be a bit tight.  Which is a good reason for me to get back to work and earn my keep.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Vermont 100 Weekend

I made it to CrossFit four times last week, and then spent my weekend helping out at the Vermont 100.

First, we hosted a runner from the Cayman Islands and he turned out to be a very nice gentleman and a great house guest.

On Friday my wife had to work, but I volunteered at the medical check-in.  I've been doing this for years - even if I run the race.  Mostly, I coordinate the madness a bit, get the runners' weights, and then direct them to a nurse who takes a blood pressure reading and asks a few questions.  If runners have questions about the course, I can usually answer them.

After the check-in, I headed home to cook an early dinner for our guest, given how early he would need to get up in the morning.  Because our guest had gotten lost returning from the race check-in, and the drive to the start would be in the dark, I volunteered to drive him to the start.  We left the house shortly after 2:00 a.m. and I got back to bed just as the skies were starting to lighten, as dawn approached.  I got 5 more hours of sleep after returning, which was essential, because I wouldn't be sleeping again for a while.

Around 11:30, my wife and I headed to the Camp 10 Bear aid station, where we would be working until 1:00 a.m.  Runners in the 100 mile race pass through this station at approximately mile 48 and again at mile 70.  We knew there had been some organizational changes with the station, but to be honest, we found way more chaos than we'd expected.  Some of the people there were essentially waiting for me to arrive, given that I'm the longest tenured volunteer at this station.  I quickly implemented a few changes such as "when making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a knife used for that purpose cannot be used for anything else, to avoid an accidental peanut exposure for someone with an allergy."

I also discovered that we were woefully low on supplies, especially given that every runner in both the 100 km race and the 100 mile race would go through our aid station twice.  The change in leadership had also led to a significant change in the menu at our station - something a number of athletes and crews didn't like.

Given our limited supplies, we also chose to protect the food a bit more than in the past.  I know this isn't true at all races, but the VT100 seems to feed crews and spectators in a way I've never seen at other ultras.  We needed to limit some items to runners only, to ensure that we would have enough.  This always angers a few people, and the crews are notorious for simply taking anything they want, no matter what we ask.  If I ever stop volunteering at this race, it will be due to the rudeness of the crews who think our aid station is their personal restaurant.  I believe I've written about this before, but for the past few years, it seems that the crews and spectators and even some pacers have simply been getting more and more rude and demanding, and I find this frustrating.  But, I digress.

I spent a lot of time going through the supply trucks that passed through our aid station periodically.  We needed more bread, turkey, cheese, cookies, ramen noodles, and especially, water and watermelon.  We managed to scrounge together enough supplies so that the very last runner had almost the same options as the very first runner.  But, it was a struggle.  Without the help of my wife and an ultrarunner from NH, I'm afraid the aid station would have been a disaster.  Many runners were unhappy that the provided sports drink was not the advertised sports drink.  Had I been running, I would have been unhappy too.  The drink we were serving does not work well at all for me, while the advertised drink works very well.  Hopefully that will be cleared up before next year.

It was great seeing old friends come through the station all day long.  Most of them finished the race, one long-time friend near the very end, but they were finishing.  And, a few didn't finish, and many chose to drop the second time through our aid station.  When the very last runner was accounted for, a little after 1:00 a.m., we headed to the finish line to wait for our house guest to finish.  He arrived in just over 23 hours, having run a very steady race.  He eats a grain-free, sugar-free diet that is relatively low in carbs.  He did use some carbs during the race, but he also used coconut oil for calories as well.  That is something that I would certainly consider using if I ever run another ultra.

We got our guest back to our house, and let him get showered and get some sleep.  But, after only 4 or so hours of sleep, we woke him up to take him to the awards ceremony.

Sitting at the awards ceremony, watching people get their 5 year and 10 year buckles, I found myself thinking "only 2 more" to get to 5.  Hopefully, that feeling will be gone in a week or so.

After the awards, our guest wanted to try some of the great Vermont beers that he'd heard about, so we took him to Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier for a bit.  After three beers, he looked like he was ready to fall asleep.  So, we took him back to our place, fed him some dinner and let him get some sleep.  He had an early flight out of Logan this morning, and we never even heard him as he got dressed and sneaked out early this morning.

All in all, it was a great weekend, spent with new and old friends.

This week, it's back to work and as many CrossFit workouts as I can do this week - hopefully 5.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Three weeks out from PRP

I made it to CrossFit four times last week.  I did some overhead work, but kept the weights very light when overhead.

Overall, the shoulder doesn't seem to have changed very much.  I do think I'm sleeping a bit better, but any gains so far have been minor.  But, the healing period following a PRP treatment can last 3-6 months, so I'm trying to not be impatient or worry that it isn't helping.  I looked over my training logs after the PRP on my hamstring in 2009, and I can't really find any comments about how the healing progressed.  I had one note from about 5 weeks after the procedure that my hamstring was "sore", but that's it.  I was lifting well during the months after that PRP, pushing all three of the powerlifts to new lifetime bests.

So, I'll simply remain patient, lift within the rules defined by my doc, and give it time.

I hoped to get to CrossFit on Friday last week, which would have been 5 consecutive days.  But, I took my car to the dealer for an inspection and a few minor issues.  I got the car back at 5:30, too late to get to the gym, and my wallet was $1536 lighter.  The work I wanted done was about $250, but the work needed to pass inspection was about $1300.  My wife and I are thinking it's time to consider trading this car.  It gets poor gas mileage (and we drive a lot - long daily commute), it's got 130K miles on it in four years, and in the last year, we've spent over $7500 in maintenance costs - way more than our car payments in that time period.

But, for right now, the car is running great.  I took it on a 2.5 hour round trip to go fly fishing Saturday.  All of that driving resulted in a single tiny wild rainbow.  One of my favorite fishing spots on the New Haven River has been drastically altered by our recent rains and near-flood conditions.  A beautiful hole on the river just downstream from a bridge, now contains two recently uprooted trees, and dry fly fishing there is nearly impossible now.

Sunday, we drove even further, meeting some friends in Keene Valley, NY for some rock climbing.  Well, my wife climbed.  I did a lot of belaying.  Even though I got my wife started in climbing, as well as one of our friends who climbed with her, I'm just not into it that much these days.  For a long time, I would climb well past my comfort level, and it wouldn't be fun.  I'm glad I've gotten to the point where I don't give in to the pressure to climb if I don't feel like it.  I have nothing to prove to anyone, I don't really like being scared, which is often the case when climbing, and I'm happy to just hang out and belay my friends.

Next weekend, I'm volunteering all week at the Vermont 100 mile endurance race.  My volunteer work starts Friday about noon and lasts through the weekend.  So, I need to get to CrossFit as much as possible for the next four nights.  The gym is going to be very uncomfortable, with high temperatures and high dew points expected for the next few days.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

On a Roll - Finally

It's now been 16 days since the PRP treatment on my shoulder.  I can't say that I feel a lot better, but I don't feel any worse.  And, I'm slowly returning to some of the lifts that I've been excluding for the past few months, although I'm doing them at very light weights.

Last week, I did some push presses one day - at 45 pounds, rather than my best of about 165.  Earlier this week, I did some thrusters (a front squat followed by a push press) also at 45 pounds.  Last night, I did some power snatches at 53# and some clean and jerks at 63# - numbers far from my best, but in many ways I'm starting over.  And, these lifts didn't hurt my shoulder at all.

Up until the beginning of July, I felt like I'd been goofing off more recently.  I did some sort of exercise fewer than half of the days in June.  But, July has seen a big turnaround already.

Last week, I got to CrossFit four days, I got out on my road bike one day, and I did a sprint workout another day - 6 out of 7 days for the week.  The only day I didn't train, I got out for a little bit of fly fishing, so I wasn't completely inactive.  This week, I've trained every day so far.

Last Friday, I even got a new PR on the front squat - 250 pounds.

Today, I am a little bit sore though.  We did heavy front squats last Friday.  I did sprints on Sunday.  Monday was back squats and front squats, and last night had high volume, low weight front squats.  That's a lot of stress on the glutes and hamstrings, and I'm a bit stiff today.

Our strange weather continues.  For the third day in a row, it's been raining hard where I live.  But, at my office, an hour north of where I live, it's been mostly dry.  We have flood warnings where I live but not where I work.

This coming weekend, I'm hoping the trout streams are finally back to decent levels.  My son has to work, and I'll probably do a little bit of work on the weekend myself, but I have time to get out for some fishing.  I'm hoping to spend some time on the Middlebury and New Haven rivers.  The rivers closer to where I live - the White and the Winooski - remain too high for safe wading, and the water is very muddy as well.  Hopefully, the rivers to the west will be in better shape for the weekend.  I haven't caught a fish for three weeks right now.

And that's it.  Back to work and then off to CrossFit.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Hit and Run

The rain won't stop.  I should build an ark.  I haven't fished in over 3 weeks and I might not fish for quite a while.  There is a chance that our rainforest weather pattern will break next week, but by the time the streams are down to a fishable level, the water temperature may be too high for catch and release fishing.

My shoulder feels a little better.  I'm working out this week - every day so far.  I even got out on my road bike for an hour yesterday - first ride of the season, done in between storms.  I'm hoping to run a few miles tomorrow.

And then there's work.  I swear I have six months of work due by the end of this month.  I worked yesterday (the 4th of July).  I'll probably work all weekend.  I see no way to take a vacation this summer.  By September, it will be a year since I've taken off a full week.  I'm starting to feel pretty burned out, to be honest.

(Edit) My wife just called.  The brakes went out on one of our cars.  And, the car I'm driving is in need of some serious repair work.

I want my life back.  Or maybe I'm just ready to surrender to the universe.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Shoulder Update

My shoulder is still a bit sore, but not too bad.  In the first 24 hours after the PRP, I used some codeine for the pain and to help me sleep.  Since then, I've used a little bit of codeine, but a lot less than during that first 24 hours.  So, none of the things that worry the doctor have happened - extreme pain, swelling, reddening of the skin, etc.

Now it's a matter of being patient and being smart with the activities that I choose for the next few weeks.

After resting completely on Monday and Tuesday, I went to the gym last night.  I wanted to be very careful with the shoulder, yet do something (anything) that would stop my recent decline in fitness.  With all the rain we've had recently, I haven't been doing much on the weekends - no running, no cycling, no hiking, and not even much fly fishing.  And I've been getting to CrossFit only 3x per week recently.  Add in days missed due to the PRP and being out of town last weekend, and my June workouts have been pathetic.  From January through May, I averaged 20 workouts per month - right about where I want to be.

For June, yesterday was only my 10th workout of the month.  Hopefully, I'll get to 13 or so by the end of the month, but it will still be a poor showing.  I've only fished three times this month as well, which is also kind of pathetic.

Last night's scheduled workout started with 7x1 of split jerks - the second half of a clean and jerk - at high weights.  That was a non-starter for me.  Instead, I did some mobility work, focusing on ankles and my back.  After that, I did some easy back squats with fairly light weight, trying to focus purely on form, especially getting a deep (legal) drop and keeping my chest up.

Next, as the rest of the class moved on to the metabolic conditioning part of the workout, I found a different way to challenge myself.  I spent about 10 minutes jumping rope, working on double unders.  I was using a new heavier rope for the first time.  The heavier rope provides better feedback.  When you miss a jump, it hits you hard and you know why you missed - jumped too soon, not soon enough, not high enough, etc.  I made some progress but it's going to be a while before I'm proficient at double unders.

And then, I ran a mile.

We've had so much rain recently that part of the interstate got washed out yesterday.  We are under a flood watch until tomorrow, with a lot of rain expected overnight tonight.  It could be quite a while until the rivers return to fishable conditions.  But, while it's raining, it's also been hot.  As the river temperatures get close to 70F, I'll stop fly fishing.  Fish that are caught in warmer water have a high mortality rate and I usually don't fish in water above 70F.

Maybe I should get back to running and riding on the weekends instead of goofing off.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Platement Rich Plasma Treatment - Left Rotator Cuff (Infraspinatus)

Early in 2012, I took a hard skiing fall, landing on my right shoulder.  I knew when I got up that I'd injured the shoulder.  It took me about six months of rehab and working with a chiropractor, and in September of last year, I set a new bench press PR (195 pounds - not very impressive) with no shoulder pain at all.

Not long after that, we started a very focused cycle of Olympic lifting at CrossFit - snatches and cleans and jerks of various types, plus overhead squats.  By November first, my left shoulder was hurting and my training log shows I was taking Aleve once or twice per week.  Yet, I pushed on.

I started to see the chiropractor again.  I saw a sports orthopedist.  I started doing regular rehab work.  I started to drop certain lifts from my workouts.  At first, I simply removed snatches and overhead squats.  Then, I removed the more dynamic jerk movements.  Then, I even removed the military press.  My bench pressing was done with barbells only at light weights.  Then, I removed cleans.  Switched push-ups to assisted rather than strict.

And through all of that, nothing got better.  Two cortisone shots, a few weeks apart, provided some relief, but not nearly enough.  I honestly feel like I haven't had a good night of sleep in maybe 8 months due to shoulder pain.

It's not hurt bad enough for surgery (allegedly), but it hurts too much to sleep and too much to do a lot of lifts I'd like to be doing.  It's been 7-8 months with no real improvement.

So yesterday, I had a platelet rich plasma treatment in the rotator cuff.  It involved way too many needles, many of them large gauge.  The blood was drawn with a 22 gauge needle.  The plasma was injected with a 20 gauge needle - anything smaller can damage the platelet cells.  Between the blood draw and the plasma injections, I had a number of Novocaine (or similar - I didn't ask) injections.  All told, I probably had 8-10 injections done by the doc.

As he did the procedure, we joked about getting older, our mutual love of playing hard, and how the two are often at odds with each other.  This was my second PRP treatment - the other was for a partial tear of a hamstring tendon - the semitendinosus.  The one healed somewhat slowly, but I feel the procedure was a success.   I had the treatment done in 2009 and I could barely run when I had it done - 5 months after I'd torn the tendon.  Within 3 months, I was running with a normal stride and within 6 months, I was sprinting again.

The doctor finds that the procedure really shines with rotator cuff injuries and he is expecting a full recovery. Of course, I have to rest enough to allow the process to work.  And then, perhaps more difficult, I have to not re-injure the shoulder doing the same things that caused the injury.

To that end, I'm planning to spend a lot of my downtime working on mobility and flexibility.  And maybe some fishing.  Plus running, cycling and lower body lifts.  I need to rest for a couple more days and I can then start to ease back into things.

If I can sleep without pain in a couple weeks, that will be a huge win.  If I can do Oly lifting by the end of the year with no pain, that will be even better.

For now, I just want the pain to go away.  For a few days, I have some medication to help with that, but I would love just one truly pain-free night of sleep.  After that, I will work slowly towards the other goals.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Courtney Love Review

Courtney was amazing.  I cannot believe how much energy she put out there, despite a less-than-packed house.  Her outfit made perfect sense for her - a white wedding dress, outrageous red lipstick, and black undergarments clearly visible through her dress.  I shot a bunch of video, but I'm not going to post it here.  To me, the ubiquitous use of cameras at concerts is a bit disturbing, and when videos of entire songs end up on the internet, it seems that something has been stolen from the artist without permission.  I shot some video simply as something to remember the show by.

Here is one photo, but because I wasn't using a flash, things are kind of washed out.  Regretfully, it's not even possible to make out her red lipstick here.

But, if anyone is on the fence about seeing her, please go.  The show was short but she put everything she had into it.  Here is the set list:

Main Set:

Miss World (Hole song)
Skinny Little Bitch (Hole song)
Pacific Coast Highway (Hole song)
Violet (Hole song)
Malibu (Hole song)
Honey (Hole song)
Codeine (Buffy Sainte-Marie cover)
Asking for It (Hole song)
For Once in Your Life (Hole song)
Celebrity Skin (Hole song)


Awful  (Hole song)
Plump (Hole song)
Northern Star (Hole song)
Thirteen (Big Star cover)

I pretty much knew the songs she would play, although both of the covers were very nice surprises, especially Codeine.  So many of these songs are such raw punk songs that by the end of the show, Courtney's voice had taken a beating from screaming and growling her way through the songs.

Skinny Little Bitch was a surprise in the show.  It's a nice song on the last Hole album, but she just snarled her way through it.  The lyrics vary from R-rated to nearly X-rated (Baby, just go slower, Baby, just go lower) and she clearly had fun with this one.

Mono was a song I really wanted to see.  I think it's the best song on her solo album Nobody's Daughter, and it's got some scathing lyrics directed at God and (I think) at Kurt Cobain:

Oh god you owe me one more song
So I can prove to you that
I'm so much better than him
Oh god just gonna listen fast
Here comes the crash
We're gonna rise above
We're gotta smash it up
You won't abandon us again

The next verse is even more scathing in some ways, but it's clearly inappropriate to post here.  Plus she really just wails her way through this brilliant song.

Everything about the show was amazing.  One of the topics among fans on the floor was her current musical relevance.  The venue was not close to sold out and it was just the hard core fans that were there.  But, I pretty much defy anyone who likes this genre of music to see her and think she is irrelevant.

After the main set, she took off the wedding dress (it had been slowing coming undone anyway), and came back to stage wearing a white jacket (part of the wedding dress ensemble?) over some black lingerie and some very campy and ripped black stockings.  And at age 48, she could still pull it off.  She lit a cigarette very defiantly and started into the encore songs.  I was disappointed when Northern Star came up third, since this is her usual closer.  But, the Big Star cover was a bonus.

Worth every penny.  One of the best shows I've ever seen (and I've been to 100s of shows).  Certainly most intense ever.  Maybe Oingo Boingo could give her a run for intensity.  That's about it though.

I am so glad I made it to this show.  Yeah, if I'd missed it, I wouldn't know what I would have missed.  But knowing how amazing this was, I'm simply grateful for 75 or 80 minutes of live music by Courtney.

And for the record, the opening band, Starred, is also worth checking out.  In some ways, they were like Julee Cruise meets an early Jesus and Mary Chain wall of sound.  Very hypnotic in many ways.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


After my negative preview statements yesterday, I have one correction to make.

Courtney Love rocked my world last night. Amazing show.

That's all.

Friday, June 21, 2013

More of the same

It's a good thing that I like my job, I like CrossFit and I like fly fishing.  They are the only constants in my life right now.

Tonight, just for something different, I'm going to see Courtney Love in Boston.  I've been a fan of her band Hole for many years.  A good friend from college had tickets to see Hole when Kurt Cobain committed suicide.  We had just been on a ski trip to Lake Tahoe when all the drama near the end of Kurt's life was going on.  During our ski trip, it became a rule that every time we heard Nirvana on the radio, we would stop whatever we were doing and drink a beer.  Maybe not the most mature way to react to a life spinning out of control, but that's the way it was.

Not surprisingly, Hole cancelled that show and Courtney Love's life since then is probably best described as a long, drawn out train wreck.  Yet, throughout all of the drama and weirdness, I've remained a fan of Hole and Courtney's solo work.  And I've remained fascinated by her, despite the out of control life she seems to embrace.

She is doing a mini-tour right now - seven stops in the northeast.  In a recent interview, she talked about touring for months and playing 70 venues, but that doesn't seem to be happening.  The tour opened in Philadelphia last night, with 10 songs in the main set and a 4 song encore.  In her previous solo show in January, she'd played 18 total songs, but I guess that must have been too much work.

I have to admit that I still have issues with "artists" who charge premium prices and then play short shows.  When I spend decent money to see a concert, it seems reasonable to expect the performer to put in a fair effort.  So, while I'm looking forward to the music itself, I'm already somewhat disappointed by what will likely be a short concert.

Other than that, I've been struggling with CrossFit a bit recently.  I've been cramping up in workouts a lot recently.  Last night, after a series of sprints and lunges, we were doing another series of renegade rows and sit-ups.  In the second round, my abs cramped up doing sit-ups to the point where I had to quit.  I went outside and ran a mile while everyone else finished the workout, but it was disappointing.  This was the 4th time in 2 weeks that I've had some cramping issues while training and I need to get it figured out.

I got out fishing on Wednesday night.  I had skipped the gym so my wife and I could sign some paperwork with the bank - a house re-fi.  I went to one of my favorite local spots - a spot where I always catch fish, but the wading can be treacherous.  Basically, you park by the river and then cross, fishing from the opposite side.  The initial crossing is a bit hairy and the return trip is even worse due to the layout of the current and the deeper water where you don't want to end up.

I fell into the water on the initial crossing,which made me really nervous.  I did relax long enough to enjoy the fishing and I hooked three trout and one smallmouth bass, landing all but one of the trout.  I quit fishing a little earlier than normal, mostly to find a safe way back across the river.  My normal "safe exit" was not so safe, which really worried me for a while.  I didn't want to have to call for help.  I considered a railroad bridge way upstream, but it didn't seem like a good option.

Finally, I found a sturdy stick and used the route I'd used for my initial crossing.  The fact that I'm writing this report likely indicates that I made it safely. But perhaps it's time to consider purchasing a wading staff.  I've always sort of thought of them as an "old man" fishing tool.  But, if the tool fits...

Friday, June 14, 2013

Tough Week

On Monday, after a four day break, I got back to CrossFit.  I also felt a little under the weather, but after the days off, I really wanted to get into the gym.  And, in hindsight, I probably should have skipped the gym.

As of Saturday, I'd felt like I was catching a cold.  It seemed minor - just some stuffiness in my head - but a dose of an antihistamine did nothing for me.  So, I'd rested on Sunday and tried the workout on Monday.

It was a tough workout, and at times during the workout, I felt really dehydrated, which made no sense to me after a series of rest days.  We started with back squats and front squats:

Back squats: 5 x 75% of max, 4 x 80%, 3 x 85%
Front squats: 5 x 70%, 4 x 75%, 3 x 80%

To make things more complicated, I've been working hard on some mobility issues.  I've been using a book called "Becoming a Supple Leopard", which was written by a PhD physical therapist who coaches at CrossFit San Francisco.  This coach is so well respected that the top female athlete from my CF gym spent three days working with him last winter.  It obviously paid off for this woman when she shocked a lot of competitors by winning the Northeast Regional Championship and she will be at the CF games this summer, where I predict she will surprise a few more athletes.

I bought the book primarily due to some shoulder mobility issues that I think are related to the rotator cuff problems I've been fighting.  But, every single page of the book has had me shaking my head, thinking, "Yep, that's me."

A week earlier, the coaches at Raleigh CrossFit had asked me not to increase the weight any more while doing squats when we were going for a single rep max.  It was not because I wasn't strong enough.  It was an issue with my form and their concern that I would get hurt.  I was still 60 pounds below my PR and feeling strong that night, but I listened to the coaches and stopped at 315#.  Later that night, I re-read the sections in the Supple Leopard book about back squats.  I spent time last week working on body-weight squats, but using a different stance and some different cues for my movements.

And then this past Monday, I used that new stance and some new movement patterns and worked up to a set of 3 x 315#.  All three sets were harder than that weight should have been, and I had to go lower on the front squat weights than planned to compensate.

After the squats, we did a workout that include running and a task called wall balls.  Wall balls involve squatting with a medicine ball and essentially using the momentum as you stand up to push a ball to a 10' high target on the wall.  Our workout included 120 of these wall balls, also done in my "new" squat stance.

After the workout, I was really, really hurting - just drained.  I went home and just laid on the couch for the rest of the night.  Then, I didn't sleep well at all - stuffed up head and discomfort in every muscle of my body.

I took off work on Tuesday and essentially slept all day.  By Wednesday, I felt better, but my entire body still ached.  The worst part was my legs - top of the hamstrings.  I'm sure I simply overdid the weights and reps with the new squat stance.  It's going to take a while to really get my body adapted to that new stance.

I struggled through a CF workout on Tuesday and certain movement were almost impossible - kettlebell swings, for one.  Even last night, my legs still hurt and burpees were more uncomfortable than normal.

So, today is a rest day.  If the thunderstorms stay away, I'll go out fly fishing with my son tonight.

And the weekend is booked really full.  Somehow, I'm supposed to cook a Father's Day dinner for my father-in-law (which I'm quite happy to do), even though I thought my kids should cook for me, and my wife should cook for her dad.  If I'm lucky, I'll get out for some exercise this weekend - maybe some running or sprints if my hamstrings are up for it.  If I'm really lucky, I'll exercise and get to fly fish as well, although my primary fishing partner, my son, works tomorrow and Sunday.

I want to get in as many workouts as I can in the next ten days.  After I have the PRP treatment on my rotator cuff on the 24th, I will have my activities limited for a while, so I'd rather train as hard as I can, without breaking myself, until then.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Moving at the speed of life

So, almost two weeks ago, I wrote a post about a fishing rod and fishing reel.  That post really got most of my limited readership all excited.  I could tell from the voluminous comments (zero).  Since that day, it seems like my life has been crazy and even workouts have been tough to pull off.

I did manage to get two workouts at the end of the week two weeks ago.  This put me at 65 CrossFit workouts from the first of the year through the end of May.  Last year, I only did 50 CF workouts in the same time frame.  I've also been running about 10-12 more workouts (all kinds of training) ahead of last year, which feels pretty good.  I got off to a slow start last year and worked hard the second half of the year.  This year, I've gotten off to a much better start, although the last 30 days or so have been pretty mediocre.

Two Saturdays ago, I was able to have a little bit of fun - farmers market, brunch with my wife, mowing the lawn (OK, not so much fun with the mowing stuff) and a little bit of fly fishing.  To be honest, on a hot, muggy night right after a rain storm, the fishing was terrible and I almost wished I hadn't gone.

The next day, I flew to Raleigh-Durham on business.  My second flight was delayed four times and I didn't get to my hotel until well after midnight.  The next day, I went to the training class I was scheduled to attend, only to find out that it started the next day instead.  So, I spent the morning modifying my travel plans, and I then worked for a few hours before going to train at Raleigh CrossFit.  The primary strength work was max weight squats, but I focused on form rather than weight and only got to 315#.

The next day, I attended a very intense hands-on programming class.  After that was done, it was back to CrossFit.  That night, I got a new PR with a 435 pound deadlift that went easier than I'd expected.

After a second intense day in the class, I went to CrossFit again and got my bench press up to 175 pounds - the best since my 195 pound PR last October and my rotator cuff injury late last year.

And after that was over, I treated myself to a nice dinner at a high end steak house in Raleigh.

The next day was my wife's birthday and luckily, I got home on time.  I was able to put a nice dinner together for her birthday, although I was simply exhausted from the way the week had gone.

I worked again on Friday and worked again most of Saturday.  It was too rainy to go fishing and I was too tired to go out anyway.  I felt really run down all weekend, like I was getting a cold.  So, I decided to do nothing all day Sunday.  I cooked a bit and mowed the lawn and took a nap.  It was my fourth consecutive day with no workout.

And now it's Monday.  I'm swamped at work.  I'm still tired.  I want to go to the gym tonight.  Actually, I will go to the gym tonight.  But, I really need this whole world to slow down a bit.  Or, I'd at least like to sit out a day or two.

I need to take some vacation time, but work is getting more and more busy all the time, and with a limited staff, vacation time can be difficult.  But, I'm going to find a way to take some time off in the next few weeks.  Somehow.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Fly Fishing Equipment Review: Hardy Zenith Rod and Hatch Finatic Plus Reel

Before I get into particulars here, let me say that I'm not, by any stretch of the imagination, a world class fly fisherman.  I bought my first fly fishing set-up when I was 17 or so.  It cost $20 and came from a then-small company named Cabela's.  In those days, they mailed you a catalog and you filled out a form and mailed them a cashier's check for what you wanted.

I actually caught more fish on that first rod using worms than I did using flies.  I used it through college, and in 1985, I bought my first graphite fly rod.  I think it cost me $75 or so and I thought I was in the big leagues.  I continued to use the old reel and line from my Cabela's rod.  In those days, to be honest, I used spinning gear more than fly fishing gear.

In 1987, I moved from New England to CA and started to fish in the Sierra Nevada.  I got re-hooked on fly fishing.  In 1989, I bought my first ever quality fly fishing set-up.  The rod was a 9', 5 weight rod from Fisher, a now-defunct company from the LA area.  I bought a Ross Gunnison G-1 reel that I still use to this day.  I even took a fly casting class and began tying my own flies more regularly.  My trips to the Sierra Nevada were infrequent, but fairly productive.

Late in 1995, I had $500 to spare.  My grandmother had died, and despite not having much money, she left me $500 in her will.  When I was younger, she was the person who took me fishing.  No one else in my family fished except my mom's parents.  I decided to spend that $500 on a 9 foot, 5 weight Sage RPL+ fly rod, mostly as a way of honoring and remembering my grandmother.  And for the past 18 years, that rod, with the Ross reel, has been my primary set-up.

I do have an 8 weight Sage rod that I purchased in Alaska for salmon fishing.  That one has a Ross Cimarron  reel, but I haven't taken it out of its case in almost 15 years.

When my son took up fly fishing a few years ago, we put an Orvis Battenkill reel on the Fisher rod and he used that.  On occasion, he would use the Sage rod and he liked that rod better than the Fisher.

And last season, we both got to take some casts with a 5 weight rod from Rock and River Rods - a company here in Vermont.  I may still buy one of their rods for my son.  Their rods are extremely responsive and they are a great value as well.

So, that was a long story, but the main point is that I'm not a guide, I don't fish huge numbers of days each year, and I don't cast lots and lots of fly rods.  So, as you read the reviews below, keep that in mind.

Earlier this season, I decided that I wanted to get a new rod - preferably a 4 weight for fishing in the smaller streams here in VT.  I also wanted to drop the length from 9" to 8'6" or maybe even 8'.  I did lots and lots of reading on the internet.  For the rod, a review at Yellowstone Anglers provided me with most of my input.  I ended up with the Hardy Zenith, Sage One and Orvis Helios 2 as my top choices.  For reels, I looked primarily at Abel, Hatch, Ross and Orvis.  In some ways, I thought that buying a high end reel on a lightweight rod would be overkill, but I figured I'd go for the best combo I could afford to buy.

For the reel, I read as much as I could, and eventually decided I wanted a sealed drag.  That eliminated only one of the brands.  After that, price and aesthetics became more important.  I loved the look of some of the very high end Abel reels, but the price was simply too much.  And, while the Hatch and Orvis reels had similar price points, Hatch had a deal for a second spool at a discounted price.

So, this is what I ended up with:

Hardy Zenith rod - 4 weight, 8'6"
Hatch Finatic 3 Plus reel
I loaded the reel with Hatch backing and Rio Gold line

For the second spool, I've got the same backing and a 5 weight Scientific Anglers Trout line.  But, to be honest, I'm having so much fun with the four weight rod that the second spool still hasn't been used.

The rod has exceeded any expectations I had.  It is light and I can cast it all day.  It loads well and I get more distance from it than I expected.  This is part of the reason I haven't even fished any of my five weights this year.  Even on bigger water, I'm getting the distance I want from the four weight.  The "head length" on the 4wt Rio Gold is 46'.  I'm able to cast that distance quite easily with the rod.  I can probably get just over 50' on a cast.  I'm sure there are many casters who could use a double-haul and get 60' out of this combo, but I'm not one of them.  But, fishing in Vermont, 50' is plenty most of the time.  And, at 30' or closer, the flexible tip of the rod allows me to be very precise in my placements.  When I pick up my older RPL+ these days, it honestly feels like I'm casting a telephone pole.  It is stiff and fast, but nowhere near as responsive as the Hardy.

And, that flexible tip is making a huge difference when nymphing.  I am detecting way more strikes now and catching more fish with nymphs than ever before.  Also, only once this year have I overreacted and set the hook too hard.  With the tip flex, I have a little bit of help from the rod that prevents me from popping the tippet when setting the hook.

So, the rod is light and I can cast all day.  Despite years with a 5 weight, I'm getting sufficient casting distance.  The casts feel precise.  The flex in the tip helps me to detect more strikes.  Basically, it's everything I wanted and then some.

But, why did I pay so much money for a reel?  All a reel does is hold the line for you, right?  Well, most of the time, that's true.  I know that when people are fishing for very large fish, the drag on the reel becomes a big factor.  The drag allows the reel to assist in tiring out the fish.  Most reels use a drag based on cork and metal.  Most of the time, that type of drag is just fine.  Sure, the drag may be slow to release at first and it might not be super smooth all the time, but it usually works.  Until it doesn't.  And it's usually when you have a big fish on the line that it fails.  By then, it's too late to buy the more expensive reel you'd thought about.

Before I continue on to a fish story, I should mention that the reel is beautiful.  It's simple and flawlessly machined and assembled.  It's a reel I can imagine my son using long after my fly fishing days are over.  The reel came with a nice neoprene case.  The second spool came with another neoprene case.  It looks really nice and it is a nice match with the Hardy rod.  But, I was talking about drag.

Trout season often gets off to a slow start here in Vermont.  We had freezing rain the night before the season opened this year.  I've fished opening day in snow showers in the past.  My first few days out this year, I caught nothing at all.  But, the first fish I hooked this season was no shrinking violet.  It was a fat wild brown who didn't like the look of my net at all.  He had aggressively hit a large brown stonefly and wanted nothing to do with the net.  Three times, I got the fish close enough that I had the net in the water.  All three times, that fish found a burst of energy and took off into the fast current, with only the drag slowing him down.  And the drag functioned perfectly.  When it was time to release, it did so smoothly.  The pressure was even and the release continued smoothly even as the fish got into deeper faster water.

After three runs like this, I got the fish to net, snapped a couple photos and returned this beautiful brown to the river.  And then I started to realize that just because I was fishing a lower weight rod, I still had a reason to have a high quality drag system on my reel.

I've been out 8 or 9 times this year.  I haven't landed fish every time, but I've done OK.  My nymphing has gone very well, my success with the one big fish made me happy, and my arm never gets tired from hours of high-stick nymphing.

I'm sure there are other combos I might have gotten that I would like just as much.  But, this outfit has exceeded my expectations and I'm not even itching to fish the five weight rods these days.  I'm actually afraid to let my son fish the new rod, because he might not want to give it back.

Yes, it's a very expensive set-up, so high expectations are warranted.  But, both the rod and reel deliver in all respects.