Ironman Arizona 2014 slideshow


by Paul Fiarkoski

I was so enamored with the Ironman competition after my first experience as a spectator in 2013, that I had to go back for more this year. For the unitiated, an Ironman Triathlon is consists of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2-mile (42.2 km) run, raced in that order and without a break. It is widely considered one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world.

This year’s edition was noticeably cooler than 2013 and it appeared to affect the athletes, especially in the swim to bike transition. Many of them looked like frozen penguins after shucking off their wet suits. I was happy to hear that many of the finishers were from my old stomping grounds in the Denver-Boulder area of Colorado.

2014 Ironman Competition – Tempe, AZ

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

In case you’re wondering, like my wife is, whether I have my sights set on doing the Ironman of my own some day, the answer for now is an emphatic “No”. The run portion would be the death of me. 🙂 My personal fitness goal is to hike 12 miles to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and up the other side, then back to wear I started, sometime before my 50th birthday – October of 2017.

Until then, I hope you enjoy the slideshow above and posts from my various hikes.

3 reasons why MLB Opening Day should NOT be a national holiday


I have seen numerous pleas by Major League Baseball on social media asking fans to sign a petition that would make Opening Day a national holiday. As much as I love baseball, there are three good reasons why I feel opening day should not be a national holiday.

1.  Ballpark attendance will not increase

Ask any fan of their city’s Major League Baseball team what the biggest challenge is with Opening Day and they will tell you it is getting tickets. Most MLB teams require fans to sign up on a waiting list about six months before the regular season begins in hopes that their name will be drawn from the lottery to buy tickets for opening day.

In other words, every team that has a solid fan base is currently selling out their stadium on Opening Day. Sold out is sold out, and declaring a national holiday won’t change that.

2.  Viewership will not increase

In most MLB markets the local media creates more hype and it generates greater anticipation around Opening Day than any other game during the year. Of course, there is at least one local station in each market that is likely to broadcast the game. So many of the people who were unable to buy tickets will be watching on TV. Even if they are working, in this day of cable sports TV and digital recorder’s most real fans can watch the game at their convenience after work.

3.  More people will suffer than benefit
In America, a national holiday usually means that federal offices, banks and in many cases schools will be closed. While it seems that this may be a benefit to Major League Baseball since more people are free from other distractions to focus on the nation’s pastime, my hunch is that more people will be affected negatively than will benefit. Think of the people that you know that work at any of the institutions that normally close on national holidays and how their income is affected when they cannot work. And think of how many business transactions cannot take place when banks are closed. Now you see what I mean.

Don’t get me wrong. I love baseball and I wish I could be off every year on Opening Day to take part in the festivities. However, we should keep in mind as a people that Major League Baseball is a business and they will continue to do just fine without Opening Day being declared a national holiday. Our government should not declare a holiday for the benefit of one industry at the expense of the general population.

Play ball!

Reflections on my hike of Cholla Trail on Camelback Mountain


I’ve been prepping myself for a 3-day hike in the Grand Canyon in May 2014 by taking on some of the more strenuous trails around Phoenix. Camelback Mountain has a reputation for setting the legs on fire, so when I saw that my church had organized a hike up the humps the first weekend of December, I couldn’t pass it up. Below is a quick summary of my experience.

At the time of our hike, the only way to access the top was via Cholla Trail (pronounced choy-ya) which rises up from the east side. In the picture below, envision hiking a trail cut just on the other side of the spine of the camel that runs from the right (or rear) to the left.

Image

Quick stats:

  • Destination: Camelback Summit – the top of the tallest hump in pic above
  • Distance: about 3 miles round trip
  • Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
  • Time: 3.5 hours; time of day: early morning
  • Weather: sunny with calm air and temps in the mid-50s

Likes:

  • Free admission
  • Views from the top and other vantage points
  • Desert landscape
  • That burn in the legs

Dislikes:

  • Parts of trail require scaling rock walls and navigating back down them
  • Concern of bee attacks as advised by signs (bees killed a few people on Camelback in 2013)
  • Volume of other hikers on the weekend resulted in congestion
  • Parking a half mile from the trail head on a residential street

Conclusion
I’m glad I hiked Camelback so that I can say that I’ve done it, but I won’t be rushing back anytime soon. The single biggest turnoff was the volume of people. Friends have recommended other trails that will help prep me for my Grand Canyon hike, so I’ll place priority on those trails in the future.

If you have hiked Camelback, I would like to hear your thoughts in the comment box below. Questions? Fire away and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Some more pics from my hike (click to enlarge)…

Tempe, Arizona Ironman Triathlon 2013


I heard that the Ironman Triathlon competition was being held in nearby Tempe today, so I had to have a look.

I remember watching highlights from the Ironman in Hawaii on ABC’s Wide World of Sports when I was a kid. The graphic images stick with me today of people crossing the finish line and having virtually no control over their muscles after a day of grueling exercise consisting of a 2-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride, followed by a 26.2 run (i.e. marathon). Today I witnessed it in person.

The Tempe course is great for spectators because you can see the athletes at numerous points in their journey, such as the start and end of the swim and bike ride, plus the run portion at the 4-, 12- and 26 mile points. Hat’s off to these amazingly driven individuals.

Here are some photos I took. Plenty more of professional quality at http://www.ironman.com.

Best reality TV out there: Boat ramp follies on YouTube


I’m a man with simple entertainment needs. Give me a bag of chips and a few thousand 90-second clips of people making fools of themselves at the boat ramp and I’m set.

Boat Ramp Follies was first recommended to me by YouTube after I searched for videos of Lake Havasu, to which we were planning a family vacation. Good call!

As it turns out, “Boat Ramp Follies” is not just a video, but more of a genre; not unlike the categories of Action, Thriller or Drama that we generally find movies organized by. A YouTube search for “boat ramp follies” resulted in over 28,000 videos.

Far better than any other types of sports follies videos that became popular with the advent of VHS tape players, boat ramp follies is reality tv at its finest. These people aren’t there to perform. They just want to have a nice day on the water.

Getting there is half the fun, right? Or half the battle – depending on how you look at it. Mix in steep, wet surfaces, poor driving skills and a little alcohol and you have the perfect recipe for drama.

So intriguing are boat ramp follies that crowds of people are known to line edges of the Site 6 boat ramp at Lake Havasu to watch the spectacle. Thankfully for me, they also post much of the comedy to YouTube.

If I had to pick a favorite, it would have to be the redneck in Missouri who didn’t even make it to the lake. He jack-knifed his rig on a dirt road when trying to avoid a puddle of water. The truck ended up in one ditch and the boat in the other.

I can’t stop watching these boat ramp folly videos and just wanted to open your eyes to a whole new entertainment experience. Here is one video for starters (PG-13 warning for profanity):

But please, don’t stop there. If you experience the same internal chemical reaction I did, try searching YouTube for phrases using any mixture of these words: boat, ramp, launch, idiot, comedy, drunk, folly blooper, etc. You won’t be let down, I promise.

Bodyboarding is a spectator sport


I’m back on the grid after four days of rehearsing for retirement on the beaches of Cali. At 45, I’m starting to realize body boarding is a spectator sport. Those waves look so peaceful, but they threw me around like a rag doll. More Advil, please.
True story: on day one, a lifeguard came down and warned me against trying to ride the breaker waves. Something about risk of a broken neck or back. Wonder how he knew I had no clue what I was doing. Maybe it was the wrist leash I had strapped to my ankle. Lol!
body boarders

Full disclosure: I am not in this picture. If I were, you would see a board in the air and my arms and legs protruding from the whitewater. 🙂

Vintage baseball at America’s oldest ballpark: Warren Field, Bisbee, AZ


One of the things I love about living in Arizona is the virtually endless opportunities for watching baseball. One such example takes place each Spring in the town of Bisbee, not far from the Mexico border. On the south end of town sits Warren Ballpark – America’s longest continuously active baseball stadium according to local historians. The stadium opened in 1909 and has been active with baseball, football and other activities since.

Intrigued by an article I had read in American Profile tabloid newspaper last Fall, my wife and I made a road trip to Bisbee for the 2013 Copper City Classic – a tournament of vintage “base ball” teams from around the region. They don vintage uniforms and play by the old rules: under-handed pitching, no balls or strikes, ball caught on one hop is an out, and so on.

I wouldn’t say these guys (and a few gals) are stellar athletes, but they are good sports. The players range in age from teens to sixties. Important to them is respect for each other and, more importantly, the game. Scoring appears to be second to having fun in their order of priorities. The announcer livens things up by getting a little animated with the players’ nicknames and applying an appropriate amount of jeering to certain players when necessary. And the community will benefit from the modest amount of money raised to help improve the stadium.

An unexpected Spring Training experience


On the second to the last Saturday of the 2013 MLB Spring Training season I had a unique and unexpected baseball experience. My plan was to go to the Brewers – Angels game at Diablo Stadium in Tempe. I was solo and didn’t really care where I sat, so I didn’t bother buying a ticket in advance. Bad decision, good outcome.

Ordinarily you can buy general admission tickets to sit in the outfield lawn for $8.  By the time I arrived, the stadium was completely sold out and scalpers were asking $50 a ticket, so I decided to pass. Shortly after I jumped in my truck and began to pull away, I noticed some guys in uniform on a nearby field.

Since I had no other plans that afternoon, I did a u-turn and returned my truck to the parking spot then walked over to the field. When I got close enough, I could see that the two teams were wearing the uniforms of the Brewers and Angels.

AA baseball in Tempe, AZ
Angels and Brewers AA teams battle it out in 2013 Spring Training, (Tempe, AZ)

After taking a seat in the second row of the bleacher I asked a woman, who was there with her three young kids, if she knew anyone playing. She did. Her husband was playing third base for the Angels. I then found out he’s on the AA farm team in Arkansas where he’ll be heading for summer ball. He was drafted from the Dominican Republic I would find out.

To my right about eight feet away was the bench where the coaches sit. A few paces beyond that was the opening to the dugout. One of the coaches appeared to be in his 60s and communicated equally effectively with both his English and Spanish speaking players.

So here I was sitting practically in the midst of the visiting team, able to hear and see every interaction between the players and coaches. It wasn’t much different than the dugout experience I remember from high school.

Other than the fact that the Brewers won with two home runs and three RBI (that I witnessed), I couldn’t tell you the story line of the game. Oh, and the Angels’ third baseman from the DR flied out twice.

You want baseball? You can’t handle the baseball!


About this time last year, when I was living in Colorado, I proclaimed to my Facebook friends, “One of these years I’m going to go to Phoenix for a couple weeks and attend as many MLB spring games as I can. Just not this year.”

At the time I had never been to the Phoenix area and we had not yet discussed moving here. (Another post for another time.) That was also before I realized just how much baseball action takes place in Arizona. Every spring thousands of people flock to the Phoenix area for to catch glimpses of their favorite players up close during Major League Baseball Spring Training. It turns out Spring Training is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

In the past five years or so, I have become a fan of the complete game – the players, the stats, the rules (written and unwritten), the coaches, the umps, the fans, the reporters, the stadiums. I love it all – minus paid parking. I study in the off-season by reading biographies, magazines and geeky books like “Watching Baseball Smarter.”

So this year I’m committed to taking in as much baseball in person as I can. Back in January I mapped out what the spring would look like on a calendar. I started with the MLB Spring Training calendar – six or more games per day from the end of February through March. On top of those games, I overlaid the World Baseball Classic, then Arizona State and University of Arizona games, plus a baseball experience like no other.

Photo of vintage base ball game at Warren Field, Bisbee, AZ
Vintage Base Ball Tournament at Warren Field in Bisbee, AZ. Photo courtesy of Friends of Warren Ballpark.

Would you believe the oldest active baseball stadium in the U.S. is also in Arizona? Yes, even older than Boston’s Fenway Park. Had to book a family trip to Bisbee in April. We’ll catch one day of the Copper City Classic Vintage “Base Ball” tournament on Saturday. They play by 1860 rules in old school uniforms and the umps wear beanies and bow ties.

On our way home Sunday, we’ll stop in Tucson to watch the defending national champion (2012) Arizona Wildcats play the Cal Bears – a 2011 College World Series team – in another classic ballpark: Hi Corbett.

I took in my first Spring Training game with my teenage daughter this past Sunday. It was windy and cold and she wanted to leave early. I coaxed and coddled her to stay through six innings. Day two of my 2013 baseball binge is today: day one of the four-day round robin Coca Cola Classic Tournament in Surprise featuring ASU, Arkansas, Gonzaga and Pacific.

As if plotting out all the baseball games going on isn’t challenge enough, I need to work in my full-time job and my part-time role as taxi driver for the kiddos, plus their sporting and school events and the occasional family meal.

I’m not sure how I’ll handle all this baseball but I’m going to give it a try.