Homemade Amaro #1


I decided to base my first amaro recipe after a couple others that I found online: Popular Mechanics and  Tickled Palate. I liked the double-infusion method to have more control over the ingredients. I also did some substitutions to use ingredients (such as dried cherries) that appealed more to me.


I used a double-infusion method with the aim of yielding about 375ml of amaro. I used a pint canning jar for the infusions.

First Infusion


First infusion ingredients (before crushing).

The first infusion uses the following ingredients:

  • 375-ml bottle 100 proof vodka (I used Smirnoff)
  • 3 grams whole cloves
  • 1.5 grams cinnamon bark
  • 3 grams juniper berries
  • 3 grams gentian root
  • 3 grams cinchona bark

Lightly crush the cloves, cinnamon, and juniper berries with a mortar and pestle and then add to a pint jar with the vodka, gentian root, and cinchona bark.

Shake and taste every day until flavor seems pungent enough. When I did this recipe I left them in for a full 5 days, which ended up being too much for my tastes (see tasting notes below).


A day or so into the first infusion, where the color is still light.


Near the end of the first infusion with much darker color.

Once this first infusion was complete I strained into a new pint jar and began the…

Second Infusion

This infusion includes the following ingredients:

  • 7.5 grams orange zest
  • 3 grams allspice
  • 3.2 grams cardamom
  • 5 grams orris root
  • 1/4 cu dried cherries (41.6g)
  • 3 grams fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 3 grams rhubarb root
  • 5 grams rosebuds
  • 2 grams calendula buds
  • 2.2 grams yarrow

Ingredients for second infusion

Again, these were lightly ground with a mortar and pestle before adding to the pint jar.


Second infusion ready to go

I let the second infusion proceed for 6 days total, shaking and tasting every day. The orange flavor came on strongly for the first 4 days, but by day 5 it had mellowed. None of the other ingredients really stood out, so that makes me think I should dial back the orange zest and let the second infusion go a little longer next time.


Second infusion underway

Once this infusion was complete I strained and filtered (with a Chemex coffee filter) the amaro.


Straining the (unsweetened) amaro after the second infusion; look at that rich dark color!

I then sweetened it with a simple syrup made from boiling together:

  • 1/3 cu granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cu water

I bottled it in a leftover bourbon bottle and then began the tasting.


What was first impressive about this beverage is that it actually smells like an amaro–something about that combination of herbs and bittering roots give it the right scent. Outside of that I can smell some cherry and cinnamon.

Upon first tasting I get a strong flavor of cinnamon and cloves, followed by bright orange but well-balanced sweetness. The bitterness hits me early, and lasts into a dry finish.

At 40% alcohol, the amaro is a bit hot and drinking it over ice helps cool it down.


The final product in a tasting glass with square ice cube.

Suggested Recipe Changes

Overall I’m incredibly happy with how my first amaro turned out. The overall strength and amount of sweetness is great. The flavor is great but there are aspects out of balance that I will change for my next batch:

  • The first infusion was too long as the bitterness, cinnamon, and cloves are too strong. I’d reduce this from five days to three and bump up the juniper to get more flavor from that.
  • From the second infusion all I can really taste is the orange. I shouldn’t have used zest for this; maybe just the peel instead. Or, I should have used maybe 20-30% of what I did (i.e. 2-3 grams). If I made that change, I may have left it longer in the second infusion to bring out more of the other flavors.


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Delaware Highpoint – Ebright Azimuth

The Delaware state highpoint, Ebright Azimuth, may not see impressive on the surface. It’s just a simple sign and park bench at an otherwise nondescript intersection near the Pennsylvania border; a “drive-up.” And it’s the second-lowest state highpoint at just 448 feet above sea level.



But Ebright Azimuth is important to me because it was my first intentional highpoint. I wove it into a July, 2015, trip that included a visit to one of my favorite breweries, Dogfish Head. It is fascinating to me that this first state of the union, in such a central part of the Eastern coast, can feel so out of the way. Fun trivia fact: Delaware is the only U.S. state without a commercial airport.

So, you might say that on this warm summer day, traveling between Dover and Victory Brewing (Downingtown, PA), my quest for state highpoints truly began in earnest. It was an easy next step at an out-of-the way place; I literally just parked the car and walked across the street. But it felt special to be visiting an otherwise uninteresting spot in a residential neighborhood knowing that so many more were to follow.







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California Highpoint – Mount Whitney

Where the Journey Started

highpointing, n., the sport of ascending to the point with the highest elevation within some area (the “highpoint”), for example the highest points in each state.

I started highpointing in 2011, but I didn’t recognize it as such at the time. I was simply interested in summitting the highest peak in the continental U.S., Mount Whitney. Little did I know that it would evolve into a much longer journey across all 50 states.

The seeds of inspiration to climb Whitney were first planted within me when I was a teenager. My family was passing through Lone Pine, CA, on a trip from Death Valley. As this town is the gateway to Mt. Whitney, we went on a short family hike from that same trailhead. And even though we turned around far before getting anywhere close to the mountain, my interest was piqued in the trail beyond when my dad told me his Whitney story.

He his first summit attempt in the late 1950’s actually landed him in the hospital. He had failed to wear any sunscreen and received such severe sunburn that he needed medical attention. But the following year he tried again with his stepfather and made it. He gushed about the magnificent views from the top: how on a clear day you can see all the way to the lowest point in the U.S., Death Valley.

And, like so many times before, I was inspired to follow in my father’s footsteps. Except for the sunburn, of course.

Preparing for My Climb

At the start of 2011 I knew it would be a great year to attempt the climb. Mount Whitney is a popular one, and requires applying for permits months in advance. I decided to do it as a monster day hike (22 miles with 6,200 ft of elevation gain) rather than an overnight trip, as the backpacking permits are much more difficult to get. I applied by the February cut-off and by the late spring I had my permit confirmation in hand for an early August mid-week climb.

I knew the biggest challenge for me about Whitney would be the elevation, as I’d previously experienced altitude sickness above 10,000 ft. So over the early summer months I trained on tall mountains I could find near my home in San Diego: Mount San Jacinto (10,834 ft) and San Gorgonio (11,499 ft) in particular. I did each of these as long day hikes to simulate what I’d face on Whitney.

Lone Pine Logistics

I arrived in Lone Pine a few days in advance to get acclimatized as much as possible prior to climbing day. I stayed at the Lone Pine Campground (6,000 ft) rather than town so I could sleep under some oxygen deprivation. Two days prior to the climb I also did a short hike up to Lone Pine Lake (10,050′) to get my lungs ready.

One neat aspect of climbing Mount Whitney is that you can easily see it from the town of Lone Pine. But, to be honest, as a mountain profile it’s not that impressive. It’s merely the Northernmost and slightly tallest of a series of rocky spires towering above the town.

That being said, it’s still the tallest peak in the contiguous United States and it needed to be conquered.


Mt. Whitney at sunset as seen from Lone Pine Campground 

Climbing Day

The day hike climbing permit was good for the full 24 hours of my assigned climbing day. Given the afternoon heat in the summer, I wanted to get an early start on that day. I woke up at 2:00am, drove up to Whitney Portal, and was on the trail by 3:00am.

The first memorable part of the hike was how it was dark for so long. This was the first time I had hiked that far by headlamp, and I was above 11,000 ft elevation by the time the sun rose. It was such an incredible sight to see nearby rocky peaks colored rose by the rising sun.


Sunrise among the rocky spires

A second memory was watching furry marmots frolic on rocks when I stopped for a break at Trail Camp, 12,000 ft. This was my first time seeing them in the wild.


Marmot playing in a meadow near High Camp


Lake at High Camp

The ridge walk between Trail Crest (13,777′) and the summit was stunning. To the West I looked down into crystalline High Sierra lakes, and to the East I saw glimpses of Lone Pine as I traveled amongst those granite spires. The precipitous drops on both sides triggered my fear of heights.


View of lakes to the West from Trail Crest


Precipitous trail section near Trail Crest


The back side of rocky spires near the summit; the only snow field I had to cross

I reached the summit at 10:30am and was impressed by how massive it was. From the distant town below it seemed like a spindly peak, but there is actually a lot of space. Enough to build a cabin and have a summit party.


Summit placard


Me on the summit with Lone Pine in the distance


View of lakes and peaks from the Mt. Whitney summit

The trip back down was a slog as I was suffering from sugar crash (too many energy gels) and lack of real food. As I descended below Trail Crest I counted every single one of the famed 99 switchbacks to track my progress and maintain focus.


Looking up at Trail Crest from the 99 switchbacks section

I passed beautiful Mirror Lake with barely a nod, even though it had been dark when I ascended past it hours earlier. I was monomaniacal in my quest to return to the trailhead, which I completed at 3:45pm (total hiking time of 12.75 hours).

After driving back to town, checking into an actual motel, and taking a quick shower, I rewarded myself with dinner at the Mt. Whitney Restaurant. Walking in town after dinner, I watched the sun set on Whitney and felt simultaneously proud and amazed that just a few hours prior I had stood atop that nondescript rocky spike.


As I look back on my Mt. Whitney trip, I see how it introduced me to a couple realizations that have continued to resonate over the intervening six years.

For one, it showed me how rewarding an endeavor can be if it requires extreme mental fortitude. There was a moment on the way down at High Camp where I just wanted to curl up and sleep, but I pushed on. This has been vital as I’ve moved into other endurance and mountaineering adventures.

The second is my capability for epic adventure. Mt. Whitney continues to inspire in me the desire to travel somewhere for the sole purpose of doing an extreme physical adventure outdoors. Since that day in 2011 I’ve done multiple marathons, an ultra-marathon, and 12+hour mountaineering summit attempts. For each of those I can trace the thread back to an August day in Lone Pine, CA, where I learned that I have the strength within to do what I set my mind to.

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Recipe for Homemade Chocolate Ice Cream with Xylitol


I switched to a low-carb (<50g per day) and high-fat diet at the beginning of this year in an effort to improve my running and long-term health. Some of the adjustments have been easy (e.g. eating hamburgers without the bun) but others have been challenging. Pizza, french fries, and baked breakfast delights continue to tempt me. Although I don’t crave sweets quite as much as I used to, I still enjoy dessert on some nights. When such a mood strikes I’ve been having one or two squares of dark chocolate since that fits into the diet at only 10-15g of carbs.

I’ve also been thinking about ice cream and wondering if I could do a sugar-free (or super-low-sugar) version that would fit with the diet. I can’t stand artificial sweetener as I’m highly sensitive to the taste. Then I read The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance which identified Xylitol as a potential alternate for sugar. I liked that it is a 1:1 replacement, made from natural ingredients, low glycemic index, cookable, and no aftertaste. I searched online for a good chocolate ice cream recipe made with Xylitol, but didn’t turn up any simple candidates. I decided to create my own based on my ice cream making experience and trusting that Xylitol can be used in cooking. The first batch turned out great so I’m sharing it online!



  • 3 large eggs
  • 0.5 cu Xylitol (I used Xlear Xylosweet; this is for mild sweetness – use 0.75 or 1 cup if you want sweet)
  • 0.5 cu cocoa powder (preferably dutch-processed for richness; I used King Arthur Flour Double Dutch Dark Cocoa)
  • 1 cu half-and-half
  • 1.5 cu heavy cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tbsp rum (or other hard alcohol – it helps keep the ice cream soft in the freezer)


  1. Beat eggs thoroughly in heat-proof mixing bowl
  2. Add Xylitol and cocoa powder to eggs and stir well to combine
  3. Heat half-and-half to 160 deg F in a saucepan
  4. Drizzle warmed half-and-half into egg mixture while mixing. This brings the egg mixture slowly up to temperature so it doesn’t curdle.
  5. Put egg mixture back into saucepan and heat slowly to 160F while stirring. Don’t heat too fast or boil or you might end up with scrambled eggs in your ice cream (only straining can save you then).
  6. Once egg mixture is at 160F then turn off heat and add remaining ingredients (heavy cream, vanilla, rum). Stir to combine.
  7. Refrigerate for a few hours or until it reaches fridge temp.
  8. Freeze according to ice cream maker instructions.
Chocolate Ice Cream w/ Xylitol

Chocolate Ice Cream made with Xylitol


To me the ice cream is essentially indistinguishable from its sugar-based counterpart. The texture is creamy and the sweetness is just right for my low-carb-adjusted palate. I’d say that 0.5 cu of Xylitol is on the low end of sweetness – you could definitely use 2/3 or 3/4 cup of Xylitol if you wanted it to taste even more like standard ice cream.

This base method would definitely adapt well with other flavors, so I’m looking forward to some more ice cream creations in the near future!

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DIY Sports Drink Recipe

For the past few years I’ve relied on Accelerade Fruit Punch to nourish me through intense running workouts. However, as this year I’ve shifted more to cycling, I’ve been doing less intense workouts and don’t need as high of concentration of sugar. I started using Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix, which has half the calories and more sodium (important since I sweat a lot). However it doesn’t have any protein, which is important for endurance events. After getting inspired by Allen Lim’s story (Skratch Labs’ founder) of creating the recipes in his kitchen, my inner DIY demon took root and I decided I had to give it a go creating my own sports drink.

First Taste of my Sports Drink, in an Elegant Glass

First Taste of my Sports Drink, in an Elegant GlassFirst Taste, in an Elegant Glass

Research and Recipe Creation

I started by looking at the ingredient lists and nutritional information for Accelerade and Skratch Labs to understand what goes into those. I also did research online for other individuals who had began this same quest. One important aspect to me was to try and use natural ingredients – I didn’t want to give in and use artificially flavored Kool Aid because I was pretty sure I would find it disgusting after a couple swigs.

It didn’t take long to figure out that essentially all the ingredients to a basic sports drink are easily available online. Whey protein powder, vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, etc. are all available through health food stores. Potassium is a key ingredient in “Lite Salt”. Taking a hint from Skratch, I picked up some freeze-dried strawberries at Trader Joe’s to flavor my mix.

Sports Drink Ingredient Round-Up

Sports Drink Ingredient Round-Up

My first batch tasted good but was a little milky-almost like strawberry Quik. I attribute that to the presence of the Whey Protein powder, so I backed off in the next batch. It drink also lacked the thirst-quenching punch of citric acid. So I broke down and bought some Lemonade Kool-Aid, which is naturally flavored but (alas) artificially colored. With these tweaks complete, I ended up with the following recipe.

The Recipe

Yield: 20 x 12oz servings

I did all measuring using a digital kitchen scale in grams.

  • NOW Vitamin C Crystals – 0.56g, about 1/8 tsp
  • Morton Lite Salt – 5g
  • NOW Calcium Magnesium Powder – 8g
  • Kosher Salt – 9g
  • Kool Aid Unsweetened Lemonade – 2 packets (13g)
  • Trader Joe’s Freeze Dried Strawberries – 1 bag (34g), pulverized in mini food processor and then strained to remove seeds
  • Jarrow Unflavored Whey Protein Powder – 80g
  • NOW Carbo Gain (Sugar – Maltodextrin) – 100g
  • Sugar (regular table sugar) – 260g

Add the ingredients in the order listed above, at each step making sure they are thoroughly mixed. This helps ensure the smaller-quantity ingredients are evenly distributed through the drink mix.

Finished Mix with Perfectly Sized Scoop

Finished Mix with Perfectly Sized Scoop

Once it is mixed well together then weigh the entire mix and divide by 20 to see how many grams to add per 12oz of water. My total was 520g/20 = 26g. I had an old Gatorade scoop that delivered this much mix, so I’m just using that.

The Results

Here’s a comparison between the different drinks in 12-oz dosage.

Accelerade Skratch Labs Chuck Drink
Calories 120 60 94
Carbohydrates (g) 21 15 18
Calcium (mg) 100 45 53
Magnesium (mg) 126 34 36
Sodium (mg) 220 233 239
Potassium (mg) 90 30 86
Vitamin C (mg) 75 17 28
Vitamin E (mg) 10 0 0
Protein (g) 5 0 3.2
% Carbohydrates 5.93% 4.24% 5.10%
Carb:Protein Ratio 4.2:1 N/A 5.8:1
Cost per serving $0.62 $1.00 $0.40

The main cost driver is the freeze-dried fruit – $0.15 per serving. The protein is $0.10/serving. So if you wanted to go cheaper you could cut those out (Gatorade is $0.15/serving for reference).

Taste is pleasantly lemony and not too sweet. The protein is understated (lower ratio than Accelerade) but still there. Thanks to the lemon, the drink doesn’t taste like Strawberry Quik. The best thing is that the recipe is fully customizable depending on your activity and tastes. There are a variety of freeze-dried fruits on the market: berry blend, strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, tropical fruit, apple, and more.

The only thing that’s left is picking the right name. The leading contender is “Chuckleberry” but I’m open to more suggestions.

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Year in Review – 2011

It has been way too long since my last post (20 months). This was not because I had nothing interesting about which to write; just the opposite, in fact! However my crowded working, training, traveling, and eating schedules ended up squeezing out my writing. But, as is customary this time of year, I wanted to take some time at year end to reflect on the year and what’s on tap for 2012.

2011 by the Numbers

  • 0 – number of bears I saw while hiking Mt. Whitney
  • 1 – number of new states I visited, as defined by traveling outside the airport (Idaho)
  • 2 – batches of beer I brewed (Strong Scotch Ale and Chocolate Russian Imperial Stout)
  • 6 – number of energy gels I ate while running the Carlsbad Marathon (best flavor: GU Chocolate)
  • 7.6 – number pounds lost in 2011
  • 53 – total number of pounds I’ve lost since August 2002
  • 334 – number of restaurants I’ve been to in San Diego since moving here in 2002
  • 535 – number of miles I ran in 2011
  • 1,321 – number miles I logged on my road bike in 2011 (doesn’t include commuting)
  • 7,255 – number of calories I burned while riding the Mt. Laguna Bicycle Classic, if you believe my Garmin
  • Total: 9514.6

Weight chart since I started keeping track


Carlsbad Marathon complete, recovery drink in hand

  • Finishing the Mt. Laguna Bicycle Classic on April 16. 101 miles and 10,088 feet of climbing, ascending Mt. Laguna thrice by three different routes. My time wasn’t great – 10:05 elapsed. By mile 80 my right leg would cramp and seize up when I pushed hard on the pedals, and therefore I had to walk up the severe 20% slopes.  I was so drained by mile 90 that even though the rest was all downhill I had to sit at the rest stop for 10 minutes just to build up the mental strength to get back on my bike.

Riding up Kitchen Creek, the second of 3 ascents during the Mt. Laguna Bicycle Classic

  • Climbing Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the 48 contiguous states at 14,500 ft. This was done as a monster day-hike of 22 miles, climbing 6,200 ft in elevation. I started at 3:00am, was on the summit by 10:30am, and was back at the trailhead at 3:45pm.

Summit of Mt. Whitney with Lone Pine and Death Valley in the background

  • Visiting Machu Picchu in Peru by hiking the Inca Trail for 4 days and 25 miles

Amanda and I in front of Machu Picchu

  • Finishing the Borrego Springs Century bike ride in 5:32, a personal record. I was able to share the pace with 1-3 people for almost the whole ride, making the day much easier. I believe I finished 4th overall, and thoroughly enjoyed the pie and ice cream reward in spite of the chilly temperatures.

New Experiences & Great Memories

  • Wonderful December weekend spent exploring San Francisco, crowned by seeing The Weakerthans play all 4 of their albums on consecutive nights

The Weakerthans’ John K. Samson from front row

  • Following the Tour of California bike race. Pre-riding the Solvang time trial one day, then riding to the top of Mt. Baldy to see the mountain-top finish

Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner zooming by near the summit of Mt. Baldy

  • Snowmobiling in Lake Tahoe during Chris’ bachelor party.
  • Innovative exotic mixed drinks made from an array of infused piscos at the bars of Cusco, Peru. Everything from eucalyptus and coca leaves to aguaymanto (gooseberry) and cinnamon.
  • Trip to Las Vegas with some of the TakeLessons crew – playing craps, seeing Love, hanging out at the pool.
  • Cruising the Snake River in a jet boat, hitting 3 states in one day (Idaho, Washington, and Oregon), eating home-smoked cheese and fish.

Jet boat on the Snake River in ID/WA/OR

  • As training for Mt. Whitney, Amanda and I also climbed San Jacinto (10,800 ft) and San Gorgonio (11,560 ft). These were beautiful hikes that I’d love to do again, possibly as short backpacking trips.
  • Being in the aviary with giant Andean Condors in Peru.
  • Pumpkin-themed dinner with Chris & Dani. The menu: pumpkin butter whiskey, pumpkin quesadillas, braised beef short ribs over pumpkin puree, pumpkin beignets with Mexican chocolate dipping sauce
  • Trying alpaca and guinea pig in Peru.

Things I Learned

  • It must take a LOT of cocoa nibs to make a beer taste really chocolately. I added more than any of the recipes I found online, but my chocolate imperial stout still wasn’t as chocolately as the Pizza Port one.
  • The mental fortitude it takes to complete athletic endeavors lasting up to 13 hours
  • How to shoot clay pigeons
  • Bicycle construction and maintenance. I replaced the component gruppo on my road bike and built my Soma commuter bike from scratch (except for sawing the fork).

My home-built Soma steel commuter bike, complete with fenders, rack, and leather handlebar tape

  • I spent a lot of time reading management and leadership books this year: 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership; Made to Stick; First, Break All the Rules; Start with Why; The Evidence-Based Manager; Drive
  • San Francisco is not nearly as scary and dirty as I thought, although I still do like San Diego burritos better
  • Dishes I feel I mastered cooking this year: fish tacos; philly cheesesteak sandwiches; short ribs; grilled steak with frites and Belgian beer cheese sauce

Oh, the Things that I Saw…

  • British Airways 777 planes landing at Lindbergh Field
  • Marmots at High Camp while climbing Mt. Whitney

Marmot near High Camp on Mt. Whitney trail (small rodent in middle)

  • Llamas chewing grass among ancient Peruvian ruins where wild strawberries grew
  • Wild bighorn sheep in Idaho

Bighorn sheep along the Snake River in Idaho

  • A man running while wearing short shorts and carrying a discman
  • Cycling along Harbor Drive (big street with 45 mph speed limit) a man started jaywalking across the street a hundred feet or so ahead of me. There were some cars coming but they were far enough back that he was fine. However, he was quickly followed by a mother duck and about 10 baby ducklings. They must have thought he was the father. I had to swerve my bike to weave between the babies, and I thought for sure they were doomed by the cars. However as soon as I passed I heard the desperate screeching of tires and the angry honking of horns. The oncoming cars stopped and let the ducklings across.

Favorites of the Year

  • Non-Fiction Book: Made to Stick, by Chip & Dan Heath. Engaging and enlightening explanation of how to best communicate ideas.
  • Fiction Book: The Dark Tower: Wizard and Glass, by Stephen King. I’m still in the middle of reading this 7-volume series, but this was the best book so far. Ender’s Game was also great.
  • Restaurant: Blind Lady Ale House, followed closely by Sessions Public. BLAH consistently has amazing, fresh, innovative pizzas and a great set of beers. Sessions Public has the best fries in San Diego and tasty pub fare to boot.
  • Album: Natural Causes by Steve Tibbetts. Technically a 2010 release, but I didn’t buy it until 2011. Tibbetts is an amazing guitarist who combines samples and eastern melodies into subtle yet rich compositions.

Disappointments of the Year

  • Carlsbad Marathon. Although I was proud of finishing my first marathon, I was disappointed that I fell apart in the last 3 miles.  I had severe leg cramps that made me unable even to walk at certain points. I believe most of this was caused by lack of electrolytes. I ended up finishing in 4:08, which is slightly slower than median for my age group and about 20 minutes slower than I had trained for.
  • Silver Strand Half Marathon. I trained for 3 months with the goal of finishing close to 1:40, and I felt good going into race day since my 12 mi training runs had been at nearly race pace. However the weather was warm on the big day, so I got dehydrated and faded the last 4 miles. I finished in 1:50, 4 minutes slower than my PR.
  • The whole toilet, shower, and drinking water situation in Peru.
  • The Tour de Julian bike ride is held in early November each year and features beautiful scenery and challenging climbs. We drove up there the evening before to camp at altitude and acclimate, but our campsite was speckled with snow. The forecast for ride day was in the low 30’s and rain. After a frustrating night getting our fire started and shivering in the back of our car (virtual tent), we got the notice that the ride was going to be shortened due to the conditions. I was still going to give it a shot, but when I got up in the morning and was still shivering even with my warmest biking gear on then I knew it would have been miserable and we headed home.
  • My Russian Imperial Stout didn’t carbonate (but still tastes great)
  • The Inca Trail was really a lot more crowded and commercialized than I would have expected. It just doesn’t feel like a hard-core hike when you have people trying to sell you coke and snickers in the middle of it.

Goals for 2012

  • Become a Cat 4 cyclist. I have really enjoyed my time on the bike so far, and I wanted to commit to doing more cycling next year. I needed something to push me to train harder, so I joined the Moment Cycle Sport Road Race team. I have also applied for my racing license, so I can start competing in criteriums and road races starting in February. To get to Cat 4 I need to start in at least 10 races. I am also committed to the team training 3 times per week, about 100 miles.
  • Finish the Mt. Laguna Bicycle Classic faster than last year, hopefully without walking my bike
  • Visit a new state – Mississippi – to see my sister in law
  • Gain backpacking experience by going on a 5-6 day trip. A long-term goal is to do some more serious mountaineering (e.g. McKinley) so I want to get comfortable with multi-day adventures in the backcountry. This includes figuring out how to use my camp stove.
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Ten Reasons I Love Portland

Earlier this month I completed another fact-finding mission: figuring out if I really truly love Portland, Oregon. Amanda and I first visited Portland in 2005 after a glowing recommendation from my brother. Since then I’ve been longing to go back: to explore the endless shelves at Powell’s books and sample what some claim to be the best pizza in America.

The cats like to help us pack

The cats like to help us pack

1. The Weather

When I saw that the forecast was for rain all weekend, I knew this would be the first trial of my love. Plus, we weren’t renting a car, so we walked around in the chilly (40-50deg) rain all weekend. This did not dampen my spirits one bit. I really enjoy overcast weather because it cuts down on sunburn and keeps things cool. Plus there are so many wonderful green trees and lawn there.

2. Voodoo Doughnut

We learned about Voodoo Doughnut on the Food Network and of course had to visit their downtown location. The first time we went there (Friday morning) the line was out the door and we would have waited for 30mins just to get our doughnuts. So we went to Stumptown Coffee Roasters (also great!) instead and vowed to return.

Breakfast at Stumptown Coffee Roasters

Breakfast at Stumptown Coffee Roasters

The second day was much less busy and gave us a chance to peruse their funky menu and order up some sugary concoctions for the days ahead. We started with a Triple Chocolate Penetration (yes, it’s topped with Coco Puffs) and something that was topped with Cap’n Crunch cereal. What’s amazing is how well the cereal worked by adding just enough crunch to an otherwise soft and delicious doughnut. The sugar balance was also just right.

Cap'n Crunch doughnut

Cap'n Crunch doughnut

Triple Chocolate Penetration doughnut

Triple Chocolate Penetration doughnut

For breakfast the next day we grabbed a blue-raspberry-cotton-candy flavored one and their namesake Voodoo Doll doughnut, which is filled with raspberry jelly that looks like blood when you bite into it. Yum!

Blue raspberry and Voodoo Doughnut

Blue raspberry and Voodoo Doughnut

3. Friendly Service

One consistent thing we noticed is that service there was universally friendly: from the baristas to the bartenders to the servers. People were willing to take time to explain things to you and always had a smile. It certainly made our trip even more enjoyable.

4. Deschutes Brewpub

We always try to hit as many breweries and brewpubs as possible, and this trip was no exception. My favorite of the bunch was Deschutes Brewpub because the food, beer, ad location were all excellent. We actually ended up going there twice.

Beer sampler at Deschutes

Beer sampler at Deschutes

The interior space has a modern warehouse feel to it and the restrooms have gigantic urinals. Amanda was on a venison kick so she had elk stew one day and the elk burger the next.

Elk stew at Deschutes Brewpub

Elk stew at Deschutes Brewpub

I had the Reuben sandwich and the Blue Bacon burger. They offer generous beer samplers and even have a special/seasonal beer menu that you can choose from. I’m really glad we didn’t have to drive anywhere afterwards.

Enjoying a Belgian beer at Deschutes

Enjoying a Belgian beer at Deschutes

5. Artisan Distilleries

One of the surprises of the trip was running into a couple places who made their own spirits. Our first night there we went to McMenamin’s Ringler’s Annex which is tucked in the basement in a triangle-shaped block. Upon finishing our panini-centric meal and imbibing a couple of their house beers, we spotted their Alambic “13” Brandy and realized we had to get that. It was served warm by precariously positioning a brandy snifter over a glass of warm water, which releases the intoxicating aromas.

Our second encounter with artisan distillation happened at the Rogue Public House, where after having enjoyed a couple of their fine ales we decided to move on to the hard stuff: hazelnut spiced rum, spruce gin, pink gin, and probably some others I’m not remembering. I’m not a big gin fan, but the Rogue incarnations were amazing. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that trying artisan spirits there and at McMenamins was a revelation.

6. Cupcake Jones

After drinking at Rogue we had the munchies, and my phone told me there were cupcakes nearby. We found ourselves at Cupcake Jones where we could point-point at the ones we wanted to devour. Those first couple were gone so fast we didn’t even have time to take pictures (nor can I remember the flavors), so we went back the next day just so that I could bring you this fine shot of their chocolate chip cookie dough cupcake.

Chocolate chip cookie dough cupcake

Chocolate chip cookie dough cupcake

7. Powell’s Books

What else is there to say, other than Powell’s is a full city block and 4+ stories high (depending on how you count, since the stories don’t cover the full block)? One neat thing is that, at Powell’s, they intermix used and new books so that you aren’t limited to what is still in print. They even have a rare book room. I spent a lot of time in their humor and art sections, and also scoped out some good cycling books.

8. Hawthorne Blvd Food & Beer Extravaganza

One of our side trips was to do a pub crawl down Hawthorne Blvd, with the final dinner destination being a pizza place we didn’t make it to last time: Apizza Scholls. We started at the Lucky Labrador Brew Pub, where we enjoyed a couple of their beers, a pulled pork sandwich, and some unshelled peanuts. The pub has a very open feel but was a little more grungy than Deschutes. The food was unadventurous and so-so but the beer was tasty.

Our next stop was Roots Brewing Company, just one block away. The food menu there looked tasty but we stayed away, preserving our appetite. They had a great selection of beers to offer in their reasonably priced sampler, including the unique heather ale and the tasty Festivus. You knew it was a working brewery because the whole placed smelled like boiling and fermenting beer. This was a great stop and certainly a place to get some food next visit.

Beer sampler at Roots Brewing Company

Beer sampler at Roots Brewing Company

We then hopped back on the bus and made our way further down Hawthorne. At our next stop we visited a couple shops including a mystery bookstore (Murder By The Book), Powell’s Home & Garden (yes, they’re so big they have specialized satellite bookstores), and a neat Italian market.

Our last destination of the evening was Apizza Scholls, which is well known for making a high-quality pizza with fresh ingredients. It had also been featured on TV and we tried to go here last time we were in Portland but it had been closed for Memorial Day weekend. This time we showed up at 4:30 to wait in a ~20-person line for their 5pm opening. Service was slow at first as they struggled to deal with the glut of people right at opening. Their beer list included a local (homebrew?) IPA that Amanda got, and I stuck with a non-alcoholic birch beer.

Invasive Species IPA by Porches Brewing Company

Invasive Species IPA by Porches Brewing Company

We ordered their sausage pizza, figuring that a homemade sausage would beat out pepperoni. It was an excellent pie, but to be honest I was expecting it to be more transcendent than it was. I’m a big fan of Blind Lady Ale House here in San Diego, and I’d say they offer just as good of pizza with more unique ingredients (love the poblano chorizo one) and a better beer selection.

Apizza Scholls sausage pizza

Apizza Scholls sausage pizza

9. Portland Saturday Market

In spite of 30-degree temperatures with driving wind and rain, there was an amazing array of vendors at the Portland Saturday Market. What sets this apart from other street markets is the quality of crafts and selection of booths. There is a great selection of food items, cute haberdashery, and some great art involving utensils. The only thing we bought was a catnip-filled body pillow for the cats – about as much fun as you can have for $6.

Zephyr with catnip body pillow

Zephyr with catnip body pillow

10. They Don’t Have Earthquakes

Well, I guess there hasn’t been one yet. The 7.2 San Diego earthquake happened while we were still up in Portland and we returned home to a mess of tumbled CDs and some terrified cats. Actually it was interesting and fortunate that the only things that fell were my CDs – the glasses stayed put in the cabinets.

Earthquake aftermath

Earthquake aftermath

Athena hiding after the earthquake

Athena hiding after the earthquake

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