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Breaking My Phones - Wednesday, January 5, 2022
In November 2016, I bought two ZTE Axon 7 Mini phones - one for Priscilla and one for me. A mere two years later, Priscilla moved onto a Samsung Galaxy S8, as the ZTE wasn't able to keep up with her heavy usage. My ZTE was still good enough for me, so I stayed with it and used her old one as a spare for listening to podcasts and whatnot.

Over the years, I dropped my phone many times and finally managed to crack the lens of the rear-facing camera, rendering the camera effectively unusable. So whenever I wanted to take a picture, I'd either use Priscilla's new phone or the spare. A year ago, the degrading battery life of my phone finally pushed me to switch my sim card to the spare, which by that point also had mediocre battery life but better than that of the other phone. Normally my carrier charges a $15 fee to switch devices, but support was able to help me with it over the phone for free.

So for the last year, I've had a network-connected phone with a working camera (my newly-designated main phone), and when I'd be in situations where battery life would be an issue (e.g. when I'd be out trail running), I'd bring both ZTE phones with me and split tasks between the two. Not the most efficient, but it did the job.

But a month ago, the battery life in my main phone finally degraded to the point where the battery meter was untrustworthy under 50%, and the phone would just turn off when I was out on runs. That was the final straw, though I didn't want to pony up for a brand new phone, so I bought a replacement battery from eBay for $14. I could only find new aftermarket batteries, not OEM, but I figured they're probably all made in the same place anyway. I had wanted to replace the battery for a while now, but the slightly complicated process (you don't just pop open a cover and take the battery out like with our previous phones) deterred me.

But with YouTube videos giving me confidence, I managed to pry off the adhesive-attached speaker grills of the phone, pry apart the two halves of the case, unclip ribbon cables, and finally pry the very much adhesive-backed battery loose from the inside of the case. Reassembly with the new battery was straightforward, and finally I had a phone with decent battery life again! I tested the speakers to make sure that I hadn't damaged those.

But the next day, I found that I couldn't make calls. I had damaged a plastic part when removing the lower grill due to everything being bonded tightly with adhesive. The plastic part got bent and torn just from me trying to take the grill off. I'd assumed that that part was just a bracket, but it turned out to apparently be part of the antenna. However, I was unable to find anything online that corroborated that, and what looked like a serial and version number that was printed on the part (the only thing printed) turned up no results. But I had a spare phone with a presumably working antenna, so I very carefully opened that up, being extra careful to open the grill from the right side, since the left side is where the antenna previously sheared off. Once that antenna was removed and installed into the main phone, network functionality was restored. Success!

So now I have a phone that's more or less as good as it was the day I bought it over five years ago. Who knows, maybe the new battery will allow it to last another five years! I know that time is money and I have the means to buy any new phone I want, but I enjoy being scrappy and frugal and not buying new things when my old things still do what I need them to do. It's often worth it to me to spend time fixing something instead of paying for a replacement or even paying someone else to do the fix. Sometimes this is to Priscilla's chagrin. But the way I see it, my DIY'ing saves us money and allows me to learn things, and I do outsource plenty of things that are complicated or tedious.

It's definitely useful to have two of the same model of phones, and the same thinking led me to opt for another old 9th generation Corolla (so that we'd have two of them) a few years ago when I was buying something to replace my old Taurus. Now when something goes wrong on one of our cars, I can use the other car as a reference and even swap parts between them to help troubleshoot. Most people probably don't have that option available to them.

Most people would probably think I'm an oddball (Priscilla often does!). But not only have I come to accept that, but now I kinda relish it.
Home for Christmas - Friday, December 31, 2021
Last year, we went to LA for Thanksgiving but not Christmas due to lockdowns. But now, with a good percentage of the population vaccinated (albeit supposedly still not enough), the days of COVID lockdowns might be behind us for good.

So Priscilla and I drove down on Christmas Day, leaving around 9:15am, and we didn't run into much traffic (there were also not as many trucks on the road because of the holiday). It was around a 5.5 hour drive to get to her parents' place and we stayed with them three nights. Our time with them was pretty low-key. On Sunday, Priscilla and I visited our old church friend Cindy in Irvine; I hadn't seen her for two years, but Priscilla saw her during the pandemic. The three of us went to Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, got lunch at a Taiwanese place in Irvine, and walked around Great Park. On Monday, I hung out with four of my old high school friends and we went bowling in Pasadena, ate at a sushi place a stone's throw away, and hung out at a boba place. The rest of the time Priscilla and I were with her parents, we ate food that she prepared (mostly from the insane amount of stuff in her parents' fridge) and stuffed our faces one night at Kami Buffet & Grill (her mom got three vouchers for helping a church friend).

Tuesday after lunch, we drove north to my parents' place and stayed with them two nights. That time was pretty low-key as well and we didn't see friends, but I did run a few miles around the neighborhood both on Tuesday and Wednesday; the latter day saw me running in light rain with an umbrella. Priscilla went to hang out with Gina on Wednesday during lunch, but otherwise we both ate with my parents at each meal during our time there. My parents made a ton of food as always, and they packed our cooler and then some with a lot of food for us to bring home. They are too good to us.

We didn't see Aaron and his family this time around, as they were on a trip to New Mexico in a rented camper van. How fun!

Priscilla and I left for home yesterday. Unfortunately, the Grapevine section of I-5 was closed due to snow, so we (and everyone else) had to take the 101 instead. That added 49 miles to our trip, and it was a pretty miserable drive. It was raining steadily at my parents' place and pouring hard on the 118 and first leg of the 101 freeways. The heavy rain on the 118 made it difficult to see, and we and everyone else had to drive around 50mph. There were multiple places along the 101 where traffic slowed to a crawl due to an accident, construction zone, or just general congestion. Overall, we spent 7.5 hours on the road. Guess that's what happens when it's the day before New Year's Eve and the 101 has to accommodate holiday traffic in addition to traffic that would normally be on I-5.

To make matters more "interesting", 2/3 of the way through, the check engine light came on in the car. Not wanting to drive another 130 miles without knowing what the problem was, I had Priscilla look for a nearby AutoZone. Fortunately, there was one in King City about 10 miles north of where we were. I was able to borrow an OBD-II reader there and found out that the DTC (error code) indicated a problem either with the catalytic converter or an O2 sensor - not a critical issue requiring immediate attention. Thank God!

So we made it home at last, my head aching due to stress, and we ate my mom's food while watching more episodes of season 5 of Fringe (that season is kinda meh). Today we hit up the Sunnyvale Costco early-ish (before the crowds really started piling in), got our booster shot at the Mountain View Community Center, and went to The Dish for me to get my last run in for the year (that's my go-to place for elevation when the ground is still muddy due to rain). A more relaxing day to bookend the madness of yesterday. And as I finish writing this blog entry, Priscilla is off watching the marching band and fireworks at WinterFest at Great America. She bought a Great America season pass ("only" $85) that's good until the end of 2022, as well as a dining pass that gets her lunch and dinner (as long as they're four hours apart). She's gone twice this year and will probably go several times next year. I think it's pretty clear by now that theme parks are one of her hobbies!

Overall, we had a good time in LA with family and friends, though I was not fond of all the driving. For next year, I'm thinking of having us go down once in the summer instead of for Christmas in order to avoid the travel mayhem of the latter, as well as to more evenly space out our visits. We'll be going down in January for my Spartan Sprint, probably in April for our anniversary trip, and again for Thanksgiving. Taking another trip down around July will give us 3-4 months in between each visit. Priscilla feels that it will be weird to not go down for Christmas since that's when everybody else is seeing family and friends, but maybe we can try it once and see if we can make it work and make our summer visit meaningful. Our respective parents are cool with it. Well, I'm not sure about my dad since he's very traditional, but my family hasn't really done anything special for Christmas since my high school days or so. We can do a Zoom dinner with parents for the holiday, and maybe I can entice Priscilla with more days on which she can go to WinterFest...
San Francisco Spartan Stadion - Tuesday, December 7, 2021
This past Saturday I did the Spartan Stadion at Oracle Park in San Francisco with a few church people and their friends (10 people total including me). We got our entry for a mere $50 through Foster the City, a nonprofit that works to provide homes for foster children in the Bay Area. Each of us had to raise money for FTC, with the goal to raise $1000 per person.

I don't like asking people for money, but one of the church people graciously posted a message to our Facebook group with each participant's donation link for those who wanted to support the cause. A lot of people donated, though those using the donation link provided by FTC instead of setting up a Facebook fundraiser page (myself included) were unable to see how much money they had raised or even who had donated.

The race was easier than a typical Spartan Sprint, e.g. the penalty for a failed obstacle in a Stadion is only 15 burpees instead of the usual 30. There were other modifications that made the obstacles easier, like the Multi-Rig having just rings (no horizontal bar or dangling ropes), and the Atlas Carry having a 100lb pellet-filled ball instead of a 100lb stone (you get a better grip on the ball). This course was similar to the SF Stadion in 2019, with one of the main differences being that there was no Olympus (I was sad about that) and there was an obstacle I'd never seen before, Rolling Epic (it was probably the easiest obstacle on the course).

I was able to complete all the obstacles except the Spear Throw. I did not throw the spear hard enough and it crash-landed way short of the target. Sigh.

The most difficult obstacles were the Weighted Burpees and the Hercules Hoist. The Weighted Burpees involved a 55lb (less for women) weight that we had to lift over our heads 15 times. I had to start taking breaks after the first few reps. Clearly I need to spend time doing the clean and press at the gym. The Hercules Hoist was doable; I just had to use all my bodyweight and push off the barrier with my leg. And the Monkey Bars were pretty easy; this time I did it in the traditional way with palms facing forwards instead of using the opposing grip method. The opposing grip method made this obstacle a piece of cake during my Spartan Super, but I wanted to see if I could do it in a slightly harder way. The bars on this obstacle are spaced somewhat far apart, so I naturally got my hands to the same rung before reaching for the next rung. But I saw some videos of people reaching for the next rung, one after another, so next time I want to see if I can do that.

I didn't have trouble getting the sandbag on both of my shoulders during the Sandbag Carry this time; either the bag was lighter than what we had at my Super, or the training I've been doing with a 20lb rucksack is paying off. And the Rope Climb wasn't difficult; I stuck to using the S-hook and though my form was terrible, my legs more or less stayed supported the whole way up. I wonder if the rope here was also thicker than the one at the Super.

Some people in our group failed/skipped a few obstacles, and our group split the requisite burpees between each of us. I think that's not officially allowed, but meh. The open wave is whatever you make it, and the goal should be to challenge oneself. It was fun to do some camaraderie burpees, though having to do burpees after the Rope Climb and then do Weighted Burpees right after was not great, haha.

Nobody got major injuries. I didn't have any shoulder issues this time, but my right hip started aching during the latter half of the race, probably because of all the stairs. I've had minor hip issues, particularly on the left side where I think I've had a low level of chronic inflammation, so it was surprising that it was the right side that started acting up. It didn't hurt much and wasn't something to be too concerned about, but something to pay attention to. Getting old is such fun.

Priscilla likes traveling, even if it's for short trips, so we actually went up to SF Friday afternoon. We drove to Millbrae and took BART to SF. While I was doing the race, Priscilla met up with the wife of one of the other group members to hang out. They got to see us do a couple obstacles up close at two different areas located outside of Oracle Park. Beats paying $20 for a festival pass to be a spectator with a mediocre view!

Outside of the event, Priscilla and I saw the Macy's Christmas tree at Union Square, enjoyed downtime at our hotel, and walked along The Embarcadero from Oracle Park up to the Ferry Building, where we got a bite to eat at the farmers market at Ferry Plaza. SF has a lot of nice-looking parts, especially if you zoom out and see the surroundings as a whole. It's not all just the negatives that the news likes to focus on, like the smash-and-grab robberies that happened recently. We felt safe in all the places we went to.

Overall, I'm glad I did the Stadion, though I prefer the higher difficulty mountain type Spartan races. And I wish I had talked to everyone on the team; it felt a bit awkward since I didn't know a few people and we all seemed shy. But I had fun and it seemed like everyone else did too, and I'm glad that we supported a good cause. I'm looking forward to the Trifecta events that I'll be running with Daniel next year!
Mixing It Up for Thanksgiving - Monday, November 29, 2021
For the Thanksgiving holiday, Priscilla and I went down to LA a week earlier this year. The hope was to avoid the crowds - both on the road as well as at Disneyland!

The last time I'd been to Disneyland was 17 years ago (I blogged about it in 2004, but I scarcely recall the experience). After Priscilla went to Disney World with friends a couple years ago, and because she's really into Marvel movies, she's been wanting me to go to Disneyland with her. So she decided that we should squeeze in a trip in between visiting family for Thanksgiving.

So we drove down to LA on Sunday and stayed two nights with my parents, then went to Anaheim and explored the Downtown Disney District on Tuesday, woke up bright and early and got lined up at California Adventure before rope drop on Wednesday, and woke up early and did the same thing at Disneyland on Thursday. The last two nights we stayed with Priscilla's parents. The time with parents was pretty low-key.

We thought that by visiting a week before Thanksgiving, when kids should still be in school, the lines at the theme parks should be tolerable. How naive! Unfortunately for us, both parks were still pretty busy (though apparently Thanksgiving week was worse). And there were still plenty of kids (why aren't you guys in school??). And to our detriment, Disney has apparently stopped doing FastPass. We waited on average maybe 20 minutes per ride, with the longest waits being around 40 minutes. We even got into Rise of the Resistance, which was only accessible via virtual queue at the time of our visit, but even having a place in the virtual queue still subjected us to a 40 minute wait once it was our turn to get into the physical line.

But we stayed 10 hours and 12 hours at Disneyland and California Adventure, respectively, and we were able to ride just about everything we wanted to, with the exception of Radiator Springs Racers at California Adventure. At California Adventure, I liked the Soarin' ride the most, and the "Turtle Talk with Crush" show was pretty entertaining for kids and adults alike. We did the Guardians of the Galaxy - Mission: BREAKOUT! ride early, and the harsh ups and downs of that ride gave me motion sickness that lingered the rest of the day. So apparently it's not just spinning rides that mess me up. The rest of the day, I had to take it slow and I sat out a couple times while Priscilla went on a ride for a second time. I guess I'll have to listen to Priscilla and take Dramamine the next time we go to a theme park. The joys of getting old.

At Disneyland, I most enjoyed Jungle Cruise (I for one enjoy dad jokes), Rise of the Resistance, and Splash Mountain. Splash Mountain was fun but we got moderately wet, which kinda sucked because we did it late in the day when it was starting to get cold. No wonder there was no line for it! And Rise of the Resistance was amazing - the most advanced and immersive ride I've been on. The first part involves walking through expansive detainment areas after your transport ship gets captured by the First Order, and then Resistance members break you out and you're whisked around in a self-driving car moving through the building, at a fast pace with things happening all around you, moving in all directions, not along a fixed track. I've never seen anything like it (not that I have a whole lot of experience in this area).

I'm glad we went to California Adventure and Disneyland, but it was tiring. Not to mention, expensive ($470 for the tickets). The crowdedness of the parks really detracted from the experience, and the axing of FastPass was a real bummer. Priscilla felt that Disneyland has lost some of its magic compared to when she visited as a youth. Watching some videos on YouTube, it looks like the rides at Disney World put Disneyland to shame. I'm slightly intrigued and I think I'd be willing to go, but not for a good while (don't get any ideas too soon, Priscilla).

As for the drive down, we left just shy of noon because we wanted to stream our church service first. By the time we left, there was an accident on the 152, but Google wasn't showing too much of a slowdown. What we didn't realize until we got there was that that part of the 152 was closed and drivers were forced to take a congested detour. We ended up detouring back to the 101 and, including some parts of the drive where we hit heavy traffic, the drive down took around 40 minutes longer than under ideal conditions. Lesson learned there - next time if there's an accident on the two-lane part of the 152, we'll skip the 152 and stay on the 101 for longer. For the return trip the following Sunday, we left earlier and didn't hit significant slowdowns.

Thanksgiving week was somewhat quiet and it was nice to finally have some downtime, especially since I picked up a cold while traveling (which tends to happen when we do a lot). My uncle and aunt forwent their usual Thanksgiving family get-together because of COVID, so Priscilla and I just stayed at home and had hot pot on Thanksgiving Day. It was nice to have the holiday to ourselves, but next year maybe we should go be with family on Thanksgiving again. My dad is very traditional and has to have his customary Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving Day, regardless of who else is there that day. My parents love to cook and see it as an act of love, so we should probably join them on that day and bring Priscilla's parents as well. It's a little harder since Priscilla's parents are further away now, but family matters.
Madness? This is Sparta! - Saturday, October 2, 2021
Call it madness or something else, but it seems that I've been bitten by the Spartan bug. After my Spartan Race in August, I was hooked. And two weeks ago, I did my Spartan Trail Half Marathon at Sanborn County Park.

The trail race was actually run by a company called Pacific Coast Trail Runs and they had a 50k, half marathon, and two 10k courses. I woke up really early (had trouble sleeping due to excitement) and got to the park before 7am, in time to help cheer on the 30 or so people starting the 50k. The half marathon started at 8am and check-in took just 10 minutes or so. I probably would've had enough time to park at the shuttle pickup location in Saratoga and take the shuttle in order to avoid paying the $6 parking fee at Sanborn, but I didn't want to chance it.

The different courses shared much of the same route and I crossed paths with a good number of people, though it didn't feel too crowded most of the time. Most of the trails were single-track, and of course the trails couldn't be closed to non-racers since these are public trails.

The half marathon course was manageable but tough. It was over 3,200 feet of elevation gain, including a steady incline for the first 3 miles. We had to run to a point at the Lake Ranch Reservoir and grab a wristband there before running back. The climbing didn't feel too bad, though I did alternate between running and power hiking and tried to pace myself. I did push myself harder than on a typical trail run, and my official time was 2:48:27, placing 38/104, 32/80 for males and 12/26 for my age group. So basically, slower than the people who run competitively but faster than those who probably don't trail run regularly.

The one thing that messed me up was that I was running in new shoes. I'd bought a pair of Saucony Peregrine 11 trail shoes to replace my Saucony Mad River TR's which were starting to wear out. I felt like all my previous shoes hadn't needed much breaking in, the new shoes felt comfortable enough when I walked around the neighborhood in them, and it was the same brand as my other shoes. So I took the chance of doing the race without having run in them before.

Well, that ended up being a bad decision. A few miles in, the shoes were starting to rub against both ankle bones. The fact that I was wearing thinner, low-cut socks might've also exacerbated things. So my ankles were chafing and hurting, then the sides of my calves started hurting (that's never happened before), then both legs started cramping around 9, and then I had to just power through with occasional stretching. I literally hobbled across the finish line with both calves cramping. Needless to say, my mistake cost me a bit of time and turned what would've otherwise been an enjoyable trail run into somewhat of a slog. But overall, I still enjoyed the event, and finally finishing after all of that felt awesome. As did eating the free Mexican food that we got from a food truck that was set up in the parking lot.

Having now done both a Spartan Race and a Spartan Trail, I would rate the Spartan Race as more enjoyable due to the obstacles. I've since committed to doing a Trifecta next year - my church buddy Daniel and I both purchased the Trifecta Pass and we'll be doing the SLO Beast and Monterey Super together (we're still figuring out what we want to do for the Sprint). Also, Ruth from church shared with me that an organization that she's been promoting, Foster the City, is putting together a team to do the San Francisco Spartan Stadion this December. Registration through the organization is only $50 since they want participants to fundraise. So Daniel and I and a few people from church ended up signing up.

The Stadion seems like it'll be the easiest of the four events that I'll be doing, but it will be a good checkup to see if my training is paying off and if my muscles are holding up. I guess I've had some issues with my right shoulder and my event in August exacerbated it, so I've been having some shoulder pain when working out. I probably have at least a partial tear in the rotator cuff. I've been trying to strengthen the shoulder and go to the gym to do exercises that I don't have the equipment for at home (though I need to be more consistent in going, despite the gym not being that close). And I found that pullups exacerbated the pain, so I'm laying off of those for now. Hopefully with the right exercises, sufficient nutrition and rest, Lord willing, I'll be able to rebuild and take on the obstacles this year, next year and beyond.

Spartan events are pretty pricey, so I'm not really itching to do these all the time. But the events will give me extra motivation to train since I want to do well. The fellowship aspect is nice, too. But I must do all this with the right motivation. Fitness and health are often idols for me, so I have to remember that they are impermanent and that they must glorify, not take the place of, Christ. When (not if) they are taken away, I must be able to say like Job, "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."
Spartan Race - Sunday, August 22, 2021
Yesterday I finally got my wish and did a Spartan Race for the first time.

At the end of 2019, I signed up for a Spartan Trail Race half marathon which was supposed to happen in June of 2020. Then because of COVID, this was pushed back a few months to November. Then last July, it was announced that the entire rest of the 2020 season was cancelled. Those affected received a deferral code to use for a new 2021 event, as well as a bonus code for another event of their choice.

So I used the deferral code for a new Trail Race for September, and the bonus code for the Monterey Spartan Super 10k in August. I wanted to use the bonus code for another Trail Race, but I was unable to make that happen, as registrations for Trail Races vs regular Spartan events are handled by two different platforms, and the bonus code only worked for a regular event. So I chose the Super, as I thought the Sprint would be too easy and the Beast might be a little too challenging to start with. Anyway, based on how things were going with the company and on the global stage, I had little hope that the events would actually happen or that the company would even still remain solvent.

But gradually the situation in the US improved, events reopened, and finally the Monterey Spartan Super and Sprint events kicked off at Toro Park in Salinas yesterday. I didn't really give much thought to the difficulty of Spartan obstacles until a week before the event day; I've done three Tough Mudders and they seemed pretty manageable, so I thought I would be ok. But once reality dawned on me and I started researching Spartan obstacles, I realized that it wasn't going to be a walk in the park.

So for the last few days leading up to the event, I was working on my grip strength at UFC Gym (my Fitness 19 membership got transferred there after they went out of business) and binge-watching YouTube videos on Spartan obstacles. Two days before the event, Spartan released the course map showing all 20 and 27 obstacles on the Sprint and Super courses, respectively. This helped me hone in on exactly what to prepare for. I knew that I wouldn't be able to muscle my way through the obstacles, so I had to conquer them through better technique. I researched every obstacle on the route and picked up some good hacks, otherwise known as techniques for getting through obstacles using less effort (and sometimes more quickly as well). I guess it paid off, because I failed only one obstacle (the Spear Throw) and that involved just a penalty loop, so I ended up doing no burpees! Me being not that heavy undoubtedly helped on a lot of obstacles as well.

Compared to what I've researched, it seemed that the Monterey Super Course was dialed down in difficulty. For instance, mud and water were only present in two obstacles and they were near the end, so most of the obstacles were easier to complete than in venues where people are all muddy when doing them, either due to weather or course design. Going easy on us weak Bay Area people, maybe. ;)

So here are all the obstacles on the course and my personal notes.

Over Walls (4' Walls): Pretty much just a warmup.

6' and 7' Walls: The heel hook technique made these effortless. No 8ft walls like on some other courses. The 8ft walls would probably require a running jump, making them a good deal harder.

Olympus: A lot of people had trouble with staying on the wall. I mostly used the holes and made sure to sit my hips low, which kept me on the wall without too much sliding. Nonetheless, this obstacle was still difficult and was hard on my hands. The chains had the balls attached to the ends, making that part easier for those choosing to use them.

Bender: After grabbing the first bar, I swung my legs up onto the bar as well. This made it easy to reach up and climb the rest of the way.

The Box: A lot of people were having trouble getting up the rope. Despite there being knots on the rope, I couldn't get a good grip with my feet. But somehow I was able to pull myself up the rope, get my hands on the flat part at the top, and hoist my way up without too much effort.

Stairway to Sparta: It wasn't too difficult to hoist my way up and start climbing the rungs. Pretty much all there is to it.

Pipe Lair: This was on the map but didn't appear on the actual course. Grr.

Twister: Doing this facing backwards (as one video suggested doing) made this almost effortless. The obstacle consists of handles arranged in a spiral along two rotating bars, with the bars separated by a truss in the middle of the obstacle. I made sure to pick a lane where the second bar had its first handle oriented downwards in order to make the transition to that section easy.

Beater: Monkey bars with a twist, literally. The bars were spaced somewhat far apart and I didn't know if I'd be able to do them in the traditional way with palms facing forwards. So instead, I did them sideways with my palms facing each other, and this made the obstacle pretty doable.

Inverted Wall: Not too bad. One thing that made this easier was that there was a gap between the rungs and the wall that provided extra room to grab onto the rungs. I've seen videos both where there is and is not a gap, so I guess it's just a matter of how hard the course designers want to make this particular obstacle. On the way down the backside, I got sloppy and banged my ankle. Fortunately, it didn't seem serious and the pain wore off after a few minutes.

Z-Wall: Pretty manageable. Just maintain 3 points of contact and don't rush.

Barbed Wire Crawl: I found myself rolling more often than not, since I was impatient and too lazy to want to crawl. But this did make me dizzy and I still had to wait for the people ahead of me, since there were a lot of people and they were all crawling. I got a lot of burrs stuck in the back of my clothes, so I guess that's one disadvantage to rolling.

Bucket Carry: 80lb bucket for the men. The first section was straight up a hill. This obstacle was more cardio than strength, and I was definitely breathing hard and had to stop to rest a few times. I rested the bucket on a bent knee, as I learned from a video, which made it effortless to support the bucket. I alternated between bear-hugging the bucket and supporting it from underneath.

Hurdles: Pretty easy to get over.

Sandbag Carry: Carrying a sandbag for around 1000ft with a little bit of elevation. The men's sandbags are supposedly "only" 45lbs, but the bag felt fairly heavy to me and I lacked the strength and/or technique to get it over both shoulders, so I clumsily alternated it between shoulders. Not as difficult as the bucket carry, but I was still straining.

Rope Climb: I originally planned to use the J-hook to support my legs, but I had a lot of trouble positioning the rope with my feet when I was in the air, and I failed to make progress after a few starts. A volunteer suggested using the S-hook, and that did the trick. But getting to the top was hard on my hands, and I found the side of one of my fingernails bleeding. The volunteer was nice to give me a wipe and bandaid.

Spear Throw: Despite trying to follow tips from several videos, I failed when the spear tilted backwards after the throw. I tried again since it wasn't that busy, and on the second try, the spear tilted backwards again, though not by as much. This was one of two obstacles that involved a penalty loop instead of burpees, and the loop was very easy and took just a minute.

Hercules Hoist: 90lb weight for the men. I found it difficult to pull the rope down while standing, so I followed others' example of lying on the ground and bracing my feet at the bottom of the gate, and then using the weight of my body to pull the rope. Found another finger bleeding after this. Grip strength needs work!

Multi-Rig: Rings, then a horizontal bar, then rings again. Using the rings was simple enough, and the transition to and from the bar wasn't too bad, though I somehow managed to hit my head during the first transition and dismounted the final ring with pretty bad form. Wish I had a place I could practice rings.

Atlas Carry: 100lb stone for the men. While kneeling with one leg, I rolled the stone onto the other leg. This allowed me to get it in my grasp without too much straining. Carrying the stone the short distance wasn't too bad.

Vertical Cargo: I've seen some heavier guys struggle with this, but I had no trouble jumping and hoisting myself up onto the platform. From there it was just the simple act of climbing up and down the vertical cargo net, maintaining 3 points of contact.

Rolling Mud and Dunk Wall: Pretty straightforward. This was the only mud on the course. I got entirely drenched when dunking my head and body under the Dunk Wall, but this also washed off most of the mud that was on me. It also washed off the blood on my fingers as well as the bandaid. Oops. Sorry, people.

Slip Wall: This was right after Dunk Wall and I was worried that it'd be difficult to get up with wet hands and shoes, so I waited a few minutes. It was pretty manageable after that. Maybe I should've just gone for it right away, since some others seemed to be doing that.

A-Frame Cargo: Just 3 points of contact and don't be hasty - you know the drill by now.

Monkey Bars: Similar/same spacing between bars as with Beater, so I did these sideways as well and that worked just fine.

Helix: The final obstacle. Not too bad; just be methodical and watch your step, especially where it's a little wet and muddy due to other racers' footwear.

And no fire jump before the finish line. Understandable, with California being in an extreme drought and with fires like the Dixie Fire (the largest single wildfire in the state's history) currently raging.

So I finished a Super having to do only a penalty loop and no burpees. Sounds awesome, right? Well, I did take my time (sometimes up to 10 minutes) at most of the major obstacles in order to recover arm/grip strength. I could've gone faster, but I didn't have a concept of how hard the obstacles would be in practice and I didn't want to get fatigued. My official time was 3:12:01, placing 1534/2154 overall, 1224/1577 for males, and 216/273 for my age group. A pretty slow performance, but now I know what to expect. The median time was 2:48:10 for all racers.

Overall, I had a great experience and am glad that I did this. The event was run pretty well. Water and bathroom placement on the course was good, check-in was extremely quick, shuttles were ample, and there were plenty of showers with strong water pressure. The shower water wasn't warm, but it wasn't very cold either. Signage could've been better; the location we were told to park at was actually a few miles up the road from the actual parking lot. I had Priscilla drop me off at the venue but I took a shuttle back, and she almost couldn't find the parking lot because there wasn't too much signage on the road.

So for this trip, we took Friday off and headed down to Monterey. We got there a bit later than planned because of traffic; we should've realized that leaving at 2pm is not sufficient to avoid traffic on the 101, especially on a Friday. Once there, we headed over to the Beach House Restaurant in Pacific Grove for a happy hour dinner. We found that the happy hour menu is only for locals (not sure if it was always like this), but our waiter was nice to give it to us anyway. Dinner with tip was still $60, a bit much for happy hour, but you're paying for the view here.

We walked around Lovers Point and along the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail and walked around Cannery Row before heading back. On the trail was a sea lion lookout where we watched a group of 4 sea lions for 10 minutes. They were on the beach but apparently were waiting for the right time to get back into the ocean. When a wave came in that was high enough for each sea lion to start floating, it floated down the shore towards the ocean until it was able to swim away. Sometimes it took a few rounds of riding a wave ever so slightly down the shore until the sea lion was completely in the water, and until then, being stuck on the beach essentially unable to move. It was quite comical and interesting to witness this behavior.

Afterwards, we just headed over to the Lone Oak Lodge for our Friday night stay. The lodge had useful amenities, looked well-kept, and provided good value overall. We were pleasantly surprised. The rest of our low-key trip just involved getting ready for my race. While I was running, Priscilla went back to the lodge to do her devos until check-out time, then went to the local Safeway to get us food and to the Starbucks in the Safeway where she did some studying until I texted her to pick me up. We just headed back home afterwards.

I really enjoy obstacle course races because they combine things that I enjoy: running, strength, challenging oneself, and finding ways to do things better. I'm a sucker for race medals and headbands as well. I don't particularly care for getting dirty, but I enjoy the elaborate obstacles and the camaraderie at Tough Mudder, and I enjoy the physicality and technical aspects of Spartan Race. I'm trying to drum up some interest among people at church to do a Tough Mudder or Spartan next year. I'm already thinking of doing the Spartan Trifecta next year, and I intend to train more rigorously for it.

So... things to work on for Spartan:
* Grip strength
* Rope climbing technique
* Spear throwing technique
* Cardio

And of course I still have the Spartan Trail Race next month in Saratoga. I'm super excited.
South Lake Tahoe - Wednesday, June 23, 2021
Because no amount of travel is too much for Priscilla, she made us go to South Lake Tahoe for the weekend of my birthday. I prefer to spend my birthday at home catching up on housework, whereas she likes to go out, so she entices me with hiking as a compromise. I'd been to Tahoe in the winter 3 times for a company ski trip but never in the summer, so I didn't mind (too much) going there for summer hiking.

So that Friday, we made the 4.5 hour drive to Econo Lodge in South Lake Tahoe, where we would be staying for the next two nights. Our plan originally was to go to Kiva Beach to do some kayaking first, but I'm bad at leaving the house early. So instead of visiting the beach, we consigned ourselves to walking around Heavenly Village, walking through Harrah's, Harveys and Hard Rock (and at the latter, we hung out for a bit under a gazebo at the pool area when there was nobody else there), and walking by Lakeside Beach outside the fence since we didn't want to pay to go in. Obviously, we like to do things that don't cost money (and the hotel was booked using travel points).

The next day, we drove up State Route 89 to visit Emerald Bay. What a sight! The most majestic vantage point was one short segment of Route 89 where the shoulder of the road slopes down towards the water below and it looks like you're surrounded on most sides by water - Emerald Bay on the north, Cascade Lake on the south, and Lake Tahoe on the East. There were a lot of cars already parked along Route 89, so we had little hope that we'd be able to find parking in the main Emerald Bay lot. So instead, we parked on the shoulder halfway between Eagle Falls and the Bayview Campground. We took pictures at the "mid" Eagle Falls - a spot just below the road but above the Lower Eagle Falls. Then we did the short hike to see Upper Eagle Falls and then the longer hike to Eagle Lake, entering into what's known as Desolation Wilderness. It was less than a mile from the upper falls to the lake, but it was a little tiring because of all the rock steps. Definitely not like the packed dirt trails that we're so accustomed to when hiking in the Bay Area.

Eagle Lake was so picturesque! You have the trees and mountains in the background and crystal-clear water in the foreground. We stayed here a bit and ate some of the salad we brought before continuing on. At this point, Priscilla would've been fine with heading back the way we came, but I as always wanted to do a longer loop. Well, this loop ended up being a little over 8 miles and took us nearly 7 hours to complete because of the elevation gain, the rock steps, and the altitude. At one point, Priscilla felt lightheaded because of the thinner air. But she pushed through (with many breaks) because she knows I enjoy hiking and that's what compromise looks like.

This is one of the most scenic hikes that we've done. Everywhere you look, there are trees, canyons, lakes, and blue skies all around. Plus some mountains still capped with some snow. We ran into a fair number of people during most of the hike, but that didn't detract too much from the experience.

On my own, I also stopped by Granite Lake and Cascade Lake and Falls. Granite Lake, about a third of the size of Eagle Lake, was just off the beaten path but nobody else was there. It was nice to be able to gaze at the lake in total solitude. Cascade Lake was viewable from the Cascade Falls Trail but was not directly reachable; there are some houses on the north side of the lake (lucky them), reachable only by private road. The trail terminates by Cascade Falls, and while the view of the falls from there is likely not as grand as when viewed from the front, I was still in awe of the beauty and power of the waterfall. I sat near the edge of the falls for a few minutes, watching the water flow down the cliff below and marveling at the beauty of the landscape. For a while, there was nobody else around. Just me, sitting there in appreciation of nature, cares momentarily forgotten.

The last stop was Inspiration Point, a vista point with its own parking lot, looking down towards Emerald Bay. I rejoined Priscilla there, but we didn't stay for too long, as we'd already been treated to better views along the hike. So we headed back to town and picked up pizzas at Base Camp Pizza to replenish the calories we'd burned during hiking and then some.

Monday morning after checking out of our motel, we stopped by the Tahoe Trout Farm, the part of the trip that Priscilla had been looking forward to the most. She's more into fishing than I am, so I let her do all the work while I took care of the online research when it became evident that our method of baiting the hook was consistently allowing fish to get the worms without getting hooked. After a lot of lost worms and after one more adjustment, we finally caught a 13-inch trout! We'd been given a metal pipe to hit the fish with to humanely kill it, but after several hits, the fish was still not dead. It was sad to know that we probably caused the fish more pain than necessary, so if we do something like this again, hopefully we can learn how to kill the fish properly.

The final stop before heading home was the Kiva Picnic Area where we had lunch, followed by a short walk around the adjacent Tallac Historic Site (the buildings were not open on the day of our visit). The drive home was somewhat difficult as we were both tired, but we made it back home at last.

We had a good time in Tahoe. If it were practical, I would probably have wanted to stay longer and do more hiking/trail running in Desolation Wilderness and other spots. The scenery is so beautiful and there's so much to explore. I'd also want to kayak at Emerald Bay to Fannette Island. And there's so much to see all around the lake - the southern area is just a tiny portion of it. Priscilla would say that these are the best years of our (remaining) life, that we should be traveling more, and that we already have enough to have financial independence given our relatively modest lifestyle. I, on the other hand, feel that we go on a good number of trips already. I don't enjoy the actual travel and being away from home, but once I'm there, I enjoy the places that we get to see. And I feel that we don't have enough yet to be financially secure and that it would be difficult to take a lot more time off work. So I guess we're still trying to find that balance and compromise.
Coyote Lake Camping - Friday, June 11, 2021
Because we haven't been doing too much traveling and Priscilla has the travel itch, she booked a camping reservation for us at Coyote Lake for Memorial Day weekend last month. So that Saturday, we hauled it over 45 minutes down near Gilroy. Traffic was heavier than usual due to holiday travel but not terrible.

It was our second time camping at Coyote Lake, the first time being in 2017. We arrived around 4:30pm and found that most other people had already arrived and set up. Check-in starts at 3pm, so I guess people wanted to make use of as much of the day as they could.

We set up our tarp and tent, split some wood (I just bought an axe that morning), and then hiked until 7:15 (and saw a coyote in the distance while hiking - very fitting given the name of the place). Back at the campsite, we got the fire going and cooked the hash brown, cheese, chicken and tomato foil wraps that Priscilla had prepared, while eating chicken salads.

We were pretty tired after eating, and our fire had died down because we hadn't bothered to cut all the wood into smaller pieces, so we turned in early for the night. Doing so also allowed us to brush our teeth at the restroom and not really have to wait for others, since many people were still at their campfires enjoying the night. But people generally weren't too loud, and by around 10pm, the campground was pretty quiet.

It was a cold night, but the three sets of blankets that we brought helped. And I guess the design of the tent sort of kept some heat in. So by the middle of the night, we had shed a couple blankets.

We used our camping pads and were able to set the tent at a more level angle compared to last time, but sleeping on the ground still was not very comfortable. So as a result of going to bed early and not being able to sleep too well, we woke up around 5am. At least this allowed us to get a jump start on things while most others were still asleep. No line at the restroom again.

After staying in the car for a bit while Priscilla did her devos (we were also waiting out the weather since it was really cold outside), and having a quick breakfast, we went out for another hike. This time I hiked/ran 15 miles while Priscilla hiked 5.8 miles. I did a lot of the western side of the park where there's a good amount of elevation and a nice view of the valley with its farmland and scattered homes, and I looped back along the eastern side close to the lake. It was nice to get some vantage points looking out towards the lake, especially since the lake was dried up on the south side where the campground is. The drought is real.

Priscilla had everything packed up by the time I got back, and after another salad, it was time to head home. We're glad we went, but we realized during this trip that we're not really camping people. We enjoy having a comfortable bed and amenities and being able to shower after getting smokey. And camping (at least for us) involves a lot of food prep that's disproportionately high compared to the return we get. Maybe we'll do this again, but not for several years. And it would be more fun to do it with people who are actually camping minded and can show us how to have a more rewarding time.
I've Been Shot - Friday, May 14, 2021
Yesterday I got my second dose of the Pfizer COVID shot. Slightly worrying is the fact that other than very minor soreness at the site of the injection (and less soreness than last time), I've been feeling no side effects. But according to articles, the severity of side effects is not predictive of vaccine effectiveness, so I'm not stressing out about it. Pretty sure they didn't just run out of vaccines and give me a placebo...

Getting vaccinated felt, well, like a mundane affair. Definitely not life-changing. I recognize how privileged I am to be able to say that. I'm thankful for the wide-scale availability of the vaccine in the US, with basically anybody who wants the vaccine able to get it (and at no cost to them), and with almost half of the population now having gotten at least one dose, and over a third of the population having been fully vaccinated. I am privileged to be able to work from home, to be paid well for it, and to be in a position where the worst part of my day is Zoom fatigue. How many countless people in the world are still suffering greatly because of the pandemic (India comes to mind as of late), how many livelihoods have been affected, lives turned upside down, and how many people are out on the front lines risking their health for the benefit of society and getting paid little for it? Yeah, I'm blessed to live in the US and privileged to be in the position that I am.

One is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after the final dose, according to the CDC. And their guidance is now that fully-vaccinated people don't need to wear masks, either outdoors or indoors (though this guidance doesn't apply to healthcare and public transportation settings). I'm grateful that I'll be effectively protected when hanging out with/being around people, but I'm still a bit skittish and would prefer to continue keeping social distance and wearing a mask when around others. After all, we're still in a pandemic and the US is still seeing around 35k new cases a day. Priscilla thinks I'm too extreme and reminds me that the number of new cases in California is quite low. Maybe she's right. Perhaps a compromise?

As for Priscilla, she's down in LA for 10 days now and her last day of work was yesterday. She's been consistently waking up around 5:30 now (an improvement from 3:30) and has continued being fruitful with her time. She'll be helping her parents organize their finances and hanging out with friends in LA. So I'll have to wing it as a bachelor for the next several days, though she did make me a ton of food (porridge, pulled chicken, scrambled eggs, kale, shrimp, and a huge pot of soup) before she left, so I think I'll survive.
First Quarter of 2021 - Monday, May 3, 2021
Well, it's been a pretty eventful four months into 2021. We're still in the midst of a global pandemic, but places are starting to reopen and life is starting to get back to some semblance of normalcy.

So far, 44% of Americans have gotten at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, with 31% fully vaccinated. In California and most other states, vaccination appointments are now available to anybody who wants them; I got my first dose last week. Daily infection rates in the US have been hovering around 50k, down from a high of 300k in January. Around the world, the situation is still more dire. Right now, India has it the worst with daily infections having ballooned to around 400k, and with only 9% of the population having had at least one dose of a vaccine and 2% fully vaccinated. Of course the western countries would get faster access to vaccines than the rest of the world. It's especially ironic that India is the world's largest producer of vaccines. The inequality is real, sometimes seemingly unreal, and visible. We have so many blessings living here that we must not take for granted.

One thing we're grateful for is the ability to attend church in-person with others again. Our church resumed in-person gatherings in February, and we've been meeting outdoors so as to not be limited by the capacity and singing restrictions for indoor services. Each family sits in their own socially-distant space in the parking lot and brings their own chairs, so there's a bit of setup involved each Sunday morning. We have to be there at the unbearably early hour of 9am for the morning service, and 8am on days when we help with worship, but I don't have a good excuse to not be waking up early anyway. The livestream (which we still have) is so much more convenient, but there's no substitute for meeting in person. Sometimes it feels like a drag to get myself there, but I know it's a good thing.

As for the two of us, Priscilla and I took a short trip at the end of March to hike at Pinnacles National Park, California's newest national park and the closest one to the Bay Area. We visited on a Monday, and we ran into a fair number of people but not a lot of people. Because I underestimate trail distance and difficulty, we ended up hiking for 8 hours and did nearly 14 miles over 4,000 feet of elevation, which included going a good ways up the side of a hill where there was no marked trail (I saw a sign saying there was a vista point and I thought it was at the top of the hill, but it was actually refering to an observation spot nearby which didn't register in my mind as an actual spot with a view). Priscilla was extremely tired through the latter third of the hike, but she very graciously put up with me.

I really enjoyed the relative solitude of Pinnacles, seeing a few condors on the Condor Gulch Trail, and visiting the scenic reservoir towards the end of the day (I ran there while Priscilla hiked back to the car). Because of COVID, the two caves at Pinnacles were closed - quite a bummer since they're supposedly awesome to visit. Hopefully we'll be able to visit again when the caves are open, and I'm sure that the hike will be better planned the next time around...

So during that trip, we stayed overnight in Hollister, which is a 30-mile drive to Pinnacles. This allowed us to save some money (hotels near Pinnacles are pricey) but still be able to get to the park early-ish without having to drive too far. On the way to Hollister, we visited the Gilroy Ostrich Farm, which Priscilla particularly enjoyed, and Casa de Fruta, where we didn't buy anything and spent more time walking around outside than looking at goods inside the shop. After Pinnacles, we ate at Carpo's Restaurant and stayed overnight in Capitola (Soquel, technically) and walked around Capitola and the beach the next day. The coolest part there was walking along the old railroad trestle (the rail line is no longer active, so no chance of getting flattened by a train) high above across Soquel Creek. This trip was our first since the start of the pandemic where we stayed in a hotel (wow!).

Then at the end of April, we drove down to LA to see family. We hadn't seen them since Thanksgiving; we didn't visit during Christmas because of the increased travel restrictions at that time. Our visit was pretty low-key, but it was good to see everyone, and Aaron's kids are a little older and the older one seems slightly more comfortable with me now and couldn't stop pointing out what color everything is. It's pretty cool (and a big relief!) to see her opening up, because before she would always just stare blankly at me, not wanting to engage.

Finally, Priscilla will be going through a career transition soon. She and her coworkers have been having a rough time due to the new CFO who's been difficult to work with. Priscilla was experiencing a lot of stress that was taking a toll on her mental health. Finally, she asked to work from home until the company found a replacement, after which she would leave. For reasons, her last day was supposed to be last Friday, but the new person hasn't started yet, so the company asked Priscilla to continue working another two weeks, which she agreed to because she knows how overloaded her team is. After she leaves, she wants to learn about self-employment and will be going down to LA for 10 days to help her parents sort out their finances, which they will pay her for - they gift her money every year anyway, but she wants to use this as a way to make self-employed contributions into a 401k. Later, she's planning to find a job with another company, ideally part-time and remote. It'll be good to see her more and for her to have more time to help me with things around the house that I don't have time for. Her sleep cycle got really messed up due to the stress she was experiencing, and she still can't help but wake up at 3:30am many days, but she's had more free time as a result and has been using her time more fruitfully.

I too need to better learn to carve out time for the things that matter. I think the pandemic has made me better in this area, but I'm still very much a work in progress. You never know how life is going to go or what day is going to be your last. If there's one thing that this time has taught me, it's that life is a gift and should not be squandered. As our modern-day millennial philosophers so eloquently put it, YOLO.
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