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RBF Retreat - Tuesday, August 2, 2022
This past weekend was our church retreat - the first in three years, retreat having been cancelled the previous two years due to the pandemic. It was our second time meeting at Sonoma State University, the last time being in 2019 for the all-church retreat.

The Chinese congregation didn't join this time due to COVID concerns. Regardless, there were a lot of people there because our church has gotten so big. Our program, which listed discussion group assignments, listed 200 names, not including children. 2019's program listed 186 names. There were probably around 100 children there this year, certainly more than last time because a lot of people at church have been having kids over the past few years.

The accommodations were mostly the same as last time. Each person had a room, typically shared with a roommate. Each room had its own bathroom and there were four rooms per suite. Dining and services were held at the student center a short walk away. The food was alright but I remember it being better last time. And I was bummed that the recreation center, which has a climbing wall and gym, was closed this time.

Overall, retreat was good but tiring. We ate with someone different for each meal, and we had more impromptu fellowship for an hour each night after the nighttime session. The schedule also kicked off early each morning. So it was hard to get sufficient sleep, and so during the free time hours on Saturday, Priscilla and I went back to our room and took a two hour nap.

Our guest speaker, Pastor Tranwei, covered the biblical narrative during each of the four sessions. It was cool how each message had the thematic consistency of God's work in the Garden of Eden, in Israel, in Christ, and finally in the new Heaven. Most of the material was pretty familiar, but there were some great nuggets of insight - for instance, in discussing how Satan tempted Jesus with all the kingdoms of the world, Pastor Tranwei pointed out that it was because Jesus wants all the kingdoms of the world, that one day He will reign over them, and Satan was essentially telling Jesus to skip to the end and skip the cross. It's the same idea as in Matthew 16 when Jesus talks about being killed and raised to life, Peter rebukes Him and says that this shall not happen, and Jesus responds with "Get behind me, Satan".

The weekend was pretty busy and though we relished the opportunities to fellowship with a handful of people, we also felt a little overwhelmed being amidst so many unfamiliar faces. We feel that way at church as well. The English congregation was maybe 30 people when I first joined (I think that was in 2009), and we've become a somewhat large church over the years. I'm feeling like how I felt when I was attending GRX back in 2008 - i.e. only knowing a handful of people, mostly the people in my small groups, and feeling distant from the church body as a whole. Sometimes I don't see the point in corporate worship when I don't feel entirely part of the corporate body. But in those times, I have to remind myself that it's not about me, and that we are to be like Christ, who came to serve, not to be served.
Christmas in July - Tuesday, July 5, 2022
Last year, traveling between NorCal and SoCal at Christmastime was pretty hectic and it felt too soon after Thanksgiving to go down again. So we decided that this year, we'd try visiting in the summer instead of for Christmas in order to better space out our visits, and see how well that works out. We decided that the July 4th weekend would be the best time during summer to visit. Christmas in July... sort of. Our families don't really do anything special for Christmas anyway.

We were originally planning to drive down Friday, but then we learned that my mom tested positive for COVID. Her patient at work had it, and it was either going to be my mom or her coworker attending to him, and my mom didn't want her coworker taking the risk because that's how she is. Fortunately, my mom's symptoms weren't terrible and she's getting better by the day. She's been limiting direct interaction with my dad and so far he hasn't gotten sick.

So we drove down Saturday, waking up early and leaving early (around 7:15am) to try to beat traffic, but traffic didn't seem to be much of an issue. Though there were some minor slowdowns, it wasn't too bad overall. The worst part was a 17-minute slowdown caused by an earlier accident; interestingly, that cleared up a couple hours later. Overall, the traffic map was pretty much green the whole day. Fewer people driving this year because of sky-high gas prices?

So instead of splitting time between staying with my parents and Priscilla's parents, we just spent three days with her parents this time. We did visit my mom briefly (my dad was out) and talked to her from outside the house. She was only willing to open the window a crack because she didn't want us to breathe her germs, so we could barely hear her. Heh.

As always, the time with Priscilla's parents was pretty low-key. We mostly just ate and I also helped them with lots of computer issues (I'm always their IT guy whenever we visit). On Sunday, Priscilla and I visited New Life Church, joined people for a small lunch (tacos) there, talked to Aaron and his family briefly at the end of that, then had another lunch with Gina and Weber at California Pita, and then hung out with Crescentia and Raymond for 3.5 hours at Tang & Java. Whew. It was nice seeing people, but I definitely needed some downtime after so much socializing.

On Monday, Priscilla and I walked to Gen Korean BBQ since she had a hankering for buffet and it was either going to be Gen or All That Shabu, and the latter was a bit more expensive. We got to Gen at opening time and were seated in a section with several other tables. There was just one waiter for all those tables, so it took a while to get any service. But once our waiter got things started, he made sure to keep coming back to take orders so that there was always a steady stream of meat at our table. I've never seen a waiter hustle so much - he was constantly running up and down the aisle, whizzing by to drop off food or take away dirty plates, and when taking our order, he spoke in a fast, energetic manner. Priscilla remarked that he seemed like an anime character. His bleached hair might've contributed to that impression as well. At the start, we were about to leave after having waited 20 minutes without getting any attention, but our waiter turned a miserable experience into a terrific one. He definitely got an excellent tip from us. We left full, though we refrained from gorging ourselves this time. Maybe we're getting wiser and learning moderation.

Then that evening, we took a post-dinner walk with the parents when the city fireworks show happened to be in progress. We walked down to the main street where we (and lots of other people) were able to find a decent view of the fireworks being shot from the park less than a mile away. From there we also had a partial view of fireworks shows from several other locations maybe a few miles away. It was awesome to see so many; I guess LA loves their fireworks. Meanwhile, our own city back up north is foregoing its fireworks show for the third year in a row, humph.

After a quick breakfast this morning, it was time to head back home. There was a moderate amount of cars on the road but for the most part, traffic was pretty smooth. I do think fewer people were driving this year, though maybe Friday and Sunday were heavier days.

For Christmas, it does feel like something will be missing when we don't go down. But we might spend Christmas with my uncle and aunt and their family; they typically have a get-together and we're unable to go. And I'm sure that Priscilla will use her Great America pass a lot this December, and she'll probably make me go there once with her during WinterFest. And hopefully, our time with family and friends in LA for Thanksgiving will be all the more meaningful.
Second Spartan Super - Sunday, June 5, 2022
Yesterday, Daniel and I did the Monterey Spartan Super at Toro Park in Salinas. I did this course last year as well, and it was all the same obstacles in mostly the same order, with the following exceptions:

* The 4' Walls on the map didn't appear on the course. Instead, there was a 5' wall that people had to get over to get into the race corral.
* The longer 45lb sandbags were replaced with 60lb disc-shaped bags at the Sandbag Carry.
* The Bucket Carry was longer this time. After ascending a small hill, it looked like you were headed back down to the start, like how it was last year. Instead, you then rounded a corner and had to do another uphill segment. Surprise, suckas!
* The bags at Hercules Hoist looked a little bigger this year. The volunteer said that they were 100lbs this year. It was 90lbs last year.

I went into the race not at full strength. Five days earlier on Memorial Day, I did the Murph Challenge (1 mile run, 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 squats, 1 mile run) with Daniel and two other church guys. We didn't use a weighted vest, and we partitioned the exercises into 20 sets of 5 pullups, 10 pushups and 15 squats, but still it was brutal and I was sore for the next fews days. I was still just slightly sore going into Spartan, so I'm pretty sure that I wasn't fully recovered.

On Olympus, only four obstacles in, I didn't have the strength to keep myself on the wall properly. So I ended up supporting myself using my knee and kind of dragged myself across the wall. On Hercules Hoist, most of the guys seemed to be having trouble. I was able to use my bodyweight to get the bag most of the way up, but then my grip was shot and I had to pull my body further back while holding onto the rope for dear life in order to get the last couple inches. I wasn't sure if I got the bag all the way up or if I had a couple inches left to go, but the rope wasn't budging any further - so either I got it, or I had reached the point where pulling my body back was no longer effective. My forearms were pretty taxed as a result, and I had to bail on the next obstacle, Multi-Rig, one ring short of the bell. And that's one of the easier obstacles - ugh! But at least I successfully stuck the spear at the Spear Throw - the first time ever, which I was elated about. The "spear throw" (broom handle with a tennis ball on the end) training we've been doing at the park has paid off, and it was helpful that we got to the event early and I was able to throw a spear a few times at the practice zone.

I did notice that the carries felt easier than last year. The bucket carry was tiring but manageable, even though it was longer this year. Same for the sandbag carry. Had I been carrying last year's 45lb sandbag, I'm sure I would've owned it. I can see how training and multiple Spartans have paid off in small ways.

So my official time was 2:47:29 which put me in the 30th percentile, placing 1006/3364 overall, 818/2262 for males, and 146/353 for my age group. Not terrible, but I know I could've done better. Next time, for one, no hard workouts at least a week before a race.

Will there be a next time, though? With this race done, I've completed a Spartan Trifecta and feel like I've checked off a big milestone on my bucket list. I do enjoy the races and they give me a reason to train. But I have other goals that I want to train for, like being able to do a Murph faster (my previous time was around 75 minutes), being able to run a sub 6-minute mile and better, and building strength and getting back up to my ideal weight. Maybe I can come back to the races someday when I'm faster and stronger, but for now, there's so much else I can do.

So the rest of the trip was jam-packed with activities. On Friday, Priscilla and I drove down to Monterey and visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium (using our friends' guest pass) and watched the penguin and sea otter feedings, then walked over to Fisherman's Wharf and met up with Daniel and his family for dinner at Grotto Fish Market. On Saturday, Priscilla went with Daniel's family to breakfast and the Monterey County Youth Museum while he and I were racing. After the race, we all had lunch together at Pacific Bowls and Rolls (pretty decent poke bowl portions) in Downtown Monterey. Then in the afternoon, we all went down to Carmel Beach and watched the kids play in the sand and run from waves. Daniel's neighbors and their kid, who were also in town, joined us there and we all went to dinner at Flaherty's Seafood Grill & Oyster Bar (decent fare, a little pricey but reasonable for Carmel prices). Priscilla and I spent a little under $200 over the course of 4 consecutive meals, which is a bit more than we typically spend on food when traveling. We usually like to pack food and, when we do eat out, we tend towards the cheaper places. But eating out is a normative vehicle for spending time with people, and it was nice hanging out with people for most of the weekend.

Today, Priscilla and I just walked around El Estero Park (close to our motel) before heading home. We were pretty tired after the long weekend and got a quick lunch and took a nap shortly after. Traveling and activities certainly have their place, but at the end of the day for us, there's no place like home.
Ten Years - Saturday, April 30, 2022
This week Priscilla and I celebrated our 10 year wedding anniversary. We've been through a lot during this time - she left her home in LA and relocated to the Bay Area to be with me, we got an apartment, I changed jobs once, she changed jobs more than once, we bought a house, had several renters over a six-year period, we've served on the worship team at church, been in small groups, seen friends come and go, gone on walks almost every day, done lots of hiking, and we've traveled to many places across the state, country and world. It simultaneously feels like hardly any time has passed and also like a meaningful ten years have passed. We've made plenty of mistakes and this isn't the best life that we could be living by far, but I'm content. And there's no one I'd rather have spent this ten years with.

This week we were down in LA to celebrate our anniversary and to be with family. It was also my mom's birthday, so all the more reason for family to get together. We spent the first three nights at my parents' place and the latter two nights at Priscilla's parents' place. We saw Aaron and Lauren and the kids twice and got to see their new house, and our niece actually talked to me a good deal this time. The time with family was pretty low-key as always, but we enjoy the normalcy.

The rest of our time was spent in Hollywood! We went there three days in a row - for the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, then to watch Everything Everywhere All at Once (it was interesting but really weird) at Grauman's Chinese Theatre and walk along the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and finally to go to Universal Studios. We'd bought the Go City LA pass and chose those activities. Originally we had wanted to do Catalina Island as one of the activities, but the ferry hours were pretty inconvenient (7am arrival and 4pm departure). And when we bought the pass, the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens was available as one of the activities, but at some point it was dropped and only remained available with the more expensive pass. So we scrapped Huntington from our plans and replaced it with seeing a movie at Grauman's. The expression about best-laid plans is all too fitting in today's day of rampant inflation and skimpflation.

The Warner Bros. Studio Tour was cool. Our guide was very knowledgeable and drove us through the campus and pointed out building after another that was used in the filming of some show or movie. We got to see different sets for a TV show in one of the sound stages. I couldn't place most of the things the guide pointed out because my familiarity with TV and film is limited, but I appreciated seeing all the work that goes into set design to the finest detail. The tour ended with a self-guided portion through DC and Harry Potter exhibits; most of that was kinda meh, but I really liked this one display that uses forced perspective to make it look like Hogwarts letters are swirling all around you, where the attendant used our phone to take an awesome-looking picture.

Universal Studios doesn't have as much stuff as Disneyland, so we had time to do all the rides and see both of the shows. It brought back some memories of the times when my mom would bring me and my brother there. I guess the last time I went there was in 2004 when I brought my grandfather there. A bunch of things have changed noticeably, like Jurassic Park now being Jurassic World with some technological upgrades, Back to the Future replaced by The Simpsons, no more Backdraft, and the Backlot Tour now branded as the Studio Tour including two attractions requiring 3D glasses. The two shows running were Universal's Animal Actors and WaterWorld (there's also the Special Effects Stage show, but that wasn't operating on the day of our visit). The execution of both shows was great, though the trainers in Animal Actors had occasional difficulty getting the animals (mostly the dogs) to obey commands on the first try. It's gotta be a hard job. And the stunts and effects in WaterWorld were spectacular - this was probably the only attraction that I enjoyed as much as an adult as I did as a kid. Overall, Universal was fun, but the motion sickness I now get on thrill rides mars the experience, and I've for the most part outgrown the desire to go to theme parks. Priscilla probably would not mind still going every now and then.

Last week, I was working hard to get new sprinkler valves installed for the front lawn. Our irrigation system didn't have a manual shutoff, so I had to have the city shut off the main so that I could install a manual shutoff valve. Then I had to replace the old, leaking sprinkler valves. The task was difficult because the pipes were installed almost right next to each other and at weird angles, so I had to rework the design with very little clearance. There were also tree roots growing everywhere. I also discovered a sprinkler head next to the valves, buried under landscaping fabric, which meant that that area got a good soaking every time the sprinklers came on (that might explain all the roots). I had wanted to put in PVC and drip irrigation in the back before our trip so that our backyard plants wouldn't die, but I ended up only being able to finish the front and had a neighbor water the back while we were away. But at least the hard part is done and I can work on the back at my leisure (well, we're going to LA for a few days in July, so I guess that's my new deadline).

So overall, we didn't do anything really special to celebrate, but we're fine with that. The traditional gifts for the 10th year anniversary are aluminum and tin symbolizing the strength and resilience of the marriage, and while we don't really give each other gifts for special occasions, one can say that our marriage is just as comfortably boring, and just as dependable, as those metals.
Spartan Beast - Monday, March 14, 2022
A mere six weeks after Daniel and I ran our Spartan Sprint down in SoCal, it was time for our San Luis Obispo Spartan Beast. We were not fully prepared and we got our butts handed to us in different ways. But it was a lot of fun.

On Friday, Priscilla and I drove down to Atascadero and met Daniel and his family at the Airbnb that we'd rented. The house was pretty spacious and had a lot of amenities. Their kids in particular liked the toys and the trampoline. After we got settled, we drove down to San Luis Obispo 25 minutes away. We walked around the downtown area and had dinner at Firestone Grill (I had tri-tip and it was delicious) and got ice cream from McConnell's. The downtown attractions that we saw - Bubblegum Alley, SLO Museum of Art, and the walkways around the creek - were all pretty short. It seemed like a laid-back town and everyone we interacted with was really nice.

While Daniel and I were running on Saturday, Priscilla joined the rest of Daniel's family in visiting Avila Valley Barn and more sights in SLO. They got a pie from the farm that had really good crust (I didn't care so much for the filling). And on Sunday, we drove over to Morro Bay and did a short kayak trip after Daniel and I decided that we weren't sore enough from the race. We kayaked to and walked around the sandbar close to Morro Rock, a place that Priscilla and I visited with friends 10 years ago. Afterwards, we got lunch at Giovanni's Fish Market; Priscilla and I got a clam chowder bread bowl and fish and chips (fries). The fries were amazing - very crispy; everything else was decent but nothing to write home about. After we said our goodbyes, it was time to head home.

Alright, back to the Spartan Beast. In the spirit of self-improvement, here as always are my notes about the course.

Over Walls (4' Walls): Easy warmup.

Inverted Wall: Easy, with the usual gap between the rungs and the wall providing a good place to grip.

Monkey Bars: Used the hand to hand technique as usual.

Barbed Wire Crawl: Part of it was grassy, so I was able to roll without getting too dirty.

7' and 6' Walls: Easy with the heel hook technique, though I found that I'm able to swing my right leg higher than I can my left. Or maybe that's just what I'm used to.

Hurdles: These were on a slight slope, adding an extra challenge. I got over these clumsily but twisted my left shoulder (it was fine after a few minutes).

Tube Crawl: Exactly as it sounds. Might've been the easiest obstacle I've ever done. The tubes were completely dry, but maybe in some venues they're filled with muddy water?

Armer: Possibly the same weight stone as with Atlas Carry, but the handle made this easier.

Tyrolean Traverse: My initial plan to do an upside-down crawl along the rope immediately went out the window when I found that I couldn't keep the other leg on the rope when lifting one leg off. So instead, I kept my legs locked around the rope and pulled myself along using my arms. The high socks I had on protected my legs from rope burn, but this motion was pretty rough on my hands.

8' Wall: Was able to jump up and grab the edge with an inch of clearance, so I didn't need to do a running jump and kick off against the wall.

Pipe Lair, Helix, Z Wall: All straightforward.

Olympus: Used mostly the holes and used a reach across technique when possible, making short work of this obstacle. Definitely a lot easier than when I did this for the first time during last year's Super.

The Box: A lot of people were having trouble with the ropes, but I ignored the rope and just jumped and hoisted my way onto the platform without much effort. The benefits of being light.

Spear Throw: Failed again when the spear went to the left of the target. I took two retries since it wasn't too busy, and I managed to stick it on the final attempt. Each time, I threw a mostly decent arc, so the "spear" training (with a tennis ball on the end of a broom handle) I've been doing with Daniel has been paying off. I just need to adjust the aim. I still did my 30 burpees since you're really only allowed one try.

Atlas Carry: Was able to lift the stone using a sumo deadlift, so I didn't need to roll it onto my knee like before.

Multi-Rig: Rings, horizontal bar, then ropes with no ball on the end. I thought I'd have trouble with the ropes, but I was able to maneuver from one rope to the next without sliding down. Guess the grip training has been paying off.

Bucket Carry: The bucket felt noticeably lighter compared to the one on the Sprint. Could just be variations in how much the volunteers fill them.

Beater: This was on mile 11 and my calf was starting to cramp. When I jumped up to grab the bar, a paralyzing pain shot through my calf. I had to rest for 10 minutes before I could do the obstacle. This sucked because this obstacle is pretty much all upper-body. I saw a couple others suffering from calf cramps here as well.

Bender: The cramps didn't deter me too much from swinging my feet up to help me get over this obstacle.

Stairway to Sparta: When I did this during my Super, the obstacle involved jumping and grabbing the top of a slanted wall and pulling yourself up. Pretty basic. But on the Beast, there was that (smooth) wall panel, plus another wall panel above it with climbing holds. So you basically had to jump up, grab the holds with your hands, pull yourself up and grab a higher hold, and then you'd be high enough to get your foot onto one of the holds. There was a volunteer there who gave most people a boost, but I wanted to do it on my own (as Spartan races are technically supposed to be done). I had a couple failed tries at grabbing the holds without falling, but I was finally able to do it and get my foot high enough to allow me to climb the rest of the way up. In terms of absolute difficulty, I'd say this was the hardest obstacle on the course.

Rope Climb: My hands were pretty roughed up by now, but using the S-hook took me to the top without too much trouble. My fingers held up without bleeding, unlike last time.

Twister: Going backwards made this quick, but my hands were starting to feel it by this point.

Plate Drag: I initially picked a bad lane where halfway down, the sled got stuck behind a mound of dirt. At least it wasn't just me - the next guy also had trouble with that lane. With my grip strength suffering, I had to borrow Daniel's gloves and pick a flatter lane to complete this obstacle.

Sandbag Carry, Vertical Cargo Plus, Slip Wall: Not too bad. On Slip Wall, we had to run up the ramp a little more than I remember doing on the Super, but the lack of a Dunk Wall this time kept things dry.

Hercules Hoist: My hands were completely raw by this point and my grip strength was gone. I tried twice, but not even the gloves helped me pull the bag all the way up. 30 burpees.

A-Frame Cargo: An easy obstacle to end with, with the finish line straight ahead. Boy was I glad to be done!

Aid station placement was excellent and I didn't need to drink water at every station. Much/most of the course consisted of uneven ground, and I rolled my right ankle around the halfway point, leading to pain whenever I landed at an angle on that foot. After that, I had to run a little slower in order to keep the ankle stable. But Daniel started cramping a lot in the last couple miles, so we both needed to slow down. The first 10 miles were all easier obstacles, and the last 3 miles contained the harder ones. With our injuries, the race got exponentially harder at the end!

My final time was 4:20:32, putting me in the 33rd percentile, placing 605/1857 overall, 496/1233 for men, and 109/266 in my age group. I didn't do badly, though I should've been able to do better. I'm glad that the training that I've been doing has shown some results, and I think I can go gloveless on a Super, but for a Beast, I seem to need that extra advantage from gloves since so many of the obstacles are hard on the hands. Once I do the Super in June, I'll be done with the Trifecta. I do enjoy the races, but I think I've gotten my Spartan fix and don't feel like I need to sign up for more anytime soon. I'm not that competitive, and the cost and overhead of the races are a bit much.

I'm glad that the hardest race is done with and I'm glad that we got to spend time with our friends and their kids. It was a tiring weekend and my arms and legs are quite sore now, but it was time well spent.
Inflation Invading My Dreams - Friday, February 18, 2022
In the last few months, inflation has been the talk of the economic world. It was only a matter of time before the insane amount of money the Fed created over the last two years caught up with us. Inflation is now up 7.5% annually, food is up 7%, gas is up 40%, and energy 27%. We've been feeling the pain at the pump, at the grocery store, and at the hardware store. Just yesterday I was at Home Depot to buy some PVC pipe, and a 10' length of 3/4" schedule 40 pipe now runs for $6.46, up from $3.56 ten months ago. That's an 81% increase in less than a year. Sheesh. And don't get me started on lumber prices.

While inflation for me and Priscilla is a minor annoyance, there are undoubtedly people who are greatly impacted by higher prices. The federal stimulus packages only allowed people to get by, not suddenly become well-off, and now that those have ramped down, people are starting to feel the squeeze. I think a recession in the next two years is inevitable.

Last month the S&P 500 took a 10% tumble, then started inching back up, but is now headed back into correction territory. Priscilla and I continue to dollar-cost average into index funds, but to have some more diversification, we bought I bonds, which have a variable interest rate adjusted for inflation. The current interest rate on those is a respectable 7.12%, maybe the only silver lining to high inflation. There's a $10k limit on I bond purchases per calendar year, so it's too bad that we only learned about them this year. I wish I'd bought some last year instead of putting so much money into the stock market, but oh well. I trust that the market will keep going up over the long-term, and if it doesn't, then we'll probably have bigger problems to worry about.

So related to inflation are its ugly siblings shrinkflation and skimpflation. We've seen all of those firsthand. There's also a labor shortage, which in reality is probably just a shortage of good paying jobs. In December, we ate with Priscilla's parents at an Asian buffet and the restaurant had replaced its ceramic plates and silverware with styrofoam plates and plasticware. Probably so that they don't have to wash dishes. My subconscious must've used that memory when I had a dream last night about eating at an Asian buffet where they provided us with paper plates, and each plate came with a layer of rice on it. As in, the restaurant was nudging customers towards filling up on rice so that they eat less of everything else. In the dream, I saw an adjacent table where the guests had left without eating a lot of the rice. But even though this generates waste, if a lot of people eat more rice than they otherwise would have, the restaurant probably still comes out ahead. In the real world, we've seen how people behaving rationally can lead to outcomes that are good for them but bad for society as a whole. It's sad.

Anyway, it looks like inflation won't be letting up anytime soon. To think that the Fed had at first predicted that inflation would be transitory!
Spartan Sprint - Wednesday, February 2, 2022
Well, it hadn't even been a month since we were last in LA, but Priscilla and I found ourselves down there again for my Spartan Sprint.

I signed up for the Spartan Trifecta for this year, and this past weekend the Super and Sprint were held at Glen Helen Regional Park in San Bernardino this past Saturday and Sunday, respectively. I ran with Daniel, my buddy from church with whom I'll be doing two more races this year.

This was my third Spartan Race, so I was pretty familiar with the obstacles by now. Last year's Super in Monterey was my first race, and I took it slow since I didn't know what to expect. But this time around, I wanted to get a good time, and since the Sprint is the easiest event in the Trifecta, I wanted to see if I could do some of the obstacles in a more challenging way.

Because this was a park, there were some limitations on course design. The route was essentially flat. Lots of obstacles were clustered in the same area, meaning minimal time in between some obstacles for the arms to get a rest.

So, as usual, here are the obstacles that were on the course and my personal notes.

Over Walls (4' Walls): Easy warmup.

Hurdles: These were set noticeably higher than at my Monterey Super. I got over these but lacked finesse.

6' Wall: Wanted to see if I could do a muscle up over the wall and was able to, but again without finesse. Heel hook is the proven better technique for me to conserve strength.

Inverted Wall: Pretty easy; this one had the extra grabbing room between the rungs and the wall that Monterey had. I managed to not bang my ankle on the way down this time.

Vertical Cargo: The SoCal Super had the platform in front of the cargo net that you have to hoist yourself onto. The Sprint had the platform removed.

Spear Throw: Despite watching many YouTube videos, I failed this as I didn't throw hard enough or straight enough. I really need to find a way to start practicing.

Helix, Z-Wall, and A-Frame Cargo: Pretty straightforward. On the former two, it helped that I'm light.

Atlas Carry: A little difficult since my arms were tired by this point.

Monkey Bars: Pretty much right after Atlas Carry. I'd wanted to try the hand over hand technique but my arms were feeling it, so I stuck with hand to hand and that made the obstacle pretty doable.

Plate Drag: No plank to brace my feet onto. Seemed like I took longer with this than most people.

Bucket Carry: Tried to balance the bucket on my shoulders but that tired out my arms, so I alternated between that and carrying it in front of me.

Dunk Wall: Should probably pinch my nose before I go under the water next time. I was blowing a lot of dirt out of my nose after the race and that was likely because of this obstacle.

Slip Wall: Thought I would have trouble with this since it was right after we got drenched in Dunk Wall, but I was able to get up the incline and over the top with no issues.

Barbed Wire Crawl: Straightforward, though I could've saved some time if I had rolled like Daniel did.

Sandbag Carry: The bags weren't that heavy. They were long and not filled in the middle.

Multi-Rig: The SoCal Super had a horizontal bar in the middle, but the Sprint had just rings. I was able to use a hand to hand (sideways traverse) technique without too much effort, but hand over hand is better for conserving strength (though it takes longer).

Hercules Hoist: Had to use my whole body weight as usual.

Rope Climb: The rope was a little wet and my shoes were probably still wet, so I couldn't get a good grip with my feet despite using the S-hook. My feet were definitely sliding near the top, so I powered my way up using more arm strength. This taxed my hands, and afterwards I found both middle fingers bleeding where the skin next to the nail had broken. Maybe I grip hardest with the middle finger on each hand?

Anyway, we ran together and pushed ourselves hard (well, Daniel was better at the obstacles and I was holding him back a little). When I took my time with last year's Super, the obstacles felt more manageable (though still not easy). But since we didn't rest all that much during this race, and because of multiple back-to-back obstacles, the obstacles felt noticeably harder. My final time was 52:27 which put me in the 17th percentile, placing 548/3230 overall, 475/2019 for males, and 77/326 for my age group. Not a terrific time, but not a terrible time. With our SLO Beast just 5 weeks away, I'm going to have to train better so that the obstacles don't get the better of me!

Outside of the event, we had a good time in LA seeing my parents and Priscilla's parents. That time was pretty low-key and mostly involved eating together. Aaron and Lauren's family visited the first night, and our niece was really quiet this time, though she finally started opening up to me when we played Candy Land with her. It's a game of pure chance, but Aaron won a couple times in a row and she was getting frustrated, so during the next couple games, Aaron kept peeking at the deck in his hand and rearranged cards when she wasn't looking so that she'd get the good cards. It was pretty funny.

And unlike last month, traffic from NorCal to SoCal and back wasn't bad. Visiting LA seems more bearable when the drive is "only" 5 hours!
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!
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