Monday, December 17, 2007

Solve Anxiety and Panic Disorder

Walking from work at my stressful job in 1973, I had no idea my life was going to change so severely. I was 31, had a pretty fiance, and I was in good health. Clambering into my old black Beetle, I dropped my keys...

and suddenly I began shaking...and sweating...and this feeling of foreboding, of impending doom, filled me.

I had never ever felt this way before. I had been an iron man, a street wizard, a silver-toned devil. I had hitchhiked my way around the country, sold art and string art to stay solvent, slept in cars and tents and, once, in a burned-out gas station.

Finally I gathered myself together and drove to my apartment, and made my first mistake: I stayed home from work for a couple of days. I telephoned my boss and told him what had happened, and he gave me good advice ("Just keep going. Don't let it affect you.") , but I ignored it. By not keeping on, I became sensitized to anxiety.

A few days later, 15 minutes into the performance, I walked out of "The Nutcracker Suite" at the local university and sat waiting for my girlfriend outside, chain-smoking, in agony over what was happening to me.

I went to a clinic, and talked to my doctor, but no one had an answer. I began to hate to leave the apartment. I had to force myself to go to the store, or to the dentist. I would stand in the front porch, looking at the people playing in the park across the street, wanting to join a group but unable to force myself to do so.

A couple of years later, I read a newspaper article about agoraphobia, fear of the marketplace, and recognized my symptoms. At last I had a name for it.

Over the next few years, I tried psychotherapy, tranquilizers, biofeedback...none of it helped much.

I became a freelance writer so I could work at home. I started a magazine, starred on a local radio talk show for a couple of years, held seminars, gave speeches...all while holding that dread at bay. I didn't want it to affect my marriage, but...

one day in 1989 my wife announced she wanted a divorce, and moved out. Suddenly I was faced with a jarring reality. I had to either break out of this trap, or become a hermit, with only my dog for company.

About this time, I came across a book: "Hope and Help for your Nerves" by Australian author Dr. Claire Weekes. (It's still in print today, 17 years after her death in 1990, and continues to help sufferers worldwide. Reviews in almost all give it five stars.)

I read that, particularly her comment that you learn to "float" through anxiety. To overcome my aloneness, I joined a singles group and "floated" my way through uneasiness, "sense of impending doom", and the like.

Now, as you can see by this blog, I'm restored from my agoraphobia after 16 years. Oh, I still get nervous, but I just let it wash over me. You can, too.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Two Lizards
When you have two lizards in your cage, and they both want the same cricket, that is a reptile dysfunction.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Strangling the baby bird

Sam Snead suggested that the way to visualize your grip when you're getting ready to swing is to imagine you're holding a baby bird. Poor baby.
When I start, I picture a little sparrow nestled under my right hand. By the time I'm done with my followthrough, my grip has squeezed it into an infant ostrich.
As a result, I'm going to the two (center and ring) finger grip with my right hand. That should ease my pressure on the sparrow. If not, I'm turning it into a dead duck.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Revisiting Voyager Village

I played Voyager Village near Siren, Wis., last year, and two friends and I renewed our acquaintance on Saturday. In a way, it was bittersweet: sweet in getting out with two buddies on a warm sunshiny day in October in the upper midwest. Bitter in the way my game fell apart after the first 9.
It certainly wasn't the course's fault. Fallen leaves were at a minimum, and the greens were in fine condition. Temperatures were in the 60s. My various aches and pains were at a subdued level most of the time.
No, it was probably my grip. Apparently I had gone to a stranglehold on the club, so my right hand overpowered my left. Once my pal had clued me in, I eased up to only two fingers from my right hand during the swing, and I lengthened and strengthened.
Just another thing to remember in the golf swing. For instance, a pro suggested that since I tend to sway, I should put my weight on the left foot and use my right toe for balance. (I'm replacing the polo player insignia on my golf shirts with a stork on one leg.) I have to line up the vee on my left hand, then remember to grip with only two fingers on the right, "like picking up a baby bird." Remember, long club, ball forward, short club, ball back. Limit my turn to having my left arm horizontal. Keep the right arm close to the side on the swing. Stay down on the follow through. And so on.
The golf swing takes a fraction of a second, but the mental checklist I go through takes half an hour. I'm going to write a list and tape it to my toe.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Cubicle Mallets

My job at the USPS entails sitting in a cubicle and writing necessary entries for a knowledge base. That's a central bank of information to help folks solve particular thorny problems.
During the day I sit alone in a long row of cubicles, but occasionally I stand up to stretch, or gaze out a window a half-building away. It could be worse: I might be in the catacombs, with no window or anything that even remotely resembles sunlight for eight hours a day.
When I stand up from my cube to stretch, it probably appears to an onlooker like that arcade game where the gopher pops its head up out of a hole in the ground...and you hit it with a mallet. Gazing out across the sea of cubes, I see other heads pop up now and then as coworkers commune with each other.
Then to read about all those souls who've hung up the cube life and hang their cowboy boots from the rearview mirror of an RV? It purely breaks my heart with envy.
My time will come, however. My body will be free of this "inside the box" lifestyle.
Then I'll get back on the road, as free as I was 30+ years ago, researching the first article I ever sold: "How to hitchhike."
I'm a little grayer, but the wanderlust is just as strong. Only this time, I'll take my golf clubs with me.
Oh, if you have the same urge, read "Blue Highways" by William Least Heat Moon, for the story of how a man travels the quiet backroads of America in search of himself, in an old Ford van.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Prowling for Golf
I've been prowling the 'net today, trying to see what makes a blog and/or website attractive. One of the changes I've made is to the list of blogs I have on the right side, from "Links" to "RV and Golf Links". I've added two of my favorite blogs to it, and changed it so that, if you click on one of them, you'll see the linked page in a new window. Whhops, strike that. The new Blogger layout doesn't allow me to add a blank page; at least, I haven't found out how to do so.
Tell me how you like the new layout, now that only one article appears per day.
It appears that video is becoming more popular, so I'll try to add some of that in the future as well. I'll start with short ones from an old Sony digital camera, then work my way up. I have ideas on this.
Now I need to figure out how to add people to an email list, so I can send them an update when I change the website. Won't that be exciting? Leave a comment for me, if you'd like to be on the list. I won't be selling anything, don't worry.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Fall Golf
I get disgusted with Blogger at times: this is another time I've written something, then when I preview it everything disappears. Ridiculous.
Inver Wood was great. Not much wind, nor many leaves.
For a state that was mostly sanded flat by 2-mile-high glaciers during the last ice age, Minnesota still has a few ups and downs. Inver Wood enjoys some of them, from its tee at #1 to that same hole's raised green, doglegged left from a valley.
Lightning must be ferocious in this locale, if the number of warnings against it is any indication. The rain hut on #5 was more the size of a cattle shed, with two rows of seats. At the far end was a soft drink machine and "Restrooms", which consisted of one portapotty.
It's a very pretty course, however, and not expensive at $31.50 for 9 and half a cart. With all the hills, and my bad knees, I'm glad we took one.
It's only a few minutes from the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, so if you're in town on business and have a little time, you can get there for a quick round.

Friday, October 12, 2007

50ish Weather for Golf in Minnesota

The layered look is in for golf in the great northwest at this time of year. In fact, anytime after Labor Day, you'd best be prepared for the cold.
My friends and I are going out today to Inver Wood, a course in Inver Grove Heights, Minn., and I hope I've got enough layers: about four layers, plus gloves. Only wore one pair of socks, though, white cotton ones, and that may not be enough.
It's the wind that gets to you. Every zephyr of air lowers your body temperature, that dreaded "windchill factor". It has no effect on anything but flesh and blood: an auto engine doesn't get colder when the wind blows, but your fingers and ears sure do. That's why I've got both a cap with earflaps and a hooded sweatshirt: I blame a cold wind blowing into my left ear one April outing for my Bell's Palsy.
Inver Wood is supposed to be a pretty tough course, so I'll let you know what happens when we're through.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Free campgrounds in Minnesota
Or, if they aren't free, they are low cost.

View Larger Map
This is just the first version I've put together, so I'll be adding to it as I continue.
Some are for RVs only; others offer tent camping.
Hidden Greens Golf Course
Just south of Hastings, Minn., on Hwy 61, is a challenging yet inexpensive course named for the way so many of its greens are tucked away in a heavily-wooded area.
I played the back nine yesterday, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The narrowness of the fairways through the surrounding woods is the major obstacle on this nine, as there wasn't much sand or water. Errant shots, however, are accompanied by the sounds of "swish" as they burrow through leaves, or a sharp "crack" when a ball slams into an elm or maple. (I saw at least two shots bounce back past the golfer when they hit a tree too squarely.)
At $18 for 9 plus a cart at twilight rates, it's very affordable. Part of the reason for the low cost is its distance from Minneapolis/St. Paul, and its close proximity to another course, Bellwood Oaks, which I'm told is longer and tougher.
At this time of year, leaves begin to be troublesome, but they are certainly beautiful as long as they know their place. The little chill in the air hints of things to come, but for now the wise Minnesota golfer enjoys the moment.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Google Mapping
Here's my first effort to see whether readers are interested in the venues Golf Today Magazine writers visit. Look at the large version of the map to see their coverage, from Calif. to Alberta, Canada. What do you think? This is from the August issue.

View Larger Map

Monday, August 27, 2007

Camping tips

Wear dark socks: flies seem to be attracted to white ones, and bite through them. I switched, and wasn't bothered again.
Carry a little bottle of hand washing liquid in your pocket: The personal bottle of Curelle was wonderful when exiting a pit toilet.
Use Castile liquid soap (we got ours from Trader Joe's): I b'lieve it's biodegradable, works well on hands (when you have water), and also on pots and silverware. Smear a little on the outside of pots, to keep soot from getting on them.
Get that little led magnifying glass I mentioned earlier: It was a Godsend during our tenting trip to Gallatin National Forest near Bozeman, MT, both to read maps by and to use as a flashlight when heading for the biffy in the middle of the night.
KOAs will allow you to take a shower, for a slight fee. My long, hot one in Bozeman cost $5, but the hosts, bless their hearts, also ran a steamer over our clothes when the dry cleaners weren't working on a Saturday.
A multi-tool is handy: I used a Leatherman tool I inherited from my brother to take a tiny light out of a Maglite, and to carve a new tentpole section out of a fallen pine branch.
Having a good hatchet helps: Mine has a nail-pounding back that drives tent stakes in easily, while the sharp edge made clipping that tentpole down to size a lot easier.
Put that bar of soap into an onion bag: You know the type of mesh bag that holds onions, or potatoes. I put soap into one and tie it shut. The plastic mesh doesn't soak up water or get dirty, and it's rough enough to use to scrub yourself down. Plus, when you hang it up to dry there's nothing to get smelly or sour.
If your digital camera memory gets full of great camping photos, you can make a photo CD at a Wal-Mart or Walgreens rather inexpensively ($2.50 at the Bozeman Wal-Mart), then delete all the photos in your memory to make room for more.
All in all, we had a great time, and I'm hooked on camping once again.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Fulfilling a 50-year-old dream

I've got a grainy black-and-white photo of myself, eight years old, standing in Cub Scout uniform, hosting an enormous smile. It was taken just before I ran away from home the first time.
I had gotten bitten by the scouting bug, and was an avid reader of the Boy Scout Manual, devouring the tips on camping, cooking, woodcraft...everything. I also read a lot about fishing, and dreamed of going. My parents, however, were too busy for such foofaraw. They worked, and worked hard, raising three children in rural Hanford, Calif., in the central valley.
One of the first tips I learned was how to make a pack out of a pillowcase. (This was the '50s; pink backpacks and Spiderman backpacks were a long time in the future. I might have gotten a WWII rucksack from an Army surplus store...if I'd known about such things, and had had the money.)
To make a pack out of a pillowcase: lay the case flat. Take a pebble and place it inside, in one corner. Tie one end of a long piece of string around it. Take a second pebble and place it inside, in a second corner. Tie another end of another long piece of string around that. This will keep the pillowcase from slipping free once it's loaded. Then tie the strings to the top two open ends, so you can wear it with the open part up. This was my pack.
Now you can fill it. Maybe some clothes. Some comic books for sure. A couple cans of food, a can opener, some matches, and a spoon. Some string and a hook to go fishing with, I suppose. Naturally once it was filled it would sag down to the lowest part of your back, but who knew?
And I took my little outfit down to my mom's office to ask her for some money so I could run away from home. When I talked to her the other night, she remembered. She told me, "You go home, go to your room, and stay there." As a good little wilderness scout, I obeyed, and spent the rest of the day reading my camping books from the shelter of my brother and I's room.
Now, 50-odd years later, I recalled the thrill of camping, and I still enjoy it. More soon.

Friday, August 03, 2007

First Vacation in 30 Years

At least, it’s my first paid vacation. When I wrote and edited freelance and worked for myself, it was a case of “If I have the money I don’t have the time, and if I have the time I don’t have the money.”
Now that I’m gainfully employed writing about technical subjects for the U.S.P.S., I’m faced with the dilemma of dealing with a paid vacation. Such a problem.
I toyed for a while with getting my old ’86 Chevy van ready for a 2,000 mile trip. I bought a new battery, and haunted the various van websites such as, or the Vandwellers group on A fellow from the chevyvan site on Yahoo also offered advice on sealing rust.
Then the Other Shoe dropped. (Actually, it hit the floor and did a wonderful imitation of the Irresistible Force plunking down on the Movable Object.) When I took the van in to an auto electric garage to find out about the fan blower, I was told I also needed a new starter…and by the way, they could patch up that wobbly steering column as well. Total for those two fixes, and a new blower motor? $501 and change.
When I bought my Honda CR-V in 2001, I offered to trade in the van. The Honda dealer’s paltry offer of $500 was to laugh at, so I did: “Ha,” I laughed. Now, why would I spend $501 and change today for a vehicle only worth $500 six years ago?
Soooooooo… no van camping on our trip to Montana. Instead, we’ll pitch a tent and drive the CR-V. We’ll head across from Minneapolis on Hwy. 212 without computer, blackberry, huckleberry…not even books. Get away from this communications arena for a few days (I’ll die; I know I’ll die).
We have a pup tent and some other oddments of camping gear, a Coleman stove, sleeping bags, and an open road. Custer National Park, free campgrounds and Bozeman, Montana at the end of the windy road. (Pronounced whine-dy, not win-dy.)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Since I had that attack of Bell's Palsy, I've had a problem with the eyesight on the bad side going in and out of focus. Nothing major, but I do find it more difficult to sight in on small type such as in medicine warnings, maps, etc., particularly when the light is bad. And when I start traveling around more, I do want to be able to read maps, even at night.
So when I bumped into a credit-card-sized 2x magnifying glass/cum 6x loupe inset that included an LED flashlight with an on-off switch at a local storage goods retailer, I decided to treat myself to the $9.95 gadget. It isn't anything fancy; in fact, it doesn't even have a name on it, just oriental country of origin.
The fact it's credit-card-sized doesn't mean much: this is eight or ten times the thickness of a card. Oh,there are such gadgets as The Owl I saw at Walgreen's that's much thinner, but that one doesn't have a replaceable battery, and this one does. The review I saw on said that one was "not worth buying" and I think this one is.
I noticed the same item at, but for double the price. At least, it looked similar, but used two batteries vs. the one in mine, and that promised a carrying case, where mine is nekkid.
It fits comfortably in a pocket, though, and if I find a little bag to carry it in it shouldn't get scratched. I like it.
I suppose you could also use it as a flashlight on your way back from the campground bathroom, or to read at night by. I am going to attach a strap to it, tho; it's awfully slippery. I was looking at it in the toilet and almost lost it to the ceramics. One wrong bounce...and splash. Lucky it bounced right.
Late addendum: I found a card holder and lanyard I'd been given at Giants Ridge golf course in Biwabik, MN. At 2-3/4"x4-1/2" for the heavy plastic card holder, the magnifier just slides inside, then the lanyard clips so it stays inside. It's transparent, so I can use the magnifier through it, and I can turn the light on with a little effort. It protects and gives me something to hang around my neck, hold onto or even wrap around maps or atlases. You may have something like this if you've ever gone to a trade show; or you may be able to buy one at an office supply dealer.
I had a bookmark magnifier that was handy before this one. It was a promotional item that fit inside a book to mark your place, and could be used to expand vision; it was small enough that it disappeared in my house. It'll turn up (getting ready for my trip to Montana a little later, it did); if something like that will work for you and you find one at a golf or RV show, keep your hands on it.
Either that, or tie it to your road atlas.

A map accessory was necessary for an upcoming trip. To use as an RV, I resurrected my old Chevy Beauville van, again: 215,000 miles, but I put a new battery in it, and it fired right up. It has a few problems, but I'm hoping there won't be a problem on my 2,000 mile trip.

There's a slow drain somewhere in the system, so the battery empties out if the vehicle sits. I bought a trickle charger last year, but it didn't seem to work.
This time, when I put the Diehard in, I made a couple of changes.
First, I inserted a post like the ones at left into the terminal I could get to. This just screwed into place, and I tightened it down with a wrench.

Next, I pulled the insulating cover off the terminal and put the bolt to a quick-connect battery connector, sort of like the one shown here.
Finally, I tightened the screw on the connector similar to the red one on the right here, so it would get good compression, slid the connector over the new post, and pushed the lever down. Bingo.
Now, when I don't expect to drive the truck for awhile, I can just flip the lever up and remove the connector from the battery terminal. No drain.
I also have some leaking around the roof, but there's a fix for that as well, I'm told. More on that later.
A lot of information is available on van options at vandwellers group on Yahoo, by the way. It may be worthwhile becoming a member, particularly if you're thinking of converting a van to travel in. Another site is on More on this next time, as well.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Looking back from the middle of 18 at the Mississippi.

Hwy 61 Revisited
Bob Dylan may have made Highway 61 famous back in the 1960s, but it remains a popular highway even without his help. Northward, U.S. Highway 61 continues as Minnesota Highway 61 from Wyoming, Minn., through Duluth, along Lake Superior towards the United States-Canada border. Further south, it goes through St. Louis, then from Memphis, Tenn., through Natchez, Miss. for some 400 miles it follows the ancient Natchez Trace, renowned in early U.S. history as the scene of bravery and dastardly deeds. Even farther south, Highway 61 ends in New Orleans at an intersection with Basin St. (Tulane at Basin St.).
It follows the Mississippi very closely, so much so it is known as the Great River Road.
Google map link: River Oaks
In Cottage Grove, Minnesota, the Great River Road thrums its busy way a few feet away from a lovely municipal golf course, River Oaks, overseen by golf pro Bruce Anderson. Its views are of the Mighty Mississip; in fact, from the clubhouse you can see what I mistook for one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. It turned out it’s a wide spot in the river caused by a dam above Hastings, Minn., about a mile downstream.
Don Herfort, a well-known Minnesota golf course architect with more than 165 courses to his credit designed this 6483 yard layout, and it shows a mastery of terrain.
I was only able to play the back nine on that sunny July day after the Fourth, but it was impressive. There were woods, narrow fairways on some, generous on others; a lot of doglegs: 7 out of the back nine had bends, from slight to crooked. Sand was generous, with bunkers guarding many of the doglegs.
This compensated for the lack of water on the back nine, with only one pond, guarding the green on 12. Its distance, 169 yards, is about what I range with a 5-wood, I decided. I hit the ball well, but about a foot short. When I saw the splash, I remembered that 169 was my total distance, including bounce and run; and I certainly didn’t get any bounce on my run to the bottom of the pond.
Number 10 begins with a view of the river, and number 18 ends with one, as you look back over your shoulder on the home stretch.
Course condition was excellent. The fairways were so lush, when they water, the Mississippi must go down an inch. The taller grass off the fairways and greens was two inches tall, and so thick it damped roll very quickly. Taking a little longer club at 12 could have been offset by this dampening effect, if I’d only known. The greens, too, seemed to be a little slow; so getting the distance right with my pendulum-like swing was consistent.
I had asked my friend and host, Brian Quinnell, to bring along an ibuprofen when he met me at River Oaks after work, since he lives right off the course and had gone home to get his golf cart to drive over. Happily, my shoulder didn’t give me any great problems during the round. That may have been due to my dialing down the power rating on my swing; I decided if I swung with more restraint, I might not suffer such severe twinges, and I was correct. Even warming up on the driving range, shortening my swing and easing up didn’t seem to affect my length (not that I’m a long hitter at any time). I also have to credit shoulder exercises from the physical therapist with contributing a modicum of relief.
From left: Brian, Mark and I.
Brian is a computer guru, and our other playing partner, Mark Hogeboom, is a writer. The two of them traded stroke for stroke throughout the round, but Mark with his brand-new set of clubs won their challenge when Brian pushed his 5-footer on 18 an inch left. I was three strokes behind them, just happy about the lack of pain.
Brian and his wife bought their land thirteen years ago, after the landowners contributed the property for the course to the city of Cottage Grove in exchange for residential zoning. When the couple built ten years ago, he acted as the general contractor in a development of structures that sell in the neighborhood of half a million dollars. What set the tone of the development for me, though, was the sweat-stained man in levis and a torn-sleeved sweatshirt hard at work. He was tinkering under the hood of a four-car-long stretch limo, all parked on the street in front of a fabulous house and a gorgeous display of horticulture.
A very well-kept course on a sunny day but with a nice breeze, after spending hours in an office? Who could ask for anything more. I’m looking forward to trying the first nine at River Oaks, since Brian says it’s even prettier than the back.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Space Cadet

When you RV, space is at a premium. You trade in your desktop PC for a laptop; that deep old TV for an LCD or flatscreen of some sort that can hang on the wall; you ditch the fine china in favor of something like Corelle (unbreakable and reheatable Corningwear dishes). If you’re a coffee fanatic, you might try one of the pod coffee makers that take up little space. These clamp down on a coffee pouch, then boil water from a reservoir and force it through into your waiting cup. You brew one cuppa, so there’s no waste. I had a Salton Juan Valdez, but it wouldn’t seal tight, and it had problems with losing water down the front.

Instead of using all those fancy pots and pans, try a wok. I have one from Calphalon I’ve used so long, it’s bald: the black coating is worn off. The narrow bottom takes a lot less heat than a regular pot or skillet. And check into those flexible plastic cutting sheets you can find in an oriental market: They take up little or no space, and you can fold them to funnel the last of the veggies or meats you just cut into the bowl or wok. For cutting, I like a chef’s knife even if it does take up space; if I were forced to, though, I might just use a pastry scraper. I picked one up at a garage sale for 10 cents, and it works both for cutting or scraping food up to put into something else.

Because space in an RV is so precious, you might consider getting rid of your pouchy golf bag in favor of a lightweight "stand" bag, with legs that click down when you drop it; or you might trade your walking cart in for a minicart such as a Clicgear (folds to just 24" X 15" X 13") or Sun Mountain.

Make sure the one you choose has a beverage holder, though; trying to pull it toward the tenth while you juggle a drink and your hot dog at the same time is a challenge.

If you really want to save weight, you could try out the Universal Adjustable Golf Club. This has one shaft, and the head clicks around to different positions: Iron, Wedge, or Putter, replicating everything from your 1-9 irons through your wedges to your putter, on demand. (Although they have just introduced a universal driver.) While it does give you that consistent shaft length, don’t expect the same length of drives. No universal utility club yet, either.

Then there’s the golf shoe. I still have a pair of cordovan two-tone leather shoes with metal spikes I bought in a weak moment a few years ago, and they’re a pain to haul around. When I play, I tend to just wear my regular old Rockport walking shoes I wear to work every day. Now there’s a product for those wet when I don’t want my flat soles to turn into skis on wet hills: Rede’s disposable, adjustable Soft Spikes. Just stick them where you want them on your regular shoes, then peel them off and discard when you’re done. Perty nifty.

I’m getting set to go with my coworkers to River Oaks Golf Course. in Cottage Grove, Minn., the day after the 4th of July. I’ll have to see how my right shoulder will hold up after pounding nails and sawing all weekend. I’ve been trying to be good about the exercises my physical therapist at the VA assigned me. I dutifully hold my arms to my side with a towel in the armpit, bend my elbows so my wrists are parallel to the ground, and move my fists together and out as far as I can, together and out. (Sort of a modified Chicken Dance.) Then I stand, hold my arms out as if I’m pouring beer on the floor (fat chance) and lift my arms up (thumbs remaining down) at a 45 degree angle to my body.

I lay face down on the bed for another exercise, with my body to the elbow supported, drape my forearm over the side of the bed, and raise and lower it at the elbow. Another one I’ve been doing is to raise my arms until my upper arms are straight out from the shoulder and my fists straight up, then bring my forearms together in front of my face, then open them as wide as I can. I only do these to the point they cause pain; pain is not a good thing in this case. I started with 12 reps on these exercises and more, and now am up to 20 repetitions; next I’ll start using a weight in my hands. Even a can of soup helps build up muscle.

Oh, were you aware that if you don’t eat enough protein, but still exercise, you will lose muscle instead of fat?

Now, muscle is space I don’t mind taking up in an RV.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Number 18

The Quarry has Great Golf in its Sights
The word Quarry has two meanings.
One is more politically correct in these PETA days: a place where rock is mined. The second is the idea of prey, something hunted.
Both definitions were called to mind during a Media Day round on a gorgeous June Sunday at The Quarry.
The first meaning comes from the original use of the site, a sand and gravel pit that was mined by U.S. Steel for more than 100 years.
The second is the feeling this course is about to bite you—again—or it might refer to the lost balls you'll search the piney surroundings for.
Either way, The Quarry puts the golfer between—wait for it—rocks and hard places.
Course Background
The course is located near Biwabik, a village of 1000-plus souls in northern Minnesota's Iron Range northwest of Duluth, some 3-1/2 hours from the Twin Cities.
Despite its difficulty, and the aggravation it causes, its beauty and quality will bring you back again and again. I know the fellows I invited to join me on the round enjoyed themselves immensely.
Ron McIlroy, my coworker and playing partner from the Twin Cities, was at The Quarry for the first time. He said afterwards it was the toughest course he had ever played, but that he’d rather play there than at similarly-priced courses closer to home.
My old golfing buddy and our host at nearby Hoyt Lakes, Jim Whittington takes every opportunity to play this intriguing course. So does his friend Carl Overman.
Situated in an area of the country that deserves more recognition, there is no madding crowd. Instead; small mining towns remain that are starting to catch their breath, now that some mines have begun to reopen to supply Chinese furnaces.
(Mining is thirsty work. On our way up, some towns seemed to have a bar every other Main Street building. As we drove past The Big Guy’s Club in Aurora, I suggested to Ron they needed to paint a line on the door warning “If you’re shorter than this, you can’t enter”. Texan Ron, at 140 pounds, drawled “I’d have to have lead boots just to get in.”)
Jim told us 60 percent of today’s population on the Range is retired. After all, homes are inexpensive, the cost of living is low, and there’s wonderful hunting and fishing right out your backdoor. Many, such as he and Carl, are returning to their home stomping grounds after careers elsewhere.
Because mining has suffered so many ups and downs over the years, there is a constant drive to bolster the Range economy through technology and tourism. Giant's Ridge Resort on the edge of the Superior National Forest is one tourism tool in the economic development kit.
Begun in 1959 as a private ski hill, by the 1980s the facility had gone bankrupt. Minnesota's Iron Range Resource and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) bought it, developed Giant’s Ridge, and today it employs some 300 people. In the winter time, Giant's Ridge is a premier ski area.
During spring and summer, though, Giant’s Ridge incorporates two exceptional golf courses, The Legend and The Quarry, both Jeffrey Brauer designs, both overseen by Troon Management.
This duo of gems in such close proximity attracts golfers from around the world. “America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses” by Golf Digest, in the publication’s May 2005 issue, ranked The Quarry number 16; The Legend was poised at number 88. These are not your typical small-town munis.
(Another fine course I will write about soon, The Wilderness at Fortune Bay, is about 30 miles away from Giant’s Ridge in Tower, Minn.)
A Quick Description
The Quarry's 18 holes were molded from the tattered fragments of natural forest, blended with what remained from the struggle to feed hungry Youngstown and Pittsburgh blast furnaces.
Many of the tee boxes are raised and will require a carry across water or brush, wetland or even large boulders. Carcasses of old mining equipment jut out of the ground in places, their rusty surfaces dripping oxides back into the land from which they had been wrenched. Automobile to boxcar-sized chunks of rock stud the landing areas at other spots.
The fairways, mainly narrow and tree-lined, offer similar contrasts, with seldom a vanilla lie. You always seem to be hitting from a slight undulation, and the topsoil isn’t very deep. There is, after all, a layer of crushed rock under much of this new sod. Hit down too hard and you could suffer a short, sharp shock.
Some greens are huge, others could pass for one of Carl’s postage stamps. Putting is a constant challenge, as two- and three-tiered greens are the rule rather than the exception. I watched one putt on #11 climb 10 feet to the top of a rise, then change its mind, make a sharp left turn and roll another 10, to end up a couple of feet past the hole. (A pretty good putt, if I do say so.)
Few and far between are Texas wedge opportunities, as most greens are protected in some way that precluded putting from the fairway.
It is a fair course, however. I detest those tracks that have an array of pot bunkers lurking in the middle of the fairway, or gathering bunkers placed to scoop a well-hit drive into a pond. (The only thing lacking at such sneaky venues is a windmill and a clown with an open mouth.) No, The Quarry puts its dangers on its shoulder, and dares you to knock them off.
The Play’s the Thing
We went off the blue tees, at a rating of 71.9, and around 130 slope, playing at a total distance of 6,696 yards. (Behind those were the golds, at 7,000+ yards.) Naturally, being a sand quarry, there were a lot of traps. Perhaps because there were so many problem areas, however, they didn’t seem to bother you much. (Not to mention that the best-ball scramble allows us to avoid almost all of them.)
#4 is the first par three – and it's a long one at 269, playing downhill from a former taconite spoil pile. The green is ample, featuring a wide frontal entrance to allow some to hit a driver. Any shot that reaches the green is a candidate for a birdie putt. Each hole is named for an area mine. This hole commemorates the giant Mahoning mines that produced more than 130 million tons of iron.
On the 369 yard par 4 6th hole, a gathering bunker into a tee-side swale nearly divides the green into two. If you go straight at the right side of the green and fall short, you’re in that swale, and it’s filled with deep rough. Fly in from the left, and you’ll be on the long green in two. Should that depression lie between you and the flag, however, par is almost impossible.
The 468 yard #18 carries the Embarrass mine label. It is perched next to what today is a 550-foot deep mine-pit lake, the deepest on the Mesabi Iron Range. (Embarrass, Minn. also claims title to being the coldest place in the nation during winter.) The lake can be seen from the tee, the fairway, and the green. After a good tee shot to the corner you dogleg left. There’s a fairway entrance to the left that lets golfers reach the green, which slants toward the lake. Luckily, bunkers keep you from rolling into it.
Carl, Ron and Jim on #3
Even though he hit very well, Ron’s round emptied three sleeves of balls. Jim’s back spasmed on him at one point, so he eased up and drove his easy swings 250 yards or more. (At 6'3" and 290 pounds, Jim would have passed muster at Big Guy’s.)
Carl, a retired postal employee celebrating his 73rd birthday, didn’t let the course’s difficulty stymie him even though he normally hit from the senior tees. In fact he played best of all of us, with a Furyk-looking waggle at the top of his backswing that resulted in long, straight drives and iron shots. (Asked about the waggle, he said “People tell me I have one, but I don’t want to think about it: it might throw me off.”)
Architect Brauer was quoted as saying The Quarry combined “virgin land, iron ore open pit mine and sand quarry, that gives the course its name, and its distinct character. You might say it's the `most unnatural’ course I have ever designed, because most of the land has been scarred into land of great charm and character by these previous industrial operations.”
In his design, Brauer leaves you an easy way to make par, and a hard way (sometimes more than one hard way) to break par.
Should you have some free time in your spare time, try the fishing. The walleye is a very popular game fish in Minnesota, and northern pike, crappie and other species abound nearby, not to mention lake trout in nearby Lake Superior.
Keep an eye open for Paul Bunyan (not the Giant of Giant’s Ridge, by the way) and his Blue Ox. (I was told that the Giant is called Mesabi, who when he lay down to rest, ended up with trees, moss and grass covering his body.)
For more information, the website is

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Lake Hiawatha muni, then the TPC
A week of rainstorms and assorted weather events behind us, my playing partners and I sported weather-resistant apparel when we showed up at Hiawatha Golf Course Sat. June 2, 2007. We were prepared to chase some hail-sized golf balls, and as a result, the sun beat down throughout our round.
Hiawatha is a gem in the magnificent Minneapolis Park system. The parks were created by immigrants from the New England area, familiar with such elements as Boston Common. They believed a park system was necessary for mental health, and were willing to pay for it.
Theodore Wirth, Minneapolis Superintendent of Parks from 1906 to 1936, set the goal of having no child in the city farther than a quarter-mile from a park, no family farther than a half-mile from a full recreation center. That goal has been reached, with 6,400 acres of park– 1,400 of which are water – and 58 miles of parkways.
Minnehaha Creek winds from Lake Minnetonka through Minneapolis and its suburbs, some 22 miles. It's canoeable. I once accomplished the task of being up the Creek without a paddle: if I hadn't lunged knee deep into the water and made one last desperate grab for it, the implement might have floated downstream, dropped over Minnehaha Falls 53 feet, then made its way a mile on to the Mississippi River and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.
A few hundred feet of the creek doubles as a water hazard within Hiawatha GC, and golfers teeing off on the par 3 12th sometimes have to hold up so canoeists floating a few feet below toward Lake Hiawatha aren't put at hazard. (Lucky we delayed, too, as my shot across their stern sent ripples racing along the side of their canoe.)
Originally, this area was a swamp; in the 1920s the swamp was drained by the Army Corps of Engineers to create Lake Hiawatha, and the course was installed in 1934. For many years it hosted the Upper Midwest Bronze Tournament, a prestigious event for the Negro golfer.
Just recently the Park Board renovated the course, removing the last of the boggy spots, and they've done an admirable job. It still has some old elms fringing the course; one of my foursome had grown up playing the course, and was returning for the first time in 20 years.
Brian Wilson setting up on #14 at the TPC.
With that for a warmup, on Monday, June 4, I took a turn at the Tournament Player's Course (TPC) in Blaine, MN. This northern suburb hosts the National Sports Center, billed as the largest amateur sports facility in the world, with venues for soccer, hockey, golf, track & field, cycling, lacrosse, skating, broomball, football, ultimate disc, rugby...phew.
At the TPC, though, it's golf all the way, in elegantly-appointed surroundings. I played in the Minnesota Golf Association (MGA) Media Appreciation opener, on a course with greens as slick as glass, on a day that made the redwing blackbirds trill from their cattail perches and the Canada geese proudly enrich the grass as they shepherded their broods.
At over 7,000 yards, this Arnold Palmer/Tom Lehman design on a former sod farm hosts the 3M tournament, one of the most successful on the Champions Tour.
It is a lovely course, with water and native grass roughs both taking their toll. I told my playing partners, "I don't write my name on my ball, because I don't keep them long enough to get acquainted." It was certainly true on this course; I went through a brand-new sleeve and was reduced to rummaging through my bag just to--pardon the expression--stay afloat. When the day ended, I was down to my last two aged orbs...and that was after having rescued several from a watery grave.
Stu Groskreutz, Dean Lavato (the southpaw) and Brian getting ready to putt.

I told one of my foursome (a southpaw), after watching him set up and swing, "Watching your swing is like trying to read Chinese writing...everything's backwards." Unfortunately, when I would swing, my aching shoulder was more like the Chinese death of a Thousand Cuts: it had a tendency to twinge at precisely the wrong time, which would allow my shot to go even more awry than normal. I did make some good putts, though, and won a door prize drawing: an hour's evaluation at GolfTec.
Perhaps my comment to the starter, when asked for my handicap, that "Golf is my handicap" made them earmark the golf lesson for me...just to speed up everyone else's play.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Trifecta

This Memorial Day weekend shone bright and clear, for the most part. But Saturday morning, first day of it, I woke up with a third ache in this old body.

Now, for years I've been an ardent volleyball player, going up against men and women half (now a third) my age.

For years, I've had problems with my right shoulder.

Last October, though, while running across the gym floor, I heard a loud pop and a tearing pain in my left knee area and I collapsed in a tumble of arms and legs.

X-rays and a doctor's visit later, I had been diagnosed with a bursa sac bursting. Now, six months later, I'm still limping (perhaps from still playing volleyball), so I may go in for a look at the soft tissue.

Then, Saturday morning, I added a third ache to this tired machine: my back was stiff and sore. It was from carrying my golf bag in and twisting to get it through the door. Hey, what can I say? I originally hurt it helping lift a stove into a pickup a few years ago, and it goes out occasionally for a few days.

I need to swing a golf club a few times, just to see how that affects all three segments.

  • I'm doing exercises for the shoulder.

  • I can wear a brace on my knee.

  • Time will take care of my back.

The doctor told me that after 50 years, the warranty runs out. I guess my equipment was made better.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Coming Attractions
Blogger can cause problems. I just lost everything I had worked on for an hour because it automatically saved when I tried to do something fancy with HTML and accidentally removed a section of text. I don't see an Undo, so there was no way to renovate the deathless prose I had lost. And now it doesn't appear online. Who knows why?

At any rate, since last November I have:

  • Folded my 6'4" lankiness into a train coach seat for three days and nights to Calif.;

  • Been waitperson ("Hello, my name is Dale and I'll be your server. We have a special on alfalfa flakes and various mixed grains.") to a herd of assorted horned and cloven-hooved critters, plus some angry geese (talk about honkys), a turkey that put some moves on my lady friend, and other fine feathered fiends;

  • Driven 100 miles to give a sample so my new employer could feel satisfied I wasn't a drug-crazed luny; (luny is OK, it's the drug-crazed part they had a problem with)

  • Visited beautiful Silicon Valley and passed through the James Lick Observatory on our way out of town;

  • Slept in the Garlic Capital of the world (Gilroy, Calif.);

  • Driven down Highway 1, 200 feet above sea level, as the sea came crashing onto the rocks below us;

  • Driven through Death Valley in 40 degree temperatures, and walked 134 feet below sea level;

  • Strolled across London Bridge in the foggy evening;

  • Toured the Casa Grande prehistoric Indian ruin near Florence, AZ;

  • Bought a hot chili ristra in Tuscon;
  • Skirted the flying saucers near Roswell, NM;

  • Fled from Arizona to Minnesota in two days, ducking through a gap in the December march of blizzards that put the Midwest in traction.

During the entire trip it was warmer in Minnesota than in either Calif. or Ariz.

And all of that happened in December!
In this new year of '07, I'm working as a tech writer for the USPS (after receiving the interview request about five minutes after I'd decided I might retire).
I've been out practicing my golf twice already, using a pitching wedge to see whether I could replicate my swing on a regular basis.
I practiced putting, pointing my left elbow at the flag and letting my body do the work. (I seem to guage the distance pretty well that way.)
Chipping, I tried keeping my hands absolutely still, while I swiveled only my wrists. It's as if I had my hands touching my leg, and not moving from that spot while my wrists did the work. As a result, the club chopped up and down and picked the ball out cleanly. The technique seems to work well up to about 50 feet, so I'll have to keep trying to perfect it.
Now I'm getting excited because I've been invited to play the TPC (Tournament Player's Course) in Blaine, north of the Twin Cities, June 4, and the Quarry in Biwabik June 10. I'll keep you posted.