We had a fire today here in little ole Champaign, Illinois. A 3-alarm fire. It is spring break right now, so that helped, but it was still right next to campus.

– More pictures follow –

It’s cold here in Central Illinois.

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The radio was saying thirteen degrees below zero this morning when I got up. I often use the external thermometer on my Camry as an indication of just how cold it is. When I got in the car to head to work, it was showing 37 degrees in the garage. I can tell, by how fast the temperature drops, just how cold it is outside.

I hopped in the Camry and headed to work. The temperature gauge started dropping.. four degrees at a time. (Normally it drops by two). By the time I got to Kirby Avenue it was showing 12 degrees. By the time I got to State Street it was at 5 degrees. Neil Avenue brought one degree. It stayed at one degree for a couple of minutes. I temporarily wondered if the Camry had trouble going below positive numbers. But, as I was heading up Neil it dropped to zero. By the time I got to Green Street it was at four below, and on Springfield it settled into nine degrees below zero and stayed there until I got to work.

My officemate said that he rode his bike in. He’s tougher than me. He said that he had to stop once and put his hands under his arms to warm them up. The parking garage is emptier than normal. People don’t seem to be real excited about coming in today.

Someone just said:

“They’re running short on adjectives in the weather pages, they start doing things like saying “very very bitterly bitterly cold” LOL”
and a response:
“insanely cold would work”

It’s supposed to be around twelve below again tonight. After that it is supposed to warm up. Let’s hope that happens.

I know that others have it a lot worse. I’m not complaining. Just wanting everyone to know what it’s like here in Illinois.

For quite a while now, we’ve scheduled an “off” day in the middle of our skiing trips. We get “4 of 6” day passes. For these, you get four days of skiing in a six day period. We ski for two days, take a day off, and ski for two more. This gives our bodies time to heal and it breaks up the sheer boredom of having to ski all those days in a row (ha!). In the past, we have done a variety of things on our day off: nothing, snow mobiling, tubing… This year we decided on snow mobiling. There are a few main snow mobiling “outfits” around Breckenridge. The top two are probably Tiger Run Tours and Good Times Adventures. Several years ago when we were in Breck I went on a snowmobile tour, but couldn’t remember who it was. It was a nice tour. We went really high on the mountain and had a great view. More recently we went on a Tiger Run tour and we just weren’t impressed. We spent our time playing around in the forest and an open field. The tour guide stopped us from time to time and explained what a cabin meant and stuff like that. It was basically not very exciting, though. This year I did a lot of research before getting to Breck and discovered that the place I had gone many years ago was Good Times Adventures. They specifically mentioned going to a pass on the continental divide where you could see Mount Guyot. I found their website and sent them an email. The prices were $100 for a driver, and $50 for a passenger. I wanted to see if I could get a discount anyhow. Liz Elder mailed me back and said that she could give a 10% discount. On day 2 of skiing I called and set up an appointment with them. Brian was a little “if”fy at that point, because of his toe. Good Times said that they charged a 50% cancellation fee, but I figured we could probably discuss that stuff with them if we ended up needing to do so.

Tuesday morning came and it was all grey and overcast. Very little visibility. We had a 10am tour and to meet that, we had to be at the River Mountain Lodge at 9am. That lodge is on the south east corner of Park and Ski Hill, so it was quite close to our condo. We were there about 8:50 or so. The van finally showed up around 9:05. The lodge seems quite nice. They have a front desk, bellboys, and all that good stuff. It might be an interesting option in the future. The location is stellar. Right at the end of Four O’Clock and quite close to town. Anyway, the guy from Good Times showed up in his van, and we were the only passengers. He said that it would be 20-25 minutes to get to the snow mobile place. We had a good conversation with him. He normally did heli-ski guiding for a place in Alaska (h2o guides), but he had decided to stay in Breck this season because of money issues. They weren’t going to raise his base salary and he was concerned that the number of tourists would be low, which would affect the primary source of his income (tips). He said that a guide might only make $350 a week up there, which really isn’t enough to cover expenses. He said he had also guided for places in South America, but he was from the Breckenridge area. Guiding in Alaska normally starts in February. It’s too dark before that. Good Times has a permit to use the national forest land for snow mobiling. Once you get the permit you don’t have to continue to pay for it, but you can get re-evaluated each year. He said that a lot of times, people will get the permits and then sit on them. The national forest service only offers a certain number of them, and when they are gone, they are gone. So their value increases quickly. We went by the Breck golf course, and the guy said that that part of Breck had greatly increased in value after they put the Jack Nicolaus designed course in. They were in the process of building more houses. He pointed out an old half-decayed dredge. It had been decommissioned in 1942. The dredges (there were around 9 of them) basically went up and down the valley. They would dig down 20-40 feet to pure bedrock and find gold in the soil. They would then spit the remains out the back. So they basically covered ground like an earthworm. Eat from the front and expel out the back. There are still many tailing piles around Breck, and The Dredge restaurant in town has been designed to look like one of the dredges that lasted until 1942.

We got to the snowmobiling place, and the guy pointed out the new home of Good Times Adventures, and told us that they were planning to move into it “next week”. So we got to do everything in a large canvas tent. We made it inside, signed the safety waiver and paid for the trip. I had the email printout showing the 10% discount and we paid $90 * 2 and $45 * 1. Then we got fitted for boots, helmets and snowsuits. If you take your own stuff you don’t need to wear the equipment they provide. But, it’s easier to just use theirs. That way you can dress normal, and what they have is pretty warm. You need to take your own googles and gloves. I also had a beanie that I took with me and the camera. There were probably 20 tourists there, give or take a few. Once we were all dressed, we sat around for a while waiting for something to happen and they finally told us to go outside to get our picture taken. We went outside and they sat Mariya on a snowmobile and Brian and myself stood behind it. The photographer snapped a couple of pictures and said we could get them afterwards (they ended up being $20 and we didn’t get a picture). Shortly after that, we were led to our snowmobiles. Nathan, the guide, started all of them to get them warmed up, and then we picked our sleds and went through an orientation. He pointed out a dogsled team that was being trained by a guide. One of the dogs had a good sized bloody spot on his neck where he had gotten into a fight with another dog. Nathan said that sometimes the dogs wouldn’t get along in the pens, but when they were put into the harness they were very happy. There were 7 or 8 snowmobiles. Mariya and myself were the only couple where both people were planning to drive. For the orientation we were shown how to operate the snow mobiles (Polaris models). There was a square, orange kill switch on the right handlebar. The snowmobile wouldn’t operate if that was down. After lifting it up, you just turn the key and it fires up. Then, it has a centrifugal clutch, so you just give it gas and it goes. I started out driving. The guide headed out and everyone followed. We were in last place, and Brian was right before us. We had a lot of fumes from the other snow mobiles, but we had the luxury of slowing down a bit if we wanted so that we could speed ahead later. We drove through the woods for a while and came to a clearing where we were able to practice driving. We went counterclockwise around a track that was probably 1/6 of a mile or so. Brian said afterwards that we drove about 3-4 miles on it. I drove a few laps and then I let Mariya drive. She drove for a quite a while and then I drove some more. At the end, I was driving. Nathan said that we were going to head back to the base to let one girl drop off her snowmobile (she was going to ride with her significant other). So, we went for a long way through the woods and made it back to the base. Mariya then got into the driver’s position and we headed for the main part of the tour, which was a trip up to 11,500 feet at Georgia pass. This trip took quite a while. It was another 5-7 miles and we slowly gained in altitude. It was snowing at this point, and my hands and face got quite cold. The driver has heated hand grips which keep a person’s hands quite toasty, after it gets going (it takes a few minutes to start heating). Near the very end, the path got somewhat steep and then we came out on a large open area with a sign that said it was Georgia pass and gave the elevation and mentioned that it was on the continental divide. We drove around the large open area but you really couldn’t see a doggone thing because of the snow. The view was very disappointing that day. Nathan then stopped and we were given 15 minutes or so to “look around”. Since we couldn’t see anything, we basically just stood around and talked. Normally the view is fantastic. Mount Guyot is very close, and you can see South Park and Fairplay to the south. Really amazing thing thing to see. Two other groups of snow mobilers showed up at the top, and Nathan said that there was one more that was in route, and once they showed up, we would head back down. The last group didn’t show up after 5 minutes and we headed down anyway. Nathan had been trying to build up our confidence all along. Before we ever left the base he had said that “if we were adventurous” that we might get up to the top of the pass. When we got up there, he said that he could tell, from looking at us, that we liked adventure and wanted to know if we wanted to take the steeper way down. Everyone said “yes”, of course. We had taken this pathway when I had been here before and it was pretty steep. The snowmobile in front of me had decided to stop, and I couldn’t. It was just too steep. I had to slide off to the side of the path a little bit so that I didn’t run into the guy. I didn’t want that to happen this time, so I made sure to tell Brian to not stop on the side of the hill. Mariya had driven up, and I drove back down. The steep part was right off the top of the pass, and when we went over the edge, Mariya exclaimed “Wow!”. It was pretty steep, but it wasn’t terribly long, and Brian did an excellent job of not stopping. We quickly made it to the bottom and then we had a few miles of driving through the trees to get back close to the base. We were on normal national forest snowmobile trails, so we actually met a few loan riders that were traveling in the opposite direction. Near the end we hit a pretty long straight stretch and I got the snowmobile up to 45 mph, which felt pretty fast. We then went by a parking area where others were unloading their own snowmobiles. And, we did a loop where we had the straight stretch again. I think that Nathan just wanted us to have the straight stretch twice where we could get up some speed. Then we quickly found ourselves back at the base area and parking. One of the loops around, we saw a dogsled team with tourists. One person was mushing, and the rest of the people on the tour were being pulled in a sleigh by a snowmobile (in front of the dogs). So, if you get the dogsled tour, you get to mush for a little while, and the rest of the time you spend in a sleigh watching others mush. I don’t care for the bang-for-buck ratio, but I’ve never done it. It might be the greatest thing ever.

Once we got back to the base, Nathan spent a minute or two telling us how he needed tips. He said that he was paid very little and relied upon tips. He said that 15-20% was customary and that he would be inside where we changed clothes. Hmm.. 8 snowmobiles.. Probably $1,000 in tour fees.. If he managed to get 20%.. that wouldn’t be bad for 2 hours work. But, I know that there are a lot of other variables. Anyway, we tipped him $20 and Brian gave him $20. He really didn’t give a very hard sell (not nearly as annoying as the tour guides in the Wisconsin Dells) We took a couple of other pictures and headed inside. We changed out of our provided outerwear and Mariya excused herself for a bit and I headed over to make some hot chocolate for us. It was just hot water with swiss miss chocolate packets, but it tasted really good! They had a table of stuff to buy (socks, hats, etc) and Mariya thought about getting some ski socks (for $7) but they didn’t have her size, so we didn’t bother. After a while, a guy introduced himself as the driver and we ended up loading into the van with several other people and headed back to Breckenridge (around 12:20). On the way back into town, we discussed what we wanted to do for the rest of the day. We tried to describe the tubing that they have at Keystone to Mariya, but I don’t think we were very successful. We drove down Main Street to Ski Hill road and the driver let us off near the Ski Hill/Park avenue intersection and we walked back home to the condo.

It was time for lunch and I decided to have some Oatmeal. I wanted to try to use as much milk as possible. I looked up tubing on the keystone website and discovered all of the prices, and then discovered that they were closed on Tuesdays. After the holiday rush, they start a Wed-Sun schedule. So, that wasn’t an option. We kinda took it easy for a while. Mariya fixed some hot chocolate. Brian decided to do some laundry and Mariya and myself wanted to go into town and look around a little during the daylight and maybe take some pictures.

We headed out. Mariya wanted me to take the SLR, so I went back and grabbed it. I had made it halfway to Main Street when the battery died on it. Quite disappointing. But, we didn’t want to take the time to go back to the condo to get a new battery. So, we used our smaller cameras after that. When we got to Main Street, we decided to head north instead of south, which we usually do of an evening, because that’s where most of the restaurants are at. We took pictures here and there, and Mariya spied a sign for a thrift store. She wanted to go to it, so we walked to the back of a building, down some stairs, and around the corner, and we found ourselves in a small room (probably 20’x20′) with quite a bit of clothing and some other random things. Half an hour later or so, we emerged with a pair of Obermeyer ski pants for Mariya (listed at $14, bargained down to $10) a couple of pair of ski socks for a buck, and a goggle bag, which was thrown in for free.

From there we walked farther north to French street and decided to head back. We were about out of light and I was starting to get a bit cold. We did get a couple of nice views of the gondola and smelled some nice warm doughnuts at one of the shops. We had gone into a pottery painting place also. I was hoping for lots of little Breckenridge souvenirs that we could paint (kinda like we had seen in Acapulco) but it wasn’t like that at all. It was normal pottery that you could just paint. We weren’t really impressed.

We got back to the condo and prepared for supper. We decided to go to Mi Casa for some mexican food. We walked along Park Avenue and along the pond where the Dredge restaurant is at. It is quite pretty there. We made it into Mi Casa and discovered that there was a wait. The guy right in front of me was told 1.5 hours, but I went ahead and asked anyway. He apparently had a large group, because they told me 15-20 minutes. I got a pager and then we went to the nearby ski store to look around. Mariya tried on a couple of jackets and we went to the ski shop and I noticed that they had buffer wax for $5 (I had paid $8) and they had hand waxing for $15. They had other specials that also seemed like a better deal than what we had gotten at Lone Star. Next time I go, I will definitely consider going there instead of Lone Star. I think it was Blue River Sports. While I was talking to the guy about waxing skis, my pager went off and we traveled back down the hallway to Mi Casa. We got a nice booth off to one side (no view of the Dredge) that was nice and isolated. It felt very cozy. They brought out the chips and salsa. There were three types of salsa. One standard salsa (ranchero sauce, I think it was), a green one, and one that was supposedly spicy. I loved the ranchero sauce. I ate way too much chips and salsa. By the time my food arrived I wasn’t very hungry. I got the Manuel burrito ($12) and it was quite good. It was large, and I only ate about half of it. Mariya got the chicken tamales ($13) and Brian got the steak fajitas ($17). I had water. Mariya said that the tamales were decent, and she only had room for one of them. We took the rest of the stuff home in a bag with us. After Mi Casa we headed to Main Street so that we could go to the crepe place. This time, Mariya and myself shared a nutella/banana crepe with heavy and whipped creme. The workers gave my crepe to the people in front of me, but everything got worked out in the end. It was a very good crepe. It wasn’t overly sweet, and the bananas and nutella work together very well. Brian got a crepe that had angel food cake in it.. Not sure of the name.

From there we looked around at a few stores, made a pitstop at the welcome center to look up the location of Main Street Outlet (where we also had a coupon for “spend $5 and get a free hat”) but decided to not walk back to it. Then we made it back to the condo so that we could prepare for the next day of skiing.

Monday morning, skiing. We had cereal for breakfast. Brian decided to visit the doctor instead of the ski slopes. It was really quite cold (another negative day), so Mariya and myself weren’t on the slopes at 8:30 when the lifts started. We left around 9:30 and told Brian that we’d be back around 12:30 for lunch. We were hoping that the doctor would fix what ailed him, and he could be back on the slopes with us in the afternoon. We caught the green shuttle to Peak 8 base, and while Mariya used the facilities, I sat outside the ticket window on a bench and waited. I watched several people buy tickets. At the ticket window they charge $93 for a day’s lift ticket. $77 for a half-day, from 12 noon until close (at 4pm) and $45 for a late-day ticket that is good between 2 and 4pm. Don’t these people know about King Soopers?! Then, to top it all off, a guy walked by me and asked me where the building was where he could rent skis. So he was renting skis from the resort, even. There are probably 30 ski shops in town, and he was paying to rent from the resort. I mean, I’m being a bit unfair. There are times and circumstances where it really makes sense to rent skis/buy tickets from the resort. But people could save a lot of cash by thinking ahead for a bit.

Anyway, we hopped on lift 7 and skied down Twister. Mariya didn’t seem to have any trouble with that, so I up’d the ante and we took on a tougher Green. We road the 5 lift up and came down Springmeier. After that we did 5/Powerline, and then I thought I’d really test her. We decided to take 5 up and come down Crescendo, which has a small section of blue at the top. Mariya handled that gracefully, and she was brimming with confidence. I wanted to get her over onto Peak 9, so I explained to her that she’d have to come down a bit of blue later, and she was all for it. So we took lift 5 up, and came down Four O’Clock to Crosscut to Lower Sawmill and down all the way to the QuickSilver lift. We skied Silverthorne (probably the easiest green at Breck) back down to QuickSilver and took it up again. We decided to go over and grab the Peak 8 Superconnect so that we could head back for lunch at 12:30. We got to the Superconnect and almost made it to the front of the line.. when it stopped. We stood there for 10-15 minutes and a snowmobile showed up with ‘Electrical’ on the front of it. A guy climbed up into the lift itself and a few minutes later it started running again. After a false start or two, the line actually started going and we were able to get on the lift. About 1/5th of the way into the ride, we passed a couple of lift poles where a worker had climbed all the way to the top and they were on their way back down when we passed. I have no idea what had gone wrong, but it seemed to be fixed. I got to show Mariya the midway load point on Peak 8 superconnect as well as the double diamonds (expert) runs that one can see right after the midway load. I think she was suitably impressed/scared by how steep they appear. Near the top of the lift the wind really started howling, and it just isn’t a lot of fun to be around there. But, we got off at the top and everything worked out wonderfully. We skied down the blue part of Springmeier to Four O’Clock all the way to the end, and Mariya didn’t complain at all about part of the run being too narrow and steep. Clearly her skills were improving.

We made it back to the condo, but Brian wasn’t there. Mariya asked a couple of times if I should call him, but I figured he could handle himself. He had my phone number and could have called me if anything had happened. For lunch, we had the left-over food from Taipei Tokyo. It was really good food. I would recommend the place. I really enjoyed Mariya’s singapore noodles, actually. The curry sauce on them was pretty mind, and the taste was good. I think I also fixed an apple and orange. After lunch, we decided to head back out. As we were walking up the driveway to get to the shuttle bus stop, Brian arrived! He said that he was doing better, but that he wouldn’t be going out to ski that afternoon.

Mariya and myself headed back to Peak 8, and we decided to spend the afternoon on Peak 7. It was around 2pm when we left the condo, so we didn’t have a lot of time between then and closing at 4pm. After the experience that Brian and I had on the previous day with the gondola and Peak 7, we took the Rocky Mountain Superchair up to Peak 8 and came down Columbine to get over to Peak 7. The drop from the chair is pretty steep off of Rocky Mountain, but Mariya did fine. We then had to pole around the t-bar and we worked our way down Claimjumper to get over to Pioneer. Once we got on Pioneer I mentioned to Mariya that there was a steep spot down past a certain clump of trees. I didn’t remember exactly, but I knew it was there. I skied down past the clump of trees and down a small hill to where I was at the edge of the steep spot. Mariya was behind me as she skied down the small hill and was yelling to me, “Is this it?!”. I said, “No”, and looked back forward down over the edge. Finally, at this point.. I managed to get Mariya to stop and take notice. I told her to take it easy, and she’d be OK. I skied down to the bottom of it and looked back up. Mariya hadn’t started yet. The run was a little bit busy at this point. There were several people above her that came flying by and each of them, one by one, hopped over the edge of the hill.. great form.. looking like wonderful skiers.. and promptly crashing and burning, right in front of her. I could see her chatting with another girl laying down on the ground with her skis. I later learned that the girl was asking Mariya, “How do you get down this!?” Mariya was saying, “I don’t know. I haven’t ever done it!”. The girl was slowly sliding on her rear end a little bit closer to the edge. A couple of times I yelled up to Mariya to just take it easy. After about 3 or 4 minutes of indecision, Mariya hopped off the edge and started down. She had been doing a remarkable job of parallel skiing for a beginner. Quite impressive, to be honest. She made it part of the way down the hill and I could tell that she was going to be OK. I turned around to start heading down the hill again and heard from behind, “Oh no!”. I glanced around just quick enough to see Mariya go flying by me, yelling loudly. About 200 yards down the hill she finally managed to stop. I skied down to where she was at, told her “congrats” on making it, and that we needed to work on controlling her speed a little bit. From there, we just had a small steep section near the bottom of Pioneer (she flew by me as I was nearing the bottom of the steep) and then we found ourselves at the Independence lift. On the ride up to the top of Peak 7, it was pretty clear that the Pioneer hill had shook her a little bit. That was OK. That was the toughest steep on Peak 7.

From there we took Monte Cristo, way on the right side of the mountain. The first part of Monte Cristo is a bit steep. She did fine. The rest of the run is basically a nice long cruiser. There’s one steep section at the end. Mariya went flying by me on that one. She was making it down the steeps, but she didn’t have a lot of control. If the steep were longer, she’d be in trouble. But, this was just her second day of downhill skiing ever, so I wasn’t complaining. After Monte Cristo, it was about about 3:20. We had time for one more run on Peak 7, and then we had to head back. I decided to do Wirepatch. Wirepatch goes pretty well under the lift. But, at the last minute, I decided to do Angel’s Rest instead. It goes over close to Monte Cristo. I decided that it would be easier (not as straight down the hill) and that would be OK for Mariya’s first day of blue runs. We came down Angel’s Rest and caught the Independence chair back up to the top of Peak 7. From there, we needed to get to the top of Peak 8 so that we could make it to Four O’Clock to get to the condo. We took Claimjumper down. This was the point where Mariya first fell. She did very well. The fall was a minor one. She got up, said “That didn’t hurt!” and kept on going. I had told her before that she would fall, and she couldn’t let it shake her. She had to get back in the saddle and start going again. That’s exactly what she did. We made it to the bottom of Peak 8, and caught the lift up to the top. We came down Springmeier again and skied down Four O’Clock to the condo. It was a great day of skiing.

When we got back to the condo, we managed to talk to Brian about his day. He had slept for a bit after we left in the morning (lucky guy!) and then he went to the medical clinic. He said that there’s a big sign when you go in “This is an emergency room”. His insurance covered that particular clinic, though, so hopefully that helped him out. It took about 1.5 hours to take care of everything. The doctor instantly knew what had happened. He said that it occurred reguarly (second one this week) and he had a little instrument specifically for the job. It had a little tip on it that melted right through the nail and did what it needed to do. Brian said that one toenail went wonderfully (the one that had drained out a little the night before). The second toenail didn’t work as well. The doctor tried to drain one spot and managed to get the heat probe through to skin, which Brian said he definitely felt. The doctor tried another hole and had a bit more lucky. There was some drainage, but he again got through to skin and managed to make Brian jump. After all was said and done, they told Brian to soak his foot in a pan of warm soapy water twice a day for 20 minutes. Brian, being the stand-up guy that he is, decided to not use a pan from the condo. He went to City Market and bought an aluminum pan. He was on his way back from there when we saw him.

For supper, we had several places in Breck that we were still wanting to go to. The last time were in Breck, I had wanted to eat Shepherds Pie. It sounded good to me (meats and veggies covered with mashed potatoes). A place in Breck had it, but when we were there, they were packed. Not an empty seat in the house (a pretty small place, to be sure). I guess the place is quite popular with locals. Anyway, we decided to try that place, Burke & Riley’s Irish Pub. We figured that if it were full, we’d try another spot. B&R is on the south end of town, in a little shopping center. We had trouble finding it last time, and we had trouble finding it this time. The shopping center has multiple levels. We walked to the obvious upstairs level and found ourselves at Liquid Lounge. We were walking around it looking for the back to see if B&R were behind it, and a guy from Liquid Lounge walked out the side, so we asked him where it was. We then went back to the main part of the little mall, up the stairs in the center almost to the back parking lot, up more stairs on the south side and walked around the edge to get to B&R. We walked in, and it was packed… Except for one booth table. We walked back to the table and sat down. Brian asked if we were supposed to just sit down. I said I thought so. We sat there for about 5 minutes. I started to second guess myself. But, I figured ‘the longer we were there, the more likely a waitress was to just come and serve us’. Eventually a waitress showed up. We had been looking at the menu the whole time, but we started out with drinks. I got a soda this time. At Taipei Tokyo I was fine with water. This time I wanted soda, though. After having gotten the soda, I happened to think about the wisdom of getting soda from a place with slow service (since I usually ask for lots of refills. Oh well. Anyway, Mariya and myself decided on the Shepherd’s Pie ($11) [light on the brown sauce for Mariya] and an “appetizer” of mixed waffle fries ($6) and onion rings ($7). Brian went for the Classic “Banger’s & Mash” ($11) which was Celtic flavored sausages with mashed potatoes and brown gravy. We had thought about the fish and chips, but had already decided to have that at Bubba Gump’s on a subsequent night. Long story short.. the food was OK, but nothing special. We all thought that it was OK. Not bad. But not special. And when you are in Breck, with so few nights, you have to be picky about where you choose to spend your evenings. None of us thought that we needed to go back to the Irish Pub again. The SP was browned ground beef, carrots and peas, a lump of mashed potatoes, and brown gravy drained over the top. It looked colorful, due to the very bright carrots and peas. And the taste was fine. It wasn’t as “large” as the menu might lead one to believe (probably 4″ in diameter) but it tasted fine. The onion rings were sold as “the best in town”. They were pretty good. The breading was good. Waffle fries were waffle fries. I had a bite of the sausage and it was pretty standard sausage. I think I managed to get 4 or 5 refills on the soda, and the soda was pretty good as well.

After we left B&R we decided to make our way back down the east side of the street to where the Crepe place was at. We had a “free cap with a $5 purchase” coupon for The North Face store, so we stopped in there to look around. Didn’t find anything useful, though. We made it to the crepe place and had to detour north about a block to the Breckenridge welcome center to use the bathrooms (this detour was to become a nightly occurrence for us). Ahh.. Crepes a la cart. This place is one of the reasons that we come back to Breckenridge each year. It is truly awesome. Imagine main street Breck. All Victorian and cute-sy. In the middle of this cuteness there is a cart. On wheels. With Christmas lights attached. And a line of people standing outside of it waiting to order food. That’s basically it. And the food. It’s very, very good. Since we had already had supper, we went with dessert crepes. I had a funky french monkey, which is a combination of peanut butter, banana, and chocolate (dark). I had them add heavy creme and whipped cream (which are both free). It was $6.75. Mariya had a nutella and strawberry crepe. Brian had a Berry swirl which was… Mariya and myself both thought that our crepe was a bit too sweet. Good, but just too much intensity. So the crepe place works as follows. You form a line leading up to the ordering position near a little window in the cart. There are two workers. One that makes the crepes, and one that takes the orders and delivers the final products. After you get your food you head off to the side, where they have an outdoor fireplace set up. At least that’s what we’ve always done in the past. This year, Brian had the bright idea of walking a couple of stores south to where they have an indoor mall set up. So this year we walked down there and enjoyed our crepes in the warmth of a building. Terrific idea!

After the crepe place we waddled back to the condo to enjoy/endure our sugar induced comas.

The first morning skiing started with someone loudly walking down the hall outside the condo and slamming the door. This was at 7am. Mariya’s lessons started at 9:45, so we figured we needed to leave the condo around 9am. The plan was to get up around 8am. None of us slept very well the first night. I had a very dry throat over the evening. The condo came with a single humidifier. It is an ultrasonic humidifier that does a nice job of kicking out the water mist. But, it is very cold mist, and the mist rises about a foot above the machine and then falls to the ground. The first night, the humidifier was on the floor in one of the carpeted rooms, and it basically just got the carpet in front of the humidifier wet. So, early in the morning I moved the humidifier out onto a bench in the dining room. This got it far enough off the floor that it didn’t soak everything. Apparently the water had far enough to fall that it actually evaporated into the very thin air in the condo. It was too warm the first night. The condo has electric heat (except for the gas fireplace) and each room is on its own set of controls.

Mariya fixed herself an omelet for breakfast. Brian and myself had cereal. Around 9am we made our way out of the condo and walked up the driveway and around the corner to where the shuttle bus picked up people for the ski hill condos. In the past we had always just walked to the place by Sawmill, but this time we decided to try out the shuttle. It was actually pretty close. I carried the skis for Mariya and myself, and she carried the poles. After a bit, the shuttle came, and took us to the base of Peak 8. We hadn’t ever taken the shuttle to Peak 8. The road rises up above town, and the views are pretty nice. They are building a huge new set of condos at the base of Peak 8. One Ski Hill. They are going to have a terrific location, as far as the mountain goes. They are a long way from town, but they are about as close to the mountain as you can get. We found out where we needed to be (upstairs in the same building as where you buy lift tickets) to purchase the lessons for Mariya. Full day lessons along with the lift ticket were around $120. They told us we needed to be over by Lift 7, so we grabbed all of our supplies and headed over in that direction. Brian had adjusted his boots because they were a bit tight while Mariya and myself were inside getting the lessons. Walking with our coats and gear on quickly got warm. But, we made it over there and Mariya met up with some instructors. She was supposed to be in that same area around 12:30 for lunchtime. They started doing their thing, and Brian and myself decided to do some skiing of our own.

We took lift 7 up and skied back down one of the greens. Then we took Lift 5 and came down 4 o’clock to Sawmill and got over to Peak 9. We took Quicksilver a couple of times and then we took the super slow A lift. From there, we had decided that we needed to get back over to Peak 9, so we made our way across to the Peak 8 superconnect. First, I had us at the Mercury superchair lift, but we figured out that we needed to be lower than that, and made our way to the Superconnect. From the top of that on Peak 9, we needed to come down a little blue. So, we came down 4 o’clock to the top of Lift 7. Brian then took one of the greens down to the bottom and I worked by way over to Dyersville, because I wanted to find Mariya. Down at the very bottom, where the magic carpet is, I found her. This was around 11:30. She seemed to be doing great, and had everything under control. From that point, Brian and myself just rode a few of the greens until we decided we needed to meet up with Mariya. Come to find out, she actually got out of the morning lessons at 12:15, so she had found Brian before we even found her. My GPS watch had gone haywire early that morning. The batteries on it were completely dead, which really ruined any history that we might have made from our runs.

When we found out that Mariya hadn’t been on a lift yet, we decided that it wasn’t wise to have her go down 4 o’clock to get to the condo. So we decided to take the Gondola into town. The gondola goes a long ways and it takes about 10 minutes. It stops at Peak 7 base, and also at a useless little stop called Shock Hill (I’m guessing they paid some real cash to get a gondola stop there. We made it to the bottom of the gondola in town and got off. We then had to walk to Ski Hill. That took forever. It wasn’t worth it at all. We quickly decided that we didn’t want to take the Gondola anymore. It is just too far from the condo. The condo guide online said “one block from the gondola”, but it is just really inconvenient. In hindsight, we knew that we were going back to the same place. We should have stored our skis there and not bothered bringing them with us into town. Oh well.

Anway, we got to the condo and quickly grabbed our lunch. We had prepared food that morning before leaving, because we knew that we wouldn’t have very long to actually eat (since Mariya only got 75 minutes for lunch). Mariya and myself had PB&J sandwiches, and Brian had a turkey sandwich. We had some sun chips on the side, along with some trail mix that Brian brought with him. We knew that we had to catch the shuttle back to Peak 8, so we made it out the shuttle stop and just missed the 1:18 shuttle. The next one was at 1:32, so we were going to be late. Eventually the shuttle came and we made it back to Peak 8 base. Mariya and myself trudged over to where the ski school was and Mariya’s instructor was still there. Mariya found herself in another instruction school, and they were off to the lift!

I skied back down to the bottom of Lift 5 where Brian was at (he’d been adjusting his boots and had made the comment that he thought he would get different boots at the end of the day), and we took 5 up once and came back down with the intention of taking the Gondola over to Peak 7. We hopped on the gondola and got off at the Peak 7 stop. It was very inconvenient there. The gondola station there has two sides. One side for the “east bound” lane, and one side for the “west bound” lane. If we had been coming from town, we would have been on the perfect side. We could have just hopped off the gondola, walked a little bit, and been on the snow. Since we were on the wrong side, we had to walk down a long set of stairs, around the gondola station, and up a steep section just to get to the other side of the station. It was a lot more work than we had anticipated. Anyway, this got us onto Peak 7. We came down the Monte Cristo run, which was a lot of fun. It has a steeper section at the top, but the rest of it is nice and perfect for cruising. There’s a steep section at the end, but no big deal. Then we took the Pioneer run down. After that, we decided we needed to get back to Peak 8 so that we could meet up with Mariya. We took the Pioneer run down to right past the steep section and then shot off to the right to pick up Peak 8. The bottom of Claimjumper quickly passed, and we then took Lift 5 up so that we could find Mariya. I skied down Dyersville near where the training area was at and never did find her. She was, however, waiting at the very bottom of Lift 7. So, we joined up again. She said that the afternoon had gone well, and that she was up to the challenge of taking the lift up and coming down the 4 o’clock run to the condo. We hopped on the lift together. Lift 7 has a magic carpet at the bottom of it. Disconcerting if you aren’t used to it. You slide onto it, and it moves slower than the chair does. So you move forward slowly and the chair comes up behind you. Anyway, we got off at the top with Mariya not falling, and discussed the direction that we needed to go to get to the condo. Mariya took off like a pro and skied down the run as though she had been doing it for years. I gave her some guidance here and there on what terrain features to expect, but she flew down the run amazingly well. There was one spot that she thought was steep and narrow, but other than that, she said she loved every minute of it.

We made it to the very end of the run and loosened our boots and walked back to the condo. Brian walked over to Lone Star sports to get different boots. Brian came back to the condo a little later with a new set of boots and commented that he should have switched boots at lunch. Over the course of the afternoon, Brian’s boots had squished his big toes enough that he had blood underneath both big toenails and it basically looked pretty bad. One of those “you’re going to lose those toenails” kinds of things. So, that was a real bummer. Everyone showered and got ready for supper, and we decided to go to Taipei Tokyo. It was pretty close, and we figured we’d get something different than the italian we had enjoyed in Denver the night before. We got there and enjoyed the edamame. Brian got a soda, and Mariya and myself stocked up on water. Brian got Shrimp Teriyaki ($16). I got the Chicken Teriyaki ($14). Mariya got Singapore rice noodles with curry ($10). The presentation was disappointing. I’ve come to rely on that restaurant to give me terrific presentation. It didn’t happen last night. The teriyaki wasn’t sizzling. The rice noodles were just in a square plate. The food was good, but the presentation wasn’t anything spectacular. Mariya and myself both had food left over, which we took with us. They gave us little asian to-go boxes for them, and then the three of us decided to head to main street to look around. We didn’t know if we wanted crepes or not. (well, we wanted them, but we didn’t know if we would have space for them in our tummies). We got very cold walking down Main street. We made it as far south as Rasta Pasta, and decided to come back. The crepe place was busy, so we skipped it and just headed back to the condo. Once back at the condo, Brian noticed that one of his toes had bled a little bit, and he started googling for things to do about toes in that situation. Basically, the options were to drain it (heat a paperclip/needle/pin and touch it to the toe nail. It will melt through the nail, and the blood (under pressure) can then escape) or let it set (after 8 to 10 months, the problem will eventually go away). He decided that he probably wouldn’t be skiing in the morning. There is a medical clinic in Breckenridge that he thought he would to instead. Meanwhile, Mariya fixed hot chocolate for everyone and we enjoyed that before retiring for the evening.

Woke up on Saturday morning around 7:30. Brian was planning to shower first, so I looked outside and saw that it was really foggy. Mariya got a couple of donuts from the front complimentary breakfast, and they were pretty poor stuff. She also grabbed several packets of jelly and jam. Handy for the PB&J sandwiches at the condo. I went and checked out the breakfast and was similarly unimpressed (but picked up a few more packets). As a group, we decided to to go to the McDonalds across the street for some quick breakfast food. We wanted to be out of Hays by around 9:00am. That would put us in Denver by about 1pm. I got us checked out of the hotel, and Mariya and myself walked across the street to the McDonalds, and Brian drove. It was a neat McDonalds. There was a fireplace there that was quite nice. It was about 34 degrees, so it wasn’t real cold, but the fireplace was neat. The Truman State basketball team was eating at the McDonalds also. Brian was taller than most of them.

Brian drove the first leg. It was really windy. We stopped in Limon for gas and a bathroom break, and I took over the driving. It was too cloudy to see the mountains. Normally, I can see the mountains (Pike’s Peak, in particular) around Limon. It didn’t work out this time, though. I was sorely disappointed. Meanwhile, I had tried to call King Soopers to get the new price on the lift tickets. Before the trip, Breckenridge had “holiday pricing” in effect. This meant that, even through King Soopers, and 4 of 6 day pass was going to cost $332. That was a lot of money. The non-holiday pricing started on January 4th, though, which was Sunday, the first day that we had planned to be on the lift. When I called, they didn’t know what the cheaper pricing would be. They wouldn’t know until the computers were updated. They didn’t know if the price would go up or down. Basically, they didn’t know anything that we wanted to know. I had been calling the King Soopers in Youngfield as well as the King Soopers on 104th avenue, near where the Cinzzetti’s is at. We drove past a lot of really strange looking trees between Limon and Denver. Colorado has about 450 miles on i70, and Limon is approximately at the 350. Denver is around the 275. About the time we got to the 305, Mariya had estimated that she was an hour away from where she needed to pick up the skis. So, she called the lady and said she’d be there in an hour. The lady had just left the house, but her daughter was supposed to be at home. We drove into Denver and took the exit for i270 (I think it was around exit 279). That took us northwest to where it turned into highway 36. 18 miles on highway 36 and we were at the McCaslin exit where we needed to get off. We stayed on that road for a while, and then turned onto another road. It was supposed to be 0.6 miles on that road. Mariya had the directions for leaving that place and going back to Cinzzetti’s, so she was translating them in reverse. We drove 0.6 miles… nothing… We drove on, and I finally got to a point where I was confident that we would have seen it if were going to. So, I fired up google maps on my phone and activated the GPS. We had passed where it was supposed to be, so we headed back. Long story short, the exit to the place was only visible on traffic heading in that direction. A median prevented us from seeing the turnoff from the other direction. So, we got into the subdivision and quickly found the house we were looking for. Mariya and myself went inside. Mariya tried on the boots and thought they would be good enough. I then went back outside and she took care of the rest of the transaction. Then, we were off to the Cinzzetti’s area.

We got back on 36 for a while and got off at 104th avenue, but we were about 5 miles from where we needed to be. So, we drove through some nice new subdivisions. We saw some absolutely huge houses. Probably 4 stories high. Right on the golf course, and a nice view of the mountains, which we couldn’t see because of the clouds. We had planned to go to a King Soopers (that was east of Cinzzetti’s) first, because we wanted the dinner menu at Cinzzettis’, which didn’t start until 3pm. We had made it into town about 1:30. We happened to see another King Soopers west of Cinzzetti’s so we hopped in there to check out the lift ticket situation. Finally we got some useful information. The nice lady at the guest services area told us that prices are updated at 5:01pm. Since it was about 2:15, we knew that we had a while to wait. We decided to go ahead and get our food that we knew we would need. We got various things (shopping bill to follow). Then, we decided to go to Cinzzetti’s! I found the place pretty quick, and we made our way in.

The food at Cinzzetti’s doesn’t change very often. Mariya hadn’t been there, and I think she liked it. We all liked it. The food is good, but it is buffet style ($15.99 for weekend supper). There’s just no getting away from that. They have certain dishes that they have all the time, and those have their names painted on the sneeze guards. It’s good, though. They have nice desserts. They advertise 16 flavors of gelato, but they don’t actually have any gelato. It’s all ice cream. I had some cinnamon ice cream, which was good. Mariya had some tiramisu and declared it OK. The pizza was good. I liked the mozzarella sticks, but Mariya didn’t care for them. They didn’t have chicken parmesan, but they had eggplant. I got some chicken (honey, or something like that) but it wasn’t anything special. Mariya and myself got water. Brian got a soda ($1.89).

I had a couple of plates of food, and decided to get some dessert before my tummy got full. I didn’t end up getting any real food after that. We all managed to fill up, and then we were ready to head out. This was around 4:45, probably.

We hopped in the car, and I headed to the King Soopers/gas station in western Denver. We got to the gas station around 5, so we knew we would be in good shape for the King Soopers ticket timing. After gas, I headed over to King Soopers. I took the wrong turn and ended up behind a building a little ways down from the King Soopers. After crossing under the interstate, I should have turned left quickly and headed back. But, I didn’t. So, live and learn. We made it into the King Soopers parking lot and found our way to the service desk (after initially going in the wrong door). They had a computer kiosk where we could look up ticket prices. The 4 of 6 tickets were $292! That was $40 less than they had been before 5pm. So, Brian and myself got 4of6, and Mariya got a 3of5 (since she was going to have a day taking lessons). When we left King Soopers, Brian decided to drive. We headed into the front range, and the weather stayed pretty good. Back around Limon, we had put in some predictions on when we would first see snow. I had guessed Denver. Brian had guessed the tunnel, and Mariya had guessed about 5 miles before the tunnel. By “snow”, we meant snow on the side of the road. We didn’t have snow in Denver. We actually hit snow about 10 miles before the tunnel. The roads stayed excellent, though. At the tunnel, we could see the groomers working on the Loveland ski area. We made it through the tunnel, and the roads actually stayed quite nice! We came down the other side and made it to our turnoff at Frisco. This was Mariya’s first good chance to see a nice Mountain town all decked out for skiers. There were lights everywhere, and it was quite pretty. Then we headed further south and made it into Breckenridge. We went through several lights and finally made it to the one we wanted. We headed up Park Avenue and worked our way around to the Ski Hill condos. We were in building 2 (Boreas) and we quickly found it. Building 1 (American) is closest to Ski Hill Road, and it works its way back from there. When we were in Ski Hill 36, we were in Building XX (4?).

I grabbed a load of luggage and headed to 14. After punching in the code, the door opened, and we were in our condo. The condo is definitely different than the other condos we have stayed in. It has pergo flooring in the main dining room/living room area, carpet in the bedrooms, and ceramic tile everywhere else. The unit has supposedly been remodeled recently. It has 2 bedrooms and 2 baths. The master bedroom has the bathroom attached to it (no doors in between). It has a large shower with dueling showerheads and dual sinks. The toilet is off on the side with no door or anything. The second bathroom has a separate room for the shower/toilet, and the floors have radiant floor heat in both bathrooms. The kitsch is western/colorado/skier themed.

When we got all of our luggage in the condo, we decided to drive to the ski shop. It isn’t very far from the condo, but it is handy to have the car to transport the skis. We got in there. I got my skis waxed ($8), Mariya got her skis tuned for a beginning skier and waxed ($15), and Brian got himself set up for a set of demo skis. They looked up the price on them, and the skis alone (no bindings, boots, or poles) were over $1,000. They suggested that I get my skis edged as well, but that would have taken until the next morning, and I wanted to be on the slopes by then. We loaded up the skis and headed back to the condo.

It was quite cold during the evening. It was supposed to be down around zero degrees, and it was probably a little bit colder than that.

Hello, fellow wannabe-travelers.

Kirby here, with a travel blog.

We are in our hotel room in Hays, Kansas. It has been a good day. I got up this morning at 7:08am. I had planned to get up around 6:50, but, for whatever reason, I didn’t hear the alarm, and slept until 7:08. I had spent last night getting everything packed for the trip, and didn’t get to bed until around 11:30 or so. But that’s the way it goes.

Anyway, back to today. Got up at 7:08. Mariya had said she was going to leave town at 7:00, and I was planning to leave around 7:45. We were going to meet up in Springfield, IL, and then drive down to St Louis together. So, right off, I was 18 minutes behind. Not a good way to start the day. I started the morning process. Mariya called and left a message on my machine while I was in the shower. I then started trying to eat a little cereal for breakfast, and she called again. She had been on her way for a little while, and was still planning to get over there around 8:30 and be in good shape. I got everything ready that I needed to get ready, and left the house around 8 o’clock. I had to run by the bank and get some cash, so, after doing that, I was heading west. On the way over to Springfield, I called Larry. Sadly, I woke him up. He had been up all night long driving between Portland, OR and Seattle, WA. He had fallen asleep 30 minutes earlier, and I woke him up. I felt so bad. Oh well. Upon talking to Mariya… she had stopped at a Wal-Greens, and they had Christmas stuff 90% off. She had found a couple of things, and was headed to the Meijers to order a cake for next weekend. I got the interstate exit for Staybridge Suites, where we were meeting, and tried to call her. I was running low on gas (didn’t know if I would make it to Missouri or not) and decided to get a little bit of gas there (at the Meijer gas station). I got 2 gallons, and paid 1.45/gallon. In Missouri, Brian had told me he had paid 1.24/gallon. So, I got just enough to keep the car running. I went on over to the parking lot where we were meeting. Mariya was still ordering the cake. She finally arrived. She lost one of the magnets on her car! She thought I was kidding when I said it was gone. Oh well. Nothing to be done about it at that point. We transferred her luggage to my car, and headed out. We were 35 minutes behind schedule. We were planning to meet at 9:15, and it was 9:50. So, I had Mariya call Brian on my phone (I had the bluetooth headset on) and I told him that we were running late. We then headed south.

We got to Brian’s place around 11:31. I grabbed some pillows that we were leaving there; Mariya grabbed some clothes that she will need next weekend, and we went up to Brian’s. He came down and we loaded his Mitsubishi Outlander. We tried to get the skis to lay flat, but they just wouldn’t do it. They had to be angled. Everyone’s luggage loaded nicely. We had originally thought that we would go to Columbia or something for lunch. But, since we were running late, we decided to go ahead and eat there. We decided upon Arby’s. Brian had the french dip combo, Mariya had the Philly Steak combo, and I had the Turkey club combo. They were $5 apiece. The bathrooms there had squeeze soap.

After that, we headed west on i70. The miles flew by. We saw the Calloway Nuclear Plant off to the south. We drove through Kansas City, and stopped at a QT not very far into Kansas. We gassed up, and we used our QT glasses to get refills, and Mariya started driving. (Brian had been driving before). We made it through the toll way ($2.15 charge) and then through Topeka. Next stop was Salina, where we ate at Bayards. Bayards is this little cafe right next to the truck stops at the 252 exit. They have a nifty garden salad that is made up of 14 different garden vegetables. It seemed to have carrots, broccoli, spinach?, onions, and a bunch of other stuff. Brian got the dinner steak ($8.49) (which he said was ok), and we got a Combination appetizer (fried: mushrooms, zuchini, cheese sticks, chicken nuggets, and onion rings). It was $5.99 and not really worth it. We got a meat loaf plate ($7.99). The meatloaf wasn’t all that good. We got 2 garden salads and a baked potato with ours. Brian got a garden salad, baked potato, and corn with his. The dinner rolls were good that came with the food.

After that, we continued heading west. (Mariya was still driving). We had the choice of driving to Hays (exit 159) or Colby (exit 53). We ran the numbers of what we needed to do the next day and ended up deciding to stop in Hays. So, we had to find a hotel. We looked at some guidebooks and found an Econolodge that was $44.99. I called them up on the cell phone. They had rooms available, and the rates seemed good. So, we decided to just stop there. At that point, we were only about 50 minutes away, so I didn’t even bother calling back and reserving the room.

We passed the statue of the road runner right outside of Hays, and then made it to exit 159. We found the econo lodge. We gassed up before the lodge, and then went to the hotel. I got the room (she told me the rate was $49.99. I mentioned the phone. She “remembered” and we got it for $44.99. This ended up being a little more than $50 after tax. The free continental breakfast has donuts, toast, orange juice, and coffee. We have free wireless internet (user: econo, pass: lodge).

A good time is being had by all. We had an amazing sunset tonight, and Mariya has been talking a lot about how easy skiing will be. I hope she is right.

On the hunt to have some auto work done (brakes, to be specific), I asked around for some suggestions on places to use, and places to avoid in Champaign Urbana. Here, for your viewing pleasure, the results of a simple, informal poll:

  • SpeedLube on University (near.. 3rd or so) gets a thumbs up for being fast and cheap.
  • Midas on University gets a thumbs up for free labor on a minor repair
  • O’Brien gets a solid thumbs down.
  • The place on Cunningham north of University (Meineke?) gets a thumbs down for upselling.
  • Ron’s in northeast Urbana gets a double thumbs up
  • Myler Automotive (off of Parkland Ct) gets a thumbs up from two different people
  • Beaumont Alignment, Gasoline Alley gets a thumbs up
  • Peter B’s gets a thumbs-up from one person, and another has heard good things about them
  • Good things have been heard about the Brake Shop (on Springfield) but no personal experience.

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